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Tag: Agnosticism

As Long as You Believe in God, That’s All That Matters

i am an atheist

I have heard this line many times over the past fourteen years: “as long as you believe in God, that’s all that matters.” Implicit in this statement is the notion that belief in the CHRISTIAN God is all that matters. No matter what denominational flavor a person might be, as long as he or she believes in the Christian God then everything is okay. What are we to make of this generic statement of belief in God? Isn’t there more to Christianity than just saying, “I believe in God”? What about specific beliefs. Do they matter? Does it matter if I believe anything specific about the Christian diety? Or is it okay if I just have warm, fuzzy feelings about the Christian God?

Every organized religion has a formulated belief system. To be a ____________ you must believe ___________. Can one be a Christian and not believe in Jesus?  Of course not.

It seems that many Christians are uncomfortable with what they believe, especially when it comes to judgment and Hell. Christians hem and haw about the future state of those who do not believe in Jesus. That’s why they like the “as long as you believe in God that’s all that matters” line of thinking. It lets them and their God off the hook.

What if I said I believe in Allah or Zeus?  Would that satisfy the “as long as you believe in God that’s all that matters” crowd? Is there any God that is not an acceptable God?

Inherent in this line of thinking is the notion that humans MUST believe in a divine being larger than themselves. Why? Why must I have any God at all? Is it not enough for me to live, embrace life, and die? Is it not enough for me to eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow I die? Is it not enough for me to love the wife of my youth, my children, and my grandchildren? Is it not enough for me to love my neighbor as myself?

I find no need for a God. Perhaps on my deathbed I will think differently — I doubt it — but, for now, God seems of little importance in the day-to-day machinations of my life.

Most Americans have a difficult time understanding atheists and agnostics, or for that matter anyone different from themselves. They are quite certain that godlessness means that a person is a Satanist, child molester, or a deviant of some kind. Never mind the fact that most child molesters and deviants have a religious background and atheists don’t believe in Satan. How can one live without God?, they ask themselves.

I find little difference between myself and most Christians I know. I say there is no God and live accordingly, and they say there is a God and live, for the most part, as if God doesn’t exist. It seems the only difference is what we “say” we are and where we spend Sunday mornings. Such a religion does not interest me. I much prefer the Church of the NFL (and it seems a lot of my Christian acquaintances and neighbors do too).

So, my Christian friend, let’s play a game. Let’s compare lives. After all, the only way we can know what people believe is to watch how they live their lives. We LIVE what we think is important. How is my life any different from yours?

Surely, since I don’t believe in God, don’t have the Holy Spirit in me, and don’t follow the Bible, my life should be a blazing example of what most Christians think nontheists are. Shall we compare morals? Ethics? Shall we compare our love for our respective families? Or does it really all come down to whether I “believe”, lifestyle be damned?

I see no compelling reason for embracing Christianity or any other form of theism. It seems all quite meaningless to me, though I recognize it isn’t meaningless for millions of people. I have Christian friends, most of whom are liberals or universalists. They quietly live according to the teachings of Jesus. I admire them. That they are still friends with me means a lot to me. But, even their devotion to God is not enough to persuade me of the existence of the Christian God.

Anne Rice had this to say about “leaving” Christianity:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten …years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else…

…As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of …Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

I doubt the cohesiveness of Rice’s beliefs, but I do understand and appreciate her sentiments.

I have often been told that I am looking for God in all the wrong places. Perhaps, but at this point in life, I am going to leave it to God to find me. I am no longer interested in looking for him/her/it. There is too much life to be lived to spend it looking for a deity. Most days, I can’t even find the TV remote.

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Quote of the Day: Atheism and Agnosticism, The Last Closet

atheist closet

Some equate atheism with being immoral and even amoral. Some of the criticism leveled at nonbelievers comes from the suspicion that those who do not believe in God could not possibly believe in anything else, moral or otherwise. Several years ago, a coworker, upon learning of my agnosticism, said, “So you just believe and do anything you want?” That he had engaged in several extramarital affairs was lost on my hypocritical colleague but not on me.

The notion that atheists and agnostics “do anything they want to do” is not uncommon; however, it is woefully and recklessly ignorant.

Comedian and atheist Penn Jillette says he’s often asked, “Without God, what’s stopping you from raping all you want?” Jillette’s response? “I do rape all I want, and the amount I want is zero.”

The late Christopher Hitchens had a standing offer to name a moral thing that was done in the name of religion that hadn’t been done by an atheist. Morality isn’t the sole provenance of religion, and immoral persons can be found in pews and prisons alike.

….

It is precisely because of these religious prejudices and stereotypes that many agnostics and atheists do not discuss their worldviews in public or even private settings, and if they do, they don’t necessarily tell the truth.

Timur Kuran, in Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification, argues that social pressures can make people say that they want and believe something they really don’t want or believe. Kuran calls this “preference falsification,” a phenomenon that occurs when you make an inaccurate public statement about your actual preferences or beliefs.

“Some of the criticism leveled at nonbelievers comes from the suspicion that those who do not believe in God could not possibly believe in anything else, moral or otherwise.”

….

The same can’t be said for our nation’s and society’s view of atheists and agnostics. In spite of the Obama administration’s passing of the International Religious Freedom Act in 2016, many Americans still do not want atheists teaching their children or marrying them. They would, according to surveys, prefer a female, gay, Mormon or Muslim President to having an atheist in the White House.

To be sure, no closet, neither LGBTQ nor atheist, has ever been padlocked. The choice to come of out of either closet is free and deeply personal. But if the LGBTQ closet is largely empty, the agnostic closet remains, with stigma and stain awaiting anyone who decides to leave it.

Last year, I wrote a book in which I discuss my journey from minister to agnostic and critique popular religious notions like “everything happens for a reason.” I have friends who reviewed my book online, some of whom masked their names to avoid being outed by their association with a controversial topic and agnostic author.

I dream of a day when the atheist closet is empty. When epistemic humility is the intellectual norm and credal dogmatism is the outlier. I envision a world where the burden of proof for an invisible supreme being falls on the believer, not the skeptic. Until then, I hope that the flickering flame of my own religious journey will be a beacon of courage and hope for those cloistered in the last closet.

