Religion

Burning In The Cathedral And Benedict’s Imagination

notre dame cathedral fireGuest post by MJ Lisbeth

Within the past forty-eight hours, two news items related to the Catholic Church caught my attention. One saddened me; the other left me furious but not surprised.

Les francaises sont tres choqués wrote a friend of mine who lives just outside the City of Light. Tout le monde est tres choqué, I responded. Indeed, the French were shocked at the Notre Dame Cathedral fire, and so was the world. I have divorced myself from the Catholicism in which I was raised, and my friend is a non-believer of Jewish heritage. But we both love art, architecture, history and Paris itself, so we feared the loss of one of the monuments Sir Kenneth Clark all but defined as civilization itself. Even in a country that prides itself on laïcité, the Notre Dame is the very epicenter of the nation: distances between Paris and other points in France are measured from the Cathedral.

It seems, thankfully, that the main structure of the Cathedral, and its iconic rose windows, were spared. But as the spire burned away, a leader of the Roman Church was igniting controversy—and re-inflaming old wounds some of us have suffered at the hands of the church’s entrusted servants.

I am referring to a letter from Benedict XVI, the Pope Emeritus. He’d written it several days before the Notre Dame conflagration, but it was going viral right around the time when les pompiers were expressing uncertainty as to whether the 850-year-old house of worship could be saved. Even in an age defined by an American President whose explanation of “the crisis at the border” might be confused with a porn movie script that was rejected because its plot was too unbelievable, Benedict’s explication of the origins of sexual abuse by priests would be seen as disingenuous or simply dishonest if it weren’t so bizarre and discombobulated. Not surprisingly, he blames an “egregious event”: the “collapse” of “previously normative standards regarding sexuality” in the 1960s:

The matter begins with the state-prescribed and supported introduction of children and youths into the nature of sexuality…

Sexual and pornographic movies then became a common occurrence, to the point that they were screened at newsreel theaters [Bahnhofskinos]…

Among the freedoms that the Revolution of 1968 sought to fight for was this all-out sexual freedom, one which no longer conceded any norms.

So far, nothing is surprising. Benedict is simply employing what seems to be the Church’s “go-to” explanation: Sexual permissiveness is to blameand it started in the ‘60s. Francis himself has said as much. But, from there, Benedict seems to be taking his cues in critical thinking from our Porn Connoisseur-In-Chief:

The mental collapse was also linked to a propensity for violence. That is why sex films were no longer allowed on airplanes, because violence would break out among the small community of passengers. And since the clothing of that time equally provoked aggression, school principals also made attempts at introducing school uniforms with a view to facilitating a climate of learning.

Part of the physiognomy of the Revolution of ‘68 was that pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate.

Now, maybe I haven’t flown enough, but I never knew that “sex films” were shown during flights. Sure, I’ve been on transatlantic flights where the likes of Léon the Professional and La Femme Nikita were shown. And, yes, Europeans are less squeamish than Americans or other people are about seeing some skin in their movies, but I would hardly label those two films, or any other airline cinematic offerings, as “sex films.” Moreover, while there has been some violence among passengers, I don’t recall hearing of any that was provoked by the showing of anything on an airborne screen.

Some school principals indeed made “attempts at introducing school uniforms.” But, as far as I can tell, any “aggression” provoked by students’ attire wasn’t a result of its sexual provocativeness; rather, it was a result of kids trying to impress each other with designer labels or being enraged by seeing the colors of a rival gang.

And, I’m no expert in the field, but to my knowledge, nowhere has pedophilia been “diagnosed” as “allowed and appropriate” except, perhaps, in NAMBLA literature. Certainly, no one approves of it: Almost any time a teacher, priest or someone else is accused of inappropriate contact, the cries for his or her removal are all but unanimous among parents and others in the community.

So, the former Pope is either seriously deluded about the phenomenon of priests taking advantage of the young people entrusted to them—or he, like too many other church officials, is trying to deflect blame away from those who deserve it: the perpetrators and those who enable and, worse, fail to penalize them.

