Atheism

Christian Explanations for Why Bad Things Happen

why

Life is filled with good and bad experiences. Good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. None of us is exempt from the travails of life. Live long enough and you will face some sort of adversity in your life. Recently, my wife, Polly, spent 18 days in the hospital. This ordeal was the most stressful thing we have faced in forty-one years of marriage. I suspect it will not be the last trial we face before we die.

Christians, of course, are not exempt from bad things. “Life” happens to one and all, even if Jesus is your friend, lover, and physician. Faith does not exempt anyone from facing pain, suffering, and loss. Now, Christians will say that Jesus helps them through the bad times of life, but I found as a pastor that what helped people through adversity was not Jesus, but having a pastor and friends who cared about them. Remove Jesus from the equation, and you will find that atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers have the same need for human love and compassion. One need not believe in Jesus to love and care for others.

Go to the local Evangelical church on Sunday and you will hear songs, testimonies, and sermons extolling the awesomeness of Jesus. Jesus, according Evangelicals, is the bestest e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Yet, come Monday, the Jesus-fix is in the rearview mirror and the realities of life lie ahead. Evangelicals love to say Jesus is their co-pilot or sing Jesus take the Wheel with Carrie Underwood, but truth be told, their day-to-day lives reveal a far different story; that life can be and is hard, and that bad things can and do happen. I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. As a pastor who deeply cared for his flock, I traveled hand-in-hand with countless congregants as they walked through the “valley of the shadow of death.” (Psalm 23) I witnessed untold suffering, sorrow, and grief. I stood by weeping family members as they disconnected their loved ones from life support. I stood by the bedsides of the dying, knowing that they would soon be no more. I conducted the funerals of children and seniors alike. I helped congregants move to new homes after losing theirs through bankruptcy or foreclosure. Through it all, I promised them that Jesus was a friend that would stick by them no matter what; that he was closer to them than their flesh and blood family. I will admit that, at times, these words seemed superficial and hollow.

Christians who say their life is different from or superior to that of unbelievers are not being honest. Whatever faith may impart to believers, one thing is for certain: shit happens — both to Christians and unbelievers.

When asked to explain WHY bad things happen in their lives, Christians give several different reasons or explanations.

All Things Work Together for Good

The Bible says in Romans 8:28:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

As a pastor, I explained Romans 8:28 this way: To those who are called according to God’s purpose and love him, everything turns out for good. Not everything is good, but everything works out for good. God throws good and bad things into the bag of life, and when everything shakes out, the end result is for our good. God loves us, has a purpose and plan for our lives, and only wants what is best for us. Or so I thought at the time.

God has a Purpose and Plan for Our Lives

Jeremiah 29:11 says, For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. In Hebrews 13:5, God promises to never leave or forsake Christians. As a teen, I was encouraged to choose a “life” verse from the Bible; a verse that would be the governing principle of my life. I chose Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

The aforementioned verses and others say to Christians that God has a perfect plan for their lives; that everything that happens to them is according to his divine purpose for them. While it may seem that God is either AWOL or not working in Christians’ best interests, they are reminded by preachers and teachers that God is behind the scenes making sure everything works out as planned. God knows everything, sees everything, and is present everywhere, so Christians can rest easy — the triune God is on duty 24/7.

Above all, Christians are told to not question God’s plan. The Apostle Paul made this clear in his treatise about divine election. Romans 9:20 says:

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

Simply put, God can do whatever he wants, end of story. God says his plan for you, dear Christian, is perfect. How dare you question his sanity. Just keep on believing until reason and common sense depart and faith takes their place. Once faith rules your life, well anything is possible. Is this not exactly what the Bible says in Mark 10:27, with God all things are possible, and John 15:5, without me ye can do nothing?

God’s Ways are not Our Ways

The Bible says in Isaiah 55:8-9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

When God’s purpose and plan seem to be out of sorts with expectations and reason, Christians are reminded by their pastors that God’s thoughts are not their thoughts, and his ways are not their ways; that his ways and thoughts are higher than theirs. In other words, when everything in your life is telling you that God doesn’t know what the Heaven he is doing, just remember God doesn’t think or work as humans do. Come on, dude, he’s God, the ULTIMATE party planner.

Again, when Christians have doubts about what God is up to, they are encouraged to faith-it until they make-it. Since God is perfect in all his ways, he can never be at fault if your life turns to shit or you find yourself sitting in a pile of ashes scraping pus from sores as Job did.

What I am Facing is a Test From God

According to Christian preachers of every denomination, sometimes God brings adversity into the lives of believers because he is testing them. Read the book of Job. God turned Satan loose on Job, a righteous man, to see what kind of faith he had; whether he would break under pain, suffering, and loss. Thus, when Christians face Job-like adversity, the first question they should ask themselves is this: is God testing me?

What I am Facing is a Trial Meant to Make Me Stronger

Isaiah 41:10 says:

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness

James 1:2-4 says:

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

According to the Bible, God brings trials into the lives of Christians to make them spiritually stronger; to increase their faith; to toughen up their metaphorical hide. So, when bad things happen, Christians should ask themselves, is this a test or is this a trial God has brought in my life to make me stronger?

What I am Facing is Chastisement from God

The Bible says in Hebrews 12:6-8:

For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

Sometimes, God uses bad things to chastise (punish) Christians for sin in their lives. In fact, a life without punishment is a sure sign that someone is NOT a Christian. God, the Father, punishes and corrects those whom he loves. Just as our earthly fathers beat us when we disobeyed, so does our Heavenly Father.

Proverbs 3:12 says: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.

So, when bad things happen, Christians should ask themselves, is this a test, a trial God has brought in my life to make me stronger, or is God chastising me? In other words, which cup is the coin under?

These six statements pretty well cover every explanation Christians use to explain the bad things in their lives. I have yet to hear a Christian say, when asked about the adversity he or she is facing, Hell if I know, shit happens! God’s honor and name must be defended at all costs lest people believe that he is a psychopath who finds pleasure in inflicting pain, suffering, and abuse on fallible, frail humans. Just remember, God created everything and is the sovereign Lord over all, but when things turn to shit, he’s not to blame. Don’t try this at home!

Now, when bad things happen to unbelievers, the explanation is far different. God is trying to get our attention. Bad things happening in our lives are warning signs from God. Warning! Judgment and Hell await unless you, without delay, repent of your sins and put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I was somewhat surprised that a Christian zealot didn’t email me and say that Polly’s latest hospitalization was God warning me (us) that I was on a dangerous path that leads to hellfire and damnation. Of course, such a warning would have the opposite effect on me. Giving the love of my life bladder cancer and ulcerative colitis so I will love you? Not going to happen asshole!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheists are Hostile to Reason

When engaging your typical internet village atheist, the Christian apologist seldom encounters rational discussion. To use a common expression, I have found that these professing atheists are control freaks. Not only do they insist that their worldview is superior to ours because atheism, they are hostile to our presentations of reason.

Atheists and other anti-creationists attempt to justify their worldviews and morality by attacking God and simultaneously saying they “lack belief” in his existence and creation. Evidence for his existence is rejected based on their materialistic presuppositions, not because of flaws in our logic or the evidence. The use of presuppositional apologetics is something that really puts burrs under their saddles because we give critiques of their worldviews, expose flaws in their epistemology, point out logical fallacies, and especially because we stand on the authority of God’s Word. 

