Humanism

A Few Thoughts on Abortion and the Planned Parenthood Videos

planned parenthood

I’ve been asked to give my take on the Planned Parenthood videos.

When it comes to Planned Parenthood’s mission, to provide healthcare to women, I am 100% in their corner. Providing abortions is a small part of Planned Parenthood’s services, and defunding Planned Parenthood would have a deleterious effect on the health of poor women. Attempts to defund Planned Parenthood are driven by religious belief and bad science. We live in a secular state, one that supposedly separates church and state and one that values science; yet, when it comes to abortion, the debate is framed by religious claims that result in skewed interpretations of science.

The strident pro-lifer, based on their religious beliefs, says that abortion is murder. I have written about this before in a post titled 25 Questions for Those Who Say Abortion is Murder. The abortion is murder view is irrational and is a denial of what science tells about fetal development and life.  Just last week, Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher and a candidate for President, said he supports personhood for zygotes. (see Personhood USA) That’s right, Huckabee wants constitutional protection conveyed the moment a man’s sperm unites with a woman’s egg.  This means that Mike Huckabee, along with those who support personhood for fetuses and believe abortion is murder, think that the following should be considered a person protected by the constitution and those aborting them are murderers:

3 day old human embyro

Three Day Old Human Embryo.

4 week old fetus

Fetus at 28 days

human fetus

Fetus at 56 days, 1/2 inch long

Fact: 63% of abortion take place within eight weeks of pregnancy.

This is what a fetus looks like at 12 weeks:

12 week fetus

Fetus at 12 week

Fact: 89% of abortions take place within 12 weeks (first trimester) of pregnancy.

When I look at the science along with the aforementioned photographs, I see potential life. I don’t see a person, one deserving constitutional protection. (Please see Abortion Facts, Lies, and Contractions) All the religious posturing and moralizing in the world won’t change my view on this matter. Why? Because it is rooted in scientific fact and reason.

As the fetus continues to grow it moves from being potential life to actual life. Usually this is around weeks 20-24. Fetuses can and do survive when born prematurely, and it is for this reason I support greater protection for them under the law. The state has a vested interest in protecting human life, not potential life. I do not agree that abortion after viability should be a decision made between a woman and her doctor without any regard to the fetus. Once viability is reached there is a third party, the baby, that should have rights. Not absolute rights, mind you. There are times,due to health concerns or fetal abnormality, that is it medically prudent to terminate a pregnancy after viability. Since the overwhelming majority of abortions occur before viability (98.8%) or post viability as a result of health concerns or fetal abnormality, I see no reason to oppose abortion.

Why is it that pro-life groups rarely use the aforementioned photographs to make their case? Why do they always graphically display fetuses aborted late in a pregnancy? Shock value.  I wonder if some who say abortion is murder would think differently if they were presented with a picture of a zygote and not a picture of a full term fetus?

The recent videos concerning Planned Parenthood are disturbing. The group behind the videos are using highly edited footage, releasing them over a long period of time in hopes of maximizing the damage, inflaming passion, and bolstering the campaigns of pro-life candidates for President.  (Please see People of the American Way post  The Activists and the Ideology Behind the Latest Attack on Planned Parenthood)

Despite my opposition to the group behind the videos, I do find the videos troubling. Is Planned Parenthood selling fetus parts? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that they are selling at cost various fetus parts to researchers, but no in the sense that it isn’t a huge revenue stream for Planned Parenthood. What Planned Parenthood is doing is legal, no different from harvesting organs for transplant.

I am sure someone is going to say, but Bruce, look at how nonchalant the Planned Parenthood people were on the videos. I agree, this is troubling, but is their crassness any reason for the government to defund Planned Parenthood or for abortion to be outlawed or criminalized? Of course not. Again, I go back to the science. Like it or not, in most cases, the aborted fetus is a blob of developing cells. Since these developing cells are potential life, not human life, why shouldn’t researchers be permitted to use these cells and developing organs to find cures or treatments for diseases that are afflicting and killing humans?

