Menu Close

My Dark Passenger

eeyore

Dexter Morgan, crime lab blood spatter expert by day and serial killer by night, described his need to kill as his dark passenger. While I’m certainly not a serial killer, I understand what Dexter was talking about. For me, depression is my dark passenger; always lurking just below the surface of my life, ready to show itself at any moment.

I’ve struggled with depression most of my life. For many years I thought that if I got closer to Jesus that the depression would go away. I thought if I just worked harder, prayed more, and denied self as Jesus commanded that I would find peace. But I found that the closer I got to Jesus the more depressed I became. No matter how hard I worked for the King of Kings, my dark passenger refused to leave.

When I began having health problems, my depression worsened. As unrelenting pain, daily fatigue, and loss of mobility reduced me to a shadow of man I once was, my depression deepened and the periods of depression became longer. Going from breadwinner to recliner manager left a deep psychological wound, as did the loss of mental acuity. It’s hard to look in the mirror and wonder what happened to you.

Three years ago, I started seeing a secular counselor, a local psychologist who has become my confidant and friend. He has, over time, peeled back the layers of my life, helping me to gain a better understanding of who I am and why I battle with depression.

My counselor helped me to see that it is quite normal for someone with pervasive health problems and unrelenting pain to be depressed. He’s never told to put mind over matter or said I should get over it. He also knows that my Evangelical past has done a number on me mentally and emotionally. I expect no cure and he doesn’t offer one.

Sometimes, my dark passenger so overwhelms me that I find myself wishing I were dead. It comes as no surprise that, when the pain is off the charts and I am bed-fast, thoughts of suicide enter my mind. My counselor says my suicidal thoughts are situational. When my pain is managed and I can write a bit and get out of the house, I rarely  ponder ending my life.

I no longer plan for the future. It’s all I can do to make though the day. From the moment my feet hit the floor when I get up, the struggle is on. Another day, another battle with pain and suffering. Some days are “better” than others, with better being a relative term. Better for me is being able to walk and work for a few hours. Worse is lying in bed or sitting in the recliner waiting for the next dose of narcotic pain medicine. Better is going to the store or taking a photography trip. Worse is stumbling through the house, cane in hand, wishing the day would be over.

I’ve accepted that this is my lot in life. Whatever the reasons, and they are many, this is how it is. Wanting things to be different doesn’t change reality. While I do my best to stay positive, and Polly continues to be my biggest cheerleader, I make no promises that I’ll be here five, ten, or twenty years from now. I’m like a high mileage car that has been repurposed for use as a demolition derby car. Sooner than later I will be hauled off to the junkyard, crushed, and melted down.

cure for a bad week

I want to live until I die, or so I tell myself. Some days, I just want the pain to stop, but I know that death is the only way to make this happen. For now Polly, the kids, and the grandchildren fuel my desire to live. Will this always be the case? I can’t say. Maybe, maybe not. All I can do is meet each day as it comes and hope that I find the strength and will to carry on. Will my dark passenger, as it did for my mother, ultimately win the battle? I don’t know. I no longer try think about such things. Just live one minute, one hour, one day at a time. If I can do this then perhaps I can force my dark passenger to remain in the shadows. If not, those who know me best will know I fought the good fight until I could fight it no more.

Today, I got up at noon after finally falling to sleep seven hours before. My legs and feet hurt like I had been standing on concrete all day. I suspect the pain is from standing while I photographed my grandson’s football game on Saturday and later helping Polly can applesauce. The two-day rule is in effect. The true physical price paid for any activity  does not come due until the second day. So many times, the first day after an activity, I’ve thought that I got by with something, only to find out on the second day that I did far more than I should have.

Winter is looming and I feel the pressure of all the things that need done before the snow flies. I asked Polly what she wanted me to do. Knowing I was already having a bad day, she said “NOTHING.” She wants me to rest, to hope for a better day. I want to work, to reduce the increasing burden she has because of being married to a cripple. As always. I ignored her and went outside to cut down the sunflowers, pull some weeds, and pick the ornamental corn. Within an hour I was sweating profusely and I could hear my heart thumping quickly in my chest. Polly was right–I should have done nothing.

I came into the house, peeled off my sweat-laden clothes and tried to cool off. Lunch came and went, Polly left for work, and I shuffled into my office. Time to do some writing. Write I did, but I found myself increasingly depressed. I soldiered on only to find my dark passenger waiting for me, knife in hand. I cried for a bit, picked myself up out of the wheelchair and moved to the recliner in the living room. Time for football. Hopefully, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers will take my mind off my mortality.

I think I’ll make through today. Tomorrow? We’ll see.

121615

Now I Know Why Many Evangelicals Have Empty Heads

don't think 2
Drawing by David Hayward

Snark Ahead

Mike Ratliff, writing for the Christian Research Network, had this to say about faith:

…Human faith is not the same thing as Genuine (saving) faith, which is a gift from God. The former is based in Human reason and intellect. The latter is supernatural. What passes for faith in many professing believer’s “Christianity” is a belief based in who preaches to or teaches them. This is not Genuine faith because it is not a belief in the Word or in God through the Word. These are “believers” who will eventually fall away. Some may last a lifetime, but as soon as the fires of tribulation come upon them they slide into apostasy because their faith is not of the substance that endures…

In one short paragraph, Ratliff reveals WHY so many Evangelicals have empty heads, why they lack any sort of intellectual acumen. Why, you ask? Because God has replaced their human faith with genuine faith. According to Ratliff, genuine faith is a gift from God. Human faith is not from God and is based on reason and intellect.