While the original look and “feel” of the Notre Dame’s spire cannot be replicated, and artworks and artifacts lost in the blaze cannot be replaced, at least most of the cathedral’s grandeur can be saved and/or restored. The same cannot be said for the trust and faith many people had in their priests and church as long as the likes of Benedict offer up explanations for the real crisis in his church that are no more credible for than the ones the American President offers for the Trumped-up “crisis at the border.”

Black Collar Crime: Baptist CFO Roy McClendon-Thompson Accused of Embezzlement and Murder

roy mcclendon thompson

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Roy McClendon-Thompson,  the chief financial officer for Tabernacle Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, was arrested weeks ago and charged with embezzling over $100,000 from the church. McClendon-Thompson was released on a $15,000 bond. On April 8, McClendon-Thompson shot and killed his alleged lover, 45-year-old James Curtis Jones. Later that same day, with police in hot pursuit, McClendon-Thompson crashed into a dump truck. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Black Collar Crime: Mormon Sunday School Teacher Noel Anderson Sentenced to 50 Years in Prison

noel anderson

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

In March 2018, I posted a story about Mormon Sunday school teacher Noel Anderson’s arrest on aggravated sexual assault charges. At the time, Anderson admitted molesting ” four children between the ages of two and six over the past seven years.”  Yesterday, Anderson, 23, was sentenced to fifty years in prison without the possibility of parole.

Anderson’s arrest and conviction troubled his fellow church members.  One church member said, “He was an outstanding youth in our church. The gold standard for what you would want your son to grow up to be.” He may have been an “outstanding youth,” but he was also a sexual predator. Faith does not protect children from such people.

I do find myself wondering what, exactly, went wrong with this boy. News reports say that Anderson molested these children for seven years. This means he was 15 when he began preying on children.  While my heart goes out to the victims, I do feel sorry for Anderson. He will be 73 years old before he is released from prison. I wonder, what drove him to molest these children? Was there anything in his past, his upbringing, that was a contributing factor? Were there other victims, children that have not come forward? How did Anderson behave while on mission?

One thing is for certain, child molesters don’t stop harming children until they are caught.  I have no doubt that the victims coming forward saved other children from being preyed upon by Anderson. If they had not spoken up, Anderson would have continued in his predatory ways.  More ruined lives left in the wake of his vile behavior.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Michael Knowles Blames Society’s Ills on Atheism

michael knowles

For the first time in history, atheists constitute the largest religious group in America. [All praise be to Loki.] According to the General Social Survey, the number of Americans who have no religion has increased 266% over the past three decades and now account for 23.1% of the population, just barely edging out Catholics and Evangelicals as the nation’s dominant faith. Mainline Protestant churches have suffered the greatest collapse, declining 62.5% since 1982 and now comprising just 10.8% of the U.S. population

….

As religiosity has declined, social ills have abounded. [Knowles plays loose with statistics, choosing to focus on single categories, and not Christianity as a whole. Christianity is still the dominant majority religion in America.] Nearly one in five American adults suffers from anxiety disorders, which now constitute the most common mental illness in the country. One in six Americans takes antidepressant drugs, a 65% surge over just 15 years. The problem is particularly acute among younger Americans. While depression diagnoses have increased 33% since 2013, that number is up 47% among Millennials and 63% among teenagers. Coincidentally, suicide rates among American teenagers have increased by 70% since 2006. American life expectancy declined again last year, as Americans continue to drug and kill themselves at record rates. [And the majority of these people profess to believe in the Christian God or some other transcendent being. Again, Knowles twists the data to fit his narrative: Atheists are destroying America.]

Social scientists have long since established the link between religiosity and life satisfaction. As social psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky observes, people who attend religious services several times each week are nearly twice as likely as those who worship less than once a month to describe themselves as “very happy.” Such psychologists simply state the obvious: the belief that God loves you and that you will live with him in eternity offers greater consolation than the view of death as a dirt nap that stiffens you into worm food. [In other words, better to believe a lie than to accept life as it is. No thanks.]

….

