Several years ago, I received the following email:
So, when you were a Christian, did you have a relationship with the Lord? And if you did, did you not study the bible, asking Him how you should apply what is written into your life? Did you not realize all the he said, she said of different Christian religions is all man made, laws and rituals (earthly confusion I think making others/us separated from God ) and not to be our basis for judging one another, because that is God’s job anyways.
I was raised catholic. I married a divorced Lutheran, and my scales were slowly being removed, as my mother in law told me, you know there will be others besides catholics in heaven…that rocked my world. . Fast forward 25 years of living in Houston Texas and many different Christian churches, all having nuances that makes them their label, but the church began when Jesus started preaching? Or died? I don’t really know, but does that affect my salvation? I believe no one shall come to the Father except through the Son. So, how did you break off your relationship with Our Lord? You know, He’s never let go of you and there’s nothing you can do to separate His love for you. I’m glad I don’t have it all figured out, because I bet you don’t have peace if you’re still lost in this stuff you’re trying to hold onto. Pride is a sneaky thing. But God loves His perfectly imperfect children.
Let me see if I can unpack some of what the letter writer says and asks, hopefully providing adequate answers to her questions.
The letter writer asserts that once someone becomes a Christian Jesus holds on to them f-o-r-e-v-e-r. She tells me that nothing can separate the believer from the love of Christ. Romans 8:31-39 states:
What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This means that if I was ever truly a Christian, I still am. No matter what I say or do, Jesus still loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life.
Based on her questions, I suspect that the letter writer has some doubts about whether I truly was ever a saved, sanctified, bought-by-the-blood Christian. She asks, did you have a relationship with the Lord? Of course I did. For most of my life, I was closer to and more intimate with Jesus than I was with my wife. I loved Jesus more than I loved my spouse and children. Jesus was the be-all and the end-all, the first and the last, the alpha and omega. I spent time daily talking to Jesus and reading his favorite book — the King James Version of the Protestant Bible. No one ever doubted who Bruce Gerencser put first in his life. I know Polly didn’t, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if she had divorced me, alleging neglect. I am grateful that she didn’t, and now I have the opportunity to show her who it is I really, really, really love, worship, and adore.
The letter writer also asks if I studied the Bible and sought to apply its teachings to my life. I sure did, day in, day out from the age of fifteen to the age of fifty. The word of God was an ever-present reality in my life. I studied, memorized, and practiced its words. As many aging ex-Christians with fading memories do, I have a hard time remembering what I watched on TV last night, but I can quote hundreds of Bible verses I memorized decades ago — all the way back to age five. As a pastor, I spent, on average, more than twenty hours a week reading and studying the Bible. From such studious endeavors, I bathed myself in THUS SAITH THE LORD. I preached thousands of sermons and shared the gospel of Christ with hundreds and hundreds of people. Simply put, I was all in when it came to following Jesus (as anyone who knew me at the time will tell you).
The letter writer wonders if I have peace. Yes and no, When it comes answering the question, do gods exist, I have no worries or concerns about saying NO. I am at peace with my atheism and humanistic beliefs. I have no fears of judgment or Hell. So, from this perspective, I have a Gandhian-level of peace. That said, I can’t say that I am totally at peace. How can I be? I watch the news every night. Scary stuff going on in the world. That said, most, if not all, of these things are out of my control. Generally, I am stoic about life, a pessimist with streaks of hopefulness.
I am almost sixty-five years old, and most of my life is in the rear-view mirror. My children and grandchildren, however, have many roads to travel before reaching home. I want them to have a better tomorrow, one where love, peace, and justice prevail. So while current events worry the heavenly hell out of me, I am committed to doing all I can to make the world a better place to live. One way I do so is to lay an ax to the bare root of Christian Fundamentalism, hoping that, in time, this tree of hate and bigotry will come crashing to the ground. And then I plan to chop the tree into firewood, have a bonfire, and roast hot dogs and marshmallows over its dying ember.
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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Y’know, sometimes after a particularly excellent post I’m tempted to type “AMEN!” Of course there are people who might not understand that. 😉
Bruce,that letter sounds like a variation too many others you’ve read. Were you really saved? Did you really know Jesus? Did you really read the Bible?
