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Category: Atheism

Dear Atheist Talk Show Hosts: Please Learn About Christianity Before Critiquing It

think and read

I listen to several atheist call-in shows and podcasts, particularly late at night. I take three medications at night to help with insomnia and pain, yet it still takes two to three hours for me to fall asleep. Typically, I watch TV shows/movies on my iPad Pro or listen to YouTube videos. Instead of saying bedtime prayers to the ceiling God, I fall asleep listening to videos/podcasts produced by the Atheist Community of Austin, Jimmy Snow, Matt Dillahunty, Rationality Rules, the Godless Engineer, and other atheist content producers.

Of late, I have become increasingly troubled by several atheist talk show hosts and podcasters who show a lack of understanding about Christianity and the Bible. If you are going to critique Evangelicalism and the Bible, then you should, at the very least, have a working knowledge and understanding of that which you are criticizing.

One call-in show host said that Jesus, during his lifetime, had LOTS of followers. This is patently false. According to Dr. Bart Ehrman’s book, The Triumph of Christianity, it is likely Jesus had around 20 followers in 30 CE. That group “exploded” to a few hundred people by 60 CE. In Acts 1:13-26, after the death of Jesus, 120 people gathered in the upper room for prayer, to listen to a sermon by Peter, and choose a replacement (Matthias) for Judas. One thing is certain: a relatively unknown, obscure itinerant Jewish preacher did NOT have lots of followers.

Another call-in show host said that Jesus started a new religion. He most certainly did not. Jesus was a Jew; his followers during his lifetime were observant Jews who worshiped at the Temple in Jerusalem. According to Acts 11:25-26:

Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.

Jesus was not a Christian. Jesus didn’t start First Baptist Church in Jerusalem. If we take Acts 11 as accurate history, the first time the followers of Jesus were called Christians happened 40 years after the life and death of Jesus.

And finally, another call-in talk show host, an ex-Jehovah’s Witness, objected when a caller said Christianity was a cult. The host vehemently disagreed, saying that her former religion was a cult, but garden variety Christian sects were NOT cults. This host, for some reason, thought it important that the word cult be reserved for just “bad” religions — her former religion. The host showed a real lack of awareness about other Christian sects, particularly Evangelical denominations. Fortunately, the show’s co-host gently corrected his fellow host’s incorrect assertions.

I have noticed that some atheist call-in talk show hosts have a hard time saying “I don’t know” or admitting that they lack understanding about a particular subject. Wanting to be viewed as authoritative, these hosts (at times) speak beyond that which they know. I am in no way suggesting that these hosts are deliberately saying untrue things. I suspect that the problem is a lack of knowledge. It’s important to know what we don’t know. I don’t pontificate on this blog about science or non-Christian religions. While I am not ignorant of some aspects of these things, I am not an authority. Want to talk about Evangelicalism or the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement? I’m your man. I know what I’m talking about. I try to stay in my lane, focusing my work on subjects for which I have expertise.

To these show hosts and podcasters, I say, do better, my fellow atheists, do better. Christians deserve to have their religion, in all its flavors, accurately represented. Atheists don’t like it when their beliefs are straw-manned, and neither do Christians. If you are going to critique Christianity in general and Evangelicalism in particular, please put in the work necessary to know what the hell you are talking about. If you are unwilling to do your homework, please turn off the microphone.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

I Make No Apologies for Being a Curmudgeon

Yesterday, I posted the following on Facebook:

I love wearing my rainbow suspenders. Sure, I’m an LGBTQ ally, but I just like wearing them. And they keep me from exposing my ass to the world. That said, wearing them during Pride Month brings out the glares. 😂 I take great joy, pleasure, and smug satisfaction in irritating the Heaven out of bigots, homophobes, transphobes, and religious Fundamentalists. No one has yet confronted me, but the glares are telling. And if someone stupidly, ignorantly, and foolishly confronts me? “I pity the fool, “ to quote Mr. T. I am an old, cranky curmudgeon. And I know words. Lots of words. You’ve been warned. 😂

David Young, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) evangelist — married to my wife’s cousin — responded to my post with this:

You may be old, but you don’t have to be a cranky curmudgeon. 😏

My friend Dale D. responded:

Yes, he does! Otherwise, he’s not Bruce!

Dale understands me. We’ve been friends for years. I appreciated his willingness to defend my curmudgeonly ways.