— Piltdown Superman, Biblical Creation and Evangelism, Confronting Atheistic Worldviews, August 21, 2019

The Existence of God: Daring to Look Behind the Curtain

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Recently, Andrew Hackman said, “Once you see behind the god curtain, there is no point in offering me a “better” god.” Andrew’s words got me thinking about the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz; of how Dorothy and her compatriots traveled to the Emerald City to see the great Wizard of Oz. Rumor had it that the Wizard of Oz had great powers, and who better to give the Scarecrow a brain, the Tin Woodman a heart, the Cowardly Lion courage, and magically return Dorothy to Kansas? The Wizard agreed to grant their wishes if they brought him the broomstick belonging to the Wicked Witch of the West.

Upon achieving the quest, Dorothy and her friends return to the Emerald City, thinking that the Wizard will happily and quickly grant their wishes. Instead, he stalls, hoping they will give up and go away. As they persisted, Toto, the dog, pulled back a curtain to reveal that the great Wizard of Oz was actually a “middle-aged man operating machinery and speaking into a microphone.”

So it for those of us who have pulled back the God curtain, only to find out that “God” was a fabrication of the human mind; that the God we loved, worshiped, and adored was nothing more than a feeble, frail man using magical words and religious texts to convince us of his existence. The God behind the curtain used all sorts of tricks to get us to accept that he was real; that he was the supreme ruler of the universe; that he was the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the one true God. But once we saw the human behind the curtain, it was impossible for us to unsee. We had three choices: pretend that we didn’t see what was behind the curtain, ignore what we had seen, or admit that the deity we had devoted our lives to was no God at all. For those of us who are atheists and agnostics, we chose number three — there is no God.

wizard of oz

It’s been a decade now since I pulled back the God curtain and found that Christian God (and all other extant Gods) was a fake, a fraud, a human invention. Since that time, countless Evangelicals, Catholics, and Muslims have attempted to evangelize me, saying that I had been worshiping a false God, and that if I would just believe in and follow their peculiar version of God, all my wishes would be granted.

Their remonstrations have fallen on deaf ears. Why? Let me quote my buddy Andrew again, “Once you see behind the god curtain, there is no point in offering me a “better” god.” You see, once you know the truth, there’s no going back. Once you realize the psychological, sociological, and geographical nature of belief in God, the idea that God is “real” falls flat on its face. Christian zealots continue to try to convince me that their flavor of Christianity is “truth,” but I know better. You see, I have pulled back the curtain, and I know that God looks and acts a lot like Bruce Gerencser and seven billion other human beings.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

If Atheism Leads to Hedonism, So Does Calvinism

hedonism

Evangelicals-turned-atheists are often accused of deconverting because of a secret desire to sin, to live wickedly. I have had countless Evangelical apologists accuse me of hiding the real reason I left Christianity: some sort of “secret” sin. Supposedly, atheists are hedonists — pagan pleasure seekers. While it is certainly true that my sin list got a lot smaller post-Jesus, I suspect my life measures up quite well against the lives of Christians who ignorantly believe that atheists are morally inferior to followers of Jesus. Sure, atheism freed me from guilt over many of the behaviors I at one time considered “sin.” I no longer feign holy outrage when I see naked women or gay romance on TV.  I no longer have to beat myself up when I’m less of a man than I could be. I am quite self-aware, and usually don’t have a problem recognizing when I have been an ass or caused harm to someone else. When I understand that I have failed in some way, I don’t pray, seeking a mythical God’s forgiveness. Instead, I do what I can to apologize and, if necessary, make restitution. I then do my best to not repeat said behavior. As all humans do, I fail every day. That said, knowing what I know about Christians, I am confident that my way of life and morals compare favorably to that of saved, sanctified, bought-by-the blood, filled-with-the-Holy-Ghost Evangelicals. And I can say the same about most of the atheists I know. We are not hedonists, nor do we lurk in the shadows waiting for opportunities to rape, murder, molest children, or root for the New York Yankees. Quite frankly, most atheists — myself included — live uninteresting lives. I may joke about being a stripper named Santa, but my real life is quite banal.

If atheism leads to hedonism, then Christianity — especially Calvinism — does too.  Recently, I published a guest post titled The Cruel Message of Calvinism. Jean left the following comment:

I have often wondered–if you actually believe in predestination, what is keeping you from unbridled hedonism, if that appeals to you? After all, if you’re saved, you’re saved; and if you’re damned, there’s nothing you can do about it, anyway. Nothing you can do will help anyone else, in the long run, either. Why live a life of rugged virtue, if it isn’t going to gain you anything at all?

The doctrine of predestination (and election) teaches that God, before the world began, chose who would and wouldn’t be saved. The only people who will be saved are those chosen, drawn, and called by God.  Even Arminians, to some degree or the other, believe human salvation is predetermined by God. It is God alone who saves. In other words, the salvation game is rigged. Since salvation can never rest on human merit and good works, it is up to the Christian God, through the merit and work of Jesus, the son of God, on Calvary’s cross, to save sinners from their sins. Further, God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. He is the sovereign of the universe, and everything that happens is according to his purpose, plan, and decrees. Nothing happens unless God wills it or allows it to happen.

hedonism 2

As you can see, both Christianity and atheism can lead to hedonism. Evangelicals will argue that the Holy Spirit lives inside of them, and is their teacher and guide. Supposedly, having God living inside of you inoculates you from “sin.”  However, as causal observation of Evangelicals and stories such as those found in the Black Collar Crime Series tell us, the Holy Spirit is really bad at his job. Go read comments by Jim on the post Church of Christ Preacher Al Shannon Says Women Who Dress Immodestly Risk Rape by Lustful Men. (Also see Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Al Shannon Says Modern Women Wear the Attire of Harlots) Jim says he is a Bible-believing Christian. Ask yourself, does his behavior reflect the belief that God, the Holy Spirit is his teacher and guide? Supposedly, the Holy Spirit gives believers the words to say when witnessing. If that’s true, based on Jim’s comments, the Holy Spirit is an arrogant bully and troll. (And if Jimbo dares to object to my characterization of his boorish behavior, I can quote a dozen Bible verses that condemn his behavior.)

The only difference between atheists and Christians is that Christians wallow in helplessness before their imaginary deity, seeking his/her forgiveness. Atheists cut out the middleman — God — and seek the forgiveness of those they have hurt, promising to do better the next time.

Are you an atheist? Do you desire to live a hedonistic life? How is your life different post-Jesus? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Quote of the Day: What Atheists Want

bertrand russell quote 2

We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world – its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is, and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence, and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it.

— Bertrand Russell, Why I am Not a Christian

Purchase Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion

A Decade Removed from Leaving Christianity, My Wife’s Mom Finally Asks Her if She Believes in God

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Polly and I attended church for the last time in November, 2008. While I was quicker to embrace the atheist moniker than Polly, she intellectually, at least, didn’t believe in the existence of God. In recent years, she has been more open about her lack of belief, but even now she’s quite reserved when compared to her word-generating-machine husband. That said, we are both on the same page when it comes to the existence of the Christian God.

Polly’s father is a retired Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor. Dad graduated from Midwestern Baptist College in 1976 — the same year his daughter enrolled for classes. Dad and Mom moved south to Newark, Ohio where Dad became the poorly-paid assistant pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple. The Baptist Temple was pastored by Jim Dennis. Jim was married to my mother-in-law’s younger sister. Dad would later pastor a church in nearby Buckeye Lake. After this church closed, Dad and Mom returned to the Baptist Temple, the church they call home to this day,

Talking about things has never been Mom and Dad’s forte. When we left the ministry in 2005 and Christianity in 2008, Mom and Dad never said a word — NOT ONE WORD! (even after receiving Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners). That is, until today. As most of you know, Polly is having surgery tomorrow to remove bladder cancer and repair a fistula. An hour or so ago, Polly’s mom called her at work. This is the gist of their conversation:

Mom: I have never asked you before, but do you think like Bruce does?

Polly: What do you mean?

Mom: Well, like do you still believe in God?

Polly: No, Mom!

Mom: How can you not? You asked Jesus to save you when you were seven! [actually, it was at age five]

Polly: I’m fine, Mom.

Mom: Well, we pray for you and Bruce and the kids [all heathens, in her eyes, by the way], a lot!

End of discussion.

Polly texted me, “Sigh, OMG! How many years did she have to ask?”

Polly texted me later “Pretty sure she was more upset than me! If she didn’t want to know, she should have kept quiet! I told her I had excellent specialists taking care of me. I mean, seriously! What’s Jesus going to do for me?”

This is the first and only time Polly’s parents have asked about our loss of faith. They had a decade to ask, yet never, ever said a word outside of the constant reminders, “we are praying for you!” I suspect Mom felt led by the Holy Spirit to call her daughter. Knowing that Polly was having surgery, Mom wanted to make sure where her daughter stood with the Christian God. I am quite sure she didn’t expect to hear Polly say she didn’t believe in God. Mom and Dad and their former pastor, the late Jim Dennis, have always believed that I have a larger-than-life influence over Polly. There was a time that that was true, but those days are long gone — as in, twenty-five plus years gone. Polly is her own person, and able to make decisions for herself — including whether she believes in the existence of God.

Polly enters the hospital tomorrow trusting that skilled medical professionals will do their best to remove the cancer and fix the bladder side of the fistula. We are confident that they will succeed in this endeavor. Mom fears for Polly’s soul. All I want is for the love of my life to come home safe and sound.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Why I am Still in the Ministry — a Guest Post by John Calvin

guest post

In response to my request for guest posts from liberal/progressive Christians, a reader I’ll call John Calvin submitted a thoughtful post detailing why he still, to some degree, “believes.” John is currently a minister in a  mainline Calvinistic denomination. John feared his words would be seen as blatant hypocrisy, but I hope readers will listen carefully to what John is trying to say, and consider the deep emotional and psychological struggles he faces every day. I know more than a few liberal/progressive ministers read this blog, including some who are atheists/agnostics and still preaching on Sundays.  I appreciate John’s willingness to be honest about where he is in his life, and how he struggles with the existence of God. May his words be instructive and helpful.

I grew up in fundamentalism, the holiness variety, and was caught by all the claws of its well-designed trap. In my culturally deprived southern working-class environment, the church was essentially all I had. There was music — bad music, but it was music. There was poetry — bad poetry, but it was poetry. There was literature — bad literature, but it was literature. There was community, and it wasn’t bad. In a childhood of some moving around, the church became my hometown. It seemed full of warm, loving people. Now, though, after all these years, I greatly resent the fact that my spiritual life was entrusted to them. They should not have been in charge of it. Was the warmth and loving just one more tooth in the trap?

I’m sure I thought it was God’s will that I attend a denominational college; that I take a degree in Biblical Literature. I also married into the family of a pastor who used his fundamentalist conservatism as a weapon. Marriage among undergraduates in that school, especially for ministerial students, was almost expected. If you didn’t get married, you would probably end up having pre-marital sex, and there was nothing God hated more than that. After college, I went to the denominational seminary.

I never remember wanting or planning to be a pastor. You might say I didn’t take career planning nearly seriously enough. What I wanted was to understand the religion I found myself struggling to swim in. Being more of a seeker than was warmly welcomed at that seminary — where the truth, having once been delivered unto the saints, was already fully known, I transferred to an old, Eastern establishment seminary. The intellectual freedom I felt there was a wonderful breath of fresh air. By the time I graduated with my M.Div. I had departed my holiness denomination and become a pastor in a large, so-called “mainline” denomination. Frankly, I was worn out, had a family, was in debt, and didn’t know what else to do. (I was twenty-nine years old. I had started school at age four. I had taken a year off, twice, at different times, but essentially I had been going to school for twenty-five years. My diploma was written in Latin. I couldn’t read it. I still have no idea what the damn thing says. But it had better be good.)

A lot happened in subsequent decades. That large denomination I joined is a lot smaller now, partially, I’m sure, because of my feeble efforts. That cute little holiness preacher’s daughter I married, who could play the piano and sing like a bird (good one, not some crow or red-winged blackbird), told me she was embarrassed to tell people she was married to a minister, had a string of affairs, and finally left my sorry ass flopping in the dust.

I got out of the ministry for a while. Then I remarried, this time to a woman with no apparent pride and who didn’t mind being married to a minister, so I got back in. Now I am supposed to be retired, but I am still a part-time pastor, having the best time I ever had in the ministry. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. Most of the time I found being a pastor a painful and uncomfortable experience. (Hey, I never wanted to do it anyway, but the hooks were well set.)

Now, as to why I am still doing what I do. I guess I fit the definition of a progressive, liberal Christian, I prefer the term “cultural Christian,” which to me is analogous to someone being a cultural Jew rather than being a religious Jew. Some people might call me an atheist. I have called myself that on occasion, but only to myself. Whatever is left of my Christianity is bereft of any supernatural elements.

I understand the Bible to be the product of human beings, at its best a record of peoples’ interpretations of how God had worked among them. The Bible is clearly full of errors, contradictions, and outrageous mythological constructions. The idea of a perfect, inerrant Bible delivered by the hand of God is ludicrous.

While I believe it is possible that Jesus of Nazareth was not a historical person, I also believe it is possible that he was. If the things the New Testament says happened, it is amazing that none of Jesus’ contemporaries felt them important enough to mention, not even the matter of Jewish saints coming out of their tombs on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. Seriously? No one thought to jot that down? “Hey! Guess what happened!” Still, it seems to me probable that there was a guy back there somewhere to build the legends around. Much of the New Testament is no doubt fiction, designed to present him as a divine prophesy-fulfilling miracle worker. Even so, I find the core of his teachings to be inspiring and, even if they are not totally original, potentially revolutionary. I think his teachings of love and compassion are especially needed in a world that is increasingly violent and hateful, most especially when so many of those who call themselves Christ-followers are enabling the hatred and violence. (“Christians have to keep telling people they’re Christians, otherwise no one would notice.”)

The Church that says it follows him is a humiliation and an embarrassment. It has done some good in the world, but it has done some horrendous things too. I am not convinced that Christianity is a net positive force in the world. If nothing else it is guilty of diverting peoples’ attention from important issues such as living with love and compassion, to minor ones. What the church most demonstrates is that humans are institution-building animals.

So, again, why do I keep doing what I do, and why would I have any hope of being anything other than a blatant hypocrite?

It does not take much to reach the realization that there is no big man in the sky, that the earth and its creatures were not zapped into existence 6,000 years ago. Still, almost every human culture has tried in some way to grasp something beyond itself. Some have called it “God.” That “something beyond” has had a powerful impact on humans and their histories. As it happens, more humans identify with Christianity than any other single religion, as they have been doing for 2,000 years. I think that’s significant. Even if it is an amazing shared delusion, is it not something that can be honored for what good it does contain, for what good it has done? Are we right when we say, “Well, all those people were idiots?” “Thank God, our intellect is so much better than theirs that we have it all figured out and can toss it all aside like ideas of a flat Earth or the belief that some chickens have lips.” Does not the tradition, if nothing else, deserve some honor?

Maybe none of that works. Honestly, I was at least a little uncomfortable writing it. But, as I said, I am a cultural Christian. This is where I was born. This is where my people are. We share history and ritual and community. I sit with them as they die. I pray with them then and there. Not because I am challenging God to alter the laws of the universe, but because I hope and think the prayer might help them. It is not about me. It is an act of service on my part, because the whole thing is so much bigger than me, and I am willing to accept the reality of mystery. I see no benefit in standing by a bed in a hospice and saying, “Well, I’m sorry you’re dying, but don’t expect God to hold your hand through this. You’re just gonna slip back into the darkness forever, so get over it.” I expect to slip back into the darkness forever, sooner rather than later, and I’m fine with that, but I don’t think I have a right to impose that on them, at least at that point. That work needed to be done a long time before that.

I do strive for authenticity in my preaching. I do not lie to people. I do not present the Bible as a magic book, but as a book written by real flesh and blood human beings. I do not pretend that Adam and Eve were real people. I straightforwardly acknowledge that evolution is true. At the same time, even though my cultural Christianity has lost its supernatural elements, I will never stand up on Easter morning and say, “Look folks, we know this never happened. Dead people don’t come back to life. If this was true we could at least expect the Gospels to get their stories straight.” I think of it as being respectful of people.

I do not encourage peoples’ belief in their mythological Father-God “up there” somewhere, and that the instant they die they’ll be reunited with their dead loved ones at Jesus’ feet by the crystal sea. Maybe I leave people to assume that I believe much of that just like they do, and maybe that all by itself makes me that blatant hypocrite. On the other hand, maybe that is what gives me the opportunity to move them along, little by little.

I genuinely care for the people in my parish. I embrace them with love. I try to educate them to have a better understanding of the Bible and what it means to be a Christian in these days, and I know that to some extent I succeed. I try, as gently as I can, to challenge their assumptions and presuppositions. I try to lead them to what I would like to believe is a more mature faith.

Sometimes, I think I must sound like a broken record, saying over and over, “Come on! Let’s live as Jesus said! With love and compassion.” I also feel like the voice of one crying in the wilderness when the vast majority of American Christians seem to be saying, “Screw that!”

I do not care about maintaining the institution of the church, which is too bad, because ultimately I believe that’s what parish ministry is all about.

I admit to being conflicted. Sometimes I think I would like to turn in my resignation and run out the door yelling, “Freedom!” I haven’t yet, and it is not because I’m getting paid. I do take the money, but if I stopped getting those big church bucks it wouldn’t change my life one bit. I guess I do it because for whatever reason it still matters to me. I’ve never been able to get those hooks out of me. I once asked a friend who seemed to have the same ambivalence about ministry that I had, after he had been fired as president of a seminary, “Would you do it again?” He said, “I would have to. It’s my curse.” I understood completely.

One thing for sure has happened. Here in my Calvinistic denomination, I have finally proved the truth of Arminianism. I have definitely lost my salvation. But, hey, heaven for the climate and hell for the company. Am I right?

Steve Van Nattan Ignorantly Says Atheists Never Sing

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How many Christian Fundamentalists view “secular” music. Cartoon by Royston Robertson

Evangelical apologists often say stupid, ignorant, clueless things about atheists. Sometimes, God’s chosen ones even take to lying about atheism in general and certain atheists in particular. Over the years, numerous Evangelicals have lied about me or distorted my past/present life. Evidently, “thou shalt not bear false witness” is absent from their Bibles. Then there are occasions when Evangelical zealots outdo themselves, saying things so absurd that even God says, Dude, really? One such person is Fundamentalist Baptist Steve Van Nattan.

Recently, Van Nattan wrote:

There is no music in Atheism.

They never sing. It is characteristic of all humans around the world that they make music and sing together in some way. Atheism cannot explain the zeal of song and dance. They have no idea where it came from.

….

The other thing Atheists do not have is hope. They have no forward look in their life. The vast majority of the worlds tribes and cultures believe they move on from this life to a better one. The Bible has this theme all the way through, and to this hour millions of Christians look eagerly for the day Jesus Christ returns and takes his Church out of this world and to their “heavenly home.” Atheists mock at this act of faith by Christians. not because it is unreasonable, but because these Atheists know they have no future. They have cussed God out, and they NEED to mock at anyone who believes they will see God one day.

Here is a classic example of hope. If you are an Atheist, and if this makes you mad, SO WHAT? I do not give diddle what you think about it. The fact is, you know your destiny….. HELL. Every Atheist has a deep fear down inside his soul that he may turn out to be wrong, and he can do nothing about it but scream in rage at Christians

Now, perhaps Van Nattan thinks atheism is a religion, and unlike Christianity, we don’t sing hymns and songs of praise to the atheist deity. Duh, right? Atheism isn’t a religion. Atheism is simply: disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. The American Atheists’ website states:

Atheism is one thing: A lack of belief in gods.

Atheism is not an affirmative belief that there is no god nor does it answer any other question about what a person believes. It is simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods. Atheism is too often defined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.

Older dictionaries define atheism as “a belief that there is no God.” Clearly, theistic influence taints these definitions. The fact that dictionaries define Atheism as “there is no God” betrays the (mono)theistic influence. Without the (mono)theistic influence, the definition would at least read “there are no gods.”

Atheism is not a belief system nor is it a religion.

While there are some religions that are atheistic (certain sects of Buddhism, for example), that does not mean that atheism is a religion. To put it in a more humorous way: If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.

Despite the fact that atheism is not a religion, atheism is protected by many of the same Constitutional rights that protect religion. That, however, does not mean that atheism is itself a religion, only that our sincerely held (lack of) beliefs are protected in the same way as the religious beliefs of others. Similarly, many “interfaith” groups will include atheists. This, again, does not mean that atheism is a religious belief.

Some groups will use words like Agnostic, Humanist, Secular, Bright, Freethinker, or any number of other terms to self identify. Those words are perfectly fine as a self-identifier, but we strongly advocate using the word that people understand: Atheist. Don’t use those other terms to disguise your atheism or to shy away from a word that some think has a negative connotation. We should be using the terminology that is most accurate and that answers the question that is actually being asked. We should use the term that binds all of us together.

If you call yourself a humanist, a freethinker, a bright, or even a “cultural Catholic” and lack belief in a god, you are an atheist. Don’t shy away from the term. Embrace it.

Agnostic isn’t just a “weaker” version of being an atheist. It answers a different question. Atheism is about what you believe. Agnosticism is about what you know.

Atheism requires nothing of its adherents except an affirmation of disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. From this affirmation, atheists move in a variety of directions. Speaking of the eclectic nature of atheism, American Atheists writes:

The only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods. Some of the best debates we have ever had have been with fellow atheists. This is because atheists do not have a common belief system, sacred scripture or atheist Pope. This means atheists often disagree on many issues and ideas. Atheists come in a variety of shapes, colors, beliefs, convictions, and backgrounds. We are as unique as our fingerprints.

Atheists exist across the political spectrum. We are members of every race. We are members of the LGBTQ community. There are atheists in urban, suburban, and rural communities and in every state of the nation.

Now that I have dispatched with the “atheism is a religion” canard, let’s return Van Nattan’s central claim: there’s no music in atheism.

According to Wikipedia’s woefully incomplete list titled “atheists in music,” numerous musicians, across a wide spectrum of music genres, publicly profess to be atheists. Evidently, Van Nattan has never heard of Google. Had Van Nattan done a cursory web search, he would have found the Freethought Music website, “A Website for Atheist and Humanist Musicians, Composers and Leaders,” and the Freethought Band.

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Perhaps Van Nattan is ignorant of the fact the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Dan Barker, is a musician.

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And then there’s outspoken atheist Tim Minchin.

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Then there’s Shelley Segal.

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And finally, let me share music from Monster on Sunday.

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Van Nattan might also want to check out the Songs of Sacrilege series. He will find plenty of atheists who love to sing.

Here’s the BIG point Van Nattan doesn’t seem to get: atheists have at their disposal all of humanity’s music. (Conservapedia misses that point too with their Atheist Music entry.) I am an avid user of Spotify.  When I am in working in my office, Spotify is playing, and it is not uncommon for me to sing along with whoever is playing at the time. Currently, I am listening to Natalie Hemby. Yesterday, I was listening to classic rock. My music tastes are wide, including, from time to time, religious music. You see, it is Van Nattan who has a paucity of music. Due to his narrow Fundamentalist view of the world, Van Nattan is forced to listen to only certain genres of music — and only if the songs have lyrics that comport with his beliefs. Let me illustrate Van Nattan’s worldview. He lives in world of 500 television channels, yet he only tunes into one channel — that which is approved by his version of the Christian God. Van Nattan loves Mayberry RFD — as do I — but that’s the only show he watches. Just think of all the awesome TV shows Van Nattan is missing. So it is with music.

I lived in Van Nattan’s world for most of my life. Imagine coming of age in the 1970s and NOT listening to rock music. Oh, I guiltily caught a few tunes on my car’s AM radio, but most of the time I listened to explicitly Christian music. I was in my 40s before I bought my first “secular” CD — The Carpenters. Today? I am free to listen to whatever tickles my fancy. I am quite eclectic when it comes to music. And that’s what Van Nattan is missing — freedom. He’s in bondage to his God, the Bible, and a lifetime of Fundamentalist dogma.

Van Nattan believes that after he dies, he will go to Heaven — a hotel in the sky for people with the right religious beliefs. Most Fundamentalists believe that they will spend hours each day singing praises to Jesus. Wouldn’t it be great if on his first day in Heaven, Van Nattan heads to praise time — ready to belt out praises to God — only to find out the service is being led by KISS. Well played, Satan, well played.

I will let atheist rockers Monster on Sunday have the final word on this matter. Enjoy!

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“Those” Christians are Crazy: I’m Not That Kind of Christian

crazy christian

Cartoon by Adam Ford

This blog attracts all sorts of readers, from ardent Fundamentalists to atheists. I long ago stopped trying to figure out why this or that group reads my writing. I am just happy that ANYONE does. Most of my focus is on Evangelical Christianity. Liberal and progressive Christians, along with fringe Evangelicals, enjoy my critiques and takedowns of religious beliefs they consider insane. Such people will often leave comments that say, “Those Christians are crazy. I’m glad I am not that kind of Christian!” In their minds, Fundamentalists are crazy, and real Christians would never believe such things. Rejecting the God of wrath, liberal and progressive Christians assert that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Any belief that’s not consistent with “God is love” is wrong — regardless of what the Bible says. Thus, when Fundamentalists thunder and rage against sin, consigning billions of people to the flames of Hell, liberal and progressive Christians say, God is love! While I certainly appreciate the love and kindness injected into Christianity by such a view, I find it intellectually lacking. Only by dismissing or reinterpreting vast portions of the Bible can one come to the singular conclusion that God is love. God is “love,” but he is also a vindictive, mean, capricious son-of-a-bitch. Both Gods are in the Bible, but liberal and progressive Christians choose to ignore the latter. (And it could be argued that Christian Fundamentalists have lost all sense of God’s love.)

When Fundamentalists preach creationism or claim the earth is flat, liberal and progressive Christians rightly say, “those” Christians are crazy. Yet, when pressed on their own beliefs, most of them admit that they are to some degree or another theistic evolutionists. Seventy-five percent of the people of the United States believe that God, either by direct action or guided evolution, created the universe. (Please see Jerry Coyne’s post, Secularism on the rise: new Gallup poll shows that 40% of Americans are young-earth creationists, 33% are theistic evolutionists, and 22% are naturalistic evolutionists)  So, then, it seems that “crazy” is just a matter of degree. Sure, theistic evolution as a belief is better than nonsensically believing that the universe is 6,024 years old, but it is hardly a scientifically rigorous system of thought.

Fundamentalists are known for being literalists — people of the Book. They aren’t, but that’s how they perceive themselves. Fundamentalists, much like liberal and progressive believers, are cafeteria Christians. Down the Bible line they go, picking and choosing what they want to believe. This is why we have millions of Christianities and Jesuses. Each believer makes and molds Jesus in his or her own image. The only difference, really, between Fundamentalists and liberal/progressive Christians is the foods they put on their trays — each believing that their food choices best represent Jesus and historic Christianity. Good luck trying to figure out which group is right. While I prefer liberal and progressive Christianity due to its harmlessness, I find Christianity, in general, irrationally and intellectually stupefying. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) I am convinced that more than a few liberal and progressive Christians are actually atheists/agnostics. Many liberal and progressive believers have jettisoned more of the Bible than did Thomas Jefferson, yet, for some reason, they hang on to Christianity. Fear? Family connections? The need for spirituality? I don’t know. I can’t speak to the reasons why people refuse to let go of the bones of faith. What I do wish they would do is at least be honest about their beliefs, hermeneutics, and how they rationalize the teachings of the Bible — rejecting literalism when it’s embarrassing, yet clinging to it when it comes to Jesus, saving faith, and life after death. And perhaps therein lies the crux of their faith: the need to believe that there is more to life than the here and now; that death is not the end.

Liberal and progressive Christians think Evangelicals are nuts. Who in their right minds believes as Fundamentalists do? liberals and progressives think. But, to those of us who are no longer Christians, we see craziness in Evangelicalism and liberal/progressive Christianity alike: a virgin teenager being impregnated by the Holy Ghost and giving birth to a God-man, that God-man working countless science-defying miracles, dying on a Roman cross, resurrecting from the dead, and ascending to Heaven. Every liberal and progressive Christian I know, along with every Evangelical, believes that Jesus was the Son of God, died for human sin, and resurrected from the dead. These three claims alone are, to unbelievers, absurd. So, when liberal and progressive believers say, “those” Christians are crazy, what atheists, agnostics, and unbelievers see is a matter of degree. We recognize the world is a better place the more liberal and progressive religions become, but we can’t ignore the “craziness” that is found in every system of faith.

To my liberal and progressive Christian readers, I say this: I would love to have you explain your worldview, how you understand the Bible, and what hermeneutics you use to interpret the Bible. I would love for you to explain to readers how you make Christianity work for you. I mean it. I am more than willing to grant you the floor and let you explain why you still believe. I am certain that the unbelievers who frequent this blog will give you a fair hearing and treat you with love and respect. We fight a common enemy — Fundamentalism. On that, we can agree. All I am asking for is for liberal and progressive Christians who are willing to do so, to explain “why” they continue to put their faith and trust in Jesus — and by extension Christianity. If you would like to write a guest post, please send your submission to me via the Contact form.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

“It Must be a Miserable Thing to be an Atheist,” Says an Evangelical Christian

spaniardviii victor

Recently, a Christian Fundamentalist man who hides behind the SpaniardVIII moniker wrote his latest post in a series on atheism. (I responded, writing a post titled Do Atheists Really Love to Wallow in Sin?) One of SpaniardVIII’s readers, Victor, commented:

It must really be a miserable thing to be an atheist. It is true that they have made themselves willing tools in the hands of Satan to antagonise God and His followers. What a pity!

So much wrong in three little sentences. How is it possible that atheists have made themselves “willing tools in the hands of Satan?” Atheists don’t believe in the existence of deities or devils — Satan included. Making ourselves such would be akin to standing in the yard next to a shovel and asking it to make us spades. Silly, right? So is the suggestion that atheists have made themselves tools in the hands of Satan. Have Victor or SpaniardVIII ever seen Satan? Of course not. He is little more than a fairytale character used by Evangelicals in their attempts to scare people. Watch out Christians! Satan-filled atheists wander to and fro seeking whom they may devour. (1 Peter 5:8) Watch out Christians. Satan-filled atheists present themselves as angels of light, but they are, in fact, wicked, vile, evil people. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) Why, did you know atheists pickle fetuses and eat them once a year on Halloween; that atheists secretly desire to molest children; that atheists are reprobates, and you know what that means, they are p-e-r-v-e-r-t-s. (Romans 1) And so it goes. Shameless Christians, forgetting the Good Book condemns bearing false witness (Romans 13:9), lie about atheists and defame their character.

Why do Evangelicals act this way towards atheists? The short answer is that for Evangelicalism to have value, there must a clear distinction between good and evil; Christian and atheist. Evangelicals present themselves as pillars of moral virtue — that is until they are caught with their pants down, and then they are just like the rest of us, they say — so it necessary for atheists and other non-believers to be portrayed as people lacking morally and ethically. The Christian life is presented as the most awesome experience ever — all praise be to J-E-S-U-S — so it is necessary for atheists and other non-believers to be portrayed as having empty lives lacking meaning, purpose, and direction. Thus, to Victor and his sidekick SpaniardVIII, atheists are miserable people. I assume the focus of the word miserable is on how atheists live their lives; or how Evangelical zealots THINK atheists live their lives, anyway.

I hate to break it to Victor, but I have lived on both sides of the fence. I knew plenty of miserable Christians. I witnessed countless followers of Jesus living miserable lives, either by choice or due to the circumstances of life. I see nothing in Christianity that inculcates people from misery. Perhaps what Victor means is that compared to the life he has with Jesus, atheists have miserable lives. How can he know that? By what standard does he determine someone is miserable or is living a worthless life?

I am sure Victor, as an Evangelical Christian, measures the lives of others — especially atheists — according to his peculiar interpretation of the Protestant Christian Bible. Throw in a large dose of projection, and it is easy to see how Victor comes to the conclusion atheists are miserable. When Jesus is your end-all, it’s no wonder non-Christians are viewed as being lacking in some way or the other. Atheists, in particular, aren’t shy about telling Victor and other zealots like him that their beliefs are rooted in fantasy; that the Jesus they love, adore, and worship, lies dead somewhere on a Judean hillside; that the only thing awaiting Christians after death is darkness, silence, and decay. Is it no wonder, then, that the Victors of the world view atheists the way they do?

atheists sad

Here’s the problem with Victor’s Bible-blurred view of atheists. We are not, in general, miserable or unhappy. We daily strive to live happy, fulfilled lives, knowing that this life is the only one we have. Sure, we have problems, just like Christians do. We have days when we are asses and other days when we are saints (as in Saint Hitchens, Saint Gupton, Saint Hawking). Often, our lives are admixtures of good, bad, and indifferent deeds. We are, above all else, human. What atheists know that Evangelicals seemingly don’t, is that we are not “better” (or worse) than anyone else. We are, in every way, fellow travelers on the road of life, each of us walking the path set before us.

Victor pities atheists, not because of shared humanity, but because they don’t believe as he does. For Victor, life starts and ends with Jesus and the Bible. If anyone deserves pity, it is him. He has chosen a life of paucity, a life reduced to endlessly masturbating before the throne of Jesus; a life reduced to worshipping a mythical deity; a life where only one book matters, the Bible. Why would anyone in his or her right mind what to live this way? Remove threats of judgments and Hell and promises of Heaven and eternal bliss, and I guarantee you Victor’s life would be very different.

As long as fear and judgment are motivators, the Victors of the world will continue to say atheists are miserable. Instead of looking in the mirror and seeing their own misery, Christian zealots jump up and down, holler, and point at atheists, saying LOOK AT HOW MISERABLE THEY ARE! Classic misdirection. I hate to break it to Victor, but with or without Jesus, misery can and does come our way. Live long enough, and Mr. Misery and Ms. Heartache are going to make an appearance in your life. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Should atheists say to the Christian man dying from cancer, “it must be a miserable thing to be a Christian, to have given your whole life to a lie and now you are dying!” The atheists I know would never be so heartless, cruel, and indifferent. Yet, Victor thinks it’s okay — not knowing anything about the people he condemns — to say to atheists, such miserable people you are. 

This post leaves me wondering what is it in Evangelical Christianity that causes followers of Jesus to lose all connection with their fellow humans? There will come a day when I will draw my last breath. I can only imagine how Evangelical pastors and bloggers will respond upon hearing of the Evangelical-pastor-turned-atheist Bruce Gerencser’s death. Look at how Christopher Hitchens and Steven Hawking were savaged after their deaths. Not long ago, Rachel Held Evans, a devout Christian, suddenly died at age 37. Her death was viewed by some within the Evangelical community as being some sort of divine retribution from the Evangelical God for Evans’ supposed heresy: Evans decapitated, her head placed on a pike for all to see, a reminder of what happens to those who stray from the narrow confines of the Evangelical box. Why can’t Evangelicals just act like decent, thoughtful human beings, even towards those who believe differently from them? See misery in the lives of others? Embrace their pain and lift them up, even if they worship your God, a different God, or no God at all. Surely, the fleshly, frail bond we have with one another transcends our tribes and teams, no? It should, but unfortunately, the Victors of the world refuse to remove their Bible-glasses long enough to see themselves and their fellow primates as they are.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Is Evangelism All About Winning Souls?

knock on door

Neil Carter recently wrote a post about evangelism that piqued my interest. Neil talked about how most evangelistic efforts do little to reach the “lost,” and are really more about tribal identification than saving sinners from the flames of Hell. Neil illustrated this with a question and answer that was posted on Quora.

Someone asked: “Why do people get angry when I try to share the word of God with them?”

A man by the name of Doug Robertson responded:

The entire process is not what you think it is.

It is specifically designed to be uncomfortable for the other person because it isn’t about converting them to your religion. It is about manipulating you so you can’t leave yours.

If this tactic was about converting people it would be considered a horrible failure. It recruits almost no one who isn’t already willing to join. Bake sales are more effective recruiting tools.

On the other hand, it is extremely effective at creating a deep tribal feeling among its own members.

The rejection they receive is actually more important than the few people they convert. It causes them to feel a level of discomfort around the people they attempt to talk to. These become the “others.” These uncomfortable feelings go away when they come back to their congregation, the “Tribe.”

I pondered, for a moment, my past evangelism efforts, and I concluded that Neil and Doug are right; that my soulwinning efforts and those of the churches I pastored did little to save sinners. The majority of the people converted under my ministry voluntarily came to church, heard me preach, and then walked down the aisle to be saved after I psychologically and emotionally manipulated them, and not through community evangelistic outreaches.  (Emotionally Manipulating IFB Church Members through Music and Preaching Styles, Walking the Aisle — A Few Thoughts on Altar Calls, and Why Evangelical Beliefs and Practices are Psychologically Harmful — Part One)

I grew up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. I attended an IFB college to train for the ministry, and while there I married the daughter of an IFB preacher. IFB churches and preachers are known for their aggressive approaches to evangelism, and I was no exception. The IFB churches I pastored typically had several evangelistic outreaches each week. Year-round, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, we would go door to door — much as the Jehovah’s Witnesses do — and try to evangelize people. On Saturdays, we would also go on bus visitation. While our purpose was primarily to bribe children with candy/toys so they would ride one of our busses the next day, we did have occasional opportunities to “share” the gospel.

Several times a year, I would invite evangelists to come hold meetings at the churches I pastored. These meetings ran five to fifteen days in length. The goal was to “revive” the congregation and “evangelize” the community. When we had an evangelist in town, we went door-knocking every day. These concentrated evangelistic efforts gave the hired guns an opportunity to WOW us with their soulwinning skills. The pressure was on them to birth new babies for Jesus.

bruce-gerencser-street-preaching-september-7-1990

Front page photo, Times-Recorder, September 7, 1990, preaching on a downtown street corner, Zanesville, Ohio

In the 1980s and 1990s, IFB evangelist Don Hardman would come to our country church and hold fifteen-day protracted revival meetings. (Please see The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman, A Book Review, Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman, A Book Review, and My Life as a Street Preacher) Don was a street preacher, and it wasn’t long before he turned me into a street preacher too. Instead of going door to door, we would go to nearby communities, stand on a street corner, hand out tracts, and preach as loud as we could. After Don moved on to his next gig, I continued preaching on the street. I tried, without success, to get my colleagues in the ministry to go along with me. To the man, these preachers of the gospel told me that they weren’t “called” to preach on the street. At the time, I saw their refusal as cowardice, an unwillingness to preach like Jesus, the disciples, and the Apostle Paul did in the early days of the Christian church.

I stayed in hyper-evangelism mode well into the 1990s. Even after embracing Calvinism, I continued to busy myself evangelizing sinners. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that I finally threw in the towel and abandoned my aggressive evangelism tactics. Why did I stop? The short answer is this: knocking on doors and preaching on the street resulted in very few, if any, converts. The overwhelming majority of salvation decisions were made by people who voluntarily attended one of our church services. Every so often, knocking on doors resulted in someone getting saved, but as I look back on these experiences, I have concluded that the only thing these supposed new converts got saved from was us! Not wanting to be seen as impolite, they prayed the sinner’s prayer, asking Jesus to save them, so we would leave them alone and move on to someone else. Praise Jesus, preacher! I have been delivered . . . from YOU!

For the most part, my evangelistic efforts were failures. Sure, I shared the gospel with hundreds of people, but few of them got saved. My soulwinning techniques were perfect — those I was taught at Midwestern Baptist College. I was passionate and zealous, devoting countless hours to evangelizing the lost. Why, then, did I fail so miserably? The short answer is that people found my methods offensive and wanted nothing to do with me, my church, or what I was peddling. Of course, this played right into my martyr’s complex. You see, as Neil made clear in his post, my soulwinning efforts were never really about saving souls. What knocking on doors and preaching on street corners did was separate me and the churches I pastored from the “world.” Their rejection only reinforced the notion that what we preached was the truth; that our tribe was the one true church. The more sinners rebuffed my soulwinning efforts, the more I felt that I was right. There’s nothing like persecution to “prove” the rightness of your beliefs and practices.  When people slammed doors in my face or cursed at me, I felt closer to Jesus. When a man tried to hit me with his truck while I preaching on a street corner in Zanesville, Ohio, I felt glad that I was worthy to suffer for the Lord, and even die for him. Mockery and cursing only made me glad that I could “suffer” for Jesus. The Apostle Paul suffered great indignities as he publicly evangelized sinners. (2 Corinthians 11) Suffering in like manner put me in the company of the greatest Christian ever known. What an honor, I thought at the time.

Over the past decade, I have engaged in countless discussions with Evangelical Christians. Many of them came to this site hoping to evangelize me. (Please see IFB Evangelist’s Wife Says She Loves Me, And God Does Too! and Dear Charlie, I’m Only Going to Say This Once) Despite their efforts, I remain an unrepentant, apostate atheist. I have often wondered, did these zealots really think that I was a promising prospect for Heaven? Did they really think their cliché-laden, Bible verse-filled shticks would cause me to drop on my knees, repent, and ask Jesus to save me? Think of all the possible targets for evangelization. Why go after someone like me? There’s no chance in Heaven or Hell that I would ever return to Evangelical Christianity. Yet, they continue to try. Why is that?

Most apologists know deep down that I am not going to repent and return to Christianity. It’s not going to happen . . . However, by trying to evangelize me, they feed their martyr complex; they reinforce their belief that the world hates God, Jesus, the Bible, their church, and them personally. Foundational to Evangelical faith is the belief you are absolutely right, and that all other religions are false. My rejection of their evangelistic overtures reminds them that their tribe is God’s chosen people; that their beliefs and practices are the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). The more that the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world turn them away, the more certain they are that their beliefs are the right. Our hostility and dismissal just prove to them that out of all the religions in the world, they chose the right one; that someday soon Jesus is coming again, and then all the people who said NO to their evangelistic efforts will pay the price for rejecting their efforts. Picture in your mind millions of smiling Evangelicals surrounding you as you are cast into the never-ending flames of the Lake of Fire. Their last words to you? See, I told you . . .

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Do Atheists Really Love to Wallow in Sin?

atheists-wallow-in-sin

I just love it when Evangelicals tell the world what it is atheists believe and how they live their lives. One such Evangelical is SpaniardVIII, a man obsessed with dissembling about atheism. He has been publicly challenged and corrected over and over again, but as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, SpaniardVIII will be right back at it, slandering atheists and misrepresenting atheism. Evidently, his Bible does not contain the verse that says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”

Today, Spaniard VII asserted:

Look, their [atheists] so-called no evidence for God cry is so outlandish that in reality, they don’t reject God for no evidence [for there is an abundance of it], but their rejection of God is based solely on emotions. They cannot comprehend how God can bring judgment on any nation.

The reason an atheist cannot understand what righteous judgment is, because they reject what sin stands for. For them, sin is a way of life which they love to wallow in like a swine to mud. The world which comprises of people like atheists [haters of God] and those who want nothing to do with Jesus or the real Jesus have a deep hatred for God’s punishment on sin because that is why they live for. The heart of the world is pure darkness and devoid of anything good that pleases God.

….

John 3:19-21 [Emphasis Added]

19 “This, then, is the judgment: The light [Jesus who is the truth] has come into the world, and people [like the atheists] loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who practices wicked things [through the lust of the flesh] hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed [to hide their true intentions]. 21 But anyone who lives by the truth [those who believe in Jesus Christ and hold on to God’s Word] comes to the light, so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God.”

SpaniardVIII thinks that when atheists ask for evidence of the existence of the Protestant Christian God of the Bible, what we are really doing is trying to cover up our deep-seated desires to “sin.” No matter how often Evangelicals-turned-atheists tell their stories and attempt to explain why they no longer believe in the existence of God, Evangelicals such as SpaniardVIII will dismiss their testimonies and explanations out of hand. There has to be some OTHER reason for our loss of faith, they wonder. What could it be? Sin! (Please see the posts on the WHY? page)

I can’t even begin to number the times one Evangelical apologist or another has told me that the reason I left the ministry and later left Christianity was due to some sort of dark, secret sin in my life; that if the truth was told about me, everyone would see that I never was a Christian. And so the deconstructions go . . .

SpaniardVIII is right when it comes to how atheists view the notion of “sin.” Sin is a religious construct, and as such, atheists reject it out of hand. For Evangelicals, sin — supposedly — is transgression of the law of God (I John 3:4). I say supposedly because no two Christians agree on what exactly constitutes the law of God. The Ten Commandments? The Nine Commandments? The 613 Laws in the Old Testament? The New Testament? The Old and New Testaments? Or, perhaps the antinomians are right, and none of the Law of God is applicable in this present day of grace.

Take any behavior called “sin” — a sin such as homosexuality — and you will find diverse Evangelical opinions on the matter. Evangelicals are increasingly divided on homosexuality, with many Christians embracing inclusivism and equal protection under the law, while others believing the Bible clearly teaches that homosexuality is a heinous sin against God and humanity, one worthy of severe punishment. Some Evangelicals even think that LGBTQ people should be rounded up, incarcerated and, in some cases, executed!  Both sides of this debate appeal to God and the Bible as justification for their position. Who is right? If Evangelicals can’t agree amongst themselves over what is and isn’t sin, why should the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world listen to them?

Of course, SpaniardVIII is a special, short-bus kind of Christian. He’s a Bible-believer®, a literalist who knows exactly which human behaviors are sins and which are not. Want to know if something is a sin? Just ask him. And in doing so, SpaniardVIII, in effect, becomes God. He confuses his peculiar interpretation of a fallible, errant, contradictory ancient religious text with the voice of God. SpaniardVIII believes God talks to him, thus affirming that his interpretations of the Bible are “truth.” In any other setting, hearing voices lands you in a psych ward, but because the voice is supposedly the one true and living God, it’s considered perfectly “normal” not only hear God’s voice, but to have conversations with him.

Thus, atheists look at the Evangelical notion of “sin” and objective morality and laugh. Not only do Evangelicals not have an exclusive standard of morality, but their lives betray the fact that they do not practice what they preach; that they are works in progress; that they are not perfect. Never mind the fact that the Bible Evangelicals say they believe says that Christians are to be perfect even as their Father in Heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Never mind the fact that the same Bible says that Christians have the same mind as Christ (I Corinthians 2:16). Never mind the fact 1 John 3:8 says: He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. Do Christians sin? Yes, in thought, word, and deed. Do Christian men look at women with lust in their hearts; even SpaniardVIII? Yes! Then, they are, as the Bible says, adulterers (Matthew 5:28). And, drumroll, please, the Bible says that people who commit adultery and other sins will NOT inherit the Kingdom of God. Take Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Sure sounds like a lot of Christians I have encountered over the years. Much like SpaniardVIII, they rail against the “sins” of others, condemning them to hellfire and brimstone, all the while hiding their own sins behind the “precious” blood of Jesus. Countless Evangelicals have committed horrible crimes (See Black Collar Crime series), yet all they need to do to find complete, unconditional forgiveness is follow 1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Just confess and forget, baby!

I am sure you have seen the glaring contradictions between the aforementioned Bible verses. Which is it? Is forgiveness from sin and a new lease on life just a prayer away? Or are Christians who sin of the devil, and will not inherit the Kingdom of God? You see, when you appeal to the Bible as an infallible standard of right behavior, contradictions abound. SpaniardVIII, then, is forced to play Bible Gymnastics©, hoping to escape drowning in the Sea of Contradiction®.

It is for these reasons and others that atheists reject the notion of “sin.” Now, this doesn’t mean that atheists don’t have moral and ethical standards — they do. SpaniardVIII’s Bible literalism and entrenched Fundamentalism keeps him from thinking critically and objectively about morality. Instead, morality is reduced to “The Bible (or my interpretation thereof) says ________.” Atheists and other non-believer are forced, on the other hand, to think and reason about human behavior. What is “good” and “bad” behavior? How do we determine which behaviors are which? This usually leads to thinking about the objective and subjective nature of morality and human behavior. For example: is sex between consenting unmarried adults wrong? SpaniardVIII would say, absolutely, the Bible says ________. Atheists, however, would need more information before saying whether this behavior is wrong. Atheists, with their rejection of religion-based moral standards, are forced to critically think about human behavior. It’s not that atheists — most of them anyway — are hedonistic libertines. We just have standards of human behavior that differ from that of moralizers such as SpaniardVIII.

Now, SpaniardVIII asserts — again, without evidence — that atheists reject Bible-based morality because they want to wallow in sin. Is this true? Are atheists really the “sinners” SpaniardVIII portrays them to be? Sure, some of them are, but then the same thing can be said about Evangelicals too. As with any group, human behavior varies within the group. Some atheists are awful people, but I can tell you this after a decade of interacting with the godless: most of them are thoughtful, loving, caring people. Sure, they can, at times, do bad things, but the general arc of their lives is towards the humanist ideal. Unlike Evangelicals, atheists don’t have a Get Out of Sin Jail Free card. All atheists can do is admit their bad behavior and do what they can to make restitution. We don’t need a middle man — God — to get between us and people our behavior has harmed. Our goal is to be better people today than we were yesterday.

SpaniardVIII’s atheists-love-to-sin straw man is rooted in his need to project moral superiority. The fact remains that atheists generally want to be good and decent people. I know this is hard for Evangelical zealots to rationalize, but most atheists just want to live and let live. We want to work, enjoy life, love our spouses, children, and grandchildren, make a difference in the world, and watch some football on TV, if we are so inclined. Our rewards come in this life, not the life to come.

I suspect that most atheists’ lives compare quite favorably to those of Christians. Outside of my language being a bit — okay, a lot — more colorful and my TV viewing habits having changed, my life is not much different from when I was a pastor. The difference, of course, is that my “sin” list is much smaller — 3×5 card — and  I no longer negatively judge others who behave differently from me. I am a heterosexual man. I don’t “understand” same-sex attraction. However, I don’t need to. You see, whom people love, marry, or fuck is none of my business. I don’t have to “understand” someone’s life in order to respect and understand them. Take SpaniardVIII. If he was content to quietly and privately live his life according to his interpretation of the Bible, I would have no objection. Each to his own, I say. As long as someone is not harming others — and therein is the rub with Evangelicalism — or forcing them to live by their moral standard, I am fine with how he or she wants to live. However, this is not how SpaniardVIII lives his life. Oh no, he demands that his religion and moral standard be lived by everyone. He genuinely believes that his thoughts and words are “solely based on scripture and not on anyone’s opinion or theology but only on what scripture clearly reveals with the help of the Holy Spirit.” Thus, he feels justified in demanding everyone bow in fealty to his God.

It is at this point that atheists push back. We demand evidence for SpaniardVIII’s claims, yet none is forthcoming. Instead, he offers up Bible prooftexts and personal opinions and interpretations. Atheists don’t reject his moralizing because they want to wallow in sin. Far be from it — though wallowing can be a lot of fun. We reject the messenger and his message. We see through the man and his beliefs. SpaniardVIII wrongly thinks that atheists say to themselves, ” We will not have this God rule over us,” when in fact, what we are saying is this: “We will NOT have SpaniardVIII and his contradictory, anti-human interpretations of a Bronze Age religious text rules over us.” We are free, and we intend to stay that way! Having left the bondage and paucity of Egypt and finding intellectual and personal freedom in the Land of Canaan, we have no intention of returning to the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic of Egypt. It’s not that atheists want to “sin.” They have just found a better way to live — living that doesn’t require obedience to a mythical deity and an irrelevant religious text. And THAT’S what pisses off the SpaniardVIIIs of the world. They look over the proverbial fence and see atheists living the good life and they can’t help but yearn to join us. But they can’t. As long as they believe in the Evangelical God, lives of repressive self-denial are expected lest they find themselves under the chastisement of God. The issue here, then, is not atheists wallowing in “sin” — it’s envy; Evangelicals secretly wishing they could “sin” too. To that I say, come join us! I promise you that atheists really aren’t child molesters who eat fetuses offered up in worship to Satan. We are everyday people who love life, knowing that this is the only one we will ever have.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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