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Tag: 2016 Presidential Election

Randy, the Atheist-Turned-Evangelical Talks Smack About Bruce Gerencser

peanut gallery

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Some of you might remember Randy the atheist-turned-Evangelical . . .

Several years ago, Randy (who is currently the discipleship pastor at Encounter Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas) left a comment on the Fundamentalist Christian blog Spiritual Minefield (The True Darkness of Atheism Part Two) about his commenting experiences on this site. Here’s what Randy had to say:

My name is Randy and I lived as an atheist for 32 years of my life. I’m a pastor [Randy’s church. He is not listed on the staff roster] (been a follower of Christ since 2002). I hung around Bruce’s blog for awhile until he finally asked me not to come back. I questioned him about having a personal vendetta against Christianity and never attacking Islam. I also accused him of being just as intolerant and judgmental towards Christians as he claimed they were to him. Boom – he asked me to hit the virtual highway.

Bruce stands beside the works of Ehrman like they are Scripture. I love Bart Ehrman and have read most of his books. He’s a great New Testament scholar but has some serious flaws in his conclusions. He is an agnostic but still has a personal vendetta against Christianity like Bruce. His goal is to undermine the Bible’s authenticity.

Atheism has changed since I claimed that name. I was a live and let live guy. Now, the radical, militant atheists, like Bruce, have become the majority. They are not happy just to choose unbelief, they actively try to draw others to their beliefs (atheist evangelism?) and want to strip all freedom from Christianity in the public area of life. They will tell you they don’t hate God because they don’t believe in him. This may be true to some extent, not being conscious hate, but their actions clearly express hate towards God and his people.

I appreciate your blogging. Keep up the good work.

Randy left a total of forty-two comments on this site. While Evangelicals are generally given one opportunity to comment — as is made clear in the commenting rules —Randy seemed nice enough guy that I allowed him to continue to comment.

Randy first commented on September 24, 2015. Here is what he had to say:

Bruce let me say first, I am still in the Christian camp and I’m glad I didn’t let your warning prevent me from reading this post. But then again, I’m not in the “easily offended evangelical” section of the camp. I think more Christians need to hear and heed your words. The greatest deficiency I see in Christianity is a lack of authenticity. Most can put on the mask, play the part, buy the book, the t-shirt, the poster, and all the accessories just enough to fool others.

The honest truth is this: the non-Christians I know are generally much nicer than the Christians I know. They aren’t pretending to be something besides who and what they are. They are my friends for the same reason anybody should be your friend: because I thoroughly enjoy their company. I do not maintain the relationship to convert them. We may talk about spirituality from time to time, but my goal is not to debate them to a profession of faith. I stand by my faith but I don’t bludgeon them with it.

I’m an introvert at heart, so I don’t open my house up to many people. The ones I do truly know me. Yes you’ll find some Christian pictures and such here and there. I do have a shelf full of Bibles and theological books, but you’ll also find some Louis L’Amour Westerns and (gasp) swords & sorcery and vampire fiction, along with plenty of non-fiction and a few biographies. Yes I have some Christian movies, but I have a ton of sci-fi and Westerns and yes (gasp again) some are rated R! I have an Xbox one and a stack of video games that have nothing to do with Jesus. My music collection has a scattered collection of Christian artists but is primarily composed of the likes of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and other heavy metal and honky tonk artists.

Now you better sit down for this one. I smoke cigars. I like bourbon. These are the two funniest because I know Christians who do them in secret. I’ve been asked not to post pictures of me doing either on social media by church leadership. It’s so funny man. My primary ministry is in the local county jail and I love it. I’m real with those guys about who and what I am. We are just a bunch of messed up guys who like to have a genuine good time but want to get our lives straightened out. For us, our faith is a guide.

Anyway, I make a lot of Christians uncomfortable for all the above reasons. Sometimes they think I am too “worldly” or “backsliding.” I used to make sure I never slipped up and cursed. Not a big deal now. I try to be mindful of offending people with my language and the fact I have children who I want to make a good impression on for how they speak, but every once in awhile, I just let those accursed words roll off my tongue.

Most of all I just want to be me. If Jesus is real, and he doesn’t love me for who I am, if he insists that I be something I am not, then it’s not real love anyway is it?

On March 16, 2016, Randy left the following comment:

I am a Christian and a former atheist (I’m not going to argue that again here. I know what I believed and how I lived.) One of my absolute favorite authors is Bart Ehrman. He is one of the foremost scholars on the New Testament and quite brilliant. At this point I have read 5 of his books and own 2 of them (“Forged” and “Did Jesus Exist”).

