While my deconversion from Christianity was a gradual process, I mark the last Sunday in November 2008, as the day when I finally admitted to myself and my wife Polly that I no longer was a Christian. On that day, Polly and I, along with our three youngest children, ages 19, 17, and 15, walked out of the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church never to return. Several months later, I sent a public letter to several hundred family members, friends, and former church members. Titled, Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners, this painfully raw letter sets forth some of the reasons why I deconverted. While I still left the door open for some sort of God belief — say a deistic deity — it was clear, at least to me at the time, that I was an agnostic. After several months of having to repeatedly explain the term “agnostic,” and gaining a better understanding of atheism in general, I decided to jettison the agnostic label and self-identify as “atheist.”
I quickly learned that the label “atheist” carries with it all sorts of meanings and implications. Many Evangelicals, for example, think I am a “hardcore” atheist, whereas some atheists doubt whether I am an atheist at all. I have found that some atheists can be every bit as Fundamentalist as Evangelical Christians. If I am not their kind of atheist, I am no atheist at all. Years ago, I tangled with the promoters of Atheism+. While I am, politically, a liberal/progressive/socialist, because I refused to buy into or accept all the social justice baggage attached to Atheism+, my atheism was called into question. I lost numerous readers as a result of my refusal to bow to the Atheism+ god. I also faced reader defections from the other side of the atheist spectrum: libertarian (often Trump-supporting) atheists. These readers loved my atheism but hated my politics.
Atheism, by definition, is the lack of belief in the existence of deities. Some atheists are anti-theists; a philosophical position that says all theism should be opposed. Christopher Hitchens was an anti-theist:
I’m not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.
Other atheists are misotheists; people who actively hate one or more deities. While I can, at times — depending on the deity and religion in question — be an anti-theist or misotheist, I best describe myself as an agnostic atheist.
Agnostic atheism is a philosophical position that encompasses both atheism and agnosticism. Agnostic atheists are atheistic because they do not hold a belief in the existence of any deity, and are agnostic because they claim that the existence of a demiurgic entity or entities is either unknowable in principle or currently unknown in fact.
Practically speaking, I don’t believe in the existence of deities, but I cannot know for certain whether some sort of deity may one day make itself known to us. Likely? No. Probable? No. Possible? Yes. I can say with great certainty that the God of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity does not exist. He is a mythical being created by humans centuries ago to explain their world and existence. I can say the same thing about the rest of the deities presently (or in the past) worshipped by humans. I see no sufficient evidence for their existence; thus I live my day-to-day life as an atheist.
While I have many other beliefs, none of them is contingent on atheism. I am a humanist, but humanism does not require atheism. The same can be said for my leftist political views. I have religious friends who are also humanists and socialists. I eat dinner with them once a month. We have friendly, spirited discussions, debates, and arguments about all sorts things, including religion and politics, and then we eat good food and drink beer. Granted, none of these men is an Evangelical. All of us share the same disgust and contempt for what Evangelicals (generally speaking) are doing to our country. Do we “hate” Evangelicals? Of course not. We hate their beliefs and behaviors, seeing and knowing firsthand the harm caused by their theology and politics. While I am the resident atheist, my friends and I share many commonalities and that’s why we enjoy one another’s company.
Yes, I am an atheist — proudly so — but I am much more than just someone who doesn’t believe in the existence of God. If you want to know what I believe about some other issue, ask.
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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