Last week I had my 7th graders listening to a podcast on This American Life about kidnapping for ransom and the guest who worked for a K+R firm said that one of the ways to survive a kidnapping in Mexico is to ask your kidnapper for a bible because it creates a relationship between you and the abductor (because of the Catholic nature of Mexico) . After the podcast one of the students raised her hand and said, "Well that doesn't make sense at all. Why would the kidnapper want to give you a bible. Most likely the kidnapper would be an atheist. A religious person wouldn't do that."
I let it go for the moment and after a lot of thinking about it over the weekend brought it up again on Monday. We had a good debate among the students about whether religious people are inherently good while atheists are inherently bad; what their motivations are for doing something good, is it just because god is watching?; whether people need religion in order to not just go around killing people left and right;and a whole slew of other things.
There were a few students advocating for tolerance all around and some debating that if you didn't believe in god, any god, then you were just not a good person. One girl even said to her friends directly, "even though we've been friends for three years, I couldn't be friends with you if I found out you were an atheist." A few students said, well I know an atheist and s/he's nice.
Luckily I was able to manage the whole conversation without them asking me my beliefs. Kind of shocking actually in a country where everyone knows everyone's religion and the class was probably split about 50/50 with Muslims and Christians (perhaps a few Druze sprinkled in for good measure).
I felt like it was a good conversation for them to have because I doubt they've ever had one like it before. It was really interesting to hear the opinions of my students for the first time.