Lunch with the Board


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In an effort to have contact with employees of the company they began, the owners and several board members, top managers and administrators, periodically invite workers like me, material handlers and production floor workers, to a meal at a nice hotel. We sit around a table, eat a nice steak or chicken meal on the company, and talk about our jobs and ask questions about policies and future plans of the company. The board members, then, also get ideas of things which might be improved.

On Wednesday, several years ago, another material handler and I attended one of these luncheons along with about 10 production workers from various other departments. We sat around a large table in a large suite at a local, luxury hotel. There were about five males and seven women. Most of the women were around twenty or younger, but there were a few in their thirties or forties. The younger women seem to be just out of high school, and the older women seemed to be long time employees in lead positions. Of the men, I was the oldest. My co-worker was in his twenties. There was a thirtyish custodial worker, and, across the table on the other side, there was a younger man of Hispanic descent and an African American man who seemed about thirty.

In walked a few male administrators, a female who worked in the Human Resources department, and the woman, Martha Johnson, who started the company with her husband and whose son is now the CEO. If this would have been the military, we would have all stood at attention as the important people walked in, but we remained seated and were respectful, as were they, as they took seats among us at the table. Martha Johnson, a very elegant looking older lady, took her seat in the middle of the long table on the other side of my co-worker. I was sitting closer to the left, west end of the table where one of the administrators and the female HR person sat, and the other male administrator took a seat at the other end of the table.

It was explained that the other Johnsons, the husband and CEO son, were off on a project out of the state, and Martha Johnson graciously suggested we go ahead and eat as we get served but that we could also go around the table and introduce ourselves, telling who we were, where we worked, and something about ourselves. We started across the table from where I was sitting, so I would be one of the last people to introduce myself, only the male administrator and the HR lady would come after me.

Of course I don't remember everybody's name. I know three rather chubby young females sat together across from me. Then there were a few older lead ladies with graying hair. Then there was the black gentleman, who I learned was a lead man in the cable section on the other side of the building where I worked, the Hispanic man who I learned was Cuban, and there was a Vietnamese woman, another woman, the other male administrator at the other end of the table. There were a few other young women, the male custodian, Martha Johnson, my co-worker, and me.

After I introduced myself, the male administrator at my left talked about himself. Among the things he said was that he had a degree in theology and was a Baptist minister, in addition to his job at our company. It is known that the Johnsons have mentioned their Christianity in the newspaper, and announcing a person's religious faith like that seemed like a way of winning points. I wondered if I would get into trouble by revealing that I'm an atheist.

Okay, the introductions were done and small talk started around the table. I told the Baptist minister what I left out of my more normal introduction. I told him that I had a degree in philosophy and was a very passionate atheist.

He asked me how I came to my views, and I told him about reading Ayn Rand when I was in college. He hadn't read Ayn Rand and asked me to tell him about her, so I said she was very individualistic.

The HR woman butted in and said, "Isn't she an atheist?"

"Yes," I said as I explained to her how I was answering the question of how I came to my views, she apologized for butting into the discussion between me and the minister.

Then I said that although I read Ayn Rand and was impressed with her individualism, I didn't agree with her entirely. She was too dogmatic about her views, and I didn't want to be only a follower. I wanted to have views of my own. I something to the effect that Ayn Rand thinks that anybody who disagrees with her is wrong.

The HR woman spoke up again and asked if atheists didn't think that people who disagree with them are wrong.

I said yes but that I meant in a black and white way. There are shades of gray. I explained that I had also read Sartre and existentialists who declare that there are no absolutes, that things are relative, but I said I wasn't totally satisfied with them either. I thought Rand had some good points in that there are natural rights, there is an essence of humanness, and I thought the parameters of this existential relativism were something like the golden rule, that we are free to forge our own paths as long as we don't interfere with the rights of others to also forge their own paths.

Well, the Baptist minister shook his head in understanding but he still seemed to think I was trying to reconcile these two very divergent views, which I agreed with him that I was.

I should say it was a little difficult to have this discussion between bites of food and other things going on around the table. The minister, who was also an administrator and representative of the company, also had a responsibility to touch base with others around the table. He wasn't supposed to just talk to me. Others, like the HR lady, were also trying to hear what others were saying and had to tell me and the minister to hold it down.

I was not getting caught up in this discussion. I was only answering questions. Trying to be brief. It's not easy to go into detail in such a situation. One has to talk in sound bites. It was, after all, small talk.

I also asked the minister if he read Bishop Spong. He said he hadn't. For a guy who is supposed to have a degree in theology, he didn't seem very well read. He said he was very conservative. He believed in the Bible and that's all there was to it, and that he read the Bible very well.

I said that Bishop John Shelby Spong also read the Bible and studied and taught it for over thirty years. He makes the point that the Bible did not just fall from heaven perfectly written with no errors. It was written in a language we no longer use and has been translated many times and has numerous contradictions and errors in it.

The minister said he has never seen any.

I said there are three versions of the ten commandments, which ones are correct?

He said, "Yes, but they all say basically the same, don't they?"

I said, "When it talks about coveting thy neighbor's wife, it treats women like property."

