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The Closing of the Evangelical Mind: The Bible is the Inspired, Inerrant Word of God

inerrancy test

Evangelical Christians believe the Bible is the inspired (God breathed), inerrant Word of God.  They believe the text of the Christian Bible is without error and they are certain that every word in the Bible is the very words of God. (either spoken or inspired by God)

While many Evangelical pastors and professors don’t really believe the Bible is inerrant, they continue to preach the inerrancy myth from the pulpit and in their college classrooms. These Evangelicals late at night get out a flashlight, pull the covers over their head, and secretly read one of Bart Ehrman’s books. They will never tell anyone about this lest they lose their job. But, when it comes to the people in the First Baptist Church pew, I’ve never met an Evangelical Christian who didn’t believe every word in the Bible is true. They are certain that the leather-bound Bible they carry to church every Sunday is the very words of God.

Evangelicals are told from their youth up that the Bible can be understood by anyone, even a child. Why then are there so many theology books if the Bible is so simple it can be understood by a child? The fact is, the Bible is anything BUT a simple book. It is a book that must be interpreted and this is where Evangelicals get themselves into trouble. They think, the Bible is God’s Word, it is so simple a child can understand it, I have read it, and I understand it, thus my interpretation of the Bible is exactly what God said. This kind of thinking leads to arrogance. When a person is absolutely convinced they are absolutely right, they no longer have to consider competing ideas or interpretations. This is why most Evangelicals are closed minded about any God or belief but their own

All Evangelicals are theological Fundamentalists. (see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?)  The doctrine of inerrancy requires the Evangelical to have a fundamentalist view of the Bible. In most cases, Evangelicals are also social fundamentalists who take their inspired, inerrant Bible and strictly apply it to every aspect of their lives. They believe that everything in their lives is governed by what the Bible says. It is theological and social fundamentalism that is driving Evangelicals as they wage war against secularism, atheism, pluralism, abortion, same-sex marriage, and homosexuality.

Evangelicalism is a large tent, so it is impossible to point to one group and say, this is Evangelicalism. On one end of the spectrum you have the hip relational preachers found at nondescript megachurches and on the other end of the spectrum you find the fire and brimstone preachers of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement.  Every Evangelical church falls in between these two extremes. Some are Calvinist, others are Arminian, but the one thing that binds them together is the belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God.

In most Evangelical churches the pastor is considered a person uniquely called by God to preach and teach the Bible. Their words are given great weight and authority because God leads and directs them as they preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.  Some pastors are laid back, more of a teacher or a professor, while others are animated foot stomping, pulpit pounding preachers.  Regardless of their style or methodology, every Evangelical pastor believes they are speaking the words of God to the people of God and the people of God believe, through the preaching and the inward work of the Holy Spirit, that God is speaking to them.

In most Evangelical churches diversity of belief is discouraged, and in some churches it is forbidden. After all, if the Bible is inerrant then there can only be ONE correct interpretation of the Bible, right? While Evangelicals skirmish over peripheral doctrines and peculiar beliefs, there is a core set of doctrines every Evangelical must believe. Don’t believe these things? Then you are not an Evangelical.

Currently, Evangelicalism is going through great upheaval over beliefs that were once were considered cardinal doctrines of the faith. Thanks to postmodernism, concrete doctrines like creationism, eternal punishment for unbelievers, God’s omniscience, the exclusivity of the Evangelical gospel, and whether a homosexual can be a Christian are now being attacked and challenged.  Politically, an increasing number of Evangelicals are moving towards the left, rejecting the conservative, Republican values of yesteryear. While most Evangelicals are Republicans and support some or all of the tenets of the culture war, there are a small number of Evangelicals, mostly young adults, who are no longer willing to blindly accept the politics of their church, pastor, and parents.  The question for me is at what point in this postmodern, questioning move to the left does a church, pastor, and individual church member cease to be Evangelical?

During the George W Bush administration and the run up to the War in Iraq, we saw a good example of how fundamentalism works.  George Bush and his administration were certain their beliefs about Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and weapons of mass destruction were infallibly right.  Fourteen years and hundreds of thousands of deaths later, we now know that virtually every belief peddled by George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld was wrong. Yet, to this day, none of the architects of the Iraq war are willing to admit that they were wrong. They are certain that their beliefs were/are correct, and in the case of George Bush, the Christian God was/is on their side.

