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.