Tag Archive: Prayer

Arizona Republican House Legislators Offended over Juan Mendez’s Secular Prayer

juan mendez

Arizona House Democrat Juan Mendez.  Representative Mendez is an atheist.

What follows is a video of Arizona House Democrat Representative Juan Mendez offering a secular prayer at the start of the legislative session. The video also shows the reaction of Christian Republican legislators to Representative Mendez’s prayer. Only one legislator defended Mendez’s prayer — assistant Democratic leader Representative Bruce Wheeler. I was astounded to hear Wheeler — a Roman Catholic — state that Catholic legislators are not permitted to attend the weekly Arizona House Bible study. Let this video be a reminder of what happens when Evangelicals ignore the law and carve out special rights for their religion.

Video Link

Thanks to my heathen buddy Jim Schoch — a resident of Arizona — for making me aware of this video.

Here is what Arizona Capital Time writer Howard Fischer had to say about the matter:

A top House leader slapped down a Democratic lawmaker today for using the time set aside for prayer to instead give thanks for diverse beliefs — including the belief there is no higher power.

Majority Leader Steve Montenegro declared that Rep. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, had violated House rules that require that each day’s session begin with a “prayer.” That’s because Mendez, an atheist, used the time to talk about the “pluralistic society.”

And he made a point of saying that, from his perspective seeking divine intervention or hoping for a place in the afterlife is unnecessary.

“We need not tomorrow’s promise of reward to do good deeds today,” Mendez said. “For some may seek the assistance of a higher power with hands in their air, there are those of us that are prepared to assist directly, with our hands to the earth.”

That invocation, Montenegro complained, left the House without the required prayer. So House Speaker David Gowan, who clearly was prepared for the dust-up, called the Rev. Mark Mucklow — who conveniently was on the House floor — to fulfill the obligation.

Mucklow obliged, with a lengthy prayer asking God to direct and lead lawmakers. And to put a point on what was missing before, he asked that “at least one voice today say, ‘Thank you, God bless you and bless your families.’ “

Then other lawmakers began piling on Mendez.

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, said the time at the beginning of the session is set aside for prayer. He said lawmakers have a right to say anything else they want — but only after the prayer.

“I’m saddened and offended that a member of this body would knowingly disregard our call for prayer and our House rules,” he said. Finchem said there needs to be a time for prayer, “lifting this body up to the God that we speak of when we say our Pledge of Allegiance.”

“We are ‘One nation under God,’ “ Finchem said. “This republican form of government came out of the Book of Exodus,” he continued, saying “it is a matter of fact.”

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said she believes the First Amendment is important.

“Not everybody in this room is Christian or Mormon or Jewish,” she continued. “I think it’s important we respect each other.”

But she said Mendez was wrong in using the time for the prayer for his invocation.

“It’s not time to be proselytizing even if you’re proselytizing something that’s not a religion,” Townsend said.

“I personally took offense at some of the words that were said,” she continued.

Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said he was upset about Mendez saying that while some look to a higher power that others help directly. He said Mendez was “impugning not me, but in a small way millions of people, women and men that are part of our pluralistic society that use their faith and their belief in a God … they allow to guide them in serving directly, every day and all day.”

Rep. Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, said he doesn’t personally believe as does Mendez.

“But he has every right to say and voice what he said on the floor today,” he said.

Montenegro pointed out that he put out a memo earlier in the session spelling out what is acceptable as a prayer under House rules. And he said what Mendez said does not comply.

“Prayer, as commonly understood and in the long-honored tradition of the Arizona House of Representatives, is a solemn request for guidance and help from God,” Montenegro wrote in that memo. He said anything else — including a moment of silence — does not meet that requirement.

Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said he doesn’t need a memo to know that what Mendez said is not a prayer.

“We know what it looks like, we know what it is,” he said.

“We also know what it looks like when someone is desecrating or mocking someone else’s beliefs,” Petersen said. And he said those who want to do that using his or her freedom of speech, they can — but not during the time reserve for prayer.
….

 

Evangelicals and Their Hocus Pocus Magic Book

bible magic book

Evangelicals believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. It is, in every way, a supernatural book written by a supernatural God. Its pages purportedly contain words that have magic power. While Evangelicals deny that the Bible is in any way a magical book, their recommendation of it belies their denial.

Evangelicalism is a text-based religion. The 66 books of the Protestant Bible are the foundation of every Evangelical belief. Remove the Bible, and Evangelicalism crumbles and falls to the ground. This is why scholars such as Bart Ehrman are so deadly to evangelical faith. What happens when Evangelicals learn that the Bible is not what their Christian forefathers, parents, teachers, and pastors claim it is? What happens when Evangelicals learn that the Bible is not inspired, nor is it inerrant nor infallible? What happens when Evangelicals learn that the Bible has internal contradictions and is riddled with mistakes and errors? What happens when Evangelicals learn that virtually all of their cherished beliefs are subject to debate and question? What happens when Evangelicals learn that the history found in the Bible is suspect and the creation story is a lie? What happens when Evangelicals, troubled by doubts and fearful of losing their faith, ask pastors, church leaders, and Christian friends for help?

