My coworker wants to tell me about her higher power. Should I welcome the conversation?

The other day I had a coworker tell me that once she gets to know me better she wants to tell me how her higher power changed her life. How do I respond?

I really like this coworker. We’ve really connected recently and although we’ve never spent time together outside of work, I think we could become good friends. 

But we’re definitely an unlikely pair.

She’s Christian and everybody knows it. She’s proud of her faith and is pretty vocal about it – even on the clock.

I don’t think she knows I’m an atheist. I told her I don’t go to church and that’s as far as I got.

So if this conversation about her “higher power” takes place, can I tell her why I’m an atheist? It seems only fair but I’m extremely skeptical. I feel like a conversation like this could either leave me feeling liberated or feeling ostracized. 

Deep down, I really want someone I can be open with. 

I really think this coworker is an awesome person which has made it easier for me to overlook our differences. She’s very resilient and her heart is in the right place.

Have you ever been in this situation? Would you welcome a conversation like this or avoid it? How should I respond? Please keep in mind that I live in a red state in the Midwest and I have to work with this coworker every week.


  1. EigenSprocketUK says

    Establish that human connection, and that will over rule any inclination for them to proselytise you. Better in the long run, and maybe a meaningful coworker relationship.

    Though if they already have marked you solely as a potential convert then you’ll never be anything more in their eyes.

    Don’t sweat it either way.

  2. Bruce says

    My advice is to make sure that this conversation never happens, unless you have a job at a different organization all ready to start. This conversation cannot go well.
    In the minds of most vocal Christians in a Christian environment like yours, saying as you did that you don’t go to church means to her that you are asking her to twist your arm to go to her church with her, forever. To tell her that you are an atheist would sound to her like you are bragging about being a murderer. Her conditioning has not set her up to be able to face this rationally. If you let her know that you are an atheist, I think she will feel morally obliged to tell everyone at work that you are absolutely evil.
    Obviously, this is not true, but she is not ready for you. To say you are atheist would sound to her that you are criticizing her religion. There is no way this conversation can go well. You must either convert 100% to her church, quit your job, or avoid the whole conversation. It’s not your fault, but it’s where she is right now, and you’ll never “cure” her.
    You can say you don’t feel comfortable discussing religion, but you shouldn’t say why, and you shouldn’t reconfirm that you don’t go to church. The fact is that you already DO have your own beliefs regarding religious topics, and you (like her) are honestly not currently open to persuasion regarding your views. This is valid to say without telling her if you are catholic or Mormon or Scientologist or Satanist or atheist. None of those answers would tell her not to share her gospel good news views with you. Your only escape I think is to make it clear you feel it is inappropriate for YOU to discuss religious views with anyone from work, ever. Do not break that rule with anyone else at work as long as anyone typical works where you work.
    I wouldn’t say this if you lived in Vermont or Seattle or maybe even Hawaii, but you know that’s not your current situation. Good luck. You can do this. Be strong and silent.

  3. Bruce says

    In an ideal world, you could tell your coworkers:
    Have you heard the Good News? All religions are delusions and you should quit yours immediately.
    And in the ideal world, she would say: Gosh! thanks for telling me. I’m sure you’re right, so now I’m an atheist!
    Unfortunately, we know that will never happen in our world.

  4. Geoff says

    Many years ago, when I was still living in the UK, two Mormon missionaries came to the door and asked if they could tell us about the wonders of the LDS. I made them an offer: they could come in and talk to us, as long as I got equal time to explain to them why theistic religions, particularly hierarchical ones, were both false and deeply damaging to society. To my surprise, they accepted. They pitched to me for 30 minutes, then I did the same to them. Conveniently, I had a set of notes that I’d prepared for just such an opportunity. (Today I’d probably have a PowerPoint deck.) The older missionary took it all in a good way; the younger was DEEPLY uncomfortable.

