Religion

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.

021116

A Moment of Kindness Remembered for a Lifetime

kindness

It’s early spring in NW Ohio, the year is 1972.

A fourteen-year-old boy is playing with his Lionel trains in the basement of a rented house on Cherry St. in Findlay, Ohio.  He loves playing with the trains, a love picked up from working at his Dad’s hobby store.

The boy hears footsteps coming down the basement stairs. It’s his Dad.

His Dad says, I need to talk to you.

This is strange, the boy thought. Dad never talks to me about anything.

Your Mom and I don’t love each other anymore, says the boy’s Dad, and we are getting a divorce.

And just like that, whatever shred of family the boy had was destroyed.

It wasn’t long before the divorce was final.

The boy is in ninth grade and it is graduation time. His parents both want to come to his graduation but the boy says, I am not going to graduation, and that was that.

Tenth grade. High School. All the ninth graders from Central, Donnell, and Glenwood would join the older students at Findlay High School, making the school one of the largest in Ohio.

The boy’s friends would all be there, His school friends, his church friends, and the boys he played baseball and basketball with.

The boy’s Dad remarried, a girl 18 years younger than his Dad. She has a baby. In a few short years the boy would be dating women the age of his Dad’s new wife. She was never more than Dad’s new wife. The boy had a mother, and he only needed one of those.

Fall turned to Winter and then one early Spring day the boy’s Dad says, we are moving to Arizona.

What? the boy thought. You can’t do this to me. All my friends are here. You promised, no more moving. Two and one-half years, the longest the boy ever lived in one place, and now he had to move.

Upset, angry, bitter, and no one seemed to care.

On a Saturday in March, 1973 the auctioneer’s voice rang out and everything but essentials are sold to strangers who came to gawk at household goods.  And with auction proceeds in hand the Gerencsers pile into two cars and move to Tucson, Arizona. Later and the finance company would track down the boy’s Dad and repossess the cars. When the boy became a man he then understood why he had to move so suddenly and quickly 1,900 miles from his home.

The boy, despite hating his Dad for taking him away from his friends, is excited about the prospect of traveling across the country. So many things to see, so many new experiences to be had.

The first thing the boy does is find a new church to attend. Isn’t amazing, the boy thought, right in our backyard is the Tucson Baptist Temple, a Baptist Bible Fellowship church! Just like the church in Findlay, this must be God working things out, the boy quietly hopes.

The Tucson Baptist Temple was a large church pastored by Louis Johnson, a preacher from Kentucky. The boy joined the church and started attending youth group. But, try as he might he couldn’t make friends. It wasn’t like his church home in Findlay where the boy had all kinds of friends, and even a few girl church friends.  He feels very much alone.

With the move, the boy has to ride a city bus to his new school, Rincon High School. Right away he notices that some of the kids from the youth group attended Rincon, but they pretend they don’t know him. He feels quite alone.

Rincon had what was called open lunch. Every day the boy would go outside and sit on the grass and eat his lunch. One day, a beautiful Asian girl comes near the boy and sits down to eat her lunch. She is warm and friendly, and treats the boy like she has known him for years. And for the next ten weeks, on most days, she ate lunch with the boy from Ohio. Outside of the fat boy everyone made fun of who rode the bus, this would be the only friend the boy would make.

And then came summer, and the boy hopped a Greyhound bus and moved back to Ohio. With the help of his church and friends, the boy was able to go back to his old school, his old church, with his old friends. Life for the next year was grand, just as if he had never left.

The boy would have to move to his Mom’s home at the end of the school year. This move brought great unrest and turmoil to the boy’s life, but that is a story for another day.

The boy is an old man now, and as he watches The Sing-Off, he sees a girl that brings to his mind a time long ago, when a beautiful girl took the time to befriend a friendless boy from Ohio. It reminds him that moments of kindness are often remembered for a lifetime.

020716

Nuclear War and the Prince of Peace

letter to the editor

“I am against war, against violence, against violent revolution, for peaceful settlement of differences, for nonviolent but nevertheless radical changes. Change is needed, and violence will not really change anything: at most it will only transfer power from one set of bull-headed authorities to another.”

Thomas Merton

“Technically I am not a pure pacifist in theory, though today in practice I don’t see how anyone can be anything else since limited wars (however ‘just’) present an almost certain danger of nuclear war on an all-out scale. It is absolutely clear to me that we are faced with the obligation, both as human beings and as Christians, of striving in every way possible to abolish war”.  

Thomas Merton 1961

“Nonviolence seeks to “win” not by destroying or even by humiliating the adversary, but by convincing him that there is a higher and more certain common good than can be attained by bombs and blood. Nonviolence, ideally speaking, does not try to overcome the adversary by winning over him, but to turn him from an adversary into a collaborator by winning him over.”

