Religion

Hey, It Ain’t My Fault, Says God

it aint my fault

Recently, CHARISMA News posted a story titled How the Holy Spirit Prepared This Woman for Her Leukemia Diagnosis. While I certainly sympathize with this woman who has a life-threatening illness, her recounting of what God told her about her affliction provides an excellent example of the schizophrenic, contradictory view many Christians have of God. Here’s what the Holy Spirit — the favorite “God” of Charismatics — purportedly said:

Here, you are about to walk through something. I didn’t do it to you. I’m not causing this. You know, a good Father doesn’t inflict pain on His children, but you’re about to walk through something. But do you trust that I’ve already been where you’re going? Do you trust that I’ve already walked the journey you’re about to walk?

As an atheist, I don’t believe in the existence of deities. Thus, when Christians say they talk to God and God talks to them, I know the only voices they are hearing are their own; and that the only answered prayers are those that are fulfilled by those doing the praying. In other words, for many people, prayer is a mental activity of great value; one that leads them to believe that their peculiar God is not only hearing their prayers, but answering them. There’s no evidence for the claim that God hears and answers prayers. Either you believe he does, or you don’t. Either you have faith, or you don’t. Any cursory examination of one’s prayer life will lead even the most devoted petitioner to conclude that either God doesn’t exist or he is indifferent to the plight of his children. If God is anything, he is like Robert Tilton. You may remember Tilton as the TV evangelist who was caught removing the cash/checks from prayer requests sent to him, and throwing the unread requests in the dumpster.

I know that nothing I say will reach Evangelicals who sincerely believe God is their best friend/buddy/lover. For such people, they just “know” that their God is listening to and talks to them (in a still small voice). They just “know” that the triune God is personally and intimately involved in their lives, even though the evidence suggests otherwise. These beliefs are reinforced weekly at countless Evangelical houses of worship, and on social media, news sites, and blogs. Everything believers hear and read tells them that their presuppositions about God, the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are true. An atheistic curmudgeon such as myself will be dismissed out of hand as a hater of God/Christianity/Christians. All I know to do is point out the contradictions and absurdities in their claims.

The woman with leukemia in the CHARISMA article believes God told her:

  • You are going to walk through “something.”
  • Whatever happens, I didn’t cause it.
  • Whatever happens, I didn’t do it.
  • A good Father doesn’t inflict pain on his children.
  • Trust me.

God could have immediately healed this woman, but he didn’t. Why? Why do Evangelicals go through untold pain and suffering, all the while believing that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives; that God only wants what “best” for them?  It seems to me, that Jesus, the Great Physician has great diagnostic skills but is a miserable failure when it comes to stopping pain and delivering Evangelicals from physical afflictions. Well, except for death, anyway. The Bible says Jesus holds the keys to life and death. Based on the obituaries I read, God’s not into healing people. But, killing them? Now that’s a gig he can get into.

Evangelicals supposedly believe God is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. In other words, God is all-powerful and sees, hears, and knows everything. Evangelicals supposedly believe God is the sovereign creator and ruler of the universe; that nothing happens that isn’t according to God’s purpose and plan. Evangelicals supposedly believe that God is intimately involved in their lives. How do we square these commonly held beliefs with what the Holy Spirit allegedly said to the woman with leukemia?

According to the Bible, God uses pain, suffering, and loss to test, try, and chastise his children. Unless God has outsourced these things, he alone is responsible for what this woman went through, and what every Christian goes through when facing the various maladies that afflict the human race. If God is not responsible for these things, who is? And should whomever the person/being is be the God we worship? Shouldn’t worship be reserved for whoever is in charge?

The real issue is that Christians such as this woman know that believers with cancer and other dreaded diseases put God in a bad light. Evangelicals say God loves and cares for them, hears their every prayer, and promises to never leave or forsake them. It is clear, at least to me, that God is nothing, if not indifferent and negligent. Again, this woman knows how things look, so she goes out of her way to defend God’s honor and to exempt him from any culpability. God said, Hey, don’t blame me for your leukemia. I didn’t do it!

According to this woman, the Holy Spirit told her that God never inflicts pain on his children. Evidently, her Bible must not contain the plethora of verses that show a violent God raining down all sorts of pain and suffering on Christians and non-Christians alike. And if the Bible is not enough evidence, go any Evangelical church and you will find countless people in pain — be it physical or emotional. The Holy Spirit lied to this woman. Pain is very much a part of the human experience. One’s faith or lack thereof does not exempt one from pain and suffering. If God is who Evangelicals say he is, then he’s to blame for the afflictions of the human race.

The voice this woman heard in her head was her own. The Holy Spirit’s words reflect how she views God, not some message from him. At best, God “speaking” to her is a coping mechanism; a way to make sense of what she was going through. All of us find ways to deal with pain and suffering — even atheists. The difference for the atheist, of course, is that he or she lives in a world where human afflictions are explained scientifically, and not through appeals to magic. It sucks that this woman had leukemia. However, any healing that comes her way will be the result of human instrumentality, not divine intervention. For the atheist, in science we trust. While certain forms of spirituality might have a cathartic effect, when it comes to treatment, what we need are trained medical professionals, not ancient imaginary deities.

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.

How Does God Do It?

all powerful god

Warning! Honey wagons full of snark ahead, sure to offend Evangelicals, MAGA supporters, and prayer warriors.

