Academic administrators: hide your unbelief!

August 26, 2013 • 11:12 am

Reader Kent called my attention to a new piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education called “Dodging the God Squad.” It’s by someone using the name “Madalyn Dawkins” (clearly a nod to Richard), who won’t identify herself because she is a faculty member in the humanities at a western U.S. research university, and is married to a senior college administrator. Why would that make her hide behind a pseudonym? Because she’s an atheist.  And if she came “out,” her husband could get in serious trouble:

While top administrators wield a considerable amount of power on their campuses, they are also vulnerable (like their counterparts in the world of politics) to people and forces that can undermine their positions and potentially jeopardize their careers.

My spouse has had a succession of administrative posts over the last few decades, and my experience is that in academe there is a kind of God Squad that monitors and polices administrators’ beliefs and attitudes toward religion. The real danger for campus officials who reveal themselves as agnostic or atheist is retaliation from powerful donors, board members, alumni, or other administrators in the institutional hierarchy.

“Dawkins” recounts several incidents in which college administrators who let their atheism slip suffered because of it, The indented material are her quotes:

  • A friend who was a long-serving university president ran afoul of an influential donor when he made the mistake of mentioning in a local speech that he had long ago stopped believing in any god. The donor was so outraged by his revelation that she canceled all future payments on a multiyear, multimillion-dollar gift. That same donor encouraged others to stop all future gifts while the president was in office. As a result of her actions, the university lost a substantial amount in canceled payments and anticipated gifts.
  • One chancellor had to fight for his job when a powerful board member mounted a campaign against him, lobbying his fellow trustees to vote for the chancellor’s ouster. An avowed evangelical Christian, the board member was outraged when the chancellor told a small group at a cocktail reception that he likened religion to superstition, and questioned whether intellectuals could truly practice a faith.Fortunately for the chancellor, the offended trustee could not marshal sufficient support to fire the wayward administrator, but the board member continued to be obstructionist throughout the chancellor’s tenure, consistently voting against his initiatives.
  • Sometimes the offense and the retaliation are more subtle. I know of a dean who, in casual conversations, implied that he was an agnostic and was skeptical of organized religion. The provost happened to be present at one of those conversations, and suddenly her demeanor toward the dean changed. He found it increasingly difficult to schedule meetings with the provost, he was inexplicably passed up for an end-of-term raise, and he received a mediocre annual performance review. The dean ended up leaving for an appointment at another university.

I’m actually surprised that this kind of discrimination would occur in the western U.S., unless it’s in states like Idaho, Montana, or Nevada.  And, of course, this is, among First World countries, a uniquely American form of discrimination. I can’t imagine it happening in, say, Denmark, France, or Germany, where nobody gives a rat’s patootie if you’re an atheist. And it’s asymmetrical: if you talk about your religion a bit, you’re not going to suffer at all.

At any rate, “Dawkins” gives some tips for atheist administrators who want to keep their jobs, which include hiding your beliefs and, if someone asks you about them, saying, “I’m sorry, but religion is a very personal topic, and so I never discuss it in public.” But her advice to “Keep your religious (or nonreligious) beliefs to yourself” is not really apposite because, as I said, if you say a few things about your religion, that’s pretty much okay so long as you’re not an atheist. You can’t, of course, constantly ask your co-workers if they’ve heard the good news about Ceiling Cat.

Having been in liberal and godless schools all my life (I did go to college in the South, but wasn’t a vociferous nonbeliever then), I’ve never suffered a bit from being an atheist and professing it openly. That’s because 95% of my biology colleagues are also atheists.  But I’ve heard horror stories from other biologists who teach in the South.

I’d be interested in hearing from heathen readers who have suffered, professionally or otherwise, for publicly avowing atheism.

155 thoughts on “Academic administrators: hide your unbelief!

      1. It’s to subscribe to the comments so you say “sub”& tick the nice notify boxes at the bottom then voilà email updates

    1. IMO that’s both harsh and unreasonable. I don’t think anyone has the right to demand people “out” themselves no matter how much it might be “good for the cause”. It’s easy for you to say that if your career or your spouses’ isn’t on the line.

      1. I didn’t demand anyone out themselves. And you have no right to say my opinion is wrong.

        If you don’t like my opinion then don’t read it.

        1. Srsly, NewEnglandBob? I have no right to disagree with you?

          Maybe you are saying these things tongue-in-cheek and I just can’t see it from here?

    2. I agree with gbjames. No one can tell someone else that they should be open about something that can harm them or their family. Atheists have even suffered violence and parents don’t want to bring that down on their children.

    3. I think if NewEnglandBob relocated down here in the South, smack in the middle of extremely conservative, Bible-Thumpin’, gun-totin’, Tea Party country, he wouldn’t be so hasty to judge someone else.

      1. A. I do live in Florida half the year.

        B. I grew up Jewish and received discrimination all my life. I never hid it and pushed back.

        C. I have lost a position due to my honesty and openness and do not regret my decisions. It is called principles.

        1. Bully for you. But your circumstances aren’t everyone’s and calling people cowards for doing different than you’d like is out of line, IMO.

          1. Making a false accusation as you did is out of line, and still no retraction.

            You have now joined the fundagelicals, telling me that my opinion is out of line. Thank you.

            1. In the USA, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion” seems to have morphed into “No opinion may be challenged” (and more dangerously on into “and I may impose the effects of that opinion on others”).

              Some opinions are just wrong. “The tide comes in five times a day,” “The English word for the colour of oranges is ‘blue’,” “Paris is the capital of Texas,” for example.

              There is no point in challenging opinions about matters of taste, beauty or love (though even they can be tried in the courts of popular opinion and survival). Other claims can be tested and shown to be wrong. Whether “Madalyn Dawkins” is a coward or not is beyond our capacity to test from here. Based on what she has told us, she may even be brave for writing as publicly as she has about her experience.

              1. In the USA, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion” seems to have morphed into “No opinion may be challenged”

                Contrary to the uninformed stereotype popular among certain insular groups of foreigners, there is probably more challenging of opinions in the United States than in any other country in the world. Our constitutional protection of free speech, and the strength and independence of our press and media institutions, are exceptional. The United States is also the world leader in electronic social media, which allow anyone with an internet connection to broadcast their opinions to the world.

              2. The United States is not exceptional. The United States has some very troubling problems in many areas, people in most other countries are aware that the United States is having problems functionally. The only ones that I’ve seen describe the United States as exceptional are those that champion policy that would make the problems worse.

              3. The United States is not exceptional.

                Yes it is. Here’s how Wikipedia puts it, for example: “the legal protections of the First Amendment are some of the broadest of any industrialized nation.”

                And here’s the ACLU‘s evaluation of free speech in the United States: “ours is the most speech-protective country in the world.”

              4. No it isn’t. In the United States a lot of things are written and stated that aren’t applied without qualification. For instance, we all know that the government in the United States isn’t separated from the christian religion, they are very much intertwined.

              5. If you seriously think you can make a substantive case (i.e., an argument based on concrete facts and evidence, not vague rhetoric and unsubstantiated assertion) that the U.S. is less protective of the right to free speech than other countries, please do so. I don’t think you’ll be able to do it.

                A good example of restrictions on free speech in other countries that are not allowed in the United States is laws restricting “hate speech.”

              6. I did not say “throughout the USA” or “as official policy” but “in the USA”. I was thinking particularly of some Facebook pages I frequent, but I suspect that this view of the sanctity of opinion is far more widespread (in the USA) than that.

              7. And by “no opinion may be challenged” I only meant that a common response to challenges is “How dare you say I’m wrong, that’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it!”

              8. @ Shuggy

                I think the privileging of opinions you’re referring to was summed up by Isaac Asimov:

                There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”.
                Newsweek, 21 January 1980

                But I don’t think it’s solely a USian thing. Popular journalism fosters this notion in the interest of “balance”, which is fine for politics, less so for science.


    4. Count me as a coward, too, then. My career is too important (not an academic, but professional) to allow it to be de-railed by unreasonable delusional mental cases who insist that I ascribe to their asinine beliefs.

      What I do day-to-day has nothing to do with religion and I have no interest jeopardizing my job by debating twits about the existence of supernatural superheroes.

      I get the whole “let’s change society” mission, but such change takes time and expecting every atheist to fall on his/ her sword for the cause is unfair. Sometimes the best persuasion is subtle, living by example, demonstrating rather than declaring.

      1. This is so sensible. What good does it do to harm the people who are paying your salary by insisting on publicizing your views on a polticially sensitive issue?

        I write a lot of letters to the editor. I never attach them to my institutional affiliation. It is just common sense.

        1. “What good does it do to harm the people who are paying your salary by insisting on publicizing your views on a polticially sensitive issue?”

          Harm? Huh? How is that harmful? The harm we’ve been discussing is entirely directed in the other direction.

    5. Accusing “Madalyn Dawkins” of being a coward is grossly unfair. Coming out publicly as an atheist is somewhat similar to coming out as gay. It’s good for society as a whole, but it may also incur huge personal costs to the person who is outing themselves. Everyone has the right to decide for himself whether the public benefit is worth the private cost. If “Dawkins” were guilty of gross hypocrisy (e.g., publicly praising religion while privately believing the opposite), then you might have a point. But there’s no indication that she’s behaving in that way.

      1. Accusing “Madalyn Dawkins” of being a coward is grossly unfair.

        I agree. Even more so because she’s not the only one who will sacrifice, but her husband will as well.

      2. “Coming out publicly as an atheist…may also incur huge personal costs to the person who is outing themselves.”

        Doesn’t this somewhat undermine your earlier point about freedom of speech in the US? Sure, no-one in the US is going to get stoned for apostasy like they might in Saudi Arabia or Iran, but, as you acknowledge, swimming against the tide of public opinion can have serious consequences for people’s careers and social standing.
        As the various examples given by “Dawkins” and other examples in this thread indicate, freedom of speech may not be curtailed by the official apparatus of the state but is achieved pretty effectively nevertheless by people who hold views contrary to the social norm simply being frozen out of funding, promotion and so on.
        Clearly, if you are employed at some institutions in the US you may have a perfect legal right to speak your mind openly about matters such as evolution, religion or sexual politics but in practice if your views on these matters fall on the “wrong” side of the argument (which is to say the right side :-)) you can only do so at significant personal risk. That to me does not sound like freedom of speech.

        1. Yes, speech can be restricted through social pressure as well as laws and public policies. But I think you’d have a hard time showing that speech is restricted more in the United States than in other countries in either of these ways. I think the U.S. also has a more robust system of legal remedies for discrimination than other countries.

          1. Well, I think you’d find that in most European countries academic staff can openly talk about being atheist without fearing that it will affect their careers.

            I don’t dispute that in terms of freedom of speech the US is a better pace to live than many other countries but that’s not saying much and it seems a little complacent to just rest on the laurels. Freedoms are precious, easily eroded and under constant attack.

            You linked to ACLU further up this thread with the comment that they rate the US as “the most speech protective country in the world” but a quick perusal of the page you linked to shows that this hardly sums up their position – they mention a variety of threats to free speech and commit themselves to fighting to protect freedom of speech from these. Indeed if ACLU considered everything to be as perfect as you suggest it is hard to see what their reason to exist would be.

    6. You’re getting a lot of flak here, so let me just write to say that I enjoy and usually agree with your comments…


      I agree with the others on this issue.

  1. Professionally, the “Shut the Fuck Up About It” when it comes to controversial topics is pretty much the way to go.

    That’s one of the reasons I still use a pseudonym.

    You did hit the nail on the head that the religious don’t have to shut up about their beliefs though.

    They don’t have to because they’re in the majority. Their chances of retaliation are minimal at worst, and if they are retaliated against, they get to claim persecution. It’s win-win for them.

    1. I agree about the STFU, and the pseudonym.

      I remember about ten years ago I went to lunch with a colleague and two customers. No sooner had we sat down then my colleague said, “So, what does everyone think about Israel?” In spite of the fact that he was senior to me, I jumped right in, and said, “No, we are certainly not talking about that”, and explained the old rule of the British Army mess: You don’t talk about shop, women, religion, or politics.

      1. old rule of the British Army mess: You don’t talk about shop, women, religion, or politics.

        With a corollary for Glaswegian bars, that you don’t talk about the “wrong sort of football” either.

    2. I’d venture to say that them being in the majority is not the only reason the religious wouldn’t have to keep their beliefs on the DL.

      In my unscientific opinion, I don’t think many atheists would play those sorts of games if we were in the majority. After all, atheism is often just a symptom of being a reasonable person.

      1. “[A]theism is often just a symptom of being a reasonable person.”

        In my experience, atheists are no more nor less reasonable than theists in the aggregate, although their respective unreasonableness is often in different areas.

