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Short Stories: Grandpa is an Atheist

bruce gerencser not afraid of hell

My wife, Polly, and I have thirteen grandchildren, ages two to twenty-two. Over the next three years, ten of our grandchildren will be in junior high, high school, and college. One of the first things our older grandchildren do in school is type my name in Google. And what do they find? This blog. And perhaps for the first time, they learn that Grandpa is an atheist.

Out of respect for my children, I don’t talk about religion with my grandchildren. If asked, I will briefly answer their questions, but I wait until they are in high school before I have in-depth discussions with them about religion and politics. I typically shape my answers according to their age and the religious beliefs of their parents; how open their parents are to me sharing my story. The older they get, the more questions they have. Sometimes, I resort to buying them books for their birthdays or Christmas.

Last Saturday, we watched son #2’s three children, ages 12, 10, and 8. We had a delightful time. The girls talked my ears off, especially Emma, the twelve-year-old. Emma excitedly let me know that she had found my blog and that she knew I was an atheist. (I let her parents know she was reading my blog at school.) Emma is one smart cookie, top-of-the-class, a straight-A student who wants to be a large animal veterinarian someday. She loves to talk, as does her Grandpa, so we get along famously.

Emma didn’t ask me any questions about atheism. I did tell her Nana was an atheist too. However, she did share with me her own experiences in the Catholic church. (She definitely thinks her priest is b-o-r-i-ng.) 🙂 I found it fascinating to listen to her explain her view of the world. And make no mistake about it, kids her age have a worldview. Emma is a voracious reader, as are most of my grandchildren. Their parents are quite liberal when it comes to what they are allowed to read (as Polly and I were, surprisingly, with our children). The broader their reading experiences, the broader their worldview.

I told Emma about one of her older cousins being asked by her teacher if she was related to me. (The teacher had read a letter I had written to the local newspaper.) Sadly, my children have experienced this at the local community college and their places of employment. Dad is a public figure with a peculiar last name. People will naturally make the connection. I told my children they are free to disown me, but so far none of them has done so. As my grandchildren get older, they will face the same scrutiny.

After telling Emma this story, I was delighted to hear her say “I am proud of my Grandpa.”

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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    My view is that books, of all kinds, are what form who we are, at least in very great part. I’m aware of people who proudly claim that they’ve ‘never read a book and it done me no harm’ (I could rest my case there!), and in every case they are boorish and uninformed. Of course, if you’re a labourer and satisfied with that you can probably function through life without being informed of the world around you, but it does reduce your ability to properly understand the world, and makes you prone to being manipulated. The advent of social media, far from reducing the need to read books, makes it ever more important, as the ability to distinguish truth and fiction become more difficult.

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    I have the same view about telling my g/children as you express in the 2nd paragraph, Bruce. The oldest is 6yo and I go with his family to their fundy church when I visit. Last time all the kids, 2-10yo were called out front to recite the memory verse and parrotted ‘The wages of sin is death but the gift of god is eternal life.’ G/son asks searching questions about the universe, but to tell him I don’t believe, so am destined to collect my ‘wages of sin’ one day, would be age-inappropriate I feel…I hope in due course I can play a part in him seeing the sham of it all. G/sons other g/parents are well-known leading creationists in the UK, so I confess I take pleasure in buying dinosaur and fossil themed gifts at xmas and birthdays. The boys chose to take my dinosaur waistcoats and plastic dinosaurs to show g/dad last Dec 26th and my daughter asked them to choose something else…..but they refused…felt I’d scored a tiny victory, hopefully anyway!

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    I have no grand kids, and may not ever. However, I sent my sons on the church bus to Wednesday night church until my oldest figured out the good Christian people were actually hating the sinners. (I regret it now, but thought at the time I was doing the right thing.) Now, adult sons don’t go to church. The youngest is an atheist. The oldest seems to be uninterested in religion. I’m hoping if they do find a good partner, that said partner is smart and also not devout.

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    I am proud of Emma’s grandpa and Emma. As a dad navigating his own recent atheism, it’s been enlightening to answer questions from my son, and to see how much of the hypocrisy and weirdness in Christianity he already questions naturally.

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    That’s a great story, and emma-ently digestible too. And of course the best thing about being a grandparent, after a great visit they go home!

    This reminds me of attending my great aunt’s 90th birthday celebration a couple of years ago. I was talking to my cousins about my great-grandfather (her father). Turns out he was an atheist, or as they put it he struggled with religion. But I’ll take it.

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    Christopher Peterson

    That’s really sweet and good to hear! My nieces and nephews from the family I married into are being raised in a Southern Baptist upbringing, with constant bombarding of the teachings that come with that. They’re all between the age of 2 and 7. As the uncle to them, I find myself not knowing how to respond when they parrot what they hear from their parents and church, and I’m sure they notice when I don’t participate in their “normal” religious teachings.

    Do you have any advice on how to approach this now and in the future? I was raised in the Catholic church, but now consider myself an agnostic atheist for the last decade. The family knows this, and don’t discuss religion with me much even though I’ve been willing to talk about it. The way you’ve handled it seems to be appropriate – waiting until high school to get in-depth about it.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    Nagging a person to convert to Jesus, or to return to Jesus just doesn’t work. A person has to work that out in their minds, to weigh all facts, everything.

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    When I was very, very small, like 2 or 3 years old, I was the page boy for the wedding of close friends of my parents, at a Roman Catholic church. Apparently, I walked down the aisle, right up to the priest and asked him “Are you Batman ?”

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    Good for Emma! It can be challenging to be a curious kid, but it sounds like she has a good support system giving her the freedom to explore ideas!

    So Revival Fires emerged from the swamp……

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