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Why Evangelical Beliefs and Practices are Psychologically Harmful — Part Two

submission

Part One

Evangelicalism is dominated by Bible literalism. God said it, and that settles it. There can be no debate or argument on the matter. An infallible God has spoken, and his infallible words are recorded in an infallible book — the Protestant Christian Bible. Whatever the Bible teaches, Evangelicals are duty-bound to believe and obey. While Evangelicals may argue about this or that doctrine’s finer points, calling oneself an Evangelical requires fidelity to certain established doctrinal truths. Christianity is, after all, the faith once delivered to the saintsJesus is, after all, the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Psychological manipulation is a common tool used by Evangelical preachers to get congregants to do their bidding. I hear the outrage of offended Evangelicals now, screaming for all to hear that THEIR church is not like that, that their pastor is different. Maybe, perhaps, but I doubt it.

If their church or pastor really is different, it is likely because they are not really Evangelical. There are many churches and pastors who are really liberals or progressives who fear making their true theological and social identities known. Fearing the mob, these thoughtful Evangelicals hide their true allegiances. I don’t fault them for doing so, but such churches and pastors are not representative of typical Evangelical beliefs and practices.

In particular, women face the brunt of Evangelical preaching against sin and disobedience. What do Evangelicals believe the Bible teaches about women?

  • Women are weaker than men.
  • Women are intellectually inferior, requiring men to teach and guide them.
  • Women are to submit to their husbands in the home and to male leadership in the church.
  • Women must never be permitted to have authority over men.
  • Women must dress modestly so that they don’t cause weak, pathetic men to lust after them.
  • The highest calling of women is to marry, bear children, and keep the home.
  • Feminism is a Satanic attack on God’s order for the church and home.

Think about this list for a moment. Are Evangelical women equal to men? No! Women are, at best, second-class citizens. They must never be put in positions where they have control or power. Such places are reserved for men. We dare not question this. After all, it is God’s way.

Is it any wonder that many Evangelical women lack self-esteem and think poorly of themselves? How could it be otherwise? Everywhere they look, women are progressing, free to live their lives on their own terms. Yet, here they sit, chained to an ancient religious text and a religion that denigrates women and views them as little more than slaves or chattel.

I am sure there are many Evangelical women who will vehemently object to my characterization of how they are treated by their churches, pastors, and husbands. In THEIR churches women are quite happy! They LOVE being submissive to their husbands as unto the Lord. They LOVE being relegated to cooking duty, janitorial work, and nursery work. They LOVE having no higher goals than having children, cooking meals, cleaning house, and never having a headache.

The bigger question is, WHY is it that many Evangelical women think living this way is normal and psychologically affirming — exactly what God ordered for their lives? Evangelical women don’t want to disobey God or displease their husbands or churches. Whatever God, pastors, male church leaders, and their husbands want, Evangelical women give. This is their fate, and until the light of reason and freedom changes the course of their lives, Evangelical women will continue to bow at the feet of their Lords and do their bidding.

Once women break free from Evangelicalism, a thousand horses and one hundred arrogant, know-it-all preachers couldn’t drag them back into the fold. Once free, they realize a whole new world awaits them. With freedom comes responsibility. No more defaulting to their husbands or pastors to make decisions for them. These women are free to make their own choices. They quickly learn that life in the non-Evangelical world has its own problems, and that women are not, in many cases, treated equally there either.

Over the years, I have watched numerous women break free from domineering, controlling Evangelical husbands. I have also watched women flee patriarchal churches and pastors. Some of these women went back to college to get an education. No longer content to be baby breeders, maids, cooks, and sex-on-demand machines, they turn to education to improve their lot in life. Often, secular education provides a fuller view of the world and opens up all kinds of new opportunities for women.

Sadly, this post-patriarchal life often leads to family problems. Husbands who have worn the pants in the family for decades don’t like having their God-ordained authority challenged. This is especially true if the husbands remain active Evangelical church members. Many times, unable to weather dramatic changes, these mixed marriages end in divorce. Evangelicalism was the glue that held their marriages together, and once it was removed, their marriage fell apart.

Some husbands and wives find ways to keep their marriages intact, although this is hard to do. Imagine living in a home where non-patriarchal mothers and wives are considered rebellious, sinful, and wicked by their Evangelical husbands, pastors, and friends. Imagine being considered a Jezebel. Evangelicals are not kind to those who rebel against their God and their peculiar interpretation of the Bible. The Bible says rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. Biblical literalism demands that rebellious women be labeled as practitioners of witchcraft. Once considered devoted lovers of God, the church, and their families, these women are now considered to be pariahs — servants of Satan who walk in darkness.

