Humanism

Why Many Christians Aren’t Interested in What I Have to Say

i just don't care

As many of you know, I see a secular counselor from time to time. More than once, he has challenged me over what he considers my naïvety about my fellow humans. For the longest time, I sincerely believed that if I just explained myself to someone they would at least understand where I am coming from.  While they might not agree with me, they would at least understand my viewpoint. I now know that many people, especially Evangelical Christians, aren’t interested in understanding where I am coming from. They are not interested in my beliefs, explanations, or story. Armed with certainty, God living inside of them, and an inspired, infallible, inerrant text, they already know who and what I am. Nothing I say will change their opinion of me.

These kind of people think they know the REAL reasons I left the ministry and left Christianity. They are certain they know exactly why I became an atheist. If me telling my story contradicts their conclusions then I am lying, deceived, delusional, or a con-artist. Because their mind is already made up, anything that does not fit into the narrative they believe to be true is rejected out of hand. One commenter told me years ago, Bruce, I know you better than you know yourself. I think there are a lot of Evangelical Christians who think this way about me. They think their special relationship with God gives them an understanding of me that other people might not have. Most of these people have never met me and the only things they know about me are what they read on this blog. They are quite certain that they know me inside and out.

When I tell them I left Christianity primarily for intellectual reasons they don’t believe me. There must be some other reason, perhaps a “secret” reason why I am no longer a Christian. They can not imagine how anyone, having all the training and experience I have, could ever intellectually reject Jesus Christ. They are like a person who drives a Ford. They love driving a Ford, and because they love driving a Ford everyone else should too. They can’t imagine ever driving any other car but a Ford. When asked what kind of car their parents drove, they will proudly say, a Ford! It never dawns on them that perhaps the reason they drive a Ford is because their parents drove a Ford. They are convinced they drive a Ford because it is better than every other automobile make, even though they have never driven any other make of car but Ford.

Most of the atheists/agnostics I know were Christians before they became an atheist/agnostic. Many of them were serious, devoted followers of Jesus Christ. They attended church regularly, were active in the church, read and studied their Bible, prayed regularly, and financially contributed to the church. In every way they were true-blue Christians.

These atheists, like myself, reached a place where they began to have  doubts questions about the Bible and Christianity. These doubts and questions led to more doubts and questions. They never intended to not be a Christian, but as they read and studied they came to the conclusion that they could no longer believe the tenets of Christianity. They lost their faith in God, the Bible, and Christianity. Few people can understand the pain and heartache that they faced and continue to face as they walked away from that which was once most precious.

Many of my critics assume that I jumped from fundamentalist Christianity to atheism. They refuse to take a careful look at the path that led me to where I am today. It goes something like this:

  • Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christian
  • Evangelical Christian
  • Emerging/Emergent Christian
  • Progressive/Liberal Christian
  • Universalist
  • Agnostic
  • Atheist/Humanist

I tried to find a natural stopping point as I slid down the slippery slope, but I couldn’t. No matter how much I tried to shut off my mind to the questions, they would continue to come to the forefront of my thinking and demand an answer. It is the seeking of answers that finally led me to where I am today, and will lead me to where I will be tomorrow.

Many of those who refuse to accept my story at face value are sure that there is some other underlying motive for my unbelief. Brad, a  commenter on a post I wrote about Steven Furtick, is an excellent example of this. Here is what he had to say:

I’m sorry to hear that you left the ministry and even more that you decided to leave Christ for a life of Atheism. I do agree with some of your comments about Furtick and his financial lifestyle.

I actually relate more with the approach of Francis Chan, as described in his book Crazy Love, which I’m assuming that you are probably familiar with. The reason I wanted to comment is because the bigger picture that you are missing is salvation. No matter if Furtick is making poor decisions regarding his finances, that does not change his salvation.

I’m concerned for you Bruce. I understand that I came on your website and read your blog, but as a Christian and believer in Christ, I feel like that someone needs to simply remind you of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and unfailing love. I wonder if you were hurt somehow in the church?

Why did you serve God for so many years and then decide to leave from the protection and shadow of his ‘wing’? If you were hurt in the church, I’m sorry for that. You can’t however, hold God accountable for something one of his crazy kids may have done! I had a bad experience at Wal-Mart one time, but I still go back and buy my groceries there!

I will pray for you and believe that you will come back to Christ. I am a licensed therapist (Masters in Counseling) and an ordained minister and I own a private practice and work with hurting people everyday. My experience is that hurt people, hurt people! I think there is a possibility that you are hurt and bitter. Maybe not. I do know that you are confused because you left God’s calling for your life! Peter Pan, you have forgotten how to fly! Don’t worry, God still loves you more than you could ever imagine. Prodigal son, when are you going to return to your Father?

Brad thinks there is an underlying reason for why I am no longer in the ministry and no longer a Christian. He made no effort to read anything else I wrote but the Steven Furtick post, and based on that post he read he “intuited” that I must be hurt.

I want to conclude this post by dealing with the notion that the reason I deconverted was due to some underlying emotional issue. For the longest time, I refused to see my deconversion as anything other than an intellectual pursuit. I knew that admitting that I was angry, jaded, cynical, or hurt would allow critics to dismiss everything else I wrote. All that would matter to them is that I left Christianity for some other reason than an intellectual one.

This coming September, it will been twelve years since I pastored a church and seven years since I walked away from Christianity. As I continue to analyze and understand why I no longer believe, I now know the reasons are many. While the intellectual reasons are certainly the main reason I no longer believe in God, I now know that there was/is an emotional component to my deconversion.

Was I hurt in some way? No. There was no crisis event that led me to renounce my faith. There was five years between pastoring my last church and my loss of faith. During this five-year period, I had numerous opportunities to pastor. I could have started a new church, and as late as 2007,  Polly and I had discussions about starting a church. I even contacted the Quaker/Friends denomination about starting a church in the Defiance, Ohio area. Until the last Sunday in November 2008, when I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time, I still thought of myself as a Christian pastor. I knew I was hanging on by a thin thread, but I still thought I could intellectually make it work. In the end, I couldn’t.  No one hurt me, no church so injured me  that I had no other choice but to leave Christianity. If anything, my deconversion was more like a married couple who loved each other dearly but couldn’t stand to be around each other. My lifelong marriage to Christianity ended, not only for intellectual reasons, but because I could no longer stand to be around American Christianity.

Anger came after I deconverted. For the longest time, I was angry at myself for wasting so much of my life in the ministry. I was angry over how the ministry hurt my wife and children and how my preaching hurt other people. I was angry over what Evangelical Christianity was doing to America. But, most of all, I was angry at Evangelical Christians who refused to take me at face value and who refused to allow  me to authentically tell my story.

While I can still get angry at belligerent, self-rightous, arrogant, cement-headed Christians, most of the time I just sigh and shake my head as they deconstruct my life or let me know that they know the REAL reason (s) I am not in the ministry or why I am no longer a Christian. I now know that I can not make the blind see or the deaf hear. While I can readily accept their confession of faith in Jesus Christ at face value, they can not grant me the same respect. I suspect this is because of who I am.

I am not just a generic, run-of-the-mill Christian turned atheist. I am not someone who was raised in the church and then when I became an adult I rejected the faith of my parents. I am a man who spent fifty years in the Christian church. I am a man who started preaching when he was fifteen. I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. Even among the apostate pastors who are prominent today, I have more time on the job than most. Many pastors who deconvert do so after five or ten years in the ministry. Rare is the man who spends fifty years in the Evangelical church and walks away from it all.  I think this is the real reason many of my most vocal critics try to reduce me to dog shit on the bottom of their shoes. I wonder if they, deep down, fear that if someone like me can lose their faith, that it is possible they can too? Perhaps when the doubts and questions they say they never have come to the surface in the still of the night, those doubts and questions have my face. Perhaps they are like a few former parishioners who can not talk to me any more because they find my deconversion so unsettling? They wonder, how can this be? How can Pastor Bruce be an atheist? He led me to Christ, he baptized me, he taught me the Bible, he loved me, cared for me, and prayed for me. If Bruce is an atheist, is the faith of anyone safe?

Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Bruce Gerencser

questions

I wrote the following to inform those who don’t know me about my past and present life. While this is in no way is the sum of my life, it should help to answer some of the questions readers might have. I try to be open and honest. If you have a personal question you would like me to answer, please send me an email or leave your question in the comment section.

I have also written a humorous follow up to this post. You can read it here.

How do you pronounce Gerencser?

Grr IN Sir

What nationality is your name?

Hungarian

How old are you?

57

How long have you been married?

36 years

How many children do you have?

Six

How many grandchildren do you have?

Ten, nine granddaughters and one grandson

How many times have you been married?

Once

Where do you live?

Rural NW Ohio, the village of Ney. One stoplight, one gas station, one pizza place/bar, and one restaurant/bar. We have lived here since 2007.

Do you own your own home?

Yes

What color is your hair?

Well it used to be bright red, some say orange. These days, it is a faded, dull red, mostly white. (see picture above)

How tall are you?

Six foot

How much do you weigh?

I currently weigh 360 pounds. I weighed 160 pounds at age 18, 180 pounds the day I got married, and 225 pounds five years after I married. I am twice the man I was on my wedding day.

Which hand are you?

Left, 100% left.

What color are your eyes?

They range from gray to sparkling blue. Polly says my eye color is determined by my mood.

What is your body shape?

I have short legs (29 inch inseam) and a long body. One man told me I was built like a fire plug.

What’s wrong with you?

How much time do you have? I have suffered with depression most of my life. I have Fibromyalgia, diagnosed in 1997. Since 2007, I have had non-specific neurological problems that affect my ability to stand and walk. I live with daily, unrelenting pain. I walk with a cane and often have to use a wheelchair.  See Health Update and When the Pain Doesn’t Go Away for more information.

What sports teams do you root for?

Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Louisville Bats, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Toledo Mud Hens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Ohio State football and basketball.

I am also a big dirt track racing fan.

Did you play sports?

Yes, I played Little League and City League baseball and City League Basketball. I played one year of junior high football.

I was usually good enough to make the team, but I tended to be on the far end of the bench. (except for City League basketball. I was a starter)

Should Pete Rose be in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame?

Yes

What do you like to do for fun or to relax?

Go anywhere with Polly.

Attend a sporting event with my sons.

Read non-fiction books.

Take a walk in the woods, or a walk anywhere with the love of my life by my side. These days, it is usually Polly pushing me in a wheelchair when we take walks.

What are your hobbies?

I am a serious amateur photographer. I use Sony, Tamron, and Sigma equipment.

I have extensive computer/Windows software knowledge. I build my own computers.

I also like to garden and work in the yard when I am able.

When did you buy your first computer?

1992, a V-Tech 286

Who are your favorite authors?

Thomas Merton, Henry David Thoreau, Bart Ehrman, and Wendell Berry, along with countless other authors who have helped me along the way.

What is your favorite comic?

Get Fuzzy

What foods do you like?

Food

Do you drink alcohol?

Yes, I like wine and spirits. I am not a beer drinker.

What are your favorite restaurants?

Mad Anthony’s in Fort Wayne and Auburn, Indiana, Red Lobster, and Texas Roadhouse

For dessert, I like Eric’s Ice Cream in Defiance, Ohio and Dietsch Brothers Ice Cream in Findlay, Ohio

What is your favorite ice cream?

Rocky Road and Mint Chocolate Chip

What is your favorite candies?

Double dipped chocolate malted milk balls from Dietsch’s, Clark, Zero, Zagnut, Snickers, and Milky Way candy bars, and Goetz’s Carmel Creams

What communities have you lived in?

Over the past 57 years, I have lived in:

Bryan, Ohio (numerous times) Ney, Ohio (twice) Farmer, Ohio Deshler, Ohio Harrod, Ohio Findlay, Ohio Mount Blanchard, Ohio Alvordton, Ohio (twice) Newark, Ohio (twice) Buckeye Lake, Ohio New Lexington, Ohio (twice) Junction City, Ohio Mount Perry, Ohio, Glenford, Ohio Somerset, Ohio

San Diego, California Chula Vista, California

Tucson, Arizona Sierra Vista, Arizona Hereford, Arizona Yuma, Arizona

Pontiac, Michigan Clare, Michigan

Elmendorf, Texas

How many houses have you lived in?

16 houses by age 21 and 18  more houses since Polly and I have been married.

How many cars have you owned?

Over 60. The cheapest cost $25.00, the most expensive cost $25,000.00

What car do you currently own?

2013 Ford Fusion

What was your favorite car?

The 1970 Chevrolet Nova SS I owned in the 1970’s.

What was your least favorite car?

Any of the cars I owned that were made by American Motors.

Besides pastoring, what jobs have you worked?

Janitor, gas station attendant, short order cook, newspaper motor route, life insurance salesman, sweeper salesman, restaurant general manager, network manager, durable medical equipment supply office manager, dairy department manager, grocery stock clerk, summer welfare program make work projects, litter control manager/officer, building code enforcement officer, grant manager, real estate updater for auditors office, farm worker, mechanic, cable box repairman, shipping and receiving, turret lathe operator, and numerous general laborer jobs in factories.

What was your favorite job?

Restaurant general manager

What is your favorite color?

Blue

What are your politics?

Liberal, progressive, socialist

Are you an atheist?

Yes

Are you a humanist?

Yes

What is your worldview?

I am agnostic on the God question. I can not know for certain if a god of some sort exists, but I think it is highly improbable. It is possible that a deity of some sort might some day reveal herself to us, but I highly doubt it. I am convinced that all of the deities in the human panoply of gods are the creation of humans.

I live my day-to-day life as an atheist. Thoughts of God  never enter my mind unless I am writing an article for this website.

I try to live my life according to the humanist ideal spelled out in the various humanist manifestos.

Do you fear going to hell?

No more than I fear Micky Mouse breaking into my house and stealing my TV.

In other words, since heaven, hell, and the devil are the fictions of humans, I don’t fear hell.

What churches did you pastor?

Montpelier Baptist Church, Montpelier, Ohio-Assistant Pastor

Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio-Assistant Pastor

Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio-Pastor

Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas-Pastor

Olive Branch Christian Union Church, Fayette, Ohio-Pastor

Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio-Pastor

Victory Baptist Church, Clare, Michigan-Pastor

What was your favorite church?

Our Father’s House West Unity, Ohio

How many churches did you start?

Five

I helped start Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio

I started Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio and Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio

While co-pastor of Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas, I started two churches, one in Floresville, Texas and one in Stockdale, Texas.

Have you ever been baptized?

Three times

I was baptized as an infant at the Lutheran church in Bryan, Ohio

I was baptized when my parents joined Eastland Baptist Mission in Bryan, Ohio

I was baptized at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio after I made a public profession of faith.

When were you saved?

I made a public profession of faith at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio at the age of 15.

When were you called to preach?

I was called to preach several weeks after I was saved.

Where did you attend college?

Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976-79

How many churches have you visited/preached at in your lifetime?

Over 150

What can you tell me about your wife?

We met at Bible college. Polly is a pastor’s daughter. She is my lover and best friend. She is an awesome cook, a great seamstress, and she never lets me have all the covers.

What can you tell me about your kids?

Well, there are six of them, four sons and two daughters. The three oldest are married and have children of their own. Five of them are gainfully employed. Our oldest daughter has Down Syndrome.

Are your children Christian?

You’ll have to ask them. None of them are Evangelical and all of them have left the faith of their youth.

Do you have any siblings?

Yes, a brother and sister. They both live in Arizona. (Chandler and Tombstone)

Are your parents still living?

No. My father died at the age of 49 from a stroke and my Mom committed suicide at the age of 54.

What kind of music do you like to listen to?

I like every style of music except rap, old style country, and opera.

Who are your favorite artists?

Matt Nathanson, Eliza Gilkyson, Darius Rucker, Theory of a Deadman, Staind, Seether, Lucinda Williams, The Carpenters, Collective Soul, Sugarland

What is your favorite movie?

Mosquito Coast and Hell in the Pacific

If you could live any place in the world where would you live?

Anywhere near water as long as Polly is with me and my children live 20 minutes away.

Why do you blog?

I have a story to tell and blogging is my way of telling it.

Why do you stop blogging from time to time?

Depression and health problems.

Have you made a lot of money blogging?

Yes, millions of dollars. So much money that I don’t know what to do with it.

Serious answer? Last year, blog donations totaled less than $500.00. I don’t write to make money. I write because I want and need to.

Are you writing a book?

Yes, I started it a dozen times and I hope to have it done before I die. My latest health problems suggest that I better get busy on it.

What’s most important to you?

My family

What’s least important to you?

The approbation of others.

What is your favorite season?

Fall

If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and  give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

You Are Wrong!!

garfield never wrong

Over the past 8 years, various people have taken it upon themselves in an email, blog comment, Facebook comment, tweet, letter to the editor, sermon, or blog post  to emphatically tell me ‘”Bruce, You Are Wrong!!” Be it my liberal politics, the teams I root for, or my humanistic, atheistic beliefs, these beacons of absolute truth are infallibly certain that I am wrong.

Let me confess right away that I have been wrong many, many, many times. I bet you didn’t know that did you?  In fact, there is not a day that goes by that I am not wrong in some moment, circumstance, or detail.

Usually, when someone writes me to tell me I am wrong they have a deeper, more sinister meaning for the word wrong. For the most part, I write about religion. Occasionally, I write about politics, education, sports, photography, and other sundry subjects, but religion and all its trappings is my main focus. I spend a great deal of time telling my story, detailing my journey, as only a good, humble, narcissistic ex-pastor can.  This blog, whatever else it may or may not be, is “Bruce’s Story, Told by Bruce, According to Bruce, the best he can remember it”.

When I am telling my story, my understanding of the journey I am on, I have little patience for those who tell me I am wrong. They dissect my life with the razor knife of their own experiences and beliefs and determine that I am/was not what I say I am/was. They tell me I was never saved, never a Christian, never a real pastor, and I suspect someday someone will even challenge my circumcision.

These kinds of people want to control my storyline. They want to set the standard by which my life, the one I lived, the one I am living now, is judged and it infuriates them when I won’t let them do so. I refuse to allow my story to be co-opted, controlled, or judged by any other standard than my own experiences. It is my life and I know what I believed, how I lived, and I am certain I know my life better than anyone who only had this blog to judge me by. My dear wife of 36 years is my best friend and she knows me pretty well, but she doesn’t know every part me.

garfield liar

Foolish is a person, armed with only printed words on a computer screen, who judges a person’s life in any meaningful way. I certainly want people to enter into my story, in fact I invite them in. But, my readers are just visitors. They only know what I am willing to let them know. If my wife or my counselor can not pierce the inner sanctum don’t think for a moment any visitor can.

Sometimes, charges of being wrong are hurled my way because of something I have written about Christianity, the ministry, the Bible, or some other facet of Western, organized Christianity. They vehemently disagree with my interpretation of a particular verse in the Bible or they object to particular word usages, words like Christian, evangelical, or fundamentalist.

What is the foundation of their charges against me? Why their own beliefs and interpretations or the beliefs and interpretations of their particular sect.  Ultimately, the Bible becomes the focus of these kind of accusations.

I am wrong because I have misread, misunderstood, misapplied, or distorted what the Bible teaches. How do they know this? Because the accuser reads, understands, and applies the Bible differently and we all know that the autonomous Christian is infallible in his or her understanding of a book written by many, unknown people thousands of  years ago.

I could be wrong. In fact, I am quite certain that some of my interpretations are wrong. I have no way of proving whether they are. All I have is my mind and my ability to read, and using these skills, I try, to the best of my ability, to discern what a particular text in the Bible says. People are free to differ with me, but why should it be assumed that I am wrong and my critic is right? How do we make such a determination?

The Bible has the unique ability to be whatever a person wants it to be. Most people have a bit of Thomas Jefferson in them, scissors in hand, cutting out the things they disagree with or the things that weaken their positions or beliefs. The short of it is this…if you need to prove something, go to the Bible. You will likely find the answer you are looking for.

I am quite aware of the fact that I read the Bible differently than the Christians who think I am wrong. The one-up I have on them is that I used to read the Bible like they do. I understand their hermeneutics and theology and I am well aware of their interpretations. That said, I have no compulsion to read the Bible like an Evangelical or a progressive/liberal Christian would read the Bible. I have no great need to make the Bible fit in a systematic theology grid. Instead, I try to read the Bible like the average, unenlightened Bruce would read the Bible. I try to transport myself back in time in hopes of getting a historical and cultural perspective on the passage I am reading.

In the book of Genesis God says “let us make man in our image.”  When I read this passage I say to myself this says there is a plurality of Gods.  Let US.  As I read the Old Testament it is very clear to me that the Israelites were polytheistic and over time became monotheistic. (or as oneness-Pentecostals would assert about Trinitarian Christians, they still ARE polytheistic)

Of course those who think I am wrong say, but the New Testament says______ and they import their Trinitarian theology into the Genesis text. That’s all well and good if you are Christian, but I am not. I am quite free to read the Bible as it is written without forcing myself to put all the pegs in the right holes. The Christian has the burden to make it all fit not me.

I may be wrong, but it is a leap of logic to assume that because I am wrong you are right. There is no way to “prove” who is right or who is wrong when it comes to the Bible. Baptists and Campbellites (Church of Christ) spar often over one Greek word, eis, in Acts 2:38. Who is right? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all the arguments from both sides of the fence. Who is right? Every person has to determine for themselves what they believe about God, the Bible, truth, and religion. This blog is simply my take on these things.

Seriously, the amount of skin I have in this game gets less and less every day. Talking about the Bible and what it purportedly teaches is all fun and games. Since the Bible no longer has a mystical hold on me, I am quite free to ignore it at will. I am free to be wrong because being wrong about the Bible is like being wrong about picking the wrong players for a fantasy football league. (not the end of the world)

My bigger focus is on those who are considering leaving Christianity or who have already left Christianity. I try to be a good example of a person who successfully broke free and left Christianity. I do not call on people to follow me or to do what I did. All I am is one guy with a story. If my story helps someone, if it gives them the strength to take the big step they need to take,then I am grateful and humbled by being a small measure of help. However, if all I do is piss you off and make you think you have scabies perhaps your short life would be better served reading other things besides this blog. Telling me I am wrong will not bring the effect you desire. I will gladly admit to being wrong. Next?

Perhaps you are really hanging out here because, deep down, uncertainty is pulling at you, and you are trying to suppress it by lashing out at the poor, deluded, deceived, ignorant Evangelical preacher turned atheist named Bruce.  Beware of uncertainty, for uncertainty is the path to my world.

Doing Good Because it is the Right Thing to Do

Imagine for a moment that you find a wallet that someone has accidentally dropped on the ground. In the wallet is the person’s ID, credit cards, and $300. What would you do?

I suspect most of us would attempt to track the person down and return the wallet. Why? Because it is the right thing to do.

The Christian Post reported a story about an anonymous Christian finding a wallet and returning it to its rightful owner. The Christian did the right thing and he should be commended for doing so. If you have ever lost your wallet or ID you know how stressful and gut wrenching  the experience is, especially in this day of identity theft.

The problem I have with the Christian Post story is the motivation the Christian had for returning the wallet. Instead of it being a good, decent, honorable thing to do, the Christian had a “Biblical” reason for returning the wallet.

The Christian attached a Post-it note to the wallet:

returned wallet

Wallet Returned to Owner by a Christian with Note Containing Bible Verses

The Christian who returned the wallet stated that his reason/motivation for returning the wallet was:

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. Luke 10:27

He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. Luke 16:10

That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth. Psalm 83:18

In other words, the Christian’s act of decency and kindness was all about God.

From my seat in the atheist pew, it seems to me that religion and the Bible complicate the issue. Would the Christian have returned the wallet if these verses weren’t in the Bible? Would he have returned the wallet if he wasn’t a Christian? While these questions might be viewed as trying to turn a good deed into an argument, I think motivations are important.

This story is connected quite closely to the argument over morality and ethics. Many Christians think morality and ethics require religion and a divine text. In their thinking, they do good because of their religion and its teachings. It is God that keeps them from being a bad person.

It is not enough then for an act of goodness to be performed just because it is the right thing to do. Instead, it is God who get all the praise and glory because without him, humans would do bad things. In others words, without God the Christian would have kept the wallet.

If the Christian had left a Post-it note with these two verses:

And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. Luke 6:31

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matthew 22:39

perhaps I would see this story differently.

All of us should treat others as we would want to be treated. Isn’t that a universal moral value?

I commend the Christian for returning the man’s wallet. It was the right things to do, whether the man was a fundamentalist, an Episcopalian, or an atheist. Would an atheist have returned the wallet? I’d like to think so. But, I know among atheists and Christians alike, there are those that would have viewed the lost wallet as an opportunity to steal. As we all well know, religious belief does not inoculate a person from being a bad person.  The religious and the godless have the capability and power to do bad things.  Why? Because bad people do bad things. Avarice is found too often among the human species.  A narcissistic view of the world often motivates people to only think of self. When presented with an opportunity to return the lost wallet, the narcissist is only concerned with what he can gain. In this case, he gains the money that is in the wallet.

We should all strive for a higher ideal regardless of our religious belief. As a humanist, I try to treat others as I would want to be treated. If I lost my wallet, I hope someone would return it and I would gladly offer them a reward.  Far more important than lost cash is lost ID.  And I know if I found a person’s wallet I would return it to them. How do I know I would do this? Because that is what I have done in the past. It is the moral/ethical code I live by. I know how panicked I get when I can’t find my wallet in the house and I can only imagine how stressed out I would be if I knew I had lost it at a store or parking lot somewhere.

Here’s the point I want to make…good people do good. Yes, sometimes good people fail and might, at times, do bad things, but the arc of their life is toward good. The same can be said of those who lack moral and ethical character. They may, at times, do good things, but the arc of their life is toward bad. It is not religion that determines goodness or badness, though it certainly can, for some people, play a part. What determines the kind of person we are is our character. People with good character do good things like returning a lost wallet. People with bad character, don’t.