Atheism

Evangelical Twitterer Says God is Losing Patience with Me

a-message-from-god

Warning! Bucket loads of snark ahead.

Recently, I engaged in a short-lived Twitter discussion with an Evangelical man going by the handle atheismbut. His goal, I believe, was to sling lies, half-truths, and religious clichés at atheists. I am not sure what he hoped to accomplish by doing so, but I decided to play his game for a bit. After failing to drag me into a mud-fight, this man unfollowed me. He then refollowed me, and a day or so later unfollowed me again. He has now blocked me, so I am unable to see his tweets, respond to him, or notify him of this post.

This man doesn’t use his real name on Twitter, choosing instead to list his name as Atheism Be Damned. Catchy, right? *sigh* After unfollowing me the first time, this man sent me a direct message (DM). I had in our Twitter conversations called the man an apologist and a zealot, both of which offended him. His DM, however, only proved that my assessment of him was spot-on. Here’s what he had to say:

I’ll take this offline. I say what God directs. See, I absolutely do not care what people think of me, say about me or say to me. What I truly care about is what My Lord sees of me. His good and perfect will is what I care about. Here’s His word to you: (I have given you the time you sought. I have been patient. I have stood near all this time. I have not abandoned you. My patience wears thin son. The time has come to choose. Return to the anointing I have placed on you and fulfill the call or forfeit your inheritance. I wait no more.)

Bruce…as your brother created in His image…please stop what you are doing. Repent of your apostasy and declare your faith in Him for all to witness. Your 25 years of faithful service only counts if you reclaim it. Do not allow the enemy to steal what God has given to and through you. Sto [sic] listening to the lies of the world. There is no true wisdom in the fallen ones [sic] domain. Anyhow, that’s it. It’s on you sir. Your call. I pray and hope you make the right decision.

As is common among zealots, they believe that God speaks directly to them. This man certainly did, telling me that he just says what God tells him to say. And how can any of us know this to be? ‘Cuz he says so. He says that he doesn’t care what people think or say about him, yet for no good reason, he unfollowed me twice and blocked me. Evidently, he DOES care about what people say about him.

Supposedly, this man’s God gave him a message he wanted to be delivered to me. Here’s what it said:

I have given you the time you sought. I have been patient. I have stood near all this time. I have not abandoned you. My patience wears thin son. The time has come to choose. Return to the anointing I have placed on you and fulfill the call or forfeit your inheritance. I wait no more.

First, why didn’t God deliver this message herself, instead of using a middleman? Have you noticed that God always uses middlemen to deliver his missives; that he never, ever speaks directly to the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world? Come on God, just send me an email or a text message.

Second, I didn’t ask God for time to consider my past/present/future life. God and I have not spoken to one another since November 2008. Since then, I have concluded that the God I thought I was speaking to for fifty years was just a voice in my head; that I was the God I was speaking to.

Third, if God was standing nearby, I never saw him. This leads me to believe that Atheism Be Damned is seeing things — a common Evangelical malady. The only place this man’s God can be found is within the pages of the Bible — a bestselling storybook. Jesus said, seek and ye shall find. Sorry, Jesus, but everywhere I look you, are nowhere to be found. Perhaps Jesus is much like Baal in 1 Kings 18: 25-29:

And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under. And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.

The prophet Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal saying: Cry aloud: for he [Baal] is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. In modern English, Elijah mocked Baal’s non-appearance, saying” perhaps Baal is busy talking to someone else, taking a shit, on vacation, or sleeping. Elijah, of course, was right about Baal, but these same words aptly describe the non-existence of the Christian God too.

Fourth, Atheism Be Damned warns me that God is running out of patience with me; that he’s tired of me not listening to the Baalam’s donkeys he has sent my way. (Numbers 22:21-39) Again, if God is upset with me, he knows where I live. No need for Atheism Be Damned to deliver a message that God is supposedly capable of delivering himself.

Fifth, according to Atheism be Damned, God wants me to return to Christianity; to return to the “anointing” and “call” he has placed on my life. In other words, God wants me to return to peddling the Evangelical gospel — or else! Or else what?

Sixth, Atheism Be Damned claims some sort of familial connection with me — spiritually, I suspect. Sorry, but I have no interest in having such a relationship. I am quite content being a part of the fallen one’s family. That’s Satan/the Devil/Lucifer/Beelzebub for you unaware of Evangelicalese. If given a choice of spending eternity with the Atheism be Damneds of the world or spending eternity in Hell with Christopher Hitchens and my dear friend Steve Gupton, along with my wife, children, and the fine folks who frequent this blog, give me HELL every time. Sorry, but there’s nothing appealing about kneeling as if giving a blow job before God and worshiping for all eternity. Imagine how much fun Hell will be compared to the Evangelical Heaven. Who in their right mind, save those who have been scared with fear and threats of judgment, would want to spend every day and night for a million years singing praises to a narcissistic deity? No thanks. Bring on the whiskey, beer, and cigars, and let’s have a rip-roaring time fishing the Lake of Fire.

Finally, Atheism Be Damned says, he has said all that God intended for him to say, and now, it’s up to me to choose between the Evangelical God and reality. He signs off by saying, “I pray and hope you make the right decision.” I thought it was God who saved sinners? I thought that salvation depended on God giving sinners ears to hear and eyes to see. I tried to tell Atheism Be Damned that I was an apostate and a reprobate. I even quoted Bible verses from Romans 1 and Hebrews 6, proving that I am beyond hope; beyond the saving grace of God. Hebrews 6:4-6 says:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

I was once enlightened, having tasted of the heavenly gift and having been made a partaker of the Holy Ghost for over thirty-five years. I had tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, yet in November 2008, I fell away, renouncing Jesus and Christianity. Thus, according to the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, it is IMPOSSIBLE to renew me again unto repentance.

Hebrews 10:29 says of apostates like me:

Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?

Evidently, I believe the Bible more than Atheism Be Damned does. I am sure zealots shudder at my impudent treatment of their God and the Bible. However, I am not a believer, nor shall I ever be. The believing, preaching days are long gone. I have no intention of returning to slavery, to the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic of Egypt (Numbers 11) . I have found the Promised Land. Its streets are paved with reason and freedom, and an endless buffet feeds my every intellectual want and need. Why in the world would I ever want to become a Christian again?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Why Do Atheists Refuse to Believe in God?

there is no god

People frequently search for: Why do Atheists Refuse to Believe in God? and Google and Bing return this site as a possible answer to their question. I have never written a post with that exact title, so I thought I would do so today. Hopefully, this post will adequately answer those who want to know why atheists refuse to believe in God.

Before I can answer this question, I must first ask one of my own: which God? Which God, exactly, are atheists accused of not believing in? You see, when people ask such questions, they have a specific deity in mind. Most often, in the United States, the God of the question is the God of Christianity. But, even here, I have to ask, which God? Christians are hardly unified when it comes to God. Some Christians believe God is a triune being, others don’t. Ask Christians what’s required for salvation, and the answers are endless. The Bible may say, one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, but as casual observers can attest, Christians believe in and worship a variety of deities.

For the sake of argument, I choose the Evangelical God. Most liberal Christians don’t care whether atheists believe in God. Functional universalists, liberal Christians are more concerned with love, kindness, and good works, than they are checking the box next to the One True God®. Evangelicals, on the other hand, expend mountains of energy making sure that not only they believe in the “right” God, but that the rest of us do too.

Most Evangelicals genuinely believe that atheist unbelief is deliberate; that atheists are a stubborn lot who refuse to believe in the Christian God because of a (secret) desire to live in sin. Many Evangelicals believe that atheists are rebels at heart, people who refuse to submit to God’s rule and authority. Sometimes, Evangelicals say that atheists refuse to believe in God because they either hate him or are followers of Satan. Needless to say, most of what Evangelicals say and know about atheists is false. Atheist writers often go to great lengths to correct Evangelical mischaracterizations, yet they fail, thanks to preachers repeating them Sunday after Sunday in their sermons. Who ya’ going to believe, Pastor John or Bruce, the atheist?  Sadly, far too many Evangelicals believe their pastors speak on God’s behalf, so they blindly accept as fact whatever their pastors say to them. Granted, atheists can do the same. Misrepresenting the claims of Christianity is just as bad as not listening to the explanations atheists give for not believing in God.

There are a plethora of reasons why atheists refuse to believe in God. I can’t speak for all atheists, so all I can do is speak for myself and others like me. I was in the Christian church for fifty years. Twenty-five of those years were spent pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I have a thorough understanding of Christian theology and church history. I spent thousands and thousands of hours reading and studying the Bible. I read countless theology books. For many years, I focused my reading on Calvinistic authors from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. That said, my studies were deep, but not wide. I focused my reading on authors who fit in the Evangelical/orthodox box, never straying outside of the four walls of the box until the tail end of my ministerial career. Once I began to read authors outside of my peculiar rut, I started having questions about my beliefs and practices. These questions only increased after I left the ministry in 2005. I began to carefully reexamine the cardinal doctrines of Christianity. Once I concluded that the Bible was NOT the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God, my house of cards came tumbling down. Once the dust settled, I was no longer a Christian.

I tried to find some sort of stopping-off place as I slid down the proverbial slippery slope, but I found liberal Christianity and Universalism to be intellectually lacking. I so wanted to keep believing in God, but alas I couldn’t do so, and on the last Sunday in November 2008, I walked out of a Christian (Methodist) church for the last time. Several months later, I mailed out a letter titled, Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter was my coming-out, me saying to the world that I was no longer a Christian. For a time, I called myself an agnostic, but after having to repeatedly explain exactly what I meant by the word, I decided to claim the atheist moniker.

When asked why I am an atheist, I tell people two things. First, I no longer believe the central claims of Christianity. Second, Christianity no longer makes any sense to me. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) It’s not that I refuse to believe in the Christian God; as it is, I find Christian beliefs intellectually lacking. If I refuse anything, it’s to have “faith” and just “believe.” One former congregant told me after I deconverted that books were my problem; that I just needed to stop reading books and only read the Bible. If I would do that, all would be well. The problem, of course, with this line of thinking is that Christianity is a text-based religion; that the foundation of Christianity is the Bible. Thus, when I say I no longer believe the central claims of Christianity, what I am really saying is that I no longer believe the teachings of the Bible; I longer believe the Bible is divine truth; I no longer believe the Bible is God’s supernatural word to fallible men. Ultimately, the Bible is the problem, and that’s why I am an outspoken atheist today.

To Christians who ask, Why Do Atheists Refuse to Believe in God? I say this: it’s not that I refuse to believe in your God as much as I don’t see evidence for him/her/it. As an Evangelical Christian, my sight was blinded by faith and dogma. Today, my eyes are wide open. All it takes for me to believe in the Christian God is evidence for his existence and proof that the Bible is what Evangelicals claim it is. Bruce, you must have “faith.” Just believe! And therein lies the problem. If there is one thing I can’t do, it is have faith in a deity I have never seen or heard. But, Bruce, GOD IS REAL! To that, I respond, show me. I refuse to take your word for it. Surely, the evidence for the existence of the Christian God is overwhelming, right? John allegedly said of Jesus in John 21:25:

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.

Not even the world itself could contain the books that should be written about Jesus’ works, yet all we have is one contradictory compilation of books called the Bible. If Jesus is all the Bible says he is, surely there would be more evidence to support these claims. Instead, there’s a paucity of evidence, and it is this lack of evidence that keeps me an atheist.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheists Live Purposeless, Meaningless Lives

During my debate with Bill Nye “the Science Guy” on February 4, 2014, Bill was asked where matter came from. In his answer he said it was a great mystery, but he loved the “joy of discovery” as he pursued such questions. In my responses to Bill’s answers, I asked him why the joy of discovery mattered to him. I explained that from Bill’s perspective, life is the result of natural processes and there is no biblical God, so when he dies, he won’t even know he ever existed or knew anything. Then, when others who knew him die, they won’t know they ever knew him, either. Eventually, from his perspective of naturalism, the whole universe will die and no one will ever know they ever existed. So what is the purpose of this “joy of discovery”? Really, the naturalistic view of life is ultimately purposeless and meaningless!

Think about the well-known atheist Richard Dawkins. Why does he spend so much time writing and speaking against Someone (God) he doesn’t believe exists? Why is he so aggressive against biblical Christianity? In an ultimately purposeless and meaningless existence, why does it matter to him if people believe in the God of the Bible and the account of creation as outlined in Genesis? Why bother fighting against such people when, from his perspective, eventually no one will even know they ever existed?

They claim that they care about people and argue that believing in creation is harmful to society. But something deeper is going on. They aren’t fighting for the truth, but suppressing it.

….

Really then, when Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins, and others so aggressively oppose biblical Christianity, what they are doing is this. They are covering their ears and closing their eyes and saying, “I refuse to submit to the God who created me. I refuse to acknowledge that God is the creator. I refuse to accept that I’m a sinner in need of salvation. I want to write my own rules! Therefore I must oppose anything that pricks my conscience and aggressively suppress the truth to justify my rebellion.”

….

So why do these who so aggressively oppose Christianity care? They care because they are desperately trying to justify their rebellion against the truth. They don’t want to admit that they are sinners in need of salvation and thus need to submit to the God who created them and owns them.

— Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, Why Do Atheists Care?, January 1, 2015

Bruce, What was Your View on Homosexuality When You Were a Pastor?

god hates lgbtq people

I came of age in the early 1970s — an era when LGBTQ people were savaged if they dared to step out of their closets. The Stonewall riots, June 28-29, 1969, outraged my parents and their fellow Fundamentalist Christians. How dare the queers/faggots/sodomites/dykes/homos/perverts show their faces in public. How dare they demand to be treated as humans. Don’t they know that the Bible condemns sodomy? Why it even says that God has given homosexuals over to reprobate minds. My pastors and other Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers deeply influenced what I believed about LGBTQ people. Supposedly, all sins were the same, but their preaching betrayed the fact that they believed homosexuality was a sin above all others. I can’t tell you the times I heard preachers rail against homosexuality, calling for the arrest, incarceration and, in some cases, execution of such “sinners.” LGBTQ people were widely considered child molesters. the worst of the worst.

In 1976, I packed up my meager belongings and headed off to train for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Nothing I heard in my classes or from the chapel pulpit changed my view of homosexuals. I lived in the college dormitory. I was shocked to learn that one of my teachers — a single man who lived in the dorm — was a homosexual. Not only that, several students who had effeminate tendencies were his roommates. Why didn’t the college do anything about this? I wondered at the time. As I now look back on the two years I spent in Midwestern’s dorm, I have concluded that there were more than a few gay men and lesbian women. Deeply closeted, these devoted followers of Jesus suffered all sorts of indignities at the hands of heterosexual Jesus-lovers. I wish I could say that my hands are clean, but they are not.

In the early 1980s — as I was busy pastoring IFB churches — I heard that a high school acquaintance of mine had died of AIDS. I remembered the “rumors” about him. His employment and close friendship with his deeply closeted gay boss troubled me, but I thought, “John seems ‘normal’ to me. He’s not a faggot.” John, not his real name, was indeed gay, and sadly, he was one of the early casualties of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This angered me, and along with several of my friends, we blamed his gay boss for his death. “He preyed on John and turned him to a queer,” we thought at the time.  I now know different. John was a gay man, not because of his boss, but because that’s who he was.

I entered the ministry a homophobe. I preached against homosexuality, labeling it as my pastors and professors had done: a heinous crime against human nature. My view of homosexuality was only reinforced by a pedophile homosexual man who started attending our church so he could prey on young boys. I was unaware of his predatory ways until a church member told me that the man was inviting church boys to spend the weekend with him out on his farm. I went nuts when I heard this, and in short order, I confronted the man and told him that I knew what he was and he was no longer welcome at our church. In retrospect, I should have called law enforcement. Instead, Pastor Bruce, the moral enforcer, took care of things.

In the late 1980s, I started a private, tuition-free school for the children of church members. Bruce, the moral enforcer, made sure that Biblical morality was taught to every student. It was bad enough that these children had to listen to my moralizing on Sundays, now they had to put up with it Monday through Friday too. Of course, I failed in my mission. Years later, I learned that some of the students were “fornicating.” I know, shock, right? Teenagers, with raging hormones, having sex! Here’s the kicker, out of fifteen students, today two of them are gay men and one woman is a lesbian. That means the twenty-percent of the study body was gay. WTF, Bruce, all that anti-homo preaching, and they STILL turned out gay! Since de-converting, I have had the privilege of reacquainting myself with several of these students. I apologized to them for what they heard me say about LGBTQ from the pulpit. My words were hurtful, yet they quietly suffered, knowing that the day was coming when they would escape the grip of Bruce, the moralizer.christians condemn gays

My view of LGBTQ people began to change in 1995. I was between pastorates, so I took a job with Charley’s Steakery as the general manager of their Zanesville, Ohio location. Located in Colony Square Mall, we offered mall employees free refills on their soft drinks. Several times a week, a gay man would come to the restaurant to get a free refill. The first time he handed me his cup, I panicked, thinking, I am going to get AIDS! For the first few times, after I refilled his cup, I would vigorously wash my hands after doing so. Had to wash off the cooties, I thought at the time. After a few weeks of this, I began being more comfortable around this man. He and I would chat about all sorts of things. I found out that he was quite “normal.” This, of course, messed with my view of the world.

While I am sure numerous LGBTQ people came through my life before I refilled this man’s drink cup, he was the first gay man I had really engaged in friendly, meaningful discussion. And it was at this point in my life that my view about homosexuality began to change. I didn’t stop being a homophobe overnight, but step by step over the next decade, I stumbled away from the homophobic rhetoric that had dominated my life for many years.

Today, I am loathed by local Evangelicals for my support of LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage. I am sure former congregants hear of my pro-gay views and they wonder what happened to hellfire and brimstone homophobe Pastor Bruce? All I can say is that a chance meeting at a fountain machine in a fast food restaurant between Bruce, the moralizer, and a gay man changed my life forever. And isn’t that how most moralizers become more temperate? When you personally know a gay person, it’s hard to condemn him to the fires of Hell. It’s easy to preach against homosexuality when everyone — as far as you know, anyway — is heterosexual. It’s when you have some skin in the game, when you actually know an LGBTQ person, that things change. Exposure to people different from you and cultures different from yours remains the best cure Fundamentalist Christianity.

How about you? Are you a former homophobe? What caused you to change your mind? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: Old Testament Responsible for More Unbelief Than Any Book Ever Written

winnie-the-pooh

The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief — call it what you will — than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counter-attractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course.

A. A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh

Is Religion a Powerful Narcotic?

getting high on Jesus

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

— Karl Marx

One need only study world religions to understand that religion is a powerful force in our world — for good and evil. Marx rightly compared religion to opium — a powerful narcotic used to relieve pain, both physically and psychologically. Religion, in all its forms, is used by humans to find purpose, meaning, peace, and happiness. Ultimately, people worship deities because doing so benefits them in some way or the other. A good way to look at religion is from an economic perspective. Every religion has a cost attached to it. Sometimes those costs are clear: time, money, commitment. Other times, religion extracts psychological or emotional costs. Some religions, such as Evangelical Christianity, Mormonism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, require an abandonment of self and total commitment to God and the church. I spent 50 years in the Christian church. Twenty-five of those years were spent pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I can’t even begin to calculate the cost of my devotion to the Evangelical Jesus. Much of my time and money were spent in devotion to a deity whom I believed was the one true God, the creator and ruler over all. I abandoned self as I “followed the Lamb of God.” I willingly sacrificed my marriage and family, living in poverty and doing without for my God’s sake. Why would anyone live as I did?

Yes, serving Jesus was costly, but the benefits far outweighed the costs — or so I thought at the time, anyway. Through my religious beliefs, experiences, and practices, I found happiness, peace, and meaning. I had the privilege of preaching the gospel and teaching others the “truths” of the Christian Bible. I was loved and respected, and there never was a day when I didn’t feel God’s presence in my life. Oh, sometimes it seemed God was distant, but more often than not, the Christian deity was an ever-present reality.

It matters not whether Christianity is true; that its core beliefs are rational and reasonable. All that mattered, as a Christian, is that I thought these beliefs were true. Countless people believe all sorts of things that are untrue, but they believe them to be true, so in their minds, they are. While believing in the Christian God extracted from me a high cost, one I am paying to this day, for most of my life I believed the benefits of religious faith outweighed its costs.

Marx thought religion gave people false happiness. That said, he never underestimated its power, its ability to meet the deep needs of the human psyche. Atheists often wrongly believe that the solution to the ills of the world is for people to abandon their superstitions and embrace rationality rooted in reason, science, and intellectual inquiry. What atheists forget is that what humans want more than anything else is happiness. Until rationalists, freethinkers, and humanists show that their godless way of life leads to purpose, meaning, and happiness, we can’t expect religious people to buy what we are selling. We know that people don’t need to toke religious crack to feel happy and fulfilled, but we will never argue people into understanding this. Like it or not, feelings play a big part in the human experience. Life is short, and then we die. Religion offers a powerful drug that lessens the pain of that reality. We secularists must offer the same.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: Atheism is not a Philosophy by Sam Harris

sam harris

Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious. In fact, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. No one needs to identify himself as a “non-astrologer” or a “non-alchemist.” We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.

— Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation (2006)

You can purchase Letter to a Christian Nation here.

How to Evangelize Evangelicals

whining evangelical

I am of the opinion that Evangelical Christianity is, overall, psychologically, socially, educationally, and politically harmful. This has become increasingly clear now that Evangelical beliefs are front and center in debates over global warming, same-sex marriage, LGBTQ civil rights, abortion, immigration, and a host of other issues. If Evangelicalism were all about personal salvation and piety, I would have no need to write this post, but since many Evangelicals are Heaven-bent on establishing the Kingdom of their God on earth and forcing the moral and immoral teachings of the Bible on all of us, it is imperative that atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-Evangelicals find effective ways to combat Evangelical influence, dominance, and control.

Far too many atheists think that the best way to reach Evangelicals is to argue with them, post anti-Christian memes, or engage in monkey-esqe shit-throwing contests on social media. While these types of activities might make atheists feel good or elicit laughs, they do nothing when it comes to turning back the Evangelical horde. The primary reason this is so is that Evangelicals are conditioned to believe that attacks and harassment from unbelievers are persecution. Evangelicals are taught to view such persecution as the normal part of living a godly life in a wicked, sin-filled world. 2 Timothy 3:12 says: Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. Remember this the next time you feel inclined to put an Evangelical in his place. You are just feeding his persecution complex when you do. While it might make you feel good in the moment to gut a creationist on social media, ask yourself, what is it that I have accomplished by doing so? If the goal is societal transformation, then rational freethinkers and secularists must find effective ways to evangelize Evangelicals.

The purpose of this blog is to help people who have doubts about Christianity or who have already left Christianity. My goal has NEVER been to evangelize Evangelical zealots or apologists. I see myself as a facilitator, helping people on this journey we call life. If I can help someone move away from Fundamentalist thinking (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists? ) then I have done my job, even if that person ultimately doesn’t become an atheist. I feel no compulsion, as Evangelicals do, to make atheists of all nations. That said, it would be dishonest of me to not admit that I desire to see bloom an atheistic, humanistic, secularistic world; one devoid of religious superstition. The question then, for me, is how best to evangelize questioning, doubting Evangelicals. And believe me, Evangelicalism is a huge mission field, one with millions and millions of people who have serious questions and doubts about their beliefs and practices. The percentage of Americans who are atheists, agnostics, or indifferent towards organized religions (nones) continues to grow. Younger Americans, in particular, have had enough of Evangelicalism and its incessant moralizing and culture war. Recent revelations about sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement have caused countless young and old Evangelicals to leave their churches. Spilling onto the internet, these doubting, questioning, disaffected Christians are looking for help and answers. I want this blog to be one place where such people can find help.

Evangelical zealots and apologists find my writing offensive. Their minds are closed off to any view but their own. That’s why I don’t spend time engaging diehard Evangelicals. Doing so is a colossal waste of time. Such people arrogantly believe that they are absolutely right. Armed with supernatural truth — the Bible — given to them by a supernatural God, Evangelical zealots believe it is their duty to take the word of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible to the ends of the earth. Years ago, I told my counselor that I didn’t understand why Evangelical zealots didn’t accept my story at face value. I naively thought that if I just told my story they would understand where I was coming from. My counselor chuckled and replied, “Bruce, you assume they give a shit about what you think. They don’t!” Needless to say, my naiveté was forever shattered. And it is for this reason, I don’t argue with Evangelical zealots. Per the comment rules, such people are given one opportunity to say whatever it is they want to say. After that, it is time for them to move on. It’s people with doubts and questions that interest me, not people who are taking daily intravenous injections of Fundamentalist Kool-Aid.

I have found that the most effective way to evangelize Evangelicals is for me to simply tell my story. I was part of the Christian church for fifty years, and spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I pastored churches affiliated with the IFB church movement, Southern Baptist Convention, Sovereign Grace Baptists, Christian Union, along with a nondenominational church. I trained for the ministry in the 1970s at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an IFB institution. I attended countless preacher’s meetings and conferences, and after I left the ministry in 2005, my wife and I visited over 100 churches. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) My life experiences have given me a story to tell, and it is that story that resonates with doubting, questioning Evangelicals. I am humbled that that thousands of people read this blog each day, most of whom will never leave a comment. I know of numerous other non-Evangelical writers who have taken a similar tack, and they, too, attract a large number of readers. If my email is any indication, the story-telling approach is working.

If you are a former Evangelical and you want to help people who have doubts and questions, I encourage you to tell your story. Either start a blog or write a guest post. Your story matters. Thousands of people lurk in the shadows of this blog. Telling your story just might be the thing that helps them to finally see the bankruptcy of Evangelicalism. If you need help setting up a blog or would like to write a guest post, please send me an email via the contact page. I am here to help.

Another way to effectively reach Evangelicals is to get them to read books that challenge their core beliefs. Personally, I try not to get into doctrinal debates with Evangelicals, choosing instead to attack the foundation upon which their house stands: the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Protestant Christian Bible. Successfully destroy the foundation, and down comes the house. Take debating creationists. It’s almost impossible to deliver them from their delusions, from the notion that the universe is 6,023 years old. Why? Biblical inspiration and inerrancy demand that they accept Genesis 1-3 as “science,” and reject anything that doesn’t conform to the creationist worldview. Ken HamAnswers in GenesisCreation Museum, and the Ark Encounter — a colossal monument to Evangelical ignorance — all testify to what happens when one embraces inerrancy (and literalism). Challenge their beliefs about the Bible, interjecting questions and doubts, and it then becomes easier to rebuff their creationist beliefs. Once this is accomplished, other beliefs can then be successfully challenged.

I have found that Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books are often effective in disabusing Evangelicals of their beliefs about the nature of the Bible. Once an Evangelical doubts that the Bible is inspired and inerrant, the church door is open and he has taken his first step towards freedom.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

Let me leave you with one more way we can evangelize Evangelicals. As Evangelicals, we were taught the importance of our “testimony” before the world. Think of all the nasty, arrogant, hateful Evangelical zealots who have visited this blog and commented over the years. Have their words not testified to the worthlessness of that which they preach? Their words speak volumes, do they not? The same can be said of the preachers who are featured in the Black Collar Crime series. What’s the takeaway here? That how we live is far more important than what we say. If we fail to practice what we preach, our words are worthless. Atheists, who typically follow the humanist ideal, need to understand that Evangelical doubters and questioners are watching how we live our lives. They want to see if atheism/humanism has made any difference in our lives. They want to see what it is that moves us, gives us purpose and meaning, and helps us get through the day. If we truly want to evangelize Evangelicals, then our lives must testify that there is a better way; that love, kindness, happiness, and fulfillment can be had without kowtowing to a mythical deity; that freedom rests not in religious dogma, but in rational, skeptical living.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Bruce, Have You Ever Had Any “Miracles” Happen in Your Life?

miracle working god

Recently, a reader by the name of Jay asked me:

I struggle with my faith often.

But when I think of the times that my life has been spared I can’t /won’t shrug it off to coincidence.

Have you ever had miracles happen in your life? Have you ever or a family or friend come out of situation that could not be explained?

Do you believe in miracles?

I was in the Christian church for fifty years, and I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five of those years. For most of my life, I believed the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. I believed God heard and answered my prayers, and in some instances miraculously intervened in my life. According to my worldview at the time, God was a supernatural being who supernaturally intervened in my life on a daily basis. He was very much of a hands-on deity. I preached thousands of sermons, believing that the words that I spoke came straight from God himself. God worked in and through me, and, at times, did things I couldn’t even imagine. Miracles, right?

During much of 2007 and 2008, I undertook a painful and thorough examination of my life and beliefs. In November 2008, I concluded that I could no longer in good conscience call myself a Christian. In early 2009, I sent a letter to my family, friends, and former parishioners that detailed my loss of faith. It was not long after, that I began calling myself an atheist.

One area I paid close attention to during the deconversion process was answered prayers and miracles. I claimed that God had answered my prayers countless times and had worked miracles in my life. Could these things withstand rational, skeptical scrutiny? (Please see Prayer: Explaining the UnexplainableDoes Praying for the Sick and Dying Make Any Difference?A Few Thoughts on a Lifetime of Praying to the Christian God) After countless hours spent combing through the minutiae of my life, I concluded that most of the answered prayers and miracles in my life could be explained away solely through human means and intervention. In other words, the prayer-answering, miracle-working God I worshipped most of my life was, in fact, quite fallible and human.

But, Bruce, shouldn’t these unexplainable things be called miracles? Shouldn’t you give God his due for answering one out of a million prayers and throwing a miracle bone or two your way? You know, all praise to Jesus for saving one out of four hundred passengers in a plane crash; for saving a Bible while a tornado destroyed everything else in its path; for healing a cancer patient here and there?

In any other setting, someone with such a miserably low success rate would be fired or kicked off the team. The Christian God, truth be told, is batting well below the Mendoza line — a below .200 baseball average. Instead of praising Jesus for occasionally coming through, perhaps there are a few questions that need to be asked.

First, how can we know for certain something is a miracle? Are we to assume that anything we can’t understand or explain is a miracle? Second, how can we know for certain that what we called miracles were performed by some sort of God? Third, how can we know for certain that the God who worked these miracles was the Christian God? Humans have worshiped countless deities over the centuries. How can anyone know for sure that their God is one true miracle-working God? Set the Bible aside for a moment and try to clear your mind of whatever religious indoctrination clutters your thoughts. Does it sound reasonable to say that the “unexplainable” is best explained by attributing credit to a deity no one has ever seen? Or, does it make more sense to explain what we call miracles by saying, “I don’t know.”

I am comfortable with saying, “I don’t know.” I don’t have to have an explanation for everything that happens in my life. Using the Bible and religious dogma to “explain” such things is a cop-out. It allows people to avoid accounting for the unexplainable by saying, “God did it!” I would say to Jay and others like him who are struggling with their faith: “Carefully examine your life. Examine whether what you call answered prayer or miracles can be explained by or through human means. Once you complete this examination, ask yourself, should I still think of the Christian God as a prayer-answering, miracle-working deity?” I think you will find the answer is NO. Now, this doesn’t mean that you are an atheist. Many people, after such careful self-examination, become deists, believing that there is a creator God of some sort who set everything into motion and then said, “there ya go folks, do with it what you will.”  What you can be certain of is this: the personal God of countless Christians who is involved in their day-to-day lives hearing and answering prayers and working miracles is a myth; that we are each accountable for our own lives, and that humans collectively, according to the humanist ideal, have an obligation to make the world a better place to live.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Road to Atheism is Littered with Well-Read Bibles

andrew-seidel-quote

One of the charges Evangelical apologists love to level against atheists is that they don’t really know what the Bible says and teaches; that atheists are ignorant of that which they criticize. While it is certainly true that some atheists know very little about the Bible, the same can’t be said of ex-pastors such as myself, John LoftusDan BarkerDavid Madison, and the members of the Clergy Project. Nor can it be said of countless atheists who were formerly devoted followers of Jesus Christ; former Evangelicals who daily read and studied their Bibles and attended church every time the doors were open; former Evangelicals who devoured books on Christian theology and loved to talk about the teachings of the Bible. Such people know the Bible inside and out. Their paths from Evangelicalism to atheism are littered with well-worn, dog-eared Bibles. (Please see the From Evangelicalism to Atheism series.)

Many Evangelical apologists believe that only through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can one truly understand the teachings of the Bible. Thus, a one-time Evangelical such as Dr. Bart Ehrman may have an academic understanding of the Bible, but he can’t really “know” the depths and intricacies of its teachings. This line of argument, of course, is an attempt to dismiss out of hand criticisms of the Bible by atheists and other non-Christians. Evidently, the moment I said I was no longer a Christian, everything I learned about the Bible during the fifty years I spent in the church and twenty-five years I spent in the ministry disappeared in some sort of supernatural Men in Black mind wipe. Thoughtful Evangelicals realize the absurdity of this argument and refrain from using it, but alas many Evangelical zealots aren’t “thoughtful.” In their minds, atheists are the enemies of God, reprobates, apostates, and haters of God, the Bible, and Christianity. No matter what we might have known in the past, now that we are followers of Satan, our minds and intellectual processes are ruined. No atheist can know as much about the Bible as a Spirit-filled Evangelical, or so they think anyway.

Does it really take the Holy Spirit to know and understand the teachings of the Bible? Of course not. And it is absurd to argue otherwise. The Bible is a book, no different from the QuranBook of Mormon, or Huckleberry Finn. Any claims made for its supernatural nature require faith, a faith that is unnecessary to have when it comes to understanding the Bible. If a person can read, is he or she not able to understand what the Bible says? Don’t Evangelicals themselves admit this fact when Gideons hand out Bibles and non-Christians are encouraged to read the gospels? If the teachings of the Bible cannot be naturally understood without some sort of Holy Ghost magic, why challenge unbelievers to read the wrongly-called Good Book?

I suspect the real issue is that when atheists read the Bible, they are free from the constraints of doctrinal statements, systematic theologies, and hermeneutics. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard about reading the Bible came from Dr. Ehrman, who suggested reading each book of the Bible as a stand-alone text. Let the author speak for himself. Of course, such readings of the Bible destroy attempts by Evangelical apologists to harmonize the Bible — to make all the disparate, contradictory parts “fit.” Go back and read the first three chapters of the book of Genesis without appealing to parlor tricks used to make the text mesh with what Trinitarian Evangelicals believe about God and creation. A fair-minded reader might conclude that there are multiple gods. An excellent book on this subject is The Evolution of God by Robert Wright.

Over the course of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I read the Bible from cover to cover numerous times. I spent thousands of hours reading and studying the Bible, and thousands of more hours reading theological tomes. Even today, a decade removed from the last time I darkened the doors of a Christian church, I still have a mind brimming with Bible verses and things I learned as an Evangelical pastor. One of the ironies of the health problems I have, with its attendant memory problems, is that I tend to have problems with short-term memory, not long-term. Thus, I can’t remember that recent Christopher Hitchens quote I read, but I can remember a quote by Charles Spurgeon or John MacArthur from decades ago. Believe me, there are days when I wish I could flush my mind of all the religious nonsense that clutters up its space. So much wasted mental real estate . . .

The reasons I divorced Jesus are many. I have spent countless hours writing about why I am no longer a Christian. That said, the primary reason I am an atheist today is the Bible. As I began to have questions and doubts about the central claims of Christianity, I decided to re-read and study the Bible, determining what it was I really believed. I found that many of my beliefs were false or grounded in narrowly defined theological frameworks that could not be sustained intellectually. Once I let the Bible speak for itself, my Evangelical house came tumbling to the ground. I tried, for a time, to find a resting spot that allowed me to hang on to some sort of Christian faith. Alas, I did not find these things satisfying intellectually. Eventually, my slide down the slippery slope landed me where I am today — a committed agnostic and atheist.

At the very least, Evangelical apologists should grudgingly admit that many Evangelicals-turned-atheists know the Bible as well they do. Now if we could get apologists to know and understand atheism/agnosticism/humanism as well as many ex-Evangelicals know the Bible, that would be great. People such as myself have a distinct advantage over many Evangelical apologists. We have lived on both sides of the street. We have read atheist authors and Christian ones. That’s why, when an Evangelical wants to argue with me about the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, I ask them, have you read any of Bart Ehrman’s books? If they haven’t, I don’t waste my time with them. Their problem is one of ignorance, and until they are willing to do their homework, there’s really no hope for them.

I will forever, until dementia or death robs me of my mind, remain a student and reader of the Bible.  My reasons for doing so are different today from what they were when I was pastoring churches, but my goal remains the same: to help people see and understand the truth.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

How the Christian Practice of Absolute Forgiveness Harms Others

mennonite-child-molester

The Toledo Blade recently published a story about how some Amish and Mennonite communities expect victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and other crimes to forgive their attackers and forget the crimes ever happened. Practicing absolute forgiveness, these faith communities expect congregants to forgive regardless of what harm is caused and whether perpetrators are truly sorry for their crimes. The Toledo Blade story focuses on a woman who was excommunicated from her conservative Mennonite church because she refused to forgive her husband — a man who repeatedly sexually molested their daughters over the years. Astoundingly, the Sunday after this woman was excommunicated, her church, with arms opened wide, welcomed her husband back into the church.

After local law enforcement became aware of the husband’s criminal sexual behavior, he confessed his “sins” and was sentenced to five years of probation and 15 years on Pennsylvania’s sex offender registry. You would think that the husband would be penitent and understand why his wife no longer wanted her children anywhere near him. Unfortunately, as is often the case with sex crimes that have a religious component, the husband didn’t truly see the depth of harm he caused:

They held a seminar, and they talked about how that is sin, and I did want to be free before God and confess it and get freedom, Shirk, now 50, said in an April interview. I didn’t want something hid that should have been confessed and taken care of.

I did confession in church and made the confession in church and everybody stood and said they forgave me. I thought it was all good, but I found out that doesn’t make everybody happy.

[He laughed.]

After that, I found out a lot of people carry a lot of hatred for that sin and it’s hard for people to forgive.

….

This got way out of hand. For a little bit of touching that I did wrong. I know that it can be a big emotional thing for the girl, and it can affect their life ever after and stuff like that, and I don’t want to belittle what I did.

“There is no forgiveness for one thing. The state has no forgiveness, and therefore the church has no forgiveness, because the state is on their case that they’ll put the preacher in jail if they don’t report it.

I believe what they’re [the state] doing to men is way far worse. I mean, my daughters that I molested, yeah, as far as I know they are living a normal life. But I sure am not.

The husband continues to try to reconnect with his wife, saying:

I wouldn’t expect a woman to live with a man who is drunk and beating on her. I wouldn’t expect that. But when the church has gotten together and said this man [a convicted child molester] needs forgiveness, it would have been in her place to do that.

As you can see from the husband’s comments, he lacks remorse and contrition, and when it comes right down to it, he doesn’t think what he did is so bad. Hey, at least he didn’t beat his wife and the daughters he molested are living “normal” lives, right? The husband even went so far as to question his wife relationship with God, saying, “I just don’t understand how that [not being reconciled] is going to work out on Judgment Day.” The wife joined another conservative Mennonite church, and while she has been encouraged by them to reconcile with her husband, they have not pressed the matter with her. I am sure some readers are thinking, “WHAT THE FUCK! Why doesn’t she divorce her child-molester husband?” Well, the answer is quite simple: conservative Mennonite congregations do not permit divorce, and doing so would be immediate grounds for excommunication.

Generally, forgiving others is a good idea. Forgiveness fosters peace and helps reconcile people who are at odds with one another. However, practicing absolute forgiveness can and does cause harm, and as this story shows, it allows people to escape responsibility for their behavior. Our goal in life should be to live in ways that don’t require forgiveness, and when we do cause harm to someone, to quickly make amends or restitution. It is up to the person harmed, then, to grant forgiveness. Absolute forgiveness wrongly requires absolution regardless of whether the offender makes things right.

I saw this kind of forgiveness expectation practiced numerous times over the fifty years I spent in the Christian church. Private “sins” were expiated simply by the penitent confessing their bad behavior to God. The Bible says in 1 John 1:9If we [Christians] confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God promises to cleanse Christians from any and all sin if they will but ask him to do so. And if Christian’s ask, God wipes their sin slates clean, giving them the equivalent of a divine do-over. A sweet deal if you can get it, right?

When Christians commit public “sins” — behaviors that cause public shame to Jesus and his church — they are often brought before congregational leaders or fellow church members and expected to publicly confess their sins. Once the sinner has confessed his sins, he is absolved, and as in the case of private sins, his sin slate of wiped clean.

Whether a person is forgiven by Jesus of private or public sins, it matters not. Once forgiven — and exactly how is that determined? — congregants, including family, spouse, and children, are expected to absolutely forgive the person. Failing to do so is seen as bitterness or pride. I know of several instances where husbands abused their wives, confessed their “sins” before the church, and were granted forgiveness. Their wives were expected to forgive them and move on with life, living with men who just weeks before physically and psychologically abused them. In at least two instances that I know of, abusive husbands were welcomed back into their churches, while their wives were excommunicated for having bitter, judgmental spirits.

Even heinous crimes such as sexual abuse and rape are far too often covered over with expectations of absolute forgiveness. A recent story in the Houston Chronicle revealed that there are dozens of Southern Baptist churches who welcomed sex offenders back into their membership after their convictions. These churches KNEW these men were sex offenders, yet with arms open wide, they said, We forgive you, brother. Welcome to our church. I saw this same behavior on several occasions with Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. One man, a church bus worker, was caught sexually abusing a teen boy in the church’s basement. He was forgiven by the church and escaped jail time for his crime. Twenty years later, the man was given access to children again, and as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, he sexually abused another child. This time, the man did time for his crime. While the church forgave him, they would not permit him to continue attending their services. With the blessing of his pastor and church leaders, the man joined a nearby IFB church, and to this day can be found there “faithfully” serving Jesus. Astoundingly, his wife — taught by her pastors that there are no grounds for divorce — is still with him.

Whether to forgive should be up to the person harmed. While forgiving others is generally a good idea, churches that demand forgiveness in all circumstances cause harm to people who cannot or are not ready to do so. The act of forgiveness rests with the person harmed. In the case of spousal abuse, child abuse, and sex crimes, churches which demand that victims absolutely forgive their attackers often revictimize and inflict further pain on women and children (and in some instances, men). Victims must be given the space to process what happened to them on their own terms. And if they, for some reason, cannot or will not absolve abusers of their crimes, churches and pastors should accept their decision.

I grew up in a religious culture where absolute forgiveness was expected, regardless of the seriousness of the bad behavior or crime. One of the freeing moments of my life was realizing that I didn’t have to forgive my grandparents (my mother’s father and stepmother) for what they did to me personally, and to my mother and our family in general. My grandparents were go-to-church-three-times-a-week Fundamentalist Christians. Grandpa was a violent drunk before he got saved. After asking Jesus to forgive him of his sins, Grandpa was transformed into a “wonderful” Christian who still was quite violent. And Grandma was not without her own demons. (Please see Dear Ann) Publicly, they were viewed by others as super-duper Christians who loved Jesus with all their heart, soul, and mind. And maybe they did, but underneath their religious veneer lived people prone to psychological and physical abuse.

blood of jesus

Years before my mother’s tragic suicide (Please see Barbara), she tried to confront her dad over him sexually abusing her as a child. He told my mom that his past had been forgiven by Jesus and his sins were washed away by the blood of Jesus. He intimated to Mom that if Jesus had forgiven him, so should she. Needless to say, Mom was in no mood to forgive her child molester father. Nor did she plan to forgive his wife, a woman who caused untold heartache and pain. Years later, I reached a place where I had enough of my grandparents’ passive-aggressive behavior. I made it known that I was no longer interested in having a relationship with them. And with that, my grandparents were excised from my life and that of my family. Or so I thought anyway.

In 2003, I moved to Clare, Michigan and became the pastor of a small, struggling Southern Baptist church. One Sunday, as I was preaching, I glanced up and looked out the windows at the back of the building. I was shocked to see my grandmother sitting in her car with her new husband. (Grandpa had miserably died several years before of colon cancer.) I had a Christian version of a WTF moment, and sure enough, after the service my grandmother came up to me as if nothing had ever happened and told me she was living near me with her new hubby and asked if my family and I wanted to have dinner with them sometime. At that moment, I was dying inside, wanting to verbally reduce her to the pile of shit she was. Unfortunately, congregants were standing nearby, so I said, “sure.” Always play the part, Bruce. Always play the part. Several church members told me that they used to attend church with my grandmother. She is a wonderful Christian woman, they said. I responded, there are two sides to every story. Later, I would feel guilty over not forgiving her, so I spent time in prayer asking God to forgive me for being angry and bitter towards my grandmother.

Cleansed of my “sin,” I decided to try to forge a new relationship with my grandmother and her new husband. Polly dreaded doing so, remembering how awful my grandparents were towards her and our children. I played the “what would Jesus do” card, and off to my grandmother’s home we went — which was, ironically, a mile or so away from our home. During our dinner discussion, my grandmother decided to share a family secret that had laid buried for over fifty years: that my father was not my biological father. Granted, I had begun to question my paternity, and have since concluded that my “real” father was likely my mother’s cousin, but it was not my grandmother’s place to share this secret over dinner and in the presence of my wife and children. Why she decided to do this, I’ll never know. This was the last time I ever talked to her. Several months later, we moved back to Ohio, and outside of my grandmother trying to contact me on Facebook, I have had no contact with her. I sent her my Dear Ann article. She never responded. Of course not, it is all under the blood, buried in the deepest seas, never to be remembered again.

As an atheist and a humanist, I have learned that it is okay to not forgive some people; that some people, such as my grandparents, don’t deserve forgiveness; that them going to their graves unforgiven is just punishment for their crimes and ill-behavior. When my grandfather died, I felt nothing and shed not a tear. I was faulted for not attending his funeral, but I didn’t care. I knew it would be an act of Fundamentalist masturbation over his rotting corpse. I would hear wonderful tales about the man, the myth, the legend; the soulwinner who daily sought to evangelize the lost; the man who loved Jesus more than the world. We would not be told, as Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.”

I am fine with people thinking I am unforgiving; that I should make peace with my grandparents. My grandparents are bad people. No matter how many times they attended church, sang hymns, won souls, and gave money to the church, they were still, at least to family, nasty, judgmental, mean, and violent; guilty of behavior that would land them in jail if they did these things today. Life is too short to spend it around such people. If they need forgiveness, let them ask God for it. As their grandson and the son of the dear woman they physically and psychologically brutalized, I have no intention of granting them pardon. My grandfather is dead. Good riddance. Soon, my grandmother will meet her end too. I shall not weep, except, perhaps, for those harmed by their behavior. Too bad there’s not a Hell. If there were, I know two people who deserve first-class accommodations.

Were you taught that you must, in all circumstances, absolutely forgive? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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