Religion

Should Non-Religious Parents Lie to Their Children About Death?

should we indoctrinate our children

Erica Komisar, a licensed clinical social worker in New York City, writes:

Nihilism is fertilizer for anxiety and depression, and being “realistic” is overrated. The belief in God—in a protective and guiding figure to rely on when times are tough—is one of the best kinds of support for kids in an increasingly pessimistic world. That’s only one reason, from a purely mental-health perspective, to pass down a faith tradition.

I am often asked by parents, “How do I talk to my child about death if I don’t believe in God or heaven?” My answer is always the same: “Lie.” The idea that you simply die and turn to dust may work for some adults, but it doesn’t help children. Belief in heaven helps them grapple with this tremendous and incomprehensible loss. In an age of broken families, distracted parents, school violence and nightmarish global-warming predictions, imagination plays a big part in children’s ability to cope.

I also am frequently asked about how parents can instill gratitude and empathy in their children. These virtues are inherent in most religions. The concept of tikkun olam, or healing the world, is one of the pillars of my Jewish faith. In accordance with this belief, we expect our children to perform community service in our synagogue and in the community at large. As they grow older, young Jews take independent responsibility for this sacred activity. One of my sons cooks for our temple’s homeless shelter. The other volunteers at a prison, while my daughter helps out at an animal shelter.

Such values can be found among countless other religious groups. It’s rare to find a faith that doesn’t encourage gratitude as an antidote to entitlement or empathy for anyone who needs nurturing. These are the building blocks of strong character. They are also protective against depression and anxiety.

In an individualistic, narcissistic and lonely society, religion provides children a rare opportunity for natural community. My rabbi always says that being Jewish is not only about ethnic identity and bagels and lox: It’s about community. The idea that hundreds of people can gather together and sing joyful prayers as a collective is a buffer against the emptiness of modern culture. It’s more necessary than ever in a world where teens can have hundreds of virtual friends and few real ones, where parents are often too distracted physically or emotionally to soothe their children’s distress.

I wanted to scream after I read Komisar’s article. I thought, “are you really this stupid?” “Did you bother to talk to atheist parents and their children?”  “Are you really equating atheism with nihilism?” “Are you really advocating lying to children about one of the most profound issues we humans struggle with — death?” “Are you really suggesting that parents pass on a faith tradition to their children as some sort of inoculation against depression?” “Are you aware of the psychological damage caused by religions, especially fundamentalist religions such as Evangelicalism, Islam, conservative Catholicism, and right-wing Jewish sects?” “Are you aware of the fact that many atheists are humanists, and humanism provides a moral, ethical, and social framework for them?”

Komisar would have us believe “in an individualistic, narcissistic and lonely society, religion provides children a rare opportunity for natural community.” Natural? Are you kidding? What’s “natural” about eating the body of Jesus and drinking his blood? What’s “natural” about believing God is three, yet one; that the universe was created 6,024 years ago; that dead people can come back to life; that the Bible stories about a miracle-working man named Jesus are true; that people can be roasted in a furnace and not be harmed; that the earth was covered with water just a few thousand years ago; that the Holy Spirit lives inside of people and is their teacher and guide; that premarital sex, homosexuality, and a host of other human behaviors are sins, and unless forsaken, will bring the judgment of God down upon their head?  Sorry, but Komisar really didn’t think the issue through before she wrote her article for the Wall Street Journal.

What more troubling is the fact that Erica Komisar is a licensed social worker and counselor. I suspect her approach to religion is very much a part of her counseling methodology. I wonder what Komisar would say to depressed atheists or agnostics? Go to church? Find a religion to practice, even if you have to fake believing? Jesus F. Christ, such thinking is absurd.

Now to the question, “should parents lie to their children about death?” Komisar suggests that parents use religious language to comfort children about death, either their own or that of their loved ones. Better to lie to children about where recently departed grandma is than to tell them the truth: Grandma is dead and you will never see her again. Cherish the memories you have of her. Look at photographs of her, reminding yourself of the wonderful times you had with her.

Komisar would rather children live in blissful ignorance than face reality. Grandma is in Heaven with Gramps. Grandma is running around Heaven with her loved ones. Grandma is no longer suffering. She is right beside Jesus, enjoying a pain-free existence. Bollocks!

While I can see avoiding the subject of death with young children, by the time they are in third or fourth grade, they should be ready to face the realities of life. People die. Some day you will die. That’s why Grandpa Bruce wrote this on his blog:

If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?

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.

I have six children, ages 26 to 40, and twelve grandchildren, aged 18 months to nineteen. I dearly love my family. If 2019 has taught them anything, it is this: Mom and Dad and Nana and Grandpa are feeble, frail humans. Both of us faced health circumstances that could have led to our deaths. Shit, we are in our sixties. Most of our lives are in the rearview mirror. Even if we live to be eighty, seventy-five percent of our lives are gone. Saying that our best days lie ahead is nothing more than lying to ourselves. We remember our twenties and thirties. We remember the days when we had the proverbial tiger by the tail. Those days are long gone. My mom died at age 54. Dad died at age 49. Polly’s parents are in their eighties. Both of them are in poor health and will likely die sooner than later. I mean, a lot sooner than later. It is insane for my adult children to lie to their progeny about their grandparents and great-grandparents. I want my grandchildren to know that I love them and that I wish I had fifty years of life left so I could watch their children’s children grow up. But, I don’t. When I come to their basketball game, play, band concert, or school program, I do so because I want them to have good memories of me. I want them to remember that I was there for them. I know that the ugly specter of death is stalking me, and one day my children will be forced to tell their children that Grandpa is dead. I don’t want them lying to their children about my post-death existence. I plan to be cremated and have my ashes scattered on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan — a place where the love of my life and I experienced a “perfect” day. Hopefully, being involved with the disposal of my final remains will impress on my grandchildren the importance of living each day to its fullest. Death, when we least expect it, comes for us one and all. Better to face this fact and live accordingly than to believe that Heaven and eternal bliss awaits us after we die.

