I get email — it’s not always loons!

For a change of pace, here’s an email from a reader who is not a crazy creationist, but instead an atheist scientist with a problem. Hmmm…maybe I should work on being the scientist version of Dan Savage.

I’ve edited out revealing information, because obviously this woman is in a situation fraught with professional peril.

Hello Professor Myers:

I subscribe to your blog Pharyngula. While enduring Catholic grade school
for eight years, I became an open atheist at age 13. I concur entirely
with you on both the silliness and harm of religious superstition. I
recently encountered an entirely unexpected situation and would appreciate
your perspective.

I am a “downsized” analytical chemist who has returned to graduate school
to finish my doctorate. I recently joined one of the local professional
societies, redacted chemistry organization. I attended RCE‘s monthly social dinner and
technical program for the first time. After the approximately 60
attendees were seated at dinner tables, our chairperson addressed us. She
introduced someone (whose name escapes me) who would “give the
invocation.” To my astonishment, this gentleman proceeded to lead the
assembled professional chemists in prayer! Oh heavenly father, thanks for
the grub, yadda yadda yadda, let the local football team win, yadda yadda yadda, ad

Obviously, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I have never, ever,
heard a prayer at any professional society event. Appalled, I looked
around at the assembled brainpower and saw that they had all bowed their
heads in prayer while this man droned on. I left the room until the
travesty ended. I then returned to the dinner and technical program.

Prior to this incident, I had volunteered for two RCE committees. I had
hoped to become active in this organization. In addition, I wanted to
network with my fellow professionals. RCE co-sponsors a larges
chemistry conference, which is the best place to find
employment opportunities. Now, however, I am angry and alienated.
Religious nonsense has no place anywhere, let alone *at a scientific
professional society.*

Professor Myers, as a rational person I cannot let this prayer incident
pass. How can I communicate my objections to the prayer while not
offending RCE leadership?

Thank you very much for your time.

This doesn’t happen very often, in my experience, but as you can see, sometimes even scientific meetings can be tainted with the absurdity of religion. I wrote back with a short answer to her question.

[PZM:] You can’t. People who do that will be offended if you do anything less than bless them for their actions.

All you can do is politely and calmly write a letter about how the prayer
was inappropriate, unprofessional, and rude to the members of the society
who do not adhere to their particular faith…if you’re willing to face
the fact that some people will resent your principles.

What do you know, she took my advice! She politely confronted the chairperson and calmly explained the situation, and…well, here’s the outcome.

You may recall that I wrote to you in January about prayers at a
scientific society meeting.

Well, at last night’s monthly technical meeting, I approached the
chairperson and explained my concerns about the prayers. She basically
said that if I don’t like the prayers, I am free to leave. Well, fuck you
too, you jebus freak.

I think I will take her advice. I know when I’m not welcome. These local
groups are cliquish anyway, and all they do is reinforce the clique’s
already enormous egos.

Dang, I guess I’m a lousy agony aunt. I should have gone with my first impulse to suggest she volunteer to lead the prayer, and show up in a garish ju-ju mask and sacrifice a chicken to Baron Samedi. Oh, well, next time.

Just remember this, though, next time someone tries to tell you that religion is a force for unity. It’s not, it’s a collection of idiosyncratic beliefs that lack a common ground in empirical facts, and can only achieve widespread agreement by indoctrination.