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Category: Guest Posts

So Long, Jesus

so long jesus

A guest post by Neil Robinson who blogs at Rejecting Jesus

I fell in among Christians when I was teenager. A friend – let’s call him Simon – thought it would be a good idea if we joined the YMCA. This was long before the organisation became synonymous with the Village People and hangin’ out with all the boys. The YMCA I encountered was markedly evangelical. Once we’d visited a few times we were ‘invited’ to one of their young people’s meetings. I can’t remember what snappy title these meetings went by, but essentially they were a mixture of worship, bible reading and ‘teaching’. Sometimes there’d be a guest speaker who would tell us all about their relationship with Jesus, which, in case we had any doubts, was just marvellous. Before long I was giving my life to Jesus too, though in the long run it turned out to be only a temporary loan.

Occasionally, one of these guest speakers would talk about relationships, those with other human beings, and sex. From them I learnt that sex was almost always wrong: sex before marriage, sex outside marriage, sex with yourself – all of them were sinful. Even imagining sex and fancying someone (which qualified as lust) were wrong too. Who knew? But the most sinful, wicked and sordid sex of all was sex with someone of the same sex.

I had already had a relationship with another young man, Sam, at school. It hadn’t seemed wicked or sinful at all; quite the opposite in fact. But these people, these Christians, seemed to know what they were talking about. And hadn’t I given my life to Jesus? He detested homosexuality, or God did anyway, so Jesus must’ve felt the same way (actually this was all in the present tense, Jesus being alive and monitoring us from Heaven and all; Jesus detests homosexuality, they’d tell us.) Sometimes they’d read verses from the bible that proved it.

And so I started to suppress my feelings. All things considered, a retreat to the back of the closet (not that I knew this terminology back then) seemed the best option. It was what Jesus wanted, or so I thought. I started to deny myself for him, as he insists his followers should (Matthew 16.24). I began a life of self-deception. Which would’ve been fine, except it’s impossible to live a lie in isolation. Others invariably become involved.

Once Born Again™, I’d become involved with a local church, where my friend Simon took it upon himself to play Cupid, fixing me up with Jane. I was more than a little surprised a girl could be interested in me, but figured, in my flight from myself, that as she was interested, I should make the most of it. Sex wasn’t much of a problem: as good Christians, we may have played around a little, but we stayed away from what the church liked to call ‘pre-marital intercourse’.

It wasn’t long, though, before Jane wanted to marry – she really wanted to get married. I wasn’t so sure and told her about my escapades with Sam, adding of course that I had since renounced such sin. She said that as long as it never happened again, she had no problem with my past transgressions. I felt pretty sure it wouldn’t happen again. After all, Jesus and his Holy Spirit were taking care of my old nature.

So Jane and I married and over time had three children. While I was very much involved with their upbringing, I would often feel I was ‘letting the Lord down’. When, as happened on holiday once, a group of younger men came round a corner minus their shirts, I found myself instinctually admiring them. What self-crucifying shame I would feel after occasions like these. I would even confess such ‘sins’ to a senior work colleague, a devout and very genuine older lady. I’d spare her the details of how exactly I’d ‘let the Lord down’, of course; I could never have brought myself to say I’d been turned on by naked male torsos. But somewhere deep within me, I longed for intimacy and closeness with another man. I knew this was strictly forbidden so buried my desires deeper and deeper, suppressing and subjugating something vital about myself. I was on course, though I didn’t recognise it, to making myself ill. I was convinced that I was doing the right thing – for myself, for my marriage, and for God.

My marriage, however, was in trouble, for a whole host of largely unrelated reasons. This, together with pressures at work, where my boss’ affair with a female colleague was creating some serious problems, made me question whether God really cared. When I needed him most, petitioning him for the wisdom to deal with these problems, the heavens, as the scripture almost says, were as brass. God, it seemed, just wasn’t interested. Perhaps, I started to wonder, he wasn’t even there. Added to this was the internal pressure I was still subjecting myself to; the tension and stress of sublimating my true nature. I was deeply unhappy. While the situation at work was eventually ‘resolved’ (by my finding a better job), I had become chronically depressed and remained so for several years.

Very slowly, I came to the realisation that in becoming a Christian, I’d assumed a role that had led to me denying my real self and pretending I was something I wasn’t. I’d become convinced, by my church community, that God was doing a great work in me, sanctifying me and making me increasingly Christ-like. But the more I acted out the part, the less like my genuine self I had become. How could this have been right for me, or anyone, in terms of personal happiness and well-being? Adopting any ideology is to add a fake and unnecessary veneer to life that serves only to mask your true identity. Replacing who you are with a predetermined set of religious beliefs is mere play-acting. Denial is not a solution; embracing your self is.

Once I had reached my fifties and the children were grown, Jane and I separated. I had reached a point where I knew I could no longer keep suffocating my feelings; the mind is not designed to be a pressure cooker – something has to give. I started to accept, though not yet embrace, my innermost nature. The relief was immediate and tremendous. I felt I had found myself and I didn’t care that society might not particularly like what I had I found. I had to be me, and not the uptight, miserable person I had become by denying my essential self. I squared up to the exciting yet daunting prospect of starting over, and acknowledged that if I were to have a new relationship it would be with another man.

One day, walking home from work, I began entertaining the idea that there was no God. And just like that, a Damascene experience in reverse, the dominoes fell. If there was no God, there could be no Son of God and therefore no salvation plan, no being born again, no renewal of the mind, no supernatural, no heaven, no hell, no answered prayer. The scales fell from my eyes and everything started, finally, to make sense.

Over time, I came to like myself – imagine that! All I’d felt for most of my life, since the time at the YMCA, was self-hatred. That was what Christianity, what Jesus, had done for me. Arguably, it had also ensured, by keeping me firmly in the closet, that I hadn’t died prematurely during the AIDs crisis of the 1980s. Perhaps though I’m giving it too much credit.

I’m ‘out’ now, in every sense: to my wonderfully supportive children, to those who read my blog, and to friends who stuck by me. Match-maker Simon, he who suggested going to the YMCA all those years ago, cut me off more than a decade ago; as a born-again Christian, he regarded homosexuality as beyond the pale. His ‘principles’ meant more to him than our long-standing friendship. I still miss him, very much.

I don’t miss God. I have a sense of authenticity and my energy goes into living, not denial. I’ve become involved with the local LGBT Centre and I now live, thanks to Covid lockdowns, with a very nice man, my partner Dennis. I’m very happy and feel, at long last, I really know what life’s about.

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.

Eating “Right”

food police

Recently, I wrote a post titled Humor: How You Know You Have Gastroparesis. Any time I write about my health problems, someone will either leave a comment or send me an email about what I need to do “fix” what ails me. I have repeatedly asked people not to do this, but much like Evangelical zealots they are determined to evangelize for the gospel of “eating natural,” homeopathy, keto, vegetarianism, veganism, supplements, or countless other “diets.” I’ve even written posts about not offering me unsolicited medical advice:

Bruce, Have You Tried . . .?

Please Do Not Offer or Send Me Unsolicited Medical Advice

Have You Tried (blank)?

The Similarities Between Food Fundamentalists and IFB Zealots

Leave it to Fake Dr. David Tee to ignore all that I have written on this subject and offer me “advice” anyway:

I am just curious. You do know that antibiotics wipes out both good and bacteria in your digestive system. Have you thought of going to the following foods and spices to help restore some balance- pepper (good for inflammation), cinnamon (not a lot), Greek style yogurt, pure honey, relish, dark chocolate and similar foods. These items work on restoring the good bacteria your stomach needs as well as help with bloating and inflammation.

If you have don’t bite my head off and if you haven’\t talk to your doctor about more natural remedies

Sigh

There are several assumptions that people make about my health problems.

First, I am to blame for my health problems. While lifestyle and environmental factors certainly play a part in diabetes and high blood pressure, how am I in any way to blame for gastroparesis, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis? How am I to blame for the herniated discs in my upper back and neck? How am I to blame for the plethora of problems I have with my spine? Or the Morton neuromas in my feet? What could I have done differently that would have resulted in a better outcome?

For the record, my diabetes and high blood pressure are managed with diet and medication. Last A1c? 5.4. And my cholesterol? Normal, across the board.

Second, because I am overweight, I must have a “bad” diet or eat the wrong things.

Third, my reliance on evidence-based, science-based medicine keeps me sick.

If I would just eat better and eschew Western medicine, my health would improve overnight; my stomach would magically “cure” itself; the arthritis and degenerative disease in my spine, feet, and hands would magically disappear; my fibromyalgia would magically recede into the background of my life, never to be heard from again.

If only life were that simple, right?

Fake Dr. Tee assumes that there’s something wrong with my diet; that if I would eat the right things I would be magically cured. He provides no empirical evidence for his claims, no double-blind studies that show the efficacy of his magical foods. Just personal opinion.

Here’s the thing, my diet is just fine. In fact, it’s more than just fine.

Currently, on our kitchen counter and in the refrigerator you will find:

Veggies: carrots, asparagus, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, lettuce, beets, red potatoes, yellow potatoes, russet potatoes, sweet onions, red onions, green onions, green peppers, mushrooms, celery

Fruit: apples, bananas, lemons, oranges, tomatoes

Damn, Bruce, you and Polly must like eating veggies and fruit. Yep, and we have eaten this way since the late 1990s — twenty-two years. So much for “food” being the problem.

I even take a few supplements, even though science clearly shows that taking supplements is largely a colossal waste of time and money. The only time we need to take supplements is when we have deficiencies.

I take:

  • Potassium for low potassium levels, likley due to the blood pressure medicines I take.
  • B12 for low B12 levels; the cause is unknown. I have had low B12 levels for 20+ years
  • Iron for anemia, caused by gastroparesis. This remains an ongoing concern as the supplements have not appreciably raised my red blood cell counts.
  • Vitamin C, taken to help with the absorption of Iron

Fake Dr. Tee also mentions spices. I will let the following photos from Polly’s kitchen tell you everything you need to know:

pollys spices (1)
pollys spices (2)
pollys spices (3)

Time for dinner! Tonight, I am eating Oreos, mint chocolate chip ice cream, and a Snickers, washed down with A&W Root Beer and a double shot of Jameson. I’ll sprinkle some cayenne pepper on the ice cream so the food police will be happy. 🙂

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.

The Prayer Circle

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Five of us, in a circle, could barely fit into the cinderblock-walled, windowless room. George: earnest, stringy-haired lab assistant. Julie: tall, blonde lithe fresh-faced freshman. Deanna: the petite, attractive brunette whose ambitions in life were to translate the Bible “the right way” and to “bring souls to the Lord.” Thalia, a tall, rawboned Black woman whom, as it turned out, Julie had invited to a prayer meeting but didn’t seem to have talked much with her, or anyone else in that group or on that campus.

And me. It was the middle of October, a few weeks into the semester. At the beginning of it, I knew only Deanna, from the year before. With her smile and friendly manner, she had little trouble meeting people. On the other hand, when I met her, I was almost as socially isolated as I had been the year before, when I first arrived on campus. The one friend—or, more precisely, the friendliest acquaintance—I’d made was with Robert, a young gay man: the first person with whom I’d ever had a real conversation about sexuality—my own, his or anyone else’s. The other male freshmen, it seemed, were performing the same kinds of exaggerated masculine heterosexuality—or, at least their notions of it—I saw in high school.

I am now ashamed to admit that I spent time with Robert when there were no witnesses, save for two friends of his—one, a straight guy, the other a lesbian, both of whom seemed a few years older than either of us. On the other hand, as I became friends with Deanna, I made a point of being seen with her: Nobody would question my sexual orientation or gender identity—in those days, almost everybody conflated the two, as I did—at least, not openly.

Oh, and she was one of the reasons I joined a campus Christian fellowship and was in that room with her, George, Julie, and Thalia. I told her, and she told them, I thought I might be gay, mainly because I couldn’t identify with other males and the only trans women I knew about were Christine Jorgensen and Renee Richards, both of whom seemed as different from me as the frat boys on campus. Turns out, Thalia told Julie she thought she was gay, which didn’t surprise me but, of course, I didn’t voice that.

The ostensible purpose of the gathering was for us to “be filled with the spirit” so that Thalia could “overcome” her “sinful” desires. They probably wanted to pray the gay out of me, too, though no one said as much. Anyway, George began with some soliloquy about gathering in the hope of receiving the Lord’s help and blessings. About all I can remember accurately is a paraphrase of a verse from Ephesians: “For we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones.”

Since George was earnest in the way only a young person who believes he has God and truth and justice on his side can be, he wasn’t being ironic when he paraphrased that verse in the presence of me and Thalia, one of the few people I’ve ever met who seemed more alienated and adrift than I was at that time. He intoned, “Lord, we entreat you.”

Then Julie started to drone a bunch of syllables that began and ended with drawn-out vowels sandwiching truncated consonants: aaahbaaah, or something like that, followed by sounds even less coherent or recognizable, at least to me. Before that day, I’d heard from other members of the fellowship that she could “speak in tongues.” I guess that’s what they were talking about, I thought.

As Jo droned on, Thalia started to let out long, low sobs that turned into wails, then into near-howls. She lay on her side—I opened my eyes while everyone else’s were shut—in a near-fetal curl, shaking like a child who needs a warm blanket. Her body’s vibrations turned into seemingly-volcanic convulsions, in which she thrust her arms and legs, as if trying to heave them away from her body. Her howls abated into a series of staccato grunts.

Julie continued her incomprehensible “prayer.” Deanna shouted, “Satan, leave her! You have no authority over her!” But Thalia continued to heave, grunt, and thrust her arms and legs. Deanna grasped my left hand, George my right. They said, in unison, something vaguely comprehensible—a prayer? a Bible verse? —that I can’t remember now. Julie finally said something I could understand: “Oh Lord, we pray for our sister, Thalia, that you may heal her. “Amen,” she, George, and Deanna chanted in unison.

The following day, I woke on the worn carpet of that room. Deanna slept in a dorm bed to the left of me; Julie in another bed to the right. I saw George a couple of days later and asked about Thalia. “The Lord is helping her now,” he said. I never heard about her again.

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.

My Story — A Guest Post By David

guest post

My story is somewhat different from others I read on Bruce’s blog.

I was born in England, and raised in the Church of England, where it has been jokingly said that
“belief in God is optional.” My father died when I was young and was, I understand, quite active in the church. My Mother was fairly active but never imposed her views on us.

I went to boarding school, where church attendance was mandatory or you were punished; a quick way to turn one against attendance.

I married into a Catholic family, so I had to be indoctrinated before I was deemed fit to marry a Catholic. At some time, I must have mentioned something about the evil in the world and was then provided with much discussion about God giving mankind freedom of thought and action.

I married a girl who attended a convent school. She was indoctrinated in the one true faith (sarcasm) and we agreed to raise the children as Catholics, though subsequently the children have very little interest in Catholicism. In the words of George Carlin “they were raised as Catholics until they learnt to think for themselves.”

I have always had a great interest in European history, particularly the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Reading about the horrors of the twentieth century, I started to have doubts about my beliefs. I started to question, how much horrific behaviour god would allow before saying okay people, that’s enough.

English history is full of the most appalling Catholic versus Protestant behavior. I read with interest the pieces about the Northern Ireland nitwit (Susan-Ann White), she is quite mild, (sane?) compared to some in that country.

My shift away from religious belief has been very gradual, probably over 30 years. I live in a part
of Wisconsin that is mostly Catholic or Lutheran, with very few extremists, though I am aware of several Creationist and anti-evolutionists. I see them as just people to avoid. I have a very good friend who is a Baha’i. She knows my views and doesn’t really accept them, but we don’t discuss them in detail; now as a single man, I really value her friendship.

I follow Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I don’t agree with everything they say,
and quite by chance stumbled onto Bruce’s website. I think I was searching for Atheist Pig cartoons. I have read and appreciate many items on the website, and many of the comments.

So I’m an Englishman, a great believer in science, and I just cannot accept much of the biblical nonsense: virgin birth, original sin, the resurrection, the vile vindictive god of the old testament. Come on, people!

I don’t believe in Heaven and Hell, but if there were such places, I would choose the latter — far more interesting people there. I sometimes feel that, having attended a 1950s English boarding school, I have already been to hell.

Although I am an atheist, I’m somewhat reluctant to call myself one; it seems pointless to give a name to something that occupies so little of my thoughts.

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.

Respecting Pulp Fiction

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A guest post by Burr Deming. Burr blogs at Fair and Unbalanced

I enjoyed Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. A lot.

I saw it in the theatre twice. I have seen it many times on cable television.

A friend once took up, as a hobby, teasing me about inconsistencies in the production.

In a flashback, Butch the fighter has childhood eyes of different color than he has as an adult. After a shooting, Butch only partially wipes his fingerprints from a gun. He encounters a cab driver who has a license bearing a name the spelling of which does not fit what it should be for an immigrant from her home country.

The list goes on.

Jimmie is a brief reluctant host to a couple of friends who happen to be killers. His wall clock seems to stay at the same time from scene to scene. “Lightning fast action” my friend observed.

A microphone can be seen hanging briefly in reflection at the upper right corner of a window.

That sort of thing.

While it lasted, I had fun participating in my friend’s game. I would present him with explanations.

My own eyes changed color a few years ago. No idea why, but I had to ask for a change in my driver’s license. It happens.

Someone involved in a shooting might indeed fail to be completely diligent in removing evidence. Understandable.

Some bureaucracy misspelled a name? Or someone has a name that runs counter to prevailing culture? My name is “Burr” for God’s sake. Try that for unusual parental inspiration.

A stopped clock? Look at our kitchen. I’ve been telling my loved one for months I’ll replace the battery. I’ll get to it soon, I promise.

The movie microphone reflected in the window still has me stumped. Can’t think of an explanation. So I told him: Every home should have one. He didn’t buy it. When I think of something better, I’ll give him a call.

The bullets stopped me cold, though. Guy steps out with a hand gun and blazes away at two central characters. But at least two of the bullets are suddenly seen in the wall behind them before the guy fires a single shot. First the wall is unmarred, then there are bullet holes, then there are gunshots.

I thought about that movie incident after reading an account by former pastor and current atheist Bruce Gerencser. Bible reading Christians occasionally claim to know more than does he about why he made that transition from faith to atheism.

Bruce responds, reasonably, that he accepts at face value the stories of Christians about their own journey toward faith. He asks for similar respect in return.

All I ask is that Christians do the same, regardless of whether they can square my storyline with their peculiar theology. It’s my story, and who better to tell it than I?

Frequent correspondent Ryan adds his voice, quoting a critic:

“It is the Bible, not I, who says that you do not believe because you do not want to believe. It is because I have studied the Bible and found it to be a reliable predictor of human behavior that I tend to accept its explanation rather than your protestation.”

Who better to tell my story than I? Apparently, any stranger armed with a Bible.

Little irritates me more than people who claim to know what I think or feel or do better than I do after only a few minutes of conversation or after labeling me, especially if they think that a religious text qualifies them to do so.

As I see it, Ryan speaks wisdom.

I can empathize to the extent that I have roughly parallel experiences within my own extended family. One has, by unspoken mutual agreement, avoided contact for a number of years. It seems I am not a real Christian because I do not hate the requisite groups. And I do not realize the actual reason I only pretend to follow Jesus, while refusing to join in God’s hate for Obama, Hillary, and gays.

Another family member, a skeptic, is at the other end of the spectrum. She knows, better than do I, why I submit to my own insecurities, following sheep-like into Christian belief. Her diagnosis: It is mostly because of my inability to venture into independent thought. I notice her slowing her words way down as she gently describes to me the obvious emotional deficiency that limits my mental range.

Okay, I admit all that has the ability to irritate. I respond in what I hope is gentle sarcasm. I flatter myself, believing that I know my inward thoughts more than anyone else could. And I enjoy living in the illusion that I am capable of rationality.

My friend J. Myste teaches me that a little gentle mocking is not injurious to mental health. He once complimented me on my staggering intellect, which was evident in the mental gymnastics I showed in defending an absurd religion. He once added this:

However, I think you really believe that God has visited my heart. You could be right. Perhaps God is influencing me. Perhaps the exorcism is not yet complete.

The Bible experience to which Ryan was subjected is not that uncommon. I once watched in awe as a visitor searched frantically through his Bible for a verse he knew would settle an argument. The argument was about whether scripture is infallible.

Circular logic sometimes seems to find its orbit around me. My friends help me out occasionally, in discovering it in my own reasoning.

One zombie story from long, long ago still occasionally makes the rounds. A religious man describes to a friend how very impressed he is with a new acquaintance. The new fellow actually talks with God. The friend is curious.

“Talks with God? How do you know that?”
“He said so himself!”
“But maybe he lied!”
“Would a man who talks with God lie?”

Unusual logic does not always flow in only one direction.

In my college days, a psych professor explained why religious beliefs are inherently absurd. Everything in the universe, including him and me, is merely an evolved combination of matter and energy. I remember suggesting that there is still wonder in our ability to analyze. If we are merely collections of matter and energy, then our universe of matter and energy is itself examined by a small number of its own collections of matter and energy. And that is a matter of wonder. There is a transcendence in consciousness.

He was dismissive. Consciousness, he said, is an illusion.

I regarded that with hidden amusement. I thought to myself, if consciousness is an illusion, who is around to be fooled?

I later discovered that he was presenting what had already become an aggressive argument when discussions of science and philosophy intersect. That aggressiveness sometimes approached antagonism. There was no room in a scientific worldview for consciousness.

Everything is composed of matter and energy. The only conclusion is that there is no such thing as consciousness.

I eventually happened upon Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest who was also a renowned paleontologist. I was amused at what I saw as an exercise in intellectual jujitsu. Teilhard agreed with a materialistic worldview. Everything is indeed composed of matter and energy. The only possible conclusion was that all matter and energy possess a sort of proto-consciousness that becomes something more as organisms evolve into complexity.

The late David Foster Wallace, in a famous commencement address, illustrated how the committed perspectives of two individuals could compel radically different conclusions. At first, I thought he was making fun of atheism. But with a little thought, I changed my mind:

There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer.

And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing.

“Just last month I got caught away from camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.’”

And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.”

The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.”

The atheist is right, from his perspective. The prayer for a winning lotto ticket may seem to be answered, but there had to have been several million unanswered prayers as well. Statistics are on his side.

My desperate prayers that our young Marine might return safely from the battle zones of Afghanistan prove only that most combat heroes come back unharmed. We don’t know how many prayers were answered only with tragedy, death, and grief.

Does prayer cast us into a sort of Schrödinger parallel timeline? How can we know what, if anything but chance, guided those Eskimos to us?

In some religious argument, I have the advantage of having no compelling case to make. I can provide what many Christians call witness to my own belief. But it does not come from a Paul-of-Tarsus-like epiphany. In fact, I experience faith as more a weakness of imagination.

I can grasp the intellectual argument made by materialists. I can envision the amazing constructs that carbon atoms can achieve when the right series of chance cosmic occurrences combine with a lucky lightning strike and a few billion years of evolution. I can see in my mind some series of combinations of matter and energy that make up my desk, my computer, me, my loved one, our children, and others whom I love.

That love represents a problem, at least for me.

I do not have the capacity to sustain that materialistic grasp in my daily life, or in the experiences that matter most to me. Am I really a group of atoms and energy swirls that loves other similarly configured groups? It is possible, but I cannot sustain that view. I measure some ethical value by my level of care for what Jesus tells me is the least of these. I care about justice and injustice. It matters to me what policies our government follows and who lives, who dies, who is provided for as a result.

In my life, there have been a few individuals I have most admired. In my best moments, I have been able to act in ways I believe might have earned their approval. At least I enjoy thinking that. They were able to maintain a materialistic worldview that supported a level of love, ethics, and meaning that I can only have aspired to follow.

But I have trouble reconciling my cares, my loves, my character, my consciousness, with a purely materialistic view.

There is nothing in my internal experience that I would expect others to find compelling, unless there exists some chance encounter with someone who finds a fit. I would guess internal evidence is often compelling only to the one doing the experiencing.

As a Christian, I do share a communal vulnerability. Our faith is historically based, at least in part. Our belief comes from our view of history.

I am not concerned with the truth or falsehood of the Virgin Birth or the astrologers traveling from points east. The census that required a trip to Bethlehem may be fictional. I enjoy the water-to-wine story and the raising of Lazarus, but neither is central to my faith. I’m okay with Jesus walking on water, or knowing which stone to step on, or surfing on a piece of driftwood, or simply standing on shore.

I do love the idea that God would come to earth as human, experiencing more temptation, pain, and struggle than most of humanity. So my faith would be shattered if it was proven to me that Jesus died running in panic from Gethsemane with a Roman spear in his back.

But even that twisting of the universe might reinforce what I already know: that the specifics of my religious faith are constructs that make a deeper truth comprehensible to me.

That may be why I enjoyed Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. It has to do with those bullets.

One of the gunmen in the path of those shots quickly decides that he ought to have been killed, that he is at the center of a miracle.

On the surface it seems absurd. He is, after all, in the business of terrifying, then killing, helpless victims. He seems to enjoy the evil he generates. He has fun destroying others. But then comes that moment of new clarity. God had come into his life.

His friend, the other gunman, disagrees.

“I just been sitting here thinking.”
“About what?”
“About the miracle we just witnessed.”
“The miracle you witnessed. I witnessed a freak occurrence.”

The gunman explains: It doesn’t matter.

I mean, it could be that God stopped the bullets, or He changed Coke to Pepsi, or He found my … car keys. Whether or not what we experienced was an According-to-Hoyle miracle is insignificant. What is significant is that I felt the touch of God.

In the silence of the night, I can often close my eyes, look inward, and feel a presence not my own. Perhaps it is only a phantom reflection of myself, or maybe a form of prayer. It is possible that I sense only the breath and the pulse and the touch of life.

Only.

It could be that I experience the consciousness that my psychology professor called an illusion. I’m okay with the universe in which I dwell turning out to be the accidental matrix made up of molecules.

It still is my home.

In friendly argument with a friend, I mimicked traditional religious posture. After all, it seems to be the way of the world.

“We can agree to disagree,” I told him. “You worship God in your way. I’ll worship him in His.”

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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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Ban the Book, Banish the Pain (If You Can)

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

During the past week, these stories were in the news:

  1. A former University of Michigan football player suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a university physician. At age 45, he felt something was wrong with his prostate. But when the doctor snapped on his glove, the former gridiron hero leapt up from the table, yelling, “No, nobody is ever going to do that to me again!” He simply couldn’t allow himself to be penetrated again. Another fifteen years would pass before he could say that he was raped—and allow a doctor to perform the examination that would lead to a diagnosis of late-stage prostate cancer.
  2. In Tennessee, the McMinn County Board of Education decided to ban Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus. In its decision, Board members cited its “nudity” (mind you, animated and of animals), “offensive language” (Tell me, what eighth-grader hasn’t said, let alone heard, “bitch” or “god damn!”) and “disturbing content,” including suicide and people hanging from trees.

I read Maus not long after it was published. Like most other readers at the time, I learned of it by word-of-mouth: graphic novels weren’t yet taken seriously in the literary world. While it’s not the first I’d heard or read about the Holocaust, it related the story in a visceral way that academic works and even most conventional novels could not. If you’re not familiar with it, the Jews—including Spiegelman’s parents—are mice, the Nazis are cats and the Poles are pigs. Most important, though was the way the novel conveyed, not only the tragedy of the Holocaust, but the personal traumas of Auschwitz internees, including Spiegelman’s own parents—his mother would commit suicide years later– and of Spiegelman himself. In other words, it conveyed something of which, at the time, I had an inkling if not the language: intergenerational trauma.

While he was at Michigan, Chuck Christian did not tell anyone that Dr. Robert Anderson did things to him not warranted by a physical examination. Later, though, a friend several years older told him that one day, he found a note on his locker saying he couldn’t practice until he talked to the coach. Bo Schembechler, who wasn’t exaggerating when he claimed to be the most powerful man in the Wolverine State, had gotten word that he didn’t let Dr. Anderson complete the physical examination. The player said, yeah, “because he was trying to do this to me.” The coach bellowed, “Quit being a wimp and get it done.” He did—which included submitting to the rectal exam he was trying to avoid.

Schembechler would enjoy demi-god status for decades as the University of Michigan’s football coach and Athletic Director. For most of that time, Dr. Anderson also worked for the University. Christian and his friend were far from the only victims of Anderson’s sexual, and Schembechler’s psychological, abuse. Indeed, Schembechler’s stepson is also a plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit. He and Christian have incurred physical as well as mental health problems as a result of the abuse they suffered. It’s not difficult to imagine that some of the victims’ families, friends, co-workers and others have been affected by the trauma resulting from violence they could not name until long after they experienced it.

It’s also difficult not to think that Spiegelman’s mother committed suicide, and Spiegelman himself had a nervous breakdown, as a result of pain that could not be named. In the book, one gets the sense that Spiegelman’s father hadn’t talked much, if at all, about life and near-death under the Nazis before his conversation with his son.

In short, the pain Spiegelman, who is now as old as his father was in Maus, and Christian, who is dying from his illness, is, if not a result of, then at least related, to suppression of their truths, and of truth generally. I shudder to think of what damage McGinn County Board of Education members—who profess to Christian faith (and one of whom said he’d never seen the book but had read the reviews) –are doing to the children for whom they profess so much concern by suppressing an honest discussion of what violence, whether physical or emotional, does to people. I shudder because I see that damage in Charles Christian.

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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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Why It is Impossible to Argue with Christians

god and satan

Guest post by Neil Robinson who blogs at Rejecting Jesus.

I’ve written before about how impossible it is to argue with Christians. It’s either that they have superior knowledge because an invisible ghost possesses them and is guiding them towards truths that non-believers can’t possibly perceive. Or it’s that the supernatural just cannot be understood in an evidential, naturalistic way. Science and empiricism – what we can detect with our own eyes, with specialist equipment that serves as an extension of those eyes or that can be mathematically demonstrated – just cannot detect, perceive or understand the supernatural. Gary Matson is currently experiencing this on Escaping Christian Fundamentalism, where a Catholic Christian (an oxymoron to many other religionists) is arguing that the things he believes in – hell specifically and his God generally – are just too sophisticated for the ignorant layman to understand. We’ve met this before too, from pseudo-intellectual Christians who think their faith, which its supposed founder said was best understood by becoming like a child, requires a degree or three in theology or philosophy.

It’s all a sleight of hand, and rather like wrestling with a jelly-fish. The assertion that the believer in the supernatural makes, that his or her particular brand of woo lies outside the purview of science, is mere flannel. ‘You can’t prove this because you haven’t the tools to’, applies to any form of magical belief – in heaven and hell, in an afterlife, in ghosts, and angels, gods who speak to mortals, mystical saints, flying horses, reptilian overlords, UFO abductions… you name it – does not stand up to scrutiny. If supernatural entities and states are outside the natural universe (and they are, by definition) then they will never be detected by science, observation, and empirical measurement; but not because our means of detection is inadequate, but because they don’t exist. It isn’t that they are out there somewhere, detectable only with the right frame of mind or with the help of a spirit that itself has no physical presence; they are nowhere; they are not real. It is not the inadequacy of our means of detection that is at fault; it is that the invisible, non-physical, and intangible have no substance outside the human imagination. As I’ve said before, remove human imagination from the equation and the supernatural goes with it. If humans were to become extinct tomorrow, so too would all the magical beings and places that humans have ever conjured up. They have no existence independent of the human imagination.

Arguing that this isn’t so is to assume your conclusion in your premise: ‘Of course supernatural things exist, you just can’t see them. But I can prove them with my argument/philosophy/faith’. This, however, is a demonstration of irrationality, not of the supernatural. In any case, the fact the supernatural has to be argued for at all is evidence that it doesn’t exist. Nothing real has to be argued for, it can be detected, shown, demonstrated, and measured by the senses, by instruments, by mathematical proofs. That gods and ghosts can’t be, but have to be argued for, tells us they are not real – not that they are beyond the scope of our capabilities.

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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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.

When I Continued Believing By Other Means

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Just after my mother died, I started seeing the therapist, again, who helped me during my gender identity affirmation process.

Some would argue that I should’ve found a different therapist. In fact, I asked her whether she thought working with me again was a good idea. Mind you, she didn’t need me: She is well-regarded in her areas of specialty (which include gender identity and expression) and so does not lack for people — some of whom could pay more than I ever could — who want to avail themselves of her insights. But she assured me that as long as I felt our working relationship was beneficial, she had no qualms about it.

If you spend any amount of time with a therapist — a good one, anyway — you find yourself discussing experiences and issues that you might not have thought were related to the ones you wanted to work on, but you come to realize are related, if not root causes. And so it was during a recent session with Carol (not her real name).

Not surprisingly, she knows things about me that not even members of my family or all except a couple of my closest friends know. (She is the second person I told about my sexual abuse at the hands of a priest.) In one of my early sessions with her, years ago, I mentioned that I didn’t drink or do drugs. She asked whether I was attending any twelve-step programs or other similar support groups. I said that I wasn’t, but I wasn’t drinking or using — which was the truth. Also true — which I revealed later: I stopped attending meetings about three years after my second sponsor died — like my first, from HIV-related illnesses.

Being the therapist she is, she expressed neither approval nor disapproval. In fact, she didn’t mention it again — until a few months after I started working with her again. It came up in relation to something else — I forget what, exactly, but it probably had to do with my mother’s death and what it stirred up in me. I admitted that I drank, but not as a result of my mother’s passing: I’d resumed a few years earlier, a couple of years after my gender affirmation surgery. I wasn’t suffering from the “crash” some people are said to experience after any long-anticipated experience. Rather, I’d taken a celebratory trip and, in a place where nobody knew me, had a couple of drinks.

I didn’t wake up under a bridge or in the hallway of a seedy building — or in another place where nobody knew me. I didn’t wake up beside someone I’d never seen before and would never see again. I didn’t want “the hair of the dog” and in fact felt no pain or regret. If anything, I felt as I might’ve had I spent the evening in any number of other ways and didn’t want much besides waffles, fruit preserves, and coffee.

Since then, I’ve re-discovered an old taste for wine, beer, or hard cider with supper. But I uncovered no hidden craving for hard liquor, which I enjoy once in a great while, on special occasions, and with other people. (A bottle of whiskey, cognac, or vodka lasts me for months, or even more.) And I don’t feel that those libations are a “must” with a meal or other people.

After hearing these revelations, Carol asked a question that surprised me only because I didn’t expect to hear one so direct from her, or any other therapist: Have you thought that you aren’t an alcoholic or any other kind of addict?

When the props around you are pulled out, you might flail about. But then you might re-orient yourself to your new surroundings. For a moment, I wanted to scream at Carol: She had knocked out one of the last blocks of a wall that I confused with my identity. Being someone who’d undergone a gender affirmation (what people used to call a “change” or “transition”) and an atheist, I didn’t think I still had any such structure—especially since my belief in a supreme being was all but gone by the time I started to attend AA and NA meetings.

More than a few people in those programs — and outside them — told me not only did I need to believe in a “Higher Power,” but that it was simply impossible to remain clean and sober without “turning it over” to that “HP.” (If you speak Spanish, the HP monogram is particularly ironic.) While they denied that there was any “religious” connotation to their assertion, the way they talked about it, and the very thinly-disguised prayers they said at meetings, said otherwise.

While my first sponsor grew up Catholic and my second knew the Book of Common Prayer forwards, backwards, and sideways, they—fortunately for me — didn’t try to convince me that I needed a God, I mean Higher Power, to whom I could “turn over” my problems. On the other hand, they also didn’t downplay the need to “make amends,” though they emphasized that I shouldn’t blame myself for the ways I harmed others, or simply made mistakes. “Use whatever works to keep you sober,” my first sponsor told me.

So, while both of my sponsors didn’t convey the most toxic aspect of twelve-step programs—denying the religiosity of the program while premising one’s sobriety on it — I came to realize, with the help of my therapist, that I was also clinging, in some way, to the shame and guilt my Catholic upbringing and my later Evangelical Christianity had inculcated in me. Despite my sponsors’ assurances, I sometimes wondered whether I could stay clean and sober without a god or some other “higher power.”

What I realized, after working again with Carol, is that fear is exactly what enabled the priest in my old church to prey upon me: He understood, with a perverse kind of intuition, that I wanted a strong, protective authority figure — or, at least, something that would make me feel protected. And he knew that a child, or anyone who is vulnerable, can very easily mistake an authoritarian or manipulator for a source of strength, or at least safety — and could surrender his or her sense of him or herself to a promise and illusion of protection against the very dangers to which the church or he himself — or any other institution and its representatives–exposes him or her.

In other words, just as the churches to which I belonged and their representatives sold the belief that as long as I surrendered to them, I would attain “salvation” — which meant a life free of sin and damnation — the twelve-step programs claimed that as long as I “gave it over,” I would be on the “right” path. And the churches and programs said that straying from their God or Higher Power would lead to the road to death, damnation, and despair.

“So, even though I didn’t believe in God, I believed I was an alcoholic and addict because I still had the need to feel weak, helpless, worthless.”

My therapist didn’t say anything. She didn’t need to.

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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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Escaping a Toxic IFB Home

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A Guest Post by V

I was born and raised into an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) family. My Mum went to Bible college in Missouri and Dad was converted by Mum at some point before they married. Shortly after I was born, we moved to Australia from Indonesia in 2000. Once we settled there, we promptly joined a young IFB church. I was their very first creche baby and their first Sunday school kid.

At home, I always remembered being taught with the rod of correction. My parents beat me because they loved me, they said. As a result, I would be beaten with belts and thick wooden rods as punishment for my sins. My peers at school would often question my bruising and I would always lie and say I fell over.

I was coerced into being “saved” at the age of five and baptised at the age of nine. I later doubted my salvation, as I realised how young I was when I was first baptised, so I rededicated my life to Christ as a teen.

I went to a secular primary and high school as my parents couldn’t afford a private Christian school. This was my only window and escape to the real world. As I grew through school, I slowly started to realise just how sheltered I was. No Harry Potter, no boyfriends, no worldly music, no revealing clothes. These were all things my peers were into at my age but I was forbidden to partake. The simple thought of the temptation would send me spiraling in an anxious prayer of forgiveness. I did not know it yet, but I was already mentally broken.

When I reached out for help through my church brothers and sisters, I was often dismissed and was told to just pray more. Read the Bible more. It means you’re not right with God. It is demonic spiritual warfare, etc. They truly forsook me when I had nowhere else to go.

It was not until year eleven (the year before graduation in Australia), when I met a kind Catholic boy and fell in love, that my life really changed. He was the one who showed me the true meaning of love and life. I was honest with my parents, which resulted in me being kicked out of home on the first day of my HSC (SAT equivalent in Australia). My mother told me to never come home again. She had found the birth control I was taking, as I had given my virginity to the Catholic boy. She told me God cannot use a corrupt vessel and that she prays that he will deliver me from my sin.

I never set foot in a church ever again. What did not occur to me was just how much psychological damage was done. I became scared to leave the house; scared to get a job; scared to be in the world because of this intense sense of despair that I had wronged my mother and wronged God.

Long story short, I am still on my road to recovery at age 24. The man I lost my virginity to — I owe him my life. If it were not for him, taking me out of that toxic environment, I probably would not be here today. We have been together for seven years and we are still stronger than ever.

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