Like Hotel California, once you are in you can’t get out.
Once you are saved, you can never be lost.
Once God’s hound dog, the Holy Spirit, tracks you down you belong to God forever.
Or so says Charles Smith:
If you scour the world-wild-web for any amount of time using atheism as your search term, you will undoubtedly find pages and pages of sites laced with the famous proclamation, “I used to be a Christian.” While this may be intriguing to the seeker, desiring a glimpse at the testimony of a formerly professing believer turned cynic in hopes of discovering reasons to remain religiously repulsed by Christendom, or possibly the opposite – looking to see if their retroversion experience is sensible – one thing is certain…there’s no such thing as a former Christian.
Cultural Christianity is quite the phenomenon of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries…
After “leaving the faith,” these misguided, false-converts then find their voices in the blogosphere, social sites, chat rooms, discussion boards and every other form of digital media outlet known to man – exhaustively expatriating as many “cardboard Christians” as they can sink their flaw-full claws into. Ironically, if they would spend as much time truly investigating and begging with a contrite heart, “God, please show yourself to me!” they would discover that He is absolutely faithful to do so – and the door the Lord has once opened, can be closed by no man.
These poor misinformed “ex-Christians” were never truly reborn of the Holy Spirit of God. They followed the crowd in church, were dunked under water, consumed crackers and gulped grape juice, sang songs, talked the talk, looked the part, memorized verses and so many other religious acts, but never came to a saving faith found in a relationship with the only begotten Son of God. Like so many of their contemporaries who weren’t led to the foot of the blood-stained cross of Calvary, they never saw their sins in the mirror of the ten commandments and consequently, never realized the magnitude of their debt – owed to a God who, because of His perfect love and justice, must punish sin – and they never saw the spotless Lamb for who He was and is, the ransom payment – the sacrificial substitute – who carried their sins before the Father and said “I will take their punishment.” Their prideful hearts of stone never crumbled under the weight of such a love and therefore, they simply socialized and enjoyed the music and learned to get along. But, of course, anyone who goes through a “phase” knows, it wore off and they moved on and Jesus wept…
Let the reader understand, just as you can’t become unborn once you have evacuated the womb, you also cannot become un-born-again. It is impossible to un-ring a bell, un-cook an egg or un-kill the living. If you are a spiritual seeker, please know that there is no such thing as an ex-Christian and if you want the truth, please look in a good Bible teaching church for assistance. If after reading this you still claim to be a “former believer,” you just do not understand…
While Smith’s argument certainly might apply to cultural or nominal Christians, it falls flat on its face when it comes to people like me, those who were sincere, committed, devoted, sold-out, on fire, consecrated, dedicated, sanctified followers of Jesus. While it is quite easy to dismiss those who never really took Christianity seriously, what about those of us who did? Did I really spend most of my adult life deceived, never having come to faith in Jesus Christ? Only in the echo chamber of Smith’s mind is such a claim possible. The only way he can square his theology with the life of someone like me is to say I never was a Christian, and since theology always trumps reason, Bruce Gerencser never was a Christian.
Look, I understand. I really I do. Christians like Smith can not fathom anyone walking away from their Jesus. Why would anyone want to walk away from J-E-S-U-S, the most awesome God-man in the world, the biggest, baddest God is the entire universe. Why would anyone walk away from a golden ticket to God’s Motel 6? No more pain, no more suffering, no more death…who in their right mind would turn down such an offer?
But I did, others have, and more will continue to do so. Evidently God didn’t want us bad enough to keep us.
Several years ago, I received an email from a Christian man by the name of Mike Gallagher. Here’s what he had to say:
I’ve noticed in your articles that you have a bitterness toward so-called Baptists. (Hyles, Swaggart, etc.) I’ve never considered these men to actually be true men of God. ( “by their fruits, ye shall know them”). If I may, please allow me to state some observations; and I shall make them brief. I will not preach to you (tho preaching is a form of communication; and in my experience people are afraid to listen to preaching because they are not secure in their core beliefs.)
1. I perceive that what you had was religion. Sure, you knew about God and all the doctrines and teachings associated with it. (tho I can’t understand how a serious Bible student could get the doctrine of Calvinism out of it. Calvin wasn’t even a Baptist- yet he persecuted them) You knew about the Bible and studied it and crafted sermons from it. You looked up to and deified(?) men that you admired; even mentored a few. You were also strongly influenced by them, yea, molded by them. You had the mechanics of all what a Christian life should be – except for one thing..
2. Relationships. You know what they are. You’ve had one with your wife for 37 years. No doubt you’ve had strong friendships with others for years. You have a relationship with your children and grandchildren; each one individually (I hope).
Relationships consist of 3 essential elements – Trust, Honesty, Commitment. Long lasting relationships must consist of these. But the One whom you have not had a relationship is – God. Sure one can study all about Him, know about Him, what men say about Him – but to know Him, ahh is different. That’s why salvation always comes
First; it’s the actual meeting; the face to face (by faith) contact. From that point on you get to know Him more (just as the more time you spent with your wife, you got to know her better; and your friends; and your children; etc.). You’ve always known He was out there but always distant. You prayed but didn’t know if He answered or not until you saw results – disappointing or otherwise.
He’s a person. This is why prayer is a 2-way street; not one sided. He’s not there just to listen to you – He wants you to listen to Him.
3. God didn’t forsake you; you forsook Him. The Bible is not a law book – it’s a guide book. God isn’t the One who’s changed all these years (especially in our generation in America) We are the ones who have “gone astray”. Can you HONESTLY say we are better off as a society than we were 50 years ago?
Well, I said I would keep it brief. Hope we can become friends, Bruce. Some of the things you said about our flesh and humanity is true. The Apostle Paul had trouble with his; and David; and Peter; and Samson; and….. you get the idea. If I’m honest with myself, with others and most importantly, with God; then I feel secure in what I believe. I don’t think that you do. write soon, come on you know you can’t let this go without a response!
I will leave it to you to judge the merit of his letter. My response was short, sweet, and to the point:
You are kidding right? Be friends? Why would I want to be friends with someone who is a judgmental, arrogant ass that refuses to allow me to tell my own story on my own terms?
So no, I am not interested in being friends, hearing from you, or anything else. After hundreds of emails just like yours, I hope you will forgive me when I say to people like you, go to hell.
Email formatted to make it readable. No text was changed.
Suppose you were at a dinner party and the host puts you on the spot to pray for the meal in front of 10-20 guests. Do you be a good sport and make up a prayer or politely decline, creating an awkward situation.
This is a great question, one that can be answered several different ways. Since all of my family and friends know I am no longer a Christian, I doubt any of them would ask me to pray. I can’t think of any social setting where I would now be asked to pray. Everyone knows I am an atheist, so I doubt they would want a godless heathen blessing their food.
Each of us must determine how we would respond when asked to pray. If a person is an atheist or an unbeliever, but hasn’t come out yet, then it might be appropriate for them to pray if asked. No harm will be done since the God they are praying to is a fictional being. Their prayer, like every other prayer, will hit the ceiling and bounce right back. No harm, no foul.
A dinner party is not a good place to declare to the world that you are an atheist or that you are no longer a Christian. Such a pronouncement will surely dampen the spirit and you will be blamed for ruining the party. The best advice I can give is to size up who is there and act accordingly.
I started life as an atheist and was pursing a career in the sciences. During my first year of university, I had a personal crisis trying to find my direction and purpose in life. A friend witnessed to me and I attended church service a couple of times, but did not find anything to sway my atheistic view. However, it was a really emotional and stressful period in my life and I eventually decided to give god one more shot and attended what I thought would be my last day in church.
My recollections of that fateful day are very hazy. I was not even paying any attention to the service as my life was in turmoil and I was wrestling with my rational mind and my spirituality. Eventually, I decided to just do what I thought was right. Christianity was not for me and I was going to sever my ties. To this day I do not know what happened, but god must have heard my cries and I somehow ended up at the altar accepting Christ.
Needless to say, I had a lot to learn and had to make a lot of adjustments to follow this new direction in life. I had doubts about my sincerity. How can I reject god and still end up accepting him? I concluded that god had set me on this journey because I wanted to do the right thing. Therefore, I decided to cast away my doubts and do things his way and rely on faith.
To show my commitment, I decided to get baptized. Just before being submerged, I remember telling god that he alone knows my heart and that this was my way of showing that I was putting my trust in him. After my baptism, as I was changing in the backroom, I mysteriously broke down into uncontrollable crying. Several people knelt next to me and prayed for me but no one was able to stop my crying. One of the church officials stood fast and stayed by my side the whole time to comfort me. When exhaustion finally stopped my crying, he told me that I must really love god for him to touch me in such a way. When I left and checked the clock in my car, I realized that I had cried for well over an hour. I no longer had any doubts about my sincerity and knew I was doing what was right.
My life had changed completely. My ambition in life was simple. I wanted to do god’s will and to raise a family. Science was no longer compatible with my new-found spirituality and way of thinking. Therefore, I changed my studies at university to pursue a career in education to avoid conflict. Life was good and I had a purpose. I became even closer with the friend who had brought me to Christ and ended up marrying her. I found a job as a teacher where I lived at a time when it was virtually impossible to do so. At church, I had found my calling and was a Sunday school teacher.
The first major test of my faith was when my wife’s first pregnancy ended up in a miscarriage; in my fundamentalist belief, this is the same as the death of a baby. To add insult to injury, it happened on Christmas Day. If god had said that I was not to have children, I could have lived with that. However, it was more painful to have the seed planted and then have it taken away. I felt like Abraham sacrificing my child for god; only in my case, there was no reprieve. I did a lot of soul-searching and made sure my life was right with god and told him it was his will and not mine. I was totally devastated, but my faith was stronger than ever.
When my wife was pregnant the second time, I was sure that god would bless us as I had remained true to him. The unthinkable then happened. We had another miscarriage on Easter Sunday. The anguish was so severe I contemplated killing myself. The only thing that stopped me was the vision of my wife exhausted and asleep in the hospital bed. I remembered my vow of love to stay by her through thick and thin and knew that I had to endure. God was using adversity to send me a message. Many months of confusion, guilt and shame ensued as I tried to figure out what I was doing wrong in my life. What was god trying to tell me? Were my motives contrary to his will? Did I love my wife more than him? Was I really sincere in my walk with him? Was my ambition of wanting a family not in god’s plans? All I wanted was to do the right thing. I had been tested again, but I had promised to trust him and I again stood firm in my resolve.
However, there was a difference this time. I studied the bible more rigorously and reassessed my faith and started to touch the boundaries of the fundamentalist box I had put myself in. What if I was wrong? Fear kept me from exploring that question for a long time. I looked back and remember that I had asked the same question when I was an atheist. If I never confronted the question, I would not have found god. It was a question I must explore again if I wanted the truth and do what is right. I took tiny steps to remove my fundamentalist blinders and looked outside my box, and the world opened up in a totally different way.
For the first time in my Christian life I started to look outwards instead of inwards and saw the world and the people around me without my fundamentalist mentality. I finally saw people as people. We are all on our own personal journeys in life. God and spirituality meant different things to different people. The bible is not inerrant, it is a record of the search for god by people of the past. We all interpret our holy texts and ethics according to our own limited perspective and experiences. The Holy Spirit guides and moves us all in a different manner based on our own personal interpretations. We are all different and god did not intend us to be Christian zombies shambling mindlessly to convert others who were not like us. With this revelation, my whole perspective as a Christian shifted.
At this time, many other major events started to take their toll on me. I was no longer the fundamentalist I once was and felt trapped. My marriage started falling apart and I was secretly struggling with the beginning stages of depression from all the strain. I knew I had to leave the fundamentalist chains that bound me. Fear and uncertainty set in. Can I just walk away from almost ten years of my life? What will happen with my fundamentalist wife who I love so dearly? What about my friends at church? After a year of struggling, I was on the verge of a complete meltdown. My integrity did not allow me to maintain the charade of being a fundamentalist any longer. I again told god that I must do what I feel is right and I will trust him to lead me as he had done in the past. I had a long talk with my wife and we mutually agreed that the best course of action was to leave church temporarily to reassess our lives.
With that freedom, I was finally completely outside my box and began to explore. This was the days before the internet and finding information was no easy task. My first secular book was “Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible”; don’t laugh as it was the only resource available at the local library at the time. In a few days, I learned more from that book than I ever did in church. There was no looking back for me. My thirst for knowledge increased and I even started exploring other religions. When my pastor checked up on me a few months later, it was obvious I had moved on. I have no hard feelings about my church. There were some good honest people including the pastor that I really respected and appreciated. My time was not completely wasted, and there are many good things that I will always take with me. However, there were also a lot of the crazy stuff and I had to leave the lunatics and the narrow mindset behind.
I left church almost 25 years ago now. I am still motivated by finding the truth and doing what is right. There is no need for me to go into details of my journey from this point since those of us who had similar experiences will know what will ultimately happen when one chooses to open one’s mind; I grew up and left god behind. Unless some real evidence shows up to the contrary, I personally believe that there is no god especially as put forth by the various religions. A person’s belief in or lack of belief in god is no longer a concern for me. What is important, is whether or not someone is a good person.
Although I am back to being an atheist again now, I have a new non-religious spirituality in me. I feel a closer spiritual connection with the world as a result of my experiences. As such, I actually prefer to label myself as an agnostic. My ambition in life still remains the same except I have taken the god part out and shortened it to raising a family. Yes, there is life outside of religion and my relationship with my wife did not collapse as I had feared; love, trust and respect are even more powerful without their religious trappings. I also have two wonderful children who are just about ready to leave the nest and choose whichever path their own life dictates. My advice to them will be “Keep both your heart and your mind open in order to do that which is right”. That is what I learned from my own journey there and back again.
“Colors of the Wind” … You think the only people who are people, Are people who look and think like you, But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, You‘ll learn things you never knew, you never knew. … And we are all connected to each other, In a circle, in a hoop that never ends.
Evangelical Christians believe the Bible is the inspired (God breathed), inerrant Word of God. They believe the text of the Christian Bible is without error and they are certain that every word in the Bible is the very words of God. (either spoken or inspired by God)
While many Evangelical pastors and professors don’t really believe the Bible is inerrant, they continue to preach the inerrancy myth from the pulpit and in their college classrooms. These Evangelicals late at night get out a flashlight, pull the covers over their head, and secretly read one of Bart Ehrman’s books. They will never tell anyone about this lest they lose their job. But, when it comes to the people in the First Baptist Church pew, I’ve never met an Evangelical Christian who didn’t believe every word in the Bible is true. They are certain that the leather-bound Bible they carry to church every Sunday is the very words of God.
Evangelicals are told from their youth up that the Bible can be understood by anyone, even a child. Why then are there so many theology books if the Bible is so simple it can be understood by a child? The fact is, the Bible is anything BUT a simple book. It is a book that must be interpreted and this is where Evangelicals get themselves into trouble. They think, the Bible is God’s Word, it is so simple a child can understand it, I have read it, and I understand it, thus my interpretation of the Bible is exactly what God said. This kind of thinking leads to arrogance. When a person is absolutely convinced they are absolutely right, they no longer have to consider competing ideas or interpretations. This is why most Evangelicals are closed minded about any God or belief but their own
All Evangelicals are theological Fundamentalists. (see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) The doctrine of inerrancy requires the Evangelical to have a fundamentalist view of the Bible. In most cases, Evangelicals are also social fundamentalists who take their inspired, inerrant Bible and strictly apply it to every aspect of their lives. They believe that everything in their lives is governed by what the Bible says. It is theological and social fundamentalism that is driving Evangelicals as they wage war against secularism, atheism, pluralism, abortion, same-sex marriage, and homosexuality.
Evangelicalism is a large tent, so it is impossible to point to one group and say, this is Evangelicalism. On one end of the spectrum you have the hip relational preachers found at nondescript megachurches and on the other end of the spectrum you find the fire and brimstone preachers of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Every Evangelical church falls in between these two extremes. Some are Calvinist, others are Arminian, but the one thing that binds them together is the belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God.
