Trying to find a job while being an atheist

8 Jun

Looking for a job is always stressful. It is even more stressful when you’re the most maligned and mistrusted minority in the country, looking for work in the most hostile part of the country. Being an atheist and looking for work in the South can be a tricky predicament.

I found that out first hand over the past two days.

I’ve been looking for work since March when the company I worked for went under. I was really excited to get a call back from a company three days ago, asking if I would come in right that moment for an interview. I grabbed my stuff and drove 45 mins to the next town over. During the course of the interview the boss said I didn’t have all the experience he was looking for, but that he was in really bad need of somebody and wanted to see how fast I could pick things up. He mentioned a salary figure which I agreed to, then asked me to come in at 7am the next morning to shadow him. Throughout the interview he was giving me things to write down and to study.

I went home, extremely excited about the prospect of finally working again, and for somebody from whom I felt I could learn a lot. Then I started to explore the company’s website more in-depth as I had only a few moments quick glance before I was out the door rushing to the interview. He explicitly states on their website that it is a Christian company.

“Meh, whatever, I don’t care what they believe as long as I’m working and getting paid” I told myself. I got up at 5:30 the next morning and went to meetup with my prospective employer. We spent the morning going to a meeting and then it was off to make service calls.

The question came while we were in the car.

“This has no bearing on you getting hired, but what do you think about Obama?”

“Um…I don’t know…”

“Well do you like him or not like him?”

“Um…I’m not really a big fan?”

“For what reasons?” (I wanted to reply “Well, because he’s a center-right corporate whore parading as a progressive” But I didn’t for obvious reasons)

“For a variety of reasons, but I rather not say.”

“Ok, good, I don’t like him either. His taxes are going to crush my business.” (I wanted to point out that the president doesn’t control taxes, that congress does, and congress is republican controlled, but I doubt those facts would have either made me look good or mattered to him.)

“Can I ask you some questions about religion?” (The knot in my throat grows tighter)

“Only if you don’t mind if I don’t answer.” (“Damn I’m must sound like some secret-agent wannabe wacko” I thought.)

“Again, this is just out of personal curiosity, it doesn’t have any effect on you getting hired. What religion are you?”

“I rather not say.” *nervous laugh*

He then launches into a bit explaining how he and his wife are Christian, and that he came to realize God’s plan for his life when he almost died, was airlifted to the hospital and lived, how that got him to change his business around, etc etc…

We get to a service call and I get a reprieve. I’m extremely uncomfortable but I need this job. I need the experience and I need the skill set it will give me. So I bite my lip.

Two weeks ago my uncle almost died when he fell off a rough while working and was airlifted to a hospital. I was curious what happened to him, so I explained what happened to my uncle and asked him what happened to him. He explains how he had some rare condition and how the emergency crew in the helicopter didn’t think he was going to live, but he got to the hospital in time and Christ spared his life.

I didn’t say anything, but the whole time I was thinking: “Oh, Christ saved your life? Not the doctors with years of training? Not the paramedics and the helicopter, developed by science, that enabled you to be quickly rushed to a hospital, staffed with the fruits of scientific labor that kept you alive and saved your life. No, it was none of that, but the iron age God of the desert came down, skipping the 16,000 children that die of starvation everyday to save your butt and show you the way while you were conveniently in a first world country’s hospital attended by a swarm of doctors. Oh I see. Of course!”

But I obviously had to hold my peace.

Later I ended up driving him in the company car to a service call an hour away. He mentioned how he met his wife on eHarmony. I had tried eHarmony before in the past. I spent 45 minutes filling out their survey only to be rejected. eHarmony is a Christian oriented dating site. Atheists don’t do well on there.

Without thinking much, I mentioned how I tried eHarmony but that they rejected me.

“Why did they reject you?”

“Oh, erm…They reject you if you don’t match up with their ‘values’ system.”

“Why’s that?”

(In my head: “Shit shit shit….whatever. Fuck it. I don’t care.” Did I mention that sometimes I have a self destructive streak?)

And so I explained that I was, in fact, an atheist, that I do stuff with my local atheist community (even though I’ve been kinda off the radar for the past bit), that I used to be an evangelical as an early teenager, that religion is a interest of mine, that I’m pretty well read in it, and that I’ve been working on app development for atheist counter-apologetics apps.

The cat’s out of the bag now…

He was just kinda like “Oh…..ok…” Later he asked me “So what made you become an atheist?” I’m sure he was expecting that some disaster had befallen me and that I now hated God, or that I just wanted to lead a sinful lifestyle.

The problem with this question, besides all the problems with the situation, is that it is a trap. Most likely inadvertently, but a trap nonetheless. Let me rephrase the question and you’ll see exactly what I mean:

“So what made you abandon and discredit everything I hold dear, everything that is intimately intertwined with how I see myself and my world?”

There is absolutely no possible way I can answer that question without being offensive. There just isn’t. It’s a loaded question.

“Um…it was more of a journey for me over time.” (I wanted to say “Well, because I grew up, I read books, I experienced things outside of the narrow world view the church taught.”)

He mentioned how he never really knew any atheists, that he had come in contact with a few, and that they were all really big jerks. I mentioned that there are all types in every group, and that I’m very non-confrontational (in person) and live and let live. Oddly, he didn’t really understand what “live and let live” meant so I had to explain it to him. We really didn’t talk much the rest of the trip. He was busy working and making phone calls from the passenger seat. Throughout the day, before atheism came up, he was making me write down all the things he wanted me to study. “On Friday I’m going to have you do X, on Monday I’m going to have you do Y.” He didn’t really give me too much more to study after religion came up.

At 5pm I finally started the long drive home. I had been up for twelve hours and rushing around town with him for ten. I was exhausted. When I got home, I spent the rest of the night studying my ass off. He said I could take Thursday off to study, because it was more important that I pick up the concepts fast for when he tests me on Friday than for me to shadow him for another day.

I took a short break to get a few hours of sleep in the wee hours of Thursday morning, then was back up and studying some more. At the end of the day on Wednesday he said he might have me come in again later Thursday to do some stuff, but that he would call and let me know.

I sent him an e-mail around noon on Thursday telling him how far I’d gotten studying. (I really did learn a shit ton really fast). About an hour later I got a response:

“…My wife and I, as well as the other people in the office are discussing it, but we are thinking we need to find someone that already has extensive experience. You are doing a great job on all of this studying as far as I see it, but I am thinking a history of experience would serve us better at the moment. I am getting busier and busier by the second and I thinking it would be best for us to find someone who can hit the ground running, who would require no shadowing…

If you don’t mind, if there are any reminders on your note pad that I needed, I would really appreciate you sending them to me. I am in with a few other companies as far as passing along resumes, and I will certainly pass yours along. You have great potential!
Thank you in advance for understanding.”
I’m fucked. I didn’t get the job I desperately needed in order to give me the skill set, background, and money to accomplish my goals. I was, am, depressed. What about the ten hours I spent running around with him? I had other things I would have liked to do that day too. I probably won’t see a penny for my time.
I really do think he rejected me because I didn’t have the experience he was looking for, but part of me wonders. Even if he says that it has no effect on my getting the job, it does have an effect subconsciously in how he perceives me.
Before atheism came up, he did mention that his wife was coming on board with the company and that they would have to have dinner with me so she could meet me before they hired me. She apparently has a good sense about people, or so he told me. I wonder if his wife put her foot down at the idea of hiring an atheist. I can just imagine her asking how they’d be able to trust such a deviant, someone without morals. How could someone like that represent the family company?
Yet I have no proof of this, so it’s pure fantasy and speculation.
I would like to hope I was rejected just because of my skill set, and not that I was discriminated against based on my religious stance.
I’ll honestly never know for sure. Such are the perils of trying to find a job as an atheist in an often fundamentalist Christian south.

10 Responses to “Trying to find a job while being an atheist”

  1. synapticcohesion June 8, 2012 at 9:41 pm #

    “Looking for a job is always stressful. It is even more stressful when you’re the most maligned and mistrusted minority in the country, looking for work in the most hostile part of the country. Being an atheist and looking for work in the South can be a tricky predicament.”

    *sighs* Yes, I’m sure your atheism is a lot worse, a lot more dangerous, and a lot more difficult to hide than being, say, a black person in hostile areas of the deep South.

  2. godlesspaladin June 9, 2012 at 11:52 pm #

    Yes, black people in the south have a harder time finding work than whites. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I was referring to a 2006 study by the university of Minnesota that found atheists to be the least trusted minority group in the country. A 2011 University of British Columbia study found that atheists were trusted less than rapists.

    If this post was about trying to have a pissing contest to see who’s had it worse, then making comparisons between groups would be warranted, but that’s not what I’m doing here. I’m only commenting on the experience of atheists in the south.

  3. synapticcohesion June 10, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    “I’m only commenting on the experience of atheists in the south.”

    Yes, because all atheists have the scarlet letter “A” seared into their foreheads advertising their identities.

    • godlesspaladin June 11, 2012 at 7:23 am #

      I’m sorry this post pissed you off. I simply wanted to recount my experience and mention how sometimes religion can be problematic when looking for work. “What church do you go to?” is a common question down here in the south. If you answer truthfully as an atheist, you risk not getting the job like I didn’t.

  4. synapticcohesion June 11, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    It didn’t really piss me off. It just seemed to demonstrate the atheistic propensity toward hyperbole for dramatic effect.

  5. Fish Steak June 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm #


    “Atheistic propensity toward hyperbole for dramatic effect.” By a guy who just mentioned scarlet letters seared into foreheads in response to a blog post discussing the nuanced difficulties of religious discrimination, including the difficulty in discerning the actual motive in individual cases.

    Were you trying to display self-deprecating irony, synapticcohesion?

    The thief sees everyone as on the take.

  6. Mister_Higgins June 14, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

    NPR did a story along similar lines as this a few weeks ago. Basically it argued that employers are more willing to ask personal questions during an interview. The article suggested either being indignant about it or making light about it. (The question most asked during an interview in the article was “What is your greatest weakness” to which it was suggested replying “I don’t suffer fools well” or “Modesty”.)

    More to your point, I have found that explanations go a long way in regards to employers. If you had said that “ used to have a much more rigid system and that it appears that some of the population who used it were deemed far too complex at the time to be matched with anyone. They have since altered their algorithms to accommodate these people, but the first time I had used it left me with such a bad taste in my mouth that I did not want to go through the hassle of trying again (plus if you found yourself a girlfriend then hey bonus points). “, then there is a good chance he wouldn’t have asked many more questions about your value system. If he did then I would point out that you may be afraid it would cause some bias (either good or bad) to your application and would prefer not to discuss it until you had the job and had a chance to get to know him better.

    If you legitimately believe you have been slighted on the basis of religion, I would talk to a lawyer as it is against federal law to discriminate on the basis of religion (for legal purposes atheism constitutes as a religion)

  7. godlesspaladin June 15, 2012 at 10:49 pm #

    The thing is, I don’t have proof he slighted me because of religion. He did mention that all the atheists he new were jerks, and he did change his behavior after he found out. (Not in a suddenly physical way, but in the way that he was no longer talking about things he wanted me to do in the future.) I just don’t have anything that can prove it, while he can show that I don’t have all the skills he’s looking for.

    As for that damn “What’s your greatest weakness?” question, I just say kryptonite.

  8. j July 13, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

    synapticcohesion, why don’t you give an actual example of atheistic propensity for hyperbole for dramatic effect in this article or outside of it? I see no hyperbole in this post, he’s being rather straightforward about his experience and what other atheists are likely to experience if they are open about their beliefs in the south or anywhere else in the US for that matter. What about the Christian propensity for intolerance of atheists? And how high is the bible rated on the hyperbole scale, while we’re on the subject of hyperbole? Or how about any little story about your own life that you could volunteer up as a blog piece that some random screwoff could marginalize and randomly comment on and minimize as exagerrating? Let’s here how straight up reality-based and factually informed by reason YOU are.

  9. Dudesowin October 24, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    I personally would say I am a Christian and ask them where that word came from most don’t know the origins of such or the bible itself. You can defend that Jesus was an atheist and how all the “morality” is better documented in common sayings and things such as “the golden rule” etc. Show them the world isn’t so bad more than just whippings and ostracizing. Course do you really want such a monster roaming about unchained by the psychosis there is a chance might get run over by a car…

    The bigger picture here is countering deontology that can even happen inside Atheist groupthinks!

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