Quick! What the Hell is Ramadan?

As a kid growing up, whenever I heard about Cat Stevens, it was accompanied by such, I don’t know, disappointment. Cat Stevens used to be this wonderful singer, I was led to believe, until he “got weird” and left music.

“Got weird,” as it turns out, meant he converted to Islam.

I mention this because, for years, I pictured Stevens living in a cave somewhere — when actually he’s been raising a family in England. And the thing I’ve enjoyed most about researching Ramadan has been revisiting some of Stevens’ Islamic music. Stevens goes by Yusuf Islam now, and has put out a couple of really sweet children’s albums. One of them contains a song called “Ramadan Moon” (Click here to hear the recording and to watch a little video.) Another of my favorites is called “A is for Allah,” which he wrote to introduce his baby daughter to the Arabic alphabet. Both are definitely going on my next  religious playlist.

Anyway, Ramadan is the latest addition to my Holiday Cheat Sheet for Nonreligious Parents. By way of a reminder: “Allah” is the Arabic word for God, and refers to the same God worshipped by Jews and Christians. Muslims believe in both the Old Testament and New Testament, but they also believe that their prophet, Muhammad, was the last prophet — and that the Qur’an, which Muhammad penned himself, is as much the word of God as the Bible and Torah.

Holiday: Ramadan

Pronounced: Rah-muh-don

Religion Represented: Islam

Date: This holiday takes place during the Islamic calendar’s ninth month, which is called — you guessed it — Ramadan.

Celebrates: Charity, self-restraint and devotion to Allah.

Related Holiday: Eid ul-Fitr, which occurs at the end of Ramadan.

On a Scale of 1 to 10: The month of Ramadan is a solid 10, says Shahzad Chaudhry, a nonreligious dad raised in a Pakistani household (who also happens to be one of my favorite readers). “Not only does the entire country celebrate,” Chaudhry said of Pakistan, “but food-based businesses are even closed during the fasting hours to avoid temptation.” The Qur’an makes direct reference to Ramadan, and Muhammad himself celebrated the holiday until his death.

Star of the Show: Allah

Guest-Starring: The moon


Back Story: Ramadan is considered the holiest month because it was during Ramadan that Allah was said to have first contacted Muhammad. The Qur’an, as a result, makes direct reference to Ramadan and its rituals. Every year, from the first sight of the waxing crescent moon until the the last sight of the waning crescent, Muslims throughout the world remember what Allah is said to have told Muhammad about how to be a good Muslim — to be forgiving, charitable and empathetic to those less fortunate. In this way, Muslims are keenly aware of the moon’s changes throughout Ramadan.

Associated Literary Passages: The Qu’ran Chapter 2: Section 23

The Rituals: Although those who are unable to fast — kids, elderly, pregnant women — are specifically excluded from the requirement, the Qur’an makes clear the fasting period (which includes water) is to extend during daylight hours and that Muslims should also abstain from sex and other worldly temptations as a way to show thanks to Allah and understand what it’s like to “go without.” During this period, Muslims eat two meals a day during Ramadan — one before dawn and the other after sundown. They pray as much as possible above and beyond the usual five prayers a day, and they are encouraged to read the Qur’an all the way through. In addition, Ramadan is supposed to be about feeding the poor; forgiving those who have hurt you and asking forgiveness from those you have hurt; and trying to be a better person.

The Challenges: Ramadan is a much celebrated and revered holiday among Muslims, but — as my husband (who grew up in Saudi Arabia) said — it isalso very hard. People who fast get weak and fatigued easily. Keeping your mind on school or work is a challenge, to say the least, and often downright uncomfortable. The only life saver is, at the end of each day, when the sun goes down, Muslims break their fasts with dates and then eat meals that taste, well, flipping amazing after a whole day of nothing. (Dates are the way Muhammad himself broke his fast.) But, truly, the most “fun” part of the holiday occurs at the end of Ramadan — with Eid ul-Fitr.

Conveying Meaning to Kids: Ramadan is a great time to do some star-gazing with your kids, but more to the point, it’s a great time to give to food pantries and other charities that feed the poor. You might talk a little about the idea of fasting and point out how difficult it can be for people to go that long without food — and how millions of poor people around the globe must fast out of necessity. Also, for the fun of it, check out some Islamic music — “Ramadan Moon” and “A is for Allah,” for example — and look up some of the movies I recommended here. Oh, and I would absolutely check out a book about Ramadan. These are my favorites:

Night of the Moon, by Hena Kahan. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better narrative story for young children about Ramadan than this one — which tells the sweet story of a Muslim-American girl named Yasmeen at Ramadan time. The illustrations (by Julie Paschkis) are fun and beautiful, and there is an actual story involved — rather than a dry recitation of facts. The book also has the added benefit of teaching kids about the cycle of the moon — which often is lost on young kids and can spark lots of other interesting conversations.

