The Ethical Dilemma: Faith Healing in the Workplace and Kids Who Love Pseudoscience

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No Faith Healing: I’m having issues in my workplace with religion. It’s my boss, not coworkers, and it’s a Christian-based grocery store. I’m OK with that, but whenever I try to talk to the general manager, everything becomes about God and prayer. Specifically, I have tons of medical issues that I fight through every day. Instead of talking to me about things I can do, he told me to stop going to doctors (which is the reason I am the way I am, but that’s another long story) and eat watermelon and some powder stuff. The discussion had nothing to do with changing my hours or anything. This is how our conversations go: just pray. But it never fixes anything. It’s so frustrating. Please help.

—Watermelon Diet is the Pits

Dear Pits,

Are watermelons and the powder stuff on sale at your store by any chance?

It seems as though a few things are going on here, and religion may be more of a deflection than the problem: Your GM would rather have you try prayer and some kooky variation of an elimination diet than accommodate your needs by adjusting your hours or workload or by helping you get genuine medical attention. Clearly, you can’t rely on this person for the help you need. He’s not a doctor and your health is not his job. Getting work out of you is his job.

If your organization has a human resources department, you need to seek it out. I’m wondering if you have any medical insurance coverage. If it’s a small private company, you may need to seek outside resources. Check into what affordable medical services you may be entitled to as an employee or through the Affordable Care Act or Medicaid.

If you suspect your boss is shirking his duties as an employer in the name of religion—attempting to pray away your medical issues rather than pay for care or make workplace accommodations—you need to seek legal advice from an organization such as the AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

In any case, remember what your GM seems to have forgotten: he’s not a healthcare expert and has no business giving you medical advice (or telling you to avoid medical professionals). Please take responsibility for getting yourself a reliable medical opinion and ensuring that your employer fulfills any legal obligations to you. Watermelon and potions, with or without prayer, are not an acceptable prescription.

Kill Joy? My ethical dilemma may seem minor and transient (as it will eventually resolve itself with the passage of time), but I could use some advice nonetheless. I have a ten-year-old son. We are atheists, humanists, and scientists. He’s a great kid who has a deep fascination with monsters and mythical creatures and creepy pastas (I know, I’d never heard of them either).

I am frequently conflicted when he asks me questions about things like Bigfoot, mermaids, paranormal events, or other such things. He will hear the pseudoscientific shows on TV saying that “there is new conclusive evidence” about these and other creatures. He’ll tell me, “It’s real! They have photos!” Of course, I tell him that photos can be doctored and the Internet is not always a reliable resource for information. But as the words come out of my mouth, I find myself feeling like I’m crushing his sense of wonder. The scientist in me wants to tell him that it’s all a bunch of hoo-ha, but the indulgent mother in me doesn’t want to take away the fun he has in thinking about the possibilities of these things.


—Too Rational For 10?

Dear Rational,

All problems will eventually pass with the passage of time—and ourselves. But just waiting is not always an optimal strategy. And judging from a recent letter there’s no guarantee that people will outgrow this sort of thing. Even the most rational and scientific people may hang onto their little flights of fantasy.

You’re already handling this perfectly—and so is your son. You’re being honest, yet allowing him to indulge his fascinations. He’s being an imaginative kid who is still trying to figure out what’s true and what’s not. Aren’t we all always doing that on some level? It’s quite possible that because he comes from a scientific family, he’s even more prone to be open-minded about what might be possible. Imagine what young Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs might have told their families they were going to invent, and how their families may have reacted.

Please continue to be straight with him about your perspective, while keeping the dialog unobstructed and nonjudgmental. There’s no need to pretend to believe things you don’t, but there’s also no need to try to rein your son in. You could, however, introduce him to the debunking work of people like Penn and Teller or the Amazing Randi. They zero-in on pseudoscience in an entertaining manner that your son will surely respond to, and they just might make him a nonbeliever regarding all that irresistible poppycock that has him in its grip.

Even if he persists in lapping up this stuff (hey, huge numbers of adults do), there’s really little harm in it, and very likely a lot of good. Your son is intrigued by “things never dreamt of in your philosophy.” Let him enjoy exploring a full spectrum of potential realities. Try to share his enthusiasm and get him to elaborate on what he believes, even if you dispute it. You have a bright boy with a curious, energetic mind. Celebrate and encourage that.