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I'm working in a small office of about ten employees, all of whom are religious apart from myself.

Although I'm open about my atheism and write about it on my blog, I am careful not to discuss religion at work. That is, I will not bring up the subject. However, if anyone else mentions it, I make a point of saying something. Since I was brought up Christian and read their book as well as went to church for many years, I am quite comfortable discussing any aspect of it and probably know as much about it as my colleagues, just minus the belief.

Recently, a colleague asked that I do not make any comments because his beliefs are strongly held and he took offense to something I said, without revealing what it was. I thought the comment was odd, since the last time I mentioned religion was several weeks ago. At an office meetup in a restaurant, someone else raised the subject of bacon being against some religions. Thus I pointed out that wearing mixed fabrics and eating shellfish are also forbidden, and commented that the rules of this deity seem somewhat arbitrary.

I thought this was unfair, given the habit of my superior, who often tells people, if I sneeze, "Don't say 'bless you'. It offends him." It doesn't offend me, but his comment does. It's not as if anyone is literally intending some sort of religious blessing whenever anyone sneezes, so the end result is that my atheism is occasionally brought up as a topic of discussion, whether I want it or not.

The person who suggests that he doesn't like my comments is very young and insecure. How do I politely tell him that I do not intend to make any comments about religion, but also make it clear that if the subject is raised, I can talk about it just like anyone else? And he probably won't like what I have to say...

Commenter Erik asked about my location... I'm in Johannesburg, South Africa. Although there's a strong online atheist community, most people are religious here, and being an atheist is pretty rare. It's normal to be the only atheist in the office.

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    I pointed out that wearing mixed fabrics and eating shellfish are also forbidden, and commented that the rules of this deity seem somewhat arbitrary. Could you expand your question with other examples of how you participate in religious discussions? The one example you gave seems more like heckling than honest, open discussion. – BlackThorn Aug 21 '18 at 16:45
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    I mean, you did take a quick jab at his religion, even though it was quite minor. Do you think this issue would have occurred if you would have simply stated that mixed-fabric and shellfish were against some religions, without adding in your opinion on the silliness of such a combination of forbidden items? If so, can you provide more examples or details to make it apparent? – Clay07g Aug 21 '18 at 17:23
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    "However, if anyone else mentions it, I make a point of saying something." Are you already part of the conversation when you do this, or is it just one that is taking place near you? – eyeballfrog Aug 21 '18 at 19:03
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    To give more context to the conversation, it was a secular Jew who does eat bacon occasionally, and it was a conversation that involved me, and others who happen to be Christian. It was relevant to point out that the rules seem arbitrary. Because they are. The conversation did not involve the person who took offense though, but he was in earshot. – Jerome Viveiros Aug 22 '18 at 4:56
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    I can't imagine very many scenarios in which telling someone that a core part of their belief system is arbitrary is appropriate. Did someone else start a conversation on the validity of the religion? Or were you the first to discuss validity? For example, at places I've worked, talking about religion is fine. Discussing the validity of a religion is not okay. I still cannot tell what category your conversation falls under, so can you provide more details? – Clay07g Aug 22 '18 at 17:50

16 Answers 16

111

I am an atheist, I know many atheists and people of other religions personally and have witnessed many "discussions" turn into full on yelling matches, which is why I refuse to participate unless I am talking with a close friend.


That is, I will not bring up the subject. However, if anyone else mentions it, I make a point of saying something.

Rhetorical question: Why comment? I understand that you have the knowledge to discuss it, but challenging people on their religious (or political) beliefs all the time gets annoying. You are just going to alienate your coworkers and make them dislike you by doing this.

If you don't want to invite these discussions with your office neighbor you have to not be receptive to having an argument in the first place. When your supervisor makes the snarky remark, just roll your eyes and shrug it off. Act like you don't know what he's talking about and ignore any questions that may poke at you.

The key point that always gets brought up against my atheist friends when they try to debate is that they are very condescending and intolerant of religion, and always challenge anything someone says about religion. I understand that you may not act like this, but I don't know you act real life. Simply be the bigger person and just let it go. People will stop bothering you as much if you don't react.

Now, to deal with your supervisor, I would recommend simply asking them to stop, privately. Explain that while they may think it is a joke, you don't appreciate it and you would like them to stop. Hopefully they will be receptive to this, and to maximize your chances of getting these comments to stop, avoid being hostile or too direct so that you don't make them upset. Ripping what zanahorias said in their answer:

Explain it to him like you did us: that people saying "bless you" does not offend you, but that his comment does.

Good advice, I just wish I could have written it a bit quicker.


While you may think it is a double standard, you already pointed out that this company is entirely full of Christians except for you. I wouldn't even be surprised if the reverse situation was occurring right now, with nine atheists against one Christian.

I'm in Johannesburg, South Africa. Although there's a strong online atheist community, most people are religious here, and being an atheist is pretty rare. It's normal to be the only atheist in the office.

As I stated earlier, going around challenging everyone's strongly held beliefs could cause you to lose respect in their eyes, so be cautious. A wise man once said nothing, after all.

56

I suggest you take an approach that is apologetic, but firm. For example, you could say:

I apologize for offending you with my comments about religion, and I will not make such comments unprompted. However, when we are having discussions about religion, I have the same right as you to contribute to the discussion. I respect your beliefs surrounding religion and I expect you to respect mine, whether or not you agree with them. It is clear that we will likely never agree about religion, so let's agree to disagree.

This way, you acknowledge his feelings while still standing your ground that your opinion matters. You also acknowledge your difference in beliefs and remind him that both of you are allowed to have these beliefs, and neither is superior to the other.

As for the "bless you" comments that your superior is making, I suggest that you bring it up with him in private. Explain it to him like you did us: that people saying "bless you" does not offend you, but that his comment does. This way, your point is clearly communicated but your boss will not feel uncomfortable by being called out in front of others.

If/when your atheism is brought up in conversation against your will, simply tell the group that you would prefer they don't discuss your religious beliefs. You could then change the subject to something more appropriate.

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    I feel scammed when I receive apologies followed by "however". The lesson on respect sounds a bit condescending. You could just say sorry for the offence and that you preffer to avoid the topic in the future. You can then give the repesct lesson at the appropriate time (when/if they tease you). – Guillaume Aug 24 '18 at 8:44
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Being a person with strong beliefs, you're unlikely to "make friends and influence others" by arguing with people who also have strongly held beliefs. More, or less, you're a bit more likely to alienate your religious co-workers by talking about their religion, than you are to get them to question their deeply held beliefs.

That's not to say that you should bite your tongue and not speak up in these conversations, just saying that tact can go a long way.

In my opinion, and experience, the subject is either up for discussion or it isn't; people are either free to discuss their beliefs or they're not. The idea that it's ok for only religious folks to talk about religion is a bit silly in most contexts.

The thing that tends to make a big difference, is how the beliefs are discussed. Tact. Are you attacking their deeply held beliefs, or are you discussing your own? Showing a baseline of respect to your peers, and by extension their beliefs, can go a long way towards making these discussions less painful.

Trust me, I know how hard that is in some cases... I fall into a demographic that many religions openly persecute/d, and as hard as it is at times, I try really hard not to blow up at them. Sometimes it's better to let them see through their own eyes that their beliefs about people like me are unfounded. This often feels like the labor of Sisyphus, but it's still better than denouncing thier deity/s and confirming thier preconceived notions. (Honestly I still struggle with this, but I'm making an effort... It can be amazingly cathartic to bash back, even when knowing that it's often counter productive.)

So... Rather than:

Your beliefs about X are inconsistent, false, and thus laughable.

Try:

My beliefs about X are...

21

I see a variety of ways this could go. I think that in the end, if the religious discussion is producing conflict, the solution isn't to insist on your right to discuss, but to ask them not to discuss.

The variety of ways:

Example 1

Joe: "No bacon for me."

Fred: "Is that because you keep kosher? You know, that would also mean that you can't use mixed fiber (etc., etc., etc.). Your religion seems pretty inconsistent."

Here, Fred is the person who brought up religion and behaved inappropriately.

Example 2

Joe: "No bacon for me."

Fred: "Oh, you have to try it--it's delicious."

Joe: "I can't--it's a religion thing."

Fred: "I'll bet you're wearing mixed fibers (etc., etc., etc.). Your religion seems pretty inconsistent."

Here, Joe brought up religion, but only through necessity. Fred is still at fault.

Example 3

Joe: "Club sandwich, please."

Fred: "You know that has bacon?"

Joe: "Not a problem. I don't keep kosher."

Fred: "Ah. Just making sure you knew."

Here, everybody's fine.

Example 4

Joe: "In my religion, bacon is forbidden because reason and reason. Historically, this reason and also reason. Some people also argue it's reason."

Fred: "You know, I've always wondered why restrictions on pork are strictly enforced, but others that would seem to be just as important based on the text--for example, about mixed fibers--aren't. It always struck me as inconsistent."

Joe: "Yeah, that's because reason--or possibly reason."

Here, IMO everybody is fine. If there was a preexisting rule against any religious discussion, Joe was wrong to raise it, but it seems to me that everybody is being civil.

Example 5

Joe: "In my religion... (same as above)."

Fred: "You know, I've always wondered why...(same as above)"

Joe: "I don't appreciate you criticizing my religion."

Fred: "Um. I thought we were discussing religion. No problem--let's talk baseball."

Joe: "After all, religious reason and religious reason."

Fred: "Joe? I understand that you don't want me to talk religion, but in that case I need to ask you to stop talking religion."

Here, everybody could have been fine if Joe had backed off after what looked like an initial misunderstanding, but Joe is wrong to persist.

Example 6

Joe: "In my religion...(new comment)"

Fred: "Joe, we agreed last time on no religious discussion. Let's talk baseball."

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    This answer illustrates the best what the OP might have misunderstood. However, for the sake of completeness, it would be nice to include an example between #2 and #3, which is the same as #2 but Fred's last line is "Oh, I understand." instead of #2's ending, showing that everyone is fine, and despite religion having been brought up, it didn't cause any trouble or hurt feelings. Also, in this case it was a necessity, so even if religious discussion in general would be disallowed, this little would be still acceptable. – vsz Aug 23 '18 at 11:35
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I think you are right when you say there is a double-standard. I am a devout Hindu and if I can talk about my beliefs, you as an Atheist are also allowed to talk about your beliefs. (Atheism is discussed as being it's own "religion" in Hindu scriptures, because it's a way of life a person adopts for himself.)

The problem occurs because people usually take it as all religions on one side (believers in God) and atheists on the other side. I actually don't agree with this way of putting things. But since, as you mentioned, they take offense when you say something as part of the conversation, I would say "why bother?".

Just walk off, although I feel they will be offended even by this when it happens a few times. Open discussion requires an open mind and if they don't have it now, I don't think they will have it in the near future. In any case, it's highly important to keep things cool at work and since you are alone in your way of thinking you will have to let it go even if you don't like it.

11

I think the important question for you to ask yourself here is, why has this become such a big deal for you?

If the answer is that your colleagues are making you feel mocked or harassed about your identity as an atheist, the answer is clear. You should attempt to make an arrangement with them of mutual effort to not make anyone feel uncomfortable for their religious (or non-religious) identity. However, this will mean you also have to commit to not bringing your views on religion out if religion is being discussed.

I too was raised as part of a Christian faith and am now not religious (not an atheist, just not religious). So I feel relatively confident in challenging your assertion that you 'know as much about it' as they do. You have little or no idea what it means for this religion to be a fundamental part of your identity. For you it is at best academic; for them it is their lives. Your attempts to discuss religion in a purely factual sense probably insult your colleagues in a similar way as a colleague with children might be insulted by unsolicited parenting advice from someone who proclaims themselves of the childfree sect. Knowing a lot about something is not the same as living it. And discussing something as someone who is a known opponent of it is different to discussing something that is an interest or part of your identity.

