Heaven Forbid

Cars can be a nuisance—they consume resources, pollute the environment, and have a habit of being very expensive to repair. We’ve been pretty good about taking our car in for its regularly scheduled Toyota check-up. Since the garage is several miles away and my wife and I both work, it is often a matter of the one who can most easily work from home the day of the car doctor appointment taking it in. Our Toyota dealer has in-store wifi for those who can’t live without the internet. For some of us, work is almost exclusively internet. So it was that I drew the short straw and dutifully drove out to the dealership. I was pleased that my VPN connected so easily; this was going to be a snap. I was working happily away when I had to find somebody on a university website. I googled the name and clicked. I received a forbidden website message (copied below) explaining tersely: “Block reason: Forbidden Category ‘Religion’.” I tried again on the Society of Biblical Literature website—same message.

ForbiddenReligion copy

Now I can understand workplaces blocking pornography sites, and even Facebook (I found the latter to be blocked at Toyota some time ago, but I’ve never tried the former), but religion? I am a religion editor. How am I to work when I can’t access websites that contain the word “religion”? The more I pondered this—I could still check my email, and do VPN-type work with files from the office—the more it bothered me. On the television in the background inane daytime talkshow hosts were interviewing someone who’d written a book about God. How many more businesses out there are biased against internet religion? That means my blog is blacklisted along with the scantily clad and overly chatty. I fully support the disestablishment clause, but I also subscribe to the freedom of religion. Smirks aside, there is a serious undertone to all of this.

I have no desire to be proselytized at work. I also agree that it is the right of others to expect the same. Sometimes, however, a little religion might help work go down like a poppinian spoonful of sugar. One time when I worked for Ritz Camera in Brookline, Massachusetts (I seem to have a knack for working for businesses that are on the way out), I had a tough day. Some of our customers could be quite abrasive, and since the customer is always right, we had to take personal insults with a smile. One lunch-hour I told my manager that I needed to recoup my moxy (I didn’t use those words). I ducked out the door and stomped to the first church I could find and asked if I could just sit in the pew for a few minutes. The church secretary, a complete stranger to me, said “of course.” Ten minutes later I returned to work collected and able to face more unreasonable customers for the rest of the afternoon. Maybe it wasn’t religion, maybe it was only the calm of sitting in what some believed to be a sacred space, but my capitalist company got better performance out of me that day because of it. Ironically, at Toyota, my religion editing is cast in with the tax collectors and prostitutes. Only the tax collectors, I’m pretty certain, are always permitted to work.

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