Life

Should a Christian Date an Atheist?

unequally yoked

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?

Recently, a girl emailed Paula Hendricks, a writer for the Lies Young Women Believe website, and asked her whether it was OK to date, love, and marry an atheist. Hendricks, a Christian fundamentalist, replied:

Dear “I’m falling in love with an atheist,”

I am so glad you wrote. Please don’t read this letter with a harsh, condemning tone, but with an urgent, pleading one. I am deeply concerned for you. If this letter feels like I’m dumping a bucket of cold water on your head, it’s because I want you to wake up!

Let’s start with who a Christian is.

An atheist and a Christian just aren’t compatible.

A Christian is a person who is now one with Christ. A Christian has been rescued by Jesus out of the darkness of sin and has been brought into His marvelous light—transformed from the inside out. A Christian has the spirit of Christ living inside of them! A Christian is someone whose entire identity has been refashioned around Christ. Christ is their life. Christ is the reason they are now accepted and beloved by God the Father.

An atheist, on the other hand, denies that God even exists. An atheist hates the very idea of there being a God.

An atheist and a Christian just aren’t compatible…

…You will have to choose between God and this man. You can’t have both. James warns “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Let me be clear about this, though. If you choose God over this man, God will not love you any more than He already does. It won’t earn you extra points with God. If you truly trust in Christ Jesus as both your Savior and your Lord, you are already His 100% dearly loved child.

Does that mean that you have the freedom to date this man? No way! Besides, why would you want to, when Christ has revealed Himself to you as the greatest treasure there is—both in this life and for the life to come?

I get it that you have strong feelings toward this man. I’ve been where you are. And if you’re anything like me, my guess is that what you’re feeling isn’t true love, but something closer to romantic desire . . . and even maybe lust…

These atheists, they must be scary people. I suspect they hang out at dance halls, lurking in the shadows, hoping to find a virgin Evangelical girl they can entice with thoughts of love and draw them away to the dark side. As every Christian knows, atheists are child molesters, sexual perverts, Satan worshipers, and eat babies on Friday. According to Hendricks, atheists hate “the very idea of there being a God.”  In one sentence, like most Evangelicals, Hendricks reveals that she doesn’t really know any atheists. All she has to go on is the bigoted stereotype she was taught in church. If she actually knew any atheists, she would know that atheists don’t hate the thought of the existence of God. How can they since they don’t believe there is a God? What many atheists do hate is what Christianity DOES in the name of its God.

Pity the poor girl who sent Hendricks the email. She’s fallen in love with her dance partner, and according to Hendricks she shouldn’t act on this love because God says such love is a sin. Besides, what she may really be “feeling” is lust. Ah yes, the ever-present lust that lurks in the heart of Evangelicals. You’d think with God living inside of you that there would be no room for lust, but it seems that Evangelicals lust just like us unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines.

One atheist commenter challenged Hendricks’ statement about atheists. Here’s Hendricks’ response:

Hey, Caitriona, You’re welcome here. While my statement may have been a bit broad and might not perfectly characterize all self-professed atheists, Romans 1 tells us that we’re ALL God-haters (whether we claim to be atheists or not), and we suppress the truth about Him in our unrighteousness.

I was a God-hater, too, until God revealed His lovingkindness to me in Christ Jesus paying the penalty for my sin so I might be set free from being a slave to my own selfish passions and might become His beloved, adopted daughter.

This is a bit off topic, but would you be bold enough to ask God to reveal Himself to you if He really is real? And . . . would you be open to picking up a Bible and reading the book of Romans, or John?

Thanks for stopping by and sharing,

And then someone named Becca chimed in:

Hey Caitriona, thanks for your input, I appreciate you taking time to comment:) I don’t want to get into any arguments by any means, but I would like to just give you some food for thought: if there isn’t a God, then that would mean that there really is no purpose for anyone’s life, right? I mean, if we’re all just here by accident, what does it matter? when you take God out of the equation, there is no longer value in anyone’s life, or in the world. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to kill anyone I don’t like? because the government says so? But if we’re all just an accident, with no real purpose, it’s “just” another person with no eternal value. How CAN anyone have true value without God?

