Recently, a new reader sent me the following email:
I found your site by way of various blogs on Patheos. Over the weekend, I read one of our posts describing your journey to atheism…In particular, I am interested in a list of five or so books that you had read on your journey. I cannot find your post and am extremely interested in reading your suggestions. Can you point me in the right direction? I’m married to a Southern Baptist, who was completely non-practicing until we had kids. I’m an atheist, trying to be extremely respectful of my husband’s religion, while my young children are rebelling against it because of science and common sense… (email edited)
This is a great question, one that I get quite often, so I thought I’d put together a list of books I recommend for those who have questions or doubts about the Bible and Christianity. I think these books will be quite helpful. If you know of other books that would be helpful, please mention them in the comment section.
Today, I made my monthly pilgrimage to my primary care doctor’s office. We discussed how the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns are doing and we talked about how difficult it is to sit on the sidelines as our adult children go through life’s difficulties. It was also time for prescription refills, one sent to Meijer, three to Caremark, and three written controlled substance scripts. I also got a flu and pneumonia shot. I mentioned a large lump in my upper abdomen. Hmm, the doctor said, and referred me to a surgeon for a consult. Probably a cyst or a fibroma, and not likely malignant, but I will have to have it checked, especially since I’ve been treated for skin cancer three times, twice in the last 3 months. Always something. (I learned MRI’s and CT scans do not see masses like this)
After my visit was over, we exited the examination room and headed for the clinic waiting area. As we walked through the door we heard the loud voice of an Evangelical Christian. An obese man, wearing a shirt with a gaudy Halloween pumpkin on it, was going from person to person, often touching them, blessing them in the name of Jesus. JESUS LOVES YOU, he told several people, and he told the receptionist, KEEP DOING A WONDERFUL WORK FOR GOD!!
Really?, I thought to myself. While I’m sure this man was well-intentioned, thinking he was just paying everyone a big compliment, his behavior and words were quite offensive. I wanted to say to him, shut the fuck up…I’m not interested in your Jesus blessing. But, I didn’t. You see, I’m polite and don’t engage people in unwanted discussion about religion or politics. I respect people enough to keep my opinions to myself. If I’m asked a question or someone wants to engage me in a discussion, I will gladly do so, but I think it is rude to blather on about religion or politics uninvited.
Unfortunately, many Evangelicals think they have the right to go into a room and rip the loudest, foulest fart and everyone is supposed to inhale deeply and love it. They are oblivious, it seems, to the fact that most people do not want to listen to their God talk, nor do they want a Jesus blessing, a prayer, or any of the other things Evangelicals love to force on others. Why do Evangelicals think this kind of behavior is appropriate? Entitlement? Calling from God? Jesus Gas® that must be expelled lest the Evangelical implode?
The receptionist smiled, but as the man turned to walk away she rolled his eyes and frowned. She’s probably a Christian, but even she was embarrassed by Mr. Evangelical’s God talk and Jesus blessing. Fortunately, he didn’t address me directly, nor did he touch me. If he had, since I was having a don’t touch me pain day, he likely would have not liked my response. Count me as one person who is tired of Evangelicals who think they have a God-given right to invade the private space of others. When I am at the doctor’s office, I intensely feel my mortality. Every checkup is a reminder that things are not well for me and that death is closer than it was the last time I was at the doctor’s office. I don’t need a loudmouth Jesus freak saying anything to me. Save it for the church house or for those who are part of the Evangelical tribe.
Imagine for a moment that a Satanist, a Muslim, or an Atheist was loudly and indiscriminately broadcasting their beliefs. Imagine the Satanist going up to an Evangelical, laying their hand on them, and saying, BLESSINGS IN THE NAME OF BEELZEBUB! Imagine the Muslim going up to the receptionist and saying, KEEP DOING A WONDERFUL WORK FOR ALLAH!! Imagine the Atheist going from person to person in the waiting room and, with a loud voice, telling them THERE IS NO GOD! We all know how Evangelicals would react, right? Why can’t they see themselves in the same light and realize that such behavior is patently rude and offensive?
This is the fifty-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 send me an email.
Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Hoo Ba Ba Kanda, A Mockery of Robert Tilton by Pogo.
