Over the weekend, I received an email from a man named Quinn that asked me several questions. Here’s what he had to say:
Hey Bruce, I thought I’d ask about your conscience: Do you still feel conviction? Or does everything just feel numb? No matter where you go or what you do, just no emotion? Even when you hug loved ones?
These questions seem loaded. Is the writer an Evangelical Christian? Does he think I no longer have a conscience now that I am an atheist? Or does he think I have a seared conscience or that I am a reprobate? I could address the absurdity of such claims, but I won’t. Instead, I will focus on the four questions asked by this man.
First, let me define several words:
Consciousness: at its simplest, is awareness of internal and external existence. (Wikipedia)
Conscience: a cognitive process that elicits emotion and rational associations based on an individual’s moral philosophy or value system. (Wikipedia)
Atheism: the absence of belief in the existence of gods. That’s it. Atheism provides no moral or ethical foundation.
Secular Humanism provides me with a moral and ethical foundation by which to govern my life. The Humanist Manifesto describes Humanism this way:
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.
This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:
Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.
Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.
Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.
Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.
Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.
Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.
Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.
Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone. (American Humanist Association)
Simply put, I am a conscious human being with a conscience who is an atheist and a humanist. I strive every day to be a kind, loving, thoughtful, helpful person; one who desires to leave a better world for his progeny.
On the About Page, I answer the question, If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?
You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.
Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.
With these facts entered into evidence, let me now answer the four questions mentioned above.
Do you still feel conviction?
If Quinn is asking whether I feel “conviction” in a Biblical sense, the answer is no. A related (and perhaps more relevant) question is whether I feel guilt, and to that I say yes. I still battle unjustified guilt, a leftover from fifty years in the Evangelical church and twenty-five years as a pastor.
The two pillars of Evangelicalism are fear and guilt. The Evangelical deity is a myth, so I no longer fear him. What I do have is residual guilt from five decades of being told this or that behavior is a sin. After I deconverted, I had to rethink what human behaviors I considered “sin.” (Sin is a religious construct, so I don’t use the term. I speak in terms of good and bad behavior.) Over the past fifteen years, I have constructed a list of human behaviors I think are “bad.” This list is small, much smaller than the War and Peace-sized sin list I had back in my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) days.
When I cause harm to others, I generally feel guilty. When I feel guilty, I admit my “sin” and try to make restitution. When warranted, I ask for forgiveness, not from God, but from the person I have hurt/offended/harmed. God is an unnecessary middleman.
Yesterday, Polly and I, along with Bethany, and our fifteen-year-old grandson, traveled to Cincinnati to watch the Reds play the Colorado Rockies. It was my sixty-sixth birthday. We had a delightful time. The Reds won, and we got to see Joey Votto play his first game of the year.
For much of our forty-five years of marriage, I did most of the driving, especially when in major cities. I averaged 50,000 miles a year — Polly a couple of thousand. This all changed when Polly started working for Sauder Woodworking in 1996. Today, she drives forty-five miles a day to work and back. As my health continues to decline, Polly has had to do more and more driving. In March, 2020, I stopped driving, knowing that I no longer had the requisite motor skills necessary to safely drive a vehicle.
When we travel to Cincinnati, Toledo, Fort Wayne, Detroit, Columbus, and other major cities, Polly has to do all the driving. She doesn’t want to, but she has no choice. She’s never been comfortable driving in bumper-to-bumper city traffic. Polly lacks that aggressive killer instinct necessary when jockeying for position on busy streets and highways. She’s gotten better, but I can be a nag when she is hesitant or lets people take advantage of her.
Often, Polly and I banter back and forth while she’s driving. Typical old married couple stuff. There are occasions, though, when my criticism crosses a line, and when it does, I feel guilty, knowing Polly is doing the best she can. When I feel guilty, I apologize, promising to keep my mouth shut in the future. Polly graciously accepts my apology, saying to herself, “sure, buddy, sure.” 🙂
Outside of this, there’s nothing I did yesterday that rose to the level of “guilt.” I didn’t do anything yesterday (or today) that I should have felt “conviction” over. I reject the notion that we sin daily in thought, word, and deed. This allows me to live freely without wondering what God thinks, or the Bible says about a given matter.
Or does everything just feel numb?
This question tells me that Quinn is likely an Evangelical Christian. I searched for his name and found someone who is an Evangelical, but I am uncertain as to whether it was him.
The only things that feel numb to me are my legs, feet, and hands, thanks to nerve damage. Believe me, I wish I were numb some days. I live with unrelenting chronic pain — severe pain from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. And after a six-hour car ride to Cincinnati and back yesterday? My whole body is screaming, “Please let me die!”
I suspect Quinn is not talking about physical numbness; but psychological numbness. To that, I say, no. Psychologically, I am very much alive. I involve myself in things that matter to me. I have passions in my life that drive my writing and fuel my involvement in politics and social movements.
I can’t think of a time when I ever felt “numb,” not even when my mother killed herself.
No matter where you go or what you do, just no emotion?
Of course, I have emotions. I am a passionate, emotional man. On Sunday, my six children, their girlfriends and spouses, and my thirteen grandchildren were over to celebrate Father’s Day and my birthday. I had a delightful time. I hugged most of my children and their significant others and all of my grandchildren when they left to go home. I freely express love to my family, though we don’t do the kissing thing. Sorry, that’s a bridge too far. 🙂
Anyone who really knows me knows I am an emotional man. Shit, even passersby who read my writing can discern that I am an emotional, passionate writer. I don’t need Jesus or Christianity to fuel my emotions. No Holy Ghost Crack® is necessary for me! If anything, Evangelicalism stunted my emotions, telling me that certain human passions were “sins.” Now that I have been delivered from the bondage of Egypt, I am free to be my authentic self.
Even when you hug loved ones?
See the answer above.
Saved by Reason.
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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