Q.In the midst of a semiformal dinner, the conversation took a totally bizarre and unexpected turn. An ordinarily staid lady executive, after the second bottle of excruciatingly correct wine, began to speak passionately about angels, in a company that included an agnostic, an atheist, a univeral pantheist and a fellow who identified himself as a "cultural Catholic."

The lady became compulsive and highly animated in her defense of angels and began badgering the others to determine whether or not they shared her faith.

The atheist, alas, did not, and became assertively rational and argumentative, as did the pantheist. The agnostic simply didn't know, poor fellow.

Oh, Miss Manners, the discussion got awkward when one person suggested that the angel lady was a closet romantic, which then led to the question of whether angels were sexless or merely divine spooks.

Finally heresy was broached when the lady confessed that she personally gave higher priority to angels than to the Deity Itself (for gender is, there, a problem, too).

My question is merely this: Are obscure theological debates appropriate to polite after-dinner conversation? If not, how can one tactfully change the subject when others are given to public protestations of faith? A.Miss Manners' question is merely this:

Why wasn't she invited to this dinner? Do you know how long it's been since she has heard a rousing debate on the nature of angels?

It is true that debates involving personal religious beliefs are barred from the dinner table, and people who try to start them, whether they are motivated by fervor or wine, should simply be heard out without any attempt to argue them down, so that the matter drops. But if you can get up some theological speculation that doesn't insult anyone's faith -- well, it sure beats comparing real estate prices at the dinner table.