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certainty erich fromm

Originally posted in 2015. Edited, corrected, and updated.


  1. The fact, quality, or state of being certain: the certainty of death.
  2. Something that is clearly established or assured.

SYNONYMS certainty, certitude, assurance, conviction. These nouns mean freedom from doubt. Certainty implies a thorough consideration of evidence: “the emphasis of a certainty that is not impaired by any shade of doubt” (Mark Twain). Certitude is based more on personal belief than on objective facts: “Certitude is not the test of certainty” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.). Assurance is a feeling of confidence resulting from subjective experience: “There is no such thing as absolute certainty, but there is assurance sufficient for the purposes of human life” (John Stuart Mill). Conviction arises from the vanquishing of doubt: “His religion . . . was substantial and concrete, made up of good, hard convictions and opinions. (Willa Cather).

Ah yes, Certainty.

One of the linchpins of Evangelical Christianity is certainty.

I KNOW in whom I have believed, said the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 1:12.

I have a KNOWSO salvation, a line spoken by countless Baptist preachers on Sunday mornings.

Doubt is of the Devil.

Saved or Lost.

Heaven or Hell.

Truth or Error.



A supernatural God who wrote a supernatural book that speaks of supernatural salvation.

You can know for sure_______ (fill in the blank with a theological premise).

If you died today would you go to Heaven?

If there is one error in the Bible then none of it is true.

Yet, for all the Christian-speak about certainty, real life suggests that certainty is a myth.

We live in a world of chance, ambiguity, and doubt.

Will I die today?

Will I have a job tomorrow?

Will I be able to walk a year from now?

What does the future hold for my spouse, children, and grandchildren?

Climate change?


Environmental degradation?


Who will win the Super Bowl?

Will my garden flourish?

Will I get lucky tonight?

Life is anything but certain.

Evangelical Christians offload the uncertainties of this life to a certain future in Heaven with Jesus. No matter how uncertain the present is, Evangelicals can, with great certainty, KNOW Heaven awaits them.

One problem though . . .

No one KNOWS for sure there is a Heaven.

No one has been to Heaven and returned to Earth to give us a travel report (and those who say they have are either lying or out to make a quick buck).

The Heaven most Evangelicals believe in isn’t even found in the Bible. Most Christians have a mystical, fanciful, syrupy, non-Biblical view of Heaven.

Grandma really isn’t in Heaven right now running around praising Jesus. According to the Bible, Grandma is presently rotting in the grave awaiting the resurrection of the dead.

I don’t know if there is a Heaven.

I have my doubts, lots of doubts.

I’m inclined to think Heaven is a state of mind. Or West Virginia.

We all want to believe life matters.

Many of us want to believe that there is more to life than what we now have.

We want to believe there will someday be a world without pain, suffering, or death.

But, what if there is not?

What if this is it?

What if we truly only have hope in this life?

Should we not make the most of what we have NOW?

Perhaps we should take seriously the Bible’s admonition not to boast about tomorrow because we don’t know what the day will bring.

Heaven will wait.


You and I are given one life and it will soon be past.


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

    I’ve come to believe that religion is people trying to make something certain in an uncertain world. Sticking my head in the sand, denying the reality in front of me in the hopes of some fairy tail when I die doesn’t cut it for me. You’re right tho…No one knows for certain if there’s a heaven, which is why they always trot out the old “Ya gotta have faith” bullshit. Me? I say be here now! No streets of gold or pie in the sky for me. John Lennon said it best in his song “God”; God is a concept by which we measure our pain.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I don’t fault people for believing. I am quite pragmatic when it comes to faith. As long as faith remains personal, I have no problem with it. However, here in America Christianity is demanding preferential treatment and that’s where I draw the line. History is clear, when church and state are one, freedom is lost and people die.

      • Avatar

        Very true. Especially when you have presidential candidates who want to use their belief system to make laws and moral standards. Scary stuff!!

  2. Avatar

    I believe the practice of ‘Mindfulness’, being mindful of the present moment, fits right in with your call to live, live, live. This present moment is all we have; the past is past and the future is yet to be. Be aware of what you are doing, feeling, thinking, seeing, hearing, smelling, right now. Live in the moment!

  3. Avatar

    I think it also points to the idea that people want to believe that there is a grand plan for their life and their suffering matters. However, I don’t believe that the future is fixed. it is shaped by things both within and outside of our control. We can have our best laid plans but we must be flexible and willing to evolve. Yup, I used the word EVOLVE. Appreciate the good things and people in your life whenever you can.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Yep, there are many things out of our control. Other people can make decisions that cause us heartache and grief. Our political leaders make all kinds of decisions that we have no control over. Like you, I try to control what is within my power to control.

  4. Avatar

    I am certain that I do not know what I do not know.

    When discussing issues with folks that like me ‘I don’t know’ is a perfectly acceptable answer. After all, the known universe accounts for only 40% – the rest is unknown Dark matter. If all was known, how boring would that be?

    I practice mindfulness. Some day I might even be good at it. (rimshot! lol).

    Happy Friday Bruce. 🙂

  5. Avatar

    Certainty means you no longer have to look for knowledge. You’ve already got it. It makes someone complacent and is the death of curiosity.

    It is also calming in a way. If things are certain, there is no room for doubt, nor any need for it. It provides a lifeline of sorts – even when it isn’t proven, like religion. Certainty is something to hold on to. It can also be a pacifier to silence you.

  6. Avatar
    Southern Lady

    Reminds me of “Arsenic and Old Lace.” One member of the family thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt. He blows a bugle in the night while rushing up the stairs ( taking San Juan Hill), which disturbs the whole neighborhood. His nephew is trying to get him committed. The crazy but lovable aunts don’t want him committed. One says, “but he’s so happy being Teddy Roosevelt.”

    Oh, and once they tried to get him to be somebody else as a nice change for him. But, “he just crawled under the bed and wouldn’t be anybody.”

  7. Avatar

    I have concerns about this strange, unshakable certainty among certain Christians, but it’s not about the certainty of heaven. It’s about people deciding what God wants you to do and then taking it upon themselves to enforce it. For example: Spend all your time at meetings–one’s not enough, you gotta go every night–be social, be an extrovert not an introvert, join the fight for family whether you have one or not, and, of course. WITNESS.

    While I declined to cooperate, but it’s not much fun being harassed. Or argued with.

  8. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    I often harken back to Mr. Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, a remarkable wee book, especially for the bit that goes:
    “Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

  9. Avatar

    I am certain that there are things that I don’t know.

    I am certain that things will change with or without me, but maybe I can have a small effect during my existence.

    I am certain that I should treat others well.

    I am certain that I don’t have all the answers, and that others don’t either.

  10. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Being afraid to die is a natural feeling that fluctuates wildly throughout life. Choosing to live is also a natural feeling that children always succeed at better than adults and that Christians mistake as giving their lives over to Christ. That fundamental error, giving your life to Christ, undermines living fully, which may help to explain why such efforts are made from the pulpit to convince congregants of the fullness of Christ, the great hope of heaven and eternal life. Preachers whip up the feelings and fantasy, the sweet bait of ultimate love… nothing quite like it, the smell of a brand new car, the gift of forgiving and forgetting!
    Betcha the use of anti-depressants is about equal among Baptists as the general population… I have used them before and feel that they are sometimes indicated as at least a short-term help in managing but I found that they muted me finally, reduced me. I felt better ceasing their use and using talk/feeling therapy. I have friends, though, who find life generally less extreme for them by staying on the meds. We decide for ourselves.
    Nothing wrong with belief either, if believers live it and do not proselytize. The Great Commission might have been understood not as shallow preaching on the street but more deeply as living by example, an ideal of living, helping. We know that healthy learning occurs through example, not preaching and punishment.
    When the teacher says, Go into all the world, does the teacher mean go preaching or live love in all your world, inside and out, here and there. And shut-up with the shallow promises of heaven, the hell reward.
    Some of you gave your president your faith and years to accomplish the greatness he promised and in the face of a worldwide pandemic he answers the abominable record of deaths in America with a statement about how the numbers are so high because we are counting!
    If this is how new Christians think then, Christian, how do you reconcile this active harm done? Don’t sow discord? Everybody makes mistakes? How much abuse will you embrace by abdicating the truth, following the example of the commander-in-chief? The numbers of dead are astronomical and will continue because we are counting? Idiocy.
    We live in a time of unparalleled, bloated stupidity in government. The fact that Baptists still stand behind this president demonstrates the bankruptcy of evangelical faith. How low can you go, Christian, before you startle into wakefulness and say, ‘the horror, the horror…’

  11. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    In his “.Letters From the Earth”, Mark Twain points out that Heaven consists of what people don’t value in this life.

    Or. as James Balwin remarked, the future is like Heaven: Everyone wants to go to it, but not now.

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