We do most of our shopping at the nearby Meijer store in Defiance, Ohio. There’s a Kroger on the east side of Defiance, but we’ve only shopped there a handful times since we moved back to NW Ohio in 2005. There’s also an Aldi store and a locally owned store called Chief Supermarket. Both of our youngest children work part-time at Chief in Bryan. (they work full-time at Sauder Woodworking)
Meijer loves for me to express my opinion about this or that recent purchase or my last visit to the Defiance store. Today, after checking out the Thanksgiving week sale paper, a browser pop up asked me if I would like to share my opinion about what I had just viewed. Why not, I thought. Sometimes, Meijer offers respondents an opportunity to win a gift card. Woo-Hoo! No such inducement this time, but I still took the survey.
At the end of the survey they asked me my age. Great, I thought. Here comes a reminder of how o-l-d I am. What follows is a screen shot of the survey’s age question.
Damn, I thought, only two age groups to go. I could choose to focus on this depressing bit of information, but instead I decided that I would focus on the fact that I have successfully survived the previous ten age groups. Who knows, I just might make it to the 65 and over category; the age when marketers no longer value your opinion or money.
Jack Chick is a fundamentalist Christian cartoonist. If you spent any significant time in the Evangelical church, you’ve heard about “Chick tracts”. In the 1980s, the Baptist church I pastored in Somerset Ohio handed out thousands of This Was Your Life tracts, Chick’s most famous tract. If you want a cartoon representation of the crazy thinking of many Evangelicals, just read a Chick tract.
Using 5 cents as the cost of one tract, Chick has made $37,500,000 from the sale of his tracts. Tracts currently sell for 16 cents each. Bulk orders of 1,000 or more tracts receive a 15-25% discount. Orders of 10,000 or more of a single tract receive a 50% discount. Chick also sells books, tee shirts, DVDS, and comics. While little is known about the 91-year-old reclusive Jack Chick, it’s clear that he has made a nice living preying on the fears and ignorance of Christian fundamentalists.
Should a Christian-preacher-turned atheist-stop using his public speaking skills? Before this question can be answered, perhaps we should ascertain whether the person in question actually has public speaking skills. I’ve heard more than a few preachers over the years who were horrible public speakers. Their sermons were poorly crafted and their speaking skills ranged from incoherent to monotonous. Personally, I don’t know how some people listen to this kind of preaching year after year. Perhaps this is their purgatory.
I always prided myself in preaching well-crafted sermons. I worked hard in the study to produce the best sermon possible. I spent hours and days preparing my sermons. My goal was to preach in such a way that people would not only hear me but be moved to make a decision. The goal of every sermon was to force people to choose. Neutrality was never an option. Choose YOU this day whom YOU will serve, the Bible says. Even now, the most powerful speeches are the ones that demand something of listeners.
When I preached I was animated and passionate. In my early years, I moved around a good bit, but as I got older my movement lessened. Over time, I developed a style, a methodology of preaching. Generally, people found my style pleasing and my voice easy to listen to. I wasn’t a raging, fire-breathing, pulpit pounding, aisle running Pentecostal, but neither was I a droning, lifeless Methodist. (sorry for the stereotypes)
Words are powerful tools. Coupled with the methodology of preaching, words have the ability to move people and motivate them to do great things. However, words also have the power to manipulate and control. Numerous readers of this blog can testify to how the words of their pastor were used to sway, exploit, shame and abuse.
Any preacher worth his salt knows the power his words have over others Preachers know that the right word at the right time can elicit a certain response. They know what words can trigger an emotional response. Yes, preaching is supposed to be about knowledge and instruction, but mere knowledge will never cause a people to rise to the occasion and go to war with Satan, the world, Democrats, secularism, and atheists. Great orators know how to stir people to do that which they might not normally do. Therein lies their power, and that power, when used wrongly, can hurt people or cause them to do things that are harmful, not only to themselves, but to others.
So what is a person such as myself to do? I preached my first sermon at age 15 and my last sermon at age 48 I spent 34 years telling people, thus saith the Lord. I have given thousands of sermons, having preached through most of the books in the Bible. Preaching is very much a part of who and what I am.
As a preacher-turned-atheist, I find myself in uncharted waters. I still have a passion for public speaking. I know I could be good at teaching most anything. I suspect, knowing my skill-set, that people would find me engaging and easy to listen to. As most any former parishioner of mine will attest, my ability to hold a crowd’s attention was never a problem. Oh, I had plenty of problems and shortcomings, but when in the pulpit I was at my best.
I miss preaching. I miss the personal interaction with people. I miss seeing my words move, challenge, and motivate people. As most ex-preachers will tell you, preaching was not the reason they left the ministry or deconverted. It was the stuff outside the pulpit; endless meetings, personal squabbles, or financial struggles that caused the most stress and angst.
In 2012, Pentecostal-preacher-turned-atheist, Jerry DeWitt, delivered a powerful speech at the American Atheist Convention. His speech, dare I say sermon, was given using the preaching skills that had served him well as a Pentecostal preacher.
Dan Fincke, a friend of mine who blogs at Camels with Hammers, wrote a lengthy post about Dewitt’s message and his speaking skills and style. Dan thoughtfully raised some issues that former preachers like Dewitt and I need to consider carefully:
So, as Richard Wade watched this former evangelical go so far as to present the narrative of his turn to atheism in the precise idiom of a Pentecostal preacher, he turned to me and said, “You were right!” It made the dynamic so clear.
So—is this a good thing? I think in most ways it is, but I have a reservation. There is nothing wrong with a narrative in which “once I was blind but now I see”. This has always been a part of secularism. The Enlightenment’s emphasis on the “light of reason” was coopted, for example, by Descartes from St. Augustine. We need to reclaim some of the emotionally resonant metaphorical terrain that is part of our linguistic and cultural means of expressing certain kinds of experiences. Just because a certain emotionally powerful form of personal narrative was cultivated in evangelical circles does not mean it cannot have genuine parallels among apostates. We are not just ripping them off or somehow remaining Christians. But sometimes we do remain evangelicals, only now atheistic kinds. The apostate’s narrative often just has some basic formal similarities that make it true to co-opt similar categories to evangelicals when conceiving of and narrating what is happening within oneself.
But what about the Pentecostal delivery? I can imagine some atheists with what I like to call “religious PTSD” rejecting it out of hand for its “triggering” connotations that remind them of the shameless charlatans who pioneered, and up through today still, exploit those techniques to manipulate people into falsehoods and religiously based moral corruption. But the vast majority of the auditorium seemed happy to play along with DeWitt and to really enjoy the experiment. He got a hearty standing ovation from a good portion of the room when he was done and was one of the day’s leaders for applause lines for sure.
But the Pentecostal style might also simply look so well practiced and formulaic and manipulative that it is the equivalent of a shameless Hallmark card or a schmaltzy movie providing cheap emotional triggers using the easiest and least respectable methods in the book for pushing people’s buttons.
I think that if the emotional button pushing is a way to make an end-run around reason, that is corrupt and despicable. But if it is to package and deliver rational truths and moral ideals of rationalism to people in a way that will properly align their emotions to what is actually true and ethical, then ultimately I am not convinced there’s anything dishonest or manipulative about that. I am open to arguments though….
…As I also explained to Richard the morning before seeing DeWitt, I have preachers’ rhetorical skills and yet for the most part I assiduously avoid them in my classrooms, and instead work with my students dialectically and put the stress on the development of their own reasoning skills. Occasionally, I will get on a roll about something I’m passionate about and reach back to make a rhetorically boosted little speech. But even then I hold back on going quite to preacher levels. And if I do, it’s tempered and not exploitative.
There are two reasons for my hesitation. One is purely technical. I once picked up the interesting advice that if you can do something exceptionally well you should do it only selectively, so as not to diminish its impact. In general you should only put as much rhetorical push into an idea as it needs and save your force for when it’s really needed, always calibrating force applied precisely to what is necessary at every level.
But the more morally serious and germane reason I hesitate to go into preacher mode is that it can be downright anti-dialectical and counter-productive to cultivating an atmosphere of rationalism and habits of careful reasoning. Preaching, rather than just teaching or guiding through questions, runs the risk of inherently training and reinforcing the audience’s infamous preexisting susceptibilities to falling for passions and pretty words at the expense of rational thought. Even if you convince them of your point with your bluster and poetry, you do not train them in careful critical thinking in the process, and so you have not guaranteed they have learned to think for themselves, so much as to simply think like you. And you may have just contributed to their ever ongoing habituation throughout the culture in being led by irrationalistic appeals rather than rational ones. This is not just a pitfall of the parts of our movement that dance with religious forms but also the ones which dance with dubious political rhetorical tactics too.
I’m not sure if it is the case that the preacher’s style is always mutually exclusive with training in critical thinking. Clearly a major part of why it’s so dangerous in actual religions is because it is explicitly coupled with injunctions to just have faith and with countless dubious appeals to unjustified authorities. Can a rationalism which explicitly denounces such things be compatible with some fiery preaching? Can one preach successfully against authoritarianism and faith or is there an implicit bogus appeal to faith in the ungrounded authority of the speaker that is structurally there every time a teacher takes recourse to the tactics of the preacher?
Dan waves the red flag of warning and rightly so. Preaching, particularly certain styles of preaching, can be used to manipulate and control. Dan wisely warns about making an end-run around reason. Far too often preaching is nothing more than the reinforcing of this we believe and we shall not be moved from this we believe.
As a preacher turned atheist, I cannot turn off the speaking skills I used to ply my trade for 34 years. They are very much a part of who I am. The best I can do is be mindful of the power of the skills I have and make sure I use them in such a way that people are not only moved but instructed. I need to be aware of the power I have to manipulate people with my words. Self-awareness of this fact will keep me from falling back into using the tricks of the preaching trade to elicit the desired response from those listening to me.
That said, I want to put in a plug for passionate, pointed, challenging public speaking. Quite frankly, the atheist and humanist movement needs a bit of life pumped into it. I have listened to many speeches, lectures, seminars, and debates that people told me were wonderful. Well-known atheists and humanists, aren’t they great? Uh, no. B-o-r-i-n-g. Dry. Monotonous. Some atheist and humanist speakers would be better off if they stuck to doing what they do best: writing books and magazine articles. Leave the public speaking to those who do it well. If they are unwilling to do so, then they need to go back to school and take a few speech classes.
The atheist and humanist movement needs people who have the ability to passionately move people to action. I would rather suffer a bit with Jerry Dewitt’s preaching style (and I am not a fan of the Pentecostal style of preaching), than listen to a well-educated, boring man WOW me right into an afternoon nap. We are in a battle against religious zealots and theocrats, and we need speakers who can stir and motivate people to action.
Some atheists and humanists naïvely believe that knowledge is all that matters. Like Joe Friday, they think if they just give people the facts they will see the error of their way. Don’t get me wrong, knowledge is important; it’s essential. Way too many people becomeatheists out of anger or disappointment with the Christian church. Just like the Christian zealot, the atheist shouldknow why he believes what he does. Or as the Bible says, the atheist should be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within them. But, at the same time, we should not divorce our beliefs from our emotions. Some things matter, and if they matter, our emotions should be stirred, motivating us to act accordingly.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians, wrote about being a voice heard above all others. There is so much clamoring for truth these days. Who do people turn to? Those who stir them; those who speak to them. As atheists and humanists we must not disconnect our intellect from our emotions. If we believe we have the answer to what ails our universe, then we must be passionate about it, and that passion ought to come out in our public speaking. Yes, people need to hear what we have to say, but they also need to feel it.
One of the common complaints Christian critics throw my way is that I paint with too broad a brush. When I disparage or critique Christianity, my critics get upset because I’m lumping all Christians together. I should be more specific when I write about Christianity, they say. I’m not sure what they expect me to do. Should I every time I use the word Christian, modify the word so everyone knows what domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species of Christian I’m talking about? Sorry, but there’s not enough time in the day to do so. Besides, Christianity is not as divided as the warring parties would have you believe. It’s easy to assume, as we watch the internecine warfare between Baptists and Catholics and Calvinists and Arminians and Evangelicals and Progressives, that they have nothing in common. However, the differences are not as big as they appear to be.
For example, progressive Christians tend to think of Evangelicals as fundamentalist crazies and Evangelicals tend to view progressives as weak-kneed, jello-on-a-stick compromisers of the teachings of the Bible. Listen to both parties talk and it is easy to conclude that they are polar opposites of one another. However, once the peripheral issues causing their disagreement are set aside, it’s easy to then see that the Evangelical and progressive Christian have a lot in common. Let me prove my contention.
The Evangelical follows a path that looks something like this:
The Bible is the inspired Word of God. It is truth.
The Christian God is the one, true God.
Jesus is divine.
Jesus is the son of God.
Jesus came to earth and was born of a virgin.
Jesus worked miracles while on earth.
Humans are sinners in need of salvation and forgiveness,
Jesus died on the cross to atone for humanity’s sin.
Jesus resurrected from the dead three days later.
Jesus ascended back to heaven and will some day return to earth.
Jesus offers salvation and the forgiveness of sin to all who will put their faith in him.
Those who accept this offer go to heaven when they die.
Those who don’t accept this offer go to hell when they die
The progressive Christian follows a path that looks something like this:
The Bible is, to some degree, inspired and contains truth.
The Christian God is the one, true God
Jesus is divine.
Jesus is the son of God.
Jesus came to earth and may or may not have been born of a virgin.
Jesus worked miracles while on earth.
Humans are sinners in need of salvation and forgiveness,
Jesus died on the cross to atone for humanity’s sin.
Jesus resurrected from the dead three days later.
Jesus ascended back to heaven and will some day return to earth.
Jesus offers salvation and the forgiveness of sin to all who will put their faith in him.
Those who accept this offer go to heaven when they die.
Those who don’t accept this offer might go to hell when they die or they might be annihilated.
As you can see, the Evangelical and the progressive Christian have a lot in common. These two parties tend to fuss and fight over the nature of the Bible, whether the virgin birth was necessary, whether Christianity is exclusive, and whether non-Christians go to hell when they die. Apart from these things, they are kissing cousins.
What adds to the confusion is that many Christians think fundamentalism and Evangelicalism are not the same. As I made clear in the post, Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?, all Evangelicals are theological fundamentalists and most of them are also social fundamentalists. Press an Evangelical who objects to being called a fundamentalist about his beliefs and he will eventually show his true colors. Fine, an Evangelical may often say. At least I’m not a legalist like other Evangelicals, so that means I’m not really a fundamentalist. I smile at this point and say, are you sure about that?Are you sure you aren’t, to some degree, a social fundamentalist? Here’s what I had to say about this issue in Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?:
Social fundamentalism focuses on the conduct, lifestyle, and social engagement of the Christian. An Evangelical looks at the rules, standards, and negativity of an IFB church that proudly claims the fundamentalist moniker and says, SEE I am NOT a Fundamentalist. I don’t believe in legalism (demanding a Christian live a certain way). I believe in grace and I leave it to God to change how a person lives.
