Why I Stopped Believing

why

Jason, an Evangelical Christian, asked:

What would cause someone with your Biblical education and years of preaching the Word of God not just claiming to be a Christian but also living it one day decide to not believe and do a 180 and turn your back on it?

While I deal with this question at length in the From Evangelicalism to Atheism series, today I want to give a short, condensed answer to this question.

People like Jason are often perplexed by how it possible for someone with my background and training to one day walk away from the ministry and Christianity. Most of the clergy who deconvert do so at a much younger age, often in their 20s and 30s. In my case, I spent fifty years in the Christian church and I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years before I deconverted. When I started going to counseling, my counselor told me that it was quite rare for someone my age and with my experience to walk away from a lifetime of belief and work. It happens, just not very often.

Jason is not alone. A number of my ex-friends, family members, and former parishioners can’t understand how it is possible that the man they called Preacher or Pastor is now an atheist. Often they can not or will not believe the reasons I give for my deconversion. Instead, they try to find some other reason to explain why Bruce Gerencser, the man of God, the pastor, the preacher, their fellow colleague in the ministry, is now an apostate, an enemy of God.  Is there some secret past I am hiding, some secret sin? they ask themselves. They wonder if I have mental problems, or if I am unstable.  They rack their brains trying to come up with a plausible explanation, anything but accepting the reasons I give for my deconversion.

Christian fundamentalism taught me to stand firm on my beliefs and convictions. When I was a pastor, people appreciated and applauded my willingness to resolutely defend my beliefs and convictions, But now that I do the same with atheism and liberal politics, they think there must be some other reason I drastically changed my mind and life. I am the same man, a man who thinks that beliefs matter.

My mother taught me, from my youth onward, that it was important to stand up for what I believe. Now, this does not mean that I am not now tolerant of the beliefs of others, because I am. As I get older, I realize that tolerance is an important virtue. Stepping outside of the box I spent most of my life in, I found a rich, diverse, and contradictory world that forced me to be more accepting and tolerant.

When I entered kindergarten I could already read. My mother taught me to read and she developed in me an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. This may seem counterintuitive at first, since I was raised in a fundamentalist environment that is not known for promoting a thirst for knowledge. But, by becoming a proficient and avid reader, I had at my disposal countless opportunities to expand my knowledge. Sadly, my quest for knowledge became quite stunted as a pastor because I rarely read books that would conflict with my Christian beliefs.  However, when I began to have doubts about Christianity and its teachings, my thirst for knowledge kicked into high gear and I began reading books that I once would have considered heretical.

I never made a lot of money pastoring churches. I never had church-provided health insurance or a retirement plan. The only benefits I received were a check I got once a week IF the offerings were enough.  Outside of the time I spent pastoring Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, every other church I pastored paid a part-time or poverty-level wage for the full-time work I gave the church. I often worked outside of the church, as did Polly when I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I am not pointing a judgmental finger at the churches I pastored. Most of the churches were either small or in poverty-ridden areas. Over the years, I was privileged to pastor many gracious, giving poor people. They gave what they could.

About now you are thinking, what in the world are you talking about, Bruce? I thought this post was about WHY you stopped believing! It is, and what I have written above can be distilled down to these three important statements:

  • I was taught to stand firm on my convictions and beliefs
  • I was taught to read at an early age and I developed a thirst for knowledge
  • I never made much money in the ministry

Since I never made much money in the ministry, there was no economic reason for me to stay in the ministry. I always made more money working outside of the church, so when I decided to leave the ministry, which I did five years before I deconverted, I suffered no economic consequences.

Freed from the ministry, my wife and I spent five years visiting more than a hundred Christian churches. We were desperately looking for a Christianity that mattered, a Christianity that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. During this five year period, I read countless books written by authors from a broad spectrum of Christendom. I read books by authors such as Thomas MertonRobert Farrar CaponHenri Nouwen, Wendell BerryBrian McLarenRob BellJohn Shelby SpongSoren Kierkegaard, and NT Wright.  These authors challenged my Evangelical understanding of Christianity and its teachings.

I decided I would go back to the Bible, study it again, and determine what it was I REALLY believed. During this time, I began reading books by authors such as Robert Wright Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, These three authors, along with several others,  attacked the foundation of my Evangelical belief in the inerrant, inspired word of God. Their assault on this foundation brought my Evangelical house tumbling down. I desperately tried to find some semblance of the Christianity I once believed, but I came to realize that my faith was gone.

I tried, for a time, to convince myself that I could find some sort of Christianity that would work for me. Polly and I visited numerous liberal or progressive Christian churches, but I found that these expressions of faith would not do for me. My faith was gone. Later, Polly would come to the same conclusion.

I turned to the internet to find help. I came upon sites like exchristian.net and Debunking Christianity. I found these sites to be quite helpful as I tried to make sense of what was going on in my life. I began reading the books of authors like John LoftusHector AvalosRobert M. PriceDaniel DennettChristopher HitchensSam HarrisJerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins.

The five books that made the biggest impression on me were:

(I make a few shekels if you click on the above links and buy the books)

I read many authors and books besides the ones listed here. I say this to keep someone  from saying, but you didn’t read so and so or you didn’t read _______,  So, if I had to give one reason WHY I am no longer a Christian today it would be BOOKS.  My thirst for knowledge – a thirst I still have today, – even though it is greatly hindered by chronic illness and pain – is what drove me to re-investigate the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible. This investigation led me to conclude that the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible could not rationally and intellectually be sustained. Try as I might to hang on to some sort of Christian faith, the slippery slope I found myself on would not let me stand still. Eventually, I found myself saying, I no longer believe in the Christian God. For a time I was an agnostic, but I got tired of explaining myself, so I took on the atheist moniker, and now no one misunderstands what I believe (see Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners and Dear Friend).

