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Dear Pastor Russ Dean, Let Me Explain to You Why so Many Atheists Are Angry

pastor russ dean
Pastor Russ Dean and Family (and dog)

Dear Pastor Dean,

You wrote the following for Baptist News Global:

For a couple years I’ve been having an intellectual battle with atheists. Not all of them, but the people I refer to as “evangelical atheists.” They are angry and passionate and just as religiously cocksure as the fundamentalist believers they despise.

Or maybe it’s all believers they despise. To them we are all weak-minded and superstitious and pathetically out of touch. If only we’d grow up. If only we’d get an education. If only we had a fraction of their intellectual depth, we would give up our tribal, backwoodsy notions of “God.”

As you can tell, I’m a little passionate about this.

I’m not so much offended by their insulting condescension — though it wouldn’t hurt them to be a little nicer — if only for tactical purposes. As we say in the South, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

More to the point, I’m disappointed by their argument against God. While purporting to be so intellectually superior, too many atheists take on only the worst of religion. If I positioned an argument against only 5th-grade science or against those scientists who had used their knowledge to master the atomic bomb or build Internet viruses or promote biological warfare, I could make a pretty good argument against the inanity and wickedness of science, too.

So it is either disingenuous to argue only against religious fundamentalism, or it’s embarrassing for such smart people to be so uninformed about the true variety and richness of religion. Too often atheists ignore the traditions of vigorous intellectual pursuit which can be found in the theological explorations of all of the world’s religions.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe in the same god many atheists don’t believe in!


Between these two disheartening poles, angry atheists on one hand and fundamentalist Christians on the other, it’s not the muddled mush of some middle ground I’m seeking — which makes staking a claim to “free and faithful” even more difficult.

I want to take a few moments to respond to some of the things you mention in your post about angry atheists.

American atheists tend to respond to the dominant religion of their culture — Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicalism dominates everything from state and federal governments all the way down to local school boards and city councils. Groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, American Humanists, and Americans for Separation of Church and State spend countless hours dealing with Evangelical breaches of the wall of separation between church and state. Often, these groups are forced to sue schools and governments to stop their violations of the U.S. Constitution. I live in rural Northwest Ohio, a place dominated by God, Guns, Trump, and right-wing Republican politics. The aforementioned groups could spend the next year in rural Ohio litigating church and state violations. Imagine, for a moment, being an atheist in such a place. Imagine having to sit and watch as Evangelicals trash the Constitution. Imagine not being able to find employment because many businesses don’t want to employ an atheist. Imagine a place where every officeholder is a Republican who loves Jesus, the Bible, and Friday night football. Imagine hearing of sermons where atheists are described as haters of God, child molesters, possessed by demons, and tools of Satan. Imagine being one of only a few atheists who are willing to push back against Evangelical zealots, standing in for others who fear loss of employment, family, and friends if they dare say they don’t believe. Imagine being forced to be a secret atheist lest it ruins your marriage. Imagine pretending to be a Christian and attending church so your spouse and family won’t question your beliefs and judge you harshly.

What I have described above is real life for many atheists. You might want to walk in their shoes before you slap the “angry” atheist label on them. I wonder, would you be angry if you had to live in denial of who and what you are? What if the shoe were on the other foot, and it was Christians who were treated in this manner? How would you respond then? You speak from a seat of privilege. While that privilege is increasingly being challenged, Christians still have the captain’s seat at the head of the table. Several years ago, I attended a secular coffee house concert where a Christian musician started to tell a faith-based story. She paused for a moment, perhaps pondering the appropriateness of her evangelizing, and then said, well, we are all Christians here, right? I wanted to shout, HELL NO, WE ARE NOT ALL CHRISTIANS. Instead, I mumbled something to my wife and kept quiet. The musician’s statement reflects commonly held sentiment here in Northwest Ohio. I suspect the same could be said of the South and Midwest. Jesus is the king of the hill, and if you want to be fully embraced by your community you better at least pretend to be a Jesus Club® member.

You object to atheists responding to what you call the “worst of religion.” I assume that you think your version of Christianity is a better version, and perhaps it is. You and your church are progressive socially and politically. You have many beliefs that I admire. Yes, I said admire. I’m sure we could work together in turning back Donald Trump’s Evangelical followers as they attempt to establish a theocratic government. While I am not sure of your view of the culture war, I suspect on this front too we could find common ground to work together. I am pro-choice, yet I am more than willing to work with people of faith who object to abortion for moral reasons. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a Christian willing to accept my help. Instead, I am labeled a murderer who is worthy of death.

I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I grew up in the Independent Baptist/Evangelical church. I pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I even pastored a Southern Baptist church for a time (not a pleasant experience). I am quite conversant in Christian theology, in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Progressive Christians tend to paint themselves as different from Evangelicals. Often they are, but I have also found that if I dig a bit I will sometimes expose Evangelical beliefs at their core. For example, take the doctrine of eternal punishment. This is the one doctrine that many of my fellow atheists and I have a problem with. Not that we think there is Hell, but that there are Jesus-loving people who look at us and say, unless you believe as I do, unless you are saved by the Lord Jesus Christ, you will spend eternity in a lake of fire being tortured by God day and night. Worse yet, the God whom Evangelicals say loves everyone plans to give all non-Christians a new body after death so they can withstand endless burning and torture.

Whatever your beliefs might be, Pastor Dean, the only doctrine that really matters to me is whether you believe that I will spend eternity in Hell (or be annihilated) because I am an atheist; because I do not find the evidence for Christianity compelling. If you believe that, yes, I will spend eternity in Hell, then I have a hard time seeing you as a decent person. I am a kind, loving, thoughtful man. I’ve been married for forty-five years. I love my wife, six children, and thirteen grandchildren. While I am far from perfect, I would be more than happy to compare my good works with the best of God’s chosen ones. Yet, if there is a Hell, none of this matters. All that matters is that I have the “right” beliefs — as if Christians themselves even know what these right beliefs are. Belief in Hell, then, is the standard by which I judge Christians. If they believe only certain people will go to Heaven after death, then I have zero interest in being friends with them. Thinking your neighbor deserves to be tortured for wrong beliefs or human behaviors deemed “sinful” is offensive. Surely, you can see how atheists might become angry over Christians dismissing their lives in this manner. Granted, atheists aren’t worried about going to Hell because Hell doesn’t exist, but like most humans, we do desire to be well thought of by others. We very much want to part of the communities we live in.

Most of the atheists I know aren’t angry. They just want to live and let live. They want to live authentic lives filled with meaning and purpose (and not have Christians tell them there is no meaning and purpose in life without the Christian God). Unfortunately, literalism and certainty drive many Christians to evangelize anyone and everyone who doesn’t believe as they do, atheists included. Readers of this blog know that I am not an evangelist for atheism. I write about my past experiences as an Evangelical pastor. I also critique Evangelical Christianity, calling into question beliefs and practices they swear are straight from the mouth of God. I know Evangelicalism inside and out, and readers tend to trust my opinions. That said, I don’t care one way or the other if someone becomes an atheist. I consider any move away from Fundamentalism (and Evangelicalism is inherently Fundamentalist) a good thing. I view myself as a facilitator who helps people as they journey along the road of life. To use a worn-out cliché, it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.

My writing is widely read by religious and non-religious people, and it attracts legions of Evangelical zealots. These zealots call me names, attack my family, and even threaten me with death. These “loving” people of God are hateful and mean-spirited, some of them going so far as to attempt to hack my site or crash it with DDOS attacks. You see, Pastor Dean, your backyard has plenty of shit in it too. How about we both agree that angry Christians and angry atheists do not represent Christianity and atheists as a whole? How about we agree not to use social media as the measuring stick for determining the demeanor of Christians and atheists as a whole? I am sure that, like me, you can become angry. Anger is, after all, a human emotion. After leaving Christianity, I actually had to reconnect with my emotions. I had to learn that it was normal to be angry. What mattered is what I did with my anger. I spent fifty years dying to self/crucifying the flesh. The real me was swallowed up by Jesus and the ministry. It was refreshing, post-Jesus, to be human again. I am still in the process of reconnecting with the real Bruce Gerencser.

Rarely does a week go by where I don’t receive an email or a blog comment from Christians who think they can psychoanalyze me by reading a few blog posts. These mind readers just know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am bitter, angry, and hate God. No matter how much time I spend responding to them or explaining myself, they still heap judgment upon my head. Years ago, I told my counselor that I was perplexed by this treatment. Here I would share my journey and answer their questions and these followers of the thrice holy God would still heap judgment and condemnation upon me. Why? I wondered. My counselor laughed and told me, Bruce, you wrongly think they give a shit about what you believe. They don’t. He, of course, was right. Evangelicals, for the most part, aren’t interested in my story or what I believe. What matters is winning me back to Jesus. What matters is winning a victory for Team Jesus®. What matters is vanquishing the atheist preacher and his “followers.”

Perhaps, by now, Pastor Dean, you can sense and understand why I might be justifiably angry if I chose to be. However, I choose not to be angry. Life is too short for me to spend it arguing with people who aren’t really interested in what I have to say.  Let me conclude this post with the advice I give to everyone who stumbles upon my blog:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

Please feel free to contact me if you have a question about atheists and their beliefs. You and I are never going to agree on the God question and the veracity of Christianity, but we can both do our best to understand each other. When given the opportunity, I do my best to call out atheists when they wrongly represent Christian belief. Facts matter, and atheists should be factual in their representations of Christian belief and practice. I ask that you do the same. I am considered by more than a few atheists to be too friendly with religious people. Since most people worship some sort of deity, it would be foolish for me not to be friendly to people of faith. All I ask is that religious people grant me the same courtesy.

Be well, Pastor Dean.

Bruce Gerencser

P.S. I also could have written thousands of words about how I was treated by colleagues in the ministry and former congregants after they found out l left the ministry and left Christianity.  Needless to say, these so-called men of God and sanctified church members revealed for all to see the ugliness and hate that lies just under the surface of Evangelical Christianity. I find myself asking, why in the hell would I ever want to be a Christian again? Why would I want to be around people who treat people in such dehumanizing ways? Forget whether the Christian narrative is true. If Christians can’t be people of love, compassion, and peace, they have nothing to offer unbelievers.


Pastor Dean’s bio states:

Russ Dean is co-pastor of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. A native of Clinton, S.C., and a graduate of Furman University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he earned a D.Min. degree from Beeson Divinity School. He and his wife, Amy, have been in church ministry for 30 years, and they have served as co-pastors of Park Road since 2000. He is active in social justice ministries and interfaith dialogue, and when he isn’t writing sermons or posts for Baptist News Global you’ll find Russ in his shed doing wood working, playing jazz music, slalom or barefoot water skiing, hiking and camping, or watching his two teenage boys on the baseball field.


  1. Avatar

    It seems to me that this pastor straw mans atheists in exactly the way he alleges, when he refers to not believing in the same god atheists say he doesn’t believe in (I have to say, rather a neat little phrase, though one I initially found clumsy).

    Atheists, on the whole, I find are far from angry, other than when, especially evangelical Christians, seek furtively to try and infect the rest of us with their beliefs. They don’t seem to realise how irritating it is to others to, for example, have businesses, which exist and thrive only because there is an infrastructure there that allows them to trade, to be able to pick and choose to whom they offer their services based on their superstitious beliefs. The lesbians, or gays, or women who may need an abortion, in our community, who contribute alongside all others to maintenance of this infrastructure, can then be treated as second class citizens, shunned even, and this dear pastor wonders why occasionally atheists get angry.

    Of course, on top of that, there’s the problem that apologists never, ever, have decent evidence to support their position. One has only to watch Matt Dilahunty on the Atheist Experience for a very short time to appreciate just how bad the theistic position is. Despite callers repeatedly insisting they can ‘prove god exists’ none, not one, ever gets off the starting blocks.

