B.J. VanAman is the pastor of the Pickerington Baptist Temple in Pickerington, Ohio. He is a graduate of Crown College of the Bible, an unaccredited, King James Only, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college in Powell, Tennessee. As is the custom in Christian Ohio, legislators can have religious dignitaries from their districts come and give an invocation. Last Tuesday, Tim Schaffer (R), representative from the 77th district (Lancaster) invited Pastor VanAman to open the session with prayer.
Van Aman proceeds to pray a five-minute “sermon” (a common ploy by Christian Fundamentalists), complete with King James English. At the five-minute mark House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger cuts VanAman off by saying AMEN and quickly beginning the Pledge of Allegiance. What follows is a video of the VanAman’s introduction and prayer (first eight minutes).
Lawmakers are welcome to invite religious leaders from their district to deliver an opening prayer to the House, as Rep. Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, did on Tuesday. Most prayers don’t go longer than 60 or 90 seconds, often delivering messages of inspiration and asking for wisdom and guidance.
House guidelines are largely based on a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring opening prayers to be nondenominational, nonsectarian and nonproselytizing.
The prayer on Tuesday mentioned “Though the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and went on to describe Jesus, whose “name is above every name,” and at his name “every knee shall bow.” It also described Jesus as the “author and finisher of our faith.”
Rosenberger first peeked an eye open about three minutes in. At nearly four minutes, he opened his eyes and began looking around, clearly growing anxious about the length and trying to decide the right way to end it.
After just over five minutes, with no clear conclusion on the horizon, Rosenberger blurted out an “amen,” thanked Van Aman for being here and then motioned toward the flag to start the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I am speaker, so whether it’s floor action or the pastor giving the prayer, I feel I make the determination when we need to move it on,” Rosenberger said.
He was not the only one who felt that way. After the Pledge of Allegiance, a hot mic picked up a female voice on the floor: “That was a sermon.”
Rosenberger’s action earned praise from Rep. Mike Curtin, D-Marble Cliff, who called it “entirely appropriate.” Curtin covered the legislature for The Dispatch in the 1980s and did a story on the then-House chaplain, the Rev. Kenneth Grimes, a Catholic who was admired for his counsel and prayers that mixed inspiration and humor.
“He was very careful to acknowledge that the General Assembly is a diverse body,” Curtin said. “The opening prayer should reflect that diversity. It should reflect the Constitutional acknowledgement of there not being a state religion.”
That, Curtin said, means not infusing the name of Jesus Christ into many lines of the prayer.
“I don’t think any members take objection to a Christian clergyman or woman making reference to Jesus Christ. But what we’ve had lately in this chamber for a period of years now is a heavy, almost Christian proselytizing as the opening prayer, which in my view is inappropriate,” Curtin said.
The House has not had a designated chaplain for more than 20 years.
Members, Curtin said, need to school visiting clergy on the protocol. Rosenberger agreed that members may need to do a better job briefing their guests on expectations prior to the prayer.
Over-the-top sermonizing, Curtin said, “doesn’t have a place in the public body.”
Atheists do not hate God. While Evangelical Christians will certainly suggest otherwise, I do not know of one atheist who hates God. Think about it for a moment. Do atheists believe in the existence of the Christian God, or any other God, for that matter? Of course not, so it makes no sense to say that atheists hate a non-existent, mythical being. Surely even the densest of Christians can understand this. If I asked Evangelicals, Do you believe in the existence of Odin, the Norse God? how do you think they would respond? I have no doubt Evangelicals would laugh and say, Odin is a mythical being. It would be silly of us to hate a being that doesn’t exist. Bingo. Just like the atheist and the Christian God.
Evangelicals often refuse to accept at face value what others say/believe about their God. When atheists deny the existence of the Christian God, Evangelicals say that atheists are suppressing their knowledge of this God. Supposedly, atheists KNOW that the Christian God exists, but they, having a hard heart and a seared conscience, deny his existence. Couldn’t the same be said of Christians who deny the existence of Odin? Christians KNOW that the Norse God exists, but they refuse to accept this, clinging to a God who is no God at all.
The fact is, atheists do not hate God. Anyone who suggests otherwise is either deliberately ignorant of what atheists believe or are so blinded by their own beliefs that they cannot fathom any other belief but their own. Wait a minute, Bruce, Evangelicals say. If atheists do not hate God, then why do they spend so much time talking about God? Good question.
While atheists know that the Christian God is a myth, they also understand that much harm has been done in his name. It is not the Christian God that is the problem. God, divorced from his followers, is little more than an ancient explanation for human existence. Who cares, right? Myths, in and of themselves, have no power. The Harry Potter books tell a wonderful story of mystery and magic, but no one in his or her right mind thinks the stories are true. Imagine if a group of people believed that what was written in the Harry Potter books is some sort of divine message from God. Does the fact that this group of people believe the stories are true mean that they are? Of course not. So it is with Christianity. That people believe is no proof that something is true. Millions of people believe in the Mormon God, yet Evangelicals, for the most part, believe Mormonism is a false religion. I fail to see how Mormonism’s God is any different from Christianity’s God. Taken at face value, both myths are absurd.
The real issue for atheists is what Christians DO in the name of their God. It is Christians that are the problem, not their God. If Christianity was little more than a Kiwanis Club, I suspect that most atheist writers such as myself would put down their digital pens and turn their attention to other pursuits. However, because many Christians will not rest until the entire world worships their God and bows to their interpretation of an antiquated religious text, atheists, humanists, agnostics, and secularists are forced to do battle with Evangelical zealots. Believe me, I’d rather be writing about sports or photography, but as long as Evangelicals continue to clamor for a Christian nation governed by Christian laws, I intend to raise my objection to their theocratic ambitions.
Bruce, if Christianity doesn’t matter, why do you bother with it?
On one hand, Christianity doesn’t matter. The Bible doesn’t matter. Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God, the Church, none of it matters.
If Christians want to worship their God, I have no objection. I subscribe to the “live and let live” school of thought. Each to his own. May Jesus be with you. May the force be with you. May nothing be with you. I don’t care.
I do care about the influence Christianity has on our culture and government. I do care about the damage done to society in the name of the Christian God. I do care when people are hurt, maimed, and killed in the name of the Christian God.
When Christians want to turn the United States into a theocracy…It matters.
When Christians want their religion to have preference over any and all others…It matters.
When Christians demand atheists and agnostics be treated as the spawn of Satan…It matters.
When Christians attempt to teach religious dogma as scientific fact in our public schools…It matters.
When Christians attempt to force their religious moral code on everyone…It matters.
When Christians attempt to stand in the way of my pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness…It matters.
When Christians abuse and molest children in the name of their God…It matters.
When Christians wage wars thousands of miles away in the name of their God…It matters.
When Christians mentally and emotionally abuse people…It matters.
When Christian expect preferential treatment because of who they worship…It matters.
As long as Christians continue to force themselves on others, and as long as they attack and demean anyone who is not a Christian…It matters.
As long as pastors and churches get preferential tax code treatment…It matters.
As to who you worship and where? It doesn’t matter.
As to what sacred text you use? It doesn’t matter.
I want all Christians to have the absolute freedom to worship their God.
I want that same freedom to NOT worship any God or another God…
And as long as that courtesy is not extended to me and to every human being on the earth…
Over the course of 50 years in the Christian church, I prayed many prayers — tens of thousands of prayers, to be exact. I publicly testified before fellow Christians that God had answered my prayers. I had experiences that, at the time, defied explanation. Everywhere I looked, I saw God. When I deconverted, one of the first things I did was give a careful accounting of the prayers I uttered and what God’s response to them. (Please see A Few Thoughts on a Lifetime of Praying to the Christian God) I concluded:
The overwhelming majority of my prayers went unanswered.
Those few prayers that I considered answered by God were, in fact, answered, not by God, but by and through human instrumentation.
I was left with a few experiences that I couldn’t rationally explain. One story comes to mind and I will share it here. One night, Harold Miller, a member of the church I was pastoring at the time, and I were driving down Route 22 east of Sego, Ohio on our way to touch base with a family who recently visited the church. As we neared Fultonham, a small community which sat on a ridge above Route 22, I noticed a car barreling down the hill towards the highway. Having no time to stop or change direction, I screamed at Harold, warning him of the impending crash, and prepared to be broadsided. Yet, at the moment the crash should have occurred nothing happened. Both of us thought God had lifted the car above ours, safely protecting us from serious injury or death.
Did God actually pick the car up so it would avoid hitting us? Of course not. Is this really a beyond rational explanation event? Not really. Perhaps my perception was wrong. Perhaps the car wasn’t traveling as fast as I thought it was. While this story is difficult to explain, like some of the contradictions in the Bible, there are reasonable explanations for what happened.
As a Christian, I was taught that God answering prayer was a simple matter of me praying and God hearing and answering my petition. I believed that God answered every prayer one of three ways. God said:
Yes, and what I was praying for came to pass
No, and what I was praying for did not come to pass
Not now, and what I was praying for was added to my long-term begging God list
But Bruce, the Evangelical says, I have prayed prayers that I KNOW God answered! How do you KNOW God answered your prayers? Just because Christians utter petitions that subsequently come to pass doesn’t mean that it is God answering prayers. If Christians could ever divorce themselves from faith and look at things from a skeptical and rational perspective, I think they would find out that most God-answered prayers are anything but.
Virtually every answered prayer can be attributed to human instrumentality or luck (right place, right time). Year ago, I often prayed for God to bless me financially. As a young father with two children, money was always tight. One night, my father-in-law and I were traveling on a rural Licking County road on our way to visit a church member. While driving down the road we came upon a box. I immediately stopped and got out of the car to investigate. In the box were numerous recently skinned fur pelts. I quickly scooped up the box and we took the pelts to a nearby taxidermist. While I do not remember the exact amount of money we received, it was substantial. See? God answered my prayer!
Polly is a shift coördinator for a local manufacturing concern. She has worked there for 17 years. During her tenure, she has never missed a day of work. Not one. Polly is a diligent worker, a great example of the Puritan work ethic. Her work reviews are always at the top of the scale, reflecting Polly’s value to the company. In the years that the company has given raises, Polly has always received the maximum allowable raise.
When we were Christians, we both would pray that she would receive a good raise, and sure enough “God” answered our prayers. But, was it really God who answered our prayers and orchestrated Polly’s raises? Or are her raises attributable to Polly’s perfect attendance and work ethic? Shouldn’t credit be given to whom credit is due? It is Polly, not God, who did the work necessary to warrant a raise. How about now? Neither of us prays, and even if we did it is likely that God’s prayer hot line to our house has been disconnected. Since Polly’s deconversion in 2008, the monetary amount of her raises have increased significantly. Couldn’t it just as easily be argued that becoming a nonbeliever and not praying resulted in these raises?
Christians will often point to the testimonies of those who were saved as proof for God answering prayer. You know the drill. Sister Lena is a member of First Baptist Church in Godland, Ohio. She’s been a member of the church for 50 years. Lena’s husband Bob is not a Christian. Every week, Lena and the church pray for Bob’s salvation. Week in, week out, the church prays that the bloodhound of heaven, the Holy Spirit, will track down Bob and save his soul. And sure enough, one day, after 40 years of praying, Bob is saved. God answered Lena’s prayer, right? (Lost in the discussion will be the question of WHY God waited so long to save Bob.)
Years ago (everything is years ago now), when I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, the church took to praying for the father of one of the church members. This man was a violent, oft-cursing heathen. We prayed, prayed, and prayed for this man, to no avail. Several times I went to his home and shared the gospel with him. Every time, he said, no thanks preacher, I have no need of God.
The man eventually came down with throat cancer. Surgeons removed parts of his esophagus, mouth glands, and vocal cords. He was unable to speak. A short time later he had a small stroke. The church continued to pray for this man, and one night I decided to share the gospel with him one more time. And this time, the man started crying, and when I asked him if he would like to be saved, he gutterally said YES! I led him to Jesus, and from the time forward he would occasionally attend church with his wife and grown children. I vividly remember him crying every time he heard me preach (no jokes about my preaching bringing people to tears). I attributed his tears to his thankfulness for God saving him. Was his glorious conversion the answer to our prayers?
Not likely. I am more inclined to think that his conversion was the result of him facing, for the first time, his mortality. Having been raised in a culture where God is frequently called on in times of trouble, this man, having had radical cancer surgery and a stroke, likely wanted to make sure his house was in order before he died. But, what about the tears? Perhaps they were tears of regret. There’s nothing like a brush with death to focus our attention on how we have lived our lives. Perhaps he regretted his meanness. Perhaps he regretted treating his wife and children like slaves. Who hasn’t shed tears over past regrets, right?
After his “glorious” new birth, this man began displaying bizarre behavior. He began spending exorbitant amounts of money at auctions and yard sales, often bringing home junk of little value. When I couple this behavior with his getting saved, I am more inclined to think that his stroke altered his mind. Anyone who has been around stroke patients knows that behavioral changes are not uncommon.
A changed life is not proof for the existence of God or God answering prayer. A careful examination of salvation testimonies always reveal some sort of human influence. Transformed lives can always be traced back, to some degree or the other, to the work of the individual or others. While these transformations make for great stories of the supernatural power of God, they are, in every way, quite earthy.
I readily admit that there are mysteries which are, at this present moment, beyond explanation. However, is God the answer for every unexplained mystery? Or is it better for us to admit that we don’t know and to continue probing, prodding, and asking questions until we do? Regardless, these mysteries are so few that suggesting that they are evidence for the Christian God is laughable. From my perspective, there is no evidence for the existence of personal, hands-on God of the Christian Bible.
Debunking religion has been a theme in many of my Facebook posts. My opinion is best summed up by the expression “religion poisons everything” (Christopher Hitchens). I’m not just talking Christianity…but ALL RELIGIONS that are based on unprovable, improbable, mythological, invisible, supernatural, omniscient beings and their cryptically written laws on how to behave and how to worship. Everyone who has settled on one of the monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Muslim) or on one of their off shoots (Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science) are all “atheists” to every other god except their own. The difference between them and people like me is I go one god further. They are atheistic against Ba’al, Zeus, Thor, Horace, and every other god that has come before. Why? It isn’t for lack of proof (even though there isn’t any). It is blind faith in a book, the Christian Bible. There is little proof that the things in that book happened. Science looks for clues for the worldwide flood, the Exodus, creation and other stories in the Bible, but they are nowhere to be found. The “evidence” that has been presented to the scientific community has been disproven or debunked. All the Ron Wyatt discoveries, the Ray Comfort theories, the “Ark has been found” stories, and Ken Ham “scientific proof” for 6 day creation a 6000 year old universe have been thoroughly debunked. The evidence does not support these accounts.
I don’t understand how a majority of people in the United States and others around the world still believe that Creation, Adam and Eve, the fall of man from a mythical garden (complete with talking snake), Noah and the Ark, Moses and the Exodus, the 10 Commandments, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Daniel, Sampson, Jonah and the whale, etc. are all stories that should be taken literally, from a book with a very sketchy history on how and why it was put together, and written by ignorant authors whose authenticity is in serious question. As a result of people taking the Bible literally, we have had wars, witch-hunts, mass killings, and terrible discrimination of all kinds. Not only that, but we have brain-dead adults with little knowledge about science, home-schooling another generation of young people in a “creation-based” curriculum laughably called “creation science.” We have kids in Sunday School classes being told that science is wrong and the Bible is the only source for knowledge and fact. This retards our growth as a nation and as a species. It has infected our politics to the degree that if you don’t claim to believe in God, in particular the Christian God, you are branded as evil and unelectable. Even someone like Donald Trump, who you know isn’t a “practicing” Christian, says he believes in God and will protect Christianity. Saying these things will gain him votes from Christians. It’ doesn’t matter that he’s a nutcase. He says he “believes” and that’s good enough for them.
But besides all this, there is a deeply personal reason why I hate religion (in particular Christianity). One that I recently became aware of and I would like to share it with you.
As a lot of you know, I was raised in a very religious home. I was part of three separate Christian denominations in my lifetime, as was the rest of my immediate family (with the exception of my brother who is 15 years younger than I am). From birth to the age of seven, I was raised Catholic. From ages seven to ten, our family was involved in a non-denominational “Evangelical Free” church with no alliances to any “parent” hierarchy of church governing, administrations or main offices. From ages ten to eighteen, my family went to an Assemblies of God (A/G) church. The rest of my immediate family still attends this church.
At the end of 2014, the A/G had 12,849 churches in the United States with over three million members. Worldwide there are 372,923 churches with close to 62 million members. They even have them broken down by age of child membership. In 2014, out of the three million members in the US, the child membership of the American A/G churches were:
This means that 1,005,440 of the 3 million members (one third) in the U.S. are children. Three million is almost 1% of the population in the US. This is just one denomination out of the 32,000 denominations of Christianity. I mention these statistics to let you know the scope of this one denomination and one interpretation of the Bible. Imagine 32,000 denominations.
My deconversion from Christianity started in Bible college (when I was 17) and ended when I was 21. At 21 years of age, I didn’t know what I believed, but I did know that based on its own doctrine, its own writings, and the lack of substance in its claims, the biblical God and Christianity WAS NOT what it claims to be.
Between the ages of 21 and 38, I put “seeking the truth” in the back of my mind. During this time, I was busy dating my future wife, getting married, having a daughter, getting divorced, changing career directions, getting reintroduced into the dating scene. At age 38, I met a woman named Melody, who totally changed everything in my life. She was a “spiritual” girl, but not a Christian. She was Wiccan. She died of cancer when I was 42.
About 6 months after Melody died, my sister and I were having a conversation in her dining room. We were talking about religion, Jesus, and the afterlife. My sister started crying, and said to me, “Michael, if you die, I am afraid I will never see you again.” I hugged her and started crying as well. I told her that she was right, that she would never “see me” again, but the reason wasn’t because of what she feared.
She obviously was referring to me going to Hell after I die because I don’t believe in Jesus, God, or the Bible. You see, I know this conversation. I know this line of thought and reasoning. I remember being indoctrinated into this belief at a young age with all the devil, and sinning, and the “Hell to fear and Heaven to gain” mentality that was drilled into my head with the expectation that I would accept it at face value. We were in church every time the doors were open. Sundays were damn near an all-day event. Two services and Sunday School on Sunday morning, Sunday evening service, Tuesday night Awana Club, Wednesday night prayer meeting, Thursday Youth group, Choir practice, not to mention youth retreats, religious camping trips, and other youth group related activities. So I knew exactly where my sister’s fear and anguish was coming from.
At first I felt bad. Those of you who know me know that my family means the world to me. I blamed myself and felt bad for causing my sister harm. I know that it also pains my mother to see me rejecting her religious beliefs. I mean, how bad is that: knowing my sister, mother, and the rest of my siblings, nieces and nephews are all thinking that I will be tortured and tormented for all of eternity? I also know that nothing short of me rejecting my rational thoughts and going back to my blind faith, religious beliefs and roots will help the situation. There is no faking this in my family. Going to church will not rectify the situation. Only a total 180 degree turnaround from my present way of thinking will suffice.
After I thought about this for a bit, my feelings of guilt and anguish from that day turned to anger. I am angry at religion! I am angry at the stupidity of our species which has been led down this path many times before in the history of our existence. We got rid of all those gods that we believed in prior to the most current gods (yes…plural). We still believe in those myths: (virgin birth, blood sacrifice, resurrection from the dead, ascension into heaven) that were attributed to the prior gods, We have just changed the names of the deities. I can’t believe people who, for the most part are rational and smart, suddenly are brain-dead when it comes to this particular area of their lives.
I’m also angry that these teachings are infecting children and teenagers. I am thankful to see that non-religious people: Nones/Atheists/Non-believers, are increasing in number. At the end of 2014, nearly 22% of the United States population identified themselves as not affiliated with any religion and 15% say they are agnostic or atheist. The 7% who are non-affiliated with any religion, but don’t self-identify as an atheist, basically think there might be some sort of universal force, or want to believe there is something else. They do not think the “bible” is true. In fact, they don’t know the nature of god and are just speculating.
One thing I was very adamant about was that I did not want my family to proselytize my daughter. What I mean to say is that, when we go to my family’s house for holidays and such, they don’t have to stop saying grace at meals or discussing the religious event that they happen to be celebrating (Christmas, Easter, etc.). I just don’t want them witnessing to her. I don’t want them to try to tell her what they think God thinks, or that she is a sinner worthy of being tossed into Hell unless she believes in God. When my daughter was younger, my mother tried that a couple of times. But I was in the room when that started and I stopped it. Now that she is 18 and knows better; she can defend and explain her stand on religion all by herself. She knows there is no possible way that Creationism or the Noah story is true. She received straight A’s in science and history. She understands evolution, the formation of the earth, moon, and solar system. I have taught her to look at everything logically and rationally. We frequently talk about science and religion, and how ridiculous it is that people believe something that has no proof at all, and take it as fact. She does not understand how I could have believed in that. By the time I was 18, I was just starting to deprogram myself from this part of my upbringing. She will never know that pain, or know the guilt trip that religion brings, or the rejection of well-established, scientific facts and good sense that blind faith requires. She will never have an identity crisis or a crisis of faith when it comes to this topic. She has been spared all that. It pleases me that I have broken that cycle with my daughter, and hopefully, if she has children, she will pass that on to them.
So that is why I hate religion. This is also why I wage war on religion. Until Christianity comes up with a provable story, I will not believe. I will not stop warring until I die. My daughter also might continue it, but since she didn’t experience the stuff I did, and it is not a fight she feels as passionately about as I do. If there was some credible evidence, the scientific community would be flabbergasted. But there isn’t any. Christians will say that the scientific community hides these claims so that they never see the light of day. That is not so, and those who say this show their ignorance concerning the scientific method, their own laziness in researching these issues, and their fear that everything they believe about God and religion is wrong.
My letters to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News often result in local Christians venting their spleen in my direction. I have no doubt that my recent letter about creationism will agitate the faithful, resulting in a new spate of letters denouncing evolution and atheism. Sometimes, letter writers make things personal. For example, here is a comment left by a local resident on the Crescent-News website:
Only problem that you have Gerencser is that you have yet to prove evolution is fact or disprove that there is a deity. So you really dont know any more then anyone else.. And isnt it so strange that you claim to be a minister from a diploma mill in Washington state and yet this is how you respond? Hows that working out for you since Ohio does not recognize this diploma mill? Hope you have not tried to marry anyone as the JAG of Ohio would not look too pleased if you did. Anonymous3371
I have a good idea who this asshole is, but since I don’t know for sure, I will refrain from attaching their name to this comment. If you would like to read other Christian responses to my letters to the editor, please check out the new Local Response Page. This page is currently 12,000 words long. I will continue to add to it anytime there is a letter to the editor that mentions me by name. You can find all of my letters to the editor here.
Now, about the scurrilous allegations in the aforementioned comment.
On July 7, 2013, a local Fundamentalist Christian by the name of Daniel Gray wrote:
Bruce Gerencser should use facts in his letters. His latest rant is so full of errors as to make his point completely obtuse. Here are a few examples…
…The fact that Gerencser can marry anyone is laughable. He received his claimed ministerial credentials by professing a faith in a deity and swearing to follow that religions teachings. So unless he does so, then his authority to marry anyone under the same is null and void. Anyone he marries could actually find that they are not and never have been married. And last, the only way to change our Constitution is by a constitutional amendment…
…History and facts yet again destroy the views of Gerencser. He should be used to that by now.
Here’s my response to Gray:
This letter is my brief response to Daniel Gray’s recent letter to the editor.
Gray continues to paint me as a liar, a deceiver, immoral, and an all-round bad person. Gray does not know me personally, so I am not sure how he comes to the conclusions he does about me. I have never made one of my letters personal, yet Daniel Gray and a few other letter writers think it is okay to attack my character and suggest that I am not a good person.
