My "Out at Work" Policy  

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Image courtesy of SamFam

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.
So, I suppose to sum up, I don't say anything about religion at work. If I find someone who I suspect is an atheist or agnostic, I will express my opinions with an open invitation. I don't even know how I found out about "Team Atheist" here at work, but it's nice to know they're out there.

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.

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12 comments: to “ My "Out at Work" Policy

  • The Exterminator
    Wednesday, March 18, 2009 at 4:43:00 PM CDT  

    My "out" policy, at work, at play, anywhere: Always -- IF the subject of religion comes up. If it doesn't, I'm not going to be the one to toss it into the conversational mix.

  • Mamacita Chilena
    Wednesday, March 18, 2009 at 6:29:00 PM CDT  

    My job photographing weddings for people who are often religious requires me being a bit delicate. That's why religion is not a subject I touch on my personal blog a lot...because I know that both my photography blog and my personal blog are intertwined...and a lot of my clients read both.

    If you go back in the archives it's pretty easy to figure out that I don't love organized religion but that I do have some kind (however undefined) of belief in a greater good, karma, power, whatever you want to call it.

    I don't want to offend any of my clients who are religious, and at their wedding if they want me to bow my head while they pray, I will do so happily (or take pictures very VERY quietly). But, should the subject come up, I'm not going to pretend that I'm religious just because I happen to be photographing a religious wedding.

    And I guess that would be "at work" for me, haha!

  • The Ridger, FCD
    Wednesday, March 18, 2009 at 6:59:00 PM CDT  

    It doesn't come up much, but I did once say to someone - who was asking everyone to put up a prayer for someone's sick kid - if an atheist could express good wishes. Her response? "Gosh yes! I didn't think!" People know.

    In my old office it was actually worse to identify as a progressive!!!

  • Tonyia
    Wednesday, March 18, 2009 at 8:11:00 PM CDT  

    Ooh, that is a tough one. I felt so very brave just putting the "A" on my blog sidebar. Of course, unless you click on it you wouldn't know what it stands for.

    I haven't put any atheistic posts up. I'm still afraid. Silly, I guess. But both my parents and Paul's parents have no real idea - and they're very Christian. (My father in law is even a Gideon leader) And we're not ready to have that conversation. And they read the blog. Although Paul and I have had some really fun conversations about 'coming out'.

    Being in health care, there are very few openly atheistic people. At my workplace, it just seems best to keep it to myself...

    Whoa, way more than you really wanted to know!

  • Ordinary Girl
    Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 8:10:00 AM CDT  

    Ex: I guess then I feel the same way, except I'm not as vocal as you are. But is that a surprise? :)

    Mamacita: I can understand when your profession is under such circumstances. And I doubt it would bother you to observe Jewish, Hindu, or any other tradition as part of a ceremony you were there to record. I doubt you'd be happy with proselytizing, but that's another story entirely.

    Ridger: I think you're on to something there.

    Toniya: It sounds like you have a supporting husband. You should check in with An Apostate's Chapel to see someone in similar circumstances as you.

  • John Evo
    Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 8:09:00 PM CDT  

    Me in every situation of life:

    Hey John, we're all going to get together and pray for Larry. Want to join in?

    "No. I'm an atheist".

  • Anonymous
    Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 8:14:00 PM CDT  

    As you know, I work for a Christian organization. When I started there, everyone knew I was a Christian, which I was at the time. Now, work is - interesting. Sometimes frustrating.

    I've come out to one co-worker who is not a Christian. I know, big deal, coming out to the one person I know agrees with me. The thing is, she knows she can openly express her feelings about religion to me and I won't hassle her. In our workplace, it's sometimes nice to have someone safe to vent to. I don't care if she swears and vice versa. Big deal, right? It is in our place - according to the employee manual, swearing is a termination offense. [Ex wouldn't last five minutes there :)]

    If you read my latest post, about Max, you may wonder if I came out to him. No, I didn't. I dropped a couple of hints during our conversation, things like, "don't let the religious talk get to you," but that was all. Max said he's not interested in talking about religion, so I'm not going to push him there. Others are doing enough of that already.

    Aside from the quirky circumstances of my work life, I generally agree with the common wisdom that says people should avoid talking about religion and politics at work. I avoid both of those topics as much as possible. It's easier to steer clear of politics than religion in my workplace, but I can generally get by with a fairly low level of exposure to religious idiocy from day to day. You can be sure that I'm not raising the issue.

  • Vistaluna
    Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 11:44:00 PM CDT  

    I have a theory that one of the reasons sports are so popular is that it gives people something SAFE to talk about in a work or social setting.

    The problem is I don't like sports. I have deep interests in lots of "safe" subjects...just none that anybody (besides me) likes to talk about. :)

    I've successfully avoided telling most people I'm an Atheist at work...but if someone really pushes me with their dogma...I do have a limit. Maybe someday I'll be brave enough, or confident enough, or just mad enough to tell everyone. But I'm not there yet.

  • Ordinary Girl
    Friday, March 20, 2009 at 9:29:00 AM CDT  

    Evo: I've never had anyone ask me to pray at work. I've only had people mention they've prayed for me after a death or sickness in the family.

    Chappy: I think it's also a bit different for you given where you work. I like talking about politics and religion, but I think it's better with people you choose to be with, not people you have to associate with at work. It may be okay 5 out of 10 times, but then there are the times it isn't and it makes getting work accomplished difficult. (I think you agree with that.)

    Vistaluna: Sports are like a religion to some people. ;)

    You should talk more about the "safe" subjects you have an interest in. I bet people would be more interested than you think.

  • Vistaluna
    Friday, March 20, 2009 at 8:57:00 PM CDT  

    You mentioned that a class in Medeteranian religions helped open your eyes to the nature of religion.

    I have a working theory that one way to weaken religion is to actually teach people MORE about religion.

    I knew someone (MANY years ago) who was a devout fact I would call him an extreme-Christian. But he studied the New Testament word by word, and he studied history around the time of Jesus, and he studied...and studied...and studied...and eventually he amassed so much knowledge that he realized it was all a myth blow out of proportion.

    He still considers himself a theist...which I think is fine because at least he sees many of the same things I do and he knows the dangers of organized religions.

    I had a boss at my first job who went to a Seminary School, and he talked about a kind of disillusionment that many students experienced after years of learning more and more about Christianity.

    If I was an evil person...I would totally infiltrate a church and pretend I was a Christian and undermine them by teaching people MORE about the history of Christianity. :)

  • Ordinary Girl
    Sunday, March 22, 2009 at 10:26:00 AM CDT  

    Vistaluna, my parents are a perfect example of that. They know their Bible, but they know nothing about Biblical history or textual criticism. They separate the Old Testament from the New and only choose what they want to believe from it. They read it, but they only absorb it through blinders. With formal education they might be able to see something around the blinders.

  • C. L. Hanson
    Monday, March 23, 2009 at 1:27:00 AM CDT  

    It looks like your situation is very similar to mine, and, probably that of many atheists. There's no reason for the subject of religion to come up at work, and often it's easier to cooperate better if it doesn't. But then you get a bit of a visibility balance when the devout are wearing their beliefs on their sleeves and the secular aren't -- many people might mistakenly believe that they "don't know an atheist."


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