The biggest problem I see in Christian apologetics to day is the use of circular logic. “How do I know the Bible is true? Because the Bible says so.” That is an epic failure. I am sure every holy text testifies to it’s own veracity. These same apologists will quickly call out circular logic when used by other faiths or evolutionists. You cannot change the rules in your favor.

To complicate things, the majority of Christians are unwilling to read anything outside of the Christian realm of apologetics. They won’t read Ehrman and his questions concerning the reliability of the biblical text. They won’t read what evolutionists have to say. They won’t read what prominent atheists have to say. They stick their head in the sand and shout, “But the Bible says so!”

I cannot live that way. I walk in doubt many days. I don’t find the answers of men like James satisfying at all. In fact, it makes me disappointed in Christianity in general. Do I have irrefutable evidence for the existence of the Christian God? Unfortunately, no. Do I believe the Bible is the best defense of the Christian faith? Nope. Do I believe there are compelling arguments against the existence of the Christian God? Sure.

My faith is what it is: faith. I have seen things, experienced things that leads me to the conclusion that a supreme being of some type exists. I best view him through the paradigm of Christianity. I am reluctant to label myself “evangelical” because at this point in my life, it is a personal journey seeking truth. I do not regularly share or impose my beliefs on others. I feel like I am beyond that. I do respond to those who come seeking knowledge of Christianity, and I always encourage those I work with to keep their brains turned on, to focus on their spiritual journey and not some manmade institution that is more interested with your butt filling a seat and your money filling the offering bucket.

I enjoy reading you Bruce because you challenge my thoughts and faith. I believe you were a sincere Christian once as I was a sincere atheist. Maybe one day our paths will cross somewhere on your side, my side or in the middle.

In December 2016, Randy finally showed his true colors. Objecting to something I had written about Donald Trump and Evangelicals, Randy vehemently stated:

I like you and respect you Bruce, despite us being on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to our spiritual beliefs. I think you normally do a fair job with your posts and your responses. However, I have several issues with what you’ve said here.

First is the ad hominem attack on Evangelicals who voted for Trump. Do you honestly think that people who voted for Trump condone this man’s behavior or behave like him? If so, then Christianity is in much worse shape than we think. Why have his actions not been condemned on Evangelical blogs? I think for one thing this guy has flown under the radar and many have not noticed. Just check out his Facebook pages. He only has a few hundred followers. I think that speaks greatly to the number of Evangelicals that support his methods. I believe others do not want to give him any more attention than he is already receiving for his ignorant actions in the media.

Secondly I fail to understand why people in liberal circles feel it’s okay to judge all Evangelical Christians by the actions of a fractional minority yet insist that Islam should not be judged by the actions of a small group of radical fundamentalists. Let’s be honest, people like Grisham, as disgusting as they are, are only doing things like protesting Santa, soldiers funerals or LGBT events. Compared to flying airplanes into buildings, chopping off peoples heads and destroying historic works of art and architecture it’s not hard to see who poses the greater danger. However, I’m not sure I’ve seen you one time denounce or address the danger of the other big monotheistic system in the world: Islam. I greatly respect atheists like Sam Harris who dare to challenge Islam, but he is one of only a handful who do.

Third I question the validity of your statement that the Bible can be used to justify almost any behavior. Certainly people throughout history have used it to promote or defend their own dismal behavior but they have done so by ignoring or twisting the core tenants of Jesus’ teaching. Again, the seeming hypocrisy in liberal circles on this versus Islam and the Koran stand in stark contrast. In the case of radical Islam it is said that a marginal group is twisting the meaning of the Koran’s teachings and because of that all other Muslims are exonerated of any guilt for these terroristic actions. However, statements like yours are used to vilify all Christians. Let’s play fair or at least admit a personal vendetta against Christianity may be at work here.

Ultimately David Grisham is a far cry from the mainstream Evangelical. I think his actions are inexcusable. If I had been in line with my children and he pulled a stunt like that, I would have reacted much quicker and more harshly than these parents did. He is lucky that the only “assault” he experienced was someone simply touching him. I’m just asking for fairness in how you judge Evangelicals, or at least some equal time looking at other faith systems making inroads in America such as Islam.

In response to Randy, I stated:

Evangelicals who voted for Trump betrayed their beliefs and values. They are, in my opinion, hypocrites. Don’t come to me preaching Christ and moral superiority and then vote for the Devil. Evangelicals knew what Donald Trump was when they voted for him. He did not fly under the radar, he rolled over the top of America with a tank. That Evangelical blogs and websites were silent during the election (unless they were condemning Clinton or explaining how Trump was a baby Christian) is proof that they desire political and social power more than they do righteousness. By electing Trump, Evangelicals have forever ceded their place of moral and cultural influence.

I stand by my statement concerning the Bible. Thousands and thousands of Christian sects are all the evidence I need to prove my contention. Each appeals to the Bible as justification for their beliefs and behaviors. I’ve heard scores of people use the Bible to justify their behavior — you know, like voting for misogynistic, pussy-grabbing, immigrant hating, war-mongering Donald Trump.

Your comment does come off as passive-aggressive. You’ve presented yourself in the past as some sort of Christian moderate, but today you are a defender of Evangelical honor.

Everyone who reads this blog knows that when I use the word Evangelical I don’t mean all Evangelicals, everywhere. To expect me to use a modifier every time I use the word is silly. If the shoe fits wear it, if not . . . I wasn’t talking about you.

If you think Grisham is some sort of aberration, you need to get out more. Go to any moderate-to-large city and you’ll find people preaching on the streets and attempting to evangelize passersby. These zealots for Jesus all have one thing in common– they are Evangelicals. I get it, you want to pretend that your crazy uncles aren’t really related to you. They are, so deal with it. I’m not the problem here, they are, as are those who tacitly support them by not publicly condemning their behavior. Over the years I have had numerous pastors write to tell me that they appreciate my honest assessment of Evangelicalism. They are embarrassed by the crazy uncles. When I ask them to take a public stand against extremism, they refuse, saying that taking such a stand would cause a church split or loss of job.

I’ve given you a lot of space, Randy, but it now sounds like you have had your fill of Bruce Gerencser. Go in peace.

I then added the following:

And as far as other faiths, I write about American Christianity, particularly Evangelicalism. It is silly for you to expect me to write about Islam when they are not my focus. There are plenty of writers who focus on Islam, so there’s no need for me to do so. Besides, the greatest threat to America is not Islam, it’s Evangelicalism. Again, who is it that put Trump in the White House? Who is it that just passed a law in Ohio that outlawed abortions after six weeks? Who is it that wants to put God, prayer, and the Bible back in the public schools? Who is it that supports capital punishment and supports the American war effort? Who is it that wants to criminalize certain sexual behaviors? Who is it that denies the existence of the separation of church and state? Who is it that clamors for theocratic governance? Evangelicals.

Randy responded:

I’ll respect your invitation to leave and not trouble you anymore in your personal corner of the blogosphere after this.

You say you have changed much since your days of IFB Fundamentalism. What I see is you have merely traded jerseys. You’ve adapted the same attitudes, tropes and tactics from your IFB / conservative days and simply clothed them in atheism / liberalism. You are still an extremist with little tolerance for those who do not believe the same way you do. We’ve had some good conversations but apparently I’ve crossed the line. I honestly did not expect such a virulent response from you.

Since I left atheism and went through my own zealous phase of Evangelicalism I’ve tried to walk a more moderate path. Unfortunately what I’ve found is that on both the Evangelical and Atheism fronts, people are equally dogmatic, rigid, intolerant and close minded. That’s unfortunate.

I wish you and Polly the best and Happy Holidays.

To which I replied:

Ah, now the true Randy comes out. I have zero problem with rational, thoughtful disagreement. We’ve had plenty of them on this blog over the past eight years. So far, I have yet to meet an Evangelical who is capable of such discussion. No matter how much line I let out for them to run, sooner or later they will do exactly what you have done with your latest comments. It’s in the nature of Evangelicals to behave this way. Until you get away from Evangelicalism you will not see this. That you cannot see that Evangelicals voting for Donald Trump is a denial of EVERYTHING Evangelicals SAY they hold dear, is case in point.

I wish you well.

I’ll leave it to readers to decide if Randy’s comment on the Spiritual Minefield blog is a fair assessment of his interaction with me and my fellow atheists on this site.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Donald Trump’s Bible

donald trump bible
“Because if I’m there [the presidency], you’re [Christians] going to have plenty of power. You don’t need anybody else. You’re going to have somebody representing you very, very well. Remember that.”

