Repair Man Proselytizing July 13, 2008

Repair Man Proselytizing

Here’s an ethical dilemma for you.

Your phone line (which connects you to the Internet) isn’t working. You call the company and they send out a repairman.

He comes over. You make small talk.

Then at some point, he says:

“You know how I was talking about how I like history? I wanted to show you a book that’s the most important history book I’ve ever read. I wish I had discovered it years ago. It has helped me understand things I never got before.”

And he opened this zippered bag and pulls out some book on Jesus.

And he stood there and told me how great this book was, on and on, and about all the other books on religion he has read, and the church he goes to, and I just wasn’t going to go there. Finally he ran out of things to tell me about, so he went downstairs and repaired whatever he needed to repair.

It’s one thing to have polite conversation with a client, but was this guy taking it too far?

How would you have reacted?

(Thanks to C.L. for the link!)


[tags]atheist, atheism, Christian[/tags]


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  • Yoo

    If he spent more time talking about the book than actually repairing the phone line, then yes, he’s going too far. Personally, I’d just tell him to shut up and fix it, but then I’m a rude SOB.

    Otherwise, I’d limit myself to giving him strange looks. That’s pretty much what I do for other ridiculous stuff mentioned off-the-cuff (UFOs, spirits, astrology, etc.).

  • By telling that pathetic theistarded excuse for a human being to STFU, of course.

    (shrug)

  • Knowing me, I would have just gone along with what he was saying. Though I’d have been thoroughly creeped out, and feeling extremely uncomfortable. But I put up with stuff like that pretty often.
    And, yes, I do believe that’s going way too far.

  • I would respond to this by saying something bland, like, “Okay, well, thanks, I’ll keep that in mind the next time I’m at the bookstore. Now how’s about we figure out why I don’t have any internet?” I’d make sure to get his name and any other identifying information like a badge number on the receipt that he would surely be required to give me — in a friendly way.

    Then I’d write his supervisor a note complaining about being evangelized by the guy. And I’d sit on the note for twenty-four hours to decide if there were any profit to be had in actually sending it.

  • David Crespo

    Wait until he’s finished fixing everything, then whip out God Is Not Great.

  • THz

    I think I’d be reporting him to his company, that kind of action should be unacceptable from a company, unless they happen to have certain affiliations, in which case I suggest switching utility companies.

  • Ron in Houston

    Pushy attempts to get people to change their beliefs, whether by theist or atheist, it s form of intellectual terrorism.

    I actually enjoy talking to people about religion, but when they try to convert me then they’re saying I’m not entitled to my belief. (Yes, I understand that non-belief is not the same thing as belief)

  • Jen

    I would tell him I was an atheist… after he repaired my phone. The problem I see with evangelizing like this is that there is a major power imbalance- it is one thing if we are both customers, but I need him and therefore can only be so truthful. Its the same reason I find missionaries to be morally sticky- can people with no power relative to the powerful missionary really make informed, fair decisions? At least in the case of the repair man, I have some power over him, because unhappy customers can complain. And I probably wouldn’t think to send a letter, but I think that is a great idea.

  • wwyoud

    When he pulled out the book, I’d say I’m not interested, and really need the repair done. If he insists on pushing, I might weasel and say I have work to attend to, and walk away. I would definitely call his supervisor and email his company’s home office, because that crap is wrong on so many levels.

    When this first happened to me in a similar situation, I was so shocked I just nodded and waited for him to run out of steam. Now, I’m not nearly so surprised, and have learned to cut ’em off at the pass. You know the code words; his were “the most important history book I’ve ever read”. Interrupt right there before he gets any further, and get him back on the track of repair.

  • I worked as a bartender to help pay my way through school. Now, thankfully, I do research. I cannot tell you the number of times I was the object of some missionary activity. Maybe it was the cleaning glasses behind the bar, or the waiting on tables that made people think I needed saving. The worst wasn’t even Sundays, it was Wednesday nights. The place I worked was very near to a big evangelical church and everyone feels the need to spread the word after their Wednesday night Bible Study. Of course, when you work for tips, it’s like prostitution. No matter what they say, all that matters is that they like you enough to leave a tip even half worth the trouble of hearing questions like, “If you died tonight, do you think you’d go to heaven?” It’s a little weird how threatening that sounds, looking back, but you do what you have to in order to get through college.

  • My response would have been to thank him for his concern but then say that I do not appreciate his using company time to forward his personal religious agenda. I would ask for the name of his supervisor, ask if there was a direct number with which I could contact him and, while he was still there, proceed to call.

    I would explain to the supervisor what his employee had done and ask what sort of disciplinary action might be taken in such a case. (Note, that I am not demanding disciplinary action, I am merely inquiring what procedures the company has in place to address customer complaints.)

    Should that answer not be satisfactory, I would inform them that I will likely be contacting a rival company and changing my service provider.

    This is not about getting the guy fired. It’s about making sure he is properly trained in company policies and procedures which should have rules in place restricting this sort of behavior. If those rules are not in place, then the company has failed and, given the option, I will take my business elsewhere.

  • Justin

    While it is polite (“friendly,” if you don’t mind the pun) to do a little small talk with the repairman, obviously that is not his job. I highly doubt anyone would invite him over for proselytizing. If I encountered such a situation, I would just try to gently remind him of the job that needs to be done and my lack of interest in his book.

  • This is why I don’t make a lot of small talk with people I’m paying to do a specific, short-term service.

  • Given the size of my library, and the number of books on biblical history that I own, I would have happily answered with, “Actually, I find Anderson’s depth of scholarship to be rather lacking. You may want to try…” and then hand him a stack of Ehrman, Fox, Graves, McCabe, etc. And I’d probably slip The God Delusion in there somewhere as well… Who knows, if he’s a keen reader, it might do him some good.

    Then I’d call his supervisor. If I want to discuss books, I’ll join a bookgroup. Fix the damn internet, man!

  • I would call his supervisor and complain. Not only is he bringing something you didn’t ask for into your home, but he’s using paid company time to preach. There are multiple reasons his employer would not want that to happen.

  • Ron in Houston

    I do agree with Lawyer. While you could turn the guy into his employer, he’s really just clueless that such evangelizing is offensive and in poor taste.

  • Allytude

    Well i would probably put up wih it and seethe. Or be very very no-small talk( not difficult, I do it often). But it is inappropriate- and I guess I would follow what people are suggesting- call up supervisor, mention I am an atheist- post his fixing up the Internet.

  • Certainly unprofessional. I probably would’ve simply called him on his unprofessionalism and sent him on his way. I doubt I’d make a big deal about it.

  • I had a cat setter that I used for a few years. I knew she was a devout Christian, but I wasn’t going to hold that against her. Then she left a Bible Lesson on my table, and said it was the one of the greatest gifts of all.

    I’m going to be looking for a new cat sitter this holiday season.

  • Ooops… Commented in the wrong post. Yay me.

  • It was highly unprofessional and unethical to promote his personal, religious views while on the clock and while wearing his employer’s uniform. He should, most decidedly, be reported before someone more litigious gets the next earful of his “book report”.

  • Gary

    I had a slightly similar (but possibly more insane) situation a while back. He wasn’t a repair man, but he was over installing handrails for my mother (who is disabled, I was minding her house as she was in hospital at the time). We got talking since it was generally a boring task, and he was alright.

    Somehow we got talking about conspiracy theories, and at first I thought he was joking. But then he started on this long… “rant” is the wrong word, but it gives the idea. 9/11 was the government, we never landed on the moon, aliens are landing every day and the oddest one (that I’d never heard before) that vapour trails from planes aren’t vapour at all, they’re giant crop dusters spreading mind control dust. “That’s why I never drive under one”, he said.

    Gotta say I was pretty disturbed. I found myself just giving non-committal sounds like “mm” and “ah” through most of it. I think in the case of evangalising I would be able to react better, simply because it’s more of a normal situation. I’d probably just say something like “I’m really not interested, but I do need the internet fixing” or something of the like. I don’t think I’d call his supervisor or anything, just seems a bit much.

  • They let you own guns in America don’t they?

    I’m not suggesting that you make him work by pulling a piece on him (I’ve watched Hill Street Blues, I know the lingo) but talking about your gun must be the fastest way to get someone out of your house that there is.

    Repairman: “You know how I was talking about how I like history? I wanted to show you a book that’s the most important history book I’ve ever read.”

    Crazed Gun Wielding Atheist: “Was it the history of firearms? I have a gun” *twitch twitch*

    …of course, he could have a gun too…

    Nah, forget it, bad idea.

  • Jonsi

    I am in graduate school, and student health insurance only gave me 4 physical therapy sessions for a hip flexor tear that really should have required surgery. On my 3rd session, my therapist was talking about my thesis project — it was not going well, building a new environmental sensor to put on the ocean bottom…but it would always break when we tried to deploy it — and I was stressed. He told me “there is a book out there, and you never have to be stressed again. It’s called Dianetics, it’s about the psychology of the mind. Have you ever heard of it?”

    I said yes and kept my mouth shut because he had electrodes only 1 inch from the family jewels. At the end of my next and last session (it took 2 more years of work at home for the injury to finally be over), he gave me a new, hardcover copy of dianetics where he wrote on the inside cover “I know this will help you” along with 2-3 more paragraphs.

    I regifted the book at a white elephant gift exchange; I got a bottle of Maker’s Mark. I think I handled it well.

  • I think the repairman’s ham-handed attempt to “spread the word” is both in poor taste and unethical. Not to mention insulting — do I have a scarlet A on me somewhere?

    But with that said, I realize my views on religion (not committed to being an atheist but not a hopeful believer anymore; “agnostic” is the closest) make me a minority in the South. I probably would have said, “It’s kind of you to want to share something that’s important to you. Do you do this with all your customers, or was there something about me that prompted you?” After he answered, I’d say, “Let’s see if there’s time to talk after you do the work.” (No point in giving him an opportunity to sabotage the work.) I tend to ask more questions than I answer, also.

    Afterward, if he’s truly interested in a dialog, not in delivering a monologue, I’ll chat. I’ve certainly done it before. I’m patient, and I think it does them good if they encounter someone who’s thoughtfully chosen not to worship and is willing to talk. (If he’s rude, I’d ask him how many converts he’s won that way, and I’d show him the door. But if I’m not kneejerk rude, they usually aren’t. They’re usually just earnest.)

    Is this weak and non-confrontational of me? Perhaps. Another way of looking at it is that it takes strength to live with and among abrasively zealous people and interact with them while remaining true to your ideals of courtesy and honesty and self-protection.

  • Me, I’d end the chit chat. Any stranger in your home, utility company or not, can be politely treated but you’re not obligated to make small-talk. If the guy’s not a creep (which it sounds like he wasn’t) you can just tell him you’re not interested and I bet he’ll go back to fixing the phone and then go on his way.

    Once, I was in a cab on my way home from a music class. The driver told me it was his last run of the night, and that he wouldn’t be charging me for my ride. That made the short hairs stand up on the back of my neck. He went on to explain that he uses his last run of every night to tell one lucky passenger all about Allah and the wonders of living a good life. I got 20 minutes of serious pressure to give up my evening outings to tabla class in favor of staying home and being virtuous. (I didn’t volunteer that staying home wouldn’t jive with his version of “virtue” as I was shacked up with my boyfriend.)

    I’d have preferred to pay for the cab ride, honestly, and I was too shaken up by the feeling of being a prisoner to get the cab’s number to call the cab company when I got home. Oh well. I’ve never really liked riding in cabs since then.

  • Pseudonym

    As unprofessional, insensitive and generally stupid as this guy is… “intellectual terrorism”? Seriously? Does the word “terrorism” really not mean anything any more.

    I agree with those who would avoid a confrontation. Try to steer the conversation back to your problem. If you can’t, make an excuse to get out of the conversation and get him to work. You have to make a phone call, you have something else to do… anything at all. Then call the company afterwards and ensure that this guy is taught the rules.

  • Boy, I just don’t think that’s the time or place to initiate that conversation unless the customer makes an inquiry about it first a la “I’m new in the area–do you know of a good church etc?”(kind of sounds like a pick up line!). The customer has a stranger in their home, trusting they are going to get a job done. Its especially out of line if the repairman/woman is being paid by the hour. Get the work done first. Sounds like this guy was very excited about his life of faith and wanted to share it with any and all.

  • Elsin Ann Perry

    “I’m Jewish.” That works for my twin sister when Seventh Day Adventists or Mormons come to the door.

  • Spork

    What dilemma? You throw him out; you call the company and get his ass fired for proselytizing. He’s in your home as hired help, and the rudeness gauntlet was thrown down the minute he tried to convert you.

    I really don’t understand all this week-kneed, desperate need for so many of you to never appear rude. Even when you’re not.

    Which is rude in this situation? Trying to use a working situation (which would legally be considered as contributing to a hostile work environment if it were an office, and the two of you co-workers) to convert someone to a religion, or telling someone, in no uncertain terms, that they are most certainly not welcome to do so, and there’s the door?

    Stop being such a coward.

  • In response to Spork:

    I think courtesy is important because of what it says about *me,* even when the other person doesn’t completely deserve it. My ability to maintain my composure also matters because I not only represent my own self, I also am representative of other non-believers to this proselytizer. If I act like a human being instead of an ass, maybe the do-gooder will begin to see non-believers as real, complex, sympathetic people rather than as causes.

    And courtesy is also a matter of practicality. I’m a woman in my home, with a stranger who feels strongly about a cause. I’m not going to piss him off unless I have to — for reasons of personal safety and also because I want the work done right then, without delay and without him doing a half-assed job.

    One final comment on bravery: It’s ironic that you commented anonymously on how other people are not being brave. :o)

  • TXatheist

    I’m in line with David Crespo. My situation was similar. My new job this year was being done by a JW. After a few comments that I remembered from my days of studying with the JW’s I presumed she was but stayed quiet. She left some tracts for me in her desk and I returned them to her on the second day of training. She found out I was an atheist and stopped training me. I can only imagine if I’d told her I was an apostate(ex-JW) and the amount of training I would have gotten. She comes around occasionally to see the old gang here and I am now willing to share my knowledge of what a crock the JWs are if the conversation arises.

  • Varda

    I’ve gotta go with Spork on this one.
    Although I would give the guy a chance first and tell him I’m not interested and could he please fix my internet.
    If he doesn’t stop though, all bets are off, I’d kick him out and call his company. I’d tell them their repair man was unprofessional and insulting and refused to do his job and if they don’t send another repair man right now I’m calling the Better Business Bureau on them. There is no place in civilized society for this sort of nonsense. It’s not about being polite here. You can be polite when you ask him to stop, after that get him the hell out of your house.
    Although I have the added bonus of being able to call building security if he gets difficult, so my situation may be different.

  • valhar2000

    The answer to this problem is so obvious that nearly everyone has already pointed it out: ignore the god talk and ask him to get on with the repair, and complain to the company if he refuses. To address Carolyn’s point, you wouldn’t even have to say that he was evangelyzing, or reveal that you are an atheist: just say that you asked him to repair the line but he refused and wasting your valuable time by chattering.

    Also, I agree with Pseudonym. Calling this “terrorism” is like calling the insults Hilarry Clinton received “rape”; if you are going to degrade the meaning of those words like that, what’s left to call real terrorism and real rape?

  • Wet Mogwai

    I think I would ask him to leave and get someone else to do the job. Someone with poor enough powers of reasoning to fall for that is likely to be bad at doing technical jobs. He needs to be able to look at a situation, evaluate the evidence, perform tests, and come to a reasonable conclusion. Jesus is not a reasonable conclusion. If he came to that wrong conclusion, it isn’t hard to believe that he thinks my computer is causing the Internet problems when the problem is the cable company’s equipment.

  • I’d try brushing it off and redirecting him to his work. If that didn’t work I’d tell him outright: “I’m an atheist, and you’re here to repair my X. Let’s focus on that.”

    If he persisted, I’d say “Thanks for coming. I’m not happy being preached at in my own home. I want you to leave now, and I’d like the name of your supervisor.”

    Simple, polite, and effective. For bonus points I’d invoice the company for the time wasted listening to the guy preach on company time, and point out that they were in fact paying for him to do it.

    Of course if you have some time to kill, you could a) feign interest and keep him for an extra couple of hours b) ask him if he’s heard of Dianetics/Amway/what-have-you.

  • Spork

    One final comment on bravery: It’s ironic that you commented anonymously on how other people are not being brave. :o)

    Carolyn, please do Google ‘Silence Dogood’ sometime. While I am an “out” atheist in my workplace, and my views are pretty well known, I save a little vitriol for weblogs and message boards. Use of a pseudonym is pretty much a requirement.

    I also find it odd, every single time I encounter it, how many self-proclaimed critical thinkers need a “name” attached to postings on the internet. Does a name, such as Ricky Moore, or Suzanne Pennings, or Arthur Buckwallow really mean anything more to you than spork, or napkin, or buttplug?

    You should really be evaluating postings on content and the quality of reasoning displayed within said postings, rather than the monikers attached to said postings.

    Then again, if you could think critically, you’d have known that already.

  • Being in the South, I’ve had this happen a lot. Phone guy, electrician, insulation, even the mailman. Telling them I’m an atheist seems to make them try harder. It’s not like I can just walk away. When I used to tell them I was Catholic, they gave up right away.

    Now I just nod and make non-committal noises while I find something else to do.

  • Spork,

    I wanted to reply one last time, because I’m surprised at the vitriol you reserved for another commenter. I’m sorry that you feel defensive about posting anonymously, but that’s what happens. You’re entitled to do it, and I’m entitled to think and say what I wish about it. Have a big ol’ cup of Get Over It.

    You’ll notice that my comments only dealt with *my* own experiences and why I react the way I do to unwelcome proselytizers. For some reason, you’re presuming that you are the arbiter of how one “should” comment and that you’re somehow being invited to judge whether courteous responses are “weak-kneed,” “desperate,” or the actions of a “coward.” I don’t know why you care to this degree about the milder responses of some non-believers. Your attitude is contemptuous, and it’s that very people-unfriendly attitude that alienates people who do have religious beliefs … and some who do not. It it because of the existence of such rudeness that others like me try to control irritation when we’re preached at.

    Your comment about whether I can think critically is unnecessarily insulting and laughable, considering that your responses have been emotional while mine have not up until this point.

    And — in a small spark of my own temper — I’ll say that in your case, per your example, I’m perfectly willing to equate Spork with a buttplug.

    See ya.

    By the way, to the website owner, I think it’s sad that a site intended for reasoned discussions has a troll like this. But no big deal. There are plenty of other good sites to visit!

    Ah. Feel better now. I’m sure the Sporky troll will respond again, but I don’t have to listen to that crap.

  • Garrick

    When people of different faiths bump into each other, they are generally very pleasant introducing their faiths and/or declining proselytzing materials. I think this is the best way to be.

    When I’ve been in similar situations, I simply say, “no thank you, I am an atheist”. I say this as simply and directly as possible with a slight “nice to meet you” smile. I let the other person decide whether he wants to be polite or a jerk.

  • Lenny

    call whatever company he works for, speak to the owner, find out if s/he knows the employee is a PT : Proselytizing Thumper. Odds are it’s one of those businesses that caters to Christians only [e.g. Shepherd’s Guide.com] and you called them by mistake (look for the telltale FISH LOGO in the ads, and avoid those businesses at all costs – they exist solely to rip you off).

    if not, maybe the owner will fire the moron, so he can go to work as a Wal-Mart greeter.

    if the owner is complicit, i’d (seriously) demand a 100% refund – just for the harassment. whether he completed his plumbing task is irrelevant.

  • Yes. Too far indeed. He was there to repair a phone line, not sell his religious beliefs to a paying customer. Uncalled for and out of line.

    I wouldn’t report the guy, but I would certainly ignore him and brush him off with a “Well, that’s nice and all, but it doesn’t help my broken phone line.”

  • Devout Atheist

    Why not just tell him that you are not a fan of fantasy books?