Uncomfortable Conversations at Work

I really don’t think it’s anyone’s business what anyone believes in at work, but let’s face it; many people see their beliefs as an important part of their identity. They carry it with them everywhere.

Most people where I work are Christian and they’re not afraid to very openly express their beliefs. There have been more than a few discussions that have left me feeling uncomfortable. I fear discrimination and ridicule so I keep my mouth shut. At the very least, throwing my two cents in would make things extremely awkward, and there’s no escape – I need this job.

There’s been so many times where I felt I should stand up and address the issue – being an advocate in my own life could pave an easier way for local atheists in the future – but I always choose to just go about my business and say nothing.

Sometimes I think that maybe I’m too sensitive and it’s not as big of a deal as I’m making it out to be. However, deep down I fear that’s not the case.


How do you guys deal with situations like this at work? Have you ever faced discrimination?


  1. says

    In most workplaces and countries I was never harangued or harassed. But in South Korea, it was an issue many times at three schools in four years. The combination of christianity and confucianism meant a lot of “I’m higher socially, so you do what I say,” including demands of religious participation and other activities. I could write a thousand words about it….

  2. Amarantha Dyuaaxchs says

    It’s never come up at work, but my last two landlords were very religious. With the first, I had only just realized I was an atheist, and chose to keep my mouth shut. It was only relevant a couple times in about four years.

    With the second, she was pushier and as time passed she grew more senile and delusional, so I chose to talk about my Quaker side of the family, implying I was Quaker too, because I know a bit more about their practices and was able to stand behind their humanism without having to explicitly take a stand on the supernatural. This was less than a monthly occurrence. I definitely felt that renting there would have been more difficult as an open atheist.

    My current landlord is a corporation that knows better than to ask.

  3. lakitha tolbert says

    I work in a library, so no, I have not experienced discrimination,because we have all kinds of people here, but I do sometimes get customer calls from deeply Xtian people, who sometimes want me to agree with them on Xtian type stuff.

    I used to be reticent about stating that I was an atheist, but not anymore. Now, I just come right out and say I don’t partake. Most of the time the customers simply take that in stride, and keep it moving.Since I moved to the Science Dept. I receive a lot fewer oft those types of calls.

  4. Jazzlet says

    In the UK this simply isn’t an issue, it’s illegl to sack smeone because of their religious views, and except in a limited number of religious organisation posts it’s also illegal to discriminate when hiring as well. It’s one of those things that as a Brit I find difficult to understand, which doesn’t help you at all, sorry.

    • ashes says

      Actually, your comment does help. I feel hopeful when I hear of other places where atheists don’t have to hide and are treated fairly. I hope one day we will get to that point where I live.

  5. trav42 says

    Here in Toronto things are a bit different. You will encounter Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, Sikhs, etc–all expressing their religions/philosophies to one degree or another. So at work people wear religious jewelry, or turbans and kirpans, or bindis, or take breaks every so often to pray (sometimes there is a room set aside). We consider it rude to proselytize, but I’m usually aware of when it’s Diwali or Eid or Christmas and I wish the appropriate people the appropriate sentiments. When there are sweets in the lunchroom sometimes I consult Wikipedia to find out why.

    I do know that some of my co-workers over the years have thought badly of me for being gay, but mostly they have kept it to themselves. One employer did take me aside and ask me to tell our customers in Saudi Arabia that I was Buddhist instead of atheist (the Saudis ask). I’ve also been asked point blank by Americans what church I attend, and usually I say the one I was baptized in just to avoid a scene. Basically I don’t want to piss off my customers, even if they’re acting inappropriately.

    On the other hand, I have received a lot of discrimination for being mentally ill (I know it’s not what we’re talking about). I keep that fact strictly to myself these days.

  6. says

    Back in the 1990s, my atheism and political beliefs were an issue with an employer, but they had many other HR issues as well. (That office closed, and I think Corporate got their act together.) Since then, my lack of belief hasn’t been an issue. I don’t try to convert employees to follow the “leaders” of atheism, and they don’t try to convert me to their particular religion.

  7. Yes, I have a name says

    I don’t see what my religion (or lack thereof) has to do with my work, or working environment.
    I do have some uncomfortable conversations at work, but *never* ‘religion based’ ones. And yes, since it’s a natural thing and nothing ‘too serious’, I have faced discrimination. Discrimination at work, at school, at home, *everywhere*. I’m lucky to be able to lead a life on this planet.

  8. TGAP Dad says

    The only time I was made uncomfortable about my lack of religion, was in high school. My parents had moved near the end of my junior year from a near-suburban, contemporary community to a tiny backwater in southern Michigan, about as backward as you expect it to be. After answering a question (surrounded by classmates) about my religion with “atheist,” I was then asked, in all seriousness, “what kind of church do atheists go to?” Clearly I was in an alternate universe. I wish I’d had a clever response, but all I could manage was a mumbled jumble of words amounting to “I guess you don’t know what an atheist is, then.”

    At (30+ years of) work, it’s only come up a few times. When it’s a personal, rather than a professional conversation (lunch, break, after-work social…), I’ll inquire as to whether they want to go down that path, since it may lead to an awkward dynamic at work. In a professional setting, I never let it go there, usually by a response on the order of “I’m really not comfortable sharing this kind of personal detail at work. If you want to know more, we can meet in a non-work setting, and I’ll discuss in detail.” I’ve never had anyone take me up on that offer. I also use the above protocol for conversations that wander into politics.

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