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How would you address a student question about the topic of god/s?
If you are an elementary teacher and an atheist.
Well, I can only answer hypothetically. Your question sounds sincere and based on a real-life situation so I will give it a go. I have written it with children and objectivity in mind. Still it conveys my perspective. I am neither religious nor an atheist. I suppose it would be in your best interests to consider how parents feel about your answer, so you are not burned at the stake.
Tell me if you think my answer would be too complicated. I haven't any experience with children, but am about to be in the lives of our small grandchildren. I will learn how to answer such questions by watching to see when their eyes start glazing over.
Until then, I can imagine saying something like this,
"Look around at your classmates. Are they all the same? No, each one is different. We are the same in some ways and different in others.
"Just like we have differences on the outside, we are also the same in some ways inside but different in other ways.
"One way we are different inside is the way we see things. Look at me when I stand in the center. Do you all see me the same? No, one sees my front, another sees my back. I am the same, but each of you sees me differently.
"It is like this with God. We all see God differently. For some people, God is like a very powerful person, who made the earth and all that is on it. To them, God is someone outside themselves who sees all and knows everything. He tells them what they must do and what they must not do.
"For others, God is in everything, including you and me. Their God is the wisest part of every person, and the life that makes the trees grow and the birds sing. That God is not our thoughts, but the one who observes from stillness. Some people know that they are not really separated from God and never have been, except by their thoughts.
"Religions tell people how to think about God. But each person can also know God by finding Him or Her for themselves, in their own way."
Children are not just the possessions of their parents. They are the future of humanity. Every human has a vested (permanent, inalienable) interest in the formative years of every child. This is a time to question everything. There is more of course.
I'm thinking that it may be a good idea to ask them to talk with their parents, or family friends.
A teacher stepping into a religious debate - particularly if you are living in America - regardless of their religious background is stepping onto shaky ground. You would be opening yourself up to lawsuits.
Why? Because the religious parents of a child may take umbrage with a discussion on Gods with their child by an atheist, and atheist parents may take umbrage with a religious teacher talking to their child about Gods.
Easiest solution - leave it to them.
I agree to know the parents and school policy if any. Yet if a child has asked, they may not be receiving guidance from home. As this is a life-shaping subject, in the end I would do what I feel best for the child and not what pleases parents.
Granted, however it is not our place to be telling other peoples children what they should believe. Perhaps a discussion on the beliefs of others, but not one God in particular regardless of what we personally believe, would be better?
I agree with this. I would be extremely angry if my children's teachers were discussing God or religion. We have a separation of church and state for good reason.
Agreed with both. My Answer refers only to beliefs and not to one God or another. The comment here was in the context of that Answer. May I add, the children are their own people and do not 'belong' to the parents. That of course is my viewpoint.
They don't belong to you either is my point. Children are capable of critical thinking. Waiting until one is older is also fine. I moved sharply away from religious indoctrination with no one else's aid but my own mind.
ChristinS, I also moved out of religious indoctrination under my own power. My hub 'What do you believe and why?' tells the story. Regarding who owns children, please see the comment under my Answer. Wise neutral counsel when asked still has my vote.
I would tell them the story from each religion and convey to them that there is One God but people of different religions know Him differently. That should not upset anyone, the child will learn what his/her parent teaches them about religion.
Once the child reaches maturity he/she can then decide which is the best religion for them or they may decide not to accept any religion.
There is no compulsion in religion.
I like this general idea. Not to back up from the subject, but to embrace the opportunity for all to grow. In an ideal situation, the teacher could invite parental input. Depends on how far a teacher will go to deliver the best with some risk.
It would upset those of us who send our kids to public school and don't want God taught where we have separation of church and state. I can't understand why anyone things its respectful or acceptable to cross these bounds? Religion is personal
Society sets its standards, but those are not always the highest choice. I favor re-thinking separation of church and state from a perspective of wholeness and to consider the children and not only the wishes of parents. Society will evolve or die.
yes, society sets the standards, not you. we HAVE separation of church and state - don't like it - move to a theocracy or teach in a private school. Your "higher" vision for others crosses into arrogance when you feel the need to push it onto other
Excuse me, I am society, as well as you are & we all are. Laws did not come into place out of thin air & can change. If you interpret my vision as imposing or arrogant, that is your choice. I put it out to express my perspective, without atta
Having worked in public schools as a Therapist, I would advise staying away from any conversations about God with students. I certainly would not divulge that I was an Atheist. Nor would I talk about any denominations or dogmas. There are some parents out there just looking to find fault with our educational system. There are some parents who do not want their children influenced by anyone outside of their own faith. God and religion should be the parent's responsibility unless you are working in a church sponsored school setting i.e., Catholic School, Lutheran School, Baptist School, etc where it is expected that religious instruction is provided.
Yes, there are considerations for whether this is a public school. Waldorf or other. In one way, divulging my own perspective would be the most honest approach. It does not feel an advancement to shrink from openness with each other out of fear.
I would tell that child that the topic of a God was best suited for their parents. There is no reason any teacher should ever have to discuss personal decisions with children.
And if the child is in a home setting, like so many, where parents are emotionally crippled and don't talk about God or any 'real' subjects? The teacher may be the child's only choice for *some* guidance which can be delivered neutrally & with ca
I agree, it is not a teacher's place to discuss religious beliefs with children at all unless the child is enrolled in a private school. Believe whatever you please, but religion is highly personal and has no place in public schools.
I'm unclear are you implying homes that don't discuss a God are "emotionally crippled"? If their parents aren't discussing a God then the child should ask them about it. It is no ones place to decide for a child what they should believe.
My use of 'emotionally crippled' was a little out of line. There is a truth in it, but it is too strong to use in a Q & A where it cannot be clarified with ongoing dialog. It also reflects my own value system, which is not to impose on others.
My bible thumping home I grew up in was much more "emotionally crippling" than the atheist/agnostic home I raise my children to be free thinkers in. They are both very spiritual and deeply compassionate beings without the need for indoctrination.
ChristinS, do I misinterpret that your tone sounds pretty angry and defensive? Or perhaps my comment was unclear. I only propose that a teacher gives neutral guidance when asked by a child, definitely not to promote a single-focused perspective.
Respect rules. I read a story about a Catholic nun who helped people at their death bed. Everyone thought she was taking advantage of their distressful situation to promote her faith, until someone overheard her. She asked the Buddhist sufferer to pray to their gods and she would pray to hers. This was Mother Theresa of Calcutta and this answered my question on how to treat others' beliefs.
A child is very impressionable, like a dying adult. Many people take advantage of their innocence to promote their own religious beliefs - even well meaning folks. Some people in this thread have suggested avoiding talking about God altogether and referencing to the parents. The child, however, is observing you as an authority.
The best answer I can come up with is to tell the child to never stop searching for the truth. It may be found through science, art, religion, life experiences in general, but each person has to want to know It. If you stop the process by dismissing the question others will take advantage and that child will never be able to choose freely.
Just be honest in saying you have found peace in your beliefs without revealing so much that you will take the child down your road. Simply, stimulate the process of questioning without dismissing possibilities.
BTW, great question!
Mother Theresa remains an inspiration to us all. Beautiful answer!
Great answer! '.... tell the child to never stop searching for the truth.... Simply, stimulate the process of questioning without dismissing possibilities.'
Do Buddhists have gods? My understanding is that the philosophy has no deities.
Direct them to the library and explain where they can find books about any of the God/Gods/Goddesses and other philosophies they might want to read about.
Asking kindly, is this doing a service to a child who has inquired about God, to tell them to go read a book, where their unformed mind will be subjected to single-focused propaganda? And to confusion, when they read multiple perspectives?
No, because multiple perspectives and knowledge lead to critical thinking skills and a desire to search for one's own meaning. It's much preferable to the indoctrination route I was subjected to. When I learned about many paths, I was able to decide
I agree, ChristinS, about the benefit of exposing oneself to multiple perspectives. Elementary students are 6 - 10 years old? I know some are very bright but are they able to find their way through the God question? Ones who ask deserve more.
At that age, that should come from their parents not you or any teacher. It is not a teacher's place to talk to a child about personal beliefs, that is crossing a line and is disrespectful no matter the good intent.
Diversity is beautiful. I favor diverse perspectives as it takes all to make the whole. You have an opinion that it is not my place to give neutral guidance when asked. I have a different opinion. In the end, it will be the teacher who will decide.
Maybe we have all been arrogant to assume the person asking the question is in America. I just visited her profile. She is in India. Before I could truly answer, I would need to understand the laws & cultural norms of her land or where she teache
Can an atheist say this from a true place in herself?
Would it be unnatural & dishonest for her to tell a child to pray to something she does not believe exists?
Will the child understand?
An approach that considers all will be the most whol
Absolutely not (I do not believe an atheist can); indeed that is what is so exceptional about God. He hears the prayer from everyone. In no way did I mention for the child to pray; the prayer comes from without and seeps in where needed...
Ah, I mis-read your comment as telling the child to pray to God to enlighten them. Shows I could benefit from slowing down, as your Answer to the question on 'best life advice' suggested. I consider to answer future Qs with poetry. Linear has limits.
it is quite difficult and a delicate matter when you come across this kind of situation.
if the child asks a question about God then they have heard it somewhere... the first step would be to find out what religion the child follows therefore you could say something like "i don't know much about God, can you tell me something about God"... they will give a description of what they know and you will get a hint of what religion they follow. if you do not agree with them or do not follow the same religion then agree with them initially and try to move the discussion in another direction... for example if the kid mentions a bird then divert the discussion by telling the kid a story of a bird... something on those lines i guess...
I like the approach of diverting attention back to the child for them to answer. In some situations, it would be quite wise. If the child answers, 'I don't know' or 'What do you believe?', the next step of wisdom may only be known in that moment.
I thank everyone who answered this question. It is a sincere one. And I cannot say that I agree with all your answers but I really find this question very difficult to answer. Some children, even at the age of 7-10, are already very inquisitive and bright. I am an atheist or maybe even beyond that and what if a pupil asks whether I believe in god or if there is a god I would not be able to say anything...at that moment. And teachers are supposed to be knowledge-driven, open-minded who are willing to conquer their own ignorance. They are considered authority, a model so definitely a model is someone who is reasonable, not bias so atheist teachers like me cannot lie. We cannot say something and believe something else.
It's not that easy but maybe one thing I can tell to the pupil is to question everything, observe and don't just accept an idea because it's what the society tells you to do.
And yes, we are the society, and how society appears reflect on who we are!
How wonderful that you found your way through all the impassioned, half-considered and biased input (mine included) and found your own beautiful, thoughtful and well-rounded answer.
You've earned my 'best answer' vote.
I bow my head in respect.
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