  5. lanir says

    Do you think she’s more interested in telling you her story about who she is or trying to convince you to join her religion? If it’s the latter, I guess things might turn out well anyway but it sounds a lot less likely. If she just wants you to understand her better then I would think she’d be up for understanding you better as well.
    The best idea I can come up with, assuming you two communicate well, is to talk to her about what you would want from this conversation and the fears you have about it going badly. If you can talk to her about that without getting into detail and just telling her you don’t share her belief system, then you may be able to feel out how she’ll react to hearing ideas that are different from her own. If she wants details you can explain that you’re trying to understand whether she’ll react badly to what you might tell her. If she insists before you’re ready to move forward then it’s probably best to drop the whole topic.
    You’ll have to trust her somewhat to do this. And you’ll have to gauge whether this even fits you two and the relationship you have. This is just how I would try to do it without leaping right into a conversation that might go poorly.

  6. says

    That’s a tough one. If it was me, I’d probably accept, but if she tried to get me to involve myself in her religion, I’d politely decline without elaborating.

    I think last time it came up with a stranger, I just said I put my faith in humanity, but it’s not a conversation I’ve had while I was worried it would affect my ability to work. I could imagine saying I’m not comfortable talking about my own beliefs right now, until I got a better idea of who she was and how she would react.

  7. says

    The question is, as previously noted, whether your co-worker thinks of you as a human being, worthy of respect, or merely as fresh meat for her cult, another notch to carve into the spine of her Big Book of Multiple Choice (aka “Holy Bible”). Once you’ve sussed out which of those two options is in play, I expect you’ll be able to figure out the appropriate response.

  8. says

    The other day I had a coworker tell me that once she gets to know me better she wants to tell me how her higher power changed her life. How do I respond?
    I’ve had that conversation before.
    Usually, I try to get the other person to understand that they are their own higher power – it’s not that some supreme being popped these ideas into their head; they did. No matter how you slice it, it’s their interpretation of what they think a higher power would want. As such, it’s pretty easy to have a reasonable conversation about it, without having to grapple with their belief system.
    Also, the last person I had that conversation with, had a very squishy idea of what their higher power was in the first place. So I pointed out that they sounded like a Taoist, read them a few passages from Lao Tze, and by the time we were done, they were a newly-minted Taoist.

  9. says

    Deep down, I really want someone I can be open with.
    My aunt, who was my favorite little old lady until she died, was deeply religious and the most interesting and valuable conversations I’ve ever had were with her. She was an example of someone who had deep faith – an irrational level of faith – and anything I said had no effect on her belief system. So, we could explore the question of what it means to believe, and what things either one of us accepted as fact, or faith, or opinion. It was my conversations with her that convinced me that the most important intellectual skill is being able to distinguish fact from opinion, and the methods for doing that. She certainly was not stupid.
    So – it can be worth having the conversation.
    After all, there is a supreme being that watches over each of us, and wants the best for us, and tries to save us from our mistakes. In my case, it’s my “supergo” (to use psychology terms) or more simply “myself.” In someone else’s case, I recommend taking David Hume’s approach and exploring that as “also, yourself.” It’s simply the person’s self that is being reified as an external force, when it’s not. Tomato, tohmato, self-awareness, subconscious, it’s all the same.

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    Geoff @ # 6: … they could come in and talk to us, as long as I got equal time …

    Which reminds me of a family story, involving an uncle who lived in a suburb of a suburb of LA. Back in the days when “hi-fi” was the hot new technology, he had a pair of bible-bangers knock on the door and ask him if he’d listen to the vinyl LP they were lugging around with them.

    He agreed, sat them down in the living room with some ice water, and quietly listened to the sermon and songs on their record. But when they thanked him and got up to go, he insisted that it would only be fair if they heard his album, and pulled out a British underground 33 1/3 entitled “The Farting Contest” (more precisely, “The Fahhting Contest”), with sound effects and commentary I leave to your imagination. They somehow made it through that and stumbled out the door, and, my uncle surmised, must have made some sort of hobo mark on the curb he never could spot, because no further such knocks came on his door for at least five years.

  11. Matt G says

    I’m an atheist who teaches science at a school run by an episcopal church. For most of my 17 years at the school, I’ve deflected questions about my beliefs. However, the deflection makes it pretty clear I’m not Christian, and probably much worse. I’ve actually been a bit more open (at least with my students) because the church and school administration are more and more overtly Christian. If you must have this conversation, talk about your values, since you have no theology to talk about. Focus on the things you have in common.

  12. StevoR says

    @12. Pierce R. Butler : LOL! That. Is. Classic! 😉

    My coworker wants to tell me about her higher power. Should I welcome the conversation?

    Dunno. I’m not tehbets person to ask.

    FWIW. I wouldn’t welcome it but I wouldn’t be dishonest if pressed though I would try to be tactfully since you like and have to work with her. I don’t know her well enough (or at all) to be able to tell how she’d react. Personally I do have devout Christian friends who either know or have guess that I’m atheist or at least secularist and non-religious and that have politely tried to convert me which I’ve politely rebuffed & we’re still friends but, people are people and all different individuals (“I’m not*) and I’m in Australia and don’t have to deal with any fall out. So, again to stress the point, I really don’t know.

    * See the classic scene from The Life of Brien here :

  13. StonedRanger says

    As an atheist, the last thing I want is for some christian to share their poorly thought out conclusions about anything. Especially at work. If you dont want to have that conversation with your co worker, politely tell then you arent interested. If they persist then you probably dont want to hear how I respond to people who cant take a polite hint, but it wouldnt be fun for them. I dont talk about politics or god beliefs at work, it simply isnt appropriate in my opinion. Im not at work to make friends, but Im not there to make enemies either but if they want to talk about gods anyway then its okay for you to share your nonbelief.

  14. david says

    The giveaway here is that “a coworker tell me that … she wants to tell me” – not “she wants to engage a 2-way discussion about what each of us believes”. The wording implies, to me, that she wants to convert you, and isn’t interested in hearing your perspective.

    If this wasn’t a work setting, I’d cite the old gag about mud wresting with a pig (“you’ll both get dirty and the pig likes it”). But, it being work, there are potential painful consequences to holding this discussion. I vote with Bruce #3.

  15. sonofrojblake says

    Another vote for Bruce and #3 – absolutely do not engage with a Christian at work unless you’re entirely cool with the idea of losing your job and having a hard time finding another.
    Suggestion: say something along the lines of “I consider religion a deeply personal and private matter and I’m really not comfortable discussing it.” And more to the point, say that to the HR people first, then say it to her. If she keeps pushing, just repeat that mantra, and report it. You have to ensure she doesn’t have any cause to say you dissed her imaginary friend or ridiculed her childish delusions, but let her hang herself if she chooses to complain her proselytising was rejected. Do not under any circumstances trust her.

  16. says

    The other day I had a coworker tell me that once she gets to know me better she wants to tell me how her higher power changed her life.

    I have two guesses as to what she might have meant by that. 1) She’s taking time to find out about any specific problems or issues in your life, so she can then tell you how her “higher power” (Jesus? This all sounds like it’s gonna be Jesus) will make everything better for you.

    OR 2) (this is the more optimistic guess) She’s actually trying to figure out whether you’ll WANT to hear about her “higher power.” If it’s the latter, you MIGHT REPEAT MIGHT have a window to let her know, politely, that you don’t need to hear any of it and will stay her friend if she doesn’t try to push it on you.

    In any case, I’m seconding sonofrojblake’s advice @17: say thanks loads but it’s a personal matter that you don’t feel comfortable discussing.

  17. says

    As others have suggested, the question arises: is your co-worker being nice in order to sell her religion or is she being nice because she is nice and she genuinely likes you?

    The only way to find out is to politely refuse to discuss her religion and make it clear the topic is off the table. If she wants to be your friend anyway, it is a win-win. If, after she understands you are not a conversion prospect, she drifts off, at least you know where she was coming from.

  18. KG says

    The way she put it (“higher power”) suggests to me she’s been through a “12-step” programme for an addiction. I don’t know if that helps in your decision.

  19. says

    KG: You could be right, but based on my (pretty limited) experience with 12-steppers, I suspect that if this person was a recovering addict, she’d either not talk about it much at all, or lead with something like “Hey, I’ve managed to get off [former drug(s) of choice] and my life is so much better now!” And she most likely wouldn’t feel a great need to share about it with our host, unless she suspected our host was on something and needed similar help.

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