The hardest decision I ever made in my life was that day in late November of 2008  when I finally admitted to myself, I am no longer a Christian, I no longer believe in the Christian God, I no longer believe the Bible is the Word of God. At that moment, everything I had spent my life believing and doing was gone. In a sense, I had an atheist version of a born-again experience. For the past six years, I have continued to read, study, and write. I am still very much a work in progress. My understanding of religion and its cultural and sociological implications continues to grow. Now that I am unshackled from the constraints of religion, I am free to wander the path of life wherever it may lead. Now that I am free to read what I want, I have focused my attention on history and science. While I continue to read books that are of a religious or atheist nature, I spend less and less time reading these kind of books. I still read every new book Bart Ehrman publishes, along with various Christian/atheist/humanist blogs and publications, and this is enough to keep me up to date with American Christianity and American atheism/humanism.

I hope this post adequately answers the WHY I stopped believing question.

Notes

  1. This is a brief answer to the question WHY? I will fully develop this answer in the series From Evangelicalism to Atheism.
  2. I also spent some time investigating other religions and gods that humans have created (a study I still find quite fascinating).
  3. There is also a political aspect to my deconversion. I will talk about this in the aforementioned series.
  4. Jason asked if I believed in evolution. The answer is yes. I am no expert when it comes to science, but I have done enough reading to be comfortable with saying that I believe evolution/natural selection best explains the natural world.

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74 Comments

  1. Geoff

    Even to ask the question ‘do you believe in evolution’ is telling.

    Evolution is as factually established as pretty well anything else I can think of. I know it’s normal to compare it with our knowledge of gravity, but that’s getting stale. To deny evolution is almost to deny our humanity, because that’s how important the science of evolution is.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Jason comes from a world, the same world I was a part of, where the Bible is the final answer for everything, including science questions. This kind of thinking forces a person to live in denial of much of the world around them.

      Reply
      1. Bruce Turner

        Bruce,

        Had you and yours on my mind. How is your health these days? Drop me a note!!

        Bruce Turner

        Reply
    2. Randall

      Bruce, you know you had already rejected Christ before you read those books.

      The books just help you provide what you though was justification for what you had already decided. You and I both know this. although you can not admit that here.

      But what I have found is that although the Lord will forgive, atheists won’t. I really believe they will kill Christians in mass is they end up getting control.

      After all, its happened before.

      There are perilous time ahead for humanity, as atheistic scientists continue to provide the means for its final destruction.

      And unless Christ returns, there will be “no flesh saved”.

      Reply
      1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

        Wow, a real live psychic who knows me better than I know myself.

        Let me quote a bit of Bible. Randall, I know they works…and that’s why this is your first and last comment.

        https://brucegerencser.net/comment-rules/

        Reply
        1. Michael Mock

          Dude has no idea how this sort of thing actually happens, does he? I mean, he actually sounds like he’s never changed his mind… about anything… ever. Completely at a loss about it.

          Reply
  2. Pastor Robert Nacci

    You say in your post here:

    “So, if I had to give one reason WHY I am no longer a Christian today it would be BOOKS.”

    For me that brings to mind what Paul says in Colossians 2:8 – “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”

    Just a simple observation and question for you, not to stir anything up or rile you up:

    Do you believe this could be the true here in your case? I’ve always been taught and believe that the Bible is God’s limited revelation of an unlimited God intended for our limited minds. Thoughts?

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Since I don’t think there is a God, I would reject the notion that the Bible is in any way “God’s” word or a divine, supernatural book. The Bible is a book, just like any other book.

      So, books are not my problem. I don’t divide knowledge into categories like you are doing. Granted, some knowledge is more valuable. But what value depends on what’s important to us. For you, the Bible is important. For me? Not important at all. I have read countless books I would value more than the Bible.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
    2. Paul Coddington

      Robert, the problem with this conclusion is that the content of some books are obviously and demonstrably real. Therefore they cannot be by any definition “…philosophy and vain deceit…” or any form of deception.

      Colossians 2:8 fits a lot of “Christian” books, especially falsehoods such as particular brands of creationism and wealth+health doctrines (making a penny from telling people what they want to hear).

      An error that is commonly made is thinking “deception is that which disagrees with what I already believe in” and “truth is that which agrees with what I already believe in”. But some ideas that challenge aspects of common belief can be demonstrated to be true.

      Reply
  3. Angiep

    Jason’s comment, “…one day decide to not believe…” assumes that atheists “decide” to not believe in God. Belief or nonbelief is not a decision; it is a result. Christians have a hard time understanding that we could “turn our back on” the God who makes their life complete. It’s unfortunate that they can’t think for themselves unless and until they can find a way to take some time away from the church environment. When I did that, my thoughts came into crystal-clear focus and everything made sense, easily.

    Reply
  4. Mel Emurian

    My transition from belief to non belief was similar to yours, although my time spent in pastoral ministry was less before the transition began, about 12 years. The trigger for me though was the incongruency between Christian doctrine (especially that of an indwelling Holy Spirit – the Spirit of a God of love) and Christian practice (lack of empathy over doctrine), and how this relates to the fatherhood of God and Christians being his children. Only an abusive father would allow his children to bring harm to their brothers and sisters in his name, and keep silent about it. Yes, the pain I experienced was emotional, but we are emotional as well as intellectual beings. It was this pain that “snapped” me out of evangelical belief. Once that happened, I explored a whole new world though the eyes of many authors through my prolific reading.

