What Would a Humanist Do? Backseat Humanist Etiquette

Today we bring you our latest installment of “What Would a Humanist Do?”—offering multiple AHA staff opinions on reader questions. Because while humanists are committed to being good without a god, sometimes we need a little advice on how to pull it off.

Q: Every time I’m in an Uber or Lyft with a driver blasting religious sermons or religious music, I wonder if I should say something. It’s their car and I appreciate their service, but the proselytizing (and sometimes yelling or off-putting lyrics) makes the ride unpleasant.

I find this happens frequently on Sundays, which is awkward because it is their holy day and it’s unfair that they should need to work at all. As we approach Christmas, I anticipate this happening more, similar to how many stores & offices will play Christmas music. Should I speak up or just sit down?

—Backseat Humanist



I’ve actually thought a fair amount about this, since I take Ubers and Lyfts relatively frequently. Interestingly, my answer is different depending on whether the driver is playing sermons or music. When a driver is playing religious music, I don’t say anything. I treat it as if they are playing any other genre of music that doesn’t appeal to me. My attitude is, it’s their car and, in most cases, I’ll only be in it for a short time, so the driver might as well listen to what they like. Since I’m not particularly familiar with the kind of religious music that gets played on the radio, sometimes it actually takes me a while to realize that’s what I’m hearing. Luckily, I’ve never been in a rideshare that had sermons playing. In that case, I think it would feel more like direct proselytizing, and I would probably politely ask them to switch stations.

—Nicole Carr


Although it may be Sunday or some other Sabbath for the person who is driving the vehicle, you are in no way obligated to endure something that makes your ride uncomfortable to appease somebody else. It is very kind and considerate of you to think of religious days as a factor in this scenario, but ultimately, you are paying for a service and have agency to say what you are comfortable with during the ride.

I think it’s perfectly okay to say something like, “Hey, I am uncomfortable with this type of music/program on the radio. Could you please switch this off?”

I think tone is incredibly important for something like this, and you don’t need to broach this topic with disdain or with any type of adversarial energy. I would be as polite and straightforward as possible. A driver who is respectful of you as a passenger should have no issues with turning the music/program off.

If you are concerned that saying something might invite pushback from the driver or be the catalyst for some type of debate, you could avoid that by simply saying, “I have a headache,” or something to that effect instead. If a driver ignores your request or tries to engage you in a religious debate, you could just say, “This is making me uncomfortable.”

At the end of the day, you’re paying for a service from somebody; you aren’t paying to be their hostage.

We need to always exhibit consideration and kindness with strangers, but we also need to remember to show ourselves the same in turn. Be kind. Be polite. But be firm in advocating for yourself. And it goes without saying, tip accordingly and tip well.

—David Reinbold


I have mixed feelings about our rideshare-happy culture. The services provided by Uber and Lyft have proved immensely valuable to customers who don’t have access to a vehicle, are seeking to avoid drinking-and-driving situations, or are even looking to reduce the amount of cars on the road. But the way these companies have propped up an unstable, barely-livable wage for drivers makes me feel uneasy every time I get in a car.

Sure, you’ll sometimes encounter the rare example of someone who loves driving folks around as a way to make a few extra bucks, but many times these drivers are struggling under the yoke of gig economy, pawns in an unfair system that refuses to pay them adequately for their work.

Maybe this says more about how I was raised than anything else, but when I think about situations such as yours, I always approach it from a “the customer is always wrong” perspective. You are entering another person’s vehicle (as part of a financial transaction, sure), and their primary obligation is not to make you feel comfortable, but to get you to your destination safely.

If you’ve experienced trauma due to a horrific religious upbringing, and the driver’s choice of audio is triggering you in some way, then that’s a different ballgame. But it sounds like you are more annoyed than anything. You have to make the mental calculation for yourself: is your comfort worth more than the driver’s? Don’t assume that the driver is playing religious music or sermons as a way to proselytize – it could just as easily be way for them to relax as they operate a 3,000-pound piece of machinery for your benefit.

I see your choices as: 1) politely ask the driver for a change in audio, 2) let your tip and rating do the talking, or 3) take out your phone and dissociate as you scroll. Me? I’m a scroller.

—Peter Bjork