Religion

The Paranoia and Persecution Complex of the Religious Right

persecution

Originally published in 2015. Edited and expanded.

As of today, there is NO religious persecution in the United States. Every citizen is free to worship any or no God. All citizens are free to worship when, where, and how they wish. I know of no law that prohibits the free exercise of religion. The United States, when it comes to religion, is the freest nation on the face of the earth. Yet, despite the evidence, many on the religious right think they are being persecuted, and if liberals have their way Sharia law will be instituted and Christianity will be outlawed. If the socialist/communist/liberal/Democrat horde is not repelled by King Trump and his mighty army of Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mormons, Christians will be persecuted, incarcerated, and possibly killed — just as the Jews were in World War II.

Think I am kidding?  What follows is an excerpt from an article written by American Family Association (AFA) author and CIO Jim Shempert titled America’s Future: Christian Persecution. (AFA has removed the article from their site.) What graphic did AFA and Jim Shempert choose for the article?

prison camp survivors

That’s right, Shempert and AFA think that Christians will soon be treated much like the Jews, gypsies, and mentally handicapped were treated by Hitler and the Nazis in World War II.

Here’s what Shempert had to say:

…This blog is intended for the Church. If you are not a Christian, and your only goal is to tear down Christianity, you can stop reading here.

Church, Christianity is under attack all across the globe. The persecutions of the Church are definitely not the same but they all have the same root. Imagine trying to be a Christian in Iraq/Syria/anywhere south of Turkey right now… Standing for your faith will be met with loss of property, threats, beatings, and death. These are common occurrences. If you don’t believe me, I encourage you to go to Google. Type in “Middle East Christian persecution” and hit “search.” In literally half a second, Google will return to you 1.1 million articles/pages on persecution of Christians in the Middle East. To focus on a different area, go back to Google and search for “Christian persecution in Africa.” In .6 seconds, you are greeted with 2.5 million articles/pages that deal with Christian persecution in Africa.

Now, the current resident of the White House believes that the atrocities committed by Muslim terrorist groups are not indicative of all Muslim people. Here’s a potential fire starter: I happen to agree with him there. Personally, I believe the Muslim faith to be incorrect in its focus. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that no man cometh unto the Father but by Him. As those Muslims must surely think that I am wrong in my focus. However, I do not think that all Muslims are terrorists, or that they are all on jihad. I also don’t believe the line that these extremist groups are not focused around Islam. I know that the resident of the White House likes to continue his crusade against Christianity by reminding us that at one time, horrible atrocities were committed by those who claim the name of Christ. His problem, and all those who claim moral equivalency, is that he is unable to call EVIL what it is: EVIL. He is able to quickly tear apart Christianity, and say that America was never a Christian nation, but he is unable to say that Islamic terrorism is evil.

I’ve had a long conversation with a friend on this, and we came to the conclusion that if any group that claims Christianity starts cutting off people’s heads while singing “Just as I am,” the first people to respond will be Christians. We will police our own. The soldiers sent to stop them will probably be Christians, at least in some part. Rest assured, the current White House, will seek great joy in touting that it is CHRISTIANS doing this. “See…they are doing it too!” A 5 year old child has more intellect and intelligence.

The point is… American is no longer a Christian nation. Those are hard words to hear. They were even harder to type. That’s not to say that it never was. America was built around Christian principles, with Christian men and women leading it. Those who claim otherwise are just repeating a Goebbels lie: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” The nation that I grew up in, is no more. Being viewed as an evangelical Christian now, is to be seen as a leper. “Those close minded, bigoted, judging Christians.” “Why don’t you just love? That’s what Jesus did.” (That one usually comes from someone who hasn’t opened a Bible since grade school) “Judge not, that you be not judged.” That’s Matthew 7:1 for any of you that use it. You might want to continue down chapter 7 to verses 15-20. Might do you some eternal good…

…What’s the next step for those who only want their ears tickled? To silence those who don’t! Anyone who preaches the Light, will be resisted by the darkness. Offensive words will be created to describe them and shouted over and over and over until the masses begin to repeat them. They will be chastised in the media, lose their jobs, their businesses, their property, their ability to live their lives the way they choose. The assertion that they are ignorant will be constantly repeated. Their very freedom will be threatened. Oh wait, that’s already happened…

Martin Niemoller was a pastor in Germany during the Nazi regime and also a concentration camp survivor. He is remembered most for this quote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Ronald Reagan is by far the greatest president of my lifetime. He said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Those words could never be truer than they are today. As Christians, we are at a crossroads in America. We can stand up, and let our voices be heard. We can fight at the ballot box for the rights that we were always guaranteed. Or, we can continue to allow our anti-Christian government to destroy the basic tenants of our faith. The choice is ours…

…What happens to those of us that resist? How long before we become “enemies of the State?” How long before we are sent to “camps” for re-education? Sound crazy? The German people in the ‘30’s would have said the same thing. In a few short years, millions would be imprisoned and executed for their faith…

…I live in relationship with Jesus Christ as my Savior. My life is forfeit. If it is His will that I must be sacrificed for my stand for His Name, then so be it. Even Jesus didn’t turn away from death when presented with it. He was obedient to the end.

American Christian, most of the rest of the world knows this already, from experience. But there is coming a day when to identify as a Christian in America will bring consequences…

I love it when groups like AFA use Martin Niemöller’s quote to suggest that what happened in Hitler’s Germany will soon happen here. Here’s the problem: no one has come for the socialist, trade unionist, or Jew. Yes, many on the political and religious right fight against socialism and trade unions, but no one would suggest that the religious right is persecuting socialists or union members. They most certainly are not persecuting the Jews. The religious right loves Israel — well at least until Jesus comes back to earth at the end of the Great Tribulation and slaughters all the unbelieving Jews.

We live in a free country. While I think personal liberties are under attack by corporate, military-industrial complex, and surveillance-industrial complex interests, I have no fear of being persecuted or jailed if I oppose those interests. Much like Evangelical Christians, atheists are free to write about, attack, critique, and make fun of religion. I don’t fear the government breaking my door down and arresting me for something I have written.

Unfortunately, when one lives in a country where freedom of belief and practice are ensconced in its founding documents and law, the slightest denial of freedom or the slightest inconvenience can be viewed as an attack on freedom and personal rights. The religious right thinks legalizing same-sex marriage and justice and equal protection under the law for LGBTQ people is an infringement of their religious rights. However, allowing same-sex couples to marry in no way infringes on a person’s right to believe and worship as they see fit. Legalizing same-sex marriage changed nothing for Christians.  Christians are still free to pray, read the Bible, evangelize, attend a house of worship, and — get this — forbid LGBTQ people from being members in their church. Nothing in federal or state law required churches and or clerics to accept LGBTQ members or perform their wedding ceremonies.