Are they gloating? Condescending? Or scared shitless about their own faith?
The letter writer claims she doesn’t have it all figured out but in fact she feels she does. In her mind she is sure you will go to heaven if you accept Jesus and to hell if you don’t. She appears sincere and I see my old self in this letter including arrogance that I know the truth and you will go to hell if you don’t believe as I do.
When I read letters like this person’s or hear them talk about their religious certainty, I detect (in many cases) a level of “I am certain this is true” with an underlying “I am told that I can KNOW but I may have a smidgen of doubt (from Satan of course)”. It often sounds like a need to make an affirmation in order to confirm the belief and expel the doubt. “If I say enough times that it’s true, then it really is”.
That is exactly what I did for a very long time. The doubt has existed for years and I tried to drown it out by doubling down on Bible study and Christian books. I would repeat the faith affirming verses to my Christian friends and pastors and make certain I never voiced doubts out loud (because that might give power to them). My few attempts at evangelism were driven by the same motivation-maybe by sharing my “faith” God would grant me more of it.
None of that worked; here I am commenting on Bruce Gerencer’s blog. I envy Bruce the peace he has with his atheism. I am anything but at peace with my doubts and looming deconversion. Often, after posting here, I find myself praying “Lord, at least rebuke me for daring to write the things I write in response at that blog. Do something to show me that you’re there and you care about me at all.” The answer is still the same silence.
“JW, did you have a relationship with the Lord”? I tried and I am still trying. Why would I be so scared of losing it if I wasn’t, The problem is all my other relationships go two ways. Can there really be a relationship if only one half is engaged in it?
JW: I’ve mentioned that I’m not an atheist or agnostic (although functionally an agnostic). I pray, and feel a sense of peace and release. But it’s an emotional thing and nothing can be proven from it. And prayers about problems I have don’t actually seem to change anything Usually I just feel better about dealing with them.
Here’s the thing: I believe that if there is a god worthy of worship, that god (the one I pray to) is a god of true love. If that god isn’t about love and saving everyone, then I’m not interested in worshiping said being. But the denomination I came for didn’t believe in a burning hell forever, so I don’t have a psychological fear that I’m going to burn. And I certainly feel closer to people who are humanists than are Christians, at least in thought and spirit. (Although I have some lovely Christian friends, and some of them are functionally the same as humanists…not fundies at all.)
Thanks for your words of encouragement, BJW. It is very difficult to overcome decades of conditioning. For that matter, it’s taken a long time to even admit that is conditioning, programming. My background says anything other than the evangelical fundamentalist position is at best a serious error and more likely apostacy or rejection of God altogether, and the consequences are severe. Evangelicalism has been my worldview for so long. Even so, I found inconsistencies and ethical dilemmas that demanded excuses or mental gymnastics to overcome. Once I stopped trying to prop it up, it started falling apart quickly.
I really don’t want to give up on the notion of a God, supreme being(s), power, whatever. I want there to be a higher purpose. I am not at a place yet where I can make the switch between believing any value I have comes solely from God to creating value and purpose for myself. To me, it feels like all or nothing-empty-which is probably my conditioning talking. I don’t know if I can find a third path, but your response shows me that others have done so.
Thank you for taking the time to reply to me. I don’t feel safe talking about what I am experiencing with most people. I started commenting in Bruce’s blog because I see my own story in so many of the ‘testimonies’ others have written. Different perspectives and experiences seem welcome here (as long as everyone is polite). My struggle is accepted and understood. It feels ‘safe’ here.
It’s good you feel safe. And you are not alone in your struggle. Good luck!
it’s hard to lose something you built your self-worth around. It’s also hard to put aside the lies and violence that this cult put in place to keep you in line.
I made those same prayers too “God, show me that you exist!” But there was nothing. The bible is full of lies, promises of evidence when there is none. If this god was real, fair, etc, then I would get my evidence just like Thomas.
So either this god is imaginary or an asshole. I’m better off without it either way.