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The Tiring, Wearisome Lives of Evangelicals

god's army

I follow and read more than 125 Evangelical blogs and websites. Using an RSS reader, I receive every new post or article these sites publish. While I don’t read every post, I do read the headlines, looking for things suited for this site. Every day, I am presented with posts filled with hostility and rage, not only against atheists, secularists, humanists, and liberals, but Christians themselves. It seems that Evangelicals are not only at war with the “world,” but they are at war with anyone that doesn’t hew to their peculiar interpretations of the Bible.

Posts about LGBTQ people, abortion, atheism, deconstruction, liberalism, Democrats, vaccines, COVID-19, critical race theory, racism, and pornography are common. The farther to the right you move within the Evangelical bubble, the more extreme the positions become. Posts on what people do in the privacy of their homes, what clothing they wear, and what they watch on TV are frequent flyers. No human behavior is out of bounds.

The Bible says that Christians believe in One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. Evidently, the writer of this never envisioned the Internet, with blogs, podcasts, and YouTube videos. It is clear to anyone who is paying attention that Evangelicalism is hopelessly fractured; a sect where metaphorically bloody internecine warfare is the norm, not the exception to the rule.

Evangelicals also fight wars amongst themselves, questioning who is and isn’t a True Christian®. Doctrinal spats over minutiae are common. Of course, some Evangelical say that there’s no such thing as minutiae. Everything matters to God, so everything should matter to his followers. Back and forth the battles go, with each side striving for purity.

Imagine living in a world where everything matters; that being “right” is the grand objective; that every i must be dotted and every t crossed. From rising in the morning to going to bed at night, you devote every waking hour to being absolutely right, knowing that your eternal destiny rests on your rightness. Imagine parsing every thought, word, and deed according to the teachings of the Bible and a voice in your head you believe is God himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Having had first-hand experience living this way, I can tell you that doing so is wearisome and tiring. Everything is secondary to Jesus and the church. Evangelicals are familiar with the acronym J-O-Y: Jesus First, Others Second, Yourself Last. Truth be told, the Y stands for “you don’t matter.” The sum of Evangelical existence is J-E-S-U-S. This life of ours, according to Evangelicals, is preparation to meet God face to face. Nothing else matters.

Of course, most Evangelicals can’t live up to this impossible standard. Oh, they try, but fail miserably. And this failure brings depression, fear, and worry. Their pastors — who don’t live up to this impossible standard themselves — warn them that failure to conform and perform will bring chastisement from God. Remember, God disciplines those he loves! preacher’s say.

This is no way to live. Is it any wonder that Evangelical beliefs and practices cause psychological, and, at times, physical harm? Every day, countless ex-Evangelicals talk to therapists about the damage caused by their former religious beliefs. Undoing the harm often takes years. I know it has for me. I don’t know of one former Evangelical Christian who was in the sect for years that didn’t come away with some sort of psychological harm. This is especially true for people who were longtime Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church members.

Some forms of religion are benign, but that can’t be said for Evangelicalism. We are a nation of people who have been traumatized by a religious sect that has as one of its foundational principles the denial of “self”; the denial of our humanity. This is not, in any shape or form, healthy.

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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  1. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Religion demands a belief in something that can’t be verified. That isn’t healthy. Evangelicalism, or any other kind of fundamentalism (Christian or otherwise) is a more virulent form of something that isn’t healthy.

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    Having grown up in a fundamentalist Christian home I couldn’t agree more, Bruce. As a child I felt the need to constantly examine every aspect of my life under the Christian microscope. I felt guilty about normal thoughts or feelings. Feelings of uncertainty and inadequacy were my constant companions and despite scoring high in aptitude tests I failed to achieve. My hyper religious parents only exacerbated these issues and I was well aware that I ran a distant second to Jesus in their hearts. I was well into adulthood before was able to reason my way out of this harmful thinking. Tiring and wearisome indeed.

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    ... Zoe ~

    A great post Bruce.

    While in the IFB church I was amazed at the in-fighting and also hate. As a non-believer I remember theists giving me a hard time, especially when I was blogging. The thing is, it didn’t bother all that much as I had already been butchered left, right and centre, while still in the church. The best place to be attacked for “you were never a Christian in the first place” is inside the church. The irony.

    I’ve come to think of the church as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

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    This describes the evangelical/pentecostal experience exactly. Mom is so caught up in this that her last years won’t even be happy. She only rants about morals, politics, and her ailments. So sad. Glad I got out and my kids are living better lives.

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    what RSS reader do you use? i’m currently using Thunderbird (thudnerbird) on linux, but it has been acting more and more inconsistent, recently, and i’d really like to use something that DOESN’T say “The Feed URL is unauthorized” about half the time.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    I suspect part of it is the authoritarian mindset, which says that you must be doing something wrong, and everyone else in the authoritarian bubble has a duty to point it out to you.

    My mother was a conservative Catholic, and rules were sacrosanct to her, regardless of the source. Once she’d bought into a rule from her upbringing, church teachings, early adult experiences, or something that was shared by someone she trusted, it was A RULE. Rules defined her life, and reassured her anxiety. She was also very, very quick to notice when I, or someone in the community, wasn’t playing by those rules. Her kid was meant to be perfect, and I heard about any and all imperfections. She demonstrated to me that “should” was a far dirtier word than any popular swear word.

    She was, I now realize, bludgeoned by the one-two punch of moving to a part of the US where liberal Catholicism reigned supreme during the 1960s and 1970s, and adopted a newborn daughter–me, born 1959–who never let go of WHY. In my early teens, up until about 14, I was all, “Why is that rule in place? Who made it, what does it accomplish, and why does it apply to me?” And when told that it was a rule from so-and-so, an authority that obviously made no sense, I demanded to know who died and made them God. (I was early teens, what can I say.) After narrowly escaping being slapped upside the head yet again, and enduring yet another fierce scolding, I disengaged. Started counting the months/weeks/days until I could escape to a non-local university, which would happen just before my 17th birthday. (Dutifully applied to the local one, but made certain they’d reject my application, because my father was willing to pay for me to go away to school and there was no [expletive] way that I was going to live in the Rulebook From Hell any longer than necessary.) Oh, and in my early teens I stopped confiding in my mother at all, saving that for my father, who would listen carefully and give me good advice for how to navigate being a teenager. This infuriated my mother, who demanded that I stop “bothering” my father. Following his example, I ignored her, and let them sort it out in private. One of her rules was that he was her boss, something that usually made him uncomfortable. However, he was willing to let her believe it when the cause was important to him.

    Once I was out of the house, except for a couple of really tedious summers that taxed my ability to be gracious, my mother and I had a much better relationship at arm’s length. I don’t mean to imply that she was a particularly bad parent, only that she took comfort in THE RULES. Rules are comforting, and churches and other communities that feed anxiety set up people to have a need for the comfort of those rules.

    • Avatar
      Ben Masters

      “I suspect part of it is the authoritarian mindset, which says that you must be doing something wrong, and everyone else in the authoritarian bubble has a duty to point it out to you.”

      This is why I do not desire, and have never desired, to be an authoritarian– I prefer to be “live and let live,” and authoritarianism would drive my autistic mind stone crazy.

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    I used to be aggravated at my mom for her rules-oriented existence. (haha, I loved her, just didn’t approve of her lifestyle choices). She was raised in a small town, the oldest child of the owners of a small business, and appearances were absolutely everything. As she got older, she still felt that everyone was watching her, but added the belief that her god was observing everything she did.

    I finally figured out that having a bunch of rules to follow and never questioning them is very comforting to her. Where we ran into trouble is that having a bunch of rules to follow without question aggravated the shit out of me.

    Am I damaged from being kept in a christian box until I left home? I don’t know. Am I glad I walked away from all that stupidity? Yep.

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      Yulya. Sevelova

      Interesting topic, it brought to mind s statement I heard in one of those small, hipster- granola Pentacostal churches- ” Everyone has something they need to repent from.”. It didn’t matter how diligent a person was,as far as a sin- free existence went.

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    My grandma and mom really wanted to be told what to do, and what they should do. I was cut from different cloth, as they say. I questioned most things, and I was a challenge to my grandma and mom. It’s odd to me – both were highly intelligent people who read extensively. Granted, my grandma in adulthood had limited all hee sources to religious ones, and my mom had a mix of religious and nonreligious sources. My grandma insulated herself solely within the religious bubble – it was even challenging for her to deal with going to the dentist’s office or to the gas station where everyone wasn’t necessarily her brand of Christian as she didn’tdeal well with anyone who didnt interact in a “Godly” manner. My mom worked in a secular university surrounded by a variety of people from diverse backgrounds. My mom was less restricted and restrictive than her mother, but both wanted to be told what to do. (Both had severe issues with depression and anxiety.) That’s not me! So guess who got sent to fundamentalist Christian school? And guess who moved 1,000 miles away from where she grew up and eventually became an atheist?

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Bruce Gerencser