Turkey and I have engaged in quite a bit of pontificating recently about health care, doctors, and their maddening practices (or lack thereof). Today I introduce a new topic into the discussion, one that isn’t necessarily about doctors or their practices but one which cannot be ignored. In this case, “the clinic,” as I shall call it, serves as the backdrop for some of the most inappropriate and arrogant work behavior I have ever encountered.
First I want to make clear—a private business owner can do whatever he/she wants with his business (within the law). I understand that. So please don’t bombard me with arguments reiterating this. The right of the employer is a priori. But the thrust of this blog will be about the appropriateness of exploiting certain philosophies and beliefs in the workplace. In this specific case, I am talking about religion.
The staff members I work with are all of the Christian persuasion. How do I know this? It’s not hard. I overhear them talking about their churches, pastors, and biblical names of their newborns, ad nauseam. Not long after I began work there the owner of the practice remarked that while it was tough for him to have faith that his employees would correctly perform their job, he had no doubt that “Moses parted the Red Sea.” (He later acknowledged he had a slight control issue, but that’s another matter.)
At first, I didn’t allow all this holy talk to bother me. I liked the job, and for the most part, the people. The patients are all pretty nice, but lately I noticed they all share a similar quality. One day a pleasant young woman asked me if I had met ___________ at church. Uh, no. It then struck me that most of the patients go to the same churches as the clinic’s owners. I began to realize I was surrounded.
None of this is particularly harmful, sure. But since there are only eight of us who work at the clinic, me being the only non-religious person, I’m aware that I am often viewed with pity. Not only do I not refer to “my church” after each breath, but I live “in sin,” with a man who is some twenty years my senior. These folks, no doubt believe I am headed straight for Hell. Not that I have ever mentioned my religious beliefs nor have they attempted to proselytize to me (yet), unless you count the office manager’s efforts to harangue me into shopping at Wal Mart. No, I didn’t really start to have a problem with any of this until one morning I went to pour myself a cup of the battery acid they call coffee and encountered Jesus on the microwave.
There He was, in all of His glory, quoting Scripture (well, I guess He wouldn’t really be quoting, would He?) on the 365 pages of His day-by-day calendar. Tear off a page, get a new bible verse (New Testament, natch)!
Up until this discovery, I had turned the other cheek as the office manager, let’s call her Marion, hummed along to the Christian radio station (I might add that the station plays, dare I say, some of the most god-awful “music” I’ve ever heard). She kept the station at low volume, so I figured, what the hell?
After I was there a while, Marion began leaving at noon each day so I could take over at the desk. Great! Except that practice turned into yet another “God Encounter.” You see, Marion’s home page on the Web is a lovely site devoted to all those followers who desire to walk the fundamentalist path toward their Creator. The Enlightened are treated to such articles as “Should we curse those who hate Him,” “Be a Christian hedonist,” “Human Beings don’t deserve Him,” and my personal favorite, “Abortion = Racism,” (huh?).
I took it all in stride, even made a game out of trying to type in a more work-appropriate website (Google, for example) before Marion’s Jesus page automatically popped up. Sometimes I even won!
I should also mention, that in prominent view atop Marion’s desk, leaning against a dictionary with a copyright date of 1955, rests a bible. But it doesn’t stop there. When in conversation with Marion, she’ll always find a way to mention:
B. Her bible
It usually goes something like this: “I was making dinner the other evening and had to put down my bible so I could stir the sauce,” or “I was walking across the room the other night with my bible.” You get the idea. Recently I had the honor of having some of my creative work shown at a public venue; I invited Marion who informed me that she would love to come but “I have bible study.” Oh, too bad the exhibit falls on that particular night for you. Oh, you have bible study EVERY night. Um, okay, never mind.
Yes, Christian ideology is everywhere at the clinic, and so is the simple-mindedness that goes with good fundamentalist thinking. For example, not long ago, one of the clinicians told me that “all things in life work to the good.” Oh, you mean like the “good” that came about when those six million Jews were gassed during World War II? Or do you mean the “good” that is coming out of scores of Iraqi civilians being blown up nearly every day in Baghdad? That’s really working well for them!
So when I wandered over to the kitchen area that morning and found the Jesus calendar staring up at me, well, I guess you could say that was my tipping point…so I tipped…the calendar over…face down. Later it was resurrected and is now firmly in place next to the radio. Well, at least it’s sitting up high atop a file cabinet, and not within my direct line of vision.
What’s my problem? How about the fact that the workplace is not an appropriate locale to bring your Jesus paraphernalia everyday? Maybe your co-workers aren’t Christian. And by the way, this goes for any religion. I don’t want to be force-fed Islam, Eastern mysticism, or Judaism on the job either. Leave your religious texts at home, and turn off the Christian pop station. You want to sing “Jesus Loves You,” join the choir.
That brings up another point. Your clients. Sure, some of them come from your church. But what about those who don’t? Do you really think they want to hear Marion humming along with Amy Grant? Or commenting on how, once her daughter graduates from college, she’s got to “get her married,” because that’s what good Christian girls all do?
There’s something rather sad and pathetic about someone who has to bring reminders of Sunday School with her to work. I guess it’s not enough to carry Jesus in one’s heart–one also has to carry the Jesus Calendar.
Yeah, yeah, if the boss approves of Marion’s actions, he—and she—has the right. I mean the boss broadcasts Fox News all day on the TV in the treatment room. But the religious thing–that’s just going too far. Religion and politics are both personal, but religion more so. Unless you work at a church or synagogue, constantly harping on your religious beliefs to your co-workers and clients is unacceptable. If it takes bringing Jesus calendars and bibles into a secular workplace each day to get you through life, maybe your faith needs a little more muscle.
So hey, Marions of the world, if you must listen to religious music at work, why not try a crossover artist like Bach (and improve your taste at the same time)? Leave the Jesus calendar in your kitchen, at home, He’ll forgive you. And please, tell your church friends to stop calling work about the bake sale—this pagan has had her fill.
Addendum: Since composing this blog several weeks ago, I’ve felt very conflicted about leaving it up on the N.T. I’ve taken it down twice. Now, re-posting it a third time, I’ve decided to let it be. You see, generally speaking, I like the people at the “clinic.” They are not mean-spirited and have shown me kindness. I also understand that we all need someone or something to lean on. In that way, few of us are all that different from the Marions of the world. However, I maintain that the work place is no place for religion.
Proving this point, I have been let go from the clinic. My boss informed me that he desired someone with more experience in the field. I don’t disbelieve him. But I also believe that if I had been a nice, church-going girl instead of a left-leaning, NPR-loving humanist, I would still be employed at the clinic, at least for a little while longer. I admit, I’ll miss the place. But it’s not good to be where you’re not wanted. And I don’t think I could have put up with the Jesus calendar much longer.
So, into the job market I go. My best to Marion. I hope she receives the comfort she desires. And I hope I find a work place that’s a bit more sensitive to its employees’ religious and political preferences. Wish me luck!