Thursday, December 24, 2009

Does criticizing one extremist mean that you're not 'tolerant'?

A banana sparked a conversation that would later turn into a “religious tolerance” issue for Nim and I at work.

“You know that bananas are used by creationists to ‘prove’ that Creationism is true,” she said as she peeled one during our first break of the day. “They think that because bananas seem to be designed to fit into the human hand, that they prove intelligent design theories.”

“Well a lot of things fit into the human hand,” I said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that they were designed to do so. Maybe we evolved to be able to handle them.”

At lunch, one of our co-workers wanted to know what our banana comments were about.

“There’s that Kirk Cameron guy who is trying to promote a ‘special’ copy of Darwin’s Evolution of Species with a 50 page forward that connects Darwin with Nazism and mysogyny and a host of other things trying to prove that he is a Bad Dude. Trying to equate Darwin with the Nazis and crazy stuff like that,” said Nim.

“Who’s Kirk Cameron?” said co-worker. Oh, how we date ourselves.

“Kirk Cameron was on a TV show called Saved by the Bell back in the 80’s and turned fundie in the 90’s,” said Nim.

“So what’s the big deal?” said Co-worker.

“Well, they were passing out this book with a foreword that is based on faulty research and erroneous assumptions about what evolution really is all about,” said Nim. “It’s stupid.”

“It’s ridiculous. They’re their own worst enemies,” I said, chowing down on a slice of Santa Fe Chicken. “There are a lot of Creationists who believe in Darwin’s theory and they think the guy’s nuts.”

“On the other side, look at Richard Dawkins,” said Nim. “He’s pretty extreme and he’s an atheist.”

“I think, though, when any belief system steps out and tries to assert its rights, you’re going to have that,” I said. “The pendulum always seems to swing out to the extremes.”

The conversation turned after that and was forgotten in the throes of pizza consumption. At least until we got an email entitled “Religious Tolerance in the Workplace”. Now I’m going to paraphrase what it said, because I don’t have it in front of me:

Nim and Bravewolf,

It has come to my attention that you were emphatically speaking about Creationism during lunch today. You were calling Creationism “ridiculous”. There was a Creationist present who, obviously, was not up for debating their religion. Naturally this caused them some embarrassment.

These are basic social skills and this has no place in the work environment. We want all of our workers in Company X to feel comfortable and nonthreatened.

I hope you will act more thoughtfully in the future.

Signed, Your Immediate Boss

Now, the ethics of immediately assuming we were at fault aside, what’s wrong with this picture here?

Well, first, I believe that we were definitely skirting a line by talking about religion in any context. That is a given and we’re not planning on doing it again. It’s bad juju all around and we have fully apprehended that.

Our main problem with this issue is that, without bothering to talk to us, someone went up the line and complained to our supervisor, giving a completely different context to our words. This is a danger when you introduce religion, politics or sex into a place where there are likely to be varying opinions, so, again, I’m stating that I realize that our choice of subject had a great deal to do with what happened.

However, I was under the impression that the first step to resolving a problem was to approach the people in question and ask that the offending behaviour stop. This wasn’t done in our case. Because if it had been, this blog post probably wouldn’t be written. It would have gone something like this:

“Hey Brave, Nim, I’m afraid that your conversation pushed a few buttons about my personal beliefs and I’d rather you not bring that up at work anymore.”

“Damn, we’re sorry Co-worker. We weren’t intending to offend you and it won’t happen again.”

Because that is generally how adults operate. We might feel that this coworker is being a little sensitive about their religion and we’ll make mental notes not to introduce controversial issues around them in the future but they have the right to have their comfort level respected and that’s just fine with us.

Of course, now that we know that there’s someone who will go over our heads over a casual conversation in which we express a negative opinion of someone who vaguely shares their belief system (fundamentalists and mainstream believers usually are so different in their approaches to their religion that they may as well not be even lumped in with each other) is likely to do so about other things. So we wait and wonder.

It’s interesting that while I was vaguely uncomfortable with the MSN status saying “Smile, Jesus loves you!”, I didn’t make a big deal about it. Why? Because it wasn’t a big deal and I chose to take those words as a general wish of good will, not an aggressive proselytization attempt. Apparently we weren’t given the same courtesy and certainly weren’t given the benefit of the doubt by our supervisor before the official letter came down. It’s a valuable lesson to know for the future.

1 comment:

  1. Whoa whoa whoa.. I never said that Kirk Cameron was on Saved by the Bell.. he was on Growing Pains.