Are You a Christian or Catholic? November 6, 2010

Are You a Christian or Catholic?

Luc Duval” is a student teacher in music and he’s learning what it’s like to be an atheist in the classroom:

… a class discussion led from languages into questions about where I’m from, and a student decided to ask me, “Are you Christian or Catholic?” I managed to resist addressing the glaring semantic issues of the question and answer, “I’m not comfortable answering questions about religion.” Many in the class were shocked but I moved on quickly. How many other teachers would have answered without hesitation? In this school, I think many would. Should they feel comfortable answering such questions? I think we all should be, but there’s absolutely no way that a person with a response outside of the mainstream wouldn’t be at great risk of backlash.

As much as I advocate people being out about their atheism, I think Duval handled this perfectly. I probably wouldn’t have done it any differently if I were in the same position.

Would what you have done?

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  • Sesoron

    “Are you a Christian or a Catholic?”
    “1. The latter is a hyponym of the former, so they can’t be compared in parallel without further qualification; 2. Nope.”

  • Christopher Petroni

    My students asked me pretty early on what religion I was. It’s probably a common question for a science teacher. I told them I’m an atheist. I thought it couldn’t hurt to give them a positive example of atheism. I didn’t spend any more time on the topic.

  • asonge

    If mentioning your religion or philosophical affiliations inhibits your ability to perform your job, you should avoid the subject on purely professional grounds. I don’t know how else to frame the situation except in professional ethics and standards.

  • Christianity and Catholicism are not mutually exclusive, although it seems like it sometimes. It was a loaded question to begin with.

  • JohnJay

    This reminds me of the story a few weeks ago about an Oregon student teacher who was asked by a student (3rd or 4th grade?) if he was married. He answered honestly that, no, he couldn’t marry in that state because he would want to marry a man. The parent complained, and he was fired. He since was re-hired… but I bet if he said he didn’t believe in god(s), the same would happen… except he probably wouldn’t have gotten his job back.

  • thorny

    i would of answered athiest and if they had a problem with that then just screw them but then again i live in england and have met so few religious people, its hard to believe atheists are a minority in america. Hell i even went to a church of england primary school and i don’t remember seeing one other religious student, pretty much everyone i know is atheist or agnostic.

  • Sesoron

    When I was a student teacher of Latin, which included much of Greek and Roman mythology, I was once asked point-blank by a possibly facetious student whether I believed in that mythos, to which I replied that I didn’t. I wish I had been quick enough to say something like, “Why would I believe something just because some bronze-age peasants wrote it down in a storybook?”

  • Mary

    I teach, and students have never asked me about my religion. If they were to ask, I’d be honest and say that after a very thorough experience with Christian fundamentalism, I became an atheist. I don’t understand why I would be afraid to say what is simply the truth.

  • My jaw nearly dropped to the floor the first time an Evangelical said something like that to me. She asked me why I wouldn’t join her in prayer and I told her it was because I wasn’t a Christian.

    “What are you then,” she asked. “A Catholic?”

    Until that time it hadn’t occurred to me that anyone had such a parochial religious attitude that they didn’t consider Catholics to be Christians.

    Since then though, I’ve heard similar statements from other evangelicals and it no longer surprises me.

  • Hazor

    Many protestant Christians do not consider Catholicism to be Christianity, but instead anything ranging from misguided to an evil cult. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, 7th Day Adventists, and probably others, receive similar treatment. Arguments can be made both ways, as there are considerable deviations in the teachings of these particular branches of Christianity, but nonetheless they all come from the same roots and share a lack of substantial evidence and logic.

  • Jeanette

    I actually remember arguing with a girl about this when I was little and thought I was Catholic. She kept trying to tell me Catholic wasn’t Christian, and I was trying to correct her. I remember being really upset that someone would insist that something untrue was true even after I most helpfully corrected her. Definitely a feeling familiar to any skeptic 😛

  • tim

    Recently one of my employees asked me about my relationship with Jesus Christ during our one on one – I kindly explained that one’s beliefs is a private matter and we moved on. Hasn’t been raised again.

