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IFB Church Sign Says, Pity the Atheist Who is Grateful

Several years ago, Polly and I drove 50 or so miles northeast to Toledo to celebrate her birthday.  We had a delightful evening and enjoyed a scrumptious meal at Mancy’s Steakhouse.  On our way to the restaurant, we traveled on I-475 North and passed by Hope Baptist Church, one of the largest Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches in the area. (The church is pastored by Richard “Rick” Sowell, a graduate of Peter Ruckman’s school, Pensacola Bible Institute.)  Hope Baptist has a snazzy and expensive church building as far as IFB church buildings go. Hoping to maximize their message, the church has a digital sign that can be read easily from the interstate. I wish we could have stopped along the road so I could photograph the sign, but traffic was heavy and we were pressed for time. I did, however, write down the message and text it to myself. Here’s what it said:


Over the years, I’ve had a few Evangelicals question my use of words like “blessing” and “grateful.” Some of them suggested that my use of these words proves I am still a Christian, as does the fact that I capitalize words such as  Bible, God, etc. Evidently, no matter how much I try to suppress God, he oozes out of my life. Can’t argue with brilliance like this, right?

The argument goes something like this; the words “blessing” and “grateful” are words that can only be used by someone who has God as the focus of their worship. The Christian says, WHO is blessing you, Bruce? WHO are you thanking? They got me. I’m caught in an insurmountable problem. What should I do? Is it time for me to admit that it is the Christian God that blesses me?  Is it time for the preacher-turned-atheist to admit that he is grateful for what blessings come into his life from the God from whom all blessings flow?

doxology hymn

This line of argument reveals that many Evangelicals have no curiosity (please see Curiosity, A Missing Evangelical Trait) and are unable to think of any explanation but that which flows from and fits the narrow confines of their Fundamentalist theology. For Rick Sowell and the people of Hope Baptist Church, the locus of blessing, gratefulness, and thanksgiving can only be their peculiar version of the Christian God.

Well, let me disabuse Evangelicals of the notion that an atheist can’t use words like “blessing” and “grateful.” As an atheist and a humanist, I reject the notion that there is a God. As I have humorously said before, when the words Oh God are screamed out in our bedroom, we know exactly who God is. Too risqué? Consider this. Who is it that blesses your life? A fictitious God, a deity no one has ever seen? The Christian says yes, believing that ALL blessings flow from the hand of God Almighty, and any humans taking credit for these blessings are blaspheming God. However, as a man rooted in the here and now, in the earthy present, I choose to recognize that what blessings come my way come from one or more of my fellow human beings, nature, and the animals I share this world with.

When someone does something that is a blessing, I express to the person blessing me that I am grateful for what he or she has done. When I tell the doctor THANK YOU, I am directing my gratefulness to the person responsible for my medical care. When we stopped to pick up Bethany from my son and daughter-in-law’s home after our trip to Toledo, I thanked them for babysitting. Polly and I were grateful that they were willing to watch Bethany so we could have a nice time on the town. Should I shoot up a prayer to the ceiling, thanking the Big Man Upstairs for them being willing and able to babysit? Of course not. God didn’t do the babysitting, they did.

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One of my all-time favorite movie prayers is Jimmy Stewart’s dinner prayer in the movie Shenandoah:

Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked Dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food were about to eat. Amen.

This prayer reveals the essence of the atheist and humanist view on expressing gratefulness. Who deserves our praise and expression of gratefulness? The person doing the work. When someone makes a financial donation supporting this site, I don’t send them an email letting them know that I thanked someone other than them for their donation. Simply put, we should give credit to whom credit is due. If religious people want to give their deity an honorable mention, that’s fine, but the praise and gratefulness should be directed to the person responsible for the blessing.

So, to Rick Sowell and Hope Baptist Church, I am GRATEFUL that you continue to provide me with blog fodder. Keep up the good work. As long as you and your fellow Evangelicals continue to deliberately distort how atheists and humanists view the world, I plan to send a bit of Bruce Gerencser Blessing® your way.

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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    re: “As I have humorously said before, when the words Oh God are screamed out in our bedroom, we know exactly who the God is. ”

    along similar lines, and even more risque, a joke i heard is:
    “you know the worst thing about being an atheist? … you don’t have anyone to talk to when you’re getting a blow job.” 😉

    (if too risque for your blog, feel free to delete it.)

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    Bless you. Many of us who have been using up air for a number of years, understand that being thankful is rewarding. Once you understand the self-ish use of thankfulness, one often uses it. It feels good to be thankful, perhaps not good enough to moan, “Ohhhhhh Gawd!”, but good enough to notice. When I see the wonder of the world in a dust mote or a mighty fir, I am happy with thanks. This has not changed for me much in the years I have lived as an atheist. Perhaps it is a bit more intense now, the thanks, because I do not believe that i am going to dust mote or fir heaven to enjoy gold forever. I know there is an end to it. So, joy in being able to see something and anything! Thankfulness to have what bit of everything I can be there for, can grasp and the peace to be there for a bit. Bless you, fir. Bless you, bird on a wire. Bless you, Bruce for reminding me.

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    A perfect example of Christian’s not giving credit where it’s REALLY due. What a great excuse to do nothing to help our world!

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    On the issue of capital letters for words like ‘God’ and ‘ Christian’ one of the problems is predictive text. I use an iPad most of the time and have to use the predictive feature to save time. I used to try to override the capital letter defaults but, quite frankly, doing this wastes too much time. So I use capitals not out of spiritual meaning, rather expedience.

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      I have had a hard time reclaiming words like “blessed” and “thankful” because they have been so indelibly linked with a deity. I know that’s my problem to uncouple the two.

      I always liked that prayer in “Shenandoah” because it accurately reflected what was happening in life. My grandma, a devoted religious zealot, recognized that prayer for what it was and absolutely hated it. She would give a sermon to us about why it was symbolic of hubris lol.

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    Appalachian Agnostic

    I am sort of literal minded. Since becoming an agnostic, more toward the athiest side, it feels awkward to say things like, “If it is meant to be, it will be.” I used to say this a lot about major life events like job changes or new relationships. Now I have to ask, “meant to be by whom?” There is nobody there to do the “meaning to be”except us humans. So I changed my saying to, “Maybe it can be.” Not as neatly phrased, but hopefully more accurate. Another thing I used to do is roll my eyes heavenward when somebody said something that sounded stupid. I usually did this while on the phone with relatives. Ironically, the stupid sounding things I did it in response to were frequently religious in nature. Now I don’t roll my eyes, because there is no one up there I am hoping will feel sympathy for me. I have not yet come up with a substitute for this mannerism.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      I like “maybe it can be.” Age and atheism have taught me that there are many variables in life, lots of luck, and being at the right place at the right time (or wrong place at the wrong time) . Change one the variables and the outcome changes. Polly and I often play the what if game. What if I had married this girl/guy or we moved there, or we bought this, etc. It’s a fun game, but we both know that life is what it is. There are many things beyond our control. All we can do is make reasoned, responsible decisions and hope for the desired outcome. Sometimes we succeed, other times we fail, but we get up each morning and try again. So far, we are still among the living. ?

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    Somewhere along the line, I discovered the value of being grateful. Grateful to people who do things for me, that’s given. But it has value to my psyche to be grateful for the rain that came through where I live the last couple of days, because we’re in the middle of a severe drought. I’m grateful to wake up in the morning, to have another day, I’ll be grateful in a few minutes when my housemate makes it home on her bicycle on a windy night. I try to be grateful for a lot of things that a religious person would pin on a god, but I don’t have one to receive that gratitude. It’s the being grateful that matters, the celebration of all the good things, large but mostly small, that come through my life.

    I find, when I cultivate this attitude, that I have less need to be perturbed when things don’t go right, and I’m therefore happier. So for this atheist, no pity for the gratitude.

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