This is an issue I may or may not have visited in the past here but I'm not inclined to look at old posts. I just don't have anywhere else to put these thoughts.

As an atheist who works as a nurse I am in a unique position with clients. You would be shocked at how often prayer, god and religious rituals come up. People tend to mention god more often when they're in the hospital that's for sure. I don't mind - whatever helps you cope, right?

I run into a problem when people want to pray with me for comfort, a good outcome or whatever. I run into a problem when people make statements like, "oh well god has a reason for everything" and I don't quite know how I'm going to respond. Usually I just sort of smile and act like I didn't just hear that because honestly - what am I supposed to say!? When they ask me to pray with them I say something along the lines of, "prayer is a good coping strategy, go ahead."

I've run into blockades with clients when I've failed to respond with enthusiasm or more than acknowledgement of their coping strategy. They have shown signs of discomfort and distrust after noticing that I remain carefully neutral ... and even that neutrality can be seen as disrespectful. I am hoping other non theists will understand where I'm coming from with this post because goodness knows I've gotten no understanding elsewhere.

The thing is, I want to be supportive of clients coping strategies and I do not want to be disrespectful of their beliefs. I want to do things that will foster a good relationship with my clients. On the other hand, I do not wish to participate in any religious rituals, period. I don't care if they pray around me, I don't care what they believe...whatever helps them deal is fine with me... but I do not want to participate. It goes against my conscience, it triggers anxiety and depression, it upsets and ruffles me even though I make a point not to show people how being pressured into theistic activities bothers me.

I've let myself be pressured in the past and it always ends up making me feel awful. I feel like I've compromised myself, that I've implicitly agreed with them, that I'm somehow hiding what I really think because of social pressure. I get anxious and especially in the winter months someone asking me to pray with them can trigger a depressive episode. Despite my tendency to dislike people in theory, I'm actually rather gregarious in person and tend to get along well with most individuals no matter what they believe...and the social pressure is palpable. Especially among nurses.

Almost every other nurse I know is religious with very few exceptions who are undeclared. Worse, my superiors are all christians too. I cannot talk to them about this issue! Why? Well let's put it this way - the response I've gotten from my christian friends whom I've tried to discuss this with is, "What's the big deal? Take 30 seconds and just pray with them, it doesn't do a thing to you. You're making a big deal out of nothing."

At first, it seems reasonable to say that. What IS the big deal?

First, I am a reluctant people-person. Social pressures get to me. Social pressures are what kept me a christian long after I knew in my heart of hearts it wasn't true. Social pressure triggers anxiety in me, sometimes to the point that I want to fight or flee. In short - it does bother me.

Second, I don't care if it takes half a second - I do not want to participate in their religion! No means no! What is so hard for people to get about that?

Look, I realize that the client is vulnerable and coping with difficult life stressors, etc. *sigh* It's not an easy problem for me. Maybe other atheists don't see it that way, maybe I really am making a big deal out of nothing.

On the other hand, it seems like our culture in the USA is so g0d-soaked that many people have become desensitized to its constant presence. I feel it. I don't know... I am a bit tired but I can't put these thoughts out of my head. What am I supposed to do with clients like that?


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Comment by Secular Sue on March 8, 2010 at 1:07am
Can you offer to let them have a few minutes alone? You can't do your job with your eyes closed and hands folded anyway; you may as well take a break.
Comment by unholyroller on March 7, 2010 at 10:50pm
Hello....I'm a registered nurse in Oklahoma....can't get much more fundie than this place. I deal with this situation on a daily basis. I work in a clinic as the IV infusionist. I have to deal with this nonsense every day. Everybody I work with and virtually all of my patients are deeply religious. When someone starts their pleas to their imaginary friend, I continure what I'm doing. They can't expect me stop in the middle of starting an least I hapoe not, and prayer is likely to break out no matter what I'm doing. I quietly go about my business. And I don't feel guilty or depressed. That's a waste of time and energy, IMHO.

I usually sit there and wonder how these people survived to adulthood. There is NO reason for you to feel bad or depressed...these people made up their own minds to accept their belief systems. If put on the spot, I tell people that I have to be in another person's room, or I have something I must take care of, thank you, but I would be happy to call the chaplin....something along those lines. Please don't feel guilty or depressed. You have as much right to your belief system as any other citizen of this country. The rest can ignore it or deal as they can. Good luck with your studies. I'm sure you will be just fine. When do you graduate? We'll plan an online celebration...or somethin.
Comment by no0n3 on March 7, 2010 at 5:46pm
I think you're handling it in the most respectful and professional way you can. If someone insists you pray with them, maybe try to find someone else to sit with them, saying you "don't want to offend, since [I] don't have the same beliefs" They don't need to know you're an athiest; if anything they will assume you go to 'some other church' since Atheists can't be kind like that, now can we? ;p

Steve: I would say to view it as an opportunity to see if there is anyone else who might be sitting for it to be over, or for someone who might be "pretending" to pray. It doesn't make it completely bearable, but it makes the situation into more of a game as opposed to the serious, sacred time others make it out to be... at least, that's what I did when I was a kid and forced to sit through stuff like that.

What country do you (OP and Steve) live in? Because I live in a country where prayer in school and work doesn't happen, unless they are begging for a lawsuit and the human rights commission to get a call.



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