Religion

Did You Know Spaghetti Straps are Sinful?

girl wearing spaghetti straps

Girl Wearing “Sinful” Spaghetti Straps

When people think of Christian fundamentalism they most often think of the fundamentalism found in Evangelicalism and the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. However, as the following story will show, fundamentalism is alive and well in the Roman Catholic church.

Melanie Pritchard, Founder of Vera Bella Catholic Girls’ Formation Program and the Executive Director of the Foundation for Life and Love, recently wrote an article about why she does not let her four-year old daughter wear spaghetti straps:

My four-year-old daughter Ella received a doll from a relative for Christmas that was wearing a fluffy pink skirt and a spaghetti strap tank-top covered by a sweater. To my daughter’s wild surprise, she also received the same outfit as her doll, in her own size. She put on her new outfit immediately to match her doll. I call them “the twinsy-bops,” since my daughter proceeded to try to wear the same outfit as her doll for the few days following Christmas.

Although I love the doll’s and my daughter’s outfits in their completion, I don’t allow my daughter or her dolls to wear spaghetti straps without something covering the tank-top. Some may think I go overboard or even call me a prude, but I am parenting with an advantage. I have inside knowledge of the working relationships between parents and their teenage daughters. Since I have been speaking to teenagers and their parents for the past 15 years, I have gained an extensive knowledge of the kind of drop-down-drag-out battles parents have with their teenage girls and their wardrobes.

One of those battles is over spaghetti strap tank-tops being worn without something else covering them. Now, I’ll admit, when my four-year-old attempts to wear the new spaghetti strap tank-top, she doesn’t look immodest. She still manages to look innocent and dignified. So, why won’t I allow my daughter to begin wearing these types of tank-tops at age four? Because the battle she and I will inevitably have over tank tops will be a lot easier to win if the standard never changes. The same rings true for two-piece bathing suits and other clothes that will not protect her dignity and mystery when she is at a more womanly stage in her life…

For those of us raised in the IFB and Evangelical church, Pritchard’s argument is quite familiar. Better to win the battle over clothing when a child is young and impressionable than when she is a teenager. Better to teach her “modesty” at age four than try to get her to dress “modestly” at age fifteen.

Pritchard recounts a story about her daughter that she thinks illustrates that her daughter is starting to understand the importance of modesty and why she should not wear spaghetti straps:

A couple days later, we went to enjoy taco Tuesday at a locally owned restaurant in town. We were sitting at our table waiting for our food when Ella grabbed my arm and pulled me close to her. She was pointing to the hostess with the very womanly figure wearing a spaghetti strap tank-top that kept sliding up to reveal her stomach and was accentuating and revealing her large chest. Ella whispered in my ear, “Mom, her mystery isn’t protected. She is wearing a spaghetti-strap and it’s not modest.”

Ella saw it for herself. It clicked for my four-year-old. She began to have a small amount of judgment in her voice as she continued to talk about this woman. I explained gently, “Ella, we can’t judge her or talk about her behind her back. She may not know her beautiful mystery and why she should protect it. Instead, we should pray that God may reveal it to her, so she knows just how special she is.” Ella was satisfied with my answer and agreed to pray for her.

Later in the article Pritchard reveals the real reason she won’t let her daughter wear spaghetti straps. Some day, her daughter will be a teenager, and if she hasn’t learned to be modest she might dress immodestly and attract poor, helpless horn dog Catholic boys:

I meet many parents who have allowed their daughters to wear spaghetti-straps, tube tops, leggings as pants, two-piece swim suits, and other clothing when they were young when their figures hadn’t emerged, only to find out there comes a time when they become extremely uncomfortable with their beautiful, womanly, innocent, teenage daughters wearing them in public. Fathers are by far the ones who cringe the most when they speak to me. They know teen-age boys. Every father was a teenage boy once. They cringe at the way their daughters are dressing, but the fight is so big, they often back down and let their girls wear what they want.

As a parent of six children, I know the importance of teaching children to dress appropriately. However, there is a difference between appropriate and puritanical. Pritchard goes far beyond appropriate and teaches her daughter a way of thinking that will result in her thinking her now-womanly body is sinful and must be covered up lest poor, helpless men take sexual advantage of her.

Pritchard, with her silly objection to her daughter wearing a top with spaghetti straps (and tube tops, leggings as pants, two-piece swim suits), is making sure her daughter will grow up to be a sexually repressed Catholic woman. Instead of teaching her daughter to dress appropriately, she is planting the seed of sexual repression.

Her ban of certain clothing will do little to help her daughter when she becomes a sexually aware woman. Silly talk about a woman’s “mystery” will not keep her daughter from desiring what is natural: sex. While we can certainly debate whether it is a good idea for teenagers to have sex, the fact of the matter is they do:

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the year 2007, 35% of US high school students were currently sexually active and 47.8% of US high school students reported having had sexual intercourse. This percentage has decreased slightly since 1991..

Self-report surveys suggest that half of all 15- to 19-year-olds have had oral sex. That percentage rises to 70% by the time they turn 19, and equal numbers of boys and girls participate. Research indicating that oral sex is less risky to teens’ emotional and physical well being than vaginal sex has been advanced;[13] researchers at the University of California do not believe this conclusion is warranted. They found that oral sex, as well as vaginal sex, was associated with negative consequences. Of adolescents engaging in oral sex only, girls were twice as likely as boys to report feeling bad about themselves and nearly three times as likely to feel used. Despite their behaviors, 90% of adolescents “agree that most young people have sex before they are really ready.”

The average age of first sexual intercourse in the United States is 17.0 for males and 17.3 for females, and this has been rising in recent years. The percentage of teens who are waiting longer to have sex has been increasing. For those teens who have had sex, 70% of girls and 56% of boys said that their first sexual experience was with a steady partner, while 16% of girls and 28% of boys report losing their virginity to someone they had just met or who was just a friend.

Pritchard belongs to a sect that is known for sexual repression and the denial of natural human sexuality. The Church also condemns masturbation and birth control. One would think if the Church wanted unmarried Catholics to remain sexually pure that they would encourage masturbation as an acceptable release of sexual tension. One would also think that the church would encourage Catholic women to use birth control since it would help eliminate the need for abortion. But they don’t. I wonder how different the discussion and rules would be if women were allowed to have a say in the teachings of the Church?

When it comes to human sexuality, the male-controlled Catholic Church is fighting a losing battle. In 2012, the Guttmacher Institute had this to say about Catholic women having sex and using birth control:

“Guttmacher’s analysis of data from the federal government’s National Survey of Family Growth found that the vast majority of American women of reproductive age (15–44) — including 99% of all sexually experienced women and 98% of those who identify themselves as Catholic — have used a method of contraception other than natural family planning at some point. Women may be classified as sexually experienced regardless of whether they are currently sexually active, using contraceptives, pregnant, trying to get pregnant or postpartum.

“By their early 20s, some 79% of never-married women — and 89% of never-married Catholic women — have had sex. (Presumably, all married women have done so.) In short, most American women (including Catholics) have had sex by their early 20s, and virtually all of them have used contraceptives other than natural family planning.

It is now known that the best way to combat unplanned teen pregnancy is to provide sex education and easy access to birth control. Just say no because God says so, is not a plan. Yet, Pritchard’s church wants to deny teens and unmarried women the means to keep from getting pregnant.

Knowing how the Catholic church views human sexuality helps to explain Pritchard’s puritanical obsession with her four-year old daughter’s clothing. She doesn’t want her daughter to grow up to be one of those “easy” Catholic girls whom boys are fond of talking about.

Instead of teaching her daughter to embrace her sexuality and prepare her for life as a sexual being, she is teaching her that a woman’s body should be covered up so her “mystery” is not revealed. This is no different from the teaching of the IFB church, with its prohibitions against wearing any form of clothing that reveals the female shape and body. The reason?  The teens and men of the church are pathetic, helpless creatures who are little more than dogs seeking bitches in heat.

Instead of teaching accountability and responsibility, religious zealots such as Pritchard teach repression and impotence. Sexually awake young women wearing spaghetti straps is not the problem. Any teen boy or man who can’t sexually control himself if he sees a woman wearing a top with spaghetti straps is pathetic. Men, regardless of their age, need to be responsible for their sexual behavior and the manner in which they treat women. Women should not be forced to manage not only their own sexuality but the sexuality of men who can’t help themselves. They are not the gatekeepers, the protectors of the “mystery.” Men need to own their sexuality and act appropriately (as the Catholic church needs to own its cover-up and protection of the real predators that roam the sanctuary and rectory: Catholic priests).

Lest readers think Pritchard is a lone fundamentalist Catholic, I leave you with the advice another fundamentalist Catholic woman, T.M. Gaouette, gives to sexually aware Catholic girls:

In a 2004 article titled “The Forgotten Virtue: Modesty In Dress,” author Monsignor Charles M. Mangan lays out a basic guide founded upon principles of modesty set by Pope Pius XII in 1957. These values are still valid today and I’ve found them to be very helpful in determining what’s modest and what’s not.

With Mangan’s help, I will offer specific guidelines on dressing modestly.

To dress modestly is to avoid deliberately causing sexual excitement in oneself or one’s neighbor (Mangan).

The objective of modesty is to refrain from wearing clothing that causes lustful thoughts, whether intentionally or unintentionally. When dressing modestly, Christian girls should avoid clothes that reveal, enhance or highlight certain body parts.

  • Bust: Avoid tight or see-through shirts or tops without appropriate undergarments, and tops with low plunging necklines that reveal a cleavage. If you have a large bust, then you should also stay away from spaghetti straps and strapless designs.
  • Thighs: When it comes to skirts, select those that are no shorter than above the knee. Make sure you account for how high the skirt rises when you sit. When it comes to shorts, opt for those that don’t expose too much of the thigh.
  • Back: Refrain from wearing backless shirts or dresses that plunge in the back. These styles are designed to look sexy.
  • Stomach: Shirts and tops should always cover the stomach.
  • Butt: Avoid tight skirts, shorts, dresses and pants that reveal the shape and curve of the buttocks. I also would avoid pants with words printed on the butt, since they are designed to cause the eyes to gaze at that area of your body.

I added “butt” to Mangan’s list because it often causes lustful thoughts in men when highlighted by tight shorts, pants, dresses and skirts.

There usually are no exceptions to the above rules in the case of everyday clothing. When it comes to athletic wear, make sure that your ensemble doesn’t look sexy.

Clothing fulfills three necessary requirements: hygiene, decency and adornment. These are ‘so deeply rooted in nature that they cannot be disregarded or contradicted without provoking hostility and prejudice’ (Mangan quoting Pope Pius XII).

In addition to these guidelines, I believe that, in some instances, modesty is subjective. One item of clothing may be immodest on one person, but modest on another. For example, spaghetti straps can look both modest and immodest, depending on the size of the person’s bust. However, modesty in this case can usually be attained by adding a cardigan or light jacket.

Dear reader, what do you think? Is Pritchard correct in not allowing her four-year old to wear a top with spaghetti straps? You already know what I think. Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

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Is There Only One Plan of Salvation?

saved lost

o hear many Evangelical preachers tell it, salvation is a transaction between God and humankind. Humankind is wicked, vile, and sinful, unable to do good and headed for hell. God, in his infinite wisdom, made a way for us to have our sins forgiven. Once we avail ourselves of this super-duper sin-erasing way, we have a ticket to heaven that cannot be canceled. The moment we pray to Jesus and ask him to forgive us of our sins and come into our life, one of heaven’s angels puts a door hangar on a room in the Father’s House that says RESERVED.

Countless American Christians have prayed the sinners prayer and are certain that when they die they will wake up in heaven. They have successfully pulled the handle on God’s Salvation Dispensing Machine® and down the chute came a Fire Insurance policy that guarantees payment upon death. It is the only insurance that pays off AFTER you die.

Eternal security, also known as once-saved-always-saved, is a central tenet of many an Evangelical preacher’s soteriology. Once in the family you can never leave the family. God’s family is like the mob, once you are in, you are in for life. What better thing to offer sinners than a guaranteed home in heaven that costs them nothing more than a few heartfelt words:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen

The Bible says in Romans 10:9,10,13:

 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Arminians, those who believe you can lose your salvation, object to the doctrine of eternal security. According to their theology, Christians can lose their salvation. Good works are necessary to maintain one’s salvation.  Calvinists also object to the doctrine of eternal security. They emphatically believe that a person must persevere, hold on until death. And if they don’t, this is proof that the person never really was a Christian.

Based on what I have written above, this means that someone such as myself, a reprobate, a denier of God and his offer of salvation, a man who once was saved, who once followed Jesus is either:

  • Still saved because once you are saved you can never lose it
  • Unsaved because I lost the salvation I once had
  • Never was saved

Over the years I have had numerous Christians tell me that one of these three statements is an accurate description of my present state. All of them are quite certain that they are 100% right about my standing with God and where I will end up when I die.

Every Christian sect would agree that salvation and eternal destiny are THE most important issues every person must decide. Amos 4:12 says, PREPARE to meet thy God.  Surely then, God has made the whole salvation thing crystal clear, right? Nope.

Take the aforementioned verses in Romans 10:9,10, 13. It seems clear that belief=salvation=eternity in heaven.  John 10:28 says:

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

and 1 John 5:13 says:

These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

and Hebrews 8:38, 39 says:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

These are the verses on which the once-saved-always-saved believers hang their hats. Of course, Arminians and Calvinists both have arguments and rebuttals to the once-saved-always-saved interpretations.  I once heard an Arminian preacher explain John 10:28 this way:

No man can pluck you out of God’s hand but you can jump out by yourself.

The point I am trying to make is that the whole notion of Christian salvation is hopelessly convoluted, complex, and contradictory. Right now, Evangelical preachers reading this post are:

jumping man

They are certain that THEIR soteriology, THEIR plan of salvation, is the right one. As I have stated numerous times, the Bible teaches multiple plans of salvation, with each plan contradicted by other Bible verses. Let me illustrate this. We already know what the once–saved-always-saved preacher says. Are there verses that contradict his salvation plan?

Hebrews 3:12-14 says:

Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end;

This passage seems to be quite clear. A brother (brethren) can have an evil heart of unbelief and walk away from God. He will only have salvation and eternal life if he is steadfast to the end.

Can a person, for a time, fall away, and then come back to Jesus? Is it possible for someone such as I to repent of my sin, renounce my atheism, and return to following Jesus? Countless Evangelical preachers would say, YES! It’s never too late. As long as you are a living, breathing soul, you can be saved.

But wait a minute!

Doesn’t Romans 1 and 2 talk about people who can’t be saved, people who have been given by God over to a reprobate mind? Isn’t it too late for them? And what about the Jews? John 12:37-40 says:

But though he (Jesus) had done so many miracles before them (the Jews) , yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.

God blinded the eyes and hardened the hearts of the Jews so they would not understand and be converted. In other words, these Jews could not be saved. Does this no-salvation-for-you only apply to Jews alive during the days Jesus walked through the streets of Galilee and Jerusalem? Evangelicals argue endlessly over the Jews and whether they can be saved or even need to be saved.

Now, if I can, let me land this plane. Consider a few passages from the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 6:4-6 says:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

As a Christian, I was once enlightened and I tasted of the heavenly gift. I was made a partaker of the Holy Ghost, tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come. I am now an atheist and I have repudiated all that I once said I believed. According to Hebrews 6:4-6, it is IMPOSSIBLE for me to ever be saved again. Why? Because I make a mockery of Jesus’s atoning work on the cross.

The writer of Hebrews reiterates this in Hebrews 10:29-31:

Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Granted, theologians and preachers of every persuasion have explanations for the multiple, contradictory plans of salvation. Many will dismiss the Hebrews quotes with a wave of the hand saying, these verses apply to the Jews not us. Others will open their sect’s systematic theology book, turn to the section on soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) and “prove” that any salvation scheme but theirs is wrong and will likely lead to eternal damnation and hell fire.

Here’s my point. If Christian theologians and preachers can’t agree on something as basic as salvation, what hope is there for those not trained in theology? How can they, without the preacher telling them, read the Bible and find out for themselves the way to heaven?

From cover to cover the Bible is a convoluted, contradictory mess. Try as theologians and preachers might to “harmonize” the Bible to fit their theological system, it remains unable to simply answer the question, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 16 and Mark 16) Even with the passage that asks the question what must I do to be saved, Christian preachers argue amongst themselves over whether salvation requires baptism.

All of what I have detailed here is evidence that the Bible is very much a human-made book. Surely if the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible as many Christians sects and preachers believe, one would think that the manner in which someone is saved, how one comes into right standing with God, would be clear. It’s not.

Let me finish this post with Bruce Gerencser’s salvation plan:

Live well, do good works, and die. The only heaven and hell you will experience in this life is what you and your fellow human beings create.

Straight from the mouth of Bruce Almighty, written down on this inspired, inerrant, and infallible page. Thus saith Bruce.

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Heaven and Hell, The Carrot and the Stick

carrot and stick

The two tools most often used by Evangelical preachers to keep people in the pews are:

  • The threat of God’s judgment
  • The threat of hell

As with Jonathan Edwards in his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Evangelical preachers warn parishioners of the judgment to come and the hell that awaits anyone who does not repent of their sins and become a follower of Jesus.

Here’s what Edwards had to say:

…The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment…

While few Evangelical preachers can turn a word and speak as eloquently as Edwards, their message is still the same: judgment and hell awaits those who do not repent of their sins and follow after Jesus.

Preachers often use what I call the carrot and stick approach. Every person has a choice to make about where they spend eternity. While Calvinists and Arminians argue endlessly over whether we really are free to choose, saving faith does require an act of volition. Every person must choose between heaven and hell. Become a follower of Jesus and heaven, the carrot awaits when you die. Reject Jesus, his salvific work on the cross and his death-defying resurrection from the dead, then hell, the stick, awaits you when you die.

Evangelical preachers impress on those under the sound of their voice that it is important to make a decision for Christ NOW! The Bible says in the last part of II Corinthians 6:2:

…behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation.

According to Evangelical preachers, none of us has the promise of tomorrow. Proverbs 27:1 states:

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.

Evangelical preachers are like Larry the Cable Guy. Git ‘er Done! Today, right now, don’t delay.

Some preachers spice up their sermons with illustrations of people who died suddenly or who died after hearing and rejecting the preacher’s warning about God’s judgment and hell. These stories, true or not, are meant to elicit an immediate response. When I was a preacher, my goal was to press every person who heard my sermon to make a decision. I was of the opinion that there was no such thing as a neutral position. Once a person heard the gospel, heard my sermon, they had a choice to make. Heaven or hell, which will it be?

A regular reader of this blog sent me a Franklin Graham quote that I think will help illustrate what I am trying to say in this post:

“Death is serious, eternal business. Once our physical hearts beat for the last time, we will instantly find ourselves either in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in all His splendor, or in the pit of Hell away from His presence.”

There’s the carrot and the stick. Heaven or hell; choose now while your heart is still beating. The moment your heart stops beating, your eternal destiny is settled.

Think for a moment about what Graham said here about the heart stopping. So, if a person’s heart stops, his eternal destiny is settled? What if his heart is restarted using a defibrillator? Does this mean his eternal destiny is not really settled and he gets another chance to decide, heaven or hell? For those people who have heart transplants, does that mean that they need to decide again?

The bigger problem with Graham’s statement is that it is bad theology. According to orthodox Christian theology, when people die, they do not go to heaven or hell. Instead, they go to the grave and will remain there until the resurrection of the dead. Grandma is not up in Heaven running around, nor is she peering over the portals of Heaven watching her grandchildren play. Neither is Christopher Hitchens in hell, being tormented day and night for daring to mock the thrice holy God. They are dead, lying in the grave, awaiting the second coming of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead.

After the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment will take place and every person will be sent to his or her eternal destiny. And even here, many Evangelical preachers, including Graham, get it wrong. Christians will not spend eternity in Heaven. Instead, they will spend it in the kingdom of God. Hitchens and the rest of us reprobates? We will not spend eternity in hell. Instead we will spend it in the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:11-15 makes this quite clear:

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

and Revelation 21:1-8:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

And here an even more interesting point. Isn’t our eternal destiny is settled by repenting of our sins and following after Jesus? These texts state that everyone is judged by their works, that it is works that determine whether Grandma, Hitchens, or anyone else goes to heaven or hell.

I wish Evangelical preachers would get together and figure out exactly where it is we are all going when we die. I wish they would  determine if it is really up to me to decide? With so much confusion and lack of theological precision, how is a poor, lost atheist such as I am, supposed to determine in what hotel to make my final reservation?

The purpose of this post is to show how confusing and contradictory Evangelical preachers and their theology can be. If they are not precise and clear, can mere untrained, unwashed Philistines such as we are have any hope of finding THE Way, Truth, and Life?

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Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Bruce Gerencser

questions

Updated April 13, 2016.

I wrote the following to inform those who don’t know me about my past and present life. While this is in no way the sum of my life, it should help to answer some of the questions readers might have. I try to be open and honest. If you have a personal question you would like me to answer, please send me an email or leave your question in the comment section.

I also wrote a humorous follow-up to this post. You can read it here.

How do you pronounce Gerencser?

Grr IN Sir

What nationality is your name?

Hungarian

How old are you?

58

How long have you been married?

37 years

How many children do you have?

Six

How many grandchildren do you have?

Eleven  ten granddaughters and one grandson

How many times have you been married?

Once

Where do you live?

Rural NW Ohio, the village of Ney. One stoplight, one gas station, one pizza place/bar, and one restaurant/bar. We have lived here since 2007.

Do you own your own home?

Yes

What color is your hair?

Well it used to be bright red, some say orange. These days, it is a faded, dull red, mostly white. (see picture above)

How tall are you?

Six foot

How much do you weigh?

I currently weigh 365 pounds. I weighed 160 pounds at age 18, 180 pounds the day I got married, and 225 pounds five years after I married. I am twice the man I was on my wedding day.

Which hand are you?

Left, 100% left.

What color are your eyes?

They range from gray to sparkling blue. Polly says my eye color is determined by my mood.

What is your body shape?

I have short legs (29 inch inseam) and a long body. One man told me I was built like a fire plug.

What’s wrong with you?

How much time do you have? I have suffered with depression most of my life. I have Fibromyalgia, diagnosed in 1997. Since 2007, I have had non-specific neurological problems that affect my ability to stand and walk. I live with daily, unrelenting pain. I walk with a cane and often have to use a wheelchair.

What sports teams do you root for?

Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Louisville Bats, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Toledo Mud Hens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Ohio State football and basketball.

I am also a dirt track racing fan.

Did you play sports?

Yes, I played Little League and City League baseball and City League basketball. I played one year of junior high football.

I was usually good enough to make the team, but I tended to be on the far end of the bench (except for City League basketball, where I was a starter).

Should Pete Rose be in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame?

Yes

What do you like to do for fun or to relax?

Go anywhere with Polly.

Attend a sporting event with my sons.

Read non-fiction books.

Take a walk in the woods, or a walk anywhere with the love of my life by my side. These days, it is usually Polly pushing me in a wheelchair when we take walks.

What are your hobbies?

I am a serious amateur photographer. I use Sony, Tamron, and Sigma equipment.

I have extensive computer/Windows software knowledge. I build my own computers.

I also like to garden and work in the yard when I am able.

When did you buy your first computer?

1992, a V-Tech 286.

Who are your favorite authors?

Thomas Merton, Henry David Thoreau, Bart Ehrman, and Wendell Berry, along with countless other authors who have helped me along the way.

What is your favorite comic?

Get Fuzzy.

What foods do you like?

Food.

Do you drink alcohol?

Yes, I like wine and spirits. I am not a beer drinker.

What are your favorite restaurants?

Mad Anthony’s in Fort Wayne and Auburn, Indiana, Red Lobster, and Texas Roadhouse.

For dessert, I like Eric’s Ice Cream in Defiance, Ohio and Dietsch Brothers Ice Cream in Findlay, Ohio.

What is your favorite ice cream?

Rocky Road and Mint Chocolate Chip.

What is your favorite candies?

Double dipped chocolate malted milk balls from Dietsch’s, Clark, Zero, Zagnut, Snickers, and Milky Way candy bars, and Goetz’s Carmel Creams.

What communities have you lived in?

Over the past 58 years, I have lived in:

Ohio: Bryan (numerous times), Ney (twice), Farmer, Deshler, Harrod, Findlay, Mount Blanchard, Alvordton (twice), Newark (twice), Buckeye Lake, New Lexington (twice), Junction City, Mount Perry, Glenford, and Somerset.

California: San Diego and Chula Vista.

Arizona: Tucson, Sierra Vista, Hereford, and Yuma.

Michigan: Pontiac and Clare.

Texas: Elmendorf.

How many houses have you lived in?

16 houses by age 21 and 18 more houses since Polly and I have been married.

How many cars have you owned?

Over 60. The cheapest cost $25.00, the most expensive cost $29,000.00.

What car do you currently own?

2015 Ford Escape.

What was your favorite car?

The 1970 Chevrolet Nova SS I owned in the 1970s.

What was your least favorite car?

Any of the cars I owned that were made by American Motors.

Besides pastoring, what jobs have you worked?

Janitor, gas station attendant, short order cook, newspaper motor route, life insurance salesman, sweeper salesman, restaurant general manager, network manager, durable medical equipment supply office manager, dairy department manager, grocery stock clerk, workfare/court offender program manager, litter control manager/officer, building code enforcement officer, grant manager, real estate updater for auditor’s office, farm worker, mechanic, cable box repairman, shipping and receiving, turret lathe operator, and numerous general laborer jobs in factories.

What was your favorite job?

Restaurant general manager.

What is your favorite color?

Blue.

What are your politics?

Liberal, progressive, socialist.

Are you an atheist?

Yes.

Are you a humanist?

Yes.

What is your worldview?

I am agnostic on the God question. I cannot know for certain if a god of some sort exists, but I think it is highly improbable. It is possible that a deity of some sort might someday reveal herself to us, but I highly doubt it. I am convinced that all of the deities in the human panoply of gods are the creation of humans.

I live my day-to-day life as an atheist. Thoughts of God never enter my mind unless I am writing an article for this website.

I try to live my life according to the humanist ideals spelled out in the various humanist manifestos.

Do you fear going to hell?

No more than I fear Mickey Mouse breaking into my house and stealing my TV.

In other words, since heaven, hell, and the devil are the fictions of humans, I don’t fear hell.

What churches did you pastor?

Montpelier Baptist Church, Montpelier, Ohio – Assistant Pastor.

Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio – Assistant Pastor.

Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio – Pastor.

Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas – Pastor.

Olive Branch Christian Union Church, Fayette, Ohio – Pastor.

Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio – Pastor.

Victory Baptist Church, Clare, Michigan – Pastor.

What was your favorite church?

Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio.

How many churches did you start?

Five.

I helped start Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio.

I started Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio and Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio.

While co-pastor of Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas, I started two churches, one in Floresville, Texas and one in Stockdale, Texas.

Have you ever been baptized?

Three times.

I was baptized as an infant at the Lutheran church in Bryan, Ohio.

I was baptized when my parents joined Eastland Baptist Mission in Bryan, Ohio.

I was baptized at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio after I made a public profession of faith.

When were you saved?

I made a public profession of faith at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio at the age of 15.

When were you called to preach?

I was called to preach several weeks after I was saved.

Where did you attend college?

Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976-79.

How many churches have you visited/preached at in your lifetime?

Over 150.

What can you tell me about your wife?

We met at Bible college. Polly is a pastor’s daughter. She is my lover and best friend. She is an awesome cook, a great seamstress, and she never lets me have all the covers.

What can you tell me about your kids?

Well, there are six of them, four sons and two daughters. Four of them are married and have children of their own. One of them is going through a divorce. Five of them are gainfully employed. Our oldest daughter has Down Syndrome.

Are your children Christian?

You’ll have to ask them. None of them is Evangelical and all of them have left the faith of their youth.

Do you have any siblings?