I posted two comments. Let me give you the second one first so you understand my use the word curmudgeon:

My definition of curmudgeon: cranky and opinionated — you know, in a good way.😂 I’ve been blogging since 2007. I’ve been a prolific writer most of my life — both as a Christian pastor and as an atheist preacher. 😂 One thing people learn about me, shit on my doorstep or attack my family and I will likely respond. Turn the other cheek is overrated, often how loving, kind people are abused by assholes. I’ve always stood up for such people, and I’m more than willing to stand my own ground. Need someone to charge hell with an empty squirt gun? I’m your guy. 😂According to those who know me, I’m a nice guy. I’ll leave it to them to say whether my curmudgeonly personality gets in the way of our friendships. I only have three friends, but who is counting? 😂

And here’s my response to David Young:

Spend every day getting hateful, nasty emails, comments, and social media messages from Evangelicals, and you might be a cranky curmudgeon too. Walk in my shoes, David, and then we’ll talk. When Jesus-loving people have threatened to murder you, assault your wife/daughter, or tell you they hope you die a painful death, then we’ll talk. When people tell you that the incurable diseases that are killing you are deserved judgment from God, then we’ll talk. When you are the subject of sermons, blog posts, forum articles, and social media posts (often containing lies and distortions), then we’ll talk. You see, you have no idea where I’ve been, where I am, or what I’ve experienced. We haven’t seen each other, in what, a decade? The last time we’ve had a meaningful conversation? 2005? No offense, David, but you don’t know me (or my family). As a Christian, I had to endure abuse from church members and colleagues in the ministry. What would Jesus do, right? As an atheist, I no longer have to silently endure bad treatment by others. I am free to be who I am. And at this juncture in life, this means I’m a cranky curmudgeon. 😂But, I can be a nice guy too. To quote the Bible, do unto others as you would want them to do unto you. I’m sure this is far more than you bargained for. 😂

Lesson? Don’t tell an old cranky curmudgeon that he doesn’t have to be a cranky curmudgeon — as if there is something inherently wrong with him. My tombstone will one day say:

bruce gerencser curmudgeon

Sure, I will be in Hell with my fellow curmudgeons, but to quote Frank Sinatra, I will say, “I did it my way.” 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Evangelical Zealot “Dr.” David Tee is Infatuated with Bruce Gerencser

things religious say to atheists

“Dr.” David Tee (David Thiessen) — an Evangelical zealot — is an expert in passive-aggressive writing. Of late, Tee has written five or so posts about me. I am starting to think that Tee has a man-crush on me — even though I am not gay or bisexual. Sorry, David, I know you want me, but it ain’t going to happen. 🙂 My three wives and 666 concubines keep me way too busy — wink, wink, if you know what I mean (just following in the footsteps of Solomon, the “wisest” man in the Bible).

I have responded to Tee several times:

David Tee Says I Am Envious and Jealous of Evangelical Churches

David Tee Says I’m a Quitter and Have Nothing to Offer People

Tee warns Christians — especially “immature” believers — not to read my writing lest I lead them astray. Evidently, I am more powerful than God. Cool, right? Tee views himself as a Bible expert. I suspect what irritates the heaven out of him is that I know as much as he does (if not more) about the Bible and Christianity. He knows that my writing can and does lead people to the light — of skepticism, reason, and intellectual inquiry. So, he rages against me, hoping that the few people who read his blog will be warded off from this site. Much like the gospel he preaches, his efforts are doomed to fail.

Tee has written two posts about me (and others) this week. The first post is titled Applying Scripture. Here’s an excerpt from this post:

We have done many articles recently using two non-Christian websites as a source for our topics. It is not wrong to do so and we may address more of the issues they raise n future articles.

What is important though, is how to respond to these people. One of the keys to approaching those that either do not believe or did believe and turned away from their salvation is that they do not accept God’s definitions, God’s thinking, nor anything to do with God.

That makes it very tough to deal with because they will avoid the truth as much as possible.

….

God’s love tells everyone to forsake evil, wrong behavior, and so on. However, only God defines those categories and places different actions in each category. Star Trek and unbelievers do not have the authority or power to change that categorization.

All they can do is create something that continues to corrupt people and leaves them in their sin. They call it by other terms but it certainly is not love. Then there is Bruce and his views on abortion (We are tired of trying to type his last name).

….

It is impossible for Christians to talk to unbelievers and quitters because they have a low view of human life and think it is okay for women to murder or kill. They change the concept of an unborn child in hopes of relieving any guilt or regrets from disposing of human life for selfish reasons.

A woman has no right to kill anyone including an unborn child. Pro-abortionists do not have the power or authority to change the status of the unborn child. The pregnancy period is God’s choice and life starts at conception no matter what sinful term is used to describe it.

