Atheism

Quote of the Day: The “Angry” Atheist

angry atheist

Karen, the Rock Whisperer, recently left the following comment on the post titled Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheists are Joyless and Angry:

I’m not joyless, but at the moment I’m pretty angry, Mr. Sorensen. The orange nutjob you and your people elected as our current US president is transparently evil, and has set about ruining the country as fast as he can along with the equally evil senators your people have elected, and your equally evil congresspeople who fortunately don’t have a majority right now.

I’m angry that you want to deny civil rights to me and other women, in total disregard of our bodily autonomy. I’m angry that your people latch onto pseudoscience as a justification for denying us medical benefits (access to birth control and abortion) when other medical benefits are covered.

I’m angry that you want to deny civil rights to my LGBTQ+ friends, and everyone else in this country who flies under that wide label, because some Bronze Age tribe had issues with their members engaging in same-sex relations that might be considered spiritual acts by neighboring religions.

I’m angry that you consider cruel, torturous treatment of people attempting to enter this country, including and especially children, a good idea.

I’m angry that your religion encourages xenophobia in utter defiance of its own holy book, and you have the political might to spread xenophobia in our country.

I’m angry that you and your people consistently vote for, and encourage, the destruction of whatever fragile social service safety net is left in this country. People who are poor, old, disabled…they mean nothing to you, and you’d like nothing more than to punish them for their own existence, instead of supporting them and helping them become the best contributors to society that they can be.

So, yes, I’m angry, Mr. Sorensen. But it isn’t anger directed at your probably nonexistent deity, as much as you wish it were. It is anger directed at you and your co-religionists, who are doing your best to destroy the most lives you can in the shortest period of time. There are days when I truly wish there were a Hell. But when you ended up there, and asked Jesus when it was that you’d denied basic care to him, rather than answering you as the Bible story indicates I suspect he’d just cover his face with his hands. Sometimes even deities might run out of words in the face of utter, carefully cultivated, obtuseness.

Bruce, Were You Ever a “Real” Christian?

real christian

One of the common lines of attack Evangelical critics use against me is what is commonly called the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.  Rational Wiki explains the “No True Scotsman” fallacy:

The No True Scotsman (NTS) fallacy is a logical fallacy that occurs when a debater defends the generalization of a group by excluding counter-examples from it. For example, it is common to argue that “all members of [my religion] are fundamentally good”, and then to abandon all bad individuals as “not true [my-religion]-people”.

….

NTS can be thought of as a form of inverted cherry picking, where instead of selecting favourable examples, one rejects unfavourable ones. The NTS fallacy paves the path to other logical fallacies, such as letting the “best” member of a group represent it. Thanks to these remarkable qualities, the NTS fallacy is a vital tool in the promotion of denialism.

Simply put, “no matter what you say Bruce, you never were a REAL Christian.”

I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. At the age of fifteen, I made a public profession of faith at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Coming under the Holy Spirit’s conviction, I went forward during the invitation, knelt at the altar, repented of my sins, and asked Jesus to save me. Several weeks later, I went forward again and professed publicly to the church that I believed that God was calling me to preach. From that time forward — until I walked away from Christianity in November 2008 — my heart and mind were set on worshipping, serving, and following Jesus. I committed myself to daily prayer and reading and studying the Bible. At the age of nineteen, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. While at Midwestern, I met and dated the beautiful daughter of a Baptist preacher. We later married, had six children, and invested our lives in building churches, helping others, and evangelizing the lost. Simply put, we loved Jesus, and whatever the Holy Spirit led us to do, we did it — even if it cost us socially or economically.

That’s not to say that we were perfect Christians. We weren’t. Speaking for myself, I was temperamental, prone to mood swings that ranged from palpable excitement to brooding darkness. I now know that I was dealing with undiagnosed depression; that what I really needed was competent professional help. It took me more than a decade to see someone once I realized I needed help. Why so long? I grew up in a home with a mother who had serious mental health problems. (Please see Barbara.) I knew the shame that came from having a loved one who was viewed by others as “nuts” or “crazy.” I certainly wasn’t my mother — as my counselor has frequently reminded me — but I didn’t want my wife and children to have to bear the stigma of having a husband/parent who had mental problems. It was enough that they had to bear the brunt of my mood swings behind closed doors. I didn’t want them to bear that burden in public.

I am sure an Evangelical zealot or two is itching to ask, “Bruce, did you ever “sin” against God?” Silly boy, of course I did. I daily sinned in thought, word, and deed; sins of omission and sins of commission. Let me ask you the same question, “did you ever sin against God?” That’s what I thought. Of course you have. Whatever failures I had in my life, and they were many, doesn’t negate the fact that I loved Jesus (and the church) with my all my heart, soul, and mind. I spent the prime years of my life — ruining my health in the process — laboring day and night in God’s vineyard. I chose a life of poverty so I could provide the churches I pastored with a full-time preacher. There’s not one former congregant who can say of me that I didn’t give my all to the church; to preaching the gospel to sinners and teaching the saints the Word of God. Critics will search in vain for anyone who knew me at the time that would say of me, “Bruce was not a real Christian.” Several years ago, a woman who knows me quite well, told a family member, “if Butch (my family nickname) wasn’t a Christian, no one is!” And that’s my testimony too. There’s nothing in my story, when taken as a whole, that remotely suggests that I wasn’t a real Christian.

What happens, of course, is that my Evangelical critics skim over the book of my life, choosing instead to just read the last chapter; the chapter where Bruce, the Evangelical pastor is now Bruce, the atheist; the chapter where Bruce rejects, criticizes, and stands against everything he once believed; the chapter where it is clear to Bruce’s critics that he is a reprobate and apostate. After reading the last chapter, my critics conclude, “Bruce, you never were a real Christian.” Once critics come to this ill-informed conclusion, it is impossible to change their minds (and I no longer try to do so).

The biggest problem my critics face is their theology. Most Evangelicals, particularly Baptists, believe that once a person is saved, his salvation cannot be lost. Once adopted into the family of God and married to Jesus, you are forever a member of the Christian family. The Apostle Paul makes this clear in Romans 8:31-39:

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Jesus himself said in John 10:27-29:

 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

Did my long years as a Christian show that I was a sheep who had heard the voice of Jesus and followed him? Of course they did. If that is true, and it is, then based on the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, I was a born-from-above child of God who had been granted eternal life by God himself.

Many of my critics can’t bear to admit that I was ever a “real” Christian. They can’t bear to think of spending eternity in Heaven with me, an avowed atheist. So they take a lice comb to the hair of my life, looking for anything in my beliefs, practices, or conduct that reveals that I was not, according to their standard, a real Christian. Their minds are made up: I was a fake Christian. I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Never mind that the evidence of my lived life suggests otherwise. Instead of admitting the obvious, these keepers of the Book of Life strain at the gnat and swallow a camel finding ways to “prove” I wasn’t a real Christian.

On one hand, I agree with them. It is absurd to think that I am now a Christian, and that Heaven awaits me after I died. There’s nothing in my present life that remotely suggests that I am a follower of Jesus. A few critics, unable to square their theology with the sum of my life, take a different approach. According to them, I am still a Christian, and there’s nothing I can say or do to change that fact. This line of argument is equally absurd.

It is not up to me to help my critics make their theology fit the narrative of my life. All I know is this: I once was a Christian, and now I am not. I think of my life this way: At the age of fifteen, I married Jesus. We had thirty-five years of blissful marriage. However, at the age of fifty, I divorced Jesus, and fell in love with rationalism and freedom. When asked about my marriage to Jesus, I say, “all in all, we had a good life together.” There are times when I wistfully look at my marriage to Jesus and yearn for the “good old days.” Stupid thoughts, to be sure, knowing that humans tend to sanitize their past, ignoring or blocking out the bad things that happened. Sure, Jesus and I had a good life together, but he’s no match for my current lover. I could never go back to the leeks, onions, and bondage of Egypt, having tasted and enjoyed the wonder and freedom of the Promised Land.

Some readers, particularly lifelong atheists, often ask, “why does this matter to you, Bruce? The Christian God is a myth. Christianity is built on a foundation of lies. There’s no judgment, no Heaven, no Hell. Your life as a Christian was built on a fairytale!” As a godless heathen, I certainly agree with these sentiments. However, I WAS a devoted Christian for many years. I WAS a committed, sacrificial pastor for decades. It’s impossible to honestly and faithfully tell my story without sharing the fifty years I spent in the Christian church. Years ago, I had a social worker offer me some advice on how to write an effective résumé. She thought that my religious education and ministerial job history were turnoffs or red flags to many prospective employers. She suggested leaving these things off my résumé. I replied, “so what do you want me to do with the huge holes in my work history? Should I just put I was in prison for twenty-five years?” She was not amused.