Doubting Evangelicals naturally turn to people of faith to help them with their fears and doubts. Who better to help allay their troubles than those who have walked the Christian path before them. Surely they have struggled, having questions and doubts about the veracity of the Bible and its teachings, the doubters think. So they naïvely seek out the counsel of those they have entrusted with their spiritual welfare. Sadly, they quickly learn that questions and doubts are not welcome, and that toeing the theological line is more important than finding honest answers to sincere questions. These doubters immediately find out that fidelity to orthodoxy and resolute commitment to what is perceived to be the faith once delivered to the saints is all that matters. For all their talk about having freedom in Jesus, Evangelical pastors and church leaders demand cult-like sameness from those who are church members. People who refuse to blindly submit are most often marginalized or excommunicated. These supposed men of God, fearing that doubts and questions could wreak havoc to their churches, do all they can to make sure that dissidents have no opportunity to spread their “lies” among congregants.

A pastor friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, is going through a crisis of faith. Several years ago, he and I briefly crossed swords over the Bible and its teachings. Our discussions ended with us each going in separate directions. Several months ago, out of the blue, he contacted me about the struggle he was having with certain Evangelical theological beliefs. While some atheists might see this as an opportunity to make a convert for godlessness, I am more concerned with helping my friend continue his journey, wherever it might lead. My goal has never been to make converts. Having been exactly where my friend now is, I have first-hand knowledge of the gut-wrenching struggle he is going through. To be confronted with the notion that everything you once believed might be a lie can, and does, cause great emotional and mental distress.

My friend has shared with me some of the discussions he has had with pastors and fellow Christians. I am astounded by how often he has been told to set reason and intellect aside and just have faith. Just believe Brother Horatio — not his real name — and all will be well! But try as he might, Horatio has found it impossible to turn off his brain and just faith-it.

Recently, one man asked him if he would be willing to commit to just reading the Bible for the next 90 days. No other books, no blogs, no discussions with outside sources, just read the Bible. The thinking behind this request is that the Bible has some sort of magical power, and that if my friend will just immerse himself in its pages his doubts, fears, and questions will dissipate and he will find himself once again following after Jesus.

I walked away from Christianity in November 2008. In the initial months after my deconversion, I was inundated with emails from pastor friends and former parishioners pleading with me not to give into this temptation from Satan. Recognizing that secular books were a big part of my deconversion, my pastor friends and former parishioners asked me to stop reading these books and to commit myself to only reading the Bible. They were certain that if I just stopped reading Bart Ehrman and other non-Christian authors and start reading the book-above-all-books — the Bible — that I would soon see that Satan was using these other writers to lead me astray. Little did they know that it was the Bible itself that played a big part in my deconversion. Taking a fresh look at beliefs that I had held for five decades forced me to conclude that the Bible was not what Evangelicals say it is. While I certainly think that the Bible has some moral and ethical value, it is now very clear to me that it is in no way an inspired, inerrant, infallible book written by the Christian God.

Evangelical zealots need to understand that telling people who have spent their lifetime studying and reading the Bible to just “read the Bible” is patently offensive. Having preached through most of the books of the Bible, I think it is safe for me to say that I have a thorough understanding of the Biblical text. Unlike most Evangelicals, who never seem to have the time to read God’s love letter to humanity, I devoted myself to reading every book, every chapter, and every word of the Bible. I did this numerous times over the course of my 50 years in the Christian church — especially as a pastor. I am not ignorant of the Bible’s teachings and neither is my pastor friend. The Bible is the problem, not the solution.

Suggesting that the Bible is some sort of magic book is ludicrous. It would be quite easy for me to prove the falsity of such claim. All I would have to do is devote myself to reading the Bible every day for 90 days, or whatever faith-renewing time frame is appropriate. And when no change takes place, where will Evangelicals place the blame? On God and his magic book? Of course not. The blame will rest on me. God is above and beyond culpability. If the magic words found in the Bible fail to restore me to faith it is because of some defect in me, not in God and his supernatural book.

Over the years, numerous Evangelicals have written to tell me that I just needed to — in faith — ask God to reveal himself to me. If I would do this, they were certain that Jehovah would, in no uncertain terms, make himself known. Humoring such people, I often pray their suggested prayers. Despite praying, the heavens remain silent. God is to blame, right? Maybe I am not one of the elect or perhaps I have committed the unpardonable sin. Whatever the reason might be, the blame never rests with God. It is always my fault. I did not have enough faith when I prayed, because if I had had enough faith then God would have revealed himself to me. That he did not shows that the fault lies with me, not God.

While I certainly think that most of the people asking me to read the Bible or to pray the prayer of faith sincerely want to be a help to me, they should understand that I cannot be swayed by metaphysical claims requiring faith. Either one believes or one doesn’t. It is not that I do not want to believe as much as it is I cannot believe. I do not have the requisite faith necessary to set aside reason and rational thought and believe ancient religious stories written thousands of years ago. Since it is unlikely that any new evidentiary argument for the existence of the Christian God and the veracity of the Bible is forthcoming, I hope that Evangelicals will understand when I reject requests to read their magic book or incant magical prayers. I am no longer willing to accept such childish requests that require me to shut off my mind and just believe.

How to Evangelize Atheists Through Prayer

praying for atheists

Last Saturday, Polly and I traveled to Newark, Ohio to spend the day with Polly’s parents. Physically, the trip was brutal. Three hours down, three hours back, and more potholes than I could count, left me writhing in pain by the time we returned home. For chronic pain sufferers such as myself, this agony is often the price of admission. If I want to venture out among the living, I must endure the bangs and bumps that come my way. On days such as this, pain medications tend to be ineffective, so I grit my teeth and endure. To quote the Bible, he that endureth to the end shall be saved. My salvation came when we arrived home and I went straight to bed. I slept for 14 hours. Today, I finally felt well enough to exit my cave and attend my granddaughter’s basketball game.

