I have for purely practical reason hesitated to post a discussion since I am still uncertain.  However, I have recently realized that I have a question to which I would greatly appreciate assistance from fellow non-believers.   The simple idea on the table (so to speak) is the proper or polite response to the question...

"Do you believe in God?"

I hesitate to capitalize 'God' even as I type it or but it is treated as a name as much as a title so I see no harm in using it.

My primary question in this discussion is the appropriate response for an atheist.  Please note that I have am not in a position to openly disclose my beliefs without risking (in high probability) my livelihood and career given the area in which I reside and the specific sentiment of my employers'.


Disclaimer's aside: I am an atheist and sincerely would appreciate council on either side in this issue.  

Key Issue:  How to respond to the question, "Do you believe in God?"

I have thought of and used many answers to this question but the most honest is as follows...

"I am sorry but I don't answer loaded questions".

I thought this to be wise but recently was challenged, "It's a simple yes or no question?"

My response is. "I don't understand what you mean by 'belief' or 'god.".

My explanation is "I cannot, based on my experience, know what you mean by belief OR god.. so I cannot be honest in my answer to that question."

My simple challenge is.... "Am I being evasive (avoiding the question), literal (focusing on meaning/language, OR honest (not sincerely being able to answer)?

I honestly want responses and feedback since I think that I am being honest.  

Toi My Fellow Thinkers:

* What is your best response?

* Would you risk your career on giving that response?

* Would/Should you expect the respect of other atheists for this response?

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Look at it this way, just say yes to save your job who cares anyway.

When I am asked that question I usually respond, "I am sure that you really are interested in knowing that answer, but right now I just don't feel comfortable with the sub-questions that will follow. For the moment, let's continue with the idea that we both really like each other regardless of how we feel or may differ about individual beliefs."

It seems a little confrontational when it's typed out, but I find that most people assume that means I believe, which they can infer all day long if they chose, but that there will likely be a doctrinal issue that we won't see eye to eye on. Trust me, as a former Christian and preaching student, no theist will feel like having a conversation with you on the individual nuances, which will almost certainly lead to a denominational disagreement, of a particular religion.

It usually works.

When it doesn't, then you're dealing with someone who was looking for a battle of some kind before they even asked the question.

But to respond to the general feel of your answer, it really comes across as a legalistic slight of hand to not answer a question and leaves the door open for them to gladly explain what they mean by "believe" and "god", thus forcing you back to your original dilemma of how to answer their question.

Like the captain said yes is the safest answer, especially when living in the bible belt. I don't fight many battles anymore. It is illegal for an employer to discriminate or allow discrimination on the basis of religion.

If you want to make a point you could always ask if you can video them asking the question and them you ask them why they want to know (so you can file a charge if the reason is inappropriate.) The EEOC would be interested.


They may still fire you for a trumped up reason, or make your life miserable but that could cost them if you document everything.

* What is your best response?

I have always answered honestly with a "No." If they continue the conversation, I may give the short version, depending on whether I have the time and patience at the moment.

* Would you risk your career on giving that response?

I have had that question asked by a few of my bosses in the past and I have always answered honestly. Whether that is a smart thing to do I am not sure, but I honestly don't think I could lie about it.

* Would/Should you expect the respect of other atheists for this response?

Would I? Sure. Should I? Probably not. We've all got our own ways of dealing with things, and this question is no different. I won't shit on you if you are evasive, or whatever, I'm sure everyone has their own reasons for answering the way they do.

You gotta consider what is in your best interest. If you are in a position where the honest answer could be harmful to you in any way, then I would expect and respect your decision to lie regardless of what I would do in that situation.

It's a bummer that you're stuck with such a stupid absurd situation like this. I don't think the majority of atheists would blame you for lying if it means keeping your job. I can't imagine what it's like to have to listen to people openly blabbing about their belief in a man in the sky every day at work AND having to keep your perfectly reasonable (and sane) non-belief to yourself. Good luck either way.

