This week I got an e-mail that began, “FW: PLEASE READ AND PASS ALONG.”

So, naturally, as a concerned columnist, I wrote this column to “pass it along.”

Knowing that e-mails beginning with “FW” are often hoaxes that have been forwarded ad infinitum, I usually delete them. However, this e-mail was from a colleague, so I opened it, anxious to discover what kind of content duped her into forwarding this

The e-mail warned Madalyn Murray O’Hair and her atheist friends had begun legislative petition #2493 and had already collected some 287,000 signatures in their fiendish effort to stop “all Sunday worship services from being broadcast on the radio or by television. . . .”

Wow! I’m thinking, if this were only true, it would stop televangelists as we know them.

Having lived the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart years, I’m thinking, “Sister, where do I sign?”

But alas, I knew this only was a pipe dream — meaning a hallucination limited to someone smoking a particular kind of pipe.

The truth is, I quickly recognized this hoax as one of the oldest religious lies I know — meaning a lie told with religious regularity.

In my 25 years of ordained ministry, I’ve seen scores of these claims. But alas, I kept reading, undeterred by the fact that O’Hair was murdered in 1995.

“Please don’t take this lightly,” begged the text.

OK, I won’t. Or at least I didn’t take it lightly the first time I saw it circulating on something called a “ditto” 20 years ago.

I read it. I investigated it. I asked reasonable questions about it. It was only then that I realized what hooey it was.

Knowing “hooey happens,” it didn’t surprise me to see another letter of sorts recently discovered. This letter is said to have been authored by the one most associated with betrayal: Judas. The letter reports that the whole betrayal thing was something choreographed by Jesus. And this assertion has some people questioning whether the letter is capable of shaking the foundations of Christian faith.

Well, you know what I say? I say bring on the letters, bring on the questions, bring on the doubts.

Because if you don’t allow matters of faith to be scrutinized, you rob it of one of its mort important elements, conversation.

Faith has to be continual questions and conversations. It has to be a searching for truth of all kinds.

Because as you question things, you sort them out. You discard some and keep the others. One Biblical metaphor for this could be the sifting of the wheat and the tares, meaning the good crop from the weeds.

In the absence of scholarship, conversation and questioning, faith becomes a stagnant garden choked with the weeds of lies.

These lies will continue as long as there are people who see faith as being a battle to be right and about protecting their castle. But I would remind these people that rumors, unsubstantiated claims or just plain lies told to bolster credibility of their particular faith are still lies.

Simply put, lies told in prayerful confidence are still lies.

Finally the letter from my friend closed with a plea: “You as a Christian can help!”

Well, I’ve written this column to help, so please visit my Web site and cut and paste this column into an e-mail. Then, as the closing line of my friend’s e-mail said, “Please press ‘forward’, and forward this to everyone that you think should read this.”