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Courtesy and Religion.

by Dear Jon
March 11, 2008

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ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon,

A guy I work with is always talking about his religion and Jesus. It's a free country, but when he asks me to go to his church or whatever and I tell him that's not my thing, he keeps after me. He'll ask me every week. Not just me, either. He's a good co-worker and on time and all that. I just wish he was less pushy. Is there something I can say to him to get him to shut up about religion? And do you need to know that we're in a warehouse driving fork-lifts and stuff? Maybe there are other rules for being polite in cube-ville. Thanks.

Forker Man


Dear Forker,

I haven't parked too many fork-lifts in my career, so I'm not sure about warehouse etiquette. In my cube-ville career I spent a year-and-a-half in an office shared with two other born again Christians. Mostly we engaged in cross-denominational trash-talk, kind of like fans of competing sports teams — they all agree that they love baseball, but "my team is better than your team."

I don't think things are much different in the warehouse than they are in the cubicles, as far as rules for etiquette. Scott Adams, the humorist and genius behind the syndicated comic strip "Dilbert," does a great job at sizing up cubicle etiquette. As far as I know, he has stayed away from the "Born Again Coworker" angle. It seems to me that might be a fertile area for comedy. Of course, then I might have to boycott his strip and stop buying his books and calendars.

Another character Scott Adams could introduce is the Super Family Woman, who always has a hundred volunteer projects going on so she can never stay over-time to meet a deadline. Meanwhile she is always wanting coworkers to buy whatever cookies or candy her children are selling as fundraisers.

Or maybe the reason Scott Adams has not gone that route with the Born Again Coworker and the Super Family Woman, is that such characters would be dull as unbuttered toast in a comic strip. Maybe the comedic potential is not all that rich, which is why I should just bow to his genius instead of telling him what to draw.

Why doesn'?t someone create a strip about a warehouse? It could be called "Forking it Over." It's main figure would be a thirty-something veteran of the Marine Corps who is divorced and gets to see his kids every other week-end. He has to put up with the lady behind the Receiving window who is a Super Family Woman, and with a young guy just out of college who couldn't find a job in corporate but who has found Jesus. And a bunch of other lovable eccentric types: the guy with the bad back who is close to retirement, the girl from the mail room the main character has a crush on, and so on. Doesn't that sound like it might be funny?

Maybe there is such a comic strip in Mexico or China or someplace.

I'm not much good at drawing, so I'll give your issue a shot in an advice column.

My philosophy -- and in case you haven't read the previous 330 sorts, it becomes pretty obvious that I am a born again Christian-- is that as far as I'm concerned, the whole world would do a lot better if more people would shut up and listen three times as much as they talk. Including Christians. Especially Christians.

I can catch heat for this for two big reasons. First, Christians and the Church are already getting the business from all directions, so why should I join in the general bad-mouthing? Second, Christians believe we have something to say and that we need to say it; many Christians really do believe that what they face from God matters more than what they face from police-officers, school principals, bosses, and co-workers.

I agree. So I'm not telling Christians or anyone else to shut up completely. What I am saying is: Listen three hundred percent more than you speak, for two big reasons. First, Christians owe it to everyone else to be courteous and respectful. This is what Jesus meant about being meek and showing humility. That is certainly not ALL he meant, but it is equally certain that he did not mean LESS than that. Second, courtesy and respect goes a lot further to gaining the permission to talk about religion than a brow-beating hard-sell.

I am going to be honest with you, Forker-man. In a lot of situations--such as family reunions, company picnics, community festivals, campaign rallies--people in America show each other lots of common courtesy and respect. There is a spirit of fun and solidarity. Christians or adherents to other faiths who want to talk about religion need to get their street-cred by showing that they can enter into the spirit of fun and solidarity. Most Christians do. Lots of Born Again Christians know when to share in the fun and to be quiet in the meantime.

Some don't, and they stick out like pigs at a cattle round-up. As a Born Again Christian I can tell you that I have been embarrassed by outspoken believers who have failed to show the common courtesy that everyone else affords. What is more embarrassing, is that in a lot of situations, these loud-mouths get a polite hearing. They do not understand that they are speaking out of turn and are only confirming the worst stereo-types that many hearers have of them.

When I'm in a group that seems to divide down the line of "Holier Than Thou" in one room and "Spirit of Fun and Solidarity" in the other, I tend to go to that second room in the Spirit of Fun and Solidarity. That has some Born Again believers scratching their heads. It's obvious to me that it's the right thing to do. Where else am I going to get to enjoy the beer? To whom else else can I model drinking responsibly and within limits?

"Yes, but what about the alcoholic" objects the Born Again Christian who will flame me after reading this column. I know I know. Here's my comeback: What about the bulimic? What about the diabetic? If you are piling more on your plate than your calorie allotment for that meal, it is because part of you still knows how to enter into the spirit of fun at a party. But don't pretend that you who over-eat are "sanctified" as compared to those who enjoy their chips and wings with a beer. Segregating oneself to be separate from drinkers and then coming back later to preach religion at them is, to me, the perfect example of what embarrasses me the most. These religious people talk more than they listen and impose their bombast on those who have entered the spirit of fun and solidarity and still have the common courtesy to be polite.

Your coworker might protest on grounds of only wanting God's approval or whatever. That kind of attitude dismisses that common courtesy and respect apply to the message they are sharing. In my humble opinion after having read through the New Testament a few times, common courtesy and respect are the bedrock for talking effectively about faith. That means listening more than talking. It even means going to where the beer is, at least sometimes.

To those Born Again Christians who are shocked and offended and are already planning your reproof, I say, go ahead and bring chapter and verse. I dare you, but be warned: Dear Jon has a few Bibles lying around himself. Part of my schtick is that I never look anything up, but for you, I?ll make an exception and have my Concordance out. Deal?

As for you, Forker man, I don't think common courtesy and respect changes between the warehouse, the offices, or the company picnic. if you don't say anything I see this going one of two ways. Either he will mellow out pretty soon or he will become so obnoxious he will get himself fired. It will work out one of these two ways for these reasons:
  1. If he is in a normal kind of church, he will talk about his frustration that no one from work is responding to his invitations to come to church, and he will have a pastor who will suggest to him that he should push less and listen more and mellow out.
     
  2. If he is part of a weird or creepy church he might be under pressure to recruit converts as part of a bizarre numbers game, and that is not a good sign.
     
  3. Pushiness about religion might occasionally be part of a picture of deeper psychological problems that surface independently of the person?s faith.
If you feel the need to say something, try this: "You've asked me to go to church with you enough times now that if I change my mind, I will let you know, okay? Until then leave it alone, okay?"

If you see him mellow almost right away, there is a lot of hope that you guys might even become friends. If he freezes you out after that, he has a lot of growing up to do and that is no skin off your nose. But If his response is that he begins to quote to you the judgments of John?s Apocalypse, you might want to take the issue to your supervisor.

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