Bruce, Did you EVER Have a Relationship with God?

christianity is not a religion

One of the questions I am often  asked is: did you have a “relationship with God” ?  The implication is that since I am now an atheist I did not have a real relationship with God. If my relationship with God had been the real deal then I would still be a Christian. In their mind, once someone finds Jesus they would never, ever want to walk away from him. (even though the Bible says people do)

Such conversations or accusations leave a bitter taste in my mouth. It is as if I am not permitted to have my own experience with God or that I am not permitted to control my own storyline. Every Christian, it seems, has their own idea of what it is to have a relationship with God. They judge every other persons experience by their own, directly contradicting the Bible they say they believe. (2 Corinthians 10:12)

Over the course of 25 years in the ministry, I pastored or preached to thousands of people. Ask any of them, at the time I was their pastor, did they think I had a relationship with God? 100% would answer yes. I was NEVER accused of not having a relationship with God.

What constitutes a relationship with God? I loved Jesus, studied the Bible, prayed, lived according to the teachings of the Bible, gave tithes and offerings, and tried my best each and every day to be a good example of a follower of Jesus Christ. I selflessly gave myself to the work of the ministry. I was zealous in witnessing, hoping to win as many people as possible to Jesus.

I realize this post won’t keep self-righteous, arrogant Christians from “judging” my past relationship with God. As long as I write about Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christianity, I am going to have Christians react in  hostile, negative, and hateful ways. While I no longer believe there is a God, for almost 50 years, I prayed to God and believed he was speaking to me. I believed God gave me the sermons I preached and that God used my sermons to change people’s lives. I believed that I could see God’s presence in my life and in the Church I pastored. God was every bit as real to me as my wife of 36 years.

My grandchildren have great imaginations. If they are left to themselves long enough they will begin to have conversations with imaginary beings. Barbie’s come to life. Stuffed animals live. In their mind, these are real relationships. Of course, adults know they are not.

That is how I look at my 50 year relationship with God. It “seemed” real to me and to everyone who knew me. I benefited from my relationship with God and so did the people I pastored. Yet, as I now know, the God I was in a relationship with was a fictional being.

The Bible says, when I became a man I put away childish things, and that is how I look at my past life. I am in no way discounting the relationship others have with their God. While I do not believe God exists, I do know that people find great comfort, hope, and purpose from believing in a higher power. Myth doesn’t need to be real for it to be of value.

Comments (20)

  1. exrelayman

    Yes, it is completely true that you did not really have a relationship with God. Just as it is also true that neither do they have a relationship with God.

    You cannot have a real relationship with something that is not real.

    You can believe with the utmost sincerity and conviction that you have such a relationship (which you did and which they do) but the feeling of certainty does not make anything real.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Correct. When Christians assert that their beliefs are true I ask them about Mormons. Most Christians consider Mormonism a cult, a false belief system. Yet, millions of people think the teachings of Mormonism are true. They are sincere and quite certain they are right. Why should we consider one true and the other false? Well, those Mormons are deceived and believe in a god that does not exist! Exactly, and why should Christianity be viewed any differently?

      Reply
      1. brbr2424

        I was surprised at how easily right wing Christians chose the Mormon Mitt Romney over the Christian Barrack Obama.

        I hope Obama is a closet atheist.

        Reply
  2. Appalachian Agnostic

    Like the song says, “I can only imagine…”

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      That used to be one of my favorite Christian songs. I would weep almost every time I heard it. I would imagine how heaven would be some day for me.

      Reply
  3. Carmen

    Yes, Bruce, that is where gods live for me now – in a person’s imagination. I (just yesterday) watched a video that was shot at a kids’ (Christian!) camp. In it, there was a woman berating Harry Potter books. It struck me as incongruous – does she (and everyone else who thinks wizards are some sort of blasphemy) not realize that anyone with supernatural powers has the exact same, imaginative, illusory properties? Perhaps that’s why there are christians so against the idea of wizards – they recognize the competition?

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I find it interesting that they never make the connection between the beliefs they say are true and the other beliefs they say are false. Why should the Bible god trump the Greek gods or Harry Potter?

      Reply
  4. Billy Dean Walker

    For 50 years you believed and preached that God is real, so how is He now a fictional being?

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      The short answer is that I now know that people can believe things, even die for beliefs, that are not true.

      Reply
      1. Cal

        True in what you said, in that “people can believe things, even die for beliefs, that are not true”, but what is ALSO true is, just because a person believes something to be true, doesn’t make it so.

        These are both valid points, and very elementary. That being said however, does the truth and does the standard lie within the soul of each individual person?

        No disrespect, but with all the “rules” you seem to have in place Bruce, you are a highly guarded man. I mean, NO scripture, none of this, none of that, etc…

        When we choose to live in a cocoon (and one we’ve woven ourselves), does there not remain any chance then of “truth”? Is this person then one who has truly “arrived”?

        Not puzzled here at all. A lot to digest, and when one does so (with the right measure of common sense), it lends itself to confusion, not clarity.

        PS: No, I don’t believe I fit into one of your logical conclusions as to why I’m on your site, but rather, in viewing a picture of an individual on the web from a Yahoo search, your web site was noted at the bottom. Never having heard of you, I thought to take the link and see just how you may be associated with the individual, if at all :)

        Reply
        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          Thanks for commenting.

          I have been blogging for six years. Six years of engagement with Evangelical/Fundamentalist/Conservative Christians. Six years that have resulted in hundreds/thousands of emails, blog comments, personal letters, and letters to the local newspaper from Evangelical/Fundamentalist/Conservative Christians. Over the past six years thousands of people have read this blog. If the numbers hold up, I should pass 1 million page views for 2014. The rules come from me determining what the purpose of this blog is and who my target audience is.

          I am just one man with a story to tell. My story is unique to the degree that I was a Christian and an Evangelical pastor for a long, long time. I try to tell my story openly, honestly, and authentically. My goal is not to convert people to atheism. I see myself as a facilitator, hoping to get people to ask questions and allow their doubts to find answers in reason and evidence. My target audience is people who are considering leaving Christianity and those who have already left. Debating, arguing, or having shit fights with Christians is not my goal and I see such activities as a colossal waste of time.

          Everyone gets one comment. Evangelical/Fundamentalist/Conservative Christians are free to violate every comment rule. Preach away! But, that’s the only comment they are going to get. I have no interest in such discussions. Evangelical/Fundamentalist/Conservative Christians who get more than one comment are those who prove they can play well with others and are willing to actually engage me in discussion over whatever subject I am writing about. If they can do this they are free to comment.

          There are numerous Christians who read this blog. Most of them are liberal/progressive Christians. They frequently comment and add greatly to the discussions. However, Evangelical/Fundamentalist/Conservative Christians, for the most part, wear out their welcome quite quickly. Even when I grant them the space to make their argument and engage me, they eventually turn to claims of faith, prooftexting, Bible quoting, preaching, sermonizing, etc. it is almost like they can’t help themselves. (and preachers are the worst)

          So, there ya have it.

          You have another comment coming. Use it wisely. :)

          Reply
        2. sgl

          re: “No disrespect, but with all the “rules” you seem to have in place Bruce, you are a highly guarded man. I mean, NO scripture, none of this, none of that, etc…”

          well cal, as a regular reader here, i can tell you that bruce is not a ‘guarded man’ as you think, he merely isn’t interested in wasting his time and everyone elses.

          many a fundamentalist has stopped by this blog before. and the vast majority of them say very predictable things, try to quote very predictable bible verses, etc.

          think of it like the restroom of a business, and someone who is not a customer asks to use the restroom. now, if you’re a business that only rarely gets such requests, you’d probably let them use it. however, if you’re a business that’s right next to the bus station, and you get dozens of such requests every day, and very often the people make a mess, are you likely to grant such requests in the future? no. and the people that are denied their request think it’s “unreasonable,” after all, they’re just one person!

          and that’s the problem with your logic. you seem to think that you’re the very very first fundamentalist that’s stopped by here, and that somehow bruce (and all his readers) somehow missed out on hearing the “good news”, and all the arguments for god, etc etc.

          the fact is, the vast majority that have stopped by here have behaved in quite predictable fashion, and rarely actually listen to the responses. (in one recent case, someone who actually did listen to the responses, is now no longer a christian, but only a deist.)

          so once again, bruce isn’t guarded at all. you simply live in a christian fundamentalist bubble, and stumbled across bruce’s blog which shows a world that you probably don’t run across much at all. but just about everyone here understands your perspective quite well, (usually by having believed what you believed, often for many years), including knowing all the bible verses you’re likely to quote (and probably a whole bunch more too.)

          but you’re unlikely to know about any of criticism related to biblical inerrancy, disagreements among scholars about who wrote which gospels, and when, and various arguments for resolving discrepancies in the bible. (if you’re interested in coming up to speed, then read bart erhman.)

          so, bruce’s rules make a lot of sense for maintaining his core group of readers, while at the same time handling the high volume of fundamentalist newby-visitors that want to do drive-by evangelism.

          Reply
        3. Scott

          Cal – you’re either on a journey of discovery or a journey of keeping blinkers on (and at worst being a dcikhaed xian wanting to save people from hell when people don’t want to listen – ‘shake off the dust of your shoes’ if the cap fits). Whatever it is – please take the time to read Bruce’s ‘My Journey”. Then give him his due respect. It’s his blog – I for one have no problem with his rules. Speaking as one also on a journey.

          Reply
    2. Becky Wiren

      Funny thing about Bruce’s experiences, Billy, is that he isn’t trying to force OTHERS to believe or not to believe. That seems to come under the province of the Christian Right, which is on a rampage to make others conform to their morality.

      Reply
  5. Stephanie

    Sure wish I knew how one has a relationship with something (someone) they have never seen or talked to even though they may believe in it. Never understood that concept.

    Reply
  6. sgl

    an interesting TED talk i just saw, about being wrong. applicable to this post, and also the blog in general:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong#t-857870

    Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong (~18 min video)

    Most of us will do anything to avoid being wrong. But what if we’re wrong about that? “Wrongologist” Kathryn Schulz makes a compelling case for not just admitting but embracing our fallibility.

    Kathryn Schulz, Wrongologist

    Kathryn Schulz is the author of “Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error,” and writes “The Wrong Stuff,” a Slate series featuring interviews with high-profile people about how they think and feel about being wrong.

    Reply
  7. Appalachian Agnostic

    But being wrong might cause you to go to heck when you die!

    Reply
  8. Joyce

    I find this judging about whether or not someone is/was a “real” Christian to be so . . . frustrating. Annoying. Ridiculous. I’ve heard it all my life and now I know that no one has a clue about anyone else. So just shut up, ’cause you’re making yourself a fool. Now, if I myself got to be a judge, I know in my heart that I’m a born true agnostic, although I was a fabulous Christian from ages 6-9. And continuing on with my judging, when I look at you Bruce, I think of Dan Barker’s comment, “If I wasn’t a Christian, than nobody was.” Yes, Christian visiting this site, it can happen to you too. (And that’s a good thing)

    To me this conversation is on the intellectual level of “no morality without religion.” Really? You’re still bringing this up despite the common sense examples?

    Reply
  9. przxqgl

    you probably already know this, but everybody else who is interested might want to have a look at my article called "Is It A Religion or A Relationship?"

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thanks for the link!

      Reply

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