Tag Archive: Atheism

Dear Pastor Russ Dean, Let Me Explain to You Why so Many Atheists Are Angry

pastor russ dean

Pastor Russ Dean and Family (and dog)

Dear Pastor Dean,

You recently wrote the following for Baptist News Global:

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.

Bruce Gerencser

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.

Note

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.

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.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Liberals (Who are Mostly Atheists) Detest Happiness

mallory millettKate [Mallory Millett’s sister] announced her atheism very early on and the vacuum created sucked in even more corruption, lying, stealing, fury and domination of others. If God and the afterlife are abandoned then you’re going to be cranky, morose, generally angry, and it’s simple to toss out the Ten Commandments. I would venture that her mental instability created her affinity for the atheism of Marxism. To quote Dennis Prager: “My belief in God and the afterlife keeps me sane. The thought that just this life is all there is would mean that life is random and pointless. It means I will never again see those I love. This would drive me mad. I don’t see how it wouldn’t drive anyone mad who cares about suffering and who loves anyone. So, is there an afterlife? If there is a God, of course there’s an afterlife.”

Most everyone on the left is atheistic, depressed, dark and miserable, and they want us all to be miserable. Winston Churchill said, “Socialism results in the equal sharing of misery.” They detest happiness. Nothing makes them more miserable than another’s happiness. There is no more comedy! Since they swooped in and took over Hollywood and Broadway, everywhere you search for comic relief is dark, dark, dark. Surf through 200 TV channels and it is grim, grim, grim and then there’s a dismemberment. Our “entertainment” has become death, terror, horror and filth. Americans were funny people – funniest in the world after the Brits. First, they lost humor and then we followed. Tina Fey? Major funny-killer. Lena Dunham? A disgrace! Saturday Night Live? David Letterman? Kill me, just shoot me.

I love the term “Feminazi,” as these humorless women are, indeed, fascists, killers of faith and society. So many people think the rise of women and the evisceration of our culture are somehow coincidental. But it’s been calculated and deliberate. It’s the only way America can be “fundamentally transformed” into the Marxist test-tube to dazzle the world. It’s the result of HATE: hating God, hating life, hating society, hating men, hating babies, hating history, hating our fathers, hating our families, hating our white male Founders, hating happiness, hating heterosexuality, hating Western civ. Is this not madness?

— Mallory Millett, Front Page Magazine, My Sister Kate: The Destructive Feminist Legacy of Kate Millett, February 7, 2018

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheists are Pathological Liars, says Bruce Walker

bruce walkerAtheism is the slavish and simple-minded embrace of ignorance.  When people call themselves “atheists” today, what they really mean is Christophobes, people with an irrational hatred and fear of Christianity.  The arguments they make against Christianity are both bizarre and silly.

Consider first the macabre atheistic position that only stupid people believe in God (i.e., Christianity) [straw man argument that no thinking atheist makes].  Until the latter part of the 19th century, virtually all great scientists were extraordinarily devout Christians.  Indeed, the scientific method itself was created by Roger Bacon, a Franciscan friar.  Buridan, a priest, perfected the scientific principle of impetus and answered many questions about the revolving of our planet.  Ockham created the idea, the heart of modern science, that the most simplified explanation for phenomena ought to be considered the truest.

Science long was exclusively the province of devout Christians, and the greatest scientists, like Newton, Maxwell, and Kelvin, were also profoundly religious individuals whose faith was greater than that of most people of their time.  Even through the modern age, important scientists have been Christians.

The contrast with atheism is stark.  Until the modern age, there were virtually no atheist scientists worth mentioning [yet, many modern scientists are atheists, agnostics, or indifferent towards religion].  Atheism, instead, proved an obstacle to scientific thought.  Most prominent was the wiliness of atheists to lie.  Lacking any divine overseer to perceive and punish mendacity, virtually all atheists – Nazis, Soviets, Maoists, fascists and our indigenous atheists – have been willing to lie and to conceal if the subterfuge is deemed in the interest of a greater cause.

….

The pattern is clear: atheists are Christophobes who irrationally hate and fear Christians (and also religiously serious Jews) because they hate and fear the idea of a divine and perfect judge of our honor and virtue.  Atheists are the dead end of scientific inquiry and rigorous speculative theory because of their phobia.  They run from truth as they run from God [if God is chasing atheists, surely he can catch them].  They are profoundly unserious minds whom no one needs to heed.

— Bruce Walker, American Thinker, The Ignorance of Atheism, February 10, 2018

Walker, a chiropractor, lives in Perth, Australia and is on the faculty of Murdoch University.

Bruce, I Want to be Your Friend — Part Two

cant we be friends

Cartoon by Paco

If you have not done so, please read the previous post on this subject here.

After posting Bruce, I Want to be Your Friend Part One, I read a perfect illustration of what I was talking about in this post.

Writing for A Clear Lens — an Evangelical apologetics blog — Nate Sala wrote:

A lot of people in the Church seem to be asking the same question more and more these days: How do I talk to people about my faith in Christ? This is an excellent question to ask! Particularly considering the current climate of tribalism, whataboutism, and the outrage culture, how are Christians supposed to navigate often difficult conversations in order to get to the Gospel in the 21st century?

I’ve spent the last nine years formulating an effective method of communicating why Christianity is true; and a lot of this has been through trial and error. And I do mean, a lot of error! But now I see that the difficulty in sharing our faith with folks is not rooted in whatever is happening in the news or academia or political correctness or even atheist websites. I am convinced that the difficulty in sharing our faith stems from our having forgotten how to be in relationship with each other.

….

