how do I handle questions about my religion at work meetings?

A reader writes:

I’m still Monday morning quarterbacking my response to this one in my head, I’d love your opinion.

This past week, a colleague (let’s call him Samwise) and I traveled to visit a vendor out of state. The first night, the vender’s (super enthusiastic and talkative) head of sales, Bilbo, took the two of us out for dinner. After we had ordered, the conversation shifted to out-of-work activities/interests, and Bilbo talked about some faith-based career coaching he does, which led into a conversation about how he attends a “bible-believing Christian church.” He then asked “Are you a man of faith, Sam?” And Sam enthusiastically agreed, and they spoke briefly about the church he attends.

Bilbo then turned to me and asked “Are you a woman of faith, Arwen?”

I am not, in somewhat of a shift from where I’ve been at in the past, for a lot of deeply painful and personal reasons that aren’t anyone’s business but mine.

I managed to spit out “Um, questioning” in a pretty stern tone of voice. Bilbo said “That’s what I’m here for!” and I changed the subject (I think I brought up my new puppy!).

There were a few more church/bible/religion-based topics of conversation throughout the rest of the night, but more general as far as involvement in church/church activities, and I didn’t hear another word from Bilbo about faith/religion/God for the rest of my two day visit, which was a relief. I felt like my answer, while it did end that conversational track, still revealed more then I’m comfortable with sharing about my faith or lack thereof with a vendor and a coworker.

How would you have responded in my situation? It may or may not matter, but I am a 30something woman. Sam is a man in his 40s and is my peer at work, and Bilbo is a man in his late 50s. I am the one who manages the budget that determines if and how much we work with this vendor. I plan to continue working with them, but a) I’d love to know what else I could have said in the moment that would have been less personal and b) what I could say in the future if this does come up as we continue to work together.

Ick, yeah, that’s really inappropriate for a work dinner.

Is Bilbo unaware that there there are lots of people who consider religious faith — or lack thereof — highly personal and not something they’re up for discussing with colleagues? Is he unaware that the specific language he chose is likely to be highly alienating to people from different faiths? Does he assume that such people are all so Other that he wasn’t likely to be talking to any of them or that he would know in advance that he was? And does he think his company won’t mind him potentially alienating revenue-producing clients?

To be clear, it was fine for him to share that he’s involved in his church (just like it would be fine for him to share that he’s involved in rescuing baby geese or loves to cook). But the rest of this — especially the “that’s what I’m here for!” — was inappropriate and out of line, even if being at dinner lulled him into thinking you were there for social reasons (you weren’t) and that these boundaries could therefore be relaxed (they can’t).

If something like that happens again, good responses are, “Oh, I’d rather not discuss religion” or “I prefer to keep religion and work separate” or “That’s pretty personal for me, but I’d love to hear what you thought about (insert subject change).” With a vendor, especially one who kept bringing up the topic throughout the night, you could also add, “Our company has people of a whole range of religions, and people of no religion at all, and it’s not something we’d typically bring into a work context.”

Hopefully that would shut it down — it would with someone who wanted to be respectful — but if not, you’d be on solid ground with a firmer, “I’m really not comfortable discussing religion in a work context and will preemptively ask you not to do this with other employees of ours either, so let’s talk about something else.”

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 840 comments… read them below }

  1. Pollygrammer*

    1) “Oh, I always try to avoid conversations about religion and politics.”
    2) Bland smile.
    3) Joke: “How about that weather and/or sport’s team?” (The most lighthearted but still effective way to change the subject is to really overtly change the subject in a joking manner).

    I’ve deployed this on several occasions

    1. BRR*

      This is my approach as well. I find it works really well to be the one to change the topic because it keeps the conversation going.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This is my approach, but I have an inner jerk that likes to come out when people do this. My other favorite response is to tell people I’m an infidel or heathen, or that I’m planning to go to a hell I don’t believe in.

        1. Thosetaxreturnswontfilethemselves*

          +1 – “I’m planning to go to a hell I don’t believe in”

          I really want to steal this and make it my catch phrase. Religion is always awkward.

        2. behindbj*

          My usual reply to this kind of thing, if a simple “I don’t talk about religion” doesn’t work: My life has become so much easier since I realized I’m going straight to hell.

          If they continue: I’m okay with – got a condo already and everything. Plus a Pool Boy and a Cabana Boy (both actual friends of mine along for the ride). *charming smile*

      2. AnnaBananna*

        My response would have been something along the line of ‘well, i have faith in my paycheck/dog/taxes’ etc, and then totally changed the subject. I honestly haven’t ever experienced such a crass dig into someone’s personal life in a work setting before and am frankly embarassed on his behalf.

    2. hiptobesquared*

      I’m from Michigan and “How about them Lions?” works EVERY. TIME. Pair it with excusing yourself and it’s no fail.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Where I live, every awkward conversation can be turned by referring to our state university’s football team. Hope springs eternal in the month of August!

      2. Erin W*

        Heh, just don’t try this with my dad, or you will get an EARFUL. Tigers are much safer territory.

      3. Christmas Carol*

        No one from outside the Great Lakes State understands the sarcasm inherent in this remark

        1. MatKnifeNinja*

          Yeah, the Motor City Kitties are good for a two hour tirade depending how much the person hates the Fords.

      4. BF50*

        This is what was playing in my head as I read the letter. “Are you a woman of faith?” “…So… How ’bout them Broncos?”

        1. SusanIvanova*

          Combine them: “Oh sure, every fall I think this is the year $team will make the playoffs.”

    3. Kittymommy*

      This is what I do too. For the record I do happen to be a Christian and had plans on this being my career (until things got on the way) – even have a fancy little degree for it and I absolutely despite when people do this. It’s just so obnoxious and intrusive. Ugh.

      1. Kathleen_A*

        I also happen to be a Christian, and I cannot even express how much I dislike this whole situation. But I have some extra special hatred for the phrase “bible-believing Christian church,” which is so smug and holier-than-thou-ish that I just can’t. Ugh!

        1. Anon for this one*

          Especially because it’s often a sign that they really just believe in an extremely rigid interpretation of the parts of the Old Testament that they find most appealing, possibly with a helping of magic Jesus on top. I may be too cynical there, but most of the people I’ve run into who used that phrase appeared to be from the prosperity end of the spectrum, and seemed inclined to weaponize their religion to try to gain advantage over others.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            No, you’re not too cynical! You have observed that “bible-believing Christian” is code for Christian fascists. And they are using religion as a weapon to take over our country and make themselves wealthy. I posted more below.

            1. Specialk9*

              I’m Jewish, and I call it “stealing the worst part of my scriptures, translated badly, and not even respecting the ways my scriptures resolved the bad parts, and then weaponizing it against us and others”.

              Seriously, if you ever want to love scriptures, go to a Torah study in a Reform synagogue in Boston, where ridiculously overeducated scholars are everywhere. There is so much subtlety and nuance when one really gets Hebrew, and one doesn’t pull punches on harmful dynamics.

              1. rj*

                amazing. I grew up Christian, and in a former job befriended the Hebrew Bible prof. So so so so cool, and such wonderful scholarship that… does not make it into most churches.

              2. RUKiddingMe*

                You’ll understand if I can’t remember that whole thing? But … I love it.

                When talk turns to religion I generally feign a headache or an urgent need for the ladies’ room.

                I’m just so worn out with listening to people trying to make me “see the light.” I especially get annoyed with those who act like/say things that are basically implying/asking me if I’ve ever been exposed to religious belief.

                Ex: “Have you heard about Jesus Christ?”
                “Really dude, really? You’re asking me, a middle aged person living in the USA if I ever heard of JC?…Go away.”

                I get really worn out listening to how the bible proves that what’s in the bible is accurate (that’s not how proof works dude), how I just need to come to their church, how maybe things are different now (isn’t god eternal?), and on an on.

                They are only going to try to argue me into a conversion which is going to be about as effective as convincing me to eat canned peas, just so pointless and exhausting. A headache at the right moment can work wonders.

                1. Loose Seal*

                  “Santa’s cousin? Oh sure, we go way back. I even went to school with his sister, the Tooth Fairy!”

                2. Michaela Westen*

                  You don’t have to listen to these people at all! By the time I was a teen I was so reactive to this stuff I would yell to scare them away, or run. Please do whatever is necessary to make them stop, or get away. They are controlling, relentless monsters. Don’t feel you need to accommodate them.

                3. JustaTech*

                  ““Really dude, really? You’re asking me, a middle aged person living in the USA if I ever heard of JC?…Go away.””

                  I am so, so glad there are other people who see this! It’s like when people make recommendations of dentists on Facebook “Oh, you should see Dr So-and-So, he’s a Christian.” Yeah, well, duh. When you live in a super-majority Christian area I would expect that most people I meet are at least nominally Christian unless otherwise specified. So why do some people feel the need to say it?

                4. Michaela Westen*

                  JustaTech, because they’re so religious (biased) they prefer to associate only with Christians.

                5. TardyTardis*

                  Someone like this Bilbo guy would get me started on how much Jesus would hate separating families, starving the poor, taking health care away…I’d go nose to nose to him on Scripture, too, I remember a *lot* from Sunday School.

              3. Jadelyn*

                I’m all pagan and stuff, but I have LOVED some of the stuff I’ve seen written by Jewish scholars – there’s such respect for nuance and while there seems to be quite a bit of back-and-forth over specific meanings sometimes, it’s still…respectful. Especially for someone whose church of origin frowned on questioning of the church teachings (a huge part of the reason why I left, tbh – I got kicked out of the youth group for asking too many questions, not rude questions or gotcha questions but genuinely trying to understand why god would want certain things from us, and said “okay yeah this obviously is not for me then.”), it’s beautiful to see a faith tradition where you’re *supposed* to question stuff and *encouraged* to discuss everything.

              4. Not Rebee*

                Honestly, I find the study of scripture to be really fascinating. I will say that this is the one benefit of having a K-12 Catholic school education; my schooling comprised of several hours of religion class a week that covered so much more than you could ever hope to fit into Bible Study. A lot of what we studied was repeat material (both schools were open to people who weren’t Catholic at all, and my HS chose to build their curriculum by assuming you knew almost nothing about Christianity as an incoming Freshman) but we also studied so much history. I took an entire non-optional semester class about the history of the Old Testament, and another about the history of the New Testament. We did an entire semester on morality issues, and I thought this was all very interesting even though I myself have gotten less Catholic as time goes on (I’d identify more as pagan now, but really I’m kind of more of a free for all pagan/agnostic/catholic). I think that this is all very important for people to learn! I’m constantly amazed by how ignorant of history and the Old Testament some very religious Christians can be.

        2. Book Badger*

          “Bible-believing Christian church,” as opposed to what, a NON-Bible believing Christian church? “Oh, MY church believes in the BIBLE, unlike all those OTHER churches!”

          1. Multitudinous*

            This is actually exactly what they mean though. It’s been discussed more downthread, but “bible-believing” is code for “we believe in one particular very strict interpretation of the Bible and anyone who believes in other interpretations is not only wrong, but is not really a Christian.”

            1. BF50*

              Which is why i think the answer to this question is probably “Yes”

              “Does he assume that such people are all so Other that he wasn’t likely to be talking to any of them or that he would know in advance that he was?”

            2. Kathleen_A*

              Oh, I *know* what it’s code for. That’s what makes it so smug and offensive. Because yes, all Christian churches believe in the Bible, but to some people, they don’t really believe unless they interpret it one fairly specific way.

              Although actually, even “Bible-believing” people have disagreements – and pretty substantial ones at that.

              1. Artemesia*

                I haven’t noticed much interest in the new testament among ‘Bible believing Christians’ — They give lip service to Jesus but pretty much ignore what he had to say.

          2. PhyllisB*

            Book Badger, actually there ARE churches who don’t (really) believe in the literal Bible. I’m a Christian, but not going to preach a sermon, and hope this doesn’t derail the conversation, but I have attended churches that try to “lead people away from interpreting the Bible literally.” (All I have to say about that is, how do you know you’re not disregarding the wrong part?) I now attend a non-denominational church, and we believe in the Bible, and I’m sure there are some judgmental people who attend, but almost everyone I know there is kindhearted and sincerely trying to find God’s will for their lives. P.S. When I say The Bible, I don’t mean it has to be King James. We have two pastors who use different Bibles and our Wednesday leader uses still another. I’m not trying to convert anyone, just wanted you to know there are Bible-believing Christians who are not harsh, judgmental and think if you don’t think like us you are going to Hell. (However, I did get a chuckle out of “I’m going to a Hell I don’t believe in.”

            1. Kathleen_A*

              Phyllis, I think Book Badger’s point is that it’s very smug and inaccurate for one Christian church or group of Christian churches to talk as though their interpretation of the Bible is the only one possible – and that anyone who disagrees with them is therefore not “Bible believing.” The point was NOT “Oooh, all Christian churches are judgmental.” It was instead more like “All Christian churches believe in the Bible. It’s just that there is more than one way to believe and to interpret.”

              1. Michaela Westen*

                ” and that anyone who disagrees with them is therefore not “Bible believing.” ”
                That’s the fascist attitude. It’s a short distance from there to “anyone who doesn’t believe as we do is going to hell”, and so on.

                1. Pomona Sprout*

                  “It’s a short distance from there to ‘anyone who doesn’t believe as we do is going to hell’, and so on”

                  And that mindset is precisely what drove me out of the fundamentalist denomination I was raised in!

            2. RUKiddingMe*

              “…“lead people away from interpreting the Bible literally.””

              My great-grandmother was a very devout Southern Baptist and dragged me to church with her on the regular when I was small. She would also teach me stuff she thought I should know. A couple of bonuses are that 1) she lived until I was 20 so I had a lot of time to learn stuff from her (including non-religious stuff), and 2) even though she was personally faithful, and naturally expected her descendants to be (I never told her I wasn’t…I didn’t feel an urge to come out as atheist particularly) and wanted us to know the stuff she knew as well as believing it.

              I can recall very vividly her telling me to never just take someone else’s word for what’s written down/their interpretation of it. She was talking specifically about the bible at that time trying to make sure that when I read scripture I understood in the context of what came before and what came after and that I didn’t just believe what someone else said it meant.

              Religion/bible/religious writings aside, I’ve used this as a guiding principle in my life overall.

              1. PhyllisB*

                RUK, that’s a very good point. To know the context and not just take someone’s word for it. That’s the issue; what SOMEONE ELSE said it meant. We humans are very good at “cherry picking” and finding what we like and ignoring the rest. I have been to a number of different churches/denominations, and some skew toward Old Testament, and some solidly New Testament. To get the whole picture, you have to read and try to understand both parts. Jesus said He didn’t come to abolish the law (Old Testament) but to add to it. This is where digging in and studying for yourself comes in handy. If you attend church or Bible study, of course there is going to be a leader who will put forth the lesson and put their own spin on what it means. But a good leader is the first to admit they don’t have all the answers, and invite discussion. I am the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers, and need to study a lot more.

                Thank you for making that point.

                1. NorthernSoutherner*

                  Humans may be good at cherry-picking, but when you do that you are skewing REALITY. If you really followed the Bible word for word, you’d be sacrificing goats on a regular basis. You wouldn’t get divorced for any reason other than adultery. You’d put to death a child who disrespected you. It goes on and on. But people hone in on what doesn’t apply to them, and ignore where they fall short. Or my favorite — I asked for forgiveness, so I’m OK whereas you’re a hell-bound sinner.

            3. soon 2be former fed*

              And churches that don’t believe in a literal bible are OK. The bible is a library, not a book, was written by many authors at different times, and is subject to interpretations and translations heaped on one another. I don’t think a book should be an idol. I respect it, but I don’t idolize it or slavishly adhere to it. The Holy Spirit is also useful for guidance, as is simply following the teachings of Jesus if one calls themselves a Christian. Religion makes everything so complicated.

              OP, just say that you were brought up never to discuss religion and politics, sorry!

              1. Emily*

                Yes, this! I am currently agnostic, but I was raised Christian. One of my Sunday school teachers taught us some Biblical history, with an emphasis on when and how the different New Testament books came into the picture. I really appreciated those lessons – they were more interesting than learning the same old stories and parables over and over, and emphasized that you can be religious but still thoughtful and critical of religious beliefs and practices.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      Same here. I’m an atheist, and the religious background that I do have is slightly unconventional, at least for the part of the country in which I live. Not that it doesn’t mean anything to me, but it’s not a big enough part of my life that I want to have to defend it all the time. So this is a door I’d rather not open, thanks.

      1. BookishMiss*

        Yeah, I tend to avoid it in a professional context, because “I’m an agnostic who was raised Pagan and Presbyterian, and I already have a table booked in a jerk I don’t believe in” tends not to go over well.
        Works great when I get missionaries at my door, though.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        **I can’t remember ever believing. I know when I said “wait, what…nope” though. I refuse to defend my beliefs (or lack thereof) to people who think it’s an ok question to ask.

        **Mom’s side was Baptist, Dad’s was Catholic. Neither of them went to church but my grandmothers did…and dragged me with them, ergo I was raised Captist.

    5. Hey Nonnie*

      Yeah, if I were in a really good mood I might crack a really obvious joke like “Oh, I have anywhere from one to seven faiths at least half of the time.” Otherwise, I’d either be shocked into silence (in itself likely a pointed statement, even if I later wish I’d been quicker on the uptake — and apparently I have a really terrifying death glare); or I’d just be straightforward, e.g. “That’s a really personal and inappropriate question to ask at work. We should talk about something else.”

      1. wendelennd*

        “Oh, I have anywhere from one to seven faiths at least half of the time.”

        Given the names used in the question, this makes me think of Bilbo’s Birthday Speech.

        1. My boss is dumber than yours*

          I tolerate less than half the religions half as much as I should

    6. Emily K*

      I used to study religious behavior in an academic context, including field research, interviews, surveys. In those cases I found it advantageous to conceal my atheism to put my research subjects at ease and make them feel comfortable talking to me.

      That said, I’m not a liar and will not lie to put the subjects at ease, so if this question ever came up, I got surprisingly good mileage out of nodding and saying, “I was raised Methodist.” Which is true. I don’t think anyone ever tried to follow-up with the begged question of whether I am still Methodist – they either understood my phrasing as a tactful dodge that they didn’t press me further on, or they assumed that I still practice my childhood religion.

      1. Multitudinous*

        It’s almost creepy how similar this is to my experience. I have a graduate degree in religion, which people often confuse with being exceptionally pious. Part of my academic interest in religion stems from some complex personal background, so I’m not comfortable discussing my religious beliefs (not particularly pious and largely still a work in progress). I give, verbatim, your response, “I was raised Methodist.”
        I’m not still Methodist, but I politely attend church with my family when so obligated and I can nod along fairly well in a conversation specific to Methodism. Occasionally I get a follow-up of “Oh, where do you go to church?” I’m typically pretty honest in these responses and just give a breezy “I don’t go very often” which usually shuts down that line of questioning.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          I was raised Catholic – which really doesn’t work in this situation. I usually get a, ‘so, do ya wanna get baptized now or tomorrow’ response. The near-horror on their faces is almost funny.

          I once admitted I was atheist to someone who asked this question socially (followed by a strong, ‘but that’s just me, I respect your belief’). You’d have thought I said I ate people. Sucked, my dog and I really liked their dog, but they were never comfortable around me again. They were early 20s, I may have been their first.

          1. Dr. Pepper*

            A little late to the party, but I had a similar experience in college. I was the first “openly heathen” person a highly, rigidly religious Christian girl in my dorm had ever met. The look she gave me was priceless. Like I had sprouted devil horns before her eyes. She gave me a wide berth after that, which was okay because I didn’t like her much anyway.

      2. Artemesia*

        My husband was raised Catholic; when he says that people just assume he is no longer Catholic. On the other hand when I was often asked this question working in the US South, I would brightly talk about my husband’s singing in the Presbyterian church choir (he wasn’t a Presbyterian, but a singer) and how lovely their youth program was and it seemed to deflect more probing about where I was ‘churched.’

      3. Ozma the Grouch*

        I am an atheist and used to be quite open about it to coworkers in the past. I have learned that that is a mistake. I was never someone who went out of their way to talk about religion, it’s not something that interests me. But I wouldn’t deny it if it came up. I was naive in thinking that people would accept me as an atheist, and instead I received a lot of what I now recognize as discrimination at my old job. One incident I remember in particular, my old CEO actually got verbally angry and frustrated at me at our annual Christmas party because I didn’t know the answers to a game that we were all playing. The answers to which were all religious questions. I was the only employee who didn’t take home a “prize” that night. Now when people bring up religion during work environments I use the “I was raised Catholic” line… similar to you Emily K. What really made me sad was it was and LGBT org and I was so excited to be working for people that I thought would be so accepting. Instead I felt like I needed to go further into the closet.

    7. Quadra*

      As an atheist, my most polite response is “I’m more spiritual”…. since I’m 0% religious, this feels less like a lie and less confrontational. That also allows several outs that don’t involve a conversation about detailed religious beliefs.

      1. AntsOnMyTable*

        As another atheist I tend to just be quiet when people blather on about their religion or god since somehow it is more confrontational for me to say god doesn’t exist than for people to say he does. But if someone asks me directly I will tell them that I am an atheist. I don’t feel I should have to equivocate and usually people aren’t use to actually meeting a proclaimed atheist that oftentimes it stops them from continuing.

        1. CatMintCat*

          I would have responded directly “No, I’m an atheist” and then changed the subject hard. It might not have worked, but I’m not going to prevaricate. If it hadn’t worked, I have no issue with arguing my side of a debate.
          However, I’m an Australian, and the religious climate here is very different to how the USA appears to be at the moment. The phrase “Bible-believing Christian Church” would have had me snort laughing my drink across the table and the whole thing would be fodder for some really good work-based stories in the future.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            Yeah, I’m in the US South. This isn’t even a weird question here. A *lot* of repair people / plumbers / lawn service / similar service people have cross decals on their professional trucks, with some verbiage about their faith. I don’t doubt their faith, but there’s also a marketing element to it, and it’s common enough that I guess it works.

            1. MatKnifeNinja*

              I live in Michigan, and there are two mega churches in my area.

              I get asked that question from all sorts of randoms.

              A cashier was the most recent one.

        2. Artemesia*

          LOL. have you noticed that it is extremely ‘disrespectful’ and ‘rude’ to argue atheism when religion comes up, but perfectly OK in the same circles to push religion?

          1. Ozma the Grouch*

            Yes, as an atheist, if I don’t know you I don’t care enough to tell you anything about my lack of belief because the debate does not interest me and quoting the bible (why do they always quote the bible?) really isn’t prove anything now is it. So why poke the bear?

            1. Quadra*

              Totally agree. I call myself a lazy atheist… I don’t care enough to argue about it or try to ‘prove’ anything.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            It sounds like the religious people you’re meeting are very pushy and rude.
            Aside from that, I think one reason people might not be comfortable with atheism is, a lot of people get comfort from the idea of God. The idea that God doesn’t exist probably scares and hurts them, and they get upset.

    8. NotMyUsualHandle*

      On the politics side of things…had a work dinner with a 3rd party consultant that Teapot corporate sends to work with teapot distributors. Consultant happened to be Canadian and said, “So, as a Canadian, I just have to ask…what is up with Trump? Did any of you vote for him?”

      The table is deeply split (and we knew we were split and have gone to great lengths to Not Talk About It) we tried to deflect but she wouldn’t leave it alone even after a point blank “We don’t talk about politics at work.” Most awkward company dinner I’ve ever been to.

      1. Free Now (and forever)*

        We visited Nova Scotia in September of 2016. Canadians got very nervous when they heard our American accents, until we assured them we were not Trump supporters.

          1. Are you effing kidding*

            How on earth does Free Now’s comment “push a political agenda?” Do you think that stating whether or not you support a candidate is pushing an agenda? Ridiculous.

      2. Specialk9*

        I had a very similar situation – and similar to OP’s. We had a potential vendor bring up politics – not just politics but Trump! – on a call as an *icebreaker*. It was shocking. (I actually share his particular view, but to talk politics at work, and such charged politics, especially as a *vendor*?!) I was not prepared and changed the subject without directly saying anything, but later emailed him and asked him to avoid religion and politics. He got the message.

        10 years ago I would have just been quietly upset. I’m getting better at speaking up, in part thanks to AAM.

    9. No Mas Pantalones*

      I have a tendency to answer awkward questions about religion and politics and such with: “I like candy.” And then I smile with my mouth only, not moving any other part of my body or breaking eye contact. Shuts ’em down every time.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        “My mother raised me to not discuss religion & politics in polite company” is my standard answer.

      2. BookishMiss*

        That episode of That 70s Show where Eric responds to “I love you” with “I love cake” comes to mind.

        1. No Mas Pantalones*

          Took a few tries to perfect just the right amount of creep, but once mastered, it’s virtually foolproof.

    10. RUKiddingMe*

      “My sweet old Southern grandma taught me to never discuss religion or politics in polite company. So how about those Hawks/Huskies?”

      Depending on the situation…

      “Oh I never discuss religion with males.” <–Depressing how many males will just accept this as an ok thing, separation of genders and all. SMH

      1. Specialk9*

        Hahaha that’s brilliant. “Oh, gosh, I never discuss religion or politics in mixed company.” And then they’ll be puzzling over why those things are sexual.

    11. Decima Dewey*

      Since OP manages the budget and has the say about which vendor the company uses, she could have said “That’s none of your business. And if you don’t drop the subject pronto, you won’t be getting any of our business.”

  2. Falling Diphthong*

    (I think I brought up my new puppy!)

    This was brilliant. Sometimes we are flabbergasted and in need of lining up a conversational punt in the face of it, and new puppies are hard to beat as a surprise play.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      It’s the “Have you tried the bean dip?” from Etiquette Hell, except the bean dip is an adorable, fluffy puppy! Well played, OP!

            1. Liane*

              Please do post some!

              And Bilbo the Vendor was an ass. I am a Christian and I don’t do this. Yes, when asked about hobbies and so on, you will find out I am in my church choir, alongside helping to spoil our family’s own adorable dog, and playing an assortment of roleplaying games.
              But I don’t do this to people I work with or even friends. People around me know my Christian beliefs are important to me and that if they ask me, I will share.

              1. Plague of frogs*

                Yes, ditto. People at work know my religion because it comes up in the context of, “What did you do this weekend?”

                Also, I hate the question, “Are you a person of faith?” It really means, “Are you a person of *my* faith?”

                I’d be tempted to respond, “No, I’m not a person.”

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Ha! I am going to borrow this for the future.

                  I am also a Christian, but I would be so offended and uncomfortable if this had happened to me.

                2. Amy Farrah Fowler*

                  Ugh, yes. Generally, my (snarky) response to “Have you found Jesus yet?” is something along the lines of ‘I didn’t know he was missing!’ with a look of shock/horror on my face…

              2. Drago Cucina*

                Agreed. I’m pretty involved in my church and my husband is ordained Catholic clergy. I dislike when people ask about my faith because I never know if I’m going to get a Catholics are going to hell lecture. So, I agree that Bilbo was a jerk.

                The words of St. Francis come to mind, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Bilbo was busy using words.

              3. PhyllisB*

                Liane, that’s my attitude. Almost everyone who knows me knows I’m a Christian and active in my church, but it’s not something I go around talking about. I would never walk up to you and say, “Are you saved? Do you have a church home?” But if someone asked me if I was a person of faith, I would say, “Absolutely!!” (Still, not an appropriate topic for a work situation.) Also if someone asked me if I would talk to them about church, ect. I would, BUT I would not initiate the conversation.

                1. Former Employee*

                  If you were my co-worker, I would think it was perfectly natural for you to mention that on Sunday there was a special program at your church when sharing what you did over the weekend.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                AWWWWWWWWW! That is one intensely cute puppy. SO CUTE, even. Thanks for that! Just what I needed to close out my work day.

    2. lyonite*

      I think the real lesson here is that we should all get new puppies, just in case this comes up. Can’t be too prepared.

      1. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

        I like the way you think. Tactical puppies for everyone!

        1. Perse's Mom*

          Whole different meaning to ‘purse dogs’ when people are literally pulling puppies out of their bags as a distraction technique during awkward conversations.
          “Okay, but have you seen my dog?”
          “What? I was talking about (touchy subject) and-”
          “But look at my DOG!”

        2. SusanIvanova*

          The last time I had door-to-door proselytizers was the day my new pup had just finished her first ever obedience class. It had been muddy, so she’d just had her feet washed. I opened the door, she spotted the new people to meet, and popped up and plopped her wet paws on their knees.

          That was over 15 years ago. Very effective deterrent!

          1. PhyllisB*

            I remember a friend of mine years ago who opened the door and there was a Jehovah’s Witness and a Mormon missionary on her doorstep. She invited them to both come in and every time one them would say something, the other one would glare. She said they almost got into a fist fight.

            1. Specialk9*

              Oh man that’s hysterical.

              The last time I had an earnest proselytizer, I explained why their Hebrew translations were wrong in the pamphlet and actually the word means this, with connotations of this.

              I wasn’t trying to be mean, I just got enthusiastic, but he scooted out really fast. I realized after he probably hadn’t written the flyer and didn’t have edit rights.

            2. Renna*

              That doesn’t make sense at all….I think the last time Mormon missionaries were allowed to wander around alone was the early 1900s.

  3. hrsy*

    say you follow a different religion and wanted to convert him. usually the convo will end right there

    1. AmazinglyGuileless*

      I wish I had the guts to do this.

      OP, I applaud you for keeping your cool. I would have lost it and absolutely refused to do business with him.

    2. Ann O. Nymous*

      “I am, as you can of course tell by the colander on my head, a Pastafarian. Have you come to bask in the light of our lord & savior, the Flying Spaghetti Monster?”

      And then when they get uncomfortable, keep pushing the issue and inviting them to your Pastafarian church. It would be literally no different than the type of intrusiveness I frequently experienced in the American South re: certain Christians.

    3. I'll think of a clever name later...maybe.*

      I did this once. I was really young…like 19…and got cornered at my retail job by a woman who wanted me to come to her church. She started saying stuff about how her god commanded her to go on this journey to bring souls that needed saving to church. I laughed and said “oh, the guy at my church isn’t interested in saving souls, just collecting them. You should come by.” and then I just maintained creepy eye contact until she backed away. I honestly don’t think I would be able to pull that off these days. I’d be too “in my head” to get it out.

      1. Specialk9*


        Seriously, I practice my crazy eye. You never know when it might save the life. Or, you know, get you out of a mildly awkward social situation.

      2. Ozma the Grouch*

        Oh wow… I love that. I wish I still had the audacity to say something like that. Maybe outside of work I could pull it off? At work I need to keep things purely professional lest I set a poor example for others.

    4. Lara*

      You’d be surprised how many people that wouldn’t stop. That might just renew the effort.

    5. Multitudinous*

      Nothing like a battle of proselytism to liven up the workday. Really though, please don’t do this. People who don’t understand that it’s not ok to pursue conversations about religion at work have a higher than average chance of taking offense to this or seeing it as a challenge.

    6. Decima Dewey*

      Good answer.

      Bilbo needs to remember that a) not everyone is a Christian b) not every Christian is a Protestant and c) there are scores of different ways to be a Christian Protestant.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        Responding to myself: and there are also a hefty number of Biblical translations out there.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        If Bilbo is typical of the Christian fascists I grew up with, he refuses to believe any of that.

    7. Chameleon*

      My mother was a student of the Self-Realization Fellowship and used to keep a stack of pamphlets by our door just for this purpose.

      “Good morning! Have you heard the Good News about our Savior?”
      “Well hello there! Have you read the wisdom of Paramahansa Yogananda?”

  4. Oh So Very...*

    It’s confusing to me that, whenever anyone asks if you’re a person of faith, they always seem to mean the Christian faith. I am definitely a person of faith, but I am not a Christian. Can you imagine the dinner conversation if you said that at the table?

    1. Cat Herder*

      Same here! If they asked if I’m a person of faith, I think I would have replied enthusiastically – and truthfully – that I’m a devout Muslim. Guess that would have brought the conversation to a screeching halt. Or maybe the opposite.

      1. Liane*

        “I’m a devout Muslim. Guess that would have brought the conversation to a screeching halt. Or maybe the opposite.”
        The opposite, with me. I enjoy talking with those of varying Christian faiths and would be happy to learn from people of other faiths.

        1. Specialk9*

          Right but I’m guessing you would never act like Bilbo in the first place.

          It’s these Venn diagram circle, but with no overlap.

          1. Gala apple*

            The word “faith” itself is a very Christian word. Judaism doesn’t use that term- we just call it religion. It actually means a very different thing.

        2. Jadelyn*

          Many years ago, I was in an airport waiting for a connecting flight. I had a copy of the Llewelyn Witches Almanac (I was still doing the Wicca thing at that point) for that year in my bag, and I’d opened said bag so I could pull out my crochet project and work on it while I waited. A young woman sitting nearby caught sight of the book, and asked me if I was a witch. I warily replied that yes, I was.

          She was…Episcopalian, I think? And I was bracing myself for an argument (I was like 19 and hadn’t developed my “go ahead, make my day” attitude yet), but she got super excited because she was a student of religion and had never met a pagan in person. She had all these questions, and there was just such genuine curiosity and interest behind it that I still remember her, over a decade later. It wound up being a really lovely conversation, no attempts at conversion, just asking questions and really listening, open-minded, to the answers.

          I wish there were more of those kinds of encounters, and fewer of the conversion-seeking types.

          1. Skeetpea*

            I once observed my daughter (culturally Jewish, Buddhist/pantheist) sharing views and concepts with a couple of born-again Christian young people who’d rarely been out of their bubble. It was fascinating to watch them all be out of their familiarity zone and yet be open and interested about the other.

      2. Else*

        Yeah – I’m gonna guess that there’d have a been a lot of awkward shuffling and huffing and changing the subject because of my own experiences with people who would use those phrases and behave like that, but you never know.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Right? I’m a humanist. I have all the faith in humans. I’m a woman of faith!

        1. Specialk9*

          Really? Mine was lost in the last 2 years.

          But I’m white, so that probably explains why I still had so much faith in humanity.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        Secular Humanism is one of the things fascists demonize as the machinations of Satan. Yes, they say that about a belief that is nothing but being good to others.
        Fascists demonize (literally) any person, group or belief that stands in the way of them controlling everyone and taking all the money for themselves.

        1. Specialk9*

          Wait are you taking about the political strain of fascism – as in a dictatorship that puts the country and a strongman first – or are you using that as a proxy for, say, Sharia Christians?

          1. BenAdminGeek*

            I think Michaela is using the term “Christian fascists” in the same way that some people say “Sharia Christians.” Neither term is very accurate or really helps further the discussion in my opinion, it’s staking out a signalling position.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            I explained below, it’s from the book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, by Chris Hedges.
            I know they’re fascists because I grew up in a fascist area. This book clarified and explained so much about what I saw!
            Yes, they are fascists who are using religion to take over our country. The back cover has the passage where the author’s divinity professor, who had worked in Nazi Germany, predicted the rise of Christian fascists in the US. :(

            1. BenAdminGeek*

              I get that the book was useful for your understanding and you find it helpful. But the term fascism has specific historical meanings that Hedges appears to be eliding, and it’s an unnecessarily divisive term to be tossing around. As a purely practical matter, dominionists are not an influential part of our culture or government in any appreciable manner.

              I don’t want to get into a political discussion here, but would just ask that you refrain from loaded terms like fascist while we discuss how the OP can push back professionally.

              1. Michaela Westen*

                As explained in the book, the Christian Right are dominionists and are actively trying to take over the country. Their goal is a theocracy where all of us are forced to live by their rules and worship as we’re told.
                They have made huge inroads since I was young. This country is in danger. I speak up at every opportunity because the more people who understand this, the better chance we have!

      2. Julia*

        I’m considering going into the opposite direction: “I have complete faith in the stupidity of humans.” (Not all humans, of course!) While staring him down. But I’m also pretty snarky.

    3. Jadelyn*

      I actually take wicked delight in pulling that out. I am very much a person of faith – specifically, Luciferian. Woe betide the unsuspecting Christian who asks me if I’m a “woman of faith”, because I am not shy about it, and I will reply with an enthusiastic “Oh, yes! I’ve been a Luciferian for a number of years now, though I’ve been just more generally Pagan for a lot longer than that.” Paired with a bright, guileless smile, as if I’m genuinely completely unaware that the asker meant “Christian” when they asked about “faith”, it *really* throws people for a loop.

      I figure it’s no more or less than they deserve, for conflating their specific religion with “faith” as a general concept, as if other faiths don’t exist or don’t matter or aren’t really *faith*. Whether intended or not, it’s a really rude thing to say/do, and maybe getting a shocking reply will make them think twice before asking that question in that way again in the future.

        1. Hey Nonnie*


          (I also get REALLLLY irritated at the common christian hubris that there is only one “faith” and it happens to be theirs. Take a world religions class, people.)

      1. JS*

        Honestly I think it would be more shocking to hear someone admit to worshiping the devil or any other non-conventional religion rather then them admitting they aren’t Christian. Sounds like you just get-off on antagonizing since you assume they are asking if you are Christian not if you just believe in something.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          And yet if they were indeed just asking if she believed in something, they wouldn’t be antagonized by her answer, so…

          Also, you get negative points for assuming that truthfully saying that you are of a pagan faith is by its nature “shocking” and “antagonistic.” “Non-conventional religions” do exist and people do follow them. Now that you know that, you can meet them without being shocked by their existence.

          1. JS*

            Well thats why I mentioned “non conventional”, something that isn’t popularized as one of the major religions, someone would be taken aback by it. Maybe shocked is the wrong word and surprised fits better but I would definitely be thrown off if someone said an obscure religion. That isnt the same as being judgmental though…

        2. Plague of frogs*

          I’m a Christian and not even mildly bothered, much less antagonized, when someone tells me they’re a Pagan. Not sure where you’re coming from.

          1. JS*

            I’m not saying you should be. The poster says they take “wicked delight” so the connotation there is they enjoy throwing off/shocking Christians by their enthusiastic responses, so it’s more of their intention rather than if you would be. It’s different though from being taken aback/shocked than judgmental. But from the way the poster wrote it seemed like their intent IS to antagonize because they assume Christians will be intolerant.

        3. Clorinda*

          Saying you aren’t Christian isn’t “admitting.” To admit to something has connotations of confession and shame, which is not the case.
          Also, it would be *surprising* to meet a Luciferian–I don’t know if I’ve ever met one, certainly I’ve never discussed religion with one–but that’s not the same as *shocking*.

          1. JS*

            Admit in this case is appropriate, the connotation of confession isn’t applied to the poster feeling shame (because they said they are enthusiastic about mentioning it) but the fact the poster wants to shock Christians that they are proud to admit it, assuming the Christian thinks they should be shamed. Anyone should be proud or able to be vocal about whatever they believe so this whole tit for tat is a bit ridiculous.

            Surprising/Shocking tomatoe, tomato honestly.

        4. Oranges*

          Sooo…. go back into your little religious closet so we can all pretend that only degenerates practice that particular religion? Please stop viewing her religion/deity through your religion’s viewpoint.

          I’ve looked into religions to see if any appeal to me after the Lutherans screwed my head up big time (like I’m still getting a handle on it 16+ years later and won’t ever be “free” of it). There’s nothing “evil” or “debased” about her god/religious icon when you view it from a completely agnostic* viewpoint.

          *Agnostic meaning that no one religion’s strictures/viewpoints are held as more true than another’s.

          1. Oranges*

            To clarify: I am of the firm belief that religion is a human created* tool to operate in large groups.

            Eg. If everyone on earth was, let’s say a pastafarian, there would still be all the evils and goods that our current faith systems create. It’s humans and societies that create evils, religion just gives them justification/powerlessness. On the flip side it also gives us a tool to be better.

            *created in the fact that it organically grows in cultures and it works to keep that culture cohesive, not as if some people sat down and invented it.

            1. JS*

              Your beliefs are yours and that’s fine. I agree about the good and evil aspect however my comment had nothing to do with that.

              I am pointing out the irony/hypocrisy in assuming others will be judgmental of your religion so you get defensive and in their face about it to get a reaction that serves to confirm your original bias.

          2. JS*

            “Please stop viewing her religion/deity through your religion’s viewpoint” But I am pointing out the irony that she assumes a Christian would view it through their religion by her response meant to try to antagonize them. LOL the hypocrisy in your post. I never said any of that so that is your assumption as well.

        5. Jadelyn*

          Amazing. Every word of what you just said was wrong.

          Really, for such a short comment, you sure managed to pack quite a number of erroneous assumptions and accusations in.

          1. I don’t “worship the devil” in the sense you, or most people, mean the term. It’s a lot more theologically complex than that, and your reductionist misrepresentation is not helping the conversation.
          2. If someone is going to be shocked by an unexpected response to a question, maybe they shouldn’t ask the question. I fail to see why it’s my problem if they are shocked by the mere existence of people belonging to “non-conventional” religions. That sounds like a them problem, and something they need to work through on their own time.
          3. I get off on many things, but antagonizing people isn’t one of them, and it’s pretty rude of you to make that accusation (not to mention unnecessarily crude). This is just a strategy I use to combat a rude and invasive question, which tends to produce more or less the response I’m going for: the person shuts up and stops prying into my religious beliefs, and hopefully gets a tiny bit gun-shy about prying into people’s religious beliefs in the future, or at least is more careful about their wording if they do so.
          4. Trust me, speaking as someone who has had to navigate that question a frustrating number of times, I can assure you that they very much are asking if you’re Christian despite the pseudo-innocuous general phrasing they’re using. Asking if someone is a “person of faith” has never, in my experience or anyone I’ve known who’s encountered it, actually been a genuine question about whether you have *any* religion; every time, literally every time, it’s code for “Are you Christian?” So yeah, I’m going to treat it as such, because years of experience have taught me that’s what it means.

            1. Jadelyn*

              *blushes* Thank you all – and thank you to everyone who stepped in to shut that down before I’d even seen it. This is why I love the community here – stuff like that is genuinely an outlier, and most everyone cares enough to chime in and say “dude, not cool” to someone who tries to start stuff.

              1. JS*

                No, people just like to bash Christians. If I would have said the same post about pagans/atheist it would have been an issue. I am only pointing out your hypocrisy that you assume people will judge you so you antagonize them.

                1. Oranges*

                  No one in this thread is bashing Christians. We are bashing the belief that Christian is the default religion.

                  Some commentators outside of this particular convo are bashing Christians[TM]/The radical Christians/The only true Christians/The fascists who spring up in any religion if conditions are right and no checking force is applied. Those Christians SHOULD be persecuted/laughed at/what-have-you since they preach intolerance and commit so many acts of terrorism that it’s not even funny.

                  And always remember: equality feels like persecution when you’re in the historically privileged class.

                2. JS*

                  Oranges, It is bashing to be combative and prejudice towards someone who you assume is/will judge you not knowing anything about them. Even if they do mean “are you a christian” that doesn’t mean if you say no they will be hateful so trying to rile them up and get a reaction out of them is bashing and problematic. It doesn’t help her case on seeking tolerance.

                  As far as privilege I think it just depends on what region in US you are in. Although this country was founded on Christianity, Christianity is often a joke in pop culture. Especially growing up on the west coast in liberal cities most people were agnostic or atheist. I am now on the east coast in NYC and Judaism is dominant. If you are in the midwest bible belt or deep south I can see how you would feel that way.

          1. No Mas Pantalones*

            Here’s where I stand up and slow clap.

            And buy you a drink or a new pen or something else celebratory for being awesome.

          2. Batshua*

            Pretty much everything you said is why when people pull out their missionary-signal, I now go full-on pagan instead of Jewish. For one thing, those sort of folks see Jews as prey, but see Pagans as some sort of terrifying force.

          3. JS*

            1. Lucifer is known as the devil not just in Christian religions but many others as well. I did not give a specific meaning to it in your religion being good and evil. Scientology is more than people worshiping alien’s but well known for its figure head of Xemu/Xenu being an alien. Of course its more complex but it is at its very base, what it is.

            2. I never said its your problem I said the problem was you assumed they would be shocked and went out of your way to be enthusiastic about it to get a reaction. By your own words you are assuming they are thinking you are Christian.

            3. “I actually take wicked delight in pulling that out. I am very much a person of faith – specifically, Luciferian. Woe betide the unsuspecting Christian…” Sounds antagonistic to me, but go off. LOL!

            4.You are admitting to your own preconceived notions though so any context clues you will use to just validate your own assumptions rather than seeing the situation for what it is. You are ready to pounce with your enthusiastic/aggressive response because you assume they will judge you and go on the defensive which actually just makes other people get defensive as well.

            It’s all super hypocritical lol.

            1. Brittasaurus Rex*

              Not that I have much respect for your interminable posts, but you look even more a fool when you “lol” everything.

              1. JS*

                Imagine being so out of touch you think internet slang usage is a sign of intellect. While commenting on a blog online. You can’t make this up LMAO!

            2. Mintspear*

              My favourite thing about this community is how obstinate people tend to get when a moderate or conservative points out hypocrisy. :)

              Reading Captain Awkward is one of my guilty pleasures for that reason. Though, props to Allison for not moderating this into a liberal echo chamber. :)

              1. JS*

                Exactly! Thank you a voice of reason.

                I am Christian and although I don’t agree with her religion, I don’t care that she practices it it’s not my business. I am not here to debate the validity of her religion just the hypocrisy of assuming Christians will judge you so you judge them and try to rile them up.

      2. Shishimai*

        …yup. Asking if I’m a person of faith is asking for a good hard kick at the unnecessarily confined definitions.

      3. Michaela Westen*

        IME it’s intended. They dismiss and disrespect all faiths that are not theirs.

      4. Specialk9*

        I already knew I liked you. This confirms it. I would love to be lurking in a potted plant, to see the reactions to that.

      5. Piper Furiosa*

        Jadelyn: I really like how you said : “I figure it’s no more or less than they deserve, for conflating their specific religion with “faith” as a general concept, as if other faiths don’t exist or don’t matter or aren’t really *faith*. Whether intended or not, it’s a really rude thing to say/do, and maybe getting a shocking reply will make them think twice before asking that question in that way again in the future.” I’m an atheistic Satanist (don’t feel like explaining it much here, but we view Satan as a metaphor and are a religion through our community, philosophy, and non-theistic rituals). I feel like what you expressed in your rationale really fits the aspect of Lucifer as an adversary to the status quo. I think what some people are criticizing in your statement is actually you just embodying your/our values as people on the Luciferian/Satanic spectrum (because what we are isn’t exactly the same religion, but that’s a huge digression ).

        Relating more to the OP’s situation, it would be very hard for me, as a Satanist, to deal with that question in a way that wouldn’t make me feel gross. I don’t feel like I can be out with my religion at work, for many reasons, so I’d have to either 1. risk outing myself to remind the questioner that not everyone’s a Christian, 2.lie/cover up the truth, or 3. use one of AAM’s scripts for deflection. None of these solutions is painless for me. Three is obviously the best choice, but it still involves me putting myself through discomfort due to another’s blunder. Religion, or lack there of, is a private matter , and it’s rude to assume otherwise just because cultural hegemony makes the dominant faith seem ubiquitous.

    4. Sara without an H*

      It’s not just the Christian faith that is meant — it’s evangelical Protestantism. I’m Roman Catholic and it’s within the realm of possibility that Samwise and Bilbo wouldn’t consider me a Christian. (Note: Not all evangelical Protestants are anti-Catholic, but there are enough around to make it awkward.)

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Yeah, I’ve found by telling people I’m Catholic seems to cut those conversations pretty short. Never did understand why, maybe we’re hard to convert? Drink too much as a faith? Still worried about the Inquisition (of course “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” -sorry had to do it) Or maybe it’s our badass Bingo reputation?

        Mostly though I’ve never had it come up in a work setting, but I’d probably have answered the “Are you a person of faith” question with something non-committal like “Oh sure I have faith in a lot of things… Like my new puppy is going to eat all of my shoes while I’m on this trip”.

        If pressed after that then I would use my go to response “I find faith and religion to be terribly personal and keep it to myself, I’d never dream of asking someone to tell me what if anything they believe in”

        1. mliz*

          Catholics seems to be notoriously hard to convert (I mean, there are plenty of versions of Catholicism, too, I’m given to understand that I as a Roman Catholic would not quite be able to follow Irish Catholic mass very well).

          Some (famous, former) Scientologists are on record as having said they didn’t convert their co-stars because said co-stars are Catholics and that simply doesn’t work. It’s allegedly also why Tom C. never managed to turn Nicole K.

          Personally, where I am there is a lot of religious solicitation both on the street and door to door (think like JW, just less polite to outsiders), and when I tell them that I’m Catholic that shuts things down pretty quickly.

          Perhaps we’re already too indoctrinated?

          1. K*

            I think it also can be because some Catholics associate it with not just their religion, but more their heritage/ethnicity. I have many relatives who when you ask them about their background, the answer is they’re Irish Catholic. Never just Irish, or Irish and Catholic. Even though I don’t practice or believe, I’m forever a lapsed catholic, not an atheist. It’s like something we inherit, not something we choose.

            1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

              That’s a really interesting take on it, and I think you’re probably very correct.

            2. mliz*

              I think for the Irish it is a very cultural thing, mostly due to the religious unrests in Ireland of the past (and I don’t just mean the Catholic Protestant issues of today but also the, I’m lacking a better word, identuredness of the Irish to the English which led to the diaspora in the first place). However, one hallmark of the Catholic church is it should all be the same everywhere. Of course it isn’t, but Irish Catholic seems to be such a close cousin that it’s weird not being quite able to follow mass (mind you, my ritual call and response is also not in English, so I don’t actually know the words, this might be another issue).

              And yes, I have been agnostic for 20 years now, but I never declared that I leave the Catholic church. It’s….weird, but I can’t.

              (Sorry, that was really OT now)

            3. KatieJ*

              Same here. I consider myself culturally Catholic, but not religiously so. I give something up for Lent because I like to see what vices I still have control of, as the joke goes, and that’s about it. I have a lot of anxiety about not raising my son Catholic even though I no longer believe.

              This isn’t something I’ve shared with coworkers, either, because I’m in the South. It would be A Thing.

              1. Thlayli*

                I also do Lent and keep lots of catholic traditions even though I lost my faith many years ago, was atheist for a long time and am now agnostic – id still consider myself catholic by culture. I think things like Lent and Confession are great for your mental/emotional well-being it’s not just a spiritual thing. I never understood people who lose faith and instantly start doing the exact opposite of their religion. It’s just throwing the baby out with the bath water. All religions have some good in them.

              2. Michaela Westen*

                For what it’s worth, I think the Catholic church has done a lot of damage (and still is), and you’re right not to raise your son in it. :)

            4. blink14*

              I am “Irish Catholic” and you are correct, being Catholic directly relates to being Irish. At one time, there was heavy persecution against Catholics, particularly coming from England, and being both Irish and Catholic meant essentially a double persecution from the English crown. The religion permeates the culture and the two have fused together in a lot of ways. I also am lapsed, but I also identify as Catholic when asked, because that is part of who I am (and I have been both baptized and confirmed).

              In more recent history, religion has very much split Northern Ireland into Irish Catholic and Irish Protestant, and that split goes beyond religion to ethnicity and nationality (Irish vs. UK), but the line generally falls along the religious one because historically, being Protestant meant you were English or Scottish, and those today who are Protestant likely have an ancestor that was English or Scottish and came to Ireland at some point. Being Irish Catholic or Irish Protestant was often and still can be a very important piece of an Irish citizen’s identity.

            5. Inspector Spacetime*

              This is interesting. I’ve never thought much of this before, but it is true when asked that I say my mom’s side of the family is “Irish Catholic.”

              1. Chinookwind*

                As someone who is Catholic and has a dad who is Irish Protestant, it does lead to interesting explanations of who I am when asked for details.

            6. Oranges*

              This reminds me of what my sister went through when she converted to Judiasm. It’s more than just the religious aspects. it’s an entire culture/ecosystem and teasing out what’s “religious” and what’s “cultural” is… like trying to figure out what part of light is a wave and what part is a particle.

              1. Peggy*

                And just to make things more complicated, what is often referred to as “culturally Jewish” in the US is actually Northern/Eastern European Ashkenazi culture, and so Jews whose religious culture goes back hundreds of years can find they don’t recognize “Jewish culture” if their families are Sephardic, Mizrahi, or Ethiopian. Whee!

            7. Alton*

              I agree that that’s the case for a lot of people. My mom doesn’t feel quite that strongly, but she still identifies as Catholic because it’s how she was raised and she doesn’t feel drawn enough to anything else. She hasn’t been to mass in almost 15 years and doesn’t have much love for the church, but she still identifies as Catholic.

              That said, it seems like a lot of Pagan, Wiccan, and Jewish converts are former Catholics. When I started attending a Reform synagogue and would tell people that I had been raised Catholic, they would often tell me how many Catholics and former Catholics they’d met who were interested in Judaism.

              My theory is that a lot of former Catholics who are still religiously-inclined are drawn to other faiths that have a lot of emphasis on tradition and ritual.

              I think the focus on ritual was the only thing that kept me invested in Catholicism as a teen, because to some degree it was easy to “do” Catholicism without reflecting much on whether I believed in the underlying theology.

              1. BookishMiss*

                That’s interesting that you’ve found a ton of former Catholics amongst the pagan communities. It makes sense, though, in a way, given the hierarchies of saints, meditative prayer, reliance on ritual and tradition, etc. I’ve found that a huge portion of the pagans in my area are former white Anglo-Saxon evangelical protestants, though this is a heavily German-settled area. Probably varies by region, but this kind of thing makes my stats brain go wheeeeeee.

              2. Specialk9*

                I’ve noticed that exact thing in my Reform synagogues. The converts are always former Catholics.

                My theory is that it has elements of the familiar (Reform Judaism was very influenced by German Protestantism – tall whitewashed arches and stained glass – and tallit prayer shawls look like prayer robes, though I think the influence was other way round, and the mikveh ritual bath was coopted into Christian baptism), but with the right to make one’s own religious choices. Plus the ardent LGBTQ support where Catholicism is often the opposite. Just my theory though…

            8. Wendy*

              Yeah, absolutely. Catholicism for a lot of people has a really strong ethnic/cultural. I haven’t been a practicing Catholic since about 2005 (I’m UU these days), but I always consider being Catholic as much apart of my background as being Irish and Croatian is.

              There are actually a lot of Catholic related cultural traditions/practices I still do and will always do, so in that way it really does feel tied to ethnicity and family.

            9. Specialk9*

              I took a religion class just on Catholicism, and actually it’s the opposite – those are hugely different ways of being Catholic. It’s not that they’re Irish, and also Catholic. They’re the *subset* of Catholic faith practices and culture that’s Irish Catholic.

              I’m trying to remember, and apologies if I get this wrong. Irish Catholic is very sexually repressive, and very influenced by the syncretism of pagan Celtic faith and celebrations.

              Italian Catholic is one done only by women, but men wear huge crosses and still somehow think they’re religions.

              Latin American Catholics, especially Mexicans, often syncretize heavily – or celebrate simultaneously – from local indigenous faith, and sex isn’t really the big deal it is in others.

              I forget the others, it’s been awhile.

            10. Glowcat*

              From an Italian point of view, I think you’re right: catholic faith is part of our culture, we get when we are born and then… we toss it in the closet and forget about it. A lot of people don’t believe, but still go to church for Christmas and would be uncomfortable saying they are atheist because it would be as rejecting a part of our culture. When I tell my mom I’m atheist her answer is “is it necessary?”

          2. A tester, not a developer*

            I’ve found telling the door to door people (of any persuasion) that I’ve been disfellowshipped makes them run away. I find it interesting how many disparate faiths use (or at least recognize) the term.

          3. Catholic HR Gal*

            Actually, Irish Catholics are Roman Catholics. Roman Catholic refers to the the Western Rite and any church that falls under the teaching of the Pope. The mass order and parts would be the same and you could follow along in general, though the language and music could be different. And I think this right here is part of why people don’t try to convert us, too complicated and too tied in to people’s cultural identity. But seriously, it’s how I usually shut down the conversation, as well. Though I agree that in a (non-religious) work context this shouldn’t be coming up at all.

            1. Indie*

              Yes but there are Irish Catholic traditions that are not RC. For example, the wake and holding of a rosary for mourners.

              1. Thlayli*

                The Catholic Church in Ireland is part of the Roman Catholic Church. The pope in Rome is the head of the church in Ireland. It’s not a diffeeent Church. The rosary is a Roman Catholic prayer. The fact that we do it at specific times that other Roman Catholics don’t doesnt stop us from being Roman Catholic!

                1. Thlayli*

                  I was referring to the most common religion in Ireland which is Roman Catholicism. I actually do have an Irish friend who is Egyptian Orthodox Catholic though, so there are actually a few Irish Catholics that aren’t Roman Catholic!

                2. Indie*

                  Just after I posted that I thought ‘I bet a Greek church based in Dublin is going to respond next!

              2. YetAnotherFed*

                Where precisely are you getting _that_ from, that _only_ the Irish Catholics do a rosary at the wake/visitation? I can claim ancestry from Ireland, Italy, Austria, and what’s now Slovakia, and I’ve seen wake/rosary services for all sides of the family, both in a large city (the Irish and Italian sides) and in a small town (the Austrian and Slovak sides).

                1. Indie*

                  Well, I didn’t say ‘only’ because I know that (some) Scottish people hold similar customs but which are very different in the details. As far as I can make out it was common in all Celtic countries at one time, so that would be across Europe; not necessarily the case elsewhere? Not sure. My priest simply said it was regional and that’s why the customs of my father’s family were so unknown to Catholics in my mother’s family. I’m fascinated by what you say though. Can I ask you about it on the weekend thread.

              3. Peaches*

                Er…the rosary is a very Catholic thing. Roman Catholic (as stated above) simply refers to the Roman rite (way of celebrating mass). The wake, while strongly Irish in the US, is practiced through Europe. Holding a rosary prayer service prior to a funeral is also prevalent throughout Roman Catholic funeral practices.

              4. Akcipitrokulo*

                Saying rosary is very RC. Particularly when the rosary crew swing into action after a death.

                1. MatKnifeNinja*


                  Believe me, French Canadian/Metis raised RC here, there were rosary brigades at every funeral my relative’s had.

                  K of C, Daughters of Isabella, relatives that were brothers, priests, nuns, usher club, ladies alter club..

                  They’d pray the rosary in the hospital waiting room or patient room. If there was a three day viewing, the rosary was said all three days.

                  I’m a Theravada Buddhist now, and can’t remember squat about most things RC. But all the Rosary mysteries, and the rest of it is seared into my brain.

                2. Akcipitrokulo*

                  When my Grandma died, Granda found it very comforting. So yeah, not all bad… but don’t want them around when I’m dealing with grief for more than an hour or so at least.

              5. doreen*

                It’s not a matter of a specific tradition being RC or not. Some things are traditions , which may vary according to ethnicity/culture and others are religious requirements which really don’t. I don’t know any Catholic groups that do not hold wakes and most (but not all) of the Catholic wakes I’ve been to have had the rosary said. But not all Roman Catholics have a big dinner on Christmas Eve , not all of them cross themselves every time they pass a church.

                1. Indie*

                  Yeah exactly. My English Catholic relatives do not hold a wake-rosary and though they lay out the body at home; it’s in a private room for optional visitation right before the funeral. They do not eat and drink with the body, sit with the deceased 24/7 for days, no rosary is said at home, no windows or mirrors are covered. It’s still Catholic but different.

            2. Specialk9*

              It’s an interesting side note that while, yes, Irish Catholic is a subset of Roman Catholic, there are actually a whole bunch of Catholic traditions outside of Roman Catholic. Most people don’t know that. Catholics make Protestants look unified, and that’s not even counting all the so-called heresies.

              It’s wild. Or predictable, people being people.

              1. Thlayli*

                There are only a handful of catholic denominations: Roman, three Orthodox Catholic churches (Egyptian, Russian and Greek), and Anglican Catholic. Might be a couple of others I don’t know of. But there are well over 200 Protestant denominations.

                1. Specialk9*

                  There’s the Great Schism between Orthodox and Romsn Catholics. Most people don’t consider them “Catholics” but the Vatican recognizes their priests and sacraments as valid.

                  If you’re Roman Catholic, you can take communion in all of the below Catholic rites because the Vatican considers them to have full communion:

                  The Byzantine Catholics: Albanian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Greek, Hungarian, Italo-Albanian, Macedonian, Melkite, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Slovak, and Ukrainian.

                  The Alexandrian: Coptics of Egypt, Ge’ez Ethiopian.

                  The West Syrian: Syriac, Syro-Malankara, Maronite.

                  The East Syrian Catholics: Chaldean, Syro-Malabar, Armenian.

                2. Specialk9*

                  You’re also right that Anglicans have a special relationship with the Catholic Church, but it’s not full communion. It’s like a favorite uncle.

          4. Akcipitrokulo*

            I think you’d be fine :) I was recently in Austria and went to mass… don’t speak any German but learned to say “Friede sei mit dir” (peace be with you) for appropriate part… but other than that…

            And it was magical. Knew exactly what was going on when and really felt part of global family :)

            But to subject of post… none of your business is a good response. And willing to lay money Bilbo doesn’t think of me as bible believing OR christian ;)

            1. Michaela Westen*

              When I tried “none of your business” on the ones I grew up with, it made them more determined to “save” (force me to go to their church and live by their rules). It seemed to have an escalating effect.
              But Bilbo seems to have been more respectful than that. I have a feeling if you’d said that he would have started protesting that he didn’t mean any harm or disrespect, etc., etc. *eye roll* Maybe it would scare him off bringing it up again.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          “I’m Catholic’ shutting it down is not my experience at all. While I agree that US Southern Baptists do generally consider Catholics not to be Christians, they were pretty aggressive in trying to recruit my family.

          Also, my fam’s pretty much all atheists now, but we were German / US Catholics, not Irish Catholics, so maybe that explains why we left with pretty much no hesitation or angst.

          About 60% of the atheists I know (outside my family) were raised as Catholics. I suspect that’s not a coincidence either.

      2. Thlayli*

        Im sure it means that sometimes, but not always. I’ve met evangelicals who are happy to hear that other people have religion, even if it’s different from their own, and will enthusiastically discuss the similarities and differences without trying to convert.

        I personally find religion fascinating and love learning about other people’s religions, even though I’m agnostic-catholic and very much not evangelical.

        One of my best mates is Hindi and when I go to family things with her I’m like Arthur Weasley asking about rubber ducks. “What exactly is the function of her carrying a pineapple on her head?” Unfortunately my friend often doesn’t know the reason :( I’ve been to 4 Indian weddings and I still don’t know the function of the pineapple.

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          I get where Sara without an H is coming from. I’ve met both kinds of Evangelicals… most I’ve met are usually ‘cool, so you do a lot exercise in Church right?’ and others that I swear take a step back and eye me suspiciously for the rest of the time we’re together.

          Now I want find out more about the pineapple though.

        2. Sara without an H*

          Personally, I think religion and politics are fascinating subjects. It’s just hard to find anyone who can discuss either without proselytizing and/or losing their tempers.

        3. Hey Nonnie*

          In a casual social conversation, sure… but at work there is way too much power dynamics and livelihoods at stake for that topic of conversation to be tenable at all. If I say I’m X faith and the client thinks I’m wrong/of the devil/whatever and takes their business elsewhere, then I have less income which affects the health of my business and a whole host of other things.

          People who bring up religion AT WORK are usually not the live and let live types, in any case. The live and let live types know better than to bring it up at work in the first place.

          1. Thlayli*

            That’s so funny. I have discussed religion at work loads of times and I’m very much a live and let live type of person when it comes to religion. I’ve often been the one to bring it up.

            I think this is a cultural difference because we don’t really have much evangelicalism where I live. It sounds like you’ve met people who would criticise your religious beliefs in a work setting – that just wouldn’t happen here. So I would never have any qualms about discussing religion purely as a “this is an interesting thing I / you believe in” discussion.

            The only times I’ve ever encountered evangelicalism is jehovahs witnessed coming to the door (twice in my life), and the Scientologist who used to be based right beside my old bus stop and I used to ask loadsod questions of but never agreed to take the personality test.

            1. doreen*

              I’ve discussed religion at work loads of times, too. With more than one other person, even – usually Catholic me, Jewish former coworker and Baptist coworker although sometimes others will join us. It works because none of us are trying to convert the others and we’re all sort of interested in seeing what’s similar and what’s different about our religions ( I actually wish more people would have participated in the conversations , because maybe one of them wouldn’t have mentioned Jesus while saying grace at a dinner we held in a kosher restaurant).But we never have these conversations with the one woman who leaves tracts on people’s desks

        4. post-it*

          Not to nitpick, and this is meant in full kindness as a gentle correction–Hindi is a language and Hindu is a religious affiliation :)

          1. Thlayli*

            Wow! I always thought Hindi was the adverb and Hindu was the noun. Like “my friend is a Hindu” = “my friend is Hindi”. But I just googled it and you’re right!

            Every day’s a school day!

            You don’t know what’s up with the pineapple do you? Or maybe that’s just a Gujarati thing.

            1. Robin Sparkles*

              I am Gujarati raised Hindu and have never seen or head of pineapples on someone;s head as a ritual of any kind for any reason. We do use pineapples as part of food offerings though.

        5. Turquoisecow*

          This is me with my fairly lapsed Jewish husband – I want to know why they do certain traditions and he doesn’t know. We often end up asking his mother, who was not raised Jewish but learned many of the traditions and prayers as an adult and was pretty insistent on her kids having the traditions and a religious education. (She never officially converted, but her daughter went on to become an ordained Reform Rabbi, so she’s definitely a successful Jewish mother.)

          1. Specialk9*

            I like My Jewish Learning for general questions. Steer clear of Chabad, they tend to be strict and kind of dogmatic (though to their credit they show up in all kinds of places and offer a place to be Jewish among strangers).

        6. Michaela Westen*

          Not all Evangelicals are fascists, but fascists call themselves Evangelicals.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            It’s true in my experience. The Christian Right call themselves evangelicals. They are fascists. But I also know evangelicals who are not fascists. I’m simply stating what I’ve seen.

      3. Rosemary7391*

        Hmm. Interesting. I’m christian, but I am pretty sure I’d count “person of faith” as more broad than just christianity…. Maybe I’m just odd.

        1. Indigo a la mode*

          Same here; I might personally consider using that phrasing as a polite way of asking someone if they happen to believe in any higher power/philosophy/thing at all (and, to be clear, just as idle curiosity and not as a lead-in to evangelism). But lots of Christians do seem to use “person of faith” and “the ‘proper’ kind of Christian, i.e. the kind that’s just like me” synonymously. I don’t think we’re odd. I think we’re properly open-minded/respectful to other faiths.

          Of course, I’d never ask anyone about religion in a work setting at all.

          1. Hey Nonnie*

            Of course, I’d never ask anyone about religion in a work setting at all.

            I do think that’s a key bit of context, there.

        2. Kate*

          That was my thinking too. Most people who are asking about christianity ask if you are a Christian not a person of faith.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Eh, I’ve heard lots of people ask it that way, so I don’t think you can say “most” just based on your experience. It may depend on your region?

        3. neverjaunty*

          You would, but it’s a loaded phrase like “traditional values” that has a specific meaning, which is “are you a person who shares my evangelical a Protestant beliefs?”

        4. smoke tree*

          I think it’s the aggressive “are you a person of faith” questioning, coupled with his “Bible-believing church” line, that is leading people to assume that by “faith” he means only his particular brand of faith. I’m sure this phrase can be employed much less obnoxiously in other contexts.

        5. Pommette!*

          From my experience, the people who use that expression are usually sincere but not dogmatic in their faith, and they tend to use the expression in a pretty ecumenical way. It’s less about “Are you my type of Christian”, and more about “Does your religion play the same kind of role in your social and day-to-day life as it does in mine? That would make it easier for us to relate!”.

          I’ve seen the expression used in volunteer settings, even within groups that are obviously religiously diverse. I think that it’s actually meant as a conversation starter, and it does sometimes go over well between fellow “people of faith” (some of whom seem to assume that other volunteers are also motivated by religion, and that it’s therefore a safe point of departure). As someone who is unambiguously not a ” person of faith” (I’m not just not religious; I’m also not spiritual), I have a hard time answering this question without killing the conversation.

      4. Lady Jay*

        Eh, I’m an ex-evangelical, and IME, evangelicals rarely use “I’m a person of faith” – that’s a politer phrase used by more mainstream denominations (Lutherans, Methodists, etc) as a way to distinguish themselves from them in-your-face faith conjured up by “I’m a Christian!”

        1. Natalie*

          But they do use “Bible-believing church” all the time. I think that’s the giveaway.

      5. AMPG*

        Yup – “Bible-believing Christian church” is code for, among other things, very NOT Catholic.

        1. misc.*

          Yeah, as a former “Bible-believing Christian church” member I can say it’s essentially a dog whistle for the radical Evangelical Protestantism that believes all other Christians are not really Christians, that Obama was the antichrist, and that the European Union will force everyone to wear the mark of the beast in these end times.

          And yes, that is actual propaganda they believe.

            1. Chinookwind*

              Yup – bible believing/sola scriptura is Evangelical/Protestants who don’t believe in a higher authority on earth. Catholics and some other Protestant groups (think Anglican, Lutheran) believe in Bible and divine revelation (prima scriptura) which acknowledges that not everything we need to know can be found in the Bible but any subsequent revelation cannot be contradicted by the Bible (and is an extension of what learned Jewish rabbis do when they debate sacred scripture).

              If I meet someone who is willing to debate why their version is right, it can lead to a fun philosophical discussion.

              1. misc.*

                Really though, that’s a very strict reading of the kind of bible-believing that is used in this context. In this context, these people do believe in divine revelation, but only the right kind that is extremely conservative and doesn’t go against their own notions of what the bible says. It’s just an excuse for their conservative/closed minded religious tradition.

            1. misc.*

              There’s an entire movie about it, IIRC, staring one of the Baldwin brothers. The creepy Christian convert one.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Christian fascists as described in the book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, by Chris Hedges.

        2. Catalin*

          I cringed and went into closet-mode just hearing ‘bible-believing Christian church’. NOT a good connotation for me, and I have a thriving Christian faith, just on the other end of the spectrum where they’ll marry and ordain anyone qualified and all paths to God are good.

      6. Kittymommy*

        The amount of people I have had to explain that Catholicism is a Christian religion……. It’s mind boggling.

        1. Plague of frogs*

          I (a Protestant) was informed by an atheist that Protestants don’t consider Catholics to be Christian. It really annoyed me and I told him he was full of it.

            1. Lizzy May*

              I went to a Catholic school growing up (in Ontario where those are paid for by tax dollars which is weird) and we’d have non-Catholics in our classes from time to time. One girl in High School was an Evangelical and told me to my face that she was the only Christian in the room. I wasn’t particularly religious at that point so I wasn’t personally offended but it’s so strange that she’d take religion with us and see us go to Mass and walk by the giant cross mural in our atrium and still be comfortable making that claim.

              She also told me that dinosaurs weren’t real and their bones were put in the earth by the devil to test our faith in God and the Bible. That was a fun conversation.

              1. Anonymous Ampersand*

                The dinosaurs were a joke the paelontologists haven’t got yet.

                (Thanks Terry {RIP} and Neil)

                1. Jules the 3rd*

                  “God doesn’t play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex variant of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.”

                  GREAT book. Four Lesser Horseman are my favorites.

              2. Talvi*

                She also told me that dinosaurs weren’t real and their bones were put in the earth by the devil to test our faith in God and the Bible.

                I definitely had a camp counsellor who believed that. It was an… odd conversation to have when you’re about 10 (by which point I was already pretty non-religious).

              3. Kat Em*

                See, my coworker thought they were planted by scientists to turn people into atheists. But I guess that amounts to the same thing.

              4. PhyllisB*

                Ha!! Ha!! I was Baptist in my youth, and went to a Catholic school for a while, and all the Catholic students felt sorry for me because I was going to Hell since I wasn’t a Catholic.

                1. Specialk9*

                  Really? Maybe it’s just my city because our public schools are abysmal and Catholic schools are the only affordable private schools (plus they have lots of
                  need based scholarships), but the local Catholic schools were fully 2/3 Baptist or other Protestant denominations.

          1. Lew*

            Well, some don’t. e.g., the idea is repeatedly expressed in tracts by Jack Chick, which are pretty popular with fundamentalists.

          2. Akcipitrokulo*

            Yeah, it does seem to be a fairly extremist view. Definitely there though :)

            Never came across it myself when was a kid. Think partly geographical?

          3. Jules the 3rd*

            Some Protestants really don’t – I got it from several growing up. Usually Southern Baptists, but a couple of Presbyterians, iirc.

      7. Urdnot Bakara*

        Yeah, and I think it really depends on the denomination of Protestantism, too. For example, I was raised United Methodist (currently not religious) and the UMC, despite having evangelical roots, in my experience is not very invested in conversion. On the other hand, I had a Southern Baptist roommate who was very committed to helping me find Jesus.

        1. Chinookwind*

          ” I had a Southern Baptist roommate who was very committed to helping me find Jesus.”

          Catholic response – no need to look. I saw Him on Sunday and even had him for dinner. :)

          1. Annie*

            Awesome! A friend once had someone ask her if she had been saved and she answered ‘yes, every Sunday at communion.’ :)

      8. Tau*

        This one has always bewildered me, to the point I thought people were kidding me when I first heard about it. I’m in Germany, where our Christians are about half-and-half Catholic vs Protestant (which one dominates depends on region, thank you Thirty Years’ War) and if you came and suggested Catholics weren’t Christians you’d be laughed out of the room.

        1. Julia*

          I even think that a lot of Germans consider Catholics to be more religious than Protestants.

          1. Anonymouse*

            No. Mormonism fully acknowledges other Christian religions (Protestant and Catholic) as Christian and their followers as followers of Christ. Mormonism teaches that all religions (not just Christian ones) have some truth in them and that a lot of good things and doctrine can be learned from them but that only Mormonism has full truth. Perhaps not much better in your mind, but it most definitely does not each that all other religions or all other Christians are false.

            1. Specialk9*

              Interesting! The internet definitely teaches that one wrong. Thank you.

              So basically what virtually every religion and subset thereof teaches.

      9. LizM*

        Yes. I grew up in Evangelical circles, and in my experience, referring to your church as a “Bible-believing” church is often an anti-Catholic, anti-Mormon dog whistle.

    5. Elemeno P.*

      A good friend of mine is JW and it leads to a lot of awkward situations in cases like this.

      I’m an atheist but I volunteer a lot, so everyone assumes I’m very religious (??) without asking for specifics.

      1. Temperance*

        This is one of my pet peeves, too. One of my weirdest encounters to date was with the wife of one of Booth’s colleagues, who was apparently Super Catholic and went on a tear about how only people “like her” help others, and her Diocese does X, Y, and Z.

        I told her off. It felt great.

      2. Thlayli*

        Oh that annoys me! I was an atheist for many years (now I’m agnostic) and it annoys the hell out of me when people assumed they knew things about my political or ethical beliefs just because I didn’t believe in God! Like, if the only reason you do nice things is because your religion tells you to, then you’re not a very nice person!

        Luckily most people aren’t that stupid and realise that belief or non-belief in a deity doesnt really affect how most people act day to day. If people are nice, they’re gonna be nice anyway. And if people aren’t nice, all the religion in the world won’t turn them into nice people! (I’m my experience anyway).

    6. JS*

      I think that is unfair to assume. They were open to talking about faith but seemed pretty respectful overall. Especially if OP said “questioning” and their response was “That’s what I am here for!” as it is apart of his career and then left it at that. OP said her faith or lack there of it wasn’t brought up again. Being open about your faith is not the same as aggressively pushing it on others.

      OP’s issue was she just wasn’t comfortable so she should have said so as Alison suggested. Since his faith is part of his career it is appropriate to discuss at a business dinner as long as its his work and not trying to convert others which appears to be the case.

      1. ContentWrangler*

        It seems pretty clear that his faith is not part of the career/work that OP is involved with. He’s a vendor and then in addition and separately to that, works for his church. So it would not be appropriate for a business dinner.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          +1000. It was reeaaallllly inappropriate to bring up at a business meeting. He was out of bounds to pry into the OP’s personal life. It’s none of his business.

          1. Artemesia*

            And while talking about his faith is inappropriate but depending on how much he went on only somewhat so, asking others individually one by one if they were a ‘man of faith’ or ‘woman of faith’ was incredibly rudely inappropriately intrusive.

        2. JS*

          No but it is apart of his career and they were talking business. I dont know how many business meetings you go to in your industry but anything career/industry/economic related is fair game with vendors/clients especially if you have a relationship there. He offers career based faith counseling he isn’t trying to actively convert members to his church LOL.

      2. JustMyTwoCents*

        JS, if the vendor was also, say, a sex worker as a second career, would that also have been appropriate to bring up in a business dinner?

        1. JS*

          No, because in majority of places it would qualify as “solicitation” which would be illegal. Nice try though.

          1. JS*

            Not to mention against the rules of conduct for getting involved with clients or vendors. But I look forward to the next cheeky suggestion :P

      3. Alton*

        Even if his career involves speaking to people who are questioning about religion, the OP wasn’t meeting with him in that capacity, so it was unprofessional. He’s not *her* religious counselor/advisor.

        It’d be like if you were a real estate agent showing a home to a client who happened to be a doctor, and the doctor started giving you unsolicited medical advice.

        1. Thlayli*

          Well if he’s an evangelical then he’s basically a “salesperson” for his religion as well as for what his other job is. And a good salesperson is always on. So it’s more like if a real estate agent was at the doctor and the doctor mentioned she was looking for a new house and the real estate agent instantly started trying to get her to buy through her.

          Which I can totally see happening. And I’m sure anyone who’s ever met a real estate agent would agree with me.

          This guy might be in the middle of a meeting with someone who is seeking his services as a pastor or and if they mentioned they worked in OPs industry he would probably try to sell them his teapots too.

          I agree it’s not appropriate, but it’s peobably as much his personality and part of what makes him a good salesperson as it is about how much of a religious but he is.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            That’s a very apt comparison.

            There are certain sects of Christianity that are very into ‘witnessing’ and consider it a sacred duty to share their faith with everyone.

          2. Hey Nonnie*

            The “doctor” in this case did not say anything about “looking for a new house.” This is more like the real estate agent going to the doctor, and then when the doctor makes small talk about the weather while grabbing the medical file, the agent starts shoving house listings at her and yammering on about how she’d be the most helpful real estate agent the doctor could work with.

            The OP did not open the conversation about religion, that was done by the vendor. The OP was put on the spot with an inappropriate and invasive question into her private life. The vendor deciding it’s his “job” to help her with something she never invited him to ask about is inexcusably boundary violating, and it’s appalling that anyone would make excuses for that kind of behavior. It is a terrible salesperson and horrible human being who hauls out the sales pitch at every possible occasion, whether it’s asked for, wanted, or appropriate, or not.

            I will agree that he was acting like “a religious butt,” although I would use (much) stronger language.

        2. JS*

          It doesn’t sound like he was trying to be her counselor/advisor because he didn’t push it any further. Any further and I agree it would be unprofessional/out of line. Just mentioning his services isn’t trying to push it on her and sell it to her being non receptive is.

      4. Michaela Westen*

        It was intrusive and inappropriate in the same way asking about OP’s love life or family issues would be. Religion is just as personal, and can have huge issues around it!

    7. Is It Performance Art*

      My family is Unitarian of the social atheist variety. On several occasions I have answered inappropriate are you a person of faith “I’m a devout Unitarian, so no.” I also answer inappropriate requests to pray together with “I’m a Unitarian and as far as we’re concerned, if God’s exist they don’t care about prayers and they don’t listen to them.” I get a lot of confused responses and I’m sure these conversations have led to many a google search for the UU Church.

        1. Admin of Sys*

          I’ve found UU churches attitudes vary widely from both congregation to congregation, and individual to individual. But that’s to be expected – as long as folks are following the 7 principles.

        2. Someone else*

          I thought there was a difference between Unitarian, and Unitarian Universalist. I can’t tell which is being referred to above, but it also doesn’t jive with my experiences with UU, but I don’t know anything about Unitarian (not Universalist).

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

            There is also something known as biblical Unitarianism, which at its most basic is the belief that the concept of the trinity is incorrect (God is a singular entity). There are several variations of this idea.

      1. Thlayli*

        I know a guy who’s Unitarian and he told me his brother was going to a Unitarian conference and I said “wow he must be really religious”. He said “I think you really don’t understand Unitarianism”.

        1. Specialk9*

          I’m thinking I don’t either now. I thought UUs were basically Reform Jews without the Jewishness. Oh wait. Most Reform Jews I know are agnostic/atheist, including many rabbis. I guess that’s about right then.

    8. Chinookwind*

      Actually, I have found that “are you a person of faith” question usually means a specific brand of Christianity and, if I answered truthfully (Catholic), I would get some form of how that I am not really a true Christian (and if I am really “lucky” a spiel on why). Like OP, I would want to change the topic as fast as possible and probably us AAM’s lines to do so.

      That being said, there are times when religious differences have come up organically and have lead to interesting discussions, but I those discussions rarely were an effort to proselytize but exchange cultural realities. Topics that have triggered this include someone taking an early day to go to their service, ordering food and discussing the evils of Scientology (I pointed out that I agree they are a cult but, as someone whose rites can sound like cannibalism to an outsider, I am really not in a place to judge the worthiness of worshiping aliens)

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        1) Yep, also my experience back when I was Catholic
        2) The interesting religious discussions don’t usually start at work. For very good reason.

      2. Specialk9*

        “as someone whose rites can sound like cannibalism to an outsider, I am really not in a place to judge the worthiness of worshiping aliens”

        Bwahahaha we only think that eating the body of Christ thing is normal because y’all are so ubiquitous.

    9. MatKnifeNinja*

      I can imagine saying it, because I practice Theravada Buddhism. It usually shuts down Trolling Bible Witness McWitness. 98% of the time they haven’t a clue what my faith is.

      Saying I was a lapsed Roman Catholic just made it bigger challenge.

      Saturday mornings where I live, it’s a battle between the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormon missionaries and the mega church witnesses for souls. I never answer my door.

  5. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

    As a Christian, I have to say that I think the question “Are you a woman of faith” is icky. It implies that the only way you can say yes is if you are a woman of THIS faith, and alienates the idea that other religions are faiths of equal validity. Even when people have asked me this question (and my answer is yes), I still cringe at it. This has no place at work or really anywhere else. You have my sympathies OP.

    1. Angela Ziegler*

      Eh, I wouldn’t say that. I’m in a very Christian-centric environment and I wouldn’t think anything of someone going ‘Oh, I’m not religious’ or ‘Yes, I’m Jewish actually.’ The phasing of his question wasn’t the best, but I suppose it’s better than ‘Are you a believer/Are you a Christ follower/Do you attend church?’ Sure, they were talking about Christianity in the conversation, but then he opened it up to OP and asked if she was involved in religion. It would’ve been more offensive if they just assumed she was a Christian church-goer right off the bat. And it sounds like they didn’t raise any issues about it the rest of the trip, either.

      1. Observer*

        Well, remember, the OP is the customer. He’d have to be a REALLY bad salesperson to badger her.

      2. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

        That makes sense. In the situations where I haven’t minded being asked, usually it’s phrased more along the lines of “do you follow a religion” rather than verbiage that makes it seem specific to Christianity. Maybe it’s just that I find the phrase “(wo)man of faith” to be archaic or something.

        1. savannnah*

          As a non-Christian, your instincts are correct here. When I hear ‘Are you a woman of faith” I don’t hear are you religious but rather are you a Christian? The idea of faith just isn’t the same concept in other religions.

          1. Thlayli*

            Really? I’ve always thought faith meant “belief in a religion / deity”. That’s how it’s always been used in my experience (catholic culture/ family/ school). What does faith mean in your religion?

              1. savannnah*

                Most religions talk about faith in some way but the proving of faith in a public setting is absent in other religions and can have a very different dynamic. Judaism for instance, is a religion of practice, so doing things is much more important than what you believe day to day. For context, I was raised religious and went to 9 years of religious school and I have never been asked by a Jew if I believe in God. Regardless, the idea of being asking if you have faith in the US has specific connotations due to US culture and Christian prosthelytizing and less to do with the internal viewpoints of minority religions.

                1. HannahS*

                  Yeah, same. I’d find “woman of faith” to be really weird and alienating. I’m not a “woman of faith” because that always refers to Christian women. Always. Judaism is an ethno-religion and we just don’t talk like that about ourselves. Even in very religious environments, that’s just not the language we use. So if someone asks me if I’m a “woman of faith” I know that what they’re asking is if I’m a Christian.

                2. neverjaunty*

                  This. Asking if someone is a person of faith doesn’t translate across all religious beliefs.

                3. Turquoisecow*

                  I was raised Catholic. My brother-in-law is a rabbi and recently in one of his sermons I was quite surprised to hear him say that you don’t need to believe in God to be a good Jew. My husband (who was raised Jewish) said this was pretty standard belief for Reform Jews and wasn’t astonished in the slightest.

                4. Specialk9*

                  I’m Jewish too, and I know agnostics/atheists who have converted openly so (it’s specifically allowed), and I only know the faith in God of two people:

                  1 – the woman who was at every service and every Torah study, often leading them with breathtaking knowledge, told me she was atheist and is acknowledging the beauty of creation and humanity when we sing the Shema prayer.

                  2 – my rabbi said once “I don’t believe in the kind of god that people talk about either”. I didn’t feel right pressing him, but it sounded like he had a nuanced god-vision too, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he were agnostic.

                  It’s not really a thing, in my experience, to press people about God, even if you go to temple every week.

                  But the pogroms and Holocaust have really changed many Jewish people in a profound way.

            1. Qwerty*

              I think this has more to do with the historical context from when Christianity used to call itself “the one true faith” (which some people still believe). By refusing to see other religions as valid, being “a man/woman of faith” was basically synonymous with being Christian (or designated branch of Christianity depending on which religions were engaged in a struggle).

              In this context, it’s more like Faith in the Bible is a special capitalized thing compared to faith in the sun, faith in friends, etc. Similar to how when someone asks if you believe in God, they generally mean the Christian deity, instead of the god(s) of other religions.

              1. savannnah*

                Yes, this difference between Faith and faith here in the religions is what I was trying to explain.

              2. Alton*

                Exactly. I don’t think everyone means “person of faith” in that context, and there are certainly Christians who believe that other religions are valid, but this is definitely a connotation that exists and it’s one I’ve encountered a lot.

              3. Thlayli*

                That doesn’t make sense. I think faith is mentioned in the Old Testament. So it predates Christianity by a couple thousand years. Isn’t “faith hope and charity” from an Old Testament book?

                1. Specialk9*

                  It’s a code phrase used to identify a specific group to each other. The two guys were in, OP was out.

                2. SarahTheEntwife*

                  The “faith, hope, and charity” thing is from Corinthians, which is New Testament.

                  You also get into a lot of sticky issues where yes, things that can be translated as “faith” are mentioned, the word “faith” doesn’t appear in either text because they’re not in English. And Jewish and Christian traditions can sometimes have very different readings of the same word depending on how they’re translated and on how the translated word is viewed in the context of the broader religion.

              4. Jules the 3rd*

                It has actually developed an even more specific meaning over the last 50ish years, in the US. This was absolutely a code used to determine if OP is of an Evangelical Protestant religion. Very much a known dogwhistle.

              5. Michaela Westen*

                And they’re asking because part of their mission is to convert everyone who isn’t already Christian or in their *specific* church.

            2. Someone else*

              I think some of the confusion may be you’re reading the plain English sentence “are you a person of faith?” at face value for it’s dictionary definition (which is reasonable, mind you, and it is possible the vendor might have meant it that way).
              But there’s also a sort of…dogwhistle to that phrase where it can be loaded and have the implicit meaning a lot of commenters above and below picked up on, namely, the insinutation there’s a right answer to the question, and that answer ain’t “yes, I am XYZ” or even just “yes”. It assumes “yes”=whatever this guy’s faith is. It’s very very very very common.
              So, benefit of the doubt, the dude is just into his religion and making conversation and asking if the others at the table are also religious out of idle curiosity. But given the rest of the context, and how inappropriate it was of the dude to bring this up in a work context anyway, I think it’s reasonably probable he didn’t mean it in the literal plain language sense, and possibly also didn’t mean it in the codeword Christian sense, but likely meant it in the “are you Christian and by Christian I mean the same flavor of Christian as I am” sense. Might be reading too much into it, but the context does not make me inclined to give this vendor benefit of the doubt.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                hahahahaa- Should have read your comment before I made mine – yep, total dogwhistle.

              2. tired anon*

                YES TO THIS. I think that people who are *not* Christian are much more likely to twig to this, because it’s something that others us and has made us hyper-aware of it.

            3. Anonymous Pterodactyl*

              Caveat that I’m not a practicing Muslim, but I have studied Islam and read the Qur’an:

              In the Qur’an, believing in God is generally not presented as something that requires blind faith in the unseen or unknowable. “Faith”, this idea that you must simply believe without proof, isn’t a part of it. Rather, you are exhorted to look at the facts and see the plain truth of God. There are numerous passages that go along the lines of “Look at how amazing and wonderful the world is, look at the beauty that surrounds you, don’t you see God present in all these things? Think about the good things that happened in your life, did not God give these to you?” The whole thing is kind of presented as though God is obvious and clear, and the only question is whether or not you will heed the word and follow or whether you will be obstinate and willfully ignore the truth.

              Even in the statement of faith, the Shahada, the translation is that one is *bearing witness* to these things (that there is no god but God, and that Muhammad is the prophet of God), not that one accepts them on faith.

              It’s a very interesting contrast to some Christian denominations which explicitly assert that faith, not fact, is the basis of belief.

              1. Anonymous Pterodactyl*

                Getting my words muddled and can’t edit, so replace the paragraph on the Shahada with this:

                Even in the statement of belief, the Shahada, the translation is that one is *bearing witness* to these things (that there is no god but God, and that Muhammad is the prophet of God), not that one accepts them on faith. It’s a verb that can also mean to testify (as in in court under penalty of perjury), or to personally experience or witness something.

        2. Angela Ziegler*

          I can see that, but to me it sounded like an overly formal way of asking about it. The alternative might be ‘Are you a person of faith?’ but the list of non-assuming ways of asking about religion, when you have no idea of that person’s beliefs, is pretty short. Everything else risks being too specific or implying something. ‘Are you a woman of faith?’ is pretty broad and gave OP a wide berth, even if it’s ‘I’m not.’ or ‘I’d rather not talk about it, thank you.’ As long as they respect her answer and adjust the conversation accordingly (which they did) I don’t see it as a big issue.

          1. OP*

            On this context, the way “faith” was used was very loaded towards THERE IS ONE TRUE FAITH IT IS MY FAITH AND DO YOU HAVE IT???

            1. Angela Ziegler*

              Yeah, that can be uncomfortable for sure. But it sounds like they (generally) respected your answer, at least? I can see how it’d be frustrating with them talking about something you couldn’t relate to, but it sounds like everything after that was all surface chat about community involvement rather than specific biblical views or theology. (Having them discuss daily Bible reading then turning to you and asking if you’ve tried it/should try it, for example, would’ve been an exceedingly uncomfortable situation!)

              1. Else*

                It’s gross. It was disrespectful to bring that up at all, especially using such a loaded term.

              2. neverjaunty*

                Why are you putting in so much effort to excuse these dudes and convince OP she should be chill?

                1. Oranges*

                  Because they have a horse in the race probably? It reminds me of the furor that #metoo caused among creepers who want to creep. They won’t ignore our creeping! I must glue the plausible deniability fig-leaf back on! It won’t work?! Deploy the super glue!!!

              3. Observer*


                “That’s what I’m here for” was NOT a respectful response to the OP’s response. Not at all.

              4. Specialk9*

                I’m curious how you hear that and think oh ok that was nice.
                “I’m go to a bible-believing Christian church. Are you a woman of faith?”
                “I’m questioning.”
                “That’s what I’m here for.”
                “Really? I thought you were here to try to sell my company widgets. What do you think your role is to my faith or questioning thereof?”

                Because “that’s what I’m here for” is this comment that seems jovial but is creepy. No, he’s not here for that, she didn’t ask for a pastor or spiritual counselor, she asked for widgets and customer service.

            2. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

              Exactly. On occasion I have spoken with coworkers (more like work-friends) about religion but only from genuine curiosity on both sides and with a very lighthearted, just-want-to-know-more-about-you tone. Nobody felt like they had a “right” or “wrong” answer.
              I guess my point here is that while Bilbo was out of line by asking you about religion while he has some type of leverage over you was wrong, he did a second layer of disservice by making you feel like there was such a narrow “right” answer. Again, I’m sorry this happened to you and I think you handled it very well given the circumstances!

          2. savannnah*

            You can ask are you religious? Asking about faith, in the US, is usually a signifier of christianity.

              1. Oranges*

                YES. This. I was wondering why some people didn’t get the subtext* of that question.

                The subtext was to me obvious. Like asking “How are you” is totally different than asking “Is anything wrong”. Both of them are asking about your personal state but only one is meant to be answered honestly.

                Subtext: Do you believe in my particular faith and if not how can I convert you to my faith.

            1. Specialk9*

              I have found that if I say yes to the are you religious question, my Jewish self … wasn’t the kind of Christian they meant.

              “Do you follow a faith tradition or traditions?” is more neutral.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              Yup, it almost certainly means a conservative Christian who believes that LGBTQ people are evil and spouts off about ‘family values’. Probably refuses to allow their spouse to interact with the opposite sex. Or drive. Or work.

              1. Specialk9*

                Uhhh. How many evangelicals do you know in real life? The last 3 are rare enough not to really characterize the movement as a whole.

                1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

                  +1 Specialk9. I’m not here to debate about the LGBTQ thing because I recognize that we have a long way to go, but the “allow[ing] their spouse” stuff is pretty much extinct among evangelicals.

          3. Jules the 3rd*

            In the US, this question is commonly used to determine if someone is of a specific faith, usually Evangelical Protestant. Anyone who has lived in the US South for more than a few years would know that ‘person of faith’ is code for certain Christian denominations. Everything about this question and context is familiar to me, as someone who has lived in the US South for many years.

            He’s not asking if she has faith, he’s asking if she’s an Evangelical Protestant Christian, preferably with a Bible-literalist view.

        3. K*

          I’m non-christian, and when I here “man/woman of faith” I assume they mean Christian. Specifically, it rings of evangelical to me. This is just based on how I’ve heard the phrase used.

    2. JS*

      As a Christian myself, I would just assume that to mean, do you believe in anything? But to each their own. It would also depend on the context it was asked in and how judgmental the person came across. I agree that it can be loaded but I wouldn’t assume the worst from it without those context clues.

      1. TheLiz*

        Fish: “question”. Bird: “that’s a very wet question.” Fish: “is it? Doesn’t seem wet to me.”

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        The term is used as code for specific denominations – kinda like drawing loaves and fishes back in the day.

      3. Loose Seal*

        It’s because you’re in the majority. Those of us who are minorities, whether it’s racial, sexual, religious, gender, or what have you, begin to recognize dogwhistles when they appear. We have to for our safety. At minimum, the safety of our mental health. At the worst, to protect our lives.

        It’s not wrong of you not to recognize it when you hear it. I hope, though, that you will listen to those of us who are in the minority and believe us when we say that this phrase is indeed a very specific dogwhistle.

        1. JS*

          I’ve heard it come from people who are non-christian to people who have answered non-christian is why I think this way. I come from the west coast though were everything is more free-thinking and liberal. If I were in the bible belt I would assume Christian too which is why I said context is important.

          Don’t need the minority speech as a WOC lol.

  6. ballpitwitch*

    Yikes. Burn it with fire.

    And by “it” I mean any conversations about politics or religion in a work setting.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      This is so cultural dependent. I found in other countries it is impolite to not talk about it.

  7. MLB*

    “I prefer to not talk about religion or politics”. Keep it simple and blunt. Then move on as you did. Unless you work for a political or religious organization, neither of those topics are appropriate for any work related conversation IMO, even if you’re just chatting and not discussing work specific topics. Hell I don’t even discuss that stuff with certain friends.

        1. Russian in Texas*

          My other cats are orange twins and named Fred and George Floof (after Weasleys).

      1. Pollygrammer*

        I’m really into the forgotten animated film Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. It was narrated by Matt Damon.

        1. teclatrans*

          Discovered it with my kid last year. LOVELY movie. We watched the scene where the army tried to break him (and failed miserably) over and over and over.

  8. Russian in Texas*

    “Is Bilbo unaware that there there are lots of people who consider religious faith — or lack thereof — highly personal and not something they’re up for discussing with colleagues? Is he unaware that the specific language he chose is likely to be highly alienating to people from different faiths?”
    Alison obviously does not live in the South.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ha, I originally had an “unless you’re in parts of the south” disclaimer in here, but took it out because the advice stands regardless.

      1. Russian in Texas*

        I had a boss’s boss invite me to their mutual church. My actual both was Russian and non-religious, his wife dragged him to the church every Sunday.
        The invitation included “we also have a fun singles group”.
        It was awkward and inappropriate. I managed to walk out of it by mumbling something about not wanting to get up early on Sunday.
        Big international corporation.

      2. MtnLaurel*

        Thank you. I have seen that attitude all over the country. Yes, rampant in the South, but not exclusive to it.

        1. Cat Herder*

          The most aggressive proselytizing and the most rabid anti-Catholicism I’ve ever encountered was in southern California.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            We have a large swathe of intense, evangelical religiosity throughout California. I didn’t even know Quakers could be evangelical, but the only ones who are are in Oregon and California :P

            1. Dust Bunny*

              Oh, yes. I was raised liberal, non-evangelical, Quaker, but for such a tiny religion it sure has a lot of subtypes, including evangelical.

              1. Admin of Sys*

                There are evangelical Quakers? I had no idea! I’m kind of fascinated now, those two concepts seem kind of contradictory. Though most of my awareness of Quaker attitudes comes from folks who went to the local Quaker school, rather than religious Quakers.

                1. Brihanne LeMarre*

                  Everything I know about Quakers I learned from Piers Anthony. (Read: I know very little about Quakers.)

        2. Isabel Kunkle*

          I’m in MA, and usually don’t get it, but I was waiting for a bus one Sunday and slightly dressed up for a social function. I had a brief and desultory “Oh, is this the 93?” “Yep–should be along any minute now,” sort of exchange with a couple there, and then the guy asked me if I was on my way to church. I said no, going to a party. He…asked why not church.

          This is where he semi-converted me, because mentally I said “Oh, Jesus, please let this conversation end.”

          Out loud, polite but brief: “Oh, I’m not Christian.”
          Dude: “What are you?”

          And then there was a twenty-minute bus ride where dude kept trying to get me to explain paganism and my reasons for believing in same because he juuuuuust wanted to knoooooow.

          This, kids, is the *real* reason we don’t talk to strangers.

          1. Peggy*

            “This is where he semi-converted me, because mentally I said “Oh, Jesus, please let this conversation end.”

            And Jesus didn’t even answer your prayer. Rude.

              1. BunnyWatsonToo*

                Also, he’s a “druid, reformed. They’re allowed to pray at bushes.” The Captain Tuttle episode.

          2. Dasein9*

            I ask if they have a Bible with them. If so, will they please share with me a reading of my favorite verse? Then I ask them to read Matthew 6:5-6 out loud.

            1. Anonymouse*

              Fun tidbit about that scripture: it’s why my family never said a prayer to bless food in public when eating out at restaurants.

            2. Cornflower Blue*

              How do you say “6:5-6” out loud? Genuine question because I would LOVE to do that to people, but I don’t know if you say “Matthew six five six” or “Matthew six fifty six” or what.

      3. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

        Things are very, VERY different in the south, generally speaking, especially rural areas. Southerners (Christians) will routinely talk about church, the bible, Jesus, etc., and they wouldn’t think twice about discussing it at work, or name-dropping Jesus with complete strangers. They assume that everyone else is Christian too. I grew up and lived in the south, but I now live in the northeast, and the difference is night and day! I never hear anyone discuss religion at work in the northeast.

    2. Stephanie*

      Oof yeah. I grew up outside of Dallas and it wasn’t until I left that I realized how ingrained Christian religiosity is there. My suburb was somewhat diverse, but Christian was the dominant religion by far and discussions about faith were just…the norm.

      1. Russian in Texas*

        Yes. I am in Houston area and we are very diverse, and yet these questions come up all the time.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I had an ex who grew up in the Deep South, oh the horror stories he used to tell. When he became atheist, his family staged an intervention and brought a pastor in. During the time he and I were together, his mom, who still lived down South and was in her 70s, changed churches, because the old church was too far for her to walk to and she was having serious health issues. Several of her old friends straight up dumped her for switching from a Baptist church to a Methodist one (or vice versa. Don’t remember, they’re all the same to me.)

        1. aebhel*

          My brother’s girlfriend’s family (from Georgia) disowned her when she left the church at 19. She didn’t even become an atheist until much later; she just left THAT church for a slightly more liberal one.

          Told us (New Yorkers) this story as if it were perfectly normal and expected and was a little baffled at our horrified reactions. O_o

          1. Oranges*

            I met someone who was given over to the state when he decided he was atheist at age 14. It just… blew my mind. You’re literally telling this small dependent teenager that they’re worthless to you because of what they believe. I can’t wrap my head around how much that would screw someone up.

        2. JeanB in NC*

          I got frozen out of a grief group of all places for saying that I thought it was good that some people took comfort in God and heaven, but I didn’t have that because of not being religious. This was in Dallas about 11 years ago.

          1. Knittr*

            I am so sorry. I had a similar treatment in a miscarriage support group when was badgered into admitting that I didn’t believe that my babies were waiting for me in heaven.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        My impression is that it’s actually pretty ingrained everywhere in the country (at least, that’s been my experience as a religious minority who’s lived in a variety of places). There’s just different approaches/methods to the aggressiveness that flows from it being the default assumption.

      4. Ladida*

        Hmm I’m also from Dallas and never have encountered anyone inquiring about my religion in a work situation like this. But even in social situations I’ve never really had it come up but I must just be lucky! I’m not religious so maybe I just radiate it so people don’t even bother.

        1. Stephanie*

          Probably depends on where? I was more referring to high school where we like had school events at the church across the street (and I went to public school).

        2. wickedtongue*

          You might just look enought like “one of them” that they assume you’re a Christian. A fair amount of right-wingers in Texas assume that if you’re an average-looking white person, you must be Christian and conservative. It’s only when you don’t fit the mold or you don’t agree with their statements that they find out you’re not.

          I speak from experience…

      5. Urdnot Bakara*

        I also grew up outside of Dallas and yeah, it’s way higher in terms of religiosity than where I live now (East Coast), but also way *lower* on the religiosity scale than other areas of Texas (looking at you, Waco). That said, yeah, I wouldn’t be shocked to have this sort of discussion there, even during a work function, but it would still make me uncomfortable.

        1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          Yeah… I believe you about Waco. I graduated high school in 2004 and briefly considered going to Baylor before I found out that:

          1) you must take a minimum of 2 semesters of chapel to graduate and
          2) they just allowed dancing on campus in 1995!

          I started narrowing my search to public schools or schools without a religious foundation.

    3. Kat Em*

      I got this sort of thing on a daily basis when I lived in Texas. It’s so ingrained, I had to call corporate HR (in Boston) MANY times due to overt religious pressure and discrimination. And that didn’t even include things that were more okay but annoying, like the daily informal bible study taking up the break room during lunch, the Bible verse Christmas cards, and the ongoing theological debates.

      Even at my husband’s stuffier and more professional workplace, “What church do you attend?” and “Are you a person of faith?” were not unusual conversation starters.

      Stuff like this is beyond normal in many places in the US. And yes, they’d be shocked and horrified that someone might find it inappropriate.

      1. Russian in Texas*

        Yes! And the company I worked for was a huge multi-national corporation. My department literally consisted of 2 Americans (one was Asian-American), 2 Russians, 3 Vietnamese, 2 Lao, and one Chinese person.
        The upper management were all Texas Aggies, and religion was a common topic.
        Come on guys, look at your department!

      2. Jadelyn*

        I have a dear friend who lives in Tennessee, and she’s Jewish. The horror stories she’s told about overbearing Christian coworkers…and her store’s HR doesn’t consider it “harassment” apparently, or at least not enough to intervene, probably because they share the same cultural background that sees that as normal.

        1. Russian in Texas*

          One horrible story stuck in my mind.
          We had an EA for the division director, who was pregnant. She had to do an emergency medical abortion at 6 months, very much wanted pregnancy, after few miscarriages. The fetus was dead.
          Her boss (!!!) told her she will be going to hell for it.
          She was crushed. She was a work friend, and I told her to report him, because WTF. She decided not to, since she was leaving work soon anyway.

            1. Russian in Texas*

              He was/is an ass. Even though the company was great overall, with good benefits and pay, I am glad I don’t work for him anymore.
              He was the definition of the Oil Industry Good Ol’ Boy.

              1. Annab*

                I don’t want to start a political debate but he’s also the definition of the people who are making our laws now.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Wow. Pretty sure, if there was a hell, he’d be the one on a fast track to it just for this alone.

      3. I'll think of a clever name later...maybe.*

        Frankly I think that if someone is going to start a conversation with “What church do you attend?” or “Are you a person of faith?” – both questions that are highly personal, controversial, and boundary crossing – I should be allowed to offer my response of “None/No, as I think the whole idea of worship to an invisible deity in the sky is ridiculous!”
        Sorry…the whole religion thing is a sensitive topic for me. My entire office here in Massachusetts is made up of religious people. I am not. I’m not necessarily as against religion/faith as my response above would indicate, but the more I am exposed to the sanctimony of religious co-workers the more I feel it.

        1. Russian in Texas*

          Oh yeah, my inner contrarian child rears it’s head when I hear these questions. I try not to let it out with colleagues/vendors/customers, but it’s difficult sometimes.

    4. ballpitwitch*

      Amen to this (no pun intended). The amount of cards we get to the office at holiday time with bible verses and waxing lyrical about Jesus from other businesses is truly insane.

      I’ve seen quite a few checks from customers who have bible verses/religious saying on their official checks. I mean, I can’t even.

      There are so many things about being a Southerner that I love – this is not one of them.

      1. Russian in Texas*

        My Old Job had to ban any kind of personalized e-mail signatures after some complains.

            1. voyager1*

              A former workplace I worked for that was based in Alabama had to ban all signatures from email for a couple days .Then IT created new signatures that were appropriate. It was craziest thing I have ever seen.

              1. Russian in Texas*

                There was one signature that equated Jesus to hairspray somehow (in a good way). I don’t remember exactly how, but the hairspray was involved.

                1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

                  “You can’t see him, but you know he’s there, helping you be the way you should be!”

        1. Jadelyn*

          I still twitch slightly to remember a resume we got for a high-level senior management position, where the candidate had signed his email “Your brother in Christ, [name]”. Dude. I don’t know you. You’re not my brother in ANYTHING, but especially not Christ since I’m NOT CHRISTIAN.

          1. Persimmons*

            Evoking the image of wearing your diety as a skinsuit is the best way to get your interviewer’s attention!

          2. Ellex*

            I’ve met a number of people who think (and act) as though being some variety of Christian is like being a Mason: a secret handshake that gets you on the preferred list.

      2. Teapot librarian*

        My mom used to be the treasurer for a humanist organization, so she would see all of the contribution checks. One of the members, even though the organization was specifically humanist, had his name on his checks, as one does, and then “Jesus is Lord” where the second name on a joint account would be. My mom was so confused. Who is “Jesus Islord?”

        1. Urdnot Bakara*

          At my last job, I processed all the mail, and a lot of our constituents mailed in event registration forms and checks. This one lady, every year, would write like “Jesus loves you” at the top of her check, then would also write out a full prayer (or Bible verse, or something) on the back of her registration form, draw multiple crosses on the envelope itself, and would also include a small wallet-sized portrait of Jesus.

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        One of my coworkers just moved to the US South from Vermont. She is so freaked out by ‘Have a blessed day’, and by how prevalent religion is here. She almost gasped with relief when I said I’m an atheist, and that in town, we’re mostly diverse enough not to face conversion pressure. But we don’t usually talk about it at work.

    5. Elemeno P.*

      I live in Florida and this is pretty common. Thankfully my coworkers mostly mention church as an activity (like “I went to a new church and [funny story about a person they met]” or “Have you been to [restaurant]? I want to go there after church this weekend, but I’m not sure if it’s good”) and aren’t weird about it.

      1. AMPG*

        I teach religious instruction as a volunteer in my church, and I’ve told a couple of funny stories at work about it, in a “kids say the darnedest things” vein. But I made the mistake of telling a story to one very devout coworker, and since then she’s started bringing up her own spiritual journey in conversations, which to me is not the same thing, but now I feel like I opened that door myself and so need to be gentle in closing it.

      2. Becky*

        Mentioning church as an activity is perfectly fine in a professional setting, comparing religions, proselyting, asking people about their religious beliefs or explaining your personal religious belies are not in a professional setting. there are settings in which those can be appropriate, but not at work or in a work context or relationship.

    6. I GOTS TO KNOW!!*

      As I was reading that line from Alison I was thinking to myself “Yes – he sure is unaware. Willfully unaware. He likely doesn’t oft associate with those that aren’t of his faith so this is a totally normal thing to converse about to to him. He absolutely thinks this is 100% ok to do.”

      It REALLY bugs me when people just assume Christianity as the default. And act like I’m the a-hole for not being ok with their intrusiveness and proselytizing

      1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

        It’s exactly as awkward as if, while visiting someone’s house for dinner, they asked you to say grace.

  9. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    I’ve actually responded “Why?” to similar questions. Obviously, the tone is key. You don’t want to be adversarial, necessarily. It does a few things: buys you time to formulate a full response and two gives them time to (potentially) get out of the hole they’ve dug*. If Bilbo had responded, “Because I want to discuss XYZ/Convert you/etc.” you still could have replied with Alison’s scripts.

    * Sometimes people fumble questions. I’ve had people respond to my “Why?” with what they REALLY meant and I’ve laughed, explained where my brain went and then answered.

    1. nnn*

      That’s a good idea! And if the question is way inappropriate for context, you can enhance it with a really baffled facial expression/body language/awkward pause. (Like if they’d said something off-the-wall like “Do you want to trade shoes?”)

    2. Frankie*

      I love that as a default response to really invasive questions. I never remember it in the moment, of course.

      1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

        The one benefit to being physically accosted most of my life. I have psoriasis and when I worked with the public or even when I was a kid, people would grab my arm. Then say, loudly, “HONEY! What is wrong with you?/Are you contagious?” They often did this without grabbing me. So my reflex to respond with “Why?” is well built in.

    3. Asleep or maybe dead*

      This has the bonus effect of making the other person realize that whatever the answer, it is not their business, specially if they are the chatty, well-meaning but zero-boundaries oblivious type.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      I’ve done this, too. Accompanied by my *epic* resting b***h face. I’ve literally had people back away from me.

    5. RJ the Newbie*

      I was faced with a similar religious question and I also replied ‘why’. At the time, I was accused of being defensive

    6. BethRA*

      From the sound of it, though, Bilbo would have taken that as an invitation to further discussion, which OP was trying to avoid.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        It might be a good one-two punch to shut it down.
        Why do you ask?
        Because I’m always looking for lost souls to guide.
        I’m not looking for guidance, but thanks for thinking of me.
        No worries! I have gps on my phone.

    7. Multitudinous*

      I like to use a disingenuous “Excuse me?” in these scenarios as well as “Why?”
      It works best if the tone is friendly but confused, as if you sincerely think you must have misheard them because surely they weren’t really asking about your religious beliefs at a work dinner.
      If the other person is unusually committed to the line of inquiry they’ll continue, but it typically provides enough of a pause that the conversation can be diverted. I don’t always want to give them an avenue to talk more about their beliefs by asking “Why?”

    8. designbot*

      I like this, and I’d even level it up one. Since the OP is the person controlling the purse strings, I’d say, “Why, do you require all of your customers to conform to your religion?”
      Remind him who’s boss here, because it ain’t him.

  10. Stephanie*

    Ooooh, this is a good script. I was recently at a lunch for the black employee network* at my company and we were chatting. I mentioned I had just moved to the area and one coworker was like “Oh! Have you found a church yet?” I didn’t really know how to say “I’m not religious and not interested” and she was like “Here! I’ll add my number and I can text you a reminder for Sunday.” I got said reminder and just awkwardly ignored it. That being said, I think she got the message since I haven’t been invited again…

    *A lot of black Americans are pretty religious

    1. CM*

      I think this is a step down in awkwardness from the OP’s situation — it seems like your coworker was trying to connect with you and help you adjust to your new area, not convert you, but made an assumption that you were a churchgoer. And she backed off after realizing you weren’t interested, which is good.

      Then there’s the OP’s situation — again, it’s good that Bilbo backed off, but inappropriate to ask that at a work-related event (I’d argue a social event too, but I’m not into religion) and it sounds like evangelizing. I think the OP’s response was fine in the moment, but I like the “I’d prefer not to talk about religion” responses.

      And then there’s an escalation of the OP’s situation where the person doesn’t back down, and tries to convert you. In that case, I think you can say pretty much anything you feel like, including the Lucifer/FSM responses above.

      1. Kelsi*

        It wasn’t unnecessary. Stephanie was giving relevant context for why the coworker might have made the assumption that everyone attending said network would be a churchgoer.

  11. Delta Delta*

    A couple thoughts come to mind, in addition to my knee-jerk reaction of “dude, mind your own biscuits.” OP’s reaction sounds like it was perfect and had the bonus of bringing up a puppy (because puppies!).

    First, I wonder if this happened in a geographic area where people are overall sort of religious? What is common in Anytown might be different than in Cityville. If you’re visiting Bilbo in Anytown, what Bilbo is attuned to as “normal” might be different than in your own area.

    Second, Bilbo might not be good at casual conversation. Bilbo might be pretty involved in coaching/church, etc. the same way he might have talked a little too much about rock polishing or coaching an archery team or whatever other pursuit he finds enjoyable.

    I’m thinking for the future, if Bilbo works for a valued vendor, keep the conversations polite and about work, and hopefully with someone different on his sales team.

    1. OP*

      It was funny, in discussing this all with my coworkers after the fact (for the record, Sam admitted he was uncomfortable w/the discussion as well), we all got a Michael Scott vibe off of Bilbo — that the others on our account team have to cover for some of his faux pas. The good news is that everyone else we work with there are lovely, non-invasive-question asking people, and my day to day contact is someone else. Bilbo is friends with my boss’s boss, so I need to tread somewhat gently, but Alison’s scripts are perfect.

        1. Sara without an H*

          This is interesting. I wonder if Bilbo’s firm got the contract because of his relationship with OP’s grandboss? Because given Bilbo’s performance, I wonder whether he’s actually able to close sales with anybody who isn’t somewhere on the same religious spectrum.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Thanks for supplying the extra information. I wondered why Sam didn’t try harder to turn the conversation and assumed he and Bilbo were perfectly comfortable with the way it was going.

      2. Specialk9*

        I’ve actually told a vendor “this company has people with all kinds of backgrounds, so we all steer clear of religion and politics. Just a heads up to avoid those topics when you’re talking to our folks.”

  12. Zip Silver*

    I am a believer, but anytime this has come up (usually with missionaries, not coworkers) I’ve shut it down pretty well by saying that I’m happy with my religion/denomination. (even if, you know, you have no denomination). The conversation almost always ends there and you can change the topic afterwards.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        I am currently fostering kittens for my local Humane Society. They’re not quite old enough to adopt, and being socialized in a home is very good for them (and their future adopters). My wife calls them “subscription kittens”. Believe me when I say that I can shift ANY conversation with some mention of the little sweeties.

        1. An Elephant Never Baguettes*

          High five fellow kitten foster parent! Our two are currently wreaking havoc on the living room.

    1. Katherine Vigneras*

      I once shut down door-knocking missionaries at my parents’ with “thanks, but we’re all satisfied with our assorted religious beliefs here.” Our assorted beliefs included two denominations of Christianity and three atheists of varying practice, but it felt polite and direct while leaving little room to argue.

    2. Rosemary7391*

      Denomination? I’m christian, but I’d be pretty miffed if someone was trying to convince me to change denomination! There are reasons I like my denomination and some of those are definitely not up for discussion at work.

      Mind, I’m also aware enough to realise that I need to tread delicately on this topic at work. Usually my swearing non christian coworkers talk about God more than I do… I just bring it up in the usual “What’re you doing tonight/this weekend” chat etc and let my coworkers ask questions if they want – and they do sometimes, and we all come away from that conversation happy as far as I can tell. Or I have a good natured grumble about church meetings, because that’s something everyone can relate to!

    3. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Somehow I always get the ones who will continue to argue/try to convert you. I had to threaten to call the police on one group once!

      Side note – if you’re religious, that’s lovely. I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW. I don’t want to hear a single word, ever. Keep it to yourself.

    4. Iden Versio*

      During training, my replacement asked me, “So…tell me about your faith! How’s your spiritual life with God?” I was SO flabbergasted — who asks that sort of thing? But those invasive questions were — and are — quite the norm for that sect of protestant evangelicals. We had mutual acquaintances from my childhood days in an evangelical school, so I guess she thought that it was appropriate. I am a non-practicing believer (if that makes any sense), but my spiritual life is absolutely no one’s business. I think I stammered out something like, “oh, it’s fine.” I wish I had said something like Allison’s script, instead. Questions like that are one of the reasons why I don’t go to church anymore.

      1. Sarah M*

        Several people upthread have suggested acting surprised and befuddled in this situation. If someone hit me with that, I wouldn’t be pretending. Wow!

  13. Mustache Cat*

    This is how I, personally, handle this question, whenever I’m in situations where I don’t want to disclose that I’m estranged from religion but don’t quite feel comfortable asking the questioner to stop bringing up religion (because I’ve had that backfire on me before, lol). It wouldn’t work for a lot of people, but since it sounds like we may have similar backgrounds, maybe it may work for you as well! My response is usually “I was raised in the X church. [Insert mildly fun fact about your church: “The deacon’s wife used to bring the most amazing baked ziti! Services stank to high heaven because we were next to the garlic factory! Etc!”] [Segue to a change of subject].”

    We shouldn’t have to dance around like this when we don’t want to reveal our personal feelings on religion, but there are times when people are so rude and pushy that it’s hard to avoid it, and it can feel unsafe sometimes to push back. I hope that helps.

    1. BarbellPenguin*

      I was about to say this – I do something similar. I have kind of an outbound help role, and I have been asked if I am religious or Christian. My response is “born and raised!” And then I’ll change the subject to whatever topic we were discussing. I would much rather say “none of your business”, but that wouldn’t be great for me, career-wise.

    2. sap*

      Yeah, this is the approach I usually take when in a part of the country where 99% of people go to church. I go with “my family is Jewish,” because half of them are l, and Christians are usually a lot more respectful of that than “I’m an atheist,” but it also short-circuits any potential bonding about Jesus.

    3. Cat Herder*

      LOL, doesn’t work if you were born and raised with the W*** of Babylon ( aka Roman Catholic church).

      1. Inspector Spacetime*

        Really? I’ve definitely done the mild “I was raised Catholic” + change subject, and it’s worked. I live in liberal New England, though. Most of my coworkers are Jewish and sometimes we talk about religion in the polite chit chat “what are you doing for the holidays” way.

      2. Mustache Cat*

        HA, I actually do feel this. My denomination, although nominally Protestant, is more closely associated as a doomsday cult than anything else. My saving grace is that most people don’t actually recognize the name, lol. But yes, fair point.

    4. Ladida*

      I think this is an excellent way to respond..I think so many people are made uncomfortable by questions that, sure, if answered truly and honestly would get into someone’s negative experiences and personal history but that in reality, can be answered in an emotionally detached way that gets the conversation moving elsewhere. While the religion question is more inappropriate than others it’s really not that different than “how was your weekend?” If you had a terribly weekend where something horrible happened that you do not want to share with this random person, you might feel like it’s a very personal question since if you were to answer honestly you’d be weeping and traumatized. When really they are just making conversation and “fine” is all you need to say to move the conversation along. And sadly, nosy religious questions are commonplace in some regions and so you gotta find your version of “fine” for religious conversations. Mine is “Oh I’m not religious” but I’ve been lucky not to have worked with or known religious pushy people (despite living in a very churchy place!)

  14. Editrix*

    “Is Bilbo unaware that there there are lots of people who consider religious faith — or lack thereof — highly personal and not something they’re up for discussing with colleagues? Is he unaware that the specific language he chose is likely to be highly alienating to people from different faiths? Does he assume that such people are all so Other that he wasn’t likely to be talking to any of them or that he would know in advance that he was?”

    In my experience deep in a church full of Bilbos, the answer to all of these is, unequivocally, yes. He would be very surprised to find these things out, and then refuse to believe them.

    1. Temperance*

      My experience is that the Bilbos of the world don’t care. They’re the One True Faith, so they can be as annoying as they want to.

    2. misc.*

      And then he would hold frequent prayer sessions to cause the holy spirit to fall upon these wayward souls that they may see the light and be saved.

      Guess who still has unresolved issues with religion? If I was OP it would have probably gone much more poorly.

  15. DQ*

    I tend to react to these types of questions with an exaggeratedly faux-admonishing (but not actually faux) tone “Oh, Bilbo! My goodness, talk of religion at our first business dinner….what will we talk about next, politics???” In other words, react as if his question was exactly as ridiculous and off-base as it was.

    1. Ellex*

      I was raised to believe that there are 3 things you don’t discuss in polite company: religion, politics, and health.

      If we’re discussing one of those, I’ll have to assume this isn’t polite company. Would you like to take a look at my fugly toenails?

  16. Katniss*

    Frustratingly, some people just won’t get it, and I hope Bilbo isn’t one of them. It can be really frustrating.

    I gave a lead at an AA meeting once, about being an atheist and still doing AA. I mentioned more than once that I felt lucky not to get “you’ll change your mind someday” or “then you aren’t doing this right” judgments, and also mentioned that when people DO express either thing, it makes me less interested in hearing about their beliefs just out of frustration. And still someone felt the need to comment that…I would change my mind and wasn’t doing things right. There are people who are convinced that what works for them must work for everyone else and they will not hear otherwise, no matter what.

    1. Russian in Texas*

      “I love you and I am sad for you because you are going to Hell”.
      From a good friend.
      Thanks, I guess?

      1. Drew*

        “I love you so I’m going to forget that you ever said that.”

        I have had to deploy that one a couple of times.

        1. Loose Seal*

          How about:

          “I love you so I’m going to forget you judged me like that.”

          You could also add “…especially since your Savior clearly said all judging is up to him.”

          I absolutely cannot stand “pious” Christians who don’t even follow the red text in the Bible. It’s like they highlighted it just so you could skim to those parts! Read them sometime!

      2. Jadelyn*

        I actually had a dear friend once say (while we were all a bit drunk) that he hoped my boyfriend and I were right (in our pagan-ish beliefs) because if we were right, everything would still be okay after death, but if my friend were right in his beliefs, my boyfriend and I would go to hell. It was…simultaneously irritating and yet kind of oddly touching?

        That may have been my own inebriation coloring my interpretation, though.

      3. AlexandrinaVictoria*

        “I love you and will miss you, but all the fun people will be there.”

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I had two close friends in high school, a guy and a girl. The guy went on to become a pastor in our hometown. The girl stayed in our hometown, and I moved halfway across the world. When we were all in our mid-thirties, I got an email from the guy friend saying that our woman friend had been killed in a car accident. It was awful. She left two teenage children. I still miss her. Anyway, the guy (the one who was a pastor) followed that up with another email saying that he was beating himself up, he could’ve done more for her while she was alive, she had been only a C&E Christian at most and he blamed himself… basically telling me, in a roundabout way, that there was no doubt in his mind that our deceased friend was now in hell, because she hadn’t accepted Jesus into her heart and whatnot. I was still a Christian then, but on a much more liberal and ecumenical side, and his letter made me so incensed, I pretty much stopped talking to him for about ten years.

        1. Inspector Spacetime*

          “Isn’t it sad that Jane died? Oh boy, I hope they’re raking the coals slowly for her in hell!”

          Wow, dude.

      5. neverjaunty*

        I like to quote the Bible at these folks to gently explain that they too, apparently, are going to hell (Jesus had a lot to say about what happens to people who insult others, brag about their faith in public, and claim to be his followers while doing zippidy to actually live his teachings).

        To nobody’s surprise very few of these people know their Bible all that well.

        1. Kat in VA*

          When someone opts to hammer me with Bible verses because I am an atheist, they often get a surprise.

          I wasn’t *always* an atheist. And Southern Baptists are very fond of their Wednesday evening services, their Sunday School before regular morning service, their Bible studies, their covered dish suppers with a quick sermon slipped in.

          I’ve hammered more than one unwary halfarsed Christian right back with verses out of their own book. You wanna use your Bible as an authority, you best know it backward and forward like I do, or it’s going to be a very short, very unpleasant ride. My favorite are – for example – the super intolerant folks who use Leviticus as proof that LBTQA+ folks shouldn’t be around – and then they get treated by me to ALLLL of Leviticus and its various rules (which are technically for the priesthood anyway but no one lets that stop them /eyeroll/).

          Or if you’re going to go on and on about how sinful someone is and how OT says it’s a sin to do this and that – then we’re going to get into how Christ’s original sacrifice was intended to wash away all of the old “sins” enumerated in the OT because it was impossible for regular people to follow ALL those rules and get to Heaven.

          So Christ took on all of our sins (more or less the scapegoat), changed it over to the I’m-The-Way-Truth-Life-Only Way You’re Gettin’ to My Daddy is Through Me, Brochacho and by the way, you got ONE commandment now which is “Love everyone”, that should be easier to remember than all those rules in the OT, right? So to condemn others for sinning in the old ways (along with “judge not, etc.”) means you literally spit in the eye of Christ’s sacrifice for you and you’re a terrible Christian. That usually gets folks off my back, if they let me talk long enough.

          I don’t mind Christianity. It’s some of the followers I have an issue with. I’ve noticed that most major religions have an underlying message at the core: Don’t Be A Jerk. It’s astonishing how many people seem to miss the entire tenet of their faith and focus on the ditty-bop portions like “Women shouldn’t speak in church” or whatever. Don’t be an jerk. If you need to go to church to underscore that simple fact, cool. Don’t hassle me about it, tell me I have no moral compass because I don’t need church to tell me not to be a jerk, and DEFINITELY don’t legislate me based on the laws in your book because that, indeed, makes you a jerk.

          Disclaimer: I have friends of varying levels of faith, from “Christmas Catholics” to folks who use “Praise Jesus!” in just every every other paragraph. Oddly, we all get along and they don’t feel the need to bring me back, convert me, preach at me, or otherwise get me involved in religion. Funny, that.

          Thanks for the rant. Somehow I feel better. ;)

      6. Beatrice*

        I get that from my mother occasionally. The first time hurt so much I barely left my bedroom for a couple of days once I got home. It’s less of a heartbreak now.

  17. Frankie*

    Oh dear. The phrase “Bible-believing” tells you so, so much about Bilbo’s very specific religious culture. (Such a fascinating phrase for a subculture within a religion to adopt as distinctive, since most Christians would also profess to believe in the Bible).

    Yeah…Bilbo needs reminding that work and religion need to be kept separate. He likely sees it as his duty to turn conversations faithward at every opportunity.

    1. costume teapot*

      As someone with next to no experience with religion, I was wondering about this!!!

      1. Dankar*

        The idea is that other (usually more progressive) churches aren’t really Bible-believing, since they’ve deviated from the conservative/strict/out-there interpretation that Bilbo’s church uses.

        It’s a really passive-aggressive way to brag about how your church is a REAL church and its congregation is made up of REAL Christians.

        I got out of organized religion a long time ago, so this could have changed, but I doubt it has.

        1. misc.*

          It’s hilariously ironic because they are often in fact pretty far into left field as to their interpretation and lean heavily on a very conservative and Old Testament-based version of Christianity, which is…not very Bible-beliving.

          “Bible-believing” is a dog whistle for “persecuted” Evangelical Christians who just don’t understand why the gays want to get married and women don’t wanna just marry and pump out babies. It’s a good way for sniffing out what kind of “Christian” someone is.

          1. Frankie*

            Well and still “selective-Bible-believing” because it’s only a few portions of the OT, and not, like, not eating cloven-hooved animals or letting your fields lie fallow every once in a while.

          2. Ursula*

            Just as a note, Evangelicals are just as batty in their interpretations of the Hebrew Bible as they are of the New Testament. I see a lot of non-Evangelical Christians characterize Evangelical beliefs as “Old Testament-versions” of things but that characterization itself is buying into the Evangelicals’ notion that they’re the true inheritors of Biblical traditions and interpretations rather than the people who actually wrote it all and still practice it (I mean Jewish people, in case that wasn’t obvious). The Hebrew Bible is actually quite progressive when interpreted using the lens of Jewish tradition and thought.

            1. misc.*

              Most definitely. Evangelical Christianity has its roots in the old testament, but it’s a very selective and cherry-picked version of the events. Jewish teachings are far more in line with the truth of the old testament than the perverse interpretations the Evangelicals use.

      2. Frankie*

        It’s kinda hilarious. There’s generally a lot of internal shade-throwing about other denominations, across most denominations, but few are gutsy enough to add “you know, the ACTUAL Christians” to their tagline.

    2. sfigato*

      To be fair, some christian churches read from Mary Kondo’s “Art of Tidying up” or “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, so it is nice to have the clarification.

      1. CMart*

        You joke, but when my family was trying to find a parish to more or less make our “home” the one closest to our house was staffed by a priest who never quoted or spoke about Bible scripture in the homily.

        Oh sure, there were the traditional three passages of the week that were read during the service, but the sermon part? Usually just that guy rambling for 10 minutes about a line from a pop song he’d heard that week, or musing about the premise of an upcoming film and how it made him think about The Poor, or whatever.

        I thought it was pretty funny and would have been happy to keep going there just to see what the priest thought Bruno Mars was trying to tell us on any given week, but my husband had other ideas.

    3. NW Mossy*

      I similarly wonder about a church in my area that advertises itself as “A Jesus Church,” considering that believing in Jesus and being part of a church overlap quite a bit in the Venn diagram.

      1. Detective Right-All-The-Time*

        “A Jesus Church” is actually a collection of churches. I’m not sure if they’re exclusive the NW. I don’t know anything about their theology, so can’t speak to it. I just know that tagline is used by a lot of churches around here.

    4. Happy Pirate*

      Considering the inconsistencies and downright contradictions in the bible, I would have thought taking a literal view would tie your brain in knots.
      But here in Australia anyone starting a work conversation like this would look like a completely dodgy crackpot.

  18. Mr. Rogers*

    Flashback to the time I met everyone in the office at my first internship (not in the South, either!) and the first thing they said to me was “What’s your parish?” Talk about making some major assumptions! I believe I just blurted out the local church my dad went to (and that I hadn’t stepped foot in for a decade) because it was quite clear that was the only acceptable answer.

    1. OtterB*

      Philadelphia, by any chance? I’m a Texas girl myself, but a friend from Philadelphia says that used to be shorthand for “what’s your neighborhood?” even for people who weren’t Catholic.

      1. Temperance*

        That’s definitely not the case any longer. Maybe 30+ years ago. Philly is largely secular now (and I love the hell out of it).

  19. Anon for today*

    I thought those were all good answers and agree that religion is something personal that shouldn’t be discussed in a work setting, unless perhaps someone has questions about your religion (in a cultural context, such as what a certain holiday or practice represents). I was raised Eastern Orthodox Christian and our junior high Sunday School teacher advised us that if any cult was trying to recruit us, we should tell them “Orthodoxy is the true teaching.” We thought was pretty funny at the time, but I have to admit, I’ve been tempted to use it on some overly zealous Fundamentalist Christians a few times.

    1. Oh So Very...*

      Stealing this for the next time an overly zealous Fundamentalist Christian corners me.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I used to be Orthodox and this is awesome. Although Bilbo’s brain might explode, as he was taught to believe the opposite.

    3. Lord Gouldian Finch*

      A Catholic friend uses “that conflicts with the teachings of Holy Mother the Church” to the same effect I think.

    4. I'm A Little Teapot*

      The best part is, it’s historically true. The Catholic Church broke off and went a different direction, while the Orthodox church stayed the same. Of course, none of the really annoying people seem to take historical facts very well, especially when they’re about some of the really horrible things that religion has done.

    5. misc.*

      We were taught to tell the JW and Mormons who knocked on the door that we would be praying for their souls.

  20. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I left church and organized religion about ten years ago. I am now Atheist. A few times I’ve gotten questions.

    The one answer I’ve had the most success with was the one I gave my (much older – he has children in my age group) neighbor. I was a new neighbor who’d just recently bought a house on that street, so wanted to stay on his good side. We were chatting about kids and dogs, when out of the blue…

    Neighbor: Are you Christian?

    Me: (o god what do i say, what do i say?) (brightly) We used to go to a Greek church! (I was prepared to tell him more if he’d asked – it really was a very fun church that I’d probably still be a member of, if not for the whole “everyone in the family becoming Atheist” thing.)

    What REALLY rubs me the wrong way in OP’s letter is that Bilbo immediately responded to her “Questioning” with “Well that’s what I am here for!” No, Bilbo. That is precisely not what you are here for. You are a vendor, you are not here to convert your customers, for crying out loud! That’s so unprofessional.

    1. sigh*

      Well, if he loses enough clients because he’s trying to shove religion into their business, he may learn the hard way.

    2. StrikingFalcon*

      “That’s what I’m here for.”
      “Actually you’re here to convince me to budget money for your company’s business.” *bland smile* “….So I just adopted a puppy.”

    3. Michaela Westen*

      That arrogance is something that always rubbed me the wrong way. These ignorant, rude, clueless men saying they’re authorities on what God wants for me or anyone! It’s a mental disorder. Some of them really seemed to believe they are God, or that God was directing every little thing they did. It’s scary and I really believe they need professional help. Not likely to get it though, since they know for sure God wants them to be this way… *shudder*

  21. Detective Amy Santiago*

    “Yes, I’m a Scientologist.”

    Bet that would stop the conversation in its tracks.

    1. Asleep or maybe dead*

      That would be priceless.
      The comment section is full of good comedy skit ideas today, I need all of them to be produced.

    2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Double points for pulling out a stunt copy of Dianetics and asking if they’d like to learn more


      1. Jadelyn*

        I just like the idea of having a “stunt copy” of Dianetics, lol. Especially one kept close enough at hand that it can be whipped out on a moment’s notice.

    3. MagicToilet*

      Oh nooooo you’ve given me cringy flashbacks to the time when my little 8-year-old innocent self announced I wanted to be a Scientologist. My dad took it very well considering his normally-explosive personality.

      All my little brain knew was that there was “Science” as the root word! I wanted to find a religion that would acknowledge that Science is Real (as in: God caused the big bang, evolution is real but God placed man and woman on Earth fully formed).

      Fortunately I grew up and discovered I’m atheist rather than a volcano-worshiping alien.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        I still remember there were TV commercials for Dianetics, and I really really wanted to read it because it sounded like awesome science fiction. And the ads featured erupting volcanoes! (Admittedly in HS I did read L Ron’s actual sci-fi books and … that cured me of ever wanting to read anything of his again.)

  22. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

    My attitude towards religion has best been summed up by someone far wittier than me as:
    “Having a faith is like having a (male genitalia). It’s fine if you have one, fine if you don’t. But don’t show it off in public, and don’t try shoving it down my throat!”

  23. AnonEMoose*

    I’d have been very tempted to smile sweetly and reply, truthfully, “I’m a practicing witch.” But having Bilbo run screaming from the table would probably not have been a good result…well, not from my employer’s point of view.

    The response “Don’t ask questions to which you don’t want to know the answers” might also have occurred to me.

    I think you handled it fine, especially given the surprise. Alison’s scripts are really good to keep in mind for future, if needed. (But, really, people, if you’re not working for an explicitly religious organization, just don’t ask in a work context. Just…don’t. If people want you to know, they’ll find a way to tell you. Just like, if you ask if someone has kids and they say no, don’t ask “why not?”)

  24. Nope*

    I’m lucky enough to live in a relatively nonreligious area. The few times that someone has tried to convert me at work, I broke the script and it was pretty funny. “Do you have the light of jesus in you?” “Nope.” Followed by a baffled silence.

  25. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    My shoulders are so high up that they’re above my head.

    Bilbo needs to understand that his account is in jeopardy with comments like that.

    I don’t even consider people like him clueless. His stance is aggressive and exclusionary, and it makes me sick.

  26. Anonforthis*

    I hate talking about religion because I was brought up in a pretty awful religious environment and am still pretty scarred by it. I do, however, do some volunteer work with some groups that are loosely faith-based – and by faith I mean Unitarian, Humanist, and reform Judaism (which is basically the you’re-ok, I’m-ok branch of the Jewish faith) so I just pivot to that.

  27. Adjunct Gal*

    We were temporary transplants in the Bible Belt, and my husband was once asked what church he went to. Because he didn’t feel like talking about being Pagan, he decided that telling this person he was raised Jewish was safer. The response was “Oh, you’re one of the Chosen Ones?” and on and on and on…Oy.

    At least we made it a running joke in our house.

    1. savannnah*

      You would think that would help but no. When I disclose my Jewishness to JW at my door they double down, same with mormons. Like my mezuzah is some open invite, a beacon to help me find the truth.

      1. strawberries and raspberries*

        Nothing pisses off this culturally Jewish witch more than evangelical Christians talking about how much they love Judaism and Israel as if I don’t realize they’re only interested in my heritage as a pawn in their own long game.

        1. Oranges*

          Actually Jews need to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem so the end-times of Christianity can happen (yes, I was actually taught this in all seriousness, it’s exhibit #78 in why I no longer do religion).

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            That’s what strawberries and raspberries was referring to, that many evangelical Christians claim to be so supportive of us and our religion but it’s really just because they need us to accomplish their own goals. It’s pretty exasperating, to be honest.

            1. Oranges*

              Ahhhh… I was thinking she was referring to the way that (some/most/?) Evangelicals fetishize(correct word?) Jews.

              I can’t point to a specific example but there was definitely an undercurrent of “Jews make our religion more… real” while at the same time being viewed as pitiful since they almost had it correct. It was a very icky thing and I can’t really put words around exactly how.

      2. BF50*

        I initially misread your last phrase as “bacon to help me find the truth”

        The truth is bacon is pretty yummy but probably not yummy enough to convert anyone.

        1. Pebbles*

          I don’t know, I’ve read that bacon is the gateway meat for converting vegetarians/vegans! :)

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Ha! When we moved to the South, I feared this question and hoped that my being Jewish made my answer safe. So I get where your husband was coming from! Oddly, we moved to a pretty progressive part of our state and I have never actually been asked this question during casual conversation.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’m ethnically Jewish and I had a similar conversation with a nice older man in a Baptist church I briefly attended. He got very excited when I told him, and said, “Now, you need to move to Israel!” “Why?” “Because, when all the Jews have moved to Israel, the world will end.” I did not move to Israel, you are all welcome. It’s a pretty nice world, would’ve been a shame for it to end!

  28. SigneL*

    Well, I AM religious. Every day I pray that God will let the Dallas Cowboys win the Super Bowl again.

    1. Drew*

      The Cowboys are starring as Job in a decades-long LARP of that book of the Bible. No points for guessing who plays Satan in this version.

    2. MagicToilet*

      I watched two adorably grown men get so angry with each other at the bar last night when they realized what the other person’s team was. One was a Cowboys fan, the other a Washington fan.

      They made up when I brought up that they are very fortunate to have the teams they have. Imagine the life those poor Browns fans lead.

  29. ragazza*

    I would be tempted to play dumb: “Faith in what?” Or just say, “Yes, I have faith in many things and people.” Or (at lunch) say something like, “Yes, yes I am. For instance, I have faith in this burger.” (Take a big chomp.)

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Oh wow:

      I’m glad you asked. I do have a lot of faith in your product, that’s why I’m at this dinner and that’s why I’m looking forward to continuing our business relationship. On that note, what good news do you have me regarding discounts?

      1. BF50*

        I had a lot of faith in your product, but I am starting to question my faith in your professionalism.

  30. Amethystmoon*

    Ugh. I just tell people I don’t talk about religion outside of my family.

    I’m eclectic, but I wouldn’t care to explain that to an evangelical, especially having grown up around very religiously Christian people.

  31. costume teapot*

    I’m really curious–for those of you who live in areas where these conversations are normal and common.
    What would happen if you answered that question with “No”? Or “No, and I am not looking to be. Anyway, I just got this new puppy and…”?

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      from what I understand (not in those areas), it can be a social killer. Which can have business consequences.

    2. Angela Ziegler*

      I’m in a Christian-centric area and an answer of ‘I’m not religious’ wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. It’s just a signal to move the conversation on (like it happened to OP) that they shouldn’t go back to that conversation topic since someone there can’t relate, just like if they were talking about activities with their kids and found out OP doesn’t have any- staying on the subject would just exclude someone there, which would be impolite.

      1. sigh*

        Oh, and another one was my side hustle Direct Sales group. a few ladies had decided to make the business “more Christ focused.” It’s been awkward ever since I asked them to conduct bible study on their own time

    3. misc.*

      You will be avoided except for those brave souls who see themselves as “loving the sinner” and/or “on a mission to convert you”. It’s a pretty reliable way of shooting any networking and/or advancement opportunities in the foot, assuming you’re in the South and it’s clear your superiors are all Christian.

      1. costume teapot*

        All my expressions of shock are too ironic to use in the context of this conversation. Just. Wow.

        We recently had some JWs hit up our house after they stopped by our newly married lesbian neighbors. It required some extreme self control to not growl out at them “WE ARE LIVING IN SSSIIIIINNNNNNNNN” which I REALIZE is a horrible reaction and they were quick and not too intrusive and didn’t ask any questions and went away but. Man. Sometimes tamping down that chaotic neutral response factor is HARD.

        1. misc.*

          At a former job (which was toxic and horrible in many ways) that was A GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATION they would have prayer circles which could go for 15m or more on at least a monthly basis, which was “optional” but everyone in the department was there so you either were conspicuously sitting out, or going along and a) not getting work done and b) trying to think of something decent to say if they came around to you and asked if you had any prayers to add. On top of that true insanity, this was a period in my life where I’d lost my mother and grandfather in quick succession and was seriously doubting and questioning my faith and all religion. It’s truly nightmarish how deeply, deeply ingrained religion, and specifically Protestant religion, is in the south. You really can’t underestimate it.

  32. Angela Ziegler*

    I understand feeling uncomfortable and singled out in that situation, since religion is a very personal thing that doesn’t fit in general workplace conversations, but it sounds like there weren’t any other problems after OP’s answer? They said it wasn’t mentioned the rest of the trip, and the conversation moved on after she changed the topic. If they brought it up again later and either one of them started questioning her about her views, I’d understand being mortified at the situation. All you have to say is “I’m not religious” which is what they wanted to know in the first place. Plenty of people aren’t religious, or at least not in the traditional way, which is why they asked instead of assuming. No, it’s not great having to mention anything about your views on the spot like that, but apparently they wanted to know so they wouldn’t keep diving into that conversation topic if you couldn’t relate the same way. They spoke briefly, part of the conversation was related to career advice (although in this case faith based, it was still work related) and weren’t diving into the fine points of theology, beliefs in life, and asking you ‘Are you a Christ follower?’ and questioning your views- all of which would have been highly uncomfortable and inappropriate. But fortunately it sounds like it was a brief conversation where the topic came up naturally, and they took the cue of changing the topic.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      Because just asking the question, especially in that context, was boundary crossing, if not outright boundary stomping. It was a business dinner, not a purely social occasion.

      And the way the question was asked would have had my shoulders up around my ears, while I tried to very quickly decide how to end that topic without being outright rude, or triggering further questions or, worse, a full-on conversion attempt that would NOT have ended well.

      It would also make me a bit wary of Bilbo in future, because if he doesn’t respect those boundaries, what other boundaries might he be oblivious of or choose to ignore?

      1. Angela Ziegler*

        It was boundary crossing, yes, but I can see in that particular situation how it might come up naturally through conversation without intentionally trying to assume or offend. The others in the story were discussing general things, and one of them mentioned his career-counseling he does- which happens to be faith based. (I can see that coming up in work-related conversations since it relates to career coaching.) So the other person finds they have something in common in church involvement and discuss it briefly- nothing in depth, nothing about theology or personal beliefs, but most likely community outreach and if they volunteer/help out at their churches. So one of them turns to OP, not wanting to exclude them from the conversation, and asks in a vague way if she is religious. She makes it clear she’s not (at least, not in the way they are) and the conversation moves on. They didn’t go back to it and didn’t question her for more information. Yes, it was an uncomfortable situation, but it sounds like it passed quickly and wasn’t done intentionally.

        1. ragazza*

          But it’s not a “vague” way at all. He rather pointedly asks her if she is a certain type of Christian–as others have noted, this question typically refers to a specific brand of the religion–in a way that privileges it as a favored if not the only acceptable faith.

        2. AnonEMoose*

          But it wasn’t really a vague way. It was a very specific way, if you take the context of “Bible-believing church” into account. Maybe to you, that’s innocuous. It isn’t innocuous to me, and it’s not innocuous to many other posters here.

          Because it heavily implies that “MY religion is the ONLY RIGHT ONE, and if you don’t share it, I will feel perfectly fine treating you badly and/or attempting to convert you, right here and right now.” And maybe that’s unfair to Bilbo, but that reaction is based on years of experience, and previous encounters with a pattern of behavior.

          MAYBE Bilbo’s intentions were innocent, but they wouldn’t have read that way to me, and it sounds like they didn’t read that way to the OP, either.

          In terms of inappropriateness, it’s sort of equivalent to the guy who (if you’re a woman) stands just that little bit too close, asks if you’re single, and so on, when the context is not appropriate for that. By which I mean that I would be thinking “Ok, he’s now done/said one very-inappropriate-for-the-context thing. If I don’t find a way to shut this down, what’s he going to do/say next? And will he react badly/how badly will he react to me shutting this down?” It can be that level of uncomfortable. It sounds like Bilbo did take the cue, but that doesn’t make it not bad that he asked in the first place.

      2. MuseumChick*

        Agree with you AnonEMoos. This was straight up boundary crossing. I’m an Atheist and never, ever, ever bring it up at work because I know that there are a lot of Feelings about religion and I don’t want to make any of my co-workers uncomfortable.

        This is, in a certain sense, like discussing diet/food at work. You don’t know peoples backstories that could heavily trigger them. I have two friends who survived being raised in cults. Any discussion about religion is extremely uncomfortable for them. And Bilbo’s response of “That’s what I’m here for!” just makes me cringe.

        1. nonegiven*

          >“That’s what I’m here for!”

          No, you are here for a business dinner and we need to change the subject.

    2. OP*

      Yes, it was relatively brief, but it was very uncomfortable for me, and it left me on high alert for the remainder of my trip because I was worried I’d have to fend it off again. Partially because I have a *lot* of baggage around religion and didn’t trust myself to respond neutrally, and since Sam was a sympathetic religious audience to Bilbo there were continuing conversation topics about church activities, “remember this Bible verse”, etc. The whole thing struck me as inappropriate and I’m glad both that I didn’t have to deal with it further and that I wasn’t off base in thinking that it’s inappropriate.

      1. Angela Ziegler*

        Yeah, I can see how it would’ve been uncomfortable. I think an answer of “I’m not religious” or “I’d rather not say” would have been fine as well. “Questioning” probably risked another conversation more, since it can imply that you’re ‘undecided’ and might benefit from a discussion about it. Even in very religious circles, saying you’re not religious (which is true, it sounds like, at least not in the traditional way they meant) is a good way of getting your point across. It was still impolite to stay on a conversation topic when one out of three people there couldn’t relate, though.

    3. CM*

      I think if religion is a big part of your life it can seem natural to bring it up in all sorts of interactions, but especially at work you need to think about whether other people may view it as a sensitive topic. To me it’s like asking somebody about their sexuality — if you ask somebody, “Are you a heterosexual?” and then immediately back off when they change the subject, it’s still not an acceptable conversation topic just because you didn’t bring it up again. Even bringing it up once implies a value judgment and makes the work-related conversation suddenly very personal.

  33. MuseumChick*

    Non-serious-evil-side-of-me-response: *In a very cheerful tone* I actually just joined a new religion! The Church of Satan has really changed my life is some many positive ways!”

    Professional response: *neutral tone* “I never discuss religion in a work context.”

    1. MagicToilet*

      I always wanted to join the Church of Satan until I started following them on Twitter. Man are they grumpy B-holes.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I prefer The Satanic Temple, myself – check out the “Menstruatin’ with Satan” campaign, it’s pretty awesome.

  34. Gandalf the Nude*

    If you’re any good at shutting down cold callers and other unwelcome salespeople, the same rules apply.

    “What’s this in regards to?”
    “Oh, I’ve got that covered, thanks!”
    Hasty subject change/exit.

  35. Sally*

    I prefer saying “oh, that’s pretty personal for me, but what about X?” like Alison suggested rather than something more confrontational because that way the person can assume whatever they’d like to assume (even that you’re such a religious Christian you want to keep it to yourself) – especially if there’s a power imbalance like its a client.

    I interned in a smaller city in my state and I was really surprised that I was the only Jewish person and everyone else was Christian. It was not a problem for most people, but one time I couldn’t attend a work event because I wanted to go to Friday night temple and one well connected very senior coworker said “Oh, you have to go and bow five times?” and proceeded to mock the bowing… which I’m pretty sure was intended to be mocking Islam, but she confused it with Judaism … so I totally understand the weirdness here.

    1. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      Or she was mocking bowing during blessings. Who knows? Either way, what a classless and ugly thing for her to do.

      1. Sally*

        I don’t think she knew enough about Judaism to be making fun of that specifically – I believe there was a comment with it about praying 5x a day which made me believe it was a reference to Islam. She was not pleasant.

  36. Dee*

    I’ve sometimes said “I was raised Catholic,” if it’s a situation where it’s hard to be blunt. It’s true, and I’m just omitting the second part, which is that I’m not a member any more.

    And then, like you said, talk about puppies.

    1. sfigato*

      Same. I say “i’m catholic.” I omit the “non-practicing, non-believing” part. People generally don’t try to mess with/convert you if you say your catholic.

    2. CristinaMariaCalabrese (do the mambo like-a crazy)*

      Haha, that’s what my husband tells his parents! “So is CristinaMariaCalabrese a Christian, dear?” “She was raised Catholic.” “What church does she attend?” “She was raised Catholic.” Etc., etc., apply as needed.

  37. Westcoast pastor*

    This is the kind of crap that drives me crazy. I am an ordained pastor in a larger church on the west coast and *I* would never ask someone this kind of question unless they made an appointment to come to my office to talk to me about faith. It is beyond out of line in any type of business context and really none of his business. It in no way affects your ability to do your job and is irrelevant. Given what he said I can also say it is representative of a loud but small (comparative to christians worldwide) group of conservative/fundamental evangelical Americans. And the idea that he thinks he would/should be a person you wanted to talk to about any questions you have is beyond arrogant.

    Knowing lots of these kinds of people though I think you were wise in your response honestly. They can be super pushy and confrontational when someone doesn’t align to their beliefs (even to those of us who do share a few common thoughts). I am hoping he got home and realized how out of line he was and that is why he chose to not mention again but I wouldn’t hold my breath….

  38. Nesprin*

    “Thanks, but I’m happy with my godless hedonism.” The Jehovah’s witnesses have taken us off their list.

    But in a professional setting, redirecting was the right way to do this.

    1. OyVey*

      My spouse has a version of this that starts all televangical style “friend, have you heard the word of the lord!” and ends with inviting Satan into our hearts. The Mormons, the JW’s, and the genuinely nice folks from the spanish speaking church up the street all cross the street when they get to our block

  39. AdAgencyChick*

    The vendor asked you this?


    My brain is just exploding right now with the nonsensicality of Bilbo. I mean, our clients sometimes ask unprofessional and inappropriate questions, and we are made to put up with it because they’re the client and they pay our salaries. I cannot fathom a vendor being willing to risk a piece of business by saying something so out of line.

  40. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    I love my grandma’s approach. If someone asks her if she’s a person of faith, she asks why. Then if they ask about her personal relationship with God (almost always happens), she gets this eager, wide-eyed look and says, “Oh yes, I have a very close relationship. We talk every day, sometimes several times a day. Would you like me to ask him a question or send him a message?”

    That usually scares people away.

    1. J.B.*

      That is beautiful!

      Not helpful to OPs situation, but there are advantages to being able to say brightly “Oh yes, I’m Episcopalian!” (generally “so called liberal Christian”) and people just let the subject drop. If they didn’t I’d stick in the “agnostic” modifier and say it’s personal.

    2. I'll think of a clever name later...maybe.*

      LOL…talking to god…so when my husband and I were preparing to get married in a Catholic church (at his mother’s insistence) we had to attend pre-marital classes. I am not religious at all. I made my first communion at age 8 but that’s where church stopped for me. We were in this giant hall with all of these other couples forced to go through this class and the deacon of the church was talking about how we, as a soon to be married couple, should talk to god together. I leaned over and said to my husband “Does saying ‘Oh god Oh god I’m almost there!’ when we’re having sex count as talking to god?” The entire table of couples laughed so hard and loud that the deacon chastised us all. I never got an answer though.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This story is amazing. :) Did the deacon hear your comment, or just the reaction?

        1. I'll think of a clever name later...maybe.*

          Just the reaction. We were in the back of the room. I would have been mortified if he’d heard it. LOL! I’m sarcastic, but not super brave.

  41. LuJessMin*

    When I was but a wee young thing (mid-70s) I worked the evening shift at a 24-hour restaurant. We were popular with the Sunday night church crowd. I’m waiting on one table with about 8 people, grandparents, parents, kids. The grandpa asked me if I went to church that morning. I said no, I worked Saturday night so I slept in Sunday morning. He asked me, “What if Jesus came while you were asleep?” I responded, “Well, I guess I’d be out-of-luck then.” Didn’t get a very good tip from that table.

  42. ResuMAYDAY*

    Alison asked, “Is Bilbo unaware that…not something they’re up for discussing with colleagues? BILBO IS AWARE. People who ‘witness’ are trained, by their church, to ignore these clues and responses with a smile, and keep witnessing. Growing up, I was a member of the Lutheran church, which is arguably what I call ‘religion-lite’. And yet I, and my classmates were taught how to witness. It wasn’t really pushed on the kids all that much, so I guess you could call it a grooming of sorts. But the adults who got involved in the different church groups and committees were expected to make this a normal part of their life.
    I haven’t been affiliated with any church in 30 years, having left it in high school. LW, I’m so sorry this happened in a professional setting. Part of me thinks you got off lucky, because Bilbo accepted the change in conversation. There would be nothing wrong with dropping him an email thanking him for dinner, and politely (but firmly) telling him that religion won’t be a topic between the two of you again.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      +1 Yes, this is what I was thinking. He knew darn well what he was doing and was on a mission to convert (or is just so deeply immeshed he can’t or won’t separate this aspect of his life). I’ve run into it before and find it super annoying. At least he took the hint.

    2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      I agree. With this specific language he was asking if you are a part of his particular take on Christianity and was definitely seeing this as an opportunity to “witness”. Frankly I’m surprised he let subject drop!

  43. Lora*

    Bilbo is a vendor. He is there to
    1) tell you about the products his company sells, which are probably nothing involving stained glass windows, rummage sales, coffee and donuts, or gossiping about who left the chairs disorganized after the Tuesday night support group meeting
    2) give you a pen / tote bag / coffee cup with the company logo
    3) kiss your butt a little bit
    4) hand you his business card and perhaps a brochure or catalog
    This is 100% of his job. That’s what he is there for.

    You can kinda go ahead and be salty with a vendor, especially if he’s not a sole source vendor. “My religion is None Of Your Business. Tell me about those new thingamajiggers with the automatic doowhackys on em?”

    I personally like to bring a laundry list of complaints from the last product they sold me and will dig into it at any given opportunity, so if you have something like that it’s fun to redirect every conversational pause to Everything I Hate About Your Company, even if it’s not their department.

    1. LQ*

      Oh I did this to a vendor recently. They were trying to pitch me on a product we could use in the future, but we are not even CLOSE to ready and he wasn’t listening so I started talking about something barely tangentially their company. Imagine talking to the Microsoft Azure people about how the pen that says Microsoft on it doesn’t click well. He got back on track. So much fun.

  44. Thosetaxreturnswontfilethemselves*

    Allison –

    I would love to know what your advice is for needing time off for religious things (like a christening) and then discussing that in the workplace. I feel like I get trapped in weird religion talks when I have to request PTO.

    This is complicated in that I’m an atheist but still have to show up for this sort of thing because faaaaamily. So I can’t really go one about the religion I’m taking off of work to support, and then get trapped in awkward you must church too conversations.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I realize I’m not Alison, but I see two things here: 1) Why do you need to tell anyone you’re attending a religious ceremony, and 2) religious events happen. They are part of life. Attending a religious milestone does not translate to “supporting” a religion, you’re just attending a family event. There is no difference between taking a day off for your nephew’s christening and taking a day off for your cousin’s bar mitzvah.

      Just say you have a family party if you don’t want to mention religion at all.

      1. Thosetaxreturnswontfilethemselves*

        Because for some reason these mandatory family events happen when we have a literal “ban” on PTO, so I have to give a detailed description to get the request approved.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          “It’s a big family thing, it’s a church thing but I’m doing it for my cousin and mom. We do it for every baby in the family. I’ll need to leave at 2pm on Thursday afternoon so I can change and be there at 4.”

          You need to convince them of the obligation, that’s all.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I think if you’re matter of fact about it, there shouldn’t be a problem.

          Or, if you don’t want to get into specifics, you can always say something like “I have a religious obligation”.

    2. Rey*

      It sounds like you’re attending because it’s a family thing, not a religious thing, so you would just say that, “Can I have Friday afternoon off to attend a family event?” If you end up going into detail, either then or in a later conversation, I think most people will understand that while you are an atheist, you spend time with family at religious events that are important to them.

    3. Zgscl*

      I think this is fine. People often ask what are you doing for on your pto in a social way at work and I think it’s ok to say you have a christening/baptism/ bar or bat mitzvah/ hajj pilgrimage to Mecca/ wedding/funeral or other event. But if you don’t want to bring it up or be associated with the event you can also just say a family function and leave it at that. I don’t think you need to hide it unless you want to.

    4. Teapot librarian*

      I think in those cases you’re not taking time off for a religious thing, you’re taking time off for a family thing. It just happens to be a family thing that is in a church/based in religion.

    5. Pollygrammer*

      I know where you’re coming from. I once got stuck explaining what an unveiling was to a well-meaning, inquisitive group of coworkers, and it was pretty uncomfortable, because then it turned into a really awkward, “oh…so, are you, like, mourning right now?”

      1. Delta Delta*

        That sounds awkward. But, it also sounds like your coworkers got to learn about something they didn’t even know was a thing. I married in to a jewish family and I didn’t know about them either. I think every family does it differently, but in Mr. Delta’s family when there’s an unveiling, later there’s also a brisket. I am beginning to suspect they are looking for excuses for brisket, which frankly, is fine with me.

  45. Zgscl*

    This is so annoying and has no place at work and it’s really inappropriate for a sales director to bring it up. If a client discusses it I would have a bit more forgiveness but a vendor, no. That said I know there are some regional differences depending on where the business is located and I understand there are also some religious businesses that might be more inclined to expect this from.

    Honesty I would be really inclined to come up with some insanely out there’s out there religion, cult, satanic worship or ancient Druid witch craft and discussion my beliefs in that though I’m not sure if they would have picked up on my sardonic derision.

    1. Jadelyn*

      You…do realize that there are plenty of actual people who actually practice those “insanely out there” religions, and don’t particularly appreciate being referred to as “insanely out there” or placed on a list in the same breath as “cults”, yes? We are not just figments of your imagination, and most of us aren’t fond of being used as your mocking example of “out there” beliefs.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Apology accepted, thank you – I can understand forgetting we’re out there, we tend to be less common and also pretty quiet about it most of the time. :)

          1. AnonEMoose*

            And there tends to be a lot of misunderstanding about what we actually believe, especially because it can vary quite a bit from person to person.

  46. caryatis*

    “To be clear, it was fine for him to share that he’s involved in his church (just like it would be fine for him to share that he’s involved in rescuing baby geese or loves to cook).”

    I disagree. There are enough people who are uncomfortable with the subject (or who will judge you harshly for your faith or lack thereof) that I would stay away from any discussion of personal religious belief at work.

    1. misc.*

      I agree…it may be fine to mention it, but it might not be the wisest judgment unless you know in advance that you’re not speaking with someone who will see church involvement as a negative.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I have to disagree with you. A lot of people are involved with religious organizations the way they’re involved with sports teams or musical pursuits or crafting. It’s just a part of their lives. “Did you have a good weekend?” “I did!” “Do anything particularly fun?” “Yeah, I went to this sisterhood thing at my church/played kickball/had a gallery exhibition of my needlepoint.” It can be– often is– just that casual, and anyone who would poke or press simply at the mention of a religious activity is kind of a jerk.

    3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      I disagree, If 4 people are standing around the water cooler* talking about what they did over the weekend, it is entirely appropriate for a person to mention church activities.

      Bob: Yeah, I went sailing with my cousin… how about you Fergus
      Fergus: Oh, I worked on my deck, almost done just need to stain it… Jane?
      Jane: Me and the dog went for a long hike on Saturday… What about you Wakeen… do anything fun
      Wakeen: I staffed the dunk tank at our church bazaar. Boy were those kids bad shots, I have four bruises from getting hit with the ball

      I gently suggest if a person can’t handle a discussion like the one above then they probably need to find some perspective and perhaps need some help.

      *Or at an after hour dinner… or chit chatting before the start of a meeting… or whenever

    4. MissDisplaced*

      Meh! I think this is fine to some extent. “So, Bilbo, what do you do here in x-city outside of work?”
      Bilbo: “Oh, I’m active in my church, coach softball and love fishing.”
      Cool. And perfectly acceptable in this setting. And if Samwise asked more about “church,” I’d be kicking him under the table! Haha!

      1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

        I’m relatively new to my city and the only local friends I have outside of work are the friends I have met through church. I almost have to bring it up when people ask me if I’m adjusting well or what I do in my free time, because without it I would have no social life.

    5. Manager Mary*

      I think it’s important to keep in mind he’s a vendor trying to make a sale. Caryatis is right that religion can be a super touchy subject… but, how touchy it is also depends a lot on the community. Is Bilbo in Chattanooga or Seattle? Because if they’re in Chattanooga, OP is likely going to be an outlier, while in Seattle, OP is likely going to be the norm. While I personally would avoid it altogether, this really is a “know your audience” situation. Where I work (rural Bible belt), it is completely normal and socially acceptable for people to speak openly about Jesus in pretty much any setting, professional or otherwise. If you’re a salesperson, and you offer to open a sales meeting with prayer, you’ve probably just earned yourself several bonus points. But I doubt it would go over well at a tech start-up in San Francisco!

      1. neverjaunty*

        Given that Bilbo asked the OP if she was a person of faith and got it wrong, he pretty much failed miserably on that front.

    6. Sally*

      I completely disagree. There are secular enough ways of discussing involvement in church/temple/what have you that is not really delving into religious beliefs (“I coach my church’s softball team/I organized the temple’s bake sale”). A religious institution can be the base of a lot of community and social activity.

    7. MagicToilet*

      I think it’s fine, but it can still backfire on people. I’m very politically active, and will spend all weekend canvassing or protesting. So when I get the eventual “what did you do this weekend?” I dodge dodge dodge. Even if I never ever mention the candidates I’m rallying for, just knowing that someone is very politically active can make people look at you funny.

      It SHOULDN’T be this way, but it is.

    8. Rosemary7391*

      I think if the workplace is hostile enough to religion that people feel compelled to lie about what they do outside of work that’s a major problem. Assuming anti religion since I’m religious (but it’s just as problematic in reverse!), if I couldn’t say I needed to leave by x time to make my church meeting on time, or share that I had a church band rehearsal in response to other’s sharing weekend plans, then I’m hardly going to feel comfortable in that environment.

      Additionally I’d also be concerned about being treated fairly in hiring decisions – I suppose I’ll not end up in such a workplace since my voluntary work with church in on my CV (it shows workplace relevant skills that my other experience doesn’t).

  47. Anonymousaurus Rex*

    My dad lives in South Carolina where these conversations come up practically daily. He’s the most mild-mannered person you could meet, and people constantly assume that he’s devout and make comments reflecting their assumptions. He’s a very strong atheist. Like, not even close to agnostic. He’s mastered the deflect on this, though he tells me it remains awkward every time.

  48. mark132*

    The problem I would have would probably be the opposite. I used to be very religious including a 2 year mission for my inner mountain west based church ;-) But now I’m very much not, and I’ve studied the topic a lot. And I’m more than willing to discuss my finding with others. So I would have to restrain myself because a business dinner isn’t the best venue for that.

  49. Dr. Doll*

    I can just hear the tone: Ah yew a Man o’ FAITH? And ah yew a WOman o’ FAITH?

    I understand why this felt so awful, and why it felt awful to stammer out “Questioning.” You basically got back a hearty “Well when your pretty little haid is ready, Ah’m heah!” (Yes, I grew up in the Bible Belt.)

    When the real answer is “None of your business, and it’s none of your business *that I’m a woman, either*.”

    Very good on you for keeping your composure to change the subject. There are a lot of good suggestions here for shutting it down in future if that’s necessary.

    1. Lose the stereotypes*

      Come on, reducing Christians down to TV stereotypes is not cool and neither is making fun of people’s accents. We talk the way we talk (everyone!, even if you think you don’t have an accent). OP didn’t indicate where this was or how Bilbo talked.

        1. Dr. Doll*

          Indeed yes. Used to talk that way myself, my childhood accent would raise blisters, y’awll.

          But you’re right, Lose, I imposed my own story on the OP’s, as often happens here.

          Based on my history, I object, even without the accent, to the idea that her faith is his business, and even more to the idea that her faith *as a woman* is his business.

  50. voyager1*

    Okay story time:

    About 10 years ago I was visiting a grand parent in rural Missouri. A couple of Christians came to the door, I guess they were missionaries for a local church. They asked me if I was born again. I said no. They asked if I had a church home, I said no. Then they asked if I knew Jesus, I said yes I know about Jesus but I am not religious. I told them that I didn’t see them changing my mind. So I turn away to go back in side and I stop I ask them how long they been outside and they tell me several hours so I tell them both to wait on the porch. They look at each other weirdly but do it. Now it is a sunny afternoon in the summer so it is hot as heck. I go inside grab two sealed bottled waters. I give them each a water.

    They had the weirdest looks on their faces. So I tell them, “Not all atheists are what you think we are. Most of us don’t care about God on the money or a prayer before a football game or live in California. We are your coworkers and your neighbors. Be safe it is very hot out.”

    I can only imagine what they said at their church that Sunday about “the atheist” I like to think that changed their sterotypes about people like me but that is up to them .

    1. Admin of Sys*

      During the wintertime, I used to bring hot chocolate to the guy who handed out chick tracts at our college, because he was usually very polite about it. (and I collected them, they’re hilarious, when they aren’t terrifying.) We had a brief conversation once about what my pentacle represented, since I was Wiccan at the time. He was very confused by my existence.

  51. Manager Mary*

    “Oh, I never discuss religion or politics at work.” If they ask why not, follow up with:
    – I don’t work in either of those fields, so it’s never relevant to the work I’m doing.
    – I find it’s easiest to do my job if I stay friends with all my coworkers.
    – I never discuss my health or finances, either. There are lots of topics I find inappropriate for workplace discussion.
    – *shrug* It’s personal.

  52. blink14*

    I think some of this also has to do with region. There’s a general consensus that religion tends to be more of a conversation topic or more outwardly spoken about in the southern US states and in some midwestern states. Certain denominations of Christianity are very community centric and are heavily wrapped into the local culture, so it’s more common and accepted to speak about religion and ask about someone’s faith. Some denominations are heavy into community outreach, so again, a common thing locally to discuss the topic.

    From how the OP described the conversation, I don’t think the vendor was trying to be disrespectful or out to ask uncomfortable questions. I think maybe in his local community and personal experience, these are normal questions. Best question to ask at a business dinner? No, but if it comes up again just say you would prefer not to discuss religion.

    In my own experience, there seems to be a growing feeling in the US culture at large that actively participating in a religion is bad or something that is seen as “conservative” which has somehow become synonymous with shameful, no matter the religion. I personally find it both disturbing and intriguing how people react when I mention that I am Catholic (though I am lapsed). There’s definitely a strong cultural opinion about religion and Christianity in particular, like the average Christian is going to look into your eyes and convert you immediately. I do think eventually this mentality will heavily impact even the most open religious groups.

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      I mostly agree with you, but if honest, there are some religions out there that do actively try to convert people as part of their doctrine. Like it’s honestly a duty of theirs to convert others.

      There is also a lot of baggage that surrounds and is intertwined in religion and family/social life that isn’t positive. I can totally understand that some have experienced a lot of hurt in the name of organized religion. While I hope that they understand that religion was most likely used as a tool by someone who would have hurt them anyway, I can’t fault them for their strong opinions.

      On the flipside of that not all people who practice a religion is going to be the same, just because someone is one faith or another doesn’t mean that the actions of some reflect the actions of all.

      This is probably veered way off topic to the OP, but I think it’s important to mention.

      1. blink14*

        Oh 100% there are some religions that do actively seek to convert people, but generally speaking someone in a more mainstream, for lack of better word, religion isn’t going to be out to convert you.

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          Oh I agree with this statement. I would go as far as to say most religious people aren’t looking to convert anyone else.

          I think it falls into the same category as vegans/vegetarians. Most of them don’t look past their own plate and couldn’t care less what anyone else is eating, but the militant ones tend to paint the stereotype.

  53. Granny K*

    “Are you a woman of faith?”
    No, what he means is: Are you a woman of MY faith….

  54. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    Can I just say that I’m really pleased how well these comments have gone on this subject.

    Personally I think this what we need more of, open discussion that doesn’t devolve into name calling, mocking, derision, or grandstanding.

    Personally I find religion at work in the same category of just about everything else.

    *It’s OK to discuss with willing participants
    *Everyone should be respectful of other views
    *It’s not OK for one party to force an idea or actions on another party (in either direction)
    *It’s not OK for the topic to interfere with work

    Quite honestly these rules apply to all topics… replace religion with; eating habits/diet, exercise, lifestyle choices, politics, social causes, finances, dogs vs. cats, children and how to raise them, sports, sports teams, hobbies, or anything else that you can think of.

    1. Temperance*

      I think religion is actually a bit worse to discuss than most of the other items in the list. Religion is like a penis, it’s fine to have one, but you can’t just go around waving it at people.

  55. JosiePcat*

    I literally had this happen with an old boss. I just say ‘I don’t talk about religion or politics at work” If they pursue it then say “I’ve made my position clear” then change the subjuct.

  56. Anonymouse*

    I was at a church yard sale and one of the people there asked me where I went to church. I replied that X was my chaplain and they let it go. While technically true, he is the chaplain for a group that I am in and I don’t attend his church.

    I mentioned to him once that I hid behind him and he laughed. He did mention that I could actually attend church but was O.K. when I laughed. Fortunately he is a nice guy with a great sense of humor and well known in the community. And it wasn’t a yard sale at his church.

  57. Trudie*

    It was inappropriate and you have the right to not provide and answer. I recall a few years ago a co-worker had a troubled birth and the kid was not well (he’s fine now). At the time several co-workers who never previously announced any faith raced off to the nearest church and were all very clique-y about their new-found common interest (the same religion). It was very strange to me as I am not a church-goer and actually isolating as I also wanted to support the cause but not in a church with these people (and of course the church was close to the workplace just to add more to the mix). I think people enjoy finding common ground when religion is a huge part of their life. When the clique asked me if I’m the same religion as them, I actually saw they were upset that I was not and work relationships were not the same and they clearly felt they were better people because of their belief.

  58. Saved by Grace*

    “Is Bilbo unaware that there there are lots of people who consider religious faith — or lack thereof — highly personal and not something they’re up for discussing with colleagues? Is he unaware that the specific language he chose is likely to be highly alienating to people from different faiths? Does he assume that such people are all so Other that he wasn’t likely to be talking to any of them or that he would know in advance that he was? And does he think his company won’t mind him potentially alienating revenue-producing clients?”

    Well let’s play Christ’s advocate for a moment:
    1. Hopefully, but if Samwise was enthusiastic through the whole conversation and Arwen was at least smiling politely, he may have misread the cue
    2. That phrasing (if verbatim) was pretty weird. I imagine it’s denomination based (which is still pretty weird), but we can’t rule out it was a regional thing.
    3-4. As a Christian who has been in Christian circles my whole life, there are extroverts who literally are like this; it isn’t necessarily inherently alienating and most do have a sense of tact (it sounds like Bilbo was a touch too strong about it though). “That’s what I’m here for” was a touch over the edge.

    It’s all well and good to say “This stuff doesn’t belong at work” but from a Christian perspective:
    – The guy was talking about his Church activities and probably got an enthusiastic cue from Samwise; that’s a natural jumping point to “Are you a Christian”
    – If someone responded “Questioning” without steering the conversation away it’s natural someone full on wanting to share Jesus (the main purpose of Christianity) might try to go for that – again, not quite as presumptuously as Bilbo

    Tl;dr – Bilbo was a tad too strong and weird with his phrasing, but not entirely out of line. Telling people about Jesus and showing His love is the primary point of Christianity and that does take precedence over anything else (the disciples all lost their lives over it and it’s still happening in many countries today). And he didn’t press Arwen when she changed the topic.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      With respect: talking about one’s own, personal activities, be they church-going or fly-fishing, does not require a follow-up of, “Do you do this too?” It just doesn’t. If Sam had responded, “Oh yes, I am also a faith-based life coach!” then that’s one thing. But please, do not, at a work function that is not church-related, ever ask someone if he or she is a Christian. Please, just don’t. If it’s relevant and/or your colleague wants to share, that’s one thing. But asking outright puts people in an awkward position.

      It’s akin, in this scenario, to saying, “Wasn’t Jeffrey’s presentation just marvelous?” to someone who thinks Jeffrey can’t string two words together and sounds like a braying bullfrog when he presents. It’s a leading question, and it’s uncomfortable.

      I get that you believe that sharing Jesus is the most important thing in the world to you, but this is secular business, and it’s much more advisable to tread lightly.

    2. Katniss*

      You’re always being invasive if you assume YOUR religious choice means you have the right or duty to push your religion onto other people.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        This. I’m a practicing witch. It’s literally against my religion to try to convert anyone; many of us see it as a violation of free will and, honestly, the height of arrogance to interfere with another adult’s spiritual path in that way.

        It’s different if someone asks questions or asks for instruction. Then it’s their choice. Of course there is the phenomenon my atheist DH calls “ask 2 Pagans, get 3 opinions.” Because mostly, it’s very personal, and people are encouraged to seek out different perspectives and experiences and decide for themselves.

    3. neverjaunty*

      A much better way to share your love of Jesus is to live an exemplary Christian life, which makes others want to imitate you. It’s much more effective than grilling people about their beliefs.

    4. Temperance*

      From a non-Christian perspective: I don’t want to hear about your church activities when I’m trying to get business done (or doing anything else, really). It’s not appropriate, ever, to try and proselytize. Render unto Caesar what is Ceasar’s and all that.

      This *is* inherently alienating unless you only associate with church people. It’s never okay, and I frankly don’t care what you believe, or what anyone believes. Your beliefs do NOT ever take precedence over the comfort of others.

    5. MuseumChick*

      Nope. Your religion is your business. I don’t care what faith you belong to as long as you are not harming anyone. No one has the right to push their religion on another person especially in a work context. “That’s what I am here for!” Was extremely out of line, not just setting one toe over it.

      As I mentioned in a previous post, I have two friends who survived growing up in cults (both were of a Christian denomination). Each and every part of this interaction would have been extremely triggering for them in the same way that a discussion of diets/body image can be triggering for someone recovering from an eating disorder.

      This whole conversation was weird, inappropriate, and had no place in a work context.

    6. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Much like you should never ask a woman if she’s pregnant, you should never ask anyone if they are a Christian. Or if they are gay.

    7. Indie*

      I’ve never heard of witnessing before reading this thread, but it’s pretty obvious he was doing it. As someone raised Catholic, I didn’t have *that* word when reading but I felt he was definitely standing on a soapbox. Now you’ve confirmed it! “Telling people about Jesus and showing His love is the primary point of Christianity”. Nope; its a very select type of Christianity unheard of to some. I know people of all Christian denominations, who have a beautiful faith, and those people all show their own particular faith as being nothing to be afraid of through kindness and tact.

    8. sin nombre*

      > It’s all well and good to say “This stuff doesn’t belong at work” but from a Christian perspective:

      This isn’t a Christian advice column, this is a work advice column. And Bilbo was, effectively, at work; he certainly wasn’t at church; and he was entirely out of line.

      1. PhyllisB*

        Maybe it was out of line (okay, I know it was out of line) but I don’t see the offense when OP said, “Questioning.” and he said, “That’s what I’m here for!!” And then dropped the subject. If he had pressed, then that would be majorly offensive, but to me it’s no different than if I said I loved mystery novels, and you said, hmm..I don’t know much about that genre. I could say, that’s what I’m here for (if you have questions.) I realize this is a lame example, just trying to make a point and not be controversial. If religion/coaching is a big part of his life, he probably wants to be there for anyone who needs help, but he’s not being pushy about it. The fact that it was never mentioned again shows me that he was not trying to convert her, just mentioning it. And yes, I know in a business setting this is inappropriate, but I guess being a southerner I am more used to hearing this type of thing mentioned.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Dropping the subject helps. But the offense with the “That’s what I’m here for!” is that it implies that Bilbo has “the answers” and that the OP should turn to him for guidance. If he’d said something like “well, if you ever want to talk about it…” it would have been less offensive.

          But really, in that context, he should not have brought it up at all. A casual mention of “I’m really active in my church and it means a lot to me,” I wouldn’t bat an eye. Because that’s about him, and that’s fine. If he’d then asked Samwise and the OP “what do you guys do when you’re not working?” that would have been reasonable, too. But what he actually did put the OP in a really uncomfortable position, because it was inappropriate for the context.

        2. Observer*

          First of all Bolbo was not the one who changed the subject, OP was. That should absolutely not have been necessary.

          “That’s what I’m here for” implies that she’s expected to ask questions. And that’s offensive. Questioning in this kind of of context does not mean “I’m curious about this and would like to pick the brain of someone who knows about this.” And “that’s what I’m here for” does not imply “If you ever have questions, feel free to ask” at all. It DOES imply “You’re here for answers and I’m here to give them to you.” No, OP was not there for answers.

    9. Observer*

      So, let me educate you a bit. Because as an adult “this is what comes naturally” is often a very poor response.

      See, I get that proselytizing is what probably came naturally to him. But it is UTTERLY inappropriate. And “alienating” is just scratching the surface of what it’s like for people who are not Christian (talking about the US).

      I actually do respect missionaries of genuine faith. But you simply cannot combine “normal” business and active explicit proselytizing. If Bilbo is willing to lose the account because witnessing is so primary to him, then I respect his faith all the while applauding the boss that dropped the vendor.

    10. Mad Baggins*

      I think talking about religion at work is absolutely out of line, and if you’re trying to curry favor with a client you should avoid possibly offending them at all costs.

      What if instead, the conversation went like this:
      Bilbo: I’m very active in my atheist discussion circle and recently attended a Richard Dawkins talk. I’m very passionate about helping religious people see reason.
      Samwise: That’s cool.
      Bilbo: Arwen, do you believe in sky fairies, or a bearded man in the sky who grants wishes?
      Arwen: Um, questioning.
      Bilbo: That’s what I’m here for!
      Arwen: Uh, I got a new puppy.

      Does that seem appropriate for work, or does it seem needlessly antagonistic? Do you think Arwen feels respected by Bilbo? Is his performance of his beliefs in line with social norms about respecting diversity and being kind?
      Bilbo can be as passionate as he wants about his religion. But wanton proselytizing means you’re assuming you’re right and others are wrong, and taking that attitude is not going to win you clients (or allies or friends).

      1. CM*

        I love everything about this comment, especially the followup questions which sound to me like they should be in a textbook. “Do you think Arwen feels respected by Bilbo?” That’s really the key question here.

    11. Nooooope*

      As a Christian who has been in Christian circles your whole life, you’re not even remotely in a position to talk about what is and is not alienating to someone with a different belief system.

  59. JSPA*

    Heh. I say, “I grew up on the left coast in the 70’s. People talked openly about sex, but faith was far more personal and private. These days, I strongly prefer to keep both of those topics private and personal in a work setting.”

    Unpacking it:
    1. it’s a “me” statement. Hard for someone to take umbrage.
    2. it emphasizes “we’re at work,” without preaching.
    3. it removes the temptation to push boundaries, by instantly putting would-be proselytizers way outside their comfort zone…while at the same time also putting would-be touchy-feelie talk off limits. (Because, yeah, I ran into way, way too many guys who did the “son of a preacher man” thing. God in their mouths, hands heading towards–somewhere warm.)
    4. if someone wants to talk on about their church activities–it’s totally fine. If they push again on mine? Then we both know that they’re violating a hard no, and I have no problem proceeding appropriately.

  60. Cube Ninja*

    If I feel like being a bit silly, I tell people I’m a nonpracticing agnostic or a materialistic Buddhist. In certain crowds, I’ll identify myself as Pastafarian. Around folks I know fairly well, I come right out and say I’m atheist.

    I’ve gotten really good mileage out of that first one because it usually gets a cheap laugh. :)

    1. Free Now (and forever)*

      My former boss (I retired last September) emailed me this morning to ask me if I had someone’s email address. When I sent it to her, she thanked me and promised me we were going to get together for a dinner we’d been trying to schedule. My response: “From your lips to the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster’s ears.” Irony: It’s a Jewish agency, my boss is Catholic, and I was the token knowledgeable Jew. (I have a Masters in Judaic Studies.) And Yes, she loved my response.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        Brief digression: I bought a board game called “Divinity Derby” as a gift for one of my nephews. My sister told me that two of the options for characters in the game were Cthulu and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. She thought it was great, and they liked the game.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          That sounds fun. I’ve been playing in a Trail of Cthulu game online. No, you don’t actually get to play him in that.

      2. Chinookwind*

        As a former religious studies teeacher in a Catholic school who included as an option, among many, as their final assignment to “create their own religion on paper,” I approve whole heartedly.

        For the record, religions then submitted included Pastafarian, the great White Blob and the rise and fall of a personal cult that centered around Pokeman cards. The purpose was for them to show what makes a religion a religion and not just a club or a cult.

  61. Peggy*

    My favorite bumper sticker could apply here (in my fantasy response, anyway):
    “Militant Agnostic: I don’t know and you don’t either.”

  62. Dalila*

    I got asked about my religion several times at one of my previous jobs. Usually, right after they found out I was Middle Eastern. I am actually a Muslim woman, but I am not veiled and I don’t wear any religous jewellery etc. So I think people were curious. But I absoloutely loathed the question.

    1. senatormeathooks*

      For what its worth, I was raised in a religious household in the South and could never understand why other believers (at the time, things are very different now) around me thought it was ever appropriate to ask that of a complete stranger. I always figured if you get to know that person, you’ll find out when you find out. Straight up asking seemed terribly presumptuous.

  63. Em*

    Laugh very brightly, holding your palm out to the person and shaking your hand and your head “no,” as if you’re refusing second helpings at a large dinner. Say “Oh! I’m not interested!” Then change the subject. If they ask again, do it again.

    At least, this gets me by in the South.

    If they keep at it, you can say something like “Surely we can find something more interesting to talk about!” + subject change.

  64. Michaela Westen*

    OP, “bible-believing Christian” is code for Christian fascists. Bilbo was saying he is one and asking if you are. He asked Samwise if he was and got what to him is confirmation, although it’s not clear if Samwise understood that’s what he was agreeing to. This is described pretty thoroughly in the book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, by Chris Hedges.
    I grew up in a fascist area, and this book clarified all the things I saw and felt then. I left in 1985 and moved to the big city.
    They call it “bible-believing Christian” because just saying Christian doesn’t make clear that they require complete conformity to their interpretation of the bible – which includes giving money to their wealthy leaders and oppressing women, among other things.
    They are usually completely disrespectful of anyone who doesn’t conform to their rules.
    That Bilbo backed off when you didn’t discuss is more respect than I got growing up. It was not unusual for strangers to get in my face and insist I go to their church, and I usually had to threaten violence or police to make them stop.
    Whether Alison’s scripts work depends on how much respect he has for business contacts and/or those outside his church. I suggest not letting him get the slightest foothold on the subject – shut him down instantly or even ignore anything he says about religion. If that and her scripts don’t work, you might have to go to his boss – but first find out if the owners/upper management are “bible-believing Christians”. If so, you might have to take your business elsewhere. It all depends on how much Bilbo respects others. :)

    1. Sacred Ground*

      “That Bilbo backed off when you didn’t discuss is…” the moment when he realized he was the vendor and OP was the client. Had the power balance been the other way around, I doubt he would have backed off.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        I would have had to be there to be sure, if he’s one of those aggressive types who won’t stop for any reason but had been told by his boss not to do that at work, or if he actually has some glimmers of awareness and respect. OP probably has a good idea of what it was.

  65. Amelia*

    This really confuses me. This guy is the vendor? As in LW and her colleague are the client??

    I’m a vendor and it’s my job to make my client as comfortable as possible. And as an atheist, there have been a few times where I’ve responded with something soothing and bland to the occasional question about my religion. My personal views on anything from politics to sports to are rarely relevant. It’s about the clients’ needs (unless we’re talking about illegal practices or sexual harassment)

    But when I’m in the position as a client? It absolutely boggles my mind. I wouldn’t hesitate to be very direct about how inappropriate the question is. And I would absolutely raise the issue with management at the vendor’s company and perhaps reconsider my options.

    I mean, I’ve gotten negative feedback from clients about not returning a 9pm phone call. I cannot imagine interrogating them about their personal lives.

    1. Argh!*

      In some parts of the country this kind of talk is very common and people assume it’s common ground, almost like talking about sports or the weather. I have lived in an area where introductions are often followed by “What church do you go to?” as an ice breaker, or prelude to do-you-know talk. When I replied “I don’t go to church. I’m an atheist” they’d be dumbfounded for a moment then change the subject, and yes, even at work this would happen.

      1. Triple Anon*

        It’s true, and it can be common ground. But it can also be a coded way of asking, “What’s your background?” Because if someone tells you where they go to church, you can guess what area they live in, what their politics are, and sometimes their ethnicity, socioeconomic status, family’s socioeconomic background… So it tends to indirectly bring up all of those topics, which makes it really inappropriate for work.

  66. ThePaperLibrarian*

    Alison’s suggestion is _much_ better than my natural reaction of high-pitch screeching until everyone goes away.

    I’m sorry this happened, OP. It sounds supper inappropriate, especially the offer for spiritual guidance.

    1. Michaela Westen*

      The offer for spiritual guidance is typical in my experience. They know for sure they’re right and are happy to bring you into their church and force you to live by their rules. One of their missions is converting as many people as possible. :p

  67. Indie*

    Faith? I believe all things are possible!

    It’s a clear no, but people can’t spin it as negative or say ‘Awww why not’.

  68. Free Now (and forever)*

    This is one of the great things about living in Connecticut. No one ever asks if you are a person of faith. You’d be subject to major side eye if you did. Evangelicals are only 13% of the population (as opposed to 49% in Alabama), 33% are Catholic, 17% are mainline Protestant, 28% are unaffiliated and 3% of us are Jewish.

  69. Kat*

    Why would you want to continue doing business with this company when there are so many others out there?

    You don’t have to play nice with people like that or the companies that hire them. It only serves to convince that man (and your coworker) lthat his behavior wasn’t over the line.

  70. RUKiddingMe*

    I had a conversation with just such a Christian a couple of weeks ago and now I can’t remember the topic exactly. Dude was telling me that “that’s not in the bible” and how would I know being a Satan (that I don’t believe in) worshiping atheist and all.

    My atheist ass happens to have a bible (gasp!!!) and knew where to find what I was claiming is actually in there (gasp!!! again!!!), and to show it to him. He muttered something about “mistake,” or “misprint,” or some such. I couldn’t really understand what he was saying exactly.

    I’m actually surprised that he didn’t tell me that I’d had a fake bible printed (because yeah, that’s something to spend money on) just to fool “the faithful.”

    Well now this is fairly depressing. I’m pretty sure it would make a better anecdote if I could remember what exactly the subject was…

    1. Argh!*

      I have had that reaction talking about the way the Sodom & Gomorrah story ends. It seems that story never gets much attention in Bible study.

    2. Happy Pirate*

      It is amazing how many christians have no idea of what is actually in the bible. Apart from a few cherry-picked verses. I suspect that the more dogmatically holy-than-thou, the less they have read.

  71. Tiger Snake*

    The best response I’ve ever seen to this sort of question was by a friend of mine, who answered “What is with that term? Faith could mean anything. The biggest atheists in the world still have faith that gravity will work, so they’re men of faith too.”, and just somehow completely derailed the entire conversation into a discussion about the philosophy of being religious. I with I had his superpower.

  72. LGC*

    But real talk, LW – dude, I feel so sorry for you. That’s totally inappropriate what Bilbo asked, and a lso that he offered to (in addition to the work he does for your company) save your eternal soul. (I’m pretty sure that isn’t one of the services that his company provides. And if it is, LW, I suggest you consider finding another vendor.)

    And I don’t know if there’s a really appropriate way to answer whether you’re a woman of faith that doesn’t reveal whether you’re religious, agnostic, or atheist. Even the most vague answer – “it’s something that I keep personal” (or something to that effect) – can show that you “have something to hide.” (Intentional scare quotes here.)

    Honestly, the main issue I saw was probably Sam’s reaction. I think that by enthusiastically discussing his faith at a work meeting, he put you in an awkward position. Granted, in some lights he was sharing something he had in common with Bilbo – but also, maybe I’m just from a godless part of the US (even though there are six churches within a quarter mile radius of my apartment), but I find asking about people’s religious faith to be entirely inappropriate in a work setting in all regards. I don’t think he should have enthusiastically engaged Bilbo.

    (Also, holy amazeballs these letters today have been a rollercoaster. Not that you intended to have this published today, but I need a nap after this and basically every other letter from today.)

    1. Triple Anon*

      I agree! Sam should have shut him down. Building rapport with vendors is good, but you have to stay away from inappropriate topics. Sam was probably caught off guard and meant well. This is a reminder that it’s good to have scripts for those kinds of moments.

      Personally, if a vendor brought up a work-inappropriate topic, it would make me think less of them professionally and I would want to look into other options.

      1. LGC*

        Actually, without going into too much detail – the fact that Bilbo even asked this at all makes me think that either 1) Bilbo just does not care about other people’s comfort or 2) Arwen, Sam, and Bilbo are from a deeply Christian area and asking this sort of question isn’t unexpected in social interactions.

        Granted, we’re on AAM, so 1 is a viable possibility (and honestly it’s probably a mixture of both). But if I had to bet (and Bilbo would probably tell me I’m a sinner for gambling), 2 is probably the primary factor in this thing even happening. So my read is that Bilbo and Sam probably didn’t even think about how inappropriate this was.

        1. Argh!*

          My reading of it was that this is an area where there are so many people of that persuasion that people often talk this way and would never consider it inappropriate.

          1. LGC*

            …exactly, although you said it in a less roundabout way than I did.

            For what it’s worth, religion at work should be as inappropriate in Mississippi as it is in Massachusetts. (Unless you work for a religious organization, and even then there are some limits, like not trying to convert your clients unless you’re actually supposed to be prosletyzing.)

  73. Triple Anon*

    Q: Are you a person of faith?
    A: Yes. I have faith in myself. And that’s all you need to know! Now, how can we meet those business needs you brought up?

    Q: Are you a person of faith?
    A: Yes. I have faith in myself, my company, and our products. Now let’s talk about solutions. What were those metrics from last quarter that you mentioned?

    Q: Are you a person of faith?
    A: Yes. I have faith that my puppy is unbelievably cute. Would you like to see a picture?

  74. MiouMiou*

    I have always enjoyed my husband’s response to when missionaries come to our door and say that they have come to bring us Jesus.

    His response: “That is great. Would you mind bringing him around back and leaving him next to the shed.”

    1. Michaela Westen*

      That reminds me of the saying, “In God we trust. All others bring cash”. :D. or “all others bring data”!

  75. AnotherFed*

    I wasn’t raised in any church except for Christmas morning and the Easter bunny so I can’t refer back to my childhood faith or anything. I usually like to say that I was “raised in the church of being nice to people and chew with your mouth closed” and I find it works pretty well for me. That usually ends the conversation. But I moved from New England to the mid-Atlantic and was completely thrown by everyone wishing me a blessed day

  76. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    This must have been so awkward! I’m out at work, so I sometimes can get the opposite problem.

    People assume I am not religious or feel free to say negative things about religion around me because they think religion may have hurt me. But, I don’t appreciate it. If I leave atheists alone, don’t say “imaginary sky god” or try to discuss with me how religion is so harmful.

    1. Triple Anon*

      I know what you mean. Atheists can be just as bad – mocking people’s beliefs and trying to convince people to become atheists. This issue isn’t about what a person believes in (religious or not). It’s about respect and appropriate boundaries.

  77. Bow Ties Are Cool*

    I’ve never been asked that particular question, but my knee-jerk response (in my head) while reading it was “I do have great faith…IN SCIENCE.”

    But then I’m kind of an asshole about religious importuning from strangers and near-strangers. In work situations, a bland smile and “I don’t discuss religion at work” has always done the job for me–I’d probably get snarky if anyone ever pushed it, though. Growing up irreligious in the Bible Belt really wore away my normal desire to be polite…

  78. OP*

    Hi everyone! OP here. I’ve posted a few times within the thread but wanted to follow up on a few things all in one comment.

    First and most importantly, here is my puppy:

    Secondly, I’m, as always, impressed by the reasonable discussion in the comments. What a great community!

    A few things:
    Luckily Bilbo isn’t my day to day contact at this company, and myself and Sam and another coworker who arrived later all got a “that’s our Michael Scott” sense from the rest of the (absolutely lovely) people we worked with. I knew he was one of those overly enthusiastic sales types beforehand – the kind that asks for a server’s name and pointedly uses it throughout dinner, who looks you up on LinkedIn and makes sure to ask you about a job you had seven years ago. He is friendly with my boss’s boss plus they are doing great work for me on budget so I’m not ready to throw out the baby with the bath water because of a sideways comment. I’m not likely to agree to any meals etc where it’s just the two of us and I do plan to shut him down firmly, both to him directly and above him if necessary, if religion ever comes up again. We weren’t in full on Bible Belt region but we were perhaps on the lower hem of the shirt, half tucked in.

    Sam told me after the fact he was uncomfortable with where the dinner conversation had gone, and we shared a few laughs about it. I already knew Sam was involved in his church so when the conversation turned at dinner, I took a big drink of my bourbon and steeled myself. I’m grateful to have some scripts that keep my private life private and don’t involve curse words.

  79. Nanani*

    Maybe this has been brought up (I don’t have time to skim hundreds of comments today) but there’s something REALLY icky about an older man putting himself in an unasked-for religious authority role with a younger woman. That’s how “that’s what I’m here for!” reads to me.
    He is basically going HELLO I AM YOUR NEW JESUS MENTOR regardless of what you want.

    Pair this with the particular manifestations of the literal patriarchy associated with the phrase “bible-believing christian” and I would not be inclined to pursue a business relationship with this guy. He will be a nightmare.

  80. Sabrina*

    I am a lifelong non-religious person. Was not raised in a religious home, have never practiced any religion. All my life I also have experienced Christian people assuming I was originally baptized and raised in a church but am now rebelling or have “lost my way.” I cannot count the number of times I’ve had this conversation:

    “What religion are you?”
    “I am not religious.”
    “No, but I mean, what religion were you raised as? What religion are you REALLY?”
    “No, but I mean, what church does your family go to?”

    It’s like the concept is impossible for some people to grasp.

    Whenever I hear this “man/woman of faith” stuff in the workplace I feel like I did when I was a kid reciting the pledge of allegiance in school and was reminded, pointedly, every morning by the “under god” part that people like me aren’t considered “real Americans.” It’s a reminder jab that there is this club I don’t belong to and have no interest in joining, and I’ll always be considered “less than” by some because of that.

  81. BurnOutCandidate*

    When I started my current job about a decade ago, one of my department coworkers asked me one day if I was religious.

    “I’m an atheist,” I said. It’s not something I’m generally evasive about, and he seemed to be okay with it.

    On department lunch outings after this, he’d want to talk about my atheism and my “reasons.” He even announced loudly at a Subway, to a new hire in the department, “BurnOutCandidate here is an atheist!” I had no interest in participating in these conversations, and he grew somewhat irritated that I wouldn’t take his bait.

    Eventually, he took the hint and stopped badgering me about it.

    He was a good guy. It turned out he was an ordained minister of some sort, but it wasn’t his career. He would occasionally perform weddings for friends. He died a few years after I was hired of a fast-moving cancer; he was diagnosed, and he was gone in about two weeks. He’s still missed.

  82. Marsi*

    This is not appropriate advice for the OP’s issue … just an anecdote I want to share.

    When I was in college 25+ years ago, I used get pestered on the regular by Campus Crusaders and other such types while I’d hang out in the student union. I would always immediately and politely say, “Thanks, I’m not interested.”

    Those who persisted and followed up with the inevitable invasive question like, “Do you believe in Christ?” always got this retort from me: “Do you ever leave the lights on when you have sex?”

    They’d be stunned speechless, so I’d continue: “The question I just asked you is no less personal than the question you asked me. I already told you I wasn’t interested, and I was polite about it. This isn’t date rape, you know, where I say NO and you hear YES. Do you understand?”

    (Apologies for my 20ish-year-old self being flippant about date rape. Different times back then.)

    1. Michaela Westen*

      I think that was a great way to make your point! IME they didn’t understand anything more polite, as you noticed.

    2. J.B.*

      That is a fantastic response, I hope it would have made some of them reconsider or at least think later on.

  83. Renna*

    I am religious and would be so extremely uncomfortable with this question, especially coming from a Christian fascist (soooo easy to spot). I’m Mormon and any time there’s a danger of evangelicals being around I try to avoid letting them know, especially at work where hardcore judging can be seriously damaging. Not even remotely appropriate.

  84. Original Flavored K*

    To be honest, if somebody awkwarded at me like that at any kind of dinner, I would have returned the awkward to sender. With interest. Back when I was in the southeast, I was the only open atheist in the office (and was once asked by a supervisor if I knew who Moses was. During work hours. On the production floor); these days, I just don’t talk about it unless asked directly. It probably helps that I attended a fundamentalist Christian high school and dropped out of a fundamentalist college, and can debate Biblical talking points and the contexts of assorted verses like one of the faithful.

    OTOH, after listening to the long spiel OP was subjected to about church involvement and then being expected to participate, I probably would have brought out my Awkward Religious Conversation Nuke: “Well, my pastor openly blamed me for having been molested in a sermon, so I obviously don’t go to church much anymore. (polite smile + change of subject)” It is fucking wonderful for inducing guilt sufficient to get people to back off the topic, says nothing about my actual current beliefs, and is just so uncomfortable that it’s almost punitive. Helps, I guess, that it’s true and I probably sound really fucking bitter.

    1. Michaela Westen*

      Awesome! and I’m so sorry you had that happen!
      I’ve done similar things once or twice with my PTS-inducing childhood with bad parents (and the Christian fascists hounding me didn’t help, or the chauvinism)

    2. Michaela Westen*

      You know, that’s the thing about religious people. They can be the *most* insensitive and clueless in the world!
      It was great growing up among them and knowing if anything bad happened to me they would consider it my fault and try to punish me. :'(

  85. Ambs*

    Back in another life when I worked as a reporter at a newspaper, I had a source ask me this one time: “Are you a good Christian girl?”

    I was so taken aback by the question that I laughed out loud and said the first thing that came to mind: “Nope!”

    That ended that train of questioning pretty effectively, but probably isn’t recommended for vendor relationships.

  86. senatormeathooks*

    “Are you a woman/person of faith?”
    “Which one?”
    “I was baptized Catholic, but raised Protestant by a Jewish man. You tell me.”

    -Almost verbatim conversation I had with a co-worker long ago

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