Appropriateness of referencing prayer

I just received an e-mail that a high muckety muck in our organization was retiring. His memo included the following:

My decision to retire was not an easy one … and was reached only after much thought and prayer.

I wondered what you teemers thought of the appropriateness of such references to prayer in a workplace setting.

I realize that prayer can signify a mode of thoughtful contemplation. Unfortunately, it can also carry the caricature of a kneeling supplicant begging a powerful being for “a sign.” And it is hard to relieve the term from some reference to a deity.

I generally see little reason to even refer to one’s religion in most workplace or social interactions. I was wondering what your opinions were as to why people might make this type of public reference to prayer.

Personally, I don’t care whether or not he practices any particular religion. And I understand that my perception is undoubtedly clouded as a nontheist. But something about this reference seems to signal, "Lookit me. I’m a Christian!"

I don’t think this particular reference is at all problematic. He is referring to a personal action and a personal decision. I don’t think that people should be required to expunge all references to their religion at work, any more than they should avoid mentioning their families or other important parts of their lives. Would you object to someone wearing a cross or a yarmulke?

I do see where you are coming from though. I’m an atheist myself and often feel that I need to conceal the fact in order to make casual social interactions run smoothly. (Most recent case: A woman telling me at length about a spiritual discussion group she recently attending where they talked about finding “meaning” in the recent fires here in San Diego.)

I feel that it can be potentially problematic when it comes from higher up, as in the case you mentioned. It’s tempting to draw the analogy to school prayer. But businesses are allowed to run by different rules and we are always subject to the personal whims of the muckety mucks to some extent. This seems like a pretty mild case.

In the current climate though, we atheists can possibly be excused for getting a little twitchy about things like this.

I don’t see anything wrong with it.

Nor do I think you can determine from mentions of prayer that the person in question is a Christian. Jews, Muslims, and most other forms of theism include prayer.

I think you might be a little over-sensitive here.


I don’t see anything wrong with it. He has explained his decision making process. The process is his, whether you agree with it or not. It also has not harmed you in any way. He hasn’t asked you to pray, he hasn’t demonstrated that he prayed at work, he simply says that prayer was involved in making a decision. HIS decision.

I’m at best an agnostic, and lately lean towards atheism - but I don’t begrudge people their faith. Let it be.

The following questions are from curiosity, and from having heard stuff like this before (not about prayer). Just curious but…

Where would you draw the line on something like this?

Because then, well we couldn’t heterosexual marriages and procreation, we might offend a G/L person.

We can’t mention our workout routine, we might offend a person who is overweight due to illness or a health issue. Or, vice versa, we can’t mention food or being lazy, we might offend a person who is on a weight loss/exercise program.

Can’t mention we’re happily quitting smoking, that might suggest that we think it’s a (GASP) “bad” thing, that might offend other smokers.

There is a point at which a person has to draw the line at what is reasonable to avoid undue offense, and that which is just overboard ridiculous.

And as to the “Lookit me. I’m a Christian!” Shoot, plenty of people of ALL walks of life do this every day. That is, to make a subtle reference to their beliefs, whether it be political, religious, sexual orientation (or to support those with alternate choices). With all different sorts of their beliefs and opinions.

Why isn’t it okay to let one’s faith be known in a small way? Isn’t it JUST as okay as to let others know of one’s other beliefs?

Would you rather they do like the nutballs and stalk the streets with signs and a loudspeaker?

ONE word in an email? That’s not exactly “shoving it down someone else’s throat”. That’s a pretty mild and subtle announcement of one’s beliefs. Why would one tiny word by Sooooo scary and dangerous that it can’t DARE be uttered in the workplace? What’s going to happen?

Is the dyed in the wool agnostic or atheist going to have an complete and utter emotional breakdown from being so offended by this?

Are we to understand that by merely allowing others to know where we stand that we’re suddenly “offending”??

I have to agree with CanvasShoes here. I think there are far more significant things to get oneself worked up about. If the trend towards being absolutely nonoffensive continues, we’ll be afraid to open our mouths and say anything to anyone.

C’mon Dinsdale. The guys mentions that he prays. Big deal. This is still America, and people are allowed to make reference to a higher power if they wish, without being labeled a religious fanatic. Toughen up. Hypersensitivity of this nature is not going to make anyone’s life better.