Have you ever wondered how God does what he does — allegedly, anyway? God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. According to Evangelicals, their deity is an all-powerful God who is present everywhere, and sees, hears, and knows everything. Think about all the things we humans do each and every day, including the stuff we don’t want anyone to see. No matter where we are, the Evangelical God is watching us, and recording our thoughts, words, and deeds — pen and paper, digital or VCR? This God is also, supposedly, in the prayer-answering business. Now, the Evangelical God doesn’t answer Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Catholic, or Mormon prayers; that is unless their prayers are for forgiveness of sin and salvation. God only answers the prayers of True Christians®. Think, for a moment, about the billions of prayers that are sent Jesus’ way every day; every prayer a demand for a blessing, help, forgiveness, or travel directions. And if Evangelicals are to be believed, EVERY prayer is answered one of three ways by God: yes, no, not now.

It seems to me that there is not enough time each day for God to get his work done. Maybe that’s why most prayers go unanswered, and those that “seem” answered sure look a lot like self-fulfilled answers. Perhaps God is too busy watching our every move and recording each of them with indelible ink into the Book of Life or some other divine book to be bothered with feeding the hungry, ending war, stopping mass shootings, and healing the sick. Are not cemeteries flashing advertisements that remind us that God is a lousy faith healer; that God is best known for being deaf, blind, and indifferent?

President Donald Trump — a Christian and frequent metaphorical sex partner of Jerry Falwell, Jr. — believes he is the hardest working man to ever live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Yet, we know better. Trump is a slacker who spends his days watching Fox News, tweeting, eating fast food, playing golf, and undoing everything President Obama did during his presidency. So much Trump should be doing, yet he spends most of his time saying and doing things that help no one, ignoring the pleas of the poor, sick, and homeless. Much like God, wouldn’t you say? God doesn’t heal your dying loved ones, but blessed be the name of the sweet baby Jesus, he sure helps countless grandmas find their lost keys or snag parking spots by the front doors of their favorite grocery stores.

praying pope francis

Cartoon by David Granlund

Catholics say that Pope Frank is the vicar of Christ — Jesus’ representative on earth. Now, according to Evangelicals, Catholics aren’t Christians, so the Pope CAN’T be Jesus’ right-hand man. That got me thinking. Maybe, Donald Trump is Christ’s representative on earth. He’s a Christian man. Eighty-two percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for him in the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s been compared to some of the great leaders of the Bible; a man who is unusually blessed and empowered by the triune God of Christianity. And if Trump is the God-ordained CEO of planet Earth, is he not, as God is, accountable for all the unanswered prayers? Trump can do anything but fail. Evidently, anything doesn’t include the prayerful pleas of immigrants. Surely, this is enough of a reason to vote the man out of office in 2020. Not that anything will change, prayer-wise. If God is anything, he’s fair when it comes to ignoring prayers. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Independents alike find that God is nowhere to be found.

It’s possible, I suppose, that God uses his angels to keep the machinery running. He might even use Satan and demons to help. Is that not what God did when he wanted to teach a man named Job a lesson? It was Satan who meted out God’s punishment of Job, including afflicting him with boils, killing his children, and destroying his residence and means of income. The Bible says Satan walks about the earth seeking whom he may devour. Evangelicals don’t believe that Satan can hear their prayers, but what if Jesus and Lucifer — brothers according to Mormonism — have an old-fashioned country party-line; and Lucifer is always on the line listening to the secret prayers of Evangelicals. This might explain why so many Evangelical preachers plead with God to deliver them from pornography and other sexual sins, yet they keep committing the same bad behaviors over, and over, and over again. These men of God ask Jesus to keep them pure, but sneaky Lucifer hears their prayers and somehow, some way, causes their holy fingers to type hotchristianbabes.com in Chrome and click GO. If only God had a private line.

Bruce, you are quite a snarky smart ass tonight. What point are you trying to make? Do I always have to have a point? Okay, you got me. Yes, I have a point. I want Evangelicals to think about the claims they make when it comes to their God. Is God really an all-powerful deity who is present everywhere, and sees, hears, and knows everything? What evidence do they have for making such claims? Doesn’t the evidence suggest that God is not omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; that the only God answering prayers is us? Doesn’t the evidence tell us that the change we want in the world will only come through our actions, and not those of an invisible, non-involved God? If we want Trump removed from office, it’s up to us to do it. Hunger, poverty, war, global climate change, sickness, disease, and the Cincinnati Bengals winning the Super Bowl? None of these things is the purview of the Gods — be it the Evangelical God or any other deity. We alone have the power to make the earth a better place to live. We alone have the power to restore sanity to Washington. We alone have the power to provide every child with a better tomorrow. We know, based on the evidence at hand, that the Evangelical God is not the answer. And it’s a pretty safe bet that none of the other extant Gods is the answer either. Perhaps it is time to chuck organized religion in the dustbin of history and chart a new course. If scientists are right about global warming and unchecked population growth, time is running out for the human race — and dogs and cats too. Perhaps it is time to give the humanistic ideal a spin. Christianity, along with its Abrahamic brothers Islam and Judaism, has had centuries to make the earth a better place to live. Surely, it is fair to say that on balance these religions have failed, and they know it.

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.

Black Collar Crime: Catholic Priest Arthur Perrault Sentenced to 30 Years on Prison

ken wolter arthur perrault

Arthur Perrault with one of his victims, eleven-year-old Ken Wolter

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Olivier Uyttebrouck, a writer for the Albuquerque Journals details in the following excerpt the sordid thirty-year story of Catholic priest and sexual predator Arthur Perrault:

St. Pius X High School leaders were hit with a “bombshell” in 1970 when they were told of allegations of sexual abuse against the Rev. Arthur Perrault, a teacher at the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s flagship high school.

Those allegations remained secret for decades, but documents released this week pull back the curtain on how those school leaders and the archbishop responded.

And the documents show that, once again, a priest was simply moved to another post where he had access to new victims. They also show that Perrault was sent to St. Pius in the first place as a “good test period” to allow the archbishop to observe the 20-something priest after he was released from a Jemez Springs center that treated pedophile priests.

He was at the school four years and was later accused of molesting 11 victims during that period, from 1966-1970.

In 1970, St. Pius board members were approached by the father of a student, who asked to meet with them because “one of his sons that was at Pius had been involved with Father Perrault,” a board member recalled in a 1992 deposition. The father said that as a result of the abuse, his son “was so messed up that he had been thinking about suicide.”

The father, who is not identified in the deposition, said he discussed the abuse with then-Archbishop of Santa Fe James Davis. The allegations were electrifying, the board member said, because Perrault was chairman of the theology department at the archdiocese’s flagship high school.

“Look, we’ll take care of this but we can’t have any publicity,” Davis reportedly told the boy’s father. “We must be Christian about this.”

New details about the careers of Perrault and two other former New Mexico priests became public this week after a judge ordered the disclosure of nearly 1,000 pages of church records that had been sealed under a previous court order.

The records contain letters written by three archbishops of Santa Fe and other church officials, legal settlements, deposition transcripts, psychological reports and other records provided by the archdiocese to Albuquerque attorney Brad Hall, who has filed more than 70 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of children by priests.

Among them is the deposition of a former St. Pius board member whose name was redacted from the transcript.

The board member said that Archbishop Davis wavered about how to respond. He at first agreed to remove Perrault, but later changed his mind. “It’s under our control and it’s our problem. Not yours,” Davis told four board members.

The father who made the allegation warned the board member that if Davis took no action, he would file a “sodomy suit” against the archdiocese, according to the deposition.

The threat prompted the board member to seek a private meeting with the archbishop, where he told Davis that the archdiocese faced a lawsuit if Perrault remained at St. Pius.

“I remember to this day what Archbishop Davis did,” the board member recalled. “He put his right arm on my shoulder and said, `We can’t have that. I’ll honor my commitment.’” Three days later, Perrault was dismissed from St. Pius.

Davis then authorized Perrault to work as chaplain to the student community the University of Albuquerque, a now-defunct Catholic college operated by the archdiocese.

The incident at St. Pius was not the first time, nor the last, that allegations of Perrault’s sexual attacks on boys would reach the ears of an archbishop of Santa Fe.

Perrault had been accused of sexual attacks before he arrived in New Mexico in January 1966.

The Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., where Perrault was ordained in 1964, ordered him to undergo treatment at a facility in Jemez Springs operated by the Servants of Paraclete. The now-closed Via Coeli facility received priests from across the U.S. accused of sexually molesting children.

Perrault, then 28, was sent to Jemez Springs after “two alleged incidents of homosexual approaches to some of the young men with whom he was working,” in Connecticut, Via Coeli psychologist John Sanchez told Archbishop Davis in a 1966 letter.

….

Court records show that Perrault is accused of sexually abusing 38 children during his years in New Mexico.

Of those, 11 alleged attacks occurred during Perrault’s tenure at St. Pius High School from 1966 to 1970. The alleged attacks occurred at St. Pius, in Perrault’s home, or at two churches where he worked on weekends.

He has never been charged with a crime.

Letters written in the early 1980s show that later allegations against Perrault prompted then-Archbishop Robert Fortune Sanchez to order that he undergo a psychological evaluation.

That evaluation found that Perrault “acted out his homosexual orientation only with youngsters and has never had an ongoing, adult homosexual relationship,” psychologist Joseph VanDenHeuvel told Sanchez in a June 1981 report.

The psychologist said Perrault “made mention of the fact that he had `been in trouble’ because of illicit sexual activities with students,” VanDenHeuvel told the archbishop.

….

Just seven months after receiving the report, Sanchez assigned Perrault to a pastoral post at an Albuquerque parish.

“I am pleased herein to assign you to St. Bernadette Parish for weekend assignment to assist the pastor,” Sanchez told Perrault in a Jan. 6, 1982, letter.

“Thanking you, Father Arthur, for your service to the good people of St. Bernadette Parish, and to the Pastoral Center, while wishing you all the Lord’s Blessing throughout this New Year,” Sanchez wrote.

Perrault became the pastor at St. Bernadette in 1985 and remained there until he fled New Mexico in 1992, just days before an Albuquerque attorney filed a lawsuit alleging that he sexually assaulted seven children.

Perrault turned up last year in Morocco working at an English-language school for children, from which he was subsequently fired. It is not clear where he is now.

….

In early 2017, a judge handed down a $16 million judgment to one of Perrault’s victims. Olivier Uyttebrouck reports:

A judge handed down a $16 million judgment this week against a former New Mexico priest for failure to respond to a lawsuit filed by a man who alleges he was sexually abused by Arthur Perrault in the early 1990s.

Second Judicial District Judge Denise Barela-Shepherd handed down the default judgment Thursday after she found that Perrault had been properly served with the civil lawsuit, but failed to defend himself against the allegations.

She ordered Perrault to pay $1 million in damages and an additional $15 million in punitive damages. The Archdiocese of Santa Fe was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Perrault, who vanished from his Albuquerque parish in 1992, was tracked last year to Tangiers, Morocco, where he was teaching at an English language school for children.

Perrault was fired in May when school officials learned of the allegations, the director of the American Language Center in Tangiers told the Journal .

Kenneth Wolter, 35, filed the civil lawsuit last year alleging he had been sexually abused by Perrault at least 40 times in the early 1990s. Wolter was 10 or 11 at the time, and serving as an altar boy at St. Bernadette Parish, where Perrault was the pastor.

Unknown is whether Wolter will be able to collect any portion of the $16 million judgment from Perrault, said Levi Monagle, one of three Albuquerque attorneys who represent Wolter.

“Money wasn’t the point of this for us,” Monagle said Friday. “Ken (Wolter) didn’t do this for the money. The message made on behalf of the victims was Ken’s main priority.”

Wolter testified at a hearing in January that he wanted to send Perrault a message on behalf of his 38 known victims “and the silent people who haven’t come forward.”

He asked Barela-Shepherd to award a total of $38 million in damages, or $1 million for each alleged victim. Barela-Shepherd did not explain in her order why she handed down a $16 million judgment.

Perrault, 79, sent Barela-Shepherd a letter in November denying that he had abused Wolter, court records show. He also said that he had no assets and could not afford to hire an attorney, or to return to Albuquerque to attend the January hearing.

….

Last Friday, a jury found Perrault guilty of sexually abusing an altar boy. Perrault was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The Associated Press reports:

In ordering the sentence, U.S. District Judge Martha Vazquez said it was the worst case of child sex abuse she has handled over the course of 26 years.

….

Prosecutors had asked the judge for special consideration of a life sentence for Perrault, once a pastor at an Albuquerque parish and a chaplain at Kirtland Air Force Base.

He was convicted in April of six counts of aggravated sexual abuse and one count of abusive sexual contact with a minor under 12.

“It is a long sentence but certainly a fitting one given the length of his conduct and devastating impact,” U.S. Attorney John Anderson said.

Perrault pleaded not guilty after he was returned to the U.S. from Morocco in 2017 and maintained his innocence at the sentencing. His defense team plans to file an appeal.

The abuse counts stemmed from the treatment of one boy at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque and at Santa Fe National Cemetery. The two sites are within federal jurisdiction, which allowed U.S. authorities to file charges with no statute of limitations.

Black Collar Crime: Episcopal Priest Gregory Lisby Charged with Possession of Child Pornography

gregory lisby

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Gregory Lisby, a former pastor of Christ Episcopal Church in Ridgewood, New Jersey, stands accused of child pornography possession. Earlier this year, Lisby began working as a kindergarten teacher at Holyoke Public Schools in Massachusetts. Previously, Lisby was a pastor at All Saints Episcopal Church in Worcester, Massachusetts.

NorthJersey.com reports:

Gregory Lisby, a former pastor at Christ Church in Ridgewood from 2010 to 2015, was charged by federal officials in Boston last week with possession of child pornography.

….

Lisby, 40, began working as a kindergarten teacher at Holyoke Public Schools in Massachusetts this year, according to a criminal complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Boston. He resigned from his teaching position hours later in a letter that stated: “I was accused of an awful crime that could put our Holyoke children in harm’s way,” the complaint said.

Lisby was suspended last year from his position as rector at All Saints Church in Worcester for “an inappropriate relationship with an adult that did not involve sexual contact,” Bishop Douglas Fisher of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts said in a letter posted on the diocese’s website Friday.

MassLive adds:

Lisby was the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Worcester from 2015 to 2018 and listed on his Linkedin page past employment as a substitute teacher in Worcester Public Schools, an instructional aid in Shrewsbury Public Schools and most recently as a teacher assistant at Little Sprouts child care in Natick. Little Sprouts did not return a call Friday seeking to verify his employment status there.

….

FBI agents on Wednesday raided the rectory of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, where Lisby lives with his husband, the churche’s reverend, and the couple’s two daughters. Authorities say they found an iPad that contained more than 150 pornographic images.

According to the search warrant application, the investigation had already uncovered at least 180 images and 15 videos of child pornography in an account believed to be in Lisby’s name. The images showed young boys, ages 8 through 12, having sex.

The Clergy Project will Soon Pass 1,000 Members

the clergy project

The Clergy Project, a non-profit organization started in 2011 to provide support, community, and hope to current and former religious professionals who no longer hold supernatural beliefs, will soon pass 1,000 members. While I was already out of the ministry (2005) and a vocal atheist (2008), I was one of The Clergy Project’s early members. Over the past eight years, I have recommended several liberal, mainline, and Evangelical clergy to the Project. Most of these contacts came through this blog. Today, I continue to correspond with a number of doubting/unbelieving pastors and church leaders. Several years ago, one Evangelical preacher told me that I was a liar; that “Bible-believing” pastors would NEVER leave Christianity. I said, “what about me?”  “Well, Bruce,” he replied, “you never were a Christian, so you don’t count!” Whether ex-Christian pastors such as myself “count,” an increasing number of clergy are walking away from the pastorate and Christianity. Others, having lost their faith, are still active in the ministry. “What hypocrites,” I have been told. “If they no longer believe, the fakers should immediately resign.” Easier said than done when your family, career, and entire life are wrapped up in the tentacles of the church. I don’t know of a sect that has an exit program for clergy who no longer believe. In most churches, professed atheism or agnosticism — or even doubts and questions in some settings — is a one-way, same-day ticket out the back door of the church house. I know men and women who were ruined financially after being exposed as unbelievers. Many pastors live in church-provided housing. Imagine being told you have to immediately move out of the parsonage. Where do you go? Where will you find shelter for your family? How will you pay your rent and utilities? Often medical insurance and retirement income play a big part in unbelievers deciding to “fake it until they make it.” It’s no simple task to extricate oneself from that which has dominated your life for years. In my case, I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. While I didn’t have concerns over income, insurance, or retirement, (I was paid poverty wages, never had insurance, nor did I have a retirement program. I was trusting Jesus to care for me until the end; he proved to be a deadbeat caretaker.), I did wonder and worry about the future. My life was so wrapped up in the work of the ministry that I didn’t know what I was going to do post-Jesus. Scores of clergy find themselves in similar circumstances; no longer believers, yet still financially and materially connected to the church. It is for people such as this that The Clergy Project was created. If you are a current or former pastor who no longer believes, I encourage you to join The Clergy Project.

While I am no longer as active in the Project as I would like to be, I fully support their mission and work. These days, my focus is on Evangelicals who have doubts or questions about Christianity or people who have left the faith altogether. When I come in contact with pastors, evangelists, missionaries, worship leaders, deacons, youth pastors, or Christian college professors who no longer believe, I encourage them to check out The Clergy Project. Once they have gone through the approval process, unbelieving church workers have access to all sorts of help, including a private, secure forum. While I don’t participate in the forum as much as I would like, I have found it to be an excellent source for friendship and camaraderie.

The Project has a private Facebook group for its members, as well as a public page. You can find the personal stories of some of the Project’s members here.  And finally, Linda LaScola, one of the founders of The Clergy Project, operates a blog titled  Rational Doubt: With Voices from The Clergy Project.  Rational Doubt features posts by Project members — including yours truly.

If you have any questions about The Clergy Project, please leave your question in the comment section or send me an email.

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.

Ruminations About My Mother: What We Have Now

guest post 

A guest post by MJ Lisbeth

A week and a half ago, my mother passed away.

Although she attended Mass and didn’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent, she was hardly the Catholic version of a “Holy Roller.” She never talked about her concept of God, and of our many conversations, I can’t recall more than a couple that included any talk about our beliefs or even religion. What little she knew of Roman Catholic doctrines, she learned in Catholic schools during the ‘40s and ‘50s. And she knew even less of theology in general, or the Bible itself; even in my generation, Catholics weren’t encouraged to learn about those things for themselves. She often expressed disagreement, or even disdain, for much of what she heard from priests and fellow parishioners. I was only partially joking when, during one of our conversations, I exclaimed that she believed even less than I, an atheist, of what the church teaches.

The real reason she sent my siblings and me to Catholic schools, she said, was that she felt it offered “a better education” than the local public schools—and, on the money my then-blue-collar father was making, secular private schools were out of the question. To me, that is consistent with what she once told me was the main reason she continued to attend mass on Sundays (and on weekdays during times of crisis): “It’s comforting. It’s something that doesn’t change.” In other words, although I don’t doubt that she believed in God and adored Jesus, I think that she saw the church and its educational institutions as things she could depend on when other things in her life changed or failed.

Of course, I do not share my mother’s trust in the church, and not only because I survived sexual abuse from a priest. Other experiences, including my formal education, and my inquisitiveness, would undermine my ability to believe. I think that my mother understood as much, and saw my loss of faith in both the church and in God as more or less inevitable. (As far as I know, she never knew about the abuse.) My mother sometimes talked about what she might have done differently: She would have gotten more education (she didn’t finish high school), developed a career of her own and had her children later than she did. I have to wonder whether her church-going habit would have withstood such changes.

As it was, she began to hold views, and engage in practices that would have been unthinkable in the church of her youth. She was never homophobic or transphobic, but she told me—years before it became a popular view—she thought people should be allowed to marry people of their own gender. She expressed that belief even before I “came out” as transgender and started my own gender affirmation process. Although she didn’t think abortion “is a good thing,” she understood that there are times when it’s better than allowing a child to be born to someone unwilling or unable to be a loving, nurturing parent. Oh, and she had a Do Not Resuscitate order, which was carried out along with her wish to be cremated.

Signing the order to remove my mother’s life support was “the hardest thing I ever had to do,” my father said. But he knew of my mother’s wishes, and he has the same wishes for himself. While he has never declared himself an atheist or agnostic, my father doesn’t have much, if any, more belief in the church, or religion generally, than I have. Nor does one of my brothers, even though he was baptized into another church; something he did, he admits, mainly to be accepted by the family of the woman he married.

My sister-in-law, however, is firm, even adamant, in her religious beliefs. So are my other two siblings, who have remained in the Catholic Church, and their spouses, who were raised by families more devout than ours. Not surprisingly, all of those in-laws and the two still-Catholic siblings disassociated themselves from me as I began my gender-affirming process. As you can imagine, having to deal with them for the first time in many years has been stressful. Just as difficult, though, is having to countenance not only their religiosity, but their smugness about it. They believe that the only way to mourn my mother, or any other deceased, is through expressions of their religiosity, including ostentatious prayers. They do not understand that my way of mourning is more private because, for one thing, I’m simply more introverted and, for another, I care more about the relationship I’ve had with the person I just lost than with any appearance of piety. To them, the fact that I will enter the church only for my mother’s memorial mass—and not for any other ceremonies or prayers—is proof not only of my immorality (why else would I “change” my sex? they ask) but also that I didn’t truly love my mother. In their eyes, only the Godly—which is to say, those who adhere to their religious practices—can truly love anyone; never mind that one sibling and spouse, at least, have constructed their lives to avoid contact with those of different races and economic classes from themselves.

My mother did not approve of their “holier-than-thou” attitude, let alone that they shut me out of their lives. But she still loved them. Likewise, she didn’t always approve of everything I did—including, at first, my turning away from the church and faith altogether—but she loved me. And I love her. That is all we have now; that is all we ever could have, or could have had—whatever else we did or didn’t believe in.

Quote of the Day: Morals Without Religion

It’s the most common question religious folks pose to atheists: “Where do you get your morals?”

Whether at a dinner party or class reunion, a PTA meeting or a pig pickin’, whenever God-fearing people find out that we don’t believe in the Lord, don’t believe in an afterlife, don’t attend church, synagogue, mosque, or temple, don’t follow a guru, don’t obsess over ancient scriptures, and don’t care much for preachers or pontiffs, they immediately inquire about the possible source of our morality — which they find hard to fathom.

And the question “Where do you get you morals?” is usually asked with an embedded implication that morality obviously comes from God and religion, so if you don’t have either, then you must have no source for morality. On top of this problematic implication, there is often an accompanying judgmental, sneering tone; it’s as if what they really want to say is “You must be an immoral lout if you aren’t religious and don’t believe in God.”

To be fair, not everyone who asks atheists where they get their morals is implying something unkind. Given that religion has so fervently, forcefully insisted that it is the only source of morality for so many centuries, many people just honestly and naively believe that to be the case. Thus, not having thought too much about it, they are genuinely curious about where a person gets his or her morals, if not from religion.

But even if the question is asked in total unprejudiced earnestness, it is still a rather odd query. After all, “Where do you get your morals?” suggests that morals are things that people go out and find in order to possess. Like shoes. Or a new set of jumper cables. It implies that people are living their lives, doing this and that, and then at some point, they decide to drive downtown or go online and get ahold of some morals — as if ethical tenets and moral principles were consciously adopted in some sort of deliberate process of acquisition.

Morality, however, doesn’t really work that way. While people may deliberately choose to get their donuts from a certain shop or decide to get their dog from a certain pound, when it comes to the core components of our morality — our deep-seated proclivities, predilections, sentiments, values, virtues, and gut feelings in relation to being kind and sympathetic — these things are essentially within us. They are an embedded, inherited part of us. We don’t go out and “choose” them, per se. Sure, we may change our minds about a certain social issue after learning more about it and critically reflecting upon it; we may develop a love or distaste for something after having had certain new experiences in relation to it; we may start to live our lives differently, with different ethical priorities, after we marry a certain person and cohabitate with them for an extended period of time; we may find our political positions shift when we move to a new state or country and live there for a while.

However, when it comes to our underlying morality, it is not generally something that we “get” in a conscious, deliberate, choosing way. Rather, our deep-seated sense of how to treat other people, our capacity for empathy and compassion, our desire for fairness and justice — these are things that we naturally manifest: our morals have been inherited from our evolutionary past, molded through our early childhood nurturance, enhanced and channeled through cultural socialization, and as such — to paraphrase sociologist Émile Durkheim — they “rule us from within.”

What exactly is it that rules us so — morally speaking? And what are the specific foundational sources of our moral proclivities and ethical tendencies? There are four: 1) our long history as social primates, evolving within a group context of necessary cooperation; 2) our earliest experiences as infants and toddlers being cared for by a mother, father, or other immediate caregivers; 3) unavoidable socialization as growing children and teenagers enmeshed within a culture; and 4) ongoing personal experience, increased knowledge, and reasoned, thoughtful reflection.

— Phil Zuckerman, What It Means to Be Moral: Why Religion Is Not Necessary for Living an Ethical Life

Purchase What It Means to Be Moral: Why Religion Is Not Necessary for Living an Ethical Life

I’m not THAT Kind of Christian

catholic one true church

This post is primarily about Protestant Christianity — and yes, Baptists and Campbellites are Protestants. I will leave it to Catholic and Orthodox Christians to duke it out over which sect is the rock upon which Jesus built his church. (Matthew 16:18)

Over the past decade, I have learned many things I didn’t know before about the monolith we call Christianity. Generally, most people believe that Christianity is one religion with a plethora of expressions. However, I have learned that there are numerous Christianities and Jesuses, with every sect, church, clergyperson, and congregant believing that their flavor of Christianity and their vision of Jesus is the right one. While it seems that Christianity is a big tent, a closer look reveals countless pup tents within, and never-ending arguing, fussing, and fighting over which pup tent is the One True Tent®. The Bible says of Christianity: one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, but the internecine wars continually fought by Christians show that the faithful can’t even agree on the basics. Of course, the way the various parties settle the disputes is by saying that every brand but theirs is false Christianity. Long-time readers will likely remember this or that Christian objecting to my caricature of Christianity by saying, I’M NOT THAT KIND OF CHRISTIAN! Usually, they go on to accuse me of all sorts of ulterior motives such as I hate God/Christianity or got hurt in some way back in my Christian days, and I am now trying to settle the score. When I ask them to give evidence for their beliefs and practices being Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy, most often they present a honey wagon (manure spreader for you city slickers) full of Bible verses, HIS-story lessons, doctrinal treatises, quotes from authors, and personal anecdotes. In doing so, all they do is prove, at least to me, that Christianity is a quagmire of conflicting, contradictory beliefs and practices. Yet, it is we unbelievers who are to blame for our lack of recognizing and understanding the ONE TRUE FAITH®! If we would just ignore all the competing Christianities and Jesuses and accept their Christianity and Jesus as the one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, we too could have our sins forgiven, and be guaranteed a home in their God’s Heaven after we die.

As I wander in and out of big tent Christianity, I have noticed that there are three general banners under which the various sects/pastors/congregants pitch their tents: Evangelical, Progressive, and Liberal. Ask the tent-dwellers to define these banners — well, good luck with that. As with everything in Christianity, definitions abound. This post is my attempt to define these three groups, knowing that the moment I do, offended self-righteous Christians are going to vehemently object and say, I’M NOT THAT KIND OF CHRISTIAN! Of course, I am deaf to such objections, so here we go.

Evangelical

Generally, Evangelicals believe the Protestant Bible is the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God; God is a triune being; and Jesus is the virgin-born son of God who came to earth, lived a sinless life, died on a Roman cross, resurrected from the dead three days later, ascended back to Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of his Father, awaiting the day when he will return to earth to judge the living and the dead, and make a new Heaven and Earth. (And yes, I am aware of the differences between Calvinists, Arminians, Oneness Pentecostals, Charismatics, Holiness sects, et al.)

Generally, Evangelicals believe all humans are born sinners and in need of redemption; that salvation and the forgiveness of sins comes through Jesus Christ alone; that all other religions are false; that non-Christians go to Hell (the Lake of Fire) when they die, and Christians to Heaven (God’s Eternal Kingdom).  (Again, I am aware of the disputes among Evangelicals about what constitutes salvation and whether human instrumentality plays any part.)

I have long argued that Evangelicals are inherently Fundamentalist. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Christians who are on the far left end of the Evangelical spectrum object to the Fundamentalist label, but what they really need to do is admit that they are no longer theologically Evangelical; that their beliefs and practices fall under the Progressive or Liberal Christian banner.

Progressive

Generally, Progressive Christians and Evangelicals have similar core beliefs. Progressives tend to reject creationism, choosing instead to embrace theistic evolution. Progressives also tend to ridicule Evangelicals as anti-intellectual Bible thumpers. Ironically, many Progressives are former Evangelicals, or as the joke goes, Evangelicals who can read. Progressives also tend to be more liberal politically and socially, though I recently ran into a few so-called Progressives on Twitter who are ardent supporters of Donald Trump.

I have found many Progressives to be every bit as insufferable as Evangelical zealots. While they distance themselves from the social Fundamentalism of Evangelicals, theologically their beliefs are, in the main, every bit as Fundamentalist. It is not hard to prove my contention. Just ask a self-labeled Progressive if all religions lead to Heaven and if atheists will go to Heaven when they die. Honest Progressives will answer NO to both questions. Unfortunately, many Progressives genuinely want to be viewed as friendly people, so they will refuse to answer the questions, saying, “Only God knows for sure.”

Liberal

Generally, Liberal Christians have a reductionist view of the Bible, rejecting many (most) of the beliefs Evangelicals and Progressives hold dear. (Please see Is Liberal Christianity the Answer for Disaffected Evangelicals?)  Evangelicals believe that Liberal Christians are outside of the One True Faith®, as do many Progressives. In their minds, Liberals have given away too much to be still considered Christians. Liberals tend to promote works-based salvation and or preach what is commonly called the social gospel. Liberals focus on people and the present instead of personal salvation and the future.

Under these three banners, you will find countless sub-categories of Christians, proving that there is no such thing as singular Christianity. What would help is if all the Christian sects of the world would get together and come up with a biology-like system of identification for Christianity: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. That would put an end, then, to followers of Jesus saying to me, I’M NOT THAT KIND OF CHRISTIAN! Every Christian could have a religion identity card of sorts they could show when questioned about their faith. Oh wait, that wouldn’t work, would it? Christianity is a relationship, not a religion! Or so countless Christians say, thus proving yet again that whatever Christianity might have been died over 1,900 years ago, and lies buried in the same grave as a dead Jewish man named Jesus.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Quote of the Day: Reason Disproves the Existence of a Benevolent, Merciful God

james haught

Reason – logical thinking by intelligent minds – proves clearly that the compassionate, all-powerful god of religion cannot exist. Simple logic clinches it, as follows:

When a woman is dying of breast cancer, or a child is dying of leukemia – and relatives pray desperately – why does the alleged god let most victims die? If the god cannot save them, he isn’t all-powerful. If he could, but doesn’t want to save them, he’s heartless, not all-loving. He’s a monster.

The same logical conclusion applies to tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, plagues, epidemics, famines, floods, and other horrors that kill multitudes. If a god could stop the tragedies, but won’t, he’s evil.

And the logic applies to cruelties of nature. Why would a loving god design hawks to tear rabbits apart, boas to crush pigs, cobras to kill children, etc.? Only a fiend would devise a system of ruthless predator-killers.

Reason cannot disprove the existence of an evil god, but it wipes out the benevolent father-creator claimed by most churches. The only intelligent conclusion is that such a loving god cannot exist.

— James Haught, Daylight Atheism, Logic Disproves All-Merciful God, October 3, 2018

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Astral Travel for Christians

beth eckert

Astral travel or astral projection is when a part of your soul leaves the body to travel through the astral plane. The astral plane is compromised of a series of electromagnetic ley lines that interconnect throughout the universe to create a magnetic field of travel. Because our bodies use electricity to run the body, it is easy for our souls to use these electromagnetic ley lines to travel on.

Electromagnetic fields are everywhere, including cell phones, microwave ovens, computers, power lines, and electrical wiring, making the places a person can astral travel almost limitless. This means a person can astral travel through cell phone text messages or internet usage or even phone calls. Human spirits can use any device that runs on electricity to travel into any type of building or vehicle, etc.

While God created the ability for a human soul to leave the body as a form of protection, Satan has twisted it in order to use it to further his Antichrist agenda. He starts at a young age using trauma to teach people how to leave the body to avoid harm, and then while they are out of the body, he funnels in other human spirits, demonic spirits, and other high ranking entities from the Kingdom of Darkness.

….

I knew very little about astral travel until I became a Christian, even though I had been astral traveling all of my life.  I was taught from a very young age to leave my body as a defense mechanism to protect myself, but I had no idea what I was doing. It is very possible to astral project out of your body and not even know you are doing it, but because it is not openly talked about it, Satan continues to use astral travel to his advantage.

….

It has taken me a while to be able to write this post because I wanted to get to a place where I felt that I was in a place where I was not constantly astral traveling. I feel that now I can say that astral travel is not my go-to solution anymore when problems arise. I am quite certain I do still have alters that choose to leave the body or possible live outside of the body, but I am also certain that astral travel happens less and less now.

….

Once my alters realize that they can choose to be free from the occult and not be hurt for anymore then they almost always say ‘yes’ to Jesus. Finding out I was astral traveling could have made me believe I was a terrible human being, not saved by the grace of God, but destined to hell. Instead, I allowed Jesus to use it to shape me into a place of submission and humility. I could never be where I am without an extra helping of humility.

There is no shame in finding out you are astral traveling, or doing Satanic rituals, or doing witchcraft because the bottom line is: it’s not your fault. There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. He came to save you from sin and hell, not condemn you to it. Satan is the one who wants you to keep these acts in the dark so you cannot be free from them. If you refuse to acknowledge you could be dissociative or participating in these secret works of darkness, then he can keep using you.

— Beth Eckert, The Other Side of Darkness, How I Learned To Astral Travel, September 9, 2019

Quote of the Day: “True Believers”

love slave of jesus

Valerie Tarico: Many people seem to walk away from their religion easily, without really looking back. What is different about the clientele you work with?

Marlene Winell: Religious groups that are highly controlling, teach fear about the world, and keep members sheltered and ill-equipped to function in society are harder to leave easily. The difficulty seems to be greater if the person was born and raised in the religion rather than joining as an adult convert. This is because they have no frame of reference – no other “self” or way of “being in the world.” A common personality type is a person who is deeply emotional and thoughtful and who tends to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their endeavors. “True believers” who then lose their faith feel more anger and depression and grief than those who simply went to church on Sunday.

Tarico: Aren’t these just people who would be depressed, anxious, or obsessive anyway?

Winell: Not at all. If my observation is correct, these are people who are intense and involved and caring. They hang on to the religion longer than those who simply “walk away” because they try to make it work even when they have doubts. Sometimes this is out of fear, but often it is out of devotion. These are people for whom ethics, integrity, and compassion matter a great deal. I find that when they get better and rebuild their lives, they are wonderfully creative and energetic about new things.

Valerie Tarico and Marlene Winell, Raw Story, Religious Trauma Syndrome: Psychologist reveals how organized religion can lead to mental health problems, September 9, 2019

 

Books by Valerie Tarico

Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light (2nd Ed.)

The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth

Books by Marlene Winell

Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion

Black Collar Crime: Catholic Subdeacon Hurmiz Ishak Convicted of Criminal Sexual Conduct

hurmiz ishak

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Hurmiz Ishak, a subdeacon at St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in Troy, Michigan, was convicted last week of one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct.

The Oakland Press reports:

Ishak’s victim was 14 at the time of the assault, which took place in 2017 and 2018 at St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church, where Ishak has been a member for 21 years.

Ishak had faced three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, with alternate charges of third-degree criminal sexual conduct if the jury determined Ishak wasn’t in a position of authority over the victim. He was acquitted of the two other charges.

During the trial which started late last week, jurors saw Ishak’s recorded interview with a Troy police detective where he admitted to participating in some sexual activity with the teen boy at the church. He also said he did some of the acts at the boy’s request.

Ishak’s attorney, Jalal Dallo, had built a defense partly on a claim that a language barrier posed issues during Ishak’s interview with police. Assistant prosecutor Christopher George, however, dismissed that, noting Ishak has been in the United States since the 1970s and an interpreter was present via speaker phone during the interview — and rarely needed. He also noted Ishak used slang when describing the sexual activity.

The boy testified Monday, describing sex acts with Ishak which he subsequently reported to church officials in October 2018, who then contacted Troy police. Among the other witnesses jurors heard from were two other alleged victims of Ishak, a teenage girl and an adult woman, who both claim Ishak acted inappropriately with them at the church. The adult woman was a teenager at the time, and was reportedly advised by her mother to keep the allegations to herself because otherwise she’d be ostracized and “treated like damaged goods” by the Chaldean community.