The misery epidemic threatens not merely American households but also our halls of power. The late Andrew Breitbart observed that politics is downstream of culture, and culture in turn is downstream of religion. “Cult” and “culture” are etymologically related, and a culture is defined by what it worships. A materialistic culture worships wealth; a licentious culture worships sex; a godly culture worships God. But “our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people,” as John Adams wrote to the Massachusetts militia in 1798. “It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

A miserable politics awaits us when the irreligious rot flows downstream. Who but God can help us now? [God is dead, so Knowles and others who think like him better figure out a way to work with non-Christians. God ain’t coming to save us. We alone have the power to “save” our society; the world. Humanism, not Christianity, is the way forward.]

— Michael Knowles, The Daily Wire, God Help Us: Atheism Becomes Largest Religion In U.S., April 8, 2019

Quote of the Day: Why I’m an Atheist by Ira Glass

ira glass

It’s not like I don’t feel like I’m a Jew. I feel like I don’t have a choice about being a Jew. Your cultural heritage isn’t like a suitcase you can lose at the airport. I have no choice about it. It is who I am. I can’t choose that. It’s a fact of me. But even when I was 14 or 15, it didn’t make that much sense to me that there was this Big Daddy who created the world and would act so crazy in the Old Testament. That we made up these stories to make ourselves feel good and explain the world seems like a much more reasonable explanation. I’ve tried to believe in God but I simply don’t.

— Ira Glass, This American Life, November 6, 2009

Abortion and the Religious Right

abortion right wing

The above comic, drawn by Don Addis, was recently featured on the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s website. I thought it nicely summed up attempts to outlaw abortion by Evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics. These zygote worshiping zealots will not rest until abortion (and birth control) is outlawed and criminalized.

Are you a member of the Freedom of Religion Foundation? If not, I encourage you join with over 30,000 other freethinkers as they support and defend the separation of church and state.  For more membership information, please go here.

The Voices of Atheism: Christopher Hitchens at His Best

christopher hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

This is the ninth installment in The Voices of Atheism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. Know of a good video that espouses atheism/agnosticism or challenges the claims of the Abrahamic religions? Please email me the name of the video or a link to it. I believe his series will be an excellent addition to The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Today’s video features Christopher Hitchens. Enjoy!

Video Link

The Voices of Atheism: Christopher Hitchens on The Old Testament

christopher hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

This is the eighth installment in The Voices of Atheism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. Know of a good video that espouses atheism/agnosticism or challenges the claims of the Abrahamic religions? Please email me the name of the video or a link to it. I believe his series will be an excellent addition to The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Today’s video features Christopher Hitchens. Enjoy!

Video Link

Songs of Sacrilege: Faithless by Rush

rush

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

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Faithless by Rush.

Video Link

Lyrics

I’ve got my own moral compass to steer by
A guiding star beats a spirit in the sky
And all the preaching voices –
Empty vessels ring so loud
As they move among the crowd
Fools and thieves are well disguised
In the temple and marketplace

Like a stone in the river
Against the floods of spring
I will quietly resist

Like the willows in the wind
Or the cliffs along the ocean
I will quietly resist

I don’t have faith in faith
I don’t believe in belief
You can call me faithless
But I still cling to hope
And I believe in love
And that’s faith enough for me

I’ve got my own spirit level for balance
To tell if my choice is leading up or down
And all the shouting voices
Try to throw me off my course
Some by sermons, some by force
Fools and thieves are dangerous
In the temple and marketplace

Like a forest bows to winter
Beneath the deep white silence
I will quietly resist

Like a flower in the desert
That only blooms at night
I will quietly resist

Songs of Sacrilege: For the Love of God by Mindless Self Indulgence

mindless self indulgence

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

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is For the Love of God by Mindless Self Indulgence.

Video Link

Lyrics

I was doing just fine
‘Til the son of God had saved me, now
And I sin all of the time
Living life begging forgiveness

Sweet religion
Blood is spilling, blood is spilling
Sweet religion
Persecute the weak and willing
I’ve been here so long
For the love of God

(Come here, I got somethin’ to tell you, Jesus!)