  • Andrzej

    A teacher is not there to “feel comfortable”, thus for me the answer given would not be satisfactory.

    Instead, as a teacher, to avoid answering this, I would rather point to irrelevancy of teacher’s religious beliefs in a science class. I would also refuse – on the same basis – to answer questions about the Papa Smurf true color or weight of an angel.

    An answer based on facts is always better than one based on emotions.

  • Aaron

    Probably the simplest of answers would be “I’m not religious” and move on.

  • tim

    Now on flights on the other hand – I usually answer that I’m not a big fan of worshiping zombies. But I usually make sure I pick up “Out” or another gay magazine at the airport in an effort to ward off those silly questions.

  • TMJ

    I never discuss religion or politics at work. It’s truly not the place for it.

  • This is part of the problem. Religious people have no problem blerting out their particlar brand of sueprstition, but the more rational in our society still find it difficult to confront insane beliefs because we might offend people. The faithful are therefore never challenged or exposed to people who do not accept their beleifs. How can we expect people to actually think about their beliefs if they are never challenged?

  • Suedomsa

    My response : “Are you stupid or just ignorant?” I realize this would not be appropriate in the context laid out here, but I just couldnt resist. 🙂

  • I’m another that did not like the “I’m not comfortable,” response though I would understand and accept him saying “it is a personal choice and he does not think it is relevant.”

    Personally, I would prefer him to just answer the question honestly. I don’t trust individuals that are afraid of having their choices or opinions known or judged by others.

    And yes, I get that he does not want to burn any possible employment bridges.

  • I was also taught that Catholics were not Christian growing up. Which I find silly because I was raised Mormon and they aren’t Christian either.

  • lalib

    That could be a very quick teaching moment. Respond with: “You assume those are the only two choices” a *Dumbledore eye twinkle* and then move on. 🙂

  • Janson

    I’m in the US Army and my ID tags say ‘Atheist’ as opposed to ‘No Religious Preference’. I have received minimal backlash when answering honestly to similar questions.

  • Why would it be “wrong” or in any way negative to tell the truth??? I would have said: “Sorry, I do not believe in bronze age fairytales.” Why would this be wrong?

  • anatman

    i would have just said “no” and moved on. depending on duval’s job situation, that might not be wise, of course.

  • maddogdelta

    I teach in Texas and I need the job.

    What would you have me do?

  • Mr Z

    He did exactly right… it’s a classroom. Unless you’re teaching in a religious school, it should not be discussed. Secondly, it’s a personal thing and has no bearing on work duties, it should not have been a question.

    That said, kids are supposed to be asking questions. The response which says I teach you without regard to my personal beliefs and they have no bearing on the material to be studied. Such questions are best left for theology classes… this is the right response as it indicates that the question is wrong to ask, and the answer is none of their business. Further, they should get some clue from schooling that asking such a question is bigotry starting to bud.

    This is where we fail… not explaining that even asking the question is a problem. Imagine if a student asked a teacher if they masturbate? Perhaps it should be ok if a student asks a teacher if sex is good or bad? There are good questions and bad questions. Being a teacher is no easy task. Students should be educated on how to ask questions as well as to ask them.

  • MV

    There are actually two issues here. As Mr. Z has noted, the mere asking of this question in this environment is a problem. The act of asking the question was rude and inappropriate. The student lacks manners. The first step is to address that issue. Because the student probably doesn’t realize the lack of manners. Most people don’t. You are not automatically entitled to a persons religion, marital status, politics, likes, dislikes, etc.

    Then one can decide whether or not they actually want to answer the question and how they want to do it. The fact that it was an inappropriate question automatically means that it does not have to be answered. No explanation required. The expectation that people will/have to answer personal questions is just another form of priviledge.

  • Anonymous

    I would have asked, “Why is this information important to you?”

  • Brian-sama

    This is a touchy subject, but I once had to deal with a similar question in one of my English classes. I had a good relationship with the students in question, and I didn’t want to ignore them. Instead, I chose to tell them that I wasn’t any form of Christian, but that I was an atheist.