This sounds good, doesn’t it? However, when you start to poke around a bit, you will find that almost every Evangelical is a social fundamentalist. The only difference between Evangelicals is to what degree they are. This can be quickly proved by asking people who think they are a non-fundamentalist Evangelicals a few questions. Questions like:
Can a practicing homosexual be a Christian?
Can a homosexual man be a deacon or pastor in your church?
Can a same-sex couple work in the nursery together?
Do think it is OK for unmarried heterosexuals to engage in sexual activity?
Can a cohabiting heterosexual couple be a member of your church?
Do you think it is morally right for a woman to wear a skimpy outfit to church?
Is it ever right to have an abortion?
Do you think smoking marijuana is OK?
Do you think it OK for your pastor to smoke cigars and drink alcohol at the local bar?
Is it OK for someone, in the privacy of their home, to become inebriated?
By asking these questions, and a number of other ones, you will quickly find out that non-fundamentalist Evangelicals are social fundamentalists after all. They may jeer and laugh at the crazy, extreme rules and standards of the IFB church, but they too have their own set of non-negotiable social standards. They, like their IFB brethren, are social fundamentalists.
I am sure some Evangelicals will be sure to argue that their social fundamentalism, like their theological fundamentalism, come straight from the Bible. Of course, ALL Evangelicals think their beliefs come straight from the Bible. The IFB pastor has a proof-text for everything he preaches against, as does the I-am-NOT-a fundamentalist-Evangelical-pastor. Both believe the Bible is truth, an inspired, inerrant, supernatural text. The only difference between them is their interpretation of the Bible.
No Evangelicals yet have successfully challenged my contention that they are fundamentalist. What often confuses the matter is progressive and liberal Christians who, out of fear or complacency, still affiliate with the Evangelical church. While I recognize such people exist, they are Evangelical in name only.
What complicates matters further is those who are to the left of progressive Christianity, those who are commonly called liberals. Liberals are quite hard to pin down belief-wise. They often despise Evangelicalism and even take issue with certain aspects of progressive Christianity, yet when pressed about their own beliefs, their interlocutors find out that nailing down liberal beliefs are like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. There seems to be no theological hill they’re willing to die on, no belief, save that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, they aren’t willing to jettison if called on to do so. Those who have been riding Bruce’s crazy train for a long time might remember a frequent commenter by the name of Grace. She was a liberal Episcopalian. While she said she accepted the ecumenical creeds as statements of her faith, there was little, belief-wise, that she held dear. It was frustrating to interact with Grace because it was almost impossible to find common ground with her. God is love, Grace would say, and I’d reply, explain this so-called God of love to me in light of this same God destroying the entire human race, save eight, with a flood. From my perspective, the notion of a God of love that wipes everyone off the face of the earth makes no sense. In Grace’s mind, making sense wasn’t important. All that mattered is that God is love.
From an intellectual perspective, I can understand Evangelicalism. Beliefs are clearly defined. But, with the liberal Christian, it seems that all they have as the cornerstone of their belief is the notion that God is love and Jesus is the personification of that love. Certainly I’m being simplistic, but I’d love for some liberal Christians to explain to me exactly what beliefs matter to them. What beliefs are nonnegotiable? Every liberal I know thinks the Bible is a book of great stories and metaphors, yet they hold on tight to the notion that Jesus is who Christianity says he is and he is their savior. The liberal throws away the Old Testament and paints Paul as a misogynistic control freak. Book after book is relegated to the dung pile of human ignorance. All that is left is a selection of writings from the gospels and maybe the book of Acts. While liberals love to appeal to antiquity for support of their supposedly enlightened view, I’ve yet to stumble across this view in the writings of the early church fathers. Liberals, with one foot firmly planted in the modern world and its repudiation of much of what Evangelicals hold dear, want to hang on to Jesus, so they grab for beliefs they can hold on to and still be considered Christian.
To the liberal Christian I ask:
Is belief in the Christian God important?
Is everyone a sinner?
Does everyone need the forgiveness of sins and salvation?
Is Jesus in any way divine?
Was Jesus’s death necessary?
Did Jesus resurrect from the dead?
Where is Jesus now?
Is there a heaven? a hell? What determines who goes where after death?
Do all roads lead to heaven?
These are questions that many liberals prefer not to answer or think they are unimportant. In their minds, it’s all about Jesus. They are, in many ways, no different from some Evangelicals who say, Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. To the liberal, Jesus, along with the communal aspects of the church, is very important. Everything else is just noise.
Here’s what I think about the matter. Many liberal Christians are actually universalists, agnostics, or atheists. They like the idea of church, of belonging to a congregation. Everyone would agree that religion in general gives people a sense of purpose, meaning, and connection. It is this that really matters to the liberal.
When I take a step back and look at the broad expanse called Christianity, I see diversity. But, when I peel away all the issues that make Christianity diverse, I’m left with one thing: Jesus. Evangelicals, progressive, liberals, and everything in between, all love and worship Jesus. And where does this belief in Jesus originate? In the pages of the Bible. Without the Bible, there would be no Jesus or Christianity. While Evangelicals, progressives, and liberals bitterly snipe at each other over the nature and authority of the Bible, all agree that the Jesus they love and worship is found within its pages. And once this fact is admitted, then all of them are in the position to understand why I, and others like me, are not Christian. Whatever my backstory might be, the foundation of my unbelief is the Bible. Every Christian-turned-atheist I know says the same. We all have stories we can tell about our experiences as Christians, but at the end of the day, our deconversion rests on our belief that the Bible narrative is not true, that Jesus is not who Christians claim he is, and that the Christian God is just one of many Gods humans have created.
It’s taken me 2,000 words to say this. Please forgive me for not distinguishing between all the flavors of Christian ice cream. When I look at the ice cream case, I see all sorts of flavors, but they all have one thing in common; they are ALL ice cream. So it is with Christianity. While I find the various theological squabbles entertaining and fodder for blog posts, when I peel away all the beliefs that make the various sects and believers unique, I’m left with one truth: all Christians put their faith and trust in Jesus and worships him. I’m not inclined to spend much time making sure every post I write about Christianity says exactly which flavor I’m talking about. If it’s evident that I’m not talking about your flavor of Christianity, by all means ignore what I’ve said. In time, I will get around to your flavor, and then I’m sure you’ll complain that I don’t understand or that I am misrepresenting your version of the faith once delivered to the saints.
Roman Catholicism also have fundamentalist, progressive, and liberal wings.
Yes, I am aware that there are as many shades of Christianity as there wall color chips in the paint department at the local Lowe’s. That said, every Christian falls somewhere along the line between Evangelical and liberal.
Dan Phillips, a frequent contributor to the fundamentalist Christian blog Pyromaniacs and pastor of Copperfield Bible Church in Houston, Texas, thinks Evangelical Christianity is the only rational worldview. Phillips had this to say about this supposed rationality:
A Mormon friend, in passing, remarked that religion is not rational, so he didn’t expect it to make sense. It’s a matter of faith, not reason.
You might think, “Right: Mormon. I don’t expect rationality, either.” Hang on.