I think that the simplest answer that you can give if you're worried about job security is "Yes."

The responses that you have worked out that don't answer one way or the other would be very telling to somebody who asks this question.  If you make an effort to dissect the question and the meaning of words in it, you may avoid answering the question outright; however, if the person is paying attention, they'll know exactly what you're trying not to say.

RobertPiano's suggestion that you document it is a great way to defend yourself if you're worried about your job.

I wouldn't judge an atheist who lies to keep their job, just as I wouldn't judge any lgbt person who lies to keep their job.  Sometimes society is crappy, and you have to pick your fights wisely.

I am always as honest as I can be, as I have found that it is truly the best way to stay out of trouble. And, surprisingly, I have found that many people - several that I would never have suspected - have similar views to my own.

So, the conversation may go a little like this:

Them: "Do you believe in God?"

Me: "No, in fact I don't believe in any gods."

Them: "What do you mean?"

Me: "Well, I don't believe in any of the ones you don't believe in, like Vishnu, Mithras, Zeus, Baal, or Freya, and I also don't believe in the one you do believe in."

Them: "Why don't you believe in God?"

Me: "You mean, 'Why don't I believe in your god?'"

Them: "There is only one God."

Me: "Is there? Because I can name 10 or 20 gods of the hundreds or thousands that have 'existed' throughout history. Perhaps I should ask you the same question. Why don't you believe in Apollo? How about Eros? Thor?"

Them: "Because they're not real. They're just mythology."

Me: "Well, there you have it."

Them: "That's not the same. I have a personal relationship with God."

Me: "That's cool. Does your wife know? Don't worry; your secret is safe with me. I have secrets so secret, I don't even tell myself."

Them: "You're just playing. You should come to church with me."

Me: "No thanks. I studied the Bible and Judeo-Christian history in college under Mark Elliott, one of the foremost Biblical History scholars in the U.S. I learned more from him than a preacher could ever teach me. In fact, I would probably just upset you and your friends by correcting your pastor. You're more than welcome to come browse my library of religious texts some time, though."

Oh, and yes, I would bet my career on my answer, as I have in the past.

I am 30 years old and not about to work in a place or for anyone who would discriminate against me for any reason, especially because I don't worship a bearded man in the clouds.

I suggest that you find another place of toil if you are truly at risk of losing your job to fundies.

I worked in a place once where one guy was a real Jesus freak. He asked me in front of most of the other staff during a canteen lunch break if I believed in god. The short version:

Me: No. I don’t believe what you believe.

Jesus Rep: That is what I thought and I am not sure how happy I am about having to work with you.

Me: Well if you feel that strongly about it don’t let me hold you back. I am sure they will give you a good reference.

Jesus Rep: Your lack of humility explains your arrogance. I don’t intend going anywhere.

Me: Well if you intend to stay then keep it zipped about your God when near me.

Jesus Rep: I will speak about the majesty of God and…..

Me: Shut the f**k up.

I have been asked this question a lot, mostly by the elderly patients with whom I work.  I can't say that I've ever come right out and lied, but I do everything I can to not make them feel uncomfortable, while still being true to myself.

I don't think I have the luxury of risking my career on answering that question truthfully.  Luckily, that has never been an issue for me.  I have had interesting interactions with coworkers but my job has never been in jeopardy over my atheism.

I don't care how other atheists respond to that question.  Like someone else said, each person must do what is right for him or her. 

I don't expect anyone to risk their livelihood or safety by denying their community's spiritual beliefs.

If we're talking about an employer asking an employee a question about the employee's religious belief then your first response to them would be one concerning relevance. What relevance does your religious belief have on your being an employee? I can think of little relationship between your ability to competently perform your employee tasks and what you think about invisible beings.

So my response is: "How is this relevant to my employment?"  If they persist and you like your job then stroke their ego and say "Yes, but I won't get into specifics."


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