My writing tends to attract a number of Evangelical readers. If they happen to come to this site via a search engine result that takes them to a specific page, and they are not overtly curious about who I am, they might even conclude that I am a Christian. I’ve received numerous emails from Christians praising me for my stand on the Word of God, only to get another email later expressing how disappointed they are about finding out I am an atheist. One woman even told that she wished she hadn’t learned this because now she couldn’t trust any of my writing. (see Curiosity, a Missing Evangelical Trait)
Evangelicals say that truth is important to them, but the fact is they only want truth from certain sources. They only trust their own and they are unwilling to believe that truth can be found outside of their peculiar rut. It seems that everything I learned about the Bible, Christianity, and the ministry the first 50 years of my life became toxic and worthless the moment I said I no longer believe. All of a sudden, a once trust source is now considered a heretic, a liar, a deceiver, and a tool of Satan.
Several months ago, an Evangelical woman commented on this site and tried to solicit my support for her war against clergy sexual abuse. She loved my writing about the subject and was certain we were of a common mind. At the time, she didn’t know I was an atheist. Once she found out I was, here’s the email she sent me:
I was not familiar with your story and change of heart concerning God’s word. I can tell you I don’t believe in religion but I do believe in the bible. Big big difference. People, circumstances, man made religions will always hurt us and let us down. I have never felt the pressure to conform to anything or anybody. I have never tried to take the burdens of this world on my shoulders and have never judged my belief in God’s word based on my circumstances. Why? The bible is clear on who we are and aren’t in Christ. This world is set in motion both good and bad by our Heavenly Father. We are all called individually to find our way to our creator via the bible. I am a RN,grandmother, saved at nine. The things I have seen in my years working with dying patients has only strengthen my belief. Those who choose to look at the leaders of organized religion and believe their every word and interpretation of the bible. Are the ones that burn out,walk away and give satan the victory. If I thought for one minute this life was it. I would never have brought children into it. Man could never have created our beautiful nature around us. Sit in the woods and listen, look,and you will find our creator. Look away from man and your own reasoning. It will always leave you with feelings of loss and doubts if you don’t. Praying for you.
I can only imagine how disappointed she was when she found out I was not on Team Jesus. I will leave it to others, if they are so inclined, to respond to her silly notion about religion vs. the Bible. I will say that it is religion that gave us the Bible, not the other way around. The Bible was birthed by the church. Only Evangelicals fail to understand this, thinking that God tossed a leather-bound King James Bible over the portal of heaven and when it landed on earth it immediately gave birth to Christianity.
On another post, Brian and Zoe responded to her statement about not having children if this life is all there is.
” If I thought life here as we know it was all their is. I couldn’t face another day. I would not want to be a mother grandmother or nurse. What hope could I give my loved ones and patients. I know without a doubt I have a creator above that loves me just like I am. Knowing him makes me want to love give forgive and keep reaching out.”
I am so sorry that life is so meaningless to you, that you couldn’t face another day! That you would spurn motherhood and being a grandmother and nurse! Wow, what utter depravity you must live with…. I am so sorry. As a mother, a grandmother and nurse you likely give such love and help… YOU give…. Why do you throw that away as if it is worthless? I find statements like yours very very sad. What on earth happened to you to make you state such things? Just open your heart (to yourself.)
Zoe had this to say:
Cheryl wrote: ” If I thought life here as we know it was all their is. I couldn’t face another day. I would not want to be a mother grandmother or nurse. What hope could I give my loved ones and patients.”
Zoe responds: Sure you could Cheryl, you just don’t know it. You aren’t so very different than many of us who also once could have and did have those same thoughts. I suspect like many of us because you are a mother a grandmother and a nurse, you indeed could face another day, many days. 🙂
My unbelief in your God does not affect who I am as a caring and kind person. I spent time yesterday with a Christian family who is facing a life and death situation. My unbelief did not affect my love for them or my ability to be present, to help, to make supper, to care for children, to encourage and support them. It certainly also did not interrupt my hope for the best possible outcome. As a nurse myself (no longer in practice) I am also still a great sounding board regarding medical terminology. My unbelief in a theistic being like yours doesn’t change who I am as a human being.
”My thinking, if I believe that Jesus is the Lord, must be governed entirely by the Bible. In other words, I am not governed by modern thought. If I am governed by that, then Jesus is not the Lord of my intellect. So I cannot be governed by modern thought or by recent knowledge or by the latest discoveries of science. The moment I begin to be governed by those things, then Jesus is no longer Lord to me. I am putting myself in a superior position. I am making myself the lord.”
‘We accept the biblical teaching with regard to creation and do not base our position upon theories of evolution, whichever particular theory people may choose to advocate. We must assert that we believe in the being of one first man called Adam, and one first woman called Eve. We reject the notion of pre-Adamic man because it is contrary to the teaching of the Scripture.
‘Now someone may ask, “Why do you care about this? Is this essential to your doctrine of salvation? Are you not falling into the very error of over-particularization against which you warned us at the beginning?” I suggest that I am not, and for these reasons. If we say that we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, we must say that about the whole of the Bible, and when the Bible presents itself to us as history, we must accept it as history. I would contend that the early chapters of Genesis, the first three chapters of Genesis, are given to us as history. We know that there are pictures and symbols in the Bible, and when the Bible uses symbol and parable it indicates that it is doing so, but when it presents something to us in the form of history, it requires us to accept it as history.
‘We must therefore hold to the vital principle, to which I have referred earlier, of the wholeness and the close interrelationship of every part of the biblical message. The Bible does not merely make statements about salvation. It is a complete whole: it tells you about the origin of the world and of man; it tells you what has happened to him, how he fell and the need of salvation arose, it then tells how God provided this salvation and how He began to reveal it in parts and portions. Nothing is so amazing about the Bible as its wholeness, the perfect interrelationship of all the parts.’
Let this be a reminder of how the Evangelical doctrine of inerrancy and Bible literalism cripples a person’s ability to think and reason. When inquiry begins with an inerrant, infallible, inspired text there can be no hope of a satisfactory answer. Every answer must be fit into the Bible box and anything that doesn’t fit in this box is rejected out of hand. This kind of thinking breeds ignorance and keeps a person from seeing the world as it is.
Millions of American Evangelicals believe that Jesus is going to come back some day very soon, perhaps today, and rapture them from the earth. This rapture, or catching up, is only for those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Most of the population of the world will be left behind. (Left Behind. Hmm, that would be a great title for a poorly written fictional book series that would make its authors filthy rich.) For the Evangelical, maybe for the first time in their life, they will get to fly first class. All those who laughed at them or mocked their beliefs will be left behind as they soar through the clouds with Jesus on their way to God’s Motel 6.
After all the washed in the blood Christians are raptured, God will open a big can of whoop ass and for seven years he will pour out his judgment and wrath on the earth. (or 3 1/2 years depending on what kind of rapturist you are) By the time the Great Tribulation is over, God will have slaughtered almost every human being on the face of the earth. Awesome, right?
The rapture is a relatively new eschatological belief, dating back to the 19th century. (the history behind the belief is quite interesting) Central to rapture belief is the notion that Jesus could return at any moment. I am sure most of you have heard a preacher say that we are waiting for the imminent return of Jesus. He could come today!
Evangelicals often try to scare me into repenting. Here’s what one Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) commenter said trying to scare me with the rapture:
Time is short and HE is coming again. I would hate to see you blogging about how the Lord came and raptured the Church, and how you got left behind, because you were to busy bashing Preachers about this or that. Be a man sir, Please for all of us.
The tactic used by this commenter is used every Sunday in uncounted Evangelical churches. Jesus could return today! Are you ready? Are you saved? You don’t want to be left behind! Are you right with God? Do you want Jesus to come back and not find you busy doing HIS work, HIS work meaning doing what the preacher wants you to do. Oh, these scaremongers are earnest in their pleas, yet when the service is over they pile into their car, drive to the local 10% off if you bring a church bulletin buffet for dinner, and then return home to catch their favorite football team on the TV. You see, these preachers really don’t believe what they are saying. In fact, no one REALLY believes in the rapture and the imminent return of Jesus.
Right now, an Evangelical is reading the previous paragraph and is outraged that I would suggest that they don’t believe in the rapture. Little do they know that the very fact that they are reading this post is proof of my contention. If a person REALLY thought Jesus was coming back today, would they spend their time reading the blog of an apostate ex-Christian preacher? Of course not.
How many times have you listened to a preacher preach a humdinger of a rapture sermon imploring people to get saved because Jesus could come today, only to watch this same preacher after the service get in his car and drive down to the local Bob Evan’s for lunch? If the preacher REALLY thought Jesus was coming back today, would he be spending time eating and fellowshipping at the local Bob Evans? Of course not.
