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July Blog News

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It’s the time of month, no not THAT time of month,  when I share what is new on The Way Forward and I remind readers of the various ways they can access this blog, contact me, or make a donation.

Health News

Not much to report. I am alive, still in pain, still fatigued and tired all the time, confined to a recliner/wheelchair some days and…well you get the drift. Perhaps the good news is that there is no bad news to report.

Guest Posts

I am always looking for people to write a guest post. Do you have something you would like to write about? Please let me know and I will gladly publish your guest post on The Way Forward.

You don’t have to be an atheist to write a guest post. Maybe you disagree with me on something and you want to set me straight. Write away… I am especially interested in publishing your deconversion story. If you need to, you can write anonymously.

Please use the contact form to send me your guest post.

Comment Spam and Attempts to Login to The Way Forward

By the end of July, it is likely that Akismet will have caught and I have manually deleted over 50,000 spam comments. Yes, that’s right….50,000. As you can see from this chart,

askimet spam july 2014

Akismet is catching the vast majority of the spam and automatically deleting them. I am having to manually delete about 200-300 comments a day from the spam folder. I am also having to watch for and delete spam left by real people. These comments are the most time-consuming because I have to read each of them. They often sound like real comments. Fortunately, this spam onslaught has turned me into an expert on how to spot a spam comment.

I use a login blocker to deal with attempts to access the WordPress admin panel. On most days, there are a dozen or so attempts to guess the user name/password combination and access the admin panel. Last week, for one 24 hour period, someone decided to run some sort of script or bot in hopes of gaining access. They made over 6,000 attempts in a 24 hour period. (I have an idea who the person is)

Pinterest

The Way Forward is on Pinterest. I am in the process of adding every blog graphic and picture to Pinterest. This will likely take a good bit of time. If you are on Pinterest, I would love it if you followed The Way Forward. Pinterest is a great way to promote my blog and attract new readers,or so the expert tell me anyway.

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Donations

Each month, a handful of people make a donation to the Bruce Gerencser Relief Fund. I appreciate each donation, regardless of the size. I view the donations as an act of kindness to me by my friends.

When I started blogging seven years ago, I decided I did not want to have advertising on my blog. I don’t blog to make money. I blog because I need to write. Donations are always appreciated, but they will never determine whether I blog. In other words, you can’t buy me! :)

I told my counselor about the recent $100 donation from a fundamentalist Baptist evangelist. I told him that I accepted the donation but asked him not to send me any further donations. He told me, Bruce, money is money. I know that, but I don’t want someone thinking that just because they sent me a donation that I am going to see their God/religion in a different light. My faith can not be bought!  Well, maybe for $50,000 it can. :) By all means, tempt me!

The donation form is on the sidebar if you would like to make a donation.

As always, thank you for reading The Way Forward. Your kindness and support mean a lot to me, and I know my life is richer because of it.

Bruce Gerencser

Published: July 25, 2014 | Comments: 6

Dear Christian: What Your Blog Comments Say About Your God

stephen hawking

In 2011, Stephen Hawking said:

“I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first,” he said.

“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark,”

Hawking received a tremendous amount of vitriol from fundamentalist Christians. Roofer on Fire  compiled some of the comments Christians hurled Hawking’s way:

AS A SPACE FREAK MYSELF,I RESPECT MR. HAWKING AS A PHYSICIST.BUT HE’S IN NO POSITION TO SAY THERE’S NO GOD.HE WILL KNOW THERE’S A GOD WHEN HIS LIFE SUPPORT FAILS HIM,AND STEPHEN WINDS UP BURNING IN HELL FOR ETERNITY.BUT I LOVE HAWKING’S VIEWS ON SPACE AND THE COSMOS.BUT IT’S TERRIBLE THAT HE BAD-MOUTHS JESUS AND TRIES TO GET OTHERS LOST.

I am so sorry for you Stephen Hawking! At least I don’t need science to be there where I’m going when I die! The earth, cosmos and every living thing did not originate out of thin air with one atom and even you the genius can’t see that it… takes a genius to achieve simplicity (quote Bob Seger). Unfortunately, you don’t have that quality of genius! We are not computers, we are human and our brains are 100′s of times more complicated than a computer. Of course being the intellect that you are, go ahead and quantum leap anywhere you want but you’ll never achieve the leap to Heaven like me and others who are not just believers, but testifiers of a truth that your science will never begin to understand.

Well Stephen Hawking, even if you could prove there was no Heaven, I would think you were just failing a test From God himself. I’m sad with all God has given you, that you don’t know who to thank. Its not a matter of belief. God WAS, IS, and ALWAYS WILL BE.

If you chose not to believe in God, oh YOU WILL REGRET IT WHEN YOU ARE DEAD!!!

