Religion

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Masturbation is a Soul-Threatening Sin

sin of masturbation

The reasoning in favor of masturbation is quite curious: if we tell people it is wrong and that God disapproves, what happens to those [implied multitudes] who aren’t able to stop? They grow up thinking God hates them or that they are some miserable, shameful, dirty creature that belongs under a rock. Therefore, let them do it . . .

It’s essentially a secular libertarian, or even utilitarian argument, not a Christian one. It’s contradicted whenever the same advocates decry pornography and contend that exposure to it might begin a terrible and perhaps lifelong addiction. As pornography is addicting, so is masturbation, and often they coincide. So do we also argue that pornography ought to be freely available, as a good thing, lest those who can’t break the habit feel condemned and worthless and turn against God as a result?

Do masturbation champions advocate free availability and moral sanction of cocaine and heroin, or approve of alcoholism (or oppose remarkably successful programs like AA)? Do they also take a position that homosexual acts are permissible and moral simply because the lifestyle is extremely hard to break (as we know it is)? Why make an exception for masturbation?

The Catholic Church disagrees, of course, It regards masturbation as a mortal, soul-threatening sin. And it will continue to do so, no matter what the prevailing zeitgeist may be. If something is wrong, it’s wrong. What period of history (or cultural decadence) we happen to be in has no bearing on that wrongness. Strong Church authority is precisely what prevents these “slippery slope” descents into sexual compromise.

Masturbation is a form of non-procreative sex. It perverts sexuality and has an adverse effect on proper, healthy sexual development. It turns sex into something entirely selfish, rather than giving and other-directed. This “if it feels good, do it” mentality is in perfect harmony with the sexual revolution and humanist ethics and hedonism, but in perfect disharmony with traditional Christian sexual morality.

— Dave Armstrong, Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, Masturbation: Thoughts on Why it is as Wrong as it Ever Was, August 14, 2019

Is Liberal Christianity the Answer for Disaffected Evangelicals?

slide into modernism

An increasing number of Evangelicals find themselves emotionally, theologically, and politically at odds with Evangelical Christianity. And it’s not just people in the pews either. Evangelical pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and college professors also find themselves in opposition to Evangelical beliefs and practice. Skewered by keepers of the book of life (discernment ministries and Fundamentalist zealots) as Christ-denying apostates who likely never were Christians, these servants of God find themselves increasingly attacked and discredited over their willingness to verbalize and share their doubts and questions about the “faith once delivered to the saints.” I know firsthand the savagery of those who believe God has called them to seek out disloyal Evangelicals. I know firsthand their attacks on your character and family. I know firsthand the lengths to which they will go to discredit your story — even saying that you were never a pastor and or your story is a complete fabrication. Yet, despite the increasing violence against doubters who dare to go public with their doubts, questioning congregants and clergymen continue to tell their stories.

Many of these doubters eventually turn to atheism or agnosticism. My journey from Evangelicalism to atheism was one of a slow slide down the proverbial slippery slope. (Please see the From Evangelicalism to Atheism series) I knew that Evangelicalism was a charade, a religious house built on a faulty foundation, but I desperately wanted to keep believing in Jesus. It was all I knew. So, for a time I tried to make intellectual peace with liberal Christianity, but in the end, I found its arguments intellectually lacking. From there, I thought, maybe Unitarian-Universalism (UU) is the answer. While I met a number of wonderful UU people, I came to the conclusion that UU was just a religion of sorts for atheists and agnostics; a religion for people who loved liturgy and spirituality, but rejected dogma. I found myself asking, why bother?

I have noticed in recent years that supposedly non-judgmental, loving liberal Christians have taken to attacking atheists, suggesting that atheists are no different from Fundamentalists who say that if you can find one error in the Bible then Christianity is false. Atheists are accused of attacking a straw man Christianity, instead of engaging “real” Christianity. While I certainly agree that some atheists are every bit as Fundamentalist as Christian zealots, most of them are not. In fact, many of the atheists I know, myself included, have given Christianity a fair shake. We have weighed Christianity — including its liberal flavor — in the balance and found it wanting.

Liberal Christians rightly condemn Evangelicals for their rigid literalism and commitment to Bible inerrancy. To liberals, only country hicks and intellectually challenged people believe the Bible is literally true, without error, and infallible in all that it teaches. Who in their right mind thinks the earth was created by the Christian God 6,024 years ago? Who in their right mind believes in Noah’s worldwide flood? Who in their right mind believes all those Old Testament stories are true? Who in their right mind believes Jesus actually worked all the miracles attributed to him in the Gospel? Who in their right mind believes in a literal Hell where non-Christians are tormented day and night forever? Who in their right mind believes that Jesus was the virgin-born son of God who came to earth to die for sinners and resurrected from the dead three days later? Uh, wait a minute Bruce, I agree with you on everything except what you said about Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, liberal Christians say. Jesus is real! Jesus died for my sins! Jesus resurrected from the dead! Jesus promised me a home in Heaven when I die! (This is best said jumping up and down.) And therein is the fundamental problem I have with liberal Christianity. While the Evangelical holds on to rigid literalism and inerrancy, the liberal Christian jettisons virtually everything except the Jesus of the gospels. Liberal Christians believe most of the stories and teachings in the Bible are allegorical or metaphorical, yet when they read the Bible verses about Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, all of a sudden they become rigid literalists and can be every bit as Fundamentalist as Evangelicals. All of a sudden, the words of the Bible matter and are to be taken literally, thus proving at some point along the inerrancy spectrum, Evangelicals and liberals alike believe these Bible verses really, really, I mean R-E-A-L-L-Y are true!

Over the past decade, I’ve engaged in heated discussions with countless Evangelical apologists. Years ago, these discussions (and personal attacks) became so emotionally draining that I quit blogging, vowing never to write again. Yet, months later I would arise from the ashes and try again. All told, I went through this process at least three times. Long-time readers sensed a pattern, knowing that, yes, Bruce will crash and burn, but eventually he will rise again from the dead. June 2014 was one of those times. I thought, at the time, I am really done with this! Time to move on! However, in December 2014, I opened up shop again, calling my venture The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser. Come December, I will have been successfully open and serving up either bullshit or gourmet meals depending on your view of Evangelical Christianity, for five years. What changed? Why have I been able to keep writing week after week, year after year?

Four things stand out, and yes, I am going to bring this post back around to its subject.

First, I began seeing a secular counselor on a regular basis. He literally saved my life. I still see him every few weeks.

Second, I developed close relationships with a handful of readers who knew the warning signs of an impending Bruce crash and burn. They took on the burden of engaging Evangelicals in the comment section, and were willing to warn me when they saw me getting wound up and ready to explode.

Third, Loki brought a woman by the name of Carolyn into my life. When Carolyn first contacted me, she told that she loved my writing, but my grammar really needed some work. At first, I was offended, but I can tell you today, she was absolutely right. Carolyn not only edits my writing, but she has also become a dear friend. She knows me well enough to sense when I am deep in the valley of depression and despair, and sometimes all I need from her is a text that says, Are you okay? And, after 50 texts back and forth, I start feeling better! Don’t let anyone tell you that online friendships are of little value. I know better.

