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Update From Bruce

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I have been dealing with some serious health problems of late — primarily a respiratory infection and problems stemming from that infection. I spent part of yesterday in the emergency room. Currently, I am unable to do any meaningful writing. Hopefully, things will improve in the days ahead and I can return to writing.

Thank you for your understanding and support. If you are sitting (or standing) on a guest post, this would be a good week to send it my way.

Bruce

Quote of the Day: Breaking Out of Our Religious Restraints

neil carterOnce we break out of our [religious] restraints, we begin to discover our own capabilities. It turns out we each have our own modest little superpowers, only we’ve not had the opportunity or the freedom to exercise them. Once we acquire those, we soon come to know sides of ourselves we never knew before…and so does everybody else.

It’s not long before those things which we are truly good at—those things which become a significant part of our contribution to the world—earn us accolades and respect from people around us. Our self-image begins to improve because there are things that we’re truly good at, things we find we love to do.

That’s a good thing, right? Well, that depends on whom you ask.

The kind of Christianity I came from taught that you’re supposed to “surrender” your greatest strengths and abilities to God. What they meant by that was always a little fuzzy, but the gist of it was that the Almighty likes to get the credit for the things you can do, and he doesn’t like to share it. There was always the danger that you would be “too good” at what you do, or “too strong,” and the God of the Bible prefers weakness over strength.

The very first story in the Bible presents us with a God who didn’t want his creatures to know too much. He wanted their capabilities to remain limited so that they would remain more dependent on him, I suppose. As time goes on, we see in the text that it is the “bad guys” who made all the technological advances while those who “called upon the name of the Lord” remained comparatively primitive.

At one point in that ongoing saga, humanity built a tall building and God got really miffed about that. The Bible explicitly says that it was humanity’s growing capabilities that upset the ancient deity, and he stepped in to thwart their progress and shut that down immediately.

This theme runs like a thread through the entire biblical narrative. In one place the Bible says God reduced the size of Israel’s army from 30,000 to 300 just to ensure that no one else could get the credit for their victory. John the Baptist struck the same note when he announced the inauguration of Jesus, saying that “he must increase, but I must decrease.” And the apostle Paul perhaps more than anyone else stressed over and over again that “[God’s] power is made perfect in weakness.”

It’s no wonder evangelicals like me developed a complex about giving ourselves credit for anything we do. We were programmed from birth to repel compliments the way that Teflon repels grease. Thinking less of yourself is central to the Christian faith. Without that, you don’t need a savior at all, and that would cause the whole religious edifice to collapse.

Imagine if doctors fitted all children with leg braces no matter what their condition. Imagine if medical school taught them that all children have crooked backs requiring corrective restraints. That’s kind of like the Christian faith. Everybody’s born broken and, left to their own devices, they will turn out wrong. Good thing we have the church there to tell us how to think and how to live, right?

— Neil Carter, Godless in Dixie, Outgrowing Our Religion: Are We Ready?, November 18, 2018

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Know Jesus, Know Peace — No Jesus, No Peace

no jesus no peace

Evangelism-minded Christians move and breathe in a culture full of myths and folklore. Some of it comes from the Bible, but not all of it.

A big part of their recruitment tactics involves selling two parallel myths to existing and potential new members.

The first myth is that of the Super-Happy, Super-Content, Super-Fulfilled Christian. Hucksters in the religion have sold this vision for many years. Join us, and you will find a new family, even a new home. Join us, and you will gain a sense of purpose for your life. Participate in something much bigger than yourself. Find hope, joy, and peace. For those who feel adrift, this sales pitch sounds like a siren’s call.

Alongside that myth is that of the Unhappy, Discontented, Unfulfilled Atheist. And hucksters in the religion have sold this vision, as well. Ignore our call, and you will always lack what we enjoy. You’ll wonder why nothing in your life goes well–why your relationships sour, why your projects come to nothing. How sad, to lack purpose and meaning in life! How sad, to be so angry all the time, without hope of joy and true love!

These myths function as two sides of the same tarnished coin. As the Christian saying goes: know Jesus, know peace–no Jesus, no peace!

— Captain Cassidy, Roll to Disbelieve, What That “Angry at God” Accusation Really Means, November 15, 2018

Is Religion a Choice?

jesus kfc

Guest post by ObstacleChick

My daughter is a freshman at Vanderbilt University, and my husband and I joined a social media group specifically designed for parents of the class of 2022. Parents were invited by the university to join it as a way to introduce themselves to each other and to provide a forum for parents to post concerns, questions, and comments. For some parents, it has become a place to seek solace as they are missing their children. For others, it is a forum for complaining on behalf of their child (or perhaps not on behalf of the child but about something the parents are concerned about). Still others use it to share information about the best companies that deliver fresh cookies or birthday cakes to campus, or to compare notes on their child’s success using Uber vs. Lyft.

Recently, a parent posted an article from the student news publication regarding religious holidays. The article was written by a Jewish student who wanted to take some days off class for Jewish holidays and was told by her professor that he/she considered the absences unexcused. The student was furious as she canceled her flights home for the holidays. The student appealed to the Director of Religious Life, and he stated that professors have discretion in allowing absences for religious holidays. Unsatisfied with the answer, the student appealed to an Associate Dean, who stated that mature students know how to make the choice between education and religion. The Dean equated being religious to having a musical or athletic obligation – that religion is a choice in the same way that other activities are choices. The student maintains that one’s religion is not a choice and detailed that some of her family members had died in the Holocaust. The student also argued that as academic calendars are usually structured around Christian majority holidays, only those who practice minority religions are affected by the calendar structure and must seek accommodations to practice their religious faith.

The student then appealed to the Title IX Office, which developed a religious obligations form that students can submit requesting religious absences to the Title IX Office at the beginning of the semester. The Title IX Office will submit the form to the professors who then must grant students their requests for religious accommodations.

My first thought was that the university could provide a list of major religious holidays from a broad range of religions to professors at the beginning of each semester so that professors could anticipate conflicts that may occur. However, how extensively should the university go in researching major observances of religions? How many religions? Obviously, we all know the Big Three Abrahamic religions as well as Buddhism and Hinduism. Many have heard of Sikhism, Wicca, and Rastafarianism. But what about other religions that are not so well known, like Jainism, Bahai, Shintoism, Tenrikyo, Juche? I suppose the easiest logistical answer is for professors to excuse anyone for any religious request, but it may be that some professors were concerned with students taking advantage of religious liberty to rack up excessive absences. Perhaps the religious obligations form filed through the Title IX Office is the easiest way to accommodate students on a case by case basis.

Logistics aside, I did take issue with the student’s assertion that religion is not a choice. I think she is confusing the idea that many Jewish people consider themselves to be of Jewish heritage regardless of practice. People do not have a choice regarding their ethnicity, but they do have a choice whether they practice a religion, as many of us deconverts can attest. For example, I was raised in a household that practiced Southern Baptist Christianity, but I no longer consider myself to be a Christian of any sort. I made a choice to stop practicing Southern Baptist Christianity decades ago, switching to a more progressive Christianity for a while, and later to no religion at all, taking the label of agnostic atheist. Perhaps I could claim a Christian heritage, though I do not have a desire to do so at this time. I joke that my children’s last name confers upon them their Irish Catholic heritage, though neither has set foot in a Catholic church more than a handful of times and each takes the label of non-religious (and atheist in certain circles).

One may also make an argument that some people may feel that they have no choice but to practice a certain religion. Certainly in some countries where religious freedom does not exist, one may need to appear to practice a certain religion for one’s safety. In other cases, it may be difficult for one to break from one’s family’s religion, making relationships with family members difficult for the deconvert. Most of the time, children have little say in the matter and must follow whatever religious practices their parents require. But for an adult in a nation with religious freedom, whether one practices a religion or not is one’s choice. It may be inconvenient or place strain upon one’s familial or social relationships, but it is still a choice.

Do you think that practicing religion is a choice or not a choice? What are your thoughts on the way a university which strives to be diverse handled the situation?

Proselytizing

good news about jesus

Guest post by ObstacleChick

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19,20)

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:15,16)

Those of us raised in Christianity recognize these verses as the “Great Commission,” the charge to go forth and spread the message of Christianity to the rest of the world. As the only Christian religion in the western world for nearly 1500 years, the Catholic church took this message seriously. Since the Edict of Milan in 313 CE decriminalizing Christianity and gaining Emperor Constantine’s patronage, and later the Edict of Thessalonica of 380 CE making Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire, the Catholic church was intertwined with government for centuries. Spreading a religion is quite easy when supported by the government.

Some Evangelical Christians have taken the Great Commission seriously as well, raising large sums of money to support missionaries to proselytize the “lost” throughout the world. Sometimes the “lost” include Catholics, who are not considered “True Christians” by many Evangelical sects. Anyone who is not part of “True Christianity” is considered “lost” and thus ripe for evangelizing. Evangelical Christians are also exhorted by their pastors to proselytize to their neighbors, friends, and coworkers. Where I grew up in the Bible Belt, most of the people I knew were more or less the “right” type of Christians — Southern Baptists as we were, a variety of other types of Baptists, Church of Christ, Methodists, Church of the Nazarene, etc. It wasn’t until I was 16 and went to work that I met people who were Episcopalian, Lutheran, Catholic, or other “wrong,” “liberal,” or “apostate” Christians. I even met some people who were Hindu, Buddhist, or Jewish. It’s possible that I met a few atheists and didn’t know it! The horror!

During college, I was exposed to ideas that led to my further questioning of Evangelical teachings of inerrancy of the Bible, and by the time I graduated I knew that I needed to escape from the religion. So I applied to graduate schools far away from Tennessee, away from my family and from any pressure to attend their church. Moving to New Jersey, just a stone’s throw from New York City, I was exposed to a wide variety of people and ideas. While it was a culture shock at first, I thrived on learning from the people I met.

