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Bruce, What if You Are Wrong?

what if you are wrong

Every Evangelical-turned-atheist has had a Christian zealot pose to them the question, what if you are wrong? Over the past thirteen years, I’ve been asked this question numerous times. Devoted followers of Jesus genuinely fear for my soul and don’t want me to be tortured by their God in Hell for eternity, so they hope by asking this question they can get me to reconsider my decision to divorce Jesus.

This question is often followed by some form of Pascal’s Wager. Of course, those asking the question don’t realize the hypocrisy of their query. As practicing Christians, shouldn’t they be joining the Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, and every other religion that says there is some sort of life after death? Shouldn’t they make sure all their bases are covered?  Christians want to hold me to a different standard from the one to which they hold themselves. They are certain the Christian God is the one and only true God, so they see no reason to ask of themselves, what if I am wrong? Even among Christians, there are countless Christianities, with widely differing beliefs and practices. Which Christianity is True Christianity®? The Baptists think their version of Christianity is True Christianity®, and the Church of Christ, Roman Catholicism, and Greek Orthodoxy do too. Two thousand years in the making and Christians can’t even agree on basic beliefs such as salvation, baptism, and communion. Yet, rarely does any of them contemplate that they could be w-r-o-n-g.

pascals wager

Could I be wrong about God, Jesus, Christianity, the Bible, and the plethora of other gods humans have created since they were able to walk upright and reason? Sure, and I could say the same about many of the things I consider factual or true.  As one who values science and the scientific method, my belief in God or lack thereof is based on evidence and probabilities. While I self-identify as an atheist, I am agnostic on the God question. It is possible that a God of some sort could reveal itself to one or more humans at some future point in history. Possible, but not likely. As things now stand, I see no evidence that would lead me to conclude that a God of some sort exists. While science has not answered the first-cause question and may never do so, it has built an intellectually satisfying explanation of the world we live in. While this explanation frequently changes thanks to new evidence, I see no reason to retreat into the pages of an outdated, contradictory book written by unknown authors thousands of years ago. Just because science doesn’t have the answer to every question doesn’t mean that God is the answer. Scientists are willing to say, I don’t know, and then they go about trying to find out what they don’t know. When is the last time a Christian theologian, Catholic Pope, Muslim cleric, or Evangelical preacher has done the same? Certainty breeds arrogance and ignorance, both of which lead to people accepting as fact the most outlandish of ideas (i.e. virgin birth, resurrection from the dead, Hell in the center of the earth, Heaven in the sky, creationism, miracles, perfect religious texts).

When it comes to the Christian God, the Muslim God, the Jewish God, or any of the other extant Gods humans currently worship, I am quite confident that these gods are no gods at all. Is it possible that these gods exist? I suppose there is a minuscule chance, but the odds are so infinitesimal that it would be a waste of my time to even consider it. Life is too short to spend one moment of time considering the existence of Odin, Zeus, Lugh, Dagda, Haniyasu-hiko, Jesus, Kane, Pundjel, El Elyon, Shamayim, Guamansuri, Wakan-Tanka, Bochica, Lao-Tien-Yeh, Altjira, Loki, Atlas, Coyote, or any of the thousands of other gods humans have at one time or another conjured up (see God Checker: Your Guide to the Gods).

I live without fear of Hell or fear of being judged by a God. (I do, however, at times, fear God’s followers.) The hell and judgment that I see on this earth come from the hands of humans, not a deity. If there is a God, he is definitely AWOL. Someday, I will die and I think that will be the end of it for me. What if I am wrong? What if there is a God waiting to settle the score with me after I draw my last breath?  I guess I will say, oops, my bad, and I hope she will look at my life and judge me accordingly. I hope she will judge me not by the things that I did or did not believe, but by how I lived my life.

Many Christians, especially those of the Evangelical persuasion, believe that salvation is secured by believing the right things. While they love to talk about love and grace, the true foundation of their faith is a commitment to certain beliefs and propositions derived from their understanding of the “infallible” Bible. Believe the wrong things and Hell will be your eternal resting place. Virtually every Evangelical who stops by my blog to spar with me tries to get me to believe the “right” beliefs. Rarely does any one of them say anything about how I live my life. BELIEVE THIS AND THOU SHALT LIVE, is their gospel.

