Yesterday, I received the following passive-aggressive email from an Evangelical man:
Why would anyone devote so much time and space in their coversations, writings and blogs to a Jesus which didn’t exist as evangelicals claim and to a heaven and hell which were man made? Thinking Jesus is real and he lives rent free in your head. After reading your stuff it seems you’re not free at all – you traded one bondage for another.. Your writing makes you seem bitter and angry… not how I’d like to spend my last days. Ex-Christians are the worst of all people. But hey… go enjoy another double cheese burger… Cheers!
This man read one post about Donald Trump Bible (that’s revealing), along with several other pages. He did not read any of my autobiographical writing. Yet, in just a few minutes, he learned all he needs to know about my life. Evidently, this man’s Bible is missing Proverbs 18:13:
He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.
Should I explain to this man that I am neither angry or bitter? Nah, I have done this repeatedly. Right now, I am sick. I mean really, really sick. I am trying to hang on until Friday when I will have procedures done that will hopefully find why I am having abdominal pain, bleeding internally, and have no appetite. I have pretty much stopped eating, and I weigh less today than I did in 1991. So, with all this going on in my life, I really don’t have time to be angry/bitter with God — which deity? — or self-righteous, arrogant Evangelicals. If I survive this ordeal, maybe I will feel well enough to tell Jesus to piss off.
Should I explain to this man that my objection is to modern religious beliefs and practices, and not the man Jesus? Nah, I have done this repeatedly. Why would I bother with a man who has been dead for 2,000 years, or bother with a deity that is a myth? No, my issue is with humans who, in the name of Jesus/God/Christianity/the Bible, psychologically and physically harm other people; who attempt to use their religious beliefs to control others.
The only bondage I am into these days is BDSM. Silly, I know. But hey, if I am in “bondage” . . . let me try something new. Bring on the whips and nipple clips.
And then there is the double cheeseburger comment. Evangelicals just can’t leave my weight alone, can they? This man must be jealous that I have such a svelte, sexy body and he doesn’t. And he must know about the notion that if you lose a lot of weight (100#) your penis gets bigger. Move on over John Holmes, Santa takes over first place in the Big Dick Standings! For the record, I don’t eat double meat on anything (I’m not gay), and I never put cheese on my hamburgers. I mean, NEVER!
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
For a couple years I’ve been having an intellectual battle with atheists. Not all of them, but the people I refer to as “evangelical atheists.” They are angry and passionate and just as religiously cocksure as the fundamentalist believers they despise.
Or maybe it’s all believers they despise. To them we are all weak-minded and superstitious and pathetically out of touch. If only we’d grow up. If only we’d get an education. If only we had a fraction of their intellectual depth, we would give up our tribal, backwoodsy notions of “God.”
As you can tell, I’m a little passionate about this.
I’m not so much offended by their insulting condescension — though it wouldn’t hurt them to be a little nicer — if only for tactical purposes. As we say in the South, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
More to the point, I’m disappointed by their argument against God. While purporting to be so intellectually superior, too many atheists take on only the worst of religion. If I positioned an argument against only 5th-grade science or against those scientists who had used their knowledge to master the atomic bomb or build Internet viruses or promote biological warfare, I could make a pretty good argument against the inanity and wickedness of science, too.
So it is either disingenuous to argue only against religious fundamentalism, or it’s embarrassing for such smart people to be so uninformed about the true variety and richness of religion. Too often atheists ignore the traditions of vigorous intellectual pursuit which can be found in the theological explorations of all of the world’s religions.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe in the same god many atheists don’t believe in!
Between these two disheartening poles, angry atheists on one hand and fundamentalist Christians on the other, it’s not the muddled mush of some middle ground I’m seeking — which makes staking a claim to “free and faithful” even more difficult.
I want to take a few moments to respond to some of the things you mention in your post about angry atheists.
