About a year ago, I started my career in the Federal government. As far as I know, I am the only atheist in my office, and some of the people I work with (including my boss) are VERY expressive about their religious views. I've felt very uncomfortable standing up for myself as an atheist, and even more uncomfortable being constantly (at least a couple of times per week) subjected to religious questions, comments, etc.
These "probes" started with my boss asking me what I want for my unborn son (I'm expecting in a couple of months), then proceeding to tell me, if it was his child, he would want to make sure that his spirit lived on eternally. Other questions/discussions have ranged from relatively harmless ("...you should come play volleyball with my church team...") to complete idiocy ("...in the Old Testament times, people lived to be 400 years old..."). I've also had other co-workers give me a card or a poem for my baby that are religious in nature or that refer to "God's blessings," etc.
While most of the people closest to me know me as an atheist, I feel that, like a person's faith, it is something deeply personal and should stay that way except when in the company of like-minded people or those who can have a rational, unemotional discussion about it. I am irritated by my co-workers'--and more specifically my boss's--assumptions that (a) everyone subscribes to the same world view, and (b) that it is ok to discuss these things in a workplace at all, let alone a Federal workplace. I fear (and not unnecessarily, I don't think) that I will be judged and treated differently if I openly express these concerns.
Looking for a little advice, if anybody has words of wisdom....
Religion is not an appropriate topic of discussion for most workplaces. I suggest making it clear to your co-workers that religion is a topic you feel intensely private about and you would appreciate their professionalism in respecting that privacy. Make this an issue of professionalism at work rather than an ideological clash.
I agree. I spent 41 years in Federal service, half in uniform. I had Atheist friends. They were the only ones I would discuss religion with, except one. There was only one person of religious conviction I could have rational conversations with, even then, the actual lable of Atheist was never spoken.
Tred carfully on this. Remember, there's a lot of them, and they will try to make your daily life miserable. They seem to think it's some sort of duty to their sky daddy.
Yes, I would agree with Sarah - religion is not an appropriate topic for the workplace.
Something you mentioned in your post is something you might want to state to them in the workplace, if the subject comes up. I feel that, like a person's faith, it is something deeply personal and should stay that way. Then, follow it up with the old standby that politics and religion is something best left out of polite conversation.
When asked what church I go to, I reply with open disgust "You won't catch me in a damn church!" It stops the conversation very quickly (in most cases). I haven't had any issues yet.
I just tell them I can't go to church anymore. The last time I went I burst into flames.
Thanks for all the input! It's not an easy question, so it's (oddly) reassuring that I got several different answers! Helps to know that I'm not crazy for having a hard time with it.
First, congrats on the little one.
Like you, I entered a workplace where I am subject to way more of the religious theories and speculation than I ever really wanted to hear.
I've been at my current job at a funeral home (Catholic affiliated) for 4 years.
From my own experiences, most people here don't discuss the subject with me, and I don't approach them either. There are a handful that try to convert me (for lack of a better term), some Catholic, some Protestant. For the most part, it rolls right off of me, as I have to let it be that way or I'd never come back. I understand with my position, I am here to help grieving families and I do my best not to judge them especially in such a time of need.
Apart from working at a church or religious affiliation, I am now a believer that this profession is amongst the most religious/spiritual you will find.
As for your situation, I've found the more I make it known about my beliefs, the more they approach me with other statements, questions and (as you so eloquently put it) complete idiocy. Many times, people are just trying to be nice and not necessarily reform you. Understanding that can make it much easier, although it still remains frustrating with the absence of others to discuss your issues with.
I'm also a federal government employee, at a military base in the very Christian Midwest. The US military is even more Christian than our mainstream society. Fortunately, my specific organization is of a scientific/engineering nature, and most of my coworkers have the benefits of good education. Most are Christian in one form or another, but we have plenty of agnostics and a handful of atheists. Discussions about religion occur from time to time, mostly by me posing friendly barbs against doctrinaire Christianity. My best discussions are with a hardcore Calvinist - a pleasant young man who has thoroughly imbibed the whole bottle. I keep tormenting him with the debate on predestination vs. free will. But since I pose my inquests in a polite manner and carefully avoid personal condemnations, I have developed a reputation as to local go-to guy for thorny philosophical and theological debates. And being the local eccentric, efforts to proselytize to me are rare.
As others have said, be careful about religious issues in the workplace. Assiduously avoid personal attacks or even the implication that some one's beliefs are silly (even if it is manifestly true!). But don't shirk from serious debate about theological issues.
Don't you find that religious degreed folks, like engineers, to be somewhat of an oxymoron? I did!
I worked with a highly competent network engineer who was a devout Muslim. Time out for prayers, trip to Mecca, the whole bit.
I have a childhood friend who has a law degree and a theology degree. It never ceases to amaze me that he held a high administrative position in a church. I just cannot image a person that smart buying into it. How do they do it?