Thomas Merton 1968

“Perhaps peace is not, after all, something you work for, or “fight for.” It is indeed “fighting for peace” that starts all the wars. What, after all, are the pretexts of all these Cold War crises, but “fighting for peace”? Peace is something you have or you do not have. If you yourself are at peace, then there is at least some peace in the world. Then you share your peace with everyone, and everyone will be at peace. Of course I realize that arguments like this can be used as a pretext for passivity, for indifferent acceptance of every iniquity. Quietism leads to war as surely as anything does. But I am not speaking of quietism, because quietism is not peace, nor is it the way to peace.”

Thomas Merton 1966

I wrote the following on Christmas Day 2002. At the time, I was a Christian pastor. As you can see, I had wandered far from my Fundamentalist/Evangelical roots. This was published the next week in The Bryan Times.

Dear Editor,

What a wonderful and beautiful Christmas Day! The ground is blanketed with six or so inches of snow and all is peaceful and quiet. There is nothing more beautiful than a crisp winter morning after an overnight snowfall. This wintry scene causes me to reflect on the glory of Christmas Day and the meaning of it. Christmas is about redemption. Christmas is about Jesus the Son of God taking on human flesh, and being born of the virgin Mary in the city of Bethlehem. Jesus came into the world at the appointed time to bring redemption to all men. He came to proclaim peace and justice for all. He is called the Prince of Peace. Later in His life, Jesus would declare that peace and justice were to be character traits of those who profess to be followers of Him.

It is my thoughts of peace and justice that now begin to cloud my thoughts on this Christmas Day. Jesus came to bring peace, yet there is no peace. Jesus came to bring justice, yet there is no justice. Those who claim to be His followers show little concern for peace and justice. It seems they are all too busy with eating, drinking, and being merry to concern themselves with such weighty notions of peace and justice. But, concern ourselves with them we must.

I have been reading of late the Social Essays of the Catholic monk, Thomas Merton. These essays were written at the height of the cold war and the Vietnam war. I am amazed at how timely Merton’s essays are for today, though they were written 40 years ago. In his time, Merton had to constantly battle censors within the Catholic Church who attempted to silence his anti-war message. Merton was quite creative in the ways he got his message to the public. His voice still speaks loudly today.

Merton’s essays on nuclear war, unilateralism, and preemptive war should be required reading for all Americans. Merton reminds us of the lunacy of the notion that a nuclear war can be fought and won. Once the buttons are pushed, the world as we know it ceases to exist. Thoughts of non-defensive, unilateral, preemptive war, Merton reminds us, is immoral and should be condemned by all Christians.

Today, America sits on the precipice of nuclear world war. We have become the big bully who thinks he can get his way by bluffing and threatening. Every once in a while the bully even whips some weakling to show who is the toughest. Such is the case with Iraq. But now we have added North Korea to our list of nations we are intent on bullying. Unfortunately, North Korea does not quiver and shake at our threatenings. They well remember an America who could not defeat them during the Korean War. Since then, the North Koreans have added nuclear and biological weapons to their arsenal. According to recent newspaper reports, the North Koreans are quite willing to use what weapons they have to defend themselves.

What troubles me the most in all of this is the silence emanating from the pulpits of America. It seems the only voice that is heard is from war mongers like Jerry Falwell. Does he, and those like him, speak for the rest of us? The German Church silently sat by while Hitler put into force the plans and programs that would later give us World War II and the Holocaust. Now, the clergy of America sit by silently as George Bush and Company put into force programs like the Patriot Act and the Home Security Act. George Bush threatens war and destruction on any nation that opposes him. Our insane notion of national superiority, coupled with immoral capitalistic greed, is leading us down a path that is certain to have catastrophic results, yet nary a word is heard from our pulpits.

The Scriptures are clear, Christians are called to be people of peace and justice. We are to be peace makers. It is absurd to suggest, as George Bush does, that by waging war we will have peace. War always begets war and history bears this out. Only peace begets peace. It is time for all nations, including America, to lay aside and destroy ALL weapons of mass destruction. Our nation needs to repudiate its doctrine concerning preemptive first strikes against other nations. The world needs to know that America will be a peacemaking nation who desires peace and freedom for all men. While we must leave place for the need of defensive war or even what the theologians call “just war”, we must forsake attacking and killing others just because we do not like their government structure or way of life. Muslims have a right to live as they live without America interfering in their affairs. It is time we stop exporting Western civilization as the answer to the world’s problems. Better for us to concern ourselves with our own moral, ethical, and civil failures than trying to fix the problems of the world.

Fifty or so years ago the phrase “better dead than Red” was coined. Unfortunately, that philosophy is still alive and well. The proponents of this notion believe it is better for us all to be dead than to have any government or civilization than we have now. We best think about the reality of such a notion because when the nuclear bombs start falling it will be too late. The Reagan/Bush Star War notion of missile defense will not save us once the bombs start to fall. It will only take a few bombs to render this world unlivable. Those who survive will wish that had not.

It is not too late. Voices need to be raised in opposition and protest to the war policy of the Bush administration. Protesters need to make their voice heard via letters and public protest. Conscientious men and women in the military need to say “I will not” to their leaders who want to slaughter them on the altar of political and economic gain. Politicians need to get some backbone and be willing to stand up to the war mongering hawks on Capitol Hill. They have been raised up “for such a time as this!”

Bruce Gerencser
Alvordton, Ohio

Christmas, 1957-2014

christmas tree new lexington 1984

Our Christmas Tree, New Lexington, Ohio 1984

Christmas has played a part in my life ever since I entered the world in June of 1957. In this post I want to detail some of my memories about Christmas.

As a child, Christmas at the Gerencser home was a typical American Christmas. Family, food, and gifts. While there were never many gifts, my siblings and I always received several presents from our parents. My Dad filmed many Christmases with his 8mm movie camera. Sadly, after Dad died in 1985, the movies were either lost or destroyed.

christmas 1950's

Christmas, late 1950s. Dad with his movie camera.

In the 1960s Christmas at our home changed, and not for the best. My grandfather on my Mom’s side remarried.  My grandmother remarried several times, but was divorced by the mid-1960s. My grandparents on my Dad’s side died in 1963. Grandpa Gerencser died February 1, 1963 and Grandma Gerencser died a month later on March 5th.  So, I was left with Grandpa and Grandma Tieken and Grandma Rausch, and they didn’t get along.

In the 1950s, Grandpa Tieken and Grandma Rausch went through an acrimonious divorce, a divorce that resulted in neither parent being deemed  fit to raise their children. They had two children, my mother Barbara and her brother Steve. This acrimony was on display in the 1960s when Bob and Barbara Gerencser gathered for Christmas with their three children, Butch (that’s me), Bobby, and Robin. Into our family gathering would come the grandparents, teeth bared, hateful towards the other, likely fueled by alcohol. The fighting got so bad that it was necessary for us to have two Christmas gatherings, one for each grandparent.

In the summer of 1970, we moved from Deshler, Ohio to Findlay, Ohio. In the spring of 1972, my parents divorced. Dad would marry a 19-year-old girl a few months later and Mom would marry her first cousin, a recent Texas prison parolee. From this point forward until I entered college, I have no recollections of Christmas. I am sure we celebrated Christmas. I am sure we had a tree, perhaps gave gifts, etc., but I have no recollection of it.

In the fall of 1976, I left Bryan, Ohio and moved to Pontiac, Michigan to enroll at Midwestern Baptist College, a fundamentalist Christian college noted for training men for the ministry. In September of 1976, I began dating a young, beautiful 17-year-old freshman girl named Polly. She would be the last girl I dated and two years later, in July of 1978, we married. This Sunday, Polly and I will celebrate our 39th Christmas together.

My first Christmas with Polly was in 1976. I drove from Bryan, Ohio to Polly’s parent’s home in Newark, Ohio. Polly’s Dad, Lee Shope, was the assistant pastor at the Newark Baptist Temple, a church pastored by her uncle Jim Dennis. The Shope family Christmas was a multifamily affair, with two sisters joining together to have the celebration. Christmas of 1976 was held at the home of Jim and Linda Dennis.

Being Polly’s boyfriend, I was topic of discussion and inspection. Needless to say, I failed the inspection and I am still the topic of discussion all these years later. I vividly remember Polly’s Uncle Jim letting the whole church know that I was there visiting Polly. He said, “Bruce and Polly have a shirt tail relationship. We just don’t know how long the shirt tail is.” While I have no doubt Jim was trying to be funny, Polly and I were thoroughly embarrassed. This coming year we will celebrate 37 years of marriage, so the shirt tail has proven to be quite long.

As I entered the Dennis home, I was taken aback by how many gifts there were. Underneath the tree and flowing out from the tree were countless gifts, more gifts than my siblings and I received our entire childhood. The number of gifts, what I would later label an “orgy to consumerism,” continued unabated for many Christmases.

Polly’s family being a family of preachers — her Dad, Uncle, and Grandfather were preachers — they made sure they put a good word in for Jesus before the gift opening commenced. Every Christmas, one of the preachers, which later included Polly’s cousins and nephew, gave a short devotional reminding everyone that the birth of Jesus was the real meaning of Christmas. Interestingly, even though I was a pastor for 25 years, I was never asked to give the devotional.

After Polly and I married, we began to develop our own Christmas traditions. We spent Christmas Eve with Polly’s parents and Christmas Day with either my family in Bryan, Ohio or with my Mom at her home in Rochester, Indiana, and later Columbus, Ohio. Polly’s family Christmas continued to be marked by the gift giving orgy and lots of great food. Christmas with my Mom and family was much more of a measured affair. Mom made sure her grandkids got several gifts, as did my grandparents and Aunt Marijene. Christmas at Mom’s house continued until around 1990 when she and her husband Michael moved to Michigan. The move was somewhat unexpected and I came to understand later that they likely moved due to Michael’s shady business dealings with people who threatened to kill him.  Mom would commit suicide in April 1992, while living near my sister in Quincy, Michigan.

Christmas 1983, Polly and I decided to have Christmas with my extended family at our home in Glenford, Ohio . I only remember two things from this Christmas: Grandpa and Grandma Tieken being their usual judgmental, pushy self and Mom being upset with me because I made her go outside to smoke. This would be the first and last time my extended family came to our home. For the next decade, not one member of my extended family came to our home, save a couple visits by the Tiekens. (whose visits were excruciatingly unpleasant)

Over time, I drifted away from my extended family. I began to see them as outsiders, someone of them in need of salvation. I regret distancing myself from my family, but like everything in the past there are no do-overs. We continued going to my Mom’s for Christmas until she moved to Michigan. We continued going to Polly’s parents home for Christmas until circumstances forced us to stop going. I will detail those circumstances in a moment.

In the late 1980’s, I came to the conclusion that Christmas was a pagan holiday, a holiday that no sold-out, on-fire Christian could ever celebrate. I unilaterally gave away all our Christmas decorations and we stopped giving our children gifts for Christmas. It’s not that we didn’t buy our children anything, we did. Our children, to this day, will joke that Christmas for them came when the income tax refund check showed up. Living in poverty with six children resulted in us, thanks to the Earned Income Credit, receiving a large income tax refund. When the check arrived, a one-time large infusion of cash into our bank account, we bought our children everything they needed, with “needed” being the key operative. While we bought the children clothes, shoes, underwear, and the like, we bought them very few toys. We left it to grandparents to buy them toys. We did make sure they had bicycles, BB guns, and firearms, but very few toys. Living as we did, 8 people in a 720 square foot, 12×60 battered, old trailer, required our children to spend a significant amount of time outside. Toys became whatever the kids picked up in the yard or woods. I have often wondered, looking at the wealth of toys our grandchildren have, if our children are not compensating for their childhood. I know, as we buy for our grandchildren, that we are.

During my “Christmas is Pagan Holiday” years, I routinely disparaged the gift orgy that went on at Polly’s parent’s home.  At the time, I thought the money being spent on gifts could be better spent on evangelizing the lost. While I would later move away from the view that Christmas is a pagan holiday, I never lost the belief that many Christians are quite hypocritical when it comes to Christmas. Jesus is the Reason for the Season and Wise Men Still Seek Him, devout Christians tell us, but their orgiastic celebration of the true meaning of Christmas, consumerism, betrays what they really believe. After all, conduct reveals what we truly believe.

Over time, I allowed, remember, we were patriarchal in family structure, Polly to resume a low-key celebration of Christmas in our home. We had to buy new decorations because I gave all away our old antique decorations, given to us by our mothers, to Goodwill. For a time, we had an artificial Christmas tree. For the past decade  or so we have bought a fresh Christmas tree. Since we moved back to rural NW Ohio in 2005, we have bought our tree each Christmas from the Lion’s Club in Bryan.

With my parents being dead, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Polly’s parents. This abruptly changed in 2010. I left the ministry in 2003 and abandoned Christianity in November 2008. In early 2009, I sent out my family shattering letter,Dear Family Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter fundamentally changed our relationship with Polly’s fundamentalist family.

Christmas of 2009 was best remembered by a huge elephant in the middle of the room, that elephant being Polly and I and the letter I sent the family. No one said anything, but the tension was quite noticeable.

2010 found us, just like every year since 1978, at Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve.This would be the last Christmas we would spend with Polly’s parents and her extended family.  We decided to blend into the background, and besides short pleasantries, no one talked to us. Not that they didn’t want to. We found out later from one of our children that Polly’s uncle wanted to confront me about our defection from Christianity. Polly Mom’s put a kibosh on that, telling her brother-in-law that she had already lost one daughter and she was not going to lose another. (Polly’s sister was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005)

I appreciate Polly’s Mom being willing to stand up to the man who is generally viewed as the spiritual head of the family. I am glad she put family first. If Polly’s uncle had confronted me there surely would have been an ugly fight. Whatever our differences may be, I deeply respect Polly’s parents. They are kind, loving people and I couldn’t ask for better in-laws.

Christmas of 2010 was two years after President Obama was elected to his first term. Polly’s family didn’t vote for him, and through the night they made known their hatred for the man, Democrats and liberals in general. Polly and I, along with many of our children, voted for Obama, so the anti-Obama talk and the subtle racism made for an uncomfortable evening.

