Tag Archive: Death

Rick Warren Says Only God Can Kill Us

calvin and hobbes death

Southern Baptist Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, has come out…man I just had a hilarious thought…has come out of the closet…back to reality…has come out in opposition to California Senate Bill 128. If passed, the bill would give terminally ill Californians the right to terminate their own life. Warren, whose son committed suicide in 2013, thinks that none of us should have the right to determine when we die. According to the Purpose Driven pastor:

“I oppose this law as a theologian and as the father of a son who took his life after struggling with mental illness for 27 years.”

“The prospect of dying can be frightening,but we belong to God, and death and life are in God’s hands…We need to make a radical commitment to be there for those who are dying in our lives.”

According to the Death with Dignity National Center:

SB 128 would allow patients who are mentally competent and have fewer than six months to live, as determined by two physicians, to obtain prescriptions for medication to end their lives in a humane and peaceful manner, while protecting the vulnerable with strict guidelines and procedures.

Warren’s comments illustrate, once again, why there must be a strict separation of church and state. While Warren might find some vicarious purpose and meaning in suffering, many Americans do not. In Warren’s world, the Christian God is sovereign over all, including life and death. Warren tries to frame his objection as “wanting to be there for those who are dying,” but I suspect there are many Californians who have no need of Pastor Warren or any other pastor or priest “being there”  for them during the last days of their life.

While the government certainly has an interest in protecting those who are vulnerable, mentally ill, or unable to make a rational decision, I see no compelling reason for government to forbid the terminally ill to end their life through drugs provided by their physician. Warren is free to suffer until the bitter end. He is free to let cancer eat away at his organs or allow ALS to turn him into a vegetable. If that’s what his God demands of him, far be it from me to deny him the right. However, millions of Californians do not worship Warren’s God, nor do the have such a noble view of suffering, death, and pain.

right to die

Chronic illness and pain are my “dark passengers”, to quote Dexter, the serial killer. I fully expect that I will continue, health-wise, to decline. I see no cure on the horizon and I highly doubt God is going to send Benny Hinn to fake heal me. There could come a day when I no longer desire to live in what Christians call this “house of clay.”  I am sound of mind, OK, mostly sound of mind. Since God is not my co-pilot and I have no desire to be the poster child for suffering, shouldn’t I be allowed to determine, on my own terms, how and when I end my life?

Perhaps I will never reach the place where the reasons for living are no longer enough to keep me alive. There are days when the pain is unbearable and I ponder what death will be like. THE END. Lights out. I have the means of death at my disposal. I take medications that would surely do the trick, but maybe not. Perhaps they wouldn’t quite send me and Toto to the other side. Then Polly would be left with a brain-dead vegetable of a husband. Wouldn’t it better for a doctor to prescribe drugs that were sure to do the trick? If we can execute murderers surely we can help the terminally ill die when they want to call it a night. Wouldn’t this be the compassionate thing to do?

Many people are opposed to assisted suicide for religious or philosophical reasons. By all means, suffer to your heart’s content. But, you have no right to demand that others play by the rules of your religion or philosophy. I hope the California legislature will not allow Evangelicals and Catholics to pressure them into not giving the terminally ill a death with dignity option. The dying, if  possible, should have the right to determine when and where the show ends. (please Dying with Dignity and God Loves You and He’ll Make You Suffer to Prove it)

A Sovereign God Smashes a Young Family to Death

ellis family

The Ellis family

Here’s a story that perfectly illustrates being at the wrong place, at the wrong time:

A Washington couple who died when a large concrete slab fell from a highway overpass onto their pickup truck were youth ministers in their 20s and parents to a 6-month-old baby.

Josh and Vanessa Ellis and their baby, Hudson, died when a concrete barrier fell onto the cab of their truck as they drove underneath an overpass in Bonney Lake, Washington, James Ludlow, their pastor at EastPoint Foursquare Church, said.

“It’s a tragic event,” Ludlow said Tuesday. “In the blink of an eye, inhale and exhale, and they’re in the presence of God.”

Construction crews were installing a sidewalk on the state Route 410 overpass in Bonney Lake, when a chunk of concrete weighing thousands of pounds fell to the roadway below around 10:30 a.m.

“We were just heading down the street … and I could hear three snaps and down it went on top of the truck,” witness Dawn Nelson, who was riding in a car behind the pickup, told KING-TV of Seattle. “There was nothing anyone could do. It was just surreal.”

It was not immediately known what caused the “very heavy” concrete structure to fall. Bonney Lake police, the state Department of Transportation and representatives from contractor WHH Nisqually are investigating.

City spokesman Woody Edvalson said the material that fell was part of the original span, which was built in 1992 and has a sufficiency rating of 95.3 out of 100.

Bonney Lake is about 30 miles southeast of Seattle.

Flowers, a cross and a teddy bear have been placed near the overpass. Both the span and road underneath reopened. Debris from the concrete slab is still on the ground, however.

Ludlow described the Ellis family as “great people” who were loved by kids in the church’s congregation….

What a tragedy, a poignant reminder of how quickly one’s life can be snuffed out.

The Ellis family attended Eastpointe Foursquare Church in Buckely, Washington, where Josh and Vanessa were youth leaders.

I am always hesitant to use tragedies like this to make a point, but there is an aspect of this story that I think is important to discuss.

Shane Lance, the worship leader at Eastpointe,  had this to say about the accident:

“It’s just crazy as a friend. I just can’t wrap my head around it, and that does have to do with how random and how freakish the accident was.”

“It feels unbelievable because a split second on either side the cement slab would have fallen right in front of them and they would have been fine or behind them and they would have been fine. What I do know is that there’s no answer to the logic of it and there’s no answer to the question why.”

“We do know God is good; He’s just so good. He’s going to pull goodness out of this situation somehow, even though right now that just feels illogical. And there’s also comfort knowing that they’re with Jesus and they’re comforted and they’re covered by His grace and power now.”

The One News Now report goes to say “The worship pastor adds they know God is sovereign even when it doesn’t make sense.”

According to Lance and Eastpointe Foursquare Church, the Ellis family was smashed to death because the Christian God decreed it to be so. God is the giver and taker of life and he determined it was time for Ellis’s to die. Not content to quietly kill them in their sleep, he dropped a concrete barrier weighing thousands of pounds on top of them as they drove near an overpass.  What should we say about a God who behaves in such a horrific manner?

Lance, seeking for answers as to WHY God killed his friends, believes that the sovereign God he loves and worships only does good and he will surely use this tragedy for a greater purpose. What Godly purpose requires the sacrifice of a young father, mother, and their child? How is this any different from the Aztec Indians sacrificing humans to their God?

Lance’s comments betray the mental and emotional battle that rages in his mind. He wants to believe God is sovereign, God is love, God only does good, yet his dear friends are dead. In the aforementioned article, Lance stated  that the accident “just feels illogical.” When viewed in a religious context, he is right.  How can someone say God is love and God only does good, knowing that the death of the Ellis’s is anything but loving and good? I am sure that cognitive dissonance afflicts many of those trying to make sense of this tragedy.

As a humanist, I don’t think the accident was illogical. The Ellis family was at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Such things happen every day in every country of the world. 13 years ago, a Southern Baptist pastor, his wife, and three young children, were driving along an Indiana road when a tree toppled over smashing their car. The father, mother, and two children were killed. Baptist Press reported:

A small-town Southern Baptist pastor, his wife, and two small children were killed Jan. 1 when a dead tree fell on top of their car, crushing the passenger compartment.

Stanley Paul Jones, 46, pastor of Buck Creek Baptist Church in Cumberland, was killed along with his wife, Beth Ann Hobbs Jones, 39, and two of their children, Lauren, 6, and Tyler, 10.

Another daughter, Emily, 4, survived and was listed in fair condition at an Indianapolis-area hospital.

There appeared to have been no wind or other circumstances that caused the tree to fall just as Jones’ car was passing underneath on the two-lane road.

How do you explain the deaths that came a few hours into the new year?

Jones was westbound on Hancock County Road 100 South, approaching the intersection with County Road 200 West, about seven miles east of the church he served. There are woods in the area. A dead tree, said to have been 5 feet in diameter, fell just as Jones’ vehicle was passing underneath, according to Hancock County deputies.

“Being a Christian doesn’t mean you’re exempt from tragedy,” said William Smith of Cumberland Christian Church, who knew Jones and helped his church. “There’s no explanation for it, but we believe that an all-knowing God is in control of everything.”…

There’s that sovereign God again, the God who is all-knowing and controls everything. Again, like the Ellis family, the Jones family was at the wrong place, at the wrong time. But, in both cases, there are humans who are culpable for what happened. While the concrete barrier falling was an accident, someone was operating the machinery that resulted in the fall.  Same goes for the Jones family. The dead tree that killed them was on someone’s property. They likely knew it was dead and could topple over, yet they did nothing about it. The state of Indiana is also culpable. It is their responsibility to make sure that trees along the right-of-way are sound. If they are not, they should be removed lest they topple over and hit a passerby.

Rare is the circumstance where no culpability can be found. I have had several near brushes with death, and in every instance a human was to blame. We recognize that we live in a danger-filled world, where living to old age is as much about luck as it is genetics. For the Ellis and Jones families, their luck ran out and three children and four adults died.

Imagine these families tooling down the road without a care in the world. Maybe they were like Polly and I years ago. We’d spend hours in the car singing hymns and praise and worship songs. Sometimes, we sang along with a cassette tape or a CD. Just praising Jesus, worshiping the wonderful, loving God of the universe. And then,  BAM, the sovereign God of Christianity drops a cement barrier or a tree on top of the car. What kind of God behaves like this? Perhaps Christians need to tell God to please leave them alone; that they are fine without his love, care, and protection.

The Ellis family, according to Shane Lance, is in the presence of Jesus. Theoretically, isn’t this what many Christians live for? Whether by rapture or death, the Christian is free from the world controlled by the prince and power of the air, Satan.  Life is little more than  preparation for heaven. The Bible says, prepare to meet the Lord thy God. Since the present life is transitory and fleeting, the Christian focuses on laying up treasures in heaven. Testimonies are given, expressing the desire to absent from the body and present with the Lord. If heaven and being in the presence of Jesus is the end game, shouldn’t Christians rejoice upon hearing the stories mentioned in this post?  Why all the sadness, grief, and despair? Perhaps, even the Christian has their doubts about what lies beyond the grave. They know what the Bible says, what their pastor says, and what their “heart” tells them, but reality tells them something far different.

I am not certain whether the atheistic/humanistic way of looking at tragedies and death is better, but it is brutally honest. I fully understand the appeal of religion in times of tragedy. People want to desperately believe that their life matters, both now and beyond the grave. While there is no rational proof for such claims, faith allows the believer to set reason aside and cling to hope. The atheist and the humanist must embrace life as it is. Sometimes, life can be harsh and ugly, as in the case of the Ellis family. No thoughtful atheist would ever wish such a tragedy on anyone, but we know that things like this do happen and they may some day happen to us.

God Loves You and He’ll Make You Suffer to Prove It

calvin and hobbes god

December 12, 2014, I wrote a letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News about the death of Brittany Maynard. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Editor,

Recently, Brittany Maynard, a brave woman with terminal cancer, took her life. As a resident of Oregon, Maynard could legally choose to commit suicide. Many religious people are incensed over her suicide. A Papal Monsignor called Maynard’s choice reprehensible. Pope Francis called such acts a sin against God. Evangelicals have taken to the internet to denounce Maynard, suggesting her suicide landed her in hell.

Here’s what the religious need to understand: those of us who are not so inclined are not moved by quoted Bible verses and threats of God’s judgment and hell. For us, a God who controls life and death and afflicts people with disease, is a fiction. Everywhere I look, I see suffering and death. I reached a point where I asked, where is God? Eventually, I concluded that the Christian God was a figment of my imagination, an imagination fueled by 50 years of Christian indoctrination.

The Bible encourages people to pray, have faith, and hold on. The faithful are assured that God only wants what’s best for them. Suffering is turned into virtue, some sort of badge of honor. Those who suffer will be rewarded in heaven, the Christian preachers say. Of course, we have to take their word for it because no one has come back from the dead to testify to the veracity of the suffering for God sermons.

I am more inclined to believe what I can see. What I see is suffering and death. I should do what I can to alleviate the suffering of others. Imagine one of my children suffering from a painful disease and I have a cure for the disease. However, I am not willing to give my child the cure because I think his suffering is good for him. What kind of father would people think I am? Yet, the Christian God gets a pass when he does the same. If we consider a human who withholds that which could alleviate suffering reprehensible, surely we should view God the same way.

Theodicy, the problem of suffering and evil, is one of the reasons I am no longer a Christian. Like Baal in I Kings 18, when it comes to suffering, war, famine, disease, pain, and death, the Christian God is AWOL. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, suggesting that their God was on vacation, talking with someone, sleeping, or using the toilet. Could not the same thing be said for all gods? It seems quite clear to me, we are on our own.

At the heart of Maynard’s choice is the right to self-determination. As a person who suffers with unrelenting chronic pain and debility, I want the right to say, no more. Unlike many religious people, I see little value in pain and suffering. I endure it for the sake of my wife, children and grandchildren, but my family knows that there might come a day when I am no longer willing to do so. I want that choice to be mine.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

In today’s paper, almost 3 months after my letter was published, the Crescent-News published a letter from Diane Hammon of Mark Center. Hammon, a Roman Catholic, had this to say:

This letter is in reference to a letter Bruce Gerenscer had written about suffering.

Mr. Gerenscer stated that no one has come back from the dead to testify to the fruits of suffering, but Jesus did. The Catholic Church, which teaches the fullness of the Truth, teaches that suffering is allowed by God to happen for a greater good. Like Jesus who suffered for mankind, we too, are to offer up our sufferings for others or ourselves. He told us to take up our cross and follow Him.

Our suffering may help someone to have a conversion of heart. It may be for our own good so that we realize God’s love for us which manifests itself in a variety of ways. Or, maybe by the way we endure our sufferings, we inspire others to have hope and courage in their sufferings.

Through suffering, we gain virtues such as faith, hope, charity, humility and fortitude. We all know it’s especially difficult to watch those we love suffer, but we can offer their sufferings up just as Jesus’ mother offered up His sufferings. She chose to silently endure and offer up watching her Son die knowing that it was for a greater good, the salvation of all the world past, present, and future.

Since God is love, we know that He doesn’t enjoy seeing us suffer but He allows it for a greater good. We all can relate to this when we must watch our loved ones experience situations such as painful medical procedures, corrective measures for physical problems, grueling practices, disciplinary measures, etc. but we allow them to go through those difficulties for their good.

In reference to Brittany Maynard who was suffering from a brain tumor and then killed herself, it’s an offense to God because He gave each of us a life with a plan. Who are we to decide when that plan is complete? God alone sees the whole picture.

Diane Hammon
Mark Center

Hammon objects to my statement about no one coming back from the dead. Silly me, I forgot Jesus came back from the dead. And where is the wonderful death-defying story of Jesus found? The B-i-b-l-e, an ancient text written thousands of years ago by unknown authors. In what other circumstance would we appeal to an ancient text written by unknown authors?Imagine what my response would be if I went to the doctor for a health problem and he said, let me see, where’s Galen’s wonderful little book on the bloodletting? Galen, a 2nd century Greek physician advocated bloodletting as a cure, as did many ancient physicians. So it is with Jesus’s supposed resurrection from the dead. Nothing more than a quaint story from 20 centuries ago.

Hammon, like most Christians, fails to understand that stating THE BIBLE SAYS, THE CHURCH SAYS or THE POPE SAYS is not proof for the assertion that Jesus resurrected from the dead and is in heaven now working with Habitat for Humanity building mansions for his father’s children. Either one believes or they don’t. Either they ignore the lack of evidence and have faith, or they don’t.

total world population

According to a 2013 Discover Magazine article by George Johnson:

While I was writing The Cancer Chronicles, I came to a point, early on, where I wondered how many people had ever been alive in the world. The best answer I could find came from a study by an organization called the Population Reference Bureau: 108 billion.

I was stunned by the magnitude of the number. It is still common to hear that more people are alive today than have ever lived. Or an even more extreme claim: that 75 percent of everyone who ever walked the earth is living today. But that is not even close to being correct. By the Population Reference Bureau’s reckoning, the proportion of living to dead is only about 6 percent.

The author of the study, Carl Haub, describes the assumptions that went into his calculations. Modern homo sapiens is widely believed to have made its appearance around 50,000 B.C., so that was year zero for his count.

As more people began to move from a nomadic existence as hunter-gatherers to a more sedentary life as farmers, the world population grew at an increasing pace. There is actually a specialty called paleodemography, and Haub drew on various estimates to come up with a population of around 5 million in 8,000 B.C.

By 1 A.D. experts estimate that there were at least 45 million people in the Roman Empire. Extrapolating upward, Haub put the world population back then at roughly 300 million. Based on various assumptions about birth rate and the impact of infant mortality, infanticide, and the Black Death, it took until 1650 for the number to reach half a billion, surpassing 1 billion only in the 19th century. Today the population is 7.1 billion and rising, but the total accumulation of people, living and dead, has reached 108 billion…

Since Jesus is purportedly the only human to die, be buried, and come back to life, this means that only 1 out of 108 billion people have resurrected from the dead. (and technically Jesus was not human, he was God in a human body) Looking rationally and objectively at the ratio of resurrected to stay dead, I think I can safely say that when any of us die, we stay dead. But, what about Jesus? Well, all we have is a legend, a myth, a story. Again, either one believes or they don’t. Either they ignore the lack of evidence and have faith, or they don’t.

Hammon states that God is love and that he uses suffering to teach us and inspire others. While I would most certainly agree that pain and suffering have taught me many things, the very notion that there is “loving” God that uses pain, suffering, and death to advance his perfect plan, makes God into a psychopath; a deranged person who uses the pain and suffering of others to meet some need in his life.This God, the Christian God,  should be the featured psychopath on Criminal Minds.

As a Christian, I used similar arguments to defend God and his actions. His ways are not our ways, the Bible says. Who can understand God and his ways? In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul gives a lengthy defense of election and predestination. He rebukes those who would dare question God’s actions:

Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

In other words, Paul tells those who dare to question God’s actions to shut the hell up. God can do what he wants! Why? Because he’s G-O-D. God is the parent, when questioned by a child, who says, because I said so!

At the end of her letter, Hammon addresses the point of my letter, the death of Brittany Maynard. Maynard, a beautiful, full of life, young woman, had an aggressive, stage 4, zero chance of survival, brain tumor.  Maynard decided to control the decision of when and how she would die. On November 1, 2014, surrounded by her loved ones, Maynard ended her life. Prior to her death, Maynard wrote on Facebook:

Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more.

What people like Hammon want to do is rob people of a dignified death. God, and whatever perverse plan he might have for your life, is all that matters. No matter how sick you are, no matter how severe the pain is, no matter how much the cancer is eating away at your organs, you must let God do whatever he is going to do for/to you.

Hammon wants us to believe that only God sees the “whole” picture. Granted, none of us can see the whole picture, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make responsible life and death decisions based on the evidence at hand. Earlier this week, I asked my doctor, do you think I have cancer? He told me no. Based on a CT scan,MRI, endoscopic ultrasound, and biopsies, it is unlikely that I have cancer. Can my doctor be certain? Of course not. But, based on the available evidence, it is unlikely that I have it. Based on a 30 minutes talk with my doctor, I have decided to stop any further testing. My symptoms remain the same as they were before I started the testing 4 months ago. $25,000 later, I am still sick. Am I making the right decision? I don’t know. If I start coughing up or shitting blood six months from now, I guess I’ll know the answer.

Life is a roll of the dice. We don’t know will happen a minute from now, let alone an hour, day, week, or year from now. The Bible is right, yes I really did say that, when it says, Boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. All we can do is life each and every day to its fullest. I continue to plan, hope, and dream. I want to live, but there might come a day when I no longer wish to. Maybe I will reach a point where my health is so poor and the pain is so severe that Polly, kids, and grandchildren no longer are enough for me to remain among the living. When and if that day comes, I want the right to say, no more.  Better to face the cruel, heartless world head on than to think there is a divine puppeteer in heaven pulling strings to manipulate and control my life.

As a father, husband, grandfather, and friend, I want to do what I can to ease the suffering of those I love. Whatever life lessons might be gained through suffering, I don’t want my loved ones to suffer. Everywhere I look, I see pain, suffering, and heartache. I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave over people and make them whole. But, I have no such magic and all I can do is give them my love and support.

What are we to make of a God who does not do the same, a God who supposedly has the power to alleviate pain and suffering but doesn’t do so because of some wonderful plan he has for everyone? As I have mentioned many times, the existence of evil and suffering and God’s part in it, remains an insurmountable hurdle for me. The God of Christianity, the God of the Bible, is a mean, egotistical sadist who gets off on the suffering of others. Such a God is worthy of ridicule and scorn. He is certainly does not deserve my praise, worship and devotion.

That is, if he exists.

Preachers and The Lies They Tell About Heaven

heaven and hell

Heaven and Hell

Several years ago, 3 young Ohio boys fell through the ice on the Sandusky River and drowned. What a terrible, terrible tragedy. Two of the boys were brothers.

The pastor of the church where their funeral was held said the following:

A minister has told mourners that three Ohio boys who fell through ice and died together in a river are now playing together in heaven.

This statement is restated many different ways during countless Christian funerals.

  • Granny is running around heaven now with no pain!
  • Gramps is in heaven now and doesn’t need a wheelchair to get around any more.
  • ________is in heaven and there is no more pain, sickness, disease, suffering, etc, etc

Here’s the problem…

Statements like these are not true.

Historic, orthodox Christian doctrine teaches that when a person dies they go to the grave. They are DEAD. The body remains in the grave until the resurrection. At the resurrection those who have died will receive a new body. (1 Cor 15)

So why is it that preacher’s lie? Why did I lie?

Sentimentality.

Families are grieving. They have lost a loved one. They want to believe there is a divine purpose, and they want to believe that life continues after the grave.

So preachers concoct grand stories about heaven and the immediate transport of the dead from earth to heaven.

Belief in the afterlife requires faith. No one has ever come back from the dead to tell us the what lies beyond the grave. (if anything) Anyone who says they have is a liar.

Even Jesus himself didn’t talk about the afterlife after his resurrection from the dead. His disciples did, the apostles did, but not Jesus. He told his disciples that wherever he was they too would be some day. He never mentioned one time any of the things commonly heard in Christian funeral sermons.

Even the notion of spending eternity in heaven is not taught in the Bible. Search all you might, it is not there.

What IS taught in the Bible is that followers of Jesus Christ will live forever in God’s eternal kingdom. (on a new earth) On this point the Jehovah Witnesses are probably closer in belief to what the Bible teaches than many Evangelical Christians.

The same could be said about hell. Those who are not followers of Jesus will NOT spend eternity in hell. The Bible doesn’t teach that. The Bible DOES teach that unbelievers will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire. (Revelation 20:14)

Sentimentality allows preachers, who are supposed to be guardians of Christian doctrine, to ignore what the Bible teaches in favor of telling stories to comfort a grieving family.

I understand WHY they do it but let me be clear here…

Preacher, if you can’t tell the truth when it really matters the most, how can you expect people to believe anything you say? If sentimentality allows you to ignore what the Bible teaches about heaven (and hell) how do we know that you are telling the truth any other time?  Not telling the truth in hard circumstances results in a loss of credibility.

As an atheist, I have serious reservations about the notion of an afterlife. At this point and time in life I lack the requisite faith necessary to believe. I am of the opinion that each of us best  get to living life because it is the only one we have. That said, if you are a Christian you are bound by what the Bible teaches. As a preacher you are obligated to tell the truth. In fact you owe it to your congregants to tell them the truth, even when it is hard to do so.

Book Review: The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven

The internet is buzzing over Alex Malarkey’s repudiation of his earth to heaven and back story. Alex now says the story is a lie. In a recent press release, Alex stated:

An Open Letter to Lifeway and Other Sellers, Buyers, and Marketers of Heaven Tourism, by the Boy Who Did Not Come Back From Heaven.”

“Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short.

I did not die. I did not go to heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.

It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though He committed none of His own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of heaven outside of what is written in the Bible … not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.”

Alex Malarkey

The gist of what has happened here is that Alex and his mother Beth, have repudiated the fundamentalists charismatic/pentecostal beliefs that are the foundation of Alex’s book.  Sadly, they have taken up with a different group that is almost as bad. To the best of my knowledge, Alex and Beth are now in a John MacArthur like, Reformed/Calvinistic church. Their recent statements reveal that they have been deeply influenced by Reformed/Calvinist thinking, especially its emphasis on sola scriptura. For more information on this connection, please read the Pulpit and Pen blog and John MacArthur’s right hand man, Phil Johnson’s article, The Burpo-Malarkey Doctrine.

Are Beth and Alex Malarkey in a better religious setting? That’s for them to decide. They should, however, realize that they have traded one form of fundamentalism for another.

What follows is the review I wrote when The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven first came out. I thought it was lost, but I was able to retrieve it from The Wayback Machine.

boy who came back from heaven

The boy who came back from heaven, a remarkable account of miracles, angels, and life beyond this world is written by Kevin and Alex Malarkey.

At the bottom of the front cover are the words True Story. The boy who came back from heaven recounts the story of six-year-old Alex Malarkey who was seriously injured in an automobile accident that left him paralyzed.  While in a coma, Alex was taken to heaven and given the grand tour. He returned to earth and his body so that he could share with all of us the story found in the book.  The book also records post-coma trips to heaven by Alex and even includes an angel appearance to Alex’s father Kevin Malarkey.

I almost stopped reading the book after reading the Introduction. Kevin Malarkey, an Evangelical Christian therapist in Columbus Ohio wrote:

I’m not here to beat a drum, convince you of a theological argument, or force you to validate Alex’s experiences. But I humbly offer a challenge: suspend your judgment for just a few chapters. I think your life may be changed forever.

If Alex’s story is to be taken as a TRUE story, then why do I need to suspend my judgment? Should not the truth of the story be clear to all who read it?

According to Kevin Malarkey:

Heaven is real. There is an unseen world at work—an intensely  active spiritual realm right here o earth , all around us. And much of this activity keeps us from focusing on our future destination, the place where we will spend eternity. Alex has been there….

The only thing the book actually proves is that some people believe there is a heaven. The boy who came back from heaven may be a true story, but it is a “true” story without one shred of provable truth . In other words, you are going to have to take the word of six-year-old (or 11-year-old by the time the book is written) Alex Malarkey that what he shares is the truth.

The story begins when Kevin and Alex Malarkey are involved in a horrific automobile accident. Kevin, while talking on his cellphone, turned in front of an automobile coming in the opposite direction. The driver of the other car was a woman with two young children. Alex was injured far worse than anyone else. The accident left him paralyzed and in a coma for 2 months.

At the accident scene, unconscious Alex saw:

  • Five angels carrying his father outside the car. Four were carrying the body and one angel was supporting his head and neck. (the police report said Kevin Malarkey was ejected from the automobile)
  • The devil sitting in the front seat of the automobile accusing Alex of causing the accident.

While in a coma, Alex was taken to heaven. What did Alex see and experience while he was in heaven?

  • His father was in heaven too, but only for a short time.
  • Alex saw the five angels that carried his father’s body outside the automobile. The five angels stayed with Alex so his father could have time alone with God.  He pleaded to trade places with Alex, but God told him no. God sent his father’s spirit back to earth and Alex remained in heaven. God told him that he would heal him later on earth to bring more glory to His (God’s) name.
  • While in the emergency room, Alex watched everything that was going on from the ceiling. Jesus was standing right there beside him. Alex felt safe and he was not afraid to die.
  • While in the emergency room, Alex saw 150 pure, white angels with fantastic wings who were all calling his name. After awhile, they said “Alex go back.”  Alex did go back and Jesus came with him and held him  during his time in the emergency room.
  • Alex found himself in the presence of God. God had a human-like body, but a lot bigger. Alex was only allowed to see God from the neck down because the Bible says anyone who looks on the face of God dies.
  • There is an inner heaven and an outer heaven. The outer heaven has a hole that leads to hell.
  • There are lots of colorful, beautiful things to see, and beautiful music too.
  • Heaven is a lot like earth, but it is perfect in every detail.
  • Angels  are white, have wings, and are sexless.
  • Some angels are short, 2 feet tall, and others are much taller.
  • There are different types of angels, with different jobs to do.
  • There are lots of buildings in heaven, but Alex only really noticed the Temple. God never leaves his throne in the Temple. There is a scroll in a glass container that only Jesus can read.

After Alex came out of  his coma, he continued to see other world beings. Angels were present in Alex’s hospital room.The angels helped Alex and the angels talked to Alex and he talked back to them.

One day, Alex told his father that he had something important to tell him. He wanted to make sure his father would not be sad after hearing what Alex had to say. Alex said:

There are two days I look forwards to more than any others in my life. The first is the day I die. You see, I can’t wait to get home. It’s not that I want to die right now; I’m not sad…. The second is the day when the devil goes to the Lake of Fire. I can’t wait for him to be gone for good.

According to Alex, demons and evil spirits came to visit him. He was thankful that his father taught him how to pray and how to take authority over the demons.

Alex had this to say about the devil, about demons  and evil spirits:

  • They are evil, scary, and ugly.
  • They accuse Alex of things, bring him doubt, make him feel sad, tell him he will never be healed, and that God won’t protect him.
  • The devil has three heads and all three heads have hair of fire. (is the devil a redhead?) Each of the heads speak different lies at the same time.
  • The devil has beaming red eyes with flames for pupils.  His nose is nasty and torn up.
  • The devil speaks English to Alex. His voice is screechy like a witch and changes into different sounds. The devil’s mouth is funny looking with only a few moldy teeth.
  • The devil’s body has a human form but has no flesh.
  • The devil wears a torn and dirty robe.
  • The devil personally appeared to Alex. Sometimes, the devil came along with other evil spirits but sometimes he came alone.
  • Demons are often green and they have hair made of fire. Their skin and robes are just like the devil’s. Their eyes are like the devil’s and they have long fingernails.

According to Alex, demons walk around telling lies. In Frank Peretti style, Alex says that there is a spiritual war going on—angels against demons.

Towards the end of the book, Kevin Malarkey lets readers know that Alex has continued to take periodic trips to heaven. Readers are also told that Kevin himself had an experience where an angel named John appeared to him.

The angel John gave Kevin  a message:

I have anointed you with a message of hope…for the church….for the body of Christ…and for those who will be the body…..that He will be raised up and seen in His true glory…This is the word of the Lord given to you by the angel John.

Speak of Me, for Me, and about Me. Use Alex to show who I am. I have chosen him as a screen upon which to show myself. I am unity, the Trinity, a complete circle. Your story  will lead to praise and worship, there will be altar calls. Your bills are the least of my worries. I will be with you all the days of your life. I will speak to you, I will guide you, I am in you. I am about you, you be about me. My love is unconditional. My vengeance is restricted for the holy. My apostles died for Me, will you die for Me? I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.

Most of the book is Kevin Malarkey’s explanation of Alex’s trips to heaven and how God is using them to reach other people. One chapter is devoted to the things that Alex knew about his time in the coma. To many people, this is proof above all proof. Alex talked of things that were not possible for him to know.

The story is what it is. Either you believe it or you don’t. Just like the book Heaven is for Real , you have the story of a young child being taken to heaven. Both boys waited for years before their story was put into print. Both stories show clear signs of being shaped by adult human hands. (whether by parents or book editors)

I have no doubt that the Malarkey family believes what is written here. Like many Christians, they are desperate to know that their lives matter and that when death comes there is a new life that awaits beyond the grave.

As a non-believer, the story said little that I would consider as proof that there is a God, a devil, a heaven, a hell, or that life continues beyond the grave. I found myself angry, once again, at a god, who paralyzes a kid in an automobile accident so he can get some praise and glory. With all the suffering, sickness, disease, and death in the world, it seems to me that God has plenty enough praise and glory.

My conclusion? Kevin Malarkey asked me to suspend my judgment as I read the book. I could not do so, and, in my judgment, the book is a bunch of malarkey.(meaningless talk and nonsense)

In June of 2014, I wrote the following update:

Last week, I reposted a review of The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven by Kevin and Alex Malarkey. After my review hit the internet, Beth Malarkey, the mother of Alex, contacted me via Twitter.  She let me know that Alex, now a teenager, did not write the story and he does not agree with what is in the book.

On her blog, Life’s a Journey, Beth wrote:

I never intended this blog to be a place that I would have to defend my son ALex’s indentity let alone the journey that he and he alone has endured. I started this blog as a “fun” thing to do and with the intention of maybe sharing some hope and bits of wisdom that has been learned through the struggles. I have taken this blog down from time to time not sure what to do with it and NEVER wanting to make it appear as if any of the people that I write about are extraordinary individuals…

,,,This past week a movie based off the book Heaven is for Real came out. I have not read the book, do not plan to, and am strongly opposed to the movie. Let’s just say that the Burpo book and the book that has Alex’s name listed as coauthor (The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven),as does the Tyndale Publishing website (can not understand how that can be), have a few things in common which I will not get into on here. I am trying to defend my son and truth. Here is something to think about….

It is both puzzling and painful to watch the book The Boy who Came Back from Heaven to not only continue to sell, but to continue, for the most part, to not be questioned. I could post facts and try to dispel many of the things contained within the pages of that book (have done a bit of that), I could continue to try to point out how Biblically off the book is (a few strategically placed scriptures does not make a book Biblically sound) and how it leads people away from the bible not to it (have done that as have others including John MacArthur and Phil Johnson), I could talk about how much it has hurt my son tremendously and even make financial statements public that would prove that he has not received monies from the book nor have a majority of his needs been funded by it (a fund that was set aside by a friend a few years ago has actually been paying for most things in the past few years but that fund is dwindling), I could…..but it seems like many people want to believe what they are given despite the wrong that it may be doing or the wrong that was done in the making of it.

When Alex first tried to tell a “pastor” how wrong the book was and how it needed stopped, Alex was told that the book was blessing people. Ok…first, Alex said that while he was struggling physically and trusting this person as someone who seemed to be concerned so the person was invalidating Alex’s feeling while justifying the wrong that Alex was trying to make that person aware of. . The person told Alex to “trust” him. Alex is the ONLY one that supposedly had the experiences being written about(Alex was a 6 year old and coming out of major brain trauma…note I am not saying what is true and not just that Alex was a kid with major brain trauma which alone should raise questions as to validity) Alex is the ONLY one who has endured not only a horrific set of injuries, but having his journey capitalized on. His struggles are NOT past tense nor is the “story.”

The ones making money from the book are NOT the ones staying up through the night, struggling for their breath, or were they the ones at six years old, waking up unable to move or breathe and in a strange place after last remember seeing a car coming right at the car he was riding in. What I have walked through with Alex over the past nine years has nearly broken me personally and spiritually. I have wept so deeply for what I have watched my children go through, been made aware of how ignorant I was of some things, how selfish I was, and how Biblically illiterate I was which allowed me to be deceived! Sure, I had read my Bible A LOT, but I had not studied it. I had listened to teachings but probably enjoyed more ear tickling than I am still even aware of(for that I repent and have experienced deep sorrow) I am so thankful that God is so merciful and patient. I am thankful that God allowed me to go ahead and fall for the junk that I did(and it was that junk)for I am fully aware of what it feels like to be pulled in.

There are many who are scamming and using the Word of God to do it. They are good, especially if you are not digging into your Bible and truly studying it. They study their audience and even read “success” books to try to build better and bigger…”ministries/businesses”. Please, examine what you see and read. I see many things from a different vantage point because of how much I have witnessed and am witnessing first hand…not second hand. I will remain puzzled and remain seeking truth in the Word of God! One more time..Alex did not write the book and it is not blessing him! Saying that it is blessing others to try to justify its wrong is just that…justification of wrong!

Beth is divorced from Kevin Malarkey and continues to be Alex’s primary caregiver.

Guilt, the Essence of Evangelical Christianity

guilt

What would the Evangelical Christianity be without guilt?

Guilt, despite what preachers say, is the engine that powers the Evangelicalism.

Often preachers will try to hide guilt by giving it other names like conviction. But no matter how they try to hide it, guilt plays a prominent part in the day-to-day lives of those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ.

Think about it for a moment. The Bible presents God as a righteous, holy, judging, wrathful, deity. In the Old Testament this God was unapproachable except by a  few chosen people. People who got too close wound up dead.

Who can forget the story about the man who put out his hand to steady the ark of the covenant and God rewarded this man by killing him. Or the story about God killing the entire human race save eight people. (and yet, Evangelicals say God is pro-life)

From Genesis to Revelation we see a God who gives no quarter to disobedience or sin. He demands worship and expects perfect obeisance. He is a God that not only hates sin but hates those who do it. (the hate the sin but love the sinner line of thinking is not found in the Bible) Evangelicals often remind people like me that some day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Bow now or bow later, the thinking goes.

No matter how much the writers of the New Testament tried to cover this up with talk of love, grace, and mercy, the God of the Bible was not one to be trifled with. Those who trifled with him ended up dead. The Bible says, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

There are hundreds of commands in the Bible, commands that God expects every Christian to obey without question or hesitation. After all, according to the Bible, God himself lives inside every Christian. According to the Bible, the Christian has the mind of Christ. The Bible also says that the Christian is to be perfect even as their father in heaven is perfect. Lest one doubt whether God is serious, the writer of First John reminds his fellow Christians that he who sins is of the devil.

The Bible message is clear, obey God lest you fall under his judgment, a judgment that could lead to your death. Put in the words that any child can understand, do what God says or he is going to get you. Remember this is a God who killed two people in the book of Acts for lying. This is the same God who brutalized his son on the cross because of what other people did. This is also the same God that will someday savage the earth and its inhabitants and torture in hell for all eternity all those who are not Christians.

It should come as no surprise then that many Evangelicals live with a backbreaking load of guilt. They know what God expects and they fear him, but, in spite of all their hard work, they still can’t measure up to what God expects of them. What deepens their guilt is preachers that say they speak for God, adding more rules and regulations that God demands every Christian obey. (also called church standards)

I spent most of my life in the Evangelical church. I desperately wanted to be a good Christian. I felt God had called me into the ministry and I wanted to be the best pastor possible. I was willing to sacrifice everything for God. And so that’s what I did. I sacrificed my family, my health, and my economic well-being for God. I held nothing back and I was willing to die for my God if necessary.

A while back someone made a comment on Facebook about my being an atheist. This person has known me for 37 years. They said that they were shocked that I was an atheist because if anyone was a committed, true blue believer I was. Most people who knew me in my Christian days would give a similar account of my devotion to God.

As a pastor I gave 100% to the cause. I worked long hours regardless  whether I got paid. Most of the churches I pastored paid a poverty wage, but that didn’t matter to me. I would have gladly worked for free, and, in fact, I did work many weeks and months without receiving a paycheck. It was never about the money. It was all about faithfully serving God and fulfilling his calling on my life. It was all about being obedient to the commands and teachings found in the Bible.

One would think that someone as committed as I was wouldn’t have guilt, but guilt played a prominent part in my life. Striving for perfection quickly reveals how imperfect you are. Sometimes, I envied Christians who could take a nominal, carefree approach to God and his commands. Why couldn’t I be nominal just like everyone else? I’m not sure I have an answer for that. All I know is this, I worked for the night is coming when no man can work and the more work I put into my Christian faith the more guilt I had.

I often pondered the work of Jesus on the cross. Jesus had given his all on the cross for me. Shouldn’t I give my all to him? I took seriously the command to walk in the steps of Jesus. I tried to pattern my life after the example of Jesus and the apostles. I wanted to be found busy working for the advancement of God’s kingdom with Jesus came back to earth.

The Bible teaches that this life of ours is but a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. (like a steam from a water heat radiator on a cold winter day) Rather than spending time building a kingdom in this life that will soon pass away,  I sincerely believed my  time was better spent  laying up treasure in heaven. Why bother with the transitory, material world that will soon pass away? Better to spend every waking hour serving Jesus than to spend one moment chasing the baubles of this world. Yet, the harder I worked the more guilt I had.

I prayed in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night, and numerous times throughout the day, yet I feared I was not praying enough. After all, the Bible commands us to pray without ceasing. No matter how many people I witnessed to, there were always more people I needed to evangelize. There never seemed to be an end of souls that needed saving. How dare I spend one moment taking care of my own personal needs while countless souls were hanging by a bare thread over the pit of hell. I had no time for talk of heaven or eternal reward. There was too much to do.

I know some readers of this blog will read this post and say, no wonder you were guilty all the time. Look at how motivated and driven you were. Yes, this is true, but I ask you, where do I find in the Bible the laid-back, nominal, easy come easy go, Christian life? While certainly such a life would have lessened the amount of guilt I had, how could I live such a life knowing what I did about the teachings and commands of the Bible?

Look at the examples given for us in the Bible of people who were devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Show me the nominal Christian. In every instance nominal Christianity is roundly condemned. God expects, dare I say demands, 100% devotion and anything less than that is treason against God.

So, for many years I lived with guilt most everyday. I felt guilty when I stopped to enjoy life. I feel guilty when I stopped to attend to my personal wants and desires. I felt guilty when I spent money that could have gone to the church or to missionaries. Why could I not be like the Apostle Paul? Or why could I not be like Jesus himself?

Of course the real problem was that I was a human being. A life of selfless devotion to God was an impossibility. Now that I’ve left the ministry and left the Christian faith, my problem with guilt still remains. I’m no longer guilty over my lack of devotion and I’m certainly not guilty over committing what the Bible calls sin, but I do have twinges of guilt over the amount of time, money, and effort I gave in devotion to a God that does not exist. (perhaps guilt is not the best word to use here. I lament, feel sad, regret) As the old gospel song goes, wasted years oh how foolish.

I also feel guilty over leading people into the same kind of life. I regret causing parishioners to feel guilty over not measuring up to the commands found in the Bible. As I have often said, churches would be empty if it weren’t for guilt and guilt’s twin sister fear.

Perhaps my penance is this blog. I am sure there are many people who read this blog who know exactly what I’m talking about.  Atheism and a humanist worldview has allowed me, for the most part, aside from what I have mentioned above, to live a life free of guilt. (and fear) I no longer have to fear or feel guilty over not keeping God’s commands. No longer are my actions checked against God’s sin list. My actions on any given day are good or bad and when I do bad things I need to make things right if I can and try not to do them again. There is no need for me to be threatened with hell or promised heaven. All I want to do is be a good human being and be at peace with others. If my actions fail this standard then I need to do better.

Just One More Day

It’s 4 AM and like every night I am still awake.

The sounds are so clear this time of night.

The tick tock of Big Ben on the nightstand.

Cars as they drive through the sleepy rural town we call home.

Folk music softly plays in the background, a nightly ritual that lulls my lover to sleep.

The wind is blowing briskly as the wind chimes sing their harmonies into the snowy night.

I can feel the cold draft from the wind as is pushes its way through the window frame of our 130 year home.

She is covered up, trying to warm herself as cold air blows over her head.

She lies beside me, just like she has these 36 years.

I look over at her and remind myself of what a great life we’ve had.

We have faced many battles that left us bruised and bloodied us, but we survived. That’s what we are, survivors.

The Bible is right, there is a love that endures. She and I have that enduring love. Until death do us part we promised each another one hot July day so many years ago.

Recent events have brought us face to face with our mortality, my mortality.

What if it is cancer? What if the hourglass is close to running out? To ponder our own mortality and bitter end, dare we?

Come what may, I’ve had a good life. Whether I live til Christmas or another 20 years, I am grateful for the life she and I have shared.

Almost 40 years ago, a beautiful young girl dared to flirt with a brash redheaded boy. And just like that, in the blink of an eye, we lie here in the stillness of the night, our lives shaped and filled by our shared experiences.

I think of our children and our grandchildren. I want to wake her up and say, we did good; that we have more treasure than the richest man on earth.

I won’t wake her, she needs her sleep.

I hope she knows that I love her.

It’s almost 5 AM and I can feel the drugs beginning to win the battle. Sleep will soon come and if I awake another day will be mine.

Isn’t that all any of us can hope for?

Just one more day…

Dying With Dignity

brittany maynard

Brittany Maynard

What follows is a letter I wrote recently to the Defiance Crescent-News.

Dear Editor,

Recently, Brittany Maynard, a brave woman with terminal cancer, took her life. As a resident of Oregon, Maynard could legally choose to commit suicide. Many religious people are incensed over her suicide. A Papal Monsignor called Maynard’s choice reprehensible. Pope Francis called such acts a sin against God. Evangelicals have taken to the internet to denounce Maynard, suggesting her suicide landed her in hell.

Here’s what the religious need to understand: those of us who are not so inclined are not moved by quoted Bible verses and threats of God’s judgment and hell. For us, a God who controls life and death and afflicts people with disease, is a fiction. Everywhere I look, I see suffering and death. I reached a point where I asked, where is God? Eventually, I concluded that the Christian God was a figment of my imagination, an imagination fueled by 50 years of Christian indoctrination.

The Bible encourages people to pray, have faith, and hold on. The faithful are assured that God only wants what’s best for them. Suffering is turned into virtue, some sort of badge of honor. Those who suffer will be rewarded in heaven, the Christian preachers say. Of course, we have to take their word for it because no one has come back from the dead to testify to the veracity of the suffering for God sermons.

I am more inclined to believe what I can see. What I see is suffering and death. I should do what I can to alleviate the suffering of others. Imagine one of my children suffering from a painful disease and I have a cure for the disease. However, I am not willing to give my child the cure because I think his suffering is good for him. What kind of father would people think I am? Yet, the Christian God gets a pass when he does the same. If we consider a human who withholds that which could alleviate suffering reprehensible, surely we should view God the same way.

Theodicy, the problem of suffering and evil, is one of the reasons I am no longer a Christian. Like Baal in I Kings 18, when it comes to suffering, war, famine, disease, pain, and death, the Christian God is AWOL. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, suggesting that their God was on vacation, talking with someone, sleeping, or using the toilet. Could not the same thing be said for all gods? It seems quite clear to me, we are on our own.

At the heart of Maynard’s choice is the right to self-determination. As a person who suffers with unrelenting chronic pain and debility, I want the right to say, no more. Unlike many religious people, I see little value in pain and suffering. I endure it for the sake of my wife, children and grandchildren, but my family knows that there might come a day when I am no longer willing to do so. I want that choice to be mine.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio