My cube-neighbor is a devout christian, but the type of religious person that's a good example for others: She doesn't preach or advertise her beliefs, but will discuss it when it comes up. I enjoy working with her and like her as a person.

She did irritate me a few weeks ago by saying, "I know you might not like what I have to say, but I think someday, in the distant future, you and your husband will be saved." I just said that I know that's how all christians feel and it doesn't surprise me, but not to hold her breath!

The topic came up again yesterday, and we were discussing our families, what their beliefs are and so on. She said her parents are both religious- her father is a devout catholic and her mother is a christian "but laid back and cool about it," words to that effect. Meaning, not rabidly insane like my mother-in-law that I often complain about.

Then she told me how, once when her cousin and his friend were over the house, the friend ("a man of science, very smart guy") said that he didn't believe in god. So her mom politely asked him to leave.

I was incredulous. "She kicked him out on account of stating his non-belief?!" I asked.

"Well, NO, she didn't [motioning with her leg] KICK him out, she just asked him to leave," she responded.

"That's kicking somebody out, you don't have to do it literally! She showed him the door. Wow. And on what basis?" I didn't get any impression that the guy was being obnoxious or rude. He merely stated his position.

"Well, what would you do if a man came into your house, and turned out to be a thief, or a rapist?"

"WAIT. You are comparing an atheist to a rapist and a thief??"

Cue the backpedaling. She seemed confused and started mumbling something about humanism vs atheism. I didn't let go, and she denied thinking that. "But you just made a comparison of non-believers to criminals!"

"I didn't say that. That's not what I'm saying. You must've been very scarred to think that's what I meant," she replied with that creepy calmness so typical of christians. I was floored.

"You have to understand," I explained, "atheism just means 'non-belief.' That's IT. It makes no statement about a person's morals or character. That's ALL it means, non-belief."

She didn't apologize, and won't, but I hope a small seed was planted in her brain. She's been spoon-fed information about atheists her entire life, and I'm sure she had no idea about the proper definition. I hope she begins to see some of the hypocricy.

In any case, I purchase and am almost done reading "A Manual for Creating Atheists." While I hate carrying this book around and reading it in public on the train due to the provocative title (because people will automatically assume that's what I'm trying to do all the time, which I'm not), it's an excellent book.

Also, I should add: I get the impression that she's one of those that's uncomfortable with "atheist" and prefers to think of me as a "secular humanist." Because every now and then, she asks me to clarify my position. "Are you an atheist or a humanist?"

I tell her that I agree with humanist principles, but I don't consider myself a humanist except by default. I'm an atheist. It's weird, like she keeps asking the question as if to give me a chance to redeem myself and choose the "correct" answer. Wow, so there really are people out there who think it's a world of difference between the two, and obviously one cannot really have morals without subscribing to some prescribed "religion."

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I recommend lending her a copy of Dan Barker's book, The GOOD Atheist.  He not only explains that one can easily lead a decent, moral life without a belief in any god(s), he lists many, many people who have benefited humanity, in wildly divergent fields of endeavor.

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Review from Amazon.com

 Surprisingly fun read,

This review is from: The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God (Paperback)

I like books that tie lots of ideas or people together. Maybe that is why I grew up reading encyclopedias just for the fun of it. The Good Atheist is like a little encyclopedia that ties a lot of people together. Some of the people he writes about I knew were atheists BUT when I got to one of my favorite topics - classical music and art - I was very pleasantly surprised by the names. Dan has done us all a favor by putting these people - who many of us know about and admire - into a single book that clearly identifies them as atheists. The first chapter is an excellent essay and one that I will recommend to people in our Recovering from Religion groups. In fact, as I was reading the book, I kept thinking, "This would be a great little book for a beginner atheist to see how many hugely important people have no gods." I also think Dan has effectively critiqued Rick Warren as only Dan can do. I like his idea of a "Purpose filled life" rather than Warren's "Slave master driven life."

This book was not what I expected. I expected a well reasoned argument for living a good, ethical, atheist life. Maybe a follow up to Godless or Losing Faith in Faith, That is not what is between the covers, and I am glad. What I expected already exists in other well written books, so The Good Atheist fits a niche that needed filling. Not a book on how to live good, but a book on people who have done it. What a novel idea. For that reason, I think Dan has hit a home run and given us something that helps validate we who love life, love each other and enjoy "living faith free."

Darrel Ray, author of The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture and Founder of Recovering from Religion

 

She sounds like a nice person who lives a very cloistered life.  You sound like a good person too, so maybe God put you in the next cubicle to open her worldview a bit.  I guess he did that while taking a break from his usual work stoping wars and curing cancer and the like.  Or burying fossils to confuse scientists.  What a practical joker, that big guy!  Ahem.

If I were in that situation, I'd try to work on her slowly and gently, and only when she brings up the subject.  Beyond that, you can help her out by just continuing to live a good life.  Leading by example, essentially.

Of course free advice is worth what you pay for it, and it sounds like you're doing a great job by yourself.

Thanks for sharing your story.

If it were me in your position, I just wouldn't talk about religion with her at all anymore.  She knows where you stand, and you know she's nice, but not the brightest.  You can just be co-workers who are pleasant to each other. 

The funny thing is that people like that think of atheists as the kind of people who would kick Christians out of their homes.

That's especially ironic as atheists have been kicked out of christian facilities when the atheists were revealed as such.  What a lovely christian gesture, eh?  Well, maybe not lovely.

But awfully typical.

No, not lovely, but certainly christian. You would think they would be forgiving. Oh wait, silly me. I forgot. They have a monopoly on truth, and can't be bothered will all that 'morality' nonsense.

I think you handled the situation very will.  You put her in a position trying to defend her comparison of an atheist with a rapist and she failed miserably.  She lost her coveted Christian moral haughtiness due to her ignorance and prejudice and she knew it, enter the backpedaling.  If the subject comes up again ask her if she has read Matthew 7:1-3. I'll be surprised if she has.

John Aultman is 100% correct here.

Christine, it’s long been my experience that most (well, many) Christians are very fixated on “titles” or “labels”, and enjoy using deflection (“you must've been very scarred”) to avoid having any wrongdoing in their social interactions. You might arouse the same response by muttering something about Hitler and much of the Nazi army as being a Christian and sparing the Vatican when his troops arrived in Italy. At which point you might also see another tool Christians like to use, revisionism.

In any case I agree with Loren and Michael, your friend is... impaired... slightly. I also have some friend’s who are similarly inclined and it’s very rare that we talk about religion, but when we do it’s generally from an abstract sense and never to attack one another.

Christine, you responded beautifully and powerfully. I would not have been so nice, but then, I am not known for my peaceful nature. My goal, when facing a person such as you describe, is to make them feel so intimidated that they wouldn't bring up the subject again. I know! That is not the "right" way to do it. I agree with Peter Boghossian and know he has a far superior process than mine. I consider such people as a virus and treat them as such. My daughter tells me that is why I am so rude and crude. She is right. I have things to do and don't want to be around toxic people. 

If my goal were to convince them of other values I would spend the time and energy to make it happen. That, however, is not my goal. An individual who believes in superhuman powers, who puts his or her trust in being protected by that unseen, unheard, unknowable power, who seeks victory over another, who judges others based on a set of values that produce no validity for me, who is capable of doing anything to fulfil his or her delusional values, and who believes there is one right way and all others are wrong, has too much baggage and it crosses over into how they see the world and others, how they think and how they act. 

What I do is to be honest, clear, specific,and  concrete about my ideas, express them with competence and confidence, enjoy all that is healthy and brings happiness to myself and others, and listen to others as they express their ideas. I don't listen to dogma. I've heard it all before and don't need to hear it again. 

I also seek to see reality in its true form. When I hear a religious person condone spanking a child and call it discipline, I perceive it as an assault and intervene. Or hear a religious person agree with a husband hitting his wife, there is no question to me that is assault. He wouldn't do that to the queen of England, why should he feel he has the right to do it to wife or children. The notion of entitlement runs rampant in religious circles. No taxes on property or income, is outrageous. Why should taxpayers pay for people to be supplicants to a delusion?

When I observe a football team or player praying for victory in a public display of their faith, I interpret that is exhibitionism. They can make fools of themselves if they want to and I can express my opinion. After all, doesn't the bible say to pray in private? Public displays of devotion obviously violate that imperative. 

My workplace is very diverse.  We have workplace goals to achieve, performance measures, surveys, and other stuff. 

In general, I fee that religion has no place in the workplace.  People are only human, and it comes up, but when people discuss religion, my normal response is "I try not to discuss religion at work" and leave it at that.  When people - not coworkers - bring it up, I don't respond, or I say something to the effect of "It's good to have community" or "people who you can depend on".  If they press me, I respond "It's important for people to know that I treat everyone with full respect regardless of their beliefs.  So I don't discuss mine".

That usually does it.  Of course, in most things, I think of the best thing to say a day, a week, or a year later.

Thanks for all the feedback! It's definitely tricky discussing these things in the workplace, but let's face it, I spend more time with these people (or about as much) as with my friends and family. Plus, there are a lot of smart and interesting people from a variety of cultures, so it's hard NOT to talk.

If anything, I spend all day with my earbuds in (listening to The Athiest Experience, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Penn Jillette etc. etc.) trying to avoid conversations. Cube Neighbor asks a lot of questions, I suspect as a polite conversation tactic (you know, show an interest in others) and it's hard to stop the momentum once we get to talking! We do seem to have a lot in common personality-wise.

I don't normally bring up religion, but it finds its way in. I'm at fault for mentioning my MIL last time, but she will ask me stuff.

Another funny note: She told me about a week ago how some kids from her sunday school class brought in The Satanic Bible and asked her if they should read it, or something. They didn't mention it to their parents, and she said she wouldn't tell them either.

She was wondering how to handle the situation; I suggested she look it over and ensure it wasn't anything over-the-top, and not make a big deal out of it- take away the mystery.

She hasn't mentioned it since, but this morning, out of curiosity, I looked it up on Amazon. Turns out it averages 4 out of 5 stars, and that it doesn't involve midnight blood sacrifices in the nude (as one reviewer put it!) Basically, it endorses each of the "seven deadly sins" and explains how they are actually virtues. I thought it sounded like an interesting take on the concept, actually. Like a fun philosophical exercise- how could those 7 "sins" be virtuous? Pride, for example, is motivation for people to take care of themselves, look good, etc.

Basically, it's just a BOOK. It was written fairly recently, and if it were published under the title "The George Costanza Approach to Success- Just Do the Opposite," it would probably sell like hotcakes with zero stigma. But OMFG, it's got "Satanic" on the cover!! Jeepers!!!

So I mentioned it to her this afternoon, and she sounded curious, but then didn't say anything when I told her it was no big deal. I bet she never gives it back to the kids, and would prefer to believe that it's indeed a threat to the world at large.

She probably can't tell her fellow cult members that she's friendly with an atheist, so she needs me to re-label myself. Or something. Pretty sad.

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