He went on to give an example—but the example was not how a human could become a god, or how there could be only one god and many at the same time, or how God can keep changing His mind about things, or how two equally-inspired books could contradict each other. His example was the virgin birth. I said there was nothing irrational about the virgin birth, and the conversation simply moved on elsewhere…
…But was he right? Is religion irrational? “Religion,” maybe. Christianity, no…
….Perhaps definitions are part of the problem. There is a world of difference between rational and rationalism. The latter is a philosophy, a worldview that asserts that man can know truth by the use of his unaided reason. The former merely means that something is in accord with reason, it doesn’t violate fundamental canons of thinking such as the law of non-contradiction.
Is Christianity rational?…
…But are some of our faith-tenets irrational? Two that I hear cited specifically are the Trinity, and the Virgin Birth.
The second example is just plain silly. I have never understood how this can be an issue to anyone who believes Genesis 1:1, and thus grants the premise of a God who created everything out of nothing. It’s like saying, “Everything out of nothing? Sure! But make an existing egg alive without a sperm? No way!” Canons of rational thought are not even stretched, let alone violated, by the fact of the Creator and Ruler thus operating within His creation.
How about the Trinity? Surely the doctrine that God is three and one is not rational?…
…The Trinity is the Biblical teaching that there is but one God (Deuteronomy 6:4), and that this one God is Father (2 Peter 1:17), Son (John 1:1), and Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). The simplest way I have been able to understand and express the truth is that God is one in one way, and three in another. Or, we could say that God is one “what” (i.e. one as to His essence), and three “who’s” (i.e. three as to His persons).
Now, do we understand the Trinity exhaustively? Of course not! How exactly does God manage being what He is? We don’t really need to know, since we’ll never need to be God. Nor should the finite expect to understand the infinite exhaustively. It is as C. S. Lewis says:
If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about. (Mere Christianity [Macmillan: 1960], p. 145.)
But we know enough to love Him, to worship Him, and to discern truth from error. And we know enough to know that there is nothing irrational about the doctrine.
It’s not hard to spot Phillips’ presupposition: the Bible is true and all discussions about what is rational must begin with the Bible. However, for those of us who do not accept the Bible as truth, the authority of the Bible has no relevance. The evidence that demands a verdict is that which can be observed, tested, and verified.
Are there things in the Bible that are not reasonable to believe? Are there things that a rational person would have a hard time accepting as factual? Phillips gives two examples of beliefs that some people, even Christians, consider irrational (lacking a rational explanation). His two examples are cardinal Christian doctrines: the virgin birth and the Trinity.
What evidence do we have, outside of the Christian Bible, that the virgin birth is a rational, reasonable belief? Is there any medical proof for a virgin becoming pregnant without having her egg fertilized by the sperm of a man? Is there any record anywhere, outside of the Bible, that a virgin has ever given birth to a child? Of course not. Belief in the virgin birth is not a rational belief. Believing that a virgin can have a child requires Evangelicals to have faith. They must be willing to blindly accept that the Evangelical God is capable of impregnating a young virgin so she can give birth to a God/Man.
Many Christians wisely reject the notion that Jesus was born of a virgin. It’s Evangelicals who stubbornly dig their heels in on this issue. For them, the text of the Bible is deified, and when this happens reason goes out the window. This is the kind of thinking that gives us young earth creationism and a host of other rational mind defying beliefs. Believing the Evangelical God miraculously impregnated an unwed Jewish teenager runs contrary to everything the Evangelical and the atheist know to be true. To suggest, as Phillips does, that the virgin birth is rational because the Bible says it is, is not an reasoned argument; it’s blind, irrational faith.
Phillips also uses the Trinity as an example of a Christian doctrine that is reasonable. Once again, Phillips’ Evangelical interpretation of the Bible becomes the arbiter of what is rational. For the atheist, the argument for the reasonableness of Trinitarianism is not important. Three in one, one in three, one in one, it matters not. The only question that matters for the skeptic and the atheist is whether there is sufficient evidence for the existence of the Evangelical God, or any other God for that matter.
The atheist, based on the available evidence, concludes that the Christian God does not exist. The Christian has the same evidence as the atheist, but rejects it, and by faith believes that the Evangelical God of the Bible really exists. Contrary to what Phillips says, Christianity is all about faith, and that faith, many times, is quite irrational. (1)
I know Phillips doesn’t mean for his post to be a complete and full defense of the rationality of Christianity, but there are many other illustrations of rational irrationality he could have used. How about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead? All of the evidence, apart from the Bible, points to a reality we all know to be true; people die and they don’t come back from the dead. There’s nothing in the natural, observable world that suggests that the dead come back to life. Again, believing otherwise requires faith in what the Bible says about the resurrection of Jesus.
Here’s another “rational” Evangelical Christian belief: Jesus walking through walls. According to the Bible, after his resurrection from the dead, Jesus walked through walls. This is a claim that any of us can test in about 10 seconds. Stand up, go to the nearest wall, and try to walk through it. How did it work out for you? Were you able to walk through the wall, without doing damage to yourself or the wall? Silly, I know, but this is another example of a Bible truth that requires faith to believe. No one, Jesus included, can walk through a solid wall.
I found the C.S. Lewis quote about the difficulty of believing the Christian narrative to be quite interesting. I heard this line of thinking many times when I was a pastor. The essence of the argument is this:
If Christianity is a man-made religion, do you think its makers would have included the irrational, bat-shit crazy stuff found in the Bible? The crazy stuff is proof that what the Bible says is true.
Here’s the problem with this argument. Phillips mocks the Mormons several times in his post, but if I judge Mormonism by the standard set by C.S. Lewis, I would have to conclude that Mormonism is factual. Who has more crazy beliefs than Mormonism, right? OK, maybe Scientology is worse and Mormonism comes in a close second
Phillips enters this discussion with his mind made up. Christianity is the truth and Mormonism is just another man-made, heretical religion. After all, everyone knows Christianity is a not religion. At least Phillips didn’t trot out the “Christianity is a relationship” line.
What do you think of Phillips’ closing line:
Is Christianity rational? I daresay it’s the only worldview, ultimately, that is.
Share your thoughts in the comments.
(1) I am not suggesting that a person can’t look at the natural world and reasonably conclude that there is a deity or a higher power. However, it is a huge jump from the deistic view that a God of some sort created the world to that creator being the Evangelical God of the Bible. There is a gigantic chasm between these two and the bridge that spans that chasm is called faith. I am amazed at how readily Christians chuck faith in hopes of trying to “prove” that Christianity is reasonable. They diminish their religion when they do so.
As Bible-believing Baptists who hold to reformed theology, X and I believe that God is sovereign in choosing who will or will not believe in him, having chosen his people before the foundation of the world (see Ephesians 1), and that his selection is unbreakable and irresistible. If marriage is to mirror this principle, we believe that a woman has no right to select a husband for herself, but that she is to be chosen by a man and marriage is to be an unbreakable arrangement between the man and her father. Based on this reasoning, we have shunned a standard proposal and wedding ceremony, because if I had asked her to marry me (which I did not) then I would have given her the decision to marry me rather than selecting her and taking her myself. Furthermore, if we had exchanged conventional marriage vows, our union would have been based on X’s will and consent, which are not Biblical factors for marriage or salvation. Instead, I asked X’s father for his blessing in taking her hand in marriage. When he gave his blessing, X and I considered ourselves to be unbreakably betrothed in the sight of God. While we had initially intended to consummate our marriage after today’s symbolic ceremony, we instead did so secretly after private scripture reading, prayer, and mutual foot-washing.
