As an agnostic, how can I successfully work with a religious client?
August 20, 2014 8:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm the only copywriter at a mid-sized advertising agency. We just landed a huge job that's going to require a lot of work on my end. Here's the problem: I'm agnostic, and religion (namely Christianity) makes me really cranky and frothy. The client is a faith-based company that makes things (I don't want to say what) for churches. How can I make it through unscathed?

Other details: many of the people in my office (including the president of the company) are very religious and involved in their church. When people talk about church-y stuff, I usually just tune out and avoid conversation.

However, with this client, there's no getting around it. There are going to be lots of strategy conversations about how to appeal to certain sects of Christianity (e.g., Catholics vs. Protestants). Then, I'm going to have to write directly to these audiences. I lack knowledge about these things, and I also get extremely uncomfortable talking about them.

I don't feel like I can approach my boss about this, because I'm 95% sure he will judge me and it will affect our ongoing professional relationship. In short, I feel like a vegan writing for a meat-packing company.

I'm going to have to be involved in this. There's no way around it. How can I power through this without getting extremely worked up? How can I minimize my frustration with the situation and not make it apparent to others?
posted by shiggins to Work & Money (46 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It's work. No one's trying to convert you (or, if they are, that's a separate issue). Presumably you can write copy targeting female customers, or young customers, or wealthy customers, etc. Presumably you sometimes need to research how to appeal to those audiences, because you may not know all the nuances. This is the exact same thing.
posted by jaguar at 8:42 AM on August 20, 2014 [13 favorites]

Treat it as an intellectual exercise. How do you appeal to Catholics vs. Protestants? What direct message to these audiences will work? When your co-workers talk about church-y stuff, use it as research. "Oh, you went to Bible study last night? What do you do at Bible study? Who leads it? How many people come? How long does it last?" "Oh, your church is having a cookout? What do you do at a church cookout? Who leads it? How many people come? How long does it last?" Take their answers and consider How can this help my copy?

And get yourself a ritual that separates Work Shiggins from Real Shiggins. For instance, I have an extensive collection of stupid and hilarious T-shirts that I wear under my work shirt (this is today's). When I go to the parking garage at the end of the day, I take a deep breath, remove my work shirt, throw it in my trunk, and I am no longer Work Etrigan. All the bullshit I have to worry about at work goes into the trunk with my work shirt, and *poof* it's gone.
posted by Etrigan at 8:44 AM on August 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

If you think you might want to communicate with religious people about your beliefs in the future (and I hope you do - not because I think they're all evil, but because I think increasing understanding between groups with different beliefs is extremely important), then this work gives you an unparalleled opportunity to learn how to do that. You'll have to learn what phrasing, images, and ideas really connect with them; what makes them turn off; what's similar and different between the different groups and between religious groups and your friends.

You might even be able to subtly foster an approach that encourages real, community-connected, ethical-at-core ways of thinking vs. cynical "let's increase donations by impressing people and not worry about where those donations go" marketing. Very subtly - maybe emphasizing the community good that can be done instead of just revenues. Can cynical people use whatever they've got to foster their own ends? Of course. Nevertheless, connecting to people's hearts, and letting them know that they're not alone in wanting to truly do good, is a helpful thing.
posted by amtho at 8:45 AM on August 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Unless you have a moral objection to working for a faith-based company, I'd treat it the same way as if the client were a faith-based company that makes things for synagogues, mosques, Buddhist temples, et cetera. No one is forcing you to be Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, or any other religion. This is just a company that wants to advertise their widgets to a specific market of customers interested in those widgets. YOU don't have to be interested in them.

If I were in your shoes, I'd think, "It's a paycheck." You'd have to learn what appeals to this group of consumers regardless of the religion involved.

In this case, however, you can use your religious co-workers to your advantage, as you seem to indicate that they are religious Christians. They will know what "appeals to certain sects of Christianity" better than non-religious Christians or non-Christians.

How long do you think this project will be on your plate? Is it an ongoing relationship with this company? If that's the case, I think it might be necessary for you to take a breather once in a while, more so than for other clients, perhaps, but that's normal, I think.
posted by tckma at 8:45 AM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

As jaguar says, it's just work. They're just words. You're a professional, and you'll write something to the best of your abilities, that is geared toward the target audience, and has nothing to do with you, personally. I would never choose to send a faith-based "I'll be praying for you" sympathy card to anyone I know, but I bet I could design and script one if I had reason to.
If it's a big project, there's presumably a bit of a team involved; pick the best person you can think of from your organization, somebody who understands Christianity but is someone you're comfortable around, and ask the boss to make sure they're on your team.
posted by aimedwander at 8:48 AM on August 20, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments so far. I know no one is "trying to convert me," and that I should be able to view this as just work. The problem, I guess, is that the topic has a lot of personal triggers for me. I have had very bad experiences with Christianity (and continue to, because of my pushy in-laws), so the minute I hear anyone talking about these things, I instantly want to remove myself because I'm reminded of these bad experiences.

E.g., someone at work starts talking about church, and I think of the time when I had to walk out of my father-in-law's sermon (that I attended just to be "nice") because he started talking about how childless women are sinners. (I'm married, childless, and don't want kids, so this was extremely upsetting.)

So, more specifically, this is a triggering subject for me. Any talk about church reminds me of bad experiences. I need to power through without being reminded of these bad experiences, but I don't know how.
posted by shiggins at 8:54 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't feel like I can approach my boss about this, because I'm 95% sure he will judge me and it will affect our ongoing professional relationship.

Just to maybe enhance your perspective a bit, I'll say this: your reluctance to talk to your boss about this is a good instinct, because you would be confessing to an irrational bias against people of a particular faith. If I were your employer I would consider such an attitude to be the equivalent of racism.

You should not only do your best to serve these clients fairly, you should seriously step back and reconsider your outlook on this topic and whether or not your attitude is a problem. You sound less "agnostic" and more "anti-Christian." When you readily and unabashedly say things like "religion (namely Christianity) makes me really cranky and frothy," that does not always come across as "I am an enlightened, progressive person." To many people (including many progressive, enlightened people) it comes across as bigotry.
posted by General Tonic at 9:00 AM on August 20, 2014 [19 favorites]

Well, if you have experiences with things that alienate you from church services, ceremonies, and paraphernalia, then you are actually extremely qualified to work on materials that are meant to appeal to a variety of denominations.

Think about what would _not_ alienate you, non-Christian person, as you determine how to market these things, and you'll be ahead of the game. There are points where you will need to adopt a stance that might not be your own, since you are marketing to those who already believe the core messages, but it's the softest version of that core due to the wide reach you've mentioned they want to have.

Market to the church you wish you'd had experiences with, not the one you have.
posted by mikeh at 9:06 AM on August 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

In short, I feel like a vegan writing for a meat-packing company.

It sounds more like you'd be an omnivore working for a vegan company. They're the ones with the restrictive beliefs, not you.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:07 AM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I actually used to work for a place where many of our clients had what I considered to be ridiculous, kooky, anti-scientific New Age beliefs. Everyone assumed I was a New Agey person too, because I worked at this place. I thought it was all bullshit, and potentially damaging bullshit at that, but since it was work, I just nodded along when they told me about indigo children and salt lamps and shit, and then I went home and told my friends about it when I had to blow off steam.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:11 AM on August 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

You need to be able to distance yourself from this, to see this all from behind a safe pane of mental glass. It's not personal, it's not you, you can pretend to be the cool pro, until that's who you really become.

These aren't the religious people of your past, these are really keen fans, all with slightly different takes on their fandom. They ship different relationships, some of them are Gryffindors, some are Hufflepuffs. They start from the same source material, but each groups wants their particular house logos on their pen sets.

You treat them with respect, the same you would with any client. You listen to their deep concerns, but those aren't yours at all. They're fans and you aren't, that's all.
posted by bonehead at 9:12 AM on August 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you are in a tough spot. Meditation will help you relax your thoughts, be prepared to take breaks, and try to get exercise throughout the day. Set yourself goals and rewards.

Ultimately this is on you, if you can't work something out you may need to find a new job.
posted by askmehow at 9:13 AM on August 20, 2014

I sometimes have to be around some pretty religious fundamentalists when I go home and have some of the same baggage you do. I have zero interest in hearing about sin and sinners, but want to have some connection - in my case with friends and family, in your case with clients. What I've done is use my interest in history to get some secular perspective on bible stories or theology.

It makes for a nice aside - I'm not telling the person who just quoted Corinthians to me that they are rotters, but rather talk about what was going on with Paul and the Roman Empire at the time. It works surprisingly well - I'm not trying to hurt their feelings or challenge their beliefs and they aren't feeling attacked or shamed for their beliefs.

I'm not saying it works all the time, but if this is a big project, you can talk about the differences between how Protestants and Catholics like to see a crucifix/cross, the history of different representations of the cross, or how geography plays into the church Catholic/Orthodox/Calvinists/&c...

So turn it into a paid academic exercise. I find it helps a lot. You don't have to engage the theology itself.
posted by Tchad at 9:13 AM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Often it's valuable to have a disinterested party around when there's a discussion to be had. Be that objective outsider. Stay neutral and, if you think it will be useful, question the assumptions that your colleagues, who may be invested in their own particular branch-of-a-branch of Christianity, are making. As long as you're not questioning in an attacking way, you'll be making an important contribution.

It's a really good life-skill to learn to step outside your own little bubble of opinions, experiences and triggers, and to learn how to discuss things like belief in a non-defensive and open way.
posted by pipeski at 9:16 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How can I minimize my frustration with the situation and not make it apparent to others?

If you think you might have trouble keeping your opinions out of your copy, you need to compensate for that as best you can.

Get a colleague you trust to double-check any of your work before it goes to your boss or the client. You even don't have to tell them about your feelings on Christianity, just say that the subject matter isn't your area of expertise and you want to be sure your phrasing/etc. is correct. If there's anything potentially offensive or inappropriate in there, they'll definitely point it out.
posted by griphus at 9:18 AM on August 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I was getting ready to launch into the whole "but you're a writer and this is your job and..." thing (because I've also had to research things I neither knew nor cared about for other writing gigs myself), but your followup changes things a bit.


Is there a co-worker you really trust? Someone that's religious, but cool? Maybe if you took them aside over lunch or something, and talked to them just about the triggery part, so you had that as a pressure release. Something like -

"Hey, so, this project. So, I have a sort of....history with religion, and I just need to vent a bit; I'm good where I am faith-wise, and I know not every Christian is like my in-laws, but here's the kinds of things they did; can you help remind me now and then that that was about m in-laws and not about religion itself, so I can focus on the task at hand better?"

Not your boss, but a co-worker. Having one person who sort of knows your deal is an immense help at times like this - I used to work in the equities office of a bank, where it felt like I was the only Democrat in a huge sea of Republicans, until I found some other guy who was Independent and we sort of made this pact where we could come hang out with each other every so often if it felt like we were talking to way too many Republicans. And every once in a while I did indeed just knock on the door of his office all "can I just....hang out in here for five minutes? They're picking on Obamacare out there...." and it really did help.

Good luck. I think having the periodic reminder that "your in-laws' behavior is different from what we're talking about" could help a lot.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:21 AM on August 20, 2014 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I hear you, as an atheist who occasionally works with and for people of faiths I am particularly uncool with (though I have no trauma in my background associated with it).

The thing that becomes obvious really quickly is that your customer is taking advantage of the faiths(!) of their customers. This is not a bunch of true believers furthering their cause, this is some folks who realized there was money just waiting to be made in vanilla-scented pew polish or whatever.

They probably talk a certain talk, because you must maintain a certain identity to the customers, but it's all dollars in the bank at the end of the day.

You're a copywriter, which means you're blessed with a certain amount of eloquence in the bullshit department. Do the same thing you'd do if the customer sold widget attachments in a very narrow market of cat-fur weavers and you don't know anything about cat fur weaving.

Practice your game face. Get it out and use it as needed. Don't get yourself wound up over stuff that hasn't happened yet.

If you really cannot do those things, find a therapist who can help you both deal with the trauma in your life and also help you polish up your neutral affect. Lots of professionals have to keep their cool in weird situations, and it's not unusual to work with someone to help with the skills required to do that.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:22 AM on August 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

If I were in your shoes, OP, and I wanted to find a way to deal with this in a way that felt right to me, I would donate time and/or money to organizations that were the opposite of your current client.

Then you can be thankful that you had client X that you did not necessarily believe in, but use it to fund things that you feel strongly about.
posted by Wolfster at 9:25 AM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

So, more specifically, this is a triggering subject for me.

I think you will get more helpful responses if you reframe this as "how can I work on a project/work with people whose beliefs are triggering for me" rather than as an agnostic-christian-religious issue.

Your followup comment implies that your trigger is feeling judged by religious people/in religious situations. So think of a boundary as being the line between you and your work. Be as mindful of that boundary as possible. View edits to/criticism of your copy as related to your work, not to you. View the demographic analysis and other marketing strategies as related to the product, not the beliefs.

Remind yourself every day that your clients are not your relatives.
posted by headnsouth at 9:25 AM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I too have this baggage, am an atheist, and a copywriter at an ad agency.

This is probably my worst nightmare, in terms of projects, so I'd probably try to get myself off this account. It can't hurt to ask.

If you have to stay on, I would probably go over the top with the writing, secretly. Treat it all as a joke, in your head. Write the stupidest, punniest, most heretic headlines you can think of, just to get it out of your system. ("The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want—unless it's this 24 karat ichthus decal!" Or whatever.)

Then tone it down.

If you grew up with this shit, you already have the vocabulary. Throw yourself in there 100%, and never let on that this is a joke of cosmic proportions to you.
posted by functionequalsform at 9:28 AM on August 20, 2014 [10 favorites]

Maybe reading works from progressive theologians could help you get a feel for the language different sects use while keeping you in more familiar territory.

(From personal experience, I'm in the agnostic/atheist/allergic to evangelicals camp but recently became friends with some people who are deeply religious and also deeply progressive. During the push to legalize same-sex marriage, they were at the state capitol every day and worked really hard to support the effort. We seem to only hear from the hate-mongering elements of Christianity because they're the loudest. Many quieter people people of faith are working incredibly hard to get good things done. And maybe those folks buy stuff from your client too.)
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 9:30 AM on August 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, talk to Creative Resourcing about having an end date to this project. Diplomatically couch it in terms of "helping out with XX% of my time, for X weeks." Do not let this become your main, open-ended account. Offer to help them look around the agency for a writer who would be a better fit. Having an end to the project will help a lot.

Draw limits and boundaries.
posted by functionequalsform at 9:31 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with @headnsouth's point of view -- seems like you've focused the issue -- it is not about Christian vs. agnostic, it's about being able to reduce your response to triggering events. This link looks like it has a lot of useful information -- the organization is focused on helping people heal from sexual abuse, but I would think triggers are triggers.
posted by elmay at 9:43 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: On your update:

In that situation, I'd work on changing my self-talk every time I noticed my brain wandering into "They're judging me!" territory. "My co-workers are just talking about an activity they share, it has nothing to do with me." "My clients are just talking about their target demographic, it has nothing to do with me." "This religious person is not my father-in-law, his religious views have no actual impact on me." Basically, remind myself over and over and over again that this is work, not my personal life, and that these people's opinions of anything other than my work don't matter. I would pair this with lots of deep, steady breathing to keep any creeping anxiety in check.

Separating our reactions from people who have hurt us from our reactions to people who remind us of people who have hurt us is a useful skill.
posted by jaguar at 10:21 AM on August 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

There's a chance (maybe a small one) that you'll meet nice people who are less extreme than your in-laws. If so, that could help you a lot. Try to notice how people actually behave instead of always preparing for the worst.

You should probably make a point of spending time with people who are more in harmony with your beliefs, to keep your life balanced and yourself less defensive.

I have to say that I do hope the "it's just a paycheck" crowd try to incorporate their ethics into their work, as well. It's not just a paycheck; work uses your time, and the world's resources, to create value for other people. While people may not be responsible for controlling a ferry or a train, so the consequences of not caring are less immediate and dramatic, the millions of small decisions we make every day arguably have a more profound effect.
posted by amtho at 10:24 AM on August 20, 2014

Response by poster: Separating our reactions from people who have hurt us from our reactions to people who remind us of people who have hurt us is a useful skill.


I need to know how to cultivate this skill. Besides the standard "look into a good therapist" advice, does anyone have any suggested books or specific advice regarding ways to cultivate this skill?

To other posters and readers: I am sorry that it took me a minute to get to the meat of this issue, and if my initial post came across as crass or offensive. I understand if you think I'm an unenlightened, anti-Christian bigot; that's your opinion, and I can see how you might have arrived at that conclusion based on the limitations of this post. I don't feel up to defending myself. I would just like some advice regarding the italicized quote above.
posted by shiggins at 10:34 AM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am really sorry that you had such a terrible experience with your inlaws. However, perhaps it will help put things in perspective to think about this issue more broadly in terms of groups and stereotypes. Would you think it was appropriate for an employee who was once mugged by an African American teenager to not want to work on an account marketing basketball shoes to African American teenagers? Hopefully not. As with absolutely any group in society, some Christians are absolute dickheads who do really damaging things, and others are completely normal, nice people who are uninterested in guilting you about your decisions on raising children. Now, it is the case that the media likes to put the dickhead ones in the spotlight a LOT more than the other sort (just like the aforementioned example of African American teenagers), but it really doesn't make it any more appropriate to stereotype the group in this way. In your situation, I think you should do your best to treat these clients as individuals. If they do something inappropriate (for example, trying to convert you, make disparaging comments about non-Christians, etc.) then I think it is appropriate to a) secretly hate them and b) consider whether you want to speak up and how (this will depend on your work situation, obviously, as would any client disagreement issue). Or, if they're asking you to create messages that you deeply disagree with (for example, they want to make a giant pro-life banner and you are pro-choice), then I think that is another point where it's reasonable to think about whether it is worth talking to your boss about being moved to a different account. But if this is simply, like, "How should we market church pews" and you are treated professionally by the clients, then I think you should put it in the mental category of "unreasonable prejudice that I need to deal with on my own time."
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:52 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Something that helps me keep the shitty acts of one person from tainting a whole group of people is to focus on all the ways they are DIFFERENT. Yes, Christianity is a connecting threat between your clients and your awful inlaws, but rather than focusing on that similarity, focus on how your client's behaviour and treatment of you is DIFFERENT. Focus on how their practice of Christianity isn't the same as your awful inlaws. Because really, not all Christians are like your father in law. You logically know this, but it sounds like you need to work harder to remind yourself of it. (And I say this as a non-Christian.)

ie. Father-In-Law would have said [horrible thing] if he were here, but client was totally respectful and didn't make a fuss. That was great. I'm so glad client isn't father-in-law.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:56 AM on August 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It can help to learn about cognitive distoritions, and to start noticing when you're engaging in them and then to redirect your thoughts toward more balanced, realistic thoughts.

A standard model for doing that is the "ABCD" model, where you track the Activating event ("What happened?"), the Belief it triggered ("What did I think about it?"), the Consequences ("What did I feel about it?"), and then Dispute any distortions ("What are other possible explanations for what happened?"). It might look something like, "My co-worker just talked about church. I believed he was judging me for not being Christian. I felt angry and scared. It's possible I was jumping to conclusions and maybe mindreading, and that he was just talking about something in his life and wasn't trying to send me coded messages about my life."

There are worksheets (sometimes without the "D" part (PDF), if you just want to work on monitoring your thoughts as a first step) that you could just print out and keep at your desk. It's one of those skill sets that gets easier and much quicker the more you practice it.

Some of the trauma-triggering websites and practices might be worthwhile, but I think it's important to differentiate between "My internal faulty beliefs are making me jump to conclusions that cause me distress" and "This external trigger is highjacking my physiological responses and causing me to have a panic attack or flashback." The term "trigger" has gotten kind of broad, and I think it's often helpful when dealing with faulty beliefs rather than PTSD triggers to remind ourselves that our beliefs are actually totally within our control, unlike trauma triggers (which can certainly be managed, but often with different tools).
posted by jaguar at 11:11 AM on August 20, 2014 [10 favorites]

Why do you care (what other people think)?

Re-framing this situation is key, and there are PLENTY of tips, tricks, and self-work resources out there to help you. Google some!

I'm going to say this, and it's not going to be kind, but you need to hear it.....

Believe in yourself more and develop a WAY better sense of humor. You come off as self-centered, sorta childish. Other people can believe whatever they want, and their words or beliefs should not shake you in the least.

If my father-in-law lectured me from the pulpit in such a way I would have laughed and laughed and laughed. I would not have laughed at loud in church, but I would definitely enjoy the irony. He's not really being a good person when he does stuff like that, so it's pretty damn funny considering his role in his community!

It would not cross my thoughts for an instant that he was right about my life choices since I have confidence in my own choices and a strong knowing that only I have the right to govern my own life.

See what I mean? If you're thinking differently about all of this (re-framing it) there is no trigger.
posted by jbenben at 11:14 AM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Jbenben, I am not you. It is not easy for a lot of people (including myself) to brush triggers away so easily. Triggers do not disappear as soon as you reframe them. If it were this easy, I wouldn't be asking the question. Maybe it is easy for some people; it is not easy for me.

Self-centered, sorta childish, anti-Christian, unenlightened bigot with an underdeveloped sense of humor. I hear you all, and I suppose I deserve it for opening up this highly controversial can of worms.

But going forward, can we please refrain from name-calling? I have already stated that I am sorry if my post came off as offensive or crass, and I have done my best to clarify my position and my actual question. One of the things I have always appreciated about askmefi is that people are generally more polite and reasonable and less prone to name-calling than commenters on Yahoo! Answers, etc.