— David Ramsey, Baptist News Global, Atheism and agnosticism: The last closet, December 15, 2021

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Polly and Bruce, Two Godless Peas in a Pod

bruce polly gerencser our fathers house west unity
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio Circa 2000

Several years ago, Kenneth asked:

I am currently married to a Southern Baptist woman who is likely never going to change her mind about her beliefs. I deconverted late last year and am now an atheist. I’m curious as to how your wife ended up an atheist seemingly around the same time as you? I guess deep down I want her to see my views as an atheist but if anyone knows how hard it is to talk to a Christian as an atheist, it is you. My question is, can you tell us more about how Polly came to the same conclusions as you during the time of your deconversion? Maybe she can give us some input too. In a lot of scenarios, one spouse is still stuck as a believer while both the atheist and theist struggle with now being in a “mixed” marriage — I’m in one of them now. Thanks!

After we decided in 2005 we no longer wanted to be Pastor and Mrs. Bruce Gerencser, we spent a few years trying to find a church that took seriously the teaching of Jesus. Not finding such a church frustrated us and led us to conclude that the Christianity of Jesus no longer existed, and most churches were just different flavors of ice cream; same base ingredients with different added flavors. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) The last church we attended was Ney United Methodist Church, four blocks from our home

For most of 2008, I had been doing quite a bit of reading about the history of Christianity and the Bible.  From Bart Ehrman to Robert M. Price to Elaine Pagels, I read dozens of books that challenged and attacked my Christian beliefs. Polly and I spent many a night discussing what I had read. I often read large passages of this or that book to her and we would compare what we had been taught with what these books said. While Polly was never one to read nonfiction, she did read several of Bart Ehrman’s books. Over time, both of us came to the conclusion that what we had been taught wasn’t true. We also concluded that we were no longer, in any meaningful sense, Christian. The last Sunday in November 2008, we walked out of Ney United Methodist, never to return. Several months later, I wrote the infamous Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners, which I sent to hundreds of Evangelical family members, friends, and former church members.

For a time, both of us were content calling ourselves agnostics. I soon realized that the agnostic label required too much explanation, so I embraced the atheist label. While Polly is hesitant to use the atheist moniker, her beliefs about God, Christianity, and the Bible are similar to mine. She’s not one to engage in discussion or debate, content to go about her godless life without having to define herself. I often wish I could be like her.

When we left Christianity, I feared that Polly’s deconversion was a coattail deconversion; that she was following after me just like she was taught to do in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. Some of my critics, unwilling to give Polly credit for doing her own thinking and decision-making, have suggested that Polly was/is being led astray by me. Fundamentalist family members have voiced their concern over Polly being drawn into my godlessness, rarely giving her credit for being able to think and reason for herself. Their insinuations only reinforce her belief that she made the right decision when she deconverted. Polly graduated second in her high school class and has a college degree. She is quite capable of thinking for herself. Granted, this ability was quashed for many years thanks to being taught that she should always defer to me as the head of the home. That I was also her pastor only made things worse. I can confidently say that Polly is her own person, and her unbelief is her own.

Where our stories diverge a bit is the reasons why we deconverted. While both of us would say we had intellectual reasons for abandoning God and Christianity, Polly’s deconversion had a larger emotional component than mine did. We’ve spent countless hours talking about the past, this or that church, and the experiences each of us had. Polly spent most of her married life under the shadow of her preacher husband. I’m amazed at how differently she views our shared past, now free to speak openly. While I was the center of attention, heaped with praise and love, she was in the shadows, the afterthought, the one who had to do all the jobs church members had no time for. It should come as no surprise that her view of the 25 years we spent in the ministry is much different from mine.

As I’m writing this post I am thinking to myself, Polly needs to be telling this story. I can’t tell her story. While I can give the gist of it, I think it is better if she tells her story, that is if she is willing to do. I do know that she has no desire to relive the “wonderful” ministry years. She’s quite content to be free of God, the church, and the Bible, free to just be Polly. Not Polly, the pastor’s daughter, not Polly, the preacher’s wife, just Polly. And I can say the same for myself. While I am noted for being a preacher-turned-atheist, an outspoken critic of Evangelicalism, I am content just to be Bruce. Most of our life was swallowed up by the ministry, so we are quite glad to be free and we enjoy the opportunity to live our lives on our own terms.

In many ways, our story is not typical. I’ve received scores of emails from people who deconverted and are now in mixed marriages. Like Kenneth, they want to share their unbelief with their spouses, but are unable to do so because of their spouse’s Christian beliefs or because they fear outing themselves will destroy their marriages. (Please see Count the Cost Before You Say I Am an Atheist.) Polly and I fully realize that if one of us had remained a Christian it could (would?) have ended our marriage. We are grateful that we’ve been able to walk this path together hand in hand. The farther away we get from the years we spent in the ministry, the more we realize how good we have it. Our deconversion could have destroyed our marriage and alienated us from our children, but it didn’t. Instead, we’ve been given a new lease on life; the opportunity for each of us to seek our own path. We deeply love one another, have six wonderful children and thirteen grandkids, and are, in every way, b-l-e-s-s-e-d.

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

The Musings of an Agnostic

guest post

A guest post by Ben Berwick. Ben lives and writes in Essex, England. You can read more of his writing at Meerkat Musings.

When Bruce Gerencser invited people to write a guest post for his blog, I thought to myself ‘let’s give it a shot’. Then I thought to myself ‘I actually need to think of something worthwhile to say’. Cue further introspective musings.

In the end, I wanted to speak of a journey – voyage – that I’ve been undergoing for, well, pretty much my entire life. It’s a trip towards… not atheism exactly, but certainly towards being agnostic, especially as I get older. It sounds daft for someone who is not yet forty to be considering mortality, yet my thoughts often drift in that direction. I’d love to believe I haven’t even quite completed half my lifespan, and therefore my anxious thoughts about death are ridiculous to have, but the thoughts persist, much like a bad penny.

I’m aware of the pull – one might say power – of religion. We look for meaning, peace and certainty throughout our lives. The absolute belief in an eternal afterlife where we can be with our loved ones and fulfil all our greatest desires is a powerful lure. Who doesn’t want an eternity of bliss? I don’t want oblivion, even though the scientific, logical part of my brain tells me there’s nothing beyond death’s veil. Yet I cannot bring myself to accept the positions of the religious, that we are told offer certainty of life everlasting.

The problem is not merely that I cannot reconcile the science/logic aspects of my thinking with supernatural notions. There’s more to it. As a kid, my teachers and preachers introduced a version of the Bible that was quite sanitised; as an adult, I found with great clarity that there are many horrendous acts within its pages, and many positions that I cannot abide by (such as the views on women and LGBT rights). Not every Christian takes these views to heart (the members of the Church where I got married are among the nicest, most welcoming people I’ve ever met), but many do, and I’ve had my share of heated arguments with them.

