Thursday, February 25, 2010

Atheists in Business

I came across an interesting discussion over at Atheist Revolution about the role of religion (in this case, the lack of) in a business environment:

"... First, there is the scenario where we have a small atheist-owned business and must contend with the owner potentially losing customers when his or her atheism becomes known. And second, there is the case of an atheist being employed in a company where most of the prejudice encountered would be expected to come from co-workers and bosses ...

The Atheist Employee

I'll speculate that most atheists employed in the U.S. either have faced some sort of prejudice in their place of employment or remain closeted at work in order to avoid this outcome. I've encountered prejudice of all kinds at the state university where I am employed (e.g., race, age, sexual orientation, gender, and atheism). What stands out to me is that most people seem to know that it is inappropriate and try to conceal it, except when it comes to atheists. In fact, I've heard more than my share of anti-atheist bigotry right out in the open (e.g., atheists are immoral, can't be trusted, evil people, etc.). People do not seem to put it in the same category as other forms of prejudice and have few compunctions about expressing it openly.

I have also heard from friends and family of far more serious examples of prejudice and discrimination against atheists in the workplace. These include repeated, unwanted invitations to attend church with the boss, mandatory attendance at sectarian prayer meetings during work, open hostility from co-workers including threats of hell, and even termination.

Particularly here in the South, being an open atheist can be an excruciatingly difficult experience in many places of employment. At the same time, being an openly evangelical fundamentalist Christian is often encouraged, sometimes explicitly so.

Atheist-Owned Businesses

... I'd guess that it would be virtually impossible to run a small business in a small and rabidly Christian community as an open atheist. I've heard many stories of professionals in such settings losing clients after answering questions honestly about their views on religion.

I would expect the experience of atheist business owners to be highly variable by region. In a large city in a more educated part of the country, I suspect one could do okay even while being reasonable open about one's atheism. Customer word-of-mouth and the involvement of churches might be less important in such settings ..."

Being an atheist, a business owner, and a former employee, I can speak to whether these situations are applicable to my case. The definition of an "open" atheist is difficult as I don't actively advertise that I'm an atheist, but I also don't actively hide it. Part of that is the difference in how one's faith (or lack of) informs their daily life.

With Christians, and I don't think I'm speaking out of turn here, your religion does influence most things you do on a daily basis. It certainly affects how your children are taught, how you handle work situations, and what movies you watch and what music you listen to.

I can honestly say that I go through life and religion doesn't factor into my decisions at all, except when someone else's exercising of their religion intrudes on mine.

I have not personally been descriminated against overtly for my atheism and that is due to several things: 1. My employers and clients don't know I'm an atheist because I don't go around with an atheist patch 2. The computer/software industry is fairly open-minded. When I say "overtly", I mean that no one has personally ridiculed me for being atheist. But, if you define descrimination to include unwanted invitations and professions of faith, I get that on a daily basis.

As a Christian, would you be offended if a Muslim or Jew invited you to their church or expressed a religious belief without being asked? I suspect that many would. I guess most of that doesn't bother me because I don't elevate it to the importance that people of faith would. Someone talking about their preference of religion is no more important to me than if they said they were a Yankee fan. In both cases I may think they were nuts, but c'est la vie. To each his own.

I'm not sure what point I'm trying to make. I guess the gist of it is, I personally think business is not a place for expressing your religious tastes, for or against. You are free to believe what you want, but when it impedes on others doing the same, then you have went too far.

"We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart." -- H. L. Mencken


wunelle said...

It's like Francis Collins' recent book on the "proof" for his god (which does not address, I assume, how the "proof" supports HIS god and not some other...). It seems highly improper for a government official, and the head of a huge government scientific institute, to openly promote religious--and very un-scientific--views. And yet the fact of the matter is that no one could be elected to any major office in this country if they openly deny a christian god.

The cards are openly and overtly stacked toward a single outcome, and deviations are not tolerated. What's amazing--even miraculous!--is that we ever got the legal Establishment Clause protections in place; we could achieve no such separation today, I'm confident.

(WV: cheadin)

Sadie Lou said...

I don't advertise I'm a Christian. I am usually asked or I am in a situation where it is eventually guessed or explained.
A Christian faces the same world an atheist does. There are just certain aspects about our day that give us moments of being "outed".
For instance: My husband works for a large corporation. He starts the day in a yard with mostly male co-workers. Often times, their conversations are disgusting. They will trash talk about a fellow employee or they will talk about strip clubs...if my husband doesn't participate, he gets attention and often this leads to an explanation of why he doesn't include himself in the conversations.

I'm the same way. I will be outed because of what I won't engage in or because of how I prioritize my day. I don't wear a badge-neither do I boast bumper stickers on my car or wear a cross around my neck.

CyberKitten said...

Not surprisingly - living in one of the most Secular countries on Earth - religion hardly ever comes up at work (or anywhere else for that matter).

There are some people I know for sure are Christians and I know a few who are very vocal in their disbelief (and I have friends on both sides) but most people I work with are silent on the subject and I wouldn't have a clue about most of their beliefs.

In the UK it's illegal to discriminate against anyone on religious grounds and my company takes that very seriously. You do hear of the odd case of religious discrimination on the news but such things are newsworthy because of their rarity value (and often turn out to be rather less newsworthy than they first appear).

dbackdad said...

Sadie -- By no means am I implying that it's just being atheist that submits one to undue scrutiny. I too have been in work situations where someone with a particular faith (Muslim, Mormon) have been put in uncomfortable situations.

And being averse to a discussion of strip clubs doesn't make one Christian. It just means he's a good guy. I'm no more likely to get in those discussions than he is.

CK -- I am really jealous of how your country handles religion.

CyberKitten said...

dbackdad said: CK -- I am really jealous of how your country handles religion.

Not well enough unfortunately. We'll have a new law soon making sex education compulsary in schools - except that religious schools (which frankly shouldn't get a penny of state funding - but they do) are exempt.

There is still quite a bit of room for increased secularisation I feel..... Removing bishops from the House of Lords would be a step in the right direction.

dbackdad said...

CK -- But religion seems to be treated in a different manner over there. Frequently, your bishops seems less religious than our "normal" politicians.

CyberKitten said...

Religion, by and large, is certainly treated as a private matter over here. Public displays of religious feeling/belief are normally considered questionable if not actually rude - most especially in people holding positions of power. We've had quite enough of that in our bloody history not to want to go through that again!

I think it might have something to do with the fact that the Catholic minority have been basically oppressed for the past few centuries so talking about religion in public could be (potentially) dangerous.

Of course the Church of England isn't big on public displays either - it's all very low-key. You certainly don't get them knocking on your door preaching at you!

I do think however that we should be much more secular than we are.

Sadie Lou said...

I think if you're a male and there is morally questionable conversations going and you don't participate, you will be asked why, eventually.
I wasn't suggesting that only Christians make this choice, but saying this is one of the ways Dan gets outed and now that he has's open season in his yard.