August 29, 2013

Praise Jesus!

English: A sewn Flying Spaghetti Monster craft.
English: A sewn Flying Spaghetti Monster craft. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You know how many people, including more than a few atheists, use exclamations like "Oh my god" in day-to-day conversations to communicate surprise? Someone tells you about something really amazing that recently happened to them, and you reflexively utter "Oh my god," realizing afterward that that seems like an odd thing for an atheist to say. I've certainly been there. The expression is quite common, so much so that I rarely think anything of it when I hear someone say it.

At work the other day, a co-worker used a different exclamation in this context: "praise Jesus!" Instead of other viable options like "Oh my god," "holy shit," "damn," or "no way," what came out of her mouth was "praise Jesus!" I have to admit being a little taken aback by the expression. It seemed like an odd choice of words in the context, but I did not give it much more thought until my drive home.

On later reflection, I think what I found notable about this particular expression was how specific it was in a sectarian way. "Oh my god" may be off-putting to some atheists, but "praise Jesus" would seem to alienate all non-Christians. It might be tempting to excuse the speaker by pointing out that we have so little religious diversity here in Mississippi that she's perfectly justified in assuming that everyone she meets is going to be Christian. And yet, there is more diversity in our workplace (a university environment). The odds of her running into a Muslim, Jew, or atheist are actually quite a bit higher on campus than in the surrounding community.

I found myself thinking more about Christian privilege and how I would never say something like "praise Dawkins" or "all hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster" to my co-workers. Aside from the dangers of outing myself as an atheist. I'd never blindly my co-workers held the same views on religion as I did. But the fascinating question isn't whether I would do any of this but why I wouldn't. I suppose the brief version is that I am sensitive to the fact that not everyone shares my views on religion, and I wouldn't make such statements because I am not interested in alienating my co-workers. These are people with whom I have to be able to work effectively to do my job.

In the case of the "praise Jesus" woman, I am confident that she has no ill will whatsoever and simply wasn't thinking about such matters. After all, treating one's own beliefs and experience as the norm is part of privilege.

I did not scold her and have no interest in doing so in the future. Should the opportunity present itself again, I'll have to decide if it would be appropriate to gently bring the impact of the expression to her attention in much the same way I might in the case of a sexist or racist comment. Alternatively, I may decide that addressing it would cause more harm than good and chose to ignore it.

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