I think the crassness displayed on the videos is troubling, but explainable. Take doctors. Doctors are around sickness and death every day. Imagine a group of doctors sitting around a table talking shop. How do you think the discussion would go? A bit of morbidity, humor, and deflection? This is their way of coping with the work they have been called to do. (and yes, I think many of the people who work in abortion clinics have a sense of calling, a deep desire to help women in a time of great need)  The same could be said for coroners, morticians, homicide detectives, crime scene investigators, CDC investigators, and crime screen cleaners.  As someone who lives with the ugly specter of death lurking in the shadows, I have a gallows sense of humor about death. Some family members and friends are appalled by my humor, yet it is how I cope with the reality that death is stalking me and will ultimately seize me as its prey. People who are around death often use humor to cope and often seem detached from their work, and I think that is exactly what is shown on the Planned Parenthood videos.

What Planned Parenthood has is an optic problem. They allowed themselves to be snookered by ideologically driven religious nut jobs who want to make abortion, along with birth control, illegal. Planned Parenthood needs to do a better job of vetting who they are talking to. They also need to put  some of their workers and executives through sensitivity training.  We say that getting an abortion is a monumental decision for a women. If this is true, then our behavior and demeanor should reflect this, not unlike our response to someone who is dying and has decided to stop medical treatment.

I am sure those on either side of this issue will disagree with me and that’s why I have been hesitant to write about it. My position on abortion is informed and quite developed, so I don’t waste my time arguing about it. I recently had several dust-ups on Facebook with people who think anyone who is pro-choice or supports Planned Parenthood is a sick, vile, evil, murderer. Rather than continue to read such drivel, I unfriended 30 or so people, including family members. (and yes, I tried to educate them before I unfriended them)

I find it interesting that the same people who are so ardently pro-life are very same people who are pro-war, pro capital punishment, anti-homosexual, anti-same sex marriage, anti-immigration, and anti virtually anything that has to do with care and compassion post-birth. It seems the only life they care about is the one in the womb.  These same people say they are anti-abortion, yet they oppose free birth control and standardized sex education, two things that we know reduce the need for an abortion.  There’s one word for people who think like this, hypocrite.

16 Reasons Why I am Not a Christian

why

Eight years of answering questions about  WHY I stopped believing in the existence of God and some readers still can’t understand why I am no longer a Christian. I even wrote two posts answering the WHY question, Why I Stopped Believing and Please Help Me Understand Why You Stopped Believing. The former was written for a obstinate Christian commenter and the latter was written for a former parishioner, who later unfriended me on Facebook because she found my story so troubling.

What follows is 16 reasons WHY I am not a Christian. There are many more reasons than this, but this list should satisfy those who continue to prod and poke, trying to find the REAL reason (s) I am no longer a Christian.

  1. I no longer think the Bible is a God inspired text
  2. I no longer think the Bible is an inerrant text
  3. I no longer think Jesus is God
  4. I no longer think Jesus was virgin born
  5. I no longer think Jesus turned water into wine, walked on water, healed the sick, or raised the dead
  6. I no longer think Jesus resurrected from the dead
  7. I no longer think there is a heaven or a hell
  8. I think the belief that God will torture all non-Christians in hell for all eternity is repugnant, abhorrent, revolting, repulsive, repellent, disgusting, offensive, objectionable, cringeworthy, vile, foul, nasty, loathsome, sickening, nauseating, hateful, detestable, execrable, abominable, monstrous, appalling, insufferable, intolerable, unacceptable, contemptible, unsavory, and unpalatable.
  9. I think the Bible shows a progression of belief from polytheism to monotheism
  10. I think the Bible teaches multiple plans of salvation
  11. I think much of the history found in the Bible is fictional
  12. I think the Bible God is an abhorrent, vile deity, one I would not worship even if I believed it existed
  13. I think science best explains the natural world
  14. I no longer think humans are sinners
  15. I think humanism provides a moral and ethical basis for life
  16. I see no evidence for the existence of the Christian God, thus I am an atheist

These reasons are based on a lifetime spent studying the Bible and studying the textual, historical, and moral underpinnings of Christianity. These studies led me to conclude that the Christian God is a fiction.

And if I had any doubt about these things, eight years of interacting with Christians on this blog have led me to conclude that Christianity, as currently practiced in the West, is bankrupt. I see nothing in Christianity that would cause me to reconsider my rejection of the Christian God.

While I have many online friends who are a liberal/progressive Christian, I can not intellectually embrace their beliefs. Since none of them think I’m headed for hell when I die, I hope they understand why I can not embrace their faith.

I refuse to let others control my storyline. It’s my life and who knows it better than I do? All I know to do is tell my story. Each reader is free to accept or reject what I write.

Selflessness: Are Atheists Only Concerned with Themselves?

Here’s a graphic one of my son’s sent me from their Facebook news feed:

selflessness

As they read this, thousands of atheists hit head on table and mutter, really, this old canard? Let me kill this thinking in one, swift easy statement.  If selflessness is consistent with Evangelical Christianity, why are so many Christians selfish? Bam! Shut the door!

People who post things like this have the IQ of a walnut. Rather than THINK they post. No thinking Christian would EVER claim that selflessness is the domain of Christianity. All the Christian has to do is think about all the selfless non-Christians who have helped them over the years and all the selfish Christians who haven’t.

If the question is, can the morality taught in the Bible lead to a life if selflessness, then the answer is yes. But, the same could be said for humanism and other ethical and religious systems of belief. Christianity has no corner on the selflessness market. If anything, American Evangelical behavior often reveals a crass indifference to the plight and suffering of others. The Republican clown bus is rapidly filling up with men and women who want to be President in 2016. All of them profess to be a Christian, yet their policies are in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus and the Bible. Only one candidate for President, Bernie Williams, has dared to challenge the American capitalistic system, which is, by design, a heartless, selfish system of economics. Again, I am having a hard time seeing the Christianity selflessness connection.

Many Evangelicals wrongly think that atheism is a moral and ethical system of thought. It’s not. Atheism is, and will always remain the disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. That’s it. Me telling someone I am an atheist tells them nothing about my morals or ethics. The fact that I think evolution best explains the natural world says nothing about my morality or ethics. Evolution is a statement of fact. There are Christians who are evolutionists. A conundrum…Christian=selfless Evolutionist=selfishness. Just another two-cent reason why the whole Christians are selfless argument is groundless.

As a humanist, I live my life according to the principles of humanism. These principles are succinctly stated in the Humanist Manifesto III:

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.

As I try to live by the humanist ideal, I am ever aware of how far from the ideal I am. I would never say to anyone that unless they become a humanist they have no capacity for selflessness. Humans are social creatures who thrive in interdependent relationships. Rare is the person who wants solitude and loneliness. Thousands of people read this blog because they want the sense of community and connections that comes from doing do. Facebook is a hit because we desire to connect with like-minded people. We want to belong. As part of a tribe or group, we help those we have a connection with. If I had a serious medical need and required $10,000 to save my life, I know that a mere mention of this by my fellow bloggers and Facebook friends would result in the need being met. Why would people who have never met me face to face selflessly help me? It is our humanness and the bond we have with one another that drives us to selflessly help others. Are we always selfless? Of course not. All of us, Christian or not, can be a selfish asshole, thinking only of what’s best for ourselves. But, more often than not, atheist, humanist, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindi, pagan, or Buddhist, when called upon, will selflessly help others.

Years ago, I was at Sam’s Club checking out and in the line next to me was an Asian young man trying to buy some stuff for his Mom’s restaurant. The cashier wouldn’t let the man make a purchase because he was using his Mom’s membership card. The man spoke with broken English and was thoroughly embarrassed by how the cashier was treating him. I left my line and went over the cashier and gave her a piece of my mind. And then I told her to put his stuff on my card and he could pay me for it. Now she was the one thoroughly embarrassed, having been called out for her ill-treatment of the Asian man. She quickly corrected course and took care of the man’s order. As he left, he looked to me and said thanks. I said, no problem. Did I do what I did because I was a Christian? Of course not. I have no tolerance for those who berate and belittle others. In other words, I don’t like assholes and that’s why I came to the man’s defense.

When I come in contact with others, I do my best to be kind and considerate. A year or so ago, I had a meltdown at the local Meijer customer service desk. The young woman running the desk didn’t help me as I thought she should in the time I had allotted for her to do so. I told her, forget it, and walked away.  Everything was fine until I swiftly turned around and went back to the desk and shouted, and you don’t give a SHIT do you! Polly helplessly stood by while I made a public spectacle of myself. She didn’t say a word, but by the time we were half way home I realized that I had acted like a first class asshole. As soon as I got home I called the customer service desk and talked to the young woman who had been the subject of my anger. I apologized for my behavior. Several times she told me, that’s OK. I told her, no it’s not. No one should treat someone like I treated you. The next time I was at the store she let me know that she appreciated me apologizing.  She told me that she had never had a customer apologize for treating her like shit.

You see, I am a saint and a sinner. I can act selflessly and I can act selfishly. No one has the selfless market cornered. Take the drowning story in the graphic above.  Does any Christian REALLY believe that an atheist would idly sit by and so nothing while someone drowns? I am a cripple. Anyone who sees me knows I have problems getting around. I have had uncounted people extend kindness and courtesy to me as I try to navigate a store, stadium, or restaurant. Yes, I have met a few selfish people who wouldn’t offer me help if my life depended on it, but they are the exception to the rule. Even when I complain about how people often ignore someone in a wheelchair, I don’t think they are being selfish as much as lacking in instruction about people with disabilities.

The underlying issue is that many Christians, particularly Evangelicals, believe that morality comes from God and that without God a person cannot act morally and ethically. When challenged with examples of godless people who act morally and ethically, Christians often attack the motive for the godless person’s good behavior. The atheist is acting selflessly because they have an ulterior motive, they say. How can they know this? Can we really know the motives of others? Besides, isn’t the moral and ethical behavior of the Christian predicated on gaining a divine payoff, a mansion in heaven and eternal life? Whose the selfish person now?

As a humanist, I am deeply interested in seeing my progeny thrive. Because I love them and desire their company, I try to protect them from injury and harm. Because I desire to live in peace and harmony, I do my best to be a selfless member of the human race and the community I live in.  I don’t need the threat of hell and judgment or the promise of heaven and eternal life to motivate me to act according to the humanist ideal. My country, community, tribe, and family are important to me and because they are I act accordingly. Why is that so many Evangelicals fail to understand this? Why do they arrogantly think that morality, ethics, and selflessness are the domain of their religion alone? Why are they deliberately blind to overwhelming evidence that suggests that every person has within themselves the power to act morally, ethically, and selflessly?

Perhaps it is selfishness that drives their blindness? Imagine what would happen if people realized that living a moral,ethical, and selfless life does not require Christianity. Once the threat of hell and the promise of heaven is removed from the equation, people are less likely to join up with fundamentalist religious sects. Instead of looking for the one road that leads to heaven, they could choose one of the many road that lead to a virtuous, well-lived life. Imagine people doing good and acting selflessly because it is the right thing to do, not because they fear God or covetously desire a divine payoff after death.

The Evangelical Cult of Personality

church size matters

Cartoon by David Hayward, The Naked Pastor

For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:11,12)

According to the Bible, the church at Corinth had become factional, with the various groups saying that they were a follower of Apollos, Cephas, Paul, or Christ. In verse 13 of I Corinthians 1, Paul asked:

Is Christ divided?

Two thousand years later, we can answer Paul’s questions with an emphatic YES! The followers of Jesus Christ have spent 2,000 years fighting amongst themselves, leading to, according to the Pew Forum, 41,000 Christian denominations throughout the world. (Wikipedia list of major Christian denominations)

Every Christian Bible has the following verses:

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:35)

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:13)

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

These four verses alone stand as an indictment of modern Christianity with all its divisions and internecine warfare.  The various Christian sects can’t even agree on basic beliefs like salvation, baptism, and communion.  Jesus said, I am the way, truth, and the life, and almost every Christian sect thinks they have the way, truth, life market cornered. Pick the wrong sect and, according to many sects, you will miss heaven and be tortured by God in hell for all eternity.

Evangelicalism, an inherently fundamentalist religious belief, has a unique problem in that its churches are generally a blend of sectarian divisiveness, Madison Ave advertising technique, and a fan of movie stars devotion to their pastor and successful Evangelical leaders. This has led to a cult of personality, like what Paul was addressing in the church at Corinth 2,000 years ago.

Drive by most any Evangelical church these days and what do you see on the church sign? Almost every sign will have the pastor’s name prominently displayed. Why is this important? Why is it necessary to advertise who the pastor is? If the church is one body worshipping the one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, why call attention to who the pastor is? Why don’t churches put the name of the poorest church member on the sign as James suggests in James 2:1-4:

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

Is not giving the pastor top billing on the church sign giving the pastor undue respect? After all, Peter said in Acts 10:34 that God is no respecter of persons. God may not be a respecter of persons, but his Evangelical followers sure are. Ask an Evangelical where they go to church and they are just as likely to say I go to Pastor So and So’s church as they are I go to First Baptist Church.

In the average Evangelical church, the center of attention is not Jesus, the Word, or the sacraments. The focus is on the man standing behind the pulpit. He is the man of God, God’s messenger, the pastor.  In some Evangelical churches, he is also the bishop, prophet, or apostle.  He is the main cog in the machine, without which the machine won’t run. If you doubt this, watch what happens when one of these superstar Evangelicals leave their church. The membership inevitably declines, often because church members don’t like the new guy. Evangelicals then feel “led” to join another church so they can be “fed.” Rarely will they admit that the reason they changed churches was because they were spiritually and emotionally infatuated with the previous pastor .

Awhile back, I wrote a post about Evangelical pastor Steven Furtick and his new house. It is scandalous how these “profits” of God rake in millions of dollars from the churches they pastor, the books they sell, and outside speaking engagements. Even an atheist can see that these kind of pastors are not following in the steps of Jesus. Instead of following the WWJD mantra, they are following what would a Wall Street profiteer do.

Any time I write about one of the Evangelical superstar pastors, someone is sure to come along and defend them.  It doesn’t matter what the Bible or common decency says, I have attacked their god and they are not going to stand for it. Little to do they realize that their defense simply illustrates my contention that the Evangelical church is a cult of personality.

I would love to be able to say to readers of this blog that I was different when I was a pastor, but I wasn’t. My name was prominently displayed on the church sign. I was the center of attention, the main cog of the machine. People came to the churches I pastored because they loved my preaching and liked me as a person.  When I pastored a fast-growing church in SE Ohio, people would drive 30-45 minutes to hear me preach.  Our church was exciting and growing, and I was, uh I mean God, was the reason.

I am sure a Calvinistic Evangelical reader is thinking, my church is different! We focus on the WORD and not the pastor. Really? Are you sure?  How many books written by Tim Keller, Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, Al Mohler, Mark Driscoll, Stephen UmJohn MacArthur, or John Piper do you own? Why are these names bandied about on every Calvinist blog, website, and conference?

From 2005 to 2008, I was enamored with the Emergent/Emerging church movement.  Even here, I found the cult of personality with people fawning over the likes of Brian McLaren, Donald Miller, Rob Bell,  and Shane Claiborne, to name a few.  Even the home church movement has its own cult of personality. Who hasn’t heard of Frank Viola?

What drives the cult of personality?  Here in America, we are enamored with success. We tend to give respect to people who give the appearance of being a winner. Even in the blogosphere, we often judge the value of a writer by the number of people who read their blog and follow them on Facebook,Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google+.  We forget that these numbers say NOTHING about the person. I have to constantly guard against this. I know my blog readership numbers, page views, and subscriber numbers are growing. Does this mean that I am”more” successful than I was years ago when a hundred people a day read my blog? Should people respect me more now that thousands of people read my writing? Of course not. A person’s success proves nothing.

size matters

For Evangelical pastors, size matters.

Within Evangelicalism, numerical success is everything. Success for a pastor is measured by the size of his penis, uh I mean size of his church. The criteria for calling a pastor/church a success is not much different from the criteria used to judge a successful CEO in the corporate world; growing the business and maximizing profits.

The sure sign that a pastor has arrived is when he writes a book telling everyone how he achieved his success. When I was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, almost every big-name pastor wrote a book detailing how they achieved numerical success. The subtle message was this: God is blessing me and this is why. Do you want God’s blessing? Do what I am doing!  Why is it these successful pastors never write a book years later detailing  the fact that “God’s blessing” didn’t last and their penis size dramatically shrank?

American Evangelicals love their conferences. Hundreds of Evangelical conferences are held each year. Who are the speakers? Why those who have achieved “success.”  These conferences always feature big-name pastors who pastor large, successful churches. When’s the last time  Evangelical conference promoters have had a Bro. Joe, who pastors 20 people on the backside of some hill in West Virginia, come and speak at their conference? It never happens.

One of the reasons people leave Evangelicalism is the cult of personality. They become tired of everything being about the pastor or the focus being on the methods of the latest hotshot, knows everything successful pastor.  They sincerely thought that Christianity was all about Jesus. They found out that Jesus was just the window dressing for their pastor’s ambition. Most Evangelical churches, thanks to their leaders, have lost all sight of what it means to be a Christian. They proclaim that the Bible is their standard of faith and practice and then ignore its teachings and examples. Christianity should be about Jesus and his kingdom. From my seat in the atheist pew, it seem that Evangelicalism is all about the pastor’s kingdom and not the kingdom of the Jesus they say they follow.

Notes

Atheism is not immune from the cult of personality. We have our own demigods and it shows when you see the speaking lineup for the various atheist/humanist conferences. When it comes to clergy who have left the faith, you would think that Jerry DeWitt, who is now listed on Wikipedia as a prominent member of the atheist community, was the only pastor to ever have left the faith. I am not knocking Jerry. I am pointing out that we have our own cult of personality, and the way to cure this problem is to be more diverse and to quit using the same few speakers at every conference. It is important that people be exposed to a variety of atheists, agnostics, and humanists especially those who are not as well-known as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Dan Barker, Dan Savage, Jerry DeWitt, et al. When groups like the Freedom of Religion Foundation, American Humanist Association, and American Atheists refuse to do this, they present an inaccurate view of atheism/humanism. How about featuring some working-class atheists who can’t even afford to attend the conferences? To quote the Bible, let our atheist message be confirmed through the mouths of many witnesses.

With humans, the cult of personality is prominent because of tribalism. We want to think that the successful members of our tribe are superior to others in our tribe and the leaders of other tribes.  The cult of personality blinds us to our common humanity and it causes is to devalue those who are not considered successful. (however we define success)

Why I Stopped Believing

why

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.

Notes

  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.

Simple Contact Form for Evangelicals

Dear Evangelical,

Today you stumbled upon The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser.  You did a Google or Bing search and  The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser was on the first page of search results. You are shocked and upset by what this Bruce Gerencser guy writes. You want to give him a piece of your mind, in Jesus’s name, so you went to the contact form page to do so. On the page you read:

If you would like to contact Bruce Gerencser, please use the following form.  If your email warrants a response I will respond as soon as possible. Due to persistent health problems, I cannot guarantee a timely response. Sometimes,I am several weeks behind on responding to email. My delay doesn’t mean I don’t care. It does mean I can only do what I can do. I hope you understand.

If you are an Evangelical Christian that has a pathological need to evangelize, I am not interested in hearing from you. Threats of hell, God’s judgment, and the like are not welcome. Neither are “I’m praying for you” emails or emails with Bible quotes. Whatever you think God wants you to tell me, I have already heard it. Thousands have come before you, so there is no need for you to email me. If you ignore my request, please be advised that I reserve the right to make your message, name, and email address public.

I do not accept unsolicited guest posts.  Please do not email me about writing a guest post. I will not respond to your request.

I have no need of help with SEO, Google ranking, or web design. I use a managed WordPress service and my ranking on Google is first page on most subjects I write about. I do NOT need your help, so please do not email me trying to selling me the latest, greatest way to improve my Google ranking.

I have no interest in buying Facebook likes, Twitter followers, or anything else you might be selling. Please do not email me with your sales pitch.

Everyone else? I would love to hear from you.

You thought, who cares what this Bruce Gerencser guys thinks? GOD wants me to send him an email. GOD wants me to set him straight!! And so you furiously type away and click SEND.

Your email will be just like the email of hundreds of Evangelicals (Fundamentalists) before you. In an effort to help Evangelical readers save some time so they will have more time to pray, read their Bible, and evangelize people who don’t want evangelized, I have made the following Simple Contact Form for Evangelicals:

Name: (Put in fake name because you are so fearless)

Email Address: (Put in fake email address because God knows who you are)

Reason for Contacting Bruce Gerencser (Check all that apply)

_____To tell him he is wrong

_____To preach to him

_____To quote Bible verses to him

_____To evangelize him

_____To tell him he doesn’t know anything about the Bible

_____To let him know God still loves him

_____To let him know I am praying for him

_____To tell him he never was a Christian

_____To tell him he is going to hell

_____To tell him he is still saved and can never be un-saved

_____To tell him he was/is a false prophet

_____To tell him he was/is a wolf in sheep’s clothing

_____To tell him he is angry

_____To tell him he is bitter

_____To tell him his writing shows he has been hurt

_____To tell him he is fat

_____To tell him I hope he burns in hell

_____To tell him that I am praying God will kill him

_____To tell him that he has a meaningless, empty life

_____To tell him he is going to die soon and then he will find out THE TRUTH!

_____To tell him that I know THE TRUTH about him!

Once you have completed the form, please click the send button below.

send button

What? You can’t send it? This must be an atheist conspiracy to keep you from exercising your Christian nation Constitutional right to say whatever you want to Bruce Gerencser. By all means, please continue to click the send button. After you have done so a few hundred times and are thoroughly frustrated and irritated, then you will know how I feel after hundreds of Evangelicals have sent me repetitive emails saying one or more of the things listed above.

Here are a few things you need to understand about me:

  • I likely know more about the Bible and theology than you do
  • You are not going to tell me anything I have not heard before
  • I am an unrepentant apostate
  • I have no interest in Christianity, Jesus, or your interpretation of the Bible
  • I am immune to threats of harm or death, in real life I would probably kick your ass
  • I am a committed and circumcised atheist
  • I am a happy if you know it say amen humanist
  • I do go to church every Sunday in the fall and winter, the church of the NFL
  • I am a good, decent, kind, caring man, husband, father, grandfather, and friend
  • I love my neighbor as myself

Now, go in peace, and find someone who really wants to buy what you are selling. I don’t.

The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You are in it

man in a box

I was a Christian for most of my life, a pastor for most of my adult life. I was a fervent believer of the faith once delivered to the saints. I believed it, practiced it, and lived it. When I was in the Christian box it all made sense to me. Everything I read, everything I heard, and everything I experienced, reinforced the belief that I was in the right box.

God told me, the Bible told me, my friends and family told me, and the opposition of the world told me, that I was in the right box. Every once in a while I would take one step outside the box and experience a bit of other boxedness. (yeah it is not a word but you know what I mean) After every foray into the world outside the Christian box, I would return to the safety of the box.

This is the way I lived my life for 5 decades. Then one day, I decided to take more than one step outside of the box. I haltingly, tentatively took a few steps, close enough to the box that I could run back if I needed to.

Over time, I wandered farther and father away from the box. I found all kinds of things that were not  found in the box I was in. I was confronted with data, beliefs, ideologies, ism’s, and practices that I had never heard of. I was uncertain about what I should make of these new-found things.

I talked to fellow box keepers about this. They cautioned me about wandering outside of the box. Nothing good happens outside of the box, Bruce. Everything we need for life and godliness is right here in the box. We even have a manual that tells us how to live in the box.

I continued to wander outside of the box. One day, I wandered so far outside the box that I realized, for the first time, that the box sat on a  steep, slippery hill. The first time I noticed this, I quickly retreated to the safety of the box.  Then one day, I found myself far outside the box.  I turned around to longingly look at the box and I slipped, and before I knew it I was slipping and sliding down the slippery hill. On this day I fought and clawed my way back up the hill and I crawled back to the box. Dirty and bruised, I was safe within the box once again. The box was my salvation.

But is wasn’t. My mind was filled with thoughts of all the wonders I found outside the box. Things that those in my box said were bad for me; things that they were sure would ruin me. They told me that the box was all I needed. They feared I was becoming a wanderlust.

And they were right. I wandered once again outside the box, and just like before I fell down the slope of the slippery hill. This happened to me many times before I finally gave up and stayed at the bottom of the hill. When I did this,  the box I had lived in for almost 50 years no longer large enough for me. For the first time, the things I had found in the box seemed odd, peculiar, and contradictory.

When I was in the box it all made sense. It all fit. But now, outside of the box, at the bottom of the slippery hill, the things I once believed now seemed to be the strange language of an alien culture. I found myself saying, I can’t believe I actually believed _________________________.  It seems so crazy and incoherent now, yet when I was in the box it all made sense.

I can’t go back to the box I was in. As a secularist, as a person who values skeptical, rational thinking, I must always be aware of other boxes around me. Every box says that they have the truth. Every box wants me to take up residence in their box. However, I have learned, perhaps the hard way, that living in the narrow, blind confines of a box keeps me from experiencing the world that exists just outside the box.

Experiencing the world outside of the box changed me forever.  I know I still have a penchant for box-like thinking, but I revel in a life free of the constraints of any one box.

Repost from 2010, edited, revised, and corrected.

Ken Ham Needs to Buy a Dictionary

dictionary

Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum, is ever on the watch tower looking for a conspiracy he can gin up to rouse the faithful. According to Ham’s recent blog post, public school students are being taught to worship the sun. Here’s what he said:

Imagine if public school students in their science classes were encouraged to worship the sun. And yet this is happening! But how do they get away with it? Well, they just call worshipping the sun “science,” and then claim they can teach this “science” in the public schools!

You see, the following statement is allowed to be made (and is being made in a number of instances) to public school science students:

Our ancestors worshipped the sun. They were far from foolish. It makes good sense to revere the sun and stars because we are their children. The silicon in the rocks, the oxygen in the air, the carbon in our DNA, the iron in our skyscrapers, the silver in our jewelry—were all made in stars, billions of years ago. Our planet, our society, and we ourselves are stardust.1

This statement was made by Neil deGrasse Tyson in the new Cosmos series. Evolutionists are encouraging teachers to use this series in public school classrooms.

Evidently, Ham doesn’t know what the word revere means:

revere

While the word worship can be thought of as reverence, it is almost always used in a religious sense. Neil deGrasse Tyson is NOT using the word revere in a religious sense. Of course, Ham denies this because he believes atheism, humanism, and secularism is a religion.