Unexpected Reaction to Atheism

In some cases, you know the reaction to your atheism won’t be very positive.

But there are times you don’t expect a reaction at all — When you’re not even telling anyone about your Godlessness. Still, a loose/simple connection to atheism results in an unwarranted remark.

Ray Harrington experienced this firsthand.

His “crime”?

He bought The Portable Atheist at a bookstore.

Here’s the story, in the form of a letter he wrote to Borders’ management:

… As a very loyal and regular customer, (I shop at your store almost weekly and always make a purchase) I was shocked and offended when the woman ringing in my books commented on the book; “Atheism, eh? Well… I guess I’ll keep my comments and thoughts to myself.” This was said with such arrogance and blatant mockery that I stumbled over my words as I paid for my books and left.

For Ray, the comment infested itself in his mind and he continued to think about long after he left the store.

Personally, I think he’s overreacting; even though he may have noticed a smugness in her remarks, I doubt the clerk had any idea she said anything wrong (even though it was indeed offensive).

But Ray is right — change the word “atheist” and the whole exchange becomes truly disturbing:

“Jew, eh? Well… I guess I’ll keep my comments and thoughts to myself.”

Like I said, Ray is writing a letter to Borders’ management.

Is he doing the right thing? Should he be taking another course of action? Or no action at all?


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Julie

    Hm…I wouldn’t write a letter, but maybe it’s a good idea. It wasn’t a very professional thing for the clerk to do.

  • http://apostaz.org brad

    He should go back into the bookstore covered in the blood of the innocent. ;D

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    At least he could get atheist books at the store. I couldn’t find yours anywhere and had to order it from the special Satanist shop of debauchery and evil. They’ve got a good range actually.

    Seriously though it is a good idea to write. At worse he’ll be ignored, at best the staff member will receive better training and he’ll get an apology and some compensation. There aren’t any losers in making a constructive complaint.

  • Siamang

    Overreaction? Or just an incorrect response.

    Think about it… he’s writing the president of the company as if it was a policy decision that minimum wage store clerks are required to snort derisively at the purchases of customers.

    The person to talk to (not write to) is the manager. I’ve worked in retail… so I know that when you hire clerks, you get human beings, with all their quirks and personalities.

    This is an employee behavior issue, not a corporate policy issue. The president of the company will have no way to follow up to make the required change… but a manager would!

    And posting it on his blog and talking about it being Borders, as if this was Borders’ fault, is stupid. Let’s all boycott Borders! Call the Consumer Protection Agency! Contact the Better Business Bureau! Light the torches, grab the pitchforks!!!

  • Joseph R.

    I would have shot back with a smart ass comment like, “That’s a really good idea.” I don’t think there really needs to be a follow up with management because nothing positive with come out of it.

  • Siamang

    I couldn’t find yours anywhere and had to order it from the special Satanist shop of debauchery and evil.

    You shop Wal-Mart too?

  • Ookla

    I would have said:

    “Bitch, eh? Well… I guess I’ll keep my comments and thoughts to myself.”

  • Gabriel

    I think writting a letter to the manager of the store along witht a copy to the regional manager is probably a better response. A letter to the president of the company probably won’t make it to him/her. Yes, this should be blogged about. I worked in retail in college and we were trained to never insult the customers, no matter what we thought. Without customers we didn’t have jobs. I did insult a customer once, though it was not intentional. Someone was looking for a copy of dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard. This was back in the early ’90′s and I hadn’t heard of scientology. I did know L. Ron as a sci-fi writter so I took the customer to the sci-fi section. This confused the man because he was looking for a book about a religion. I told him that I didn’t think L. had written any religion books but had written a lot of SF. So he was pissed and I was confused.

  • Eric

    Siamang:

    First, since he provided the location of the store, it’s possible his letters will produce results – the higher-ups can talk to the manager and tell him to talk to his employees.

    Second, I didn’t see where he recommended boycotting Borders at all. It seems to me that based on his letter, he still plans on shopping there. I think you’re reading too much into it when you take his mention of the name of the store this occurred at to be a call to arms. It seems to me that it is what it is, and nothing more.

  • Brian E

    Absolutely he should, for the exact reason you specified. Any comment like that directed at any other religion and there would probably be a lawsuit on the table.

    Now I don’t necessarily agree with this type of mentality, however this is how memes typically shift within the U.S. Think about the ‘N’ word; 30 years ago people dropped this like they were gangsta rappers. And obviously now, it’s not spoken. What changed? A law? Not really (although certainly today people can get sued/fired for saying it), it was a cultural shift in mentality brought about via awareness and appreciation for its offensiveness. Same with homosexuality; 20 years ago who didn’t pick on or make fun of homosexuals (go watch Eddie Murphy’s Delirious again)? And look at now. Again, what changed? It became infused into our culture by constantly being in focus, and homosexuals speaking out. Atheism is the same way; by constantly speaking out over time no one will make remarks like this without facing serious backlash or consequences.

    Atheists are the last group in America that is OK to hate. This isn’t going to change by sticking your head in the sand. And by not speaking up when you have the chance that’s exactly what you’re doing.

  • Shauna

    I would have just called the store and talked to the manager. It’s just bad customer service and unprofessional. How many businesses succeed by insulting their customers?

  • http://www.chedstone.com Roy McKenzie

    I think it’s good he makes the management aware of it. I don’t necessarily think this should be pursued legally, it’s just a customer service issue.

    Truly, that woman probably has no clue as to what she is suggesting. She probably heard some negative comments from her pastor and decided to be a sheep about it and instead of inquire into the matter herself, take her pastors word for face value.

    Maybe that’s not what she meant at all. But it was more likely than not meant to perturb this guy.

  • http://tobycentral.blogspot.com Toby

    I had a very similar experience at a Borders buying the same book…. To her credit, the clerk didn’t say anything, but when i first approached the counter, she was chipper and happy and talking about the weather. As soon as I put the book on the counter, though, her mood changed entirely. She was cold and very short with me. I just smiled at her, told her to have a wonderful day and walked off.

  • Mike J.C.

    I have to agree with the others that writing a letter to the Borders corporate office and suggesting he couldn’t be a Borders customer are both a little over the top and that contacting the store managers would be more appropriate. Regardless, something needed to be said about her.

    The woman’s comment was obviously a thinly veiled insult – “I’m not going to tell you how wrong and evil I think you are because that would be rude and my job requires that I at least purport to be congenial.” – and she knew full well that it was an insult.

  • http://freewebs.com/guitarsean Sean

    Yep, I’ve had similar reactions at bookstores including Borders. Nothing has been said to me but I get that cold impersonal tone from the clerk. Which I don’t get buying other things. Maybe I’ll just order my atheist books on Amazon and only go to Borders for Playboy and Penthouse :-P

    I strongly agree with Brian on this :

    Atheists are the last group in America that is OK to hate. This isn’t going to change by sticking your head in the sand. And by not speaking up when you have the chance that’s exactly what you’re doing.

  • jonathan

    “Atheism, eh? Well… I guess I’ll keep my comments and thoughts to myself.”

    I think I would have just said: “Thanks!” Because, really, she did him a favor. I can’t even imagine how mind-numbingly dull her comments and thoughts could have been.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    I don’t really see what’s objectionable about the response. As a bookstore clerk, she shouldn’t make any comment, and it seems like she stopped herself after a visceral reaction. Or did it have some tone that is not visible in the text?

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    I think a letter is definitely appropriate. I wasn’t sure at first… and then I read the analogy inserting “Jew” in the place of “atheist,” and I got it.

    I agree that it’s more of an issue for the immediate manager: it’s an employee disciplinary issue, not a company policy issue. But in my experience, when writing a letter to a business, it’s good idea to cc it to anyone you might care, all the way up the chain. It’s possible that a memo explaining that this sort of behavior is not acceptable could go out to managers company- wide, and that wouldn’t suck.

  • Gav

    I’d have just said “See you in Hell!” in a cheerful voice as I walked out of the store.

    Or I’d have started chanting some sort of satanic-voodoo spell under my breath, just for lols.

  • Ray Harrington

    Hi, I’m the “guy” that wrote this letter. Just a few points:

    1. I wrote the letter because it indeed DID stick with me long after it happened. My reasoning being; If I can’t feel good about my experience there, why should I keep quiet?

    2. The reason I sent it to the executive branch was simple: They’ll move on this. The store manager can shrug it off very easily because it really doesn’t affect him/her. But when you get to the heart of a business, things are dealt with much more effectively.

    3. What do I expect out of this? Nothing really. I just wanted Borders to know this had happened and I wanted to get the whole situation off my chest. I feel much better about the situation. And NO: I’m not a very sensitive person, I CAN take a joke, and in fact I usually don’t get upset about anything.

    4. The reason I put this on my blog is because it is an Atheist matter and my blog is primarily Atheist. Makes sense, right?

    5. I am in no way calling Borders out or demanding a boycott. Go to Borders. Shop at Borders. I was just there yesterday, that’s what got me thinking about sending a letter. I love going there, sitting in the cafe’ with my fiance and friends, drinking coffee and reading books and magazines. (I do buy what I read though, it’s not a library… okay, sometimes I read a magazine and don’t buy it) But seriously, there is no call to arms about any of this. I just thought it was interesting and a viable topic for an Atheist blog and apparently it is because you read it here.

    6. I will not be taking any ‘legal’ steps in this at all. No, I won’t be taking the matter to the BBB or anything, I simply wanted them to take the letter seriously and any ‘complaint letter’ should include such information. Take a look at Consumerist.com.

    7. I didn’t know so many people would have such opinionated viewpoints on the whole thing. I figured it was just some info to share. Any updates, I’ll post them to WhatWouldRayDo.blogspot.com

    I hope that helps clear some of this up. Thanks!

  • http://www.carolynbahm.com Carolyn Bahm

    My reaction to the clerk? If I were that bothered by it (and I’ve heard things like this before) I might quietly say, “That’s an offensive and personal comment” or “I beg your pardon?” or, if I were feeling snarky, I’d say in an amused tone, “GOSH, thanks for your, um, ‘restraint.’ ” And if the clerk was not apologetic, I might next send a polite but clear letter to the store’s manager and ask for a response. If I didn’t get a response within a few weeks, only then would I consider writing to the regional manager. I think we have a duty to bring a halt to intrusive comments like this.

    But I would respond in measured doses like this. Escalation implies moving up in steps, not zooming right to the top. :o) I don’t think that’s what the original complainant meant, anyway.

    Similar thing happened to me at Barnes & Noble. I was thinking about buying a Richard Dawkins book and had it at the counter when I was asking the clerk about another title. She recoiled like I’d placed a turd on the counter and said, “Do you know what this book is ABOUT? He doesn’t believe the BIBLE!” My response, although I was seething, was to slowly say, “Yeeeees, that’s why I’m considering buying it. I like people who actually think about their beliefs.” I wished later I’d said more, but it was probably best that I kept my mouth shut or I’d have just come off as rude and angry myself.

  • QrazyQat

    Of course she didn’t realise she was saying anything wrong; that’s the way most prejudice works. When people called black adult males “boy” until the 1960s, they rarely realised they were doing anything offensive and wrong, just as they didn’t realise they were when they wouldn’t let them stay the night at their motel or eat in their restaurant. It hardly excuses it.

  • Francia Barksdale

    We need to come out of the closet and start being a part of society. I think it is correct to write a letter. I spent too many years hiding my lack of belief in a god. Now I don’t hide any more, and in fact, take opportunities to correct anyone’s mis-impression of me as a believer. I also am a card carrying member of The American Atheist Association and The American Civil Liberties Union. I do not proselytize, but I no longer hide or refrain from commenting or sticking up for myself. I recently contacted a television network who presented a news piece about a billboard. In the interview the man-on-the-street said that he thought the offensive sign had been put up by atheists. In replying I said they would have never run that interview if the man had used Jew, Muslim, or Black. As it was, the billboard had been paid for by a Christian church. It is time to stop hiding.

  • Tracy

    I think writing the letter was the right thing to do. Being in the service industry, you’re supposed to keep your off-handed comments to yourself. Even though I hate the term “the customer is always right”, it is true in retail. Which is why *I* don’t work in retail! :)

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    I would have complained to the store manager. The clerk was unprofessional and her boss should know her behavior could cause them to lose a good customer.

  • http://www.heathenz.com Kevin

    I’m still half-way an in the closet atheist. My family doesn’t know but basically everyone else does… I was apprehensive about buying the god delusion. If I got that comment I would have stopped the transaction and left the store without the book and gone elsewhere to buy it. There’s some things that you expect when going to a store (that wants your business) and unclear phrases that hint at disagreeing with my theological preference is not something I should expect.

  • Rob

    I probably would have said, “Since you’re on the clock, that’s probably a good idea. However, I’d be happy to talk about my beliefs with you another time. Perhaps we could meet for coffee sometime?” It sounds like she has an incorrect understanding of what atheism is, so I’d offer to help her understand. If she turns me down, oh well. If she takes me up on the offer, I get to educate someone on what I believe, as opposed to what her pastor (or whoever) told her I believe. Everybody wins.

  • Darryl

    Who cares if you write a letter? Just tell the clerk something rebuking and let it go.

  • Mike

    I’ll post what i posted at Ray’s blog:

    If it was a library, nothing would have been said. You know because of the librarian code… NO CENSORSHIP WHAT-SO-EVER!

  • Siamang

    6. I will not be taking any ‘legal’ steps in this at all. No, I won’t be taking the matter to the BBB or anything, I simply wanted them to take the letter seriously and any ‘complaint letter’ should include such information. Take a look at Consumerist.com.

    Ahhh, the old toothless fake threat trick. Works every time.

    Sorry, I took that to be an honest threat. I guess that prompted my thinking you were overreacting, hence my strong opinion.

  • Larry Huffman

    It is certainly not a ‘wrong’ action to take, though I may not take it.

    I seldom get offended when people make comments about my atheism (if they even know about it…though the bookstore is one place where they will), mainly because I think I do understand what is motivating the view. It is not them, it is what they have been given by whatever tolerance-claiming sect they belong to.

    Now…that is not to say I would not make a remark such as, “Oh, you do not have to hold back as long as you do not mind my retort, because it most certainly will come and it will not be pleasant for you. Let’s just be clear here…I am buying a book your store sells…the store you represent by wearing that name badge…and I will be responding to your remarks that are disparraging against my spiritual views. Ok, now that we know what is taking place…go ahead, let your remarks fly.”

    Now…the other side of this. I would not want this poor woman to lose her job because of this as a result of my letter. It is really not her fault her faith has blinded her as it has. Well, there is fault, but it is a complex issue that usually ends up being a case of misrepresentation on the part of religion. And it is not like she will say, “wow, my religious views cost me a job”…no, her lesson would most likely be, “see, atheists are always causing trouble. They even infringed on my workplace”.

    Maybe the best response would be, “Thank you, I think that is a very good decision on your part.” Smile, pay and walk away.

  • http://gentlepath.wordpress.com GentlePath

    I read in a communication book (Tannen?) that the best way to deal with a disguised bit of verbal nastiness is to respond to the intent; something like, “That hurts.” That way the person’s intent is out in the open. Every time I’ve remembered to do this, it’s worked really well. Usually the person apologizes, but not always. Either way, I don’t have to accept their little baggie of verbal shit.

  • http://mcmamasmusings.blogspot.com McMama

    Personally, I think it’s unethical for a clerk or librarian of any sort to comment on what you’re checking out or buying. Period. It’s none of their *goddamn* business.

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com/ ollie

    Interestingly, the bookstores I frequent have not had such a reaction to my buying such books; in fact one told me that she thought the book was very interesting.

    Maybe, just maybe, she didn’t want to fess up to being a kindred spirit? :)

  • http://www.mustacherangers.com Aric

    Obviously, Ray is at fault here. He should have been considerate of the clerk’s feelings.

    When making a purchase at any store, you’re trying to become friends with the clerk. You want them to approve of your purchase and, indirectly, you.

    For example, if you buy the new B-52s album at a record store, you’re not going to make friends with the dark and mysteriously indie clerk. You’ll need to buy some Cat Power to make up for it.

    The solution here? Buy a Left Behind book along with The Portable Atheist. And if the clerk doesn’t become your best friend, maybe you’ll make their head explode. So it all works out.

  • http://kkbarrett.cotse.net/idiot Kristopher

    I would have simply said “Bigot!” … loud enough for everyone else in the store to hear.

    She was a bigot … this passive-aggressive “I’d better keep my thoughts to myself” comment was her way to try to avoid getting in trouble for publicly showing her bigotry … something she has probably gotten in trouble for once already.

  • http://theshapeiamin.blogspot.com Todd M

    It makes me crazy whenever the checkout person anyplace has to comment on what I am buying. I am all for self-checkouts at every retail establishment!

  • Caroline

    I have a friend who says that kind of thing every time she sees me reading a book about Atheism or in a conversation with someone about it. And she’s painfully obvious in avoiding mentioning any of her church related things because she she doesn’t want to offend me. Because I’ve ever given her a reason to think I’d react violently or something to even her mention of religion. Even if her comments weren’t technically attacking my Atheism, it still hurts when you hear her tone of voice.

  • http://thehappyhuman.wordpress.com John

    Oh, for fuck’s sake, a letter to management? Your beef is not with Borders, Inc. – it is with the INDIVIDUAL who made the comment. You should take HER to task for her personal behavior.

    Such a letter is just futile – maybe they’ll enact some new corporate policy, but that’s just for plausible deniability. You still haven’t changed anyone’s mind about anything, and you didn’t use this as an opportunity to teach some tolerance or expose this person to a new viewpoint. Instead, to feel like you’ve done something, you wrote a letter to management, who will at most give her a good talking-to. Her resentment towards atheism increases, nobody’s any better off than before, and society’s progress goes BOINK.

  • Richard Wade

    Whether or not to give an immediate retort?

    Definitely. This was a personal insult and the woman should get the personal consequences. Otherwise she’ll think she can get away with it and may try worse. I know what mine would have been because it instantly came to me:

    “Atheism, eh? Well… I guess I’ll keep my comments and thoughts to myself.”

    “But you didn’t keep them to yourself. You just blurted them out, and they were clearly a thinly veiled insult of disapproval. So in making your comment, you just made yourself a liar, didn’t you?”

    Whether or not to write a letter?

    Definitely. Paper, not email. Ray’s entire letter is excellent. It is rational but still descriptive of how it affected his feelings, and it offers examples of how if a purchaser of the Bible or the Qur’an received such a comment it would have landed them a big fat load of trouble.

    Using the example of substituting “Jew” or “black” is very powerful and it should be used. It makes people wince because it brings up their awareness of their own bigotry and shows how ugly it is.

    Not writing a letter allows the clerk to just say “screw you” under her breath and not realize that this is no longer an acceptable bigotry to practice. Worrying about whether it will lose the clerk her job is beside the point and not our responsibility. By itself it would probably not result in termination, but it might be the last straw in a long series of problems and so she would need to get the consequences in order to change her bad habits.

    Saying that a letter is futile because the clerk will just become more resentful of atheists is a cop-out. Whatever her initial private reaction, leaning that her bigotry is no longer acceptable is the first step toward ridding herself of it.

    Where to send the letter?

    Definitely cc’s to the manager, the district manager and the corporate headquarters. There may be others in her work environment including her boss who permit this sort of mentality, and that culture could go high up. The more copies the less likely they will all go into the trash.

    Bigots do not spontaneously get a conscience and start treating their victims fairly. No, they get their lessons from their victims standing up and giving them the appropriate consequences over and over again. None of the other infamous prejudices would have become socially unacceptable if their subjects were quiet and docile. It takes persistent, strong, level-headed protest for a long time, but it eventually works.

    If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

  • http://www.meritboundalley.net Joe M

    I find it interesting how many people are taking such a negative view of this. Ray did nothing wrong here, he simply voiced his indignation in a way that hurts no-one.

    Think about it:

    1. Ray had an honest gripe – no one likes to be talked down to, and certainly not by someone who is on the clock and has no other interactive purpose with you than taking money and giving books.

    2. This is a corporate issue – Ray has brought it to the attention of corporate who will be able make decisions about enacting diversity training for employees. Not only that, he did not single out the employee that mad the offense, so he did it in a way that avoids the revenge angle. Good on him!

    3. He is also well within his rights to not shop at that store anymore, and he was right to tell the upper management that. Nothing gets through to a corporation like potential loss of money.

    4. Ray may not be the only person who has been offended in this way. If there have been other complaints registered, then it is possible that the store clerks are not trained properly, and that gets taken care of at the corporate level. Bringing it to light may help to correct a larger problem.

    I also find it a little disturbing that so many thought it was such a small thing until they swapped “atheist” for “jew”. Come on, people, is it really okay to say things to atheists that are wrong to say to the jewish?

  • Stephanie

    Oh, I worked as manager of a bookstore. You need to immediately ask for the manager in this situation. Part of the job description is damage control and taking responsibility for the actions of employees. If a clerk is making slurs, no matter how veiled or that the group is considered marginal, the manager *should* want to know. If the manager is unresponsive, then move up to district manager, but settling things in store will probably yield the best result.
    Anyway, kudos to him for making the effort. Borders is a pretty good corporation and he’ll probably at very least get the standard apology out of them.

  • Xeonicus

    I probably would have shot back a smart ass comment too.

    “It’s probably a good idea to keep your comments to yourself. You don’t want to look stupid.”

    Personal quip for a personal quip.

  • Polly

    A lot of what’s “said” is in the tone and body language.Reading the clerk’s reponse doesn’t tell me much.
    If I felt personally attacked I’d simply retort, “Yes, please do keep your comments to yourself. I didn’t come here for your opinion on my reading list.”

    If I said nothing, it would bother me the rest of the day at least. Sometimes keeping your mouth shut does hurt you. So, why suffer fools?

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Devil’s Advocate here. What if the clerk had said one of these instead:

    “Republican, eh? Well… I guess I’ll keep my comments and thoughts to myself.”

    “Democrat, eh? Well… I guess I’ll keep my comments and thoughts to myself.”

    “Marxist, eh? Well… I guess I’ll keep my comments and thoughts to myself.”

    “Scientologist, eh? Well… I guess I’ll keep my comments and thoughts to myself.”

    “Progressive, eh? Well… I guess I’ll keep my comments and thoughts to myself.”

    “Libertarian, eh? Well… I guess I’ll keep my comments and thoughts to myself.”

    “Evangelical, eh? Well… I guess I’ll keep my comments and thoughts to myself.”

    Obviously, I’m trying to replace “Atheist” with various other ideological positions (and doing my best to sample a wide range of them), rather than with an ethnic designation.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/johnpritzlaff John Pritzlaff

    The thing about this that’s really offensive to me is the way the woman was probably implying that atheists are somehow evil or bad. In my opinion, atheists are much more moral on average than religious people. It’s possible that’s not what she was implying, but that’s the vibe I got from the anecdote.

  • http://orandath.blogspot.com orandat

    As an atheist who remains in the closet, I admire those of us who speak out. Yes, he should definitely write the letter. As Bob Marley said, “You got to get up, stand up, stand up for your rights.”

    orandat

  • Khristy

    I have actually had a similar thing happen to me at a small bookstore here in Omaha. I went in bought ‘God the failed Hypothesis’ since the writer was in doing a chat and book signing later that evening. The clerk looked at me then the book and said ” I guess its good you’re looking at other points of views” I laughed, told her to have a nice day. However the small group and the the writer Victor Stenger had a good laugh about her later.

  • Paul

    I bought the same book at Borders here in OKC, and the guy there commented that it was a good book.

  • http://www.nautblog.blogspot.com Sean the Blogonaut

    I seriously have the best bookstore on the Planet – of course buying $200 worth of Atheist books does wonders for customer service. My bookstore orders in and suggests obscure titles on atheism and religion without me asking.

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    If substituting “Jew” would make it unacceptable, then it is unacceptable when it refers to atheists. What about being an atheist makes it more acceptable to treat us this way? The only way this is ever going to change is if we demand to be treated decently.

    Right move. And right to publicize it too.

  • Lenny

    The vile clerk should have been fired on the spot. Ditto for any of them who wear religious jewelry .. trying to slyly push their superstitions on us.

  • Damo

    At my local Borders the ” Borders Recommends” area in the religious section contains all the big selling atheist books, The God Delusion, God is not Great etc.

    My local shop though is in North Ryde, Australia though.

  • Luther Weeks

    WHAT WOULD A JESUS BELIEVER DO? If a freethinker insulted their book selection.

    I don’t know but I bet they would seldom have the intelligence and generosity to bring the issue to an online discussion and the result being a very stimulating debate about how to best handle the issue. Its clear from this discussion that freethinkers want to inquire and do the best thing for the clerk, the business, and the future of humanity.

  • http://asolis.net/ Alex

    For some reason I feel like what the clerk said was stupid, but not really as bad as saying, “Jew, eh? Well… I guess I’ll keep my comments and thoughts to myself.” That’s because she said “atheism,” not “atheist,” so it would be like her saying “Judaism, eh? Well… I guess I’ll keep my comments and thoughts to myself.” Still offensive, but not as much.

    Also, unlike Judaism or Christianity, atheism is just a simple lack of a belief in something. I’m not proud of being an atheist, I just am because I want my views to reflect reality. Unlike a Jew or a Christian, I don’t particularly want or not want to hold my views. If I had reason to believe God exists, I’d change what I believe.

  • JimboB

    Ideally, I think Rob has the right idea, responding to the clerk’s comment with something positive… I like the example he gave: “Since you’re on the clock, that’s probably a good idea. However, I’d be happy to talk about my beliefs with you another time. Perhaps we could meet for coffee sometime?”

    However, I am personally not that confident/outgoing upon initial confrontation, and I imagine I would have: (a) done something similar to what Ray did, contacting someone higher up, (b) ignored it, dismissing the clerk’s disapproval as mark of personal ignorance, or (c) waited till the clerk got off work, followed her home, and ate her children.

    :)

  • nacky

    It’s probably too late, but does anyone have any experience in asking someone like the clerk point blank “Why did you say that? What exactly was your intention?” This would be similar to the “That hurts” method mentioned above, but would perhaps force them to say more, probably leading to self-defending but maybe just maybe to the realization that it was out of line.
    My immediate imaginary response (not actually being in the situation, where a good retort usually pops into mind when at least a half a block away) was “Too bad you didn’t, and now I would like to speak to the manager.”
    Of course one could leave the store while singing “Do you really want to hurt me?…do you really want to make me cry?…”

  • valhar2000

    Obviously, I’m trying to replace “Atheist” with various other ideological positions (and doing my best to sample a wide range of them), rather than with an ethnic designation.

    That’s my Jayjay, never letting up in his efforts to show us that he is not that kind of atheist!

    I had to say that; you make it too easy.

    Anyway, those comparisons are actually very good. They are more subtle than the ethnic ones, but also more informative.

  • TXatheist

    I carry books around with me during my lunch outings and I’ve only gotten a couple of responses when I was carrying an atheist type book, both positive.

  • http://www.atheistrev.com vjack

    He is absolutely doing the right thing by writing a complaint letter. As you point out, this would not be tolerated if directed at any other group.

  • http://feveredintellect.blogspot.com Viggo the Carpathian

    I buy books on all sorts of subject just for s**ts and grins. I bought a book recently that is supposed to tell all the arcane secrets of summoning demons and ancient Sumerian gods. I thought it was hilarious. The clerk gave me the evil eye and didn’t say a word just stared with pursed lips.

    Should I write a letter? No, I don’t care what she thinks. She can damn me a devil worshiper for all I care. Reactions like that of Ray’s clerk only serve to reveal what’s inside them. You shouldn’t return the favor by reacting… unless they are waving a torch or pitchfork.

  • wwyoud

    I think Ray was right. although I would have started with the manager as well as the district manager. It’s all too easy for a manager with a certain viewpoint to hire those who agree with him, so taking it up a notch helps.

    I would have complained for a wider reason, however–clerks shouldn’t comment in a neutral or negative way about any purchase. That’s like the pharmacy clerk making rude comments about that pack of Trojans! With all the competition from online book sales, most bookstores will do whatever to keep in-store sales; I have to remember to shop my local store once or twice a month because online is soooo easy.

    I wouldn’t have said anything to the clerk–either she’s too stupid to bother with, doesn’t know better, or doesn’t care–and I don’t feel inclined to force her to change. That’s the manager’s job.

    I feel that the more we can politely inform store managers and such that we have money and don’t care to be insulted when shopping, the less we’ll have to deal with such people. I’m not going to hide at home rather than face bigots, but I’m damn sure not going to give my money to a blatantly prejudiced clerk or store; I’m lucky enough to live where there’s lots of other choices.

  • http://feveredintellect.blogspot.com Viggo the Carpathian

    It’s Friday and someone said ‘Have a great weekend’. What if I don’t want to have a great weekend? I think I should write her manager and tell him that she was being insensitive to my desire to go home, hide in the closet and cut myself.

  • http://kkbarrett.blogspot.com Kristopher

    Viggo: Nope. Emos should be shunned.

  • JoshH

    I would’ve said something like “Oh, well you see, I like to read up on other points of view besides my own. You know, just to see what all the fuss is about. It’s harmless.” …followed by a wink :D.

    Saying something like that might actually end up provoking her to check it out for him/herself.

  • http://blog.crispen.org/ Bob Crispen

    Are you sure you couldn’t get her to order The Big Book of Breasts? Or get Human Events magazine’s list of top 10 most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries and order them one by one.

    Btw, if you have family out of town all you need to do is send them a present from Amazon and you can go in together on their free shipping.

    Better still, find a locally owned bookstore that can feed your habit. Before long they’ll be saving books behind the counter for you. Chains like Border’s? Most of the time they don’t even know what they have in stock.


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