We’re told about forgiveness and love a lot by people who don’t want to practise these ideas. Is that in spite of or because of their religious upbringing? And I must include a caveat that there are many religious people who are good people, absorbing the best practices of their faith. As I said earlier, I’ve met some of them.

Unfortunately, the encounters with the evangelicals (and others) have left me wondering how organised religion creates tribalism and how it poisons people. The Word of God has been historically used to wage terrible wars (in some parts of the world it still is), and to justify all sorts of commands that to me, seem cruel and heartless. The stance of the religious right on abortion and life is hypocritical and it regards women as cattle. I’ve seen this attitude from both evangelicals and also a former Muslim sparring partner, and so it’s not strictly a Christian issue, but more a general religious one.

With that in mind, whatever my viewpoints on Christianity as a wide global, organised faith, I have more or less the same viewpoints on other religions. They claim to hold the high ground on morality, they claim to see life as precious, yet history is filled with conflicts between different religions and even within the same religion. There has been a lot of blood spilt and a lot of persecution because of religion.

It wouldn’t matter so much if religion were a personal thing. In the past, when I was at my most ‘religious’ (not that I can ever really say I’ve been pious), I saw it as a deeply personal, private thing. The trouble is, it’s rarely the personal, private relationship that it should be. My apathy for organised religion is in part formed by the idea that it can forced upon others, in various ways. The religious right believes nations should pass laws that endorse the views of the faithful, regardless of the impact of those laws on others.

If you’re not religious, you should not be bound by religious rules, yet to the fanatics everyone should be held to them. I can’t follow such beliefs.

The other side of my move towards being agnostic is based on science. There are facts about the age of the universe and the earth, there’s the state of the world we live in, there is tremendous suffering and pain, and then there is God, who is absent. We have a being described as omnipotent and omnipresent who could remake the world in an instant, if they are as powerful as their followers claim. Yet they do not intervene. We are told we are being tested, we are told God works in mysterious ways, we are told to attribute anything positive to God. We do not see any of God’s workings yet we are meant to devote ourselves to worshipping this being and the codes and rules of their holy texts (despite the numerous contradictions between them all), even though many of those rules are arbitrary and in many cases cruel.

I can’t reconcile these facts with faith. Yet I want to believe that there is something after death, because I want to be in my daughter’s life forever. I want that hope. I want to watch for eternity as humanity (hopefully) grows beyond what it is now. I want to watch us soar to the stars.

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

For Evangelical Christians, It’s Not About the Evidence

birth of jesus

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

Here’s one thing that atheists and agnostics need to understand. For a person becoming an Evangelical Christian – the choice to do so has never been JUST about the evidence. We mistakenly think that if we just show Evangelicals evidence that their God is a myth, the Bible is a manmade book, and the central claims of Christianity are false, they will abandon their religion and embrace atheism or agnosticism. How’s that working for us?

The truth is, Christianity, as a belief system, is all about faith. Hebrews 11:1-3 says:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

How does a person become an Evangelical Christian? Ephesians 2:8,9 says:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Evangelicals, by faith, decide to believe certain things. By faith, they believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. By faith, they believe the Bible is truth, and whatever it says comes straight from the mouth of God. By faith, they believe that the central teachings of Christianity are true regardless of evidence to the contrary.

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin — that he was birthed by a teen girl named Mary who was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. It is common knowledge that virgins can’t have babies. Unless a woman is impregnated by a man’s sperm, there can be no baby. Evangelicals know this, but they disregard this fact, choosing instead to believe, by faith, the story in the Bible about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.

It is also common knowledge that when people die, they stay dead. I know of no evidence that suggests that a person lying dead in the grave for three days has any hope or possibility of coming back to life. When you’re dead, you stay dead. Evangelicals know this, but choose, instead, to disregard this fact, putting their faith in the claims the Bible makes for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Much like it was for Jesus, Evangelicals believes that God will someday resurrect their bodies from the grave and make them new. What evidence do they have for this claim? None.

The virgin birth of Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead are two essential doctrines of Evangelical Christianity. There is absolutely no evidence for these two events outside of the Bible. Blind, irrational faith is required to believe these two essential Evangelical doctrines. The same could be said for the Bible stories about Jesus walking on water, walking through walls, turning water into wine, and walking through a crowd of people without being detected. Reason demands we reject such stories, but by faith, Evangelicals believe them to be true.

Evangelicals do a great disservice to their religion by attempting to argue for Christianity on an evidentiary basis. This is an argument that Evangelicals cannot win, and they only hurt their own cause when they attempt to argue faith claims in an evidence arena. Outside of the Bible, there is no evidence for the claims that virgins can have babies or dead people can get out of the grave and live again. These are stubborn facts that cannot be refuted.

Does this mean that Evangelicals are stupid or ignorant? Of course not. I recognize that Christianity has never been just about the evidence. Christianity purports to answer what we call the big questions of life. Where did we come from? What is the purpose of life? Is there life after death? The Christian Bible answers these questions and more. For atheists and agnostics, the answers to these questions seem empty and of little value, but we need to remember not everyone is like us.

Who are we to stand in the way of what helps someone get through the night? It matters not whether we think their beliefs are a flight of fancy — and many of us do. All that matters is whether their Christian beliefs meet the needs they have in their lives. We often forget that many people come to the Christian faith in a time of crisis. Let’s face it: atheism doesn’t do a very good job of comforting people when they are hurting, sick, or dying. Often, all we have to offer is love and compassion wrapped in the reality that life is shitty and hard and everyone dies in the end. Brutal, I know, but it is the truth.

As long of Evangelicals keep their beliefs to themselves and make no attempts to evangelize others or turn the United States into a theocracy, I suspect most atheists and agnostics are content to let Evangelicals believe what they will. Unfortunately, many Evangelicals refuse to keep their religion private, and, as will be on full display November 3, do everything in their power to ensconce Jesus as the King of the United States (and world). As long as Evangelicals have ill-will towards non-Evangelicals and demand preferential treatment, atheists, agnostics, secularists, and others who value the separation of church and state, must resolutely oppose and condemn Evangelicalism. That said, we should ask ourselves whether our time is well spent trying to evangelize Evangelicals and turn them into atheists.

