Atheism

Dear Family and Friends: Why I Can’t and Won’t Go to Church 

no church

To those who call me Bruce, Butch, Dad, or Grandpa:

In November 2008, Polly and I attended church for the last time. Since then, I have walked through the doors of a church three times, once for a baby baptism, and twice for a funeral. All three experiences left me angry and irritated.

The first service was a baby baptism at a local Catholic church. I thought, Bruce, ignore the bullshit, you are there to support your children. I was fine until the priest began exorcising the devil out of my granddaughter. I wanted to scream, but  I didn’t. After the service, I made up my mind that I would never again attend such a service. No baptisms, no confirmations, no dedications, no nothing. Nada, zero, zip. All of my children and extended family know this. Polly is free to attend any or none of these services, but I can’t and I won’t.

The last two services were funerals. One was the funeral of my sexual predator uncle. The local Baptist preacher preached my uncle right into heaven. (I wrote about that here: Dear Pastor, Do You Believe in Hell) The second service was for Polly’s fundamentalist uncle. Nice guy, but the service was all about Jesus, complete with a sermon and call to salvation. Again, I wanted to scream, but I reminded myself that I was there to support our family.

I’ve decided I can suck it up and endure the Jesus talk for the sake of family. I know there are a lot of funerals in our future, that is if the rapture doesn’t take place. I wish it would so there would be no Christians left to bother me.  I’ll do my best to support my family in their hour of grief. Anyone that tries to evangelize me does so at their own risk. I refuse to be bullied by sanctimonious Bible thumpers who think they are salvation dispensing machines.

I’ve decided that I will walk through the door of a church for two events: funerals and a weddings. That’s it. I don’t do church and the sooner family, friends, and local Christian zealots understand this the better. If the event doesn’t say funeral or wedding, I ain’t going. I can’t and I won’t. If this causes someone to be angry, upset, or irritated, there is nothing I can do about it. That’s their problem.

You see, eight years ago I said to my family, you are free. Be who and what you want to be. Be/stay a Christian, choose another religion or philosophical system, or choose nothing at all. With freedom comes choice. It seems the religious love their choice. They find great benefit, purpose, and meaning, through their particular religion. That’s great. If it makes them happy, then I am happy. But, shouldn’t I be afforded the same freedom and happiness? Why shouldn’t my wife and I have the freedom to NOT participate in church services, rituals, and the like?

Suppose I worship the Cat God Purr. Once a year, all the Purrites get together at my house for a very special service. Part of our ritual is the sacrifice of a female cat. Like the Israelites in the Bible, we offer up a cat as our sacrifice to Purr. Afterward, we roast the cat and eat it, and in doing so we are taking into our body and soul the blood and body of Cat God Purr.

Now imagine me inviting my Christian family to the service. I let them know when the service is and how important it is to me for them to be there. I also let them know that I would like them to partake of the roasted cat so they too could have inside of them the blood and body of Cat God Purr. Can you imagine how they would respond?

First, in their eyes Cat Purr God is a false God. Second, the cat roasting ritual is barbaric and offensive. While I may invite them to the service, I would certainly understand if they didn’t come. Why? Because my God is not their God and I respect their right to believe whatever they want to believe. I would never want to offend them.

It seems if one is an atheist, they are not afforded the same decency and respect. Did Polly and I become less of a person, parent, or grandparent the moment we stopped believing? Does our relationship with family and friends hinge on us sitting our ass in a pew for ten minutes or an hour? Frankly, I refuse to let any one circumstance harm a relationship. If someone asks me to go to a church service or a ritual and I say no and they never ask me again, it’s no big deal. However, once someone knows that I do NOT attend such services and they continue to ask me anyway, this tells me that they do not respect me.

I spent 50 years in the Christian church and 25 years in the ministry. I’ve had enough church to last me ten lifetimes. The best way for the religious and the nonreligious to get along is for both sides to compartmentalize their beliefs. I don’t talk about religion/atheism/humanism with my Christian family and friends unless they ask. If they ask, I will gladly give my opinion or share my viewpoint. I am not going to invite them to hear Sam Harris speak, nor am I going to give them Bart Ehrman’s books. If they ask or want to know, that’s different, but if they don’t then I choose to focus on the other things we have in common and leave religion/atheism in the closet. Christian family and friends need to do the same. If I ask, then by all means tell me. If not, let’s focus on the things we have in common. Life is too short to have conflict over religion.

I subscribe to the when in Rome Do as the Romans Do rule. When I am at a Christian’s home and they offer up a prayer to their deity, I respectfully bow my head. It’s their home and they are free to do what they want. Yes, I have an opinion about God and prayer, but their home is not the place to share it.  The same goes for my home. We are not religious, we are not Christian. We don’t pray over our meals, nor do we give the gods one thought before we eat. While we do allow Polly’s dad to pray over the meal when he is here, that is out of respect for him. No big deal, just one more prayer hitting the ceiling. Thousands are already embedded in the paint, what’s one more.

When Christians come to my home, they shouldn’t expect me to change how I live or how I talk. I shouldn’t have to change the music I am listening to, change the TV channel, or remove books from the bookshelf. This is our home, and anyone, even family, who walks through the door is a guest. And the same goes for the Christian’s home. If I visit there, I don’t expect them to do anything different from what they normally do. I respect their space, their freedom.

Freedom is supposed to be a two-way street. Unfortunately, for many Christians it is a one way street called Their Way. They want the freedom to worship their God and practice their faith, but they don’t want to grant others the same freedom. Of course, I know why. They think they have the truth and Polly and I are on a false path that leads to judgment, hell, and eternal punishment. They don’t want us to continue driving on the highway to hell. But, here’s the thing…we don’t think we are on the highway to hell. Since we don’t believe there is a God, it naturally follows that we don’t believe in hell, judgment, heaven, or eternity. It’s up to us to determine what road we want to travel, and for Polly and I, we are quite happy to drive on the road named Reason.