We need to stop making speeches and start making friends. Evangelism and apologetics is only as effective as the authentic relationship you have with folks. Let speeches be for political venues or TED Talks or even the pulpit. But for us, when we want to communicate to people about our faith, we need to begin with real relationship. That means asking questions to get to know people. In other words, treat your interactions with folks like you would a first date.

We all know (at least I hope we all do) the dos and donts of dating. Don’t dominate the conversation with long-winded speeches about yourself or your views. If you do that there won’t be a second date! Instead ask questions about your date in order to discover who they are and show them that you are genuinely interested in them. And then just listen carefully to what they say. This is no different when it comes to evangelistic or apologetic conversations. Don’t begin with an agenda where three steps later you’re asking someone to say the sinner’s prayer with you. Just start off by getting to know the person you’re talking to. Treat your interactions like a first date with an important person. And, when the person you’re speaking to feels comfortable, ask them about their faith. Let me say that again: When the person you’re speaking to feels comfortable, then ask them about their faith. As a matter of fact, J Warner Wallace has a great question you can ask them: What do you think happens after we die?

Friends, if you try to treat people like a checkmark on your agenda, you will come across as an inauthentic used-car salesman. Instead, if you treat your conversations like a first date with an important person, you will find the path to evangelism and apologetics so much easier!

Read carefully what Sala says: friendship is a tool to be used in evangelizing non-Christians. In other words, it’s friendship based on deception, not honesty. Imagine if Evangelical zealots were honest and said, look I want to be your friend, but I only want to do so because I see you as a hell-bound, sin-laden, enemy of the Evangelical God who is headed for hell unless you buy what I am selling. Why, I suspect most people would say fuck off. Few of us want friends who can’t love and accept us as we are, where we are. And don’t tell me Evangelicals love everyone, loving them so much that they just have to tell them the truth — JESUS SAVES! Who wants friends who see them as defective in some way; friends who view them as broken; friends who see them as purposeless and empty; friends who cannot and will not love them as is, without conditions?

Evangelicals feign friendship so they can evangelize. True friends, on the other hand, enjoy your company and accept that differences are what make each of us special. Evangelicals look to convert, adding more minds to the Borg collective. Conformity, not diversity is the goal. Doubt that this is so? Ask your new Evangelical “friend” if, after you get saved, you can continue having gay sex and continue working for Planned Parenthood. Ask him or her if you and your significant other can have your same-sex wedding at their church.  Ask if you, as a gay man, can teach Sunday school or work in the nursery. Absurd, right?

I have no doubt Sala and other Evangelicals will object to my characterizations of their intent. However, I spent a lifetime in Evangelicalism. I know how Evangelicals operate. I know what lurks behind their “friendliness.”  I know that they use friendship as a means to an end, much like foreplay before sexual intercourse. Evangelicals fondle and caress your emotions, hoping that you will spread your legs wide so they can penetrate you with their slick gospel presentations. No thanks.

For all I know, Nate Sala is a nice guy, as are many Evangelicals. I just wish they would all be honest about their intent when they lurk in the shadows hoping to befriend unwary “sinners.” While this might not generate as many club members, there will be no regrets come morning.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 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.

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.

Bruce, I Want to be Your Friend — Part One

cant we be friends

Cartoon by Paco

Several times a month I receive emails from Evangelicals wanting to be “friends” with me. These emails invariably say that the writer is Evangelical, but not like the Evangelicals I focus on in my writing. Often, these writers attempt to “hook” me by saying that they totally understand why, based on reading about my past experiences, I would walk away from the ministry and Christianity. They too, I am told, would have done the same. Usually, these emails are filled with compliments about my transparency, openness, and honesty. These Evangelicals promise me that their motives are pure, that they have no desire to try to win me back to Jesus. All they want is an opportunity to show me “true” Christian love and friendship.

I also get frequent Facebook friend requests from Evangelicals who, again, promise that they have no ulterior motive for friending me. Years ago, one such person friended me on Facebook. He knew everything about me, having read my blog and talked to his sister who was, at one time, a member of one of the churches I pastored. So, I friended him, thinking that maybe, just maybe, he was different from other Evangelicals. And for a while he was, but one day he became inflamed with righteous indignation over something I had written about Christianity. Our discussion quickly spun out of control, and the man unfriended me. He warned his sister about me, saying that I was satanic and Christians should avoid me lest I influence them with my demonic words.

These days, I simply do not respond to Evangelical friendship requests, be they via email or on social media. Last year, the president of a Christian college attempted to goad me into having lunch him by appealing to my desire for openness and understanding. This man told me that he just wanted to share a meal and hear my story. I told him, as I do anyone else who takes this approach, Look, I have written over two thousand blog posts. I have written extensively about my past and present life. If you really want to know about my life, READ!  If, after reading my writing, you have questions, email them to me and I will either answer them in an email or a blog post. Of course, this is not what these “friendly” Evangelicals want. They want a face-to-face meeting with me so they can probe my life, hoping to find that wrong beliefs led to my deconversion. Never mind that I have written numerous posts about my past beliefs. Everything someone could ever want to know about my life and beliefs can be found on this blog.

Perhaps the question these Evangelicals should ask is this: why would I want to be friends with you? What would a friendship with you bring to my life that I don’t already have? It’s not like I don’t have any friends. I do, and I am quite happy with the number of friends I have, both in the flesh and through the digital world. Not only that, but my wife of almost forty years is my best friend, and I am close with my six children and their families. I have all I need when it comes to human interaction. Why, then, would I want to be friends with Evangelicals who, as sure as I am sitting here, wants to evangelize me? Friendship Evangelism remains a tool churches and parachurch ministries use in their evangelistic efforts. Friendship becomes a pretext. The real goal is to see sinners saved. Promoters of Friendship Evangelism know that befriending people disarms them, making them more sensitive and receptive to whatever version of the Christian gospel they are promoting.

