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The God Squad: Finding firm roots in religion

Q: I have been raised Catholic like my whole family, but a few years ago, I started going to a Christian church. In the beginning, I thought I was doing something wrong, but now I don’t believe so. I don’t understand. If there is one God, why are there so many religions? Is there a difference between being Catholic and Christian? I find myself loving going to church and I feel so inspired. – M

A: I remember well how a Jewish spiritual seeker once asked the Dalai Lama how he could become a Buddhist because Judaism no longer inspired him. The Dalai Lama’s answer surprised and inspired me. His Holiness said to the man, “Have you learned all the beauty and wisdom of Judaism?” The man answered, “Well, no not really.” So the Dalai Lama said to him, “Learn your own past and feel your own roots before you decide to take another path up the mountain.” I agree with him. Leaving Catholicism for another Christian denomination is certainly your right and your choice, but first, try to find a Catholic teacher and a Catholic community that may well inspire you and give you a renewed love for the faith of your family and your past.

The differences between Catholicism and Protestantism are subtle but real. Catholicism places more emphasis on the role of Mary as the mother of Jesus and her nurturing spirituality. Catholicism has a different view of the Eucharist, believing it to be, through transubstantiation, the body and blood of Christ, while most Protestant denominations believe that the bread and wine are more symbolic of Christ’s body and blood.

Catholicism believes in papal infallibility and has a hierarchy of celibate clergy between the pope and the people. Also, priests are placed in parishes by the local bishop, while Protestant ministers are usually elected to the pulpit by church members. Catholicism also has a more lenient view of the possibility of non-Catholics reaching heaven, while particularly Evangelical Christians take a more restrictive view of the need to profess belief in Jesus as the only way to salvation.

The most important element in selecting a Christian denomination for your life is the warmth and inclusiveness and love that you feel when you enter the church and join the community of believers. They must feel like a spiritual family to you, and they must embrace you fully.

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Q: In a recent article, you spoke of how our blessings nurture gratitude and our burdens nurture courage and forbearance. Why does the need for courage and forbearance exist at all? I don’t mind gratitude, but why put humans through the often sad and tragic events of life? If our life after death could involve an eternity of joy, why do we have to pay for it first? Why not put us straight into heaven? If it’s because of original sin, original sin was created when the serpent tempted Eve to disobey God’s directive. But God created the serpent. Why introduce such evil even at the very beginning of existence? Was it to test us? God must have known even then that we are faulted. And if we sinned in the Garden of Eden, with all its beauty, how can God be sure that we will not sin again when we’re in heaven? – P

A: A world without any suffering or sin would be wonderful in a way, but it would not be our actual world. Yes, God could have created such a world, but that world would not require any effort, growth, maturity, forgiveness, learning or wisdom on our part – a life deprived of freedom of the will and moral consciousness, both of which make us truly human. Your physical muscles do not grow unless they are stressed and challenged, and the same is true for our moral muscles. Your question really is, why doesn’t God make us all like babies for our entire lives? The answer is clear in the question. God made us to grow to God and to find each other in love. That is the only destiny that a good God would set for us all.