As a public figure, I know I must endure such attacks, but I wish my critics would focus on the issues rather than the person. If they would like to have a public discussion on these issues, I am quite willing to participate in any public forum they put together.
On July 21, 2013, I wrote another letter to the Defiance Crescent-News stating:
For the third time Gray suggests that I am not legally able to marry people and that anyone married by me is in danger of having their marriage invalidated. Gray seems to not understand the legal requirements for being licensed to marry people in Ohio. I meet all the statutory requirements and I am duly licensed to marry people in Ohio. Anyone can verify this by doing a ministerial license search on the Ohio Secretary of state’s website.
On August 25 , 2013, fellow shit stirrer Willy Pack, came to my defense:
…Our secular government guarantees all of its citizens freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Fundamentalists, however, have made many clumsy attempts aimed at silencing Mr. Gerencser through intimidation and denigration.
Can anyone doubt that if they had the power of past ages, they would summon him before the court of the Inquisition? They all seem to be vying for the position of head inquisitor. What would be his crime other than not sharing their beliefs and daring to say so publicly? Are they really that intolerant of others’ beliefs or just afraid their beliefs cannot stand up to a little scrutiny?
With all of the different religions, denominations and sects on this planet, one thing is for certain: We are all going to hell according to somebody’s religion.
Once again, let me provide proof of my ordination and my legal right to perform weddings in the state of Ohio:
Bruce Gerencser Ordination, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio April 2, 1983
Bruce Gerencser, Ohio License to Marry, May 2,1983
Bruce Gerencser, Universal Life Ordination, March 15, 2011
Bruce Gerencser, Ohio License to Marry, March 22, 2011
The charge that I have a degree from a Washington state diploma mill is absurd. I attended Midwestern Baptist College from 1976-1979. I was an average student who worked a full-time job, attended church three times a week, ran a bus route, and preached at a drug rehab center while attending college. Need proof?
What’s next? Proof that I am circumcised? Proof that I am married, have six children, and eleven grandchildren? Sadly, some local Christians have no shame. They are quite willing to smear me in public if it means it will make me look bad or cause others to question my credibility.
To Daniel Gray, Anonymous3371, and anyone else who seems to be obsessed with lying about me? I will let Mikey Wilson speak for me:
The early days of fall have arrived and the young preacher boy busily loads his possessions into a dilapidated, dented Plymouth. It’s time for me to go, he says to his Mom. I wonder what she thinks, her oldest son headed off to college, the first in their family to do so. They embrace, a rare expression of emotion, and the preacher boy quickly turns away, not wanting her to see the tears running down his face.
Soon the preacher boy is headed north and then east of Bryan. Several hours later he arrives in Pontiac, Michigan, the community he will call home for the next few years. Midwestern Baptist College, A Character Building Institution, says the sign along Golf Drive. The preacher boy had planned to attend Prairie Bible Institute, but God had other plans for him.
The preacher boy parks his car in front of the dormitory, John R. Rice Hall, and quickly unloads his meager possessions. Tall and lean, the red-headed preacher boy, wearing a blue shirt with the number 75 and the name Rev. on the back, moves his possessions into room 207. The dormitory has two floors and a basement, with wings on either side of a common meeting room. The top floor houses the women. The first floor has two wings, one to each side of the meeting room. Students call one wing the Spiritual Wing, the other the Party Wing. The basement, for obvious reasons, is called The Pit.
The preacher boy lives on the Party Wing. There, he soon meets like-minded young men, filled with God, life, and recklessness. The preacher boy settles into the rhythm of dorm life at a fundamentalist college. Rules, lots of rules, and just as many ways to bend the rules to fit the desires of a youthful heart. The preacher boy would live in the dorm for two years, and in that time he would repeatedly run afoul of the rules. Told he is brash and rebellious, a fitting description, those who know him would say, the preacher boy does his best to outwardly conform to the letter of the law.
The blue shirt the preacher boy wore when he arrived at the college was given to him by a girl who hoped he would remember her while he was away. Not long after, the shirt disappeared, as did any thought of its giver. If there is one thing that the preacher boy loves almost as much as God, it is girls. And here he is, enrolled at a college that will provide him ample opportunity to ply his charm. Little does he know that fate has a different plan.
The week before the official start of classes, a young, beautiful 17-year-old girl from Newark, Ohio moves into the dorm. The preacher boy mentions the girl to his roommate. Stay away from her, the roommate replies. Her father is Pastor Lee Shope. Unfazed by the stern warning, the preacher boy decides to introduce himself to the dark-haired beauty. He quickly learns she is quite shy. Not one to be at a loss for words, the preacher boy takes the girl’s backwardness as a challenge, one that he successfully conquers over the course of a few weeks.
Soon, all thoughts of the field fade into the beauty of the pastor’s daughter. The preacher boy quickly finds himself smitten. Come spring, he proposes and she, despite her mother’s disapproval, says yes. Having known each other for two months short of two years, the preacher boy, now 21, and the pastor’s daughter stand before friends, family and strangers and promise to love one another until death severs their bond.
Thirty-seven years have passed since the preacher boy and the pastor’s daughter pledged their troth. Under the proverbial bridge has flowed a shared life, one that has blessed them with a quiverfull of children and grandchildren. The grand plans of an idyllic pastorate, two children (a boy named Jason, a girl named Bethany), and a parsonage with a white picket fence, perish in the rubble of the hard work necessary to parent six children and pastor churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Twenty-five years of working in God’s vineyard have left the preacher boy and the pastor’s daughter with deep, lasting scars. They have learned what it means to do without and suffer loss. Yet, they have endured.
Stoicism now defines them. As life has poured out its cruelties and left them wondering why, the preacher boy and the pastor’s daughter continue to hold one another tight, refusing to let adversity win. When their love for God wavered and then died a death of a thousand contradictions, the preacher boy and pastor’s daughter, now aged friends and lovers, joined their hands once more and walked into the dark unknown.
The full moon sits high above his home on this cold winter’s night. The clock on the nightstand clicks as each second passes by, a reminder that life is fleeting. The preacher boy, now a 58-year-old atheist, turns his thoughts to the beautiful, dark-haired girl he met so many years ago. Who would ever have thought we would be where we are today?, he says to himself. Yet…here we are, survivors, taking each and every day as it comes, without a prayer or a God to smooth the way. He wonders what tomorrow will bring, safe in the knowledge that whatever might come their way cannot defeat the enduring love of the preacher boy and the pastor’s daughter.
It has been said that there is a “God-sized hole” in every person. In other words, the human heart was designed to want and need God. It’s a kind of fingerprint that God leaves on the souls of those created in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). Here’s the rub, not every person acknowledges or believes that God exists. How then do we explain this?
In John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, he makes a case for “the knowledge of God implanted in the human mind”.1 Because it is often argued that religion is a man-made invention to subjugate the masses, Calvin points to indigenous tribes of people who are fully convinced of the existence of God. Furthermore, almost uniformly, these tribes worship blocks of wood and stones as gods rather than believe in the absence of deity. They are naturally prone to worship.
Calvin then addresses the atheist.
He writes, “The most audacious despiser of God is most easily disturbed, trembling at the sound of a falling leaf.” He’s referring to the abject fear within a person when one comes to the end of himself. We’ve all heard the recently deemed politically incorrect phrase “there are no atheists in foxholes.” This is what Calvin is talking about. Intellectually, one can deny God all day long, but placed into a situation which appeals to a person’s instincts, that “God-sized hole” becomes a gaping, aching chasm. In conclusion, Calvin writes, “If all are born and live for the express purpose of learning to know God, and if the knowledge of God, insofar as it fails to produce this effect, fleeting and vain, it is clear that all those who do not direct the whole thoughts and actions of their lives to this end fail to fulfill the law of their being.”
Did you catch that? Because we’re hard-wired to acknowledge God; if we don’t seek Him, then we violate our own nature!
According to Pickowicz, everyone is hardwired to know God exists. His proof for this claim? The Bible. He presents no empirical proof. Pickowicz, quoting the God of Calvinism, John Calvin, points to the fact that even indigenous tribes acknowledge the existence of a God. Fine, let’s run with this argument for a minute. Let’s say everyone is hardwired to acknowledge God. Why is it then that this knowledge of God is so varied? If it is the Christian God who puts it in the heart of everyone to acknowledge him why is it that so many people acknowledge the wrong God? I would think that the Christian God would make sure that everyone knew that he alone is God, yet day after day billions of people worship other Gods. Why is this?
Pickowicz needs to get his nose out of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and do some serious thinking about WHY people are religious and WHY they choose the God they do. Last January, I wrote a post titled Why Most Americans are Christian. In this post, I explained why most Americans, when asked if they believe in the Christian God, will answer yes:
Cultural Christianity is all about what people say and not what they do. This is the predominant form of Christianity in America. When asked, do you believe in the Christian God? they will say Yes. It matters not how they live or even if they understand Christian doctrine. They believe and that’s all that matters.
It is this Christian world into which every American child is born. While my wife and I can point to the various conversion experiences we had, we still would have been Christians even without the conversion experiences. Our culture was Christian, our families were Christian, everyone around us was Christian. How could we have been anything BUT Christian?
Practicing Christians have a hard time accepting this. They KNOW the place and time Jesus saved them. They KNOW when they were baptized, confirmed, dedicated, saved, or whatever term their sect uses to connote belief in the Christian God.
Why are most people in Muslim countries Muslim? Why are most people in Buddhist countries Buddhist? Simple. People generally embrace the dominant religion and practice of their culture, and so it is in America.
It is culture, and not a conversion experience, that determines a person’s religious affiliation. The conversion experiences are the eggs the Christian chicken lays. Evangelicals, in particular, have built their entire house on the foundation of each person having a conversion experience. However, looking at this from a sociological perspective, it can be seen that a culture’s dominant religion affects which religion a person embraces more than any other factor.
Only by looking at religion from a sociological perspective can we understand and explain why people believe in a particular God. People such as Pickowicz deny the value of such explanations, preferring to let their Bible do the talking. It is impossible to have a reasonable conversation with people who think such as this. For them, God has spoken, and any knowledge, be it sociological or neurological, that doesn’t affirm the Biblical narrative is rejected out of hand.
Only by looking at religion from a sociological perspective can we understand and explain why people believe in a particular God. People such as Pickowicz deny the value of such explanations, preferring to let their Bible do the talking. It is impossible to have a reasonable conversation with people who think in this manner. For them, God has spoken, and any knowledge, be it sociological or neurological, that doesn’t affirm the Biblical narrative, is rejected out of hand.
Pickowicz, like Calvin, thinks that when put in circumstances where death is a distinct and imminent possibility, atheists will abandon their godlessness and cry out to God. And evidence for this? There is none. I am sure there are stories of atheists crying out for God when dying, just as there are stories of Christians cursing God when facing death. Again, there are numerous reasons for why these things happen, but Pickowicz rejects them all, assured that all atheists KNOW there is a God and when they die they will cry out to the Christian God. (I would love to hear Pickowicz’s explanation for the fact that most people, when they die, will call out for some other God besides the Christian one.)
Christopher Hitchens, arguably one of the most notable atheists of our generation, died December 15, 2011. Detailing Hitchens’ final days, Ian McEwan of the New York Times wrote:
The place where Christopher Hitchens spent his last few weeks was hardly bookish, but he made it his own. Close to downtown Houston is the Medical Center, a cluster of high-rises like La Défense of Paris, or London’s City, a financial district of a sort, where the common currency is illness…..
….. While I was with him another celebration took place in far away London, with Stephen Fry as host in the Festival Hall to reflect on the life and times of Christopher Hitchens. We helped him out of bed and into a chair and set my laptop in front of him. Alexander delved into the Internet with special passwords to get us linked to the event. He also plugged in his own portable stereo speakers. We had the sound connection well before the vision and what we heard was astounding, and for Christopher, uplifting. It was the noise of 2,000 voices small-talking before the event. Then we had a view from the stage of the audience, packed into their rows.
They all looked so young. I would have guessed that nearly all of them would have opposed Christopher strongly over Iraq. But here they were, and in cinemas all over the country, turning out for him. Christopher grinned and raised a thin arm in salute. Close family and friends may be in the room with you, but dying is lonely, the confinement is total. He could see for himself that the life outside this small room had not forgotten him. For a moment, pace Larkin, it was by way of the Internet that the world stretched a hand toward him.
The next morning, at Christopher’s request, Alexander and I set up a desk for him under a window. We helped him and his pole with its feed-lines across the room, arranged pillows on his chair, adjusted the height of his laptop. Talking and dozing were all very well, but Christopher had only a few days to produce 3,000 words on Ian Ker’s biography of Chesterton.
Whenever people talk of Christopher’s journalism, I will always think of this moment.
Consider the mix. Constant pain, weak as a kitten, morphine dragging him down, then the tangle of Reformation theology and politics, Chesterton’s romantic, imagined England suffused with the kind of Catholicism that mediated his brush with fascism and his taste for paradox, which Christopher wanted to debunk. At intervals, Christopher’s head would droop, his eyes close, then with superhuman effort he would drag himself awake to type another line. His long memory served him well, for he didn’t have the usual books on hand for this kind of thing. When it’s available, read the review. His unworldly fluency never deserted him, his commitment was passionate, and he never deserted his trade. He was the consummate writer, the brilliant friend. In Walter Pater’s famous phrase, he burned “with this hard gem-like flame.” Right to the end.
So much for atheists leaving this world screaming for God. Hitchens entered the foxhole of mortality, knowing that thoughts of God were for those unable to face the brutality of death. Hitchens died as he lived, a man who held true to his godlessness until the end. (If you have not read Hitchens’ final book Mortality, I encourage you to do so.)
I know there is nothing I can write that will change Pickowicz’s God-addled mind. But perhaps time will. Pickowicz is a young guy who has not experienced much of life. I can only hope that he will get to know a few flesh-and-blood atheists before he dies. I hope he will have the opportunity to observe not only how atheists live but how they die. I am confident that the young preacher will find that dying atheists hold true to their convictions until the end. Unlike countless Christians when faced with death who have to be reassured of their salvation, atheists will need no such reassurance. Atheists knows that death is the end. All that remains are the memories their friends and families have of a well-lived life. And that, my friend, is enough.
One of the reasons given by atheists/agnostics for leaving Christianity is the belief that the Christian God doesn’t give a shit about those who devote their lives to following Jesus Christ. No matter how much time is expended in worship and service, God never says, thanks, good job, or I have your back. Why should he? According to Evangelical theology, Jesus, the sinless son of God, came to earth to atone for humankind’s sin. He suffered horrific brutality at the hands of the Romans. He was then, like a common thief, nailed to the cross. According to the Bible, Jesus was beaten to such a degree that it was hard to tell that he was a man. After hours of suffering, Jesus died. All of this was on behalf of sinners (or the elect, if you are a Calvinist). Knowing all that Jesus suffered, Christians should be satisfied with knowing their sins are forgiven and a home in Heaven awaits them when they die. The least the Christian can do is, in slave-like manner, devote themselves, without bitching and complaining, to the Kingdom of God on Earth. In other words, shut up, stop complaining, and be thankful for what Jesus has given you. Just remember, God owes you nothing.
Recently, Dieudonne Tamfu wrote a post titled Suffering is Our Story for The Desiring God website. In the opening paragraphs, Tamfu writes:
Suffering tends to produce loneliness. We feel lonely, isolated, sealed off, and detached from others. It is common for us to believe that no one understands our pain.
We can be deceived into thinking that God is distant and uncaring. While I do not wish to invalidate these emotions, I do want to extinguish the lie that the sufferer is ever alone. We are never alone in suffering because in it we join other saints in the pattern of righteous suffering that has been going on from the inception of salvation history.
Are you or other believers around you facing rejection for your faith? Do you feel lonely in your suffering? Does it seem that God is distant and has detached himself from your pain? Do you feel disappointment, bewilderment, or dismay? Are you sitting in darkness, searching for answers and grasping for hope?