American atheists tend to respond to the dominate religion of their culture — Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicalism dominates everything from state and federal governments all the way down to local school boards and city councils. Groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, American Humanists, and Americans for Separation of Church and State spend countless hours dealing with Evangelical breaches of the wall of separation between church and state. Often, these groups are forced to sue schools and governments to stop their violations of the U.S. Constitution. I live in rural Northwest Ohio, a place dominated by God, Guns, and Right-Wing Republican politics. The aforementioned groups could spend the next year here litigating church and state violations. Imagine, for a moment, being an atheist in such a place. Imagine having to sit and watch as Evangelicals trash the Constitution. Imagine not being able to find employment because many businesses don’t want to employ an atheist. Imagine a place where every officeholder is a Republican who loves Jesus, the Bible, and Friday night football. Imagine hearing of sermons where atheists are described as haters of God, child molesters, possessed by demons, and tools of Satan. Imagine being one of only a few atheists who are willing to push back against Evangelical zealots, standing in for others who fear loss of employment, family, and friends if they dare say they don’t believe. Imagine being forced to be a secret atheist lest it ruins your marriage. Imagine pretending to be a Christian and attending church so your spouse and family won’t question your beliefs and judge you harshly.
What I have described above is real life for many atheists. You might want to walk in their shoes before you slap the “angry” atheists label on them. I wonder, would you be angry if you had to live in denial of who and what you are? What if the shoe were on the other foot, and it were Christians who were treated in this manner. How would you respond then? You speak from a seat of privilege. While that privilege is increasingly being challenged, Christians still have the seat at the head of the table. Last fall, I attended a secular coffee house concert where a Christian musician started to tell a faith-based story. She paused for a moment, perhaps pondering the appropriateness of her evangelizing, and then said, well, we are all Christians here, right? I wanted to shout, HELL NO, WE ARE NOT ALL CHRISTIANS. Instead, I mumbled something to my wife and kept quiet. The musician’s statement reflects commonly held sentiment here in Northwest Ohio. I suspect the same could be said of the South and Midwest. Jesus is the king of the hill, and if you want to be fully embraced by your community you better at least pretend to be a Jesus Club® member.
You object to atheists responding to what you call the “worst of religion.” I assume that you think your version of Christianity is a better version, and perhaps it is. You and your church are progressive socially and politically. You have many beliefs that I admire. Yes, I said admire. I’m sure we could work together in turning back Donald Trump’s Evangelical followers as they attempt to establish a theocratic government. While I am not sure of your view of the culture war, I suspect on this front too we could find common ground to work together. I am pro-choice, yet I am more than willing to work with people of faith who object to abortion for moral reasons. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a Christian willing to accept my help. Instead, I am labelled a murderer who is worthy of death.
I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I grew up in the Independent Baptist/Evangelical church. I pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I even pastored a Southern Baptist church for a time (not a pleasant experience). I am quite conversant in Christian theology, in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Progressive Christians tend to paint themselves as different from Evangelicals. Often they are, but I have also found that if I dig a bit I will sometimes expose Evangelical beliefs at their core. For example, take the doctrine of eternal punishment. This is the one doctrine that many of my fellow atheists and I have a problem with. Not that we think there is Hell, but that there are Jesus-loving people who look at us and say, unless you believe as I do, unless you are saved by the Lord Jesus Christ, you will spend eternity in a lake of fire being tortured by God day and night. Worse yet, the God whom Evangelicals say loves everyone plans to give all non-Christians a new body after death so they can withstand endless burning and torture.
Whatever your beliefs might be, Pastor Dean, the only doctrine that really matters to me is whether you believe that I will spend eternity in Hell (or be annihilated) because I am an atheist; because I do not find the evidence for Christianity compelling. If you believe that, yes, I will spend eternity in Hell, then I have a hard time seeing you as a decent person. I am a kind, loving, thoughtful man. I’ve been married for forty years. I love my wife, six children, and eleven grandchildren. While I am far from perfect, I would be more than happy to compare good works with the best of God’s chosen ones. Yet, if there is a Hell, none of this matters. All that matters is that I have the “right” beliefs — as if Christians themselves even know what these right beliefs are. Belief in Hell, then, is the standard by which I judge Christians. If they believe only certain people will go to Heaven after death, then I have zero interest in being friends with them. Thinking your neighbor deserves to be tortured for wrong beliefs or human behaviors deemed “sinful” is offensive. Surely, you can see how atheists might become angry over Christians dismissing their lives in this manner. Granted, atheists aren’t worried about going to Hell because Hell doesn’t exist, but like most humans, we do desire to be well thought of by others. We very much want to part of the communities we live in.
Most of the atheists I know aren’t angry. They just want to live and let live. They want to live authentic lives filled with meaning and purpose (and not have Christians tell them there is no meaning and purpose in life without the Christian God). Unfortunately, literalism and certainty drive many Christians to evangelize anyone and everyone who doesn’t believe as they do, atheists included. Readers of this blog know that I am not an evangelist for atheism. I write about my past experiences as an Evangelical pastor. I also critique Evangelical Christianity, calling into question beliefs and practices they swear are straight from the mouth of God. I know Evangelicalism inside and out, and readers tend to trust my opinions. That said, I don’t care one way or the other if someone becomes an atheist. I consider any move away from Fundamentalism (and Evangelicalism is inherently Fundamentalist) a good thing. I view myself as a facilitator who helps people as they journey along the road of life. To use a worn-out cliché, it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.
My writing is widely read by religious and non-religious people, and it attracts legions of Evangelical zealots. These zealots call me names, attack my family, and even threaten me with death. These “loving” people of God are hateful and mean-spirited, some of them going so far as to attempt to hack my site or crash it with DDOS attacks. You see, Pastor Dean, your backyard has plenty of shit in it too. How about we both agree that angry Christians and angry atheists do not represent Christianity and atheists as a whole? How about we agree not to use social media as the measuring stick for determining the demeanor of Christians and atheists as a whole? I am sure that, like me, you can become angry. Anger is, after all, a human emotion. After leaving Christianity, I actually had to reconnect with my emotions. I had to learn that it was normal to be angry. What mattered is what I did with my anger. I spent fifty years dying to self/crucifying the flesh. The real me was swallowed up by Jesus and the ministry. It was refreshing, post-Jesus, to be human again. I am still in the process of reconnecting with the real Bruce Gerencser.
Rarely does a week go by where I don’t receive an email or a blog comment from Christians who think they can psychoanalyze me by reading a few blog posts. These mind readers just know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am bitter, angry, and hate God. No matter how much time I spend responding to them or explaining myself, they still heap judgment upon my head. Years ago, I told my counselor that I was perplexed by this treatment. Here I would share my journey and answer their questions and these followers of the thrice holy God would still heap judgment and condemnation upon me. Why? I wondered. My counselor laughed and told me, Bruce, you wrongly think they give a shit about what you believe. They don’t. He, of course, was right. Evangelicals, for the most part, aren’t interested in my story or what I believe. What matters is winning me back to Jesus. What matters is winning a victory for Team Jesus®. What matters is vanquishing the atheist preacher and his “followers.”
Perhaps, by now, Pastor Dean, you can sense and understand why I might be justifiably angry if I chose be. However, I choose not to be angry. Life is too short for me to spend it arguing with people who aren’t really interested in what I have to say. Let me concludes this post with the advice I give to everyone who stumbles upon my blog:
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.
Please feel free to contact me when you have a question about atheists and their beliefs. You and I are never going to agree on the God question and the veracity of Christianity, but we can both do our best to understand each other. When given the opportunity, I do my best to call out atheists when they wrongly represent Christian belief. Facts matter, and atheists should be factual in their representations of Christian belief and practice. I ask that you do the same. I am considered by more than a few atheists to be too friendly with religious people. Since most people worship some sort of deity, it would be foolish for me not to be friendly to people of faith. All I ask is that religious people grant me the same courtesy.
Be well, Pastor Dean.
P.S. I also could have written thousands of words about how I was treated by colleagues in the ministry and former congregants after they found out l left the ministry and left Christianity. Needless to say, these so-called men of God and sanctified church members revealed for all to see the ugliness and hate that lies just under the surface of Evangelical Christianity. I find myself asking, why in the hell would I ever want to be a Christian again? Why would I want to around people who treat people in such dehumanizing ways? Forget whether the Christian narrative is true. If Christians can’t be people of love, compassion, and peace, they have nothing to offer unbelievers.
Pastor Dean’s bio states:
Russ Dean is co-pastor of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. A native of Clinton, S.C., and a graduate of Furman University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he earned a D.Min. degree from Beeson Divinity School. He and his wife, Amy, have been in church ministry for 30 years, and they have served as co-pastors of Park Road since 2000. He is active in social justice ministries and interfaith dialogue, and when he isn’t writing sermons or posts for Baptist News Global you’ll find Russ in his shed doing wood working, playing jazz music, slalom or barefoot water skiing, hiking and camping, or watching his two teenage boys on the baseball field.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of almost 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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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Evangelicals-turned-atheists are often accused by Christian zealots of being angry and/or bitter. The goal is to dismiss the intellectual reasons people deconvert, painting former Evangelicals as emotionally damaged goods. By doing this, Evangelicals are free to say things such as, you are just mad at God or my all-time favorite, someone hurt you. Of course, this argument works both ways. Few Christian converts convert solely for intellectual reasons. I have heard hundreds of salvation testimonies, and every one of them had an emotional component. In fact, for some testifiers, that’s all their testimony had. I’ve even seen deader-than-dead Calvinists get a bit emotional when talking about the wonders of being chosen by God from before the foundation of the world.
Many Evangelicals-turned-atheists were devoted, on-fire, committed followers of Jesus Christ. They were, in every way, the bride of Christ. These former Evangelicals loved Jesus, often daily spending time praying, reading and studying the Bible, and sharing their faith. Thoroughly committed to God’s Kingdom, they liberally gave their time and money to their churches. Some of them went further still, answering the call of God to be pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and teachers. When critics question my devotion, I find myself thinking, would anyone live the way I lived if they didn’t really believe what they were selling? Of course not.
For many Evangelicals-turned-atheists, Jesus had seeped into every fiber of their being. The words that flowed from their mouths spoke often of Jesus and the wonders of his grace. Married to Jesus, they only had eyes for him. Satan and the world would sometimes cause them to stray, but these followers of Jesus were quick to seek forgiveness, knowing that sin marred their relationship with God. Their motto was only one life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last. Better to burn out than rust out for Jesus, they cried.
And yet, these followers of Jesus no longer believe. Instead of attempting to understand their stories, critics focus on their emotions. I have had hundreds of Christians tell me that I am angry, bitter, jaded, or hurt. For a long time, I refused to admit that emotions played a part in my deconversion. I wanted my decision to leave Christianity to be judged on an intellectual basis, not an emotional one. Through counseling, I was able to see that it was okay for me to be angry and bitter. It was okay for me to feel hurt by the words and actions of those who once considered me their friend, pastor, or colleague in the ministry.
Many Evangelicals-turned-atheists go through an angry phase. As these former servants of the Most High God reflect on their failed marriage to Jesus, they become angry over the time and money they spent chasing a lie. It is perfectly normal to feel this way. The same can be said for bitterness. As I reflect on the thirty-three years I spent preaching the gospel, I can’t help but be bitter as I think about the sacrifices made by my family and me for the sake of the “cause.” I gave up everything to follow Jesus, choosing poverty over wealth and deprivation over comfort. And now, I face the consequences of these choices.
The key, for me anyway, is to channel my emotions into my writing and helping people who are considering leaving Christianity or who have already left. If every blog post of mine was an angry rant against Christianity, atheist and Christian alike would soon tire of me and move on. If I spent all my time whining and complaining about how bad my life now is thanks to Christianity, why before long even my wife would stop reading.
My point is this: emotional responses to leaving Christianity are absolutely normal. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The key is what to do with those emotions. It’s not healthy to spend life angry and bitter. I met plenty of such people in the churches I pastored; bitter, angry, mean people who took out their “love” for Jesus on anyone who dared to cross them. Instead, let your emotions fuel your passion for a better tomorrow — one not dominated by ignorance and religious superstition. Start a blog, write a book. Do whatever YOU want to do. Now that you are freed from guilt-inducing Christianity, you are free to throw yourself into whatever floats your boat. Want to take your anger and channel it into being an atheist stripper named Darwina? Go ahead. The only person standing in your way is you!
And sometimes, just because you can, it is okay to tell overbearing, deaf, in-your-face Evangelicals to go fuck themselves. Then, kiss your significant other and say, Life is good!
Originally written in 2009. Edited for grammar and clarity.
Evangelical Christianity teaches that followers of Jesus must practice lives of self-denial. Self is the problem — the flesh wars against the spirit, the spirit wars against the flesh. Far too many Christians, thanks to this teaching, live guilt-ridden lives. Guilt over giving in to the flesh, guilt over letting self have control.
It goes something like this…
Anger is bad. Anger is a sin. Yet, anger is a common, normal human emotion. In fact, people who never get angry have either taken too much Zoloft or there is something seriously wrong with them. So Christians perpetually battle with anger, often becoming angry over being angry. They tell themselves the Holy Spirit lives inside of them. There are no reasons for them being angry. They need to get right with God. Prayers are uttered, sins forgiven, slates wiped clean. Dammit, why did that idiot cut me off in traffic? Can’t he see that makes me angry? Now I’ve sinned against God.
And like children on a merry-go-round, around and around go Evangelicals, from sin to forgiveness, sin to forgiveness, over, and over, and over again. Is it any wonder then, that many Christians live such conflicted lives?
Let me pose a question to my readers:
What if it all is a lie? What if the very premise of self-denial has no basis? What if envy, pride, lust, greed, anger, and the other venial and mortal sins are a normal part of the human experience? Perhaps self-denial is the problem and not the solution. The flesh, who we really are, is not evil. It just is.
Evangelicals profess to believe that God created everything, including the first two humans, Adam and Eve. The creator God gave to humankind emotions. Evidently, God thought emotions were a good, even necessary part of being human. But along comes Christianity with the beliefs of original sin and depravity. All people are inherently sinful, broken, and living lives without meaning, purpose, or direction. Unless people accept the sin “fix” of the blood of Jesus, they will live lives of desperation, ultimately dying in their sins and going to hell.
In accepting the sin “fix”, newly-minted Christians are expected to lay their lives at Jesus’ feet. They are told they must deny human nature, even going as far as to die to self. When Evangelicals get up in the morning and look in the mirror, the only face looking back at them should be the visage of Jesus. Yet, no matter how much they try, the only face they see in the morning is their own.
This is, of course, an impossible way to live. I have come to see that self-denial, at its basic level, is a lie. I can no more deny the emotions of self than I can survive without food and water. Certainly emotions can run wild and there is always the danger of extreme and excess, but denial is not the answer.
I spent most of my life suppressing who I really I am. Few people know the real me. The man they know is not who I really am. They only know the caricature. They know the façade.
As I attempt to find the real me there is some ugliness. A life of repressed emotions, a life of self-control, once freed from the constraints of Christianity, tends to be like a wild horse freed from a stock pen. Once free, the horse will never willingly return to its prison.
Maybe you are saying to yourself, I could never let my emotions have free reign. If I allowed my emotions to control me, I would certainly do terrible things. Are you sure? Or is that just what you have been told?
Evangelicals are taught that there is a slippery slope that must be avoided at all costs. The Bible says that Christians should avoid the very appearances of evil; that every thought, word and deed must be brought under control. The slippery slope argument goes like this: look at an attractive woman and say nice ass and you are on the path to becoming a rapist. If Evangelicals entertain anger in their hearts, according to the slippery slope theory, they are well on the way to becoming murderers. Many Evangelicals believe drinking alcohol is a sin. One drink and they are on their way to becoming alcoholics. Extreme? Sure, the Bible does say that Christians should pluck out their eyes or cut off their hands if they cause them to sin. Sounds pretty extreme to me.
Evangelical church members get a steady diet of sermons about the importance of denying the flesh. They are warned that if they give in to their desires, they are setting in motion things that will lead them to disaster. It is the same logic that suggests that watching violence on TV makes people violent, or that viewing porn turns men into sexual deviants. Countless hours are spent in therapy trying to undo such thinking.
Do some people who watch violent TV programs commit assault and murder others? Sure, a very small percentage pick up firearms and kill people. But the overwhelming majority of people can watch a horror flick without turning into Freddy Krueger. Do some men who look at pornography become child molesters or rapists? Sure, but again, most men can look at naked women on a computer screen and not turn into sex offenders.
Most of the ex-Evangelicals I have met through this blog have had to go through an extended period of reconnecting themselves with self. They have to relearn what it means to be human. They have to dredge up thoughts and emotions that have lain buried for years in the bottomless pit of repressive Evangelical faith.
The journey out of Evangelicalism is one of rediscovering who and what we are. This trek is exciting, frightful, ugly, and often contradictory, but it is honest and authentic. Shouldn’t that be the goal for all of us?
Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Ephesian 4:26
For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. James 1:20
Anger is a common human emotion. Each of us handles anger differently. Some of us are quick-tempered, others internalize anger, and some of us count to ten or use other control techniques. No matter how anger affects us or how we deal with it, we’ve all been angry at one time or another.
People who says they never get angry are not being honest. Either they have a faulty view of what constitutes anger or they have deceived themselves about their emotions. Everyone gets angry.
Seeing a counselor on a regular basis has helped me to see that anger is a normal part of being human. For most of my life, I thought anger was a sin. If I got angry about something or someone I was sinning against God.
Most Evangelicals believe that there are two types of anger, fleshly or worldly anger and righteous anger. According to the Evangelical, fleshly or worldly anger is a sin against God. Righteous anger, however, is an anger to be desired and cultivated. Righteous anger occurs when the Christian hates what God hates. Of course, it is the Christian who, through his or her interpretation of the Bible, determines what and who God hates. When homophobic Baptist preachers are confronted over their anger towards and hatred of homosexuals, they often play the righteous anger card. In their mind, they are just loving what God loves and hating what God hates.
I find it interesting that what God loves and hates matches exactly with what the Evangelical loves and hates. Witness the culture wars with their vitriol and hatred. Culture warriors routinely say that they are just a mouthpiece for God. I find it strange that God talks out of his ass. Evangelicals are angry about all sorts of things that supposedly an affront to God: sin, worldliness, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, Barack Obama, abortion, Obama, sexual immorality, illegals immigration, Starbucks coffee cups, Barack Obama, nudity on TV, programs that mock Christianity. As offended Evangelicals rise up and vehemently shout their opposition, they are certain they speak for God and that their anger is of the righteous variety. Non-Evangelicals just see angry, hateful, offended people.
Evangelical preachers have a natural outlet for their anger. They can get up in the pulpit and rail against virtually anything and anyone and call it righteous anger. The preacher becomes God in the flesh, because he hates what God hates. Witness the preaching that goes on in many Independent and Southern Baptist churches. The preacher screams, hollers, stomps, spits, and hits the pulpit as he preaches against anything and everything he considers sin. Since the preacher’s sin list is exactly the same as God’s list, his angry preaching is considered righteous anger. Again, Non-Evangelicals just see an angry, hateful, offended person.
I am a temperamental person. I have red hair. Everyone knows redheaded people have bad tempers, right? (Combine red hair with being a Baptist preacher; well that’s a perfect recipe for fireworks in the pulpit every Sunday.) As I entered the ministry, I learned that I had to “die to self.” i.e., I had to die to my anger. I had to suppress my anger at all times. Any display of anger was a sin against God. I learned quickly that perception is reality. If I wanted to be seen by others as a “man of God” or as a “Holy Spirit filled preacher” I had to keep my temper under control at all times. No matter what anyone did to me I had to grin and bear it. No matter what anyone said to me I had to always keep my temper in check. Above all, I had to maintain my testimony.
Some of the nastiest people I have ever met were in church. People who were constantly critical felt it their calling to remind me of my deficiencies and failures. I’ve been abused by more than a few Holy-Spirit-filled, Jesus-praising Christians. No matter what they said or what they did I was never allowed to show anger. And I was, to be sure, angry. Really angry. The anger was driven inward. When it bubbled to the top it usually made itself known to the people who I loved the most, my wife and children.
Behind closed doors I was allowed to be myself. I was allowed to be angry. Unfortunately, my anger was misplaced. Instead of being angry with that pompous ass of a deacon or the bitch who thinks she controls the church, I was angry with my family. I transferred my anger from the people who should have received it, and took it out on those I love.
Now that I am no longer a Christian or a preacher I am free to be human again. Those who deserve my anger get it. I no longer try to suppress my emotions. There are things that SHOULD make me angry. My counselor tells me that to not be angry is abnormal. I am now free to be angry. Cut me off in traffic and I’m likely to wave at you. Show disrespect to me or to my wife and I am likely to let you know what I think about your opprobrium. I no longer have to put up with people who feel their calling in life is to make others miserable,
It feels good to say to the cashier from hell, “do you normally treat everyone like shit?” It is refreshing to get angry with the refs when they blow a call and my team loses. It also feels absolutely wonderful to be able to express anger towards people like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump, and other right-wing zealots. Those who want to harm others deserve my anger, and now that Jesus is no longer looking over my shoulder, I’m free to pointedly say what I think about those who seem to think they are called in life to savage anyone who gets in their way.
I have found that anger has its place in my life. I’ve have also found that anger has its boundaries. If I want to practice mindfulness, I must learn to channel my anger into productive ventures. I’ve seen first-hand that living a life of constant anger will destroy a person, physically, emotionally, and mentally. But, so will trying to live as if anger doesn’t exist. I no longer concern myself with what God thinks. When anger is justified I allow myself to be angry. When it is not I try to realize it and act appropriately. My desire is to fully embrace my humanity.
What has been your experience with anger? For you who are no longer Christian, how have you dealt with anger now that there is no Bible prohibition to deal with? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.