Dear Margo: Belief and the Unknown

Margo-Howard_tall10Margo Howard’s advice

Belief and the Unknown

Dear Margo: I’ve never written to an advice columnist in my life, but one of your answers really set me off. A woman asked for your advice about someone in her family telling her husband that he might not go to heaven since he’s not a Christian. Well, I’ve been a Christian for 50 years, and I can tell you that her family member is exactly right. You cannot enter the gates of heaven unless you ask forgiveness of your sins and accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior. It’s all very clear in the Bible — no ifs, ands or buts. You either believe it, or you don’t go to heaven. That is our belief.

Now, if you want to believe something else, then that is your prerogative — just don’t expect to go to heaven. The scripture explaining all of this is very clear. If you plan on several million Christians continuing to read your column, then I suggest you write a retraction. — Follower of Jesus Christ

Dear Fol: A retraction? I don’t think so. Here’s the thing: I find your letter a perfect example of someone who’s been indoctrinated to reject and diminish anything with which she does not agree. What you are saying is that other people’s Gods are “wrong.” Such a view is narrow-minded and disrespectful to billions of good people who believe differently. When you say, “That is our belief,” let us parse that. It is your belief — and a belief is not a fact. Neither is it knowledge. It is an opinion about something that cannot be proved.

Your Bible, the New Testament, was written by different people after Jesus died — with John’s Gospel written 100 years AD. One hundred years! The scholarship on the subject is that the written version came from the oral teachings of different sects, not unlike the way myths were passed on.

I greatly admire people of faith, but I don’t think any learned theologian would embrace your “my way or the highway” approach to religion — especially considering that God’s message is said to be one of love. And isn’t humility supposed to be a Christian virtue? I must tell you that your advisory (believe what you like, “just don’t expect to go to heaven”) makes your hoped-for destination sound a bit like a restricted country club. — Margo, ecumenically

On the Other Hand…  

Dear Margo: Regarding families responding to relatives coming out, you mentioned that unhappiness with homosexuality is “like wishing a right-handed child were left-handed.” Well, I started life as a left-handed child in the ’60s and grew up to be right-handed. Why? My father would not tolerate my being left-handed, “because it’s a right-handed world.” His tactics were simple. Every time I started to do something with my left hand, he would drop what he was doing, give me a stare of utter contempt and accusingly state (with venom added for emphasis), “Lefty!” Times have definitely changed for the better for those of us wired differently. — Nostalgically (Not)

Dear Nos: Sorry about your natural handedness even being an issue, Lefty. Of course, the wild card about being able to change how someone is wired is that it’s not possible to stare down a homosexual and tell him or her to switch to heterosexual attraction — though people and organizations have tried. You are correct that times have definitely changed for the better as more people get more information. — Margo, progressively

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


Every Thursday and Friday, you can find “Dear Margo” and her latest words of wisdom on wowOwow

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55 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Gemgal2000 says:

    I was brought up Christian, but I’ve always had a problem with the “I’m the only one who knows the truth” aspect of religion – ANY religion.  I think Margo’s response to Lw1 is spot on.

    • avatar kseeley says:

      i actually think she didn’t get nasty enough with lw1. wow. and i’m a preacher’s kid.

  2. avatar Ariana says:

    Argh, another read-on. I’m not even sure what the point of the second letter was other than for them to tell Margo that they had a hard time being forced to switch hands. Apropos of nothing, I had a hard time being forced to ‘act like a girl’ as a child because I wanted to do all the ‘boy’ activities like play football, baseball, and climb trees. 

    • avatar kseeley says:

      i believe lw2 was trying to point out that since she had, in fact, changed from being left to right handed, it was, in her opinion, possible to change sexual orientation. i bet she’s still left-handed, just on the down-low…..

      • avatar Priscilla L says:

        No, the LW was trying to point out that he never stopped being left-handed, in spite of all the harassment and abuse. Left-handed people are born that way and trying to change them just cripples them.

    • avatar Ariana says:

      Ah, I see. That didn’t come out so clear in the letter. Plus, to use your right or left hand is not one of the basic emotional needs of humans, so the analogy doesn’t even make sense.

  3. avatar Toni Jean says:

    Thank you Margo for the perfect answer to LW1. Somehow Jesus’s message of lovingkindness and acceptance has been morphed over the centuries into a platform for self-righteous judgement and condemnation. When Jesus carried my sins he didn’t do it so I could hate others. As for LW1, the first shall be last.