As long-time readers of this blog know, I am pretty good at stalking people on the internet and social media. I have learned that you can tell a lot about people just by looking at their Facebook wall, along with the groups they are a part of and the pages they like. Recently, a local man contacted me, offering to buy me dinner with no strings attached. What, no expectations of sex after the date? Consider me a doubter. I decided to check out the man’s Facebook profile. I found out that he voted for Donald Trump and supports most of the Evangelical hot-button issues. He opposes same-sex marriage and abortion. We have nothing in common socially or politically, Why, then, would I want to be friends with him?

Friendships are generally built around shared beliefs. I don’t have any interest in being friends with people who voted for Donald Trump or support political views I consider anti-human, racist, bigoted, and misogynistic. And I sure as hell don’t befriend people who root for Michigan. I have standards, you know? Seriously, most of us have friends who hold to beliefs similar to our own. We might have a handful of friends who differ with us, but we find ways to forge meaningful relationships with such people. I am friends with several Evangelicals, but the main reason I am is that our friendships date back to the days when we were walking the halls of Lincoln Elementary. We’ve agreed not to talk about religion or politics. We share many common connections that make such discussions unnecessary. I am sure they fear for my “soul” and pray that I would return to the fold, but these things are never voiced to me. If they did attempt to evangelize me, it would most certainly put an end to our friendship.

To the man, these friendly Evangelicals believe that my life is missing something — Jesus — and is empty, lacking meaning, purpose, and direction. In their minds, only Jesus can meet my needs. Without him, what is the point of living another day, right? In their minds, Jesus is the end-all. Why would I want to trade the life I now have for Jesus? What can Jesus — a dead man — possibly offer me? Well, Bruce, these Evangelicals say, Jesus offers you forgiveness of sins, escape from Hell, and eternal bliss in Heaven. Surely, you want to go to Heaven when you die? Actually, I am content with life in the present. Threats of hell or promises of Heaven have no effect on me. Both are empty promises.

Why would I ever want to be friends with someone who believes that, unless I believe as they do, their God is going to torture me in a lake filled with fire and brimstone for eternity? This same God – knowing that my present body would, in hell, sizzle like a hog on a spit – lovingly plans to fit me with a special fireproof body that will be able to feel the pain of being roasted alive without being turned into a puddle of grease. What an awesome God! No thanks. I have no interest in being friends with anyone who thinks that this what lies in the future for me. I can’t stop (nor do I want to) such people from reading my writing, but I sure as hell don’t want to “fellowship” with them over dinner at the local Applebee’s.

I would like to make one offer to Evangelicals who want to be friends with Atheist Bruce. Fine, let’s go to the strip club and have drinks, and let’s do it on All Male Revue Night. I’m not all that interested in seeing males strip, but I thought taking these Evangelicals to such a place would help them to see how I feel when they view my life as lacking (naked) and in need of clothing (Jesus).

My life is what it is. True friends accept me as I am, no strings attached. Evangelicals, of course, have a tough time doing that. In their minds, Jesus is the end-all, the answer to all that ails the human race. Life is empty without the awesome threesome — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I spent fifty years in the Christian church. For half of those years, I was preaching the Evangelical gospel. I was, according to all who knew me, a devoted, zealous follower of Jesus. Whatever my faults may have been (and they were many), I loved Jesus with all my heart, soul, and mind. Deciding to walk away from the ministry and Christianity were the two hardest decisions I have ever made. Yet, my life in virtually every way is better today than it was when I was a Christian. Quite frankly, Christianity has nothing to offer me. I am content (well, as content as a perfectionist with OCPD can be, anyway) with life as it now is. Sure, life isn’t perfect, but all in all, I can say I am blessed. Yes, blessed. I am grateful for my wife, six children, and eleven (soon to be twelve) grandchildren. I am grateful that I can, with all the health problems I have, still stand, walk, and enjoy my life as a photographer. The advice I offer up to people on my ABOUT page sums up my view of life:

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’d 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.

For me, the game of life is late in the fourth quarter. I must focus my attention and energy on relationships that are mutually beneficial, relationships that offer love, kindness, and acceptance. No Evangelical worth his or her salt can offer me such a relationship. Lurking below the surface will be thoughts about how much better my life could be with Jesus and thoughts of what will happen to me if I die without repenting of my sins. Evangelicals who really believe what the Bible says can’t leave me alone. They dare not stand before God to give an account of their lives, only to be reminded that, when given the opportunity to evangelize the atheist ex-preacher Bruce Gerencser, they said and did nothing. And it is for these reasons that I cannot and will not befriend Evangelicals.

Read Part Two here.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 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.

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.

Life in Rural Northwest Ohio: Committing Social Suicide

jesus-flag

Local home flying the team flag. Go TEAM JESUS!

I have spent most of my sixty years of life living in rural Ohio. I was born in Bryan, Ohio — a small community in Northwest Ohio. My dad’s parents immigrated to the United States from Hungary in the 1920s and settled down on a hundred acre farm a few miles south of Bryan. Dad and his siblings attended schools in the very district my wife and I now call home. We live in a small spot along State Highway 15. Ney, population 345, has two bars/restaurants and a convenience store/fast station. Dad graduated from Ney High School in 1954. I attended elementary school for several years west of here in the flashing-light, spot-in-the-road town called Farmer. Dad frequently moved us from town to town, unable, for some inexplicable reason, to pay the rent. It wasn’t until junior high that I got a taste of “big” city life.  For three and a half years, we lived in Findlay, the home of Marathon Oil. This allowed me to attend the same school for three straight years. I actually had the same friends from one school year to the next!

