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Curiosity, A Missing Evangelical Trait


Why is it that so many Evangelicals have no desire to be curious? Yes, I know many are, so don’t get your panties in a bunch if you are a curiouser-than-a-cat Evangelical. I frequently get emails or blog comments from Evangelical Christians wanting to “help” me find my way back to Jesus. Such people are certain that they possess the requisite knowledge and skill necessary to reclaim the famous Evangelical-turned-atheist Bruce Gerencser for Jesus. They are sure that if they just befriend me, quote the right Bible verses, soothe my hurts, or understand my pain, I will fall on my knees and call on the name of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

I was in the Christian church for fifty years. I was a pastor for twenty-five of those years. I have a Bible college education. Surely they understand that I am not an atheist out of ignorance, right? Of course not, and here is where their lack of curiosity gets them in trouble. They often don’t know anything about me or this blog. Why? Because they did a Google/Bing/Yahoo search for _________________ and their search brought them to a single blog post of mine. They read that one post and immediately decide that I am a poor wayfaring waif in need of their peculiar brand of God/Jesus/Christianity.

When I get comments such as these, I go to the logs and see what pages they read. Usually, they have read only the page their search brought them to. Their lack of curiosity (or laziness) is astounding, and leads them to make wild judgments about me, and come to rash, ill-informed conclusions. If these people would just read the About page, the WHY? page, or the Dear Evangelical page, they would be better informed about me and this blog. But they don’t. Why is that? 

I suspect part of the reason Evangelicals are not, in general, known for their curiosity is that they are 100% certain they are absolutely right. In their minds, they worship the one, true God and this God lives inside of them in the person of the Holy Spirit. This God walks with them, talks with them, and tell them that they are his own (from the hymn In the Garden). They have an inerrant, infallible supernatural book given to them by this supernatural God. This book contains all the answers about life that they will ever need.

When you are filled with certainty, there is no need to think, reason, investigate, or doubt. When the man upstairs is on your team, no need to consider any other team. Why be a lowly Reds fan when you can be a Yankees fan? When your church has declared that Moose Tracks ice cream is the one true ice cream, no need to try any other ice cream.

Simply put, there’s no need to know anything else when you already know all you need to know. God said it, I believe it and that settles it for me, the Christian ditty goes. One true God, one true religious text, one way of salvation. The earth is 6,023 years old, created in six literal 24 hour days. The Bible gives the blueprint for having a Christ-honoring family, a happy marriage, obedient kids, and awesome missionary position sex — but only for the purpose of trying to catch up with the Duggars. When the answer to every question is “God” or “the Bible says,” it’s not surprising to find that Evangelicals are not, by nature, curious.

The good news is that more and more Evangelicals are discovering the curiosity that lies dormant beneath the surface of their lives. Once they make this discovery, they are on their way out of the closed-mindedness and senses-dulling prison of Evangelicalism. They will find out that science can and does explain the world they live in. Science doesn’t have all the answers, but it is asking the right questions.

Still want/need to believe in a transcendent deity or some sort of spirituality? Once free of the heaven/hell, saved/lost, in/out, good/bad paradigm of Evangelicalism, people are free to wander at will. When the fear of hell and judgment is gone, they are free to experience those things that are meaningful to them. Once the question is no longer “will you go to heaven when you die?” the journey, rather than the destination, becomes what matters.

Curiosity may kill the cat, but trust me Evangelicals, it won’t kill you.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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    I think another big contribution is the fact that Evangelicals are strongly discouraged to question anything. I grew up in a parochial school, and I can’t count the number of times I get detention for asking “Why?”. It was a sin to ask why. It meant a lack of faith and trust in God’s perfect plan. And who wants to piss off God? So I quit asking out loud why, but I never stopped questioning. It just didn’t make sense to me that an authority figure could know more about God, simply because they were an authority figure. Had they get a “God card” in the mail that I didn’t know about?

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    Fear is often at the root of this lack of curiosity. On some level, fundamentalists know that their belief system is fragile, and that if they ask questions or take in new information, it could undermine their beliefs.

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    The human tendency is not static but on the move. We sometimes tend to excess in things, especially those of us who have survived extremes, the children of boozers, abusers, fundamentalists, shamers and hitters. We learn a pattern of survival that lends itself to excess and then of course, the inevitable progeny of excess, mediocrity.
    God needs to control your mind and your body, your public parts and your private parts. Give it up in every moment, in every breath!
    Such thinking, such extended experience is abusive and knocks us around so that we tend to seek an unhealthy lack of personal boundaries, and turn to extremes even after escaping the faith/church/family of our origins. The stories of the children of alcoholics, the neglect, the active abuse, are often very similar to the stories told by the children of very religious folk. You would think that a child who had suffered a kind of brainwashing abuse, would run like hell from it and we do! We run directly into some other extreme and another and another until the pattern is so obvious it seems robotic. One day, some of us get good therapy and break the pattern of self-harm.
    So it is that as one of those children, I eventually realized that my parents wanted to harm me, that it was not an error or oversight but an intended abuse, an ongoing effort to make me do what was ‘right’, to act in a way that fit the Fellowship. This was called God’s Love. It hurt bad.
    I survived by shutting down. I shut down my reactions, my outward expression. I practiced in the mirror to learn a look that revealed nothing, nothing, nothing. I let them write over my body and my life until I was just whatever they wanted me to be. I memorized verses.
    Margaret Atwood has a book, a poem in a book, called, You are Happy.
    When you know the Lord this way, when there is nothing left of you, you are happy. You are also gone. I have many members of my family who speak in scripture. Scripture is a language, a colloquially malleable language that is all over the world now and my family speak it. If I ask a family member how they are doing, they might answer in scripture, The Lord is Good! or Jesus is Lord!
    It is a real fuck-up.We are gone and we are happy. Every day we memorize more scripture…. (Well, not me, the atheist, but the family, you know…. )
    The Fellowship Baptist Jesus is not love. He kidnaps children.

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    “I survived by shutting down. I shut down my reactions, my outward expression. I practiced in the mirror to learn a look that revealed nothing, nothing, nothing. I let them write over my body and my life until I was just whatever they wanted me to be.”

    I did the same, Brian. Knowing how judgemental the christians around me were, and I could be myself as well, it just really makes it hard to be open and be yourself. Trying to be the perfect Christian is somehow easier or at least it feels safer.

    I remember when we were watching a detective show (I was an older teen) and there was this storyline about dangerous drugs that killed people. Anyway, there were these young people dancing in a club and everyone was all like how bad it was and see where it gets you etc. etc. and I said stuff like that too. But I was also jealous, because a part of me (the ‘bad’ part) wanted to go dancing in a club too. The first couple of times I went to a bar I was afraid that if Jesus returned he wouldn’t take me with him because I was at an evil place filled with evil people, even though I went there with some fellow christians…. That’s how bad it was to go out and how guilty I felt about being there.

    A relative once said what you say: that his father could only ever reply in Scripture. In quotes more or less and that he couldn’t have a proper genuine conversation with his dad because there was just Bible, nothing else. My own dad has that to a lesser extent on some topics where he gets very defensive and nothing but the Bible counts: not people’s experiences, feelings, nothing but Scripture. It is pretty frustrating, like a wall that you can’t break through.

    John Bradshaw calls extreme religion a way to keep shame out, a way to hide, and I think that may be true. With religion you can wear a mask of the perfect believer, you get an instant set of rules to life by, it’s easier to not have to be yourself and a human, flawed person. You get to be something larger and sturdier than that. So I can see that it might be appealing to some.

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      Greetings Melody, I like Bradshaw’s approach to excess, to addictive behaviors. I think that he is on the right track about keeping shame out by diving deep into religion but it might be more than simply shame, maybe other extreme and fearful aspects of self too….
      One thing I feel convinced of is that extremes in religion are necessary tools of denial for people who choose the extreme routes, the IFB’s, the whoop it up evangelicals. I would not wish to apply this to to balanced believers, those I have known in the Anglican faith for instance, and elsewhere too….
      You said: “Trying to be the perfect Christian is somehow easier or at least it feels safer.” For me too…. hiding in the midst of the denial is like singing along… for me, as I sang along the words became syllables and then just sounds I made to play a part….
      Thanks for sharing, Melody…

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        Thank you too, Brian. It’s good to find like-minded voices 🙂

        The whole “death to the self, Jesus instead” doesn’t help if it’s taken literally. I agree that it is about denial, about for whatever reason rather not being yourself but a mask, a different person. I think that ideologies when taken to the extreme can do the same for people, that the cause becomes someone’s life and identity.

        Perhaps that is why the extremists see balanced believers as “dead,” or not pure-enough. Often they are themselves and religion is a part of their life and it may be even a big part but it has not become their entire identity. They have lives and interests outside of religion and that is ok, not a big deal. In fundamentalism it is. Everything is seen as sin, even the most innocent things can be a sin, if it’s not somehow related to religion.

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          ... Zoe ~

          Melody: “I think that ideologies when taken to the extreme can do the same for people, that the cause becomes someone’s life and identity.”

