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How can I feel comfortable at a Catholic Highschool?

I am 15 year old atheist. I am comfortable with my choice of faith (or lack thereof) and openly tell people when they ask me whether or not I believe in God. My problem is that I go to a Catholic- all girls high school. It is a GREAT school, all of my teachers are great and so are the people, but my required theology courses are beginning to make me uncomfortable. I have gone to Catholic school all of my life and it has never bothered me before, but now that I am strong in my decision, the mere thought of those classes make me cringe. I asked my mom if I could go to the local public school instead but she refuses, plus she and my maternal grandmother graduated from my current school. Truth be told, I don’t want to transfer from a school that I love because of a class I take for 40 minutes 3 times a week. Can you please give me some tips for making my upcoming Sophomore Theology course a bit better?

Posted: July 8th 2008

SmartLX www

What’s thought of as theology is actually half theology and half apologetics. Real theology is the stuff that assumes the existence of a particular god and discusses its nature. Apologetics instead argues in favour of its existence.

I daresay you’ll get a bit of both in class, and both can be useful to you.

Theology will give you insight into why Catholics behave the way they do when they’re being religious. That includes your friends, family, classmates and teachers.

Apologetics will show you how Catholics are proselytising and maintaining their own faith these days. You’ll get all the favourite arguments for God straight from the horse’s mouth, and if anything looks interesting or convincing you can research it later to see whether it’s actually a good argument.

Otherwise, think of it as just another subject where you have to memorise a bunch of gibberish that you’ll probably never need after school. Everyone’s had a subject like that.

Posted: July 16th 2008

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logicel

You need to focus on some aspect(s) of the theology course that interests you and become expert in that bit of knowledge. And it does not have to do with theology itself (It could of course).

For example, you may want to become familiar with a particular Catholic writer’s biography—become knowledgeable about the influences that shaped that writer, the culture/times in which she/he lived, etc.

I remember at the age of seven or eight being forced to memorize the catechism. Though rejecting its content as dubious, I instead used the command to memorize it as an opportunity to increase my vocabulary and improve my use of grammar.

Posted: July 15th 2008

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flagellant www

First of all, it’s good that you love your school. You seem to put your finger on the whole issue when you say that you 'don’t want to transfer from a school that [you] love because of a class [you] take for 40 minutes 3 times a week.’ We all have to put up with things we don’t like as the price of being able to do the things we like. You could look at it this way: your Theology class is the price you pay for being at a school that you otherwise love.

However, there are some positive ways to look at your theological experience. Although I have been an atheist for many years, I regard learning more about a particular religion interesting, rather than oppressive; I like to learn new things and I’m often able to engage with a subject intellectually without accepting it as the literal truth. (Here’s an example: I did a non-religious course myself, recently. I found what I thought was a mistake in a textbook that had been in use for ten years. I researched the matter, confirmed that I was right, wrote a carefully-evidenced paper, and submitted it. The academic body published my argument and issued it to all tutors within the discipline.)

Unless your course is unusually prescriptive, you ought to be able to deal with the subject by looking beyond the dogma and perhaps even arguing – diplomatically – with it. Bishop John Shelby Spong, the former Episcopalian Bishop of Newark, has a non-mystical, evidence-based view of Christianity which brings him closer to the atheist viewpoint. He argues that much of what is written in the Bible is meant figuratively, not literally: miracles and hell, for example, are exhortative devices, used by enthusiasts, to make Jesus’s message more compelling, rather than truthful accounts of phenomena. Here’s a short interview with him.

If his words appeal to you, read his book: Jesus for the non-religious. I find his arguments hard-going but very persuasive.

I know one or two other people in similar positions to you. One is a teacher in a Catholic school. He keeps his head down, does his best to enjoy the other important aspects of the institution, and avoids being antagonistic to colleagues, some of whom seem to share his scepticism; many of the pupils do, too. But he keeps his own counsel. May I suggest that you do the same?

Of course, I wish you the very best for the future but keep a sense of proportion: don’t abandon an otherwise excellent institution for a relatively trivial reason. Try to get more out of the lessons without being openly hostile. You should find some of it interesting as knowledge; look at it this way: 'Some people believe these things – but it doesn’t make them true – and I don’t have to.’

Posted: July 15th 2008

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Reed Braden www

Take it, study it, excel in it, love it.

I took several years of Catholic school and, even though I was a Baptist at the time, I loved learning about the Catholic history and theology in theology class. It has greatly helped me in debates with Catholics from a Baptist standpoint and, later, with all Christians from an Atheist standpoint. You are getting the education that most activist Atheists wish they had gotten at your age and you should keep it up.

Catholic schools are notorious for kicking out non-Catholics at the slightest provocation, so my advice would be this: Keep your grades up; be overly polite to students, teachers and faculty; when you say you are an Atheist, don’t proclaim it too loudly and thump your chest, rather, be humble about it; keep up a positive disposition and be enthusiastic about learning.

Learn all that you can from theology class and think about everything critically. Devise arguments to bring down their assertions, but don’t ever argue theology on campus or with students and faculty. You are getting an education that will help you out greatly in your later Atheist adult life and the worst thing you could do now is drop out or be kicked out.

Plus, private schools look much better on your college application.

Posted: July 14th 2008

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