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Q: I've enjoyed your column for some time now in our local paper and have relied on it for good information and advice. Now, I believe, it's my turn to ask for help. I'm a faithful Christian but am also open-minded and understand that mine is not the only faith in the world.

I don't try to force my religious beliefs on others whom I know are not receptive. I believe in the triumvirate of inappropriate topics for social discussion (politics, religion and gossip). The problem is, I have several dear friends who are atheist and/or agnostic and frequently criticize my faith through jabs and sarcasm, as if I'm an unintelligent halfwit.

I'm a schoolteacher with a master's degree. I've found myself lately being more and more uncomfortable keeping my thoughts to myself and turning the other cheek. What is the appropriate response to such comments? And even more importantly, why are my friends so determined to openly criticize something that's very dear to me? They don't do that in any other social situations.

-- K, via e-mail

A: The last acceptable prejudice in our society is the prejudice against people who take their faith seriously. Thankfully, you can no longer go to respectable social gatherings and make jokes about black people, Jews, Gays, Polish people, or even lawyers. However, as you've painfully experienced, you can still dump on and ridicule religion and religious people.

We think this anti-religious prejudice is influenced by several factors. More and more people are raised in homes with less and less formal religious practice. This makes such practice alien to many people, and we often criticize what we've never experienced. There's also an increasing hostility to religion on college campuses. If you don't experience religion as a personal option for you by your 20s, it's hard to make it an important part of your life later.

Many people in the media we see and hear are not particularly religious, and their personal prejudices have a way of seeping through their objective reports.

Finally, we live in a very permissive and secular culture, which is only too happy to be released from the obligations and moral critique taught by all religious traditions.

So what should you do to fight this national prejudice against the religious life you value so deeply? We suggest you do what members of other groups who once were or still are the brunt of insulting and degrading joke. Fight back! Tell your friends, calmly and courteously at first but more assertively if they don't get the message, that their comments offend you, or their jokes embarrass you. If they continue, find some new friends. Frankly, we find it hard to maintain friendships with people who agree with us on nothing!

If this option seems out of the question, try telling your friends some anti-atheist jokes and see how they like it. You could try this one: "An agnostic is a person who is not sure that the God he doesn't believe in is real." Ha ha ha.

Sharing communion
Q: I am a Methodist. My grandson, who is Catholic, is making his first communion this month. I'd love to partake in this celebration but don't know if it would be appropriate. Can I receive communion also?

-- Irene, via email

A: When your grandson has his first communion, he will be receiving a sacrament. He will receive the body and blood of Jesus, according to the Catholic Church.

Some people who are not Catholic wish to receive communion when they're invited to a Mass. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that a person who is non-Catholic should not receive communion. The reason for this is that Catholics believe they are receiving the actual body and blood of Jesus. Protestants do not. That belief is necessary to receive the Eucharist.

If, however, you have an extraordinary reason to receive communion and believe that you would be receiving the actual body and blood of Jesus, you may ask the parish priest for the right to receive with your grandson.

Monsignor Tom Hartman and Rabbi Marc Gellman are happy to try to answer your religious, personal or ethical questions. Contact the God Squad, c/o Telecare, 1200 Glenn Curtiss Blvd., Uniondale, N.Y. 11553 or e-mail