Here’s how you can tell what any Evangelical REALLY believes. Just look at how they live their life from day-to-day. Do they live like a person who is expecting the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to show up at any moment? Does their life reflect their belief that this is the generation that will see the return of Jesus? Of course not. Like the rest of us, they are busy going to work, making money, mowing the grass, painting the kitchen, washing the car, and taking a vacation. Outside of what they do on Sunday and maybe on Wednesday, they live lives that aren’t any different from the rest of us. How they live betrays what they really believe.
If the rapture could happen today and we are one day closer to the tribulation than we were yesterday, and Evangelicals really believed this, wouldn’t they would be selling their possessions and doing all they could do to evangelize the world? Instead, they are sitting in front of a computer screen ordering the latest book in the Left Behind series or some other end times fiction series. Tonight, instead of talking to their family, friends, and neighbors about the soon coming rapture, they will sit down in front of the TV and watch their favorite show or they will surf the internet, perhaps stopping by The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser to read what the apostate preacher wrote. Their lifestyle betrays that they don’t REALLY believe the rapture is imminent.
If I believed that there was a fire coming that would burn down the homes of my family, friends, and neighbors, I would make sure everyone knew about it. It would be negligent on my part to NOT warn them of the fire to come. Yet, most Christians rarely, if ever, share their faith. Even preachers who thunder, stomp, holler, spit, and snort as they preach about the need for sinners to get saved, rarely are diligent in evangelizing others. In the 8 years I have lived in Ney, Ohio, not one Christian or preacher has knocked on my door to warn of the doom to come. They left flyers for Back to Church Sunday, their ice cream social, or their craft bazaar, but not one time have they uttered a word or left a piece of literature that warned the village atheist and his family that Jesus is fixing to come to soon.
John the Baptist went to the wilderness and preached the gospel. The Apostle Paul went from town to town preaching the gospel. The Evangelicals of today? They go from conference to conference, church meeting to church meeting, and website to website, learning how to be a fatter sheep. The world? It can go to hell, Duck Dynasty is on.
It’s been ten years since I preached my last sermon. Well, according to my counselor, it’s been ten years since I preached my last CHRISTIAN sermon. He thinks I am still very much a preacher and a pastor. I’m playing for the other team, but I’m still playing the game. While I certainly continue to preach the good news of reason, secularism, godlessness and scientific inquiry , I am no longer driven to make converts lest they die in their sins and go to hell. I wish more Americans would heed my preaching, but I know they won’t until there is some sort of crisis of faith. So, I preach, but I no longer concern myself with the outcome. To use parable of the sower, all I can do is sow the seed. Most of the seed will fall on barren ground, but some will fall on fertile ground and up will sprout a person of reason, skepticism, and science.
In the fall of 2003, I resigned as pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan. Victory Baptist was a dysfunctional, dying Southern Baptist church, the perfect church for Bruce Almighty to work a miracle. When I took the church I told the congregation that I was not a fighter and I would resign if there was any substantial conflict. Twenty three years of pastoring churches had taken the fight out of me. All I wanted to do preach three times a week, visit the sick, marry the young, bury the dead, and help the church grow and mature. Unfortunately, conflict came anyway and true to my word I resigned. Two years later, the church closed its door.
We moved back to Ohio and rented a house in Stryker. We lived in Stryker for about six months. In February of 2004, my sister, who lived in Yuma, offered to move us to Arizona. She thought the weather would be good for me. So, we packed up our household goods and moved 2,000 miles to what many consider the armpit of the southwest. My sister and her doctor husband bought a beautiful house for us to live in and we quickly settled in to our new life in the desert. It was a fun time for us, but the pull of family became such that we moved back to Ohio in late September. We decided to relocate in Newark so we could be near Polly’s parents. It was during this time that Polly’s sister Kathy was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident.
In the spring of 2005, I got the hankering to once again pastor a church. I sent my résumé to several Southern Baptist area missionaries and it wasn’t long before my phone was ringing off the hook. It was a repeat of what I went through in 2003. Once churches knew I was available, I was quickly inundated with inquiries. At this juncture, Polly and I decided that we were no longer willing to pastor a church that couldn’t pay me a fair salary, complete with benefits. This requirement quickly winnowed the field since most of the churches were small and unable or unwilling to pay a pastor a living wage.
I did candidate at two churches, Hedgesville Baptist Church and New Life Southern Baptist Church, both in West Virginia. While both churches were interested in me being their pastor, I decided not to proceed. A month or so later, a pastor friend of mine tried to entice me to start a Christian Union church in Zanesville, Ohio, but I decided no longer wanted to go through the rigors necessary to plant a new church. I came to conclusion that the fire had died and I no longer wanted to pastor a church.
My sermon at Hedgesville Baptist was the last time I stood before a group of people, opened up the Bible, and preached to them the unsearchable riches of Christ. For the three years that followed, Polly and I tried to find church to call home. (See But, Our Church is Different!) We moved from Newark back to NW Ohio so we could live near our children and grandchildren. We diligently continued to seek a church that took seriously the teachings of Christ. Alas, our search was in vain. As we became more disenchanted with Christianity, our doubts and questions grew. Long held beliefs were challenged as we attempted to determine what we really believed. In the end, we concluded that the claims of Christianity could no longer withstand rational inquiry and investigation. We attended church, Ney United Methodist Church, for the last time in November of 2008. From that point forward we no longer considered ourselves Christian.
I preached my first sermon at the age of 15 and I was 48 when I preached my last. I entered the ministry as a fire-breathing, sin hating, soulwinning Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. I left the ministry as a Progressive Christian who was sympathetic towards the Red-Letter Christian and Emerging church movements. When I started preaching I subscribed to Christianity Today, The Biblical Evangelist, and the Sword of the Lord. When I stopped preaching I subscribed to Sojourners and Mother Jones. In the late 1970’s, my library consisted of books by John R. Rice, Jack Hyles, Harry Ironside, and other fundamentalist writers. 25 years later, the fundamentalist books of my youth had been donated to charity and in their place stood books by Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Dorthy Day. In between, hundreds of Calvinistic, Mennonite, Baptist, and Reformed tomes came and went, offered up to Christians on EBay. Time and experience had fundamentally changed me. I have no doubt that I would not be the man I am today without experiencing the joys and heartaches of the ministry.
I miss preaching and teaching. I wish I had been younger and in better health when I deconverted. I could have gone back to college and gotten a degree so I could teach at the college level. I think I have the requisite skills necessary to teach at the college level, but without a degree there’s no hope of me teaching. I’d love to teach a World Religions class at the nearby community college. Since that path is no longer open to me, I content myself to write for this blog, hoping that I can, in some small way, be a help to others. Perhaps, my counselor is right: Always a preacher, always a pastor.
From generation to generation, Ohio children are taught the myth of the woolly worm. Each fall, woolly worms, the caterpillar form of the Isabella Tiger Moth, make their appearance, and like Punxsutawney Phil who predicts how long winter will last, the banded woolly worm predicts how severe the coming winter will be. The blacker the woolly worm the worse winter will be, or so says the great woolly worm myth.
Like the mythical Jesus of the Bible, the woolly worm and its magical weather predicting power lives on as parents tell its story. Few will bother to investigate this claim, choosing to believe that the mostly black woolly worm they saw is a sure sign that snow will blanket Ohio for most of the winter.
Earlier, we piled into our car and headed to Tinora High School to watch our 7-year-old grandson’s flag football game. We traveled southeast on Ohio Hwy 15 for a few miles and then turned north on Evansport Road. A mile or so up the road:
Polly: Oh no, a black woolly worm. You know that means we are going to have a bad winter.
Polly, showing her dislike of winter: Maybe I should run over him.
Bruce: He’ll got to hell if you run over him.
Polly: How do you know he’ll go to hell?
Bruce: He didn’t persevere to the end.
Polly laughs, and Bruce says: He’s not one of the elect woolly worms.
Polly and Bruce have a hearty laugh, giving God nary a thought.
Yesterday, my oldest son and I, along with Bethany and two of my grandchildren, attended the Tinora vs. Fairview football game. We arrived about an hour before game time and found our seats at the 50 yard line on the Tinora side of the field. A half hour or so later, an older man and woman came near where we were sitting and the following conversation took place:
Woman, pointing to the seats in front of us: Are these seats saved?
Bruce, the Evangelical turned atheist: No, they are lost.
Woman, clueless that she has stumbled into a theological snarkfest: Well, they are saved now.
From 1995-2002, I was the pastor of Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. One Sunday, the following discussion took place between an old woman in the church and one of my younger children.
Old Woman: So, how much candy did you get trick-or-treating?
Child gives Old Woman an embarrassed look.
Child: I didn’t go trick-or-treating,
Old Woman: Really? Why not?
Child: Our Dad doesn’t believe in Halloween.
Old Woman: Hmm, that’s interesting You mean you have never gone trick-or-treating?
Any of my six children could have answered the old woman’s questions. None of them was allowed to go trick-or-treating. Not one time. And they knew not to ask. Ever.
As a true-blue, bought by the blood, sanctified, sold-out, consecrated, committed, passionate, zealous follower of Jesus, I believed Halloween was a Satanic holiday and Christians, if they were right with God, should never practice Halloween. For a few years, I took the same approach with Christmas. We didn’t put up a tree or decorations, nor did we exchange gifts. We spent Christmas day at a Columbus, Ohio rescue mission serving meals to the homeless. (We did go to Polly’s parents’ home for Christmas Eve.)
I firmly believed Halloween was a thoroughly pagan and Satanic holiday. I could not, in good conscience, allow my children to participate in a holiday I considered an act of Satanic worship. One year, when my oldest son was in elementary school and before we started sending him to a Christian school, I kept him home from school because of the Halloween celebration his class was having.
Both Polly and I have many fond memories of trick-or-treating when were children, but I thought our parents were ignorant of the real origin of Halloween and this is why they let us go trick-or-treating. As I look back on it now, I suspect Polly thought I was crazy about Halloween. I recently asked her if she really believed like I did about Halloween. She said, uh, No. Why then didn’t she say anything? Simple. She was a dutiful wife of an Evangelical pastor, a woman who was taught that her husband was the head of the home and had the final say on everything; and everything included Halloween and trick-or-treating.
My view on Halloween was similar to the view of Karl Payne who wrote the following at World Net Daily:
As a child growing up in a small town in Nebraska, Halloween was not viewed as a sinister day promoting demonism, spiritism, occultism, Satanism, hedonism, witches, zombies or an invitation to walk on the dark side with demons. It was a day to collect as much candy as possible. The routine was simple. I put on a clown suit that had been passed down through my brothers, grabbed an empty pillow case and filled it up with candy as quickly as possible as I systematically worked my way through the neighborhood. At a halfway mark, I stopped back at home, emptied my pillow case on the front room floor to be sorted later and headed back out to refill the bag a second time. The goal was to have more candy than any of my brothers by the end of the evening, and then see how much I could eat before my mom began rationing my daily consumption.
Times were innocent in the ’50s and early part of the ’60s. We never worried about razors in apples or poisoned pixie sticks. We walked for blocks without a fear or concern for our safety. Tricks, at the worst, were limited to throwing eggs or toilet paper and knocking over a pumpkin or two. And if that happened, it only occurred selectively because many of our parents knew each other, and getting caught could mean a scolding from your neighbor and then a spanking from your dad when you got home.
To make the observation that things have changed culturally in the 21st century from the post-war innocence experienced by many in this country is an understatement. Today we exist in the midst of the loss of innocence and the joy of age-appropriate discovery. Hedonism, in a context of amoral and ethical relativism, is celebrated and force fed from the womb to tomb through a media that more represents an ideological water cannon than a responsible public trust. The secularization of this once great country is complete. The only real question now is how far it will fall in its depravity before, if or when people in the public square turn their gaze up rather than in.
Today Halloween for many is a horror show providing an excuse for people to glorify the deviance and decadence they watch ad nauseam in movie theaters and on public and cable television screens seven days of the week. Everything is a game that can be reset and started over at the click of a mouse. It’s just harmless entertainment that can be enjoyed or ignored. If you don’t like it, don’t turn it on. Who are you to dictate what is right or wrong for others?
Why am I concerned about the way Halloween, the media and our current culture encourage the celebration and trivialization of spiritism, occultism, Satanism, hedonism, witches, zombies and walking on the dark side with demons? Because the supernatural world is real, and no one is immune to it regardless of their education or worldview. God is real. Angels are real. Satan is real. Demons are real. Real gladiators and real Christians died in the Colosseum and circus even though many Roman leaders and citizens just considered their destruction an evening of entertainment.
I have worked for over 30 years with men and women who have been demonized. I wrote a book entitled “Spiritual Warfare: Christians, Demonization and Deliverance,” published by WND Books, addressing the subject as clearly as I was capable of doing. Why? Because real people and real families are being attacked by real demons, and their conditions are largely ignored, often because the subject has been redefined or trivialized, even within religious circles.
I have witnessed the reality of demonic bondage hundreds and hundreds of times. I have also witnessed individuals being set free through deliverance from demonic bondage hundreds and hundreds of times. Christian missionaries who live in the midst of this reality have thanked me many times for writing this book. Religious academics as well as atheistic secularists are more inclined to ridicule or ignore the subject. Curious.
Ultimately, bondage and deliverance both represent choices. In my book I have attempted to outline how a Christian can move from bondage to deliverance in a clear, step-by-step fashion. The New Testament addresses the subject forthrightly, so why should we run from it?
It should not come as a surprise that a secular culture would either ignore this subject or make a celebration out of it. 1 Corinthians 2:14 clearly states that spiritual truth and supernatural realities, be it God or the devil, represent nonsense to a natural man. But it should come as a disgraceful surprise that some professing Christians are so fearful of this subject that they would prefer to cast their lot on this subject with the naturalist or secularists rather than with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Apostles and the New Testament they study. Apparently, it is preferable to leave real human beings made in the image of God in bondage than face the possible ridicule of those whose ultimate loyalties are to time rather than eternity, to the creation rather than the Creator.
Naturalists redefining the subject do not change the reality of the subject. A holiday celebrating the subject, promoting it as nothing more than a day to collect candy, celebrate the dark side, or mock God, does not change the reality of the subject…
It was not until I left the ministry that I learned the REAL story about Halloween and it’s pagan and religious roots. Jeri Massi has an excellent article on her blog about the history of Halloween. As with many things, I regret not allowing my children to go trick-or-treating. I regret not allowing them to enjoy the fun of Halloween or the wonder of a family Christmas. I know there is nothing I can do about the past. I now immensely enjoy watching my grandchildren practice the evil, wicked, pagan, Satanic holiday of Halloween. I encourage them to sin with gusto…and bring Grandpa some candy when they are done making a sacrifice to Satan. Besides, my grandchildren have nothing to fear from Satan. My grandson is a super-hero.
How about you? Did you practice Halloween? Did your Fundamentalist parents allow you to go trick-or-treating? If they did, how did they deal with the origin of Halloween?
Someone will be sure to ask if I did alternative Halloween activities like Fall Festival Day, Trunk-or-Treat, or other alternatives to Halloween. I did not. I never believed in the replacement theory; that if we took something away from our children we had to replace it with something better or spiritual. I believed Christians were put on this earth to be a light in the darkness and we didn’t need replacements for the things that were sinful.
See Jack Chick’s tract, The Devil’s Night to get a bird’s eye view of how some Christians view Halloween.
Polly’s father is almost 80 years old. In poor health, suffering from severe spinal deterioration and arthritis, Dad has decided to have a total hip replacement. While Polly and I are absolutely against him having the surgery, it’s his life and he is free to do what he wants. Dad is in constant pain and he hopes that having the hip replaced will lessen his pain. The doctor gave no guarantees and, having worked with many hip replacement patients when I worked for Allegro Medical, a Phoenix based direct medical equipment supply company, I’m worried that the surgery could make his pain worse or land him in a nursing home. It’s hard to stand by and do nothing as parents make decisions like this, but Dad and Mom are competent to make this decision, so we will do all we can to love and support them. We remind ourselves that someday we will be where they are.
By now, you are probably trying figure out how the title of this post, How Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain, fits with what I have written so far. Let me explain. Dad was always a hard worker, often able to work circles around men half his age. He and I got along well because we both had that workaholic drive, the need to constantly be busy and get things done. However, at the age of 65, Dad was in an industrial accident that injured his back and required immediate surgery.
Soon, pain became an ever-present reality. Dad, having been taught that taking narcotics could lead to addiction, refused to take anything more than Tylenol or aspirin. Later in life, Naproxen was added to the mix as was Darvocet, a drug that was later removed from the market due to serious side effects. Dad would do his best to only take what he thought he needed, often only taking half a pill or going without taking anything for several days. No matter how often I reminded him that it would be better if he took the drugs regularly and on schedule, he continued to endure the pain rather than take the drugs as the doctor ordered. A year or so ago, Dad’s doctor gave him a prescription for Tramadol and a few weeks ago he gave him a script for Oxycontin. Finally, I thought, he will find some relief for his pain and suffering. Sadly, that was not to be the case.
You see, Dad is afraid of becoming addicted and this is one of the reasons he is having a total hip replacement. In his mind, if he has the hip replaced, perhaps the pain will lessen and he won’t need to take the Oxycontin. No addiction, and God will be happy. I would try to explain to him the difference between addiction and dependence, but I don’t think he’d hear me. Having been a narcotic user for over a decade, I know that I am dependent; I’m not an addict. I take the drugs as prescribed. I wish that Dad could see that being dependent is no big deal and that regularly taking Oxycontin will reduce his pain and improve his quality of life. Unfortunately, thinking drug dependence is a sin keeps Dad from getting the full benefit of the drug.
This is a perfect example of how fundamentalist prohibitions cause unneeded suffering and pain. From preaching that says addiction (dependence) is a sin to viewing pain and suffering as some sort of test from God, many fundamentalists eschew drugs and treatments that would likely improve their quality of life. Better to suffer for Jesus, the thought goes, than to become dependent on narcotics. In just a little while, Jesus is coming again…so endure until you see your Savior’s smiling face.
As an atheist, I am deeply troubled by this kind of thinking. Since I think this life is the only one we have, we should do all we can to eliminate not only our own pain and suffering, but the pain and suffering of others. Since there is no heaven and no reward in the sweet by and by, why needlessly suffer? Better to become dependent on narcotics and have some sort of pain relief and improved quality of life than to go through life suffering, only to die in the end. While I certainly think having a chronic illness and living with unrelenting pain has made me more compassionate, I don’t wish such a life on anyone, especially those I love.
How about you? Were you taught that taking narcotics and becoming dependent on them was a sin? Please share your story in the comment section.
I pastored numerous people over the years who thought taking pain medications was a sign of weakness or lack of dependence on God. I watched one man horrifically suffer from bowel cancer, unwilling to take drugs for the pain. I’ve come to see that this is the Evangelical version of the Catholic self-flagellation.
In-laws can be an ongoing source of tension in extended families that haven’t established or don’t respect appropriate boundaries. The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case. With a few adjustments religious differences do not have to be the focal point of your get-togethers.
Make Sure You’re on the Same Page as Your Spouse.
Each spouse should be responsible for communicating potentially tricky messages to their own family of origin so that the person who married into the family isn’t seen as an interloper. You two are a team and nothing should separate you under these circumstances.
Also consider picking code words or non-verbal signals ahead of time that will let your spouse know that:
– You’re ready to leave.
– You’re ok.
– They need to step in.
Visit on Neutral Territory.
By that I mean spend time at a park or restaurant instead of at your extended family member’s house whenever possible. It helps to eliminate the this is my home and you’ll do things my way syndrome. Plus, spending time in public spaces reduces the likelihood that they will push the conversation into religious topics.
Keep Visits Short and Sweet.
My Fundamentalist extended family members are usually ok for a couple of hours. Any longer than that and they tend to slip back into bad habits.When in doubt it’s better to leave a little prematurely than stay too long and risk ending the visit on a sour note. You can always come back later.
Have an Itinerary.
Pose for professional family photos. Go for a walk in the park. Play a game. Show them that cute thing your kid or pet learned how to do. Eat out. Do anything other than sit quietly and stare at one another.
Visit Less Often Than They’d Like.
People who miss you are less likely to bring up potentially divisive topics (especially if they know that you’re only visiting for a few hours today and that they won’t see you again for X number of weeks/months/years).
Make a List of “Safe” Topics
…and stick to them.
I imagine that I’m actually speaking to, say, a stranger I just met on public transportation. In those cases am I going to talk about God, politics, or my sex life? Hell no!
I’m going to talk about neutral stuff like the weather or ridiculously cute animal videos on YouTube.
Choose Your Battles.
Sometimes sticking to neutral topics doesn’t work, though.
“The Bible says…”
“Come to church with me this weekend.”
“I want to teach your kids about God.”
“You’re going to hell!”
There’s nothing wrong with ignoring statements like these if your in-laws do bring them up. Not every thread in a conversation needs to be tugged on.
Remember the acronym J.A.D.E. If you don’t want to talk about something, never Justify, Argue, Defend or Explain yourself. Someone who refuses to let a topic die will never be satisfied by any reason you give for not wanting to do, say, or believe X.
It’s also a good idea to decide ahead of time what your hill to die on is and how you will respond if the in-laws go there.
Topics I haven’t covered because I don’t have kids and don’t like to debate :
How do you argue politely with Fundamentalist in-laws?
How do you raise non-religious kids when their grandparents want to convert all of you?