Discussion by: petermead1
I have a dilemma. One of my coworkers, whom I have known for several months now, recently opened up to me about his religious beliefs. I do not remember how the conversation initially began, but the subject of religion somehow became the primary topic. I told him that I wasn't religious and that I didn't really "believe in anything." He responded with something to the effect of, "Yeah, I don't really believe in God or any of that stuff. It just doesn't make sense, and there isn't enough evidence behind it." I looked at him and asked, "So, you're an atheist like me then, right?" When I called him an "atheist," he literally FLINCHED. He snapped at me, "Don't call me that!" I asked him why. He responded by telling me that he didn't want his religious friends or family to find out and think that he was a "bad person." Instantly, I recognized a problem. I kindly explained to him that there was nothing wrong with him and that "atheist" wasn't a bad word. Our discussion about religion deepened, and I decided to get to the bottom of it. He seemed conflicted with being honest with himself and wanting to please his parents and friends. He even told me that he "made up excuses" not to go to church on sunday mornings when everyone asked him to go. (It sounded as if his entire social network is under the impression that he is just like them. Evidently, I am the only person he has ever been able to be honest to, when talking about religion.) No matter how much I tried to explain to him that there was nothing to be ashamed of, he simply couldn't feel comfortable with the word, no matter how descriptively accurate. I eventually told him that it wasn't my objective to make him think or agree with anything that he didn't want to. It makes me wonder: how many people are out there that are simply too afraid to stand up because they are worried about what other members of society may think of them? Where would we be if they weren't so fearful? I don't want to "out" people, but I do wish they could have the courage of their convictions. Any advice on how to help these people to help themselves?