          Zoe: Wanted to highlight this one too. 🙂 I think those who have had trauma in their lives (where their life and identity have been shattered) are vulnerable to finding themselves leaning towards these extreme ideologies. In a way, at first, the belief becomes a survival strategy. Like a minnow swimming into a minnow trap for food. Survival. It’s only later when the minnow realizes it can’t escape. 🙁

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      ... Zoe ~

      Melody: “John Bradshaw calls extreme religion a way to keep shame out, a way to hide, and I think that may be true. With religion you can wear a mask of the perfect believer, you get an instant set of rules to life by, it’s easier to not have to be yourself and a human, flawed person. You get to be something larger and sturdier than that. So I can see that it might be appealing to some.”

      Zoe: Just reading through the comments and liked this and wanted to highlight it again.

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    Oh we were allowed to be curious about certain topics at church and Christian school, but you darn well better come to the correct conclusions. If your observations don’t fit what the Bible says, your observations are wrong because you are a fallible, vile creature who shouldn’t lean on their own understanding.

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    I think it’s fear. They can’t hear anything that doesn’t follow their worldview and their thoughts on the great hereafter. They’re scared to death to even have dissenting words spoken in their presence.

    I’m recalling a conversation I had with another homeschooling mom in the hallway of the building we’d brought our kids to for some classes. She was very devout and asked me some sort of question designed to find out my feelings on Christianity. When I told her I was an atheist, she underwent an incredible transformation. Her face became fearful… eyes large, rounded ‘oh!’ expression with her lips. Then she said, all at once, as she was running out the door as fast as her feet would go, “I bind you Satan in the name of Jesus Christ!”
    Then the door slammed.

    It was amusing.

    That was Tuesday. Thursday, the next class meeting day, we learned that she’d withdrawn her children from the program. She didn’t want them associating with the children of non-believers.

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    I’m pretty sure that my strong interest in science and reading science fiction were a help to become open-minded again. Although I do know conservative Christians and Republicans who also love, say, Star Trek, while missing all the underlying humanism…which I find surprising. Anyway, a religion that suppresses curiosity is definitely anti-human. And telling people that whole disciplines in science are wrong because Bible, makes ME even more curious about them. Which I guess explains why the punishment for ignoring “God’s” command has to be pretty severe…burning hell forever.

    I don’t know about you all, but I concluded when I was 8 years old that no true, loving God would burn us forever. That isn’t a god of love, it’s a god of evil. It’s an abusive relationship between the believer and “God”/the church. And yet fundies think we want to get into that relationship? Hell, no.

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      Karen the rock whisperer

      How interesting! I, too, was interested in science and science fiction. When I was 10 or 11, maybe 12, I was reading a couple of grades ahead of my classmates. Loved reading. Haunted the library and the used book store with my dad’s help. Our across-the-street neighbor, a widow, was retiring and moving into a much smaller space, so she gave me a large bookcase filled with her collection of science fiction books. Those books were eye-opening, and introduced me to many ideas that would have horrified my parents; they presented different moral guidelines from the Catholicism in my home and school, and demonstrated that they were in many cases better than what I was being taught.

      Thus were the first seeds of my atheism planted. Margaret Gardiner, rest in peace, and with my lifelong thanks.

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      John Arthur

      Hi Becky,

      May you and your hubbie have a wonderful day!

      I totally agree that no loving person would ever burn us forever. The god of Fundamentalism isn’t a loving God but a moral monster. The bible has some wonderful passages in it but it has much more material that was written by very violent, barbaric and ignorant savages who created god in their own likeness.

      These savages lived in violent times and some probably were well meaning but modern Fundamentalists have no excuse for believing this nonsense. I think that most of them don’t read the book that they say is God’s Word, but just rely on the nonsense that their pastor preaches. If they did bother do read all of this book with an open mind, they would be on the way to leaving Fundamentalism. But, alas, most of them are not curious. Their sense of guilt, shame, and not daring to question anything leaves them imprisoned in their Fundamentalism.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    I always did have a curious nature, because with my disabilities I thought if I kept searching, one day I’d find the cure for them. This, plus I do love to read. When we told out Pentapoopie Padtor up in Northern California that we read books from the Christian bookstore, he said ” All you need is the Bible. You don’t need to read anything else ! And you should stay in this county. This is Gawd’s country !” It’s true–a reading, well informed person is a threat. They want you to check your brains at the door of the church, and throw them in the wastebasket. Critical thinking and reasoning really is discouraged. I don’t miss churches at all.

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