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Tag: Agnosticism

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.

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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.

Video Link

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

Nones, Dones, and Atheists

what is a none

Guest post by ObstacleChick

Recently, I have read blog post comments by people who describe themselves as former atheists who later turned to religion. Their description of the term “atheist” differs from what I think of when I use the term. Dictionary.com describes an atheist as “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.” So as to not employ the “No True Scotsman” fallacy with regard to people who purport to be atheists-turned-religionists, I thought it would be a good idea to research the similarities and differences among people who are “nones,” “dones,” and atheists. What I found helped me to understand these demographics a bit better.

“Nones” is the name given by pollsters to represent the growing number of people who report that they do not identify with any particular religion; people who are indifferent towards organized religion. This seems to be a broad category that consists of a variety of different groups. Some people identifying as “nones” were not raised in religion, or had limited exposure to religion, and thus do not identify strongly enough with any one religion to don a religious label. Other “nones” used to be active in a religion, but are no longer affiliated with any particular sect or congregation. Some of those who are no longer affiliated with a particular congregation consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious” while others say they do not believe in the supernatural. There are some “nones” like my brother, who refuses to be part of a church congregation but who is very devout, choosing to follow wherever he believes “the Holy Spirit” or some other deity leads him. (Honestly, I am not sure if my brother would identify as a “none.” It would depend on the wording of the question, as he refers to himself as “a follower of Christ.”) Agnostics and atheists are “nones” by nature, as they do not identify with a religion. While agnostics and atheists characterize themselves as “nones,” not all “nones” may be characterized as agnostics or atheists. As you can see, the moniker “nones” encompasses a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs regarding the supernatural or deities.

The “dones” are people who were once very involved in a religion but who have chosen to walk away. They are often referred to as being “unchurched” or “dechurched.” While many (like my brother) retain their faith, they no longer attend traditional religious services. Some “dones” are a subset of the “nones” to the degree that they do not consider themselves members of a congregation, but they may still identify with a religion to the extent that they did not lose their faith. As I am an atheist and my brother is a devout though unchurched Christian, I consider us to be polar opposites in the “done” category.

Not to be forgotten are agnostics and atheists. Agnostics and atheists would fall into the category of “nones” in that they do not express affiliation with a particular religion. Some agnostics and atheists may be atheists by default, having not been raised in a religious household — my kids fall into this category. My kids can offer reasons why they do not believe in a deity or deities, but they do not feel strongly either positively or negatively toward any religion. Some default agnostics and atheists may not possess strong reasons why they do not believe in deities other than the fact that they were not indoctrinated into believing in the supernatural; other agnostics and atheists not raised in a religion may have strong arguments as to why they are atheists. Some agnostics and atheists were raised in a religious household, and we became “dones” to the extent that we are finished with religion and then took it a step further by ceasing to believe in deities. Those of us who are “nones,” “dones,” and agnostics or atheists have often studies a great deal about our former religion’s claims as well as history, archaeology, biology, mythology, and so forth. We seek evidence that either supports or does not support religious claims, and we can generally give reasons to support our claims that deities do not or are likely not to exist. Some of us who are “nones,” “dones,” and agnostics or atheists feel strongly that certain sects of religion are harmful to members and to those that members themselves persecute outside their religion.

Do you consider yourself to be a “none”, a “done”, an agnostic or atheist, or perhaps some combination?

Questions: Bruce, If You Had It to Do All Over Again, Is There Anything You Would Do Differently?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Tony asked, “When looking back at the events when you revealed to your family and friends your loss of faith would you change any of the way you navigated that? If so, what and why?”

Come November, it will ten years since I left Christianity; ten years since I attended a public worship service; ten years since I prayed; ten years since I studied the Bible; ten years since I abandoned that which had been the hub, the center, the focus of my life.

In April 2009, I sent a letter to family, friends, and former parishioners. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners,

I have come to a place in life where I can no longer put off writing this letter. I have dreaded this day because I know what is likely to follow after certain people receive it. I have decided I can’t control how others will react to this letter, so it is far more important to clear the air and make sure everyone knows the facts about Bruce Gerencser.

I won’t bore you with a long, drawn out history of my life. I am sure each of you has an opinion about how I have lived my life and the decisions I have made. I also have an opinion about how I have lived my life and decisions I made. I am my own worst critic.

Religion, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life, from my youth up. My being is so intertwined with religion that the two are quite inseparable. My life has been shaped and molded by religion and religion touches virtually every fiber of my being.

I spent most of my adult life pastoring churches, preaching, and being involved in religious work to some degree or another. I pastored thousands of people over the years, preached thousands of sermons, and participated in, and led, thousands of worship services.

To say that the church was my life would be an understatement.  As I have come to see, the Church was actually my mistress, and my adulterous affair with her was at the expense of my wife, children, and my own self-worth.

Today, I am publicly announcing that the affair is over. My wife and children have known this for a long time, but now everyone will know.

The church robbed me of so much of my life and I have no intention of allowing her to have one more moment of my time. Life is too short. I am dying. We all are. I don’t want to waste what is left of my life chasing after things I now see to be vain and empty.

I have always been known as a reader, a student of the Bible. I have read thousands of books in my lifetime and the knowledge gained from my reading and studies has led me to some conclusions about religion, particularly the Fundamentalist, Evangelical religion that played such a prominent part in my life.

I can no longer wholeheartedly embrace the doctrines of the Evangelical, Fundamentalist faith. Particularly, I do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture nor do I accept as fact the common Evangelical belief of the inspiration of Scripture.

Coming to this conclusion has forced me to reevaluate many of the doctrines I have held as true over these many years. I have concluded that I have been misinformed, poorly taught, and sometimes lied to. I can no longer accept as true many of the doctrines I once believed.

I point the finger of blame at no one. I sincerely believed and taught the things that I did and many of the men who taught me were honorable teachers. I don’t blame those who have influenced me over the years, nor do I blame the authors of the many books I have read. Simply, it is what it is.

I have no time to invest in the blame game. I am where I am today for any number of reasons and I must embrace where I am and move forward.

In moving forward, I have stopped attending church. I have not attended a church service since November of 2008. I have no interest of desire in attending any church on a regular basis. This does not mean I will never attend a church service again, but it does mean, for NOW, I have no intention of attending church services.

I pastored for the last time in 2003. Almost six years have passed by. I have no intentions of ever pastoring again. When people ask me about this, I tell them I am retired. With the health problems that I have, it is quite easy to make an excuse for not pastoring, but the fact is I don’t want to pastor.

People continue to ask me “what do you believe?” Rather than inquiring about how my life is, the quality of that life, etc., they reduce my life to what I believe. Life becomes nothing more than a set of religious constructs. A good life becomes believing the right things.

I can tell you this…I believe God is…and that is the sum of my confession of faith.

A precursor to my religious views changing was a seismic shift in my political views. My political views were so entangled with Fundamentalist beliefs that when my political views began to shift, my Fundamentalist beliefs began to unravel.

I can better describe my political and social views than I can my religious ones. I am a committed progressive, liberal Democrat, with the emphasis being on the progressive and liberal. My evolving views on women, abortion, homosexuality, war, socialism, social justice, and the environment have led me to the progressive, liberal viewpoint.

