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Questions: Bruce, How Old Were You When you First Acknowledged Your Worthlessness?

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I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Brian asked:

Can you recall how far back you decided to acknowledge your worthlessness? Was there an event or feeling that stays with you illuminating the knowledge you garnered, convincing you that you required ‘saving’? Some people say it was the Bible, the Bible says etc. but for me it was nightmares of hell, awful feelings of doom. I was just a youngster and went running to my mom. I had been preached at of course and had been told by adults that we are all bad without Jesus…. I guess it was all that input that build up in me and grew night horrors. And of course seeing how important it was to my mom and dad. What about you, Bruce?

This is a tough question for me to answer. I grew up in an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) home. The IFB church movement is an uber-Fundamentalist, hellfire and brimstone sect. I made my first profession of faith (my born-again moment) in the 1960s at Scott Memorial Baptist Church in El Cajon, California. Then, at age fifteen, I made another profession of faith, was baptized by immersion, and declared before Jesus and the church that God was calling me to preach. Four years later, I enrolled to study for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. While at Midwestern, I met a beautiful dark-haired preacher’s daughter. We married and spent the next twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches.

Fear of Hell, threats of God’s judgment, and the worthlessness of humans were part of my life for as long as I can remember. Sadly, these things still lurk deep within the recesses of my mind. I regularly see an exorcist (secular counselor) who helps purge my mind of these demons. I have been seeing him for ten years. A lifetime of religious indoctrination and self-esteem-destroying beliefs and practices have left deep scars. All I know to do is to keep washing my mind with self-affirming, rational thinking. Surrounding me with people who think similarly is a big help too.

Brian asks when, exactly, I first acknowledged that I was a worthless person. Unfortunately, worthlessness has been a part of my DNA for as long as I can remember. Sure, Jesus allegedly gave me love, hope, and peace through his shed blood on the cross and resurrection from the dead, but worthlessness was never far away. When Jesus is the only thing that stands between you and Hell, and your parents, pastors, and churches constantly beat you over the head with the sin stick, it’s hard to think well of yourself. Having been wounded by the fifty years I spent in the Christian church, I doubt I will ever think well of myself. Jesus and his Church did a number on me (and as a pastor, I harmed other people).

Brian grew up in an IFB preacher’s home. I suspect he will understand my difficulty with pinning down the date when I first realized that I was a piece of shit in the eyes of God. Jesus may have saved me from sin, but he failed to saved me from my parents, pastors, and lifelong immersion in harmful religious beliefs. I’m fucked, Jesus, and it’s your fault. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

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6 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Appalachian Agnostic

    Great question. I guess when you are raised in it from birth, a senses of worthlessness can feel as natural as your relationship with your parents or the comfort of the home you live in. No wonder people have a hard time escaping.

  2. Avatar
    BJW

    I had to leave the church to get a grip on certain problems in my life. And yet, even then I even thought I might go back afterward…of course, by then I didn’t need it anymore. But the problem was an emotional/mental issue affected by poor self-esteem. Funny, the church was really bad at helping me to accept myself.

  3. Avatar
    Barbara L. Jackson

    Some cultures whether religious or not require children to prove they are worthy to their family. There are especially bad problems in Japan where teenagers commit suicide if they did not get a high enough score on some test.

    I think some of this may actually be in DNA. I have always felt I was not worthy because I did not good enough grades, made a mistake in a sewing project, clean up enough etc.

    My father was pretty easy on us I think because he was a public high school teacher and had seen a lot of kids who were imperfect. My mother had to have everything in the house set up perfectly, but she was more likely to re-do what I did or always do it herself instead of punishing me or anything.

    My brother is completely different. When he was less than 12 years old relatives brought him broken appliances so he could take them apart. By the time he was teenager he had taught himself how to fix some things on cars. No one else in the family could do anything like that. He was raised by the same parents I was but he could learn things one else in the family could do. He was also liked to take risks. No one else in the family was like that. I think it must be DNA for him.

  4. Avatar
    Emersonian

    So another perhaps clueless question from the “never been a christian” in the crowd–what’s up with the concept of worthlessness? I get that the IFB would emphasize the idea that the unsaved are worthless scum; but once one accepts Jesus, is washed in the blood of the lamb, prays the roman road, etc etc, are they not suddenly transformed into a valuable soldier in Christ’s army? I thought that was sort of the point of baptism–you’re a piece of shit, until you’re not. Are you still a piece of shit in the eyes of the lord even after you’ve been baptised, in IFB thought? Again, my apologies if that’s a stupid or offensive question.

  5. Avatar
    mary

    born into pentecostal religion so taught we were worthless from the time we could talk. grandparents helped us understand that we were not worthless but had to learn this outside of parents influence. not teaching our kids this stuff thank goodness. telling my kids that it’s ok to believe in positive things in christ’s teachings but leave the rest of the toxic stuff. it makes me angry when i think of all the toxic things we were taught. my sister is struggling with alcoholism now due to these teachings. yet parents never could see how the church harmed our family. so sad.

  6. Avatar
    Moriah

    Shortly after I was born, my father held me and told me that I was beautiful but a sinner needing saved. At least, that’s what he told me growing up. I was asking pretty deep questions about God at a fairly young age, and quickly the message of shame & guilt became internalized. This translated in questioning my salvation my entire life, as I was just so sinful, could God really love me & save me?

    If I were to pinpoint it at a specific time, it probably really hit me at one of the many VBS services I attended growing up where I raised my hand to be saved in fear of eternal damnation. 🙂

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Bruce Gerencser