  4. avatar dianamherrera says:

    While I have to admit the first letter gave me a good chuckle, I’m so sick of read-ons!!!! Is it just me or is every other column just a damn read-on?

    • avatar lisakitty says:

      She’s had readons pretty much at least once a week (and she only posts twice a week) for the last month or so.  If she posted every day, it would be different, but she seems to be relying more and more on read ons and less on new letters and issues.
      Also, it would be good for her to come back here and comment on some of the comments again.  She used to do that quite a bit but has tapered off.  To a casual observer, it doesn’t seem that she’s putting the effort into her column like she used to.  Sorry, Margo, just calling it like I see it.  I miss the new columns and your interaction with us here at wowowow.

      • avatar L T says:

        Um, she’s 73 years old. Maybe we could all just cut her some slack and not treat her like an advice-column jukebox who somehow owes it to us to constantly tap-dance for our amusement?

        • avatar Ariana says:

          Actually, since Margo still provides a reply, it is the same amount of work as answering a new letter. It may even be more if she has to review the previous letter and her answer first before replying.
          She announced that she was going to try to introduce read-ons in her column. Now she’s getting honest feedback that for a twice a week column, 50% being read-ons is too much. It would be nice if she tapered that back to one a month at the most.

          • avatar L T says:

            I’m not fond of it myself, but my point was that we don’t know what’s precipitating it. She may not be able to do as much as before, or her employer may have cut her pay in exchange for dropping the workload via read-ons, or they may be getting feedback from other sources ( is not the only place she’s published) that it’s working.
            Like you said, at least we’re getting her responses, and not just a pile of write-ins.

          • avatar lisakitty says:

            I only read here, but friends of mine who read here as well say the same thing: that the repeating topics (at least over the last month or so) is getting really old.
            Just to make it clear:  I love Margo and her advice.  She’s great.  And it was great when she would comment on the comments here.  There used to be over 200 plus comments on her columns every time she posted.  Now, she’s lucky if she gets 30.  I think a big part of the tapering off is 1)her interaction with the comments section 2)the changing face of wowOwow (which is SAD because it used to be so vibrant) and 3)the fact that she is not publishing new topics. 
            No one is suggesting she is a jukebox, but if she’s not able to handle writing two columns of new material a week (which, when you contrast it with others such as Dear Abby who publishes 7 days a week) maybe it’s time to get some assistance.  Once a month a read-on on a HOT topic is cool.  Almost 50% of your column material being a read-on?  I don’t think that’s giving the readers what they want.

      • avatar Davina Wolf says:

        Lisakitty, Margo writes very intelligently, and your comments are not bright, so leave Margo alone.  You make snarky comments about this intelligent, thoughtful columnist from behind your computer screen.  You are mean and a bully–go away.    

        • avatar lisakitty says:

          Davina, I am making an observation.  And I love Margo, I said that many times.
          You may need to rethink who the bully is.

        • avatar kseeley says:

          the fact that you do not agree with lisakitty, davina, does not make her “not bright”. she’s entitled to her opinion. and this being a comments section, she’s also entitled to share it. you’re the one insulting people, so perhaps you’re the one who’s mean and should go away?

        • avatar Ariana says:

          I also don’t see the snark in Lisakitty’s post. And I agree – having read-ons does give the appearance of less effort being put into it. Whatever the reasons are behind it, since there has been the Dear Margo column on wow, there was always 2 new letters a week, so there’s an expectation of that built up. When no other explanation for the change is given (sickness, retirement, too busy, whatever) then of course people are going to comment on whether or not they like the change.

  5. avatar Cindy M says:

    I don’t mind occasional read-ons. Besides, quite a few people who write to advice columnists should know the answers to their troubles already; either because it’s obvious or they should have read similar (ask/reply) plenty times before!

  6. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #1 – This year, even though we are in the early months of the year, I have made huge changes in my personality and beliefs. I have been posting on this site for years and many times it felt as if I was the only Christian in a sea of unbelievers. I was constantly defending my love of God and the beliefs I grew up with in my very religious upbringing.

    Like you, I would speak out about how if you don’t believe, you won’t go to heaven. So on that I agree with you. But where I would offer you and anyone that thinks as you do a different perspective is this. People that don’t believe in Christianity…..don’t believe in Chrisitianity. So in their minds they don’t know heaven or hell. They are unbelievers.  You and I are Christians, they are not.
    If a Jewish, Hindu, Buddist…. person were to approach you and attempt to tell you what will and will not happen to you if you don’t believe as they do, you would be taken aback. As a Christian you don’t believe as they do, so of course you can’t agree with them on how you should believe. Why would you then expect someone that isn’t a Christian to accept our beliefs as their own?
    You can’t and shouldn’t.
    People that don’t believe in God will NOT go to Heaven when they die, because they don’t know there is a Heaven. Heaven means nothing to them. I finally accept that. I have finally seen the light and accept that everyone on the planet is not meant to be a Christian. People have a right to believe or NOT believe. And that’s okay.
    So to Margo and anyone that thinks as she does on this subject, God is indeed a loving God to those that have faith and can see him. But to non believers he doesn’t exist nor do they to our God.
    Letter #2 – We CHOOSE who we have sex with but you have no choice in how you are born. You are a homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual as a part of your DNA, that can not be changed.

    • avatar martina says:

      I too was taught that you needed to accept and believe in Christ in order to get into heaven. But have always had a hard time believing that God would not accept those who do not even know of him into heaven.  Are they to be excluded and go to hell just because they never knew of him?  Because we are taught, unless you are Catholic and believe in Pergatory, that if you are not going to heaven then, you are going to hell.

      • avatar lebucher says:

        Good point Martina… saying that those who don’t even know of God can’t get into Heaven means little babies that tragically die shortly after birth are destined for Hell.  After all, they didn’t know anything yet…

        • avatar Bridget Bishop says:

          Can I share what I believe? First of all, I think the letter writer is incredibly ham-handed. I’m usually blunt, myself, but, wow, she was over-the-top. That being said, she’s not completely wrong. Within the worldview of Christianity, other people can be good and faithful people, but without participating in saving ordinances such as baptism and living a Christ-centered life, one is not on the road to heaven. That being said, I don’t think it’s ever okay to get up in someone else’s grill and berate them for their belief or lack thereof. Christ was all about inclusion and invitation, along with following the rules. Friendly persuasion, let’s call it. He was meek in all things – which, by the way, is not mousy and powerless, as we often think it’s defined today, but is in actuality the opposite of contention or belligerence.
          Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ are not ignored or belittled by Him or by His Father. James 1:5 says that God does not make fun of someone who doesn’t know, or who has a question. On the other hand, they will not then take advantage of the Atonement which he made for all of us so that we can each repent and try again.
          On the subject of little babies dying in sin, or of the millions of people who have ever lived on this earth without knowing about Jesus Christ, well, I don’t think God is an unloving father, nor unjust. How fair would it be to hold someone to a standard they never learned? My belief is that babies and little children who die are pure and innocent, and they return to the God who created them in an undefiled state. How can they possibly need the Atonement or forgiveness if they are incapable of yet understanding right from wrong? How could a just and loving God hold a child to the same standard of knowledge and action as an adult? Impossible. I believe that God holds us accountable for what we know and what we do, but He doesn’t hold us accountable for something we never learned or never had an opportunity to put into practice.
          Furthermore, I think He continually invites all of us to try a little harder today to be a little better than we were yesterday. The teachings of Christ are about inclusion and invitation, and mercy hand in hand with justice.

    • avatar Davina Wolf says:

      News Flash, Belinda–There ain’t no heaven, hell or god.  (Your underwear are in a knot again…) 

      • avatar Vicki Corum says:

        Davina..first of all your belief about God and heaven and hell are just that…your belief and of course that is everone’s right…their belief systems.  Having read Belinda’s comment I don’t quite get that you are accusing of her having her panties in a wad. I believe that she was simply responding to a misguided “Christian” that it isn’t Misguided’s place to dictate what/how anyone “worships”. And your forceful negative response to there being no God and afterlife was just as bad as the letter writer who said that if you worship in a fashion other than her’s you are WRONG which, of course, is absolutely WRONG. In my world there is definitely a Higher Power and that subject is not up for debate IN MY WORLD.  Just don’t tell my my panties are in a wad because I know that there is something out there greater than us…that would be my RIGHT!

      • avatar kseeley says:

        wow. you really are an unpleasant person, aren’t you? why do you think it’s any more acceptable for an atheist to make fun of people for believing in god than it is for a christian to make fun of atheists for not believing in one? you’re just another kind of bigot.

    • avatar Ariana says:

      I was taught that the concept of ‘hell’ is not a pit full of fire, but it’s to not know God. So if you don’t know or accept God, then by definition, you’re in hell.

    • avatar L T says:

      “But to non believers he doesn’t exist nor do they to our God.”
      Odd. Jesus worked pretty hard to bring people into the fold and told others to do the same… doesn’t make a lot of sense to try and convert people if God doesn’t think those people exist…

    • avatar Jay Gentile says:

      Honey, heaven is a delusion.

    • avatar PortaPetey says:

      I’m pretty sure that Jesus of Nazareth would be hoorifed and repulsed by the kind of judgment, scorn, and indeeed hatred spewed by some people who claim to love him and follow his word.  He would of course try to talk to them of their wrongdoing and try to show them the rigfht way, but i don’t think people like this are actually interested in what Jesus actually said or believed. 
      They just want to take his name in vain, using it as a weapon to try to back up their own judgments and prejudicses.  They don’t undertsand his message at all. 

  7. avatar L T says:

    LW#1 — How very “kind” and “understanding” of you (sarcasm intended) to tell Margo it is her prerogative to believe as she likes, while insisting she back off from her own beliefs. You seem to be very confused… there is a big difference between one’s first amendment rights and any sort of imperative to go around telling other people they are wrong. There will be many times in your life where the appropriate response is to mind your own business and shut your piehole; an excellent rule of thumb is to do so whenever you feel tempted to insist someone agree with you or risk being shunned for being “wrong” in their core beliefs. Or, as I’ve heard it best put, “It costs nothing at all to say something nice. Even less to shut up altogether.”
    Also, before I forget to mention it, don’t speak for me as a Christian — many of us are capable of sustaining a belief system without being obnoxious jerks about it.

    • avatar judgingamy says:

      “It’s your prerogative to believe what you want, but if you don’t believe what I believe you won’t get into Heaven”. Hey LW, what if being a Christian isn’t enough? What if you have to be a specific denomination of Christianity to enter the pearly gates? You better hope you picked right, LW1, or back to the drawing board with you!

    • avatar christineb says:

      Thank you. I, too, am a Christian but I happen to believe that there is validity to all faiths. I think someday we’ll die and figure out that the Higher Power is a combination of all beliefs. That said, I am so sick of so-called Christians telling everyone else what to believe and how to behave. In my state (North Carolina) they even tried to pass a law declaring a state religion. Hello? Anyone in governement heard of the Constitution? One of the senators who sponsored the bill called all Muslim believers “terrorists” and said they wouldn’t be recognized in her state. In the next breath she started talking about freedom of religion. I don’t want to be lumped in with “crazy” Christians like that senator, the LW, or anyone else who goes off the deep end pushing their beliefs on everyone else. That doesn’t sound much like Jesus to me. To paraphrase one of my favorite movies, “Christianity? You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  8. avatar Davina Wolf says:

    LW1: You go, Margo! 

  9. avatar Susan L says:

    If going to heaven means spending eternity with people like LW1, then I’ll take Hell any day

  10. avatar Gemgal2000 says:

    Belinda, many religions, though not all, have some form of “heaven” or afterlife, so your statement that “people that (sic) don’t believe in God will NOT go to Heaven when they die” needs some rethinking. While it’s nice that you’ve discovered not everybody needs to believe the same way you do, I think you might want to take your epiphany one step farther and preface such blanket pronouncements with something like “it’s my belief that….” or “I was taught that…” since, as Margo has pointed out, your belief is not fact.    And not to put too fine a point on it, but believing in God is not synonymous with being a Christian.

  11. avatar tgnorton says:

    I was brought up in a very strict Christian religion that not only said only Christians are going to heaven, but also, only those attending THAT brand of church were going to heaven — and only if you prayed for forgiveness for everything before you died.  Sad.
    The Bible is clear that it is not MY place to judge who gets into heaven.  End of story.

    • avatar D C says:

      On the way to the cemetary after my paternal grandmother’s funeral, my cousin was nearly hysterical because “Ma-Maw” didn’t go to the Church of Christ so she wasn’t going to heaven.  My cousin was 12. Her other grandmother had told her that. 
      I believe that religion, not money or anything else, is the root of all evil. 

  12. avatar Vicki Corum says:

    I admit it…I am an old woman (and thankful for that).  I am seeing more “Christian” influence than ever before in my long life.  I don’t mean God is great, God is good, let’s thank him for something. I mean the kind that causes wars and mayhem and letters like Follower wrote.  We now seem to have a large (and political) segment of the people of this great We The People country who feel that if you don’t worship the great WHITE man with the long beard and ascribe to every word in the Bible (written by mortal men) then you aren’t fit to live in this country and you don’t deserve any rights to anything (especially if you are a woman because after all it says in that great Book…woman is just an extension of a man and therefore should just shut up and serve).  I am afraid for the future of MY country. I am afraid being a woman and a believer in a Higher Power that is compassionate and loving and strives to guide and be there, not the one that “rules” with a mean and vengeful hand casting anyone who is different or a “non-believer” into the firey land of hell.  Well this certainly turned in to a rant….sorry just apparently needed to vent.

  13. avatar bobkat says:

    LW1: Margo couldn’t find a more interesting letter for publication than some militant christian? If ‘heaven’ is populated with the likes of her, I’d rather not go there. LW2: What a horrible man your father was to be so extremely hosltile to you for favoring your left hand. I hope he lived long enough to see how people changed their minds about that and no longer force kids to use the right hand.

  14. avatar D C says:

    All this stuff about heaven and hell.  Pfft!  When my father died I was 18 and involved in a college performing group.  I remember my aunt telling me at the funeral that my dad would be “watching over me” from heaven.  That was a very depressing thought.  If they can “watch over us” from heaven and see all the good, they can also see all the bad, and how can THAT be heaven in anybody’s mind?  Some have said “they can see but they are not troubled by it.”  And you know this how? 
    Some say that in heaven our only concern will be praising and worshipping the Lord.  I have this image of everyone standing around having one of those awesome uplifting praise services like I had in church once upon a time.  But you know… that ended after a couple of hours and we all went to have lunch and then home to watch a ball game or take a nap.  I don’t much like the idea of standing around looking at The Lord for eternity singing praise songs — because you know that old lady down at the end of the pew sang off key and it was downright hard to listen to.  Oh yes, we’ll all have perfect bodies and perfect pitch in heaven. 

  15. avatar avast2006 says:

    Follower, dear,
    Won’t you be ever so surprised when you find out that Muslim extremists are the ones with the correct info about the afterlife, 72 virgins and everything?  Or maybe it’s the Mormons, and you are the one who isn’t getting into heaven because you didn’t get one of their proprietary baths — sorry, baptisms. (You did know, didn’t you, that God isn’t _allowed_ to let a soul into heaven unless a Mormon human being soaks him a good one first?)
    Or maybe you’ll find yourself in the Norse version of the underworld, Hel, (which is, according to them, a very cold place, so Hel freezing over is actually quite a common occurrence) for failing to fall gloriously in battle. As far as I’m concerned, you can go to Hel right now.

  16. avatar avast2006 says:

    Letter Writer 2:  When did you learn to show your abusive father just how well your left middle finger works?
    By the way, he didn’t actually change you into a right-hander.  You are a closeted leftie.

  17. avatar sdpooh says:

    Here’s a little joke I heard years ago…..A man died and went to heaven.  St Peter escorted him into a beautiful place with everything that he could ever need or want to be serene.  As they walked, the man noticed a tall stone wall beside them, with noise of people and laughter coming from the other side.  He asked St Peter,”What’s going on over there on the other side of that wall, sounds like they are having a great time?”  St Peter replied,  “Oh, it’s just the catholics, they think they are the only ones here.”  Insert any other religion you choose for the last sentence.  It’s still funny but oh so sadly true.

  18. avatar bamabob says:

    One of my biggest beefs with people like LW1 is that they assume they are the only “real” Christians.  Episcopalians, Catholics, United Church of Christ, Lutherans–any Christians who think differently aren’t “real” Christians.  She acts as if she’s the only one qualified to claim the title.  I say to her the same thing Jesus said to the Pharisees (though I’m paraphrasing a little):  Bite me.
    Also: Margo is 73?  Really?  I had no idea.

  19. avatar JCF4612 says:

    1) Dear Follower: In response to your bull, Margo was way too pleasant. Do letters FO mean anything to you?
    2) Dear Lefty: Sorry about your dad. I’m a lefty whose parents were smart enough not to interfere.  

  20. avatar Linda says:

    I do not care to jump on anyone’s beliefs – though if you look back into the earliest of definitions of “heaven” it is meant to be a transition, rather than a destination. The only real truth is, “truth will greet you” and I am not sure anyone knows exactly what the truth is, in this world. What I do believe is, beyond this world – religion does not exist.

  21. avatar Jay Gentile says:

    The christ cult has become a nuisance.

  22. avatar RickScott says:

    “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
    Mahatma Gandhi