I know some of you are sure to ask, what does your wife think of all of this? Quite surprisingly, she is in agreement with me on many of these things. Not all of them, but close enough that I can still see her standing here. Polly is no theologian, she is not trained in theology as I am. She loves to read fiction. I was able to get her to read Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus and she found the book to be quite an eye opener.

Polly is free to be whomever and whatever she wishes. If she wants to start attending the local Fundamentalist Baptist church she is free to do so, and even has my blessing. For now, she doesn’t.  She may never believe as I believe, but in my new way of thinking that is OK. I really don’t care what others think. Are you happy? Are you at peace? Are you living a good, productive life? Do you enjoy life? “Yes,” to these questions is good enough for me.

I have six children, three of whom are out on their own. For many years I was the spiritual patriarch of the family. Everyone looked to me for the answers. I feel somewhat burdened over my children. I feel as if I have left them out on their own with no protection. But, I know they have good minds and can think and reason for themselves. Whatever they decide about God, religion, politics, or American League baseball is fine with me.

All I ask of my wife and children is that they allow me the freedom to be myself, that they allow me to journey on in peace and love. Of course, I still love a rousing discussion about religion, the Bible, politics, etc. I want my family to know that they can talk to me about these things, and anything else for that matter, any time they wish.

Opinions are welcome. Debate is good. All done? Let’s go to the tavern and have a round on me. Life is about the journey, and I want my wife and children to be a part of my journey and I want to be a part of theirs.

One of the reasons for writing this letter is to put an end to the rumors and gossip about me. Did you know Bruce is/or is not_____________? Did you know Bruce believes____________? Did you know Bruce is a universalist, agnostic, atheist, liberal ___________?

For you who have been friends or former parishioners, I apologize to you if my change has unsettled you, or has caused you to question your own faith. That was never my intent.

The question is, what now?

Family and friends are not sure what to do with me.

I am still Bruce. I am still married. I am still your father, father in-law, grandfather, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, and son-in-law. I would expect you to love me as I am and treat me with respect.

  • Here is what I don’t want from you:
  • Attempts to show me the error of my way. Fact is, I have studied the Bible and read far more books than many of you. What do you really think you are going to show me that will be so powerful and unknown that it will cause me to return to the religion and politics of my past?
  • Constant reminders that you are praying for me. Please don’t think of me as unkind, but I don’t care that you are praying for me. I find no comfort, solace or strength from your prayers. Be my friend if you can, pray if you must, but leave the prayers in the closet. As long as God gets your prayer message, that will be sufficient.
  • Please don’t send me books, tracts, or magazines. You are wasting your time and money.
  • Invitations to attend your Church. The answer is NO. Please don’t ask. I used to attend Church for the sake of family but no longer. It is hypocritical for me to perform a religious act of worship just for the sake of family. I know how to find a Church if I am so inclined, after all I have visited more than 125 churches since 2003.
  • Offers of a church to pastor. It is not the lack of a church to pastor that has led me to where I am. If I would lie about what I believe, I could be pastoring again in a matter of weeks. I am not interested in ever pastoring a church again.
  • Threats about judgment and hell. I don’t believe in either, so your threats have no impact on me.
  • Phone calls. If you are my friend you know I don’t like talking on the phone. I have no interest in having a phone discussion about my religious or political views.

Here is what I do want from you:

I want you to unconditionally love me where I am and how I am.

That’s it.

Now I realize some (many) of you won’t be able to do that. My friendship, my familial relationship with you is cemented with the glue of Evangelical orthodoxy. Remove the Bible, God, and fidelity to a certain set of beliefs and there is no basis for a continued relationship.

I understand that. I want you to know I have appreciated and enjoyed our friendship over the years. I understand that you can not be my friend any more. I even understand you may have to publicly denounce me and warn others to stay away from me for fear of me contaminating them with my heresy. Do what you must. We had some wonderful times together and I will always remember those good times.

You are free from me if that is your wish.

I shall continue to journey on. I can’t stop. I must not stop.

Thank you for reading my letter.

Bruce

As you can see, when I wrote this letter I was still hanging on to the hope that there was a deistic God of some sort. By the fall of 2009, I had abandoned any pretense of belief and I embraced the atheist moniker. I hope readers today can sense my rawness and pain as I wrote those words a decade ago.

Writing this letter was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. I knew that my letter would cause some controversy, but I naively believed that the Christians in my life would understand and appreciate me being honest about where I was in life. The fallout was immediate. I received numerous angry, judgmental emails and letters. No one was interested in understanding my point of view. Instead, people told me I was under the control of Satan and I needed to immediately repent. A handful of people couldn’t wrap their minds around my new life, so they said I was mentally ill and needed help. One woman wrote and told me that my problem was that I was reading too many books. She advised me to only read the Bible, believing that if I did so all would be well and Pastor Bruce would return to the faith.

A close pastor friend of mine drove three plus hours from southern Ohio to pay me a visit. Afterwards, I wrote him a letter:

Dear Friend,

You got my letter.

I am certain that my letter troubled you and caused you to wonder what in the world was going on with Bruce.

You have been my friend since 1983. When I met you for the first time I was a young man pastoring a new Church in Somerset, Ohio. I remember you and your dear wife vividly because you put a 100.00 bill in the offering plate. Up to that point we had never seen a 100.00 bill in the offering plate.

And so our friendship began. You helped us buy our first Church bus (third picture below). You helped us buy our Church building (second picture below). In later years you gave my wife and me a generous gift to buy a mobile home. It was old, but we were grateful to have our own place to live in. You were a good friend.

Yet, our common bond was the Christianity we both held dear. I doubt you would have done any of the above for the local Methodist minister, whom we both thought was an apostate.

I baptized you and was privileged to be your pastor on and off over my 11 years in Somerset. You left several times because our doctrinal beliefs conflicted, you being an Arminian and I being a Calvinist.

One day you came to place where you believed God was leading you to abandon your life work, farming, and enter the ministry. I was thrilled for you. I also said to myself, “now Bill can really see what the ministry is all about!”

So you entered the ministry and you are now a pastor of a thriving fundamentalist Church. I am quite glad you found your place in life and are endeavoring to do what you believe is right. Of course, I would think the same of you if you were still farming.

You have often told me that much of what you know about the ministry I taught you. I suppose, to some degree or another, I must take credit for what you have become (whether I view it as good or bad).

Yesterday, you got into your Lincoln and drove three plus hours to see me. I wish you had called first. I had made up my mind to make up some excuse why I couldn’t see you, but since you came unannounced, I had no other option but to open and the door and warmly welcome you. Just like always…

I have never wanted to hurt you or cause you to lose your faith. I would rather you not know the truth about me than to hurt you in any way.

But your visit forced the issue. I had no choice.

Why did you come to my home? I know you came as my friend, but it seemed by the time our three-hour discussion ended our friendship had died and I was someone you needed to pray for, that I might be saved. After all, in your Arminian theology there can be no question that a person with beliefs such as mine has fallen from grace.

Do you know what troubled me the most? You didn’t shake my hand as you left. For 26 years we shook hands as we came and went. The significance of this is overwhelming. You can no longer give me the right hand of fellowship because we no longer have a common Christian faith.

Over the course of three hours you constantly reminded me of the what I used to preach, what I used to believe. I must tell you forthrightly that that Bruce is dead. He no longer exists, but in the memory of a distant past. Whatever good may have been done I am grateful, but I bear the scars and memories of much evil done in the name of Jesus. Whatever my intentions, I must bear the responsibility for what I did through my preaching, ministry style, etc.

You seem to think that if I just got back in the ministry everything would be fine. Evidently, I can not make you understand that the ministry is the problem. Even if I had any desire to re-enter the ministry, where would I go? What sect would take someone with such beliefs as mine? I ask you to come to terms with the fact that I will never be a pastor again. Does not the Bible teach that if a man desires the office of a bishop (pastor) he desires a good work? I have no desire for such an office. Whatever desire I had died in the rubble of my 25 plus year ministry.

We talked about many things didn’t we? But I wonder if you really heard me?

I told you my view on abortion, Barack Obama, the Bible, and the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ.

You told me that a Christian couldn’t hold such views. According to your worldview that is indeed true. I have stopped using the Christian label. I am content to be a seeker of truth, a man on a quest for answers. I now know I never will have all the answers. I am now content to live in the shadows of ambiguity and the unknown.

What I do know tells me life does not begin at conception, that Barack Obama is a far better President than George Bush, that the Bible is not inerrant or inspired, and that Jesus is not the only way to Heaven (if there is a Heaven at all).

This does not mean that I deny the historicity of Jesus or that I believe there is no God. I am an agnostic. While I reject the God of my past, it remains uncertain that I will reject God altogether. Perhaps…

In recent years you have told me that my incessant reading of books is the foundation of the problems I now face. Yes, I read a lot. Reading is a joy I revel in. I read quickly and I usually comprehend things quite easily (though I am finding science to be a much bigger challenge). Far from being the cause of my demise, books have opened up a world to me that I never knew existed. Reading has allowed me to see life in all its shades and complexities. I can no more stop reading than I can stop eating. The passion for knowledge and truth remain strong in my being. In fact, it is stronger now than it ever was in my days at Somerset Baptist Church.

I was also troubled by your suggestion that I not share my beliefs with anyone. You told me my beliefs could cause others to lose their faith! Is the Christian faith so tenuous that one man can cause others to lose their faith? Surely, the Holy Spirit is far more powerful than Bruce (even if I am Bruce Almighty).

I am aware of the fact that my apostasy has troubled some people. If Bruce can walk away from the faith…how can any of us stand? I have no answer for this line of thinking. I am but one man…shall I live in denial of what I believe? Shall I say nothing when I am asked of the hope that lies within me? Christians are implored to share their faith at all times. Are agnostics and atheists not allowed to have the same freedom?

I suspect the time has come that we part as friends. The glue that held us together is gone. We no longer have a common foundation for a mutual relationship. I can accept you as you are, but I know you can’t do the same for me. I MUST be reclaimed. I must be prayed for. The bloodhound of heaven must be unleashed on my soul.

Knowing all this, it is better for us to part company. I have many fond memories of the years we spent together. Let’s mutually remember the good times of the past and each continue down the path we have chosen.

Rarer than an ivory-billed woodpecker is a friendship that lasts a lifetime. 26 years is a good run.

Thanks for the memories.

Bruce

I saw my former friend a couple of years ago at the funeral of an ex-parishioner. The family had asked me to conduct the funeral. We traded pleasantries and went our separate ways. Whatever friendship we once had was gone.

Polly’s family — which included, at the time, three Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers, an IFB missionary, and an IFB evangelist — said nothing to me, but I heard all sorts of negative stuff through the family grapevine. One of the aforementioned preachers did contact me via email. We had an honest, friendly discussion; that is, until the family patriarch told him to stop talking to me. He, of course, complied. Polly’s parents (her dad is a retired IFB pastor) took the “we are praying for you” approach. To this day, her parents have never talked to us about why we left Christianity. I do know they have, in the past, read my blog.

I am often asked about how my children responded to my deconversion. Keep in mind that I was a pastor their entire lives. They spent thousands of hours in church. They also had a firsthand look at the ugly underbelly of Evangelical Christianity. Over the years, I have had varying degrees of discussion with my children about why I left Christianity. For a time, some of them were confused. Imagine your dad being a pastor your entire life, and then one day he says, “I am no longer a Christian!” For a time, some of my children didn’t know what to do with their new-found freedom. I was criticized for “cutting my children free.” I was told that this was cruel; that I should have provided them support and guidance. Perhaps. At the time, I wanted them to have the same freedom I had; the freedom to walk the path of life without Dad saying, “this is the path, walk this way.” I leave it to my children to tell their own stories. I can say this: none of them is Evangelical. And for this I am grateful. The curse has been broken.

What about Polly? As with my children, I can’t and won’t speak for Polly. She has a story to tell, and perhaps she will one day tell it. I can say that Polly and I walked together out the back door of the church, and neither of us believes in God. Our primary difference, of course, is that I am an outspoken Evangelical-turned-atheist, whereas Polly — consistent with her quiet, reserved nature — prefers to quietly live her life, keeping her thoughts about God and religion to herself.

Knowing all that I have written above (and countless other experiences I haven’t shared), if I had it to do all over again, would I do anything differently? I have often pondered this question. Was it wise to send everyone a letter? Should I have started blogging about my loss of faith? Should I have named names and used my real name in my writing?  I certainly can argue that I should have done none of those things; that by doing them I turned myself into a target; that by doing them I quickly and irrevocably destroyed numerous personal relationships. Would it have been better for me to die by a thousand cuts, or was it better to cut my jugular vein and get it over with?

The answer lies in the kind of person I am. I have always believed in being open and honest. I have never been good with keeping secrets. I love to talk; to share my story; to share my beliefs and opinions. In this regard, Polly and I are quite different from each other. I have always been outgoing and talkative, a perfect match for a vocation as a preacher. Leaving Christianity took me away from all I held dear, but I remained the same man I always was. This is why my counselor tells me that I am still a preacher; still a pastor. The only thing that’s changed is the message. I suspect he is right, and that’s why, if I had to do it all over again, I would have still written a letter to family, friends, and former parishioners. I would, however, have made a better effort at explaining myself to my children and extended family. I am not sure doing so would have made any difference, but it might have lessened some of the family stress and disconnect.

For readers inclined to follow in my steps, please read Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist. Don’t underestimate what might happen when you say to Christian family and friends, I am an atheist. Once you utter those words, you no longer control what happens next. In my case, I lost all of my friends save one. People I had been friends with for twenty and thirty years — gone.

Being a pastor was how I made a living. One thing I have learned is that being an atheist, disabled, and fifty to sixty years old renders one unemployable (I have had a few job offers over the past decade, but the physical demands of the jobs made employment impossible). Two years ago, I started a photography business. This has provided a little bit of income, for which I am grateful. Come June 2019, I will start receiving social security. This will hopefully alleviate some of the financial difficulties we’ve faced in recent years. I mention these things because I did not consider how being a very public atheist (and socialist) in a rural white Christian area would affect my ability to make a living. In recent years, I have met several local atheists who, for business and professional reasons, keep their godlessness to themselves. I don’t blame them for doing so. It is at this point alone that I pause and consider whether my chosen path out of Christianity was wise. Would things have been better for me had I kept my “light” to myself? Maybe. All I know is this: there are no do-overs in life, and all any of us can do is walk the path before us. I intend to keep telling my story until I run out of things to say. And people who know me are laughing, saying, “like that’s going to happen anytime soon!”

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.

Dear Bruce, Did You Feel “Sad” After Losing Your Belief in the Afterlife?

calvin and hobbes death

Recently, a reader sent me the following question:

My question is this: after you became an atheist, did you feel “sad” (using sad for a lack of a better word) with your new belief that there is no hope of the afterlife, specifically the hope to see deceased loved ones again?

This is an excellent question, one that I hope I can answer adequately and honestly.

Deconversion — the losing of one’s religious faith — brings with it all sorts of emotions. It’s not uncommon for Christians-turned-atheists/agnostics to feel a deep sense of loss. This is especially true for people who spent years in the Christian church. I spent almost fifty years in the Christian church. Twenty-five of those years were spent pastoring Evangelical churches. Christianity and the ministry were the sum of my existence. Yes, I had a beautiful wife and six wonderful children, but they were not as important to me as God and the work I believed he called me to do. My life was consumed day after day, week after week, year after year, with evangelizing the lost, preaching the Word of God, and ministering to the needs of congregants. I had a large network of ministry colleagues, and I was very close to my wife’s family, of whom three were Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastors, along with an evangelist and a missionary. From early morning to late at night, my life revolved around Jesus, the church, and the Bible. And then one day in November 2008, all of this was gone. Everything that gave my life purpose, meaning, and direction was gone. The men I counted as dear friends no longer spoke to me, and my wife’s family treated me as if I had some sort of dreaded disease. All I was left with, ironically, was all that really mattered: Polly, Jason, Nathan, Jaime, Bethany, Laura, Josiah and their spouses and children. It’s too bad that it took me much of my adult life to figure this out.

Ten years ago, I told family, friends, and former parishioners that I was no longer a Christian. For a time, I believed in the existence of some sort of deistic God, but over time I slid farther down the slippery slope of skepticism and reason until I realized that I was, in fact, an atheist (though technically I am an agnostic and an atheist). And once I realized I was an atheist, my next thought was, now what? (See Dear Family, Friends, and Former ParishionersDear Friend, and  the series From Evangelicalism to Atheism.)

I remember many a sleepless night after I deconverted, my mind filled with fear, doubt, and sadness. I wondered, Bruce, what if you are wrong? What if the Christian God really does exist? Man, you are so going to burn in Hell. I worried about my wife’s increasing agnosticism, concerned that God would hold me accountable for her loss of faith if I was wrong. I often had thoughts about death and the meaning of life. Having lost all my social connections, I often wondered if I would ever have friends again. And so, for months, my thoughts focused on what I had lost, and not what I had gained. I conversed with several Evangelical-turned-atheist acquaintances, telling them about my restless thoughts. I was told, give it time. Things will, I promise, get better. And sure enough, they were right. As months turned into years, thoughts about God vanished, and in their place came thoughts of making the most of what years I had left. I lamented the fact that I had wasted most of my life chasing a phantasm, pursuing promises that would never be fulfilled. But lamenting that which I lost did nothing for the present. I had before me a wide-open path upon which to walk. No God stood in my way. Where I took my life post-Jesus was all up to me.

These days, the only time I have thoughts about God is when I am writing a post for this blog. God is now, for me, an academic exercise, as is the Bible. I know I have been given a great responsibility to be a help to people who are trying to extricate themselves from the pernicious vice-like grip of Evangelical Christianity. I have received countless emails over the years from people who need help freeing themselves from Evangelicalism. Sometimes, people are so ensnared that it is hard to see for them a clear path to faithlessness that doesn’t first cause great heartache. I have wept over emails detailing marriages that ended in divorce over a husband or wife sharing with their spouse their loss of faith, only to be told, if you ask me to choose between you and Jesus, I am going to choose Jesus. I have also wept over stories from people who were ostracized by their families over their atheism/agnosticism; sons and daughters who were told they were no longer welcome in their parents’ home or no longer invited to family holiday gatherings.

Walking away from Evangelicalism and embracing atheism/agnosticism can be costly. (See Count the Cost Before You Say I Am an Atheist.) Not only a must new atheist face social and familial fall-out from the deconversion, he or she must also wrestle with the implications of new-found beliefs. One such wrestling match is the loss of belief in the afterlife. The power of Christianity rests in its ability to convince people that everyone is a sinner, there is life after death, and the church is the sole salesman of the ticket required to gain entrance into Heaven. Remove the afterlife from the equation — threats of Hell and promises of Heaven — and Christian churches would empty out overnight.

My Dad died at the age of forty-nine. Mom killed herself at age fifty-four. My Dad’s parents died in the early 1960s. My Mom’s dad died in the early 2000s — good riddance, and my favorite grandmother died in 1995. I dearly miss my parents and my one grandmother. I so wish I could, at this juncture in my life, sit down with them and talk about life, past and present. But wishing doesn’t change the fact that they are dead and I will never see them again. Polly’s parents are in their eighties. Every time the phone rings, we wonder, is this someone calling to tell us Mom or Dad is dead? I have a younger brother and sister, neither of whom is in good health.

I have my own battles with chronic pain and illness. I know that most of my life is in the rear-view mirror. Over the weekend, I was setting up a new LED studio light in my upstairs photography studio. Polly was helping me. As I was working on the light, I decided to sit in my wheelchair. I started to sit down, only to have the wheelchair kick out from under me. I hit the floor, much to Polly’s horror, with a big thud. Fortunately, I didn’t break anything, but days later I am still dealing with the physical consequences of my fall. Polly and I both know that death could come at any moment. Until October of last year, Polly was a picture of good health. That picture quickly changed one morning when Polly woke me up, telling me that her heart was beating really fast. I checked her blood pressure, and sure enough her resting pulse rate was 180. Off to the emergency room we went. Polly was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. If that wasn’t enough to deal with, three months later she developed a bleeding problem that required surgery.

In recent months, both of us have talked about losing the other, trying to imagine how life would be without the other one. We make jokes, of course, because that’s what Gerencsers do. It is though humor we embrace the reality that someday, be it tonight or twenty years from now, the ugly specter of death is going to come knocking at our door. As realists, we know that only in this life will we have each other. One day, our hearts will break as one of us says goodbye to the other. We know that we shall never see each other again; that the only things that will remain are the memories we have of one another.

So, to answer the question posed at the start of this post, yes, there are times I feel sad about the permanence of death. Who among us hasn’t had thoughts of what it will be like when the light of your life turns dark. Just the other day, I was thinking about death and how it brings an immediate cessation of life. I know, not a deep thought. But, it got me thinking about how much time I waste doing things that really don’t matter or have little value. If the battery in the clock of my life is slowly running out, what is it that I want to do with what life I have left? My death will certainly cause sadness for my family and friends, but if, while I am alive, I do all I can to love them and enter into their lives in meaningful ways, then perhaps their sadness will be lessened.

It’s impossible to escape sadness and heartache in this life. If atheism has taught me anything, it has taught me life can be harsh, cruel, and unfair. This site’s ABOUT page leaves readers with the following advice:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

I hope I have, to some degree, answered the aforementioned question. If you are an atheist or an agnostic, how do you deal with thoughts about the finality of death, and the sadness that comes when thinking about never seeing your loved ones again? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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.

“What’s the Point of Jesus Anyway?” by ObstacleChick

all about jesus

A guest post by ObstacleChick

A recent research survey from Barna Group shows that more members of Generation Z — people born 1999-2015 — than any other generation consider themselves to be atheist, agnostic, or non-religious. Fully thirty-five percent of Generation Z members self-identify as atheist, agnostic or non-religious. By comparison, thirty percent of millennials, thirty percent of Generation X, and twenty-six percent of Baby Boomers self-report within this group. Additionally, thirteen-percent of Generation Z respondents identify as atheist as opposed to seven percent of millennials.

Many have speculated as to why so many within the younger generations are abandoning identification with or the practice of religion, and there are many factors at play. With the widespread availability of internet access, media access, and social media, people are able to connect with others from a variety of backgrounds from around the world. Anyone with a smartphone can look up any information on demand. And interestingly, Generation Z are more savvy when it comes to understanding that much of what they see on social media is fantasy – there are filter apps, apps for changing one’s appearance, lighting, etc. As my eighteen-year-old daughter says, there is absolutely no reason anyone would post an unflattering picture of themselves on social media – you can make any photo, any selfie, look the way you want it to look. Many in this generation understand that nothing is as it seems and everything is about marketing.

I asked my kids what they and their friends think about religion. As background, I grew up in Tennessee in a Southern Baptist family and attended a fundamentalist evangelical Christian school from grades five through twelve. I was taught young earth creationism and was thoroughly indoctrinated with the fundamentalist evangelical doctrines of salvation (virgin birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus for our sins), inerrancy of the scriptures and literal truth of the Bible, original sin, and so forth. My husband was raised nominally Catholic, which means he was baptized as an infant, received first communion at age seven or eight, attended church sporadically (mostly on Christmas and Easter), sometimes gave up something for Lent, didn’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent, and didn’t know what kind of Christian he was when I asked him early in our relationship. His family members were raised Catholic, but many barely attend mass, and the millennial cousins don’t practice the religion at all. My husband and I attended a progressive Christian church until our kids were about seven and five years old, and other than the occasional funeral or friend’s bar or bat mitzvah, the kids haven’t attended a religious service since.

For geographical reference, we live in Bergen County, New Jersey, minutes from Manhattan. The school district that my kids attend is comprised of families from middle-class to wealthy socio-economic status. About thirty-five percent of the students are Asian (primarily Korean but also Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, and Indian). Most students identify as Caucasian, and there are a handful of Latino and African American students. There are enough Jewish families in our district that the schools close on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. My kids have a few classmates who are observant Muslim girls, choosing to wear the hijab. My kids know classmates who label themselves as Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Jains, Hindu, Sikh, Protestant Christians (primarily progressive), and non-religious.

My son was born in 2002 and is sixteen years old. I asked him what his thoughts were about religion. His response: “Honestly, I don’t think about it much. I don’t need religion or want it, I don’t have an interest in finding out more about it, and I can’t see how my life would be improved by it. I don’t believe in any gods. I don’t remember attending church when I was little, and I remember we attended some funerals and my friend’s bar mitzvah service. If you want to be a Muslim, or a Christian, or a Catholic, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist, you go for it and do you. Do it on your own terms, but I don’t need to be involved in it.” I asked him if people have asked him what his religion was, and he said yes. His response is, “We aren’t doing religion right now,” and he said they don’t ask him more about it. I asked him if he thought people tried to force their religion into politics, or if he thought they should or shouldn’t. He said, “I think some people try to force their religion on others because they can’t help it. They believe a certain way and they think other people should follow their ideas. They don’t understand what separation of church and state means even though we learn it in history class. They are so wrapped up in what they think is right and wrong that they try to get others to do things their way too.” I asked him if his friends practice religion regularly, and he said it varies. One friend’s family is devoutly Catholic and won’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent, but that doesn’t stop my son from ordering the most meat-laden meal at Taco Bell in front of his friend. As my son said, “His religious food rules are his issue, not mine.”

My eighteen-year-old daughter is taking an English course called World Mythology and Archetypes in Literature. I didn’t realize how little my kids knew about religious stories until one night my daughter said, “I just don’t get the point of Jesus. I mean, he’s dead, so what’s the big deal about him? I said so in class today, and several people agreed with me.” (I nearly fell out of my chair). I informed her that many Christians believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and now lives in heaven. She said, “Seriously? People actually believe that? I thought they knew that was just a story. So for the sake of argument, what does Jesus do now?” I told her that people pray to him for things – healing, to find a close parking spot, to get an A on a test. She said, “So if they’re praying to Jesus what is God doing? I thought people prayed to God.” I told her that some Christian sects believe in the trinity, that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are all God but separate too. She said, “That makes no sense. Is that like the three branches of government?” Another day she said, “Who is the dude who made everything bleed and then the frogs and flies came?” I almost choked on my tea at this description of Moses.

Bible stories do sound so ridiculous when explained from scratch to an unfamiliar audience. This is why religions work hard to indoctrinate and capture the four- to fourteen-year-old demographic. It is well known within the educational community that children’s critical analytical thinking skills and ability to understand abstract concepts are not developed until they reach their early teen years. That is why algebra is typically not taught before that age range, as children’s thought processes aren’t adequately developed. Therefore, it makes complete sense to indoctrinate children with religious concepts before they can analyze the concepts and make well-thought-out decisions.

But as Millennials, who are dropping out of religion, age and have children and do not introduce their children to religion, it is unlikely that those children will participate in religion. Proselytizing is not the most effective way to gain new religious members. Sure, religious groups may pick up a few new members in times of disaster (remember the increase in religious participation after 9/11) or through help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, but by and large people aren’t knocking on church doors asking to be let in. And I doubt that all those Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons who go around knocking on doors pick up very many members either.

Historically, people would remain throughout their lifetimes in the religion in which they were indoctrinated. I always thought that Catholicism was particularly brilliant with their concept of sacraments. The Church basically “owned” a person from cradle to grave. For centuries, the Catholic Church was the center of all village life, and it even controlled government. For one to be in good standing with the church, and thus in good standing with government, one needed to complete one’s sacraments and give money to the church. Whether one believed or not — and who knows, as most peasants were illiterate and masses were conducted in Latin — one was tied in to the community. But as things changed with the Reformation, with colonization of The New World, with the expansion of travel and technology, the church’s central role is rapidly diminishing in first world areas. The world in which my Generation Z children live is vastly different from the one my Baby Boomer parents inhabited. Very few of my Millennial family members and coworkers are raising their children in religion. Does that mean that religion is dying? One can hope . . .

On a side note, my kids don’t identify themselves as atheists. They just say they aren’t religious, or that they don’t practice a religion. My husband and I identify as agnostic atheists. While my children are atheists, they do not feel the need to label themselves as such. I don’t know if the difference is that my husband and I had a religious label at one point and feel the need to definitively differentiate ourselves from religion whereas our kids do not feel that need. What are your thoughts?

Losing My Religion by ObstacleChick

guest post

Guest Post  by ObstacleChick

Growing up in a small town on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee, I knew that the vast majority of people belonged to some sort of evangelical Christian church. Those who did not were considered the worst type of heathens, ready targets for “witnessing” about the “Good News” of the Gospel. As Southern Baptists, we attended Sunday School and church services on Sunday morning, Training Union and prayer service on Sunday evening, and prayer service (and youth group for teens) on Wednesday evening.

After my parents separated when I was 3 years old, my mom and I moved in with my maternal grandparents and my great-grandmother. My grandparents were extremely active in the church — Grandpa was a deacon and Grandma taught women’s Sunday school and Women’s Missionary Union classes during the week. Grandma spent a couple of hours each day studying the Bible, referring to her small library of Bible concordances, Bible history books, and books by prominent Christian writers. My mother, a rarity as a divorced single woman in the early 1970s in our community, had a hard time fitting in at church, but work and church were her only places to make friends.

As a small child, I was taught all the Bible stories in Sunday school. I always had a lot of questions. When I was 5 years old my mom said I pestered her with so many skeptical questions about Santa Claus that she finally admitted Santa was a made-up story for children but not to tell the other kids who still believed. I was very pleased with myself. The same thing happened with the Bible stories — I asked lots of questions: how was it possible for Jonah to breathe while he was in the belly of the whale? What did the animals eat when they were on the ark during the flood, especially the meat-eating animals, if there were only a pair of each animal? How could plants grow so fast after the flood for the bird to bring back an entire branch? How come there were giants like Goliath but there aren’t giants anymore? Why would God, who is supposed to be loving, ask Abraham to kill his son Isaac just to test his obedience? And why in the world would Isaac just lie down and allow himself to be killed? Why didn’t God like Cain’s offering of produce as a farmer but he liked Abel’s offering of animals as a shepherd – how is that fair? How could Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego possibly survive a fiery furnace? Finally, my mom admitted that some of those stories might just be allegories in order to teach lessons, but that I shouldn’t go around saying that at church. Again, I was pleased with myself.

Things may have turned out differently for me if I had not been sent to a fundamentalist evangelical Christian school. There was a rumor that students from our part of the town would be bused to a “bad” section of Nashville, so my grandparents and mom sent me to the Christian school for admission testing. I passed and was enrolled in 5th grade. I hated the dress code — girls had to wear skirts all the time, and skirts must be a certain length or one would be sent home to change. In the handbook, it stated that girls should dress as God made them — “feminine.” I despised that. My mom let me wear shorts under my skirt so I could hang upside down from the monkey bars at recess until a teacher told me that was inappropriate and I was no longer allowed to hang upside down from monkey bars. Boys could but apparently that behavior was unacceptable for girls. We were taught young earth creationism and required to take Bible class with a Bob Jones University curriculum. In middle school and high school, we had Bible class 3 days a week and chapel service 2 days a week. Sometimes it was possible to sneak notes into the Bible to study during chapel if the teachers didn’t see it. There was an annual week-long Bible Conference where guest preachers were brought in for an intensive “soulwinning” week. I’m pretty sure I was “saved” every year at Bible Conference for fear of hell.

There were a lot of rules at the school, some applicable outside school as well. Any student caught with tobacco or alcohol on or off school property would be expelled; pregnant girls were immediately expelled; being caught attending the local rollerskating rink would result in suspension. There were also the prejudices we learned from school — that certain Christian sects such as Catholics were not “real Christians”; that people who were not part of fundamentalist Christianity were apostates and in need of salvation; and of course, homosexuals were sinful and misguided people whom we must “turn” back to heterosexuality and to salvation.

I hated this school so much, but I didn’t feel I could tell my family because they were paying for it, and they were so convinced that it offered a superior education, taught values, and would provide an environment away from “bad influences” at public school. But teachers were underpaid and overworked, so the faculty had either been teaching there forever or left within a year or two. New teachers were required to have graduated from Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, or some other fundamentalist-approved school. Students were urged to attend those schools too (though they left me alone when I stated my goal to attend Vanderbilt University and had the test scores necessary to gain admission). To their credit, they did everything to help me with my application, and they never treated me differently intellectually for being female. I know, shouldn’t that be normal in the “real world”? Of course — but for fundamentalist Christians that was a big step.

Finally in college, I had my freedom. While I did join the Baptist Student Union and went to First Baptist Church Nashville the first 2 years, my church attendance waned. My first big shakeup was when I took a History of Christian Thought class. There I learned that the books of the Apocrypha were canonized scriptures. Canonized! How could Protestants have it both ways, stating that canonized Scriptures were inerrant and inspired by God, yet rejecting certain canonized Scriptures? I had always felt that fundamentalist Christianity was anti-intellectual and was embarrassed around my educated peers to admit that I was part of this branch of religion, but this information about the Apocrypha being canonized scriptures proved that the concept of inerrancy of Scripture was a lie.

After college I married a man who was raised nominally Catholic, and we attended progressive Christian churches. Even when he declared his agnosticism, he still liked the people at the church and continued attending. Then Chichen Itza happened.

Our kids were 7 and 5 when we went on a trip to Mexico and visited the ruins at Chichen Itza. We learned about the Mayan culture and about a special ball game in which the winner would be sacrificed to the gods to ensure good crops next season. There were other times when people were sacrificed to the gods, either to appease the gods or to ensure good weather/crops/etc. For some reason, this information hit me like a thunderbolt with the realization that the ancient Mayan religion and Christianity (and ancient Judaism) were no different with regard to blood sacrifice. The god(s) get angry, thus something has to die. This thought made me sick to my stomach. We were taught that somehow Christianity was different, that God is good and love, but no – God was no different from any other gods requiring a blood sacrifice for appeasement. I told my husband that I couldn’t go back to church, even though our progressive church focused primarily on teaching members to be good people and serving the community. I could not support any religion based on primitive blood sacrifice. For a decade I declared I was “taking a break from religion.” In reality, I wasn’t ready to admit that I might be an atheist, because I still felt strong aversion to the word. Atheists, I had been taught, had no values, had no moral compass, had no compassion, had nothing to live for … yet my husband eventually became an admitted atheist and he has some of the best values I have ever encountered. He cares about other people, he has purpose in life, and I am fortunate that he has shown me that an atheist can be an exemplary member of the human race without needing any “gods” in his life.

Inside, I was tormented with the concept of hell though. What if I was wrong? What if I had removed my children from church and any opportunity to be “saved”? What if I was single-handedly responsible for my children spending an eternity in hell? That thought nagged at me for years. I would push it away, but it came back again and again to haunt me. Yes, an educated, rational person who no longer believed the tenets of evangelical Christianity still had this fear. I started reading books by Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Christopher Hitchens, and other authors. My husband implored me to speak with a pastor friend whom we knew before I turned toward atheism. This puzzled me, but he said he wanted me to have a forum to speak with an educated Christian about my questions before walking away from the teachings of my upbringing. But for me, the door was closed. No amount of Christian apologetics could turn me around. I no longer feared hell, I no longer believed it existed, and I believed that the probability of a god or gods — especially the one depicted by Christians evangelical or otherwise – was near nil.

I haven’t “come out” to my Nashville family members or to my Catholic in-laws. I told one close friend from childhood who is a progressive Christian, and she didn’t seem surprised. Apparently, only about a quarter of our Christian school classmates remained in fundamentalism and most became progressive Christians. Any atheists have kept that information confidential.

My teen children are well-adjusted individuals with good values. I have asked them whether they are interested in pursuing any religions, and while they have friends from a variety of backgrounds – protestant Christian, Catholic Christian, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, no religion — they say they aren’t interested. They don’t even label themselves with regard to religion — my daughter was filling out the common application for college and asked me what she should put with regard to religion, and we settled on “none.” My kids aren’t afraid of hell, they don’t feel that they have to serve an invisible deity, yet they are kind humans who try to do the right thing and help others. Before my mom died a few years ago, she expressed that she hoped that all of her children and grandchildren would be “saved” before she died. I told her that we would all be fine. And they are saved — from the shame and fear inherent in fundamentalist Christianity.

Quote of the Day: Usefulness by Robert G. Ingersoll

robert g ingersollLet us be honest. Let us preserve the veracity of our souls. Let education commence in the cradle—in the lap of the loving mother. This is the first school. The teacher, the mother, should be absolutely honest.

The nursery should not be an asylum for lies.

Parents should be modest enough to be truthful, honest enough to admit their ignorance. Nothing should be taught as true that cannot be demonstrated.

Every child should be taught to doubt, to inquire, to demand reasons. Every soul should defend itself—should be on its guard against falsehood, deceit, and mistake, and should beware of all kinds of confidence men, including those in the pulpit.

Children should be taught to express their doubts—to demand reasons. The object of education should be to develop the brain, to quicken the senses. Every school should be a mental gymnasium. The child should be equipped for the battle of life.

Credulity, implicit obedience, are the virtues of slaves and the enslavers of the free. All should be taught that there is nothing too sacred to be investigated—too holy to be understood.

Each mind has the right to lift all curtains, withdraw all veils, scale all walls, explore all recesses, all heights, all depths for itself, in spite of church or priest, or creed or book.

The great volume of Nature should be open to all. None but the intelligent and honest can really read this book. Prejudice clouds and darkens every page. Hypocrisy reads and misquotes, and credulity accepts the quotation. Superstition cannot read a line or spell the shortest word. And yet this volume holds all knowledge, all truth, and is the only source of thought. Mental liberty means the right of all to read this book. Here the Pope and Peasant are equal. Each must read for himself—and each ought honestly and fearlessly to give to his fellow-men what he learns.

There is no authority in churches or priests—no authority in numbers or majorities. The only authority is Nature—the facts we know. Facts are the masters, the enemies of the ignorant, the servants and friends of the intelligent.

Ignorance is the mother of mystery and misery, of superstition and sorrow, of waste and want.

Intelligence is the only light. It enables us to keep the highway, to avoid the obstructions, and to take advantage of the forces of nature. It is the only lever capable of raising mankind. To develop the brain is to civilize the world. Intelligence reaves the heavens of winged and frightful monsters—drives ghosts and leering fiends from the darkness, and floods with light the dungeons of fear.

All should be taught that there is no evidence of the existence of the supernatural—that the man who bows before an idol of wood or stone is just as foolish as the one who prays to an imagined God,—that all worship has for its foundation the same mistake—the same ignorance, the same fear—that it is just as foolish to believe in a personal god as in a personal devil—just as foolish to believe in great ghosts as little ones.

So, all should be taught that the forces, the facts in Nature, cannot be controlled or changed by prayer or praise, by supplication, ceremony, or sacrifice; that there is no magic, no miracle; that force can be overcome only by force, and that the whole world is natural.

All should be taught that man must protect himself—that there is no power superior to Nature that cares for man—that Nature has neither pity nor hatred—that her forces act without the slightest regard for man—that she produces without intention and destroys without regret.

All should be taught that usefulness is the bud and flower and fruit of real religion. The popes and cardinals, the bishops, priests and parsons are all useless. They produce nothing. They live on the labor of others. They are parasites that feed on the frightened. They are vampires that suck the blood of honest toil. Every church is an organized beggar. Every one lives on alms—on alms collected by force and fear. Every orthodox church promises heaven and threatens hell, and these promises and threats are made for the sake of alms, for revenue. Every church cries: “Believe and give.”

A new era is dawning on the world. We are beginning to believe in the religion of usefulness.

The men who felled the forests, cultivated the earth, spanned the rivers with bridges of steel, built the railways and canals, the great ships, invented the locomotives and engines, supplying the countless wants of man; the men who invented the telegraphs and cables, and freighted the electric spark with thought and love; the men who invented the looms and spindles that clothe the world, the inventors of printing and the great presses that fill the earth with poetry, fiction and fact, that save and keep all knowledge for the children yet to be; the inventors of all the wonderful machines that deftly mould from wood and steel the things we use; the men who have explored the heavens and traced the orbits of the stars—who have read the story of the world in mountain range and billowed sea; the men who have lengthened life and conquered pain; the great philosophers and naturalists who have filled the world with light; the great poets whose thoughts have charmed the souls, the great painters and sculptors who have made the canvas speak, the marble live; the great orators who have swayed the world, the composers who have given their souls to sound, the captains of industry, the producers, the soldiers who have battled for the right, the vast host of useful men—these are our Christs, our apostles and our saints. The triumphs of science are our miracles. The books filled with the facts of Nature are our sacred scriptures, and the force that is in every atom and in every star—in everything that lives and grows and thinks, that hopes and suffers, is the only possible god.

The absolute we cannot know—beyond the horizon of the Natural we cannot go. All our duties are within our reach—all our obligations must be discharged here, in this world. Let us love and labor. Let us wait and work. Let us cultivate courage and cheerfulness—open our hearts to the good—our minds to the true. Let us live free lives. Let us hope that the future will bring peace and joy to all the children of men, and above all, let us preserve the veracity of our souls.

— Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899),  Why I am an Agnostic, Page 106, 107

HT: The Mendocino Humanist

Quote of the Day: The Myth of Immortality

clarence-darrow

There is, perhaps, no more striking example of the credulity of man than the widespread belief in immortality. This idea includes not only the belief that death is not the end of what we call life, but that personal identity involving memory persists beyond the grave. So determined is the ordinary individual to hold fast to this belief that, as a rule, he refuses to read or to think upon the subject lest it cast doubt upon his cherished dream. Of those who may chance to look at this contribution, many will do so with the determination not to be convinced, and will refuse even to consider the manifold reasons that might weaken their faith. I know that this is true, for I know the reluctance with which I long approach the subject in my firm determination not to give up my hope. Thus the myth will stand in the way of a sensible adjustment to facts.

Even many of those who claim to believe in immortality still tell themselves and others that neither side of the question is susceptible of proof. Just what can these hopeful ones believe that the word “proof” involves? The evidence against the persistence of personal consciousness is as strong as the evidence of gravitation, and much more obvious. It is as convincing and unassailable as the proof of the destruction of wood or coal by fire. If it is not certain that death ends personal identity and memory, then almost nothing that man accepts as true is susceptible of proof.

The beliefs of the race and as individuals are relics of the past. Without careful examination no one can begin to understand how many of man’s cherished opinions have no foundation in fact. The common experience of all men should teach them how easy it is to believe, what they wish to accept. Experienced psychologists know perfectly well that if they desire to convince a man of some idea, they must first make him want to believe it. There are so many hopes, so many strong yearnings and desires attached to the doctrine of immortality that it is practically impossible to create in any mind the wish to be mortal. Still, in spite of strong desires, millions of people are filled with doubts and fears that will not down. After all, is it not better to look to the question squarely in the face and find out whether we are harboring a delusion?

It is customary to speak of a “belief in immortality.” First, then let us see what is meant by the word “belief.” If I take a train in Chicago at noon, bound for New York, I believe I will reach that city the next morning. I believe it because I have been to New York, I have read about the city, I have known many other people who have been there, and their stories are not inconsistent with any known facts in my own experience. I have even examined the timetables and I know just how I will go and how long the trip will take. In other words when I board the train for New York, I believe I will reach that city because I have reason to believe it.

If, instead, I want to see Timbuktu or some other point on the globe where I have never been, or of which I had only heard, I still know something about geography, and if I did not I could find out about the place I wish to visit. Through the encyclopedia and other means of information, I could get a fair idea of the location and character of the country or city, the kind of people who live there and almost anything I wish to know, including the means of transportation and the time it would take to go and return. I already am satisfied that the earth is round, I know about it size. I know the extent of its land and water. I know the names of its countries; I know perfectly well that there are many places on its surface that I have never seen. I can easily satisfy myself as to whether there is any such place and how to get there, and what I shall do when I arrive.

But if I am told that next week I shall start on a trip to Goofville; that I shall not take my body with me; that I shall stay for all eternity: can I find a single fact connected with my journey — the way I shall go, the time of the journey, the country I shall reach, its location in space, the way I shall live there — or anything that would lead to irrational belief that I shall really make the trip? Have I ever known anyone who has made the journey and returned? If I am really to believe, I must try to get some information about all these important facts.

But people hesitate to ask questions about life after death. They do not for they know that only silence comes out of the eternal darkness of endless space. If people really believed in a beautiful, happy, glorious land waiting to receive them when they died; if they believed that their friends would be waiting to meet them; if they believed that all pain-and-suffering would be left behind: why should they live through weeks, months, and even years of pain and torture while I cancer eats its way through vital parts of the body? Why should one fight off death? Because he does not believe in any real sense; he only hopes. Everyone knows that there is no real evidence of any such state of bliss; so we are told not to search for proof. We are to accept through faith alone. But every thinking person knows that faith can only come through belief. Belief implies a condition of mind that accepts a certain idea. This condition can be brought about only by evidence. True, the evidence may be simply the unsupported statement of your grandmother, it may be wholly insufficient for reasoning men; but, good or bad, it must be enough for the believer or he could not believe.

Upon what evidence, then, are we asked to believe in immortality? There is no evidence. One is told to rely on faith, and no doubt this serves the purpose so long as one can believe blindly whatever he is told. But if there is no evidence upon which to build a positive belief in immortality, let us examine the other side of the question. Perhaps evidence can be found to support a positive conviction that immortality is a delusion.

….

All men recognize the hopelessness of finding any evidence that the individual will persist beyond the grave. As a last resort, we are told that it is better that the doctrine be believed even if it is not true. We are assured that without this faith, life is only desolation and despair. However that may be, it remains that many of the conclusions of logic are not pleasant to contemplate; so long as men think and feel, at least some of them will use their faculties as best they can. For if we are to believe things that are not true, who is to write our creed? Is it safe to leave it to any man or organization to pick out the errors that we must accept? The whole history of the world has answered this question in a way that cannot be mistaken.

And after all, is the belief in immortality necessary or even desirable for man? Millions of men and women have no such faith; they go on with their daily tasks and feel joy and sorrow without the lure of immortal life. The things that really affect the happiness of the individual are the matters of daily living. They are the companionship of friends, the games and contemplations. They are misunderstandings and cruel judgments, false friends and debts, poverty and disease. They are our joys in our living companions and our sorrows over those who die. Whatever our faith, we mainly live in the present — in the here and now. Those who hold the view that man is mortal are never troubled by metaphysical problems. At the end of the day’s labor we are glad to lose our consciousness and sleep; and intellectually, at least, we look forward to the long rest from the stresses and storms that are always incidental to existence.

When we fully understand the brevity of life, it’s fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the facts that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom: the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier as we journey on. It should bring us a closer kinship, a better understanding, and a deeper sympathy for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death.

Clarence Darrow, Why I Am an Agnostic and Other Essays, The Myth of the Soul

You can purchase Why I Am an Agnostic and Other Essays here.

No Matter How You “Spin” the Numbers, American Christian Church in Trouble

rise of the nones

The Pew Research Center released a report today that shows that American Christian churches continue to face member indifference and attendance loss:

Perhaps the most striking trend in American religion in recent years has been the growing percentage of adults who do not identify with a religious group. And the vast majority of these religious “nones” (78%) say they were raised as a member of a particular religion before shedding their religious identity in adulthood.

As part of a new survey connected to our broader Religious Landscape Study, we asked these people to explain, in their own words, why they no longer identify with a religious group. This resulted in hundreds of different responses (after all, everyone’s religious experience is a bit different), but many of them shared one of a few common themes.

About half of current religious “nones” who were raised in a religion (49%) indicate that a lack of belief led them to move away from religion. This includes many respondents who mention “science” as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings, including one who said “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.” Others reference “common sense,” “logic” or a “lack of evidence” – or simply say they do not believe in God.

But there are other reasons people give for leaving behind their childhood religion. One-in-five express an opposition to organized religion in general. This share includes some who do not like the hierarchical nature of religious groups, several people who think religion is too much like a business and others who mention clergy sexual abuse scandals as reasons for their stance.

One-in-ten religious “nones” who say they were raised with a religious affiliation are now classified as “inactive” religiously. These people may hold certain religious beliefs, but they are not currently taking part in religious practices. And most of them simply say they don’t go to church or engage in other religious rituals, while others say they are too busy for religion.

Religious “nones” are by no means monolithic. They can be broken down into three broad subgroups: self-identified atheists, those who call themselves agnostic and people who describe their religion as “nothing in particular.” Given these different outlooks, it is not surprising that there are major gaps among these three groups when it comes to why they left their childhood religion behind. An overwhelming majority of atheists who were raised in a religion (82%) say they simply do not believe, but this is true of a smaller share of agnostics (63%) and only 37% of those in the “nothing in particular” category.

What do you think American Christianity will look like in 2030? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

why people stop believing

reasons why people are unaffiliated

 

Bruce Gerencser