Polly’s father had his hip replaced last November. I previously wrote about Dad’s health problems: How Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain. Sadly, this post proved to be prophetic. Dad is now in the nursing home, forced to wear a brace to keep his hip in place. Several days after the surgery the new hip dislocated. It was several more days before the rehab staff figured out that there was something wrong with the hip. If there ever was a circumstance that could be labeled a clusterfuck, this is it. I am sure that if Dad had it to do all over again, he would not have the surgery. Hopefully he will be able to come home in a few weeks, though it is doubtful that he will ever be able to walk normally again.

While we were visiting with Dad and Mom at the nursing home, Polly’s preacher uncle stopped by for a visit. He didn’t know we were going to be there, so he was quite surprised to see us. After twenty minutes or so, it was time for Polly’s uncle to leave. Before leaving, Polly’s uncle offered up a prayer. Recently retired from the ministry and in poor health himself, Uncle Jim launched into what can only be described as a sermon prayer. Those raised in Fundamentalist churches likely have heard many such prayers. These prayer are not meant for God as much as they are for those who are listening, In this instance, the prayer was meant for the two atheists in the room, Polly and Bruce.

The prayer started out with a request for healing and strength for Dad, but quickly moved into a recitation of the plan of salvation. I thought, why is Uncle Jim praying like this? God knows the plan of salvation, as does Dad, so the soteriological utterance couldn’t have been for their benefit. Mom was nearby, but she was one of God’s chosen ones too. The only unsaved people in the room were Bruce, Polly and their daughter. As Polly’s uncle prayed, I looked to Polly, smirked, and shook my head. Here I was, 58 years old, having spent 50 years in the Christian church, and I was being treated like someone who had never heard the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) version of the gospel.

If this had happened a few years ago, I likely would have said something. But, as I looked at Polly’s uncle and her Mom and Dad, I thought, soon we will all be dead. Morbid? Sure. But, the truth? Absolutely. I have no desire to fight over religion with Polly’s diehard Fundamentalist Baptist family. I am sure Polly’s preacher uncle thought that putting in a good word for Jesus might somehow, some way, cause us to fall on our knees, repent, and ask Jesus to save us. Regardless of his motivation, it was clear that Uncle Jim did not respect us.

Polly and I, along with our children, are huge disappointments to her family. Since I was once considered the patriarch of our tribe, the blame for our fall from grace rests squarely on my shoulders. It has been seven and a half years since Polly and I darkened the doors of a church. We have attended numerous family functions, and not one person in her family has attempted to understand why we deconverted. Some of them read this blog, and I am sure this post will make its way in printed form to Polly’s parents. Will it finally force an honest discussion about the elephant in the room? Probably not. Better to hope Polly and that $*%$ husband of hers are still saved. Backslidden, but still saved. Anything, but having a frank discussion about why we no longer believe in the existence of gods.

While I would never expect or demand that Polly’s preacher uncle or any of the other preachers in her family stop living out their faith, it would be nice if they respected us enough to accept us as we are. We are ready and willing to share why we no longer believe. If family members want to know, all they have to do is ask. And if they aren’t interested in knowing, the least they can do is refrain from trying to evangelize us. There are no prayers that can be prayed that could possibly cause us to change our minds about God, Jesus, and Christianity. Thousands of prayers have been uttered on our behalf, yet Polly and I remain happy unbelievers.

Polly and I have known each other for almost 40 years. I first met her preacher uncle in December of 1976 at a Wednesday night church service. Uncle Jim let the church know that Polly had a guest with her. As the congregation turned to gawk at the embarrassed redheaded young man, Polly’s uncle said, They have a shirttail relationship. It remains to be seen how long the shirttail is. A day or so later, I spent my first Christmas with Polly’s family, meeting her cousins, uncle, and grandfather for the first time. 40 years have come and gone. Polly and I are now nearing 60, our children have greying hair, and their 12 children call us Nana and Grandpa. We have spent many wonderful moments with Polly’s family, and a few moments we would just as soon forget. I love them dearly, as does Polly. We just wish that they loved us more than they love Jesus.

 

IFB Pastor B.J. VanAman Has Prayer Cut Off By Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger

pastor bj van aman prayer

Pastor B.J. VanAman

B.J. VanAman is the pastor of the Pickerington Baptist Temple in Pickerington, Ohio. He is a graduate of Crown College of the Bible, an unaccredited, King James Only,  Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college in Powell, Tennessee. As is the custom in Christian Ohio, legislators can have religious dignitaries from their districts come and give an invocation. Last Tuesday, Tim Schaffer (R), representative from the 77th district (Lancaster) invited Pastor VanAman to open the session with prayer.

Van Aman proceeds to pray a five-minute “sermon” (a common ploy by Christian Fundamentalists), complete with King James English. At the five-minute mark House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger cuts VanAman off by saying AMEN and quickly beginning the Pledge of Allegiance. What follows is a video of the VanAman’s introduction and prayer (first eight minutes).

The Columbus Dispatch had this to say about Van Aman’s prayer:

….

