Where in our society is it possible to have open dialogue about faith? I really wonder sometimes. Despite the rhetoric of accepting all people and practicing tolerance, what seems to be happening is that we don't talk about faith at all. For fear of offending someone, we say nothing. We pretend that faith does not matter to society at large because it is a private belief.
This situation is not necessarily new. When I attended teacher's college in North Bay, Ontario, I did not know anyone. Of course, when you meet someone new you might not automatically start talking about your most deeply held beliefs. Nevertheless, I felt as though there was a conspiracy of silence about anything related to faith. It took months before I found out for sure that there were other Christians in my program. Everyone seemed reluctant to disclose, including me.
A few years ago a mainstream author who writes books for older children and young adults came to speak and share at the Christian school where I teach. I was struck by something he said to me privately before the group session began. He said he felt more freedom to speak at our school than he did at public schools. This gentleman has visited hundreds of schools. Why would he say such a thing? It is totally the opposite of what someone outside looking in would think. The Christian school does not have to be a place where faith is shoved down anyone's throat. Rather, because it is a place where faith is affirmed as a natural part of everyday life, it can be OK to talk about the full range of human experience. People are not so easily offended by differences of opinion; there is room to debate.
This week I was taking Day 2 of a Health and Safety certification course in a city about 45 kilometres away. I carpooled with another participant, whom I met the previous week. On our two hour round-trip we had respectful and open conversations about a variety of topics that were all related to faith. She practices Judaism, but because we both were up front about where we were coming from, we could appreciate each other's experience and opinions. She expressed frustration that whenever she has been invited to share in her child's public school about a Jewish holiday, the things she felt free to talk about were the surface and cultural aspects of the holiday, rather than the actual meaning of the holiday itself.
Everyone is guided by some kind of faith, even humanists whose faith is placed in themselves and human abilities. When faith is acknowledged instead of ignored in schools, children can learn how to express themselves without offending and to ask the big questions they long to hear answered.