About Richard Ostling

Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, was formerly senior correspondent for Time magazine, where he wrote twenty-three cover stories and was the religion writer for many years. He has also covered religion for the CBS Radio Network and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.

Why do Hindus believe cows are sacred?

THE QUESTION:  What’s the background on Hinduism’s belief in “sacred cows”? (Posed by The Religion Guy himself, not a reader, because the topic is in the news.) THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER: Press reports from India say street vigilantes and the government in Uttar Pradesh state are campaigning against Muslim slaughterhouses accused of processing cows, which is [Read More…]

Could the Shroud of Turin be Jesus’ actual burial cloth?

MARK’S QUESTION: Is the Shroud of Turin really the burial cloth of Jesus? THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER: Is Italy’s celebrated Shroud of Turin an authentic relic of Jesus Christ from the 1st Century that undergirds belief in his crucifixion and resurrection? Or a hoax from medieval times? Or an ingenious work of pious art? Or [Read More…]

Religion and terrorism: How do IRA Catholics compare with ISIS Muslims?

HEATHER’S QUESTION: [Paraphrased]  I remember being shocked years ago that some Irish terrorist acts were carried out in the name of Catholicism. What were the reactions to that, compared with the support or denial of Muslims toward violent jihad today? THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER: The Guy can only sketch a few aspects of the religio-ethnic [Read More…]

Do Bible teachings apply to today’s “sanctuary” movement?

JULIA’S QUESTION: (In light of news about efforts of U.S. churches and others to shield immigrant aliens from arrest) she asks “whether teachings from the Old Testament on ‘sanctuary’ apply today.” THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER: Many nations, including the United States, struggle over their moral duty in the midst of impossibly huge floods of refugees [Read More…]

What’s the relationship between America’s Episcopal Church and the Church of England?

LISA ASKS: If Henry VIII founded the Anglican Church, does that mean today’s head of the Episcopal Church is the reigning monarch of England? THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS: No. After the American colonies won independence, Anglican leaders in the new nation met in 1789 to form the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of [Read More…]

Why do many religions care what believers wear?

“ERASMUS” ASKS: Why do the religious authorities feel strongly about what we wear when we go about our daily lives, when we worship — or indeed when we swim? THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS: One evening The Religion Guy was at the house of a physician who got an emergency summons to visit a hospital patient. [Read More…]

Should churches be tax-exempt?

RACHAEL’S QUESTION: Once in a while I’ll see someone comment online about how taxing churches could help with some of the nation’s financial problems. Would taxing churches help or hurt? How do other countries handle their churches and taxes? THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER: Governments always want more cash. However, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court warned [Read More…]

What do Jews believe about life after death?

NORMAN’S QUESTION: The Hebrew Bible makes no mention of an afterlife. When did this belief come into being among the Israelites, and why? THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER: This is an appropriate follow-up to our December 1 answer to Paula concerning “what does Christianity say happens to believers after death?” True, the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh [Read More…]

With Jesus’ birth, why does the Bible list two different family trees?

THE QUESTION: In the accounts of Jesus’ Nativity in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, why are the genealogies so different? THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER: Because there are no Christmas-y questions from readers awaiting answers, The Guy raises this Yuletide classic himself. When Matthew and Luke recount the birth of Jesus they present different genealogies [Read More…]

What does Christianity say happens to believers after death?

PAULA’S QUESTION: When people say their loved one went to heaven, why doesn’t the preacher tell them that no-one goes straight to heaven? If they did, what would be the reason for the resurrection? THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER: Christian doctrine says that after death a believer’s soul enters the presence of God in the blessedness [Read More…]