A guest post by John
I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968. My family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1972 and this is where I grew up. My parents were not very religious, just enough to not go to hell. We attended a Presbyterian church sporadically through my teenage years. When I was 12, I went to a YMCA summer camp. Most of the counselors were Bible college students. One night, around a fire with other campers, I heard the gospel for the first time that I remember. It included, of course, if I didn’t believe and pray the sinner’s prayer, I would go to hell. Well, what 12-year-old wants to go to hell? So I prayed the prayer, was given a Bible, and was told to read it every day. My Presbyterian parents were wary of my newfound zeal for God and the Bible. I was in and out of church through high school and college. Sometimes I would be zealous about my faith, and sometimes not.
After college, I got a job as an assistant manager at a restaurant in 1993. Most of the servers and several of the kitchen staff were Bible school students. This restaurant did not serve alcohol, so it attracted more Christians than other places. Most of these were from the charismatic/word of faith crowd. At first, I thought they were nuts! But they grew on me after a while. I started going to a large church of this flavor, because of a girl, of course. I played trumpet in the orchestra and was really enjoying it. Eventually, I married the girl that I followed to church and wound up going to a Bible school in the Tulsa area. After graduating, I went to work for the church/ministry that was associated with the Bible school. It wasn’t perfect, but I did enjoy my time there.
A few years later, in 1999, we moved to Memphis “at the leading of the Lord” and hooked up with a similar church here. I was also doing some teaching in churches around Memphis and the surrounding area. We wound up leaving that church and helping someone else start a church in the area. I was the associate pastor and youth pastor — volunteer, of course. Ugh. I also continued to be invited to other churches to speak and was really enjoying it. Until I wasn’t. We started seeing things in many churches that were troubling so we quit going to church for a while. We began meeting other Christians in homes and people would take turns teaching. This was around 2011. After one of these Bible studies, a couple asked me about tithing. We were taught that 10% of your income goes to the church. They had very little money at the time and were feeling bad that they couldn’t tithe. I asked them to study the topic and I did the same. So, I did an in-depth study on tithing. And guess what? What I’d been taught, with limited scripture often taken out of context, isn’t what the Bible says about tithing! I was like, well shit. If I’m wrong about that, what else am I wrong about? Around this time, I started getting interested in secular Buddhism, so my cover-to-cover Bible study was put off for a couple of years.
Around 2014, I started a 2-year, in-depth study of the Bible, the history of the Bible, and the history of the church. Probably my first big revelation was that I stopped believing in hell. Then I pretty much stopped believing in heaven. Then I stopped believing in creationism/Adam and Eve. And it all starts to crumble at that point. No Adam and Eve, no original sin, no need for a savior, etc. Then learning about how the Bible was put together, well shit, it was just a bunch of men who put it together. So much didn’t fit and didn’t make sense anymore. Like many have said, the Bible made me an atheist. Also, just looking at things like prayer and my rate of “answered” prayers. I could have prayed to my cat and gotten the same results! It was about 50/50. Except in one area where I was 100%. Everyone I’ve prayed for to live, who had a terminal, untreatable condition, all died of that condition or complications related to it. Every single one. As I got further away from religion, I started to realize how far away I had gotten from critical thinking. It’s sometimes hard to look back and realize that I believed in the creation story, Noah’s flood, talking animals, demons, angels, etc. But when a person is told that these things are true from a young age, by people they love and trust, you just believe them.
My wife is still a very devout Christian, maybe more so than ever, so that’s been interesting to navigate. She knows my beliefs have changed a lot, but not the full extent of my atheism. Only a couple of people do. All of my family and wife’s family are believers. Most of my friends are believers. I’m not ready yet to come out fully. I’m not sure that I will to everyone.
I’ve noticed some interesting things since leaving my faith. The first thing that comes to mind is that nothing happened. My cats didn’t die, my car didn’t break down, my life didn’t fall apart, etc. In fact, life has gotten better since I left my faith! I’m mentally and emotionally much healthier. I went through a long depression as a believer. I prayed, I read my Bible, I made confessions, I had others pray for me . . . and it just got worse. The group of Christians I had been around were very anti-medication for this kind of thing. It got bad enough I finally went to a good psychiatrist who put me on medication that worked wonderfully! I stopped praying and started learning about how the brain works, how thought patterns are formed, how my diet affects my moods. I started meditating. These things helped me SO much more than prayer and the Bible.
Another thing that I’ve noticed is that I’m much less judgmental and definitely more open-minded. I’m just a better human. I don’t think I was ever a super judgmental asshole. But, religion certainly tainted my worldview. Everything from politics to atheism to the LGBTQ+ community to people of other faiths to music to what I read and watch on tv, and so on. I like who I am now! I never felt like I could like myself as a Christian because we are nothing without Jesus and all that shit.
So, yeah, I am enjoying life much more as an atheist. It’s so nice to not have set in stone, dogmatic beliefs. At first, it was really uncomfortable to not have those solid beliefs. But now I’m used to it and it’s very freeing. As a Christian, I always heard that we were free in Jesus. It is the “sinners” that are bound. Now I see that it is just the opposite. Religion binds you up, letting go of that shit is really what sets you free.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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Thanks for sharing, John. I found a lot of relatable elements to your story. In my case, my lost faith did contribute to the eventual disolvement of my first marriage. My ex-wife is still very conservative. But I remarried in 2016 to a fellow atheist and life has been sweet.
I wish you the pursuit of happiness and hope all goes well for you! And thank you for sharing your story.
Thanks for your comments, Logan. I hope you and yours are well.
much more fun to pray to cats. As soon as i start talking, most of mine roll over and want their bellies rubbed.
LOL! Yes, it is much more fun to pray to cats. My react in a similar fashion. 🙂