    I currently consider myself an agnostic when it comes to epistemology, and an atheist when it comes to belief (I heard Bart Erhman speak of that, and it described my position well). I don’t believe there is a god or some higher power, but I cannot be certain of it, except where the God of the Bible is concerned. I see nor experience any evidence of the existence of that being. I believe when we move away from monotheism, the result tends to be atheism, since we do not naturally believe there is some other god to believe in. I mean, if the one god doesn’t exist, that means there are no gods, right?

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading your blog! All the best!

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thank you for sharing a bit of your story.

      Reply
    2. Richard Barkins

      Mel,

      Do you every write about Christians who did stand by you and show your love?

      Reply
      1. Richard Barkins

        I meant to say, do you ever write about Christians who did stand by you and show you love?

        Reply
        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          There were none. Even before I deconverted, I lost friends and colleagues over what they considered my liberal beliefs. Once I said I no longer believe, all of my friends save two walked away. And the two that remained. They too recently walked away after being warned repeatedly not to associate with Bruce, the enemy of God. I still have a glimmer of hope that this last friendship might be saved.

          I’ve learned that my friendships were conditioned on fidelity to certain beliefs. This was the glue that held our relationships together. So, for the past eight years I’ve had to make new friends. Most are internet friends, but I find they are quite tolerant, giving me wide latitude to authentically live my life. My only regret is that I have few friends that live near me. It’d be nice to be able to go out to eat with likeminded friends. I have met in person several of my internet friends. I have found these meetings to be quite encouraging.

          The good news is that my best friend, my wife, is still close by my side. With six grown children and ten grandchildren, I am quite blessed and it is family who motivate me to put physical disability and unrelenting pain aside and get up in the morning. If I never had another friend, I can say I’ve been blessed beyond measure with wonderful family.

          Reply
          1. Clyde

            I’m glad you have your family. I am in the process of deconversion at age 35 (really, the process is over, I just have to tie up loose ends). So far everyone that has found out has abandoned me except my wife, but she is still a firm believer. It is really painful. I’m not a pastor, but I am “in the ministry” and am paid by a Christian parachurch organization. Soon I will have no job, no meaningful/widely accepted education, and no friends. Hopefully I won’t loose my family too.

          2. Andy Miller

            Sorry you never deconverted: You were never converted!

          3. Zoe

            Andy Miller wrote: “Sorry you never deconverted: You were never converted!”

            Zoe responds: Oh wow. Really? Like Bruce hasn’t heard that a kazillion times. So original.

          4. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            Andy first came to this site via a search for info on serial adulterer David Hyles. He based his spiritual judgment of me on his reading of two posts (beside the post about Hyles). So neat and tidy, yes?

            Andy is also eloquently commenting on my Facebook page. I have challenged him to read a couple of Bart Ehrman’s books. I hope he will do so, but I doubt he will. According to Andy, unsaved folks like us are ignorant and blind.

        2. Mel Emurian

          I don’t because there really aren’t any examples. When I first deconverted, a couple of my seminary buddies came to see me and were non-judgmental, but they disappeared quickly after that. That would be the closest any evangelical has come to showing me love. My experience in evangelical Christianity is that doctrine trumps everything else, including human compassion and empathy. I didn’t really expect that to change when I deconverted.

          Reply
  5. Crystal Evans

    What caused me to move away from Christianity is that life was black and white. If the Bible says that something is right or wrong then it is so. I learned that life has shades of gray in between the lines and that how can one expect to find answers for today’s issues such as homosexuality and abortion in a 2000 year old book?

    Reply
    1. Christine

      Considering evolution was what started my deconversion. But what you say about life having shades of grey has pushed my deconversion along too. Things like homosexuality and abortion and also a friend’s partner coming out as transgender made me wonder about God. Why would God let people be created as homosexual or trans and watch the anguish this causes when they are told this is wrong and they have to suppress it? Would a loving God be so cruel as to let a woman not only be raped but to maybe even get pregnant and be expected to carry the child? And other such questions like this made me wonder.

      Reply
      1. MWH

        Only the notion of God having lived through human suffering himself could allow anyone to make sense of a world of death and suffering. (Or “the most progress in that fool’s errand”, if you like to call it that.) I trust that God has led by example, even if others do not.

        Reply
        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          Actually, it is the opposite. You are viewing death and suffering through the lens of original sin. For those of us who reject the religious concept of sin, death and suffering is evidence for there not being a God–especially the supposedly loving, kind, just, compassionate God of the Bible. A God with these moral qualities would not ignore death and suffering. You might appeal to the notion of original sin and human depravity, but then you are left with a God who allows (and ignores) non-human animal suffering and death. Since these animals are incapable of sinning, why does God ignore their suffering and death? Surely it is within his power to do otherwise? And please, do not appeal to “God’s ways are not our ways.” Surely we should expect God to be at least as moral as humans, yet, based on what is in the Bible, humans are morally superior to God. Which is, by the way, a good thing. Imagine a world filled with people who patterned their lives after the God of the Bible.

          Reply
          1. MWH

            Say what you will about God. As for me, I try to treat others as I wish to be treated — supporting what will protect the poor — and supporting the freedom of anyone who is not an immediate and definite threat to someone else’s rights.

          2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            Christians says that the Bible is divine revelation, that it reveals to us God. My opinion of God, then, is based on what is revealed in the Bible. Do you have any other objective method by which to judge your God?

          3. MWH

            I read the same book and draw a different conclusion. You may write me off as a “liberal theologian” (though I do not identify as this), but I do not need to defend my decisions against those who have finalized theirs.

          4. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            So, there is no objective facts/evidence/truth that can be found in the Bible? If you say there are objective facts/evidence/truth found in the Bible, then the issues are we are discussing are not matters of opinion.

            As far as “defending” your decisions is concerned, you do realize you are commenting in the discussion section of an atheist’s blog? If you are going to posit that the Christian God exists and make arguments for this claim, then you are obligated to defend your claims. Or, stop commenting. Your comments have not said anything that has not been said on this blog countless times before. For true Christian liberals (who are, for the most part, universalists or pluralists) the fact that we are atheists, agnostics, humanists, or pagans wouldn’t matter. Each to their own, right? However, if you believe that humans are sinners in need of saving, and that after death the saved go to heaven and the lost go to hell, well, that’s not liberalism, it’s Evangelicalism. Many Christians are social liberals and theological Evangelicals. Perhaps you can share your view of sin, salvation, and the final destiny of the human race?

          5. MWH

            A modern sense of human rights is surprisingly modern. And the center for its development is in places with historically a strong Christian heritage. It did not come from China, India, or the the Muslim world.

            If you think egalitarianism violates the teachings of Christ, go on ahead. But I hypothesize that a fading away of Christianity will end with reversion toward pre-Christian ways — the opposite of “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant”.

            “They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ “

          6. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            I agree with you about human rights. However, you have a blinkered view of the effect Christianity and the Bible have had on civilization. You want to claim the “good” and ignore the “bad.” Take, for example, the history of Christian Spain, Italy, and England. Their histories are filled with war, violence, slavery, and death. The same could be said for Christian America, Mexico, and even Canada. All of these countries did good things, but to ignore their bloody, violent, warring histories — often in the name of God — is to present a skewed view of Western civilization. Trace the history of Christianity back to the First Century, and what do you find? Love? Peace? Nirvana? Hardly. I will grant that Christianity has had a good influence on the world, but whether that good influence outweighs the bad is certainly debatable. In my opinion, the bad outweighs the good.

            I will leave it to the practitioners of other religions to defend their gods. The United States is a Christian nation in the sense that the majority of its citizens profess faith in the Christian God. Yet, as the current election aptly illustrates, millions of Christians support and defend political policies that directly contradict the teachings of the Bible. Again, I am hard pressed to see how modern American Christianity is “good” for the world. Perhaps it is time to set Christianity aside and give humanism a try.

            If you are not familiar with the humanist ideal:

            Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

            The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

            This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

            Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

            Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

            Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

            Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

            Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

            Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

            Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

            Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

            Surely, this ideal is every bit as good or superior to the Bible and how Christians interpret its teachings.

          7. MWH

            I understand that atheism does not equal humanism. My point is — I doubt that atheists will normally choose your humanist principles.

          8. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            I suspect I know a few more atheists than you do, and I think I confidently say that most atheists to some degree or the other affirm (practice) the humanistic ideal. Yes, some atheists are strict materialists and nihilists, but they are very much in the minority. Christianity has a similar problem with Calvinism, a growing belief system that believes everything is predetermined.

            I encourage you to visit some of the atheist/humanist/secular student groups in the Houston/Texas area. I think you will find a number of atheists/agnostics who are very much committed to the humanistic ideal (with no thought of a divine payoff after death).

        2. MWH

          We will see how many use their atheism for the betterment of mankind, rather than for things like “Communism” and “Social Darwinism”. I have my hypothesis; you have yours. Thank you for your time.

          Reply
          1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            Atheism does not equal humanism. Atheism is not a moral or an ethical framework. To properly make a judgment you need to compare humanism and Christianity.

            I think this discussion has run its course.

            Bruce

  6. Amy

    Books by skeptics helped me see religious supernatural claims for the sham they are. That was in 1988 and I’m still a work in progress too. Thanks for sharing your story.

    Reply
  7. Pingback: In which I help deconvert someone, and on what works « Why Evolution Is True

  8. Leif

    I recommend “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian

    Reply
    1. Randall

      Boghossian wants to see religion reclassified as a mental illness in the DSM.

      They tried that in the old Soviet Union.

      He is a truly evil man, and truly stupid.

      Reply
      1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

        Here’s what Boghossian actually said:

        “There is perhaps no greater contribution one could make to contain and perhaps even cure faith than removing the exemption that prohibits classifying religious delusions as mental illness. The removal of religious exemptions from the DSM would enable academicians and clinicians to bring considerable resources to bear on the problem of treating faith, as well as on the ethical issues surrounding faith-based interventions. In the long term, once these treatments and this body of research is refined, results could then be used to inform public health policies designed to contain and ultimately eradicate faith.”

        Reply
        1. MWH

          ” ‘ [O]nce these treatments and this body of research is refined, results could then be used to inform public health policies designed to contain and ultimately eradicate faith .’ ”

          Substitute “homosexuality” and these words may sound much scarier to you.

          Reply
          1. Geoff

            A fundamental difference between religious faith and homosexuality is that the former is entirely learned post birth, whilst the latter is genetic. If you want to disagree then please consider; without exception religion is based on cultural background (a very few people change in later life, but that isn’t the point). Homosexuals are the same the world over; there’s no distinction between ‘Muslim homosexuals’ and Christian homosexuals’.

          2. MWH

            The whole notion of ” ‘contain and ultimately eradicate faith’ ” is a rejection of freedom of speech. Anyway, you do know there is such a thing as genetic diseases. For the record, I say anyone who wants hormonal therapy should be allowed to decide for himself.

            Furthermore, it must be a genetic tendency of humans to develop their own concepts of God. Cultural conditioning cannot explain why religious cultures developed in the first place.

          3. Michael Mock

            I’d actually agree with you on this much: I think the general tendency towards religious belief(s) is very much “wired in” for our species, though (as you’d expect) the specific tendency in individuals varies widely. The actual forms of the religious beliefs are, I think, essentially a matter of cultural conditioning.

      2. Brian

        Randall, You apparently hold an ability to classify stupidity. Can I play too? In my opinion assholes like you are the beginning of stupid. Also, using a word like evil around atheists requires some ability to define beyond applying the term. Go ahead, stupid. I believe there is much to gain by looking into the harm done to Christians that allows them to judge others so quickly and harshly and apply excessive terms like ‘evil’. By pointing your finger at the Soviet Union, you do not magically become a truth-teller. I recently listened to Putin explain how he sees the USA heading us into WW3 and you know what, he made many good points. You are perhaps a Christian like Donald Trump is a Christian, on the home team where all else is evil and must be destroyed.
        Regarding religion being classified is the DSM, no… I would suggest that excessive religion/faith would be the way to go. There are many among us who like to believe in God and do not feel a need to impose their wishes on others. They are the healthy ones, I suspect and they take the evangelicals with a grain of salt, believing that as a believer lives their faith, they are fulfilling the need to go preach the gospel. All the rest are definitely headed for the DSM classifications, I trust, and I include you, stupid.

        Reply
  9. Christine

    A very interesting post. A book also started my (not-yet-complete) deconversion – Douglas Adams ‘Salmon of Doubt’ (a posthumously released collection of essays, articles, letters etc). In this book evolution was mentioned and for once it sounded reasonable and I didn’t have my usual reaction of ‘God created the Earth, the Bible is right, evolution is wrong’. More books followed….including some Richard Dawkins and more recently Jerry Coyne’s book. I soon got to the point where I thought if you can’t take the first few pages of the Bible literally then what about the rest of it?

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  10. Simon

    My own Xtian beliefs died at the age of 19, mostly due to what I saw as the childishness and improbability of the scriptures. Atheism came about 20 years later after a bunch of increasingly more ‘sophisticated’ spiritual paths. There are no emotional buttons to push for me, which seems to be a concept alien to the Full Gospel people I know. They keep trying to push me to try their Mighty Men gatherings, as if an emotional experience is going to reveal the Truth to me. They cannot grasp the clarity with which others see the failings in their approach to evidence and the bigotry and intolerance of their leaders, such as Angus Buchan. Many of these people are very well meaning and committed to helping others, which makes it even more disturbing when they quote old testament stories and impose their own positive meanings on them, when those same stories are full of intolerance, genocide and stark injustice on the part of god. The collective punishments, murdering of innocent children and animals, using entire nations as tools to punish Israelites and then having them massacred for it, commanding of people to kill and then punishing them for it. This is not to mention the blatant contradictions. This is not a source of any acceptable kind of morality. Yet these good people (not being sarcastic) cheer and whoop when Gideon and co. hand out the retribution because they are “following god’s plan for them”. Add the obvious human origins and motives of the gospels and there is little chance for an informed atheist to be swayed back to the faith.

    I’ve had Xtians telling me how they too used to be full of hate for Xtianity and all that was good until the Truth hit them. I used to feel quite offended by the assumptions, but now I just feel a little frustration and maybe a little sadness about the tiny worldview.

    If I could add a note of caution for the OP. If you haven’t discovered this already, be wary of the minefield that is movement atheism. Speaking as a ‘member’ myself, there is an element of near religious ‘Social Justice Warrior’ ideology infecting the movement causing much rancour. There is a fair amount of snark and bile aimed at the religious from young people who see themselves as victims of fundamentalism and from the aforementioned ‘Social Justice Warriors’, although the latter aim most of their vitriol at other atheists. Please bear in mind when witnessing some of the treatment dished out to apologists by atheists that they have been dealing with the frustrating obscurantism and ‘sophistication’ of the D.B. Hart and Terry Eagleton types and outright dishonesty of the W.L. Craigs, Bill Dembskis and Casey Luskins for a long time. But at least we can speak out in most countries without being tortured now, which the Fundies rather amusingly regard as persecution of themselves.

    Reply
  11. David

    I heard it said bible principles will work for anybody whether they believe it’s the word of God or not. I guess I don’t exactly believe in the version of the bible God. Ide like to believe me but I never could and I tried believe me on that too. People kill each other every day and take life so seriously over beliefs. God is real and he’s all around us. I can go with that. I can’t go with your special little man made book that promotes a bunch of shit. Hey maybe there’s a God but what about evolution? What about mentally challenged people? Am I right? God made them? And society tells me not to laugh? It’s a mixed up world I don’t believe in any of their bull shit.

    Reply
  12. Duane

    You shoulda had a go at the prosperity gospel, Bruce. There’s some real money to be made there.

    Reply
  13. david

    FWIW.

    “chronic illness and pain” (I realize this isn’t your main thrust, but thought I would mention this)

    Don’t know your situation, but if you have no other reasonable avenues to explore within your current faith/finances, you might wish to review and consider what has been written about fasting and its apparent effects on the bodies handling of cancer [try searching “fasting reset reboot immune system” or similar].

    So far all I’ve found seems to be related to one major research project, and maybe one other minor one, with most of the other stuff seeming to post contradictory versions of what was actually done/necessary. (My distillation came up with fasting for a period of at least 3 days, some repeated number of times, over the course of at least six months, perhaps once a week to once a month. [At least one article reported on some indications that any period less than 3 days (72 hours) at a time was not sufficient to see positive results.])

    That original researcher was planning to pursue possible effects on other diseases as well, so might be worth looking into.

    For a few personally observed reasons, I suspect there is benefit to be had – but I have found it hard to fast at that level.

    Sorry if this is too “aside”, but didn’t quickly see any other reasonable avenue to mention this.

    Reply
  14. Jim

    I fully understand where you’re (Bruce) coming from. I too pastored a church for a short while in the 70’s but decided the ministry wasn’t for me. I’m now at the point where I’m disgruntled with ‘Christianity’ and no longer call myself a ‘Christian’ because it associates me with so many people and organizations that I dislike. I call myself a ‘believer’ instead.

    I could tell you horror stories about some of the experiences I’ve had with Church and esp. with pastors. Recently, I found out that my cousin who I haven’t seen in 25 years pastors an AOG Church a few towns over from me in NH. I conversed with him once on the phone, and a few times by email and gave up. He had absolutely NOTHING good to say about me but criticized me for several things.

    I’m also very TEED off by Christians these days. Most of them have no clue how to interpret the bible using a sensible hermeneutic, yet they even go to the extreme of questioning your salvation if you disagree with them.

    The Church is a mess today. It’s stagnant and NOT growing but LOSING ground in America and Europe. Why? I say it’s because Christians can’t agree on anything and even pass judgment and condemn others who disagree with them. Christians love to discredit other Christians. They insinuate they have the truth and I don’t so it makes them feel spiritually or doctrinally ‘superior’ to others. I’m sick of Christians and wonder why I haven’t given up on God yet!

    I go to the Baptist church ‘down’ the road, all I hear is Catholic and JW bashing. I go to the Baptist Chruch ‘up’ the road, all I hear is Mormon and SDA bashing. I go to the Baptist Church in another town, all I hear is the bashing of Pentecostals, Mormons, JW’S, SDA’s, and Billy Graham. I go to a Pentecostal Church ‘up’ the road, and all I hear is pre-trib and how to speak in tongues, and they have several ‘offerings’ in one service. So I don’t take people to Church with me any more because I’m tired of apologizing for God’s people. God’s people are stupid.

    Probably the question I’m asked MOST while witnessing is, “How do I know which Church is right or which one is true?”

    People on the outside looking in view Christians as a bunch of hypocrites who can’t agree on anything. They see Christians as a divided people who have nothing good to say about others in the faith. Why I’m still hanging on…I don’t know.

    Reply
  15. Kim

    Hi Bruce,

    I wanted to drop a quick note and just say that I think you are very brave. It’s not easy going against the grain and I cannot imagine what it must have been like for you to do so as a minister. There is more I want to say but I don’t have the time at the moment.

    I’m going through my own journey now. It’s tough and it’s scary. We are born trusting our parents implicitly. It’s amazing how much power their words have and continue to have through our lives. Again, it takes a very brave person to ask questions and challenge that authority especially when that authority has told us that their words come from God in relation to the bible, qur’an etc… I’ll be checking out the books you’ve listed as well as sharing my own story in future. Thanks for creating this blog. I find it encouraging.

    Kim

    Reply
  16. Nate

    Bruce,

    I saw that you read Merton. Did you consider Roman Catholicism?

    I was in a somewhat similar boat. I left an evangelical church because I didn’t think that “Sola Fide”, salvation by faith alone, made much sense in light of the gospels. I sought out various churches like you did, and shopped around for a while and eventually became Catholic. And like you, because of books.

    I think you are articulating in “Why I Hate Jesus” on Patheos that you have qualms with the straw man that Christian fundamentalism says is Jesus and God. That is not the God that I worship, nor do I believe that to be the God that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches have been sharing for the past 2000 and 1000 years, respectively.

    Being an engineer myself, I couldn’t refute evolution, the big bang, or the natural inclination that is homosexuality. Fortunately, being Catholic does not mean having to compartmentalize faith and reason, and I found myself liberated to read Scientific American without getting uneasy about whether or not we lived on a “Young Earth”.

    A few points though. The Catholic Church is far from anti-science, in fact a Roman Catholic priest/astronomer originated the idea of the big bang. Gregor Mendel, the father of genetic theory, was a Catholic Friar. Being Catholic does not force one into American conservatism. Pope Francis has been clear about the danger of unbridled Capistalism. Lastly, I think that the Catholic Church can trace its roots to the early Christian communities which were close to the source of the Historical Jesus. I recommend the book “The Mass of the Early Christians” by Mike Aquilina. Sorry, I know you tried to hedge against book recommendations in the article.

    Peace,
    Nate

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Nate,

      I valued Merton’s view of war and peace, not his Catholicism (not that he was an orthodox Catholic at the time of his death, he wasn’t). We visited Catholic churches a few times, an Orthodox church too. The Orthodox church was every bit as Fundamentalist as the Baptists, as is the case with some Catholic churches here in rural NW Ohio. Catholicism is not a homogeneous group. Catholics can be every bit as Fundamentalists as Evangelicals on certain issues(i.e. abortion, birth control,homosexuality, same-sex marriage, women in the priesthood). I view Catholicism as just another flavor of Christianity. While it has a long history….that history does little to present a Christianity worth believing. Forced conversions, mass exterminations, the Inquisitions, and the raging sex scandals are good examples of why, from a moral perspective, I could never be a Catholic. Add to this the Church’s hoarding of wealth while millions of people are starving…well…I am sure you get my point.

      I am glad that Catholicism officially endorses science and evolution (though that has not always been the case). At the parishioners level, however, there are many people who, once again, who are as Fundamentalist about creation as Ken Ham. The church may speak for God, but it seems that many Catholics aren’t listening.

      I think Pope Francis has been somewhat of a breath of fresh air. However, for the most part, all we have seen and heard are homilies. True change requires action.

      Thank you for commenting.

      Bruce

      Reply
  17. Cindy

    I was never in ministry, but I’ve recently deconverted after years of belief. I had doubts sprinkled throughout those years. It was mostly the bible itself that caused me to finally give up any idea of belief. I couldn’t rationalize god asking Abraham to sacrifice his son anymore. I couldn’t rationalize the killing of the first born sons anymore. And so on and so on.

    There are too many atrocious things and too many contradictions to keep believing.

    Reply
  18. Jack

    Bruce, let me tell you my reasons for giving up Christianity, but not God. I am a deist now. I cannot accept there is no higher power because the odds of a human body assembling itself starting with a single atom are so infinitesimal as to be non-existent. But what forced me to give up Christianity was the logic that if Jesus was really truly divine and did actually die for our sins, then God would have seen to it that the evidence for Jesus’ earthly life was so conclusive, so incontrovertible and well-established that there’d be no way on earth anyone except a total madman could dare refute it. Every historian of the day would have mentioned him; none have. Every gospel would be in its original manuscript, notarized, authenticated and carefully preserved; none are. The tomb would be a preserved holy site with blood stains crusted on the rock Jesus laid on; it isn’t. The celestial events that accompanied his birth and death would be easily verifiable by astronomers today; they are not. Instead we don’t have a single shred of credible evidence for Jesus. Does that sound like a God who wants His son’s earthly ministry to be unassailable? So if God couldn’t care enough to preserve the evidence why should I?

    Reply
    1. MWH

      The Bible indicates that those who do not want to have faith will not be swayed by any amount of evidence. In Christ’s day, according to the Bible, the evidence was “so conclusive, so incontrovertible and well-established that there’d be no way on earth anyone except a total madman could dare refute it”. But it didn’t stop him from getting hung on the cross.

      God being able to relate to us as both a father (the Father) and a brother (the Son) makes the world feel complete to me. The thought of God having walked in our shoes makes me feel that none of my troubles are truly meaningless. As far as I can see, it is not a question of intelligence or knowledge. It really is a question of what people are willing to believe.

      Reply
      1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

        According to the Bible faith is believing without seeing (Hebrews 11). As a skeptic and a rationalist, I refuse to believe without seeing at least a modicum of evidence for the claims you and other Christians make for God, Jesus, the Bible and a host of other unsupportable, unverifiable, and irrational claims.

        Christians demand evidence for everything but their religion. They ask other religions to “prove” their claims. Why don’t Christians accept the claims of other religions by faith? Wouldn’t that be the prudent thing to do — covering all the bases? If I said to you that I am the reincarnation of Charles Spurgeon, would you take my word for it? Would it be reasonable for me to ask you to “believe” without proof of my claim? Of course not, yet you demand non-Christians do that which you aren’t willing to do.

        Surely it would be better for the world if your God provided sufficient evidence that would lead rational people to believe in him. Instead, your God hides, making it impossible for those not raised in Christian countries/families (The primary factors for why people are a particular religion) to “believe.” A few miracles would be nice too, say feeding, healing starving/sick children.

        I know you will likely quote the Bible in response to my questions. If you do so, please be prepared to provide evidence for why anyone should accept the Bible as some sort of authoritative text and why we should accept it over other religious texts? Please avoid using circular reasoning that asserts that the Bible is true because the Bible says it is true.

        Reply
        1. MWH

          Don’t worry. You have already said the Biblical God is too abominable for you to worship, even if you were convinced of his existence. But you have wonderfully demonstrated that one who repudiates his faith is never going to get it back.

          Reply
          1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            Glad I could help.

      2. Michael Mock

        “The Bible indicates that those who do not want to have faith will not be swayed by any amount of evidence.”

        You know, this sort of comment would be a lot more convincing if the people who say things like this would actually present me with evidence. God exists? God is active in the world? Show me. Introduce me to him.

        Reply
        1. MWH

          If God is not someone you want to trust, then I wouldn’t want to convince you of his existence. I think we would both regret that.

          Reply
          1. Michael Mock

            That rather misses the point.

            I don’t think God actually exists. I don’t think there’s any such being. The question of trust is irrelevant.

            Secondarily, that isn’t how trust works. I have never yet met a person that I “wanted” to trust, or that I “wanted” to distrust. You interact with people, and based on your observations of their behavior, you either conclude that they’re trustworthy, or you don’t (or, most frequently, you conclude that they’re trustworthy within certain bounds).

            Unless, of course, what you’re talking about isn’t actually trust. If what you’re talking about is more along the lines of “being willing to swear unwavering allegiance to”, then your comment makes more sense. But in that case, it still doesn’t matter; I did swear such allegiance, decades ago. Then, some time after that, I came to conclude that the thing I’d sworn allegiance to didn’t exist.

      3. sgl

        re: “In Christ’s day, according to the Bible, the evidence was “so conclusive, so incontrovertible and well-established that there’d be no way on earth anyone except a total madman could dare refute it””

        really? seems doubting thomas, with jesus standing right in front of him, doubted it. doesn’t seem that “incontrovertible” to me. and other disciples didn’t even recognize jesus. not to mention according to one of the gospels, lots of saints were also resurrected at the same time as jesus. and yet, the entire city of Jerusalem didn’t convert to christianity right away?

        so the disciples, spending 1-3 years with jesus, and seeing him in the flesh, still doubted, and i’m given far far less evidence, and i’m going to burn in hell for not believing?

        sorry, but i don’t think your claim of “conclusive” is remotely realistic.

        Reply
        1. MWH

          Most of the Israelites despised what Jesus stood for. They wanted a military messiah, not one who preaches compassion. Faith is not simply acknowledging God’s existence. To believe is to trust.

          Reply
          1. Jack

            You know, MW, reading your comments shows you are yet another “blind as a bat” Christian who has all the empty conventional convenient Christian responses lined up to fire back at doubters yet you have absolutely no discernment about weighing what you say. You merely regurgitate things out of a “play book–100 Best Christian Responses to Those Who Disagree With You.” Jesus never wrote a word. The apostles never wrote a word. Nothing about Christ got written within his lifetime and for 20 years after his death. The gospels don’t come along until 40-70 years after his death and they are written by biased church leaders pushing a religion. The first complete copies of any NT manuscripts don’t surface until 300 years after Christ’s death. The whole business is quilt of misshapen beliefs with absolutely no foundational support. But these truths you cannot accept and so you paper over them with this utter rot you peddle which is only your tainted version of how things are. You wouldn’t know truth if it slapped you in the face.

          2. Jack

            You know, MW, reading your comments shows you are yet another “blind as a bat” Christian who has all the empty conventional convenient Christian responses lined up to fire back at doubters yet you have absolutely no discernment about weighing what you say. You merely regurgitate things out of a play book–“100 Best Christian Responses to Those Who Disagree With You.” Jesus never wrote a word. The apostles never wrote a word. Nothing about Christ got written within his lifetime and for 20 years after his death. The gospels don’t come along until 40-70 years after his death and they are written by biased church leaders pushing a religion. The first complete copies of any NT manuscripts don’t surface until 300 years after Christ’s death. The whole business is quilt of misshapen beliefs with absolutely no foundational support. But these truths you cannot accept and so you paper over them with this utter rot you peddle which is only your tainted version of how things are. You wouldn’t know truth if it slapped you in the face.

          3. MWH

            Jack, you should know that archaeology is a game of piecing together the pieces of an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. You should be asking yourself — why isn’t Christ little more than a footnote in history? Unlike Mohammed, he did not have the power of the sword. On the contrary, early Christians spread with the sword against them.

            A Jew crucified by both Jews and Romans — winning over many in the Roman Empire — sounds like a miracle in its own right. For early Christians, their enemies included the Jews, the Romans, members of their own families, and the general public.

          4. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            The Bible states in the book of Acts that the number of Jesus’ followers immediately following his death numbered around 120. In fact, during his mystery miracle working tour, some of his own family members wanted him to take his show elsewhere. It took an act of the State in the fourth century to legitimize Christianity, and it is this act that caused Christianity to grow.

  19. theologyarchaeology

    So you disobeyed God and listened to unbelievers. It is no wonder and no surprise why you deconverted

    Reply
    1. MWH

      This remark begs the question of whether Christianity can withstand scrutiny. A religion that can sustain itself only by refusing to ask questions is a religion with nothing to distinguish it from the others. In fact, you may find that the Koran is more heavy handed with the “hell” card.

      Reply
      1. Michael Mock

        MWH, I don’t believe we will ever agree on religion, God, and suchlike, but I have to say that I’m rather enjoying your approach to your faith.

        Reply
        1. MWH

          In turn, I admire how humanist principles often challenge social Darwinism and other pseudo-scientific ways people like to rationalize selfishness. Here is an article on the harmony in nature and its importance for human health: http://wiki.p2pfoundation.net/How_Nature_Avoids_Competition_and_Chooses_Cooperation .

          Reply
  20. Michael Mock

    MWH, in regard to your earlier comment about the growth of early Christianity, I would point out that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has grown remarkably despite ridicule and active persecution. That’s not to say that their situation is identical to that of the early Christians, of course; but I think it’s comparable enough that I’d be wary of using that alone as evidence of any sort of divine intervention. (And, actually, much the same can be said of the “They wouldn’t have died for their beliefs unless their beliefs were true” argument as well.)

    Sorry for replying way down here, but with the replies-to-replies-to-replies, I couldn’t figure out how to squeeze it in up above.

    Reply
    1. MWH

      I understand that moral courage is not unique to any particular religion. On the other hand, Joseph Smith had a militant streak not seen in Christ or his disciples. For example, Wikipedia says the following:

      “Tension increased until July 1833, when non-Mormons forcibly evicted the Mormons and destroyed their property. Smith advised them to bear the violence patiently until they were attacked a fourth time, after which they could fight back.”

      “…By this time, Smith’s experiences with mob violence led him to believe that his faith’s survival required greater militancy against anti-Mormons.”

      Finally, Mormonism does not seem like the radical break from American culture that Christianity was from pagan Roman culture. In all, the growth of Mormonism lives in the shadow of the trail blazed by Christianity.

      Thank you for challenging me to keep strengthening my talking points.

      Reply

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