Saturday, November 13, 2010

Confronting the Time Clock Theists

As an American Jewish atheist it's ironic that the country to which  I've expatriated, the Philippines, is one that is predominantly (85%)  and devoutly Roman Catholic.  However, it's my wife's place of birth and a cheap place to retire comfortably on our modest social security income. Also, the country is a constitutional democracy and does not force the majority's beliefs on others; so  I don't feel uncomfortable with or socially imposed upon by the culture at all. (Besides there is a small Jewish Association here and an online forum for local atheists as well). In fact if I were to weigh my exposure to the theistic beliefs and customs here against a particular environment of religious intolerance with which I had to cope in the U.S., the latter would  tip the scales. I'm referring to the workplace.  Based on my experience this was the most common point of non-optional contact and interaction with fundamentalist Christians.

Beginning mainly (but not exclusively) in the 1990's when evangelical Christians started becoming more numerous and more vocal, not surprisingly  their presence on the job site also grew. And for some strange reason, starting in that era until the time I retired in 2005,  the companies where I worked, finance company call centers, seemed to have a disproportionate number of these people. In two such organizations, each with a staff of more than 100, I was the only (token?)  Jew at one of them and one of two at another.  There may have been other atheists at these companies, but I wasn't aware of them.

In keeping with my opinion that matters regarding religion are inappropriate topics for discussion at work, I tried to keep quiet about my own beliefs, However, in those instances where I spoke up as a Jew and /or an atheist, such as in response to a bigoted or other ignorant remark, naturally I would get an angry reaction  from some of my co-workers.  But even when I said nothing, the environment that the fundamentalists created in the office was often uncomfortable, with their God / Jesus-talk, the aforementioned hostile comments about non-believers and non-Christians, and even a proposal for a lunch hour bible study group  for which  management was willing to furnish a conference room.  The laws  that bar discrimination in hiring on the basis of religion or non-religion don't seem to hold much sway once you become employed.

Of course, for many non-Christians in the work place, the Christmas season is even more of a time of alienation. Anti-discrimination laws don't seem to prohibit Christmas decorations, caroling, gift exchanges, parties, "merry Christmas" greetings, etc in the office.  And regarding the latter, there is one point about which I agree with fundies regarding that holiday season:  Christmas is literally "Christ-mass", a celebration of the birth of the Christian "savior" and not some vague amalgamation of festivals that also includes Solstice, Hanukkah, and Kwanza  as the politically correct multiculturalists like to pretend.  At one such supposedly non-sectarian "holiday" party in which I participated many years ago, as we were about to start eating, the department supervisor turned to one of my co-workers, a lay preacher, and asked him to offer a Christmas prayer,  a request to which he eagerly consented.  These two did this knowing that I was the only Jew in the department and asked me if I would like to leave the room and return when the grace was finished. Because I was totally blind-sided, I complied.  They never did realizeor didn't care aboutwhat an awkward position they put me in.  But at the time I wasn't sure how to handle the matter. Perhaps I should have complained to the department manager or to personnel.  Instead, out of pride I let the matter drop. But to this day I recall the incident with a mixture of embarrassment and anger.

Yet it doesn't have to be this way in a work setting. My wife once taught at a preschool that prohibited religious displays on the premises, and where no holidays were celebrated.  It was a completely neutral environment. The staff was a mixture of Christians and Muslims, and at least one atheist (my wife). But in accordance with the rules, nobody tried to impose her or his beliefs on anybody else, especially on the pupils.

It's just too bad all employers aren't legally mandated to have a policy requiring that employees leave their personal beliefs in the parking lot.   And although those difficult days are behind me now, such is not the case for the non-Christians in the U.S.who are currently in the work force (If they're lucky enough to have a job in the present economy) and who face the prospect of harassment and reprisals if they object to Christian privilege at their places of employment.   So in the end it's a case of go along to get along. or if they dissent, to be treated just like I was, as  second class citizens.


krissthesexyatheist said...

"R" UR sooooo lucky. To retire to the Islands is the dream for all the immigrants that come to the states (and I realize that was not UR case, but...), to go back to the Homeland and live off the retirement checks. I didn't know there were Jews in the P.I. (ha ha). In the 90's we were going thru the whole faith based initiatives thingy and that was the rise of Evangelicals. That is why the Four Horsemen, unplanned, simult. appeared in 2004-to combat all that crap. Bush Jr. was filling all the posts w/born agains, the evangelical movement was entrenching in pro sports and prisons..and we are "here." Awesomeness, "R", I hope one day to visit the Islands, dip my feet in blue water and drink inexpensive beer. G-luck to you and your wife.


Andrew Hall said...

Good stuff! Is the constitution over there modelled on the US's (with stuff like the Establishment Clause)?

Secular Guy said...

Kriss and Andrew,

Thank you both for your comments. Many Filipinos emigrate to the U.S. intending to stay for life but change their minds as old age looms. Americans are also finding the Phils a good place to retire.

The Philippine Constitution was indeed modeled after its American counterpart, including the insertion of a Bill of Rights.

Muslims comprise about only 10% of the population but are disproportionately powerful especially in the southern part of the country. President Aquino declared tomorrow a holiday for the entire nation because of some Islamic observance.

Jeffrey A. Myers said...

I think one of the things that needs to be talked about a lot more often is a phrase you used at the end - Christian Privilege.

Christians, especialy in the US, cannot stop complaining about their supposed persecution and mistreatment, utterly oblivious to the fact that the entire social, political and media structure bends to their every whim.


Secular Guy said...

Well said, Jeffrey. I will be expanding on very that topic in a future post.

Skepticat said...

Back when I was lucky enough to have a job, I had a similar issue. I was the token atheist at work but I never brought it up or made a big deal out of it.

The company provided a free Christmas lunch for the employees so we all went to the cafeteria. Once outside, we were ordered to bow for prayer. One of the employees gave a very lengthy, specific prayer on our behalf. I turned around and walked back to my desk quietly. I never went to another company gathering again.

They sent around religious emails all the time and anti-atheist emails twice. I politely challenged the statements in both those emails and neither employee spoke to me for a very long time. Whether that was due to shame or hate, I cannot say.

But yes, sometimes I think our labor laws are worthless. Employers have ways to discriminate (especially in this "right to work" state) and the burden of proof is on the victim. When my last employer fired me for an unexpected, extended hospital stay, I knew the law was just a joke.

Secular Guy said...


I thought that maybe I had gone out on a limb by criticizing anti-discrimination laws as ineffectual and that maybe I was overstating my case based on a bruised ego. Thanks for backing me up on this.

U.S. Labor laws are indeed a joke in any "at will" or right to work locale. As backwards as the Philippines is in so many ways, according to the law here employees cannot be summarily dismissed.

Secular Guy said...


Thanks for your comment and support.

I'm glad to hear about your positive experience with the Philippines.

You're right. Just as in the U.S., Pentecostals, Mormons,and other sects in the Philippines such as the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ)are usually bigger pains in the ass when it comes to imposing their beliefs on others than are Catholics.

As for religion at work, I think that the co-workers with whom I had problems in this area tended to be less educated--in more ways than one.

Secular Guy said...

Hi John,

due to a systems error, a comment by John_poson26 was accidentally rejected. Here's what he wrote:

"We have a lot more in common than the both of us just being atheist. My “soul mate” and the mother of my children, she was conceived in the Philippines, but was born here in the U.S. -- Her mom, and about half of her family still lives in the Philippines. I’ve only visited the Philippines twice, both times with my lady and our young children; the last time was about 15 years ago. We both had started making plans of retiring there sometime in the future, ourselves.

"Compared to this Christian cesspool here in the US, folks over there, (most of the Catholics, at least) didn’t seem to care so much, about what other people believe or didn’t believe – I even got along well with her mom’s priest; in fact, better than I got along with her mom – we simply told the priest that we were just not into religion, and he never tried to proselytize either. The Pentecostal Christian movement, which was just getting a foothold in the city where her mom lives, were another story all together – they were more like the deluded Christian morons and idiots that we find here in the states.

"I have always believed that one’s business, and ones religion, should never mix – in the distant past, I have even attended a few Xmas parties, most of which were secular – in the past (which sometimes seems, almost like another lifetime) when I had business partners who were religious, I simply avoided the issue – I’ve found that the more educated people are, the less important that other people’s religious views are to them.

Great post!!!"

Posted by John_poson26 to Towards a Rational America and an Enlightened Judaism at November 26, 2010 7:39

Anonymous said...

If there is no God, then all that stuff about the origin of the JEWS is MADE UP!

Therefore, there ARE NO Jews.

So quit calling yourself an atheist Jew.

You are just an atheist. The JEW does not exist except in our imagination.

You weren't chosen for anything, there were no promises of land, no nothing.

Got it, sport?

Secular Guy said...


Now that you've taken it upon yourself to define for me (along with thousands of other Jewish atheists)who and what I am, and am not I feel so much better. What a relief not to have read or contemplate the countless sources that contradict you.

And since you don't state your name, I guess that means you consider yourself on the supreme being level of the judgmental biblical God ("I am that I am"). Yet for some reason I don't fear the wrath of either one.

Jeffrey A. Myers said...

Tonight must be Anonynous' anti-semitism extravaganza. I had a jackass try to post that kind of trash on my blog this evening too.

Secular Guy said...


These jerkwads' online tantrums, and rants show them up for the bigots that they are. I publish them because they're so lame that they're funny.