Inquisitive Questions Regarding Atheism

This post is old, so what you see here may not reflect my current opinion and mindset, certain information may be outdated, and links may be broken.

On my way home today, I ran into these two preschool-aged children and their father in front of this one local Christian church that caters towards mostly the African-American families who are affiliated with the military base. After I said my greetings and hugged one of the children, I continued my way home, and a scenario hit me in my head.

Most of you know I used to work with preschoolers. Now I work with middle school and high school students, but there are times when my job requires me to go work with the elementary school students and children who are in and below Kindergarten. Well, the scenario that came into my head sort of deals with my job. I imagined that a child comes up to me and asks, “Do you believe in God?“, and I wondered “How the heck do I answer that?!

Luckily, when I worked with preschoolers, ranging from two to five years of age, ninety-nine percent of the time, they would not ask me that since the concept of religion is something most of them would not grasp. The middle school and high school students generally respect adult’s private life, so unless they happen to be one of those obnoxious individuals who don’t respect other people’s businesses, they won’t really ask me that question. Say that they do, I’ll answer them honestly and hope they respect my affiliation as I respect theirs.

However, let’s say a first to fifth grader (ages six to eleven) asked me that, then what would I say? I believe in being honest, and I think the safest answer would be “I believe in the human’s ability to think and act for themselves” might work. I could easily just say, “Oh, I don’t believe in God,” but then that will lead to more uncomfortable questions and explanations, and optional angry parents coming after my tail for teaching their children “an immoral subject”. Since I’m in the caregiver fields, they are pretty susceptible to a lot of accusations, I think.

Fortunately, I have yet to have a child under my care ask me that kind of question, and I hope they never do. I know I’ll want to answer honestly and simply say that I do not believe in the existence of a higher being, but at the same time, I do not want someone after my behind. I know my workforce probably has policies to protect me from a parent who might not be understanding, but then the work-force’s management might lecture me on how to keep my mouth shut about certain issues as well.

What would you do, if you were a teacher, a caregiver, or somebody who worked with children, and they asked you questions regarding sensitive issues, not necessarily about Atheism but other touchy topics? (Hopefully, they’ll never ask you questions about sex. Heck, I’d hate to give them the birds and the bees talk to any children above ten!)


  1. Belinda on

    I have a friend who works with children at a primary school and we were talking before about the exact same issue. She said that it could be a real problem and it’s so easily and often raised by curious kids.

    For example, she was reading a book to a bunch of the children and one of the kids pointed to a character in the book and he said “he’s like Jesus!”. Another kid asked “Who’s Jesus?”. Such a simple quesiton but so difficult to answer without potentially confusing some of the kids. Saying, “he’s just a man” would confuse those who were raised to know Jesus as being more than just a man; saying “he’s God”, would confuse all those who don’t believe in God. The worst part is if you give an answer like any of the two, you risk angry parents storming into the school and demanding to know why you’re trying to brainwash or indoctrinate their child.

    My friend says that in situations like this, the only thing that one can do is actually just try to change the topic as best as you can.

  2. Yeah, that is a hard thing to deal with. However, here it is basically against the law to bring religion into a public school setting. As you may not know, they don’t make kids say the pledge of allegiance anymore because it has the phrase “one nation, under God” and they do not want to force it upon them as there have been lawsuits in the past.

    Personally I think it’s ridiculous and shielding kids from the real world to not be able to discuss it. Learning religion just like a history lesson could be beneficial to kids, in my opinion. Otherwise, they get out into the world and know nothing about other cultures, etc.

    Anyway, to answer your question, if I am asked anything about my religion I tell them that it’s inappropriate to discuss in the classroom and it’s a personal topic that you don’t ask people. Then try and change the subject.

  3. Hmm interesting. Well, I DO believe in God but I also live in a very liberal place so as much as possible, I try not to talk about religion around people I don’t know well enough. It’s not that I am ashamed of my beliefs, it’s just that some people here in Seattle are very passionate about atheism and not being religious (Although honestly? I think atheism is a religion in itself). Most of my best friends are atheist but it has always been okay and we’re all respectful of each other’s beliefs.

    As for children? If I were asked if I believe in God, I feel comfortable saying that I do but I’d immediately steer the topic away from that. If I were an atheist, I’d imagine that I’d probably say something along the lines of, “Well, it’s a private matter whether or not people believe in God and it’s a belief I prefer to keep to myself.” Which proves, of course, that there is some kind of double-standard there but what can you do?

    If what Belinda mentioned happens to me and people ask me who God is, I’ll probably just tell them to ask their parents because with some things, it’s no longer the teacher’s position to tell them.

  4. This is definitely a sensitive situation and I think Felisa said it well of just telling the kids that it’s a private matter. And any questions of God should be directed to their parents.

  5. Jonathan on

    Well you might just want to say you’re “agnostic”, you know, that’s what most of the intellectual community prescribes to. Saying your “athiest” is silly. It’s *faith* that nothing exists, essentially, which you can’t prove either (so why the *faith*?) . Agnosticism says “I don’t know” or “I don’t care” or “It doesn’t matter”. That’s the most logical conclusion.

    Anyways, what’s important is relationships and morals right? sure those arguably come from God, but an answer like “it’s important to be a good person regardless” can’t hurt.

    But then again, why the heck do you care? Why are you trying to force your opinion of negative belief (belief that there is nothing) on someone else? Why is lying a challenge? Athiesm can be quite comical. Agnosticism would provide you with a rational way to explain your beliefs.

    “I don’t know” (which is more accurate, as you can’t KNOW there is nothing), is not going to offend anyone so much as “I have faith that there is nothing”.

  6. Jonathan on

    Really, if there is no God, then why is lying out of convenience not an option for you? You could just say you do believe in God, even if you don’t. What’s the problem? It’s not like you have some divine mandate commanding you not to lie (or in any other way inconvenience you).

  7. Why should I say I’m agnostic? Agnosticism and Atheism are two entirely different things. I don’t believe there’s a supreme ruling being, period. Agnostics are the ones who thinks there is something out there, but aren’t sure or want some sort of a proof. And why are you saying I’m going to force my “negative” belief on someone else? The point of this entry was to see how I’d answer the question of if there’s a God or not when asked by a child who was raised to believe in God. This entry was written for me to muse on a situation that might happen (which I dearly hope it won’t).

    On an ending note, why should I lie on what I am? Sure, I don’t believe in a monothestic religion, but that doesn’t mean I should lie on my atheistic background. I might not be breaking a divine command by lying, but I would be lying to myself and to other atheists in the world.

    I appreciate your opinions, even if we obviously do not agree with each other.

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