Let me conclude this post with a personal thought about church services in general and why I can’t and won’t attend them.  First, I know the Bible inside and out. I have a theological education, an education that began at a Bible college and continued through the 25 years I spent pastoring churches. So, when I hear preachers and priests preach, I can spot the bullshit from a mile away. I also have little tolerance for preachers who lack the requisite skills necessary to craft a good sermon and deliver it. In my opinion, there’s lots of anemic, pathetic preaching these days. Second, I find many of the rituals offensive. Casting the devil out an infant? Washing away sin with water? Services that are all show and no substance? Vows that are uttered and become lies before the service is over?  Wine and wafers turning into real blood and flesh? Magic wand rituals and practices that pretend to make the past go away and make the present brand new? Preachers, pastors, bishops, and priests touching a person and conferring some sort of divine power? All of these things are offensive to me. They are reminders to me of the bankruptcy of religion and why I want nothing to do with it.

I know that I can’t force people to accept me as I am, but I can choose how and when I interact with them. Years ago, I was listening to Dr. Laura and a grandmother called up complaining about her daughter-in-law. Dr. Laura told her to quit her bitching. If she didn’t, she risked not being able to see her grandchildren. That was good advice and I remembered it years later when my fundamentalist step-grandmother called me. I wrote about this in the post Dear Ann:

…For his seventy-fifth birthday you had a party for Grandpa. You called a few days before the party and told me that if I was any kind of grandson at all that my family and I would be at the party. Never mind Polly would have to take off work. Never mind the party was on a night we had church. All that mattered to you was that we showed up to give Grandpa’s birthday party an air of respectability.

I remember what came next like it was yesterday. The true Ann rose to the surface and you preceded to tell me what a terrible grandson I was and how terrible my family was. You were vicious and vindictive.

Finally, after forty years,  I had had enough. I told you that you should have worried about the importance of family twenty years ago. I then told you that I was no longer interested in having any contact with you or Grandpa. Like my mother, I decided to get off the Tieken drama train…

That’s what can happen when we push, badger, and cajole. I am an atheist, not a Christian and I suspect I will remain so until I die. My family and friends need to come to terms with this, and if they don’t then it’s on them if they ruin our relationship.

When our children married, we vowed that we would NEVER be meddling parents/grandparents. If we offer our opinion on something, we do it once. That’s it. Unless someone asks, we don’t say another word. Every person in my family has the right to live freely and authentically. Yes, they make decisions that I think are foolish, but it’s their life and they are free to live it any way they want. Whether it is Polly’s parents, our children, our daughter-in-laws, or our grandchildren, we don’t meddle in their lives. We want them to be happy. If they are happy, then we are happy.

All that I want is the freedom to live my life authentically. Surely, that’s not too much to ask.

Family Driven Faith Part Three

bruce and polly 2013

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, 2013

The article was first published in 2012 on No Longer Quivering Corrected, revised, and updated

Eleven years have passed since I preached my last sermon and Polly was called the “pastor’s wife.” Almost seven years have passed since we determined to stop attending church. Now we are “unchurched”, casualties of a lifetime spent in Evangelical Christianity. Worse yet, at least according to our critics, we are now enemies of Christ and his church.

You see, we not only left the Church, we left Jesus. Regardless of how some Christians try to parse our lives through their peculiar theological system, we are two people who once were devoted, committed followers of Jesus, who are an atheist and an agnostic. We were saved and now we are lost.

Some people leave Evangelicalism, with its attendant fundamentalist beliefs and code of living, and try to remake their life according to a kinder, gentler view of God, the Bible, and their fellow humans. I view this like remodeling a house where the foundation and the basic framework remain the same. What’s changed is the siding and the paint on the interior walls, but everything else remains the same,

Many people leave the Evangelical church and join progressive or liberal Christian churches. They gain new labels for themselves, but, again, the foundation of their faith remains the same. Polly and I decided that we were not willing to slap some new siding on the house and remodel the interior. Instead, we burnt the house down, hauled the debris away, and started over.

Now I say we started over, but I recognize that since we think and remember, there really is no such thing as starting over with a blank slate. Deep in our minds are memories from 50 years spent in the Christian church and 25 years spent in the pastorate. These things will forever be with us. The good, bad, and indifferent; the wonderful experiences and the painful, hurtful experiences too. We are the sum of what we have learned and experienced in the past. While we like to think we KNOW where we will be months or years from now, the truth is we really don’t know what the future may bring or how our lives will be.

If someone told me a decade ago that I would be an atheist and Polly would be an agnostic, I would have suggested they seek immediate psychiatric help. As far as Christians go, and as far as Christian pastors and their wives go, Bruce and Polly Gerencser were as devoted and committed as any Christian or ministry couple. Yet, here we are, numbered among the godless, the most despised people in America.

When we decided to start over we knew that we were going to have to confront many personal and marital issues. Wiping the slate clean forced us to look at what we really believed about most everything. At times, the process made us fearful. What if we decided that we didn’t want to married to each other? Free to think and reason and to decide for ourselves what our moral and ethical foundation was, there was a real danger that this process could lead us apart.

Of great concern was how our children would view the new, and hopefully improved, Mom and Dad. They only knew us as parents who were 100% committed to Jesus and the church. They only knew us as strict, not sparing the rod, homeschooling parents. I can only imagine how great a struggle it was for them as they watched their parents not only leave all they ever knew, but repudiate it and embrace a godless worldview.

Former friends, parishioners, and fellow pastors reacted with horror and anger over our leaving the Christian faith. We have been accused of all sorts of things and our Christian past has been dissected, discredited, and discarded. We spent a lifetime building relationships with people and it only took saying, I don’t believe or I am an atheist, for all of those relationships to disappear. We paid a huge price for being honest and open about the journey we are on.

Over the past seven years, we have slowly built our new home. Our marriage not only survived, but it has thrived. Nirvana, it is not. We still fuss and fight. We still have personality quirks that drive each other crazy. But, at the same time, we are far more accepting and loving, not only towards each other, but towards humans in general.

Our lives are very different these days. My continued physical debility has radically changed how we live, how we earn a living, and what we can and can’t do. Since our “sin” list now fits on a matchbook cover, we are free to do many things and go many places that were verboten in our previous life. We are free to dance, drink, and party, even though we very rarely do so. It is liberating to enjoy life without having to wonder what God, the church, or our Christian friends think. We’ve met new friends, mostly through this blog and Facebook, who allow us the space and freedom to be who and what we really are.

Some Christians are likely to suggest that we left Christianity because we wanted the freedom to live however we wanted. Some might even suggest that we had a secret desire to sin, to live immorally and that’s the REAL reason we left Christianity. To some degree, they are correct.  However, we ultimately left Christianity for intellectual reasons.  We came to the conclusion that the claims of Christianity were not true and the Bible was not in any way a divine, God inspired book. We came to see that our lives had been built upon a foundation that was not true. Once the Bible was removed from the discussion, we were free to chart our own course; free to determine for ourselves what is moral and ethical; free to experience things and go places that were considered sinful for most of our lives.

Some readers, thinking we threw the baby out with the bath water, will say, But Bruce, you were a Fundamentalist Baptist.  Everyone knows how legalistic, how narrow-minded Fundamentalist Baptists are. This claim might have some merit IF we had remained Fundamentalist Baptists over the course of 25 years in the ministry. But, we didn’t. By the time I pastored my last church in 2003, I was a social gospel progressive, Sojourner loving, emergent church friendly, Democratic pastor. Many of my pastor friends labeled me a l-i-b-e-r-a-l.

The process that led us to where we are today began in the 1990’s. Fundamentalists tend to view things in a black and white manner. Saved/Lost. In/Out. Heaven/Hell. God/Satan. They remember the date/time/place God saved them and when people who think like this read that we are now atheist/agnostic/godless, they, judging us through their own experience, think we had some instantaneous experience where we went from saved back to lost.

That’s not how it worked for us. It was, and remains, a process. We fully expect that the process will continue until we die. We fully expect our journey will have many bumps, crooks, turns, and reversals. We have no doubt there will be times when we part ways and walk different paths from each other. That’s OK. We are free to be who we want to be. We are free to follow the path wherever it leads. No more thundering sermons telling us NO. No more Christian books telling us the evil of this or that human experience. No more living a life where the Bible is the compass and guide.

This does not mean that life is now easier for us. If anything it is harder. When the Bible was the standard by which all things were judged, we didn’t have to think as much. Just Obey. As the old song goes, Trust and Obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to Trust and Obey. Now we are forced to recognize that life is filled with gray and ambiguity and that sometimes there is no right or wrong answer. We have learned to be indifferent towards many things.

bruce and polly gerencser 2013-2

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, 2013

This is how we have chosen to live our lives. We are happy and our love for one another endures. Our children have embraced the new Mom and Dad, even though some of them might question the path we are on. Each of our six children have charted their own course through life. None of them are Evangelical. To many people, our children are a huge disappointment, and Polly and I will answer to God for what we have done to our family. We, however, are proud of our children, proud of the lives they have chosen for themselves.

Polly and I are grateful that we have been given the opportunity to start again. We are cognizant of the fact that our story could have had a bad ending. But, it didn’t and we hope this new lease on life will be one we do not squander. We hope that our best days lie ahead.

A Bible Study Program for Atheists and Christians Too

e-sword

If you are an atheist, agnostic, secularist, or liberal Christian and you often find yourself in discussions with Evangelicals/fundamentalists about the Bible, then I want to recommend you download the E-Sword Bible Study Program. The program is free. There are additional modules you can buy, but I think you’ll find the free program is sufficient for looking up Bible verses, reading commentaries, and looking at the Hebrew/Greek text.

The free version includes (not a complete list):

  • King James Version with Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance numbers
  • American Standard Version
  • English Standard Version
  • Contemporary English Version
  • Revised Standard Version
  • German, French, Spanish, Italian, Hungarian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian translations of the Bible (along with a number of other languages)
  • Hebrew New Testament
  • Hebrew Old Testament with Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance numbers
  • Greek New Testament Majority Text
  • Greek New Testament with Variants
  • Greek Old Testament, Septuagint with Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance numbers
  • Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament with Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance numbers
  • Commentaries by Albert Barnes, John Gill, Matthew Henry, Jamieson Fausett Brown, Keil & Delitzsch
  • Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions
  • Thayer’s Greek Definitions
  • Ante-Nicene Fathers-9 Volumes
  • Creeds of Christendom-3 Volumes
  • Josephus
  • John Calvin- Institutes of the Christian Religion
  • Bible Maps
  • Fox’s Book of Martyrs

You can download the program here.

There is also an iPad ($4.99) and iPhone ($1.99) version. I use the iPad version quite often when I need to look up a verse or study a particular passage of Scripture. Right now, the program is Windows only, but a Mac version is in the works.

Beyond An Absence of Faith

beyond an absence of faith

Beyond An Absence of Faith: Stories About the Loss of Faith and Discovery of Self, edited by Jonathan M.S. Pearce and Tristan Vick, is an anthology of deconversion stories, including my own. In the book, you will find the deconversion stories of:

  • Sarah Sabella
  • Bud Uzoras
  • Saleha M
  • Sergio Paulo Sider
  • Alicia Norman
  • Arsalan
  • Vyckie Garrison
  • Counter Apologist
  • William Lucas
  • Tristan Vick
  • Mindi Rosser
  • No Cross No Crescent
  • Rebecca Bradley
  • Mike Doolittle
  • Bruce Gerencser
  • Beth Ann Erickson

Beyond An Absence of Faith is not a book written to defend atheism or attack religion. It is 263 pages of everyday people detailing their journey from belief to unbelief. Since I have a chapter in the book, and many of you know some of the people listed above, I thought I’d let readers know how they can get a copy of the book.

The book is available through Amazon, paperback or Kindle.

Frank Turek Says the Most Important Question is Does God Exist?

frank turek

Frank Turek

In a recent World Magazine interview, Frank Turek, author of Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case, stated that the most important question any of us will ever face is, Does God Exist? Here’s what Turek had to say in a Q&A on World:

Early in your book Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case, you say that there is one core question every human being needs to ask and answer. What’s that question? “Does God exist?” is the primary question because if God exists, then there is a real purpose to life and we live a certain way. If God doesn’t exist, there is no real objective purpose to life and you can do whatever you want. “Does God exist?” is literally the most important question every human being should answer. Unfortunately, most of our education system, particularly our public education system, assumes the answer to that question is no without even examining the evidence.

Shouldn’t Turek’s question really be, Does the Christian God exist? Turek, like all fundamentalists, presupposes the Christian God is the God that we must determine exists. Isn’t Turek doing exactly what he condemns the public education system for doing? Let me reword Turek’s last sentence:

Unfortunately, most Christians, particularly fundamentalist Christians, assume the answer to that question is the Christian God without even examining the evidence.

Most Christians embrace the religion and God of their culture and tribe. This is why most Americans self-identify as Christian. Few of them have actually considered the evidence for the existence of the Christian God. They just believe because that’s what most Americans do.

No Christian has ever been able to successfully explain to me how one can look at creation and say a God created everything and then turn right around and say that that God is the Christian God of the Bible. What evidence gets us from A GOD to THE GOD? There is none. Believing that the Christian God is the creator requires faith, not evidence. This is why atheists like me do not believe in God. It’s not so much about evidence as it is faith. We don’t have the requisite faith necessary to believe that the Christian God created the universe in six days, six thousand years ago. We don’t have the faith necessary to believe in a virgin having a baby, a dead man getting out of the grave after he has been dead for three days, or a man walking on water or through walls.

If apologists like Turek have evidence for these things, by all means they should present it to the world. Pointing an ancient text that purportedly was written by men under the influence of God, is not evidence. Step outside of the Bible, where’s the evidence for the Christian God being the creator?

Turek seems to have forgotten Hebrews 11:3:

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

Through FAITH not EVIDENCE we understand the worlds were framed (created) by the word of God.

Christians do a real disservice to their religion when they try to “prove” the existence of their God. Either people believe or they don’t. Either they have faith or they don’t.  Count me as one of the faithless. While I can appreciate the deist argument for the existence of a creator God of some sort, I don’t think the evidence is such that I am willing to abandon atheism. Since there is no threat of hell or judgment with the deist viewpoint, I am content to try to live a moral and ethical life, loving others, and helping those who are in need.

As an atheist, I have a lot of questions, but does God exist is not one of them. While I am technically agnostic on the God question, I am confident, based on my study and experience, that there is no God. Perhaps a God of some sort will reveal itself to us some day. If I am alive when that day comes, I will then consider whether that God is worthy of my worship. Until then, I am content to remain an atheist.

Note

Doctrinal statement for Southern Evangelical Seminary & Bible College, the school Turek received his PhD from.

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Should a Christian Date an Atheist?

unequally yoked

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?

Recently, a girl emailed Paula Hendricks, a writer for the Lies Young Women Believe website, and asked her whether it was OK to date, love, and marry an atheist. Hendricks, a Christian fundamentalist, replied:

Dear “I’m falling in love with an atheist,”

I am so glad you wrote. Please don’t read this letter with a harsh, condemning tone, but with an urgent, pleading one. I am deeply concerned for you. If this letter feels like I’m dumping a bucket of cold water on your head, it’s because I want you to wake up!

Let’s start with who a Christian is.

An atheist and a Christian just aren’t compatible.

A Christian is a person who is now one with Christ. A Christian has been rescued by Jesus out of the darkness of sin and has been brought into His marvelous light—transformed from the inside out. A Christian has the spirit of Christ living inside of them! A Christian is someone whose entire identity has been refashioned around Christ. Christ is their life. Christ is the reason they are now accepted and beloved by God the Father.

An atheist, on the other hand, denies that God even exists. An atheist hates the very idea of there being a God.

An atheist and a Christian just aren’t compatible…

…You will have to choose between God and this man. You can’t have both. James warns “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Let me be clear about this, though. If you choose God over this man, God will not love you any more than He already does. It won’t earn you extra points with God. If you truly trust in Christ Jesus as both your Savior and your Lord, you are already His 100% dearly loved child.

Does that mean that you have the freedom to date this man? No way! Besides, why would you want to, when Christ has revealed Himself to you as the greatest treasure there is—both in this life and for the life to come?

I get it that you have strong feelings toward this man. I’ve been where you are. And if you’re anything like me, my guess is that what you’re feeling isn’t true love, but something closer to romantic desire . . . and even maybe lust…

These atheists, they must be scary people. I suspect they hang out at dance halls, lurking in the shadows, hoping to find a virgin Evangelical girl they can entice with thoughts of love and draw them away to the dark side. As every Christian knows, atheists are child molesters, sexual perverts, Satan worshipers, and eat babies on Friday. According to Hendricks, atheists hate “the very idea of there being a God.”  In one sentence, like most Evangelicals, Hendricks reveals that she doesn’t really know any atheists. All she has to go on is the bigoted stereotype she was taught in church. If she actually knew any atheists, she would know that atheists don’t hate the thought of the existence of God. How can they since they don’t believe there is a God? What many atheists do hate is what Christianity DOES in the name of its God.

Pity the poor girl who sent Hendricks the email. She’s fallen in love with her dance partner, and according to Hendricks she shouldn’t act on this love because God says such love is a sin. Besides, what she may really be “feeling” is lust. Ah yes, the ever-present lust that lurks in the heart of Evangelicals. You’d think with God living inside of you that there would be no room for lust, but it seems that Evangelicals lust just like us unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines.

One atheist commenter challenged Hendricks’ statement about atheists. Here’s Hendricks’ response:

Hey, Caitriona, You’re welcome here. While my statement may have been a bit broad and might not perfectly characterize all self-professed atheists, Romans 1 tells us that we’re ALL God-haters (whether we claim to be atheists or not), and we suppress the truth about Him in our unrighteousness.

I was a God-hater, too, until God revealed His lovingkindness to me in Christ Jesus paying the penalty for my sin so I might be set free from being a slave to my own selfish passions and might become His beloved, adopted daughter.

This is a bit off topic, but would you be bold enough to ask God to reveal Himself to you if He really is real? And . . . would you be open to picking up a Bible and reading the book of Romans, or John?

Thanks for stopping by and sharing,

And then someone named Becca chimed in:

Hey Caitriona, thanks for your input, I appreciate you taking time to comment:) I don’t want to get into any arguments by any means, but I would like to just give you some food for thought: if there isn’t a God, then that would mean that there really is no purpose for anyone’s life, right? I mean, if we’re all just here by accident, what does it matter? when you take God out of the equation, there is no longer value in anyone’s life, or in the world. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to kill anyone I don’t like? because the government says so? But if we’re all just an accident, with no real purpose, it’s “just” another person with no eternal value. How CAN anyone have true value without God?

On the flip side, we know for a fact that every human being (unborn or not), has value. Everyone has value because they were created in the image of a Holy God, and he loves us SO much! More than you could ever imagine! God cares about us so much that he even collects every tear we’ve ever cried and He keeps them!…

Typical Evangelical drivel, but here’s the thing, I actually agree with Hendricks. Generally, it is ill-advised for anyone to marry someone who does not share their religious, ethical, and moral values. More than one marriage has been brought to ruin by clashing worldviews. Better to seek out a life partner that hasn’t been taught that you are a hater of God, the enemy of God, a tool of Satan. Atheists and Evangelicals alike think they can win over their boyfriend or girlfriend. Rarely, does it work out.

The Evangelical church emphasizes the need for every person to have a personal salvation experience. Countless young men have made what I call, excuse the bluntness, a pussy-driven salvation decision. They want the girl and they can’t have her, so they start going to church, make a profession of faith, and viola the girl agrees to date him. Later they marry, and then the girl finds out that the boy she married feigned faith so he could date her. More than a few of these marriages end in divorce.

Atheists and non-Christians have a completely different way of looking at the world. Evangelicalism is a world filled with Bible verses, commands, and thou shalt not’s. It is a world that will surely frustrate the non-Evangelical. It’s a world where obedience to authority is demanded at every corner and freedom of thought is often discouraged and condemned. It is a place fun loving, free people go to die (and yes, I am painting with a Bruce’s Wide Ass Brush®).

Over the years, I have corresponded with a number of atheists who are in a mixed marriage. While most of them have found a way to make peace with their Evangelical spouse, their emails speak to the great pain and disconnect that comes from such a relationship. The believing spouse wants his or her unbelieving husband or wife to go to church and at least “act” like a Christian. More than a few of the people who have corresponded with me go to church every Sunday to please their spouses. Some of them are secret atheists. Their spouse doesn’t know they no longer believe. They go to church, sing the songs, and listen to sermons they think are bullshit. Why do they do this? Love. They love their believing spouse and children and they want there to be peace on the home front. All would agree that it would have been better for them if they had married a person who shared the same worldview, but they are willing to do all they can to make the marriage work.

Sadly, some of  those I have corresponded with are now divorced. The reasons are many, but religion played a part in every divorce. The prophet Amos was right when he posed the rhetorical question, Can two walk together except they be agreed?

Do you have a story to tell or some marriage advice to give? Please share it in the comment section.

081516

Dear Bruce, I Think You Are Still a Christian

horse

Free at Last!

I’ve blogged for seven years.

Bruce Droppings, Fallen From Grace, NW Ohio Skeptic, The Way Forward, and now The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser.

I used taglines like A Wandering Man in a Restless World and One Man’s Journey from Eternity to Here.

Several thousand posts, tens of thousands of comments.

I write, burn out, and like the Phoenix, rise again.

It’s what I do.

When I started blogging in 2007, I was still a Christian, a liberal emergent church Christian.

I was still going to church, still reading the Bible, still trying to find to find a Christianity that mattered.

I never found it.

I did find that I was just an ass in the pew, an offering to be collected. I had talents and gifts that any church would benefit from, but I found that pastors were quite territorial and allowed no one to get near their throne.

Six years ago, after a tremendous amount of study, angst, and heartache, I finally concluded that I was no longer a Christian.

Try as I might, I couldn’t square what I knew with Christianity.

As I tried to find a stopping place on the slippery slope of reason, I found there was none.

Liberal Christianity, Unitarianism, Universalism, provided a brief respite but failed to stop my slide.

Atheism became the label that best described my belief about God, gods, and religion.

Technically, I am agnostic on the God question, but in my day-to-day life I live with nary a thought about God.

I have no need of God, a God, any God.

I am an A-T-H-E-I-S-T.

Imagine my surprise when I read an email yesterday where the writer said he believed I was still a Christian, that deep down I still have a longing for God and faith.

I thought, how can anyone read my writing and come to this conclusion?

Just because I write about and critique Christianity and Evangelism doesn’t mean that I am still a Christian.

The person who sent me the email has only been reading my writing for a few weeks. Since I just started blogging again a couple of months ago and I am re-posting some of my greatest hits, perhaps my writing gives off the vibe of a man trying to work through his beliefs about God, Christianity, and faith.

I am not…

I write because I must. No matter how many times I quit and say, I will never write again, like a moth to a flame, I am drawn back to the keyboard.

And then there’s you, the readers, the thousands who take the time to read my writing.

I have far greater reach today than I ever had in 25 years of pastoring churches.

I know my writing deeply resonates with many people and it gives a voice to their thoughts. I also know my writing angers and infuriates many Evangelicals. They write and talk about me, preach sermons about me, mention my name at prayer meeting, send me nasty and hateful emails, and leave arrogant, self-righteous comments.

The latter are going to do what they do. I can’t stop them, nor do I want to, because their anger and indignation are a reminder to me that, next to marrying Polly, the single best decision I ever made was the day I walked away from Christianity. They’ve tried bombing with email spam, using bots to leave massive amounts of comment spam, spreading rumors and lies about my story, my mental fitness, my marriage, and children, and have even threatened to kill me…yet here I am.

