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Dear Ward

peanut gallery

Recently, a Christian man by the name of Ward left a comment on the post Dear Jesus. Instead of answering him in the comment section, I thought I would turn his comment and my response into a post.

I feel sad for you Bruce . . .

Typically, when a Christian begins a comment with “I feel sad (sorry)” or makes some sort of psychological judgment, it is a sign that the commenter is here to evangelize, correct, or excoriate. Remember, thousands of Evangelical commenters have come before you, so you bear the weight of their collective assholery.

When I read this line, I thought, why should anyone feel sad or sorry for me? All things considered, I am quite happy. I have been married almost forty-two years, have six grown children, and thirteen wonderful children. Sure, life has its difficult moments, and recent years health-wise have been challenging not only for myself, but also for my wife. Yet, in every way, my life today is better than it was when I was a follower of Jesus.

Imagine if I started a conversation with you that intimated that I felt sorry for you because you were a Christian. How would you feel and respond?

[I feel] sad for the things you endured . . .

I realize that you are basing this judgment on reading the post Dear Jesus. Unfortunately, when people only read certain posts it is easy for them to come to wrong conclusions. Yes, from my childhood forward I have endured trial and adversity. However, all in all I had a happy childhood and ministerial career. (Please see Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part One and Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part Two.)

[I feel] sad for the path you chosen.

Why? If you had a blog, I would never leave a comment that said I felt sad (sorry) for you because you were a Christian. In the twelve years since I divorced Jesus, I have never left such a comment anywhere on the Internet or social media. Every person is on a journey. Each of us has a story to tell — Christian or atheist. I accept at face value that you profess to be a Christian. Who am I to question your story? Unfortunately, scores of Evangelicals have attempted to deconstruct my life. I have had blog posts written about me, and several preachers have even preached sermons that suggested I never was a “real” Christian. (Please see Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser.)

I am one man with a story to tell. All that I ask of Christians is that they accept my story at face value and not fling theological epitaphs my way. Unfortunately, most Evangelical commenters don’t play well with others.

Your story of lost faith sounds as familiar as many others I’ve read such as Charles Templeton.

I am not sure how closely my life tracks with that of Charles Templeton, but I am one of many Evangelical preachers who are atheists or agnostics. Our number increases daily.

I understand and agree with many of your criticisms of the American evangelical movement and the professional church, but what I don’t understand is the decision to become an atheist.

You are certainly not the first Christian not to understand why I deconverted. Usually, a refusal to read my writing or an inability to square one’s theology keeps Evangelicals from truly understanding my story. Unable to make the square peg of my life fit in the round hole of their theology and experiences, many Evangelicals just dismiss my story out of hand by saying, “Bruce, you never were a real Christian.” Or worse, they say that I am still a Christian; that I am backslidden. How about letting me tell my story and accept it as told? Why is it so hard for Christians to accept that I once was a Christian and now I am not? “But Bruce, the BIBLE says ________.” Sorry, but it is not my problem if Evangelicals can’t square my storyline with their peculiar interpretation of the Bible. There’s no question that I once was a Christian, and I am sure as hell not a Christian now.

As others I’ve read it usually revolves around the theme of “If God is good why does he allow evil?”. I can see the move to the left in a way, though politically they are no better than the right, as there is a growing leftist “evangelical movement. You said you served God from a leftist perspective for a time and I see others who maintain a sense of fulfillment in that place without rejecting God. Is it just as simple as God allowed bad things to happen in your life?

There are many reasons people walk (run) away from Christianity. That’s why I point people to the WHY page — a collection of posts that explain why I am no longer a follower of Jesus.

If I had to pick one reason for why I am not a Christian it is this: I no longer believe that the central claims of Christianity are true. I came to a place in my life where these beliefs no longer made sense to me. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) I reject all the miraculous claims made for Jesus, from his virgin birth to his resurrection from the dead. I do believe Jesus was a real flesh-and-blood human being who lived on Palestine 2,000 years ago, However, as with all humans, he lived and died, end of story.

I want to conclude this post by responding in part to your response is Grammar Gramma.

Wow gramma you are exactly the type of person I would expect to encounter when engaging atheists, arrogant, rude, dismissive.

I hope what I have written above might cast some light on how your first comment might have been perceived by the atheists and agnostics who frequent this blog.

Why did you comment on this blog? If you believe that atheists are arrogant, rude, and dismissive, what’s the point of leaving a comment? While Grammar Gramma can speak for herself, I can confidently say that she is neither arrogant, rude, and dismissive. I suspect much like me and other unbelievers, she is weary of Christians who don’t invest the requisite time necessary to understand my story or who begin their comments with judgments or psychological analysis. Most atheists and agnostics I know are plum wore out by Christians who judge and criticize their lives instead of taking the time to truly understand their story.

I hope I have adequately answered your questions. If not, please let me know.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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41 Comments

  1. Avatar
    WARD W KELLY

    Bruce, I appreciate that you took the time to respond and explain your feelings. I understand why you could take my “feeling sorry” comment the wrong way as I’m sure you have been accosted over the years by many well meaning Christians, and some not so. It was not my intention to offend you but to try to understand your journey. I hope you can appreciate that I was trying to be honest about my feelings rather than to hide those feelings. From reading some of your bio it seems that some of your former friends couldn’t bring themselves to that point. I too lost ALL of my friends when I converted to Christ, they too challenged, lacked understanding, and in the end disappeared. If I offended you in that respect, I am sorry.

    I am still reading some of your blog posts and have questions but honestly I’m not sure I will be asking them because of what has transpired to this point. I have always tried to be real with people, I enjoy engaging people who think differently than myself because we can always learn from others. Stay well.

    • Avatar
      clubschadenfreude

      Ward, you are pretty typical of many Christians who depend on willful ignorance when it comes to your views on atheists. You have to invent an atheist who is somehow injured, so you can ignore their points. As a former Christian (Presbyterian), and now an atheist, I’ve heard it all with the claims of Christians who insist that I must be “lonely”, “sad”, “angry”, etc, all of which are false claims made to convince yourself that any “normal” person would of course agree with you.

      The claim that you “lost all your friends” when you converted to Christ rings false, though it may indeed be true. Many Christians want to pretend they are martyrs since it makes a lovely story of their supposed sacrifice.

      Bruce answered your question but I want to give you my take on it. You asked ” Is it just as simple as God allowed bad things to happen in your life?” This is a very very very common assumption from many Christians. You have to pretend, again, an atheist has no “real” reason to be an atheist. Per your assumption, we have to be unreasonably angry about this god’s actions.

      Now, consider you are claiming that this god causes everything, good and bad, in your question. If this god is omnibenevolent, then this god should never allow bad thing to happen to anyone. If this god must use misery and horror and death, then it is not omnipotent. This also indicates that there is no free will since this god afflicts people intentionally, they have no choice in the matter. Even if this god were real, it is nothing more than a tyrant.

      Since i know that your god doesn’t exist, I have no reason to be angry at it for its actions (I can be angry at Christians who cause such harm in the world). The reason I don’t believe in your god, or all of the gods you also don’t believe in, is that there is no evidence for them. There is no evidence for any of the essential events in the bible e.g. no magical creation, no tower of babel, no exodus, no battles of hundreds of thousands or fabulous palaces/temples, no certain day where the sky darkened, there was a major earthquake and the dead walked around Roman-occupied Jerusalem on a Passover. Add to this that no Christian can do what is promised of ever baptized believer in Christ as savior as promised in the bible, and there is no more reason to believe you than there is to believe that Mohammed rode on a magic pony and took down dictation from Gabriel.

      • Avatar
        WARD W KELLY

        Club: Bruce made his feelings about my “feeling sad” for him as offensive, for which I apologized, and then you come back with an offensive response to me. I’m a “typical christian” and also a liar. Is “do as I say and not as I do” your belief system? I will no longer respond to your posts unless you will consider changing your rhetoric. Give respect, get respect. It was not my intention to disrespect anyone but apparently my being here offends people.

        • Avatar
          clubschadenfreude

          If you are offended by facts, that is your problem, Ward. I’m not Bruce. Many christians make the same false claims repeatedly and that is out of their willful ignorance to know what atheists actually think. You might not think you are a typical Christian, but you are. I’ve seen the same nonsense from Christian after Christian. There is nothing special about you (for good or bad).

          You started out with claims about how “sad” you were for Bruce, which is not how someone who is curious about an atheist’s journey. You thoughtlessly assumed you already knew it with your attempts to automatically assume that only a bad experience might have caused someone not believe as you do. That’s why I called you a liar, because you intentionally misrepresented atheists for your own benefit. You can change your tactics if you really do care about why atheists are atheists. Answer my points and rebut them if you think I’m wrong. Since it wasn’t a bad experience that made me an atheist, what do you think about that? Do you find it plausible that I don’t believe because of the lack of evidence? Do you have any evidence for the essential stories in your bible?

          Why do you not believe in other theists’ gods if you have no more evidence than they do that your god is real? Why is your god depicted by you as you do? Why can’t you do the things that are promised to you in your bible?

          I know that these are very uncomfortable questions for a Christian. They were for me when I was losing my faith (and praying to keep it with no result). If you can’t consider these questions, then I feel that you aren’t really interested in an atheist’s journey.

          Other than Bruce’s blog, have you ever spoken with an atheist or looked at other atheists’ writings? It seems not since, again, you use long destroyed Christian claims about atheists.

          Grammar Gramma pointed out how you were wrong and all you tried to do is claim how “arrogant, rude,” etc she was when she wasn’t.

          You were outed as having likely not read Bruce’s information. You got worried by that that GG pretty much skewered you. You tried to claim that to again ignore an atheist’s real reasons to become an atheist and not your presuppositions.

          Many Christians aren’t used to people calling them out and think that demands for “politeness” will get them out of the tough spot they find themselves in when being held accountable for their claims.

          You don’t get respect when you try to make false claims about others. Respect is earned.

          Show that you are indeed interested and we can have a great discussion. Show that you are only interested in your typical christian ideas about atheists and we won’t.

        • Avatar
          J W

          So, after reading this conversation between you and clubshadenfreude, I had to go take a look at what Grammar Gramma wrote…

          …and what I think is that instead of offering apologies that you don’t really mean or pretending to be the victim, maybe you should stop trying to control the narrative? Perhaps you haven’t noticed, Ward W Kelly, but it isn’t working.

  2. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Ward, I hope you spend a lot of time reading Bruce’s story. It is multi-faceted and complex. All of us who were once fundamentalist Christians have long and complex stories. We didn’t just wake up one day and say, huh, I don’t believe anymore. We go through many twists and turns, stops and starts, and many of those changes are very painful. We read…..and read…..and ponder…and ponder. Many of us prayed exhaustively. We struggled. Some readers here are still struggling. Some of us reached the realization a long time ago that we don’t believe anymore. And why should it matter to you? You don’t believe in Allah or Ganesh or hundreds of other gods out there, so how would you feel if one of those adherents was speculating why you don’t believe? Is it the problem of evil? Is it that you want to sin? Is it that you like being rebellious? Is it that you didn’t pray hard enough? It’s obviously a failing with yourself because (insert deity name here) is perfect.

    Ward, please keep an open mind when reading Bruce’s or any other deconvert’s story. You don’t have to agree – you have your own journey which we respect – but please try to see that we are where we are. Respect our thoughts and experiences even if you disagree. Many of us have spent years if not decades working through these issues. Please ask questions, respectfully and without judgment.

    • Avatar
      Matilda

      You put that so well, Obstacle Chick. Fundies seem to think, as you say, we just decided one day ‘I hate god. or ‘I’m so angry at god, I’m throwing my toys out of the pram till he does what I want.’ It took us a long time to deconvert, it was with extreme reluctance and horror we realised we were devoting our lives to a fiction.
      Ward, FWIW, I stumbled on this blog when I was having doubts after many years of fervent faith. I thought I was the only one ever to feel like this. I mulled over what I read here and decided the devil was tempting me…so i deleted it from my daily reads…for all of 2 weeks, it made so much sense. I truly hope one day you too can unshackle yourself from the chains of religion…and be free indeed.

    • Avatar
      WARD W KELLY

      OC: “And why should it matter to you?” As I read through Bruce’s experiences what I continue to see over and again is his inquisitiveness, and thirst to understand. I too like to understand this world, the people within, and why they believe what they believe. That is why it matters to me.

  3. Avatar
    WARD W KELLY

    Matilda, wouldn’t using the term “fundie” when discussing someone be considered offensive to some? Not sure you meant it that way. I am reading and hope to be respectful of those who wish the same. I have always had an interest in people who deconvert, and of prominent Pastors who lead double lives, or destroy everything they have achieved through actions contrary to what they preach. Call me weird for being interested, but that is me.

    • Avatar
      Matilda

      Well, that’s a new one on me…I used an ‘offensive’ word….for myself…. as I sadly wasted over 50yrs being, well, fun-da-men-tal-ist. It’s great over here in the sunshine, living without god, I thoroughly recommend stepping out of the shadows to anyone.

      • Avatar
        Bruce Gerencser

        Some Christians don’t like being labeled Fundamentalists. I’m always amused when some Evangelical asserts: I am NOT a Fundamentalist. My reply? Yet, your theology and social practice says you are. Even in mainline denominations, I’ve met Fundamentalist Christians.

        Perhaps Ward could share what sect/church is a part of.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      If you are an Evangelical, conservative Catholic, Mormon, or certain flavors of Jew or Muslim, you are a Fundamentalist. The term has a very specific meaning.

        • Avatar
          Bruce Gerencser

          It is pejorative in the sense that it describes a set of beliefs/practices, along with a religious culture that can be and is psychologically harmful, and, at times, physically harmful. Even at the political level, we see the damage done by Evangelicals in the Trump administration as they press a pro-Fundamentalist, theocratic agenda. Why, in less than 4 years the separation of church and state has disappeared@ the federal level.

          I’ve found the regular readers of this site to be decent people, regardless of their beliefs. Strong minded, opinionated, smart asses? You bet. But they are also my friends, people who love and support me. Some readers who been reading my writing since 2007 — back in my Emergent Christian days.

  4. Avatar
    WARD W KELLY

    No, reading elsewhere on Bruce’s site…but feel free to continue to display the loving character of the atheist

    • Avatar
      J W

      Ah, so the fantasy continues! While I am a bit of a fan of the fantasy genre, I’m not sure about a story where one character pushes his fantasies on the rest of the characters, cast, and even the audience too. There does seem to be a bit of comedy involving that same character advocating for values such as treating people with respect, but who just cannot seem to live up to those values himself. However, those sorts of characters do tend to get pretty tiresome eventually, so I’m not sure how much of the story I’ll follow. Sorry, Ward!

    • Avatar
      Infidel753

      A lot of people have been badly hurt by religion and religionists in various ways, or wasted large parts of their lives in thrall to the scam of religion, or at the very least have been appalled at the egregiously immoral behavior of religious leaders — the child abuse, the greedy conning of money out of the naïve and vulnerable, the endless spewing of anti-gay bigotry, etc., etc., etc. You can’t necessarily expect them to be polite when they hear the scam being defended and promoted.

    • Avatar
      J W

      Excellent. I’m glad that at least that got through, even if perhaps nothing else did. I was probably getting a bit too whimsical and indirect with the play theme there.

  5. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    I see evangelical Christianity as basically designed to harm us. The foundational beliefs begin with the God showing how humans are shit and he has to kill his own boy to save them. Sorry, that’s just sick. Once you get the feeling that you are cared for in some magical way, it gets easier to agree that you are ‘fallen’ like everybody else but the agreement is a key. Now all the fallen people can be grouped together and reminded in preaching that they have much work to do, endless work, really endless because you can’t be Jesus, can you… The cycle goes on and prayers for forgiveness cannot ever end. It’s a circular business, this fundamentalism, this evangelical way. Ward is content to be abused, as I see it and I well remember walking a similar path for many many years.
    I am so happy to have found my way out of Christianity. It was like a dawn, a wonderful growing sun coming up in my life.

  6. Avatar
    WARD W KELLY

    My life before Christ was self abusive, when I did not believe in God. Today my life is great. I have a good business, a great wife, Son, Daughter in law, and five wonderful grand children. I have a church that serves people with love, I hardly consider myself abused today.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      All of that can be true while holding to and practicing harmful religious beliefs. Evangelicalism is harmful in many ways, as I have detailed in numerous posts over the past 12 years, and as numerous commenters have shared from their own stories.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      And I should also add, someone can be in a harmful sect/church/relationship and not know it. Harm is institutionalized, normalized, and encouraged by pastors, teachers, parents, grandparents, and fellow church members. You don’t see or understand the harm because you think it is “normal” — or even good. It is only when you are outside of the bubble/box that you can see the pervasiveness of the institutionalized and sacralized harm.

    • Avatar
      Caroline

      Ward: My life is great. I have had the same fulfilling career for the last 38 years, a happy marriage, a wonderful child, and a comfortable home. My career as a teacher allows me to give back to my community and to make a difference in the lives of children. I have never been a religious person and have no intention of becoming one. My own childhood was chaotic, but I decided to make healthier choices for my own future than my parents did. So many Christians I have known came to Christianity because they, like you, were self-abusive. Great! It works for some people. But some of us are able to live happy, good and productive lives while giving back to others without making those same self-abusive mistakes. It’s not a matter of pride (although I am proud of my accomplishments), but some of us are more resilient than others and don’t succumb to ‘self-abuse’ without belief in a higher power. I too am fascinated by other people’s beliefs, and that is why I’m here. Bruce is an excellent writer who has taught me a lot about how many Christians think and see the world. Understanding modern American Christianity is important because I don’t like seeing the influence of extreme Christianity in our government at the moment. I totally get that many Christians are pro the current regime because of some fundamental things they believe in that I do not, and I want to keep an eye on what’s happening to inform others in my life who don’t understand the power of the Christian vote. I’m sure you’re doing the same thing, even though you don’t want to discuss politics here. For me at the moment they are intertwined.

  7. Avatar
    WARD W KELLY

    Just as all atheists are not abusive or harmful, neither are all Christians/Evangelicals. I understand you have experienced the abuse, I have not. The only abuse I have experienced was by my non believing father. I’ve been on both sides of the box, I like my box. I have had relatively small issues in my box. When I step out of my box I see hate, abuse, and harm perpetrated in every other box on the face of the earth. It isn’t exclusive to the religious.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Whataboutism doesn’t play well on this site. The subject is Evangelicalism, not atheism (which is NOT a system of belief). Foundationally, Evangelicals hold beliefs that are harmful. Evangelicalism is inherently anti-human with its beliefs on “sin,” women, sexuality, and marriage, to name a few. It should not be surprising that most of the churches who refused to closes their doors during the pandemic are Evangelical. Why? Beliefs have consequences. I get it, you can’t see the harm. Neither could I when I was still a Christian and a pastor.

  8. Avatar
    WARD W KELLY

    So on a site that discusses your becoming an atheist I am not to speak of atheism, I must restrict all conversation to evangelical abuse. Seems to me you and your beloved followers have constructed a box with walls so high that Donald Trump would be proud. You have succeeded in cleansing your box of the unwanted evangelical infection. Take your surgical masks off, I will leave. I read your story, it is interesting and compelling, but it is clear you only want an echo chamber, not a dialogue.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      No, you are obtuse and seemingly unable to listen to what people are saying. Whataboutism is an attempt to misdirect or change the subject to something else. It’s Evangelicalism we were discussing, not atheism. Stay on task.

      Personally, I’m done with you. I answered your questions and responded to your comments. Nothing more I can say.

    • Avatar
      J W

      Conversation can be difficult sometimes. I could have gone about it differently myself, especially given that I don’t have a good understanding of you either, Ward, beyond your few comments here.

      To be blunt, I don’t think this argument has much to do with religion / atheism at all. Your made some claims that mischaracterized the author and other people here, and someone took you to task for it. You called that person rude and disrespectful, however in doing so all you were really doing was avoiding taking responsibility for your own actions.

      Later, Bruce wrote this post, you apologized, and there were a mix of reactions. Maybe your apology was sincere, maybe it wasn’t, it’s not really fair of me to say either way. However, you reacted in the same defensive way later. I’m not so sure that some of the responses were truly fair or reasonable, and the defensiveness is understandable. On the other hand, you cannot expect everyone to so quickly forgive or trust you. You aren’t entitled to it.

      Then you went into some crusade about the character of atheists or whatever, which to me just seems to be more of the same: everyone else is the problem, not Ward W Kelly. Gotta control that narrative.

      Does that summarize things correctly? Mind you, I make mistakes and have my own biases too, just like everyone else, so really that’s just my own personal take on things.

  9. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    Ward, I’m glad you’re in a good place. But in my experience, that does not require religion. In fact, I was only able to get treatment for my lifelong depression and begin to heal when I walked away from religion. The Bible tells me I am scum, deserving of everlasting horrible torture, and only Jesus’ great act of suffering makes it even possible for me to escape that torture. But I’m scum. I’m used tampons. What utter and complete BS, and how damaging that theology is to anyone who really takes it seriously.

    I had a long journey out of religious belief. The stuff you learn as a child is difficult to eradicate from your brain. I escaped by challenging those beliefs, sometimes with the aid of therapy.

    The thing is, there is no good supporting evidence for the important events of the Bible, in either testament. But start at the beginning–there is no good supporting evidence for any deity. When I say good evidence, I don’t mean anecdotes; the plural of ‘anecdote’ is never ‘data’. A deity who is active in the world, and whose presence is undetectable by scientific means, isn’t a very convincing deity. I’m a small-a atheist; I don’t say there is no god, I say there is no real evidence for a god that I’ve found.

    As to the destructiveness of Fundamentalist theology, Bruce has covered that in depth over many years, far better than I can. You can choose to not see that destructiveness, many people do. After all, you’re in a good place.

  10. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Ward, I am sorry to hear that you suffered from your father. It is very hard to bear the pain of a parent harming their own child. It is not unusual but always painful to hear about it. I wish you peace and understanding that goes beyond the parameters you have chosen. I get what you are saying and I am happy that you have found solace.
    But you did not deserve what happened to you. You were never fallen and unworthy. Your father was very wrong.
    I concur with Karen the rock whisperer and encourage you to allow for yourself but I do understand that this is exactly what you already feel you have done. Funny ol’ world like that, isn’t it?

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