Ask yourself, when is the last time you have won over an Evangelical by argumentation and evidence? Doesn’t happen very much, does it? Christianity is much more complex than that. It’s not the end of the world if Christians die thinking they will go to Heaven. At the end of the day, who cares? For whatever reason, Evangelicals need faith to make it through life, and they need to think that there is something better awaiting them after they die. I don’t fault them for believing these things, even if I think their beliefs are untrue.

As atheists, we cannot believe the things that Christians believe. Why? We don’t have faith. All we have is a Bible that Evangelicals tell us is truth, but we find no persuasive evidence for its truth claims. We know that faith would fix the lack of evidence problem for us, but we are not willing to relegate matters of life and death to such a subjective idea as faith. We wish we could, but we can’t.

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Dear John MacFarlane, Pastor of First Baptist in Bryan, Ohio

first baptist church bryan ohio

John MacFarlane is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio. First Baptist is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. I attended First Baptist in the 1960s and 1970s. First Baptist was my home church when I left to attend Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the fall of 1976. John, at the time, was a young boy.

I have written several posts about First Baptist Church and its present pastor, John MacFarlane:

Last month, MacFarlane wrote a blog post titled, When Is An Atheist Really Not An Atheist?

I do not believe that the average person claiming to be an atheist is really an atheist at all.  Their venomous attacks and rantings against God, Christians, and churches betrays their heart.  Let me illustrate.

There are some very interesting people out there who believe in UFOs.  They believe they’ve seen UFOs hovering in the sky and that the sudden appearance of a light in the sky is the lights on their spaceship.  They believe the government has covert hangers in the desert somewhere, housing their alien ships and that there are laboratories where experiments are being performed on alien bodies.  There are even some who believe they have personally been abducted by aliens into their spaceships and returned.

These UFO experts are more than willing to share their story and experience with anyone who listens.  They write books about it and reputable bookstore chains like Barnes & Noble or Amazon will carry them.  If UFO believers find other believers out there, they quickly join forces in sharing what they “know”.

Now, I hope I’m not shocking anyone with this confession but I’m an “a-UFO-eist.”  I am not a believer – in UFOs, extraterrestrials, little green men, or any such thing.  There’s nothing in me that wonders, questions, ponders, or is remotely concerned that all of a sudden, E.T. is going to ride a bicycle across my night sky and want me to phone home.  And, while I love a good Star Trek marathon, I have no concerns that there just might be a shred of reality to their fictional, Hollywood portrayals of life in other galaxies.

Am I bashing the UFO believers?  Am I attacking them at every opportunity?  Do I blog or write against them?  Do I have a website dedicated to the demolition of their belief system?   Is their hatred or animosity in my heart towards them?  Not in the least! 

Why? Because I do not believe extraterrestrials exist, therefore, there is no rhyme nor reason to rail against those who do, wasting time and precious energy

In Psalms 14:1, David writes, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God…”  The definition of atheism is the belief that there is no God.  If a person is truly an atheist, they will live a life reflecting this.  The Psalmist goes on to say, “… They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”  The atheist will do what they want without regard to some “moral code” established by an invisible, intrusive God.   They will do “that which is right in their own eyes.”

If you ask a professing atheist if there is a God, they will tell you that there is no God.  But the moment that the “atheist” starts a diatribe against a God that they believe is non-existent, are they not revealing what’s really in their heart?  Are they not expressing that, deep down, they know the truth?  They KNOW God is real.  Why else would they get all bent out of shape over something they say they do not believe really exists?  The content of their heart has been exposed.

….

Rather than feeling threatened, offended, or embittered against those who would claim to be atheists and would attack us, let us look on them with love and compassion. They are fighting a battle they cannot win. Pray that God would give us a tender heart towards them and wisdom in winning them to the Lord. Be like the Apostles and continue to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Where, oh where, do I begin? I am the most outspoken atheist in this area, and I wrote a letter to the editor of the Bryan Times which was published shortly before MacFarlane wrote his post (please see Letter to the Editor: The Rotting Corpse of American Capitalism), so I think I can safely assume that the atheist in question is yours truly. If so, why not just call me out by name? That’s exactly what I am doing in this post. When public figures make negative (and ignorant) statements about atheists, agnostics, and unbelievers, I think it is important to attach their names to said beliefs.

Out of the gate, MacFarlane says that “atheists aren’t really atheists at all.” How does he know this? Well, he doesn’t, he just believes it to be true.

In MacFarlane’s Bible-sotted mind, atheist “attacks and rantings against God, Christians, and churches betrays their heart.” MacFarlane believes we only talk about that which we believe to be true. Evidently, he’s never met any Trump supporters. They are totally disconnected from reality, yet they believe everything the president says, buying into countless conspiracy theories that are demonstratively false. I suspect MacFarlane, along with his congregation, will likely vote for Trump come November. Using the good pastor’s “logic,” I can conclude that most of his church believes things that are untrue.

MacFarlane says he doesn’t spend time talking about UFOs because he knows there’s no other life out there beside what’s on the earth created by his peculiar version of God, 6,023 years ago. He just KNOWS this to be true. As is common among Evangelicals, THE BIBLE SAYS kills scientific curiosity. It is likely there is life beyond our planet, yet MacFarlane rejects such a notion because it conflicts with his literalistic interpretation of the Protestant Christian Bible.

But, I could also say that just as MacFarlane doesn’t spend any time talking about UFOs and aliens because he KNOWS they don’t exist, I could say the same about God. I see no evidence for the existence of MacFarlane’s God, so I don’t spend any time talking about it/him/her. Wait a minute, Bruce, you talk about God all the time. Nope, my focus is on organized religion; not the said deities they worship. There is no God, so why would I waste my time talking about him? However, billions of people worship some sort of deity, be it Allah, Jehovah, or Jesus. My focus is on the beliefs and practices of believers, not God itself. (Please see Never Underestimate the Power of Jesus.)

MacFarlane believes that because I write about God, Jesus, Christianity, and the Bible, deep down in my little ‘ole heart-of-hearts, I still believe in God. I am surprised that MacFarlane doesn’t think I am still a Christian. Surely, his once-saved-always-saved soteriology demands that the unrepentant atheist Bruce Gerencser go to Heaven when he dies. Or maybe that is just a theological bridge too far for MacFarlane. Several years ago, I attended a funeral service of a family member held at First Baptist. MacFarlane did his darndest to preach the man into Heaven, all because he walked the aisle at a revival meeting as a teen. This man hadn’t attended church in 40 years. He was a misogynistic pig and a rapist. Yet, Pastor MacFarlane rolled the man right up to the pearly gates, helped him out of his wheelchair, and escorted him into Heaven. Surely, if this piece of shit made it into Heaven, I should make it too, right?

MacFarlane quotes Psalm 14:1: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” MacFarlane believes atheists and other unbelievers are:

  • Fools
  • Corrupt
  • Do abominable works
  • Do not do good

This claim, of course, is absurd. Atheists, agnostics, humanists, pagans, Buddhists, and other “unbelievers” are every bit as moral and ethical as Evangelical Christians. If MacFarlane has evidence to the contrary, he should provide it. Quoting a Bible verse doesn’t count.

MacFarlane makes an unsubstantiated moral claim:

“The atheist will do what they want without regard to some “moral code” established by an invisible, intrusive God. They will do “that which is right in their own eyes.”

MacFarlane, of course, believes morality is established and defined by the Bible God. How many times have Evangelicals used this argument? More times than I can count.

Dr. John Messerly writes:

Lacking good reasons or armed with weak ones, many will object that their moral beliefs derive from their Gods. To base your ethical views on Gods you would need to know: 1) if Gods exist; 2) if they are good; 3) if they issue good commands; 4) how to find the commands; and 5) the proper version and translation of the holy books issuing commands, or the right interpretation of a revelation of the commands, or the legitimacy of a church authority issuing commands. Needless to say, it is hard, if not impossible, to know any of this.

Consider just the interpretation problem. When does a seemingly straightforward command from a holy book like, “thou shalt not kill,” apply? In self-defense? In war? Always? And to whom does it apply? To non-human animals? Intelligent aliens? Serial killers? All living things? The unborn? The brain-dead? Religious commands such as “don’t kill,” “honor thy parents,” and “don’t commit adultery” are ambiguous. Difficulties also arise if we hear voices commanding us, or if we accept an institution’s authority. Why trust the voices in our heads, or institutional authorities?

For the sake of argument though, let’s assume: that there are Gods; that you know the true one; that your God issues good commands; that you have access to those commands because you have found the right book or church, or had the right vision, or heard the right voices; and that you interpret and understand the commands correctly—even if they came from a book that has been translated from one language to another over thousands of years, or from a long-ago revelation. It is almost impossible that you are correct about all this, but for the sake of the argument let’s say that you are. However, even in this case, most philosophers would argue that you can’t base ethics on your God.

To understand why you can’t base ethics on Gods, consider the question: what is the relationship between the Gods and their commands? A classic formulation of this relationship is called the divine-command theory. According to divine command theory, things are right or wrong simply because the Gods command or forbid them. There is nothing more to morality than this. It’s like a parent who says to a child: it’s right because I say so. To see how this formulation of the relationship fails, consider a famous philosophical conundrum: “Are things right because the Gods command them, or do the Gods command them because they are right?”

If things are right simply because the Gods command them, then those commands are arbitrary. In that case, the Gods could have made their commandments backward! If divine fiat is enough to make something right, then the Gods could have commanded us to kill, lie, cheat, steal and commit adultery, and those behaviors would then be moral. But the Gods can’t make something right if it’s wrong. The Gods can’t make torturing children morally acceptable simply by divine decree, and that is the main reason why most Christian theologians reject divine command theory.

On the other hand, if the Gods command things because they are right, then there are reasons for the God’s commands. On this view, the Gods, in their infinite wisdom and benevolence, command things because they see certain commands as good for us. But if this is the case, then there is some standard, norm or criteria by which good or bad are measured which is independent of the Gods. Thus all us, religious and secular alike, should be looking for the reasons that certain behaviors should be condemned or praised. Even the thoughtful believer should engage in philosophical ethics.

So either the Gods commands are without reason and therefore arbitrary, or they are rational according to some standard. This standard—say that we would all be better off—is thus the reason we should be moral and that reason, not the Gods’ authority, is what makes something right or wrong. The same is true for a supposedly authoritative book. Something isn’t wrong simply because a book says so. There must be a reason that something is right or wrong, and if there isn’t, then the book has no moral authority on the matter.

At this point, the believer might object that the Gods have reasons for their commands, but we can’t know them. Yet if the ways of the Gods are really mysterious to us, what’s the point of religion? If you can’t know anything about the Gods or their commands, then why follow those commands, why have religion at all, why listen to the priest or preacher? If it’s all a mystery, we should remain silent or become mystics.

Several years ago, I shared my view on objective morality:

Geoff asked, What are your views on objective morality?

The question asked by Geoff is complex and filled with nuance. Anytime I have addressed morality in the past, my writing has elicited all sorts of comments from atheists and Fundamentalists alike. It seems few people like or appreciate my worldview and my understanding of morality. As a Christian, I believed that the issue of morality was settled for me: God hath spoken. Shut the hell up and do what he commands! As a dutiful follower of Jesus, I attempted to follow not only the teachings of the Bible, but the direction of Holy Spirit who lived inside of me (or so I thought at the time). Once I deconverted, I had to rethink my worldview. What was it I believed about morality in general? What was I I believed about specific moral statements and standards? My understanding of morality has evolved over the past decade. I am, in no way, a finished product. I still have many questions about morality, and it is impossible to fully answer them in a blog post.

I readily admit that Christianity has deeply affected my understanding of morality. I was in the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches. As a result, Evangelical morality has seeped deeply into the dark recesses of my mind. While I try to distance myself from my past, its effects linger. Thus, there are times my moral views line up with those of Christians. This doesn’t mean, then, that I am a Christian. My views also, on occasion, line up with Buddhism and other religions. All this tells me is that religions have, in the past, played a big part in the evolution of human morality.

When someone asks me whether I believe in objective morality, what I hear them asking is whether I believe there are moral standards or moral absolutes. In the strictest sense, my answer is no. Morality is always subjective. Now that doesn’t mean countries, states, and tribes can’t have absolute moral standards. They can and do. All I ask is that believers in objective morality admit that their absolutes have changed over time, and that, in fact, the changing nature of their absolutes suggests that their morality is actually subjective. For example, there is a push in the United States to make eighteen the minimum age for marriage. This law, if passed, would be considered an objective moral standard. However, in the past, people were permitted to marry as young as age thirteen, and in some countries, children are betrothed to one another when they are still primary school age. If there’s such a thing as objective morality, then shouldn’t the age for marriage have been fixed from day one? That it hasn’t been shows the subjectivity of moral beliefs.

Morality is affected by tribal, cultural, and sociological influences. This means that all morality changes with time, including absolute, never-changing, God-said-it, it’s-in-the-Bible Evangelical morality. Evangelicals now do things that were considered sins — violations of objective morality — fifty years ago. Even Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) morality continues to change and evolve. Only those who are deliberately deaf, people with fingers in their ears who say, nah, nah, nah, I can’t HEAR you, fail to see that morality is inherently subjective.

All of us belong to certain countries and tribes. As a U.S. citizen, I live in a country that supposedly values the rule of law. I say supposedly because Donald Trump’s abhorrent behavior and his penchant for ignoring the rule of law makes me question whether we indeed are still such people. Fascism is on the rise, and when it comes in full force it brings law by force, instead of WE THE PEOPLE deciding the laws that will govern us. For now, though, we are still a nation governed by laws shaped and enacted by legislators elected by voting Americans. These laws establish what we as a people believe is moral. These laws, over time, change. For example, at one time it was illegal to have an abortion; then in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized most abortions. Today, with the prospect of a right-wing Catholic being added to the Supreme Court, it is possible that laws regulating abortion will change, and women will be forced to revert to the days of coat-hanger, back alley abortions. The same can be said for much of the progress made on social and church/state issues over the past six decades. And the same can be said about slavery. There was a time when Christians believed it was permissible to own other people, and even had BIble verses they used to justify their immoral ownership of Blacks. Even worse, slaves were considered 3/5ths of a person for census purposes. This ebb and flow of moral beliefs shows that morality is subjective.

Theocrats, of course, despise the give and take of the legal process in democratic countries. They want a dictatorship, with the Christian (or Muslim) Holy book as the objective standard for morality. Theocrats demand that laws reflect their Fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible (or Koran). In their minds, their interpretations are one and the same with God’s will and commands. But, even for theocrats, their interpretations change over time, thus proving, once again, that morality is subjective.

Not only do governments establish moral norms, so do the tribes to which each of us belong. Whether at the group or family level, certain moral standards govern behavior. Now, keep in mind I am using the word moral in as broad of a way as possible. Divorce your mind from the religious constructs you have been taught, and see morality as the rules/laws/precepts by which we govern behavior. I suspect your family has certain moral standards, and those standards may or may not be different from mine. For example, I have lost readers over my refusal to stop using curse words in my writing. In their tribes, cursing is verboten or is considered in poor taste. In my tribe, it is okay to curse, except when young children are present or Polly’s IFB parents are visiting (though there have been times when a few damns, shits, and assholes have slipped out). When it is only adults in the room? Cursing is permitted, and be prepared to be schooled in sexual innuendo. Were the readers who demanded that I sanitize my writing “wrong”? Who determines what words are appropriate and what words are not? It should be clear to everyone that the words writers choose to use are subjective. Each tribe to its own.

My children are known for having what is called the Gerencser work ethic. This ethic was taught to them by their parents. Work hard. Eight hours pay for eight hours work. Do your best. Do it right the first time. Never accept good enough as a standard for acceptance. The reasons for these maxims are many, but regardless of how they came to be, they are deeply ingrained into the psyche of my adult children. My oldest son has taken one personal day at work in twenty years. His mom has taken zero. My younger children are not as zealous as their older siblings, but they still are known for being no-nonsense hard workers. This tribal ethos often brings them into conflict with other employees who have different work standards. For example, one son works in a department where the majority of the workers have already used half or more of their personal days. My wife supervises people who are already out of personal days with six months to go before they accrue new days. Years ago, my two oldest sons were asked by their fellow employees to slow down. Why? They were making less industrious employees look bad. My sons ignored their critics, choosing instead to follow the Gerencser work ethic (an ethic that can be found in many families, by the way). Both now hold management positions with their respective employers, as do their younger brother and mother. Does this make the Gerencsers better than other people? Depends on how “better” is defined, I suppose. All I know is that this very subjective work ethic is deeply embedded in my tribe. We behave this way because that what we have been taught to do.

Each of us also has personal moral standards; certain things we will and won’t do. I don’t expect other people to live by my moral standards. These rules of behavior — ever-changing — help me navigate the road of life. As a humanist, I look to the humanist ideal to provide moral guidance. This ideal, crafted by men and women, is inherently subjective, but it does address and support my worldview. I have no problem with Evangelicals wanting to live by their personal interpretations of the Bible. Go with God, I say. It is when Evangelicals demand that others live by their interpretations I have a problem.

As a post-Evangelical, I have been forced to reexamine my morality and worldview. For example, I am a pacifist. More specifically, I am a proponent of non-violent resistance. Sounds like a moral absolute, right? I would like it to be, but the world is too messy for it be so; too gray, too challenging for me to say that I am, without reservation, a pacifist. Generally, I oppose violence, yet I love and support American football — organized violence. I wouldn’t take up arms to defend the United States, but I would defend my family against attack and harm. I face this same struggle with most moral issues. It’s too easy to write Ten Commandments and say obey. I choose, instead, to think about each issue, and then come to a reasoned conclusion.

Most people agree that we should avoid harming others. I think that’s a good place to start. But, even here, it is impossible to ever live a life that does not, at some point, harm others. Take vegans. They don’t eat meat for moral reasons. They don’t want to cause animals pain and suffering. Yet, providing vegans a non-animal diet still causes pain, suffering, and death. Earthworms, insects, and other animals die so farmers can provided vegans with yummy (I am being sarcastic here) soybeans. The goal, then, should be to promote the greatest good while at the same time causing the least harm. We can then build on this foundation, asking “what is the best way for humans to govern themselves and live lives of love, peace, and harmony — pass me a joint, bro.”

Human morality is inherently subjective; a work in progress; a work that will never be completed; a work that will hopefully lead to a kinder, gentler tomorrow; a work that places great value on justice and kindness. Nirvana, it will never be, but we can have a better tomorrow if we want it badly enough. Unfortunately, internecine warfare between countries and tribes leaves me wondering if human progress is but an illusion, a pipe dream. Perhaps it is, but I see no other option than to work towards a better future for my progeny. This work requires of us hard discussions and debates about morality. Holy books or trade paperbacks are not the answer. We the people remain the captains of our ships, the masters of our destinies. God’s not coming to save us.

Now that I have dispatched with MacFarlane’s ignorant claims about atheist morality, I want to address his uninformed definition of atheism. MacFarlane defines atheism this way:

The definition of atheism is the belief that there is no God.

….

If you ask a professing atheist if there is a God, they will tell you that there is no God. 

If MacFarlane had consulted God (Google), he would have learned:

Atheism is in the broadest sense an absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is a rejection of the belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.

Had MacFarlane researched atheism a bit further, He would have learned about The Dawkin’s Scale:

the dawkins scale

I am an agnostic and an atheist. On the God question, I am an agnostic. I can’t know if some sort of a deity exists. The extant data tells me there is no God, and I am confident that the deities presently worshiped by humans are human creations and no gods at all. I am confident that MacFarlane’s God is a myth, that the claims made for God and Jesus are untrue. It is “possible,” but unlikely — based on probabilities — that a deity of some sort exists. Maybe we will learn one day that what we call “life” is a game simulation played by an advanced alien species, or that somewhere “out there” — right Mulder? — lives our creator, a deistic sort of God. Again, unlikely, but since I don’t possess absolute knowledge — and neither does Pastor MacFarlane — I remain agnostic on the God question.

Since it is improbable any sort of God exists, I live my day-to-day life as an atheist — as if there is no God. In fact, the only times I think about God/Jesus/Bible is when I am writing for this site. Contrary to MacFarlane’s claim, I don’t spend my waking hours raging against the Christian God and attacking Christian churches.

MacFarlane claims that the fact I talk about God is proof that I believe in said God. Really? I talk about big penises too. Trust me, all the talk in the world ain’t going to change average into John Holmes. The focus of my writing is on organized Christianity — specifically Evangelicalism and the IFB church movement. You see, what matters to me is what is done in the name of God/Jesus/Christianity. What matters to me is the damage done to our society, government, and individuals by Fundamentalist preachers who believe God talks to them and the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God; preachers with theocratic tendencies who demand non-Christians bow in fealty to their God and follow their interpretations of the Bible. What matters to me is the psychological, at times, physical, harm caused by “Biblical” preaching. And finally, what matters to me is the clergy sex abuse scandal roiling over Evangelical churches: the denials, the cover-ups, the justifications.

MacFarlane implores his congregants to look on “those who claim to be atheists” (he just can’t accept people really ARE atheists) with love and compassion. You mean fake, means-to-an-end, love and compassion? No thanks. What atheists want is respect. We want the right to tell our stories and have them accepted at face value. We ask that you let atheists define atheism. We won’t decide who is and isn’t Christian, and we ask you do the same for atheists.

MacFarlane says atheists are fighting a battle they can’t win. Evidently, he is unaware of the fact that atheism and agnosticism are on the rise in the United States; that the NONES, those who are indifferent towards religion, is the fastest growing religious demographic. It seems that we are winning the battle, Pastor MacFarlane, and it is expected that the United States will become increasingly secular in the years to come.

Let me conclude this post by saying John MacFarlane and I actually have something in common: both of us are atheists. That’s right, John MacFarlane is an atheist. He, indeed, believes in the existence of the Christian God, but what about the other extant deities? MacFarlane confidently preaches that these Gods are no gods at all, that there is one true God, and his name is Jesus (actually MacFarlane is a polytheist, believing in three deities: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The only difference between Pastor MacFarlane and ex-pastor Bruce Gerencser is that I just believe in one less God than he does. Well, one more thing, I am more handsome too. ?

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Don’t Cast Your Candy Bars Before Swine

clark bar
My Favorite Candy Bar

Recently, my wife’s cousin, and an Evangelical pastor in Newark, Ohio, posted the following on Facebook:

Do not be fooled! Class warfare, rioting, racism, defunding police, expansive government programs…these are the building blocks to socialism. These are reasons so many flee to America!!

I have known Polly’s cousin for over forty-four years. He was the ring-bearer in our wedding in 1978. Andy is an affable guy, the only preacher in Polly’s family that I get along with. We have had numerous conversations over the years. Never an angry word, though we have disagreed many, many times.

After reading Andy’s anti-socialism comment, I decided to respond, hoping that I could educate him about socialism, specifically democratic socialism. I suspect that I am the only atheist socialist Andy knows. The conversation quickly deteriorated when a friend of Andy’s named Tim — an Evangelical know-it-all, if there ever was one — decided to hijack the discussion and attack my atheism. He quickly started talking about evolution and morality, and even went so far as to tell me that I was an agnostic, not an atheist.

Long time readers likely know what I told this man: fuck off! In fact, I told him to fuck off twice. The discussion was about socialism, but he wanted to make it about me and my atheism. I refused to play, and here’s his final comment to me (paragraphs added for readability. Grammar and spelling as written).

Last comment, then tomorrow when i get up I will just block you; since you do not want to debate.

you are angry because evangelicals make truth claims. yet you are making truth claims also. there is a saying. everyone has a right to their opinion, but only those who are correct have a right for their opinion to be true.

socalism is the start of communism and nazism. socalism has always harmed the poor and middle class, and makes politicians rich royal leaders. socalism always worships government, as everyone has to worship something. you know it. thus why you attack me, for pointing out truth.

Last, there is truth. there is a creator. there is a God, and that God is the one true God of the Bible. I pray that you meet him one day, before you die; as that will be too late. if you truly seek truth there are hundreads of books taht not only show the truth of what I am saying, but gives all the evidence inside and outside of the Bible for what I am saying. the best, for someone that truthly seeks truth, is evidence that demands a verdict.

I pray one day you seek the truth and realize that it is not what you claim it to be.

Just another day in the alternate universe called Evangelicalism. That this man thinks Josh McDowell’s book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, is the best book for someone like me shows that he doesn’t really know much about agnosticism and atheism, nor does he know anything about my background. McDowell’s arguments have been debunked numerous times. Had I thought this man had a rational, skeptical bone in his body, I might have engaged him, but since he doesn’t, I chose not to cast my candy bars before pigs.

The only thing that offended me was his claim that I am an agnostic, not an atheist. He refused to let me self-identify as an atheist. In his mind, agnostic and atheist are two different things. Had he been open to thoughtful, rational discussion, I would have educated him about why many professed atheists are agnostics and atheists. I have talked about this issued numerous times on this site. Some strong atheists disagree with me on the matter, but claiming to be an agnostic and an atheist is certainly within the orthodox pale of the most holy atheist religion. Yes, this knucklehead thinks atheism is a religion. Whatcha gonna do when faced with someone who thinks he knows everything, yet knows very little? At this point in my quickly fading life, “fuck you” seems to be an appropriate response.

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Never Underestimate the Power of Jesus

there is power in the name of jesus

Often, atheists and agnostics grossly underestimate the power of Jesus. I am sure that some of you are already thinking or saying out loud, Bruce, are you nuts? Have you renounced atheism and become a follower of Jesus again? We don’t underestimate the power of Jesus because he doesn’t exist. End of story!

But he does exist, and I think many atheists and agnostics forget this. In our desire to rid the world of the damaging effects of religion, we often forget that Jesus is alive and well.

Now, the Jesus who is alive and well is not an actual, physical living human being, and neither is he an actual, physical God or Son of God. The Jesus who was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago is dead. The Jesus who, for thirty-three years, walked the roads of Palestine is dead. The Jesus spoken of in the Bible is dead. We know that dead people do not come back from the grave. We know that once a person is dead, he stays dead. Jesus is dead, and there is no chance that he is coming back from the grave.

But, Jesus is alive and well in the myths and beliefs of millions and millions of Christians. In the mythical Jesus, people find comfort, meaning, and hope. In the mythical Jesus, people find what they think is lacking in their lives, and quite frankly atheists and agnostics don’t have much to offer when it comes to what Jesus can offer a person.

But, Bruce, believing in Jesus is irrational. Believing in Jesus is as rational as believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Totally correct, but this doesn’t matter.

When suffering and loss come our way, our rationality often doesn’t do us much good. When our lives are in a heap of ashes, knowing the evidence for God not existing does nothing to comfort us. When we are struggling to keep from drowning, the books written by Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, provide no help. All our rational, well-thought-out arguments do little for us when we are at those moments in life where the most precious thing to us is our next breath.

In these times, we look for comfort and hope. We look to those who love us and who are willing to do anything for us. In these times, our intellectual prowess does not matter. What we desperately want and need is a hand to hold on to, someone who will tell us it is going to be all right.

But, Bruce, shit happens and we are all going to die in the end. Atheists and agnostics don’t need sentimentality. Surely, we can face what comes our way with a rugged resolve, knowing we are right. Perhaps.

But is knowing we are right the most important thing? Is drawing our last breath knowing we were right about religion, God, Jesus, and the Bible really the grand objective?

Forget for a moment what you know about the Bible. Forget what you know about its teachings. If you were once a Christian, forget your experience in the church. Think for a moment about the essence of the Christian religion. What is the one thing that matters more than anything else? What is the one thing that allows millions of people to live in a state of cognitive dissonance? What is the one thing that allows Christians to shut off all the criticisms of Christianity and allows them to continue believing?

One word . . . Jesus.

The mythical Jesus, the Jesus of legend, the Jesus that is preached in countless Christian churches all over the world, this Jesus is the one thing that matters above all else.

Why is this? What is it about this Jesus for whom millions of people will abandon rational thinking? There is no proof for what the Bible teaches on most anything. Few of the events in the Bible have any historical foundation. Why does Jesus have such power over people?

Jesus offers salvation. Jesus offers friendship, love, and compassion. Countless drug addicts and alcoholics have abandoned their addictions because of Jesus. Gang members have forsaken their violent ways, and thieves have turned to gainful means of employment all because of Jesus. Only the most hardheaded and blind among atheists and agnostics would deny the fact that, for millions of people, Jesus makes a qualitative difference in their lives.

In Jesus, millions of people find meaning, purpose, and direction. In Jesus, they find the necessary strength to suffer and die. This Jesus promised to never leave them or forsake them, and no matter how hard we try to show that Jesus is AWOL in the lives of Christians, they still believe he is that friend that sticks closer than a brother.

I am sure there is some psychological or neurological explanation for why this is so, but such explanations have little value. People believe what they believe, and that is all that matters.

My wife’s parents are almost 85 years old. They are on the short side of life, and it is unlikely that either of them will still be living five years from now. When they die, I will mourn their deaths. I love them dearly. I will grieve over the loss of two people I have known most of my adult life. Good people. Loving people. Caring people. And yes, devout Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christians.

They believe that Jesus is with them through thick and thin. Jesus has been their faithful guide. According to them, Jesus has worked countless miracles for them. To them, Jesus is as much a part of their lives as the air they breathe.

I could point out to them all the times that Jesus wasn’t there for them. Where was Jesus when they miscarried? Where was Jesus when their daughter was killed in a motorcycle accident? Their life is filled with countless examples of Jesus leaving them for dead along the side of the road. He seems to always be around when they need a hundred dollars, but nowhere to be found when faced with job loss, economic troubles, or sickness. Yet, they still steadfastly believe.

Is it my place to expose their fraudulent Jesus? Is it my place to point out all the places that their friend Jesus was no friend at all? Perhaps I should buy them Bart Ehrman’s books for Christmas so they can know the truth about the Bible and Jesus? Why would I want to do this? Would their life be better without Jesus?

I can’t think of any way their life would be better without their mythical best friend. Their whole existence and being is invested in him, and they are trusting Jesus to be there when they are dying, to carry them home to their reward in Heaven.

None of this is true, BUT it doesn’t matter.

All that matters is what Jesus means to them, and what value he adds to their lives. If this Jesus gives their lives meaning, purpose, and direction, I have no right to disabuse them of their beliefs. If this Jesus gives them peace and comfort . . . who am I to take that away from them?

Sometimes, we atheists and agnostics, in our zeal to rid the world of the evil of Christian Fundamentalism, forget that most Christians are not theocrats trying to take over America. They have sincerely-held beliefs and, for them, Jesus adds value to their lives. Yes, we must battle Christian Fundamentalists who want to turn American into a Christian theocracy. Yes, we must battle attempts to teach creationism as science in public schools. Yes, we must battle attempts to codify Christian morals and ethics as the law of the land. We must battle any and all attempts to lessen the individual liberty we have to believe or not believe. But, beyond these things, it is not our place to rid the world of beliefs we think are silly or anti-intellectual.

We must remember, those of us who are writers, that the Evangelical Christians who come to our blogs to debate, evangelize, and attack are not typical believers. Zealots and apologists deserve all that we give them, and I have little tolerance for such people. But . . . I must never forget that most Christians are not like Bible thumpers. Most Christians are like my wife’s parents — people who love Jesus and want to live a good life.

All human beings want a life that has meaning and purpose. We want to be loved, and we want to know our lives mattered. In the end, we all die, and we will soon be forgotten by all but those who loved us. Let’s be careful in our zeal to rid the world of all the evils associated with religion, that we don’t lose those we love, that we don’t trade being right for those who will be there for us when we draw our last breath.

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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.

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Bruce Gerencser