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.”
(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.