If not believing Jesus is the virgin born, second person in the Trinity, who came to earth, lived a perfect life, worked miracles, died on the cross and resurrected from the dead, and ascended back to heaven, ends with my rendition to the Lake of Fire to be tortured day and night by the God who created me, so be it. I have no interest in such a religion, and I have no interest in such a God who is only interested in what I believed and not how I lived.

If, somewhere beyond my next breath, I keel over and die and I find myself in the presence of the Big Man of Upstairs, I hope he will judge my life by how I lived, and if he does, I am confident that everything will be just fine. If not, if what I believed is what really mattered, then I guess I will burn in Hell with a lot of other good people. Coming soon to a corner of Hell near you, The Hitch and Bruce Almighty Podcast.

Two of my favorite cartoons:

calvin eternal consequences
judgement-hall-of-osiris
bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Dear Evangelicals, I’m Not Interested in Your God Talk or Jesus Blessing

force beliefs

Snark ahead! You’ve been warned!

Several years ago, I made one of my countless pilgrimages to my primary care doctor’s office. We discussed how the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns are doing and we talked about how difficult it is to sit on the sidelines as our adult children go through life’s difficulties. It was also time for prescription refills, one sent to Meijer, three to Caremark, and three written controlled substance scripts. I also got a flu and pneumonia shot.

After my visit was over, we exited the examination room and headed for the clinic waiting area. As we walked through the door we heard the loud voice of an Evangelical Christian. An obese man, wearing a shirt with a gaudy Halloween pumpkin on it, was going from person to person, often touching them, blessing them in the name of Jesus. JESUS LOVES YOU, he told several people, and he told the receptionist, KEEP DOING A WONDERFUL WORK FOR GOD!!

Really? I thought to myself. While I’m sure this man was well-intentioned, thinking he was just paying everyone a big compliment, his behavior and words were quite offensive. I wanted to say to him, shut the fuck up . . . I’m not interested in your Jesus blessing. But, I didn’t. You see, I’m polite and don’t engage people in unwanted discussions about religion or politics. I respect people enough to keep my opinions to myself. If I’m asked a question or someone wants to engage me in a discussion, I will gladly do so, but I think it is rude to blather on about religion or politics uninvited.

jesus fart
Cartoon by Robb Mirsky

Unfortunately, many Evangelicals think they have the right to go into a room and rip the loudest, foulest fart and everyone is supposed to inhale deeply and love it. They are oblivious, it seems, to the fact that most people do not want to listen to their God-talk, nor do they want a Jesus blessing, a prayer, or any of the other things Evangelicals love to force on others. Why do Evangelicals think this kind of behavior is appropriate? Entitlement? Calling from God? Jesus Gas® that must be expelled lest the Evangelical implode?

The receptionist smiled, but as the man turned to walk away, she rolled his eyes and frowned. She’s probably a Christian, but even she was embarrassed by Mr. Evangelical’s God talk and Jesus’ blessing. Fortunately, he didn’t address me directly, nor did he touch me. If he had, since I was having a don’t touch me pain day, he likely would have not liked my response. Count me as one person who is tired of Evangelicals who think they have a God-given right to invade the private space of others. When I am at the doctor’s office, I intensely feel my mortality. Every checkup is a reminder that things are not well for me and that death is closer than it was the last time I was at the doctor’s office. I don’t need a  loudmouth Jesus freak saying anything to me. Save it for the church house or for those who are part of the Evangelical tribe.

Imagine for a moment that a Satanist, a Muslim, or an Atheist was loudly and indiscriminately broadcasting their beliefs. Imagine the Satanist going up to an Evangelical, laying their hand on them, and saying, BLESSINGS IN THE NAME OF BEELZEBUB! Imagine the Muslim going up to the receptionist and saying, KEEP DOING A WONDERFUL WORK FOR ALLAH!! Imagine the Atheist going from person to person in the waiting room and, with a loud voice, telling them THERE IS NO GOD!  We all know how Evangelicals would react, right? Why can’t they see themselves in the same light and realize that such behavior is patently rude and offensive?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Dear Christian Friend and Former Parishioner, Am I a Good Person?

bruce gerencser august 2021
Bruce Gerencser, August 2021

A good friend of mine, and a former parishioner, wrote on Facebook an update that asked: can anyone be good without God? He then answered his own question with a No and quoted some Bible verses.

I replied:

Am I good? I am your friend. Does that make me a good person?

Evidently, my words cut to the heart of the matter because the update and my comment were deleted.

Christians are really good at spouting what they believe, what the Bible says, blah, blah, blah. On Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and in the safety of their houses of worship, the rhetoric and judgment flows, but when confronted with the reality of their words, Christians often backtrack, reverse course, apologize, or say they didn’t mean what they said.

Why is this? The short answer is that they realize their words are hateful, bigoted, arrogant, or judgmental, and since they care about what others think of them, Christians are quick to distance themselves from what they previously said. Perhaps they realize that words posted to Twitter, Facebook, on a blog, or in an email are not likely to convert a person to Christianity, especially when the words are hateful, bigoted, arrogant, or judgmental.

Of course, there are other people who say, I just let the chips fall where they may. It is GOD you have a problem with, not me. I am just speaking God’s words. They are so blind that they don’t see how arrogant and filled with self they have become. My friend knows, despite what his Bible and theology tell him, that I am a good person. He knows how good I was to him when I was his pastor.  And he knows how well I treat him now, even when his theological pronouncements irritate the Heaven out of me.

Reality almost always trumps theology, and this is why only a rocks-in-the-head Bible-thumping, Bible-verse-regurgitating, robot of a Christian will say that someone like me is not a good person. Unable to see beyond their theology, they are forced to judge and condemn good people who haven’t joined their Christian club. In their minds, all the good works in the world can’t erase the stain of sin, and the non-Christians’ unwillingness to confess Jesus as Lord makes them the enemy of God, headed for Hell unless they repent of their sins.

Back in the real world, “good” is defined by what you do. If Christians like my friend would look a little closer at their Bibles, they would find that this is how God defines good as well. Salvation by right beliefs has turned millions of Christians into hateful, bigoted, arrogant, judgmental people. There is no hope for them until they come to see that their theology doesn’t match reality.

Don’t tell me what you believe. Don’t quote the Bible to me. Show me what you believe by doing disinterested, no-strings-attached good works. Works such as homeschooling, pastoring, teaching Sunday school, inviting people to church, reading the Bible, praying, evangelizing, reading theology books, and tithing don’t count. These works are the price of admission to your Christian club, feel-good stuff that benefits the member and does little or nothing for anyone else. I’m interested in how you treat those the Bible calls the least of these. I’m interested in how you treat and help your atheist, Muslim, pagan or Buddhist neighbor. I’m interested in how you treat and help those who have skin colors or sexual orientations different from your own,

Evangelicals are so obsessed with right beliefs, building big churches, and laying up treasures in Heaven, that they wall themselves off from the rest of the human race.  Evangelicals make periodic forays into the land of the Philistines and Canaanites, hoping to gain members for their clubs, but then return to the safety of their clubhouses in time to hear the church band riff on the latest praise and worship song. Most of their time is focused on self-improvement and building the most awesome church in town. Lost on them is the fact that most of the new people joining their clubs are just transfers from other clubs.

If Evangelical Christians truly want to make a mark in this world, they must leave the safe confines of their clubhouses and join hands with those whom their theology says are broken, wicked, vile sinners. Let’s leave matters of salvation and Heaven and Hell to another day. War, violence, starvation, poverty, Trumpism, and global climate change threaten our collective future. Are not these matters more important than winning the village atheist to Jesus?

When I see Evangelicals knee-deep in the refuse of this world helping others with NO expectation of return, I might, at the very least, believe Christianity has something to offer to the world. While it is unlikely that I would ever return to Christianity, I could be persuaded to admire a religion that values others and invests its time and money in helping the least of these. (Matthew 25)

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce, Are You Hostile Towards Religion?

proud american christian

I’ve been accused of being hostile toward religion. Am I? Yes and no.

