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Never Underestimate the Power of Jesus

there is power in the name of jesus

Often, atheists and agnostics grossly underestimate the power of Jesus. I am sure that some of you are already thinking or saying out loud, Bruce, are you nuts? Have you renounced atheism and become a follower of Jesus again? We don’t underestimate the power of Jesus because he doesn’t exist. End of story!

But he does exist, and I think many atheists and agnostics forget this. In our desire to rid the world of the damaging effects of religion, we often forget that Jesus is alive and well.

Now, the Jesus who is alive and well is not an actual, physical living human being, and neither is he an actual, physical God or Son of God. The Jesus who was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago is dead. The Jesus who, for thirty-three years, walked the roads of Palestine, is dead. The Jesus spoken of in the Bible is dead. We know that dead people do not come back from the grave. We know that once a person is dead, he stays dead. Jesus is dead, and there is no chance that he is coming back from the grave.

But, Jesus is alive and well in the myths and beliefs of millions and millions of Christians. In the mythical Jesus, people find comfort, meaning, and hope. In the mythical Jesus, people find what they think is lacking in their lives, and quite frankly atheists and agnostics don’t have much to offer in comparison to what Jesus can offer a person.

But, Bruce, believing in Jesus is irrational. Believing in Jesus is as rational as believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Totally correct, but this doesn’t matter.

When suffering and loss come our way, our rationality often doesn’t do us much good. When our lives are in a heap of ashes, knowing the evidence for God not existing does nothing to comfort us. When we are struggling to keep from drowning, the books written by Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, provide no help. All our rational, well-thought-out arguments do little for us when we are at those moments in life where the most precious thing to us is our next breath.

In these times, we look for comfort and hope. We look to those who love us and who are willing to do anything for us. In these times, our intellectual prowess does not matter. What we desperately want and need is a hand to hold on to, someone who will tell us it is going to be all right.

But, Bruce, shit happens and we are all going to die in the end. Atheists and agnostics don’t need sentimentality. Surely, we can face what comes our way with a rugged resolve, knowing we are right. Perhaps.

But is knowing we are right the most important thing? Is drawing our last breath knowing we were right about religion, God, Jesus, and the Bible really the grand objective?

Forget for a moment what you know about the Bible. Forget what you know about its teachings. If you were once a Christian, forget your experience in the church. Think for a moment about the essence of the Christian religion. What is the one thing that matters more than anything else? What is the one thing that allows millions of people to live in a state of cognitive dissonance? What is the one thing that allows Christians to shut off all the criticisms of Christianity and allows them to continue believing?

One word . . . Jesus.

The mythical Jesus, the Jesus of legend, the Jesus that is preached in countless Christian churches all over the world, this Jesus is the one thing that matters above all else.

Why is this? What is it about this Jesus for whom millions of people will abandon rational thinking? There is no evidence for what the Bible teaches on most anything. Few of the events in the Bible have any historical foundation. Why does Jesus have such power over people?

Jesus offers salvation. Jesus offers friendship, love, and compassion. Countless drug addicts and alcoholics have abandoned their addictions because of Jesus. Gang members have forsaken their violent ways, and thieves have turned to gainful means of employment, all because of Jesus. Only the most hardheaded and blind among atheists and agnostics would deny the fact that, for millions of people, Jesus makes a qualitative difference in their lives.

In Jesus, millions of people find meaning, purpose, and direction. In Jesus, they find the necessary strength to suffer and die. This Jesus promised never to leave them or forsake them, and no matter how hard we try to show that Jesus is AWOL in the lives of Christians, they still believe he is that friend who sticks closer than a brother.

I am sure there is some psychological or neurological explanation for why this is so, but such explanations have little value. People believe what they believe, and that is all that matters.

My wife’s parents were almost 85 years old when they died. When they died, I mourned their deaths. I loved them dearly. I grieved over the loss of two people I knew most of my adult life. Good people. Loving people. Caring people. And yes, devout Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christians.

They believed that Jesus was with them through thick and thin. Jesus was their faithful guide. According to them, Jesus worked countless miracles for them. To them, Jesus was as much a part of their lives as the air they breathe.

I could point out to them all the times that Jesus wasn’t there for them. Where was Jesus when they miscarried? Where was Jesus when their daughter was killed in a motorcycle accident? Their lives were filled with countless examples of Jesus leaving them for dead along the side of the road. He seemed to always be around when they needed a hundred dollars, but nowhere to be found when faced with job loss, economic troubles, or sickness. Yet, they still steadfastly believed.

Was it my place to expose their fraudulent Jesus? Was it my place to point out all the times when their friend Jesus was no friend? Perhaps I should have bought them Bart Ehrman’s books for Christmas so they could know the truth about the Bible and Jesus. But why would I want to do this? Would their lives have been better without Jesus?

I can’t think of any way their lives would have been better without their mythical best friend. Their whole existence was invested in him, and they trusted Jesus to be there when they were dying, to carry them home to their reward in Heaven.

None of this is true, BUT it doesn’t matter.

All that matters is what Jesus meant to them, and what value he added to their lives. If this Jesus gave their lives meaning, purpose, and direction, I have no reason to disabuse them of their beliefs. If this Jesus gave them peace and comfort . . . who was I to take that away from them?

Sometimes, we atheists and agnostics, in our zeal to rid the world of the evil of Christian Fundamentalism, forget that most Christians are not theocrats trying to take over America. They have sincerely held beliefs and, for them, Jesus adds value to their lives. Yes, we must battle Christian Fundamentalists who want to turn the United States into a Christian theocracy. Yes, we must battle attempts to teach creationism as science in public schools. Yes, we must battle attempts to codify Christian morals and ethics as the law of the land. We must battle all attempts to lessen the individual freedom we have to believe or not believe. But, beyond these things, it is not our place to rid the world of beliefs we think are silly or anti-intellectual.

We must remember, those of us who are writers, that the Evangelical Christians who come to our blogs to debate, evangelize, and attack are not typical believers. Zealots and apologists deserve all that we give them, and I have little tolerance for such people. But . . . I must never forget that most Christians are not Bible thumpers. Most Christians are like my wife’s parents — people who love Jesus and want to live a good life.

All of us want a life that has meaning and purpose. We want to be loved, and we want to know our lives matter. In the end, we all die, and we will soon be forgotten by all but those who loved us. Let’s be careful in our zeal to rid the world of all the evils associated with religion, that we don’t lose those we love, and that we don’t trade being “right” for those who will be there for us when we draw our last breath.

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

    Thank you for the reminder about what kind of people we should want to be. As I’ve walked away from my prior evangelical beliefs and a decades long conviction that God called me to be an apologist, it’s all too easy to swing to the opposite extreme and risk becoming a strident, atheistic fundamentalist. There’s nothing to be gained in tearing down another human being whose faith isn’t actively harming others.

    A quest for knowledge should make us kinder people, or we’re doing it wrong.

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    Ben Berwick

    You provoked an extremely emotional response from the cowardly peanut gallery, but he keeps demanding ‘BG’ answer him. Since your name is Bruce Gerencser, I guess he’s not asking you.

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    Jackie Malone

    Bruce, I admire your tolerance and moderation in this piece. I am trying to reach a stage of understanding (and, maybe, forgiving) parents who stole my childhood and adolescence with their austere fundamentalist Baptist ways. I can live with the bans on modern music, fancy dress balls, dances, parties, school camps (because non-christians would be present), church all day Sunday (and during the week, as well). But, what I find hard to forgive and forget is the warped attitude to sex and sexuality – and having Baptist pastors sicced on me when I strayed from the path I was supposed to follow. I still bear the psychological scars of my Baptist upbringing.

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    Jeff Bishop

    Hi Bruce!
    Thank You for this brilliant post! This hits home on several points that secularists / atheists / agnostics often do not mention. My previous posts have been full throttle in support of atheism and in “rejection” of Christianity, if fact, all religous cults.

    Having said that, I do not make it my business to “deconvert” (ANYBODY). I am non confrontational, that is until someone is in my face confronting me, without invitation!

    There is an Encyclopedia Brittanica’s worth of “bad” things to say about Religon, Christianity and the Evil this particular mind miasma causes the human race. Having said that, I also RECOGNIZE these powerful forces that
    make church so compelling:

    Prayer – The closing of eyes and sharing thoughts with other humans or a supernatural one, is “comforting”, and often helps the believer in times of supreme crises – death in the family, trauma, loss of employment etc.

    Gathering (Church) – People gathering and sharing common knowledge, beliefs and sharing experiences, breaking bread, and spending family time, are GOOD things, IMO.

    Belief in a “Big Daddy” up in the ether looking down and “loving you” is……….nice.

    A shared and repeated experience at church brings routine, security and a feeling of place.

    Christians (fish / the congregants) are (in my limited experience) very nice people, provided they think you are at church for the same reasons they are. Bible study also brings people together to form relationships.

    Notice I said “fish” – the layity – I hold an ENTIRELY different opinion of the powerbrokers – Preachers, Deacons, etc.
    You know – the ones that control the purse, political direction, and of course how they want THEIR particular definition of religon expressed.

    So – I UNDERSTAND how easy it is to get caught up in this CULT. Especially if one is a child, conditioned to it.
    It has powerful and seductive charms, and considering the allure of Evangelical Christianity – it is a deadly form of mind control, and when the adherents, particularily the leadership – Think SBC or the Vatican, go off the rails and lean into political and social command and control – well, it creates an environment where these supposed “religous and devout people” throw their lot in with a SCUM-BAG” like Donald Trump. You know – The guy that did not know the verse – John 3:15 – lol. I am an atheist and know John 3:15. But Donnie didn’t.

    Anyway, I appreciate my parents did not cast me in the hell fire of Evangelical Christianity.

    Please keep posting to the public, I find your work inspirational.

  5. Avatar

    Jesus is like the Bible itself, a Rorschach test on which you can project your own personality, and all your prejudices and beliefs. He can even look like you even if he doesn’t. In a way Jesus is more versatile than the Bible, since the Bible sometimes needs one to ignore a bit more.
    I agree no need to convince those who find fulfillment in their hometown church and religion to change. I think of my mother’s case is similar to your in-laws, it is a very good social outlet that grounds her to the community. In reality it wouldn’t matter if the dominant religion was Christianity, Judaism, or the Greek gods (or something non-religious like an astronomy club) the result effect isn’t much different and so long as it is voluntary indulge in it.

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    What is the one thing that allows Christians to shut off all the criticisms of Christianity and allows them to continue believing? One word . . . Jesus.

    I’ll add one more word, which encapsulates the reason the church has had a centuries-long stranglehold on the masses: hell.

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    Bruce, I agree with you that most Christians are decent people just trying to live their lives. While I personally find it better to believe things that are real and true, it doesn’t always make sense to get between someone and their Jesus (or Mohammed or whoever). People follow religions for many other reasons that have nothing to do with theology or beliefs. There’s community, ritual, tradition, comfort. Those are some of the big ones. Also, people seek answers to hard questions, and they seek a way to control what is out of their control. Religion offers answers (even if they’re wrong) and a feeling of control (praying to an omni-max deity that “could fix it”). Ritual and connection to nature/earth/universe are a big thing – my Gen Z daughter’s friends, particularly the nonreligious or barely religious are into crystals, incense, spell-casting, etc – what I think is bullsh!t but they loke getting together and doing whatever tbe hell it is. I am not clear on whether these college-educated young women believe in this stuff, and I kind of don’t want to know…..

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    Wow Bruce, that’s profound. I would agree that the very idea of Jesus exists, but also the idea of Allah, Mohammed, Confucius, etc. To say these “prophets” don’t exist denies that millions and billions of their followers are following something. It may at most be a concept or an idea but it can’t be nothing.

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    Dear Bruce,
    I am commenting here for the first time. I appreciate you recognizing the power that Jesus has, in people’s lives. Thank you for pointing that out. True, there have been countless atrocities dones in the name of religion, but you point out a positive aspect that is very important to a great many people. For me, it is that positive aspect which keeps me a believer, and yet, I know there is no scientific proof. Yet, it give me hope, and for me that is enough.

  10. Avatar

    Whether or not Jesus, the person, actually existed, his real power is in what he represents to people. As Troy points out, people can project whatever they want–or need– onto him. (Hey, I know people who believe he and those twelve “boys” were gay.)

    I concur with everyone who doesn’t want to eradicate religious belief, or even churches, altogether. Who am I to tell some former drug addict that the Jesus who “saved” them is no more real than the tooth fairy–especially if that person, say, has no family or other community? My grievance comes when religious zealots try to force their beliefs on others.

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