Divorce and Dad moving us to Arizona turned my happy world upside down. At age sixteen, I returned to Findlay for my eleventh-grade year. I then returned to Bryan to live with my mother. Lots of drama, including Mom being locked up in Toledo State Hospital, resulted in my siblings and me being uprooted and moved once again to Arizona. By then, I had dropped out of high school. In the fall of 1975, I moved back to Bryan and took a job working at a local grocery store. A year later, I left Bryan to attend classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I returned to Bryan three years later, pregnant wife in tow.

Polly and I spent much of our married life living in small, rural communities. The churches I pastored were, for the most part, attended by white, working-class people. In 1995, we moved back to the flatland of rural Northwest Ohio. I pastored two nearby churches, moving away from the area to pastor a church in rural Michigan, along with a move to Yuma, Arizona. In the end, like the proverbial bad penny, I seem to always make my way back to Northwest Ohio. In 2007, we bought our house in Ney. Our six children and eleven grandchildren (soon to be twelve) all live within twenty minutes of our home.

There are times when Polly and I yearn for the big city; for the anonymity that living in such places provide. But, we love our family, and when we bought our home, we committed ourselves to living here until death do us part. This is the place and people we call home. We love the slowness of life, and when we need a big city fix, Fort Wayne and Toledo are but an hour away.

I write all this to say that my roots run deep into the soil of rural Ohio. No matter how often I fled the scene, looking for excitement and diversity, I always seemed to come right back to where life started for me. Polly was a city girl, but forty years of country living have turned her into a small-town girl who has embraced the rural way of life. Would we live where we do if it weren’t for our children and grandchildren? Probably not. And the reason for this is simple. While both of us feel quite at home in rural Ohio, our beliefs have changed greatly over the past two decades. This change of thinking puts us at odds with most of our neighbors — politically, religiously, and socially.

Rural northwest Ohio is the land of God, Guns, and the Republican Party. Hundreds of conservative churches dot the landscape, and virtually every public office is held by a Republican. In Defiance County where I live, the Democratic Party has fielded two winners in the last decade, neither of whom is currently in office. Living here means that I must accept  the monoculture of my surroundings, a society where it is assumed that everyone thinks and believes the same way. Someone like me, a socialist/pacifist/atheist, is a rare bird. While I have met more than a few people with similar views (particularly young adults), there are no liberal/humanist/atheist/secular groups or meet-ups in rural Northwest Ohio. People who don’t fit the rural Ohio political and religious mold exist, but few are vocal about their liberalness and unbelief. Why? Doing so would be socially suicidal.

One of my sons and I were talking about this tonight — about how being an out-of-the closet unbeliever or liberal leads to social suicide. While I am often lauded for my outspokenness about local politics and religion, my position has come at a high cost socially. I have in the past pondered whether, if I had it to do all over again, I would have been so vocal early on about my atheistic beliefs. I know that my outspokenness (and my age and disability) has made me unemployable. I own a photography business. When locals are given a choice between an Evangelical photographer and me, guess what? They usually choose the God-fearing one (regardless of the quality of work).

Over the past fifteen months, I have made a concerted effort to, outside of this blog, to tone down my public pronouncements. At times, I feel guilty for doing so; feeling as if I am a sell-out or a hypocrite. Everyone should be able to be who and what they are, right? Sure, but small-town life demands at least some modicum of outward conformity to tribal political, religious, and social beliefs. Disobey and you will pay the price. And for my family in particular, I don’t want them being socially and economically punished for who their father is. Some of my children may agree with me, but their futures depend on them not committing social suicide. Rarely does a week or two go by without one of my children telling me that someone at work — a boss, fellow employee, or customer — was inquiring about whether they were related to me. My children have become experts at fielding such interrogations, knowing that they are always free to say, Hmm, Bruce Gerencser? Don’t know the guy.

ney ohio village limits sign

Ney Village Limit Sign, Slightly Altered.

I plan to live the remaining days and years of my life in Ney, Ohio. As a committed liberal and atheist — who also wants to get along and be accepted by his neighbors — I have to find ways to be true to self while at the same time not being ostracized by locals. Everything, unfortunately, comes down to money. My wife and I need to earn money to live. Earning money requires acceptance by local employers/customers. While it would be wonderful to be a street-corner atheist (and some locals think I am way too outspoken, even at presently muted levels), I have to live here, and being one would be social suicide. The violations of separation of church and state are so common is this area that the Freedom From Religion Foundation could spend the next year or so filing lawsuits against local government agencies, schools, and businesses. Yes, I find these violations of the law egregious, and the street-corner atheist in me wants to call out and condemn their sins. But, I can’t, for in doing so I would cause great social harm not only to myself but to my wife, children, and grandchildren. If I made $40,000 a year blogging, things would be different, but as things now stand, I must swim in waters infested with Evangelical/right-wing Republican sharks, and being a lone fish is sure to turn me into a snack.

I have much hope in the belief that things are slowly changing here in rural Northwest Ohio. Local millennials are not as religious as their parents, and they most certainly don’t hold to the moral and religious values of their grandparents. It is in these young adults that I see promise. It is unlikely that this area will ever be as liberal as the West or East coasts, but I am hoping that there is coming a day when it won’t be social suicide to say that I am a liberal, a socialist, and non-Christian.

For now, I must choose my battles carefully, hoping that I can safely navigate the dangerous waters of rural Ohio. I have seen progress on this front thanks to my high school basketball photography. I have talked to more locals in the past few months than in the last ten years combined. I want them to see me as a family man, as a decent, kind curmudgeon who also happens to take really good pictures. I know that Google is not my friend, but there nothing I can do about the stories she might tell if someone asks her about Bruce Gerencser. Just last week, one my children ran into several people their age who were once members of a local church I pastored. These young adults have heard the gossip about me and read up on me, thanks to the Internet, but they still can’t understand how it is possible that the man they once called pastor is now a heathen. What happened? they asked, desperately trying to figure out how I ended up where I am today. Lost on such people is the fact that I am, in many ways, the same man I was when I was their pastor. Sure, I am a political liberal and an atheist. But, personality-wise I am pretty much the same guy. I am still a down-home friendly man with a wry sense of humor. I am…Bruce. [My editor commented, Your closing raises some interesting questions. Are you the same guy? I think it is hard for you to claim that you are. Sure, you are still a decent, hard-working man, but you have done an about-face in regard to many of your core beliefs of your prior life.]

I would love to hear from readers who find it difficult to navigate the waters of their communities. Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Evangelicals Talk a Good Line When it Comes to Death, but Change Their Tune When They Are Dying

mark twain death

Evangelicals love to talk about heaven and the afterlife. They love to talk about the imminent return of Jesus and the rapture of all Christians from earth. They love to brag about being ready to go; about being ready to check out; about wanting to see Jesus face to face. Listen to enough Evangelical sermons and you’ll conclude that believers, much like the Apostle Paul, want to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. But let sickness, disease, or accident usher them to the front door of the great unknown, getting ready to leave, pulling out tomorrow, saying goodbye to all earthly sorrows, and Christians aren’t so much in a hurry to check out after all. It seems when theory becomes reality, Evangelicals are just like the rest of us — they don’t want to die. For all their talk about heaven and living eternally with Jesus, Evangelicals really aren’t certain about what lies beyond their last breath. Since no one — including Jesus — has ever come back from the dead to tell us what, if anything, lies beyond death, all Evangelicals have to go on is the Bible. And based on my six-decade involvement with Evangelicalism, I can safely say that Christians fear death just like atheists, agnostics, and everyone else they have consigned to the eternal flames of hell.

If Jesus, God, and Heaven are all Evangelicals says they are, shouldn’t they want to leave this rotten, vile, sinful world as soon as possible? If this life is to be endured as some sort of test from God, shouldn’t Evangelicals want to graduate as soon as possible so they can move into their mansions in the sky? Why do Evangelicals do all they can to hang on to life as long as possible? Is it perhaps possible that they know that, despite all their talk of the sweet by and by, deep down they crave life and want to hang onto it at all costs? I suspect this is the case.

I am convinced that there is nothing beyond death; that we only have one life and it will, all too soon, be in the past. It seems like yesterday that I was a youthful ministerial student at Midwestern Baptist College. In but a blink of an eye, forty-plus years have passed. I am now sixty years old and have been married almost forty years. My oldest son is almost forty and my oldest granddaughter is a junior in high school. My once-carrot-red hair is white and my joints are filled with arthritis. I’m plagued with memory problems, and ever so quickly I have become my grandparents. I have owned dozens of cars and lived in dozens of houses. I’ve seen eleven presidents elected and lived long enough to see modern technology transform the world. While I hope to live many more years, I know that most of my life is now in the rear-view mirror; ten years left if I live to age seventy, twenty if I live to eighty. Where have all the years gone? people of my age ask.

I hope when it comes time to die that I will face my convictions head on, that I will reject efforts to keep me alive. We currently have an extended family member who is on life support. He was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher for over fifty years. His body has shut down, yet his wife refuses to pull the plug. The snarky side of me says, why wait? Pull the plug. That way he will see Jesus and be ushered into his home in the sky. But the compassionate side of me gets it — his wife is not ready to let go; his children are not ready to let go. No one wants to face the prospect of sleeping alone or looking in the closet and seeing clothes that will never be worn again. None of us wants to face the emptiness and silence that comes when our significant others die. Who among us wants to lose their lover, friend, and confidant? I know I don’t.

Despite our protestations and acts of denial, when death comes knocking on the door, we can do nothing to keep ourselves alive. The curse of modern technology is that we can often put off the inevitable. But both the Christian and unbeliever must be brutally honest about life and death. Deny death’s reality all we want, it matters not. When it comes our time to die, we die.

Dylan Thomas was right when he said:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

While we can, let us rage against the dying light. But let us also be honest enough to embrace death. Death plays its part in what The Lion King called the circle of life. Being aware of our mortality is very much a part of what makes us human. Deny it all we want, death will still come knocking. Over the weekend, a fifty-nine-year-old local man died from a snowmobile accident. While he was snowmobiling on ice, a tree limb hit him in the head and killed him. I went to this man’s Facebook page to see what his last updates were about. He spoke of family, of grandchildren. I wonder if ,when he wrote about his grandchildren, he knew that would be the last status update that he would ever post; that but a few hours later he would be dead. I doubt it. Life is like that.

Are you ready to face death? What are your opinions about being kept on life support?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 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.

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.

Blessed, Thankful, and Grateful: Three Words I Refuse to Surrender to Christians

god is my strengthEvangelicals use all sorts of words to describe various aspects of their religion; words such as saved, faith, salvation, grace, redemption, and spirit, to name a few. When unbelievers use these words in other than Evangelical ways, Christians object, saying that these words are theirs; that they have specific meanings and no other meanings are permitted. Never mind what the dictionary says. These words must always be defined according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance.

Blessed, thankful, and grateful are three words that Evangelicals think belong only to them. However, I refuse to surrender these words to Fundamentalists. Every day, I am blessed, thankful, and grateful to be alive. I am blessed to be married to Polly, and I am double-blessed to have six wonderful children and eleven grandchildren. I am grateful my car started today, despite below-zero temperatures. I am thankful that I can still coherently and thoughtfully write for this blog. Every day I am above ground, I have much to be thankful for, all without the need of mentioning the name of the Christian God.

Therein lies the problem for Evangelicals. They cannot conceive a life of thankfulness and gratefulness without God. Why does the use of these words require a deity? Unlike the Alabama and Georgia football players last night who repeatedly gave God credit for their wins, I choose to express thankfulness and gratefulness to the people who actually do the work. When I sat down today to each a lunch of pork chops, roasted red potatoes, and Brussel sprouts, I didn’t bow my head and thank Jesus for the food. I thanked Polly, the person who labored in the kitchen to prepare this scrumptious meal. The car Polly takes to work wouldn’t start today, resulting in me doing a fair bit of cussing and complaining. Once I got that out of my system, Polly contacted our mechanic son and asked if he could get a battery and install it for us. He gladly said yes, even though at that moment he had four cars up on lifts at the shop and had been installing new batteries all day long. After working ten hours, our son came to our house and by flashlight installed a new battery. I am grateful that he had the skill and time to do it. Who did I thank for our son’s labor? The Christian God? Of course not. He’s never fixed a car for me — ever. I thanked Jaime for taking care of the old folks. He did the work and he alone deserves the praise.

When I use the word blessed, I don’t mean it the same way Evangelicals do. Christians wrongly think that all blessing comes from God. Countless Evangelicals grew up singing The Doxology:

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Told over and over that all blessings come from the God who supposedly has the whole world and itty, bitty babies in his hands, Evangelicals become confused when atheists such as myself tell them to have a blessed day or a blessed New Year. They often ask me blessed by whom. I reply that I used the word “blessed” to mean good or happy and that goodness and happiness do not require a God. Billions of good people walk the face of this earth who don’t know or worship the Evangelical God. Billions more live lives filled with love, joy, peace, and happiness, all without giving a tip of the cap to God.

Of course, Evangelicals turn to the Bible for proof that everything we have in life comes from the hands of the Christian God. Verse after verse tells them that it is God who gives the strength and ability to do what they do in life, and that without God they can do n-o-t-h-i-n-g. Of course, when a snarky atheist such as myself says, fine and asks does this mean that God is also responsible for all the bad that happens in the world? Evangelicals are quick to say, oh no, it is we humans who are totally responsible for bad behaviors — thus showing the inconsistency of their worldview.

We humans are responsible for most of what happens on planet earth. Good things and bad things alike flow from our minds and hands. Sure, there’s not much we can do about the weather, but outside of that we (or other humans) are pretty much in control of what happens in our lives. There’s no need for any of us to invoke the name of God. Give credit to whom credit is due, and do the same with blame. My children will tell you that one of the things I drilled into their heads was personal responsibility. YOU are responsible for your behavior. It is YOU who are in control of your actions.  My grandchildren are now “blessed” to get this same instruction from their grandfather. When one of them says, I can’t find my shoe/sock/coat/barrette/toy, they know I am going to say, who had it last? 

I hope you have been blessed by what I have written in this post. If you have, please express gratitude or thankfulness to whomever wrote it. If you think God typed this post, by all means, thank him. If, however, you are a person of reason and common sense, feel to thank the author and finisher of this awesome piece of prose — yours trulythe Pope of Ney, Ohio.

I hope each of you have a blessed day. Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I am grateful for your continued support. And just think, I wrote those three sentences sans God. I can’t think of one thing I have done today that required God. Blasphemy? Yep! My New Year’s resolution? Blaspheme more, giving all praise, honor, and glory to the gods of skepticism and reason.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 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.

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.

Christopher Hitchens, My Son and a Story

christopher hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

Guest post by Logan.  You can read his blog at Life After 40: Reflections on Life and Faith After 40.

I heard today that Christopher Hitchens died on this date [December 16] back in 2011. I was technically still a Christian at that time. But today, I am very grateful for the impact that Hitchens made on me, my oldest son and the world. He is missed.

With this being an anniversary of sorts, I thought I’d share a little story that involves Christopher Hitchens, my son and the start of my journey.

The year was 2009. I discovered that my oldest son had bought and read Hitchens’ book entitled God is Not Great. As a Christian, I was offended. “What!? How dare this man write a book with such a title!” I also certainly didn’t like the notion that “religion poisons everything”.

After discovering the book in my son’s room, I lightly skimmed it but I was literally too scared to seriously read it. I feared for my soul and the potential influence of the book.

So what did I do?

Using a poor attempt at humor, I printed up a fake book cover entitled “Atheism, And the Morons who believe it” with a fictional author name of “I.B. Wright”. I put the fake cover over a Scott Adams’ book (probably a Dilbert book).*

I wrote something stupid on the back page cover too, a feeble attempt to support my revised book title. I left my creative work in my son’s room for him to admire.

So what happened?

My son took a picture of my handiwork and posted it to the atheism group on reddit.

atheism morons who believe it

His post got over 1000 points, which in the Reddit world, is quite a lot. I didn’t know about the Reddit posting for quite a while, but after discovering it and reading through the comments, I was skewered. Severely. And rightly so.

The text I put on my back cover said: “In Mr. Wright’s latest book, I.B. shows that God is truly good and that through His son, Jesus, the world was rocked by a mere three years of ministry that culminated in Christ rising from the dead, which skeptics have been unable to disprove or rationally dispute.”

I look back on all of this with embarrassment. Unfortunately, indoctrination shuts off critical thinking, and I was very indoctrinated during my early years. I’m just grateful now that my son didn’t hide his change in beliefs and that eventually, I broke the spell. And as Christopher Hitchens said so well, religion poisons everything.

Tonight I will raise a glass to the late Hitchens.

* It was ironic for me to use a Scott Adams book since Mr. Adams is an atheist (which I didn’t realize at the time).

Charles Manson — Has Justice Been Served?

charles manson

Guest post by ObstacleChick

As many have heard, the famous 1960s cult leader Charles Manson died while serving a life sentence in prison. By all accounts, he was a charismatic, dictatorial cult leader whose followers murdered several people and created false “evidence” that the murders were perpetrated by African Americans in order to try to start a race war, after which (somehow) Charles Manson would rise victorious and lead after the chaos. While Charles Manson did not physically commit the murders – his followers did – he was deemed to have been the mastermind behind the crimes and was sentenced to death. When the state of California abolished the death penalty, Charles Manson’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison. Manson died at age 83 of natural causes.

I first heard of Manson’s death while checking my social media. One of my Christian friends posted a link to the story with her personal comment:

At long last, justice may be served to him, in death. I’m glad some of the victims’ loved ones are alive to know he no longer breathes, but will become dust, in a state of death, like his long-ago prey. I have a particular disgust for Manson, and the gruesome acts of his followers. He stole so many lives, including those of promising young people who joined his cult, and had their minds and souls hijacked. They are responsible, in the end, for their decisions, but, to an extent, were also victims. America lost part of its innocence in the Manson years, so I consider us all his victims. It may not be charitable to say so, but I am nearly always happy to hear when any despot or cult leader is dead.

Someone commented:

I believe he is now in hell and finally getting what he deserves.

Another commented:

He was Satan’s own. Now may he go back to where he belongs.

My first thought was, here we go with talk of heaven, hell, and divine justice again. My second thought was, wasn’t Charles Manson arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced, and imprisoned for life? Is that not what our society deems as justice?

As one who does not believe in supernatural beings nor in an afterlife, I look to my society’s law enforcement and justice systems to resolve issues involving crime. While no system is perfect, our society’s system works in many cases, and, because it is an evolving society, it is possible for changes to occur within our systems so that they function more efficiently and fairly. However, I realize now that while religious people also are provided the protections of society’s law enforcement and judicial systems, they are also looking to their deity to mete out further justice in an afterlife. Therefore, Charles Manson, for example, has served life in prison for his crimes, and now after his death the Christian God will cast him into eternity in hell where he will burn or rot, depending on one’s definition of hell.

My friend is a Christian, and presumably many commenting on her post are Christians too. I saw many comments corroborating the concept that “now Charles Manson is receiving justice in hell.” These comments caused me to consider the concept of justice. Do these nice Christian men and women really not consider earthly justice “real justice”? Is God’s eternal justice the only true justice? What if Charles Manson had “gotten saved” before his death? According to these Christians’ religion, Charles Manson would be afforded the same afterlife of eternity in heaven as all these nice Christian people who have not persuaded others to commit multiple acts of murder. If one were to ask these nice Christian people if that is “real justice,” what would their answer be? I daresay many would find themselves in quite the conundrum when pressed for an honest answer.

Let us consider a few aspects of Christian justice. My friend and presumably many of her friends believe in the concept of original sin and salvation. Each person by birth is a sinner; the wages of sin are death – eternal death in hell; the only way to escape eternal death in hell is to repent of one’s sin, accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Savior, and to be baptized into a new life of service to God/Jesus/Holy Spirit. Anyone may be saved – anyone – including Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and yes, Charles Manson – and anyone who is saved is granted the golden ticket to eternity in heaven. However, anyone who does NOT accept Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Savior will be condemned to eternity in hell. This includes Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Charles Manson, the young man in India who grew up Hindu, the old woman in Kuwait who grew up Muslim, the old man in China who grew up Buddhist, the middle-aged American woman who is an agnostic atheist. Each one deserves and is subject to the same fate: eternity in hell. Does that sound like justice? Adolf Hitler, who orchestrated a massive extermination enterprise, inhabits the same hell as the nice Muslim lady who was unfortunate enough to believe in the wrong type of deity and who never had the chance to hear about or accept the “correct” one?

It is also interesting to ponder the way Christians learn to overlay their beliefs about supernatural forces onto the natural world. They live in the world, but the world is also inhabited by angels and demons. A person who is “saved” is said to have Jesus living in his “heart.” An unsaved person may be possessed by demons or guided by demonic forces. A guardian angel may save someone from harm. Satan may tempt or guide someone to commit some horrific act. God may intervene to prevent a catastrophe. Christians live in a world where humans commit acts which may or may not be influenced by supernatural forces, where nature may or may not be changed by supernatural forces. There is a constant struggle going on around Christians at all times between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Many Christians believe that if they live a life in favor with God that He will save them from catastrophe, from the forces of evil, from evil acts perpetrated by humans (possibly under the influence of demons), unless He doesn’t physically save them from harm. When He doesn’t, then one must not question His Will, for we humans cannot fathom God’s divine plan.

I remember living in the world inhabited by angels and demons, God/Jesus/Holy Spirit and the Devil. As a child, I was terrified of the dark. No, not the dark, but by the monsters and demons that inhabit the dark. I was taught that monsters were not real, but that demons and the Devil were real and were eager to prey on the unsuspecting unsaved and ready to tempt the staunchest of believers. As a child I couldn’t discern the difference between fictitious monsters and real demons. We were living in a world surrounded by the forces of Good and Evil locked in a battle for our immortal souls. Then in the 1980s (my teenage years) came the whole Satanic scare in which everyone (Christians, that is) talked about Satanic rituals and kidnappings and sacrifices and pentagrams. All of us Christians were afraid, on alert to battle the forces of evil, while at the same time we were told that all we had to do to overcome demons and Satan was to demand in Jesus’ name that they leave, and that they must obey. Whenever I was scared of the dark, I used to pray that the demons and Devil leave in Jesus’ name. Then I felt better.

But we have adult Christians who weave their belief of supernatural forces into the acts of human beings. Believing that Charles Manson is under Satan’s control or perpetrating acts that are pleasing to Satan brings the concept of justice to a different level. While non-believers see Charles Manson as someone who chose to lead others to commit horrific murders, Christians see Charles Manson as a tool of Satan, perhaps inhabited by demons or at least under Satan’s control either through Manson’s free will or lack of free will. Non-believers see that Charles Manson was arrested by law enforcement officers, tried by a group of peers, sentenced by a judge, and served life in prison. Christians see this too, but they also anticipate judgment by God and eternity in hell as additional justice later, as if life in prison were not enough. And there is rejoicing among believers that finally Charles Manson will receive the justice he deserves.

I wanted to ask my friend’s commenters “what if Charles Manson had been saved before his death?” (It’s unlikely, as that turn of events would be too much for a pastor or chaplain to leave unannounced, either so he/she could receive credit or so that other unbelievers could be influenced to turn to the “truth” before it is too late, because, see, God is so great He can even forgive Charles Manson.) But I did not ask, mainly because this friend is one of the few from my evangelical past who knows that I am now an agnostic atheist, and I do not want to cause trouble for her amongst her crowd. But if Charles Manson had been saved before his death, should not good Christians rejoice in his repentance and his eternal glory in heaven with his Lord and Savior?

I imagine that by the convoluted system of Christian justice, those good Christians would say that yes, they rejoice in the power and mercy of God that he can even forgive the likes of Charles Manson. Conversely, they are glad to see that God, in all his glory as the almighty righteous judge, meted out eternal justice to Charles Manson as he never repented of his sins and accepted the saving grace of Jesus’ sacrifice. It just seems somehow inconsistent with the concept of goodness one associates with religion the glee that Christians were exhibiting over the death – no, the everlasting damnation in hell – of another human being.

I desperately wanted to engage in conversation on social media, but I refrained and wrote this post instead. In any case, Charles Manson served his life sentence and will never harm another person again, and for that we should be glad.

Quote of the Day: We Do Not Need The Forgiveness of God by Robert Ingersoll

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I do not believe in forgiveness as it is preached by the church. We do not need the forgiveness of God, but of each other and of ourselves. If I rob Mr. Smith and God forgives me, how does that help Smith? If I, by slander, cover some poor girl with the leprosy of some imputed crime, and she withers away like a blighted flower and afterward I get the forgiveness of God, how does that help her? If there is another world, we have got to settle with the people we have wronged in this. No bankrupt court there. Every cent must be paid.

Robert Ingersoll, What Must We Do to be Saved, 1880

Local Attorney Calls Me a Noted Flaming Liberal and I Feel Warm All Over

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Last week, I posted a letter I wrote to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News about black Defiance College football players kneeling for the National Anthem. My letter was published on Sunday.

Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Editor,

I write to lend my support to the Defiance College football players who have knelt during the playing of the national anthem. I commend them for their courage, knowing that most local residents oppose their actions. Their continued protest has brought calls for discipline, including expulsion from school. I commend college administrators and coaches for not bowing to public pressure to silence protest. These students, along with their counterparts in professional sports, need to be heard. Their protests have nothing to do with respect for the military or flag.

What lies behind their kneeling is inequality, injustice, and racism. While these issues might seem to locals to be the problems of urban areas, the truth is that we denizens of rural Northwest Ohio have our own problems related to these things. I recently participated in a forum discussion on racism in Northwest Ohio. Having lived most of my sixty years of life in this area, I can say with great certainty that we are not immune from charges of racism and injustice. We may hide it better, covering it with white, middle-class Christian respectability, but it exists, nonetheless.

Years ago, my family and I walked into a church towards the end of the adult Sunday school class. Teaching the class was a matronly white woman — a pillar of the church. She was telling the class that her grandson was not getting playing time on the college football team because blacks got all the playing time. She reminded me of a retired white school teacher I knew when I lived in Southeast Ohio. At the time, we had a black foster daughter. I had just started a new church in the area, and we were looking for a house to rent. This school teacher had a house available, so we agreed to rent it. When it came time to pick up the keys, she told us she decided to rent to someone else. We later learned that she said she wasn’t going to have a ni***r living in her house.

These stories are apt reminders of what lies underneath our country respectability. It is time we quit wrapping ourselves in the flag, pretending that racism, inequality, and injustice doesn’t exist. Our flag and anthem represent many things, but for many Americans, they represent oppression and denial of human rights; and it is for these reasons, among others, that players kneel.

Bruce Gerencser

Ney, Ohio

Many white locals have been in an uproar over the players not kneeling. In their minds, the players are disrespecting veterans and the flag — regurgitating Donald Trump’s lie. Never mind that the players say their protest is about inequality, injustice, and racism, locals know better. The faux outrage has reached hysterical levels on social media — especially on two local Facebook groups.

As is my custom, not wanting to waste my time trying to change the hearts and minds of people who already think they know everything, I stayed out of the discussions. One discussion, however, was so egregious that I decided to say my piece. Here are several screen shots of my short interaction with a local lawyer. Enjoy!

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