General Question

xTheDreamer's avatar

Does a teacher have to believe in religion?

Asked by xTheDreamer (897points) May 11th, 2010

Does a teacher that teaches religion have to believe in their religion to teach? e.g If there’s a subject at school that’s about religion and the teacher teaches the kids about our religion but the teacher self isn’t a believer, the teacher is a non-religious person. For me, I don’t think that it matters as long as they just teach the subject to the kids.

What’s your point of view on this?
Yes/No, why?

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37 Answers

Dr_C's avatar

It’s my opinion that in order to effectively teach any subject (not specifically religion mind you just any subject) one has to believe in what he/she is teaching. Otherwise it’s more of a supervised study session.

How can someone teach about evolution (as an example) if one doesn’t believe that it happened?

TexasDude's avatar

Depends on the context of the class.

If it’s a religious doctrinal class in a religious private school, then yes, they probably should be an adherent to the religion.

If it’s a public school or university, it’s probably a survey class that studies the beliefs and history of a religion without espousing the particular belief. In that case, it wouldn’t really matter either way as long as the teacher left out their own biases and was strictly objective.

lillycoyote's avatar

No. Not even a teacher teaching religion classes has to believe in religion. There are factual aspects to religion like presiding theologies, doctrines, dogmas, etc and the history of the religion which can certainly be taught independently of anyone’s belief or lack of belief, I think.

DeanV's avatar

I can think of my most current philosophy class on all of the world religions that I feel effectively taught me. Of course, the teacher didn’t believe in all of the separate religions being covered, perhaps not even one, but I still exited the class feeling taught effectively. Or at least I got a good grade in the class.

So, no, I don’t feel one has to believe in a religion to teach it. Perhaps it would help, but wouldn’t it also make them less open to two sided debate on the issue?

Seaofclouds's avatar

I think teachers can teach things without believing in them, but in my experience, the teachers that actually believe in what they are teaching, teach it better and are more enthusiastic about it.

MissA's avatar

A teacher needs to understand their field of expertise…beliefs do not come into play. A teacher needs to be able to convey that understanding to their students.

That’s the most that’s required.

DeanV's avatar

I think religion may be the wrong example for something like this. Anybody can teach the general ideals of Christianity whether they believe the world was created in 7 days or not. Perhaps evolution would be a better debate point as @Dr_C mentioned briefly.

flo's avatar

I don’t see how a person can teach something, (esp. like religion) that they don’t believe without injecting their bias in there.

lilikoi's avatar

I think it is possible to teach both religion and evolution without believing in it. Agree that if I were Muslim teaching Christianity and Buddhism, I could bring a certain objectivity to the table that a Christian or Buddhist may not necessarily have. I think all that is required is interest, knowledge, tolerance, and an open mind.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

The teacher’s beliefs shouldn’t intervene in their teaching any subject and as long as they know a subject well, why not? Of course, I know a lot less creationists who know evolution well than I know atheists who know religion well.

Ron_C's avatar

Why would someone even want to teach children things that they know are a lie? If you are presenting a class as an example of what ancient people believed, then it is just teaching history and you are not required to believe.

It is an unconscionable act to teach a lie to brainwash children. If that is the case then the teacher is brainwashing kids for money. That is child abuse and it is illegal.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Ron_C Well, I’m sure they don’t think it’s a lie – that’s why a lot of schools are private and religious. But ‘normal’ public schools teach lies all the time – they still teach about Columbus as if he was the good guy.

InspecterJones's avatar

Teaching about a topic is different from preaching the topic. I could teach someone about all the reasons that people don’t believe in evolution, doesn’t mean I have to believe it myself.

CaptainHarley's avatar

A really GOOD teacher doesn’t have to believe in anything except his or her ability to teach.

perspicacious's avatar

No. However, I cannot imagine that scenario. I’ve been involved with two religion-affiliated colleges and the faculty of the religion departments in each school were scholarly theologians.

lillycoyote's avatar

@CaptainHarley I’d give you ten great answers for that one if I could.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

It depends on the purpose of the class. If it is to brainwash kids into believing whatever religious ideas the school adheres to, then yes. If it is to teach them about religion, its role in society and different religions in a comparative nature, then it is not necessary at all. It may even be better taught by an agnostic, since they would not give a favourable slant to any particular religion.

plethora's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Columbus was the good guy. You believing that left wing commie crap these days?

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@plethora Its not ‘left wing commie crap’, its called a resistive reading, and it is a key feature of post-modernism.

plethora's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Enlighten me if you would…thanks

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

In late high school, my English teacher liked to get us to rewrite a classic story in a way that it sympathised with different characters. For example, some of us re-wrote Little Red Riding Hood in a way that cast the wolf as kind and caring, but a little dim witted, unaware of his own strength and hungry. A crucial element of post-modernism is that there is no one vantage point by which truth can be judged, but all interpretations of events are subject to a person’s point of view.

I don’t know much about Columbus, but there are multiple ways of looking at the story without any of them being any greater than the others. You can see him as launching an invasion, and disrespecting the rights of the natives to the land, or you can portray him as an explorer who wished to establish a colony and potentially begin trading with the natives.

Either way, I think it is unfair to judge him by modern morals. Before the era of Wilberforce, few questioned the morality of slavery, so we cannot legitimately label everyone prior to that era who owned slaves as immoral. Everyone is a product of their times. The question is, did Columbus act in a way that violated the ethical principles he should have held, considering the lack of general understanding at the time?

jazmina88's avatar

No. teachers need to believe in children and their students

Nullo's avatar

The teacher does not. Many Religion teachers often teach multiple, highly-incompatible religions.

plethora's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Thanks very much. That’s very helpful. I appreciate it.

JeffVader's avatar

I dont think it’s a necessity. A teacher is there to impart knowledge, encourage learning, & promote a certain way of thinking. None of these things require belief.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

You could not teach religious dogma without believing in the faith. For example, it would be difficult for a non-Catholic to teach 2nd grade at a Catholic elementary school because that’s generally when kids make their First Communion, because the religious instruction is more based on dogmatic indoctrination than it is in actually teaching a child to believe in transubstantiation (which was a second grade spelling word for my daughter, along with Eucharist).

At a higher level, high school and above, it’s totally possible to teach without believing in that faith, or any other faith, as long as the teacher accepts that the classroom is not a platform to advance their own religious views. There’s a difference between religious philosophy and religious dogma.

Ron_C's avatar

I would like to add to my previous comment. Christopher Hitchens said that “there are no Catholic, Jewish, or Protestant children, they are children of Catholic, Jewish….....parents.

Religious education should be rated R, for mature adults. Indoctrination of children is abuse.

CaptainHarley's avatar


Thank you! Please feel free! : ))

Qingu's avatar

It depends on the class!

I majored in religious studies in college; I, like many of my classmates and some of my teachers, am an atheist. Religious studies teaches about religion from a secular, objective perspective. Such teachers no more need to believe in the religions they teach about than Aztec anthropologists need to believe in the necessity of sacrificing war captives to Xipe Totec. Nor does a professor of Philosophy need to actually believe the positions of Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche, etc.

I would strongly support “religious studies” kind of education in public schools, because religion is one of the most important cultural forces in the world and it pays to be familiar with the various faiths.

In contrast, theology generally refers to scholarship from within the ideological confines of a religion. (i.e. you learn “theology” in order to train to be a priest, rabbi, or imam). I imagine it would be difficult and extremely problematic to teach theology as a nonbeliever.

JLeslie's avatar

I think it is fine to teach religion even if you are a non-believer. If I was a teacher in a Catholic school I would be ok with teaching the bible, or leading a prayer even though I am an atheist Jew (although I admit it would not be my first choice to teach such a class, because I think I might be ill-equipped to answer questions that challenge the text). The children would be Catholic children, and I would honor how their parents want them to be taught. The same way when I visit my Christian friends and their children pick out a religious story to read before going to bed, I read it to them. Philosophically I believe young children are not to be interferred with regarding religion, and what their parents feel is a proper religious upbringing for their children.

flo's avatar

I can’t imagine Richard Dawson, et al, teaching religion, even if they have all the information.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@flo You mean Richard Dawkins?

flo's avatar

Oops, yes I meant him. Thank you for acting on it.
BTW, something about editing has changed. I can no longer refer to the previous comments. Its is just the message box here. I have to open another tab/window I guess. As well when I enter the @ I don’t get the drop down of the usernames.

mattbrowne's avatar

I think there’s a difference between teaching about religions (which might include comparisons) and teaching how to practice a particular religion.

flo's avatar

But the Richard Dawkins believe religion is destructive. So, they wouldn’t apply for the job, of course , and noone would hire them. And that only makes sense.

meiosis's avatar

When ex-Mrs Meiosis was a secondary school teacher, the Religious Studies teacher in her school was 1) a coke-snorting, borderline-alcoholic agnostic (with leanings towards paganism) and 2) a damn fine teacher, respected by pupils, parents and management alike.

In short, the most important thing for a teacher of any subject is the ability to teach; to enthuse students with a desire to know more.

sarahtalkpretty's avatar

You don’t have to believe what you teach in order to teach effectively. Psychiatrists don’t need to experience mental illness to cure it, lawyers don’t need to break the law to defend it. Teachers are entitled to be who they are in their personal lives and should be required to teach lessons as objectively as possible, which is not to say they can never inject any personality into their lessons, but they should be respectful of the differenet points of view their students may have.

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