I want to conclude this post with a bit of personal commentary.

For many years, my marriage to Polly was pretty much as I described above. I was the head of the home. I made all the decisions. I was in charge, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Polly bore six children, cooked, and kept the home. On and off, when finances demanded it, she worked outside the home. And in her spare time, she homeschooled all six of our children, including one child with Down syndrome.

Polly is a pastor’s daughter. Her goal in life was to be a pastor’s wife. She went to Midwestern Baptist College to get an MRS degree. Polly is quiet and reserved, and, thanks to 40+ years of Evangelical indoctrination, she is also quite passive. During the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan, Polly heartily embraced her preacher’s-wife responsibilities. She was a dutiful wife who always exemplified what it meant to be in submission to God and her husband. Polly submitted to those who had authority over her, never saying a cross word or demanding her own way.

Twenty years ago, things began to change in our marriage. I finally realized how abusive and controlling I had been. Granted, I was just being the kind of Evangelical husband and pastor I thought I should be. I tried my best to follow the teachings of the Bible and the examples of pastors I respected. Regardless of the whys of the matter, I must own my culpability in behaviors I now consider psychologically harmful.

In November 2008, Polly and Bruce Gerencser — hand in hand — walked away from Christianity. For the first time in our lives, we were free from the constraints of God, the Bible, and the ministry. We were free to choose how we wanted to live our lives, free to decide what kind of marriage we wanted to have.

In some ways, very little has changed. Polly still cooks, but now she whips up gourmet meals because she LOVES to do so, not because it is her duty. I still manage household finances, not because I am the head of the home, but because I am better with numbers than Polly is. Both of us take care of household chores. I still do most of the shopping, but I no longer make the list. I am the numbers guy, someone who can figure out the price per ounce in my head. By the time Polly finds her calculator in that bottomless purse of hers, I already have the equation figured out. Each of us tries to do the things we are good at.

The biggest difference in our marriage is this: I now ask Polly, What do you think? What do you think we should do? Where do you want to go? On top or bottom? 🙂 We have learned that it is okay to have lives outside of each other; to have desires, wants, and hobbies that the other person may not have. The Vulcan mind-meld has been broken.

Polly recently celebrated 24 years of employment for a local manufacturing concern. Out from the shadow of her pastor husband, she has excelled at work. Her yearly reviews are always excellent, and she is considered an exemplary worker by everyone who works with her. Polly now supervises auxiliary department employees on second and third shift. She even has an office with her name on the door. None of these things would have been possible had we remained within the smothering confines of Evangelical beliefs and practices.

In 2012, Polly graduated from Northwest State Community College with an associate of arts degree. (If her credits from Midwestern Baptist College — an unaccredited institution — had been transferable, Polly would have likely earned a master’s degree.) This was a huge undertaking on her part. Why did Polly go back to school, you ask? Because she could. And that’s the beauty of our current life. Freedom allows us to live openly and authentically. We no longer have to parse our lives according to the Bible. Both of us are free to do whatever we want to do. Having this freedom of spirit has allowed us to experience things that never would have been possible had we remained Pastor and Mrs. Bruce Gerencser.

Polly continues to break out of her shell, and I continue to learn what it means to be a good man and husband. We still have our moments. There are those times when both Polly and I find it quite easy and convenient to fall back into our former Evangelical ways. As those who have walked similar paths know, it is not easy to change attitudes and lifestyles which were decades in the making. I suspect, until death do us part, we will remain a work in progress.

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 contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

If the Snow Doesn’t Melt

guest post

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Years ago, I did a solo bicycle tour from France into Spain and back. Along the way, I stopped in Lourdes. I didn’t expect its waters to heal any of my psychological wounds (of which I had many) or even physical ones (of which I was, at the time, almost entirely free). Rather, I was simply curious.

Having attended Catholic school, I’d heard and read about the supposed Marian apparition. I didn’t expect to see anything of the sort or, really, anything fit for an X Files script. To tell you the truth, even when I was a believing, observant Catholic—or, later, when I conflated something I now realize as a psychological near-breakdown with “accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour” and threw myself into an Evangelical Church and organization—I didn’t believe in divine or Marian apparitions, or anything else that could be called “miraculous” or “supernatural.” Some might argue that on that basis, I never was a “true” Christian, and I won’t argue with that assessment mainly because today, as an atheist, it really doesn’t matter to me. I guess that, if anything, I wondered whether there was some rock formation or something that might’ve looked like the figure of Mary, just as some mirage in the desert might’ve caused someone to think that Jesus or somebody was turning stones into bread or water into wine.

I did have two other reasons for stopping in Lourdes. One, it was along my way and, being a fairly large town in a rural area, I figured I could get something to eat and refill my water bottles, if not with the “holy” stuff. Second, I wanted to get a gift for my mother. I accomplished both: She was happy to receive the Sainte Bernadette medal I bought.

Even if my mother had been indifferent to it, I would have been happy I went to Lourdes. It’s actually a lovely place, in part because of its location in the Pyrenees foothills. (But I must warn any potential traveler: “It ain’t Paris.” When I was there, the cafes and everything else in the town slammed shut at 9pm.) And I continued a correspondence with the man from whom I bought the medal until he passed away. Turns out, he had no more religious belief than I had!

Ironically, my brief stay among thousands of pilgrims, some of whom had saved up for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, may have been a nail in the coffin of whatever belief I still may have had. I wasn’t quite a full-blown atheist, but by that time I had dissociated myself from organized religion and knew that I didn’t—trending toward couldn’t—harbor any faith in a supernatural being. Still, I kept my eyes open for someone who might hobble up to the grotto, take of the water, throw off his or her crutches and skip away, singing praises to the Lord. I’m not sure that such a spectacle would have ignited any kind of faith in me, but I didn’t see anything of the sort.

I am sure other people hoped, or even expected, to see a “cure” or “miracle”—or to be the beneficiary of one themselves. They probably would have had a greater chance of winning the jackpot in the Francaise des Jeuxeven the Roman Catholic Church acknowledges that only 69 miraculous cures have occurred at the site since Bernadette Soubrious had her vision in 1858.

What brought all of this back to mind? A couple of days ago, a friend sent me a news item that, even after the Trump Presidency, makes an episode of The X Files seem like The Financial Times.

It happened in the wake of the Texas snowstorm, which itself seems almost surreal. Some folks picked up balls of the white stuff, lit a cigarette lighter or match—or turned on a blow dryer–and, upon seeing that the snow “didn’t melt,” decided that it was fake. Oh, but it gets even better: The “fake” snow is, they believe, part of a “government conspiracy” initiated by, depending on whom you listen to, Bill Gates or Joe Biden himself.

The science behind the “snow that doesn’t melt” is so simple that I—who last took a science class when Jimmy Carter was President—could understand it. You don’t even need my outdated, rudimentary knowledge: If you’ve ever ordered a snow cone on a boardwalk or at a state fair, you’ve seen it: The snow cone remains, well, a snow cone because the water from snow that melts on the surface is absorbed by the remaining snow. (If you’ve ever watched piles of snow disappear over a period of days after a storm, you’ll notice that the snow ever-so-gradually collapses inward and the water seeps out from underneath.) That is how snow cones hold onto their sugary flavor (and why they taste so good)—and why “fake” snow “doesn’t melt.” And the black marks you see in some of the videos are chemical burns from the butane lighters.

The folks who believe in “fake snow” sent by “government conspiracies” are certifiably mentally ill—or they also believe that the “stolen election” was a way “God is testing us” in preparation for Donald Trump inheriting the mantle of the Kingdom of God on Earth. (Did I repeat myself?) Such irrational beliefs are the only possible foundation for a faith or philosophy based on little more than, well, one’s belief in the divinely inherent superiority of one’s race, gender, country, way of life—or beliefs. I grew up in a church that taught us that in putting a wafer in our mouths, we were “partaking” of the “flesh” of Christ, and the sweet wine in the priest’s chalice was Christ’s blood. The Evangelical Church of which I would later be a part told us that “allowing the Lord to speak through you” (Frankly, even then, I thought it was gibberish!) would “save” or “transform” you and, according to some, would cure you of your ills and bring you prosperity. If you were poor or unwell, well, it meant that you needed to pray and believe more.

In brief, the news about “fake snow” and the other lunatic ideas promulgated by the likes of Paula White, Marjorie Scott Taylor, Franklin Graham, Ravi Zacharias, and their ilk are magical thinking, as are the hopes and wishes that motivated the pilgrims I saw in Lourdes. The main difference is that those folks, making what might be their one and only major trip, paid for the experience. So, probably, did the ones who tithed to the churches whose preachers and pastors told them to vote for Trump. On the other hand, Trump, White, Scott Taylor, Graham, Zacharias, et al. are making rather nice bank from the conspiracy theories, dogmas, and flat-out lies.

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 contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Creationist Ken Ham Asks His Disciples to Pray for Me

dinosaurs on the ark
Cartoon by Mike Peters

Years ago, I wrote a post titled Ken Ham Warns Atheists Are Out to Steal Your Children and Eat Them Too. While this post was lost in a server crash, I was able to recover the part of the post that resulted in Ken Ham asking his devoted Facebook followers to pray for me:

Teaching children the earth is 6,000 years old, that God killed with a flood every human being save eight a few thousand years ago, and that anyone who does not accept the Evangelical version of the Christian God will be tortured by the Evangelical God in hell for eternity, is quite harmful to the intellectual development of children.

The waiting rooms of mental health professionals are filled with people who have had their sense of self-worth damaged or destroyed by Christian teachings like original sin. Being told you are wicked, that you can be oppressed or possessed by Satan, and that God holds absolute power of your life, does not make for a healthy mind.

So, to Ken Ham, I say this: Yes we are coming for your children. We hope to expose them to the wide, wondrous universe we live in. We hope to teach them to think critically and not to accept something as fact just because a preacher said or God said __________________.

I am not anti-Christian or anti-religion. I am, however, anti-ignorance. I think parents hurt their children when they keep them from ALL the knowledge available about the universe and their place in it . . .

Instead of praying for me, the Hamites went on the offensive, and in doing so, they exposed their ignorance about atheism and their hatred for atheists. Here’s what some of Ham’s disciples had to say (all spelling and grammar in the original):

Start of Quotes

The level of pure hatred in their writings are almost palpable. They are the blind, leading the blind right into Hell!

Should not their own venomous hatred be a warning to them that they are not thinking clearly and rationally? How can they possibility imagine that they are walking in truth when they are eaten up with bitterness and loathing?

And as is highly typical of skeptics, they use lots of insults and personal attacks. In fact, insults are their personal mark and business card. Remember too – Satan is called the accuser of the brethren.

Sad for them. Their hearts are hardened.

evil is cancer…it spreads quickly everywhere…it destorys the ability to think or even reason…the worldly mind just cannot understand the wisdom of God. Praise God for grace.

So much anger and hatred. Just proves, in my mind, that this is a spiritual battle.

I really think the average Christian needs to have a better quick come back for the “God said” “God is speaking to me” and why the Bible is true… Those objections are voiced over and over again and I find the average Christian raised in our churches today simply has no good quick answer….

Jesus said we would be hated by this world because it hated Him first. Also all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

we are coming for your children.” Over my dead body.

“We are coming for your children” … Arrogant, conceited, rude and intrusive, aren’t they?

This may be the most difficult part of being a Christian, Ken: standing in the face of uncalled-for hatred. Perhaps we should all think of Jesus being nailed to the cross as we hear this kind of nonsensical hatred. Their pride will destroy them. Repentance is the only way….

While we MUST expose the wiles of the evil one, we must also remember that apart from the Grace of God, many of us would likely be in the same position they are in. Jesus warned us that in the End Times there would be a great deception and this is obvious. It is only by the Grace of God that we do not fall for this deception. We are indeed in a war and our enemy does not play fair. Fortunately, we fight with a Commander-in-Chief who also does not fight fair. Our Commander wins…PERIOD because he overcame death, sin, the grave, deception, and every other weapon the enemy throws at us. NO WEAPON formed against us shall prosper. The lies, the hate, the slander, the fear, all the weapons these atheists throw at us shall not prosper.

These atheists are not as secure as they present themselves to be. The truth of God’s Word dispels darkness. Be encouraged Ken. “But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” Romans 5:20

The claim that Bible belief and teaching retards the thinking of young people is not true. Since the Bible is true, that would be impossible! If science from the beginning had believed and searched the scriptures, there would have been more progress. For example, science once believed in bleeding people to make them feel better, a flat earth, and more. Bible knowledge would have prevented those errors of “science” along with the impossible theory of evolution – the “belief” that everything came from nothing with no influence from any power or intelligence. Now that’s retarded thinking.

And again we see the humanists’ “tolerance”!

I’m interested in reading these updates, but I’d like to follow up on something you wrote above. I have NEVER met anyone who hates God, ever. I’ve never heard anyone say that. They do hate us and our interpretation of God’s word (truth!).

Thank you for sharing. It is so sad that the lost cannot understand the truth and their deception turns their anger towards those who proclaim the truth. We need to understand those on the other side to know how to combat their influence.

Wow…such hatred. I think it is sad that the Christians use to be dogmatic, and that crowd was quiet, and now it has flipped around. They are dogmatic, and the Christians have become the quiet ones. And the gall of people like this to discredit all Creationists, and especially to discredit the credentials of scientists who are Creationists, is unjust. These scientists have payed for their education, and spent as much of their life in school, as the secular scientists, and so it is unjust to claim that these guys are dumb and stupid.

Never forget a man got up and walked out of the grave……….Atheists are such fools.

He needs to know that we don’t believe in the 7 day creation because a pastor said “God said,” but because God said! We need to stick to the word. Thanks Mr Ken.

if God is not real, why would I waste my time arguing or caring about what Christians thought….nothing meanings anything if there is no God….so I would spend my time in as much pleasure and selfishness as possible as I only have maybe 80 years of meaningless existence…I would not want to waste a second on science or Christianity…who cares?…the fact they oppose so strongly shows they are scared and insecure in their own beliefs

I asked a few Athiest once, why do you talk about God so much if God doesn’t exist? Why do you mock it? An Athiest told me its because of all the violence and wars. And I asked if that is true. Why is it a Christian God and not any other gods, for example Allah the god of Islam?.. I have personally paid attention to the media and tv shows that would make fun of religion. And also been in Philosophy classes where they would bring up a Christian God most of the time. Even they say Christianity copied other religions when it was the other way around they pic and choose things. Indeed we are living in the End times I believe. More Christians are being persecuted there was/still is being more Christians being persecuted in the last century than the 1900 years after 0A.D all together. The Lord has really told me that He is my shield. And to have full Faith in Him. As I’ve been reading Scripture lately.

End of Quotes

Here’s my favorite comment, written by Don Swaringen, a 1961 graduate of Bob Jones University :

The claim that Bible belief and teaching retards the thinking of young people is not true. Since the Bible is true, that would be impossible! If science from the beginning had believed and searched the scriptures, there would have been more progress. For example, science once believed in bleeding people to make them feel better, a flat earth, and more. Bible knowledge would have prevented those errors of “science” along with the impossible theory of evolution – the “belief” that everything came from nothing with no influence from any power or intelligence. Now that’s retarded thinking.

Let’s see:

  • “The claim that Bible belief and teaching retards the thinking of young people is not true.” Why? The “Bible is true,” Swearingen says. Talk about circular reasoning: the Bible is true because the Bible says it is true.
  • Bloodletting? A procedure performed on the sick for 1,900 years, long before the modern scientific era. Christian doctors bled numerous Christians and clergymen. All of them had the Bible at their disposal, yet none of them found the “truth” about bloodletting. It took scientists, not theologians, to find out that bloodletting does not help the sick.
  • Flat earth? Evidently, Swaringen is not aware that the flat earth belief came, in part, from the Bible: Daniel 4:10, Isaiah 11:12, Revelation 7:1, Matthew 4:8
  • There would be more progress if science believed the Bible? Really?  What about the scientists who were killed for going against the Bible and the Christian church’s teachings? What does history tell us about countries that have a religious-text-based science? Look at the Muslim world and see what happens when theology trumps science.
  • Science does make errors, but it corrects them. When’s the last time the Don Swaringens of the world have “corrected” an error in their Bible or theology? Everyone together now . . . NEVER!
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 contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Trials and Adversity: It Doesn’t Always Happen to Someone Else

why me

As an Evangelical Christian, I believed that if I sincerely prayed, God would take care of me, and he would make sure calamity didn’t show up at my doorstep. In those rare instances when it seemed that God wasn’t answering my prayer and I was facing disaster, I thought he was either testing me or chastising me for disobedience.

I was relatively healthy until the early 1990s. I played basketball in the winter and softball in the summer. In the fall, I cut wood, spending hours sawing felled trees into wood stove-sized pieces. I hunted in the fall/winter, walking for miles in the Appalachian foothills. I was, by every measure, a healthy but increasingly overweight man.

Today, I am a disabled old man, worn thin by chronic illness and debilitating pain. Since last August, I have had surgery, been to the emergency room twice, including last night, battled complications from the aforementioned surgery, had numerous tests, and have had way too many medications added to my daily pill-popping regimen. To say that I am tired of being sick and tired would be a gross understatement. I am back to seeing my counselor regularly, if for no other reason than I fear I am getting perilously close to saying, I don’t want to do this anymore.

I am still amazed by how quickly the circumstances of my life have changed. It seems that life is being sucked out of me ever so slowly. Gone are the days of strenuous physical activity. Now I am happy to take a short walk with Polly or tour our yard, looking at the flowers, bushes, and trees. Our home is littered with projects in various stages of completion. I will get to these projects soon, I tell myself. The pile of unread magazines on the end table continues to grow, even though I subscribe to few magazines these days. The same could be said for the unread books that line the shelves in the dining room. A week ago, I developed inflammation in the left side of my ribs and sternum. It is painful for me to even type. I have had this pain in the past, but coupled with abnormally high blood pressure readings (226/110) and a pounding headache, I thought I might be having a heart attack or stroke, thus my trip to the ER last night. Fortunately, after three hours of tests, the doctor concluded that yes, my blood pressure was high, but it was unlikely that I was having a heart attack or stroke.

Five years ago, I went over to my oldest son’s home to wire their new bedroom and bathroom. My coming over to help quickly turned into me taking extra doses of narcotic pain medication and sitting on a chair while I told others what to do. I was able to get the circuits where they needed to go, and I suppose I could make myself feel good over my son still needing my expertise, but I quietly wept inside as I thought about how much I had lost. Today? Attempts to do something physically strenuous are met with the screaming objections of my body. I sometimes push through the pain, knowing that I will pay a heavy price for ignoring my body’s vociferous objections. I shouldn’t do these things anymore, but the only thing worse than not doing them is feeling that my expertise and help are no longer needed. We all want to feel needed by those we love.

One of the most significant issues that dominate my every-other-week counseling sessions with Dr. Deal is my unwillingness to embrace life as it is. Just last week, we talked about the difficulty I was having taking baths and showers. Polly has to be nearby just in case I fall. Dr. Deal strongly suggested I purchase a shower seat and a tub support rail. I thought I am not going to do that.  Sixteen years ago, I managed the Yuma office of Allegro Medical — a direct medical equipment company. We made deliveries of equipment to the homes of older people or nursing homes. I am not that old, right? Reason eventually prevailed. I ordered a seat and a rail from Amazon.

Even my family doctor has talked to me about the fine line between giving up and being smart about embracing reality. The notion of putting mind over matter is patently false, at least for me. There will be no more days of playing basketball or softball. There will be no more days of feeling the sweat run down my face and back as I cut wood on a crisp fall day. There will be no more days of trudging through the woods playing a game of hide-and-seek with a cottontail rabbit or a fox squirrel. No matter how much I want it to be different, I will never be able to read like I once did. While the voracious appetite for the printed page is still there, the ability to process it is long gone.  This is my life, and there is not one damn thing I can do about it.

As a Christian, I believed that my physical afflictions were the result of God making me more like Jesus. I thought the way to Heaven was paved with pain and suffering. I can confidently say that God never answered one prayer when I cried out to him for physical relief or deliverance. I came to see that I was like the Apostle Paul who prayed for deliverance and God told him no. (2 Corinthians 12:6-9) God seems to always say no.

These days, I realize that the diseases that are ever-so-slowly taking life from me are the result of a combination of genetics, environment, and lifestyle choices, with a topping of “who the hell knows.” When I whine and complain about my lot in life and say “why me?” the universe laughs and says, “why not you?”

Bad things don’t always happen to other people. It is not always another family’s child who gets cancer or is killed in a car accident. It is not always someone else who has a brain tumor, goes through a divorce, or loses a job. It’s not always someone else who gets infected with COVID-19. It is not always someone else who loses everything in a fire, tornado, hurricane, or flood. The truth is that life is a big crapshoot: good luck, bad luck, at the right place, at the wrong place, good genetics, bad genetics, growing up on the right side of the tracks, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, marrying the right person, marrying the wrong person. The list is endless.

As I peruse humankind’s ways, it is clear to me that very few people live to be old without facing trial and adversity. It is just how life is. If there really is a God, I might find some pleasure and satisfaction in saying DAMN you, God, but since there is no God, I am left to shout at a universe that yawns at my death-defying struggle. If the universe could speak, it surely would say, this movie always ends the same way. Death. Next.

It is futile to see life other than as it is. Wishing for days that are long since gone only results in depression and despair. We must embrace life as it is while we go kicking and screaming into the night. We have two choices in life: fight or roll over and die. Yes, life is unfair and bad things happen to good people. Shit happens, and it doesn’t always happen to someone else.

Let me end this post with a poem by Dylan Thomas, an early 20th-century poet who died at the age of 39:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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 contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

How Fundamentalist Christianity Affected My View of Money and Material Things

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2
Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720 square foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us. We paid $2,800 for it. I tore out closets, replaced floors, etc to make it livable. We heated it with wood and coal. Such memories of the good life, right Polly?

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

These and other verses were the guiding principles of my life for many years:

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Matthew 16:24

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Matthew 6:19-21

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Matthew 6:24-34

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 1 Timothy 6:10

I was a Baptist. Not just any old generic, run-of-the-mill Baptist either. I was an Independent, Fundamentalist, the-Bible-is-the-inspired-inerrant-infallible-Word-of-God Baptist. There were five things that every good Baptist church member was expected to do:

  • Read the Bible every day
  • Pray every day
  • Attend church every time the doors of the church were open
  • Witness
  • Tithe and give offerings

I will come back to the last of these, tithe and give offerings, in just a moment, but before I do I need to write a bit about how I looked at life in general.

I was a committed follower of Jesus. I believed God spoke to me individually through the Bible, prayer, and the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. I believed that God led me or directed me to do certain things. It was important to “wait on the Lord.” and NOT trust my own understanding. My life verse was 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.

I knew God had saved me and called me to the ministry. For every church I ever pastored, I believed God led me to that specific congregation. It is important to understand this point because this line of thinking permeated my entire thought process.

cars I have owned
One of the many junk cars we owned over the years. Polly HATED this car and the kids were embarrassed when I would drive up and pick them up from school. Isn’t Jesus Wonderful?

When a small church came calling and wanted me to be their pastor, I never concerned myself with how much they could pay me. I thought, “If God wants me to pastor this church, he will make a way for me to do it.” As a result, I developed a willingness to live in poverty if it meant doing what God had called me to do. No matter how much suffering and difficulty it caused me or my family, the only thing that was important was being in the center of the will of God. I now see that God’s will was actually my own will and that the passivity that led me to “wait on God” wreaked financial havoc in our lives – such that we have not recovered from to this day.

The most I ever made as a pastor was $26,000 a year. Most years, my pay was more in the $10-12,000 range. I never had health insurance or any of the work-related benefits that almost every church member had. I am not complaining as much as I am explaining. I sincerely thought this is how God wanted me to live. I gladly sacrificed my financial well-being for the sake of THE CALL.

I did work secular jobs on and off over the years. Pumped gas. Sold insurance. Delivered newspapers. Managed restaurants. I always made significantly more money in the world. I viewed these jobs as a means to an end. Out of the 25 years I was in the ministry, I worked secular jobs for about 7 years.

Even when I worked a secular job, I still worked full-time at whatever church I was pastoring. I was of the opinion that every pastor should be full-time regardless of whether he had a secular job. I was taught this way of thinking in Bible college, and it drove me to burn the candle at both ends for most of the time I spent in the ministry. When I wasn’t working a secular job, I would take the extra time I had and devote it to the church. Either way, I was a consummate workaholic, rarely taking a day off or going on a vacation.

My view of life, God, and my call to the ministry deeply affected how I viewed money and material things. God was first in my life, the church second, the souls of others third, and my family came in a distant fourth.  As a sold-out lover of Jesus, I knew I was expected to die to self and live only for the glory of God.

Keeping the church going so it could be a light on a hill in the community was very important. My personal finances and well-being didn’t matter. All to Jesus, All to Jesus, All to Him I freely give . . . the song went, and I was quite willing to give everything to make sure the work of God continued on (and I taught my children to do the same). We tithed. We gave love offerings. We supported missionaries. We gave money to people who were poorer than we were. We gave cars, appliances, computers, and clothing to people in the church. We sold household goods so we could give the money to missionaries, evangelists, or help with some need in the church. We were givers . . . and, quite frankly, we shouldn’t have been.

jesus loves the poor

About year 20 in the ministry, I began to see how foolish this kind of thinking was. I started looking around and I noticed that while I was busy sacrificing and giving, most other Christians were busy building their kingdoms on earth. They were buying houses, land, and cars, contributing to their child’s college fund, and preparing for retirement. I was living in the here-and-now, with no thought of tomorrow, no thought of retirement. I had planned to die with my boots on. I realized I had been a fool. I came to see that neither God, Jesus, nor the church was going to take care of me or my family. (I was still a Christian and a pastor when I came to this conclusion.) If the church didn’t care about my financial well-being while I was their pastor, they sure as hell weren’t going to care about it when I retired. I could tell numerous stories of pastors and their families who were left destitute by churches who promised to care for them when they were old.

After realizing the error of my way, the first thing I did was stop tithing. If the church couldn’t pay me a living wage it made no sense to give money to the church so I could have less of an unlivable wage. The second thing we did was make a decision that Polly would go to work so we could have a better income and health/dental/life insurance. By the time we made this decision, I was already starting to have health problems.

These two decisions dramatically improved our lifestyle. For the first time in our marriage, we were able to enjoy life a bit. It was refreshing not to have to sacrifice our financial well-being for the sake of the church. Either the church stood on its own two feet or it didn’t. We still gave money to the church, but not like we used to. No more Sundays when the offering was bad . . . telling the treasurer . . . don’t pay me this week, I’ll be fine. I expected the church to pay me. After all, a laborer is worthy of his hire.

Decades of living at the bottom of the economic ladder have hurt my wife and me greatly. Low or no wages means a lower social security check when we retire. I never had a retirement program, so there is no extra money now that I have retired. When Polly retires in a couple of years, we will have to adjust and try to make it on social security. Maybe my 2021 book will become a reality and make it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. One can always hope, right?  All we know to do is move forward and do what we can. We have no choice but to play the cards we’ve been dealt. Hindsight is a great teacher, but it can’t undo a lifetime of ignorance and stupidity in the name of God.

As an atheist, I have no God who is coming to rescue me or see me through to the end. I know that financial security comes through hard work and making a good wage (and a good bit of luck). I know planning for the future is important. While there is not a lot we can do about our own affairs, Polly and I have tried to teach and show our children a better way. We are quite happy about how most of them have taken to this better way. All of them are light years ahead of where we were when we were their age.

I am sure some well-meaning Christian is going to say, it seems Bruce that becoming an atheist has made you selfish and more focused on your family and not others. Yep, and I make no apology for it. I am still a giving person. I go out of my way to help others, BUT I am not going to sacrifice my financial well-being for the sake of a deity that doesn’t exist or to meet a need in the life of people I do not know. I do what I can, but I now realize that my wife, children, grandchildren, and yes, myself, come first.

Polly’s parents make for an excellent case study. They are lifelong Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christians. Dad, who died several months ago, spent over 30 years in the ministry. The year before Polly and I married in 1978, Mom and Dad bought a house in a working-class neighborhood. After retirement, Mom and Dad no longer had the money to care for their home. Their neighborhood changed from primarily owner-occupied homes to rentals. When they were finally forced to sell their home, it had lost 50% of its value. Mom and Dad moved to an apartment where their rent was almost three times their mortgage payment. While Mom is barely making ends meet and has had her own serious health problems of late, she still tithes, gives offerings, and contributes to every cockamamie financial appeal their pastor comes up with. What does she need to do? Stop giving to the church. They sacrificed enough during Dad’s preaching days. They have given enough. Let others pay the freight now. Take that tithe and offering money and spend it on self (most likely medical expenses). Surely Jesus and her church will understand, right?  But I know she won’t. Jesus and the church come first. After all, the Bible says:

Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. (Malachi 3:8-10)

For many years, I shuddered at the thought of robbing God — as if it is possible to rob a deity who supposedly owns everything. These days, I think God deserves to be robbed. He has all he needs. He has become a robber-baron who cares not for the suffering of his peasants. If he did care, he would pass a note along to all those preachers who say God talks to them and tell them to STOP fleecing their flocks. Maybe they could tell their congregations that God doesn’t need any money in 2021. Maybe they could tell their congregations God doesn’t need a new building, gymnasium, the latest AV equipment, or the latest, greatest, sure-to-make-the church-grow magic trick. How about emptying the church bank accounts and giving a rebate to every person who has sacrificially given their money so the pastor could have the best of everything?

I feel Polly shaking me . . . Bruce, Bruce wake up . . .you’re dreaming.

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 contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Bruce Gerencser