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Religion Questions 1-10

THE QUESTION:
RE10: In light of Matthew 6:6, in which Christians are admonished not to pray in public view, how can ”vociferous” Christians justify the demand for open prayer in schools and in other public facilities?
POSTED MARCH 16, 1998
Scottie, Pensacola, FL

ANSWER 1:
This was in reference to the sudducees and pharisees. They prayed loudly and in public to show they were “more religious.” It is my opinion (and the Bible is how one interprets it) that Jesus had contempt for someone showing they were special for praying in the streets, while being nothing more than hypocrites.
POSTED MARCH 19, 1998
Chaz, 39, Bellevue, OH

FURTHER NOTICE:
Our Constitution was written by Christians and based on the Bible. Patrick Henry once said: “It cannot be too often repeated or too strongly emphasized that America was not founded by religionists, nor on any other religion, but by Christians, on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Samuel Adams, Father of the American Revolution and a strong Christian, said after voting for the Declaration of Independence, “We have this day restored the Sovereign, to whom alone men ought to be obedient.” In the Founding Fathers’ day, the Bible was so central to the education of children that Thomas Jefferson mandated as President that every school child read the it and Watts’ hymnal. And speaking of our Constitution, we might not even have one if it weren’t for ‘ole Ben Franklin’s plea for prayer in a hoplessly deadlocked convention in June 1787.

Despite these and other facts, the First Amendment and other parts of the Constitution have been twisted to say things they were never intended to mean. Perhaps this is why Christians and other groups are trying to defend their religious liberties. Remember, these “vociferous” Christians are not forcing anyone to participate in anything they don’t want to. Besides, a little prayer never hurt anyone, wouldn’t you say?

I wasn’t born in this amazing country, but I would give my life in any war to preserve its greatness. People living in Cuba or China can only do as they are told by their governments, and in countries like Mexico, the government steals from its own people. You could say we have it pretty good here. Something has to keep our government in check, and that something has always been, as I see it, its accountability to God.
POSTED FEB. 1, 1999
Daniel V., 26, male, Latin, Cocoa Beach, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
The Constitution may have been written by Christians, but to say it is based on the Bible is unsupported by facts. God, as a word or a concept, appears nowhere in the body of the Constitution, and its only appearance in the Bill of Rights is where Congress is prohibited from making any law regarding the establishment of any religion. The Bill of Rights does not say laws favoring Christianity are OK; it says no law favoring any religion is acceptable. As for the statement that “a little prayer never hurt anybody'”- I’d disagree. If you’re a kid in school who happens to be Jewish, Muslim or anything non-Christian, it’s uncomfortable enough to be surrounded by a majority that’s different from you. But it’s another story when the state, in the form of the teacher, the principal or whomever starts in on the glory of Jesus our savior. The same applies with overtly Christian prayers at governmental functions. Here’s the message: “Congratulations, Jews or Muslims! You’ve just been rendered an Official Outsider! Feel free to leave your own country – you’re not welcome here.”
POSTED FEB. 3, 1999
Andrew, 35, Jewish <ziptron@start.com.au>, Huntington , NY

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
As a Jew, I can’t comment on what’s written in Mark, or what Christian practices could/should be. But I am very distressed by Christians who advocate recital of prayers at public gatherings, especially at government functions, such as in public schools. There are many, many Jews, Muslims and others who are legitimately attending these functions, who are compelled to listen to prayers contrary to their beliefs. Christians ought to understand that each and every prayer offered by a Christian is fundamentally unsuitable and inappropriate for a person of any other faith. In my opinion, Christians ought to refrain from prayers where any of those in attendance are of another faith
POSTED FEB. 3, 1999
Jesse N., 39, Jew <jesse.nadel@usa.net>, Herzliya, Israel

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
Actually, the verse does not mean to “pray to yourself,” as you may think It’s better if I give you an example. Let’s say two entertainers wanted to make a donation to charity. One decides to make this donation a media circus; he/she wants everyone to know how “giving” he/she is. The other entertainer makes the donation anonymously; he/she wants nothing but the happiness of the charity in return. Which entertainer would you believe really had the charity in mind? To me, the verse describes people who pray for people in a “showing off” sort of way. If you read the following verses of that chapter you may get the same indication. While there is nothing wrong with praying for anyone or even praying out loud, prayers of a boastful nature help no one.
POSTED FEB. 3, 1999
Demetris, 33, Christian <demetris@earthlink.net>, Frederick , MD

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
Christians who push for school prayer believe that when prayer was abolished in 1962, the resulting lack of spiritual focus caused the tensions of the ’60s and ’70s. They believe restoring this bit of spiritual guidance in the lives of students will send people on their way to being better individuals. However, this viewpoint shows an ignorance of both Scripture (such as the admonitions in the Sermon on the Mount) and the U.S. Constitution. If Christians wish to restore spiritual order, they should start running better churches and attracting people to their buildings. Forcing people to pray against there beliefs is likely not the best way to win converts
POSTED APRIL 21, 1999
Chris, white, Christian <castafford@juno.com>
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THE QUESTION:
RE9: I am a high school history teacher and my students began the “Jews and the control of the economy” line the other day. The statement was made that more Jews were rich than any other ethnic group. Does anyone have information on wealth and racial/ethnic groups? Or do you know where I can find that info?
POSTED MARCH 16, 1998
Bruce B., 54, Farmington Hills , MI

ANSWER 1:
You may want to check out “The Millionaire Next Door : The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy” by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko. This book not only shows how most Americans gain their wealth, but has an excellent breakdown of millionaire households by profession as well as ethnic background. It also gives a breakdown of all households in the United States by ethnicity. One example (being Irish, this comes to mind) it that Irish households make up only 9.5 percent of the population but account for 12.5 percent of households with a net worth of more than $1 million.
POSTED MARCH 19, 1998
Dave L. <dave_leonard@usa.net>, Orion, MI