In most Evangelical churches the pastor is considered a person uniquely called by God to preach and teach the Bible. Their words are given great weight and authority because God leads and directs them as they preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. Some pastors are laid back, more of a teacher or a professor, while others are animated foot stomping, pulpit pounding preachers. Regardless of their style or methodology, every Evangelical pastor believes they are speaking the words of God to the people of God and the people of God believe, through the preaching and the inward work of the Holy Spirit, that God is speaking to them.
In most Evangelical churches diversity of belief is discouraged, and in some churches it is forbidden. After all, if the Bible is inerrant then there can only be ONE correct interpretation of the Bible, right? While Evangelicals skirmish over peripheral doctrines and peculiar beliefs, there is a core set of doctrines every Evangelical must believe. Don’t believe these things? Then you are not an Evangelical.
Currently, Evangelicalism is going through great upheaval over beliefs that were once were considered cardinal doctrines of the faith. Thanks to postmodernism, concrete doctrines like creationism, eternal punishment for unbelievers, God’s omniscience, the exclusivity of the Evangelical gospel, and whether a homosexual can be a Christian are now being attacked and challenged. Politically, an increasing number of Evangelicals are moving towards the left, rejecting the conservative, Republican values of yesteryear. While most Evangelicals are Republicans and support some or all of the tenets of the culture war, there are a small number of Evangelicals, mostly young adults, who are no longer willing to blindly accept the politics of their church, pastor, and parents. The question for me is at what point in this postmodern, questioning move to the left does a church, pastor, and individual church member cease to be Evangelical?
During the George W Bush administration and the run up to the War in Iraq, we saw a good example of how fundamentalism works. George Bush and his administration were certain their beliefs about Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and weapons of mass destruction were infallibly right. Fourteen years and hundreds of thousands of deaths later, we now know that virtually every belief peddled by George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld was wrong. Yet, to this day, none of the architects of the Iraq war are willing to admit that they were wrong. They are certain that their beliefs were/are correct, and in the case of George Bush, the Christian God was/is on their side.
If I took a political party survey at the average Evangelical church I’m sure I’d find that most church members are either Republican or Libertarian and come the first Tuesday in November 2016 they will vote for the Republican candidate for President. I am sure there are a few Evangelicals who are Democrats, but they, like gay or bisexual church members, are way in the back of the closet. While church members are told to vote their “conscience”, everyone knows that voting your conscience means voting exactly the way God the pastor tells you to vote. To vote differently means going against the man of God, the Word of God, and God himself, and no one want to do that, right? Again, things are changing in the Evangelical church, but lets not mistake ripples on the pond for a tsunami.
Challenges to core beliefs is not permitted. Those who think for themselves or believe differently than the pastor are told they are not right with God or that they are backslidden; they are told their “discerner” is broke and that they need to listen to their pastor. Those who refuse to conform end up marginalized, disciplined, or asked to leave the church. Evangelical churches go through quite a bit of membership churn. There is a steady stream of people going out the back door as new people come in the front, with most new people coming from other churches.
The lifeblood that courses through the veins of Evangelical Christianity is the belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God. To the Evangelical, the Bible is not just a collection of words, chapters, and books written by humans as they try to explain their understanding of God and the world. The Bible is God’s words, a supernatural book given to fallible humans by a supernatural God. Every book, every sentence, and every word is truth. When an Evangelical reads the Bible they believe they are reading the very words of God. They can know exactly what God’s truth is by reading and studying the Bible. In the Evangelical’s mind, the Bible is THUS SAITH THE LORD!
Since most Evangelicals are, to some degree or the other, literalists, it becomes quite easy for them to develop rigid beliefs, and as their certainty grows the more likely they are to see themselves as right and everyone else wrong. Is it any wonder that this kind of thinking turns people into haters? Is it any wonder that people raised in this kind of environment lack the necessary skills to make sound, reasoned judgments about the world they live in? This is the kind of thinking that gives us Fred Phelps, Al Mohler, John MacArthur, Joyce Meyers, Rod Parsley, James Dobson, Franklin Graham, Ken Ham, Matt Chandler, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Richard Land, Andy Stanley, Charles Stanley, Tony Perkins, David Barton, TD Jakes, Brad Powell, Rick Furtick, Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, and a plethora of parachurch groups dedicated to waging war on an unbelieving, sinful, and wicked culture.
According to a 2014 Gallup Poll, 28% of Americans believe the Bible is the actual Word of God and should be taken literally. 47% of Americans believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally. This means that three out four American believe the Bible is the Word of God. (The good news is that 21% of Americans now believe the Bible is an “ancient book of fables,legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man. The percentage of Americans who believed this in 1976 was 13%) According to a 2012 Gallup Poll, 46% of Americans believe God created humans in their present form (creationism) and 32% of Americans believe humans evolved with God guiding the process (theistic evolution). In other words, three out of four Americans believe God is the creator of everything. Only 15% of American believe humans evolved, but God had no part in the process.
Depressing, isn’t it? While secularism, humanism, and atheism are making inroads, the vast majority of Americans still believe the Bible is the Word of God, a unique book different from every other book ever written. The only way to reach people like this is to attack their foundational belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. If they can be brought to see that the Bible is not what they claim it is, there is hope for them. Sadly, most Evangelicals will die with their fingers clenched around a book they consider the words of God. When you take a high road position like inerrancy it is hard to back up. To admit the Bible is not inerrant is to admit you are wrong and Evangelicals rarely admit they are wrong. Those who do do so on their way OUT the doors of the Evangelical church.
