If people give money, services, or property to a church, they can use the amount of their donation to reduce their federal tax liability. Every year, billions of dollars of money, services, and property are given to churches. All churches, by default, are tax exempt. Many people wrongly think that a church must be 501(c)(3)-approved to be tax exempt. All a group needs to say to be tax exempt is we are a church. That’s it. By 9:00 AM next Sunday, I could start a church that would be completely tax-exempt by IRS standards, even if only my family attended.
The IRS deliberately steers away from explicitly defining what a church is. In their view, if it looks and acts like a church, it is a church. Here are the main criteria the IRS uses to decide whether a church is tax exempt:
a distinct legal existence and religious history,
a recognized creed and form of worship,
established places of worship
a regular congregation and regular religious services, and
an organization of ordained ministers
As you can see, it is very easy for a group to be considered a church by the IRS.
Churches are also, in many states, exempt from paying sales and real estate taxes. Ohio is one such state. Churches can even operate for-profit businesses that are tax-exempt. In the 1970s, churches were encouraged to start day care centers as a way to maximize building use and generate income, uh I mean minister to the poor. Just because a church tacks the word ministry on the end of a business name doesn’t make it one.
The question I ask is this: Should church donations be tax-deductible? Should churches be tax exempt?
Christians will quickly state that their church is a charity and it does good in the community so their church should be tax-exempt and members should get a tax deduction for their donations. Relative to the amount of money they take in, do churches really do a great amount of good in the community? If the average church closed its doors tomorrow, would anyone outside of the membership care? Take a look at a church’s budget. Where does MOST of the money go? Salaries, benefits, insurance, utilities, buildings, and programs that only benefit the congregation. If a “real” charity spent their money in this manner, the IRS would pull their tax exemption and donations to said charity would no longer be tax-deductible. Yet, the IRS and federal and state governments give churches a blind-eye pass.
I have written on churches and their finances many times over the years. If you are getting ready to object, here’s my challenge. Send me your church’s budget. Let me take a close look at it. I have eyes for seeing through the budget secrecy and bullshit many churches practice. Let’s take a close look at the numbers. I have made this challenge many times over the years, and not one church, pastor, or Christian has taken me up on it. They whimper, whine, and complain, but they never produce their financial documents. Why? They know the emperor has no clothes. They know if they shared their financials that the truth would be revealed.
If a church wants to be considered a tax-exempt charity, then they should be required to apply for charity status. They should then be required to spend the bulk of their money on charitable services that benefit the community. No church should be tax exempt just because they say we are a church.
Most churches are social clubs and the price of membership is what people give in donations. The club rightly spends the bulk of its money on things that directly benefit the membership. As a club, a for-profit business, a church should be required to pay taxes and fill out all the tax forms that other businesses do. Isn’t it about time churches start paying their own way, just like every other business does? Why should First Baptist Church or St Peter’s Catholic Church be tax-exempt and receive free fire and police service and free infrastructure improvements? Why shouldn’t Betty’s Coffee Shop or Bob’s Bar and Grill get the same tax treatment as a church?
I support the elimination of all church tax exemption (sales, real estate, income, social security), church donation tax deduction, and the clergy housing tax allowance/deduction. A practical side effect of eliminating these exemptions is that churches would then be free to endorse political candidates. No more Christian whining about their “free” speech being stifled. Churches would be FREE to do what they want AND pay taxes just like everyone else.
Polly and I regularly watch Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. Real Time, along with John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight and Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, highlight the important news stories of the week, giving them a comedic twist. Sometimes, when these shows focus on American religion, especially Evangelical Christianity, I am often irritated when they play loose with the facts. Bill Maher, by far, is the worst.
Maher loves to bash creationists. I am all for him doing so, but I wish he would not distort their beliefs when he does. As an atheist and a critic of religion, Maher has the responsibility to speak accurately when critiquing, attacking, or ridiculing creationist beliefs. Look, they make it easy for us, so the least we can do is represent their beliefs accurately.
Over the years, I’ve heard Bill Maher repeatedly say creationists believe the earth is 5,000 years old. I know of NO creationist who believes this. None. Nor do I know any who think the earth is 10,000 years old. Adding another zero doesn’t make their belief any more rational or scientifically correct. Creationists are literalists. They believe the book of Genesis is a science and history textbook. When the Bible talks about Adam living 930 years, Noah living 950 years, Abraham living 175 years, David living 70 years, and Jesus living 33 years, creationists believe these ages are factual. They also believe the genealogies found in the Bible are factual. This is why James Ussher, a 17th century Church of Ireland archbishop, was able to add up the ages and genealogies and conclude that the God created the universe on October 22, 4004 BC.
