What follows is a video produced by Tim Wildmon and the American Family Association. This video purports to “explain” to Fundamentalist zealots the true nature and ideology of secular progressivism. What the video really does is show that Wildmon and his costars either know very little about secularism and progressivism or they are deliberately lying in hopes of providing yet another red meat meal for culture warriors. My money is on the latter. This video is 3 minutes long. Enjoy!
Everywhere one looks, Christians can be found. All sorts of Christians — Fundamentalist, Evangelical, Progressive, Liberal — with countless shades and nuances. The majority of Americans profess to believe in the Christian God. Most Americans believe that the Bible is in one way or another the word of God. Most Americans believe that Jesus is the son of God and that he died on the cross for human sin and resurrected from the dead three days later. Most Americans believe that the Christian God created the universe. It is safe to say that the United States is a Christian nation; not in the sense that people such as David Barton use the phrase “Christian nation,” but in the sense that Christianity permeates every aspect of American life. That some Christians are now saying that they are persecuted is laughable.
Expressions of Christianity can be found everywhere one looks. Christian churches are found in every American community. Christian churches and pastors are subsidized by taxpayer money. Christian churches are exempt from paying real estate and sales tax, and their ministers’ housing is tax-exempt. Ministers are even permitted to opt out of paying Social Security tax. Donations to churches are tax exempt. No matter how opulent church facilities might be or how rich ministers might become, every dollar of church income is tax-exempt. Not only are financial and in-kind gifts tax-exempt, but donors receive a tax deduction for church donations. Government agencies steer a wide berth around religion, rarely sticking their nose in its business. The Internal Revenue Service is so scared of intruding upon churches that it goes out of its way to NOT investigate clear and egregious violations of the separation of church and state.
In recent years, atheism, agnosticism, secularism, and religious indifference have increased in numbers as young Americans in particular look at the religious scene and say no thanks. Christian sects are hemorrhaging members, as church leaders scramble to plug the increasingly larger hole in the membership dike. They rightly understand that if they are unable to keep young adults in the church, they are but a generation or two away from extinction. This is particularly true for smaller churches who have lost millions of members to megachurches and larger churches. Unable to compete, smaller churches are slowly dying, the result of the corporate, entertainment mindset that now dominates the Christian landscape. That and an unwillingness to adapt to cultural change. Those of us who are not Christians observe this decline from the outside, cheering on those who cannibalize their own. Surely we would all be better off without Christianity, atheists say. While it can certainly be debated whether we would actually be better off without Christianity, it is certainly clear that religious belief has caused untold damage.
I spent 50 years of my life in the Evangelical church. I spent 25 years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. I have come in contact with thousands of people who self-identified as Christians. I have intimately known countless people who believe the Bible is the word of God, and that it is a guidebook for living life. These Christians believe that the Bible tells us all we need to know about life — both now and after death. How should atheists respond to Christians who believe their particular flavor of Christianity is the truth? How should atheists respond to those who believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God? What is our duty — if any — to those who are committed followers of Jesus? Should atheists, when presented with an opportunity to do so, disabuse Christians of their beliefs? Does it really matter what people believe?
The atheist community is certainly not of one mind on these issues. Some atheists think that religious belief should be challenged at every opportunity. Some atheists think that religious belief deserves mockery and ridicule. Other atheists take a live-and-let-live attitude. Don’t bother me and I won’t bother you, these atheists say.
The question raised in this post, should atheists disabuse Christians of their beliefs? comes from an atheist who recently engaged in a discussion with a Christian minister about religious faith and atheism. She wondered if atheists should bother trying to engage people who are resolutely committed to Christianity, its God, and its religious text – the Bible. What follows is my answer.
I tend to take an incremental approach to engaging people of faith. This has led some atheists to label me as an accommodationist. I have often been accused of being too soft or nice to Christians, which is ironic, because many Christians think I am hostile towards Christianity. I suppose that atheists and Christians alike are right. I can be hostile towards any form of Christianity that psychologically and physically harms people. I am certainly hostile towards any religious system that impedes progress and the betterment of the human race. That said, when dealing with people I think have doubts and questions about Christianity, I tend to be patient and long-suffering, hoping that I can, through reason and kindness, help them move away from the suffocating constraints of Christianity — particularly Evangelicalism. I play the game, realizing — as it did for me — that it might take years for someone to come to the conclusion that what they have believed for years is a lie. Assaulting such people with every possible atheistic weapon rarely results in deconversion. Unlike Evangelicals with their born-again experiences, the path to atheism is often a long and winding road, with many starts and stops along the way.
How should atheists respond when Christian zealots make a deliberate attempt to evangelize them or deliver them from what Christians believe are satanic, immoral beliefs? How should atheists respond when Christians make a concerted effort to challenge their beliefs — or lack thereof? Social media is often a prime hunting ground for Christians looking to assert their beliefs and sense of rightness. I’m sure most atheists at one time or another have had to interact with preachy, evangelizing Christian friends and family members on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites. While most of my Facebook friends are atheists or non-Christians, I am friends with several Evangelicals. I post very little atheism-related material on my Facebook wall. I usually post these kind of things on my page. I tell my Facebook friends that they want to read my writing about religion that they should check out my page. On my personal Facebook account, I tend to post cat videos, cartoons, and things that reflect my liberal, socialistic political beliefs. The same cannot be said for my Christian Facebook friends. Virtually every day they post Christian related stories and memes, and one friend — an out-of-work preacher — has taken to posting what I call paragraph sermons. These sermonettes are often directed towards those who are not Christian, which is strange, because the overwhelming majority of his Facebook friends are Evangelical Christians. I think I can safely say that this man’s preaching is directed towards me and my family and other people he has deemed unsaved. This Baptist preacher’s wife tends to post similar material.
One day this preacher’s wife posted something that mentioned atheism. After reading it, I pondered whether I should bother to respond. I did, resulting in a family squabble of sorts. By the next day, her post was removed. I have no idea why. It certainly couldn’t had been due to anything I had written. I was polite, but forceful. This couple, while certainly Fundamentalist, likes to think that they are somehow “different” from hard-core Fundamentalists. I attempted to show that they weren’t, using a tactic I use whenever someone tries to paint themselves as a kinder, gentler, more accepting Christian. I asked if they believed non-Christians would go to hell when they die. Their answer was emphatically YES!. I told them that the rest of their beliefs really didn’t matter. Anyone who believes that their God will not only fit unbelievers with a fireproof body but also torture them night and day is every bit as hateful and judgmental as the worst of Fundamentalists. These kind, nice, smiling Fundamentalists want to believe that they are different from their Fundamentalist forefathers, but their abhorrent belief in hell and the eternal torture of unbelievers makes them every bit as bad.
Why did I bother to engage these Fundamentalists? Surely I knew that nothing would be gained by writing a dissenting comment on the wife’s post. The only reason I did so is because she directly mentioned atheism. I thought, this is my opportunity to put in a word for atheism. While I had hoped my comment might spark honest, thoughtful discussion about Christianity, atheism, and how the family in general has treated non-Christians, I also knew that it could turn out like it did. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
It up to individual atheists to determine when and where they engage the beliefs of Christians. Sometimes, there is no value in attempting to challenge those whose heads are in a bucket of cement. They are deaf and blind, unable to see and hear any other belief but their own. When dealing with such people I take the advice of the Bible — don’t cast your pearls before swine. Atheists can waste tremendous amounts of time talking to people who really have no interest in what they have the say. When I first started blogging nine years ago I thought that if I just explained myself to people that they would appreciate and understand where I am coming from. I know, quite naïve. A few years back, this issue came up in counseling. I told my counselor that it bothered me that many Christian critics have no interest in hearing my story or allowing me to explain myself. He chuckled and then told me, Bruce, you wrongly think these people give a shit about you. They don’t. And all these years later, I know my counselor is right. Most Christians who engage me are not interested in me as a person. Their goal is to put in a good word for Jesus or to bolster their apologetical skills. Perhaps, deep down they have doubts about their beliefs, and attacking an Evangelical-pastor-turned-atheist helps shout down their doubts and fears.
I think atheists should weigh carefully what might happen if they engage Christians in some sort of dialogue. Sometimes, such engagement can have catastrophic consequences. (Please See Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist.) Atheism is still considered by many to be satanic and immoral. When someone declares their allegiance to atheism, this can and does cause conflict. I have corresponded with atheists who have lost jobs and their marriages over their atheistic beliefs. Try as atheists might to explain that atheism is not a belief system, Christians often already have their minds made up. No amount of discussion about humanism — the moral and ethical framework for most atheists — will suffice. For these Christians, atheists are bad people. I generally don’t bother with such people, again saving my pearls for those who can appreciate them.
The atheist woman who asked the question that has been the subject of this post recently had a lengthy email discussion with her former Evangelical pastor. This man of God found that she was quite willing and capable to defend atheism and her lack of belief in the Christian God. She told me in an email that she wondered if anyone had ever challenged this pastor concerning his beliefs. Likely not, since most pastors are insulated from any outside challenges to their beliefs. Safe within the confines of their church and study, pastors rarely have to defend what they believe. And when they do, they often turn to books that purport to answer EVERY question posed by unbelievers. As most atheists who have spent significant time engaging Christians know, these books are filled with worn-out clichés, shallow defenses of Christianity, and poor arguments against atheism, secularism, and humanism — arguments that are often easily defeated. When pushed into the corner, pastors will always hold on to three things: personal experience, faith, and the Bible. Of course, such metaphysical claims rest beyond rational investigation. Once faith is invoked, discussion ceases.
Over the past nine years I have corresponded with countless pastors. Currently, I am corresponding with a handful of pastors whose have serious doubts about their faith. I do my best to thoughtfully and honestly engage them. If they sincerely want my help or just want somebody to talk to, I am more than happy to oblige. When I began walking down the path of unbelief, I was glad I had someone to talk to, someone who was willing to patiently listen and gently challenge my beliefs. The goal in such discussions is not conversion as much as it is to help people move beyond where they are. All atheists agree that religious Fundamentalism is harmful, and that helping people see this is vitally important. While it’s great if people embrace unbelief, many won’t. Many times, all atheists can do is become facilitators of sorts, helping people see that there are better ways to live their lives (even if that means they hang on to some sort of religious belief). I am content to leave discussions unfinished, knowing that some people will return a few years later, now ready to finish the discussions begun years before.
In some instances, there is no value in challenging religious beliefs. My wife’s parents are in their 80s. They have been fundamentalist Christians their entire lives. They currently attend a hard-core Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. They have been members of this church for almost 40 years. My wife’s father is a retired Baptist preacher. While it would be easy for me to challenge their beliefs, I refrain from doing so. What would I gain from challenging their lifelong beliefs about God, Jesus, sin, salvation, and life after death? There’s nothing I could say that could ever cause them to not believe. Ten years ago their youngest daughter was killed in a tragic automobile accident. If anything could challenge their faith it would have been this. Recently, my wife’s father had his hip replaced, resulting in what can be best described as a medical clusterfuck. Six months later, he is still in the nursing home, can hardly walk, and it is possible that he may never return home. Countless prayers have been uttered on their behalf, yet God — at least from my perspective — has stood by and done nothing. Despite great pain, suffering, debility, and economic loss, my wife’s parents hang on to their faith. Again, I can’t think of anything that would cause them to lose their faith. Because I know this, I have resigned myself to the fact that nothing I say to them about their beliefs will make a difference. As long as they don’t try to evangelize me or interject their Fundamentalist beliefs and practices into my life, I am content to let them believe whatever they want.
How do you interact with Christians? Do you aggressively challenge Christian belief on social media or in family gatherings? Are you an evangelist of sorts for atheism? Or do you take the live-and-let-live approach, ignoring the religious beliefs of others? Please share your thoughts in the comment section. I am sure there are many and varied ways that atheists interact with Christians, so I hope you will share your approach in the comments. As I have made clear in the past, I don’t want anyone to follow after me. Each of us must chart his or her own course. As unbelievers, we must determine how best to engage a culture that is overwhelmingly controlled and dominated by Christianity.Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you would like to ask Bruce a question, please contact him via the Contact Form. If you would like to financially support this site, you can make a donation through Patreon or PayPal. Buying books though our Bookstore is also greatly appreciated.
I grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist home. I spent the first 50 years of my life regularly attending Christian churches. Deeply immersed in the Christian life and way of thinking, I never doubted that I would become anything but a Baptist preacher. I was five years old when I first told my mother that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. Not a fireman, not a police officer, not a baseball player — a preacher. Unlike most people, I never went through the angst of trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. From the time of my conversion at age 15 to the moment I walked away from the ministry, I never doubted that God had called me to be a preacher of the gospel. As I mentioned yesterday, I was what people would call a true believer®. My life oozed Jesus, the Bible, and my visible, dedicated commitment to the Baptist church. While many people today question whether I was a “real” Christian, no one during my time in the ministry ever questioned that I was anything but a sincere follower of Jesus Christ. Anyone who suggests otherwise is deliberately ignoring the facts.
Yet, here I am at age 58, no longer in the ministry, no longer Christian, and now an outspoken atheist and critic of Evangelical Christianity. I attended Midwestern Baptist College in the 1970s. During its 60-plus-year history, thousands of students attended classes at Midwestern. Hundreds of men went on to pastor churches or work in some other capacity at churches or Christian educational institutions. Some men went on to be missionaries or evangelists. Women married preachers, went to the mission field, or became Christian school teachers. While Midwestern never had a large student body, its students and graduates can be found serving Jesus all across the globe. Yet, out of all these students, as far as I know, my wife and I are the only two who have publicly renounced Christianity. While I am certain other former Midwestern students are atheists or agnostics, I am unaware of their existence. Perhaps they do not want the notoriety and hassle that comes from publicly renouncing Midwestern’s God. I know well the price one must pay when rejecting the tribal God. Polly and I lost dozens of friends and colleagues as a result of our public declaration of unbelief. We are estranged from family, have few friends, and are forced to live with the whispers and gossip of local Christian residents who treat us as some sort of exotic zoo animals. We willingly endure these things because we value honesty and intellectual integrity above cultural or social acceptance.
There are times when I find myself wondering why I cannot be like everyone else. I loved preaching and teaching. I loved helping others. I loved rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty in the work of the ministry. Yet, despite loving these things, they were not enough to keep me in the fold. Why is it my former colleagues and the students I attended college with are able to continue believing and I am not? While it would be tempting to say that I am intellectually superior to them, I know this is not the case. It would be easy to dismiss everyone with a wave of the hand and a snide — bunch of illiterate hillbillies — but I know that in doing so I would be painting with too broad a brush (a brush I wish atheists would quit using).
Perhaps there was something wrong with my faith. I have often asked myself this question. Was there something about my Christian experience that was in some way defective? I do not think so. While I certainly can see how someone might — by taking a short sample size of my life — conclude that the blame for my faithlessness rests solely on my shoulders; but my life, when taken as a whole, reflects that I was one who truly believed in God, Jesus, and the teachings of the Bible. Yet, I am an atheist. While I doubt I will ever fully understand why I cannot be like others, I have come to a few conclusions about the trajectory of my life and how I arrived at where I am today.
I have always valued intellectual pursuit. While I spent many years bouncing from wall to wall within the Evangelical box, even within these constraints I diligently sought to know the truth. This is why I left the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement in the late 1980s. It is also why I became a Calvinist and then later abandoned Calvinism as I embraced more of a works-oriented social gospel. While many of my former colleagues in the ministry have never deviated from the theology they were taught at Midwestern Baptist College and other evangelical institutions, I was unwilling to accept certain beliefs as “truth” just because it was the official doctrine of Midwestern or whatever group I was a part of. Years ago, I attended one of the monthly meetings of the Buckeye Independent Baptist Fellowship. It was a well-attended meeting, and every preacher had on the uniform — suit and tie. Not I. I wore an ivory-colored sweater. The reason I remember this is because the host of the meeting pointed out the fact that I was wearing a sweater. He found my attire amusing, yet he thought that it was wonderful that I was unwilling to follow the herd’s dress code. Of course, I spent the remainder of the day having corncob in their ass preachers look at me as some sort of liberal compromiser. Closer friends in attendance ribbed me over dressing so casually. I think this story accurately reflects how I viewed life then and still view it today. Unwilling to acquiesce to tribal demands, I forged my own path. Friends and colleagues viewed me as double minded, whereas all I was trying to do is be honest and follow the path wherever it leads. I am, today, still on this path. Who knows where I might yet end up.
I have never been a go-along-with-the-crowd type of person. Even though I was a committed Fundamentalist, I didn’t do something just because big-name preacher so and so did. As any observer of Evangelical Christianity can tell you, there has been a tremendous amount of upheaval over the past 40 years. Up until the 1970s, the 1950s style of doing church was considered the Evangelical way of doing things. Today? It is hard to find a church that still does things — as IFB preachers call it — the “old-fashioned” way — old-fashioned meaning “the way things were done in the days of Ozzie and Harriet.” While my style of ministry and preaching changed somewhat over the years, I made these changes, most often, for pragmatic reasons. I firmly believed that churches and preachers must adapt their methodologies to the times. While bus ministries and door-to-door evangelism once yielded great numerical growth, these methods no longer work — regardless of what head-in-the-sand IFB preachers might tell you. Churches unwilling to adapt only hurt themselves, leading to attendance decline and closures.
Even as an atheist, I am resistant to following the herd. The atheist movement and Evangelicalism have more than a few things in common. In Evangelicalism, certain preachers are revered and considered mountaintop dispensers of wisdom and knowledge. So it is with atheists. All one has to do is look at the speaker lineup for atheist and humanist conferences or the upcoming Reason Rally. Instead of embracing the diversity of the atheist community, these conferences often become little more than the atheist version of star powered award shows. And I get it. People are not going to fly or drive hundreds of miles to hear atheist nobodies. As with Evangelicals, many atheists seem to value the pronouncements of big-name speakers and writers over those of everyday, run-of-the-mill, garden-variety atheists. As with Evangelicals, the only way to get in the game is to play by the rules. If you are unwilling to play by the rules, you can expect to not be invited to play the game. I have accepted that this is the way things are. This is the price I pay for maintaining freedom and autonomy. A price, by the way, I am more than happy to pay.
As many of you know, I am working ever-so-slowly on an autobiography of my life. I think the book will be something that doubting Evangelicals and Evangelicals-turned-atheists will find helpful. As with all writers, I hope that my book will become a New York Times bestseller. One way to sell a lot of books is to get well-known atheists to write endorsements. I decided not to do this. While I know a handful of well-known atheists, most of my involvement with atheists comes through this blog and social media. I remain, to this day, a blue-collar laborer, unknown, but happy to have an opportunity to lend my small voice to the collective objection to evangelical Christianity. Knowing that I will never be asked to join the A-Team, I content myself with helping people break free of Evangelicalism’s pernicious grasp. While it would be fun and somewhat rewarding to speak to thousands of like-minded atheists, such an experience pales in comparison to helping people find their way out of the Fundamentalist maze.
I have said all of the above to provide some context for my answer to the question, why can’t I be like everyone else? I can’t be like everyone else because I am me. That is the simplest explanation. I am who I am and my life is what it is. I value honesty over conformity and independence over sameness. These values have only gotten stronger now that I am an atheist. No longer burdened by Evangelicalism’s written and unwritten code of acceptable belief and practice, I am free to be whomever and whatever I want to be. I recognize that living my life this way might result in me not being accepted by the larger atheist community. I know there are pro-life atheists and Republican atheists who understand what I am talking about. Conformity — even among atheists — is often demanded if one wants to join a particular club. This is why atheism is so fractured. Proponents of various atheistic groups — atheism+, mythicism, social justice, feminism, and the destruction of all religion — demand fidelity to that group’s doctrines. They are, in many ways, not much different from Fundamentalists with their rigid codes of belief and conduct. Many atheists have a need to be part of something larger, so they are willing to surrender their intellectual autonomy to be a part of a group. I am unwilling to do so, and this is why, in the end, I cannot be like everyone else.
I am more than willing to work with atheist groups and individual atheists when their causes align with mine. However, as I learned from my battles with the proponents of atheism+, it is all or nothing for many atheists. Either you accept the 10 Commandments of that group’s dogma or they will have nothing to do with you. This is why more than a few atheists have questioned my atheism. If I dare write something that runs afoul of the received atheist faith, as with Evangelicals, my commitment to atheism and humanism is questioned. If I suggest something that gives the hint of accommodationism, I am accused of promoting religion. I have received countless emails from atheists over the years who object to something I have written. If I say I am agnostic on the God question, the defenders of true atheism® are sure to let me know that they think I am a hypocrite and have some sort of religious hangover. While these letters used to bother me, I now understand that Fundamentalist thinking can be found in every group. There is nothing I can do about this. I am committed to being open and honest about my life and I am committed to passionately writing about my beliefs and worldview. If these things do not meet the criteria for acceptance into the atheist college of cardinals, so be it. I value personal freedom and intellectual integrity far more than I do membership in any group. If this limits me in some way, I am willing to accept that this is the price I must pay for being true to self. These traits will be valued by many, and that is enough satisfaction for me to continue preaching the gospel of godlessness.
Written in 2010 Edited for clarity and grammar
I still get asked fairly often, Bruce, do you believe in God? Even though I self-identify as an atheist, some people doubt that I really, really, r-e-a-l-l-y believe that there is no God.
When it comes to the God question, I am agnostic. I can say with great confidence that I don’t believe any of the current deities in the human panoply of Gods is God at all. Could some sort of deity show up on the scene in the future? Sure, it is possible. Is it probable? No.
So why then do I self-identify as an atheist and not an agnostic?
First, I got tired of having to explain what I meant by the word agnostic. Saying, I am an atheist is pretty straightforward and less likely to misinterpreted.
Second, I live from day to day with no thought of whether a deity exists. I don’t do anything in my life that remotely says to someone else, Bruce believes in God (and I have met a lot of Christians who are just as atheistic as I am). Morally and ethically I do my best to live according to humanistic principles. (See The Humanist Manifesto III.) My concern is with how I live in the here and now. I have no thoughts of Heaven (or hell), no thoughts of eternal life, and no thoughts at all about anything beyond the grave.
That said, when I look at the natural world I can certainly see how someone might adopt some form of deism. While I do not find deistic arguments intellectually satisfying, I do understand how someone might come to such a conclusion. Most of the deists I know are every bit as atheistic as I am. The difference between us is that they hope that there is some sort life beyond the grave.
Even if I grant the premise that it is possible/likely that a God of some sort created the universe, there is no plausible way for me to make the jump from this nonspecific, ambiguous God to the Christian God of the Bible. Believing that a God of some sort created everything is one thing, but believing that the Christian God of the Bible is that creator is a leap of faith I cannot take (and I wish Christians would admit that when they use the word God, it is not a generic God they are talking about).
At the end of the day, atheism and evolution offer the best explanations for what I observe in the natural world. Do they provide ALL the answers? Of course not, but I no longer need certainty. I am quite content to live with ambiguity, and not knowing everything is a humble reminder that I am human. While I still thirst for knowledge and understanding, I know that my quest will never reach a place of certainty or infallibility.
In 2012, tens of thousands of skeptics, secularists, atheists, agnostics, and humanists gathered in Washington DC to give testimony to the rise of American secularism. This was, for many secularists, a coming-out party. This was godless Americans telling Christians that they were no longer willing to stand idly by while the religious right trampled on the US Constitution and the separation of church and state. Most of all, it was a public statement of solidarity, a reminder that secularists can be found in virtually every walk of life.
Four years later, American atheist and humanist groups are gearing up to host another Reason Rally. The Rally will be a multi-day event, Thursday, June 2nd through Sunday, June 5th, culminating with a huge gathering at the Lincoln Memorial from 8 am to 5 pm on June 4th. You can find out more about the 2016 Reason Rally here.
Several readers have asked if I plan to attend the Rally. They would like for me to be considered for one of the speaking slots during the four-day event. While I would never recommend myself to be a speaker, It certainly would be an honor if I was asked to do so.
Roy Madewell, a long-time friend and reader of this blog, asked if I would please encourage readers to suggest to Rally planners that I be considered for one of the speaking slots. Fearing the wrath of Roy and his merry band of atheists, I have acquiesced to his request. If you would like to suggest to planners that I speak at the Rally, please contact them here.
One of the saddest questions I see in the search logs is this: I have ____________________. Is God punishing me for my sin?
If a person believes the Bible, then the answer to this question is Yes. God does afflict people because of their sin. God maims, sickens, and kills people, all because they violated one or more of his laws. No disobedience is too trivial for the thrice-holy God to punish. Remember Uzzah, the man who broke God’s law by touching the Ark of the Covenant, a gold-clad chest containing the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod, and a pot of manna ? David commanded the Ark be moved by cart from one place to another. As it was being moved, the oxen pulling the cart stumbled. Fearing that the Ark would topple over, Uzzah, a Levite, reached out to steady the Ark. God rewarded Uzzah for his saintly effort by striking him dead.
In the Old Testament, God is shown using affliction and destruction to either make a point or to get someone to do what he wants them to do. God is definitely a hands-on kind of deity, punishing sin to the third and fourth generation. In the New Testament, we are told God often afflicts Christians to test or make them stronger. Sometimes, God uses heartache and tragedy to get Christians’ attention. I’ve been told by numerous Evangelicals that the reason I’m in so much physical pain is that God is trying to get my attention. I’ve even been warned that God might kill me if I continue to ignore his warnings.
Then there are the times that God maims, afflicts, or kills people because he wants them to give praise and glory to his name. God, ever the adoration-seeking narcissist, will go to great lengths to get people to worship him. In the still of the night, God comes into the bedroom of the infant daughter of Christians Bobby and Isabelle. Is God there to admire the beautiful little girl? Perhaps he wants to tell her that she will some day grow up and be a woman greatly used by God. Sadly, on this night God had a more sinister plan in mind. He reaches into the crib and puts his nail-pierced hand over the baby’s mouth and quietly suffocates the child to death. Why would a supposedly loving, caring, and kind God do such a thing? For no other reason than come morning he wants the dead child’s parents to give praise and glory to his name. No explanation will be forthcoming. Bobby and Isabelle will be expected to act as if their daughter’s death is all part of God’s wonderful plan for their life.
Christians believe God is the creator of the universe, and as the Sovereign ruler he has complete and absolute control over everything. When Christians face sickness, disaster, or the loss of a loved one, they are reminded by their pastor and friends that God is bigger than their circumstances. Just trust God, they are told. Surely, he is using your troubles to make you stronger and draw you closer to him. Suffering Christians might even be asked to search their hearts for some sort of secret sin that lies buried deep within. Perhaps God is trying to get them to acknowledge and forsake this secret sin.
The things I have mentioned above are some of the reasons I am no longer a Christian. What kind of God operates in this manner? Of course, I am sure someone will tell me: Bruce, how dare you question God! For many Christians, God is above reproach. Even when he acts like a psychopath, God is given a free pass. After all, the Christian says, his ways are not our ways. We must trust and believe that God knows best.
Sadly, many Christians are so disconnected from reality that they cannot or will not see things as they are. If a mere human did what the Bible says God did, he would be tried before a world tribunal for crimes against humanity. And I have no doubt that he would be convicted on all counts and sentenced to death. Perhaps God deserves the same judgment and punishment.
It’s better to believe that shit happens in life, no God necessary. People get sick, face untold suffering, and die. Through genetics, environment, and lifestyle choices, people are afflicted with all kinds of diseases. In many cases, these diseases are what will eventually kill them. It’s far better to believe that this is how life is than to think that there is a God in Heaven set on afflicting us for our sin or because he needs his ego stroked.
The liberal Christian is likely to scream foul and say, God is love. Yes, according to the Bible, God is love, but he is also everything else I have mentioned in this post. To liberal Christians I say, please take off your blinders and read ALL of the Bible. Ignoring the portions of the Bible that make you uncomfortable or make God look like a mean, vindictive, son-of-a-bitch, doesn’t change the fact that those passages ARE in the Bible. If these accounts are not to be accepted as an accurate description of God and how he operates, why should we then be expected to believe that God is love or that Jesus is who and what Christians claim he is? Where’s the instruction manual for playing the pick-and-choose Bible Game®? From my seat in the atheist pew, it looks like Christians are just making up the rules as they go.
If God is unchanging and Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then Christians have no other option but to accept God as he is described in the Bible. If Christians are unwilling to do so, then they need to be honest and admit that they have fashioned a God in their own image. Either that or Christians must admit that the Bible is not a divine book; that it is just a work of fiction written by men thousands of years ago.
For most of my adult life, I lived as a stoic, come-what-may, Christian. No matter what suffering, trial, or adversity came my way I believed God was either punishing me for sin, making me stronger, or teaching me a lesson. Like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim on his way to the Celestial City, no matter what came my way I continued to endure and run the race set before me.
My wife and I are quite matter of fact about life. This drives some people crazy, but we have been deeply influenced by Christianity and its belief that we are to bear whatever adversity comes our way. We believed for most of our adult lives that God was faithful and would never give us more than we could bear. This kind of thinking can make someone quite passive about life. Since God is behind everything, the Christian is expected to keep trusting and believing right up to the moment they draw their last breath. No kicking, no screaming, no defiance. Just a sweet, thank you Jesus smile as they are carried away by angels to Heaven.
This kind of thinking makes people less human. It often robs them of their will, their desire to live. Many Christians are like the Apostle Paul who wished he could die and go to a better place. After all, according to the Bible, this world is such a sinful, wicked place that death becomes the sweet release. But what if Christians are wrong about life, suffering, and death? Let me use here what I call reverse Pascal’s Wager. What IF this life is all the Christian has? What if death really is the end? Shouldn’t Christians want to enjoy THIS life to its fullest? Wouldn’t they want to live every moment of every day in such a way that reflects the brevity and finality of their life? Instead of living according to the notion that they are most miserable if this is all there is, how about seeing that life is a great a blessing even if there is no afterlife.
Despite the physical struggles, pain, and debility that dominate my life, I am grateful to be counted among the living. I’m not ready to become worm food, nor am I ready for people to say lies about me at my funeral. I refuse to go “gentle” into the night (Dylan Thomas, Do Not God Gentle Into that Good Night). I will not stand like a lemming in line waiting for the Wraith to come and turn me into food. Life is worth living and I don’t need the promise of eternal life to make it so. And I sure as hell don’t need to concern myself with thoughts of a mythical, sin-punishing God who finds some sort of perverse pleasure in pulling the wings off his creation.Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you would like to ask Bruce a question, please contact him via the Contact Form. If you would like to financially support this site, you can make a donation through Patreon or PayPal. Buying books though our Bookstore is also greatly appreciated.
Yesterday, Polly and I drove 50 or so miles northeast to Toledo to celebrate her 57th birthday. We had a delightful evening and enjoyed a scrumptious meal at Mancy’s Steakhouse. On our way to the restaurant, we traveled on I-475 North and passed by Hope Baptist Church, one of the largest Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches in the area. (The church is pastored by Richard “Rick” Sowell.) Hope Baptist has quite a snazzy and expensive church building as far as IFB church buildings go. Hoping to maximize their message, the church has a digital sign that can be read easily from the interstate. I wish we could have stopped along the road so I could photograph the sign, but traffic was heavy and we were pressed for time. I did, however, write down the message and text it to myself. Here’s what it said:
PITY THE ATHEIST WHO IS GRATEFUL
Over the years, I’ve had a few Evangelicals question my use of words like “blessing” and “grateful.” Some of them suggested that my use of these words proves I am still a Christian, as does the fact that I capitalize words such as Bible, God, etc. Evidently, no matter how I much I try to suppress God, he oozes out of my life. Can’t argue with brilliance like this, right?
The argument goes something like this; the words “blessing” and “grateful” are words that can only be used by someone who has God as the focus of their worship. The Christian says, WHO is blessing you, Bruce? WHO are you thanking? They got me. I’m caught in an insurmountable problem. What should I do? Is it time for me to admit that it is the Christian God that blesses me? Is it time for the preacher-turned-atheist to admit that he is grateful for what blessings come into his life from the God from whom all blessings flow?
This line of argument reveals that many Evangelicals have no curiosity and are unable to think of any explanation but that which flows from and fits the narrow confines of their fundamentalist theology. For Rick Sowell and the people of Hope Baptist Church, the locus of blessing, gratefulness, and thanksgiving can only be their version of the Christian God.
Well, let me disabuse Evangelicals of the notion that an atheist can’t use words like “blessing” and “grateful.” As an atheist and a humanist, I reject the notion that there is a God. As I have humorously said before, when the words Oh God are screamed out in our bedroom, we know exactly who the God is. Too risqué? Consider this. Who is it that blesses your life? A fictitious God, a deity no one has ever seen? The Christian says yes, believing that ALL blessings flow from the hand of God Almighty and any humans taking credit for these blessings are blaspheming God. However, as a man rooted in the here and now, in the earthy present, I choose to recognize that what blessings come my way come from one or more of my fellow human beings, nature, and the animals I share this world with.
When someone does something that is a blessing, I express to the person blessing me that I am grateful for what he or she has done. When I tell the doctor THANK YOU, I am directing my gratefulness to the person responsible for my medical care. When we stopped to pick up Bethany from my son and daughter-in-law’s home last night, I thanked them for babysitting. Polly and I were grateful that they were willing to watch Bethany so we could have a nice time on the town. Should I shoot up a prayer to the ceiling, thanking the Big Man Upstairs for them being willing and able to babysit? Of course not. God didn’t do the babysitting, they did.
One of my all- time favorite movie prayers is Jimmy Stewart’s dinner prayer in the movie Shenandoah:
Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked Dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food were about to eat. Amen.
This prayer reveals the essence of the atheist and humanist view on expressing gratefulness. Who deserves our praise and expression of gratefulness? The person doing the work. When someone makes a financial donation supporting this site, I don’t send them an email letting them know that I thanked someone other than them for their donation. Simply put, we should give credit to whom credit is due. If religious people want to give their deity an honorable mention, that’s fine, but the praise and gratefulness should be directed to the person responsible for the blessing.
So, to Rick Sowell and Hope Baptist Church, I am GRATEFUL that you continue to provide me with blog fodder. Keep up the good work. As long as you and your fellow Evangelicals continue to deliberately distort how atheists and humanists view the world, I plan to send a bit of Bruce Gerencser Blessing® your way.
Recently, a new reader sent me the following email:
I found your site by way of various blogs on Patheos. Over the weekend, I read one of our posts describing your journey to atheism…In particular, I am interested in a list of five or so books that you had read on your journey. I cannot find your post and am extremely interested in reading your suggestions. Can you point me in the right direction? I’m married to a Southern Baptist, who was completely non-practicing until we had kids. I’m an atheist, trying to be extremely respectful of my husband’s religion, while my young children are rebelling against it because of science and common sense… (email edited)
This is a great question, one that I get quite often, so I thought I’d put together a list of books I recommend for those who have questions or doubts about the Bible and Christianity. I think these books will be quite helpful. If you know of other books that would be helpful, please mention them in the comment section.
Books I Recommend