Why It’s Hard for Evangelicals to Change Their Beliefs

goodbye hello

Have you ever wondered why so few Evangelicals walk away from the faith? Have you ever wondered why many Evangelicals leave one toxic, harmful church, only to join another pestiferous church that continues the damage and harm of the previous church? Have you ever wondered why, no matter how much evidence skeptics and atheists provide to the contrary, Evangelicals will still hang on to the belief the Bible is a supernatural book written by a supernatural God; and that no matter how many Bart Ehrman book recommendations former believers make to them, Evangelicals will still cling to Jesus, the old rugged cross, and the empty tomb?

Nellie Smith, a writer for Religion Dispatches and a former Evangelical, recently wrote about why it is almost impossible to argue Evangelicals out of their faith:

And here’s the thing: it was the dissolution of a world. People who didn’t grow up in the American evangelical bubble often don’t realize what they’re demanding when they ask an evangelical to accept a fact that is contradicted by their church’s interpretation of the Bible. To those bought in—excepting, perhaps, that small demographic of Christians who identify as evangelical and are truly progressive—evangelicalism is not a collection of facts. It is an entire reality, based not on logic but on a web of ideas, all of which must be wholeheartedly accepted for any of it to work. It is complete unto itself, self-contained, self-justifying, self-sustaining. It’s your community, your life, your entire way of thinking, and your gauge for what is true in the world. Evangelicalism feels so right from the inside.

And, for an evangelical, there are no small doubts: growing up in many evangelical churches means to be told, repeatedly, that the devil will always seek a foothold, and once you give him one you’re well on the road to hell, to losing your faith, to destroying your witness. That’s scary stuff. To begin to doubt evangelicalism is not simply a mental exercise. For many like me, it’s to feel a void opening, the earth dropping out from beneath you. It’s to face the prospect of invalidating your entire existence.

So know this when you talk to an evangelical: in attempting to persuade them to your point of view—even on a topic that seems minor to you—you’re not asking for them to change their mind, you’re asking them to punch a hole in the fabric of their reality, to begin the process of destroying their world. And, as anyone who has had the experience knows, world-destroying is not fun. It is, frankly, terrifying.

That’s not to say that realities can’t change. Mine did. But few individuals can be argued out of an entire worldview. Realities shift when ideas bloom and ideas are slow and patient, creeping in through unguarded portals and establishing themselves without much fanfare. However well-intentioned you are, bludgeoning people with fact after argument after fact will only entrench them in their position and reinforce a perception of being persecuted by the world.

As Smith said, realities can and do change, but change is hard and the older people become the harder it is for them to abandon their faith.

Many of the readers of this blog were once devoted followers of Jesus, members of sin-hating, Bible-believing, soul-saving Evangelical churches. More than a few of you were once pastors, elders, deacons, evangelists, missionaries, Christian college professors, or Christian school teachers, yet there came a time when you renounced your faith and walked away from Jesus and the church. While scores of church-going Evangelicals deconvert in their teens and twenties, by the time people reach their forties and fifties, it is less likely that they will abandon their faith. I have corresponded with numerous unbelievers in their forties and fifties who still attend church every Sunday. In some instances, these unbelievers are still in the ministry. They no longer believe the Christian narrative, yet they give the appearance that they are tight with Jesus. Why do these faux-saints believe one thing, but say another? I know of several Evangelical churches that are currently pastored by unbelievers. How can these men, week after week, lie and pretend?

Years ago, the secular counselor I see told me that someone walking away from not only Christianity, but their life’s vocation, at the age of fifty is almost unheard of. Why is that? What makes it almost impossible for older Evangelicals to make a one-hundred-eighty degree turn and walk out of the church, never to return?

Imagine, for a moment, how much of my life I invested in Evangelical Christianity. Imagine how many thousands of hours I spent in worship, devotion, and service for the Christian God. Imagine spending thousands of hours studying the Bible and reading Christian tomes. Imagine preaching thousands of sermons and leading numerous souls to Christ. Imagine a life consumed by the things of God. For most of my adult life, I tried my best to follow the teaching of Christ and to lead others to do the same. Yet, almost a decade ago, I abandoned everything I held dear and started what essentially amounted to a new life sans Jesus, the church, and the ministry. Why would anyone blow up his life as I did?

I know that my story is an outlier, that most fifty-year-old preachers stay the course until Jesus takes them home to glory. Most older doubting Thomases bury their doubts and motor on, giving the appearance that they are still one of the faithful. Why? Why not proclaim your unbelief far and wide as I did with a letter titled, Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners?

Smith, as I and other former Evangelicals do, views Evangelicalism as a self-contained bubble:

It is an entire reality, based not on logic but on a web of ideas, all of which must be wholeheartedly accepted for any of it to work. It is complete unto itself, self-contained, self-justifying, self-sustaining. It’s your community, your life, your entire way of thinking, and your gauge for what is true in the world. Evangelicalism feels so right from the inside.

Everything makes perfect sense when you are in the bubble. Attacks from the outside are viewed as Satan’s attempt to destroy your faith. I spent almost fifty years in this bubble. My life had design, structure, and order. My calling gave my life purpose and meaning. All of my friends and many family members lived in this bubble too. I was married to a woman who was a lifelong bubble-dweller. Together, we brought six children into the world, and the only life they knew was within the bubble. Life, from a holistic point of view, was grand, exactly as God wanted it to be. And yet, one day, after days, weeks, and months of anguish and heartache, I walked out of the bubble and said, I no longer believe. A short time later, my wife left the bubble too. Over time, our children made their own peace with the past, with each of them going their own way. The good news is that none of them are Evangelicals. The curse has been broken.

In a matter of months, I lost almost everything I held dear: my career, my ministerial connections, and my purpose and direction. Most of all, I lost friendships decades in the making. The losses I suffered were great, and even today I lament all that was lost; not because I want back that which was lost, but because there’s now a huge hole in my life that was once filled by God, Jesus, the church, and the ministry. At my age, I don’t know if I will ever fill this hole. Perhaps the best I can do is shovel in some backfill and construct a bridge that carries me to the other side.

The next time you find yourself frustrated by an Evangelical who refuses to see the “light,” just remember what you are asking him or her to give up. Consider, for a moment, the great price he (or she) will pay if his doubts or loss of faith are publicized. I know what divorcing Jesus cost me, and I would never say to anyone, follow in my steps. While I am convinced that Christianity cannot be rationally and intellectually sustained, I understand why people hang on despite their doubts or loss of faith. Ask yourself, are you willing to lose everything you hold dear? I know I am fortunate in that my wife deconverted when I did and that my children accepted and embraced my abandonment of Christianity. I have corresponded with numerous ex-Evangelicals who lost their marriages and families when they deconverted. When their spouses were asked to choose between them and Jesus, they chose the latter. I know of children who have abandoned an unbelieving mother or father, choosing instead to follow after Jesus. And the same can be said of children who abandon their family’s faith, only to then find themselves excommunicated from their parents’ homes. Evangelicals love to talk about the high cost of being a Christian, but the same can be said for those of us who were once saved and now we are lost.

How old were you when you left Christianity? Did you find it hard to leave the bubble? If your family is still believers, how is your relationship with them? If you had to do it all over again, would you have still left the faith? Or would you have “played the game,” choosing instead to hang on to family and societal connections? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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69 Comments

  1. Susannah Anderson

    I was 50. I lay low for a few years, while my parents were going through end-of-life issues, although I no longer went to church, and I had resigned from the mission agency. That resignation alone was enough to lose me most of my friends. Once my parents were gone, I made no pretense of being a Christian, and for a while, even lost contact with one of my sons. He is still cautious around me, careful not to get into any serious conversation.

    Otherwise, apart from the immediate family and one (1) old friend, all my warm, “loving” circle of friends and co-workers are now strangers.

    It still hurts, 20 some-odd years later.

    But I wouldn’t go back. Not even to feel part of my extended family (mostly missionaries) again.

    Reply
  2. DJ

    After years of aggravation, I got “hurt” one too many times. After leaving once, from extreme anger, I returned only find…same sh*t, new day. After over 20 yrs of Christianity, I gave myself my 1st and only Birthday present – at age 50…turned in my email goodbye. The head pastor was bewildered but polite – the other…not so much.
    Luckily, my hubby was never a believer bc of his Catholic past (he had an axe to grind). He was so right, all along, but knew he couldn’t convince me.
    Thinking back, yes – it was a bubble, a cube that was filled with anger that made me “brave enough” to say goodbye.
    Then once I started “proving them wrong” by reading things by other intelligent people (ex: Bart Ehrman), my life rewarded me “with a new hello”.
    I’m 63 now & free – never to return!
    Seeing “God” in things around me was soon replaced by the fact that the human mind makes illusory correlations, connections and associations. The church pushes the idea that God should get the credit. Any subjective personal experiences are just that. They are not reliable indicators for what is really happening.
    As a non-believer, I CAN find a parking spot up close without praying for it! 🙂

    Reply
  3. Rebecca

    I want to admit that I have a huge problem with pastors who are unbelievers, inwardly mocking Christian faith who continue to lead their congregations for a pension and a paycheck. I understand that we all have to make a living, but there is no way that someone with a graduate degree, over time, cannot find viable alternate employment.

