09/10/2012 03:00 pm ET Updated Nov 10, 2012

Ask Pastor Paul: How Can I Talk to Someone Who Denigrates My Beliefs?

Have a spiritual question, ethical dilemma or religious curiosity? Don't be shy! People of all backgrounds, ages and creeds are encouraged to submit questions to

Dear Pastor Paul,

I'm not a Christian and I've learned the hard way that when someone believes that no one can come to God except through Jesus that discussing spiritual matters with them is mostly futile.

Sharing is non-existent because in their view they're right, I'm lacking and simply do not know God. Thus in their eyes nothing I would say would have any substance, any value for them. Short of just saying 'thanks for tea' and leaving the room how would you handle such a discussion?

Dear Julia,

The best approach to talk to people with whom you disagree is to try to set some ground rules. One of the first rules for interfaith dialogue is that you are not trying to change the other person's mind about their beliefs but that, through dialogue, you are better able to understand and appreciate the importance that those beliefs have for the other person's life.

It sounds like you have had bad experiences with Christians who just want to denigrate your own experience by insisting that there own is the only way. Likewise, Christians can feel that atheists ridicule their beliefs. Neither of these approaches will yield positive interfaith interactions.

Underneath every committed atheist and fervent believer is a person who has his or her own experience of pain and joy, loss and love. Interfaith dialogue, when done well, creates an opportunity for people to be vulnerable and compassionate with each other so that they really get to know one another as people first. Then you can better understand the religious, ethical, philosophical beliefs that are enmeshed within their lives.

One of the best ways to create an opportunity for an exchange of ideas is to ask questions about the persons life, rather then specifically about their faith.

These questions can be entres into a more rich discussion:

Has there been a time when your beliefs have helped you through a difficult time?

What are you most grateful for?

What was your spiritual life growing up?

What was a valuable lesson learned from your parents or grandparents?

I have led many interfaith discussions with people of all different religion and no religion at all. It can be a most rewarding experience. But there has to be a mutual agreement that you are really interested in the other person.

If that mutual respect is lacking on either side then you have the right idea: Say thanks for the tea and walk away.

Dear Pastor Paul, I lost my husband three years ago to cancer. I have recovered and formed a life that is peaceful and comfortable for me. However, I have read that our deceased spouses encourage us to remarry. I have no desire to remarry, nor form a companionship with the opposite sex. However, I am concerned or worry that if my spouse wants me to do this, do I have to do wants he wants me to do, or do I have free will and choice to remain his widow until we are joined again?


Dear Debbie,

I'm sorry for your loss and am glad that you have found peace and comfort in your life now. I'm not sure who told you that your deceased spouse wants you to get married but just set aside any expectations anyone might place upon you.

Follow your heart. If, at some point, someone comes your way that you might wish to form a relationship with, then that will be lovely. But until then enjoy your life and be happy, which, I'm sure, is what your husband wished and wishes most for you.

Have a spiritual question, ethical dilemma or religious curiosity? Don't be shy! People of all backgrounds, ages and creeds are encouraged to submit questions to

If you are in spiritual or emotional distress, please contact a clergy person or mental health professional who can help you. If you are in crisis, please contact the crisis hotline.