Religion, Be Damned

Last week, my company brought in a facilitator to lead a day-long session on Relationship Building and Professional Networking. Sounds like a non-offensive, albeit boring, way to spend the day, right? Wrong. At first, the facilitator seemed quite amiable (perhaps a little too amiable for my liking), and he was fairly competent from what I had heard. In fact, I quite liked him at the beginning of the day’s session and was looking forward to a productive and enjoyable day. Soon, however, my hopes came crashing down.

It was mid-morning, and our facilitator was waxing about the simplicity and ease with which we could all network. “We all have plenty of opportunities to network in our everyday lives,” he said. “The key is to recognize and take advantage of them.”

I nodded politely and wondered when the sandwiches for lunch would be arriving.

“Think about how many people you know from your church,” he went on. I sat up. I did not know anyone from my church. In fact, being a Jew (and a secular Jew, at that), it turned out I did not even have a church. “Church is a great place to network. And if you don’t go…” Okay, good! Whew. He was acknowledging that some people were not Christian or religious. “- you should start, if for nothing more than the networking it provides.”

I blinked. This couldn’t be serious. Didn’t he just violate about eight company policies and/or federal anti-discrimination laws with that statement? I looked around the room, mouth open in shock, expecting looks of horror on my coworkers’ faces. My coworkers, however, were sitting perfectly still, nodding occasionally so as to look interested. No one had even registered the innuendo, despite its utter lack of subtlety. When a statement confirms something one already believes or does, people are far less likely to immediately realize how it can be presumptuous and condescending for those who don’t, as I suspected was the case with my Christian coworkers.

“I am NOT a Christian!” I wanted to shout at this facilitator. “How dare you assume everyone is Christian by default! How on earth could you know what my religious views are, or if I even have any?”

I did not shout, however. What I did do, though, was decide to make his job surprisingly difficult by asking inane questions and debating innocuous points throughout the rest of the day. (“Being genuine helps build better relationships? Oh? Do you have any data to back that up [you lunatic]?” – I left the lunatic part out, but bolded it in my brain.) I will add that the day proved remarkably more entertaining from that moment on.

Perhaps now would be a good time to tell you that my new favorite pastime, if you could even call it a pastime, has been taking on religious extremism and general ignorance, one crazy Bible-thumper at a time. I’m passionately agnostic (which is very much the same as saying that I am decidedly undecided) and currently regard the scientific method as the only path to true enlightenment. If someone can prove something to me, one way or another, I welcome it. Until then, I’m skeptical.

I’ve been active for some time on a particular message board – how that came to be is a story for another post – and have recently discovered the acute joys of taking snarky and well-articulated jabs at some of its fanatical members who would hold others to the same arbitrary moral codes that they impose upon themselves. Now, I have no problem with people living their own lives in whatever loony manner they see fit. What irks me, though, is when people deign to control the free will of others by judging them against religious codes to which not everyone subscribes. My philosophy? Everyone has the right to live their lives as they see fit, so long as they do not infringe on that right for others. Laws should only exist to protect people from infringing on others’ right to freedom (i.e. I can’t legislate who you marry since it does not directly impact me, but I can legislate that you don’t steal from me since it obviously does impact me). I guess, at heart, I may be more of a libertarian than I previously thought.

I wasn’t always so anti-religion. In fact, as my best friend declares, I used to be a Zionist. I admit, there was a time in my life when I wanted to grow up, marry an Israeli soldier, and breed lots and lots of Israeli children. (I am not Israeli, so this grand plan would have also involved moving halfway around the world.) However, I’ve since grown up and, I’d like to think, matured. Rather than disliking specific religions, I now dislike the institution of religion and thus, dislike all religions – and all religious fanatics – equally.

How very egalitarian!

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