These are the situations where applying scripture correctly will help believers focus their energies on topics and issues that really matter. That application takes correct discernment.

First, you have to discern if it is really God leading you to interact with these people. Then if that is so, you need to discern which scriptures will help you in that interaction. Both steps are governed by your going to your prayer closet and praying.

You will need prayer to protect you from the subtle attacks of unbelievers and those that turn away. Then you need to ask for wisdom and understanding to tackle the interaction. Having the correct knowledge will help as well.

One of the biggest complaints atheists have had over the years is that believers do not know anything or they know very little. Getting the right knowledge is not wrong as your ability to discern will help you use that knowledge with God’s help in a manner that is effective and convincing.

Bruce tends to complain a lot when evangelicals make comments on his website about his desire to return to the faith and so on. Those comments are not very discerning as they ignore what Hebrews says in chapter 6:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame

Sometimes it is best to ignore such people and just use what they write on their blogs as teaching tools to show believers what to watch out for. Remember that unbelievers will camouflage their deceptive thoughts with a lot of truth.

For example, in the quote above Bruce mentions that right to life people are only right to be born advocates. That is true in many circumstances. He wasn’t the first to say it, as Robin Williams said it before him and we may have beaten him to that fact as well.

But that fact does not mean we stop being anti-abortion supporters. We just have to broaden our methods and reach more people through a better strategy that only God can give. Also, the Bible does not say to focus on saving the unborn only. They are plenty of other innocent people who need our help.

That is where discernment comes in. Knowing which strategies to use and where to apply them will help make you a better success for God than ignoring God’s instructions in hopes of saving those who cannot be saved anymore.

When you get the correct discerning powers, you will notice that the unbeliever, etc. will think they have been enlightened, that they came to the truth, and that they alone can make determinations for everyone else.

….

No, we are not hypocrites because we are doing what God says to do. We do not listen to unbelievers because the Bible instructs us not to; we do not accept sinful positions because they are wrong and sinful; we do not have ultra-literal interpretations because we are doing what Christ said to do- know the truth.

Meerkat is upset because his ideas are being rejected and he has no say in the Christian way of life. But he rejects God and his ways so why should he expect to be accepted when he attacks the very belief of those he wants to accept his views?

It is neither rational nor logical and discernment lets you know that and that he is doing nothing but trying to ruin Christian lives and get them sent to hell. He may not realize that is what is taking place but Christians with discernment see it very clearly.

Bruce is the same way. He wants his views to be accepted but he will reject anything to do with God, the Bible, and Christianity. The two are hypocrites because they say one thing but in reality, act differently from what they say.

As you can see, Tee thinks of himself as a uber-mature Christian who is called by the Evangelical God to “protect” weak, immature followers of Jesus. Evidently, the Holy Spirit, who allegedly lives inside every Christian, is too busy playing golf to protect them from atheist bloggers. Christians should be glad that Mr. Tee is on the job, protecting them from an evil Meerkat and Santa Claus. (Please see Ben Berwick’s blog, Meerkat Musings.)

I love that Tee has finally admitted why he refuses to take the time to spell my last name correctly. He’s too lazy to do so. Tee can write thousands of words about me, but he can’t spell my last name correctly.

Today, Tee wrote another post about me. Titled Inside the Mind of an Atheist, Tee purports to peer into my mind and know what is going on therein. Polly would love to know how he does this, as would my counselor. 🙂 Here’s an excerpt from this post. Paragraphs in bold font are from my post Understanding Christianity From a Sociological and Economic Perspective.

We all know what is going on inside the mind of an atheist. But it is nice to have them make confessions once in a while. B.G. (Bruce Gerencser) has written a little confession that clears up any confusion. His very first line tells us everything we need to know about atheists:

Atheists of every stripe agree that all the gods of human religions are false; that these gods do not have magical, supernatural powers; that they do not answer prayer, heal the sick, or raise the dead. These gods are made and shaped by human hands and do not, as many religionists suggest, live beyond the space-time continuum.

The only thing true about this comment is that it describes exactly what the atheist believes and thinks. The Bible says the fool has said there is no god and this is not something that has suddenly appeared in the 20th or 21st century.

It has been going on since almost time began. B. G. is saying nothing new and after all these millenniums you would think the atheist would come up with something new and better. They don’t because they have nothing to offer anyone.

The first line in that quote doesn’t prove anything except that the atheist is not using fact, physical evidence, reality, or even truth to make their decision. They also use no authority either. They have just decided that is the way it is and then attack anyone brave enough to admit that they cannot do life alone.

Their statement that there is no God is not fact just what they wish it was. They hope for this because they have been deceived and do not want to think about the ramifications of their decision.

They also ignore all the evidence proving that God does exist. They are not enlightened but simply deceived. They do not have the truth ut gave it up for whatever false promise they have been given by evil.

Then they think they are winning because they are being successful in turning people away from God. How sad that is because they are aiding evil in its hatred against God and destroying people’s eternity and lives.

They mock those who hold onto their faiths and that is a sign of weakness, as most people who can’t, mock those who can. They are too weak to take the step of faith and live the life that Christ wants them to live so they do whatever they can to harm those who can.

The atheist may not realize it as they are blind to what is going on in their lives and who is pulling their strings. These people are too afraid to deal with reality so they deny the existence of evil as well.

Those denials leave them in a quandary as they now have no source for good and bad behavior. They have no standards to measure themselves or others to see if they are on the right path. Instead, they failed so they deny everything that would remind them of their failure.

Atheism is the absence of belief in the existence of gods. While there may be a God that has not yet revealed itself to us, such a possibility is improbable. Most atheists are comfortable living their lives with no thought of God or religion.

This is another sign of weakness. They do not want to draw a line in the sand so they leave a little opening there just in case. What they are really saying is that the God who has revealed himself to everyone is not real and they are waiting for a god that does what they want.

In other words, they want to be in charge of their god and have it do what they say. We know they are not going to bow down to that god who may reveal himself eventually because they refuse to do it for the one who has revealed himself.

Of course they are comfortable living their lives that way. They get to make their own rules, make judgments, lie, sin, and do whatever they want because they reject the rules of the God who has revealed himself.

The atheist wants to be master of their own lives even though they are ruled by evil and that goal will never happen.

Many Christians believe that Christianity gives them a one-up morally on the rest of the world.

It goes without saying that we are morally superior to the atheist. Not because we have created our own moral system like the atheist has. But because we are courageous enough to admit that we cannot live morally without Jesus.

We recognize our true state and seek to change our lives through belief in Jesus and following his ways. Some are more successful than others. Those that refuse to do this mock those who can and have.

We also recognize that we cannot create our own moral state. That our human capacity is not great enough to accomplish that goal. We also recognize that we do not have the authority to create great moral codes.

Even those Christians who have tried to create a system they believe is right falls short of what God has created already. We know we cannot do better than God and even if we tried, there would still be people who claim it is wrong, inferior, exclusive, racist, sexist, and so on, then reject that human-created option to design their own.

It takes a lot of courage to live the Christian life and one has to be brave to do it. However, atheists have shown that they have neither characteristic as they cowardly leave the faith or reject it and join the unbelieving world.

They must think there is safety in numbers but they are wrong. They are not safe, it is just an illusion and denying reality only proves they are weak and not brave.

A religion need not be true for people to benefit from it.

While this is a true statement, that does not mean that all religions are false or fake. False religions exist for the same reason atheists exist. To deceive people into thinking they have been enlightened and know the truth.

Without one true religion, no false belief would exist nor would atheists. There would be nothing to reject or avoid nor would there be anything that people would need to be deceived about.

The best way to understand religious belief in general and Christianity in particular is to view both from a sociological and economic perspective.

This is not a true statement for it demands that people ignore all the truths about Christianity and look solely at the faith from a deceived standpoint. The best way to understand Christianity is to examine it with all of its characteristics intact using an open mind.

Evangelicalism is numerically in decline.

This is not news to the Christian. Not only did Jesus tell us this would take place but he also said that people love darkness over light. B. G. and other atheists are not proclaiming some phenomenon here or that they have the truth and are winning the battle against evil.

Christianity is not evil. It is the best thing that could happen to this world. we have a better way to live and treat others, we are not deceived and living a lie and we have promises to hold onto to help us meet the challenges that come with life.

The criticism hurled at Christians by B. G. and other atheists are without merit as they look at things through blind and deceived eyes. They deny the existence of the enemy and the work it does to successfully destroy believers like they were destroyed.

They cannot see the reality of life because they live in a state of denial not a state of illumination. That is why Christ came to earth and why his followers continue to cast that light.

We are not losing, it is just that sinful men do not love God enough to change and be brave enough to live the Christian life. We do not take B. G. seriously as he has said that when he was a preacher and following God, he was quite successful.

Yet, he denied and denies the very evidence for God that took place in his own life. If he was as successful and on fire for God as he claims, then he should be ashamed. He let evil destroy him so that success could not continue.

That is not something to be proud of.

I could write a series of posts on Tee’s lies and half-truths about atheism in general, and the infamous B.G. in particular. I won’t do so, however, because I have covered Tee’s objections to atheism and B.G. before. I might change my mind on this if readers are interested in me doing so. What say ye, dear heathens and false god worshipers?

Thanks, Mr. Tee, for the comedy bit. Keep it up. You are an awesome evangelist for the one true religion — atheism.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Understanding Christianity From a Sociological and Economic Perspective

i love my church

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Atheists of every stripe agree that all the gods of human religions are false; that these gods do not have magical, supernatural powers; that they do not answer prayer, heal the sick, or raise the dead. These gods are made and shaped by human hands and do not, as many religionists suggest, live beyond the space-time continuum.

Atheism is the absence of belief in the existence of gods. While there may be a God that has not yet revealed itself to us, such a possibility is improbable. Most atheists are comfortable living their lives with no thought of God or religion. Living such a life perplexes religious people, particularly Evangelical Christians. Unable to rationalize why anyone would ever reject the wonderful love and grace of Jesus, some Evangelicals make inflammatory, false statements about atheists: atheists are immoral, atheists secretly desire to commit sexual sin, atheists hate God, atheists are servants of Satan (in whom atheists also do not believe), to name a few. While it is certainly true that atheists can do bad things, I know of no study that concludes that atheists act better or worse than Evangelicals. People are people, and humans can do awful things, regardless of what they believe about the existence of God.

Many Christians believe that Christianity gives them a one-up morally on the rest of the world. According to their core beliefs, Evangelicals are saved and sanctified and have the Holy Spirit living inside them. Not only that, but God has given to them a divine road map for life — the Bible. Evangelicals, then, SHOULD be morally superior to the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. That they aren’t reveals that many Christians don’t practice what they preach.

A religion need not be true for people to benefit from it. I would be the first to admit that millions of Americans find great value in religious beliefs and practices. While it could be argued that — for Christianity in particular — removing God’s judgment and fear of Hell from the equation would empty Christian churches overnight, many religions do not have such beliefs. Yet, millions of people devote themselves to their teachings and practices. I am more inclined to believe these days, after fourteen years of interacting with progressive and liberal Christians, that people can intellectually abandon (or compartmentalize) many of the teachings of Christianity, yet hang on to a spiritualized form of Christianity that focuses on a cosmic Christ and doing good works. This brand of Christianity bears little resemblance to historic Christianity, yet it “works” for millions of people. Why is this?

The best way to understand religious belief in general and Christianity in particular is to view both from a sociological and economic perspective. Strip away all the dogma, and what’s left? A group of people joined together with common wants, needs, and desires. Years ago, Polly and I visited the Episcopal church in Defiance, Ohio. One member came up to us before the service and let us know that the church didn’t care what we believed. Coming from an Evangelical and Baptist background, we found such a notion shocking. Beliefs matter! Right? In Evangelical churches, beliefs matter, but outside of Evangelicalism, thousands of churches are indifferent to the internecine wars fought over doctrine. These churches just want to love God, love others, be happy, and do good works. For them, church is a social or family gathering, a place where people are accepted as they are.

Humans are social animals, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that one of the biggest draws for religious groups is the social connectivity they offer to attendees. From this perspective, churches aren’t any different from humanist or atheist groups, nor are they any different from clubs such as the Lions Club, Kiwanis Club, Moose Lodge, Amvets, VFW, Facebook, or any of the political parties.

We humans tend to gather together based on shared beliefs, practices, and ideals. We enjoy hanging out with like-minded people. When we view religions from this perspective, it becomes easy to see why most Americans are church members or part of a religious group. When we throw in the fact that religion gives people a moral framework to live by and answers the two big questions of life: what is my purpose and is there life after death? — it is not surprising that religion continues to flourish.

One of the weaknesses of atheism is that it doesn’t provide social connections (nor is it meant to). One of the things that former Christians miss is that sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves. Former believers also miss the communal fellowship found in churches. More than a few former Evangelicals have written me expressing how lonely they felt once they became unbelievers. While there are atheist and humanist groups that provide social connectivity, for the most part, particularly for people who don’t live on the east/west coast or in a major city, atheists and humanists are on their own.

Let me conclude this post by looking at religion from an economic perspective. To properly understand why people are members of a particular religion/church, we must do a cost-benefit analysis. Being a part of a religion/church costs something. This is what I call the price of admission. One of the hardest things to get Evangelicals to admit is that to become a Christian/church member requires some sort of payment, be it a denial of self, a repudiation of certain behaviors, financial contributions, or as pastors are fond of saying: God wants you to give your time, talent, and money.

People attend church Sunday after Sunday, oblivious to the fact that every time they walk through the doors, a membership fee is required of them. It’s only when congregants become unhappy or disgruntled that they do a cost-benefit analysis. What am I getting out of this? they ask. They begin to wonder if the price of admission is worth it; are they getting more in return than what it costs? If unhappy Evangelicals conclude that they no longer receive what they should for their payment, they begin a process called “church shopping.” Feeling that their needs are not being met or they aren’t being “fed,” Christians visit other churches hoping to find a congregation that will better suit their needs. In other words, they are looking for a religion/church where the benefits outweigh the costs.

Evangelicalism is numerically in decline. The reasons for this are many: exclusionary practices, right-wing politics, support for Donald Trump, anti-abortion rhetoric, Puritanical sexuality, and anti-LGBTQ beliefs, to name a few. In particular, Evangelical churches are hemorrhaging younger adults, losing the very people who are supposed to be the future of Evangelicalism. These younger adults have decided that the cost of being Evangelical church members outweighs the benefits. And so they leave, swelling the ranks of Americans who are indifferent towards organized religion — the NONES.

As the United States becomes more secular and less religious, religious leaders and pastors think that the solution to this seismic change is to double down on their particular beliefs and practices or develop programs that will attract unbelievers or help retain church members. These approaches have failed spectacularly, and until an honest accounting is given as to why people stay or leave, sects and churches will continue to see membership (and financial) loss. Until sects admit that their church planting efforts do little to “reach the lost,” but, for the most part, just cannibalize already established churches, they shouldn’t be surprised when new members gained at one point leave when the latest, greatest church with the most awesome pastor ever comes to town. Christians are no different from anyone else. They seek that which will give them the greatest benefit for the least cost, and as long as the benefits outweigh the costs, their asses will remain firmly ensconced in the pews. But when the equation flips and costs outweigh benefits, LOOK OUT!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Dear Jesus

jesus
Painting by Jessie Kohn

Updated and corrected, June 7, 2021

Dear Jesus,

I’m sixty-four years old, and there has never been a moment when you were not in my life.

Mom and Dad talked about you before I was born, deciding to have me baptized by an Episcopal priest. They wanted me to grow up with good morals and love you, so they decided putting water on my forehead and having a priest recite religious words over me was the way to ensure my moral Christian future.

A few weeks after my birth, Mom and Dad gathered with family members to have me baptized. I was later told it was quite an affair, but I don’t remember anything about the day. Years later, I found my baptismal certificate. Signed by the priest, it declared I was a Christian.

Jesus, how could I have been a Christian at age four weeks? How did putting water on my head make me a follower of you? I don’t understand, but according to the certificate, I was now part of my tribe’s religion: Protestant Christianity.

I turned five in 1962. Mom and Dad decided to move 2,300 miles to San Diego, California, believing that success and prosperity awaited them.

After getting settled, Mom and Dad said we need to find a new church to attend. Their shopping took them to a growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation, Scott Memorial Baptist Church, pastored by Tim LaHaye. It was here that I learned that my tribe had a new religion: Fundamentalist Baptist Christianity.

I quickly learned that our previous religion worshiped a false God, and my baptism didn’t make me a Christian at all. If I wanted to be a True Christian®, I had to come forward to the front of the church, kneel at the altar, and pray a certain prayer. If I did these things, I would then be a Christian — forever. And so I did. This sure pleased Mom and Dad.

Later, I was baptized again, but the preacher didn’t sprinkle water on my forehead. That would not do, I was told. True Baptism® required me to be submerged in a tank of water. And so, one Sunday, I joined a line of people waiting to be baptized. I was excited, yet scared. Soon, it came time for me to be dunked. The preacher put his left hand behind my head and raised his right hand towards Heaven. He asked, “Bruce, do you confess before God and man that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior?” With a halting child’s voice, I replied, “Yes.” And with that, the preacher, with a hanky in his right hand, put his hand over my nose, dunked me in the water, and quickly lifted me up. I heard both the preacher and the congregation say, “Amen!”

Jesus, the Bible says that the angels in Heaven rejoice when a sinner gets saved. Do you remember the day I got saved? Do you remember hearing the angels in Heaven say, “Praise to the Lamb that was slain! Bruce Gerencser is now a child of God. Glory be, another soul snatched from the hands of Satan?”

After a few years in California, Mom and Dad discovered that there was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and our family was just as poor in the Golden State as they were in dreary, flat rural northwest Ohio. And so we moved, a process that happened over and over to me throughout the next decade — eight different schools.

As I became more aware and observant of my environment, I noticed that Mom and Dad had changed. Mom, in particular, was quite animated and agitated over American social unrest and the war in Vietnam. Mom and Dad took us to a new church, First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio — an IFB church pastored by Jack Bennett. We attended church twice on Sunday and Wednesday evening.

I attended Bryan schools for two years. Not long after I started fourth grade, Mom and Dad decided it was time to move yet again. This time, we moved to a brand-new tri-level home on Route 30 outside of Lima, Ohio. It was there that I started playing basketball and baseball — sports I would continue to play competitively for the next twenty years. It was also there that I began to see that something was very wrong with Mom. At the time, I didn’t understand what was going on with her. All I knew is that she could be “Mom” one day and a raging lunatic the next.

I was told by my pastors, Jesus, that you know and see everything. Just in case you were busy one day and missed what went on or were on vacation, let me share a few stories about what happened while we lived in Lima.

One night, Mom was upstairs, and I heard her screaming. She was having one of her “fits.” I decided to see if there was anything I could do to help her — that’s what the oldest child does. As I walked towards Mom’s bedroom, I saw her grabbing shoes and other things and violently throwing them down the hallway. This was the first time I remember being afraid . . .

One day, I got off the school bus and quickly ran to our home. I always had to be the first one in the door. As I walked into the kitchen, I noticed that Mom was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She had slit her wrists. I quickly ran to the next-door neighbor’s house and asked her to help. She summoned an ambulance, and Mom’s life was saved.

Mom would try again, and again to kill herself: slitting her wrists, overdosing on medication, driving in front of a truck. At the age of fifty-four, she succeeded. One Sunday morning, Mom went into the bathroom, pointed a Ruger .357 at her heart, and pulled the trigger. She quickly slumped to the floor and was dead in minutes. Yet, she never stopped believing in you, Jesus. No matter what happened, Mom held on to her tribe’s God.

Halfway through my fifth-grade year, Mom and Dad moved to Farmer, Ohio. I attended Farmer Elementary School for the fifth and sixth grades. One day, I was home from school sick, and Mom’s brother-in-law stopped by. He didn’t know I was in my bedroom. After he left, Mom came to my room crying, saying, “I have been raped. I need you to call the police.” I was twelve. Do you remember this day, Jesus? Where were you? I thought you were all-powerful? Why didn’t you do anything?

From Farmer, we moved to  Deshler, Ohio for my seventh-grade year of school. Then Mom and Dad moved us to Findlay, Ohio. By then, my parent’s marriage was in shambles. Dad never seemed to be home, and Mom continued to have wild, manic mood swings. Shortly before the end of ninth grade, Dad matter-of-factly informed me that they were getting a divorce. “We don’t love each other anymore,” Dad said. And with that, he turned and walked away, leaving me to wallow in my pain. That’s how Dad always treated me. I can’t remember a time when he embraced me or said, “I love you.” I would learn years later that “Dad” was not my biological father. I wonder, Jesus, was this why he kept me at arm’s length emotionally?

After moving to Findlay, Mom and Dad joined Trinity Baptist Church — a fast-growing IFB congregation pastored by Gene Millioni. After Mom and Dad divorced, they stopped attending church. Both of them quickly remarried. Dad married a nineteen-year-old girl with a baby, and Mom married her first cousin — a recent prison parolee. So much upheaval and turmoil, Jesus. Where were you when all of this was going on? I know, I know, you were there in spirit.

Mom and Dad may have stopped going to church, but I didn’t. By then, I had a lot of friends and started dating, so there was no way I would miss church. Besides, attending church got me away from home, a place where Dad’s new and improved wife made it clear I wasn’t welcome.

One fall weeknight, I sat in church with my friends listening to Evangelist Al Lacy. I was fifteen. As is the custom in IFB churches, Lacy prayed at the end of his sermon, asking, “with every head bowed, and every eye closed, is there anyone here who is not saved and would like me to pray for them?” I had been feeling under “conviction” during the sermon. I thought, “maybe I’m not saved?” So, I raised my hand. Lacy prayed for those of us who had raised our hands and then had everyone stand. As the congregation sang Just as I am, Lacy said, “if you raised your hand, I want you to step out of your seat and come to the altar. Someone will meet you there and show you how you can know Jesus as your Lord and Savior.” Much to the surprise of my friends, I haltingly stepped out from my seat and walked to the front. I was met by Ray Salisbury — a church deacon. Ray had me kneel as he took me through a set of Bible verses called the Roman’s Road. After quizzing me on what I had read, Ray asked me if I wanted to be saved. I said, “yes,” and then Ray said, “pray this prayer after me: Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I know you died on the cross for my sins. Right now, I ask you to forgive me of my sins and come into my heart and save me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” After I prayed the prayer, Ray said, “AMEN!” “Did you really believe what you prayed?” I replied, “yes.” “Then you are now a child of God, a born-again Christian.”

The next Sunday, I was baptized, and the Sunday after that, I went forward again, letting the church know that you, Jesus, were calling me to preach. I was all in after that. For the next thirty-five years, Jesus, I lived and breathed you. You were my life, the sum of my existence.

At the age of nineteen, I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. It was here I received training to become a proper IFB pastor, and it was here I met the love of my life, a beautiful dark-haired preacher’s daughter named Polly. We married during the summer between our sophomore and junior years. We were so excited about our new life, thrilled to be preparing to work in God’s vineyard. We planned to graduate, go to a small community to start a new IFB church, buy a white two-story house with a white picket fence, and have two children: Jason and Bethany, and live happily ever after. However, Jesus, you had different plans for us. Do you remember what happened to us? Surely you do, right? Friends and teachers told us that you were testing us! Polly was six months pregnant by early spring, and I was laid off from my machine shop job. We were destitute, yet, the college dean told us, “Jesus wants you to trust him and stay in college.” No offer of financial help was forthcoming, and we finally had to move out of our apartment. With my tail between my legs, I packed up our meager belongings and returned to Bryan, Ohio. I had failed your test, Jesus. I still remember what one of my friends told me, “If you leave now, God will NEVER use you!”

What did he know, right? After moving, I quickly secured secular employment and began working at a local IFB church. For the next twenty-five years, I pastored Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Jesus, you were my constant companion, my lover, friend, and confidante. I sure loved you, and I believed you loved me too. We were BFFs, right?  Sometimes, I wondered if you really loved me as much as I loved you. Our love affair was virtual in nature. We never met face-to-face, but I believed in my heart of hearts you were the very reason for my existence. When I doubted this, I attributed my doubts to Satan or me not praying hard enough or reading the Bible enough. I never thought for one moment, Jesus, that you might be a figment of my imagination, a lie taught to me by my parents and pastors. I was a true believer. That is, until I wasn’t.

At age fifty, I finally realized, Jesus, that you were a myth, the main character of a 2,000-year-old fictional story. I finally concluded that all those times when I wondered where you were, were in fact, true. I couldn’t find you because you were dead. You had died almost 2,000 years before. The Bible told me about your death, but I really believed that you were resurrected from the dead. I feel so silly now. Dead people don’t come back to life. Your resurrection from the dead was just a campfire story, and I had foolishly believed it. I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Everyone I knew believed the same story. All of us believed that the miracles attributed to you, Jesus, really happened; that you were a virgin-born God-man; that you ascended to Heaven to prepare a mansion for us to live in after we die.

It all seems so silly now, Jesus, but I really did believe in you. Fifty years, Jesus. The prime of my life, I gave to you, only to find out that you were a lie. Yet, here I am today, and you are still “with” me. My parents, pastors, and professors did a good job of indoctrinating me. You are very much “real” to me, even though you lie buried somewhere on a Judean hillside. Try as I might, I can’t get you out of my mind. I have come to accept that you will never leave me.

You should know, Jesus — well, you can’t know, you are dead — that I spend my days helping people get away from you. What did you say, Jesus? I can’t hear you. I can hear the voices of Christians condemning me as a heretic, blasphemer, and hater of God. I can hear them praying for my death or threatening me with eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire. Their voices are loud and clear, but your voice, Jesus? Silence.

Always silent, Jesus. Why is that?

If you ever want to talk to me, you know where I live. Show up at my door, Jesus, and that will be a miracle I can believe in. Better yet, if you can help the Cincinnati Bengals win the Super Bowl, that would be awesome!

If you can’t help my football team win a few games, Jesus, what good are you? It’s not like I am asking you to feed the hungry, heal the sick, or put an end to violence and war. That would require you to give a shit, Jesus, and if there’s one thing I have learned over the past sixty-four years, it is this: you don’t give a shit about what happens on earth. We, humans, are on our own, and that’s fine with me.

A Sinner Saved by Reason,

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Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser