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Bruce, You are Bitter!

atheist bitter

It’s been fifteen years since I first started blogging. Initially, I was still a Christian — barely. I was struggling to hang on to some recognizable form of Christianity. For almost two years, I slid down the slippery slope toward unbelief. Emerging church. Liberal/progressive Christianity. Universalism. Agnosticism. And finally, atheism. At every stop, I hoped I had found a resting place. I was weary on my journey. I just wanted to quit thinking and reading, plop myself in my recliner, and watch the Reds lose another ballgame. But, I couldn’t. I continued to read, study, and explore, and that’s why I am an atheist today.

Along the way, I have had my life minutely dissected by Christians — mainly Evangelicals and Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB). Thinking that I am an existential threat to their faith, these devout believers have laid all sorts of charges and allegations at my feet. One such charge is that I am “bitter.”

The Sage VII Dictionary — my go-to software-based dictionary and thesaurus — defines “bitter” (relating to human behavior) this way:

  • Marked by strong umbrage, resentment, or cynicism
  • Proceeding from or exhibiting great hostility or animosity
  • Expressive of severe grief or guilt
  • Harsh, sarcastic, or corrosive in tone

Evangelicals read my writing, become offended over me saying shit about the dead Jesus or their fantastical beliefs, and angrily say that I am “bitter.” While they sometimes use the dictionary definition of bitter to describe me, typically they mean something very different. When Evangelicals are confronted with the life of a man who was part of the Christian church for twenty-five years; a man who pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years; a man who devoutly and resolutely loved Jesus, the Bible, and the church; a man whose life was governed by the teachings of the Word of God; a man who is now an avowed atheist and enemy of the one true faith, they don’t know what do with me. So they comb through my life looking for evidence of bad experiences or crises that might have fueled my eventual unbelief. Surely, I must have been “hurt” or God didn’t deliver on his promises. Unable to square my life with their beliefs, they search for answers to why I am no longer a Christian.

Instead of allowing me to tell my own story or accepting the explanations for my unbelief at face value, they psychoanalyze me, concluding that I had been hurt — by someone, a church, or the Big Kahuna himself — and that’s why I am so bitter today.

Here’s the problem with this line of thinking: I am not bitter. Ask anyone who knows me if I am bitter and, to the person, they will tell you no. Ask my wife. Ask my six grown children. Ask long-time readers of this blog. You will search in vain for someone that will say “Bruce Gerencser is bitter.” I could be bitter about all sorts of things that have happened in my life. Just look at how many Evangelicals treat me; the lies they say about me; their character assassinations; their attacks on my person, my wife, and my children. They have given me plenty of reasons to be bitter, but I am not. I choose not to let them affect my peace and happiness. My pervasive health problems and unrelenting pain have the power to make me bitter if I let them. I choose not to let them have this power over me. I choose, instead, to embrace life as it is. I understand that the universe yawns at my existence. I know life is hard, and then you die. All I can hope for is that there are enough good things in my life as I crawl towards the crematorium. This is my reality: a road paved with heartache and loss and pain and suffering; a road with rest areas where I am refreshed with love, joy, peace, happiness, and satisfaction.

Could I become bitter someday? Sure, but not today. My physical struggles are, at times, monumental and insurmountable, yet I still have much to live for: family, friends, writing, and working to make the world a better place to live. I live in hope of having our mortgage paid off, finishing my to-do list, watching my grandchildren graduate from high school and college, holding a great-grandchild in my arms, spending time with the love of my life, and yes, the Reds winning the World Series and the Bengals winning the Super Bowl.

Do Evangelical family members, friends, and former church members accuse you of being bitter? How do you respond to them? Please share your bitter feelings in the comment section. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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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10 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    I must admit that I have a bitterness problem when it comes to certain events that occured in my life, especially the period from 2012 to 2018. Those things happened because I was a people pleaser,and brainwashed over the years into tolerating situations I had no business tolerating. Once I became a ” none” a non- churchgoer, I could really see where those Nouthetic teachings buggered up my life and crippled my ability to even think. So yeah, I’m bitter. Bitterly determined not to be suckered ever again, by frenemies or anyone else !

  2. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I have always had a hard time understanding, describing, and dealing with emotions. It’s probably a combination of how emotions are treated in evangelicalism, and how my personality is. For years, I have said that I would prefer to live without emotions. However, I read a good argument for emotions in Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Happiness Hypothesis”. The argument is that emotions help us with decision making as they help separate the myriad possibilities into “like” and “dislike” categories. That argument for greater efficiency appeals to me.

    As for bitterness, it’s hard for me to see the big deal. Maybe I don’t understand bitterness even after reading the definition. And isn’t sometimes bitterness warranted? Like, I am bitter that we had a sh!tty president who put 3 Supreme Court justices in place who told people with uteruses, fallopian tubes, ovaries, etc, that their states get to determine whether these folks are fully autonomous human beings or if those body parts and hormones make them 2nd class citizens, thus not entitled to bodily autonomy. I am bitter about that. And angry. Pissed off. Outraged. Why is that bad?

    Bruce, I don’t see bitterness in your writing. Anger? Sarcasm? Snark? Caring? Compassion? Skepticism? Reason? Intelligence? Discernment? These are some things I see and admire.

  3. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I think believers conflate whatever anger or bitterness we may have over things we didn’t ask for or deserve (e.g., people who betray us, health problems, etc) with our non-belief.

    I don’t think I am (or Bruce is) a “bitter” person. But I am (and, I gather, he is) realistic about life: Some things bring us joy; other things give us the right to be angry or sad. I am not an atheist because of the sexual abuse I experienced from a priest or the other hypocrisies I saw in the Catholic Church in which I was raised or the Evangelical church I was later involved with. Nor did disappointment over unanswered prayers or dreams not realized destroy my faith. Rather, it was close reading of the Bible—and evidence to contradict so many things it says—that led me to stop believing For a time, it was difficult, but so is losing anything you saw as a core part of your identity. (I am sure that was even more true for Bruce and some commenters than it was for me.) But my non-belief became, fairly quickly, a matter of “what is” and, soon after that, liberating.

    I have yet to meet anyone who is “bitter” about being liberated. Disoriented for a time, perhaps, or sad over losing something that mattered to them. But not bitter.

  4. Avatar
    Troy

    I started reading when the blog was “The Way Forward”. We all know why the blog had several iterations, it was the harassment of Fundamentalist Christians and Bruce had yet to learn how to deal with it. Everyone wants to be loved and appreciated, even the slings and arrows of an enemy can cause distress. I’d point out to those who think Bruce is bitter caused the distress, not health problems, not atheism.

  5. Avatar
    BJW

    I’m not bitter about leaving Christianity. I have struggled to find a new health equilibrium over the last 4 years, and I can have touches of bitterness over it. As for you, Bruce, no, you don’t seem bitter. Plain spoken and honest, yes, bitter and unkind, no. Of course the fundies who bother you and receive your logical arguments can’t handle it, so it’s easier for them to claim you’re bitter, than to claim they don’t know what they are talking about.

  6. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    Your description of how you approach life and its many obstacles is an inspiration, Bruce, and I’ve been reading you long enough to know that what you say here is completely consistent with that description.

    But I think that itself is a problem for these pushy Christians who won’t mind their own damn business. You aren’t supposed to be able to conjure up peace and joy without Jesus. You’re supposed to be forever grumpy and unhappy. They need you to be bitter to validate their beliefs, and you aren’t playing to their script.

  7. Avatar
    Matilda

    I’m not bitter, regretful maybe that I spent most of my adult life dedicated to a fictional monster x-tian god. I notice that x-tians commonly attribute not just bitterness but also hate to atheists. I don’t hate…., I dislike intensely a few people or objects, but I’d never want my life to be consumed by such a negative emotion. The third thing I get flung at me is that I’m an atheist cos I want to be a feminist, usually with the adjective ‘violent’ before it. I’m so unviolent, I let spiders, flies and wasps out of the window. (Last week, small g/son squeaked ‘There’s a spider on the door, granny, kill it.’ I calmly opened the door and wafted it out. ‘Oh, granny,’ he said, ‘You’re so brave and fearless!!’)

  8. Avatar
    ... Zoe ~

    In my experience, Christians use the term “bitterness” to imply a personal flaw, otherwise known as something that is immoral . . . a sin. It’s a judgement statement, expressed as a fact.

    So, this definition here provided by Bruce:

    “The Sage VII Dictionary — my go-to software-based dictionary and thesaurus — defines “bitter” (relating to human behavior) this way:

    Marked by strong umbrage, resentment, or cynicism
    Proceeding from or exhibiting great hostility or animosity
    Expressive of severe grief or guilt
    Harsh, sarcastic, or corrosive in tone”

    There is no winning because it isn’t really about the definition of the term, it’s a moral judgment they are throwing at Bruce and the rest of us. Mostly because it’s the easiest approach. If they stopped to look at the definition, where is the sin? If one considers the definitions, well, there are a whole lot of bitter Christians out there taking umbrage, resenting and well, totally cynical. Any of them out there not been hostile or expressed animosity in their lives. How about grief? Guilt? Anyone know a single human on the planet that has not been harsh, sarcastic or spoke with a corrosive tone?

    Here’s the thing. Throwing the term bitterness into the woodwork is lazy speech and defined by the thrower. Life is sour, sweet, bitter and shitty.

    Bitterness is often considered a sin in the religious context. In the human context, it’s helpful. I’m able to accept being bitter, not to the point of destroying my life and ruminating on it ad nauseum. Accepting the truth, whether anyone believes me or not, isn’t the point.

    Years ago I spent all sorts of emotion trying to fight off the accusation of bitterness. As the years went by, I learned that accepting the truth that I was bitter in certain areas having to do with religion (and with good reason) I was able to see bitterness not as a character flaw &/or sin, but as an honest human survival technique. Many of us had/have many reasons to in fact be bitter.

    It’s those reasons that the church wants us to be quiet about. If we aren’t, they shame us. “Oh you are just bitter.” Come back with, “You’re damn right I am.” Or, “You’re damn right I was.”

  9. Avatar
    David Dial

    For me, it’s a sad tale you tell.
    For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
    But you know this.
    And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Good luck to you sir, sincerely.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Sigh

      Why, I’ve never, ever, one time read these verses. 🤣🤣

      What did you hope to accomplish, David? Save me? Rebuke me? Or is this more about you and your pathological need to be right?

      And what’s up with the passive-aggressive wish: good luck to you, sir? The verses you regurgitated say that it’s impossible for me to be saved, right? How then can I ever have “good luck”?

      The good news is that I have no worries. There is no God, no Heaven, no Hell. Your threats only work if I accept that the Bible is authoritative. I don’t. Just words, David, just words. Get yourself a library card.

      I see you’re from Harrod. I went to Harrod Elementary in l967-1968 (fourth and part of fifth grade). I lived on Old US 30 just before the turn off to Harrod. See? This is how humans interact with each other.❤️

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Bruce Gerencser