There ya have it…God gives Evangelicals faith and BOOM out goes reason and intellect. In comes a faith God gives, a faith that leads people to believe things like the Bible is inerrant, the earth was created in six days six thousand years ago, Adam and Eve were real people, and Jesus really, really did walk on water and resurrect from the dead.

Ratliff’s post is a reminder of how preachers like him keep people enslaved by telling them that their human intellect and reason should never be trusted. Instead trust the pronouncements of Ratliff, the man of God, God, the Holy Spirit,  and His inerrant, inspired Bible.

Ratliff and others like him know that if people really begin to use their intellect and reason they are likely to exit stage left. Thinking Evangelicals often don’t stay in the Evangelical church. Once they see that they been snookered by their church and pastor they move on to places where reason and intellect are appreciated.

Songs of Sacrilege: Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk by Frank Zappa

This is the fifty-seventh 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 Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk by Frank Zappa.

 Video Link

Lyrics

There’s an ugly little wasel ’bout three-foot nine
Face puffed up from cryin’ ‘n lyin’
‘Cause her sweet little hubby’s
Suckin’ prong part time
(In the name of The Lord)

Get a clue, little shrew
Oh yeah, oh yeah
Jesus thinks you’re a jerk

Did he really choose Tammy to do His Work?
Robertson says that he’s The One
Oh sure he is,
If Armageddon
Is your idea of family fun,
An’ he’s got some planned for you!
(Now, tell me that ain’t true)

Now, what if Jimbo’s slightly gay,
Will Pat let Jimbo get away?
Everything we’ve heard him say
Indicated that Jim must pay,
(And it just might hurt a bit)
But keep that money rollin’ in,
‘Cause Pat and naughty Jimbo
Can’t get enough of it

Perhaps it’s their idea
Of an Affirmative Action Plan
To give White Trash a ‘special break’,
Well, they took those Jeezo-bucks and ran
To the bank! To the bank! To the bank! To the bank!
And every night we can hear them thank
Their Buddy, up above
For sending down his love
(While you all smell the glove)

Jim and Pat should take a pole
(Right up each saintly glory-hole),
With tar and feathers too
Just like they’d love to do to you

(‘Cause they think you are bad
And they are very mad)

‘Cause some folks don’t want prayer in school!

(We’d need an ark to survive the drool
Of Micro-publicans, raised on hate,
And ‘Jimbo-Jimbo’ when they graduate)

Conviced they are ‘The Chosen Ones’
And all their parents carry guns,
And hold them cards in the N.R.A.
(With their fingers on the triggers
When they kneel and pray)

With a Ku-Klux muu-muu
In the back of the truck,
If you ain’t Born Again,
They wanna mess you up, screamin’,
“No abortion, no-siree!”
“Life’s too precious, can’t you see!”
(What’s that hangin’ from the neighbor’s tree?
Why, it looks like ‘colored folks’ to me
Would they do that seriously?)

Imagine if you will
A multi-millionaire Television Evangelist,
Saved from Korean Combat duty by his father, a U.S. Senator

Studied Law
But is not qualified to practice it

Father of a “love child”
Who, in adulthood, hosts the remnants
Of papa’s religious propaganda program

Claims not to be a “Faith Healer”,
But has, in the past,
Dealt sternly with everything from hemorrhoids to hurricanes

Involved with funding for a ‘secret war’ in Central America
Claiming Ronald Reagan and Oliver North as close friends

Involved in suspicous ‘tax-avoidance schemes’,
(Under investigation for 16 months by the I.R.S.)

Claims to be a MAN OF GOD;
Currenty seeking the United States Presidency,
Hoping we will all follow him into
The Twilight Zone

What if Pat gets in the White House,
And suddenly
The rights of ‘certain people’ disappear
Mysteriously?

Now, wouldn’t that sort of qualify
As an American Tragedy?
(Especially if he covers it up, sayin’
“Jesus told it to me!”)

I hope we never see that day,
In The Land of The Free
Or someday will we?
Will we?

And if you don’t know by now,
The truth of what I’m tellin’ you,
Then, surely I have failed somehow

And Jesus will think I’m a jerk, just like you
If you let those TV Preachers
Make a monkey out of you!

I said,
“Jesus will think you’re a jerk”
And it will be true!

There’s an old rugged cross
In the land of cutton
It’s still burnin’ on somebody’s lawn
And it still smells rotten

Jim and Tammy!
Oh, baby!
You gotta go!
You really got to go

I Ran the Other Way When I Saw You

pretend likeRepost

Son number four stopped over after work and he is sleeping on the couch. He is babysitting Bethany so Polly and I can go to Grand Rapids and eat pizza at a restaurant for which we have a Groupon .

Son number three dropped off his two youngest so we could babysit them for a bit. He knows that we are going out tonight and he said he would be on time to pick them up. I thought, sure you will.  Five p.m. and son number three walks through the door. He’s early. I make a mental note to put a gold star beside his name. Maybe he has finally learned to tell time.

Polly and I both scurried around getting ready for our big night on the town. As we got  ready to walk out the door I said to Polly, I am driving tonight. She said, really? I gave her THAT look and took the keys. She is likely wondering if this will be her last day on earth.

After we picked up our mail, we drove east on Route 15. As I put the turn signal on  to turn left at The Bend Road, Polly said, what are you doing? I replied, I am going up to Route 6. Polly: No we need to take old Route 24. I said, I really think we need to take Route 6. No, she was certain we needed to take old Route 24. So we took Route 24.

I was right.

And we didn’t even fight about it.

Maybe there is hope for our marriage.

The pizza joint only had one waitress on the floor and was totally unprepared for the extra customers the Groupon would bring. It took her 20 minutes to get our drinks. The owner finally came out to help her take orders and proceeded to  service the three tables that were seated after us. The pizza was OK, nothing special, and I doubt that we will drive 40 minutes to eat it again.

Before going home we decided to stop at Meijer in Defiance. Polly needed a belt and I needed acetaminophen to replace the government- mandated acetaminophen reduction in my Vicodin prescription.

As we walked in the door, I looked down the long main aisle by the registers and I saw Bob, a former church member. I thought, Oh shit. I told Polly, hurry…there’s Bob and I don’t want him to see us.  If it  were just him, all would be well, but I knew his wife Margo  would not be far away (names changed to protect the guilty),

I met Bob and Margo almost 20 years ago when I pastored Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette. When I left Olive Branch and moved five miles south to West Unity to start a church, they came along with me.

Bob is a quiet man, content to sit in the background and not say a word. Margo more than makes up for him, a constant talker regardless of whether she has anything to say.

Margo’s sister attended the church when she could. She was home-bound most of the time and couldn’t drive. Countless times we picked her up for church or took her to a doctor’s visit an hour away in Toledo. Her sister? Margo couldn’t be bothered and would demand gas money for every trip she made to her sister’s house.

Bob and Margo attended the church infrequently and never could get there on time. It was not uncommon for them to arrive at the morning service 20 minutes before it was over. I often wondered why they bothered.

When we remodeled the nursery Margo bought some Jesus Junk to hang on the wall. She wrote her name on the back of the plaque she paid a dollar for and told me she wanted it back if we ever stopped using it.  When we closed the church, with great delight, I threw the plaque away.

Somewhere in the late 1990s Bob and Margo stopped attending the church. According to Margo I committed a terrible sin by allowing the women of the church to have a rummage sale IN the church building. Bob? He never said a word and followed Margo out the door.

Good riddance.

When I saw Bob I knew we needed to run as fast as we could. If they saw us they would – well she would –  want to talk to us. Then we would have to spend 20 minutes pretending that we were friends.

I didn’t like Margo when I was her pastor. She was a gossip, self-centered, and a narcissist. I may have had to be her pastor, but I didn’t have to be her friend. So, when I saw Bob I knew we had to practice our avoidance technique, a skill we have honed to perfection since leaving the ministry and Christianity.

We got all of our shopping done and made our way to the checkout. As I looked down the long aisle I saw that Bob was still sitting there. I thought, nothing has changed. Still waiting on her to talk her way through the store. I told Polly, we need to check out on this end. Bob is still there. She replied, are you sure it is Bob? I said, yes I am sure.  So we used the self-checkout, bagged our purchases, and started to make our way out of the store….

I looked up for a moment and there were Bob and Margo. I thought, shit. I said to Polly, there they are…hurry. I DON’T want to talk to them. We quickly made our way out the door and into the parking lot, avoiding having to play the Fake Friends Game® for the umpteenth time.

I used to feel guilty when I avoided former church members in the store, but I don’t any more. Most of them aren’t like Bob and Margo, but coming face to face with them still requires us to make polite talk without mentioning the horns that are on our head. Everyone knows that Pastor Bruce Gerencser is now an atheist. They read the letters in the paper and they have bumped into other Christians who have said, DID YOU KNOW? By now, I assume everyone knows.

So we avoid people. This is not the kind of people we are, but we hate the chit-chatting and the pretend-we-are-friends conversation. It is not that we hate them personally or dislike them. It’s just that we don’t have anything in common with them anymore. I am sure some of them have done the same thing when they see Polly and me  in the distance at one of the local stores.

How about you? How do you deal with running into people from your Christian past? Do you avoid them? Do you feel uncomfortable talking to them? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

121615

Songs of Sacrilege: Hell is For Children by Pat Benatar

This is the fifty-sixth 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 Hell if For Children by Pat Benatar and covered by Halestorm.

 Video Link

Video Link

Lyrics

They cry in the dark, so you can’t see their tears
They hide in the light, so you can’t see their fears
Forgive and forget, all the while
Love and pain become one and the same
In the eyes of a wounded child

Because Hell, Hell is for children
And you know that their little lives can become such a mess
Hell, hell is for children
And you shouldn’t have to pay for your love
With your bones and your flesh

It’s all so confusing, this brutal abusing
They blacken your eyes, and then apologize
Be daddy’s good girl, and don’t tell mommy a thing
Be a good little boy, and you’ll get a new toy
Tell grandma you fell off the swing

Because Hell, Hell is for children
And you know that their little lives can become such a mess
Hell, hell is for children
And you shouldn’t have to pay for your love
With your bones and your flesh
No, Hell is for children

Hell, Hell is for Hell
Hell is for Hell, Hell is for children

Hell, Hell is for Hell
Hell is for Hell, Hell is for children

Hell, Hell is for Hell
Hell is for Hell, Hell is for children

Hell is for children
Hell is for children

What Does It Mean To Walk In The Light?

jesus night light

That’s what Fundamentalist Mike Ratliff, a writer for the Christian Research Network, asked in a  blog post.  Ratliff was trying to make a serious, spiritual point in his post, but my perverse, Satanically-influenced, reprobate mind quickly  answered the question in quite a different way. What follows is atheist pastor Bruce Gerencser’s answer to the question, what does it mean to walk in the light?

Walking in the light means:

  • Not tripping over the clothes I left on the floor
  • Not tripping over the cat snoozing on the floor
  • Not tripping over Polly’s shoes
  • Not banging my shin on the metal bed frame
  • Not running into the TV tray that Bethany said she would put away
  • Not stepping on the LEGO my granddaughter left on the floor
  • Not bumping into the dining room table and falling
  • Not stepping on the Matchbox car my grandson left on the living room floor
  • Not missing the step down into the kitchen
  • My neighbors can see my nakedness as I run to the bathroom
  • I won’t step in the barf present the cat left on the dining room floor

Do you think these are the answers Mike Ratliff was looking for?

We have six night lights on the first floor of our home. These lights are like Jesus, the Lighthouse, except they shine the way, not to heavenly bliss, but to the bathroom, kitchen, office, and living room.

121615

The Secret to a Successful Marriage-Not Really

bruce and polly gerencser 2015
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Summer 2015

Those of us raised in the Evangelical church have seen countless books titled similarly to this post. Authors think that they have figured out a part of life and are qualified to dispense advice about it.  Every book takes the same approach: follow these steps, follow this formula, do what I did,  and you will have success.  After all, isn’t it the American dream to be considered s-u-c-c-e-s-s-f-u-l?

Looks can be deceiving. One woman who attended a church I pastored had been married for 40 years. That’s a long time. Surely this woman and her husband had a successful marriage, right? One day, I decided to pay a visit to this couple’s home. When I got there the husband was nowhere to be found. I said, your husband isn’t home? The woman replied, oh no, he’s here, and she hollered up the stairs for her husband. Come to find out, he had been living in the upstairs for 25 years and they RARELY spoke to each other. Their marriage was anything BUT happy and successful. But, then again, maybe it was. How do we even define what a happy or successful marriage is?  What is the objective standard for happiness or success? Should we even try to judge whether a person or a couple is happy or a success?

When we look at a marriage from the outside it is almost impossible to judge whether the couple is happy and the marriage is successful. Several years ago, my counselor told me that almost everything he learned in college 37 years ago about marriage was wrong. For example, he was taught that couples who fight a lot are unhappy and have  troubled/bad marriages. He said, this is completely untrue. Now researchers are finding out that the level of arguing plays very little part in the happiness of the couple or the success of the marriage. He told me that some of the most happy and successful marriages are ones where the couple frequently argue.

As Evangelicals, Polly and I were taught to NEVER argue. After all, the Bible says, never let the sun go down on your wrath. Anger is a sin and a person who is a devoted follower of Jesus never gets angry, right? Evangelicals often excuse their anger by saying their anger is RIGHTEOUS ANGER. You know the kind, the anger displayed by the preacher when he is shouting in his sermon about this or that sin. The truth is, Christian or not, we all get angry and we all argue. Some couples argue more than others and the style, length, and level of arguing is different from couple to couple, but every couple argues (and anyone who says they NEVER argue or get angry is taking way too much Prozac or lying).

Polly and I have been married for 37 years, 2 months, and 11 days.  During this time, we have had a fair number of fights and arguments. I am hotheaded and bullheaded and Polly is quite passive, yet inwardly defiant. Every so often, almost always over nothing, we will have an argument. For a few moments, our marriage becomes similar to  heating a cup of water with a blowtorch. It heats up quickly but with a quick turn of the blow torch knob, off goes the flame and the heat quickly dies down. Our arguments tend to last a few moments, maybe for a few hours, but NEVER for a day. Neither of us holds a grudge and we usually quickly realize that what we are fighting over is stupid.

We both recognize that arguments are about two people wanting to be right. Sometimes, Polly and I argue because we have a difference of opinion. Other times, one of us is right and the other is wrong. If someone who didn’t know us stumbled upon us having an argument, they would “think” that we had a troubled marriage or that we needed marriage counseling. Their judgment of the quality of our marriage would be dead wrong. We argue, then just like that, it is over. We may be arguing at 5:00 p.m. and sitting in a restaurant three hours later having a wonderful time. The arguments mean little to us and there seems to be no cumulative effect.

Here are some observations I have made about my marriage to Polly. These observations are not a road map to marital success or a blueprint for a long, happy marriage. I recognize our being married for all these years took a lot of work AND luck. We know more than a few apparently happy and successful couples who are now divorced and married to someone else. In the first few years of marriage, Polly and I could have easily become a statistic, thus proving Polly’s mom’s right, that divorce is hereditary (a commonly held belief among their generation).

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978

Polly and I did not marry for love. In fact, we had no idea what real love was. Oh, we told ourselves we were in love, but what we really were was mutually infatuated with each other. We had romantic feelings for each other, but LOVE? Love came over time. As we grew and matured, so did love.

Americans have many foolish notions about love. They think the proof of love is expensive gifts, jewelry, flowers, special nights out at fancy restaurants, and/or hot sex. Yes, all of these things are nice, but they have little to do with love.  Love is all about commitment and endurance. True lasting love takes time to plant and grow. I think the writer of 1 Corinthians 13 got it right when he wrote about the lasting qualities of love; things like patience, kindness, and being long-suffering.

Polly and I deeply love one another, yet we know that we still have the capacity to love each other more. We know that every marriage has its exciting moments and it also has long dry, monotonous spells (and dry takes on a life of its own after menopause). Married life can become boring or predictable and this is not necessarily bad. No marriage can survive every day if every night is like the first night of their honeymoon. Understanding this has kept Polly and  me from having unreasonable expectations and making demands that the other person cannot fulfill.

In the midst of normalcy, we try to have some unpredictability. Sometimes it is small things like Polly buying me a king size candy bar and leaving it in the desk. Other times, it is me tying a dildo to the front door knob so it will smack Polly when she comes home from work at 1:30 A.M. Since we have left Christianity, our banter has become more sexual and Polly is mastering the art of the double entendre. We have fun this way…and o-t-h-e-r ways (and all my kids are saying TMI!).

Every year, we try to do a couple of big things like take a weekend trip or go on vacation. Now that our children are grown and 5 of them are out of the house, we are free to travel and do a lot more things as a couple. And here is the key for us: we LIKE each other. We like being together and doing things together. We like each other’s company. We have, over the years, become best friends. This was not the case when we first married.

Both of us have annoying character traits that drive the other nuts. And guess what, 37 years later those traits are still there. When we first married we ignored these traits or thought they would go away in time. Now we recognize that these irritating character traits are part of who we are. We STILL fight about them and we STILL irritate the hell out of each other, but we recognize that both of us are flawed and we are not going to change. I will still want perfect order and Polly still won’t be able to figure out where we are going even with a map, a Google map print-out and a GPS. We fuss, fume, and then laugh.  We are who we are.

We now know that we are not completely compatible. We each like things the other dislikes. And that’s  okay. While in many ways we are very different from one another, we do share many of the same likes, wants, and desires.  We  each have our own space and we are free to do our own thing. We don’t need the approval of the other. Polly reads fiction and I don’t. There are certain shows on TV that I love and Polly rolls her eyes every time I watch them. We still care about what the other thinks, but we have learned that each other’s approval is not needed. So much of life is made up of things that don’t matter, so why spend a lot of time fussing and fighting over inconsequential things? Partners need to accept each other as they are and learn to keep their distance when the spouse is  driving them  nuts.

We are becoming more and more comfortable in our skin. We no longer let others, including our family, define for us, what a “good” marriage is. We stay married because we love each other and like each other. I may not be the most demonstrative of husbands, and this irritates the hell out of some of my children, but I more than make up for it when and where it matters. All those noises in the night are Polly singing out her approval. (Our daughter Laura now knows that there is NOT an owl living outside our house, an explanation I gave her when she was a child for the noises she heard.)

Here’s the bottom line. It works for us and that is all that matters. We are not our parents and we don’t want our children to emulate our marriage. Each couple must find its own way.  Maybe their marriage will last a lifetime, maybe it won’t.

121615

Understanding the Difference Between Private and Public

ideas dont have rights

Evangelical Christians, among others, have private (personal) beliefs that people  such as I consider uninteresting, intellectually lacking, or irrational. As long as they do not try to force their beliefs on me or demand special treatment for their beliefs, I am quite indifferent to their beliefs. I have no interest in regulating what people believe about God, Jesus, the Bible, or anything else for that matter.

However, when the Evangelical Christian states/argues/debates his beliefs in the public space: newspaper, TV, books, magazines, Facebook, Twitter, the internet, public meetings, etc.,  then the rules of engagement change. Once these beliefs are uttered publicly they are no longer considered private and are open to criticism, investigation, debate, ridicule, mockery, and attack. Those people  deciding to utter their beliefs in public should know this, and if they don’t, they are in for a rude awakening the first time they “share” their beliefs publicly.

As a writer, hopeful author, essayist of letters to the local newspaper, and the public face of atheism where I live, I am considered a public figure. As such, I open myself up to criticism, investigation, debate, ridicule, mockery, and attack. While I would hope people would treat me fairly and with respect, I have no right to expect such treatment and I have no recourse if someone lies about me, distorts my beliefs, or attacks me personally.

I can’t can’t do anything about what someone may say about me or my writing on their own blog or in an internet forum. I can’t control the sermons Evangelical preachers preach about me.  They can take something I have written and twist and distort it and there is nothing I can do about this. This is the wild, woolly nature of the public space.

I wish Evangelical Christians would understand the difference between private and public. When they drag their beliefs into the public space, they have no right to whine, moan, or complain that I am attacking them and their beliefs. If they don’t want their beliefs assaulted or challenged then they need to keep them out of the public space. As Tristan Vick said in a comment:

Someone needs to tell this caterwauling Christian that it’s people who have rights, not ideas.

And all of Darwin’s people said Amen!

121615

Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, Dinosaurs, and the SIN of Smoking

Snark ahead.

Two years ago, our youngest son moved out, and he left behind a box of trading cards for our grandson. He had hundreds of trading cards, including some from Answers in Genesis. I am not sure how old these card are, but I suspect they are at least 15 years old. I did not know these cards were in the box, and my oldest son found them when he was going through the collection with our grandson.  We had a lot of fun with these cards, a reminder of what we once believed.  I thought you might enjoy the good science these cards teach, so I scanned a couple of them just for you!

ken ham propaganda

ken ham propaganda 2

I love the logic of this card. Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis are committed to a Fundamentalist, literalist interpretation of the Bible, except when it not convenient to do so. Since the inerrant, infallible, inspired creationist science textbook, AKA the Bible, doesn’t mention dinosaurs, and Ham and Co. know dinosaurs existed at one time, it is imperative that one of the animals mentioned in the Bible be a dinosaur. Kids love dinosaurs and  have lots of questions about them. Using his magic Bible word-decoder ring, Ham determined that the behemoth in the book of Job is actually a dinosaur and that dragons are also dinosaurs.

ken ham propaganda 3

ken ham propaganda 4

I found this card interesting for a different reason. The card states emphatically that the Leviathan mentioned in the book of Job is actually a sea monster. No, actually it is a Leviathan, right? We must not tamper with the inerrant, infallible, inspired creationist science textbook, AKA the Bible. But again, when a point needs to be made, Ham and Co. have no problem ignoring the hermeneutic they demand all other Christians use.

Forty years ago, I heard a sermon on Job 41:19-21, but it wasn’t about a sea monster. Oh no, this IFB preacher was quite novel and his sermon showed that you can make the Bible say almost anything. The text says:

Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth.

Are you ready for it? Drum roll, please! According to this preacher, these verses are about SMOKING!  Surely you can see it:

  • Out of his mouth go burning lamps (the burning cigarette in the mouth)
  • Out of his nostrils goeth smoke
  • His breath smells bad

This is definite proof that smoking is a sin.

And now let us go to a Sunday service at Bible Baptist Church. It is manipulation time, time for the altar call:

Every head bowed, every eye closed. Is God convicting you of the sin of smoking? If so, with no one but God and me looking, please raise your hand so I can pray for you.

I see that hand, and that hand. Praise Jesus.

Dear baby Lord Jesus, I pray right now for those who have admitted they are sinful smokers. Please forgive them of their sin and give them the victory over Marlboro. And while you are at it Lord…please help them to see that the money they are saving by not buying cigarettes can be put in the offering plate so the church can continue to preach the gospel of no smoking.

In the name above all names, the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

121615

The Dogma that Followed Me Home

guest-post

Guest post by Cat Givens.

When I was growing up in northeast Ohio, my family attended a Baptist Church. It was one of those places where you’d meet every Sunday morning and then again Sunday evening. Bible study on Wednesday night. Soul-winning every Tuesday eve. Thursdays were youth group nights, and on Friday or Saturday we may have some other activity and then back again on Sunday.

We learned about heaven, and about hell. They preached a lot about hell.

I can remember being taught as a young child to tell everybody I came in contact with about Jesus and how to be saved. If I neglected to tell someone, then on Judgment Day this would happen: The person I did not tell would be led before the Lord God. I would be sitting behind this god with the rest of the saved people. God would turn that person I neglected away, saying he did not know them. As they would be lead away, they would see me behind god and scream, “WHY? Oh Why didn’t you tell me?” And as they were led away, to be cast into the eternal fire, damned for all eternity, their blood would be dripping from my hands. Pretty heavy stuff for a kid, huh?

In my teens, I was a bit of a rebel, and I’d run away when I got the chance, rather face the consequences at home for my actions.
When I was 14, almost 15, my parents were at their wits’ end. I was in the Detention Home for running away yet again, and they sought out help from the “experts”. A nice lady at the United Way told my parents doctors were having success with rebellious children by hospitalizing them and giving them intense psychotherapy.

My parents met with the doctors, then the doctors met with me. Yes, they could help me, they assured my folks. They told Mom and Dad I could be transformed into a willing obedient child and would change my “criminalistic way of thinking”.

I was sent to a local hospital’s psych ward with mostly adults (this was 1974, and there were no children’s wards at that time here). There I was locked up with a bunch of strangers. I was shot full of “behavior modifying” drugs which made my physical movement robotic. I also received electroshock therapy treatments. Thanks a lot, Dr. Vallaba! Some of the men abused me while I was in there. I thought I fell in love with a man who said he and Bob Dylan shared a soul.

After the doctors had used up all my parents’ insurance money, they wanted to send me to another hospital in Connecticut. But Mom and Dad had been talking to the preachers. They had another idea.

Off to a girls’ home in Louisiana for me! New Bethany Home for Wayward Girls. I was to be there for a year.

Surely, this would save my soul and make me a compliant teenager. At this girls’ home, the same type of hellfire and brimstone attitude prevailed. I was not allowed to wear pants, as that was a sin. I could not listen to any music besides gospel, as that was a sin. I could not talk about my past, as I had no past. I had to be called by my first and middle name because I was to become a new person.

There was an evangelical preacher who ran the place, Rev. Mac Ford. He and his wife, Thelma founded the home, and they took in rebellious teens from all over the country and also took in the unwanted girls who would just be abandoned there. We were all to comply with every rule or get whipped with a belt. That was the easy punishment. If a girl acted out, often she would be forced, after lights out, to stand in the hallway on her tip toes with eggs or tomatoes under her heels. If she slipped and squished one, she’d get a whipping or get hit with the switch. Runaways from the home were usually caught and then, after a sound whipping with the belt from Bro. Mac, she’d be handcuffed to her bed and a ‘trusted girl” would have the key. All meals were served her at her bed, and only was she uncuffed for bathroom and shower breaks. Once Bro Mac determined she had repented, she was off the cuffs.

Everything we did was strictly controlled. We were told not to trust our conscience, as the devil could be in there, so only trust the bible. And trust Bro Mac.

Everyday after chores, we’d have chapel. There we would learn about hell and how the love of god brought us to this place and how we must repent our evil ways and change. Then we had breakfast. After more chores, off to school. A trailer down the street with one teacher and learning packets, it was an ACE school….Accelerated Christian Education. After school it was time for chapel again, and then lunch. Then chores and free time, then chapel and supper. Even our bathroom breaks were timed and we actually had to count the toilet paper and beg for more through the bathroom door if we needed it. We were often awakened in the middle of the night. Sleep deprivation and what Brother Mac called “breaking down the will” were the norm. I could go on, but I think the picture is clear. This was a brainwashing southern Baptist cult and we were the subjects.

After nearly a year, I got to come home. And yes, I was changed. I was a good little southern Baptist obedient teenager who addressed my parents and all adults as “sir” and “mam”.

At my new Christian high school, I was more conservative than most of the staff! At this school, we would only have chapel once a week, unless it was “spiritual emphasis week”. During the “emphasis” we would have chapel every day. Chapel was where we were told about how the devil tries to get every teen to be worldly and do evil. We were ripe for the danger of hell fire! We must be saved. We must repent if we do anything displeasing to god. I recall Mr. Russell, the gym teacher, leading us in a prayer, asking God to kill us rather than let us live to set a bad example!

Throughout high school, I loosened up quite a bit. I still believed the dogma, but wasn’t quite so hung up on the rules. I began to read the bible for myself, and it did not read the same on my own as with a preacher interpreting for me.

After graduation, I began to think more for myself.  I sought out a therapist who helped me let go of the guilt and confusion.  Gradually I was losing the dogma and forming my own spirituality. I found god in nature and other human beings. I read about other religions and philosophies, realizing there are many paths to enlightenment. I enjoyed comparing the teachings of my youth to the myths and stories from other cultures and religions. I saw beauty and truth in many forms, and rejected the hellfire and brimstone from my upbringing. Or so I thought.

I recently found a movie that was shown to us “wayward girls” back at the girl’s home. It was about the communist takeover of the United States. I really wanted to see this film again, as an adult without the expectation of a great revelation and insight. The movie, along with another about hell, arrived the other day and I watched them. The acting was way over the top, and the subject matter was absurd. There on the screen a little boy had a bamboo stick driven through his ears so he could no longer hear the gospel. Communists on horseback terrorized citizens and the blood and guts spilled! Demons tormented people in hell, and worms ate at the burning flesh of the damned.

What happened next is what shocked me the most. As the choir sang “Just As I Am” and the preacher plead with the congregation to come to the altar and get right with god, I felt uneasy and a little sick. Fear and dread took hold, and then the panic ! What if it was true? Would my children go to hell to be tormented for all eternity because I chose to raise them as free thinkers?

Mind you, this is NOT how I believe, yet here it was, all this dread and fear and worry. I felt horrible and confused. It was as if a great wave had pummeled me and I was breathless! I contacted a woman who was raised similarly, and found that she, too, suffered from this occasionally. We discussed brainwashing and conditioned response, then I began to examine what had happened.

It was twenty plus years of dogmatic teachings took my emotions and spilled them out in front of me like so many dice. I realized that this memory’s emotional effect needed to be changed. So I set to work, discussing with my therapist these reactions, and he encouraged me.  I reminded myself that it was out of love for my children I chose to NOT subject them to the stifling negative dogma. And I’m glad of it, as I would never want them to feel the way I did right then!

What good is spirituality if it does not lift one up? I examined what I actually do believe, and did some reading from some positive authors. I watched the movies again with my husband, and we laughed and shook our heads. The effect was more benign, but not gone away completely, so I shall work on these memories some more, bringing in more humor and love. Still, I am amazed this dogma has followed me for so many years.

I wonder, has anything like this ever happened to you?

A Summary of the Bill Nye Ken Ham Debate

how creationists view atheists

Early last year, Ken Ham debated Bill Nye on  creationism/evolution. Bill Cohen, writing for The Daily Banter, summed up the debate nicely:

Bill Nye: We don’t know how the universe came about, that’s why we do science.

Ken Ham: There’s a book (Bible) that explains it all!!

Bill Nye: We don’t know how or why consciousness arose, but we use science to try and understand it.

Ken Ham:  There’s a book that explains it all!!

Bill Nye: We know for a scientific fact that the world is older than 6000 years because of carbon dating, fossil records, genetics and the study of DNA etc etc.

Ken Ham: There’s a book that says otherwise!!

Video Link

Al Mohler, the fundamentalist Southern Baptist president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, attended the debate. He posted his thoughts about the debate on his blog. (though it seems this post was written BEFORE the debate took place) Here is what Mohler had to say:

…As the debate began, it was clear that Ham and Nye do not even agree on definitions. The most friction on definition came when Nye rejected Ham’s distinction between “historical science” and “observational science” out of hand. Nye maintained his argument that science is a unitary method, without any distinction between historical and observational modes. Ham pressed his case that science cannot begin without making certain assumptions about the past, which cannot be observed. Furthermore, Ham rightly insisted that observational science generally does not require any specific commitment to a model of historical science. In other words, both evolutionists and creationists do similar experimental science, and sometimes even side-by-side.

Nye’s main presentation contained a clear rejection of biblical Christianity. At several points in the debate, he dismissed the Bible’s account of Noah and the ark as unbelievable. Oddly, he even made this a major point in his most lengthy argument. As any informed observer would have anticipated, Nye based his argument on the modern consensus and went to the customary lines of evidence, from fossils to ice rods. Ham argued back with fossil and geological arguments of his own. Those portions of the debate did not advance the arguments much past where they were left in the late nineteenth century, with both sides attempting to keep score by rocks and fossils…

…In this light, the debate proved both sides right on one central point: If you agreed with Bill Nye you would agree with his reading of the evidence. The same was equally true for those who entered the room agreeing with Ken Ham; they would agree with his interpretation of the evidence.

That’s because the argument was never really about ice rods and sediment layers. It was about the most basic of all intellectual presuppositions: How do we know anything at all? On what basis do we grant intellectual authority? Is the universe self-contained and self-explanatory? Is there a Creator, and can we know him?

On those questions, Ham and Nye were separated by infinite intellectual space. They shared the stage, but they do not live in the same intellectual world. Nye is truly committed to a materialistic and naturalistic worldview. Ham is an evangelical Christian committed to the authority of the Bible. The clash of ultimate worldview questions was vividly displayed for all to see.

When asked how matter came to exist and how consciousness arose, Nye responded simply and honestly: “I don’t know.” Responding to the same questions, Ham went straight to the Bible, pointing to the Genesis narrative as a full and singular answer to these questions. Nye went on the attack whenever Ham cited the Bible, referring to the implausibility of believing what he kept describing as “Ken Ham’s interpretation of a 3,000 year old book translated into American English.”

To Bill Nye, the idea of divine revelation is apparently nonsensical. He ridiculed the very idea.

This is where the debate was most important. Both men were asked if any evidence could ever force them to change their basic understanding. Ham said no, pointing to the authority of Scripture. Nye said that evidence for creation would change his mind. But Nye made clear that he was unconditionally committed to a naturalistic worldview, which would make such evidence impossible.  Neither man is actually willing to allow for any dispositive evidence to change his mind. Both operate in basically closed intellectual systems. The main problem is that Ken Ham knows this to be the case, but Bill Nye apparently does not. Ham was consistently bold in citing his confidence in God, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and in the full authority and divine inspiration of the Bible. He never pulled a punch or hid behind an argument. Nye seems to believe that he is genuinely open to any and all new information, but it is clear that his ultimate intellectual authority is the prevailing scientific consensus. More than once he asserted a virtually unblemished confidence in the ability of modern science to correct itself. He steadfastly refused to admit that any intellectual presuppositions color his own judgment.

But the single most defining moments in the debate came as Bill Nye repeatedly cited the “reasonable man” argument in his presentation and responses. He cited Adolphe Quetelet’s famed l’homme moyen—“a reasonable man”—as the measure of his intellectual authority. Writing in 1835, Quetelet, a French intellectual, made his “reasonable man” famous. The “reasonable man” is a man of intellect and education and knowledge who can judge evidence and arguments and function as an intellectual authority on his own two feet. The “reasonable man” is a truly modern man. Very quickly, jurists seized on the “reasonable man” to define the law and lawyers used him to make arguments before juries. A “reasonable man” would interpret the evidence and make a reasoned judgment, free from intellectual pressure.

Bill Nye repeatedly cited the reasonable man in making his arguments. He is a firm believer in autonomous human reason and the ability of the human intellect to solve the great problems of existence without any need of divine revelation. He spoke of modern science revealing “what we all can know” as it operates on the basis of natural laws. As Nye sees it, Ken Ham has a worldview, but Nye does not. He referred to “Ken Ham’s worldview,” but claimed that science merely provides knowledge. He sees himself as the quintessential “reasonable man,” and he repeatedly dismissed Christian arguments as “not reasonable.”…

…The ark is not the real problem; autonomous human reason is. Bill Nye is a true believer in human reason and the ability of modern science to deliver us. Humanity is just “one germ away” from extinction, he said. But science provides him with the joy of discovery and understanding…

…The problem with human reason is that it, along with every other aspect of our humanity, was corrupted by the fall. This is what theologians refer to as the “noetic effects of the fall.” We have not lost the ability to know all things, but we have lost the ability to know them on our own authority and power. We are completely dependent upon divine revelation for the answers to the most important questions of life. Our sin keeps us from seeing what is right before our eyes in nature. We are dependent upon the God who loves us enough to reveal himself to us—and to give us his Word.

As it turns out, the reality and authority of divine revelation, more than any other issue, was what the debate last night was all about…

..It was about the central worldview clash of our times, and of any time: the clash between the worldview of the self-declared “reasonable man” and the worldview of the sinner saved by grace…

I quite agree with Al Mohler. This indeed is a clash of worldviews. Where I disagree, of course, is that I believe the creationist/Christian worldview is outdated, inadequate, and often contrary to what we now know about the universe and our place in it. For Al Mohler and Ken Ham, their worldview begins and ends with Bible. Any fact, evidence, or truth that does not fit the Bible paradigm, which is really Mohler’s and Ham’s personal interpretation of the Bible, must be rejected.

proof of evolution