No clergyperson will ever be required to marry a same-sex couple. Since marriage is a secular function of law, a pastor is free to choose whom he will or won’t marry. It is the marriage license, not the ceremony, that gives a marriage legal force. This is why public officials must issue marriage licenses to heterosexual and same-sex couples alike. They are acting on behalf of the state, a secular institution. If they cannot, according to their conscience, fulfill their legal obligation to issue a marriage license to all who request one, then they should resign. Their resignation is not persecution. All of us have beliefs and moral and ethical values that might, in some circumstances, preclude us from holding certain jobs. Not being able to hold those jobs is NOT persecution.

We are less than a year away from the 2020 presidential election. The United States faces many pressing and trying issues: war, poverty, crumbling infrastructure, government debt, rampant opioid addiction, runaway medical insurance costs, etc. Instead of whining and screaming about “fake” persecution, I wish the religious right and their representatives in Congress would reach across the aisle and meaningfully try to find a solution to the pressing issues of the day.

The American Family Association, and other right-wing religious groups like them, know that their followers must constantly be poked lest they become apathetic and stop sending donations. What better way to wake people up than to scream PERSECUTION!  Until Christians realize groups like the AFA are manipulating them for political and financial gain, they will continue to be outraged every time they are told they need to be outraged. (The outrage machine One Million Moms is an arm of the AFA. Please see the 2015 report I wrote titled, Follow the Money: The American Family Association and their Support of the Gay Agenda) Until they are willing to actually think for themselves and thoroughly investigate the issues without checking in with Fox News first, there’s little hope of meaningful dialog.

“But Bruce, same-sex marriage and homosexuality is wrong!” Why? Without referencing the Bible, please defend your anti-LGBTQ position. I have yet to have someone successfully defend the prohibition of same-sex marriage and homosexuality without appealing to their religious beliefs and a sacred text such as the Christian Bible. Once religion is removed from the equation, there is no reasonable argument to be made for prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying or for permitting people to legally and freely engage in same-sex relationships.

That said, I still believe in the American political process. Christians are free to work towards a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. They have the same rights and privileges as I do. Let’s duke it out in the public square. Of course, the religious right doesn’t want to do this, knowing that they would likely never get enough states to approve a constitutional amendment. So, instead, they whine and complain about PERSECUTION!

The real issue here is that Christianity is losing its preferential place at the cultural table. For most of our country’s existence, the Christian religion has been seated at the head of the table. This is natural, of course, since most Americans self-identify as Christian. However, more and more Christians are moving to the left politically and religiously, especially young adults. More and more Americans no longer have any religion. Atheism, agnosticism, humanism, secularism, religious indifference, and “none of the above” continue to increase. Like it or not, right-wing Christians must recognize that they no longer have the political and social power and clout they once had. If they don’t like this, I suggest they get busy attracting new people to their cause. Good luck with that.

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.

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Five More Questions from an Evangelical Pastor

good question

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

Are there different levels of atheism? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True Christianity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do all atheists believe in evolution?

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

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

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

Bruce, what do you believe about our existence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: True Christians are Persecuted in America

That true Christians will be despised, hated, attacked and persecuted is a given. [No, it is not a given, as I’m sure comments will show.]

….

And remember I started this article by speaking about “true Christians”. Fake Christians of course will know nothing about what is being discussed here. They will be getting along with the world just fine. So of course they will not experience persecution. As John R. Rice once put it, “The world never burned a casual Christian at the stake.”

Here I want to deal with the situation in the West. A few preliminary remarks: First, some will scoff when I and others speak of persecution in the West. Sure, we are not being tortured, beheaded and killed for our faith as is often the case overseas.

Not yet, at least. But when a person is forced out of his job because of his Christian beliefs, or heavily fined, or even incarcerated for periods of time, those types of suffering and hardship are very real indeed. I know some of these people, including those trying to feed their families but who have been unable to work for long periods of time because of their Christian beliefs.

The second thing to point out is that we need to see the big picture. We need to have a bit of historical awareness. It is easy to not see aright when we look only to today and to our local situation. But we need to see the bigger picture and what is happening not just now, but over a period of time.

From that sort of perspective, we find that genuine anti-Christian bigotry and persecution is not only happening in the West, but it has been ramping up for decades now. Things really are getting worse in this regard, and if we don’t wake up to what is happening, it may soon be too late for warnings like this to be penned.

For many years I and others have been trying to sound the alarm and alert people to the increasing persecution of Christians, often taking the form of the culture wars. As the culture around us becomes more and more ungodly, immoral and hostile to our faith, we can only expect to be respected less and less and vilified and harassed more and more.

….

As I have said so often now, we have moved from being a Christian culture to a post-Christian culture to an anti-Christian culture. Long gone are the days when we could happily get along with the world and expect their blessing and endorsement of our beliefs and values.

Make no mistake, there still are some churches and denominations in the West today that DO have the full blessing and approval of the world. But they are apostate churches and church leaders. They are those who have long ago sold their birthright for the desire to be loved and accepted by the world.

They are the ones fully on the pro-abortion bandwagons, on the pro-homosexuality and trans bandwagons, and on the interfaith bandwagons. The world loves them because they have the same values and mindset as the world does. They are not counter-cultural as the true church of Jesus Christ will always be.

— Bill Muehlenberg, Culture Watch, The Stages of Christian Persecution, January 16, 2020

It’s Time to Tell the Truth: I Had an Affair

 

silhouette of woman

Originally written in 2015. Edited and expanded.

It’s time for me to come clean.

I can no longer hide from my past.

The ugly, awful truth must come out.

I had an affair.

I had a mistress.

I was intimate with my lover for many, many years.

My wife and children know about the affair. I am so sorry for all the hurt and damage my illicit relationship caused. That my wife and children stood by me all these years is a wonderful testimony to their love for me. I don’t deserve it.

My mistress and I carried on for a long, long time. In fact, she would follow me wherever I moved: Ohio, Texas, Michigan. She was always right there for me.

My mistress is a lot older than I. She is what is commonly called a cougar.

The sex was great. The only problem was I could never satisfy her. The more sex we had, the more she wanted. She was quite the nymphomaniac. I had a suspicion she was having sex with other people (she was bisexual) but it didn’t matter. What WE had was special. She treated me as if I was the ONLY one.

Over the years, we made a lot of promises to each other. We are going to this or that, go here or go there.  But neither I or my mistress delivered on our promises.

I gave my mistress a lot of money.  She deserved it, or so I thought. Yet, no matter how much money I gave her, she always wanted more. She would often tell me “prove that you love me Bruce.” So I would give her more money. I began to wonder if she was a prostitute and I was a john. My wife and children suffered because I gave so much money to her. I justified their destitution by telling myself that my affair was what gave me purpose and meaning in life. Without it I might as well be dead.