Ramadan by Susan L. Douglass is good for kids ages about 6 and up — and, frankly, for adults as well. Although there is no narrative here, Douglass’ book still ranks high on my list, enhanced by interesting illustrations (by Jeni Reeves). So many holiday books seem more intent on teaching kids the proper language of the culture than making kids connect with the text. Douglass’ Ramadan does things just right. She packs in so much great (and accurate!) information but uses clear, gentle language appropriate for little ones.

Celebrating Ramadan, by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith. This is an excellent introductory course for older children and, again, even adults. It’s illustrated with photographs from the life of a 9-year-old New Jersey boy at Ramadan. All the pictures are real, and depict he and his family as they make their way through the long period of fasting and the holiday Eid ul-Fitr. I really enjoyed this book, and the kid is so darn cute — I couldn’t help but fall in love with him.


Click here for more entries from my Holiday Cheat Sheet for Nonreligious Parents.

This post originally appeared in July 2012.

‘Golden Rule’ — Beautiful, Universal and Very, Very Old

It is a common misconception that the Golden Rule began with Jesus.

In fact, it’s part of the reason some Christians think of their religion as synonymous with morality. After all, to treat others the way you want to be treated is the essence of moral conduct. And it was Luke 6:31 in the New Testament that quotes Jesus as saying: “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” (Matthew 7:1-5 also addresses the topic.)

But Jesus didn’t invent the ethic of reciprocity anymore than did Muhammad, who said: “The most righteous of men is the one who is glad that men should have what is pleasing to himself, and who dislikes for them what is for him disagreeable.” (circa 570-632 AD)

No, the Golden Rule existed long before Christianity or Islam. In fact, no one is quite sure when the idea was first written, much less conceived — it’s that old. All we know is that the general idea is as ubiquitous as it is beautiful — having existed in virtually every culture on Earth for thousands of years.

The Golden Rule

Here’s Plato: “I would have no one touch my property, if I can help it, or disturb it in the slightest way without my consent. If I am a man of reason, I must treat other’s property the same way.” (circa 387 BCE)

Confucius said: “What you do not like if done to yourself, do not do to others.” (circa 500 BCE)

The Sutrakritanga, part of the Jain Canons, put it quite succinctly: “One should treat all being as he himself would be treated.” (circa the 4th Century BCE)

Even the Mahabharata, an ancient Indian epic written in Sanskrit, included the passage: “The knowing person is minded to treat all being as himself.” (circa 800 BCE)

Then there’s the Jewish Torah, written in 1280 BCE: “Take heed to thyself, my child, in all they works, and be discreet in all thy behavior; and what thou thyself hatest, do to no man.”

Undated is this charming African Bush proverb: “If your neighbor’s jackal escapes into your garden, you should return the animal to its owner; that is how you would want your neighbor to treat you.”

This sort of hilarious version is a Nigerian Yoruba proverb: “One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.”

And a Sioux prayer puts it this way: “Great spirit, grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.”

Among the oldest known references appears in the story of The Eloquent Peasant, an ancient Egyptian story that dates back to The Middle Kingdom: 2040–1650 BCE (!): “Now this is the command: Do to the doer to cause that he do thus to you.”

The Golden Rule (so named sometime in the 17th Century, by the way) is arguably the greatest wisdom human beings have ever offered the world. It’s universally known, pondered  and accepted. And it’s a hallmark of virtually every major religion, philosophy and ethical perspective.

So… why don’t we follow it?

“We have committed the golden rule to memory, let us now commit it to life.” — Edwin Markham, 1852-1940.

[Most of the information in this post came from Sandra and Harold Darling, who compiled a wonderful ruler-shaped book called The Golden Rule  in 2006. It costs $7 on Amazon.]

Help Inoculate Kids Against Meanness

I’m working on a chapter about addressing scary religious concepts  with kids — Satan, hell, the 10 plagues, that weird thing Abraham almost did to his son that one time. Basically all the rather menacing stories aimed at making people “be good.”

Luckily, more and more religious families are viewing these stories as myths and metaphor — which removes their power considerably — but there are still many, many families (and places of worship) who teach these things as history and truth.

Unfortunately, when these concepts come up on the playground, they can lead to awkwardness, confusion, arguments, even bullying.

Anyway, the whole thing made me  want to share with you guys something my daughter and I used to do together. She was 4 and about to enter preschool — a whole new world where I wouldn’t always be able to offer my protection. I told her that sometimes kids say and do mean things, and that at some point a kid might say or do something mean to her. (I don’t think I used the term “bully” — I think that was a word the schools introduced later.)


We talked about all the ways kids hurt her feelings. Then I helped her come up with ways to handle these types of situations, and we role played some of them.

Maxine used to love to do this. I’d say things like, “Your hair is too curly” or “I hate your dress” or “I don’t want to play with you.” After each of these remarks, she would summon the attitude of a snotty teenager, look me dead in the eye and say “I don’t care.” Then she’d turn around and walk away with a swagger. She loved it.

After a while, we’d reverse roles, and she’d lob insults at me. She loved that even more.

The whole thing was very fun and funny. But it was also really effective. She felt prepared, and I felt confident she could handle herself on the playground.

Now that Maxine is 7, she still considers this her fallback strategy. When her cousin, Jack, was 3 and having some anxiety about entering preschool himself, Maxine didn’t hesitate before offering up her own advice.

“If someone is mean to you,” she told Jack, ” just say, ‘I don’t care!’ and walk away.”

4 Reasons I Love Being ‘Out’ as Nonreligious


I have no firm opinion, really, on whether people ought to “come out” as nonreligious. To me, religion doesn’t matter very much — aside from, you know, it being a constant focus of my life right now — so whether people choose to talk about it openly or not isn’t a concern of mine. Sure, there are reasons to do it. There are reasons not to, as well. Everyone has a million different factors — not the least of which is their geographic location — to consider before making that call for themselves.

Not believing in God is not like being a gay, lesbian or transgender. Sharing your “status” with others is not required to live a normal, healthy life. Unless you choose to be an activist, you probably don’t adopt behaviors that make you stand out as a None. You don’t necessarily know or want to know where your friends fall on the religious spectrum. And even if you do, you may just prefer to remain silent — keeping your ambivalence, uncertainty or lack of belief to yourselves.

Fine, I say. Who cares?

Having said that, for me personally, being “out” has been wonderful. Here’s why.

1. I enjoy shattering people’s assumptions. I don’t fit the media’s stereotype of non-believer — who does, right? — so it’s nice to be able to spread the “good word” that atheists, agnostics and other Nones are just as likely as the next guy to be engaging people, good parents and involved community members. I particularly enjoy slipping my atheism into conversation with religious people who already know and like me; it forces them to confront their own stereotypes. Always a good thing.

2. I like religious people more now. When you’re closeted, it’s way too easy to sit back and become preemptively resentful. We might feel pissed that others are “free” to share their views while we must keep ours to ourselves. We might assume that people’s reactions would be negative if ever we were to out ourselves. But when you’re out — and when you’re truly nice about it — the reactions from religious people are far more positive than negative. People may be curious. They may be confused. They may quietly disapprove. But, in my experience, religious people have been, outwardly, quite lovely about my lack of belief. (As lovely, incidentally, as I am about their belief.) They don’t insult me or shy away from me. They don’t avoid the subject (well, some do, and that’s okay!) or make snide comments. They don’t try to change me. And with every positive experience I have, I am more open and less judgmental of “religious people” as a whole.  I find that the more “out” I am, the better I feel about the people around me.

3. I’m setting an example for my child. Not believing in God is nothing to be ashamed of, but being open about our disbelief does — I believe — require a bit of finesse. We ought not just blurt it out it anger. We ought not invoke it as a weapon. We ought not talk about it excessively, just because we “can.” I don’t want my child to ever feel ashamed to share her beliefs with others — whatever those beliefs — but I also want to be a good role model for how to go about it without being a dick.

4. I’m opening the door for others. You wouldn’t believe how many people in our day-to-day consider themselves nonreligious; and the look of relief on their faces when they learn you aren’t religious can be priceless. It’s like the floodgates open. There’s this whole, rather fascinating aspect of your life — and theirs — that can be tapped for great conversation. By being open myself first, I’m showing others that it’s okay to make the first move. In fact, it can make friendships — and maybe life — even better.

On Christians, Gay Marriage & Finding a Middle Ground

My friend David likes to give me a hard time for my blog.

Last I saw him — at a party a couple of weeks ago, with drinks in our hands — he leaned over and said: “You’re not still writing all that atheist stuff, are you?” (He might not have said “stuff.” Who can remember?) David’s a Christian. And although he rarely talks about his religion — that is, he’s not a proselytizer — he attends church frequently, and he sings (really well, actually) in his choir, and he unabashedly loves his Jesus.

But none of that seems to matter, or even come up between us, with the exception of some good-natured haranguing once in a while. (And believe me, I give it back in spades.) There are so many things I adore about David that I tend to forget “all that churchy stuff.” Our roads may fork at belief, but they come together at so many other junctures — we’re never too far away from each other.


Take yesterday:  Supreme Court. Defense of Marriage Act. Prop. 8. You remember.

It was kind of a big deal.

A big deal for all of us, I’d argue, but especially for David, since he’s both gay and married. (That’s him in the picture, on the left,  with his partner, JP. It was taken on their wedding day.) His Facebook statuses yesterday were the best. Here are some of them, in order of appearance:

Today the government made an honest man out of me. No longer will I lie and check “single” on my federal income tax form.

My husband just woke up and my first words to him were, “Our marriage is federally recognized.”

 Time for a federally recognized wedding ceremony. And reception. And GIFTS.

I’m mostly excited because I can now re-gift more of our wedding gifts.

Last night I made dinner for my husband for the first time ever. This morning, we awoke to some good news from SCOTUS. Must. Make. Dinner. More. Often. (Ok–”made dinner” is a bit of stretch–but I did heat up frozen turkey burgers).

In the morning my first words to my husband were, “Our marriage is federally recognized.” Before going to bed my last words were, “How are your social security benefits looking?”

It’s this type of thing that makes GOP-fundamentalist claims that the Supreme Court violated “God’s law” so utterly nut-job. By all means, Michelle Bacchmann, be religious. Believe in whatever God or prophet you like. But know that invoking your religious beliefs in an attempt to discredit gay marriage doesn’t turn people against gay marriage. It just turns people against you.

‘Jesus Gosh!’: Explaining Religious Sensitivity to a 4-Year-Old

il_570xN.302185289When exactly is the right time to broach the subject of religion with children? It’s a common question not easily answered. Kids are so different. The brain develops at different speeds and in different ways. What interests children at any given age runs the gamut of possibilities and is constantly in flux.

So parents like me, we look for openings. We keep our ears open for conversation starters, and signs that our little ones might be ready to think a bit deeper about life and people and beliefs. We want them to be old enough to hear different perspectives and not take everything at face value; but we also want them to be young enough to listen to us. We want to make sure they’ll interested in what we have to say — as opposed to what their friends have to say.

My sister, Jennifer, was driving to my house last week with her 4-year-old son in the back seat. Shortly after Jack had climbed into his car seat, he said to him mom: “I invented a new word.”

“What is it?” Jennifer asked.

“Jesus Gosh!” he said proudly.

He explained that it’s a word meant to be said when you’re surprised by something.

Jennifer saw her opening.

“You know, Jack…” she began, “that word — Jesus — some people don’t like to hear that word used in that way.”

Jack seemed fascinated by that, so she went on.

She explained how Jesus was a man who lived a long time ago. She said he was an important man who many religious people believe was a prophet, but who Christians believe was the son of God. Then she talked a bit about how that distinguished Christians from other religions and about different cultures. She said Christians from Latin and South American often name their children Jesus (though it’s pronounced differently), but that in the United States, the name is considered sacrosanct and is not, in Christian circles at least, to be used in any way other than to talk about or praise Jesus.

“I know Auntie Wendy uses that word sometimes,” she said at one point, “but someone like Gramma would never use the word that way. And, if she heard you say ‘Jesus Gosh,’ she wouldn’t like that.”

Yeah. She threw me under the bus is what she did.

But I digress.

The point is, to Jennifer, it was breakthrough. And she felt great about it. She told Jack that it’s important to understand how our words might offend some people. “We can say whatever we want,” she said. “But it’s good to think about how other people might feel about our words.”

Later, she told me, “I know I was using some words he didn’t understand, but he seemed fine with it. He seemed to be getting it. So I just went on and on.”

For 10 minutes. Ten. Whole. Minutes.

Jack never said a word, but he was listening so intently, that she just knew this had been the right moment. She hadn’t missed it.

Then finally, she paused. Would there be any questions, she wondered?

Just one, as it turns out.

“Mommy,” came his little voice, “what did you say?”

Who the Hell are ‘Nones’ Anyway?

nonesThose unaffiliated with any religious group — AKA the “Nones” — often are misrepresented as those who “don’t believe in anything” or who “don’t care about religion.” In fact, the group is far more diverse than that. Nones may refer to any of the following:

Agnostics: Those who don’t know whether God exists, and do not think it’s possible for anyone to know.

Anti-theists: Those who are opposed to religion and/or the belief in a deity or deities.

Apatheist: Those who are indifferent to belief or disbelief and consider the subject meaningless.

Atheists: Those who do not believe in God, or — put more strongly — believe there is no God.

Brights: Those who belong to a sociocultural movement promoting a “naturalistic” worldview — based in nature with no supernatural forces.

Deists: Those who believe in the existence of God as creator of the universe but reject all organized religion and supernatural events.

Freethinkers: Those who form opinions about religion on the basis of reason — rather than tradition, authority or established belief.

Humanists/Secular humanists: Those who embrace ethics, compassion, social justice and naturalism and attach primary importance to human matters, rather than the divine or supernatural.

Naturalists: Those who believe the universe is devoid of general purpose and indifferent to human needs or desires.

Theists: Those who believe in the existence of at least one deity who is personal, present and active in the universe.

Pantheists: Those who reject the idea of a person-God but believe that the “holy” manifests itself in all that exists.

Pluralists: Those who accept all religious paths as equally valid.

Rationalists: Those who hold that reason and logic are the only true sources of knowledge.

Skeptics: Those who believe that continuously and vigorously applying methods of science are the only ways to arrive at explanations for natural phenomena.

Searchers: Those who belong to no belief system or worldview but are still open to ideas and actively searching for the truth.

Spiritualists: Those who are spiritual — which is an undefined term but generally refers to people who open to “the sacred” and are interested in personal well-being and development.


Who am I missing?

Is Prayer a ‘Love Language?’

PrayerMany years ago, my mother-in-law bought me The Five Love Languages. Have you heard of this? It’s a Gary Chapman-authored self-help book arguing that people communicate love in different ways — and that when we know which “language” our loved ones speak, we are bound to get along better with them. It’s cheesy, yes, but can be insightful. The five languages, Chapman says, are gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and physical touch.

I bring this up because, recently, my sister, Jen, and I were talking about prayer. (I think it’s one of the more fascinating aspects of religion, frankly, so I probably talk about it too much.) Specifically, we were talking about people who offer their prayers on Facebook as a way to support their friends and family. It’s a concept that rubs a lot of secular people the wrong way, and as the country becomes more secular, the more people are being wrongly rubbed.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with wishing nice things will happen to good people — nonreligious types do this all the time! — but religious prayers are different. To the non-believers among us, prayers are wishes masquerading as service. They don’t accomplish anything, but they are offered as if they do. And that can come across as disingenuous.

Disingenuous: not a nice quality.

But then Jen said: “For a lot of people, prayer is their love language.” And she kind of blew my mind.

It’s true that by bowing their head (or touching it to the floor) and quietly contemplating the trials and tribulations of others, those who pray are often expressing their love. It may not be the most direct expression of love, but then again, that’s why they tell us about it, right? So that we’ll know they love us and care for us and want us to be okay.

The reason that this notion struck me as profound is because if prayer is an expression of love, then to reject it (by telling people that their prayers “don’t work,” etc.) can come across as rejecting that person’s love. And that’s not very kind. In fact, it’s kind of shitbag.

And, unfortunately, shitbag is not a nice quality, either.

Believers Behaving Badly

6566308_70169157ef_zBillboards like this one amuse me so. I mean, really, what’s not to love? You have prejudice, hypocrisy, hyperbole, stupidity, nonsense and rage all rolled into one! A perfect blend of asshole. But, when looking at this particular message, I can’t help but wonder — what’s the deal? What is Rev. Briggs’ problem?

There may be any number of specific problems, of course (and I haven’t ruled out Irritable Bowel Syndrome), but generally I’ve found that when people spew anti-atheist sentiment, generally one of two things is happening:

Either they fear us, or they fear for us.

The latter is clearly the more benign of the two options. Those who fear for us are kindly believers who see their religion as the only road to happiness, now and eternally. Thinking of us walking alone (in, say, wet sand) makes them sad. Thinking of us in the fiery pits of hell makes them sadder. Many feel strongly that God or Allah or Yahweh is guarding the gates to heaven, and they don’t want to see good people turned away. Those who know us and love us personally may worry about the social implications of non-belief; they don’t want to see us stigmatized — or our families stigmatized. Those who fear for us are not trying to be mean. They pray for us. And, although that may be irritating to some, mostly that just means they want nice things to happen to us.

The second group, those who fear us, obviously don’t know us. (Dudes, we are so nice! You wouldn’t believe how nice we are!) They misunderstand our motives and our beliefs. Maybe they think we condemn their God (Rev. Briggs sure does), or that we embrace their Satan, or that we don’t think believers should believe. Maybe they think we are selfish and out to do bad, amoral things in the world. (Because, you know, doing good things for the sake of doing good things is just plain silly talk.) Also, they may be scared to contemplate a life without the promise of an afterlife, and don’t need us “going all negative” on them. In all likelihood, we are threatening because we stand in the way of their own peace of mind.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. (Thank Jesus it’s a blogger’s prerogative to leave you hanging.) I guess I just think that, as we move through life as doubters and disbelievers, maybe it helps a little to see what lays beneath all the raw emotion. The message we see on, say, a West Virginia billboard belies something much deeper. It doesn’t make the message okay. (Or any less hilarious.) But I do think picturing Rev. Briggs as the fearful man he is, rather than the hateful idiot he seems to be, makes me sympathize with him, at least a little. And I think that’s important. Because if we try to see the humanity in our challengers, maybe someday they’ll try to see the humanity in us.

12 Simple Differences Between Catholics and Protestants

The rapid rise of the “Nones” — those unaffiliated with religious groups — was back in the news this week, when the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released its most recent study on American religiosity. Here’s what Pew had to say:

The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling… Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).

In addition, the group emphasized that, for the first time in history, there is no Protestant majority in the United States. That is, Protestants have dropped to 48 percent, whereas they comprised 53 percent of the public as recently as 2007 — a drop of 5 percent in five years. (Catholics, by comparison dropped 1 percent during the same time period — to 22 percent). As you all know, Protestants are Christians who broke off from the Catholic Church 500 years ago. Although there are more than 33,000 (!!) Protestant denominations, all of them still operate in ways that are separate and distinct from the Catholic Church. But what are the differences, really? I mean, all Christians Churches hold the same core value: Jesus Christ was the son of the God who died for our sins, arose from the dead, and ascended to heaven. Isn’t the rest just window-dressing?

Well, here, you decide.

Twelve Differences Between Catholics and Protestants:

1. The Pope. Catholics have a Pope, which they consider a vicar for Christ — an infallible stand-in, if you will — that heads the Church. Protestants believe no human is infallible and Jesus alone heads up the Church.

2.  Big, Fancy Cathedrals. Catholics have them; Protestants don’t. Why? Well, Catholicism says that “humanity must discover its unity and salvation” within a church. Protestants say all Christians can be saved, regardless of church membership. (Ergo… shitty, abandoned storefront churches? All Protestant.)

3. Saints. Catholics pray to saints (holy dead people) in addition to God and Jesus. Protestants acknowledge saints, but don’t pray to them. [Note: There is much debate about the use of the word "pray" in this context, so let me clarify: Saints are seen by Catholics as an intermediary to God or Jesus. Although Catholics do technically pray to saints, they are not praying for the saints to help them directly but to intervene on their behalf. They are asking the saints (in the form of a prayer) to pray for them. It's like praying for prayers. Hope this helps.]

4.  Holy Water. Catholics only.

5. Celibacy and Nuns. Catholics only.

6. Purgatory: Catholics only.

7. Scripture: The be-all, end-all for Protestants is “the Word of God.” For Catholics, tradition is just important as scripture — maybe even more so.

8. Catechism: Protestant kids memorize the Bible. Catholic kids get catechism.

9. Authori-tay: In Catholicism, only the Roman Catholic Church has authority to interpret the Bible. Protestants hold that each individual has authority to interpret the Bible.

10. Sacraments: Catholic are the only ones to have the concept of the seven sacraments (baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and matrimony). Protestants teach that salvation is attained through faith alone.

11. Holidays: Catholics have 10 Holy Days of Obligation (which mean they must go to Mass). Protestants are more like, “Just come to church on Christmas, that’s all we ask.”

12. Communion: In Catholicism, the bread and wine “become” the body and blood of Jesus Christ, meaning that Jesus is truly present on the altar. In Protestantism, the bread and wine are symbolic.

This post originally appeared in October 2012.