Saturday, April 26, 2014
I try to be as open as I can with everyone around me about the fact that I'm an atheist, but the one area that I am most nervous about coming out is at work. Coming out to your coworkers about the fact that you don't believe in god could for some people be nerve racking, so much so that many atheists choose to keep their non belief in the closet when dealing with coworkers even though they might be out to their friends and family. The reason why this is so serious is obvious: at work our atheism might put our jobs on the line.
Now how serious this matter is all depends on your coworkers and work culture. In a perfect world, we'd all be able to be open about everything in our lives. But in the real world, some people live and work in areas where atheism is a dark and dirty word, and being labeled an atheist will immediately throw suspicion and distrust on you. Many people have been discriminated at work and fired over their atheism becoming known, and it is something that I'm sure many atheists keep in the back of their mind.
I happen to live in the secular metropolis. As a result, I don't work with deeply religious people. In my department at work, one of my coworkers is a secular Jew, another one is a non-religious theist who believes in god but is not religious about it, and another is a Hindu. None of them talk about religion all that much, but the other week I was asked bluntly by my manager if I was an atheist when I made a comment about bad reasons to be a vegetarian. It all started when I said that I respected vegetarianism but not if one does it for religious reasons. Then my vegetarian manager asked if I was an atheist and a lot of ears were listening to our conversation.
Normally, I'd be open about my atheism and perhaps even proud to announce it. But this was work, and a new job for me at that. The possibility of losing my job over my atheism crossed my mind for a split second. My answer came out but I forget my exact words. I was honest that I did not believe in god, but this kind of side tracked the conversation into the definition of atheism, which I educated my coworkers is merely the disbelief in any gods, not the certitude that no gods exist. Overall, it went down smoothly. I don't even think that my coworkers care at all whether I'm an atheist and so far it doesn't seem to have affected our relationship at all.
This is not so in many parts of the world. Part of the motivation of the secular movement is to make cultures around the world more tolerant to the atheist like myself. And the fact that I can be an open atheist with my coworkers (who themselves are not really all that religious) without any consequences shows that this movement is well motivated and effective. I think that the spread of secularism and the secular mindset is inevitable, but we must keep fighting for it. That's why it is so important that we keeping fighting for our goals, we need to make this world a safe place for atheists to be able to live openly and freely as I have the privilege of doing.
I can't give any specific advice on whether or not you should come out to your coworkers about your atheism if you haven't. You must assess the risk of possibly losing your job or a promotion given your particular situation. I have several times feigned belief in god in various circumstances to avoid the possibility of repercussions. I feel like a complete dick when I do so. Richard Dawkins has been adamant about atheists coming out of the closet and we need to do this. We also need a legal safety net that can guarantee equal protection under the law against discrimination of non-believers, not just in the secular West, but around the world. That will keep us busy for quite some time.