    Though it was a risky move, I think it actually turned out to be a valuable experience for all of us. I have a few openly atheist students, but none in that particular class. Most of the students have had very few experiences with adult atheists, so their perceptions of atheism are skewed so terribly that they believed the Dane Cook “atheists think they become trees” nonsense. Although it had no real relation to the subject at hand, I took the time to give that one particular class a brief etymology lesson. They learned what the word “atheist” literally means, and that it certainly has nothing to do with the misinformation they’ve picked up.

    I think our goal as atheists in society is to actually be a visible part of society. If we are not honest about who we are, then people (students especially) will never realize that they have had positive experiences with atheists. I understand that religion is typically taboo in school, but my students learned something very valuable about the world that day. Most of my colleagues are openly Christian, and I am becoming more and more openly atheist. Neither of these things should matter as long as they do not influence our approach to education.

  • ethanol

    Perhaps we are just misinterpreting the question. “are you gay or bisexual?” would be a valid question despite the fact that the two are not mutually exclusive, nor would such a question be taken to assume that you were one of the two. Just a thought

  • Daniel

    As an English teacher, I get, “What’s the difference between Christian and Catholic?” all the time.

    My stock answer is that from an English language standpoint, Catholic is a subset of Christian. Christian means any religion that claims to follow Christ. I then add that from a theological standpoint, there are tens of thousands of different groups that refer to themselves as Christian but state that others who make that same claim are not really Christian. However, that is a theological distinction and not a linguistic one, so they’ll have to take it up with a theological authority instead of an English teacher.

    The one or two times a student has pushed, I say that I am not comfortable with the role of determining who is or isn’t Christian, so go with how they identify themselves.

    Tends to answer the question while shutting down a theological debate that might get me in trouble.

    For students that really push about my own religious views, I tell them that if they want to talk about it after school to come ask me outside of school hours.

  • The Sifaka

    I teach 6th grade science in a pretty conservative area. I’ve had a few little guys ask me about my religion. I tell them that it’s not related to my job as a teacher, so I won’t discuss it with them. I’ve had 8 students now in 5 years who wanted to ask me about the soul, the afterlife, creation vs. evolution, etc. I’ve told them all the same thing, and haven’t gotten any parental complaints yet: “As your science teacher, I can only help you use the scientific method and help you understand the world through it. Ask your parents what they think, and when you’re old enough, decide for yourself.”

  • My answer would have been “neither” and moved on to the next question.

  • Daniel

    My answer would have been “neither” and moved on to the next question.

    Which would have been a dozen more questions about your religious views.

  • AxeGrrl

    Hugh Kramer wrote:

    My jaw nearly dropped to the floor the first time an Evangelical said something like that to me. She asked me why I wouldn’t join her in prayer and I told her it was because I wasn’t a Christian.

    “What are you then,” she asked. “A Catholic?”

    Until that time it hadn’t occurred to me that anyone had such a parochial religious attitude that they didn’t consider Catholics to be Christians

    My friend, who was raised Catholic, couldn’t believe it when I informed her that some Christians don’t consider Catholics to be Christians ~ she was completely clueless about this little ‘quirk’ that some Christians have…..

    The funny thing is that she was kind of miffed/insulted about it, despite the fact that she’s an atheist and doesn’t give a rat’s a** about any of it 🙂

  • I would never have considered asking any of my teachers a personal question like this nor did I ever have the slightest clue what religion any of my teachers were. Not even those who taught religion.

    If anyone asks me such a stupid question when I’m at work I will happily say “none of your business, get back to work” because, you know, it isn’t their business and they should be working.

  • Ben

    Which would have been a dozen more questions about your religious views.

    And the answer to any further questions on the topic should be, if the children are old enough to understand, “as your teacher I am required by law not to discuss religion with you”. That way you shut down the conversation while letting them know two things: 1) that student-teacher relationships should be maintained at arm’s-length, and 2) that class is not an appropriate place to discuss religion.

    If the conversation moves on to the topic of separation of church and state, that can only be a good thing for their education.

  • Daniel

    “as your teacher I am required by law not to discuss religion with you”.

    Um… as we just finished reading The Crucible, with many religious elements and they are in the midst of a world religions segment of their social studies texts, I think they would call B.S. on that one in a second. The state curriculum’s reading for puritan literature includes several sermons, including Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God. I always introduce these as if my students had no idea of Christianity. (as I have several Indian and Middle Eastern born students, that seems wise)

    I teach 10-12 graders.

    I take great pains to ensure I am never promoting one religious view over another, but it is virtually impossible to discuss literature or history without discussing religion as well.

  • LinkSkywalker

    As a student, my first philosophy teacher (the only one the small community college I got my AA at had) flatly refused to tell anyone what he believed, about just about anything. (Though he did occasionally tell us things he didn’t believe.)

    While I don’t think this would work for all teachers of philosophy, I think it helped this particular teacher keep the emphasis on critical thinking, rather than giving the students any kind of model of what a critical thinker would end up with.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    “Are you Christian or Catholic?”

    But…But… don’t fundies count all sects (Catholics, JW’s, Mormons, Presbyterians, heck even Methodists!) as Xtain when they demand to write the laws, because that makes the US 90% Xtain? (They even throw in Jews & Moslems, a la Glenn Beck, if they want to go all Abrahmaic god on everyone.)
    One part of skeptic education should be to make sure that the non-fundies realize that the kumbyah moment disappears like a snowflake on a hot stove as soon as they leave the room.
    And, if they ever get power, fundies are not going to ask for non-fundie input when new Xtian laws are being drafted.

  • Susan Robinson

    If I felt I could not come out as an atheist, I would answer with another question such as, “Did you know there are over 30,000 different denominations of Christianity?
    Or else “Did you walk to school or bring your lunch…?

  • Dan Covill

    It is my impression that when a fundamentalist asks “Are you a Christian?”, he means “have you been born again?” As others mentioned, born-agains do NOT consider mainstream churches, let alone Catholics, as “real” Christians.

  • Miko


    A teacher is not there to “feel comfortable”, thus for me the answer given would not be satisfactory.

    Yeah, just like a secretary isn’t there to “feel comfortable,” so why should she complain when her boss sexually harasses her?

    A teacher isn’t there to answer personal questions about her religious beliefs either.

  • captsam

    I don’t see any problem with his answer, after all he’s a music teacher.

  • The Other Tom

    My response would vary depending on how I felt at the time.

    If I just wanted to get it out of the way, I’d simply answer “no.” It’s factual, but doesn’t really say much.

    If I wanted to create a little visibility for atheism, I’d reply “no, I’m an atheist.”

    If I wanted to dodge the subject but still use it as a teaching moment, I would gently explain that I was working, and that it’s considered impolite to ask people about their religion in the work place (and that in some cases it’s outright illegal), because it can lead to discrimination and discomfort, and that it’s a more appropriate question for one’s friends and family. I would explain that I know the question was not asked out of any hostility, but that I felt it best not to answer it in school.

    If I wanted to dodge the subject entirely, I’d just say that’s a personal question and change the subject.

    I would definitely not try to explain that christianity and catholicism are not exclusive, unless the subject I was teaching was theology.

  • MutantJedi

    Cultural contexts. In China, questions about marital status and income are in the same sort of smalltalk league as the weather is in Canada. Questions about religion also seem to be completely nonchalant. You could just as well have been asked what your favorite dish soap brand was. The surprise comes from the general assumption that I, being a Westerner, would use the Jesus brand instead uses the generic atheist brand.

    In the West things are different.

    The student should know by the time they get to high school that questions about religion are personal and not appropriate to be asked in a public setting such as a classroom. The question itself very likely comes from an evangelical Christian as they tend to differentiate themselves (true Christian) from others, such as the Catholics. Moreover, I would see the question, not unlike in the Star Trek episode The Return of the Archons, as determining if I was of “The Body”.

    My response would depend on the situation. In the posting, the teacher is a student teacher. The question may have been designed to fluster the teacher. The key here is to maintain control of the class and to keep on task. I think the teacher responded appropriately.

    If the question came up later in the term, in their regular teacher’s classroom, and there was a reasonable leading context, I wouldn’t see any problems identifying myself as an atheist (or whatever the case may be). The classroom isn’t a pulpit. I would certainly not use phrases like “bronze age fairytales” because that would be an attempt to proselytize my atheism.

    Again, contingent on context, I may even want to correct the student’s insensitivity to the Catholic students in the classroom. “Are you Protestant or Catholic?” would be a better form of the question. But, while we are at it, why be so exclusive and assume that I’m a Christian. “Are you Christian, Jewish, or Muslim?” Why get stuck with just the Abrahamic religions? “Are you Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindi, Buddhist, monotheistic, polytheistic, animist, deist, Wiccan, New Age, Baha’i, Taoist, Pastafarianist, Jediism, or atheist?” My point would be, hopefully humorously, to emphasize that in a public school classroom, nobody should feel excluded because of religion. The public school classroom is not the place to promote any particular religion, so let’s make sure we make everybody feel included and comfortable.

  • Rich Wilson

    My born again mother just asked me to convey to my paternal grandmother that my mother has never held it against my grandmother that my grandmother is Catholic.

    I was about to say it sounded like the argument about whether Mighty Mouse could beat up Superman

    But instead I just dropped it.

  • I would not have told the class of my lack of faith. As a teacher, it puts you at risk of not only backlash from the children, but more importantly from their parents. I would have corrected him (or her) about the semantics of christian vs. catholic, but then moved on and said that I don’t believe it is appropriate for anyone working in the public domain to discuss matters of religion or politics.

  • Richard Wade

    The teacher’s answer was very skillful. It shut down the inquiry about his personal life, which is not appropriate in a music class, it was honest, and it didn’t sound like “None of your fucking business, punk!” The awkwardness was kept to a minimum and people were able to move on. It did not put his employment in jeopardy, which is a very real possibility in the U.S.

    Nobody owes “the movement” any outing of themselves as an atheist if it is not in their own best interests. You should do that only if you have decided that the benefits outweigh the risks for you personally.

    However, even if you feel safe about it, you should not interject it into a professional relationship where it is not appropriate. At work, the task you are hired for is what you must always concentrate on. Personal information is sometimes harmless, but it almost always carries risks of interfering with your primary purpose for being there.

    Once in a while in a counseling session, a patient would ask me about my religion, and I would respond by re-clarifying what my role was, as a mirror and a guide to help him learn about himself. If he wanted to talk about how his religion was pertinent to the problems we were working on, I was comfortable listening and responding with clarifying and focusing questions. But the session was about him, not me. It’s possible to be opaque without sounding dismissive or hostile; it just takes being calm and sure of your role in the relationship.

  • ash


    Perhaps we are just misinterpreting the question. “are you gay or bisexual?” would be a valid question despite the fact that the two are not mutually exclusive, nor would such a question be taken to assume that you were one of the two. Just a thought

    Not a good comparison; they are only not mutually exclusive if you’re defining them both as deviations from the ‘norm’. It would be more like asking ‘Are you an american or are you an atheist?’. It’s a stoopid question.

  • Stephen P

    On seeing this I immediately thought of half a dozen things to say, but people in different time zones have already said them all. Great minds thinking alike and all that …

    What would I have done?

    If I was in Europe I’d have simply said I was an atheist, unless the context suggested that the matter was particularly sensitive.

    If I was in the US I would answer that my beliefs were private, unless the context made clear that I could be more open.

  • pennstatejoe

    As a high school history teacher, I get that question a lot. First, I do the pedantic thing and tell them that Catholics are Christians. Then I ask them to explain why they think it matters what my religious beliefs are. Since I teach in a large urban high school with a religiously diverse student body, I don’t think I would get much backlash from my students or their parents about my atheism if I were to tell them, but I’d rather not derail my class talking about my personal beliefs. It is simply much better to talk about the historical relevance of religious belief. It’s an opportunity to teach them about being open-minded without telling them what I actually believe. If we can have a fruitful discussion about why people believe different things and still have things in common like, you know, being human, then it was a good class that day.

  • Steve

    It’s not a western thing, but an American thing. In most European countries, the students wouldn’t even bother to ask. Religion just isn’t discussed like that. Not because it’s taboo or anything, but no one cares in the first place.

  • flatlander100

    In a university history class, I don’t recall in 30 years of teaching having been asked my religion by a student… until I moved to Utah and began teaching as an adjunct here. Caught me by surprise. I respond, though, by saying that’s not an appropriate question to take class time for, ask me outside of class. And then I tell them: non-believer. Reply the same way during election season to questions about my politics:”Not appropriate for class time. Ask me outside of class if you like, but not here.”

    Strikes me though that grade and secondary school teachers are in a much dicier position. And under no circumstances, I think, would I suggest a student in a public grade or secondary school ask me that question “outside of school.”

  • Luc Duval

    I can’t resist. I have a few comments.

    First, for the sake of further context (though comments about students of different ages have been insightful, interesting, and helpful as well), the student in the story is in 7th grade.

    Second, a legal comment: Teachers can be fired, obviously, for not being effective. As I understand it, within this broad statement is the implication that if a student body is uncomfortable with a teacher, and the teacher thus has no rapport with it, the teacher is not capable of being effective and can therefore be fired. This is why the community in which one teaches matters so much, because there is the potential to be fired for being open about something that students disagree with to the point of destroying the teacher’s ability to teach.

    Third, as someone who is open with my students about (so far) everything else they’ve asked, I think that one’s religion should be a non-taboo question (the countries I’m hearing of in which no one asks because they don’t care seems ideal). It seems to me extraordinarily educationally valuable to impart to students the understanding that good people come from a diverse range of cultures, ethnicities, and beliefs. I’ve had many opportunities to educate on questions irrelevant to music, and I hope that (perhaps when I’m tenured) I’ll have the additional chance someday to show students, as Hemant has, that people can be good without god.

    (On the other hand, arguments about not interjecting such things into one’s professional environment are very strong. Perhaps my desire to be an open, honest, and good person that happens to be atheist is perverse and unnecessary.)

    Thanks to everyone for their support, thoughtful critiques, and personal stories.

  • I will (eventually) be teaching at the post-secondary level and my spouse currently teaches at the primary level. Although I realize that the situation is vastly different in other areas, here in Texas you stand a serious chance of finding yourself unemployed if you were to be “outed” as an atheist.

    While my wife is not an atheist, she is not a Christian, either. The only people in her work environment who are aware of her lack of formal religious affilation are the parents of a student who are Wiccan and have been facing severe discrimination because of their beliefs. She has interceded on several occasions to protect the parents’ child from forced religious indoctrination at the public school. While she was worried about making her religious position known at the time, her concern for this child’s welfare convinced my wife to step in and neutralize the situation.

    Obviously, at the University level (even a public one) the situation is different…and that fact has been one of the most powerful factors in my wife deciding to move on to become a professor.

    We have a family who needs our support…and this country currently has a very high unemployment rate. While I am a staunch believer that in order to change our society more atheists should be outspoken, I cannot fail to consider my obligations to my family.

    To those of you who say, “what’s wrong with telling the truth?” or “how will anyone change their minds if you don’t speak up?”; I have this to say: Try explaining to my 3 year old son that line of reasoning when mommy and daddy can’t get a job and we lose our home we worked so hard for. Try telling him we have to sell his toys and our furniture and move back into an apartment the size of a shoe-box because his parents “didn’t see what the problem was” with telling a group of people at work that their religion is so much horse-pucky.

    I speak out when I can and I am willing to risk loss for voicing my beliefs….but I will not force my son to risk homelessness because of them.

  • I think he did the right thing. Dodged the question without disrupting the class.

    As for saying you should answer honestly to make Atheism more mainstream, I fear this is not yet realistic (though hopefully it will be someday). How is this accomplished by making the Atheist teacher an easy target for trumped up dismissal? Now is not the time. Not when we’re still fighting illegal prayers in many public schools and football games quite often become venues for prostelyzing. We must beat those battles before a public school teacher can safely say, “I’m Atheist.”

    America has one hell of a long way to go for personal freedom despite what’s written into law and we’ve lost a lot of ground on that in recent decades. Sad but true. We need to regain it first.

    It’s also true that many Protestants consider Catholism (and others, see Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons) as anything but Christian and are highly insulted if you lump them in with Christians. My mother blatantly terms Catholics as such because “they worship graven images” due to love for icons of Jesus and Mary. To her, praying to the Virgin was sacreligious in and of itself because she was the mother of god but not god. She pretty much thinks Catholics the spawn of Satan. Is it any wonder that her and my Roman Catholic French Canadian grandmother hated each other vehemently, especially since Dad had to convert to marry her?

    It is really stupid the shit that separates people.

  • BlueRidgeLady

    There are a lot of social situations where religious people have privilege. The assumption that everyone believes the same thing you do is a huge one, and it’s something I think most Christians don’t even think about. Having said that, I do think kids should be cut some slack because they need to ask questions to learn! (age-appropriate slack, of course)
    Example of Christian privilege- One of my jobs a few years ago was as a server at an expensive restaurant on the Gulf Coast. My customers physically grabbed my hands and wanted me to pray with them. They didn’t ask or anything, just grabbed me. I was shocked. I pulled my hands away and (can’t remember exact words) and they weren’t snotty about it after that or anything but it was really uncomfortable and quite frankly rude that they should put me in that position w/o even asking me. I was the ONLY person (aside from our Eastern European staff) that didn’t pray to baby jesus at the end of the year party. Out of probably 70+ people.

  • RBH

    Hugh Kramer wrote

    Until that time it hadn’t occurred to me that anyone had such a parochial religious attitude that they didn’t consider Catholics to be Christians.

    That issue arose in the hearing on John Freshwater’s termination as a middle school science teacher in Ohio. A former student of Freshwater testified that he heard Freshwater tell other students that “Catholics aren’t Christians.” That attitude is very common among fundamentalist Protestant Christians in the U.S. “Whore of Babylon” is an epithet I’ve heard used to refer to the Catholic church.

  • Krisya

    I think you did the right thing. I would never want a student to feel alienated in my class because s/he felt I was advocating a religious viewpoint opposite his/her own. I don’t think that is conducive to teaching, and I definitely don’t think it will serve to open their minds. The open-minded kids won’t care and the closed-minded ones will be upset.

    A few kids over the years have almost made a game out of figuring out what I think about certain things (especially the kids on my debate squad). Usually we talk about it privately once I know them well enough and once I’m sure they’ll respect my wishes not to talk about it during class.

  • GaR

    Easiest question ever.


  • Miki

    It was a good answer. Still, my 9th grade science teacher confirmed his atheism when asked the religion question. Although I was very much religious at the time, I was awed by his frank, unemotional answer.

  • Capt’n John

    As an elementary teacher and school principal many years ago, I was frequently asked my religion. My answer was, “My religion was for my knowledge alone.” It seemed to satisfy the students in my care.

  • In my opinion Luc Duval couldn’t have done it more right. As a music teacher his religious views are completely irrelevant and the question was impertinent.

    As to what I would have done; given that I study philosophy and therefore if ever I become a teacher, it will be a philosophy teacher, the question would be much more relevant in the context of my hypothetical classroom. God and religion naturally find their way into philosophical discussions and it’s not at all uncommon for teachers at my university (in England) to be asked about their views.

    I think I would tell my hypothetical students that as their philosophy teacher it’s my duty to always believe and argue the complete opposite of them so as to help their intellectual development. I would then either tell them what I am as a private person or (more likely) ask them to talk to me after hours if they can’t curtail their curiosity and can’t be bothered to Google me.

  • Laura

    Grammatically, “Are you Christian or Catholic?” could make sense if it’s not meant to imply that these are the only two options. If a salesperson at a knife store asks you, “Do you fish or hunt?” they don’t mean that all people either fish or hunt. Defining “Catholic” as separate from “Christian” probably isn’t correct, though, unless you’re using a more evangelical definition of “Christian.”

  • JB Tait

    My stock answer is that from an English language standpoint, Catholic is a subset of Christian.

    And Roman Catholic (which is likely what the student meant) is a subset of catholic.

  • AxeGrrl

    Krisya wrote:

    I think you did the right thing. I would never want a student to feel alienated in my class because s/he felt I was advocating a religious viewpoint opposite his/her own.

    Krisya, I think you’ve nailed it, and so succinctly 🙂

    I’m a teacher as well, and whether we like it or not, sharing our personal ‘stances’ on things like religion can make students feel alienated. And that is a simple (and frustrating) truth. Being a music teacher as well, religion or discussion of religion really has no place in my classroom ~ music is one of the ONLY things that has the power to bring people together…..

    And part of that power has to do with the fact that things like religion and politics are basically left at the door and all energy is devoted to collectively creating something beautiful and inspiring and communal.

    It’s extremely important, imo, to demonstrate to kids that there are things that can bring all of us together…….in spite of such differences like religion/politics.

  • Sarah Langford

    I teach at an Anglican (but not fundamentally religious) school. I am honest with my students and describe myself as “newly atheist”, which is true. It begins in interesting ethical discussions in English and leads to even more interesting discussions.

  • David Quosig

    I’ve been asked on several occasions what my religion is in the classroom. As a science teacher, I’m somewhat used to giving enigmatic answers in attempts to boost discussion while keeping a poker face. I’ve found this to be the best way to handle things, because some students will definitely still get hung up on the god thing.

    Plus, without tenure, don’t touch anything remotely like controversy unless you trust your admin or don’t want your job anymore. If I had tenure though, I’d probably be more open. And have a freethinking club.

  • OverlapingMagisteria

    I was asked about my religion when I taught high school science. Very regrettably, I wimped out and said that I was catholic (though I was in a bit of a “trying to find some type of something in religion” phase at the time.)

    Though it may have turned out OK cause the student went on to ask if I believed in evolution and was surprised when I said yes. Hopefully, this let him, and his other catholic friends that were listening, that its ok to not follow religious teachings 100%, especially if they fly in the face of evidence.

    (Yes, i know that Catholics are actually supposed to be ok with evolution. Neither the student nor I were aware of this. I have learned since then.)

  • Ethanator

    As a student, my first philosophy teacher (the only one the small community college I got my AA at had) flatly refused to tell anyone what he believed, about just about anything. (Though he did occasionally tell us things he didn’t believe.)

    While I don’t think this would work for all teachers of philosophy, I think it helped this particular teacher keep the emphasis on critical thinking, rather than giving the students any kind of model of what a critical thinker would end up with.

    I am a college philosophy teacher and this is exactly what I do. My job is not to make my students atheists any more than it is to make them empiricists, determinists, existentialists or any of the other philosophical views I discuss. By saying too much about what I think on contentious philosophical topics, I feel that I would be putting my authority as a teacher behind that view, making the students more disposed to agree with me (or to disagree, depending on how they view authority!). But my job is to help them think critically for themselves. I do play “devil’s advocate” with everyone, which is really fun and far more educational than if I were to prattle on about my own views. On the rare occasions when students do ask me about my own religious views, I just tell them why I don’t like to give my own views in class (i.e., what I just said) and say I’d be happy to discuss it after the term is over.

    If my students become more thoughtful Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc. who are able to think critically about their beliefs, I have done my job even though I disagree with them. What actually annoys me more are the non-religious or atheist students who have bad arguments for their views, since there are so many good arguments for these views!

  • It’s an interesting discussion, even for someone from the other side.

    Lots of times you want to sidestep a direct question about your beliefs, for, if you answer directly, everything else you say will be weighed in that new light, whereas you want remarks to be weighed on their own merit.

    To some extent, it’s like the question “what do you do?” meaning, for a living? Once you’ve answered that question, off goes conversation in that direction, even though it may be far from the most meaningful activity in your life.

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