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Category: Religion

Christians Don’t Have the Corner on Selflessness

Here’s a graphic one of my son’s sent me from his Facebook news feed:

selflessness

As they read this, countless atheists hit their heads on tables and mutter, really, this old canard? Let me kill this thinking in one, swift easy statement: if selflessness is consistent with Evangelical Christianity, why are so many Christians selfish? Bam! Shut the door!

People who post things like this have the IQ of a walnut. Rather than THINK, they post. No thinking Christian would EVER claim that selflessness is the domain of Christianity alone. All the Christian has to do is think about all the selfless non-Christians who have helped them over the years and all the selfish Christians who haven’t.

If the question is can the morality taught in the Bible lead to a life of selflessness? then the answer is yes. But, the same could be said for humanism and other ethical and religious systems of belief. Christianity has no corner on the selflessness market. If anything, American Evangelical behavior often reveals a crass indifference to the plight and suffering of others.

Many Evangelicals wrongly think that atheism is a moral and ethical system of thought. It’s not. Atheism is, and will always remain, the disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. That’s it. If I tell someone I am an atheist, that tells them nothing about my morals or ethics. The fact that I think evolution best explains the natural world says nothing about my morality or ethics either. Evolution is a statement of fact. There are Christians who are evolutionists. A conundrum: Christian=selfless Evolutionist=selfishness. Yet, there are “evolutionists” who are selfless worshipers of the Christian deity. Just another two-cent reason why the whole “Christians are selfless” argument is groundless.

As a humanist, I live my life according to the principles of humanism. These principles are succinctly stated in the Humanist Manifesto III:

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.

As I try to live by the humanist ideal, I am ever aware of how far from that ideal I am. I would never say to anyone that unless they become a humanist they have no capacity for selflessness. Humans are social creatures who thrive in interdependent relationships. Rare is the person who wants solitude and loneliness. Thousands of people read this blog because they want the sense of community and connections that come from doing so. Facebook is a hit because we desire to connect with like-minded people. We want to belong. As part of a tribe or group, we help those we have a connection with. If I had a serious medical need and required $10,000 to save my life, I know that a mere mention of this by my fellow bloggers and Facebook friends would result in the need being met. Why would people who have never met me face to face selflessly help me? It is our humanness and the bond we have with one another that drives us to help others. Are we always selfless? Of course not. All of us, Christian or not, can be selfish assholes, thinking only of what’s best for ourselves. But, more often than not, atheists, humanists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, pagans, or Buddhists, when called upon, will selflessly help others.

Years ago, I was at Sam’s Club checking out, and in the line next to me was an Asian young man trying to buy some stuff for his mom’s restaurant. The cashier wouldn’t let him make a purchase because he was using his mom’s membership card. The man spoke with broken English and was thoroughly embarrassed by how the cashier was treating him. I left my line and went over to the cashier and gave her a piece of my mind. And then I told her to put his stuff on my card and he could pay me for it. Now she was the one thoroughly embarrassed, having been called out for her ill-treatment of the Asian man. She quickly corrected course and took care of the man’s order. As he left, he looked at me and said “thanks.” I said, “no problem.” Did I do what I did because I was a Christian? Of course not. I have no tolerance for those who berate and belittle others. In other words, I don’t like assholes, and that’s why I came to the man’s defense.

When I come in contact with others, I do my best to be kind and considerate. Several years ago, I had a meltdown at the local Meijer customer service desk. The young woman running the desk didn’t help me as I thought she should in the time I had allotted for her to do so. I told her, forget it, and walked away.  Everything was fine until I swiftly turned around and went back to the desk and shouted, and you don’t give a SHIT, do you? Polly helplessly stood by while I made a public spectacle of myself. She didn’t say a word, but by the time we were halfway home, I realized that I had acted like a first-class asshole. As soon as I got home I called the customer service desk and talked to the young woman who had been the subject of my anger. I apologized for my behavior. Several times she told me, “that’s okay.” I told her, “no it’s not. No one should treat someone like I treated you.” The next time I was at the store she let me know that she appreciated my apology.  She told me that she had never had a customer apologize for treating her like shit.

You see, I am a saint and a sinner. I can act selflessly and I can act selfishly. No one has the selfless market cornered. Take the drowning story in the graphic above.  Does any Christian REALLY believe that an atheist would idly sit by and so nothing while someone drowns? I am a disabled. Anyone who sees me knows I have problems getting around. I have had more than a few people extend kindness and courtesy to me as I try to navigate a store, stadium, or restaurant. Yes, I have met a few selfish people who wouldn’t offer me help if my life depended on it, but they are the exception to the rule. Even when I complain about how people often ignore someone in a wheelchair, I don’t think they are being selfish as much as lacking in instruction about people with disabilities.

The underlying issue is that many Christians, particularly Evangelicals, believe that morality comes from God, and that without God a person cannot act morally and ethically. When challenged with examples of godless people who act morally and ethically, Christians often attack the motive for the godless person’s good behavior. The atheist is acting selflessly because they have an ulterior motive, they say. How can they know this? Can we really know the motives of others? Besides, isn’t the moral and ethical behavior of the Christian predicated on gaining a divine payoff, a mansion in Heaven, and eternal life? Who’s the selfish person now?

As a humanist, I am deeply interested in seeing my progeny thrive. Because I love them and desire their company, I try to protect them from injury and harm. Because I desire to live in peace and harmony, I do my best to be a selfless member of the human race and the community I live in.  I don’t need the threat of Hell and judgment or the promise of heaven and eternal life to motivate me to act according to the humanist ideal. My country, community, tribe, and family are important to me, and because they are I act accordingly. Why is it that so many Evangelicals fail to understand this? Why do they arrogantly think that morality, ethics, and selflessness are the domain of their religion alone? Why are they deliberately blind to overwhelming evidence that suggests that all people have within themselves the power to act morally, ethically, and selflessly?

Perhaps it is selfishness that drives their blindness? Imagine what would happen if people realized that living a moral, ethical, and selfless life does not require Christianity. Once the threat of Hell and the promise of Heaven is removed from the equation, people are less likely to join up with Fundamentalist religious sects. Instead of looking for the one road that leads to Heaven, they could choose one of the many roads that lead to a virtuous, well-lived life. Imagine people doing good and acting selflessly because it is the right thing to do, not because they fear God or covetously desire a divine payoff after death.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

After The Rocket, The Church Flamed Out

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A Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Atheist Ex-Pastor Refutes the Claim That There is No Such Thing As an Ex-Christian

easy believism

According to Fundamentalist Christian Jimmy Randolph, there is no such thing as an ex-Christian. In an article titled Beware of the Perils and Pitfalls of Easy-Believism, Randolph shares a recent experience he had of witnessing to an atheist:

A few days ago the Lord allowed me to witness to an atheist about creation and Jesus Christ’s blood atonement for sinners. After a few minutes of going back and forth, I could see that the particular atheist I was dealing with was not interested in truth, but excuse. As I was about to end the conversation by telling the atheist that he will one day face his Creator face to face at the Great White Throne Judgment and give an account for every secret sin, the atheist interrupted me by telling me that he was “a former Christian”. Now any Bible Believer knows that it is not impossible for a born-again Christian to apostate so dramatically to the point where they could possibly become an atheist (2 Tim 2:13 KJV).  Therefore, I decided to check out his testimony in the Lord.

I asked him “how did you become a Christian?” He answered “I was raised in a society that was mostly Christian.”  I then explained to him that being raised in a Christian society does not make you a Christian any more than being raised in a garage makes you a car. So I presented the question to him again: “how did you become a Christian?” This time he answered me and said “I believed in a theistic God.” I then explained to him that the devils also believe in a theistic God and tremble (James 2:19 KJV). I presented the question to him a third time: “how did you become a Christian?”  He answered and said “I believed the bible and that prayers would be the answer” I then explained to him that Muslims also believe in prayer and that Mormons also believe the bible, but that doesn’t make them Christians. I then rebuked the atheist by telling him that according to all three cases of his own testimony, he was NEVER a Christian, only RELIGIOUS.  It was at this point were the atheist let his anger get the best of him at accused me of being radical, mean-spirited, outrageous, illogical, spreading hate, unreasonable, what’s wrong with “Christianity” today, ridiculous ideology, blah, blah, blah.

Now why would this atheist label himself as a “former Christian” when he was absolutely clueless to what a Christian was? Two words: EASY BELIEVISM. Easy Believism is a heresy that teaches that salvation or reconciliation with God is relative to the individual and NOT ABSOLUTE according to God’s word. In other words, Easy Believism teaches that an individual doesn’t have to run to Calvary’s cross as a BROKEN SINNER in need of a sinless Savior to save them from HELL. Instead, the individual can come to God self-righteously as their own mediator, in their own way, in their own time, according to their own thoughts and logic.

According to Randolph, those of us who label ourselves as ex-Christians never really understood the True Christian® gospel. Randolph thinks that ex-Christians fell prey to what he calls easy-believism. Unfortunately, Randolph has no idea what easy-believism is. Proponents of easy-believism (free grace)  — men such as Jack Hyles, Curtis Hutson, Bob Gray, Charles Ryrie, Chuck Swindoll, Charles Stanley, and Zane Hodges — believe that people are saved when they mentally assent to a set of propositional beliefs and put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Those opposed to easy-believism — men such as John MacArthur and most Calvinists — believe that unsaved people must not only accept Jesus as their Savior, but they also must make him the Lord of their lives (lordship salvation). While both parties believe that good works are a natural consequence of being saved, those who oppose easy-believism say that these works prove that a person has indeed been born from above.

As you can see from the previous paragraph, Randolph doesn’t understand easy-believism. I am not sure where he pulled his definition from, but it wasn’t from any of the pro/anti-easy-believism books of the 1980s and 1990s. Randolph’s inability to define and understand easy-believism renders his claim moot. Still, for the sake of argument, I will let his definition stand so I can adequately address what he writes next.

According to Randolph, there are ten ways to spot the false converts to easy-believism (grammar errors and all caps in the original):

  • THEY WON’T OR HAVE DIFFICULTY ADMITTING TO BEING A SINNER
  • THEY DON’T BELIEVE THAT THEY EVER TRULY DESERVED TO BURN IN HELL
  • THEY BELIEVE THAT ANY GENERIC BELIEF IN GOD IS “GOOD ENOUGH”
  • THE IDEA OF SALVATION ALONE THROUGH CHRIST CRUCIFIED IS FOOLISHNESS TO THEM
  • THEY IDENTIFY THEMSELVES AS BEING A “CHRISTIAN” OR A “CHILD OF GOD” WITHOUT EVER ADMITTING TO BEING A LOST HELLBOUND SINNER BEFORE CONVERSION
  • THEY VIEW GOD AS A GENERIC BUDDY INSTEAD OF A SINLESS PERSONAL SAVIOUR
  • THEY BELIEVE THAT GENERAL GENERIC PRAYER, BIBLE READING, CHURCH ATTENDANCE, FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS, CHURCH MEMBERSHIP, SOCIAL FUNCTIONS, AND DEALING WITH SOCIETAL ISSUES EARNS THEM SALVATION OR SPECIAL FAVOR WITH GOD OUTSIDE OF SCRIPTURE.
  • THEY BELIEVE THAT SALVATION AND A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD CAN BE ACCOMPLISHED BY REJECTING, IGNORING, OR BEING PURPOSELY IGNORANT TO WHAT SCRIPTURE SAYS.
  • THEY BELIEVE THAT ALL RELIGIONS ARE THE SAME OR LEAD TO THE SAME GOD.
  • THEY CAN’T REMEMBER A TIME IN THEIR LIFE WHEN THEY HAD A FACE TO FACE COLLISION WITH JESUS CHRIST AND CALLED ON HIS NAME FOR SALVATION AS A BROKEN SINNER.

As regular readers know, I was a Christian for almost fifty years. I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. As many readers of this blog, I was, for many years, a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. At one time, thanks to the churches I grew up in and the training I received at Midwestern Baptist College, I preached the easy-believism gospel. However, by the mid-1980s, I realized that the easy-believism gospel generally turned people into cultural Christians who had no desire to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. So when John MacArthur wrote his Evangelical-shaking book, The Gospel According to Jesus, I quickly realized that MacArthur was spot on when it came to the lordship of Christ. From that point forward, my preaching and emphasis changed. Instead of just trying to get people to pray the sinner’s prayer, I focused on what I called the gospel of full disclosure. If people were going to become followers of Jesus, I believed they needed to know exactly what Jesus expected (demanded) of them.

So when I look at Randolph’s ten ways to spot a false convert to easy-believism, I can emphatically say that none of these things is true of me. And I expect that many of the readers of this blog can say the same.  We are living examples of the fact that people can be Christians and then walk away.  Any thorough examination of our lives reveals that we were once committed followers of Jesus. Our lives are proof that what Jimmy Randolph writes in his post is not true.

This should be the end of the discussion. I’ve presented evidence — my life — that cannot be refuted. But, this won’t be the end of the discussion because people like Randolph, when confronted with the exemplary lives of one-time Christians, will then suggest that we must still be Christians because the Bible says that the true Christian can never fall from grace or lose their salvation. Instead, we are just backslidden, and God, through chastisement or even death, will brings us back to Jesus.

While perusing the comments on Randolph’s post, I noticed that he said his definition of easy-believism came straight from the Bible.  After reading several more of his comments, I have concluded that he actually believes in easy-believism, just not the Bible-defined easy-believism that he has concocted in his head. (He also rejects lordship salvation.) In other words, he doesn’t know what he is talking about. Instead of trying to “save” atheists, perhaps Randolph should invest some money in buying several systematic theology books and doing some study on what the Bible actually says about salvation. Then, once thoroughly confused, Randolph can deconvert and become an ex-Christian who was never a Christian.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Why We’re Still Paying

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

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

guest post

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Bruce Gerencser