If I took a political party survey at the average Evangelical church I’m sure I’d find that most church members are either Republican or Libertarian and come the first Tuesday in November 2016 they will vote for the Republican candidate for President. I am sure there are a few Evangelicals who are Democrats, but they, like gay or bisexual church members, are way in the back of the closet. While church members are told to vote their “conscience”, everyone knows that voting your conscience means voting exactly the way God the pastor tells you to vote. To vote differently means going against the man of God, the Word of God, and God himself, and no one want to do that, right? Again, things are changing in the Evangelical church, but lets not mistake ripples on the pond for a tsunami.

Challenges to core beliefs is not permitted. Those who think for themselves or believe differently than the pastor are told they are not right with God or that they are backslidden; they are told their “discerner” is broke and that they need to listen to their pastor. Those who refuse to conform end up marginalized, disciplined, or asked to leave the church. Evangelical churches go through quite a bit of membership churn. There is a steady stream of people going out the back door as new people come in the front, with most new people coming from other churches.

The lifeblood that courses through the veins of Evangelical Christianity is the belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God. To the Evangelical, the Bible is not just a collection of words, chapters, and books written by humans as they try to explain their understanding of God and the world. The Bible is God’s words, a supernatural book given to fallible humans by a supernatural God. Every book, every sentence, and every word is truth. When an Evangelical reads the Bible they believe they are reading the very words of God. They can know exactly what God’s truth is by reading and studying the Bible. In the Evangelical’s mind, the Bible is THUS SAITH THE LORD!

Since most Evangelicals are, to some degree or the other, literalists, it becomes quite easy for them to develop rigid beliefs, and as their certainty grows the more likely they are to see themselves as right and everyone else wrong.  Is it any wonder that this kind of thinking turns people into haters?  Is it any wonder that people raised in this kind of environment lack the necessary skills to make sound, reasoned judgments about the world they live in? This is the kind of thinking that gives us Fred Phelps, Al Mohler, John MacArthur, Joyce Meyers, Rod Parsley, James Dobson, Franklin Graham, Ken Ham, Matt Chandler, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Richard Land, Andy Stanley, Charles Stanley, Tony Perkins, David Barton, TD Jakes, Brad Powell, Rick Furtick, Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, and a plethora of parachurch groups dedicated to waging war on an unbelieving, sinful, and wicked culture.

According to a 2014 Gallup Poll, 28% of Americans believe the Bible is the actual Word of God and should be taken literally.  47% of Americans believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally. This means that three out four American believe the Bible is the Word of God. (The good news is that 21% of Americans now believe the Bible is an “ancient book of fables,legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man. The percentage of Americans who believed this in 1976 was 13%) According to a 2012 Gallup Poll, 46% of Americans believe God created humans in their present form (creationism) and 32% of Americans believe humans evolved with God guiding the process (theistic evolution). In other words, three out of four Americans believe God is the creator of everything.  Only 15% of American believe humans evolved, but God had no part in the process.

Depressing, isn’t it? While secularism, humanism, and atheism are making inroads, the vast majority of Americans still believe the Bible is the Word of God, a unique book different from every other book ever written.  The only way to reach people like this is to attack their foundational belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. If they can be brought to see that the Bible is not what they claim it is, there is hope for them. Sadly, most Evangelicals will die with their fingers clenched around a book they consider the words of God.  When you take a high road position like inerrancy it is hard to back up. To admit the Bible is not inerrant is to admit you are wrong and Evangelicals rarely admit they are wrong. Those who do do so on their way OUT the doors of the Evangelical church.

Since every Evangelical believes there is a hell to shun and a heaven to gain, believing and practicing the teachings of the Bible is essential. While Evangelicals will tell you that they preach a gospel of grace, what they really preach is a gospel of right belief. Believe THIS and thou shalt live in heaven forever with God; don’t believe THIS and thou shalt live in hell forever with the Devil and his angels.  Evangelicals are taught that this present life is preparation for life beyond the grave. Believing the right things is important because that is what gets your ticket to heaven punched. Is it any wonder that most Evangelicals will leave this life firm in their belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God? Too much rests on believing this for them to ever question or doubt.

Songs of Sacrilege: Jesus Was a Leprechaun by Snakefinger and the Vestal Virgins

This is the fifty-eighth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Jesus Was a Leprechaun by Snakefinger and the Vestal Virgins.

 Video Link

Lyrics

Jesus was a leprechaun dying on the cross
Remembering his celtic roots
Some place to hold my up lost

Jesus was a leprechaun his name was Tiny Tom
He tried to have a little fun
But now my hands on my venus of lom

Jesus was a leprechaun full of trickery
But it went a bit too far
Now they made a matter of me

Jesus was a leprechaun with a twinkle in his eye
Always smiling sweetly
But I never expected to die

Have You Tried (blank)?

chronic illness

Because I am forthcoming about the health problems I have, well-meaning people often give me unsolicited medical advice. Sometimes, they don’t know what to say so have you tried ________________ becomes the secular version of I’ll pray for you. Other times, the person refuses to believe that what’s wrong with me can’t be fixed. Surely modern medicine, alternative practitioners, and witch doctors can fix anything, yes? Or so the thinking goes.

Many people have a simplistic view of health, sickness, and how the body works. They wrongly think that if I just eat right or takes this or that vitamin/supplement that every health problem I have will be cured. Some people think that doctors deliberately keep us sick so they can make money; that there is a grand conspiracy between doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies to keep people sick so they can profit from their sickness. According to people who think like this, I should see a herbalist, homeopath, reflexologist, acupuncturist, accupressurist, aromatherapist, chiropractor, or irridologist–anyone but a doctor. Armed with anecdotal, subjective stories about miraculous healing, they are certain if I would just get away from Western doctors that all would be well.

I am all for trying anything that is evidence-based and has a proven track record. What I’m not willing to do is waste my time on woo-woo (pseudoscience, quackery). Every week a family member, friend, or reader of this blog sends me an email with a link to a surefire cure for what ails me. They are certain, based on their superficial reading of an article, that if I will just try __________ I will be cured. Again, if there are peer-reviewed, double-blind-studied treatments that hold out the possibility of helping me, then I am all for  them. Sadly, most of the links sent to me are woo-woo.

When you’ve suffered for a long time and have to deal with unrelenting pain each and every day, it is easy to get upset when someone with good intentions says have you tried _______________. I try to be polite, realizing the person just wants me to be better, but the constant unsolicited medical advice does wear on me.  My health problems are very much a part of the fabric of my life and I think it is important for me to write about them, but I find I am less willing to do so because of the unsolicited medical advice that comes when I do.

I am well read on the subject of Fibromyalgia, auto-immune diseases, and arthritis. When I was first diagnosed with Fibromyalgia 17 years ago, I read every book about Fibromyalgia I could get my hands on. When new studies come out I read them and try to look at the methodology the study used to come to its conclusions. Many studies have come and gone, with most of them offering little hope to people with Fibromyalgia. While doctors and researchers continue to study the various diseases that afflict me, so far there are no cures.

Over the years, I’ve tried numerous drugs, supplements, and treatments, all to no avail (along with tens of thousands of dollars of tests). At this point in my life, I am satisfied that I have done all I can do. For someone like me, hope can be a cruel thing. Better to embrace life as it is than to constantly hope for that which will never happen. It’s unlikely that a new drug or a new treatment for Fibromyalgia will be found in my lifetime (and no, Lyrica is not a cure for Fibromyalgia). Researchers are a long way from definitively understanding what causes Fibromyalgia,  and even further away from coming up with a treatment for it. And even if a cure for Fibromyalgia is found, I would still be left to deal with arthritis, a disease that can be managed but not cured.

I appreciate every one of you who has supported me over the years. Your gentle encouragement and love mean the world to me. While doctors can do no more for me, your support  gives me strength and motivates me to get up in the morning (or early afternoon) and continue to write for this blog.  Thank you for making a real difference in my life.

Bruce

Note

Last night, Polly and I watched the first episode of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. (It was awesome, BTW.) Comedian Kevin Hart was Noah’s guest. Noah asked Hart about his commitment to physical fitness and Hart told him that running was the most important part of his fitness regime. He then went on to say that he sees himself as an evangelist of all sorts for running.  Hart said, everyone can run!  I hollered, no, dumb shit, they can’t. I can’t run, nor can I walk long distances. I know I will never run again and I have no doubt that I will someday be wheelchair bound. As it is, I can walk or stand on my feet for, at most, an hour. When we go to the grocery, I must hold on to the cart so I can stand upright (it also keeps me from falling).  Fifteen to thirty minutes into our shopping, I will feel warm, stabbing pain in my upper thighs, face, and lower back. A few minutes later, these areas will burn and feel as your foot does  when it  falls asleep. Doctors theorize this has to do with my back and the numerous narrow disk spaces I have, especially in the lower back. So, run? Not a chance. I’m just happy to walk through Meijer without having to bend over the cart or sit down to relieve the pain.

One thing that would help is medical marijuana, but it is not legalized in Ohio.

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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 God-given faith, a faith that leads people to believe things like the Bible is inerrant, the earth was created in six days 6,024 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 and the inerrant, infallible words of the 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 Evangelical churches. Once they see that they have been snookered by their church and pastor they move on to places where reason and intellect are valued and appreciated.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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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

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.

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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.

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Bruce Gerencser