This dear person Stephen Hawking is in pain the kind only GOD can take away.as I send up this Prayer please comfort my friend Stephen.And in your own unique way let him know you are there. Me and Facebook will do our part too by Praying showing him that GOD care’s. Stephen I like you and I think you are a very smart man may GOD Bless you your Pow for life O-dee

Dear Mr Hawking: You can continue to talk through your little computer and sound like a robot. Enjoy the rest of your life, talking crap while everyone feels sorry for you. I’ll only feel sorry for you when you find out there IS an afterlife….a good one and a bad one. And since you don’t believe in either, have fun in the bad one 

Mr. Hawking I don’t know if you even view this page, But I am here to tell you there is a God! And no matter how smart you think you are there is one that holds the key to Death and Hell. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords he is Jesus Christ. He is real! Act 2:38..If you would have Faith and Believe with me he can Heal you. He can make you whole. Sometimes he is waiting on us to make the first step. Some never will come to know Christ because they have so much hate lives. You can come to know him by – Repenting of your sins . Ask God to forgive you of your sins everyday. Even if we think we haven’t done anything wrong. Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ . And he will give you the gift of the others the holy spirit. The evidence is that you will speak in other tongues . Don’t be afraid let it happen. That is God dwelling inside of you. You telling others there is no God you will have to answer to God for the lost souls you help send to Hell.

These fine folks represent the God who said in his divine book, called the Bible:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Ephesians 5:22,23)

Please, no comments suggesting these Christians don’t represent you or that they are not “real” Christians. They are in your family, so deal with it.  This kind of behavior is all too common. I have experienced it on this blog, in letters to the editor written about me, emails, and letters mailed to my home.

Christianity is best served when Christians shut up and live according to the teachings of Jesus. Matthew 5-7 would be a great place to start.  For some reason atheists bring out the worst in Christians. I wonder why that is?

Published: July 27, 2014 | Comments: 8

Mental and Emotional Conditioning in the IFB Church

guest post

Guest post by Ian.

I have read several things lately that made me think of how I was conditioned, or manipulated, to think. I’m not talking about what to think, but the way I was made to think. By think, I mean believe what someone else told me to believe. There are several tools that can be used in the conditioning process.  They are the same tools used by motivational speakers, cults and anyone else who wants to control your thought processes. I would like to share four of them.

The first tool is emotional manipulation. When the pastor stands up to speak on Sundays and Wednesday nights, we are primed to believe what he has to tell us. The priming, or manipulation, was done by using music, prayer and testimonies (short praises about what God/Jesus had done during the week). All of this is done in a staged setting and is choreographed to induce the maximum level of readiness. As a child, and later as a non-participating adult, I had no idea that I was being manipulated.

When I did become part of the service, by leading music and speaking, I didn’t realize that I already knew how to manipulate people. I had been manipulated my whole life and I used the same methods on my fellow church goers, even though I didn’t realize it. Music is probably the biggest manipulator that the church has. If you look at a lot of the mega churches and churches with young people, you will find a thriving music program.

One of my most memorable emotional experiences was at a revival being held at Bible Baptist Church. The song leader worked us up pretty well and the last song we sang was “What A Day That Will Be”. I can still remember the feeling I got when we sang that song, and that was almost 30 years ago. At a different church, the pastor was having some difficulties with people challenging his authority, at the same time he was going through some health issues. One Sunday night, he told the church that he felt his time on earth was short and that he wanted to sing a song that had blessed him over the years. He sang the song “Sweet Beulah Land” and many of the people in the church were reduced to tears. This simple act helped quiet some of the turmoil for a little while. I know for sure that he was pretty sick at the time, so maybe he felt like he was ready to die. All I know is that he did the same thing once more, about a year later, during more unrest. He manipulated the situation using music and his health. I’m sure he was doing for “the good of the church”; but, it was still manipulation. That was 15 years ago and he is still around.

I never did anything like that, though I would gauge the mood of the people and use the music to get them emotional. When I led music, I would decide on a theme and choose songs based on that theme. Depending on what I wanted to happen, I might choose all fast tempo songs, except for the last one. I might choose two fast, two slow, and two fast. There were many things I could do with music to control the church group. Having a pianist who could follow my cues was important, and I had excellent pianists at the churches I participated in. There were even times I saw people get worked up and I wanted to continue the feeling, so I would trash my music list and pick songs that I knew would keep people in a worked up state. After services like that, people would tell me they felt the spirit working. There was a time I believed that. Towards the end of my time in church, when I had de-converted but not told anyone, I led a couple of services where “the spirit worked”. Part of me felt bad that I was manipulating people, part of me thought it was pretty cool that I could do it as a non-believer. I now feel totally bad that I manipulated people and don’t think it was cool at all. These were people who trusted me and I lied to them.

The second tool used in conditioning is being told we have no self-worth or goodness outside of Jesus and the church. In Calvinism and Reformed theology, this is especially prevalent. We are told that everyone is born a sinner and only through the blood of Jesus could we have a chance at being a decent person. I had questioned that, asking about millionaires who gave money away or missionaries from other religions who spent their lives helping the poor and needy. I was told that they were doing it for selfish reasons, to ensure that people would always remember them or to use the tax breaks that charities provide. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. All I know is that someone who gives money to a school to help buy books is doing a good deed, no matter their motive. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is pouring millions into a toilet for desert areas. According to the Bible, this is a worthless endeavor without Jesus. I’m sure that the people who will reap the benefits of better sanitation don’t care if it is a Christian endeavor or not, it will improve their quality of life more than the most eloquent prayer.

Since we have no self-worth, according to the Bible, we are dependent on someone else tell us that we are good. Everyone wants to be told that they have worth and that is what people find at church. We all have failings, and some people are more affected by them than others. This is why people go to self-help gurus as well as to church. They want to be told that they are OK and everything will be fine.

Church is more dangerous than a self-help guru, though. It creates a mentally and emotionally abusive cycle that is no different from a person in an abusive relationship. Being constantly told that you are no good and deserving of punishment makes you feel bad; so when you are told a way to become better, you will do whatever it takes to please to one who has power over you. Whether this is the church or your drug addicted boyfriend/girlfriend makes no difference. They hold the keys to your happiness and they realize that they have enormous power. They will continue to do whatever it takes to keep this power over you. In an abusive relationship, the bad times are so bad that the good times seem like Heaven, Nirvana, or whatever pleasant place you can imagine. Leaving the person or organization that makes you feel good becomes almost impossible because you are emotionally damaged. The bad thing is that people stuck in this type of relationship can’t see it, even when it is explained to them.  Try telling a Christian that they are in an abusive relationship and see what happens.

The third tool used to condition people to believe what they are told is by always revealing a new truth. I can’t count how many times I was told of a new doctrine. Sometimes these were small things, other times they were huge. The leap from Arminianism to Calvinism was huge, finding out that women shouldn’t teach Sunday school to kids over 12 wasn’t so big. With few exceptions, the new truths were more restrictive and less mainstream. This goes back to the self-worth issue, we were always looking for a way to better please God. It seems that God (the pastor) is never happy with where you are in your spiritual life. (Unless, of course, you are one of his kids or were a founding member of the church.) He will continually find new things for you to believe and do. Having strange beliefs and practices isn’t too much of a problem for a pastor; after all, his job is to be a pastor. Often, though, these beliefs and practices have a huge impact on the congregation. I knew people who quit their jobs when they could ill afford it, based on a new truth from the pastor. Whatever these new truths are, there are always people who will follow them. I know of a church where they only refer to Jesus by title (Lord, Savior, Master, etc.,) rather than by name. Someone figured that since the Disciples only referred to him by title and demons called him Jesus, then all Christians should refer to him by title.

Instability is another tool used to condition a person’s thinking. This instability ties in to the first three ideas. When you are emotionally manipulated, mentally abused and always being told something new, you are never stable for very long. Your stability comes from the pastor and what he tells you that God is telling you.  Keeping you unstable allows an organization or person to exert much more power over you than if things remained the same all the time.

Now, I am not saying that every church leader has diabolical intentions. I’m sure that many people do these things and don’t realize that are conditioning people. Other people, though, are totally aware of what they are doing and enjoy the power they have. If you don’t believe me, think about a revival meeting or an old-fashioned tent meeting.  The first thing that happens is instability; you are there at odd times, after working all day. Then, you are emotionally worked up by the music and testimonies. During a revival, there aren’t usually any new doctrines taught, but you are certainly told that you are a sinner and in need of God’s forgiveness and grace.  Other tools come into play during this scenario- being tired, being hungry and loss of time (the preacher telling you to forget the clock, God has more for him to say and the time doesn’t matter right now). People respond to these tools by accepting Jesus as their savior, dedicating their lives to God or just repenting of their sinful ways. Money usually pours into the offering plates and people become faithful Christians again, for a while. The men who are professional evangelists are quite good at their craft and know exactly how to work the crowd. They are the modern version of snake oil salesmen.

There are other tools that people can use to condition your thinking, but these the main ones. These are the tools used week after week by pastors in IFB churches across the country. While in the pew, very few ever stop to think that they are being conditioned to blindly follow what they are being told. They read their Bibles and pray, but the tools have been used and their minds are open to believing the man in charge. When they challenge the pastor, the rest of the church is there to shut them down and help them fall back into the conditioning they have received.

Published: July 27, 2014 | Comments: 1

Louisville Bats vs Toledo Mud Hens July 20, 2014

Last Sunday, I attended, with my sons and grandson, the minor league baseball game between the Louisville Bats and the Toledo Mud Hens. As always, I had my camera with me:

Ted Power

Ted Power, pitching coach for the Louisville Bats, former pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds. Ted spent a good bit of time before each game signing autographs and talking to young autograph seekers.

Scott Diamond

Louisville Toledo Baseball Game July 20 2014

Thomas Neal

Mike Hessman

Wade Gaynor

Louisville Toledo Baseball Game July 20 2014Louisville Bats Toledo Mud Hens Baseball Game July 20 2014

Louisville Bats Toledo Mud Hens Baseball Game July 20 2014

Louisville Bats Toledo Mud Hens Baseball Game July 20 2014

Toledo Mud Hens Grounds Crew

Grounds Crew taking time out to “dance” for the crowd

 

Published: July 26, 2014 | Comments: 4

The El Corazon de Mexico Dance Club July 20, 2014

Last Sunday, I attended, with my sons and grandson, the minor league baseball game between the Louisville Bats and the Toledo Mud Hens. As always, I had my camera with me. On the main concourse I was delighted to find the El Corazon de Mexico dance club performing:

El Corazon de Mexico Dance Club

El Corazon de Mexico Dance Club

El Corazon de Mexico Dance Club

El Corazon de Mexico Dance Club

El Corazon de Mexico Dance Club

El Corazon de Mexico Dance ClubEl Corazon de Mexico Dance Club

I wish I had brought my 18mm-50mm lens. I didn’t expect to have an opportunity to take any close up photos. I took all of these with my Sigma 105mm lens. I had to fight the crowd to find open spots to shoot from. Lesson learned, be prepared for the unexpected.

Published: July 26, 2014 | Comments: 8

Tim Wildmon Says Progressives Think They are Morally Superior

tim wildmon oppressed

Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, had this to say about progressives:

…This is where the “progressive” movement is. If you hold a view that is not in agreement with theirs, you are to be demonized by them, the progressives, who, ironically, don’t believe in demons. Why do they do this? Because they, the progressives, consider themselves morally superior to those of us who hold traditional values even though, again, ironically, progressives don’t believe in moral values unless they define them. They moralize against those who promote morality.

The progressive movement is out to destroy our country as it has existed. It is against patriotism. It is against religion in general and is in particular hostile to evangelical Christianity and traditional Catholicism. It is against borders. It is against capitalism. It is for high taxation and government control and regulation of almost everything. It wants people depending on government so they can be controlled. It believes government debt is good. It is against our Constitutional Bill of Rights, in particular the First and Second Amendments. It is for abortion on demand even through nine months of pregnancy. It wants to downgrade the American military.  It rejects the idea that Western Civilization is superior to other civilizations. And it most certainly is for promoting the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement and punishing people who dare speak against it…

Wildmon speaks as if progressives are a monolithic movement with a stated platform that all progressive must agree to. Progressives are actually quite diverse, holding to a variety of political, social, economic, and religious views.

While I can not speak for other progressives, what follows is what THIS progressive thinks of Wildmon’s ignorant screed.

As a progressive, do I think I am morally superior to right-wing extremists like Tim Wildmon and Bryan Fischer? Yes, I do.  When compared to the knuckle dragging, backwater morality of the American Family Association,  my moral views are superior in every way. As a humanist, I am committed to making the world a better place to live. The Humanist Manifesto III states:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

To suggest that I, as a progressive, have no moral values is a lie. What Wildmon should have written is that people like me don’t have HIS moral values. We reject his appeal to the anquitdated morality of the Bible and his interpretation of it.

Progressives aren’t against patriotism. Again, speaking for myself, I am against hyper-nationalism, American exceptionalism, American imperialism, and nation building via the end of a gun barrel.  It is offensive to suggest that I am not a patriot just because I stand against the theocratic ambition of the religious right.

Wildmon states that progressives are “hostile to evangelical Christianity and traditional Catholicism.”  Again, this is a huge overstatement. Tomorrow, countless progressives, at a variety of houses of worship, will praise the same God as Wildmon does.  What these Christian progressives object to is the fundamentalist and theocratic tendencies of people who are aligned with groups like the American Family Association. Of course, Wildmon likely doubts that these Christian progressives are Christian at all. In his mind, a “true” Christian thinks like Tim Wildmon.

I am a progressive and an atheist, yet I am not “hostile to evangelical Christianity and traditional Catholicism.”  I couldn’t care less what personal religious beliefs a person might have. What I am hostile towards is what these kind of Christians DO in the name of their God. When they attack minorities and the marginalized and demand their religion be given preference by the state, then yes, I am going to be hostile. I think their demands are harmful to our republic. We need only look to the Middle East to see what happens when religion and state are in bed together. Our secular democracy must be protected and defended at all costs, and if that makes me hostile in Tim Wildmon’s eyes, so be it.

This article by Wildmon is just another in a long line of  cow piles meant to whip up the passions of the faithful. According to Wildmon, progressives are against secure borders and capitalism. We are against the Bill of Rights, especially the First Amendment and the NRA Amendment, I mean the Second Amendment. Progressives want high taxes, total government control, a weak military, and abortion on demand.

What a cake Wildmon is baking, one that he frosts with progressives love for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. It looks like Wildmon hit all the hot buttons, yes? Never mind that ALL these issues are hotly debated in the progressive community.

Sadly, Wildmon’s tired, lying trope will be repeated in countless Evangelical, Mormon, and Catholic churches. God-fearing, Obama-hating, theocratic pastors will remind the faithful that progressives want to destroy Christian America. Perhaps they will warn them that Christians are being persecuted for holding to the faith once delivered to the Republicans. They will remind their parishioners that progressives are really socialists, communists, and atheists. And we all know, if they are atheists then they are most certainly satanists.

There is little progressives can do with/for such people. The best we can do is point our their insanity and continue working towards a more just and equitable society. We can not reason with them because they have forsaken reason for extremist ideology. They are the epitome of a closed mind.

For those who will suggest that it is my progressive views that are extreme, I ask, which view promotes the common welfare of the human race? Which view promotes justice, equity, and respect for all? Which view promotes peace? Which view is inclusive, regardless of religious belief of sexual orientation?

Progress will require us metaphorically walking over the corpses of the religious and political right. Better to walk over their corpses than the literal corpses of those killed as a result of following the extremist, global climate change denying, political and religious views of the right. Much of the current global conflict is driven by political, ethnic, and religious extremism. The way forward for the United States and the world as a whole is to combat this extremism wherever it is found.  This requires progressives of every stripe to put their hand to plow and till the ground in hope a better tomorrow. Doing nothing is not an option.

Note

It should go without saying that progressive and Democrat are not synonymous. And yes, I am aware that there is a shrinking number of old school Republicans who are vehemently opposed to the extreme right ideology of their party.

Published: July 26, 2014 | Comments: 7

Dealing With Family After You Have Left the Faith

family

Leaving the fundamentalist/IFB/Evangelical Christian faith can be hard.

The first question that a defector often asks themselves is “what am I now?”

An atheist?

An agnostic?

A liberal Christian?

Spiritual?

How do I best describe myself?

Not an easy task is it? We live in world where we tend to label most everything. Yet, there is no purity in our labeling Most of us are an eclectic mix of various labels. While I consider myself a progressive and a liberal, I have certain political views that don’t quite fit the progressive/ liberal viewpoint. (and perhaps there isn’t a homogenous progressive, liberal viewpoint)

My life seems to be always moving. Rarely does the grass grow under my feet. My ideas, values, and worldview are shaped daily by the things I read and experience. I am a work in progress and I suspect that when I draw my last breath I will still be under construction.

I receive a lot of private email from people who are thinking about leaving fundamentalist/IFB/Evangelical Christianity or who have secretly left already but are afraid to publicly declare their defection. One person I knows goes to a fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian church every Sunday with their spouse. The spouse does not know  their husband/wife no longer believes. I can only imagine the travail of soul that one goes through listening to sermons they no longer believe and singing songs that speak of a faith that they no longer embrace. Another person I know owns a business in an area that is dominated by fundamentalist/Evangelical Christianity. They want to “come out” and declare their independence from Christianity, but they know if they do so their business (and livelihood) will be ruined.

I get email from fundamentalist/IFB/Evangelical Christian pastors who no longer believe the Bible is the inerrant, inspired word of God. They have read Bart Ehrman’s books and found them to be persuasive. They don’t know what to do. They still believe, but they no longer believe like THAT. They fear coming out publicly and declaring their true beliefs. So they rehash old sermons making sure that their new-found liberalness doesn’t seep in. They feel like hypocrites.

It is not easy to leave the fundamentalist/IFB/Evangelical Christian Church.  It was a long, long, long process for me that took over 10 years. I gradually moved left to a progressive/liberal brand of Christianity. I found comfort at this spot for a long time, but over time I continued to move left until I finally fell out of the Christian fold into the arms of agnosticism. Eventually, I decided to call myself an atheist. Actually I am an atheist and an agnostic,for the sake of those keeping score, I simply say, I am an atheist.

The biggest challenge a person faces anytime they make a  big change, like leaving fundamentalist/IFB/Evangelical Christianity, is what to do about family. Sometimes a husband and wife are on the same page and they turn to a new chapter in life with their spouse. Many times though the journey is solitary, with the spouse deciding to remain in the Fundamentalist/IFB/Evangelical Christian church.

Then there are the children. The grandchildren. Mom and Dad. Grandparents. Aunts. Uncles. Nieces. Nephews. Close friends. Coworkers.

Complications.

Lots of complications.

My wife has six Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian preachers in her extended family. (I made seven in the day) My family? Religious, but not overtly devout, with a few atheists sprinkled in here and there.

Family is important.

Sometimes family is all that matters.

So how does a defector from Fundamentalist/IFB/Evangelical Christianity deal with family that is still following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Some family members ignore the defection. “Oh this is just a phase they are going through. They’ll be fine.”

Other family members choose confrontation. They preach, quote the Bible, send Christian messages on Facebook and via email. They let them know they are praying for them. Sometimes, they become belligerent and hostile, willing to ruin a relationship to make sure the defector knows that there is one true religion and one true God.

Some family members just love the defector. Not in a deceptive way that has the ulterior motive of winning the defector back, but a familial love that transcends religion, sexuality, and politics.  Such people are rare among Fundamentalist/IFB/Evangelical Christians. Taught that their brand of truth is THE truth and that evangelism is the duty of EVERY believer, they feel compelled by God  to confront the defector.

Five years ago, Polly and I spent time with my her family in Newark Ohio. On Christmas Eve the entire family got together at my Polly’s parent’s home. 43 people in a cramped space. Six preachers and one agnostic.(at the time I was not calling myself an atheist)  Lots of kids. Lots of food. Did I mention six preachers and one agnostic?

I feared that there would be a problem. The family had been talking about my defection for a long time. Of course, they never talked to me directly. Always behind my back at family gatherings. I feared that one of the preachers in the family would try to straighten me out. “Bruce how far you going to let this go? My God, you let your boys marry Catholics and your wife even wears pants now!” “Now this agnostic stuff.” “You know you can’t lose your salvation but if you keep this up God is going to chastise you.” “Perhaps your health problems are God trying to get your attention!”

So I went to the family Christmas gathering with great trepidation.

And it almost happened. The patriarch of the family is an uncle who has pastored the same Baptist church for over forty years. He is a DR. (an honorary doctorate given to him by the school he graduated from) Even in my days of fidelity to the family religion, he and I clashed. He was arrogant and pushy, a know-it-all…and so was I.

The uncle let it be known that he intended to “confront” me. Everyone knew what that meant. Then a “miracle” happened. A miracle I could never have expected. My mother-in-law told him (this being recounted to my sons by a cousin) “I’ll not have any of that in my house. I have lost one daughter and I won’t lose another.” In a moment’s time my mother-in-law went to the top of my chart.

Her stopping the challenge had nothing to do with religion or my agnosticism. It was all about a motorcycle accident.

Memorial Day 2005. My wife’s parents are at our home. We were eating, watching a movie.

The phone rang.

The news no one wants to hear.

She’s dead. A car hit us and she is dead,

In a split second a mother lost a daughter and my wife became an only child.

My mother-in-law still grieves the loss of her youngest daughter. She fears losing her oldest daughter.

So she put a stop to what she knew would drive us farther away.

She understood what I wish every defector’s Fundamentalist/IFB/Evangelical Christian family would understand…The family relationship is more important than the tribal religion.

Oh, I am sure she wishes things would go back to the way it was; Bruce and Polly pastoring, going to Church, living for Jesus. Perhaps she even hopes we may yet return to the fold. The chances of a return to the fold are z-e-r-o.

What kind of family relationship can be built from the rubble and ashes of the past remains to be seen.

I am hopeful.

Life is too short.

We are dying.

Let’s agree on what we can and forget the rest.

Let’s hold one another’s hand in that final moment and say:

I love you!

Note

Another post I wrote related to this, Christmas After There is No Christ in Christmas

Published: July 25, 2014 | Comments: 6

Bruce, You Misunderstand Evangelical Christianity

misunderstand

Today, I received an email from an Evangelical Christian who thinks I misunderstand Evangelical Christianity. He doesn’t question my understanding of Evangelical theology. Instead, he thinks I misunderstand  WHY Evangelicals continue to evangelize me. He hopes that I will “PLEASE listen with open ears (unless you want to stoop to the same level as those people who comment without reading your posts).”

The email writer seems to be a decent person, but I learned a long time ago that just because an Evangelical is initially kind, decent, and respectful doesn’t mean they will continue to be this way. Recent emails from David R. Leach are case in point. Leach’s first email was every bit as thoughtful as this man’s email. However, once I responded in kind, Leach dropped the façade and went for my throat. (see Bruce, You Have a Narcissistic and Bankrupt Heart) Long time readers of this blog remember a Baptist preacher by the name of Marty. Marty came across as a decent, thoughtful man. His comments were generally polite and respectful. But, over time his comments became increasingly hostile and then BOOM the proverbial shit hit the fan. It was not long before Marty was permanently banned from this site. So, I hope the email writer will forgive me if I don’t necessarily trust him.

Like many Evangelicals who write me, he wants me to know that he is NOT like the nasty, bombastic, hateful Evangelicals who write me or leave comments on my blog. In other words, yes we are family but those folks are the crazy uncle of the family. Here’s what he had to say:

First off, I want you to know that I am sympathetic. It makes me angry when “Christians” comment on blog posts, send emails, or write letters simply to condemn a fellow human who doesn’t believe the same thing.  I also want you to know that my goal isn’t to try to convert you, quote verses at you, accuse you of bitterness or anger, or to claim that I know the “truth” about you. My goal is simply to explain, in love and humility, why (not all, obviously, but some) evangelical Christians do try to “convert” you.

I understand where he is coming from. When I see some atheists act like petulant children who think that a turd throwing contest with a fundamentalist is a thoughtful conversation, it embarrasses me. I want to shout, I am NOT like them. Most Christians who take the time to get to know me come to the conclusion that I am, in their eyes wrong about many things, but, as a person, I am decent, kind, and loving. Those who don’t see me this way are agenda driven, having a need to justify their horrendous behavior towards me. What better way to do so than paint me as a demonic inspired evil man This Bruce Gerencser exists only in the addled mind of Christian fundamentalists.

The email writer asks:

Have you ever seen the video where the atheist comedian Penn Jillette speaks about his encounter with the loving evangelist?  This stranger gave Penn a Bible, along with a note, and Penn’s response describes exactly what evangelical Christianity is all about.

He said, “If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell—or not getting eternal life or whatever—and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward. . . . How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

Yes, I have seen the video and I agree with Penn Jillette. If I really believed what the Bible says, then I would witness and evangelize too. How could I not do so, knowing that judgment and hell await those who do not repent of their sins and accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior? And that is exactly what I did for over twenty-five years. I took seriously the teachings of the Bible and the exclusivity of the Christian gospel. As a result, hundreds of people were converted through my preaching. I get it. Life is short, hell is real. Only one life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.

And that’s the point…I GET IT. Been there, done that. What is an Evangelical going to tell me that I haven’t heard before? Is there a new gospel or a new method? Did God throw over the portal of heaven some new books to be added to the Bible?  Of course not. Same gospel, same methodology. I suspect I have used, at one time or the other, almost every Evangelical evangelistic method. At this late date, as the sun is long in the sky of my life, I highly doubt an Evangelical is going to surprise me with something I haven’t heard before.  After seven years of blogging and hundreds and hundreds of Evangelicals emailing me and commenting on my blogs, I have yet to read something new. I suspect the former Evangelicals who frequent this blog will say the same.

That’s why when the email writer says:

Now, I understand your frustration when Christians try to tell you you’re wrong, try to convert you, or tell you they’re praying for you.  I know it’s frustrating when they assume things and accuse you of being a filthy sinner. Sometimes they are in the wrong (lacking love and humility, speaking in anger, etc), but often times they are just warning you of what they believe is truth.  I’ve read a couple of your posts now, and you seem like a reasonable man.  My request to you is simple: try to hear what evangelicals are saying without assuming cynical motives–consider what they’re saying from their own point of view.  When I “evangelize,” I’m doing it out of love. I’m doing it because I don’t want to see another human suffer; because I believe that the Bible is true and hell exists.  If I didn’t try to share that truth with people, what kind of person would that make me?

he fails the appreciate the overwhelming amount of email, tweets, blog comments, and Facebook comments, I have received from Evangelicals. He fails to appreciate the sermons that have been preached about me and the blog posts that have been dedicated to deconstructing my life. Many of these things are just a reminder that there are a lot of assholes in the Evangelical church. Others? I am sure they are sincere. They want me to be saved, brought back to Christ, etc. But, here’s the thing, there’s seven billion people living on planet earth. From the narrow perspective of the Evangelical, this means there are billions of people who need to hear the Evangelical gospel. Why spend one moment trying to evangelize someone who has zero interest in the snake oil that Evangelicals are selling? Since I have no need of being educated in the gospel message, if God wants me saved or brought back into the fold, surely he is able to do it without further human instrumentation, right?

The email writer wants me to know that Evangelicals write me because they love me. They don’t want me to die and go to hell. I am not sure I believe this. I think that many Evangelicals THINK this is their motivation for writing me, but, I ask again, why focus on me, a man who has made it very clear that he has no interest in Christianity or the Christian gospel. Since I think many Evangelical churches are either cultic or have cultic tendencies, in what universe would I be considered a viable candidate for salvation and re-entrance into the Evangelical church?

You see, I think Evangelicals are less than honest about their motivations. Perhaps, I should give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they might not even be aware of what their motives are. Here’s what I think:

  • Wouldn’t  it be great story if someone was the means God used to bring me to saving faith or to bring me back into the Evangelical fold?  I am not just a generic sinner in need of saving. Oh no, I am the Evangelical pastor turned atheist, a man who once preached the gospel and now preaches atheism. Can you imagine the book sales and speaking opportunities I could have if I renounced atheism?
  • Many of the Evangelicals who write me need to have their beliefs reinforced. They NEED the battle. They NEED the bloodshed. What better place to come than They Way Forward? By sending me an email or leaving a blog comment, they reminding themselves of the truth of the Evangelical gospel. I am not their real target. They want affirmation that they are right.
  • Some Evangelicals who write me actually have doubts about their own salvation and beliefs. They have questions about the Bible. They wonder, is what I believe really the truth? They may initially come off as just another evangelizing Evangelical, but underneath their bravado is a doubter, a person who wonders if they will some day become just like me.

Regular readers know I have six children. I love my children and I want them to have safe, peaceful, happy, productive lives. When our children started moving out and getting married, Polly and I established a hard and fast rule that governs our involvement in the lives of our children. If they ask a question or want our opinion then we will give it. If they get upset at our answer then that is their fault. Don’t ask if you don’t want to know. If they don’t ask, we keep our opinions to ourselves.  They know we have opinions about most everything they do, from the color of the paint in their kitchen to the car they bought. But, it is not our place to meddle in their life. If an issue is important, perhaps life threatening, we will give our opinion one time. The discussion usually goes something this, I know you might not want to hear this but I need to tell you __________________. Most often, they will reply, I know or I hear you.  And that’s it. Their life and they are free to do with it what they want. I still love them even if they make choices that I don’t approve of.

Here’s my point, I don’t need to harp at my children to get my point across. We are adults and we are capable of having adult conversations. No need to keep repeating my objection. They get it, I object, but they are going to do what they are going to do. I wish evangelizing Evangelicals would see things this way. Over the course of seven years, I have been evangelized more times than I can count. I really don’t need to hear it anymore. I get it, you think I am going to hell and you want to save me from myself. I don’t want to be saved, and quite frankly if I have to choose between a heaven filled with Evangelicals and a hell populated with the eclectic unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines that read this blog, I am going to choose hell every time.

The email writer doesn’t think much of the page Dear Evangelical. It is a page I put together to answer every question and objection an Evangelical might have. It is meant to keep people like this email writer from wasting their time by emailing me or leaving a comment. He writes:

When I read through some of your posts, especially the “Dear Evangelical” page, your comments regarding evangelistic responses seemed somewhat unfair to me.  In your rules, you make it clear that any sort of “warning” from Christians is unacceptable and will be disapproved. Those Christians are sharing what they believe so that fewer people will have to experience the eternal torment they know as hell.

Whether you believe in that eternal damnation or not, please understand that the warning is an expression of love. To ban this sort of comment is the same thing as saying, “Nobody is allowed to warn that man over there, even though some of you believe he’s about to get hit by a truck. This blog isn’t for people who believe that the truck is coming, so warnings are not allowed.” There are two points that I’m trying to make: 1) Why disregard the comments and portray them as annoying, when they’re meant as an expression of love? And 2) What if you’re wrong about the existence of that truck? Wouldn’t it be better to allow an open discussion about that truck, so the man has the ability to decide for himself whether he’s about to get hit or not?

Despite all the warning signs and roadblocks I put in the way of zealots for Jesus, they either ignore them or they think they don’t apply. They show me through their behavior that they have little respect for me. If they respected me, they would accept the fact that I am not a prospect for heaven and they let me go to hell in peace. It is, after all, my choice, right? And here come the Calvinists to remind me that it is NOT my choice but God’s. Fine, then let God email me. When THAT happens I will most certainly pay attention.

The email writer is confused about the purpose of this blog. Like many Evangelicals, he thinks his God-given right to evangelize supersedes my right to personal space and free association. (see Steve Sanchez Thinks He has a Right to Harass People for Jesus) While anyone can read my writing, that doesn’t mean they also have a right to comment. I want to build a community here, a community of people who have common interests. Oh, we squabble every once in a while over politics or Honey Boo Boo, but generally the people who comment on this blog are in agreement with what I write. When they don’t agree with me, they voice their objection and I try to learn from them. That’s how it works here.

heinz 57 dog

The Way Forward community is a varied lot. Dare I say a motley, Heinz-57 lot?  Think everyone who comments here is an atheist? Don’t put that in writing…you will find out quickly that the spectrum of belief and unbelief is quite broad. There’s even a smattering of Evangelicals, odd ducks to be sure, who have learned to play well with others. Christians of all sorts, atheists, agnostics, humanists, secularists, universalists, and pagans. We are one, big messed up adopted family.

The one thing most regular readers and commenters have in common is that we understand Evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Some us spent a lifetime in the Evangelical trenches and we have the mental and emotional scars to prove it. And some, tragically, have the the physical scars to prove it.  Since I think Evangelicalism is generally abusive and mentally and emotionally harmful, would it be right for me to allow Evangelical zealots the freedom to evangelize at will in the comment section? In my mind, that would be like inviting a convicted child molester to my child’s birthday party. Not going to happen.  Since I know that back story of some of the people who regularly comment, it would be irresponsible for me to let Evangelical evangelizers run roughshod over people I consider my friends.

The email writer needs to understand that I am not interested in open discussion with Evangelicals. I have no desire to debate them, argue with them, or disabuse them of their mythical beliefs. I give each Evangelical one opportunity to say whatever they want to say. No one has been banned before they comment. Every Evangelical that has a Jesus hard on is free to leave one comment; one comment for them to say everything they think God is leading them to say. If they show the ability to play well with others I might let them comment again. If I think some good can come from having a discussion with them then I will play along. Sadly, in almost every case, when I give an Evangelical enough rope to hang themselves, they in short order follow in the steps of Judas.

I get it, Evangelicals want the right to defecate in my cat box They see all the heresy and error espoused by not only me but the deluded people who comment here, so they want to make sure we all know the truth. They either forget or don’t care that most of us have forgotten more theology than they will ever know. I know it is shocking, but there are people who look at the wonderful grace of Jesus and say no thanks! There is nothing within the Evangelical church and its beliefs that is even remotely interesting to me. If I am given the opportunity to choose between Sunday church with a bunch of Jesus loving Evangelicals and an NFL football game, even if it is the Jets vs the Raiders, I am going to choose the NFL e-v-e-r-y time.

In the end, no matter how nice this Evangelical seemed, he couldn’t help himself. Here’s how he ended his email:

Even though you obviously don’t appreciate when Christians pray for you, I just did. I prayed for you because I love you as a fellow person, and because I believe that this matter is of the utmost importance. I will continue to pray for you, because I don’t want to see you face eternal damnation.

He KNOWS I don’t appreciate Christians telling me that they are praying for me, yet he tells me anyway. In one brief act he illustrates the point my counselor made to me several years ago. I naïvely thought that if I just told my story and explained myself to Evangelicals they would “understand.”  My counselor laughed and said, Bruce, you think they should give a shit about what you think. They don’t. I now know this to be true

The email writer could have prayed for me without telling me. Does his prayer become more efficacious if he tells me? Why not pray in secret for my soul? Why not go into the holy of holies and grab the horns of the altar and bombard the heavens with prayers for my soul? Instead, this Evangelical does the one thing I ask him not to do.

3,090 words. Didn’t I just say in a previous post that people quit reading after a thousand words?

Bruce out.

 

Published: July 24, 2014 | Comments: 30