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Bruce, You Were Religious, but Lost

religious but lost

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I have been told countless times that the reason I am an atheist today is that I never met the R-E-A-L Jesus or that I was religious, but lost.  Several years ago, a man by the name of Ralph Ugarte left a comment in which he let me know that I had met a false Jesus. Filled with pride, as a pastor, I was all about self and good works. On most days — pardon what comes next — I want to tell Fundamentalist zealots such as Ugarte to go fuck themselves with a stick wrapped in barbed wire. Not today. What follows is Ugarte’s comment. By the way, Ugarte came to this site via a search for Tim Conway, pastor of Grace Community Church in San Antonio, Texas. This explains his mention of Pat Horner, the man with whom I had a falling out while he and I co-pastored Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas. Conway was a member of Community during my tenure there. (Please read the series I am a Publican and a Heathen.) All told, Ugarte read the aforementioned seriesDear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners,  Why I Hate Jesus, and the ABOUT page.

Ugarte wrote:

Hello Mr. Bruce, I have a big problem with a lot of things that you’re saying. I’ve read your series of “I am a Publican and a Heathen” and I understand the problems and controversy you may have had with Pat Horner and some other leaders of the church. What I don’t understand is, what does any of this have to do with Jesus and God?

I also don’t want to place judgement on you, but you kind of placed it on yourself from the things you say, e.g., “RELIGION, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life”, “My being is so intertwined with RELIGION”, “I spent most of my adult life pastoring churches, preaching, and being involved in RELIGIOUS work”, “To say that the CHURCH was my life would be an understatement”, “As I have come to see, the CHURCH was actually my MISTRESS, and my adulterous affair with her…”.

The funny thing is, you never mentioned you did these things for Jesus, which kind of completes the puzzle, in that you were just RELIGIOUS. You made the CHURCH and your religious practice your GOD. While in your so-called church, you did the same things and are no different than what you hated in Pat Horner, PRIDEFULNESS. How? Well here’s an example “Fact is, I have studied the Bible and read far more books than many of you. What, do you really think you are going to show me that will be so powerful and unknown that it will cause me to return to the religion and politics of my past?” Religion and politics? Is that what Jesus is to you, some religion? Well, here’s some true facts from me. I am not writing you some powerful unknown message. You know the message already, but the truth is that it was never in your heart. You kept it stuck somewhere in your head where your pride layed [sic] and you exalted yourself because you had the opportunity to teach and preach to others. Truth is, the real church was not in San Antonio, Texas as you believed. It is every where within the true servants of Christ throughout the world. Truth is, everyone in that Community was not saved, and those who were, are the true body of Christ. The simplest messages that you should have known and taken to heart years ago got lost somewhere in your religious pride. You became the Pharisees. Then when your local church no longer wanted you, you dump Jesus with it. Please tell me where that decision came from. Where in the bible does it say that the church is above Jesus? You know the scriptures. You’ve read the books. Jesus is the head of the church. So why would you glorify and have an adultress [sic] relationship with the church? How did the church become more important than Jesus? And how could you let that happened?

And yeh, maybe you’re right, “The church robbed me of so much of my life.” Yes, I believed that local church may have done you an injustice by allowing you to preach and teach without confirming your heart and desires to do so were for God alone, but it was also your fault because you fell in love with it. You fell in love with the glory of preaching and being a leader.

The truth is, I was you. I also was a member of a church where I got into arguments with the leaders, but not for the same reason that you did. The church I attended was also full of pride and did not recognize that they were missing the heart of Jesus. I spoke of these things and I was threaten to be excommunicated from the church because they felt I was insulting them and causing divisions. So I decided to leave on my own. And what did I do, I also dumped Jesus with it.

Now years later, I realized that I was wrong. I realized that there is no perfect church in this world. There is no church where everyone within the organized church is truly saved and walks with God 24 hrs a day. That doesn’t exist. So what am I to do.

I now walk with God regardless of what any church says or believes. If I want to know the truth, then I find it myself within the bible or by talking to God. I do attend a local church now, and yes, they are not perfect in their doctrines. Yes, members fall and may still be in bondage and may not be saved with their eyes opened. Yes, all who attend do not fully serve God and carry their cross. But then maybe that’s why I am there, to help others. Not as a so-called leader within the church. Not as a pastor. But as an example of what Christ is. That is how I serve the church of Jesus. I do it for him because he did it for me.

So what’s your excuse now?

The reason I typically no longer answer comments and emails such as this one is that I am tired of explaining myself. No matter what I tell Ugarte, his mind has made up — I was not what I claimed to be. When people won’t allow you to tell your story on your own terms and accept what you say at face value, it is a waste of time trying to convince them that they are wrong. That said, I do think such comments and emails are helpful in showing doubting and questioning Evangelicals the true nature of Fundamentalist Christianity. While I am sure Ugarte thought he was setting me straight, what he has really done is remind people why they are glad they are no longer Christians. Letters and comments such as his help make new atheists, and for that I am grateful.


Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.


  1. Avatar

    It’s interesting the way he says he ‘doesn’t want to place judgement on you’, then goes on to do precisely that. It’s like when people say ‘with all due respect’, when what they mean is with no respect whatsoever. Or when they say ‘I’m not doubting you but…’ then go on to tell you why you are wrong.

    Speaking as an outsider to religion and especially the ‘Jesus’ thing, in a way that your email correspondent could never do, I simply see another attempt at branded religion. I’m starting to be bemused by the insistence of so many people that they aren’t ‘religious’ because they ‘have a relationship with Jesus’. It’s like saying one isn’t fat, one just has a thrice daily relationship with McDonalds, failing to recognise that there are many other reasons for weight issues.

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    Funny how you get lectured on pridefulness in a letter whose author is full of himself and his own opinions? Irony, you are a most amusing form of humor. I try not to be hostile towards Christianity but concerning the Fundamentalist flavor of it, that is an impossible self-task!

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    He needs a reason to explain what happened to you. He can’t accept that a true pastor could change his mind.

    I don’t want to put words in Bruce’s mouth but I am sure Bruce would say his main reason for leaving was that he looked for the real Jesus and didn’t find him!

    A relationship with jesus is a relationship with a literary character. You learn about him through reading but there is no interaction.

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    John Arthur

    Hi Urgate,

    You say,

    “I now walk with God regardless of what any church says or believes. If I want to know the truth, then I find myself within the bible or by talking to God.”

    What makes you think that you, and those who think like you, walk with God but most folk in the churches don’t (assuming for the moment that the bible god exists)? There are over 40,000 denominations in the world today and most of them disagree on some form of doctrine or of practice.

    What is it that makes you think that you have the right doctrines and right behavioural standards and most who confess Christianity don’t? What makes you think that you and those like you know the heart of Jesus and those who differ significantly from you don’t?

    How does talking to god help? If God doesn’t exist what benefit would talking to him do? Of all the millions of Christians who claim to talk to god, why should we believe you?

    Subjective feelings that you have met and talked with God while in prayer or while reading the bible do not establish the fact that your subjective experiences (no matter how certain you feel about them) conform to objective reality. So instead of ranting against Bruce, why don’t you take a closer look at your life and your worldview and ask yourself whether you have any objective evidence that supports it?

    If you think that the bible is the Infallible Word of God, I suggest that you would benefit from reading many of Bart Ehrman’s books, some of which can be downloaded from the net in pdf form.


    John Arthur

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      Here here. To say ‘I have it sorted, it’s me, the bible and God’ begs the question – how do you know you have it right and others don’t?

      And if you read Bruce’s posts you would see that after reading scholars like Bart Erhman he doesn’t trust the bible as the word of God so can’t walk around like Urgite and say ‘it’s just me and my bible.’
      He doesn’t believe the bible is trustworthy – so that is is excuse.

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    The chuch I was a part of was also full of pride (aren’t most churches by the way? besides being proud of something you like is a normal thing) and becoming a part of a more non-denominational studentgroup helped me in becoming a more open-minded christian. It also increased small cracks in my faith: because I got to know people of different denominations who all had different idea’s about God/Bible and the rules, it sort of awoke a whisper of logic. They couldn’t all be right, now could they?

    Leaving the church and at some point also the studentgroup, helped me in leaving my faith. Social pressure is a big thing and it ensures a continual reenforcement of ideas. I couldn’t think cleary (nor for myself) all that well when I was still a part of these groups. I needed to be out of that before I could begin to think more for myself and follow my own logic and thoughts. I had before but I’d always stopped short before I’d enter real dangerous territory, i.e. risk losing your faith. Being more on my own with my own thoughts, I found the courage to do so. There was no-one to stop me anymore.

    Leaving church can help in becoming a nicer and more open-minded christian, it can help in getting rid of faith, but it can also get you into another cult (of your own makeing). I’ve seen that happen too where families leave churches only to begin their own (often even crazier ones). Still, I would say that in general leaving a chuch can give you an opportunity to follow your own ideas and thoughts again.

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      Hey Melody, some of your thoughts made me think about my own departure from the fold. I was one who decided, after trying various flavors of faith-practice, to invent my own version of Christeeeanity. I did not have a desire to start a church or gathering, just find something that did not finally go poof as I lived it, as I observed contradictions, human weakness and all the rest…
      One of the things that I still believe is that Christianity in the fundagelical strain, undermines independent thought and feeling among young people especially and prevents them from freely questioning their lives unless they get-away from the cultic bubble and have a distance. Then they can look at it with more personal objectivity (if that doesn’t seem a contradiction in terms!) What i mean is that they have the freedom in leaving and making a space for themselves and so they then allow themselves the right to see through their own eyes. Christian parents do not wish their children a free and happy life. They want them in service and believe that path is the only true way to be free and happy. When a child tells this parent they are full of shit, the parent rejects them for Jesus and reveals Christianity as it is, harmful, hurtful, a means of dependent life, sick dependency that will even desert a child for Christ’s sake (sic).
      I am very happy to know that you have been able to follow your own ideas and thoughts again. I benefit from your sharing.

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        Hey Brian,
        I looked for my own christian flavor too, becoming slowly more progressive than those around me. It wasn’t until later that I could leave religion alltogether. But yes, it feels as if Christianity/churches/parents do want to keep you dependent on (god/the system) so you don’t get to have your own personal freedom or opinions.
        I hate that the most. There isn’t really much tolerance for being different, even in taste of say music or books. So much is seen as evil: entire genres. Anyone has to become a one-size-fits-all-christian, and it doesn’t matter if that fits you or not.

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    I somehow figured out early on was that “religion” and “faith” are two very different things and indeed it was during a Baptist “revival week” that I “got saved” from the preaching son of a preacher’s son on being a “Phony Baloney” (circa1972). Being new to the idea of “claiming Christ as my personal Savior”, I fell for it as a 12-year old, but left that sort of dogma far behind before I left my teens. I never made a return to steady church attendance. That’s one reason I’m here, to understand what in the hell “being a Christian” has morphed into.

    The Quakerism I was raised in did not practice any sort of evangelicalism that I can recall. All children were Junior Members and one did not become a full member until sometime after graduation from high school/college, but before marrying, and that by convention, not by rule. One “evangelized” by the complete example of one’s life; in business, social life, religious life or government. One was to live so as to make others ask, “What is it that gives you the ability to face life with such peace and joy and to treat all fairly, with no regard to race, creed or sex?” That was considered the truest form of “Christian witness” there could be and the only one that should be necessary. They may have had a point….

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      The little that I know of Quakers is quite positive. I believe they were real progressive Christians much sooner than anyone else. Involved in equal rights and so on, the abolition movement etc.

      For instance, in the church where I grew up women weren’t really allowed to have a voice in things during the service. I was very suprised when I was taught during a course on American Christianity that the Quakers had had female intinirant preachers from 1650’s or thereabouts onwards. They got a lot of backfire from other churches, of course, including the same arguments that were used at my church. The thought that they’d believed differently so long ago already made me quite happy and a little hopeful, at the same time I was pretty frustrated that the same arguments had been used against them and were still being used to this day.

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        Quakers are a diverse lot and I am quite sure my evolved beliefs are NOT in the Quaker mainstream today, so I do not claim to represent them in any way. That being said, it is Quaker beliefs that shaped me and how I look at faith and the Divine and I can’t escape that. However, I think it is still safe for me to say that Quakers are quite progressive and have been concerned with social justice since their founding in the 1650’s out of the Seeker movement then going on in England. Margaret Fell was an early Quaker leader and is credited with most of the organizational side of the founding of the Society of Friends. (That’s the official name of the denomination, since the only legal church at the time was the Church of England.) Recent scholarship has been forced to admit that Fell and Fox likely carried on an adulterous affair during those years, in spite of their frequent protests to the contrary. I find that highly amusing, especially considering it was Fell who was married, making it all the more scandalous for the times, same as it is today; women are still judged more harshly than men. Overall, though they made their share of mistakes, I think Quakers have been a positive force. Thanks for the kind words regarding my spiritual ancestors.

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    Oh, puh-LEEZ. What a bunch of crap.

    Yep, heard it all about “it’s all about Jesus” from the churches that condemned me when I left because you need to “gather with other believers.” Heard it all about churches that “shunned” religion and said we were set free from the law, but then imposed a whole bunch of rules on me that had me making myself into a completely different person.

    And have heard it all about reading and studying the Bible. Please, go worship your book and leave us alone.

    Finally, have heard it all from people who refuse to consider other viewpoints, pay attention to another person’s pain, and respond in love.

    Ugh. No church for me! I’d much rather be here.

    Kudos to you, Bruce, for not repsonding to this troll.

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    J.D. Matthews

    “I won’t place judgement on you… JUDGE, JUDGE, JUDGE, JUDGE!” If this guy told me “I’m not going to shoot you,” I’d fully expect to be on the ground filled with bullet holes in about 30 seconds.

    This whole No True Scotsman codswallop that fundies like to peddle is nothing more than a meager cop-out. They can’t possibly accept that you were who you say you were: a dedicated, born-again, bones-on-fire preacher of the gospel of Christ. They can’t, because for such a person to discover that its false and turn away from it threatens the very house of cards they need to remain standing. If you could do it, what would stop them some day? The Bible has to be true, right? So how could someone who studied it faithfully, day in and day out, with no desire to be led away from it, come to the conclusion that it was a lie? Argh, cognitive dissonance!!! Danger to the faith! Danger to the faith! Get it out of here! The explanation, then, must be that you were never a True Christian. You must have been an interloper whose agenda from day one was to advance the cause of Satan.

    I have heard these accusations more times than I care to remember. Here’s the facts: When I was baptized (both times!) I was as dedicated as a person could possibly be. I prayed earnestly, believing I was talking to someone. I was constantly mindful of my sinful nature, my Christian walk, and my influence on others. I gave up every weekend to be with His people, no matter how I felt, no matter what else was happening. At various points in my life, I was spending 4 to 5 nights a week in some sort of religious activity. When I was in university, you may as well expand that to all 7 days of the week, because I went to a Christian school. I preached the gospel with as much conviction as anybody could. I gave up a successful secular career to go into ministry full-time, for the express purpose of being able to devote 100% of my life to spiritual pursuits and serving God. I even became a missionary to travel halfway around the world because of my devotion to God.

    Anybody who wants to poke holes in whether or not I was “actually a real honest to God Christian” better pack a damn lunch and bring their A game.

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    He doesn’t seem to understand that you don’t believe in god any more.

    Suppose we replaced all the instances of “religion” and “church” he emphasized with the words “God” or “Jesus” instead. Would it make any sense for someone who doesn’t believe god exists to say those things? I certainly don’t think so.
    Your life was never ‘intertwined’ with god or Jesus because god doesn’t exist and Jesus is still very much dead. Religion and the churches you preached *are* things that actually exist though, so referring to them makes much more sense.

    The worst part is, there are former Christians who speak using the language of their past and say things like “I was very involved with God.” and folks like Ugarte are still quick to weigh in, with comments like “That you say you were involved with God proves that deep down you still think God is real! After all, how can you say you were involved with something that isn’t even real?” There is just no winning with such people.

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    Would it be bad to say I find it interesting when people think this way? I’m not sure ‘interesting’ is the right word, but I used to think that way. I was religious. I believed all of it.And people who didn’t were lost. Going to hell. It was on me to try and save them, at least that is what all the pastors I encountered told me. Every week it was ‘getting right with God’ and ‘saving the lost’.

    It’s a very arrogant way of looking at the world, that self-righteous, I am better than you because I am on the pedestal of the saved! Join me or BURN IN HELL you piece of crap!! thing.

    Yeah, my grammar sucks tonight.

    Anyway, the further I am from that kind of thinking, the better I feel in all aspects of my life.

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    Brian Vanderlip

    Ami, me too…. I find myself wondering how very much like the young murderer in Atlanta (the massage parlor shooter) I was as a young Christian man struggling to destroy my natural sensual feelings. What would it have taken in my life experience to put me over the line and to go out to destroy the evil world with a gun! I was a teenage hunter too, just like this lad… It scares the bejeebers out of me. I am so thankful I went for therapy. Young Christian man, you are not evil in your heart. You are simply human. Talk to a registered counselor. Take care of yourself, your self first. It’s okay, it’s even natural (except at church).

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Can we ever really know what was on the mind of a person when they were doing something they now disavow?

    I grew up Catholic and was an altar boy. Later I would be “saved” and join an Evangelical church and group. Oh, and I was a Libertarian who wrote articles for a publication whose editor thought Milton Friedman was a communist.

    Today I am an atheist. And a Democrat. In last year’s primaries, I supported Elizabeth Warren. I voted for Biden and Harris. I think laws to ensure that LGBT people–as well as people of any and all kinds of idenitites–have the same rights and protections as white cisgender heterosexual males with money need to be even stronger, and better-enforced, than they are.

    And I’m a woman. I have been living as one for nearly two decades and had gender-affirming surgery a little more than a decade ago.

    So…Was I “never” a “real” Catholic or Evangelical? Or have I simply “drifted away” and will “see the light” and return to what I “really” am?

    Was I not a “true” Libertarian or conservative? Could it be that my liberal politics are a “phase” and I’ll return to my “true” right-wing self?

    And what of my gender identity and sexuality?

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    Yulya Sevelova

    As someone who has lived all over California and went cross- country, saw many churches, I can tell the ” just religious ” from Christians who love Jesus. Ugarte wasn’t paying attention. Hear that, Ugarte ? You didn’t really read through the blog, at least not enough. People can get offended and disillusioned, not just by others, but by God and Jesus as well. This is why those types like Pat Horner don’t add up. The guy had no ” fruit” anyway. One could say that about HIM, now couldn’t they !

Want to Respond to Bruce? Fire Away!

Bruce Gerencser