A hostile person is one who is antagonistic in action, thought, or principle. Am I antagonistic in action, thought, or principle toward all religions? No. Am I antagonistic in action, thought, or principle toward some religions? Yes.

I have a number of friends and acquaintances who have all sorts of spiritual and religious beliefs. Do I think some of their beliefs and practices are strange? Sure. But, their beliefs are theirs and they have every right to believe them. I am indifferent towards their beliefs. For these friends and acquaintances, spirituality and religion is personal. They have no desire or need to convert other people or argue about whose religion is the “true” one. For the most part, they live according to the Live and Let Live maxim. I would be an arrogant fool to be hostile toward this kind of religion. I know that, for many people, religion and spirituality serve a purpose. They benefit from their beliefs and practices and many of them find meaning, purpose, and direction through their religions. Each to their own.

However, there IS a kind of religion I am hostile towards:

  • Religions that try to convert.
  • Religions that purport to KNOW the truth.
  • Religions that say they are the ONE TRUE RELIGION.
  • Religions that invade the lives of others and attempt to force others to believe like they do. Religions that divide people into groups: saved/lost, believer/unbeliever, elect/non-elect. 
  • Religions that tout their holy book as a divine, authoritative message to humanity from their God.
  • Religions that kill, rape, steal, and pillage to advance their cause.
  • Religions that try to engender social strife to advance their cause.
  • Religions that engage in culture wars.
  • Religions that try to brainwash children, be it at home or in school.
  • Religions that stir up hatred towards others because of who and what they are.
  • Religions that ignore or are hostile towards the separation of church and state.
  • Religions with theocratic ambitions.

It is these kinds of religions towards which I am hostile. I make no apology for this. I see the hurt and damage done by these religions and I want to strangle the life out of them, liberating those who are ensnared, oppressed, and controlled. How can I, as a sentient, caring being, ignore beliefs that cause such psychological and, at times, physical harm? Perhaps the real question is how can I NOT be hostile towards such religions?

Bruce, which religions are you talking about? You know which ones. They are not hard to spot. You don’t need a lot of schooling to know which religions fit the above description. If you need a little more insight into my hostility, please read Why I Hate Jesus.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

He Told the Globe

guest post

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

It was exactly what I would have feared.

It was exactly what he feared.

His mother passed away without knowing two things about him. At least, he had never mentioned them to her. Now he was about to tell one of them to his father — like mine, a blue-collar Italian American of the generation that gave birth to Baby Boomers.

His mother had worked as a secretary. So did mine, among other jobs. My mother went to her grave having learned of one of my secrets, which is often conflated with his. My father learned of that secret — or, more precisely, truth — about me the same day, when I was about the same age as the man who is the subject of this post.

I am a transgender woman. He was gay. At the time of his fateful encounter with his father, that was still enough to make him a pariah, at least in some circles. That, and that he had AIDS. I have lost eighteen people to the disease — five of them between Memorial Day and Christmas in 1991. At that time, getting infected was a death sentence in every sense of the word: You lost your job, possibly your family and friends, and much else, before you lost your very life.

Of course, I consider myself fortunate not to have been afflicted with HIV. But if there ever was anything good to be said for it — especially in those days — it focused its victims, at least some of them. They did not fuck around; they knew they had no time for bullshit.

Which is why he had that conversation with his father. In the early 1960s, a boy named Phil Saviano attended St. Denis church in the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts: the locale of the College of the Holy Cross (Justice Clarence Thomas’ alma mater). Later in that decade, I was an altar boy in the Catholic church nearly everyone in my blue-collar Brooklyn neighborhood attended.

By now, you may have guessed (especially if you’ve read some of my earlier posts) what I’m about to say next. Phil and I were sexually abused by priests. To this day, I have not talked about it with my father or anyone in my family. But he would tell his father, some three decades after his experience. Not only that, believing that he was dying of AIDS, he revealed that he was about to talk with reporters from the Boston Globe.

His father was furious. “He couldn’t understand why in the world I would want to do that,” he recalled. For a decade, they were at a standoff over the issue. Then their parish, St. Denis printed a message in its church bulletin urging people to come forward if they had been abused. His father sent him the bulletin.

Turns out, the Reverend David A. Holley had ingratiated himself to a number of young boys, including Phil. A year before he had the conversation with his father — and Globe reporters — Saviano read a newspaper article saying that Father Holley had been sued in New Mexico for sexually molesting other boys. Until that time, he’d thought he and his friends had been the only victims.

If you saw the 2015 film “Spotlight,” this story — or, at least parts of it — may sound familiar. Shortly after meeting with Globe journalists, he asked officials at the Worcester Diocese to pay for his therapy. When they refused, Saviano sued the diocese. In the early stages of the case, he learned that seven bishops in four states had known that Father Holley, whom the church secretly sent to four different church-run treatment centers, was a serial child molester. (In 1993, Father Holley was sentenced to up to 275 years in prison in New Mexico. In 2009, still incarcerated at 80 years old, he died.) Church officials offered him a modest sum to settle the case on the condition that he sign a confidentiality agreement. He refused. “I’m not going to my grave with that secret,” he explained. “It would make me no better than the bishops.”

Finally, the church gave Saviano a $12,500 settlement and dropped the demand that he sign a non-disclosure agreement. “I think they figured I wasn’t going to be around much longer,” he said. But, by then, powerful new anti-AIDS treatments had been developed and he lived until last Sunday. He was 69 years old.

When you realize Phil lived for nearly three decades after the settlement, that amount of money isn’t nearly the windfall that it seems to be. If his life has any more parallels to mine than I’ve already mentioned, he’s spent at least that much on therapists and, possibly, medical help for conditions caused or exacerbated by his trauma. Also, while I don’t know much about him, it wouldn’t surprise me if, prior to coming forward, he’d lost jobs and educational opportunities as well as experiences with values that can’t be calculated at least in part because of his experiences. That he accomplished what he did is astounding: During the nearly three decades after his revelation, he advocated tirelessly for people like me and, among other things, founded a survivors’ network.

So, although Phil Saviano had to experience, at least for a time, exactly what I’d (and he’d) feared, he survived and showed us that we could do exactly what our abusers and their enablers didn’t want: Tell the truth about them and, most important, ourselves. (That is the essence of the “Me Too” movement.) It’s no exaggeration that it’s the (or at least a) reason why some of us are alive today.

He faced what he, what I, feared, what so many fear. If that doesn’t define a hero, I don’t know what does.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Black Collar Crime: Presbyterian Music Director William Broyles Murders Wife and Two Children

william broyles

Willian Broyles, a music director at Hodges Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Florida, allegedly murdered his wife, daughter, and one of his sons.

The Florid Times-Union reports:

Saying Wednesday morning’s massacre at a Callahan home “doesn’t make sense,” Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper announced the arrest of William Conway Broyles in the deaths of his wife and two grown children.

Leeper said the 57-year-old suspect called 911 about 7:15 a.m. to notify deputies of what had just occurred at his Deer Run Road home in the Spring Lake Estates community.

“The suspect was lying down in the driveway unarmed, waiting on them,” the sheriff said. “… Later on, he told us that he shot each victim multiple times just to make sure they didn’t suffer.”

His wife, Candace Lynn Broyles, 57, was found dead in the living room. Daughter Cara Lynn Broyles, 27, was shot dead in her bedroom as she was waking up. Son Aaron Christopher Broyles, 28, was killed in his bedroom after his door was broken in, Leeper said.

“He then went back to get another gun, came back and shot his son again,” the sheriff said.

….

“It doesn’t make sense when you look at the whole circumstance of what we believe happened,” Leeper said. “It’s just a senseless act. When he was asked why he just didn’t shoot himself, he said he was too scared to do that, which is crazy.”

The Christian Post adds:

Hodges Boulevard Presbyterian Church did not immediately respond to calls for comment from The Christian Post on Friday. In a statement on its website, the church urged prayers for the Broyles family. It is unclear where the minister’s other son, Evan Broyles, was at the time of the murders.

“It is with tremendous sadness that I report to you that this Wednesday morning Bill Broyles, our director of music, confessed to shooting his wife and two of his children,” a statement from Pastor Jonathan T. Swanson said.

Leeper said there is no history of any domestic or anger issues in the past with the family.

“Bill has been part of our church staff for 23 years, and this was completely out of character. We mourn this devastating loss to the church, Bill’s remaining family, and the larger community. We ask that you would hold the members of the Broyles family, our church family, and Bill himself in your prayers regarding this tragedy.”

At a virtual bond hearing Thursday, Broyles appeared barefoot and was dressed in a safety smock to prevent suicide attempts. Broyles was charged with three counts of second-degree murder. A judge also denied him bond and ordered him to appear in court again on Dec. 21.

According to his church, Broyles is a trained industrial engineer who, prior to the murders, “worked in the Aerospace and Medical Device industries for many years.”

He was driven by a passion for music as well, and, according to the church, “believes that music was created by God for His Glory and that the church stands as a witness to the grace and lordship of Jesus when our music glorifies Him in worship and life.”

In an archived page on the church’s website, Broyles was further described as: “[H]appily married for 30 years to Candace and they have three children, sons Evan and Aaron and daughter Cara, along [with] three crazy Corgi pups. In his free time, Bill enjoys all types of outdoor activities, reworking older cars, and home and garden projects.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Polly and Bruce, Two Godless Peas in a Pod

bruce polly gerencser our fathers house west unity
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio Circa 2000

Several years ago, Kenneth asked:

I am currently married to a Southern Baptist woman who is likely never going to change her mind about her beliefs. I deconverted late last year and am now an atheist. I’m curious as to how your wife ended up an atheist seemingly around the same time as you? I guess deep down I want her to see my views as an atheist but if anyone knows how hard it is to talk to a Christian as an atheist, it is you. My question is, can you tell us more about how Polly came to the same conclusions as you during the time of your deconversion? Maybe she can give us some input too. In a lot of scenarios, one spouse is still stuck as a believer while both the atheist and theist struggle with now being in a “mixed” marriage — I’m in one of them now. Thanks!

After we decided in 2005 we no longer wanted to be Pastor and Mrs. Bruce Gerencser, we spent a few years trying to find a church that took seriously the teaching of Jesus. Not finding such a church frustrated us and led us to conclude that the Christianity of Jesus no longer existed, and most churches were just different flavors of ice cream; same base ingredients with different added flavors. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) The last church we attended was Ney United Methodist Church, four blocks from our home

For most of 2008, I had been doing quite a bit of reading about the history of Christianity and the Bible.  From Bart Ehrman to Robert M. Price to Elaine Pagels, I read dozens of books that challenged and attacked my Christian beliefs. Polly and I spent many a night discussing what I had read. I often read large passages of this or that book to her and we would compare what we had been taught with what these books said. While Polly was never one to read nonfiction, she did read several of Bart Ehrman’s books. Over time, both of us came to the conclusion that what we had been taught wasn’t true. We also concluded that we were no longer, in any meaningful sense, Christian. The last Sunday in November 2008, we walked out of Ney United Methodist, never to return. Several months later, I wrote the infamous Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners, which I sent to hundreds of Evangelical family members, friends, and former church members.

For a time, both of us were content calling ourselves agnostics. I soon realized that the agnostic label required too much explanation, so I embraced the atheist label. While Polly is hesitant to use the atheist moniker, her beliefs about God, Christianity, and the Bible are similar to mine. She’s not one to engage in discussion or debate, content to go about her godless life without having to define herself. I often wish I could be like her.

When we left Christianity, I feared that Polly’s deconversion was a coattail deconversion; that she was following after me just like she was taught to do in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. Some of my critics, unwilling to give Polly credit for doing her own thinking and decision-making, have suggested that Polly was/is being led astray by me. Fundamentalist family members have voiced their concern over Polly being drawn into my godlessness, rarely giving her credit for being able to think and reason for herself. Their insinuations only reinforce her belief that she made the right decision when she deconverted. Polly graduated second in her high school class and has a college degree. She is quite capable of thinking for herself. Granted, this ability was quashed for many years thanks to being taught that she should always defer to me as the head of the home. That I was also her pastor only made things worse. I can confidently say that Polly is her own person, and her unbelief is her own.

Where our stories diverge a bit is the reasons why we deconverted. While both of us would say we had intellectual reasons for abandoning God and Christianity, Polly’s deconversion had a larger emotional component than mine did. We’ve spent countless hours talking about the past, this or that church, and the experiences each of us had. Polly spent most of her married life under the shadow of her preacher husband. I’m amazed at how differently she views our shared past, now free to speak openly. While I was the center of attention, heaped with praise and love, she was in the shadows, the afterthought, the one who had to do all the jobs church members had no time for. It should come as no surprise that her view of the 25 years we spent in the ministry is much different from mine.

As I’m writing this post I am thinking to myself, Polly needs to be telling this story. I can’t tell her story. While I can give the gist of it, I think it is better if she tells her story, that is if she is willing to do. I do know that she has no desire to relive the “wonderful” ministry years. She’s quite content to be free of God, the church, and the Bible, free to just be Polly. Not Polly, the pastor’s daughter, not Polly, the preacher’s wife, just Polly. And I can say the same for myself. While I am noted for being a preacher-turned-atheist, an outspoken critic of Evangelicalism, I am content just to be Bruce. Most of our life was swallowed up by the ministry, so we are quite glad to be free and we enjoy the opportunity to live our lives on our own terms.

In many ways, our story is not typical. I’ve received scores of emails from people who deconverted and are now in mixed marriages. Like Kenneth, they want to share their unbelief with their spouses, but are unable to do so because of their spouse’s Christian beliefs or because they fear outing themselves will destroy their marriages. (Please see Count the Cost Before You Say I Am an Atheist.) Polly and I fully realize that if one of us had remained a Christian it could (would?) have ended our marriage. We are grateful that we’ve been able to walk this path together hand in hand. The farther away we get from the years we spent in the ministry, the more we realize how good we have it. Our deconversion could have destroyed our marriage and alienated us from our children, but it didn’t. Instead, we’ve been given a new lease on life; the opportunity for each of us to seek our own path. We deeply love one another, have six wonderful children and thirteen grandkids, and are, in every way, b-l-e-s-s-e-d.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Black Collar Crime: Catholic Priest Kevin Lonergan Convicted of Indecent Sexual Assault

father kevin lonergan

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 2018, Kevin Lonergan, a priest at Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania, was charged with indecent assault and corruption of minors. Longerhan later pleaded guilty was sentenced to 1-2 years in prison.

In 2021, Penn Live reported:

A Roman Catholic priest who groped a teenage girl and sent her nude photos and a video of himself wasn’t punished too harshly with a 1- to 2-year prison sentence, a state Superior Court panel has decided.

That ruling, outlined in an opinion by Judge Megan King, comes little more than a year after Lehigh County Judge Maria Dantos told Father Kevin Lonergan, “You have made families feel that church is no longer a safe place.”

King rejected Lonergan’s contention that his punishment, the maximum jail term allowable on his guilty plea to an indecent assault charge, was “manifestly excessive and unreasonable.”

Lonergan, now 32, fondled the 17-year-old girl’s buttocks in February 2018 while serving at the Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Allentown. Before that, he sent the girl multiple inappropriate messages and nude photos of himself and a video that showed him masturbating in a shower, investigators said.

The girl told another priest about the incidents several months later and the diocese immediately suspended Lonergan from public ministry.

When he pleaded guilty in the case, Lonergan had no deal with prosecutors concerning his punishment, King noted.

Lonergan argued on appeal that the sentence Dantos imposed was far greater than probation officials recommended. He claimed as well that the county judge considered improper factors, including that he had been transferred to Saint Francis after a report that he had molested another teen girl in another county.

The Allentown diocese said Lonergan was transferred in 2016 only after a children and youth services investigation of that other allegation determined the report was unfounded. Diocese officials said they had promptly reported the earlier allegation to authorities.

