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Bruce, I Am So Sorry Christians Hurt You

this is why

No matter how many posts I write about the reasons I left Christianity (please see Why?), I still get comments and emails from well-meaning Christians who think that the “real” reason I am not a Christian is that “bad” Christians hurt me. The thinking goes something like this: bad Christians psychologically harmed me in some way, resulting in my rejection of Christianity and my embracing of atheism. It seems that these armchair psychologists know more about me than I do.

I suspect the reason they refuse to accept my story at face value is that they cannot fathom why anyone would ever want to get a divorce from Jesus. In their minds, Jesus is a wonderful friend, companion, and lover, better than any that can be found in the universe or to infinity and beyond (to quote Buzz Lightyear). Who in their right mind would reject the love of Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and the promise of eternal life in Heaven after death? How about someone who thinks that Jesus was a mere mortal who lived and died; that the need for forgiveness of sins is a religious con game used to prop up church attendance and offerings; that the only thing that awaits humans after death is eternal decay, darkness, and silence?

You see, the reason I am not a Christian today has little to do with whether someone hurt me at some point in time during my fifty years in the Christian church and the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. Sure, I met a lot of hurt and heartache along the way. Some of the nastiest, meanest, most cantankerous people I’ve ever known, I met in church. But, some of the kindest, nicest, and most loving people I’ve ever known, I’ve met in church as well. In fact, the overwhelming majority of Christian people I’ve known over the years are good people. I may now think that they have some crazy beliefs, but that doesn’t mean they are bad people. I’ve met more than a few atheists who have crazy beliefs, including a few who voted for Donald Trump. I cannot for the life of me understand how atheists could vote for Trump, but they did. Does the fact that they voted for Trump mean that they are now bad people? Of course not! So it is with Christians.

Christians who think my atheism is the direct result of exposure to the wrong kind of Christians must answer me this: since most of the Christians I was exposed to in my life were good people, why wasn’t their goodness enough to keep me on the straight and narrow? Shallow is the belief that rests alone on the goodness or badness of believers. On any given day, Christians can be found doing good and bad things, and the same can be said for atheists. It is impossible, then, to judge the merits of Christianity or atheism based on behavior alone. Yes, I think Evangelical Christianity, with its self-righteous moralizing, promises far more than it delivers. Yes, I think many preachers preach one thing and live another — I know I did and I know many other pastors who did the same. Yes, I have an ax to grind, a bone to pick — or any other metaphor you can think of — with Evangelicals who pontificate about morality and right belief, then ride the moral high horse, only to then be exposed as liars and hypocrites. Yes, I have no patience for denominations, churches, and pastors who turn a blind eye to child sexual abuse and other criminal acts, choosing instead to put the testimony of the church above the harm caused by offenders. Yes, I can find countless things that I don’t like about not only Evangelicalism, but progressive and liberal Christianity too. But, even taking all of this into account, most Christians are good people. I wish Christians would return the favor by saying that most atheists are good people too. I suppose this is too much to ask. Without atheists, agnostics, humanists, and secularists, who would Evangelicals have to fight? As long as they can paint people such as myself as workers of Satan, there will always be a mythical enemy to fight.

Let me, one last time, be clear on why I am not a Christian. While there are certainly psychological reasons that played a part in my decision to walk away from Christianity, they are not the primary reasons I did so. If I had found that the Christian narrative was true, I would’ve kept believing regardless of how people treated me. However, through much study, I determined that the central tenets of Christianity were not true. While I believe that Jesus was a historical person, I do not think that he was God, virgin-born, worked miracles, resurrected from the dead, or ascended to Heaven. The Jesus who walked the dusty roads of Palestine was likely some sort of apocalyptic preacher who lived and died, end of story. I also think that the Bible is not in any way an inspired, inerrant, infallible text written by God, either directly or through men as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. The Bible is littered with errors and contradictions and lacks internal consistency. While certainly the Bible has deeply influenced Western civilization, so have other books, yet we don’t consider these books to be of divine origin. I also reject many of the moral teachings of the Bible. In particular, I reject the notion that humans are broken sinners in need of redemption; that there is any such thing called original “sin.” Sin is a religious construct used to control people through fear of judgment and damnation if they don’t cower before Jesus and the church and ask for the forgiveness of sins. I consider many of the teachings of the Bible to be anti-human, used to subjugate women and control children.

I hope this short post makes it clear to those desperate to suss out the “real” reasons for my deconversion that the primary motivator for my loss of faith is intellectual, not psychological. Sure as the sun rises in the morning, I will get emails apologizing for how “bad” Christians treated me, hoping that I will give Jesus another chance by finding a church of “good” Christians. In responding to them, I will send them the link to this post. There is really nothing more that I can say on this matter.

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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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5 Comments

  1. Avatar
    BJW

    I also think some people who got hurt in church, and ultimately left, also searched their minds and may have decided to pay attention to previous doubts they had about their religion. I know the hurt we experienced caused us to stop going. However, I still identified as that denomination until reality showed me something different. (To be honest, it’s about accepting LGBTQ people. Once I realized that my family/friends in that group could really love another person that they wanted to share their life with, made me question the Bible. (I know there are good hearted people who take the clobber verses and cast them in a different light, but that’s not what a fundamentalist religion does.)

  2. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Did people in evangelicalism hurt me? Yes. Did people at school hurt me? Yes. Did people at work hurt me? Yes. Did family or friends hurt me? Yes. Did I leave everywhere that those things occurred? No. Lame argument, Christians.

    I started examining some of the teachings in evangelicalism and found them to be false. That started when I was around 18 years old. (Actually, questions started much sooner, but I didn’t have access to information or advanced critical thinking skills yet, and the adults in my life weren’t willing or able to answer the questions, and there was no internet back then)

    I wish religious peoplewould accept our stories as we are telling them instead of trying to twist the narrativesinto something they can grasp.

  3. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Obstacle: I have met readers, writers, art, music, history and animals, cyclists who were awful people in one way or another. But I never stopped reading, writing, bicycling or going to museums, galleries and concerts. And I can’t imagine life without a cat!

    Oh, and in addition to meeting Catholics and other Christians (of all stripes) who were mean, avaricious and brutal —including the priest who abused me and others who sexually exploited children and adults in the churches I attended—I “doubled down,” if you will—on Christianity, getting “saved,” throwing myself into an Evangelical church to the point that I was leading a Bible-“study” and editing its newsletter. I was looking
    for meaning and purpose in my experiences, and to not deal with my gender identity and sexual attractions.

    Studying the Bible and learning more about the history surrounding it led me, however slowly, away from Christianity and belief in general. So did understanding, in my admittedly limited way, how people and things actually work.

  4. Avatar
    BJW

    I had a thought. I know there were people in our college town who still identified as our denomination, even though they never set foot in our churches. Now all these decades later, I wonder if many of them were hurt by fellow church members. So they stopped going because of their emotional pain.

    I do know that they were relegated to the “backslidden” label. And I can remember when I hit a certain point where I differentiated this in my mind, “I’m not backslidden, I’ve completely left.” You would think those who are backslidden would have received the most care from fellow church members…but in the end, everyone was left to flounder by themselves.

  5. Avatar
    clubschadenfreude

    I’ve also had Christians keep telling me that they are ever so sorry for whatever a Christian did to me. When I tell them tht isn’t the reason I’m an atheist, they of course repeat their lie. They simply can’t accept that someone doesn’t agree with them.

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Bruce Gerencser