Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist

god made me an atheist

The Bible gives some pretty good advice about counting the cost in Luke 14:28-30:

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.

Who starts a building project without first counting the cost? The key phrase here is counting the cost. Every choice we make has a consequence. I think a loose definition of Newton’s Law of motion applies here: every action causes a reaction.  Foolish is the person who does not consider the consequences of saying for the first time to family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, I AM AN ATHEIST.

When I left Christianity and the ministry, my wife came along with me. Polly was a few steps behind, but close enough that we could hold hands. We spent many hours reading books and having long discussions about the past, the Bible, and Christianity in general. Bart Ehrman was nightly pillow talk for many months. When we finally came to the place where we said to one another “we are no longer Christians”, we knew that telling our family, friends, and acquaintances would cause a huge uproar. What should we do?

Polly decided to take the quiet approach, keeping her thoughts to herself. When asked she would answer and try to explain, but if people didn’t ask she felt no obligation to out herself. She still operates by that principle. There are people she works with who likely think she still goes to church on Sunday and  is a fine Christian woman. Just last week, a woman Polly has worked with for 15 years asked her if she was going to church on Easter. Polly replied, no. Her co-worker then asked, so do you go to church? Polly replied, no. And that was that. I am sure the gossip grapevine is buzzing. Did you know Polly doesn’t go to church? Why her husband is a pastor! And they don’t go to church? Never mind that the woman asking the questions hasn’t been to church in 8 years. She stays home, watches “Christian” TV, and sends money to the TV preachers she likes.

I took the nuclear approach. I wrote an open letter to my friends, family, and former parishioners. This was totally in character for me. I am an all in kind of guy. In Dear Family, Friends and Former Parishioners, I wrote:

I have come to a place in life where I can no longer put off writing this letter. I have dreaded this day because I know what is likely to follow after certain people receive it. I have decided I can’t control how others will react to this letter, so it is far more important to clear the air and make sure everyone knows the facts about Bruce Gerencser.

I won’t bore you with a long, drawn out history of my life. I am sure each of you have an opinion about how I have lived my life and the decisions I have made. I also have an opinion about how I have lived my life and and decisions I have made. I am my own worst critic.

Religion, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life, from my youth up. My being is so intertwined with religion that the two are quite inseparable. My life has been shaped and molded by religion and religion touches virtually ever fiber of my being.

I have spent most of my adult life pastoring Churches, preaching, and being involved in religious work to some degree or another. I have pastored thousands of people over the years, preached thousands of sermons, and participated in, and led, thousands of worship services.

To say that the Church was my life would be an understatement.  As I have come to see, the Church was actually my mistress and my adulterous affair with her was at the expense of my wife, children, and my own self-worth.

Today, I am publicly announcing that the affair is over. My wife and children have known for a long time that the affair was over, but now everyone will know.

The Church robbed me of so much of my life and I have no intention of allowing her to have one more moment of my time. Life is too short. I am dying. We all are. I don’t want to waste what is left of my life chasing after things I now see to be vain and empty.

I have always been known as a reader, a student of the Bible. I have read thousands of books in my lifetime and the knowledge gained from my reading and studies have led me to some conclusions about religion, particularly the Fundamentalist, Evangelical religion that played such a prominent part in my life.

I can no longer wholeheartedly embrace the doctrines of the Evangelical, Fundamentalist faith. I do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture nor do I accept as fact the common Evangelical belief of the inspiration of Scripture.

Coming to this conclusion has forced me to reevaluate many of the doctrines I have held as true over these many years. I have concluded that I have been misinformed, poorly taught, and sometimes lied to. I can no longer accept as true many of the doctrines  I once believed.

I point the finger of blame at no one. I sincerely believed and taught the things that I did and many of the men who taught me were honorable teachers. I don’t blame those who have influenced me over the years, nor do  I blame the authors of the many books I have read. Simply, it is what it is…

The backlash from my letter was immediate and severe. Keep in mind I was not yet an atheist. All I said was that I could no longer embrace the teachings of Christianity. I was agnostic when it came to God question. I still had lots of doubts and questions.

The reaction of my family and Polly’s family was the hardest to bear. For the most part they said nothing. To this day, some family members, including Polly’s parents,  have not said one word to us about our defection from Christianity. It’s like there’s a huge elephant in the room that no one can see but us. Six plus years of silence.

My friends and fellow pastors took to writing me letters, sending me emails, visiting me, preaching about me, and having prayer meetings focused on praying me back into the fold. The level of nastiness and judgmentalism was overwhelming. During this time, a long-time friend and parishioner turned pastor came to see me. I wrote about his visit in A Letter to a Friend. In the letter I wrote:

You got my letter.

I am certain that my letter troubled you and caused you to wonder what in the world was going on with Bruce.

You have been my friend since 1983. When I met you for the first time I was a young man pastoring a new Church in Somerset, Ohio. I remember you and your dear wife vividly because you put a 100.00 bill in the offering plate. Up to that point we had never seen a 100.00 bill in the offering plate.

And so our friendship began. You helped us buy our first Church bus (third picture below). You helped us buy our Church building (second picture below). In later years you gave my wife and I a generous gift to buy a mobile home. It was old, but we were grateful to have our own place to live in. You were a good friend.

Yet, our common bond was the Christianity we both held dear. I doubt you would have done any of the above for the local Methodist minister, whom we both thought was an apostate.

I baptized you and was privileged to be your pastor on and off over my 11 years in Somerset. You left several times because our doctrinal beliefs conflicted, you being an Arminian and I being a Calvinist.

One day you came to place where you believed God was leading you to abandon your life work, farming, and enter the ministry. I was thrilled for you. I also said to myself, “now Bill can really  see what the ministry is all about!”

So you entered the ministry and you are now a pastor of a thriving fundamentalist Church. I am quite glad you found your place in life and are endeavoring to do what you believe is right. Of course, I would think the same of you if you were still farming.

You have often told me that much of what you know about the ministry I taught you. I suppose, to some degree or another, I must take credit for what you have become. (whether I view it as good or bad)

Yesterday, you got into your Lincoln and drove three plus hours to see me. I wish you had called first. I had made up my mind to make up some excuse why I couldn’t see you, but since you came unannounced I had  no other option but to open and the door and warmly welcome you. Just like always…

I have never wanted to hurt you or cause you to lose your faith. I would rather you not know the truth about me than to hurt you in any way.

But your visit forced the issue. I had no choice.

Why did you come to my home? I know you came as my friend, but it seemed by the time our three-hour discussion ended our friendship had died and I was someone you needed to pray for, that I might be saved. After all, in your Arminian theology there can be no question that a person with beliefs such as mine has fallen from grace…

During the first few months after my initial letter, I heard from Laura Hardman, the wife of Evangelist Don Hardman. She bared her fangs and let me know that it was quite evident that I NEVER was a Christian.

About two years after the  Dear  Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners letter I wrote:

Almost two years ago I sent my friends, family and former parishioners a letter concerning my decision to deconvert from Christianity. I wish I could say my letter was well received.  I wish I could say that people told me they supported my decision. I wish I could say I have been treated in a kind and respectful manner.

But I can’t.

A longtime friend of mine, Bill Beard, pastor of Lighthouse Memorial Church, drove over three hours to my home to talk (argue) with me about my deconversion. He and I had been friends for over 25 years.

Laura Hardman, wife of Evangelist Don Hardman, wrote me a scathing letter telling me that I never was a real Christian, I had been friends with the Hardmans for over 20 years.I wrote them back and I have not head from them since.

Friends of mine for over 40 years, missionaries with Child Evangelism Fellowship, wrote to me and told me I was under the influence of Satan. They sent me literature to read. I returned it with a letter of my own. They never wrote back.

I stumbled upon a forum discussion about me. They were discussing what to do about Bruce.

I have received numerous emails from former parishioners telling me of the errors of my ways.  Some of them are deeply troubled about how this could happen.  How could their pastor now be an agnostic who doesn’t believe in the Bible or God?

A few former parishioners took it upon themselves to tell me their conclusions about me. Many of them mentioned my reading habits. They told me I read too many books and they suggested I just read the Bible.

Two former parishioners wrote to tell me that though they disagreed with me, they loved me and were my friend. I really appreciated their love and friendship.

I hear bits and pieces of the gossip about me that is floating around Bryan and Defiance. People questioning whether or not  I was ever a Christian. Some raise issues about my mental stability. One thing they never do? Talk to me personally.

My adult children have to field questions at work about their apostate father. Once again, the questioners never talk to me personally.

It is not much better on the family front.

Silence is how family has decided to deal with me. It’s like I never wrote the letter about deconverting from Christianity. Behind the scenes there is a lot of gossip about me and what to do about the Bruce matter. Last Christmas, the patriarch of the family, a pastor of 40 plus years, was intent on confronting me about my apostasy. I am grateful my mother-in-law quashed his plan to confront me. It would have been ugly.  I mean ugly, ugly.

My wife decided that we could no longer do Christmas at her parent’s home. The stress and undercurrent are such that it is impossible to “enjoy” time with the family during the Christmas holiday. (we do go to visit when the extended family is not there)

I wish I could tell you that I came through all of this unscathed, but I can’t. I decided to seek out a counselor two years ago. I knew I needed to talk to someone about the pain and deep wound I was carrying as a result of my defection from Christianity. I still see a counselor every few weeks. His work with me has been extremely helpful and has enabled me to move forward and away from the past. The scars remain. The viciousness of people who say they are followers of the man who said turn the other cheek and love your enemy has scarred me. Every time a fundamentalist spews his bile on this blog I am reminded of the deep wound I carry. I am also reminded that I am glad to be free from such an ugly, vile, and vicious belief system and way of life.

So how are things now?

Some family members are still silent. Perhaps they will never ask, inquire, or attempt to engage me in a discussion. I think some people are intimidated by me, so they avoid the elephant in the room. Others fear I might cause them to doubt or lose their faith, so they avoid all contact with me. I have come to accept this. I wish they would talk to me, but I know I can’t force the issue and I leave it alone.

All but two of Christian friends have abandoned me. I don’t blame them. I have come to see that our friendship was held together by fidelity to certain beliefs. Remove the beliefs and the friendship dissolves. If I came back to the Christian faith, I would instantly have dozen of friends. I would be lauded as the Preacher reclaimed From the Devil’s Clutches. Hmm…there is money to be made…

If I had to do it all over again would I do it the same way? Would I write THE letter? Probably. My experiences have given me knowledge that is helpful to people who contact me about their own doubts about Christianity. I am often asked, what should I do? Should I tell my spouse?Should I tell my family, friends, or coworkers?

My standard advice is this: Count the cost. Weigh carefully the consequences. Once you utter or write the words I AM AN ATHEIST you are no longer in control of what happens next.  Are you willing to lose your friends, destroy your marriage, or lose your job? Only you can decide what cost you are willing to pay.

I know there is this notion “Dammit I should be able to freely declare what I am” and I agree with the sentiment. We should be able to freely be who and what we are. If we lived on a deserted island I suppose we could do so. However, we are surrounded by people. People we love. People we want and need in our life. Because of this, it behooves (Shout out to the KJV)  us to tread carefully.

I hope some of you will find this post helpful. My deepest desire is to help you on your journey. I am hoping that my walking before you can be of help to you as you decide how best to deal with and embrace your loss of faith.

This blog is here to remind those struggling with leaving Christianity or who have already left Christianity, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

print

Subscribe to the Daily Post Digest!

Sign up now and receive an email every day containing the new posts for that day.

I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Powered by Optin Forms

24 Comments

  1. Drew Costen

    The nice thing about living in a big city like Toronto is that nobody cares what you believe. I could believe in fairies and nobody would raise an eyebrow or care at all as long as I didn’t try to convert them to my religion.

    Reply
  2. Steve

    And, I’m so glad it is here

    Reply
  3. Brtian

    What a heartfelt, open expression. I am very sorry you have lost so many ‘friends’ but you know how that goes: The fire of life burns away the imperfections and the true metal is around afterwards. I have a few good friends myself but have been given the silent treatment too by the holy blood family. What is a blessing to me (and I claim the word as an atheist) is that people remain themselves! They reveal who they always were, only I was blinded by my denial. After I left belief, it all came out. Nothing bad could happen to me without some good Christian making a reference to my choice against the church. Christianity is bunk and is a safe harbor for denial. Denial is rampant in modern life. We deny our children basic freedom when we decide what path they should walk. We have the gall to tell them to wear coats as children as if they were not able to know when they are cold and need to seek warm covers. We tell them this is true and that is false because we do not know ourselves and so cannot freely allow them choice on their own. Some parentals act on their children’s behalf because if they did not, what might the neighbors say??? I have read of poor Christian slave women who feel such guilt when their child has a food spot on a shirt or a hole in the knee of his pants! They feel they have failed God because the patriarchal system has so fucked them up, that they cannot allow their children to be free. Does the spot bother the child? Is the hole in the pants going to injure the child? But they have not sacrificed enough to the lord and master of bullshit. And most likely, their husband hardly has a clue of these things because he is busy having his own conundrums with the church and God. A Christian marriage is true divorce; Two decide to serve another together and thereby fail their marriage. They become obsessed with God-approval or pastor-love and they look away from their union in love, in simple human love. They leave their union to become divorced in Christ. The bitterness that follows is well denied and well released when a an approved target appears. Bruce G. was never truly saved and finally the Lord removed him into Atheism Satan worship. My dear mother who is on her last legs now was telling me about my younger brother having to help out one of his sons who had a Subway franchise and had to sell it as he was going under. Well, he is not a Christian, you know,” she said. What the living fucking hell does that even mean? Christianity is so smarmy in public and so fucking vicious in private. the paradigm itself is flawed because the big guy has to kill off his own son to save Bruce G. The story degrades from there. My older brother says that he would be in prison if it was not for Christ. I disagree with him, He would be in the asylum. Only in religious belief can you spout the most horrific, hateful things and do it from a pulpit, if you please. Well, I love those homos, every one of them but you know that God with finally have to deal with them. It is not my decision, no, no, but Gods and the bible says: WHATEVER THE FUCK I WANT…
    -a Baptist minister’s son

    Reply
  4. Becky Wiren

    Well Bruce, when I started reading your blogs I had no idea that my beliefs would even change. I think I was still mentally holding onto the Christianity label while knowing that I didn’t believe people needed salvation. So reading your blogs led me to read enough to be certain that that Bible is man-made. Now, that doesn’t deeply bother me, as I think of the books of the Bible as man reaching out to God. Of course, the fact I believe that distinguishes me from my Christian friends.

    Anyway, I’m still a theist (for now). But basically, you’ve been a better minister to me than all the pastors I ever had. Thanks. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Byroniac

      That is such an awesome comment. Wait, what am I thinking? Becky, stay away! This place is evil. EVIL, I tell you. Your soul will be sucked out with a straw and a burp is the only afterlife you will have! STAY AWAY!

      Reply
      1. Becky Wiren

        Too late……!!!

        Reply
  5. Jerri

    I’m living a lie. It eats at me. And I know that practically all the people I work (at a church) with, who claim to love me dearly, would no longer do so if they knew my true thoughts about God. Sucks.

    Reply
    1. Becky Wiren

      I feel for you Jerri. 🙁

      Reply
    2. Byroniac

      Yeah, I feel for you, too, Jerri. Like Bruce Gerencser posted about, you can either go with the nuclear option like he did, or try the quiet approach (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?) like his wife did and still does, apparently. I went for the nuclear option, partly because I thought I could stun my detractors with superior reasoning (based on superior evidence). Well, all I got for my efforts was a social barren wasteland that I still struggle with, and a realization that my hindsight is a whole lot better than my foresight. If I had it to do over again, especially if I could time travel, I would go back and yell at myself to take the quiet approach, but knowing me, I would still have done it the same way anyway. Think carefully about how you want to handle it, and do not condemn yourself for choosing either way. I suppose each choice has its rewards, but each choice definitely has its drawbacks, too. And you are the only one who can choose for you, and you will have to live with whatever choice you make. Perhaps you can find peace in the shadows, or perhaps you just are one of those kinds of people who cannot find satisfaction unless you drag everything out into the open and say, “Here it is. Deal with it!” If I can help you or give you encouragement, let me know. Just take anything I tell you with a grain of salt. Maybe you should ask me what NOT to do, LOL.

      Reply
    3. Monty

      Jerri, I’ve been those exact shoes. It ate at me until I not only quit working for the church but quit church all together. Hang in there!!

      Reply
  6. David

    Bruce, I think that many of us apostates have experienced similar instances of being shunned and or publicly shamed by people who once claimed to be our friends and loved ones; although I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for you as a former minister to out yourself publicly as you did. It took a lot of guts and integrity to do what you did and I applaud your courage. Life is not easy for the apostate especially in small towns and rural areas that are traditionally more culturally conservative than big cities. I know all too well that fact coming from a small former tobacco farming community in central Kentucky. But I think that you should consider that if the bond with your fellow Christians was so weak as to be destroyed by your decision to leave the Christian religion based upon a sincere and honest matter of conscience – of what value were those friendships to begin with? Would those same Christians insist that you continue to live with the inner turmoil and doubts that you had about your faith even though it was eating away at you and causing you distress? If so then they were never your true friends. In my experience false friends can do more harm than good in the long run so you should count your blessings that you no longer have those albatrosses hanging around your neck. Even better you have been given the opportunity to make new friends who appreciate you and accept you for who you are. I think that you’re doing a great service to the people who come hear to read your posts. It’s been a great comfort to me since I can relate to a lot of the topics you cover in your writings and it does help to know that there are others out there who have been put through the ringer by organized religion. I left the Christian religion a long time ago but it’s still difficult at times to function in a predominantly Christian community. There are even times when I am tempted to start going back to Church just to get along better socially but that would be the ultimate betrayal; a betrayal of my own conscience. If a man can’t be true to his own conscience then it doesn’t matter how many fake friends he has; he’s done for – since a man who lives a life contrary to his conscience cannot begin to know himself.

    Reply
  7. Dennis

    Yep, lost my son, his wife and my grandchildren. Such ”christian love” overwhelms me.

    My wife is still around with the deluded belief that I’ll come back into the fold. I’m not as fortunate as Bruce, my wife is so bound by ‘confirmation bias’ she won’t read anything that might challenge her beliefs. In fact, she blames all of ‘those’ books I read and have read for influencing me to ‘hate’ god. She just doesn’t understand that once you give up believing in god, it’s like no longer believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. you can’t go back and believe in god.

    Oh well, life goes on.

    Reply
    1. Byroniac

      So sorry to hear that, Dennis. I cannot imagine. It’s stories like yours that would not make me sorry if religion mostly died out. It would probably be for the good of humanity. But all I personally want is for all organized religion to die out, to zero sympathy from me (and perhaps a congratulatory party with friends, but I am under no illusion that this could happen in my lifetime).

      Reply
      1. Dennis

        Thanks.

        Sorry for the late response. Had some trees removed and they dropped a branch on my cable. So, been going through cable and TV withdrawal for the last few days.

        Reply
  8. Tammy

    I had a really busy weekend. I was supervisor and easter is a big deal in the south – seems bigger than my memory of ohio easters. So lots of people didn’t want to work. So we worked staffed. And medical acuity has been high. I ended up helping with patient care on the floors both days for the bulk of the time so things stayed safe.

    So the chaplain stops in my office to chat while delivering easter candy to the staff. And we talk about the increasing medical acuity as a trend lately. And she knows my 20 years history as pastors wife. She doesn’t really know my agnostic leanings of recent years. So she prayed a prayer for me right there in my office. It was with great love and empathy and I received it in that way and she still doesn’t know of my agnosticism cause I’m more like Polly – don’t ask don’t tell is just simpler sometimes. 🙂

    I like your stories.

    Reply
    1. Byroniac

      Tammy, it’s that kind of religion I can tolerate. Religious people with empathy do not treat other people as objects to be evangelized and/or controlled with theo-fascist legislation. I am not ordinarily militant, but push my buttons or poke me on the wrong day…

      Reply
      1. Tammy

        She actually prayed that if its one of the patients’ time to die, they do so over at our medical center and not on one of our psych units. I found that refreshingly honest. Ha.

        Reply
  9. Moni

    Don’t ask don’t tell. That’s me. Not sure I’ll ever be able to do what Bruce was able to do. I was raised with zero religion, married a man who was. We did not attend church the first 4 years of our marriage. Then one day the hubby said he had been feeling guilty about his lack of church attendance. So we went. It was so strange and foreign to me. It was a “fire and brimstone” type of church. The salvation message was preached but what stood out to me was the horror of hell. I was young. Hell frightened me. And I was determined to do whatever it took to not go there! Of course I now know hell is a common used fear tactic. It is not lost on me that it was the fear of hell and not the love of God that moved my feet to walk up to the alter that night many years ago. It’s been a long struggle these past three years to undo what I once believed to be the truth. All the times I would question parts of the bible (how did the penguins get to the Ark?!?!) there would be some elder, a family member or pastor telling me that God knows and that’s good enough! DO NOT QUESTION GOD. Only a very few number of people know I no longer am a believer, my son and husband included. My husband struggles with it still but we simply agreed to not discuss or talk about religion. For us, the cost is too high to let it divide and destroy us. It’s about respect. And love.

    Reply
  10. Jerri

    Thanks y’all. I have plans to leave the job, but it’s tough. They pay me so little, I can’t afford to take a break to breathe, let alone work on a new career. I’ve given myself a deadline, though. I’m sure I’ll take the quiet approach to save my little bit of sanity. Thanks again.

    Reply
    1. Monty

      Jerri, they paid me less over the years but like a fool I accepted it. I finally had enough pain to get out of my comfort zone (There was a certain predictability in that pain strange tho it may sound), get my resume together and get the hell out of there. Hang in there. You’ll know when the time is right. Once you do leave you’ll look back and wonder why you waited as long as you did….That happened to me!!

      Reply
  11. Jerri

    I love the Bruce’s blog people. Thank you, Bruce, for making a safe place for us to get support.

    Reply
  12. Edwin

    Been through the same stuff. There comes a time when, not through anger or hurt (but simply out of honesty to self), you realize that you’re just no longer able to spin the plates. It takes a while to extract yourself, but the liberty is awesome. The perspective from a distance is sad. Sad because you realize the amount of time and energy spent on keeping the momentum going. Also sad for the harshness of the “god is love” clan. I have to guard against becoming a critic of the church. I’ve spent so much energy defending the indefensible that I want to spend time embracing the freedom rather than becoming a fighter for truth again. Thanks for the article and the encouragement.

    Reply
  13. Anne

    Re-reading this article today (I often re-read your work!) and grateful for the encouragement and insight your writing so often affords me. So grateful that you have documented your journey for us other exiles to learn and be encourged by. All the best to you & yours!

    Reply
  14. Keithy

    Thanks for sharing. It helps me. My family is more loving that most of yours about this topic. But it is difficult.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

You have to agree to the comment policy.