A Coworker Recalls

I found a job in Vienna in a small company which obtains medical and pharmaceutical literature. Large pharmaceutical companies need to produce citations for their studies. That was what this little company did. We researched which libraries had certain journals, and then obtained copies of the desired literature, which we then made available to our customers.

Already on my first day at work, I was informed that my colleague Karin* would quite certainly speak to me about my faith. She was a member of the socalled Holic Group, which [the other colleagues] had discovered on the basis of her address (she lived in the communal apartment of the Holic members in Vienna). She had owned a computer company in Norway, had sold everything, and had emigrated to Vienna in order to join this group. She was very quiet, a loner, and would want to talk only about her faith, in order to evangelize.

I learned this firsthand very quickly, when I had to accompany her into one of the specialized libraries. She asked about my faith, and I answered that I would believe in God, but not so much in the Bible. She attempted to prove the Bible’s truth to me, using various passages from it, but then she abandoned her attempt at evangelization. She also never talked to me about it again. After I had read some information about the Holic Group, I assume that I took on the status of a non-believer for her, a poor sinner, who in any case could no longer be helped.

I found the workday routine with Karin [to be] grueling. Any camaraderie, any hint of humor vanished as soon as she entered the room. There are people, whom others refer to as energy eaters; she was a humor eater. Everything became cold and stiff when she was present.

Her contacts with other colleagues were limited to what was absolutely necessary. She talked very little, and then only about business. There were no conversations about personal things. Basically, she saw no problem in making demands when something went against her principles. She made no compromises toward others. She didn’t participate in work-related celebrations. Outside of work, too, there was no contact with her. If somebody happened to see her on the street, there was only a brief greeting.

I worked for four years in this company. I never figured Karin out. It seemed like, in her eyes, everything that could make life more pleasant was sinful. Reading the horoscope in the daily newspaper just for fun – sin; to even make one’s birthday known – sin; listening to music on the radio – sin; having lunch together – sin; conversations that weren’t about the Bible – sin; celebrating Christmas – sin. There was hardly any chance to behave in a way that wasn’t sinful.

For me as an outsider, it was really difficult to work with her. For one thing, I need background noises as I work; I can concentrate better then. It bothers me if everything around me is quiet – for hours on end. But as soon as she entered the room, our radio was turned off. She made the effort, at least, to show a little consideration, and now and then let it play if she were only briefly in the office (her task was primarily the acquisition of literature directly in the libraries). As I was a 19-year-old young woman at that time, it often made me angry that she decided so often for the rest of us, and her lifestyle prevented the rest of us from listening to music.

The next difficult topic was the literature that was to be acquired itself. Now and then our customers requested literature about contraception or even abortion. She refused to retrieve this literature. More than once, I or my colleagues had to work overtime to compensate for her refusal to do this work. It wasn’t a lot, but I still found it to be very unfair. I don’t want to take a position here concerning the topics of contraception / abortion, but I am definitively of the opinion that a person must be able to deal with the topic at a professional level; otherwise, he’s in the wrong job. It was this topic, too, that finally caused Karin to quit her job: she “couldn’t harmonize acquiring such literature with her conscience.”

We learned very little about Karin. She requested vacation several times annually, and it was (unpaid) more than her official amount of vacation (among us in Austria, that’s 25 work days in the case of a 5-day-per-week job). We only knew that she was traveling with her housemates then. I assume that these were evangelization trips. Karin came to work almost every day by bicycle. Once she had an accident, close to the office (that was before my time, and I know about this event only from a retelling). The colleagues offered her a chance to lie down in the office, and called her housemates. Not one of them bothered himself to come to the office and pick her up or help her. I read on their homepage that this group is of the opinion that illness and injury arrive as punishment for sin. I assume, therefore, that they thought that she had sinned and had the accident as a result. I find this attitude toward life, this attitude toward one’s fellow man, to be cold, arrogant, and severely lacking in empathy. [It’s] completely different than what I dare to imagine a “true Christian” [to be], for whom brotherly love, a readiness to help, and compassion would actually be very important.

Basically, Karin ate alone at lunch, and she only ate the very cheapest groceries (Chinese instant noodles, over which one pours hot water, for a few cents). I assume that this, too, had its origin in the cult (not to be wasteful). During the meal, she read the Bible continuously, for the entire four years that I worked together with her. At the end of my time in the company, she had to have surgery; she had significant back problems. She returned even PRIOR TO [the end of] her appointed sick time, not taking all of the allotted recovery time. In regard to this, our boss was also not happy, inasmuch as he had a duty of care toward her as her employer.

I left the company then, but still had friendly contact with a colleague for some time. That’s how I learned that our boss’s long-time girlfriend became ill at a young age with pancreatic cancer, and sadly, she finally died from it. Very shortly afterwards, Karin quit, because she “could not harmonize” the work “with her conscience.” These many years later, I still have the feeling that she perceived the illness of our employer’s [girlfriend] as God’s punishment for the procurement of “sinful” literature, and that she experienced anxiety because of this. But this is only my subjective perception!

* - Name and location changed
written: 2018