Yes, a brother and sister. They both live in Arizona (Chandler and Tombstone).

Are your parents still living?

No. My father died at the age of 49 from a stroke and my Mom committed suicide at the age of 54.

What kind of music do you like to listen to?

I like every style of music except rap, old-style country, and opera.

Who are your favorite artists?

Matt Nathanson, Eliza Gilkyson, Darius Rucker, Theory of a Deadman, Staind, Seether, Lucinda Williams, The Carpenters, Collective Soul, Sugarland.

What is your favorite movie?

Mosquito Coast and Hell in the Pacific.

If you could live any place in the world where would you live?

Anywhere near water as long as Polly is with me and my children live 20 minutes away.

Why do you blog?

I have a story to tell and blogging is my way of telling it.

Why do you stop blogging from time to time?

Depression and health problems.

Have you made a lot of money blogging?

Yes, millions of dollars. So much money that I don’t know what to do with it.

Serious answer? Last year, blog donations totaled about $2000. I don’t write to make money. I write because I want and need to.

Are you writing a book?

Yes, I started it a dozen times and I hope to have it done before I die. I signed a book contract last December. I hope to have it completed by the end of summer.

What’s most important to you?

My family.

What’s least important to you?

The approbation of others.

What is your favorite season?

Fall.

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

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

041316

Can Anyone Really Know They Are Saved?

saved lost

Yes.

No.

Maybe.

What do I mean by the word “saved”? Delivered. Redeemed. Set free. Bought by the blood. Justified. (Looked at by God just as if I never sinned.)

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.(Romans 10:9, 10)

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)

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3,4)

Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began (2 Timothy 1:9)

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. Mark 16:16

Oops. Scratch that last one. Don’t want to start a war between the Baptists and the Campbellites. (Church of Christ)

Let me set aside, for a moment, the fact that these verses teach several different salvations. Most Christians interpret these verses, and others, in a very basic, generic way:

I am a sinner. Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins. Three days later he resurrected from  the dead. Believing this message, I admit I am a sinner, I repent of my sins, and by faith I trust Jesus to forgive me of my sins and save me. I am trusting Jesus to save me and keep me until I die. By putting my faith and trust in Jesus I know I will go to heaven when I die. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

There are three basic schools of thought when it comes to salvation. I know there are various shades of each of these. Please, spare me the emails and comments that say I didn’t properly describe YOUR TRIBE.

Once Saved, Always Saved

There is the “once saved, always saved” school. According to this school of thought, once a person is saved he can never be un-saved. No matter what the person does, no matter how the person lives, he is saved forever. A person can stop attending Church, stop doing ANYTHING that remotely suggests that he is saved, yet “once saved, always saved.” One noted writer even said that a person could go to the altar and be saved and then leave the Church, curse God, and live like a heathen the remainder of his life…it matters not, “once saved, always saved.”

This is the belief of most Baptists and many Evangelicals and fundamentalists. Salvation becomes a form of “fire insurance.” People don’t want to go to hell, so they get saved. Whew, that’s over. Next!

Coupled with this belief is the notion that the believer will be rewarded some day for doing the right things in this life. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

So, people might be “once saved always saved” but if they don’t live right they will lose their rewards in heaven. The nature of this loss of rewards is never clearly defined. Maybe their mansion won’t have indoor plumbing? (John 14:1-6)

Some “once saved always saved” believers realize that their version of salvation really looks bad. They know their brand of salvation looks like it is preaching a “live like hell, still go to heaven” message.

To counter this, they teach that Christians who live carnally will be chastised (corrected) by God in this life. If a carnal Christian is not chastised, it is proof that they were never “really” saved. After all the Bible says in Hebrews 12:8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

Countless once-saved-always-saved Baptists have told me that I am still a Christian. No matter what I do, no matter I believe, I can never, ever lose my salvation. I suppose if this is the case then there will be a lot of atheists in heaven.

Conditional Salvation, Arminianism

Arminian groups  hold to a conditional salvation. They believe a person is saved by grace but kept by works (works they do by the power of God, so it is really all of grace). In this school of thought, people can only know they are saved in the present moment. Their future salvation is conditioned on them doing the right things. This is the belief of groups like the Free-Will Baptists, Methodists, Wesleyans, etc.(groups who trace back their heritage to John and Charles Wesley and Jacobus Arminius).

A believer can do certain things that will result in the loss of salvation. Some Arminian groups believe you can only lose your salvation one time. In other words, “once saved, once lost, always lost.”

The Bible says in Hebrews 6:4-6:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

Other Arminian groups believe a person can repeatedly be saved, lost, saved, lost, saved. They often talk about a line that is crossed, when a person goes from a state of grace to being lost again. I have asked repeatedly over the years exactly where that line is and no one can tell me. I have been told by more than one Arminian preacher, “You just KNOW when you have crossed the line.”

Arminians have no problem explaining my life. It is quite simple to them; I once was saved and now I am lost.

Perseverance of the Saints, Calvinism

The final school of thought is the Calvinistic school. Calvinist groups like the Presbyterians, some Baptists, Episcopalians,etc adhere to what is commonly called the five points of Calvinism (which were actually articulated as a reply to the Arminians). Point number five is the perseverance of the saints or the preservation of the saints.

The perseverance of the saints is “once saved, always saved” with a twist.  Calvinists believe salvation is a work done totally by God. From start to finish it is God who does it all. A person can not believe, exercise faith, or do anything apart from God giving them the power to do so. Those whom God saves, God keeps. Now, God only saves a certain number of people. God knows exactly how many he will save. They are the elect. They have been predestined to salvation. No one but the elect will be saved. Everyone else need not apply.

The God who saves is the God who causes believers to persevere to the end. If they don’t persevere to the end, then that is proof they were never saved to start with.

After hearing my story Calvinists conclude I never was saved.  I didn’t persevere. I have received common grace but not God’s special, saving grace. In other words, God toyed with me and then said fuck you. The contradiction in their conclusion is that they can not know if I might yet persevere in the future. Perhaps I am just going through an atheist phase.

No Calvinists can know for sure they are saved. They can HOPE they are. They can constantly examine their lives to see if they are availing themselves to the means of grace, but until they die they can not know for sure they are saved. They MUST persevere to the end to be sure. They are hoping God comes through for them, but they won’t know for sure until the end. After all, they too could be deluded. They too could be following a false Christ. Perhaps God is just toying with them too and they will end up bunking in hell with atheists such as I.

Imagine a person going from church to church trying to find out the one true Christian message of salvation. You would think Christians could agree on the most basic of truths, salvation.

But they don’t.

I am convinced that Christians better hope that God is a universalist. If not, hell is going to be filled with Christians.

042916

Evangelicals and Their Use of the Word “God”

one true god

When Evangelicals speak of God, they often do so in ways that give people the impression that God is a generic deity who is the same regardless of the name of the sect.  When it suits Evangelicals, they will appeal to the Gods of other sects as proof that their God exists.

Evangelicals point to supposed universal moral traits in the various world religions as proof of the existence of God. They also point to the various creation myths and flood myths found in many sects and suggest the universality of these stories is another proof that God exists.

Don’t be misled by the subterfuge of the Evangelical. While they may speak of God in a generic way and appeal to other religions as proof that God exists, they really don’t believe this. Don’t listen to their public talking points, points used when they want to convince the public they really are nice people who just want to get along with everyone.

Go to your local Evangelical church and listen to the preaching. Behind the closed the doors of the sanctuary, the Evangelical pastor no longer has to play nice. He is free to say what he really thinks about the Gods of other religions. I can tell you what you won’t hear. You won’t hear about a generic God or the universal commonalities that the religions of the world have, Oh no, you will hear that all other Gods but the Evangelical Christian God, are no God at all.

There is some movement within Evangelicalism to be more inclusive when it comes to other sects, but at the heart of Evangelical belief is the notion that there is one God: a triune being, revealed to humankind in the 66 books of the Christian Bible. There is no other God but this God.

The Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Roman Catholics, and Greek Orthodox all worship a false God. Some Evangelicals even suggest that unless a sect holds to a certain soteriology, they too are worshiping a false God. Calvinists often make this claim about Arminians.

In the days of the Roman Empire, Christians were considered atheists. Why were they considered atheists? The Romans had a plethora of gods and they worshiped all of them. The Christians would have none of this. They were monotheists, rejecting all other Gods but their God. Are not modern-day Evangelicals atheists, rejecting all other Gods but theirs?

Ask the Evangelical, do all roads lead to Heaven and they will emphatically say no. There is one road that leads to Heaven and life eternal, and that road is the road bought and paid for by the Evangelical God.

This road is a narrow road that few people travel. Most of humanity will not go to the Evangelical heaven when they die  (in the strictest sense neither will the Evangelical. No one goes to heaven until the resurrection of the dead).  Most of humanity will go to hell and be tortured for all eternity by the Evangelical Christian God.

Most Evangelicals are quite Fundamentalist when it comes to God. And those Evangelicals who are not?  They most likely are not really Evangelicals. An increasing number of Evangelicals, influenced by the emerging church and liberal/progressive politics, are becoming more inclusive in their view of other sects.

These days, it is not uncommon to hear Evangelicals say that while Catholics, Mormons, and Seventh Day Adventists, to name a few, are heterodox, they are still Christian sects. While this is good news, it is a betrayal of core Evangelical beliefs.

Evangelicals who are more inclusive have one foot in the Evangelical church and the other foot in the liberal/progressive church. I suspect inclusivists will, in the future, leave Evangelicalism altogether and join up with liberal/progressive Christian sects or completely leave Christianity.

Are you a member of a non-Evangelical Christian sect? The next time you have a discussion with an Evangelical about God, just remember they think your God is no God at all. Don’t be tricked into thinking that their use of the word God includes your God. It doesn’t.

This is why Evangelicals are so evangelistic. Since they worship the one, true, and living God, members of every other sect but theirs are evangelistic targets. They believe every human being needs to know, in a personal salvific way, the Evangelical Christian God. A refusal to do so means spending eternity in the Lake of Fire.

If you happen to be an Evangelical and are reading this post, please explain to me why you do not call yourself an atheist?  The ONLY difference between you and atheists like me is that we have one more god on our NO GOD list  than you do. You think every other God but your God is a false God.  Be honest enough to admit this and be honest enough to tell the majority of the human race that they are going to hell to be tortured by your God for all eternity unless they start worshiping your God.

No, well only God knows who is going to heaven or hell, cop-out.  This is not what Evangelical pastors preach on Sunday.  Their sermons make it very clear who is worshiping the true God and who is not.  If  this is your belief too, then why not proudly own it? Why not proudly wear a button that says, My God is the only true and living God or God chose me but not you?

And if this is not what you believe, then why are you still sitting in the pew at the local Evangelical church?  Are you not condoning their exclusivism and bigotry by continuing to attend an Evangelical church?

042216

What Evangelicals Think They Know About Atheists

godless atheist

Evangelical Christians have all kind of ideas about what atheists believe and what kind of people they are. Where do they get these ideas? From Evangelical apologetics books, their pastor, evangelists who speak at their church, their Sunday School teacher, Christian Radio and TV, Fox News, and their fellow Christians.

They usually don’t know any atheists. After all, there are no atheists in their church (though they would be surprised to find out there are likely secret atheists sitting near them in church almost every Sunday). Evangelicals tend to surround themselves with people who think and act like they do, so they are rarely exposed to people who hold beliefs different from theirs (and this is common for all tribes, including atheists).

This is the same criticism homosexuals have of Evangelicals. Evangelicals rage against the sin of homosexuality, yet they don’t personally know any homosexuals.  All they know is what the pastor says, a TV preacher says, or what they read in a Christian apologetics book.

When Evangelicals actually come to know a homosexual, they are forced to rethink their beliefs. When a face is put on their beliefs, they are forced to deal with the humanity of the homosexual.  Often, when Evangelicals actually meet and get to know a homosexual, they soften or abandon their beliefs about homosexuals being sinful, wicked ,deviant, child-molesting pedophiles.

So it is with atheists. Evangelicals have little in-person, up-close contact with atheists, and until they do they will continue to say and believe outlandish and untrue things about atheists.

So what do many Evangelical Christians think they know about atheists?

  • They think atheists are a monolithic group, where everyone believes exactly the same thing.
  • They think atheists practice the religion of atheism.
  • They think atheists hate God.
  • They think all atheists oppose religion of any kind.
  • They think atheists have a secret desire to live immoral lives.
  • They think all atheists worship Madalyn Murray O’Hair.
  • They think all atheists are ignorant of the Bible and Christianity.
  • They think atheists are out to steal the souls of children.
  • They think atheists are agents of Satan/Lucifer/Beelzebub/Barack Obama.
  • They think atheists revere men such as Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin.
  • They think all atheists are politically liberal and they all voted for Barack Obama.
  • They think atheists are out to destroy America and turn it into a godless state.
  • They think all atheists are pro-abortion.

And in every instance, Evangelicals are wrong about what they think they know about atheists. Atheism is the rejection of belief in the existence of deities.  From this point, atheists head off in many different directions. Yes, most atheists are likely political liberals, but many atheists are Republican, Pro-life, Libertarian, or supporters of the right to own guns. Unlike Evangelicalism, the atheist spectrum is quite broad.

Are some atheists ignorant of the Bible and Christianity?  Sure, and as an atheist I am embarrassed when they open their mouths and expose their ignorance. However, many atheists are like me, raised in the Christian church, taught the Bible from our youth, and we know the Bible inside and out. There are countless college-trained atheists who were once Evangelical pastors. Some, such as I, spent most of their adult life preaching and teaching the Bible, winning souls, and doing the work of the ministry.

fool says no god

As I told one commenter who suggested that since I was not a Christian and didn’t have the Holy Spirit living inside me, my understanding of the Bible was wrong: does this mean the moment I said, I am an atheist, 25 years of intense Bible study and knowledge immediately left my brain?

If Evangelicals really want to understand atheists, they are going to have to set aside their presuppositions and actually get to know a real, flesh-and-blood atheist.  Most Evangelicals are unwilling to do this. They are closed-minded like James Spiegel, having made up their mind that atheists are in rebellion against God and secretly desire to live a life of immorality.

Actually getting to know an atheist might force them to rethink their beliefs, and we can’t have any of that. To admit that an atheist is a kind, loving, decent human being means that the Evangelical claim that only Jesus can make a person kind, loving, and decent  is not true. To admit that atheists are as moral as they are is to rob the Evangelical God of his power.

Evangelicals can not stand being “just like everyone else.”  They have been told their whole life that they are unique, special, a new creation in Christ Jesus. To admit that an atheist is just like they are is too much to handle and invalidates the foundation their life is built on.

So Evangelicals continue their attack on atheists, refusing to realize that the atheists they are attacking do not exist and are a figment of their imagination.

Here’s an offer I will make to any Evangelical church/pastor within a two-hour drive from my town. I will gladly, free of charge, come and speak to your church about atheism and answer any questions the congregation might have. I will even bring my beautiful, godless wife with me. If you really want to know and understand what makes an atheist tick, I am ready and willing to be examined. This is not an offer to debate. I do not do debates. This is a genuine offer to educate your congregation about atheism. If you are interested, please contact me (and I will prepare myself for the deluge of invitations that are sure to come)

things christians say to atheists

042616

Songs of Sacrilege: Did Jesus Have a Baby Sister? by Dory Previn

Today, I am starting a new series, Songs of Sacrilege. 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.

Dory Previn was an Americans 20th century  song writer and poet. Previn’s fifth album, released in 1974 on the Warner Brothers label, featured a song titled, Did Jesus Have a Baby Sister?

Video link

Lyrics

Did jesus have a baby sister?
Was she bitter?
Was she sweet?
Did she wind up in a convent?
Did she end up on the street?
On the run?
On the stage?
Did she dance?
Did he have a sister?
A little baby sister?
Did jesus have a sister?
Did they give her a chance?

Did he have a baby sister?
Could she speak out
By and large?
Or was she told by mother mary
Ask your brother he’s in charge
He’s the chief
He’s the whipped cream
On the cake
Did he have a sister?
A little baby sister?
Did jesus have a sister?
Did they give her a break?

Her brother’s
Birth announcement
Was pretty big
Pretty big
I guess
While she got precious
Little notice
In the local press
Her mother was the virgin
When she carried him
Carried him
Therein
If the little girl came later
Then
Was she conceived in sin?
And in sorrow?
And in suffering?
And in shame?
Did jesus have a sister?
What was her name?

Did she long to be the saviour
Saving everyone
She me?
And in private to her mirror
Did she whisper
Saviourette?
Saviourwoman?
Saviourperson?
Save your breath!
Did he have a sister?
A little baby sister?
Did jesus have a sister?
Was she there at his death?

And did she cry for mary’s comfort
As she watched him
On the cross?
And was mary too despairing
Ask your brother
He’s the boss
He’s the chief
He’s the man
He’s the show
Did he have a sister?
A little baby sister?
Did jesus have a sister?
Doesn’t anyone know?

Faith and the Chair

dog in a chair

I suspect most of us who were raised in fundamentalist/Evangelical Christianity have heard the faith/chair analogy. If you have not heard it before:

Faith is like deciding to sit in a chair. You don’t know that the chair will hold you, yet by faith you believe it will, so you sit down in the chair.

Quite deep theology there, brethren.

I read an Evangelical blog post the other day that used this analogy, so it is still out there being used by Evangelicals zealots to wow the ignorant.

Here’s the problem with this analogy; sitting in a chair does not require faith at all. Let me explain it this way. I am a big man, so making sure a chair will withstand my considerable ass sitting in it requires me to use the scientific method of inquiry.

Before I ever sit in a chair I ask myself, does this chair LOOK like it will hold me? Now looks aren’t enough, as I learned several years ago at a Toledo Olive Garden. After the hostess brought us to our table, I glanced at the chair and quickly sat down. Except I didn’t make it all the way down. As I started to put my weight on the chair it kicked out from me and I landed flat on my back in the middle of Olive Garden. I hit my head on the cement floor and could not get up. The manager came running in to make sure I was all right. I was. The only injury was to my pride. So, was the chair defective? Not at all. The chair had roller casters and I didn’t see them. As I started to sit down, the chair rolled out from underneath me and I fell. Because I didn’t pay attention to the construction of the chair, I ended up on the cement floor. This is what having faith in the chair got me.

Most of the time, when we go out to eat, I carefully check not only the construction of the chair, but the ingress and egress. As a disabled man, it is important for me to know the lay of the land. Where’s the bathroom, can I easily walk to the bathroom, etc. As far as the chair is concerned, I rock the chair back and forth and side to side making sure it is solid and I press on the seat  making sure it will hold me. I have been to more than one restaurant where I’ve had to ask for a different chair lest the one they wanted me to use breaks. The only thing worse than a chair breaking is the embarrassment that comes from it.

Using the scientific method, I test a chair to make sure it will hold me. After I have done so, and it passes the tests, I feel confident that the chair will support my 6 foot, 360 pound body. I have been a big man most of my adult life and this method of determining chair worthiness has never failed me. The only time I have ever had a chair break is when I “faith” it.

The faith/chair analogy breaks down in another way because the chair is an inanimate object that I can see and touch. God can not been seen or touched and believing in God requires, to some degree, blind faith.

This is one of the reasons I am an atheist. I see no evidence for the Evangelical Christian God. Believing in such a God requires faith, a faith that I do not have. For me, seeing is believing, and I do not “see” the Evangelical God.

Hebrews 11:1,3 states:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

What is Christian faith?

  • The substance of things hoped for
  • The evidence of things not seen

Perhaps the wording of the NIV will make it clearer:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Many Evangelicals get upset when someone suggests that their faith is a blind faith. But isn’t that exactly how Hebrews defines faith, believing without seeing; that faith is the proof of belief in that which can not be seen?

Creationists would do well to read Hebrews 11 the next time they try to scientifically prove creationism. Hebrews 11 makes it clear that believing God created the universe requires faith. It requires faith to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence for the formation of the universe, earth, and life. Creationists embarrass themselves and besmirch their religion when they try to make creationism fit in a scientific box. And when their efforts fail, what do they do? They retreat to the safety of faith, a place they should have stayed to start with.

042616

Al Mohler Upset Over Newsweek Article About the Bible

newsweek the bible

Fundamentalist Al Mohler has his panties in a knot a-g-a-i-n. This happens so often that Mohler recently had to have a pantiedectomy to remove over a dozen pairs of panties that were permanently ensconced in his rectum. It is always something with Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  This time, Mohler is upset about a Newsweek article on the Bible.

The feature article, The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin, is written by Kurt Eichenwald. Mohler notes that Eichenwald has, in the past, written for The New York Times and Vanity Fair. In other words, Mohler wants his followers to know that Eichenwald is a l-i-b-e-r-a-l.

Mohler contends that Eichenwald is out of his element in writing about the Bible. Evidently, being an investigative reporter is not sufficient to write about the Good Book. I suspect Mohler thinks that only theologians and people who actually believe the Bible is anything more than a fiction book should be the only ones worthy of writing about the Timeless Word of God®.

It always amuses me when people like Mohler play the “you are not qualified” card. Mohler is quite the hypocrite. He routinely writes on subjects he is not qualified to write on; subjects like politics, medicine, art, and science. According to Mohler’s website:

A native of Lakeland, Fla., Dr. Mohler was a Faculty Scholar at Florida Atlantic University before receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. He holds a master of divinity degree and the doctor of philosophy (in systematic and historical theology) from Southern Seminary. He has pursued additional study at the St. Meinrad School of Theology and has done research at University of Oxford (England)

Best I can tell, Mohler has no serious training in science, politics, medicine, or art, yet he is somehow “qualified to write on these issues.  Of course, I understand why. Evangelical pastors have the ear of God and are qualified to pontificate on any issue “God” wants them to. Evangelical pastors are noted for knowing everything there is to know about anything and everything. Doubt me? Just ask one of them.

I think Mohler is more than qualified to write on a variety of subjects. He is an older man with a lot of education. But then, so is Eichenwald, and that’s my point. Just because Eichenwald is not an Evangelical Christian or a college trained theologian doesn’t mean he is not capable of writing an article about the Bible. He can read and is an investigative reporter and he is well equipped to write on most any subject he puts his mind to.

Here are a few excerpts from the Newsweek article:

They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.

This is no longer a matter of personal or private faith. With politicians, social leaders and even some clergy invoking a book they seem to have never read and whose phrases they don’t understand, America is being besieged by Biblical illiteracy. Climate change is said to be impossible because of promises God made to Noah; Mosaic law from the Old Testament directs American government; creationism should be taught in schools; helping Syrians resist chemical weapons attacks is a sign of the end times—all of these arguments have been advanced by modern evangelical politicians and their brethren, yet none of them are supported in the Scriptures as they were originally written.

The Bible is not the book many American fundamentalists and political opportunists think it is, or more precisely, what they want it to be. Their lack of knowledge about the Bible is well established. A Pew Research poll in 2010 found that evangelicals ranked only a smidgen higher than atheists in familiarity with the New Testament and Jesus’s teachings. “Americans revere the Bible—but, by and large, they don’t read it,’’ wrote George Gallup Jr. and Jim Castelli, pollsters and researchers whose work focused on religion in the United States. The Barna Group, a Christian polling firm, found in 2012 that evangelicals accepted the attitudes and beliefs of the Pharisees—religious leaders depicted throughout the New Testament as opposing Christ and his message—more than they accepted the teachings of Jesus.

Newsweek’s exploration here of the Bible’s history and meaning is not intended to advance a particular theology or debate the existence of God. Rather, it is designed to shine a light on a book that has been abused by people who claim to revere it but don’t read it, in the process creating misery for others. When the illiteracy of self-proclaimed Biblical literalists leads parents to banish children from their homes, when it sets neighbor against neighbor, when it engenders hate and condemnation, when it impedes science and undermines intellectual advancement, the topic has become too important for Americans to ignore, whether they are deeply devout or tepidly faithful, believers or atheists.

This examination—based in large part on the works of scores of theologians and scholars, some of which dates back centuries—is a review of the Bible’s history and a recounting of its words. It is only through accepting where the Bible comes from— and who put it together—that anyone can comprehend what history’s most important book says and, just as important, what it does not say.

Later in the article, Eichenwald writes:

“These manuscripts were originally written in Koiné, or ‘common’ Greek, and not all of the amateur copyists spoke the language or were even fully literate. Some copied the script without understanding the words. And Koiné was written in what is known as scriptio continua—meaning no spaces between words and no punctuation. So, a sentence like weshouldgoeatmom could be interpreted as ‘We should go eat, Mom,’ or ‘We should go eat Mom.’ Sentences can have different meaning depending on where the spaces are placed.For example,godisnowhere could be ‘God is now here’ or ‘God is nowhere.’”

If you are interested in reading all of Mohler’s objections, you can read them here.

Mohler concludes his article by saying:

But Kurt Eichenwald’s essay is not ground-breaking in any sense. These arguments have been around for centuries in some form. He mixes serious points of argument with caricatures and cartoons and he does exactly what he accuses Christians of doing — he picks his “facts” and arguments for deliberate effect.

Newsweek’s cover story is exactly what happens when a writer fueled by open antipathy to evangelical Christianity tries to throw every argument he can think of against the Bible and its authority. To put the matter plainly, no honest historian would recognize the portrait of Christian history presented in this essay as accurate and no credible journalist would recognize this screed as balanced.

Oddly enough, Kurt Eichenwald’s attack on evangelical Christianity would likely be a measure more effective had he left out the personal invective that opens his essay and appears pervasively. He has an axe to grind, and grind he does.

But the authority of the Bible is not the victim of the grinding. To the contrary, this article is likely to do far more damage to Newsweek in its sad new reality. Kurt Eichenwald probably has little to lose among his friends at Vanity Fair, but this article is nothing less than an embarrassment. To take advantage of Newsweek’s title — it so misrepresents the truth, it’s a sin.

Mohler thinks Eichenwald has an axe to grind. And Mohler doesn’t? His weekly missives are one long lesson in the art of axe grinding. How about we all admit we each have axes to grind? Let’s look beyond what may be over the top characterizations by Eichenwald and deal with the one salient fact he makes clear; the Bible is a horribly misrepresented, misunderstood book. Most Christians are ignorant about the history of the Bible and its teachings. Most Christians spend very little time reading and studying the Bible. Even among Evangelicals, people who love to claim they are people of the Book,  Bible literacy and serious study of the Bible is lacking.

I suspect Mohler yearns for the day when churches, pastors, colleges, and seminaries controlled the flow of information. Before the internet, people didn’t have access to websites that dismantle, discredit, and obliterate the arguments pastors and theologians make for the Bible and its teachings. Unbelief is on the rise, the none’s continue to grow, and Bart Ehrman’s books are New York Times bestsellers. Information about the history of the Bible and its teachings can no longer be contained within the four walls of the church or seminary.

The bigger problem is that Christians, especially of the Fundamentalist and Evangelical stripe, now know that their pastor has been lying to them. Their pastor knew that the Bible is not an infallible, inerrant, or inspired book, he knew it contained errors, mistakes, and contradictions, yet he hid these things from parishioners. Conscientious Christians are right to wonder about what else their pastor isn’t telling them? Maybe it is time to check out other expressions of faith that don’t denigrate people over their gender, sexuality, or politics.

The internet will be the death of Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity in America. Certainly Christianity will survive, but its future form will be much different from the Bible thumping days of the19th-20th century. Evangelicalism is dying. Mohler’s own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), continues to lose members. Actual church attendance and baptisms are in decline and the average  congregation is filled with those over 50. On any given Sunday, over half of the people who are on the membership roll of a Southern Baptist church are nowhere to be found. (check the bed or the lake)  SBC leaders fear they are losing a whole generation of young people. Instead of looking inward for the reason this is so, they blame it on American culture, Hollywood, emergent theology, etc. They seem unable to see that the real problem is irrelevance and an inability to answer the hard questions presented by science.  Young adults continue to seek truth but they no longer look to the church for the answers.

Men like Al Mohler will continue to rage against the machine, blaming anyone and everyone but himself. At his funeral he will be eulogized as a stanch defender of the faith and the nursing home crowd in attendance will feebly say Amen.

Like everything that is of human construction, death, change, and rebirth are sure to come to American Christianity. It remains to be seen what Christianity will look like when my grandchildren are my age. That is, if the rapture hasn’t happened and carried all the real Christians® away.

Pastor Ron Adkins and the Agnostic

letter to the editor

Republished from August 2010 with slight grammatical corrections.

The Sunday edition of the Defiance Crescent-News has the first, of what I am sure will be many more, letters to the Editor concerning my recently published rebuttal letter.

My youngest son asked me today if anyone has ever written a letter to the editor in support of my views about religion. I laughed and said No. As far as I know, I am the only person who has  written to the newspaper and said “I am an agnostic.” (Some days I wonder, “what was I thinking”?) I hope my willingness to stand up and be counted will encourage others to do so. I know I am not alone. I have received their letters and email. They fear what might happen to them socially or economically if their agnosticism or atheism were made public. Their fears are well-grounded and I would not encourage anyone to take the same path as I have.

My children have to live with the fact that their dad is “the man who writes in the newspaper”. They have to field questions like “are you related to Bruce Gerencser”? If they answer yes, what often follows is a queer look, a look that says I want to tell you what I think or I want to ask you a question or two. Usually, once my children affirm their connection to me a nervous silence ensues,. It’s like, the questioner, all of a sudden, finds out he has been working alongside a spawn of Satan.

The first letter to the editor response I want to deal with is written by Ron Adkins, pastor of the Ney and Farmer United Methodist churches. I know Ron personally. Our family attended the Ney church for a number of months and it was the last Church we ever attended. One might say our last experience proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. (though we met many wonderful people at the Ney church)

Ron is a young man. This is his first pastorate. Prior to this he was a professor at Ohio Christian University. Ohio Christian University is a fundamentalist institution affiliated with the Churches of Christ in Christian Union. (I am sure Ron will chafe at the fundamentalist label but he also knows what my response is to that)

Ron has pastored the Ney/Farmer churches for about 2 years. When I asked him what his philosophy of ministry was he told me it was “loving on people”. Evidently, as you shall see from his letter, that doesn’t include me. Some of what Ron writes in his letter reflects personal, private discussions he and  I had during the time we attended the Ney church. One could object saying “I told you that in private” but one thing I know about preachers, “don’t tell them anything you don’t want others to know.” (I take privacy far more seriously NOW than I did when I was a pastor)

From reading Ron’s letter to the editor it is safe to assume that my rebuttal letter upset some people in his church. Here I am, almost two years removed from attending church, and I am still causing trouble. I realize my letter put Ron in a no-win situation. He is a great guy and he doesn’t like conflict. He has a wonderful wife and great kids. The last thing he needs is to tangle with Bruce. But, my heresy demands an answer, so Ron penned typed a reply to my letter.

As you shall see in a moment, Ron tries to avoid making this personal. He never calls me by name. Instead he calls me THE agnostic. Since the is a definite article and I am the only agnostic that has written to the paper, it is safe to assume that THE agnostic=Bruce Gerencser.

Now to Pastor Adkin’s letter. Ron’s letter appears as normal type. My response appears as bold italics.

To the Editor:

I have been averse to reading the latest letter to the editor from the agnostic because I personally find agnosticism trite for two major reasons.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right away. Ron is writing about my letter, and since I am the only agnostic who has written to the newspaper, he is directing his response to me and what I have written. Of course, his greater objective is to cheer on the faithful.

My response is personal. I guess I could hide my response target by saying I am responding to THE pastor, but, I am not one known for such subterfuge so I want to make it clear that my response is directed to Pastor Adkins and his letter to the editor. I do hope that the faithful will be challenged and forced to ask hard questions about Christianity, the Bible, and their certainty that what they say they believe is the truth is really the truth. I also hope my fellow atheists and agnostics will be encouraged to continue on the path of intellectual freedom.

I am amused somewhat that Ron considers agnosticism trite, yet he expends quite a bit of verbiage in his attack of the agnostic view. Perhaps it was not as trite as he thought is was.

First, agnosticism is predicated on the premise of skepticism concerning the existence of God. The agnostic doubts the absolute truth about God (although some may believe in a First Cause), yet states an absolute truth by claiming God does not exist and that the answer is a humanistic worldview. If consistent, the agnostic would doubt his own statements, and furthermore, would doubt his own doubt that God does not exist, thus resulting in the probability that God could exist.

I don’t believe I have ever said God does not exist.  I am, after all, an agnostic. In fact, Ron might be surprised to know that I have quite a bit of room in my agnostic worldview for a god (or gods). (much to the consternation of some hard-core atheists) I am fairly certain that the gods that man has created so far are not gods at all. I can not state categorically or infallibly (I’ll leave that to the Pope) there is NO God. Even Christopher Hitchens does not say there is No God.

The best answer,the best philosophy of living, in my humble opinion, is humanism. With humanism the focus is on reality, the here and now. Surely, Ron, the history major that he is, knows that many humanists have a spiritual or religious dimension to their beliefs. But, the humanist always comes back to what they can see. The humanist does not have time to spend on pining about a future in heaven, the rapture, and the many other events in the eternal future that preoccupy and keep Christians from engaging a suffering, hurting, and dying world.

What is humanism? The best statement I have found comes from the Humanist magazine:

“Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. Free of theism and other supernatural beliefs, humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny.”

Christians often prop up the straw man of absolute truth. Everyone believes in absolute truth, they claim.  Evidently Ron needs to meet a few real agnostics and atheists before he claims such a thing.

Personally, there are many things I believe to be true or factual. Based on what knowledge and information I have at hand, I have concluded that certain things are factual and true. I know that the earth revolves around the sun and that the earth is not flat. I am relatively certain the science behind these claims is true. If I was left with only the absolute truth of the Bible, I would have to ignore what science teaches and I would be forced to accept that the sun revolves around the earth and the earth is flat. (among countless other incredible, yet false claims found in the Bible)

Ron writes of the absolute truth of God, and by God, lets be clear, Ron means the Christian God. Where does one find this absolute truth? The Bible. Ah, finally a concrete piece of information we can weigh in the balances. And that is exactly what I have done. I have weighed the claims of the Bible in the balances and found it wanting.

I find the claims made by academics like Bart Ehrman and Robert Price to be compelling. I find Richard Wright’s book The Evolution of God to be a fascinating  alternative story to the monotheism of orthodox Christianity.

My agnosticism rests squarely on the belief that the Bible is not what it claims to be and that it is not inspired, divine truth. At the end of the day it all boils down to the Bible. If I do not accept the claims of the Bible, or the claims of what Churches, denominations, popes or pastors say the Bible says, then I can not believe in the God that the Bible presents.  I may still believe in a god  but not the god of the Christian Bible.

Ron, I am sure, will appeal to nature and conscience as proof of God, but I would counter  how can one necessarily conclude that the God who gave us nature and a conscience is necessarily the Christian God? Would a person not initiated in Christian thinking come to the conclusion, by looking at nature, that there is a God and that that God is the triune God of the Christian religion? Doubtful. In fact, I can say impossible. Such a faith requires the Bible to give it structure.

Second, if then, the agnostic is not a true agnostic,because of the self-defeating premise, then there is another motivation behind his self-proclaimed agnosticism.

Answered above, so I assume this makes mute the next point Ron makes. But, Ron gets personal (divulging a bit of inside information about me) in what follows so I want to deal with it.

I have found that agnostics, who are not true agnostics,typically are angry at God because God does not operate the way they think God should operate. At other times they are angry because they have not received what they wanted from God. Like the undisciplined child who is angry at a parent using their only means of power, knowing they are powerless, will proclaim, “I hate you!” Nothing could hurt a parent more, and they know this.

The agnostic stands before God and proclaims in anger,‘”You don’t exist!” Isn’t it interesting then that humans, created beings, desire God to act the way they perceive God should act? Furthermore, I find it pathetic to claim a humanistic worldview in which there is nothing, or no one, greater than ourselves to rely.

Anger. Ron, is right about my anger but he is wrong about the focus of my anger.

The Christian God, the God of Ron Adkins does not exist. Why would I be angry at a fictional being?

No, my anger is directed towards organized religion.  My anger is directed at Evangelical Christianity. I am angry over what was taken from me over the 25 years I spent in the ministry.  I am angry over the wasted time and effort spent “doing  Church”. I am angry over my own selfish ambitions and my attempts at building a kingdom in my own name. (as all pastors do, after all why is their name on the church sign?)

I am angry over what the ministry and the church did to my wonderful wife and children. I am angry over countless parishioners whose lives are now shipwrecked because they drank from the well of organized religion.

Yes, I am angry and it feels good. For 33 years I lived in denial of my emotions, serving a God who was no god at all, a god that demanded self-sacrifice and self-denial. It feels good to be out from under such a burdensome weight.

Ron may consider humanism pathetic, and I might be tempted to say back at ya, but what humanism provides for me is reality. It is rooted in the common humanity we all share. I no longer have need to pray, fast, tithe, and attend. What humanism demands of me is doing, It demands of me the very things Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount. Humanism calls me to be fully human, in an imperfect, marred world. It calls me to use what talents I have for the betterment of my fellow man.

Becoming an agnostic and a humanist has forced me to admit that most of the supposed altruistic works I did as a pastor had an ulterior motive. I didn’t love people  for who they were. I loved them because I wanted Jesus to change them . If Jesus changed them then they would become a part of the church I pastored . End result? Bigger attendance and bigger offerings. (Trying to get a pastor to admit this is nigh impossible.)

It is an exhilarating experience to truly love people as they are.

Last, I would like to briefly answer the question which became the title for the agnostic’s editorial, “Writers espoused different views.”

I am glad of one thing……..Ron used the word last. I despise the use of the word lastly. Ron gets 1 brownie point for using last instead of lastly.

I hope Ron is aware that the newspaper determines what the letter title is. I have been writing letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, etc for over 28 years and I have yet been allowed to write my own title.

First, let me give some advice to all of those wonderful Christians who have been troubled by THE Agnostic. Remember an agnostic asks questions based on skepticism. Don’t feel as though you are in a corner. The quote at hand read, “Every letter writer has their own version of God and what constitutes a right, saving relationship with that God. This shows me that there is no such thing as Christianity (singular) in America”.

Truth is an objective fact expressed in a subjective way. It is obvious that one comes to the truth of Christianity or more generally religious truth, differently than one would come to scientific truth. God is not an object to be observed. God has made himself known. Faith, therefore, is a response in obedience, the thing agnostics hate.

I find Ron’s statement here astounding. Ron writes “Truth is an objective fact expressed in a subjective way”. Ron certainly believes the Bible to be absolute truth.  I would love to  know if he really, really, believes the Bible is absolute truth. (I have my doubts) Ron, without any evidence, believes that what the Bible teaches is objective fact.

How does one know this? By a subjective experience with God. God has made himself known. How do we know that? Because the Christian says so. Because Ron says so. Ultimately, it is a matter of faith.

If it is a matter of faith, why  do so many Christians try and prove the truth of Christianity? Why do they attempt to use scientific methods to prove the veracity of the claims the Bible makes?

If it is a matter of faith then why write letters to the editor attempting to discredit and refute my rebuttal letter? Would it not be better to rest in the belief that the God of faith, through the holy Spirit will take care of things? Surely God can take care of one lowly, insignificant, pimple on the ass, agnostic named Bruce?

Ron might be surprised to know that I still have faith. I have faith in the gods I can see, my fellow human beings. In my Christian days I put my faith in a God who I said  was always there, but quite honestly I never really could find him. God was all-knowing and all-powerful. He was supposedly intimately involved in the minutia of my life, yet when it came to things that mattered, matters of life and death, God was nowhere to be found.

I would assume that Ron considers his weekly sermons to be subjective? After all he is preaching absolute truth in a subjective manner, yes? I don’t know of any preacher that would embrace such a claim, especially  an Evangelical preacher. After all, the preacher is the man of God who speaks the word of God to the people of God. Not much subjectivity  here.

I find no conflict in the different responses to the agnostic because the different individuals have expressed their belief and experience (“Pascal’s Wager”) in the one, absolute God in different ways. Faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world is truth and is experienced by individuals.

Ron is being disingenuous here OR his two years in the Methodist church has worn down his Evangelical resolve. I realize he is preaching to the choir here, but any cursory reading of the letters written in reply to either of my recent letters will reveal full-blown heresy. Is Ron suggesting that subjective heresy is fine as long as it is done with the right intention? If so, it is time to give all the heretics of the past a place at the orthodox table once again. Each of them had sincere intentions. They loved their version of Jesus. Welcome Brother Pelagius!

It is clear for all  who are willing to see……….no two Christians have the same version of Christianity. Christianity for most Christians is akin to going to a buffet, taking what you want and leaving the rest. I don’t have a problem with this approach, but I would, at least, like Christians to admit it. They speak of orthodoxy and common belief, but such singularity does not exist except in  denominational or church confessions or theological texts. Real world experience tells me that every Christian believes what they want to believe and ignores the rest. (any righteous men out there that want to offer their virgin daughter to the men of the city as righteous Lot did?)

This is why all Christians can describe some kind of personal experience, or relationship, with God through the Holy Spirit. Christian faith is an assent and obedience to the revelation of God.

On  this point  I  agree with Ron. It is all about the revelation of God. In other words it is ALL about the Bible. As I have said time and time again, there is no Christianity without the Bible. I am an agnostic because I reject the truth claims of the Bible. I reject its claim that it is a supernatural, divine book that reveals God to humankind. It is  a spiritual book written by men thousands of years ago.  Certainly the Bible has much to offer in way of personal spiritual guidance, but it is just a  book and it has no authority in my life. It has as much authority, and is just as inspired, as the writings of Mark Twain. (And no Christian can prove otherwise because the doctrine of inspiration is presupposed and can not be empirically proved.)

Ron knew I was heading down the slippery slope towards agnosticism. Surely he can recall our discussions about the Bible. He, at one time, read my blog. Yet, when I stopped attending his church that ended our interaction. Evidently time was better spent rescuing those who wanted rescued.

Yet, one would think that over the course of two years, in a town of 325 people, Ron or someone from the church would have stopped by and looked in on us. As I have struggled with debilitating neurological problems, problems Ron was well aware of, one would think that a visit might be in order. How can we help? Is there anything you need? One never knows what love and kindness might accomplish.

As is always the case…why spend time helping people who have no intentions of joining the happy band. If their ass is not in the seat why bother?

This is my subjective experience of the objective truth called the Church.

There are six churches within a few miles of the home where my family and I reside. Prior to my recent coming out as an agnostic, our family would have been a great catch for any church. We are clean-cut, clean-livers. We look like Christians. We are talented. We have skills that any church would be grateful to use. We are loyal, faithful people. We are loving and kind. We are great non-Christian Christians.

But, not one pastor, one church leader, one church member, ever knocked on our door to invite us to their church. Even after we visited four of the six churches, no one bothered to try to befriend us and love us as Jesus would.

No, the truth is……..no one gave a shit.

And then one day………neither did we.

Ron Adkins
Ney

Bruce Gerencser
Ney

Doing Good Because it is the Right Thing to Do

Imagine for a moment that you find a wallet that someone has accidentally dropped on the ground. In the wallet is the person’s ID, credit cards, and $300. What would you do?

I suspect most of us would attempt to track the person down and return the wallet. Why? Because it is the right thing to do.

The Christian Post reported a story about an anonymous Christian finding a wallet and returning it to its rightful owner. The Christian did the right thing and he should be commended for doing so. If you have ever lost your wallet or ID you know how stressful and gut-wrenching the experience is, especially in this day of identity theft.

The problem I have with the Christian Post story is the motivation the Christian had for returning the wallet. Instead of it being a good, decent, honorable thing to do, the Christian had a “Biblical” reason for returning the wallet.

The Christian attached a Post-it note to the wallet:

returned wallet

Wallet Returned to Owner by a Christian with Note Containing Bible Verses

The Christian who returned the wallet stated that his reason/motivation for returning the wallet was:

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. Luke 10:27

He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. Luke 16:10

That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth. Psalm 83:18

In other words, the Christian’s act of decency and kindness was all about God.

From my seat in the atheist pew, it seems to me that religion and the Bible complicate the issue. Would the Christian have returned the wallet if these verses weren’t in the Bible? Would he have returned the wallet if he weren’t a Christian? While these questions might be viewed as trying to turn a good deed into an argument, I think motivations are important.

This story is connected quite closely to the argument over morality and ethics. Many Christians think morality and ethics require religion and a divine text. In their thinking, they do good because of their religion and its teachings. It is God that keeps them from being a bad person.

It is not enough, then, for an act of goodness to be performed just because it is the right thing to do. Instead, it is God who get all the praise and glory because without him, humans would do bad things. In others words, without God, the Christian would have kept the wallet.

If the Christian had left a Post-it note with these two verses:

And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. Luke 6:31

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matthew 22:39

perhaps I would see this story differently.

All of us should treat others as we would want to be treated. Isn’t that a universal moral value?

I commend the Christian for returning the man’s wallet. It was the right things to do, whether the man was a fundamentalist, an Episcopalian, or an atheist. Would an atheist have returned the wallet? I’d like to think so. But, I know among atheists and Christians alike, there are those that would have viewed the lost wallet as an opportunity to steal. As we all well know, religious belief does not inoculate a person from being a bad person.  The religious and the godless have the capability and power to do bad things.  Why? Because bad people do bad things. Avarice is found too often among the human species.  A narcissistic view of the world often motivates people to only think of self. When presented with an opportunity to return the lost wallet, the narcissist is only concerned with what he can gain. In this case, he gains the money that is in the wallet.

We should all strive for a higher ideal regardless of our religious belief. As a humanist, I try to treat others as I would want to be treated. If I lost my wallet, I hope someone would return it and I would gladly offer the finder a reward.  Far more important than lost cash is lost ID.  And I know if I found a person’s wallet I would return it to the owner. How do I know I would do this? Because that is what I have done in the past. It is the moral/ethical code I live by. I know how panicked I get when I can’t find my wallet in the house and I can only imagine how stressed out I would be if I knew I had lost it at a store or parking lot somewhere.

Here’s the point I want to make — good people do good. Yes, sometimes good people fail and might, at times, do bad things, but the arc of their life is toward good. The same can be said of those who lack moral and ethical character. They may, at times, do good things, but the arc of their life is toward bad. It is not religion that determines goodness or badness, though it certainly can, for some people, play a part. What determines the kind of person we are is our character. People with good character do good things like returning a lost wallet. People with bad character, don’t.

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