In backing the prison sentence Dantos imposed, King found the county judge appropriately focused on the fact that the victim was “particularly vulnerable” because she was a parishioner at the Allentown church and he was a priest, a figure who was supposed to represent religious authority.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Genesis 1-3: Who Was “God” Talking To?

creationism

The night before October 23, 4004 BC, God, you know, THE God, the one and only God of the King James Bible, decided to create the universe. For the next six literal 24 hour days, God created the sun, moon, stars, planets, earth, animals, insects, fish, and plant life. Oh, and don’t forget God’s super-duper, special creation on day six:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Wait a minute . . . what’s this US thing all about? Do I detect polytheism? Whoever US is, they created a human man and woman in their image. (Genesis 2 says it was the LORD God that created Adam and Eve) After creating Adam and Eve, the Gods closed up their creation shop and went on vacation. Next October 23rd we will celebrate the 6,026th anniversary of the first day of creation. Time for a new Hallmark card, yes?

Now I am being a bit silly here, but let me point out something very important. It is clear, based on Genesis 1:27, that there was more than one God involved in creating humans. Once we get to Genesis 3, we see that there is one God called LORD God. It is this LORD God that comes to the Garden of Eden to talk to Adam and Eve. It is this LORD God that tells Adam and Eve their punishment for eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. An interesting point here is that Adam and Eve can see God and talk to him, yet the Bible says that no man has seen God at any time.

After Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit their eyes were opened and both knew, for the first time, that the other was naked. While we don’t know how long the time span was between the creation of Adam and Eve and their act of disobedience, it’s hard to imagine that neither Adam or Eve paid any attention to their partners’ nakedness. Surely they were created with a sex drive. Sooooo . . . I don’t know about you, but I think I would notice that the only other living person, the person who snuggled up to me around the Camp Eden campfire, was naked.

The LORD God, being the prude that countless Fundamentalist preachers have said he is, was quite disturbed over Adam and Eve’s nakedness. The LORD God took it upon himself to get some clothing for Adam and Eve. He spotted a bear or maybe a buffalo or mountain lion, and in the first act of violence on earth, the LORD God killed the animals so he could make Adam and Eve clothes to wear. Using a process that humans to this day have not discovered, the LORD God killed the animal(s), dried and tanned the skin, and sewed the skins into clothing quicker than a Chinese sweatshop worker sewing a shirt for Walmart.

The LORD God then had a conference call with the other Gods. He said, look, remember those two humans we created? Remember the one rule we gave them? Yeah . . . those dumb asses picked fruit off the tree and ate it. Now they are like us, knowing good and evil. We need to do something immediately lest they eat from the Tree of Life. We don’t want them to do that, right? If they do, they will live forever, just like us. Can’t have humans living forever.

So the LORD God, acting on behalf of the other Gods, evicted Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Of course, they didn’t want to go. After all, they only had one set of clothes in their dresser. But the LORD God was insistent and he drove them out of the Garden of Eden. To make sure that Adam and Eve could not eat from the Tree of Life, the LORD God put a flaming sword that turned every which way near the tree.

Reading Genesis 1-3 without importing Trinitarian theology into it presents a very different creation story from that which countless Evangelicals have been told. Go back to the text and read it for yourself. Is what I have written here plausible? On what basis do we say there was just one God? Is it not just as plausible to say that there was more than one God, a LORD God, and other Gods that were perhaps subservient to him/her?

But Bruce, in the first five days of creation the Bible says God (singular) created. True, but since humans weren’t created until day 6, who was God talking to on the first five days when the Bible says, and God said? Was he talking to himself? Perhaps he was talking to the other Gods, just like he did in Genesis 1:26 and 3:22?

And I am just getting started. Go back to the text, take off your Trinitarian, orthodox Christian glasses, and read it again. Is my story any less plausible than the one Evangelical children are taught in Sunday school?

Notes

There is textual evidence for God creating Eve AFTER the six days of creation in the second creation story found in Genesis 2. This conflicts with the first creation story in Genesis 1.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser