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Quote of the Day: “Please Will You Tell Me How God Began?”

aa milne

Elizabeth Ann

Said to her Nan:

“Please will you tell me how God began?

Somebody must have made Him. So

Who could it be, ‘cos I want to know?”

And Nurse said, “Well!”

And Ann said, “Well?

I know you know, and I wish you’d tell.”

And Nurse took pins from her mouth, and said,

“Now then, darling, it’s time for bed.”

Elizabeth Ann

Had a wonderful plan:

She would run round the world till she found a man

Who knew exactly how God began.

She got up early, she dressed, and ran

Trying to find an Important Man.

She ran to London and knocked at the door

Of the Lord High Doodleum’s coach-and-four.

“Please, sir (if there’s anyone in),

However-and-ever did God begin?”

But out of the window, large and red,

Came the Lord High Coachman’s face instead.

And the Lord High Coachman laughed and said:

“Well, what put that in your quaint little head?”

Elizabeth Ann went home again

And took from the ottoman Jennifer Jane.

“Jenniferjane,” said Elizabeth Ann,

“Tell me at once how God began.”

And Jane, who didn’t much care for speaking,

Replied in her usual way by squeaking.

What did it mean? Well, to be quite candid,

I don’t know, but Elizabeth Ann did.

Elizabeth Ann said softly, “Oh!

Thank you Jennifer. Now I know.”

— A.A. Milne, Now We Are Six, Explained

Was Milne an atheist?

My father waited until I was twenty-four. The war was on. I was in Italy. From time to time he used to send me parcels of books to read. In one of them were two in the Thinker’s Library series: Renan’s The Life of Jesus and Winwood Reade’s The Martyrdom of Man. I started with The Life of Jesus and found it quite interesting; I turned to The Martyrdom and found it enthralling. . . One Man! Mankind! There was no God. God had not created Man in His own image. It was the other way round: Man had created God. And Man was all there was. But it was enough. It was the answer, and it was both totally convincing and totally satisfying. It convinced and satisfied me as I lay in my tent somewhere on the narrow strip of sand that divides Lake Comacchio from the Adriatic; and it has convinced and satisfied me ever since.

I wrote at once to my father to tell him so and he at once wrote back. And it was then that I learned for the first time that these were his beliefs, too, and that he had always hoped that one day I would come to share them.

(Christopher Milne, The Enchanted Places, p. 144)

Quote of the Day: Old Testament Responsible for More Unbelief Than Any Book Ever Written

winnie-the-pooh

The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief — call it what you will — than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counter-attractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course.

A. A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh

Understanding Evangelical Christianity: It’s All About the Benjamins

free-money-for-pastor-walt

Warning! Snark and pointed commentary ahead. Easily offended Evangelicals should avoid reading this post lest it “trigger” them.

Every time I write about Evangelicalism and money, I get emails and comments from angry “Spirit-filled” Evangelicals who object to my characterizations of their churches, pastors, and beliefs. Evangelicals have convinced themselves that their churches serve some higher moral purpose and that their ensconcement in their local communities is essential to the welfare of locals, Christian or not; that their churches are bastions of morality and ethics, and without it, their communities would slide into immorality, unrighteousness, and decay. In their minds, they are the bulwark holding back Satanic, atheistic, socialistic Mongols intent on destroying Western civilization. That none of these things is true matters not. Perception is reality, and when it comes to Evangelical churches, they delusionally have a bigger-than-life view of their place not only in their local communities, but in society as a whole. The fact remains, however, that if every Evangelical church closed its doors tomorrow, most communities wouldn’t even notice. Sure, members of those churches would be adversely affected, but since Evangelical churches do very little meaningful charitable work, it is doubtful that people outside of the closed churches would notice their closures. I know, I know, ouch, but, as I will show, Evangelical churches, compared to the amount of money they take in, do very little, dollar-for-dollar, to “minister” to people who aren’t members of their clubs.

Evangelicals love to tout the notion that they give more money to charitable causes than secular people do. Take that, Bruce! Well, here’s the problem with this “fact: Evangelical charitable contributions include the money they donate to their churches and other religious organizations. If, as I assert, Evangelical churches are fundamentally clubs, and that congregations pay their membership fees weekly by giving money to their respective churches, then most of the “dues” stay inside the church. Take a look at the average church’s financials. Not the annual generic bullshit summary they put out, but the actual income/expense statements. What you will find is the most church income goes towards buildings, utilities, insurance, salaries, benefits, equipment, and programs that typically only benefit club members. It is not uncommon to find that a church spends less than ten percent of its income on actual ministry outside of the four walls of their sanctuary. The bigger the church, the less percentage-wise that is spent on doing meaningful work in the community. A megachurch might talk up the fact that they spent $1 million helping the “least of these” — laudable, to be sure — but $1 million out of a $25 million budget is what? Four percent of the church’s budget. In other words, ninety-six percent of the church’s income is spent in-house. Which is their right to do. Clubs have a right to spend their monies as they see fit. After all, clubs exist to benefit members, not people outside of their memberships. The issue I have is the unwarranted trumpeting of all the “good” Evangelical churches purportedly do in their communities. (If you are inclined to fire off an angry email to me that says your church and pastor are “different,” please send me copies of your church’s income/expense statements — full statements, not a summary. So far, not one Evangelical has done so, but, hey, maybe you’ll be the first.)

If Evangelical churches are clubs — and they are — then success is measured thusly: the more asses in the pews/chairs, the more money in the collection. Asses=money. No asses, no money. What are the two statistics that every congregant and prospective member wants to know? Attendance and church income. Take a look at the average church bulletin or attendance board. What two numbers do you find, regardless of the denomination? Attendance and offering. Churches in the United States — particularly Evangelical congregations — operate much as businesses do. What are businesses most concerned about? Customer counts and revenues. Granted, businesses are also concerned about profit and loss, but churches are given billions of dollars’ worth of tax exemptions and are wrongly considered by the IRS and state tax authorities as tax-exempt non-profits. And even here, churches get to play by special rules that don’t apply to “worldly” charitable organizations. Those organizations are required to file quarterly/annual tax returns, but churches are not. Why should churches and clergy receive these tax benefits? Evangelicals scream about federal tax money supporting Planned Parenthood, yet the taxes paid by non-Christians directly support the operations of Evangelical churches and their ministers. Why should atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other secularists be forced to support Evangelical (and other Christian) congregations? Perhaps, it is time to pull the tax teat away from Evangelicals. Just because a church says it is a charity doesn’t make it one. And why should non-Evangelicals pay for clergy housing and living expenses? Man, all this talk of tax exemptions makes me want to go out and plant a new church: The First Church of the Latter-Day Dude — Ney Branch. (Please see How American Taxpayers Subsidize Churches and Ministers and Should Church Donations be Tax Deductible? and The Johnson Amendment: I Agree With Donald Trump and 21 Things You Might Not Know About Evangelical Churches and Pastors)

dudeism

I have participated in countless church business meetings and board meetings over the years. What’s the number one thing talked about at these meetings? Money. How to generate more income and on what to spend it on. Some churches take in far more money than they could possibly spend so they “invest” the money. It is not uncommon for older, established churches to be sitting on piles of cash. I pastored two such churches over the years. Both were sitting on large sums of money. Yet, when I suggested spending some of the money to renovate buildings, expand ministries, increase salaries/benefits, or fund new outreach ministries, why, you would have thought I had asked them for their first-born sons. Come on, that was God, not Pastor Bruce.

Regardless of whether Evangelical churches spend the money as fast as it comes in or squirrel it away in bank investment accounts, the fact remains that church life revolves around money. One the one hand, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Life, for all of us, revolves around money. The difference, however, for Evangelicals is that they purport to believe and practice the teachings of the Bible and set themselves up as some sort of moral authority. If you take the higher moral ground, then you should expect that people are going to hold you to a higher standard. And if you say your life is governed by the Bible, people are going to look at how you and the churches you attend handle money and ask, where is your treasure?

 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Matthew 6:19-34)

First century Christians likely met in homes. Two thousand years later, expensive Christian churches sit on countless street corners. First century preachers were likely bi-vocational. Two thousand years later, full-time pastors make good money, complete with benefits and vested retirement plans. First century Christians likely spent significant time ministering to the least of these. Two thousand years later, churches spend most of their money on making fat sheep fatter. It can be argued, then, that the Christianity of Jesus and the early church has long since died, and that whatever people call Christianity today bears little to no resemblance to the church that Jesus built.

Want to change my mind about Evangelicalism? Start spending those Benjamins you worship. Start meaningfully ministering to the poor, immigrants, orphans, and the other hurting people. Fire your pastors and staff and tell them to get real jobs. Remove the golden idol from the center of the church, and then you’ll see what people are made of. As it stands now, I don’t see a Christianity that matters. It is unlikely that I will ever darken the doors of a church again, but how about living in ways that would cause me to admire you and the work you do from afar.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Most Evangelicals Don’t Choose to Become Christians

indoctrinating children

Here’s one of the dirty little secrets rarely spoken of by Evangelical pastors and leaders: most Evangelicals don’t choose to become Christians. Now, I’m not talking about the internecine war between Calvinists and Arminians over free-will. What I am talking about today is how people become members of Evangelical churches. Being a Christian, of course, is a requirement for membership, but most church members did not choose to become Christians — even if they think they did. Let me explain.

People come into the Evangelical church one of three ways:

  • They are born into and grow up in the church. They are what are called cradle Evangelicals.
  • They have a crisis conversion — a born-again experience — and, after baptism, are admitted into membership.
  • They are already Christians and are members of other churches. They leave these churches and join Evangelical congregations. This is commonly called transfer growth.

Let me deal with these in reverse order.

Transfer Growth 

Despite all their talk about evangelizing the lost and reaching the world with the gospel, most Evangelical churches — particularly megachurches — “grow” through transfer growth — Methodists becoming Baptists, Baptists becoming Charismatics, Nazarene congregants becoming Reformed Baptists, etc. Far too many Evangelicals want to be entertained and “fed,” so they seek out churches that can meet their “felt needs.” Thinking that their present churches are “dead” or lacking in some way, Evangelicals visit other churches hoping to find one that clicks with them; one that offers the preaching, programs, music, and handsome preacher they are looking for.

The past forty years have been hard on small, often rural, churches. As megachurches pop-up everywhere, they steal or entice away disaffected congregants from smaller churches. This is how a new church plant can skyrocket from a dozen people to hundreds in a matter of weeks or months. Megachurches, or mega-size aspiring church planters, deliberately target people who are looking for a church that is “relevant” or has the best damn band in the land. Music, in particular, has become a primary reason people leave their churches and join up with new churches. Oh, Evangelicals won’t say this out loud, choosing instead to give all sorts of “spiritual” reasons for desertion, but when pressed they will admit that they sure do love the music at their new church. Like it or not, the quality of a church’s band is often the biggest factor in whether prospective members will join the club. Small churches, of course, can’t compete with congregations that have large budgets, paid music staff, and worship leaders who look like Ken or Barbie. Brother Bill leading congregants in the hymns of the faith can’t compete with coiffed worship bands who play and sing the latest praise and worship music with professionalism and skill.

Crisis Conversion

Regardless of the fact that most Evangelical church growth comes from transfers from other congregations, membership via crisis conversion is a fairly frequent occurrence. Evangelizers seek out people who are having troubles in their lives: marital problems, family issues, substance abuse, incarceration, criminal behavior, sexual perversion, to name a few, and share with them that the solution to their problems is Jesus Christ. How aggressive churches are in this regard varies from church to church. In the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church (IFB) movement, churches tend to emphasize evangelization. I heard countless evangelists say that churches should find the biggest, baddest, meanest man in town and win him to Jesus. Seeking out the dregs of society was common, as was targeting the poor and disadvantaged. Promising that Jesus was the cure for what ailed them and the church was the family they never had, countless people accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, were baptized, and became members of Bible-believing churches.

As a youth growing up in the IFB church movement, I heard countless testimonies from people who were bad people before Jesus saved them. I heard stories of changed lives from people who said they were a mob hit-man, Satanist, occultist, drug trafficker, prostitute, drug addict, alcoholic, porn star, bank robber, Black Panther, to name a few. The badder the person, the greater the conversion, or so the stories went, anyway. Many of these stories were later discredited or proved to be lies, but they sure made a mark on me. “Wow! Look at what Jesus did for these people! If Jesus can save them, he can save anyone!”

Cradle Evangelicals

Most Evangelical church members are born into and grow up in the church. As is common among all religions, their parents chose for them what their religion would be. My parents were saved, baptized and became members of an IFB megachurch in the early 1960s. While I was baptized as an infant in the Episcopalian church, the church of my youth all the way up to age 50 was Evangelical Christianity. There was never a time I chose to be an Evangelical. My parents believed right-wing, racist, Fundamentalist Christianity was the one true faith, and following the words of the prophet Jeremiah, they determined “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) I suspect most of the ex-Evangelicals who read this blog can say the same; that their religion was chosen for them. Yes, I made a profession of faith as a young child and again as a fifteen-year-old teen, (Please see My Baptist Salvation Experience) but these “choices” were really expected rituals that all church children went through; little more than confirmation in Roman Catholicism or mainline churches.

Fifteen years ago, a Barna Research study revealed:

For years, church leaders have heard the claim that nearly nine out of ten Christians accept Jesus as their savior before the age of 18. If that statistic was accurate in the past, it no longer depicts U.S. society. The current Barna study indicates that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%), and that two out of three born-again Christians (64%) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday. One out of eight born-again people (13%) made their profession of faith while 18 to 21 years old. Less than one out of every four born-again Christians (23%) embraced Christ after their twenty-first birthday. Barna noted that these figures are consistent with similar studies it has conducted during the past twenty years.

The survey data show that Catholics who become born again are even more likely than Protestants to do so before reaching high school. Among those currently associated with a Catholic church and who are born again, two out of three (66%) accepted Christ before age 13; one-fifth (21%) did so from 13 to 21; and the remaining 13% made that decision as an adult. In contrast, born-again people aligned with a Protestant church make that choice at an older age: 40% did so as children, 35% during the 13-to-21-age span, and one-quarter (25%) as adults.

The precipitating event for someone to accept Christ as his or her savior varied by the age of the individual making that spiritual commitment.

For instance, among Christians who embraced Christ before their teen years, half were led to Christ by their parents, with another one in five led by some other friend or relative. Comparatively few accepted Jesus in response to a minister’s personal prompting (7%) and only one out of eight cited a special event as the turning point in their journey. Among those who mentioned events, about half identified a church service. Just 1% mentioned media evangelism or other special situations as being responsible for their conversion.

Among people who accepted Christ when they were age 13 through 21, the process was much more diverse. One out of five credited a friend with bringing them to Christ, and a similar proportion said their parents were responsible for their decision. One-fifth also recalled an event as the trigger for their commitment. One-sixth of the people saved as teens (16%) listed a relative other than their parent as the primary influencer. Ministers were cited by one out of every ten Christians who accepted Christ during the 13-to-21-age bracket, while media and special personal situations were listed by only 1%.

Dave Shibley, a writer for Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), states:

I believe in the validity of child evangelism.

For one thing, statistics are on its side. 19 out of 20 Christians receive Christ before the age of 25. After that, the odds against conversion become astronomical.

Early conversion saves not only a soul, but potentially points an entire life toward service to God and man. In 15 years of ministry I’ve met no one who is sorry he came to Christ early in life. I’ve encountered many who are sorry they didn’t.

….

Children are reached more easily than adults. Jay Kesler, president of Youth for Christ International, has well said, “Any evangelism after high school isn’t evangelism. It’s really salvage.”

Young children are notably tender. Their sincerity is never in doubt. Their heart attitudes contribute to genuine conversion. And Jesus told adults that they must become as children to experience the new birth (Matt. 18:3).

True, children who make an early profession of faith sometimes struggle with assurance and make a second public commitment later. They often say, “I didn’t know what I was doing the first time.” More likely, however, the personal worker attending the child didn’t know what he was doing.

We need not fully understand the Gospel to be saved; we need only believe and receive it. What adult fully comprehends the rationale or the magnitude of redemption?

Some argue that children are unable to stay true to their commitment. Yet the late English preacher Charles Spurgeon noted, “Out of a church of 2,700 members, I have never had to exclude a single one who was received while yet a child. Teachers and superintendents should not merely believe in the possibility of early conversion, but in the ferquency [sic] of it.”

Child evangelism assists in the formation of character. The Bible clearly teaches that man’s only capability for good lies in the imputed righteousness of Christ. We do not expect unconverted adults to act like Christians. The same should be true for children.

Christians seem to be the only ones who believe they should wait to influence children’s minds. Advertisers don’t wait. Child abusers don’t wait. Neither do humanist educators, false religions and cults, or Satan.

The church that reaches its children has a better chance of reaching its adults. Often newly-converted children win their parents and grandparents to the Lord. Those children grow up to be adults who can nurture their own families to faith in Jesus Christ.

Lest we forget, Christianity is always just one generation from extinction. We must reach the coming generation with the Gospel.

As you can see, Evangelical churches and parachurch groups know how important it is to evangelize children. That’s why they have junior church programs, youth programs, vacation Bible school (VBS), and countless other ministries/programs. These programs are used to indoctrinate children before they can make rational, informed decisions about religion, God, and the Bible, sucking youngsters into the Evangelical ghetto before they have a chance to “think.”  Evangelizers don’t want children and teenagers to use critical thinking skills to ponder whether the claims of Christianity are true. Instead, they are expected to believe and obeyMom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, and their church knows what’s best for them, children are told, so there is no need to “think” about these things. Just follow the prescribed salvation rituals and all will be well. And for most of the people sitting in Evangelical churches, this is exactly how they became members in good standing.

Many former Evangelicals will tell you that studying the Bible and the claims of Christianity as a teen or adult are what eventually led to their loss of faith. Their stories show that Evangelical indoctrination of children is no longer as effective as it was a generation ago. Thanks to the Internet, younger Evangelicals now have access to information about Christianity and the Bible that they have never heard from their parents, pastors, and Christian school teachers. Facts and evidence, along with skeptical, rational thinking are the best cure for those infected with Fundamentalist thinking as youths.

Churches can no longer rely on cradle Evangelicals to prop up ministries for another generation. Too many young congregants are exiting stage left, never to be seen again, save at weddings and funerals. So, Evangelical churches will focus on pilfering people from “dead” or “liberal” congregations or double-down on evangelizing the meanest, baddest people in town. Whether these approaches will pump enough new blood into the Evangelical churches remains to be seen.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Abortion is a Euphemism for Murder

kevin and sam sorbo

Secular humanists have made the word abortion sound like a woman’s right, synonymous with health care, female empowerment, standing for women’s issues, a choice, a solution; anything but the truth The truth is, however, abortion is the termination of life. It is just a euphemism for murder because the only reason to get an abortion is to avoid the potential of birth – a human birth.

We dress it up with ‘my body, my choice,’ but it is still a life inside of a woman’s womb, and that life is still extinguished by the brutal procedure of abortion.

— Kevin and Sam Sorbo, 2018 Editorial

Things That Make Your Non-Evangelical Friends Say WTF? — Part One

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Guest post by ObstacleChick

Until the past couple of years, I didn’t talk about my Evangelical Christian upbringing very much with my husband and kids. My husband’s family attended Catholic Mass on Christmas and Easter, and while he went through First Communion, he and his brothers didn’t really attend Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) classes very often. He and his two brothers were never confirmed as teens. As we stopped attending church when our children were seven and five, they don’t really know much about Christianity and barely remember going to Sunday school at the open and affirming Congregational United Church of Christ that we attended. But a couple of years ago, when my daughter announced that she wanted to leave New Jersey to attend college in the South, I started remembering some of the things that happened in Southern Baptist Church or in Fundamentalist Christian school where most of the staff were members of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches.

Here are some of the things that I have told my family that elicited the WTF? response.

Salvation

The concept that we are all sinners due to Original Sin brought onto the entire human race because Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating a fruit they were told not to eat. Therefore, all humanity is doomed to toil and suffering on earth and eternity in hell. But wait! God decided he would impregnate an ignorant Middle Eastern teenager with himself/his son, preach, do some miracles, and stir up trouble for three years, get arrested, tortured and hung on a Roman cross, spend a weekend in hell (roughly a weekend depending on which gospel you read), rise from the dead and show himself to some people (how many and which ones depends on which gospel you read), and ascend back to heaven where he sits at the right hand of his father/himself along with the Holy Spirit/themselves and will come back to earth at some unknown point. Whew!

Making a Public Profession of Faith

When someone realizes that they need salvation in order to escape eternity in hell, they are required to show publicly that they accept the doctrine of salvation and that they are ready to be baptized and to become members in good standing of the church. Some people will say something, others will leave it to the pastor to introduce them. In any case, it is a REQUIREMENT that the person be seen publicly declaring that they’re a filthy, dirty sinner in need of the sacrifice of Jesus in order to be saved (from eternity in hell, don’t forget that part). The primary time that one makes one’s public profession of faith is during the Altar Call at the end of the service.

Altar Calls

Every service concluded with an Altar Call in which the congregation would sing an appropriate hymn such as “Just As I Am” to encourage people to come forward to “make their profession of faith” or to “rededicate their lives to Christ.” If no one was coming forward, often the singing would stop, the organist would play, and the pastor would command, “Every head bowed, every eye closed” to encourage the shy to come forward without everyone looking at them. Sometimes I felt like someone would just go forward so the pastor wouldn’t feel bad that no one was going forward.

Baptism by Immersion

One of the hallmarks of being any brand of Baptist is to be baptized by immersion as (supposedly) practiced by John the Baptist of gospel fame. When people publicly make a profession of faith, meaning that they confess to being a worthless sinner in need of salvation by accepting that the sinless son of God, Jesus, came to earth to minister, die, and be resurrected as sacrifice for the sins of the world, and they promise to renounce sin, then they will be baptized. Baptism is a symbolic gesture that our sins are washed away by the precious blood of the slain Lamb of God and that we are clean creatures in Christ.

Biblical Inerrancy/Literalism

When the conservatives took over the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1970s and cleared house in their seminaries, the concept of Biblical inerrancy/literalism took hold. This meant that pastors must teach that the Bible was the inspired Word of God, that everything written in the Bible was literal and historical fact, and that the entire writings were indisputable. End of story. So improbable concepts are considered historical fact, such as a six-day creation of the universe and two human beings from whom every other human being descended; a worldwide flood that destroyed all living creatures and plants except eight humans and two of each living land creature (plus seven pairs of each “clean” creature) were saved and were the sources for repopulation of the entire earth; a talking donkey; a talking snake; a man who lived inside a whale’s digestive tract for three days; three men who survived after being inside a fiery furnace; a virgin birth; a couple of resurrections from the dead. Any findings from science or history that contradict what is found in the pages of the (King James Version of the) Bible are considered to be false deceptions from Satan. Of course.

Bitcoin For The Church: The Young Won’t Be Fooled

guest post

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

According to Pew Research and other polls, the Catholic Church in the U.S. is losing six congregants for every person who joins. The Church is also hemorrhaging members in other countries, even in such former bastions of Catholicism as Ireland and Spain. Moreover, for every person who formally leaves the church, others simply drift away. While the Vatican doesn’t seem overly concerned, as membership has grown exponentially over recent decades in Sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions, Church leaders in the U.S. and Western Europe (which, a century ago, was home to two-thirds of the world’s Catholics) are deeply worried. Those leaders, clerical and lay alike, are trying all sorts of things to keep members, particularly the young, in the fold.

If generals are always fighting the last war, leaders of institutions are always trying to woo the young with equally outdated notions of what appeals to them. During my childhood and early adolescence, churches—including the one in which I was an altar boy—started to offer “folk masses.” They were, apparently, a piece of the Church’s attempt to “meet people where they are,” which included the shift from Latin to vernacular languages in the liturgy. I can’t help but wonder whether offering masses said in English that included songs by Peter Paul and Mary actually enticed any young people to stay in the flock, but I recall feeling condescended to with the choice of music. After all, most adults’ ideas about what kinds of music their kids like are off by at least five years, if not more. As an example, I think of the relative who gave me a Monkees album for my fourteenth birthday, in 1972. (OK, you can do the math. But I’m a lady and won’t tell you my age! 😉

At least that relative understood other, far more important, things about me. That is why, even after that misguided gift, I never felt patronized. That relative, in short, was sensitive and sensible.

The same cannot be said for a group of folks who are trying to bring the Catholic Church into the 21st Century. At least, that’s what they seem to think they are trying to do. Cathio consists of “a team of well-established experts and leaders with deep roots in the Catholic Church.” Founded last year, the “Catholic enterprise” has just launched a platform “designed to enable all sectors of the Catholic community to benefit from lower costs and transparent payments,” says Cathio CEO Matthew Marcolini. Cathio advisor Jim Nicholson, formerly an ambassador to the Holy See, explains that in addition to the benefits Marcolini mentions, the Cathio platform will also facilitate “the connectivity of people of good will with good works.”

In other words, this Cathio platform is a sort of Bitcoin for the Catholic Church, which supposedly will make it easier for people to give money and harder for the church to hide its financial dealings. Call me a cynic, but I have my doubts as to whether either of those goals will be accomplished. The Cathio platform will almost certainly make it easier to move large sums of money, but from whom and to whom?

At least Marcolini and Nicholson are, at worst, misinformed about the good intentions of the flock and its herders. Another Cathio board member, however, shows that he is, at best, delusional. Then again, he’s merely confirming some of us have known for a long time.

That Board member once ran for President of the United States and has served as a US Senator from a state in which all of its Roman Catholic dioceses are part of a class-action lawsuit from—who else?—priest sex-abuse survivors. Rick Santorum says that, in addition to making financial transactions more efficient, the Cathio platform also offers the Church the opportunity to better engage young people. “Millennials don’t carry cash, they date on apps and watch on-demand entertainment. We have to be there, we have to learn from successful tech companies, and we have to make it easier for younger generations to engage with the Church.”

Now, I don’t know he defines “young people” and “younger generations.” Does he think they are synonymous with “millennials, who are generally defined as those born between 1981 and 1999? Well, I admit, at my age, 38-year-olds seem young, but I still wouldn’t call them “young people” or part of “younger generations.” Also, while millennials might conduct their lives on their electronic devices, they are using them to do things people of their age have always done: date, make travel arrangements, buy concert tickets and the like. Technology doesn’t seem to bring them back to practices or institutions they might have left behind. And, if anything, the “younger generations”—at least those younger than the millennials—won’t be as enraptured by technologies as millennials because they will have grown up with them.

But where Santorum really misses the boat, so to speak, is in his perception of who isn’t going to church anymore and why. Perhaps earlier generations stopped attending masses or services because they’d rather sleep in or go mountain biking on Sunday morning, or simply because they found those masses or services boring or irrelevant. But today’s young, and even middle-aged and older people, are more likely to be fed up with the church. In part because so much information is available to them so readily on their devices, they are less likely to accept the authority of religious leaders or the validity (let alone inerrancy) of the Bible. Even more important, they are more likely to have friends, relatives or co-workers who are LGBTQ or of a different religion or cultural heritage from what they grew up with. And young men know women who are doing the same work as they are, and possibly doing it even better.

Oh, and they’ve heard all about the sex abuse scandals. Perhaps they were victims themselves and were fortunate enough to get help at a relatively young age and be spared a lifetime of shame, self-loathing, substance abuse and unfulfilled and unfulfilling relationships and jobs.

In brief, if the Church has any hope of re-engaging the “younger generations” Santorum and others want to woo, it has to get rid of the predatory priests and everyone who covered up for and enabled them, for starters. (Actually, it would help even more if those priests, deacons and others didn’t molest kids at all, but that might be asking for too much too soon.) Then, it has to finally start respecting women’s bodies and minds. That means, among other things, supporting birth control and contraception and not punishing women when they come forward as rape victims. Finally, for once and for all, it has to end any and all bigotry, whether against LGBTQ people or anyone else.

If the Church is willing and able to do those things, it just might stanch the outflow of young people. Best of all, for the Church, such actions don’t require technology and wouldn’t cost the church anything. But I don’t expect the church to adopt such ideas: Even if the American and European churches become relics like Stonehenge, the church still has the Global South—at least until its young get smartphones and make gay friends.

Is Religion a Powerful Narcotic?

getting high on Jesus

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

— Karl Marx

One need only study world religions to understand that religion is a powerful force in our world — for good and evil. Marx rightly compared religion to opium — a powerful narcotic used to relieve pain, both physically and psychologically. Religion, in all its forms, is used by humans to find purpose, meaning, peace, and happiness. Ultimately, people worship deities because doing so benefits them in some way or the other. A good way to look at religion is from an economic perspective. Every religion has a cost attached to it. Sometimes those costs are clear: time, money, commitment. Other times, religion extracts psychological or emotional costs. Some religions, such as Evangelical Christianity, Mormonism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, require an abandonment of self and total commitment to God and the church. I spent 50 years in the Christian church. Twenty-five of those years were spent pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I can’t even begin to calculate the cost of my devotion to the Evangelical Jesus. Much of my time and money were spent in devotion to a deity whom I believed was the one true God, the creator and ruler over all. I abandoned self as I “followed the Lamb of God.” I willingly sacrificed my marriage and family, living in poverty and doing without for my God’s sake. Why would anyone live as I did?

Yes, serving Jesus was costly, but the benefits far outweighed the costs — or so I thought at the time, anyway. Through my religious beliefs, experiences, and practices, I found happiness, peace, and meaning. I had the privilege of preaching the gospel and teaching others the “truths” of the Christian Bible. I was loved and respected, and there never was a day when I didn’t feel God’s presence in my life. Oh, sometimes it seemed God was distant, but more often than not, the Christian deity was an ever-present reality.

It matters not whether Christianity is true; that its core beliefs are rational and reasonable. All that mattered, as a Christian, is that I thought these beliefs were true. Countless people believe all sorts of things that are untrue, but they believe them to be true, so in their minds, they are. While believing in the Christian God extracted from me a high cost, one I am paying to this day, for most of my life I believed the benefits of religious faith outweighed its costs.

Marx thought religion gave people false happiness. That said, he never underestimated its power, its ability to meet the deep needs of the human psyche. Atheists often wrongly believe that the solution to the ills of the world is for people to abandon their superstitions and embrace rationality rooted in reason, science, and intellectual inquiry. What atheists forget is that what humans want more than anything else is happiness. Until rationalists, freethinkers, and humanists show that their godless way of life leads to purpose, meaning, and happiness, we can’t expect religious people to buy what we are selling. We know that people don’t need to toke religious crack to feel happy and fulfilled, but we will never argue people into understanding this. Like it or not, feelings play a big part in the human experience. Life is short, and then we die. Religion offers a powerful drug that lessens the pain of that reality. We secularists must offer the same.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Prayer Warriors

prayer

A guest post by ObstacleChick

There are a lot of people from my Evangelical past with whom I am connected on social media. A few of them never post anything at all that is religious. It is clear that some folks left Evangelicalism for a more progressive, inclusive Christianity. But there are quite a few who are still deeply rooted in Evangelical churches and beliefs. The majority of those who are still deeply rooted in Evangelicalism are also politically conservative. Not only are some of these folks posting about hell, but they are also supporting gun ownership, anti-immigration sentiment, and anti-abortion stances. Sometimes when I can’t take it anymore, I unfollow people.

All the Christians that I know believe in the power of prayer. They are convinced that their deity wants to hear from them and wants to help them with their issues, provided of course that the person praying is “right with God” and that whatever the person is asking is within God’s will. I don’t know any Christians who would state with certainty that they are “right with God” or that they know conclusively what is God’s will, but they certainly do throw their prayers out there in case all the right circumstances converge to produce the desired outcome. It’s a little like playing the lottery, except with the lottery someone will actually receive a payout at some point.

As someone who no longer believes in deities or the power of prayer, it is interesting to me to see what Christians post on social media when they are seeking a desired outcome to a situation. Some will post a cryptic notice to their “prayer warrior” friends that there is a situation requiring prayer. Inevitably, dozens of people will respond “praying,” while some include heart or praying hands emoticons. Others will post a specific event for which they would like their friends to pray, typically something to do with illness or financial/employment situation. The posts regarding cancer or terminal illness are the most heartbreaking for me to read, as the person posting often will state that they are putting their loved one’s well-being (or their own well-being as the case may be) in the hands of their deity. All of them do seek the best medical care that they can find or afford, so at least they are aware that physical treatments are necessary to treat disease. However, they ask for prayers for “getting an appointment soon,” “getting treatment right away,” “seeing the best doctor,” and so forth. Picking up the phone and talking with someone who can actually make that happen for you might be a better option than talking to an invisible deity and asking all your friends to talk to an invisible deity.

I feel for those who are reaching out for prayers. They are afraid, concerned, sometimes grasping with their last hope that their deity will show favor and perform a miracle to rectify the situation. Yet I just cannot bring myself to say that I am “praying.” I have not prayed in many years, even before I acknowledged that I was an atheist and no longer believed in any deities. I believe that if I say I am praying that it is a lie even though it is an expected response that might make the person feel better.

What prompted this post is seeing a series of posts from Evangelical Christians over the past few months regarding illness and death. A friend’s mother died after deciding to discontinue chemotherapy as her cancer had progressed too far. Another friend’s father died after years of cancer and remission; he was a pastor, which goes to show that the Evangelical deity does not favor his mouthpieces when it comes to cancer. Yet another person posted that her husband was experiencing unexplained blindness for which doctors, after several months of tests, have not found the root cause. My sister-in-law’s year-old grand-niece suffered a seizure, and doctors could find nothing long-term wrong with her. Another friend just posted yesterday that his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and is starting radiation therapy today. And the most heartbreaking of all is a friend whose husband had surgery for a glioblastoma, was sent to Duke Medical Center to be evaluated for an experimental program, and the day before the appointment, was rushed to Duke where doctors performed emergency brain surgery to alleviate swelling where a new faster-growing glioblastoma has taken root. It took several days for the family to secure transport back home to Georgia so he could begin radiation treatment.

All of these people asked for prayers, and they received hundreds of responses such as “praying” or “praying for you,” or longer versions that include some sort of Bible verse and “praying,” or a long-winded monologue “lifting you up in the name of our Lord and Healer Jesus Christ.” Very few people actually offered something useful in return.

What I did notice was that hardly anyone who posted responded to those who commented “praying,” but everyone responded to my comments which usually involved saying that I hoped their medical team could find out what was wrong or made some other comment that had nothing to do with Jesus or prayer. My comments gave them the opportunity to express their thankfulness for their medical teams and to explain what had been accomplished so far. My goal when commenting was to show empathy, and I suppose that was also a goal of those who responded that they were “praying.” The difference is that I know and accept that there is very little actionable that I can accomplish to help these people with their issues while those who pray think they are doing something important and useful by appealing to their supposedly omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity. If the person does show improvement or recovery, the deity is thanked and held responsible for the “great things he has done.” Sometimes the medical team is thanked, but they are typically an afterthought in the process. And if the outcome is not favorable, then it is attributed to “God’s will, praise His name, glory hallelujah.”

In closing, I would like to mention the way a nonreligious friend is posting on social media about her husband’s bout with a brain tumor. They were on vacation in Italy when he collapsed. Hospital tests showed he had a brain tumor that required immediate surgery. When he returned to the US, he started radiation and physical therapy. All of her posts have been pictures of her husband with his medical team, with physical therapists, with friends and family who have visited, with many thanks for these professionals, family, and friends who are working with him. Not once did she mention a deity or ask for prayers.

If you are nonreligious, how do you deal with people asking you to pray for them regarding an issue? Do you tell them you are praying, or do you do as I do and mention how you are thinking of them and hope they have good resources? I would be interested to hear other ways that might convey empathy.

Quote of the Day: 50% of Catholics 30 years Old and Younger have Left the Church

good news

This is a top priority for our church, said Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, who is known for his website, “Word on Fire,” and for hosting the documentary series “Catholicism.”

In a June 11 presentation, the bishop said a group of experts who’ve examined why young people are leaving the faith in increasing numbers recently spoke with his committee about this and will share their findings during a lunch presentation at the bishops’ fall assembly in Baltimore.

“How many are leaving? The short answer is: a lot,” the bishop said, noting the sobering statistic he said many in the room probably were aware of — that 50% of Catholics 30 years old and younger have left the church.

“Half the kids that we baptized and confirmed in the last 30 years are now ex-Catholics or unaffiliated,” he said, and “one out of six millennials in the U.S. is now a former Catholic.”

Another statistic that particularly affects him is this: “For every one person joining our church today, 6.45 are leaving” and most are leaving at young ages, primarily before age 23. The median age of those who leave is 13.

“Where are they going?” he asked, and in response to his own question, he again gave a short answer: They’re “becoming nones” although some, in much smaller percentages, join other mainstream religions or evangelical churches.

— Carol Zimmerman, Catholic News Service, June 13, 2019

The Fundy World Tales — Part One

the-fundy-world-tales

One of the questions I am often asked is how I went from being an Evangelical pastor to an outspoken atheist. It is not uncommon for people to drift away from Evangelicalism as young adults, only to return years later with spouses and children in tow. And it is not uncommon for adults in their 20s and 30s to become so disaffected that they abandon Evangelicalism, never to return. Religious trends in the United States show that an increasing number of Millennials are self-described “nones” — people who are atheists, agnostics, pagans, or indifferent towards organized religion. Study after study reveals that for U.S. people under the age of 50, religion increasingly plays a less and less important role in their lives. However, for people over the age of 50, particularly Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation, religion remains vital to their day-to-day lives. Once people reach the latter stages of life, they are less likely to abandon religious beliefs and practices. While older people certainly have questions and doubts about their chosen faith, thoughts about death and whether there is an afterlife often keep them from seeking answers for that which troubles them. One old southern gospel song talks about coming “too far to turn back now.” That sentiment is what keeps countless older Evangelicals in the pews, regardless of the level of their disaffection. Throw in the fact that being a member of a church is similar to being part of a flesh and blood family, and it is not surprising that many older people cannot or will not leave Evangelicalism.

By the time Evangelicals reach their 50s, they have experienced decades of religious indoctrination. How is it that otherwise smart, educated people can believe the earth is 6,023 years old and accept as fact absurdities such as the virgin birth of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead? How is it that otherwise smart, educated people can believe that an ancient religious text written thousands of years ago by sheepherders and fishermen was supernaturally written by God and is without errors or contradictions? How is it that otherwise smart, educated people can believe that Jesus walked on water, magically turned water into wine, walked through walls, and worked the miracles attributed to him in the New Testament? One of the thoughts people who deconvert from Evangelicalism often have is this: how in the world could I have ever believed such bat-shit crazy stuff? The answer is quite simple: intense, long-term religious indoctrination. Starting as toddlers in the nursery and going all the way to the silver-hair-dominated Senior Saints Sunday school class, older Evangelicals systematically and repeatedly have their beliefs reinforced. Told Sunday after Sunday for four, five, or six decades that their beliefs are the “way, truth, and life,” is it any surprise that older Evangelicals are certain that they are right, and are unwilling to entertain anything that challenges said beliefs?

Here in rural northwest Ohio, we have what are commonly called “weed trees.” These weeds grow quickly and are almost impossible to kill. One of the reasons for their hardiness is that they have rugged, deep roots. The only way to kill them is to remove the roots. I have had to dig down four feet to reach the root end of some weed trees. Cutting them off at ground level takes care of the immediate problem, but the following spring they return. Older Evangelicals are quite similar to weed trees. Their religious roots run deep, and unless they are willing to dig deep into the ground to remove the tap root, their worldview will continue to flourish. Thus, the older Evangelicals become, the less likely it is that they will ever abandon their beliefs. Why, then, did I, at the age of 50, walk away from the ministry and later file for divorce from Jesus? What made me different from other older Evangelicals?

Let me clear. I was in no way “special” or of superior intellect. That said, I can look back over my 62 years of life and see how certain circumstances and experiences set me on a path that ultimately led to atheism. While the ultimate reasons for my deconversion were intellectual in nature, I would be amiss and less than honest if I did not say that other considerations played a part in my loss of faith. Live long enough and you will experience things that make a mark upon your life. Some of these things make deep, lasting, and even painful scars on our psyche. I know, at least for me, these scars altered my thinking and the trajectory of my life. Many of you know what I am talking about. Your lives were on a certain path, yet something or many somethings happened that changed your direction. If you had asked me in 2005 if there was anything that could happen that would result in my wife and me walking away from Christianity, I would have laughed in your face. You are kidding, right? I would have said, I may be frustrated with Christianity as a whole, but I love Jesus and I would never, ever leave or forsake him! Yet, here I am in 2019, explaining to thousands of blog readers why I am now an apostate, a godless heathen, a hater of God, an atheist — people I once considered no better than murderers and child molesters. Who in their right mind would abandon a way of life that had given him purpose, meaning, and personal satisfaction? Yet, on a late November day in 2008, I walked out the door of the church house, never to return. Thousands of sermons preached, yet I would never again stand before a group of people and say, Thus saith the Lord . . . Fifty years of Sundays dominated by worship, singing, praying, and preaching, yet now I sleep in on the Lord’s Day, enjoying the comfort of godless living. From my teen years until age 50, I read and studied the Bible, humbly putting into practice that which I learned. Today, I live a life governed by self and the humanist ideal. How did I get to the place where the Bible no longer mattered to me? Is my life a cautionary taleas IFB preacher Ralph Wingate, Jr, said it was? Is my life a warning to Evangelicals who dare consider walking a similar path? Perhaps. I would like to think, however, that my story is in some way helpful to people with doubts and questions about Christianity; that perhaps in a small measure some people might find the account of my life encouraging or inspiring. I can’t control how people respond to my writing. All I know to do is tell my story, leaving people to do with it what they will. I hope you will find this series instructive.

The Fundy World Tales will be a cogent examination of my life, from my ignoble birth in Bryan, Ohio in 1957 to my present blessed life as a husband, father, grandfather, and atheist. From this series will FINALLY come my book. I am “feeling” my mortality these days more than in times past, so if I intend to leave behind for my grandchildren a written accounting of my life, I best get to it. Here’s to hoping I complete this series before death calls my name.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.