Lawmakers are welcome to invite religious leaders from their district to deliver an opening prayer to the House, as Rep. Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, did on Tuesday. Most prayers don’t go longer than 60 or 90 seconds, often delivering messages of inspiration and asking for wisdom and guidance.

House guidelines are largely based on a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring opening prayers to be nondenominational, nonsectarian and nonproselytizing.

The prayer on Tuesday mentioned “Though the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and went on to describe Jesus, whose “name is above every name,” and at his name “every knee shall bow.” It also described Jesus as the “author and finisher of our faith.”

Rosenberger first peeked an eye open about three minutes in. At nearly four minutes, he opened his eyes and began looking around, clearly growing anxious about the length and trying to decide the right way to end it.

After just over five minutes, with no clear conclusion on the horizon, Rosenberger blurted out an “amen,” thanked Van Aman for being here and then motioned toward the flag to start the Pledge of Allegiance.

“I am speaker, so whether it’s floor action or the pastor giving the prayer, I feel I make the determination when we need to move it on,” Rosenberger said.

He was not the only one who felt that way. After the Pledge of Allegiance, a hot mic picked up a female voice on the floor: “That was a sermon.”

Rosenberger’s action earned praise from Rep. Mike Curtin, D-Marble Cliff, who called it “entirely appropriate.” Curtin covered the legislature for The Dispatch in the 1980s and did a story on the then-House chaplain, the Rev. Kenneth Grimes, a Catholic who was admired for his counsel and prayers that mixed inspiration and humor.

“He was very careful to acknowledge that the General Assembly is a diverse body,” Curtin said. “The opening prayer should reflect that diversity. It should reflect the Constitutional acknowledgement of there not being a state religion.”

That, Curtin said, means not infusing the name of Jesus Christ into many lines of the prayer.

“I don’t think any members take objection to a Christian clergyman or woman making reference to Jesus Christ. But what we’ve had lately in this chamber for a period of years now is a heavy, almost Christian proselytizing as the opening prayer, which in my view is inappropriate,” Curtin said.

The House has not had a designated chaplain for more than 20 years.

Members, Curtin said, need to school visiting clergy on the protocol. Rosenberger agreed that members may need to do a better job briefing their guests on expectations prior to the prayer.

Over-the-top sermonizing, Curtin said, “doesn’t have a place in the public body.”

….

HT: The Friendly Atheist

Prayer: Explaining the Unexplainable

unaswered prayer

Over the course of 50 years in the Christian church, I prayed many prayers — tens of thousands of prayers, to be exact. I publicly testified before fellow Christians that God had answered my prayers.  I had experiences that, at the time, defied explanation. Everywhere I looked, I saw God. When I deconverted, one of the first things I did was give a careful accounting of the prayers I uttered and what God’s response to them. (Please see  A Few Thoughts on a Lifetime of Praying to the Christian God) I concluded:

  • The overwhelming majority of my prayers went unanswered.
  • Those few prayers that I considered answered by God were, in fact, answered, not by God, but by and through human instrumentation.

I was left with a few experiences that I couldn’t rationally explain. One story comes to mind and I will share it here. One night, Harold Miller, a member of the church I was pastoring at the time, and I were driving down Route 22 east of Sego, Ohio on our way to touch base with a family who recently visited the church. As we neared Fultonham, a small community which sat on a ridge above Route 22, I noticed a car barreling down the hill towards the highway. Having no time to stop or change direction, I screamed at Harold, warning him of the impending crash, and prepared to be broadsided. Yet, at the moment the crash should have occurred nothing happened. Both of us thought God had lifted the car above ours, safely protecting us from serious injury or death.

Did God actually pick the car up so it would avoid hitting us? Of course not. Is this really a beyond rational explanation event? Not really. Perhaps my perception was wrong. Perhaps the car wasn’t traveling as fast as I thought it was. While this story is difficult to explain, like some of the contradictions in the Bible, there are reasonable explanations for what happened.

As a Christian, I was taught that God answering prayer was a simple matter of me praying and God hearing and answering my petition. I believed that God answered every prayer one of three ways. God said:

  • Yes, and what I was praying for came to pass
  • No, and what I was praying for did not come to pass
  • Not now, and what I was praying for was added to my long-term begging God list

But Bruce, the Evangelical says, I have prayed prayers that I KNOW God answered! How do you KNOW God answered your prayers? Just because Christians utter petitions that subsequently come to pass doesn’t mean that it is God answering prayers. If Christians could ever divorce themselves from faith and look at things from a skeptical and rational perspective, I think they would find out that most God-answered prayers are anything but.

Virtually every answered prayer can be attributed to human instrumentality or luck (right place, right time). Year ago, I often prayed for God to bless me financially. As a young father with two children, money was always tight. One night, my father-in-law and I  were traveling on a rural Licking County road on our way to visit a church member. While driving down the road we came upon a box. I immediately stopped and got out of the car to investigate. In the box were numerous recently skinned fur pelts. I quickly scooped up the box and we took the pelts to a nearby taxidermist. While I do not remember the exact amount of money we received, it was substantial. See? God answered my prayer!

Polly is a shift coördinator for a local manufacturing concern. She has worked there for 17 years.  During her tenure, she has never missed a day of work. Not one. Polly is a diligent worker, a great example of the Puritan work ethic.  Her work reviews are always at the top of the scale, reflecting Polly’s value to the company. In the years that the company has given raises, Polly has always received the maximum allowable raise.

When we were Christians, we both would pray that she would receive a good raise, and sure enough “God” answered our prayers. But, was it really God who answered our prayers and orchestrated Polly’s raises? Or are her raises attributable to Polly’s perfect attendance and work ethic? Shouldn’t credit be given to whom credit is due? It is Polly, not God, who did the work necessary to warrant a raise. How about now? Neither of us prays, and even if we did it is likely that God’s prayer hot line to our house has been disconnected. Since Polly’s deconversion in 2008, the monetary amount of her raises have increased significantly. Couldn’t it just as easily be argued that becoming a nonbeliever and not praying resulted in these raises?

Christians will often point to the testimonies of those who were saved as proof for God answering prayer. You know the drill. Sister Lena is a member of First Baptist Church in Godland, Ohio. She’s been a member of the church for 50 years. Lena’s husband Bob is not a Christian. Every week, Lena and the church pray for Bob’s salvation. Week in, week out, the church prays that the bloodhound of heaven, the Holy Spirit, will track down Bob and save his soul. And sure enough, one day, after 40 years of praying, Bob is saved.  God answered Lena’s prayer, right? (Lost in the discussion will be the question of WHY God waited so long to save Bob.)

Years ago (everything is years ago now), when I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, the church took to praying for the father of one of the church members. This man was a violent, oft-cursing heathen. We prayed, prayed, and prayed for this man, to no avail. Several times I went to his home and shared the gospel with him. Every time, he said, no thanks preacher, I have no need of God.

The man eventually came down with throat cancer. Surgeons removed parts of his esophagus, mouth glands, and vocal cords. He was unable to speak. A short time later he had a small stroke. The church continued to pray for this man, and one night I decided to share the gospel with him one more time. And this time, the man started crying, and when I asked him if he would like to be saved, he gutterally said YES! I led him to Jesus, and from the time forward he would occasionally attend church with his wife and grown children.  I vividly remember him crying every time he heard me preach (no jokes about my preaching bringing people to tears). I attributed his tears to his thankfulness for God saving him. Was his glorious conversion the answer to our prayers?

Not likely. I am more inclined to think that his conversion was the result of him facing, for the first time, his mortality. Having been raised in a culture where God is frequently called on in times of trouble, this man, having had radical cancer surgery and a stroke, likely wanted to make sure his house was in order before he died. But, what about the tears? Perhaps they were tears of regret. There’s nothing like a brush with death to focus our attention on how we have lived our lives. Perhaps he regretted his meanness. Perhaps he regretted treating his wife and children like slaves. Who hasn’t shed tears over past regrets, right?

After his “glorious” new birth, this man began displaying bizarre behavior. He began spending exorbitant amounts of money at auctions and yard sales, often bringing home junk of little value. When I couple this behavior with his getting saved, I am more inclined to think that his stroke altered his mind. Anyone who has been around stroke patients knows that behavioral changes are not uncommon.

A changed life is not proof for the existence of God or God answering prayer. A careful examination of salvation testimonies always reveal some sort of human influence. Transformed lives can always be traced back, to some degree or the other, to the work of the individual or others. While these transformations make for great stories of the supernatural power of God, they are, in every way, quite earthy.

I readily admit that there are mysteries which are, at this present moment, beyond explanation.  However, is God the answer for every unexplained mystery? Or is it better for us to admit that we don’t know and to continue probing, prodding, and asking questions until we do? Regardless, these mysteries are so few that suggesting that they are evidence for the Christian God is laughable. From my perspective, there is no evidence for the existence of personal, hands-on God of the Christian Bible.

Does the Christian God Really Care About Me?

where is god

One of the reasons given by atheists/agnostics for leaving Christianity is the belief that the Christian God doesn’t give a shit about those who devote their lives to following Jesus Christ. No matter how much time is expended in worship and service, God never says, thanks, good job, or I have your back. Why should he? According to Evangelical theology, Jesus, the sinless son of God, came to earth to atone for humankind’s sin. He suffered horrific brutality at the hands of the Romans. He was then, like a common thief, nailed to the cross. According to the Bible, Jesus was beaten to such a degree that it was hard to tell that he was a man. After hours of suffering, Jesus died. All of this was on behalf of sinners (or the elect, if you are a Calvinist).  Knowing all that Jesus suffered, Christians should be satisfied with knowing their sins are forgiven and a home in Heaven awaits them when they die. The least the Christian can do is, in slave-like manner, devote themselves, without bitching and complaining, to the Kingdom of God on Earth. In other words, shut up, stop complaining, and be thankful for what Jesus has given you. Just remember, God owes you nothing.

Recently, Dieudonne Tamfu wrote a post titled Suffering is Our Story for The Desiring God website. In the opening paragraphs, Tamfu writes:

Suffering tends to produce loneliness. We feel lonely, isolated, sealed off, and detached from others. It is common for us to believe that no one understands our pain.

We can be deceived into thinking that God is distant and uncaring. While I do not wish to invalidate these emotions, I do want to extinguish the lie that the sufferer is ever alone. We are never alone in suffering because in it we join other saints in the pattern of righteous suffering that has been going on from the inception of salvation history.

Are you or other believers around you facing rejection for your faith? Do you feel lonely in your suffering? Does it seem that God is distant and has detached himself from your pain? Do you feel disappointment, bewilderment, or dismay? Are you sitting in darkness, searching for answers and grasping for hope?