My past is part of who I am. I can’t and won’t ignore the “Christian years” to make my story more palatable. Nor can I ignore the chapters that are presently being written. Are not all of us the sum of our experiences? Why is it we have no problem when someone says, “I was married and now I am divorced. Several months ago, I met someone who might be the right person for me.” That’s my life. I was married to Jesus, divorced him, and eleven years ago I met someone new; someone who has become just the right person for me. All I ask from Christians is that they accept my story at face value; that they allow me to tell my story honestly and openly without attempting to deconstruct my life. When Christians comment on this blog, I accept their claims of faith without question. Even when they promote bad theology or say contradictory things, I allow them to tell their stories on their own terms. If I have learned anything over the years it is this: there are millions of Christianities and millions of Jesuses. No two Christians believe the same things or worship Jesus in exactly the same way. To discern who is and isn’t a “real” Christian is an impossible task. Who am I to say to a follower of Jesus: you are NOT a real Christian. All of us bring unique books to story time. Mine just so happens to be one of devotion to Jesus and loss of faith. Regardless of what my critics say about my past, I know what I know. After all, who knows my life better than I do? And so it is with you.

Last week, I had a Christian contact me, asking for advice on how to set up a blog and how to rank well with search engines such as Google and Bing. I gave him some general advice. The first thing I told him is this: “I encourage everyone, Christian or not, to tell their story. Blogging is an excellent way to do so.” I am convinced that the best way to help others is by telling our stories. Sure, there’s a time and place for polemical writing; attacks on the text and teachings of the Bible. I am certainly more than willing to take an axe to the roots of Christianity and the Bible. However, I have learned, as a public speaker and a writer, that the most effective way to reach people is by telling my story. As such, this blog will always remain “one man with a story to tell.”

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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheists are Joyless and Angry

life without Jesus

Surveys have indicated that there is a group of people known as “nones”. That is, when asked if they hold to a particular church, denomination, or religion, they answer with “none”. Atheists cheer the belief that their hellish horde is growing, but that’s not necessarily the case. People who are in-between churches but still believe all the basic tenets of Christianity could still answer “none” [this is about as likely as creationism is true] but not be irreligious or anti-theistic.

Your typical village atheopath spends an inordinate amount of time and energy attacking the God that he or she claims does not exist. It is amazing to this child that many seek their identities in attacking the God they deny. These sidewinders along with other anti-creationists do not show knowledge of the biblical creation science claims that they misrepresent because they suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18-23). Indeed, they do not even show knowledge of rudimentary logic. When encountering atheists on social media (they frequently attack Christians and creationists) or in their anti-theist campaigns, we can easily see that they are typically joyless and angry. Such devotion to hatred of God is done religiously.

— Bob Sorensen, Evolutionary Truth by Piltdown Superman, Atheists are Indeed Religious, February 5, 2020

Why I Stopped Believing

why

Originally posted in February 2015. Edited, updated, and expanded.

Jason, an Evangelical Christian, asked:

What would cause someone with your Biblical education and years of preaching the Word of God not just claiming to be a Christian but also living it one day decide to not believe and do a 180 and turn your back on it?

While I deal with this question at length in the From Evangelicalism to Atheism series, today I want to give a short, condensed answer to this question.

People like Jason are often perplexed by how it possible for someone with my background and training to one day walk away the ministry and Christianity. Most of the clergy who deconvert do so at a much younger age, often in their 20s and 30s. In my case, I spent fifty years in the Christian church and I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years before I deconverted. When I started going to counseling, my counselor told me that it was quite rare for someone my age and with my experience to walk away from a lifetime of belief and work. It happens, just not very often.

Jason is not alone. A number of my ex-friends, former ministerial colleagues, family members, and former parishioners can’t understand how it is possible that the man they called Preacher or Pastor is now an atheist. Often they cannot or will not believe the reasons I give for my deconversion. Instead, they try to divine some other reason to explain why Bruce Gerencser, the man of God, the pastor, the preacher, their colleague in the ministry, is now an apostate, an enemy of God. “Is there some secret past I am hiding, some secret sin,” they ask themselves? They wonder if I have mental problems, that I am “unstable.” They rack their brains trying to come up with a plausible explanation, anything but accepting the reasons I give for my deconversion.

Christian Fundamentalism taught me to stand firm on my beliefs and convictions. When I was a pastor, people appreciated and applauded my willingness to resolutely defend my beliefs and convictions. But now that I do the same with atheism, humanism, and liberal politics, they think there must be some other reason I drastically changed my mind and life. Let me be clear, I am the same man, a man who thinks that beliefs matter.

My mother taught me, from my youth up, that it was important to stand up for what you believe. Now, this doesn’t mean that I am not now tolerant of the beliefs of others, because I am.  As I get older, I realize that tolerance is an important virtue. Stepping outside of the box in which I spent most of my life, I have found a rich, diverse, and contradictory world that continues to challenge me and force me to be more accepting and tolerant.

When I entered kindergarten I could already read. My book-loving mother taught me to read, and she developed in me an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. This may seem counter-intuitive at first, since I was raised in a Fundamentalist environment that is known for its ignorance. However, by becoming a proficient and avid reader, I had at my disposal countless opportunities to expand my knowledge. Sadly, my quest for knowledge became quite stunted as a pastor because I rarely read books that would conflict with my Christian beliefs.  However, when I began to have doubts about Christianity and its teachings, my thirst for knowledge kicked into high gear and I began reading books that I once would have considered heretical.

I never made a lot of money pastoring churches. I never had church provided health insurance or a retirement plan. The only benefits I received were a check I got once a week IF the offerings were sufficient to pay me (all too often, they were not).  Outside of the time I spent pastoring Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, every other church I pastored paid a part-time or poverty-level wage for the full-time work I gave the church. I often worked outside of the church, as did Polly when I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I am not pointing a judgmental finger at the churches I pastored. Most of the churches were either small or in poverty-ridden areas. Over the years, I was privileged to pastor many gracious, giving poor people. They gave what they could.

About now you are thinking, what in the world are you talking about, Bruce? I thought this post was about WHY you stopped believing? It is, and what I have written above can be distilled down to these three important statements:

  • I was taught to stand firm on my convictions and beliefs
  • I was taught to read at an early age and I developed a thirst for knowledge
  • I never made much money in the ministry

Since I never made much money in the ministry, there was no economic reason for me to stay in the ministry. I always made more money working outside of the church, so when I decided to leave the ministry, which I did three years before I deconverted, I suffered no economic consequences. In fact, life has gotten much better economically post-Jesus.

Freed from the ministry, my wife and I spent several years visiting over a hundred Christian churches. We were desperately looking for a Christianity that mattered, a Christianity that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. During this time period, I read countless books written by authors from a broad spectrum of Christendom. I read books by authors such as Thomas Merton, Robert Farrar Capon, Henri Nouwen, Wendell Berry, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, John Shelby Spong, Soren Kierkegaard, and NT Wright.  These authors challenged my Evangelical understanding of Christianity and its teachings.

I decided I would go back to the Bible, study it again, and determine what it was I REALLY believed. During this time, I began reading books by authors such as Robert Wright Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, These three authors, along with several others, attacked the foundation of my Evangelical beliefs: the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. Their assault on this foundation brought my Evangelical house tumbling down. I desperately tried to find some semblance of the Christianity I once believed, but I came to realize that my faith was gone.

I tried, for a time, to convince myself that I could find some sort of Christianity that would work for me. Polly and I visited numerous liberal or progressive Christian churches, but I found that these expressions of faith would not do for me. My faith was gone. Later, Polly would come to the same conclusion.

I turned to the internet to find help. I came upon sites like exchristian.net and Debunking Christianity. I found these sites to be quite helpful as I tried to make sense of what was going on in my life. I began reading the books of authors such as John Loftus, Hector Avalos, Robert M. Price, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins.

I read many authors and books besides the ones listed here. I say this to keep someone from saying, but you didn’t read so and so or you didn’t read _______.  So, if I had to give one reason WHY I am no longer a Christian today it would be BOOKS.  My thirst for knowledge, a thirst I still have today, even though it is greatly hindered by chronic illness and pain, is what drove me to re-investigate the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible.  This investigation led me to conclude that the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible could not rationally and intellectually be sustained. Try as I might to hang on to some sort of Christian faith, the slippery slope I found myself on would not let me stand still. Eventually, I found myself saying, I no longer believe in the Christian God. For a time, I was an agnostic, but I got tired of explaining myself, so I took on the atheist moniker, and now no one misunderstands what I believe. (see Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners and Dear Friend)

The hardest decision I ever made in my life was that day in late November of 2008, when I finally admitted to myself, I am no longer a Christian, I no longer believe in the Christian God, I no longer believe the Bible is the Word of God. At that moment, everything I had spent my life believing and doing was gone. In a sense, I had an atheist version of a born-again experience. For the past eleven years, I have continued to read, study, and write. I am still very much a work in progress. My understanding of religion and its cultural and sociological implications continues to grow. Now that I am free from the constraints of religion, I am free to wander the path of life wherever it may lead. Now that I am free to read what I want, I have focused my attention on history and science. While I continue to read books that are of a religious or atheist nature, I spend less and less time reading these kinds of books. I still read every new book Bart Ehrman publishes, along with the various Christian/atheist/humanist blogs and publications I read, and this is enough to keep me up-to-date with American Christianity and American atheism/humanism.

I hope this post adequately answers the question of WHY I stopped believing.

