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Category: Humanism

Sixteen Reasons Why I am Not a Christian

why

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

I have spent the past twelve years answering questions about WHY I stopped believing in the existence of God. Yet, some readers still can’t understand why I am no longer a Christian. I even wrote two posts answering the WHY question: Why I Stopped Believing and Please Help Me Understand Why You Stopped Believing. The former was written for an obstinate Christian commenter, and the latter was written for a former parishioner — who later unfriended me on Facebook because she found my story so troubling.

What follows are sixteen reasons WHY I am not a Christian. There are many more reasons than these, but this list should satisfy those who continue to prod and poke, trying to find the REAL reason(s) I am no longer a Christian.

  1. I no longer think the Bible is a God-inspired text.
  2. I no longer think the Bible is an inerrant text.
  3. I no longer think Jesus is God.
  4. I no longer think Jesus was virgin-born.
  5. I no longer think Jesus turned water into wine, walked on water, healed the sick, raised the dead, or performed any of the other miracles the Bible says he did.
  6. I no longer think Jesus resurrected from the dead. Jesus lived and died, never to be seen again.
  7. I no longer think there is a Heaven or a Hell.
  8. I think the belief that God will torture all non-Christians in Hell for all eternity is repugnant, abhorrent, revolting, repulsive, repellent, disgusting, offensive, objectionable, cringeworthy, vile, foul, nasty, loathsome, sickening, nauseating, hateful, detestable, execrable, abominable, monstrous, appalling, insufferable, intolerable, unacceptable, contemptible, unsavory, and unpalatable.
  9. I think the Bible shows a progression of belief from polytheism to monotheism.
  10. I think the Bible teaches multiple plans of salvation.
  11. I think much of the so-called history found in the Bible is fictional.
  12. I think the Bible God is an abhorrent, violent deity, one I would not worship even if I believed it existed.
  13. I think science best explains the natural world.
  14. I no longer think humans are sinners.
  15. I think humanism provides a moral and ethical basis for life.
  16. I see no evidence for the existence of the Christian God; thus I am an atheist.

These reasons are based on a lifetime spent studying the Bible and studying the textual, historical, and moral underpinnings of Christianity. These studies led me to conclude that the Christian God is a fiction, as is much of the Christian narrative.

If I had any doubt about these things, twelve years of interacting with Christians on this blog have led me to conclude that Christianity, as currently practiced in the West, is bankrupt. I see nothing in Christianity that would ever cause me to reconsider my rejection of the Christian God.

While I have many online friends who are liberal/progressive Christians, I cannot intellectually embrace their beliefs. Since none of them thinks I’m headed for Hell when I die, I hope they understand why I cannot embrace their faith.

I refuse to let others control my storyline. It’s my life, and who knows it better than I do? All I know to do is tell my story. Each reader is free to accept or reject what I write.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

What Secular, Atheist, and Humanist Podcasts do You Recommend?

podcasting

Hopefully, I will finally get my podcast up and running soon; “soon” meaning before Jesus returns to earth. I have taken to listening to secular, atheist, and humanist podcasts hoping to learn how best to put together a podcast. I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to some podcasts. Great production value and content. I have also been appalled by some of the podcasts. Awful quality, shallow, rambling, at times, incoherent content, and hosts who think they are doing stand-up comedy at a late-night gig in front of two people. Such is the nature of the internet, I suppose, but I have always been of the opinion that if I am going do something, I am going take the requisite time, effort and money the necessary to do a good job. Whether it’s writing for this blog, giving interviews (I have two this month) or producing a podcast/video, I want my work to be well received, even by Evangelicals who generally disagree with every word I say or write.

With these things in mind, what secular, atheist, or humanist podcasts do you recommend? Please leave your suggestions in the comment section. Links are appreciated. I am especially interested in podcasts of storytellers; men and women who have stories to tell.

Thank You!

Bruce

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 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, a man 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 Christian 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 eleven 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.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Understanding Religion from An Economic 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 6,024 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 2020 — 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 many 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 advertises 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 will 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. Eight 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 death it so richly deserves, we must offer to 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.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Five More Questions from an Evangelical Pastor

good question

An Evangelical pastor whom I have known for over forty years recently sent me some questions, the answers to which appear below. He previously asked me some questions which I answered in a post titled, Four Questions from an Evangelical Pastor. I found his questions sincere and honest, unlike many questions I receive from Evangelicals. Far too often, ulterior motivations lurk behind some questions, but I don’t sense that here. Hopefully, readers of this blog will find my answers helpful.

Are there different levels of atheism? 

The short answer is no. Atheism is defined thusly: disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. That’s it. Unlike Christianity — a hopelessly fragmented group — all atheists agree on one thing: atheism is the disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. From that point, atheist beliefs go in all sorts of directions.

There’s also what is commonly called the Dawkins Scale: the spectrum of theistic probabilities. Famed biologist Dr. Richard Dawkins spoke of this seven-level spectrum in his popular book, The God Delusion:

  • Strong theist. 100% probability of God. In the words of Carl Jung: “I do not believe, I know.”De facto theist.
  • Very high probability but short of 100%. “I don’t know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.”Leaning towards theism.
  • Higher than 50% but not very high. “I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.”Completely impartial.
  • Exactly 50%. “God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.”Leaning towards atheism.
  • Lower than 50% but not very low. “I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.”
  • De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. “I don’t know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”
  • Strong atheist. “I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one.”

Atheists debate amongst themselves Dawkins’ scale, and whether agnostics are, in fact, atheists. Agnostics believe that the existence of God, of the divine, or the supernatural is unknown or unknowable. (Wikipedia) Another definition of agnosticism is as follows:

In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in God, whereas an atheist disbelieves in God. In the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify either the belief that God exists or the belief that God does not exist. In so far as one holds that our beliefs are rational only if they are sufficiently supported by human reason, the person who accepts the philosophical position of agnosticism will hold that neither the belief that God exists nor the belief that God does not exist is rational. (Richard Rowe, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)

I should mention in passing what I consider a distant third cousin of agnosticism: deism. Wikipedia describes enlightenment deism this way:

Enlightenment deism consisted of two philosophical assertions: (a) reason, along with features of the natural world, is a valid source of religious knowledge, and (b) revelation is not a valid source of religious knowledge. Different deist authors expanded on these two assertions to create what Leslie Stephen later termed the “constructive” and “critical” aspects of deism. “Constructive” assertions— assertions that deist writers felt were justified by appeals to reason and features of the natural world (or perhaps were intuitively obvious) — included:

  • God exists and created the universe.
  • God gave humans the ability to reason.

“Critical” assertions— assertions that followed from the denial of revelation as a valid source of religious knowledge— were much more numerous. They included:

  • Rejection of all books, including the Bible, that are claimed to contain divine revelation.
  • Rejection of the incomprehensible notion of the Trinity and other religious “mysteries”.
  • Rejection of reports of miracles, prophecies, etc.

True Christianity

All deists rejected the Bible as a book of divine revelation. If you define “a Christian” as a person who accepts the stories in the Bible as true, divine revelations, the deists were not Christians. They rejected the miracle stories in the Bible and rejected the divinity of Jesus. Many, however, accepted Jesus as an actual historical person and held him in high regard as a moral teacher. (This position is known as Christian deism and was Thomas Jefferson’s motive for assembling his famous Jefferson Bible.) On the other hand, if you define “a true Christian” as a person regards the historical human person Jesus as a great moral teacher and attempts to follow Jesus’ moral teachings, many deists considered themselves to be true Christians. Some deists were of the opinion that Jesus taught timeless moral truths, that those moral truths were the essence of Christianity, and since those truths are timeless they predate Jesus’ teachings.

I have long believed that someone could look at the night sky and conclude that a deity of some sort created the universe; and that after creating the universe, this deity said, “there ya go boys and girls, do with it what you will.” This God is unknowable and non-involved in our day-to-day lives. Believe in this deity or not, it exists. Some readers of this blog will call this deity divine energy or power. Of course, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that what we call “life” is, in actuality, a Westworld-like alien game simulation. Once I was freed from the authority and bondage of the Bible, I was free to think more freely about human existence. Who knows, maybe “reality” is an illusion.

Here is my take: I am an agnostic and an atheist. I cannot know for certain whether a deity of some sort exists. It is possible, though unlikely, that a deity of some sort might reveal itself to us someday. Possible, but improbable. For me, it is all about probabilities. (And the probability of the existence of any deity, let alone the Evangelical God, is minuscule.) On the Dawkins scale I am a six. The currently available evidence leads me to conclude that there is no God or gods. I am open to the possibility of the existence of one or more deities should evidence of their existence ever be provided, but, until then, I live my day to day life as an atheist. The only time thoughts about God enters my mind is when I am writing for this blog.

That said, let me be clear: I am not an anti-theist. Some atheists are vociferously and stridently anti-religion. I am not one of them. This has led to all sorts of criticisms and attacks from what I call the fundamentalist wing of atheism. On occasion, I have had anti-theists tell me that I am not a True Atheist®. I laugh when such arguments are made, thinking, “is this not the same argument Evangelicals use against me when they say I was never a “True Christian®?”

Do all atheists rely strictly on science and history for answers?

Strictly or solely? No. Once we move from the base definition of atheism, atheists go in all sorts of directions philosophically, politically, socially, and even religiously. Yep, you will run into atheists who view themselves as “spiritual.”  I have been blogging for almost thirteen years. I have met all sorts of atheists. Recently, several pro-Trump, anti-abortion, anti-homosexual atheists/agnostics have commented on this blog. I don’t understand their viewpoints and logic, but I don’t have to. Atheists are free to meander every which way from “atheism is the disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.” One can be an atheist and be irrational; and believe me, more than a few atheists are as dumb as rocks. Some atheists will comment on this blog and leave me scratching my head and saying “huh?” I rarely respond to such people. I let them say their piece, hoping my silence will tell them all they need to know.

This would be a good point to mention the fact that many (most?) atheists are humanists. There’s nothing in atheism that gives a person moral or ethical grounding. Atheists look to humanism to find a framework by which to live their lives. The Humanist Manifesto remains the best summary of humanism:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

To answer my friend’s question, the Humanist Manifesto states:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Do all atheists believe in evolution?

Since I am not party to what all atheists believe, I can’t speak authoritatively on the matter. I can say that all of the atheists I know generally accept biological evolution as a scientific fact. While the word “belief” can be used in a variety of ways, in the context of evolution, atheists don’t believe in evolution. Belief, in this context, much like with religion, implies the use of feelings to come to a conclusion. Most atheists I know would say that their acceptance of evolution and other scientific conclusions rests on evidence, facts, and probabilities, not their feelings.

For most of my life, I was illiterate when it came to science. I believed that Genesis 1-3 told me all I need to know about biology, cosmology, and the like. God created everything just as it is recorded in the inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible — end of discussion. I had a few creationist-oriented Evangelical apologetical books in my library. All these books did for me was affirm that I was “right.”  It wasn’t until I was disabused by Dr. Bart Ehrman and others of the notion that the Bible was some sort of perfect, supernatural book that I was able to question what it was exactly I believed about science.

One of the first books I read on this subject was biologist Dr. Jerry Coyne’s book, Why Evolution is True. Another helpful book by Coyne is titled, Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible. For someone still in the Evangelical tent, books by physicist Dr. Karl Giberson might be helpful: Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution and The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions. Giberson’s support of evolutionary biology ultimately led to his dismissal from Eastern Nazarene College in 2011. Both Giberson and Dr. Francis Collins remain controversial figures within Evangelicalism, with more than a few Evangelicals saying that neither man is a Christian. I have my own doubts about whether Giberson or Collins are actually Evangelicals, but I am content to let people self-identify as they please.

Bruce, what do you believe about our existence?

Let me be clear, I am not a scientist. I know a hell of a lot more about science today than I did a few years ago, or when I was a Bible-believing preacher, but that doesn’t mean I can speak authoritatively on matters of science. I continue to educate myself, but at my age, I will likely run out of time before I master any specific scientific discipline. I hope that that one or more of my grandchildren will do so and become what their grandfather could not. Many of my grandchildren are straight-A students, so I have high hopes that some of them will enter STEM programs post-high school.

I know where I am lacking knowledge-wise, and I do my best to not speak beyond that which I know. Want to talk about the Bible, Evangelicalism, theology, photography, or Windows-based computers? You will find that I generally know what I am talking about. However, when it comes to biology, astronomy, cosmology, geology, archeology, and other scientific disciplines, I am, in every way, a novice. It is for this reason that I rely on experts to tell me what I need to know about science. Smart is the person who values expertise. I have certain scientists I trust to tell me the truth. “So, Bruce, does this mean you put “faith” in what they say?” Yes. Many atheists shy away from the word faith because of its religious connotations. However, I refuse to let religion hijack certain words. Faith means “confidence in a person or plan.”  There are scientists that I put great confidence in; when they speak, I listen. No, these men and women are not infallible, but they have given their lives to understanding this or that science discipline, so I trust what they say.

In Christianity, there is so much disagreement! How about among atheists?

There’s no doubt that Christianity is the most fragmented religion on the planet. I have long argued that if Christians were unified theologically that I might at least pause for a moment when considering the “God question.” However, there are thousands and thousands of Christian sects, each with its own version of the “faith once delivered to the saints.” This disunity says to me that Christianity is very much of human origin.

I wish I could say that atheism is monolithic, and everyone thinks and believes the same things. Sadly, atheism is quite divided too. Not so much on the core belief: “atheism is the disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.” Every atheist I know believes this statement to be an accurate definition of their view on God or gods. However, recent years have brought attempts by some to expand the definition of atheism to include social justice issues. This spawned a group called Atheism+. While there was a moment when I thought Atheism+ might be worthwhile, I quickly thought better of it after seeing who it was that was driving this attempt to redefine atheism. Socially and politically, I am as liberal as you come, but I saw Atheism+ as a purity test; an attempt to divide atheism between us and them. I concluded that the proponents of Atheism+ were using methodologies eerily similar to those I saw in Evangelicalism. No thanks. And let me be clear to Atheism+ flag-wavers, I have zero interest in re-ligating this issue with you in the comment section. Been there, done that, still bleeding.

Here’s one thing I know about most atheists. We can heartily disagree with one another and later enjoy each other’s company at a pub or restaurant. Back in my Evangelical days, every disagreement had eternal significance. Not so with most atheists. I don’t understand how an atheist can support Donald Trump or the present iteration of the Republican party, but I am not going to let that affect our relationship (if we have one). I have booted several pro-Trump atheists off this site, not because of their politics, but because they were assholes. And as much as I hate to admit it, there are atheist assholes; people who don’t play well with others; people who think throwing feces at people on social media is “good conversation.”

I hope I have adequately answered my Evangelical friend’s questions.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Should Every Effort be Made to Preserve Human Life?

calvin and hobbes death

Currently, Ohio House Bill 413 is winding its way through the legislative process. If enacted, the 723 page bill would become the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the United States. HB413 is so extreme that some Ohio anti-abortion groups oppose the bill. Not only does the HB413 turn having an abortion into a capital crime, it also requires doctors to reimplant fertilized eggs from ectopic pregnancies into the womb. Refusing to do so could result in doctors facing murder charges.

Never mind the fact that reimplanting ectopic pregnancies is medically impossible to perform. Doctors are required to attempt the procedure regardless of the outcome.

HB413 is the logical conclusion of believing life begins at fertilization. Ohio Evangelicals and Catholics have been pushing for zygote personhood for years. The goal has always remained the same: an absolute ban on abortion. These zealots demand no rape or incest exception, and many of them object to abortion to save the life of the mother. “Let God sort it out! He’s the giver and taker of life. If he wants the mother to live, she will. If not, his will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Fundamentalist Christian Jeff Maples believes ALL life matters, and it should be protected at all costs. Here’s what Maples said Sunday on the Reformation Charlotte website:

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 opposes President Trump’s barbaric immigration policies; policies that have led to the deaths of adults and children alike? Something tells me he is not a 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 Catholic Church, only think 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. 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 fetus and its mother; no difference between a teenager with a full life ahead of her and a ninety-year-old man whose life 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, their God and 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 that 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 Evangelicals 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 unnecessarily suffer; when it is my time to die it is okay for me to say, “No más.” I expect my doctors, wife, and children to honor my wishes. I have seen far too many people endlessly and needlessly suffer all so Jesus would be honored and their family 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 to 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 longevity of life, the focus should be on quality of life.  Sure, it is human nature to want to live as long as possible. But some things are worse than death. Often, treatment is worse than the 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 often only add weeks or a few months to a person’s 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 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 any time 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.

Not talking about death is not an option. Pretending we will live forever only leads to heartache when the lie is made known. The moment we are born, we begin marching towards 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 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)

Last week, I referenced the advice I give on the ABOUT page. I think it would be good to end this post with that advice again:

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. Some day, 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.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Evangelical Cult of Personality

church size matters
Cartoon by David Hayward, The Naked Pastor

Originally written November 2015. Updated, corrected, and expanded.

For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:11,12)

According to the Bible, the church at Corinth had become factional, with various groups saying that they were a follower of Apollos, Cephas, Paul, or Christ. In First Corinthians 1:13, Paul asked:

Is Christ divided?

Two thousand years later, we can answer Paul’s question with an emphatic YES! The followers of Jesus Christ have spent the past 2,000 years fighting amongst themselves. Their internecine warfare has caused schism, splits, and divisions, leading to the establishment of thousands of Christian denominations throughout the world (Wikipedia list of major Christian denominations).

Every Christian Bible has the following verses:

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:35)

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:13)

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

These four verses alone stand as an indictment of modern Christianity. The various Christian sects can’t even agree on basic beliefs such as salvation, baptism, and communion. Jesus said, I am the way, truth, and life, and almost every Christian sect thinks it has the way, truth, and life market cornered. Pick the wrong sect and, according to many sects, you will miss Heaven and spend eternity in Hell being tortured by God.

Evangelicalism, an inherently fundamentalist religious belief, (please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) has a unique problem in that its churches are generally a blend of sectarian divisiveness, Madison Avenue advertising techniques, and movie-star devotion to pastors, evangelists, and other “successful” Evangelical leaders. This has led to a cult of personality, similar to that which Paul was addressing in the church at Corinth 2,000 years ago.

Drive by many Evangelical churches these days and what do you see on the church sign? Sign after sign will have the pastor’s name prominently displayed. Why is this important? Why is it necessary to advertise the name of the pastor? If the church is one body worshiping the one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, why call attention to the identity of the pastor? Why don’t churches put the names of the poorest church members on their signs as James suggests in James 2:1-4:

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

Isn’t giving the pastor top billing on the church sign showing the pastor undue respect? After all, the Apostle Peter said in Acts 10:34 that God is no respecter of persons. God may not be a respecter of persons, but his Evangelical followers sure are. Ask Evangelicals where they go to church, and they are just as likely to say, I go to Pastor So-and-So’s church as they are, I go to First Baptist Church.

In the average Evangelical church, the center of attention is not Jesus, the Word, or the sacraments. The focus is on the man standing behind the pulpit. He is the man of God, God’s messenger, the pastor. In some Evangelical churches, he is also the bishop, prophet, or apostle.  He is the main cog in the machine, without which the machine won’t run. If you doubt this, watch what happens when one of these superstar Evangelicals leaves his church. The membership inevitably declines, often because church members don’t like the new guy. Evangelicals then feel “led” to join a different church so they can be “fed.” Rarely will they admit that the reason they changed churches was that they were spiritually and emotionally infatuated with the previous pastor.

Megachurch pastors, in particular, are getting rich off the ministry. It is scandalous how these “profits” of God rake in millions of dollars from the churches they pastor, the books they sell, and outside speaking engagements. Even an atheist can see that these kinds of pastors are not following in the steps of Jesus. Instead of following the WWJD mantra, they are following what would a Wall Street profiteer do?

Any time I write about one of the Evangelical superstar pastors, people are sure to come along and defend him. I have attacked their god, and it doesn’t matter what the Bible or common decency says, they are not going to stand for it. Little do they realize that their defense simply illustrates my contention that Evangelicalism is a cult of personality.

I would love to be able to say to readers of this blog that I was different when I was a pastor, but I wasn’t. My name was prominently displayed on the church sign. I was the center of attention, the hub around which everything turned. People came to the churches I pastored because they loved my preaching and liked me as a person. When I pastored a fast-growing church in southeast Ohio, people would drive 30-45 minutes to hear me preach. Our church was exciting and growing, and I — uh, I mean God — was the reason.

What drives the cult of personality? Here in the United States, we are enamored with success. We tend to give respect to people who appear to be winners. One need only look to Donald Trump as an example of someone who gives the appearance of being a winner. Even in the blogosphere, we often judge the value of writers by the number of people who read their blogs and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. We forget that these numbers say NOTHING about the person. I have to constantly guard against this. I know my blog readership numbers, page views, and mailing list subscriber numbers are growing. Does this mean that I am “more” successful than I was years ago when a hundred people a day read my blog? Should people respect me more now that thousands of people read my writing? Of course not. Numerical success proves nothing.

size matters
For Evangelical pastors, size matters.

Within Evangelicalism, numerical success is everything. Success for a pastor is measured by the size of his penis — uh, I mean size of his church. The criteria for calling a pastor/church a success is not much different from the criteria used to judge a successful CEO in the corporate world: growing the business and maximizing profits.

The sure sign that a pastor has arrived is when he writes a book telling everyone how he achieved his success. When I was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, almost every big-name pastor wrote a book detailing how he achieved numerical success. The subtle message was this: God is blessing me and this is why. Do you want God’s blessing? Do what I am doing!  Why is it that these successful pastors never write a book years later detailing the fact that “God’s blessing” didn’t last and their penis size shrank dramatically?

American Evangelicals love their conferences. Hundreds of Evangelical conferences are held each year. Who are the speakers? Those who have achieved “success.” These conferences always feature big-name pastors who pastor large, successful churches. When’s the last time Evangelical conference promoters had a Bro. Joe, who pastors 20 people on the backside of some hill in West Virginia, come and speak at their conference? It never happens.

One of the reasons people leave Evangelicalism is that they become tired of everything being about the pastor or of the focus being on the methods of the latest hotshot, knows-everything, successful pastor. They sincerely thought that Christianity was all about Jesus. They found out that Jesus was just the window dressing for their pastor’s ambition. Most Evangelical churches, thanks to their leaders, have lost all sight of what it means to be Christian. They proclaim that the Bible is their standard of faith and practice and then ignore its teachings and examples. Christianity should be about Jesus and his kingdom. From my seat in the atheist pew, it seems to me that Evangelicalism is all about the pastor’s kingdom and not the kingdom of Jesus they say they follow.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: Americans Increasingly Indifferent Towards Christianity

The United States is becoming a less Christian country, and the decline in religious affiliation is particularly rapid among younger Americans, new figures show.

The proportion of US adults who describe themselves as Christian has fallen to two-thirds, a drop of 12 percentage points over the past decade, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

Over the same period, the proportion of those describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” has risen by 17 percentage points to more than a quarter of the adult population.

Although churches and faith movements continue to exert strong political influence on the Trump administration and at the state level, the proportion of American adults attending religious services has declined.

The proportion of US adults who are white born-again or evangelical Protestants – the religious group which strives hardest to see its political agenda adopted – is now 16%, down from 19% a decade ago.

The number going to church at least once or twice a month has fallen by seven percentage points over the past decade. More Americans now say they attend religious services a few times a year or less (54%) than say they attend at least monthly (45%).

The fall in religious identification and activity has affected both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. According to Pew, 43% of adults identify with Protestantism, down from 51% in 2009. And 20% are Catholic, down from 23% in 2009.

Fewer than half of millennials (49%) describe themselves as Christians; four in 10 are religious “nones”, and 9% identify with non-Christian faiths.

As many millennials say they never attend religious services (22%) as those who say they go at least once a week.

Pew’s report, released on Thursday, says the decline of Christian communities is continuing at a rapid pace.

Religious ‘nones’ have grown across multiple demographic groups: white people, black people and Hispanics; men and women; all regions of the country; and among college graduates and those with lower levels of educational attainment.

“Religious ‘nones’ are growing faster among Democrats than Republicans, though their ranks are swelling in both partisan coalitions. And although the religiously unaffiliated are on the rise among younger people and most groups of older adults, their growth is most pronounced among young adults,” the report said.

— The Guardian, Americans Becoming Less Christian as Over a Quarter Follow no Religion, October 17, 2019

Questions: Bruce, Why Did You Become an Atheist?

i have a question

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Chris asked:

I would like to know how you became an atheist after practicing Christian authoritarianism? What is it that makes people embrace systematic mythologies? Is it fear of death, a wish for immortality?

I have been asked many times by atheists and Christians alike why I became an atheist. Some questioners want to know more about the “how” of my deconversion. I usually point people to the WHY page. The posts of this page usually answer the “why” and “how” questions of my journey from Evangelical Christianity to atheism.

The WHY page includes:

My Baptist Salvation Experience

From Evangelicalism to Atheism Series

Why I Stopped Believing

Please Help Me Understand Why You Stopped Believing

16 Reasons I am Not a Christian

Why I Hate Jesus

The Danger of Being in a Box and Why It Makes Sense When you Are in It

What I Found When I Left the Box

The short answer to the question, Bruce, Why Did You Become an Atheist? is this: I thoroughly (and painfully) examined the central claims of Christianity and concluded they were not true. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense) While my story is much more complicated than that, the bottom line is that I don’t believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God; and I don’t believe the claims made within its pages about God, Jesus, and the human condition are true. Once I realized that what I had believed for fifty years was false, I concluded I could no longer call myself a Christian. In November 2008, I walked out the doors of the church (Ney United Methodist Church) for the last time. In 2009, I wrote Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners and sent it to numerous friends, family members, ministerial colleagues, and former parishioners. From that point forward, I have proudly worn the atheist moniker.

Chris also asks, “What is it that makes people embrace systematic mythologies? Is it fear of death, a wish for immortality?” He asks if people embrace religions such as Christianity because they fear death or wish that there is life after death? The short answer is yes, but as with most questions concerning religion, the answers are far more complex.

Many atheists choose to call Christians stupid sheep who can’t think for themselves. If only Christians thought for themselves, why they would all be atheists! May I say, oh so kindly, that only stupid goats (atheists) think this way. Why people have religious beliefs is a complex issue; one rooted in biology, sociology, and geography, along with cultural, tribal, and familial beliefs and practices. Sure, people fear death and want to do go Heaven when they die. I am not too fond of the idea death myself, and life after death, at times, does appeal to me. The reasons, however, that lead to people to embrace religious beliefs are more varied and complex than just that they want to live forever.

Is it any surprise that I was a Christian? I was born to Christian parents, lived in a Christian nation, and was indoctrinated in Christian beliefs for the first fifty years of my life. There was no chance that I would “choose” any other religion but Evangelical Christianity. So it is for billions of people across the world — their beliefs are shaped by the beginnings of their lives. Once we understand how deeply immersed people are in religious faith, it should lead us to be more sympathetic to people who haven’t yet “seen the light.” Calling them stupid accomplishes nothing. The only way to reach Christians with the humanist gospel is to gently challenge their sincerely held beliefs; to cause them to question and doubt that which they hold dear. This is why I recommend the books of Dr. Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar at the University of North Carolina:

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

Ehrman does a good job challenging the foundation of Evangelical Christianity — the Bible. Cause Evangelicals to doubt the authority and veracity of the Bible, and they are well on their way out the proverbial door. Now, that doesn’t mean they will all become atheists. They won’t. However, any move away from Fundamentalism is a good one. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Sure, I think atheism is the right response to the questions asked and answered by Dr. Ehrman. However, I also know that many people NEED the social connections faith communities offer. I have no desire to rob people of the things that help them get through this life, even if I think, in the end, we all end up in the same place — the grave.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: Secularists are a Threat to Traditional (Christian) Moral Order

evangelical support for donald trump

[U.S. Attorney General] Barr gave a fiery speech denouncing the threat to America posed by “militant secularists,” whom he accused of conspiring to destroy the “traditional moral order,” blaming them for rising mental illness, drug dependency and violence.

Consider for a moment how inappropriate it is for Barr, of all people, to have given such a speech. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion; the nation’s chief law enforcement officer has no business denouncing those who exercise that freedom by choosing not to endorse any religion.

And we’re not talking about a tiny group, either. These days, around a fifth of Americans say that they don’t consider themselves affiliated with any religion, roughly the same number who consider themselves Catholic. How would we react if the attorney general denounced Catholicism as a force undermining American society?

And he didn’t just declare that secularism is bad; he declared that the damage it does is intentional: “This is not decay. It is organized destruction.” If that kind of talk doesn’t scare you, it should; it’s the language of witch hunts and pogroms.

It seems almost beside the point to note that Barr’s claim that secularism is responsible for violence happens to be empirically verifiable nonsense. America has certainly become less religious over the past quarter-century, with a large rise in the number of religiously unaffiliated and growing social liberalism on issues like same-sex marriage; it has also seen a dramatic decline in violent crime. European nations are far less religious than we are; they also have much lower homicide rates, and rarely experience the mass shootings that have become almost routine here.

Nonetheless, William Barr — again, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, responsible for defending the Constitution — is sounding remarkably like America’s most unhinged religious zealots, the kind of people who insist that we keep experiencing mass murder because schools teach the theory of evolution. Guns don’t kill people — Darwin kills people!

So what’s going on here? Pardon my cynicism, but I seriously doubt that Barr, whose boss must be the least godly man ever to occupy the White House, has suddenly realized to his horror that America is becoming more secular. No, this outburst of God-talk is surely a response to the way the walls are closing in on Trump, the high likelihood that he will be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.

Trump’s response to his predicament has been to ramp up the ugliness in an effort to rally his base. The racism has gotten even more explicit, the paranoia about the deep state more extreme. But who makes up Trump’s base? The usual answer is working-class whites, but a deeper dive into the data suggests that it’s more specific: It’s really evangelical working-class whites who are staying with Trump despite growing evidence of his malfeasance and unsuitability for high office.

— Paul, Krugman, New York Times, God Is Now Trump’s Co-Conspirator, October 14, 2019

Your Questions, Please

i have a question

Greetings, earthlings, and residents of other galaxies.

It’s been a year or more since I asked readers to submit questions for me to answer, so I thought I would open the call lines and ask you to submit your questions, along with $66.66 donations to help me reach Evangelicals throughout the universe. Reason — praise be to Reason! — has called me to evangelize Evangelicals, and your donations will help me take the gospel of critical thinking and skepticism to infinity and beyond. Just kidding. While donations are always appreciated, what I really want are questions; your pithy, erudite questions. Please try to ask questions that you think I haven’t answered before.

If you have a question you would like me to answer, please ask it in the comment section of this post. I will answer questions in the order they are received; that is, unless you are a bigly donor. Readers who shower me with cash, checks, gold bullion (ouch), Bitcoins, and restaurant gift cards, just might be moved to the front of the line or be sent an 8×10 photo of me pole dancing at a strip club — “might” being the operative word. (Long-time readers who know and understand my humor, sarcasm, and snark, know whether I am speaking factually. Everyone else? Keep dreaming of Bruce Almighty swinging on a brass pole wearing only his shorts and suspenders.)

You can also email your questions to me via the contact form.

This post will remain pinned to the top of the front page until November 1, after which time it will disappear into the bowels of this blog never to be seen again.

Let the fun begin.

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Prodigal Son: No One is Born Broken, Someone Breaks Us

prodigal son

Yesterday, I watched the first episode of Prodigal Son — a new crime drama produced for the Fox Broadcasting Company. Wikipedia describes the plot of Prodigal Son this way:

The series centers on Malcolm Bright, whose father, Dr. Martin Whitley, is the infamous serial killer known as “The Surgeon.” Malcolm was the one responsible as a child for enabling the police to arrest his father, and has not (of his own volition) seen his father in ten years. Now a profiler, formerly with the FBI (until he was fired) and currently working with the New York City Police Department, Malcolm is forced to confront his father after a copycat serial killer uses Dr. Whitley’s methods of killing, and now finds himself drawn back into constant contact with his father as he must both use Dr. Whitley’s insights to help the police solve particularly horrible crimes and battle his own inner demons.

One line in the show stood out to me. Malcolm Bright, played by Tom Payne (Jesus, on The Walking Dead),  said to his serial killer father, No one is born broken, someone breaks us. I thought, Wow, what a succinct repudiation and rejection of the Christian doctrine of original sin; of the notion that all humans are born into this world sinners; that all humans are, by nature, sinners.

As I type this post, the classic gospel song Deeper Than the Stain Has Gone, plays in the background. I have heard this song countless times over the years. It was the favorite song of a former friend of mine, Evangelist Don Hardman. Here are the lyrics:

1. Dark the stain that soiled man’s nature,
Long the distance that he fell.
Far re-moved from hope and heav-en,
Into deep despair and hell.
But there was a fountain opened,
And the blood of God’s own Son,
Purifies the soul and reaches
Deeper than the stain has gone!

Chorus

Praise the Lord for full salvation,
God still reigns upon His throne.
And I know the blood still reaches
Deep-er than the stain has gone.

2. Conscious of the deep pollution,
Sinners wander in the night,
Tho’ they hear the Shepherd calling,
They still fear to face the light.
This the blessed consolation,
That can melt the heart of stone,
That sweet Balm of Gilead reaches
Deep-er than the stain has gone!

3. All unworthy we who’ve wandered,
And our eyes are wet with tears;
As we think of love that sought us
Through the weary wasted years.
Yet we walk the holy highway,
Walking by God’s grace alone
Knowing Calv’ry’s fountain reaches
Deeper than the stain has gone!

4. When with holy choirs we’re standing
In the presence of the King,
And our souls are lost in wonder,
While the white robed choirs sing;
Then we’ll praise the name of Jesus,
With the millions round the throne;
Praise Him for the pow’r that reaches,
Deeper than the stain has gone!

Video Link

From birth, Evangelicals are taught that they are sinners, alienated from God, broken, and in need of fixing. Scores of Bible verses reinforce the belief that humans, by nature, are bad. Take Romans 3:

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes . . . For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

David said in Psalm 51:5: Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

David’s son Solomon later said: For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

The prophet Jeremiah said: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

The prophet Isaiah added: But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

Years ago, I attended the baptism of one of my granddaughters at a nearby Roman Catholic church. This was, by the way, the LAST of such services I’ve attended — much to the consternation of several of my children. During the ritual, the priest proceeded to cast Satan out of my granddaughter. That’s right, just a few months old, and she was already demon-possessed! I wanted to scream. How dare this cleric say my granddaughter was a sinner possessed by Satan, I thought. Of course, there was nothing out of the ordinary happening. Catholics and Protestants alike believe humans are, by nature, broken, and only Jesus can fix them. Whether through the water of baptism or his blood, Christians believe that only Jesus can repair and heal human brokenness.

It’s been 2,000 years since Jesus was executed by the Roman government and buried in an unknown, unmarked grave. Since his death, a religion bearing his name has sprouted, spreading to every corner of the earth. The names of the sects may vary, but one thing they all hold in common: the brokenness of the human race. This same teaching can be found in other sects, including Islam and Judaism. Billions of people have been taught that they are inherently and totally sinful, and that unless they accept the fix religionists peddle, they will die in their sins and go to Hell, purgatory, or be annihilated after death. Century after century, decade after decade, and year after year, people are infected with the false, anti-human notion that they are broken.

Malcolm Bright was right when he said: No one is born broken, someone breaks us. It is absurd to look at an infant or young child and say, “you are a broken, vile, Hell-bound sinner who needs salvation.” What children really need is deliverance from preachers, priests, imans, rabbis and devoutly religious parents who do their darnedest to teach yet another generation that they are broken. You see, it is these promoters of original sin who break their charges. While countless Christians will object to my characterization of their sects, the fact remains that original sin (brokenness) is a fundamental belief of ALL Christian sects. Humans don’t become sinners — as if they had a choice. They are born sinners. Their innate sin natures are the result of Adam’s and Eve’s transgression against God. These first sinners did what, exactly? What did they do that was so bad that every human from that point would be born broken? Why, they ate fruit from a tree God told them not to eat. That’s it. The brokenness of humanity rests on a foundation of two hungry people eating a kumquat.

It’s time we put an end to the generational dysfunction caused by the doctrine of original sin. Imagine how different the world might be if parents, grandparents, and teachers affirmed the essential goodness of the human race, teaching children beliefs that empower them and promote self-esteem. Imagine how much less guilt there would be if we stopped indoctrinating children with Puritanical codes of conduct or other anti-human systems of control. Imagine what kind of world we might live in if we promoted the humanistic ideal instead of the belief that humans are sick, diseased, broken, worthless beings.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.