Several years ago, I watched the drama The Path on Hulu. Starring Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan, and Hugh Dancy, The Path portrays the lives of people involved with a religion called Meyerism. While Meyerism is fictional, many of its core tenets and practices mirror those found in Evangelicalism. I found myself thinking, the only difference between Meyerism — a cult — and Evangelicalism is a matter of degree. This is especially true when Meyerism is compared to the extreme Fundamentalist corner of the Evangelical tent. I am not suggesting that Meyerism is the equivalent of Evangelicalism. It’s not. As Wikipedia makes clear, Meyerism combines aspects of:
New Age philosophy, shamanism, Scientology, Christian mysticism and Utopianism with a few elements from the Shakers, Sufism, Tibetan Buddhism and Freemasonry ritual.
However, Meyeristic practices such as fidelity to a rigid set of commands and beliefs, obedience to leaders, progressive enlightenment, separation from the world, and the shunning of ex-Meyerists find expression in the practices of countless Evangelical churches.
Eddie Lane (Aaron Paul) and Sarah Lane (Michelle Monaghan) are devoted followers of Stephen Meyer, the founder of Meyerism. Born into a Meyerist family, Sarah is what you would call a “true believer.” Eddie, on the other hand, has questions and doubts about the religious aspects of Meyerism. While Eddie embraces Meyerism’s commitment to family, environmentalism, and helping the poor and suffering, he comes to believe the rest of Meyerism is, in his words, bullshit. He has come to see that what he once considered “truth” was a lie. Eventually, Eddie’s crisis of faith leads to conflict with his wife, family, and Cal Roberts (Hugh Dancy), the leader of the Meyerist community in New York. Eddie is banished from the Meyerist community. Labeled a “denier,” Eddie tries to help his teenage son Hawk, who recently took Meyerist vows. In episode three of season two, Hawk tells Eddie that he can no longer see him. Eddie desperately tries to reason with his son, but to no avail.
During his passionate plea to Hawk, Eddie tells his son, “it [Meyerism] only works if you believe.” Eddie goes on to explain that if you pull on that string, everything unravels and crumbles into nothing. I can’t think of a better illustration of what many of us have gone through as we walked away from Christianity. Christianity, and in particular Evangelical Christianity, only works IF you believe. Dare to pull the string, logically, rationally, and skeptically evaluating sincere beliefs and practice, and everything unravels, and crumbles into nothing.
Evangelicalism requires the suspension of reason. No matter how vociferously apologists and zealots argue otherwise, Evangelical faith requires belief over truth and dogma over fact. Questioning the teachings of the Bible/church/pastor is viewed as a lack of faith, a sure sign that Satan is influencing someone’s thinking. Congregants are discouraged from reading books/blogs that will cause doubt. Dr. Bart Ehrman is pilloried as an “enemy of the faith,” and pastors routinely warn church members to stay away from his books. Claiming that they are only watching out for their congregants’ souls, these men of God know that the facts and educated conclusions found in Ehrman’s books are kryptonite to Evangelical faith. These gatekeepers know that the only way to keep asses in the pews and money in the offering plates is to wall congregants off from exposure to the “world.”
Few Evangelical leaders promote unfettered intellectual inquiry. They know that such inquiries always lead away from what Evangelicals believe is the “faith once delivered to the saints.” Pastors know that once devotees question the inerrancy of the Bible, creationism, the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and other cardinal beliefs, it is only a matter of time before they realize they have been sold a bill of goods. While this loss of faith may not lead to atheism, it certainly leads to an exodus out the back doors of Evangelical churches. When truth — not religious dogma masquerading as truth — becomes the object of intellectual inquiry, it’s only a matter of time before the Evangelical house built on myth and supernatural nonsense comes tumbling down. Either science is right, or creationism is. Both can’t be right. Either virgins can have babies or they can’t. Either three-day-old dead people can come back to life and eat dinner at Taco Bell or they can’t. Take every supernatural claim in the Bible and measure it by what you know to be empirically and experientially true. Both can’t be true. Knowledge-informed thinking and not cognitive dissonance should always be the goal.
Eddie is right: It only works if you believe. Once you stop believing and demand facts and evidence, it’s game over. Once you stop granting the Bible/churches/pastors authority over your life, you are on your way to true freedom. A letter writer asked me what was the biggest change in my life after deconverting. I told her that the biggest change was having the freedom to follow the path of life wherever it leads. Evangelicalism, with its teachings on Heaven/Hell, eternal punishment, sin, and judgment, leads to bondage. Pastors go to great lengths to convince congregants that this bondage is actually freedom. Evangelicalism becomes a bubble of sorts where everything makes perfect sense as long as you are in the bubble. That’s why many of us were committed followers of Jesus for so many years. It all made sense to us; it was all internally consistent; that is until one day we dared to pull on the string, and then we realized that what we had really been believing was an elaborate construct of myths and lies. And at that moment, everything we believed crumbled away to nothing.
If you happen to be an Evangelical, let me encourage you to pull on the string. Dare to value truth over belief. Dare to question and doubt. Dare, to quote the Bible, to “seek.” I guarantee that if you will intellectually and passionately “seek,” you most certainly will “find.” Come join countless other freethinkers as they walk the path of life. Evangelicalism taught you that life is all about your destination: Heaven or Hell. I’m here to tell you that life is all about your journey, not where you’ll end up after you die. Embrace every day as if it is your last and humbly walk the path that is before you. If you will do that, I promise that you will end up exactly where you need to be.
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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