Since every Evangelical believes there is a hell to shun and a heaven to gain, believing and practicing the teachings of the Bible is essential. While Evangelicals will tell you that they preach a gospel of grace, what they really preach is a gospel of right belief. Believe THIS and thou shalt live in heaven forever with God; don’t believe THIS and thou shalt live in hell forever with the Devil and his angels. Evangelicals are taught that this present life is preparation for life beyond the grave. Believing the right things is important because that is what gets your ticket to heaven punched. Is it any wonder that most Evangelicals will leave this life firm in their belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God? Too much rests on believing this for them to ever question or doubt.
This is the fifty-eighth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
…Human faith is not the same thing as Genuine (saving) faith, which is a gift from God. The former is based in Human reason and intellect. The latter is supernatural. What passes for faith in many professing believer’s “Christianity” is a belief based in who preaches to or teaches them. This is not Genuine faith because it is not a belief in the Word or in God through the Word. These are “believers” who will eventually fall away. Some may last a lifetime, but as soon as the fires of tribulation come upon them they slide into apostasy because their faith is not of the substance that endures…
In one short paragraph, Ratliff reveals WHY so many Evangelicals have empty heads, why they lack any sort of intellectual acumen. Why, you ask? Because God has replaced their human faith with genuine faith. According to Ratliff, genuine faith is a gift from God. Human faith is not from God and is based on reason and intellect.
There ya have it…God gives Evangelicals faith and BOOM out goes reason and intellect. In comes a faith God gives, a faith that leads people to believe things like the Bible is inerrant, the earth was created in six days six thousand years ago, Adam and Eve were real people, and Jesus really, really did walk on water and resurrect from the dead.
Ratliff’s post is a reminder of how preachers like him keep people enslaved by telling them that their human intellect and reason should never be trusted. Instead trust the pronouncements of Ratliff, the man of God, God, the Holy Spirit, and His inerrant, inspired Bible.
Ratliff and others like him know that if people really begin to use their intellect and reason they are likely to exit stage left. Thinking Evangelicals often don’t stay in the Evangelical church. Once they see that they been snookered by their church and pastor they move on to places where reason and intellect are appreciated.
This is the fifty-seventh installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk by Frank Zappa.
There’s an ugly little wasel ’bout three-foot nine Face puffed up from cryin’ ‘n lyin’ ‘Cause her sweet little hubby’s Suckin’ prong part time (In the name of The Lord)
Get a clue, little shrew Oh yeah, oh yeah Jesus thinks you’re a jerk
Did he really choose Tammy to do His Work? Robertson says that he’s The One Oh sure he is, If Armageddon Is your idea of family fun, An’ he’s got some planned for you! (Now, tell me that ain’t true)
Now, what if Jimbo’s slightly gay, Will Pat let Jimbo get away? Everything we’ve heard him say Indicated that Jim must pay, (And it just might hurt a bit) But keep that money rollin’ in, ‘Cause Pat and naughty Jimbo Can’t get enough of it
Perhaps it’s their idea Of an Affirmative Action Plan To give White Trash a ‘special break’, Well, they took those Jeezo-bucks and ran To the bank! To the bank! To the bank! To the bank! And every night we can hear them thank Their Buddy, up above For sending down his love (While you all smell the glove)
Jim and Pat should take a pole (Right up each saintly glory-hole), With tar and feathers too Just like they’d love to do to you
(‘Cause they think you are bad And they are very mad)
‘Cause some folks don’t want prayer in school!
(We’d need an ark to survive the drool Of Micro-publicans, raised on hate, And ‘Jimbo-Jimbo’ when they graduate)
Conviced they are ‘The Chosen Ones’ And all their parents carry guns, And hold them cards in the N.R.A. (With their fingers on the triggers When they kneel and pray)
With a Ku-Klux muu-muu In the back of the truck, If you ain’t Born Again, They wanna mess you up, screamin’, “No abortion, no-siree!” “Life’s too precious, can’t you see!” (What’s that hangin’ from the neighbor’s tree? Why, it looks like ‘colored folks’ to me Would they do that seriously?)
Imagine if you will A multi-millionaire Television Evangelist, Saved from Korean Combat duty by his father, a U.S. Senator
Studied Law But is not qualified to practice it
Father of a “love child” Who, in adulthood, hosts the remnants Of papa’s religious propaganda program
Claims not to be a “Faith Healer”, But has, in the past, Dealt sternly with everything from hemorrhoids to hurricanes
Involved with funding for a ‘secret war’ in Central America Claiming Ronald Reagan and Oliver North as close friends
Involved in suspicous ‘tax-avoidance schemes’, (Under investigation for 16 months by the I.R.S.)
Claims to be a MAN OF GOD; Currenty seeking the United States Presidency, Hoping we will all follow him into The Twilight Zone
What if Pat gets in the White House, And suddenly The rights of ‘certain people’ disappear Mysteriously?
Now, wouldn’t that sort of qualify As an American Tragedy? (Especially if he covers it up, sayin’ “Jesus told it to me!”)
I hope we never see that day, In The Land of The Free Or someday will we? Will we?
And if you don’t know by now, The truth of what I’m tellin’ you, Then, surely I have failed somehow
And Jesus will think I’m a jerk, just like you If you let those TV Preachers Make a monkey out of you!