On the flip side, we know for a fact that every human being (unborn or not), has value. Everyone has value because they were created in the image of a Holy God, and he loves us SO much! More than you could ever imagine! God cares about us so much that he even collects every tear we’ve ever cried and He keeps them!…

Typical Evangelical drivel, but here’s the thing, I actually agree with Hendricks. Generally, it is ill-advised for anyone to marry someone who does not share their religious, ethical, and moral values. More than one marriage has been brought to ruin by clashing worldviews. Better to seek out a life partner that hasn’t been taught that you are a hater of God, the enemy of God, a tool of Satan. Atheists and Evangelicals alike think they can win over their boyfriend or girlfriend. Rarely, does it work out.

The Evangelical church emphasizes the need for every person to have a personal salvation experience. Countless young men have made what I call, excuse the bluntness,a pussy-driven salvation decision. They want the girl and they can’t have her, so they start going to church, make a profession of faith, and viola the girl agrees to date him. Later they marry, and then the girl finds out that the boy she married feigned faith so he could date her. More than a few of these marriages end in divorce.

Atheists and non-Christians have a completely different way of looking at the world. Evangelicalism is a world filled with Bible verses, commands, and thou shalt not’s. It is a world that will surely frustrate the non-Evangelical. It’s a world where obedience to authority is demanded at every corner and freedom of thought is often discouraged and condemned. It is a place fun loving, free people go to die.  (and yes, I am painting with a Bruce’s Wide Ass Brush®)

Over the years, I have corresponded with a number of atheists who are in a mixed marriage. While most of them have found a way to make peace with their Evangelical spouse, their emails speak to the great pain and disconnect that comes from such a relationship. The believing spouse wants their unbelieving husband or wife to go to church and at least “act” like a Christian. More than a few of the people who have corresponded with me go to church every Sunday to please their spouse. Some of them are secret atheists. Their spouse doesn’t know they no longer believe. They go to church, sing the songs, and listen to sermons they think are bullshit. Why do they do this? Love. They love their believing spouse and children and they want there to be peace on the home front. All would agree, that it would have been better for them if they had married a person who shared the same worldview, but they are willing to do all they can to make the marriage work.

Sadly, some of  those I have corresponded with are now divorced. The reasons are many, but religion played a part in every divorce. The prophet Amos was right when he posed the rhetorical question, Can two walk together except they be agreed?

Do you have a story to tell or some marriage advice to give? Please share it in the comment section.

Depression: It’s the Little Things

little things

I have suffered with depression most of my adult life, especially since being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 1997.

Over the past two decades, not only have I had to contend with Fibromyalgia, I’ve had to deal with neurological problems that are ever so slowly robbing me of my physical strength and ability to walk. My cane and wheelchair are never far away. Some days, most days, are cane days, other days are wheelchair days. Some days are cane and wheelchair days, days when I want to use my cane to club the thoughtless people who walk in front me, try to get in front of me, or just stand there ignoring the fact that I can’t get around them. If illness and debility have taught me anything, they have taught me that some of my fellow humans are narcissistic, self-absorbed assholes who have no time or empathy for others.

Every day is a pain day for me. Some days the pain is manageable and it fades into the background as I write. Other days, the pain is standing with both feet on my neck, threatening to turn me into a weeping, pathetic man. Most days, are a balance between  these extremes. I take my pain meds, try to function, and live for another day.

Along with Fibromyalgia, neurological problems, loss of function, and pain, I’ve had to deal with skin cancer, cysts, a recent pancreatic cancer scare, loss of appetite, on and off loss of cognitive function, a not yet repaired labrum tear in my shoulder, torn meniscus in both of my knees, osteoarthritis, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Health wise,my plate is full. That said, I accept my life as it is. I am a realist. I don’t try to delude myself into thinking I am a young buck running through the forest in chase of a doe. I am a loving, kind, passionate man who, due to genetics, luck, environmental exposure, and personal lifestyle choices, has a body that is dying at a faster rate than others my age. I am a high mileage automobile that from a distance looks good, but close inspection reveals a lot of wear and tear.

All of this I embrace and own. It’s my life, I have to live it on the terms dictated to me by my body. Thinking happy thoughts, putting mind over matter, pretending things are different from what they are provide no help for me. Even when I was a young man, a healthy, strapping, strong man who hunted, hiked, cut wood, and could bend the world to my will, I tried to see things as they are.

Having a father die at 49 and a mother commit suicide at 54, tends to give one perspective. Visiting sick and dying church members in the hospital tends to be a reminder that life is short. My experiences with the sick and dead have certainly shaped my understanding of life and I know path I am on, health wise, leads to a fiery furnace. No not hell, silly. I am going to be cremated after I die.

My counselor has told me several times that it would be unusual for a person with the health problems I have to not be depressed. He knows I struggle with suicidal thoughts, but he also knows that these thoughts are driven by the chronic, unrelenting physical pain,  Through kindness, compassion, friendship, and support, he keeps me from falling down the rabbit hole never to be seen again.

As many depressives will tell you, it is often little things that worsen their depression. For me, it’s not the chronic illness and unrelenting pain…it’s the little, unexpected things that push me towards the abyss. Things like:

  • Falling and wrenching the shoulder that has the labrum tear
  • Constipation
  • Getting out of the house so I can take photographs, only to find out I left the SD card in the card reader
  • Emails and texts to friends who never respond
  • Health advice from people I have repeatedly asked to stop pretending they are a doctor
  • People asking me, have you tried this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that,this that..
  • Dropping a dish on my foot
  • Stubbing my toe in the dark on something that is not where it is supposed to be
  • Nothing in the refrigerator I want to eat
  • No internet
  • The printer running out of ink or toner
  • Needing a quarter for a cart at Aldi and not having one
  • The batteries in the remote dying just as I get comfortable in my chair or bed
  • Making an error in the checkbook
  • Store clerks that treat like I have a disease or worse yet treat me like I don’t exist
  • Finding out last night’s dinner stained my favorite shirt
  • The DVR not recording a show I wanted to watch
  • No milk and I want to eat a bowl of cereal

Silly stuff, I know. But, here’s what you need to understand. For those who live with chronic illness and pain, there’s a cumulative effect. Their life is already filled to the brim with the struggles that come from their illness. It’s often all they can do just to live another day. So, when a small insignificant thing is thrown on top of their load, it can and does bring them crashing down.

Try to remember this the next time you think your suffering friend is overreacting to a small matter. It’s not that one thing that’s the problem; it’s the accumulation of numerous small things that have left your friend or loved one curled up on the bed wanting to die.

 

Medical Costs: Proof that Dying is Cheaper than Living

health care

As many of you know, last month I had an endoscopic ultrasound done at Parkview Regional Hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The doctor also biopsied a lesion on my pancreas and nearby lymph nodes. The good news is…there was no cancer. The bad news is…they had the gall to send me a bill. Well, they haven’t really sent me a bill yet. They have billed my insurance and it looks like my bill is going to be a whopper!

Our insurance has a $3,000.00 deductible and a $6,000.00 maximum out-of-pocket. The billed cost  for the endoscopic ultrasound is $20,667.37 and this does not include any outside lab charges that have not yet been billed. If insurance knocks this down to $15,000.00, we will be over our deductible and maximum out-of-pocket. That’s good news, but the bad news is we will be over our maximum out-of-pocket, which means we will owe several medical providers $6,000.00.

Here’s screen shots from our insurance company’s website:

parkview 3

Pre-Op Blood Test Costs

parkview 2

Doctor’s charges?

parkview

Parkview Regional Hospital Charges

Polly’s employer pays over $15,000.00 a year for our family medical insurance coverage. We pay $3,120.00 in additional premiums. Before anyone gets sick or visits a doctor, over $18,000.00 is spent providing medical coverage for our family. Since the above mentioned costs will likely put us over our maximum out-of-pocket, this means our total out-of-pocket for medical insurance and medical costs in 2015 will be $9,120.00.  While we are certainly glad we have insurance, the total cost will be 25% of our gross income for 2015.

The silver lining? Hey, if we have a heart attack, get cancer, or  need a leg amputated any time before December 31st,  it is totally paid for. (that’s sarcasm in case you don’t recognize it)

Note

I also had a CT scan, an ultrasound, and an MRI done in December 2014. These three tests cost over $4,000.00.

The Story of Fish Lips

bruce gerencser 1971

Bruce Gerencser, Ninth Grade, 1971-72

The year is 1972.

I am a ninth grader at Central Jr High in Findlay , Ohio.

I am a typical boy.

The need to prove I am one of the guys is important to me.

I want to fit in.

I want to be part of the club.

The retards have a classroom in our building.

You know who they are.

The freaks.

The morons,

The half-wits.

A wonderful opportunity  to prove that I belong.

Fish Lips.

That’s what we called him.

He had big lips liked Mr. Limpet.

Every day he wore a tin sheriff’s badge and carried a toy gun.

No post 9-11 worries in 1972.

Why does the retard’s parents send him to school like that?

Don’t they know boys like me lurk in the hallways looking for opportunities to mock and harass their son?

And so I did.

I mocked  him and made life miserable for Fish Lips.

So did other boys, but I am the boy I remember.

I was part of the group now.

I hope Fish Lips didn’t mind being the price of admission.

It is 1989.

I am 32 years old now.

I have three children.

I am the pastor of a thriving Baptist Church.

My wife is pregnant with our fourth child.

Our redheaded daughter was born on September 1st.

Our first girl.

We are so excited to finally have a girl.

It was not long until we realized something wasn’t quite right with our daughter.

The doctor sent us to University Hospital in Columbus.

A genetic test…

We didn’t need the results.

We already knew…

Our daughter had Down Syndrome.

Her features were mild and the doctor missed all the signs.

We found out she had Down’s the day our second daughter was born.

I had a mentally handicapped child.

All of a sudden I had flashback to 1972.

Visions of a hateful boy persecuting the mentally handicapped all because he wanted to belong.

I thought of what I would do to that boy if he did what he did then to my daughter now.

I wept.

I couldn’t undo what I did.

But I could make sure I am never that boy again.

The least of these deserve my protection and care.

They deserve to be who they are without  worrying about a boy with something to prove.

I am glad that boy died in 1989.

Repost, edited, and updated

Please, Don’t Touch Me

dont touch me

Many Fibromyaliga suffers have days where they can’t bear to have someone touch them. Yesterday was one of those days for me. Polly came into the office and started to put her hand on my shoulder and I barked, DON’T.  Polly knows when I say this that I am having a “please don’t touch me” day.

Most days, the nerves in my skin are quite sensitive. This sensitivity is part of the problem I have with chronic pain. I hurt everywhere, from head to toe. It has been years since I have had a day where I could say, I feel pretty good today. Fibromyalgia primarily affects the muscles. I also have osteoarthritis. Fibromyalgia+osteoarthritis+nerve pain=unrelenting chronic pain. Fibromyalgia+osteoarthritis+nerve pain+narcotic pain medication=less unrelenting chronic pain.

As anyone who lives with chronic pain can tell you, pain medications do not make the pain go away. They lessen the pain spikes and provide a break in the pain cycle. When a normally healthy person takes a narcotic to alleviate pain, they often feel a buzz from the drug. Some people become quite loopy. That’s not how it is for people who are on a long-term pain management regimen. (as I have been for over ten years) Unless the chronic pain sufferer takes narcotics like Dr. House, it is unlikely that they will feel a buzz or become loopy. They will feel a lessening of the pain, a break in the pain cycle, but otherwise they will be as normal as normal is for them.

On “please, don’t touch me” days, the pain medications don’t work like they normally do. I am unsure as to the physical reason for this, but I know that I can double my pain medications on a “don’t touch me” day and it has little effect. I just have to tough it out, knowing that the next day will likely be better.

Sometimes, I can feel a “don’t touch me” day coming on, as I did this time. Saturday evening, I went to a Defiance High School basketball game with my oldest son and grandson. Polly dropped me off at the school around 5:30 PM so I could watch the junior varsity game. Jason usually shows up about 30 minutes before the start of the varsity game. On Saturday, I wasn’t seated for very long before I felt the nerves in my body go into overdrive. They were singing and I was crying the blues. I texted Jason and asked him to buy me something to drink as soon as he got there. I told him my pain levels were off the chart. He arrived early and I was able to take some extra pain medication.

Not that it helped much. Sitting in back of me was a mother with several young children. These children spent the night kicking and bumping into me. They weren’t doing it on purpose, so I bit down on the proverbial stick and endured. In the stands above us were several herds of elementary school children. They were there to provide the halftime entertainment. As they rumbled down the bleachers to the floor, I literally felt every footstep. Again, it’s wasn’t their fault. I am the one with the pain problem, and I am the one that put myself in a circumstance where my pain could be exacerbated.

Why I am telling you this? Perhaps you know someone who lives with chronic pain. If so, perhaps this post will give you a little insight into what they might be going through. Perhaps you have seen them grimace when someone touches or bumps into them. They might be having a “please, don’t touch me” day. If they are anything like me, they will endure the pain for the sake of not appearing crabby or difficult. Chronic pain sufferers want to be seen as normal, and often they will silently endure the pain unintentionally inflicted on them by others.

People who know me well will generally ask how I am doing before hugging me or shaking my hand. Some of them even know how to read my face. As much as I try to hide the pain, it reveals itself in my face and eyes. I normally have sparkling blue eyes, but when I am in a lot of pain, depressed, or physically having a difficult day, my eyes will turn gray. Again, I don’t know WHY my eye color changes, I just know it does.

Just Because I’m Fat Doesn’t Mean I Need to Change my Diet

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, February 1978 I am a size 30 waist and size 40 suit.

Rant ahead. Raw feelings revealed that might offend others. You have been warned!

I am quite open about my health and my battle with depression, chronic illness and pain. As most readers know, I recently had an endoscopic ultrasound to see if I had pancreatic cancer. I didn’t, which is good news, but the one thing that has irritated me through this whole process is the assumptions that people make about my lifestyle. If I would only do _______________, then all would be well, or so these I’m not a doctor but I stayed at the Holiday Inn people think.

Let me state the obvious, I am obese. I’ve been overweight for 30 years. Thanks to recent health problems, I have lost 35 pounds. I weigh less than I did at any time in the past decade. I do not feel one bit better having lost the weight. My feet are still invisible and I can assure you that losing weight does not make your penis longer.

Are you laughing? A pastor told me years ago that he read you gain an inch in penis length for every 30 pounds you lose. According to this dimwit’s advice, if I got down to my BMI chart weight, I would gain six inches. That would certainly be porn-worthy.

Ten or so years ago, I saw an orthopedic doctor about a problem I was having with my left knee. Without taking even two minutes to talk to me about my knee pain, he pronounced that I needed to lose weight. Duh, like I don’t know that? But here’s the thing about my knees. I have a torn meniscus in both knees. I have had these tears since 1981. A doctor wanted to do surgery 30 years ago, but I decided to cut back on the amount of basketball I was playing instead. When I injured my knees, I was quite fit. I played basketball three times a week in the winter and spring and played softball several times a week in the summer.  My weight had NOTHING to do with my knee problem, but all the orthopedic doctor saw was an overweight man and he judged me without knowing the first thing about me. (my first sports related knee injury happened in 1973 when I was 16 years old)

I am 57-year-old, fat man. Thanks to Fibromyalgia and a host of other problems not related to my weight, I can no longer physically do many of the things I used to do. (I must use a cane or wheelchair to get around)  People who haven’t walked one foot in my shoes or lived one day with the pain I have, are quick to offer unsolicited advice about everything from exercise to diet to the latest, greatest alternative medicine. These advice givers take a bare amount of information about me, make some assumptions, and conclude I need to do ______________.

My cancer scare has encouraged people to give me advice about how and what to eat. Everyone has a diet for me, sure to fix what ails me. But, here’s what’s wrong with their advice…they don’t know how or I what I eat to start with. If they did, they would refrain from giving me unsolicited advice I do not need.

What’s the underlying assumption here? If you are overweight, fat, obese, plump, a tall person in a short body, or whatever term is used to describe your largesse, the assumption is you don’t eat right. Over the past few weeks, more than a few people have told me I need to change my diet. Eat this, don’t eat that. Eat less of this, more of that.

Here’s the thing, my eating habits, 95% of the time are fine. I eat lots of veggies and have a varied diet. Most of time, I don’t over eat. I will eat a candy bar from time to time, along with a donut here and there, but I don’t drink pop. If we buy cereal, I will eat it and if we don’t I won’t. Most of my meat-eating is fish and chicken. Simply put, my diet is not the problem.

I am never going to be a vegan, vegetarian, or a raw food eater. It ain’t going to happen. If that’s how you eat, fine, but I have no desire to eat like you do. I try to eat responsibly and healthily, but I have no desire to obsess about food and turn it into a religion. I read labels, count calories and carbs, and try to have a lot of fiber in my diet. I don’t need any more information about food and diet. I know all I need to know.

Here’s the real problem I have with those who preach the change your diet gospel to me. They take what works for them and they assume it will work for everyone. They practice bad science when they equate the health problems I have with diet. I know of no study that equates a bad diet with Fibromyalgia. I have MS-like neurological problems. I know of no study that equates a bad diet with Multiple Sclerosis.

Yes, I have high blood pressure, but even here, is my high blood pressure caused by my weight or diet? I doubt it. I took the time a few years ago to research my medical records all the way back to when I was six years old. I found an interesting thing; my blood pressure was marginally high way back when I was a teenager. I have an aunt on my Mom’s side, along with several other relatives, that have high blood pressure. But, here’s what’s interesting, none of them are overweight.

I have one health problem that is directly related to my weight and diet and that is diabetes. When people hear that a person is diabetic, they assume the person is on insulin. I am not on insulin. I take a small amount of medicine each day. My blood glucose levels are under control and my A1C level is on the high side of normal.

Let me sum up this post. Yes, I am fat but there is little I can do about it. I try to eat well and I don’t, most of the time, over feed. I’d love to run, play ball, and exercise, but I can’t. Those who have the kind of problems I do know this, and they too have had to deal with the judgements and comments of the exercise police. I do what I can. I am not a lazy person. If anything, I tend to overdo.

I know this is hard for the physically fit to understand. Through the lens of their personal experience, they judge fat people, concluding they are lazy and indulgent. This may be the case for some fat people, but I know one obese Hungarian where that is not the case.

Here’s what I want from family and friends. I want love and support. I don’t need fat shaming or subtle condemnation. I don’t need diet books, diet articles, or personal opinions about my eating habits and diet. I know all I need to know about food, diet, Fibromyalgia, chronic illness, and chronic pain. A lack of knowledge is not my problem.

Why is that people take it upon themselves to offer unsolicited advice about diet and food? The same goes for medical advice from people who have no medical training and don’t know the intricacies of my health problems. I have a good primary care doctor. I know how to read and I know how to properly and sufficiently investigate the various health problems that afflict me. Again, I am well cared for and educated.

I have a great marriage, 37 years to a wonderful woman. Not everyone has a marriage like Polly and I. I have friends that have challenging marriages. I also have friends and family who have had their marriage end in divorce. Imagine me writing them and telling them, based on my own marriage, how to have a successful marriage. Imagine me writing my divorced friends and telling them how they could have avoided a divorce if they had just read and practiced Bruce and Polly’s 27 steps to a Long Marriage©. Offensive, yes? Why then is unsolicited advice about diet and eating habits any different?

Yes, I could stand to lose some weight. Yes, I could ALWAYS eat less of this and more of that. Yes, I could always make improvements in my diet. I am quite good at self-judgment and I know the difference between lazy and can’t. What I want from my family and friends is love and support not unsolicited advice and judgment. When I want or need the advice of others, I will be sure to ask for it.

Now, let me get the ice cream out, put  six scoops of rocky road in a bowl and cover it with hot fudge, whipped marshmallow, pineapple, nuts, and a cherry on top. Oh wait, there is no ice cream in the freezer. Damn, I need to get Polly to bring home some healthy ice cream.

Note

Here’s my listing in Conservapedia’s wiki on Atheism and Obesity:

conservapedia bruce gerencser

 

 

Today

My oldest son hugged me and told me he loved me.

My youngest son did the same.

My middle son stops by to borrow my miter saw. I joke…if I die you can keep the saw.

My youngest daughter frowns. Will she ever understand my gallows humor?

Old pictures put on Facebook. Pictures of those who matter to me.

We watch The Equalizer, the one with Denzel Washington.

My sister calls. She loves me and tells me it won't be cancer.

And then we watch the Mentalist. Will Jane marry Lisbon?

My brother tries to call but the phone dies. He texts and tells me he loves me and he hopes it isn't cancer.

My last meal, a ham sandwich.

I put my wallet on the table, along with my cane and camera.

Prescription list.

Symptom list.

Current diagnoses.

Past surgeries.

Past diagnostic tests.

Durable power of attorney.

Living will.

Shower and shave.

It's time for bed.

Polly looks at me and I look at her. Our looks tell the story.

I put on Passenger, in a few minutes Polly is asleep.

I can't sleep, just like every other night, the pain, oh the pain.

I'm nervous, dare I show weakness and say I'm worried?

I pick up from the nightstand Imagine There's No Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World.

I can't seem to focus on the words.

I get up and put on my robe.

I sit down and write Polly a letter.

If something goes wrong and this is the last day of life for me, I want Polly to know that I love her and that the 38 years we've spent together have been wonderful.

I tell her if the doctor says I have cancer or something else is seriously wrong, we will face it together. I have much to live for, Polly, the kids and grandkids.

I lay out my clothes. Sweatpants, underwear, white socks, orange long sleeved thermal shirt, tennis shoes. And my orange Bengals hat. It matches my shirt.

I feel tired now, the hydrocodone, tramadol, flexeril, and temazapam are doing their job.

Passenger plays on.

I know what lies ahead.

Paper work.

Put on this gown.

Endless questions.

Time to put the IV in. How many times will they have to stick me?

Dr Sharma will come in to talk to me, as will the anesthesiologist.

It's show time.

A kiss, a hug, and I love you.

Come nine hours from now, what will the doctor say?

I am ready, come what may, I am ready.

If it's cancer, I've made my wishes known, no surgery.

If it's not,then what?

Maybe it's just my gallbladder but that doesn't explain all my symptoms.

I remain my doctor's enigma, his puzzling hard case.

No prayers.

No thoughts of heaven or hell.

My thoughts go no farther than my lover and friend lying next to me. Our shared experience is the sum of life for me.

Today…

Passenger plays on.

I sure would like to eat another ham sandwich.

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

i just don't care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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