Atheism

Freedom without Jesus

jimmy carter lust quote

According to Evangelicals, we live in world inhabited by fallen, broken people. Every human is a sinner, from the moment they come forth from the womb speaking lies to when they draw their last breath. Numerous Bible verses reinforce the notion that there is something seriously wrong with everyone of us. We have a disease called sin and it is killing us.

According to Evangelicals, we are helpless, hopeless, and empty. We lack purpose, direction, and meaning. Simply put, we are fucked. There is no hope for any of us. From the first man and woman to the baby born just a moment ago, all of us are hopeless, helpless wretches in bondage to our wants, needs, and desires. Sure sucks to be us, yes?

But wait, Preacher Billy Mays says. All is not lost. God sent his son Jesus to earth to die on the cross for sinners. Through his shed blood sin is expiated, and by putting faith in him we can have our sins forgiven and find purpose, meaning and direction. And as an added bonus, at no extra charge, those who pray and ask Jesus to forgive them will be given eternal life and a home in God’s Holiday Inn after they die.

Millions and Millions of people call the 1-800-salvation number only to find out that there is a catch. Yes, the salvation is free; yes, the eternal life and motel room is free, but there is a small shipping and handling charge. How much, you ask?

Just your life. If you buy what Preacher Billy Mays is selling, the cost is your life. Every moment of every day will belong to Jesus until you die. Your life will be governed by an ancient text called the Bible. This text has hundreds of laws, rules, regulations, and precepts that you will be expected to obey. While technically you can still get eternal life and a motel room after you die even if you don’t obey, surely you don’t want the room at the back of the motel, the room where the plumbing never seems to work.

Sold a fantastical story about sin, brokenness, and emptiness and forgiveness, healing, and fulfillment, the Evangelical gives the operator his credit card number and orders God’s Eternal Life Package, free, just pay shipping and handling. This shipping and handling charge, as they will find out later, will be charged to their credit card every month until they die.

The Evangelical loves to point out the awesome freedom they have now that they have bought God’s Eternal Life package. Are they really free, the non-Evangelical asks? Bound to the words of an antiquated book, is the Evangelical really free?

According to the Evangelical, God created everything, including every human. God gave us sexual desire, the Evangelical says, but the Bible says we can only act on this desire if we are married to someone of the opposite sex. Acting on our sexual desire outside the boundaries of a heterosexual marriage is a sin, a sin that some verses in the Bible say will result in us forfeiting our Eternal Life Package and room at God’s Holiday Inn. Instead, we will get Satan’s Eternal Death Package and a room in Beezlebub’s Motel Six.

Not only does the Bible condemn any sexual behavior except married heterosexual intercourse, it also says that if we look at a person and desire them sexually we are sinning against God; so much so, that God calls it committing adultery in our heart. Don’t touch, unless it is your spouse and don’t look lest you burn in hell. And Evangelicals call this freedom?

Earlier today I was watching a rerun of an NFL football game. As the camera man panned the sidelines the camera slowly focused on the cheerleaders. Next to the cheerleaders was a 40 something year old attractive woman wearing a Denver Broncos jersey. I thought nice, and I hit the replay button so I could confirm my observation. Yep, nice.

No guilt.

No fear.

No quick prayer asking forgiveness.

Like a road trip on a beautiful fall day, I was just enjoying the scenery.

And then it hit me, here’s the difference between the “freedom” the Evangelical thinks he has and the true freedom I have as an atheist. The Evangelical has to feel guilty over being a healthy, normal heterosexual man. He dare not hit the replay button lest he lust and  commit adultery in his heart. If he does hit the replay button then he must confess his sin to God and promise to never, ever, fingers crossed, do it again. And come football season, because he is a man with a normal, healthy libido, he will once again, with one eye covered, gaze upon the cheerleaders comeliness. And like every time before, he will claim 1 John 1:9 and promise God to never, ever, fingers crossed, do it again.

Me, the godless atheist? I am free to enjoy life without feeling guilty over being a normal, healthy heterosexual man.

Bruce Gerencser CLAIMS He Once Was a Christian

false christianI have been blogging since 2007.  When I started blogging, I was an Emerging church, red-letter Christian who, along with his wife, was desperately seeking for a church that took the teachings of Jesus Christ seriously. (please read But Our Church is DIFFERENT!)

Our search took us to many churches. We found that Christian churches, regardless of the name on the sign, were vapid, empty places, filled with good people who were more concerned with church amenities and programs than following Jesus. We came to the conclusion that whatever Christianity might have been 2,000 years ago, it died long ago. In its place has grown up an institutionalized church more concerned with power, money, and right beliefs than following after the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ.

The last church we attended was the Ney United Methodist Church, pastored by a fine young pastor I greatly admire. By this time, we were already at the back of the church with one foot out the door, and in November of 2008 we turned around, put the other foot out the door, and walked away from Christianity.

There was nothing wrong with the Ney United Methodist Church or its pastor Ron Adkins. Great people. Kind people. Good people. And, just like every other Christian church we visited.  We came to see that what churches really are is social clubs, especially here in rural NW Ohio where churches are often filled with people with similar last names. The churches are like a family reunion every Sunday.

I pastored for the last time in 2003. After being badgered by several colleagues in the ministry about using the gifts God had given me, in 2005 I candidated at several Southern Baptist churches in West Virginia. While both church wanted me to consider being their pastor, it became clear to both Polly and I that we no longer wanted to be in the ministry.  Between 2003 and November 2008, various Christians who knew me labeled me as burnt out, depressed, under an attack by Satan, or a good man gone bad. I was still viewed as a Christian, but due to my changing theology, many of the Evangelicals that knew me now considered me a liberal. Those of you began reading this blog in 2007 will remember my word battles with Pastor John Chisham, aka PastorBoy,  over the gospel and salvation. (Chisham is now divorced, remarried, and no longer a pastor)

Like many Evangelicals who become an atheist, I took a long, bumpy, winding train ride to get to atheism. I started out as an Evangelical, then a Progressive Evangelical, then an Emerging Church Evangelical, then a Red-Letter Christian, then a Liberal Christian, then an Universalist, then an Agnostic, and I finally arrived at the Atheist station.  Polly arrived at the station not too long after I did.

All told, I was a Christian for almost fifty years. I spent three of those years in Bible college, preached for thirty-three years, and pastored churches for twenty-five years. During this time, no one ever said, I doubt Bruce is a Christian. No one ever doubted my commitment to Christ or my desire to follow Jesus.

But, now it is different. Because I am now an atheist, Christians are quick to say I never was a Christian or that I was a false prophet, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. How else to explain my story, right?

Some Christians take a different approach. They question my character, my truthfulness. They say things like, IF Bruce Gerencser’s story is true, or Bruce Gerencser CLAIMS he was a Christian. If you search the internet, you will find claims like this on blogs and forums. Several years ago, Lee Shelton, the Contemporary Calvinist wrote:

Bruce Gerencser, an atheist who claims to have once been a Christian…

This is a classic example of the passive-aggressive approach Christians take with me when they read my story. They seem to be unable to accept my story at face value, Of course, I know why. My story doesn’t fit their neatly defined theological grid.  Lee Shelton is a five-point Calvinist, and since I didn’t persevere in grace that means I never really was a Christian.  I was a temporary believer, not one of the elect to whom God has extended his special, discriminate grace. Of course, I could just be on a time-out and some day I will return to Christianity and persevere to the end.

Here’s what I think. Many Christians find my story threatening. They wonder, if a man like Bruce Gerencser, a lifelong Christian and a pastor, can fall from grace or live a long life of deception, perhaps this could happen to me too.  None of the people who called me pastor or considered me a ministerial colleague ever doubted that I was anything but a dedicated, sold-out for Jesus Christian. So, either I really was what I claim I was OR I am the best liar and deceiver who has ever lived.

