Atheists in the Workplace
We all have different vocations that we are in to pay the bills. I just so happen work in the corporate environment. To take it a step further, I am in Human Resources. That being said, I am very familiar with laws and regulations that govern the topic of discrimination. The basic vibe is not discriminating based on race, sex, religious affiliation, age, disability, and so on. But what about LACK of religious affiliation?
In most work environments, there is a bit of an unwritten rule that you never bring up two subjects at work. Politics and religion. I might add sport team affiliation. Being a Baltimore Ravens fan in “Steelers Country” has led to my fair share of discrimination, but that’s another story.
In my experience, people seem to have no trouble at all leaving politics out of the workplace. That seems to be a collective taboo and conversation to be avoided at all costs. But what about religion? I have yet to work in a corporate setting without religion coming up. Here are some questions that my wife (also an Atheist) and I have received over the years. “What church do you go to?” “Where do you go to celebrate Easter?” “Are you Catholic?” “Do you volunteer at your church?” “Pray for me.” “Will you come visit our church?” “You should come to our revival this weekend!”
People can accept it if you do not have a specific political affiliation. I f you say “I’m an Independent,”they will generally accept that if they happen to be a Democrat or Republican. They may want to spark some debate on a political topic, but that is rare. But do you say “I’m an Atheist”at work? I know what you are thinking. “This guy is nuts!” “Why would you reveal such a personal thing at work?” The facts are that many deeply religious people have no problem bringing up religion at work. I have attended meetings that begin with “let’s bow our heads in prayer.” I have had bosses that quote scripture that provides a foundation to a business decision. That happened to me recently. After the scripture was quoted, he waited for a response. I didn’t know what to do. Is he waiting for me to say “amen?” I just nodded politely.
It is not uncommon to hear the following when confronted with an ethical situation at work. “Well, I’m a Christian so I would NEVER do that.” I have heard things like that a lot over the years. If I were to respond in kind, it would sound like, to the Christian, something like this. “Well, I’m an Atheist, so not only would I do this unethical thing, but I would celebrate by sacrificing a lamb in the dark forest and feast on the blood of the innocent. Oh by the way, Hail Satan!” The reality is that many Christians see Atheism in that way. Probably not the best career move to let your bible-thumping boss know that you believe his religion is based on myths that many religions pre-dating Christianity believed, too.
By Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
When pressured to share your religious affiliation at work, is avoiding it or changing the subject a sign to them that you are a non-believer? Will that change the way they look at you? If they knew you were an Atheist, would they expect you to grow a tail? Would they hide their children from you during Bring you Child to Work Day due to the fear that your hypnotic Atheist gaze may jeopardize their offspring’s innocent soul? Do you just simply lie and claim that you are a Baptist or whatever just to get them off your back? What is an Atheist to do?
Like it or not, religion comes up in the workplace. Also, like it or not, Christians will look at you differently if you pronounce your non-belief. If that Christian is you boss, you can kiss that promotion goodbye. You might say “hey, that’s discrimination!” Yes, you are right. However, take it from me. As a 20-year HR professional, there are many ways to get rid of someone if you want to badly enough.
Here is an example of a response when confronted with the question of your faith. This may or may not apply to you, but bear with me. Co-worker: “what religion are you?” Sneaky Atheist: “I was raised Southern Baptist.” That is 100% true. I was raised Southern Baptist. I am an Atheist now, but that’s not the point. I deflected the subject and chances are it will never come up again.
Yep. Is it crazy? You bet. But, my dear readers, this is reality. There is a stigma that comes with being an Atheist. I don’t fault people for their beliefs. It is the path they have chosen and it works for them. But do they reciprocate the same feeling towards Atheists? If you answered anything other that “no” you may want to reconsider your answer. Another response you can have is simply “I don’t like to discuss religion at work.” Simple, to-the-point. However, the next time someone sneezes and you say “I hope you don’t sneeze again,” expect some raised eyebrows and suspicion. Heck, they may take a look to see if your tail is growing. How do you handle religion in the workplace when you are confronted with it?