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Four Questions from an Evangelical Pastor

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Several days ago, an Evangelical pastor whom I have known for over forty years sent me some questions, the answers to which appear below. I found his questions sincere and honest, unlike many questions I receive from Evangelicals. Far too often, ulterior motivations lurk behind some questions, but I don’t sense that here. Hopefully, readers of this blog will find my answers helpful.

Bruce, do you ever feel like you’re wrong?

I am sixty-two years old. I have been wrong more times than I can count. Over the past decade, I have, on occasion, written about my wrongness, be it beliefs I held or decisions I made. As a pastor, my beliefs evolved over the course of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. One of the mistakes my critics make is picking a certain point in my life, and judging me from that moment in time. In doing so, they mistakenly or deliberately ignore what has come before and after. Yes, I entered the ministry as an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. Yes, I at one time was a Jack Hyles supporter. However, my beliefs and associations continued to evolve. By the time I left the ministry in 2005, my beliefs were, compared to those I entered the ministry with, quite liberal. I entered the ministry with a narrow, judgmental view of people who called themselves Christians. I believed that my little corner of the Evangelical tent was reserved for True Christians®. Twenty-five years later, the front door of the church I pastored said, “the church where the only label that matters is Christian.”

The same could be said of my evolution politically. For many years, I was a diehard Christian nationalist who only voted Republican. I listened to Rush Limbaugh every day. In 2000, for the first time, I voted for a Democrat. By the time I moved to my current home, I was a liberal and a democratic socialist.

And finally, the same could be said of my social beliefs. I entered the ministry as an anti-abortion, patriarchal homophobe. I pastored a Baptist church in southeast Ohio for eleven years. I was well-known for my public pronouncements against abortion, women’s rights, and homosexuality. Yet, two decades later, my views have dramatically changed. I am now considered a defender of choice, women’s rights, and LGBTQ people.

People who have never changed their minds about anything — a common trait among religious Fundamentalists — look at my journey and see a man who is unstable. I, on the other hand, see a man who is willing to change his mind when confronted or challenged with facts and evidence that render his beliefs untenable.

Intellectual and personal growth only come when we are willing to admit we are wrong. Closed-minded Fundamentalism stunts our thinking. One need only visit an IFB church to see what happens when people shut themselves off from the world and refuse to investigate and challenge their beliefs.

So, yes, I have been wrong, and I have no doubt that I will continue to be wrong. A well-lived life is one where there is ongoing progress and maturity. If I regret anything, it is that I waited way too long give in to my doubts and questions; that I waited way too long to expose myself to people who think differently from me; that I waited too long to admit to the love of my life and my children that I was wrong.

Bruce, have you ever hesitated at all in deciding to become an atheist?

The short answer is yes, especially when I first deconverted. For a time, my mind was plagued with thoughts and fears about being wrong and God throwing me in Hell. I feared God punishing me for disobedience. I lay in bed more than a few nights wondering, “what if I am wrong?”

Over time, my doubts and fears faded into the fabric of my life. It’s been years now since I had such thoughts.

Perhaps, this pastor is asking me a different question, wondering if I was hesitant about publicly identifying as an atheist. I have never been one to hesitate when I am confident that I am right. I am not the type of person who hides who and what he is, even if it would make life easier for me if I did so. In this regard, my wife and I are as different as day and night. Now, I don’t go through the streets screaming, “I am an ATHEIST,” but I don’t shy away from the label. I have often warned people who have contacted me about their own questions and doubts to NOT look at my life as a pattern to follow. (Please see Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist) Each of us must choose our own path. I don’t judge or criticize atheists who choose to keep their unbelief private. Each to his own.

When I started blogging in 2007, one question I asked myself was whether I wanted to write anonymously. I chose to use my real name, but there have been moments when I wondered if I made the right choice. I have been brutally attacked and threatened by Christian zealots. The pain these people inflict leaves deep, lasting scars. Two weeks ago, this blog celebrated its fifth anniversary. Anyone who has ridden Bruce’s crazy train for years knows that me making it to five years is surprising. On at least three other occasions over the years, I have stopped blogging and deleted all of my posts due to savage attacks from Christian Fundamentalists (and, at one time, Fundamentalist atheists).

My life is pretty much an open book. I try to be open and honest, owning past mistakes and transgressions. Are there moments when I wish I had used a pseudonym instead of my real name? Sure, but it’s too late now to do so. The horse has left the proverbial barn. Even if I stopped blogging tomorrow, it would be impossible to erase my Internet footprint.

Bruce, was your transition difficult for you to accept?

I want to answer this question from two vantage points. First, was my transition from Christian to atheist hard for me to accept? Not at all. I have always believed truth matters. My life appears to my Evangelical critics to be one of a wanderer, a double-minded man (whom the Bible says is unstable in all his ways). My battle with depression is a sure sign to them that I am weak-kneed mentally. Perhaps, but I am the kind of person who is unafraid of changing his mind or being viewed as odd or different. In 2005, my mother-in-law and I had an epic blow-out. I believe I have written about this in the past. (This blow-out, by the way, totally altered our relationship — for the better, from my perspective.) Several days after our titanic battle, my mother-in-law called me. We talked about many things. During our conversation, Mom said, “Bruce, we always knew you were “different.” And she was right. I have always been the kind of person who follows the beat of my own drum, both as a Christian and an atheist. I have no doubt that my singular drum beating has caused me problems and affected the relationships I have with Polly, my children, and my extended family. I am who I am, and I have reached a place in life where I no longer apologize for being Bruce Gerencser.

Second, was my transition from a pastor to a commoner hard for me to accept? Absolutely. My entire life was wrapped up in Jesus and my calling to preach the gospel. The ministry was my life. I enjoyed being the hub around which everything turned. I enjoyed the work of the ministry, especially studying for and preaching sermons. To this day, I miss standing before people and saying, “thus saith the Lord.” I miss the love and respect I received from congregants. I miss the place I had in the community due to my position as a minister.

Walking away from the ministry and Christianity meant abandoning my life’s calling; abandoning everything I held dear. Doing so meant, at the age of fifty, I had to answer countless questions that I hadn’t thought about in years. Fortunately, Polly walked hand in hand with me when I deconverted. I can only imagine how different our lives might have been had I became an atheist and Polly remained a Christian. I highly doubt our marriage would have survived.

Do I still miss certain aspects of the ministry? Sure. Fortunately, writing has become a ministry of sorts for me. This blog and its wonderful readers are my church. I digitally preach sermons, hoping that people find them encouraging and helpful. The traffic numbers suggest that a few people, anyway, love and appreciate the content of my post-Christian sermons. And all Loki’s people said, AMEN!

Bruce, do you wonder at all about any form of an afterlife?

I do not. I have come to accept that life is short, death is certain, and once we draw our last breath we cease to exist. There was a time, post-Jesus, when I hoped there was some sort of life beyond the grave. It’s hard to comprehend not existing. I have had numerous thoughts about non-existence; about going to bed at night and never waking up; of being alive one moment, and dead the next. 2019 was a tough year physically for Polly and me. I thought about how life might be without Polly lying next to me; of not hearing the keys in the door late at night and her voice ringing out, “I’m home.”

As much as I might want for there to be life after death, the facts tell me that no such thing exists. What evidence do we have for an afterlife? None, except the words in this or that religious text. I am no longer willing to build my life and future on what the Bible does and doesn’t say. This is a good spot for me to share the advice I give on the About page:

If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?

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

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

I do my best to live by this statement. If, perchance, I learn after I die that there is an afterlife, fine my me. I have no worries about the existence of the Christian God and his Heaven/Hell. I am confident that the only Heaven and Hell is that which we make in this life. That said, is it possible that some sort of cosmic afterlife exists? Sure, but I am not counting on it. I am not going to waste this life in the hope that there is some sort of divine payoff after I die

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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22 Comments

  1. Avatar
    BJW

    Well said. I think it is harder to be non-Christian, agnostic or atheist where we live in NW Ohio. I told a friend I was no longer a Christian and that was the last time that supposed Christian person saw me. She cut me out of her life.

    • Avatar
      Paul Smith

      I live in the Bible belt. While it’s not hard to be an atheist here so long as you keep it quiet, it is virtually impossible to maintain friendships. They simply don’t understand when you don’t fold your hands, bow your head and join in prayer and I refuse to pretend.

  2. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Bruce: “…Intellectual and personal growth only come when we are willing to admit we are wrong. Closed-minded Fundamentalism stunts our thinking…”
    Evangelical Christianity and particularly the more viral IFB (extreme) flavors of belief do not encourage questioning, testing, doubting except where it pertains to producing a more rigid and impenetrable world view. Your faith must be so strong that your commander-in-chief could walk into Times Square and shoot somebody and get away with it. There is nothing too unreasonable to believe where Jesus is concerned: He’s water walker, waves his hand and brings Lazarus back from death, he produces sustenance from thin air for throngs of hungry people. They killed him and he just walked out of his grave. But before you get into the club you must denounce your basic human ability to reason and mantain common sense. You must say, “I am dung, nothing, unworthy of love. Jesus, save me.”
    That human beings in the year 2020, expose their own children to this kind of self-harm is a very sad testament to progress of the race on this earth.
    Thank-you for your blog, Bruce. Thank-you for caring to tell the truth as you see it. I am sorry that people attack you for saying, No Thank-you, for sharing who you are right now and who you have been over time. I admire your mettle and your sense of humor.

  3. Avatar
    Mike Armstrong

    I enjoy reading your posts because you make me think and that’s good! On a personal note, I do not agree with everything said in your blogs and that is ok as well. It has been helpful for me to read what you and other guest bloggers have to say about leaving the faith. I see a lot of similarities with Obstacle Chick with the way we were raised in the deep south.

  4. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Bruce, I would like to express that I admire your courage to question and change when odds would indicate that you wouldn’t. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and beliefs with us. Your writing communicates your truthfulness, and readers are never left wondering if you’re leaving anything unsaid. You didn’t write this seeking approval, but I think it’s important to show appreciation in THIS life as I don’t believe there’s another.

    I came across a social media discussion about the dichotomy evangelicalism has about questioning and believing what you’re told. I think that evangelicalism doesn’t allow questioning of ideas that are answered by the evangelical interpretation of scriptures (which can vary slightly by pastor or denomination or by Christian school), but you are allowed to question anything not already answered. I had a hard time thinking of what might not already be answered though lol. You aren’t allowed to question the 6 day creation story or a worldwide flood or talking donkey or snake or walking sticks turning into snakes or virgin birth or zombies walking around Jerusalem upon Jesus’s crucifixion, just to name a few. What are your thoughts on that, Bruce? It seems that fundamentalist evangelicalism is a system for those who don’t seek choices or don’t want to analyze anything.

  5. Avatar
    Stephanie Faulkner

    Yes….well said. People need to be accepting no matter their beliefs as long as they really ARE accepting of other religions or no religions. The problem with religion is that everyone thinks theirs is the “right” one.

        • Avatar
          JW

          Certainly, that’s possible. Imagine a scenario with a god entity who is so picky that no intelligent being, past, present, or future, managed to follow its tenants perfectly. Something like that?

          • Avatar
            JW

            Hmm, no, that’s not actually a religion. I’m just describing a scenario where the union of all human/sentient belief/religions/thought/etc. across all of time is Y. Suppose it turns out that there’s some god who wants X, where the intersection of X and Y is empty. Or more loosely, at least where Y does not (completely) contain X. Everyone would be “wrong” because they do not / cannot satisfy X.

            You have to prove that X cannot be possible. This is something which your comments do not really seem to address, assuming that I’ve understood them correctly.

    • Avatar
      Paul Smith

      I do not accept religions that kill people to further their cause and that includes all forms of Yahweh worship. The book on which they’re based is pure evil and, as Hitler proved, it only takes one particularly charismatic individual to do a great deal of harm in the name of one god or another.

  6. Avatar
    dale m

    BJW ….. Don’t. Don’t call her a friend. She was just a long time acquaintance U knew of. It’s like telling a Nazi that U converted to Judaism.

  7. Avatar
    ?Justin Memphis ?⚛️ (@freethink901)

    Bruce, I really admire and appreciate your honesty and the way you’ve chosen to live your life. I have just recently in the last year or so discovered your blog and really enjoy reading your posts. Thank you from a fellow former Christian and deconvert, but still not able to live that way out of the closet yet.

  8. Avatar
    dale M

    I left this comment for Justin Memphis but think it should be left for everyone concerned. So, I will repeat it. “It is not possible for ALL religions to be correct but, it is possible for ALL religions to be wrong …. as well as atheism ….. ALL at the same time.”

    • Avatar
      Karen the rock whisperer

      We all probably saw it the first time. What’s your point? Lots of us atheists don’t claim there is no god, but rather that there is no good evidence for one. I believe Bruce falls into this camp. We’re not the ones making a claim, merely accepting the null hypothesis given the lack of evidence. We might be wrong. No one has been able to demonstrate that so far, but who knows what the future holds?

  9. Avatar
    dale M

    Karen …. U R correct of course. Zero evidence for a god or afterlife for that matter. The null hypothesis is simply a “safe zone”. It is also extremely reliant on current technologies. I don’t put much “faith” in it even though, obviously, it is technically correct based upon what our current tools of science tell us. Any sufficiently advanced technological civilization that can manipulate space-time has already surpassed any and all “gods” of the 4,000 known religions. I find the concept of “theism/ atheism” quaint and outdated. Who says future generations cannot attain “god-like status?” Would this achievement be recognized as the ultimate atheist achievement? I cannot see religion even attempting such an achievement. The real difference is not atheism v.s. theism but rather science v.s. religion. It is here that we have a real meaningful difference. Just saying. We need to badly upgrade our terminology.

  10. Avatar
    Paul Smith

    I don’t totally agree since there is so much nonsense in religions, in addition to science, that shape the positions of atheists, no two of which totally agree, such that a relatively neutral term like a-theism seems appropriate to me but, for fun, what term(s) would you prefer?

  11. Avatar
    dale M

    There is only one good term to use. A-Theism is NOT a neutral term at all. Richard Dawkins complains bitterly about this. This is because of the tremendous amount of “negative” baggage it drags around with it. In particular, it is a term derived directly from religion. If U asked a Muslim what they stood for, what they believed in, they would never identify themselves as “I am an A-Judaeist, an A-Christianist, an A-Hinduist and so on. This is because it is not who they are. So they go for a neutral term that is not derived from these other religions. It is a term that all followers of Mohammed can identify with ….. Islamist. There is no “A” preceding the term Islamist.That automatically says it all because it”s THEIR unique term. Saying you’re anti-Hindu tells absolutely no one who and what you truly are. Atheism simply tells religious people that you R still looking for a religion. In Calgary here, we had one evangelical say openly [not to worry about atheists. They R simply “unchuched” Christians. We simply have our work cut out for us. So don’t dismay. They have no belief. They R simply empty vessels waiting to be filled”]. Ooooff!!! They would never, ever say that about Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs or Jews because they already have a belief system which is recognizable throughout the world. Atheists do not.

    We require a term that only WE can create for ourselves.That term must say that we believe in Science, Engineering and exploration of the unknown. It must tell everyone that our “Faith” is outside of religion and has the ability to turn on a dime. We R all lead by faith. In religion, it is the written word. In Science, it is based on mathematics, the universal code, which underlies all reality for us. Huge difference!!! So, what’s the political term for us that does not in any way reference religion? It took an “atheist” to come up with it. It’s not a word. It can be all summed up in a single letter. Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek asked himself ….. “How far could Science really take us?”

    He came up with the universal god-like “Q”. The “Q” had to have some humble beginning …. right?

    So. I took this one step further. A very small group of us, all atheists, came up with a unique and universally recognized symbol. I place it on my “Christmas Tree” and adorn the tree with much smaller versions of it. That symbol has a LOT MORE going for it than the red ” A” symbol, or the “Atomic” symbol currently in use.

    That symbol? It is the most powerful anyone could ever use. It really identifies us. That symbol …. is surely a “BLACK STAR” !!! But why a black star? Think about it. Carefully. Think beyond religion. Think about a space and Time too terrifying for any religion. We can go to a place where the very angels themselves fear to tread.

    The black star represents the dragons lair. It is a collapsed stellar remnant that is said to be the hottest type of star in the known Universe … a black hole. It is the only type of star that has no limits to its size and shear gravitational power. Every star has its limit but, not the black star.

    The black star represents the ultimate expression of family. She is the Matriarch!!! At her bosom, she holds a hundred billion captive stars …. with a trillion worlds orbiting around them. She is the Omega! She is both the beginning of galactic formation and its end. For in the end, she will gather up and swallow all her worlds and make all her little ones, a part of her. Nothing can escape her! They ALL fall to her in the end. She will ultimately swallow the entire Universe ….. light and all. She is like the Borg. Resistance is futile.

    This symbol even represents us today. On the political spectrum …. we are like black stars. We are everywhere and we are completely invisible.

    Now! That’s a symbol of real power!!! It should be and will be our symbol in the political arena. We R just beginning to use it. Time will tell if we truly have the balls …. or not.

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