I'm a 6th grade Social Studies teacher.  The topic of religion as a part of culture comes up all the time.  Today during a discussion of Greek myths, a student (a 12 year-old girl with a sweet smile) asked me if I believed in god.  I paused and said, "Well, sure."

I felt that I was having a discussion with a child about Santa or the Easter Bunny.  I didn't want to be the one to tell the child that all the adults in her life have been lying to her.

This has been bothering me all day.  When this comes up again - I'm sure it will - should I lie as I did today, or should I tell the truth?

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You don't have to lie to cover up. As pointed out by Nelson just before me.

 

However, I am VERY militant/evangelical in my atheism. I would not lie or misdirect at all. Though you are in a more sensitive position than I.

YES! Abraham, I applaud you.

Atheists have been trying for years to 'prove' themselves, so to speak, because there is such a negative stigma against the label 'atheist' and it upsets me when another atheist is too afraid to proclaim their views in fear that sh*t will hit the fan.

WE should never feel ashamed of ourselves or that we need to 'tone it down'.  Don't get me wrong, Cookie, I know you didn't want to put yourself into a sticky situation with parents, administrators, but what if you were Jewish, or Muslim, then it's okay to tell children about your POV.

I could not have said this better myself. Taryn is completely right. I am also a history teacher (high school) so I understand if you want to keep keep things secular for reasons already mentioned and refuse to give an answer (depending on the school that's just the best policy, as unfortunate as it is). But you should never lie. You should never pretend that you are intellectually inferior just to cater to the brainwashing that these kids have fallen victims to. Don't forget about the powerful tool that you have at your disposal, Cookie: history. Through nothing but facts history demonstrates better than anything else how bad religion is for society and how untrue it is.

I have also been asked this in the classroom and I do say that I am an atheist. I was asked a question and I answered truthfully. And the beauty of it all is that I don't have to elaborate on the reasons why, because history does it for me.

As a teacher, coming out as an atheist might be problematic depending on how serious the parents around you take religion. It's an issue of job security IMO.

 

But I wouldn't frame this as an ethical issue about lying. At least not in the way you did. They asked you if believed in God. Replying honestly that you don't, doesn't mean you would have told them that there parents lied to them. You could have said something like "Some people believe and some don't" or "There are different opinions about it". That might have still caused issues if one of them had told their parents, but it's not like you'd have said "No, I don't. There is no god and everyone has been lying to you about it".

I agree. Some children may go back to their parents saying that you don't believe in god. These parents could possibly have a huge issue with their beloved child being taught and lead by someone who they believe is a "satan worshipper", etc. It may cause issues.

But if you feel bad about lying then maybe say what Steve says, that some people believe and others don't. Show them that it doesn't make you a bad person, it's just a decision like a lot of other life choices.

I've been aware of my growing atheism only for the last couple of years, and have come out to my wife just within the last year or so.  I think I wasn't prepared for this question from a student - although I should have been. 

I wouldn't actually say, "Your parents lied to you," but that thought is implied.  Religious belief is exclusive in that Christians, Muslims, etc., believe that they are the only correct belief.  Come to think of it, atheists think the same thing. ;-)

See, I don't see how it is implied. Especially with kids. They have to know that some people believe other things. At most. they'll think you're wrong. Just saying that you don't believe in their god is not going to convince them that you're right about it

You can't honestly say the student's parents lied, because you don't know such a God doesn't exist, even if you don't believe He/She/It exists.

The student asked you a question about your belief or lack there of, so she is already aware it is a matter of belief. The worst that could happen to the student is a disappoint that your belief doesn't match her parents'.

So about the only reason you would have had to lie about it would be job-insecurity, not what might happen to that student or others and their relationship to their parents.

I think it would be a perfect opportunity in Social Studies class for a comparative religion conversation. Explaining that many people believe in a higher power such as God or Vishnu or Krishna or Odin, etc.. and there are some who feel there isn't a higher power at all. This could lead in to explaining that each has their views on where we've come from and explaining that those who don't believe in a higher power tend to go towards science for their understanding of the universe and everything in it, as opposed to what they feel as a non-existent entity. .... This way you're touching on all views, just like the Christians want for a science class... LOL.. Frankly, I think it's more appropriate for a Social Studies class, then a science class anyway. 

As a teacher, I dodge this question with the answer "my family is Catholic." Which is not untrue and keeps me from having to deal with angry parents or administrators.

That's leading them on though, IMO it's more dishonest than eschewing the question.

   I taught for 36 years.  Occasionally, I would receive this question  I always told them that I didn't think it was appropriate for a teacher to share personal information, including her religion, with students.  It was always accepted without objection.  That being said, I nevertheless taught science in the hope that it would cause students to reason and decide on their own that religion makes no sense.

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