Tamfu readily admits that there are times when God seems distant. There are those times when God seems uncaring, content to leave the Christian sitting alone in the dark, weeping. The good news, according to Tamfu, is that there are other Christians facing similar circumstances. Yea! You aren’t the only follower of Jesus who is writhing in pain as cancer robs you of your life!  Are you suffering? Are you alone? Do you feel abandoned? Do you feel like an orphan without a coat, left in a back alley to die on a cold winter’s night? Good news! There are millions of Christians going through similar circumstances. God has abandoned them just as he has abandoned you.

When Christians go through dark trials and adversity, those who are not currently being ignored by God are called on to cheer up those who find themselves under the boot heel of God. They are encouraged to take matters to the Lord in prayer. Seek and trust the Lord, Evangelical preachers tell the downtrodden. What is that God is trying to accomplish in your life? Remember, no matter what happens, God means it for your good. He promises to never, ever leave or forsake us. 

Those under physical, emotional, or economic assault are urged to submit to the “loving” hand of God. Perhaps God is teaching you a lesson, Evangelical preachers tell the afflicted. Or maybe he is testing you or punishing you for disobedience. Regardless, God only wants what is best for Christians. His goal is to make them more like Jesus and to prepare them for the peace and bliss that awaits on the other side of the grace. If God made life easy for Christians, preachers say, we would never appreciate Heaven and all that Jesus did for us on the cross.

Yet, despite all the flowery platitudes and blame-shifting, some Christians come to the conclusion that the reason God seems so distant is because he doesn’t exist. When help came in times of suffering, it was always their fellow humans who helped them. When prayers went unanswered, phone calls were always picked up. When bank accounts were empty and the cupboards were bare, it was family and friends who lent a helping hand. As these former Christians survey their lives, they conclude that wherever God might be, he is not on earth. At best, he is a deadbeat father who cares not for those who love and adore him. At worst, he is a cruel hoax, little more than a promise that is never fulfilled.

The reasons I left the Christian faith are many, but one of them is that I came to the conclusion that God is not intimately involved in the lives of those who devotedly serve and worship him, despite his promises. Over the course of 50 years in the Christian church, I had many so-called God experiences. After I deconverted, I went back through my life and gave a reckoning  of the times I thought God was blessing me, answering my prayer, or meeting my needs. A careful accounting of these events led me to conclude that the only God (s) in my life had a flesh and blood body. Human instrumentation, and not the mighty wonder-working power of God, was the reason my prayers were answered and my needs were met.

While there were certainly a handful of unexplained — dare I say miraculous — events, these moments in time were not enough to lead me to the conclusion that God is who and what Christians claim he is. While coming to this judgment is certainly not sufficient evidence to deny the existence of God, it is enough for me to conclude that the notion of a loving, caring, hands-on God who is intimately and minutely involved in the lives of those who worship Jesus is a myth.

I am unwilling to swear allegiance to a God who cares no more for me than does my cat. My cat demands constant attention, no matter what may be going on in my life. Yet, if I found myself crying out for help, I know for certain that my cat would waddle up to my leg, rub up against it, and with a voice I have heard countless times before, would say, feed me. This is how I view the Christian God.

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Seven Things Evangelicals Say to Atheists and Why They Shouldn’t Say Them

 

jesus loves atheists

Seven years ago, I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church, never to return. While I still had a modicum of believe in the existence of a God, I was done with organized, institutional Christianity. Once free of the church, it was not long before I slid to the bottom of the slippery slope of unbelief.  Since then, numerous Evangelicals have attempted to win me back to Jesus or restore me to good standing with the church. Try as they might, I remain an unrepentant atheist, an apostate and enemy of Christianity.

What follows is a list of seven things that Evangelicals have said to me over the years in their attempts to get me to renew my membership with Club Jesus. I have no doubt that every Evangelical-turned-atheist has heard the same things.

I’ll Pray for You

I’ll pray for you is the number one statement Evangelicals make to those who have left the faith. According to Evangelicals, prayer can fix any problem, including turning atheists into a believers. Here’s the problem with this kind of thinking. Prayer doesn’t work. For many former Evangelicals, unanswered prayer is one the reasons they deconverted.

During the deconversion process, I made a careful accounting of past prayers and their answers. I specifically focused on answered, big-need prayers. In every case, I was able to trace the affirmative answer back to human instrumentality. While I certainly had several I can’t explain it moments, these were not enough to lead me to believe that the Christian God answered prayer.

And here’s the thing, I don’t know of one Evangelical-turned-atheist who has ever returned to Evangelicalism.  Despite all the prayers, those who leave don’t return. Wouldn’t it be a big boost for Evangelical stock if God reached down and saved Bruce Gerencser, the atheist preacher? Imagine what a splash it would make if someone such as I returned to the faith. But it doesn’t happen. Why is that? For many former Evangelicals, we deconverted because we learned that the Evangelical church is built on a faulty foundation: the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible. Once people  realize and accept that the Bible is not what Evangelicals say it is, they are then free to examine more carefully the central claims of Christianity. In my case, I found that Evangelical beliefs could not withstand intellectual scrutiny.

No matter what I say, Evangelicals are going to continue to pray for me. Rarely does a week go by without several Evangelicals letting me know that they are storming the throne room of God on my behalf (or praying God will kill me). Fine, by all means pray. But there is no need to let me know that you are doing so. Surely God is able to hear and answer your prayer without me knowing about it.

Have You Ever Heard the Gospel?

The short, snarky answer is, of course not! I spent 50 years in the Christian church and pastored churches for 25 years, yet I never heard the gospel one time. Amazing, isn’t it?  When Evangelicals take this approach with me, what they really want to know is whether I have heard their version of the gospel. You see, there is no such thing as THE Evangelical gospel. Evangelicals incessantly fight over whose gospel is true. Calvinists and Arminians are fighting a seven-century war over which group has the faith once delivered to the saints. The Bible says, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, yet Christians have spent 21 centuries proving God a liar. The Bible tells us that Christians will be known by their unity and love, yet these beliefs have been turned on their head by sectarians who believe that the only unity and love possible is with people who are part of their exclusive club.

When Christians ever figure out what the gospel is, I hope they will let me know. Until then, I plan to pop some popcorn and watch the comedy known as the internecine wars of Christianity. As one commenter on Facebook recently said, and I paraphrase,  Evangelicals think that their battles over right doctrine are some sort of intellectual pursuit. They are not. From the outside, all the wrangling over doctrinal minutia looks a lot like toddlers fighting over toys.

God Laid You on My Heart

Several weeks ago, a former long-time friend and colleague in the ministry contacted me, out of the blue, on Facebook. A few years back, he contacted me and told me what he thought of my deconversion and its effect on my family. Needless to say, his words were not kind, and after we traded a couple of emails he stopped writing.

Now my former friend is back. Why? God laid me on his heart. This time, he decided to approach me in a kinder, more respectful way. We traded emails that talked about our families and that was the end of that. While this man was, at one time my closest friend, we no longer have anything in common. The elephant in the room will always be my atheism and intellectual assault of Evangelical Christianity. And I get it, I really do. It is hard to maintain a friendship with someone who thinks your beliefs are intellectual rubbish.

Over the years, numerous former church members and ministerial friends have contacted me because they believed God had laid Bruce Gerencser on their hearts. Instead of wanting to catch up or talk about old times, they thought God has a personal mission for them: contact Bruce Gerencser. In most cases, their message from God is preceded by them doing a web search on my name. In others words, they wondered what I was up to, so they fired up their browser, loaded Google, typed in my name, and were then presented with pages of links for Bruce Gerencser (I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the world). Was it God who was leading them to do the search, or was it curiosity, wondering what Bruce is up to these days?

As an atheist, I don’t think God exists, so Evangelicals telling me that God laid Bruce Gerencser on their heart has no effect on me. Sometimes I want to ask Evangelicals how they KNOW God talked to them about me, but I already know all the stock answers for such a question. Evangelicals know what they know, and all the reason in the world won’t change their mind.

God is Trying to Get Your Attention

Evangelicals believe that their God, as owner of everything, is personally and intimately involved in his creation. Despite evidence to the contrary, Evangelicals believe that God is an everyday, real presence, not only in their lives, but the lives of every person, saved or lost. When Evangelicals read my story, they often focus on the health problems I have. See, Evangelicals say, God is afflicting you so he can get your attention. If I really believed this to be true, I would immediately become an Evangelical again. I would be quite willing to put time in at Club Jesus if it meant that my pain would go away.

However, when I take a careful look at the “health” of Evangelicals, I see that they are every bit as “afflicted” as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Well, the Evangelical says, God uses sickness to test, try, or punish Christians. Far more important than bodily health is spiritual health.

Each and every day is a struggle for me. I’ve detailed this many times over the years, so I won’t bore you with the details again. If I thought that the unrelenting pain I suffer with is God’s doing, I highly doubt knowing this would turn me into worshiper of Jesus. What kind of God hurts people so they will love and worship him? In the real world, such abusers are considered criminals, the scum of the earth. Yet, when God abuses people it is because he loves them and he has a wonderful plan for their lives. No thanks! I have no interest in worshiping such a God. I would rather burn in hell than worship a God who spends his days inflicting pain, suffering, disease, and death on not only humans, but all living things.

You’ll Go to Hell if You Don’t Accept Jesus

The more Fundamentalist the Evangelicals, the more likely they are to tell atheists and unbelievers that they will end up in Hell unless they repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. In others words, God is saying that if people don’t accept his ordained way of salvation, that he plans to torture them eternally in a pit of fire and brimstone. In what other setting does such an approach work? Hello, I am your local Kirby Sweeper salesman. If you don’t buy a sweeper from me, I will burn your house to the ground. Such a psychopath would quickly be arrested and locked up. Yet, God, who is every bit as psychopathic as the Kirby salesman, is given a pass.

When Evangelicals try the Hell approach, I quickly tell them that I don’t believe in the existence of Hell; that the only hell is that which humans inflict on each other. Sometimes, toying with them, I will ask them, exactly WHERE is hell?  Most of the time, I let Evangelicals know that threatening me with Hell will not work. I am immune to being threatened into anything. I spent most of my preaching career threatening people, warning them of the suddenness of death and the surety of hell. Over the years, hundreds of people responded to my threats, embracing the wonderful, loving, psychopathic God of Christianity. I now know that such an approach mentally and emotionally harms people. Constantly being warned about impending eternal judgment often leaves a deep and lasting emotional scar. Consider me scarred.

I Know the Holy Spirit is Speaking to You

Some Evangelicals, those who are more liberal-minded and have kind hearts, read a few of my blog posts and then “discern” that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me.  Such people often have a great affinity for my critiques of the Evangelical church, In fact, some of them, not paying attention to the fact that I am an atheist, think I am a member of their club. I have received numerous emails from “fellow” brothers and sisters in Lord. When I respond and let them know that I am an atheist, they often can’t believe that I am a child of Satan. How could the Devil’s spawn ever write the way Bruce does? they think to themselves.

I happen to be quite conversant in all things Evangelical. Even though I haven’t pastored a church in over a decade, I still follow the machinations of Evangelicalism quite closely. It is a subject that interests me, and I suspect this interest shows in my writing. However, my pastime should not in any way be confused with the Holy Spirit speaking to me.

Since I don’t believe in God, telling me that third part of the Trinity is speaking to me has no value. First, how can anyone possibly KNOW that the Holy Spirit is carrying on a conversation with me in my head? Isn’t such a thing beyond the purview of even the sharpest of God’s discerners? Telling me that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me is akin to telling me that aliens from a far-away galaxy are telepathically speaking to me. The only voices in my head are mine.

Do You Want Your Children or Grandchildren to Grow Up Without Knowing God?

Ah yes, the classic do it for the kids line of thinking. Here’s the thing: now that I am closing in on 60, I have had six decades to contemplate belief in God and its effect on the human race. That’s a long time. I have spent most of my life drinking deeply at the trough of Christianity. I now know that the water in the trough was a mirage. I thought the healing waters of the Christian God imparted morality and ethics to all who would drink, but these days I’ve come to see that, while religion can play part in dispensing morality and ethics, it often, thanks to rigid dogma, proves to be an impediment to moral and ethical development.

Evangelicals, in particular, think that morality and ethics ONLY come from the Christian God. No matter how many studies prove that such a claim is not true, Evangelicals continue to hang on to the belief that their God and the Bible are the sole sources of morality. This kind of thinking has turned into the culture war. Evangelicals demand that everyone live according to their moral code. They even go as far as using the government to force others to live by their peculiar interpretations of the Bible. If only the Ten Commandments were taught in school, America would be great again, the Evangelical says. However, when unbelievers take a close look at how Evangelicals live, they quickly find out that God’s chosen ones don’t practice what they preach. If the Evangelicals are anything, they are hypocrites.

My six children are all grown. All of them have made up their own minds about God. None of them worships the Evangelical God. For the most part, my children are indifferent to religion, ALL religion. My grandchildren? I hope they never see the inside of an Evangelical church. I think Evangelical belief often causes emotional and mental damage. In some cases, such beliefs can lead to abuse or turn people into abusers. Why would I ever want my grandchildren within a light year of an Evangelical church?

If I could script the lives of my grandchildren (and I can’t) I would love for them to take a World Religion class. I know that exposing them to other religions besides Christianity will dampen or destroy any affinity they might have for Evangelicalism. Exposure to knowledge is a sure cure for Fundamentalism. The more my grandchildren learn about religion (and humanism and atheism), the less likely they are to follow down the same pernicious path Nana and Grandpa followed decades ago. If they still decide to embrace some sort of religion, I hope they will embrace practices that affirm their self-worth and cause them to love others. Such values cannot be found in an Evangelical church because they are always secondary to right belief and rigid obedience.

As I watch my grandchildren grow up, I can’t help but see how different they are from their parents (and this is due to their parents allowing them wander down paths they were never allowed to go). I revel in their thirst for knowledge, knowing that satisfying this thirst will inoculate them from being infected by the mind-killing disease of religious Fundamentalism. Perhaps, in their generation the curse will finally be broken. While Polly’s parents lament what my (our) unbelief is doing to my children and grandchildren, I see things differently. I now know that intellectual and personal freedom lead to a life filled with meaning and purpose. Most all of all, I want those who bear my name to live lives filled with happiness. Shouldn’t that be our hope for everyone?

A Catholic Calls on Me to Take Down This Blog and Quit Spreading Evil Disease

god in the mind

Comic by Dan Piraro

Here is an email I received from a Catholic upset over the content of this blog.

Philokalia3 wrote:

Take your blogs down, why spread your evil disease of lack of faith to others; misery loves company. Repent, call out to the Almighty with all your heart, be willing to raise the flag of surrender to God, brother you must ask God for sustained faith it is a gift, not something you conjure out of your own heart. Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, if you are eternally lost, and you asked not for faith it is no ones fault but your own: Joh 6:37  All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. Most High and Sovereign Father, grant to this man renewed faith, fill him w Thy Holy Spirit to the uttermost, utterly bind the Enemy and his helpers work against Bruce’s soul, Mother Mary and all ye Holy Ones in Heaven assist me in my prayers for Bruce, St. Pio, St. Jude, St. Anthony of Padua, St Nicholas, St Seraphim  of Sarov, help pray for this man, I beg, that his soul not be lost and that he would no longer work against the Most Holy Faith of Jesus, O Lord have mercy on His soul and irresistibly draw him back to Christ, and to His Church, in Jesus’ name do I pray, Amen

I received this email a couple of years ago. Philokalia3’s prayers, like every other Christian prayer uttered against me, must have not made it to God’s voice mail box. Despite calling on God, Mary, and a host of saints, I remain unrepentant. So much for the “power” of prayer.