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Bruce, What Were the Psychological Aspects of Your Loss of Faith?

no regrets

Recently, a friend of mine asked me about the psychological aspects of my loss of faith. He rightly noted that most of my writing about my deconversion focuses on the intellectual aspects of the process. I told him that talking about the psychological/emotional aspects of my life, both as a Christian and an atheist, gives my critics easy targets to attack. My story befuddles, aggravates, and confuses many Evangelical zealots. If they can find a flaw or weakness in me personally, it makes it that much easier to discredit me or dismiss my story out of hand. Over the past thirteen years, I have been savaged by Evangelical apologists who want nothing more than to deconstruct my life or dismantle my story. Talking about subjective psychological or emotional issues gives them ammunition to not only marginalize me, but also grind me under their Fundamentalist boot heels. That said, I know it is important for me to tell all of my story. If I truly want people to understand my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism, I must talk about the psychological aspects of my deconversion.

As I look back over my life, there are several things that stand out from a psychological/emotional perspective.

First, I struggled with why it seemed that God never materially blessed me. No matter how hard I worked, no matter how many days a week I labored in God’s vineyard, it never seemed that my pay was commensurate with my labor. My colleagues in the ministry all seemed to be doing better financially than I was, and all of them worked fewer hours than I did. Many of them seemed quite passive, rarely going out of their way to advance the kingdom of Christ. They, in my estimation, were placeholders. I, on the other hand, worked, worked, worked, pushed, pushed, pushed, rarely stopping to smell the roses. I sincerely believed the Hell was hot, souls were dying, and Jesus was coming back soon. These beliefs, and others, warped my view of the world. I thought, “better to burn out than rust out.” And so, year after year, I ran the race set before me, with little money to show for it.

It was not until the early 2000s that I realized that I was a lone sprinter, running as fast as I could to finish a race no one else was running. Everywhere I looked, I saw congregants and ministerial colleagues buying houses and land, driving nice cars, taking vacations, and funding their retirement accounts. I thought, “it’s evident God doesn’t reward voluntary poverty or simplicity, so I might as well enjoy the good life like everyone else is.” And so I fundamentally changed how I viewed money and material things. Instead of being the last in line when the church paid its bills, I insisted they pay me first. Polly went out and got a job, and bit by bit we crawled out the financial pit I had dug for us.

I learned that God didn’t care one way or another. Of course, the reason for this is that he didn’t exist. I was waiting for a “dead” Jesus to bless me, and that was never going to happen.

Second, in a similar vein, I struggled with why God seemed disinterested in healing me. My health began to decline in the mid-90s, and no matter what came my way physically, it seemed that God just wanted me to endure it. No matter how much or how long I prayed for healing, God was silent. Oh, I would convince myself that he was “helping” me, but deep down I knew that my prayers weren’t reaching the throne room of Heaven, and most likely were just bouncing off the ceiling.  As I looked at the suffering of other believers, I noticed that God seemed to be ignoring them too. I thought, “isn’t Jesus the Great Physician?” Why does it seem he is always on vacation?

These two issues deeply weighed on me emotionally. I was a committed, devoted, sold-out follower of Jesus, yet it seemed that God didn’t care one way or another. In fact, it seemed that the harder I worked, the worse things got economically and physically. Of course, the reason for this is that I was chasing an imaginary God. I was devoted to a being that did not exist.

While my deconversion was primarily fueled by my re-investigation of the claims of Christianity and the Bible, emotional struggles over money and health problems certainly played a part. It took seeing a secular counselor to help me understand how all these things were intertwined in my life. Untangling my life hasn’t been easy. The wounds left behind by the years I spent in the ministry run deep, affecting me psychologically to this day. In November 2008, I walked out the back door of the church, never to return. I knew that I was no longer a Christian. What I didn’t know is how to best live my life going forward.  As an Evangelical, I believed and practiced the JOY acronym:

  • Jesus First
  • Others Second
  • Yourself Last (or You Don’t Matter)

As an atheist and a humanist, I came to understand that taking care of self had to come first; that I had to care for myself psychologically. I also learned that it is okay to enjoy life; that it is okay to spend money for no other reason than you want to; that it is okay to enjoy material things. Further, I learned that my family mattered to me more than anything. I thought they did when I was a Christian, but an honest accounting of my life revealed that Jesus, the ministry, church members, unsaved people, and just about everyone else came before my family. I regret spending much of my life more devoted to God and others than my wife and children. As an atheist, I now have my mind focused on the things and people who matter. I have learned that it is okay to tell people NO; that I don’t always have to help others; that I don’t have to always please others.

I have spent the past ten years re-making my life. Better? Worse? I will leave it to others to make such judgments. I do know that I am far happier today than I was as a pastor. I am not sure that this post will satisfy those looking for the psychological reasons I deconverted. I know I run the risk of having critics say that I left Christianity because I was bitter over my economic status and God’s indifference towards my health problems. Perhaps, but at the end of the day, the reason I am an atheist is that I no longer believed the central claims of Christianity were true. I may have been angry, bitter, jaded, or pissed off, but these alone were not enough to drive me from the household of faith.

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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  1. Avatar
    Hugh D. Young

    One of the things I find most troubling when these ‘wonderful’ Fundiez & Evanz confront you to tell you that you turned your back on ‘god’ and will suffer in hell for it, is that it seems all of the good done, and the sacrifices made over DECADES just doesn’t matter, and will account for absolutely diddly squat on JD, if SOMEHOW we die and fin out it was all true. Wouldn’t you think that a truly ‘loving and all-knowing’ deity would understand the reasons why someone lost hope, and also consider all the good they did whilst they were serving? This is why I now fully realize that Fundamentalist & Evangelical brands of Christianity are a SICK CLUB of indoctrinated souls…..Under what other conditions other than pure FEAR, could such large numbers of people be coaxed into following such a cruel, sadistic MONSTER?

    • Avatar

      “Wouldn’t you think that a truly ‘loving and all-knowing’ deity would understand the reasons why someone lost hope, and also consider all the good they did whilst they were serving?” A very human viewpoint. Bruce did a lot of good for others out of love for them and for Christ. Bruce certainly has not been alone in losing hope and faith. An all-knowing deity should understand us flawed souls. It really sounds like the Fundi Evangel version of deity is modeled on flawed, vengeful humans, which is what we know.

  2. Avatar

    If people don’t believe you when you talk about why and how you deconverted, it’s for reasons of their own and not because of how you told your story or the content within it. It must have been hard to be the one busting butt to serve your God and seeing others be rewarded in life. That’s not how it’s supposed to work of course.

  3. Avatar

    Critics are going to be critical. I think it’s more likely that, upon become totally disillusioned with your faith, that you were more open to examine actual evidence. Everything about being a fundie Christian is about ignoring secular reality, and instead putting your faith into something that no one can see, feel, hear or experience in reality.

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    “I know it is important for me to tell all of my story. If I truly want people to understand my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism, I must talk about the psychological aspects of my deconversion.” For your own psychological health, yes, tell your story… to you. Which people do you want to understand your journey from ignoring reality (to paraphrase BJW above) to recognizing reality? Those who are ready to value it, yes. Thanks for telling us.

  5. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    A meme I see on Facebook occasionally is a sketch that looks to be from the European Middle Ages (no idea if there’s an original that age), apparently of a field with things and people beside it. The caption is something like “Here is the field in which I grow my f*cks. Behold that it is barren.” I don’t much care for profanity for profanity’s sake, despite my use of it in person, but I like this meme. I hope Bruce, and everyone else escaped from religion and beset by people trying to fix that situation, exposes fields that are just as barren to all would-be fixers.

  6. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    One of the tough migrations out of ‘faith’ is being faced with reality as it is, rather than glossing it over with God-plaster and denials. For instance, when the ignorant, dumb-ass, dumbed-down bully president of the country stands before the world and is critical of the South Korean film that rightly won the Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year and for Best Director, a brilliant piece of film-making that won Best Screenplay as well (and more awards and accolades), I get pissed.
    Look at this list on wikipedia:
    Donald Trump, you stupid curse on the world… and Christians like Hyles and their lot made it all possible.

  7. Avatar

    After I left Christianity I felt excited that now I’d be able to do whatever I wanted, but society still has its taboos regardless of whether you’re religious or not. People generally want you to stay in line and play your assigned role.

    • Avatar
      Grammar Gramma

      Chikirin, I’m curious. What is it that you want to do now that you are no longer restrained by religion, but that you feel you cannot do now because you are constrained by society? Smoke pot? Do drugs? Rob a bank? Kill your neighbor?

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      Funny you should mention taboos. Here in BC we are now allowed to grow marijuana in our backyard but it is still taboo around most church communities. It will be a long time before it is as generally accepted as booze is now… If we relelect Conservatives here, marijuana might very well head back towards being illegal but the taxes in Conservative coffers will likely mean that it will remain legal now.

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    Ian for a long time

    The psychological aspects run preset deep, from most people I have talked to. But, it seems that it is a mix of psychological and physical things that drive people away from Christianity.

    I think Bruce summed it up well when he noted that the Christians who planned for the future (physical) were doing better than the ones who prepared for eternity (phycological). Christianity was pretty easy in the 70’s and 80’s. There were still a lot of people who went to church because that is what they had always done. They were also making money and investing because hat was the smart thing to do. The mix of these two thing kept people like Bruce and my dad from ever being comfortable with the status quo in churches. Righteousness and holiness were abandoned for security and prosperity. This drove people who truly believed in Jesus and the Bible to become more separate and strive to meet the higher standard. Church wasn’t a country club, It was a place to commune with The Almighty God.

    Watching this, as a child, I was torn. I saw my dad live like the Bible directed, but we never got ahead. We weren’t blessed the way it was promised I looked at other men who had weren’t nearly as separated making money hand over fist, taking vacations every year and having nice things. The year my dad lost his house, because of an economic downturn, he gave almost 40% of his income to the church, because “you can’t out give God”. He stood in front of the church, with tears in his eyes, saying that he was still blessing God, because of the salvation that he had been given. He wanted to be like Job and praise God during the good and the bad. I remember that day, because almost all of the rest of the men in the church had good jobs, savings and retirements, and it was very quiet. My dad was an embarrassment to the whole way of thinking that the church and been told to believe. He was an embarrassment, because he looked like a failure. But, my dad was also twice divorced, so he probably deserved whatever happened to him.

    Over the years, I tried to be like Jesus, too. Outwardly, I as as conservative as they came- no TV/Movies, no rock music, at church all of the time, involved with music, etc., Inside, I questioned the things I did. I brought these questions to my dad, and he said I should just do what was right. If I followed the Bible, with no questions, I would eventually see the way clearly and understand it all. This never happened. This outward separation also caused issues because I was one of the few people who took a stand for being holy.I never tried to force tis on anyone, I as just a sore thumb to people. No one likes the oddball.

    On the other hand, I also snuck movies and rock music, read “worldly” books and generally enjoyed myself where no one could see me. I had horrible guilt for doing these things in secret; but, I saw so many christians my age do these things in the open, so I wasn’t too concerned.

    Eventually, being broke all of the time cause me to turn to the “world” to find a new job (physical) and my realization that following Jesus didn’t get you anything but shunned by the very people who were supposed to be your family, caused me to leave Christianity (psycological).

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Bruce Gerencser