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Category: Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day: Do Free Markets Bring Peace Between Countries?

free market

One of the most enduring ideas in economics is that free markets bring peace between countries. It comes from the notion that commerce drives humans to follow their mutual material interests rather than make destructive war due to passions.

This was the animating force behind the U.S. granting China its “most-favored-nation” trade status in 2000, which allows for free trade and economic cooperation. Republicans and Democrats alike assured the public that the deal would bring “constructive engagement” and expose communist China to America’s “ideals” of democracy. Where are we today? Beijing has moved closer to authoritarianism, economic competition is fiercer than ever, and American and Chinese diplomatic relations are near a crisis point, with both countries brandishing threats of war. Free trade has brought some peace, but it has not brought lasting friendship between the world’s two superpowers.

The same point could be made for Russia. Germans clearly thought that free trade for Russian oil would bind Vladimir Putin’s kleptocracy to democratic Europe and lead it toward a more prosperous and open society. Instead, it weakened democratic Europe’s capacity to respond to Putin’s dictatorship and his bloody invasion of Ukraine.

Does this mean that the old idea of a “gentle commerce” of free markets, famously espoused in the French Enlightenment, is dead? Perhaps it never really existed. History shows that free markets can be a basis for friendship between powerful nations, but they are far less successful at securing peace and democracy than many have hoped. In fact, the noble talk of the free market was sometimes simply an excuse to engage in the kind of “great power” competition that too often leads to war and plunder.

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When British free marketeers managed to liberalize their own markets with the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, it heralded a laissez faire era in Britain but did not bring international peace. Richard Cobden, the famed free market leader of the Anti-Corn Law League, believed that free markets, pacifism, industrial know-how, Christianity and good work ethics would lead Britain to home-grown prosperity for the working man. Indeed, the very confidence and wealth that buoyed so many British to believe in the superiority of free markets was grounded in colonial ideals and wealth. The British colonial leader John Bowring used evangelical terms, claiming that imperial force and laissez faire economics could only bring good: “Jesus Christ is free trade,” he exclaimed, “and Free trade is Jesus Christ.” But the Pax Britannica of the Empire was based on gunboats, violent coercion and the pillaging of riches from colonialized nations. It is now estimated that Britain stole more than $40 trillion from India alone during the hundred-year rule of the Raj.

And while empire created a free trade zone for the British, it also sparked an almost constant series of colonial wars — from the more than 100 years of war with France in the eighteenth century, to another century of overseas wars with peoples and states in the Caribbean, China, India, Burma, New Zealand, Persia and Africa. Indeed, to gain free market agreements with Latin American countries, Turkey and China, the British relied on military threats. Free trade remained based on naval might. While some British free marketeers called for an end to the reliance on colonialism, confident that free trade agreements with other industrial powers brought peace and advantage to industrially superior Britain, Britain’s competitors began to see that if they wanted the free trade and imperial advantages enjoyed by Britain, they too would need to arm.

In 1905, the Cambridge critic of free market economics William Cunningham prophetically warned that the militarization of Japan, Russia and Germany was in direct response to Britain’s one-sided imperial free market and that it could lead to world wars. These countries could not compete with Britain, so from the 1870s to the 1890s, Russia, Italy, Germany, France and America were putting up tariffs against what they considered Britain’s domination of world commerce. Hungry for Britain’s empire and markets, Europe moved toward world war.

When World War I arrived, it could be seen as either a product of protectionism and trade war, or, as Cunningham said, a reaction to imperial free market Britain’s dominance. In any case, with rising nationalism and communism, hope for universal free trade faded. The most famous of the Austrian free market thinkers, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, formed their free market thought in response to rising socialism, but also in reaction to the Nazi regime which forced them to flee Austria to the United States. Both thought that the state was the ultimate danger to peace, but in the end, when World War II was over, the American state bankrolled the rebuilding of Britain, France, Germany and Japan, using the Marshall Plan to rebuild, but also to dictate democracy to, former foes, and, in doing so, to create the most successful economies of the modern age. Paradoxically, the United States provided well over $150 billion in today’s dollars to European countries, and more than $20 billion to Japan, as well as backing government intervention into these economies, to lay the groundwork for a future democratic free trade zone.

