Wednesday, March 18, 2009
CL Hanson at Letters from a Broad has a post up about whether she expresses her atheism at work. She's created something of a meme and so I thought I would participate.
I have too many jobs to count, so I'm just going to list a sampling.
- In college I was trying to work out what I was. I stopped attending church shortly after I started college, but I still considered myself a Christian. I dated an atheist and then an agnostic pretty seriously, but I had a hard time expressing myself. Mostly I just absorbed information and thought about my beliefs internally without talking about them much. I had a Mediterranean Religion course that opened my eyes to the similarities between religious myths that was pretty influential in making me a deist at the least. And I was exposed to new ideas from befriending non-believers. None of them had horns.
- At my first job I was still in the closet about my doubts about religion. The company I worked for had an overtly religious atmosphere. I worked as an intern during college and my job was supposed to be setting up PCs and training users on software, but I was somewhat hampered. My boss didn't think I should do some things because I was a woman. Once he told me that he didn't think I should be connecting cables to computers when I set them up because "women shouldn't be on their knees." Haha! It was funny at the time, but kind of disturbing that he didn't want me to do manual work because of my sex. When I was hired after graduation they required me to sign a morality statement. Firing offenses included adultery. Now, I don't think adultery is right, but I also don't see how it's my company's goddamned business what I do outside of work. I refused and they put my hiring papers on hold. I talked to a lawyer, but it was completely legal (or so he said). So being a wuss, I eventually signed it. I needed the job. I found another one and left three months later.
- I didn't talk to anyone about my religious beliefs at any of my jobs for many years. I remember once on Ash Wednesday thinking one of my co-workers had some dirt on her forehead. Yeah, I felt stupid. But no one was overtly religious at work and that suited me fine.
- When I was still into spiritualism (but not religious) and living in Boston I talked to a couple of co-workers about psychics and astrology and other woo. But the more I talked about it, the more ridiculous it sounded. It was part of what tipped me towards naturalism.
- I worked at a mortgage company several years ago (2005 - 2006) before the bust. Almost all of my co-workers were secular and liberal. The culture was somewhat of a shock. But it felt good to be around people who thought along the same lines I did. I missed it when I left.
- At my current job I don't talk about religion. I have a few co-workers who are atheists and I've developed friendships with them. But I don't think religion is at topic for work. I feel like making my personal beliefs public would encourage people to be more vocal about religious beliefs. I have one co-worker who is vocal (more about politics than religion, but they're pretty intertwined), and it's uncomfortable. Not just for me, but for people that I suspect are religious. Whether or not I should express my own beliefs is something I've changed my mind about over the years a couple of times, but I'd rather work be about work. That doesn't mean I won't develop friendships at work, but I'm pretty careful to keep my work life separate from my non-work life. Except now a lot of co-workers are on Facebook and could easily find this blog. When someone from HR pinged me on Facebook I admit I felt a few minutes of panic.
In a lot of ways I fear discrimination for being an atheist. I don't know if my fear is founded, but I don't want to risk finding out.
The problem with staying silent is that I think it's important for atheists to be seen as "real people". We're not different or alien. And I think the biases and stereotypes tend to melt away when personal relationships develop. So should I be an out about being an atheist?
I don't lie about who I am, I just don't display it in flashing letters. But I don't keep religious symbols and I don't claim to pray for anyone. I sometimes find situations awkward because the pat phrases are empty to me and I need a non-religious way to express myself. When someone says, "I'm praying for you," or "God Bless," I simply thank them for thinking of me, if I say anything at all. And I use those words, "thank you for thinking of me," not "thank you for praying for me." It'd be rude to tell them I don't appreciate their sentiment even if I don't believe it'll do any good (in a spiritual way) because I do appreciate the sympathy and concern that's expressed.
So, chicken? Yep. Polite? I hope so. Doing the right thing? I'm still evaluating that.