• Coming Out As An Atheist At Work

    This morning VJack over at Atheist Revolution had another great post about whether or not we should come out to our co-workers as atheists. He recounts two of his general experiences on the matter. Today, I want to recount my experience on being out as an atheist in the workplace.

    While I am currently a stay-at-home dad, prior to fatherhood I worked in a machine shop for nearly ten years as a Production Expeditor. Part of that job was being an assistant to the foreman and ordering and picking up supplies and parts from venders. The shop was non-union and many of the employees were life-long Republicans.

    I don’t remember exactly how it came out that I was an atheist, but it might have been due to a letter-to-the-editor I had published in the local newspaper. I did that a lot and the people on the shop floor always read the paper in the morning. In any case, it became pretty well known in the shop that I was not only an atheist, but a vocal one. While I never went out of my way to discuss religion, I did have many religious conversations with co-workers, bosses, and even venders.

    I found that there were actually quite a few atheists in the company. My direct supervisor never really discussed religion, but I am pretty sure he didn’t go to church and probably was pretty apathetic toward religion in general. His boss who was also my boss used to tease me about having to work on holidays since I was an atheist. But he admitted to not believing in God too.

    There were also a few of my other co-workers who admitted to not believing in God. One of them was a Catholic. He went to church on the holidays and special occasions, but didn’t really believe any of it. It was part of his family identity so he went with it.

    Another co-worker was homophobic and was a raging racist.  He had no love for the religious either. While I wouldn’t count him in our greater community of reason, he was by definition an open atheist.

    I also had a co-worker who came from an Amish background. His father had left the Amish community and pretty much raised him secular. He had no love for religion at all and whenever I got into a religious conversation with a religious co-worker he would jump in and really go after religion as being a cult.

    As far as the religious go, there were three co-workers I knew who were pretty religious. One rarely talked to me and although he respected my judgment on work matters, he definitely didn’t like that I was an atheist.

    One co-worker was a fundamentalist Mennonite who really thought that Harry Potter was Satanic. Those were fun conversations. We actually had a great many conversations about religion. I probably talked to him the most on the subject. Our conversations were antagonistic, but friendly. We teased each other, but there was no anger or hate.

    The last one actually became “born again” during the time he was working there (but not during work). He was already a bit nuts before his conversion and his insanity only escalated afterward. But he was eager to convert me and so we talked quite a bit about religion. He even gave me a CD to listen to of a pastor that he admired. Ultimately, his insanity became out of control and the company had to fire him. He had become a pretty violent person and a lot of the people in the shop feared that he would “go postal.” I can’t say that religion made him crazy because I think he was already crazy before that, but I do think religion allowed him to lose control of his sanity. There is no doubt in my mind that his insanity escalated dramatically after his conversion.

    I had three venders that were religious that I also enjoyed conversations with. The first was a guy who was a great family man, but tended to be a little on the angry side when it came to religious and political discussions. I actually went out of my way not to discuss either with him, but we ended up discussing both often anyway.

    The second guy was a lot of fun to talk to about religion. He was a fundamentalist promise keeper. We became pretty good friends and on Christmas one year he gave me a copy of “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel. The following year, I gave him a copy of “A Letter To A Christian Nation” by Sam Harris. I read the book he gave me, but he didn’t read the one I gave him. Oh well.

    The last religious vender was a super nice guy and religion didn’t come up for a long time. But when he found out that I was an atheist he was curious. After that, we talked about religion a bit. I was on super atheist good behavior with him though because I didn’t want him to be insulted by the fact that I don’t believe what he believed. He reminded me of many liberal religious believers, but I don’t think he actually was a liberal.

    There were a lot of great experiences I had as an open atheist in that kind of environment – far more than I might have originally expected. There were a few negative incidents too, but they were few and far between. Ultimately, I think I changed a lot of people’s opinions about atheists and even about their own religious beliefs. But as VJack said, every workplace is different and I won’t want someone to get fired or mistreated because they came out as an atheist. Everyone has to evaluate their own situation for themselves.

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    Category: Atheism

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    Article by: Staks Rosch

    Staks Rosch is a writer for the Skeptic Ink Network & Huffington Post, and is also a freelance writer for Publishers Weekly. Currently he serves as the head of the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason and is a stay-at-home dad.

    2 comments

    1. It maybe argued that atheists who publicly admit their lack of belief will have experiences very different from yours due to regional and cultural variables.

      As a newly arrived addition to a small town in Western Kansas I was quickly overwhelmed with “church ladies” striving to have me join their particular church. They were relentless. I would come home from work to find them waiting for me in the driveway. Having grown up in Texas, I knew better than to tell the truth about my atheism. For those of you who have lived in the Bible Belt, you will fully understand that I would not have been allowed to function as a part of the community had it become known that I was an atheist.

      The church ladies did not cease their efforts until I called on the local Methodist pastor to intervene. (Early in my teens I was baptized (at my mother’s insistence) in the United Methodist church.) After several attempts to negotiate an agreement in which I would agree to attend church on Sunday mornings, the pastor finally agreed to notify his fellows that I was a baptized member of the United Methodist church, and was therefore, off limits to the church ladies.

    2. I’m fortunate enough to live in a part of the country that isn’t as religious as the bible belt and for the most part most of the people that I have worked with over the years haven’t spent much time talking about religion at all so it is unlikely that anyone would care about atheists; it’s also unlikely that anyone would bother coming out since it is irrelevant.

      On a few occasions I encountered “born agains” although not as radical as the one you describe; most people thought they were kind of silly and ignored them. I remember one that made a big deal out of it but he was friendly and harmless. I can’t say for certain why the individual you knew might have been inclined to “go postal” but suspect that your assumption that it wasn’t caused directly by his religion is probably right; a better assumption might be that the early indoctrination that caused his religious beliefs also caused his potential violent behavior. This isn’t guarantee of course but there are plenty of examples that have been like that which have been researched and it establishes a consistent pattern of behavior.

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