Everywhere I look, I see agnostics and atheists who were once devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Pastors, youth directors, worship leaders, missionaries, deacons, evangelists, soulwinners, bus workers, and Sunday school teachers; on fire, filled with the Holy Spirit Christians. Thousands of former followers of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords read this blog. Were all of these washed in the blood Christians deceived, never having tasted the goodness of God?  Would a scientist doing a study on this group  conclude that they were false Christians? Of course not. In every way they were once numbered among those who followed the lamb wherever he went. When Jesus said follow me, they cast their nets aside, forsook all, and followed him. No matter what they now are, the past can not be erased by the wave of a magic theological wand.

I Am a Committee of One

godless atheist

I am one man.

I do not represent any group or any other person but myself.

I alone am responsible for what I do, say, or write.

I don’t represent my wife, children, extended family, or the family dog.

In the Gerencser family we don’t practice group-think and everyone is free to be whoever and whatever they want to be.

Yes, I am an atheist, but that doesn’t mean my wife or children are.

Yes, I am a liberal, but that doesn’t mean my wife or children are.

Freethought applies to everyone in the Gerencser family, not just me.

It offends me when local Christians judge my wife or children based on what I do, say, or write.

They ask, in whispered voices, isn’t Bruce Gerencser their father or isn’t she married to Bruce Gerencser?

Evidently, being related to an atheist is an awful, dreadful thing. What drives such thinking? What makes Christians so judgmental that they refuse to treat people different from them with respect?

My wife and children are not me.

I am a committee of one.

I own what I do, say, and write.

I am not ashamed of what I do, say, and write.

I never been one to hide in shadows or use a pseudonym.

If you want to attack someone, attack me.

If you want to gossip about someone, gossip about me.

If you want to judge someone as worthy of the wrath of God, the judgment of God, and hell, judge me.

I don’t hide what I am, and I am not ashamed to say that I am an atheist.

I am not afraid to say that I think Christianity is a man-made religion and the Bible is a man-made book.

If you want to go after someone, if you want to attack someone, here I am.

Come out of the shadows.

Quit being the kind of gossips the Bible condemns.

Man up, woman up, and stand up for your God and your Bible.

Quit hurling anonymous, veiled invectives towards my family.

I am not hiding from you.

I am right here.

No need to question people with the last name of Gerencser as to their affiliation with me.

No need to demand answers from them when you read a newspaper article or blog post you don’t like.

No need to corner them at their place of employment or college classroom and demand they defend their father or husband.

I am right here. Leave a comment, send me an email, or contact me on Twitter or Facebook.

Only a coward goes after a man’s wife and children.  What’s next, going after my grandchildren.

While they are all related to me, they are not responsible for what I do, say, or write.

I alone am responsible.

I am a committee of one.

As an Unbeliever, Is it Possible to Have Christian Family and Friends?

problem of evil

Many of the readers of this blog are former Evangelical Christians. Some readers find themselves somewhere between faith and faithless, while others label themselves as spiritual, pagan, agnostic, or atheist. One thing is for certain, many of us are far away from the Evangelical church we once called home.

As we move away from Evangelical Christianity, we leave behind family and friends who are still Christian. One of the most difficult things we face is how to deal with Christian family and friends now that we are no longer a part of the Christian faith. Is it possible to have Christian friends? Is it possible to maintain a good, mutually satisfying relationship with family members who are Christian?

Many of us remember the exuberance we had when we first trusted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. New converts often have a spiritual high that lasts for a long time. New converts are much more likely to witness to non-Christians than people who have been Christians for a long time. So it is when a person leaves the Christian faith.  Often they are angry, filled with regret. Many times they have been spiritually abused by a pastor or a church. Sometimes, after careful study of the Bible, they come to the conclusion that they have been lied to, that the Bible is, at best a work of fiction, and at worst a book that has been used to manipulate and destroy.  To some degree, the new non-Christian has had a born-again experience. I tell people that I have been born again into humanity.  Often, people are excited about their new found non-faith faith. And just like the new Christian they want to share their new-found beliefs with others.

Granted there are some differences between the new Christian and the new non-Christian. The new Christian believes in heaven and hell. The new Christian believes there is one God, one book, and one salvation and unless a person embraces the new convert’s faith hell awaits them. The new non-Christian has a broad worldview. It is a live and let live worldview. While the new non-Christian is excited about what they have come to believe, they don’t think someone is going to heaven or hell if they don’t embrace the new non-Christian’s beliefs.

The Christian, young or old is duty bound to share their faith with others. Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel to EVERYONE, and everyone includes those who used to be practicing Christians. The non-Christian is not under any compulsion to evangelize. The non-Christian is often quite content to live out their life without ever sharing what they believe.  The Christian often shares their faith whether asked or not,  but as long as Christians do not force their beliefs on the non-Christian they often are not likely to say a word.  Each to their own, the non-Christian says.

Unfortunately, Christians are often not content to live and let live. Believing they have a mandate from God, they push their religious beliefs into every sphere of life, public and private. Many Christians are theocrats. They believe America is a Christian nation and that the Bible should be the divine law-book for all.

Thanks to the U.S. Constitution, we have a strict  separation of church and state.  The non-Christian usually demands that Christian beliefs should play no part in government. This is why non-Christians find the refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on the government official’s religion so maddening. They are a public servant, the non-Christian says. Do your damn job!  While many Christians, in public, support the separation of church and state, in private they espouse a no king but Jesus worldview. While they dare not expose their theocrat intent, behind the scenes they work to dethrone the God of this world and establish the Kingdom of God on earth. As one who follows the Evangelical church scene closely, I find the abandonment of the separation of church and state by Evangelicals and the rise of dominion theology to be quite troubling and dangerous.

It is in the arena of church and state issues that non-Christians and Evangelicals butt heads. Non-Christians are determined to keep the Christian church out of  government, while many Christians think that there is not enough Christianity in government. The non-Christian desires a secular state where everyone is free to worship any god they wish, or worship no god at all. Many Christians believe a secular state is an abomination and an affront to God. So the battle lines are drawn. As much as the non-Christian just wants to live and let live, they are forced into a battle with some Christians. They cannot idly sit by while Christians attempt to turn the United States into a Christian Taliban oriented theocracy. And for this reason, it is very hard to maintain productive relationships with Christian family and friends once we leave the Christian faith.

I am pro-choice.  I support gay rights. I oppose the teaching of creationism in schools. I oppose prayer in school and I oppose the recitation of the pledge of allegiance. I oppose Presidents and government officials being sworn in with their hand on the Bible. I am a  democratic socialist and I oppose consumer driven capitalism.  I support stripping churches and pastors of their tax exemption. I oppose the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools or government buildings and I oppose any and all attempts to make the Bible the law of the land.

I am a liberal and a progressive. I support the ACLU. I regularly read magazines like Mother Jones,Harpers, The Progressive and Rolling Stone. I am so far to the  left that I often meet the ghost of Jerry Falwell coming around the corner. Yet, I support religious freedom.  I want every person to be free to worship or not worship according to their conscience.

As you can see, my life is an affront to the Evangelical. No matter how they look at me, my life is in direct contradiction and opposition to what they believe and practice. This is why it is very hard for a non-Christian to have meaningful relationships with Evangelical family and friends.

Several years ago, a friend of mine from many years ago found my blog. I met this man in the 1990’s when he became a member of a Christian Discussion mailing list, CHARIS,  I sponsored and moderated. I  had not heard from him in a long time. He left a comment for me. He didn’t try and be nice. He didn’t try to find out how I was. There was no attempt to catch up. Nope, he just left me two questions:

  • Is Jesus Christ the Son of God?
  • Is there any other way to God?

And so it goes…

Personally, I have given up any hope of trying to maintain relationships with Evangelical Christian friends and family.  The constant stress and battling wears on me. You who read this blog see the comments that are left by Christian family and friends of mine. Their comments are but the tip of the iceberg. Add the private emails, letters, tracts, and books that sent to me and the oppression of God’s chosen ones can be quite overwhelming

It seems that many of my Christian family and friends can not or will not leave me alone.  They think they can win me back to Jesus. They think if they argue with me long enough I will see the light.  They seem to think that after 25 years in the ministry that I am still lacking some sort of knowledge about the Christian faith, and that if they share that with me I will come running back to Jesus.

Several years ago, I  had one friend try to bully and badger me back to Jesus. Those who read my blog at the time likely remember what I call the Iggy Meltdown. This  so-called friend  bullied and badgered me until I finally had an epic emotional meltdown. I proceeded to launch a f-word laced tirade that left the air quite blue. (some readers might remember that Iggy was the man who repeatedly told me that he knew me better than I knew myself) It never dawns on some Christians that their bullying and badgering is anything BUT Christ-like. They are trying to win me back to Jesus using methods that Jesus would not approve of. And even if Jesus did approve of these methods, most thoughtful, decent people don’t. Badgering and bullying someone is never appropriate and it often drives people away.

I am very pessimistic about being able to maintain relationships with Christian family and friends, especially those who are Evangelical or part of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Over the past eight years, I have lost every Christian friend and ministerial colleague. I didn’t leave them, but they sure left me. Some abandoned me right away, others have hung on for years. Recently, I lost the friendship of people I have known for over 40 years. The pressure from other Christians over still being friends with the evil atheist Bruce Gerencser became too much. While I understand, it is disheartening to lose friends that hail back to the days when you attended elementary school together.

From time to time, former parishioners will look me, wondering what Polly and I are up to. When they find out we are no longer Christians and I am an outspoken public atheist with a blog dedicated to exposing and critiquing Evangelicalism, they often are so traumatized by this that they unfriend us on Facebook or never talk to us again. One former church member told me that she couldn’t be friends with me because she found my story too disconcerting. Another former church member, spent days telling me how sad he was over me being an atheist. Eventually, I unfriend him because I thought his constant God posts were directed at me. Out of the thousands of people I pastored, I am Facebook friends with six. All of them are from one church and were part of the youth group. Two are now gay, several of them no longer believe in God, and the rest are marginal church attenders or attend liberal churches.

Earlier this year, I scanned a large number of old photographs from several of the churches I pastored. I put them up on Facebook and tried to let those who were in the photos know that I had posted them. Only once person bothered to respond to me.  The rest ignored my email and I suspect some of them didn’t even view the photos. These were people I often had a very close relationship with. With some of them, I had relationships that went beyond the professional pastor/parishioner relationship. Why didn’t they respond? While I can’t say for certain, it is well-known now that the one time Evangelical pastor named Bruce Gerencser is now an atheist, an enemy of God, and I suspect many of them have done a web search on my name and found this site or the other sites I have written guest posts for. I can only imagine their shock when they find out I am an atheist.

Having said all of this, it is p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e to have a meaningful relationship with Christian family and friends. The only way such relationships work is if there is mutual respect and there are no attempts to evangelize.  Honest, open discussion is one thing.  I am quite open about my non-faith faith. I enjoy talking about the Bible, God, Jesus, theology, atheism, agnosticism and politics.  But, when the discussion turns to an attempt to convert me or reclaim me for Jesus, I quickly lose any interest in talking to the person. Time to get the check and go home.

I am quite willing to accept the Christian where they are and as they are. Rarely can a Christian do the same for me. As I have said before, I want friends who are willing to let me go to hell in peace. I want relationships based on honesty, openness and mutual respect and if I can’t have that I really don’t want to someone’s friend. While family relationships are a bit more dicey, OK A LOT more dicey, I am at a place in life where I am quite willing to distance myself from family who can’t go five minutes without putting a good word on for Jesus.

Life is too short, and since this is the only life I will ever have, I want to spend it doing things that matter and doing things that I enjoy. Arguing with Christians is not on my list of things I enjoy. I realize, at times, my blog provokes and angers Christians, and I know my words can be sharp and to the point. That’s the how I write, It’s who I am. That said, I am not looking for an argument. This blog is my attempt at sharing with others my journey.  Those who find my blog most helpful are those who are on a similar journey.

To my Christian family and friends I say this:

If you want to be my friend, if you want me to be a part of the family, then you are going to have to take me as I am.  Just as I am, without one plea from you. And If you can’t do that? It’s been good knowing you.

Sin is What Sinners Do: A Few Thoughts on the Christian Concept of Sin

gluttony is a sin

Sin.

According to the Bible, sin is transgression of the law.

Let the debate begin

Which law?

Old Testament?

New Testament?

Both?

Christianity teaches that sin separates us from God.

Sin is what sent Jesus to the cross.

We are all sinners.

Born that way.

We sin because we are sinners.

Sin will ultimately land us in hell unless we trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.

Sin is the problem and Jesus is the solution.

Our hearts are black, but Jesus can make them white as snow through the blood he shed on the cross.

Without sin I wonder if Christianity would exist?

For those of us who are not Christians sin takes on a different meaning.

Since there is no God to offend and no God to give an account to, sin does not carry the force that it does with the Christian.

The list of sins, according to the Bible, according to the pastor, and according to each Christian, is quite long.

Every person has their own sin list and no list is the same.

As an unbeliever my sin list is quite short.

And it gets shorter every day.

Since I reject the Bible as an objective standard of right and wrong how do I determine my morals and ethics?

Do I need a God, religion, church, or pastor to tell me what my morals and ethics should be?

Do I need a supposedly supernatural text, the Bible, to tell me what my morals and ethics should be?

According to the Bible the entirety of the law can be summed up in two commands:

  • Love God
  • Love your fellow human beings

My morals and ethics are based on the premise that I should love my neighbor as myself.

I should treat people like I would want to be treated.

I should not do things that would harm other people.

I should value my relationships with my family and my fellow human beings to such a degree that  I live in such a way that my actions cause them no harm.

God does not enter the picture. My only concern is the relationships I have with others. When I live in a selfish, unloving, unkind, unjust manner then I am “sinning” against my fellow human beings.

My sin does not bring the judgment of God, but It does hurt the relationships I have with others. My sin causes personal loss and pain.

If what I do does not hurt others, if it does not damage my relationships with others then it is not “sin.”

This makes life much simpler for me.

I am still a “sinner”, but I am much less a “sinner” since I abandoned the Christian faith.

Losing God, the Bible, and the complex, never ending, sin list has allowed to realize, for the first time in many many years, that it is OK to be human.

After living a lifetime of denying who I am I can now be free to be Bruce. I am still finding out who I really am.

So much of my life was labeled as sin. Every thought, every word, every deed, every day, sin.

I suspect I will always have a Christian sin hangover. A lifetime of being beat over the head with an angry God, a dying Savior, and a divine rule book has left a lot of deep wounds.

Notes

I use the word sin is this post because I think Christians who read this blog with better understand what I am talking about. Please see Let’s Talk About Sin, Guilt, and Human Behavior for a better explanation of my view on “sin”.

Why I am Not Interested in a Nicer, Friendlier Christianity

truth in love

Drawing by David Hayward

I often write about the extreme right of  Evangelicalism, the end of the Evangelical spectrum inhabited by churches and sects that nice, friendly Evangelicals like to call fundamentalist nut jobs. However, as I clearly show in my post titled Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists, ALL Evangelicals are fundamentalists. Evangelical belief requires theological fundamentalism, a core set of beliefs that one must adhere to be a Christian and considered an Evangelical in good standing. Some who deny this fact are really liberal/progressive Christians living in denial. Raised in the Evangelical church and familiar with its worship and practice, these liberal/progressive Christians don’t want to abandon the only church they have ever known. Their theology puts them squarely outside of Evangelicalism, but they refuse to accept this and they dig their heels in when attempts are made to drag them into the liberal/progressive church. There’s not much anyone can do for these folks. In time, the keepers of Evangelical truth will expose and embarrass them and they will be forced to leave. For now, they play pretend Evangelical.

There’s another subset within Evangelicalism that thinks they are what I call a nicer, friendlier version of Evangelicalism. They are convinced that legalism, rules, moralizing, and the like are the problem, so they attempt to advertise their churches as places that are judgment free, places where sinners can come to find healing and deliverance. However, these nicer, friendlier Evangelicals hang on to theological fundamentalism. While their lifestyle or what they consider a sin might be different from their legalistic brethren, theologically there is very little difference between the two.

Here’s how you force a nicer, friendlier Evangelical to show their true colors. Forget this or that doctrine. Forget everything except what I share next:

Evangelical: The church I go to, First Church of the Most Awesome People in Town, is the nicest, friendliest church in town. We love everyone and I am sure if you come to our church you would feel right at home!!

Bruce: Let me ask you several questions. First, do you believe in a literal hell?

Evangelical: Yes, that’s what the Bible teaches.

Bruce: Who ends up in hell?

Evangelical: Well, I am not the judge, only God is, but the Bible does say that a person must know Jesus as their Lord and Savior to go to heaven when they die.

Bruce: So, since I am not a Christian and I refuse to acknowledge Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I will go to hell when I die, right?

Evangelical: (looks down to ground) Uh, well, um, yeah, if you don’t repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ you will go to hell when you die.

Bruce: How long will I be in hell? Is it like Catholic purgatory where I’ll suffer for a time and then be taken to heaven?

Evangelical: Well,uh….(long pause) if you die without knowing Jesus as your Lord and Savior you will spend eternity in the torments of hell.

Bruce: Fire and brimstone and where the worm dieth not?

Evangelical: Yes.

Bruce: Since this body I currently have would burn up if I was thrown into a pit of fire and brimstone, does this mean God gives me a new body that will withstand the torments of hell?

Evangelical: (silently praying the Rapture would happen)

Bruce: And doesn’t this mean that your God created me, killed me, and sent me to hell with a new body fashioned by him to withstand day and night torture for eternity?

Bruce: Is this the God you worship? Why would anyone want to worship such a horrible deity?

Forget all the other doctrines, this is the only one that matters. I don’t care how nice or friendly a church thinks they are, if they believe in hell then they are party to the savage, endless torture of billions of people. They might smile more or practice friendship evangelism, but the result is still the same; those who don’t repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ go to hell when they die. (please see We Love People and Are the Friendliest Church in Town)

The next time you run into a nicer, friendlier Evangelical, go for their jugular. Ask them point-blank if they believe in hell. Their answer (s) to this questions will tell you all you need to know. Personally, I have no interest in be a part of a group or being friends with anyone who thinks that I will burn in hell for eternity because I am not like them. This kind of thinking is no different from the thinking of the demented killers portrayed on Criminal Minds. Our God is an awesome God, the Evangelical says, and He loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. And if you refuse to accept this, our God will some day torture you for all eternity.

Let’s Talk About Sin, Guilt, and Human Behavior

original sin

Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Ewan asks:

Do you have a philosophical view of the word ‘sin” anymore?

why is homosexuality defined in your worldview? What of extramarital sexual relationships? or premarital? Are they ‘sin’?

What is an atheistic view of sin? Does it really matter? If there is no sinful behaviour, where does guilt come from?

The power of sin in a xian worldview is guilt. If I were to have an extramarital built on love, is this sinful? What the heck is ‘sin’?

I do not use the word sin to define my understanding of human behavior. Sin is inherently a religious term, and since I am not a religious person, I have no need for the word sin and its theological consequences. Based on cultural and societal norms, humans act in ways that are considered good, indifferent, or bad. What we consider good, bad, or indifferent behavior changes with time, circumstance, and place. Currently, these things are still deeply influenced by religion, yet religion is losing its primacyand this is why we see religious zealots raging against perceived sins and slights of God and his timeless moral code.

Homosexuality is a science term, a word used to describe same-sex attraction. It has no inherent moral quality. Once we remove religion from discussion, there is less need to concern ourselves with sexual attraction or who someone marries.

Marriage is a contractual agreement between two people. If this contract includes a commitment to monogamy, then I would consider it bad behavior to commitment adultery. However, many people marry for reasons other than sex. I pastored a few couples who had sexless marriages. One woman thought sex was for having children. Once her children were born she was done with having sex and she had no problem with her husband seeking sexual gratification elsewhere.

When it comes to premarital sex, I see no reason to consider it bad behavior. We have laws that govern the age of consent, and as long as the sex is consensual I see no reason to demonize teenagers and young adults for acting on their biological needs and urges. Our goal should be to make sure every person receives state-mandated education about human sexuality and birth control. The overwhelming majority of teenagers engage in premarital sexual activity, so it is in everyone’s best interest to make sure teens are sexually educated and on birth control until they are ready to have children. Doing so would greatly reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, a goal all of us support.

There is no atheist position on sin. Atheism is a belief about the existence of deities, not a statement about ethics or morality. It is humanism that gives many atheists, including myself, a moral and ethical framework. 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.

(If I have a “religion” it is secular humanism. My religion’s code is summarized in the Humanist Manifesto.)

The question of guilt is a good one, one that I am not sure I can adequately answer. Some guilt is driven by the pervasiveness of religion and its sin-punishment-reward system. However, I think guilt also flows from being a part of a particular culture and tribe. I am sure there are some behaviors that elicit guilt among the Gerencser children that might not cause guilt in a different family’s children.

jesus spanking sinners

The more absolute one’s moral beliefs are the more likely they are to cause guilt. As I have stated many times before, my sin (bad behavior) list now fits on a 3×5 card, and I suspect by the time I die it will fit on a post-it note. Once the church, the Bible and sin loving, yet sin-hating preachers, are removed from the equation, guilt often assuages.

I grew up believing drinking alcohol was a sin. I was fifty years old before I took my first drink. Now that God and the Bible no longer factor into my moral and ethical beliefs, I am free to drink alcohol, as much or as little as I want. Last Saturday, I spent some time with friends who love to drink. While I didn’t drink as much alcohol as they did, I did drink some and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did my wife.  At no time did I have a twinge of guilt over drinking the devil’s brew. I drank responsibly and acted in a way that did not harm others; no sin, no guilt.

What atheism and humanist have given me is personal autonomy and freedom.  And a very small sin list.

Words Matter

 

words

When you say homosexuality is an abomination…you are saying your homosexual son and neighbor are abominable.

When you say all non-Christians will go to hell when they die…you are saying your non-Christian mother, son, and neighbor will be tortured by God in the flames of the hell for eternity.

When you say abortion is evil, sick, and murder…you are saying those who are pro-choice are evil, sick murderers.

When you say Christians are idiots…you are saying your Christian mother and grandfather are idiots.

When you say people on welfare are lazy, good for nothing bums…you are saying your out of work cousin with cancer is a lazy, good for nothing bum.

When you say atheism is immoral…you are saying that your atheist daughter and cousin are immoral.

You can’t divorce your words from their implications.

Words matter.