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July Blog News

blog-news.jpg

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

After I am Dead

cheating death

As soon as some Christian fundamentalists read this headline they will shout at their screen:

  • You will be burning in hell!
  • You will know that there is a God!
  • You will know I was right!

They will see my death as a vindication of their belief system, and I wonder how many of them will say to themselves, I bet Bruce wishes he had listened to me! The Calvinists will says to themselves, now we know he was not one of the elect!  They will speak of the preacher turned atheist who now knows the TRUTH.

Now, if they bother to read the read the rest of this post they will see I that this post is not about my e-t-e-r-n-a-l destiny. I have no concern over God, judgment, or hell. I am satisfied that hell is the creation of those who want to control people through fear so they can demand moral conformity or gain wealth. Since their holy book lost its power and authority over me, I no longer fear God or hell. I am confident that this is the only life I will ever have, and once I die I will be…drum roll please, d-e-a-d.

So, this post is not about the afterlife or my eternal destiny. What I want to do in this post is share what my last will and testament is regarding what happens after I draw my last breath.

First, I do not want a funeral service. Waste of time, effort, and money. No need for fake friends or distant family members to show up and weep fake tears. No need for flowers. Ugh, what a waste of money. I want Polly to spend as little as possible on disposing of my dead carcass. Trust me, I won’t care.

Second, I want to be cremated. No special urn. A cardboard box will work just fine. If Polly wants to show her love for me, a Hostess cupcake box would be sweet.   As I jokingly told someone, when I am cremated, I will go from ass to ashes.

Third, I want my ashes to be spread along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Polly knows the place. I hope my children, daughter-in-laws, grandchildren, and close family, will be there. I want no prayers said and as few tears as possible. Perhaps those who are gathered will share a funny story, one of their many Butch/Bruce/Dad/Grandpa stories. I hope they will remember me for the good I have done and forgive me for those moments when I was less than I could or should have been.

And that’s it. Dust to dust ashes to ashes, as the waves of Lake Michigan lap up and absorb my ashes.

I hope Polly will let the readers of this blog know that I won’t be blogging anymore. I guess I better leave her specific instructions so she can successfully login and post.  If not, readers will start wondering if I have “quit” again…yes, I have, but this time it really will be for good.

You see, for me, as an atheist, life is not about dying but living. Since I am on the short side of life, I dare not waste any time. When death comes, the battery in my life clock will be depleted. Like the Big Ben clock beside our bed, the one I listen to late at night as it clicks off the seconds, I know there is coming a day when I will hear click and that will be it.

I have no time to think about death. It’s coming and it will find me whether I am ready or not. All I can do is live my life the best I can and let how I lived my life testify to the kind of man I was.

How about you? As an atheist, what do you want to happen after you die? Have you made funeral plans? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Published: July 28, 2014 | Comments: 8

A Few Thoughts About Racism and Christianity

nelson mandela quote about racism

Charles asked:

“Why is racism still such a powerful and pervasive force in the Christian community when they should all know by now that Jesus was a dark-skinned Middle East person with black hair like almost everyone else with Semitic ancestry in that area of the world.”

This is a great question. First, let me be clear, I know that many Christians are not racist. (at least outwardly) But, there is virulent strain of racism and bigotry that runs though Christianity, especially among conservative, Evangelical, and fundamentalist believers. I know this because I pastored people who were racist and I saw the same racism among the clergy I associated with. And if I am honest, as much as I thought I was color blind, I had my own problem with racism. More than once I said, I don’t have a problem with blacks, I just don’t want my children marrying one. I would then launch into a justification of my racism, quoting statistics about mixed race couples getting married. It took me a few years before I saw that the real issue was the deep-seated racism taught to me by my racist John Bircher parents and the churches I attended.

Part of the problem for me was that I had no contact with minorities. I was six years old before I saw my first black person, a porter on a train in Chicago. I grew up in a white monoculture, insulated from other races except for the Mexican migrants who showed up once a year to pick local tomatoes. In the 1970′s, I attended Findlay High School, one of the largest high schools in Ohio. In a school district with thousands of students, there were two blacks, a boy and girl who were siblings. That’s it. Findlay, a community of 40,000 plus, was as white as white could be, and I suspect people liked it that way. I know my parents did.

My parents were extreme right-wingers, supporters of Barry Goldwater in the 1960′s. My parents despised Martin Luther King, Jr, a man they considered a communist. They saw the riots in Watts and Detroit, along with the rise of the Black Panthers, as proof of their view that blacks were inferior to whites.  In many ways, their thinking was no different from many whites of their generation.

Let me share a few illustrations from my past that I think will help illustrate the racism I saw in the fundamentalist/Evangelical church.

One church I attended as a youth traveled once a year to the south to help the Cedine Bible Camp,a black Evangelical camp. The church had good intentions, but it seemed at the time that the church felt they had to help these poor, helpless black folk. The deep-seated racism in this church was exposed when one of the woman from the church moved back to Bryan, Ohio with their new, much darker husband. They thought they would be welcomed with open arms. While no one went to them and said, no blacks allowed, church gossip made it clear that many church members were not happy having a black person or a mixed married couple in the church.

In the fall of 1976, I moved to Pontiac, Michigan to attend Midwestern Baptist College. Pontiac had a large black population, as did Detroit to the south. Yet, the church associated with the college, Emmanuel Baptist Church, pastored by Tom Malone, a man born and raised in Alabama and schooled at Bob Jones College, had few black members.

At the time, Emmanuel was one the largest churches in the United States. The church operated a large bus ministry that bussed in countless black children. But, here’s the thing. These black children, for the most part, weren’t a part of the regular church services and Sunday school. Instead, they had their own Sunday school in the afternoon. It was called B Sunday school. (which some of us understood to mean BLACK Sunday school)

During my sophomore year, a new pastor assumed control of the bus ministry. His name was Julian Lyons. He quickly stopped running the buses to Detroit. While we were told that the reason for doing this was cost, some of concluded it was due to race. Lyons and I got into it over this. He accused me of having a bad attitude and I told him I thought he was a racist. To this day, I am surprised that I didn’t get expelled from school.

Over the course of 25 years in the ministry, I encountered racism numerous times. I can’t tell you the times I heard church members talking about “those people.” You know, those lazy, good for nothing blacks that were on welfare or in jail or living in government housing. My favorite one is when people would start talking about “colored people”; “colored people” because respectable Evangelicals don’t say nigger. When church members used the colored people phrase I would ask them, “so what color are they?” “Oh preacher, you know what I mean”, they would tell me. If I had the opportunity, I would gently remind them that, in most cases, mentioning a person’s race is not germane to the discussion. Often the phrase was used in a pejorative sense, usually connected to some negative human behavior.

My wife’s family is quite racist, even though they would be offended if someone called them such. They like to “think” they are free of racial bigotry, but their reaction to the Kenyan born black that is currently president suggests otherwise. Let me share a family experience from a previous post:

…Christmas of 2009 was insufferable for Polly and I. Everywhere we turned we saw accusatory looks. No one talked to me, though they did talk to Polly and our children. Every year someone buys a gag gift and gives it to one family member. The gag gift for Christmas 2009 was a President Barack Obama commemorative plate. Our nephew, Cyle Hughes, bought the plate at Big Lots and gave it to Polly’s uncle, James Dennis. Everyone but us laughed. What a great gag gift for the patriarch of an IFB, God is a Republican, Duck Dynasty loving, gun-toting, right-wing family. (and a family that has a racist streak running through it)

After this, I was fuming and I was ready to go home. But, for Polly’s sake I shut my mouth and said nothing. (my thoughts were definitely x-rated) Later in the evening, one of  James Dennis’s young grandchildren picked up the plate and asked him what the plate was for. James Dennis replied, to poo-poo on. (to shit on, for those not initiated in IFB slang) Later in the evening, while everyone was busy eating,  I put my old-shoplifting skills to use and I stole the plate. I took it home with me and donated it to Goodwill. (I feel v-e-r-y good over stealing the plate)…

Evangelicals and many white Americans bristle when they are accused of racism. They think as long as they don’t use the N word that they are not racist. I have come to the conclusion that my parent’s generation will likely never lose their deep-seated racist beliefs and my generation will continue to battle with how our parents racism affected our thinking. I like to think I am color blind and accepting of all races and cultures, but I know that I am not perfect.

The hope of a post race world rests with our children and grandchildren.  While I am worried about the increasing racism in Europe and in certain parts of American political and religious culture, I do see progress. After all, we do have a black president. But, the vitriol towards him reveals that there is still racial hatred percolating under the surface of the American experience. We must continue to battle racism wherever it is found. We must also come to terms with what white America did, not only to blacks, but to Japanese-Americans, Native Americans, Asians, and Latinos. We have much that needs atoned for, and waving our hand and saying it is all in the past will not suffice. There is no path forward until we are willing to embrace our past. If we don’t allow history to teach us so we can we choose a different path, we will certainly repeat the sins of our racist ancestors.

Charles brings up the irony of Christian racism. The Jesus Christians worship is a dark-skinned man of Middle East descent. He would blend in well with those trying to cross our southern border. Why is it that many American Christians fail to see this?

Because they see Jesus like this:

white jesus

 jesus the fisherman

football jesus

rather than like:

jesus

For many American Christians, Jesus is just like them. Since we continue to be quite segregated in America, we are not forced to come into contact with other races and cultures. We never even question if there is any such thing as race to begin with. If the human race started with Adam and Eve and later with Noah and his family, didn’t we all descend from the same race? Isn’t the racial diversity we now see due to evolution and adaptation? Why is it so hard for us to see race from this perspective? Why do we have such a hard time understanding that culture and tribe affects everything, from what we eat to how we live? Instead of walling ourselves off from other races and cultures, why not attempt to experience and understand the racial and cultural uniqueness of others?

While I do not support forced integration, I do think it is advantageous for me to know people who are different from me. From a political and social perspective, I think everyone, regardless of their race, should have equal opportunity. Instead of pointing to the failures within this or that race and culture, let’s take the time to understand why these failures are happening. It is not enough to point the finger at a class of people and make a “those people” conclusion. If flag waving whites want to expose the failures within the black community, I hope they will take the time to understand why these failures are happening. And in answering the why question, perhaps they will be forced to admit their own culpability in many of the things they see.

Instead of talking about race and “those people”, let’s talk about the collapse of our cities, which are overwhelmingly populated by people of color, and poverty, jobs, school funding, the war on drugs, and equal protection under the law.  If we seriously address these kind of issues, I suspect that things will improve for everyone, regardless of their skin color.

I wish I could say I was optimistic about the future, but I think that we are a long way away from a post-racial society. Frankly, Grandma and Grandpa need to die. A future that is post-race lies in the hands of our children and grandchildren. But even then, as we are now seeing in the increase of white nationalism in Europe among unemployed young adults, if we don’t address joblessness and a lack of economic mobility, we will continue to have racial tension. To some degree, it’s human nature. When we are pushed into a corner we tend to seek the comfort and support of like-minded people. We then start to see things through the lens of our race or tribe. Is this not what we see in the Middle East and Ukraine, places where neighbors are now turning against each other because of their religion or ethnicity?

Let me close this post with a video that aptly reveals the racism  that is still quite prominent today. Witness the words and reaction of US Congressman Curt Clawson to several U.S. government workers that Clawson thought were foreigners:

While I am not suggesting Clawson is a racist, I AM suggesting that this is a good illustration of how many white Americans view people of color.

Published: July 28, 2014 | Comments: 1

What to Do if the Russians Nuke Us This Week

I was born in 1957. The following video accurately portrays what I heard and experienced as a young child in California.

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These days, local officials only blow the siren if a tornado has been spotted nearby and we know that if a nuclear bomb is dropped on us we might as well kiss our ass goodbye.

The real issue is WHY we still have a nuclear armed world? Last night, John Oliver tackled the issue of American nuclear weapons:

YouTube Preview Image

Published: July 28, 2014 | Comments: 3

Hi, I’m One of Bruce’s Friends

lets be friends

The phone rang earlier today and it was Suzanne, a woman who comments on this blog. She and her husband were vacationing in Ohio and we had hope to connect on their way through NW Ohio.Unfortunately, we were not able to meet. I was really looking forward to meeting Suzanne and her husband, but Polly had to go to work so we ran out of time to do so. (and if any of you are within a Toledo, Ohio/Fort Wayne, Indiana distance from our home in Ney, I would love meeting you)

After Polly picked up the phone, Suzanne said, Hi, I’m one of Bruce’s friends. This one little, friendly statement reveals how different my life is today than it was when I was an Evangelical church member and pastor.

Most of the churches I grew up in taught me to avoid the opposite sex. Girls were temptresses and Jezebels out to rob poor, weak, pathetic young men of their virtue. I was told to avoid the very appearance of evil, and evil meant not touching or getting to cozy with a girl. After all, no girl ever got pregnant without holding hands with a boy first, right?

Despite being told girls were dangerous creatures, I had a few friends who were girls. I still correspond with one of them today. Several of  my girl friends became girlfriends, and after we broke up, because we ALWAYS broke up, we went back to being friends.

In the fall of 1976, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College to study for the ministry. Midwestern had strict rules against physical contact with the opposite sex. Girls, who were now young women, were considered dangerous, just like the temptresses and Jezebels at the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches I grew up in.

Seasoned pastors warned me, from the chapel pulpit and in my classes, that women were dangerous creatures that could bring down a pastor’s ministry and ruin his life. I was taught not to have female friends. I was taught to maintain my distance from the opposite sex lest I fall into sexual sin. Paul Vanaman , a crusty IFB preacher, taught young preacher boys that  “a stiff prick has no conscience.” While this statement has some truth to it, its implication is that having female friends results in sexual arousal.

Can friends cross the line and enter into inappropriate relationships? Sure. But, why did the IFB preachers of my youth and college years only worry about the opposite sex? Oh wait, I know, there are no gays in IFB churches. Instead of teaching me to embrace my sexuality and be responsible for it, they taught me to be weak and fearful of  women. (and this kind of thinking naturally flows from the notion of how sinful humans are)  They taught me that preachers who have affairs are like an ox to the slaughter. Instead of the shrill warnings about the slaughter, they should have taught me how to avoid the slaughter, how to have healthy relationships with the opposite sex.

What I wasn’t taught was to be a grown up, to be a man in control of his sexuality. Women were temptresses and I needed to avoid them. Yes, I had to be their pastor, but I was taught to avoid being too friendly with them. In fact, several noted preachers told us young preacher boys that we shouldn’t have ANY friends in the churches we pastored. Despite being warned, I did develop friendships with a few women in the various churches I pastored. Not many, but a few. In every way my life was enriched by having these friendships.

These days, I am free to have female friends without worrying about whether they are out to seduce me. (at my age, I can only wish) I am in control of my sexuality, in love with my wife, and satisfied and happy with our relationship. Both Polly and I have developed friendships with people of the opposite sex. We know what the boundaries are, and because we respect each other we don’t cross them. We do this out of love not fear.  Polly doesn’t fear a phone call or an email to me is an attempt by a woman to get her man. In fact, on some days, she would probably let them have me.

Published: July 28, 2014 | Comments: 3

Arguing with an Evangelical is Like Pissing Into the Wind

Pissing Into the Wind

As a blogger, one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn is to not argue, debate, or engage every fundamentalist/Evangelical that comments or sends me an email. When I started blogging, I was quite naïve. I thought if I just “explained” myself they would understand. I quickly found out that they didn’t want to understand. They didn’t leave a comment or send me an email to engage me in thoughtful discussion. They simply wanted me to know that they were right and I was wrong.

Then I went through the angry “I’m going to get in the last word” phase. I knew I had no hope of changing their mind, but I was going to make sure they knew exactly what I thought of their beliefs. These “discussions” proved to be quite exhausting, mentally and emotionally.  Finally, I decided to stop making any attempt to engage fundamentalist/Evangelical Christians. I have yet to see an Evangelical moved off their certainty as a result of something I have said or written. This is why when a fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian leaves a comment or sends me an email arguing for the inspiration/inerrancy/infallibility of the Bible, the first question I ask them is, have you read any of Bart Ehrman’s books? If they haven’t, I know it is a waste of time to have a discussion with them about the Bible. (inerrancy is intellectually untenable and inspiration is a faith claim)

Arguing with fundamentalist/Evangelical Christians is like pissing into the wind. Just mentally picture that the next time you feel the urge to argue/debate/engage a closed-minded, certain I am right fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian. And if you can’t picture that (I know this illustration is better suited to men) just remember the urban dictionary definition of pissing into the wind: Engaging in a pointless activity; something futile.

I subscribe to the law of diminishing return. After seven years of blogging, what value is there in engaging in endless, pointless, futile discussions or arguments with Evangelicals? I no longer feel the need to make sure I am “understood” because I now know that they don’t want to understand me. They just want to be right, and for them to be right means I am most certainly wrong. I would rather focus on helping people who have doubts/questions, are considering leaving Christianity, or who have already left Christianity. It’s all about deciding how best to use my time and what benefit is derived from engaging a fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian in a discussion.

People who deconvert from  fundamentalist/Evangelical Christianity often go through various emotional stages. Most often, anger is the first stage. I remember how angry I was after I left the faith. Angry about a wasted life, angry about the lies I was taught, and angry about how Christians treated me. While I think this stage was necessary for me, I came to see that I could not stay angry. Unrelenting anger will eat a person alive. Over time, my anger died and in its place came a calm, a sense that I was on the right path. While I can still have moments of anger, I am at a place in life where I know my writing has a purpose and helps others, so I am less inclined to get all worked up over people who make no attempt to understand me and the path I have taken. Instead, I use their comments and emails as opportunities to help others.

Bottom line? I got tired of having to change my pants all the time. I finally learned that it is better to turn my back to the wind and piss rather than piss into the wind.

Published: July 28, 2014 | Comments: 12

Girl in a Country Song by Maddie & Tae

In the following video, Maddie and Tae detail how women are often portrayed in country songs. They turn the country-bro mentality on its head.

YouTube Preview Image

Published: July 28, 2014 | Comments: 1

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: 9

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