FURTHER NOTICE:
The U.S. Census Bureau compiles data on income by race, but does not consider Jews a race. No official census data is compiled on religion by the government. But you might wish to contact the Southeast Michigan Census Council, which has a staff member who is a very knowledgeable demographer in your area, and if anyone would have some information on this topic, she would.
POSTED MARCH 20, 1998
Rob P., Michigan

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
Actually, the wealthiest ethnic group in the United States (by far) are Indians (as from India). Education level is also higher. So you should tell your students, education equals wealth. It’s as simple as that.
POSTED APRIL 1, 1998
Jo Ann, Singapore

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
Counter to Jo Ann: Indians are not the richest ethnic group (Jews still are). Indians are imported by our high-tech companies and are paid lower-than-average wages for their work (average engineering wage, I mean) because they are mainly non-citizens. I know a lot of Indians, and they are all engineers and computer programmers, and most are not paid the same that native-born Americans would be if they had the same job and did the same work. Indians are Asian Americans, which means that they, given how many more there are in the United States than Jews, would have more poor and lower paid among them.
POSTED APRIL 16, 1998
M.D, white <robocod@rust.net>
Detroit, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
One of the fallacies about Jews is that they love money. During the Middle Ages, Jews were frequently restricted from many of the trade guilds and had to find professions open to them. Combine this with the early Christian injunction against making a loan for interest (usury), and the result was that you had to go to a Jewish person for a loan. This is where the stereotype of the Jewish moneylender or usurer came into being. A truly observant Jew does not love money, but considered it a tool, and enjoys money for the good it can bring. To love money would be idolatry.
POSTED JUNE 11, 1998
Larry H., converting to Judaism, larryhil@gte.net, Huntington Beach, CA

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
Another reason Jews are perceived as “loving money” is that in Poland and other European countries in the Middle Ages, kings forced Jews to act as the tax collectors. Imagine if you had no choice but to try to collect what a king required from people who could not afford it. Then imagine the hate you would receive as “the messenger” of this bad news. Then understand that many people thought the kings to be of a divine nature and imagine the hatred you had about the tax being transferred to the collector instead. Stereotypes are hard to break, even after centuries.
POSTED SEPT. 22, 1998
Matt L., 34, white Jewish middle-class male, Exton, PA
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THE QUESTION:
RE8: I was raised Roman Catholic but am not practicing. When my 96-year-old grandfather passed away, he was given last rites. Last rites are also given to death row inmates at the time of their execution. Does this absolve them of the sins they committed? Are these people (Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, etc.) considered to be as spiritually “cleansed” as my grandfather?
POSTED MARCH 15, 1998
Mary Beth, 32, Ontario, Canada

ANSWER 1:
Mary Beth, I would like to think that if death row inmates in their final hours were sorry for their sins, they’d be as absolved as your grandfather, should your grandfather have been sorry for his sins. Remember the Prodigal son, and many others we heard of in Bible stories, who were sorry for their wrongdoings. It was a theme in many of the parables I am acquainted with.
POSTED MARCH 20, 1998
Apryl, Oak Park, MI

FURTHER NOTICE:
One thing to keep in mind is that to God, all sin carries the same weight. It’s the action with true feelings of repentance of asking to be forgiven that is important. Prisoners, everyday people, even ministers, will all be judged on this one thing. Since none of us is without sin, no matter what our station in life is or the kind of activities in them, we still have to earnestly ask for forgiveness to be admitted to God’s domain. So in this sense, yes, your grandfather is judged equally with the murderers.
POSTED MARCH 20, 1998
Esther, MD

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
There is a day of judgment. Everyone must stand before the judge and be judged for the sins they have committed. The thief on the cross tried to clear his slate at the final hour, but Jesus told him “This day I will meet you in Paradise (not Heaven).” This thief, like your grandfather, drug users and believers in Christ who commit sin, must stand before God and be judged. Only God knows what will happen.
POSTED MAY 6, 1998
Johntech, 24, Baptist, Detroit, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
It might sound strange, but according to the Bible, the one on death row would indeed go to meet the Lord. But it really hasn’t got anything to do with giving the man his last rites. If, according to the Bible, the man really felt remorse, and felt the love of Jesus, he would go to heaven. But as his past had been so sinful, it’s hard to imagine he would feel genuine remorse. So it’s not very likely. But remember, the man hanging next to Jesus on the cross believed Jesus, and Jesus said he would be in Heaven soon.
POSTED JUNE 3, 1998
Kees B., Keesboogaart@compuserve.com, Eindhoven, The Netherlands

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
The Bible teaches that anyone who accepts Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The answer to your question depends wholly on your grandfather’s faith in Christ.
POSTED JUNE 13, 1998
Jeff, VA

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
An understanding of the Bible is what will answer any question we have. For instance, in answer to this question, note what is mentioned here at Romans 6:23. It says “For the wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.” So death is a direct payment or result of sin. What then is sin? The definition is literally, a missing of the mark, according to the Hebrew and Greek Bible texts. God sets the “mark” that his intelligent creatures are to reach. Missing that mark is sin, which is also unrighteousness, or lawlessness (Romans 3:23, 1John 5:17 3:4). Sin is anything not in harmony with God’s personality, standards, ways and will, all of which are holy. It may involve wrong conduct, failure to do what should be done, ungodly speech, unclean thoughts, or desires or motives that are selfish. The Bible differentiates between inherited sin and willful sin, between an act of sin over which a person is repentant and the practice of sin. However, take note of the Apostle Paul’s words at Romans 6:7: For he who has died has been acquitted from his sin. So at death, our sins have been acquitted. That is why the Bible speaks of a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous at: Acts 24:15.
POSTED JULY 27, 1998
Apollos <apollos_the1st@hotmail.com>, FL
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THE QUESTION:
RE7: I don’t understand why Jewish people are singled out as a target of prejudice by groups such as the KKK. I thought that being Jewish was practicing a certain faith. Why would that offend anyone in America? What am I missing?
POSTED MARCH 11, 1998
SGS, Port Clinton, OH

ANSWER 1:
The reason groups such as the KKK hate Jewish people is the belief that it was the Jewish people who killed Jesus Christ. Therefore, they feel that all Jewish people should be hated forever. At least that’s what I have heard when I asked the question of a person who thought Adolf Hitler was the second-greatest man who ever walked the face of the earth.
RECEIVED MARCH 12, 1998
K.C., Richmond County, NC

FURTHER NOTICE:
Perhaps some still blame the Jews for killing Christ, but that doesn’t explain why non-Christians hate Jews. I think the real reason is that Jews have always been a minority in whatever country they’ve lived in, and so they have often been viewed with suspicion. They only reason there are still Jews practicing their religion today is that they have avoided being assimilated into the mainstream culture (which has usually been dominated by Christianity). Because of this tenacious adherence to what is viewed by others as different, they have always been strangers in their own countries.

The problem has perhaps been made worse by the fact that community is important to Jewish culture, so Jews have often tended to live among their own, which further leads to suspicion and distrust.

Of course, there have long been conspiracy theorists who think there is an international Jewish conspiracy to take over the world by controlling the media and the banks, but I don’t think this has ever been taken seriously by anyone except hate-mongers.

Another reason Jews have been hated throughout history is that they have often been scapegoats. It is unusual for a minority group like the Jews to have acquired the degree of material wealth and educational attainment they have, and this may have led to resentment by others. But literacy and knowledge are important aspects of their religion, and the success that comes to those (regardless of race or religion) who are educated is often held in distrust by the have-nots. Jews have often been a handy target of hatred during hard times because of their wealth. But this is a generalization and a typical stereotype that all Jews are rich and educated.
POSTED MARCH 20, 1998
Rob P., Michigan

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
Most hate groups probably don’t need much of a reason to single out a group. However, I’d agree it’s probably based on an historical misconception that the Jews killed Christ. In fact, when the Gospels were being written, the early Church was going through a long period of persecution by the Romans and to publish or circulate writings that openly placed the blame for Christ’s death on Rome would have only increased their persecution. The fact is the local representative of Rome, Pontius Pilate, ordered the death of Jesus for political, not religious reasons. By all historical accounts, Pilate was a pretty brutal fellow.
POSTED MARCH 23, 1998
Bill B., 43 <helmsman@execpc.com>, Milwaukee, WI

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
Jews were traditional scapegoats for the Christian world, a means of deflecting focus from the real problems/causes at hand. It is important to remember that Jesus Christ lived, died and was buried as a Jew. So was his mother, father and relatives. All of the disciples were Jewish. Therefore, people who express hatred for Jews are indirectly also expressing hatred for Christ.
POSTED APRIL 3, 1998
Jo Ann, Singapore

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
To be Jewish, you must have been born to a Jewish mother. A Jew is not determined by his/her faith but by his/her birth. There are Jewish Christians, Jewish Muslims, etc. Also, Judaism is similar to Islam in that they are both communal religions, i.e. their members stick together. Less so for the Christian religion. Suggested reading: A Short History of Judaism by Cohn-Sherbok.
POSTED OCT. 30, 1998
M.H. <pacifico86@aol.com>, Ventura, CA
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THE QUESTION:
RE6: As a practicing witch, I would like to ask those of the Christian faith or other faiths why they assume we are devil worshipers. What makes them assume this? When someone sees my pentacle, they automatically assume I worship the devil.
POSTED MARCH 11, 1998
Dawn E., MI

ANSWER 1:
I can’t speak for all faiths but as a Catholic, I can say that our belief in the power of the supernatural is very real and strong. We believe the metaphysical realm and the powers associated are beyond human comprehension and control. If you are interested in invoking metaphysical power, we believe the only safe avenue is by calling on the power of God. God’s power and his love for us are always available, particularly if you have great faith.

We also believe that there are other sources of metaphysical power that are seeking opportunities to encroach on God’s relationship with us and ‘replace’ Him, if you will. Any contact with these powers is discouraged, since most humans are at a distinct disadvantage when dealing in the other realm. We are prohibited from using any means of contacting ‘the other side,’ i.e., ouija boards, tarot cards, fortune tellers, psychics, etc., mostly because we consider these sources the ‘false prophets’ we were warned to avoid by Christ in the Bible.

To address your question directly, most Christians question the source of the power you invoke. If your invocation is to God, then the source is all good, all loving, offering eternal love and life. If you are not invoking God, then it could only be one of those sources that would use power to enmesh and lead away from God.

I understand that those who follow Wicca have a well-developed theology that explains the sources from which power is legitimately claimed. Most Christians would dispute the validity of that theology. Ultimately, it is a matter of faith, since none of us can prove scientifically wherein metaphysical power resides.
POSTED MARCH 15, 1998
Susan J., Dayton, Ohio

FURTHER NOTICE:
The answer given is helpful, but witches do not believe in God or the Devil. We cannot conceive of any metaphysical power to be negative, especially from our planet Earth. We have a Goddess and a God.
POSTED MARCH 19, 1998
Dawn E. <DEdwa10532>
Shelby Twp., MI

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
Regarding wearing the pentagram, I think the answer is that most people would associate it with devil worship because of seeing it portrayed that way on album covers, music videos, movies, etc. My guess is that they probably don’t know it is a symbol used by witches or in Wicca (or what Wicca is, for that matter).
POSTED MARCH 19, 1998
Tania W., MI

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
The answer probably goes back centuries, when those who suffered from some physical or mental disability were often perceived as witches or instruments of the devil. Fairy tales written for children have also often portrayed the witch as casting evil spells and curses. The perception stems from fear and ignorance as well as religious intolerance. Today, many people probably make the mistake of identifying witches with satanic cults because satanic cults also use the pentagram or because they do not feel it conforms to the “norm” of worshiping one supreme being. I am not overly familiar with witches, but it was my assumption that they worship the earth and its elements (water, fire, etc.) and basically try to hold themselves to a higher standard of morals, as is found in most religions.
POSTED MARCH 20, 1998
Lori C., 33, Belleveue, NE

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
I agree with those answering that there is profound ignorance and/or misinformation on most people’s part about Wicca or who witches are. Many mistakenly think it deals with supernatural, metaphysical or occult practices rather than with nature or natural forces. Generally, if someone inquires about a pentagram or some item of jewelry that has religious significance, I explain it to them just as if they were asking about a crucifix or Star of David. If they show confusion or misunderstanding, that is an opportunity to engage in some interesting and educational dialogue. Unless the other person is a religious fanatic of some sort, they can usually understand the basic tenets of another person’s faith without necessarily agreeing with it. Respect for another’s beliefs should be a two-way street. Don’t get into some long, drawn-out religious argument with someone who vehemently wants to convince you that their religion (or their version of it) is the only one, true faith. Part of Wiccan teaching is that there are many paths and that each person must find their own.
POSTED MARCH 23, 1998
WitchWomon, Dianic witch for past 15 years <WitchWomon@aol.com>
Southfield, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
There are, I believe, two answers, one simple and misguided, the other more complex, and not as misguided. The first answer: It’s ignorance and prejudice. People remember things like the Salem Witch Trials, and from early times it was assumed witches were “in league with Satan.” It’s an old misconception that has no real basis in reality or Scripture. The second answer: One of the main tenets of Christianity (and of most world religions, for that matter) is that there is only one way to eternal reward (heaven, nirvana, etc.) In Christianity, if you are not “for” God, you are against him. This polarity of positive and negative is total, so if you worship, but you do not worship God, then you are worshiping the devil. This is backed up in several verses in the New Testament (I don’t have space to list them here.) So, in a way, because witches are active in a religion, but it is not a religion that worships God, then they worship Satan. However, the first answer is the one the vast majority of people use. Unfortunately, Christians sometimes are pretty uninformed and dogmatic, rather than open and learning about their faith.
POSTED MARCH 28, 1998
J. Barnes, 25, Evangelical Christian; Philosophy student <jbarnes@bizserve.com>
Ann Arbor, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 6:
I agree with J. Barnes and would further like to emphasize the polarity in the Christian religion. Being raised Baptist, I’ve always been taught that if you do not follow God/Jesus, you are going against His will and therefore conforming to the devil’s will. Basically, it boils down to if you’re not doing good, you are on the side of the devil.
POSTED APRIL 1, 1998
Rick A. <ricka@efn.org>
Ottawa, KS

FURTHER NOTICE 7:
It seems to me that the definition of “evil” is quite simple. Wiccans, as well as followers of other major religions, believe in the sanctity of life. We have our own tenets regarding harmful acts upon others, just as Christians have their Ten Commandments, including “Though Shalt Not Kill.” It seems ironic, then, particularly in the context of the Christian Ten Commandments, that so many human lives have been sacrificed throughout centuries of religious persecution and religion-based warfare. Even in the near 21st century, in Ireland, in Bosnia and, yes, even here in the United States, human blood is shed every day in the name of religion. And there are still those who see a pentagram and call it the “devil’s” work, when in reality, “evil” lies in the refusal to accept another’s beliefs, respect his or her right to believe them and to practice the religion of their choice without persecution. If there were a supremely evil being (which my Wiccan faith’s tenets do not recognize), it would surely be having a good laugh at all of us.
POSTED APRIL 16, 1998
Kristina A., 34, Wiccan <kristina@hotmail.com>
Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 8:
I know that magik and all of its followers are persecuted out of fear and ignorance. For instance, not many people realize there are two pentagrams. The one with a single point up is for good. It is a grand blessing. The other with two points up is for the devil-worshipers because it represents a goat’s head. Let me say this: To believe is the source of all magic. Even neo-Christians believe they can heal with God’s blessing. And there’s the rub: If you believe in the Creator, and he grants you power beyond the limited things normal man can do, then it is righteous. “There is but one God, but He has many faces.”
POSTED JUNE 24, 1998
B.L. Kane, 20, Christian <benkane@juno.com>, Lehigh Acres, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 9:
Research for a novel I’m working on has shown the Wiccan concept of worship is a progression of themes and ideals found in the old “pagan” religions of the Celts, among others. The druids, for instance, believed in the divinity within all things, expressed in the form of the Goddess and the God. The interactions between Goddess and God were crucial. Each divine being was triple-aspected, meaning they were themselves a trinity. Much of what we consider traditional “Christianity” evolved from these “pagan” faiths. The trinity of Catholic faith is directly related to the three faces of the Goddess. Christianity has always been based on absorbing the facets of other competing religions in order to spread. The absorption of Celtic ritual into Christianty aided in the conversion of Ireland and Scotland over a brief span.

I find it amusing so many people can believe in the Holy Trinity and yet cannot understand the interactions between Goddess and God. And it should not be forgotten that Sophia, the Catholic Mother of Wisdom, was created to provide a female figure to stand next to the male figure of God. Also, there is the concept of emanations – “portions” of God closer to the mundane world than the center of God. The emanation closest to our world is the primary female emanation of the gender-neutral God, and her role is similar to the role of the Goddess in the old Celtic and the new Wiccan faith. My point is, all religions have a common basis, and instead of mindlessly following the words of some holy tome, we should explore that common basis.
POSTED JUNE 27, 1998
John K., 24, straight white male <the-macs@geocities.com>, Cranford, NJ

FURTHER NOTICE 10:
To B.L. Kane: It is true that Satanists use the two-points-up version of the pentacle, but be careful when making that a generalization. There are a few pagan sects that have nothing to do with Satanism that use the upside-down pentacle as well.
POSTED OCT. 23, 1998
A. Browne, 20, black female Wiccan <abrowne@sophia.smith.edu>, Northampton, MA

FURTHER NOTICE 11:
I am a Christian, and the reason “devil worshiper” pops into my mind regarding witches is that witches are usually made out to be bad things. Also, as far as I know, witches don’t tend to worship Jesus Christ, so in my opinion, what/whoever you are worshiping is not the right person.
POSTED NOV. 16, 1998
Michele, 14, female, Battle Creek, MI
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THE QUESTION:
RE5: I was wondering what it is that some people who call themselves agnostic believe about death. What are some of the different beliefs or opinions of these people about what happens to us when we die?
POSTED MARCH 11, 1998
Elizabeth S., Lawrence, KS

ANSWER 1:
I believe that we are all agnostic, whether we admit it or not. By definition, agnostic means “unknown” or “unknowable.” It is my opinion that, no matter what persons of any faith may aver, the fact is that we, as humans, simply do not know what happens after death. A great deal of us like to think we do, and we want others to follow us, and I suppose it gives most of them comfort in the face of the ultimate terror: Death. Beware the man who claims to know God.
RECEIVED MARCH 12, 1998
– Jeff H., Holland, MI

FURTHER NOTICE:
I agree that we are all unknowing in many ways, but just as those whose beliefs lead them to label themselves Christian or Hindu, those of us who believe that position to be incorrect often will label ourselves Atheist. I really don’t know what happens after death, but I do not expect that I as an entity will continue in any way after my death. I see no evidence for any justification for the hope expressed by so many. My legacy is here, based on my leaving mankind a little stronger by my presence.
POSTED MARCH 15, 1998
A.C., College Park, GA

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
I am 69. The closer I get to the time my life will end, the less I try to think about dying. I live in the present, every moment of every day. I just went back to school to get my master’s degree (it’s never too late). My father is still living at 95, so I have hopes of doing the same. I believe in a higher power, but don’t see myself in a place called “heaven.” I will live on, however, in my children, my grandchildren, my paintings, my writing and in the memories of all my friends.
POSTED MARCH 16, 1998
Caroline, Sonoma, CA

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
I guess any prediction about what happens when we die must be based on an understanding or an assumption of exactly what we are. I haven’t been able to sense anything other than the consciousness that I’m familiar with, and it’s been my observation that consciousness comes from the brain. When someone is under general anesthetic, or their brain is deprived of oxygen, or they’re in a coma, they’re not conscious. Our moods and personalities are influenced by hormones, drugs, disease, injury; things that happen to our brain. Any part of me that survives death should also be unaffected by all these physical factors. Why am I not conscious 100 percent of the time? Am I magically conscious 100 percent of the time only after I die? It follows that when our brain dies, we simply lose consciousness for the last time and that’s it, nothing more.
POSTED MARCH 23,1998
Eric R., 35, Garland, TX

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
To A.C. of College Park, GA.: There is actually substantial empirical evidence to support existence of a higher power. The weakening sun, escaping moon, earth’s weakening magnetic field and the existence of complex organs such as the human eye in which any one part’s failure would give the organ no evolutionary advantage all point to a finite timeframe for the age of the earth. If evidence can be presented to support the earth’s spontaneous creation, then there had to have been a creator. If one takes an open-minded look at the empirical evidence, the argument for creation is quite compelling.
POSTED APRIL 15, 1998
Eric <ericandjjrubio@mindspring.com>
Monroe, Ga.

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
I was raised a Baptist and once remember a visiting evangelist sarcastically remarking that the word “agnostic” meant “ignorant.” We are indeed ignorant of so many things, and to assume we know more than we do seems a higher form of ignorance. I now consider myself agnostic because I cannot stare into the choice of thousands of religions and believe only one is right and the rest will lead me to Hell. It seems rather that there is a place where most of the major religions of the world converge, and I have faith in that place. However, even here it seems obvious that we cannot empirically outline such a convergence. I do have a religiosity, but it is as a reverence for nature and existence as a whole, and the best it seems we can do is to try to get as close to that as we can.
POSTED MAY 2, 1998
Tim G., 23 <gilmoret@bellsouth.net>, Jacksonville, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 6:
I’m an atheist and do not claim to know exactly what happens when we die, and I don’t think anyone should claim to know. But when I think about it, what makes the most sense is that we are like a computer or TV. When they are shut off, the screen goes black. I believe the same thing happens to us.
POSTED JUNE 25, 1998
Alex A., 16, white male, West Sacramento, CA

FURTHER NOTICE 7:
I am an atheist but also believe in an infinite realm, a universe where all is possible and all exists. That said, I’d say it’s impossible for me to profess some great knowledge of what awaits us on the other side of this plane. The clearest difference, to me, between myself and a religious worshiper is that they profess a faith in the unknown, while I possess a genuine curiosity. Make no mistake, however: No matter how much faith one professes to hold, there’s no true certainty inherent in that faith,and so anyone who assumes to know what awaits us when we die is one to be held at arm’s length and to watch carefully.
POSTED JULY 27, 1998
Curtis F. <seeafox@aol.com>, Audubon, NJ
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THE QUESTION:

RE3: Sounds naive, but what does it mean exactly when a Jewish person says they “keep kosher”?
POSTED FEB. 27, 1998
Stephen, Kansas

ANSWER 1:
Jews who “keep kosher” only buy food that is kosher – meaning a rabbi has overseen its preparation and has deemed that the product meets all requirements for consumption by people following the Jewish dietary laws. You may have noticed, for example, that some supermarkets have separate departments where they sell kosher meat. This meat has been slaughtered in a manner that is different from the way meat sold elsewhere in the store has been slaughtered.

Another aspect of keeping kosher requires that one keep meat products separate from milk and other dairy products–and that the same stemware and flatware may not be used to consume both. Hence, many Jews have one set of dishes and utensils for meat products and another set for dairy products. This is why very religious Jews never eat in restaurants.
RECEIVED FEB. 28, 1998
Henry G., Dayton, Ohio

FURTHER NOTICE:
Jews who observe the laws of Kashrut do eat in restaurants as long as the restaurant is Kosher. Most Carers in the New York metropolitan area observe the Jewish dietary laws.
RECEIVED MARCH 11, 1998
U. Schoeps, Olivebridge, NY

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
Keeping kosher dates back to Biblical times, when there was no such thing as refrigeration. Kosher means “clean” in Hebrew. Keeping a kosher home (and way of life) means that an observant Jew doesn’t eat any form of pork, meat from an animal with a cloven hoof (deer), fish without scales and gills (all seafood) and any fish, such as carp, that is a scavenger.