My flesh is so weak
And my spirit is not so willing, baby
Turn the other cheek
And I’ll spank you right on your ass, baby

Sweet religion
Help me, Satan! Help me, Satan!
Sweet religion
Drag me down into your basement
I’ve done nothing wrong
For the love of God

Sweet religion
Blood is spilling, blood is spilling
Sweet religion
Help me, Satan! Help me, Satan!
I’ve been here so long
For the love of God

Liars for Jesus: Evangelical Preachers and Their Sermons, Stories, and Testimonies

liar liar pants on fire

Evangelical preachers, regardless of their theological flavor, are liars. I have known a number of Evangelical pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and professors in my lifetime. Without exception, these men of God, at one time or another lied to their congregants or ministerial colleagues. Now, this doesn’t mean that they set out to deliberately obfuscate or deceive — though some did — but the fact remains these so-called men of God played loose with the truth. I plan to deliberately paint with a broad brush in this post, so if you just so happen to be the Sgt. Joe Friday of Evangelicalism, please don’t get upset.

One way preachers lie is by withholding truth. On Sundays, pastors stand in pulpits and preach their sermons, giving congregants a version of truth, but not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Evangelical preachers enter their pulpits with an agenda, an objective. Their agendas affect how they interpret the Bible and what they say in their sermons. The Bible, then, becomes a means to an end, be it saving the lost, calling congregants to repentance, raising money, or advancing pet projects.

This means that Bible verses are spun in ways to gain desired objectives. Instead of letting the Bible speak for itself, the text is manipulated and massaged in the hope that congregants will buy what their pastors are selling. And make no mistake about it, there’s little difference between pitchman Billy May and the preacher down at First Baptist Church in Podunk City. Preachers are salesmen with products to sell, and the goal of a well-crafted sermon is to get hearers to sign on the dotted line. (Please see Selling Jesus.)

Another way preachers lie is by giving the appearance that their sermons are God’s opinion on a matter. God speaks through God’s man as he preaches God’s infallible Word, or so the thinking goes, anyway. However, every preacher’s thinking is colored by his past religious experiences, education, and culture. Pastors regurgitate what they heard their pastors preach while growing up, what their professors taught them in college, and what they read in theological books. Every Evangelical preacher walks in a certain rut, interpreting the Biblical text as others do in that rut. Birds of a feather flock together, the old saying goes. Christianity consists of thousands and thousands of sects, each with its own peculiar spin on the Bible. Countless internecine wars are fought over minute points of doctrine and practice. Only within the Christian bubble do these things matter, but boy, oh boy do they matter! Evangelicals, in particular, are known for their bickering over theology and how followers of Jesus should live. This fact is a sure sign, at least to me, that Christianity is not what Evangelicals say it is. If there is one God, one Jesus, and one Holy Spirit who lives inside every believer, it stands to reason that Christians should all have the same beliefs. That they don’t suggests that there are cultural, sociological, and geographical issues at work. How else can we explain the theological differences between sects, churches, and individual Christians? Why, Christians can’t even agree on the basics: salvation, baptism, and communion/Eucharist/Lord’s supper.

Most preachers know about the diversity of theology and belief among Christians, yet they rarely let it be known to their congregations except to call other beliefs false or heretical. It is clear, at least to me, that the Bible teaches a number of “plans of salvation”; that both the Arminians and Calvinists are right; that both salvation by grace and salvation by works are true. Why don’t preachers tell the truth about these things? Is it not a lie to omit them — the sin of omission?  If Christianity is all that Evangelicals say it is and Jesus is all-powerful, surely Christians can handle being given the truth about the Biblical text, church history, and the varied theological beliefs and practices found with Christianity. If pastors want to be truth-tellers, they must be willing to tell congregants everything, including the stuff that doesn’t fit a particular theological box. Imagine how much differently Evangelicals might act if they were required to study world religions and read books by authors such as Bart Ehrman. That will never happen, of course, because it would result in most preachers losing their jobs due to attendance decline and lost income. Truth is always the enemy of faith.

Atheists such as myself know the value of wide exposure to contrary beliefs. After all, our deconversions often followed a path of intense and painful intellectual inquiry. In my case, it took years for me to slide to the bottom of the slippery slope of unbelief. Along the way, I made numerous stops, hoping that I would find a way to hang on to my belief in God. I found none of these resting places intellectually satisfying. I wanted them to be, but my commitment to truth wouldn’t let me. In the years since, I have encouraged doubters to follow their paths wherever they lead. Meet truth in the middle of the road. Don’t back up or try to go around. Do business with truth before moving forward. This is, of course, hard to do, because it requires abandoning previously held beliefs when new evidence is presented. It requires admitting you were wrong. And therein is the rub for many Evangelical preachers: they have spent their lifetimes being “right” and preaching their rightness to their church congregations. To admit they were wrong would cause their metaphorical houses to tumble. So instead of telling the truth, Evangelical preachers lie. They lie because they have careers, congregations, and denominations to protect.

And finally, some Evangelical preachers lie in their sermons, stories, and testimonies because they never let the truth get in to way of telling a good story. I have heard countless testimonies and sermon illustrations, and the vast majority of them were embellished at some point or the other. Not that this is a great evil. We all do it, Christian or not. My problem with Evangelical preachers doing it is that they present themselves as pillars of moral virtue and arbiters of truth. When you ride your horse on the moral high road, you should expect attempts will be made to push you down the ravine to where the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world live.

Preachers know that there’s nothing like a good story to seal the deal with people listening to their sermons. Believing that “the end justifies the means,” preachers shape and mold their stories and testimonies in ways that best lead to desired outcomes. For those of you who were raised in Evangelical churches, think about some of the salvation testimonies you heard on Sundays. Fantastical stories, right? Almost unbelievable! And in fact, they aren’t believable. All of us love a good story, but when trying to convince people that a particular sect/church/belief is truth, surely it behooves storytellers to tell the truth. Instead, preachers color their stories in ways that people will be drawn into them. Every story and every sermon is meant to bring people to a place of decision. A preacher has wasted his time if his sermon hasn’t elicited some sort of emotional response. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this. Politicians, sportscasters, and preachers — to name a few — all use the power of stories to draw people in and get them to make a decision — be it to get saved or vote. Any preacher worth his salt knows how to manipulate people through their use of stories. A boring sermon is one that is little more than a dry, listless lecture. Gag me with a spoon, as we used to say. Give me someone who speaks with passion and uses the power of words to drive home his or her message. As a pastor, one of my goals was to inspire people, not put them to sleep.

Sometime during my early ministerial years, I stopped expecting preachers to be bold truth tellers. I listened to Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) conference speakers Jack Hyles, Curtis Hutson, Tom Malone, and others tell stories that were embellished or outright lies. Hyles, in particular, lied more often than he told the truth. He is famous for telling people how many people he counseled every week. Much like President Trump, Hyles’ statistics didn’t hold up under scrutiny. Hyles could have told conference attendees that he counseled a number of people each week, but instead he led conference attendees to believe that he counseled hundreds and hundreds of people every week. He wanted people to see him as some sort of super hero; an Evangelical Superman. The same goes for his soulwinning stories. While there may have been an element of truth in his stories, they were so embellished that only Kool-Aid-drinking Hyleites believed them to be true.

Such is the nature of preaching. Does this mean that preachers are bad people who can’t tell the truth? Certainly, some of them are. More than a few Evangelical churches are pastored by con artists who want to scam their congregations, troll for children to molest, or seduce naïve church women. Most preachers, however, are decent, thoughtful people who genuinely believe in what they are selling. They want to save souls and help congregants live better lives. Often raised in religious environments where embellishing truth or outright lying was acceptable, these preachers preach in the ways that were modeled to them. Isn’t that what we humans are wont to do? We tend to follow in the footsteps of our parents and teachers. There is nothing I have said in this post that will change this fact. All I hope to do is warn people about what they hear preachers saying during their sermons. Tom Malone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan and founder of Midwestern Baptist College, one time said during a sermon, “I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth!” Dr. Malone meant to be funny, but what he really did, at least for me, is reveal that what preachers preach may not always be the truth. Judicious hearers should keep this mind the next time they listen to this or that preacher regale people with their fantastical stories. Remember, it’s just a story, an admixture of truth, embellishment, and lie. In other words, good preaching. Amen? Amen!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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