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Armchair Evangelical Psychologists

armchair psychology

When I started blogging in 2007, I made the decision to use my real name as I attempted to tell my story. I also decided that I would not protect the guilty. Since Evangelical churches, pastors, parachurch groups and the college I attended are a part of my storyline, I decided their names should be part of my story. Doing this has upset a lot of people, especially when a web search for their name, church, or group brings up my blog on the first page.

If you take time to search for websites mentioning my name, you will find sites with articles deconstructing my life. You will also find my name and articles mentioned on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Free Jinger, Reddit, and a number of public/private sites.

Since I write using my real name, and I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the world, it is not hard to find a wealth of information, positive and negative. I knew when I started blogging that I would open myself up to intense scrutiny. I knew that people would lie about me, distort my story, and try to besmirch my character. This is the price I pay for being a public figure.

Those of you who have read this blog for years know I stopped blogging several times when the emotional and mental stress became too much. (That I have been blogging now for six years straight is nothing short of a miracle.) What changed? Thanks to me seeing a counselor on a regular basis, I have learned to handle the stress that comes from having a public blog that is widely read. This doesn’t mean that I plan on blogging until Jesus comes again, but I hope I have enough mental and emotional wherewithal to withstand the pressures that come my way. If anything puts an end to my writing career it will be chronic illness and unrelenting pain. Recent health circumstances have had me circling the proverbial blogging drain, but, so far, I have been able to find the stopper, keeping me from disappearing. No promises, but I live for another day.

Several years ago, a man by the name of Steve Ransom sent me an email that I shared with readers in a post titled Steve Ransom Lays Down a Challenge to Bruce and His Fellow Atheists. He purported to have a new argument that he was sure would set me back on the right path to God. All he really had was a deconstruction of my life, and how I had followed a false God. There was a time such a deconstruction would cause me mental and emotional angst. Not anymore.

When I started blogging, I thought if I just told my story people would understand, even if they disagreed with me. I thought if I just explained myself, that my critics would at least understand my viewpoint. I know, I know, quite naïve of me.

This subject came up one day during counseling. I expressed my dismay over Evangelicals not being willing to accept my explanation of my life. Who knows my life better than me, right? My counselor told me:

Bruce, you think they care what you think? They don’t give a shit about what you think.

And he is right. I know that those who tear into my life aren’t interested in anything I have to say. They have read a handful of posts, maybe even twenty-five or thirty, and they are now ready to render judgment, and render they do. It’s happened countless times over the years, and it will happen in future. Evangelicals can’t help themselves, so I let them have one opportunity to say whatever is on their mind. One comment, that’s it. Then it is time for them to move on.

There was a time when I engaged every Evangelical commenter. I thought if I just explained myself, they would understand. I now know better. Now that I know they don’t give a shit, neither do I.

Of particular note are Evangelical critics who think they have me figured out psychologically. Instead of accepting at face value my explanation for why I left the ministry and left Christianity, they delve into what they believe are the psychological reasons for my divorce from Jesus and my abandonment of the church. According to them, I abandoned all I loved and held dear because I was angry, bitter, jaded, hated God, ad infinitum. Instead of accepting at face value what I say about my Evangelical past, these critics, use a nit comb to go through my life, looking for the “real” reason I am an atheist today. 

I used to try to answer such people, but after years of doing so, I decided to leave them to their own devices. I know that nothing I say will change their minds, so why bother, right? Such people are not my target audience, so why give one moment of my time to them. I remain committed to helping those who have doubts about Christianity and those who have left the faith. They are my church, not those who sit in the back pews throwing horse shit at me as I share my life’s story.

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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33 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Michael Mock

    I think it’s also worth noting — for Steve from the UK, if he’s still reading this, but for various other commenters and would-be commenters as well — that judgement disguised as sympathy is still judgement.

    • Avatar
      Dale

      Michael, in the South it’s not judging if we start off with, “Bless his heart, but…” That might even be biblical; been a while since I’ve read scripture, though, so I could be wrong.

  2. Avatar
    Karen

    Bruce, keep on, please! You’re an inspiration, someone who has had the courage to face reality after a long and productive life based on something else. And reality can be a real bitch sometimes! It isn’t just religion, though that’s a Big Thing; it’s a determination to live your life as authentically as possible that is so inspiring. It can be a very hard thing to do, and yet when we humans manage it we can transcend the ordinary limitations of our humanity.

    So, remember when the Evangelicals start to get to you, that they can’t help it — they are limited by the smallness of their own minds, and each individual is responsible for growing their own mind. It’s sad, but life is too short to go around and around with small-minded people, and it distracts from the important things in life. One can only hope they find a way to grow before their whole lives are gone. The very existence of this blog, of your writing in general, gives food for thought. You are fertilizing the ground for them. But they have to take up the nutrients and do the growing themselves.

  3. Avatar
    John Arthur

    Hi Bruce,

    This “Steve from the UK” either did not read any of the blogs where you explicitly stated your major reason for no longer believing in God or he did not believe what you wrote. He presented no new arguments for God’s existence, not one as you asked him to.

    Shalom,

    John Arthur

  4. Avatar
    sgl

    i think he read a bit too much about “friendship evangelism” and thought if he did a really really long-winded version of “i feel your pain”, that you’d therefore want to be his friend and ask him what he believed. but he never bothered to try to understand why you deconverted, but assumed it was for emotional reasons, and that you just didn’t fall in with the “correct” christians (ie, his denomination)

    once heard of a guy who drove his sports car to a dealership and asked about a new car, and he got a long-winded sales pitch about horsepower and speed and chick-magnet sports cars. the problem was, he wasn’t shopping for a sports car — his existing car had worked as a “chick magnet” and he was now married, with a kid on the way, and was looking to trade it in for a minvan. but the salesman never bothered to ask, and hence lost out on a potential sale, and wasted everyone’s time.

    and the earlier commenter who compared steve to a door-to-door salesman was also apt. they interrupt your dinner, and pretend to be doing a “survey” or similarly deceptive tactic, and can’t get the point of telling you what they’re selling and what the offer is. you can waste tens of minutes before you even find out whether they’re selling magazines or aluminum siding or carpet cleaning, and what the offer price is. lots of wasted time all around. a simple “we’re selling popular magazines at 20% discount if you buy today, are you interested?” makes a lot more sense.

    and when the next “super salesman” comes to your door, you don’t need to know his background or what he’s actually selling, to know that if he’s using that obfuscation technique, declining the offer and closing the door is the best course of action.

    so steve, if you’re still reading, and want to save your target audience (and yourself) a bunch of time, just get to the point, eg, “i’m with church of the smiling fundies, and we aren’t legalistic.” or whatever your pitch actually is.

    second, if you really want to understand atheists (or at least a pretty large number of them), read bart erhman’s books about how the bible came to be, and the “alleged” discrepancies. if you could talk intelligently about the issues that his books raise, you’d have conversational material for quite a few atheists and agnostics.

    i’d even guess that if you actually read one of erhman’s books, bruce might let you make another comment afterwards too. (so far, only one of the many fundamentalist commenters has taken bruce up on the suggestion to read erhman. perhaps you could stand out from the crowd by being number 2?)

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Eight years into blogging, lots of Christians have tried the friend approach. One local pastor was sure he could be my friend. I think he secretly thought if he was really, really, really nice to me that I would change my mind about God and Christianity. Nice guy, but interaction with me caused him to doubt his faith and calling. Since I was the “problem” he ended his effort to befriend me.

      I had recent interaction with another pastor. I was genuinely trying to help him, but he stopped writing and texting and the next thing I see on social media is Bible verses about trusting God not man. 🙂

      If my beliefs are determined by who is the friendliest, the atheists, agnostics, universalists, pagans, and liberal Christians win hands down.

      My best friends, apart from Polly, have come through this blog. I’ve met some wonderful people who accept me and love me as I am, even when we disagree.

  5. Avatar
    Melody

    I read your other blog occassionally-I’m pretty sure you were the only atheist blog I followed at the time- as I was questioning and mostly read blogs of Christian skeptics who had the same questions that I had. “How can we acknowledge all these problems with our faith and churches and remain Christians?” was basically the main theme.

    Anyway, I was sad to see your blog go and glad to see it back. I don’t think I’ve ever commented back then; I already liked your writing but sometimes cringed at the harshness (though truthfulness) of some of your remarks. Probably at the time I sort of begrudgingly agreed whereas now I agree whole-heartedly 🙂 I guess it just takes time sometimes.

    I do wonder now and then how much emotional reasons are a part of deconverting and they are to some extent. I am quite angry at God. I am angry at a God who doesn’t exist… so very pointless, but very much the case. I feel betrayed by my family and by my faith: having believed and been taught all this stuff. However, it is mostly logic: all the questions without answers or with very convulted answers. Once you begin to believe the non-believer’s answers and start to think they make a lot more sense… well, you’re there.

    To end with two thoughts:

    – I was pretty much an evangelical when I started reading this blog. Yes, a skeptical one, perhaps a bitter one, but still… It’s not that hard for me to imagine that a few may be coming to genuinely get answers and then feel they have to try to bring you back into the fold; perhaps out of guilt for having looked at an atheist blog in the first place? To assuage their guilt? Maybe even to cover their tracks: I only came for the lost sheep? Perhaps I am being too naive here and they are just trolls.

    – To add to the emotional reasons for deconverting: if churches would care more about actual victims, of child abuse or anything else, if they would actually have their back and genuinely care for them, it would increase their good name quite a bit. It seems to me that outsiders of the church are far better at comforting victims, at listening to them, at believing them even… Covering up crimes or pretending that it doesn’t happen, closing the ranks, really, really does not help them one bit. It makes people ashamed of the(ir) church and rightly so.

    • Avatar
      Canadian camper

      the last paragraph ….. you hit it out of the park. we have found it to be so very true. Christians can be some of the nastiest people around……….

      • Avatar
        Melody

        Yes, disappointment is definitely a part of that. I’ve you’re taught Christians are supposed to love each other more so than any one else and it is rather the other way around, it doesn’t help. Even though I knew I could be judgemental myself, I often trusted my non-Christian friends more because they were less judgemental than all the Christians I knew, including myself…. A bit ironic that.

  6. Avatar
    Becky Wiren

    I’m not sure my beliefs changed so much as they sharpened, so to speak, by reading Bruce’s blog. Bruce’s writing about the Bible caused me to investigate more about the biblical inaccuracies. I believed in the form of Christianity while disagreeing with it. Now I realize I didn’t really believe in the God of the Bible, the one who created us and wants to harm sinners, the one who found it necessary to kill his son. None of it made sense. I do believe in a divine other, but that isn’t an angry, vengeful God. Yep, I’m a Universalist. I’m also quite willing to admit I could be wrong. The Being I worship is loving, and helps me be more loving. However, it isn’t up to me to try to change others, only myself.

    Bruce, thanks so much for your blog and honesty.

  7. Avatar
    Lynn123

    Wasn’t this guy’s argument “ad hominem?” Wasn’t it just “there’s nothing wrong with Christianity-the problem is you-you’re messed up and grew up in an incorrect version of Christianity that further harmed you and now I want you to know that I understand your pain and you can let it all out and bawl on my shoulder?”

    He started out implying that you’re now too invested in atheism to change your mind. You wouldn’t put your family through that again.

    I see him as someone who wants to get under your skin, find a vulnerable place–like Lector did in “Silence of the Lambs.”

    Maybe he’s a psychiatrist or psychologist. Anyway, I found it a disturbing way of speaking to someone.

  8. Avatar
    Dale

    Oddly, the one approach I never see from fundies and evangelicals trying to save/shame Bruce and the rest of us is the Anti-Religion approach. Steve may have come close, but that was quite the weapon back in college when dudes from Campus Crusade would sneak in (illegally, I might add; violation of a strict no-proselytizing policy) to our dorms, hang around, pick up on conversations and jump in, turn the subject to God to get one person to say they hated religion so the could segue straight to, “There’s this guy a couple thousand years ago who felt just like you; his name is Jesus. Jesus hates religion too!” Then they’d push as hard as they could to get you to their “non-religious” church group before the head resident would show up and kick their asses out.

  9. Avatar
    Ian

    Most Christians just don’t understand that is about losing faith in faith, to steal a line from Dan Baker. Yes, the church did me and my family wrong over the years, I saw the hypocrisy, I was not happy with where the belief train was taking people, all this and more. What caused me to not be a Christian was a careful look at what I believed. No more, no less.

    When confronted with the idea that Jesus might never have existed, I got into my Bible to prove he did and that he was the chosen messiah. Trying to align Old Testament ideas and prophesies with New Testament stories and theology is what caused me to realize Christianity was false.

    I also realized that even though I was a Christian, on the inside I was no different than anyone else. My Christian friends would now say I really wasn’t a Christian, but I know I was. From appearances outside the home, I walked a pretty upright life. But, that was for show, that wasn’t the real me. I gave in to some of my carnal desires, like alcohol and movies, while the older generation didn’t. They struggled with the same things I did, only they won’t admit it. If Christians are born of God, why do they struggle with the same things for 20, 40 or 60 years?

    It was these things, among others, that made me realize Christianity is false. I put up with the hurt and disappointed that comes with being a member of a church, that didn’t drive me away. Careful study and a search for the truth, coupled with not being afraid of where truth would lead me, set me free.

    For some reason, that is hard for people to believe.

  10. Avatar
    mikespeir

    “I expressed my dismay over Evangelicals not being willing to accept my explanation of my life. Who know my life better than me, right?”

    Nobody who’s not been through the process could ever understand.

  11. Avatar
    Dale M

    That’s a pretty positive attitude there Bruce. Drop the demons. They don’t belong in your “church”. They’re there to destroy it. I told you that you were far more dangerous to them than Richard Dawkins could ever be! You walked out of the lions den. Got a few scratches on the way out as they tried to claw you back in to consume you but you escaped. You not only escaped but knew the lions well enough to coax more out of that blood covered cave of theirs. Bruce the Lion Tamer!!!

  12. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    The way people try to explain you to you, Bruce, reminds me of the way some people react to learning of my gender identity and sexuality. They think something must have happened to “confuse” or “upset” me. And, before I went through my gender-affirmation process, some thought I was gay because they didn’t see me dating members of the “opposite” sex. (In fact, during those times, I wasn’t dating anybody because I didn’t want to.) They believed I needed to meet the “right” woman–and to “see the light” when it came to “God’s plan” for me.

    All right, I’ll try to explain you to you: You have integrity.

  13. Avatar
    Sarah

    Each of us has a tendency to look for simplistic answers. I suspect that humans do that because if the answer is simple, then they can be careful and avoid having the same thing happen to them.

    I really hate the phrase arm chair psychologists. After all a therapist can’t do any good if they don’t listen to there client.

  14. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Your therapist sounds like a wise person.

    At a time where people believe in QAnon conspiracy theories, who think that Trump is a Great Leader, that election results that don’t go a certain way must be fake, I am less and less surprised that people aren’t interested in facts or truth.

    You keep on doing your thing. There are plenty of us who find truth in your words.

  15. Avatar
    BJW

    You know, it doesn’t seem to occur to these evangelists that maybe, going through a rough patch actually causes the scales to fall from one’s eyes? Or if religion isn’t meeting one’s needs, maybe it’s a flaw in the religion? Apparently, people who are in more tolerant, accepting and loving religions get benefits without having to change individual people, but by working on the world’s behalf. OTOH, that also characterizes other creeds such as humanism.

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