    Personally I don’t care what people believe, as long as you allow me what I believe. So by all means oppose abortion, just don’t interfere with my right to choose otherwise. Believe if you want that being gay is ‘unnatural’, but don’t refuse to bake them cakes if baking is your business, which is part paid for by those gays. And by all means pretend to yourselves that the earth is 6000 years old, but accept that the consensus amongst scientists is that you are wrong and that schools should not teach something generally accepted to be ‘wrong’.

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    Personally, I think the arguments against the existence of deities are valid whether the good pastor agrees or not. Regardless of the anger or lack thereof of the atheists with whom he converses, the reasoning itself is sound. He is correct that there are some angry “evangelical” atheists out there as there are angry evangelicals of all stripes. Every movement has extremists. And I will admit that I do feel condescending sometimes toward those who believe in fairy tales of religion, who need a god-daddy who they hope will swoop in and save them from all misfortune. Grow up and accept that life has difficulties with which we deal. It’s hard not to feel intellectually superior to those who believe in unsubstantiated and unrealistic fairy stories.

    Christian privilege. I desperately want to understand what minorities go through every day, but as a white person I cannot. It’s impossible, as much as it is impossible for me to explain to men what women go through daily. As individuals who have some sort of privileged status, we need to accept and admit we have it and stop acting like we could possibly understand another’s position. Christians don’t understand how in USA they own the religious table. We are an increasingly diverse nation yet the majority of most communities are made of mostly Christians. My school district voted to have Jewish holiday school clisures. My friend’s district does not – she can count on one hand the number of non-Catholics in her town (she is a cultural Jew who is atheist). And Christians whine about people saying “happy holidays”.

    People assume my family are Christian because we are white and have an Irish name. It benefits us to “pass” but if we are asked we tell the truth. It can be awkward sometimes.

    Hell: Bruce summed that one up thoroughly.

    I am sure this pastor is a nice fellow who tries to help those in his community. But I can’t help that I believe his reasoning skills are lacking due to his belief in stories that aren’t backed up by history and archaeology and that he believes in a deity for which there’s no evidence. That’s a choice, so don’t get offended if I question that choice.

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    I feel that personal experience and culture counts for a lot.

    I live in an area of the country where the influence of the traditional peace churches is quite strong. People can be very conservative theologically, but take some political and social positions which are quite progressive particularly in areas relating to things like foreign policy or immigration. On the other hand, I know many secular people who can be very conservative or libertarian politically.

    For me, I just don’t think it’s possible to judge a person’s intellect or education based in whether they think there is a God or not.. I think it’s more in how people take ahold of the question. What in their thinking, study, and experience has led them to believe in certains ways..

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      “I feel that personal experience and culture counts for a lot.”

      Rebecca, I think these are the two most important support structures of religious belief, especially the latter, as culture has a massive bearing on the ‘personal experience”. Thus Christians have revelations that reflect cultural depictions of Jesus for example. Muslims of Mohammed, and Hindus Brahman. This underscores why, to anybody but the person who had the experience, it’s pretty clear that delusion was involved.

      So if you take personal experience and culture out of the equation because, after all, neither is objective evidence of the the truth of the claim, then what is one left with? I’m afraid the answer is absolutely nothing, and this is why it’s frustrating to atheists to engage apologists in debate. Apologists are very persistent, in many cases both intelligent and educated, yet are unable to acknowledge that there is no actual evidence underlying their beliefs. This applies from the humblest up to the highly qualified, such as the biologist Frances Collins. They aren’t stupid, far from it, but they have a very human ability to compartmentalise their lives, taking an approach to their beliefs that they would never tolerate with regard to their professional lives. It’s called cognitive dissonance, and it’s a powerful psychological force.

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        Geoff, years ago I read Dr. Collin’s book, “The Language of God.” I personally found his arguments from cosmology very compelling. I honestly have the impression that it’s not so much in spite of Dr. Collin’s work as a scientist that he is a theist, but partly because of it.

        I don’t feel that anyone can prove their view beyond a shadow of any doubt, though. And, I think evidence that is compelling to one person may not be for another. In addition, we all are going to reflect some confirmation bias, no matter what.

        My undergraduate major was cultural anthropology focused in comparative religion and philosophy. So, the beliefs of other cultures are fascinating to me. Obviously, though, if there is a God who created the world all contradictory religious/philosophical claims cannot be equally true, and there also has to be a true truth, so to speak, which transcends culture.

        Although, there are some truth claims which all Christian believers hold in common, there is also a tremendous diversity within the church.

        Most people in the more mainline congregations do not interpret all parts of the Bible literally, and they understand that God is often spoken of in anthropomorphic terms. This is different from people who are fundamentalists. But, sometimes, everyone’s views are conflated together as accurately representing the view
        of the entire Christian church. I think this is part of the concern that the pastor is expressing in this article.

        Many times I will actually agree with come of the concerns expressed by non theists, and yet I’m a committed Christian believer.

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    Well, I am here to forever and ever point out the fact that human anger is a blessing and where Christian bullying is concerned (or atheist bullying), anger is a human response, a reconnection with the basic self that is being smilingly (or not so smilingly) crushed by bully ideas. I am very very sure that the pastor does not see himself as a bully but note how he uses the term ‘angry atheists’ and then waltzes around it and hugs it and says he agrees in ways with them but all the while the bully-damage is done because he bases his perspective on anger as a baaaaad thing. He does not seem to have been able to integrate into his learning that “a soft answer turneth aay wrath” might not mean at all at all that anger is verboten as much of his church teaches. In fact, anger is a great blessing when the tables need to be reset and an individual must honor the self in the face of bullying and judgement.
    By the way, pastor, if you listen to many sermons freely available all over the web, you may observe primarily Christian anger being shouted in large gatheriings and on streetcorners, anger at the secular world that has ‘taken God out of…’ and thereby causes storms, kneeling at anthem singing, school shootings. It is time to stop feeling that angry atheists are any problem at all when you have a Christian church in America that is so full of hatred and calls it love. The Church is wearing no clothes, dear smiling Pastor Dean, no clothes at all.

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    I hang around atheist-nontheist chat rooms and blogs, and I can honestly say that the only time I ever get angry is when some Christianist decides they’re going to interrupt the proceedings to tell us that we’re all going to hell.

    Pastor Dan is projecting.

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    Not an atheist, not a Christian, completely Pagan and yeah, I’m angry.

    Perhaps it stems from establishment Christians refusing to acknowledge my rights as a citizen.
    Perhaps it stems from establishment Christians demonizing my very existence.
    Perhaps my anger is based on the hypocrisy of establishment Christians doing their best to turn a secular nation into a theocracy.
    Perhaps it’s the unending sexual misconduct of pastors sharing their ‘Rod of Christ’ with their flock.
    Perhaps it’s two thousand years of suppressing anyone not white or male.

    Pastor Dean made his stand and planted his establishment Christian flag on the tip of a very large cultural ice burg and called himself enlightened.

    Perhaps he should have called himself macaroni. To me it would have made more sense.

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      I hear you! Very well written! I almost spit my clam chowder all over my computer screen when I came to the “Rod of Christ” remark!

      Another Pagan…

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        Hehe. “Rod of Christ”. Good chuckle from that one! Although some pastors would probably make the argument for why it’s fine for them to “share” a “biblical” one: “Spare the rod…”. Oh wait. There actually isn’t a scripture verse that says that specifically! Imagine that! And of course, we ALL know that pastors NEVER misinterpret scripture to fit their own agenda, right? ????

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    Good post. As someone who has not left Christianity, I sympathize (maybe empathize) with you. I have said out loud to Christian friends and family that we need to remember that people leaving the faith are experiencing what Jesus said when he told his followers that they had to leave father and mother and siblings for his sake. Christians (and other believers) don’t understand the stigma they put on you; most American Christians have never had to do the same. Likewise, Christians have a hard time listening because they generally cannot believe or admit that atheists or non-believers of any kind can have an honest point of view: to them an atheist has rejected a god they deep down know is real. As a result, any argument or experience an atheist brings to bear is automatically suspect because at root they are dishonest. I have not finished sorting things out, but I definitely sense that this hermeneutic of distrust makes it hard for us Christians to live an examined life or to be self-critical. Thanks for your point of view!

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