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Category: Humanism

Bruce, You Are Wrong!!

garfield never wrong

Over the past seventeen years, various people have taken it upon themselves in emails, blog comments, Facebook comments, tweets, letters to the editor, sermons, and blog posts to emphatically tell me “Bruce, You Are Wrong!!” Be it my liberal politics, the teams I root for, or my humanistic, atheistic beliefs, these beacons of absolute truth are infallibly certain that I am wrong.

Let me confess right away that I have been wrong many, many, many times. I bet you didn’t know that, right? In fact, there’s not a day that goes by that I am not wrong in some moment, circumstance, or detail.

Usually, when someone writes to me to tell me I am wrong, they have a deeper, more sinister meaning for the word “wrong.” For the most part, I write about Christianity — particularly Evangelical Christianity and the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Occasionally, I write about politics, education, sports, and other sundry subjects, but my main focus is Christianity and its trappings. I spend a great deal of time telling my story, detailing my journey, as only a good, humble, narcissistic ex-pastor can. This blog, whatever else it may or may not be, is this: “Bruce’s Story, Told by Bruce, According to Bruce, the Best He Can Remember It.”

When I am telling my story and my understanding of the journey I am on, I have little patience with those who tell me I am “wrong.” They dissect my life with the razor knife of their own experiences and beliefs, and determine that I am/was not what I say I am/was. They tell me I was never saved, never a Christian, never a real pastor, and I suspect someday someone will even challenge my circumcision.

These kinds of people want to control my storyline. My Evangelical critics want to set the standard by which my life — the one I lived, the one I am presently living — is judged, and it infuriates them when I won’t let them do so. I refuse to allow my story to be co-opted, controlled, or judged by any other standard than my own experiences. It is my life, and I know what I believed, how I lived, and I am certain I know my life better than anyone who only has this blog to judge me by. My dear wife of forty-six years is my best friend and she knows me pretty well, but she doesn’t know everything about me. Almost everything, but not quite. (Polly is wondering, “What the hell is Bruce keeping from me?)

Foolish is a person, armed with only printed words on a computer screen, who would judge a person’s life without further evidence or knowledge. I certainly want people to enter into my story — in fact, I invite them in. But my readers are just visitors. They only know what I am willing to tell them. If my lover and best friend or my counselor can’t pierce Bruce Almighty’s inner sanctum, don’t think for a moment any outsider can. I’ve been reading the blogs of certain people who have frequented this site for years. I am friends with them on Facebook. I know lots of things about them, but I would never arrogantly say I intimately “know” them. The same can be said for my editor. She’s been editing my writing for almost nine years. We have never met in person, and, likely, we never will. I consider her a dear friend. We text each other almost daily. I know a lot about her past and present life, and her spouse, children, grandchildren, etc. However, I would never presume on our relationship by saying I “know” everything there is to know about her. Yet, countless Evangelical critics think that by reading a few posts on this site they “know” me, and are in a position to render infallible judgment. 

Sometimes, charges of being wrong are hurled my way because of something I have written about Christianity, the ministry, the Bible, or some other facet of Western Christianity. They vehemently disagree with my interpretation of a particular Bible verse, or they object to particular word usages, words such as Christian, Evangelical, or Fundamentalist.

What is the foundation of their charges against me? Why, their own beliefs and interpretations, or the beliefs and interpretations of their particular sect. Ultimately, the Bible becomes the focus of these kinds of accusations.

According to my eristical interlocutors, I am wrong because I have misread, misunderstood, misapplied, or distorted what the Bible teaches. How do my critics know this? Because they read, understand, and apply the Bible differently from me. And we all know that every Evangelical is infallible in his or her understanding of an allegedly divine religious text, written by mostly unknown authors thousands of years ago. (That’s sarcasm, by the way.)

I could be wrong. In fact, I am quite certain that some of my interpretations of the Bible are wrong or could be better stated. I have no way of proving whether they are. All I have is my mind and my ability to read and study, and using these skills, I try, to the best of my ability, to discern and understand what a particular text in the Bible says. People are free to differ with me, but why should it be assumed that I am wrong and my critics are right? How do we make such a determination? Dr. Dan McClellan is fond of saying that the Bible has no inherent meaning. And he is right. We give the text meaning, not the other way around.

The Bible has the unique ability to be whatever a person wants it to be. Most people have a bit of Thomas Jefferson in them, scissors in hand, cutting out the things they disagree with or the things that weaken their theological, political, and social beliefs. The short of it is this: if you need to prove something, go to the Bible. You will likely find the answer you are looking for.

I am quite aware of the fact that I read the Bible differently from the Evangelical Christians who think I am wrong. The one-up I have on them is that I used to read the Bible as they do. I understand their hermeneutics and theology, and I am well aware of their interpretations. That said, I have no compulsion or need to read the Bible as Evangelicals or progressive/liberal Christians would read the Good Book. I do not need to make the Bible fit a peculiar systematic theology grid, as Evangelical Christians do. Instead, I try to read the Bible like the average, unenlightened Bruce would read the Bible. I try to transport myself back in time in hopes of getting a historical and cultural perspective on the passage I am reading.

In Genesis 1:26, God says “let us make man in our image.”  When I read this passage, I say to myself: this says there is a plurality of Gods. Let US. As I read the Old Testament, it is clear to me that the Israelites were polytheistic and over time became monotheistic (or as oneness-Pentecostals would assert about Trinitarian Christians, they still ARE polytheistic).

Of course, those who think I am wrong say: but the New Testament says______ and they import their Trinitarian theology into the Genesis text. That’s all well and good if you are an Evangelical Christian, but I am not. I am quite free to read the Bible as it is written without forcing myself to put all the pegs in the right holes. The Christian has the burden to make it all fit, not I.

I may be wrong, but it is a leap of faith to assume that because I am wrong, you are right. There is no way to “prove” who is right or who is wrong when it comes to the Bible. Baptists and Campbellites (Church of Christ) often spar over one Greek word, eis, in Acts 2:38. Who is right? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all the arguments from both sides of the fence. Who is right? All of us have to determine for ourselves what we believe about God, Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity. This blog is simply my take on these things.

Seriously, the amount of skin I have in this game gets less and less every day. Talking about the Bible and what it purportedly teaches is all fun and games. Since the Bible no longer has a mystical, supernatural hold on me, I am quite free to ignore it at will. I am free to be wrong because being wrong about the Bible is like being wrong about picking the players for a fantasy football league — not the end of the world.

My bigger focus is on those who are considering leaving Christianity or who have already left Christianity. I try to be a good example of a person who successfully broke the chains of bondage and left Christianity. I do not call on people to follow me or to do what I did. All I am is one guy with a story to tell. If my story helps someone; if it gives them the strength to take the big step they need to take, then I am grateful and humbled by being a small measure of help to them. However, if all I do is piss you off and make you think you have scabies, perhaps your short life would be better served reading other things than this blog. Telling me I am wrong will not bring the effect you desire. I will gladly admit to being wrong. Next?

Perhaps you are really hanging out here because, deep down, uncertainty is pulling at you, and you are trying to suppress it by lashing out at the poor, deluded, deceived, ignorant Evangelical-preacher-turned-atheist named Bruce. If me being your whipping boy leads to your deconversion, whip away, my friend, whip away.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

Doing Good Because it is the Right Thing to Do, Not Because Jesus is Watching

Imagine for a moment that you find a wallet someone has accidentally dropped on the ground. In the wallet are the person’s ID, credit cards, and $300. What would you do?

I suspect most of us would attempt to track the person down and return the wallet. Why? Because it is the right thing to do.

The Christian Post reported a story about an anonymous Christian finding a wallet and returning it to its rightful owner. The Christian did the right thing and he should be commended for doing so. If you have ever lost your wallet or ID, you know how stressful and gut-wrenching the experience is, especially in this day of identity theft.

The problem I have with the Christian Post story is the motivation the Christian had for returning the wallet. Instead of it being a good, decent, honorable thing to do, the Christian had a “Biblical” reason for returning the wallet.

The Christian attached a Post-it note to the wallet:

returned wallet

The Christian who returned the wallet stated that the following verses were his reason/motivation for returning the wallet:

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. Luke 10:27

He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. Luke 16:10

That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth. Psalm 83:18

In other words, the Christian’s act of decency and kindness was all about God.

From my seat in the atheist pew, it seems to me that religion and the Bible complicate the issue. Would the Christian have returned the wallet if these verses weren’t in the Bible? Would he have returned the wallet if he weren’t a Christian? While these questions might be viewed as trying to turn a good deed into an argument, I think motivations are important.

This story is connected closely to arguments over morality and ethics. Most Christians think morality and ethics require religion — theirs — and a supernaturally written book, the Bible. They think they do good because of their religion and its teachings. It is God that keeps them from being bad people. If it weren’t for Jesus, the world would be overrun with thieves, rapists, and child molesters.

It is not enough, then, for an act of goodness to be performed just because it is the right thing to do. Instead, it is God who gets all the praise and glory because, without him, humans would do bad things. In other words, without God, the Christian would have kept the wallet.

If the Christian had left a Post-it note with these two verses:

And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. Luke 6:31

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matthew 22:39

. . . perhaps I would see this story differently.

All of us should treat others as we would want to be treated. Isn’t that a universal moral value?

I commend the Christian for returning the man’s wallet. It was the right thing to do, whether the man was a Fundamentalist Baptist, an Episcopalian, or an atheist. Would an atheist have returned the wallet? I’d like to think so. But I know among atheists and Christians alike, some would have viewed the lost wallet as an opportunity to steal. Finders keepers, losers weepers, right? As we all know, religious belief does not inoculate someone from being a bad person. (Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.) The religious and godless alike have the capability and power to do bad things. Why? Because bad people do bad things. A narcissistic view of the world often motivates people to only think of self. When presented with an opportunity to return the lost wallet, the narcissist is only concerned with what he can gain. In this case, he gains the money that is in the wallet.

We should all strive for a higher ideal regardless of our religious beliefs. As a humanist, I try to treat others as I would want to be treated. If I lost my wallet, I hope someone would return it and I would gladly offer the finder a reward. Far more important than lost cash is lost ID. And I know if I found a person’s wallet, I would return it to the owner. How do I know I would do this? Because that is what I have done in the past. It is the moral/ethical code I live by. I know how panicked I get when I can’t find my wallet in the house, and I can only imagine how stressed out I would be if I knew I had lost it at a store or parking lot somewhere.

Here’s the point I want to make — good people do good things. Yes, sometimes good people fail and might, at times, do bad things, but the arc of their lives is toward good. The same can be said of those who lack moral and ethical character. They may sometimes do good things, but the arc of their lives is toward bad. Religion does not determine goodness or badness, though it certainly can, for some people, play a part. What determines the kind of person we are is our character. People with good character do good things like returning a lost wallet. People with bad character, don’t.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

Bruce, Science Can’t Tell Us [Fill in the Blank], Yet You Are Certain There Is No God?

questions

A reader named Ron Lawson recently commented on the post The Scandalous Life of Jack Hyles and Why it Still Matters. That post is about Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) megachurch pastor Jack Hyles, yet Lawson’s comment says nothing about Hyles or what I wrote about him. Instead, Lawson wrote (all spelling and grammar in the original):

I am amazed at the incredible intelligence on this post. Science cant even tell how a single cell developed from non-life to life or where the book of our DNA came from or how it teaches cells to differentiate themselves into various organs, eyes etc. and yet we are certain there is no god.

I pray there is a God or we are cursed to be the highest intelligence and we have nothing to hate for all of the inhumanity to man that is caused by evil people… if evil is even a thing… that very concept presupposes there is a standard outside of ourselves that pre-dates our birth that has somehow come to the awareness that there is such a thing.

Lawson begins his comment by sarcastically saying “I am amazed at the incredible intelligence on this post.” Lawson makes no effort to respond to or address what I wrote about Jack Hyles. Instead, he wants to insult me personally — suggesting I am lacking in intelligence when it comes to biology. Granted, I am not a scientist, and I assume neither is Lawson, but he once spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express, so that means he is qualified to speak on scientific matters.

I will soon turn sixty-seven years old. I have made a lot of mistakes in life. As a young IFB preacher, I was certain that I was right. Arrogantly, I thought I could opine on every aspect of life even if I lacked knowledge, training, and education on a particular subject. This was especially so with matters of science. In high school, I took biology and earth science. In college, I took biology — which was a colossal waste of time. That’s it. While I have tried my best to advance my understanding of science over the years, I am in no way qualified to speak on such issues. I rely on experts in their relevant scientific fields to educate me when I have questions. When people raise science-related questions in the comment section, I typically defer to readers who actually know what they are talking about. I know what I know, but more importantly, I know what I don’t know.

Maybe Lawson has a science education. I doubt it, but maybe. Most Evangelicals who leave comments such as his lack actual science training. Their scientific knowledge comes from apologetics books, websites, and podcasts. Scores of Evangelicals have commented on this site, pontificating on biology, cosmology, or archeology. Yet, when pressed on their educational background or how they came to “know” what they know, you quickly find out that they have no knowledge beyond their literalist interpretations of the Bible, what their pastors say on Sundays, or what they read or watched on sites such as Answers in Genesis, Dr. Dino (Kent Hovind), or the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) — to name a few.

If Lawson comments again, perhaps he will let us know why we should listen to anything he has to say; what qualifications does he have to speak authoritatively about biology? If Lawson wants to discuss Evangelicalism or the IFB church movement, I am more than happy to do so. Why? Because I am an expert in these subjects, and I am conversant on religion in general. However, I try not to expose my ignorance when it comes to science. I am more than happy to have general conversations about science, but an expert I am not. So, anything I say about science should be understood from that perspective.

Science does not have all the answers about anything. We know more than we did yesterday, but there is much we still do not know, and it is certain that we will never know everything. Evangelicals wrongly think that just because they can read the Bible, all of a sudden, they are an authority on what it says. Thus when they read Genesis 1-3, Evangelicals think they know how the universe and the biological world came into being. God did it. And since science can’t answer everything — cue up the God of the gaps argument — God did it. Just because science can’t answer a particular question doesn’t mean God is the answer. Most Evangelicals can’t even explain why there are two hopelessly contradictory creation accounts in the first three chapters of Genesis.

The Bible is a dead, antiquated religious text. When it comes to science, the Bible has nothing to offer. We know the universe was not created in six literal twenty-four-hour days. We know the earth is not 6,027 years old. We know Adam and Eve weren’t the first hominids. We know that many of the stories in the Old Testament, such as Noah and the Ark, Moses and the Jewish exodus, the tower of Babel, etc. are myths. Science tells us these things. The Bible? It is a product of its time, not meant to be used for scientific inquiry.

Lawson says that because science can’t answer certain questions — and I have no idea whether it can answer his challenges or not — we cannot say “there is no God.” I have never said that there is no God. I am an agnostic atheist. Unlike many theists, I know the limitations of my knowledge. I cannot know for certain whether a deity of some sort exists. A God of some sort may exist that has not yet made itself known to us. Is this likely or probable? No, but possible. Thus, I am agnostic on the God question. However, when it comes to the extant deities (all gods and religions are of human origin), I am an atheist, confident that these gods are myths. When it comes to the Abrahamic deities, I am confident that these gods and religions are the products of human minds. I am convinced that the central claims of Christianity are false.

As far as morality is concerned, I am persuaded that moral and ethical values come from our DNA and personal experiences and beliefs. If there was some sort of objective moral standard outside of ourselves, we would all have the same moral and ethical beliefs, at all times, throughout human history. Of course, we don’t. Even Christians can’t agree on morality. Morals change with time, and from person to person. Thus, morality is inherently subjective. It is when we gather into families, tribes, communities, and countries that we begin to develop moral codes and standards (which, again, vary from family to family, tribe to tribe, community to community, and country to country). We, collectively, agree that certain behaviors are moral (good) and others are immoral (bad). Because our highest goals are happiness and well-being, we often punish behaviors that negatively affect these goals. Ultimately, WE decide what is moral and ethical. (So, you think we are God? Yes.) 🙂 There is no God, who else decides besides us? Unless you think all morals are hardwired, you must believe morality is subjective. A separate issue, which I will not address at this time, is whether humans have free will. Even without free will, if happiness and well-being — both individually and corporately — are our goals, we can (must) govern human behavior through expectations and laws. While religions can and do play a part in the formation of our moral values, this doesn’t mean that a particular religion (and its deity and divine text) is the source, the grounding of human morality.

As far as evil, is concerned, evil is what humans do, based on what I stated above. We don’t need religion or a deity to declare a certain behavior or action is evil. I don’t need Jesus in my heart or knowledge of Lawson’s deity to know that slaughtering children and innocent civilians in war — as Israel is currently doing — is morally wrong. I make moral judgments every day, without God or appeals to a religious text (though I will readily admit my moral framework is informed by the five decades I spent as a follower of Jesus).

Lawson prays there is a God. Why? Isn’t it time we grew up and put off childish things, the vestiges of a pre-scientific age? Simply put, we don’t need the God of classical theism. He is a crutch people hang on to instead of doing the hard work necessary to determine how to morally and ethically live their lives. This path is messy, laden with challenges and contradictions, but more honest and fulfilling than appealing to mythical deities and ancient religious texts.

I appreciate Lawson taking the time to comment.

Saved by Reason,

signature

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Why I Stopped Believing

why

Originally posted in February 2015. Edited, updated, and expanded.

Jason, an Evangelical Christian, asked:

What would cause someone with your Biblical education and years of preaching the Word of God not just claiming to be a Christian but also living it one day decide to not believe and do a 180 and turn your back on it?

While I deal with this question at length in the From Evangelicalism to Atheism series, today I want to give a short, condensed answer to this question.

People like Jason are often perplexed by how it possible for someone with my background and training to one day walk away the ministry and Christianity. Most of the clergy who deconvert do so at a much younger age, often in their 20s and 30s. In my case, I spent fifty years in the Christian church and I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years before I deconverted. When I started going to counseling, my counselor told me that it was quite rare for someone my age and with my experience to walk away from a lifetime of belief and work. It happens, just not very often.

Jason is not alone. A number of my ex-friends, former ministerial colleagues, family members, and former parishioners can’t understand how it is possible that the man they called Preacher or Pastor is now an atheist. Often they cannot or will not believe the reasons I give for my deconversion. Instead, they try to divine some other reason to explain why Bruce Gerencser, the man of God, the pastor, the preacher, their colleague in the ministry, is now an apostate, an enemy of God. “Is there some secret past I am hiding, some secret sin,” they ask themselves? They wonder if I have mental health problems, that I am “unstable.” They rack their brains trying to come up with a plausible explanation, anything but accepting the reasons I give for my deconversion.

Christian Fundamentalism taught me to stand firm on my beliefs and convictions. When I was a pastor, people appreciated and applauded my willingness to resolutely defend my beliefs and convictions. But now that I do the same with atheism, humanism, and liberal politics, they think there must be some other reason I drastically changed my mind and life. Let me be clear, I am the same man, someone who thinks that beliefs matter.

My mother taught me, from my youth up, that it was important to stand up for what you believe. Now, this doesn’t mean that I am not now tolerant of the beliefs of others, because I am.  As I get older, I realize that tolerance is an important virtue. Stepping outside of the box in which I spent most of my life, I have found a rich, diverse, and contradictory world that continues to challenge me and force me to be more accepting and tolerant.

When I entered kindergarten I could already read. My book-loving mother taught me to read, and she developed in me an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. This may seem counter-intuitive at first, since I was raised in a Fundamentalist environment that is known for its ignorance. However, by becoming a proficient and avid reader, I had at my disposal countless opportunities to expand my knowledge. Sadly, my quest for knowledge became quite stunted as a pastor because I rarely read books that would conflict with my Evangelical beliefs.  However, when I began to have doubts about Christianity and its teachings, my thirst for knowledge kicked into high gear and I began reading books that I once would have considered heretical.

I never made a lot of money pastoring churches. I never had church provided health insurance or a retirement plan. The only benefits I received were a check I got once a week IF the offerings were sufficient to pay me (all too often, they were not).  Outside of the time I spent pastoring Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, every other church I pastored paid a part-time or poverty-level wage for the full-time work I gave the church. I often worked outside of the church, as did Polly when I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I am not pointing a judgmental finger at the churches I pastored. Most of the churches were either small or in poverty-ridden areas. Over the years, I was privileged to pastor many gracious, giving poor people. They gave what they could.

About now you are thinking, what in the world are you talking about, Bruce? I thought this post was about WHY you stopped believing? It is, and what I have written above can be distilled down to these three important statements:

  • I was taught to stand firm on my convictions and beliefs
  • I was taught to read at an early age and I developed a thirst for knowledge
  • I never made much money in the ministry

Since I never made much money in the ministry, there was no economic reason for me to stay in the ministry. I always made more money working outside of the church, so when I decided to leave the ministry, which I did three years before I deconverted, I suffered no economic consequences. In fact, life has gotten much better economically post-Jesus.

Freed from the ministry, my wife and I spent several years visiting over a hundred Christian churches. We were desperately looking for a Christianity that mattered, a Christianity that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. During this time period, I read countless books written by authors from a broad spectrum of Christendom. I read books by authors such as Thomas Merton, Robert Farrar Capon, Henri Nouwen, Wendell Berry, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, John Shelby Spong, Soren Kierkegaard, and NT Wright.  These authors challenged my Evangelical understanding of Christianity and its teachings.

I decided I would go back to the Bible, study it again, and determine what it was I REALLY believed. During this time, I began reading books by authors such as Robert Wright Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, These three authors, along with several others, attacked the foundation of my Evangelical beliefs: the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. Their assault on this foundation brought my Evangelical house tumbling down. I desperately tried to find some semblance of the Christianity I once believed, but I came to realize that my faith was gone.

I tried, for a time, to convince myself that I could find some sort of Christianity that would work for me. Polly and I visited numerous liberal or progressive Christian churches, but I found that these expressions of faith would not do for me. My faith was gone. Later, Polly would come to the same conclusion.

I turned to the Internet to find help. I came upon sites like exchristian.net and Debunking Christianity. I found these sites to be quite helpful as I tried to make sense of what was going on in my life. I began reading the books of authors such as John Loftus, Hector Avalos, Robert M. Price, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins.

I read many authors and books besides the ones listed here. I say this to keep someone from saying, but you didn’t read so and so or you didn’t read _______.  So, if I had to give one reason WHY I am no longer a Christian today it would be BOOKS.  My thirst for knowledge, a thirst I still have today, even though it is greatly hindered by chronic illness and pain, is what drove me to re-investigate the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible.  This investigation led me to conclude that the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible could not rationally and intellectually be sustained. Try as I might to hang on to some sort of Christian faith, the slippery slope I found myself on would not let me stand still. Eventually, I found myself saying, I no longer believe in the Christian God. For a time, I was an agnostic, but I got tired of explaining myself, so I took on the atheist moniker, and now no one misunderstands what I believe. (see Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners and Dear Friend)

The hardest decision I ever made in my life was that day in late November of 2008, when I finally admitted to myself, I am no longer a Christian, I no longer believe in the Christian God, I no longer believe the Bible is the Word of God. At that moment, everything I had spent my life believing and doing was gone. In a sense, I had an atheist version of a born-again experience. For the past sixteen years, I have continued to read, study, and write. I am still very much a work in progress. My understanding of religion and its cultural and sociological implications continues to grow. Now that I am free from the constraints of religion, I am free to wander the path of life wherever it may lead. Now that I am free to read what I want, I have focused my attention on history and science. While I continue to read books that are of a religious or atheist nature, I spend less and less time reading these kinds of books. I still read every new book Bart Ehrman publishes, along with the various Christian/atheist/humanist blogs and publications I read, and this is enough to keep me up-to-date with American Christianity and American atheism/humanism.

I hope this post adequately answers the question of WHY I stopped believing.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Understanding Religion from A Cost-Benefit Perspective

cost benefit

Many of my fellow atheists and agnostics have a hard time understanding why, exactly, people are religious. In particular, many godless people are befuddled by Evangelicals. How can anyone believe the Bible is inspired and inerrant; believe the earth was created in six twenty-four-hour days; believe the universe is 6,027 years old; believe Adam and Eve were the first human beings; believe the story of Noah and Ark really happened; believe that millions of Israelites wandered in desert for forty years, and believe a Jewish man named Jesus was a God-man who worked miracles, was executed on a Roman cross, and resurrected from the dead three days later. I could add numerous other mythical, fanciful, incredulous Bible stories to this list; all of which sound nonsensical to skeptical, rational people. Here we are living in 2024 — an age driven by technology and science — yet millions of Evangelicals and other conservative Christians flock to Kentucky to tour Ken Ham’s monuments to ignorance: the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum. These same people helped to elect Donald Trump, the vilest, most unqualified man to ever sit in the Oval Office. Why is it that Evangelicals continue to believe, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

From a rational perspective, none of this makes any sense. Most Evangelicals have at least a high school education, and some of them have college degrees. Many of them are successful business owners, with more than a few of them amassing wealth most unbelievers covet. Many atheists and agnostics wrongly believe that the typical Evangelical is a poorly educated white hillbilly from Kentucky or Mississippi. Pan the crowds gathered at countless American Evangelical megachurches and you will find all the markings of well-off, educated people. Why, then, do Evangelicals believe the nonsense mentioned previously?

The best way to understand Evangelicalism is to view it from an economic cost-benefit perspective. Think of Evangelicalism as a club. To join the club, certain things are required. Every prospective club member must agree with the club’s stated principles and beliefs and pay annual dues to their local club. Once a prospective member publicly affirms the club’s stated principles and beliefs, undergoes a rite of initiation (baptism), and pays his annual dues, the prospect is granted entrance to the club. Membership in the club comes with several benefits:

  • Weekly instruction in the club’s principles and beliefs
  • Answers to life’s pressing questions
  • Classes for every age group, from infants to senior citizens
  • Opportunities for entertainment, often called fun, food, and fellowship
  • Access to counseling services
  • Wedding and funeral services
  • Support for conservative Christian social and political views
  • Bumper stickers, shirts, and other swag that advertise your membership in the club
  • Promises of forgiveness, happiness, and life after death

As long as these benefits outweigh the costs, people will continue to embrace Evangelical beliefs. Rationalists think that truth is all that should matter, and when it comes to truth, atheists/agnostics/humanists/skeptics/freethinkers have it, and Evangelicals don’t. True, but what do we offer besides truth? I’m waiting . . . Therein lies our problem. Yes, truth is on our side, but we lack appealing social structures (clubs), and, to many questioning/doubting Evangelicals, the cost of saying, “I am an atheist/agnostic” far outweighs the benefits. (Please see Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist.) If we want to attract people to truth, to our cause, we must find ways to change the cost-benefit dynamic. “Dammit, Bruce, truth should be enough!” Yep, and I agree with you. Unfortunately, you and I are not like most people. “What’s in it for me?” many people ask. “What are the benefits of joining your club?” Fuss and fume all you want about this, but the fact remains that most people want to belong to things that benefit them; that give them something tangible.

As a pastor, I learned that people look for perceived value. Our church would sponsor a free concert with a contemporary Christian artist and fifty people would show up. Charge $5 admission for the same concert and hundreds of people would attend. Same artist, just a different perceived value. As long as Evangelicals think that the benefits of club membership outweigh the costs, they will continue to be members. Our goal should be to make rationalism and progressive politics appealing. We must develop social structures that advance the humanist ideal. And then, we must become the public face of our club, a face that says, “you are welcome here!” Constantly fighting with Evangelicals on social media does what exactly? Sure, it feels good to drown Evangelicals in seas of truth, but what have we gained? Engaging in shit-throwing contests on Twitter with Evangelical trolls might make for good entertainment and provide a brief dopamine rush, but what is really accomplished by doing so?  In 2012, tens of thousands of atheists, agnostics, humanists, and freethinkers gathered on the National Mall for the Reason Rally. What an awesome moment, a coming-out party, of sorts. Twelve years have passed since this rally. What progress have we made towards coalescing into a credible, appealing club for likeminded people? If we truly want to give Evangelicalism the eternal death it so richly deserves, we must offer people a better way. We must offer them benefits that outweigh the costs of publicly saying “I’m an unbeliever” in a country that is still dominated and controlled by Christianity. We may laud recent upticks in polls for our kind, but this growth pales when compared to the sheer numbers of religious people. Yes, as a block, we now outnumber Evangelicals, but make no mistake about it, they still hold political and cultural power.

After the 2012 Reason Rally, I told readers that it was time for rationalists, skeptics, and freethinkers to move beyond skirmishes with Evangelicals. I still believe that today. That doesn’t mean we stop exposing Evangelical beliefs and practices for the nonsense they are. But we must find ways to build social connections; ways to build clubs that are appealing to, particularly, younger Americans. Trying to reach Evangelical Baby Boomers and the Great Generation is unlikely to succeed. It is with young people that the future of, not only the United States, but the world, rests. We oldsters have a lot of wisdom to offer, but as long as we sit silently in our homes, that wisdom goes to waste. Imagine how different our country might be if every county had a local humanist/skeptics club; a place where young and old alike meet to plan ways to Make America Rational Again; a place where atheists, agnostics, and unbelievers can gather and feel at home. Until we figure this out, people are going to continue to gather at local Evangelical clubs to worship the dead Jesus.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Should Atheists Disabuse Christians of Their Beliefs?

good news

Everywhere one looks, Christians can be found. All sorts of Christians — Fundamentalist, Evangelical, Progressive, Liberal — with countless shades and nuances. The majority of Americans profess to believe in the Christian God. Most Americans believe that the Bible is in one way or another the word of God. Most Americans believe that Jesus is the son of God and that he died on the cross for human sin and resurrected from the dead three days later. Most Americans believe that the Christian God created the universe. It is safe to say that the United States is a Christian nation; not in the sense that people such as David Barton use the phrase “Christian nation,” but in the sense that Christianity permeates every aspect of American life. That some Christians are now saying that they are “persecuted” is laughable.

Expressions of Christianity can be found everywhere one looks. Christian churches are found in every American community. Christian congregations and pastors are subsidized by taxpayer money. Churches are exempt from paying real estate and sales tax, and their ministers’ housing is tax-exempt. Ministers are even permitted to opt out of paying Social Security tax. Donations to churches are tax exempt. No matter how opulent church facilities might be or how rich ministers might become, every dollar of church income is tax-exempt. Not only are financial and in-kind gifts tax-exempt, but donors receive tax deductions for their donations. Government agencies steer a wide berth around religion, rarely sticking their nose in its business. The Internal Revenue Service is so scared of intruding upon churches that it goes out of its way to NOT investigate clear and egregious violations of the separation of church and state.

In recent years, atheism, agnosticism, secularism, and religious indifference have numerically increased as young Americans in particular look at the religious scene and say no thanks. Christian sects are hemorrhaging members, as church leaders scramble to plug the increasingly expansive hole in the membership dike. They rightly understand that if they are unable to keep young adults in the church, they are but a generation or two away from extinction. This is particularly true for smaller churches that have lost scores of members to megachurches and larger churches. Unable to compete, smaller churches are slowly dying, the result of the corporate, entertainment mindset that now dominates the Christian landscape. That and an unwillingness on the part of churches to adapt to cultural change.  Those of us who are not Christians observe this decline from the outside, cheering on those who cannibalize their own. Surely we would all be better off without Christianity, atheists say. While it can certainly be debated whether we would actually be better off without Christianity, it is certainly clear that religious belief has caused untold damage.

I spent fifty years of my life in the Evangelical church. Twenty-five of those years were devoted to pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. I have come in contact with thousands of people who self-identified as Christians. I have intimately known countless people who believe the Bible is the word of God, and that it is a guidebook for living life. These Christians believe that the Bible tells us all we need to know about life — both now and after death. How should atheists respond to Christians who believe their particular flavor of Christianity is “truth?” How should atheists respond to those who believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God? What is our duty — if any — to those who are committed followers of Jesus? Should atheists, when presented with an opportunity to do so, disabuse Christians of their beliefs? Does it really matter what people believe?

The atheist community is certainly not of one mind on these issues. Some atheists think that religious belief should be challenged at every opportunity. Some atheists think that religious belief deserves mockery and ridicule.  Other atheists take a live-and-let-live attitude. Don’t bother me and I won’t bother you, these atheists say.

The question raised in this post — should atheists disabuse Christians of their beliefs? — comes from an atheist who recently engaged in a discussion with a Christian minister about religious faith and atheism. She wondered if atheists should bother trying to engage people who are resolutely committed to Christianity, its God, and its religious text – the Bible. What follows is my answer.

I tend to take an incremental approach to engaging people of faith. This has led some atheists to label me as an accommodationist. I have often been accused of being too soft or nice to Christians, which is ironic because many Christians think I am hostile toward Christianity. I suppose that atheists and Christians alike are right. I can be hostile toward any form of Christianity that psychologically and physically harms people. I am certainly hostile toward any religious system that impedes progress and the betterment of the human race. That said, when dealing with people I think have doubts and questions about Christianity, I tend to be patient and long-suffering, hoping that I can, through reason and kindness, help them move away from the suffocating constraints of Christianity — particularly Evangelicalism. I play the game, realizing — as it did for me — that it might take years for someone to come to the conclusion that what they have believed for years is a lie. Assaulting such people with every possible atheistic weapon rarely results in deconversion. Unlike Evangelicals with their born-again experiences, the path to atheism is often a long and winding road, with many starts and stops along the way.

How should atheists respond when Christian zealots make a deliberate attempt to evangelize them or deliver them from what Christians believe are satanic, immoral beliefs? How should atheists respond when Christians make a concerted effort to challenge their beliefs — or lack thereof? Social media is often a prime hunting ground for Christians looking to assert their beliefs and sense of rightness. I’m sure most atheists at one time or another have had to interact with preachy, evangelizing Christian friends and family members on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites. While most of my Facebook friends are atheists or non-Christians, I am friends with several Evangelicals. I post very little atheism-related material on my Facebook wall. I usually post these kind of things on my page. I tell my Facebook friends that if they want to read my writing about religion they should check out my page. On my personal Facebook account, I tend to post cat videos, cartoons, and things that reflect my liberal, socialistic political beliefs. The same cannot be said for my Christian Facebook friends. Virtually every day they post Christian-related stories and memes, and one friend — an out-of-work preacher — has taken to posting what I call paragraph sermons. These sermonettes are often directed towards those who are not Christian, which is strange because the overwhelming majority of his Facebook friends are Evangelical Christians. I think I can safely say that this man’s preaching is directed towards me and my family and other people he has deemed unsaved. This Baptist preacher’s wife tends to post similar material.

One day this preacher’s wife posted something that mentioned atheism. After reading it, I pondered whether I should bother to respond. I did, resulting in a family squabble of sorts. By the next day, her post was removed. I have no idea why. It certainly couldn’t have been due to anything I had written. I was polite, but forceful. This couple, while certainly Fundamentalist, likes to think that they are somehow “different” from hard-core Fundamentalists. I attempted to show that they weren’t, using a tactic I use whenever someone tries to paint themselves as a kinder, gentler, more accepting Christian. I asked if they believed non-Christians would go to Hell when they die. Their answer was an emphatic YES! I told them that the rest of their beliefs really didn’t matter. Anyone who believes that their God will not only fit unbelievers with a fireproof body but also torture them night and day for eternity is every bit as hateful and judgmental as the worst of Fundamentalists. These kind, nice, smiling Fundamentalists want to believe that they are different from their Fundamentalist forefathers, but their abhorrent belief in Hell and the eternal torture of unbelievers makes them every bit as bad.

Why did I bother to engage these Fundamentalists? Surely I knew that nothing would be gained by writing a dissenting comment on the wife’s post. The only reason I did so is because she directly mentioned atheism. I thought, this is my opportunity to put in a word for atheism. While I had hoped my comment might spark honest, thoughtful discussion about Christianity, atheism, and how the family, in general, has treated non-Christians, I also knew that it could turn out as it did. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

It is up to individual atheists to determine when and where they engage the beliefs of Christians. Sometimes, there is no value in attempting to challenge those whose heads are in a bucket of cement. They are deaf and blind, unable to see and hear any other belief but their own. When dealing with such people I take the advice of the Bible — don’t cast your pearls before swine. Atheists can waste tremendous amounts of time talking to people who really have no interest in what they have the say. When I first started blogging sixteen years ago I thought that if I just explained myself to people they would appreciate and understand where I was coming from. I know, quite naïve. A few years back, this issue came up in counseling. I told my counselor that it bothered me that many Christian critics have no interest in hearing my story or allowing me to explain myself. He chuckled and then told me, Bruce, you wrongly think these people give a shit about you. They don’t. And all these years later, I know my counselor is right. Most Christians who engage me are not interested in me as a person. Their goal is to put in a good word for Jesus or to bolster their apologetical skills. Perhaps, deep down they have doubts about their beliefs, and attacking an Evangelical-pastor-turned-atheist helps shout down their doubts and fears.

I think atheists should weigh carefully what might happen if they engage Christians in some sort of dialogue. Sometimes, such engagement can have catastrophic consequences. (Please See Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist.) Atheism is still considered by many to be satanic and immoral. When someone declares their allegiance to atheism, this can and does cause conflict. I have corresponded with atheists who have lost jobs and their marriages over their atheistic beliefs. Try as atheists might to explain that atheism is not a belief system, Christians often already have their minds made up. No amount of discussion about humanism — the moral and ethical framework for most atheists — will suffice. For these Christians, atheists are bad people. I generally don’t bother with such people, again saving my pearls for those who can appreciate them.

The atheist woman who asked the question that has been the subject of this post had a lengthy email discussion with her former Evangelical pastor. This man of God found that she was quite willing and capable to defend atheism and her lack of belief in the Christian God. She told me in an email that she wondered if anyone had ever challenged this pastor concerning his beliefs. Likely not, since most pastors are insulated from any outside challenges to their beliefs. Safe within the confines of their church and study, pastors rarely have to defend what they believe. And when they do, they often turn to books that purport to answer EVERY question posed by unbelievers. As most atheists who have spent significant time engaging Christians know, these books are filled with worn-out clichés, shallow defenses of Christianity, and poor arguments against atheism, secularism, and humanism — arguments that are often easily defeated. When pushed into the corner, pastors will always hold on to three things: personal experience, faith, and the Bible. Of course, such metaphysical claims are beyond rational investigation. Once faith is invoked, discussion ceases.

Over the past sixteen years, I have corresponded with countless pastors. I do my best to thoughtfully and honestly engage them. If they sincerely want my help or just want somebody to talk to, I am more than happy to oblige. When I began walking down the path of unbelief, I was glad I had someone to talk to, someone who was willing to patiently listen and gently challenge my beliefs. The goal in such discussions is not conversion as much as it is to help people move beyond where they are. All atheists agree that religious Fundamentalism is harmful and that helping people see this is vitally important. While it’s great if people embrace unbelief, many won’t. Many times, all atheists can do is become facilitators of sorts, helping people see that there are better ways to live their lives (even if that means they hang on to some sort of religious belief). I am content to leave discussions unfinished, knowing that some people will return a few years later, now ready to finish the discussions begun years before.

In some instances, there is no value in challenging religious beliefs. My wife’s parents were in their 80s when they died. They had been fundamentalist Christians their entire lives. They attended a hard-core Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church for over forty years. My wife’s father was a retired Baptist preacher. While it would have been easy for me to challenge their beliefs, I refrained from doing so. What would I have gained from challenging their lifelong beliefs about God, Jesus, sin, salvation, and life after death? There’s nothing I could have said that would ever have caused them to not believe. Eighteen years ago, their youngest daughter was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident. If anything could have challenged their faith it would have been this. Alas, they remained devoted followers of Jesus to the end.

How do you interact with Christians? Do you aggressively challenge Christian beliefs on social media or at family gatherings? Are you an evangelist of sorts for atheism? Or do you take the live-and-let-live approach, ignoring the religious beliefs of others? Please share your thoughts in the comment section. I am sure there are many and varied ways that atheists interact with Christians, so I hope you will share your approach in the comments. As I have made clear in the past, I don’t want anyone to follow after me. Each of us must chart his or her own course. As unbelievers, we must determine how best to engage a culture that is overwhelmingly controlled and dominated by Christianity.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Updated: Local Southern Baptist Pastor Steve Eyers Opposes Helping People Suffering From Chronic Pain

medical marijuana suffering new jersey
Cartoon by Drew Sheneman, featuring anti-marijuana crusader Chris Christie

Four years ago, the Village of Hicksville, Ohio banned the establishment of medical marijuana facilities within its borders. The Defiance Crescent-News reports:

On Monday evening the Hicksville Village Council passed an ordinance prohibiting the establishment and operation of medical marijuana facilities within the village limits.

This is in response to previous sessions in which the possibility of such facilities coming to town was addressed, although no definite plans had been revealed to council by any such entities. Council had received strong support against these facilities by Police Chief Mark Denning and pastor Steve Eyers; no one has spoken out in their favor at any recent council sessions.

In February 2019, the Hicksville village council held a hearing on the matter. The Crescent-News reported at the time:

Pastor Steve Eyers of Lifeline Connect Church stated he has done sizeable research on medical marijuana since the last meeting and believed the jury to still be out, with no solid documentation existing substantiating positive claims about such facilities; he did observe that medical marijuana is not on the “approved” list of the Food and Drug Administration.

Eyers suggested council speak to state lawmakers and those in other municipalities which have approved medical marijuana production facilities about the results of such places, noting, “Once you open the door it will be difficult to close.”

As readers will note, the main objector to medical marijuana was Steve Eyers, pastor of Lifeline Connect Church. At a previous council meeting, Eyers, a Fundamentalist Southern Baptist, used the “slippery slope” canard to argue against medical marijuana. In Eyers’ world, every perceived negative (sinful) behavior is a step farther down the slippery slope that leads to Hell. I am sure Eyers believes that marijuana is a gateway drug, and once people start toking mary jane they will soon be hooked on crack, cocaine, heroin, or other highly addictive drugs. Funny how Eyers’ “sizeable research” didn’t turn up any evidence to the contrary:

The “gateway hypothesis” or theory refers to the idea that one substance — marijuana, in this case — leads to subsequently use and/or abuse other drugs. If [Governor Chris] Christie’s point is simply that the use of marijuana tends to precede the use of other drugs, then he is correct — but that’s not the whole story.

Though studies of large populations of people have indeed found that those who smoke marijuana are more likely to use other drugs, these studies show a correlation without showing causation — a commonly misunderstood phenomenon in science. In short, just because marijuana smokers might be more likely to later use, say, cocaine, does not imply that using marijuana causes one to use cocaine.

A 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, laid out this issue clearly (see pages 100-101): “In the sense that marijuana use typically precedes rather than follows initiation into the use of other illicit drugs, it is indeed a gateway drug. However, it does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse; that is, care must be taken not to attribute cause to association.”

We spoke with several experts and reviewed the available scientific literature on gateway theory. Christie’s definitive statement is unsupported by evidence — there is some evidence in favor of a gateway effect, but the scientific community shares no consensus on the issue and there is little evidence on the underlying cause of that effect. — Factcheck.org.

Evidently, the good pastor was absent the day his teacher covered correlation and causation in science class.

There is no question that medical marijuana can and does help with many medical maladies, including chronic pain. Numerous readers of this blog can testify to medical marijuana’s efficacy and how it has improved their quality of life. It is absurd to oppose any drug (or treatment) that will reduce pain and suffering. But, Bruce, people might get “addicted’ if they start using medical marijuana. So what? Should it matter that a drug is “addictive” IF it’s helpful? Shouldn’t the goal be reducing pain and improving quality of life? Besides, moral crusaders such as Eyers usually confuse addiction with dependency. Addicts misuse drugs, using them for the sole purpose of getting high. Most people who use medical marijuana (and opioids such as Hydrocodone and Oxycontin) are not addicts. They use the drugs as prescribed to relieve pain and improve the quality of their lives. Long-term users can become dependent on such drugs, but, again, why does that matter? I have been on narcotic pain management drugs for fifteen years. Does this make me an addict? Of course not. I take the medications as prescribed by my family doctor. I have taken a variety of pain relievers over the years, but I have not, one time, abused them. Using these drugs for long periods has certainly made me physically dependent on them. If I were to stop taking Hydrocodone, for example, I would go through withdrawal. And believe me, that’s not fun. Several years ago, I stopped taking Tramadol. I had been using Tramadol on and off for managing mild pain for over a decade. It took months of suffering to successfully wean myself off of the drug. The withdrawal symptoms were so severe that I had to sleep in the living room so my thrashing and crying wouldn’t keep my wife awake. Yes, I survived, but at no time was I addicted to Tramadol. Dependent, yes. Addicted, no.

Count me as one person who is fucking tired of moralizing preachers such as Steve Eyers. First, they are hypocrites. Why did Eyers decide to take a stand against medical marijuana and not the drugs that are widely abused by Hicksville residents, including nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, and religion? Alcohol, in particular, causes all sorts of physical and social problems. Yet, crusading preachers are eerily silent on the subject — outside of an occasional anti-booze sermon. Why is that? Second, they attempt to force their personal or sectarian moral codes on others. There are times I wish that the Steve Eyerses of the world would come down with a debilitating, painful disease; one where relief could only be found through using narcotics or marijuana. Then, and only then, would they understand why chronic pain sufferers need drugs. Of course, I wouldn’t actually wish that on anyone, but there’s nothing like first-hand experience for revealing ignorant beliefs.

If Eyers and others like him want to live in pain, have at it. Taken literally as a moral prescription for living, the Bible encourages enduring pain and suffering. Just pray to God and trust that Jesus will be with you every step of the way, right? No thanks. As a humanist, my goal is to reduce suffering and pain, not only for humans, but all living animals. The greater goal is happiness and well-being for all. While suffering and pain can and do teach us valuable lessons, only Evangelical/Catholic sadomasochists think pain is desirable or necessary. Of course, when you believe the world is a shit hole ruined by sin, that all humans are born sinners/haters of God, that life is to be endured until the rapture, and that the grand goal is eternal life in Heaven, it should come as no surprise, then, that you don’t put much emphasis on the here and now.

Medical marijuana sale and use is legal in Ohio, and there’s movement towards making all use of weed legal (it could be on the ballot this November), All praise be to Shiva. Sadly, some Republican state legislators — who are overwhelmingly Christians — and regulators have gone out of their way to impede the opening of medical marijuana growers, processors, and sellers. Just over the border in Michigan, marijuana use is legal and much cheaper than Ohio’s medical weed. Sellers abound. Further, here in the Land of God, Guns, and Republicans, most doctors refuse to write prescriptions for medical marijuana. The insane government war against opioids has scared the shit out of medical professionals — fearing the loss of their licenses — so they refuse to act in the best interest of their patients. Ohioans can go to one of the few doctors approved to write medical marijuana prescriptions, but this could cause them all sorts of problems with their primary care doctors — including the refusal to treat in the future. (Please see How the War on Opioids Hurts People With Chronic PainA Plea From a Chronic Pain Sufferer: Please Be Aware of OthersMedical Marijuana and Relieving Pain and SufferingHow Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain,  and Understanding and Helping Those Who Live With Chronic Pain.)

Years ago, I helplessly watched a devout Evangelical man suffer horrific pain as he slowly died of bowel cancer. He refused to take pain medications because he believed Jesus was better than morphine; that his suffering had some sort of redemptive value. My late father-in-law often went without pain relief because he believed drug “addiction” (I tried to explain to him the difference between addiction and dependence to him, without success) was sinful. As a pastor, I watched countless dying congregants forgo narcotic pain management because they wanted to be clear-headed when they entered the pearly gates. They needlessly suffered, and for what? Remove God and the afterlife from the equation, and I suspect most people will say YES to anything that reduces their pain.

If Steve Eyers wants to suffer for Jesus, have at it. All that I ask is that he not stand in the way of other people getting the help they need. Jesus is called the Great Physician. The gospels detail many of the healing miracles the Son of God purportedly performed while walking the dusty roads of Palestine. Be like Jesus, Steve, Be like Jesus. If you can’t heal people, Steve, at least let the sick and hurting among you have access to people and drugs who can.

Pastor Eyers lost his battle against weed. Four years after his lies and distortions before the Hicksville Village Council, a new marijuana dispensary opened this week ten miles from his church in the village of Sherwood. Hicksville said no to the dispensary, as did the village I live in. Both Ney and Hicksville council members put their religious and personal beliefs before what was good for their communities. Tax money that could have helped fund local services went — dare I say it? — up in smoke.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Is Religion a Powerful Narcotic?

getting high on Jesus

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

— Karl Marx

One need only to study world religions to understand that religion is a powerful force in our world — for good and evil. Marx rightly compared religion to opium — a powerful narcotic used to relieve pain, both physically and psychologically. Religion, in all its forms, is used by humans to find purpose, meaning, peace, and happiness. Ultimately, people worship deities because doing so benefits them in some way or another. A good way to look at religion is from an economic perspective. Every religion has a cost attached to it. Sometimes those costs are clear: time, money, and commitment. Other times, religion extracts psychological or emotional costs. Some religions, such as Evangelical Christianity, Mormonism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, require an abandonment of self and total commitment to God and the church. I spent fifty years in the Evangelical church. Twenty-five of those years were spent pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I can’t even begin to calculate the cost of my devotion to the Evangelical Jesus. Much of my time and money was spent in devotion to a deity whom I believed was the one true God, the creator and ruler over all. I abandoned self as I “followed the Lamb of God.” I willingly sacrificed my marriage and family, living in poverty and doing without for my God’s sake. Why would anyone live as I did?

Serving Jesus was costly, but the benefits far outweighed the costs — or so I thought at the time, anyway. Through my religious beliefs, experiences, and practices, I found happiness, peace, and meaning. I had the privilege of preaching the gospel and teaching others the “truths” of the Christian Bible. I was loved and respected, and there never was a day when I didn’t feel God’s presence in my life. Oh, sometimes it seemed God was distant, but more often than not, the Christian deity was an ever-present reality.

It matters not whether Christianity is true; that its core beliefs are rational and reasonable. All that mattered, as a Christian, is that I thought these beliefs were true. Countless people believe all sorts of things that are untrue, but they believe them to be true, so in their minds, they are. While believing in the Christian God extracted from me a high cost, one I am paying to this day, for most of my life I believed the benefits of religious faith outweighed its costs.

Marx thought religion gave people false happiness. That said, he never underestimated its power, its ability to meet the deep needs of the human psyche. Atheists often wrongly believe that the solution to the ills of the world is for people to abandon their superstitions and embrace rationality rooted in reason, science, and intellectual inquiry. What atheists forget is that what humans want more than anything else is happiness. Until rationalists, freethinkers, and humanists show that their godless way of life leads to purpose, meaning, and happiness, we can’t expect religious people to buy what we are selling. We know that people don’t need to toke religious crack to feel happy and fulfilled, but we will never argue people into understanding this. Like it or not, feelings play a big part in the human experience. Life is short, and then we die. Religion offers a powerful drug that lessens the pain of that reality. We secularists must offer the same if we expect to neuter the effects of religion on our world.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Should Every Possible Effort be Made to Preserve and Save Human Life?

calvin and hobbes death

Fundamentalist Christian Jeff Maples believes ALL life matters, and it should be protected at ALL costs. Here’s what Maples said on The Dissenter website in 2019:

Critics have argued that reimplanting a fetus from an ectopic pregnancy is a procedure “not known to medical science” and would place obstetricians and gynecologists in a dire situation for not performing an “impossible procedure.” However, the bill does not require doctors to be successful in the procedure, rather take all measures at attempting to do so. This would, in effect, advance the science behind the practice making it more likely to save lives in the future. When dealing with human life, it is imperative that all measures be taken to preserve it — an unborn child deserves no less than a two-year-old child or an adult. That’s the whole point of the measure.

I wonder if Maples really believes all life matters. I wonder if he is a pacifist or anti-capital punishment? I wonder if Maples opposed President Trump’s barbaric immigration policies; policies that led to the deaths of adults and children alike? Something tells me he is not as pro-life as he says he is. Most Evangelicals are schizophrenic when it comes to matters of life and death. Typically, Evangelicals, and their counterparts in the Roman Catholic church, only think all life matters before birth. After birth, humans are on their own. Well, that is until it comes time to die. Then Evangelicals show up to protest and criminalize end-of-life attempts to lessen suffering and pain. Humans must suffer to the bitter end. According to Evangelicals and Catholics, euthanasia is humans playing God, and that must never happen. In their eyes, physician-assisted suicide is murder.

Maples believes that every effort should be made to preserve life. No matter the cost or the outcome, life must be preserved. I am sure that Maples believes his anti-death viewpoint is noble. It’s not. Maples and others like him see no qualitative difference between a fertilized egg and a thirteen-year-old; no difference between a thirteen-week-old fetus and its mother; no difference between a teenager with a full life ahead of her and a ninety-year-old man who is nearing death. Such thinking, of course, is absurd.

I do my best to have a consistent life ethic. That said, all life is not equal, nor should every effort be made to preserve life. There is a qualitative difference between a fertilized egg and its mother. The fertilized egg represents potential life. It cannot live outside of the womb. That’s why I support the unrestricted right to an abortion until viability. Once a fetus is viable, then the mother and medical professionals must consider its interests along with that of the mother. When it comes to choosing between the fetus and the mother, the choice, to me anyway, is clear: the mother. Granted, if the mother is gravely ill with cancer or some other terminal disease, then consideration should be given to saving the fetus. Such decisions are never easy, but one thing is for certain: we don’t need Evangelicals and Catholics, their God, or Republican politicians deciding what should be done.

As someone who knows that he is on the short side of life, I don’t want the Jeff Maples of the world butting their noses into my end-of-life decisions or those of my family. I know how I want the end of my life to play out, as do my wife and children. I don’t want Christian Fundamentalists getting between me and my God. “Huh? Bruce, you don’t have a God.” Well, I do when it comes to this discussion. If Christians want to wallow in needless pain and suffering at the end of their lives — all so their mythical God will give them an “attaboy” — that’s fine by me. However, my triune God — humanism, science, and reason — doesn’t demand that I suffer unnecessarily; when it is my time to die it is okay for me to say, “No más.” I expect my doctors, Polly, and my six children to honor my wishes. I have seen far too many people endlessly and needlessly suffer, all so Jesus would be honored and their families would know that they fought to the end. I have watched countless dying people go through unnecessary, painful procedures and treatments, all so their spouses and children could rest easy knowing that every possible thing was done to preserve their life.

Sadly, many people ignorantly think that longevity of life is all that matters; that enduring surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation is worth it if it adds a few weeks or months at the end of their lives. Evangelicals speak of being ready to meet God. They sing songs about Heaven and preach sermons that suggest True Christians® yearn and long for eternal life in the sweet by and by. Yet, when it comes time to die, they are in no hurry to catch the next train to Glory.

Instead of focusing on the longevity of life, the focus should be on the quality of life.  Sure, it is human nature to want to live as long as possible. But some things are worse than death. Often, the treatment is worse than a terminal disease. Personally, I would choose to live three months and then die, than to suffer the horrible side effects of end-of-life treatments that would often only add weeks or a few months to my life.

When it comes to dying, God is an unnecessary middleman. He and his Bible-sotted disciples get in the way of what is best for the sick and dying. Demanding that life be preserved at all costs only causes unnecessary pain and suffering. I know of Evangelical families who refused to let their dying loved ones die with dignity. You see, in their minds, all that matters is playing by God’s rules. All that matters is pleasing God. If their loved one has to suffer, so be it. God comes first. God mustn’t be offended, even if he prolongs the misery of the dying. Quite frankly, when it comes time for me to die, I don’t want religious zealots anywhere near me. I don’t need or want their prayers or admonitions. I want to be surrounded by my family. I want to hear them say, “Dad, it’s okay to let go.”

I have made my wishes known to my wife and children. Polly and I have spent a considerable amount of time talking about the various end-of-life scenarios; about what we want or don’t want to be done in the various circumstances we might face in the future. Both of us believe that quality of life is more important than extending life. We reject Jeff Maples’ notion that our lives should be preserved at all costs. We know that one day we will physically reach the end of the line. Hopefully, not anytime soon, but who knows (certainly not God), right? Better to have these discussions now than to have them under pressure or when one or both of us might not have the mental acuity to make rational choices.

I have specifically made plans to end my life when the quality of my life is such that I no longer want to live. I have talked to my counselor extensively about this. She is aware of my end-of-life plan. Of course, she encourages me to live, but she always knows that I am in decline physically; that it’s becoming harder for me to rise above my physical challenges. Most days, I am not suicidal, but I am acutely aware of what is happening to me physically. No cure or magical procedure is on the horizon, so I am “content” to face the limitations of mortality.

Not talking about death is not an option. Pretending we will live forever only leads to heartache when the lie is exposed. The moment we are born, we begin marching toward the finish line. While I would love to live to threescore and ten or fourscore, (Psalm 90:10) I know that’s unlikely. Probabilities come into play. All the positive thinking in the world won’t change the odds. I am grateful to have lived longer than my mom and dad. But it would be foolish of me to ignore the realities staring me in the face. Pretending that I am going to live to be a hundred helps whom, exactly?  The Bible is right when it says, “Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” (Proverbs 27:1) Solomon was spot on when he wrote:

Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 8:15)

I give the following advice on the ABOUT page:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

Do you think life should be preserved at all costs; that every effort should be made to preserve life? How do you come to terms with your mortality? Do you prefer longevity of life over quality of life? Please share your astute thoughts in the comment section. If you are so inclined, please share approximately how old you are. I am interested in how age affects our end-of-life viewpoints.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Bruce Gerencser