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 PastorPaul@staff.beliefnet.com.>

Dear Pastor Paul,
My family is Catholic, and if I had to label myself, I'd call myself Catholic too. However, after a lot of thought and observation, I've finally arrived at what my beliefs are. I believe that God loves everyone equally, that there is no "right" or "wrong" religion; all religions are just different ways of worshipping and loving the same God.

I believe God really wants us to love everyone and everything equally and wholly, like He does. I think He sent Jesus to show us how to love, just as he sent the Buddha, the Sikh prophets, etc.

But what if I'm wrong? What if the "correct" religion is Catholicism, or Islam, or Hinduism, or Shintoism? What happens if we are not the "correct" religion? How do we know?

-- Robin

Dear Robin,
Some people-Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist or Shintoist--will tell you they are sure of everything their religion holds, and that you'll burn in hell (if they have one) for disagreeing with them. For this type of person, it's very important to have strict guidelines to follow. Other people, like you, color a bit outside the lines.

Religions are histories of growth and change; each generation adds something to the mix. Consider yourself part of this history. Try to find a religious community that will foster your spiritual growth. You may find certain Catholic communities are receptive to your spirit, especially those that respect the teachings of St. Francis. Otherwise, you may wish to visit a Unitarian Church, or Unity Church, which has a multi-faith approach to spiritual life.

Your all-embracing approach to the world religions shows a loving heart and an almost ecstatic union with the world. Trust this love, and you will be on the side of God.

Dear Pastor Paul,
In a recent column, your answer to a reader about practicing yoga made it appear that you sanction the way the West has divorced the many varieties of yoga disciplines from the religion of Hinduism. If so, let us talk about that. Brahman bless.

-- Agni

Dear Agni ,
The letter you saw was from a Christian who wondered if practicing yoga was against her faith. In the West, the word yoga has come to mean a form of exercise based on poses (asanas) derived from Hatha Yoga, used for meditation and to promote physical well-being. I told her that yoga is not dangerous to Christians and can help people of all religions "unite with God."

I appreciate that practicing Hinduism isn't the same as taking a yoga class at a gym, or even that taking a class exposes the student to all levels of spiritual discipline yoga offers. I understand from your letter that you'd like people to explore more deeply the spiritual discipline of Yoga, and to understand the wider framework of the Hindu religion.

While it's frustrating for orthodox religious practitioners, some spiritual disciplines created within religions take on a life of their own. Sufism was born of Islam, and Kaballah comes out of Judaism; both of these offshoots have students who are not Muslim or Jewish, but for whom these particular paths have nonetheless been immensely helpful.

Yoga has become a spiritual discipline that, like it or not, has reached beyond its original Hindu context. If a Christian, even someone far removed from the great centers of Hinduism in India, experiences a blissful moment of mindfulness in a yoga class, I am all for it. My guess is that the many Yogi masters might agree.

Dear Pastor Paul,
I'm a Methodist and I really like many of my denomination's teachings, but I often feel the church has twisted the meaning of religion. The debates over ancient translations and pagan influences frighten me. I still read go to church and read my Bible, but I wonder if there is a better way to express my faith.

-- Lost

Dear Lost,
When I was in seminary, I became very depressed at our endless discussions, even arguments, about who God is, who Jesus is, etc. But as my church history lessons began sinking in, I saw that people have been debating these questions since religion began. I found that idea strangely comforting. Asking questions, listening to the experiences of others, and explaining our own beliefs are all part of engaging in a religious tradition.

Debates over translations of the Scriptures or the influence of pagan beliefs on Christianity shouldn't scare you. Our faith is worth careful, thoughtful examination and exploration. These questions interest many precisely because they increase our knowledge of our collective history as people of God. They are threatening only those who believe the Bible was written for English speakers, or that Christianity has gone unchanged since the time of Jesus.

You are making history right now in this time. You are forging your own authentic Christian belief and experience. No one can do that for you. Study your Bible, pray and go to church. Ask questions and listen to a variety of answers. Your presence is a special gift to the church. Thank God!

Pastor Paul has worked with young people in the Twin Cities, Seattle, Sao Paulo, and New York City. He was most recently a Chaplain at Columbia University in New York City.
 
 
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