One very old Orthodox practice is if one accidentally uses an implement used for meat products on something made for milk products (such as cheese), it must be taken outside and buried for 10 days to become purified for its original use or vice versa. If a meal consists of meat, then at least an hour must elapse before serving a dessert or coffee in which milk or butter might be used.

There are a few restaurants that have strictly kosher kitchens and are so labeled. Orthodox or more conservative Jews who live by kosher law may eat there in full confidence that the food is properly prepared, observing all kosher laws and 100 percent kosher products. Perhaps this addition to your question will be of further help.
RECEIVED MARCH 11, 1998
Sally D., W. Bloomfield, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
U. Schoeps of Olivebridge, N.Y., writes to challenge several of Sally D.’s assertions above. He states: “The Hebrew word ‘kosher’ does not mean clean; it means ‘fit, proper, legitimate’ (and) Jews are permitted to eat animals with split hooves as long as they are also ruminants (cud-chewing animals).” Schoeps goes on to list Leviticus 11 (Ye may eat … whatsoever parthed the hoof, and is wholly cloven-footed, and cheweth the cud…) and Deuteronomy: 14.3 (These are the beasts which ye may eat: The ox, the sheep, the goat, the gazelle, the roebuck, the antelope…) as Biblical sources for his response.

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
In addition to the requirement that an animal must both chew its cud and have split hooves in order to be kosher, it must also be killed in a very precise manner. This manner includes the supervision by a rabbi well-versed in the laws of kosher. This requirement explains why kosher observant Jews will not eat meat of an animal that is technically kosher (i.e. chews its cud and has split hooves).
POSTED MARCH 19, 1998
Michael Z. <Mjick@aol.com>
Southfield , MI

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
Further correction to Sally D.’s statements: The reason to keep Kosher is not for cleanliness, but because it is a commandment of God. It is a tenet of Judaism that God holds Jews to a higher standard than Gentiles, and the kashrut is one of those standards. If cleanliness were an issue, it would concern Jews that Gentiles eat pork. A Jew does not care if a Gentile eats pork, because these laws apply only to Jews. See The Concise Guide to Judaism by Rabbi Roy A. Rosenberg for a good description of the dietary laws.
POSTED JUNE 11, 1998
Larry H., larryhil@gte.net, Huntington Beach, CA
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THE QUESTION:
RE2: With so many religions in the world, and each claiming to be the one true religion, how can intelligent people believe that the one particular religion they happen to have been born into is actually “the one true religion”? Seems to be more a matter of geographical location than actual religious beliefs to me.
POSTED FEB. 13, 1998
Dean M., Addison, IL

ANSWER 1:
I too, agree that some people tend to hold most tightly to those religious beliefs that they were taught from an early age. Also, some of these people lose all objectivity when discussing another belief system. But, think of it this way: Christ was a real person. He taught a group of followers, died and a religion sprang up around him. Mohammed was a real person. He taught a group of followers, died and a religion sprang up around him. Buddha was a real person … you get my point.

Each of these great figures, and others like them, inspired people by their insight, beliefs and actions. All were good and just. But, was one better than the other? I say, no. Each of the great religious leaders of the past and of the present had and will have excellent ideas about humanity and where we are headed. But, I feel that there is no one out there with the right to say that his or her religion is any more “right” than anyone else’s. Picture the afterlife, or heaven, as the center of a bicycle wheel. And, picture each of the earth’s religions as a spoke on that great wheel. Each one leads to the same place at the end of the journey.
RECEIVED MARCH 9, 1998
– William N., Biscayne Park, FL

FURTHER NOTICE:
I feel myself to be an intelligent person and I believe my religion is the one true religion. I am a Christian. If I didn’t believe what Christ said, that He is the way, the truth and the life and that no one can come to the Father except through him, then I wouldn’t be a Christian. By the nature of your question, you are saying that no intelligent person can be a Christian. Do you really believe that? Anyone who had any faith in their way of worship would have to believe that their way is the true way, or by nature, they wouldn’t really have any faith. I have no fear to admit that I believe Jesus’ way is the only way.

At the same time, any Christian who goes about bragging to everyone that his way is the only way and that anyone else is going to Hell is not acting like a true Christian, either. The way of Christ is love. He wants no one to go to Hell, and neither do I. But I certainly won’t renounce my faith to please people who say I’m not intelligent because I have a strong faith in what my religion stands for. I reach out to all nonbelievers in love and pray that they might find the true peace that Jesus gives his followers.
RECEIVED MARCH 11, 1998
Bob P., Jacksonville

FURTHER NOTICE 2:
The answer depends upon one’s concept of God. If you believe God does not exist, or that God is distant and not actively involved in this world, it does not make sense to believe any religion is the one, true religion. If, however, God is a personal being who interacts with humans in this world, it would be illogical to assume that such a God has not chosen to reveal God’s self to humanity. The two fastest-growing religions, Christianity and Islam, both believe God has revealed God’s self to humanity, and directed those who have received this revelation to make it known (i.e. convert) the rest of humanity.

One may not agree that God is self-revealing; intelligent people can disagree about which revelation is the valid revelation of God. Believing one’s religion is the authentic revelation of God is not a sign of stupidity or ignorance. Finally, belief is not as predetermined by birth as this questions assumes. In countries where there is religious freedom, people convert from one religion to another, or from no religion to another religion quite frequently.
POSTED MARCH 15, 1998
Mike M., 40, Mt. Pleasant, NC

FURTHER NOTICE 3:
I think this question points to a broader question, namely, “Does what we believe really matter?” To put it in another context, if I believe the speed limit is 150 mph in front of my house, it doesn’t make any difference how sincere I am while the cop is hauling me to the slammer. Clearly, as in all of life, it doesn’t matter what you sincerely believe, what matters is that you are right. And there are degrees of “right” If I believe I can get to Vancouver from my house in Michigan by way of the Andes mountains in Peru, I’m right, but that’s a tough way to go.

Clearly, the different religions teach different things about God. There are many aspects that are agreed on, but there are many that are irreconcilably different. Clearly, there must be a “right” belief and there are probably varying degrees of “wrong.” You owe it to yourself to explore them in more depth. Personally, I have, and I’ve become a Roman Catholic (all religions have flavors, Christianity is no different). One of the biggest factors in that decision is that there are a lot of really intelligent detractors and you can find opposing views all over the place. But the faith stands strong and is logically cohesive for me. I encourage you to continue to question and I wish you well on your journey.
POSTED MARCH 19, 1998
Peter P., 37 <PPROUT20@aol.com>
Redford, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 4:
I believe there is no way to logically “prove” any one religion, even my own, which I believe to be the one true Way. That being said, Blaise Pascal had some thought on the subject, and he developed a theory that is often called “Pascal’s Wager.” We can apply it here pretty well. He said that all things being equal, we should choose the religion with the largest downside if it is right. For example: Most of the world religions do not have eternal punishment. Reincarnative systems believe you just keep living again and again until you get it right. Islam (if I remember correctly) believes you are in “Hell” until you “pay-off” your sins. Other religions believe that if you are not “good,” then when you die you simply cease to exist. However, Christianity believes that if you die, and are not saved, you will be punished forever in Hell. So, if Christianity is wrong and you follow it, you’re not out much. You either repeat life, or you earn your way out of Hell, or you just sleep forever. If, however, Christianity is right, and you are not saved, you spend eternity in Hell. So from a worst-outcome scenario, Christianity is a better bet.
POSTED MARCH 28, 1998
J. Barnes, 25, Evangelical Christian; Philosophy student <jbarnes@bizserve.com>
Ann Arbor, MI

FURTHER NOTICE 5:
Is it totally unrealistic to believe there is one true God, and he reveals himself to different cultures in a way which they will best understand and relate to?
POSTED MARCH 29, 1998
Bryan D. <BVMJWest@ameritech.net>
Flint, Mi

FURTHER NOTICE 6:
In my humble opinion, there is no “one true religion.” All religions are valid to those who follow and hold faith in them. There are many roads/paths to the ultimate/God/heaven/or whatever else you want to get to. Many paths that lead to the same thing. The problem arises when one religion “thinks”‘ it is better or more valid than another. This, in my opinion, is the reason the world has seen so many wars, and why the world is filled with hatred. Religion can be a beautiful thing, but it can also be manipulated into a disgusting and destructive force.
POSTED APRIL 3, 1998
V.S., Toronto, ON, CAN

FURTHER NOTICE 7:
I was born and raised Catholic, and that’s the faith I am comfortable with. In addition, I believe in one God, and God’s son, Jesus Christ as my personal savior. But, I do not believe Catholicism is the only way. I don’t even believe that Christianity is the only way. I accept all religions and I do not condemn any person for their belief system. For one, I don’t think it is my place to judge anyone for their belief. Some Being above me has that job. Also, from the people I have met and seen from different religions, they’re all loving and caring individuals. That’s what is important to me: Love. To each his/her own. Each person prefers a different form of spirituality. I’ll believe my way. You belive yours. And hopefully, we can all hang out in heaven/paradise/etc. in the end. I wish you all well on your spiritual journeys.
POSTED APRIL 3, 1998
Jason H., 20, Catholic <n9545359@cc.wwu.edu>
Bellingham, WA

FURTHER NOTICE 8:
We are “believing” entities. Everyone who thinks has a particular set of beliefs. Some are shared by everyone, regardless of the culture. Thus we all believe in the fact of birth, death, the importance of being a good member of one’s community, etc. Some of these beliefs are more individual. It seems more useful to ask what these beliefs do to the believer and those around him/her than why he/she has chosen that particular belief. So, rather than seeking to “justify” a particular belief, it may behoove us to ask, “Does it make him/her more loving, thoughtful, patient and tolerant?” This is all very well-explained in Conversations With God by Neal Walsh. “God” makes it clear that our beliefs and our behavior tells us who we are. I like that!
POSTED MAY 2, 1998
Robert D., 70, white <rderycke@mindspring.com>, Knoxville, Tenn.

FURTHER NOTICE 9:
Growing up Christian, I could never understand how Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc. were all “wrong.” That just didn’t make sense. What about Native Americans? How could Christ reveal himself in such a tiny portion of the world, while there were two (three with Australia) continents that would not hear his message (or receive his salvation) for over a thousand years? How could a Just God allow people to live in spiritual darkness for so long?

To make a long story short, I’m a Baha’i now, which might sound completely unfamiliar to most – it sure did to me 12 years ago when I first learned of the Baha’i Faith. But then again, the more I open my eyes, the more answers I find to many of those nagging questions I had growing up in a small, white, Christian Midwest community. I know that in America, there were monotheistic religions, and divine messengers like Jesus. As Christians, we don’t have a problem believing that the God who spoke to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, was one God. But to believe that this same God spoke to Buddha, Krishna, Dekanawidah (an Indian Prophet), Muhammad, etc., is beyond the realm of belief for most. But that’s what I believe, very comfortably, actually, and with many years of study within and without the Baha’i Faith and the Writings of Baha’u’llah (its prophet/founder). The similarities among the world’s religious scripture is pretty profound. The Golden Rule can be found in every major religion. And so is the enjoinder to love God. Aren’t these the two principles Christ said encompassed the essence of His faith?

I know it’s impossible to believe something and express that belief without sounding like a bad sales pitch. I apologize for that. But I consider myself an intelligent, free thinker who has worked hard to find answers to this question, and have found great value in the Baha’i Faith. So just think of me as a Saturn owner who really likes my car and would recommend it to others, except, er … this time it’s a religion. A religion that somehow states that all the world’s major religions are right, not wrong, because they were revealed by the same God but at different times, in different places and to different cultures with different needs.
POSTED JUNE 8, 1998
Craig K., ckoller@worldnet.att.net, Lakewood, CA

FURTHER NOTICE 10:
The Baha’i Faith (in a very inadequate nutshell) teaches that all the major religious prophets come from God and gave a message suited to the level of development of the world at the time, the culture, the physical conditions, etc. Within Christianity, you can see some support for this thought if you trace the development of thought from Adam to Moses to Christ- there is a developmental aspect inherent; the later does not detract from the earlier. Baha’i more or less sees this developmental concept within a larger concept, of which Christianity is one of the branches. It never did seem reasonable to me, even when I was a Christian, that God would reveal himself only in Israel and that people of that time living in South America with no means of communication to Israel would be left out.
POSTED JUNE 16, 1998
J. Scott, Baha’i educator <jscott@cybertrails.com>, Chinle, AZ

FURTHER NOTICE 11:
All through Biblical history, God supported or backed one people. He was the God of the Israelites. Then Jesus Christ started Christianity, and God’s backing was evident in Jesus’ ministry and that of his followers. Important, too, is the fact that when people say thay are Christian, it really is of little value unless they realize what it entails. Please note 1Peter 2:21, which says: In fact, to this course you were called, because even Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely. A true Christian must know what Jesus did, and then follow his actions or steps closely. He was a model, or pattern. The true religion then, is the one that Jesus started -the Christian religion that does the work Jesus started. There are seven things that identify the only true religion: 1) On what are its teachings based? 2) Consider whether it is making known the name of God, as Jesus did. 3) Is the true faith in Jesus Christ being demonstrated? 4) Is it largely ritualistic, a formality, or is it a way of life? 5) Do its members truly love one another? 6) Is it truly separate from the world? 7) Are its members active witnesses concerning God’s Kingdom?
POSTED JULY 27, 1998
Apollos S. <Apollos_the1st@hotmail.com>, FL

FURTHER NOTICE 12:
You’re right: There are a lot of religions around the world. Most of them are based on the teachings of widely respected people long since committed to the grave. Only one, however, is based on an empty grave. Jesus was the only one of all those “great” men to conquer death by rising from the dead. In fact he continued to minister to his followers for 40 days after his resurrection prior to ascending to heaven. This was witnessed by hundreds of people and documented in Acts 1. Because He is the only one who still lives, the only son of God, He’s the only one still able to play an active role in the lives of His followers.
POSTED AUG. 4, 1998
M.R., 35, Evangelical Christian male, North Pole, Alaska

FURTHER NOTICE 13:
I’ve heard this so many times before that perhaps an analogy would help: If there is only one valid U.S. currency, or whatever, used as legal tender, why are there so many counterfeits?
POSTED AUG. 13, 1998
Elaine C. <eoder1@compulinx-net.net>, Columbus, OH

FURTHER NOTICE 14:
But nobody really answered the original question, which was why do most people (even when religious freedom is available) not bother to question the validity of the religion they were raised in? Even in areas where there is more religious freedom, the majority of people stick with what they grew up in, and don’t even consider for a moment that if they had happened to be born in a different culture, their religion would be different. Why do they do this? I don’t know; I am one of the few exceptions to the rule.
POSTED SEPT. 5, 1998
Lynne, atheist <lynne@darklair.com>, Fairfield, IA

FURTHER NOTICE 15:
I believe that, like the first response, religions all lead to the same place. Probably all these wise men (Christ, Buddha, etc.) came from one divine being and had a goal to give people the truth. Here’s a story I heard: In a village of blind people there entered an elephant, so the five wise men of the village went to examine it and tell the people what the visitor was. The first blind wise man got hold of the elephant’s foot and so went back to the village and told the people that it was a tree. The second grabbed the elephant’s trunk and went back to the village and said it was a snake. The third took hold of its ears and said it was a big bird. The fourth took its tail and said it was a snail. The fifth grabbed the elephant’s stomach and said it was a big rock. So who’s right? It was an elephant. The five wise men represent the five biggest religions in the world, the elephant is the truth and we are searching for it.
POSTED OCT. 28, 1998
18

FURTHER NOTICE 16:
To J. Barnes and Robert D.: It seems to me that it is always best to believe that which seems most likely to be true. I wouldn’t take Pascal’s Wager. What if a cult sprung up tomorrow wherein any non-believer was cast into hell, along with all of his/her immediate relatives? That’s worse than the punishment of Christianity – would you convert for that reason alone? What if I told you that you could stop a nuclear strike on Washington, D.C., by calling 911 now? The risk is very low and the potential benefit is very high, but I bet you wouldn’t take that wager, would you? I think believing something likely to be true is better than believing something that seems to make you a better person. Humanity will benefit from knowledge, and learning to cope with reality. But if we believe things that aren’t true, we may only be helping to “dumb down” humanity in the long run, rather than helping it out.
POSTED NOV. 16, 1998
John A., 21, atheist <ahlschwede@hotmail.com>, NE
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THE QUESTION:
RE1: What role, if any, do women play in Tibetan Buddhism?
POSTED JAN. 25, 1998
Lana R., Jacksonville, FL

ANSWER 1:
Contrary to most Western belief, women do play a role in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. There are several highly respected female teachers believed to be the embodiment of Tara, the female aspect of Compassion. In the Buddhist faith, there is actually no discernment between the male and female mind, since we are comprised of both aspects equally. Many other women have become enlightened beings by being married to learned teachers. In the Tibetan tradition, lamas may marry and become householders if they choose; they then continue with their teachings, especially to their immediate family. You will find that there are several highly repected Western women who have been initiated into traditional Tibetan practice and have become leading teachers in their own right.
POSTED AUG. 18, 1998
G. Eldridge <Hauteman@AOL.com>, NJ

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