Let me conclude this post with an excerpt from a 2018 NPR article titled Teaching Children To Ask The Big Questions Without Religion:

Emily Freeman, a writer in Montana, grew up unaffiliated to a religion . . . She and her husband Nathan Freeman talked about not identifying as religious — but they didn’t really discuss how it would affect their parenting.

“I think we put it in the big basket of things that we figured we had so much time to think about,” Emily joked.

But then they had kids, and the kids came home from their grandfather’s house talking about Bible stories.

Nathan acknowledges that this came from a good place, and his father was acting in concern. “He feels like these lessons encapsulate a blueprint for how to move through life. And so of course, why wouldn’t we want our children to have those lessons alongside them as they travel through the world?”

But while Nathan and Emily wanted their kids to learn about love and compassion, they didn’t want them to hear Bible stories. When the boys were so young, the certainty of those stories felt like indoctrination.

“They trust everything that you tell them,” Emily observed. “About how their body works, about how the world works. How a cake suddenly becomes a cake from a bunch of ingredients on the counter — everything!”

….

People often, as you may expect, would leave religion during the rebellious teenage years — [ professor Christel] Manning says the baby boomers were the first generation to do this in fairly large numbers. But about half of them went back after they got married.

“If I’m single, and I have a certain spiritual or secular outlook, that’s my personal thing,” Manning explains. “But when I form a family, then there are other people who become stakeholders in this process.”

In addition to the spouses themselves, there are often parents and other family members who want influence, and kids who want answers. These are some pretty big questions — kids are asking about life and death, right and wrong, and who are we?

The answer to these questions was often found in religion. But this isn’t holding true for the current generation of parents. They aren’t returning to religious affiliation — or affiliating in the first place.

In the Freeman family’s case, did the grandparents need to be worried? According to Manning, the data on growing up without religion are mixed. Some studies show that children growing up in a faith community experiment less with drugs and alcohol and juvenile crime. And some show that kids raised without religion are more resistant to peer pressure, and more culturally sensitive.

“But,” as Manning points out, “and this is a big but — we don’t know if it’s religion that benefits the children, or if it’s just being part of an organized community, with other caring adults that regularly interact with your child.”

Manning — who raised her own child without religion — notes that there are lots of ways to raise a child to be moral and religion is only one of them.

“I’d say from what we know now, both a religious and secular upbringing can have both benefits and risks for children.”

For some unaffiliated parents, like Emily Freeman, raising children outside of a definitive religious construct can be very valuable, by empowering them in not knowing.

….

For some people, religion can provide these answers. For others, it’s a sacred space to explore not knowing. Parents like Emily Freeman try to help their kids find their own voice in the conversation. About belief, about what’s right, about their values as a family.

“They don’t spend all day wondering why zebras have stripes. We just look it up on the phone. And boom — wonder, done!” laughs Freeman. “So I love this idea of giving them open-ended, unanswerable questions. And saying, who knows? And people you love can believe different things than you do, and that’s OK.”

….

Are you an atheist, agnostic, or non-religious? What have you taught your children about death? Do you think it is okay to lie to children about death? Please share your deep thoughts and advice in the comment section.

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.

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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.

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Quote of the Day: Attorney General William Barr Wages War on Secularism

Cartoon by Jen Sorensen

He [U.S. Attorney General William Barr] is a devoted Catholic who has said he believes the nation needs a “moral renaissance” to restore Judeo-Christian values in American life. He has been unafraid to use his platform as the nation’s top law enforcement officer to fight the cultural changes they believe are making the country more inhospitable and unrecognizable, like rising immigration and secularism or new legal protections for L.G.B.T. people.

….

A series of assertive public appearances in recent weeks, laced with biting sarcasm aimed at adversaries on the left, have brought a sharper focus on Mr. Barr’s style and worldview, both of which share aspects with the president’s.

….

He [Barr] has painted a picture of a country divided into camps of “secularists” — those who, he said recently, “seem to take a delight in compelling people to violate their conscience” — and people of faith. The depiction echoes Mr. Trump’s worldview, with the “us versus them” divisions that the president often stokes when he tells crowds at his rallies that Democrats “don’t like you.”

His politicization of the office is unorthodox and a departure from previous attorneys general in a way that feels uncomfortably close to authoritarianism, critics said.

“Barr has believed for a long time that the country would benefit from more authoritarianism. It would inject a stronger moral note into government,” said Stuart M. Gerson, who worked in the Bush Justice Department under Mr. Barr and is a member of Checks & Balances, a legal group that is among the attorney general’s leading conservative detractors. “I disagree with his analysis of power. We would be less free in the end.”

….

He’s [Barr’s] offering a fairly unabashed, crisp and candid assessment of the nature of our culture right now,” said Leonard A. Leo, the executive vice president of the Federalist Society and a prominent advocate for socially conservative causes. “There’s certainly a movement in our country to dial back the role that religion plays in civil society and public life. It’s been going on for some time,” Mr. Leo added. “That’s not an observation that public officials make very often, so it is refreshing.”

Mr. Barr helped make the case for conservatives to shift to war footing against the left during a speech at Notre Dame Law School in October that was strikingly partisan. He accused “the forces of secularism” of orchestrating the “organized destruction” of religion. He mocked progressives, asking sardonically, “But where is the progress?”

And while other members of the Catholic Church and Pope Francis have acknowledged that the sexual abuse crisis has devastated the moral authority of the church in the United States and is in part to blame for decreasing attendance, Mr. Barr outlined what he saw as a larger plot by the left and others. He said they “have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.”

At one point, he compared the denial of religious liberty protections for people of faith to Roman emperors who forced their Christian subjects to engage in pagan sacrifices. “We cannot sit back and just hope the pendulum is going to swing back toward sanity,” Mr. Barr warned.

— Jeremy W. Peters and Katie Benner, New York Times, Barr Dives Into the Culture Wars, and Social Conservatives Rejoice, December 8, 2019

Letter to the Editor: Ohio Representative Craig Riedel Supports Extreme Anti-Abortion Legislation — HB413

craig-riedel-quote-on-abortion

The following letter was recently submitted by me to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News.

Dear Editor,

Supposedly, Republican Craig Riedel represents the interests of all his constituents in the 82nd District. However, it seems clear, at least to me, that the only people Riedel is interested in representing are people who hew to his right-wing political and religious beliefs. Riedel continues to trample the line between church and state, repeatedly supporting legislation that forces his religious beliefs on others. (Please see Should Every Effort be Made to Preserve Human Life?)

I get it. Riedel is adamantly anti-abortion. However, many of his constituents, including some of his fellow Republicans, do not support his extreme views. Take Ohio House Bill 413, legislation supported by Riedel. This bill, if enacted, effectively outlaws abortion in Ohio. Further, HB413 criminalizes abortion, both for the physician and the patient. HB413 adds terms such as abortion murder and aggravated abortion murder to Ohio law. If convicted, Ohioans could face life in prison.

Not only does HB413 effectively outlaw and criminalize abortion, it makes no exception in cases of rape and incest. That’s right. Riedel has no problem with forcing women to carry fetuses to term, even if they have been raped. Worse yet, Riedel supports requiring physicians to reimplant fertilized eggs from ectopic pregnancies. Never mind, that such a procedure is medically impossible and could lead to women bleeding to death. All that matters is that the fertilized egg be spared at all costs. It seems, then, that not only is Riedel anti-abortion, he is also anti-science.

I am left wondering what happened to the Ohio of my youth. There was a time when our political parties worked for the common good of the people of Ohio. Today, right-wing extremism rules the roost in Columbus. How can Ohioans ever find common ground on issues such as abortion as long as men such as Craig Riedel demand pregnant women be kept hostage by his peculiar religious views? And make no mistake about it, Evangelicals and other conservative Christians are the ones driving women to resort to back-alley abortions. Using an incremental approach, right-wing Republicans have enacted a plethora of legislation meant to roll back Ohio to pre-Roe v. Wade days.

Is it really in the best interest of Ohio women to outlaw and criminalize abortion? I think not. While I support legislation that regulates abortion post-viability, I can think of no rational reason to ban access to morning-after drugs and procedures that end unwanted pregnancies. The only thing standing in the way is religion.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

Other posts about Rep. Craig Riedel

HB565: Ohio Republicans Take ‘Abortion is Murder’ to its Logical Conclusion

Children Should be Taught Facts, not Religious Beliefs, in Ohio Public School Classrooms

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.

Contentment

contentment“Bruce, your problem is that you lack contentment.” I was stunned when my counselor told me this. I have been seeing him for years. I am beginning to wonder if it is time for a change. His words seemed sharp and judgmental. I felt as if he was ignoring me as a person and making a character judgment instead. Two weeks later, I am still talking about whether this judgment was correct. Polly would say, I’m sure, “Bruce, you are discontented over contentment.” :) Maybe.

Last week, I wrote a post titled, Living with Unrelenting Chronic Pain: Just Another Day in Paradise. I intended to write about contentment then, but the post, as is often the case, went in a different direction from that which I had intended. As that Spirit moves, right? It’s impossible to determine if I am content without first understanding the primary issues that drive my life: chronic illness, chronic pain, loss of career, loss of faith, OCPD, past emotional trauma. Pulling a singular event out of my life and rendering judgment based on it is sure to lead to a faulty conclusion. Think of all the clichés we use about understanding people: walk a mile in their shoes, see things through their eyes, judge not, lest you be judged. If we truly want to understand someone, we must take the time to see, listen, and observe — not something we do much of these days. We live in the social media era, a time when instant judgments are the norm. As a writer, I find it frustrating when people read a post or two and then sit in judgment of my life. In 2,000 or fewer words, I have, supposedly, told them all they need to know about Bruce Gerencser. Of course, I have done no such thing. Want to really get to know me? Sit down, pull up a chair, and let’s break bread and talk. Truly understanding someone requires time, commitment, and effort. I have been married for forty-one years. It took years for Polly and me to really get to know each other. And even today, I wonder, do I really know all there is to know about my lover and friend? I doubt it.

Contentment. What does the word even mean? Happy? Satisfied? Complacent? How do I determine if I am content? Do I even want to be content? Is contentment a desirable human trait? What would the world look like if everyone were content? The Apostle Paul wrote spoke of contentment several times:

  • I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. (Philippians 4:11)
  • But godliness with contentment is great gain. (1 Timothy 6:6)
  • And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. (1 Timothy 6:8)
  • Be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5)

“Bruce, you are an atheist. What the Bible says is irrelevant.” Tell my mind that. These verses were pounded into my head by my pastors and Sunday school teachers, and then, as a pastor, I pounded them into the heads of congregants. Just because you say, “I’m an atheist,” doesn’t mean that decades of training and indoctrination magically disappear. I spent most of my adult life trying to be the model of a “contented” Christian. Try as I might, I came up short.

My father was the epitome of “contentment.” Dad lived by the maxim que sera sera (whatever will be, will be). He was passive and indifferent towards virtually everything. Dad and I were never close. It’s not that we had a bad relationship; it’s just that he treated his relationship with me the way he treated everything else.

I was much more like my mom. Passionate. Contrary. Opinionated. Everything mattered. It comes as no surprise that I am a perfectionist; that I struggle with Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder; that I have high (and often unreasonable) expectations not only for myself, but for others. Ask my children about what they “fondly” call the Gerencser Work Ethic. Oh, the stories they could share. I am sure a few of you are thinking, “are you not admitting here that you are discontent?” Maybe, but I am not convinced that it’s as simple as that — as I shared with my counselor.

You see, I have always been a restless person. Does this mean that I am discontent? Or, perhaps, I am someone who needs a steady diet of new experiences. I bore easily. In my younger years, this resulted in me working a number of different jobs. My resume is quite diverse. The same could be said of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. I loved starting new churches. However, over time, these new churches would become old churches, and when that happened, I was ready to move on. I pastored a church in West Unity, Ohio for seven years. Awesome people. Not a problem in the world. Yet, I resigned and moved on. Why? I was bored. I was tired of the same routine Sunday after Sunday. It wasn’t the fault of people the people I pastored. I was the one with a restless spirit. I was the one looking for matches and gasoline so I could start a new fire.

dogs and contentmentMy counselor asked me if he could wave a magic wand over me and instantly make me content, would I want him to do so? I quickly replied, “absolutely not.” I told him that instant contentment would rob me of my passion and drive. “What kind of writer would I be without restlessness and passion?” I asked. He replied, “ah yes, that which drives creatives.” If being content requires me to surrender my passion and drive, no thanks. I am not interested. Now, I can certainly see where I would be better off if I, at times, let go and let Loki. I have never been good at “be still and know that I am God.” I like being busy. I enjoy “doing.” One of the frustrating problems I face with having fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis is that I can no longer do the things I want to do. My “spirit” is willing, but my “flesh” is weak. Does this lead to discontentment? Maybe, but I am more inclined to think that the inability to do what I want leads to frustration and anger, not discontentment.

I’ll leave it to others to determine if I am content. I will leave it to the people who look at me and “read” my face, thinking my lack of a smile is a sure sign of discontentment; as if there couldn’t be any other explanation for my facial expressions — you know, such as chronic, unrelenting pain. Would it settle the contentment question if I tell people that I am generally happy; that I enjoy writing, shooting photographs, and spending time with my children and grandchildren?  I doubt it. Much like my counselor, people seize on anecdotal stories as evidence for their judgments of my life. I told my counselor about a recent visit to a new upscale pizza place in Defiance. I told him that the waitstaff left a lot to be desired, and our pizzas were burnt on the bottom (the restaurant uses a brick pizza oven). I told our server the pizzas were burnt. The manager gave us a 50 percent discount on our bill. My counselor seized on this story as a good example of my discontentment. Never mind the fact that I rarely complain about the quality of restaurant food. I just don’t do it. I am willing to give a place a pass, having managed restaurants myself. I know how things can get messed up. That said, I always wanted to know when an order didn’t meet customer expectations. No, customers are not always right. Some of them are idiots and assholes. But I couldn’t make things right if complaints never reach my ears.

Am I content? Probably not, but I sure as hell don’t want the kind of contentment preached by the Apostle Paul, modeled by my father, and suggested by my counselor. No thanks . . . I’ll take happiness with a slice of restlessness, and garnished with passion every time.

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.

Quote of the Day: Why Don’t You Just “Believe?”

bart ehrman

What do you have to lose by having faith and believing that Christ was born supernaturally as a result of a virgin birth to Mary, that Christ performed miracles, that Christ died by crucifixion and came back to life from the dead, and that Christ went back into heaven in a supernatural ascension into heaven? I don’t see any downside.

I get this kind of question on occasion. Usually when someone asks it they tie it to “Pascal’s Wager.”

….

The first question I would ask this person is: Are *you* able to believe something that you honestly do not think is true?

The question itself raises a much bigger issue: what does it mean to believe? Does anyone really and genuinely think that authentic faith means mouthing certain words that you don’t actually subscribe to in order to be let off the hook? Would God be convinced by that? Wouldn’t he, uh, see through it?  I assume so. So what good would it do for me to say that I believe something I don’t actually believe?

And how can I force myself to think something is true when I don’t think it is? Belief isn’t mouthing words or lying to get off the hook.

 

The second question I would ask is, for me, the real zinger: Can it really be a simple case of either/or?  Either you believe or not?  In other words, is it really a case that if you choose to believe and you’re right, you may be saved, but if you’re wrong you will be damned?   Doesn’t that assume there are only two options: believe in Christ for salvation or don’t and be damned?

That may have made sense for Pascal, who lived in a world where, for all practical purposes, there were TWO options. But what about our own world?  We don’t have two options. We have scads of them. And it is literally impossible to take them all.

That is to say:  If you want to make sure you cover your bases when it comes to salvation: WHICH religion do you follow? Suppose you decide, OK, I’ll take Pascal’s wager and decide (somehow) to believe in Christ? What if, it turns out, Christ is NOT the right option?  Or even, say, the only/best option?

In concrete terms:  what if you decide to believe in Christ and then it turns out the Muslims are right? You could be damned forever for choosing the wrong option. So how do you cover the Islamic option as well as the Christianity one? And … well …  there are lots of religions to choose from.

Even within Christianity: I know some Christians who have an entire detailed list of what you have to believe to be saved. And I know other Christians who have a *different* list. It is impossible to believe both at once, since they are at odds with one another. On a most simple level, I know different Christians who believe that if you do not belong to *their* denomination, you will be damned; and even Christians who say that you have to be baptized in *their particular church* to be saved. So what’cha gonna do?

On this logic, do you become Mormon to cover your bases? And Catholic? And Southern Baptist? And a Jehovah’s Witness? And an Independent-Bible-Believing-Hell-Fire-and-Brimstone Fundamentalist? And …. ?

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, Why Don’t You Just Believe?, December 1, 2019

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Quote of the Day: Ohio Anti-Abortion Extremists Demand Doctors Reimplant Ectopic Pregancies

abortion

A bill to ban abortion introduced in the Ohio state legislature requires doctors to “reimplant an ectopic pregnancy” into a woman’s uterus – a procedure that does not exist in medical science – or face charges of “abortion murder”.

This is the second time practising obstetricians and gynecologists have tried to tell the Ohio legislators that the idea is currently medically impossible.

The move comes amid a wave of increasingly severe anti-abortion bills introduced across much of the country as conservative Republican politicians seek to ban abortion and force a legal showdown on abortion with the supreme court.

Ohio’s move on ectopic pregnancies – where an embryo implants on the mother’s fallopian tube rather than her uterus rendering the pregnancy unviable – is one of the most extreme bills to date.

“I don’t believe I’m typing this again but, that’s impossible,” wrote Ohio obstetrician and gynecologist Dr David Hackney on Twitter. “We’ll all be going to jail,” he said.

An ectopic pregnancy is a life-threatening condition, which can kill a woman if the embryonic tissue grows unchecked.

It also appears to punish doctors, women and children as young as 13 with “abortion murder” if they “perform or have an abortion”. This crime is punishable by life in prison. Another new crime, “aggravated abortion murder”, is punishable by death, according to the bill.

….

“There is no procedure to reimplant an ectopic pregnancy,” said Dr Chris Zahn, vice-president of practice activities at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. “It is not possible to move an ectopic pregnancy from a fallopian tube, or anywhere else it might have implanted, to the uterus,” he said.

“Reimplantation is not physiologically possible. Women with ectopic pregnancies are at risk for catastrophic hemorrhage and death in the setting of an ectopic pregnancy, and treating the ectopic pregnancy can certainly save a mom’s life,” said Zahn.

— Jessica Glenza, The Guardian, Ohio bill orders doctors to ‘reimplant ectopic pregnancy’ or face ‘abortion murder’ charges, , November 29, 2019

Quote of the Day: Who was Jesus?

bart ehrman

There can be no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth has been the most influential person in the history of the world.   The church founded on his name shaped the history of Western Civilization, and over two billion people worship him today.  And yet, because of the nature of our sources, it is surprisingly difficult to know what he actually said and did.

Jesus is thought to have died around 30 CE.   He is not referred to in any Greek or Roman sources of the first century, and only briefly in our major Jewish source of the period, the historian Josephus.  The earliest Christian references are from the New Testament, but most of the twenty-seven books say nothing about his words and deeds.

The four Gospels are by far our most important sources and these certainly do contain significant historical information.  But they are also theological reflections on the meaning of his life and death, less concerned to report bare facts than to reflect on their meaning.  Historians work diligently to get behind these reflections to determine what Jesus actually said, did, and experienced.

It is clear that Jesus was raised in a small hamlet, Nazareth, in the northern part of Israel.  He was born sometime around the turn of the Common Era (4 BCE ?) in a relatively large family with brothers and sisters.  We know nothing definite of his life and activities as a boy and young man, other than what we can learn from archaeology and inference.  Jews in this region spoke Aramaic; Nazareth was impoverished with a small population (a couple of hundred people?); houses were roughly constructed, small, and crowded; there was no synagogue building, school, or public building of any kind; people were uneducated, lived a hand-to-mouth existence, and as a rule did not travel.

We do know that as an adult (around 30 CE?)  Jesus left Nazareth to participate in the movement of a prophet called John the Baptist who was urging his followers to undergo a ritual of water baptism for cleansing of their sins because God was soon to intervene in the world to destroy all that was opposed to him in order to bring a new kingdom on earth where evil would be destroyed and only good would prevail.  Jesus left his home, family, and work to be baptized by John, and almost certainly became his follower.

Eventually Jesus split off to engage in his own itinerate preaching ministry.  He gathered a small group of followers and soon chose twelve to be his inner circle.  The Gospels contain numerous accounts of great miracles that he did: healing the sick, casting out demons, controlling the forces of natures, and raising the dead.   It is not clear if such stories – commonly attributed to great Sons of God in antiquity – originated during his lifetime or only later.  He spent a good deal of his time teaching, and, like most Jewish teachers at the time, had heated disagreements with others about the proper interpretation of the law of Moses.

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, Who was Jesus?, November 29, 2019

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Harry McCall Objects to My Rejection of Mythicism, Says I “Hate” Him

jesus walking dead

The real Jesus (from The Walking Dead)

Over the weekend, Harry McCall, an acquaintance of mine, took to Facebook to let his friends know what kind of person he thought I was. He was doubly upset that yet another atheist had unfriended him on Facebook. Here’s what McCall posted to his Facebook wall:

Oddly, I find Atheists, especially those who were former Christian pastors, to be very thin skinned to criticism about their belief system. Thus far, I have had four Atheists, all of whom were either former conservative or Fundamentalist pastors Defriend me on Facebook with almost all of them expressing hatred towards me in doing so (I am not an Atheist and never was).

The latest self proclaimed Atheist to Defriend me (just tonight) is a former Fundamentalist Baptist pastor of 25 years, 62 year old Bruce Gerencser (pictured). The fact that most of my friends on Facebook are Christians with whom I have discussed my studies on the Bible and Christianity, and who have not defriended me points to the fact that they, unlike these former pastors turned Atheist, are at peace and happy with their belief system just as I am with my spiritual religious belief system.

Thus, if you are a former Christian pastor turned Atheist, don’t look for support and sympathy from me as I’m tired of being cursed at before being Defriended.

So long Bruce. I hope you find inner peace someday!

Previous to me unfriending McCall, I had a brief Messenger exchange with him. After receiving McCall’s last reply, I decided to remove him from my friends’ list. What follows is the discussion that transpired between McCall and the “self-proclaimed” atheist Bruce Gerencser (all grammar in the original).

McCall: Several years back on a blog by James McGrath in which he as criticizing me for not believing Jesus existed, you made a statement to the affect that you agreed with McGrath that a Gospel figure of Jesus did infract exist. Since that time, I published my review of David Clumney’s book “Jesus Eclipsed” (My review is on Amazon, I suggest you review it when you have time). I emailed McGrath at Bulter University making him aware of my review and asked him to prove me wrong since McGrath made it a point on both his blog and at his faculty description to let people know he made a point of disproving all mythical Jesus claims. McGrath never responded to me via email, but I happen to see his follow-up on his blog that my scholarship that Jesus did not exist was, “absurd!” (see my respond to him on my review). Since that time he has removed from both his blog and Butler University religion faculty description any claim that he debunks claims that the New Testament Jesus never existed. Likewise, I asked via email that both John Loftus and his co-blogger David Madison respond to my review (see my responses to my Clumney review), but like McGrath, they never did at least anywhere I’m aware. So, do you still think a Gospel Jesus existed? I want to get any input because I want to know if my last four points on my review on Amazon are rock solid.

Bruce: Here’s my take on the issue: Questions: Do You Believe Jesus was a Real Person?  Honestly, this is not an issue that greatly interests me. My focus is on helping doubting Evangelicals where they are.

McCall: Hi Bruce, While I read your “take on the issue”, I don’t believe you even bothered to look at my book review on Amazon of “Jesus Eclipsed”. Maybe I assumed you were a scholar the same way I’m a scholar on the existence of a Historical Jesus. You seem overly dependent on Bart Erhman, who like David Chumney, uses the New Testament to prove the New Testament, a practice that would never be allowed as evidence in a court of law. Secondly, I was hoping for at least a response to my last four short major points as to why pointed out why Jesus don’t exist. Your closing comment, “What I am saying, however, is that I don’t find their arguments” (including mine) “compelling, as things now stand, I see no reason to overthrow the status quo.” In short, I thought you were a more of an independent objective thinker. Could I ask you a question about Bart Erhman (who I have met and talk to in person)? Why is it that neither Bart Erhamn and others who cites Josephus a evidence for a Historical Jesus have not used the Greek Concordance to his works: “The Complete Concordance to Flavius Josehpus: Study Edition”? I invested $500.00 in this Greek 2 Vol. set while Erhman can only cite an English translate (this workd is not even mentioned in his “Bibliography”! Bruce, I still thank you have a great blog, but when it comes original work of the Historical Jesus, I feel as if I expected too much from you. In short, I feel you simply gave me the liberal Apostles Creed as to why you need a Historical Jesus to exist. Finally, if you are anyone you know wants to respond, please leave a review of at least my closing four point of my review at Amazon. I checked this comment section often.

Bruce: Fuck, Harry, I read your review. I even read Bob’s [Robert Price] review. You might want to rethink your approach. Your “believe as I do” or you are in denial approach is not helpful, nor what I would expect from a friend/acquaintance of mine. I get it, this is a big issue for you. Sorry, but it’s not for me, nor will it be. I know my “calling.” Be well.

McCall: Thanks Bruce! You just proved my point.

I first became acquainted with McCall when he was a regular contributor on John Loftus’ blog, Debunking Christianity. Based on this, I assumed McCall was an atheist, as did some of Facebook friends. One of his friends asked, “I thought you were an atheist?”

Harry responded:

I’m not a Christian, but a Biblical scholar who is spiritual be it over a warm cup of coffee on a cold winter’s night as I look out into nature (very spiritual) or a wonderful sunset (no theology to ruin this). The term “atheist” has too much baggage associated with it and, frankly I have been attacked more by one to many Atheists to make me ever want to convert and leave my peaceful spiritual religious life and enter a world all to often dominated by bitterness.

I knew that McCall had publicly called out James McGrath, David Madison, Tim O’Neill, John Loftus, and Bart Ehrman over their rejection of mythicism — the belief that the historical Jesus is a myth. I am acquainted with all of these men, some more so than others. (I wrote the forward to David Madison’s book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: A Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith.) All of them are students of the Bible and Christian history. All of them are far more educated than I am. McGrath, O’Neill and Ehrman have all been quite vocal in their opposition to and rejection of mythicism. Harry McCall, on the other hand, is a mythicist zealot. He’s the kind of “believer” who puts people into two categories: “against” him or “for” him. McCall is convinced that he has overwhelmingly proved that the historical Jesus is a myth, and anyone who reads his writings will come to the same conclusion. Those who don’t are immediately condemned and summarily executed.

McCall thinks that just because he writes something, that those who disagree with it or mythicism, in general, are obligated to refute him. I see similar behavior from Christian Fundamentalists. Over the years, I have had countless Evangelicals demand that I answer their “irrefutable” arguments for their peculiar brand of Christianity. There was a time when I would do so, but I later came to the conclusion that it was a waste of time. Zealots, be they Christian, atheist, or “spiritual,” are closed-minded. Their goal is not discussion, it’s conversion.

Due to pervasive, painful health problems, I have a limited amount of time each day to write. As I made clear to McCall, I know my “calling” in life. I have a target audience that I hope to reach and engage. Mythicism is not on my radar. I have read a few books on the subject, and I follow the blogs of the aforementioned anti-mythicists. Quite frankly, for the reasons mentioned in Questions: Do You Believe Jesus was a Real Person?, mythicism doesn’t interest me. I am settled in my opinion that there once was a real Jesus who lived and died 2,000 years ago. End of discussion.

McCall was wrong when he wrote that I believed a “Gospel figure of Jesus did in fact exist.” I have never made such an assertion. I take a reductionist view of Jesus, rejecting many (most) of the stories about him recorded in the Gospels. This, of course, is not good enough for McCall. He demands complete and total capitulation; his way or the highway. When I refused to bow to his intellect, he went after me personally, suggesting that I am neither at peace with my beliefs or happy. It was only then that I unfriended McCall on Facebook. Of course, McCall expected that I would unfriend him. After sending me his final retort: “you just proved my point,” McCall immediately checked to see if I had unfriended him, suggesting, at least to me, that he expected me to do so. I aim to please, right?

I am sure McCall will continue to call me out over my refusal to abandon the historical Jesus. To that I say: Harry, go fornicate with yourself. 🙂

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.

Dear Jesus

Jesus

Painting by Jessie Kohn

Dear Jesus,

I’m sixty-two years old, and there has never been a moment when you were not in my life.

Mom and Dad talked about you before I was born, deciding to have me baptized by an Episcopal priest. They wanted me to grow up with good morals and love you, so they decided putting water on my forehead and having a priest recite religious words over me was the way to ensure my moral Christian future.

A few weeks after my birth, Mom and Dad gathered with family members to have me baptized. I was later told it was quite an affair, but I don’t remember anything about the day. Years later, I found my baptismal certificate. Signed by the priest, it declared I was a Christian.

Jesus, how could I have been a Christian at age four weeks? How did putting water on my head make me a follower of you? I don’t understand, but according to the certificate I was now part of my tribe’s religion: Protestant Christianity.

I turned five in 1962. Mom and Dad decided to move 2,300 miles to San Diego, California, believing that success and prosperity awaited them.

After getting settled, Mom and Dad said we need to find a new church to attend. Their shopping took them to the growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation pastored by Tim LaHaye. It was here that I learned that my tribe had a new religion: Fundamentalist Christianity.

I quickly learned that our previous religion worshipped a false God, and my baptism didn’t make me a Christian at all. If I wanted to be a True Christian®, I had to come forward to the front of the church, kneel at the altar, and pray a certain prayer. If I did these things, I would then be a Christian — forever. And so I did. This sure pleased Mom and Dad.

Later, I was baptized again, but the preacher didn’t sprinkle water on my forehead. That would not do, I was told. True Baptism® required me to be submerged in a tank of water. And so, one Sunday, I joined a line of people waiting to be baptized. I was excited, yet scared. Soon, it came time for me to be dunked. The preacher put his left hand behind my head and raised his right hand towards Heaven. He asked, “Bruce, do you confess before God and man that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior?” With a halting child’s voice, I replied, “Yes.” And with that, the preacher, with a hanky in his right hand, put his hand over my nose, dunked me in the water, and quickly lifted me up. I heard both the preacher and the congregation say, “Amen!”

Jesus, the Bible says that the angels in Heaven rejoice when a sinner gets saved. Do you remember the day I got saved? Do you remember hearing the angels in Heaven say, “Praise to the Lamb that was slain! Bruce Gerencser is now a child of God. Glory be, another soul snatched from the hands of Satan?”

After a few years in California, Mom and Dad discovered that there was not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and our family was just as poor in the Golden State as they were in dreary, flat rural northwest Ohio. And so we moved, a process that happened over and over to me throughout the next decade — eight different schools.

As I became more aware and observant of my environment, I noticed that Mom and Dad had changed. Mom, in particular, was quite animated and agitated over American social unrest and the war in Vietnam. Mom and Dad took us to a new church, First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio — an IFB church pastored by Jack Bennett. We attended church twice on Sunday and on Wednesday evening.

I attended Bryan schools for two years. Not long after I started fourth grade, Mom and Dad decided it was time to move yet again. This time, we were moving to a brand new tri-level home on Route 30 outside of Lima, Ohio. It was there that I started playing basketball and baseball — sports I would continue to play competitively for the next twenty years. It was also there than I began to see that something was very wrong with Mom. At the time, I didn’t understand what was going on with her. All I knew is that she could be “Mom” one day and a raging lunatic the next.

I was told by my pastors, Jesus, that you know and see everything. Just in case you were busy one day and missed what went on or were on vacation, let me share a few stories about what happened while we lived in Lima.

One night, Mom was upstairs, and I heard her screaming. She was having one of her “fits.” I decided to see if there was anything I could do to help her — that’s what the oldest child does. As I walked towards Mom’s bedroom, I saw her grabbing shoes and other things and violently throwing them down the hallway. This was the first time I remember being afraid . . .

One day, I got off the school bus and quickly ran to our home. I always had to be the first one in the door. As I walked into the kitchen, I noticed that Mom was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She had slit her wrists. I quickly ran to the next-door neighbor’s house and asked her to help. She quickly summoned an ambulance, and Mom’s life was saved.

Mom would try again, again, and again to kill herself: slitting her wrists, overdosing on medication, driving in front of a truck. At the age of fifty-four, she succeeded. One Sunday morning, Mom went into the bathroom, pointed a Ruger .357 at her heart, and pulled the trigger. She quickly slumped to the floor and was dead in minutes. Yet, she never stopped believing in you, Jesus. No matter what happened, Mom held on to her tribe’s God.

Halfway through my fifth-grade year, Mom and Dad moved to Farmer, Ohio. I attended Farmer Elementary School for the fifth and sixth grades. One day, I was home from school sick, and Mom’s brother-in-law stopped by. He didn’t know I was in my bedroom. After he left, Mom came to my room crying, saying, “I have been raped. I need you to call the police.” I was twelve. Do you remember this day, Jesus? Where were you? I thought you were all-powerful? Why didn’t you do anything?

From Farmer, we moved to  Deshler, Ohio for my seventh-grade year of school. Then Mom and Dad moved us to Findlay, Ohio. By then, my parents’ marriage was in shambles. Dad never seemed to be home and Mom continued to have wild, manic mood swings. Shortly before the end of ninth grade, Dad matter-of-factly informed me that they were getting a divorce. “We don’t love each other anymore,” Dad said. And with that, he turned and walked away, leaving me to wallow in my pain. That’s how Dad always treated me. I can’t remember a time when he embraced me or said “I love you.” I would learn years later that “Dad” was not my biological father. I wonder, Jesus, was this why he kept me at arm’s length emotionally?

After moving to Findlay, Mom and Dad joined Trinity Baptist Church — a fast-growing IFB congregation pastored by Gene Millioni. After Mom and Dad divorced, they stopped attending church. Both of them quickly remarried. Dad married a nineteen-year-old girl with a baby, and Mom married her first cousin — a recent prison parolee. So much upheaval and turmoil, Jesus. Where were you when all of this was going on? I know, I know, you were there in spirit.

Mom and Dad may have stopped going to church, but I didn’t. By then, I had a lot of friends and had started dating, so there was no way I was going to miss church. Besides, attending church got me away from home, a place where Dad’s new and improved wife made it clear I wasn’t welcome.

One fall weeknight, I sat in church with my friends listening to Evangelist Al Lacy. I was fifteen. As is the custom in IFB churches, Lacy prayed at the end of his sermon, asking, “with every head bowed and every eye closed, is there anyone here who is not saved and would like me to pray for them?” I had been feeling under “conviction” during the sermon. I thought, “maybe I not saved?” So, I raised my hand. Lacy prayed for those of us who had raised our hands and then had everyone stand. As the congregation sang Just as I am, Lacy said, “if you raised your hand, I want you to step out of your seat and come to the altar. Someone will meet you there and show you how you can know Jesus as your Lord and Savior.” Much to the surprise of my friends, I haltingly stepped out from my seat and walked to the front. I was met by Ray Salisbury — a church deacon. Ray had me kneel as he took me through a set of Bible verses called the Roman’s Road. After quizzing me on what I had read, Ray asked me if I wanted to be saved. I said, “yes,” and then Ray said, “pray this prayer after me: Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner and I know you died on the cross for my sins. Right now, I ask you to forgive me of my sins and come into my heart and save me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” After I prayed the prayer, Ray said “AMEN!” “Did you really believe what you prayed?” I replied, “yes.” “Then you are now a child of God, a born-again Christian.”

The next Sunday, I was baptized, and the Sunday after that, I went forward again, letting the church know that you, Jesus, were calling me to preach. I was all in after that. For the next thirty-five years, Jesus, I lived and breathed you. You were my life, the sum of my existence.

At the age of nineteen, I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. It was here I received training to become a proper IFB pastor, and it was here I met the love of my life, a beautiful dark-haired preacher’s daughter. We married during the summer between our sophomore and junior years. We were so excited about our new life, thrilled to be preparing to work in God’s vineyard. We planned to graduate, go to a small community to start a new IFB church, buy a white two-story house with a white picket fence, and have two children: Jason and Bethany, and live happily ever after. However, Jesus, you had different plans for us. Do you remember what happened to us? Surely you do, right? Friends and teachers told us that you were testing us!  By early spring, Polly was six months pregnant and I was laid off from my machine shop job. We were destitute, yet, the college dean told us, “Jesus, wants you to trust him and stay in college.” No offer of financial help was forthcoming, and we finally had to move out of our apartment. With my tail between my legs, I packed up our meager belongings returned to Bryan, Ohio. I had failed your test, Jesus. I still remember what one of my friends told me, “If you leave now, God will NEVER use you!”

What did he know, right? After moving, I quickly secured secular employment and began working at a local IFB church. For the next twenty-five years, I pastored Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Jesus, you were my constant companion, my lover, friend, and confidante. I sure loved you, and I believed you loved me too.We BFF’s, right?  Sometimes, I wondered if you really loved me as much I love you. Our love affair was virtual in nature. We never met face-to-face, but I believed in my heart of hearts you were the very reason for my existence. When I doubted this, I attributed my doubts to Satan or to me not praying hard enough or reading the Bible enough. I never thought for one moment, Jesus, that you might be a figment of my imagination, a lie taught to me by my parents and pastors. I was a true believer. That is until I wasn’t.

At age fifty, I finally realized, Jesus, that you were a myth, the main character of a 2,000-year-old fictional story. I finally concluded that all those times when I wondered where you were, were in fact, true. I couldn’t find you because you were dead. You had died almost 2,000 years before. The Bible told me about your death, but I really believed that you resurrected from the dead. I feel so silly now. Dead people don’t come back to life. Your resurrection from the dead was just a campfire story, and I had foolishly believed it. I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Everyone I knew believed the same story. All of us believed that the miracles attributed to you, Jesus, really happened; that you were a virgin-born God-man; that you ascended to Heaven to prepare a mansion for us to live in after we die.

It all seems so silly, now, but Jesus, I really did believe in you. Fifty years, Jesus. The prime of my life, I gave to you, only to find out that you were a lie. Yet, here I am today, and you are still “with” me. My parents, pastors, and professors did a good job of indoctrinating me. You are very much “real” to me, even though you lie buried somewhere on a Judean hillside. Try as I might, I can’t get you out of my mind. I have come to accept that you will never leave me.

You should know, Jesus — well, you can’t know, you are dead — that I spend my days helping people get away from you. What did you say, Jesus? I can’t hear you. I can hear the voices of Christians condemning me as a heretic, blasphemer, and hater of God. I can hear them praying for my death and threatening me with eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire. Their voices are loud and clear, but your voice, Jesus? Silence.

Always silent, Jesus. Why is that?

If you ever want to talk to me, you know where I live. Show up at my door, Jesus, and that will be a miracle I can believe in. Better yet, if you can help the Cincinnati Bengals win their last six games, well, I just might rethink your existence. Not going to happen, I know. The Bengals are going to bungle their way to an 0-16 record.

If you can’t help my football team win a few games, Jesus, what good are you? It’s not like I am asking you to feed the hungry, heal the sick, or put an end to violence and war. That would require you to give a shit, Jesus, and if there’s one thing I have learned over the past sixty-two years, it is this: you don’t give a shit about what happens on earth. We humans are on our own, and that’s fine with me.

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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.

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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.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Democrat Pete Buttigieg is NOT a Christian

Twenty-plus Democrat presidential aspirants have been reduced to basically five credible candidates—37-year-old Millennial and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is one of them, who could get the nomination or be on the ticket as vice president. If the aging Biden wins the nomination and presidency, then one day “passes,” we’d have our first openly practicing homosexual, accompanied by his gay “spouse” Chasten, as president of the United States. Time magazine already put them on the cover as our potential “First Family” (May 2019).

Interviewed for USA Today in an article titled “Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s Countercultural Approach to Christianity is What America Needs Now,” the “devoted Christian” takes aim at our president for hypocrisy; attacks the “religious right”; advocates our Christian faith going in a “progressive direction” and wants LGBTQ proponents to “beckon people onto the right side of history.”

….

While engaging in conversations regarding Mr. Buttigieg’s lifestyle and other “gay Christians,” we’ll need to “winsomely and skillfully “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Remaining silent conveys support for what the Bible clearly reveals as serious sin before our Holy God. He may be articulate and attractive but the liberal Episcopalian Mayor Pete advances heretical positions to the masses.

Today people can self-identify as anything they want and society airbrushes away what in our heart of hearts we know to be wrong in order to appear non-judgmental, welcoming and politically correct. Majoring on people’s “brokenness” and minimizing their sinfulness, we’re viewing this conduct as “not so big a deal” to skirt accusations of “bigotry, hate speech and intolerance.”

….

Whether it’s Mr. Buttigieg or simply people we know, a person claiming to be an authentic Christian and a practicing homosexual is, according to Scripture, a counterfeit convert.

….

Scripture throughout forbids sexual involvement in seven areas: with parents, children, another’s spouse, siblings, same sex, animals and dead people. There is not one verse in all the Bible that affirms the practice of homosexuality.

Homosexuality is considered an abomination before God and is classified as immoral, unnatural, shameful, indecent and perverse (Rom. 1:18-25, 1 Cor. 6:9-11, 1 Tim. 1:8-11, Rev. 20:13-14, Lev. 18:22, Lev. 20:10-14).

….

Here’s the deal: Whether a high-profile figure like Pete Buttigieg or an ordinary person, God offers hope, forgiveness and freedom to everyone who repents and believes the transformative and liberating message of the gospel. As His ambassadors we must winsomely [ Greek for smiling really big while you tell LGBTQ people they are headed straight for Hell unless they repent and become heterosexual Christians] and courageously communicate hope through Jesus Christ as darkness increases in our culture today.

— Larry Tomczak, Charisma News, Homosexuality in the White House?, November 18, 2019