The chronology is sometimes called the Ussher-Lightfoot chronology because John Lightfoot published a similar chronology in 1642–1644. This, however, is a misnomer, as the chronology is based on Ussher’s work alone and not that of Lightfoot. Ussher deduced that the first day of creation began at nightfall on Saturday, October 22, 4004 BC, in the proleptic Julian calendar, near the autumnal equinox. He elsewhere dates the time to 6 pm. Lightfoot similarly deduced that Creation began at nightfall near the autumnal equinox, but in the year 3929 BC.
Ussher’s proposed date of 4004 BC differed little from other Biblically based estimates, such as those of Jose ben Halafta (3761 BC), Bede (3952 BC), Ussher’s near-contemporary Scaliger (3949 BC), Johannes Kepler (3992 BC) or Sir Isaac Newton (c. 4000 BC). Ussher’s specific choice of starting year may have been influenced by the then-widely-held belief that the Earth’s potential duration was 6,000 years (4,000 before the birth of Christ and 2,000 after), corresponding to the six days of Creation, on the grounds that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). This view continued to be held as recently as AD 2000,six thousand years after 4004 BC.
The universe then, according to creationists, is 6,019 years old not 5,000 years old. I sent Maher an email and a tweet about his inaccurate date. He did not respond.
Here’s why this matters. We who think the universe is 14 billions years old often criticize creationists for playing loose with the facts. I know, the difference between 6,019 and 5,000 is just 1,019 years, but we should do our best to accurately represent our enemy. If atheists and scientists are going to do battle with creationists, then the least they can do is know what their enemy believes, Far too often, atheists say things about Evangelical beliefs that are not true. They read a meme or see something on Facebook or Twitter and they assume that what they read is correct. We make ourselves look bad when we misstate our opponents beliefs.
The overwhelming majority of Americans self identify as Christian. Here in rural NW Ohio, I suspect there are few non-Christians. The number of public atheists I know number three. That’s right, three. Christianity is on full display everywhere one looks. Churches on every street corner, Christian radio and TV stations, Christian book stores, Christian coffee houses, and business signs with the ichthys (fish) symbol, all testify to the fact that America is a Christian nation and rural NW Ohio is God’s Country.
Christians are free to start new churches and worship anyway they please. No matter how crazy their beliefs and practices are, there is no government or private agency keeping them from practicing their form of crazy. From strict liturgical churches to snake handling Baptists, there is a flavor of Christianity for everyone. Christian sects, churches, religious institutions, and pastors are given special tax benefits, from real estate and sales tax exemption to the clergy housing allowance. Christian churches are considered by many to be dispensers of morality, and when bad things like a school shooting, tornado, flood, or hurricane hits a community, local Christian clergy are called in to calm fears and let everyone know God is still on the throne.
Someone visiting from another country would likely be amazed at the religiosity of Americans. I doubt they would see any signs of religious persecution, especially if they hail from a country where there’s real persecution. Thanks to fear mongering and lying by Evangelical preachers, Catholic prelates and priests, Mormon bishops, Christian parachurch leaders, Christian college presidents and professors, Christian TV and radio programmers, and Fox News hosts, many Christians believe they are being persecuted by liberals, secularists, socialists,communists, abortionists, homosexuals, and atheists. The annual War on Christmas® has now morphed into the War on Christianity®.
There is not one shred of evidence to back up the claim that there is a concerted effort to persecute American Christians and keep them from worshiping their God. From my seat in the pew, I see government at every level bending over backwards to accommodate Christians. As a nation, we value religious freedom so highly that we grant sects, churches, and each Christian special privileges. There is no other nation on earth that has more religious freedom, yet many Christians still think they are being persecuted. Why is this?
Here’s my take. When people live in a country that values personal rights and freedom, especially religious freedom, they tend to see small accommodations or denials as frontal assaults on their rights and freedom. When groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), American Humanist Association (AHA), American Atheists (AA), or the ACLU demand that Christians abide by the Constitution and the separation of church and state, Christians see this as personal attack on their faith.
Let me give a local example of this. Recently, the ACLU of Ohio sent nearby Edon Northwest School District a letter about the school district’s core values statement found in the front of the student handbook:
The American Civil Liberties Union sent a request today to a Williams County school district to stop what it calls its “sectarian policies and practices that violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
The letter to the Edon Northwest Local School district, which is near the Ohio-Indiana border, cites the school system’s student handbook, which references “Christian values,” and what the ACLU says is a practice of inviting ministers to pray at mandatory school assemblies. John Granger, interim superintendent who joined the district in January, said he has not witnessed some of the incidents referenced by the ACLU, but that if the allegations are true, the district should make changes.
”This has already been settled by the United States Supreme Court,“ Mr. Granger said. “I would make a recommendation to the board of education that if we are in violation of the law, we should stop.”
The district’s website includes a copy of the student handbook, and the first page lists the district’s “Core Values.”
As we strive to achieve our Vision and accomplish our Mission, we value…” the handbook states, with “Honesty and Christian values” as the second entry.
The ACLU letter claims ministers attended assemblies before the Thanksgiving and winter holidays, and that students need parent approval to opt out of the events.
“These reports also allege that the ministers pray aloud, ask the students to join in the prayer and recite homilies concerning upcoming holidays,” the letter states.
The ACLU in its letter, signed by ACLU of Ohio’s Legal Director Freda Levenson and staff attorney Drew Dennis, recognizes that Mr. Granger is new to the position and the started before his arrival in the district.
“We now take this opportunity to make you aware of the unconstitutionality of the described practices, and request that you investigate them and bring an end to them immediately,“ the letter states…
I have no doubt that local Christians are outraged over the ACLU’s demand that the Edon Northwest School District abide by the establishment clause and the separation of church and state.I am sure they see this as a sign of religious persecution. It’s not. This kind of stuff has been going on in rural schools since the days I roamed the halls of Farmer Elementary in the 1960’s. The difference now is that groups like FFRF, ACLU, AHA, AA, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) are paying attention to what is going on in the schools and government and are willing to litigate any violation of the Constitution.
Today, Polly took me on a short nineteen mile drive on Route 18 between Defiance and Hicksville. The following pictures succinctly illustrate the religious climate in rural NW Ohio. They tell the story far better than I could.
The Faith4Freedom signs litter the rural NW Ohio landscape. According to their defunct Facebook page, 20,000 of these signs were printed and distributed in Ohio and Michigan. This is primarily a Catholic endeavor. Based on the lack of activity on their Facebook page, Twitter account, and a no longer available website, I assume that local Catholics have lost their religious freedom and are living in nearby catacombs. Once the black anti-Christ, Barack Hussein Obama, is divinely removed from office, they will no longer fear persecution and return to the safety of Facebook, Twitter, and the internet.
I am often accused of lumping all Christians together.
I’m not like those nasty, hateful, judgmental Christians who comment on your blog, says the Good Christian.
But, let me ask one question.
When I die, will I go to heaven or hell?
Well, that’s up to…stop it.
When I die, will I go to heaven or hell?
I reject your God, Jesus, salvation, and Bible.
I reject the notion that Jesus was God, was crucified, and resurrected from the dead three days later.
With my whole heart, I reject every teaching that is central to what it means do be Christian.
I reject the Christian concept of sin. I have no need of atonement, redemption, or salvation.
So, I ask again, When I die, will I go to heaven or hell?
How you answer this question determines what kind of Christian you are.
Heaven and Hell
The Phelps clan, with all the viciousness of a starving rabid dog, screams that I will go straight to hell when I die and I will be tortured by God in a place where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched.
How about you, Christian friend? What say ye? When I die, will I go to heaven or hell?
You can be the nicest person in the world, but if you believe that nonChristians go to hell when they die, you are not really any different from the Phelps clan.
If you answer my question with the word hell, then you are just like the nasty, hateful Christians you say are “bad” Christians. You may wear fashion designer clothes, smell great, and have the best smile money can buy, but if your answer to my question is hell, then you are no different from the trailer park trash Christians you say aren’t part of your family.
Virtually every Christian sect believes eternal punishment awaits an atheist. I am an atheist, proudly so. I ask you, When I die, will I go to heaven or hell?
This is the tenth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.
This is the ninth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.
Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Parasite God by Mortiis.
This is the eighth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.
Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Merry Go ‘Round by Kacey Musgraves. This is not an overtly sacrilegious song,but it does point out the disconnect between church and real life. I am a big Kacy Musgraves fan.
If you ain’t got two kids by 21, you’re probably gonna die alone. At least that’s what tradition told you. And it don’t matter if you don’t believe, come Sunday morning You best be there in the front row like you’re supposed to.
Same hurt in every heart. Same trailer, different park.
Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay. Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down. Mary, Mary quite contrary. We get bored, so, we get married Just like dust, we settle in this town. On this broken merry go ’round and ’round and ’round we go Where it stops nobody knows And it ain’t slowin’ down This merry go ’round.
We think the first time’s good enough. So, we hold on to high school love. Sayin’ we won’t end up like our parents. Tiny little boxes in a row, ain’t whatcha want, it’s whatcha know. Just happy in the shoes you’re wearin’. Same checks we’re always cashin’ To buy a little more distraction.
‘Cause mama’s hooked on Mary Kay. Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down. Mary, Mary, quite contrary. We get bored, so, we get married. Just like dust, we settle in this town. On this broken merry go ’round and ’round and ’round we go Where it stops nobody knows, And it ain’t slowin’ down. This merry go ’round.
Mary, Mary, quite contrary. We’re so bored until we’re buried. Just like dust, we settle in this town. On this broken merry go ’round. Merry go ’round.
Jack and Jill went up the hill. Jack burned out on booze and pills. And Mary had a little lamb. Mary just don’t give a damn no more.
One of the arguments Evangelical Christians use to “prove” the exclusivity of Christianity is this:
“Bruce, millions of people are Christians. Surely, they can’t ALL be deluded and deceived.”
This seems to make sense, doesn’t it? The sheer number of Christians makes it highly unlikely that Christianity is untrue, right? However, history is replete with examples of people sincerely believing things that were later found to be untrue. Millions of people have been slaughtered by zealots sincerely committed to a belief that was untrue.
In the political realm we see this all the time. President Lyndon Johnson lied about the Gulf of Tonkin incident that drew us into the Vietnam War. President George Bush and his lackeys lied about weapons of mass destruction and used this lie to start a war with Iraq. Adolph Hitler, a Christian man, along with his fellow Nazis, spun a lie about the Jews and the superiority of the Aryan race. Germans embraced this lie, resulting in the death of millions of people. In each of these illustrations the lie was believed by the masses.
What does Christianity offer to people? It purports to answer the “big” questions of life, especially the question of life after death. There is no question that Christianity gives hope, meaning, and purpose to millions of people. However, just because millions of people find hope, meaning, and purpose in Christianity doesn’t necessarily mean it is true.
Christianity is an exclusive religion. Some sects within the Christian tent (i.e. Catholicism) claim exclusivity for their particular sect. Some churches take this exclusivity a step further and claim that they are one of the few true churches. (i.e. Darwin Fish, A True Prophet of God) A Christian is a follower of Jesus and his teachings. At some level the Bible must be embraced as truth. Otherwise, how can a person know they should follow Jesus or what the requirements are to be a follower?
Since Christianity is an exclusive religion, all other religions are considered false. All other gods are no gods at all. According to the Christian, their God, the God of the Bible, the God who reveals himself through creation and conscience, is the one true and ever existing God.
It is this certainty about God, the Bible, sin, salvation, and life after death that draws millions of people to Christianity. On April 5th, millions will gather together to proclaim their belief in a God-man named Jesus. In him they find the forgiveness of sin and life eternal. Surely, the sheer magnitude of the worldwide Easter gathering stands as proof that Christianity is true!
There’s just one BIG problem with this seemingly insurmountable “fact.” There are other sects that have millions of worshippers too. There are millions of Hindus, Muslims, Jews,and Buddhists who believe their God is the true God or one of the many gods in the universe. Take a look at the numbers for the major religions of the world:
Let’s play fill in the blank:
Millions of people are __________.(fill in with one of the above religions) Surely, they can’t ALL be deluded and deceived, right?”
I hope you see that the number of believers/followers doesn’t necessarily mean a religion is true. It is quite possible for a religion to be totally manmade and yet have millions of adherents. This is easily proved.
When I think of a manmade religion, I can think of no better example than Mormonism. Joseph Smith invented the Mormon religion, yet 15+ million people are practicing Mormons. There are over 29,000 Mormon congregations in the world and over 88,000 Mormon missionaries go from place to place making disciples for their God. Surely, this is proof that the Mormon religion is the one truth faith and the Mormon God is the one true God, right?
Mormonism originated in the 1820s in western New York during a period of religious excitement known as the Second Great Awakening. Founded by Joseph Smith, the faith drew its first converts while Smith was dictating the text of the Book of Mormon from golden plates he said he found buried after being directed to their location by an angel. The book described itself as a chronicle of early indigenous peoples of the Americas, portraying them as believing Israelites, who had a belief in Christ many hundred years before his birth. Smith dictated the book of 584 pages over a period of about three months saying that he translated it from an ancient language “by the gift and power of God”. During production of this work in mid-1829, Smith, his close associate Oliver Cowdery, and other early followers began baptizing new converts into a Christian primitivist church, formally organized in 1830 as the Church of Christ. Smith was seen by his followers as a modern-day prophet.
Smith later wrote that he had seen a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ in spring 1820 in answer to his question of which denomination he should join. Sometimes called the “First Vision”, Smith’s vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ as two separate beings was reportedly the basis for the difference in doctrine between Mormonism’s view of the nature of God and that of orthodox Christianity. Smith further said that in answer to his prayer the Lord instructed him to join none of the existing churches because they were all wrong. During the 1820s Smith reported having several angelic visitations, and by 1830 Smith said that he had been instructed that God would use him to re-establish the true Christian church and that the Book of Mormon would be the means of establishing correct doctrine for the restored church.
Mormonism is a wonderful example of American entrepreneurship. Founded on the lies/delusions of Joseph Smith, they are now one of the largest religions in America. There is no truth to their founding story, yet millions of people believe it. This is clear evidence that it is possible for millions of people to believe something and it be totally false.
How do you know that Christianity is any different from Mormonism or any of the other religions of the world? As I have clearly shown, the number of people who believe is not proof that any particular religion is true.
The fact, quality, or state of being certain: the certainty of death.
Something that is clearly established or assured.
SYNONYMS certainty, certitude, assurance, conviction. These nouns mean freedom from doubt. Certainty implies a thorough consideration of evidence: “the emphasis of a certainty that is not impaired by any shade of doubt” (Mark Twain). Certitude is based more on personal belief than on objective facts: “Certitude is not the test of certainty” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.). Assurance is a feeling of confidence resulting from subjective experience: “There is no such thing as absolute certainty, but there is assurance sufficient for the purposes of human life” (John Stuart Mill). Conviction arises from the vanquishing of doubt: “His religion . . . was substantial and concrete, made up of good, hard convictions and opinions. (Willa Cather).
Ah yes, Certainty.
One of linchpins of Christianity is certainty.
I KNOW in whom I have believed, said the Apostle Paul.
I have a KNOW–SO salvation, is a line often heard on Sunday morning.
Doubt is of the Devil.
Saved or Lost.
Heaven or Hell.
Truth or Error.
A supernatural God who wrote a supernatural book that speaks of a supernatural salvation.
You can know for sure_______
If you died today would you go to heaven?
If there is one error in the Bible then none of it is true.
Yet, for all the Christian-speak about certainty, real life suggests that certainty is a myth.
We live in a world of chance, ambiguity, and doubt.
Will I die today?
Will I have a job tomorrow?
Will I be able to walk a year from now?
What does the future hold for my spouse, children, and grandchildren?
Who will win the Super Bowl?
Will my garden flourish?
Will I get lucky tonight?
Life is anything but certain.
Christianity offloads the uncertainties of this life to a certain future in heaven with Jesus. No matter how uncertain the present is, we can, with great certainty, KNOW heaven awaits us.
One problem though…
No one KNOWS for sure there is a heaven.
No one has been to heaven and returned to earth to give us a travel report.
The heaven most Christians believe in isn’t even found in the Bible. Most Christians have a mystic, fanciful, syrupy, non-Biblical view about heaven.
Grandma really isn’t in heaven right now running around praising Jesus. According to the Bible, Grandma is in the grave awaiting the resurrection of the dead.
I don’t know if there is a heaven.
I have my doubts, lots of doubts.
I’m inclined to think heaven is a state of mind.
We want to believe life matters.
We want to believe there is more to life than what we now have.
We want to believe there will someday be a world where there is no pain, suffering, or death.
But, what if there is not?
What if this is it?
What if we truly only have hope in this life?
Should we not make the most of what we have NOW?
Perhaps we should we take seriously the Bible admonition not to boast about tomorrow because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
Heaven will wait.
You and I are given one life and it will soon be past.
Thanks to this blog, Facebook, Twitter, and breathing air, I come into contact with Christian fundamentalists every day. They comment on my blog, send me tweets, leave Facebook comments, and send me email. I’m like a human shit pile on a warm summer day. The fundamentalist flies are drawn to me and there’s little I can do about it. As an out-of-the-closet atheist and a writer, I know that dealing with Christian fundamentalists is part of my job description.
I’ve been blogging for more than seven years. I started and stopped several times, and every stoppage was predicated by the behavior of Christian fundamentalists and how their actions affected my health and mental wellbeing. Over the years, I’ve gotten mentally and emotionally stronger, my skin has thickened, and I am pretty much impervious to the petty, childish, boorish, ignorant behavior of fundamentalists. When I am up to it, I might engage them a bit, but most of the time I let them piss on my doorstep and I ignore them. When they don’t get the desired response from me, they usually head off to another fire hydrant they can whiz on (yes, I am full of metaphors today).
Some fundamentalists have upped their game and turned to electronic means of bullying. Readers may remember all the problems I had last year with spam bots. At one time, I was receiving 1,500 spam comments a day. This was a concerted effort by someone to frustrate me and cause me grief. During this same time period, I had someone trying to access the blog login. Now this happens routinely a dozen or so times a day, but this time was different. They attempted to login thousands of times a day. The good news is they failed. My login remained secure and no spam made it to the live site.
Currently, I am receiving about a hundred spam comments a day. Quite manageable. In most cases, it’s drive-by spammers wanting to either infect my computer with a virus or make my penis larger. In the case mentioned above, it was a directed attack. Someone deliberately wanted to cause me problems, perhaps even cause me to stop blogging. A great victory for Team God, yes? Yea God!
Yesterday, someone decided to set up a fake Facebook account in my name. They then gained access to my Friends list (my fault since I had it set to “public”) and sent them a new friend request. About 25 of my friends friended the fake Bruce Gerencser, and after they did they got a private message from the Fake. The message? A Christian one, meant to witness to them. Fortunately, several dozen friends contacted me about the fake account and in less than an hour Facebook shut it down. For future reference, I am the only Bruce Almighty Gerencser in the world. If we are already connected through social media, any other Bruce Almighty is a false one.
The one thing I have learned from this is that Christian fundamentalists, for the most part, are intractable. Intractable is not a word used very often, so let me give you the dictionary definition:
This word perfectly describes most of the fundamentalists I come in contact with through this blog, Twitter, and Facebook. Certainty has turned them into nasty, arrogant, hateful individuals who have forgotten what their Bible says about the fruit of the spirit and how they are to treat others. Safe behind their digital shield, they violently brandish their word sword, caring little about what damage they might do. Worse yet, they fail to realize that they are pushing people towards agnosticism and atheism. Why would I ever want to be a part of a religion that allows and encourages maltreatment of others?
As a pastor, I always taught church members that our actions spoke louder than our words. How we treated others determined how our beliefs would be judged. While I may have been a fundamentalist for many years, I never treated people like I’ve seen fundamentalists treat myself and others. As I mentioned in the comment rules, they are people who haven’t learned to play well with others. They are the school-yard bullies, demanding all bow to their God and their interpretation of the Bible.
I know there is no use trying to shame Christian fundamentalists into acting like they have graduated preschool. If seven years of blogging has taught me anything, it has taught me that I can’t change how a fundamentalist thinks or acts. But, Bruce, you were a fundamentalist as were many of the people who read this blog, and you changed! True enough, but I also know how hard it is to change.
The majority of fundamentalists will believe what they believe until they die. Why? Because their entire life is wrapped up in their belief system. They are in a self-contained bubble where everything makes sense. If you have not read, The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You Are in It andWhat I Found When I Left the Box, please do so. I think you will find both posts helpful in explaining the fundamentalist bubble. Until people are willing to at least consider that there is life outside of the bubble, there is no hope for them.
I am convinced that inerrancy — the belief that the Bible is without error — keeps people chained to the fundamentalist God. Armed with an inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible, given to them by the supernatural God who wrote and autographed it, they go into the “world” and wage war against all who disagree with their literalist interpretation of the Bible. If you want to see this belief in action, read the recent comments on The Bob Jones III Non Apology Apology, If You Don’t Believe the Bible You Can’t be Saved, and Family Driven Faith Part Two. One commenter was so certain he was right and smarter than the rest of the class, that he had no need to read a book or any of my other blog posts. He was right, end of discussion.
Those of us who were once Christian fundamentalists understand the fundamentalist pathology. After all, we wuz one of them. We know how certain and arrogant we once were, full of God and shit. We would have remained this way had it not been for an event, life circumstance, book, website, or blog. When one of these things poked a tiny hole in our bubble, we tried our best to patch the hole. But, try as we might, we could not get any of the patches to stick, so our bubble deflated. In rushed the “world” with its knowledge. From that day forward, we knew we could no longer stay in the bubble that had been our home for as long as we could remember. Our fundamentalist Christian friends and family, along with our pastors and colleagues, tried to patch and re-inflate the bubble; but it was too late. Like the horse escaping its pen, we were free, and once free we were not coming back.
My purpose in life is NOT to debate, fight, and argue with Christian fundamentalists. It is a waste of time to do so, and since I have so little time left on this earth, I don’t want to squander it casting my pearls before swine. I’d rather spend my time helping those who find themselves outside of the fundamentalist bubble. For the confused, hurt, looking for help and answers, I want to be someone they can turn to for love and support. I also want to help and be friends with those who have already transitioned away from religion. They want to know what a post-God life looks like. Through my writing, I try to be a help. A small help, a temporary help, whatever they need from me I try to provide. I am not a guru, nor do I have all the answers. At best, I am a bartender, willing to spin a yarn, provide entertainment, and listen to the woes, cares, and concerns of others.
Through this interaction, I gain something too. Not another church member or notch on the handle of my gospel six-shooter. I have no church or club, I am just one man with a story to tell. But, I do gain support and strength from those who make this blog part of their day-to-day routine. Sometimes, this blog is a cheap form or therapy; other times it is a raucous Friday night at the bar with friends. As people ride along with me on the Bruce Gerencser Crazy Train®, they have gone from acquaintances and readers to friends. Perhaps, this has become another bubble for me, but if it is, I do know there is an entrance and exit that allows me the freedom to come and go as I please. Freedom — a word I never really understood until I saw God, the church, the ministry, and the Bible in the rear view mirror.
To those who call me Bruce, Butch, Dad, or Grandpa:
In November 2008, Polly and I attended church for the last time. Since then, I have walked through the doors of a church three times, once for a baby baptism, and twice for a funeral. All three experiences left me angry and irritated.
The first service was a baby baptism at a local Catholic church. I thought, Bruce, ignore the bullshit, you are there to support your children. I was fine until the priest began exorcising the devil out of my granddaughter. I wanted to scream, but I didn’t. After the service, I made up my mind that I would never again attend such a service. No baptisms, no confirmations, no dedications, no nothing. Nada, zero, zip. All of my children and extended family know this. Polly is free to attend any or none of these services, but I can’t and I won’t.
The last two services were funerals. One was the funeral of my sexual predator uncle. The local Baptist preacher preached my uncle right into heaven. (I wrote about that here: Dear Pastor, Do You Believe in Hell) The second service was for Polly’s fundamentalist uncle. Nice guy, but the service was all about Jesus, complete with a sermon and call to salvation. Again, I wanted to scream, but I reminded myself that I was there to support our family.
I’ve decided I can suck it up and endure the Jesus talk for the sake of family. I know there are a lot of funerals in our future, that is if the rapture doesn’t take place. I wish it would so there would be no Christians left to bother me. I’ll do my best to support my family in their hour of grief. Anyone that tries to evangelize me does so at their own risk. I refuse to be bullied by sanctimonious Bible thumpers who think they are salvation dispensing machines.
I’ve decided that I will walk through the door of a church for two events: funerals and a weddings. That’s it. I don’t do church and the sooner family, friends, and local Christian zealots understand this the better. If the event doesn’t say funeral or wedding, I ain’t going. I can’t and I won’t. If this causes someone to be angry, upset, or irritated, there is nothing I can do about it. That’s their problem.
You see, eight years ago I said to my family, you are free. Be who and what you want to be. Be/stay a Christian, choose another religion or philosophical system, or choose nothing at all. With freedom comes choice. It seems the religious love their choice. They find great benefit, purpose, and meaning, through their particular religion. That’s great. If it makes them happy, then I am happy. But, shouldn’t I be afforded the same freedom and happiness? Why shouldn’t my wife and I have the freedom to NOT participate in church services, rituals, and the like?
Suppose I worship the Cat God Purr. Once a year, all the Purrites get together at my house for a very special service. Part of our ritual is the sacrifice of a female cat. Like the Israelites in the Bible, we offer up a cat as our sacrifice to Purr. Afterward, we roast the cat and eat it, and in doing so we are taking into our body and soul the blood and body of Cat God Purr.
Now imagine me inviting my Christian family to the service. I let them know when the service is and how important it is to me for them to be there. I also let them know that I would like them to partake of the roasted cat so they too could have inside of them the blood and body of Cat God Purr. Can you imagine how they would respond?
First, in their eyes Cat Purr God is a false God. Second, the cat roasting ritual is barbaric and offensive. While I may invite them to the service, I would certainly understand if they didn’t come. Why? Because my God is not their God and I respect their right to believe whatever they want to believe. I would never want to offend them.
It seems if one is an atheist, they are not afforded the same decency and respect. Did Polly and I become less of a person, parent, or grandparent the moment we stopped believing? Does our relationship with family and friends hinge on us sitting our ass in a pew for ten minutes or an hour? Frankly, I refuse to let any one circumstance harm a relationship. If someone asks me to go to a church service or a ritual and I say no and they never ask me again, it’s no big deal. However, once someone knows that I do NOT attend such services and they continue to ask me anyway, this tells me that they do not respect me.
I spent 50 years in the Christian church and 25 years in the ministry. I’ve had enough church to last me ten lifetimes. The best way for the religious and the nonreligious to get along is for both sides to compartmentalize their beliefs. I don’t talk about religion/atheism/humanism with my Christian family and friends unless they ask. If they ask, I will gladly give my opinion or share my viewpoint. I am not going to invite them to hear Sam Harris speak, nor am I going to give them Bart Ehrman’s books. If they ask or want to know, that’s different, but if they don’t then I choose to focus on the other things we have in common and leave religion/atheism in the closet. Christian family and friends need to do the same. If I ask, then by all means tell me. If not, let’s focus on the things we have in common. Life is too short to have conflict over religion.
I subscribe to the when in Rome Do as the Romans Do rule. When I am at a Christian’s home and they offer up a prayer to their deity, I respectfully bow my head. It’s their home and they are free to do what they want. Yes, I have an opinion about God and prayer, but their home is not the place to share it. The same goes for my home. We are not religious, we are not Christian. We don’t pray over our meals, nor do we give the gods one thought before we eat. While we do allow Polly’s dad to pray over the meal when he is here, that is out of respect for him. No big deal, just one more prayer hitting the ceiling. Thousands are already embedded in the paint, what’s one more.
When Christians come to my home, they shouldn’t expect me to change how I live or how I talk. I shouldn’t have to change the music I am listening to, change the TV channel, or remove books from the bookshelf. This is our home, and anyone, even family, who walks through the door is a guest. And the same goes for the Christian’s home. If I visit there, I don’t expect them to do anything different from what they normally do. I respect their space, their freedom.
Freedom is supposed to be a two-way street. Unfortunately, for many Christians it is a one way street called Their Way. They want the freedom to worship their God and practice their faith, but they don’t want to grant others the same freedom. Of course, I know why. They think they have the truth and Polly and I are on a false path that leads to judgment, hell, and eternal punishment. They don’t want us to continue driving on the highway to hell. But, here’s the thing…we don’t think we are on the highway to hell. Since we don’t believe there is a God, it naturally follows that we don’t believe in hell, judgment, heaven, or eternity. It’s up to us to determine what road we want to travel, and for Polly and I, we are quite happy to drive on the road named Reason.
Let me conclude this post with a personal thought about church services in general and why I can’t and won’t attend them. First, I know the Bible inside and out. I have a theological education, an education that began at a Bible college and continued through the 25 years I spent pastoring churches. So, when I hear preachers and priests preach, I can spot the bullshit from a mile away. I also have little tolerance for preachers who lack the requisite skills necessary to craft a good sermon and deliver it. In my opinion, there’s lots of anemic, pathetic preaching these days. Second, I find many of the rituals offensive. Casting the devil out an infant? Washing away sin with water? Services that are all show and no substance? Vows that are uttered and become lies before the service is over? Wine and wafers turning into real blood and flesh? Magic wand rituals and practices that pretend to make the past go away and make the present brand new? Preachers, pastors, bishops, and priests touching a person and conferring some sort of divine power? All of these things are offensive to me. They are reminders to me of the bankruptcy of religion and why I want nothing to do with it.
I know that I can’t force people to accept me as I am, but I can choose how and when I interact with them. Years ago, I was listening to Dr. Laura and a grandmother called up complaining about her daughter-in-law. Dr. Laura told her to quit her bitching. If she didn’t, she risked not being able to see her grandchildren. That was good advice and I remembered it years later when my fundamentalist step-grandmother called me. I wrote about this in the post Dear Ann:
…For his seventy-fifth birthday you had a party for Grandpa. You called a few days before the party and told me that if I was any kind of grandson at all that my family and I would be at the party. Never mind Polly would have to take off work. Never mind the party was on a night we had church. All that mattered to you was that we showed up to give Grandpa’s birthday party an air of respectability.
I remember what came next like it was yesterday. The true Ann rose to the surface and you preceded to tell me what a terrible grandson I was and how terrible my family was. You were vicious and vindictive.
Finally, after forty years, I had had enough. I told you that you should have worried about the importance of family twenty years ago. I then told you that I was no longer interested in having any contact with you or Grandpa. Like my mother, I decided to get off the Tieken drama train…
That’s what can happen when we push, badger, and cajole. I am an atheist, not a Christian and I suspect I will remain so until I die. My family and friends need to come to terms with this, and if they don’t then it’s on them if they ruin our relationship.
When our children married, we vowed that we would NEVER be meddling parents/grandparents. If we offer our opinion on something, we do it once. That’s it. Unless someone asks, we don’t say another word. Every person in my family has the right to live freely and authentically. Yes, they make decisions that I think are foolish, but it’s their life and they are free to live it any way they want. Whether it is Polly’s parents, our children, our daughter-in-laws, or our grandchildren, we don’t meddle in their lives. We want them to be happy. If they are happy, then we are happy.
All that I want is the freedom to live my life authentically. Surely, that’s not too much to ask.