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Tag: Agnosticism

For Evangelical Christians, It’s Not About the Evidence

birth of jesus

Repost from 2015. 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, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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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, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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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, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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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.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Evangelical Pastor Ron Adkins and THE Agnostic

letter to the editor

Originally published in 2010. Edited and corrected.

In August 2010, I wrote the following letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News. It was published on August 10:

Dear Editor:

Attempting to formulate a reply to the responses to my letter to the editor has left me with quite a quandary. In 500 words I must respond to issues that deserve far more treatment than I can give them. Every letter writer committed the same error as Jack Palmer.

They assumed a priori that everyone believes in the Bible, their God and their version of Christianity. According to them, it is self-evident that the Christian God is the true God. They base their assertion upon the Bible, and therein lies the problem. They believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. I suspect most of the letter writers also believe the Bible is inerrant.

I do not believe the Bible is a supernatural book. The Bible is a manmade book of spiritual writings. It is rooted in a nomadic and agrarian economy that no longer exists. The last book of the Bible was written 1,900 years ago. While certainly the Bible has some value in the 21st century, it is not a book that should be used as a divine road map for life nor as a rulebook for governing society.

The Bible is best suited for use in tribal worship, cultural events and acts of personal piety. In other words, our society is far better off if the Bible is relegated to the same shelf as the great classics of the past.

Because I do not believe the Bible to be the divine truth, threats of divine retribution and judgment have no meaning to me. They did at one time. I was a student of the Bible for over 33 years, attended a Christian college and pastored evangelical churches for 25 years. As an agnostic, I have a humanistic worldview. It is a worldview that focuses on the here and now rather than eternity and a mythical home in heaven.

With all the suffering in the world, time spent pining for a mansion in the sky seems scandalous. The responses to my letter make it very clear to me that no two Christians agree on anything. Every letter writer espoused a different form of Christianity. Every letter writer has their own version of God and what constitutes a right, saving relationship with that God. This shows me that there is no such thing as Christianity (singular) in America.

Instead, what we do have is multiple Christianities, with every Christian picking and choosing what they want to believe from the Bible and then making God into their own image. Christians continue to use Pascal’s Wager with unbelievers to no effect. I would reverse the challenge and ask Christians, What if this is it? What if there is no heaven or hell?

What if you’ve spent your entire life seeking an eternal destiny that doesn’t exist? A life wasted that could have been spent enjoying the here and the now? A life wasted that could have been spent living and loving rather than trudging through a wicked world in search of a heaven and eternal reward that does not exist? We each have one life. This is it. Love and live. 

Bruce Gerencser
Ney

What follows is my response to one of the Christians — an Evangelical pastor — who wrote to the paper to object to my letter.

The Sunday (August 2010) edition of the Defiance Crescent-News has the first, of what I am sure will be many more, letters to the Editor concerning my recently published rebuttal letter.

My youngest son asked me today if anyone has ever written a letter to the editor in support of my views about religion. I laughed and said No. As far as I know, I am the only person who has written to the newspaper and said “I am an agnostic.” (Some days I wonder, “what was I thinking”?) I hope my willingness to stand up and be counted will encourage others to do so. I know I am not alone. I have received their letters and email. They fear what might happen to them socially or economically if their agnosticism or atheism were made public. Their fears are well-grounded and I would not encourage anyone to take the same path as I have.

My children have to live with the fact that their dad is “the man who writes in the newspaper.” They have to field questions like “are you related to Bruce Gerencser”? If they answer yes, what often follows is a queer look, a look that says I want to tell you what I think or I want to ask you a question or two. Usually, once my children affirm their connection to me, a nervous silence ensues. It’s like, the questioner, all of a sudden, finds out he has been working alongside a spawn of Satan.

The first letter to the editor response I want to deal with is written by Ron Adkins, pastor of the Ney and Farmer United Methodist churches. I know Ron personally. Our family attended the Ney church for a number of months, and it was the last church we ever attended. One might say our last experience proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back (though we met many wonderful people at the Ney church).

Ron is a young man. This is his first pastorate. (Ron later moved on to a different denomination, though he still lives in the area.) Prior to this, he was a professor at Ohio Christian University. Ohio Christian University is a Fundamentalist institution affiliated with the Churches of Christ in Christian Union. (I am sure Ron will chafe at the Fundamentalist label, but he also knows what my response is to that. Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?)

Ron has pastored the Ney/Farmer churches for about 2 years. When I asked him what his philosophy of ministry was, he told me it was “loving on people”. Evidently, as you shall see from his letter, that “loving on people” doesn’t include me. Some of what Ron writes in his letter reflects personal, private discussions he and I had during the time we attended the Ney church. One could object, saying “I told you that in private” but one thing I know about preachers, “don’t tell them anything you don’t want others to know.”

From reading Ron’s letter to the editor, I think it is safe to assume that my rebuttal letter upset some people in his church. Here I am, almost two years removed from attending Ney United Methodist Church — we left the last Sunday in November, 2008 — and I am still causing trouble. I realize my letter put Ron in a no-win situation. He is a great guy and he doesn’t like conflict. The last thing he needs is to tangle with Bruce. But my heresy demands an answer, so Ron penned a reply to my letter.

As you shall see in a moment, Ron tries to avoid making this personal. He never calls me by name. Instead, he calls me THE agnostic. Since the is a definite article and I am the only agnostic that has written to the paper, it is safe to assume that THE agnostic = Bruce Gerencser.

Now to Pastor Adkins’ letter. Ron’s letter appears as normal type. My response appears as bold italics.

To the Editor:

I have been averse to reading the latest letter to the editor from the agnostic because I personally find agnosticism trite for two major reasons.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right away. Ron is writing about my letter, and since I am the only agnostic who has written to the newspaper, he is directing his response to me and what I have written. Of course, his greater objective is to cheer on the faithful. 

My response is personal. I guess I could hide my response target by saying I am responding to THE pastor, but, I am not one known for such subterfuge, so I want to make it clear that my response is directed to Pastor Adkins and his letter to the editor. I do hope that the faithful will be challenged and forced to ask hard questions about Christianity and the Bible. I also hope my fellow atheists and agnostics will be encouraged to continue on the path of intellectual freedom.

I am amused somewhat that Ron considers agnosticism trite, yet he expends quite a bit of verbiage in his attack of the agnostic view. Perhaps it was not as trite as he thought is was.

First, agnosticism is predicated on the premise of skepticism concerning the existence of God. The agnostic doubts the absolute truth about God (although some may believe in a First Cause), yet states an absolute truth by claiming God does not exist and that the answer is a humanistic worldview. If consistent, the agnostic would doubt his own statements, and furthermore, would doubt his own doubt that God does not exist, thus resulting in the probability that God could exist.

I don’t believe I have ever said God does not exist.  I am, after all, an agnostic. In fact, Ron might be surprised to know that I have quite a bit of room in my agnostic worldview for a god (or gods) — much to the consternation of some hard-core atheists. (I would no longer make this statement now.) I am fairly certain that the gods which man has created so far are not gods at all. I cannot state categorically or infallibly –I’ll leave that to the Pope — there is NO God. Even Christopher Hitchens does not say there is No God. 

The best answer, the best philosophy of living, in my humble opinion, is humanism. With humanism, the focus is on reality, the here and now. Surely, Ron, the history major that he is, knows that many humanists have a spiritual or religious dimension to their beliefs. But the humanist always comes back to what he can see and know. The humanist does not have the time to spend on pining about a future in heaven, the rapture, and the many other supposed events in the future that preoccupy and keep Christians from engaging a suffering and dying world. 

What is humanism? The best statement I have found comes from the Humanist magazine:

Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. Free of theism and other supernatural beliefs, humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny.

Christians often prop up the straw man of absolute truth. Everyone believes in absolute truth, they claim.  Evidently Ron needs to meet a few real agnostics and atheists before he claims such a thing.

Personally, there are many things I believe to be true or factual. Based on what knowledge and information I have at hand, I have concluded that certain things are true. I know that the earth revolves around the sun and that the earth is not flat. I am relatively certain the science behind these claims is true. If I were left with only the absolute truth of the Bible, I would have to ignore what science teaches and I would be forced to accept that the sun revolves around the earth and the earth is flat (among countless other incredible, yet false. claims found in the Bible).

Ron writes of the absolute truth of God, and by God, let’s be clear, Ron means the Evangelical Christian God. Where does one find this absolute truth? The Bible. Ah, finally a concrete piece of information we can weigh in the balances. And that is exactly what I have done. I have weighed the claims of the Bible in the balances and found it wanting. 

I find the claims made by academics such as Bart Ehrman and Robert Price to be compelling. I find Richard Wright’s book The Evolution of God to be a fascinating alternative story to the monotheism of orthodox Christianity.

My agnosticism rests squarely on the belief that the Bible is not what it claims to be and that it is not inspired, divine truth. At the end of the day, it all boils down to the Bible. If I do not accept the claims of the Bible, or the claims of what churches, denominations, popes, or pastors say the Bible says, then I cannot believe in the God that the Bible presents.  I may still believe in a god but not the god of the Christian Bible. 

Ron, I am sure, will appeal to nature and conscience as proof for God, but I would counter: how can one necessarily conclude that the God who gave us nature and a conscience is necessarily the Christian God? Would a person not initiated in Christian thinking come to the conclusion, by looking at nature, that there is a God and that that God is the triune God of the Christian religion? Doubtful. In fact, I can say impossible. 

Second, if then, the agnostic is not a true agnostic, because of the self-defeating premise, then there is another motivation behind his self-proclaimed agnosticism.

Answered above, so I assume this makes moot the next point Ron makes. But Ron gets personal (divulging a bit of inside information about me) in what follows so I want to deal with it.

I have found that agnostics, who are not true agnostics, typically are angry at God because God does not operate the way they think God should operate. At other times they are angry because they have not received what they wanted from God. Like the undisciplined child who is angry at a parent using their only means of power, knowing they are powerless, will proclaim, “I hate you!” Nothing could hurt a parent more, and they know this.

The agnostic stands before God and proclaims in anger, ”You don’t exist!” Isn’t it interesting then that humans, created beings, desire God to act the way they perceive God should act? Furthermore, I find it pathetic to claim a humanistic worldview in which there is nothing, or no one, greater than ourselves to rely.

Anger. Ron, is right about my anger, but he is wrong about the focus of my anger. 

The Christian God, the God of Ron Adkins does not exist. Why would I be angry at a fictional being?

No, my anger is directed towards organized religion.  My anger is directed at Evangelical Christianity. I am angry over what was taken from me over the 25 years I spent in the ministry. I am angry over the wasted time and effort spent “doing church.” I am angry over my own selfish ambitions and my attempts at building a kingdom in my own name (as all pastors do; after all, why is their name on their church’s sign?).

I am angry over what the ministry and the church did to my wonderful wife and children. I am angry over countless parishioners whose lives are now shipwrecked because they drank from the well of organized religion.

Yes, I am angry and it feels good. For 33 years I lived in denial of my emotions, serving a God who was no god at all, a god that demanded self-sacrifice and self-denial. It feels good to be out from under such a burdensome weight.

Ron may consider humanism pathetic, and I might be tempted to say back at ya, but what humanism provides for me is reality. It is rooted in the common humanity we all share. I no longer have a need to pray, fast, tithe, and attend church. What humanism demands of me is doing. It demands of me the very things Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount. Humanism calls me to be fully human in an imperfect, marred world. It calls me to use what talents I have for the betterment of my fellow man.

Becoming an agnostic and a humanist has forced me to admit that most of the supposed altruistic works I did as a pastor had an ulterior motive. I didn’t love people for who they were. I loved them because I wanted Jesus to change them. If Jesus changed them then they would become a part of the church I pastored. End result? Bigger attendance and bigger offerings. (Trying to get a pastor to admit this is nigh impossible.)

It is an exhilarating experience to truly love people as they are. 

Last, I would like to briefly answer the question which became the title for the agnostic’s editorial, “Writers espoused different views.”

I am glad of one thing, Ron used the word last. I despise the use of the word “lastly.” Ron gets 1 brownie point for using “last” instead of “lastly.”

I hope Ron is aware that the newspaper determines what the letter title is. I have been writing letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, etc. for over 28 years and I have yet to write my own title.

First, let me give some advice to all of those wonderful Christians who have been troubled by THE Agnostic. Remember an agnostic asks questions based on skepticism. Don’t feel as though you are in a corner. The quote at hand read, “Every letter writer has their own version of God and what constitutes a right, saving relationship with that God. This shows me that there is no such thing as Christianity (singular) in America”.

Truth is an objective fact expressed in a subjective way. It is obvious that one comes to the truth of Christianity or more generally religious truth, differently than one would come to scientific truth. God is not an object to be observed. God has made himself known. Faith, therefore, is a response in obedience, the thing agnostics hate.

I find Ron’s statement here astounding. Ron writes “Truth is an objective fact expressed in a subjective way.” Ron certainly believes the Bible is absolute truth.  I would love to know if he really, really, believes the Bible is absolute truth (I have my doubts). Ron, without any evidence, believes that what the Bible teaches is an objective fact. The Bible is true because it says it is.

How does one know this? Through a subjective experience, God has made himself known. How do we know that? Because the Christian says so. Because Ron says so. Ultimately, then, it is a matter of faith.

If it is a matter of faith, why do so many Christians try to “prove” the truth of Christianity? Why do they attempt to use scientific methods to prove the veracity of the claims the Bible makes?

If it is a matter of faith, then why write letters to the editor attempting to discredit and refute my rebuttal letter? Would it not be better to rest in the belief that the God of faith, through the Holy Spirit, will take care of things? Surely God can take care of one lowly, insignificant, pimple-on-the-ass agnostic named Bruce?

Ron might be surprised to know that I still have faith. I have faith in the gods I can see, my fellow human beings. In my Christian days, I put my faith in a God whom I said was always there, but quite honestly I never really could find him. God was all-knowing and all-powerful. He was supposedly intimately involved in the minutia of my life, yet when it came to things that mattered — matters of life and death — God was nowhere to be found. 

I would assume that Ron considers his weekly sermons to be subjective in nature? After all, he is preaching absolute truth in a subjective manner, yes? I don’t know of any preacher who would embrace such a claim, especially an Evangelical preacher. After all, the preacher is the man of God who speaks the infallible Word of God to the people of God. Not much subjectivity there.

I find no conflict in the different responses to the agnostic because the different individuals have expressed their belief and experience (“Pascal’s Wager”) in the one, absolute God in different ways. Faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world is truth and is experienced by individuals.

Ron is being disingenuous here OR his two years in the Methodist church have worn down his Evangelical resolve. I realize he is preaching to the choir here, but any cursory reading of the letters written in reply to either of my recent letters will reveal full-blown heresy. Is Ron suggesting that subjective heresy is fine as long as it is done with the right intention? If so, it is time to give all the heretics of the past a place at the orthodox table once again. Each of them had sincere intentions. They loved their version of Jesus. Welcome, Brother Pelagius!

It is clear for all who are willing to see . . . no two Christians have the same version of Christianity. Christianity for most Christians is akin to going to a buffet, taking what you want, and leaving the rest. I don’t have a problem with this approach, but I would, at least, like Christians to admit it. They speak of orthodoxy and common belief, but such singularity does not exist except in denominational or church confessions or theological texts. Real-world experience tells me that all Christians believe what they want to believe and ignore the rest. (Any righteous men out there that want to offer their virgin daughter to the men of the city as righteous Lot did?)

This is why all Christians can describe some kind of personal experience, or relationship, with God through the Holy Spirit. Christian faith is an assent and obedience to the revelation of God.

On this point, I  agree with Ron. It is all about the revelation of God. In other words, it is ALL about the Bible. As I have said time and time again, there is no Christianity without the Bible. I am an agnostic because I reject the truth claims of the Bible. I reject its claim that it is a supernatural, divine book that reveals God to humankind. It is a fallible book written by unknown men thousands of years ago.  Certainly, the Bible has much to offer in way of personal spiritual guidance, but it is just a book, and it has no authority in my life. It has as much authority, and is just as inspired, as the writings of Mark Twain. (And no Christian can prove otherwise because the doctrine of inspiration is presupposed and cannot be empirically proved.)

Ron knew I was heading down the slippery slope towards agnosticism. Surely he can recall our discussions about the Bible. He, at one time, read my blog. Yet, when I stopped attending his church, that ended our interaction. Evidently, his time was better spent rescuing those who wanted rescued.

Yet, one would think that over the course of two years, in a town of 325 people, Ron or someone from the church would have stopped by and looked in on us. As I have struggled with debilitating neurological problems, problems Ron was well aware of, one would think that a visit might be in order. How can we help? Is there anything you need? One never knows what love and kindness might accomplish.

As is always the case . . . why spend time helping people who have no intentions of joining the happy band. If their ass is not in the seat, why bother?

There are six churches within a few miles of the home where my family and I reside. Prior to my recent coming out as an agnostic, our family would have been a great catch for any church. We are clean-cut, clean-livers. We look like Christians. We are talented. We have skills that any church would be grateful to use. We are loyal, faithful people. We are loving and kind. We are great non-Christian Christians.

But, not one pastor, one church leader, one church member, ever knocked on our door to invite us to their church. Even after we visited four of the six churches, no one bothered to try to befriend us and love us as Jesus would.

No, the truth is . . . no one gave a shit.

And then one day . . . neither did we.

Here are some of the other responses to my August 2010 letter to the editor:

August 2010

I cannot help but wonder what would make someone who has read the Bible (assuming the entire Bible from cover to cover), attended a Christian college (attending a Christian college does not make one a Christian) and been an evangelical pastor change his mind and become an agnostic humanist.

Richard Dawkins in his book, The God Delusion, contains a chapter entitled “The Poverty of Agnosticism.”

Dawkins is a renowned atheist, and you are probably wondering why I quote an atheist to make a point. In the said chapter he discusses many points concerning agnosticism but I would like to point out two items of interest. First he observes there is an “agnostic spectrum,” varying degrees of agnosticism, ranging from one — “I believe in God but have a lot of questions concerning his existence” — to seven — “I do not believe in God, period.”

Second, he also mentions two types of agnosticism — a temporary agnosticism in practice and a permanent agnosticism in principle. I wonder where Mr. Gerencser stands.

If he was once enlightened and has fallen as far as agnosticism, then there is still hope. The next step is apostasy on which the Bible is very clear. If he has sincerely studied the Scriptures then he knows what I am referring to (Hebrews 6). If not, then he should, perhaps, rethink his position. And, yes, I know his position on the inerrancy of scripture. However, the Bible is as relevant today as it was then.

Bob Palczewski
Defiance

August 2010

In answer to Bruce Gerencser’s letter in Sunday’s paper, he says he is an agnostic and no longer believes.

He said that at one time the Bible had meaning to him and that he pastored an evangelical church for 25 years. Evangelical churches should evangelize. What did he preach? Did he tell them that God sent His sinless son Jesus to die for our sins? John 3:16. He did. Did he ever truly accept Christ as his Lord and Savior? None of us ourselves will ever be good enough. You cannot prove to me that the Bible is not the inspired Word of God that tells us in Romans 10: 9-10 that if we believe and confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus that we will be saved.

Gerencser asked, What if there is no heaven or hell and we Christians have wasted our lives? If he is right and I am wrong, I have not lost anything. But if I am right and he is wrong, he has lost everything, his soul.

My husband is 85 and I am 82, and neither of us regret the almost 50 years of volunteer service for the Lord. For 13 years we sang Gospel and ministered with our young family in churches and the migrant camps. Last year after my husband’s bypass surgery and 34 years in the jail and prison Ministry we left it to devote more time to visiting and ministering in our local rest home.

If Gerencser thinks Jesus is not real, he should read our book. He says that we should live and love life. This has not been easy because we supported ourselves in our small businesses. But after 64 years of marriage we are still living and loving, thanks to Calvary.

Gertrude Hitt
Archbold

August 2010

In response to Bruce Gerenscer’s letter of June 20, I am one of those right-wing nuts and Christian Republicans that are dominating Ohio. I am proud to be a Christian. I will tell anyone anytime what I believe, but I won’t make you listen if you choose not to.

God gave us all a choice. What Jack Palmer said in his column on June 10 was the truth. He believes what he says. He has a right to say it. Bruce Gerencser has a right not to believe it, that is his choice. The last time I looked we in America have freedom to say what we want to say. That means we have the same rights as Gerencser has. I thank God for Jack Palmer. We need more like him.

God doesn’t leave us. I am thankful for that. The proof is when you feel Him yourself. God didn’t just save my soul, he saved my life. If I didn’t’ have God, I would not be here this day.

God’s heart breaks because of all the suffering in the world. It goes back to unbelief and the choice He made available to us, and when we choose the wrong way.

Gerencser said he gave thanks to his parents and all the others in his life. If it weren’t for God, he wouldn’t have them in the first place, so I thank God for my family.

Gerencser talked about being on the boat, but you can’t abandon ship unless you were on it to begin with. I hope and pray that one day Gerencser will get back on board.

No one is going to get rid of God no matter what he or she says or does. God answers me so gently in a soft and loving tone, saying “I am with you always, you will never be alone.”

Rose Molnar
Defiance

August 2010

I am writing in response to Bruce Gerencser’s letter to the editor in the June 20 Crescent-News. Gerencser stated in his letter that he wanted “to give credit to whom credit is due.” Well, I too would like to do that.

First, I am thankful to live in America where I have the privilege of writing a letter to the editor to express my opinion. Thank you to The Crescent-News for setting aside a page in your paper to print even those I may disagree with.

Many, many thanks to my parents and husband for working so hard to provide for us. In addition to those Gerencser gave thanks to, I would also like to thank the farmers who provide the food our nation enjoys. Also, a big thank you goes to those serving in the military, past and present, who are willing to sacrifice their lives in order to help protect our nation.

However, I realize that God is the one who actually provides all these. He gives good health in order to do the work. He gives knowledge to the doctors, teachers, counselors, etc. so they can help others. God provides the sunshine and rain the farmers need in order to produce their crops.

Everything we have or do not have comes from God. So, thank you dear God for all these, but most of all I thank you for my home in heaven.

Connie Elston
rural Oakwood

August 2010

Since Bruce Gerencser asked the question, let’s get it answered. Say I believe in a religion and I follow its tenants. I am good to my neighbors and strangers, help the homeless, donate to charities and do the best that I can. Now, when I die if there is nothing, then what exactly have I wasted?

And, if there is something after death, then I will be rewarded for my good works and remembered far longer then Gerencser ever would be. People will remember Mother Teresa or Billy Graham far longer than Gerencser. If you live for today like Gerencser wants and when you die, if there is a creator, you have to stand before the creator and explain why you did not believe and tried to get others to do the same. Somehow I don’t think that saying “whoops, my bad” is going to cut it.

But my other question would be while Gerencser claims to have been a pastor for 25 years and since being an agnostic is one step above being an atheist, as both of them deny the existence of a deity according to every encyclopedia and dictionary out there, is Gerencser now freely admitting that he was living a lie and that his whole life before becoming agnostic was a fraud?

And, if he was a pastor, then what about all the people he was supposed to lead? Is he now admitting that he deceived them as well? And, why bother becoming a pastor in the first place if you were just going to turn your back on your chosen religion, especially one that he has never mentioned? Something about his claim just does not sound correct.

Daniel Gray
Defiance

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Atheists Like Bart Ehrman Because They Want to Suppress the Truth in Unrighteousness

bart ehrman

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

According to one commenter on Dr. Michael Kruger’s blog,  The Canon Fodder, the reason atheists like Bart Ehrman is because they want to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Here’s what a commenter by the name of Grant had to say:

“Jeff, just to add to your thoughts in this, Bart Ehrman has a ready audience of people who want to hear what he’s saying. The world will view him as an authority on the matter, and accept his claims as truth. 1 Timothy 4:3 warns of something similar: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”

Ehrman is a teacher who suits the passions of the world: to suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Thus, even though someone who refuses to believe the Gospel might spot this hypocrisy of Ehrman’s, rebuking moralizing while doing the same himself, they will likely suppress that truth along with the Truth of the Gospel. Because it suits their passions to do so.

So if we ignored him, Bart Ehrman might “go away” in the sense that we don’t hear so much from him, but he hasn’t really gone anywhere. He wants an adoring audience to validate his unbelief with their attendance to what he teaches as much as they want him to validate their unbelief by him teaching what he does.”

“Very good points. Of course, “agnosticism” and “atheism” are just a smoke-screen for their suppression of the Truth in unrighteousness, and it shows in Bart Ehrman’s hypocrisy. Basically he wants people to believe him, not the Gospel.”

I always love it when Christians tell atheists, agnostics, and humanists the REAL reason they don’t believe. Instead of having to do a bit of intellectual heavy lifting, a Christian like Grant can dismiss a whole class of people with one wave of the proof text hand. According to Grant, the reason atheists read Bart Ehrman is because his writing appeals to their fleshly desires. Atheists are unwilling to hear and understand the TRUTH — “truth” meaning the Bible — so they seek out writers who reinforce their beliefs and opinions about God, Jesus, Christianity, and the Bible. Of course, Christians don’t do that, right? (that’s sarcasm, by the way).

While Grant’s argument might have some merit when it comes to someone who never was a Christian, it falls flat on its face when it comes to people such as myself. I spent 50 years in the Christian church, and I was an Evangelical pastor for 25 years. I spent the majority of my life thinking the Bible was divine truth. Yet, here I am at age of sixty-two, an outspoken atheist and humanist. Could it be that the reason I no longer believe is because I intellectually found Evangelical claims about the Bible, God, and Jesus lacking?

Grant is upset because people such as I believe Bart Ehrman and not the gospel. In his mind, if one believes the gospel then everything else falls into place. Because I do not believe the Evangelical good news, that means I am an Ehrman fanboy. My recommendation of Ehrman’s books couldn’t be because I find them intellectually persuasive, right? Of course not. If I just believed the Bible — well actually if I just believed Grant’s interpretation of the Bible — then I would understand that Ehrman wants to be god in place of Jesus.

In other words, atheists, agnostics, and humanists are stupid. They are being led astray by Bart Ehrman, a false prophet. The answer is to have an old-fashioned Bart Ehrman book burning. Then we can return to reading and believing the only book that matters: the B-i-b-l-e. What’s funny, at least to me, is that Evangelical zealots such as Grant have shelves full of books that reinforce their beliefs and worldview. If the Bible is all an atheist needs to read, why do Evangelicals read so many books that purport to tell them what the Bible teaches? If the King James Version was good enough for the Apostle Paul and good enough for Bruce, shouldn’t it be good enough for Grant?

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Dear Ward

peanut gallery

Recently, a Christian man by the name of Ward left a comment on the post Dear Jesus. Instead of answering him in the comment section, I thought I would turn his comment and my response into a post.

I feel sad for you Bruce . . .

Typically, when a Christian begins a comment with “I feel sad (sorry)” or makes some sort of psychological judgment, it is a sign that the commenter is here to evangelize, correct, or excoriate. Remember, thousands of Evangelical commenters have come before you, so you bear the weight of their collective assholery.

When I read this line, I thought, why should anyone feel sad or sorry for me? All things considered, I am quite happy. I have been married almost forty-two years, have six grown children, and thirteen wonderful children. Sure, life has its difficult moments, and recent years health-wise have been challenging not only for myself, but also for my wife. Yet, in every way, my life today is better than it was when I was a follower of Jesus.

Imagine if I started a conversation with you that intimated that I felt sorry for you because you were a Christian. How would you feel and respond?

[I feel] sad for the things you endured . . .

I realize that you are basing this judgment on reading the post Dear Jesus. Unfortunately, when people only read certain posts it is easy for them to come to wrong conclusions. Yes, from my childhood forward I have endured trial and adversity. However, all in all I had a happy childhood and ministerial career. (Please see Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part One and Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part Two.)

[I feel] sad for the path you chosen.

Why? If you had a blog, I would never leave a comment that said I felt sad (sorry) for you because you were a Christian. In the twelve years since I divorced Jesus, I have never left such a comment anywhere on the Internet or social media. Every person is on a journey. Each of us has a story to tell — Christian or atheist. I accept at face value that you profess to be a Christian. Who am I to question your story? Unfortunately, scores of Evangelicals have attempted to deconstruct my life. I have had blog posts written about me, and several preachers have even preached sermons that suggested I never was a “real” Christian. (Please see Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser.)

I am one man with a story to tell. All that I ask of Christians is that they accept my story at face value and not fling theological epitaphs my way. Unfortunately, most Evangelical commenters don’t play well with others.

Your story of lost faith sounds as familiar as many others I’ve read such as Charles Templeton.

I am not sure how closely my life tracks with that of Charles Templeton, but I am one of many Evangelical preachers who are atheists or agnostics. Our number increases daily.

I understand and agree with many of your criticisms of the American evangelical movement and the professional church, but what I don’t understand is the decision to become an atheist.

You are certainly not the first Christian not to understand why I deconverted. Usually, a refusal to read my writing or an inability to square one’s theology keeps Evangelicals from truly understanding my story. Unable to make the square peg of my life fit in the round hole of their theology and experiences, many Evangelicals just dismiss my story out of hand by saying, “Bruce, you never were a real Christian.” Or worse, they say that I am still a Christian; that I am backslidden. How about letting me tell my story and accept it as told? Why is it so hard for Christians to accept that I once was a Christian and now I am not? “But Bruce, the BIBLE says ________.” Sorry, but it is not my problem if Evangelicals can’t square my storyline with their peculiar interpretation of the Bible. There’s no question that I once was a Christian, and I am sure as hell not a Christian now.

As others I’ve read it usually revolves around the theme of “If God is good why does he allow evil?”. I can see the move to the left in a way, though politically they are no better than the right, as there is a growing leftist “evangelical movement. You said you served God from a leftist perspective for a time and I see others who maintain a sense of fulfillment in that place without rejecting God. Is it just as simple as God allowed bad things to happen in your life?

There are many reasons people walk (run) away from Christianity. That’s why I point people to the WHY page — a collection of posts that explain why I am no longer a follower of Jesus.

If I had to pick one reason for why I am not a Christian it is this: I no longer believe that the central claims of Christianity are true. I came to a place in my life where these beliefs no longer made sense to me. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) I reject all the miraculous claims made for Jesus, from his virgin birth to his resurrection from the dead. I do believe Jesus was a real flesh-and-blood human being who lived on Palestine 2,000 years ago, However, as with all humans, he lived and died, end of story.

I want to conclude this post by responding in part to your response is Grammar Gramma.

Wow gramma you are exactly the type of person I would expect to encounter when engaging atheists, arrogant, rude, dismissive.

I hope what I have written above might cast some light on how your first comment might have been perceived by the atheists and agnostics who frequent this blog.

Why did you comment on this blog? If you believe that atheists are arrogant, rude, and dismissive, what’s the point of leaving a comment? While Grammar Gramma can speak for herself, I can confidently say that she is neither arrogant, rude, and dismissive. I suspect much like me and other unbelievers, she is weary of Christians who don’t invest the requisite time necessary to understand my story or who begin their comments with judgments or psychological analysis. Most atheists and agnostics I know are plum wore out by Christians who judge and criticize their lives instead of taking the time to truly understand their story.

I hope I have adequately answered your questions. If not, please let me know.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Why Christian Fundamentalism is Hard to Shake

mindwipe men in black

Those who spent decades in Evangelicalism before deconverting often find it hard to completely rid the mind of Fundamentalist thinking. Wait a minute, Bruce, are you saying that Evangelicals are FUNDAMENTALISTS? Yes. Evangelicalism is inherently Fundamentalist. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) I have had countless Evangelicals attempt to persuade me that THEY are not Fundamentalists, but in the end, all they proved is that they were either liberal Christians masquerading as Evangelicals or — drumroll, please — FUNDAMENTALISTS! As the aforementioned post shows, all Evangelicals are theological Fundamentalists. Where Evangelicals tend to differ with one another is over what I call social Fundamentalism. For example, one Evangelical might be an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher. He has all sorts of narrow, defined social rules by which he governs his life. Another Evangelical used to be an IFB preacher, but now, PRAISE JESUS, he is the pastor of a non-denominational Sovereign Grace church. He has abandoned many of his former social rules and brags about being free to drink beer, smoke cigars, watch TV, and even cuss a bit. See, he says, I am NOT a Fundamentalist. Except, he still is theologically. He still believes the Bible is inspired and inerrant. He still believes in the exclusivity of Christianity. He still believes that there is one true God — his — and salvation is only through the merit and work of Jesus. He still believes that non-Christians go to Hell when they die, even if he doesn’t believe that there are literal fire and brimstone in Hell. His theological beliefs scream FUNDAMENTALIST! And even if he has distanced himself from the rules, regulations, and standards of his IFB past, if you press him you will likely find that he still has quite a long list of behaviors he deems “sinful.” Thus, I stand by what I said, Evangelicals are inherently Fundamentalist.  Now that we have that issue out of the way . . .

Evangelicalism is built on a foundation of religious indoctrination. From the cradle to adulthood, Evangelicals are repeatedly taught what are believed to the tenets of the One True Faith®. For those of us raised in the Evangelical church, these beliefs were pounded into our heads day after day, week after week, and year after year. Not only at church either. Many Evangelical children attend Christian schools or are homeschooled. My wife and I homeschooled all six of our children. Using Bibliocentric curricula, our children were bombarded with Evangelical dogma. In our home, there was no escaping the Evangelical Jesus. Imagine, then, what this immersive approach does to the minds of children, teenagers, and adults. That’s why it is almost impossible to reach Evangelicals who have been raised this way. As long as they are certain their beliefs are right and everyone else is wrong, there’s no God but theirs, and the Bible is a divine roadmap/blueprint for life, there is little anyone can do to reach them.

But, Bruce, you were once an Evangelical and now you are an atheist, so it is possible to reach Evangelicals, right? Yes, but not until certain things happen.

First, Evangelicals must entertain the possibility that they could be wrong. As long as they are certain their beliefs are true and all other beliefs are false, no amount of argumentation will reach them. If, however, they have doubts and questions, well, then, it is possible to reach them. Not probable, but possible.

Second, once Evangelicals have doubts and questions, they must be willing to seek answers outside of their churches and circle of Evangelical friends. This is a crucial point. Remember, Evangelical pastors and churches believe the antidote to doubt is faith. The solution, then, is to cling to the basics, believing that God will, in time, make all things known. And if he doesn’t? Doubters are encouraged to keep on believing until the day comes in Heaven when their faith shall be made sight. Years ago, I heard an IFB evangelist say that resolute faith was the solution to doubt; that there would come a day when doubters would be glad they believed. That day, of course, is after death, when supposedly Evangelicals will finally learn how right they were, and gleefully rejoice over the fact that the Bruce Gerencsers of the world are burning in Hell. In other words, there’s a big payoff coming, so hang on. Is that not what Jesus said in Matthew 10:22: he that endureth to the end shall be saved?

Third, doubting Evangelicals must be willing to lose everything in their search for truth. Doubters must not settle for pat answers, proof texts, or personal anecdotes. They must be willing to follow the path wherever it leads, even if it leads them away from all they have ever known. Countless Evangelicals sit in churches or preach from pulpits, their minds filled with questions and doubts. Unwilling to venture away from the safety of their churches and beliefs, they condemn themselves to lives of — dare I say it? — quiet desperation. Only when they are willing to do whatever is necessary to answer their doubts and questions are they ready to begin their journeys away from Evangelicalism.

Many readers of this blog understand the path I have sketched above. Often, it is a long, arduous, painful road. And even after we have successfully extricated ourselves from Evangelicalism, we find that lifelong Fundamentalist indoctrination leaves behind vestiges of our religious past. I left Christianity in November 2008, but eleven years later Christianity is still hanging on in the deep, dark recesses of my mind. Of course, Evangelical apologists tell me that those niggling doubts are the Holy Spirit, that God has not yet abandoned me. That’s one answer, I suppose, but a better answer is that I was indoctrinated for almost fifty years, and it takes time to fully flush one’s mind of Fundamentalist thinking.

For several years after I deconverted, I would, from time to time, worry about whether I was wrong about Christianity. In the still of the night, I would have thoughts about God’s judgment and Hell. Bruce, if you are wrong, you are going to fry, I thought. But, as time went along, I had fewer and fewer thoughts about “eternity.” Now, when such thoughts pop up, I chuckle and ignore them. I know my mind is littered with memories of past religious beliefs and practices, so I expect their appearance from time to time. They are no different from the thoughts I have about girls I dated when I was a teenager. Nothing more than relics from my past.

I am often asked by ex-Evangelicals, when do the nagging doubts and fears go away? I tell them, it takes time. If you were an Evangelical for your entire life, you can’t expect to have a mind free of past beliefs overnight. There are no Men in Black neuralyzer mind wipes available for ex-Evangelicals. That said, filling one’s mind with non-religious learning can help. New, fresh knowledge helps push from our minds past religious indoctrination. That’s why I always encourage Evangelicals to read Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books. Knowledge in, junk out. The more you read, study, and know, the less past beliefs will have a hold over you.

How about you? Are you an ex-Evangelical? Were you raised in the Evangelical church? Do you still have what I call, an Evangelical hangover? Do you still have doubts or fears at times? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

How Can I Be Certain the Evangelical God is a Myth?

certainty erich fromm

A regular reader of this blog sent me an email and asked the following:

I am unsettled by the notion that there is a possibility that the bizarre God of fundamentalism might exist. The idea that YHWH exists as described by Dan Corner, Jack Chick and their ilk terrifies me. Because that means we are dealing with a being that is irrational, uncaring, inconsistent, and quite frankly confusing in every aspect. It is that particular aspect of Christianity that I fear being true.

This person is “almost” sure that there is no God, but his need for certainty continues to plague him. I am sure that many readers can attest to having similar feelings at one point in time in their journey out of Evangelical Christianity. What this person continues to struggle with is doubt and fear. What if the fiery God of Jonathan Edwards really is as advertised? What if countless bellowing Evangelical preachers are right about God, sin, judgment, and the afterlife? Surely, there’s some test that we use to prove once and for all whether this God is the one true God. Surely, in this day of modern science, we have some sort of test we can use to finally and authoritatively rule out the existence of the Evangelical God. Unfortunately, the best that science can do is tell us that Evangelical interpretations of Genesis 1-3 are false; that the universe was not created in six literal twenty-four hour days; that the earth is not 6,022 years old (as of October 22, 2018). These facts do, however warn us about how Evangelicals interpret the Bible; that their Fundamentalist literalism, hermeneutics, and presuppositions don’t stand the smell test. And if Evangelical interpretations are false on these fundamental issues, what’s to say that their concept of God is not also without merit? The question we must ask here, then, in the one asked by Satan, the walking snake: yea hath God said? Is the Bible a supernatural text? Is it divinely inspired and inerrant? Settling these issues — read Bart Ehrman — will go a long way in burying Jesus in the sands of Palestine. That said, concluding that the Bible is NOT what Evangelicals claim it is, and that its words were written by humans, will not erase all doubt one might have about the existence of God. Answering these questions will get a person almost to home, but there could still be, as in the case of the person who emailed me, niggling doubts.

These doubts are the vestiges of Evangelical indoctrination. Sunday after Sunday, these “truths” were preached from the pulpits of the churches we attended. Spend enough years hearing such sermons, and you are going to think these beliefs are true. The essence of faith is believing without seeing. Evangelicals believe in God, Heaven, Hell, and the afterlife, not because they have ever seen them, but because their churches, pastors, families believe them to be true. Surely, all these people can’t be wrong, right? Actually, they can be (and are) wrong. Faith, for the most part, bypasses reason and intellectual inquiry. Evangelicals believe what they do because everyone they know believes the same. It is only when Evangelicals step outside of the Evangelical box that they see their resolute beliefs are not as solid as they think they are. (Please see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You are in it and What I Found When I Left the Box.)

I cannot, for the letter writer, tell him what to believe. He must walk his own path and come to his own conclusions. The doubts he still battles are emotional in nature. Telling him to read yet another book will not drive away the fear and doubt that afflict him. His immersion in Evangelicalism has left deep scars that might take a long time to overcome. All any of us can do when it comes to religion is ask ourselves, how probable is it that Evangelical beliefs are true? What evidence is there for their truthfulness? It is “possible” that a commercial jet flying over my house could lose one of its engines, and that engine would fall on my house and kill me. Possible? Sure. Probable? No! I don’t go around worrying about a jet engine falling on my head. That would be stupid. I am confident — 99.99999999 percent that I will live out my entire life without a jet engine falling from the sky and killing me. With all the things that could kill me, it is irrational and a waste of time to worry about falling engines.

So it is with the Evangelical concept of God. I am confident that the Evangelical God is not who and what Christians claim he is. Reason, skepticism, and intellectual inquiry has led me to conclude that the Evangelical God is a fictional being, not one I need worry about lest he rain fire and brimstone down on my head. The odds are such that I don’t worry one whit about this God’s existence. If I was going to “worry” about the existence of a Creator God, I would mentally afflict myself wondering whether the deistic God exists. But why worry? This God is unapproachable and unknowable. All any of us can do is LIVE! It is primarily the Abrahamic God that keeps some people up at night with his threats of judgment and Hell.

Surely, if the Evangelical God is real he would help the letter writer with his doubts. He is slipping away, Lord. Do something! Of course, God is silent. Why? He is a fiction of the human mind. Once this fact becomes rooted in your mind — and it might take years — gone are doubts about this God’s existence.

Well, Bruce, what if you are wrong and you die, only to find out God is real? All I know to do is to say to God: My bad, Jesus!  I am 99.99999999 percent sure that is one apology I will never have to deliver. Could I be wrong? It’s possible — as in .00000001 percent possible, but I don’t plan on wasting my time on things for which there is no evidence.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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

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

I Think God is Busy

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I recently watched The Iceman — a film detailing the life of notorious hitman Richard Kuklinski. Kuklinski, played by Michael Shannon, is suspected to have killed over two hundred people between 1946 and 1986.  One scene in the movie details Kuklinski’s murder of porn producer Marty Freeman (played by James Franco).

I am always on the lookout for mentions of religion when watching movies or TV programming. The Iceman has a poignant scene in which the Christian God plays a prominent part. Kuklinski, a lapsed Catholic, drives to where Freeman lives, planning to kill him. Let’s pick up the dialog at the point (38:27) where Freeman realizes Kuklinski plans to whack him.

Freeman calls Josh Rosenthal, the mobster who hired Kuklinski to kill him. Freeman wrongly thinks that they have worked out their differences, thus avoiding the need for Kuklinski to shoot him. Kuklinski takes the phone, has a brief conversation with Rosenthal, and says okay.

Kuklinski pulls out his gun . . .

Freeman: What the fuck’s going on?

Kuklinski: He changed his mind.

Freeman: No, no, no, Rosenthal is my best friend. I would never say anything.

Kuklinski: Not my problem.

Freeman: No, no, no, please God no. Please . . .

Kuklinski: What, you praying?

Freeman: God, please, God, please . . .

Kuklinski: You really believe that? You think God will come down and save you?

Freeman, face buried in a couch, continues to pray and weep . . .

Kuklinski: All right, I’ll give you some time. Pray to God. Tell him to come down and stop me.

Freeman gives Kuklinski an incredulous look and then goes back to praying.

Kuklinski: Our Father,

Freeman starts praying The Lord’s Prayer . . .

Kuklinski: Harder (looks at his watch)

Kuklinski: I’m not feeling nothing.

Long pause as Freeman continues to frantically pray . . .

Kuklinski: Nothing at all

Kuklinski: Harder

Freeman, exasperated, throws up his hands and says WHAT!? I . . .

Kuklinski: This is your last chance.

Kuklinski stands and moves to where Freeman is praying. Freeman turns his head, lifting his hands . . .

Freeman: No, no, no

Kuklinski: I think God is busy.

And with that Kuklinski kills Freeman with a derringer shot to the heart.

I think God is busy. Does this not reflect the feeling that millions of desperate people will have today as they pray to the Christian God, hoping that he will come to their rescue? Despite their passionate prayers to the God who supposedly holds the universe in the palm of his hand, all they hear is silence. No matter the circumstance or calamity, all Christians hear is a fast beeping sound and a recording that says, please try again later. And so these devoted followers of Jesus continue day after day, month after month, and year after year to pray to their God, thinking that someday he will bring deliverance, healing, or blessing. Yet, in the end, God fails to deliver on what he promised. He fails in every way possible, yet the faithful still hang on, believing, much like people playing the lottery, that their big prayer payout is just around the corner.

I have written a number of posts on prayer and God’s supposed care for Christians:

A Few Thoughts on a Lifetime of Praying to the Christian God

Luck, Fate, or Providence?

The Indifference of God

Don’t Thank God, Thank Me

Prayer: Explaining the Unexplainable

How Many Prayers Does it Take to Stop a Hurricane?

If the Christian God is indeed the sovereign of the universe, a prayer-answering God, and the Father of all who call on his name, he sure is piss-poor at his job. In baseball, there is something called the Mendoza Line. The Mendoza Line, named after a poor-hitting professional baseball player Mario Mendoza, is the line a hitter falls below when his batting average drops below .200. No major league batter wants to drop below the Mendoza line. The Mendoza line is the “offensive threshold below which a player’s presence on a Major League Baseball team cannot be justified, regardless of his defensive abilities. The term is used in other contexts when one is so incompetent in one key skill that other skills cannot compensate for that deficiency.” (Wikipedia)

Think of all the prayers you prayed as a Christian. How many of those prayers did God answer? None of this God answers every prayer: yes, no, later, bullshit. None of this, we won’t know until we get to Heaven how many of our prayers God answered. None of this, God works behinds the scenes, answering prayers without leaving proof of his actions. The Bible presents God as a mighty prayer-answering deity; a God who daily meets the needs of his followers. Yet, when pressed for examples of God miraculously answering their prayers, Christians are left with appealing to God meeting the more mundane needs of their lives. True, earth-shattering answers to prayers are scarce. Be honest, Christians. How many of your supposedly answered prayers can be verifiably attributed to your God? During my deconversion from Christianity, I went back over my fifty years of praying to the Christian God. I prayed tens of thousands of prayers, yet “answers” that couldn’t be explained through circumstance or human instrumentality fit on the fingers of my hands. I concluded that God was batting below the Mendoza line, so much so that I realized that he did not exist. Hanging my belief in his existence on a handful of unexplainable events was not enough for me to cling to my faith. I concluded that we live in a world shaped by randomness, natural forces, and human action — sans God.

In 1 Kings 18, we find the story of the prophet Elijah challenging the prophets of Baal to a God duel. Elijah proposed:

Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel’s table.

….

Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under:  And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.

As can be expected, the prophets of Baal lost this God-duel. The Christian God sent fire down from heaven and consumed Elijah’s sacrificial offering. Awesome story, right (besides Elijah murdering all the prophets of Baal)?  Elijah prayed a prayer sixty-three words long. One prayer, sixty-three words was all it took for God to prove his existence and vindicate his prophet by supernaturally turning a water-drenched cow into a burnt roast! Yet, Christians will utter millions of words in prayer to their God today with nary a spark from heaven. What gives?

My favorite part of this story is when Elijah mocks the prophets of Baal, saying:

And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

In modern parlance, Elijah said: Where’s your God, Muslims? He must be on his smartphone talking, in the bathroom taking a shit, on vacation, or taking a nap.

Now, Christians see this story from the perspective that the one true God, the Christian God, the God of the Bible, is indeed a prayer-answering God. Yet, when pressed for similar stories from their own lives, Christians have few tales of the miraculous to share. Perhaps, then, as Evangelicals-turned-atheists have concluded, the Christian God must be on his smartphone talking, in the bathroom taking a shit, on vacation, or taking a nap. In other words, the Christian God doesn’t exist. An argument can perhaps be made for an indifferent deistic God; a deity who set everything in motion and said, there ya go, do with it what you will; a God who has no interest in what is happening on planet earth save helping Tim Tebow become a successful baseball player or telling Granny where her keys are. Christians, then, are left with looking for God in the gaps or life’s minutia. When it comes to lightning-level answered prayers, God is impotent and silent; so much so that surely Christians can’t fault atheists and agnostics when they say, prove your God exists. It is not enough to speak of an ancient man named Jesus being resurrected from the dead. There’s no evidence that such a claim is true. What’s needed is a supernatural resurrection of someone such as Abraham Lincoln or Gandhi. Does not the Bible say, nothing is too hard of God? If Elijah can demand the prophets of Baal put up or shut up, can atheists and other non-Christians not do the same? Hell, I would be happy if God just sent some quail and manna down from Heaven to feed people who are starving or use his miraculous powers to give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Miraculously curing cancer would be awesome too.

What we are left with, then, absent God actually miraculously answering prayers such as those pleading for God to kill me, is to hope that he will one day take the earplugs out of his ears and actually give a fuck about what is happening on planet earth. Unlike Christians, I am not hopeful that deliverance awaits around the next corner. I have concluded that a prayer-answering God only exists in the hopes of those who believe. Without this hope, of what value is Christian faith? Preachers keep spurring the faithful on, hoping that one day God will come through. That he hasn’t suggests to me that he is a myth.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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

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

Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell

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As your Chairman has told you, the subject about which I am going to speak to you tonight is ‘Why I am not a Christian’. Perhaps it would be as well, first of all, to try to make out what one means by the word ‘Christian’. It is used these days in a very loose sense by a great many people. Some people mean no more by it than a person who attempts to live a good life. In that sense I suppose there would be Christians in all sects and creeds; but I do not think that that is the proper sense of the word, if only because it would imply that all the people who are not Christians—all the Buddhists, Confucians, Mohammedans, and so on—are not trying to live a good life. I do not mean by a Christian any person who tries to live decently according to his lights. I think that you must have a certain amount of definite belief before you have a right to call yourself a Christian. The word does not have quite such a full-blooded meaning now as it had in the times of St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas. In those days, if a man said that he was a Christian it was known what he meant. You accepted a whole collection of creeds which were set out with great precision, and every single syllable of those creeds you believed with the whole strength of your convictions.

Audio version of Why I Am Not a Christian can be accessed below

WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN?

Nowadays it is not quite that. We have to be a little more vague in our meaning of Christianity. I think, however, that there are two different items which are quite essential to anybody calling himself a Christian. The first is one of a dogmatic nature—namely, that you must believe in God and immortality. If you do not believe in those two things, I do not think that you can properly call yourself a Christian. Then, further than that, as the name implies, you must have some kind of belief about Christ. The Mohammedans, for instance, also believe in God and in immortality, and yet they would not call themselves Christians. I think you must have at the very lowest the belief that Christ was, if not divine, at least the best and wisest of men. If you are not going to believe that much about Christ, I do not think you have any right to call yourself a Christian. Of course there is another sense which you find in Whitaker’s Almanack and in geography books, where the population of the world is said to be divided into Christians, Mohammedans, Buddhists, fetish worshippers, and so on; and in that sense we are all Christians. The geography books count us all in, but that is a purely geographical sense, which I suppose we can ignore. Therefore I take it that when I tell you why I am not a Christian I have to tell you two different things; first, why I do not believe in God and in immortality; and, secondly, why I do not think that Christ was the best and wisest of men, although I grant Him a very high degree of moral goodness.

But for the successful efforts of unbelievers in the past, I could not take so elastic a definition of Christianity as that. As I said before, in olden days it had a much more full-blooded sense. For instance, it concluded the belief in hell. Belief in eternal hell fire was an essential item of Christian belief until pretty recent times. In this country, as you know, it ceased to be an essential item because of a decision of the Privy Council, and from that decision the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York dissented; but in this country our religion is settled by Act of Parliament, and therefore the Privy Council was able to override Their Graces and hell was no longer necessary to a Christian. Consequently I shall not insist that a Christian must believe in hell.

THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

To come to this question of the existence of God, it is a large and serious question, and if I were to attempt to deal with it in any adequate manner I should have to keep you here until Kingdom Come, so that you will have to excuse me if I deal with it in a somewhat summary fashion. You know, of course, that the Catholic Church has laid it down as a dogma that the existence of God can be proved by the unaided reason. That is a somewhat curious dogma, but it is one of their dogmas. They had to introduce it because at one time the Freethinkers adopted the habit of saying that there were such and such arguments which mere reason might urge against the existence of God, but of course they knew as a matter of faith that God did exist. The arguments and the reasons were set out at great length, and the Catholic Church felt that they must stop it. Therefore they laid it down that the existence of God can be proved by the unaided reason, and they had to set up what they considered were arguments to prove it. There are, of course, a number of them, but I shall take only a few.

THE FIRST CAUSE ARGUMENT

Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the First Cause. (It is maintained that everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God). That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be. The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality it used to have; but, apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity. I may say that when I was a young man and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: ‘My father taught me that the question, “Who made me?” cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question, “Who made God?” ’ That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu’s view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, ‘How about the tortoise?’ the Indian said, ‘Suppose we change the subject.’ The argument is really no better than that. There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.

THE NATURAL LAW ARGUMENT

Then there is a very common argument from natural law. That was a favourite argument all through the eighteenth century, especially under the influence of Sir Isaac Newton and his cosmogony. People observed the planets going round the sun according to the law of gravitation, and they thought that God had given a behest to these planets to move in that particular fashion, and that was why they did so. That was, of course, a convenient and simple explanation that saved them the trouble of looking any further for explanations of the law of gravitation. Nowadays we explain the law of gravitation in a somewhat complicated fashion that Einstein has introduced. I do not propose to give you a lecture on the law of gravitation as interpreted by Einstein, because that again would take some time; at any rate, you no longer have the sort of natural law that you had in the Newtonian system, where, for some reason that nobody could understand, nature behaved in a uniform fashion. We now find that a great many things we thought were natural laws are really human conventions. You know that even in the remotest depths of stellar space there are still three feet to a yard. That is, no doubt, a very remarkable fact, but you would hardly call it a law of nature. And a great many things that have been regarded as laws of nature are of that kind. On the other hand, where you can get down to any knowledge of what atoms actually do, you will find they are much less subject to law than people thought, and that the laws at which you arrive are statistical averages of just the sort that would emerge from chance. There is, as we all know, a law that if you throw dice you will get double sixes only about once in thirty-six times, and we do not regard that as evidence that the fall of the dice is regulated by design; on the contrary, if the double sixes came every time we should think that there was design. The laws of nature are of that sort as regards a great many of them. They are statistical averages such as would emerge from the laws of chance; and that makes this whole business of natural law much less impressive than it formerly was. Quite apart from that, which represents the momentary state of science that may change tomorrow, the whole idea that natural laws imply a law-giver is due to a confusion between natural and human laws. Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which way you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and being a mere description of what they in fact do, you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing that there were you are then faced with the question, ‘Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?’ If you say that He did it simply from His own good pleasure, and without any reason, you then find that there is something which is not subject to law, and so your train of natural law is interrupted. If you say, as more orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues He had a reason for giving those laws rather than others—the reason, of course, being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to look at it—if there was a reason for the laws which God gave, then God Himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary. You have really a law outside and anterior to the divine edicts, and God does not serve your purpose, because He is not the ultimate lawgiver. In short, this whole argument about natural law no longer has anything like the strength that it used to have. I am travelling on in time in my review of the arguments. The arguments that are used for the existence of God change their character as time goes on. They were at first hard, intellectual arguments embodying certain quite definite fallacies. As we come to modern times they become less respectable intellectually and more and more affected by a kind of moralising vagueness.

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THE ARGUMENT FROM DESIGN

The next step in this process brings us to the argument from design. You all know the argument from design: everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to live in the world, and if the world was ever so little different we could not manage to live in it. That is the argument from design. It sometimes takes a rather curious form; for instance, it is argued that rabbits have white tails in order to be easy to shoot. I do not know how rabbits would view that application. It is an easy argument to parody. You all know Voltaire’s remark, that obviously the nose was designed to be such as to fit spectacles. That sort of parody has turned out to be not nearly so wide of the mark as it might have seemed in the eighteenth century, because since the time of Darwin we understand much better why living creatures are adapted to their environment. It is not that their environment was made to be suitable to them, but that they grew to be suitable to it, and that is the basis of adaptation. There is no evidence of design about it.

When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience has been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku-Klux-Klan or the Fascists? Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending—something dead, cold, and lifeless.

I am told that that sort of view is depressing, and people will sometimes tell you that if they believed that they would not be able to go on living. Do not believe it; it is all nonsense. Nobody really worries much about what is going to happen millions of years hence. Even if they think they are worrying much about that, they are really deceiving themselves. They are worried about something much more mundane, or it may merely be a bad digestion; but nobody is really seriously rendered unhappy by the thought of something that is going to happen to this world millions of years hence. Therefore, although it is of course a gloomy view to suppose that life will die out—at least I suppose we may say so, although sometimes when I contemplate the things that people do with their lives I think it is almost a consolation—it is not such as to render life miserable. It merely makes you turn your attention to other things.

THE MORAL ARGUMENTS FOR DEITY

Now we reach one stage further in what I shall call the intellectual descent that the Theists have made in their argumentations, and we come to what are called the moral arguments for the existence of God. You all know, of course, that there used to be in the old days three intellectual arguments for the existence of God, all of which were disposed of by Immanuel Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason; but no sooner had he disposed of those arguments than he invented a new one, a moral argument, and that quite convinced him. He was like many people: in intellectual matters he was sceptical, but in moral matters he believed implicitly in the maxims that he had imbibed at his mother’s knee. That illustrates what the psychoanalysts so much emphasise—the immensely stronger hold upon us that our very early associations have than those of later times.

Kant, as I say, invented a new moral argument for the existence of God, and that in varying forms was extremely popular during the nineteenth century. It has all sorts of forms. One form is to say that there would be no right or wrong unless God existed. I am not for the moment concerned with whether there is a difference between right and wrong, or whether there is not: that is another question. The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this situation: is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God Himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that He made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God. You could, of course, if you liked, say that there was a superior deity who gave orders to the God who made this world, or could take up the line that some of the gnostics took up—a line which I often thought was a very plausible one—that as a matter of fact this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for that, and I am not concerned to refute it.

THE ARGUMENT FOR THE REMEDYING OF INJUSTICE

Then there is another very curious form of moral argument, which is this: they say that the existence of God is required in order to bring justice into the world. In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying; but if you are going to have justice in the universe as a whole you have to suppose a future life to redress the balance of life here on earth. So they say that there must be a God, and there must be heaven and hell in order that in the long run there may be justice. That is a very curious argument. If you looked at the matter from a scientific point of view, you would say: ‘After all, I know only this world. I do not know about the rest of the universe, but so far as one can argue at all on probabilities one would say that probably this world is a fair sample, and if there is injustice here the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere also.’ Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue: ‘The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.’ You would say: ‘Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment’; and that is really what a scientific person would argue about the universe. He would say: ‘Here we find in this world a great deal of injustice and so far as that goes that is a reason for supposing that justice does not rule in the world; and therefore so far as it goes it affords a moral argument against deity and not in favour of one.’ Of course I know that the sort of intellectual arguments that I have been talking to you about are not what really moves people. What really moves people to believe in God is not any intellectual argument at all. Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, and that is the main reason.

Then I think that the next most powerful reason is the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you. That plays a very profound part in influencing people’s desire for a belief in God.

THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST

I now want to say a few words upon a topic which I often think is not quite sufficiently dealt with by Rationalists, and that is the question whether Christ was the best and the wisest of men. It is generally taken for granted that we shall all agree that that was so. I do not myself. I think that there are a good many points upon which I agree with Christ a great deal more than the professing Christians do. I do not know that I could go with Him all the way, but I could go with Him much farther than most professing Christians can. You will remember that He said: ‘Resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ That is not a new precept or a new principle. It was used by Lao-Tze and Buddha some five or six hundred years before Christ, but it is not a principle which as a matter of fact Christians accept. I have no doubt that the present Prime Minister,1 [footnote 1. Stanley Baldwin.] for instance, is a most sincere Christian, but I should not advise any of you to go and smite him on one cheek. I think you might find that he thought this text was intended in a figurative sense.

Then there is another point which I consider is excellent. You will remember that Christ said: ‘Judge not lest ye be judged.’ That principle I do not think you would find was popular in the law courts of Christian countries. I have known in my time quite a number of judges who were very earnest Christians, and they none of them felt that they were acting contrary to Christian principles in what they did. Then Christ says: ‘Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.’ That is a very good principle.

Your Chairman has reminded you that we are not here to talk politics, but I cannot help observing that the last general election was fought on the question of how desirable it was to turn away from him that would borrow of thee, so that one must assume that the Liberals and Conservatives of this country are composed of people who do not agree with the teaching of Christ, because they certainly did very emphatically turn away on that occasion.

Then there is one other maxim of Christ which I think has a great deal in it, but I do not find that it is very popular among some of our Christian friends. He says: ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor.’ That is a very excellent maxim, but, as I say, it is not much practised. All these, I think, are good maxims, although they are a little difficult to live up to. I do not profess to live up to them myself; but then after all, it is not quite the same thing as for a Christian.

DEFECTS IN CHRIST’S TEACHING

Having granted the excellence of these maxims, I come to certain points in which I do not believe that one can grant either the superlative wisdom or the superlative goodness of Christ as depicted in the Gospels; and here I may say that one is not concerned with the historical question. Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about Him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one. I am concerned with Christ as He appears in the Gospels, taking the Gospel narrative as it stands, and there one does find some things that do not seem to be very wise. For one thing, He certainly thought that His second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time. There are a great many texts that prove that. He says, for instance: ‘Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of Man be come.’ Then He says: ‘There are some standing here which shall not taste death till the Son of Man comes into His kingdom’; and there are a lot of places where it is quite clear that He believed that His second coming would happen during the lifetime of many then living. That was the belief of His earlier followers, and it was the basis of a good deal of His moral teaching. When He said, ‘Take no thought for the morrow,’ and things of that sort, it was very largely because He thought that the second coming was going to be very soon, and that all ordinary mundane affairs did not count. I have, as a matter of fact, known some Christians who did believe that the second coming was imminent. I knew a parson who frightened his congregation terribly by telling them that the second coming was very imminent indeed, but they were much consoled when they found that he was planting trees in his garden. The early Christians did really believe it, and they did abstain from such things as planting trees in their gardens, because they did accept from Christ the belief that the second coming was imminent. In that respect clearly He was not so wise as some other people have been, and he was certainly not superlatively wise.

THE MORAL PROBLEM

Then you come to moral questions. There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching—an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence. You do not, for instance, find that attitude in Socrates. You find him quite bland and urbane towards the people who would not listen to him; and it is, to my mind, far more worthy of a sage to take that line than to take the line of indignation. You probably all remember the sort of things that Socrates was saying when he was dying, and the sort of things that he generally did say to people who did not agree with him.

You will find that in the Gospels Christ said: ‘Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?’ That was said to people who did not like His preaching. It is not really to my mind quite the best tone, and there are a great many of these things about hell. There is, of course, the familiar text about the sin against the Holy Ghost: ‘Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world nor in the world of come.’ That text has caused an unspeakable amount of misery in the world, for all sorts of people have imagined that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and thought that it would not be forgiven them either in this world or in the world to come. I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of that sort into the world.

Then Christ says: ‘The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth’; and He goes on about the wailing and gnashing of teeth. It comes in one verse after another, and it is quite manifest to the reader that there is a certain pleasure in contemplating wailing and gnashing of teeth, or else it would not occur so often. Then you all, of course, remember about the sheep and the goats; how at the second coming to divide the sheep and the goats He is going to say to the goats: ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.’ He continues: ‘And these shall go away into everlasting fire.’ Then He says again: ‘If thy hand offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched; where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.’ He repeats that again and again also. I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty. It is a doctrine that put cruelty into the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture; and the Christ of the Gospels, if you could take Him as His chroniclers represent Him, would certainly have to be considered partly responsible for that.

There are other things of less importance. There is the instance of the Gadarene swine where it certainly was not very kind to the pigs to put the devils into them and make them rush down the hill to the sea. You must remember that He was omnipotent, and He could have made the devils simply go away; but He chooses to send them into the pigs. Then there is the curious story of the fig-tree, which always rather puzzled me. You remember what happened about the fig-tree. ‘He was hungry; and seeing a fig-tree afar off having leaves, He came if haply He might find anything thereon; and when He came to it He found nothing but leaves, for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it: “No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever,” . . . and Peter . . . saith unto Him: “Master, behold the fig-tree which thou cursedst is withered away”.’ This is a very curious story, because it was not the right time of year for figs, and you really could not blame the tree. I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to history. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above Him in those respects. s THE EMOTIONAL FACTOR

As I said before, I do not think that the real reason why people accept religion has anything to do with argumentation. They accept religion on emotional grounds. One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous. So I am told; I have not noticed it. You know, of course, the parody of that argument in Samuel Butler’s book, Erewhon Revisited. You will remember that in Erewhon there is a certain Higgs who arrives in a remote country, and after spending some time there he escapes from that country in a balloon. Twenty years later he comes back to that country and finds a new religion, in which he is worshipped under the name of the ‘Sun Child’, and it is said that he ascended into Heaven. He finds that the Feast of the Ascension is about to be celebrated, and he hears Professors Hanky and Panky say to each other that they never set eyes on the man Higgs, and they hope they never will; but they are the high priests of the religion of the Sun Child. He is very indignant, and he comes up to them, and he says: ‘I am going to expose all this humbug and tell the people of Erewhon that it was only I, the man Higgs, and I went up in a balloon.’ He was told: ‘You must not do that, because all the morals of this country are bound round this myth, and if they once know that you did not ascend into heaven they will all become wicked’; and so he is persuaded of that and he goes quietly away.

That is the idea—that we should all be wicked if we did not hold to the Christian religion. It seems to me that the people who have held to it have been for the most part extremely wicked. You find this curious fact, that the more intense has been the religion of any period and the more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs. In the so-called ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with its tortures; there were millions of unfortunate women burnt as witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practised upon all sorts of people in the name of religion.

You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step towards the diminution of war, every step towards better treatment of the coloured races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organised Churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organised in its Churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.

HOW THE CHURCHES HAVE RETARDED PROGRESS

You may think that I am going too far when I say that that is still so. I do not think that I am. Take one fact. You will bear with me if I mention it. It is not a pleasant fact, but the Churches compel one to mention facts that are not pleasant. Supposing that in this world that we live in today an inexperienced girl is married to a syphilitic man, in that case the Catholic Church says: ‘This is an indissoluble sacrament. You must stay together for life.’ And no steps of any sort must be taken by that woman to prevent herself from giving birth to syphilitic children. That is what the Catholic Church says. I say that that is fiendish cruelty, and nobody whose natural sympathies have not been warped by dogma, or whose moral nature was not absolutely dead to all sense of suffering, could maintain that it is right and proper that that state of things should continue.

That is only an example. There are a great many ways in which at the present moment the Church, by its insistence upon what it chooses to call morality, inflicts upon all sorts of people undeserved and unnecessary suffering. And of course, as we know, it is in its major part an opponent still of progress and of improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in the world, because it has chosen to label as morality a certain narrow set of rules of conduct which have nothing to do with human happiness; and when you say that this or that ought to be done because it would make for human happiness, they think that has nothing to do with the matter at all. ‘What has human happiness to do with morals? The object of morals is not to make people happy.’

FEAR THE FOUNDATION OF RELIGION

Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown, and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing—fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion has gone hand-in-hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things. In this world we can now begin a little to understand things, and a little to master them by help of science, which has forced its way step by step against the Christian religion, against the Churches, and against the opposition of all the old precepts. Science can help us to get over this craven fear in which mankind has lived for so many generations. Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look round for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a fit place to live in, instead of the sort of place that the churches in all these centuries have made it.

WHAT WE MUST DO

We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world—its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is, and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence, and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time towards a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.

— Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian, Watts & Company, for the Rationalist Press Association Limited, 1927

Why I Am Not a Christian Audio

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Who is Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872–1970) was a British philosopher, logician, essayist and social critic best known for his work in mathematical logic and analytic philosophy. His most influential contributions include his championing of logicism (the view that mathematics is in some important sense reducible to logic), his refining of Gottlob Frege’s predicate calculus (which still forms the basis of most contemporary systems of logic), his defense of neutral monism (the view that the world consists of just one type of substance which is neither exclusively mental nor exclusively physical), and his theories of definite descriptions, logical atomism and logical types.

Together with G.E. Moore, Russell is generally recognized as one of the main founders of modern analytic philosophy. His famous paradox, theory of types, and work with A.N. Whitehead on Principia Mathematica reinvigorated the study of logic throughout the twentieth century.

Over the course of a long career, Russell also made significant contributions to a broad range of other subjects, including ethics, politics, educational theory, the history of ideas and religious studies, cheerfully ignoring Hooke’s admonition to the Royal Society against “meddling with Divinity, Metaphysics, Moralls, Politicks, Grammar, Rhetorick, or Logick” (Kreisel 1973, 24). In addition, generations of general readers have benefited from his many popular writings on a wide variety of topics in both the humanities and the natural sciences. Like Voltaire, to whom he has been compared, he wrote with style and wit and had enormous influence.

After a life marked by controversy—including dismissals from both Trinity College, Cambridge, and City College, New York—Russell was awarded the Order of Merit in 1949 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. Noted also for his many spirited anti-nuclear protests and for his campaign against western involvement in the Vietnam War, Russell remained a prominent public figure until his death at the age of 97.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Songs of Sacrilege: Curse Your Branches by David Bazan

david bazan

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

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Curse Your Branches by David Bazan.

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Lyrics

[Verse 1]
Red and orange
Or red and yellow
In which of these do you believe?
If you’re not sure right now, please take a moment
Cause I’ll need your signature before you leave

When I sleep, I’m usually dreaming
But more and more, there’s only one
Where every hired gun I’ve ever fired
Is making love to you, while I look on

[Chorus]
All fallen leaves should curse their branches
For not letting them decide where they should fall
And not letting them refuse to fall at all

[Verse 2]
Digging up the root of my confusion
If no one planted it, how does it grow?
And why are some hellbent upon there being an answer
While some are quite content to answer “I don’t know”?

[Chorus]
All fallen leaves should curse their branches
For not letting them decide where they should fall
And not letting them refuse to fall at all