Menu Close

Category: Atheism

Dear Christians: The Word “Atheist” is Not Shorthand for Your Lives Before Jesus

Calvin the atheist

It is not uncommon to hear Evangelicals claim that they were “atheists” before they became born-again Christians. Often, their goal is to connect with atheists, hoping to win them to Jesus. These atheists-turned-Christians think if they show that they “understand” atheism, that atheists will more likely accept their evangelistic appeals. Over the years, countless Evangelicals have tried this approach with me: Bruce I understand! I was once an atheist just like you! And then one day I realized I was a sinner in need of salvation and Jesus saved me! See! We are just the same. No. Really we aren’t.

I was a Christian BEFORE I became an atheist. I spent fifty years in the Christian church. I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I was raised, saved, baptized, and trained in the Evangelical church. I attended an Evangelical college. I pastored Evangelical churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. I, at one time, had a library that contained over 1,000 theology books, all of which I read and used in my sermon preparation. I also had Bible and language study programs on my computer. I spent most of my adult life thoroughly immersed in study of the Christian Bible and Christianity. When I deconverted, I did so because I intellectually concluded that the claims of Christianity were false. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) My unbelief was the result of my painstaking, agonizing deconstruction of Christianity.

Most Christians-turned-atheists, deconvert when they are younger. Rare is the person who is in his fifties before he decides to walk away from Christianity. That I was willing, regardless of the cost, to renounce all that I once believed, doesn’t mean that I am, in any way, unique. While many people embrace atheism in their 20s and 30s, I do know of people who were much older when they lost the ability to believe in the existence of gods. All that being older means is that I had a lot more to lose by publicly announcing my defection from Christianity. I had accumulated a lifetime of experiences and friendships, and losing these was painful. The moment I dropped Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners in the mail and posted it to my blog, I knew that my life, from that point forward, would never be the same.

While my wife came along with me as we walked out the doors of the church for the last time, it was not at all certain that Polly would come to the same conclusions I did. The same goes for my six adult children. I risked losing the love of my life and the six blessings we shared over the course of our marriage. While I can now say that things worked out better than I could ever have imagined, there were times when I wondered if I wasn’t an arsonist who torched his own house.

So, dear atheists-turned-Christians, in what way was your “godless” life like my current life as an atheist? Be honest. Isn’t saying you were an atheist BC (before Christ) really just a generic, meaningless shorthand for life before Jesus? Evangelicals love to claim that there really is no such thing as an atheist, yet, when it suits them they are willing to claim the atheist moniker. If, as Evangelicals claim, everyone knows there is a God and has his law written on their hearts (Romans 1,2), how then is it possible for Evangelicals to be atheists before they became Christians?

Very few people schooled in the nuances of atheism, agnosticism, and humanism ever embrace Evangelicalism. Some might embrace moderate or liberal forms of Christianity or some other religion, but atheism is a sure antidote for Christian Fundamentalism. When it comes to reaching knowledgeable atheists, Evangelicals are batting pretty close to zero.

Instead of saying they were atheists before Jesus, Evangelicals should say they were indifferent towards religion. Virtually all religious belief is the result of where and when a person is born, along with tribal, social, cultural, and environmental exposure. Very few Evangelicals are willing to investigate why they believe what they believe. Better to make up stories about being atheists before being supernaturally saved by Jesus, than to admit that the reasons for their beliefs are quite human and earthly. In working with people who are in the process of leaving Evangelicalism, I try to get them to look at their lives from a sociological and cultural perspective. Once they are able to see how they became a Christian, sans any claims of supernatural action by the triune God, they will then be able to examine the claims of Christianity without faith getting in the way. It is not enough for people to say, I BELIEVE! Such a faith claim lies beyond investigation. If Evangelicals want their religion to be taken seriously, then they must be willing to expose Christianity to intellectual examination. If they are unwilling to do so, then atheists are free to dismiss their claims out of hand.

If there is one thing Evangelicals love, it is a glorious, often bloody, violent, sex-filled salvation testimony. Years ago, a young adult Amish-Mennonite man confided in me that he was distressed over the fact that he was not a bad person like many people were before they were saved. This man grew up in the Amish-Mennonite church and never strayed far from its teachings. He told me that he couldn’t remember a time when he wasn’t a Christian. There was almost a yearning in his voice, a desire to live a little and experience the sins of the world. Then he would have a story to tell.

This young man, like many Evangelicals, likely heard countless testimonies from people who were (fill in the blank) before they became Christians. In the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement, larger-than-life testimonies of licentiousness and debauchery are quite common. I hate to reduce everything down to the penis size matters metaphor, but in the case of salvation testimonies, it often the case that Evangelicals want to “out–bad” each other. If Bro. Joe was a drunk, then Bro. Hank was a bigger drunk and a drug addict too. If Sister Sally lost her virginity to the preacher’s son, Sister Julie lost her virginity to the deacon’s son and had sex with the preacher’s son too. And on and on the dick-waving goes. Result? Fantastical stories of lives before Jesus that are legendary, often admixtures of embellished truths, lies, and fantasies.

Having heard hundreds of salvation testimonies, I have concluded that most public declarations of life before Jesus are fabrications built around a kernel of truth. So, when Evangelicals say they were atheists before Jesus, I generally roll my eyes and silently say to myself, sure you were. Many Evangelicals sincerely believe their testimonies are true. They are unwilling or unable to see that their stories are the products of telling the same falsehoods over and over. It is easy for us to convince ourselves of things that have no basis in fact. Atheists are capable of self-deception too. When I read a story about an atheist who says he knew Christianity was false by the time he was five years old, I want to laugh. That five-year-olds can be indifferent towards religion is certainly true. But understanding atheism, and intellectually weighing Christianity in the balance by age five? Not a chance.

It is common for atheists and Christians alike to take present experiences and beliefs and read them backwards into their lives. In doing this, the truth becomes stretched, often to such a degree that it distorts reality. When I first deconverted, I wanted people to know that I abandoned Evangelicalism solely for intellectual reasons. While certainly the reasons for my deconversion are intellectual in nature, I am now willing to admit that my loss of faith also has an emotional component. I couldn’t admit this for a long time because Evangelicals used it against me, suggesting that I was angry at God, bitter, jaded, and cynical, and these were the REAL reasons why I am no longer a Christian.

While emotions and bad experiences certainly played a part in my deconversion, the most important factor was that I no longer believed that the claims of Christianity were true. Can the atheists-turned-Christians say the same? As our math teachers used to say, please show me your work. Show us the path that led you to atheism before finding Jesus. Few Evangelicals can show their work. Saying they were atheists before Jesus gives their testimony instant credibility within their houses of worship. Oooh, Bro. Jeremiah was an atheist before he got saved! Instantly, the stereotype which countless Evangelicals have of atheists is applied to the Bro. Jeremiahs of the church. What is that stereotype? That atheists are evil, followers of Satan, immoral, and eat babies for lunch. Rarely do Evangelicals ever bother to investigate whether pre-Jesus claims of godlessness are true.

When Evangelicals tell me they were once atheists, I usually ignore them, realizing that they likely have little to no understanding of atheism. When Evangelicals continue to say that they were once members of the Church of Atheism, I then press them for evidence for their claims. Point me to the atheist, secular, or humanist groups you were once a part of. Show me what atheist books you have read. Provide the articles, letters, and term papers you wrote in defense of atheism. Provide names of people who will attest to your claim of atheism. I have yet to have an atheist-turned-Christian provide such evidence.

