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Is God in Control?

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A Guest Post by Merle Hertzler who blogs at The Mind Set Free

On September 11, 2001, millions of people watched in horror as the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Why did God allow it to happen? Many were praying for God to protect their loved ones. And yet they watched the dreadful destruction occur. Why did this happen? Did God not love those people in the towers and in the planes? Did God not have the power to stop it? Christians would certainly say he had the power to prevent it. But he did not.

What about the thousands that died that day? You might suggest that God had some mysterious purpose in letting them die. Perhaps their time on earth was done.

Imagine the details that God would have had to control to assure that only those people whose time had come were killed. What if the planes had hit several stories higher or lower? What if the flights had been delayed 10 minutes? What if somebody in the towers had gotten stuck in traffic that morning? What if the planes had hit at a different angle? All these things would have altered the death toll. If God had planned for certain people to die that day, then he must have guided all these details. He must have guided the planes to hit the buildings exactly where they did. In other words, God would have had to have been in control of those airplanes, and the terrorists were merely doing what God directed. All of this is of course absurd. Such a God is a micro-manager. Such a God wanted those planes to hit the towers where they did.

And so, I conclude that the reason these people died had nothing to do with God having a purpose in them dying. It just happened. Random forces were at work. God was not in control.

Some would tell me he allowed it to happen to punish people. Did all those that died that day deserve to be punished? How did God control it so only those who deserved to die were killed?

Why does God allow suffering? Why do 3 million children starve every year? Why is there so much disease? Why does God not stop terrorists? These questions have been asked many times.

And it is good to ask such questions. A good God would expect us to ask questions.

Somehow, God is said to have a reason for it all. If a car misses us, that must have been God’s protection. If it hits us, somebody will say God is trying to teach us something. Everything must have a purpose. Otherwise, we are left with a God who refuses to help.

You and I would not respect a policeman who sees a rape about to take place and did nothing. It would be hard to respect someone who could help and refuses to do anything.

Where was God on 9/11? People cannot bear the thought that God might have just stood back and not cared. So, we are told that God must surely have had a purpose.

If God was in control of what happened to the people in those planes on September 11, and if he wanted them to die this way, then this event was not a tragedy. It was God’s will. But we all agree that it was a tragedy. So it, therefore, was not a good God’s will. Things happened that a good God would not have wanted. For whatever reason, God, if he exists, did not take control.

Now if God did not want it to be this way, and could have stopped it, how can you explain his actions? Many people have been blamed for that day. We have heard the pundits criticize the FBI and CIA. We have heard how airport and airline security was lax, and that airplane doors were not designed correctly. What about God? He apparently could have stopped it all, wanted to stop it, and did not stop it.

Likewise, disease has destroyed many lives throughout history. What did God think in the past when he looked down on children in polio wards? Did he look at the pain and suffering of innocent children, and think it was good? Did it have a purpose? No, I think not.

Many people were sure that this suffering was pointless. They thought that nature was acting by itself and causing this suffering. They wanted to stop it. They looked for a natural cause, and they found it. Then they looked for a way to overcome that natural cause, and they developed a vaccine. When the vaccine and other preventions became readily available, the illness was controlled. If God had a purpose for polio, were these people right to try to prevent it? Yes. They were very right. Polio was bad.

Did God cease to have a purpose for polio the moment prevention became readily available? Does God still have a purpose in allowing underprivileged children to suffer who do not have access to medicine? Isn’t it odd that the probability that God will have a purpose in a child being crippled by polio has a direct correlation with whether the child has access to modern medicine and sanitation?

Suppose that firemen arrive at a burning house with a child inside that they could rescue. Is it possible that God wants this child to suffer? If God wants the child to suffer, are they doing the child a disservice by rescuing her? Of course not. The firemen would not think that for a minute. They would do everything they could to rescue the child. They would assume that the suffering was bad.

Tomorrow, almost everyone will be doing something to prevent others from suffering. Nurses will care for the sick. Policemen will protect us. Road workers will fill in potholes. Researchers will look for cures for diseases. Truckers and sailors will bring us lots of cool stuff — all the way from China. We will go about our lives hoping to minimize the suffering of others. We all know suffering is bad. And so, we will try to stop it.

Which brings us to God. Suffering will happen tomorrow. God, if he exists, will not stop it. People will get sick. Accidents will happen. And where will God be? For whatever reason, he will not stop it. But people will know that it hurts. They will know it is bad, and they will try to stop it. Even if you tell us that suffering has a purpose, we will assume it is pointless, and will try to prevent it. But God will not stop it.

Do you think that he sometimes helps? Fine, but why is there all that suffering that he does not stop?

Some would argue that God is there comforting the suffering people. But how does that solve the problem? Would a fireman be excused for ignoring a fire if he later comforts the survivors? It is a good thing to comfort the suffering, but when it is completely within somebody’s power to stop suffering, and he does not do so, his comfort is small consolation to the victims. Has God been demoted from Supreme Ruler to Comforter-in-Chief?

It appears that God was not in control of the circumstances when those planes hit the towers. So why think that he is in control when somebody takes your parking space, a tree falls on your house, or a loved one has cancer? Why try to answer the agonizing question about why God did this? Is God trying to teach you patience? Is he trying to win people to himself? Is he punishing you, or teaching you to rely on him? No, it would seem to me that it just happens. And it seems that our minds can be much more at peace when we realize this.

I don’t think God has a purpose when bad things happen. I do not see a strong wind or a mighty movement of the earth when I need it. Random events cause random suffering. I accept that. God is not in control.

Or maybe God doesn’t even exist.

Some people might say that I should not be looking for God to intervene in might or power, but I should be listening instead for a still, small voice. I discuss that next.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Not A Conservative Anymore

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A Guest Post by Dia Wright

I have always been a sensitive girl, and life hurts. Life hurts me at every twist and turn. Not because of the screaming, people throwing things, overturning chairs, slamming doors—not because of the violence and heartbreak and tragedy I grew up with, even though I saw one small tragedy after another for so many painful growing-up years. No, it’s not because life sucks that I hurt. It’s not even because of the things people tell me about myself. Well, maybe that’s part of it. But what hurts me most of all is realizing that the world I trusted to keep me safe and secure from evil doesn’t even know me, and I have no protectors. Nobody understands. I am truly alone in the universe, just like everyone else is. For me, the hurt of wrecked illusions is a pain that pierces the core of me, the place where thought and feeling and emotion struggle for a voice, and this pain goes deeper and deeper until I want to die. I can only curl up with my head in my knees, feeling slow tears slip through my hair, wishing to God that I wasn’t so sensitive. Sensitive. What does the word even mean? Can I stop being sensitive and grow a backbone and not care about my feelings anymore? How can I stop hurting and letting life stomp all over me? Since when did life have to kick me in the face, anyhow? Who am I?

In my early years, I gave in to every emotion and cried all the time, about nothing, about everything. My rebellious, defiant, tantrum-throwing stub of preschool self was thrown behind locked wooden doors, pounding and shrieking, out of my mind, losing control. Thrown back behind the doors to cry it out alone. Whipped up and down with a belt buckle. Sometimes, I didn’t understand why I went crazy and shrieked and screamed and threw myself on the floor. It just happened and there didn’t seem to be any way to stop. I felt very crazy and ashamed of myself as a tiny girl with huge emotions. There were these three stages to the end of any bad day: the crying, the screaming, and then the punishment.

