26 April 2009

Religion in the Workplace

This is a revised and expanded version of an essay I wrote back in July 2008.

This is, in part, a response to Daven's essay Religion in the Workplace, and in part derived from my experiences here and in other places.

In the essay, Daven poses the question "How much religion should be taken to the workplace?" This is an interesting and important question, but unfortunately he seems to get caught up in the trappings of religion instead of the actual practice of religion. His examples talk about unburned scented candles, images of the goddess, shrines, signature lines, and the like.

I hold Daven in the highest regard (being a former student of his high magic class). But this article, to me, is asking the wrong question and looking at the wrong things. The trappings of religion are not as important as our faith and our devotional practices to the gods.

If you want an article about the trappings of religion in the workplace, he makes some excellent points.

While some may disagree with me on this, I do not see the point of building a shrine at work, unless maybe it is to a local landwight in which case you can probably get away with a few flowers on your desk or with putting something unobtrusive outside. Posting the Charge of the Goddess might be acceptable practice (or the Christian down the hall might be doing it with the Lord's Prayer), but that does not mean that it is appropriate to do so. As Daven points out:

Understand that while you talking about Paganism in the lunch room or over the water cooler may be tolerated, the business is about making money.

...and that's just it. Posting a copy of the Nine Noble Virtue as a reminder to myself might be a worthwhile exercise, but the truth of the matter is that if I want to post them at work I should be evaluating my motives very carefully. They should be part of who I am, and why would I need to post them publicly when I could just as easily stick them on a piece of paper in my desk?

I'll go out on a limb here and say that posting them publicly is an exercise in broadcasting one's beliefs to others and not reflective--one way or the other--on the internal state of the person in question.

I wear a pentacle ring that is specifically charged. In situations where I am concerned about the reaction I flip it around so that the pentacle is on the inside. If I thought it would be a problem for a long period of time, I would consider moving the ring to my necklace (which lives inside of my shirt) and/or wearing another ring charged with similar properties.

I am not closeted--even slightly--I am quite open with my beliefs. I am also sensitive to the fact that my faith is--first and foremost--between me and the gods. If I am more effective in a workplace by not walking around with a large pentacle on my t-shirt, then I will dress accordingly. My goals are workplace effectiveness and honor of the spirits, not showing off. If the gods demanded that I walk around with a t-shirt with a large pentacle on it, I would try to negotiate and, barring that, find a job where I can get away with it with a minimum of hassle (though I generally find if a Christian could wear a big cross on their t-shirt the company won't mind the pentacle for standard equal opportunity reasons, YMMV).

I am far more concerned about behaviors than I am with these trappings. The first question here is "what are your needs." I pray several times a day and try to go through my prayer beads on a semi-regular basis. This, to me, needs to be acceptable behavior, but there is no reason they even should see it under most circumstances. Some flexibility around my holy days (e.g., I've made it a point that I must be in town at the end of October) and such is another major sticking point for me, but most places I've worked have been accommodating (though I do get to use PTO for it). These requirements are no different than that I need to be able to take holidays off since that's my only time with my out-of-state family--its just one of the priorities we need to think about when choosing a job and a workplace environment--I could not work in retail without very carefully negotiating what days I did and did not get off, simply because those are the times of the year I get to spend time with my family traditionally. For a classical shaman of the northern tradition there would be more stringent requirements, for an agnostic there would be fewer, but in the end these requirements are no different from any others.

It is important to me that I pray. It is not especially important to me that I keep incense at my desk all day.

So what about the Christian with a copy of the Lord's Prayer up who tries to save you? The evangelical Christian is required to proselytize as part of her faith, the faith of the coven that trained me years ago specifically forbade it. I am semi-tolerant of such behavior in moderation (they shouldn't push the point when I say no, but being asked along is fine), but its important to note that this isn't about what "they" can do: its about our relationship with the deities.

Recently I was asked along with some of the people I work with when they went to pray to a Buddhist equivalent to a land-wight. It was a beautiful experience that was quite obviously a matter of behavior. If I had said no, they would have gone on their way without me. I do not feel compelled to join, they don't treat me differently for not joining, and it takes place out of sight on an already established shrine. Praying in this manner is elegant and respectful, and it doesn't intrude on anyone who doesn't want to see.

It also doesn't require keeping a shrine on my desk.

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