My husband was a high school math teacher who started his own tutoring business providing classroom support and SAT and ACT test preparation to high school students. He works with students one on one at their homes, and sometimes he gets to know the students and their families quite well. Before we had children, one of the early clients invited us to a barbecue at their home. They had a large, lovely home with a landscaped yard and beautiful pool. Somehow, my husband and I found ourselves surrounded by a group of guests who all appeared to be in their late teens and early twenties. We had a nice conversation, and suddenly a coffee-table book appeared and one of the guests started showing us pictures of the Bahá’í temple and explaining the Bahá’í faith to us. They told us the miracle story of their prophet Bab who had survived a firing squad of 750 shooters and was found back in his prison cell when the guns fell silent. He was brought out again to a new firing squad as apparently the original executioners refused to participate again, and this time he was killed by gunfire. The Bahá’í evangelists continued to tell us about their religion, and we listened politely.

What. The. Hell?

After we left, my husband asked me if we were just part of some sort of intervention. I explained to him that no, we were targets of proselytizing. As he was raised nominally Catholic and had never experienced proselytizing before, he was very surprised that it could occur in the United States. I explained that Evangelical Christianity does the same thing with their own faith and then commented that the Bahá’í stories were strange. As he aptly put it, their stories were no more strange than Christian stories of a virgin giving birth to a deity’s son who teaches and does some miracles, is crucified, and who supposedly was resurrected from death after three days. I couldn’t argue with his statement.

My husband and I did not become Bahá’í, by the way. In fact, within a decade we had both become agnostic atheists.

A few months ago while we were doing a Spartan race (obstacle races of varying distance and difficulty), a thunderstorm came through and racers were removed from the course and sent to various sheds on the ski slope for safety. When the race resumed, it was nearly dark, so those of us with headlamps were able to make our way safely through the woods. I ended up coming across a young man without a headlamp who had gotten separated from his teammates, so I led him through the dark. He was a Jehovah’s Witness whose entire family were employed at the sect’s headquarters in upstate New York. Cognizant of where the conversation was heading, I let him know that I was raised Southern Baptist before he could start witnessing to me about Jesus. He seemed to be satisfied that I knew Jesus, and technically I did not lie. I debated letting him know that I was currently an atheist, but I didn’t want to scare the poor kid with the knowledge that he was alone in the dark with a middle-aged atheist wearing a headlamp. While I was 28 miles into a 30-mile race and thus physically depleted, my mind was still sharp, and it’s likely that a Jehovah’s Witness would believe that atheists are controlled by Satan which might be scarier to him than the black bears inhabiting the mountains.

Have you ever been the target of proselytizing? What did you think about the experience? Did it lead you to find out more about the religion or did you find it annoying?

Bob, the Saved Rapist

barbara gerencser 1978

Mom and Bruce, Rochester, Indiana, 1978

Bob was my mom’s brother-in-law. Married to my dad’s sister, Bob was a rough-and-tumble truck driver and dirt-track race-car driver. Bob’s parents were devout Fundamentalist Baptists. Bob was raised in the church, and at the age of seventeen he walked the sawdust trail at a revival meeting and asked Jesus to save him from his sin. According to Baptist theology, Bob was now an eternally saved child of God.

After high school, Bob left home and abandoned the Baptist faith of his parents. Over the next six decades, Bob lived as if God did not exist. In every way, he lived as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. He was a booze-drinking skirt chaser known for sexually harassing and assaulting women. Female family members knew to steer clear of Bob lest they find themselves a target of his sexual advances. Age didn’t matter to Bob, and more than a few teen family members endured his touches, squeezes, and other demeaning behaviors.

Women got “used to” Bob’s sexual assaults. Viewing him as harmless, they would recount to me, “Oh, that was just Bob being Bob.” It was the 1960s and 1970s, after all, and that’s just how men were, I was told. As I will share in a moment, Bob was anything but harmless.

In early 1969, we lived east of Farmer, Ohio in a farmhouse owned by my dad’s sister and brother-in-law. I was in the sixth grade at Farmer Elementary School. One day, I was home from school sick. I spent the day in bed recuperating. In the early afternoon, Bob pulled into the drive. I figured he was there to see my mom, so I stayed in my room. A short time later, Bob left and I heard my mom calling my name. She was crying, saying that Bob had just raped her. She asked me to go to the neighbor’s house and call someone (I can’t remember who). I did, but no one ever came to our home.

You see, Mom had mental health problems — lots of problems. This meant, of course, in the minds of “healthy” people, she couldn’t be relied on to tell the truth. Bob was well-known in town. Bob would never rape anyone. Yes, he was a “little” too friendly with women, but, hey, that was just “Bob being Bob.” A few months later, we moved to Deshler, Ohio. Mom never talked about Bob after that. I suspect that she buried the rape deep in the recesses of her mind, right next to memories of her father repeatedly sexually assaulting her as a child.

Bob died a few years ago. His funeral was held at the local Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. Bob’s parents helped start this congregation and were pillars of the church for decades. I attended the funeral, wanting to see what kind of send-off the once-saved-always-saved Baptists would give Bob, the Saved Rapist. The pastor giving the sermon spoke of the night sixty years prior that Bob had been gloriously saved, and that he was now in Heaven with his mom and dad. The pastor never mentioned that Bob hadn’t darkened the doors of the church since the 1960s and he, in every way, lived a life of debauchery. The pastor cared more about protecting the memory of Bob’s parents than he did telling the truth. I have seen this behavior countless times over the years: degenerate people preached into Heaven, all because they mentally assented to a set of theological propositions. And therein lies the vulgarity of once-saved-always-saved soteriology. It’s the same theology that says I am still a Christian, and that no matter what I say or do I will go to Heaven when I die. Just pray the right prayer, believe the right things and Heaven is yours!

As the funeral service went along, I found myself becoming increasingly angry. I wanted to rebuke the pastor for his lies. I wanted to scream at the congregation for their willful ignorance of what kind of man Bob really was. Most of all, I wanted to be my mom’s voice. Not a mile away, Mom lay silent in her grave. Oh, to bring her to life again so she could give testimony to what Bob did to her! On that day, I so wished that there was a Hell. If anyone deserved endless torment, it was Bob. Alas, there is no Hell, so the only satisfaction that comes from Bob’s death is that no other woman will ever have to suffer the indignity of being sexually assaulted by him. I wish Mom had been alive to see Bob meet his end. Unfortunately, fifteen years prior, Mom turned a Ruger .357 on herself, pulled the trigger, ripping a hole in her heart. Her beautiful, tragic life instantly came to an end at age fifty-four, due in no small part to men who saw her as an object of sexual desire and gratification and not as a thoughtful, intelligent — and yes, beautiful — human being she really was.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Queen and Freddy Mercury are Servants of Satan

joe schimmel

Warning! A boat load of Bruce Almighty snark ahead. Evangelicals easily offended would be wise to move on from this post immediately. You’ve been warned. No whining later if you decide to read on.

This is the one hundred and ninetieth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip of Joe Schimmel, pastor of Blessed Hope Chapel in Simi Valley, California, detailing how QueenFreddie Mercury, and Adam Lambert are all servants of Satan.

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Now let’s listen to one of my favorite praise and worship songs, Bohemian Rhapsody

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Trailers for the new movie Bohemian Rhapsody

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And, finally, since I really, really, really want to give the mythical Devil/Satan/Beelzebub his due — all hail the Evil One, right? — let me conclude this post with a video of Queen’s 1985 Wembley Stadium Live AID concert. Awesome, oh so awesome, even to this day!

Video Link

Have you seen the movie Bohemian Rhapsody? Please share what you thought in the comment section. Are you a Servant of Satan, uh, I mean a Queen fan, what’s your favorite Queen song? Have you ever seen them in concert? Freddie Mercury era? Adam Lambert era? Come on, you heathens, let’s give it up for Queen and Freddie Mercury!

Think of all the rock bands that will be in Hell. Man, the Devil really does have all the good music — Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Christopher Hitchens too. Imagine an eternity of weekend singalongs with all your favorite bands, and compare that to what will be going on in Heaven — endless prostration before a deity who demands you praise him in masturbatory fashion over, and over, and over again. No thanks!

Schimmel is just the latest Fundamentalist preacher using the “evils” of rock music in an attempt to scare people into Heaven — a mythical place that only exists in the minds of Evangelicals. Preachers have been using this shtick since I came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. It didn’t work then, and it sure as hell doesn’t work now. What’s next? Backmasking? Record/CD/mp3 burning parties?  How did the whole Christian band replacement thing work out? You know, if you like *blank* secular band, you will like *blank* Christian band. Breaking Bob Larson out of the nursing home so he can reprise his “Evils of Satanic Rock Music” tour? Young people just listen to CCM AND secular music now, and based on my unofficial local observations, Christian young adults handily prefer secular rock/hip hop/pop over Christian music. The truth is, a lot of Christian music s-u-c-k-s — little more than rip-offs of secular artists. Decades ago, Christian rocker, Larry Norman asked, why should the Devil have all the good music? Have you noticed, no one is asking this question anymore? Why? Because, they have learned that the Devil really does have all the good, great, awesome, phenomenal music.

Man’s Fall in the Garden of Eden: An Ancient Labor Relations Tale?

adam eve cast out of garden of eden

A guest post by Bob Felton. Bob blogs at Civil Commotion

Sometime around 1800 B.C., an Akkadian stoneworker chiseled into rock a remarkable story.

It seems there were two ranks of gods, important gods who made all the decisions, and lesser gods who did all the work. One day, assigned to dig some canals, the hot and dirty and tired worker-gods decided to go on strike; “You are killing us,” they complained.

The impasse was broken by this proposal: the important gods would create a new creature to do the hard labor, man, but the leader of the strike had to be sacrificed. It was so agreed, and man was created from the dust, the water, and the blood of the sacrificed god.

But, as so often is the case, there was a fly in the ointment — the men were noisy at night, and the gods weren’t getting proper rest. After several warnings, the gods decided to get rid of men and sent a flood to drown them all. Only one man and his family survived, Atrahasis.

It’s easy to see in this tale the roots of two of the Old Testament’s best-known stories, the Creation and Fall, and Noah’s flood.

Now skip forward almost 4000 years to a story that is true, to the copper mines in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There, the mines employ thousands of laborers imported from all over the world; newspapers are published daily in more than a dozen different languages.

In June of 1913 the miners — who live in company-owned housing on company-owned property, buy their food at company-owned stores, and earn less than $2/day — call a wildcat strike. At Christmas they are still out, and on Christmas Eve they gather on the second floor of Italian Hall for a meager Christmas party for their children.

Soon after things get going, a strikebreaker enters the hall and shouts “Fire!” There is a panic, the door at the bottom of the stairs doesn’t open and there is a crush; seventy-three people, mostly women and children, die. The most widely-read local newspaper is owned by a mining company, and it becomes a tale of unruly foreigners impinging upon the prerogatives of a benevolent company. Nobody is ever prosecuted for the shout of “Fire!”

The story of the Italian Hall disaster shares a lot with the story of Atrahasis and the Fall. Instead of gods, there are mining companies and bosses; the men are imported, not created, to labor; there is disobedience — striving to live and enjoy life; there is even a serpent, the strikebreaker who shouted “Fire!”

And in all three stories there is cruel punishment without appeal.

I estimate the odds of a Bronze Age storyteller making up something that has so much in common with a labor relations disaster four millennia later as … zero. Atrahasis, and the story of the Fall, are undoubtedly allegorical blame-the-victim accounts of prehistoric misfortunes similar to the real-life Italian Hall disaster. They should not be read as literally true, but they are true in the narrow sense that they are accounts of the ancient human conflict between the powerful and the powerless.

Notice this, too: In all three stories, men threaten the power of the gods/bosses. In Genesis, this is made explicit (Gen 3:22-23, KJV): “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.”

“… the man is become as one of us …” He threatens us, challenges us, cannot be trusted to quietly and submissively do as he is told. He must go.

I’m sure it has an odd sound to many, but I read Genesis’ tale of the Fall as an ancient labor relations tale. And with Augustine’s invention of Original Sin, Christianity put itself on the side of the bosses, the Establishment’s demand for unconditional obedience — where it has been ever since.

Bruce, You Are a Crypto-Christian, Posing as an Atheist

atheist section in heaven

Cartoon by Mike Lynch

Earlier, I posted an article about how many Evangelicals contend that I never was a True Christian®; that I never met the REAL JESUS. Unsurprisingly, I often get similar treatment from hardcore — dare I say, Fundamentalist — atheists. According to these atheists, I am crypto-Christian, posing as an atheist; that deep down I am still a follower of Jesus — or at the very least want to be. In their minds, all religion is bad, and the Abrahamic religions are the worst of the bunch. That I am an accommodationist and believe Jesus was a real, flesh-and-blood historical figure says to them that I really haven’t left Christianity behind. That I have good things to say about my Christian past, and I am willing to commend Christians when they do good in Jesus’s name, is more proof to them that under my atheist veneer beats the heart of a man who is having a secret affair with Christianity.

Years ago, I attended an atheist meeting in Fort Wayne, Indiana, that featured theologian and atheist Robert M. Price. I thoroughly enjoyed Price’s lecture. During the Question and Answer period, one man — an outspoken atheist — challenged Price’s respect for certain aspects of Christianity. The man said, tell me one good thing Christians have done in 20 centuries that couldn’t have been done without religion. This led to a brief back and forth between Price and his accuser. Sadly, nothing Price said made any difference to this man. He was a Fundamentalist, and one of his cardinal doctrines was that all religion was bad. He was settled in his beliefs about Christianity. He and I later got into an email skirmish about the matter. I concluded, then, that I was an atheist, but I am was not one of THOSE atheists. I hold to this sentiment today.

Tim O’Neill, an acquaintance of mine, is also often accused of being a crypto-Christian. Tim blogs at the History for Atheists website. If you are not a reader of Tim’s writing, I encourage you to check out his site. Good stuff. Mythicist Richard Carrier says this about fellow atheist O’Neill:

Tim O’Neill is a known liar …. an asscrank …. a hack …. a tinfoil hatter …. stupid …. a crypto-Christian, posing as an atheist …. a pseudo-atheist shill for Christian triumphalism [and] delusionally insane.

Ouch, right?

I have received numerous emails over the years from atheists angered over my friendliness towards Christianity (or my liberal political beliefs). Funny, isn’t it? Evangelicals think I am hostile towards Christianity, and some atheists believe Jesus is my secret fuck buddy. Can’t win, so I don’t try. Both sides use the No True Scotsman argument to suggest that I never was or I am not part of their club. Fortunately, my mother and my Evangelical training taught me to stand on my own two feet and not be a company man. I am more than willing to listen to honest, thoughtful critiques of my beliefs, but demand that I believe this or that or risk losing my Atheist Card, and you will learn how recalcitrant I can be. Evangelicals can at least threaten me with their mythical Hell. What are atheists going to threaten me with? Loss of their support? Loss of their comments?  Please. I am almost sixty-two years old. I am a confirmed curmudgeon. Want to be friends with me? Fine, but you take me as I am. If not, that’s okay. I have more than enough atheist, agnostic, humanist, and pagan friends to carry me safely to my grave. I am too old to worry about making new atheist BFF’s.

I will continue write about the excesses and dangers I see in American Evangelicalism. I will continue to point out hypocritical clerics in the Black Collar Crime series. I will continue to push back against the unholy alliance between church and state. And yes, most of all, I will continue to tell my story. What I won’t do, however, is hate people just because they are religious, even if they are Evangelicals. I live in an area where seven out of ten people are registered Republicans and virtually everyone believes in Jesus. If I want to happily and quietly live in rural northwest Ohio, then I must be willing to get along with people of faith. I choose to love my neighbor as myself. I choose to have a good testimony before my Christian neighbors. I want my way of life, my words, and my friendliness towards them to be confusing. I want my life to be in direct conflict with what their pastors say atheists believe and how they live. Does anyone seriously think that I would make any difference in my community if I loudly, publicly, and angrily preached from the housetops, Jesus Never Existed! Why, they would think I was a loon.

The other day, a local Democratic party worker, who is a devoted Catholic and a friend, stopped by my home while she was out canvassing. She told me as she leaving, Bruce, you may be an atheist, but you have gospel values. I smiled as she said this to me, thanking her for the kind words. Should I have given her a lesson on where atheists derive their morals and values? Of course not. What she was telling me is that she appreciated my pro-human progressive values. I am sure my atheism doesn’t compute for her, but the manner in which I live my life and the way I am willing to speak out when it matters tells her what kind of man I am. That Fundamentalists — Christian or atheist — can’t or refuse to see and accept me as I am is their problem, not mine.

On occasion, I am asked why I seem to live on the fringe of the atheist movement. Perhaps, this post better explains why I do so. I have decided to be my own man, tell my story the best I know how, and leave the results up to God, uh I mean . . .

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Bruce, You Never Knew the REAL Jesus

who is the real jesus

I have been accused hundreds of times over the years of never having been a True Christian®. The gist of this accusation is that I met, worshiped, and followed a counterfeit Jesus. If I had I encountered the REAL JESUS and put my faith and trust in him, I would have become a True Christian® and would still be a follower of Christ to this day. The Bible gives cover for this argument when it says:

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. (I John 2:19)

According to Evangelicals who say I never met the REAL JESUS, the angels of light in my life — parents, pastors, professors — were actually tools of Satan used by him to deceive me. And true to my training, I then became a false angel of light too — deceiving the churches I pastored and pulling the wool over the eyes of my colleagues in the ministry; that is, if any of them knew REAL JESUS themselves.

The fact that I no longer profess to be a follower of Jesus is further evidence that I never met the REAL JESUS. Had I met the REAL JESUS, I would have continued in the faith; I would have continued pastoring churches. That I now stand in opposition to Christianity and the teachings of the Bible is clear evidence to Evangelicals that whatever Jesus I followed over my fifty years in the Christian church, he was not the REAL JESUS.

A good example of this thinking can be found in the recent blog comments by Rod Rogers:

Yes, but you now claim that you are not a christian and therefore you never were a christian, right? You have painted your self into a corner. Either you were a liar for years or you are lying now; but you have to choose. My point is that God is always God or there never was a god. You have claimed both. Very sad.

Bruce, you don’t go from preaching God’s word, studying and praying daily and then wake up one day and say God never existed. That never happens. Somewhere you came to a place where God didn’t meet your expectations. I don’t know where that happened but it happened.

“Each aspect of my life must be judged in its context.” Ok, YOU said you were a Christian, said you were a preacher. In that context, were you preaching the truth or preaching a lie? Preaching a lie makes one what? “All I am saying is that I once was a Christian just like you, and now I’m not.” And all I am saying is that by your own admission you believed in once saved always saved. Now you don’t believe in God at all. By you own theology you yourself believed either you were not saved to begin with or you preached a lie. You are in a corner.

Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Matthew 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? Matthew 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Either you never were a child of God or you still are.

Bruce, it doesn’t matter what happened when. The only thing I am assuming is that you are telling the truth when you say that you were an IFB. If you were ever IFB then you believed in OSAS. You just don’t want to admit the truth. Your comment, “It’s like saying, I’m divorced now, so that means I never was married”?”, has nothing to do with my comment; its Non Sequitor.

I’m 64 years old and have met a lot of people and you are the only one who claims to have lived at the foot of the cross and woke up one day and renounced it. Sorry, I don’t believe that.

Rod is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB). As such, he believes in the doctrine of “once saved, always saved.”  According to this doctrine, once a person is saved, he can never fall from grace, never lose his salvation. Built upon a foundation of intellectual assent to a set of theological propositions, most proponents of “once saved, always saved” believe that I am still a Christian; that I am just backslidden or out of the will of God. I say most, because some “once saved, always saved” believers can’t bear to fathom that someone who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite unto the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29) can still be a Christian. If I am not now a Christian, in their minds, that means I never was a Christian; that in decades of pastoral experience I never came in contact with the REAL JESUS.

Calvinists fall into “once saved, always saved” crowd, albeit they believe that a person must endure to the end (death) to be saved; and even then, some people who thought they were saved will wake up in Hell, realizing that they never were one of the elect. What a con job, right?  Much like many in the “once saved, always saved” IFB crowd, the Calvinists who knew me have concluded that I never met the REAL JESUS. If I had met the REAL JESUS, I would still be in church, availing myself of means of grace. That I am now an outspoken opponent of True Christianity® is proof to them that I was a false Christian.

In 1994, I was the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church — an independent Calvinistic congregation — in Elmendorf, Texas. While at Community, I became friends with Jose Maldonado, pastor of Hillburn Drive Grace Baptist Church. I had met Joe in the fall of 1993 when he and Pat Horner — my soon to be co-pastor — came to preach a conference at the church in Ohio I was pastoring at the time.

I resigned from Community in the fall of 1994. You can read more about that debacle in the series titled, I Am a Publican and a Heathen. After leaving Community, I had no further contact with Maldonado. Imagine my surprise, then, to hear that Maldonado, sixteen years after our last contact, took to the pulpit to let people know that I was now an atheist; a man who never knew the REAL JESUS.

Here’s a short audio clip of Maldonado “exposing” me as a false prophet:

You can listen to Maldonado’s four-part sermon series or read transcripts of his sermons here.  You also might find interesting the post titled, Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser.

The hilarious thing in the whole “Bruce met a false Jesus” saga, is that “once saved, always saved” Baptists and Calvinistic Baptists bitterly oppose one another, each believing the other preaches a false gospel. In other words, each side believes the other has never met the REAL JESUS.

As you can see, the core theological problem for both groups is that True Christians® are eternally saved. The Bible says in John 10:27-29:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

Those who hear the voice Jesus and follow after him are given eternal life, and are held safe in his hand. No man is able to pluck Christians out the hand of Jesus. The problem with this argument, of course, is my life as a Christian clearly shows that I heard the voice of Jesus and followed after him. There’s nothing in my storyline that remotely suggests that I was following after a false Jesus; that I was a sheep in wolves clothing; that I was a false prophet. Yet, here I am today, having safely jumped out of the hand of Jesus, an out-and-proud apostate. “How can these things be?” Evangelicals ask themselves. Zealots such as Rod refuse to accept my story at face value, suggesting that there is some part of my story I am not sharing lest I give away the “real” reason I am no longer a Christian. This leads people to concoct all sorts of conspiracies about my loss of faith.

How about we let Occam’s Razor tell the story here: I once was a Christian and now I am not; I once was a follower of Jesus and now I am not; I devotedly loved Jesus and now I don’t; that the telling of my story is an honest, forthright reflection of my life as a Christian and an Evangelical pastor — theology be damned.  Christians holding to Arminian theology believe followers of Jesus can do fall from grace. In their minds, I am just one more sad example of someone who chose not to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Works for me.

Here’s what I know for sure, I once was saved and now I am not. It really is that simple. It is not up to me to help Evangelicals square their theology with my testimony. Can’t make my story fit in the narrow confines of your rigid theological box? Tough shit, not my problem. I have no doubt I met numerous times the REAL JESUS. A mythical being, to be sure, but I most certainly had a torrid love affair with this Jesus for most of my adult life. Just as I would never doubt a sincere Christian’s testimony of faith, all I ask is that Evangelicals grant me the same courtesy. This will never happen, of course, because their theology bars them from doing so. Their intransigence reveals the real truth behind this discussion; that the question has never been meeting the REAL JESUS; that what really matters is believing the right sectarian doctrines; that Evangelicalism is inherently a text-based system; that what really determines entrance into Heaven is checking off the right boxes on the Beliefs Checklist. The Evangelical gospel is this: BELIEVE THESE DOCTRINES AND THOU SHALT BE SAVED. It’s never been about the REAL JESUS.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Knowledge

tree of knowledge

Guest post by ObstacleChick

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32

Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise. — Thomas Gray

A little learning is a dangerous thing. — Alexander Pope

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. — Confucius

Knowledge is a weapon. I intend to be formidably armed. — Terry Goodkind

No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire. — L. Frank Baum

Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse. — African Proverb

Knowledge is power. — Francis Bacon

In Sunday School, children learn the story of the Creation and the Fall of Mankind. When I was a child, the Sunday School teacher would read the story to us – and if we were lucky, she would populate a felt board as the story unfolded. Typically, after the story, some sort of craft or game would follow, helping to reinforce the lessons contained in the story. Sunday school was fun, but as an adult I can see how much indoctrination occurs in such a setting.

The story of the Creation and the Fall of Mankind is quite brilliant in that it attempts to explain the following to people who lacked explanations to their questions about their origins. The story tackles the following topics:

  • the origins of humans;
  • the presence of good and evil in the world;
  • what happens if people disobey their deity;
  • why women have been treated as second-class citizens;
  • why people desire to have sex;
  • why childbirth is so painful;
  • why the serpent slithers on the ground and why so many people have an antipathy for it;
  • why there is death;
  • why people wear clothes;
  • why we cannot return to a perfect world on earth;
  • why we have to work and why it is hard.

I am many years removed from learning these Bible stories and more than a decade removed from church attendance. Looking at some of these stories years later, as an atheist, I see aspects of the story that I had not considered before. It is also interesting to look at these stories in terms of mythology and not as the literal historical fact that Biblical literalists profess.

One thing I find fascinating today is the concept of the Tree of Knowledge. In Sunday School, it was described as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve were instructed that they could eat of any tree in the garden except for this tree, for if they did, they would “surely die.” It is hard to understand how newly-created humans who have no experience, no education, no knowledge, could comprehend concepts such as “good,” “evil,” and “death.” Maybe the deity or deities “created” their brains already programmed with certain concepts, instincts, tools necessary for survival, but the story does not explain any of that. Carl Jung posited the concept of “collective unconscious,” the supposed part of the unconscious mind that is derived from ancestral memory and experience and is common to all humankind, as distinct from the individual’s unconscious. There is no evidence of the existence of “collective unconscious,” though it is an interesting concept to ponder.

But let’s return to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The phrase literally translates as the tree of knowledge of good and evil from the Hebrew language. But the pairing of opposites may be an example of merism, a literary device that depicts meaning by pairing direct opposites – and in this case, it could be a merism that denotes “everything.” Some scholars believe that the merism does not denote a concept of morality but is merely inclusive of “everything.” In any case, many Christian sects teach that Adam and Eve were punished for their disobedience, and that the punishment carried forth through all Adam and Eve’s descendants — including those of us who are alive today. I have not heard preachers expand upon the concept of Adam and Eve being punished for seeking and acquiring knowledge, though some may have. It is true that there are plenty of Bible verses that warn against seeking worldly or carnal knowledge, and knowledge of content outside the spiritual is denigrated. Human knowledge itself is denigrated as being inferior to the knowledge of God. I searched online for a comprehensive list of Bible verses that denigrated knowledge and could not find one such list, but I found many verses in both testaments denigrating knowledge. I also found a variety of verses that state that true knowledge can only be found through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

If one considers the Tree of Knowledge as symbolic of knowing everything, then why was it that god or gods did not want the humans to have knowledge of everything? Was God meaning to protect the humans or was he trying to prevent them from attaining knowledge? And why would God try to prevent humans from acquiring knowledge? There is so much good that has come from humankind’s attainment of knowledge. We have learned more about how the world works, how to prevent diseases, how to harness the earth’s resources for better living conditions, how to increase our crops and how to supply fresh water. However, we have also learned more efficient ways to kill our fellow humans, and we have polluted the earth. We have created borders to exclude our “tribes” from one another. It is said that with much knowledge comes much responsibility. Perhaps the creators of this myth, ancient though they were, understood the great power and great danger of knowledge when conscientious stewardship is not applied.

From my own personal experience, knowledge of the world outside the Evangelical bubble was key to my deconversion process. In fundamentalist religions, people are warned against the outside world, often prohibited from owning certain books or gaining access to the internet and discouraged from attending secular schools. The outside world is labeled as evil, with pastors/rabbis/imams railing against the dangers to be found in the outside world. Some religions scare their members with images of demons and hell lurking around every corner, to be found in each book or library or website. The goal of fundamentalist religions is to retain its membership — to indoctrinate a new generation — and to do that, they must convince their followers that TRUTH can only be found within the safe confines of their fundamentalist religious world. As my friend who was raised in Reform Judaism commented when I told her the story of my upbringing in Evangelical Christianity, it’s a cult designed to keep its members trapped within.

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil can be, then, symbolic of all the exposure one encounters outside the confines of fundamentalist religion. I have eaten from that tree. I can no more unsee or unread or unlearn the ideas I found outside those confines any more than I could uneat a fruit. I could try to purge it from my mind as one might try to purge a food or poison from one’s body, but the effects of exposure are not easily reversed. At least, for me they could not be. Nor would I desire a different outcome.

What do you think about the myth of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Do you see this story as a warning about misuse of knowledge, or do you see it in another way? Please let us know in the comments.