I deceived myself for a long time, convinced that what my mistress and I had was real. After all, she made me feel alive. She gave me self-worth. When we were together it seemed as if time stopped and we were transported into the heavens.

One day, a few years back I began to have doubts about my affair. The sex was great, but there is more to life than sex. I certainly enjoyed the company of my mistress, and boy, she sure could cook, but I still felt quite empty when I was away from her.

I began to think about all the sacrifices I made for my mistress: all the money I gave her; the loss of a close, intimate relationship with my wife and children. Was it worth it?  Since my mistress got the best of me, all my family got was leftovers. By the time I came home to them, I was too tired, too busy, and too broke to give them what they needed and deserved.

A decade or so ago, after much self-judgment and reflection, I ended the affair. I sold all of the mementos of our torrid relationship. I told my mistress that I could no longer be in a relationship with her. She didn’t even get angry, or for that matter, even care. She told me “There are plenty of other people who would love to have me in their lives. Your loss, Bruce.”

So we parted ways,

My wife and I, along with our children are trying to rebuild our home. The damage done by this affair is incalculable. I can only hope that, with time, the wounds will be healed.

I should warn all of you about my mistress. She is always on the prowl looking for someone new to entice and bed.

Her name?

The Church

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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Bruce, Do You Still Find Value in Reading the Bible?

good question

Recently, an atheist/agnostic reader sent me the following questions:

  • As an atheist, do you still read/think about the Bible’s literary or symbolic meaning, or have you had enough of it in your life?
  • Have you become hardened/cynical to the point where you can’t approach the Bible with a sense of wonder as I do?
  • Do you have any passages that still inspire you, engage your mind, and move you in any way?
  • And lastly, do you ever feel like fundamentalism is responsible for turning people away from stories and poetry that would otherwise be valuable to hear?

Bruce, do you still read/think about the Bible’s literary or symbolic meaning, or have you had enough of it in your life? 

From ages fifteen to fifty, I was a devoted follower of Jesus. Reading and studying the Bible was a part of my daily routine. I read it from cover to cover numerous times. As a pastor for twenty-five years, I immersed myself in the teachings of the Bible. Few days went by when I hadn’t intellectually and devotionally read and studied the Bible. I also read scores of theological tomes as I prepared one of the thousands of sermons I preached on Sundays and Thursdays. I had a good grasp and understanding of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. When people sat before me on the Lord’s Day, they expected to hear me preach from the Bible. I did my best to provide congregants with well-studied, well-thought-out sermons. I despised then, and still do to this day, lazy preachers who have plenty of time for golf, preachers’ meetings, and dinner at the buffet, but no time to prepare their sermons. I’ve heard numerous pastors deliver incoherent, contradictory, rabbit-trail sermons. Awful stuff. I couldn’t imagine sitting in church week after week listening to such drivel.

All of this changed, of course, when I left the ministry in 2005 and left Christianity in 2008. In the past decade, I have not picked up the Bible just to read it. I still have my KJV preaching Bible, but it collects dust on the bookshelf. My mind is literally crammed with Bible verses and theology, so when it comes to writing posts for this site, I don’t need to consult my Bible. I will, on occasion, use the Bible Gateway or the E-sword Bible Study Program if I can’t remember something. As you might know, I have memory problems. Usually, it’s newer stuff I have a hard time remembering. The Bible and Christian theology lie safely buried in my long-term memory, whether I want it to be, or not.  I may not remember what I did an hour ago, but I can remember a sermon I preached years ago.

Have I had enough of the Bible? The short answer is yes. Evangelicals love to tell people that the Bible is a “special” book; that it is an inexhaustible book; that every time you read the Bible it teaches you something new. Nonsense. Poppycock. Bullshit. The Bible is no different from any other book. It can be read and understood by atheists and Evangelicals alike. You can diligently and thoroughly read the Bible, so much so that you have mastered the text. Don’t let all the college training which preachers receive fool you. These men aren’t sitting in classes day and night immersing themselves in the Biblical text. In fact, Bible colleges and universities don’t comprehensively teach prospective pastors the Bible (and Bible “survey” classes don’t count). I learned far more about the Bible in my study than I ever did in college.

Do I know everything there is to know about the Bible? Of course not. That said, I have read and studied the Bible enough that I am confident that I know the text well. “But, Bruce, people disagree with you all the time about what the Bible says.” Such disagreements aren’t from a lack of knowledge. These skirmishes come as a result of the divisive, sectarian nature of religion in general, and Christianity in particular. There are thousands of Christian sects, each believing that their interpretation of the Bible is correct. That my interpretations differ from those of others is to be expected. Who is right, and who is wrong? Beats me. That’s what makes the Bible so awesome. You can make it say virtually anything. Homosexuality is a sin – no, it’s not. Abortion is murder – no, it’s not. Women can be pastors – no, they can’t. Baptism is by immersion – no, it’s not. Sinners must repent over their sins to be saved – no, they don’t. Baptism is required for salvation – no, it’s not. The universe is 6,024 years old – no, it’s not. Jesus died on  -Friday – no, he didn’t. Jesus went to Hell when he died – no, he didn’t. Divorce is a sin – no, it isn’t. True Christians speak in tongues – no, they don’t. Shall I go on? The disagreements are legion.

Bruce, have you become hardened/cynical to the point where you can’t approach the Bible with a sense of wonder as I do?

The Bible is a YMMV book — your mileage may vary. I don’t believe I am hardened or cynical when it comes to the Bible. I approach the Bible as I would any other book. I can’t say that I have approached any book with a sense of wonder. I have, however, read a few books throughout my life, which, when finished, made me conclude: this book is an awesome book, one that I would read again. Few books are worth reading once, let alone twice. Is the Bible really that much better than any other book ever written? I think not. I have a few favorite authors all or most of whose books I have read. Bart Ehrman, Thomas Merton, James Michener, and Wendell Berry come to mind. Over the years, I have read thousands of books, most of them one time. That I have read the Bible over and over and over again doesn’t mean that I think it is a New York Times bestseller — a book that should be frequently re-read. I read the Bible as often as I did because doing so was an essential part of my job. I also did so because my pastors and teachers repeatedly told me that one of the signs of a good Christian was how much time he spent reading and studying the Bible. I really wanted to be a good Christian, so I devoted myself to reading and understanding the King James Version of the Holy Bible. Only in religion do we think such excess is normal. If I spent hours a day, for decades studying the Harry Potter books, I doubt anyone would think such behavior is good.

Bruce, do you have any passages that still inspire you, engage your mind, and move you in any way?

I still love and appreciate the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and some of the Psalms. Do these Bible verses inspire me, move me, or engage my mind? Not really. I am at a different place in life. Due to declining health, I no longer read as much as I used to. Sadly, I have gone from being a War and Peace reader to being a magazine reader. I am tired and fatigued every day, so once I have done my writing for the day, I typically don’t have much time left for reading. I “want” to read, but alas, although my spirit is willing, my flesh is weak. If and when I have time to read, I don’t want to spend it reading an ancient religious text I have read countless times before. Simply put, I just don’t find the Bible all that interesting these days.

Bruce, do you ever feel like fundamentalism is responsible for turning people away from stories and poetry that would otherwise be valuable to hear?

Whether what the Bible says is “valuable to hear” varies from person to person. Most Christians don’t even read the Bible through once, let alone numerous times. That’s why devotionals such as “Our Daily Bread” are so popular. These publications are easy to read, taking only a few minutes a day. Reading them allows Christians to feel as if they have “read” the Bible and “communed” with God. Pablum for nursing babies, perhaps, but not meat that comes from devoting oneself to reading and studying the Bible. Bible illiteracy is common, even among Evangelicals — people who generally say that they are “people of the Book.”

I am of the opinion that fundamentalism is a problem wherever it is found. Fundamentalism is not only intellectually stultifying, it can and does cause psychological and social damage. In some instances, it can even cause physical harm and death. As a writer, my target is primarily Evangelical Christianity — which is inherently Fundamentalist. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) I know firsthand the harm caused by Evangelical beliefs and practices. It will be a good day when Evangelicalism draws its last breath. I will dead by then, but maybe, just maybe one of my grandchildren or their children will be alive when Fundamentalism goes whimpering into the night, never to be seen again. I make no apology for working towards the demise of Evangelicalism. As far as non-Evangelical Christianity is concerned? Meh, I don’t really care one way or the other. I am an atheist, not an anti-theist. Not all religions are the same. Some are benign and innocuous; others ravage the mind and cause untold damage to our culture. To the former I say, “live and let live.” To the latter? “Bring me a flamethrower.”
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.

A Cross He Could, and Would, Not Bear

thelma and louise

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

When Thelma & Louise came out, it seemed that people reacted in one of two ways. Some viewers were unhappy that the two title characters fled after Thelma shot and killed the man who tried to rape her. Others — including nearly all of the women I knew — elevated those characters into heroes. One even said she felt a “catharsis” when Harlan is struck by the bullet from Thelma’s gun.

I could have said the same: When Thelma fired that gun, I vicariously struck back — at what? She did to her aggressor what I wish I’d done — to whom?

At the time I saw the film, I had not yet come to terms with the childhood sexual abuse I suffered from a priest. Those experiences were submerged within me, occasionally bubbling up through nightmares and unconscious behavior. Also, I was many years away from starting my gender-affirmation process. I was living as a man, with a deep hatred of the male species (that’s how I thought of them) and resentment of my membership in it.

I saw Thelma and Louise with the woman I was dating. She knew of my attitudes about men and referred to me, only half-jokingly, as a “male lesbian.” To her, my response to Thelma’s action was just an expression of how I felt about men generally. I accepted that explanation simply because, at that time, I couldn’t come up with a better one.

There was another part of my response to the film which I understood full well, but discussed with no one—not even my woman friend. I completely sympathized with Thelma and Louise running from the law. Actually, Thelma wanted to call the police, but Louise understood that no one would believe her claim of attempted rape, especially since Thelma had been drinking and dancing with Harlan before he tried to attack her. Now, I wasn’t drinking or dancing with the priest before he took advantage of me sexually, but I knew that even if I’d had the language to describe, and make sense of, what happened to me, no one (at least, no one I knew then) would have believed me. I grew up in a conservative community where nearly everyone attended the same church I did, and many kids were my classmates in my Catholic school. In such a milieu, nobody — especially a child — has more credibility than a priest.

A recent news story brought to mind my reaction to Thelma and Louise — and to earlier experiences. I first heard the story from a friend of mine in France, and it made its way into English-language media during the past few days.

A 19-year-old boy confronted the priest who, earlier, abused him. That, of course, is something I wish I could have done to my abuser, who died three decades before I spoke of his actions with anyone. Then the young Frenchman did a Thelma, if you will: He killed that priest.

I will admit that in hearing the story, I vicariously struck back at my abuser. Perhaps that reveals some baseness in my character. If it doesn’t, then perhaps this does: I also felt a vicarious thrill in picturing the young man vanquishing his abuser.

All right, I’ll admit: It was the way he tore the life out of that man of the cloth that so excited me. In fact, I’ll confess something perhaps even cruder: I found myself wishing I’d come up with the way he ended a decades-long string of abuses.

According to reports, the young man, identified only as “Alexandre V.” suffocated the priest by ramming a cross down his throat.

Yes, you read that right.

Now, I know that killing should never be condoned: I have opposed capital punishment from the moment I learned about it. Still, I have to concede that if I were on a jury at his trial, I would have a difficult time voting to convict him. I would hope that other jurors, and a judge, would consider not only Alexandre’s suffering, but also the way the priest “shattered a whole family,” in the young man’s words.

He was not being at all hyperbolic. Perhaps not surprisingly (at least, I’m not surprised to learn) the prelate, Father Roger Matassoli, is also alleged to have abused Alexandre’s father as well as other boys during the time he served in the northern French diocese of Saint-Andre-Farivilliers.

Alexandre probably knew about other boys Father Matassoli is said to have abused. What he and his father—as well as their fellow parishioners — probably didn’t know, until the allegations of abuse came to light, was the circumstances by which Father Matassoli arrived at their Oise parish. They probably knew only that he was transferred to their diocese from the diocese of Clermont in 1967 because of — you guessed it — allegations of sexual abuse which, of course, the church hushed up.

How many lives and families did Father Matassoli “shatter” there? We may never know, but at least that cycle has been broken.

Now I can only hope that young Alexandre gets the help he’ll need — and Thelma never got. I know how much they both need it: It took me nearly half a century to get help.

And help is all he can hope for. Although it’s tempting to see a young man ramming a cross down the throat of a priest who abused him as a kind of “poetic justice,” the truth is that there is no justice in situations like ours. I just hope that the French authorities understand as much. At least he is in a country where such help is not contingent on his (or his family’s) ability to pay for it, and where the church is losing its power to silence victims young and old.

Real Christian Pastors Don’t Lust After Women

pastor godfrey migwi

Recently, Godfrey Migwi, pastor of House of Hope Church in Nairobi, Kenya and a clinical psychologist, addressed the temptations pastors face from “skimpily dressed” women. Migwi stated:

At times we’re tempted by skimpily dressed women who come to church to make advances on us in the name of counselling. We are human beings and have feelings.

Migwi is admitting that pastors are human; that they can be “tempted” just like anyone else. Pastors aren’t immune from sexual want and desire. As if we needed him to tell us this, right? Those of us who spent years in Christian/Evangelical churches know that pastors, deacons, evangelists, missionaries, worship leaders, youth directors, and Sunday school teachers can, and do, not only commit sex crimes, but also engage in consensual sexual relations with congregants. It is also true, that there are women (and men) who develop sexual feelings for their pastors, and, at times, act on those feelings. I had several occasions over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry where it became crystal clear to me that a female congregant had an interest in me beyond my Bible knowledge. Counselors, doctors, and others who have close intimate relationships with people face similar problems.

It is also true that pastors can develop sexual feelings for one or more congregants. To admit this is stating the obvious: pastors and other church leaders are normal human beings, subject to the same wants, needs, and desires as their congregants. The difference, however, is that pastors have a moral and ethical obligation — let alone a commitment to their spouses — to refrain from acting on their desire to be sexually intimate with congregants. Migwi, as is common for Evangelicals to do, blames women for pastors being sexually tempted. If women would only dress “properly,” men of God wouldn’t be tempted to fuck congregants. We have heard this before, right? This is nothing more than an attempt on the part of clergy to evade personal responsibility for their sexuality. Pastors preach personal responsibility and accountability, yet when it comes to their own moral weaknesses and failures, they blame others.

Jeff Maples, of Reformation Charlotte fame, has a completely different take on this issue. Here’s what Maples had to say about Pastor Migwi’s statement about “skimpily dressed” women:

Of course, sexual immorality is rampant in Pentecostalism and the denomination is where the majority of clergy who fall to sexual immorality end up when they are “restored” to ministry.

It’s difficult to discern whether what this pastor says is actually true or not — in Africa, the climate is different. Perhaps, in Africa, pastors who preach the Word of God, stand on the authority of Scripture, and are devoted to making converts and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are typically sought out to be fawned over by underdressed women and seduced into one night stands.

Perhaps.

But, perhaps, these pastors — particularly the ones who preach the false Pentecostal Word of Faith gospel and lead people into the idolatry of money — are actually tempted because they are, well, largely false converts.

First, Maples states, “sexual immorality is rampant in Pentecostalism and the denomination is where the majority of clergy who fall to sexual immorality end up when they are “restored” to ministry.” Maples would have readers believe that clergy sexual misconduct is a big problem in Pentecostal/Charismatic churches, and exposed sinning pastors usually are later “restored” to the ministry. Maples is largely right. However, he seems to be oblivious to the fact that his own corner of the Evangelical tent has the same problem; that clergy sexual misconduct is common wherever people gather to worship the Christian God. As the Black Collar Crimes series makes clear, Evangelical pastors can be and are sexual predators. Imagine if I started a series that focused on Evangelical pastors and their consensual affairs and sexual dalliances. Why, I wouldn’t have time to write about anything else. (Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?)

Second, Maples does what Christian Fundamentalists do when trying to distance themselves from “sinning” brethren: he says they aren’t True Christians®. Maples says, “perhaps, these pastors . . . are actually tempted because they are, well, largely false converts.” Migwi and his fellow Pentecostals/Charismatics are Evangelical theologically. Yes, lots of crazy shit goes on in Pentecostal/Charismatic churches. But the same can be said for Evangelical churches in general. What’s “crazy” is in the eye of the beholder.

If the sexual temptation Migwi speaks of is, as Maples says, due to the tempted pastors not being True Christians, can we not then conclude that Maples is saying, that True Christian pastors are not sexually tempted, nor do they commit sexual “sins”? Maples, and others of his ilk, believe Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible are talisman of sorts that ward off Jezebels who want to bed “godly” pastors. Jesus is a chastity belt for pastors, or so Maples would have us believe anyway. However, as anyone who is paying attention to what goes on in Evangelical circles knows, sexual scandal is not uncommon among God’s chosen ones. Evangelical salvation does not inoculate pastors from sexual desire and temptation. I just wish that Evangelicals would admit that they have the same wants, needs, and desires as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world; that pastors can and do have sexual affairs. Wouldn’t it be refreshing for a “sinning” pastor to admit that he desired a woman who was not his wife, pursued her, and bedded her for no other reason than because he wanted to? Stop with all the excuses and misdirections, and just admit your humanity, fallibility, and frailty, oh “men of God.” Time to climb of your high horse and own your sexuality.

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.

Living in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter

thomas paine on reason

People who believe science is the best way we have to explain the world we live in and who believe facts matter find themselves under increasing assault by people who refuse to accept things as they are. I am all for vigorous debate and disagreement, but there comes a time when what matters is facts. Recently, a family member — who happens to be a Trump-supporting Evangelical pastor — posted a quote allegedly by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on social media. Generally, I avoid discussing politics and religion on my personal Facebook account. Want to discuss such things with me? Go to my Facebook page or my blog. My personal Facebook account is reserved for photographs, family stuff, silly memes, and cat videos.

For whatever reason — boredom, perhaps? — I decided to respond to the Ocasio-Cortez quote. The quote seemed out of character for Ocasio-Cortez, so I went to Snopes to check it out. Sure enough, the quote was false. After determining the quote’s truthfulness, I left the following comment: thou shalt not bear false witness. This got me excommunicated; not unfriended, just blocked from seeing the man’s posts. I don’t play that game, so I unfriended him. I then let him know that I did so, and why.

The false quote perfectly fits this man’s worldview; his view of secularism, liberalism, socialism, and Democrats. In his mind, it must be true because it reinforces his sincerely-held political beliefs. I suspect many readers could tell similar stories; times when they challenged religious or political statements with facts. I have repeatedly responded to false claims on Facebook from friends and family members by commenting with a link to the relevant Snopes article. I have yet to have someone say to me, thanks for pointing out my error. I made a mistake. All I get is silence, and the false quote or meme continues to live on in infamy.

In 2017, Dr. R. Kelly Garrett wrote an article titled, Facts don’t matter to Americans, and we should be worried.

Garrett said:

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’ll bet that’s true,” before you had all the facts? Most people probably have at some point.

Where people differ is in how often they do so. A 2016 survey that my colleague Brian Weeks and I conducted found that 50.3 percent of all Americans agreed with the statement “I trust my gut to tell me what’s true and what’s not.” Some of those polled felt quite strongly about it: About one in seven (14.6 percent) strongly agreed, while one in 10 (10.2 percent) strongly disagreed.

In other words, there’s a lot of variation in how Americans decide what to believe.

In a recent paper, we were able to use the findings from this survey and two others to dig into the different approaches people take when deciding what’s true.

We found some surprising differences between how people think about intuition and how they think about evidence. It turns out that how often someone trusts their intuition and how important they think it is to have evidence are two separate things. Both make a big difference in what we believe.

What we learned offers some hope for people’s ability to tell truth from fiction, despite the fact that so many trust their gut.

Many incorrect beliefs have political foundations. They promote a policy, an ideology or one candidate over another.

