Can a Religious School Properly Teach Students About Atheism?

I have no doubt in my mind that a lot of atheists would be qualified to teach a course about Christianity. Many know the Bible well; many were raised in the faith; many could teach the objective facts about the religion without a problem.

But what about the other way around? Can Christian schools adequately teach students about atheism? Regis College (the theological school of the University of Toronto) is giving it a shot:

The course was created as a response to Canada becoming more secular, [Regis College Dean Gordon] Rixon shared. “This is not a course to villainize but to understand… This is more of a reflecting course that allows us to form a Christian response to atheism.”

The problem is that, when you hear from the professors teaching the course, it seems like there’s already a bias in place. The villainizing has already begun:

Atheism “has become militant, aggressive and proselytizing,” said [Rev. Scott] Lewis, a Jesuit scripture scholar, who teaches the class with three other scholars. “It’s made great in-roads and is now socially acceptable. If you’re young and educated and believe in God, you’re (seen as) a jerk.”

It sounds like the classes are being taught by someone who doesn’t understand the material. Anyone who believes atheism is “militant” doesn’t know the definition of the word. We’re not going door to door trying to unbaptize people, either. We’re just not staying silent when our rights are being trampled upon. We also don’t think smart religious people are automatically jerks.

That’s what I said when the Christian Post asked me to comment on the new course. I added that I thought the course could benefit from the insight of actual atheists:

“… atheists tend to hear a lot of stereotypes about who we are and what we believe thrown around in the Christian world — in churches, popular books, etc. I’ve read a number of books written by Christian apologists and it’s amazing how many mistakes they make when describing atheists. Those are problems that could have been fixed if only they had consulted with an atheist when they were writing! Yet, these ideas get perpetuated throughout churches, homes, and Christian schools.”

“It’s one thing to read a book written by a New Atheist and then have a discussion led by a Christian professor. It’s another to have an atheist in the room willing to (politely) discuss and debate those same ideas.”

I hope the course succeeds because it’d be great if religious people understood atheism. They would benefit from understanding what it entails, who we are, and why many of us are so passionate about the subject. But based on what the professors have said, all I’m expecting is further religious indoctrination.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.