Those who matter to me are the readers who lurk in the shadows, laden with fear and doubt. They have questions that aren’t being answered by their pastor or church. Their eyes have been opened to what is going on around them. Are they atheists in the making? Maybe, but I doubt it, and I don’t care. My goal is facilitation, not evangelization. If I can help wanderers as they journey on, that’s enough for me.

Others who read this blog are post-Evangelical or post-Christian. They are trying to find purpose, meaning, and peace. Now that their life is no longer defined by religious belief, they are left with the task of shaping a new life for themselves. It’s not easy, and I want to do what I can to provide a safe, friendly place for them to hang out. If telling my story helps them in some small way, I am grateful.

In the Biblesee Bruce, you just mentioned the Bible and this PROVES you are still a Christian, there’s the story of the Good Samaritan, a man who helps and cares for a man beaten and left for dead along the side of the road. Religion, especially Evangelical Christianity, beats people up, often leaving them for dead along the side of the Road of Life. I want to be like the Good Samaritan, lifting up those who’ve been beaten, robbed, raped, and scarred by religion. If I have a calling, this is it.

In many ways, I am a far better man today than I ever was when I was a member of God’s exclusive club. I no longer have to view life and others through the lens of the Bible and the teachings of Christianity. I am free to live life on my own terms and embrace others as they are.

Why would I ever want to go back to Egypt, to the land of leeks, toil, and bondage? Why would I want to return to a worldview governed by the ancient writings of fishermen and sheep herders? Like the proverbial horse that escaped his corral, I am free and I have no intentions of returning to Christianity.

If some people can’t see and understand this, I am not sure what more I can do for them. They’ll just have to keep hoping that I will some day walk back into the church and say, in an Arnold Schwarzenegger voice, “I’m B-A-C-K.”

081116

God Gave Me Breast Cancer Because He Loves Me

calvin and hobbes god

Joni Eareckson Tada was severely injured in a diving accident in 1967. For the past forty-eight years she has been a quadriplegic. Tada’s life story was popularized in a best-selling book titled Joni.

In the Friday, June 25, 2010 edition of the Defiance Crescent-News, there was a story about Tada undergoing treatment for breast cancer (behind pay wall).

As I read the article, what astounded me was Tada’s comment about God’s involvement in her breast cancer.

Tada said:

I’ve often said that our afflictions come from the hand of our all-wise and sovereign God, who loves us and wants what’s best for us. So, although cancer is something new, I am content to receive from God, what ever he deems fit for me. Yes, it’s alarming, but rest assured Ken and I are utterly convinced that God is going to use this to stretch our faith, brighten our hope and strengthen of our witness to others.

In other words, God gave Tada breast cancer because he loved her and deemed it best for her. God gave her cancer so that she and her husband would have more faith and be a stronger witness to others.

Tada’s God is best described as a know-it-all deity who afflicts humans with sickness, disease, suffering, and death because he loves them and wants to increase their faith in him. He then wants them to use the afflictions he gave them to tell others what a wonderful God he is.

Crazy, isn’t it? I doubt if Sigmund Freud could even figure this out.

The Christian interpretation of the Bible presents God as a father and the Christian as a child. Good fathers love, protect,  and nurture their children. They don’t beat them, abuse them, or afflict them with suffering. Every right-minded human being knows what qualities make for a good father. We also know what qualities make for a bad father.

A father who has the power to heal and doesn’t is a bad father. A father who causes suffering, sickness, and disease when he could do otherwise is a bad father. A father who afflicts his child with breast cancer is a bad father. A father who gives his child breast cancer so she can tell everyone what a wonderful father he is, is a bad father. From my seat in the pew, this God-the-father, as presented by modern Christianity, is a bad father.

Tada’s argument for a breast cancer-giving God is one of the reasons I left Christianity. I could no longer believe in a loving God that willingly afflicts and kills his children because he has determined that it is best for them. This God demands the Christian bear whatever affliction he brings upon them, and in true narcissistic fashion also demands that they love him while he is afflicting them. I want nothing to do with such a capricious, vindictive, warped God.

Disease, sickness, suffering, and death are all around us. If God could do something about these things and doesn’t, what are we to make of such a God? What are we to make of a God who is seemingly involved in the intimate details of life, yet when things really matter is absent without leave (AWOL)?

Christians sing a song that says “what a mighty God we serve.” A mighty God? In what way is the Christian God mighty? Batman and Superman were mighty gods. They used their powers for good. They were always on call, ready at a moment’s notice, to swoop in and help those in need.  But the Christian God ? It seems the bigger the need the harder he is to find.  As I noted in another post, God seems to involve himself in trivial matters like getting a woman a $200 refund on her plane ticket, but he seemingly can’t be found when an environmentally catastrophic oil leak needs plugging. Perhaps we need to forget about this God and turn on the Bat signal.

I am saddened by Joni Eareckson Tada’s affliction with breast cancer. Being a quadriplegic for over fifty years is enough suffering for one lifetime. But I know just because you have one health problem in life doesn’t mean you won’t be afflicted again. As I have learned in my own life, just because I have Fibromyalgia doesn’t mean I won’t get some other disease. Life isn’t fair. Life can be cruel.  I’ve known Christians whose lives were devastated by one tragedy or sickness after another. If God is the one dumping all this on them, it would seem proper to ask God to move on to someone else. “Please God afflict sister so-and-so. She is in perfect health.”

Christians often quote the verse that says God will never give anyone more than they can bear. In other words, no matter what you face in life, God has determined you can bear it. This verse always leaves God off the hook. God, who is sovereign over all things, determines that you can bear to have cancer, AIDS, Fibromyalgia, ALS, MS, emphysema, or any other dreaded disease, so he afflicts you. You are expected to bear whatever he brings your way. If you don’t, it is your fault. Your failure to bear your burden shows that you lack faith.

Reality paints us a different picture. Many Christians, if not most, do not bear their burdens as the Bible says they should. I have counseled hundreds of Christians over the years who were weighed down by the burdens given to them by God (so they thought). At the time, I encouraged them to have more faith, but rarely did the faith of the afflicted rise to the weight of the burden. Most often, the burden broke their back. Sadly, many of these people continue to walk around, stooped over and crippled, all the while singing “what a mighty God we serve.”

There is a hypocritical vein in this line of thinking. The theory is this: God afflicts his children with suffering for their good because he loves them and wants to increase their faith. I would ask then, why do Christians go to the doctor and take prescription medications? It seems to me that not seeing the doctor and not taking medication would result in a greater increase in faith. Surely a sovereign, omnipotent God is bigger than high blood pressure or diabetes and surely a sovereign, omnipotent God is bigger than any pain a Christian might have, right?

There are Christian sects that do have this kind of faith. They don’t go to doctors and they refuse to take  medication of any kind. And every few years we have the privilege of reading about them in the newspaper when they are charged with manslaughter or child abuse for failing to get proper medical care for one of their children.

For me personally, it is more palatable for there to be no God, or a God that is not involved in his creation, than there is a God that afflicts people because he loves them and wants to increase their faith. Such a God is a monster of vast proportions, a God unworthy of  worship.

I recognize that sickness, suffering, and disease can be instrumental in shaping us and changing us and making us better people. But this is far different from a loving God-the-father afflicting us so that we will love him, have more faith, and be better witnesses. Such thinking is barbaric and best relegated to the ancient past it came from.

081116

From Evangelicalism to Atheism Part Four

creamery road zanesville ohio

Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

In 1995, after two short stints pastoring Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas and Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio, I started Grace Baptist Church in West Unity, Ohio. We would later change the church’s name to Our Father’s House to better reflect our inclusiveness.

When I started Grace Baptist Church, I was a five-point Calvinist, not much different theologically from my description  in post number three. I remained a Calvinist until the late 1990s, at which time my theology and political beliefs began lurching leftward. The church changed its name and I began to focus more on inclusivism and good works. During this time, my theological beliefs moved from a Calvinistic/Reformed perspective to more of a Mennonite/Good works perspective. Much of my preaching focused on the good works every Christian should be doing and the church’s responsibility to minister to the sick, poor, and marginalized.

As my preaching moved leftward, so did my politics. By the time I left Our Father’s House in July of 2002, I no longer politically identified as a Republican. The single biggest change in my beliefs came when I embraced  pacifism. The seeds of pacifism were sown years before when the United States attacked Iraq in the first Iraq War. I opposed the war, and as I began reading authors like Thomas Merton, Dorothy DayJohn Howard YoderGandhi, and Eileen Egan, I concluded that all war was immoral.

By the time of the Y2K scare:

  • I was preaching inclusivism, encouraging interaction and work with all who claimed the Christian moniker.
  • I was preaching a works-centered, lifestyle-oriented gospel. Gone was the emphasis on being “born again” or making a public profession of faith. In particular, I focused on the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
  • I believed the institutional, organized Christian church was hopelessly broken.
  • I was a committed, vocal pacifist, opposing all war.

In 2003, I pastored Victory  Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church, in Clare, Michigan, for seven months. Both Polly and I agree that we never should have moved to Clare.  It was a wasted seven months that ended with me resigning from the church. This was the last church I pastored.

While I was pastor of Victory Baptist, a friend of mine from Ohio came to visit us. From 1991-1994, he had been a member of the church I pastored in Somerset, Ohio.  After listening to me preach, he told me that he was astounded by how much my preaching had changed, how liberal it had become. And he was right. While my preaching was orthodox theologically, my focus had dramatically changed.

In 2004, Polly and I moved to Yuma, Arizona. We lived in Yuma for almost seven months. We then moved to Newark Ohio, where we lived for ten months. In July of 2005, we moved back to the NW Ohio community of Bryan. In May of 2007, we bought a house in Ney, Ohio where we currently live.

As you can see, we did a lot of moving over the course of four years. We were restless seekers. Every place we lived, we diligently, Sunday after Sunday, Wednesday after Wednesday, visited local churches in hopes of finding a spiritual home. Instead of finding a home, we increasingly became dissatisfied and disillusioned. We came to the conclusion, regardless of the name over the door, that churches were all the same. Dysfunctional, incestuous, focused inward, entertainment/program driven, resembling a social club far more than the church Jesus purportedly built. This would prove to be the emotional factor that drove me to investigate thoroughly the theological claims of the Christian church and the teachings of the Bible. This investigation ultimately led to my deconversion.

From 2004-2007, Polly and I visited over a hundred churches of  numerous sects:

  • Baptist (Independent, Southern, American, Conservative, Reformed, Sovereign Grace, Free Will, Primitive, GARBC, Missionary)
  • Lutheran (American, Missouri)
  • Church of Lutheran Brethren
  • Church of Christ (instrumental, non-instrumental)
  • Disciples of Christ
  • Methodist
  • Free Methodist
  • Christian Union
  • Church of Christ in Christian Union
  • United Brethren
  • Christian Missionary and Alliance
  • Roman Catholic
  • Apostolic
  • Vineyard
  • Calvary Chapel
  • Bible Church
  • Pilgrim Holiness
  • Orthodox
  • Episcopalian
  • Church of God
  • Church of God Anderson
  • Pentecostal
  • Charismatic
  • Assembly of God
  • Mennonite
  • Old Order Mennonite
  • Presbyterian Church USA
  • Orthodox Presbyterian Church
  • Christian Reformed
  • Protestant Reformed
  • United Church of Christ
  • Friends
  • And a plethora of independent, unaffiliated churches

You can read the entire list of churches we visited here.

Some Sundays, we attended three different churches. We also attended Wednesday prayer meetings (all poorly attended) and a fair number of special services such as revival meetings during the week.

The most astounding thing that came out of our travels through Christendom is that most pastors don’t care if people visit their churches. Less than 10% of the churches we visited made any contact with us after we visited. Only a handful visited us in our home without us asking them to do so.

In November of 2008, I told Polly that I was no longer a Christian, that I no longer believed the central tenets of the Christian religion. Not long after, Polly came to a similar conclusion. In 2009, I wrote my infamous letter, A Letter to Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter was my official coming out. Later in 2009, a former parishioner, friend and current pastor of a Christian Union church came to see me in hopes of rescuing me. I later wrote him a letter. You can read the letter here.

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From Evangelicalism to Atheism Part Three

creamery road zanesville ohio

Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

I am often asked, when did you first begin to doubt? This is not an easy question for me to answer. As I look back over my life, there were many instances where I had doubts about a theological or political belief. If there is one constant about life, it is change. Over time, our understanding, beliefs, and ideologies change. Sometimes, the change is so subtle that we are not really aware of it until we look back on our lives  years later. Anyone who says that he has never changed his beliefs–and I know several pastors who say this about themselves–is either intellectually lazy, a liar, or living in denial.

Every preacher leaves Bible college with a borrowed theology. His theology is the theology that his parents, church, pastor, and college professors taught him. He believes what he believes because of the influence of others. Only when he is free of these influences does he begin to develop his own theological beliefs.

I have always been an avid student and reader. One of the frustrating things about the health problems I have is that I can no longer read as I used to. For many years, it was not uncommon for me to read 500 or more pages a week of theological and biographical books. To his day, I rarely read fiction. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I accumulated a large library of books. These books were my constant companions and friends. When I left the ministry in 2003, I sold off my theological library on eBay.

While I learned many things as a student at Midwestern Baptist College, most of my theological education came from the countless hours I spent reading theological books and studying for my sermons.  It was in the study that I began to come to theological conclusions different from  what I had been taught by my parents, former churches, former pastors and college professors. The most dramatic theological changes took place while I was pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, (later Mt. Perry) Ohio.

I started the Somerset Baptist Church in July of 1983 and pastored the church for eleven years.   At that time, I was a typical Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor and remained so until the Jack Hyles scandal rocked the IFB world in 1986. As I waded through the Hyles scandal, I began to question the gospel preached by many IFB pastors and churches. Noted preachers such as Jack HylesCurtis Hutson, and many of the preachers associated with the Sword of the Lord, believed that repentance was a change of mind. Simply put, the unconverted sinner was against Jesus and now he was for him. Around this time, John MacArthur came out with his book, The Gospel According to Jesus. MacArthur attacked the easy-believism gospel preached in many Evangelical/Baptist churches. MacArthur stated that repentance was not only a change of mind but also a change of conduct. If there was no turning from sin, then there was no true repentance, and without repentance there was no salvation.

The Hyles scandal, my careful assessment of the gospel preached by many in the IFB church movement, and MacArthur’s book, led me to conclude that the gospel I had been preaching was a truncated, shallow gospel. I began preaching a gospel that demanded a repentance that included a turning from sins. I believed that if Jesus was not Lord of all your life then he was not Lord at all. I believed that if  people said they were Christian, then they should act like  it. Unless  they were willing to turn from their sin and fully embrace Jesus, there was no salvation for them.

In the late 1980s, I began to reconsider my eschatological beliefs.  I was taught dispensational, pre-tribulational, and premillennial eschatology (end times) in college and every church I attended growing up  preached the end times scheme. As I restudied the various eschatological positions, my beliefs gradually shifted and matured until I became post-tribulational and amillennial. At this point, I was clearly theologically wandering outside the boundary of my IFB heritage. This shift in eschatology resulted in some people leaving the church; however it also attracted new members who held a similar eschatological view.

It was also in the late 1980s that my theological beliefs dramatically shifted from the  one-point Calvinism (eternal security, once saved always saved) of the IFB church movement to five-point Calvinism. My introduction to Calvinism came through the preaching tapes of Rolfe Barnard, a former Southern Baptist and Sword of the Lord evangelist who died in the late 1960s. Barnard’s sermons were powerful declarations of the gospel according to Calvinism. As I listened to these tapes, it was like a light went on in my head. For a time, I was angry because I thought those who had taught me theology had lied to me. Why had no one ever told me about Calvinism? All they told me at Midwestern is that they were against Calvinism and anyone caught promoting Calvinism would be expelled.

I began devouring books about Calvinism. I opened a book account at Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service and bought countless Calvinistic, Puritan, Sovereign Grace Baptist books. I read the books of Puritan/Calvinist authors from the 17th,18th, and 19th centuries. I discovered that Baptists, at one time, were quite Calvinistic, and some of my heroes in the faith, including Charles Spurgeon, were five-point Calvinists. I even  learned that there were Calvinists, such as the late Bruce Cummons, pastor of the Massillon Baptist Temple, in the IFB church movement.

From the late 1980s until the early 2000s, I was a committed, zealous five-point Calvinist. My preaching style changed from topical sermons to expository sermons. I stopped giving altar calls and I began transforming the Somerset Baptist Church into a Calvinistic church.  This move cost me 99% of my IFB pastor friends, a handful of church members, along with almost all of my Arminian friends.

For several years, I published a newsletter called The Sovereign Grace Reporter. I sent the newsletter to hundreds of IFB pastors and this caused quite a shit-storm. Surprisingly, Polly’s uncle, James Dennis, pastor of the IFB Newark Baptist Temple, was quite supportive. Keith Troyer, then pastor of Fallsburg Baptist Church, was also quite supportive. I would later be accused of leading Keith astray with the pernicious doctrines of John Calvin. (At the time, I considered Keith my best friend.)

Probably by now, some readers are wondering, Why the history lesson, Bruce? I think it is important for me to establish several things:

  • I am an avid reader of books
  • I am an avid student of whatever subject I am reading about
  • I am willing to go where the evidence leads me
  • I am willing to change my beliefs even if it costs me or makes me unpopular
  • Truth matters more to me than being accepted by my peers, friends or family

When I was a pastor, pastor friends and parishioners loved me for these traits. They applauded my willingness to be true to the Word of God, even if they disagreed with me. Now these same people think I read and study too much. I have been told that the reason I am an atheist is because of books (and there is some truth in this statement)! If I would only stop reading all these books and read THE BOOK, all would be well, one former parishioner told me.

Just as the leopard can’t change its spots, I can’t stop reading and studying. Fifty-plus years ago, my mother created an intellectual monster when she taught me to read. She wanted her eldest son to be like her, a devourer of literature, a person who valued truth above the approbation of men. I owe her a great debt of gratitude.

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