Dinsdale, I’m agnostic and am normally pretty quick on the trigger with the “why bring up religion now?” gun. Ooh, I wish there really was such a gun. But in this instance, eh, no big deal. It’s mentioned in passing. Perhaps what you already know of this man is coloring your thought, here?

Hold up, folks - I think Dinsdale’s question is reasonable to ask. He finds the statement not to his taste, but he certainly doesn’t seem to be disparaging the sender…it just seems that the email brings attention to religion (I agree with the others, Dins - it doesn’t automatically imply Christianity to me)…

Personally, while I am not religious and finding anyone interjecting religion in non-religious forums frustrating, I have no problem with the email. Since the person prayed, so be it. True, they could’ve said “I gave this a lot of time and thought” but thought isn’t the same a prayer, and the person was being honest. It was kept to a minimum and truthful. I kind of respect its use here - it shows that the person was trying to reach a decision with their whole being, something you don’t hear about in business a lot…

Taking these examples in turn:

I’ve been in an office where the word “lesbian” couldn’t appear on a women’s history month bulletin board because it’s “nobody’s business” what someone’s sexuality is; mentions of marriages, mixed-sex boyfriends/girlfriends and children were permissible because being married or having children doesn’t necessarily indicate sexual orientation (because doesn’t everyone think upon hearing a woman has a husbnad that she’s a big ol’ carpet-muncher). I was mightily pissed off by that, so yeah, if GLBT identity isn’t equally respected and representable in the workplace then straight marriages should be shut up about too.

Anyone who’s overweight who gets offended because someone else is exercising is an idiot, and the same applies to an exercising person being offended by the mention of food.

There’s a pretty strong concensus, even among smokers, that smoking is bad for you so that example seems completely ridiculous.

With the exception of the GLBT example, none of these come anywhere near to the trouble that can be caused by expression of religion in the workplace. Rightly or wrongly it is a touchy subject and higher-ups especially ought to be aware of that. Personally I probably wouldn’t have read the email far enough to have gotten to the part about thinking and praying (I tend to ignore promotion/hiring/termination emails) but if I had read it I wouldn’t have been offended by it. I would, however, have probably had a “why do you feel the need to drag your religion into an email like this?” moment and let it go.

The guy is leaving the company, so I’d just accept it as a personal farewell comment. If he were an active employee and went around telling everyone that God instructs him how to do his job, then it would become less acceptable to make that kind of comment, especially if he were in a management position.

(p.s. I, too, am an atheist, and I do understand why the comment bothered you.)

What if he said “My decision to retire was not an easy one … and was reached only after much thought and reading ‘Retirement - Should You?’ by Canny Hackett.” You have read Canny Hackett’s books and sincerely believe he is a pompous windbag spouting pure psychobabble. Are you still offended? Are you offended any time a person relies on something or someone of whom you don’t personally approve? If not, why would someone’s reliance on the Bible, Torah, or Koran for guidance offend you? Aren’t they all just books to you? As a non-theist I would think you would read his quote as “…only after much thought and meaningless speaking into thin air”. Nothing offensive in that, at least to me.

I don’t agree with this either. My only concern with the performance of others at work is that they perform well. If they get revelations from God, Buddha, Alah, or Barney makes no difference to me so long as they perform their job. If they want to tell me about Barney’s latest appearance in a vision, so what? People talk about all kinds of things at work that I don’t agree with. So what?

I think decisions in most work-places should be arrrived at through thought and reason.

Prayer? Why? Do you think God will give you personal direction on your career choices?

It strikes me as scarily arrogant.

We are not sparrows.

I’m appalled! I thought that that sort of thing was illegal?

You’re absolutely right, they WOULD be idiotic to do that, but believe me (and look at some of the past Pit meltdowns on weight loss as an example) there ARE people, and not just a few, who would do just that.

I’ve seen it myself, along the lines of:

Employee A: Hey guys, I’ll be back after my workout
Employee B: Boy, she just LOVES to rub the fact that we’re overweight in our faces doesn’t she etc.

Well, people DO behave ridiculously when they imagine that they’re “being told what to do” or that they’re “wrong”. And I’ve seen smokers react nastily toward someone else quitting smoking. Snide remarks, “nothing worse than a reformed _____”, regardless of the person having quit saying and doing NOTHING to insinuate ill will toward the person still smoking.

I guess my point was that, and we’ve all seen this, people take this PC, don’t offend anyone stuff to bizarre ridiculous lengths.

Well I guess what I was saying, sorry I didn’t think up examples that better stated it for you, was in the case of the overweight vs. fit person. If you received a company email on "Join us at the annual jog-a-thon for charity, or some such.

Granted, they’re aren’t “quite as touchy” a subject as religion. But my point wasn’t “how touchy is the subject” but that a line must be drawn SOMEWHERE insofar as what a person can say and NOT be nailed by the “offenderati”. If we start saying “oh, now you’re not even allowed to SAY the word “prayer” someone might overhear you” what’s next?

Again, maybe my examples were slightly “milder” but that’s exactly the point, where would it stop? Saying one single word in an email is NOT infringing on someone else’s right.

I guess I could have mentioned that I work for a federal agency, and the guy in question was maybe 2 or 3 from the top in the national hierarchy. Which you may or may not consider relevant.

I also take issue with those of you who are Americans and say, "You don’t know it meant Christian prayer."

In one word - bullshit. I’m not sure what America you guys might have been living in, but it is a different one from mine if you know a whole bunch of white males with Italian-sounding surnames who worked for the federal government for more than 3 decades, who practice a faith other than Catholicism or protestantism. May be one or 2, but not many more.

Heck, across all “caucasian” US citizens, I bet Christianity trumps all other religions combined. And in the society I have lived in, the majority of white males retiring from high positions in government or business, would attest to Christian beliefs. YMMV - but I doubt it.

I’m certainly not upset about this. Heck, in terms of the intentional and non-intentional slights a nonbeliever experiences every day, this one barely makes the radar. But I thought it was mildly interesting.

IMO, it is entirely different for a government official, or even a manager in most private industries, to reference their religion, than it is for one of the subordinates, or any person in their private life. Unless you work for a church - or a religion-related business or charity, I feel your religion should be largely seperate from your business life. Of course, you should be permitted to wear crosses, yarmulkes, or head scarves to the extent it does not interfere with your job functions or pose a safety hazard. But that is, IMO, far different from referencing your religion in an officewide memo.

For those who try to analogize religion to exercise, smoking, etc. - I suggest religion as a protected class has a vastly distinct legal character than those attributes/preferences.

Finally, for me, the real impact of this reference to prayer was to suggest that there was an irrational element to his decision-making. I find it interesting. A great many people would see his statement and think, "Wow! He prayed over the decision. Shows what a tough decision it was and how hard he searched for the correct answer."

For me, I wonder why he didn’t go the whole nine yards and kill a chicken so as to examine its entrails…

Upon re-reading, I note my reaction was most akin to Otto’s proffered: "why do you feel the need to drag your religion into an email like this?"

I also re-read my OP. Where, from that, did people get the impression that I was offended. Nor am I sure why it is “oversensitive” of me to simply read the words this person chose to put in his officewide e-mail.

Sorry, I’ve been up all night getting ready to get on a plane :), are you meaning that you think religion is MORE protected, or not as protected? And I wasn’t trying to analogize those actions with religion, I was trying to ask, "Okay, if we start telling people what they can and can’t say at work about their personal lives. Where is the line to be drawn? We going to end up living on Kamazotz?

Hmmmmmmmmmmmm, well, as to your first point, that’s still just an opinion on the parts of agnostics/atheists. That is that bringing faith into a decision is irrational.

To your second, of course I can’t speak for others, but even AS a christian, I really wouldn’t think much of his putting that in there. Certainly not to the extent you describe of “wow…etc”.

It would register, in a mild way, that he was allowing it to be known that he had a faith of some sort or another (be it catholic, christian etc), but other than that, it really wouldn’t be that big a deal, enough to make me think “oh, this must have been REALLY hard if he had to pray”.

What, you think God only picks the president?

I think the distinction between faith and reason is something more than simply the opinion of agnostics and atheists. Maybe someone oughta issue an encyclical on the topic…

And yes, under the constitution and legislation certain clases and practices - including religion - are afforded higher protection against governmental and commercial intrusion.