People are susceptible to political misinformation because they tend to believe things that favor their side — even if it isn’t grounded in data or science. There are numerous factors at play, from the influence of nonconscious emotions to the need to defend a group that the individual identifies with.

For these reasons, millions of Americans believe things that aren’t true.

….

With all the talk about political bias, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that politics aren’t the only thing shaping people’s beliefs. Other factors play a role too.

For example, people are more likely to believe something the more often they’ve heard it said — commonly known as the illusory truth effect. And adding a picture can change how believable a message is, sometimes making it more convincing, while at other times increasing skepticism.

Valuing intuition versus valuing evidence

Our study focuses on something else that shapes beliefs: We looked at what matters the most to people when they’re deciding what’s true.

We found that having faith in your intuition about the facts does make you more likely to endorse conspiracy theories. However, it doesn’t really influence your beliefs about science, such as vaccine safety or climate change.

In contrast, someone who says beliefs must be supported with data is more likely both to reject conspiracy theories and to answer questions about mainstream science and political issues more accurately.

The risk of relying on one’s intuition may be self-evident, but its role in belief formation is more nuanced.

….

In the end, knowing how much someone trusts his or her intuition actually tells you very little about how much proof that person will need before he or she will believe a claim. Our research shows that using intuition is not the opposite of checking the evidence: Some people trust their instincts while at the same time valuing evidence; others deny the importance of both; and so forth.

The key is that some people — even if they usually trust their gut — will check their hunches to make sure they’re right. Their willingness to do some follow-up work may explain why their beliefs tend to be more accurate.

It’s valuing evidence that predicts accuracy on a wider range of issues. Intuition matters less.

….

In this context, our results are surprising. There are many individual qualities that seem like they should promote accuracy, but don’t.

Valuing evidence, however, appears to be an exception. The bigger the role evidence plays in shaping a person’s beliefs, the more accurate that person tends to be.

We aren’t the only ones who have observed a pattern like this. Another recent study shows that people who exhibit higher scientific curiosity also tend to adopt more accurate beliefs about politically charged science topics, such as fracking and global warming.

There’s more we need to understand. It isn’t yet clear why curiosity and attention to the evidence leads to better outcomes, while being knowledgeable and thinking carefully promote bias. Until we sort this out, it’s hard to know exactly what kinds of media literacy skills will help the most.

But in today’s media environment — where news consumers are subjected to a barrage of opinions, data and misinformation — gut feelings and people’s need for evidence to back those hunches up can play a big role. They might determine whether you fall for a hoax posted on the Onion, help spread Russian disinformation or believe that the British spy agency MI6 was responsible for Princess Diana’s death.

For now, though, when it comes to fighting the scourge of misinformation, there’s a simple strategy that everyone can use. If you are someone who consistently checks your intuition about what is true against the evidence, you are less likely to be misled. It may seem like common sense, but learning to dig into the story behind that shocking headline can help you avoid spreading falsehoods.

Several days ago, a Christian man named Bill Wood stopped by this site to wow me with his intellectual prowess. Wood posted verbose comments meant to “educate” me about Biblical and scientific truth. You can read his comments here. Wood demanded I explain to his satisfaction my deconversion. I pointed him to the WHY page. Not good enough for Wood. He doubled and tripled down, refusing to accept any “truth” but his own. Wood is a classic reminder of why I don’t get into discussions with Evangelicals. Their minds are made up as to what the “truth” is. Wood believes the Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word. I asked him if he had read any of Bart Ehrman’s books, knowing that the answer was likely a big, fat, emphatic NO! Sure enough, all I got was another lengthy sermon. You see, for the Bill Woods of the world, their minds are closed to anything that challenges their worldview. They have decided this or that is “truth,” end of discussion. Their “gut” (often called the Holy Spirit) tells them that whatever they believe about God, Jesus, religion, science, etc. is true. In Bill Wood’s mind, creationism trumps science; theological dogma trumps archeological, geological, and sociological facts. All the facts in the world won’t change his mind.

We now live in a post-facts world. Instead of chasing truth wherever it leads, people scour the Internet looking for websites, blogs, memes, and social media posts that reinforce their beliefs. In 2016, eighty-one percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. Three years later, a majority of Evangelicals still support the President, despite his having told over 15,000 public lies. On January 23, 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump said:

I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.

Fast forward to today. Does anyone doubt that what Trump said is the truth; that no matter what he says or does, a sizeable percentage of Americans will resolutely support him. To these people, facts don’t matter. As long as their beliefs and worldview are confirmed, Trump is free to run roughshod over our Republic. As long as Trump says he is anti-abortion, anti-transgender, anti-immigration, anti-welfare, anti-socialism, anti-atheism, anti-anything enacted by Obama, white Evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and Mormons will continue to vote for him. Racists and white supremacists know that Trump is their best chance for a whiter America. No matter what the “facts” are, an overwhelming majority of Republicans and libertarians move in lock-step fashion with the President.

What are people who value facts supposed to do? If a large number of Americans are impervious to the truth, what hope is there for this great nation of ours? I know that this post will do nothing to change hearts and minds. People who agree with me will shout “right-on, brother!” Those who don’t will just see me as yet another liberal, commie, socialist out to destroy white Christian America.

We truly live in perplexing times. I have no confidence in things becoming better any time soon. I shudder to think what four more years of Donald Trump will bring us. Imagine what would happen if Republicans somehow took control of Congress? We are fools if we think the United States is invulnerable to decline and collapse. History tells us about many great civilizations who have come and gone. We are not immune to a similar fate.

What do you think people who value facts and truth should do? Please share your thoughts 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.

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: What Does U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr Really Want?

bill barr

But at least since Mr. [Bill] Barr’s infamous speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School, in which he blamed “secularists” for “moral chaos” and “immense suffering, wreckage and misery,” it has become clear that no understanding of William Barr can be complete without taking into account his views on the role of religion in society. For that, it is illuminating to review how Mr. Barr has directed his Justice Department on matters concerning the First Amendment clause forbidding the establishment of a state religion.

In Maryland, the department rushed to defend taxpayer funding for a religious school that says same-sex marriage is wrong. In Maine, it is defending parents suing over a state law that bans religious schools from obtaining taxpayer funding to promote their own sectarian doctrines. At his Department of Justice, Mr. Barr told law students at Notre Dame, “We keep an eye out for cases or events around the country where states are misapplying the establishment clause in a way that discriminates against people of faith.”

In these and other cases, Mr. Barr has embraced wholesale the “religious liberty” rhetoric of today’s Christian nationalist movement. When religious nationalists invoke “religious freedom,” it is typically code for religious privilege. The freedom they have in mind is the freedom of people of certain conservative and authoritarian varieties of religion to discriminate against those of whom they disapprove or over whom they wish to exert power.

This form of “religious liberty” seeks to foment the sense of persecution and paranoia of a collection of conservative religious groups that see themselves as on the cusp of losing their rightful position of dominance over American culture. It always singles out groups that can be blamed for society’s ills, and that may be subject to state-sanctioned discrimination and belittlement — L.G.B.T. Americans, secularists and Muslims are the favored targets, but others are available. The purpose of this “religious liberty” rhetoric is not just to secure a place of privilege, but also to justify public funding for the right kind of religion.

Mr. Barr has a long history of supporting just this type of “religious liberty.” At Notre Dame, he compared alleged violations of religious liberty with Roman emperors forcing Christian subjects to partake in pagan sacrifices. “The law is being used as a battering ram to break down traditional moral values and to establish moral relativism as a new orthodoxy,” he said.

Barr watchers will know that this is nothing new. In a 1995 article he wrote for The Catholic Lawyer, which, as Emily Bazelon recently pointed out, appears to be something of a blueprint for his speech at Notre Dame, he complained that “we live in an increasingly militant, secular age” and expressed his grave concern that the law might force landlords to rent to unmarried couples. He implied that the idea that universities might treat “homosexual activist groups like any other student group” was intolerable.

This form of “religious liberty” is not a mere side issue for Mr. Barr, or for the other religious nationalists who have come to dominate the Republican Party. Mr. Barr has made this clear. All the problems of modernity — “the wreckage of the family,” “record levels of depression and mental illness,” “drug addiction” and “senseless violence” — stem from the loss of a strict interpretation of the Christian religion.

The great evildoers in the Notre Dame speech are nonbelievers who are apparently out on the streets ransacking everything that is good and holy. The solutions to society’s ills, Mr. Barr declared, come from faith. “Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian rules for human conduct,” he said. “Religion helps frame moral culture within society that instills and reinforces moral discipline.” He added, “The fact is that no secular creed has emerged capable of performing the role of religion.”

Within this ideological framework, the ends justify the means. In this light, Mr. Barr’s hyperpartisanship is the symptom, not the malady. At Christian nationalist gatherings and strategy meetings, the Democratic Party and its supporters are routinely described as “demonic” and associated with “rulers of the darkness.” If you know that society is under dire existential threat from secularists, and you know that they have all found a home in the other party, every conceivable compromise with principles, every ethical breach, every back-room deal is not only justifiable but imperative. And as the vicious reaction to Christianity Today’s anti-Trump editorial demonstrates, any break with this partisan alignment will be instantly denounced as heresy.

….

“What does Bill Barr want?”

The answer is that America’s conservative movement, having morphed into a religious nationalist movement, is on a collision course with the American constitutional system. Though conservatives have long claimed to be the true champions of the Constitution — remember all that chatter during previous Republican administrations about “originalism” and “judicial restraint” — the movement that now controls the Republican Party is committed to a suite of ideas that are fundamentally incompatible with the Constitution and the Republic that the founders created under its auspices.

Mr. Trump’s presidency was not the cause of this anti-democratic movement in American politics. It was the consequence. He is the chosen instrument, not of God, but of today’s Christian nationalists, their political allies and funders, and the movement’s legal apparatus. Mr. Barr did not emerge in order to serve this one particular leader. On the contrary, Mr. Trump serves a movement that will cynically praise the Constitution in order to destroy it, and of which Mr. Barr has made himself a hero.

— Katherine Stewart and Caroline Fredrickson, The New York Times, Bill Barr Thinks America Is Going to Hell, December 30, 2019

Quote of the Day: The Rise of Christian Fascism

chris hedges

The greatest moral failing of the liberal Christian church was its refusal, justified in the name of tolerance and dialogue, to denounce the followers of the Christian right as heretics. By tolerating the intolerant it ceded religious legitimacy to an array of con artists, charlatans and demagogues and their cultish supporters. It stood by as the core Gospel message—concern for the poor and the oppressed—was perverted into a magical world where God and Jesus showered believers with material wealth and power. The white race, especially in the United States, became God’s chosen agent. Imperialism and war became divine instruments for purging the world of infidels and barbarians, evil itself. Capitalism, because God blessed the righteous with wealth and power and condemned the immoral to poverty and suffering, became shorn of its inherent cruelty and exploitation. The iconography and symbols of American nationalism became intertwined with the iconography and symbols of the Christian faith. The mega-pastors, narcissists who rule despotic, cult-like fiefdoms, make millions of dollars by using this heretical belief system to prey on the mounting despair and desperation of their congregations, victims of neoliberalism and deindustrialization. These believers find in Donald Trump a reflection of themselves, a champion of the unfettered greed, cult of masculinity, lust for violence, white supremacy, bigotry, American chauvinism, religious intolerance, anger, racism and conspiracy theories that define the central beliefs of the Christian right. When I wrote “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” I was deadly serious about the term “fascists.”

….

Tens of millions of Americans live hermetically sealed inside the vast media and educational edifice controlled by Christian fascists. In this world, miracles are real, Satan, allied with secular humanists and Muslims, is seeking to destroy America, and Trump is God’s anointed vessel to build the Christian nation and cement into place a government that instills “biblical values.” These “biblical values” include banning abortion, protecting the traditional family, turning the Ten Commandments into secular law, crushing “infidels,” especially Muslims, indoctrinating children in schools with “biblical” teachings and thwarting sexual license, which includes any sexual relationship other than in a marriage between a man and a woman. Trump is routinely compared by evangelical leaders to the biblical king Cyrus, who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and restored the Jews to the city.

….

The ideology of the Christian fascists panders in our decline to the primitive yearnings for the vengeance, new glory and moral renewal that are found among those pushed aside by deindustrialization and austerity. Reason, facts and verifiable truth are impotent weapons against this belief system. The Christian right is a “crisis cult.” Crisis cults arise in most collapsing societies. They promise, through magic, to recover the lost grandeur and power of a mythologized past. This magical thinking banishes doubt, anxiety and feelings of disempowerment. Traditional social hierarchies and rules, including an unapologetic white, male supremacy, will be restored. Rituals and behaviors including an unquestioning submission to authority and acts of violence to cleanse the society of evil will vanquish malevolent forces.

….

Christian fascism is an emotional life raft for tens of millions. It is impervious to the education, dialogue and discourse the liberal class naively believes can blunt or domesticate the movement. The Christian fascists, by choice, have severed themselves from rational thought. We will not placate or disarm this movement, bent on our destruction, by attempting to claim that we too have Christian “values.” This appeal only strengthens the legitimacy of the Christian fascists and weakens our own. We will transform American society to a socialist system that provides meaning, dignity and hope to all citizens, that cares and nurtures the most vulnerable among us, or we will become the victims of the Christian fascists we created.

— Chris Hedges, Truthdig, Onward, Christian Fascists, December 30, 2019

Check Out Randy Withers’ Review of The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser

worst blog

Randy Withers, a licensed professional counselor and clinical addictions specialist, recently wrote a review of The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser. Randy wrote:

Bruce Gerencser is an avid and prolific blogger who lives in rural Ohio with his wife of more than four decades. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for 25 years in three different states but left the ministry in 2005. In 2008 he left Christianity as well. He now considers himself a humanist and an atheist.

His blog is about that journey, and why and how he chose the path he did. His blog, by the way, is enormous. He’s got something like 3,000 separate entries. I mean, good lord.

Bruce Gerencser is my hero. For one thing, he’s got a huge readership, many of whom are pissed off Evangelicals who seem to believe that Bruce just needs a stern talking to about his errant ways.

Bruce does a great job of interacting with his readers in the comment section of his blog, which he both reads and moderates. I’m impressed by this, given the sheer vitriol that many of his Christian readers express towards some of his life decisions. He has the patience of Job (sorry for the reference, Bruce), and a matter-of-fact wit that is straight-up hysterical.

You can read the rest of the review here.

I appreciate Randy’s kind and thoughtful words. Finally, someone who appreciates my sense of humor.  As far as his critique of this site’s ancient theme, he is right. Readers can expect a new theme and design in the near future — that is, if the rapture doesn’t take place first. Well, come to think of it, I will be left behind when Jesus comes to gather up his chosen ones, so I’ll have plenty of time to work on a new theme.

Please check out Randy’s website, especially 10 of the Absolute Best Mental Health Blogs You Need to Start Reading in 2020.

Here’s to a mentally healthy 2020.

2019: By the Numbers

blogging

What follows are the traffic statistics for 2019.

Statistics

Page Views: 851,666
Mailing List Subscribers: 931
Posts Written: 661
Posts from December 2014 to Date: 4,174
Comments from December 2014 to Date: 24,781

Top Twenty Commenters

  1. ObstacleChick
  2. Brian
  3. Brunetto Latini
  4. GeoffT
  5. Karen the Rock Whisperer
  6. Caroline
  7. Becky
  8. Mary G
  9. Matilda
  10. Hugh Young
  11. Melissa Montana
  12. Zoe
  13. Troy
  14. Kris
  15. CarolK
  16. Angiep
  17. Ami
  18. That Other Jean
  19. John Arthur
  20. Dave

Top Ten Incoming Links

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  3. pathos.com
  4. reddit.com
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  6. secularwings.wordpress.com
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  8. twitter.com
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  10. instagram.com

Top Ten Locales

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  4. Seattle, Washington
  5. Minneapolis, Minnesota
  6. New York, New York
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  9. Atlanta, Georgia
  10. Washington, District of Columbia

Top Fifty Pages

  1. brucegerencser.net
  2. Bethel Redding: A Dangerous Evangelical Cult
  3. Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls
  4. Evangelical Pastor Dean Curry Starts New Church After Being Fired Over Sexual Misconduct
  5. About page
  6. Why I Hate Jesus
  7. Beware of Christian Counselors
  8. Cindy Schaap, Daughter of Jack Hyles, Divorces Convicted Felon Jack Schaap
  9. The Scandalous Life of Jack Hyles and Why it Still Matters
  10. “Why Do Liberals Think Trump Supporters Are Stupid?” by Adam-Troy Castro
  11. Black Collar Crime: IFB Pastor Jon Jenkins Moves to New Church After Decades of Controversy
  12. Evangelicals and the Gay Closet: Is Ray Boltz Still a Christian?
  13. Dear Evangelical
  14. Why
  15. UPDATED: Serial Adulterer David Hyles Has Been Restored
  16. Quote of the Day: Why Atheists Refuse to Respect Christian Beliefs
  17. Southern Gospel Singer Kenny Bishop is Now a Gay United Church of Christ Pastor
  18. Disgraced IFB Preacher David Hyles Helping “Fallen” Pastors Get Back on Their Horses
  19. Black Collar Crime: Independent Baptist Worship Pastor Kurt Stephens Busted in Prostitution Sting
  20. Black Collar Crime: Pastor Cameron Giovanelli Resurrects From the Dead, Found in Florida
  21. Emotionally Manipulating IFB Church Members through Music and Preaching Styles
  22. Black Collar Crime: IFB School Teacher Shannon Griffin Charged with Sexual Assault
  23. Black Collar Crime: IFB Preacher Cameron Giovanelli Accused of Sexual Assault
  24. Black Collar Crime Series
  25. Pastor Perry Porter Outraged Over Gay Man Giving A Presentation at Local Library
  26. Breaking News: IFB Preacher Bob Gray, Sr. Admits to Driving Church Members
  27. Black Collar Crime: Hyles-Anderson College Teacher Joe Combs Sentenced for Raping His Daughter
  28. Black Collar Crime: Mother of Alleged Victim of Evangelical Children’s Pastor Matt Tonne Speaks Out
  29. Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Benjamin “Gus” Harter Accused of Molesting Girl
  30. Steven Anderson’s “New” IFB Movement Erupts Into a Food Fight Over Donnie Romero
  31. Contact (Over eighty percent of people who click on the contact link do not follow through and hit send.)
  32. Abby Johnson is a Hypocrite When it Comes to Abortion
  33. Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Rick Iglesias Accused of Sexual Assault
  34. The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook
  35. From Evangelicalism to Atheism Series
  36. Why Evangelical Christianity is Dying
  37. Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Eric Garland Charged with Prescription Fraud
  38. The David Hyles Saga
  39. Black Collar Crime: Mennonite Aid Worker Jeriah Mast Accused of Sex Crimes
  40. IFB Pastor Bob Gray Sr. Shows His True Colors
  41. Good Baptist Boys Don’t Masturbate: Oh Yes, They Do!
  42. Samantha Bee Shows Evangelical Trump Advisor Paula White is a Con-Artist
  43. Ohio Baptist Megachurch Pastor Victor Couzens Admits Having Multiple Affairs
  44. Fundamentalist Pastor Greg Locke Justifies Divorce From His Wife
  45. IFB Preacher Donnie Romero Caught Cavorting With Prostitutes, Smoking Weed, and Gambling
  46. IFB Church Member Takes Issue With a Post I Wrote about Tony Hutson and Middle Tennessee Baptist Church
  47. Comment Policy
  48. Understanding Steven Anderson, Pastor Faithful Word Baptist Church, Tempe, Arizona
  49. What One IFB Apologist Thinks of People Who Claim They Were Abused
  50. Why Pentecostals Speak in Tongues and Baptists Don’t

Top Twenty-Five Searches

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Search Engines Used

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Operating Systems

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Over 65% of visitors use a smartphone or tablet.

Here’s to a numerically successful 2020.

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.

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