        And while I don’t doubt that atheists get such discrimination far more often the religious, it can work the other way too. My daughter wanted to attend a major private research university — my alma mater — in North Carolina. She was *well* above the applicant pool’s mean and median objective qualification levels in all areas. Her application wasn’t preachy by any means, but disclosed her status as a believer.

        My daughter was turned down for both early and regular admission to that university. Since I was an alum and a contributor I received an explanatory telephone call from the Admissions Department and was told that she didn’t get in solely because she was deemed unlikely to “fit in” on account of her religious belief.

        As it turned out, she received a named scholarship to her mother’s major research university and did exceptionally well. She was very happy there, so all’s well that ends well (even though I’m now outnumbered). But that doesn’t make *my* school’s behavior any less problematic.

        1. Yes, which is why I avoided absolute language: “…many atheists…”, “…often a symptom…”.

          You’ve got to admit, the situation is an asymmetric one, as Jerry writes. Even if the shoe were on the other foot, it’d probably be a much smaller shoe.

  2. I’ve never been subjected to any adverse actions (as far as I know!) while a professor in the academy or during my current soft money research position, despite my vocal anti-theism. But, I’m also in a scientific field–astronomy and planetary science–that is overwhelmingly populated by people living in reality.

    I can, however, see how things could get a bit more tricky at higher-level administrative positions where you have to answer in some manner to those far outside your field. To some degree, all atheist scientists that depend on soft money run some risk given the current make up of the Congress that controls funding for NSF, NASA, NIH, etc. Tell your House of Rep. to their face that he/she’s delusional and see how fast the funding to your grant or preferred program will be cut.

  3. How awful! I hate to hear of people needing to suppress their beliefs because it is one of the most horrible things to have to pretend to be someone you are not. It eats you up inside.

    I kept my atheism quiet when I worked in a job where I had a very religious boss & where the people were unusually conservative for young people. That was for 8 years.

    When I was in university, there were so many atheists (including professors AND students, I finally felt I belonged somewhere! It was hard going into a job where I had to be quiet about it but now I don’t care. I’m not going to live a lie anymore. Oddly, what made me realize how harmful it is to suppress who you are was two things: studying poetry written by lesbians & listening to gay people talk about the pain of being in the closet. Atheism as a movement has a lot in common with the gay movement.

  4. This is interesting, but I am a department chair, teacher and faculty member and I have never felt the need to hide my atheism.

    In fact, since I write and speak frequently on both atheism and humanism, I actually have all my atheist/humanist work on my CV for anyone to review.

    Perhaps its because I’m on the east coast, NYC to be specific, but even with this and certainly at my current job where there is an over-current (rather than undercurrent) of faith, I’ve never backed down from being an open, honest and compassionate atheist.

    In any case, this is cause for everyone to actually be “out of the closet” rather than hiding. In order for “normal” to occur we cannot afford to be abnormal and give in to those who would restrict our physical, career or intellectual movements.

    Dr. David I. Orenstein
    City University of New York

  5. There is, in fact, a “God Squad” where I did my graduate work in Physics (this was in the South–no surprise). I don’t know of any discrimination directed at non-believer administrators, but I do recall being proselytized in person by at least two of my professors. One of them gave me a CD-ROM that had something to do with Christians active in academia, which I still have, but have never watched. The other gave me a copy of C.S. Lewis’ book “Mere Christianity”, which I’ve thumbed through a bit, but never really intend to read.
    There was a least one other instance where a professor had provided a handout to the class that was criticizing the lack of prayer in public schools. In that instance, I complained to the University’s Student Legal Services (anonymously, of course) and sure enough, the professor redacted his handout later that week.
    These experiences have shaped me with regard to the world of academia: I’ve basically learned to hide my secular views in this context.

    1. The other gave me a copy of C.S. Lewis’ book “Mere Christianity”, which I’ve thumbed through a bit, but never really intend to read.

      Good. Nothing is more overrated than Lewis’s Christian apologetics. Kind of creepy, too. The main message seems to be that the gospels must be true because they’re endorsed by good Englishmen. Don’t know about his actual scholarship.

  6. “Good evening. Tonight on ‘It’s the Mind’, we examine the phenomenon of déjà vu. That strange feeling we sometimes get that we’ve lived through something before, that what is happening now has already happened. Tonight on ‘It’s the Mind’ we examine the phenomenon of déjà vu, that strange feeling we sometimes get that we’ve …Anyway, tonight on ‘It’s the Mind’ we examine the phenomenon of déjà vu, that strange…”

    1. Jerry, your third bulleted story is a repeat of the latter half of the second bulleted story. Sorry, I couldn’t resist the posting the cryptic Python reference first.

  7. My wife’s fear was of alienating her students or her staff; she wanted to be trusted by them.

    There was no pressure from the upper administrators.

    I feel safe in saying this because she recently retired. As for faculty: it really isn’t a big deal one way or the other.

    (note: this is a 9-12 “research required but NOT research intensive, mostly undergraduate institution in Illinois)

  8. I’ve usually kept my religion (or lack thereof) to myself, mostly because it did not seem an appropriate topic of discussion. However, if I had to guess, I would expect that most of my colleagues were atheists, agnostics, or people who attended church only for the sake of appearances.

    I do understand why it is different for top administrators. Part of their job is seeking donations, and another part of their job is hob-nobbing with politicians. And the appearance of being religious can be important for both of those.

  9. Her advice is poisonous in places.

    Rarely is there a payoff for opining at campus events about topics like abortion, contraception, and evolution, for example, and more often than not, you will be walking into a professional minefield.

    If you are an active research or teaching faculty member at a campus event and are representing yourself in your professional capacity, this advice is insane. Take a person (like myself) who is a faculty member of an Ecology & Evolutionary Biology department. Should I censor myself in my own topic of research? Certainly she can’t be suggesting this, can she? And if someone is a professor in a Public Health or an OBGYN department, should faculty who specialize in abortion and contraception policy and/or research be expected to remain silent?

    As far as etiquette goes, I might grudgingly censor myself at campus events outside of my area of expertise, but to do so in my own area of expertise would be bizarre. After all, I’m being officially paid to do so at all other times during my employment. Unless faculty are merely window dressing, this makes no sense. Why invite them if they are to remain silent?

      1. Actually, it is written from the perspective of an atheist academic married to an administrator. She comments specifically on how her lack of faith may influence her husband’s job. Read the last paragraph before the advice she gives.

        Also, many university administrators have a dual role. For example, deans often have active research programs in addition to their dean duties. What happens when a School of Biological Sciences dean is drawn from an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department?

        Obviously, if the university event is designed to raise awareness about some program on topic X or to raise funds for some initiative Y, then sure, maybe invited faculty should stay on message and constrain conversations to X or Y. But at more general functions that don’t have such goals, that self-censorship advise seems anti-intellectual and undermines the academic environment.

  10. I work for a nonprofit in the south, and it is pretty well understood that you shouldn’t talk about your skepticism, particularly around donors as many are religious. I am certain I would be ostracized by more than a few members of our board if they knew my views on religion, so professionally I am essentially trapped from expressing it unless I do so anonymously (mostly on the internet…).

    But the south, we all know, is very different. Case in point: just a few days ago at a local United Way event I was discussing my skepticism toward Christianity, quietly with a colleague, and was interrupted by the woman sitting next to me, who had been eavesdropping. She asked me to go to church with her (if I had a nickel…)and told me that there “was a reason I was sitting next to her that day” (and she didn’t mean the finite number of seating combinations in a small room).

    1. I feel for ya! I live in South Georgia and one of the first things your asked when you meet someone new is “What church do you go too”. If you tell them you don’t attend any church they are sure to tell you to come with them to their church. What a pain.

  11. I have never suffered professionally for being an atheist, but I’ve kept it to myself for the last eight years or so in professional circles. When I was younger, I tended to work for smaller, younger companies, where there was always a lot of good-natured debate. I don’t know whether the times have changed, or being in large companies makes a difference, but I don’t talk about religion at all in the workplace anymore. I’ve had plenty of co-workers and customers who just wouldn’t understand, and the days have enough challenges as it is.

    Of course, they think it’s the most natural thing in the world to say they are ‘blessed’ when you ask them how they are. And eventhough they are nice people, ‘I keep thinking, how the hell do you know?’

    I went to McD’s drive-through the other day, and the assistant(?) had a huge tattoo on his forearm, in thick black letters that said “Blessed”, and underneath “Matthew 5:10”. I had to look that one up: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

    After I looked it up, I wanted to drive back, and say, ‘Keep reading until you get to Matthew 6:1’: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

    1. Don’t forget Leviticus 19:28, which bans people from having tattoos.

      Of course, in looking up the exact passage, I got a lot of Christians talking about how we aren’t under that law anymore. Particularly, all of the verses I saw quoted were from Paul, and not from Jesus, who told you that the law didn’t change.

      But I guess that law only applied to the Jews, so it didn’t change, there were just new worshippers for Yahweh who didn’t have to obey those laws.

      Except when it applied to every homosexual ever.

      1. Yes, I am amazed that the Sermon on the Mount didn’t say, Blessed are the cherry-pickers (along with cheesemakers).

  12. “I was about ten when a teacher told me about religion. It was about Daniel in the furnace. I tried to tell her that she was confusing that story with the fairy-tales about kings and beanstalks. She put me at the back of the class and tried to leave me out of class discussion. Only afterwards I realised that she tried to sabotage my efforts to pass the British 11+ exams to go to high school. I learnt early that religion is pure, dripping evil….”
    Repeat from an earlier post.

    As an early teen I carried a little notebook in which I recorded wildlife observations, facts about the planets and the melting point of metals. Because of religion all around me I felt as if I had been born into a terrible and mad world of crazy people. I have never, in the slightest, ever considered religion anything but extraordinary and unconvincing clap-trap. But old England slowly changed, led by comedians in the nineteen seventies and eighties. You have Bill Maher, but not enough comedians to sway the majority of demented Christians. I feel for North Americans who have to suffer the madhouse of religion at home and at work. Be brave. I sense a sudden reversal. The edifice of delusion may shortly topple.

    1. “As an early teen I carried a little notebook in which I recorded wildlife observations, facts about the planets and the melting point of metals. Because of religion all around me I felt as if I had been born into a terrible and mad world of crazy people.”

      This is beautiful. It sounds like a great beginning for a story.

  13. “The donor was so outraged by his revelation that she canceled all future payments on a multiyear, multimillion-dollar gift. That same donor encouraged others to stop all future gifts while the president was in office.”

    How very “Christian” of her.

    1. Well clearly, he was going to use it to build a shrine to Satan. You wouldn’t want your money used to build that.

      But hey, better Satan has it than you. After all, how do you expect to fit through that needle eye with all the cash you’re lugging around.

  14. I went to a university in the north of England.I was there for three years starting in September 1949 – undergraduate degrees were a three year course in the UK. This particular university has three colleges out of a total of eleven solely devoted to god-botherers,ie: theology students. In 2005 a new Chancellor was appointed for a six-year term and he retired, unscathed, in December 2011. He was a well-known author and atheist – his name was Bill Bryson.

    1. That is interesting. Bryson may have been unscathed, but he could be scathing. I can easily imagine him rubbing people the wrong way on numerous topics besides religion.

    2. And three different colleges for theology? Does it not occur to someone that at least two of them must be getting it wrong?

  15. I am a tenured professor at a state university in Utah. At present, to my knowledge, 100% of full professors in my department are members of LDS (Mormon) church. Mormons cannot comprise more than 2% of our faculty applicants. Up to 10% of our new hires are Mormon. But then, for the past decade at least, Mormons are successful in tenure and promotion in more than 80% of cases, compared to about 25% for everyone else. It’s hard to argue that there isn’t discrimination going on (although it is even more challenging to identify who, specifically, is behaving from discriminatory motives). I don’t think we’ve promoted any non-Mormons to full-professor rank in more than 10 years (we hired one non-Mormon at full rank, but fired him nine months later). I try desperately to avoid religious discussions in my department, but it is impossible to escape. On many occasions I’ve felt like I’m a captive audience to a religious display (prayer at departmental social events, for instance). I’ve only “outed” myself quietly on a personal blog, but never in conversation with my Mormon colleagues. Although the majority of our faculty are not Mormon or even Christian, it is made clear that we don’t belong here, that we are merely passing through (one colleague referred to us collectively as “transients”). It is especially frustrating to me, since I grew up in this state where about 40% of the population is not Mormon. The Mormons don’t seem to believe that “others” exist here (or should exist). Many times I’ve heard students argue about this issue, and someone says, “if you don’t like it, leave!” But I’ve been here since before they were born.

    1. Indeed! Anyone that doesn’t think there is profound religious discrimination in Utah needs to take a trip to a legislative session there. The mormonism thick and disgusting.

  16. This may well be a situation where discretion is the better part of valor. I’d suggest using the defense that religious convictions, or lack thereof, are personal and private. They should only be discussed with the full consent of all parties involved. Because you (the party that brought up the issue of religious beliefs) do not have my permission to discuss something that is personal and private to me, I won’t be further participating in this conversation. Let’s hope that people will honor that which people hold to be personal and private, and back off from their pursuing a discussion of religious convictions, or lack thereof.

    I can’t think of where I read this strategy, but it may help to smooth the waters when religion is brought up.

      1. I don’t go around announcing to everyone that I’m an atheist but I find that religious people happily announce their religion and talk about what religious activities they and their family partake in. For this reason, I show no shame in saying I am an atheist if someone asks me. If I get catch any crap for that, I’ll take it up with the Human Rights Tribunal. I figure I won’t anyway. I think a lot of people are apostates, agnostics & atheists where I work & there are plenty of non Christian religious folks.

        1. My usual strategy is to say “uh huh” and then change the subject. This way they won’t know if I’m an atheist, or just not comfortable discussing religion with them.

  17. I suffered a recent C in class participation in my anthropology class, turning a perfectly fine A into an A-. I showed up on time everyday, turned in every assignment on time, and participated in every class discussion.

    I believe the reason she gave me a C was because anytime she showed pictures of the Pope, or asked how we felt about certain issues–religious and faith based–I said it all wreaked of lunacy.

    We had a talk one day after class and she said that other people may be taking offense to my criticisms, and that I shouldn’t be making them uncomfortable. (But, of course, if someone would have openly claimed their alliance to Satan, or that they believed an evil space alien named Xeno dictated all human affairs, it may have been a different story.)

    It’s pretty ridiculous that she would botch my report card because I’m critical of certain belief systems…

    1. That seems entirely irresponsible for the teacher. If she isn’t prepared for people to answer honestly about matters of religion she shouldn’t be asking people questions about it.

      Jeepers. That was very wrong. Was this high school? College?

      1. College!

        I’m pretty bummed that it happened, but I don’t think there’s much I could’ve done to protest it. I’ve also had a Philosophy teacher who was a Cartesian Dualist.

        I wouldn’t think that Bellevue–not but a few miles from the University of Washington–would be full of such bizarre and outdated characters.

    2. In some courses, I suppose it would be right to mark you down for not being able to spell “reeked”, but hardly in anthropology, so I’m on your side.

      1. Actually, “wreaked” isn’t misspelled. It is just the wrong choice of a pair of homophonous words.

        I’m on your side too. 😀

    3. I don’t mean to come off as too confrontational, but I’ve heard my share of stories from nieces and nephews of supposedly poor teachers that turn out to not be the full story. I can understand a teacher docking points if you ridicule a religious belief every time it comes up in a class if studying the religious beliefs is part of the class. It’s not necessarily that it’s offensive, but that it’s not constructive. I never took an anthropology class myself, but I took an art history class on pre-Columbian Mesoamerican art, and an upper level Spanish class on Mesoamerican history. I very much doubt that anybody in the class followed those ancient religions, and suspect that the class was mostly Christian, but when religious aspects of those cultures came up, we were expected to discuss them constructively, and understand how the religious views tied into the culture. Had we simply called the Popol Vuh absurd every time it came up in classroom discussion, I’m sure we would have been docked for our class participation grade.

      But I don’t know your full story, so perhaps the teacher did dock you for inappropriate reasons.

  18. I’m actually surprised that this kind of discrimination would occur in the western U.S., unless it’s in states like Idaho, Montana, or Nevada.

    This actually doesn’t surprise me that much: while the western US has a reputation as a very liberal part of the country, it’s really only places like Seattle, Portland, and San Fransisco that are liberal areas inside some otherwise quite conservative states.

    1. And not just in the West. My Michigan is a “red state” primarily due to the Ann Arbor/Detroit nexus. Outstate MI is a whole ‘nother story, and I suspect that’s true of outstate Illinois, non-Madison Wisconsin, etc. It’s really a mistake to speak of states as monoliths; and to put the onus of changing political patterns on the rationalists unfortunately living in certain places. It should be a concerted effort on all our parts, with great cognizance paid to those whose livelihoods would in fact be jeopardized by outspokenness.

      1. Just to clarify Wisconsin, which is determined to make itself into a northerly version of Mississippi, we are quite blue in some parts besides Madison. Milwaukee, of course, but also up in the northwest and southwest. And the bluest place of all is Menominee County, up in the middle of the wild north. It is Native American.

        A recent non-presidental election map

  19. There is an informative article by R. Halliburton, Jr. in the 1965 Proceedings of the Oklahoma Academy of Sciences called “Reasons for Anti-Evolutionism Succeeding in the South.”

    Halliburton placed much of the blame for the widespread suppression of the teaching of evolution in the 1920s and 30s on the dismissal of evolution teachers and defenders of academic freedom under pressured by politicians and clergy. The key factor for the success of anti-evolution forces, however, was the inaction of teachers’ unions and university administrators, or as Halliburton put it, the “ominous silence” from the top. In 1921, even the president of the University of Wisconsin, himself a practicing Protestant, was accused of being, gasp, an atheist and came close to losing his job for defending the diluted form of evolution accepted at the time. It was not just the South that suffered, and continues to suffer, Bible Belt tyranny.

    1. The joke is on them – the have the highest rates of teen pregnancy, divorce, obesity, diabetes, the list goes on….

  20. I don’t know for sure that I’ve lost business due to being an outspoken atheist or not but I’m pretty sure I have. I teach music lessons for a living so students can quit lessons without giving any particular reason, but I just lost a student immediately after being asked outright if I was an atheist by his father, and I lost another immediately being seen debating Eric Hovind. I have an increasing number of students from religious schools and it’s really beginning to worry me. It shouldn’t be an issue since it’s not like we’re talking about religion in their music lessons. But of course I don’t lie when asked directly, and it does come up on the rare occasion. I hate science denial so badly that I can’t keep my mouth shut so I’m just going to have to live with the consequences I guess. Ultimate joke is on them since every other sax teacher (at least the good ones) in this area is also an atheist.

    1. Do you feel an obligation to answer that kind of question? You beliefs, or lack thereof, are no one’s business but your own.

    2. Well done for speaking your mind! Why should you have to deny your thoughts in the 21th century? I do some freelance teaching in Berlin/ Germany and have had this kind of conversation too. The beauty of being self employed is that you don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself! So no reason to cave in when the subject matters to you!

      Luckily I haven’t lost a pupil over religion. But I have lost students over discussions about homeopathic remedies, which are big in Germany. If I one day felt that most clients here were not accepting me for such irrational reasons, I think I would seriously consider to either move or start a support group.

      Thumbs up, keep up the honesty!

    3. Ultimate joke is on them since every other sax teacher (at least the good ones) in this area is also an atheist.

      If you (communally) ever form a band, let us know. I’m not a music-inclined person myself, but I can stand a bit of sax.
      I suppose “where” is a permissible question in this context … Ah, I see ; Indiana. Somehow I suspect I’d wait for the European leg of your (inevitable) world-dominating tour. That’s “bible waistband”, if not “belt” proper, isn’t it?

  21. Having been in liberal and godless schools all my life…

    OK, Wm&Mary isn’t officially allied with any house of superstition, but let’s not forget the sorry case of W&M’s firing of President Gene Nichol which they claimed had nothing to do with removing the damn cross from Wren Chapel. They also lied to their alumni when they solicited letters in support or not of Nichol, stating that a decision would be reached “in the spring” and then sacked him fully six weeks before the vernal equinox. The hatchet man was Michael Powell, Colin Powell’s son, then head of the Board of Visitors .

    MP informed alumni of this by email, claiming that it had nothing to do with the cross issue, to which I shot back, “What manure, the guttersnipes have won.” I feel sure he saw that since I didn’t receive any further alumni magazines after that, despite having given them $1K less than two years earlier. If it’s any consolation, Madalyn, they haven’t gotten a dime from me since, and won’t.

    1. Forgot to mention that according to one source at the time, the attack against Nichol was led by the guy that orchestrated the Swift Boat attack against John Kerry, so the existence of a God Squad that monitors and polices administrators’ beliefs and attitudes toward religion does not seem to be a paranoid outlook.

  22. My experience as an undergraduate student at a state-supported southern school in the mid 1980s:
    1. Incoming freshmen were required to return a postcard indicating their religion (Baptist, Methodist, Other). The “Others” got a mandatory dorm-room visit from the Campus Crusade for Christ during the first week of school.

    2. My request for a nonsmoking roommate, backed by a doctor’s note, was denied by the Residential Life Director because “You ain’t no Kreesh Chun.” I appealed it and lost.

    3. I was a biology major and hoped to become a scientific illustrator. My dorm room was decorated with botanical posters and a topo map of my local U.S. Forest Service district. While I was in class one day, the posters and map were torn up, drawings on my desk were thrown on the floor and covered with dish soap, the seedpods etc. that I was drawing were shredded, and more dish soap was poured under my door. When I reported it, the dorm staff told me that the study and depiction of plants and animals was evil, my drawing ability was “of the devil”, and Smokey Bear was a “devil” because he was a talking animal. (For various reasons, I moved off campus the following year, and switched my major to geology.)

    There have been changes for the better since those days. My geology department now has a museum and several educational outreach programs for local school kids, and the university allows Smokey Bear to visit campus to talk about fire prevention.

    1. Are you willing to name the school? That is an incredible story. Can’t say I’m overly shocked, though….

    2. Never had anything like that happen (good thing, I don’t have a terribly good temper when it comes to damage to my stuff), but I did get in trouble last year when a group came on campus trying to encourage students to vote for a new measure on the state ballot banning state funding for abortions and handing out little “six week old fetus” dolls that were just scaled down newborns.

      What got me in trouble? Standing across from them in the Campus Union holding a sign that said “This is what banning finding for abortion leads to” in one hand and a wire coat hanger in the other. Apparently, pointing that out constituted harassment.

      1. No way! I don’t think that was harassment at all! Those people on campus were harassing people!!

        My alma mater had a hospital at it so I had to walk past protestors occasionally. What I noticed is they were mostly old men. Yeah, those dudes would ever be faced with the decision they were protesting. I don’t think they were allowed on campus property but they were on the sidewalk outside the campus.

        1. Well, I was technically breaking campus rules by not having cleared my activity with the correct people prior to engaging in it (or however the student handbook phrases it) and I didn’t officially get disciplined for anything, but they wouldn’t let me continue.

    3. Wow, rough stuff.
      I’d have gone straight to the police : breaking and entering ; destruction of property and work ; press charges and demand investigation. But we don’t have independent police forces on UK campuses(*), so that may not be relevant to your situation. Not that I lived on campus much anyway – only about 2000 campus places for 7000-odd students, so it was apartment rental for 3 of the 4 years.

      (For various reasons, I moved off campus the following year, and switched my major to geology.)

      The 1kilo rock hammer does have a … sobering … effect. Thought provoking.
      (*) Matthew – situation at Manchester? That’s the biggest (-ish) campus in the UK, isn’t it?

  23. I recall years ago a University President in Texas, perhaps at Texas Tech, remarked that professors that had beards grew them to hide their ignorance and that Jesus Christ did not have a beard.

  24. I teach science at a small Christian school which is supported by a very conservative (regressive) church. I keep my atheism to myself, but am a very vocal and unapologetic supporter of evolution. No trouble yet. Perhaps planting the seeds of science is the best way to get students to eventually steer themselves away from religion. BTW, Matt G is my real first name and last initial!

  25. Thank you for this article. As an atheist with aspirations to become a professor, it’s very good to know how the faculty and donor perceives atheism. I would rather not keep it hidden, it may also may impossible to do so because of my outspoken stance on Atheism. Blogs, Youtube videos, twitter, facebook etc. have all been platforms for my views about religion and god.

    1. If you are in a “typically liberal” discipline then those views should not affect your career (like the sciences or humanities). If you are in a more conservative discipline (like engineering or business) then you can expect to encounter a higher percentage colleagues who are not just religious, but who think YOUR religion is somehow relevant to your academic work. In any case, if you are hired in spite of your public statements, then those statements will not likely have any affect on normal career advancement.

  26. As a doctor I often have patients mention that they will be praying to get better. Ninety-five percent of the time I just say nothing, or “good luck,” but sometimes if I’m feeling ornery I will say something like, “good luck with that,” or “I don’t think that will help.” Once, as a resident (so I didn’t need to worry about word of mouth referrals or anything), a patient said she be asking god to cure her. I said something like, “it would have been nice if you didn’t give you (name of disease) in the first place.” Rarely when they say, “I know god will cure me,” I say, “so you don’t want the prescription then?” It’s a rare occurrence, and not as mean as it may sound since most of my patients are not ill, but injured. They tend not to have much sense of humor about it, though.

    1. “it would have been nice if he didn’t give you (name of disease) in the first place.”

      It is always baffling how those that believe in the power of prayer don’t seem to see all the contradictions this involves – even if there were an all powerful God capable of answering them. Still, if we start getting bogged down with all the illogicalities and inconsistencies involved in religious thinking we shall be here till Kingdom Come 🙂

      1. I remember hearing a radio piece where Christopher Hitchens went apeshit on a guy who claimed that he could never question his faith after his daughter recovered from leukemia. Hitch asked what he thought of God’s relationship to the other children in the hospital who had died. It’s so immoral for winners to claim that it’s because God loves them because, of course, they’re also saying God hates the losers.

  27. I’m a PhD student in Louisiana. Religion comes up quite a bit in our Bio department, mostly relating to the ongoing fight against the Louisiana Science Education Act, which makes it easy to slip creationism into the state’s public schools. I’m usually pretty nonchalant about speaking my mind about religion, but then again, I’m only a student. I too have heard stories from faculty at other Southern institutions (not mine) that lead me to the opinion that caution should be taken in deciding what to say to whom in which situations. Faculty positions at major research universities, including those in the Deep South, are viciously competitively sought after by highly qualified applicants from across the globe, and I think belittling a faculty member for choosing to keep silent about her/his religious beliefs out of caution is naive. The risks for speaking out are real, and asking someone to put his/her job and reputation on the line purely for an unrealistic, idealist view of society (at least for the immediate future) is unfair.

    1. Sorry — my irritation that shines through this comment was not directed at Jerry’s OP, in case that wasn’t clear. Rather, I’m tired of folks accusing the quiet atheists of being “cowards.”

  28. I worked for years for a regional corporation that was based in a christian fundamentalist state. It is difficult to provide evidence that I was discriminated against due to my open atheism but, I’m certain that it was likely. The staff of the Director in one of the departments in which I worked was made up entirely of the most fundamentalist christians in the department. If the discrimination wasn’t present it is difficult to understand how that could just randomly happen. The staff were the kind of christian that might be found reading their holey book on their lunch break. However, like most christians their actions weren’t consistent with what they proclaim the christian is. Upon query, their excuses amounted to suspending christianity while at work. Yeah right, said I.

    After working there a few years and becoming frustrated by who was being promoted or not, I decided to take a simple survey of a few people that had hiring responsibilities. I asked them in informal conversation if they had two candidates for a position with the exact same qualification and the only difference was that one was a christian and the other was an atheist, which one would they hire? I was expecting them to fumble around the issue but, thought I might be able to catch them in some unconscious discrimination. What I got from them was very blunt, they would all hire the christian for various reasons including that they thought the christian would mesh better with their current group.

    It would surprise me if open atheists aren’t discriminated against more often then they might know. Maybe not in scientific fields but, in other fields in christian dominated communities. Part of the adhesion within christian communities is the result of the preference that they extend to each other.

    1. Too bad you didn’t record the conversation. I guess religious discrimination is just another form of tribalism. A friend of mine worked where there were different ethnic groups that didn’t intermingle. They’d promote only each other. Awful.

      1. The upper management did have hidden recording devices and did use them, secretly or covertly. Those devices were prohibitively expensive for a lowly commoner such as myself at that time. Also, there were laws and still are regulating the recording of conversations. I don’t remember the specifics but, I think, it had to do with one party agreeing to be recorded for phone conversations and all parties having to agree to be recorded for oral conversation. Then there were other regulations regarding admissibility of recorded evidence. In house though, the upper management supported the management team in general so any complaint held the risk of being used against the complainant instead.

  29. I have been disturbed by the stories above. And it further persuades me that most of university is contemporary propaganda. And, of course, we must never play their game by denying opportunity to Christians. There is another way of appearing to be compliant, while being quite subversive. I have a great love of religious music; Bach, Palestrina, Monteverdi, plainsong, and so forth, and also of cathedral architecture. And so I am a regular visitor to the great churches and European cathedrals. And I take photographs. My wife and I are often found in the cathedrals of Florence, studying the painted ceilings with binoculars. (If you haven’t been, make it one of your life’s highlights, like studying animals in remote Africa, or sitting on a veranda in India listening to peacocks) Time spent in Florence reduces religion to folk-art and cruel history.
    When confronted by the religious, I always have the upper hand. From my apparent religious credentials as a regular cathedral-goer, (only when empty!) I can express my disappointment with the spiritual side of religion, dismissing its incoherence, its ludicrous propositions, its deluded characters, its dodgy morality. And so I represent the case that we are all from a Christian culture, but science has shown that the core beliefs of that culture are nonsense. “If only gods and angels were true, life would be very much easier!” It seems very odd that such a position seems to be above criticism by the religious. Sometimes, it is as if they have had similar thoughts.

    1. I’ve gotten to the point of having stripped away the gods with a few of the more honest christians. But, then they assert their belief that society needs religion to function and that Rome fell because they weren’t religious enough. I think they’ve got both those points backwards but, they are christian held beliefs that aren’t often challenged by atheists.

      1. their belief that […] Rome fell because they weren’t religious enough. I think they’ve got both those points backwards

        I think that Gibbon (“Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.“)would agree with you. whether Gibbon was correct himself is another question … on which I don’t really have an opinion.

      2. There are a lot of ideas about why Rome fell. I have a lot of opinions on this myself and I can guarantee you that “the weren’t religious enough” is never one that has any academic credence just like most things puked out of the gorge of religion (that was my Spencer homage) have no academic credence.

    2. George, I agree with you. I visited Florence in 2008 and loved the art, especially the statue of David. It surprised me that my family wanted to go after half an hour. I could have admired the statue for hours.

  30. I can’t imagine it happening in, say, Denmark, France, or Germany, where nobody gives a rat’s patootie if you’re an atheist.

    That is true. And I am also happy to say that the university and the state is very accomodating to atheists. I am a PhD student and am employed by the university (which means that I am employed by the state). Like everybody employed in a public institution I was required to take an oath to uphold the constitution.

    At that time I was informed that I could choose to skip the “so help me god” part.

    It is largely symbolic and I probably wouldn’t care one way or the other but it is a nice gesture.

    1. But if you come out in Denmark or France or Germany as a fundamentalist Christian I imagine lots of people would care quite a bit, and you may be subject to the same kind of social stigma and discrimination as people who come out as atheists in religious communities in the U.S.

      1. But if you come out in Denmark or France or Germany as a fundamentalist Christian I imagine lots of people would care quite a bit, and you may be subject to the same kind of social stigma and discrimination as people who come out as atheists in religious communities in the U.S.

        Define “fundamentalist” please.

        I have several christian friends and though they seldomly talk about their belief, it isn’t uncommon to shoot the breeze over a couple of beers.
        Those with fundamentalistic belief often seek out likeminded individuals and they have a tendency to withdraw from the public eye because no one takes them seriously.

        In other words: You are free to belive what you want, just don’t expect any respect given solely based on those belifs.

        1. I basically mean conservative Christianity. In the U.S., “fundamentalist” is usually applied to certain kinds of conservative protestant Christianity, but for the purposes of this discussion it could also include Mormons, Orthodox and conservative Catholics. Coming out as a fundamentalist Christian in a community dominated by non-believers may imperil your educational or professional opportunities, just as coming out as an atheist in a religious community may also have that effect.

          1. I disagree then. So long as you don’t go around proclaiming your belief 24/7, there’s nothing stopping you from applying for jobs or education. It isn’t relevant and it is considered a private matter.

            Religion simply isn’t an issue unless you yourself insist on making it an issue.

            Fundamentalism is rare because in a society where religion is largely regarded as a private matter, who is supposed to inspire and motivate you to make a public spectacle of it?

            1. I’m not sure what you’re disagreeing with exactly. My point is that just as someone may be subject to stigma and discrimination if he comes out as an atheist in a social or professional environment that is dominated by religious believers, especially conservative ones, the reverse is also true.

              1. I’m disagreeing with you because I don’t think it automatically follows.

                We have a high percentage of atheists and people aren’t being shunned or ostracized because of their religious beliefs.

                We respect the right to believe what you want in private and in church.

              2. We have a high percentage of atheists and people aren’t being shunned or ostracized because of their religious beliefs.

                Who is “we?” And how do know people aren’t being shunned or ostracized because of their religious beliefs?

              3. We are us Danes. To the best of my knowledge it is very very seldom a problem if a person is religious. As I’ve stated a few times now, religion is considered a private matter and what you do in your spare time is nobody’s bussiness but you.

                Religion simply isn’t an issue.

          2. But if you come out in Denmark or France or Germany as a fundamentalist Christian I imagine lots of people would care quite a bit

            “conservative Christianity” isn’t a well-defined label. I guess that depends on what you see as “fundamentalist” and “stigma” and “discrimination”. Here in (southern) Germany we have lots of Catholics.

            I was raised in an extremely religious family (which is very uncommon here) and I would say that there is a certain social stigma attached to religions that are a lot less common like the Jehova’s Witnesses or Pentacostals. But you never get to hear that openly.

            When it comes to work it is very much of a non-issue unless you are the one bringing it up (and that is usually frowned upon).

            Since I’ve never experienced the U.S. corporate culture I cannot vouch for this directly but I am told that co-workers in Germany tend to keep their relationship purely professional. Family stories, religion and similar stuff hardly ever come up. Your employer usually doesn’t know whether you are religious or not.

            So I don’t see how it could have any influence on someone’s career. If you constantly have arguments with co-workers about religious issues I am fairly certain that this will influence your career.

            1. I would say that there is a certain social stigma attached to religions that are a lot less common like the Jehova’s Witnesses or Pentacostals.

              Yes, that’s what I’m talking about, but I think it’s broader than you suggest. Anyone expressing the beliefs generally associated with Christian fundamentalism — young-earth creationism, strong opposition to abortion and homosexuality, the belief that the Bible is the literal word of God, etc. — is also likely to face some degree of stigma in an environment dominated by non-believers or people who are only weakly religious.

              Your employer usually doesn’t know whether you are religious or not.

              The same is true in the U.S. Discussion of religious beliefs in the workplace is generally discouraged, because of the potential for conflict and discrimination. Most large companies in the U.S. have human resource policies that explicitly forbid discrimination on the basis of religion, and it’s also prohibited by federal law. I don’t think merely identifying yourself at work as an atheist is likely to have serious adverse consequences, except perhaps in the most highly religious communities (say, rural areas in the South or Utah). But if you go around saying that you think your co-workers’ religious beliefs are stupid or immoral, or generally behave disrespectfully or unprofessionally towards them on account of their religious beliefs, then you may have a problem.

  31. if you talk about your religion a bit, you’re not going to suffer at all.

    Speak for yourself. On those rare occasions that I’ve met someone in geology who is open about being a “goddy,” I’ve always jumped straight onto them with the old McCarthy line of “are you now or have you ever been a creationist idiot?” and woe betide someone who admits it. Fully on grounds of professional competence : “If you can believe that crap, then I can’t trust a word you say or a thing that you do.”
    Then again, my part of industrial geology does depend on getting stratigraphy and Earth history and sedimentology right with every specimen. I suppose the same is true in teaching biology and genetics … I’ll have to look up what Prof.CC’s syllabus actually contains.
    I did have a creationist idiot of a supervisor once. I cannot for the life of me understand how he could square that circle of cognitive dissonance. Nice enough personally, but a creationist idiot ; he wasn’t there the next time I worked for that company, so I guess that he’s buried in the woods somewhere.

    1. …made me think of a reply (when talking to a cretinist) to the “Hitler was an Atheist” canard:

      “no, he was a Roman Catholic. But Jeffrey Dahmer’s dad [former analytical chemist] is a creationist.” A low brow and silly non sequitur, but still would love to see the look that would elicit.

  32. Slightly off topic: I spent the last week on jury duty (here in Australia), and couldn’t help noticing that of the 13 jurors, the other 12 swore ‘by almighty god’ on a bible. So did all of the witnesses except for one who was a neurosurgeon and all three who were German.
    As the jury was being empanelled, the quran was explicitly offered as an alternative to the Xtian bible. One of the jurors, as it happened, was muslim (from Afghanistan or Iran), but he took the bible. I gathered from a conversation overheard later that he thought it improper to swear on his holy book.

    1. Hmm… how did you know he was a Muslim? Could the prosecuting attorney have veto’d him? (Is that possible in Australia?)

      When I did my jury service in the UK, only two of the 12 jurors affirmed (me and another – but whether he was a none or a Quaker, or something else, I don’t know), as did one of the four defendants, but none of the witnesses. Kind of surprising given the high percentage of nones in the UK, but I guess you can easily get anomalies with a small sample. I wonder what the overall affirmation rate is. Still, my guess is that many nones still swear on the Bible because it’s “the done thing”.


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