There is a real-life person on the other side of the screen here, who maybe is not as thick-skinned as you. Please take that into account.
posted by shiggins at 11:43 AM on August 20, 2014 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so sorry that you're in this position. It does sound uncomfortable, verging on awful.

I also have triggers that are set off at work. And I've found that the anxiety of waiting for the triggers to happen is worse than the actual event.

I think of anxiety as a crisis reaction. It's really difficult to help yourself in a constructive way when you're in crisis.

What has worked for me is a combination of a very low level of anti-anxiety meds (5mg buspar 2x a day) and a non-woo form of meditation I learned about here, called autogenics.

If you use one or both of these as a starting point, they can help you get to a place where you can use the techniques others have suggested here.

Good luck!
posted by 1066 at 12:26 PM on August 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Would it help to learn about Christians who are awesome to give some perspective that it's a spectrum of belief and not all of them are like your father in law? I'm an atheist, but I admire the Catholic Worker movement (Dorothy Day), and there are a lot of awesome nuns working for social justice.

If you know your clients have beliefs you disagree with this might not be helpful. If your clients, say, discriminate against protected classes, etc. or are saying offensive things in meetings, I'd look over your companies policies and see if that could provide you a quiet way off the account (as in, bring it to your boss and ask to be taken off, don't bring it up in a meeting and insist they fire the client).
posted by momus_window at 2:01 PM on August 20, 2014

I need to know how to cultivate this skill. Besides the standard "look into a good therapist" advice, does anyone have any suggested books or specific advice regarding ways to cultivate this skill?

Therapy really does help with this kind of stuff, so I wouldn't discount it (or something like "Feeling Good" if you strongly prefer to go DIY). But one of the purposes of mindfulness meditation is not only to practice being aware of what emotions, sensations, automatic thoughts, etc. are running through your body and brain, but also to become more "intentional" and less "automatic" in how you react to them. A lot of universities have mindfulness meditation programs now, so you can find a lot of gentle introductions if you search for mp3s specifically within .edu sites, like so.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:28 PM on August 20, 2014

I'm a consultant for a software company and a lot of religious organizations buy our software. I'm an agnostic, and while it can be kind of awkward, I haven't had any real issues with it. I did have to do an in-person training (most of my trainings are online) at a megachurch, where they talked a lot about God in the office. I just politely avoided those conversations and they politely avoided asking me about my beliefs. It's business.
posted by anotheraccount at 2:34 PM on August 20, 2014

Best answer: I feel like a vegan writing for a meat-packing company.

Shiggins, I feel your pain and I know exactly how this is. I think people here are trying to give you their best advice, so take what you can use and leave the rest. But I know exactly the kind of tension you are under and I appreciate how difficult it is.

I went to Christmas mass for the first time in 20 years last december and wanted to stab my eyes out the entire time. It was 2h of torture and brought back so many bad memories. There is not one piece of it that I can get behind no matter how much imagination I use.

Some things I found helpful to make it through:

- I remembered that feeling bad is MY reaction to what I am seeing. I am feeling bad because of pent up anger and resentment, not because of anything that is actually happening right now in front of my eyes. I am causing my own bad feelings by hanging on to those memories. Keep repeating that to yourself.

- I tried to make peace with that voice inside that screamed "but I AM RIGHT AND THEY ARE WRONG!" by acknowledging that we both have very strong opinions here, and that they likely feel as strongly as I do about what they believe.

- I imagine a little Buddha seated at the hearts of everyone in the room and wish that Buddha well, regardless of what the person is doing

- I tried really hard to separate These Christians (that I am seeing now) from Those Christians (that were nasty to me); like others have said they are not the same people. There is such a variation in how people express their faith. Furthermore, while faith informs how people act, it is a small part of their overall personality. I have met some very dickish Buddhists fyi.

- I remember that Joseph Campbell (whom I adore) was a very spiritual Christian

- I honestly do believe that Christ was a good-hearted individual with a very pure sense of love for others.

- The symbols have only the meaning you give to them. A cross is just two sticks put together!

- The church tells people what to do, but who the hell says you have to listen? Like, imagine some stranger is telling you what decisions to make. Your response is: sorry, who are you? why are you ordering me around?

- as I was leaving christmas mass, I ran smack into the priest. He said "merry christmas!" and I warmly said "merry christmas!" back to him. Why? Because he was smiling, he was happy, it's the thing he loves the most on the day that is most special to him, and I'm a person, he's a person and I want him to be happy. Why would I rain on his parade?

That being said, mass was 2h whereas you have many hours ahead of you.

You need to find ways to minimize the importance of the symbols of that faith. Right now it seems like it is still renting space in your head. Maybe a part of you still thinks they are telling you what to do, and you have to listen. But you don't have to listen. Are you the defiant type? My guess is no. So tap into your defiance a little. Someone can tell you "go do X" and you say "uh huh" and that very next second turn around and do something completely different. Like this scene from Labyrinth when she realizes you have no power over me. These people & symbols have no relevance for you.

This place has no hold over you but what you give them.

Or as the fab Eleanor Roosevelt said: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

So evict them from your head. Vent to your friends. Express that resentment once and for all, and put it to bed. A cross is just some sticks. Jesus was just a dude. This is just some copy that needs some editing.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:12 PM on August 20, 2014 [9 favorites]

But going forward, can we please refrain from name-calling?

Shiggins, may I respectfully point out that nobody has actually engaged in any name-calling in this thread? A number of people have used unflattering and maybe harsh adjectives to criticise what they don't like about your attitude, and I get why that's hard to take. But it wasn't name-calling nor anything equivalently abusive.

This is important because IMHO that was a cognitive distortion doing a number on you. I think that jaguar has given you some excellent resources and that that should be the first thing you look into.
posted by tel3path at 3:36 PM on August 20, 2014

I'm totally anti-Christian. I'm anti-religion, in fact.

All I meant was that if you adopt the "bigger person" perspective (and it's OK to fake it until you "make it" and really internalize the meaning of this,) this will (eventually) entirely disarm any triggers or vulnerabilities.

It takes PRACTICE.

The first step is recognizing that you are bigger than any programming. This means you take responsibilities for your own feelings, even though that's really really hard.

Again, google tips, tricks and self-work techniques. There are as many ways forward on this worthwhile journey as there are leaves on a tree. Everyone finds their own way, you'll find yours.

The thing is, it is kinda childish to view any triggers or wounds as a part of you and outside of your control.

You'll always be a "work in progress" - we all are! The difference that I'm explaining is that in your worst moments when you feel overwhelmed at times, you can hold on to the knowledge that your strong feelings will pass. Somehow, this makes feeling your upsetting strong feelings safer for you when they show up, and they won't last as long.

There's no way to get started other than to get started.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 3:42 PM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have respect for my religious friends and neighbors, btw.

I just don't worry about what they believe in general, or what they think of me.

In this sense, "Bigger Person" = "NONE OF MY BUSINESS."

Just wanted to clarify that!!

In general, I can see how organized religion is a form of social control. I can also see how it is an important step on the road for people who invest in it, and again, it's none of my business.
posted by jbenben at 3:50 PM on August 20, 2014

I work for an organization that licenses professionals. I write news items to be broadcast to these professionals.

Sometimes the news involves organizations I disagree with or support a cause I find abhorrent. I don't treat them any different than any other work, because *someone* reading those pieces wants to know about them. My personal beliefs have nothing to do with it.

I know you said it's hard to turn off triggers, and I agree. But it's part of being professional.
posted by tacodave at 4:39 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

You should flip through a couple of church supply catalogs or websites. For most products, they're not selling the religious virtues of the product -- the church already knows it needs pews -- they're selling the practical virtues of the product. The pew copy isn't going to talk about how people pray EXTRA WELL in their pews; it's going to talk about how sturdy they are, how easy to maintain, how they are handicapped accessible. This podium bible has extra-thick pages that aren't vulnerable to tearing and larger type that easy to read when your head is 24 inches away. This chalice is food-safe and doesn't tarnish and can hold approximately 1 cup of wine.

(A lot of the more religiousy items are described in plain factual, rather than devotional, terms -- "This medallion of St. Gerald, the patron saint of squirrels, shows him with two of his furry friends and measures 1" high. It is made of sterling silver and comes with a chain as shown." -- because, again, you're not really selling people on the devotion part of it. They already have that, they just want to find the RIGHT patron saint of squirrels medal.)

Church supply is basically like restaurant supply or school furnishings ... you're kitting out a big room with a bunch of seating, some standard items of decor, some functional housewares, and it's all going to see a lot of hard public use. You're not selling the religion; you're selling the furniture (or linens. or wine. or whatever). Try to keep that in mind. You're not selling the religion; you're helping provide people with specific needs with information about products that meet those needs. Their needs are a bit odd, but so what?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:10 PM on August 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Just had to pop back in here to suggest:

If it helps you could get a jesus bobble head (to make you laugh and see it as benign), or wear a darwin fish necklace (aka some physical representation of your own identity to hold on to so that you don't feel swallowed up - doesn't have to be darwin necessarily).

Also the first amendment is a bitter pill sometimes. So maybe when you're wanting to burn those pamphlets you're writing, you could remember that this is what happens in a free and democratic society and be grateful to live in one. Because the alternative is the slope into government control and censorship, which is a value system that you don't support. (I hope!) Something like that. So when you feel pain and ragey, you can say to yourself: Although I am in pain, I support democracy and freedom of speech, and I want my actions to show that support. It is more important that I live my values rather than succumb to my reactions.

(I'm not going to get into a 'to what extent should free speech be supported if they're preaching hate' debate here, thats beyond the scope of this post.)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:14 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have PTSD. Some of it is directly related to people who claimed a Christian faith and outright abused me.

Part of my acceptance of religion and not go crazy over the second I see a cross has to do with how I frame religion as a whole. How it serves people in the faith and what usefulness they get out of it. I'm spiritual so this may be easier for me than you. But when I worked on recognizing that some people need answers to the afterlife and some people need a higher power to guide them on right and wronh and some people need a place to go to where people have shared values and morals it made more since. It made me feel more comfortable. Religion is a tool used by some to control. But you are in control. You could quit. You could scare them away somehow or just do a crappy job. You can work hard and take deep breaths. It is up to you.

I use something called grounding. When I hear things that are super trigger my first line of defense is to 1) remember where I am 2) who I am with and 3) the year/my age. So for you that would be in at work, this is my client and it's 2014. I add more to this my abuser is 2000 miles away. I'm safe.

And I do this every single day. I also take breaks. Lots of breaks. When I get worked up sometimes I need to apologize and leave a room. Sometimes I need to sit in the bathroom. Sometimes my lunch break is 30 minutes longer. But I allow me time and space to get calm. When I'm reacting on high anxiety I'm more likely to take things as dangerous when they are not and react in a way that is not professional.

The more I get to know a person outside of religion the better. I have a coworker that is super Christian and very respectful. And you know what I know her as the fresh fruit giver, the I can say something inappropriate in anger and she won't lecture me person. I see her as the person I can go to lunch and vent to. We both love online shopping. We both hate sports. And if religion comes up I can tolerate it because I've allowed it to become about a whole person instead about the pushing ignoring abuse I experienced.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:52 PM on August 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

AlexiaSky, above, with her mention of the Grounding Technique as an example of self-work was exactly what I was talking about. Her attitude in general is EXACTLY what I've been trying to communicate to you.

I can't Nth Alexia Sky enough.

Look. I won't link to it here because the story is pretty dreadful, but my mother abused me in a prolific fashion for the 18 years we shared a home. I have not spoken to her in over 20 years. She was a devout Catholic and I was sent to religious schooling until I was 14.

I get it. Really.

You're not a bad person.

You are hurting yourself by identifying with personal wounds that don't help you in the long term, and definitely don't help you remain professional in your job.

Speaking of which....

For the love of Heaven and Earth (heh) please DO NOT share your personal experiences with a coworker.

Have someone outside the firm you work at proofread your copy.

Thank you. I know these answers were not what you expected. I hope you're still reading....

The one other thing I wanted to add was that awareness of your triggers IS PROOF YOU ARE READY TO TAKE THIS JOURNEY!

I have confidence you will walk through this permanent door to healing because you were able to identify this issue and form the question.

You'll be fine. Don't fight your progress.

(And from me to you - Fuck those people who hurt you. Yeah they're still learning how to be decent human beings, but in the meantime until they get there....Fuck them.)
posted by jbenben at 12:11 AM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have someone outside the firm you work at proofread your copy.

Talking through all of this with someone outside of work is a great idea, but I suspect your company would frown on showing their intellectual property (especially when it's designed to give their clients a competitive advantage) to people outside the firm. If this is an idea that appeals to you, I'd make sure to ask permission first.
posted by jaguar at 7:08 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

My new favorite thing to do: if someone starts talking religion around me, I absolutely know it's all euphemisms for the sexiest of sexy sex. For me, it turns those inescapable conversations into high-larious games of "The Aristocrats."

I realize this may not work for you, especially depending on what aspects are triggering. :/
posted by mimi at 8:14 AM on August 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

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