Evangelicals would have non-Christians believe that life without Jesus is empty, worthless, and without meaning. A popular song years ago was Wasted Years by Wally Fowler. Below you will find the lyrics and two music videos: one by the Blue Ridge Quartet and another — quite masturbatory — rendition by Jimmy Swaggart.
Wasted years, wasted years
Oh, how foolish
As you walk on in darkness and fear
Turn around, turn around
God is calling
He’s calling you
From a life of wasted years
Have you wandered along
On life’s pathway
Have you lived without love
A life of tears
Have you searched for that
Great hidden meaning
Or is your life
Filled with long wasted years
Search for wisdom and seek
There is One who always cares
Give it up, give it up
The load you’re bearing
You can’t go on
With a life of wasted years
In the eyes of Evangelicals, non-Christians live lives of wasted years; years that could be spent worshiping Jesus, praising Jesus, singing songs to Jesus, bowing in fealty and devotion to Jesus, giving money to Jesus, winning souls for Jesus, and doing good works — drum roll please — for the man, the myth, the legend, the one and only King of Kings, Lord of Lords, giver of life and death, the one true God, Jesus H. Christ. What a life, right? Die to self. Sacrifice your life, ambition, wants, desires, and dreams, giving them all to Jesus. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. Everything in this life and the life to come is about Jesus. This, according to Evangelicals, is a life of meaning, purpose, and direction. This is a life focused on what matters: meeting Jesus face to face in the sweet by and by. Everything pales — including families, careers, houses, and lands — when compared to Jesus. To Evangelicals, Jesus is their BFF; their lover; their confidante; their therapist; their physician; and their spouse. He is their e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.
Everything I mentioned in the previous paragraph can be found in the Bible. With their lips, Evangelicals say these things are true, but how they live their day-to-day lives suggests that their lives are every bit as “wasted” as those of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Evangelicals yearn for Christ-centered lives, but “life” tends to get in the way. They spend a few hours on Sundays (and maybe on Wednesdays) having preachers tell them what life is all about, only to spend the rest of that week’s 168 hours living as if they didn’t hear a word their pastors said. And their pastors, by the way, do the same. Oh, they preach a good line, abusing congregants for not measuring up to the Biblical standard for a life of meaning, purpose, and direction. Do better, they tell believers; yet try as they might, those pastors — even with much grace and faith — fail.
It seems, then, at least to me, that a life of “wasted” years is the norm for believers and unbelievers alike; that life is only “wasted” when measured by the words of an ancient Bronze-age religious text. Perhaps what is really going on here is a long con. Most Evangelicals are born into Christianity. It’s the only religion they have ever known. From their days in the nursery forward, Evangelicals are taught that they are worthless, vile, broken sinners in need of saving; that the only place salvation can be found is in the Christian church; that only through the merit and work of a God-man named Jesus — who is the second part of a triune deity — can humans be “saved”; that all other religions but Christianity are false and lead to an eternity of torture in a God-created Lake of Fire; that until you believe this message and put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, your life is, to put it simply, a waste.
For those who have exited stage left from Christianity, it is not uncommon for them to look back on their past and ruefully say, what a waste. When I deconverted fourteen years ago, I struggled with the fact that I had wasted five decades of my life chasing after a lie. Just thinking about this would bring waves of self-judgment and depression. How could you have been so stupid, Bruce? How could you have been so blind? How could you inflict such harmful nonsense on your wife and children? How could you lead thousands of other people down a path that goes nowhere; that left them with lives they too wasted serving a mythical God?
There were times when I would dwell on these questions, bringing myself to tears. Finally, I realized that lamenting the past was going to psychologically destroy me. I sought out a professional secular counselor who helped me (mostly) come to terms with my past. He wisely encouraged me to be honest with and embrace the past. My past, he told me, is very much a part of who I am. At the same time, he encouraged me to look to the present and future and use my past to benefit others. Through writing, I am able to embrace my past for what it is and turn it into words that I hope are helpful to others. In many ways, I am still a pastor; a man who wants to help others. What’s changed is my message.
Let me be clear, what I lament about the past is the wasted time, not necessarily the experiences. I met a lot of wonderful people during my Christian days — and a lot of mean, nasty, judgmental, Jesus-loving sons-of-bitches too. I had many delightful experiences, including marrying Polly, my beautiful wife of almost forty-five years. It is important for me to make clear that my life as a Christian was not one long slog of drudgery. That said, I can’t help but regret the time wasted chasing after a myth. All I know to do now is take my past and use it to help others. If nothing else, let my life be a warning to others: Stop! Turn Around! Go the other way! If you must believe in God, then find a religion that affirms life, values the present, and hopes for tomorrow. There are, even in Christianity, kinder, gentler expressions of faith. There are even sects such as the Unitarian Universalist church that embrace the humanist ideal. Once someone dares to see beyond the Evangelical con job, he or she will find endless possibilities. While I wish I had back the years I wasted serving Jesus, I am grateful that I have time left to live a life worth living; a life focused on family, friends, and — dare I say it? — self.
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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