Ask Pastor Paul

Ask Pastor Paul

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Is he a Hindu hottie, but you're a Catholic cutie? Not sure what to get your friend for her Bat Mitzvah? Wondering about Wicca? Pastor Paul answers all your religion and spirituality questions. Send them to

And make sure to check out previous Pastor Pauls!

Dear Pastor Paul,
I used to pray before lunch at school, but people made fun of me. So I stopped praying out loud and pray silently. I feel guilty about this, because I'm hiding my religious beliefs as if I'm ashamed of them. Is this the right thing to do?

--Confused in Illinois

Dear Confused,
Ask yourself if you communicate better with God aloud or silently, because both are acceptable ways to pray. People who prefer to pray silently do so because that's how they best communicate with God, not because they're ashamed of their beliefs. If you prayed aloud because that's how you best communicate with God, then start praying aloud again.

If you're still concerned about getting teased by your peers, then try and find some place private to pray before heading to lunch. And remember, those kids that make fun of you are probably just uncomfortable with things they don't understand, in this case your praying. If you feel moved to pray aloud (for God's ears alone, no one likes a religious show off) in front of your classmates, then in rising above their small mindedness you may unwittingly become a role model.

  • Check out this piece on praying in public.

  • Dear Pastor Paul,
    I am a Catholic, and my brother is seeing a girl who is Wiccan. Can you tell me something about Wicca? All I've heard is that witches are involved, and, well, that's an ouch right there for me. Help!


    Dear Lbel ,

    So you hear the word "Wicca" and your mind sees pointy hats, broomsticks, and evil spells. It's hard to rid ourselves of stereotypical images, but just as Jews, Protestants, Muslims, and even Catholics have been misrepresented, so have Wiccans.

    Wicca is an earth-based religion--falling under the larger umbrella of Paganism. Wiccans worship a Goddess and a God and revere nature. They believe in "magick" (spelled that way to differentiate it from stage magic), and some do cast "spells," but these practices shouldn't be confused with Satan (a Christian concept) or black magic. Wiccans believe that magick is a divine energy that exists in everything, and spells channel these energies to create positive change. They are not hexes and curses, as popularly depicted. Witches are those who practice magick and can come from any background, not just Wicca or Paganism.

    Find out who this girl is on the inside and don't base your opinions on a label. I'm sure your brother's girlfriend would be happy to introduce you to some of her beliefs.

  • Read more about Teen Pagans.

  • Dear Pastor Paul,
    Is masturbation a sin? I've read so many contradictory things, and I'm confused. I can't find anything that tells me where the church actually stands on it. Any light you could shed would be awesome.

    Christianity traditionally has not been very sympathetic to sex apart from reproductive sex inside marriage, and that pretty much extends to masturbation. However, there is no mention of it in the Bible one way or the other.

    That said, the Catholic Church has interpreted certain Scripture passages as a divine prohibition against masturbation and has backed its belief up with church teaching. Mormons also think it a sin. And the practice is widely condemned by evangelical Christians. At the same time, many Christian groups consider masturbation to be a harmless activity and not inherently sinful.

    While Christians will never agree on whether masturbation is a sin, most will agree that a sin is an act that alienates us from God. Does masturbation do this? Well, Jesus commands us to love God and love one another. Masturbation can be a little, uh, self-involved.

    Therefore, I put masturbation in the same category as alcohol. It's a natural act, and one that most people engage in, whether they publicly acknowledge it or not. Done occasionally, it's fine, but when it becomes an obsession or an addiction, it should be stopped, because at that point it alienates us from God.

    You have to decide whether or not masturbation is a sin for you in your life.

  • Check out the conversation on the masturbation board.

  • Pastor Paul has worked with young people in the Twin Cities, Seattle, Sao Paulo, and New York City. He currently is a chaplain at Columbia University in New York City.