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After The Rocket, The Church Flamed Out

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A Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Maurice “Rocket” Richard is revered by people whose grandparents weren’t born when he played his last National Hockey League (NHL) game in 1960. (That is a pivotal year in this story.) Possibly the only US athlete to attain iconic cultural status in his own country—and the world—as Richard enjoyed in Canada, especially in Quebec, is Muhammad Ali.

His younger brother Henri—“Pocket Rocket,”–while not as much of an idol or even as prolific a scorer, nonetheless followed his skate-tracks (is that the hockey equivalent of footsteps?) into the captaincy of the Montreal Canadiens and the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Four Hall of Fame goaltenders played behind “Pocket Rocket” during his twenty-year career. One of them was “Rogie” Vachon.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you might think that my longtime fandom of hockey—and, in particular, the Canadiens—is incongruous. How I came to that is the story of another article, which I may or may not write, altogether. But that, or the fact that the NHL season begins this week, is not the reason I’m writing this article. Rather, the three players I’ve just mentioned are emblematic of another development I’m about to describe.

Henri “Pocket Rocket” played his first Canadiens, and NHL, game thirteen years after Maurice “Rocket” first donned la sainte flanneleThirteen-and-a-half years passed—and six other siblings were born to Mme. Richard—between the days Maurice and Henri first opened their eyes to the world. Vachon was called “Rogie” by everyone he knew because his birth name was a mouthful for almost everyone else, whatever language he or she spoke: Rogatien Rosaire Vachon.

Now tell me, how many people do you know named Rogation Rosary? For that matter, unless you’re, say, about my age and were raised in a Catholic community, how many families have you known with eight children?

In the milieu in which the Richard brothers and Vachon were born and raised, however, such things were normal.

In the 1950s—when Rocket’s career was at its apogee, Pocket Rocket’s was being launched and Vachon was idolizing them—the province of Quebec, which includes its capital city of Quebec as well as Montreal, was probably the most Catholic part of North America. An older co-worker on one of my first jobs described Quebec City as “the second Vatican” because he saw so many priests and nuns walking its streets. And two of Montreal’s nicknames were the “la ville au cent clochers” and “la cite des saints”: the city of a hundred spires and the city of saints.

In that sense, Montreal, Quebec City, and the province of Quebec hadn’t changed much since French settlers first arrived in the 16th Century. The French royal family and aristocracy were Catholic, as was most of France, so charters to set sail for, and claim, the New World, were given only to Catholics. The Huguenots, Protestants who were about 15 percent of France and were more educated than most French people—and who thus comprised most of the merchant and professional classes as well as most of the country’s technocrats—were not allowed to claim lands for the French crown. So, from the day French colonization began, Quebec, like other French colonies, was a Catholic stronghold.

Because most of Quebec outside of the eponymous city and Montreal was rural and agrarian until the 1950s, the language and culture didn’t change much as it did in, say, Paris, Marseille or Strasbourg. Quebecois who didn’t live in the capital or in Montreal were unlikely to encounter, much less marry, anyone from outside their culture or church. That meant that the province remained culturally and religiously conservative, even by the standards of the Pre-Vatican II church and McCarthyite America.

It also meant that the Church exercised control over institutions, and the daily lives of people, in ways that are unimaginable to most contemporary Canadians or Americans but would be familiar to the Irish of a generation ago. The church was in charge of everything from schools at every level, nurseries, orphanages, and most social services. That meant, among other things, that young people who defied the Church’s prohibition against pre-marital sex used “Catholic birth control.” It also meant that girls were discouraged from pursuing more than the most basic education unless they were going to be nuns or serve the church in some other way.

The type of education offered, and its unavailability to girls, dovetailed with the Quebec church’s ideology of la revanche des berceaux—the revenge of the cradles. Encouraging people to have lots of kids was not new to Quebec: the Church has done it from the day it began. In Quebec, though, as in Ireland, it came to be seen as a way to keep French language and culture—and the rural way of life—from being subsumed by their British conquerors. The Church itself also served this purpose, as it did for the Irish and Polish, as it was one of the few institutions that had help from the outside world.

As a result, Quebec’s population grew far more rapidly than the population of its neighboring provinces. Further fueling that centuries-long baby boom, if you will, was immigration—mainly to Montreal, and most of it Catholic: Irish, Portuguese, Italian and Polish. One notable exception to this pattern was the Jewish immigration from central and eastern Europe which, as in the United States, came at around the same time as the Italians.

In the 1920s, when Maurice Richard was born, rural areas of his native province had some of the highest birth rates in the world: around 7.5 per Quebecoise, or about 39 per 1000. Today, such fertility in industrialized countries is found only in some ultra-orthodox religious communities like the Hasidim. Birth rates in Quebec, and the rest of Canada, fell somewhat until the 1950s but remained higher than in the developed countries of Europe. At the end of the decade, however, events would conspire to change the size and structure of families, and Quebec society, as quickly and dramatically as would happen in Ireland a generation later.

In 1960, Quebecois elected a new Liberal provincial government headed by Jean Lesage. By that time, Quebec had fallen far behind neighboring Ontario in economic as well as egalitarian terms. Furthermore, the province’s economy was dominated by English-speaking Quebecers. Lesage believed that modernizing Quebec’s economy would not only make it more competitive with that of Ontario and other provinces, but would also help to preserve the distinctive culture of la belle province by freeing it from Anglo domination.

What Lesage initiated is often called “The Quiet Revolution.” It included not only economic reforms, but social ones: The Church would no longer have control over schooling. Instead, the government would take over and modernize the curriculum and methods while expanding the education system. With these changes came perhaps the most significant development of all: for the first time, females would be entitled to the same education, including post-secondary, as males. In 1961, 4.7 percent of women aged 20 to 24 had a university education. Three decades later, that figure had jumped to 27 percent. With that change came greater female participation in the paid workforce: from 15 percent of women of childbearing age in 1961 to 74 percent in 1991.

The most dramatic change of all, however, is one that’s inevitable whenever women have access to education: They have fewer kids and have them later. By 1987, Quebec’s women, whose mothers might have given them five or six siblings, were giving birth to, on average, 1.37 children. That is even lower than the birth rate in Scandinavian countries and on par with Italy, where there are fears of a “demographic crisis.” While fertility has crept up somewhat in recent years, it’s still below the accepted “replacement” rate of 2.1.

With that decrease in childbearing and rearing came another inevitable development. In 1958, two years before Lasage’s election, 85 percent of Quebec’s people identified as Catholics, and 88 percent of them attended mass every Sunday. While approximately three-quarters of Quebecers still identify themselves as Roman Catholic, as we have seen, such a number tends to be high because people continue to identify themselves, out of habit, by the religion in which they were brought up even though they no longer participate or believe in it. Also, sometimes the responses of people, especially children, are filled out for them by other people.

Church attendance rates give a truer picture: From 1986 to 2011, the proportion of Quebec’s Catholics who reported attending church monthly dropped from 48 to 17 percent. Today, the weekly attendance rate is estimated at 4 percent: even lower than in European countries like the Czech Republic and Estonia, which have some of the lowest rates of attending worship services in the world. And barely a third of the people say religion—any religion—is “important” to them.

And it doesn’t take a demographer or religious scholar to see that this decline in religiosity is a “feedback loop”: As women become more educated and less religious, they have fewer and less religious kids, who in turn have fewer and less religious kids.

So what does that mean for my favorite hockey team? Well, large, often impoverished families with few economic opportunities provided a steady stream of aspiring players. Even for the vast majority who didn’t get to don the uniform of Les Habitants, or any other NHL team, their salaries, meager as they were, earned on junior or minor league teams nonetheless helped their families. That immediate “fix” was a disincentive, in much the same way tips from a good night of waitressing or bartending are, from furthering their education, which could do more to help them and their families in the long run.

Now, with a drastically decreased birth rate, Quebec has a smaller talent pool to offer the hockey world. Moreover, young men in Quebec, no doubt influenced by parents who spent more time in school than their grandparents, are opting for more education. And new media, including the Internet, have introduced them to a world of possibilities beyond hockey rinks, where they would compete, not only with other Quebecois and Canadians, but with hockey players from the US, Sweden, Russia, Finland, Czech Republic, and other countries.

It is little wonder, then, three Montreal Canadiens legends, all of whom are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, had sons who didn’t become NHL players. And, chances are, their kids and their peers probably aren’t attending church. After all, there’s so much else to do in Montreal or Quebec City, even on Sunday morning!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

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.