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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

If You Don’t Believe What the Bible Says You Can’t Be Saved

word of god

Originally written March 2015. Updated, expanded, and edited.

An anonymous commenter left the following comment (no longer publicly available) on the Galatians 4 blog:

if the Bible is not truth; the Word of God – then NO ONE can be saved. If we do not believe the Bible, we cannot be saved.

This comment was left on a post on a blog entry titled, The IFB Pastor Turned Atheist: Those Who Fall Away. The post is about my defection from Christianity. The author of the blog post agrees with the anonymous commenter’s view: that if we do not believe the Bible we cannot be saved. (Interestingly, the owner of the Galatians 4 website is now an unbeliever.)

Here’s the problem with this view:

First, it makes salvation dependent on reading the right words and believing the right things.

Second, the first-century Christian church had no Bible. They had the Old Testament, a text that makes no mention of Christian salvation and Christian oral traditions. Besides, most early Christians could not read or write.

Third, the gospels were not written until decades after Jesus Christ died and resurrected from the dead. The writings of the Apostle Paul were written first, and they are quite sparse when it comes mentioning Jesus and clearly articulating the Christian gospel. Paul’s writings need the gospels for the Christian/Pauline gospel to make sense.

Fourth, the printing press was invented 1500 years AFTER the death of Jesus. What Bible did people read before the invention of the printing press?

Fifth, illiteracy and the cost of a printed Bible meant that most Christians did not own a copy of the Bible. They relied on others to read the Bible to them or pass on the oral stories of Christianity.

Sixth, it took centuries to complete the canon of the Christian Bible. Prior to this, Christians had “incomplete” Bibles, often containing only a few books of the Bible.

The anonymous commenter does what a lot of Christians do: he takes how things are now and reads it back into Christian Church history. You know, if the Oxford, Calf-Skinned KJV Scofield Bible was good enough for the Apostle Paul it is good enough for me.

Most Christians have little knowledge about the long, complex, and contradictory history of the Bible and the Christian church. This lack of historical knowledge allows them to make absurd statements like the anonymous commenter made on the Galatians 4 blog.

The bigger problem is the way Fundamentalists read the Bible. When they read the phrase “word of God” they assume it means “the Bible.” This, however, is not the case. Most of the instances in the Bible where we find the phrase “word of God” refer to spoken words or to Jesus Christ himself.

The phrase “word of God” appears 49 times in the Bible. As you can easily see, the phrase has several different meanings:

  • 1 Samuel 9:27 And as they were going down to the end of the city, Samuel said to Saul, Bid the servant pass on before us, (and he passed on,) but stand thou still a while, that I may show thee the word of God.
  • 1 Kings 12:22 But the word of God came unto Shemaiah the man of God, saying,
  • 1 Chronicles17:3 And it came to pass the same night, that the word of God came to Nathan, saying,
  • Proverbs 30:5 Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
  • Mark 7:13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.
  • Luke 3:2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
  • Luke 4:4 And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.
  • Luke 5:1 And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,
  • Luke 8:11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
  • Luke 8:21 And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.
  • Luke 11:28 But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.
  • John 10:35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
  • Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.
  • Acts 6:2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
  • Acts 6:7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
  • Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:
  • Acts 11:1 And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.
  • Acts 12:24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.
  • Acts 13:5 And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.
  • Acts 13:7 Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God.
  • Acts 13:44 And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.
  • Acts 13:46 Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.
  • Acts 17:13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.
  • Acts 18:11 And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
  • Acts 19:20 So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.
  • Romans 9:6 Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:
  • Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
  • 1Corinthians14:36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
  • 2 Corithians 2:17 For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
  • Ephesians 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
  • Colossians 1:25 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
  • 1 Timothy 4:5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
  • 2 Timothy 2:9 Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.
  • Titus 2:5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.
  • Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
  • Hebrews 6:5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
  • Hebrews 11:3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
    Hebrews 13:7  Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
  • 1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
  • 2 Peter 3:5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
  • 1 John 2:14 I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
  • Revelation 1:2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
  • Revelation 1:9 I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
  • Revelation 6:9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
  • Revelation19:13 And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.
  • Revelation 20:4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

The word “scripture” appears thirty-two times in the Bible. Most of the time, the word scripture refers to the Old Testament, a text that is devoid of any mention of the Christian gospel, or ANYTHING Christian, for that matter.

The Bible states in John 1:1-2 that Jesus was the Word:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. (The rest of John chapter 1 makes it clear that the “Word” John 1:1-2 is speaking of is Jesus, not the Bible.)

With this thought in mind, that Jesus is the Word, let’s look at Hebrews 4:12-14:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

Raise your hand if you have heard Hebrews 4:12-13 quoted in reference to the Bible, the Word of God? Anyone raised in a Baptist church has heard this countless times. However, look closely at Hebrews 4:12-14. Is the word of God here the Bible or Jesus? Notice the male pronoun in the phrase manifest in HIS sight? Verse 14 makes the “who” of the text very clear when it says, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God…”

The whole point of this exercise is to show that it is important to NOT read preconceived ideas and beliefs into the Biblical text. Pastors breed ignorance when they quote verses to “prove” a point and do not actually convey to the congregation what the text actually says. They also breed ignorance when they refuse to say, not “the Bible says” or “God says,” but “our Church says,” or “I say.” Far too many preachers are like Al Shannon, Jr, a fifty-year member of the Church of Christ. Shannon says about himself:

I adhere to the principle of speaking where the bible speaks, and remaining silent where the bible is silent. I do not add to or take from God’s Word nor do I go beyond that which was written. I prove all things by the scripture, and by no other source. This site is designed to preach the gospel and doctrine of [the Churches of] Christ unto all the world.

This kind of thinking is common in every sect that believes the Bible is an inerrant, infallible text. They think THEIR interpretation is the one, true, exact interpretation, and they alone are preaching the pure word of God. They are naïvely or deliberately ignorant about the influence of geography, culture, environment, and tribal affiliation on what one believes. (Please see Why Most Americans are Christian.) In their minds, they believe exactly what was written on parchment 2,000 years ago. In Shannon’s sect, many of the churches have a building cornerstone that says AD 33. That’s right, just like the Catholic and Landmark Baptist sect, they believe they are the one true church, established by Jesus to propagate the true gospel to the ends of the earth.

This kind of intransigence closes the mind off from any other belief or idea. Until people can dare to think that they might be wrong, that their sect might be wrong, or that the claims they make for the Bible might be untrue, there is no hope of reaching them. They are intellectually walled off from any voice but their own.

Want to know more? I encourage you to read several of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books.

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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Understanding Religion from An Economic Cost-Benefit Perspective

cost benefit

Many of my fellow atheists and agnostics have a hard time understanding why, exactly, people are religious. In particular, many godless people are befuddled by Evangelicals. How can anyone believe the Bible is inspired and inerrant; believe the earth was created in six twenty-four-hour days; believe the universe is 6,024 years old; believe Adam and Eve were the first human beings; believe the story of Noah and Ark really happened; believe that millions of Israelites wandered in desert for forty years, and believe a Jewish man named Jesus was a God-man who worked miracles, was executed on a Roman cross, and resurrected from the dead three days later. I could add numerous other mythical, fanciful, incredulous Bible stories to this list; all of which sound nonsensical to skeptical, rational people. Here we are living in 2020 — an age driven by technology and science — yet millions of Evangelicals and other conservative Christians flock to Kentucky to tour Ken Ham’s monuments to ignorance: the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum. These same people helped to elect Donald Trump, the vilest, most unqualified man to ever sit in the Oval Office. Why is it that Evangelicals continue to believe, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

From a rational perspective, none of this makes any sense. Most Evangelicals have at least a high school education, and many of them have college degrees. Many of them are successful business owners, with more than a few of them amassing wealth most unbelievers covet. Many atheists and agnostics wrongly believe that the typical Evangelical is a poorly educated white hillbilly from Kentucky or Mississippi. Pan the crowds gathered at countless American Evangelical megachurches and you will find all the markings of well-off, educated people. Why, then, do Evangelicals believe the nonsense mentioned previously?

The best way to understand Evangelicalism is to view it from an economic cost-benefit perspective. Think of Evangelicalism as a club. To join the club, certain things are required. Every prospective club member must agree with the club’s stated principles and beliefs and pay annual dues to their local club. Once a prospective member publicly affirms the club’s stated principles and beliefs, undergoes a rite of initiation (baptism), and pays his annual dues, the prospect is granted entrance to the club. Membership in the club comes with several benefits:

  • Weekly instruction in the club’s principles and beliefs
  • Answers to life’s pressing questions
  • Classes for every age group, from infants to senior citizens
  • Opportunities for entertainment, often called fun, food, and fellowship
  • Access to counseling services
  • Wedding and funeral services
  • Support for conservative Christian social and political views
  • Bumper stickers, shirts, and other swag that advertises your membership in the club
  • Promises of forgiveness, happiness, and life after death

As long as these benefits outweigh the costs, people will continue to embrace Evangelical beliefs. Rationalists think that truth is all that should matter, and when it comes to truth, atheists/agnostics/humanists/skeptics/freethinkers have it, and Evangelicals don’t. True, but what do we offer besides truth? I’m waiting . . . Therein lies our problem. Yes, truth is on our side, but we lack appealing social structures (clubs), and, to many questioning/doubting Evangelicals, the cost of saying, “I am an atheist/agnostic” far outweighs the benefits. (Please see Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist.) If we want to attract people to truth, to our cause, we must find ways to change the cost-benefit dynamic. “Dammit, Bruce, truth should be enough!” Yep, and I agree with you. Unfortunately, you and I are not like most people. “What’s in it for me?” many people ask. “What are the benefits of joining your club?” Fuss and fume all you want about this, but the fact remains that most people want to belong to things that benefit them; that give them something tangible.

As a pastor, I learned that people look for perceived value. Our church would sponsor a free concert with a contemporary Christian artist and fifty people would show up. Charge $5 admission for the same concert and hundreds of people will attend. Same artist, just a different perceived value. As long as Evangelicals think that the benefits of club membership outweigh the costs, they will continue to be members. Our goal should be to make rationalism and progressive politics appealing. We must develop social structures that advance the humanist ideal. And then, we must become the public face of our club, a face that says, “you are welcome here!” Constantly fighting with Evangelicals on social media does what exactly? Sure, it feels good to drown Evangelicals in seas of truth, but what have we gained? Engaging in shit-throwing contests on Twitter with Evangelical trolls might make for good entertainment and provide a brief dopamine rush, but what is really accomplished by doing so?  In 2012, tens of thousands of atheists, agnostics, humanists, and freethinkers gathered on the National Mall for the Reason Rally. What an awesome moment, a coming-out party, of sorts. Eight years have passed since this rally. What progress have we made towards coalescing into a credible, appealing club for likeminded people? If we truly want to give Evangelicalism the death it so richly deserves, we must offer to people a better way. We must offer them benefits that outweigh the costs of publicly saying “I’m an unbeliever” in a country that is still dominated and controlled by Christianity. We may laud recent upticks in polls for our kind, but this growth pales when compared to the sheer numbers of religious people. Yes, as a block, we now outnumber Evangelicals, but make no mistake about it, they still hold political and cultural power.

After the 2012 Reason Rally, I told readers that it was time for rationalists, skeptics, and freethinkers to move beyond skirmishes with Evangelicals. I still believe that today. That doesn’t mean we stop exposing Evangelical beliefs and practices for the nonsense they are. But we must find ways to build social connections; ways to build clubs that are appealing to, particularly, younger Americans. Trying to reach Evangelical Baby Boomers and the Great Generation is unlikely to succeed. It is with young people that the future of, not only the United States, but the world, rests. We oldsters have a lot of wisdom to offer, but as long as we sit silently in our homes, that wisdom goes to waste. Imagine how different our country might be if every county had a local humanist/skeptics club; a place where young and old alike meet to plan ways to Make America Rational Again; a place where atheists, agnostics, and unbelievers can gather and feel at home. Until we figure this out, people are going to continue to gather at local Evangelical clubs to worship the dead Jesus.

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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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 Intractability of Christian Fundamentalists

intractable

Originally written in March 2015. Expanded and edited.

If you have not read Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists? please do so. This will help you understand my use of the word Fundamentalist.

Thanks to this blog, social media, and breathing air, I come in contact with Christian Fundamentalists every day. They comment on my blog, send me tweets, leave Facebook comments, send me emails. I’m like a human shit pile on a hot summer day. Fundamentalist flies are drawn to me and there’s little I can do about it. As a former Evangelical, an out-of-the-closet atheist, and a writer, I know that dealing with Christian Fundamentalists is part of my job description.

I’ve been blogging for over ten years. I started and stopped several times, with every stoppage predicated by the behavior of Christian Fundamentalists and how their actions affected my health and mental wellbeing. Over the years, I’ve gotten mentally and emotionally stronger, my skin has thickened, and I am pretty much impervious to the petty, childish, boorish, ignorant behavior of Fundamentalists. When I am up to it, I might engage them a bit, but most of the time I let them piss on my doorstep and ignore them. When they don’t get the desired response from me, they usually head off to another fire hydrant they can whiz on. (Yes, I am full of metaphors today!)

Some Fundamentalists have upped their game and turned to electronic means of bullying. Readers may remember all the problems I had several years ago with spambots sent my way by a Fundamentalist zealot. At one time, I was receiving 1,500 spam comments a day. This was a concerted effort by someone to frustrate me and cause me grief. During this same time period, I had someone repeatedly try to access the blog log-in. Now, this happens routinely a dozen or so times a day, but this time was different. They attempted to log in thousands of times a day. The good news is they failed. My login remained secure and no spam made it to the live site.

Currently, I receive a hundred or so spam comments a day. Quite manageable. In most cases, it’s drive-by spammers wanting to either infect my computer with a virus or make my penis larger. In the case mentioned above, it was a directed attack. Someone deliberately wanted to cause me problems, perhaps even cause me to stop blogging. A great victory for Team God, yes? Yea God!

My Facebook friends may remember someone setting up a fake account in my name. They then gained access to my Friends list (my fault since I had it set to public) and sent them a new friend request. About twenty-five of my friends friended the fake Bruce Gerencser, and after they did, they got a private message from the fake account. The message? A Christian one, meant to witness to them. Fortunately, several dozen friends contacted me about the fake account, and in less than an hour Facebook shut it down. For future reference, I am the only Bruce Almighty Gerencser in the world. If we are already connected through social media, any other Bruce Almighty is a false one.

The one thing I have learned from this is that Christian Fundamentalists, for the most part, are intractable. Intractable is not a word used very often, so let me give you the dictionary definition:

intractable

Definition from TheSage Dictionary and Thesaurus, Published by Sequence Publishing

This word perfectly describes most of the Fundamentalists I come in contact with through this blog and on social media. Certainty has turned them into nasty, arrogant, hateful individuals who have forgotten what their Bible says about the fruit of the spirit and how they are to treat others. Safe behind their digital shields, they violently brandish their word swords, caring little about what damage they might do. Worse yet, they fail to realize or don’t care that they are pushing people away from Christianity. Why would I ever want to be a part of a religion that allows and encourages the maltreatment of others?

As a pastor, I always taught church members that our actions spoke louder than our words. How we treated others determined how our beliefs would be judged. While I may have been a Fundamentalist for many years, I never treated people like I’ve seen Fundamentalists treat me and others. As I mentioned in the comment rules, they are people who haven’t learned to play well with others. They are the schoolyard bullies, demanding that all bow to their God and their interpretation of the Bible.

I know there is no use trying to shame Christian Fundamentalists into acting like they have graduated preschool. If ten years of blogging have taught me anything, it is that I can’t change how Fundamentalists think or act. But, Bruce, you were a Fundamentalist, as were many of the people who read this blog, and you changed! True enough, but I also know how hard it is to change.

The majority of Fundamentalists will believe what they believe until they die. Why? Because their entire life is wrapped up in their belief system. They are in a self-contained bubble where, in their minds, everything makes sense. If you have not read, The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You Are in It and What I Found When I Left the Box, please do so. I think you will find both posts helpful in explaining the Fundamentalist bubble. Until a person is willing to at least consider that there is life outside of the bubble, there is no hope for them.

I am convinced that inerrancy — the belief that the Bible is without error — keeps people chained to the Fundamentalist God. Armed with an inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible, given to them by the supernatural God who wrote and autographed it, they go into the “world” and wage war against all who disagree with their literalist interpretation of the Bible. If you want to see this belief in action, read the comments on The Bob Jones III Non-Apology Apology, If You Don’t Believe the Bible You Can’t be Saved, and Family Driven Faith Part Two. One commenter was so certain he was right and smarter than the rest of the class, that he had no need to read a book or any of my other blog posts. He was right, end of discussion.

Those of us who were once Christian Fundamentalists understand Fundamentalist pathology. After all, we wuz one of them. We know how certain and arrogant we once were, full of God and shit. We would have remained this way had it not been for an event, life circumstance, book, website, or blog. When one of these things poked a tiny hole in our bubble, we tried our best to patch the hole. But, try as we might, none of the patches would stick, so our bubble deflated. In rushed the “world” with its knowledge. From that day forward, we knew we could no longer stay in the bubble that had been our home for as long as we could remember. Our Fundamentalist Christian friends and family, along with our pastors and colleagues, tried to patch and re-inflate the bubble; but it was too late. Much like a horse escaping its pen, we were free, and once free we were not coming back.

My purpose in life is NOT to debate, fight, or argue with Christian Fundamentalists. It is a waste of time to do so, and since I have so little time left on this earth, I don’t want to waste it casting my pearls before swine. I’d rather spend my time helping those who find themselves outside of the Fundamentalist bubble. Confused, hurt, looking for help and answers, they are looking for someone whom they can turn to for love and support. I want to be that someone. I also want to help and be friends with those who have already transitioned away from religion. They want to know what a post-God life looks like. Through my writing, I try to be a help. A small help, a temporary help; whatever they need from me, I try to provide. I am not a guru, nor do I have all the answers. At best, I am a bartender, willing to spin a yarn, tell my story,  provide entertainment, and listen to the woes, cares, and concerns of others.

Through this interaction, I gain something too. Not another church member or notch on the handle of my gospel six-shooter. I have no church or club, I am just one man with a story to tell. But I do gain support and strength from those who make this blog part of their day-to-day routine. Sometimes this blog is a cheap form of therapy; other times it is a raucous Friday night at the bar with friends. As people ride along with me on the Bruce Gerencser Crazy Train®, they have gone from acquaintances and readers to friends. Perhaps, this has become another bubble for me, but if it is, I do know there is an entrance and exit that allows me the freedom to come and go as I please. Freedom — a word I never really understood until I saw God, the church, the ministry, and the Bible in the rearview mirror.

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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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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 Paranoia and Persecution Complex of the Religious Right

persecution

Originally published in 2015. Edited and expanded.

As of today, there is NO religious persecution in the United States. Every citizen is free to worship any or no God. All citizens are free to worship when, where, and how they wish. I know of no law that prohibits the free exercise of religion. The United States, when it comes to religion, is the freest nation on the face of the earth. Yet, despite the evidence, many on the religious right think they are being persecuted, and if liberals have their way Sharia law will be instituted and Christianity will be outlawed. If the socialist/communist/liberal/Democrat horde is not repelled by King Trump and his mighty army of Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mormons, Christians will be persecuted, incarcerated, and possibly killed — just as the Jews were in World War II.

Think I am kidding?  What follows is an excerpt from an article written by American Family Association (AFA) author and CIO Jim Shempert titled America’s Future: Christian Persecution. (AFA has removed the article from their site.) What graphic did AFA and Jim Shempert choose for the article?

prison camp survivors

That’s right, Shempert and AFA think that Christians will soon be treated much like the Jews, gypsies, and mentally handicapped were treated by Hitler and the Nazis in World War II.

Here’s what Shempert had to say:

…This blog is intended for the Church. If you are not a Christian, and your only goal is to tear down Christianity, you can stop reading here.

Church, Christianity is under attack all across the globe. The persecutions of the Church are definitely not the same but they all have the same root. Imagine trying to be a Christian in Iraq/Syria/anywhere south of Turkey right now… Standing for your faith will be met with loss of property, threats, beatings, and death. These are common occurrences. If you don’t believe me, I encourage you to go to Google. Type in “Middle East Christian persecution” and hit “search.” In literally half a second, Google will return to you 1.1 million articles/pages on persecution of Christians in the Middle East. To focus on a different area, go back to Google and search for “Christian persecution in Africa.” In .6 seconds, you are greeted with 2.5 million articles/pages that deal with Christian persecution in Africa.

Now, the current resident of the White House believes that the atrocities committed by Muslim terrorist groups are not indicative of all Muslim people. Here’s a potential fire starter: I happen to agree with him there. Personally, I believe the Muslim faith to be incorrect in its focus. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that no man cometh unto the Father but by Him. As those Muslims must surely think that I am wrong in my focus. However, I do not think that all Muslims are terrorists, or that they are all on jihad. I also don’t believe the line that these extremist groups are not focused around Islam. I know that the resident of the White House likes to continue his crusade against Christianity by reminding us that at one time, horrible atrocities were committed by those who claim the name of Christ. His problem, and all those who claim moral equivalency, is that he is unable to call EVIL what it is: EVIL. He is able to quickly tear apart Christianity, and say that America was never a Christian nation, but he is unable to say that Islamic terrorism is evil.

I’ve had a long conversation with a friend on this, and we came to the conclusion that if any group that claims Christianity starts cutting off people’s heads while singing “Just as I am,” the first people to respond will be Christians. We will police our own. The soldiers sent to stop them will probably be Christians, at least in some part. Rest assured, the current White House, will seek great joy in touting that it is CHRISTIANS doing this. “See…they are doing it too!” A 5 year old child has more intellect and intelligence.

The point is… American is no longer a Christian nation. Those are hard words to hear. They were even harder to type. That’s not to say that it never was. America was built around Christian principles, with Christian men and women leading it. Those who claim otherwise are just repeating a Goebbels lie: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” The nation that I grew up in, is no more. Being viewed as an evangelical Christian now, is to be seen as a leper. “Those close minded, bigoted, judging Christians.” “Why don’t you just love? That’s what Jesus did.” (That one usually comes from someone who hasn’t opened a Bible since grade school) “Judge not, that you be not judged.” That’s Matthew 7:1 for any of you that use it. You might want to continue down chapter 7 to verses 15-20. Might do you some eternal good…

…What’s the next step for those who only want their ears tickled? To silence those who don’t! Anyone who preaches the Light, will be resisted by the darkness. Offensive words will be created to describe them and shouted over and over and over until the masses begin to repeat them. They will be chastised in the media, lose their jobs, their businesses, their property, their ability to live their lives the way they choose. The assertion that they are ignorant will be constantly repeated. Their very freedom will be threatened. Oh wait, that’s already happened…

Martin Niemoller was a pastor in Germany during the Nazi regime and also a concentration camp survivor. He is remembered most for this quote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Ronald Reagan is by far the greatest president of my lifetime. He said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Those words could never be truer than they are today. As Christians, we are at a crossroads in America. We can stand up, and let our voices be heard. We can fight at the ballot box for the rights that we were always guaranteed. Or, we can continue to allow our anti-Christian government to destroy the basic tenants of our faith. The choice is ours…

…What happens to those of us that resist? How long before we become “enemies of the State?” How long before we are sent to “camps” for re-education? Sound crazy? The German people in the ‘30’s would have said the same thing. In a few short years, millions would be imprisoned and executed for their faith…

…I live in relationship with Jesus Christ as my Savior. My life is forfeit. If it is His will that I must be sacrificed for my stand for His Name, then so be it. Even Jesus didn’t turn away from death when presented with it. He was obedient to the end.

American Christian, most of the rest of the world knows this already, from experience. But there is coming a day when to identify as a Christian in America will bring consequences…

I love it when groups like AFA use Martin Niemöller’s quote to suggest that what happened in Hitler’s Germany will soon happen here. Here’s the problem: no one has come for the socialist, trade unionist, or Jew. Yes, many on the political and religious right fight against socialism and trade unions, but no one would suggest that the religious right is persecuting socialists or union members. They most certainly are not persecuting the Jews. The religious right loves Israel — well at least until Jesus comes back to earth at the end of the Great Tribulation and slaughters all the unbelieving Jews.

We live in a free country. While I think personal liberties are under attack by corporate, military-industrial complex, and surveillance-industrial complex interests, I have no fear of being persecuted or jailed if I oppose those interests. Much like Evangelical Christians, atheists are free to write about, attack, critique, and make fun of religion. I don’t fear the government breaking my door down and arresting me for something I have written.

Unfortunately, when one lives in a country where freedom of belief and practice are ensconced in its founding documents and law, the slightest denial of freedom or the slightest inconvenience can be viewed as an attack on freedom and personal rights. The religious right thinks legalizing same-sex marriage and justice and equal protection under the law for LGBTQ people is an infringement of their religious rights. However, allowing same-sex couples to marry in no way infringes on a person’s right to believe and worship as they see fit. Legalizing same-sex marriage changed nothing for Christians.  Christians are still free to pray, read the Bible, evangelize, attend a house of worship, and — get this — forbid LGBTQ people from being members in their church. Nothing in federal or state law required churches and or clerics to accept LGBTQ members or perform their wedding ceremonies.

No clergyperson will ever be required to marry a same-sex couple. Since marriage is a secular function of law, a pastor is free to choose whom he will or won’t marry. It is the marriage license, not the ceremony, that gives a marriage legal force. This is why public officials must issue marriage licenses to heterosexual and same-sex couples alike. They are acting on behalf of the state, a secular institution. If they cannot, according to their conscience, fulfill their legal obligation to issue a marriage license to all who request one, then they should resign. Their resignation is not persecution. All of us have beliefs and moral and ethical values that might, in some circumstances, preclude us from holding certain jobs. Not being able to hold those jobs is NOT persecution.

We are less than a year away from the 2020 presidential election. The United States faces many pressing and trying issues: war, poverty, crumbling infrastructure, government debt, rampant opioid addiction, runaway medical insurance costs, etc. Instead of whining and screaming about “fake” persecution, I wish the religious right and their representatives in Congress would reach across the aisle and meaningfully try to find a solution to the pressing issues of the day.

The American Family Association, and other right-wing religious groups like them, know that their followers must constantly be poked lest they become apathetic and stop sending donations. What better way to wake people up than to scream PERSECUTION!  Until Christians realize groups like the AFA are manipulating them for political and financial gain, they will continue to be outraged every time they are told they need to be outraged. (The outrage machine One Million Moms is an arm of the AFA. Please see the 2015 report I wrote titled, Follow the Money: The American Family Association and their Support of the Gay Agenda) Until they are willing to actually think for themselves and thoroughly investigate the issues without checking in with Fox News first, there’s little hope of meaningful dialog.

“But Bruce, same-sex marriage and homosexuality is wrong!” Why? Without referencing the Bible, please defend your anti-LGBTQ position. I have yet to have someone successfully defend the prohibition of same-sex marriage and homosexuality without appealing to their religious beliefs and a sacred text such as the Christian Bible. Once religion is removed from the equation, there is no reasonable argument to be made for prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying or for permitting people to legally and freely engage in same-sex relationships.

That said, I still believe in the American political process. Christians are free to work towards a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. They have the same rights and privileges as I do. Let’s duke it out in the public square. Of course, the religious right doesn’t want to do this, knowing that they would likely never get enough states to approve a constitutional amendment. So, instead, they whine and complain about PERSECUTION!

The real issue here is that Christianity is losing its preferential place at the cultural table. For most of our country’s existence, the Christian religion has been seated at the head of the table. This is natural, of course, since most Americans self-identify as Christian. However, more and more Christians are moving to the left politically and religiously, especially young adults. More and more Americans no longer have any religion. Atheism, agnosticism, humanism, secularism, religious indifference, and “none of the above” continue to increase. Like it or not, right-wing Christians must recognize that they no longer have the political and social power and clout they once had. If they don’t like this, I suggest they get busy attracting new people to their cause. Good luck with that.

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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Five More Questions from an Evangelical Pastor

good question

An Evangelical pastor whom I have known for over forty years recently sent me some questions, the answers to which appear below. He previously asked me some questions which I answered in a post titled, Four Questions from an Evangelical Pastor. I found his questions sincere and honest, unlike many questions I receive from Evangelicals. Far too often, ulterior motivations lurk behind some questions, but I don’t sense that here. Hopefully, readers of this blog will find my answers helpful.

Are there different levels of atheism? 

The short answer is no. Atheism is defined thusly: disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. That’s it. Unlike Christianity — a hopelessly fragmented group — all atheists agree on one thing: atheism is the disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. From that point, atheist beliefs go in all sorts of directions.

There’s also what is commonly called the Dawkins Scale: the spectrum of theistic probabilities. Famed biologist Dr. Richard Dawkins spoke of this seven-level spectrum in his popular book, The God Delusion:

  • Strong theist. 100% probability of God. In the words of Carl Jung: “I do not believe, I know.”De facto theist.
  • Very high probability but short of 100%. “I don’t know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.”Leaning towards theism.
  • Higher than 50% but not very high. “I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.”Completely impartial.
  • Exactly 50%. “God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.”Leaning towards atheism.
  • Lower than 50% but not very low. “I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.”
  • De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. “I don’t know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”
  • Strong atheist. “I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one.”

Atheists debate amongst themselves Dawkins’ scale, and whether agnostics are, in fact, atheists. Agnostics believe that the existence of God, of the divine, or the supernatural is unknown or unknowable. (Wikipedia) Another definition of agnosticism is as follows:

In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in God, whereas an atheist disbelieves in God. In the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify either the belief that God exists or the belief that God does not exist. In so far as one holds that our beliefs are rational only if they are sufficiently supported by human reason, the person who accepts the philosophical position of agnosticism will hold that neither the belief that God exists nor the belief that God does not exist is rational. (Richard Rowe, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)

I should mention in passing what I consider a distant third cousin of agnosticism: deism. Wikipedia describes enlightenment deism this way:

Enlightenment deism consisted of two philosophical assertions: (a) reason, along with features of the natural world, is a valid source of religious knowledge, and (b) revelation is not a valid source of religious knowledge. Different deist authors expanded on these two assertions to create what Leslie Stephen later termed the “constructive” and “critical” aspects of deism. “Constructive” assertions— assertions that deist writers felt were justified by appeals to reason and features of the natural world (or perhaps were intuitively obvious) — included:

  • God exists and created the universe.
  • God gave humans the ability to reason.

“Critical” assertions— assertions that followed from the denial of revelation as a valid source of religious knowledge— were much more numerous. They included:

  • Rejection of all books, including the Bible, that are claimed to contain divine revelation.
  • Rejection of the incomprehensible notion of the Trinity and other religious “mysteries”.
  • Rejection of reports of miracles, prophecies, etc.

True Christianity

All deists rejected the Bible as a book of divine revelation. If you define “a Christian” as a person who accepts the stories in the Bible as true, divine revelations, the deists were not Christians. They rejected the miracle stories in the Bible and rejected the divinity of Jesus. Many, however, accepted Jesus as an actual historical person and held him in high regard as a moral teacher. (This position is known as Christian deism and was Thomas Jefferson’s motive for assembling his famous Jefferson Bible.) On the other hand, if you define “a true Christian” as a person regards the historical human person Jesus as a great moral teacher and attempts to follow Jesus’ moral teachings, many deists considered themselves to be true Christians. Some deists were of the opinion that Jesus taught timeless moral truths, that those moral truths were the essence of Christianity, and since those truths are timeless they predate Jesus’ teachings.

I have long believed that someone could look at the night sky and conclude that a deity of some sort created the universe; and that after creating the universe, this deity said, “there ya go boys and girls, do with it what you will.” This God is unknowable and non-involved in our day-to-day lives. Believe in this deity or not, it exists. Some readers of this blog will call this deity divine energy or power. Of course, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that what we call “life” is, in actuality, a Westworld-like alien game simulation. Once I was freed from the authority and bondage of the Bible, I was free to think more freely about human existence. Who knows, maybe “reality” is an illusion.

Here is my take: I am an agnostic and an atheist. I cannot know for certain whether a deity of some sort exists. It is possible, though unlikely, that a deity of some sort might reveal itself to us someday. Possible, but improbable. For me, it is all about probabilities. (And the probability of the existence of any deity, let alone the Evangelical God, is minuscule.) On the Dawkins scale I am a six. The currently available evidence leads me to conclude that there is no God or gods. I am open to the possibility of the existence of one or more deities should evidence of their existence ever be provided, but, until then, I live my day to day life as an atheist. The only time thoughts about God enters my mind is when I am writing for this blog.

That said, let me be clear: I am not an anti-theist. Some atheists are vociferously and stridently anti-religion. I am not one of them. This has led to all sorts of criticisms and attacks from what I call the fundamentalist wing of atheism. On occasion, I have had anti-theists tell me that I am not a True Atheist®. I laugh when such arguments are made, thinking, “is this not the same argument Evangelicals use against me when they say I was never a “True Christian®?”

Do all atheists rely strictly on science and history for answers?

Strictly or solely? No. Once we move from the base definition of atheism, atheists go in all sorts of directions philosophically, politically, socially, and even religiously. Yep, you will run into atheists who view themselves as “spiritual.”  I have been blogging for almost thirteen years. I have met all sorts of atheists. Recently, several pro-Trump, anti-abortion, anti-homosexual atheists/agnostics have commented on this blog. I don’t understand their viewpoints and logic, but I don’t have to. Atheists are free to meander every which way from “atheism is the disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.” One can be an atheist and be irrational; and believe me, more than a few atheists are as dumb as rocks. Some atheists will comment on this blog and leave me scratching my head and saying “huh?” I rarely respond to such people. I let them say their piece, hoping my silence will tell them all they need to know.

This would be a good point to mention the fact that many (most?) atheists are humanists. There’s nothing in atheism that gives a person moral or ethical grounding. Atheists look to humanism to find a framework by which to live their lives. The Humanist Manifesto remains the best summary of humanism:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

To answer my friend’s question, the Humanist Manifesto states:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Do all atheists believe in evolution?

Since I am not party to what all atheists believe, I can’t speak authoritatively on the matter. I can say that all of the atheists I know generally accept biological evolution as a scientific fact. While the word “belief” can be used in a variety of ways, in the context of evolution, atheists don’t believe in evolution. Belief, in this context, much like with religion, implies the use of feelings to come to a conclusion. Most atheists I know would say that their acceptance of evolution and other scientific conclusions rests on evidence, facts, and probabilities, not their feelings.

For most of my life, I was illiterate when it came to science. I believed that Genesis 1-3 told me all I need to know about biology, cosmology, and the like. God created everything just as it is recorded in the inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible — end of discussion. I had a few creationist-oriented Evangelical apologetical books in my library. All these books did for me was affirm that I was “right.”  It wasn’t until I was disabused by Dr. Bart Ehrman and others of the notion that the Bible was some sort of perfect, supernatural book that I was able to question what it was exactly I believed about science.

One of the first books I read on this subject was biologist Dr. Jerry Coyne’s book, Why Evolution is True. Another helpful book by Coyne is titled, Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible. For someone still in the Evangelical tent, books by physicist Dr. Karl Giberson might be helpful: Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution and The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions. Giberson’s support of evolutionary biology ultimately led to his dismissal from Eastern Nazarene College in 2011. Both Giberson and Dr. Francis Collins remain controversial figures within Evangelicalism, with more than a few Evangelicals saying that neither man is a Christian. I have my own doubts about whether Giberson or Collins are actually Evangelicals, but I am content to let people self-identify as they please.

Bruce, what do you believe about our existence?

Let me be clear, I am not a scientist. I know a hell of a lot more about science today than I did a few years ago, or when I was a Bible-believing preacher, but that doesn’t mean I can speak authoritatively on matters of science. I continue to educate myself, but at my age, I will likely run out of time before I master any specific scientific discipline. I hope that that one or more of my grandchildren will do so and become what their grandfather could not. Many of my grandchildren are straight-A students, so I have high hopes that some of them will enter STEM programs post-high school.

I know where I am lacking knowledge-wise, and I do my best to not speak beyond that which I know. Want to talk about the Bible, Evangelicalism, theology, photography, or Windows-based computers? You will find that I generally know what I am talking about. However, when it comes to biology, astronomy, cosmology, geology, archeology, and other scientific disciplines, I am, in every way, a novice. It is for this reason that I rely on experts to tell me what I need to know about science. Smart is the person who values expertise. I have certain scientists I trust to tell me the truth. “So, Bruce, does this mean you put “faith” in what they say?” Yes. Many atheists shy away from the word faith because of its religious connotations. However, I refuse to let religion hijack certain words. Faith means “confidence in a person or plan.”  There are scientists that I put great confidence in; when they speak, I listen. No, these men and women are not infallible, but they have given their lives to understanding this or that science discipline, so I trust what they say.

In Christianity, there is so much disagreement! How about among atheists?

There’s no doubt that Christianity is the most fragmented religion on the planet. I have long argued that if Christians were unified theologically that I might at least pause for a moment when considering the “God question.” However, there are thousands and thousands of Christian sects, each with its own version of the “faith once delivered to the saints.” This disunity says to me that Christianity is very much of human origin.

I wish I could say that atheism is monolithic, and everyone thinks and believes the same things. Sadly, atheism is quite divided too. Not so much on the core belief: “atheism is the disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.” Every atheist I know believes this statement to be an accurate definition of their view on God or gods. However, recent years have brought attempts by some to expand the definition of atheism to include social justice issues. This spawned a group called Atheism+. While there was a moment when I thought Atheism+ might be worthwhile, I quickly thought better of it after seeing who it was that was driving this attempt to redefine atheism. Socially and politically, I am as liberal as you come, but I saw Atheism+ as a purity test; an attempt to divide atheism between us and them. I concluded that the proponents of Atheism+ were using methodologies eerily similar to those I saw in Evangelicalism. No thanks. And let me be clear to Atheism+ flag-wavers, I have zero interest in re-ligating this issue with you in the comment section. Been there, done that, still bleeding.

Here’s one thing I know about most atheists. We can heartily disagree with one another and later enjoy each other’s company at a pub or restaurant. Back in my Evangelical days, every disagreement had eternal significance. Not so with most atheists. I don’t understand how an atheist can support Donald Trump or the present iteration of the Republican party, but I am not going to let that affect our relationship (if we have one). I have booted several pro-Trump atheists off this site, not because of their politics, but because they were assholes. And as much as I hate to admit it, there are atheist assholes; people who don’t play well with others; people who think throwing feces at people on social media is “good conversation.”

I hope I have adequately answered my Evangelical friend’s questions.

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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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, Do You Still Find Value in Reading the Bible?

good question

Recently, an atheist/agnostic reader sent me the following questions:

  • As an atheist, do you still read/think about the Bible’s literary or symbolic meaning, or have you had enough of it in your life?
  • Have you become hardened/cynical to the point where you can’t approach the Bible with a sense of wonder as I do?
  • Do you have any passages that still inspire you, engage your mind, and move you in any way?
  • And lastly, do you ever feel like fundamentalism is responsible for turning people away from stories and poetry that would otherwise be valuable to hear?

Bruce, do you still read/think about the Bible’s literary or symbolic meaning, or have you had enough of it in your life? 

From ages fifteen to fifty, I was a devoted follower of Jesus. Reading and studying the Bible was a part of my daily routine. I read it from cover to cover numerous times. As a pastor for twenty-five years, I immersed myself in the teachings of the Bible. Few days went by when I hadn’t intellectually and devotionally read and studied the Bible. I also read scores of theological tomes as I prepared one of the thousands of sermons I preached on Sundays and Thursdays. I had a good grasp and understanding of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. When people sat before me on the Lord’s Day, they expected to hear me preach from the Bible. I did my best to provide congregants with well-studied, well-thought-out sermons. I despised then, and still do to this day, lazy preachers who have plenty of time for golf, preachers’ meetings, and dinner at the buffet, but no time to prepare their sermons. I’ve heard numerous pastors deliver incoherent, contradictory, rabbit-trail sermons. Awful stuff. I couldn’t imagine sitting in church week after week listening to such drivel.

All of this changed, of course, when I left the ministry in 2005 and left Christianity in 2008. In the past decade, I have not picked up the Bible just to read it. I still have my KJV preaching Bible, but it collects dust on the bookshelf. My mind is literally crammed with Bible verses and theology, so when it comes to writing posts for this site, I don’t need to consult my Bible. I will, on occasion, use the Bible Gateway or the E-sword Bible Study Program if I can’t remember something. As you might know, I have memory problems. Usually, it’s newer stuff I have a hard time remembering. The Bible and Christian theology lie safely buried in my long-term memory, whether I want it to be, or not.  I may not remember what I did an hour ago, but I can remember a sermon I preached years ago.

Have I had enough of the Bible? The short answer is yes. Evangelicals love to tell people that the Bible is a “special” book; that it is an inexhaustible book; that every time you read the Bible it teaches you something new. Nonsense. Poppycock. Bullshit. The Bible is no different from any other book. It can be read and understood by atheists and Evangelicals alike. You can diligently and thoroughly read the Bible, so much so that you have mastered the text. Don’t let all the college training which preachers receive fool you. These men aren’t sitting in classes day and night immersing themselves in the Biblical text. In fact, Bible colleges and universities don’t comprehensively teach prospective pastors the Bible (and Bible “survey” classes don’t count). I learned far more about the Bible in my study than I ever did in college.

Do I know everything there is to know about the Bible? Of course not. That said, I have read and studied the Bible enough that I am confident that I know the text well. “But, Bruce, people disagree with you all the time about what the Bible says.” Such disagreements aren’t from a lack of knowledge. These skirmishes come as a result of the divisive, sectarian nature of religion in general, and Christianity in particular. There are thousands of Christian sects, each believing that their interpretation of the Bible is correct. That my interpretations differ from those of others is to be expected. Who is right, and who is wrong? Beats me. That’s what makes the Bible so awesome. You can make it say virtually anything. Homosexuality is a sin – no, it’s not. Abortion is murder – no, it’s not. Women can be pastors – no, they can’t. Baptism is by immersion – no, it’s not. Sinners must repent over their sins to be saved – no, they don’t. Baptism is required for salvation – no, it’s not. The universe is 6,024 years old – no, it’s not. Jesus died on  -Friday – no, he didn’t. Jesus went to Hell when he died – no, he didn’t. Divorce is a sin – no, it isn’t. True Christians speak in tongues – no, they don’t. Shall I go on? The disagreements are legion.

Bruce, have you become hardened/cynical to the point where you can’t approach the Bible with a sense of wonder as I do?

The Bible is a YMMV book — your mileage may vary. I don’t believe I am hardened or cynical when it comes to the Bible. I approach the Bible as I would any other book. I can’t say that I have approached any book with a sense of wonder. I have, however, read a few books throughout my life, which, when finished, made me conclude: this book is an awesome book, one that I would read again. Few books are worth reading once, let alone twice. Is the Bible really that much better than any other book ever written? I think not. I have a few favorite authors all or most of whose books I have read. Bart Ehrman, Thomas Merton, James Michener, and Wendell Berry come to mind. Over the years, I have read thousands of books, most of them one time. That I have read the Bible over and over and over again doesn’t mean that I think it is a New York Times bestseller — a book that should be frequently re-read. I read the Bible as often as I did because doing so was an essential part of my job. I also did so because my pastors and teachers repeatedly told me that one of the signs of a good Christian was how much time he spent reading and studying the Bible. I really wanted to be a good Christian, so I devoted myself to reading and understanding the King James Version of the Holy Bible. Only in religion do we think such excess is normal. If I spent hours a day, for decades studying the Harry Potter books, I doubt anyone would think such behavior is good.

Bruce, do you have any passages that still inspire you, engage your mind, and move you in any way?

I still love and appreciate the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and some of the Psalms. Do these Bible verses inspire me, move me, or engage my mind? Not really. I am at a different place in life. Due to declining health, I no longer read as much as I used to. Sadly, I have gone from being a War and Peace reader to being a magazine reader. I am tired and fatigued every day, so once I have done my writing for the day, I typically don’t have much time left for reading. I “want” to read, but alas, although my spirit is willing, my flesh is weak. If and when I have time to read, I don’t want to spend it reading an ancient religious text I have read countless times before. Simply put, I just don’t find the Bible all that interesting these days.

Bruce, do you ever feel like fundamentalism is responsible for turning people away from stories and poetry that would otherwise be valuable to hear?

Whether what the Bible says is “valuable to hear” varies from person to person. Most Christians don’t even read the Bible through once, let alone numerous times. That’s why devotionals such as “Our Daily Bread” are so popular. These publications are easy to read, taking only a few minutes a day. Reading them allows Christians to feel as if they have “read” the Bible and “communed” with God. Pablum for nursing babies, perhaps, but not meat that comes from devoting oneself to reading and studying the Bible. Bible illiteracy is common, even among Evangelicals — people who generally say that they are “people of the Book.”

I am of the opinion that fundamentalism is a problem wherever it is found. Fundamentalism is not only intellectually stultifying, it can and does cause psychological and social damage. In some instances, it can even cause physical harm and death. As a writer, my target is primarily Evangelical Christianity — which is inherently Fundamentalist. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) I know firsthand the harm caused by Evangelical beliefs and practices. It will be a good day when Evangelicalism draws its last breath. I will dead by then, but maybe, just maybe one of my grandchildren or their children will be alive when Fundamentalism goes whimpering into the night, never to be seen again. I make no apology for working towards the demise of Evangelicalism. As far as non-Evangelical Christianity is concerned? Meh, I don’t really care one way or the other. I am an atheist, not an anti-theist. Not all religions are the same. Some are benign and innocuous; others ravage the mind and cause untold damage to our culture. To the former I say, “live and let live.” To the latter? “Bring me a flamethrower.”
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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Four Questions from an Evangelical Pastor

questions

Several days ago, an Evangelical pastor whom I have known for over forty years sent me some questions, the answers to which appear below. I found his questions sincere and honest, unlike many questions I receive from Evangelicals. Far too often, ulterior motivations lurk behind some questions, but I don’t sense that here. Hopefully, readers of this blog will find my answers helpful.

Bruce, do you ever feel like you’re wrong?

I am sixty-two years old. I have been wrong more times than I can count. Over the past decade, I have, on occasion, written about my wrongness, be it beliefs I held or decisions I made. As a pastor, my beliefs evolved over the course of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. One of the mistakes my critics make is picking a certain point in my life, and judging me from that moment in time. In doing so, they mistakenly or deliberately ignore what has come before and after. Yes, I entered the ministry as an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. Yes, I at one time was a Jack Hyles supporter. However, my beliefs and associations continued to evolve. By the time I left the ministry in 2005, my beliefs were, compared to those I entered the ministry with, quite liberal. I entered the ministry with a narrow, judgmental view of people who called themselves Christians. I believed that my little corner of the Evangelical tent was reserved for True Christians®. Twenty-five years later, the front door of the church I pastored said, “the church where the only label that matters is Christian.”

The same could be said of my evolution politically. For many years, I was a diehard Christian nationalist who only voted Republican. I listened to Rush Limbaugh every day. In 2000, for the first time, I voted for a Democrat. By the time I moved to my current home, I was a liberal and a democratic socialist.

And finally, the same could be said of my social beliefs. I entered the ministry as an anti-abortion, patriarchal homophobe. I pastored a Baptist church in southeast Ohio for eleven years. I was well-known for my public pronouncements against abortion, women’s rights, and homosexuality. Yet, two decades later, my views have dramatically changed. I am now considered a defender of choice, women’s rights, and LGBTQ people.

People who have never changed their minds about anything — a common trait among religious Fundamentalists — look at my journey and see a man who is unstable. I, on the other hand, see a man who is willing to change his mind when confronted or challenged with facts and evidence that render his beliefs untenable.

Intellectual and personal growth only come when we are willing to admit we are wrong. Closed-minded Fundamentalism stunts our thinking. One need only visit an IFB church to see what happens when people shut themselves off from the world and refuse to investigate and challenge their beliefs.

So, yes, I have been wrong, and I have no doubt that I will continue to be wrong. A well-lived life is one where there is ongoing progress and maturity. If I regret anything, it is that I waited way too long give in to my doubts and questions; that I waited way too long to expose myself to people who think differently from me; that I waited too long to admit to the love of my life and my children that I was wrong.

Bruce, have you ever hesitated at all in deciding to become an atheist?

The short answer is yes, especially when I first deconverted. For a time, my mind was plagued with thoughts and fears about being wrong and God throwing me in Hell. I feared God punishing me for disobedience. I lay in bed more than a few nights wondering, “what if I am wrong?”

Over time, my doubts and fears faded into the fabric of my life. It’s been years now since I had such thoughts.

Perhaps, this pastor is asking me a different question, wondering if I was hesitant about publicly identifying as an atheist. I have never been one to hesitate when I am confident that I am right. I am not the type of person who hides who and what he is, even if it would make life easier for me if I did so. In this regard, my wife and I are as different as day and night. Now, I don’t go through the streets screaming, “I am an ATHEIST,” but I don’t shy away from the label. I have often warned people who have contacted me about their own questions and doubts to NOT look at my life as a pattern to follow. (Please see Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist) Each of us must choose our own path. I don’t judge or criticize atheists who choose to keep their unbelief private. Each to his own.

When I started blogging in 2007, one question I asked myself was whether I wanted to write anonymously. I chose to use my real name, but there have been moments when I wondered if I made the right choice. I have been brutally attacked and threatened by Christian zealots. The pain these people inflict leaves deep, lasting scars. Two weeks ago, this blog celebrated its fifth anniversary. Anyone who has ridden Bruce’s crazy train for years knows that me making it to five years is surprising. On at least three other occasions over the years, I have stopped blogging and deleted all of my posts due to savage attacks from Christian Fundamentalists (and, at one time, Fundamentalist atheists).

My life is pretty much an open book. I try to be open and honest, owning past mistakes and transgressions. Are there moments when I wish I had used a pseudonym instead of my real name? Sure, but it’s too late now to do so. The horse has left the proverbial barn. Even if I stopped blogging tomorrow, it would be impossible to erase my Internet footprint.

Bruce, was your transition difficult for you to accept?

I want to answer this question from two vantage points. First, was my transition from Christian to atheist hard for me to accept? Not at all. I have always believed truth matters. My life appears to my Evangelical critics to be one of a wanderer, a double-minded man (whom the Bible says is unstable in all his ways). My battle with depression is a sure sign to them that I am weak-kneed mentally. Perhaps, but I am the kind of person who is unafraid of changing his mind or being viewed as odd or different. In 2005, my mother-in-law and I had an epic blow-out. I believe I have written about this in the past. (This blow-out, by the way, totally altered our relationship — for the better, from my perspective.) Several days after our titanic battle, my mother-in-law called me. We talked about many things. During our conversation, Mom said, “Bruce, we always knew you were “different.” And she was right. I have always been the kind of person who follows the beat of my own drum, both as a Christian and an atheist. I have no doubt that my singular drum beating has caused me problems and affected the relationships I have with Polly, my children, and my extended family. I am who I am, and I have reached a place in life where I no longer apologize for being Bruce Gerencser.

Second, was my transition from a pastor to a commoner hard for me to accept? Absolutely. My entire life was wrapped up in Jesus and my calling to preach the gospel. The ministry was my life. I enjoyed being the hub around which everything turned. I enjoyed the work of the ministry, especially studying for and preaching sermons. To this day, I miss standing before people and saying, “thus saith the Lord.” I miss the love and respect I received from congregants. I miss the place I had in the community due to my position as a minister.

Walking away from the ministry and Christianity meant abandoning my life’s calling; abandoning everything I held dear. Doing so meant, at the age of fifty, I had to answer countless questions that I hadn’t thought about in years. Fortunately, Polly walked hand in hand with me when I deconverted. I can only imagine how different our lives might have been had I became an atheist and Polly remained a Christian. I highly doubt our marriage would have survived.

Do I still miss certain aspects of the ministry? Sure. Fortunately, writing has become a ministry of sorts for me. This blog and its wonderful readers are my church. I digitally preach sermons, hoping that people find them encouraging and helpful. The traffic numbers suggest that a few people, anyway, love and appreciate the content of my post-Christian sermons. And all Loki’s people said, AMEN!

Bruce, do you wonder at all about any form of an afterlife?

I do not. I have come to accept that life is short, death is certain, and once we draw our last breath we cease to exist. There was a time, post-Jesus, when I hoped there was some sort of life beyond the grave. It’s hard to comprehend not existing. I have had numerous thoughts about non-existence; about going to bed at night and never waking up; of being alive one moment, and dead the next. 2019 was a tough year physically for Polly and me. I thought about how life might be without Polly lying next to me; of not hearing the keys in the door late at night and her voice ringing out, “I’m home.”

As much as I might want for there to be life after death, the facts tell me that no such thing exists. What evidence do we have for an afterlife? None, except the words in this or that religious text. I am no longer willing to build my life and future on what the Bible does and doesn’t say. This is a good spot for me to share the advice I give on the About page:

If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

I do my best to live by this statement. If, perchance, I learn after I die that there is an afterlife, fine my me. I have no worries about the existence of the Christian God and his Heaven/Hell. I am confident that the only Heaven and Hell is that which we make in this life. That said, is it possible that some sort of cosmic afterlife exists? Sure, but I am not counting on it. I am not going to waste this life in the hope that there is some sort of divine payoff after I die

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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