Dear Pastor Paul,
My grandmother who is a devout Christian believes that martial arts are evil. I've asked her why and she can't give me a straight answer. Perhaps she believes that most martial artists study Buddhism or some other Asian religion, and perhaps she thinks that different religions are evil.

I was raised being Pentecostal and have no problems with Christianity, though I'm sort of exploring religious options right now. But my Tae Kwon Do has nothing to do with that. I study Tae Kwon Do because I feel welcome in the dojo, and the art gives me a goal to strive for. It also gives me confidence, focuses my mind and keeps me in shape. I've never felt happier than when I was practicing martial arts full-time. What are your views on martial arts?

Dear Akane,
While you may not see a connection between your Tae Kwon Do practice and your desire to explore other religions, your family does, and I do too. Tae Kwon Do is offering you spiritual as well as physical fulfillment and that is a good thing for you, but threatening to your family.

Ultimately, you should decide what your spiritual life will involve. But you can assure your folks that many people practice yoga without leaving Christianity for Hinduism, and you certainly can practice martial arts without becoming a Buddhist. Any physical practice increases happiness, confidence, discipline, focus, and physical and mental well being. These things can and should be maintained in addition to whatever religious belief you ultimately decide upon.

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Dear Pastor Paul,
I'm a junior at a Christian school in South Carolina. We're required to write a paper called: "What is religion?" I am so dumbfounded I can't even think of a topic sentence. Could you email me your thoughts?

Dear Bobbie,
Start with your own experience. You are a Christian and Christianity is a religion. Setting aside the specific beliefs, what elements make up the religion called Christianity? People of other faiths could do this too.

I came up with this annotated definition: Religion is a set of beliefs and rituals (i.e. Holy Trinity, the eucharist) accepted by a community of people (the church) that explain the origin and nature of the universe and human beings in particular? (i.e., Genesis, Jesus' resurrection) and that answer questions about meaning and purpose ("Why am I here?"). Religion provides a code of conduct (Ten Commandments, Sermon on the Mount) within those beliefs and is intentionally passed on to new generations of people (baptism of youth and adults).

Your definition may be very different and I would be interested in seeing it. For a truly brilliant discussion of this topic, I suggest you read "The Varieties of Religious Experience," by William James. Though he wrote almost a hundred years ago, James's book is one of the most interesting discussions of your question as we have.

Dear Pastor Paul,
Recently I have not been wanting to go to Church, not because I don't think we should, but I don't really get anything out of it. What do you think I should do?

Dear Kimmie,
The truth is that all churches are not created equal. Go find a faith community that inspires and nurtures you and your relationship with God. Visiting churches can be fun. The church for you is out there--keep looking.

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