During the Cold War, America’s massive military kept the peace among its industrialized, democratic partners, while waging a cold and hot war against communism around the globe. U.S. government support, peace, prosperity and free trade were the dividends for America’s allies. But the global conflict with communism again meant that it took war and government support to establish democracy and, potentially, free markets through the GATT agreements that began in 1947 and expanded throughout the 20th century.

Even when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, a real possibility for peace emerged with the normalization of relations between America, Russia, Europe, India and eventually China. During this period, free markets expanded — but even in peacetime, military budgets have exploded under presidents of both parties. And still, with much of the world embracing free trade, the United States again went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, spending trillions of dollars, and, one might argue, squandering its own free market peace dividend.

Now we arrive at a more perilous moment. Democracy is in retreat around the world. The global economy seems poised for a recession. And war has broken out in Europe, while tensions rise between the U.S. and China. Meanwhile, public skepticism about free trade is surging in this populist moment. Can free markets keep the peace? We must hope they can. However, history shows that free trade is often in the eye of the beholder, anyway. Ultimately, a military based pax or deeper common interest might be necessary to keep commerce and the world on gentle terms.

— Jacob Soll, Politico, One of the Most Famous Ideas in Economics Is Wrong, October 5, 2022

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

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Quote of the Day: Who Are You Talking To?

sheldon cooper

What follows is a dialog from the Young Sheldon TV show between Sheldon Cooper (played by Iain Armitage), an atheist, and his Southern Baptist Mom, Mary Cooper (played by Zoe Perry).

Sheldon walks into the kitchen and finds his mom praying . . .

Sheldon: Who are you talking to?

Mom: God.

Sheldon: To yourself, got it.

Sheldon: And you think like Job, God is testing your faith?

Mom: Sure would explain all the bad things that are happening

Sheldon: So believing in a God that is going out of his way to ruin your life is more comforting than believing there’s no God at all?

Mom: Isn’t it past your bedtime?

Gotta love Sheldon. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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Quote of the Day: Reading the Bible as We Do All Other Books by Robert Ingersoll

robert ingersoll

Too great praise challenges attention, and often brings to light a thousand faults that otherwise the general eye would never see. Were we allowed to read the Bible as we do all other books, we would admire its beauties, treasure its worthy thoughts, and account for all its absurd, grotesque, and cruel things, by saying that its authors lived in rude, barbaric times. But we are told that it was written by inspired men; that it contains the will of God; that it is perfect, pure, and true in all its parts; the source and standard of all moral and religious truth; that it is the star and anchor of all human hope; the only guide for man, the only torch in Nature’s night. These claims are so at variance with every known recorded fact, so palpably absurd, that every free unbiased soul is forced to raise the standard of revolt.

— Robert Ingersoll, Some Mistakes of Moses, 1879

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

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Quote of the Day: Is it Okay to be Bitter About Our Past Religious Experiences?

quote of the day

I recently wrote a post titled, Bruce, You are Bitter! Today’s quote of the day comes from a comment left on this post by my friend Zoe. Here’s what she had to say:

In my experience, Christians use the term “bitterness” to imply a personal flaw, otherwise known as something that is immoral . . . a sin. It’s a judgment statement, expressed as a fact.

So, this definition here provided by Bruce:

“The Sage VII Dictionary — my go-to software-based dictionary and thesaurus — defines “bitter” (relating to human behavior) this way:

  • Marked by strong umbrage, resentment, or cynicism
  • Proceeding from or exhibiting great hostility or animosity
  • Expressive of severe grief or guilt
  • Harsh, sarcastic, or corrosive in tone

There is no winning because it isn’t really about the definition of the term, it’s a moral judgment they are throwing at Bruce and the rest of us. Mostly because it’s the easiest approach. If they stopped to look at the definition, where is the sin? If one considers the definitions, well, there are a whole lot of bitter Christians out there taking umbrage, resenting, and well, totally cynical. Any of them out there who has not been hostile or expressed animosity in their lives? How about grief? Guilt? Anyone know a single human on the planet that has not been harsh, sarcastic, or spoke with a corrosive tone?

