Tag Archive: Death

The Do-Nothing God

god has a plan

Yesterday, a two-year-old (some reports say the child was three) boy died after his parents left him in the car while they attended an afternoon worship service at Rehoboth Praise Assembly in East Dallas, Texas. Forty-five minutes into the worship service, the boy’s parents realized that they had left him in the car. Sadly, it was too late. The one hundred degree Texas heat had rendered the boy unconscious. He was pronounced dead later that night at a local hospital.

The parents of the boy have four other children. Polly and I know firsthand the horror of leaving your children behind in an unsafe environment. One time we left our second-oldest son asleep on the front pew of the church. It was not until we arrived home — fifteen miles away — that we realized we had left him behind. I vividly remember driving as fast as I could, praying to God that my son would be safe. Fortunately, he was still asleep when I opened the doors to the pitch-dark church sanctuary. At the time, I praised God for his providential protection of my son. I now know that we were lucky. I can only imagine what might have happened if Nathan had awakened and found out that he was the star in the Baptist version of Home Alone. Several years later, we had another incident where we left our son Jaime sleeping in the car after arriving home from church. An hour or so later, much to our shock and horror, Jaime sleepily came walking in the door. Again, I praised God for protecting my son.

Polly and I were quite busy on Sundays, so we drove separately to the church. Driving two cars and not paying attention to who had what kids led to the events mentioned above. After the Jaime incident, we made a hard and fast rule that neither of us could leave the church for home without making sure all six children were accounted for. I can report that all of our children, from that day forward, safely made it home.

What if something tragic — say injury or death — had happened to our forgotten sons? Would I have still been praising the wonderful love, grace, mercy, and kindness of Jesus? Probably, even going so far as to say that their injury/death was all part of God’s wonderful plan for our lives. I am sure the church and parents of the dead 3-year-old are now going through similar irrational theological machinations.

The question that is rarely asked is this: Where is God? If the third part of the Trinity — the Holy Spirit — lives insides of each and every believer, why didn’t he — with that still small voice of his — whisper in the ears of the two year old’s parents, telling them, Hey your little boy is asleep. Go get him before he dies from exposure to extreme Texas summer temperatures. Remember these song lyrics?

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Black and yellow, red and white
They’re all precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world

Or these lyrics?

Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak, but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Where was the strong Jesus when the weak little boy was being baked to death? Can it really be said that Jesus loves the little children when he idly stands by and does n-o-t-h-i-n-g as a boy is suffocated to death? If God can, but doesn’t, what does that tell us about God?

According to the defenders of Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, their God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts. I should hope not! Most people, when finding out a child is dying in the suffocating heat of a closed-up car, would do everything in their power to rescue the child. Not God. He has some sort of unspoken reason for letting the child die. Or perhaps the child’s parents were living in sin or needed to be taught a “life” lesson. Who knows, right? God is always given a free pass when it comes to the suffering and death of children. God knows best, Christians say. Pray tell, how is letting a child die alone in a car in any way “best”?

I am sure the dead boy’s parents are grieving over the loss of their son, knowing that they are the cause of his death. Just now, I viewed a TV advertisement reminding parents to always check the backseat of their cars for children. It’s hot out there, the ad said. Way too many busy parents forget to make sure all of their children are accounted for. Thirty years ago, Polly and I could have caused the death of our children. Luck, not God, saved our children. Sadly, for the Dallas parents, their inattention cost their son his life.

Parents are responsible for caring for their children. When bad things happen such as this boy’s death, most often parents or others adults are responsible. Years ago, we delivered newspapers for the Zanesville Times-Recorder. One day, Polly was in Shawnee, Ohio making collections. Shawnee is quite hilly, as is most of Southeast Ohio. Polly drove up a steep hill to our customer’s home, got out of the car, leaving Jaime secured with a seat belt. Polly, thinking she would only be gone for a minute, left the keys in the ignition, not knowing that Jaime had figured out how to unbuckle his seat belt. Mimicking what he had seen his parents do countless times before, Jaime reached up, turned the ignition, and pulled down on the drive shift.  The car, much to Polly’s horror, began rolling backwards down the steep hill — 400 feet in all — launching the car into the air before it landed in a creek bed.  Fortunately, Jaime was not injured. It took two wreckers to extricate the totaled car from the bottom of the hill.

During Jaime’s younger years, I painted the front doors of the church red. I didn’t have any paint thinner to clean the brush, so i waited until got home to do so. I put the brush in a pint jar of thinner to soak. Knowing that mischievous Jaime was nearby, I put the jar on the back of the counter, safe from his little hands — or so I thought. I went on to do other things, only to find out that Jaime had pushed a chair up to the counter and climbed up so he could reach the red “Kool-aid” that was on the back of the counter. Fortunately, one drink was all that was needed to teach Jaime that all red liquids are NOT Kool-aid.

In both of these stories, Jaime’s parents were culpable for what happened. Lessons learned : never leave child unattended, never leave keys in car, always set parking brake when parked on steep inclines, and never, ever put dangerous things where children can get a hold of them.

I am not suggesting that parents can protect their children from every possible danger. We can’t. Children love to test boundaries and get into things. It is a wonder that any of them survive to adulthood. Risk is all around us and one of the lessons parents must teach their children is to measure risk and danger. But, despite training them and keeping them under our watchful eyes, children can do things that could kill them. And sometimes parents can, either through carelessness or inattention, do things that harm their children. Regardless of to whom blame is assessed, one thing is for certain: God will be nowhere to found. He is the do-nothing God, a deity who can’t be bothered with rescuing an innocent child on a hot summer day in Dallas, Texas.

Songs of Sacrilege: Come Down Jehovah by Chris Wood

chris wood

This is the one hundred and twenty-eighth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Come Down Jehovah by Chris Wood.

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Lyrics

Come down, come down from your mountain, Jehovah,
My neck is terribly stiff.
Hitch up your robes and your raiment, Jehovah,
Climb down to the foot of your cliff.
And drink from the stream that was always beneath you,
Drink from our wonderful font.
‘Cause paradise is right here on earth, Jehovah,
What more could we possibly want?

Come down and talk amongst friends, Jehovah,
Come down and sit at your ease.
Walk through the woods and the valleys, Jehovah,
Sail upon glistening seas.
Pass on what you’ve learnt to the children, Jehovah,
And listen to what they have to say.
They say, ‘Paradise is right here on earth, Jehovah,
Not tomorrow, but right now, today.

And Devil come up from your fiery furnace,
Come up and show us your face.
There’s nothing you can teach us of evil or hatred,
We don’t have right here in this place.
There is nothing so evil as man in his mischief,
Nothing so lost or insane.
And bring your demons up, too, so we’ll know it’s not you,
But it’s us who must carry the blame.
It’s us who must live with the shame.

Come down, come down from your mountain, Jehovah,
Come down and be with us here.
Heaven and hell and the life ever after,
It’s such a beguiling idea.
But our spell on this earth is much richer, Jehovah,
Richer than you’ll ever know.
When it comes time to leave it behind,
We just close our eyes and let go.
If we’ve done our best we’ll be ready for a rest,
We just close our eyes and let go

Your God is Not Here

barbara ehrenreich god quote

Last night I watched the movie Dark Places. Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel with the same name, Dark Places tells the story of girl who survived the murder of her mother and sisters. After the killings, the murderer scrawled a message in blood on the bedroom wall. The message said: YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE

Your God is not here….five little words, yet they succinctly summarize one of the reasons many people walk away from Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals believe that God hears and answers prayers and is intimately involved with the day-to-day machinations of life. This God is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. For Evangelicals, they “see” God everywhere, even going so far as to say that God lives inside of them. He walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own, Evangelicals sing, rarely considering how often in their lives God is nowhere to be found.

Evangelicals are taught that God is everywhere, yet it seems, oh so often, that the everywhere-God is AWOL. In 1 Kings 18, we find the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Elijah challenged the prophets to an Old Testament Cook-off.  Verses 20-24 states:

So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God.

The prophets of Baal went first. As expected, their God was silent and no fire fell from heaven. Then it was Elijah’s turn, and sure enough God heard the prophet’s prayer and sent fire to burn up the sacrifice. Not only did God burn up the sacrifice, he also totally consumed the stone altar (imagine how hot the fire must have been to melt rock). Afterward, Elijah had the prophets of Baal restrained and taken to a nearby brook so he could murder them. All told, Elijah slaughtered 450 men.

I want to focus on one specific element of this story; Elijah’s mockery of the prophets of Baal. As these prophets called out to their God, Elijah began to mock them:

And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

The Living Bible puts it this way:

“You’ll have to shout louder than that,” he scoffed, “to catch the attention of your god! Perhaps he is talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”

barbara ehrenreich god quote 2

Every time I read these words I think about the Evangelical God, a deity who is supposedly on the job 24/7. If this God is so intimately involved with his creation, why does it seems that he is nowhere to be found?  This God is supposedly the Great Physician, yet Christians and atheists alike suffer and die. Where, oh where, is the God who heals? This God supposedly controls the weather, yet tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, avalanches and mudslides maim and kill countless people, leaving those who survive without homes, food, and potable water. This God supposedly causes plants to grow, yet countless children will starve due to droughts and crop failures. This God is supposedly the God of Peace, yet hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children are maimed and slaughtered in wars and terrorist attacks. This God is supposedly the giver of life, yet everywhere people look they see death — both human and animal.

Perhaps it is the Evangelical God that is — to quote the Living Bible — ” talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” Taking a big picture view of life leads many of us to conclude that either the Evangelical God is a heartless, indifferent son of a bitch or he doesn’t exist. For atheists such as myself, our honest, rational observations makes one thing clear — there is no God. Perhaps — throwing a bone to deists and universalists — there is a hand-off God, but is he worthy of worship? This God created the universe, yet he chooses, in the midst of our suffering, to do nothing. What good is such a God as this? Warm “feelings”  will not suffice when there is so much pain, suffering, and death.

Imagine how different the world would be if the Evangelical God fed the hungry, gave water to thirsty, healed the sick, brought an end to violence and war,  and made sure all people had a roof over their head, clothes on their back, shoes in their feet, and an iPhone in their pockets. Imagine if this God tore the pages of the book of Revelation from the Bible and said, my perfect, eternal kingdom is now!

Christians have been promising for centuries that someday their God will make all things new. Evangelicals warn sinners that the second coming of Christ is nigh, after which God will make a new heaven and a new earth. In Revelation 21:3-5 we find these words:

I heard a loud shout from the throne saying, “Look, the home of God is now among men, and he will live with them and they will be his people; yes, God himself will be among them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new!”

Yet, despite the promises of better days ahead, the world remains just as it always has been, an admixture of love, joy, and kindness and hatred, heartache, and loss. I ask, where is God? As I type this I am watching ESPN. They are running clips of notable athletes, coaches, and reporters whose lives have been touched by cancer. I cry every time I hear cancer-stricken Jim Valvano’s  ESPY speech:

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Cancer-ridden Stuart Scott’s ESPY speech elicits the same emotional response:

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Today, I heard the story of a sports reporter who lost his daughter and son-in-law to cancer — both in their 30s. I wept as I pondered this man’s heart-wrenching pain. And then I said, where is God?

I think the murderer was right when he scrawled on the  bedroom wall, YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE. Surely, the cold reality and honesty of atheism is preferred to begging and pleading with a God who never answers. I spend each and every day of my life battling chronic illness and disease. My health problems started 15 years before I walked away from Christianity. Countless prayers were uttered on my behalf. I pleaded with God, Help me, Lord. Heal my broken body, take away my pain. God uttered not a word, nor did he lift a finger to help. As a pastor, I prayed for numerous dying Christians. I asked the churches I pastored to pray for the sick and the dying. Yet, despite our earnest petitions, all those we prayed for died.

The absence of God from the human narrative of life is but one of the reasons I no longer believe in the existence of God. I think Jimmy Stewart summed up my view best with his prayer on the movie Shenandoah:

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There is no God that coming to deliver us from pain, suffering, and loss. We are on our own, so it is up to us to ease the suffering of humans and animals alike. Knowing that death always wins shouldn’t keep us from attempting to alleviate the misfortunes of others. We shouldn’t need promises of homes in heaven to motivate us to help others.

Facing Life and Death Without God

life

Christianity offers its followers the promise of life after death. No matter how difficult and painful this life is, Christians are promised wonderful lives after death living with Jesus and their fellow Christians in a perfect, pain-free heaven. While I wonder how heavenly it is to spend your life prostrate before God worshiping him, Christians live in the hope that someday they will take possession of a room in the Father’s house, built especially just for them. (John 14) Without the promise of life after death in heaven, I wonder if most Christians would still be willing to forgo the pleasures of this life? While some Christians would argue that living according to the laws, teachings, and precepts of the Bible is still a good way to live, I suspect most Christians — without the promise of eternal life and bliss — would quickly abandon their houses of worship, joining people such as myself at the local pub or the church of the NFL. After all, even the apostle Paul said, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. (1 Corinthians 15:19) Evidently, Paul thought that in this life only Christianity had little to offer. And so Sunday after Sunday, Christian preachers promise parishioners a home awaits them in heaven. According to the Bible, God promises some day to give Christians the desires of their hearts. Wait. Does that mean there will be booze, porn, cigars, dirt track racing, and hunting in heaven? Will heavenly citizens spend their days playing Nintendo or Xbox games? Will God really give Christians the desires of their hearts? Hmm, this got me thinking about the whole going-to-heaven thing. I know a con job when I hear it. What better way to get people to buy what you are selling than to promise them that they will have a wonderful life if they will just sign on the dotted line. A wonderful life, that is, someday, after you have made the 666 monthly payments and died.

Atheism offers no such promises. Atheism is rooted in a humanistic and secularist view of the world. No promises of a divine life in the sweet by and by. Life is hard, and then you die. No promises of blessings in this life or the life to come. Some have argued that atheists have a cold, sterile outlook on life. To some degree this is true. Atheists are realists, knowing they only get one shot at life— best get to living it. Life is what we make it, and even when hard times come (and they will most certainly come), atheists find a way to make the most of it. I could spend my days whining and complaining about my health problems, but what good would that do? Instead, I turn my pain and suffering into a platform for helping others. I can look at the five decades I spent in the Christian church and say, what a waste, but I choose to use these experiences as an opportunity to help others. I know that this is the only life I have, and it is up to me to make the most of it. Spending time wondering about what might have been accomplishes nothing. As my family has heard me say many times, it is what it is. Sure, if there were some magical way to redo certain things from my past I might do it. But maybe not. Polly and I will celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary this July. We met at a Fundamentalist Bible college. If nothing else good came out of our past, both of us would say — on most days — that our relationship was the best thing about our years in Evangelicalism. I would not want anyone to follow the same path we did, yet we do have six wonderful children and 11 awesome grandchildren. They indeed are the bright spots of the years we spent working in God’s coal mine. I have learned, or perhaps I am learning, to reflect on the good of the past, and use the bad things to fuel my writing and my attempts to help others avoid similar paths.

I will celebrate my 59th birthday in June. I have lived 12 years longer than my mother and five years longer than my dad. There are days when my body is so overwhelmed with pain that I wonder if I can live another day. The means of my demise are always nearby, yet despite my suffering I choose to live. Why? Because this is the only life I will ever have. I only have one opportunity to love Polly, Jason, Nathan, Jaime, Bethany, Laura, Josiah, my grandchildren, my brother and sister, and Polly’s mom and dad. I know that when I draw my last breath, there will be no family circle meeting in the sky — sorry Johnny! This is why I want to live each and every day to its fullest. This is not a cliché to me. This life matters. My wife, children, grandchildren, son-in-law, daughters-in-law, siblings, extended family, and friends matter to me. I know that I am only going to see them and enjoy their company in this life. There are places I want to go to and see. I want to enjoy and experience the fullness of what it means to be human. And since casting off the shackles of religion, I have been free to drink deeply of the human experience. No longer fearful of God’s judgment or hell, I am free to see, touch, taste, and hear the things I desire. Yes, there is that dirty word that dare not be spoken in Evangelical churches — desire. I spent way too many years denying passions, desires, wants, and needs, all for the sake of God, Jesus, the church, and the ministry. No more. It is wonderful to do something just because I want to. I do not have to pray about it or see if the Bible approves of it. Bruce approves, end of discussion.

When I write posts such as this, there are always a few horse-bridled Christians who let me know that there is coming a day when I will regret not bowing to the will of the S&M master, Jesus. Someday Bruce, Evangelical zealots tell me, God is going to make you pay for your attacks on Christianity. Someday, God is going to judge you for your wanton living and rejection of the Bible. Sometimes, I think Christians such as these people relish the day when God is going to give atheist Bruce Gerencser an eternal ass-whipping. I am sure they will be standing among the crowd cheering and saying to God, hit him again! He deserves it, Lord.

I have been blogging now for going on nine years. I left Christianity in 2008, and since then countless Evangelicals — along with a few Catholics — have attempted to win me back to Jesus through the use of Pascal’s Wager. The basic premise is this, Bruce, what if you are wrong? Good question. Since I am not infallible, nor do I have at my disposal the sum of all human knowledge and experience, all I can do is make reasoned, knowledgeable decisions based on the evidence at hand. I can tell readers this much: I have been wrong many, many times. Not only that, I have made enough mistakes that if you piled them up they would reach to the International Space Station. I am, after all, a feeble, frail, and at times contradictory, human being. I can, like all people, be led astray by my passions, judgments, or incomplete information. I am not immune to irrationality and cognitive dissonance. However, when it comes to Christianity and its promises of eternal life in heaven or judgment in hell, it is my educated opinion that the claims of Christianity are false. Trying to get me to choose Jesus just in case I am wrong makes a mockery of intellectual inquiry (and Christianity). Having spent most of my adult life in the Christian church and 25 years studying and preaching the Bible, I think it is safe to say that I know a good bit about Christianity. I cannot remember the last time that some Christian presented me with something I have not heard before. I am not being arrogant here — as I am sure some Christians will allege. I spent decades reading and studying the Bible — devouring countless Christian books. I immersed myself in Christianity and its teachings, so when I say I am no longer a Christian because I think the claims of Christianity and the Bible are false, my conclusions — unlike many Christian opinions of atheism — come from an educated, reasoned, well-thought-out position. Do I know everything there is to know about Christianity? Of course not, but I sure as hell know more than most the Christians (and preachers) I come in contact with on a day-to-day basis. My point is this: I am an atheist today, not out of ignorance, but because I weighed Christianity in the balance and found it wanting.

If Christians come up with new evidences for the veracity of their claims — and I doubt they ever will —  then I will gladly consider them. Until then, I am content to number myself among the godless. And when I die, I hope to leave this life knowing that I did what I could to be a help to others. I hope, on the day that my ashes are scattered along the shores of Lake Michigan, that my family and friends will speak well of me. I hope that none of them will have to lie, but that they will truly believe that my good works outweigh the bad. This is why I think that is important to finish well. I am sure Polly and my children have less-than-complimentary stories they could tell at my wake, but I hope, because I have made a concerted effort to be a better man, that they will share stories about a good man who just so happened to be an atheist.

I am often asked if I fear death. Yes and no. Since no one has died and come back to life — including Jesus — I do fear the blackness that awaits. There are been those times, late at night, when I have pondered being alive one moment and dead the next; going to sleep and never waking up. But this fear does not overwhelm me. I know that I cannot do anything about dying. It is, to quote the Lion King, the circle of life. We are born, we live, we die. End of story. All I know to do is to live a good life and be a good husband, father, grandfather, friend, and fellow citizen of earth. I have had the privilege of living at this time on humanity’s calendar, and when it comes time for me to draw my last breath, I hope my dying thoughts will be those of love. Love of family, love of friends, love of writing, love of photography, and love of all those who have made my life worth living. Will that not be what all of us desire? To love and to be loved? As dying pushes away all the minutia of life, what remains is love. For me, that will be enough.

Atheists Really Believe in God But Refuse to Admit It says Pastor Nate Pickowicz

atheists dont exist

Calvinist Nate Pickowicz, pastor of Harvest Bible Church in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, recently wrote a post for the Entreating Favor blog titled The God-Fearing Atheist. Pickowicz trots out the age-old, worn-out argument that there really is no such thing as an atheist:

It has been said that there is a “God-sized hole” in every person. In other words, the human heart was designed to want and need God. It’s a kind of fingerprint that God leaves on the souls of those created in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). Here’s the rub, not every person acknowledges or believes that God exists. How then do we explain this?

In John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, he makes a case for “the knowledge of God implanted in the human mind”.1 Because it is often argued that religion is a man-made invention to subjugate the masses, Calvin points to indigenous tribes of people who are fully convinced of the existence of God. Furthermore, almost uniformly, these tribes worship blocks of wood and stones as gods rather than believe in the absence of deity. They are naturally prone to worship.

Calvin then addresses the atheist.

He writes, “The most audacious despiser of God is most easily disturbed, trembling at the sound of a falling leaf.” He’s referring to the abject fear within a person when one comes to the end of himself. We’ve all heard the recently deemed politically incorrect phrase “there are no atheists in foxholes.” This is what Calvin is talking about. Intellectually, one can deny God all day long, but placed into a situation which appeals to a person’s instincts, that “God-sized hole” becomes a gaping, aching chasm. In conclusion, Calvin writes, “If all are born and live for the express purpose of learning to know God, and if the knowledge of God, insofar as it fails to produce this effect, fleeting and vain, it is clear that all those who do not direct the whole thoughts and actions of their lives to this end fail to fulfill the law of their being.”

Did you catch that? Because we’re hard-wired to acknowledge God; if we don’t seek Him, then we violate our own nature!

According to Pickowicz, everyone is hardwired to know God exists. His proof for this claim? The Bible. He presents no empirical proof. Pickowicz, quoting the God of Calvinism, John Calvin, points to the fact that even indigenous tribes acknowledge the existence of a God. Fine, let’s run with this argument for a minute. Let’s say everyone is hardwired to acknowledge God. Why is it then that this knowledge of God is so varied? If it is the Christian God who puts it in the heart of everyone to acknowledge him why is it that so many people acknowledge the wrong God? I would think that the Christian God would make sure that everyone knew that he alone is God, yet day after day billions of people worship other Gods. Why is this?

Pickowicz needs to get his nose out of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and do some serious thinking about WHY people are religious and WHY they choose the God they do. Last January, I wrote a post titled Why Most Americans are Christian. In this post, I explained why most Americans, when asked if they believe in the Christian God, will answer yes:

Cultural Christianity is all about what  people say and not what they do. This is the predominant form of Christianity in America. When asked, do you believe in the Christian God? they will say Yes. It matters not how they live or even if they understand Christian doctrine. They believe and that’s all that matters.

It is this Christian world  into which every American child is born. While my wife and I can point to the various conversion experiences we had, we still would have been Christians even without the conversion experiences. Our culture was Christian, our families were Christian, everyone around us was Christian. How could we have been anything BUT Christian?

Practicing Christians have a hard time accepting this. They KNOW the place and time Jesus saved them. They KNOW when they were baptized, confirmed, dedicated, saved, or whatever term their sect uses to connote belief in the Christian God.

Why are most people in Muslim countries Muslim? Why are most people in Buddhist countries Buddhist? Simple. People generally embrace the dominant religion and practice of their culture, and so it is in America.

It is culture, and not a conversion experience, that determines a person’s religious affiliation. The conversion experiences are the eggs the Christian chicken lays. Evangelicals, in particular, have built their entire house on the foundation of each person having a conversion experience. However, looking at this from a sociological perspective, it can be seen that a culture’s dominant religion affects which religion a person embraces more than any other factor.

Only by looking at religion from a sociological perspective can we understand and explain why people believe in a particular God. People such as Pickowicz deny the value of such explanations, preferring to let their Bible do the talking. It is impossible to have a reasonable conversation with people who think such as this. For them, God has spoken, and any knowledge, be it sociological or neurological, that doesn’t affirm the Biblical narrative is rejected out of hand.

Only by looking at religion from a sociological perspective can we understand and explain why people believe in a particular God. People such as Pickowicz deny the value of such explanations, preferring to let their Bible do the talking. It is impossible to have a reasonable conversation with people who think in this manner. For them, God has spoken, and any knowledge, be it sociological or neurological, that doesn’t affirm the Biblical narrative, is rejected out of hand.

Pickowicz, like Calvin, thinks that when put in circumstances where death is a distinct and imminent possibility, atheists will abandon their godlessness and cry out to God. And evidence for this? There is none. I am sure there are stories of atheists crying out for God when dying, just as there are stories of Christians cursing God when facing death. Again, there are numerous reasons for why these things happen, but Pickowicz rejects them all, assured that all atheists KNOW there is a God and when they die they will cry out to the Christian God. (I would love to hear Pickowicz’s explanation for the fact that most people, when they die, will call out for some other God besides the Christian one.)

Christopher Hitchens, arguably one of the most notable atheists of our generation, died December 15, 2011. Detailing Hitchens’ final days, Ian McEwan of the New York Times wrote:

The place where Christopher Hitchens spent his last few weeks was hardly bookish, but he made it his own. Close to downtown Houston is the Medical Center, a cluster of high-rises like La Défense of Paris, or London’s City, a financial district of a sort, where the common currency is illness…..

….. While I was with him another celebration took place in far away London, with Stephen Fry as host in the Festival Hall to reflect on the life and times of Christopher Hitchens. We helped him out of bed and into a chair and set my laptop in front of him. Alexander delved into the Internet with special passwords to get us linked to the event. He also plugged in his own portable stereo speakers. We had the sound connection well before the vision and what we heard was astounding, and for Christopher, uplifting. It was the noise of 2,000 voices small-talking before the event. Then we had a view from the stage of the audience, packed into their rows.

They all looked so young. I would have guessed that nearly all of them would have opposed Christopher strongly over Iraq. But here they were, and in cinemas all over the country, turning out for him. Christopher grinned and raised a thin arm in salute. Close family and friends may be in the room with you, but dying is lonely, the confinement is total. He could see for himself that the life outside this small room had not forgotten him. For a moment, pace Larkin, it was by way of the Internet that the world stretched a hand toward him.

The next morning, at Christopher’s request, Alexander and I set up a desk for him under a window. We helped him and his pole with its feed-lines across the room, arranged pillows on his chair, adjusted the height of his laptop. Talking and dozing were all very well, but Christopher had only a few days to produce 3,000 words on Ian Ker’s biography of Chesterton.

Whenever people talk of Christopher’s journalism, I will always think of this moment.

Consider the mix. Constant pain, weak as a kitten, morphine dragging him down, then the tangle of Reformation theology and politics, Chesterton’s romantic, imagined England suffused with the kind of Catholicism that mediated his brush with fascism and his taste for paradox, which Christopher wanted to debunk. At intervals, Christopher’s head would droop, his eyes close, then with superhuman effort he would drag himself awake to type another line. His long memory served him well, for he didn’t have the usual books on hand for this kind of thing. When it’s available, read the review. His unworldly fluency never deserted him, his commitment was passionate, and he never deserted his trade. He was the consummate writer, the brilliant friend. In Walter Pater’s famous phrase, he burned “with this hard gem-like flame.” Right to the end.

So much for atheists leaving this world screaming for God. Hitchens entered the foxhole of mortality, knowing that thoughts of God were for those unable to face the brutality of death. Hitchens died as he lived, a man who held true to his godlessness until the end. (If you have not read Hitchens’ final book Mortality, I encourage you to do so.)

I know there is nothing I can write that will change Pickowicz’s God-addled mind. But perhaps time will. Pickowicz is a young guy who has not experienced much of life. I can only hope that he will get to know a few flesh-and-blood atheists before he dies. I hope he will have the opportunity to observe not only how atheists live but how they die. I am confident that the young preacher will find that dying atheists hold true to their convictions until the end. Unlike countless Christians when faced with death who have to be reassured of their salvation, atheists will need no such reassurance. Atheists knows that death is the end. All that remains are the memories their friends and families have of a well-lived life. And that, my friend, is enough.

I Don’t Want to Die

I don’t want to die and neither do you.

Another family member died. He was 50 and suffered greatly for over 20 years.

Maybe death was a release for him, I don’t know. The preacher at his funeral said it was. All I know for sure is that he is dead and he ain’t coming back.

People say his suffering is over. They speak of him being in a better place.

He can’t speak for himself on these matters. He is dead.

Maybe he would be willing to suffer as long as that meant he could live another day.

Maybe he would choose this life, the only reality he has ever known, over a promised, never-seen, life in a better place.

All of us seem to think that we know what the dead would have wanted.

Have you ever thought about what it means to be dead?

I have.

Perhaps I am a bit morbid, too introspective for my own good.

I have had those moments in the still of the night, moments when I think of being alive one moment and dead the next.

The reality of non-existence.

In a split second, going from a living, conscious, thinking human to nothing.

I am a glass half-empty kind of person, a pessimist and a realist at heart,

Instead of focusing on all my relatives and acquaintances who have lived 70, 80 or 90 years, I focus on those who haven’t.

Dad was 47 when he died, Mom was 54.

I had several cousins who died in their early 50s.

One of my uncles, in his 30s, was murdered.

My sister-in-law died in a 2005 Memorial Day motorcycle accident, She was 43.

My best friend’s sister, a girl I went to school with in the 1960s, died in her early 50s.

I could go on and on…

These deaths are poignant reminders of my own mortality.

Even if I live to age 70, I have 11 years of life left, just short of the amount of time we have lived in our present home.

I don’t think I will live that long. Maybe I will. I certainly hope so, but my body tells me not a chance.

Despite the pain and increasing loss of mobility and cognitive function, I still want to live.

Maybe there will come a day when I won’t want to live any longer. Maybe not.

Today? I want to be counted among the living.

The truth is this: I fear death.

Death is the one experience that no human, including Jesus, has ever come back from to tell its story.

I fear the darkness and finality that death brings.

Fearing death is quite normal.

Who wants to trade a living existence for the emptiness of the grave?

Someone is sure to say, I hate my life, I wish I were dead.

Fine, kill yourself.

I thought so…

Yes, life can suck, life can be unbearable, and life can bring agony and suffering at every turn.

Yet, we still want to live.

Religion exists for the purpose of calming our fear of death.

Forget all the doctrines, religion is the antidote for the frightening reality of death.

Evangelicals Christians love to talk of being ready to die. Take me Lord Jesus when it is my time to go, they piously say.

They speak with big theological words about not fearing death because of Jesus who conquered death for them.

They speaking of their readiness to die for their faith if called on to do so.

Yet, few Christians seem to be in a hurry to die.

Christian want to live just as everyone else does. Don’t listen to their words. Watch how they live.

I find no comfort in religion, nor do I find any solace in thoughts of returning to the collective universal consciousness when I die.

All I know for sure is that dead is dead and I am not ready to become an urn of ashes scattered along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

As the Petra (a Christian rock group) song says, I want to live until I die.

Pastor Davey Blackburn: Don’t Let My Wife’s Death Be in Vain

davey and amanda blackburn

Amanda and Davey Blackburn


On November 10, 2015, Amanda Blackburn, 3 months pregnant, was shot to death in an Indianapolis, Indiana home invasion. Blackburn’s killer, Larry Jo Taylor Jr.,18, and his accomplice, Jalen Watson, 21, have  been charged with murder and a host of other crimes.

Amanda Blackburn’s husband, Davey, is the pastor of  Resonate Church in Indianapolis. Last Sunday, Pastor Blackburn told the church that he plans to step away from the pulpit to grieve and to figure out, going forward, what’s best for him and his son, Weston.

According to Leah Marieann Klett, a reporter for the Gospel Herald, Davey Blackburn wanted to make sure his wife’s death is not in vain. Blackburn stated:

“I don’t want this tragedy to be wasted, so I want to capitalize on seeing more and more people coming to know Jesus as their personal savior.”

Blackburn went on to say:

 “It’s difficult to process through everything right now. One thing I do know and that I’m confident in is that through this entire season, what the Lord wants us to do and what Amanda would want us to do is not give up any ground. I wholeheartedly believe that God has still called me to Indianapolis, that He called our family to Indianapolis, and Amanda gave her life to see Indianapolis changed.”

It’s been four weeks since Amanda Blackburn was murdered, and I think I can safely say that her husband’s aforementioned words were not uttered in a moment of extreme grief. While I’m sure Pastor Blackburn is still grieving, his words reflect the calculations of a preacher who doesn’t want to waste an opportunity to use his wife’s murder as a motivational tool or a “teaching” moment.

Evangelicals are taught to always look for the bigger picture. When life turns on them, Evangelicals are expected to divine God’s purpose and plan. This is why Davey Blackburn said, “I don’t want this tragedy to be wasted, so I want to capitalize on seeing more and more people coming to know Jesus as their personal savior.”  Blackburn believes there MUST be some sort of greater meaning or purpose for his wife’s murder. Pastor Blackburn hopes that, like Jesus’ death, his wife’s death will have a salvific effect on sinners.

My wife’s Evangelical family responded  in similar fashion to her sister’s 2005 death from a motorcycle accident. If one soul gets saved through this, it is worth it all.  “This” being the tragic death of a wonderful daughter, sister, aunt, wife, mother, and grandmother.  Several months ago, I wrote a post about Kathy’s death. Here’s what I said then, about the value Polly’s Evangelical family put on her sister’s death:

 No, it’s not. How dare we reduce the worth of a life, this one precious life, to that which God can use for his purpose. A husband has lost his wife and his children are motherless. Her grandchildren will never know the warmth of her love. Her sister and parents are left with memories that abruptly stopped the moment their sister and daughter hit the pavement.

No, I say to myself, I’m not willing to trade her life for anyone’s salvation. Let them all go to hell. Give us one more day when the joy and laughter of family can be heard and the family is whole; one more day to enjoy the love and complexity she brought into our lives…

And I say the same thing now to Pastor Blackburn and Resonate Church. Using Amanda Blackburn’s death as a motivational tool cheapens her death, reducing her to little more than a prop to be used in the evangelization of sinners.

Blackburn’s death is a tragic waste of precious human life. There’s nothing redeeming about her murder. There’s no possible way to turn this tragedy into rainbows and fireworks. While I certainly understand, as a former pastor myself, the need to  comprehend some greater cosmic purpose in senseless tragedies like this one, I can’t think of one redeeming aspect of Amanda Blackburn’s death. In fact, to put Davey Blackburn’s theological pronouncements to the test, I suspect that Pastor Blackburn would be quite willing to let all of Indianapolis go straight to hell if it meant he could once again wake up in the morning and find his precious wife busily doing her hair and makeup as she prepares to face another day.

You Should Feel Blessed God Didn’t Kill You Today

god killing a man

Dan Phillips, pastor of Copperfield Bible Church, Houston, Texas, shows his usual intellectual brilliance in a short ditty posted on the Pyromaniacs blog. Phillips writes:

How can God cause a(n) [natural disaster] in ____ that kills ____?

Response: You mean, why doesn’t He do the same every day in every city on every continent? Why hasn’t he done that to you? Excellent question! Those days are coming. But God is showing that He is long-suffering, giving the same opportunity for repentance that the people in _____ had enjoyed.

You see, according to Phillips, God really is good to us. That he killed others and not us is a sign that God is long-suffering and he wants us to repent. Never mind those other unrepentant, non-elect men, women, and children who were slaughtered today by the merciful, loving God. They had their chance. You have your chance now. Well maybe not. It depends on whether you are one of the elect (Phillips is a Calvinist).  According to Calvinists, the world’s population, past, present and future, was neatly divided by God into two categories: elect and non-elect, chosen and non-chosen, saved and lost. For those whose names are under the non-elect column, this means they have been on God’s slaughter list from before the foundation of the world. For these people, it was too late for them before they were even born. But, that’s not God’s fault. God may have created us and he may control every aspect of our lives, but because our distant relative Adam broke God’s Garden of Eden Dining Rules, we have been deemed guilty by God.

Wait a minute? Didn’t God create Adam? Couldn’t God have kept Adam from eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?? Isn’t God Sovereign? These are rhetorical questions, yes? The answer to all of these questions is yes. How then is God not responsible for  everything that follows?

Let the Calvinistic gymnastics begin.