He said, "But that's only when we read into it."

Then the HR lady told us to please hold it down so she could hear other conversations around the table.

When we stopped talking and heard what was going on around the rest of the table, we became aware that the African American was monopolizing the discussion at the other end of the table. He was a very clean-cut, articulate, educated man. Martha made a comment about how technology was coming along way. The black man said, yes, he agreed that technology came a long way but social progress still had a long way to go.

Martha asked what he though we should do to make progress socially.

The African American explained that he was also a minister. He said that we didn't have enough of God in our society. He said that it was a shame that we could not say prayers in schools, that Jefferson did not mean to exclude religion as much as it has been excluded in our society. He went on about how the Soviet Union tried to have a society without God and it didn't work.

I sat there listening for awhile. Then, I spoke out. I said, "The Klu Klux Klan believes in God."

Someone gasped, and everything got quiet. Attention was focused on him and me.

He said, "Yes, but that's not what we're talking about. It's the morality that goes along with the belief in God. And not everything the Klan teaches is wrong."

"If it's the morality," I asked, "do you think an atheist can be a good, moral person?"

At this question, I noticed a few people around the table nodding their heads in agreement. Even though it was still a confrontation just between me and this other man, everybody at the table took notice. I also think there was a little pressure on him. He couldn't very well say that atheists were not moral. That would make him sound a little intolerant.

He said that he would question whether anyone really was an atheist or just didn't understand. "There are laws of physics," he explained, "Matter stays in motion and things at rest remain at rest and nothing comes from nothing. So, if that's the case, no God means that we wouldn't be here." He made this sound persuasive enough that some people were nodding agreement with him now. "So the physics are right and the math is right."

I said, "Okay, where did God come from. You have quantum physics and Goedel's completeness and consistency problems with math." Then several people reacted like I had just gone way over their heads.

"But that's not what we're talking about," he said, "It’s the morality."

"Look at all the atrocities that have been done in the name of God." I said. Several people shook their heads in agreement with me again. Yes, there were atrocities in the name of God and Christianity. I went on to suggest that perhaps we could stand on our own and work out for ourselves what is good and bad instead of looking outside ourselves for an authoritarian figure.

He said, "You mentioned quantum physics and quantum math. When we get into that, we're getting into mysticism."

I said, "No, quantum physics is science, not mysticism."

He said, "Oh yes, it's mysticism."

I said, "Don't you think religion deals with mysticism?"

At that point, the other administrator, the one sitting at his end of the table, suggested that we table the discussion. He thought that I was bringing up good questions, but that people have been discussing these things for thousands of years and we probably wouldn't resolve anything at this dinner. He said that our purpose here was to talk about the company and asked if there was any interest in company things. Martha said that the conversation was going way over her head, and the discussion then changed to technical things about company policy and future plans.

At the end of the dinner, I shook hands with the Baptist minister at my end of the table and invited him to my messageboard. He told me to keep on searching, as if I were searching more than he was. I went to the bathroom and then found my co-worker to whom I gave a ride back to the warehouse where we had to complete our shift. He said that Martha, who was sitting next to him, seemed to get a kick out of this argument around the table. She kept nudging him. That's good. I knew she was a strong Christian, but I thought she respected me for not being afraid to stand up for my views. I think even some Christians are more reasonable than others. At least that's what I hope.

(As I said, this happened several years ago. I no longer work at this company. Some of my views have developed a little. I may express myself differently if I had to do this again. Still, I am an atheist and a Neo-Objectivist. However, I prefer debates on the internet, where I am more free to make my points than I am at Luncheons.)

bis bald,

Nick

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Nick,

(My comment keeps in mind that you did not state Christianity is a threat to anyone).

I believe that Communism, socialism, and Islam are much greter threats to productive people than Christianity is. I base this on being around what I would call 'Christians with firm beliefs' every day. These people-some of whom are my family members- believe in hard work, taking responsibility, moral values, much smaller government, and a variety of other issues with which I believe most on this board would agree.

Of course there are some major differences between Objectivism and Christianity, but if we listen, the true looters are those who would take away everything we work for and give it to those who do nothing but live off the productivity of others.

I have set through many, many church sermons from Baptist to hard core fundamentalists and although I have heard a lot of sermons on giving to the poor, I have yet to sit in one where they would forcibly take your money and do so. Nor have I heard my life threatened if I broke one of their rules such as you find with Islam. Yes, they did say I would lose my soul to the Devil for sinning, but as far as I know the days of the Inquisition have passed and their was never a implied threat of any force used against me here on earth .

Of course with that said there are fanatics in Christianity just as there are fanatics in other walks of life and I watch for those people more than any, because they are the dangerous ones. They are the ones who will do what ever the feel is necessary to either bring you around to their way of beliefs through fear, intimidation or failing that, they believe eliminating

you is totally acceptable.

I at one time after splitting from religion used the arguments of all the harm Christianity did through it's wars and the like, but a person I was talking to asked me one day if I thought that men would have still warred and killed each other had there been no Christianity around based on what I knew of history, and I had to admit man has always had a penchant for killing his fellow man, and Christianity was just another excuse in a long list of excuses. In other words it could have happened just as easily had there been religion or not and it all too often boils down to those who covet what someone else already possesses and doesn't mind using force to acquire it.

The problem I see with referring to yourself as an Atheist is the general grouping which includes far too many Communists and socialists for my liking and I find I really do not need to put a label on myself as regards those beliefs in my life. My usual answer is that I am not religious, but if I am in a situation where tact is called for then I always say I like to listen and that's all it takes for them to launch into a long harangue on the subject which allows me to finish out the time with no rancor involved. If I have no need for tact then I will often say I would rather talk of something else and switch the subject.

Just some thoughts on the matter.

L W

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The term atheist is definitely still volatile. It used to be a lot worse- if you were in the mainstream, your atheism was best kept in the closet. If you were a gay atheist, whew...look out!

But, in general it is not as bad as it used to be, but for the Bible Belt areas.

On the whole, people don't understand atheism. They don't understand that an atheist can be spiritual, for instance. I sit in church with atheists.

Heck, Buddhists are atheists.

The real threat in the U.S. culture continues to be fundamentalism. They are very mobile and organized- here in Ohio, we're a major battleground.

In social situations, I rarely debate people about religion because it doesn't really serve and purpose, and it tends to be a buzzkill/party spoiler. The only time I do it is when someone is really out of line and pushing their beliefs. I'm in a pretty unique situation because I'm used to battling both atheists and orthodox/fundamentalist types.

That's the funny part for me, I am religious minded, I have my individual religious consciousness, but my spirituality makes for discontent on both sides of the fence.

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I think there are good people who are Christians, and there are good people who are Islamic. There are some pretty lousy people who are atheists. However, I do see some threat from doctrines which advocate believing without question and subjugation to someone or something other than one’s self. The extremes may not always come out, but there is the possibility that they can. Every day I substitute teach in high school, I have to stand for a pledge of allegiance to the flag which acknowledges “…one nation, under God.” This seems to be telling me I can’t be patriotic if I am an atheist. It identifies me as an outsider, even after serving my country in Vietnam. When I go to court, and pass under a sign that says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” and serve on a jury or testify, I have to ask for an alternate swearing in statement and stand out from the crowd. How would Christians like to pass under a sign that says “Hail Satan!” when they go to a public building they sometimes have to go to and then make a pledge to Satan? When I go to a funeral or a party at my dad’s nursing home, I have to act like I am bowing my head and praying.

In an article in The Virtue of Selfishness,Nathaniel Branden asked:

And what of the victims who are insufficiently hypocritical?

What of the child who withdraws in terror into an autistic universe because he cannot cope with the ravings of parents who tell him that he is guilty by nature, that his body is evil, that thinking is sinful, that question-asking is blasphemous, that doubting is depravity, and that he must obey the orders of a supernatural ghost because, if he doesn’t, he will burn forever in hell?

Or the daughter who collapses in guilt over the sin of not wanting to devote her life to caring or the ailing father ho has given her cause to feel only hatred?

Or the adolescent who flees into homosexuality because he has been taught that sex is evil and that women are to be worshiped, but not desired?

Or the businessman who suffers an anxiety attack because after years of being urged to be thrifty and industrious, he has finally committed the sin of succeeding, and is now told that it will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven?

Or the neurotic who, in hopeless despair, gives up the attempt to solve his problems because he has always heard it preached that this earth is a real of misery, futility, and doom, where no happiness or fulfillment is possible to man?

Yes, I don’t often debate people face to face. We don’t really have time unless we are trapped in a car on a road trip and forced to be with each other for hours and hours with nothing else to do. However, I love to debate on the internet, on messageboards, until it becomes a childish flame war. I do like to talk with people who disagree with me. I like to challenge their views and have them challenge me. It’s not preaching or imposing views on each other. It’s participating in the dialogue of philosophy. There has to be a forum for divergent views to come out. Oherwise, philosophy will just be personal and irrelevant, like one's taste in icecreme. Is isolationism good? Some of these personal views could lead to war and atrocities and threaten human survival.

Bis bald,

Nick

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When I go to a funeral or a party at my dad’s nursing home, I have to act like I am bowing my head and praying.

Why? A few years back I did this a couple of times to make people happy and felt horrible because I was being untrue. Now I won't, I will be respectful and silent/still while others are praying but I won't fake it.

Dustan

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Yes, Dustan, this is what I mean. I am quiet and respectful, but I don't pray. If others are praying, they don't notice me. Also, when they do the flag pledge, I stand and face the flag, but I don't recite the under God phrase. Usually, nobody knows I am beng different, but I do have to call attention to myself when I ask the judge to give me an alternate swearing-in statement.

bis bald,

Nick

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Yes, Dustan, this is what I mean. I am quiet and respectful, but I don't pray. If others are praying, they don't notice me. Also, when they do the flag pledge, I stand and face the flag, but I don't recite the under God phrase. Usually, nobody knows I am beng different, but I do have to call attention to myself when I ask the judge to give me an alternate swearing-in statement.

bis bald,

Nick

I see, Cool.

Dustan

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