I said, “Jesus will think you’re a jerk” And it will be true!
There’s an old rugged cross In the land of cutton It’s still burnin’ on somebody’s lawn And it still smells rotten
Jim and Tammy! Oh, baby! You gotta go! You really got to go
Son number four stopped over after work and he is sleeping on the couch. He is babysitting Bethany so Polly and I can go to Grand Rapids and eat pizza at a restaurant for which we have a Groupon .
Son number three dropped off his two youngest so we could babysit them for a bit. He knows that we are going out tonight and he said he would be on time to pick them up. I thought, sure you will. Five p.m. and son number three walks through the door. He’s early. I make a mental note to put a gold star beside his name. Maybe he has finally learned to tell time.
Polly and I both scurried around getting ready for our big night on the town. As we got ready to walk out the door I said to Polly, I am driving tonight. She said, really? I gave her THAT look and took the keys. She is likely wondering if this will be her last day on earth.
After we picked up our mail, we drove east on Route 15. As I put the turn signal on to turn left at The Bend Road, Polly said, what are you doing? I replied, I am going up to Route 6. Polly: No we need to take old Route 24. I said, I really think we need to take Route 6. No, she was certain we needed to take old Route 24. So we took Route 24.
I was right.
And we didn’t even fight about it.
Maybe there is hope for our marriage.
The pizza joint only had one waitress on the floor and was totally unprepared for the extra customers the Groupon would bring. It took her 20 minutes to get our drinks. The owner finally came out to help her take orders and proceeded to service the three tables that were seated after us. The pizza was OK, nothing special, and I doubt that we will drive 40 minutes to eat it again.
Before going home we decided to stop at Meijer in Defiance. Polly needed a belt and I needed acetaminophen to replace the government- mandated acetaminophen reduction in my Vicodin prescription.
As we walked in the door, I looked down the long main aisle by the registers and I saw Bob, a former church member. I thought, Oh shit. I told Polly, hurry…there’s Bob and I don’t want him to see us. If it were just him, all would be well, but I knew his wife Margo would not be far away (names changed to protect the guilty),
I met Bob and Margo almost 20 years ago when I pastored Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette. When I left Olive Branch and moved five miles south to West Unity to start a church, they came along with me.
Bob is a quiet man, content to sit in the background and not say a word. Margo more than makes up for him, a constant talker regardless of whether she has anything to say.
Margo’s sister attended the church when she could. She was home-bound most of the time and couldn’t drive. Countless times we picked her up for church or took her to a doctor’s visit an hour away in Toledo. Her sister? Margo couldn’t be bothered and would demand gas money for every trip she made to her sister’s house.
Bob and Margo attended the church infrequently and never could get there on time. It was not uncommon for them to arrive at the morning service 20 minutes before it was over. I often wondered why they bothered.
When we remodeled the nursery Margo bought some Jesus Junk to hang on the wall. She wrote her name on the back of the plaque she paid a dollar for and told me she wanted it back if we ever stopped using it. When we closed the church, with great delight, I threw the plaque away.
Somewhere in the late 1990s Bob and Margo stopped attending the church. According to Margo I committed a terrible sin by allowing the women of the church to have a rummage sale IN the church building. Bob? He never said a word and followed Margo out the door.
When I saw Bob I knew we needed to run as fast as we could. If they saw us they would – well she would – want to talk to us. Then we would have to spend 20 minutes pretending that we were friends.
I didn’t like Margo when I was her pastor. She was a gossip, self-centered, and a narcissist. I may have had to be her pastor, but I didn’t have to be her friend. So, when I saw Bob I knew we had to practice our avoidance technique, a skill we have honed to perfection since leaving the ministry and Christianity.
We got all of our shopping done and made our way to the checkout. As I looked down the long aisle I saw that Bob was still sitting there. I thought, nothing has changed. Still waiting on her to talk her way through the store. I told Polly, we need to check out on this end. Bob is still there. She replied, are you sure it is Bob? I said, yes I am sure. So we used the self-checkout, bagged our purchases, and started to make our way out of the store….
I looked up for a moment and there were Bob and Margo. I thought, shit. I said to Polly, there they are…hurry. I DON’T want to talk to them. We quickly made our way out the door and into the parking lot, avoiding having to play the Fake Friends Game® for the umpteenth time.
I used to feel guilty when I avoided former church members in the store, but I don’t any more. Most of them aren’t like Bob and Margo, but coming face to face with them still requires us to make polite talk without mentioning the horns that are on our head. Everyone knows that Pastor Bruce Gerencser is now an atheist. They read the letters in the paper and they have bumped into other Christians who have said, DID YOU KNOW? By now, I assume everyone knows.
So we avoid people. This is not the kind of people we are, but we hate the chit-chatting and the pretend-we-are-friendsconversation. It is not that we hate them personally or dislike them. It’s just that we don’t have anything in common with them anymore. I am sure some of them have done the same thing when they see Polly and me in the distance at one of the local stores.
How about you? How do you deal with running into people from your Christian past? Do you avoid them? Do you feel uncomfortable talking to them? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
Those of us raised in the Evangelical church have seen countless books titled similarly to this post. Authors think that they have figured out a part of life and are qualified to dispense advice about it. Every book takes the same approach: follow these steps, follow this formula, do what I did, and you will have success. After all, isn’t it the American dream to be considered s-u-c-c-e-s-s-f-u-l?
Looks can be deceiving. One woman who attended a church I pastored had been married for 40 years. That’s a long time. Surely this woman and her husband had a successful marriage, right? One day, I decided to pay a visit to this couple’s home. When I got there the husband was nowhere to be found. I said, your husband isn’t home? The woman replied, oh no, he’s here, and she hollered up the stairs for her husband. Come to find out, he had been living in the upstairs for 25 years and they RARELY spoke to each other. Their marriage was anything BUT happy and successful. But, then again, maybe it was. How do we even define what a happy or successful marriage is? What is the objective standard for happiness or success? Should we even try to judge whether a person or a couple is happy or a success?
When we look at a marriage from the outside it is almost impossible to judge whether the couple is happy and the marriage is successful. Several years ago, my counselor told me that almost everything he learned in college 37 years ago about marriage was wrong. For example, he was taught that couples who fight a lot are unhappy and have troubled/bad marriages. He said, this is completely untrue. Now researchers are finding out that the level of arguing plays very little part in the happiness of the couple or the success of the marriage. He told me that some of the most happy and successful marriages are ones where the couple frequently argue.
As Evangelicals, Polly and I were taught to NEVER argue. After all, the Bible says, never let the sun go down on your wrath. Anger is a sin and a person who is a devoted follower of Jesus never gets angry, right? Evangelicals often excuse their anger by saying their anger is RIGHTEOUS ANGER. You know the kind, the anger displayed by the preacher when he is shouting in his sermon about this or that sin. The truth is, Christian or not, we all get angry and we all argue. Some couples argue more than others and the style, length, and level of arguing is different from couple to couple, but every couple argues (and anyone who says they NEVER argue or get angry is taking way too much Prozac or lying).
Polly and I have been married for 37 years, 2 months, and 11 days. During this time, we have had a fair number of fights and arguments. I am hotheaded and bullheaded and Polly is quite passive, yet inwardly defiant. Every so often, almost always over nothing, we will have an argument. For a few moments, our marriage becomes similar to heating a cup of water with a blowtorch. It heats up quickly but with a quick turn of the blow torch knob, off goes the flame and the heat quickly dies down. Our arguments tend to last a few moments, maybe for a few hours, but NEVER for a day. Neither of us holds a grudge and we usually quickly realize that what we are fighting over is stupid.
We both recognize that arguments are about two people wanting to be right. Sometimes, Polly and I argue because we have a difference of opinion. Other times, one of us is right and the other is wrong. If someone who didn’t know us stumbled upon us having an argument, they would “think” that we had a troubled marriage or that we needed marriage counseling. Their judgment of the quality of our marriage would be dead wrong. We argue, then just like that, it is over. We may be arguing at 5:00 p.m. and sitting in a restaurant three hours later having a wonderful time. The arguments mean little to us and there seems to be no cumulative effect.
Here are some observations I have made about my marriage to Polly. These observations are not a road map to marital success or a blueprint for a long, happy marriage. I recognize our being married for all these years took a lot of work AND luck. We know more than a few apparently happy and successful couples who are now divorced and married to someone else. In the first few years of marriage, Polly and I could have easily become a statistic, thus proving Polly’s mom’s right, that divorce is hereditary (a commonly held belief among their generation).
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978
Polly and I did not marry for love. In fact, we had no idea what real love was. Oh, we told ourselves we were in love, but what we really were was mutually infatuated with each other. We had romantic feelings for each other, but LOVE? Love came over time. As we grew and matured, so did love.
Americans have many foolish notions about love. They think the proof of love is expensive gifts, jewelry, flowers, special nights out at fancy restaurants, and/or hot sex. Yes, all of these things are nice, but they have little to do with love. Love is all about commitment and endurance. True lasting love takes time to plant and grow. I think the writer of 1 Corinthians 13 got it right when he wrote about the lasting qualities of love; things like patience, kindness, and being long-suffering.
Polly and I deeply love one another, yet we know that we still have the capacity to love each other more. We know that every marriage has its exciting moments and it also has long dry, monotonous spells (and dry takes on a life of its own after menopause). Married life can become boring or predictable and this is not necessarily bad. No marriage can survive every day if every night is like the first night of their honeymoon. Understanding this has kept Polly and me from having unreasonable expectations and making demands that the other person cannot fulfill.
In the midst of normalcy, we try to have some unpredictability. Sometimes it is small things like Polly buying me a king size candy bar and leaving it in the desk. Other times, it is me tying a dildo to the front door knob so it will smack Polly when she comes home from work at 1:30 A.M. Since we have left Christianity, our banter has become more sexual and Polly is mastering the art of the double entendre. We have fun this way…and o-t-h-e-r ways (and all my kids are saying TMI!).
Every year, we try to do a couple of big things like take a weekend trip or go on vacation. Now that our children are grown and 5 of them are out of the house, we are free to travel and do a lot more things as a couple. And here is the key for us: we LIKE each other. We like being together and doing things together. We like each other’s company. We have, over the years, become best friends. This was not the case when we first married.
Both of us have annoying character traits that drive the other nuts. And guess what, 37 years later those traits are still there. When we first married we ignored these traits or thought they would go away in time. Now we recognize that these irritating character traits are part of who we are. We STILL fight about them and we STILL irritate the hell out of each other, but we recognize that both of us are flawed and we are not going to change. I will still want perfect order and Polly still won’t be able to figure out where we are going even with a map, a Google map print-out and a GPS. We fuss, fume, and then laugh. We are who we are.
We now know that we are not completely compatible. We each like things the other dislikes. And that’s okay. While in many ways we are very different from one another, we do share many of the same likes, wants, and desires. We each have our own space and we are free to do our own thing. We don’t need the approval of the other. Polly reads fiction and I don’t. There are certain shows on TV that I love and Polly rolls her eyes every time I watch them. We still care about what the other thinks, but we have learned that each other’s approval is not needed. So much of life is made up of things that don’t matter, so why spend a lot of time fussing and fighting over inconsequential things? Partners need to accept each other as they are and learn to keep their distance when the spouse is driving them nuts.
We are becoming more and more comfortable in our skin. We no longer let others, including our family, define for us, what a “good” marriage is. We stay married because we love each other and like each other. I may not be the most demonstrative of husbands, and this irritates the hell out of some of my children, but I more than make up for it when and where it matters. All those noises in the night are Polly singing out her approval. (Our daughter Laura now knows that there is NOT an owl living outside our house, an explanation I gave her when she was a child for the noises she heard.)
Here’s the bottom line. It works for us and that is all that matters. We are not our parents and we don’t want our children to emulate our marriage. Each couple must find its own way. Maybe their marriage will last a lifetime, maybe it won’t.
Evangelical Christians, among others, have private (personal) beliefs that people such as I consider uninteresting, intellectually lacking, or irrational. As long as they do not try to force their beliefs on me or demand special treatment for their beliefs, I am quite indifferent to their beliefs. I have no interest in regulating what people believe about God, Jesus, the Bible, or anything else for that matter.
However, when the Evangelical Christian states/argues/debates his beliefs in the public space: newspaper, TV, books, magazines, Facebook, Twitter, the internet, public meetings, etc., then the rules of engagement change. Once these beliefs are uttered publicly they are no longer considered private and are open to criticism, investigation, debate, ridicule, mockery, and attack. Those people deciding to utter their beliefs in public should know this, and if they don’t, they are in for a rude awakening the first time they “share” their beliefs publicly.
As a writer, hopeful author, essayist of letters to the local newspaper, and the public face of atheism where I live, I am considered a public figure. As such, I open myself up to criticism, investigation, debate, ridicule, mockery, and attack. While I would hope people would treat me fairly and with respect, I have no right to expect such treatment and I have no recourse if someone lies about me, distorts my beliefs, or attacks me personally.
I can’t can’t do anything about what someone may say about me or my writing on their own blog or in an internet forum. I can’t control the sermons Evangelical preachers preach about me. They can take something I have written and twist and distort it and there is nothing I can do about this. This is the wild, woolly nature of the public space.
I wish Evangelical Christians would understand the difference between private and public. When they drag their beliefs into the public space, they have no right to whine, moan, or complain that I am attacking them and their beliefs. If they don’t want their beliefs assaulted or challenged then they need to keep them out of the public space. As Tristan Vick said in a comment:
Someone needs to tell this caterwauling Christian that it’s people who have rights, not ideas.
Two years ago, our youngest son moved out, and he left behind a box of trading cards for our grandson. He had hundreds of trading cards, including some from Answers in Genesis. I am not sure how old these card are, but I suspect they are at least 15 years old. I did not know these cards were in the box, and my oldest son found them when he was going through the collection with our grandson. We had a lot of fun with these cards, a reminder of what we once believed. I thought you might enjoy the good science these cards teach, so I scanned a couple of them just for you!
I love the logic of this card. Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis are committed to a Fundamentalist, literalist interpretation of the Bible, except when it not convenient to do so. Since the inerrant, infallible, inspired creationist science textbook, AKA the Bible, doesn’t mention dinosaurs, and Ham and Co. know dinosaurs existed at one time, it is imperative that one of the animals mentioned in the Bible be a dinosaur. Kids love dinosaurs and have lots of questions about them. Using his magic Bible word-decoder ring, Ham determined that the behemoth in the book of Job is actually a dinosaur and that dragons are also dinosaurs.
I found this card interesting for a different reason. The card states emphatically that the Leviathan mentioned in the book of Job is actually a sea monster. No, actually it is a Leviathan, right? We must not tamper with the inerrant, infallible, inspired creationist science textbook, AKA the Bible. But again, when a point needs to be made, Ham and Co. have no problem ignoring the hermeneutic they demand all other Christians use.
Forty years ago, I heard a sermon on Job 41:19-21, but it wasn’t about a sea monster. Oh no, this IFB preacher was quite novel and his sermon showed that you can make the Bible say almost anything. The text says:
Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth.
Are you ready for it? Drum roll, please! According to this preacher, these verses are about SMOKING! Surely you can see it:
Out of his mouth go burning lamps (the burning cigarette in the mouth)
Out of his nostrils goeth smoke
His breath smells bad
This is definite proof that smoking is a sin.
And now let us go to a Sunday service at Bible Baptist Church. It is manipulation time, time for the altar call:
Every head bowed, every eye closed. Is God convicting you of the sin of smoking? If so, with no one but God and me looking, please raise your hand so I can pray for you.
I see that hand, and that hand. Praise Jesus.
Dear baby Lord Jesus, I pray right now for those who have admitted they are sinful smokers. Please forgive them of their sin and give them the victory over Marlboro. And while you are at it Lord…please help them to see that the money they are saving by not buying cigarettes can be put in the offering plate so the church can continue to preach the gospel of no smoking.
In the name above all names, the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.