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Atheists at Work

Conflicts, Discrimination, Prejudice


People spend more time at their jobs than they spend in many other social situations — as a result, they also tend up spending more time with their coworkers than they might with friends and family. This means avoiding topics like belief in god and religion may be very difficult; if you are or seem to be the only atheist around, problems can result.

There is both a closeness and a distance which exists between coworkers. There is closeness because of the amounts of time spent together and the common experiences shared over the course of time. There is, however, a distance because that time spent together and those experiences are not necessarily chosen — you are thrown together by circumstances with people you might not otherwise choose to be with.

The social dynamics and office politics of your job can be complex and unique, making any generalizations about what a person should do and how they should act in particular situations difficult to sustain very far. Nevertheless, there are a number of basic principles which are probably worth following when navigating the rocks and shoals of your own workplace.


Should I reveal my atheism to my coworkers?
Because of the amount of time you spend with people at your job, you may feel uncomfortable with keeping that fact that you are an atheist hidden from them — especially if your involvement with various humanist or freethought causes is important to you. On the other hand, you may have legitimate concerns that revealing your atheism could maker your work situation even more difficult.

My coworkers talk about religion constantly and it bugs me.
Relationships at work are not and cannot be completely impersonal. Humans are social animals and it should be expected that they will want to develop social relationships alongside their professional relationships where they are employed. This is generally a good thing because it is easier to work with people with whom you have some social connection. Religion and politics, however, are well known for causing division and strife among people who probably should have avoided such discussions.

My coworkers have religious symbols all over the place
Because people spend so much of their time at work, it should be expected that they will decorate their desks, offices, cubicles, or other work areas with things that represent important parts of their lives. There will be pictures of families, objects representing sports, and of course religious symbols. But what do you do if those religious symbols become bothersome?

My coworker tries to convert me.
Religion can be a very important part of many people's lives — from their religion they derive their values, their morals, and often their reason for living. Because of this, it is not surprising that they may want to "share" their religious beliefs with others — but what if "sharing" crosses over the line into active proselytization?

My boss holds prayer meetings and Bible study groups.
Because religion is such an important part of so many people's lives, it is not surprising that it will end up playing a role for them where they work. They certainly cannot be expected to "turn off" their religion when they punch a time clock at the start of the day, so the sight of people praying, of people's religious symbols, and of people reading from religious scriptures should be neither surprising nor troubling.

I feel pressured to donate to religious charities at the office.
People making the rounds of their coworkers, seeking donations for this or that charity, are a common feature in the landscape of America's businesses. Sometimes they are asking for outright gifts and sometimes they are selling products for a charitable cause (hoagies for volunteer firefighters, Girl Scout cookies, etc.). Sometimes, however, the pressure to give may become a bit overbearing.

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