Most years, a gag gift is given to someone. This particular year, the gag gift, given to Polly’s uncle, was an Obama commemorative plate one of our nephew’s had bought on the cheap at Odd Lots. One of Polly’s uncle’s grandchildren asked him what the plate was for. He replied, to go poo-poo on, poo-poo being the fundamentalist word for shit.  This was the last straw for us.

On our way home the next day, I told Polly that I couldn’t do it any more and she said neither could she. So, we decided to stop going to Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. We do try to see Polly’s parents during the holiday, but we no longer attend the family gathering on Christmas Eve.  Making this decision saddened us, but we knew we had to make it. (BTW, our children still attend the Christmas Eve gathering)

We moved back to NW Ohio is July of 2005. Since then, our family has gathered for Christmas on the Sunday before Christmas. Doing this allows our children to avoid conflicts with their spouses family plans for Christmas. This past year, Polly’s parents drove up and joined us and they may do so again this year.

christmas 2011

Christmas 2011

These days, Christmas for Polly and I is all about family, especially the grandkids. For us, Christmas has become a celebration of love, a celebration of the gift of a wonderful family.  While we do not believe in the Christian God, we still enjoy Christmas music and all the other trappings of the Christmas season. It’s a cultural thing, no need to complicate things with religious demands. When twenty-three people pile into our grossly undersized living room to open presents, we will be reminded of how good we have it.

christmas 2013

Christmas 2013

How about you? How has how you celebrate Christmas changed over the years? If you are now a non-Christian, how do you handle your Christian family? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

112816

Clay Yarborough and the Evangelical Fear of Breasts

angela strassheim naked pregnant woman

Angela Strassheim Photo of of Naked Pregnant Woman

For those of us raised in the Evangelical/fundamentalist church, we are quite familiar with the fear preachers and church leaders have of exposed breasts and cleavage. Women are oft reminded to cover up, lest the weak, pathetic men of the church throw them down in the middle aisle of the church and ravage them. As the recent GRACE report on sexual abuse and rape at Bob Jones University reveals, women are viewed as temptresses out to beguile helpless men. This kind of thinking is found in the Bible:

For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman.Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids.For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adultress will hunt for the precious life.Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth in to his neighbour’s wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent. (Proverbs 6:23-29)

For at the window of my house I looked through my casement,And beheld among the simple ones, I discerned among the youths, a young man void of understanding, Passing through the street near her corner; and he went the way to her house,In the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night: And, behold, there met him a woman with the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart. She is loud and stubborn; her feet abide not in her house: Now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner.) So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face said unto him, I have peace offerings with me; this day have I payed my vows. Therefore came I forth to meet thee, diligently to seek thy face, and I have found thee. I have decked my bed with coverings of tapestry, with carved works, with fine linen of Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves. For the goodman is not at home, he is gone a long journey: He hath taken a bag of money with him, and will come home at the day appointed. With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him.He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks; Till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life. Hearken unto me now therefore, O ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth. Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths. For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death. (Proverbs 7:6-27)

Clay Yarborough, 33,  is president of the Jacksonville, Florida city council. Yarborough, an Evangelical, attends First Baptist Church, a  Southern Baptist congregation. Fundamentalist Mac Brunson is his pastor,  Recently, Yarborough objected to the city providing funding for an art display that included a picture of a naked pregnant woman on a couch. Yarborough stated:

“I am trying to promote a positive moral climate in our city and though some will defend the pornography by labeling it ‘art,’ we need boundaries in order to be healthy, especially where it concerns our children.”

Ah yes, think of the children.

Yarborough’s puritanical objection resulted in a threefold increase in attendance at the Museum of Contemporary Art exhibit.

The 14 photographs in the exhibit were shot by photographer Angela Strassheim. Asked her opinion of Yarborough’s objection, Strassheim said:

“The man is entitled to his own opinion,But I don’t think it in any way is pornography. Maybe he hasn’t seen enough porn.”

The more enlightened in Jacksonville rightly poked fun at Yarborough’s fear of breasts. Here’s a picture of a protester that was posted on The Folio Weekly:

ban boobs

Picketer Supports Exhibit with a Ban Boobs from City Hall Sign

As a photographer, I think the photo celebrates the beauty of womanhood and pregnancy. It was tastefully done and in no way is it pornography. Unlike Yarborough, I have seen porn and this ain’t it. (though I highly doubt, being the good Baptist boy that he is, that Yarborough has never, ever seen porn)

The Museum of Contemporary Art issued a press release stating:

The Cultural Council stands ready to defend the artistic and curatorial choices of our cultural service grantees.

Council President Yarborough’s objection to a photography exhibit featuring the human form, which has been present in museums, homes and galleries since the dawn of time, is unfortunate and could be viewed as an effort to stifle artistic expression. This particular exhibit, which celebrates the “transitional points” in life – “the precious, fleeting nature of childhood and adolescence” – opened to rave reviews last week. We’re proud to have an organization of MOCA’s caliber in our community and we stand behind it, it’s executive and the artist behind this amazing exhibit.

Mark Woods, writing for the Florida Times-Union, sums it up best when he writes (link no longer active);

It was almost noon on Black Friday. While many people undoubtedly were busy doing something wholesome, like preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ with a new big-screen TV, I headed downtown, paid my $8 and went inside a building to see some porn.

Or at least that’s how the president of the Jacksonville City Council views what’s in the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville these days…

…We do know this: There is an image in MOCA of a nude woman lying on a couch, her breasts and pregnant belly visible.

That’s right. A female nude with bare breasts and a round belly. In a museum. Shocking, right?

From the Cummer to the Louvre, pretty much every museum in the world has more than a few nudes, male and female, sometimes even together, sometimes holding naked babies. And have you seen that chapel in Italy? Nudes everywhere. Even the ceiling. Not sure what porn-peddler was responsible for that.

Even by itself, without any context whatsoever, it’s hard to imagine the photo in MOCA coming anywhere close to the legal definition of pornography. And the photo isn’t hanging by itself. It is one of 14 in a new exhibit on the towering atrium wall. The basic themes of this exhibit are — please cover your young one’s eyes — childhood and motherhood…

…I’m not exactly sure what Yarborough wants to see hanging in the atrium, what will avoid his personal version of the “I know it when I see it” definition of pornography. Something without nudity, I presume. Maybe a giant still life of fruit. (Well, as long as there’s not two bananas together. That clearly would be wrong.) Or better yet, how about some nice velvet art? But, please, no dogs playing poker. That only would glorify the issue we have with canine gambling.

In all seriousness, this City Council and its president had been on such a roll. I was preparing to come back to the paper and heap praise on them for doing a lot of hard, serious work and avoiding the kind of silliness that has marred the past. But now it appears we’re taking a detour back down Silly Street.

It would be one thing if Yarborough wanted to argue that tax dollars shouldn’t be used for anything related to the arts. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that, but I’d be able to respect that position more than the idea that tax dollars should be pulled from this museum because of this photo.

If the councilman wants to bemoan taxpayer-funded titillation, he might want to check out a football game or concert or a lot of other things that, while still far from pornography, might not send the best message to kids…

When this story first came out I posted it to my wife’s Facebook page, complete with the photo of nude pregnant lady. Within seconds, several people reported the posting to Facebook. We suspect that the offended are several of our fundamentalist extended family members. Go back and look at the photo again. Is there anything that suggests impropriety or that a teenager seeing it would be harmed (since the minimum age for a Facebook account is 13)? This is silly, isn’t it? Yet, countless Evangelicals have this irrational fear of breasts. Preachers have spent endless hours reminding women to cover up lest the poor, pathetic men of the church be led astray. Perhaps it is time to teach men to embrace their sexuality. Stop treating men like they are helpless and stop treating women like they are temptresses out to bed any man who dares to gaze upon her comeliness. We do live in the 21st century, yes?

022416

Dying With Dignity

brittany maynard

Brittany Maynard

What follows is a letter I wrote recently to the Defiance Crescent-News.

Dear Editor,

Recently, Brittany Maynard, a brave woman with terminal cancer, took her life. As a resident of Oregon, Maynard could legally choose to commit suicide. Many religious people are incensed over her suicide. A Papal Monsignor called Maynard’s choice reprehensible. Pope Francis called such acts a sin against God. Evangelicals have taken to the internet to denounce Maynard, suggesting her suicide landed her in hell.

Here’s what the religious need to understand: those of us who are not so inclined are not moved by quoted Bible verses and threats of God’s judgment and hell. For us, a God who controls life and death and afflicts people with disease, is a fiction. Everywhere I look, I see suffering and death. I reached a point where I asked, where is God? Eventually, I concluded that the Christian God was a figment of my imagination, an imagination fueled by 50 years of Christian indoctrination.

The Bible encourages people to pray, have faith, and hold on. The faithful are assured that God only wants what’s best for them. Suffering is turned into virtue, some sort of badge of honor. Those who suffer will be rewarded in heaven, the Christian preachers say. Of course, we have to take their word for it because no one has come back from the dead to testify to the veracity of the suffering for God sermons.

I am more inclined to believe what I can see. What I see is suffering and death. I should do what I can to alleviate the suffering of others. Imagine one of my children suffering from a painful disease and I have a cure for the disease. However, I am not willing to give my child the cure because I think his suffering is good for him. What kind of father would people think I am? Yet, the Christian God gets a pass when he does the same. If we consider a human who withholds that which could alleviate suffering reprehensible, surely we should view God the same way.

Theodicy, the problem of suffering and evil, is one of the reasons I am no longer a Christian. Like Baal in I Kings 18, when it comes to suffering, war, famine, disease, pain, and death, the Christian God is AWOL. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, suggesting that their God was on vacation, talking with someone, sleeping, or using the toilet. Could not the same thing be said for all gods? It seems quite clear to me, we are on our own.

At the heart of Maynard’s choice is the right to self-determination. As a person who suffers with unrelenting chronic pain and debility, I want the right to say, no more. Unlike many religious people, I see little value in pain and suffering. I endure it for the sake of my wife, children and grandchildren, but my family knows that there might come a day when I am no longer willing to do so. I want that choice to be mine.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

Questions about HB 597

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News.  Published September 7, 2014.

Dear Editor:

Almost a hundred years after the Scopes Trial, Christian fundamentalists continue to demand creationism be taught in public school classrooms. Whether through young earth or old earth creationism or their gussied up sister intelligent design, fundamentalists want to teach theology in place of sound science. Publicly, they appeal to the American sense of fairness. Teach the controversy, they say with fingers crossed behind their back. Except there is no controversy. Court after court has ruled that creationism has no place in the public school classroom.

Yet, despite almost a century of litigation and scientific advancement, fundamentalists in Ohio are attempting once again to have their peculiar theology taught as a valid scientific theory. On July 29, Ohio Republican representatives Andy Thompson and Matt Huffman introduced House Bill 597 (HB 597) that would subtly pave the way for creationism to be taught in the science classroom.

HB 597 states “The standards in science shall be based in core existing disciplines of biology, chemistry, and physics; incorporate grade-level mathematics and be referenced to the mathematics standards; focus on academic and scientific knowledge rather than scientific processes; and prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another,”

While the defenders of God and creationism will quickly point out that the bill does not mention creationism, its language opens the door for teaching the non-controversy “controversy”. Representative Thompson’s recent statement concerning the bill leaves little doubt about the objective of his bill. Thompson stated, “I think it would be good for [students] to consider the perspectives of people of faith. That’s legitimate.”

If Thompson is speaking about a high school philosophy or world religion class I would agree with him. I have long supported high school students being required to take a class in philosophy and world religion. In a world religion class students could learn about the various creation myths and how best to interpret and understand them.

However, fundamentalists don’t want their beliefs reduced to a chapter in a world religion textbook. They don’t want just a seat at the table; they want to be the only seat at the table. Their belief system demands certainty, exclusion, and fidelity. In their worldview, there is no place for open, honest discussion about religion and creationism. In their mind, there is one true creation story and that story is found in a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3.

Creationists want students taught that Genesis 1-3 is the Christian God’s blueprint for the creation of everything. The universe is 6,000 years old, and according to creationist hero James Ussher, the earth was created the evening before Oct. 23, 4004 B.C. Everything that biology, archeology, astronomy, and geology tells us about the universe contradicts the creationist story. If we want our children and grandchildren taught sound science then we must make sure that creationists are not permitted to sneak their theology into the classroom. Theology belongs in the church and home, not the public school classroom.

Let’s hope reason and science rescues Ohio students from HB 597.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney

 

What Happened to Ohio?

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News. Published July 13, 2014

Dear Editor:

What has happened to Ohio, a state once known for its progressive politics and values? In a few short decades, religious and political fundamentalists have taken over the state government and are now attempting to take over the state board of education. Ohio is now being compared to backwater states like North Carolina and Mississippi.

The Ohio House of Representatives is considering HB 351, a bill that would effectively make abortion and birth control difficult to obtain. This bill has no abortion exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. Evidently, women impregnated through rape or incest are supposed to realize their pregnancy is God’s wonderful plan for their life. Rep. John Becker, the sponsor of HB 351, made it clear that this bill is all about his personal religious convictions when he stated “This is just a personal view. I’m not a medical doctor.”

The Ohio Board of Education now has several Christian fundamentalists on its board. Mark Smith, the president of Ohio Christian University, is one such member. Smith, in a recent speech at the 2014 Road to Victory conference, made it clear that he is part of a movement that is determined to take the schools back for God. According to Smith, “it’s no secret that our educational system is full of teachers and professors who desire to obfuscate truth, and these individuals are effectively (deconstructing) our nation.”

Truth to Mark Smith and other Christian fundamentalists like him is the Bible. Smith stated “You see I’m excited to lead the cause for the rebirth of faith values in America, the rebirth of embracing a love for God, the love for family, and a love for our nation. I like traditional marriage. I’m for traditional marriage. Let’s embrace traditional marriage … .” Rather than focusing on education, Smith wants to focus on inculcating our children with his brand of Christianity. Our children may not learn to do algebra but at least they will know which God is the right one and which holy book is truth.

Sadly, most Ohioans are clueless about what goes on in Columbus. They continue to send Republicans to the state house without ever considering what they might do when they get there. The only way to stem the tide of religious extremism is to vote the extremists out of office. As it stands now, the Ohio Democratic party is weak and here in rural northwest Ohio it is almost non-existent.

The solution remains the same. We must stand up and fight. We must vote. We must support candidates that want to return Ohio to the days of its progressive greatness. We must be willing to make our voice heard. The editorial page of this newspaper is filled with letters from right-wing political and religious extremists. Surely there are Defiance County residents who are willing to stand up for the liberal/progressive values? Perhaps it is time to write a letter to the editor.

Bruce Gerencser

Ney

God and Global Warming

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News. Published May 28, 2014.

Dear Editor:

A recent letter to the editor stated that the main reason for global climate change and the escalation of global temperatures is that this is how the Christian God wants things to be. The letter writer is not concerned one bit about climate change because God is on the job. We can collectively take a big sigh of relief knowing that the Christian God is in complete charge of the weather.

I wonder if people who make an argument like this understand the implications of their argument. If God is in control of everything, if he is the first cause, if he is the sovereign ruler of all, if there is nothing that we can do to stop the Christian God from doing his thing, then God must then bear the responsibility for everything that goes on in the world.

Katrina, Sandy, every hurricane, every typhoon, every mudslide, every forest fire, every natural disaster, must be laid at the feet of this micromanaging God. Since God is perfectly working out his will in the affairs of the human race, he then is accountable for war, starvation, disease, and death. If God is as the letter writer says he is, then God is culpable for everything that happens.

Of course, most fundamentalist Christians will object to what I have written here. They will say that humans have free will and that the bad things that happen are the result of humans exercising their free will. Wait a minute, I thought God was in charge of everything? Isn’t it God that gave humans free will? There is no way for God to avoid culpability since all power, authority, and control, rests with him.

This kind of fatalism is of no consequence if it is kept in the church house. If someone wants to believe that there is some sort of divine puppet master controlling their life, I couldn’t care less. But, when this kind of thinking bleeds into public policy, the result can be catastrophic.

The world doesn’t have the luxury or the time to just sit back and let God do his thing. Global climate change, along with ever-increasing global temperatures, is the greatest threat we face today. Doing nothing is not an option. As temperatures and seas rise, costs are sure to soar as global climate change disrupts growing seasons and forces the mass relocation of millions of people. As competition for earth’s dwindling, finite resources increases, affluent nations will turn to war to maintain their standard of living.

Our best days may be behind us and thinking that God is going to deliver us or is working out his plan only makes things worse. Why? Because it breeds inaction. Why worry about global warming? The rapture is just around the corner. Most global climate change deniers are also right-wingers religiously and politically. What is it in right-wing ideology that keeps people from seeing the world as it is? Answering this question would take more words than the Crescent-News allows.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney

Political Candidates and the Separation of Church and State

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News. Published April 16, 2014.

Dear Editor:

This is an election year, and in less than a month Ohio will have a primary election. As a voting, taxpaying citizen of Defiance County, I want to pass on some advice to the candidates running for office and those who write letters to the editor showing their support for a particular candidate.

Not every voter in Defiance County is a Christian. Not every voter attends church on a regular basis. A sizable number of voters do not claim the Christian moniker, and outside of weddings and funerals, they never darken the doors of any local church. We are the “nones”, made up of atheists, agnostics, humanists, pagans, secularists and those who are indifferent toward religion. In Defiance County, there are also Muslims, Jews and Buddhists. I know this is hard for the Christian majority to believe, but living near them are people who do not think like they do about God and religion.

So, trumpeting the fact that you are a Christian, teach Sunday School, are pro-life, or are a member of the NRA might play well with Evangelicals, but for those of us who are not religious or not an Evangelical Christian, we are wary of people who play the faith card.

Being a Christian or being pro-life has nothing to do with how a candidate will perform as a local/county/state officeholder. In fact, when a candidate for office plays the faith card I am inclined to not vote for them. Why should I vote for a candidate that considers one voter demographic more important than another? This is especially true at the local/county level. I want officeholders that will represent everyone, not just those who are a part of their particular religious sect.

Those running for office would do well to mimic John F. Kennedy’s approach to religion. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, made it clear that his personal religious beliefs would not come into play when he made decisions. Kennedy understood that he represented every citizen not just those who happened to be Christian.

The United States is a secular nation, not just at the federal level, but at the state, county, and local level too. I realize the candidates need votes to win. I realize that Defiance County is ruled by Evangelical, conservative, Republican ideology. Maybe it is a fantasy on my part to think that what every citizen of Defiance County needs to hear is how a candidate for office will spend our tax money, repair our roads, care for our poor and sick, and care for what we have entrusted to our governmental leaders.

It is these issues that will determine how I vote. Sadly, far too many of my fellow Defiance County citizens will vote, not on the issues, but on the number of buzz words they hear a candidate use. To them, where a candidate goes to church or what his view is on abortion is far more important than how he effectively governs.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney