Menu Close

Category: Religion

I Attended a Segregation Academy

guest post

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Last week, the Archdiocese of New York announced that twelve Catholic schools in its domain—which includes three New York City boroughs and seven suburban counties to the north—will close at the end of this school year.

That does not surprise me. The Catholic school I attended, in the neighboring Diocese of Brooklyn, closed in 2004. Three years ago, two dozen schools in the Diocese shut their doors forever. Today, there are roughly half as many Catholic schools and Catholic school pupils as there were in the mid-1960s, when both counts reached their peaks in New York and the United States.

Diocesan leaders and students of such trends cite several factors, which were accelerated by the COVID epidemic and sex abuse revelations. One is cost. When I entered Catholic school, right around the aforementioned peak, a parent, usually the father, could work a few hours’ overtime, or the other parent, usually the mother, could take on part-time work to pay their kids’ tuition. (Notice that I used the plural for children. It was not unusual to find multiple siblings in the same school, or even the same classroom.)  Although Catholic schools still aren’t nearly as pricey as secular private schools, today a working- or middle-class parent’s entire salary could go to the cost of sending one child to a Catholic school.

Another factor blamed for the decline in the number of Catholic schools and their enrollments is the changing demographics of their mostly-urban locations. The closure of my old school is practically a “poster child” of this trend. When I was growing up, my neighborhood was overwhelmingly Catholic with a small, mostly secular, Jewish minority. Today nearly all of the Catholics are gone; now my old neighborhood is part of the largest Hasidic Jewish communities in the United States. 

While it is true that nearly every New York City—and urban American—neighborhood has changed its racial and ethnic composition since the 1960s, many people who moved into those neighborhoods are also Catholic. I am thinking in particular, of course, of Hispanics, but in neighborhoods like Brooklyn’s Crown Heights and East Flatbush, there are large communities of Haitian, Jamaican, and African Catholics. Having come to know some, I can safely say that many are at least as devout—and would want a Catholic education for their children as much– as parents of my community.

Of course, one reason why they don’t enroll their children is the aforementioned cost. While some immigrants are, or become, middle-class professionals, others are working multiple menial jobs just to keep a roof over their heads and food in their kids’ mouths. And it must be said that some who could afford to pay the tuition don’t see the point of doing so when, in contrast to the nuns who taught me and my old schoolmates, most of today’s Catholic school teachers are secular, just like the ones who teach in public school. “How Catholic is their education?” an acquaintance of mine wondered about her grandchildren whose single mother, from what I could tell, could afford the tuition only because of the child support payments and a couple of side jobs that augmented her main salary.

There is, however, a related story that no official in the Archdiocese of New York, or anywhere else in the Church, is mentioning. Most of the Catholic school kids of my generation, while working- or lower middle-class, were White. During the 1960s and ‘70s, many of their families moved. One reason is that they needed larger quarters for their growing families — it wasn’t called the Baby Boom for nothing — and houses outside the cities were more affordable. Or, as in the case of my family, the main breadwinner’s job moved outside the city.

Some of those families continued to enroll their kids in Catholic schools. But most, like my family, sent their kids to the public school in their new locale. As my mother would say, my brothers and I didn’t attend Catholic school because it was Catholic. Rather, she and my father, like other parents in the neighborhood, felt more confident in the education the Catholic school provided. Some of that, I suspect, had to do with the fact that my mother also attended Catholic schools.

But other families moved out of their urban enclaves for the same reason they enrolled their kids in Catholic schools while they were living in those neighborhoods. While some schools date to the beginning of large-scale Catholic immigration—first from Germany and later from Ireland, Italy, Poland, and other European countries—others, like the one I attended, didn’t open until the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, the school I attended opened only a year before I entered.

That was also the same time Evangelical, Fundamentalist, and other conservative Christian churches were opening private schools, mainly in the South and Midwest. Ostensibly, the founders of these schools feared that “moral values” were being erased from public school curricula—and from the nation’s laws and value systems. They cited the end of prayer and the diversification of reading lists (and other things, one of which I’ll mention) in those public schools.

And what was being “diversified?” Well, for one thing, points of view: history and other classes were being revised to include the stories of people who had been left out.  But, most troubling to the founders of those “Christian” academies was the new variation in color among the student bodies that resulted from Brown v Board of Education in 1954.

A few school boards and elected officials—most notably Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus—openly defied orders to desegregate.  But more people, including church leaders, subverted that order through the IRS tax code, which allowed “religious” schools to claim tax exemption, and through exemptions provided in the civil-rights laws themselves for private institutions. 

Those schools are now commonly called “segregation academies.” While few, if any, openly barred students of color (mainly Black), they adopted policies that had the same effect. One was, of course, tuition that most Black families couldn’t afford. Another was professions of faith that may have run counter to the families’ beliefs. And some simply made nonwhite kids and families feel unwelcome.

Such was the case in my Catholic school.  I can recall no non-White students; nearly all of us came from the same few European backgrounds I’ve mentioned. (This, I believe, is part of what some of my old classmates mean by the “good old days” they pine for on their Facebook pages.) School and church officials would claim that the school’s demographics reflected that of the neighborhood, which was mostly true.  But, when I was growing up, a few of my schoolmates actually told me that their parents sent them to that school because there were “too many (N-words)” in the local public school.  And, as I recall, at least some of their parents were furious that “trouble”—a code word for Black kids—was being bused into the school and neighborhood.

In short, I can’t help but to think something that leaders of the New York Archdiocese, Diocese of Brooklyn and the church can’t or won’t acknowledge: some of their schools, like the one I attended, were essentially Northern segregation academies. The irony is, of course, that in some neighborhoods, the very people those parents, and sometimes school and church officials, tried to keep out are now the neighborhood that can’t or won’t support the Catholic schools that are, or are in danger of, closing. 

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

How Can I Be Certain the Evangelical God is a Myth?

certainty erich fromm

A regular reader of this blog sent me an email and asked the following:

I am unsettled by the notion that there is a possibility that the bizarre God of fundamentalism might exist. The idea that YHWH exists as described by Dan Corner, Jack Chick and their ilk terrifies me. Because that means we are dealing with a being that is irrational, uncaring, inconsistent, and quite frankly confusing in every aspect. It is that particular aspect of Christianity that I fear being true.

This person is “almost” sure that there is no God, but his need for certainty continues to plague him. I am sure that many readers can attest to having similar feelings at one point in time in their journey out of Evangelical Christianity. What this person continues to struggle with is doubt and fear. What if the fiery God of Jonathan Edwards really is as advertised? What if countless bellowing Evangelical preachers are right about God, sin, judgment, and the afterlife? Surely, there’s some test that we use to prove once and for all whether this God is the one true God. Surely, in this day of modern science, we have some sort of test we can use to finally and authoritatively rule out the existence of the Evangelical God. Unfortunately, the best that science can do is tell us that Evangelical interpretations of Genesis 1-3 are false; that the universe was not created in six literal twenty-four-hour days; that the earth is not 6,026 years old (as of February 22, 2023). These facts do, however, warn us about how Evangelicals interpret the Bible; that their Fundamentalist literalism, hermeneutics, and presuppositions don’t stand the smell test. And if Evangelical interpretations are false on these fundamental issues, what’s to say that their concept of God is not also without merit? The question we must ask here, then, is the one asked by Satan, the walking snake: yea hath God said? Is the Bible a supernatural text? Is it divinely inspired and inerrant? Settling these issues will go a long way in burying Jesus in the sands of Palestine. That said, concluding that the Bible is NOT what Evangelicals claim it is, and that its words were written by humans, will not erase all doubt one might have about the existence of God. Answering these questions will get a person almost to home, but there could still be, as in the case of the person who emailed me, niggling doubts.

These doubts are the vestiges of Evangelical conditioning and indoctrination. Sunday after Sunday, these “truths” were preached from the pulpits of the churches we attended. Spend enough years hearing such sermons, and you are going to think these beliefs are true. The essence of faith is believing without seeing. Evangelicals believe in God, Heaven, Hell, and the afterlife, not because they have ever seen them, but because their churches, pastors, and families believe them to be true. Surely, all these people can’t be wrong, right? Actually, they can be (and are) wrong. Faith, for the most part, bypasses reason and intellectual inquiry. Evangelicals believe what they do because everyone they know believes the same. It is only when Evangelicals step outside of the Evangelical box that they see their resolute beliefs are not as solid as they think they are. (Please see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You are in it and What I Found When I Left the Box.)

I cannot, for the letter writer, tell him what to believe. He must walk his own path and come to his own conclusions. The doubts he still battles are emotional in nature. Telling him to read yet another book will not drive away the fear and doubt that afflict him. His immersion in Evangelicalism has left deep scars that might take a long time to overcome. All any of us can do when it comes to religion is ask ourselves, how probable is it that Evangelical beliefs are true? What evidence is there for their truthfulness? It is “possible” that a commercial jet flying over my house could lose one of its engines, and that engine would fall on my house and kill me. Possible? Sure. Probable? No! I don’t go around worrying about a jet engine falling on my head. That would be stupid. I am confident — 99.99999999 percent confident — that I will live out my entire life without a jet engine falling from the sky and killing me. With all the things that could kill me, it is irrational and a waste of time to worry about falling engines.

So it is with the Evangelical concept of God. I am confident that the Evangelical God is not who and what Christians claim he is. Reason, skepticism, and intellectual inquiry have led me to conclude that the Evangelical God is a fictional being, not one I need worry about lest he rain fire and brimstone down on my head. The odds are such that I don’t worry one whit about this God’s existence. If I was going to “worry” about the existence of a Creator God, I would mentally afflict myself wondering whether the deistic God exists. But why worry? This God is unapproachable and unknowable. All any of us can do is LIVE! It is primarily the Abrahamic God that keeps many people up at night with his threats of judgment and Hell.

Surely, if the Evangelical God is real he would help the letter writer with his doubts. He is slipping away, Lord. Do something! Of course, God is silent. Why? He is a fiction of the human mind. Once this fact becomes rooted in your mind — and it might take years — gone are doubts about this God’s existence.

Well, Bruce, what if you are wrong and you die, only to find out God is real? All I know to do is to say to God: My bad, Jesus!  I am 99.99999999 percent sure that is one apology I will never have to deliver. Could I be wrong? It’s possible — as in .00000001 percent possible, but I don’t plan on wasting my time on things for which there is no evidence.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Seven

i have a question

What was it about Calvinism that attracted you, theologically and psychologically?

Calvinism is a theological system with points of doctrine that build upon one another. Pull any of the five points: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints (TULIP), from the system and it collapses upon itself. Of course, the same could be said of any theological system. That said, Calvinism is the most complex, intricate theological system ever created by human minds.

It was the order and complexity of the system, then, that caught my attention. I have Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) and I am a perfectionist. (See Christian Perfection: A Personal Story.) I desire, crave, and need order. Theologically, Calvinism provided me just what the doctor ordered. As I read and studied the Bible, listened to preaching tapes of Calvin-loving preachers, and devoured countless Calvinistic books, I began to “see” the truthiness of the doctrines of grace, along with its attendant doctrines such as the Sovereignty of God.

The primary reason I became an atheist is that Christianity no longer made any sense to me. (See The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) The opposite was true with Calvinism. It simply, at the time, based on my reading and study, made perfect sense to me. Calvinism best explained certain Bible verses that had always perplexed me. Yet, at the same time, it created new interpretive problems for me. As a non-Calvinist, I found that words such as world and all meant everyone without discrimination (i.e. For God so loved the world — John 3:16). Calvinism, due to the doctrines of election and predestination, requires adherents to reinterpret verses that imply that Jesus died for everyone, Jesus loves everyone, etc. Of course, Arminians do the same with verses that speak of election and predestination.

I have long argued that the Bible is a book that can be used to prove almost anything. Whatever your theological beliefs might be, there’s support for them in the Bible. I’ve concluded, then, that all theological systems are Biblically “true” and that all sects – Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Methodists, to name a few —  are right when they claim their beliefs are the faith once delivered to the saints.

How is Calvinism different from Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) theology?

While IFB churches are autonomous, each with its own set of beliefs and practices, they do, generally, have a common set of beliefs. (See What is an IFB Church?) When I entered the ministry in the 1970s, I didn’t know one IFB pastor who claimed the Calvinist moniker — not one. There were several pastors who, if rumors were true, had Calvinistic tendencies. Calvinism was routinely derided, criticized, and deemed heretical — antithetical to soulwinning and church growth.

In the late 1980s, Calvinism began to make inroads into the IFB church movement. Some IFB preachers embraced Amyraldism (four-point Calvinism). Wikipedia explains Amyraldism this way:

It is the belief that God decreed Christ’s atonement, prior to his decree of election, for all alike if they believe, but he then elected those whom he will bring to faith in Christ, seeing that none would believe on their own, and thereby preserving the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election. The efficacy of the atonement remains limited to those who believe.

The issue, of course, was for whom did Jesus die? Evangelical Calvinists believe Jesus died on the cross only for the elect — those chosen by God from before the foundation of the world. Four-point Calvinists, uncomfortable with the doctrine of limited atonement (particular redemption), concocted a system that said, the atonement of Christ is sufficient to save everyone in the world, but efficient for only the elect. Got that?

While Calvinism continues to make inroads in IFB churches, many Calvinistic pastors tend to keep their beliefs to themselves. They preach Calvinism without ever mentioning Calvinistic buzz-words. Over time, congregations are converted without ever realizing they’ve changed.

Classic IFB beliefs are laughingly called one-point Calvinism. Yes, God is the one who saves sinners, but it’s up to them to decide whether to believe. As with Arminian churches, emphasis is placed on man’s ability to choose (free will). Calvinists, on the other hand, focus on the sovereignty of God and the inability of man. As you can see, these two theological systems are disparate, so much so that the two groups are continually at war, each believing the other is heretical.

Evangelical Calvinists generally believe that IFB churches preach works salvation, and they alone preach salvation by grace. Carefully examining Calvinism, however, reveals that they too preach salvation by works. In fact, outside of Pelagian sects, all Christian sects/churches preach some form of salvation by works. (Let the howling begin.)

There are numerous other theological differences between IFB theology and Evangelical Calvinism, but I have shared enough of the differences to show that these two groups generally don’t “fellowship” with each other. Calvinists view IFB (and Southern Baptist) churches as targets for subversive theological change. Pastors hide their Calvinistic beliefs, hoping, over time, to win them over to the one true faith. This approach has led to all sorts of church conflict.

Why would your change of theology cause friends and colleagues in the ministry to shun (abandon) you?

In the IFB church movement (and many other Evangelical sects), fealty to the right doctrine is paramount, as is following certain social practices. Some tolerance is granted for being slightly off the theological center, but major deviations result in shunning or being labeled a heretic/liberal. Calvinism was certainly considered antithetical to IFB doctrine and practice, so I was not surprised when many of my preacher friends distanced themselves from me as they would a gay man with AIDS. I moved on to new fellowship groups, those with Calvinistic, reformed beliefs and practices.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

What Evangelicals Mean When They Use the Word “God”

god

When engaging Evangelicals in discussions, it is important to get them to define what they mean when they use the word “God.” On Sundays, Evangelicals are quite specific: God is the Christian deity; the God of the Bible; the Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Ghost. All other Gods are false Gods. If Evangelicals are true to their faith, they will admit that they believe there is only one path to Heaven — theirs. Not the Catholic road; not the Muslim road, not the Jewish road; theirs. In their minds, True Christianity® is rooted in the merit and work of Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection from the dead three days later. For Evangelicals, God, Christianity, and salvation are clearly defined in the Bible. People who disagree with them are either lost or being led astray by heretical beliefs. In recent years, some Evangelicals have lurched towards the liberal fringe of Evangelicalism, believing that many of the beliefs once held dear by God’s chosen ones are no longer essential doctrines of the faith. Roman Catholics, Mormons, and Seventh-Day Adventists are now considered “Christian,” whereas just a few decades ago every Evangelical considered these sects cults or false religions. God surely works in mysterious ways, does he not? What’s next, rock music in worship services? I digress . . .

Engage Evangelicals on matters of church and state and you will find that they quickly lose their particularity about God. Pursue discussions about prayer in public schools, the National Day of Prayer, teaching creationism in science classes, or posting the Ten Commandments on the walls or grounds of government buildings, to name a few, and you will find Evangelicals have abandoned or muted their strict, absolute definition of the word “God.” All of a sudden, God is a generic being, a deity found in all religions. These hypocrites value political power more than they do standing true to their beliefs. As we have learned with the part Evangelicals played in the election of pussy-grabber-in-chief Donald Trump, they are willing to wholesale abandon their beliefs and practices if, in doing so, they gain political power. Following the plan set forth in the late 1970s by Jerry Falwell, one of the founders of the Moral Majority, these cultural warriors are willing to sell their souls to the Devil if it means outlawing abortion, abolishing same-sex marriage, and stuffing LGBTQ people back into the dark recesses of closets. It seems, at least for many Evangelicals, situational ethics and morality — wherein the end justifies the means — are now the rule, and not the exception. There was a time when Evangelicals resolutely stood upon the teachings of the Christian Bible. Today, many of them are only concerned with power and control. As a young pastor in the 1970s, I didn’t know one Evangelical pastor who didn’t believe in the strict separation of church and state. My God, we were Baptists — the original separatists. The pastors I knew wanted nothing to do with the government. Today? These same men, with straight faces, say that there is no such thing as church/state separation, and if anything, our founding fathers only wanted to keep the government from establishing a state church.

Evangelicals may attempt to appeal to a generic God when engaging in public square discussions and debates, but don’t let them pull the proverbial wool over your eyes. When they write or say the word “God” they are ALWAYS, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, speaking of the Evangelical version of the Christian deity; the God ensconced in the pages of the Protestant Bible. Let me be blunt, Evangelicals who appeal to a generic God are being dishonest. They don’t believe this God exists.

Engage Evangelicals on the “God of Creation” and you will often find that they will begin by appealing to a generic, universal understanding of who and what God is. Often, they will cough up Romans 1:17-20 and Romans 2:11-16:

For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.

….

For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

According to Evangelical apologists, there is no such thing as an “atheist.” According to their interpretation of Romans 1 and Romans 2, “God” reveals himself to everyone through creation, and he gives to everyone a BIOS of sorts; a conscience; a base moral code. These “truths” are found in most religions, Evangelicals say, especially in the text-based Abrahamic religions. Evangelicals want to leave people with the impression that the concept of God is a universal truth. However, when pressed — well, backed into a corner by bold atheists — Evangelicals will grudgingly admit that there really is only one God — theirs. Poof! And just like that their generic, universal deity goes up in smoke. When Evangelicals speak of a Creator God or a God who gives everyone a moral and ethical compass, they are talking about a very particular God — theirs. Mark it down, when Evangelicals use the word “God” they are NEVER referring to a generic deity — even if their lying lips suggest otherwise.

Hardcore Evangelical apologists often use the idea of a generic God as a way to hook naïve people, drawing them into discussions that always lead to the man, the myth, the legend, Jesus Christ. I have found that one of the best ways to attack such an approach is to grant their premise: Fine, I readily admit that there is a Creator God, a deistic God who created the universe and endowed humans with a moral/ethical code. Now, please show me how you get from the concept of A GOD to THE GOD; from the generic Creator God to the Evangelical God. And please show me this bridge without using presuppositions or making appeals to the Bible. End of discussion, every time.

Much to the dismay of hardcore atheists, I am quite happy to admit that it is possible (not probable) that a deity of some sort created the universe. I don’t believe this to be true, but I am willing to grant its possibility. However, I have yet to see an Evangelical argument that gets me from this to this God being the God of the Bible.

The next time you have an Evangelical try to engage you with generic God arguments, don’t believe one word of what they are saying. Evangelicals have never believed in a non-proprietary definition of the word “God.” In their minds, there is one God, and Jesus is his name. Well, that and God, the Father, and God, the Holy Spirit. I’ll leave that mess for another day.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Dear Baby Boomers, Stop Attacking Millennials and Pining for the Good Ole Days

things better in good old days
Recent Comment on Facebook by a Baby Boomer

Following in the footsteps of their parents and their grandparents before them, Baby Boomers have taken to criticizing the latest generation of American children. These snowflakes, as Millennials/Gen Z/Gen Alpha are disparagingly called, have it easy, according to their critics. Often, criticisms are followed with “back in the day” anecdotal stories meant to prove that teenagers and young adults are living on easy street compared to their parents and grandparents. If only our society would return to the good ‘ole days, Baby Boomers say, all would be well.

Armed with selective memories or showing signs of dementia/Alzheimer’s, Baby Boomers have posted to social media countless memes and comments about how better their youthful days were than are those today. What Baby Boomers don’t mention is the instrumental part they have played in making things the way they are today. Who are the people running the government? Who are the corporate CEOs and the heads of media outlets? For the most part, Baby Boomers. Millennials don’t control much in this country. It’s their parents’ and grandparents’ generations that control everything. It’s not Millennials who elected Donald Trump. It’s not Millennials who are in charge of the American war machine. It’s not Millennials who have destroyed the working class and outsourced millions of American jobs. It’s not Millennials who have driven up healthcare costs. If Baby Boomers want to find who’s to blame for all these things (and more), they need only look in the mirror. And while they are gazing at their aged “sixty is the new thirty” faces in the mirror, they might want to ask the Greatest Generation to join them. Millennials are certainly not without fault, but to lay the blame for societal ills at their collective feet is not only laughable, it is also a denial of past history and present reality.

Millennials are the first generation to be born into the technology revolution. Their parents came of age in a world without most of the technology that drives our present age. My wife and I will celebrate forty-five years of marriage in July. Until the late 1980s, our life pretty much mirrored that of our parents. Outside of having 8-track/cassette players instead of record players and push-button telephones instead of rotary dial phones, our day-to-day living wasn’t much different from that of the homes we grew up in. Certainly, societal mores were rapidly changing, but Polly and I were insulated from these changes thanks to our immersion in Evangelical Christianity.

In the 1990s, computers became affordable for many people. From that point until today, we have experienced non-stop technological advancement. We now live in world dominated by computers, smartphones, — which are handheld computers with built-in monitors — the worldwide web (www), and social media. In a matter of seconds, we can send text messages, photographs, and emails across the globe. We can talk via Skype to people continents away. Social media allows us to be friends with people that we would never have met had it not been for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like.

This is the world of Millennials. Should they be faulted for embracing the modern technological age? Who made all these wonders available to them? Who built the companies and products that play such an integral part in their lives? Better look in the mirror again, Baby Boomers. Sure, it’s primarily Millennials who invented social media, but without the work of aged men such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and countless other Baby Boomers, there wouldn’t be an Internet, nor would there be smartphones and social media. Like it or not, Baby Boomers, the world as it is now was created and shaped by us.

I am almost sixty-six years old. Like many of my generation, I don’t like some of the behaviors I see coming from Millennials. But, I also know that my parents and grandparents thought the same about my generation. Being criticized by previous generations is a rite of passage. I am a father to three Gen-Xers and three Millennials.  I have thirteen grandchildren, one of whom is twenty-two, and three others who are in high school. In less than fifteen months two of them be in college. My older grandchildren are very much a part of the tech generation (as much as their parents will allow them to be, anyway). Are my children and grandchildren inferior/less hardy than my generation or that of their grandparents? Of course not. What they are is different. They were born into a world very different from the world I entered in 1957. Their experiences, in many ways, are different from those I had as a teen and young adult in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet, their wants, needs, and desires are not much different from what mine were years ago.

As a sports photographer, I spent a good bit of time around local high school students. I carefully watched their behavior and interaction with not only their fellow students, but with society at large. I found, at a base level, kids are kids. Environments change, but kids remain the same. We oldsters do a great disservice to our society when we refuse to see the good in younger Americans; when we refuse to grant that maybe, just maybe, our children and grandchildren have much to offer the human race (despite being hamstrung by runaway government debt, lack of jobs, and astronomical education costs). Millennials are not without fault, but they certainly are not the people described by many of the memes and social media comments I have seen in recent years. One Baby Boomer Facebook friend of mine posted a meme that blamed video games and rap music for school shootings. I shook my head and laughed as I read comment after comment from people agreeing with her. Never mind the fact that video games actually reduce male aggression and that children today are safer than they ever have been (except at school). And music lyrics? Really? Baby Boomers are the classic rock generation. Have they forgotten what the lyrics of their favorite rock songs actually say? Yes, the music loved by Millennials is more explicit, often using graphic words to describe sexual activity, but the music of yesteryear had its own language for sexual activities. In 1976, the Starland Vocal Band released a song titled Afternoon Delight. The lyrics went like this:

Gonna find my baby, gonna hold her tight
Gonna grab some afternoon delight
My motto’s always been “When it’s right, it’s right”
Why wait until the middle of a cold dark night
When everything’s a little clearer in the light of day
And we know the night is always gonna be here any way

Thinkin’ of you’s workin’ up my appetite
Looking forward to a little afternoon delight
Rubbin’ sticks and stones together make the sparks ignite
And the thought of loving you is getting so exciting

Sky rockets in flight
Afternoon delight
Afternoon delight
Afternoon delight

Started out this morning feeling so polite
I always thought a fish could not be caught who didn’t bite
But you’ve got some bait a waitin’ and I think I might
Like nibblin’ in a little afternoon delight

Sky rockets in flight
Afternoon delight
Afternoon delight
Afternoon delight

Please be waiting for me baby when I come around
We could make a lot of lovin’ ‘fore the sun goes down

Thinkin’ of you’s workin’ up an appetite
Looking forward to a little afternoon delight
Rubbin’ sticks and stones together make the sparks ignite
And the thought of loving you is getting so exciting

Sky rockets in flight
Afternoon delight
Afternoon delight
Afternoon delight
Afternoon delight
Afternoon delight

Video Link

If this song were written today, I suspect its author would make ample use of the “F” word and other sexually explicit words. The reason these words weren’t used in the 1970s was because of the Greatest Generation’s puritanical view of certain words. Sexual meanings were hidden behind euphemisms and double entendres. In 1968, the song, “Why Don’t We Do it in The Road” was recorded for the White Album by the Beatles. The entire song was of Paul McCartney repeating:

Why don’t we do it in the road
Why don’t we do it in the road
Why don’t we do it in the road
Why don’t we do it in the road
No one will be watching us
Why don’t we do it in the road

Video Link

What exactly was IT that they were doing in the middle of the road?  If this song was written today, I suspect the word IT would be replaced by the word FUCK. Is one version any better or worse than the other? Of course not. Different, yes; bad/worse, no. One rendering requires reading between the lines, the other doesn’t.

Baby Boomers love to get all wound up about sexting and other ill-advised behavior by Millennials. These gray-haired “saints” forget that they are the ones who ushered in the sexual revolution, and that they used notes instead of texts to set up intimate liaisons. What I am saying is this: kids are kids, and their parents and grandparents need to lay off constantly judging them and criticizing their way of life. Have these oldsters forgotten how such attacks make someone feel? Baby Boomers raised in the Evangelical church, have oh-so “fond” memories of sermons about the evils of premarital sex, rock music, smoking pot, miniskirts, and long hair on men. Surely, we can help, instruct, and guide our children and grandchildren without denigrating the things they value and consider important. If we can honestly remember our own youthful lives and indiscretions, perhaps we might not be so judgmental towards Millennials.

As a father and grandparent, I love and respect my children and grandchildren. They are far from perfect, and they can do things that drive me nuts, but I know from my own experiences that every generation has to find its own way. Millennials face challenges that their parents never had to face. We live in a fast-paced world where things change overnight. Older Americans have the luxury of ignoring changes they don’t like. Millennials, on the other hand, must continue to change and adapt. Their world is fraught with dangers and challenges Baby Boomers never had to face. They need our help, not our judgment and derision.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Our Church Stories

guest post

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

I hadn’t heard from “Ivette” in decades. So, when I saw her name in the subject line, I hesitated.  But my curiosity got the better of me, and I opened the email.

“Dear MJ.” She opened with my current, not my “dead,” name. A pleasant surprise, but was it a prelude to something less respectful, let alone affirming? 

I can’t remember our last encounter, but I know it took place in—or in the context of—the Evangelical church where she was a volunteer who did, basically, anything deemed not important enough for male members. In all honesty, she could have done a better job than I did of leading a Bible study and editing the church’s newsletter. She knew it as well as I did, but if she had any resentment, she didn’t express it, I suspect, as much out of the deference expected of her as to her emotional grace, which she possessed to a much greater degree than I ever have. 

So why was she writing to me after so many years? Did she want to bring me back to Jesus—and the name, gender, and life I left with him, with the God who was him and his father and his ghost?  Or would she, like someone else I knew from those days, berate me because I am not, and could never be, a “real woman: because I have never menstruated, married a man, given birth, or had any of the other experiences by which they define themselves?

Fortunately, her email contained no attempts to return me to her faith—which, I would soon learn, was as much a part of her past as my life as a boy and man was part of mine. She did, however, ask if we could talk. I replied in the affirmative and she sent me her number.

Turns out, she’s been living on the other side of the country almost since the last time I saw her. Ostensibly, she moved from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast for graduate school and a job. She could, however, have done those things, at least in the field of her study and work, almost anywhere, including the New Jersey town in which our old church was located. 

By now, you might have guessed that she wanted to move as far as she could from that church and anything related to it. The reason did not surprise me—it was something I’d suspected all of those years ago when we were in the church—but it appalled me nonetheless.

“He raped me.”  I knew exactly who she was talking about: a deacon, twice her age or close to it. Sometimes I felt guilty because as a “good Christian,” I believed I should have made more of an effort to engage with him. But I just couldn’t: a sense not granted to me by the Holy Spirit guided me away from him. Throughout all of the time I was part of that church, we were the proverbial ships passing in the night. 

Oddly enough, our pastor, who encouraged us—well, most of us—to get to know each other so that we could serve the Lord “as a body in the spirit,” as he liked to say, made no effort to bring us together even though our avoidance of each other—actually, more mine of him—created a few awkward scenes. I believe that the pastor may have thought I was trying to short-circuit an illicit attraction, which I didn’t have for the deacon and I don’t believe he had for me, even though, given the right circumstances, he might have used me as he used Ivette. Although many more years would pass before I would come to terms with the sexual abuse a priest inflicted on me in the Catholic church where I served as an altar boy, I understood that the deacon was purely and simply a sexual predator, although I, like most people, wasn’t using that kind of terminology to describe people like him.

One striking parallel between Ivette’s story and mine is that each of us clung to our belief or, more precisely, our desire to believe, after experiencing sexual trauma from trusted leaders in the church. That, of course, led me to the church where each of us experienced another kind of trauma. Hers, of course, was brutal and physical. Mine, on the other hand, was psychological, though I didn’t understand it until much later.

People who haven’t been “tokenized” don’t understand the damage it can do. Although my sexual orientation, let alone my gender identity, were never openly discussed, I am sure there were whispers. I was lauded for “sublimating” my desires, which were not named, in service of the Lord. In other words, without saying as much, I was held up as an example that Jesus “loves the sinner but hates the sin” and will therefore guide said sinner away from sin, if only the sinner allows Him in.

Having been sexually abused by “men of God,” I mention my mental distress, not to minimize Ivette’s experience of sexual exploitation, but to mention another way in which she was harmed. Ivette was the only non-White person in the congregation. She is bi-racial:  Her southern Black father married an Englishwoman he met while stationed with the US Air Force. While her identity or appearance—she had a café au lait complexion and nappy black hair—were never pointed out publicly, she was told, privately, that God was “using” her to show that he “loves all of his creations.”

That she wanted anything to do with any church after that, or after being raped, is perhaps a testament to a desire for faith even stronger than mine. She had been studying the Bible diligently and reading theologians, if only the ones who confirmed the beliefs we had at the time. And she continued to study, and read even more broadly, even after she moved and commenced graduate school in a nearly unrelated field. Eventually, she told me, she cycled through a number of churches and even decided, for a time, that Judaism was the “true faith.” She never seriously considered any belief system outside the Judeo-Christian orbit, so once her dedication to Judaism waned, she started to lose all belief.

Oh, and she got into a relationship—which continues to this day—with a Filipina woman she met at a seminar.

We have continued to email each other and have talked on the phone a few times. She revealed something else: a mutual friend in the church, whom I’ll call Emmanuel, committed suicide about fifteen years ago. While that grieved me, it also didn’t surprise me: After a couple of stays in psychiatric hospitals and seemingly endless rounds of drugs, he appealed to Jesus to “heal” him. I don’t know as much about his religious or other history as I do of Ivette’s. It wouldn’t surprise me, however, if he sought, and clung to, faith as an antidote to troubles that the church (or whatever faith institution) in which he was born and raised, or sought solace, caused. Such is the psychological damage that too many churches cause.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Don’t Thank God, Thank Me

tnt good behaviorMy wife and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the TNT show, Good Behavior, starring Michelle Dockery as Letty Raines and Juan Diego Botto as Javier Pereira. It took us awhile to get used to Dockery’s drug-using, booze-swilling, criminal character. Dockery played the prim and proper Lady Mary Crawley on Downton Abbey, so playing Letty Raines was a huge departure from her previous role. As far as Botto is concerned, Polly would like to run off with him to the Bahamas. 🙂

During one episode of Good Behavior, Letty helps a recently separated woman break into her estranged husband’s home so she could reclaim her belongings. Letty used her criminal lock-picking skills to easily gain access to the home. The woman, amazed by Letty’s “skills,” thanked God for the opened door. Letty replied, Don’t thank God, thank me!

Millions of Americans go through life thanking the Christian God for every good thing that comes their way. In their minds, goodness flows from God’s hands — not man’s — and all the praise, honor, and glory belong to him. Have you ever spent significant time helping someone, only to have them dismiss your labor with a big THANK YOU, GOD? As a Christian, I knew that I mustn’t ever take credit for my good works. Doing so was prideful. According to the Bible, I was a loathsome, vile, worthless human being, and without God in my life, I lacked meaning, purpose, and direction. The Bible also told me that even after I was saved/born-again/redeemed, the only reason for the good in my life was Jesus. If it weren’t for the precious, awesome blood of Jesus, my life would have no value. Jesus was my go-between, standing between an angry, vengeful God and the saved sinner Bruce Gerencser. If Jesus ever stood aside, his Father would crush me and throw my sorry ass in Hell.

praise god good weather

Sunday after Sunday, Evangelicals gather together to prostrate themselves before a narcissistic God and thank him for his awesomeness. Worship songs are sung in a masturbatory fashion, repeatedly praising God for his goodness. Testimonies by the faithful praise and thank Jesus for every good thing that has happened in their lives, right down to them f-i-n-a-l-l-y having a bowel movement. Think I am kidding? You need to spend time listening to praise and testimony time at the local Baptist church. The minutest details of goodness are ascribed to God. Never mind that you drank two glasses of fiber drink and swallowed four Dulcolax tablets. It was God, not the drink and tablets that caused your BM. Silly? Sure, but this illustrates the absurdity of the notion that every good thing comes from the Christian God.

Former Christians often were brought to unbelief by daring to question whether God really was materially involved in their lives. I know for me personally, one of the reasons for my deconversion was the fact that almost all the answered prayers I attributed to God were explainable by purely human means. And the handful of events that couldn’t be explained this way? These were not enough to keep me believing. As I scanned the history of my life, I concluded that virtually every event and circumstance — good, bad, and indifferent — could be traced back to myself or some other human.

Christians often thank God when their health problems are made better. Praise Jesus! God healed me, countless Evangelicals have said, never considering whether such claims are true. Most of the physical healing in the world today doesn’t come from the hands of the Evangelical deity. It is doctors, nurses, medical technicians, medications, and life-saving procedures which should be thanked. Think about your last surgery. Is there any reason to give God credit for its success? What did God do to warrant such praise?

atheist-thanksgiving

I am a big proponent of giving credit to whom credit is due. That’s the point Letty Raines was making when she said, “Don’t thank God, thank me!” While it is certainly proper for all of us to have humility, there’s nothing wrong with us expecting to be thanked when we help others. Polly loves to cook. She will spend hours preparing scrumptious family meals. Imagine if no one ever thanked her for her labors. Imagine if we thanked Jesus for the meal instead of Polly. Why I suspect that the next Thanksgiving meal will feature Banquet turkey dinners and no pie.

Think, for a moment, about all the good that has come your way this past week. Was it God who did these things for you? Of course not. It was your spouse, children, friends, or other human beings. Everything that happens in our lives can be traced to hands that can be easily seen.  There’s no need for any of us to say, Thank you, God. Instead, thank those who did well by you. Be grateful for the labor and kindness. As we traverse the plain of life, let’s give credit to whom credit is due. Thank you to everyone who helped this week to make my life better. And God, if you are reading this post, please know if you ever really do something good, something that alone can be attributed to you, you can bet your last dollar that I will say, to you, THANKS!

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

The Threat of Nuclear War: Why Evangelical Eschatology is so Dangerous

atomic war japan

Originally written in 2017. Edited and Expanded.

When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un. I’m heartened to see that our president — contrary to what we’ve seen with past administrations who have taken, at best, a sheepish stance toward dictators and oppressors — will not tolerate any threat against the American people. When President Trump draws a red line, he will not erase it, move it, or back away from it. Thank God for a President who is serious about protecting our country.”

Robert Jeffress, Southern Baptist megachurch pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas

Jeffress holds typical Evangelical eschatological (end times) beliefs — that the rapture of Christians from the earth is imminent (any moment), as is the seven years of holy terror (The Great Tribulation) that God will rain down everyone left on earth after the rapture. Jeffress, a premillennial, pretribulational, dispensationalist Baptist believes the next must-see TV program will be when Jesus returns to earth a second time and wages war against Satan and his followers — Satanists, Humanists, Atheists, Agnostics, Pagans, Buddhists, Shintoists, Muslims, Roman Catholics, and anyone else who doesn’t embrace Jeffress’ soteriology (doctrine of salvation) — in the battle of Armageddon. Millions upon millions of Americans hold the same eschatological beliefs as Jeffress, and it is for this reason that Evangelical eschatology is so dangerous.

Evangelicals such as Jeffress believe that life on planet Earth will continue to spiritually and morally deteriorate until God has had enough and tells Gabriel to blow his trumpet, signaling to Jesus that it is time for him to return to earth and safely carry away all the True Christians®. For the Jeffresses of the world, the rapture will be the mother of all middle fingers, telling us God-haters that we are in for it now; that God is going to literally do to us what is recorded in the book of Revelation.

trump jong un dick wagging

This kind of thinking should scare the shit out of rational people, not because Jesus is going to return to earth — he’s not — or that a mythical God is going to turn the earth into a dystopian novel of epic proportions — she’s not. What should scare us is that people who believe these things have the ear of the toddler-in-chief, Donald Trump. As anyone with an ounce of discernment knows, President Trump has no impulse control. He is megalomaniac who will go to any lengths — including destroying all life on our planet — to get his way. That the supreme leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un, a man who believes he is a god, is metaphorically waving his big dick in Trump’s face is sure to cause the President to throw caution to the wind and order a large-scale military strike on North Korea. Worse yet, Trump has even threatened to use nuclear weapons, answering a question he asked during the election: what good are nuclear weapons if you can’t use them? That the Evangelicals who have the President’s ear are encouraging him — using Biblical and theological justifications — to wage war against North Korea (and Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia and anyone else deemed a threat to God’s chosen nation, the United States) is truly frightening.

Threats of nuclear annihilation have only increased now that Joe Biden is president. During his first two years in office, North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China have all warned the United States to stop their military expansionism and threats — or else.

Atheists and other rational people dismiss Bible thumpers such as Jeffress as quaint relics from a bygone era. Silly Evangelicals. They believe the Bible is a supernatural book written by a supernatural God. Don’t they know that science has thoroughly discredited much of the Bible? However, despite scientific progress and the advancement of humanist principles, Evangelicals still hold fast to the belief that the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, infallible, never-been-proven-wrong religious text. Its word are true, and those who ignore the Bible, do so at their own peril. The fact that millions of Americans think just like Robert Jeffress means that we cannot, at such a dangerous, perilous time as this, ignore the pronouncements of Evangelical false prophets — especially when they have regular sleep-overs at the White House.

Like it or not, the Bible still matters, and how Evangelicals interpret it matters even more. We can augh all we want at their stone-age beliefs, but as long as Evangelicals have access to the highest levels of government, they are a threat that must be taken seriously. As long as we have a pussy-grabbing, lying “Christian” presidents and Evangelical congressmen, there is always a danger that theology will trump reason. Believing that God is on your side and will vindicate you is a sure recipe for disaster. No need to worry about consequences, right? God will take care of things. The most vocal climate change deniers in Congress are men and women who believe the Bible is the Word of God and worship at the feet of the Evangelical Jesus. In their minds, God is in control of e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, so there is no need to worry about carbon emissions and rising temperatures. God has a divine plan —just read the Bible. According to Evangelicals, everything is going exactly going according to God’s perfect, unchanging plan, and if that plan includes nuking North Korea, so be it.

Evangelicals wrongly believe that God will protect his people — as he supposedly did when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. No need to worry about nuclear fallout. God will make sure it doesn’t affect his chosen ones. And if he doesn’t? Well, that just means that God has a better plan and Evangelicals just need to “trust” him. Lost in all their “trust” of Jehovah is the fact that the overwhelming majority of earthlings do not worship the Evangelical God. We are being dragged into a murderous drama that is not of our own making. There is not much we can do about it except working to remove theocrats from office and flushing from Congress anyone who puts God, the Bible, and theology over the safety and welfare of the American people. As of today, the theocrats are winning and Jesus is the speaker of the House.

The late Walter Wink, a progressive Christian theologian, wrote:

In short, the Myth of Redemptive Violence is the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence. It is the ideology of conquest, the original religion of the status quo. The gods favour those who conquer. Conversely, whoever conquers must have the favour of the gods. The common people exist to perpetuate the advantage that the gods have conferred upon the king, the aristocracy, and the priesthood.

Religion exists to legitimate power and privilege. Life is combat. Any form of order is preferable to chaos, according to this myth. Ours is neither a perfect nor perfectible world; it is theatre of perpetual conflict in which the prize goes to the strong. Peace through war, security through strength: these are the core convictions that arise from this ancient historical religion, and they form the solid bedrock on which the Domination System is founded in every society.

Long before the ascension of The Donald to the throne, Evangelicals embraced the false notion that the United States is a city on a hill overlooking the earth, ever vigilant, seeking to advance God’s kingdom on earth. Believing that the United States is “special” and has some sort of manifest destiny has led Americans to commit all sorts of atrocities — beginning with the genocidal destruction of Native Americans and reaching its zenith with the firebombings of Germany and the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Our elected leaders and military have shown that they will do whatever is necessary to preserve America’s capitalistic way of life. Buying into the most horrific lie ever told — that war brings peace — the United States has shown it is willing to maim, kill, and destroy to preserve the American dream.

Thomas Merton, in an essay titled A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolph Eichmann, wrote:

The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous. It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missile, and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared… They will be obeying sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command. And because of their sanity they will have no qualms at all. The ones who coolly estimate how many millions of victims can he considered expendable in a nuclear war, I presume they do all right with the Rorschach ink blots too.

….

Ponder for a moment Merton’s words:

It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missile, and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared. They will be obeying sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command. And because of their sanity they will have no qualms at all. The ones who coolly estimate how many millions of victims can he considered expendable in a nuclear war…

trump jong un nuclear war

We want to believe that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense will, when it comes to launching nuclear weapons, stand up to the President, refusing to obey his orders. Wishful thinking, as Merton makes clear. Soldiers obey. When our nation’s sovereignty and Christian way of life is threatened, history shows that the U.S. military can and will use any and every means necessary to preserve our republic.

Merton, in an essay on war that was not published until after his death, wrote:

The Romans, to speak generally, rely on force in all their enterprises and think it incumbent upon them to carry out their projects in spite of all, and that nothing is impossible when they have once decided upon it.

NOTHING is impossible when they — the powers that be — have decided to wage war. Once the United States commits to turning Iran into a parking lot or wiping North Korea off the face of the earth, NOTHING is impossible. Think that the United States would never use nuclear weapons again? Think again. There are most certainly statisticians and military “geniuses” holed up somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon working on reports and charts detailing the likely outcomes of nuking a foreign adversary. There are sane, rational military and government leaders who really do think that nuclear war is winnable. Lunacy, to be sure, but so is believing, as Robert Jeffress does, that Jesus is coming soon. That many of our military leaders are card-carrying Evangelicals should cause rational people to fear for their lives. Just imagine for a moment, a general or two who believe that Jesus wants them to help usher in the Great Tribulation. No worries for us, they think. We will be raptured away.

Let me conclude this post with an excerpt from Thomas Merton’s essay: War and the Crisis of Language. Written during the Vietnam War, Merton shows how reason and the meaning of words are turned on their heads during times of war. Merton writes:

A classic example of the contamination of reason and speech by the inherent ambiguity of war is that of the U.S. major who, on February 7, 1968 shelled the South Vietnamese town of Bentre “regardless of civilian casualties . . . to rout the Vietcong.” As he calmly explained, “It became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.” Here we see, again, an insatiable appetite for the tautological, the definitive, the final. It is the same kind of language and logic that Hitler used for his notorious “final solution.” The symbol of this perfect finality is the circle. An argument turns upon itself, and the beginning and end get lost: it just goes round and round its own circumference. A message comes in that someone thinks there might be some Vietcong in a certain village. Planes are sent, the village is destroyed, many of the people are killed. The destruction of the village and the killing of the people earn for them a final and official identity. The burned huts become “enemy structures”; the dead men, women, and children become “Vietcong,” thus adding to a “kill ratio” that can be interpreted as “favorable.” They were thought to be Vietcong and were therefore destroyed. By being destroyed they became Vietcong for keeps; they entered “history,” definitively as our enemies, because we wanted to be on the “safe side,” and “save American lives”–as well as Vietnam.

The logic of “Red or dead” has long since urged us to identify destruction with rescue–to be “dead” is to be saved from being “Red.” In the language of melodrama, our grandparents became accustomed to the idea of a “fate worse than death.” A schematic morality concluded that if such and such is a fate worse than death, then to prefer it to death would surely be a heinous sin. The logic of war-makers has extended this not only to the preservation of one’s own moral integrity but to the fate of others, even of people on the other side of the earth, whom we do not always bother to consult personally on the subject. We weigh the arguments that they are not able to understand (perhaps they have not even heard that arguments exist!) And we decide, in their place, that it is better for them to be dead–killed by us–than Red, living under our enemies.

The Asian whose future we are about to decide is either a bad guy or a good guy. If he is a bad guy, he obviously has to be killed. If he is a good guy, he is on our side and he ought to be ready to die for freedom. We will provide an opportunity for him to do so: we will kill him to prevent him falling under the tyranny of a demonic enemy. Thus we not only defend his interests together with our own, but we protect his virtue along with our own. Think what might happen if he fell under Communist rule and liked it!

The advantages of this kind of logic are no exclusive possession of the United States. This is purely and simply the logic shared by all war-makers. It is the logic of power. Possibly American generals are naive enough to push this logic, without realizing, to absurd conclusions. But all who love power tend to think in some such way. Remember Hitler weeping over the ruins of Warsaw after it had been demolished by the Luftwaffe: “How wicked these people must have been,” he sobbed, “to make me do this to them!”

….

So much for the practical language of the battlefield. Let us now attend to the much more pompous and sinister jargon of the war mandarins in government offices and military think-tanks. Here we have a whole community of intellectuals, scholars who spend their time playing out “scenarios” and considering “acceptable levels” in megadeaths. Their language and their thought are as esoteric, as self-enclosed, as tautologous as the advertisement we have just discussed. But instead of being “coiffed” in a sweet smell, they are scientifically antiseptic, businesslike, uncontaminated with sentimental concern for life–other than their own. It is the same basic narcissism, but in a masculine, that is managerial, mode. One proves one’s realism along with one’s virility by toughness in playing statistically with global death. It is this playing with death, however, that brings into the players’ language itself the corruption of death: not physical but mental and moral extinction. And the corruption spreads from their talk, their thinking, to the words and minds of everybody. What happens then is that the political and moral values they claim to be defending are destroyed by the contempt that is more and more evident in the language in which they talk about such things. Technological strategy becomes an end in itself and leads the fascinated players into a maze where finally the very purpose strategy was supposed to serve is itself destroyed. The ambiguity of official war talk has one purpose above all: to mask this ultimate unreason and permit the game to go on.

Of special importance is the style of these nuclear mandarins. The technological puckishness of Herman Kahn is perhaps the classic of this genre. He excels in the sly understatement of the inhuman, the apocalyptic, enormity. His style is esoteric, allusive, yet confidential. The reader has the sense of being a privileged eavesdropper in the councils of the mighty. He knows enough to realize that things are going to happen about which he can do nothing, though perhaps he can save his skin in a properly equipped shelter where he may consider at leisure the rationality of survival in an unlivable world. Meanwhile, the cool tone of the author and the reassuring solemnity of his jargon seem to suggest that those in power, those who turn loose these instruments of destruction, have no intention of perishing themselves, that consequently survival must have a point. The point is not revealed, except that nuclear war is somehow implied to be good business. Nor are H-bombs necessarily a sign of cruel intentions. They enable one to enter into communication with the high priests in the enemy camp. They permit the decision-makers on both sides to engage in a ritual “test of nerves.” In any case, the language of escalation is the language of naked power, a language that is all the more persuasive because it is proud of being ethically illiterate and because it accepts, as realistic, the basic irrationality of its own tactics. The language of escalation, in its superb mixture of banality and apocalypse, science and unreason, is the expression of a massive death wish. We can only hope that this death wish is only that of a decaying Western civilization, and that it is not common to the entire race. Yet the language itself is given universal currency by the mass media. It can quickly contaminate the thinking of everybody.

trump nuke or tweet

Listen closely in the days ahead as our political leaders and Evangelical preachers turn language and decency on its head in their justifications of annihilating Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and anyone else who dares to “threaten” the mighty US of A. There will be hell to pay, Kim Jong-Un, but just remember we are killing your people because we love you and God has a wonderful plan for your life. And when hellfire and brimstone rain down on defenseless Americans, the Evangelical warmongers among us will learn — right before they are vaporized — that the God they thought was on their side is actually Korean.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

War and Peace: Think of the Children

drones kill children

Americans love to think of themselves as morally virtuous, people who are, at heart, decent and kind. Yet our history paints a vastly different picture, one of a violent people prone to bloodshed, often at the slightest provocation.

Our forefathers, not long after they landed on America’s shores, turned to violence to rid the land of indigenous people who stood in the way of “progress.” For the two next centuries, American soldiers systematically hunted those we call Indians, indiscriminately killing indigenous men, women, and children. Our political leaders rightly point out the genocidal horrors in other places, all the while ignoring our own dark, shameful history of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Several years ago, the United States government dropped the mother of all bombs on Afghanistan, hoping to destroy ISIS tunnels. Steps were taken to limit “collateral damage,” we were told. I wish government spin doctors would be honest. Saying “collateral damage” hides the truth of American military actions. “Collateral damage” really means women, children, and aged men. What’s the limit when it comes to dead children? How many dead children does it take before the American government changes their death and hell from the skies bombardments?

We Americans are insulated from the human cost of war because we fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here. American children and their mothers don’t have to worry about lethal drone strikes, missiles, bombs, or machine gun fire, but children and their parents in places such as Ukraine, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Israel, and the West Bank spend their days worrying about being marked for destruction. While American children gleefully play in their yards, children in the Middle East carefully watch the skies, worried that a nameless U.S. drone pilot safely ensconced in a military facility has decided that it is their day to die.

In June, I turn sixty-six years old. The United States has been at war my entire life. My grandparents and parents lived through the World Wars and the Korean Conflict. Millions of civilian men, women, and children were slaughtered by America’s military machine. From the firebombing of Dresden to dropping incendiary and atomic bombs on Japan, the United States showed it was willing to kill anyone anywhere to achieve its political and economic objectives.

Vietnam was my generation’s war. Upwards of two million people died in North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia as the United States unleashed its mighty arsenal of killing machines on peasants and soldiers alike. And who can forget — we dare not — America’s use of napalm on the Vietnamese people? Scores of children were roasted alive, and those who survived were left wishing they hadn’t.

Since Vietnam, the United States government has embroiled itself in numerous military conflicts, including ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and many points in between. Currently, we are spending billions of dollars and providing support to fight a proxy war in Ukraine against Russia. Make no mistake about it, the U.S.A. is at war.

The U.S. military sees civilian deaths, including children, as a necessary cost of war. I wonder if these hawks would deem the cost too high if it were their children and grandchildren who were being killed? As long as the children being slaughtered are brown or black, and live in a faraway land, their deaths are considered necessary sacrifices for the spread of capitalistic democracy.

Flag-waving, war-mongering patriots want blood, any blood, as long as it isn’t American. These God-loving killers lament the death of brown- and black-skinned children, and perhaps even shed a tear, but when American exceptionalism and national pride are at stake, what’s the murdering of a few Middle-Eastern children, right?  What makes matters worse is that justification for the mayhem unleashed from the skies on unsuspecting civilians is found in the pages of the Christian Bible. America, according to Evangelicals, is a chosen people, a city set on hill, a people with a manifest destiny given to us by God. God is on America’s side because American Christians say he is. Proof for these calls for bloodshed can be found in the Bible. Look at how violent, maniacal, and genocidal the Christian God was, as any honest reading of the Old Testament will reveal.

The American government doesn’t care one whit about children in faraway lands. The darker their skin, the less politicians care. While American leaders might shed an opportunistic tear, their goal is the advancement of America’s domination of the world, and if that means killing children, so be it.

Think of the children, the pictures tell us, but don’t think too hard about who it is that is killing children and why they are doing so. Hurry, new photos to view. Dammit, can’t we stop just for a moment and think about the lunacy of war; that war always ends up killing children and innocent civilians; that no war has ever brought peace?

Let that last line sink in — no war has EVER brought peace.

Cessation of hostilities, yes, but never peace.

Americans need to ask themselves: what has all this violence, bloodshed, and massive expenditures gotten us? Until we are willing to honestly account for the true costs of war, we will continue to think that killing children and innocent civilians is just the cost of doing business.

We say it is about the children, but it’s not.

Let’s quit kidding ourselves.

If it really is about the children, be they Syrian, Pakistani, Ukrainian, Russian, Palestinian, or American, we would stop the violence and bloodshed and find a way to world peace. As long as the United States has sufficient weapons to kill everyone on the face of the earth ten times over and make it uninhabitable for thousands of years, no one will take seriously our calls for peace and disarmament. We are a people who say to the world do as I say, not as I do.  Surely I am not alone in thinking it hypocritical that the only nation to ever use nuclear weapons (on primarily civilian targets) is demanding other nation-states get rid of their nukes while the United States hangs on to theirs.

Perhaps someday it will be about the children, but for now they are just props in deadly games being played by power-hungry men who are desperately determined to show the world who has the biggest cock. And once we find out, it will be too late — our world will cease to exist. The means of war that powerful men have at their disposal are such that, unless demands for disarmament and peace are heard and obeyed, we run the risk of not having to worry about global warming because we all will be dead from radiation and economic collapse.

Cynical?

Dystopian?

Perhaps, but what other conclusion can we come to as we watch the United States and North Korea and the United States and Russia play dangerous games of chicken that could result in the destruction of every living thing on Earth?

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Is God Impartial?

open arms of Jesus

Church of Christ preacher Al Shannon believes that the Christian God is impartial. Quoting Acts 10:34 and Romans 2:11, Shannon states:

Our God is impartial. “For there is no respect of persons with God” (Rom.2:11); “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). Since all men are his creation, he must make no difference in them.

Shannon goes on to give seven examples of God’s impartiality:

  • He has declared all under sin.
  • God has provided a common Savior and gospel for all.
  • God extends the same invitation [of salvation] to all men.
  • God requires the same conditions of pardon be met by all men if they are to be saved.
  • God has given one standard [the Bible] to be followed.
  • God has provided one church [Church of Christ] for all.
  • God will judge all as individuals and upon their own life.

Is Shannon right? Does the Christian God act impartially towards people, giving everyone the same opportunities to believe in and worship the right God? Is God really an equal opportunity deity, dispensing to one and all the wonders of his grace?

Calvinists, of course, would reject Shannon’s proofs out of hand. In the Calvinistic scheme of things, the Christian God, through a divine lottery, predestined certain people to be saved. These “winners” — also known as the elect — are the only people who will be saved. Before the first humans were created, God, through a process known only to him, chose to save certain people. Over the thousands of years humans have lived on planet Earth, this God has been regenerating (giving spiritual life) only the people on his will call list. These lucky winners will, at some point in their lives, be given eyes to see and ears to hear the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, and upon hearing it they will — without fail — repent and call on Jesus to save them from their sins. And if they are truly saved, these elect people will persevere in faith until they die. Failing to persevere to the end means that those who failed were not truly elect. (See Can Anyone Really Know They Are Saved?)

For Calvinists, then, God is quite discriminating. God only chooses to save some people. Thus, when Jesus died on the cross for human sin, his atonement was only on behalf of the elect. No true Calvinist will ever say that Jesus died for everyone. There are “Calvinists” who adopt Amyraldianism, believing that Jesus’ atonement was “sufficient” to save everyone, but only “efficient” for the elect. Realizing that particular redemption/limited atonement makes God look bad, these four-point Calvinists attempt to put a better face on their deity’s partiality towards a very small portion of the human race — past, present, and future. Regardless of how the atonement is viewed, ALL Calvinists believe that only a certain number of people will be saved. All others need not apply.

Shannon, of course, is not a Calvinist. In fact, as most Church of Christ preachers do, Shannon considers Calvinism to be heretical — a cult. (Calvinists return the favor, saying that the Churches of Christ are a cult that preaches works salvation.)  According to Shannon, every person who has ever been born has an equal opportunity to be saved. Shannon’s God makes an indiscriminate offer to all: repent, be baptized, persevere in good works, and you shall be saved.

While there are certainly Bible verses that suggest that God is impartial, there are other verses that suggest otherwise. As I mentioned above, Calvinists can make a strong case for the notion that God’s love, grace, and salvation is discriminating, and reserved only for those upon whom God has chosen to bestow his favor. Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike spend significant amounts of time and energy challenging each other’s Biblical interpretations — proving that the Bible can be used to prop up virtually any system of belief.

We don’t have to get into the theological minutia of this internecine war to conclude that Shannon’s claim — God is impartial — is false. In fact, the Old Testament provides overwhelming proof of the partiality of God. For those of us raised in Sunday School, we heard numerous stories and lessons about God choosing Abraham and his seed to be his chosen people. Abraham’s seed was later renamed Israel (the Jews). According to Deuteronomy 7:6-8:

For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

A special people. So much for the impartiality of God. Showing that he indeed had a favorite, God commanded the Israelites to commit genocide, killing countless non-Jewish men, women, children, and unborn fetuses. So much for God being pro-life! God wanted ethnic and theological purity, going to great lengths to ensure that the only people left living were his “special” people.

In Genesis 6 through 9, the Bible records the mythical story of Noah and his gopher wood and pitch floating zoo. It is likely that millions of people lived on the face of the earth at the time God opened the windows of heaven and flooded the earth, killing everyone save Noah, his wife, sons, and daughters-in-law. Out of millions of people, God only found eight people he was willing to save. So much for the impartiality of God. Imagine the poor sinners living on the island of what is now called Japan. One day it started raining and in a matter of days everyone on the island died. On judgment day, these people, having never heard of the Jewish/Christian God will stand before Jehovah and be judged for their “sins.” I can only imagine their confusion. Born at the wrong time, in the wrong place, these resurrected drowning victims will be told that they should have known what they could not possibly know: that there is one true God and Jesus is his name. Off to Hell they go without ever clearly understanding why. Perhaps a Calvinist will pipe up on that day and say, Ha! You weren’t chosen by God! Burn motherfuckers, burn! Oh, sorry, Lord about saying motherfucker. I forgot about that “thing” with you and Mary.

Even in the New Testament, we see a Jesus who had no interest in anyone save his chosen people — the Jews. It was not until the writing of the Apostle Paul that we hear of non-Jews being saved and made a part of God’s family. Jesus’ disciples, all of whom were circumcised Israelites, spent their time preaching the gospel to only the Jews. Deeply versed in the teaching of the Old Testament, the Apostles knew that the Jews were God’s chosen people. While Christianity (Paul’s version) certainly spread to the outposts of the Roman Empire, it is clear that Jews were the intended target. In Romans 11, Paul reminds Gentiles that the Jews were God’s original chosen people. Gentiles were, according to Paul, grafted into the Jewish branch. Gentiles should feel lucky that God became upset over Israel’s unbelief and decided to let them in on salvation and eternal life. In other words, God is similar to a jilted lover. Spurned by his one true love, he seeks out and marries another person.

Most of the people who have and yet will grace the pages of human history will die in their sins without ever knowing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Born at the wrong place and time, these “sinners” will worship the God of their culture, thinking that their devotion will be enough to grant them favor with God and an eventual home in Heaven. Most of these people will never “hear” about Jesus or the “right” Christian gospel. (See Is There Only One Plan of Salvation?Does the Bible Contain Multiple Plans of Salvation?One, Two, Three, Repeat After Me: Salvation Bob Gray Style, and Church of Christ Preacher Al Shannon Says There are Only 2 Million Christians in the Whole World). They will die in ignorance, yet Al Shannon’s God and the God of millions of Christians will eternally torture billions of people in the flames of Hell for things over which they had no control. For the people God saved, all they can say is lucky me, it sucks to be you. Those who are saved will owe all praise, glory, and honor to Jesus.

Every Christian sect believes that God alone saves. Those who find themselves on the winning side of the ledger will have no reason to boast. It is God, through the merit and work of Jesus, who saves sinners. This is, contrary to Shannon’s assertions, the perfect example of partiality and discrimination. It is also one of the reasons many people reject Christianity and its God. These unbelievers see God as a capricious deity, a divine bully who is running some sort of cosmic scam — one in which he allows billions of people to think they are on the right path to salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life, only to find out that God was just playing with them. Similar to a cat catching a mouse in his mouth and letting it go, only so he can catch it again, the Christian God toys with the human race, knowing that just as sure as the cat eventually will kill the mouse, he will sentence the vast majority of people to a life worse than death — eternal torture in the flames of the Lake of Fire.

As with the idea that God loves everyone unconditionally (see Does God Love Us Unconditionally?), the idea that God is impartial sounds good to those who value fairness and justice; actually reading the Bible proves otherwise.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Bruce Gerencser