Here’s the thing. Throwing the term bitterness into the woodwork is lazy speech and defined by the thrower. Life is sour, sweet, bitter, and shitty.

Bitterness is often considered a sin in the religious context. In the human context, it’s helpful. I’m able to accept being bitter, not to the point of destroying my life and ruminating on it ad nauseum. Accepting the truth, whether anyone believes me or not, isn’t the point.

Years ago I spent all sorts of emotion trying to fight off the accusation of bitterness. As the years went by, I learned that by accepting the truth that I was bitter in certain areas having to do with religion (and with good reason) I was able to see bitterness not as a character flaw and/or sin, but as an honest human survival technique. Many of us had/have many reasons to in fact be bitter.

It’s those reasons that the church wants us to be quiet about. If we aren’t, they shame us. “Oh, you are just bitter.” Come back with, “You’re damn right I am.” Or, “You’re damn right I was.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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Quote of the Day: The Practical Effect of Trying to Rejoice Always, Pray Always, and Thank God for Everything

1-Thess-5-16-18

The cynical part of me observes that passages like this [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, rejoice always, pray always, in everything give thanks to God] keep believers tied up in knots because they literally can’t do what he’s insisting are God’s commands. Well, maybe, if you’re a monk on some Mediterranean island and have lots of time to work on the praying without ceasing, but that’s obviously not who Paul is thinking of. But if you live in a state of fear that you’re not obeying God well enough, how do you fix that? Why, you go to church, pray, fellowship, listen to your church founder’s letter read yet again, tie yourself further up in knots, and cycle yourself deeper and deeper into the religion. It’s manipulative. And of course, manipulative processes, no matter how well-intentioned, will get hijacked by people who have ulterior motives.

— Karen, the Rock Whisperer, comment on Should Christians Rejoice Always and Thank God for Everything? August 16, 2022

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Quote of the Day: Guns Now Have More Rights Than Women in Ohio

Wade Kapszukiewicz

We now live in a state where guns have more rights than women. Ohio doesn’t trust women to make smart decisions about their own bodies, but yet it does trust 18-year-olds to make smart decisions about their AR-15s. This is both hypocritical and unacceptable.

— Wade Kapszukiewicz, mayor of Toledo, Ohio, ABC-13

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Quote of the Day: What’s Behind the War in Ukraine

noam chomsky

From 2014, the U.S. and NATO began to pour arms into Ukraine — advanced weapons, military training, joint military exercises, moves to integrate Ukraine into the NATO military command. There’s no secret about this. It was quite open. Recently, the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, bragged about it. He said: This is what we were doing since 2014. Well, of course, this is very consciously, highly provocative. They knew that they were encroaching on what every Russian leader regarded as an intolerable move. France and Germany vetoed it in 2008, but under U.S. pressure, it was kept on the agenda. And NATO, meaning the United States, moved to accelerate the de facto integration of Ukraine into the NATO military command.

In 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky was elected with an overwhelming majority — I think about 70% of the vote — on a peace platform, a plan to implement peace with Eastern Ukraine and Russia, to settle the problem. He began to move forward on it and, in fact, tried to go to the Donbas, the Russian-oriented eastern region, to implement what’s called the Minsk II agreement. It would have meant a kind of federalization of Ukraine with a degree of autonomy for the Donbas, which is what they wanted. Something like Switzerland or Belgium. He was blocked by right-wing militias which threatened to murder him if he persisted with his effort.

Well, he’s a courageous man. He could have gone forward if he had had any backing from the United States. The U.S. refused. No backing, nothing, which meant he was left to hang out to dry and had to back off. The U.S. was intent on this policy of integrating Ukraine step by step into the NATO military command. That accelerated further when President Biden was elected. In September 2021, you could read it on the White House website. It wasn’t reported but, of course, the Russians knew it. Biden announced a program, a joint statement to accelerate the process of military training, military exercises, more weapons as part of what his administration called an “enhanced program” of preparation for NATO membership.

It accelerated further in November. This was all before the invasion. Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed what was called a charter, which essentially formalized and extended this arrangement. A spokesman for the State Department conceded that before the invasion, the U.S. refused to discuss any Russian security concerns. All of this is part of the background.

On February 24th, Putin invaded, a criminal invasion. These serious provocations provide no justification for it. If Putin had been a statesman, what he would have done is something quite different. He would have gone back to French President Emmanuel Macron, grasped his tentative proposals, and moved to try to reach an accommodation with Europe, to take steps toward a European common home.

The U.S., of course, has always been opposed to that. This goes way back in Cold War history to French President De Gaulle’s initiatives to establish an independent Europe. In his phrase “from the Atlantic to the Urals,” integrating Russia with the West, which was a very natural accommodation for trade reasons and, obviously, security reasons as well. So, had there been any statesmen within Putin’s narrow circle, they would have grasped Macron’s initiatives and experimented to see whether, in fact, they could integrate with Europe and avert the crisis. Instead, what he chose was a policy which, from the Russian point of view, was total imbecility. Apart from the criminality of the invasion, he chose a policy that drove Europe deep into the pocket of the United States. In fact, it is even inducing Sweden and Finland to join NATO — the worst possible outcome from the Russian point of view, quite apart from the criminality of the invasion, and the very serious losses that Russia is suffering because of that.

So, criminality and stupidity on the Kremlin side, severe provocation on the U.S. side. That’s the background that has led to this. Can we try to bring this horror to an end? Or should we try to perpetuate it? Those are the choices.

There’s only one way to bring it to an end. That’s diplomacy. Now, diplomacy, by definition, means both sides accept it. They don’t like it, but they accept it as the least bad option. It would offer Putin some kind of escape hatch. That’s one possibility. The other is just to drag it out and see how much everybody will suffer, how many Ukrainians will die, how much Russia will suffer, how many millions of people will starve to death in Asia and Africa, how much we’ll proceed toward heating the environment to the point where there will be no possibility for a livable human existence. Those are the options. Well, with near 100% unanimity, the United States and most of Europe want to pick the no-diplomacy option. It’s explicit. We have to keep going to hurt Russia.

You can read columns in the New York Times, the London Financial Times, all over Europe. A common refrain is: we’ve got to make sure that Russia suffers. It doesn’t matter what happens to Ukraine or anyone else. Of course, this gamble assumes that if Putin is pushed to the limit, with no escape, forced to admit defeat, he’ll accept that and not use the weapons he has to devastate Ukraine.

There are a lot of things that Russia hasn’t done. Western analysts are rather surprised by it. Namely, they’ve not attacked the supply lines from Poland that are pouring weapons into Ukraine. They certainly could do it. That would very soon bring them into direct confrontation with NATO, meaning the U.S. Where it goes from there, you can guess. Anyone who’s ever looked at war games knows where it’ll go — up the escalatory ladder toward terminal nuclear war.

So, those are the games we’re playing with the lives of Ukrainians, Asians, and Africans, the future of civilization, in order to weaken Russia, to make sure that they suffer enough. Well, if you want to play that game, be honest about it. There’s no moral basis for it. In fact, it’s morally horrendous. And the people who are standing on a high horse about how we’re upholding principle are moral imbeciles when you think about what’s involved.

— Noam Chomsky, TomDispatch, Chomsky and Barsamian, In Ukraine, Diplomacy Has Been Ruled Out, June 16, 2022

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

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Quote of the Day: How Evangelical Theology Harms People

jim palmer

One of the ways toxic religion is a disservice to people is how it theologizes life in a way that prevents people from responding to situations as they truly require.

“Honor your father and mother” should never mean accepting their manipulation, abuse, or toxic interactions or behavior.

“Turning the other cheek” should never mean that you allow someone to violate your boundaries.

Being a “person of faith” should never mean that seeking professional therapy is a sign of spiritual immaturity.

“Taking up your cross” should never mean denying your needs, desires, and individuality.

Being a “Proverbs 31 woman” should never mean assuming a posture of inferiority, submission and appeasement to men, or tolerate domination or abuse.

The “fear of the Lord” should never mean living in a state of anxiety and uncertainty about being unconditionally worthy of acceptance and love.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them” should never mean giving another human being authority over your life and choices.

People are not told that the right choice in life includes:

  • standing up for yourself
  • saying “no”
  • enforcing boundaries
  • terminating toxic relationships
  • seeking professional therapy
  • caring for yourself
  • honoring your needs and desires
  • zero-tolerance for disrespect or abuse

— Jim Palmer, Chaplain with the American Humanist Association, Facebook

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Quote of the Day: How Politics Poisoned the Evangelical Church

tim alberta

For generations, white evangelicals have cultivated a narrative pitting courageous, God-fearing Christians against a wicked society that wants to expunge the Almighty from public life. Having convinced so many evangelicals that the next election could trigger the nation’s demise, Christian leaders effectively turned thousands of churches into unwitting cells in a loosely organized, hazily defined, existentially urgent movement—the types of places where paranoia and falsehoods flourish and people turn on one another.

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Beginning in the 1980s, white evangelicals imposed themselves to an unprecedented degree on the government and the country’s core institutions. Once left to cry jeremiads about civilizational decline—having lost fights over sex and sexuality, drugs, abortion, pornography, standards in media and education, prayer in public schools—conservative Christians organized their churches, marshaled their resources, and leveraged their numbers, regaining the high ground, for a time, in some of these culture wars.

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Short-lived victories, however, came at a long-term cost. Evangelical leaders set something in motion decades ago that pastors today can no longer control. Not only were Christians conditioned to understand their struggle as one against flesh and blood, fixated on earthly concerns, a fight for a kingdom of this world—all of which runs directly counter to the commands of scripture—they were indoctrinated with a belief that because the stakes were getting so high, any means was justified.

Which brings us to Donald Trump.

When Trump was elected thanks to a historic showing among white evangelicals—81 percent voted for him over Hillary Clinton—the victory was rightly viewed as the apex of the movement’s power. But this was, in many ways, also the beginning of its unraveling. The “battle lines” Bolin described as having emerged over the past five years—cultural reckonings over racism and sexual misconduct; a lethal pandemic and fierce disputes over vaccines and government mandates; allegations of election theft that led to a siege of the U.S. Capitol; and, underlying all of this, the presidency, prosecution, and martyring of Trump himself—have carved up every institution of American society. The evangelical Church is no exception.

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The nation’s largest denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, is bleeding members because of ferocious infighting over race relations, women serving in leadership, accountability for sexual misconduct, and other issues. The United Methodist Church, America’s second-largest denomination, is headed toward imminent divorce over irreconcilable social and ideological divisions. Smaller denominations are losing affiliate churches as pastors and congregations break from their leadership over many of the same cultural flash points, choosing independence over associating with those who do not hold their views.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Christians, like Americans from every walk of life, are self-selecting into cliques of shared habits and thinking. But what’s notable about the realignment inside the white evangelical Church is its asymmetry. Pastors report losing an occasional liberal member because of their refusal to speak on Sunday mornings about bigotry or poverty or social injustice. But these same pastors report having lost—in the past few years alone—a significant portion of their congregation because of complaints that they and their staff did not advance right-wing political doctrines. Hard data are difficult to come by; churches are not required to disclose attendance figures. But a year’s worth of conversations with pastors, denominational leaders, evangelical scholars, and everyday Christians tells a clear story: Substantial numbers of evangelicals are fleeing their churches, and most of them are moving to ones further to the right.

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Many right-wing pastors have formed alliances—with campaign consultants, education activists, grassroots groups, even MAGA-in-miniature road shows promoting claims of an assault on American sovereignty—that bring a steady flow of fresh faces into their buildings. From there, the fusion of new Republican orthodoxy with old conservative theology is seamless. This explains why, even during a period of slumping church attendance, the number of white evangelicals has grown: The Pew Research Center reports that more and more white Trump supporters began self-identifying as evangelicals during his presidency, whether or not they attended church.

— Tim Alberta, The Atlantic, How Politics Poisoned the Evangelical Church, May 10, 2022

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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser