Religion

Polite Evangelicals and What They Really Believe

politeness

Most Evangelicals are polite, kind, decent people. Most Evangelicals are nothing like hate mongers Bryan Fischer, Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, or the local street preacher. Most Evangelicals try to get along with others and do their best to integrate into society. When I go to the store to shop, buy groceries, get my car repaired, etc. I know that the most of the people waiting on me are Christian. And here in God’s country, most of them are Evangelical.

But, here’s the thing. Behind the polite, kind, decent, loving faces are hateful, judgmental beliefs. As I stated awhile back, there is little difference between the beliefs of the late Fred Phelps and Baptist seminary president and preacher Al Mohler. The beliefs of the Phelps clan and Westboro Baptist Church are not much different from the beliefs of the Duggars. Some may smile and be polite and others might angrily scream, but both believe that every non-Christian who dies will go to hell and be tortured by God for eternity. I recently wrote about this in a post titled What Kind of Christian Are You?

Ana Marie Cox, a writer for the The Daily Beast, wrote an article that exposes polite Evangelicalism for what it is:

The fight over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act has pulled back the curtain on the Polite Right.

Beltway-centric but not moderate, these cautious spokesmen for civility do not practice your drunk uncle’s bigotry. They endorse a more soft-spoken and socially acceptable kind of prejudice. This prejudice comes clothed in talk of tolerance and piety, appeals to fairness and freedom. 

They talk about faith and religious rights but what defenders of the pre-“fix” RFRA really wanted was the privilege of condoning bigotry without actually being associated with it. It’s more than a rhetorical sleight of hand to turn denial of service into an “infringement upon religious practice.” It’s Solomon sawing Lady Justice in half. Such an argument insists that theologically-condoned discrimination is somehow less hurtful than the normal, not-God-approved form. “You can still get married!” and “You can continue to deny service to those you see as morally unfit!” do not cancel each other out.

Indeed, many of those who supported Indiana’s original law recognized this—that denying service to gay couples is an impediment to their gaining full civil rights. The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, for one. Fischer is a nationally-syndicated radio host, not simply a lone fruitcake, even though the next exit down from his particular brand of crazy is the Westboro Baptist Church: His Twitter feed is full of references to “the Church of the Rainbow Jihad,” “same-sex cakes,” the “Gay Gestapo,” and several warnings that “Big Gay is not about ‘marriage equality’ but ‘homosexual supremacy.’”

It’s easy to mock the idea of “Big Gay” (what a size queen!), but Fischer’s logic is the perfect mirror to the argument of the law’s critics. All you have to do is scale down the hyperbole, and read “full civil rights” where Fischer fears “gay rule.” Indiana’s RFRA was intended to hamper the progress of “Big Gay and the Homosexual Supremacy” (my favorite Motown band). If the original RFRA had been implemented, the civil rights for LGTB individuals would have been diminished…

…The Polite Right wants nothing to do with Fischer. When I drew attention to his Twitter timeline, the proudly reasonable conservatives that populate the Acela Corridor were offended. They demanded that I acknowledge that Fischer is not representative of all conservatives, or even all defenders of the law—and that’s true, in the sense that Polite Right would never sully themselves with such obvious homophobia…

But while it’s Bryan Fischer’s rhetoric that makes him so amusingly offensive, it’s his logic and his goals that demand an answer from those who are aligned with him as far as the RFRA goes. In other words: I believe my friends on the Polite Right when they say they don’t hate gay people; but when it comes to the RFRA, I am not convinced that emotional or theological context is less important than acts of discrimination itself. 

Put another way: Two different Christian bakery owners both refuse to bake a cake for two different gay weddings. One bakery owner says that’s because he believes gay people are sinful sodomites that regularly recruit and molest children. The other says she loves and respects gay people but “just can’t participate in a ceremony that goes against my faith.” The Indiana RFRA was written to protect both bakers, not just the nice one.

Of course, both sides of the debate have their drunk uncles. On the left, it was a bunch of randy Yelpers and rageful Twitterers that embarrassed the more selectively outraged RFRA critics. The Memories Pizza owners turned out to be the nice, presentable sort of discriminators, and some of their online critics went overboard in expressing their upset…

…I’m proud to live in a society where being accused of bigotry is itself offensive. I like it that decent people don’t want to be associated with obvious homophobes. But the polite solution to an association with an obvious homophobe isn’t to simply deny the relationship—it’s to ask yourself what you have in common.

The problem is that Bryan Fischer and the Polite Right want the same thing, for the same reasons, even if they use very different language to make their case. They’re activist allies, joined at the hip whether they like it or not. You might even say they’re married.

Let’s not pretend that smiling, polite Evangelicals don’t have reprehensible beliefs. Behind their façade are beliefs that promote hate, bigotry, and discrimination. But, Bruce I am an Evangelical and I support the gay community in their quest for equal protection under the law. I think global warming is real, hell is a myth, and I hate how many of my fellow Evangelicals behave. Fine, let me ask you this: why do you remain in the Evangelical church? Why do you continue to support beliefs and practices you object to? Perhaps it is time for you to exit stage left and move on to religious confines where love, equality, and respect for all are the rule. Are we not judged by those we keep company with?  Silence is consent. If you truly love others and desire equality for all, how can you remain silent or support sects, churches, and pastors who preach hate, bigotry, and discrimination?

Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist

god made me an atheist

The Bible gives some pretty good advice about counting the cost in Luke 14:28-30:

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.

Who starts a building project without first counting the cost? The key phrase here is counting the cost. Every choice we make has a consequence. I think a loose definition of Newton’s Law of motion applies here: every action causes a reaction.  Foolish is the person who does not consider the consequences of saying for the first time to family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, I AM AN ATHEIST.

When I left Christianity and the ministry, my wife came along with me. Polly was a few steps behind, but close enough that we could hold hands. We spent many hours reading books and having long discussions about the past, the Bible, and Christianity in general. Bart Ehrman was nightly pillow talk for many months. When we finally came to the place where we said to one another “we are no longer Christians”, we knew that telling our family, friends, and acquaintances would cause a huge uproar. What should we do?

Polly decided to take the quiet approach, keeping her thoughts to herself. When asked she would answer and try to explain, but if people didn’t ask she felt no obligation to out herself. She still operates by that principle. There are people she works with who likely think she still goes to church on Sunday and  is a fine Christian woman. Just last week, a woman Polly has worked with for 15 years asked her if she was going to church on Easter. Polly replied, no. Her co-worker then asked, so do you go to church? Polly replied, no. And that was that. I am sure the gossip grapevine is buzzing. Did you know Polly doesn’t go to church? Why her husband is a pastor! And they don’t go to church? Never mind that the woman asking the questions hasn’t been to church in 8 years. She stays home, watches “Christian” TV, and sends money to the TV preachers she likes.

I took the nuclear approach. I wrote an open letter to my friends, family, and former parishioners. This was totally in character for me. I am an all in kind of guy. In Dear Family, Friends and Former Parishioners, I wrote:

I have come to a place in life where I can no longer put off writing this letter. I have dreaded this day because I know what is likely to follow after certain people receive it. I have decided I can’t control how others will react to this letter, so it is far more important to clear the air and make sure everyone knows the facts about Bruce Gerencser.

I won’t bore you with a long, drawn out history of my life. I am sure each of you have an opinion about how I have lived my life and the decisions I have made. I also have an opinion about how I have lived my life and and decisions I have made. I am my own worst critic.

Religion, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life, from my youth up. My being is so intertwined with religion that the two are quite inseparable. My life has been shaped and molded by religion and religion touches virtually ever fiber of my being.

I have spent most of my adult life pastoring Churches, preaching, and being involved in religious work to some degree or another. I have pastored thousands of people over the years, preached thousands of sermons, and participated in, and led, thousands of worship services.

To say that the Church was my life would be an understatement.  As I have come to see, the Church was actually my mistress and my adulterous affair with her was at the expense of my wife, children, and my own self-worth.

Today, I am publicly announcing that the affair is over. My wife and children have known for a long time that the affair was over, but now everyone will know.

The Church robbed me of so much of my life and I have no intention of allowing her to have one more moment of my time. Life is too short. I am dying. We all are. I don’t want to waste what is left of my life chasing after things I now see to be vain and empty.

I have always been known as a reader, a student of the Bible. I have read thousands of books in my lifetime and the knowledge gained from my reading and studies have led me to some conclusions about religion, particularly the Fundamentalist, Evangelical religion that played such a prominent part in my life.

I can no longer wholeheartedly embrace the doctrines of the Evangelical, Fundamentalist faith. I do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture nor do I accept as fact the common Evangelical belief of the inspiration of Scripture.

Coming to this conclusion has forced me to reevaluate many of the doctrines I have held as true over these many years. I have concluded that I have been misinformed, poorly taught, and sometimes lied to. I can no longer accept as true many of the doctrines  I once believed.

I point the finger of blame at no one. I sincerely believed and taught the things that I did and many of the men who taught me were honorable teachers. I don’t blame those who have influenced me over the years, nor do  I blame the authors of the many books I have read. Simply, it is what it is…

The backlash from my letter was immediate and severe. Keep in mind I was not yet an atheist. All I said was that I could no longer embrace the teachings of Christianity. I was agnostic when it came to God question. I still had lots of doubts and questions.

The reaction of my family and Polly’s family was the hardest to bear. For the most part they said nothing. To this day, some family members, including Polly’s parents,  have not said one word to us about our defection from Christianity. It’s like there’s a huge elephant in the room that no one can see but us. Six plus years of silence.

My friends and fellow pastors took to writing me letters, sending me emails, visiting me, preaching about me, and having prayer meetings focused on praying me back into the fold. The level of nastiness and judgmentalism was overwhelming. During this time, a long-time friend and parishioner turned pastor came to see me. I wrote about his visit in A Letter to a Friend. In the letter I wrote:

You got my letter.

I am certain that my letter troubled you and caused you to wonder what in the world was going on with Bruce.

You have been my friend since 1983. When I met you for the first time I was a young man pastoring a new Church in Somerset, Ohio. I remember you and your dear wife vividly because you put a 100.00 bill in the offering plate. Up to that point we had never seen a 100.00 bill in the offering plate.

And so our friendship began. You helped us buy our first Church bus (third picture below). You helped us buy our Church building (second picture below). In later years you gave my wife and I a generous gift to buy a mobile home. It was old, but we were grateful to have our own place to live in. You were a good friend.

Yet, our common bond was the Christianity we both held dear. I doubt you would have done any of the above for the local Methodist minister, whom we both thought was an apostate.

I baptized you and was privileged to be your pastor on and off over my 11 years in Somerset. You left several times because our doctrinal beliefs conflicted, you being an Arminian and I being a Calvinist.

One day you came to place where you believed God was leading you to abandon your life work, farming, and enter the ministry. I was thrilled for you. I also said to myself, “now Bill can really  see what the ministry is all about!”

So you entered the ministry and you are now a pastor of a thriving fundamentalist Church. I am quite glad you found your place in life and are endeavoring to do what you believe is right. Of course, I would think the same of you if you were still farming.

You have often told me that much of what you know about the ministry I taught you. I suppose, to some degree or another, I must take credit for what you have become. (whether I view it as good or bad)

Yesterday, you got into your Lincoln and drove three plus hours to see me. I wish you had called first. I had made up my mind to make up some excuse why I couldn’t see you, but since you came unannounced I had  no other option but to open and the door and warmly welcome you. Just like always…

I have never wanted to hurt you or cause you to lose your faith. I would rather you not know the truth about me than to hurt you in any way.

But your visit forced the issue. I had no choice.

Why did you come to my home? I know you came as my friend, but it seemed by the time our three-hour discussion ended our friendship had died and I was someone you needed to pray for, that I might be saved. After all, in your Arminian theology there can be no question that a person with beliefs such as mine has fallen from grace…

During the first few months after my initial letter, I heard from Laura Hardman, the wife of Evangelist Don Hardman. She bared her fangs and let me know that it was quite evident that I NEVER was a Christian.

About two years after the  Dear  Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners letter I wrote:

Almost two years ago I sent my friends, family and former parishioners a letter concerning my decision to deconvert from Christianity. I wish I could say my letter was well received.  I wish I could say that people told me they supported my decision. I wish I could say I have been treated in a kind and respectful manner.

But I can’t.

A longtime friend of mine, Bill Beard, pastor of Lighthouse Memorial Church, drove over three hours to my home to talk (argue) with me about my deconversion. He and I had been friends for over 25 years.

Laura Hardman, wife of Evangelist Don Hardman, wrote me a scathing letter telling me that I never was a real Christian, I had been friends with the Hardmans for over 20 years.I wrote them back and I have not head from them since.

Friends of mine for over 40 years, missionaries with Child Evangelism Fellowship, wrote to me and told me I was under the influence of Satan. They sent me literature to read. I returned it with a letter of my own. They never wrote back.

I stumbled upon a forum discussion about me. They were discussing what to do about Bruce.

I have received numerous emails from former parishioners telling me of the errors of my ways.  Some of them are deeply troubled about how this could happen.  How could their pastor now be an agnostic who doesn’t believe in the Bible or God?

A few former parishioners took it upon themselves to tell me their conclusions about me. Many of them mentioned my reading habits. They told me I read too many books and they suggested I just read the Bible.

Two former parishioners wrote to tell me that though they disagreed with me, they loved me and were my friend. I really appreciated their love and friendship.

I hear bits and pieces of the gossip about me that is floating around Bryan and Defiance. People questioning whether or not  I was ever a Christian. Some raise issues about my mental stability. One thing they never do? Talk to me personally.

My adult children have to field questions at work about their apostate father. Once again, the questioners never talk to me personally.

It is not much better on the family front.

Silence is how family has decided to deal with me. It’s like I never wrote the letter about deconverting from Christianity. Behind the scenes there is a lot of gossip about me and what to do about the Bruce matter. Last Christmas, the patriarch of the family, a pastor of 40 plus years, was intent on confronting me about my apostasy. I am grateful my mother-in-law quashed his plan to confront me. It would have been ugly.  I mean ugly, ugly.

My wife decided that we could no longer do Christmas at her parent’s home. The stress and undercurrent are such that it is impossible to “enjoy” time with the family during the Christmas holiday. (we do go to visit when the extended family is not there)

I wish I could tell you that I came through all of this unscathed, but I can’t. I decided to seek out a counselor two years ago. I knew I needed to talk to someone about the pain and deep wound I was carrying as a result of my defection from Christianity. I still see a counselor every few weeks. His work with me has been extremely helpful and has enabled me to move forward and away from the past. The scars remain. The viciousness of people who say they are followers of the man who said turn the other cheek and love your enemy has scarred me. Every time a fundamentalist spews his bile on this blog I am reminded of the deep wound I carry. I am also reminded that I am glad to be free from such an ugly, vile, and vicious belief system and way of life.

So how are things now?

Some family members are still silent. Perhaps they will never ask, inquire, or attempt to engage me in a discussion. I think some people are intimidated by me, so they avoid the elephant in the room. Others fear I might cause them to doubt or lose their faith, so they avoid all contact with me. I have come to accept this. I wish they would talk to me, but I know I can’t force the issue and I leave it alone.

All but two of Christian friends have abandoned me. I don’t blame them. I have come to see that our friendship was held together by fidelity to certain beliefs. Remove the beliefs and the friendship dissolves. If I came back to the Christian faith, I would instantly have dozen of friends. I would be lauded as the Preacher reclaimed From the Devil’s Clutches. Hmm…there is money to be made…

If I had to do it all over again would I do it the same way? Would I write THE letter? Probably. My experiences have given me knowledge that is helpful to people who contact me about their own doubts about Christianity. I am often asked, what should I do? Should I tell my spouse?Should I tell my family, friends, or coworkers?

My standard advice is this: Count the cost. Weigh carefully the consequences. Once you utter or write the words I AM AN ATHEIST you are no longer in control of what happens next.  Are you willing to lose your friends, destroy your marriage, or lose your job? Only you can decide what cost you are willing to pay.

I know there is this notion “Dammit I should be able to freely declare what I am” and I agree with the sentiment. We should be able to freely be who and what we are. If we lived on a deserted island I suppose we could do so. However, we are surrounded by people. People we love. People we want and need in our life. Because of this, it behooves (Shout out to the KJV)  us to tread carefully.

I hope some of you will find this post helpful. My deepest desire is to help you on your journey. I am hoping that my walking before you can be of help to you as you decide how best to deal with and embrace your loss of faith.

This blog is here to remind those struggling with leaving Christianity or who have already left Christianity, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Easter: Fact, Fiction, or a Great Story?

Here’s an infographic by Jericho Brisance ( Matt Barsotti) that accurately reflects the challenges and difficulties facing Bible readers when they attempt to determine exactly what happened on the first Easter Sunday. I appreciate Matt’s hard work in putting this infographic together.

jericho brisance easter chart

Click to display and download full size graphic 1280×5376 Click on graphic to expand to full size

Taking Easter Seriously Infographic by Jericho Brisance (website no longer active)

Is the Church of Scientology a Religion?

tom cruise church of scientology

Tom Cruise, speaking at the opening of a Scientology church in Madrid.

Is the Church of Scientology a religion? No, the Evangelical indignantly says. They are a cult. Do you know what they believe, Bruce? Why they believe:

75 million years ago there was an intergalactic ruler called Xenu (Zee – Noo) who had a population problem that made China look pathetic. To get round this little hiccup, Xenu enlisted the help of evil psychiatrists to drug a whole shit ton of aliens, freeze them in ice, and then load them onto space planes that looked suspiciously like a common airliner of the 1950’s – the DC-8 Comet (only painted all shiny like and with space rockets)

The aliens got shipped to earth, where they were dropped in and around volcanoes (just stick with it, it gets better), at which point Xenu detonated a crap load of nukes just in case the volcanoes didnt finish the job.

The alien souls, or “Thetans” (Fay-Tans) soon started drifting upwards, but the wise and mighty Xenu had forseen this, and cunningly built electric fences. Cos y’know, electric fences are good at catching souls?

The Thetans were then brainwashed for a considerable period of time before being set loose, where they roamed about all confused and dazed. Eventually they latched on to early mankind, and are now the source of all our confusion.

Surely, even you,Bruce, can see that Scientology is a whacked out, crazy false religion. Not really. Is the central tenets of Scientology any different from the core beliefs of Christianity? The only difference between the two is that one has been around 60+ years and the other has been around 2,000 years.

In a recent The Daily Beast interview, Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson had this to say about Scientology and religion in general:

I’m curious what your take on Scientology is, because the intergalactic story of Xenu does encroach on your territory a bit.

So, you have people who are certain that a man in a robe transforms a cracker into the literal body of Jesus saying that what goes on in Scientology is crazy? Let’s realize this: What matters is not who says who’s crazy, what matters is we live in a free country. You can believe whatever you want, otherwise it’s not a free country—it’s something else. If we start controlling what people think and why they think it, we have case studies where that became the norm. I don’t care what the tenets are of Scientology. They don’t distract me. I don’t judge them, and I don’t criticize them.

Now, where the rubber hits the road is, since we are a free country where belief systems are constitutionally protected—provided they don’t infringe on the rights of others—then how do you have governance over “all” when you have belief systems for the “some”? It seems to me that the way you govern people is you base governance on things that are objectively true; that are true regardless of your belief system, or no matter what the tenets are of your holy documents. And then they should base it on objective truths that apply to everyone. So the issue comes about not that there are religious people in the world that have one view over another, it’s if you have one view or another based on faith and you want to legislate that in a way that affects everyone. That’s no longer a free democracy. That’s a country where the few who have a belief system that’s not based in objective reality want to control the behavior of everyone else.

The documentary essentially argues that Scientology shouldn’t be granted tax-exempt status as a religion.

But why aren’t they a religion? What is it that makes them a religion and others are religions? If you attend a Seder, there’s an empty chair sitting right there and the door is unlocked because Elijah might walk in. OK. These are educated people who do this. Now, some will say it’s ritual, some will say it could literally happen. But religions, if you analyze them, who is to say that one religion is rational and another isn’t? It looks like the older those thoughts have been around, the likelier it is to be declared a religion. If you’ve been around 1,000 years you’re a religion, and if you’ve been around 100 years, you’re a cult. That’s how people want to divide the kingdom. Religions have edited themselves over the years to fit the times, so I’m not going to sit here and say Scientology is an illegitimate religion and other religions are legitimate religions. They’re all based on belief systems. Look at Mormonism! There are ideas that are as space-exotic within Mormonism as there are within Scientology, and it’s more accepted because it’s a little older than Scientology is, so are we just more accepting of something that’s older?

The line I’m drawing is that there are religions and belief systems, and objective truths. And if we’re going to govern a country, we need to base that governance on objective truths—not your personal belief system.

Tyson sums up my view quite well. Each to their own, but keep it to yourself and keep your damn hands off the government.

The Bankruptcy of the Evangelical Gospel

evangelical gospel

It’s Easter.

The real reason for Easter is___________________?

Come on kiddies, you know the answer.

Easter egg hunts?

Chocolate rabbits?

Candy?

Dyed eggs?

Candy?

Candy?

Candy?

No,silly. Easter is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus!

I subscribe to a number of Evangelical newsletters and blogs. Some days, I want to pull my hair out or bang my forehead on the table as I read about the latest threat to modern civilization or the persecution American Christians are facing because they have to treat gays like they are human. I laugh, cuss, and shake my head, but I must continue to wade through the bovine waste river if I plan to be an informed and literate writer. It’s my cross to bear.

I subscribe to the One Million Moms newsletter. One Million Moms is an arm of The American Family Association (AFA). Million Mommies is what what I call the female outrage wing of AFA. They focus on boycotting companies that advertise of TV shows they think are offensive, immoral, or anti-Christian. Their website lists the current outrages and companies who have changed their ways due to a Million Mommies boycott or letter writing campaign. They are well-organized, avid letter writers, and by all accounts, sexually frustrated.

Monica Cole is the director of One Million Moms. Cole sent out the weekly Million Mommies newsletter today. It is different from others I have received in the past. No call to action, no letters to write, no boycott. In other words, none of the usual Million Mommies stuff. Cole, concerned for sinners like you and I, made this week’s newsletter all about Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, and the Christian gospel. She hopes readers will forward it on to lost friends and family members:

If you know of someone who is not saved, please pass this on to them. Share the greatest gift of all with them: a relationship with Jesus Christ and eternal life. Also, share this with your brothers and sisters in Christ so they may use this to share with others. God commands that we share the gospel with others. We need to help one another become passionate followers of Jesus Christ.

What I found interesting is how Cole explains the gospel and salvation, Here’s what Cole thinks the gospel is and what a sinner should do to find salvation:

Resurrection Sunday is a time to Rejoice! Jesus paid a debt for us that no one else could ever pay so that we could be in heaven with Him for eternity. God gave the perfect sacrifice, His only Son, and if we believe in Him, then we will be forgiven and saved from our sins.

To be saved, you must believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for EVERYONE’S sins, including your own, and receive Him as your personal Savior so that one day you can be with our Heavenly Father. If you believe Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, you will also need to admit you are a sinner – as we all are. Romans 3:23 KJV says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” If you have never confessed your sin and belief in Christ, take time to do it right now. Jesus is the only way to be saved from your sins and receive eternal life.

On the third day, he rose again from the dead. This is the Good News that Christians celebrate: His Resurrection! He is ALIVE! And one day our Savior will return. He, and only He, sets us free from our sins! “Jesus saith unto him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.’” John 14:6 KJV

The birth of Jesus is wonderful, but the resurrection is even more exciting. It is the finale to the Christmas story. Jesus accomplished what he came for. Jesus’ last words before dying on the cross were documented in John 19:30 as, “It is finished.” He knew that all was now completed and that Scripture would be fulfilled. To suggest that more needs to be done to earn your way to heaven is the same as saying Jesus died for nothing. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9 KJV

Nails were not what held Jesus to the cross. Jesus had the power to come down from that cross, but He knew this is what had to be done for His believers to be saved. He died on the cross for you and me because of His love for us. He loved us that much! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 KJV

According to Cole, to be saved, one must believe and do the following:

  • Admit that Jesus died on the cross for their sins
  • Admit that they are a sinner
  • Receive Him (Jesus) as their personal Savior

If a person will do this they will:

  • Be saved from their sins
  • Receive eternal life
  • One day live with the Heavenly Father

That’s it!

Man, I am sooooo glad I did this 43 years ago. My reservation is booked and I am ready to go when Jesus either calls my name or comes in the clouds to get me. I many be an atheist, but I sincerely prayed the sinner’s prayer. I’m good to go, right?

Sadly, this is the bankrupt gospel preached in thousands of Evangelical and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. It is the gospel preached by the likes of Jack Hyles, Bob Gray, Billy Graham, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and most Evangelical mega church pastors.  It is a gospel that requires nothing more than sincerity and mental assent to a set of facts.

I call this gospel the 1-2-3 repeat after me gospel. In theological terms, it is called decisional regeneration or easy believism. That I can still be considered a Christian should be offensive to every follower of Jesus, yet many people think that I am still a Christian and heaven will someday be my eternal home. I might lose some rewards or my mansion might not be as nice as Charles Spurgeon’s, but my future is secure, all because I prayed the prayer.

By stringing a bunch of Bible verses together, many Evangelical churches and pastors have reduced the Christian gospel to meaningless drivel. Being a Christian should meaning something.  Isn’t  the essence of the Christian gospel following after Jesus? Can someone really be a Christian if they aren’t following Jesus, if they aren’t committed to believing and practicing his teachings?

Part of the problem is that there are at least four plans of salvation in the Bible. In the Old Testament, salvation was procured through keeping the law and blood sacrifice. In the New Testament, we have the gospel of Jesus, the gospel of Paul, the gospel of Peter, and the gospel of James. Each of these New Testament gospels is different from the others, and this is why there are so many Christian sects. Which gospel a sect, church, or pastor emphasizes determines what a person must do to be a Christian.

Here in the 21st century, the gospel of Paul rules the salvation roost. Some sects, churches, and pastors try to merge Paul’s gospel with the others, resulting in a hybrid gospel. But, if being a Christian means following Jesus, shouldn’t HIS gospel be the one preached in Christian churches? Why do so few churches preach Jesus’s gospel? Why do they focus on Paul’s gospel and doctrine and not Jesus’s gospel?  Could the reason be that Jesus focused on how a person lives and not what a person believes?

Take the sermon on the mount. Did Jesus preach anything remotely similar to Monica Cole’s gospel or the gospel that will be preached at countless Christian churches this Sunday? He did not. Jesus preached a gospel of works, a gospel that callsed on people to forsake their nets, family, and everything they held dear and follow after him. Jesus didn’t say to those gathered on the mount to hear him: say you are sorry for your sins and promise to believe in me after I die on the cross. He didn’t ask Jews to ask Jesus into their heart or walk down the aisle and make a public profession of faith. Compare what Jesus preached in Matthew 5-7 with what is preached in the average Evangelical church. The contrast couldn’t be starker. Jesus called to people and said follow me. Evangelicals call to people and say, believe these facts, pray this prayer.

I think the sermon on the mount is Jesus’s manifesto. He wanted to make sure people understood what it meant to be his follower. Any casual observer of Evangelicalism can see that the gospel preached by Jesus does not remotely resemble what is preached in many Evangelical churches. And it’s not just an Evangelical problem. Mainline and Catholic churches birthed generation after generation of nominal, name-only Christianity. What we really have in America is cultural Christianity, a Christianity that bears little resemblance to its founder.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus is quite clear about the essence of his gospel. Notice what he said:

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Sheep and Goats. Saved and Lost. Everlasting Punishment and Life Eternal. All determined, not by what a person believes, but by how they live. Evangelicals have all kinds of explanations for this passage of scripture. It’s a difficult, complex passage, they say. Doesn’t seem that way to me. A literal reading of the text makes it clear: what separates the sheep/saved from the goats/lost is their works. Surely Jesus meant what he said, yes? Why all the ‘splaining and excuses? Why all the theological gymnastics?  Yes, Jesus contradicts Paul, but aren’t Christians followers of Jesus, not Paul?

The late Keith Green, an Evangelical from the Jesus People era, sang a song about Matthew 25. I still remember the ending: the only difference between these two groups of people is what they did and did not do!

I may be an atheist, but I admire and respect any Christian who takes seriously their faith and does their best to follow after Jesus. 

There are many mainline, progressive, and liberal Christians who think the essence of Christianity is loving God with their heart, soul, and mind and loving their neighbor. After all, Jesus did say that the law and prophets, the entire Bible at the time, hinged on two commands: love God, love humanity.

Matthew 22:34-40 says:

But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Jesus also had this to say in Matthew 7:

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

I think I speak for many atheists, agnostics, and non-Christians when I say, if the Christianity on display in America remotely resembled Jesus’s gospel, I suspect we wouldn’t have much to complain about. If Evangelicals focused on loving God and love humanity, the world would be a much better place. Instead, they focus on right beliefs, right morals, and right politics, and the result is what we see everywhere we look: hateful,mean, judgmental assholes who have no tolerance for any belief or way of life but their own. It is THIS Christianity that most of us find offensive.

Notes

No one should take this post as me saying that if Christianity was ______________, I would become a Christian. I think the historical foundation of Christianity is false and I can not envision a way of looking beyond what I know in order to “believe.”  That said, I do admire people who take serious the teachings of Jesus and do their best to love others. I can say the same for any religion or worldview. The proof of its value is determined by the works  of those who claim that particular religion as their own.

Keith Green? I am of the opinion that if he was still alive he likely would have left Evangelicalism, thoroughly disgusted with what it has become.

Songs of Sacrilege: Thank You God by Tim Minchin

This is the twelfth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Thank You God by Tim Minchin, a British-born Australian comedian, actor, and musician.

There is a comedy bit for the first 5 minutes. the song begins at the 5:25 mark.

Video Link

Lyrics

I have an apology to make
I’m afraid I’ve made a big mistake
I turned my face away from you, Lord

I was too blind to see the light
I was too meek to feel Your might
I closed my eyes; I couldn’t see the truth, Lord

But then like Saul on the Damascus road,
You sent a messenger to me, and so
Now I’ve have had the truth revealed to me
Please forgive me all those things I said
I’ll no longer betray you, Lord
I will pray to you instead

And I will say thank you, thank you
Thank you, God
Thank you, thank you
Thank you, God…

Thank you, God, for fixing the cataracts of Sam’s mum
I had no idea, but it’s suddenly so clear now
I feel such a cynic, how could I have been so wrong?
Thank you for displaying how praying works:
A particular prayer in a particular church
Thank you Sam for the chance to acknowledge this
Omnipotent ophthalmologist

Thank you, God, for fixing the cataracts of Sam’s mum
I didn’t realize that it was so simple
But you’ve shown a great example of just how it can be done
You only need to pray in a particular spot
To a particular version of a particular god,
And if you pull that off without a hitch,
He will fix one eye of one middle-class white bitch

I know in the past my outlook has been limited
I couldn’t see examples of where life had been definitive
But I can admit it when the evidence is clear,
As clear as Sam’s mum’s new cornea
(And that’s extremely clear! )

Thank you, God, for fixing the cataracts of Sam’s mum
I have to admit that in the past I have been skeptical
But Sam described this miracle and I am overcome!
How fitting that the sighting of a sight-based intervention
Should open my eyes to this exciting new dimension
It’s like someone put an eye chart up in front of me
And the top five letters say: I C, G O D

Thank you, Sam, for showing how my point of view has been so flawed
I assumed there was no God at all but now I see that’s cynical
It’s simply that his interests aren’t particularly broad
He’s largely undiverted by the starving masses,
Or the inequality between the various classes
He gives out strictly limited passes,
Redeemable for surgery or two-for-one glasses

I feel so shocking for historically mocking
Your interests are clearly confined to the ocular
I bet given the chance, you’d eschew the divine
And start a little business selling contacts online

Fuck me Sam, what are the odds
That of history’s endless parade of gods
That the God you just happened to be taught to believe in
Is the actual God and he digs on healing,
But not the AIDS-ridden African nations
Nor the victims of the plague, nor the flood-addled Asians,
But healthy, privately-insured Australians
With common and curable lens degeneration

The story of Sam’s has but a single explanation:
A surgical God who digs on magic operations
No, it couldn’t be mistaken attribution of causation
Born of a coincidental temporal correlation
Exacerbated by a general lack of education
Vis-a-vis physics in Sam’s parish congregation
No it couldn’t be that all these pious people are liars
It couldn’t be an artifact of confirmation bias
A product of groupthink,
A mass delusion,
An Emperor’s New Clothes-style fear of exclusion

No, it’s more likely to be an all-powerful magician
Than the misdiagnosis of the initial condition,
Or one of many cases of spontaneous remission,
Or a record-keeping glitch by the local physician

No, the only explanation for Sam’s mum’s seeing:
They prayed to an all-knowing superbeing,
To the omnipresent master of the universe,
And he quite liked the sound of their muttered verse.

So for a bit of a change from his usual stunt
Of being a sexist, racist, murderous cunt
He popped down to Dandenong and just like that
Used his powers to heal the cataracts of Sam’s mum
Of Sam’s mum

Thank you God for fixing the cataracts of Sam’s mum!
I didn’t realize that it was such a simple thing
I feel such a dingaling, what ignorant scum!

Now I understand a prayer can work:
A particular prayer in a particular church
In a particular style with a particular stuff
And for particular problems that aren’t particularly tough,
And for particular people, preferably white
And for particular senses, preferably sight
A particular prayer in a particular spot
To a particular version of a particular god

And if you get that right, he just might
Take a break from giving babies malaria
And pop down to your local area
And fix the cataracts of your mum!

Songs of Sacrilege: The Loophole by Garfunkel and Oates

This is the eleventh installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is The Loophole by Garfunkel and Oates. Garfunkel and Oates is an American comedy–folk duo from Los Angeles, California, consisting of actress–songwriters Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci. Warning! This song contains sexually explicit lyrics.

Lest anyone doubt the premise of this song, I know Christians who once believed anal and oral sex was not sinful. This is the natural conclusion of trying to develop a sexual ethic with a literal/fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.

 

Video Link

Lyrics

All my life I’ve been good
Do what my mom and dad and God say I should
Go to church and Bible School
To live by God’s rule

So whatever people tell me
That The Bible tells me
I will do

Walk the halls of high school with my purity ring
Unlike those other girls, I’ve got my morals in check
It was easy to do until I got a boyfriend
And pardon my French, but he’s cute as heck

But I made a pact
To keep my hymen intact
And Jesus and I are tight

Never learned about the birds and the bees
I was taught to keep an aspirin in between my knees
Cause The Bible says premarital sex is wrong
But Jason says that guys can’t wait that long

I don’t want to lose him
To someone who’ll do him
I need to figure something out

Well there’s a loophole in The Scripture that works really well
So I can get him off without going to hell
It’s my Hail Mary, full of grace
In Jesus’ name we go to fifth base!

Oh, thank you for making me holy
And thank you for giving me holes to choose from
And since I’m not a godless whore
He’ll have to come in the back door
Therefore

Fuck me in the ass cause I love Jesus
The good Lord would want it that way
Gimme that sweet sensation of a throbbing rationalization
It’s just between you and me
Cause everyone knows it’s the sex that God can’t see

It’s hard to be as pure as me
To resist the urge to lose my vaginal virginity
To wait until my marriage bed
To give my husband my unsullied maiden head

So take your cock out
Shove it in my ass
Fuck me until you come

Oops! I mean let’s join our souls
And unite our bodies
And fly with the wings of God

Whatever you do, don’t touch my clitoris
If you ring Satan’s doorbell, God can’t ignore this
And no prophylactics when you put it in
Cause birth control’s for sluts and it’s a sin

I’ve emptied my bowels
And laid out the towels
I’m ready for romance

Now I’m praying to the Power that’s the Highest
But of all of my holes, this ones the driest
And we can’t procreate if we anally copulate
And God is OK with sodomy, but only if you’re straight

And I’m staying pure, no matter what
So I’m OK with everything butt
Everything butt
Everything butt

Fuck me in the ass cause I love Jesus
The good Lord would want it that way
Gimme that sweet sensation of a rock hard rationalization
It’s just between you and me
Cause everyone knows it’s the sex that God can’t see

I do whatever The Bible tells me to
Except for the parts that I choose to ignore
Because they’re unrealistic and inconvenient
But the rest I live by for sure

So let’s not talk about how the Good Book bans shellfish, polyester and divorce
And how it condones slavery and killing gays because those parts don’t count, of course
Let’s cherry-pick the part about losing my cherry and mine it for ambiguities and omissions
To circumvent any real sacrifice, but still feel pious in my arbitrary parroted positions

And don’t you dare question my convictions
And don’t look closely at the contradictions
Just focus on the sacrificial crucifixion
And have faith in its complete jurisdiction

As the only way to measure if you’re good or not
And in a debate, just say to “have faith”
Because when you’re up against logic, it’s the only card you’ve got

So close your eyes
Take a deep breath
And..

Fuck me in the ass cause I love Jesus
The good Lord would want it that way
Gimme that sweet sensation of an irrational rationalization
It’s just between you and me
Cause everyone knows it’s the sex that God can’t see

Yeah, my chastity belt has locks
But sometimes you need to think outside the box

The Sodomite Suppression Act or Let’s Kill All the Gays

sodomy sickest sin on earth dennis corle

Book written by Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Evangelist Dennis Corle

Matt McGlaughlin, a Huntington Beach, California Christian Fundamentalist, has submitted a ballot initiative calling for all known Sodomites (homosexuals) to be executed. Yes, you read that right. Finally, a Christian willing to publicly state what many of the followers of Jesus think: that homosexuals are an abomination to the Christian God and don’t deserve to live. According to the Christian Bible:

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:13

But Bruce, that’s from the Old Testament and that law no longer applies. Well, you might want to let God know. God said,  “For I am the Lord, I change not…”  Isn’t Jesus (God) the same yesterday, today, and forever? If God approved of executing homosexuals thousands of years ago, what makes you think he wouldn’t approve of it now? Did God go through sensitivity training or did he find out that David, the man who loved God with all his heart, had a thing for Jonathan?

It looks that the State of California has pulled McGlaughlin’s ballot initiative. Fortunately, I was able to find a copy of it on the San Diego Gay & Lesbian News website:

a) The abominable crime against nature known as buggery, called also sodomy, is a monstrous evil that Almighty God, giver of freedom and liberty, commands us to suppress on pain of our utter destruction even as he overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.

b) Seeing that it is better that offenders should die rather than that all of us should be killed by God’s just wrath against us for the folly of tolerating wickedness in our midst, the People of California wisely command, in the fear of God, that any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.

c) No person shall distribute, perform, or transmit sodomistic propaganda directly or indirectly by any means to any person under the age of majority. Sodomistic propaganda is defined as anything aimed at creating an interest in or an acceptance of human sexual relations other than between a man and a woman. Every offender shall be fined $1 million per occurrence, and/or imprisoned up to 10 years, and/or expelled from the boundaries of the state of California for up to life.

d) No person shall serve in any public office, nor serve in public employment, nor enjoy any public benefit, who is a sodomite or who espouses sodomistic propaganda or who belongs to any group that does.

e) This law is effective immediately and shall not be rendered ineffective nor invalidated by any court, state or federal, until heard by a quorum of the Supreme Court of California consisting only of judges who are neither sodomites nor subject to disqualification hereunder.

f) The state has an affirmative duty to defend and enforce this law as written, and every member of the public has standing to seek its enforcement and obtain reimbursement for all costs and attorney’s fees in so doing, and further, should the state persist in inaction over 1 year after due notice, the general public is empowered and deputized to execute all the provisions hereunder extra-judicially, immune from any charge and indemnified by the state against any and all liability.

g) This law shall be known as “The Sodomite Suppression Act” and be numbered as section 39 in Title 3 of the Penal Code, pertaining to offences [sic] against the sovereignty of the state. The text shall be prominently posted in every public school classroom. All laws in conflict with this law are to that extent invalid.

Previously, McGlaughlin attempted to get an initiative on the ballot that would require the King James Bible be used as a textbook in California public schools.

111616

Americans Love Walkers More than They Love Jesus

walking dead zombies

Last Sunday, the National Geographic Channel showed the movie Killing Jesus, a TV version of Bill O’Reilly’s book of the same name. According to Neilson, 3.7 million viewers watched Killing Jesus, giving National Geographic its highest total viewership ever. This means that about 1.25% of Americans watched Killing Jesus. According to Wikipedia, as of February 2015, the National Geographic Channel is available “to approximately 86,144,000 pay television households (74% of households with television) in the United States.” It seems that most of the people who could have watched Killing Jesus didn’t.

On the same Sunday, the season finale of The Walking Dead attracted 15.8 million viewers. Even the Talking Dead after-show garnered almost 8 million viewers. According to the Futon Critic, “THE WALKING DEAD” ENDS SEASON FIVE WITH ALL 16 EPISODES RANKING AMONG THE TOP 20 ENTERTAINMENT TELECASTS IN ADULTS 18-49 THIS BROADCAST SEASON.”

Based on the numbers, it’s pretty clear that Americans love Zombies a lot more than they love Jesus.

111616

Should Church Donations be Tax Deductible?

irs

If people give money, services, or property to a church, they can use the amount of their donation to reduce their federal tax liability. Every year, billions of dollars of money, services, and property are given to churches. All churches, by default, are tax exempt. Many people wrongly think that a church must be 501(c)(3)-approved to be tax exempt. All a group needs to say to be tax exempt is we are a church. That’s it. By  9:00 AM next Sunday, I could start a church that would be completely tax-exempt by IRS standards, even if only my family attended.

The IRS deliberately steers away from explicitly defining what a church is. In their view, if it looks and acts like a church, it is a church. Here are the main criteria the IRS uses to decide whether a church is tax exempt:

  • a distinct legal existence and religious history,
  • a recognized creed and form of worship,
  • established places of worship
  • a regular congregation and regular religious services, and
  • an organization of ordained ministers

As you can see, it is very easy for a group to be considered a church by the IRS.

Churches are also, in many states, exempt from paying sales and real estate taxes. Ohio is one such state. Churches can even operate for-profit businesses that are tax-exempt. In the 1970s, churches were encouraged to start day care centers as a way to maximize building use and generate income, uh I mean minister to the poor. Just because a church tacks the word ministry on the end of a business name doesn’t make it one.

The question I ask is this: Should church donations be tax-deductible? Should churches be tax exempt?

Christians will quickly state that their church is a charity and it does good in the community so their church should be tax-exempt and members should get a tax deduction for their donations. Relative to the amount of money they take in, do churches really do a great amount of good in the community? If the average church closed its doors tomorrow, would anyone outside of the membership care? Take a look at a church’s budget. Where does MOST of the money go? Salaries, benefits, insurance, utilities, buildings, and programs that only benefit the congregation. If a “real” charity spent their money in this manner, the IRS would pull their tax exemption and donations to said charity would no longer be tax-deductible. Yet, the IRS and federal and state governments give churches a blind-eye pass.

I have written on churches and their finances many times over the years. If you are getting ready to object, here’s my challenge. Send me your church’s budget. Let me take a close look at it. I have eyes for seeing through the budget secrecy and bullshit many churches practice. Let’s take a close look at the numbers. I have made this challenge many times over the years, and not one church, pastor, or Christian has taken me up on it. They whimper, whine, and complain, but they never produce their financial documents. Why? They know the emperor has no clothes. They know if they shared their financials that the truth would be revealed.

If a church wants to be considered a tax-exempt charity, then they should be required to apply for charity status. They should then be required to spend the bulk of their money on charitable services that benefit the community. No church should be tax exempt just because they say we are a church.

Most churches are social clubs and the price of membership is what people give in donations.  The club rightly spends the bulk of its money on things that directly benefit the membership. As a club, a for-profit business, a church should be required to pay taxes and fill out all the tax forms that other businesses do. Isn’t it about time churches start paying their own way, just like every other business does?  Why should First Baptist Church or St Peter’s Catholic Church be tax-exempt and receive free fire and police service and free infrastructure improvements? Why shouldn’t Betty’s Coffee Shop or Bob’s Bar and Grill get the same tax treatment as a church?

I support the elimination of all church  tax exemption (sales, real estate, income, social security), church donation tax deduction, and the clergy housing tax allowance/deduction. A practical side effect of eliminating these exemptions is that churches would then be free to endorse political candidates. No more Christian whining about their “free” speech being stifled. Churches would be FREE to do what they want AND pay taxes just like everyone else.

111616

Dear Bill Maher, Stop Saying Creationists Believe the Earth is 5,000 Years Old

bill maher

Polly and I regularly watch Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. Real Time, along with John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight and Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, highlight the important news stories of the week, giving them a comedic twist. Sometimes, when these shows focus on American religion, especially Evangelical Christianity, I am often irritated when they play loose with the facts. Bill Maher, by far, is the worst.

Maher loves to bash creationists. I am all for him doing so, but I wish he would not distort their beliefs when he does. As an atheist and a critic of religion, Maher has the responsibility to speak accurately when critiquing, attacking, or ridiculing creationist beliefs. Look, they make it easy for us, so the least we can do is represent their beliefs accurately.

Over the years, I’ve heard Bill Maher repeatedly say creationists believe the earth is 5,000 years old. I know of NO creationist who believes this. None. Nor do I know any who think the earth is 10,000 years old. Adding another zero doesn’t make their belief any more rational or scientifically correct. Creationists are literalists. They believe the book of Genesis is a science and history textbook. When the Bible talks about Adam living  930 years, Noah living 950 years, Abraham living 175 years, David living 70 years, and Jesus living 33 years, creationists believe these ages are factual. They also believe the genealogies found in the Bible are factual. This is why James Ussher, a 17th century Church of Ireland archbishop,  was able to add up the ages and genealogies and conclude that the God created the universe on October 22, 4004 BC.

According to Wikipedia:

The chronology is sometimes called the Ussher-Lightfoot chronology because John Lightfoot published a similar chronology in 1642–1644. This, however, is a misnomer, as the chronology is based on Ussher’s work alone and not that of Lightfoot. Ussher deduced that the first day of creation began at nightfall on Saturday, October 22, 4004 BC, in the proleptic Julian calendar, near the autumnal equinox. He elsewhere dates the time to 6 pm. Lightfoot similarly deduced that Creation began at nightfall near the autumnal equinox, but in the year 3929 BC.

Ussher’s proposed date of 4004 BC differed little from other Biblically based estimates, such as those of Jose ben Halafta (3761 BC), Bede (3952 BC), Ussher’s near-contemporary Scaliger (3949 BC), Johannes Kepler (3992 BC) or Sir Isaac Newton (c. 4000 BC). Ussher’s specific choice of starting year may have been influenced by the then-widely-held belief that the Earth’s potential duration was 6,000 years (4,000 before the birth of Christ and 2,000 after), corresponding to the six days of Creation, on the grounds that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). This view continued to be held as recently as AD 2000,six thousand years after 4004 BC.

The universe then, according to creationists, is 6,019 years old not 5,000 years old. I sent Maher an email and a tweet about his inaccurate date. He did not respond.

Here’s why this matters. We who think the universe is 14 billions years old often criticize creationists for playing loose with the facts. I know, the difference between 6,019 and 5,000 is just 1,019 years, but we should do our best to accurately represent our enemy.  If atheists and scientists are going to do battle with creationists, then the least they can do is know what their enemy believes,  Far too often, atheists say things about Evangelical beliefs that are not true.  They read a meme or see something on Facebook or Twitter and they assume that what they read is correct. We make ourselves look bad when we misstate our opponents beliefs.

Signs of Religious Persecution in Defiance County, Ohio

war against christianity

The overwhelming majority of Americans self identify as Christian. Here in rural NW Ohio, I suspect  there are few non-Christians. The number of public atheists I know number three. That’s right, three.  Christianity is on full display everywhere one looks. Churches on every street corner, Christian radio and TV stations, Christian book stores, Christian coffee houses, and business signs with the ichthys (fish) symbol, all testify to the fact that America is a Christian nation and rural NW Ohio is God’s Country.

Christians are free to start new churches and worship anyway they please. No matter how crazy their beliefs and practices are, there is no government or private agency  keeping them from practicing their form of crazy. From strict liturgical churches to snake handling Baptists, there is a flavor of Christianity for everyone. Christian sects, churches, religious institutions, and pastors are given special tax benefits, from real estate and sales tax exemption to the clergy housing allowance. Christian churches are considered by many to be dispensers of morality, and when bad things like a school shooting, tornado, flood, or hurricane hits a community, local Christian clergy are called in to calm fears and let everyone know God is still on the throne.

Someone visiting from another country would likely be amazed at the religiosity of Americans. I doubt they would see any signs of religious persecution, especially if they hail from a country where there’s real persecution. Thanks to fear mongering and lying  by Evangelical preachers, Catholic prelates and priests, Mormon bishops, Christian parachurch leaders, Christian college presidents and professors, Christian TV and radio programmers, and Fox News hosts, many Christians believe they are being persecuted by liberals, secularists, socialists,communists, abortionists, homosexuals, and atheists. The annual War on Christmas® has now morphed into the War on Christianity®.

There is not one shred of evidence to back up the claim that there is a concerted effort to persecute American Christians and keep them from worshiping their God. From my seat in the pew, I see government at every level bending over backwards to accommodate Christians. As a nation, we value religious freedom so highly that we grant sects, churches, and each Christian special privileges. There is no other nation on earth that has more religious freedom, yet many Christians still think they are being persecuted. Why is this?

Here’s my take. When people live in a country that values personal rights and freedom, especially religious freedom, they tend to see small accommodations or denials as frontal assaults on their rights and freedom. When groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), American Humanist Association (AHA), American Atheists (AA), or the ACLU demand that Christians abide by the Constitution and the separation of church and state, Christians see this as personal attack on their faith.

Let me give a local example of this. Recently, the ACLU of Ohio sent nearby Edon Northwest School District a letter about the school district’s core values statement found in the front of the student handbook:

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Graphic from The Friendly Atheist

Here’s what the Toledo Blade had to say:

The American Civil Liberties Union sent a request today to a Williams County school district to stop what it calls its “sectarian policies and practices that violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

The letter to the Edon Northwest Local School district, which is near the Ohio-Indiana border, cites the school system’s student handbook, which references “Christian values,” and what the ACLU says is a practice of inviting ministers to pray at mandatory school assemblies. John Granger, interim superintendent who joined the district in January, said he has not witnessed some of the incidents referenced by the ACLU, but that if the allegations are true, the district should make changes.

”This has already been settled by the United States Supreme Court,“ Mr. Granger said. “I would make a recommendation to the board of education that if we are in violation of the law, we should stop.”

The district’s website includes a copy of the student handbook, and the first page lists the district’s “Core Values.”

As we strive to achieve our Vision and accomplish our Mission, we value…” the handbook states, with “Honesty and Christian values” as the second entry.

The ACLU letter claims ministers attended assemblies before the Thanksgiving and winter holidays, and that students need parent approval to opt out of the events.

“These reports also allege that the ministers pray aloud, ask the students to join in the prayer and recite homilies concerning upcoming holidays,” the letter states.

The ACLU in its letter, signed by ACLU of Ohio’s Legal Director Freda Levenson and staff attorney Drew Dennis, recognizes that Mr. Granger is new to the position and the started before his arrival in the district.

“We now take this opportunity to make you aware of the unconstitutionality of the described practices, and request that you investigate them and bring an end to them immediately,“ the letter states…

I have no doubt that local Christians are outraged over the ACLU’s demand that the Edon Northwest School District abide by the establishment clause and the separation of church and state.I am sure they see this as a sign of religious persecution. It’s not. This kind of stuff has been going on in rural schools since the days I roamed the halls of Farmer Elementary in the 1960’s. The difference now is that groups like  FFRF, ACLU, AHA, AA, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) are paying attention to what is going on in the schools and government and are willing to litigate any violation of the Constitution.

Today, Polly took me on a short nineteen mile drive on Route 18 between Defiance and Hicksville. The following pictures succinctly illustrate the religious climate in rural NW Ohio. They tell the story far better than I could.

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The Faith4Freedom signs litter the rural NW Ohio landscape. According to their defunct Facebook page, 20,000 of these signs were printed and distributed in Ohio and Michigan. This is primarily a Catholic endeavor. Based on the lack of activity on their Facebook page, Twitter account, and a no longer available website, I assume that local Catholics have lost their religious freedom and are living in nearby catacombs. Once the black anti-Christ, Barack Hussein Obama, is divinely removed from office, they will no longer fear persecution and return to the safety of Facebook, Twitter, and the internet.