EducationPop QuizReligion

Pop Quiz: Surprise Jesus

This is going to be a quick Pop Quiz since I’m off on school hike into the rainy Scottish wilderness shortly. If I don’t post anything else after today, then I’m probably at the bottom of a ravine somewhere. You guys can have my stuff.

Today I wanted to ask whether any of you have ever been surprised to find out that a colleague or student is religious. This morning I overheard two of our older (seventeen year old) students discussing some event that was going to happen at their church this weekend. I’ve known these students for five and half years and I had never realised that they were in any way religious. I admit that I felt surprise and, yes, the tiniest fleeting moment of disappointment. That feeling made way for guilt very quickly – why was it such a surprise? Should all religious people feature huge big overt flashing indicators of their faith? Did the fact that these two students go to church in any way change the amazing things they’ve achieved throughout their time at school? Of course not. It’s just that my rational, atheist, sceptical worldview makes it very easy to look at religious folk (or at least at their specific beliefs) with a fair bit of disdain and I felt a flash of that when I overheard these two pupils. I’m not necessarily proud of it.

I should point out that there seem to be far, far fewer openly religious young people kicking around in Scotland than (in my own experience at least) there are in the USA. I only really met openly, devoutly Christian people of my own age when I moved to Pennsylvania at the age of 19. Maybe some of you would flip this scenario on its head and feel more surprise if you heard two students discussing their atheist ways.

Have you ever been surprised to find out that a colleague or student held religious beliefs?

Did it change the way you viewed them? If so, did you feel guilty about that?


The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 2pm ET.

Featured Image Credit: Cafe Cecil

Previous post

Why Are There So Few Women In Science?: Required Reading, 3 October 2013

Next post

The Atheist Academic: I'm NOT Angry!



Alasdair is a high school English teacher in Scotland. He's a passionate skeptic and science fan, which is why he runs a discussion club for young skeptics in his school. He loves space and astronomy more than pretty much anything and is studying for a physics degree in his spare time in order to become qualified to teach science.

He lives with a cat made of distilled hatred and spikes.


  1. October 8, 2013 at 7:03 am —

    I’ve lived in the U.S. all my life. I haven’t been surprised to hear that someone attends church events, especially if I know that their relatives are religious. But I have been surprised to hear someone suddenly make a religious comment.

    The difference is whether the colleague or student is “religious” or “RELIGIOUS”. Are they participating minimally because it’s what their family or friends do, or are they dogmatic prayer-uttering true-believers? Does their religion have deep effects on their behavior, or is it a minor part of their social identity?

    I also admit that sometimes I feel disappointed. Like when we’re talking about a medical problem and someone suddenly says, “You’ll be in my prayers.” Of course, I’m also disappointed when someone suddenly says, “Pharmaceuticals are too disruptive to your body. Have you tried this herb instead?”

  2. October 11, 2013 at 3:38 pm —

    I think in my case here, the students in question were definitely of the “small part of their social identity” type. I definitely agree with you about being disappointed when the “prayers” comment surfaces unexpectedly. It’s difficult though, because by definition the person making that comment is trying to lend their support in what might feel to them to be a very intimate and sincere way. I sometimes find it hard to accept the positive intention as it was intended without pairing it with something more negative, and it’s easy to feel guilty about that.

Leave a reply