Anti-Catholic myths present themselves at my door fairly often: as an RE teacher working in the classroom, I know that there is a lot of misinformation out there – especially about the Church’s role in history and about religion and science.
Sometimes kids have heard these myths from the media or their parents. Sometimes it comes from what they hear in other lessons. But I don’t want to blame particular individuals or subjects for undermining the faith; often at the root of the problem is a simple lack of knowledge.
Religious education, after all, doesn’t just happen in RE classes. Students can pick up ideas in other classes. I wish, for instance, that my colleagues in science might do something to challenge the “conflict thesis” of science and religion. They could make a good start simply by telling students that it was a Catholic priest, Mgr Georges Lemaître, who formulated the modern Big Bang theory and that the founder of modern genetics, Gregor Mendel, was an Augustinian friar. These small details get missed out, but would save RE teachers hours.
Again, the Galileo story was, in reality, a complex tale which was as much about clashing personalities as it was about Galileo’s scientific discoveries. (Which, incidentally, were rejected by almost everybody, not just leading figures in the Vatican.) Instead, students are told that Galileo was excommunicated because his work challenged Catholic teaching, and the episode is put down as another example of science being incompatible with Christianity.
There is a whole other story, which secularists like Richard Dawkins prefer not to mention: that science was born out of a theistic worldview, and that the desire to investigate nature often comes from a belief that God created it. But it would be better if science teachers, rather than RE teachers on the defensive, could point this out.
There are other ways in which teachers can help each other. It can be enlightening to ask colleagues what worries or confuses them about the Catholic faith. It is likely that questions about homosexuality, contraception, abortion and euthanasia will come up. Tackling such issues head-on is important: not simply what the Church teaches, but why. This can often help colleagues make far better sense of the faith.
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