Teacher’s fret

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Last Friday’s “The Ethicist” column in The New York Times posed an interesting question. “B.J.,” a Catholic Sunday school teacher from Washington, asks Randy Cohen, the Times’ resident ethicist, whether one must always teach what the church teaches, even if one disagrees with the church on the matter. Cohen answers: “Your church asked you to […]

  • I think this answer hinges on Cohen’s definition of “honorably teach” – that is, could a non-believer teach the tenets of a particular faith “honorably.” I guess I agree, from one perspective, (as a teacher for over 15 years) that a good teacher could teach material, whether or not they ascribed to it (as in, one could teach about fascism, evolution, Christianity or any topic) without necessarily believing in it.

    On the other hand, when a church (or other body of faith) has people teaching others about the faith, my thinking is that we would like people to be able to speak from the heart – to relate the “material” to one’s life (full disclosure, I am an Episcopal Priest). There may be different opinions (for instance) on interpretation of scripture, and a good teacher may lay out the various approaches – and would (ideally) also offer their own approach and the ways that scripture informs their life.

    If someone cares deeply about the subject matter, and if one’s life is spiritually and intellectually shaped by their faith, I believe the teaching would be all the better…

    Peter Carey+

  • Daniel Burke

    Good points, Peter.

    In some ways, this question reminds me of something religion journalists sometimes talk about: Whether being a person of faith is essential to covering the beat.

    A former teacher of mine, and many others for that matter, believe that it’s impossible to cover religion without being religious. For them, it’s as much a matter of heart as of intellect, as you describe above.

    Many others would say an outsider’s eye is essential to fair-minded journalism. Similarly, an interfaith (or no faith) Sunday school teacher may bring a new perspective to the church’s teachings.

    It’s an interesting debate, and one that I think won’t ever be resolved.