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Tag: Agnosticism

What I Mean When I Say “I Am an Atheist”

atheist section in heaven
Cartoon by Mike Lynch

While my deconversion from Christianity was a gradual process, I mark the last Sunday in November 2008, as the day when I finally admitted to myself and my wife Polly that I no longer was a Christian. On that day, Polly and I, along with our three youngest children, ages 19, 17, and 15, walked out of the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church never to return. Several months later, I sent a public letter to several hundred family members, friends, and former church members. Titled, Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners, this painfully raw letter sets forth some of the reasons why I deconverted. While I still left the door open for some sort of God belief — say a deistic deity — it was clear, at least to me at the time, that I was an agnostic. After several months of having to repeatedly explain the term “agnostic,” and gaining a better understanding of atheism in general, I decided to jettison the agnostic label and self-identify as “atheist.”

I quickly learned that the label “atheist” carries with it all sorts of meanings and implications. Many Evangelicals, for example, think I am a “hardcore” atheist, whereas some atheists doubt whether I am an atheist at all. I have found that some atheists can be every bit as Fundamentalist as Evangelical Christians. If I am not their kind of atheist, I am no atheist at all. Years ago, I tangled with the promoters of Atheism+. While I am, politically, a liberal/progressive/socialist, because I refused to buy into or accept all the social justice baggage attached to Atheism+, my atheism was called into question. I lost numerous readers as a result of my refusal to bow to the Atheism+ god. I also faced reader defections from the other side of the atheist spectrum: libertarian (often Trump-supporting) atheists. These readers loved my atheism but hated my politics.

Atheism, by definition, is the lack of belief in the existence of deities. Some atheists are anti-theists; a philosophical position that says all theism should be opposed. Christopher Hitchens was an anti-theist:

I’m not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.

Other atheists are misotheists; people who actively hate one or more deities. While I can, at times — depending on the deity and religion in question — be an anti-theist or misotheist, I best describe myself as an agnostic atheist.

Wikipedia defines agnostic atheism this way:

Agnostic atheism is a philosophical position that encompasses both atheism and agnosticism. Agnostic atheists are atheistic because they do not hold a belief in the existence of any deity, and are agnostic because they claim that the existence of a demiurgic entity or entities is either unknowable in principle or currently unknown in fact.

Practically speaking, I don’t believe in the existence of deities, but I cannot know for certain whether some sort of deity may one day make itself known to us. Likely? No. Probable? No. Possible? Yes. I can say with great certainty that the God of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity does not exist. He is a mythical being created by humans centuries ago to explain their world and existence. I can say the same thing about the rest of the deities presently (or in the past) worshipped by humans. I see no sufficient evidence for their existence; thus I live my day-to-day life as an atheist.

While I have many other beliefs, none of them is contingent on atheism. I am a humanist, but humanism does not require atheism. The same can be said for my leftist political views. I have religious friends who are also humanists and socialists. I eat dinner with them once a month. We have friendly, spirited discussions, debates, and arguments about all sorts things, including religion and politics, and then we eat good food and drink beer. Granted, none of these men is an Evangelical. All of us share the same disgust and contempt for what Evangelicals (generally speaking) are doing to our country. Do we “hate” Evangelicals? Of course not. We hate their beliefs and behaviors, seeing and knowing firsthand the harm caused by their theology and politics. While I am the resident atheist, my friends and I share many commonalities and that’s why we enjoy one another’s company.

Yes, I am an atheist — proudly so — but I am much more than just someone who doesn’t believe in the existence of God. If you want to know what I believe about some other issue, ask.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo Says Atheists Believe They are Missing Out on Something Fundamental in Life

nathan lopes cardozo

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo is the founder and dean of the David Cardozo Academy and the Bet Midrash of Avraham Avinu in Jerusalem. Cardozo had this to say about agnostics and atheists in a The Times of Israel article titled God for Atheists:

There are very good people who claim that they are agnostics or atheists. They cannot see any reason to believe in God or they seriously doubt His existence.

However, they are greatly disturbed by this question, for they feel that they are missing something fundamental. Firstly, a higher meaning to life. They complain they have no rituals or festivals that stand for a higher purpose, no religious gatherings in a synagogue or church where they may feel that there is more to this world than what meets the eye.

This void darkens their lives and they feel depressed. They would like to be religious but cannot convince themselves to adopt a theist worldview.

I meet many people like this and I see their pain, which is sincere.

Although I am not sure the following is entirely true for all of them, and I am probably overlooking certain issues, here are some insights.

The main cause for their denial of or doubt in the existence of God is that reason does not offer these good people sufficient grounds to believe in God. Sometimes their reason moves them in the opposite direction from belief in God.

I believe that it is most important to realize that reason is not the way to go. There are certain matters in life that surpass reason. Reason, no doubt, plays a most important role in our lives but it has its limits. There are many matters that play a crucial part in our lives that reason is incapable of penetrating because these matters belong to a totally different category and have little to do with reason.

Sigh

Are you an agnostic or an atheist? Does Cardozo accurately describe you?

The only true thing in Cardozo’s article was this: “Although I am not sure the following is entirely true for all of them, and I am probably overlooking certain issues.”

No shit, Sherlock. You need to get out more, maybe talk to a few atheists before declaring what it is they believe or what they are “missing” in their lives.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

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.

How Do You Get the Elephant Out of the Room?

elephant in the room

Those of us who have Christian families often refer to our “unbelief” as the elephant in the room. My wife, Polly, and I last attended church in November 2008. For a time, Polly’s mom would ask Poll to attend church with her when they were here visiting, but after being rebuffed several times, she stopped asking. As long-time readers know, when I decided that I was no longer a Christian, I sent a letter to several hundred of my friends, family, and former parishioners. This letter caused quite a stir, resulting in a personal visit from a pastor friend and emails and letters from colleagues in the ministry and people who once called me pastor. Several churches held prayer meetings specifically to pray for me, hoping their concerted prayer would cause God to bring me back into the fold.  Several pastors took to the pulpit and preached sermons about Bruce Gerencser, the pastor turned atheist (sermon by Ralph Wingate Jr. and sermons by Jose Maldonado).  What’s interesting in all of this is that our family didn’t say a word to either Polly or me. One man, an IFB evangelist, did attempt to talk to me, but he was told to stop doing so by one of the older preachers in the family. While we’ve certainly heard gossip about this or that behind-the-back discussion about us, and we were told that the family patriarch planned to straighten me out, (please see (The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis) not one family member has sat down and had an honest and open discussion with either of us. Our deconversion and my outspokenness concerning Evangelicalism and atheism is a huge rainbow-colored elephant that everyone can see, but no one acknowledges. While I know that some family members regularly read this blog, no one has engaged in any sort of discussion with us about why we left the ministry, deconverted, and are now happy HBO-watching, wine-drinking unbelievers.

Some seasoned atheists recommend that the recently deconverted shine a bright light on the elephant and force people to see it. That’s what I did with my letter to family, friends, and former parishioners. While this approach worked for our friends and former parishioners, family just went over to the wall switch and turned off the light. To some degree, I understand their reaction. I was their preacher brother, uncle, son-in-law, and father for as long as they could remember. From 1972 to 2008, I was the family preacher, and when Polly and I married in 1978, I married into a family of pastors, missionaries, and evangelists.  Every aspect of our lives was dominated by Christianity, the Bible, and the work of the ministry. And then, BOOM, all that was gone, and Rev. Bruce Gerencser and his wife Polly are now numbered among the godless. I suspect that the cognitive dissonance this causes for some family members is too much for them to handle, so they pretend that there is no elephant in the room. This is why some family members still think we are saved. We are just backslidden, out of the will of God, and they are certain we will one day return to the faith.

Some atheists take a different approach when discussing their deconversion with family and friends. Several years ago, I watched  Chicago PD, a procedural program about an élite force of detectives in the Chicago police department. One of the detectives, Erin Lindsay, played by actress Sophia Bush, is struggling with family and addiction problems. She seeks out the help of a counselor named Dr. Charles, played by actor Oliver Platt.  Dr. Charles asks Detective Lindsay, how do you get the elephant out of the room? Lindsay had no answer to the question. Dr. Charles replied, one piece at a time.  Instead of taking the approach I detailed in the previous paragraph, some atheists take Dr. Charles’s advice and begin dismantling the elephant one piece at a time. While this approach certainly results in less stress, it can take quite some time. Atheists have to be willing to leave some issues on the table to be discussed another day. Not everyone can do this, preferring to get every issue out in the open so it can be discussed. Once this is done, there’s no need for any further discussion.

I’ve had countless new atheists and agnostics write me about how best to handle their Christian spouses, children, parents, extended family, or friends. I never tell them that they should do this or that. Every person must carefully examine his or her life and the connections each has with others before deciding how to proceed. While every atheist certainly wants the elephant out of the room, there are different ways to accomplish it. I wrote about this in the post titled, Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist. Acting rashly or in a fit of anger can have catastrophic consequences. Once a person decides to talk with Christian family and friends about their deconversion, there’s no going back. Once a person utters out loud, I am an atheist, what happens next is out of their control. I know of married people whose spouses divorced them over their deconversion. Some people have had their families excommunicate them, refusing to allow them in their homes until they come to their senses. Others receive emails, phone calls, and social media comments from family and friends about their deconversion. Often these statements are barbed with outrage, anger, and hurt. More than a few atheists have been forced to unfriend Christian family members and friends on Facebook. Sadly, more than a few times, something I’ve written has been posted to an atheist’s Facebook wall, and it has resulted in the newly minted atheist being attacked by offended Christians. 

I’d love to hear from readers about how they handled the elephant in the room. Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Did My Journey Out of Christianity Begin with Evidence?

evidence

Sometimes, atheists and agnostics forget how they got to where they are today. We pride ourselves on being evidence-based skeptics, seekers of truth wherever it may be found. We are conversant in all things atheist. We have read numerous books, magazines, and blog posts. We have watched more YouTube videos than we care to admit.