Tamfu readily admits that there are times when God seems distant. There are those times when God seems uncaring, content to leave the Christian sitting alone in the dark, weeping. The good news, according to Tamfu, is that there are other Christians facing similar circumstances. Yea! You aren’t the only follower of Jesus who is writhing in pain as cancer robs you of your life! Are you suffering? Are you alone? Do you feel abandoned? Do you feel like an orphan without a coat, left in a back alley to die on a cold winter’s night? Good news! There are millions of Christians going through similar circumstances. God has abandoned them just as he has abandoned you.
When Christians go through dark trials and adversity, those who are not currently being ignored by God are called on to cheer up those who find themselves under the boot heel of God. They are encouraged to take matters to the Lord in prayer. Seek and trust the Lord, Evangelical preachers tell the downtrodden. What is that God is trying to accomplish in your life? Remember, no matter what happens, God means it for your good. He promises to never, ever leave or forsake us.
Those under physical, emotional, or economic assault are urged to submit to the “loving” hand of God. Perhaps God is teaching you a lesson, Evangelical preachers tell the afflicted. Or maybe he is testing you or punishing you for disobedience. Regardless, God only wants what is best for Christians. His goal is to make them more like Jesus and to prepare them for the peace and bliss that awaits on the other side of the grace. If God made life easy for Christians, preachers say, we would never appreciate Heaven and all that Jesus did for us on the cross.
Yet, despite all the flowery platitudes and blame-shifting, some Christians come to the conclusion that the reason God seems so distant is because he doesn’t exist. When help came in times of suffering, it was always their fellow humans who helped them. When prayers went unanswered, phone calls were always picked up. When bank accounts were empty and the cupboards were bare, it was family and friends who lent a helping hand. As these former Christians survey their lives, they conclude that wherever God might be, he is not on earth. At best, he is a deadbeat father who cares not for those who love and adore him. At worst, he is a cruel hoax, little more than a promise that is never fulfilled.
The reasons I left the Christian faith are many, but one of them is that I came to the conclusion that God is not intimately involved in the lives of those who devotedly serve and worship him, despite his promises. Over the course of 50 years in the Christian church, I had many so-called God experiences. After I deconverted, I went back through my life and gave a reckoning of the times I thought God was blessing me, answering my prayer, or meeting my needs. A careful accounting of these events led me to conclude that the only God (s) in my life had a flesh and blood body. Human instrumentation, and not the mighty wonder-working power of God, was the reason my prayers were answered and my needs were met.
While there were certainly a handful of unexplained — dare I say miraculous — events, these moments in time were not enough to lead me to the conclusion that God is who and what Christians claim he is. While coming to this judgment is certainly not sufficient evidence to deny the existence of God, it is enough for me to conclude that the notion of a loving, caring, hands-on God who is intimately and minutely involved in the lives of those who worship Jesus is a myth.
I am unwilling to swear allegiance to a God who cares no more for me than does my cat. My cat demands constant attention, no matter what may be going on in my life. Yet, if I found myself crying out for help, I know for certain that my cat would waddle up to my leg, rub up against it, and with a voice I have heard countless times before, would say, feed me. This is how I view the Christian God.
Recently, Bodie Hodge, a writer for Answers in Genesis, decided to take a crab-fork stab at the question, Other Religious Writings: Can They Be from God, Too? According to Hodge, the son-in-law of Ken Ham, only the sixty-six books of Protestant Bible are from God. Hodge writes:
Other alleged divine writings are not from God because they are not part of the Bible.
The answer seems too simple: other alleged divine writings are not from God because they are not among the 66 books of the Bible and, in fact, they contradict the Bible.
This is a “presuppositional” approach, which means to presuppose that God exists and that His Word, the Bible, is the truth. This is the starting point or axiom.
God never tried to prove His existence or prove that His Word is superior to other writings. God simply opens the Bible with a statement of His existence and says His Word is flawless (Genesis 1:1; Proverbs 30:5). The Bible bluntly claims to be the truth (Psalm 119:160), and Christ repeated this claim (John 17:17).
In fact, if God had tried to prove that He existed or that His Word was flawless, then any evidence or proof would be greater than God and His Word. But God knows that nothing is greater than His Word, and therefore He doesn’t stoop to our carnal desires for such proofs.
There ya have it, boys and girls. Only the 66 books of the Protestant Bible are from God. Why? Because the Bible says so. So there, take that you liberals! Hodge and his daddy-in-law Ham are presuppositionalists. They presuppose that the Christian God is the one true God and that the 66 books of Bible are this God’s words. No evidence is necessary. These truths are correct because Hodge and Ham, and by extension God, say they are.
According to Hodge, God will not contradict himself. Yes, sir he says that sober and with straight face. Here’s the quote:
In the Bible, we read that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). This is significant because it means that God’s Word will never have contradictions. Though skeptics have alleged that there are contradictions in the Bible, every such claim has been refuted. This is what we would expect if God’s Word were perfect.
Yet the world is filled with other “religious writings” that claim divine origin or that have been treated as equal to or higher than the Bible on matters of truth or guidelines for living. In other words, these writings are treated as a final authority over the Bible.
Any religious writing that claims divine inspiration or authority equal to the Bible can’t be from God if it has any contradictions: contradictions with the Bible, contradictions within itself, or contradictions with reality.
And around and around we go. These other religious writings cannot be from God because he only wrote one book, the Bible. And unlike Harper Lee of To Kill a Mockingbird fame, God is not planning to write a sequel.
At the end of article, Hodge proves “conclusively” that other religious writings such as the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon are not from God. How does he do this you ask? Why he compares these writings to the Protestant Bible and shows that they have different teachings and words. This is a ploy commonly used by people who think the King James Bible is God’s perfect Word for English-speaking people. Here’s how this works. Take Isaiah 7:14, a verse Evangelicals believe prophesies the virgin birth of Jesus. The King James version renders the verse this way:
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
However, the New Revised Standard Version renders the verse this way:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
Oh Lord, the NRSV takes away the virgin birth, says the King James onlyist. This is PROOF that the NSRV is not from God.
Let me give one more example of this kind of thinking. Take Mark 16:9-20. You know the passage that says in verses 16-18:
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
Some newer translations omit this passage or footnote it saying that verses 9-20 are not found in the oldest manuscripts. King James onlyists see this omission as proof that modern versions are removing God’s Words. If God didn’t want these verses in the Bible he would never have written them to start with. But he did, end of story.
What’s interesting here is that while King James onlyists believe Mark 16:9-20 is the very word of God, they pretty much ignore or explain away what the verses teach. Most King James onlyists are Baptists who believe that salvation is by grace. Baptism has no salvific effect. It is nothing more than a ceremonial act. Yet, this passage clearly says, He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. Now who is the one taking away from the Word of God? The same goes for the verses that say that the followers of Jesus will cast out devils, speak with new tongues, take up serpents, drink poison without adverse effect, and heal the sick. I don’t know of one King James onlyist church that takes these verses seriously and attempts to put them into practice. Hey Maude, pass the strychnine. It’s my turn to drink poison.
In a similar manner, Hodge thinks if he compares the teachings of Bible with the teachings of the Qur’an he will show that the Protestant Bible is from God and the Qur’an is not. I suspect readers are by now doing a face palm. It’s like a man comparing a Ford owner’s manual with a Chevrolet owner’s manual. Yep, only the Ford is an automobile. Why? The owner’s manuals are different. Of course they are different. One’s for a Ford and the other is for a Chevrolet. Both are automobiles.
So it is with religious texts. Difference is not proof of a text’s truthfulness. Perhaps the Book of Mormon is from God and not the Protestant Bible. It is impossible to know one way or the other just by playing the world-famous Hodge Religious Text Comparison Game®. And Hodge knows this. He concludes his survey of the astounding wonders of the closed Evangelical mind with this statement:
So there are two options: place our faith in the perfect, all-knowing God who has always been there, or trust in imperfect, fallible mankind and his philosophies. The Bible, God’s Holy Word, is superior to all other alleged holy books. God will never be wrong or contradict Himself. So start with the Bible and build your faith on its teachings so that you please Him.
Finally, Hodge gives the answer to every question about the Bible and its teachings: faith. Why not start with this answer? All Hodge had to say is that by faith he believes the Protestant Bible is from God. Faith cuts off any rational inquiry. Faith keeps Evangelicals from investigating Hodge’s false claim that there are no contradictions in the Bible. Hodge doesn’t want Answers in Genesis supporters to think for themselves. Just have faith, he says. How else can someone believe the universe is 6,020 years old? Such a belief, along with a plethora of other literalistic beliefs, require great faith. This is a faith that becomes blinders for the mind, keeping people from daring to rationally investigate the claims made by men such as Bodie Hodge.
Never will there be found in their possession one of Bart Ehrman’s books. Reading such books and comparing them to what the keepers of Evangelical Biblical Truth® say will certainly lead to questions and doubt. And we can’t have that. Doubt is a lack of trust in God. Doubt is sign that Satan is gaining a stronghold. We must not have questions and doubt, Evangelical preachers say. Just have faith and your doubts will go away. And if they don’t? Dammit, stop asking questions and believe what I tell you to believe!!
If you are interested in reading what Hodge thinks about atheists, please read Dear Atheists, from Bodie Hodge. Please grab a barf bag and have it nearby when you start to read. Trust me, you will need it.
Recently, Mark and Jill Herringshaw wrote a post for Beliefnet titled, A Prayer Against Creeping Atheism. In the post, the Herringshaws express concern over what they see as “allocating certain areas of our lives (our sexuality in particular) to an atheistic philosophy that says, God’s not really involved in this area of my life. I’ll do it because it feels right.”
According to the Herringshaws, Psalm 10:4, 6, 11, 12b aptly describes the philosophy of atheists, pantheists, and Deists:
The wicked are too proud to seek God.They seem to think that God is dead. They think, “Nothing bad will ever happen to us! We will be free of trouble forever!”The wicked think, “God isn’t watching us! He has closed his eyes and won’t even see what we do!”They think, “God will never call us to account.”
Like most Evangelicals, the Herringshaws have no clue as to what atheists actually think about life. Is atheism, in the strictest sense, a philosophy? Of course not. Atheism is nothing more than the lack of belief in gods. Atheists don’t think the Christian God is dead. This God was never alive to start with. To find people who think God is dead, I suggest that the Herringshaws take a careful look at Evangelicalism. From my seat in the pew, it looks to me as though there are millions of Evangelicals who believe God is dead. Look at the way many Evangelicals live their lives, indifferent to the teachings of the Bible and the lost condition of the world. Most Evangelicals rarely study the Bible. Most Evangelicals never share their faith with non-Christians. Apart from where their buttocks rest on Sunday morning, Evangelicals are, in every way, just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.
Why are Evangelicals so worldly? Perhaps, they are the ones who think God is uninvolved in their lives. These world-loving Evangelicals are playing a religious version of Where is Waldo? Where is God? many Christians wonder. Their pastors and fellow church members bravely speak of a God who is intimately involved in their lives, but careful examination of their life histories tells a different story. Outside of helping Sister Bertha locate her car keys, God is nowhere to be found.
According to the Herringshaws, atheists have no standard of morality and believe that no behavior is bad. Again, it is evident that the Herringshaws don’t know much about how atheists live their day-to-day lives. Atheists, likes Evangelicals, have jobs, families, pets, cars, and homes. Our lives are quite similar to those of Evangelicals. Do the Herringshaws really think that atheists spend their days seeking out hedonistic pleasures, unaccountable to anyone but themselves? While I am sure there are atheists who live this way, most don’t.
Most of the atheists I know govern their lives based on humanistic morals and ethics. I wonder if the Herringshaws have ever read the Humanist Manifesto? If they have, they certainly wouldn’t have ignorantly suggested that atheists have no standard of morality. The Humanist Manifesto III states:
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.
This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:
Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.
Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.
Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.
Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.
Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.
Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.
Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.
Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.
This modern statement of morality and ethics is in every way superior to the ancient, outdated teachings of the Bible. This document, unlike the Bible, has been revised several times, and therein lies the real problem for the Herringshaws. They are stuck with a book that cannot be updated or revised. They are forced to defend the morals and ethics of a 2,000 year old religious text.
What is the one issue that most upsets the Herringshaws? Human sexuality (see quote in first paragraph).
Many Christians are engaging in forms of pre-marital sex (with or without the literal act), conveniently assuming that the standard of righteous sexual behavior prior to marriage is ambiguous in Scripture. Ironically, they have a legalistic perspective on what the sex act is. (Depending on what the definition of “is” is?!) Well, Paul certainly hinted at it in Ephesians 5:3. Can you take a hint?
When one hints about something, there is an underlying, implied message. The New Testament isn’t dogmatic; it doesn’t necessarily list emphatic do’s and don’t’s per se. It simply instructs us to keep our consciences clear. So what does constitute sexual immorality in unmarried couples? Answer: Whatever hints at sexual immortality. This would certainly include a lot of behaviors, particularly anything considered foreplay.
The reason for this is not to undermine our sexual fulfillment! Perish the thought! Great covenantal sex is one way in which Heaven is manifested on earth. It’s a tool to give great glory to God! It’s a weapon of spiritual warfare in our marriages, for it solidifies our marital unity.
In a post titled 50 Shades of Great, The Herringshaws remind Evangelicals that their sexuality belongs to the king of voyeurs, God:
Sex is God’s idea, and everything He created is good. We recognize the Bible as the authoritative manual for life, including sex. In this Manual, which is the Source of our existence, we find that there are boundaries around sex. These boundaries, like a safety rail, ensure that sex will be all God has designed it to be – abundant and joyful …. Believers don’t take sex advice from best sellers nor from the media in general. We take our cues from our God who created sex in the first place (a trusting yet risky gift, as He knew how prone we would be to muck it up). And when we live by the Book, life is better, and sex is best.
It’s always been about sex. Evangelicals such as the Herringshaws are, like their God, voyeurs preoccupied with who is doing who, when, where, and how. What alarms the Herringshaws is the increasing number of Evangelicals who dare to keep God out of their sex lives. These whoopie-making Christians are increasingly ignoring the Puritanical morality they hear preached Sunday after Sunday from Evangelical pulpits. My God, these Evangelicals are having sex with whomever they please and they are having fun doing it. Can’t have that, right?
Again, is atheism to blame for the “immorality” that is spreading to every corner of the Evangelical church? Of course not. The blame rests on church leaders like the Herringshaws, who refuse to abandon the Bible’s antiquated, nonsensical teachings on sex. Times have changed. Evangelicals increasingly support same-sex marriage and fewer of them are waiting until marriage to have sex. Despite purity pledges and rings, Evangelical teenagers continue to engage in premarital sex. Like their atheist counterparts, Evangelicals increasingly know that sexual desire and intimacy are very much a part of what it means to be human. The Herringshaws need to understand that their battle against normal, healthy human sexual expression has been lost.
Recently, Petrus Klopper, a writer for the Isaiah 53:5 Project and Solid Rock Apologetics, attempted to answer the question, How Could God Command Abraham to Kill His Son? I say “attempted,” because Klopper miserably failed at his task, just as every other Christian apologist has failed when attempting to do the same. According to Klopper, God had every right to ask Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Notice that I used the word “sacrifice,” not “kill,” as Klopper did in his title. God, in no uncertain terms, asked Abraham to put his only son Isaac on an altar and sacrifice him. Someone is sure to ask, “don’t the words sacrifice and kill mean the same thing?” Yes and no, and I will demonstrate in a moment Klopper’s sleight of hand by using the word sacrifice.
For those not schooled in the mystical stories of the Christian Bible, here’s the text, Genesis 22:1-13, that tells the story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac:
And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.
According to seventeenth century Baptist theologian John Gill, God commanded Abraham to:
… offer him (Isaac) there for a burnt offering; this was dreadful work he was called to, and must be exceeding trying to him as a man, and much more as a parent, and a professor of the true religion, to commit such an action; for by this order he was to cut the throat of his son, then to rip him up, and cut up his quarters, and then to lay every piece in order upon the wood, and then burn all to ashes; and this he was to do as a religious action, with deliberation, seriousness, and devotion… (John Gill Commentary, E-Sword)
According to eighteenth century Anglican John Wesley, God wanted Abraham to not only kill his son, but also offer him as a burnt sacrifice. Wesley wrote:
…offer him (Isaac) for a burnt offering – He must not only kill his son, but kill him as a sacrifice, with all that sedateness and composedness of mind, with which he used to offer his burnt – offering. (John Wesley Commentary, E-Sword)
Eighteenth century theologian Matthew Henry, chiming in agreement with Gill and Wesley wrote:
…offer him (Isaac) for a burnt-offering. He must not only kill his son, but kill him as a sacrifice, kill him devoutly, kill him by rule, kill him with all that pomp and ceremony, with all that sedateness and composure of mind, with which he used to offer his burnt-offerings. (Matthew Henry Commentary, E-Sword)
Nineteenth century Presbyterian theologian Albert Barnes called Abraham’s potential sacrifice of Isaac a “human sacrifice.” Recognizing the moral issue raised by human sacrifice, Barnes writes:
The only solution of this, is what the ease itself actually presents; namely, the divine command. It is evident that the absolute Creator has by right entire control over his creatures. He is no doubt bound by his eternal rectitude to do no wrong to his moral creatures. But the creature in the present case has forfeited the life that was given, by sin. And, moreover, we cannot deny that the Almighty may, for a fit moral purpose, direct the sacrifice of a holy being, who should eventually receive a due recompense for such a degree of voluntary obedience. (Albert Barnes Commentary, E-Sword)
Based on the aforementioned references, we can conclude that God, as a test, commanded Abraham to take his only son Isaac to Mount Moriah, and kill him so he could be offered as a human burnt sacrifice to God.
Klopper makes clear in his post that there are three things God is NOT doing in this story:
God was not tempting Abraham
God was not instituting or condoning child sacrifice
God was not telling Abraham to do wrong
Christian apologists like Klopper will go to great lengths to justify God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. Klopper used the word kill in the post title because he doesn’t want readers to confuse what God is asking Abraham to do with human sacrifice. However, it is clear from the text that a human sacrifice of Isaac is EXACTLY what God is asking Abraham to do.
Is Isaac human? Yes. Does Abraham build an altar to be used for sacrifices? Yes? Did Abraham place Isaac on the altar, preparing to offering him as a human sacrifice to God? Yes. Does Abraham implicitly obey God’s command to sacrifice his son? Yes. Then, pray tell, how is what God commands Abraham to do NOT child sacrifice? Any fair and honest reading of the text shows that God clearly intended for Abraham to kill (murder) his son as a flesh and blood sacrifice.
Similar stories can be found in other tribal cultures, and Evangelicals are quick to label these stories as murderous and barbaric. Evidently, according to Evangelicals, there is some sort of difference between stories of human/child sacrifices to false Gods, and the God/Abraham/Isaac story. Try as I might, I can’t find the difference.
Klopper, perhaps realizing that his, this is not child sacrifice argument is intellectually vacuous and lame, goes on to say that God is not commanding Abraham to do wrong. Really? In what universe is child/human sacrifice not wrong? Every civilized society in the world condemns child/human sacrifice. Even atheists consider such murderous actions wrong. Yet, somehow, according to Klopper, God asking Abraham to slice, dice, and sauté his son is not, in any way, wrong.
Klopper makes one final argument which, according to his Fundamentalist-infused mind, should silence every critic. It is the one argument, next to faith, that Christians will turn to when no other argument will work: God is God and he has a right to do/command whatever he wants to.Klopper states his argument this way:
God has the right to take human life and could therefore authorize Abraham to do so in a particular case. Note that had Abraham decided of his own accord to sacrifice Isaac, he would have been wrong and his act would have been condemned by God (as were other human-initiated sacrifices).
According to Exodus 20, murder is a sin. Thou shalt not kill, right? But, according to Klopper, if God authorizes (commands) someone to commit a murder (human sacrifice) then it is okay. Hmm, so then, Christians who have, in the past, said that God commanded them to kill their children or spouse, these murderous behaviors are okay, right? I’m sure that Klopper will object to my line of inquiry, but is this not exactly what he is saying? Or is he making a distinction between murderous stories in the Bible and those found on page one of the newspaper? Evidently, if a God-sanctioned murder is recorded by an unknown author in a so-called divine religious text, that makes the slaying moral. However, if a devout twenty-first century Christian — a person we can see and talk to — says and does the same, it is not a God-approved murder. This makes “perfect” sense to me.
Surely we can all agree that a God, ANY God, commanding someone to commit murder is wrong. It matters not whether it is Abraham or Victoria Soliz, a woman who tried to drown her 3-year-old son in a puddle because Jesus told her to do so. While Evangelicals will attempt to make a distinction between God speaking to Abraham and God speaking to someone like Soliz, there is no difference between the two. Both are hearing voices in their heads that are telling them to murder their children. And hearing voices in one’s head commanding immoral, unethical, or dangerous acts is always a sure sign of mental distress or illness. Despite knowing this, Klopper is determined to present Abraham as a great man of faith who was willing to do whatever God commanded him to do.
It is too bad that Klopper is boxed in by his belief that the Bible is an inspired, inerrant text. Such a belief requires Klopper to accept the Abraham/Isaac/human-sacrifice story as factual history. While Klopper does make numerous spiritual applications from the Genesis 22 text in his post, he is hamstrung by the requirement to accept the text as history. Jews, on the other hand, treat this text as an allegory or a metaphor. They understand, along with everyone else except Evangelicals, that no one in his or her right mind should accept Abraham sacrificing Isaac as literal truth.
And here’s the thing, IF Abraham had actually murdered Isaac, twenty-first century Evangelical preachers would be preaching sermons about Abraham’s great faith and his willingness to explicitly obey God, even if it meant murdering his own son. Praise Jesus!! (And how is this any different from the Muslim who believes God is commanding him to kill in Allah’s name?)
Any God who demands his followers to murder as a test of obedience is not a deity worthy of our worship.
What follows is a letter I submitted today to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News. It should be published in a few days. I encourage readers to read a letter to the editor I wrote in 1999 about the same the subject. You will quickly see that my viewpoint has changed a wee bit over the past 17 years.
If I didn’t know any better, based on recent letters to the editor and church advertisements touting young-earth creationism, I would think that we are living in the 1920s — the era of the great creationist versus evolution debate.
We are almost 100 years removed from the Scopes monkey trial, yet Christian fundamentalists are still trying to hoodwink unwitting people into believing creationism is a scientific theory. Not only do they want the scientifically ignorant to believe that creationism is a scientific theory, Fundamentalists also want them to believe that it is the only explanation for the biological world.
Readers of the Crescent-News need to understand exactly what Christian fundamentalists are saying. According to them, the universe was created by the Christian God 6,020 years ago, in six 24-hour days. They also want you to believe that 2,000 years later God, in a genocidal rampage, killed every living thing with a flood, save Noah, his family, and two of every animal.
While these stories make for wonderful bedtime readings to children, they have no business being taught, outside of a comparative religion class, in the public school classroom. Creationism, along with its gussied-up sister intelligent design, is religious dogma, not biological science. I am of the opinion that any public school teacher found to be teaching creationism should immediately be removed from the classroom. We owe it to our children to make sure that they are taught sound scientific principles. God did it, is not such a principle.
I am sure my letter will bring howls and gnashing teeth from local Christian fundamentalists. They will, as they always do, cut and paste supposed rebuttals of evolution from bastions of ignorance like Answers in Genesis or The Institute of Creation Research. What they will fail to produce is peer-reviewed studies supporting their creationist claims. If creationists want to overthrow evolution, then I suggest they start publishing papers in non-Evangelical science journals. When the weight of the arguments become so overwhelming that they cannot be ignored, I have no doubt that scientists will declare creationism the winner.
This will never happen, of course, because creationism is theological in nature, not sound biological science. If people want to believe that a mythical God created the universe 6,020 years ago, fine. Ignorance is a permitted vice in a free society. But we should insist that public school children be taught science, and not long-discredited religious myths.