How Evangelicalism Distorts Reality and Causes Harm

john piper sleep

I recently talked to a high school football player about an accident he was in that almost killed him. I told him that he was one lucky guy to have survived the crash (he was t-boned by a woman who ran a stop sign). He replied, well God still has a plan for me! Polly’s Mom will soon have surgery for breast cancer. She has thrown herself into the arms of Jesus whom she believes will always take care of her and never leave or forsake her. Polly’s father went through hip replacement surgery two years ago, hoping that the surgery would ease his pain and increase his mobility. Instead, in what can only be described as an unmitigated disaster, Polly’s father will never walk more than a few steps again and is relegated to a wheelchair. When asked about his plight, he replies, this is all part of God’s plan. I am putting my faith and trust in Jesus, believing that all things will work out according to his plan. I have a dear Christian friend who has spent the past decade battling one affliction after another. This year, to add insult to injury, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. My friend has faced the indignity of losing her hair from chemotherapy/radiation treatments. Yet, no matter what comes her way, she knows that God will give her strength as he works out his plan in her life.

God is good all the time, Evangelicals say. He has a purpose and plan for everyone, and everything that happens in their lives is according to God’s divine script for their lives. And even when it comes to death, Evangelicals believe that God has appointed a date/time when they will die. No one comes into the world and no one leave this world unless God says they can. The Bible says:

See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand. (Deuteronomy 32:39)

Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. (Acts 17:25,28)

I am [Jesus] he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. (Revelation 1:18)

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: (Hebrews 9:27)

What makes things worse is that not only do Evangelicals believe that God has a purpose and plan for their lives, they also believe that no matter how much they suffer or face adversity, once they die, God will reward them with eternal life in Heaven. I call this the divine payoff. Revelation 21:4 says:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

Evangelicals hang their hat on the belief that a perfect life awaits them after death. They will be reunited with their Christian loved ones and never again have to deal with non-Christians. A perfect world in every way, preachers say, one wherein dwells love, peace, and righteousness. It comes as no surprise then, that many Evangelicals just float through life, facing what comes their way with indifference, believing God will make all things new in the end and give them the desires of their hearts (hearts that have been changed by God).

The problem with this kind of fanciful thinking, of course, is that it is irrational. Evangelicals have no proof for their claims except to say, THE BIBLE SAYS! And therein lies the problem. Countless Christians believe the Bible is a supernatural text written by a supernatural God, and given to them to reveal the truth about life, death, and the afterlife. Evangelicals have no tangible evidence for these claims except to quote book, chapter, and verse. God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me, Evangelicals say about the Bible. Faith blinds them to reality and often leads to real-life, disastrous outcomes. I can’t help but think of my father-in-law. When the surgeon recommended hip replacement, Dad said yes, believing that God would work everything out according to his will. That the surgery was an epic failure is of no matter. Whatever happens is according to God’s sovereign, unknowable plan. Evangelicals are conditioned to never gripe or complain about anything. They are told to have faith, believing: And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) The Apostle Paul said in Romans 9:20,21:

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?  Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

Don’t bitch, whine, or complain, Christians! God is on the job, and everything that happens in your lives is according to his script for your life. Buckle up and hang on. Those who make it to the ride’s end will be handsomely rewarded with pain-free eternal lives. Years ago, I heard Polly’s cousin, Evangelist David Young, say, there is coming a day when you will be glad you are a Christian! The Bibles does say, after all, that he that endureth to the end shall be saved. In the minds of Christians, there is coming a day when they will be vindicated and everything will be made new. Life on this side of the grave is viewed as insignificant, a mere moment in time when compared with millions of years of blessed, wonderful, atheist-free eternal life. This present life, then, is all about preparing to meet God face to face. According to James 4:14:

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

For us old-timers who attended school back in the day when buildings were heated with boilers, we can remember aimlessly watching the stream rise up from the radiators and dissipate on cold winter days. This aptly describes how Evangelicals are taught to view life.

If Christianity is anything, it is the religion of helplessness. The Christian song, I Can’t Even Walk Without You Holding my Hand perfectly illustrates this:

I thought number one
Would surely be me
I thought I could be
what I wanted to be
I thought I could build
on life’s sinking sand
but now I can’t even walk
without you holding my hand

I thought I could do a lot on my own
I thought I could make it all day long
I thought of myself as a mighty big man
but Lord I can’t even walk
without you holding my hand

O Lord I can’t even walk
without you holding my hand
the mountains too high
and the valleys too wide
down on my knees
that’s where I learned to stand
O Lord I can’t even walk
without you holding my hand

I think I’ll make Jesus my all and all
and if I’m in trouble
on his name I’ll call,
if I didn’t trust him
I’d be less of a man
cause Lord I can’t even walk
without you holding my hand

O Lord I can’t even walk
without you holding my hand
the mountains too high
and the valleys too wide
down on my knees
that’s where I learned to stand
cause Lord I can’t even walk
without you holding my hand

O Lord I can’t even walk
without you holding my hand

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In Acts 17:28, Paul says: For in him we live, and move, and have our being …

Millions and millions of Christians believe that they couldn’t breathe or walk without God giving them the power and strength to do so. In 2016, the late Billy Graham wrote:

Did you ever stop to ask yourself where you got the inner strength to overcome these problems? Yes, I realize you probably take credit for it—but in reality, God made you, and He was the One who gave you the ability to do it. In other words, without God’s unseen help you would have been helpless.

Why, then, do you find it so hard to admit you need God, or to turn to Him when you face something you don’t know how to handle (as you inevitably will)? There may be several reasons—but the basic reason can be summed up in one word: pride. Pride makes you want to take all the credit for the things you’ve been able to accomplish, and pride also makes you want to do everything on your own.

But pride can be a very dangerous thing, blinding us to our faults and cutting us off from others. Pride also can lead us into doing things that are wrong, because we think they’ll make us greater or more powerful. The Bible warns, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

….

John Piper had this to say about Christian helplessness:

Suppose you are totally paralyzed and can do nothing for yourself but talk. And suppose a strong and reliable friend promised to live with you and do whatever you needed done. How could you glorify this friend if a stranger came to see you?

Would you glorify his generosity and strength by trying to get out of bed and carry him? No! You would say, “Friend, please come lift me up, and would you put a pillow behind me so I can look at my guest? And would you please put my glasses on for me?”

And so your visitor would learn from your requests that you are helpless and that your friend is strong and kind. You glorify your friend by needing him, and by asking him for help, and counting on him.

In John 15:5, Jesus says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” So we really are paralyzed. Without Christ, we are capable of no Christ-exalting good. As Paul says in Romans 7:18, “Nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.”

Such thinking distorts reality and can cause great harm. Christians beg and plead with God for deliverance from “sin,” believing that God will give them victory over their transgressions. And when they fall or run into the same “sin” again? Why, 1 John 1:9 covers it all: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. All helpless Evangelicals need to do is confess their “sins” and God wipes their slate clean. Their helplessness breeds codependency. Evangelicals are never told that they have the power to change their ways. Want to stop looking at porn? Stop looking a porn. Want to stop being an abusive spouse? Change your ways. But instead of taking personal responsibility for bad behavior and changing their ways, Evangelicals cast all their “sins” and burdens at the feet of Jesus, crying, LORD I AM HELPLESS. PLEASE HELP ME. Such thinking breeds infantilism. Poor, helpless Christians caught in an endless cycle of repentance and forgiveness never develop the resolve to change their ways. And Jesus the drug dealer likes them this way — hooked on helpless pleading for forgiveness.

This kind of thinking is rooted in the teachings of the Bible. Whatever it says, Evangelicals say, is true. If God says Christians are helpless without him, that means they are helpless. God has spoken, end of story. As long as the followers of Jesus give the Bible undue, unwarranted influence over their lives, they will continue to be helpless. The Christian God doesn’t heal mental cripples, he makes them. In fact, God wants Christians to totally depend on him. If Christians wake up and realize they DON’T need God to live their lives, I suspect that many of the “sins” (bad behaviors) they struggle with will find resolution. The burden of change rests on us. Yes, change is hard, but it is possible if we truly put our mind to it. Begging and pleading with God accomplishes nothing. How can it, right? At best, the Creator is a deistic entity who isn’t involved in the ministrations of men. It’s far more likely, however, that we are on our own, and if we want to change it is up to us to do so.

How did Christian beliefs about the nature and helpless of man distort reality in your life? Did these beliefs cause harm, not only to yourself, but to others? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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9 Comments

  1. Dell

    Long though this post be, it barely touches the surface. A certain religion based medical and dental school several years ago informed its students that graduates of that school had the highest small plane accidents of similar professional schools. The speaker said in jest that this was perhaps because the pilots were too busy reading the bible while flying, but I suspect it was exactly as you suggest, a tad too much faith in divine intervention and too little attention to mundane details such as msintenance, weather, safe areas to fly, etc (plus the whole mission pilot aspect)

    Reply
  2. ObstacleChick

    The principal of my kids’ high school has a saying, “CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL” (and of course the kids make fun if it). This is one of the best messages that we didnt get as evangelicals, instead being told we were weak, sinful, damaged, filthy. Not everyone e internalizes that message, but many do. I watched relatives sit back instead of taking control of their lives. Instead, they waited for death and the promise of eternal youth, beauty, and happiness.

    As a deconvert, it took me awhile to understand what I can control and what I can’t. Surprisingly I have more peace without “laying it all on the Lord” and instead considering what will happen if x, y, or z happen and how I can handle each outcome. Sometimes the answer is that a situation is out of my control, and other times I identify what I can do. I like this way better!

    There may be a certain peace from “laying it on the Lord”, but I think it is a bandaid that doesnt tix the problem. A placebo may give temporary respite from pain, but it wont deliver a cure.

    Reply
  3. Mary

    I read all of your posts I got today in your email letter and all I can say is I’m so grateful I’m not religious in any way. Having never been around too many religious people, I find this all amazing. Utterly amazing in the 21st century.

    In taking no responsibility for their own lives and decisions, they also take, collectively, no responsibility for the future of humanity and the very planet we all share. It is the single most dangerous force I see….religion.

    How do you explain such blind faith and ignorance of how the world really works. What drives these people in modern times and are they truly mentally and neurologically different. They don’t seem like normal people to me and yet, I know there are many like this.

    Reply
    1. Brian

      Hi Mary, I suspect that as ObstacleChick says, there are some believers who are not so damaged by faith as others. I have a hunch that the extent of damage done by ‘religion’ is in direct proportion with childhood experience, issues of bonding and abuse in childhood. These matters prepare an individual to be harmed in a big way by creepy Piper preachers and others who simply delight in abusing others by beating them with biblical fervor and versing them half to death with convictions of depravity and doom without sweet Jesus. It is not funny that people stand at the portals of churches to welcome the harmed and hurting inside. The bait is so loving and sweet. The help is real and palpable. Then, after the fish is on the hook and flapping, the switch comes: Mankind is evil and depraved. You are nothing you piece of dung! Unless Jesus… All this occurs with smiling and men in suits etc. All this is normal life for extremist religions everywhere you can find them. Jesus and Mohamed are brothers in a harmed family. We would do so much better without either of them if they are to be idolized and obsessed over.
      In answer to your question toward the end of your post, Bruce, my life was taken by ‘faith’. I was led to believe that imaginary forces are worthy of all my efforts and fortune and that human life is best served as a complete servant to the imaginary man. I tried to manipulate others to win them to the faith and I hated myself for being imperfect and such an unworthy recipient of God’s great sacrifice as I murdered him on the Cross with my lack of goodness, the candy bar I slipped into my coat pocket in childhood at the corner store, the adolescent thoughts of sensual delights with girlfriends, the appearance of the word FUCK in my brain appearing unbidden abd proving what an animal I was…. Oh yes, every little thing that I could rake into a pile of self-hatred was fired up in delight by the preacher and his minions, was lit under me and became a fire of self-disgust. Praise his holy name! I wll burn like Job and prove my worthiness! Well, as you know so deeply, the bullshit just never ends. I am humbled as an old man at how willing my parents were to give me over to all that, how daaged their young lives must have been and how willing men like Piper are to serve the Christian gestapo. Thank-you, again, Bruce for telling the truth.

      Reply
  4. That Other Jean

    Instead of John Piper, I think I’ll follow the admonition of Teddy Roosevelt:

    ” Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

    If god(s) exist, they’re likely to be far too busy to do something for me that I can do for myself.

    Reply
  5. Dave

    A few years ago Christian ballplayer, Josh Hamilton tossed a baseball to a man watching the game with his young son. Tragically his toss was short and when the man reached to catch the ball he fell to his death in the presence of his young son. When asked later about this Hamilton’s comment was that God has a plan. Not surprisingly he later relapsed into drug abuse and I can’t help but think this incident contributed greatly to that. People shrug off tragedies as ”God’s plan” but how often are they rationalizing? What kind of omnipotent, omniscient being would make grotesque human suffering part of a divine plan? I think that people who really believe that have truly lost their humanity.

    Reply
  6. Monica

    “What kind of omnipotent, omniscient being would make grotesque human suffering part of a divine plan?”

    The one that forced his “only begotten” son onto the cross. If people can accept this lie, then they can accept anything.

    “The great masses of the people… will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.”~~ Adolf Hitler

    Reply
    1. Dave

      And I used to believe that God was being merciful by torturing somebody else in my place. Having been indoctrinated by this nonsense from my earliest days, I can’t blame myself for these beliefs. How difficult it was to face my delusions and reject religious dogma. Now when I look back at my former beliefs I can’t believe what I once held as truth

      Reply
  7. Ian for a long time

    This nebulous plan is the only way that people can make sense of senseless suffering and pain.

    I do wonder why good people die, or have crappy lives, while narcissistic and brutal people flourish. There used to be a joke about the dictator diet, because those guys seemed to live forever. Karma is a great idea, but it doesn’t truly happen.

    Humans want there to be justice, whatever their version of justice is. Balance needs to be restored to the Force, Neo is the glitch that resets the Matrix. It is a common longing. When helpless people look to leaders for an answer, what better answer to give than one that promises a full reckoning after death. No one can come back and prove otherwise.

    Reply

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