Evangelicals desperately want to believe that Donald Trump is a Christian. For decades, Evangelicals clamored for God to give them a Christian president. Jimmy Carter? Christian, but the wrong kind. Bill Clinton? Christian, but he had that whole blue dress thing. Besides, he was a Democrat. George W. Bush? Christian, but he was too busy waging war to bother with Evangelical demands. Why he wasn’t even pro-life. Obama? Christian, but he was the unholy trinity of black, democrat, and liberal Christian. Not one of us, Evangelicals said. In November 2015, eighty-two percent of voting white Evangelicals helped elect Donald Trump as the forty-fifth president of the United States. Finally, Evangelicals believed they had a Christian president. Never mind the fact that Trump is a narcissistic liar who bragged about grabbing women by their genitals, a man who has been repeatedly accused of sex crimes. In his blessed heart-of-hearts, Evangelicals believe Trump is a Christian. James Dobson says that Trump is a “baby-Christian.” Instead of looking at the character of the man, Evangelicals divert attention to the president’s agenda. It is here that we see that Trump plays Santa Claus for Evangelical culture warriors. His policies, cabinet, and judicial appointments make it clear that Evangelicals are ruling the White House. It’s hard to walk down the halls of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue without running into Evangelicals either praying, going to Bible study, or trying to subvert the U.S. Constitution.

For Evangelicals who still have a shred of decency left, I am sure that Trump’s awful behavior continues to bother them. Instead of admitting that they made a mistake voting for the most unqualified man ever to be president, Evangelicals search far and wide looking for anything that suggests to them that Trump is one of them. If Evangelicals can convince themselves that the president is a Christian, they will happily vote for him in November. He’s God’s man for such a time as this, Evangelicals tell themselves — even though Trump’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic has been nothing short of a 9-11/Katrina-level disaster. Some Evangelicals even think that Trump is the reincarnation of King Cyrus.

The latest straw Evangelicals are grasping at has to do with a Bible sent to the president by his Scottish relatives. Evangelical evangelist Ron Susek explains the story this way:

1949. The Island of Lewis in the Hebrides (off the coast of Scotland) was struck by a revival that shook the islanders at the time, and in varying ways continues to impact the world to this day.

It began in the late 1940s on the small Scottish island of Lewis in the village of Barvas. Two Smith sisters, Peggy who was blind and Christine who was arthritic, began to pray. Peggy received a revelation that revival was coming.  Some Christian leaders met in a barn to pray, not for others, but for their own cleansing.  
 
Soon revival broke. A fifteen-year-old boy name Donald Smith proved to be a great prayer warrior who kept his heart close to God. He became involved in this famous Hebrides Revival which lasted three years.  
 
Years earlier, Mary Anne Smith MacLeod, niece of the two elderly women and a cousin of Donald Smith emigrated to America and met a young man named Frederick. They fell in love and married in January of 1936 and had five children: Mary Anne (Barry), Frederick Jr., Elizabeth (Grau), Donald and Robert.

The one elderly sister who had prayed for revival sent her Bible to America as a gift to Mary Anne, who subsequently gave it to her son, Donald.  Today, this Bible lies in her son’s office – the Oval Office – at the White House and it was one of the Bibles upon which he placed his hand to take the oath of office. Yes, President Donald Trump’s roots reach back to one of the greatest revivals in history.   
 
 No true believer has the right to withhold prayer for President Trump because of disagreement.  No flawless wonder has ever headed any nation.  Still, the Bible commands that we pray for those in authority (2 Timothy 2:2).

Remember God’s promise: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). 
 
Do not withhold heartfelt prayer for this President by comparing him to Jesus. We all fail that test. Begin praying for an awakening to sweep from the Oval Office to every corner of the land.

Evidently, Susek and other Evangelicals like him believe that this special Bible being in the proximity of President Trump is enough to affect him is a positive way. Christianity by osmosis, perhaps?

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) luminary Clarence Sexton, pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Powell, Tennessee, and president of The Crown College, released a video titled Donald’s Bible. Five minutes long, the video features Sexton breathlessly and with tears in his eyes recounting the history of Donald’s Bible.

Video Link

Video Link

Evangelicalism has sold it soul for a bowl of pottage. Whatever moral and ethical influence they once had, it is now gone. In its place we find raw political power fueling the rise of an Evangelical theocracy in America. That’s why Evangelicals either ignore Trump’s licentious behavior or they try to find slivers of Christian faith in the man. This, then, gives them license to re-elect Trump, thus giving Evangelicals four more years to return the United States to Christian nation status; four more years to undo sixty years of social progress; four more years to enact their version of sharia law; four more years to ban abortion and destroy the wall of separation between church and state.

And is Trump loses the election? Hard to tell what ever-Trumpers will do. Hard to tell what Evangelicals will do when their Faustian bargain with the Devil comes to naught. Imagine their outrage if Biden wins the presidency and Democrats regain the majority in the Senate. Why, they will be living through the Great Tribulation, with no rapture in sight.

As far as Trump is concerned, I have a vision of him packing up the Oval Office, preparing for Sleepy Joe to sit in HIS chair. As he gathers up HIS Bible and coloring books, he looks at the Bible and says, a lot of good you did for me! And with that, he throws the Bible into the trash. A rightful ending to the presidency of the most wonderful, beautiful, bigly Christian president in American history.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Quote of the Day: Donald Trump’s War with Iran

trump nuke or tweet

IN SEPTEMBER 2015, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump appeared on the syndicated radio show of conservative media star, Hugh Hewitt, to talk foreign policy.

“Are you familiar with General Suleimani?” Hewitt asked the real estate mogul from Queens.

“Yes,” said Trump, before hesitating. “Go ahead, give me a little … tell me.”

When Hewitt told Trump that Suleimani “runs the Quds Forces,” Trump responded: “I think the Kurds, by the way, have been horribly mistreated by us.”

“No, not the Kurds, the Quds Forces,” Hewitt interjected. “The Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Quds Forces. The bad guys.”

“I thought you said Kurds,” a sheepish Trump replied.

….

It’s also a column that allows me to revisit what I have long considered to be the most unforgivable take of the 2016 presidential race: “Donald The Dove, Hillary the Hawk.” That was the ridiculous headline to the New York Times column from Maureen Dowd in April 2016, in which she falsely claimed that Trump had opposed the Iraq War “like Obama,” and then credulously suggested that, in contrast to Clinton, “he would rather do the art of the deal than shock and awe.

A reminder: Trump pulled out of the landmark Iran nuclear deal less than 18 months after assuming office. He replaced his predecessor’s nuclear diplomacy with a “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran, which had pushed the United States and the Islamic Republic to the brink of war even before this latest dangerous escalation.

Dowd was wholly, utterly, and embarrassingly wrong — as some of us tried to explain at the time. But it wasn’t just her. Plenty of other people across the political spectrum foolishly bought into the ludicrous premise that Trump would be some sort of dove, a noninterventionist, an old-fashioned isolationist.

And plenty of my colleagues in the media continue to push this deluded view. Remember: Trump has twice bombed the Assad regime in Syria; reduced Mosul and Raqqa to rubble; vetoed a congressional attempt to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi bombardment of Yemen; and overseen a fivefold increase in drone strikes throughout the region and beyond. Yet on New Year’s Eve, the New York Times still insisted on bizarrely referring to “the president’s reluctance to use force in the Middle East.”

That line, of course, hasn’t aged so well. Less than 72 hours later, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force and the deputy head of the Iran-backed militias in Iraq, are dead. Killed via drone.

THE UNITED STATES has now effectively declared war on Iran. This is no longer a “cold” war or a “shadow” war. It’s a war-war. And here’s what so terrifying about it: The current commander-in-chief of the U.S. military as it readies for open conflict with Tehran is the guy who last week accused Canada’s prime minister of cutting him out of a Canadian TV version of “Home Alone 2″; who regularly retweets QAnon, Pizzagate, and white nationalist accounts on Twitter; who believes that Ukraine is in possession of a nonexistent Democratic National Committee server; who thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax; who wants to use nuclear weapons to stop hurricanes; and who is willing to take a Sharpie to an official government map in order to prove he was right about the weather (when he was, in fact, 100 percent wrong).

— Mehdi Hasan, The Intercept, Four Years Ago, Trump Had No Clue Who Iran’s Suleimani Was. Now He May Have Kicked Off WWIII, January 3, 2020

Living in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter

thomas paine on reason

People who believe science is the best way we have to explain the world we live in and who believe facts matter find themselves under increasing assault by people who refuse to accept things as they are. I am all for vigorous debate and disagreement, but there comes a time when what matters is facts. Recently, a family member — who happens to be a Trump-supporting Evangelical pastor — posted a quote allegedly by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on social media. Generally, I avoid discussing politics and religion on my personal Facebook account. Want to discuss such things with me? Go to my Facebook page or my blog. My personal Facebook account is reserved for photographs, family stuff, silly memes, and cat videos.

For whatever reason — boredom, perhaps? — I decided to respond to the Ocasio-Cortez quote. The quote seemed out of character for Ocasio-Cortez, so I went to Snopes to check it out. Sure enough, the quote was false. After determining the quote’s truthfulness, I left the following comment: thou shalt not bear false witness. This got me excommunicated; not unfriended, just blocked from seeing the man’s posts. I don’t play that game, so I unfriended him. I then let him know that I did so, and why.

The false quote perfectly fits this man’s worldview; his view of secularism, liberalism, socialism, and Democrats. In his mind, it must be true because it reinforces his sincerely-held political beliefs. I suspect many readers could tell similar stories; times when they challenged religious or political statements with facts. I have repeatedly responded to false claims on Facebook from friends and family members by commenting with a link to the relevant Snopes article. I have yet to have someone say to me, thanks for pointing out my error. I made a mistake. All I get is silence, and the false quote or meme continues to live on in infamy.

In 2017, Dr. R. Kelly Garrett wrote an article titled, Facts don’t matter to Americans, and we should be worried.

Garrett said:

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’ll bet that’s true,” before you had all the facts? Most people probably have at some point.

Where people differ is in how often they do so. A 2016 survey that my colleague Brian Weeks and I conducted found that 50.3 percent of all Americans agreed with the statement “I trust my gut to tell me what’s true and what’s not.” Some of those polled felt quite strongly about it: About one in seven (14.6 percent) strongly agreed, while one in 10 (10.2 percent) strongly disagreed.

In other words, there’s a lot of variation in how Americans decide what to believe.

In a recent paper, we were able to use the findings from this survey and two others to dig into the different approaches people take when deciding what’s true.

We found some surprising differences between how people think about intuition and how they think about evidence. It turns out that how often someone trusts their intuition and how important they think it is to have evidence are two separate things. Both make a big difference in what we believe.

What we learned offers some hope for people’s ability to tell truth from fiction, despite the fact that so many trust their gut.

Many incorrect beliefs have political foundations. They promote a policy, an ideology or one candidate over another.

People are susceptible to political misinformation because they tend to believe things that favor their side — even if it isn’t grounded in data or science. There are numerous factors at play, from the influence of nonconscious emotions to the need to defend a group that the individual identifies with.

For these reasons, millions of Americans believe things that aren’t true.

….

With all the talk about political bias, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that politics aren’t the only thing shaping people’s beliefs. Other factors play a role too.

For example, people are more likely to believe something the more often they’ve heard it said — commonly known as the illusory truth effect. And adding a picture can change how believable a message is, sometimes making it more convincing, while at other times increasing skepticism.

Valuing intuition versus valuing evidence

Our study focuses on something else that shapes beliefs: We looked at what matters the most to people when they’re deciding what’s true.

We found that having faith in your intuition about the facts does make you more likely to endorse conspiracy theories. However, it doesn’t really influence your beliefs about science, such as vaccine safety or climate change.

In contrast, someone who says beliefs must be supported with data is more likely both to reject conspiracy theories and to answer questions about mainstream science and political issues more accurately.

The risk of relying on one’s intuition may be self-evident, but its role in belief formation is more nuanced.

….

In the end, knowing how much someone trusts his or her intuition actually tells you very little about how much proof that person will need before he or she will believe a claim. Our research shows that using intuition is not the opposite of checking the evidence: Some people trust their instincts while at the same time valuing evidence; others deny the importance of both; and so forth.

The key is that some people — even if they usually trust their gut — will check their hunches to make sure they’re right. Their willingness to do some follow-up work may explain why their beliefs tend to be more accurate.

It’s valuing evidence that predicts accuracy on a wider range of issues. Intuition matters less.

….

In this context, our results are surprising. There are many individual qualities that seem like they should promote accuracy, but don’t.

Valuing evidence, however, appears to be an exception. The bigger the role evidence plays in shaping a person’s beliefs, the more accurate that person tends to be.

We aren’t the only ones who have observed a pattern like this. Another recent study shows that people who exhibit higher scientific curiosity also tend to adopt more accurate beliefs about politically charged science topics, such as fracking and global warming.

There’s more we need to understand. It isn’t yet clear why curiosity and attention to the evidence leads to better outcomes, while being knowledgeable and thinking carefully promote bias. Until we sort this out, it’s hard to know exactly what kinds of media literacy skills will help the most.

But in today’s media environment — where news consumers are subjected to a barrage of opinions, data and misinformation — gut feelings and people’s need for evidence to back those hunches up can play a big role. They might determine whether you fall for a hoax posted on the Onion, help spread Russian disinformation or believe that the British spy agency MI6 was responsible for Princess Diana’s death.

For now, though, when it comes to fighting the scourge of misinformation, there’s a simple strategy that everyone can use. If you are someone who consistently checks your intuition about what is true against the evidence, you are less likely to be misled. It may seem like common sense, but learning to dig into the story behind that shocking headline can help you avoid spreading falsehoods.

Several days ago, a Christian man named Bill Wood stopped by this site to wow me with his intellectual prowess. Wood posted verbose comments meant to “educate” me about Biblical and scientific truth. You can read his comments here. Wood demanded I explain to his satisfaction my deconversion. I pointed him to the WHY page. Not good enough for Wood. He doubled and tripled down, refusing to accept any “truth” but his own. Wood is a classic reminder of why I don’t get into discussions with Evangelicals. Their minds are made up as to what the “truth” is. Wood believes the Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word. I asked him if he had read any of Bart Ehrman’s books, knowing that the answer was likely a big, fat, emphatic NO! Sure enough, all I got was another lengthy sermon. You see, for the Bill Woods of the world, their minds are closed to anything that challenges their worldview. They have decided this or that is “truth,” end of discussion. Their “gut” (often called the Holy Spirit) tells them that whatever they believe about God, Jesus, religion, science, etc. is true. In Bill Wood’s mind, creationism trumps science; theological dogma trumps archeological, geological, and sociological facts. All the facts in the world won’t change his mind.

We now live in a post-facts world. Instead of chasing truth wherever it leads, people scour the Internet looking for websites, blogs, memes, and social media posts that reinforce their beliefs. In 2016, eighty-one percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. Three years later, a majority of Evangelicals still support the President, despite his having told over 15,000 public lies. On January 23, 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump said:

I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.

Fast forward to today. Does anyone doubt that what Trump said is the truth; that no matter what he says or does, a sizeable percentage of Americans will resolutely support him. To these people, facts don’t matter. As long as their beliefs and worldview are confirmed, Trump is free to run roughshod over our Republic. As long as Trump says he is anti-abortion, anti-transgender, anti-immigration, anti-welfare, anti-socialism, anti-atheism, anti-anything enacted by Obama, white Evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and Mormons will continue to vote for him. Racists and white supremacists know that Trump is their best chance for a whiter America. No matter what the “facts” are, an overwhelming majority of Republicans and libertarians move in lock-step fashion with the President.

What are people who value facts supposed to do? If a large number of Americans are impervious to the truth, what hope is there for this great nation of ours? I know that this post will do nothing to change hearts and minds. People who agree with me will shout “right-on, brother!” Those who don’t will just see me as yet another liberal, commie, socialist out to destroy white Christian America.

We truly live in perplexing times. I have no confidence in things becoming better any time soon. I shudder to think what four more years of Donald Trump will bring us. Imagine what would happen if Republicans somehow took control of Congress? We are fools if we think the United States is invulnerable to decline and collapse. History tells us about many great civilizations who have come and gone. We are not immune to a similar fate.

What do you think people who value facts and truth should do? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

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Why Evangelicals Wear Jesus-Themed Clothing

jesus is my savior

I live in the United States of Jesus H. Christ. The Christian blood cult has over 300,000 temples scattered across America. Every temple has at least one high priest who performs weekly rituals and instructs members in the tenets of the one true religion. These temples are subdivided into sects. Evangelicalism is one such sect.

In 2016, the Evangelical blood cult was largely responsible for electing Donald Trump as president of the United States. Eighty-one percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for Trump. If another presidential election were held today, most of these people would likely vote for Trump again. The president is a lying narcissist who committed impeachable acts against the United States. He has the sexual morals of an alley cat in heat and has been accused of rape and sexual assault by numerous women. You would think, then, that the Evangelical cult would oppose Trump on moral grounds alone. Sadly, Evangelicals have sold their souls for a bowl of pottage, and they go to great lengths to defend Trump, even if it means lying or distorting the truth. Evangelicals have, in effect, become whores for their pimp, Donald Trump. The president pretends to care about Evangelicals, supporting their social agenda, but make no mistake about it, Trump sees Evangelicals as a means to an end. Once they are no longer useful, he will cast them away like an empty Whopper wrapper.

This unholy alliance between the Evangelical cult and the Republican Party is on display everywhere. One need look no farther than the t-shirts and other apparel Evangelicals wear. Much like LGBTQ people, Evangelicals want non-believers to know that they are out, loud, and proud. Evangelicals want people to know that they are on Team Jesus® or that they resolutely support God’s anointed man, modern-day King Cyrus, Donald Trump. Why do Evangelicals wear such clothing?

Virtually everyone in the United States knows about Jesus and the Christian blood cult. I live in a tri-county area that is home to over 300 hundred Christian temples. I doubt Sir Henry Stanley, of Stanley and Livingstone fame, could find one person in this area who has never heard about Jesus or doesn’t know that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” Yet, everywhere I look I see Evangelicals wearing Jesus-themed shirts. Some local Evangelical churches have custom t-shirts printed advertising their temple for congregants to wear. Surely, congregants know one another, so why the shirts?

Go to Evangelical homes and what do you find? Automobiles sporting religious bumper stickers, anti-abortion or religious cliché signs in their yards; and inside, walls and tables covered with Evangelical kitsch. What’s with all the Jesus Junk®? On one hand, who cares, right? Evangelicals are free to wear whatever they want. Want to show your support of our Pervert In-Chief? Have at it. Want to advertise the local temple you attend? Go ahead. Want to identify yourself as a follower of a virgin-born, resurrected-from-the-dead miracle worker named Jesus Christ? Fine, by me.  All that I ask is that you don’t delude yourself, believing that you are all decked out with Jesus so the lost, dying world will hear the gospel and be saved. You see, the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world don’t care about you being a walking billboard for Jesus or your temple. What matters to them is how you treat others. What matters is what you say about LGBTQ people, immigrants, Democrats, liberals, mainline Christians, Catholics, atheists, Muslims, people of color and anyone else who is different from you. What do your social media pages say about your “love” and “compassion” for others? Your behavior tells us everything we need to know about you and your beliefs. Is it any surprise that Evangelicalism is one of the most hated religions in America? You reap what you sow, Evangelicals.

Why, then, do Evangelicals wear Jesus-themed clothing? The same reason any of us wears themed clothing. When I wear a Cincinnati Reds or Cincinnati Bengals hat/shirt, I do so because they are my teams. It’s my way of saying to fellow Reds and Bengals fans that I am on their team. Evangelicals wear what they wear because they want other Evangelicals to know that they are on the same team. I am sure readers are wondering if I wore Jesus-themed clothing back when I was an Evangelical Christian and pastor. The short answer is no. I have never worn a Jesus shirt, put Christian cliché bumper stickers on my cars, or hung religious kitsch on the walls of our home. I preferred to let my life do the talking. Besides, if I was driving like a maniac, I didn’t want anyone to know there was a Christian behind the wheel. Just saying . . .

All of us are free to advertise the people and groups we identify with. Want to be an out-and-proud Trump supporter or atheist, by all means, do so. We live in a country where citizens are free to proclaim their beliefs. Oh wait, not really. You see, Evangelicals believe their cult is the one true faith. Jesus is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE. In their minds, the United States is a Christian nation, founded and governed by the triune God and the Protestant Bible. They expect and demand preferential treatment for their cult (and scream PERSECUTION when denied). That’s why Evangelicals love Donald Trump. He is willing to trample over the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Civil Rights Acts, and the separation of church and state so Evangelicals can have their way. Evangelicals want to be free to advertise and promote their blood cult; but let non-Christians do the same, and there’s no end to their faux-offense and outrage. Evangelicals want the freedom to push their beliefs anywhere and everywhere, yet when atheists and other non-Christians ask for the same rights, Evangelicals scream bloody murder. “How dare they attack our precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!” “How dare they mock Christianity.” “How dare they want to put up a winter solstice display next to the créche on the courthouse square.” One need only watch Evangelical outrage over the Hallmark Channel’s pro-gay wedding advertisement or Chik-Fil-A’s change of heart about supporting anti-LGBTQ groups to see how Evangelicals view the world. The U.S. Supreme Court settled the issues of prayer in secular public schools decades ago, yet Evangelicals continue to infiltrate our schools and push their sectarian agenda. Evangelicals continue to demand that public school children be taught “Biblical” sex education and creationism. Evangelicalism may be dying — and it is — but they have no intention of going quietly into the night.

As Evangelicals continue to push their theocratic demands in the public square, it’s hard not to see people wearing Jesus-themed apparel as enemies of secularism, pluralism, and freedom. History tells us that when church and state are one, freedoms are lost and people die.  I try to look on a person’s heart, and not their clothing when sizing them up, but I am tired of dealing with self-righteous, prattling Evangelicals. There are times, I admit, when I see someone wearing a Jesus shirt or some other flashing neon sign advertising their peculiar beliefs, that I just say to myself, “there’s another asshole for Jesus.” When I see an Evangelical sitting in a coffee shop wearing a Jesus or Trump shirt and reading the Bible or a religious book, I want to say to them, “Dude, don’t you know you should wear pants in public?” Without saying a word, this person is telling me all I need to know about them. He might be a “good” person, a great father, an awesome husband, and help the poor, but all I see is his Bible-approved circumcised dick hanging out.

Put your dick away, Evangelicals, and focus your attention on following the Jesus who preached the Sermon on the Mount. (A sermon, by the way, in which Jesus declared what was required of those who said they were his followers.) Jesus said in that sermon: Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16) That they (the world) may see what? Your good works, not your Jesus shirt. Do you really think that Jesus would have worn a t-shirt that said “This Blood is for You” or some other nonsensical Evangelical cliché? I think not.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Bruce Gerencser