You describe the colleague you offended as being 'insecure', but being offended by someone speaking up against something you care about whenever it is discussed seems fairly rational to me. If I liked a TV show and every time I discussed the latest episode with work colleagues this one colleague who was known to dislike it kept pointing out plot holes and bad acting, I would be offended and consider their behaviour antisocial. I would wonder at their insecurity to want to cause discord just because they don't share in something everyone else likes.

I don't know the extent to which your colleagues' discussion of religious matters is toxic, but the good thing is it is probably within your power to de-escalate the current tension somewhat. As everyone with the exception of you sees religion as a normal part of their lives, you will have to accept it will come up. If you feel determined to take part in these conversations, rather than pointing out the flaws in ancient religious texts maybe you could ask your colleagues some questions about the role of religion in their lives. You might be surprised to find their reasons for being religious are not what you assume. In turn they will probably feel more positively towards you for not assuming that you know as much as they do about this integral part of their lives and may even want to ask you questions about your situation of not being religious.

7

Flip your question around.

I realize the inverse is not exactly symmetrical, but it's still a useful exercise in interpersonal relations.

Consider the following scenario: under what circumstances would it be appropriate for a religious person to interrupt a conversation about the banalities of religion with a discussion of the fiery afterlife that awaits you? Or, more benignly, just share their beliefs in an attempt to bring you back into the fold?

It isn't going to be your online atheist chatgroup.

But what if it was a long time friend? One who you had a long history of mutual respect with, who was obviously doing it out of concern for you, etc.? Evangelism (for religion or against it) works best in the context of a solid relationship. That person might not change you views, but your reaction to the attempt will likely be totally different than one of your coworkers walking up to your desk and telling you that you're going to hell.

Again, I realize that the two situations are not totally symmetrical, but in the minds of your coworkers they aren't preaching fire and brimstone at you, so you shouldn't be poking holes in their conversations about Christianity. And because I know people are going to complain even though I've already added two caveats, remember that whether or not that thought is justified is irrelevant: you're trying to get along with your coworkers. Trying to have a rational, logical discussion about a topic that to them eclipses human reason is not going to make friends in the context of a work relationship.

All of this of course goes out the window if they start e.g. mocking atheism, then it's their behavior that violates the unspoken "live and let live" social contract.

7

I'm going to take a different tack from the other answers, and instead suggest your colleagues should become more familiar with the field of Apologetics if they plan to "talk shop" around you. Apologetics is the systematic defense of religious belief through logical argument.

Because Apologetics is so well-established, there is no reason your colleagues have to fall back on some weak denial when presented with an apparent contradiction. Instead it should motivate them to do the research and find out the source of the contradiction, and the doctrines that resolve it.

Not to mention it's hypocritical to suggest that your atheist assertions are offensive while their Christian assertions are not. Anytime they say something like that, you could just reflect it back at them:

Well, your insistence that there is a God offends my deeply held belief that there isn't.

To paraphrase Monty Python, that's not argument, that's just contradiction. It's silly, and moreover it stifles the flow of interfaith dialogue that is the foundation of societies that value religious freedom.

Those involved in Apologetics know this and relish a good religious debate. Their faith is strong enough to stand up to a few knocks; moreover they can throw a few good punches themselves. I suspect that, if they do a little research, they can find counter-arguments to most (if not all) of the typical "atheist" positions.

Rather than picking apart your colleagues' beliefs, I would instead focus on the following:

  1. Their religious beliefs and practices don't offend you because you know what you believe to be true. In the same way, your beliefs shouldn't offend them, if they are similarly firm in their convictions.

  2. There is an entire school of Christian philosophy, dating back 2000 years, that supports the free and rational defense of Christian belief.

  3. Religious debate can actually strengthen their beliefs, especially if they come up with an argument you (the atheist) can't counter. Again, if they have the courage of their convictions, they should give you their best shot.

Basically, let them know that your presence as the "loyal opposition" can be for their own good, in that it deepens their understanding of Christian thought, and shifts their belief from simple faith to a more stable, rational foundation. Otherwise, if they are too apprehensive about a little friendly discussion, they can always avoid the topic when they are around you.


That being said, it is a problem is that this happens in the workplace, where you can't leave, and you have tasks to perform. Unfortunately, this is subject to your employer's discretion, albeit constrained by labor law. This seems to be the most relevant bit:

S6 of the Employment Equity Act: “No person may unfairly discriminate, directly or indirectly, against an employee, in any employment policy or practice, on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, family responsibility, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, HIV status, conscience, belief, political opinion, culture, language, birth or on any other arbitrary ground”. source

In other words, if your colleagues are free to discuss religion in the workplace, your employer cannot legally prevent you from doing the same. If the topic comes up (e.g. "that offends me") then you can always mention that it's only fair that you get your turn.

  • I like your point that they cannot discriminate, and I am legally free to talk about religion too. But I'm thinking this isn't conducive to a cordial working relationship with my colleague. All the answers here are good. I'm having trouble choosing the best one... – Jerome Viveiros Aug 22 '18 at 5:44
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    @JeromeViveiros the point is to demonstrate how the "I'm offended" rebuttal cuts both ways. If it doesn't reflect your actual belief, then modify appropriately -- as you say, they can't claim a right they refuse to extend to their opponents. In any case your working relationship already leaves you feeling excluded, so probably the best thing is for your employer to suggest all conversation while at work be work-related. Failing that, I figure you're free to indulge your inner iconoclast, since you can't legally be fired for expressing your opinions. – Andrew Aug 22 '18 at 11:27
3

I see myself in you.

While I don't have quite the same scenario, (I'm atheistic but in a more atheist-friendly environment), I'm a Vegan and have very much the same kinds of situations on that subject instead.

I sometimes have people tip-toeing about when ordering non-vegan food when we go to restaurants, even though I really don't care (similar to your boss suggesting that saying "bless you" is offensive to you) and if people say things that I regard as stupid or uninformed about my diet, or about non-vegan diets, I'm often prone to jumping in with what I perceive at the time as friendly conversation but which is basically antagonism with a smile. I can't help but poke at the subject when it comes up.

It's very likely that you've established yourself as being in a counter-position to religion, not simply for yourself, but for others. Any conversation you have on the subject would reinforce this notion that you are in effect being antagonistic, even if it's not meant to come across that way.

You represent contrary opinions where everyone else is in an echo chamber of agreement, and that will set people on edge.
Your colleagues are normal, you are not. You represent a threat to normality, you are evidence that there is more than one way to live one's life. A challenge to How Things Are.
Beliefs are frequently tied closely to identity, and challenging them even obliquely is essentially a personal attack. How well people roll with it is rather more variable.
Your young offended colleague likely feels uncomfortable for those reasons as much as anything else.

So to answer the question, ask yourself if you want to be:

1) ...a Frame-Challenge to your co-workers' lives

or if you'd rather just...

2) ...get along with them.

Assuming the first, consider very carefully how you talk about religion. You'll want to make really sure you're actually debating rather than simply challenging them when they aren't expecting it. Most people don't expect a debate on subjects they believe in.

Assuming the second, Bite your tongue and don't contribute to conversations about religious matters unless asked for your view. That's the simplest solution I can see for your problem. It's a professional environment and people's personal beliefs, however widespread, shouldn't have any bearing on it.

That second one works pretty well for me most of the time.

  • Have you weighed-in on some of the frame-challenges to veganism? – elliot svensson Aug 23 '18 at 16:06
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    I try really hard not to. I think the reality is that most of the time nobody really benefits from those conversations. I've been that way in the past, but it's not a discussion I care to have anymore. – Ruadhan2300 Aug 24 '18 at 22:05
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Perhaps you could ask if there could be a policy that a specific subject will be off topic and not brought up at the office, in this case religion.

It's easy to think about it using a different subject.

For example:

You think a particular football team is the best, they can do no wrong; even if they came in last.

All your coworkers feel the same way, about a different team.

or

You must have the office window open, for fresh air; it affects your health.

Your coworkers are concerned about their health too, but they want the window closed.

Right or wrong usually the majority rules, but if you can explain that having the conversation leads to bad feelings, doesn't further productivity, and has nothing to do with the work you are doing, perhaps people will agree it is time wasted.

It is usually the basis of such beliefs (yours or theirs, and other religions) that there is a dichotomy, you can only have one belief; otherwise you are wrong. That is what certainly makes someone (or some group/groups) wrong. Failing any proof to support one's position and lack of any necessity to bring it up it's best for everyone to find something else to discuss, like work.

1

Depending on how confrontational you want to be, you could ask this person to stop airing their religious views in your presence - or you could simply walk away, metaphorically, by saying something non-committal or indicating that you don't care. But both these scenarios are less than ideal, because they inevitably lead to conflict - what you really need is a kind of truce, where you can be true to yourself and express you opinions, and they can feel that you are not attacking something is important to them.

It is a difficult one, really, because on one hand, you clearly feel that it is rather oppressive; on the other hand, religious people are quite often fundamentally insecure - at least that is my experience - and easily take offence and feel that you are onto their case.

What I have learned over the years, working in UK with colleagues from a wide range of backgrounds, is to be open, direct and respectful in my atheism. It is perhaps easier for me, because I am genuinely interested in other cultures, so I will ask about their traditions etc - and I will also express my complete lack of belief in religious matters. Respect is central here - I try to find common ground rather than attacking their beliefs; all cultures I am aware of share a large core of moral values, things like honesty, trustworthyness, caring for your family and children etc. This establishes a relationship, where you can disagree on more peripheral matters without causing major conflicts.


In conclusion, I think you need to seek a compromise that is acceptable to all involved. Find out why this person feels you are too much, and be willing to accept that it is a real issue for that person, even if it is trivial in your opinion. Then work together to establish a protocol that works for both.

1

I’d just play it safe. The fact is that while it’s not fair for someone to make comments that may offend one of your disposition and then hold you accountable for doing the same to them, you’re better off not saying anything that will offend them if it has no real necessity.

For example, as a Jew I often hear what are misconceptions about the Bible. If I’m involved in a conversation where it comes up, I won’t make an effort to correct it unless the other people show interest in my opinion. There are a couple of reasons why stating my opinion could be offensive, so it’s best avoided.

1

It may help to view the problem objectively, without the religious angle. If you can keep that angle out of the initial analysis, your problem is almost solved, if you see the underlying problem, which is a matter of debate, literally, a question of manners and politeness as a matter of rhetorics.

If you are anything like me, you try to be provocative. You demand equal standing because it's not there. The others might be willing to grant that, but not more. Your actions are paradox, because you are trying to involve them in a discussion that should end in the conclusion that there was nothing to discuss. This is subversive.

Provocation is often interrupting the discourse, trying to take the lead in the discussion. But if you change the topic of the discussion, that is destructive. As a side note: Think of pro-vocation as talking (voco) before (pro) others, or rather, trying to do so when others are speaking, as disruption. So you might have appeared aggressive and destructive.

Instead, you may try to be constructive. You need a set of axioms (your working hypothesis) and a set of basic values (ground truth) -- Even if you don't have any ground truth, that's your ground truth. That goes without saying, literally. Further, your wish to take part in the lunch time discussion should be worthwhile. If that's a mutual feeling, then, at the very least, if you test out your arguments with their help, it depends on cooperation. So the argument needs to be approachable, digestible, and open to discussion. Proof by contradiction can work, if the issue is a very simple, but otherwise the law of the exclude middle ... well, it excludes compromise.

An uncompromising tone can violate the principle of openness, so much so that it shouldn't be taken serious. Propositions are just that. Whereas a question serves more than offering a proposition, because it also subpositions the propositions rank as dependent on modular predicates.

The modality in question here is whether your convictions hold stronger, which depends on the other's convictions. Given the aforementioned claim, you might rest easy on the assumption that the other convictions are also just propositions that they are testing out. So the best you can do is be an example of your own conviction. If that does not include any religious believe, don't build your own believe on disbelieve if there is enough shared believe to build on.

It becomes difficult if the disbelieve encroaches on your own believe, I know, but that is most often consequence of rather worldly affairs. Your boss supposes protection for you. Try to embrace the merit.

1

make it clear that if the subject is raised, I can talk about it just like anyone else

Perhaps you shouldn't, though.

Imagine a German scholar and a French scholar -- the German scholar likes to talk abut German, and the French scholar likes to talk about French -- all well and good.

It's less good if the German scholar says, "French literature is horrible, self-contradictory, stupid, a waste of time, and people who like it are idiots."

Perhaps it would be fair to explain atheism, if it comes up as a topic of conversation -- "Is it true that you don't like people saying 'bless you'?"

But don't take that as a carte blanche to criticise other people nor their religion[s].

One of the characteristics of a "sectarian" is the view that "only this is true, everything else is false" --perhaps you shouldn't do the same yourself?

Perhaps your attitude to religions might be, "don't criticise what you don't understand." Of course it's legitimate for you to decide that a religion is not worth learning, not worth understanding -- but when I have to draw a line somewhere (which everyone does, especially in matters of religion) then I draw it somewhere like there -- i.e. that your opinions as an atheist are kind of off-topic when the topic is religion.

I don't think it is a "double standard". It's like, my opinions as a vegetarian are off-topic when people are talking about their eating meat -- and they might know I'm vegetarian, it would be impolite though (perhaps unfriendly, intolerant, tending toward intolerable or insufferable) to interject my disapproving views into the conversation each time they discuss the topic amongst themselves in my company. People already know my opinion, more or less, and if or when they want more they can ask.

"Religious tolerance" suggests you shouldn't criticise their views, should let them be free to choose their own. And don't make a religion out of criticising theirs.


Incidentally I think this is more-or-less the policy on Stack Exchange, for example -- on the religion sites, to answer questions about one sect without being gratuitously critical of others; and on stackoverflow, to answer questions about a programming language without criticising others.


Also, in the same vein, consider using "I-messages":

In interpersonal communication, an I-message or I-statement is an assertion about the feelings, beliefs, values etc. of the person speaking, generally expressed as a sentence beginning with the word "I", and is contrasted with a "you-message" or "you-statement", which often begins with the word "you" and focuses on the person spoken to.

For example, saying "I believe this" is much politer than saying "You are stupid to believe that".

If an "I" message contains "you-messages", it can be problematic in conflict situations.

And saying, "I believe you're stupid" isn't a good example of politeness.

1

It is important that if something angers you or frustrates you that you do not discuss it until you are no longer angered or frustrated by it. You must wait. Then at another time approach the person and ask if they remember the incident. You can then tell them that what they were asking or discussing was putting you in an impossible situation. You are telling them not to do that again, please. This should clue them in that there are lasting consequences to their light entertainment and that you wish them to knock it off.

  • Interesting observation. Actually the incident happened a couple of months ago and I wrote about it out of curiosity because it has been on my mind. I agree with you. An emotional response doesn't do much good, despite "feeling" right at the time. – Jerome Viveiros Aug 31 '18 at 11:20
0

From how you describe things, it sounds like that what you view as "discussing" these things is viewed by your coworkers as "attacking" them, even if you're just stating objective facts ("the Bible word-for-word says...") in a neutral way. Your comment

And he probably won't like what I have to say...

shows that you realize that even your neutral comments are likely to irk some people.

I am religious and throughout my schooling have consistently been surrounded by people "attacking" me, most of the time through general observations and comments (similar to your example) but sometimes directly attacking me and my religion. It was difficult at first, but as I heard what people said, I gradually developed an ability to identify where, when viewed by my set of beliefs, the logic of their statements broke down and I no longer felt threatened by such comments. It sounds like your colleague is still in the "it was difficult at first" stage of a development that parallels mine, at least possibly. There's a lot I could say to help him, but he's not the one asking the question.

To address your question, I think it's important to have an honest conversation where you try to figure out exactly what you said that offended him, see if it's something you should fix/apologize for, and try to understand each other better. Then you can explain that it's not fair for him to expect that he can discuss religion but abridge your right to do so. And on your part, you should assess the comments you make to see if their intent is to simply converse on a subject or if (perhaps unknowingly) you are actually trying to attack their beliefs. If the latter, I think it's likely you'll offend again if such comments continue.

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