    To me, this shows a total lack of integrity and is so unfair to these congregations. Imagine the hurt people feel when they finally learn they have been “strung along” for years by a person they trusted. And, of course, there is no way that the church will not be harmed spiritually.

    Bruce, we don’t agree concerning spiritual things, but I admire your integrity. Personally, as difficult as it might be, I would not want to be married or be friends with someone who truly could not love and accept me for myself. What would be the point, really?

    Reply
    1. Troy

      I’d like to disagree with you. Losing an income is a terrible dilemma. Pastors that have lost faith aren’t that much different than a lot of people who either never liked their job or burned out of it but continue to eke out a living. HBO did a show about Ted Haggard after he had been kicked out of his church. With a Bible degree from an unaccredited college he has no secular credentials. The documentary showed him pathetically begging to sell life insurance door to door. The only thing getting him inside is the fact that he’d been on television.

      Reply
      1. DJ

        I agree with Troy.

        *”…continue to lead their congregation for a pension and a paycheck” describes only 2 reasons to stay behind the pulpit – To me it hints / assumes selfishness without proof.

        * Another reason to stay working as pastor: for the sake of supporting family. Unselfishly a pastor may suffer internally (because of his/her integrity) but still carry on the traditional duties of service that he/she agree to.
        Without alternate skills, a pastor would have to live the lie until he/she trained for another means of supporting his/her family. (The Clergy Project helps with this) Having a graduate degree in one area, may mean diddly squat in another.

        * The congregation is being fed with what they WANT to hear. Knowing now that I was being lied to, during my church years, I don’t blame the pastor. I enjoyed the emotion. I enjoyed the fellowship. I often wonder if the professors that taught the pastor, knew they were lying and was just teaching for the “pension and paycheck”.

        Reply
      2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

        I remember talking to a woman who was working with me to write an effective resume. She told I should consider leaving all the religious history out of my resume. Sometimes, hyper-religiosity is viewed negatively by employers. Of course, her suggestion was problematic. Following her advice would have left huge gaps in my work history or show that I worked a lot of menial, low pay jobs. I guess I could have said I was in prison. 😀

        The education issue is a big one. Your education/degree is worthless if you attended an unaccredited college. The work was every bit as challenging as many private/public institutions, but all that matters credit-wise is whether the school you attended was accredited. I’d love to teach school, but I’m viewed as an old man with a GED — totally unqualified even teach preschoolers. I’ve often thought I’d love to teach the World Religions class at the local community college.

        I don’t fault pastors for faking it until the make it — retirement, getting their financial house in order, etc. Pastors wouldn’t have to do this if churches/sects had systems in place to help unbelieving clergy exit the system. They don’t, and saying you don’t believe is a sure way to get fired. Keep in mind that most pastors aren’t eligible for unemployment, and many of them lived in church supplied housing. Tell the church board you are now an atheist? You could find yourself out on the street with no money or housing.

        Reply
    2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Why would churches be harmed spiritually? I know of an unbelieving pastor who faithfully discharges the duties of his office. He genuinely loves and cares for his flock. Try and see the pastorate as you would any other job. Take for example, car salesmen. Does selling Chevrolet’s require salesmen to love Chevy’s? Or can they do their job without loving or even owning a General Motors product?

      I could walk into a church tomorrow and, in a few minutes, have them believing I am a wonderful Christian — all without having to lie. I look, act, talk the part. That said, I couldn’t do this, of course, because it would bother me psychologically.

      I never made a lot of money in the ministry, so money was never an issue for me. I suspect things would have been different if I had been paid a decent wage with benefits.

      Reply
      1. Aram McLean

        Great answer. Exactly what I was thinking when I read Rebecca’s comment.

        Reply
  4. ObstacleChick

    Bruce, this is a tough topic. Everyone who deconverted has a different journey, and most experience pain and loss. Growing up evangelical, all the teachings, no matter how much your logic knows they don’t make sense, but they are presented as “this is how it is”. Your doubts are presented as weakness in the face of Satan’s temptation. You doubt yourself, your own logic. Why? Because you are taught that you are nothing without Jesus, you are wrong, you are vulnerable to evil, you will backslide toward hell if you do not fill every waking moment with Jesus. One tiny thought, one verse from a rock song, one glance at a worldly magazine can open a chink for Satan to lead you astray. This worldview is EVERYTHING.

    And then there is the fear. Fear of eternal torture in hell. I can’t fathom eternity, and that is scary enougg, but eternity if torture with absolutely zero hope will pretty much keep you on the narrow path. And why do we believe it when there is no scientific evidence? Because our parents and other adults we trust say so. We,are surrounded by the teaching every day and told we can’t trust our own powers of observation. And we are afraid of following our doubts toward eternity in hell.

    When I was 18 I took a course on biblical gender roles at church, and that was my lowest point, convinced that my analytical brain meant that there was something wrong with me and that I should stay single for life as I would never be able to submit. I went to secular college and joined Baptist Student Union and went to a more progressive evangelical church. I took a history of Christian thought class that explained the early church years, canonization of scripture, reformation, etc. Presented as history and not tied with doctrine made me see things differently. I stopped going to church except when I was home. I met gay people who had literally been thrown out of their families because of who they liked, who they were, and that was wrong. In my 20s and early 30s I settled on progressive church which was about helping people and bring a good person. Still lingering in my subconscious was a strong fear of hell.

    A trip to Mayan ruins in Mexico made me see that blood sacrifice of pagans and Christianity were the same. It made me sick and I couldn’t do religion anymire. Unbeknownst to me that same trip affected my husband – the abject poverty made him question how a benevolent and powerful god would stand by and let suffering occur on large scale. I said I didn’t want to go to church anymore, and he concurred. We starred reading more science. I read more history. Still fearing for my immortal soul I read books by atheists. I realized I didn’t believe in Christian god but I still feared hell. The logic in that…..ha ha.

    I live far from family so they don’t know I am atheist – they think I am just liberal progressive. I fear my brother will cut us off if he knows we are atheists. My kids are 16 and 18 and think all religions are myths with a bunch of stupid rules. I don’t fear hell anymore.

    I like hearing about the journeys of others.

    Reply
  5. Infidel753

    What you’re describing here is brainwashing so comprehensive that Kim Jong Un would be envious. As you say, it’s a complete and seamless alternate reality reinforced by the entire social environment. No wonder it’s so difficult to leave.

    It’s not something I can judge from experience since I grew up without religion and never had to deconvert, but I still think it will eventually disintegrate. Younger people are more flexible and have fewer years of commitment to Evangelical life behind them that they would have to acknowledge were a false life. More of them are comfortable with the internet, which makes it harder to completely avoid different points of view. Not impossible, but harder.

    Reply
  6. Dr. R

    This is my first comment here, but I have been reading the blog for over a year and have briefly corresponded with Bruce once before. I have never put my experiences into written words before. I have tried to be brief in this comment, but the subject is messy and complicated.

    I left Christianity sometime in my early teens, but did not give up on the concept of “God” until my thirties. I was coerced by my abusive mother into “asking Jesus to come into my heart at age five. All that hellfire crap was frightening, and everyone around me seemed to believe it except my father, whom I was told was going to hell himself.

    My mother worshiped (and probably still worships) the ground that Bill Gothard walked on. She was physically, psychologically, and later on sexually abusive, as well as a compulsive liar. (I now have a restraining order against her, and moved cross-country to get away from her.)

    My education about biology came almost exclusively from “Dr.” Kent Hovind. Even after giving up religion as an adult, I still believed his lies because I had never been taught differently. More on that later.

    At age 11 I was molested at an Awana Scholarship Camp. I knew nobody would believe me, so I never told anyone for a good 15 years.

    The molestation alone was not enough to shake my faith, but it was enough to make me start questioning. My first question, asked at age 11, was “what about the Jews?” The answers I received were all variants of either dispensationalism or replacement theology, both of which seemed to make God out to be a liar. I started asking other questions, very quietly and discreetly. I pretended to be satisfied with the answers (otherwise I would have been beaten), but I quickly realized that Christianity was an illogical crock.

    I read the Bible for myself, and Jesus and Paul just came across as racist, misogynist, asshole (can I say that word here?) charlatans. Jesus was not a god that I could serve.

    I wound up in Judaism, because I still loved God, and due to my ignorance about science I just couldn’t see how the universe and life came to be without a Creator. I eventually got a PhD from a legitimate university, but the only sciences I ever had to take were chemistry and physics, so I remained ignorant about biology.

    I loved the ritual and traditions of Judaism, but I could not integrate into the culture. I eventually wandered out of that. I dabbled in American Indian traditions, Buddhism, the Baha’i Faith, and even Mormonism for a while (not in that order). I still like Buddhism, except for the more mystical aspects of it. I love the American Indian stuff but not the “woo” aspects of it. (Just to be clear: I am mixed-race, European and American Indian, and my paternal grandfather was somewhat of a traditionalist. I neither encourage nor wish to participate in cultural appropriation or exploitation. )

    Over the years, my mother kept laying on the guilt about leaving Christianity. I tried Messianic Judaism and various Baptist churches, but I never could swallow it for long. My mother gave me the laughable “Evidence that Demands a Verdict,” and the verdict I gave was “mene, mene, tekel, upharsin” – tried, found wanting, and dismissed.

    As an adult, I prayed and prayed and prayed, but it felt as if I were talking to the ceiling. It almost seemed as if God wasn’t there. I finally arrived at a deistic position – that God created everything then backed away, having little or nothing to do with the universe going forward.

    Then I Professor Dawkins’ “Climbing Mount Improbable.” Suddenly, everything made sense. I realized that nearly everything I had been taught about evolution was a lie, a pernicious lie repeated by willfully ignorant mountebanks.

    I am much happier in my new personal relationship with reality! I miss the community aspects of religion, and especially Freemasonry. But overall I’d much rather live with the truth, even if it’s not pretty, than under pleasant delusions.

    Reply
    1. ObstacleChick

      Dr. R, thanks for sharing! It’s quite a process, isn’t it? I can definitely relate to getting degrees from secular universities while never taking a science course including evolution. Having a creation-only science education in high school with all the ridiculous bunk “evidence” against evolution, I avoided any university biology courses like the plague, fearing I would fail sections on evolution. As an adult, I realize that I probably could have just gone to the professor admitting my ignorance, and he or she would have probably been more than happy to point me in the direction of proper supplemental resources. But I was ashamed. “Willfully ignorant mountebanks” describes my high school teachers well…..but in their minds, all our precious little souls were going to heaven.

      Reply
      1. Troy

        You probably wouldn’t have been behind on the evolution sections. (Actually in a well taught biology class evolution is more a running theme rather than its own chapter) . Even public schools tend to avoid the topic and teach biology as a descriptive science rather than the true dynamic science that it is with all the intricacies and interconnections that result from evolution. (Of course it’s been a generation since I was in high school so hopefully things have changed for the better)

        Reply
  7. TLC

    First of all, thank you for the word “pestiferous.” What a wonderful word!

    I was raised Catholic and attended findagelical churches for only five years, so leaving in 2008 wasn’t as difficult for me. Family was never fundagelical. I lost a lot of friends, but still had others. No loss of job or income.

    I didn’t renounce fundagelicalism, however, until summer 2015. The Duggar scandal and the horrifying things said after the gay marriage ruling made me realize that I did not want people to think I lived a lifestyle of hatred, so I gave up all things fundagelical.

    What you’ve written about evangelicals is so true for other fundamentalists: Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, orthodox Jewish, Amish, etc., especially when they live in their own isolated communities. Those escaping literally do have to start all over.

    Reply
  8. Steve

    My main regret in my deconversion is I wish I could go back in time to prevent my birth or change who I was born to; that would’ve saved an enourmous amount of heartache & pain for me

    Reply
  9. Cheezits99

    I deconverted at 49, 6-7 months ago, I had already left the IFB churches disgusted earlier on. This is my second deconversion. Yes I ask myself sometimes since I deconverted as a young adult from Catholicism, how did I get suckered into fundamentalist Christianity where I wasted 16 years of my adult life? I am feeling the grief. Yes many lose for deconverting. I have lost a bunch of friends but thankfully am married to an agnostic who never converted in. I basically “lost” the family upon the first deconversion. I live in a very religious area that is almost as bad as the one Bruce lives in, and that part is tough.

    Reply
  10. Brian

    I am forever deconverting: They trapped me in the womb of a Baptist preacher’s daughter who married a Baptist preacher and had little Baptist clones, one after the other. Atheist forgive them, for they know not what they do, except they do know, they must know as I began to know from very early on in my life! They must have known that they had to slyly lie their way along and that they sinned in their hearts and minds because everything is sinning pretty much and one must go deaf, silent and without two eyes to actually belong in the circle of spiritual perversion called evangelical Christianity. In a windowless world where God says and Jesus says and mommy says and daddy says, well, how can it ever be that baby does not say? How is it possible, ever ever possible? I’m not being rhetorical… answer the fucking question, please.
    I have admitted now that I am a liar. Jesus told me to lie by way of the Fellowship, by way of Baptist bullshit they painted me with right up one side and down the other. I’m a fucking religious nut now, a cracked one who is forever decoverting.
    The womb is a warm lake with scripture being read, with voices reading scripture, with songs of praise in the dark. Birth is flailing in the light and being bound. We so love our babies that we take them straight away from their first true love, from their self in the self, from their very heart and womb home and we bind them. This do in remembrance of me, amen. You must have no mother. You must leave your father and follow Jesus who has fucked them both. What young Christian woman doesn’t dream about marrying Jesus. He’s got that beautiful brown hair and eyes. He is far and away the number one choice but of course he is not quite there that way and so forth, so this other fellow looks pretty darn good and his Bible is dog-eared. Any preacher worth his salt reads his Bible till it falls apart in his hands. Real believers like the deeply Reverend Steven Anderson of Tempe, is memorizing the Bible because one day he does not want to talk anymore with his own words but just the words of the KJV. When he wakes in the morning and physically carries his dear wife from one end of the house to the other to daily demonstrate his dominion over her and the family, he can do so while quoting regarding the wages of sin or exactly who begat whom from the beginning of time about two thousand years ago.
    My mother did not marry Steven, the truly Reverend Anderson, or Jesus either. She married my dad. He was a local boy who’d served in the war fixing airplanes and was studying for ministry. But I digress, as usual.
    My wish here, Unpastor Gerencser, Pope Bruce, is to deconvert as a way of being. Christians insist that the fact that I am forever deconverting is because I am already saved and stubborn or have fallen somewhat away while sweet Jesus still holds me in his arms; you know, stuff like that… But it feels important to me to continue to forever deconvert by again and again suggesting that religious belief is not PH neutral but is a tool of war, a human invention that harms people. I cannot prove this to anybody because the proof is in the evangelical pudding and once you get a taste of that stuff, you line up for Kool-aid with a big smile on your face, saying, “Take me, Jesus!” It is indeed a closed bubble and your writing about it just about always walks the intellectual way, the reasoned path, pointing out that although this dogma cannot withstand scrutiny, it is embraced and held dear to the heart. Finally though, after you have satiated your intellect , you end up getting down to the nitty-gritty. We believe because we feel we need to believe. Our reasoning is Trumped by our feelings. My dear guilt and suffering almost killed me as a little boy, so convinced I was of my fate in eternal fire. I was ripe for the picking when I finally made my walk to the front of the church with a handful of other children after my father had preached directly to us children about the wages of sin and our maybe last chance. Daddy, you fucking asshole, how could you… When I later read Sylvia Plath’s poem, Daddy, I wept like a little baby taken from his momma’s breast. Fuck Christianity and the Jesus who is not there and never was… Fuck churches needing genuine preachers, Rebecca. They need real people who do not meet your standards but who are real and who lie and fail and laugh and dance. Talking about standards in Christian churches is exactly to me as about talking standards for waterboarding. You like to almost drown because it reminds you of something important but I hate it. I am a-theist and always deconverting. Your church, your religion is a war where I was saved several times and irrevocably wounded, a real Johnny Got His Gun, ex-believer. My family don’t visit me here because when they try to fuck me I cry out in rage and hurt and accuse them of rape. They prey, they pray, they prey…
    For you among us who still live in silence and pain, fearful of the bullies for God, I say, good for you, good for you for protecting yourself as you see fit. You are quite correct to care for yourself and I admire you. I was you at one time too, for years and years. Then somehow, one day, I wanted to squeak out a bit of me, just a bit of me as I am, all Johnny legless and armless but alive. That was half my life ago. I’m 65 and I’m deconverting again and again. I don’t like Jesus at all anymore but I admire the artist, so to speak. I like it here on this blog sometimes because I like the human witness. I’m grateful to be here, Bruce; Hell, I’m grateful to be, afer what I’ve been through, after surviving Christianity. To those who would say that it was not Christianity, not Christ who harmed me but people, I heartily agree providing you agree you are a Fiskar.

    Reply
    1. Aram McLean

      ‘Interesting’ Jack Kerouac-esque read, though I’m still not entirely sure where you stand on the issue. Also, by Fiskar, do you mean ‘fish’ a la Swedish?

      Reply
      1. Brian

        Greetings Aram, If by “the issue” you mean belief/Christianity, I am thoroughly a non-believer but open to believing if my honest experience proved it even mostly believable. Fiskar is a manufacturer of tools, some pretty good, I think.

        Reply
        1. Aram McLean

          Ah so, and established in 1649, one of the oldest companies in the world. Meaning when you call someone a Fiskar you’re calling them a ‘tool’, I suppose.
          Grand to hear you made it out, in any case. And I hear ya on needing evidence. So far ‘less than none’ isn’t making any of it seem too true, seems like to me 🙂

          Reply
    2. Rebecca

      Brian, I think part of the problem we face in families is that we are all impacted in very different ways by the same thing. What can appear true and even life giving to one person in the family is anathema to the other. And, depending in how open and sensitive people are it can be difficult to discern, let alone accept this.

      In general, it seems to me that most people mean well, and are doing the best they can at the time. No doubt all your relatives mistake your honesty and sensitivity for sheer craziness, and think that the simple solution is for you to “get right with God.” When you respond in rage, and accuse them of “rape,” they hardly know what to do. So, it’s easier to stay away.

      Can you forgive, and love them anyway through this, or is the pain too very deep and raw still? Hugs, Brian.

      Reply
      1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

        You assume forgiveness is demanded or required. This is a religious construct. One of the greatest lessons I learned post-Jesus is that I don’t have to love and forgive everyone; that it was okay to not only not forgive, for example, my grandparents, but also to not love them either. The relief and release that came from when I told them to fuck off — that I no longer wanted their perverse Evangelical “love” — was astounding. I learned that it is okay to cut people out of your life — even family members. Life is too short to spend time trying to make peace with religious zealots. When my grandfather died, I didn’t shed a tear, and I most certainly will not shed a tear when his wife dies. Good bye, good riddance, and no I’ll not forgive your for what you did to my mother, her brother, my siblings, my family, or me, myself, and I. Let Jesus forgive you.

        Reply
        1. Rebecca

          Bruce, I agree that we have to set healthy and wise boundaries. We can’t always let people be close in our lives if they continue to be abusive, and I think accountability is important.

          But, I also believe forgiveness can be powerful as a catalyst for healing and change on both sides. It’s true we don’t agree. As a Christian, I want to always be open to peace and reconciliation if at all humanly possible.

          I could be wrong but I remember thinking that what I read concerning your grandparent’s behavior seemed so extreme, I wondered if they might have had a serious personality disorder. Anyone would have been challenged to deal with them.

          Reply
          1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            What does the word “extreme” even mean? Don’t individual Christians use the word “extreme” to label beliefs and practices different from theirs? Who decides who or what is extreme? Perhaps, Christianity in general is extreme. After all, it seems quite extreme to me to believe virgins have babies, dead people come back to life, and God is human, yet divine — coming to earth in human form and walking on water, walking through walls, and using a cloaking agent to disappear. It’s extreme to view all humans as innately broken and in need of Christian deliverance, salvation, and forgiveness. In my mind, extreme is irrationality and faith.

          2. Rachel

            Maybe Bruce’s grandparents did have a personality disorder? That still does not excuse abuse of others. Nor does it mean that the people they hurt need to “forgive” them, any more than people who have been hurt need to “forgive” anyone. Even with personality disorders have freewill, the power of choice.

            My father was almost certainly a Narcissist. Did he have freewill? Yes. How else can you explain that he was sweet as pie to neighbours, perceived as a good colleague at work, and was always charming in the presence of authority figures (esp religious ones) and, habitually nasty, rude, ridiculing and abusive towards his wife and children behind closed doors? This wasn’t someone out of control; quite the opposite.

            My mother is probably what is known in the field as a covert Narcissist: just as damaging, but even more difficult to identify. If I said to her “I forgive you for all the harm you have done”, she would almost certainly see that as the green light to continue doing further harm. Part of her disorder is, she doesn’t believe on any level that she HAS caused any harm: there is no empathy and no self-awareness. I’ve heard all the arguments about “This could be a catalyst for healing” and, frankly, I think they are manipulative BS. I have worked on my healing all my adult life in various ways and with varied amounts of success (it’s a work in progress) but abuse is abuse and anything that means engagement with the abusive person is harmful.

            I can’t help feeling that when a third party urges “forgiveness” on another, it is because they feel very uncomfortable around conflict.

        2. Brian

          Pope Gerencser said: “You assume forgiveness is demanded or required. This is a religious construct…”
          Religion invented by humans plants the seed of denial. This grows into a noxious weed called Denial Forgiveness. This weed grows to flower no matter what kind of Roundup is used on it. What the Roundup does do is kill all other vegetation growing in the garden, all natural plants that belong there. Denial though, Roundup-ready, assumes its place and towers over the garden with a big smile. Here endeth the gardening observation.
          I have found forgiveness to be a byproduct of living. I long ago forgave my parents for adopting evangelical Christianity. As you can see, by my comments here, I have not forgiven the tool of their faith.
          We are, all of us, somehow wanting, carrying heavy baggage or whatever and nobody is excepted in this; its a matter of being human, human, not fallen. When my dad died this year, I sat by his coffin and said, “Well, pop, you never told me about your life and I asked you several times to share. You refused because you didn’t trust your son with your truth, your personal truth in history. Instead, you preached the verses. So its done, dad. I’m sorry for both of us. I don’t forgive you and I love you but you should have been there for me, for us, not leading the singing of Amazing Grace.”
          I took my seat in the front row and waited for the service to end. It was a service he would have approved of and yes, of course, the preacher asked us to stand and sing you-know-what.

          Reply
      2. Zoe

        […] is the pain too very deep and raw still? ~ Rebecca

        I have to wonder Rebecca. What part of Brian’s comment are you missing to ask that question? Is his comment not very deep and raw to you?

        Reply
    3. Zoe

      I am a-theist and always deconverting. ~ Brian

      Brian, that is a profound concept. Always deconverting. A testament to the on-going departure so many go through post-belief and post-abuse.

      Reply
      1. Brian

        Hi Zoe, Same as when I was a Christian, you know? I had to lie to myself on a regular basis to stay within the ‘bubble’ and the damned thing always popped, always sagged and deflated or exploded and made my eyes sting. It is the same for me now in the human sense it always was, just that now I deconvert when I feel dirty with Jesus-smog. Deconversion is my shower of blessing, you might say! Mercy drops round me are falling! Nothing like a good deconversion shower to make one feel fresh again, ready to go!
        Don’t you find that you are rewriting the dictionary? Why should religion be allowed to own so many words? When I sing like ol’ Tammy-Faye, with my eye-shadow dripping down my face, “We’re blessed, we’re blessed, we are blehehessed..” I am singing about being awake and alive in the sunlight, that I can just feel that huge warm on my face and arms and yahooooo! It is so good to be alive when it happens, you know? That is part of deconverting for me, letting go again of the Baptist definitions I had to memorize to survive. It might be that I will never be fully free but shucks, life is a Spring dandelion! er sumthin’…
        Thanks for saying, Zoe.

        Reply
        1. Zoe

          Well, interesting, as I actually was thinking the same thing Brian. Same as when I was a Christian. What I was thinking though was about the term ‘sanctification’ and how I’m always de-sanctifiying. 🙂 And I wondered if the always deconverting is like always desanctifying? 🙂 Just pondering.

          Totally with you on rewriting the dictionary. Reminds me of my early blogging days where I wondered aloud why it is that we who change our minds about the “truth” of our former belief systems, have to give up the lingo of yesterday. Why not reinvent former terms? Can only a Ggod(s) believer use the term “blessed?” I’ve always been in the business of reclaiming words from my past Christian life. A little twist here and there helps . . . Awomen! *grin*

          I identify with not knowing whether I’ll ever be “fully free” as you put it. There was a time I thought I had to reach that point to be successful, to heal. I now realize even those who claim “full healing” are themselves likely not fully healed and to that I say, it’s okay. Life is a journey.

          Reply
        2. ObstacleChick

          I HATE how Christianity has co-opted and changed the meanings of so many words. I can’t hear this phrases without wanting to barf: “convicted”; “have a heart for”; “burdened”; “laid on my heart”; and then all the words like sanctification, justification, atonement…WTF and who cares? My middle school fundamentalist evangelical bible classes with their Bob Jones University Press Catechism in which we were thoroughly indoctrinated with the correct beliefs and terminology.

          I even feel squeamish saying “blessed” or “thankful” as I feel those have been co-opted by Christianity….

          Reply
          1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            I refuse to abandon the use of the words blessed and thankful. I don’t need a God to feel blessed or thankful, despite what Evangelicals tell me. 🙂

  11. Ami

    When I read something like this post (and the comments) I’m surprised all over again that I was able to escape the craziness. I still don’t know how I managed, I was just as brainwashed as the rest of ’em.

    Reply
  12. Rebecca

    Guys, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree about this except that I’m fine with supporting the unbelieving pastor to find other employment. IMO that’s what the church should actually be doing.

    I also can’t help but think that living and walking out a lie every day is going to eventually take a psychological/emotional toll on anyone. I think it would also work against the pastor really being vulnerable or drawing close to his/her congregation for fear of letting something slip. Eventually people who are closer to the pastor will be able to discern that something just isn’t quite right here.( It happened to me concerning a Methodist pastor when I was only a young girl.)

    IMO, people love me who care enough to tell the truth.

    Enough said I guess.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      You said, “Eventually people who are closer to the pastor will be able to discern that something just isn’t quite right here.” This is simply not true. People can live lies for a lifetime without anyone knowing. What, do you think you get a Spiderman-like tingly “feeling” when you are around those who live a lie? I could re-enter the ministry tomorrow and play the game without anyone being none the wiser (as long as there was no internet, of course). As I have stated before, I personally know pastors who are unbelievers, men of “God” who preach, teach, counsel, conduct wedding and funerals, and go through all the motions believing pastors do. Why should these men — who have invested a lifetime of study and work in being a pastor — be treated any different from any other employee at any other place of employment? The ministry is a job. Saying it is a calling is, again, a religious construct.

      Reply
    2. Zoe

      I also can’t help but think that living and walking out a lie every day is going to eventually take a psychological/emotional toll on anyone. ~ Rebecca

      Like the lies the church tells about the Christian story? Yes, it does eventually take a psychological/emotional and physical toll. I think you can hardly chastise a lying pastor when so much of the story is based on a whole lot of turning many lies into so-called truths. Maybe the genuine pastors who still hang out in the pulpit post-Christian belief are doing more for humanity than the ones who keep standing in there acting like it’s all true or at least their interpretation is true. A lot of those post-Christian pastors stop threatening hell-fire to their congregants. That’s got to be one huge step for humankind.

      Reply
      1. Rebecca

        Well, I agree with the last part. It’s good if they are not fear-based.

        Reply
  13. Rebecca

    I agree that the term “extreme” is relative. When I was an agnostic as a young person, I did feel that the views of even orthodox Christianity relating to the miraculous were extreme because I thought totally within a naturalistic world view. But, when I came to believe that there was a creator, then I became more open to the possibility of things outside the realm of the natural such as the resurrection of Jesus.

    However, and I’m being honest here, I would not have to be a Christian to come to a sense of human brokenness. I’m reminded of this everytime I listen online concerning the dismal political situation today or read the morning newspaper. My concern has been confirmed by personal experience and observation in working in Child Welfare, and with refugees. I would feel the same if I were an atheist, to tell the truth.

    Reply
    1. Aram McLean

      We’re an ape, of course we’re still dealing with our roots despite the whole ‘vaguely self aware’ thing going on with us. Also, the news disproportionately prints the bad news, and working in Child Welfare is by definition usually negative.
      Myself, I used to think people were more bad than good (being raised in a cult will do that to you). Then I hitchhiked around the world and knew for certain that was bullshit. People, in general, are out to help each other.

      Reply
      1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

        Spot on, Aram. It’s religion that pollutes our understanding of the world with its belief that humans, by nature, are inherently bad/broken/sinful at birth and in need of fixing/salvation/redemption.

        Reply
    2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      You said, “I would feel the same if I were an atheist, to tell the truth.” Again, you can’t know this.

      I used the word broken, not brokenness. Brokenness is a sappy religious word that is used to describe how God wants his children to come before him — helpless, needy, groveling before his psychopathic majesty.

      Broken refers to the belief that humans from birth are sinful/broken and in need of fixing. The entire premise of Christian belief rests on the notion that humans are broken and only God can fix them. Of course, you don’t really believe this, do you? Why would you be a social worker if you believed only God could fix people? Wouldn’t your time be better spent evangelizing sinners, fixing them with the wonderful grace of Jesus?

      Reply
      1. Rebecca

        Bruce, I always saw my vocation as also a calling. For me, it’s all interconnected. Making a positive difference in the world is also “kingdom work.” Even many pastors today are bi vocational with training in social work and psychology as well as a degree from seminary.

        Reply
    3. Brian

      I am not broken, Rebecca; never was…. I was injured by people and never felt fallen except as a child when my reference for Truth was my dad and mom. We are just human beings and not perfect except on Friday at 3 p.m. (or whenever your weekend starts). You believe in magic via Jesus and so are more open to miraculous, that thing outside the realm of the naturally understood. I too occupy a similar space but I ascribe it to human reality and not a supernatural other. Jesus coming back to life? A matter of belief and for me that requires your need to believe, an emotional matter not subject to reason. So, we speak past one another again. Do you really feel comfortable thinking Jesus did not die as completely human people do, that he was like us in all else but bingo not in staying dead? You must really need something there, is all I can say in response. You must really believe you are broken and cannot be fixed. I don’t see that in you. You like to question and spend time with others who cannot manage your belief system. What is that about? Do you not heed scripture, the caution about yoking with unbelievers or is that literal (as opposed to all the other metaphorical stuff) and just referring to marriage?

      Reply
  14. Rebecca

    Brian, I’m able to see a paradox in my life, and in general. Humanly speaking, I also think that people are “good.” God called His creation “good.” We are fearfully and wonderfully made. I think this about myself.

    Yet, at the same time, when I look even deeper, I also realize that even my best self falls very short of the perfect love of Christ. I see that even my best motives are mixed with pure self interest. I love my husband, and still there are times when I engage in “hate speech” against him and need to ask for forgiveness. I’ve hurt other people without even trying. Recently, I was visiting in a third world country. Everywhere, people were aggressively attempting to sell goods and wares without taking “no” for an answer. They followed me around. One man approached me, and attempted a conversation. I automatically felt annoyed, and said, “No, thank you. ” I saw the hurt in his eyes. He said, ” I wasn’t trying to sell you anything, but wanted to say “Hello.” Then he walked away. In that instant, I saw my own selfishness. I cared for my own convenience and privacy rather than him. I cared more about not being intruded upon than to reflect deeply on the poverty in this country, people wanting to make a living. I felt a deep sorrow. He went away, and it was too late to make amends.

    Brian, is it close to half of the marriages in our country that end in divorce? People who once loved each other, and thought they would be together for ever. I say there is a brokenness in the human condition that we cannot fix by ourselves. We can reform, and put bandaids on the situtation, but I think only by our unity with Christ can we be fully restored and healed. And, this is a process that takes place over time, and will certainly not be completed in this life. I have chosen to jump into that life giving stream.

    Reply
    1. Aram McLean

      How is Christ’s love perfect? He did, after all (according to your magic book), create people knowing full well they’re going to burn forever.
      How do you engage in ‘hate speech’ against your husband? Is he a minority and sometimes you call him racial slurs?
      Also, regarding your third world story, I’ve spent plenty of time in these parts of the world, and I assure you ‘just wanted to say hello’ is seldom what it’s really about. Even the most harmless are still hoping to get an address and try to find a way into a less so-called third world place. Also, nothing wrong with being annoyed by aggressive salesmen. You’re still a person, no matter where in the world you are, and you are fully within your rights to demand your personal space be respected. So yeah, I wouldn’t call what you did selfish in any way. That’s just more of your Christian ‘programming’ skewing how you interpret things.
      And, yes, many marriages end in divorce, both religious and non-religious alike. Why do you take this mean ‘brokenness’? How about we’re an ape who changes over our lifetimes, and sometimes people simply grow apart. Further, your Christ’s ‘perfect love’ actually demanded people ditch their families in deference to him [Luke 14:26] so seems he’s not so big on keeping families intact after all.
      In short, you’re the one who’s created this ‘loving god’, Rebecca. Not the other way around. Our brains are truly fascinating things. But one needs to watch out, as they are great at tricking us.

      Reply
      1. Aram McLean

        p.s. to clarify my third world comment, of course it’s possible to meet great people anywhere in the world. I’ve met plenty. However, those that are genuinely just wanting to chat don’t simply leave when you react impatiently. Instead they say something along the lines of, ‘Oh hey, I get it. My countrymen can be rather in your face. Just thought maybe you wanted to have a tea.’ The immediate walkaway tells me your guy had ulterior motives, and seeing you weren’t having it, he simply moved on to a next target.

        Also worth mentioning that those that don’t passive-aggressively move on don’t always turn out to be on the up and up. For example, I met a fantastic fellow in Tanzania who sorted me out a bus ticket into Malawi. Oh man, we got on great, much laughter. And even after he got me into the ‘matatu’ that was taking me to the bus, all smiles and best wishes, to find shortly thereafter the bus didn’t exist when I was dumped at the border – hell, even then I still remember him with a smile and think, ‘Wow, he was good!’
        People be peopling, is my point. C’est la vie.

        Reply
      2. Rebecca

        Aram, I think we’re not going to be able to agree relating to all this. But, I do want to share that I’m not a fundamentalist Christian, and definitely lean toward “universal reconciliation.” Also ,I don’t always personally interpret Scripture in a literal way. Often the Biblical writers use myth, metaphor, and allegory to communicate deeper truth, IMO. When I read passages in the Bible that contradict the command of Jesus to “love even our enemies, such as the genocide described in the OT, I don’t think that I am reading the words of God, but the views of ancient people recently coming out of idolatry trying to get it right. I feel that God’s revelation and our apprehension of it is progressive.

        Lately, though, I’ve been re reading C.S. Lewis’s book, “The Great Divorce.” Do you know it? It is an allegory of Heaven and Hell. His premise is that people can go on, making choices in their lives that further alienate and distance them from God. It is progressive. This seems perfectly normal and even preferable to them until they no longer desire His presence at all. This is the essence of Hell. A sober thought. It’s as if the “gates of Hell” are locked from the inside, so to speak. I haven’t gotten the absolute truth about all this, Aram. But, one thing I do know is that God is love, and is not willing that “any should
        perish.” If anyone is distanced from Him, I think it will be through their own choice and deliberate intention.

        In the verse that you mentioned, it doesn’t seem reasonable to me that a devout Jewish man would command people to lightly violate the commandment to honor our parents. I feel He is getting across the idea that there is a cost to following Him that could result in division and alienation even in one’s own family. I’ve observed this to be true with Muslim people who may have converted to Christ, or people who come from racist backgrounds, following Jesus, who now embrace minorities. They are divided from their family. Jesus, as was the custom of rabbis of that time often uses “hyperbole” to communicate deeper truth. His hearers would have understood this.

        Anyway, on another note. I have a question for you. I see that you are widely traveled, Aram. That is awesome. My undergraduate major was cultural anthropology, so I’m very interested in other cultures. Currently, I’m helping to teach ESL in the US., but am thinking of volunteering overseas. Have you seen a need for this, particularly among people who are refugees? I’ve read that there is a great need in southern Italy, and Greece. My husband and I do hope to visit Italy next year. But, if you have experience and insight in this, I would love to hear. I would work with any humanitarian organization, doesn’t have to be church related.

        Reply
        1. Zoe

          Lately, though, I’ve been re reading C.S. Lewis’s book, “The Great Divorce.” Do you know it? It is an allegory of Heaven and Hell. His premise is that people can go on, making choices in their lives that further alienate and distance them from God. It is progressive. This seems perfectly normal and even preferable to them until they no longer desire His presence at all. This is the essence of Hell. A sober thought. It’s as if the “gates of Hell” are locked from the inside, so to speak. I haven’t gotten the absolute truth about all this, Aram. But, one thing I do know is that God is love, and is not willing that “any should
          perish.” If anyone is distanced from Him, I think it will be through their own choice and deliberate intention. ~ Rebecca

          How does your leaning towards universal reconciliation fit with perishing Rebecca?

          Reply
          1. Rebecca

            Zoe, I don’t have it all sorted out. There is an inconsistency in my mind about this, except that I think we can trust the love of God in Christ.

          2. Zoe

            Rebecca,

            You continually reference C.S. Lewis’s books.

            Here’s what I hear in Lewis’s comment. People like me (insert others you interact with on these blogs) are making choices in our lives that further alienate and distance ourselves from God . . . and the outcome of this progressive act of choosing is like a frog in a pot on a stove who doesn’t realize the heat is slowly going to cook them. Why at first this choice we make seems quite normal and preferable, over time, we won’t realize, (like the frog) that we’ve gotten so comfortable that we will simply no longer seek Him. Outcome? HELL according to you and Lewis. And no matter the counter to your argument or to Lewis’s you always retort: I don’t know but God does and God is love!

            Now I know you struggle with the hell thing yet you continually imply that hell exists in some way shape or form and you always imply as you do here that it’s a choice I (others) am/are making AND it is intentional. I have brought the gates of Hell upon myself, locked from the inside, so to speak, and it is a choice, or it was a choice I made at one point and from there I have progressively chosen distance, my choice, deliberate. Perished.

            I was thinking the other day how you keep warning. Careful Zoe (insert the others you’ve warned) you are progressively too comfortable making these choices away from God. The longer you do it the more you perish until one day . . . ? I often want to say back to you Rebecca, Careful Rebecca, you are progressively becoming comfortable and making choices that sound more and more fundamentalist. It’s a progressive choice you are making, it’s getting normal and you don’t even realize the water is getting hot.

            So many of us who changed our minds about our former belief did so through years of study. We came to understand that your God is not God for us.

            It’s not a rebellious thing we do one day.

            We don’t wake up and go screw you God (my apologies to those who do).

            I don’t continually &/or progressively choose to distance myself from a being/entity/character who I believe doesn’t exist.

            I don’t continually make choices to deliberately distance myself from your God.

            I don’t distance myself from your God or your Muslim friends and their Allah or the kazillion other Gods that exist out there in time, past, present and future.

            It’s not a process of alienation. It simply is, a non-belief in whatever God a theist presents.

            It is also simply a matter of no faith in your God or that of C.S. Lewis’s God or that of any theistic belief.

        2. ObstacleChick

          Hi Rebecca,

          “Lately, though, I’ve been re reading C.S. Lewis’s book, “The Great Divorce.” Do you know it? It is an allegory of Heaven and Hell. His premise is that people can go on, making choices in their lives that further alienate and distance them from God. It is progressive. This seems perfectly normal and even preferable to them until they no longer desire His presence at all. This is the essence of Hell. A sober thought.”

          I’m just pondering this thought. As someone who no longer believes in any deities (Christian god or any other), I make choices without thought of any gods. This is not hell for me, it is freeing but with weight of responsibility. Sometimes I make good choices, and sometimes my choices are not as good, but I learn from them and accept the responsibility for the consequences those choices bring.

          I think I would prefer to interpret your statement without deities. Perhaps an essence of “hell” is making choices that are not good for the person making the choices – perhaps they bring self-harm, perhaps they bring harm to someone else. Either can create “hellish” conditions in this life. I do not have an evidence for an afterlife so I do not focus on it. I am not discounting that there might be an afterlife – as humans, we are only able to perceive so many dimensions with our senses whereas other dimensions exist, so it is possible that some sort of “energy” leaves us when we die, and that energy goes to another dimension – I have no idea, especially as the conductors of the energy of which we are aware will be degraded (our human bodies) so I don’t know how that would work.

          A lot of the stories of the bible are one culture’s mythology created to help people make sense of a world they didn’t understand and to convey lessons and messages that they wanted people to learn. Some of these stories are beautiful in their own way. And the bible overall is interesting for us to try to understand how some people understood the world in the eras in which it was written. There are some good things in it, but there are some equally horrifying things. Therefore, I wouldn’t take it as a “roadmap” for how to live my life in the modern Western world.

          Reply
          1. Rebecca

            Absolutely, Obstacle Chick, people can create Hellish conditions in this life. Also, that is an interesting thought relating to energy going to another dimension after death.

            I would agree with your last paragraph in part and the importance of being able to separate out
            which parts of the Scripture are truly helpful and apply to our lives today as opposed to being culturally bound. But, I do feel that God can speak even through myth, that we can gain insight, and learn something of the human condition. There is much ancient wisdom reflected even in the Old Testament, and of course, plenty of things that we shouldn’t emulate as well as you’ve shared.

            For me, the life and teaching of Jesus is more the “roadmap” that informs my faith rather than a more general belief of living a certain way because the “Bible says so.”

          2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            So then, you are okay with bestiality? Jesus never mentioned it and there’s no command in the New Testament prohibiting it.

            So, you only follow the teachings of Jesus and all other commands, precepts, laws, rules, and regulations found in the Bible are optional or left to your whim as to whether you will obey them?

            Jesus said:

            Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Matthew 5:17,18

            You are directly contradicting the teachings of Jesus. No, “it seems to me,” “we will just have to agree to disagree,” or other dodges you use to avoid the implications of your beliefs….either explain how your beliefs are consistent with Matthew 5:17, 18 — Jesus’s Words — or admit you just pick and choose what you want to believe (as ALL Christians do).

            I’m still waiting, years later, for you to coherently explain your belief that God is this magnanimous creature of love , yet, at the same time, created hell and created people he intends to send there after they die. I am waiting years longer for you to explain your “ loving” God in light of his murderous drowning of millions of people in a flood.

            Either you believe in universal reconciliation or you don’t. What, after all these years of you saying this, is left for you to know? Why all the debate over this or that point of theology if everyone, in the end — including Hitler, Bundy, and Trump — makes it to heaven? Or is the real issue here that you don’t like the implications of your belief in Hell and you are trying to find a way to soften your belief, and this, then, will allow you to be seen in a better light by non-Christians?

            The cloth is wearing thin, as it always does, Rebecca/Becky/Grace.

        3. Aram McLean

          Hello Rebecca,
          well, I see from Bruce’s comment that you’ve been repeating the same lines for at least nine years, so clearly no point in me thinking I’ll somehow get through to you. If you can’t see that you’re just picking and choosing what works for you – no god needed – then clearly an impasse has been reached. I would say this though – when you say things like: “And, as I’ve shared, I certainly don’t have it all sorted out either. Probably never will this side of eternity.” To me this comes across as ‘you’ll think when you’re dead’. Clearly, your god doesn’t make sense, the contradictions are immense, the eternal punishment doesn’t sit right with you, etc. But rather than look at the simplest solution i.e. it’s all made up by humans. You double down and conclude that knowing the answer after you’re dead is good enough for you. I do not understand this mindset in an adult. Your own children have seen through the nonsense you’re spouting, e.g. ‘Hell locked from the inside’ and such like garbage. Why can’t you?
          Anyway, I wish you well. Following Bruce’s lead, as it’s his blog, I shall leave you to your mantras and be on my way. Regarding volunteering, I admit I know as much about it as you do with google. I live in Germany at the moment, and certainly there is always a need. Enjoy Italy, in any case. ‘Tis a lovely place. Cheers
          Aram

          Reply
    2. Brian

      Rebecca, thank-you for stating your position and choice in belief. It seems that you feel a need to approach a kind of perfection and that the Jesus of the Bible is that for you. I regret that we are not perfect and that we have failings in life. Indeed some people are unfortunately ‘broken’, so severely harmed in life that they live a wreckage of a life. The difference between your view and mine is that I do not believe we are all broken and need Jesus. All of us have the ‘problem’ or the challenge of occupying our humanity in the fullest manner possible. Christianity suggests that the human heart is fallen and needs to be given over. I have experienced that and seen it experienced much over my 65 years and have concluded that is a kind of emotional bandaid; no matter how intellectually diligent one is, the final word is not a a word at all in this matter but an emotional embrace, a leap into the stream, if you will.
      It is my opinion that you are a biped like me and the rest of us and that you are not perfect. You express ‘hate’ as you call it as if it was a terrible act to commit but it is only your feelings coming out before you. You feel impatient and invaded as a visitor being hounded by vendors/beggars (I expereinced this in Burma years ago) and you react emotionally to feel safe and free. Then you do what Rebecca does, feel terribly guilty and conflicted and find yourself in conflict with yourself. One can get to the bottom of such a human issue and you probably have to the extent you wish, I guess. But you find the Jesus way is suitable overall. Still, you are not restored and healed tomorrow, are you? You must remain Rebecca and do the ‘church’ waltz again and again. Christianity is a tool that might be taken as a pill but it does not heal, only deals with symptoms of being human and those symptoms are cyclical, like breath. I see this aspect of Christianity as viral. You see it as the right prescription, if I get it as you tell it here. You sound to me like a questioning and open person. You are able to hear others criticize your choices without jabbing at them in blind anger because you feel harmed… that is admirable, Rebecca but I wonder if you don’t like hurting yourself a bit much, you know? I know why I hurt myself sometimes and am troubled by the fact that I learned self-harm long ago but have not completely won that battle over things that endure and deplete me finally. But I don’t believe for a second that I was born harmed and fallen and that somebody/thing made the world as the Bible suggests. That is really preposterous to me and just more bald evidence of how little we succeed in helping ourselves and one another. We have to do better that Christians somehow. We must try not to embrace systems that require us to hate ourselves so terribly and stew and re-stew in our guilts and griefs. I think you know exactly what I am trying hard to say without managing to say it well. Remember old Van Morrison? What a marvelous night for a moondance. That’s another way of saying it, I think, talking around being alive and okay with it. Jesus and Mohammed and the Bab and alll the rest are bandaids we have obviously needed for our boo-boos. We hurt sometimes to live and live to hurt but we are not the incomplete vessels withouit the coded self-harm of belief, as is dictated in the black book. You don’t have to play the sinner game they gave you.

      Reply
  15. Rebecca

    Rachel, you’ve brought up an issue that has often been front and center for me. Where is the interface between genuine mental illness and personal choice/ accountability, and how do we deal with that ? You know it’s not ok for someone to be abusive even if she is mentally ill. And, I think holding people accountable is part of the healing process.

    It’s a sad truth that often those who would benefit the most, spiritually speaking, from a healthy conviction of “sin” (not talking about self loathing here) that would lead to real change and an amendment of life, are also the folks who are totally unable to see themselves, and sincerely feel that all of the relational problems they’re having are surely someone else’s fault. They are always the “victim.”

    Although, my family situtation is certainly not even close to yours, there are a couple of people in my family that I have never heard apologize in their entire lives for anything.

    I agree that healthy boundaries are important, and that you need to take steps to protect you and your family from further harm. My total empathy.

    Reply
    1. Brian

      Rebecca said: “It’s a sad truth that often those who would benefit the most, spiritually speaking, from a healthy conviction of “sin” (not talking about self loathing here) that would lead to real change and an amendment of life, are also the folks who are totally unable to see themselves, and sincerely feel that all of the relational problems they’re having are surely someone else’s fault. They are always the “victim.””
      Exactly Rebecca what I would say to you, that if you would face your human self as merely imperfect, a work in progress, you would not require the Christian cage of self-harm and could stop making yourself a victim of God’s Judgement, so to speak. “It was never your fault,” we must repeat again and again to a victim! To a victim. It is okay to have been harmed. We did not initiate that harm but endured it and then blamed ourselves. I don’t want Jesus to forgive me, Rebecca. I forgive myself.
      As for lack of inight and mental illness, I remember hearing of a young schizophrenic who was a gifted leader in the church among youth and could lead like a brilliant conductor of an orchestra. Till he started hearing voices, hearing Jesus and so forth. His fellow Chritians got him to hospital several times, then he disappeared from the scene. An ex-preacher at the church saw him some years later and asked him what had happened and what became of his ministry. He answered, “I needed meds and I would stop taking them. Now I take them.” I wonder, Rebecca, just how many people take Christianity into their lives to stay sick instead of really loving themselves without the final judgement (the harm they have already suffered as child victims) that proved them bad or fallen or whatever. For all have begun with the possibility of perfection and perhaps can learn to continue to live that way, rather than being the victim, the sinner, the broken who must be saved by magic.

      Reply
      1. Rebecca

        Brian, thank you for your concern and compassion for me. I woke up this morning struck by a sense that part of our problem in dialogue is that I think we do not have the same concept and experience of Christian faith.

        As a child, I was not at all reared in a church setting where there was this heavy emphasis on sin. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember ever hearing a word about judgment or Hell. My parents never spoke of this, either. As a matter of fact, they would have probably thought at the time that people who did so were religious fanatics.

        My parents were good, decent middle class people. My grandparents, however, were wealthy. I was their only granddaughter. and they loved and adored me. I loved them back. So, as a child, I was not a brat, very moral, but probably a bit spoiled. Looking back, Brian, I realized that I looked down on others, really who were different from me. I had it together. They didn’t. I was self righteous, thinking people should just be able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, so to speak.

        So, when I apprehended the gospel for the first time and saw both my own sin, and the grace of God, it worked in my life to not create a sense of hatred or self loathing, but instead brought me into a healthy balance of seeing my own faults and imperfections, and so being more able to also love, forgive, and to accept others as well with their weaknesses. I became more compassionate.

        To this day Brian, I think we are all of intrinsic worth and value just as humans being made in the image of a loving God apart from anything else. To me, a reception or interpretation of Christian faith that leads people to hate and reject themselves, or into legalism is not of God.

        Brian, perhaps our words will not be able to bridge this gap of experience between us, and we will have to agree to disagree. But, I want you to know that I deeply appreciate you as a person. Even through our brief conversations, I’m able to sense your passion, sincerity, and compassion. Thank you.

        Reply
  16. Rebecca

    Zoe, I appreciate your honesty. But, often when I’m reflecting, I’m not addressing you in this personal way at all. I have children who are not Christian believers. My youngest son is awesome. I fully understand that not all non theist people wake up one day in a rebellious state of mind, deliberately intending to reject God. Of course not.

    It seems to me that Lewis is speaking of something far deeper in the human condition than whether people in this life are intellectually persuaded of the existence of God. And, as I’ve shared, I certainly don’t have it all sorted out either. Probably never will this side of eternity.

    Reply
    1. Zoe

      You need to stop saying you are not addressing me Rebecca. You are. I am the unbeliever Lewis and other apologists are referring to, in general. So is Brian, Bruce and others here as well. I refer to myself specifically because of our connection (9 years of it). When you get to your apologetics/reflections you are leaning literally within your own context and you use Lewis to back up your thoughts. Then you usually imply, ‘well it’s a deeper thing.’ You continually remind me of those who say: Well dear, it’s beyond me and I know it’s beyond you . . . but God. Ah yes, the mystery of it all. Universal reconciliation and locked in hell by choice = love. If you don’t mean this and you haven’t got it figured out yet, stop presenting it like it’s literal.

      You show no signs of at all understanding where we are coming from. Here you go again:

      But, suppose Hell is as Lewis postulates, simply more a state of separation from God which is freely self chosen. And, the love of God allows even this exercise of free will. He doesn’t drag people kicking and screaming into the kingdom. I don’t know, but it seems to me that these two concepts are very different. ~ Rebecca

      Everything you’ve written here and elsewhere you have written to me over and over again for 9 years. All you’ve done is connected with Brian now. Before that it was Bruce, me, Ark, Ruth, DagoodS, and others along the way. I am going to address this every time you pop in Rebecca. This isn’t just a blog for you and me. I know that. There are others hear who read who don’t even speak up. It’s them I have in mind when someone drops Lewis into the mix over and over and keeps trying to present hell (as you and Lewis prefer) as a choice as long as I continue to read blogs I’m going to say something to you. I’m not here to protect Brian or Bruce or anyone else. I’m here to provide an alternative for the person we never hear from who reads your flowery presentation of God and then drops in there that if it’s not our leaning we’re in danger of by our own choices to a locked in hell this side of eternity as well as the other.

      I have children who are not Christian believers. My youngest son is awesome. I fully understand that not all non theist people wake up one day in a rebellious state of mind, deliberately intending to reject God. Of course not. ~ Rebecca

      You don’t demonstrate that understanding at all Rebecca. No, of course not. It’s not a one day event. It’s progressive Rebecca!

      Reply
      1. Brian

        Zoe, thanks for weighing in with a timeline on all this… I have a feeling that faith is about feeling primarily anf that reason/logic ride in the back seat. It was the cycle of faith that led me to consider reason/logic finally and when I did that my belief system just went out from under me at the knees. Rebecca is still feeling that she is where she wants and needs to be and here is evangelical. That kinda pisses people off after awhile because it is the same old same old that we have left behind. Rebecca impresses me as a decent sort of person caught in a kind of caretaker mode. I think it is best if we move on from this and it sounds like the Pope has issure a papal bull on the matter now.

        Reply
        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          Not so much a Papal Bull as “I’ve seen this movie before and I know how it ends.” Zoe and I have a decade of experiences interacting with Rebecca/Becky/Grace. You see Rebecca as we once did, but we’ve had experiences with her that are anything but pleasant; not that she is nasty or unkind — she’s not.

          I debated letting her comment again, and several friends said I should say no. But, the better nature in me wants to forgive and forget, so I said yes. Alas, my friends were right.

          I wish Rebecca well. I have suggested to her in the past that she start her own blog. That way she can peddle her version of Christianity — whatever the hell it is — to her heart’s content.

          Reply
  17. Joel

    Beyond the reasoning provided by Nellie Smith, I think one also has to consider the value proposition of theism vs atheism. What could possibly persuade billions to continue placing their faith in a higher power in this age of enlightenment? The thought that a benevolent creator exists who made me in his image, who cares for me and wants to know me personally is certainly a powerful notion. Hope of reuniting with loved ones and finding a “better lot” in the afterlife; the perceived potential for supernatural guidance, assistance, and near-term healing for diseases/disorders that are beyond the limits of medical science are all generally appealing. Not to mention having a (possibly) satisfying answer to the question of human significance. These and many other related ideas hold emotional weight, and are not easily dismissed. If one were going to abandon them, it would stand to reason that there would need to be a compelling alternative.

    Now admittedly, if you are miserable in your existence as a theist, this might negate the appeal of theism. But if you are content in your theism, and find it purposeful and satisfying, you are quite justified in going about your merry way on the path to oblivion; all the while holding to your convictions regardless of their objective truth. If you are wrong, so what?? Everything mankind will discover and accomplish will be erased anyway as the galaxies fade with the heat death of the universe.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Personally, I choose reality over made up beliefs meant to assuage my fear and meet my emotional needs. Of course, I am a pessimist. I choose to see things as they are, and not how I want them to be. Life is hard. We live, we die, end of story. Now make the most of it while you are among the living. 🙂

      As far as caring whether people have certain beliefs, there are beliefs that rob people of their lives. Remove sin, fear, and ult from the equation, and Christianity would cease to exist. These things are used, then, to keep the religious machinery running (Greek for keeping the coffers full).

      Reply
  18. Rebecca

    Bruce, my lovable grandkids are about to descend for the weekend, so I won’t be able to talk at length until Monday or possibly Sunday evening.

    Perhaps I could express this in another way, I think my belief as a Christian needs to be consistent with God’s love expressed in the incarnation or the ethic of Jesus to love our neighbor’s as ourselves. This is going to condition how I receive, use and interpret Scripture. Are there also hard sayings of Jesus that I don’t fully understand, absolutely? For instance, in this verse that you mentioned, all the commentators don’t agree concerning the meaning. Surprise. 🙂

    Seriously, there were times when Jesus contradicted the law, Himself, when he spoke against retaliatory violence, an eye for an eye.. He healed on the Sabbath. Jesus forgave the woman taken in adultery, and said, “He who is without sin. Cast the first stone.” I could go on and on. Jesus protected women from being lightly abandoned in His culture through divorce, condemning the hardness of heart that would put a woman on the street because her husband wanted out of the marriage.

    My heart is to try to discern truth. Might I get this wrong sometimes? Absolutely. For me, the Christian faith does not require absolute certainty about every issue. I often think in shades of gray. But, my thinking is much deeper than an arbitrary picking and choosing of this and that.

    It’s true that Jesus did not condemn bestiality directly, but knowing what we do of His life and ethic, would he countenance behavior that could bring harm to people and is abusive. I’m not saying this lightly. Years ago, I worked as an intern with people caught up this terrible practice. People can be gravely injured and even killed. It is also abusive toward the animal.

    I think if we have a concept of Hell that involves God deliberately wanting to torture people out of anger, roasting them alive because they stepped out of line, or didn’t believe in the right way, then, no, this, IMO could not be reconciled with the love of God at all. But, suppose Hell is as Lewis postulates, simply more a state of separation from God which is freely self chosen. And, the love of God allows even this exercise of free will. He doesn’t drag people kicking and screaming into the kingdom. I don’t know, but it seems to me that these two concepts are very different.

    Anyway, Bruce, typing fast, and have probably missed some stuff. Anyway, I’m asking for you to be patient, and to trust my sincerity and good intentions, to be open. I will also be open to your concerns and criticisms as well. We are both where we are at.

    Please feel free to call me Becky, BTW, all my friends and close acquaintances do.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Here’s the thing, I’ve been listening to your greatest hits for years. Same songs over and over and over again. I am not sure, in the end, what you hope to accomplish, but, at least for me, I think it is time to put your record away or donate it to Goodwill. I generally don’t give Christians the space I have given your here, so you have been given ample opportunity to make your case — whatever the hell it is (I have no clue).

      It seems to me, then, that it is time for you to move on. I wish you well. Please do not email me. Been there, done that. No need to cover ground that we have gone over repeatedly over the years.

      Reply
      1. Rebecca

        I know you don’t Bruce. Appreciated the space, and the discussion that was had.

        Wishing you well also.

        Becky.

        Reply
  19. maura a hart

    so much damage done for jehooobahhhh. so much blood shed for zombie jeebus. so much hatred for anyone other than your particular color, particular sect. if one doesn’t say the exact right words, in the exact right church, on the exact rright day at the exact right hour all is lost? echoing the students from park land ford, i call bullshit on all of it. stop say you love, when what you do is hate. if zombie jeebus were actually real, how would you explain your behavior to him> please keep your good work up, you are so encouraging

    Reply
    1. Brian

      so much damage done for jehooobahhhh
      so much blood shed for zombie jeebus
      so much hatred for anyone other than
      particular color, particular sect
      if one doesn’t say the exact right words
      the exact right church
      the exact rright day
      the exact right hour
      all is lost?
      Echo the students from park land ford
      bullshit on all of it…
      stop saying you love, when what you do is hate
      If zombie jeebus were actually real
      how would you explain?

      This is poetry, maura a hart. You should write a book about what you know.
      Thank-you, Brian

      Reply

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