Fourth, I learned that it was okay to NOT engage Christian zealots in discussions; that my target audience was Christians who had doubts or questions about their faith or people who had already left Christianity. I decided to let Evangelical apologists have their say in the comment section and then send them packing. I wanted this blog to be a haven safe and free from Evangelical bullies and trolls — a la Jim Wright’s recent comments. All in all, I think I have succeeded.

Every year, scores of commenters end up banned from commenting. Banning works this way. Run afoul of the commenting guidelines or act like an asshole, and your commenting privileges are revoked. Come the start of each year, however, I clear the ban list, giving everyone banned a fresh start, an opportunity to show me and the readers of this blog that they can play well with others. Sadly, many un-banned commenters quickly find themselves banned again — thus proving that a leopard can’t change its spots.

What might be surprising to readers is this: only one commenter is permanently banned. Wow, she must have really been a Fundamentalist! Actually, she is a liberal Christian, one of the most irritating commenters I have ever known. Why, you ask, does she irritate me? When pressed on what it is that she actually believes, she always dodges my questions or attempts to muddy the waters. When asked to give me a list of what were her non-negotiable beliefs — silence. When asked to state her cardinal, must-believe theological beliefs — silence. When asked if she believed atheists such as myself go to Hell when they die — silence. I found her obfuscation to be akin to attempting to nail Jell-O to a wall. One time, we got into a discussion about her belief that God is Love. While certainly, the Bible teaches God is love, it also teaches that God is angry with the wicked every day, hates sinners, and can and does act in vindictive, capricious, violent ways. This woman wanted the God of love, but not the God of wrath. She made much of all the places in the Bible that spoke of God’s wonderful grace and love. I replied, “let’s talk about Genesis 6-9; you know Noah’s flood; you know where God killed every man, woman, child, infant, and unborn fetus save eight people. By all means, from this passage of Scripture, show me the God of Love.” Of course, she had no answer for me.

A lot of liberal Christians read this blog. They love my frontal assaults on Evangelical Christianity. They love my liberal politics and progressive social values. And I love them too. I am all for ANY religious belief — including worshipping Bruce Almighty — that moves people away from religious fundamentalism — especially Christian Fundamentalism. That said, I truly don’t understand, from a belief perspective, liberal Christians. What beliefs really matter? How can one dismiss, reinterpret, or spiritualize most of the Bible, yet believe in a literal born of a virgin, crucified, resurrected from the dead Jesus? How does someone determine what’s to be taken literal, and what’s not? Liberals accuse Evangelicals of having wooden literalism only when it suits them or when it validates their theology, but how is this any different from what Liberal Christians do? Isn’t this buffet approach to faith just a matter of degree? Why is it laughable when Evangelicals say they believe every word of the Bible, yet dismiss certain verses when it’s convenient or expedient to do so, but when Liberal Christians do the same, it’s somehow different? Different how? Aren’t both groups picking and choosing what it is they really believe and ignoring the rest?

I also wonder if Liberal Christians are, deep-down in their heart-of-hearts, universalists; people of faith who believe all roads lead to Heaven. If this is so, then why try to rescue disaffected Evangelicals from the jaws of atheism and agnosticism? Shouldn’t freeing people from the Evangelical cult be all that matters? If there’s no Hell, no final judgment, no accounts to be settled between God and man, why bother? Or at the very least, why not just admit that you go to church for social and cultural reasons, and your faith gives you a sense of purpose and meaning? You see, I suspect there are more than a few atheists and agnostics hiding in plain sight in liberal Christian churches. I also suspect that a number of liberal Christians are closer theologically to their Evangelical brethren than they are willing to publicly admit; that in the end Christians are going to win the grand prize of eternal life, and atheists are going to be annihilated by God, snuffed out of existence for all eternity — as if somehow that’s loving.

Liberal Christianity remains a conundrum to me. I have asked before for Liberal Christians to explain to me their view of the Bible and how and why they determine which parts of the Bible to believe and which parts, in Thomas Jefferson-style, to excise. So far, I have yet to hear a cogent explanation and defense of liberal Christianity. I can see its effect on the world through its good works and love for others, but intellectually, at least for me, Liberal Christianity remains Jell-O nailed to a wall.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Millions and Millions of People Say Evangelicalism is True: Are Christian Converts Making it Up?

size matters

Determining Which Religion is True

Recently, an Evangelical man by the name of Mike left the following comment on the post titled The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Evangelical Bill Wiese Preys on Dying Atheist:

JESUS offers the only way to Heaven. It is not difficult but some are so arrogant or get off on their unbelief. The problem with that is this life ends in a blip. Life is just a vapor. Choose Heaven…over hell. Are these people with these incredible experiences all making it up? All of them? Be serious.

We shall all die and be totally forgotten…except by GOD thankfully.

Mike asks, “Are these people with these incredible [conversion] experiences all making it up?” Well, certainly some of them are making it up. Evangelical churches are filled with people who are just going through the motions; people who don’t really believe. I have no doubt that on Sundays, Evangelical churches even have atheists in their midst; unbelievers who go through the motions for the sake of the marriages or families. Some churches even have atheist pastors — men who don’t believe, yet preach the “gospel” Sunday after Sunday. (Check out the Clergy Project for more information about help for unbelieving clergy.)

Now, Mike is likely a True Christian®. He probably knows countless other people who are members of the True Christian® Club — Established 33 A.D. by Jesus Christ. Mike incredulously asks me to be serious. Do I really think that people with incredible conversion experiences are all making it up? No, I don’t think True Christians® are lying when they testify to what Jesus has done in their lives. I almost always take Christian professions of faith at face value. That said, since the Evangelical God has never been seen, and neither has the Holy Spirit, is it not fair for skeptics and atheists to question whether such beings exist and whether said conversion experiences can, in fact, be proved? The very nature of faith requires believing without seeing. (Hebrews 11) While Jesus, in fact, walked the streets of Galilee almost 2,000 years ago, no one has seen him since the first century. There’s no credible evidence for claims that Jesus physically resurrected and ascended to Heaven. Jesus, supposedly, now sits at the right hand of the Father, awaiting the day and time when Gabriel will blow his trumpet, signifying the second coming of Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, to earth. Millions of Evangelicals gather on Sundays to praise and worship the resurrected Christ and the wonders of his saving grace. Evangelical worship is rooted not in fact, but faith; again, believing what cannot be seen. No one has ever seen God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, angels, Satan, or demons, yet Evangelicals believe these entities exist and are intimately involved in their day-to-day lives. Surely, the fact that they “believe” these things to be true makes them so, right? No! No! No!

Is the fact millions of people believe something to be true, make it so? Of course not. Humans can and do believe things that are patently false or are rooted in myth. Just because millions and millions of Evangelicals believe Jesus is the virgin-born, miracle-working, crucified, and resurrected Son of God, doesn’t mean their beliefs are, in fact, true. When Evangelicals are pressed for evidence for their theological claims, they ultimately appeal to the Bible and faith. Either you believe or you don’t. Evangelicals, for a variety of reasons, suspend rationality and choose, instead, to put their faith and trust in the Christian narrative. Atheists and other unbelievers refuse to set reason aside and faith-it. Granted, Evangelicals have all sorts of apologetical arguments they use to refute atheist claims, but the differences between the two parties really come down to one thing — faith. Evangelicals have it and atheists don’t.

Mike would have us believe that the mere fact that countless Evangelicals believe in Jesus and have had conversion experiences, alone, is “proof” of their truthiness. Of course, this notion is easily disproven. Evangelism is, by nature, exclusionary. Only those who have repented of their sins and put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ are blood-washed members of the True Christian® Club.  All other religions are false. Wait a minute, if the sheer number of adherents determines whether theological claims are true, wouldn’t that mean that Islam, with 1.8 billion believers, is true? Couldn’t the same be said for Mormons? Mormonism is quite Evangelical in theology and practice. Almost 15 million people worldwide worship the Mormon version of Jesus Christ. Surely, this means that Mormonism is true too, right?

Let’s go back to the first century for a moment. The Romans ruled most of the known world. God’s chosen people, the Jews, were under the thumb of Rome. A ragtag group of misfits walked the streets of Jerusalem and Galilee, claiming that their leader, Jesus, was some sort of miracle worker — a man sent from God. Yet, when all the Christians gathered in an upper room to await the Day of Pentecost, they numbered 120 people (Acts 1). Think of all the miracles Jesus purportedly worked. Think of the things that happened when he died: the veil in the Jewish Temple was rent in twain, graves opened up and dead people came back to life and walked the streets of Jerusalem, and the sun was darkened. Think of all the miracles Jesus worked after his three-day weekend in the grave. (Please see I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend.) Yet, come the events recorded in Acts 1, the disciples of Jesus numbered 120. Talk about failure. Why, President Trump would be tweeting about what a failure Jesus and the Apostles were to him! Using Mike’s logic — just being serious here — it would seem that the gods of Rome were the true Gods. If crowd size determines whether theological claims are true, it’s fair to say that Christianity is false.

Now, I know that Evangelicals have all sorts of apologetical arguments they use to show that Evangelical Christianity is true, and all other religions (and non-religions) are false. Mormon believe this or that, and this proves Mormonism is false, Evangelicals say. Similar arguments are made against Islam, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, HinduismPastafarianism, Shintoism, Santeria, and cargo religions. Bruce, all these other religions are false! Why? Why is Christianity true and all other religions false? Look at their crazy beliefs, Bruce! Only Christianity is true! Really? Try taking a look at Evangelical Christianity from the outside. Isn’t the Evangelical narrative just as crazy as that of other religions? I have already disproved the notion that the size of the sect proves its truthiness. Lots of sects have millions and billions of adherents. If penis size alone determines which appendage is the one true cock, what can be said about Trump-sized groups such as Evangelicals — whose numbers are quite small when compared to Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, and Islam?

No, the fact that millions and millions of people profess faith in the Evangelical Jesus proves nothing. Just because individual Christians testify to the miracle-working power of their God, it proves nothing. Sure, religion can and does effect change in the lives of people, but beliefs need not be true for them to be transformative. Humans believe all sorts of things that are false. In science, there is what is called the placebo effect: a beneficial effect produced by a placebo drug or treatment, which cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, and must therefore be due to the patient’s belief in that treatment. Most humans want meaning, purpose, and happiness in their lives. Is it not possible the religion in general and specifically Evangelicalism produces a placebo effect? Evangelicals “believe” and it works. Evangelicalism doesn’t work for atheists. Why is that? Atheists don’t believe; they don’t have the requisite faith necessary for one to become a Christian.

I hope that this post puts to rest the argument that truth is determined by crowd size. It’s not, and if the Mikes of the world want to prove that Evangelicalism is true, it is time for them to prove it; not with lame presuppositions or Bible verses, but real evidence. Of course, no such evidence is forthcoming, and for this reason, and others, the number of unbelievers continues to grow.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Christian Explanations for Why Bad Things Happen

why

Life is filled with good and bad experiences. Good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. None of us is exempt from the travails of life. Live long enough and you will face some sort of adversity in your life. Recently, my wife, Polly, spent 18 days in the hospital. This ordeal was the most stressful thing we have faced in forty-one years of marriage. I suspect it will not be the last trial we face before we die.

Christians, of course, are not exempt from bad things. “Life” happens to one and all, even if Jesus is your friend, lover, and physician. Faith does not exempt anyone from facing pain, suffering, and loss. Now, Christians will say that Jesus helps them through the bad times of life, but I found as a pastor that what helped people through adversity was not Jesus, but having a pastor and friends who cared about them. Remove Jesus from the equation, and you will find that atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers have the same need for human love and compassion. One need not believe in Jesus to love and care for others.

Go to the local Evangelical church on Sunday and you will hear songs, testimonies, and sermons extolling the awesomeness of Jesus. Jesus, according Evangelicals, is the bestest e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Yet, come Monday, the Jesus-fix is in the rearview mirror and the realities of life lie ahead. Evangelicals love to say Jesus is their co-pilot or sing Jesus take the Wheel with Carrie Underwood, but truth be told, their day-to-day lives reveal a far different story; that life can be and is hard, and that bad things can and do happen. I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. As a pastor who deeply cared for his flock, I traveled hand-in-hand with countless congregants as they walked through the “valley of the shadow of death.” (Psalm 23) I witnessed untold suffering, sorrow, and grief. I stood by weeping family members as they disconnected their loved ones from life support. I stood by the bedsides of the dying, knowing that they would soon be no more. I conducted the funerals of children and seniors alike. I helped congregants move to new homes after losing theirs through bankruptcy or foreclosure. Through it all, I promised them that Jesus was a friend that would stick by them no matter what; that he was closer to them than their flesh and blood family. I will admit that, at times, these words seemed superficial and hollow.

Christians who say their life is different from or superior to that of unbelievers are not being honest. Whatever faith may impart to believers, one thing is for certain: shit happens — both to Christians and unbelievers.

When asked to explain WHY bad things happen in their lives, Christians give several different reasons or explanations.

All Things Work Together for Good

The Bible says in Romans 8:28:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

As a pastor, I explained Romans 8:28 this way: To those who are called according to God’s purpose and love him, everything turns out for good. Not everything is good, but everything works out for good. God throws good and bad things into the bag of life, and when everything shakes out, the end result is for our good. God loves us, has a purpose and plan for our lives, and only wants what is best for us. Or so I thought at the time.

God has a Purpose and Plan for Our Lives

Jeremiah 29:11 says, For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. In Hebrews 13:5, God promises to never leave or forsake Christians. As a teen, I was encouraged to choose a “life” verse from the Bible; a verse that would be the governing principle of my life. I chose Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

The aforementioned verses and others say to Christians that God has a perfect plan for their lives; that everything that happens to them is according to his divine purpose for them. While it may seem that God is either AWOL or not working in Christians’ best interests, they are reminded by preachers and teachers that God is behind the scenes making sure everything works out as planned. God knows everything, sees everything, and is present everywhere, so Christians can rest easy — the triune God is on duty 24/7.

Above all, Christians are told to not question God’s plan. The Apostle Paul made this clear in his treatise about divine election. Romans 9:20 says:

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

Simply put, God can do whatever he wants, end of story. God says his plan for you, dear Christian, is perfect. How dare you question his sanity. Just keep on believing until reason and common sense depart and faith takes their place. Once faith rules your life, well anything is possible. Is this not exactly what the Bible says in Mark 10:27, with God all things are possible, and John 15:5, without me ye can do nothing?

God’s Ways are not Our Ways

The Bible says in Isaiah 55:8-9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

When God’s purpose and plan seem to be out of sorts with expectations and reason, Christians are reminded by their pastors that God’s thoughts are not their thoughts, and his ways are not their ways; that his ways and thoughts are higher than theirs. In other words, when everything in your life is telling you that God doesn’t know what the Heaven he is doing, just remember God doesn’t think or work as humans do. Come on, dude, he’s God, the ULTIMATE party planner.

Again, when Christians have doubts about what God is up to, they are encouraged to faith-it until they make-it. Since God is perfect in all his ways, he can never be at fault if your life turns to shit or you find yourself sitting in a pile of ashes scraping pus from sores as Job did.

What I am Facing is a Test From God

According to Christian preachers of every denomination, sometimes God brings adversity into the lives of believers because he is testing them. Read the book of Job. God turned Satan loose on Job, a righteous man, to see what kind of faith he had; whether he would break under pain, suffering, and loss. Thus, when Christians face Job-like adversity, the first question they should ask themselves is this: is God testing me?

What I am Facing is a Trial Meant to Make Me Stronger

Isaiah 41:10 says:

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness

James 1:2-4 says:

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

According to the Bible, God brings trials into the lives of Christians to make them spiritually stronger; to increase their faith; to toughen up their metaphorical hide. So, when bad things happen, Christians should ask themselves, is this a test or is this a trial God has brought in my life to make me stronger?

What I am Facing is Chastisement from God

The Bible says in Hebrews 12:6-8:

For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

Sometimes, God uses bad things to chastise (punish) Christians for sin in their lives. In fact, a life without punishment is a sure sign that someone is NOT a Christian. God, the Father, punishes and corrects those whom he loves. Just as our earthly fathers beat us when we disobeyed, so does our Heavenly Father.

Proverbs 3:12 says: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.

So, when bad things happen, Christians should ask themselves, is this a test, a trial God has brought in my life to make me stronger, or is God chastising me? In other words, which cup is the coin under?

These six statements pretty well cover every explanation Christians use to explain the bad things in their lives. I have yet to hear a Christian say, when asked about the adversity he or she is facing, Hell if I know, shit happens! God’s honor and name must be defended at all costs lest people believe that he is a psychopath who finds pleasure in inflicting pain, suffering, and abuse on fallible, frail humans. Just remember, God created everything and is the sovereign Lord over all, but when things turn to shit, he’s not to blame. Don’t try this at home!

Now, when bad things happen to unbelievers, the explanation is far different. God is trying to get our attention. Bad things happening in our lives are warning signs from God. Warning! Judgment and Hell await unless you, without delay, repent of your sins and put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I was somewhat surprised that a Christian zealot didn’t email me and say that Polly’s latest hospitalization was God warning me (us) that I was on a dangerous path that leads to hellfire and damnation. Of course, such a warning would have the opposite effect on me. Giving the love of my life bladder cancer and ulcerative colitis so I will love you? Not going to happen asshole!

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Quote of the Day: The Cross is not Secular Says Ruth Bader Ginsburg

ruth bader ginsburg

An immense Latin cross stands on a traffic island at the center of a busy three-way intersection in Bladensburg, Md. “Monumental, clear, and bold” by day, the cross looms even larger illuminated against the night-time sky. Known as the Peace Cross, the monument was erected by private citizens in 1925 to honor local soldiers who lost their lives in World War I. “The town’s most prominent symbol” was rededicated in 1985 and is now said to honor “the sacrifices made in all wars,” by “all veterans.” Both the Peace Cross and the traffic island are owned and maintained by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, an agency of the state of Maryland.

Decades ago, this court recognized that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution demands governmental neutrality among religious faiths, and between religion and nonreligion. Numerous times since, the court has reaffirmed the Constitution’s commitment to neutrality. Today, the court erodes that neutrality commitment, diminishing precedent designed to preserve individual liberty and civic harmony in favor of a “presumption of constitutionality for longstanding monuments, symbols and practices.”

The Latin cross is the foremost symbol of the Christian faith, embodying the “central theological claim of Christianity: that the son of God died on the cross, that he rose from the dead, and that his death and resurrection offer the possibility of eternal life.” Precisely because the cross symbolizes these sectarian beliefs, it is a common marker for the graves of Christian soldiers. For the same reason, using the cross as a war memorial does not transform it into a secular symbol, as the courts of appeals have uniformly recognized.

Some of my colleagues suggest that the court’s new presumption extends to all governmental displays and practices, regardless of their age. ‘A more contemporary state effort’ to put up a religious display is ‘likely to prove divisive in a way that a longstanding, pre-existing monument would not.’” I read the court’s opinion to mean what it says: “Retaining established, religiously expressive monuments, symbols, and practices is quite different from erecting or adopting new ones,” and, consequently, only “longstanding monuments, symbols, and practices” enjoy “a presumption of constitutionality.”

Cross not suitable for other faiths

Just as a Star of David is not suitable to honor Christians who died serving their country, so a cross is not suitable to honor those of other faiths who died defending their nation. Soldiers of all faiths “are united by their love of country, but they are not united by the cross.” By maintaining the Peace Cross on a public highway, the commission elevates Christianity over other faiths, and religion over nonreligion. Memorializing the service of American soldiers is an “admirable and unquestionably secular” objective.

But the commission does not serve that objective by displaying a symbol that bears “a starkly sectarian message.” The First Amendment commands that the government “shall make no law” either “respecting an establishment of religion” or “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Adoption of these complementary provisions followed centuries of “turmoil, civil strife, and persecution, generated in large part by established sects determined to maintain their absolute political and religious supremacy.”

Mindful of that history, the fledgling Republic ratified the Establishment Clause, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, to “build a wall of separation between church and state.”

Government may not favor

The Establishment Clause essentially instructs: “The government may not favor one religion over another, or religion over irreligion.”

In cases challenging the government’s display of a religious symbol, the court has tested fidelity to the principle of neutrality by asking whether the display has the “effect of ‘endorsing’ religion.” The display fails this requirement if it objectively “conveys a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred.” To make that determination, a court must consider “the pertinent facts and circumstances surrounding the symbol and its placement.”

As I see it, when a cross is displayed on public property, the government may be presumed to endorse its religious content. The venue is surely associated with the state; the symbol and its meaning are just as surely associated exclusively with Christianity.

To non-Christians, nearly 30 percent of the population of the United States, the state’s choice to display the cross on public buildings or spaces conveys a message of exclusion: It tells them they “are outsiders, not full members of the political community.”

“For nearly two millennia,” the Latin cross has been the “defining symbol” of Christianity, evoking the foundational claims of that faith. Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ was “a divine Savior” who “illuminated a path toward salvation and redemption.” Central to the religion are the beliefs that “the son of God,” Jesus Christ, “died on the cross,” that “he rose from the dead,” and that “his death and resurrection offer the possibility of eternal life.” “From its earliest times,” Christianity was known as “religio crucis — the religion of the cross.”

Christians wear crosses, not as an ecumenical symbol, but to proclaim their adherence to Christianity. An exclusively Christian symbol, the Latin cross is not emblematic of any other faith.

The principal symbol of Christianity around the world should not loom over public thoroughfares, suggesting official recognition of that religion’s paramountcy.

The commission’s “attempts to secularize what is unquestionably a sacred symbol defy credibility and disserve people of faith.” The asserted commemorative meaning of the cross rests on — and is inseparable from — its Christian meaning: “the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the redeeming benefits of his passion and death,” specifically, “the salvation of man.” Because of its sacred meaning, the Latin cross has been used to mark Christian deaths since at least the fourth century. The cross on a grave “says that a Christian is buried here,” and “commemorates that person’s death by evoking a conception of salvation and eternal life reserved for Christians.”

As a commemorative symbol, the Latin cross simply “makes no sense apart from the crucifixion, the resurrection, and Christianity’s promise of eternal life.” The cross affirms that, thanks to the soldier’s embrace of Christianity, he will be rewarded with eternal life. “To say that the cross honors the Christian war dead does not identify a secular meaning of the cross; it merely identifies a common application of the religious meaning.” Scarcely “a universal symbol of sacrifice,” the cross is “the symbol of one particular sacrifice.”

Every court of appeals to confront the question has held that “making a . . . Latin cross a war memorial does not make the cross secular,” it “makes the war memorial sectarian.” The Peace Cross is no exception. That was evident from the start. At the dedication ceremony, the keynote speaker analogized the sacrifice of the honored soldiers to that of Jesus Christ, calling the Peace Cross “symbolic of Calvary,” where Jesus was crucified. Local reporters variously described the monument as “a mammoth cross, a likeness of the Cross of Calvary, as described in the bible,” “a monster Calvary cross,” and “a huge sacrifice cross.”

The character of the monument has not changed with the passage of time.

Not a universal symbol

Reiterating its argument that the Latin cross is a “universal symbol” of World War I sacrifice, the commission states that “40 World War I monuments . . . built in the United States . . . bear the shape of a cross.” This figure includes memorials that merely “incorporate” a cross. Moreover, the 40 monuments compose only 4 percent of the “948 outdoor sculptures commemorating the First World War.” The court lists just seven freestanding cross memorials, less than 1 percent of the total number of monuments to World War I in the United States. Cross memorials, in short, are outliers. The overwhelming majority of World War I memorials contain no Latin cross. In fact, the “most popular and enduring memorial of the post-World War I decade” was “the mass-produced Spirit of the American Doughboy statue.” That statue, depicting a U.S. infantryman, “met with widespread approval throughout American communities.”

The Peace Cross, as plaintiffs’ expert historian observed, was an “aberration . . . even in the era in which it was built and dedicated.” Like cities and towns across the country, the United States military comprehended the importance of “paying equal respect to all members of the Armed Forces who perished in the service of our country,” and therefore avoided incorporating the Latin cross into memorials. The construction of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is illustrative. When a proposal to place a cross on the Tomb was advanced, the Jewish Welfare Board objected; no cross appears on the Tomb. In sum, “there is simply ‘no evidence . . . that the cross has been widely embraced by’ — or even applied to — ‘non-Christians as a secular symbol of death’ or of sacrifice in military service” in World War I or otherwise.

The Establishment Clause, which preserves the integrity of both church and state, guarantees that “however . . . individuals worship, they will count as full and equal American citizens.”

“If the aim of the Establishment Clause is genuinely to uncouple government from church,” the clause does “not permit . . . a display of the character” of Bladensburg’s Peace Cross.

— This is an edited and condensed version of the dissent, written by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in the Bladensburg cross case

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Jesus is NOT a Religion

jesus hawkins texasJesus is not a religion, Jesus is in every religion across the globe. If you don’t believe that Jesus existed, then he would be fiction. If he’s fiction, and you want to remove his name from everything then you need to remove every fiction name that there is across the country. That means we couldn’t say Superman welcomes you to town.

— Mayor Will Rogers, Hawkins, Texas

Freedom From Religion Foundation News Release

Texas city has at long last removed a “Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins” sign that the Freedom From Religion Foundation objected to years ago.

Back in 2015, the state/church watchdog twice wrote to the city of Hawkins about the blatantly Christian sign on city property after receiving local complaints.

“The Establishment Clause prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages,” FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover noted. “The Supreme Court has been clear that the ‘First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’”

The city of Hawkins violated this neutrality with a prominent governmental sign that proclaimed “Jesus Welcomes You” and endorsed belief in the pre-eminent figure of Christianity, FFRF pointed out. It sent a clear message to those with Christian beliefs that they’re favored community insiders and an equally clear message to those who believe differently that they’re not.

Then Hawkins-Mayor Will Rogers, the creative mind behind the sign, which he commissioned public school students to build, defended it with media statements such as “Jesus is not a religion, Jesus is in every religion across the globe. He’s in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism” and “If you don’t believe that Jesus existed, then he would be fiction. If he’s fiction, and you want to remove his name from everything, then you need to remove every fiction name that there is across the country. That means we couldn’t say ‘Superman welcomes you to town.’”

Fortunately, better sense prevailed in the rest of the city administration, and it heeded FFRF’s advice, albeit after many twists and turns.

The City Council voted to remove the sign after FFRF’s second letter, but then events headed in a strange direction after the mayor got into a long tussle with the city. He sued eight city officials and a bunch of other residents for supposedly resisting his attempts to root out corruption. Rogers settled the lawsuit but narrowly lost his re-election bid, with the sign playing a major role in the campaign.

Meanwhile, a group of supporters of the sign claimed that it was on private property, while the city contended that it had an easement to build a road on the land and, therefore, it was city-owned. The land turned out to be on the property of a funeral home that wanted nothing to do with the controversy, but then an entity called “Jesus Christ Open Altar Church, LLC” brought a lawsuit against the city after claiming to have bought the land from the funeral home. FFRF waited and watched while the lawsuit was underway. Finally, the city won that lawsuit on appeal and recently removed the sign.

FFRF is breathing a sigh of relief at this overdue victory for the U.S. Constitution — and for the rights of minority believers and nonbelievers in the community.

“We believe in justice for the good people of this country — even justice that is long delayed,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Finally, the city of Hawkins is in compliance with the law of the land — and has stopped sending a divisive and exclusionary message.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit founded in 1978, has over 31,000 nonreligious members and several chapters around the country, including more than 1,300 members and a chapter in Texas.

 

The Existence of God: Daring to Look Behind the Curtain

god-curtain

Recently, Andrew Hackman said, “Once you see behind the god curtain, there is no point in offering me a “better” god.” Andrew’s words got me thinking about the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz; of how Dorothy and her compatriots traveled to the Emerald City to see the great Wizard of Oz. Rumor had it that the Wizard of Oz had great powers, and who better to give the Scarecrow a brain, the Tin Woodman a heart, the Cowardly Lion courage, and magically return Dorothy to Kansas? The Wizard agreed to grant their wishes if they brought him the broomstick belonging to the Wicked Witch of the West.

Upon achieving the quest, Dorothy and her friends return to the Emerald City, thinking that the Wizard will happily and quickly grant their wishes. Instead, he stalls, hoping they will give up and go away. As they persisted, Toto, the dog, pulled back a curtain to reveal that the great Wizard of Oz was actually a “middle-aged man operating machinery and speaking into a microphone.”

So it for those of us who have pulled back the God curtain, only to find out that “God” was a fabrication of the human mind; that the God we loved, worshiped, and adored was nothing more than a feeble, frail man using magical words and religious texts to convince us of his existence. The God behind the curtain used all sorts of tricks to get us to accept that he was real; that he was the supreme ruler of the universe; that he was the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the one true God. But once we saw the human behind the curtain, it was impossible for us to unsee. We had three choices: pretend that we didn’t see what was behind the curtain, ignore what we had seen, or admit that the deity we had devoted our lives to was no God at all. For those of us who are atheists and agnostics, we chose number three — there is no God.

wizard of oz

It’s been a decade now since I pulled back the God curtain and found that Christian God (and all other extant Gods) was a fake, a fraud, a human invention. Since that time, countless Evangelicals, Catholics, and Muslims have attempted to evangelize me, saying that I had been worshiping a false God, and that if I would just believe in and follow their peculiar version of God, all my wishes would be granted.

Their remonstrations have fallen on deaf ears. Why? Let me quote my buddy Andrew again, “Once you see behind the god curtain, there is no point in offering me a “better” god.” You see, once you know the truth, there’s no going back. Once you realize the psychological, sociological, and geographical nature of belief in God, the idea that God is “real” falls flat on its face. Christian zealots continue to try to convince me that their flavor of Christianity is “truth,” but I know better. You see, I have pulled back the curtain, and I know that God looks and acts a lot like Bruce Gerencser and seven billion other human beings.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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If Atheism Leads to Hedonism, So Does Calvinism

hedonism

Evangelicals-turned-atheists are often accused of deconverting because of a secret desire to sin, to live wickedly. I have had countless Evangelical apologists accuse me of hiding the real reason I left Christianity: some sort of “secret” sin. Supposedly, atheists are hedonists — pagan pleasure seekers. While it is certainly true that my sin list got a lot smaller post-Jesus, I suspect my life measures up quite well against the lives of Christians who ignorantly believe that atheists are morally inferior to followers of Jesus. Sure, atheism freed me from guilt over many of the behaviors I at one time considered “sin.” I no longer feign holy outrage when I see naked women or gay romance on TV.  I no longer have to beat myself up when I’m less of a man than I could be. I am quite self-aware, and usually don’t have a problem recognizing when I have been an ass or caused harm to someone else. When I understand that I have failed in some way, I don’t pray, seeking a mythical God’s forgiveness. Instead, I do what I can to apologize and, if necessary, make restitution. I then do my best to not repeat said behavior. As all humans do, I fail every day. That said, knowing what I know about Christians, I am confident that my way of life and morals compare favorably to that of saved, sanctified, bought-by-the blood, filled-with-the-Holy-Ghost Evangelicals. And I can say the same about most of the atheists I know. We are not hedonists, nor do we lurk in the shadows waiting for opportunities to rape, murder, molest children, or root for the New York Yankees. Quite frankly, most atheists — myself included — live uninteresting lives. I may joke about being a stripper named Santa, but my real life is quite banal.

If atheism leads to hedonism, then Christianity — especially Calvinism — does too.  Recently, I published a guest post titled The Cruel Message of Calvinism. Jean left the following comment:

I have often wondered–if you actually believe in predestination, what is keeping you from unbridled hedonism, if that appeals to you? After all, if you’re saved, you’re saved; and if you’re damned, there’s nothing you can do about it, anyway. Nothing you can do will help anyone else, in the long run, either. Why live a life of rugged virtue, if it isn’t going to gain you anything at all?

The doctrine of predestination (and election) teaches that God, before the world began, chose who would and wouldn’t be saved. The only people who will be saved are those chosen, drawn, and called by God.  Even Arminians, to some degree or the other, believe human salvation is predetermined by God. It is God alone who saves. In other words, the salvation game is rigged. Since salvation can never rest on human merit and good works, it is up to the Christian God, through the merit and work of Jesus, the son of God, on Calvary’s cross, to save sinners from their sins. Further, God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. He is the sovereign of the universe, and everything that happens is according to his purpose, plan, and decrees. Nothing happens unless God wills it or allows it to happen.

hedonism 2

As you can see, both Christianity and atheism can lead to hedonism. Evangelicals will argue that the Holy Spirit lives inside of them, and is their teacher and guide. Supposedly, having God living inside of you inoculates you from “sin.”  However, as causal observation of Evangelicals and stories such as those found in the Black Collar Crime Series tell us, the Holy Spirit is really bad at his job. Go read comments by Jim on the post Church of Christ Preacher Al Shannon Says Women Who Dress Immodestly Risk Rape by Lustful Men. (Also see Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Al Shannon Says Modern Women Wear the Attire of Harlots) Jim says he is a Bible-believing Christian. Ask yourself, does his behavior reflect the belief that God, the Holy Spirit is his teacher and guide? Supposedly, the Holy Spirit gives believers the words to say when witnessing. If that’s true, based on Jim’s comments, the Holy Spirit is an arrogant bully and troll. (And if Jimbo dares to object to my characterization of his boorish behavior, I can quote a dozen Bible verses that condemn his behavior.)

The only difference between atheists and Christians is that Christians wallow in helplessness before their imaginary deity, seeking his/her forgiveness. Atheists cut out the middleman — God — and seek the forgiveness of those they have hurt, promising to do better the next time.

Are you an atheist? Do you desire to live a hedonistic life? How is your life different post-Jesus? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Quote of the Day: What Has Organized Religion Been Up To?

The last few decades sure have been bad ones for organized religion. Conservative Christians have decided that the sum total of the Bible is about reestablishing the sex and gender mores of the 19th century. Liberal protestantism is so unassuming that hardly anyone even remembers it exists. The Catholic Church has been responsible for the deaths of millions in Africa thanks to its mindless belief that God hates condoms. Much of Islam has been taken over by the toxic Saudi strain. Israel has turned into an apartheid state. Hindus in India are apparently now dedicated to creating a religiously pure state. And even Buddhists have been acting badly lately.

Meanwhile, science keeps churning out new wonders. Cell phones. The internet. Cures for cancer. Robotic prosthetics. Solar panels on rooftops. Talking computers. Antidepressants. Google Maps. Cheap genome sequencing. Virtual reality. Machine learning. Meatless meat. Missions to Mars. Electric cars. Fiber optics.

Seems like no contest to me. But who’s winning?

— Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, Organized Religion Is Having a Bad Few Decades, August 18, 2019

The Cruel Message of Calvinism

Guest post by Linda

One of my earliest memories is sitting on the floor in a church nursery, rolling a big ball to a little boy who would then roll it back to me. I was delighted with this simple game. An equally delighted adult was watching us. I can’t remember who she was, but I am sure she was smiling and encouraging us in our ball rolling. We were probably three or four years old. I felt safe, happy, and comfortable.

My family went to church every Sunday. I didn’t understand why of course, but it was always fun because there were other kids to play with. Eventually I outgrew the nursery and began attending Sunday school. In Sunday school the teachers were always ladies and they were always sweet. They taught us all sorts of Bible stories. It wasn’t quite as fun as the nursery had been, but it was pleasant and sometimes we got to color. We soon began learning about Jesus. We would sing “Jesus Loves Me” or the song about the wise man who built his house upon a rock, smacking our fists into our palms to show how good and solid the rock was. There was an important message in these songs, though I wasn’t sure what it was.

After a while, Sunday school took a more serious turn. Our teacher taught us about lepers. Lepers were people who had a terrible disease that caused their body parts to rot and fall off. Other people hated them and made them live far away. Only Jesus was kind to lepers. Jesus was better than other people. Like the Sunday school songs, there was an important message in this story. I still didn’t fully understand it, but so far, I liked Jesus a lot. I was glad he was nice to the sick people and he even helped one of them get well. I don’t remember the first time we heard about Jesus dying on the cross to save us, but the teacher started bringing it up every week. She told us it was very important for us to believe that Jesus died to save us from our sins. It had never occurred to me not to believe something an adult said, especially a teacher, so it seemed kind of strange that she thought we might not believe her story.

Around this time, I started learning to read. Thanks to TV, I even learned that all people did not use the same words as we Americans did. Some people spoke and wrote a language called Spanish. It had different words for things like “water” and “friend.” This was amazing. The subject of language came up one week in Sunday school when our teacher taught us about the Tower of Babel. In this story, God punished some men who tried to build a giant tower they could use to climb into Heaven. He did this by switching everyone’s words around. It all made sense now! That must have been where Spanish had come from, plus a whole bunch of other languages I had never even heard of. I found myself smugly wondering why God had written the Bible in English. I decided it must be because English was the best language.

It was the 1970s. Hippies were everywhere. Stores carried posters and signs with slogans like: “Keep On Truckin’,” “Peace,” and “Smile God Loves You.” One week our sweet Sunday school teacher had a warning for us kids. She told us not to believe the signs that said “Smile God Loves You” because they weren’t true. God did not love everybody. I didn’t think much about this warning at the time. I was already learning not to question the things I heard in church. As the years went by and I transitioned from a curious child into a quiet teenager, I grew frustrated with church. Those early lessons about kind and helpful Jesus didn’t mesh with the grown-up sermons about a righteous, angry God. The punishment doled out by God at the Tower of Babel seemed like a prank compared to burning unbelievers in Hell forever. I didn’t understand what we were supposed to do for Jesus. I knew that He had died for us wicked humans, but there was something crucial I was missing. Why did all these people spend every Sunday listening to the preacher talk about it? What was the point? Our preacher spent a lot of time and energy ranting about all these other preachers who had everything wrong. There was a long list of these false preachers. He also had a long list of behaviors that would not help you get into Heaven: praying, tithing, getting baptized, helping the poor, caring for the sick, winning souls, going to church, volunteering in church, building the church, studying the Bible, serving your community, and on and on and on. I got tense just listening to him talk about all the ways you could waste your time trying to be a good person. It was like listening to a song with an overly long introduction. I kept waiting for the tension to break and for him to finally say what we should do to get into Heaven, but he never did.

It occurred to me that church was vastly different from school. In school, you learned about a new subject, studied it, took tests on it, then you moved on to the next level. You repeated this process from first grade to second grade to third grade and so on. By the time you got to middle school, you didn’t keep going over the same topics you learned in grade school; you were expected to have them memorized so they could form the foundation of more advanced subjects. Not so in church. In church you went every Sunday, year after year, to hear the same lecture about how horrible you are and how you deserve to burn in Hell and how Jesus would save you from Hell if only . . . something. What that something was, I couldn’t quite grasp. I wondered if I was dumb. Obviously, every other person in church understood it, so why didn’t I? Confusion morphed into anger and I started to hate going to church. I was closing in on adulthood and longing for independence. It felt like church was keeping me trapped in childhood. My escape finally began when I left home for college at the age of eighteen. I was still a Christian, though I could not have described my actual beliefs to anyone who might have asked. I knew what I was supposed to say, but those Christian-approved words didn’t match up with the thoughts and emotions I kept inside. In college I made the shocking discovery that other people sometimes questioned the origins of the Bible. They talked about it as if it were any other book written by men. Even more shocking was the fact that college instructors now encouraged us students to think about these things. They wanted us to think! I couldn’t handle it. I decided they were all evil. Though I had problems with Christianity myself, it felt like an attack to hear others criticize the faith — my faith! Even so, I did begin allowing myself to think, just a little bit at first. This was the beginning of the end of my faith. It wasn’t until many years later that I finally left Christianity for good. It took a long time to get rid of the fear that I might accidentally come to the wrong conclusion and burn forever because of it. And it wasn’t until the advent of the internet, decades later, that I finally understood what our preacher was really saying all along. I had started reading online articles about Christianity in its various forms. When I came across a description of Calvinism, I realized that there was a good reason our preacher never told us what to do to get into Heaven. He did not believe it mattered one bit what we did, because God had already decided who was in and who was out.

I had heard this long ago, this doctrine of predestination. It hadn’t upset me too much back then, because I was so deep in fundamentalist brain fog that I couldn’t process the horror. It just didn’t sink in. Now I thought about all the convoluted, pseudo-intellectual gobbledygook I had heard masqueraded as wisdom. And I realized that the particular message of our peculiar brand of Calvinism did not require years of lectures to understand. It was as simple as it was cruel: God created some people to damn and some people to save. There is nothing any human being can do to change this situation so it is foolish to even try. I cannot describe the way this realization made me feel. I was astonished at how ridiculous it was, and at how many otherwise intelligent adults really believed that this was the sort of thing a righteous creator would do. It still gives me a strange feeling to think about how that church, which I first knew as a safe and happy place, was never anything more than a shrine to violence and injustice.

D-Day in New York – It’s About Time

guest post

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

On August 15, Catholics will celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. That is, supposedly, the date on which the Virgin Mary was bodily hoisted into Heaven, thus ending her earthly life.

The day before, the 14th, just might be D-Day, at least in New York State. That day will mark the beginning of a one-year window in which survivors of child sexual abuse can file civil suits against their abusers, under terms of the Child Victims Act (CVA) passed earlier this year.

Nearly everyone expects a flood of suits to be filed that day. Some will have waited years, even decades for this opportunity: previously, if a child was molested in New York State, he or she could file a lawsuit or seek criminal charges until he or she was 23. Given what we’ve seen, it’s easy to see how this works against victims: it often takes decades for someone (as it did for me) who was molested or abused as a child to speak about it.

After the one-year window provided in the CVA has passed, victims can still file civil suits until age 55 and seek criminal charges until age 28. While these provisions are an improvement on previous statutes — which were among the most victim-unfriendly in the nation — the Empire State will still lag behind its heavily-Catholic neighbor Massachusetts, which gives victims 35 years to sue their abusers.

What galls people such as I, though, is that it took sixteen years for the state legislature to pass the CVA. Although I rarely have kind words for politicians, I must say that some members of the State Legislature–among them Assembly members Brad Hoylman and Linda Rosenthal, both Democrats from Manhattan — should be commended for their efforts. That it took so long is mainly a testament to how hard some organizations fought against them.

Will it surprise any of you to know that two of the main opponents of this Act–and its “window” in particular — are the Boy Scouts of America and — wait for it — the Roman Catholic Church? Although New York is one of the “bluest” states in the country, the Church still wields a fair amount of influence in the politics of both the state and New York City. Church leaders howled that the “window” will result in a flood of lawsuits that could impose “financial hardship” on the state’s dioceses and archdioceses. They have a point: California passed similar legislation in 2003, and within a few years, the dioceses of San Diego and Stockton filed for bankruptcy.

Still, the protestations of Church leaders in New York are at least somewhat disingenuous, if not entirely hypocritical. In claiming that the “window” could lead to thousands of lawsuits, the Church in New York is tacitly conceding that many children (and adults), over many years, have indeed been sexually exploited by priests, nuns and other authority figures such as deacons. But what is less-widely known is that, in a way, the dioceses of the state have implemented some version or another of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), which allows victims to file claims for past sexual abuse. There can be little doubt that this program was implemented because Church leaders knew that passage of the CVA (and similar laws in other states) was all but inevitable, and that by giving victims nominal compensation on the condition of confidentiality, they could forestall a number of lawsuits.

And, while some victims might reap substantial payouts for lawsuits filed under the CVA, it will probably take years to settle and collect. The IRCP process, in contrast, takes months, and therefore may appeal to older victims who don’t want to spend significant portions of their remaining years in a court case. I have little doubt that Church leaders knew this, too.

It will be interesting, to say the least, to see what happens to the individual dioceses as well as the church as a whole as a result of New York’s CVA. For years, individual parishes and Catholic schools (including the one I attended) have been closing, mainly in the five boroughs of New York City, but also in other parts of the state. While few people expect the Archdiocese of New York or the Diocese of Brooklyn to go belly-up, mainly because they still own lots of valuable real estate and other assets, it’s not hard to imagine some of the less-affluent dioceses upstate filing for protection.

I realize that I have focused on the effect the CVA will have on the Catholic Church. So have most of the media. As I mentioned, the Boy Scouts will also be affected. Although the Catholic church is the largest denomination in the State and City (though many claimed members have long since stopped practicing the religion, or even renounced it altogether), there are a number of other religious organizations that could be affected. Chief among them, I believe, are the Hasidic and Ultra-Orthodox communities. (In Orange County, there is a village, Kiryas Joel, which is essentially governed by Satmar Hasidic interpretations of Halakhic law, and most of whose residents speak Yiddish.) In addition, there are a number of insular religious communities ensconced in upstate enclaves and some outer-borough New York City neighborhoods. It’s hard not to believe that some current or former members of such communities will come forward as a result of the CVA.

Whatever happens, I am glad that some people who suffered sexual abuse from priests and other religious leaders will have an opportunity, however brief, to break the hold of their abusers and hold them to account.

Quote of the Day: Bart Ehrman Asks, “Why am I an Enemy?’

bart ehrman

And so the personal question that I struggle with a good deal.  OK, this is really highly personal, it’s just me.   But I often feel sad about being seen as an “enemy” of the Christian faith.   People tell me I am all the time – both people who despise me and people who are rooting me on.   Yet the views I put out there for public scrutiny are almost NEVER things that I’ve come up with myself, that I’ve dreamt up, that I’m trying to push on others with no evidence or argument – just crazy liberal ideas I’ve come up with to lead people away from the faith.

So why am I an enemy?

Of course I know why, and my views were given additional support last week, at the international meeting of New Testament scholars I attended in Marburg.  I was talking with a German scholar about advanced training in biblical studies in Germany these days, and he told me that in German theological schools (in his experience), students simply are not as a rule very interested in the historical study of the New Testament per.  The kinds of historical issues we deal with on the blog are simply not pressing matters for them.  These are not why they are in theological training, either to teach or to minister in churches.

Instead, he indicated, the ONE question / issue that most of these students have is:  “How can I be Christian in this increasingly secular world?”

Of course they are interested in historical knowledge – but it’s not what’s driving them.  Instead it is an existential question about faith.  That makes so much sense.  It is what was driving me at that stage too.   But when this fellow scholar told me that, I realized even more clearly why I get so much opposition, even in some learned circles.

Most of the people who are in the business of studying the Bible are committed to faith.  That’s what generates their interest.  And these days it is very hard.  Christians are under attack.   From science, from philosophy, from the neo-atheists, from a society/culture that increasingly doesn’t care.   And the problem with someone like me is that I’m not helping the cause.  On the contrary, I’m not just someone from the outside taking potshots at this faith.  I’m someone who came from within it, and left it, with good reasons, and who argues views that are taken by people in the wider culture to be “evidence” that the faith has no good rational basis.  Even though I disagree with that assessment (since I know full well that people can be devout believers but still agree with everything I say) (not that anyone agrees with everything I say) (sometimes *I* don’t agree with everything I say…) – even though I disagree with that assessment, I get it.

Christians – even Christian scholars – want to cling on to their faith, to cherish it, and promote it, and what they see as negative assaults on the basis of their faith is threatening, especially – this is the key point – if it comes from someone who is *outside* the community of faith but who used to be inside it and understands the views of those who are still inside it extremely well, but who now rejects these views.  And says things that can lead others to reject them as well.

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, Who is the Enemy?, August 9, 2019