update: my work is getting more and more religious and I’m an atheist

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose work was getting more and more religious and she’s an atheist? Here’s the update.

I wrote to you about me being an atheist and my work becoming more religious. (A commenter called it a “Jesus hijack” and I haven’t stopped laughing since.) I wanted to thank you and the commenters for helping me feel a lot less crazy about this. It was appreciated more than you know.

Before my letter was published I ended up doing much of what you advised. After the event at the church I spoke with my boss Mary (the leader of our org) candidly about it, that the speaker made me very uncomfortable, and if we were going to do things like that I would like the option to opt-out of attending. Which at first she agreed to, but then it looped back around to a no, because I am the one setting up events and they needed me there. It was a very frustrating conversation that left me feeling like I shouldn’t have said anything at all. Because of that, I stopped bringing any religious language to her attention and just… gave up and made plans to move on.

And then the pandemic happened and (I can’t believe I’m about to say this) it actually helped.

Because we serve a vulnerable population, we shut down completely. In the process of creating safer processes and policies to reopen, a lot of the religious language that had been slowly coming in was taken out. The prayer room was converted back to a dedicated quiet space – the kneeling prayer benches were even replaced with super comfy reading chairs. I really do think that everything happened slowly enough that Mary didn’t realize how much religion had come into play until she was having to write “temperatures will be taken in the prayer room” into policies over and over. The national org we are connected to also made a big push for diversity and inclusion this year, including supporting BLM and Pride Month, and that was a big signal that we should be broadening our reach, not narrowing it.

Rachel no longer works at our org. It was sort of connected to the religion issue – she had been going out of her way to do projects that weren’t under her scope at all (including setting up the prayer room) and ended up dropping the ball completely on some big projects that we could (literally) not afford to screw up. I don’t have any ill will towards her, but it is a relief. After I had to out myself as an atheist, she would often make comments about how she was “glad to know someone like me” which was meant to be reassuring but she said it so often that it made me feel a little bit like an exhibit in a zoo. “And here you can see – in her natural habitat answering emails and copy editing – an atheist!”

After all of this, though, I am still convinced that it is time for me to move on. This whole situation showed me that I am unfulfilled in the work I’m doing, and wish I had more power to affect the focus of our work. With covid hitting our area hard, I’m content in my current position for now knowing that I have a plan to move on, and working towards making that happen.

Happy holidays to you and all the commenters!

{ 156 comments… read them below }

  1. Web Crawler*

    “I’m glad to know someone like you” ranks up there along with “you’re so brave” and intrusive questions on the “making me feel like a zoo animal” scale. For your sake, and the interests of your target population, I’m so glad she’s gone.

    I’ve known so many of those people as an athiest growing up in the south. For laughs, here’s some of the weird intrusive questions: “do you have a soul?”, “how do you know right from wrong?”, “are you sure?”.

    1. singularity*

      Same here! I live in the south and am also an atheist. That “I’m glad to know someone like you” reminded me of an encounter I had with someone that I quickly got awkward. I was included in a group as a ‘look, we’re diverse!’ checkbox of people who were mostly Evangelical and they were terribly patronizing.

      1. LunaLena*

        Yeah, this is what I think that “I’m glad to know someone like you” was about. Less “Neat, I have an atheist colleague!” and more “look how open-minded I am, I get along with ALL sorts of heathens.”

    2. ellex42*

      I usually “out” myself as agnostic rather than atheist, but only if I have to, because I’ve experienced the same questions, along with “why can’t you just believe/have faith?” and “aren’t you afraid you’re going to hell?” (that one is easy: hell is other people, especially those who ask intrusive questions) and “then how do you explain [insert random thing]?”

      It’s a lot like the “why don’t you have a boyfriend/husband?” and “why don’t you have children?” questions. The only real answer, in the end, is “because I want to/don’t want to”.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        “Aren’t you afraid you’re going to hell?”

        “Nah, I ‘m good. While I don’t believe in god, i’m pretty sure people should be judged by their actions toward others much more than faith, so I’m in good shape that way. But what about you? Are you worried about where you’ll end up? You sound a little worried.”

        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          “Why don’t you have children?”

          “That’s funny – I was wondering why you do.”

          1. pleaset cheap rolls*

            “Why don’t you have a boyfriend/husband?”

            “Good question. I mean, there has to be someone out there for everyone, right? Just look at you. No disrespect intended.”

            1. blueberry*

              Hahahahaha too bad there aren’t family holiday parties this year or I might have had to use that . .

            2. Cat Tree*

              I’ve never actually been asked that question, but if it ever comes up I have this fantasy of saying something self-deprecating like, “I guess I’m just unlovable” to make them feel guilty for asking. I wouldn’t actually say that because they’d probably try to set me up with their sad sack cousin and then get mad when I don’t want to settle for him. But a woman can dream.

              1. Smith*

                If you are out of patience and don’t care about Nosybones’ feelings I can recommend answering ‘how come you’re not married?’ with ‘how come you are?’.

            3. RC Rascal*

              Not sure if there are any Two and a Half Men fans out there. In the early days of the show, when it was still funny, Teri Hatcher guest starred as Judith’s sexy single sister. At one point Judith takes a shot at her and says “Why don’t you have a husband?”

              Teri’s response: “Oh, I’ve had husbands.”

              1. GreenDoor*

                “Oh, I’ve had husbands.”
                Very similar to my reply which was “Because I can’t mate in captivity.” My ultra-Catholic relatives didn’t appreciate my answer…

                1. whingedrinking*

                  My favourite answer to “when are you getting married?” or “when are you going to have children?” is “When the Dark Lord commands it.”

          2. Tabby*

            Ive used that one on people who persist in asking me about my chilfree state — I chose not to have children because I don’t want them, and have too little patience to deal with small, inquisitive terrorists for more than an hour or so at very long intervals. Some days, I don’t even want to deal with my cat!

            Obviously, this is not something I do with people who accept lack of interest, not people who assume there’s a sad tale of infertility (as far as I know, I am fertile, but I’ve never tested that; I’ve never even had a “scare”, so I may very well BE infertile.) to unravel, and pile on the intrusive “sympathy”.

          3. Lady Heather*

            “My parents had such a bad experience with children that I’ve forever been turned off of the idea.”

              1. Might Be Spam*

                To be clear, my kids know I am OK with their decisions and I understand their reasons. I have two grandkitties that I can spoil.

          4. Lady Meyneth*

            Oh my God, this has got so annoying to me. I do want children, and was planning on maybe one this year, and then COVID happened. Believe it or not, I’ve actually gotten *more* of the intrusive when-are-you-breeding questions this year, and pushback on putting it off, even though I’m very high risk.

            My favorite: “The timing’s never gonna be perfect, but it’s close right now since you’re home *air quotes* working. You should take advantage that, you’ll have more opportunity to try for that baby” (this was an uncle. Ew!) Though at least quarantine meant I could slam down the phone, and we haven’t really talked much since.

            1. Idril Celebrindal*

              Why in the world would someone push back against the idea that someone might decide to put off bringing a child into the world *this year*?! I mean, people know what’s best for their situation and go them whatever they decide re kids or no kids, but how can someone hear “I decided to not try for a kid this year”, especially with the “I’m high risk” addendum, and argue against that?

              I believe you, of course, I’m just boggling, that sounds infuriating. Why are people?

        2. I'm just here for the cats*

          A little off topic, but this makes me think of a story my philosophy/religion Professor told. At the time he lived in a neighborhood and there was a lady who was a very conservative Christian. New neighbors moved in who were Atheist and didn’t believe in marriage. Conservative neighbors had an absolute fit, kept harassing the new people, etc. One day she was going on about how the new neighbors “were living in sin”. He stopped her and said ” they are NOT sinners. In order to be a sinner, you must have a relationship with God and be part of God’s covenant. They do not believe in God so they do not have a relationship. Without the relationship, they CANNOT be sinners. Leave them alone.”
          I don’t know what happened to the neighbors. I hope the lady just stewed in her house all day.

          1. Picard*

            I love this!
            (says person who is spiritual but not of any particular religion who lives in Baptist hell)

          2. JSPA*

            Thank you! I needed a way to formulate how I can respect people’s right to believe in sin–for themselves and their avowed coreligionalists–despite finding the concept of sin personally irrelevant, mystifying, and too-often substituted as a catch-all for or some other, non-religious objection (“harmful,” “cruel,” “offensive to my sensibilities,” “disrespectful,” “thoughtless,” “self-indulgent,” or what-have-you).

          3. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            I always feel like there’s a logical disconnect with people who harass atheists. Because their version of God has absolutely got that shit covered, right? Like, the atheists get a few good decades on earth, and then a loving an omnipotent god sends them to hell to be tortured in screaming agony for all of eternity without mercy or end because they didn’t show him enough respect in life. That’s the belief, right? So what the heck, Neighbor Lady? You feel like, what? You need to have God’s back on this and make sure someone runs a mower over the atheists begonias? He has it handled.

          4. GreenDoor*

            This! I’m Catholic but I have never understood the “aren’t you worried about going to hell?” question directed at atheists. If one doesn’t believe in a supreme deity….then they wouldn’t believe in any other construct related to that deity – heaven and hell included. So why would they be worried about going to a place that they don’t even believe in? Ugh…

        3. Chinook*

          Better response:

          “Aren’t you afraid you’re going to hell?”

          “Why would I be since, as an atheist, I don’t believe in it.” and walk away.

          Though I do like the throwing it back at them with a “what about you” as if this was a normal conversation starter.

      2. Archie Goodwin*

        “Hell is other people”.

        Indeed. I’m sorry that you’re surrounded by such Sartre-torially-challenged individuals.

        (Sorry…but not very.)

      3. Me*

        Whenever I get asked if I’m afraid of going to hell, my default answer is always “No way- all my friends and family will be there!!”

        Works every time.

        1. Mr. Tyzik*

          “Aren’t you afraid of going to Hell?”

          “I’m in Hell right now, having this conversation.”

        2. Happy Lurker*

          At least I will fianlly be warm!
          I drink cold water all day, everday and yep I’m always wearomg a sweater.

      4. Not A Girl Boss*

        I once went an entire 4 years without outing myself as agnostic to my religious employer, only to find myself in the middle of such a ridiculous argument with a coworker that I still can’t quite understand to this day:
        Me: Well, I’m sure she didn’t do it on purpose. People are basically good.
        Him: Actually, humans are born full of sins and it is only through Gods grace and guidance that they can learn to imitate His image of goodness.
        Me: *slow blinking* so you think she deliberately threw out the TPS reports… because she didn’t get enough Jesus as a kid???
        Him: Its just a fact that humans at base have evil instincts and need to force themselves to be good. I wouldn’t be surprised if she threw it out because she was jealous of your promotion.
        Me: Okaaaayyyyyyy, well, I was just going to implement a process to keep this mistake from happening again.
        Him: *very confidently* Oh, it wasn’t a mistake. It was the devil’s undo influence, I know because I haven’t seen her in church in over a month.
        Me: So your solution is to hire an exorcist instead?
        Me: Wait, no, don’t do that, that was a joke!
        Him: I will pray for you and her both.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I’m mesmerized by the combination of abdication of responsibility because humans can’t control themselves, and over-intervention in the idea of hiring an exorcist. Like, underreacting and overreacting at the same time?

          1. Mimi*

            I once knew someone whose response to a major international development project flopping was “God didn’t intend for it to work out,” and it took an enormous amount of self-control to not yell at him, “God didn’t give these people nice infrastructure and high-speed internet for five years and then not give them enough management training to keep it all running. That’s on YOU. You can’t get people accustomed to nice things and then take it all away and brush your hands off going, ‘Welp, not God’s plan!'”

            Had I been a little older and a little more confident, I might not have exercised that self-restraint.

        2. Aquawoman*

          I distrust people who think that people are essentially evil and only do good because of some outside force, because I assume they’re speaking from personal experience. People tend to believe that other people are like them.

            1. JSPA*

              Indeed! If he feels such ease with the idea that evil urges and actions are the default (and would of course be acted on, but for the grace of god), I don’t want to be around him when he “slips.”

          1. whingedrinking*

            That’s the one that gets me when people say things like, “Well, what stops you from doing bad things?” and it’s obvious that by “bad things”, they don’t just mean stuff like leaving your laundry on the floor. I’ve legitimately never had the urge to, say, rape somebody. I don’t even want to say “because it’s wrong”; I have just never wanted to, in the same way that I’ve never wanted to move to Algeria. The idea that there are people who go around thinking that the urge to seriously hurt other people is normal and only barely kept in check is pretty alarming to me.

            1. Deejay*

              Penn Jilette’s reply to this is “Nothing stops me. I commit all the rapes and murders I want. That number is zero”.

        3. boo bot*


          This reminds me of some people I’ve known who just… don’t believe in mistakes, and think every error reveals a secret desire to sabotage them, or whatever.

          The religious version actually makes more sense to me from an internal-logic perspective (like, okay, if people *were* inherently evil, etc., and the devil had a particular interest in surreptitiously disposing of TPS reports, then sure, I see this guy’s point???)

          1. Not A Girl Boss*

            Oh man, I’m so changing my name to “Surreptitiously disposing of TPS reports”

            But this actually is a Thing I realized I believed as a young adult and had to actively work to overcome. I used to believe everyone did things “at” me. But then I realized that I was giving myself way too much credit – that 1) I thought I could read people’s minds and 2) that they cared enough to actively sabotage me. Once I realized how preposterously egotistical that was, my relationships and self confidence improved dramatically. And now I work hard to come up with the kindest possible explanation for things and am constantly spouting “fix the process not the people” at work.

            1. boo bot*

              “I realized that I was giving myself way too much credit”

              I love this. A similar realization helped me stop reacting to small stuff with disproportionate shame: I’m just not that important! I think it can be such a relief to remember that everyone is the center of their own universe.

              *I do want to add, “mistakes”-as-malice are extremely real, like “accidentally” misgendering someone; repeatedly “forgetting” someone’s name; “not realizing” that commonly-known racial slur was a racial slur; “oopsie-doopsie” groping your coworkers; “whoopsie-doodle” falsely accusing your coworker of poisoning you when you steal their spicy lunches, etc.

              I was talking about, like, wearing the wrong socks or writing down the wrong meeting time.

        4. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

          I am laughing so hard at this! But yeah as a Pagan I’ve had these kind of conversations with religious coworkers.

          1. Rebecca Stewart*

            As a theistic pagan, it amuses me when people of that sort attempt to parse the idea of someone who believes in God, but not their God. And not a God with a personality like their God. And the no sins and no hell stuff pretty much throws them for a loop.

            (I do actually think there’s something that qualifies as a sin in paganism.: to treat a ‘thou’ as an ‘it’, to quote Buber. But that’s another forum’s discussions.)

        5. learnedthehardway*

          What IS it about people who claim to be Christian, that they don’t recognize the issue of personal responsibility?

          I was VERY well educated about that concept as a child. Told my dad “The devil made me do it” when 7 yr old me got caught hitting my sister. I had paid attention in Sunday School, and thought I had the perfect excuse that Dad couldn’t argue with. I was wrong. Got in far more trouble for citing demonic influence than for hitting my sister, and was thoroughly informed of my personal responsibility for my behaviour.

        1. Not A Girl Boss*

          When I travel I collect fire department patches on behalf of my dad, who is a retired fire captain.
          Imagine my great dismay when I trekked all the way to the Hell, MI fire department only to find out that they are named for their county.
          What a horribly missed opportunity.

      5. Nic*

        I’m confused by the “Aren’t you afraid you’re going to hell?” people, because if you don’t believe in God then why would you believe in hell? The two concepts are interlinked.

        (Surely if anything, you’re far more likely to believe in God but not hell than the other way around. A fair number of Christians and other theists don’t think it’s really in the texts – or at most, it’s been misinterpreted/exaggerated over the centuries and isn’t a Dantean torture zone so much as either 1) simply a person having to face the truth about themselves in the absence of God, or 2) just ceasing to be instead of having a continuing existence of consciousness, like atheists believe happens to everyone.)

      6. ZB*

        when I was in high school in Georgia, it was just straight up “but you go to hell for that” – 14 year olds, not known for their tact

      7. Vicky Austin*

        “Why don’t you have children?”
        “Because I’m afraid they’ll turn out to be like you.”

    3. UKDancer*

      Oh dear. The one that made me laugh was the person who came to me and asked if I’d heard the good news about Jesus, genuinely sounding surprised when I confirmed that yes I had heard it, I just didn’t personally believe in it. She seemed amazed that someone could know about Jesus without being saved.

      1. Cat Tree*

        I always have to lack at the sheer ridiculousness that someone living in the US, UK, or any other Westernized country could have managed to go their entire lives without ever hearing about Jesus, but some people sincerely believe this.

        I had a brush with evangelicalism as a teenager (interesting manifestation of peer pressure), and there’s this idea that this specific brand of Christianity is so self-evident and so obviously true, that the only way anyone could not believe is because they’re not aware. This includes even the other “wrong” brands of Christianity, who I guess have been using a completely different Bible that never mentioned Jesus? Anyway, the result is that we were pressured to proselytize to groups of people who were largely already Christian. (Most of us never actually did, but we were severely guilted for not doing it.)

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            Sounds a lot like my teenaged religious experiences, including the proselytizing/guilt. The way some groups of Christians believe that they are the only “real” Christians, and it’s their responsibility to “witness” to all those who THINK they are Christians but really aren’t boggles my mind now. I didn’t know any better back then, but I’ve come to see that mindset as incredibly condescending and disrespectful of other people’s beliefs. So glad I got out of that type of religion.

        1. Sara without an H*

          Hi, Cat Tree —

          I’ve run into this style of evangelicalism. Mine is one of the “wrong” brands of Christianity (Roman Catholicism), and I try to be kind as I point out that, without a whole lot of Catholic monks diligently copying manuscripts, they wouldn’t have a Bible at all.

        2. Chinook*

          It isn’t that someone hasn’t heard about Jesus, just that they hadn’t heard about Jesus the right way. Grandma’s sisters converted to Born Again and kept trying to convert their devoutly Catholic sister. They stopped after she responded with “I guess my life hasn’t been hard enough (implying the “like yours”) to need to be reborn and have a do over.”

          There was a reason I used here as my model for talking about religion. :)

        3. Mel 2*

          Ah yes. As a Jew in Texas during high school, the Young Life brigade learned quickly to leave me alone. My typical response would be “I’m Jewish” and to walk away, but one time a classmate kept trying to make the sale with “That’s okay, you can still come.” And I believe it was sometime after that when I came up with my automatic response to evangelists/prostylitizers of “I’m happily Jewish,” because way too many folks took my statement as a challenge.

      2. Artemesia*

        When the guy next to me on the plane who smelled of moldy tent canvas asked if I ‘knew where I would be spending eternity’ and I answered, ‘yes’ — it still didn’t stop him from trying to Jesus me for 3 hours of the flight.

      3. EPLawyer*

        My personal favorite is about being born again. I usually answer with “Nope, my mother got it right the first time.”

    4. Miss Manners*

      There’s a reason I don’t miss the south. I had someone send me a card with Christian verses on it and inside she’d written, “What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t try to bring you to Christ?”

      How about one that respects my agnostic ass?

    5. Artemesia*

      The ‘how do you know right from wrong thing?’ is the one that always got me. Yes, anyone would want to rape and pillage and murder if they did not ‘fear God’? Seriously?

    6. Searching*

      The weirdest question I got (from someone at work!) was “so when you are dying and you see that bright white light, will you change your mind?”

      1. Salymander*

        Ha! When I read this comment I had to gigglesnort my tea all over myself. You see, a number of years ago I was bleeding internally from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. I came very close to bleeding to death. I did see the white light because my brain was deprived of oxygen and I had lost pints of blood. When my husband arrived at the ER, he looked just like an angel filled with light as I floated on the ceiling. I’m still an atheist, and my husband is definitely no angel.

        1. Cedrus Libani*

          I’ve had the out-of-body experience too. Once during a medical emergency, the other was a surfing incident. I was floating a few feet above my body, watching myself try to resolve the situation so I could start breathing again.

          I’m a life-long atheist, and I have extremely strong preconceptions about this stuff. Brains do strange things when they’re short on oxygen and long on adrenaline. This is well within the range of explainable. But if my preconceptions were weaker, I would now be 100% convinced that I have a soul. It felt entirely real.

        2. Vicky Austin*

          I suppose it’s possible that there isn’t a God, but there is an afterlife.
          (That’s not what I personally believe, nor am I attempting to get you to believe it, I’m just saying that it’s a hypothetical possibility.)

    7. Shhhh*

      I had a coworker who was like that at my previous job – except it was said in regard to my having been raised Catholic and currently being a practicing Episcopalian. I had moved to Virginia from the Detroit area and had never encountered the “Catholics aren’t Christian” thing before and I just wasn’t expecting it.

    8. LizardOfOdds*

      Ugh, SAME. I also felt like an exhibit at one job where a Rachel-like employee would ask things like, “so, what do you think happens when you die?” That is not a casual conversation to have in the break room! And I heard a lot of, “don’t you think ?” No, Rachel. No, I don’t think that. Sigh.

      1. Pennyworth*

        I would take great pleasure in going the full scientific explanation: that matter is indestructible so all my body would continue on as atoms, some of which will over time be incorporated into other living things including other people. So yes, I not only know what will happen but also that I am immortal and that life after death is definitely on the cards.

    9. Quill*

      All I’ve ever gotten was the “So you’re not a Christian because you’re Catholic?” and me sitting there going “Uh… I guess cheese-its original flavor aren’t cheesits now too, according to you?”

      (Probably because these days I’m an atheist without even a “show up for mass once a year to accompany grandma” type obligation.)

      Haven’t gotten anything about being an atheist but I work in a pretty international field in the midwest, it really hasn’t come up beyond “do you have holiday plans?”

    10. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

      – “how do you know right from wrong?” –

      the people who require a God to fear in order to be good and moral are no one to be lecturing others about right from wrong.

    11. Vicky Austin*

      As a Christian, I’d offended by Christians asking atheists if they have a soul. Not only is it offensive to the atheists (obviously), but the very idea that people who don’t believe in God don’t have souls is contradictory to my faith. My God is a God of infinite love and mercy, not a bigoted god who discriminates against atheists.

  2. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Another positive update! This is great. Especially with your national org pushing for more inclusion.

  3. Kimmy Schmidt*

    ““And here you can see – in her natural habitat answering emails and copy editing – an atheist!”
    And now I will be laughing into the new year. So glad this worked out, and I wish you the best of luck with moving into a better position.

    1. EPLawyer*

      I cracked up way to loudly at this. Thankfully home alone.

      it’s like religion creep. Until you realize that AUUUUUGGGGH it’s everywhere. And I say this as a person who believes in God. Unless you are in a religious workplace, keep it out of the job (except for reasonable accomodations, of course for ALL religions).

      Rachel was apparently too busy trying to turn the org into a faith based one she forgot to do her actual job. Oh darn.

    2. Cj*

      I reading this while on a zoom conference. Good things I’m muted, but they probably say me laugh and wondered “what the heck?”

    3. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      At one job we joked that if the office manager moved us to a conference room we’d put a sign saying “please don’t tap the glass, it scares the programmers”

  4. MissFinance*

    This whole situation would have made me uncomfortable as well! I’m not an atheist, but I’m very strict about not mixing my religion with anyone else’s (so for instance, I made sure my college had no religious ties, and I would not pray with you, sorry!). The idea of a prayer room and the language they were using…ugh. If they’re going to brand themselves as not affiliated with a church, they need to stick with that. As an employee, I would not want to work for a religiously affiliated organization; they need to stick with that.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      I grew up in the church, went to a faith-based elementary and high school, and did all of the church-camps and associated stuff and that workplace would make me uncomfortable!

      1. Archie Goodwin*

        I went to a religious prep school from third to twelfth grade, and I’d be…well, maybe not uncomfortable, myself. But certainly concerned that others would be. It’s overbearing, and it’s not fair to others.

        1. Lacey*

          Same. I’m pretty devout, but I don’t think someone’s employer should have anything to say about their faith unless it’s a faith based organization. I’ve certainly seen how uncomfortable that can be and been uncomfortable for people who I knew weren’t religious.

      2. Sara without an H*

        Ditto. I’m a religious believer who actively practices — and I, too, would have found the situation OP describes a little hard to stomach.

        1. Chinook*

          Ditto. My first reaction to the update was “they could have left one kneeler” but then thought about why one was used and realized that, if someone really wants, they can kneel on the ground, but it really is irrelevant to have one if you don’t have an icon/tabernacle/point of focus to kneel in front of.

          1. Vicky Austin*

            Not necessarily, especially if one believes that God is everywhere.
            For the record, I think a good compromise would be to call it a prayer/meditation room, thereby implying that one could pray, meditate, reflect, etc. in whatever way they wanted, as long as they did so quietly. Religious items would only be appropriate if they included items from a variety of faiths (i.e., a kneeler, a cross, a statue of Buddha, a Muslim prayer rug and a sink for washing their feet) as well as a few items that aren’t connected to any particular faith (i.e., a yoga mat, a white noise machine).

    2. Aquawoman*

      This comment got me to thinking that I think they were setting themselves up for an EEO complaint. This gets to the level of a hostile work environment when it’s so prevalent, so explicitly Christian, and especially while requiring someone to attend events at churches with religious language instead of having the events at secular locations with secular language. Atheists, agnostics, pagans, Jews, Muslims, are entitled to religious rights.

    3. Mx*

      We have a multi-faiths (and no faith !) room in my organisation. I like this as it intended to everyone rather than a particular religious group. I have myself used it for meditation/relaxation during breaks.
      The problem is if a religious majority monopolises the space and imposes their views.

  5. KuklaRed*

    I am very happy to read this update. As someone with a deep distrust for organized religion of any type, I really hate to see it creep into the workplace (unless, of course, the workplace is of a religious nature).

  6. Mr Mike*

    Worked at an R&D facility of a private company that made consumer goods. Nobody warned me that the all-employee monthly meetings began with the prayer ‘Thank you Jesus for our jobs!’ When I was laid-off after our operating budget was cut in half, & half the employees were let go, I imagined management in a meeting room, heads down & hands folded, reciting a list of names & asking Jesus after each one if they should be let go…

    1. Cat Tree*

      Wow, that’s not just religiously creepy, but also perpetuates the toxic idea that a job is given as a favor from employer to employees, rather than a mutually beneficial business transaction.

      1. Mr Mike*

        I went through two panel interviews before being offered the job. I wonder if they consulted with Jesus before they hired me. After the first prayer, the top manager or one of his flunkies would give a more standard prayer. I always hoped they would pick me, because there is an Old Testament verse that says in effect, that God does not answer prayers, and I would have recited that!

        1. Cat Tree*

          If I was asked to read some verses, I would choose some incredibly boring ones. Numbers is literally a census record.

          1. Quill*

            gotta choose either esoteric and mind-numbing, or Cranky Jesus (preferably over something that your company is doing, i bet the money lenders is reeeeeallly popular in finance…)

      2. kt*

        Oh, some people really really truly believe that. It’s part of an unholy (heheh) Protestant-capitalist alliance that’s very creepy to me (speaking as a Protestant capitalist, kind of, myself). Just search for Blog & Mablog (a sort of toxically Calvinist type) and his take on Labor Day: he views any sort of group action by employees as theft from an employer’s rightful share. AAM, you are leading a tribe of *thieves* asking for respect in the workplace and safe working conditions! (If you get at all angry about backward religious stuff, don’t search for this, actually; it’ll just ruin your day.)

        1. Archie Goodwin*

          I’m the same way as you – it’s sort of like The Adventures of Pete and Pete:

          “I’m a Protestant, and I’m a capitalist. But I’m not a Protestant-capitalist.”

    2. Vicky Austin*

      Unless they explicitly market themselves as a Christian organization, that’s not appropriate.
      I used to volunteer at an organization that started each day with a group prayer, BUT they were a Catholic organization and were very explicit about their connection to their religion.

  7. Dust Bunny*

    Disclosure: I’m an atheist who was raised in one of the branches of liberal Quakerism that is deliberately non-evangelical. So . . . double whammy: Not religious but even if I were it would be a “weird” religion, and I would still not help forward a religious agenda. (Hilariously, I occasionally do historical reenacting and get asked quite often if I’m a Quaker, but because I’m wearing a work dress circa 1850.)

    This is pretty much the ideal outcome: The religious weirdness got rolled back but without it having to be the “fault” of anyone in particular.

  8. Retail Not Retail*

    I wonder how many updates this year will involve covid making it better or worse or changing things so wildly – the letter before this one said “i don’t have a poker face”. Well plop that mask on and you’re good to go!

    1. Mid*

      Honestly I wish I was allowed to wear a mask when I worked retail in the past. It would have been very helpful.

      1. Retail Not Retail*

        Ahhh you’re so right. I see the public and they ask me questions sometimes but they’re not my job. The mask is nice for muffling curses when something goes wrong though. (This name is related to something about retail jobs from months ago – my job now isn’t retail but has some features in common.)

  9. Ash*

    If it comes up, I tell people I am an atheist (although I’m actually probably closer to agnostic) simply for the very reason LW described–so many people truly do not know anyone who identifies as an atheist. When I worked with youth, I replied to a question about what my religion was with “I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in god.” The response I got was, “but you’re such a nice person!” Surveys consistently show that Americans as a whole mistrust atheists almost more than any other kind of “group” of people. Or they think that atheist means Satanist (newsflash–typically if you don’t believe in god, you don’t believe in the devil either!). I mostly just tell people that I see all of the good parts of “god”–love, compassion, kindness, etc.–in human beings. I see all of the “evil” discussed in religions in human beings too. My faith is that humanity as a whole can overall act more in favor of good than evil. When you think about it, that takes just as much faith as any belief in a supreme being!

    1. Chinook*

      I have never understood the connection between atheism/agnosticism and Satanism myself. The former are questioning or denying an existence while the latter is confirming it be fighting against it. In fact, I take as a point of bitter pride that Satanist steal consecrated hosts of Catholic churches and not evangelical or other protestant ones – we obviously have something that they think is legit if it worth stealing.

      But atheists and agnostics? I will never understand those who ask them about going to hell or about sin. By stating what they are, they are also stating that they don’t believe in those things and have no opinion to express, so why are you continuing the conversation? It is like asking someone who they prefers – Oilers or Flames and they respond that they don’t follow hockey. Repeating the question doesn’t change the fact that they don’t have an opinion and could care less what yours is. Just change the topic, for Heaven’s sake!

      1. Cat Tree*

        In pre-covid times, I used to drive about 2 hours to visit my family about once a month. Along the route, there is a rural segment with some interesting billboards. One billboard made some proclamations about Jesus, and literally cited the Bible as their reference. Like, if someone already considers that a reliable source, it’s not a hard sell to convince them of good things about Jesus.

        Unrelated, there’s also a sign claiming that whole milk is a health food because it’s “97% fat free”, which is…technically true. But, like, you don’t have to eat a solid stick of butter for saturated fats to be less than ideal.

        1. Mimi*

          There’s one on a highway in PA that reads “There IS proof of God!” with a picture of a baby and a bible reference. Mom and I looked it up one time and it was just the “you knit me together in my mother’s womb” verse. We, two practicing Christians, spent the next several miles discussing how one lives in such an isolated bubble that one has any confidence that will be convincing.

          1. Cat Tree*

            I also live in Pennsylvania and I think I know which highway you are talking about. Or maybe those billboards are widespread.

      2. Eliza*

        There’s a concept in certain branches of theology known as “presuppositional apologetics” that argues that everyone has already been provided by God with knowledge that the theologian’s branch of Christianity is the correct religion and so they’re aware of this fact in their hearts, even if they choose to deny it. It is, of course, impossible to have any kind of debate in good faith with someone who believes that.

        1. Ash*

          That’s so interesting–I had never been exposed to that concept really, until I watched the movie “Come Sunday” about Carlton Pearson (it’s on Netflix). Long story short, Revered Carlton Pearson, who was an evangelical Christian, decided that you *don’t* need to believe in Jesus as god in order to go to heaven. He began preaching that hell was right here on Earth, and that it’s more important to be a good, kind, compassionate, fair person. Obviously, that didn’t go over well with his church. When he stated that he didn’t see how a loving god could condemn millions of people around the world who had never even heard of Christianity (throughout history and in the present) to hell, his colleagues responded with, well everyone knows about Jesus, even if they never learned about it. They see Jesus as a vision, or a voice, a dream, etc. Blew my mind! It reminds me of when I would talk to a Muslim friend about (what she believed was) god’s requirement that people dress modestly. I said, well what about all those people in ancient times who didn’t wear clothes pretty much, or at least didn’t cover the parts of their bodies that her god told them to? Did they just not get the memo? She said no, they did get the memo at one point, they just chose not to follow it. I was just like… *crickets*

        2. Vicky Austin*

          There was a theologian/philosopher who studied the spiritual development of people as they go through life, and according to him, there is a certain stage in one’s development (typically around age 11) where one believes that everyone has the same religious beliefs as themselves. For instance, Christians at this stage believe that everyone “knows” that Jesus is the Savior, and those who claim they believe otherwise are deliberately rejecting the truth. Atheists at this stage believe that everyone “knows” that there’s no God, and people who regularly go to church are delusional. I forget the theologian’s name, but if his theory is correct, then the people who are you describe are stuck in an immature stage of development.

      3. Teyra*

        Quite a lot of Satanists are atheists themselves, too. One of the Satanic Churches in the US is basically an organisation that uses Satan to stand up for religious minorities and protest Christian exceptionalism. It’s a challenge to the ‘religious freedom but only ones we like’ brand of bigotry in America – a Christian can end a town meeting with a prayer but a Muslim doing so would get complaints. So the Satanists do it, get all the complaints but argue their case – either all religions are allowed, or none should be.

        They’re currently fighting for abortion rights on the grounds that it’s part of their ‘sincerely held beliefs’ (https://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/igg7ms/i_am_the_ashlee_wright_from_the_satanic_temples/) using the same argument some Christians have been using for decades to justify various bigotries.

      4. Cedrus Libani*

        From the religious side, if you have believed since your earliest awareness, I can get how non-belief just doesn’t compute. If there is a divine plan, it’s as non-negotiable as gravity. Good luck not believing in gravity – you can try, but gravity still believes in you.

        From the atheist side, while I’m aware that theistic Satanism is a thing, there’s mostly the Satanism of atheists making a point. Lots of Christians don’t see anything wrong with Christian monuments on public property, prayers before meetings, etc…but once you start demanding equal time for Satan, suddenly the stuff that was dismissed as harmless “ceremonial deism” is a big deal.

    2. pleaset cheap rolls*

      “But you’re such a nice person!”

      “Yeah, I believe in being nice to others just as the right thing to do, and not just to avoid damnation or to get goodies from some magic person in the sky. That approach seems pretty self-centered. No disrespect intended.”

      1. Ash*

        The kid was 11, so I said “you can be good or bad regardless of if you do or don’t believe in god.” She just had truly never been exposed to the idea that good people could not believe in god.

    3. The Workplace Atheist*

      I was having dinner at my boss’ house, and her 4 year old asked me “Are you Jewish?” I said no. “Are you Christian?” No. Then she was stumped and asked “Well, what are you?” Cue pleading with my eyes to mom/boss “Don’t make me explain atheism to a 4 year old.” She told me to go ahead. I told the little one I didn’t have a religion, that not everyone had one. That satisfied her completely.

        1. Teapot Tía*

          If the first possibility the kid came up with was jewish, makes me think they might be a jewish family & have a very different relationship to religious plurality than your typical christian (or secular christian-cultured person). And how is the parent going to know what the guest identifies as? There’s lots of options other than “jewish” “christian” or “none”.

    4. Temperance*

      I’m very open about my atheism for the same reason. I do a lot of volunteer and charitable work, and was actually once told, to my face, that I must be religious because only Christians help others.

      I’m also tolerant of other people’s faiths, openly, with the exception of anyone evangelizing to me.

      1. Red Boxes and Arrows*

        Oy. The number of times I’ve done nice things for strangers (paying their grocery bill, driving a lost older woman home — miles away — in her own car while my now-ex followed us so I could get back home, stopping to help someone overcome by the summer heat, reuniting pets with their owners, paying vet bills, etc) and have had them tell me what a “good Christian” I am. . . [eye roll]

        The few times I’ve bothered to tell them that I’m an atheist, they have all, to a person, twisted it into Jesus working miracles on my hard heart to be in the right place at the right time to help them, personally.

        Because of the way I was raised (Southern Baptist), I understand their thought process. But it’s still a wild display of mental gymnastics to witness.

        1. Pennyworth*

          That reminds me of Christian friends who responded to me saying I don’t believe in God by saying I must because I spoke about him therefore I must believe he exists. So I said if I talk about Gandalf and Dumbeldore does that mean they exist too?

  10. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP —
    I’m glad it worked out for you. The whole thing sounds a bit like a folie a deux between Mary and Rachel — was that your sense? Or was it more widespread?

    In any case, it does sound as though your job is no longer challenging for you, and I think you’re wise to start looking elsewhere. Best of luck, and please send us an update when you find something.

  11. Bostonian*

    OP, I wouldn’t be surprised if your discussions with Mary did have an impact on the phase out back to more secular language. It seems like she let Rachel overrule her or push her around on some of this, so once Rachel was gone there was nobody to argue against her going in the direction she knew was best, which you confirmed.

  12. Des*

    > “And here you can see – in her natural habitat answering emails and copy editing – an atheist!”

    This made me laugh out loud, OP. It sounds like Rachel moving on was the actual cause of change, and I’m really glad it worked out for you. Getting other people’s religion pushed on you at work or in public spaces is very uncomfortable, and a lot of people justify it with “well it’s everywhere anyway!” which, you know, doesn’t help.

  13. Zweisatz*

    That very much sounds like Rachel was going out of her way to inject her religion into the org instead of “accidentally” bringing it into work because she was “so used to” this kind of language. Which would rankle me personally.

    Good for you that she has moved on and good luck on the job search.

  14. Spicy Tuna*

    Not sure I would call myself an atheist; maybe more agnostic. But because of my upbringing and experiences I had a child, I am “triggered” by religion and religious talk. It’s almost a PTSD situation for me.

    I had a job once where an entire department were born-again Christians and they talked all day about God, Jesus, faith, being saved, got into arguments about who was a better Christian, etc. etc. They sat in about 6 cubicles right outside my office door. I was very grateful to a) only have to go into the office a few times a month; and b) have an office with a door I could shut! The went on for about 2 years

    They were in a different department, so it was “none of my business” but I did wonder if they were actually getting any work done in between all the religious talk. Well, I got my answer because the next time I went into the office, all but one were gone.

  15. Anonymous Introvert*

    Very happy this worked out ok in the end, OP! I am also an atheist and have been for as long as I can remember (despite of, or perhaps because of, my grandmother forcing me to attend her Presbyterian church and its youth services twice a week for a year as a child) and I would have been incredibly uncomfortable in this workplace. I once left a Girl Scout troop (ya know, the organization that says it’s not religiously affiliated, but my district absolutely was, with full-on prayer services at district events and our troop meetings and such) because my fellow troop members wouldn’t stop telling me — a literal child — that I was going to go to hell and burn for eternity for not being Christian. I went through the same thing in high school when I attended a *secular* homeschool co-op that had quite a few rogue evangelicals who wouldn’t stop picking fights with the non-Christian kids (ranging from atheist me to a Jewish friend to the one lone Muslim family), despite the explicitly secular history of the organization. I used to get those “but you’re such a nice person” comments all the time, and I always told people I didn’t need a mythical figure to ensure I was a morally and ethically sound human. I keep my atheism under wraps in the workplace because I live in the south and most of my coworkers would probably try to convert me if they knew, even though we work for a public state university…but a few have caught whiffs that I’m probably not Christian and I used to get weird looks for a few days until they forgot or moved on since they couldn’t catch me with too many heads or whatever. Now I don’t see or talk to anyone here for any reason that’s not work related thanks to covid, so the topic never comes up anymore, but I still can’t wait to make the move to either a more liberal department or a more liberal workplace. My old boss would have absolutely treated me even more like a zoo animal than she already did if she knew, and I doubt my current supervisor would be any better.

  16. La Triviata*

    I was once talking to a co-worker and said something about my college having been founded by Quakers. He looked SO confused … of course, he was confusing Quakers with Amish and was trying to imagine me going to classes in a long black dress with an apron and cap … not at all my style.

    1. KoiFeeder*

      I mean, I went to Quaker school and we did get to wear the hat sometimes. But that was optional and only on special occasions anyways. It was also an elementary school, so I suppose the hat has less appeal in college.

  17. Amethystmoon*

    As a closeted unbeliever, there are probably a lot of us who are keeping it to themselves, depending on where they live. Not every Atheist is the type who wants to debate constantly.

  18. KehSquared*

    Pretty early on at a new job, during a team meeting some people started talking about their religious leanings. My boss decided to just go around the table and ask everyone what their religion was. It was very uncomfortable, especially since everyone else was some flavour of Christian.

    When he got to me I said that I’m an atheist, and one of my colleagues exclaimed “Not even agnostic?!” I did not expect follow up questions and awkwardly replied “Uh, no. Atheist.” I never expected to be point blank asked my religion at work.

    1. The Vulture*

      lol, I think this is such a weird sentiment. I literally consider myself an atheist because of people like this – like, I should have some amount of doubt because the “extremeness” of my position, the kind of doubt that they don’t seem to ever entertain about their religion which is one-of-a-million contradicting religions. Like, I’m at least as sure as you are, I’m just more willing to acknowledge the fundamentally unknowability of things, but I’m not going to make you more comfortable by ceding ground on how sure I am.

    2. Pennyworth*

      I’m an atheist but I’ve always thought the ancient Greek gods are a heap of fun. If I didn’t want to out myself as an atheist I might say I’m a Hellenist then refuse to discuss my ‘religion’ at work.

  19. Them Boots*

    Ugh! This situation/these people were so obnoxious! I’m very much *not* an atheist and I’d be uncomfortable there because of how clearly others like yourself would be made to feel unwelcome! Not cool. SOOOO not cool & quite the antithesis of most religions. My current employer is actually quite the opposite and comfortably atheist. They show respect for *me* by not making fun of my moments of prayer before eating, have consciously quit cursing (ie.GDit) when I’m around (I didn’t ask or make funny faces, they are just nice people & thought it might make me uncomfortable since they noticed I don’t use that phrase!— I wouldn’t have asked because *it’s not fair to hold people to my religious behaviors when they aren’t members of my religion.* (I do feel valued because they clearly want me comfortable.) and make it possible for me to attend worship without any fuss. They are adherents to the “don’t be an a$$hole” theory of living. What else do I need AT MY PLACE OF BUSINESS?

    1. Them Boots*

      All that to say, SO GLAD it’s better and am not surprised certain people did themselves in ‘dealing with splinters and not handling the board’ aka ‘stay in your lane’; Bible version. Glad you have employment now and clarity about what you want to do next. Definitely move on when you can, this situation has showcased some very troubling things about your employer’s culture. Good luck!

  20. They Don’t Make Sunday*

    Just wanted to hat-tip the OP for her truly kind attitude toward Rachel after her departure. Sometimes it takes an atheist to model real grace.

  21. Chickaletta*

    I’m a Christian and this would make me uncomfortable! I’ve actually turned down jobs at places like yours because the outward public demonstration of devotion, and expectation of it from employees, is something I think doesn’t belong in the workplace. My boss is religious too and does a very good job of not making it publically known at work; he shows it through his actions by treating all people with kindness and respect which is the only place spirituality should appear at work.

  22. Jennifer Juniper*

    I’m so glad Rachel is gone before she turned the office into The Handmaid’s Tale.


  23. PhysicsNerd*

    I find this and all the comments about being a ‘closeted atheist’ really interesting, and I really relate from the opposite direction. I live in England and work in a scientific field, literally everyone I work with is openly non-religious or atheist. I myself am Catholic (though I have been non-practicing/questioning/doubting for most of my adult life). I have no issues with other people’s beliefs/or none and most of my friends and family are atheists. So I have no idea how to bring up my faith at work, I’m pretty sure everyone assumes I am not religious. I somehow feel awkward saying something like “I’m going to mass on Sunday” or “To a retreat at a monastery” when people ask me about my weekend or holiday plans. I think part of it is that they will think I am anti-science or similar and not trust my professional judgement as a healthcare scientist. All this to say, though my situation is very different I sympathise.

  24. the more you know*

    This whole thread (and the original) shocks me. Are there really places where this behavior at a “secular” organization would be tolerable? I’m a churchgoing Episcopalian (you know, “catholic light” protestant), but can’t imagine any of this feeling appropriate at work! I also work for a nonprofit, and a disproportionate number of our funders are Jewish (the individuals, but also the large foundations are in many cases the result of lead gifts from Jewish founders) – there’s such a strong tradition of charitable giving. I think being at all overtly religious would jeapordize funding potential enormously for a nonprofit.

    But then I saw the reference to “heavenly father”, which is a term I’ve only ever heard used by Mormons, so I assume this organization is in Utah, and most people in the orbit are LDS. But beyond that I just can’t imagine this. It’s so foreign to my experience.

Comments are closed.