Why We’re Still Paying

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

A few days ago, I wrote about the report on sexual abuse in French Roman Catholic churches. While I was, naturally, recalling my own experiences of sexual exploitation by a priest, and of living in France, what motivated me to write the article was a conversation with someone I met only recently and, to my knowledge, knows nothing about the experiences I’ve described in other essays and articles.

She is a professor of English and African-American studies in a nearby college. While growing up, she shuttled between the US and Jamaica, where she was born. She, therefore, has a visceral understanding as well as an academic knowledge of something that’s become a punching bag for religious and political conservatives in this country: Critical Race Theory.

While we mentioned it, and one of us remarked that those who rail against it have absolutely no idea of what it is, we didn’t talk about it in depth. Rather, a seemingly unrelated topic led us into a conversation about, among other things, how our accomplishments have “drawn targets on our backs” for those who wanted to discredit us or, worse, get us fired on spurious charges—and how the very rules we followed were used against us for following them.

“You have paid for what you know,” I sighed. “And I’m not talking about your college and grad school tuition.”

“And I still am.” I nodded. “And so are you,” she added.

Of course, she could have been talking about any victim in the French report or others like it. People who are sexually abused or assaulted, or suffer any other kind of trauma, by definition, spend the rest of their lives paying for what was done to them. Those psychic wounds—and, too often, physical debilitations—are intensified, and passed on generationally (and, according to recent research, genetically) through the racism, sexism, homophobia and other prejudices encoded in our laws, embedded in our institutions and, most important, enmeshed in the lenses through which people see their world and act on it.

Critical Race Theory, as I understand it, posits that race is a social construct and, therefore, racism is a product, not only of individual prejudices and actions, but also something woven into legal systems and policies. Thus, the fact that we’ve had a Black (actually, multi-racial) President, and African-American athletes and entertainers are among the wealthiest people in America, no more validates the claim that “racism is over” (a claim I’ve heard, not only from conservatives, but from people even further to the left than I am) than defrocking a few priests—or sentencing them to “prayer and penance”—will eradicate clerical sexual abuse.

The French report, and others, say as much: Nothing less than a reform of, not only the way rogue priests and deacons are disciplined, but of the very systems that have enabled them to commit their crimes, is needed. For one thing, there needs to better screening and monitoring of clerics-in-training, and young clerics. As an example, a priest (not the one who sexually abused me) in my old church was defrocked—years after accusations that he sexually exploited boys in the parish were verified. I’m glad that he was cast out of the priesthood (my abuser died before I, or any of his other victims, spoke of his deeds), but he really shouldn’t have been a part of it in the first place: My morbid curiosity led me to discover that before he was “transferred” to our parish from another, he’d been kicked out of a seminary for sexual misconduct. That didn’t keep him from enrolling in—and graduating from—another seminary!

Just as the Roman Catholic Church, and other religious institutions, need to prevent predators from becoming prelates, it also needs to dismantle the systems and structures that allow officials, from the Pope on down, to shield perpetrators from justice. Local priests are transferred from one parish, or even diocese, to another when parishioners complain about their behavior; after Bernard Francis Law resigned as Archbishop of Boston and moved to Rome, Pope John Paul II appointed him as the Archpriest of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, which made him a citizen of Vatican City—and thus immune to prosecution by US authorities.

Then again, even when perpetrators are called to account for their crimes, it’s often a hollow victory: Because victims, for a variety of reasons, don’t talk about their sexual abuse for decades after they experienced it, by the time a priest is accused, the accounts are verified and the wheels of justice grind along, the perfidious prelate is very old—or dead, as my abuser was by the time I or any of his other victims spoke up.

Cases like Law’s are cited as reasons why systemic change, while needed, is not enough. More than a few people, including commenters on my previous post, have suggested that what underpins the system—the Bible itself—is the root of the problem. I would agree, as the Abrahamic religions, in all of their iterations from the Taliban’s version of Islam to the most liberal Episcopal or Reform Jewish congregation–is premised on gender, racial, and other social hierarchies specified in everything from the Books of Exodus and Leviticus to the letters of Paul. Bringing in a mixed-race transgender minister, and rooting out an individual paedophile, can do no more to change the inherent biases of the Bible and the institutions based on it than choosing another Black President or CEO, or driving out another individual racist, will destroy the system that perpetuates intergenerational traumas and inequalities—or getting rid of a few rogue cops or arresting a few drug dealers or users will eradicate the draconian laws and unjust social conditions that fuel the demand for, and business in, banned substances.

Until structures, systems, and institutions based on arbitrarily-defined groups of people and designed to protect or punish some of those groups (just as arbitrarily chosen) are, not reformed, but dismantled, their victims will continue to pay for what they are forced to learn—and what the perpetrators can’t, or won’t, understand. The woman I mentioned at the beginning of this essay knows as much.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

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.

La communauté, La famille et L’eglise: Spinning Ties Into A Web

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Four decades ago, I lived in Paris. The neighborhoods in which I lived, like many others in the City of Light, were populated mainly by working-class native-born French people, some of whom moved to the city from other parts of France. Today, those areas have gentrified, or have become home to bobos or immigrants. Among the latter, one can still see a reflection of the neighborhoods’ old character: the people worked hard, but they put their jobs aside at the end of the workday to relax with family, and sometimes friends, over a meal and conversation.

This way of living was also found, and still survives, in the countryside and smaller cities and towns outside the Paris region. Much later, I realized that why I so enjoyed spending time among those everyday French people is that they reminded me about the best parts of my childhood and the neighborhood in which I grew up: a blue-collar Brooklyn enclave of Italian, Irish and Polish families. Whatever dysfunctions and other dramas played out in the squat brick houses and apartment buildings, families—including mine—gathered around a table for supper when the family’s breadwinner (nearly always the father) came home from work. And the Sunday dinners—which, it seemed, began as soon as Mass ended—included grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and sometimes their friends.

(I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of the reasons I liked my childhood home and life—in spite of something that happened there, which I’ll mention—and the time I spent with French people is the food! What French people make for themselves and their families is, like my mother’s and grandmother’s cooking, hearty and tasty.)

There was another interesting parallel between the districts near the rue Daguerre and Canal St. Martin and a part of Brooklyn bounded, roughly, by the D and F lines of the New York subway system: They were overwhelmingly Catholic. In my old neighborhood, the streets were deserted on Sunday mornings because nearly everyone went to the church in the middle of our neighborhood. Some men sat in their cars, looking at the Sunday News, outside the church building: they drove their wives, kids, and other relatives and could therefore claim to be fulfilling the Roman Church’s mandate to “attend or assist” at Mass. While I didn’t see such gatherings of automobiles outside Parisian church buildings, it seemed that most people in my environs attended Mass.

While the French kids I met—including a couple whom I tutored—didn’t attend Catholic schools unless they were “problem” kids or their parents were very religious (French people trusted, and still trust, their public schools to a much greater degree than most Americans do), the church held an elevated status. Note that I used the small “c”: Their reverence, like that of folks I grew up with, went mainly to the local parish and in particular its leaders. Few, if any people, are more trusted and respected in such an environment than the local parish priests and, to a lesser extent, others who serve the parish in one way or another. They, like my peers and their parents, had little truck with the capital-C Church, except perhaps to donate to some charity or some order of monks or nuns named for a saint who was particularly meaningful to them.

The relationship I’ve described between a community’s people and its church has, it turns out, a more sinister side. It is expressed in this sentence: “The Catholic Church is, after the circle of family and friends, the environment that has the highest prevalence of sexual violence.

Even in such restrained prose, even in translation, that declaration is stark and unambiguous. Some of us never would have needed to see or hear of the report that contains it because we know it, in every fiber of our beings, in every pore of our bodies. Every one of us—me and, possibly, some kids with whom I attended school and church, served at Masses and played, as well as some whom I knew in Paris—has had to live with it. Some, like me, have spoken of the sexual abuse only after decades after we suffered it. Others cannot speak of it because they are too broken by addiction or mental illness caused or exacerbated by the abuse; still others have taken their stories to their graves.

Perhaps even the man who headed the commission that issued the report containing that declaration has had to pay for that knowledge with more than a grant for its academic and institutional research. Jean-Marc Sauvé, in announcing the findings contained in the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church, admonished a Church that “failed to see or hear, failed to pick up on the weak signals, failed to take the rigorous measures that were necessary.” Worse, he said the Church, for years, showed a “deep, total and even cruel indifference toward victims.”

And how many victims are there? According to the report, more than 200,000 children were abused by clergy members in France since 1950. That number is half again as high if those who were victimized by perpetrators who worked for the Church, or who were affiliated with it as laypeople, such as Boy Scout organizers or Catholic school staff.

Mind you, those numbers include only those whom the researchers found. So do the numbers of perpetrators—between 2900 and 3200. Still, the Commission counted enough victims and abusers to conclude that abuse of minors within the Church comprises about 4 percent of all sexual violence within France.

As necessary as the work of the Commission was, and as forthright as Sauvé’s declarations are, it was left to Francois Devaux to say, in layperson’s terms, what led to the abuse, whether it happened in Bensonhurst or Belleville: “(t)here was a betrayal, a betrayal of trust, betrayal of morality, betrayal of children, betrayal of innocence of your own people…” In other words, the paedophile priests did what sexual abusers and other sociopaths have always done: They used people’s trust to victimize them. Devaux, the head of the abuse victims’ group La Parole Libérée, went on to tell Church representatives they were “a disgrace to humanity.”

“You must all pay for these crimes, “he intoned, slowly enunciating each word. “You must all pay for these crimes,” he repeated.

Those crimes all stemmed from the exploitation of trust—the kind of trust inculcated in the young and vulnerable for the putative custodians of, not only their physical well-being, but also their emotional and spiritual growth. Jean-Marc Sauvé and Francois Devaux, whatever their experiences might have been, understand as much and have expressed it clearly. Perhaps they, like me, had their best and worst childhood memories in the same places, with the same people.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

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.

Don’t Waste Your Time and Money on Church

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Guest Post by Karuna Gal

Do you think about what you get in return for the money and time you spend on your church? Here’s the answer: “You receive intangible spiritual benefits.” That sentence was printed on the quarterly donation statements sent from my last church. Well, at least my church was somewhat honest. What I truly got was nothing — especially nothing spiritual. But perhaps there were some details which the church didn’t include. For example, maybe I helped finance the Second Coming, thereby earning some Divine brownie points? Don’t laugh. A nineteenth-century Christian millennialist group, the Harmony Society, actually opened up a bank account for Jesus to use when he returned to earth. I’ve seen the entry in their accounting book, which is on display in a museum. Jesus never showed up to use the money, though.

I gave the churches with which I was involved a reasonable amount of money. But churches push you to give more all the time. Here’s an example of guilting you might see in a church newsletter: “In the Old Testament, the Israelites gave the Lord 10% of their harvest, which is called a tithe. The church staff is tithing on their income for our church, as a spiritual discipline. God rewards the cheerful giver and will bless you for your donation.” So, reading between the lines, what this means is, “And why don’t YOU do the same, you undisciplined, unspiritual parishioner? Smile and open up your damn wallet for GOD!”

Even now, my old church’s website has not one, but two donate buttons on their homepage. Every church newsletter had the Treasurer’s report and articles about church repairs to be financed and charitable needs to be met. And then there was that dreaded “Time and Treasure” season when you had to say how much you would pledge for the following year. I dreaded it because then the pressure to give the church money went up to a fever pitch from clergy and the Vestry (church board.) Sluggards got a call from the Vestry if they hadn’t yet pledged.

One Christmas, we had a big snowstorm and couldn’t hold Christmas Eve services. Our rector grumbled to the Vestry later that we lost a lot of income due to that. However, he wasn’t upset that the congregation missed out on Christmas.

When I served on the Vestry of my last church, I created a Fundraising Committee, since it seemed from all this hoopla that the church needed more money. I worked hard with my committee members to raise money by organizing events and selling cookbooks, among other things. I never got much recognition for my efforts. But because of my fundraising prowess, the rector wanted me to start talking to parishioners about leaving money to the church in their wills. That was the sort of glad-handing I avoided doing.

At least the churches I attended were open and public about their finances. Other churches aren’t. A 501(c)(3) tax status is a great thing for religious organizations to have. This means that the church meets the IRS’ definition of what constitutes a church, and once the organization gets this status it will have an automatic tax exemption. A religious organization with a 501(c)(3) status also doesn’t have to file a non-profit tax return or a financial statement. It’s a religious shyster’s wet dream. Beware of a church that isn’t transparent about where your money goes — it could be paying the mortgage on its sleazy minister’s palatial digs (Joel Osteen’s palatial digs come readily to mind.)

Volunteering is another way churches take advantage of their gullible flocks. A believer’s fervor powered my volunteering. I had to do my part for God’s house, my church, and if I didn’t, I was an ungrateful Christian, and God would scold me on Judgement Day. So, along with serving on the Vestry and the Fundraising Committee, I was a choir member, a Chalice bearer, a helper with Sunday School, and I participated in all kinds of projects. My church also got a lot of free labor from retired parishioners, a source of envy for the rectors of other Episcopal churches, who didn’t have nearly as many devoted volunteers as we did.

All this fundraising and volunteering — mine and others’ — must have helped burnish our rector’s reputation in the diocese. He left after only five years with us, for a better gig in the big city. And when he returned for a visit after he left, the first thing he asked me about was not my health or my spiritual walk. He wanted to know . . . if I had started talking to the parishioners about leaving money in their wills to the church. I hemmed and hawed and did not answer.

The church got a lot of mileage out of me before I finally realized that I had been used. All I gained out of my church experience was regret. I wasted so much time and energy in all the churches I belonged to. (But luckily I wasn’t out of too much money. I wasn’t that starry-eyed.) It would have been much better for me to focus on getting my own house in order instead of taking care of God’s house.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

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.

Cosmic Significance

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A guest post by Neil Robinson. Neil blogs at Rejecting Jesus.

One of the most liberating aspects of jettisoning Christianity was the realisation that nothing I did had cosmic significance. Nothing anybody does has cosmic significance. Yet to hear the cult’s leaders and spokesmen talk, now as then, everything matters.

First and foremost, what you believe determines whether you lived forever in Heaven or not. Can you credit that: what you believe! So better get that doctrine sorted out! Right thought makes all the difference. Believe something only minimally unorthodox and your eternal life is in jeopardy. Not only that, but what you think in the privacy of your own head, about issues like abortion, homosexuality, politics and society, is subject to the Lord’s scrutiny. Better get it right – ‘right’ being the operative term. It means recognising that the Almighty is really only interested in the USA; with the exception of Israel, he hasn’t much interest in other nations, so better get your thinking straight on that score too, buddy.

God is, or so his self-appointed mouthpieces like to tell you, obsessively interested in how you, as an individual, spend your time, the language you use, and whether you’re a faithful steward of the money he supplies (a.k.a. the money you earn for yourself). He lays it on your heart about how you should spend your time, the only valuable way of doing so being in the service of his Kingdom-that-never-comes.

You’re made to feel that if your marriage isn’t close to perfection then you’re not really working at it (though god knows the ‘Biblical view’ of marriage is nothing like the one promoted by today’s Christian leaders). You’re made to feel you must share the gospel with everyone else you have relationships with: children, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, complete strangers. Don’t they too deserve to have a chance at eternal life? You don’t want them denied it because you failed to speak up, do you? Well, do you?

And then there’s the guilt when you can’t do all of this. You’re not sure you believe all the right stuff. You think you do but then you’re told about some point of doctrine you hadn’t considered and it is, apparently, really essential you believe that too. So you consult the Holy Spirit who you think lives in your heart and you wonder why he hasn’t spoken up before now. Maybe you have liberal views about abortion. And really, you can’t find it in yourself to condemn all those ‘sodomites’ you’re told about; what difference does it make if you do or don’t? And your marriage is less than perfect. In fact, it’s a little bit messy, like human relationships tend to be, and sometimes you want just to relax, maybe laze a little bit. Not everything you do has to contribute to the Kingdom, after all.

But the guilt won’t let you. What kind of Christian are you, anyway? And as for witnessing at every opportunity, you wonder why you feel like a dog that’s compelled to pee at every lamp-post. Can’t friends just be friends? Can’t you just appreciate others for who they are, not as sinners who need saving? Apparently not.

What a wonderful release it is then, when you finally realise that none of this crap matters. Nothing you do, say or think makes the slightest bit of difference to whether you or others live forever (Spoiler: you won’t, they won’t). How you act may help others feel a bit better about themselves or provide you with a sense of fulfilment but that’s the extent of it. Outside your immediate context, you’re insignificant, and there’s great significance to that. The pressure is off; God is not watching you to see whether you’re a good and faithful servant. Your time, money, and thoughts are yours and yours alone. It’s entirely up to you how you use them, free from the tyranny of religion.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

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