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What I Found When I Left the Box

Man hiding in box

Seven years ago, I wrote a post titled The Danger of Being In a Box and Why It All Makes Sense When You Are in a Box.  A commenter on Reddit asked if I would elaborate on this part:

“But is wasn’t. My mind was filled with thoughts of all the wonders I found outside the box. Things that those in my box said were bad for me; things that they were sure would ruin me. They told me that the box was all I needed. They feared I was becoming a wanderlust.

And they were right. I wandered once again outside the box, and just like before I fell down the slope of the slippery hill. This happened to me many times before I finally gave up and stayed at the bottom of the hill. When I did this, the box I had lived in for almost 50 years was no longer large enough for me. For the first time, the things I had found in the box seemed odd, peculiar, and contradictory.”

Every time I left the box, I found new and wondrous things, things I had never heard about before, things I had never experienced. The box I was in for five decades was a box whose dimensions were clearly defined. There was no guessing about the length, width, or depth of the box. Over time, the box had to be replaced. Those outside the box constantly battered the box with bats, bricks, and rocks. Sometimes, these attacks would cause gaping holes in the box and it became necessary to replace the box.

The new box was not like the old box at all. The dimensions were different and it held fewer people. Everyone in the box pretended that the box was just like the old box. An old-fashioned box, we were told. We knew the box was not like the old one, but giving the appearance that the new box was the same as the old box was more important than coming to grips with the reality that the box was different. The box keeper was adamant. He said our box was just like the first box, that the box had stood strong for 2000 years.

On one of my trips outside of the box, I found out that the box keeper wasn’t telling the truth. He was trying to preserve something that never existed. Perhaps he really didn’t know since he had never been outside the box. I found out the box manual had errors and contradictions. People outside the box questioned whether the box manual was the correct manual. For a time, fear plagued me every time I went outside the box. I realized if the box manual wasn’t true, then everything I believed about the box was wrong. I thought, I am a smart guy. How could I have been deceived for almost 50 years? Surely ALL these people in the box can’t be wrong?

As I strayed farther and farther away from the box, though, I found that there were all kinds of boxes. Every group of people had its own box — some were religious, some were political, some were social, and some were economic boxes. I always knew there were other boxes, but I considered all other boxes but the one I was in to be false boxes.

Those of us in the box always mocked those in the atheist box. None of us actually knew an atheist, nor had we ever read a book written by an atheist, but Dr. I-Have-The-Truth told us he knew all there was to know about the atheist box and he was certain the atheist box was a false box with no bottom that led straight to hell. He told us many horrible things about the atheist box. I was glad I was not one of THOSE kinds of box dwellers.

Imagine my surprise to find out that the atheist box was nothing like Dr. I-Have-The-Truth said it was. In fact, I found out there was quite a bit of diversity in the atheist box. People in the atheist box argued back and forth with each other, but once they were done arguing, they all went to the bar and were still friends. I had never seen such interaction before. In my box, when arguments broke out they usually ended with one party calling the other party not-a-true-box-dweller. Some of them even went so far as to leave the box and, just a few feet away, build another box. They said they were a new and DIFFERENT box, but everyone knew that the only thing different was the location of the box.

I found that I liked the atheist box. Those in the atheist box encouraged me to be skeptical of every box. I had never heard this before. In the box I was from, we were told to never question the box and certainly to never question or doubt the box manual. The box keeper warned us that doubt led many a box dweller outside of the box to never to return. We wondered, did they end up being recycled?

This newfound freedom to question and to be skeptical was quite liberating. It also caused a good bit of conflict for me. People from the box I had left were questioning whether I was ever a “real” box dweller. They said, Yes he was in the box but he never really believed the box manual. They called me a deceiver. Some even thought I was deluded. The box keeper used me as an illustration of what happens when a person becomes skeptical and asks questions

For a time, my wanderlust, while liberating, caused me a great deal of mental conflict. There seemed to be a constant tug and pull. I felt as if I were going to be pulled apart. I heard about a man who specialized in helping people who left boxes similar to the one I was in. So I went to see him and I knew immediately that he could help with the tug and pull that was trying to tear me apart.

Over time, I began to see how the box, the box keeper, and the box manual had taken over my life to such a degree that I lost any concept of who I was. Every time I saw the specialist I reclaimed some of the self that I had lost. As this happened, I began to deal with the questions I had about the box and the box manual.

I am not sure when the moment was, but I do remember coming to a place where I felt completely free. I felt “born again.” I thought, I am a “born again” atheist. I no longer felt any pull to return to the box. Of course, those in the box said “See what happens when you stay outside the box for a long time?”

Fourteen years have gone by since I found myself at the bottom of the slippery hill. It is hard to believe — fourteen years. People in the atheist box, the box I now call home told me that things would be better with time. They encouraged me to read and study. They told me “go where the data, the evidence leads you.”

Over time, I learned that the atheist box, and for that matter no box, is perfect. In every box there are arrogant, nasty, vindictive box dwellers. No box is perfect, but some boxes are definitely better than others. That’s the greatest wonder of all . . . I now have the ability to freely choose the box(es) I want to be in.

I guess the best thing to say is this…I no longer feel boxed in.

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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  1. Avatar

    And yet you, along with most of the rest of humanity, are and will always be, at least for the immediate future, still inside a box, although its shape is not rectangular.

    And those who may temporarily make it outside of that box have to have some of the contents with them.

    Perhaps a different sort of box, but I think, a box nevertheless…

    Since you’ve stepped out of your smaller box, if you’ve never read them, you might take a look at the book of enoch and the book of jasher. I have read most of them with interest. (Haven’t managed to wade through all of jasher yet.)

  2. Avatar

    Man, I couldn’t believe that those matters can actually be so funny, because generally they mean a real drama for the ones who dare to admit that religion can’t be ‘that’ real. It sounds a lot like Plato’s cave, luckily our ex brothers in the faith don’t dare to kill us.

  3. Avatar

    The “box” we need to get out of is our self. A person needs to become selfless, over time, to understand and live the life Christ wants us to live.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      sigh since “self” is all any of us have, pray tell how do we become “selfless”? Without self we are dead. What, exactly, is the life the dead man named Jesus wants us to live? Since Jesus didn’t write one word of the Bible, it’s impossible for us know what “life” he wants us to live. So many questions, Michael.

    • Avatar

      Michael, the self is who we are. It’s all we really have, as Bruce points out.

      Selflessness must be properly balanced with selfishness, because we are as entitled to a good life as anyone else. Sacrificing and denying ourselves out of some misguided duty will just cause resentment to build up.

    • Avatar
      ... Zoe ~

      I’m reminded of a story in the Bible. The crowd won’t leave Jesus alone. He pays attention to his “self” and heads to a boat to get away from the crowd. Even your Jesus according to the story needed to look after himself.

  4. Avatar

    For me the box is about denying truths such as the age of the universe, evolution and how long man has existed on the earth. The box of fundamentalism requires a lot of mental gymnastics. After a while I couldn’t do it anymore. Sure there might be bad science but there is good science and the evidence is overwhelming that the Bible doesn’t stack up.

    For me it’s not a great thing. As much as my Christian family frustrated me and many times downright abused me in my opinion, the cause of Christianity gave me a higher calling. Truly we have to make peace with what King Solomon said about us eating and drinking and being merry. Sure the Bible teaches before the flood that people were basically having a good time, but Soloman concedes that when it comes down to it, wisdom isn’t great, just enjoy your life, your family, your food and drink a bit.

    As for self care, not going overboard implies a self care I thought, Proverbs 23:21, “For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty.” – overdoing it, mistreating the body the temple etc. (one applies self care to better serve God).

  5. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    I think Michael in 2021 touched on something important, although undoubtedly not the way he meant to. If you die to self, and live for the rule-driven religion that says that an omnimax god did such a bad job with creating humans that they’re like used tampons without suppressing their own selves…you are owned by rule-makers, not a god who doesn’t deserve worship anyhow because he can’t even engineer a reasonable human.

  6. Avatar
    MJ LIsbeth

    Karen–In one sense Michael is right. Inside the box, no matter how many people are in it, there is only your self–or at least, a self as it’s defined by the box and those in it. Getting out of the box means escaping those definitions and expanding or refining what our definition of our selves is.

    I lived in Catholic and Evangelical boxes. When I escaped those, I was still in a closet, which was just as confining.

  7. Avatar

    Some story! And I bet you’d been quietly ruminating about leaving the box long before you actually left it.

    I’ve e been quietly out for 10-12 years. Didn’t go full atheist, but found Deistic / Ietisim to be the best fit. But like Naaman in the Old Testament, I still worship at the temple of Rimmon (church), otherwise I’d lose every single family member. I’m in my mid-60s and have no choice.

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