What is ironic is that Evangelicals demand these very things from Christians-turned-atheists. I have spent fourteen years proving that I was a bona fide Evangelical Christian and pastor. I have written thousands of words in defense of my testimony. My claims can easily be checked and verified. I have, in every way, proved that I once was a preacher of the Evangelical gospel, a devoted, die-hard follower of Jesus Christ. Surely, I should be able to expect atheists-turned-Christians to give similar proof for their claims. While I am quite willing to accept that there are a handful of people who were once atheists and are now Evangelicals, I am unwilling to accept at face value testimonies that cannot be verified and vetted. And until these atheists-turned-Christians prove their claims, I hope they will forgive me for not believing a word they say.

Wikipedia has a page dedicated to notable people who were once nontheists and are now Christians. Most of the converts are now Roman Catholic, Anglican/Episcopalian, or liberal Protestants.  While I have no interest in going through the list name by name, I think it is safe to assume that there are very few Evangelicals on the list. The most notable Evangelicals are Lee StrobelWilliam Murray (son of Madalyn Murray O’Hair), Jeffrey Dahmer, and Kirk Cameron. Boy, there’s a panoply of intellectual greatness. While there are others like Francis Collins, the renowned geneticist, who claim the Evangelical moniker, many Evangelicals doubt evolution-believing people such as Collins are true Christians. Perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to start a Wikipedia page listing the names of atheists who became Evangelical Christians. I hope that, in doing so, Evangelicals will provide verifiable evidence for claims of once being atheists. If Evangelicals want people like me to believe they were once atheists, then they are going to have to prove it. Just saying it doesn’t make it so. Just because Pastor John down at First Baptist has a whopper of a before-Jesus testimony doesn’t mean it is true. Preachers know the value of great story, and what better story than that of an atheist who found God. Such claims can open doors to wider ministry opportunities and increased income.

The more bizarre and unbelievable the story, the more likely it is that Evangelicals will believe it. After all, the Evangelical God is a miracle-working deity. If he can raise the dead, heal the sick, walk on water, and turn water into wine, surely he can take a gun-toting, crack-smoking, whoremongering, thieving, hitman for the Mafia and turn him into a Bible-thumping, Jesus-praising, hallelujah-shouting Baptist preacher. With God, all things are possible, right?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

How (NOT) to Evangelize Atheists Through Prayer

praying for atheists

Several years ago, Polly and I traveled to Newark, Ohio, to spend the day with Polly’s parents. Physically, the trip was brutal. Three hours down, three hours back, and more potholes than I could count, the trip left me writhing in pain by the time we returned home. For chronic pain sufferers such as myself, this agony is often the price of admission. If I want to venture out among the living, I must endure the bangs and bumps that come my way. On days such as this, pain medications tend to be ineffective, so I grit my teeth and endure. To quote the Bible, he that endureth to the end shall be saved. My salvation came when we arrived home and I went straight to bed. I slept for fourteen hours. (Things have physically deteriorated for me since the writing of this post. A shopping trip to Toledo cost me two days in bed.)

Polly’s late father had his hip replaced in 2015. I previously wrote about Dad’s health problems here: How Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain. Sadly, this post proved to be prophetic. Dad ended up in a nursing home, forced to wear a brace to keep his hip in place. Several days after the surgery the new hip dislocated. It was several more days before the rehab staff figured out that there was something wrong with the hip. If there ever was a circumstance that could be labeled a clusterfuck, this was it. I am sure that if Dad had it to do all over again, he would not have had the surgery. Dad was able to come home eventually, but he was never able to walk normally again.

While we were visiting with Dad and Mom at the nursing home, Polly’s preacher uncle, Jim Dennis, stopped by for a visit. He didn’t know we were going to be there, so he was quite surprised to see us. After twenty minutes or so, it was time for Polly’s uncle to leave. Before leaving, Polly’s uncle offered up a prayer. Recently retired from the ministry and in poor health himself, Uncle Jim launched into what can only be described as a sermon prayer. Those raised in Fundamentalist churches likely have heard many such prayers. These prayers are not meant for God as much as they are for those who are listening, In this instance, the prayer was meant for the two atheists in the room, Polly and Bruce.

The prayer started out with a request for healing and strength for Dad but quickly moved into a recitation of the plan of salvation. I thought, why is Uncle Jim praying like this? God knows the plan of salvation, as does Dad, so the soteriological utterance couldn’t have been for their benefit. Mom was nearby, but she was one of God’s chosen ones too. The only unsaved people in the room were Bruce, Polly, and their daughter with Down Syndrome. As Polly’s uncle prayed, I looked at Polly, smirked, and shook my head. Here I was, at the time, fifty-eight years old, having spent fifty years in the Christian church, and I was being treated like someone who had never heard the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) version of the gospel.

If this had happened a few years ago, I likely would have said something. But, as I looked at Polly’s uncle and her Mom and Dad, I thought, soon they will all be dead. Morbid? Sure. But, the truth? Absolutely. I have no desire to fight over religion with Polly’s diehard Fundamentalist Baptist family. I am sure Polly’s preacher uncle thought that putting in a good word for Jesus might somehow, some way, cause us to fall on our knees, repent, and ask Jesus to save us. Regardless of his motivation, it was clear that Uncle Jim did not respect us. (Since the writing of this post in 2016, Dad has died, along with Jim and his wife Linda. Only Mom is still alive.)

Polly and I, along with our children, are huge disappointments to her family. Since I was once considered the patriarch of our tribe, the blame for our fall from grace rests squarely on my shoulders. It has been thirteen years since Polly and I darkened the doors of a church. We have attended numerous family functions, and not one person in her family has attempted to understand why we deconverted — not one. Some of them read this blog, and I am sure this post will make its way in printed form to Polly’s Mom. Will it finally force an honest discussion about the elephant in the room? Probably not. Better to hope Polly and that $*%$ husband of hers are still saved. Backslidden, but still saved. Anything, but having a frank discussion about why we no longer believe in the existence of the Christian God, or any other deity, for that matter.

While I would never expect or demand that Polly’s Fundamentalist family stop living out their faith, it would be nice if they respected us enough to accept us as we are. We are ready and willing to share why we no longer believe. If family members want to know, all they have to do is ask. And if they aren’t interested in knowing, the least they can do is refrain from trying to evangelize us. There are no prayers that can be prayed that could possibly cause us to change our minds about God, Jesus, Christianity, and the Bible. Thousands of prayers have been uttered on our behalf, yet Polly and I remain happy unbelievers. We are living proof of the powerlessness of prayer.

Polly and I have known each other for almost forty-six years. I first met her preacher uncle in December of 1976 at a midweek church service at the Newark Baptist Temple. Uncle Jim let the church know that Polly had a guest with her. As the congregation turned to gawk at the embarrassed redheaded young man, Polly’s uncle said, They have a shirttail relationship. It remains to be seen how long the shirttail is. The next day, I spent my first Christmas with Polly’s family, meeting her cousins, uncle, and grandfather for the first time. Forty-six years have come and gone. Polly and I are now in our sixties. Our middle-aged children have greying hair, and their thirteen children call us Nana and Grandpa. We have spent many wonderful moments with Polly’s family, and more than a few moments we would just as soon forget. I love them dearly, as does Polly. We just wish that they loved us more than they love Jesus.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Dear Evangelical

writing a letter

Updated January 1, 2022

Dear Evangelical,

Thank you for stopping by to read my blog. You probably came to this blog via a web search, Facebook, a link on another website, or a link in an email sent to you by someone asking if you had seen this blog. Whatever path you took to get to here, I want you know that I appreciate you taking time to read my blog.

Let me tell you a little about myself. Here’s the short story:

I am a sixty-four-year-old man who lives in rural Northwest Ohio. I have been married for forty-three years, have six grown children, and thirteen grandchildren. I was in the Christian church for fifty years, and for twenty-five of those years, I pastored Evangelical churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. In 2005 I left the ministry, and in 2008 I left Christianity. I am now an atheist and a secular humanist.

If you want more details about my life, please read the ABOUT page. If you want to learn more about my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism, please check out the WHY  page.

I have been blogging since 2007. Most Evangelicals who visit this blog fall under one of four categories:

  • They have questions and doubts about Christianity and are seeking answers
  • They are a former friend, family member, or member of a church I pastored
  • They are curious about my life
  • They want to let me know they are praying for me, or they want to evangelize me, correct me, preach to me, lambast me, quote Bible verses to me, tell me I am going to Hell, or tell me how wrong I am

If you have questions or doubts about Christianity and would like my help, I am more than happy to help you. Please send me an email via the Contact form and I will get back to you.

If you are a former friend, family member, or member of a church I pastored, I appreciate you reading my story. I know it must painful for you to read about my deconversion, but I hope you will do your best to try to understand my journey. I try to be open, honest, and transparent — character traits you at one time admired. If you are perplexed by the fact that I am now an atheist, I think you will find these posts helpful:

Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners

Dear Friend

Dear Ann, A Letter to My Fundamentalist Grandmother

Dear Bruce, A Letter to My Youth Pastor

From Evangelicalism to Atheism

If you are curious about my life, it is likely you have read a number of my posts. I appreciate you being willing to try to understand my journey. There are three posts I would like to point out to you that I think would be very helpful: Why I Stopped BelievingThe Danger of Being in a Box and Why it All Makes Sense When You Are in a Box, and What I Found When I Left the Box. If you have any questions or need me to clarify something, please email me via the Contact form.

If you came to my blog so you could let me know you are praying for me or you want to evangelize me, correct me, preach to me, lambast me, quote Bible verses to me, tell me I am going to Hell, or tell me how wrong I am, I want you to know that I am not interested in what you have to say. After fourteen years of being psychologically brutalized by people like you, I have zero interest in what you have to say. Based on years of experience, I know you are likely not interested in dialog or in understanding my point of view. In your mind, you already know all you need to know. You have read one, two, or five posts and are now ready to pass judgment. You are ready to leave the mother of all comments, and I am sure you will be peacock proud when you are done.

To save you some time, I have made up a form that should make your commenting easier. This information also applies to Evangelicals who are “led” to email me via the contact form.

Here’s the form that should make things simple for you:

Name: (Put in fake name because you are so fearless)

Email Address: (Put in fake email address because God knows who you are)

Reason for Contacting Bruce Gerencser (Check all that apply)

_____To tell him he is wrong

_____To preach at him

_____To quote Bible verses to him

_____To evangelize him

_____To tell him he doesn’t know anything about the Bible

_____To let him know God still loves him

_____To let him know I am praying for him

_____To tell him he never was a Christian

_____To tell him he is going to Hell

_____To tell him he is still saved and can never be un-saved

_____To tell him he was/is a false prophet

_____To tell him he was/is a wolf in sheep’s clothing

_____To tell him he is angry

_____To tell him he is bitter

_____To tell him his writing shows he has been hurt

_____To tell him he is fat

_____To tell him I hope he burns in Hell

_____To tell him that I am praying God will kill him

_____To tell him that he has a meaningless, empty life

_____To tell him he is going to die soon and then he will find out THE TRUTH!

_____To tell him that I know THE TRUTH about him!

Once you have completed the form, cut and paste it into your email or comment.

Please understand that the purpose of this blog is to help people who have doubts and questions about Christianity and to help and encourage people who have already left Christianity. Those who frequent this blog are like family to me, so I hope you will understand if I don’t let you fill-up the comment section with your trollish, abusive, argumentative, and judgmental comments.

Please don’t try to claim that you have a First Amendment right to say whatever you want on my blog. You don’t, and you know it. But I will make you an offer: I will allow you to say whatever you want in the comment section IF I can come to your church on Sunday and preach my atheistic beliefs. Deal? That’s what I thought . . .

Generally, I give Evangelicals one opportunity to say whatever they want. I know my writing constipates them, so I want to allow them one Fleet soft-tip enema to clear out their metaphorical bowel. Just one. Say what you think “God” wants you to say and move on. And 99% of the time, I will not post any other comments after the first one. For the 1% of Evangelicals who leave a decent, thoughtful comment, I am willing to continue approving their comments if they can abide by the comment policy:

All commenters are expected to use a functioning email address. The use of a fake or non-functioning email address will result in your comment being deleted.

Pseudonyms are permitted.

All first time comments and comments with more than one HTML link are moderated.

Before commenting, please read the ABOUT page to acquaint yourself with my background. You might also want to read the Dear Evangelical page.

The following type of comments will not be approved:

Preachy/sermonizing comment

Extensive Bible verse quoting comment

Evangelizing comment

I am praying for you comment

You are going to Hell comment

You never were saved comment

You never were a Christian comment

Any comment that is a personal attack

Any comment that is not on point with what the post is about

Any comment that denigrates abuse victims

Any comment that attacks LGBTQ people

I write about issues that might not be child-friendly. Please be aware of this. I also use profanity from time to time and I allow the use of profanity in the comment section.

The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser is not a democracy where anyone has a right to say whatever they want. This is my personal blog and I reserve the right to approve or not approve any comment. When a comment or a commenter is abusive towards the community of people who read this blog, I reserve the right to ban the commenter.

If you can be respectful, decent, and thoughtful, your comment will always be approved. Unfortunately, there are many people — Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christians in particular — who have a hard time playing well with others. They often use a passive-aggressive approach towards me and the non-Christian people who frequent this blog. This kind of behavior will not be tolerated and will result in a permanent ban.

This blog is also not a place for hardcore atheists to preach the gospel of atheism. While I am an atheist, many of the people who red this blog are not. Frank, honest, open, and passionate discussion about religion, Christianity, and Evangelicalism is encouraged and welcome. However, I do expect atheists not to attack, badger, or denigrate people who still believe in God. If you are respectful, decent, and thoughtful, you will be fine.

My writing is direct and pointed and so is my response to comments. Please do not confuse my directness and pointedness with me attacking you or your religion. This is a grown-up blog, so crying that I offended you or “attacked” your religion will fall on deaf ears.

If you can play by these rules, I hope you will become a part of our community and join the discussion.

Here’s one thing I have learned over the years: most Evangelical zealots will ignore the comment policy. They think they have a right to say anything they want because they think they speak for God. But, invoking the name of God carries no weight here. If God really wants to speak to me, I am sure he doesn’t need you to carry the message. God knows where I am and he can speak to me any time he wants. So far, God has not said a word. Either he is busy, mad at me, taking a shit, or doesn’t exist. I am going with the latter.

If my unwillingness to allow you to foul the comment section offends you, I encourage you to start your own blog. You can have your own blog in as little as five minutes (BloggerWordPress, and Tumblr) and then you can rage against me and deconstruct my life all you want. Be aware that several people have, in the past, decided to do this and they have found it hard to faithfully and regularly deconstruct my life

Most of all, I hope you will consider what your words and actions say about you as a person and the God you say you serve. What in your behavior would draw me to Jesus and compel me to come back to the Christian religion? Thousands of Evangelical zealots have come before you. And in every case, if given enough space to expose who and what they are, they have proved to be poignant reminders of why I am glad I am no longer a Christian.

I wish you well.

A sinner saved by reason,

signature
bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Two Good Books for Questioning Christians

guest post

Guest Post by Karuna Gal

Bruce often directs questioning Christians to read books by Bart Ehrman. I wanted to suggest a couple of objective and scholarly books that a questioning Christian might also find useful. Both these books have never gone out of print and are available on Amazon, Kindle, and through bookstores. Your library may carry them, too. One of the books is about the historical Jesus and the other talks about millennialist and messianic groups.

When I was still going to church I would buy books about Christianity, and after I read them I would donate them to my church’s library. There was one that I couldn’t bear to give away, though. I found it when I was going through my bookshelves recently. It’s called The Changing Faces of Jesus by Geza Vermes, and it was published in 2000. (By the way, Bart Ehrman has an admiring post about Vermes on his website.)

Geza Vermes was a great scholar who wrote about the Dead Sea Scrolls and the historical Jesus. Vermes had a remarkable life. He was born in Hungary to Jewish parents. His parents converted to Catholicism for safety when Nazism was rising, but in spite of that, they were sent to concentration camps where they died. He survived and at one point became a Catholic priest. But eventually he left Catholicism and returned to Judaism.

He did an important translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls into English. And because of his Jewish origins, education, and experience as a practicing Christian at one point in his life, he was uniquely suited to be an expert on the historical Jesus. He wrote a number of books about Jesus, including this one.

In “The Changing Faces of Jesus” Vermes begins with an examination of how Jesus is depicted in the Gospel of John. Then he works his way back through the images of Jesus in Paul, in the Acts of the Apostles, and in the Synoptic Gospels (Luke, Mark, and Matthew). Finally, Vermes makes a pretty solid case about who the real Jesus was “beneath the Gospels.” I also liked how Vermes shows that Jesus was one of many Jewish miracle workers and messianic figures of his era, and Jesus wasn’t as original as he’s made out to be.

Vermes also has an epilogue at the end of the book about a dream he had after he finished writing the book. It’s my favorite part of the book, and, no, I’m not going to tell you why. You will have to read the book yourself and find out. The book is well written and easy for laypeople to understand.

The second book that I want to add to the list is When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World. (In an earlier guest post I mentioned that
this particular book dealt the death blow to my Christian faith.) Written by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter, it was published in 1956. It first gives a historical overview of how messianic and millennialist groups, even when their messiahs don’t show up, or the world doesn’t end at the appointed times, often continue to carry on with their beliefs intact and even strengthened. The authors also follow a contemporary group of Americans who believed that superior beings from another planet were coming to take them to a higher planet, due to the group’s “higher density” compared to other Earthlings. Even though that event did not happen on the predicted day, some of the group stayed together and kept believing. Here’s a great quote from the beginning of the book:

A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point. We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a strong conviction, especially if the convinced person has some investment in his belief. We are familiar with the variety of ingenious defenses with which people protect their convictions, managing to keep them unscathed through the most devastating attacks.

I hope other people will recommend solidly researched, objective, and interesting books for those who are questioning their Christian faith.

Happy reading and healthy questioning!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Atheists Really Believe in God But Refuse to Admit It Says, Evangelical Pastor Nate Pickowicz

atheists dont exist

Calvinist Nate Pickowicz, pastor of Harvest Bible Church in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, recently wrote a post for the Entreating Favor blog titled The God-Fearing Atheist. Pickowicz trots out the age-old, worn-out argument that there really is no such thing as an atheist:

It has been said that there is a “God-sized hole” in every person. In other words, the human heart was designed to want and need God. It’s a kind of fingerprint that God leaves on the souls of those created in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). Here’s the rub, not every person acknowledges or believes that God exists. How then do we explain this?

In John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, he makes a case for “the knowledge of God implanted in the human mind”. Because it is often argued that religion is a man-made invention to subjugate the masses, Calvin points to indigenous tribes of people who are fully convinced of the existence of God. Furthermore, almost uniformly, these tribes worship blocks of wood and stones as gods rather than believe in the absence of deity. They are naturally prone to worship.

Calvin then addresses the atheist.

He writes, “The most audacious despiser of God is most easily disturbed, trembling at the sound of a falling leaf.” He’s referring to the abject fear within a person when one comes to the end of himself. We’ve all heard the recently deemed politically incorrect phrase “there are no atheists in foxholes.” This is what Calvin is talking about. Intellectually, one can deny God all day long, but placed into a situation which appeals to a person’s instincts, that “God-sized hole” becomes a gaping, aching chasm. In conclusion, Calvin writes, “If all are born and live for the express purpose of learning to know God, and if the knowledge of God, insofar as it fails to produce this effect, fleeting and vain, it is clear that all those who do not direct the whole thoughts and actions of their lives to this end fail to fulfill the law of their being.”

Did you catch that? Because we’re hard-wired to acknowledge God; if we don’t seek Him, then we violate our own nature!

According to Pickowicz, everyone is hardwired to know God exists. His proof for this claim? The Bible. He presents no empirical evidence for his claim. Pickowicz, quoting the God of Calvinism, John Calvin, points to the fact that even indigenous tribes acknowledge the existence of a deity. Fine, let’s run with this argument for a minute. Let’s say everyone is hardwired to acknowledge “God.” Why is it then that this knowledge of God is so varied? If it is the Christian God who puts it in the heart of everyone to acknowledge him, why is it that so many people acknowledge the wrong God? I would think that the Christian God would make sure that everyone knew that he alone is God, yet day after day billions of people worship other gods. Why is this?

Pickowicz needs to get his nose out of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and do some serious thinking about WHY people are religious and WHY they choose the God they do. Several years ago, I wrote a post titled Why Most Americans are Christian. In this post, I explained why most Americans, when asked if they believe in the Christian God, will answer yes:

Cultural Christianity is all about what  people say and not what they do. This is the predominant form of Christianity in America. When asked, do you believe in the Christian God? they will say Yes. It matters not how they live or even if they understand Christian doctrine. They believe and that’s all that matters.

It is this Christian world  into which children in the United States are born. While my wife and I can point to the various conversion experiences we had, we still would have been Christians even without the conversion experiences. Our culture was Christian, our families were Christian, everyone around us was Christian. How could we have been anything BUT Christian?

Practicing Christians have a hard time accepting this. They KNOW the place and time Jesus saved them. They KNOW when they were baptized, confirmed, dedicated, saved, or whatever term their sect uses to connote belief in the Christian God.

Why are most people in Muslim countries Muslim? Why are most people in Buddhist countries Buddhist? Simple. People generally embrace the dominant religion and practice of their culture, and so it is in the U.S.

It is culture, and not a conversion experience, that determines a person’s religious affiliation. Evangelicals, in particular, have built their entire house on the foundation of each person having a conversion experience. However, looking at this from a sociological perspective, it can be seen that a culture’s dominant religion affects which religion a person embraces more than any other factor.

Only by looking at religion from a sociological perspective can we understand and explain why people believe in a particular deity. People such as Pickowicz deny the value and importance of such explanations, preferring to let their trusty inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible do the talking. It is impossible to have a reasonable conversation with people who think in this manner. For them, God has spoken, and any knowledge, be it sociological or neurological, that doesn’t affirm the Biblical narrative, is rejected out of hand.

Pickowicz, like Calvin, thinks that when put in circumstances where death is a distinct and imminent possibility, atheists will abandon their godlessness and cry out to God. And his evidence for this? There is none. I am sure there are stories of atheists crying out for God when dying, just as there are stories of Christians cursing God when facing death. Again, there are numerous reasons for why these things happen, but Pickowicz rejects them all, assured that all atheists KNOW there is a God and when they die they will cry out to the Christian God. (I would love to hear Pickowicz’s explanation for the fact that most people when they die will call out for some other God besides the Christian one.)

Christopher Hitchens, arguably one of the most notable atheists of our generation, died December 15, 2011. Detailing Hitchens’ final days, Ian McEwan of the New York Times wrote:

The place where Christopher Hitchens spent his last few weeks was hardly bookish, but he made it his own. Close to downtown Houston is the Medical Center, a cluster of high-rises like La Défense of Paris, or London’s City, a financial district of a sort, where the common currency is illness…..

….. While I was with him another celebration took place in far away London, with Stephen Fry as host in the Festival Hall to reflect on the life and times of Christopher Hitchens. We helped him out of bed and into a chair and set my laptop in front of him. Alexander delved into the Internet with special passwords to get us linked to the event. He also plugged in his own portable stereo speakers. We had the sound connection well before the vision and what we heard was astounding, and for Christopher, uplifting. It was the noise of 2,000 voices small-talking before the event. Then we had a view from the stage of the audience, packed into their rows.

They all looked so young. I would have guessed that nearly all of them would have opposed Christopher strongly over Iraq. But here they were, and in cinemas all over the country, turning out for him. Christopher grinned and raised a thin arm in salute. Close family and friends may be in the room with you, but dying is lonely, the confinement is total. He could see for himself that the life outside this small room had not forgotten him. For a moment, pace Larkin, it was by way of the Internet that the world stretched a hand toward him.

The next morning, at Christopher’s request, Alexander and I set up a desk for him under a window. We helped him and his pole with its feed-lines across the room, arranged pillows on his chair, adjusted the height of his laptop. Talking and dozing were all very well, but Christopher had only a few days to produce 3,000 words on Ian Ker’s biography of Chesterton.

Whenever people talk of Christopher’s journalism, I will always think of this moment.

Consider the mix. Constant pain, weak as a kitten, morphine dragging him down, then the tangle of Reformation theology and politics, Chesterton’s romantic, imagined England suffused with the kind of Catholicism that mediated his brush with fascism and his taste for paradox, which Christopher wanted to debunk. At intervals, Christopher’s head would droop, his eyes close, then with superhuman effort he would drag himself awake to type another line. His long memory served him well, for he didn’t have the usual books on hand for this kind of thing. When it’s available, read the review. His unworldly fluency never deserted him, his commitment was passionate, and he never deserted his trade. He was the consummate writer, the brilliant friend. In Walter Pater’s famous phrase, he burned “with this hard gem-like flame.” Right to the end.

So much for atheists leaving this world screaming for God. Hitchens entered the foxhole of mortality, knowing that thoughts of God were for those unable to face the brutality and finality of death. Hitchens died as he lived, a man who held true to his godlessness until the end. (If you have not read Hitchens’ final book, Mortality, I encourage you to do so.)

I know there is nothing I can write that will change Pickowicz’s God-addled mind. But perhaps time will. Pickowicz is a young guy who has not experienced much of life. I can only hope that he will get to know a few flesh-and-blood atheists before he dies. I hope he will have the opportunity to observe not only how atheists live but how they die. I am confident that the young preacher will find that dying atheists hold true to their convictions until the end. Unlike countless Christians when faced with death who have to be reassured of their salvation, atheists will need no such reassurance. Atheists know that death is the end. All that remains are the memories their friends and families have of a well-lived life. And that, my friend, is enough.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheists Do Not Accept the Reality of This Life

dr david tee

In yet another post about the Evangelical-pastor-turned-atheist Bruce Gerencser, “Dr.” David Tee (David Thiessen, Theologyarcheology, TEWSNBN) said:

Even though atheists do not accept the reality of this life, they are the ones who are deceived and lost. The Christian is not. There is nothing to fear from an atheist because they have no secret information, no inside scoop of what goes on in this world, and so on.

The atheist can make all the denials they want about God, Jesus, and the Bible but their denials do not tell the truth. It is evil using those people to side-track, confuse and hopefully destroy the believer and their faith.

The believer has to be strong in their faith to withstand these attacks. God is not wrong, Jesus did live, die and rise again for us and the Bible is not a myth. They are the only truth you will find in this world.

Yet, the atheist will take the time and spend the energy to accuse the Christian of every sin under the sun and act like they are the perfect people. While there are Christians who do commit sins, have trouble living the Christian life and some who are fake Christians pretending to follow God, we are not to blame for everything that goes wrong in this world.

The fault lies with the atheist and other unbelievers because they fight and hinder the only solution for the problems of this world. Atheism could not stop Stalin from killing 15,000,000 of his own people.

Atheism has not stopped Mao and the subsequent rulers of China from killing and torturing untold millions of Chinese people. In fact, atheists should not point a finger at anyone because their sins are greater than those they accuse the Christian of committing.

They certainly are not better than anyone else and they have no objective standard to offer anyone. Instead, they encourage people to sin and live depraved lives. That is not a better solution than the one offered by Christians and God through the Bible.

— “Dr.” David Tee, Theologyarcheology: A Site for the Glory of God, Painting With a Broad Brush, December 29, 2021

Dear Christian: YOU are the Problem, Not Your God

odin
Compare this picture to the descriptions of the Christian God in the book of Revelation. Similar?

Atheists do not hate God. While Evangelical Christians will certainly suggest otherwise, I do not know of one atheist who “hates” God. Think about it for a moment. Do atheists believe in the existence of the Christian God, or any other god, for that matter? Of course not, so it makes no sense to say that atheists hate a non-existent, mythical being. Surely, even the densest of Christians can understand this. If I asked Evangelicals, Do you believe in the existence of Odin, the Norse God? how do you think they would respond? I have no doubt Evangelicals would laugh and say, Odin is a mythical being. It would be silly of us to hate a being that doesn’t exist. Bingo. Just like atheists and the Christian God.

Evangelicals often refuse to accept at face value what others say/believe about their God. When atheists deny the existence of the Christian God, Evangelicals say that atheists are suppressing their knowledge of this God. Supposedly, atheists KNOW that the Christian God exists, but they, having a hard heart and a seared conscience, deny his existence. Couldn’t the same be said of Christians who deny the existence of Odin?  Christians KNOW that the Norse God exists, but they refuse to accept this, clinging to a God who is no God at all.

The fact is this: atheists do not hate God. Anyone who suggests otherwise is either deliberately ignorant of what atheists believe or are so blinded by their own beliefs that they cannot fathom any other belief but their own. Wait a minute, Bruce, Evangelicals say. If atheists do not hate God, then why do they spend so much time talking about God? Good question.

While atheists know that the Christian God is a myth, they also understand that much harm has been done in his name. It is not the Christian God that is the problem. God, divorced from his followers, is little more than an ancient explanation for human existence. Who cares, right? Myths, in and of themselves, have no power. The Harry Potter books tell a wonderful story of mystery and magic, but no one in his or her right mind thinks the stories are true. Imagine if a group of people believed that what was written in the Harry Potter books was some sort of divine message from God. Does the fact that this group of people believes the stories are true mean that they are? Of course not. So it is with Christianity. That people “believe” is not proof that something is true. Millions of people believe in the Mormon God, yet Evangelicals, for the most part, believe Mormonism is a false religion. I fail to see how Mormonism’s God is any different from Christianity’s God. Taken at face value, both myths are absurd.

The real issue for atheists is what Christians DO in the name of their God. It is Christians that are the problem, not their God. If Christianity was little more than a Kiwanis Club, I suspect that most atheist writers such as myself would put down their digital pens and turn their attention to other pursuits. However, because many Christians will not rest until the entire world worships their God and bows to their interpretation of an antiquated religious text, atheists, humanists, agnostics, and secularists are forced to do battle with Evangelical zealots. Believe me, I’d rather be writing about sports, photography, or train collecting, but as long as Evangelicals continue to clamor for a theocracy governed by Biblical law, I intend to raise my objection to their theocratic ambitions.

Eleven years ago, I wrote a post titled, If Christianity Doesn’t Matter, Why Do You Bother With It? I think what I wrote then still applies today:

Bruce, if Christianity doesn’t matter, why do you bother with it?

Good question.

On one hand, Christianity doesn’t matter. The Bible doesn’t matter. Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God, the Church — none of it matters.

If Christians want to worship their God, I have no objection.  I subscribe to the “live and let live” school of thought. Each to his own. May Jesus be with you. May the force be with you. May nothing be with you. I don’t care.

However . . .

I do care about the influence Christianity has on our culture and government. I do care about the damage done in the name of the Christian God. I do care when people are hurt, maimed, and killed in the name of Jesus.

When Christians want to turn the United States into a theocracy . . . It matters.

When Christians want their religion to have preference over any and all others . . . It matters.

When Christians demand atheists and agnostics be treated as the spawn of Satan . . . It matters.

When Christians attempt to teach religious dogma as scientific fact in our public schools . . . It matters.

When Christians attempt to force their religious moral code on everyone . . . It matters.

When Christians attempt to stand in the way of my pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness . . . It matters.

When Christians abuse and molest children in the name of their God . . . It matters.

When Christians wage wars thousands of miles away in the name of their God . . . It matters.

When Christians mentally and emotionally abuse people . . . It matters.

When Christians expect preferential treatment because of who they worship . . . It matters.

As long as Christians continue to force themselves on others, and as long as they attack and demean anyone who is not a Christian . . . It matters.

As long as pastors and churches get preferential tax code treatment . . . It matters.

That said . . .

As to who you worship and where? It doesn’t matter.

As to what sacred text you use? It doesn’t matter.

I want all Christians to have the absolute freedom to worship their God.

And . . .

I want that same freedom to NOT worship any God or another God . . .

And as long as that courtesy is not extended to me and to every human being on earth . . .

It matters.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

A Few Thoughts About Mental Illness and Depression

bruce and mom 1957
Bruce and his mom, July 1957

Originally written 2011, edited, corrected.

At the age of fifty-four, my mother turned a .357 magnum Ruger revolver toward her chest and pulled the trigger. The bullet tore a hole in her heart and in a few moments she was dead. Mom had tried to kill herself many times before. This time she succeeded (please see the post Barbara).

When I was eleven, Dad had to call for an emergency squad because Mom had taken several bottles of prescription drugs. They rushed her to the hospital and pumped her stomach, and she survived to die another day. Later in the year, Mom and the neighbor lady were in a serious automobile accident in Lima. I say accident because it is possible that Mom pulled into the other lane of traffic, allowing the truck to hit them.

Mom made a third attempt on her life that same year. I came home from school and found Mom lying unconscious on the floor with blood pooling around her body. She had slit her wrists. Yet again, the emergency squad came, and her life was saved.

As best I can tell, Mom had mental problems her entire life. She was bright, witty, and well-read, but Mom could, in a split second, lapse into angry, incoherent tirades. Twice she was involuntarily committed to the Toledo State Mental Hospital, undergoing shock therapy numerous times. None of the treatments or drugs worked.

In the early 1960s, my parents found Jesus. Jesus, according to the Bible, healed the mentally ill, but, for whatever reason, he didn’t heal Mom. The mental health crises I have shared in this post, and others that I haven’t shared, all occurred after Mom put her faith and trust in the loving Jesus who supposedly had a wonderful plan for her life. Mom died believing Jesus was her Savior. To this day, I lament the fact that I didn’t do more to help her. Sadly, I saw her mental illness as an inconvenience and an embarrassment. If she just got right with God, I thought at the time, all would be well. If she would just kick her drug habit, I told her, God would be there to help her. What she really needed was for her eldest son to pick her up, hold her close, and love her. I will go to my grave wishing I had been a better son, that I had loved Mom and my family more than I loved Jesus and the church.

findlay ohio 1971-1974
Mom, Bruce, and friend, Findlay, Ohio, summer 1971

Mom was quite talented. She played the piano and loved to do ceramics. Her real passion was reading, a habit she happily passed on to me. (Mom taught me to read.) She was active in politics. Mom was a member of the John Birch Society, and actively campaigned, first for Barry Goldwater, and later for George Wallace.

My parents divorced when I was fourteen. Not long after the divorce, Mom married her first cousin, a recent parolee from a Texas prison (he was serving time for armed robbery). He later died of a drug overdose. Mom would marry two more times before she died. She was quite passionate about anything she fixed her mind upon, a trait that I, for good or ill, share with her. In the early 1970s, Mom was an aide at Winebrenner Nursing Home in Findlay, Ohio. Winebrenner paid men more than they paid women for the same work. Mom, ever the crusader, sued Winebrenner under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act. The Federal Court decided in her favor.

We moved quite often, and I have no doubt this contributed greatly to Mom’s mental illness. She never knew what it was to have a place to call home. Our family lived in one rental after another, never stopping long enough to buy a home. I lived in sixteen different houses by the time I left for college at the age of nineteen.

I have always wondered if my parents were ever happily married. Mom and Dad were married by an Indiana Justice of the Peace in November 1956. At the time of their marriage, Mom was eighteen and pregnant. I learned a year ago that Dad was not actually my biological father. Dad meant well, but the instability of their marriage, coupled with us moving all the time, caused my siblings and me great harm. Dad thought moving was a great experience. Little did he know that I hated him for moving us around. New schools (seven different school districts). New friends. Never having a place to call home. No child should have to live this way.

From the time I was five until I was fourteen, my parents were faithful members of a Baptist church in whatever community we lived in. The Gerencser family attended church every time the doors were open (I have attended over 8,000 church services in my lifetime). Mom would play the piano from time to time, though she found it quite stressful to do so. One time, much to my embarrassment, she had a mental meltdown in front of the whole church. She never played again. For a time, Dad was a deacon, but he stopped being one because he couldn’t kick his smoking habit. I suspect the real reason was that he was having an affair.

No matter where we lived or what church we went to, one thing was certain: Mom was mentally ill and everyone pretended her illness didn’t exist. Evangelical churches such as the ones we attended had plenty of members who suffered from various mental maladies. For the most part, those who were sick in the head were ignored, marginalized, or told to repent.

In 1994, I co-pastored a Sovereign Grace Baptist church in San Antonio, Texas. (See the I am a Publican and a Heathen series.) One day we were at a church fellowship and my wife came around the corner just in time to hear one of the esteemed ladies of the church say to her daughter, you stay away from that girl, she is mentally retarded. “That girl” was our then five-year-old daughter with Down syndrome. This outstanding church member’s words pretty well sum up how many churches treat those with mental handicaps or illness. STAY AWAY from them!

Many Christians think mental illness is a sign of demonic oppression or possession. No need for doctors, drugs, or hospitals. Just come to Jesus, the great physician, and he will heal you. After all, the Bible does say in 2 Timothy 1:7: For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. If someone is mentally unsound, it’s the person’s fault, not God’s. Get right with God and all will be well.

I have suffered with depression for most of my adult life. I am on the mountaintop one moment and in the valley the next. Plagued with a Type A personality, and being a consummate workaholic, I am often driven to despair. Work, Work, Work. Go, Go, Go. Do, Do, Do. I have no doubt that the way I lived my life as a Christian contributed to the health problems that now plague me. While I was busy burning the candle at both ends for Jesus, my body was screaming STOP! But I didn’t listen. I had no time for family, rest, or pleasure. Work for the night is coming, the Bible says. Better to burn out for Jesus than rust out, I told myself. And now, thanks to living this way for much of my adult life, I am a rusting 1957 Chevrolet, sitting on blocks, awaiting the day when the junkyard comes to tow me away.

For many years, I hid my depression from the outside world. While Polly and my children witnessed depression’s effect on their husband and father, church members never had a clue. I have often wondered how parishioners might have responded had I told them the truth. I suspect some church members would have seen me as a fellow depressive, but others would likely have questioned whether I was “fit” to be a pastor.

In 2008, a few months before I deconverted, I told a pastor friend that I was really depressed. Instead of lending me a helping hand or encouraging me, he rebuked me for giving in to the attack of Satan. He told me I needed to confess my sin and get victory over it immediately. A lot of Christians think just like this (former) pastor friend of mine. (Please see Dear Friend.)  Depression is a sign of weakness, and God only wants warriors and winners.

barbara gerencser 1956
Barbara Gerencser, 1956

Going to see a counselor was the single most important thing I have done in the last ten years. It took me leaving the ministry and departing from Christianity before I was willing to find someone to talk to. Several times, while I was still a Christian, I made appointments with counselors only to cancel them at the last minute. I feared that someone would see me going into the counselor’s office or they would drive by and see my car in the parking lot. I thought, My God, I am a pastor. I am supposed to have my life together.

Indeed, it took me leaving the church, the pastorate, and God to find any semblance of mental peace. I have no doubt some readers will object to the connection I make between religion and mental wellness, but for me, there was indeed a direct correlation between the two.

I still battle with depression, but with regular counseling and a (forced) slower pace of life, I am confident that I can live a meaningful, somewhat peaceful life. As many of you know, I have chronic, unrelenting pain. I have not had a pain-free day in over twenty years (my days are counted as less pain, normal pain, more pain, and off the fucking charts pain). The constant pain and debility (I was diagnosed with gastroparesis, an incurable stomach disease, last year) certainly fuel my depression. My counselor says she would be surprised if I wasn’t depressed from time to time.  Embracing my depression and coming to grips with the pain and debility is absolutely essential to my mental well-being. This is my life. I am who I am. I accept this, and I do what I can to be a loving, kind, and productive human being.

To my Christian readers I say this: sitting near you in church this coming Sunday will be people who are suffering with mental illness. Maybe they are depressed. They hide it because they think they have to. Jesus only wants winners, remember? Pay attention to other people. The signs are there. Listen to those who you claim are your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Embrace them in the midst of their weakness and psychosis. While I don’t think a mythical God is going to heal them, I do think that loving, understanding friends can be just the salvation the mentally ill need.

It is not easy being around those who are mentally ill. Let’s face it, depressed people are not fun to be with. We are not the life of the party. When I am in the midst of mental and emotional darkness, I am not the kind of person most people want to be around. I become withdrawn, cynical, and dark. These attributes, coupled with the physical pain I endure, can, at times, make me unbearable to be around. It is at these moments when I need the help of others. Sadly, most people, including my family and friends, tend to pull away from me when I need them the most. I understand why they do so, but the loneliest place on earth is sitting alone in the darkness of night wishing you were dead.

How do you respond to people who are mentally ill? How do you respond to those who are depressed?  Perhaps you suffer from mental illness or depression. Do you hide it? How are you treated by others? If you are a Christian, how are you treated by your church and pastor? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

“Dr.” David Tee Continues to Foam at the Mouth Over This Blog

dr david tee

Another day, another post written by “Dr.” David Tee (David Thiessen, Theologyarcheology, TEWSNBN) detailing his objections to something I have written or his continued hemorrhoidal inflammation over my writing style. If I responded to Tee every time he mentioned me on his blog, I wouldn’t write on anything else. So, I only respond to the fake doctor when his words are so egregious that I cannot ignore them.

Today, Tee wrote a post titled Atheists Say We Have Crazy Beliefs. My response is indented and italicized.

One of the first things we are going to say is, if BG does not want to be disagreed with, he should stop putting his content out in public. He doesn’t like it when we use his words as teaching moments and trashes us every time that we do.

I don’t care one way or another if people disagree with me. What I do care about is when Fundamentalist Christians such as Tee lie about me, misrepresent my beliefs, or attack my character. Tee does these three things so often, it is safe for us to assume that doing so is just a part of who he is.

I am concerned that Tee has an unhealthy obsession with me. Even after I sent him scantily-clad pictures of me pole dancing at Santa’s Workshop, Tee continues to obsess over me. Maybe he wants an enlarged photo of me nekkid he can tape to the ceiling over his bed. (This is all sarcasm and snark, by the way. I charge big bucks for my stripper photos. No freebies, David.)

We wonder about him as he keeps mentioning the number of years he has spent in the ministry, the number of years he has believed in God, the Bible, and many other Christian activities.

I have explained “why” numerous times to Tee. The things mentioned by him are relevant to the work I do. Continuing to whine about it just makes Tee look jealous and petty.

Why he does it we do not know because he is not the first to do it and he is not the only one to spend decades believing in Christ. We are coming up to our 57th year. So he is not special nor is his story unique.

Tee knows exactly why I do it. I have politely explained it to him several times. His continued obsession with this is baffling.

I don’t believe I have ever said I am “special.” That said, my story is most certainly “unique.” Most clerics who leave the ministry or deconvert do so when they are younger. Rare is the pastor who walks away from twenty-five years in the ministry. It happens, but it’s not common.

There have been many more people who have turned from the faith and they did it long before he did. His deconversion is not the first nor is it unique; nor is his story something worth hearing.

Here, I believe, is Tee’s motivation for his continued personal attacks — jealousy. Tee toils away day after day writing blog posts few people read. (In his mind, God reads them and that’s all that matters.) Yet, the Evangelical-preacher-turned-atheist has thousands and thousands of readers — 750,000 page views this year. I have attracted loyal readers, many of whom regularly leave comments. Tee? Most of the comments on his blog come from readers of this site. Try as he might, he’s been unable to build a following. No longer a pastor or involved in any meaningful ministry, Tee’s only way of preaching is his blog. Thus, it is hard not to conclude that Tee is envious, bitter, covetous, and resentful over my success. Why doesn’t God bless and use his writing? Why does God allow a vile atheist to attract a large following, yet he labors in obscurity?

The information is all the same. In his post that we will look at here or at least key parts, he says nothing of value, nothing new, and nothing unique. Why he thinks people need to hear his story is beyond us. He is no one of note but just one of the many fools God spoke about when they say he does not exist.

Did you notice Tee spent the first five paragraphs trying to discredit me and make me look insignificant?

I am not, by nature, a prideful man. All I try to do every day is be open, honest, and authentic. While I don’t share every minute detail of my life, I have tried to be an open book. I think it is important for me to be as transparent as possible. I am accessible. Anyone who wants to contact me can easily do so.

Let me see if I understand Tee’s thinking here. He thinks my story is uninteresting, not worth telling, yet he blogs about things that Christians have been “blogging” about for 2,000 years. SMH.

It is up to readers of this blog to decide whether my story is “interesting.” I have been blogging since 2007. My deconversion story quickly caught the attention of Evangelicals and atheists alike. Is it my fault that people find my writing engaging and helpful (much as church members did with my preaching)? Millions of people have read my writing, many of whom are Evangelical or Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christians. What Tee should be asking himself is why my story resonates with so many people –Christians and atheists alike.

“One of the hardest things for me to admit is that I, at one time, believed things that I now know to be untrue.”

We hear this a lot when we have discussions with atheists. They keep telling Christians that their God is not true, their Bible is a myth and their faith is based on nothing. However, not one atheist has provided any physical evidence to support their claims.

Not one. They just do not believe and then make these declarations like they are saying something that is powerful, unique, and wonderful. We have been told constantly by different atheists that the onus of proof is on us because we make extraordinary claims about God, Jesus, and the Bible.

I chose not to excerpt all of Tee’s word salad. I will say this: extraordinary claims required extraordinary evidence. Tee believes ghosts rape teen girls, virgins have babies, and humans walk on water, teleport, turn water into wine, and heal blindness with spit and dirt. Tee also believes there’s a Heaven and Hell, the universe was created in six twenty-four-hour days, and the earth is 6,024 years old. And then there’s his belief that a dead human named Jesus resurrected from the dead and ascended to the International Space Station. All of these claims are extraordinary in nature; claims which Tee provides no evidence for outside of quoting an ancient, errant, fallible religious text.

Memo to “Dr.” Tee: I don’t believe because the claims of Christianity make no sense to me. Want me to believe? Provide better evidence. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) The ball is in your court.

If anyone is living a life of folly, it is the atheist as they have nothing to look forward to, nothing to rely on, and nothing to share with anyone else. In other words, they are the fools for they think they have something when they have nothing at all.

Again, I chose not to excerpt parts of Tee’s word salad. In the deleted paragraphs, he repeatedly calls atheists “fools.” Aww, he hurt our feelings. Isn’t this the first slur Evangelicals go to when they have no answer to the claims of atheists? Tee sure spends a lot of time reading and responding to a fool, in direct disobedience to the Word of God. The Bible says Christians are not to answer a fool according to his folly.

I would rather follow the Bible and all of its commands than live a life like that. As you have noticed, we are not taking apart BG’s article sentence by sentence. he is really saying nothing new so we do not have to.

We are not even going to quote his top ten list at the article he penned several days ago– Bruce’s Top Ten List of Crazy Beliefs.

At least Tee admits that his post is a personal attack, not a response to something I wrote. How could he possibly take apart my post? It was a personal list of beliefs I held as an Evangelical. That’s it. A short reflection on crazy beliefs I once held.

You can click on that link and read them for yourselves [sic]. The key point is, he says those things are not what they claim or do not exist. BG and other atheists are great at making these comments but they all have one thing in common.

When you read his article, you will notice that he does not even attempt to support his claims. Not one shred of evidence is given that can be verified and double-checked for accuracy.

Sigh. The post was a list of ten beliefs I once held — most of which Tee himself believes. All Tee needs to do is use the search function on this site to find the plethora of words I have spilt on these subjects. Tee is being disingenuous when he says ” he does not even attempt to support his claims. Not one shred of evidence is given that can be verified and double-checked for accuracy.”

In danger of repeating ourselves, we do not know why he and his wife took that sudden turn to unbelief. Maybe he was like us and was treated poorly by other Christians.

Tee is not in danger of “repeating” himself. He crossed that line long ago in this post and other posts on his site. Tee knows EXACTLY why Polly and I aren’t Christians. To feign confusion on this issue is dishonest, to say the least.

Further, I have repeatedly addressed the claim that we were “hurt” by other Christians. Hurt played little to no part in our deconversions. Tee knows this, yet he continues to misrepresent my story and that of my wife. Again, it is obvious that the purpose of his post was to belittle and discredit me. That he felt the need to drag my wife Polly into his attack is reprehensible, to say the least. (David, if you read this post, Polly wants you to know you are a fucking asshole. Her words, not mine. Good job!)

We cannot say for sure but his decision to do so makes us sad every time we read some of his content. How can one be happy when another believer gives up his salvation for lies.

It is impossible to be cheerful when one thinks about it. We wish he could change back and then we could be happier knowing he will make it to heaven. But he has made up his mind and we are not going to press him on this issue.

Tee is “sad” that I am an atheist. Okay . . . don’t read my writing if it makes you sad. Tee’s feigned compassion and concern have never rung true with me. He routinely trashes me, yet he wants me to believe he is a kind, caring person. Behavior matters. I”m not buying what he is selling.

If Tee’s goal is to reclaim me for Jesus, he might want to rethink his tactics. His words have produced great harm to the cause of Christ. Forget what I think. Just ask the atheists and agnostics who read this blog what they think. Better yet, ask Evangelical readers what they think. I doubt Tee will find one reader of this blog who agrees with his approach to me personally and my writing.

Here’s what I know about the afterlife, if there is one. I want to be as far away as possible from the David Tees of the world. Hell is being in the same room with David Tee.

BG and the other atheists are wrong, of course. The Christian life is not folly and the atheist does not have some secret knowledge letting them know that the Bible is not true or that God does not exist.

It is the Christian that has the truth because Jesus exists, he did die for us and he did rise again. We have hope, love, and guidance along with something better than what the atheist offers.

Atheists don’t claim to have secret knowledge. It is Tee who claims he has secret knowledge, that which can only be known by saved, baptized, circumcised, and caramelized Christians. He is the one that says he “knows” the mind of God; that he “knows” exactly what the Bible teaches (even though 2,000 years of church history suggests otherwise).

Atheists have all that Evangelicals have and more. We have freedom. And that, above all else, is why atheism is superior to Christianity.

Saved by Reason,

signature
bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser