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Bruce, You Are Wrong!!

garfield never wrong

Over the past seventeen years, various people have taken it upon themselves in emails, blog comments, Facebook comments, tweets, letters to the editor, sermons, and blog posts to emphatically tell me “Bruce, You Are Wrong!!” Be it my liberal politics, the teams I root for, or my humanistic, atheistic beliefs, these beacons of absolute truth are infallibly certain that I am wrong.

Let me confess right away that I have been wrong many, many, many times. I bet you didn’t know that, right? In fact, there’s not a day that goes by that I am not wrong in some moment, circumstance, or detail.

Usually, when someone writes to me to tell me I am wrong, they have a deeper, more sinister meaning for the word “wrong.” For the most part, I write about Christianity — particularly Evangelical Christianity and the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Occasionally, I write about politics, education, sports, and other sundry subjects, but my main focus is Christianity and its trappings. I spend a great deal of time telling my story, detailing my journey, as only a good, humble, narcissistic ex-pastor can. This blog, whatever else it may or may not be, is this: “Bruce’s Story, Told by Bruce, According to Bruce, the Best He Can Remember It.”

When I am telling my story and my understanding of the journey I am on, I have little patience with those who tell me I am “wrong.” They dissect my life with the razor knife of their own experiences and beliefs, and determine that I am/was not what I say I am/was. They tell me I was never saved, never a Christian, never a real pastor, and I suspect someday someone will even challenge my circumcision.

These kinds of people want to control my storyline. My Evangelical critics want to set the standard by which my life — the one I lived, the one I am presently living — is judged, and it infuriates them when I won’t let them do so. I refuse to allow my story to be co-opted, controlled, or judged by any other standard than my own experiences. It is my life, and I know what I believed, how I lived, and I am certain I know my life better than anyone who only has this blog to judge me by. My dear wife of forty-six years is my best friend and she knows me pretty well, but she doesn’t know everything about me. Almost everything, but not quite. (Polly is wondering, “What the hell is Bruce keeping from me?)

Foolish is a person, armed with only printed words on a computer screen, who would judge a person’s life without further evidence or knowledge. I certainly want people to enter into my story — in fact, I invite them in. But my readers are just visitors. They only know what I am willing to tell them. If my lover and best friend or my counselor can’t pierce Bruce Almighty’s inner sanctum, don’t think for a moment any outsider can. I’ve been reading the blogs of certain people who have frequented this site for years. I am friends with them on Facebook. I know lots of things about them, but I would never arrogantly say I intimately “know” them. The same can be said for my editor. She’s been editing my writing for almost nine years. We have never met in person, and, likely, we never will. I consider her a dear friend. We text each other almost daily. I know a lot about her past and present life, and her spouse, children, grandchildren, etc. However, I would never presume on our relationship by saying I “know” everything there is to know about her. Yet, countless Evangelical critics think that by reading a few posts on this site they “know” me, and are in a position to render infallible judgment. 

Sometimes, charges of being wrong are hurled my way because of something I have written about Christianity, the ministry, the Bible, or some other facet of Western Christianity. They vehemently disagree with my interpretation of a particular Bible verse, or they object to particular word usages, words such as Christian, Evangelical, or Fundamentalist.

What is the foundation of their charges against me? Why, their own beliefs and interpretations, or the beliefs and interpretations of their particular sect. Ultimately, the Bible becomes the focus of these kinds of accusations.

According to my eristical interlocutors, I am wrong because I have misread, misunderstood, misapplied, or distorted what the Bible teaches. How do my critics know this? Because they read, understand, and apply the Bible differently from me. And we all know that every Evangelical is infallible in his or her understanding of an allegedly divine religious text, written by mostly unknown authors thousands of years ago. (That’s sarcasm, by the way.)

I could be wrong. In fact, I am quite certain that some of my interpretations of the Bible are wrong or could be better stated. I have no way of proving whether they are. All I have is my mind and my ability to read and study, and using these skills, I try, to the best of my ability, to discern and understand what a particular text in the Bible says. People are free to differ with me, but why should it be assumed that I am wrong and my critics are right? How do we make such a determination? Dr. Dan McClellan is fond of saying that the Bible has no inherent meaning. And he is right. We give the text meaning, not the other way around.

The Bible has the unique ability to be whatever a person wants it to be. Most people have a bit of Thomas Jefferson in them, scissors in hand, cutting out the things they disagree with or the things that weaken their theological, political, and social beliefs. The short of it is this: if you need to prove something, go to the Bible. You will likely find the answer you are looking for.

I am quite aware of the fact that I read the Bible differently from the Evangelical Christians who think I am wrong. The one-up I have on them is that I used to read the Bible as they do. I understand their hermeneutics and theology, and I am well aware of their interpretations. That said, I have no compulsion or need to read the Bible as Evangelicals or progressive/liberal Christians would read the Good Book. I do not need to make the Bible fit a peculiar systematic theology grid, as Evangelical Christians do. Instead, I try to read the Bible like the average, unenlightened Bruce would read the Bible. I try to transport myself back in time in hopes of getting a historical and cultural perspective on the passage I am reading.

In Genesis 1:26, God says “let us make man in our image.”  When I read this passage, I say to myself: this says there is a plurality of Gods. Let US. As I read the Old Testament, it is clear to me that the Israelites were polytheistic and over time became monotheistic (or as oneness-Pentecostals would assert about Trinitarian Christians, they still ARE polytheistic).

Of course, those who think I am wrong say: but the New Testament says______ and they import their Trinitarian theology into the Genesis text. That’s all well and good if you are an Evangelical Christian, but I am not. I am quite free to read the Bible as it is written without forcing myself to put all the pegs in the right holes. The Christian has the burden to make it all fit, not I.

I may be wrong, but it is a leap of faith to assume that because I am wrong, you are right. There is no way to “prove” who is right or who is wrong when it comes to the Bible. Baptists and Campbellites (Church of Christ) often spar over one Greek word, eis, in Acts 2:38. Who is right? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all the arguments from both sides of the fence. Who is right? All of us have to determine for ourselves what we believe about God, Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity. This blog is simply my take on these things.

Seriously, the amount of skin I have in this game gets less and less every day. Talking about the Bible and what it purportedly teaches is all fun and games. Since the Bible no longer has a mystical, supernatural hold on me, I am quite free to ignore it at will. I am free to be wrong because being wrong about the Bible is like being wrong about picking the players for a fantasy football league — not the end of the world.

My bigger focus is on those who are considering leaving Christianity or who have already left Christianity. I try to be a good example of a person who successfully broke the chains of bondage and left Christianity. I do not call on people to follow me or to do what I did. All I am is one guy with a story to tell. If my story helps someone; if it gives them the strength to take the big step they need to take, then I am grateful and humbled by being a small measure of help to them. However, if all I do is piss you off and make you think you have scabies, perhaps your short life would be better served reading other things than this blog. Telling me I am wrong will not bring the effect you desire. I will gladly admit to being wrong. Next?

Perhaps you are really hanging out here because, deep down, uncertainty is pulling at you, and you are trying to suppress it by lashing out at the poor, deluded, deceived, ignorant Evangelical-preacher-turned-atheist named Bruce. If me being your whipping boy leads to your deconversion, whip away, my friend, whip away.

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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9 Comments

  1. Avatar
    GeoffT

    The fundamental problem with the bible is that it is a written text (or rather, set of texts). In terms of communicating accurate Information it’s much better than the spoken word, but it’s a long way from being perfect. At the times the texts were written there were no alternatives to the written text, but now we have plenty of other options, including video recording or computers. It’s interesting, and telling, that God chose a form of communication that just happened to be the only form available at the time. A competent God would have ensured a much more efficient method of communication, and certainly wouldn’t have used anonymous authors, unfamiliar personally with the stories they were writing (just like the Grimm brothers when they collected stories for their fairytales), writing in a language unconnected with those to whom the stories were mainly directed, without any attempt to harmonise the texts, and with no thought to maintenance, copying, and translation through the ages. If people get inspiration from the bible then fine (and to be fair I think there are some very poetic and inspiring passages, but very tiny as a proportion of the whole), but it says more about the reader than it does about the text.

    Ultimately a life spent never having had access to the bible is not diminished as a result.

  2. Avatar
    missimontana

    The line “Let us make man in our own image” reminded me of a scene from one of my favorite movies. An alien ( hiding in a bathroom) is having an angry argument with a girl, a Fundamentalist Evangelical. When she yells “We were made perfect in His own image!” the alien jumps out and yells “Then how do you explain me!” Maybe one of the”us” is an alien? 😸 I always wondered why the Old Testament said us when there is supposed to be only one god.
    The movie is called Paul, by the way. 👽

  3. Avatar
    ... Zoe ~

    Bruce: ” If me being your whipping boy leads to your deconversion, whip away, my friend, whip away.”

    Zoe: I wonder how many this has happened too Bruce. I remember Gary.

  4. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Your mention of Dr.* McClellan reminded me of a professor at my undergraduate university who caused a minor scandal when, in one of his classes, he declared, “Fuck is only a dirty word because we’ve decided that it is.”

    Ironically, some “liberal” students and faculty members—including a few who described themselves as “feminist “ (still a fairly radical thing to do in those days) were most as appalled as the most conservative and religious people (I was one!) on campus.

    But he was right. If you don’t speak English (or spend time with people who do), “fuck” has no meaning. Likewise, if you don’t come from certain cultural and political backgrounds, much of what’s in the Bible is meaningless or simply doesn’t make any sense.

  5. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I have known a few people who went to a seminary or Bible college with the intention of becoming clergy members.

    I believe they—and others who follow a similar path—have this in common: They enter with a particular idea of the “right “ way to interpret and practice their faith. That idea is usually shaped by the denomination or sect in which they grew up.

    Then they study the Bible and other relevant texts in detail. Inevitably, they encounter something that doesn’t jibe with their view of their faith. It might be a verse they “hadn’t really noticed “ before. Or it might be an interpretation of a verse or even, as Bruce points out, of a particular Greek word.

    Some-including acquaintances I’ve mentioned—do the mental gymnastics to “make it fit “ or simply gloss over it.

    Or, like two former seminarians I know, they “go down a rabbit hole”‘and find other things that don’t square with what they believed —or finding that word, verse or interpretation leads them to question other things.

    You’ve surely noticed that those two folks are “ex-seminarians.” One, who grew up believing he would become a Roman Catholic priest, went to law school and is an atheist. (He and his wife taught their kids, now grown, about religion but told them it’s their choice.) The other,’ now gone, ,’described herself as “deistic but not religious “ and spent her life as a community activist.

    • Avatar
      ObstacleChick

      MJ, what you said reminds me of my father-in-law. He was raised in a,large Irish-American Catholic family in upstate NY, they all went to Catholic school, ate fish on Fridays, went to mass, were all confirmed, the whole 9 yards. He went to seminary to become a priest. Of the 60 young men in his class, only 5 took ordination orders, and only 1 remained a life-long priest. My FIL said he was struck by the hypocrisy of the priests who would eat lobster and fine wine off the best China and crystal while regular families were eating canned tuna to keep the spirit of the Friday fish tradition. He was also put off by the OT God with all the killing and smiting. My FIL and MIL (also Catholic school educated) really didn’t raise their kids in church – it was nominal at best. Both have gotten more religious as they’ve aged but I wouldn’t characterize either as regular church attendees. Yet they are SHOCKED and APPALLED that my husband (and our kids whom we raised without religious indoctrination) are atheists. Their youngest son is spiritual but not religious, and his kids are being raised Jewish by their mom. The oldest has recently become devout after a series of bad life choices – I guess he thinks Jesus will fix him.

  6. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I don’t know how any layperson can read the Bible and understand it without understanding nuances of life and region when and where these works were written. Even scholars who have devoted their lives to study don’t know everything pertinent. It’s like the meme I saw recently that in 100vyears people won’t understand the differences between a butt dial and a booty call.

  7. Avatar
    George

    Interestingly, Bruce has said that if given enough proof, he’d be open to something past this life.

    Those who castigate him won’t return the favor. Then again, how could they, given the cocksureness of their opinions?

    So who’s really the honest one? It’s pretty obvious.

    • Avatar
      TheDutchGuy

      George I wrote a great response to what you wrote but it disappeared with only “Nonce verification failed” showing up. Also got “403 forbidden” a couple times. This is after Bruce changed hosts. That’s frustrating after trying to write something reasonably coherent. Oh well. I don’t know. Could it be the work of………. SATAN?

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