I was caught in one of those awkward conversations with someone you barely know talking about someone you don't know at all.

"Our neighbors down the street," she whispered conspiratorially, "well, she seems great. But her husband? He doesn't go to church at all — he says he doesn't even believe in God!"

Ignoring her obvious scorn, my friend Allison said, "I know him! He's fantastic. He helped us move in a few years ago and taught my son a skateboard trick last week."

I could have hugged and kissed Allison right then and there. Smooooch! That's for you, my friend.

Living in a religion-saturated state like Utah, faith is not an unusual topic of conversation. For the most part, people are cordial and accepting, but occasionally you see and hear bigotry from every group.

I simply can't understand judging another person for his or her beliefs. Truly, we shouldn't judge each other at all. But if we're going to form opinions, wouldn't it make more sense to assess people by their actions?

Drinking alcohol is against my religious creed. If my friend with different beliefs wants wine with dinner or beer when out with friends, it's really no concern of mine. But if this same friend drives drunk or beats her kids when under the influence — yeah, I'm going to make a judgment call: to the police.

Actions speak louder than words. My people, my friends, come from every sort of belief system. In common, we love our children, we nurture our marriages, we fight injustice and disease, and we hope for peace.

I wonder if judging others stems from being insecure in our own beliefs? Sabbath day observance is taken very seriously in the Mormon religion. But sometimes I find myself jealous/judgmental of my cute neighbor who is gardening, shopping, vacationing, eating out, etc., on Sunday. Do I really believe in the Sabbath? If I can remember the peace that setting aside one day for God brings me, I really don't need to worry about what anyone else is doing.

People who are truly living their convictions don't condemn others.

Shall I tell you my dark secret? I don't believe in global warming. Sure, I'm happy to reduce, reuse, recycle (I'm not so happy about those lame low-wattage bulbs that make my house so dark), but I refuse to buy into the hype of some terrible global catastrophe. I realize that with six kids and a big ol' house, no one is going to put a gold star on my forehead, but we do make every reasonable effort to protect this beautiful Earth.

I think it's much the same for my friends who don't believe in God. They are happy to live moral, productive lives with or without divine intervention.

Personally, I think God smiles on all people who are doing their best no matter their ideology. But I'll let him be the judge of that.

Michelle Lehnardt lives in Salt Lake City.