As Quiverfull Believers dig ever-deeper into their Bibles in search of the truly “biblical model” for godly marriage, ideas about courtship and “betrothal” are becoming increasingly savage and brutish. It would seem unlikely that Courtship standards could get even more oppressive considering that Christian notions of “biblical match-making” have already been taken to outrageous extremes.
Joshua Harris started a back-to-bible-living revolution among Christian young people when he advocated the courtship model in his book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. What – no dating for teens? Now that’s a radical concept! As “bible believers” jumped on the bandwagon of father-led pairing of qualified young men and women in serious pursuit of marriage, popular Quiverfull patriarchs took biblical courtship to a new level of paternal domination as they pointed to Old Testament examples of “betrothal” as the very best way to ensure the future success of Christian marriage.
Jonathan Lindvall, teaching “God’s Design for Youthful Romance,” cited the betrothal of Matthew and Maranatha Chapman (link no longer active) as an ideal example of a “true romantic betrothal.” Lindvall describes the crazy-making process by which Maranatha’s father, Stan Owen, orchestrated a year-long betrothal which was to be a “demonstration of Christ’s coming for His bride” based on the parable of the Ten Virgins.
Mr. Owen still faithfully directed both Matthew and Maranatha to avoid physical affection until their wedding. He particularly cautioned them to guard against impatience. Especially since Maranatha was rather young, their wedding might be quite a long way off yet. Though they hoped that the time would be soon, they nevertheless resigned themselves to the real possibility that the wedding could be a matter of years down the road, much like Jacob’s seven year betrothal to Rachel (Gen. 29:18-20). Yet they were both naturally quite motivated and energetically prepared in every way they could, as quickly as they could, just in case the wedding should suddenly be announced.
None of my daughters or their husbands asked the state of Tennessee for permission to marry. They did not yoke themselves to government. It was a personal, private covenant, binding them together forever—until death. So when the sodomites have come to share in the state marriage licenses, which will eventually be the law, James and Shoshanna will not be in league with those perverts. And, while I am on the subject, there will come a time when faithful Christians will either revoke their state marriage licenses and establish an exclusively one man-one woman covenant of marriage, or, they will forfeit the sanctity of their covenant by being unequally yoked together with perverts. The sooner there is such a movement, the sooner we will have a voice in government. Some of you attorneys and statesmen reading this should get together and come up with an approach that will have credibility and help to impact the political process.
Yeah … that’s “bible-believing” extremism for you – and it’s not enough to practice these ideals for themselves and their children, “biblical family values” must become the law of the land.
As a former Quiverfull believer, I used to get excited at the prospect of searching the Word and discovering greater “truths” and biblical principles – the implementation of which would bring my family increasingly closer to a truly God-honoring model of marriage and Christian home life. At the same time, I secretly dreaded what the Lord might reveal to me next through Lindvall’s Bold Christian Living, Pearl’s No Greater Joy, and other “biblical family living” ministries. Already I was obediently and faithfully having baby after baby to the obvious detriment of my health, submitting to my abusive husband, homeschooling, home birthing, home churching, foregoing all government assistance including potentially life-saving health insurance and food stamps, cutting off all outside relationships with family and friends who were not like-minded Quiverfull Believers …. honestly, the regimentation and isolation made for a harsh and demanding life.
“What’s next?” I frequently wondered to myself … ‘cuz my practice of Quiverfull was not “peculiar” enough already, I guess.
I am so grateful that I got out before I had a chance to discover the biblical principle of a man selecting and taking a wife for himself. I am afraid, since the idea comes straight from scripture, I very well may have gone along with my daughters’ father coming to an “unbreakable arrangement” for a “godly” young man to “take them” in marriage.
Ugh. It is a trap – a life-sucking quagmire – to attempt to order one’s family life according to a worldview which teaches that whatever is in the bible is necessarily “biblical” and normative for all times and all cultures. I dread the thought that today’s Quiverfull daughters are now being taught that a young Christian woman “has no right to select a husband for herself, but that she is to be chosen by a man” and given no decision in the covenant agreement between her father and the man who will be taking her.
Jim Elliff, the director of Christian Communicators Worldwide, thinks Christians should avoid Bart Ehrman because he could cause them to doubt or lose their faith. For those of you who are not familiar with Evangelical turned agnostic New Testament theologian Bart Ehrman, his credentials are as follows:
Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He began his teaching career at Rutgers University, and joined the faculty in the Department of Religious Studies at UNC in 1988, where he has served as both the Director of Graduate Studies and the Chair of the Department.
Professor Ehrman completed his M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees at Princeton Seminary, where his 1985 doctoral dissertation was awarded magna cum laude. An expert on the New Testament and the history of Early Christianity, has written or edited thirty books, numerous scholarly articles, and dozens of book reviews. In addition to works of scholarship, Professor Ehrman has written several textbooks for undergraduate students and trade books for general audiences. Five of his books have been on the New York Times Bestseller list: Misquoting Jesus; God’s Problem; Jesus Interrupted; Forged; and How Jesus Became God. His books have been translated into twenty-seven languages.
His books include:
God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer
How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher From Galilee
Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)
Ehrman is a royal pain in the ass for Evangelical pastors and theologians. His books are well written and quite devastating to the many of the tenets of Evangelicalism. His books are accessible, making it easy for the average Joe the plumber reader to understand what is written. In other words, Ehrman has successfully bridged the ivory tower/pew divide. I heartily recommend his books.
First, because Ehrman is a false teacher and we are forbidden to give such men a forum to express their views.
The Bible doesn’t treat false teachers kindly. It is one thing to talk with a skeptic who is asking questions to know the truth, or who is confronting you in public, but it is quite another thing to invite and pay a false teacher to come to your turf in order to present his views in an open forum.
Inviting a false teacher to present his errant views in order to persuade students and the public is like allowing a gunman to shoot randomly out into an audience of military personnel because it is assumed the troops have body armor. For one thing, body armor cannot shield against all shots, and for another, there are many people attending who have no armor at all. At last week’s debate, for instance, there were many people from the public who were not even believers. Some young people also attended, and some seminary students who are not yet prepared for the effects of doubt-producing verbiage….
Second, because the minority position almost always gains some followers regardless who wins the debate.
When you have a sizable crowd it almost goes without saying that someone will be convinced of the false views of the false teacher. You may sense an overwhelming approval of the debate by many who love the give and take, but fail to take note of the quiet student or outsider to the seminary now stricken with doubt about the Scriptures. Ehrman’s presentation might be all that is needed to move him over the line….
Third, because debates are not always won on the basis of truth alone.
We don’t need to comment much here, because you understand how this works. Ehrman clearly won the debate by the account of several attending. He simply won it by his cleverness and expertise at debating. His opponent, the believer, was well able to defeat him with the truth, but missed his opportunities in several places, giving credence to the idea that he was a better writer and lecturer than debater. In fact, this is the second time Ehrman won a debate at the same seminary, but against a different Christian opponent. What does that do for our witness? Though I have no question in my mind that our position on the reliability of Scripture is the right one and can withstand Ehrman’s arguments soundly, our side was out-debated.
Fourth, because many of the listeners will not have the opportunity to sort out confusing aspects of the debate with professors or knowledgeable persons….
Fifth, because doubt is insidious.
One seminary student who has now graduated told me that he occasionally had huge doubts about Scripture and God. They were not there often, perhaps only for a few difficult days or weeks once every year or two, but they were so strong that he found himself almost smothered by them when they came. This was a leading student, chosen as one of the best preachers of the seminary. Doubt is insidious. Like a drop of ink added to gallons of water, it can ruin everything. It is the fly in the perfume. We are naïve to think that, being free from doubts ourselves, others do not deal with them regularly.
When a man like Ehrman speaks, doubt-producing statements may be forever lodged in people’s minds, causing trouble when least expected. It only takes a tiny amount of doubt for some people to be destroyed. A weak person might believe his doubts rather than believe his beliefs…..
Where, oh where do I begin?
There is no need for me to go through a lengthy refutation of Elliff’s post. His position is quite simple:
Bart Ehrman is a false teacher
Christians are not to listen to false teachers
False teachers like Ehrman cause Christians to doubt
Doubt causes people to lose their faith
Doubt must be avoided at all costs, so information that is contrary to the approved narrative must be avoided
Consider this. The doubting students that Elliff is so concerned about have gone to Evangelical (Southern Baptist) churches their entire lives and have at least four years of college education, most likely at an Evangelical college. After a lifetime of training, four years of college, and after uncounted sermons and Sunday school lessons, the students still aren’t prepared to withstand hearing ONE debate featuring a non-Christian?
I have one word for this, pathetic.
Elliff lives in a world where the only truth is his truth (though he calls his truth God’s truth). Even though most everyone admits Ehrman handily won the debate, according to Elliff he won by deceptive means. Since there is only one version of the truth, Ehrman had to win by other means.
The money quote is this:
Ehrman clearly won the debate by the account of several attending. He simply won it by his cleverness and expertise at debating. His opponent, the believer, was well able to defeat him with the truth, but missed his opportunities in several places, giving credence to the idea that he was a better writer and lecturer than debater.
Elliff seems to have forgotten his Bible. If I remember right, the Holy Spirit indwells every follower of Jesus. When a believer is called on to give a defense of their faith, the Holy Spirit gives the believer the words to say. Evidently, the Holy Spirit didn’t come through for Evans.
Elliff lives in an alternate universe where saying the Bible says _________ is the satisfactory answer to every question. It’s the equivalent of a child wanting to know why and their mother telling them, because I said so. Remember the EF Hutton commercials? When EF Hutton speaks everyone is silent. That’s the world Evangelicals like Jim Elliff live in. Any facts that don’t fit the approved orthodox narrative are rejected out of hand. Even when the facts are overwhelming, great lengths are taken to explain away the contrary evidence. Young earth creationists like Ken Ham are a perfect example of this.
I left the Christian faith because I no longer believed the Christian narrative to be true. It was my desire to know the truth that ultimately resulted in my deconversion. If Christian seminary students, most of whom are studying for the ministry, cannot be confronted with contrary evidence for fear of losing their faith, I would suggest it is not a faith worth having.
Doubt should not be discouraged. Evangelicals should be encouraged to question, investigate, and test the beliefs which their pastors (and college professors) and churches say are true. A faith that will withstand the onslaught of the modern/postmodern world must be able to answer the questions the modern/postmodern world presents. Perhaps, that is the real issue. The Christian faith has run out of answers. All that is left is warmed over dogma from years gone by, irrelevant and no longer satisfying for the needs of humanity.
It really is all about the Bible; on this point both the skeptic and the Evangelical can agree.
In Bible times what Christians drank was sub-alcoholic, basically purified water
It will call others to stumble
It harms ours bodies which are the Lord’s
Alcohol is addictive
Believers are kings and priests separated unto God
Are you ready, contestants? It’s time to play The Evangelical Never, Ever Game.
Using David Brown’s “logic”, I can come to the following conclusion:
Eating food leads to gluttony
The Bible condemns gluttony
Gluttony will cause others to stumble
Gluttony harms our bodies
Eating food is addictive
Conclusion? Don’t eat food.
Wasn’t that fun? Let’s play another round.
Sex leads to fornication and adultery
The Bible condemns fornication and adultery
Fornication and adultery will cause others to stumble
Fornication and adultery harms our bodies (not really, but Christians think they do)
Sex is addictive
Conclusion? Don’t have sex.
Isn’t this game fun? Feel free to continue playing the game in the comment section.
David Brown is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Oak Creek, Wisconsin. You can check out his blog here. If you peruse the church’s website, be prepared to step back in time to Windows 95. The church is King James only. Brown calls himself Doctor, but I was unable to find anything that said where he earned his doctorate. Since fundamentalist Baptists are notorious for having bogus or worthless doctorates, I decided to not call Brown, Dr. Brown.
An Evangelical Christian asked me, what happens when we die? Here’s my answer.
The power of religion rests in the hope it gives people concerning life after death. Remove this from religion and churches would be shuttered overnight. Hope, along with fear, is the glue that holds most religions together. What would religion be without the fear of hell and the hope of heaven?
The problem though is that there is no proof for the existence of heaven,hell, or life beyond the grave. All we have to go on is the various religious texts that clerics use to “prove” that there is a hell and a heaven. No one has ever gone to heaven or hell and returned to tell us about it. The same goes for any life after death, whether it be reincarnation or Christian resurrection. There is no evidence for life after death. Any belief to the contrary requires faith.
As a skeptic,I rarely appeal to faith. I try to judge matters according to what I can know. What does reason tell me about life after death? What do my observations tell me about reality? What do my experiences tell me about the prospects of eternal life beyond my last breath?
When we die we are dead. That’s it. End of story. When my heart stops pumping and my lungs stop breathing, I am dead. Every one of us will come to this end. No one escapes death. I know of no one who has come back from the dead. I know of no one who is not right where they were planted or scattered after they died. As with God, there is no empirical evidence for hell, heaven, or life after death. Since there is no evidence, I must conclude that these things do not exist.
Now, this does not mean I don’t wish it could be different. Heaven, eternal life, a pain-free body, being reunited with my father and mother; all these things appeal to me. But then, so does having magical Harry Potter-like powers. Both are fantasies that have no foundation in fact.
Some day, sooner rather than later, I am going to die. It is unlikely that I will be alive 20 years from now. I hope I am, but my body and its slow, gradual, painful decline tells me that death is lurking in the shadows and some day it will come and claim me. Believe me, I want to live. I have no death wish like many Christians do. Take me Jesus, I am ready to go, many a Christian says. Not me. I have no desire to leave on the next boat or any other boat. I hope the long black train that’s a-comin’ gets derailed in Hell, Michigan. I want to live as long as I can. I want to be married for 50 years, see my grandchildren get married, and hold my great-grandchildren.
You see, we skeptics value life because this is all we have. We know, based on what the evidence tells us, that there is no hell, heaven, or life after death. This is it, and because this is it we want to wring as much as we can out of life. We are not content to off-load life to a mythical Sweet-By-and-By. Every day matters because every day lived is one less day we have to live.
I have lived about 21,288 days/510,912 hours. What is most important to me is how I spent my past, and how I will spend what days I have left. Have I lived life to its fullest? Have I made a difference? Am I a better person today than I was yesterday? This is enough for me; a well-live life. What more can anyone ask ?
Sadly, many Evangelicals view life as something to be endured so that the can get a divine payoff after death. I know this description sounds crude, but it is the essence of the Christian belief concerning life after death. Endure! Suffer! Be Patient! As the Christian song says, Some day it will be worth it all. Some day you will cross the finish line and receive the prize that awaits you, the Apostle Paul says.
I don’t fault the Evangelical for believing in hell, heaven, and the afterlife. The Christian Bible certainly says these things are real. The Bible clearly says who will be going to hell and heaven. However, as a skeptic, I see no evidence that these beliefs are true. I do not have the requisite faith necessary to suspend reason on these matters. I am unwilling to waste my life in the pursuit of that which, as best I can tell, does not exist.
Eat them, metaphorically speaking, with BBQ sauce.
In 2012, Ken Ham, a young earth creationist, snake oil salesman, and the CEO of Answers in Genesis, warned his followers about the dangers of secularism and atheism:
… Christians today are hungry to be equipped with the resources to fight the battle before us in this increasingly secular culture, where God’s Word is being attacked on nearly every front.
I love teaching children. Once again, as we’ve seen across the country at similar conferences, we were able to reach hundreds of children and young people who attended the special school assembly programs in Florida.
Recently, I coauthored an article for the AiG website about Arizona State University Professor Lawrence Krauss. He has now posted videos accusing Christians who teach their children about creation of committing “child abuse.” He even accuses those who teach their children about hell of committing “child abuse.”
Lawrence Krauss is an atheist, and he is an atheist on a mission right now to capture your kids for the anti-God religion of atheism. Think about it—he wants you to hand your kids over to him so he can try to brainwash children into believing they are just animals and that they are not made in the image of God. He wants them to be taught when you die, you rot—and that’s it! In essence, he wants your kids to be captured for the devil.
You know, I often think about why people such as Krauss are so aggressive in preaching their anti-God message of meaninglessness, purposelessness, and hopelessness. We we know that in Romans 1 we are told such people know that God is real, so they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” And it’s even more than that. They want the focus on them—it is a self-centeredness. They want you to think they are a god! They have succumbed to the devil’s temptation in Genesis 3:5—they want to be like God—they want to be a god!
Such God-haters like Lawrence Krauss and others usually go ballistic when they hear of AiG teaching kids about Genesis. And they just hate me teaching children the truth about science, origins, and how to think correctly about such matters.
This past Monday in Florida, I taught young children for an hour and a half, covering topics like dinosaurs, fossils, the Flood, creation, evolution, the gospel and much more. I showed them how the history recorded in the Bible explains dinosaurs and that observational science confirms the Bible’s history. Secularists hate me teaching children to think correctly about origins as I help them understand what God taught Job in Job 38:4. God asked Job if he was there when God made the earth. But of course, he wasn’t—and that’s the point. When it comes to origins, no human was there to see the earth come into existence! But God has always been there. Evolutionists were not there to see the supposed millions of years of evolution. So I love to teach the kids to ask the question, “Were you there?” when someone talks about millions of years. The kids get it! The atheists don’t want to get it because they don’t want to give up the starting point for their worldview—i.e., that fallible man determines truth.
I taught the high school students how to understand science in relation to the origins issue by showing them the difference between beliefs about the past and knowledge gained by observation, which enables us to build technology.
Recently, Dr. Krauss made the false statement that evolution is the basis of biology and the basis of technology. Absurd nonsense! I made sure I taught the students how to think correctly about such issues. Then I gave them answers to many of the questions skeptics will use to try to make them doubt God’s Word—questions like these: Who made God? How did Noah fit the animals on the Ark? Isn’t natural selection evolution? What about Carbon dating?…
Evangelicals like Ham love a good conspiracy theory. They believe we are living in the last days and Jesus could return to earth at any moment. (Though I suspect Ham secretly hopes Jesus doesn’t return before he open his Noah’s Ark Amusement Park.) They also believe the world will become increasingly more sinful the closer we get to the return of Jesus. The rise of secularism and atheism is proof to people like Ham that we are living in the last days.
Ken Ham, and millions of other Evangelicals, believe they are called by God to stand against Satan and his lies. In their eyes, secularism, atheism, humanism, evolution, acceptance of homosexuality, and legalized abortion are Satanic lies that must be exposed and defeated.
Ham is right about one thing; America is becoming more secular. He is also right that the battle for the future of America will be fought in our public schools and universities. Make no mistake about it, secularists, humanists, and atheists believe the kind of Christianity Ham peddles is intellectually harmful and retards the thinking of young people.
And so we fight. No longer do secularists, humanists, and atheists hide in the shadows, fearing the wrath of Christian America. We can sense the tide is turning, and so does Ken Ham.
Secularists, humanists, and atheists use reason and facts to show young people a better way. They show that there is no need to appeal to myth or religious superstition to explain and understand the world. Science is revealing a universe to us that is amazing and wondrous, but it is also showing that the religious narratives of the past 1,800 years are no longer credible explanations for the world we live in.
Ham does his best to disparage secularists, humanists, and atheists. According to Ham:
We preach a message of hopelessness
We preach a message of meaninglessness
We preach a message of purposelessness
We know God exists but suppress it
We are self-centered, it is all about us
Only with his last point does Ham get it right. Secularists, humanists, and atheists plead guilty to being human-centered (though that is not the ONLY focus we have). We know that focusing on prayer, God, or pronouncements from ancient religious texts will do little to improve the world. In fact, such beliefs might actually cause great harm (Many of the people who deny global climate change do so for religious reasons.)
Ham and his devoted disciples are infuriated that people like Lawrence Krauss say teaching children creationism is child abuse. However, let’s consider for a moment whether Krauss’s claim is true. If creationism is religious fiction, then teaching children it is true is a lie. From the time they can walk and talk, Evangelical Christian children are taught all sorts of lies from the Bible. How can this not have a negative effect onchildren? (Especially since belief in the creation myth is carried into adult life.)
Teaching children the earth is 6,020 years old, that God killed with a flood every human being save eight a few thousand years ago, and that anyone who does not accept the Evangelical version of the Christian God will be tortured by God in hell for eternity, is quite harmful to the intellectual development of children.
The waiting rooms of mental health professionals are filled with people who have had their sense of self-worth damaged or destroyed by Christian teachings like original sin. Being told you are wicked, that you can be oppressed or possessed by Satan, and that God holds absolute power of your life, does not make for a healthy mind.
So, to Ken Ham, I say this: Yes we are coming for your children. We don’t actually want to dine on fat Christian sucklings, but we do hope to expose them as they get older to the wide, wondrous universe we live in. We hope to teach them to think critically and not to accept something as fact just because a preacher declares from the pulpit God says __________________.
I am not anti-Christian or anti-religion. I am, however, anti-ignorance. I think parents hurt their children when they keep them from ALL the knowledge available about the universe and their place in it.
My story poses a real problem for Baptists. According to Baptist soteriology (doctrines pertaining to salvation), once nonbelievers are saved (born again, becomes a Christian), they can never lose their salvation. This belief is called once saved always saved, eternal security, or the perseverance/preservation of the saints.
All Baptists, except Free-will Baptists, believe that once a person is saved there is nothing a Christian can do nothing to lose his or her salvation. John 10:28, 29 says:
And I (Jesus) give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.
This is why some Baptists believe I am still saved. No matter what I do, Jesus will never disown me. No matter how much I blaspheme God, Jesus will never leave me or forsake me. It is like getting married without having any provision for divorce. Once married, you are married for life. No matter what the husband or wife does, be it adultery or physical abuse, their marriage cannot be dissolved. So it is for me. No matter what I say or do, I am still saved. God might chastise me or even kill me, but there is nothing I can do to get God to let me out of my eternal life contract.
Of course, this kind of thinking is silly and some Baptists realize this, leading them to take a different approach to my life. Instead of once-saved-always-saved, they say I never was saved. According to them, I never really put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ. While I may have outwardly given evidence that I was saved, inwardly I knew that I really wasn’t. I was a faker, a pretender, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. My becoming an atheist is proof to them that I never really was a Christian. In their mind, I always was an atheist.
In a post titled, The Logical Consequences of You Never were a Christian, I wrote:
People who believe a Christian can not fall from grace are forced to dismiss me as a life-long deceptive servant of Satan. For 36 years I deceived every Christian, every church member, every pastor, every evangelist, every Christian college professor I came in contact with; and most of all I deceived my entire Christian family.
No one, over a span of 36 years, ever said “I think Bruce Gerencser is not a Christian.” Think about this for a moment. Think of the deception necessary to pull this off.
I preached thousands of sermons…all preached in the power of the flesh.
I prayed thousands of prayers, none of which was ever heard by God.
Hundreds of people who made professions of faith did so after hearing the preaching of a deceiver, a follower of Satan.
Hundreds of people who were baptized by me were immersed by a charlatan; a man who rejected the vows confessed during a baptism.
I counseled hundreds of people over the years. Every person I counseled received counsel from a false prophet.
Every moment spent in private prayer, every moment spent in devoted study of the Word of God, all the time spent in devotion to the living Christ was spent as a person no better than Judas.
The truth is, Baptists (along with Evangelicals who eschew the Baptist label but have a similar soteriology) are in bondage to their theology. To admit I once was a Christian means that their belief about eternal security is false. Instead of admitting that I once was a Christian, keepers of the Book of Life scour my life looking for defects in my story. They then exploit these defects to show I really never was a Christian.
Years ago, I was co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas. When we moved to Texas, another family, Larry and Linda Johnson,who were members of the church I pastored in Ohio, moved with us. Every person joining Community Baptist had to give a credible testimony of faith in Jesus Christ. Larry told his salvation story to Pat Horner, my fellow pastor. Pat became alarmed over what Larry told him. Larry used language to describe his faith that most Baptists didn’t use. He talked more about God than he did Jesus. Pat took this as evidence Larry might not really know Jesus. I assured him this was not the case. Larry was a good man who took matters of faith seriously.
So it is with some Baptists who read this blog. Instead of accepting my story at face value, they look for things in my story that don’t line up with their own experience. They then conclude I never really was saved. They go to great lengths to deconstruct my life, poking and prodding, looking for anything that will invalidate my claim of once being a Christian. And guess what? They always find what they are looking for.
When people are committed to upholding certain theological belief at all costs, they end up thinking and saying things that are silly. So it is when people say I never was saved or that I am still saved. The only way anyone can judge the validity of a person’s life is by how he lives. I told parishioners countless times over the years, we give evidence of faith in Christ by how we live not by what we say we believe. This fact seems to be forgotten by my critics. Look at my life as a Christian and as a pastor. What in my conduct and lifestyle remotely suggests I was not saved? If I wasn’t a Christian then it is fair to ask if anyone is.
Part of the problem is that I am willing to talk about my failures as a Christian and as a pastor. I am willing to admit that I sinned, that I did things considered wrong by most Baptists. These confessions are taken as proof that I never was saved. Evidently, the perfection standard applies only to Jesus and Bruce Gerencser. None of the people I pastored or the men I considered colleagues in the ministry was perfect. Because they are still professing Christian means they are judged by a different standard than I am. They are allowed to be sinful, yet saved, but I am not.
Thousands of people read this blog. Many readers are former Evangelicals. If I asked them what was the one thing that Christians said that offended them the most they would likely say, Christians who dismiss my past life by saying I never was a Christian. Sadly, many Christians fail to see, or don’t care, how offensive such a line of thinking is.
Put the shoe on the other foot. Suppose atheists began going through a Christian’s life with a fine tooth comb, pointing out discrepancies or contradictions in his life story. Imagine being told, itis evident you never really were saved. I suspect they would be quite offended by such a statement.
Here’s what I know…I once was saved and now I’m not.
My mother, who was a Christian, intentionally raised my brothers and me as agnostics.
You see, mom had a theory: Questions such as whether God exists, whether Jesus is our lord and savior, whether there is a heaven and hell — all such questions were far too important to be decided by little boys according to her. Hence, she strictly forbid us reaching any conclusions about religious matters until we were able to reason as adults. As a consequence, I grew up resisting — for the most part — the temptation to arrive at any firm conclusions regarding religion.
Of course, it is almost impossible to grow up in a society that is 80% Christian without unconsciously adopting many of the views and assumptions of your Christian friends and neighbors. Looking back, I think I adopted so many Christian views and assumptions that I might have been fairly labeled a Christian in all but a handful of ways.
For instance: I neither believed in nor disbelieved in god, but — like any good Christian — I thought the question of god’s existence was crucially important. More over, the god I neither believed in nor disbelieved in was very much like the God of the Christians. In those and in a hundred other ways, I was more or less a Christian — without being aware of myself as such.
Consequently, I can look back now and see how I have spent a lot of my life freeing myself from Christianity. And one way I’ve freed myself from Christianity is by freeing myself from the Christian notion of self-sacrifice.
Growing up, I was taught that a good person was, among other things, self-sacrificing and even self-effacing; that he or she not only did what was beneficial to others, but did it for little or no reward of any kind. Unfortunately, that was one of the things about Christianity that I took to heart. And for so long as I took it to heart, I could not understand what it meant to be true to myself.
The notion of being true to myself sounded suspicious to me. If you were busy being true to yourself, weren’t you by necessity neglecting other people? The people you should be sacrificing yourself for? Being true to yourself just didn’t make much sense to me, so I never really investigated it.
When I finally did get around to examining the idea — which was not until mid-life — I discovered that it had a lot more going for it than I had imagined. As I learned how to apply it, I found it gave me a richer sense of purpose and meaning than I had suspected it would.
I think an important key to understanding what it means to be true to yourself is to grasp that our beliefs are not what we most need to be true to. Of course, beliefs are of crucial importance in Christianity. After all, whether you spend eternity in heaven or hell largely seems to depend on your beliefs. But that prejudice can be misleading for beliefs are of much less importance to being true to oneself. Beliefs come and go. If we make a reasonable effort to have true beliefs, then we are almost certainly required to change and update our beliefs as we gather new information. For that and other reasons, it is risky to make them paramount.
I am of the opinion that, instead of focusing on what we believe — and then trying to be true to those beliefs — we should focus more on our talents. And then try to turn those talents into socially responsible skills. In my experience, that brings the richest and most lasting sense of meaning and purpose.
There’s a saying (often mistakenly attributed to Aristotle) that goes something like this: “At the crossroads where your talents and skills meet the needs of the world, there lies your well-being or happiness”. To illustrate, imagine someone with a talent or gift for music. By turning that talent into musical skills, he or she is being true to themselves. Then, by using their skills to meet the needs of the world for music, they increase their chances of finding some measure of happiness. Yet, in my experience, even if they do not meet the needs of the world, even if they keep their music to themselves, they are likely to find happiness and a sense of well-being simply in turning their talent into skills.
I do not hold Christianity entirely responsible for my not having discovered the rewards of being true to myself until mid-life. I think there were other factors involved as well. But I believe Christianity — at least to the extent it made me suspicious of being true to myself — impeded my progress in that direction.
There have been several other ways in which I believe my life has improved as I’ve freed myself from the Christian ideas and assumptions I unwittingly adopted while growing up. But that is by no means to say I think of Christianity as an evil that must be abolished. Rather, it’s just that in my own case I have discovered — time and again — that it is a poor fit for me.