We investigated the claims of the religion we once held dear. We re-studied and reinterpreted the Bible. We read Dr. Bart Ehrman, the 21st-century prophet to the godless. We now know how errant and man-made the Bible really is. We are (mostly) rational and logical, no longer in bondage to a mystical, mythical religion. We are free to be whomever and whatever we want to be.

But, here’s the problem: many atheists and agnostics forget that what they are now is not what they once were. They forget how their journey out of Christianity began. They forget how fearful they were when they first considered the God question. They forget the nights where sleep eluded them as they wrestled with sincerely held beliefs about God, salvation, Jesus, heaven, hell, and eternity. Have I really been living a lie all these years? we asked in the stillness of the night.

The journey out of Christianity rarely begins with evidence. Seldom does a person decide to leave Christianity on an evidentiary basis, especially those of us who were Christians for many years. While we NOW see clearly the falseness of Christianity, I doubt our vision was so clear when we first dared to consider the truthfulness of our beliefs.

Most often, the journey out of Christianity begins with our emotions. I am often accused of being angry and bitter, and, quite frankly, at some point along my journey out of Christianity, I am sure I was. How could it be otherwise?

Leaving Christianity is no small matter. Leaving the religion of your parents is not easy. Leaving the religion that gave you peace, comfort, hope, security, meaning, and purpose is a decision laden with emotional baggage. We must be willing to admit this lest we lose authenticity. We must account for everything that brought us to where we are now. To leave anything out paints an incomplete picture of our lives.

My journey out of Christianity likely began when I became a disaffected, disillusioned Christian and pastor. I was tired of the meaningless and passivity I saw everywhere I looked. Nothing mattered. In the rare occasions when I saw committed, serious Christianity, I also saw arrogance, hatred, and pride. I saw a divisive, sectarian spirit that bore no resemblance to the Jesus of the Bible. (I later learned from my studies that Jesus was far from perfect too.)

I was worn out from long hours pastoring churches that never paid well. I was tired of all the moving. The pettiness in every church I ever pastored sickened me. Struggles with church power brokers left me wounded. I was hurt by hateful and mean-spirited church leaders and fellow pastors.

When I stopped pastoring churches it was a relief. Sleeping in on Sunday morning — what a joy unspeakable and full of glory! The stress level in our home and marriage went down dramatically. What a difference godlessness made!

I realize I just gave my critics a boatload of ammunition to use against me. I will now be accused of leaving Christianity for emotional reasons. I was angry, bitter, and hurt. I was tired and worn out. I was poorly paid, in the ministry for the money. Here’s what my critics don’t understand: while these things played a part in the first step I took out of Christianity, they were not the last steps I took. What may have had an emotional beginning didn’t have an emotional ending.

As my emotions abated, the evidence took over. As I read and studied, I came to the conclusion that the central claims of Christianity were false. My studies led to me conclude that the Bible is not a divine book, that it is a fallible, man-made, errant text written by (mostly)unknown authors centuries ago. While it “may” offer some valuable insights, it should not be considered a divine road map for life, a blueprint for living. Many of its teachings are immoral. It is a book that’s been used to prop up violent governments, enslave people, and its pages are soaked in the blood of innocents. I view the Bible like a morsel of edible food in a garbage can filled with rotting offal. I am no longer willing to dig through the rotting garbage just to find a morsel to eat.

What took root in disaffection soon became a search for truth. This forced me to re-investigate everything I once believed was true. I had to reevaluate my moral and ethical beliefs. My entire worldview was being challenged. At times, I was fearful. What if I am wrong? What if God really exists? I wrestled with Pascal’s Wager long before I ever knew what it was.

I am sympathetic towards atheists and agnostics who hide the emotional aspect of their journey. They don’t want to have to deal with constant questions about motives. They acknowledge the emotional component of their journey, as I did, but emotions were not the primary or deciding factor. When every factor is considered, it was the evidence that led them from God to godlessness.

I think admitting that emotions played a vital part in our deconversion will be extremely helpful to people considering leaving Christianity. We need to think about those who come after us. They need to know it is normal to experience a broad range of emotions such as anger, fear, hatred, and bitterness as they consider whether to abandon Christianity. What we should not spend our time on is worrying about what closed-minded, meanspirited Evangelical zealots think.

Be careful, dear Christian, before charging me or other members of the godless fraternity with leaving Christianity for emotional reasons. That street runs both ways. Did you become a Christian solely for intellectual reasons? Was it the evidence alone that caused you to embrace Christianity? I already know the answer to these questions. Over the years, I have watched hundreds and hundreds — 600 in one church — of people profess faith in Jesus Christ. In every instance, emotions played a part in the conversion process. In fact, decisions to profess faith in Jesus Christ without emotion are considered suspect. Becoming a Christian is the single biggest decision a person will ever make in his or her life, just like the decision a Christian makes to deconvert. How can such a dramatic decision NOT elicit a deep emotional response from us?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

Connect with me on social media:

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.

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

Connect with me on social media:

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

Connect with me on social media:

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

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

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Bruce Gerencser