I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian and taught about Jesus from the start. The older I grew, the more intense the Christian talk became. Teachers and parents begged me to ask Jesus into my heart. They said it would be a gift to my mother on Mother’s Day, a gift to Jesus on Christmas. By the time I was seven, I had heard those childish altar call requests about a thousand times. By the time I was ten, I couldn’t resist the call of Christ anymore, and I was baptized. Really, I had been privately struggling with the huge and scary doctrines for several years, trying to fit them into my big little-girl mind, and nothing seemed to work. I was a sinful girl, but Jesus died to save me—whatever that meant. So I asked Jesus into my heart. I read the tracts and my Adventures in Odyssey Bible and I thought about Hell and the Rapture all the time. I served myself communion when no one was looking. I prayed when my anxious little stomach twisted in knots of fear. Still, I was getting bigger, and my spiritual responsibility loomed before me, as I reached the point of no return—the Age of Accountability. 

“You must believe in Jesus,” the people told me, their faces so serious and stern that I was scared. My parents. My brother. My Sunday School teachers and AWANA leaders, when they were done with the fun and games part of church. They wanted me to get spiritually serious. But I was a silly girl—they called me Her Silliness. I didn’t understand, and it made me upset. I just wanted to laugh and joke and make my friends happy, so they would laugh and joke as well. I wanted to run and be silly and throw sofa cushions, break candy piñatas, throw parties, run through the sprinkler. Why did I have to be serious at the end of it all? I tried to put my jokes into their serious spiritual discussions, but sometimes, they rebuked me for it, and that just ended in hurt and pain.

Why must I be so serious? They said they didn’t know what was going on in my mysterious little mind.

Being Serious was a strange business. Though I loved to laugh, to be silly and giggle and play pretend, as I grew bigger, being serious held a strange and deep fascination for me. So I started being serious when nobody was around. So serious they’d be shocked. I was very private and alone and serious behind my silly façade, and this side of me, also, I felt I must be protected from adults. They couldn’t know who I was inside.

When I listened to Mom’s Christian songs, this part of me that was mystical and strange and serious bubbled up like a fountain from a pool, and I shivered all over. Deep down, I was just thinking about me and how good it felt to be serious, but the music was my only connection with these high-flying feelings. I loved music—Christian music, radio pop songs, silly music, all music. The music made me feel and feel and feel.

Even then, I was looking for the beauty in song, in story, in film, in laughter, to fill me up like a cup and turn on all the lights in my darkening mind. I was a sensitive girl and clutched at any emotion, all emotion, wanting to feel and feel deeply. Needing to feel.

Now, I know the end of the story. That little sensitive girl who just wanted to stare at the sky from the windows of her mother’s car and listen to music and feel—she was never part of the plan for salvation. She would use anything to fill up her sensitive neediness, so she clutched at religion, though she was years from learning what this religion really meant to her. She was manipulated and pressured into accepting religion at a young age, leading to an excruciating teenage faith crisis that stripped her illusions as raw as exposed wire.

So slow is my tomorrow, gone to sorrow. I will forget who I am and breathe out a prayer of dishes. What do you know? The sun may find me running into a thousand other suns and the moon will crack like a magnifying glass and what do you know, not where the sun has been dancing on her stick the wall above my bedside swims with vacant colors. At night there was a storm and I spilled my water when I was too thirsty. Numbly I prayed for salvation, begged not to die and go to hell tonight. Fearful as a child, creeping around in the darkness. Flashes of light and rain fused to air and I was alone and so alone dreaming of drifting from the tropics to Antarctica on a map as flat as a rock. We have loved the slow snow at the windows and fell into piles of swans and leaves. On the dawn you breathe your storms of eyes into the stillness that always pervades your mind and keep it up and keep it up and keep dancing because you will dance your evergreen death in a million light years the ballet of lines on pages serenade your old selves all you can ever hope to find the syncopation of the rhyme you can’t grasp like old puppet shows. Dancing blues. Dancing like the walls and floors dance. Dancing like the apricots in heaven dance from the leaves of the trees. Me and you. Dance in the greyhound station forever and I pray they never stop and I pray you never stop and kiss me before bedtime every night and sleep on my dog bones and serenade my flowers to unopened grandeur and the sugar flower on the map of time will keep it up till the dawn of all that you’ve not been feeling and get rid of the bugs and write your sorrows into the people friendly people persons on the road to the universe of muddy footprints joy in the living night that swallows the embryonic moon from the highway…

The AWANA club is run by a guy named Mr. Zeto who has a long white beard. He has a big red handkerchief that he mops his nose with, and that’s gross. Every week he calls up two kids to hold the flags—the American flag and the AWANA flag. We have to sing a dumb song about AWANA every week and shout, “Youth on the march!” louder and louder, until he’s properly satisfied. He can’t sing at all. Reminds me of a robot. Mr. Zeto really doesn’t like kids, but he wants them to know Jesus and memorize their Bibles. He says if you ask Jesus into your heart you go to Heaven when you die. Mr. Zeto angrily surveys our toes which aren’t lined up correctly on the masking-tape line. I am usually scrunched almost to the point of invisibility within the smashed-up line of sweaty big kids. He screams at us loud and nasty to put our toes on the line but our toes never quite satisfy him. Yelling yelling yelling.

But my mommy and daddy are always waiting outside the door for me. When Mr. Zeto is done yelling at us, we can go home. I like talking to my mommy and daddy on the car ride home. I feel happy and peaceful now that there is no more noise and no more dodge ball for another week. The world is dark and loose and coming apart with stars. There are streaks of light in the rain around every passing street light and I am small, small, small. Small before the timelessness of history and Noah’s Ark and Adam and Eve and Jesus dying on the cross and all the distant dark obscure things of the past I’ve just learned about. Smaller than anything I could imagine. Like I’m always looking at myself through a telescope. I am far away. And moving farther away. They say I am like a big girl trapped in a little girl’s body.

I want many things. I want there to be another short girl at AWANA who will understand me. I want Mr. Zeto to take a train (peanut brain!) I want to spy on everyone. I want paper dolls and lollipops. I want to understand this thing about there being a little Jesus in my heart I can’t see. I guess if He’s in my heart he’s out of sight pretty much and you can just keep him there like a paper doll in a paper dollhouse and you don’t have to worry about Him falling out. Once you sign the back of the tract he’s there to stay. I like to read the tracts they have in a big box on the wall. They say things like Does God Really Care? and there are pictures of ladies with haunted-looking eyes staring at the stars and forgotten gravestones that have the inscription Forgiven. I feel like that haunted lady but I am a very little girl and they say I am too young to make a faith decision. I feel very still and solemn but there’s a part of me that scrunches shorter and shorter on the line where I am properly hidden and within my own mind.

When I am first to come at AWANA that is best of all. Then I make up plays with myself and act them out in the darkened church sanctuary. Dark, wide, empty, fathomless. So empty empty empty of short people and tall people and Mr. Zeto and the rest of the folks. There’s only God in there but you can’t see him. You aren’t allowed to climb under the stacks of chairs or play the piano or run on the stage. But nobody stops you from running alone.

I am the dark center of a flower of darkness. Everything is the same. It is like before God made the world and there was nothing but water and dark and no sin at all.

Run, twirl, fall down, sing a song, live and die, listen, spin, spin, spin…

There is no freedom like being alone in the sanctuary.

But there were other church basements. There were other long Sunday and Wednesday nights learning how to be a good evangelical girl. Time may come and time may go, but there will always be church basements. Water damage, spiders, corners, kids, adults. And me.

When I was fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen, I was looking across the parking lot of a church called Fox River Lutheran. When I was sixteen, I was on my own there. My parents had stopped going to the church, but I still went to the youth group on Sunday nights. They played songs to the beat of a middle school girl band thumping and clunking and half-singing and giggling their way through bland top 40 worship hits. I still went to the youth group and I couldn’t tell you why. I didn’t like the church at all. But I wanted to go to that youth group and I came clawing for redemption and God time and time again.

There was a ping-pong table and a pool table and that whatever-you-call-it game you play when you’re bored in the church basement at youth group. But the middle school boys were obnoxious and got on my nerves. One of the kids got up when I decided to eat at his table. I must have smelled bad or something. But I kept going.

Looking across the church parking lot, there were cars flying by in the darkness. And the field behind the church was darkness. All was darkness with faint streaks of light and I was cold. And I didn’t want to play games with the other kids. They beat each other with dodge balls and captured the flag and played four-square endlessly till I couldn’t stand it. I just wanted to sit outside their games. I wanted to watch the sun spilling over the clouds like an over-filled pot of spaghetti and write in my journals and make up a story. I always made up my best stories when I was watching other people and ignoring them from the sidelines.

I was alone and afraid and confused. I was doubting. I felt distorted, warped, stricken, conflicted, tearful, isolated. Contagious. Different. Unsaved. Not understanding. Not yet.

All the church seemed to preach about was Donald Trump and conservative values. But I was years from myself. Flung into a deep, solemn, half-redeemed night of adolescence. The smallness and fragility of my sixteen-year-old soul was lost from church basement eyes. I was short and not popular and I was peculiar. I didn’t know what to think. Stars and grass and alone and my parents and me. And me. I came to test who I was. And I don’t know. I lost track. Weeks turn to months and years. And scribbled poems. And church basements.

Somewhere along the line, I realize that I am not a conservative anymore. I can’t even remember how I used to think. How I used to understand.

Churches we were years from understanding. The stretches of road leading to this church and that church. My childhood, on the road to church. On the road to redemption. Christian radio droning away. Voices of my friends. A sanctuary of peace and light. Hope. Hope. Faith. Let me never end. I want to be everlasting. I don’t want to die. Don’t want to go home. Want something of my own. Want my reflection in these windows. Give me this.

Give me this.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Better without God

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A guest post by John

I was having a meal with a friend recently. He is a really nice guy and fun to be around. We’ve known each other for at least 17 years. He grew up as a Southern Baptist, but is now an atheist. I’ve been an agnostic atheist for about 6 years. Prior to my deconversion, I had been a Christian for 36 years, mostly in the evangelical/charismatic world. It turns out that my friend and I went through our deconversion process basically at the same time, but neither of us knew about the other. Both of us are still mostly closeted atheists. My wife doesn’t even know the full extent of my “change in some beliefs.” As with my friend, most of my friends and family are Christians and, like him, I’m not ready to go full-on just yet.

It wasn’t until about a year and a half ago that I noticed some of his posts on social media that made me go, hmmm. There weren’t many and they were subtle, but they made me think that he might be questioning his Christian beliefs as I had. I decided to ask him about it. I knew he was a Christian, but I also knew he was not really hardcore. So even if I was wrong and told him where I was in life, it would probably be fine. Once I brought it up and we both came clean, so to speak, we spent about 4 hours talking about our deconversion experiences. We still talk about them to this day as we proceed down this road.

One thing I noticed about my friend is that he is just as great a human being now as he was as a Christian. In fact, he is probably a better human in many ways. I feel the same about myself. I know I’m a better human being now as an atheist than I was as a Christian. I’ve found this to be a pretty common theme among people who used to believe in a God but are now atheists. I’m less judgmental, I have a lot less fear in my life, I don’t have any hidden agendas to get people to my church or my Jesus, I’m more compassionate and empathetic towards myself and others, and when I give (time, money, etc.) it’s because I want to, not because I feel like I have to. And not because I think I’ll get something in return. Yep, the prosperity gospel (BIG eye roll).

One thing that helped me become a better person is that now I feel free to study other ways of viewing life and the world. I enjoy learning about secular Buddhist and Taoist philosophy. I have picked up many tools from both philosophies that better help me navigate life. My overall mental and emotional state is better now than it ever was when I was a believer.

I can also say that life in general is better. I have more money because I’m not giving 10%-20% of my income to religious organizations. I’m free to focus on my job without thinking I am doing so until I can do full-time ministry. Ugh! It makes me cringe just typing that out! I’m much more chill now and worry less about things that used to worry me. Not praying anymore really helps! People pray because they want things to change or turn out a certain way. It’s an illusion of control. So much wasted energy. And, in my opinion, praying often takes the place of people doing things for themselves and others. Now, if I can change something that I think needs changing in my life, I do it. If I can’t change it, I adapt the best I can — using the tools that I have picked up along the way. Tools that I did not have when I just prayed about most things, hoping God would somehow fix them.

I was listening to a podcast a while back and the hosts were talking about what didn’t happen in their lives after they left religion. Their pets didn’t die, their cars didn’t break down, they didn’t get sick, their marriages didn’t fall apart, they didn’t lose their jobs, and life pretty much went on as normal. Even better than normal. I remember being told in multiple churches that if you decide to leave God, all kinds of bad things will happen to you. I’m not saying life is perfect, but most of those bad things I was told would happen never took place; not any more than they were happening when I was still a Christian. Cars break down, jobs change, pets die, loved ones die, people get bad news from the doctor, and people get divorced. Life happens to everyone, theist and non-theist alike.

Here is an example of what I believe is me being a better human now than I was as a believer. Not to toot my own horn, but simply an example of how I’ve changed since leaving religion. A close relative came to me recently and told me she was gay. I was thrilled for her! I was so happy that she had discovered this about herself. I pretty much knew, based on clues over the last couple of years, and was very humbled and happy that she trusted me with this news. She has been pretty careful about whom she shares this with, and I don’t blame her a bit for that. She did tell another close relative who happens to be a very devout Christian and it did not go well. I’m so glad that I have been away from religion long enough, and have grown as much as I have, that I could celebrate with my loved one instead of judging her for what I once considered to be wrong and “sinful.” I plan on continuing to change and to grow to be the best human I can be during the time I have here on this planet. No God needed.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Racist Christians in a World of Wokeness

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A Guest Post by Dia Wright

People didn’t used to be so brazen about it. The topic used to be one that caused feelings of shame, grief, and embarrassment. Much like sex and cancer and death, the topic of racism used to be one that Christian parents were reluctant to discuss with their kids. They wanted to make sure they said the right thing. Parents were careful to point to Martin Luther King, Jr., as somebody who fought racism with integrity and sought a society where color would not matter. They focused solely on “good” Black activists like King and Rosa Parks, as examples of Christians fighting racism in socially acceptable ways. Staying within a safe, comfortable vision of idealistic America, while nevertheless acknowledging the shame of racism, these parents thought they were doing the best they could. They tried not to think about it too hard.

All this has changed. It’s 2023, and massive changes have swept through America. With right-wing Christian extremism on the rise, more and more Christians are showing their ugliest sides. Well-meaning white believers have abandoned their façade of caring about justice, and now openly display racist rants on social media, listen to racist pastors, etc. Really, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who are well tuned in. It is nothing to be surprised about—nothing that has not been a long time in the making.

Nevertheless, as someone who still considers herself a Christian, it is shocking and disturbing to come across racist Christians online and in the real world. It is shocking when the church you once attended weekly sends out a bus to Washington on January 6th, 2021, when a person who went to this church is rumored to be running a brazenly racist Trump merchandise stand out by the highway, when the pastor claims that slavery was a small part of American history and that George Floyd died of a drug overdose. It is shocking and disturbing when your parents’ friends online are all rabid conservatives who call liberals horrible names, saying that you cannot be a Christian and vote differently from the way they do. I have seen violent threats, profanity, rage, hysteria, and hatred—all coming from people who, in the same breath, promote Bible verses about God’s love and devotional excerpts. There is an ugly stain of racism spreading and spreading among white Christians I know, and it is doing more harm than we can possibly imagine in our smug, self-righteous state of mind.

White, right, salt and light…that’s their life philosophy. They used to not be so obvious about it, as I said. They used to quote King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and share heartwarming stories about Black people uniting with white people. Even if their anti-racism was superficial, it was better than nothing. They used to quote clever clichés such as “It’s not the race, it’s grace. It’s not the skin, it’s sin.” They used to say that there is no Jew or Greek with Christ, so there should be no Black or white, either. They used to plaster over Black people’s anger by saying all lives matter. Not anymore. Now, they’re coming ever closer and closer to saying that Black lives don’t matter.

I came across this obscure, redneck IFB pastor in a cowboy hat, who posted a YouTube video called, “WHITE PRIVELEDGE.” The video’s seemingly ignorant and misspelled title was absolutely done on purpose. The video was nearly twenty minutes long, and the comment section dripped with “amens.”

I regretted watching the video. I wanted to throw up, more like it. He started out calling Black people thugs, then listed the ways in which he apparently had it worse than Black people when he was growing up, because he was raised tough and old-fashioned on a farm and got “whupped” and had to work for every privilege he got. After he was smug for a good ten minutes, he listed off every imaginable negative stereotype about Black people. Among them, he told Black people to stop wearing hoodies, stop listening to rap music (“nobody likes it”), stop “murdering your children at Planned Parenthood,” stop singing loudly and dancing in church, stop rioting and burning buildings, stop “whining,” stop “smirking,” stop being deadbeat fathers, stop getting unearned government benefits…and on and on and on. The only Black people this pastor approved of, in fact, were a select few with conservative views similar to his, who never challenged his white American authority in any way. In addition, he wasn’t too kind about poor white people who rely on welfare (such as my family when I was a kid).  He was proud that his ancestors came from the British Isles and they brought the good old-fashioned Bible with them and they built this nation and they taught him values—unlike those low-born, urban thugs out there.

Don’t tell me that white Christian conservatives aren’t racist today!

Racism hides behind code words. These code words are known as “dog whistles” to some, but they’re mostly just thinly veined propaganda. Here are some code phrases to watch out for: “Western civilization was built on Christian values,” “In the good old days of the 1950s,” “When America was great,” and even “Biblical values” and “family values.” Yes, “family values” is a racist code phrase. Because these people believe that the Black family is dead, and that Black people cannot form successful families, they think that a Bible-believing, white family is the answer to everything. This reasoning mirrors American history, in which slave families were ruthlessly split up to be sold because the slaveholders believed that Black people inherently lacked family instincts. Also, they mourn the fact that these family values began to fade out during the cultural revolutions of the 1960s—the decade in which both of the main cultural revolutions, the Civil Rights Movement and the emergence of rock and roll, were fueled by the Black community. They may try to skirt the fact that they believe upholding Black civil rights has ruined America, but they really believe it, deep down inside.

And there are many more racist code phrases. The best thing to do if you encounter them is to contradict them as outright falsehoods.

As conservative Christians in the 2020s, we have invented a whole new list of sins. These sins are nothing like they were in previous decades. Here are the top sins: social distancing, wearing a mask, getting vaccinated, voting Democratic, and being “woke.” What exactly does it mean to be woke? It is another one of those code words that is thrown around vaguely to mean whatever the speaker wants. Yet it causes extreme emotional reactions because of the strong images it brings to mind. Many Christians who are forever calling other people “snowflakes” for not tolerating their conservatism, at the same time, have a “cancel culture” of no longer associating with anyone they consider “woke.” The Salvation Army may be on the “woke” list one day for seeming to support BLM, and the next day, it may be a popular preacher who shows empathy for BLM protesters. The next day, it may be a longtime friend who disagrees with the generally accepted view of racial reconciliation. Peaceful disagreement doesn’t exist anymore. Now, the question that God will ask everyone on Judgment Day, is, apparently, “Were you woke or were you not woke?” (My fingers are sore from all these air quotes.)

Just today, I saw a Facebook post on a Christian “discernment” page. It showed a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters shrouded in darkness, holding signs that read STOP WHITE OPRESSION. Facing off against the evil protesters was one lone, brave, white Christian, holding a cross high. Written in small letters above the pictures were the words “Viking Christian.” This left little doubt as to what the creator of this post thinks about racial reconciliation and Black people in general. Sure, isn’t that being Christlike, to demonize all Black people and glorify all white people?

Do you want to know what the top deplorable sin is in the eyes of God? Pride. Check out the book of Proverbs. There are also plenty of verses in there about the righteous person standing up against the poor being oppressed. Don’t let people kid you—not even your church. There is no “sin of the year.” Wokeness is not necessarily a sin. White American nationalism is a sin because it can’t be separated from pride.

But it’s impossible to talk very long about this touchy subject. The white Christians I know are very eager to stand up for truth. They are so eager to stand up for truth that they annoy the shit out of me. I wish they’d stop standing up for the truth for three seconds and listen to what I have to say. I’m not asking them to agree with me or change their minds—I just wish they’d understand me in some way. I wish we could get across this impossible woke-versus-anti-woke barrier in some way! Ugh! Instead, they bully and intimidate everyone and anyone who shows the teeniest little smidge of liberalism. Paranoid and seizing upon every conspiracy theory they can find, they cling to morally bankrupt former presidents, tout sketchy agendas in all capital letters, call their opponents stupid; and yes, of course, take out all their pent-up, narrow-minded frustration on Black people along with other minorities.

People didn’t use to be so brazen about it. They didn’t used to be so bitter, either. There is a spirit of harshness, meanness, and bitterness that is ripping relationships to shreds, leaving cold silences for former friends, and screaming on the street corners. People are so bitter and sure of themselves these days, that the only way to stay safe is to make sure you don’t empathize with anyone different from you. Don’t spend too much time with people of different backgrounds. They might change your mind about the deeply-held views you’ve had since childhood. If you see them as people just like yourself, then you will no longer have a basis to be divided. So stay unified—and stay white! We built this country, anyhow, didn’t we?

I guess that’s the reason the Christians I know are so insistent that they’re fighting a culture war. It’s part of human nature to want to stay divided, at war, and on the winning side. Yet they’re pitifully wrong. If they look too closely at the culture war they’re fighting, they’ll see that they’re fighting for all the wrong things. It’s not Christian at all. In fact, it’s a race war, and they either unconsciously or consciously see Black Americans as their opponents.

We are not the light, and they are not the darkness. I am surrounded by racist Christians in a world of wokeness, in which nobody listens to each other or cares about each other. And I’m still trying to find my place in a world that doesn’t understand.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

The Age of Consent

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A Guest Post by Bob who blogs at Some Questions for God.

This post is the result of a short email encounter that I had with a Church of Christ minister after I challenged him to give me a biblical pronouncement against pedophilia – to which – he immediately responded . . .”you seriously defending pedophilia?” – to which – I immediately responded . . .”No, I am seriously asking you to tell me what the bible (God) has to say about pedophilia”  — to which the Church of Christ minister had nothing to say.

My request to him was, ” . . . give me the exact age at which a child is no longer a child – and give it to me from your “Holy Book” where God lays down the law as to the age a child should be in order to be old enough to marry — old enough to have sex.”

Pedophilia is defined as sexual feelings directed toward a child.  I guess we can’t pass laws against what a person “feels,” but once they act on those feelings, those acts should rightly be considered unlawful and immoral violations against a child, as prescribed by the society(s) that we live in. I do not subscribe to the notion that pedophilia is a “sin” (and it looks like a lot of Christian ministers don’t either, based on the number of them who sexually assault children in their own congregations). “Sin” is a religious term used to control the ignorant masses.

We know that the God of the Bible is concerned with the eating of shellfish, the mixing of fabrics, as well as working on the “Sabbath”, but what about a 10-year-old girl – show me in the bible where God is concerned for her?

Since so many Christian enthusiasts claim that the Bible is the source book for moral standards, I just want to know where God lays down the laws as to the age children should be before they are old enough to marry – old enough to have sex?

If anything, it seems that the God of the Bible actually approves of pedophilia:

And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. (Numbers 31:15-18)

Do I need to explain these verses, or can you, dear reader, just let your imagination take over and picture what was going to happen to these poor girls, female children, virgins, in the hands of these Hebrew soldiers, at the command of the Lord’s representative, Moses.

From the Wikipedia page on Age of Consent: In traditional societies, the age of consent for a sexual union was a matter for the family to decide, or a tribal custom. In most cases, this coincided with signs of puberty, menstruation for a woman, and pubic hair for a man.

The first recorded age-of-consent law dates from 1275 in England; as part of its provisions on rape, the Statute of Westminster 1275 made it a misdemeanor to “ravish” a “maiden within age,” whether with or without her consent. The phrase “within age” was later interpreted by jurist Sir Edward Coke (England, 17th century) as meaning the age of marriage, which at the time was twelve years of age.

The American colonies followed the English tradition, and the law was more of a guide. For example, Mary Hathaway (Virginia, 1689) was only nine when she was married to William Williams. Sir Edward Coke “made it clear that the marriage of girls under 12 was normal, and the age at which a girl who was a wife was eligible for a dower from her husband’s estate was 9 even though her husband be only four years old.”

In 17th-century Spain an official legal document of the central council of the Inquisition of Madrid (The Suprema) written in 1614 stated that “adults” were then considered to be “women over twelve and men over fourteen”.

In the 16th century, a small number of Italian and German states determined the minimum age for sexual intercourse for girls, setting it at twelve years. Towards the end of the 18th century, other European countries also began to enact similar laws. The first French Constitution of 1791 established the minimum age at eleven years. Portugal, Spain, Denmark, and the Swiss cantons initially set the minimum age at ten to twelve years.

Age of consent laws were, historically, difficult to follow and enforce: legal norms based on age were not, in general, common until the 19th century, because clear proof of exact age and precise date of birth were often unavailable.

In the USA the age of consent has been all over the place – In 1895 the state of Delaware’s age of consent was 7 years old.

My great-grandmother was married at age 15 in 1891. 

My great, great, great grandmother was married at age 12 in 1841.

Now that I think about it, perhaps it’s a good thing that the bible doesn’t offer any guidance on the age of consent, because if it did, in the US we would likely have 13-year-old girls forced to marry 40-year-old preachers.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Born-Again Atheist, No Turning Back!

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Cartoon by Mark Lynch

Guest Post by Lon Ostrander

People often ask, how did you go from preacher to atheist. What happened? What caused you to change your mind? Many of us are familiar with the chorus: “I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, No turning back, No turning back.” The song seems to suggest that a U-turn was always a possibility that needed to be constantly and intentionally resisted. There are U-turns and then there are U-turns. For me, it wasn’t like an instant realization that I was heading in the wrong direction and executing a sudden handbrake turn in the middle of Main Street. No, it was more like a huge, gradual, barely discernible arc away from the straight gate and narrow way until I found myself traveling a sparsely trafficked wide road marked by rational thought and naturalistic explanations. Though I hardly noticed, the arc was complete, and six years after leaving the pulpit, I had only to execute an easy and liberating merge onto the Atheist Highway.

Decades earlier, my parents permitted our Pentecostal lady co-pastors to take eight-year-old me to a fire-and-brimstone tent meeting where the thundering music and screaming evangelist had me convinced that Jesus was returning that very night and that the end of my world was upon me. The possibility loomed that I would never get home alive and may never again see my parents and siblings. Well, Jesus didn’t return that night. The rapture did not happen, and I was not left behind. Much to my relief, I even survived long enough for the preacher ladies to get me back home with only minor psychological damage. Well, that’s just my opinion. The preacher ladies happily reported that I had decided to follow Jesus. Well, it was more terror than decision. The seed of doubt was planted that very night but would lie dormant for years.

Later in life came opportunities for repeated salvations, reaffirmations, and total immersions.

I had theological questions but more particularly, eschatological questions. Malevolent eschatology had gotten me into this mess, and I hoped that a better understanding of scriptures would eventually help me make sense of it all. When I began my ministerial studies at the age of forty-one, my concerns only increased. Especially concerning were the words attributed to Jesus as recorded in Matthew 16:28, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” There are similar statements in the other gospels and it looked like Jesus lied, was mistaken, or couldn’t tell time. My quest for understanding eventually led me to discover the preterist movement which essentially teaches that every event associated with the end times, Jesus’ second coming, the tribulation, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, had already happened. Jesus’ return to earth was a “spiritual” return and the establishment of the Kingdom of God was likewise spiritual. I had only to check my spiritual rearview mirror to see it. Preterism was briefly satisfying, but as we all know, eschatology is a bitch, and then we die. Atheism ahead. Take the next exit.

In 2007 my secular work took me to Osaka, Japan. Six years before, I had given up the ministry, as ordination of a divorced and remarried matrilineal Jew was just not happening in the Central New York District of the Wesleyan Church. So, I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I was never “caught in the pulpit” as a nonbeliever. My questions and doubts while pastoring were primarily theological and not really an obstacle.

In Japan, Christians are a small minority but while there I attended a local Christian church and found the Christians there to be just as petty and disagreeable as they were back home. The predominantly non-Christian Japanese people were, by contrast, always friendly, polite, and cordial. It was in Japan that I visited a local bookstore and picked up copies of Richard Dawkins’ “God Delusion” and Christopher Hitchens’ “God Is Not Great.” My “spiritual” journey had already taken me to a place of practical deism with brief stops at preterism, liberalism, and universalism. I realized that what little was left of my faith was not only far less toxic, but also entirely without value. It is only a matter of practicality to discard worthless trash. From there merging onto the atheist highway was easy. I was no longer a believer. It was also during my assignment in Japan that my father died. I returned home for the funeral, no longer a believer. I attended my father’s funeral and burial as an atheist, with more anger than empathy for the Christian hopes and fantasies expressed at my father’s funeral service and burial.

Since embracing the atheist and existential nihilist labels, have I ever experienced any doubts? No, never a doubt in my mind. I cannot imagine any scenario that could possibly motivate me to turn back to religious woo of any description.

Do I have any regrets? To borrow a few lines from Ol’ Blue Eyes, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, But then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption.” Certainly, I regret that I spent more than half of my life believing in a myth as though it were true. I regret the negative church experiences that my family had to endure as they were uprooted from home in New York to experience rather nasty church situations in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and then back home again. Finally, I regret the anguish they experienced coming to grips with the reality that preacher and believer dad was no longer either. Dad had changed his course. Husband had changed his mind.

On the other hand, I am encouraged that we’re seeing it through together. Susan and I just celebrated our forty-fifth anniversary on December ninth. Our sons and their families are very much a part of our lives. Our sons and their step sibs by a previous marriage are all friends. I have made the big U-turn. About religious faith, I have most certainly changed my mind, yet life is good, ever challenging, and much too short.

For five years now, I have had the unique privilege of serving as president of The Clergy Project, our online community of current and former religious professionals who have changed their minds. With the rarest of exceptions, that only prove the rule, we will not be turning back. We are not flip floppers. We are not wavering or vacillating. We have changed our minds, all 1,222 of us, and now we are seeing this thing through together, providing mutual support, community, and hope to each other. We hail from more than fifty countries and include former Christians of all stripes, Jews, Muslims, a Buddhist here and a Hindu there, a couple former Wiccans, a Raelian, a Moonie, and even a Zoroastrian. We dared to question. We dared to examine the evidence. We dared to face the truth, and sooner or later we dared to let others know we have changed our minds. For many of us, coming out as nonbelievers came at great cost, but as Winston Churchill quipped at the end of the movie, Darkest Hour, “Those who never change their minds never change anything.”

Well, that is my story. Twenty-one years after leaving the pulpit, and fifteen years after becoming a born-again atheist, I’m still easing on down that atheist highway. Turning back is not an option.  It’s not the “Highway to Hell” (AC/DC), but more like the “Road to Nowhere” (Talking Heads). It is the road travelled and the people we share it with that make it all worthwhile.

Leonard (Lon) Ostrander, born atheist on October 22, 1949, in Elmira, New York, former Wesleyan Pastor 1995-2001, quality assurance representative, current president of The Clergy Project

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Are You Interested in Writing a Guest Post?

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I am always interested in having people write guest posts for this site. If you are interested in writing a guest post, please use the contact form to email me. You can choose any subject. If you are a Christian, you can even write a post about how wrong I am about God, Christianity, and the Bible.

Have a story to tell about your life as a Christian and subsequent deconversion? Testimonies are always welcome. I have found that readers really appreciate and enjoy reading posts about the journey of others away from Evangelicalism. Perhaps you are someone who has left Evangelicalism, but still believes in the existence of a deity/energy/higher power. Your story is welcome too.

If you worried about grammar or spelling, don’t be. Carolyn, my ever-watchful friend and editor, edits every guest post before it is published. If she can turn my writing into coherent prose, trust me, she can do the same for yours.

Anonymous posts are okay, as are articles previously posted elsewhere. If you have written something for your own blog and would like to post it here, please send it to me.

If you have previously written a guest post, I am more than happy to publish another one from you. Some readers have become regular contributors. It’s important for readers to hear from other writers from time to time.

Several readers have emailed me in the past about writing guest posts. I am w-a-i-t-i-n-g. 🙂 Seriously, if you have something you would like to say, I am more than happy to post it here. The ball is in your court.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

History — And Christianity — Baked into The Conflict

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

It was one of the best croissants I’d ever tasted. I would not, however, have tried it were it not for the insistence of someone I’d met at a nearby marketplace.

You see, whenever I travel, I like to eat and drink local foods and beverages. And, when I arrived the night before, I found my way to a restaurant full of locals; I was the only tourist. When the waitstaff were convinced that I didn’t want watered-down, sugared- and salted-up fare other tourists seek, they steered me to a laap consisting of marinated chicken, lemongrass, and shoots of a flowering plant found on the riverbanks. It was delicious and satisfying in ways different from anything I’d eaten before. Moreover, one of the servers schooled me on how to eat it:  not with forks, spoons, or chopsticks, but by grabbing a wad of sticky rice and using it like a mitt to pick up the food on my plate.

By now, you surely know that I wasn’t in France, the United States, or anywhere else in the West. So, I was surprised when a fruit-seller at the marketplace, who could see that I was interested in local fare, insisted that I had to try a croissant, baguette, or other French-style baked items at Le Banneton in Luang Prbang, Laos.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that, to this day, the croissant from Le Banneton is the best I’ve tasted outside of France, where I lived for a time. For one thing, according to a couple of bakers I know, croissants bake best in humid climates. (That’s why they’re better in Boston, Washington, New Orleans, and my hometown of New York than in other parts of the US.)  And, for another, Laos, like neighboring Cambodia and Vietnam, was part of Indo-China, a French colony for much of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

So why did Putin’s invasion of Ukraine get me thinking about that croissant again? And what does Christianity have to do with the invasion or the croissant?

Well, one effect of the invasion is something about which we’ve heard so much during the COVID-19 pandemic: the disruption of supply chains, all the way up to the source. Specifically, the prices of many food items throughout the world have risen sharply because of a decreasing supply of wheat, corn, and other basic food items from Ukraine and Russia. As so many men, young and middle-aged, have been conscripted, there are fewer bodies to till the soil — if it hasn’t been ravaged by bombings and other depredations of war. 

Not surprisingly, when food becomes more expensive, it’s the poor who suffer the most. While one could argue that “poor” is a relative term, there is no doubt that even in wealthy countries like the United States, millions of people are “food insecure.” And in other countries, like Afghanistan (ravaged by decades of attempted occupations by foreign forces) and Somalia, Yemen and Haiti, insufficient nourishment is all but a norm.

While the countries I’ve mentioned have indeed been victimized by extreme weather and other natural disasters as well as corruption and mismanagement, they also have been tied to — held hostage by, some might say — their dependence on imported grain and other foodstuffs. Some of that has to do with their own inability to produce enough for populations that are, in some areas, growing exponentially.  Much of the blame, however, can be laid upon colonialism of the economic as well as political and religious variety.

To this day, Laos grows very little wheat. Until a few years ago, it had no dairy farms. As in much of southern and eastern Asia, rice is the staple crop and soy is the “cow.” The same could be said for many other countries in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Or, in those countries where wheat is grown in significant quantities, it is cultivated to satisfy the tastes of colonizers or their descendants, whether locally or in the colonizing country. This situation almost perfectly parallels the ways in which colonial powers “developed” the countries they colonized: their schools were pale imitations of the ones in France, Britain, or other European countries, and offered education in quality and quantity just enough to make local people capable servants of their colonizers, or masters, if you will. The roads, ports, and other infrastructure were built mainly to facilitate the transport of raw materials back to the colonizing countries. And the Africans, Asians, and American natives who were allowed to study in Europe (or, later, the United States) were given such permission for the purpose of bringing the “mother” country’s cultural values back to the colony and fostering dependency on its technological skills and expertise.

Oh, and missionaries, whether from the Roman Catholic or other Christian churches, gave the colonizers a rationale or, more precisely, laid a veneer of virtue on their edifice: The colonizers were bringing the “light” of their faith, along with their watered-down education and culture, to the benighted masses. It’s been said that in 1452, when Pope Nicholas V issued his bull authorizing  Portuguese King Alfonso I the authority to subdue and enslave non-European, non-Christian people, Europeans had the Bible and Africans had the land. A century later, it was the other way around: Africans were choking on the Bible as Europeans grew the foods they consumed themselves, or sent back home, on the land they took from the Africans.

Now, if you know anything at all about history, you are probably wondering what Ukraine has to do with anything I’ve just mentioned. While it’s true that Ukraine doesn’t have a history of colonizing faraway lands (and indeed has been subject to cruel repression by hostile neighbors), it’s become an agent, if unwittingly, of that direct descendent of colonialism: globalization. 

One of the chief principles of colonialism and globalization is centralization. It’s necessary to maintain the economic systems and cultural mores the colonizers impose on the colonized: The levers that control the means of production have to be kept far away as possible (physically as well as psychologically) from those who are forced to be the toil over those means (which include the land). Thus, just as the “home offices,” if you will, of the churches where many Africans, Asians, or Latin Americans now worship are in Rome, Canterbury, or some other place in the colonists’ countries, financial markets are concentrated in London, New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and a few other places. High-tech innovation incubates in areas like Silicon Valley and Route 128. Things people use and wear are designed in Paris, Milan, and other European and American metropoli. And the stuff people buy in those places, and around the world, is made in China or other countries where workers and the environment have few or no protections. 

Agriculture has likewise been centralized. As an example, almonds originated in western Asia. But 80 percent of the world’s supply is now grown in California Pistachios also are believed to be native to western Asia, but the United States accounts for half of the world’s crop, with nearly all of that coming from — you guessed it — California.

In fact, while California is one of America’s, and the world’s, leading food growers, very little of what is now cultivated in the Golden State was there before los conquistadores arrived. The same is true of many of the world’s “breadbaskets”: they are growing large portions of the world’s supply of one crop or another in areas to which those crops aren’t native. In many cases, those crops were planted to satisfy the tastes of colonizers — or to increase the bottom lines of agribusiness corporations which have, in effect, become the new colonizers.

Now, to be fair, Ukraine has been a major grain producer for centuries and it is not far from areas where those crops were first cultivated. But it’s nonetheless disturbing that so much of the world has come to depend on Ukraine and Russia (or the US, France, Australia, or a few other nations) for foodstuffs that are deemed vital only because some colonizer, whether present or gone, not only inculcated a taste for them, but also destroyed or disabled the ability to grow native grains, fruits and vegetables and to raise local animals. As an example, when societies are shaped by the cultural and economic values of actual or de facto Western colonizers, the demand for beef and dairy products increases. Not only have military, economic, and religious colonizers imposed their culinary and other mores, they have also, in many cases, taken the very land on which many generations sustained themselves — and made them dependent on food from places and people they’ll never see, just as their countries depend on usurious loans from the World Bank or other products of colonialism to maintain the schools and infrastructures that were imposed on their countries.

So, while Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is correctly seen as a brutal attempt to re-colonize a nation, and we are right to be worried about the disruption of Ukraine’s food production, the fact that so many poor people in rich and poor nations will be affected should be viewed as a yet another symptom of how the current economic and political order needs to change — which includes un-tethering former colonies from Christianity. Yes, I am happy I ate that croissant in Luang Prbang. But whether and what Laotians, Yemenis, Somalians, and other currently and formerly-colonized people eat shouldn’t be beholden to power and production — and therefore wealth — centralized in banks and cathedrals in so few places, controlled by so few, and so vulnerable to disruption, whether by humans or nature.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Knowing What You Know, Now What?

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Guest Post by Merle Hertzler

Where do you go from here? Perhaps you have been learning new and different viewpoints on the Internet. Perhaps the religion you inherited does not have the attraction it once had. You have found too many problems with it. Now what?

Many people find challenges to their faith interesting. They enjoy the debate. And for the first time they read that the case for their faith is not as clear cut as they had heard. There are strong and interesting arguments for other views.

Perhaps you also have found these challenges interesting, but you do not wish to continue. For many, the thought of reconsidering religion will be unacceptable. These people find comfort in their traditional beliefs, and they will not want to leave the comfort of those beliefs. A brief excursion into skepticism on the Internet (here, for instance) might be interesting to them, but they will return to safety when the challenges become troubling. It is too painful for them to think of changing their minds about religion. These people leave the debate if their side is not clearly winning. When it had appeared their side was winning, they had no problem continuing. But if the facts appear to lead away from the religion they always knew, the thought of considering that they might be wrong about religion is too painful to continue.

If this describes you, I can feel your pain. I have been there. I had once been able to go just so far in examining my faith, while always retreating back to safety when the going got rough. I understand the desire to stick with one’s current faith, regardless of what one learns. But is this the best way to live life?

If you cherish traditional beliefs, but your life is not closely sheltered from all outside sources, you will continually find challenges to your beliefs in areas such as biology, history, physics, ethics, and psychology. And you will find many sincere people who believe quite differently from you. It will be hard for you to force yourself to believe that all these people differ because they are evil, and that everything skeptics say is wrong.

If you retreat from the facts, you will face a constant struggle to avoid those facts. New observations will always come, and many new thoughts will cause dissonance with the thoughts that are already in your mind. Such cognitive dissonance can be quite uncomfortable. It is like living in an environment where folks are constantly shouting and arguing, except in this case the arguing occurs strictly within your own mind. One set of thoughts shouts at the other set of thoughts. Is that what you want to happen in your mind? If you refuse admittance to doubts and other competing thoughts, you will find yourself constantly needing to internally outshout those competing thoughts. You must decide if that is best for you.

By contrast, you could choose to freely explore beyond the box in which you now find yourself.

Some people will want to stop here, because their entire social structure is based on their existing religion. It is unbearable to think about the loss of social support that would occur if you were to change your mind about religion. It is one thing to tell a friend that you now like baseball better than basketball. It is quite another thing to say that your views are now more atheist than Baptist. Many friends will change their entire view of you if you say that.

Once more, I understand. I too was once bound by the need to conform in my beliefs–or at least in my actions–to the approved doctrines of the church. Once more I would ask, is this the way you want to live? Do you want to shut your mind to new knowledge in order to maintain friendships with people who oppose new knowledge?

And besides, if your friends are true friends, will they not love you even if you change your beliefs? If their love for you depends upon your theological persuasion, perhaps they are not the best of friends to begin with.

You will only go through life once. If you choose to live your life as though you believe a creed that you no longer believe, what kind of life is that? What value is a life if you can never share what is going on inside? What good is a life if you must pretend to be something you are not? You decide. Do you think that, years down the road, you will be glad that you lived in fear of what others might say and thus closed your mind to new ideas? If you decide to close your mind to skeptical ideas–or at least make it appear that your mind is closed–will you be able to hold your head high and walk forward with dignity?

Just in Case?

Some of my readers might see the value of moving on in their beliefs, but the fear of hell will stop them in their tracks. They might now see that their faith is implausible, but what if it is true? Will they be tormented in hell forever if they confess unbelief? Fearing hell, many will choose what they consider to be the safe path. They will stick with the faith as best they can even though they sincerely doubt it. They will try to believe just in case belief is necessary to escape hell.

If you are going to follow your existing faith just in case, should you not also follow other faiths just in case? Should you now become a Catholic, Mormon, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist, just in case they might be right? That would be impossible, for the faiths contradict each other. So which will you choose? The one you inherited? Suppose you had grown up in another faith. Would you now be choosing that faith just in case it might be right? If your choice is based only on the ideas you inherited, how can that choice be valid?

If you follow a faith without truly believing it, are you not being dishonest? If you confess to believe things you really don’t believe, will God honor that? If God honors such dishonesty, what kind of a being is he? How could you trust a God who honors dishonesty? If God honors dishonesty, he might be lying to you. If God honors dishonesty, would he not also be capable of turning his back on you and damning you, even if he had promised otherwise? So I don’t find much hope in dishonestly following a belief you don’t really think is true. Why dishonestly “believe” in case a God who honors dishonesty might approve?

If you honor God “just in case”–dishonestly claiming to believe–which God will you choose? Will you honor the God who favors dishonest support of Protestantism? Or will you honor the God who favors dishonest support of Catholicism, Islam, or some other way? So many Gods! Which will you choose?

May I suggest one more God? Suppose a God exists who honors honesty and integrity. If such a God exists, then he will be glad that you honestly admitted your unbelief. He would want intellectual honesty. And if such a God loved honestly, he could be depended on to keep his word. So if I must pick a God to serve (just in case one exists) then I would pick this God. And I would honestly admit my unbelief of certain religious dogmas. If a God who loved honesty existed, he would love my honesty. That seems like the best approach to me.

And so, if you find that neither the fear of a new viewpoint, nor the fear of the loss of friends, nor the fear of God’s condemnation for disbelief should stop your intellectual journey, why not lay aside those fears? Why not boldly go where you have never gone before, enjoying the path of discovery? Why not follow the facts wherever they lead, regardless of whether they lead away from or back to your original faith? Why not pursue truth?

As for me, I have found hope in secular humanism. Your explorations may lead you elsewhere. The important thing is not where the facts lead, but whether you are willing to accept and follow reality. Can you commit to the facts, regardless of where they lead?

The Mind Set Free

There is no experience quite like setting the mind free. Robert Green Ingersoll describes that experience:

When I became convinced that the Universe is natural — that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world — not even in infinite space. I was free — free to think, to express my thoughts — free to live to my own ideal — free to live for myself and those I loved — free to use all my faculties, all my senses — free to spread imagination’s wings — free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope — free to judge and determine for myself — free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past — free from popes and priests — free from all the “called” and “set apart” — free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies — free from the fear of eternal pain — free from the winged monsters of the night — free from devils, ghosts and gods. For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought — no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings — no chains for my limbs — no lashes for my back — no fires for my flesh — no master’s frown or threat — no following another’s steps — no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds. Source: Why I Am Agnostic – Robert Green Ingersoll

Doesn’t that sound refreshing? I think you can experience what Ingersoll experienced. But only you can decide if this is the path for you.

Bruce Gerencser writes of moving beyond the box of his original faith:

I do remember coming to a place where I felt completely free. I felt “born again.” I thought, I am a “born again” atheist. I no longer felt any pull to return to the box…People in the atheist box, the box I now call home told me that things would be better with time. They encouraged me to read and study. They told me “go where the data, the evidence leads you.” …That’s the greatest wonder of all . . . I now have the ability to freely choose the box(es) I want to be in. Source: What I Found when I Left the Box by Bruce Gerencser

Rob Berry described the result of his deconversion so well:

I felt a bit like a child, as though I was rediscovering the world. In particular, I remember a monthlong period in which I became flat-out fascinated with trees– there was something beautiful about the way they branched out, cutting a tangled silhouette against the sky. I also became enthralled with sunsets, and to this day I still love watching sunsets. Everything seemed fresh and new. It was as if in my enthusiasm for the supernatural, I had overlooked all the beauty the natural world has to offer. Now I was playing catch-up, discovering all the neat stuff I’d missed. I also read dozens of science books during this time– I decided it was time to find out how the universe really works, as I didn’t want to ever be fooled again. Source: Cited at Into the Clear Air, I can no longer find the original source.

Do you want to stand up and face the world without fear? Do you want to move beyond the box you find yourself in? Do you want this joy of discovery? It is your life. You must decide.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Out Of Sequence: Their World Order

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A guest post by MJ Lisbeth

You have to be pretty smart to get into the Air Force Academy. And, since the Academy emphasizes majors in engineering, technology, and science, it helps to be very good at math. At the very least, it’s reasonable to expect an Academy cadet to understand number sequence—or, at minimum, to understand when a group of numbers is or isn’t sequential.

Perhaps such an expectation isn’t reasonable for members of the Academy’s Public Affairs Department. Since I’m trying not to assume the worst, I’ll give those folks the benefit of the doubt and believe they were simply trying to insult our intelligence.

I am thinking, in particular, of their response to an incident on 30 October.  The Academy’s soccer team hosted Seattle University in what would be the last home game for the senior players. In recognition of those players, a banner with each of their jersey numbers was displayed underneath the scoreboard. Being, as I said, a place where almost everybody has better numerical skills than I have and where order is valued, the numbers would have been arranged in their proper sequence: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12, 15 and 16.

Or so you might expect.  Now I’m going to give you another factor of this equation, if you will. Perhaps it won’t surprise you to know that the Academy has a very strong Christian Supremacist element. While there are Muslim and Jewish students as well as ‘Nones,” a number of administrators and other officers want to make Christianity—or, at least, their version of it, the “default” or even the only religious belief system.

Knowing what I’ve just said, perhaps, makes what I’m about to say next less surprising, if more galling: in that bastion of numerical literacy, all of the numbers were in sequence, except for “3.” It followed 15 and preceded 16.

According to the Academy’s PR Department, the number 3 had been inadvertently omitted. The remedy, they said, was to insert it where there was space.

Oh, really?  How is it that there was enough space between the 15 and 16, but not the 2 and 5? 

So tell me: why would anyone place a “3” before “16” without a slash between them?

The best-known Bible verse—aside, perhaps, from those of Psalm 23 – to people who haven’t read the book is John 3:16— “For God so loved the world….” Spectators often sport banners printed or emblazoned with it.  And, when Evangelical Christians began to proselytize on a large scale, during the 1970s, that verse was commonly used as a pickup line, I mean, a lead-in.

Now, some might say that I’m making too much of a clumsy attempt to correct a typo. But, knowing how strong the Christian Supremacist element is at the Academy, I can’t help but to think that the choice to insert “3” before “16” was meant to convey a message, however subliminally.

Until recently, politicians and policy-makers who tried to spread the Word of God through the law and its administration and enforcement were relatively covert in their intentions and actions. Sure, an office-holder or office-seeker might mention their own faith and how it (mis)informed their decisions and, perhaps, lead a meeting or rally with a call to prayer.  But there was a limit to how much they could infuse their beliefs into their campaigns and policies, especially if they were trying to appeal—as they had to—to voters who weren’t part of their “natural” constituencies. 

These days, whether they’re on the campaign trail or in office, they don’t have to even pretend to respect other people’s beliefs or needs. This has become especially true since Donald Trump “packed” the Supreme Court with justices who, whether or not they openly express their faith, have pledged to carry out the wishes of Evangelical Christians, conservative Catholics and, to a lesser degree, fundamentalist and orthodox followers of other faiths. In fact, at least one justice has said, in effect, that we don’t have the rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

In such an environment, what’s even more disturbing than the Air Force Academy’s PR department’s insult to our collective and individual intelligence is what the Academy’s (and the Military’s) combination of Christian Supremacy and all-but-unlimited access to weaponry could mean.  What will happen if politicians and judges succeed in abolishing, not only bodily autonomy, but equal rights for LGBTQ, gender and racial equality and in eviscerating the protections afforded in the Fourth Amendment and other documents:  the sorts of things that too many Fundamentalists and conservatives believe are impediments to the “Kingdom of God” they envision? And, after they get their utopia, what if those Fundamentalist and conservative law- and policy-makers have the backing of armed forces ready and able to enforce such a version of Christianity?

Those are not just “what-if” questions: recruits, many of whom were raised in Fundamentalist or Evangelical homes, enter the Academy or the service at an impressionable age. So even the ones with relatively well-developed critical faculties can be inculcated with notions of the interconnectedness between their country and the Kingdom of God, the will of God and the wishes of their country’s leaders and submitting to God with obeying the commands of their leaders.

Oh, and I’d be very worried over leaving sophisticated technological devices that can rain down an actual rather than a Biblical apocalypse in the hands of folks who don’t understand numerical sequences, let alone higher mathematics or physics.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser