Why I Stopped Believing


Jason, an Evangelical Christian, asked:

What would cause someone with your Biblical education and years of preaching the Word of God not just claiming to be a Christian but also living it one day decide to not believe and do a 180 and turn your back on it?

While I deal with this question at length in the From Evangelicalism to Atheism series, today I want to give a short, condensed answer to this question.

People like Jason are often perplexed by how it possible for someone with my background and training to one day walk away the ministry and Christianity. Most of the clergy who deconvert do so at a much younger age, often in their 20′s and 30′s. In my case, I spent fifty years in the Christian church and I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years before I deconverted. When I started going to counseling, my counselor told me that it was quite rare for someone my age and with my experience to walk away from a lifetime of belief and work. It happens, just not very often.

Jason is not alone. A number of my ex-friends, family members, and former parishioners can’t understand how it is possible that the man they called Preacher or Pastor is now an atheist. Often they can not or will not believe the reasons I give for my deconversion. Instead, they try to find some other reason to explain why Bruce Gerencser, the man of God, the pastor, the preacher, their fellow colleague in the ministry, is now an apostate, an enemy of God.  Is there some secret past I am hiding, some secret sin, they ask themselves? They wonder if I have mental problems, that I am unstable.  They rack their brains trying to come up with a plausible explanation, anything but accepting the reasons I give for my deconversion.

Christian fundamentalism taught me to stand firm on my beliefs and convictions. When I was a pastor, people appreciated and applauded my willingness to resolutely defend my beliefs and convictions, But now that I do the same with atheism and liberal politics, they think there must be some other reason I drastically changed my mind and life. I am the same man, a man who thinks that beliefs matter.

My mother taught me, from my youth up, that it was important to stand up for what you believe. Now, this does not mean that I am not now tolerant of the beliefs of others, because I am.  As I get older, I realize that tolerance is an important virtue. Stepping outside of the box I spent most of my life in, I found a rich, diverse, and contradictory world that forced me to be more accepting and tolerant.

When I entered kindergarten I could already read. My mother  taught me to read and she developed in me an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. This may seem counter intuitive at first, since I was raised in fundamentalist environment that is not known for a thirst for knowledge. But, by becoming a proficient and avid reader, I had at my disposal countless opportunities to expand my knowledge. Sadly, my quest for knowledge became quite stunted as a pastor because I rarely read books that would conflict with my Christian beliefs.  However, when I began to have doubts about Christianity and its teachings, my thirst for knowledge kicked into high gear and I began reading books that I once would have considered heretical.

I never made a lot of money pastoring churches. I never had church provided health insurance or a retirement plan. The only benefits I received were a check I got once a week IF the offerings were enough.  Outside of the time I spent pastoring Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, every other church I pastored paid a part-time or poverty-level wage for the full-time work I gave the church. I often worked outside of the church, as did Polly when I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I am not pointing a judgmental finger at the churches I pastored. Most of the churches were either small or in poverty-ridden areas. Over the years, I was privileged to pastor many gracious, giving poor people. They gave what they could.

About now you are thinking, what in the world are you talking about, Bruce? I thought this post was about WHY you stopped believing? It is, and  what I have written above can be distilled down to these three important statements:

  • I was taught to stand firm on my convictions and beliefs
  • I was taught to read at an early age and I developed a thirst for knowledge
  • I never made much money in the ministry

Since I never made much money in the ministry, there was no economic reason for me to stay in the ministry. I always made more money working outside of the church, so when I decided to leave the ministry, which I did five years before I deconverted, I suffered no economic consequences.

Freed from the ministry, my wife and I spent five years visiting over a hundred Christian churches. We were desperately looking for a Christianity that mattered, a Christianity that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. During this five year period, I read countless books written by authors from a broad spectrum of Christendom. I read books by authors such as Thomas Merton, Robert Farrar Capon, Henri Nouwen, Wendell Berry, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, John Shelby Spong, Soren Kierkegaard, and NT Wright.  These authors challenged my Evangelical understanding of Christianity and its teachings.

I decided I would go back to the Bible, study it again, and determine what it was I REALLY believed. During this time, I began reading books by authors such as Robert Wright Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, These three authors, along with several others,  attacked the foundation of my Evangelical belief in the inerrant, inspired word of God. Their assault on this foundation brought my Evangelical house tumbling down. I desperately tried to find some semblance of the Christianity I once believed, but I came to realize that my faith was gone.

I tried, for a time, to convince myself that I could find some sort of Christianity that would work for me. Polly and I visited numerous liberal or progressive Christian churches, but I found that these expressions of faith would not do for me. My faith was gone. Later, Polly would come to the same conclusion.

I turned to the internet to find help. I came upon sites like exchristian.net and Debunking Christianity. I found these sites to be quite helpful as I tried to make sense of what was going on in my life. I began reading the books of authors like John Loftus, Hector Avalos, Robert M. Price, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins.

The five books that made the biggest impression on me were:

(I make a few shekels if you click on the above links and buy the books)

I read many authors and books besides the ones listed here. I say this to keep someone  from saying, but you didn’t read so and so or you didn’t read _______,  So, if I had to give one reason WHY I am no longer a Christian today it would be BOOKS.  My thirst for knowledge, a thirst I still have today, even though it is greatly hindered by chronic illness and pain, is what drove me to re-investigate the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible.  This investigation led me to conclude that the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible could not rationally and intellectually be sustained. Try as I might to hang on to some sort of Christian faith, the slippery slope I found myself on would not let me stand still. Eventually, I found myself saying, I no longer believe in the Christian God. For a time I was an agnostic, but I got tired of explaining myself, so I took on the atheist moniker, and now no one misunderstands what I believe. (see Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners and Dear Friend)

The hardest decision I ever made in my life was that day in late November of 2008  when I finally admitted to myself, I am no longer a Christian, I no longer believe in the Christian God, I no longer believe the Bible is the Word of God. At that moment, everything I had spent my life believing and doing was gone. In a sense, I had an atheist version of a born-again experience. For the past six years, I have continued to read, study, and write. I am still very much a work in progress. My understanding of religion and its cultural and sociological implications continues to grow. Now that I am free from the constraints of religion, I am free to wander the path of life wherever it may lead. Now that I am free to read what I want, I have focused my attention on history and science. While I continue to read books that are of a religious or atheist nature, I spend less and less time reading these kind of books. I still read every new book Bart Ehrman publishes, along with the various Christian/atheist/humanist blogs and publications I read, and this is enough to keep me up-to-date with American Christianity and American atheism/humanism.

I hope this post adequately answers the WHY I stopped believing question.


  1. This is a brief answer to the question WHY? I will fully develop this answer in the series From Evangelicalism to Atheism.
  2. I also spent some time investigating other religions and gods that humans have created. (a study I still find quite fascinating)
  3. There is also a political aspect to my deconversion. I will talk about this in the aforementioned series.
  4. Jason asked if I believed in evolution. The answer is yes. I am no expert when it comes to science, but I have done enough reading to be comfortable with saying that I believe evolution/natural selection best explains the natural world.

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  1. Geoff

    Even to ask the question ‘do you believe in evolution’ is telling.

    Evolution is as factually established as pretty well anything else I can think of. I know it’s normal to compare it with our knowledge of gravity, but that’s getting stale. To deny evolution is almost to deny our humanity, because that’s how important the science of evolution is.

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Jason comes from a world, the same world I was a part of, where the Bible is the final answer for everything, including science questions. This kind of thinking forces a person to live in denial of much of the world around them.

      1. Bruce Turner


        Had you and yours on my mind. How is your health these days? Drop me a note!!

        Bruce Turner

    2. Randall

      Bruce, you know you had already rejected Christ before you read those books.

      The books just help you provide what you though was justification for what you had already decided. You and I both know this. although you can not admit that here.

      But what I have found is that although the Lord will forgive, atheists won’t. I really believe they will kill Christians in mass is they end up getting control.

      After all, its happened before.

      There are perilous time ahead for humanity, as atheistic scientists continue to provide the means for its final destruction.

      And unless Christ returns, there will be “no flesh saved”.

      1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

        Wow, a real live psychic who knows me better than I know myself.

        Let me quote a bit of Bible. Randall, I know they works…and that’s why this is your first and last comment.


        1. Michael Mock

          Dude has no idea how this sort of thing actually happens, does he? I mean, he actually sounds like he’s never changed his mind… about anything… ever. Completely at a loss about it.

  2. Pastor Robert Nacci

    You say in your post here:

    “So, if I had to give one reason WHY I am no longer a Christian today it would be BOOKS.”

    For me that brings to mind what Paul says in Colossians 2:8 – “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”

    Just a simple observation and question for you, not to stir anything up or rile you up:

    Do you believe this could be the true here in your case? I’ve always been taught and believe that the Bible is God’s limited revelation of an unlimited God intended for our limited minds. Thoughts?

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Since I don’t think there is a God, I would reject the notion that the Bible is in any way “God’s” word or a divine, supernatural book. The Bible is a book, just like any other book.

      So, books are not my problem. I don’t divide knowledge into categories like you are doing. Granted, some knowledge is more valuable. But what value depends on what’s important to us. For you, the Bible is important. For me? Not important at all. I have read countless books I would value more than the Bible.

      Thanks for commenting.

    2. Paul Coddington

      Robert, the problem with this conclusion is that the content of some books are obviously and demonstrably real. Therefore they cannot be by any definition “…philosophy and vain deceit…” or any form of deception.

      Colossians 2:8 fits a lot of “Christian” books, especially falsehoods such as particular brands of creationism and wealth+health doctrines (making a penny from telling people what they want to hear).

      An error that is commonly made is thinking “deception is that which disagrees with what I already believe in” and “truth is that which agrees with what I already believe in”. But some ideas that challenge aspects of common belief can be demonstrated to be true.

  3. Angiep

    Jason’s comment, “…one day decide to not believe…” assumes that atheists “decide” to not believe in God. Belief or nonbelief is not a decision; it is a result. Christians have a hard time understanding that we could “turn our back on” the God who makes their life complete. It’s unfortunate that they can’t think for themselves unless and until they can find a way to take some time away from the church environment. When I did that, my thoughts came into crystal-clear focus and everything made sense, easily.

  4. Mel Emurian

    My transition from belief to non belief was similar to yours, although my time spent in pastoral ministry was less before the transition began, about 12 years. The trigger for me though was the incongruency between Christian doctrine (especially that of an indwelling Holy Spirit – the Spirit of a God of love) and Christian practice (lack of empathy over doctrine), and how this relates to the fatherhood of God and Christians being his children. Only an abusive father would allow his children to bring harm to their brothers and sisters in his name, and keep silent about it. Yes, the pain I experienced was emotional, but we are emotional as well as intellectual beings. It was this pain that “snapped” me out of evangelical belief. Once that happened, I explored a whole new world though the eyes of many authors through my prolific reading.

    I currently consider myself an agnostic when it comes to epistemology, and an atheist when it comes to belief (I heard Bart Erhman speak of that, and it described my position well). I don’t believe there is a god or some higher power, but I cannot be certain of it, except where the God of the Bible is concerned. I see nor experience any evidence of the existence of that being. I believe when we move away from monotheism, the result tends to be atheism, since we do not naturally believe there is some other god to believe in. I mean, if the one god doesn’t exist, that means there are no gods, right?

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading your blog! All the best!

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thank you for sharing a bit of your story.

    2. Richard Barkins


      Do you every write about Christians who did stand by you and show your love?

      1. Richard Barkins

        I meant to say, do you ever write about Christians who did stand by you and show you love?

        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          There were none. Even before I deconverted, I lost friends and colleagues over what they considered my liberal beliefs. Once I said I no longer believe, all of my friends save two walked away. And the two that remained. They too recently walked away after being warned repeatedly not to associate with Bruce, the enemy of God. I still have a glimmer of hope that this last friendship might be saved.

          I’ve learned that my friendships were conditioned on fidelity to certain beliefs. This was the glue that held our relationships together. So, for the past eight years I’ve had to make new friends. Most are internet friends, but I find they are quite tolerant, giving me wide latitude to authentically live my life. My only regret is that I have few friends that live near me. It’d be nice to be able to go out to eat with likeminded friends. I have met in person several of my internet friends. I have found these meetings to be quite encouraging.

          The good news is that my best friend, my wife, is still close by my side. With six grown children and ten grandchildren, I am quite blessed and it is family who motivate me to put physical disability and unrelenting pain aside and get up in the morning. If I never had another friend, I can say I’ve been blessed beyond measure with wonderful family.

          1. Clyde

            I’m glad you have your family. I am in the process of deconversion at age 35 (really, the process is over, I just have to tie up loose ends). So far everyone that has found out has abandoned me except my wife, but she is still a firm believer. It is really painful. I’m not a pastor, but I am “in the ministry” and am paid by a Christian parachurch organization. Soon I will have no job, no meaningful/widely accepted education, and no friends. Hopefully I won’t loose my family too.

        2. Mel Emurian

          I don’t because there really aren’t any examples. When I first deconverted, a couple of my seminary buddies came to see me and were non-judgmental, but they disappeared quickly after that. That would be the closest any evangelical has come to showing me love. My experience in evangelical Christianity is that doctrine trumps everything else, including human compassion and empathy. I didn’t really expect that to change when I deconverted.

  5. Crystal Evans

    What caused me to move away from Christianity is that life was black and white. If the Bible says that something is right or wrong then it is so. I learned that life has shades of gray in between the lines and that how can one expect to find answers for today’s issues such as homosexuality and abortion in a 2000 year old book?

    1. Christine

      Considering evolution was what started my deconversion. But what you say about life having shades of grey has pushed my deconversion along too. Things like homosexuality and abortion and also a friend’s partner coming out as transgender made me wonder about God. Why would God let people be created as homosexual or trans and watch the anguish this causes when they are told this is wrong and they have to suppress it? Would a loving God be so cruel as to let a woman not only be raped but to maybe even get pregnant and be expected to carry the child? And other such questions like this made me wonder.

  6. Amy

    Books by skeptics helped me see religious supernatural claims for the sham they are. That was in 1988 and I’m still a work in progress too. Thanks for sharing your story.

  7. Pingback: In which I help deconvert someone, and on what works « Why Evolution Is True

  8. Leif

    I recommend “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian

    1. Randall

      Boghossian wants to see religion reclassified as a mental illness in the DSM.

      They tried that in the old Soviet Union.

      He is a truly evil man, and truly stupid.

      1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

        Here’s what Boghossian actually said:

        “There is perhaps no greater contribution one could make to contain and perhaps even cure faith than removing the exemption that prohibits classifying religious delusions as mental illness. The removal of religious exemptions from the DSM would enable academicians and clinicians to bring considerable resources to bear on the problem of treating faith, as well as on the ethical issues surrounding faith-based interventions. In the long term, once these treatments and this body of research is refined, results could then be used to inform public health policies designed to contain and ultimately eradicate faith.”

  9. Christine

    A very interesting post. A book also started my (not-yet-complete) deconversion – Douglas Adams ‘Salmon of Doubt’ (a posthumously released collection of essays, articles, letters etc). In this book evolution was mentioned and for once it sounded reasonable and I didn’t have my usual reaction of ‘God created the Earth, the Bible is right, evolution is wrong’. More books followed….including some Richard Dawkins and more recently Jerry Coyne’s book. I soon got to the point where I thought if you can’t take the first few pages of the Bible literally then what about the rest of it?

  10. Simon

    My own Xtian beliefs died at the age of 19, mostly due to what I saw as the childishness and improbability of the scriptures. Atheism came about 20 years later after a bunch of increasingly more ‘sophisticated’ spiritual paths. There are no emotional buttons to push for me, which seems to be a concept alien to the Full Gospel people I know. They keep trying to push me to try their Mighty Men gatherings, as if an emotional experience is going to reveal the Truth to me. They cannot grasp the clarity with which others see the failings in their approach to evidence and the bigotry and intolerance of their leaders, such as Angus Buchan. Many of these people are very well meaning and committed to helping others, which makes it even more disturbing when they quote old testament stories and impose their own positive meanings on them, when those same stories are full of intolerance, genocide and stark injustice on the part of god. The collective punishments, murdering of innocent children and animals, using entire nations as tools to punish Israelites and then having them massacred for it, commanding of people to kill and then punishing them for it. This is not to mention the blatant contradictions. This is not a source of any acceptable kind of morality. Yet these good people (not being sarcastic) cheer and whoop when Gideon and co. hand out the retribution because they are “following god’s plan for them”. Add the obvious human origins and motives of the gospels and there is little chance for an informed atheist to be swayed back to the faith.

    I’ve had Xtians telling me how they too used to be full of hate for Xtianity and all that was good until the Truth hit them. I used to feel quite offended by the assumptions, but now I just feel a little frustration and maybe a little sadness about the tiny worldview.

    If I could add a note of caution for the OP. If you haven’t discovered this already, be wary of the minefield that is movement atheism. Speaking as a ‘member’ myself, there is an element of near religious ‘Social Justice Warrior’ ideology infecting the movement causing much rancour. There is a fair amount of snark and bile aimed at the religious from young people who see themselves as victims of fundamentalism and from the aforementioned ‘Social Justice Warriors’, although the latter aim most of their vitriol at other atheists. Please bear in mind when witnessing some of the treatment dished out to apologists by atheists that they have been dealing with the frustrating obscurantism and ‘sophistication’ of the D.B. Hart and Terry Eagleton types and outright dishonesty of the W.L. Craigs, Bill Dembskis and Casey Luskins for a long time. But at least we can speak out in most countries without being tortured now, which the Fundies rather amusingly regard as persecution of themselves.

  11. David

    I heard it said bible principles will work for anybody whether they believe it’s the word of God or not. I guess I don’t exactly believe in the version of the bible God. Ide like to believe me but I never could and I tried believe me on that too. People kill each other every day and take life so seriously over beliefs. God is real and he’s all around us. I can go with that. I can’t go with your special little man made book that promotes a bunch of shit. Hey maybe there’s a God but what about evolution? What about mentally challenged people? Am I right? God made them? And society tells me not to laugh? It’s a mixed up world I don’t believe in any of their bull shit.


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