A local Evangelical Christian recently put signs along the highway that said, Want the Truth? Read the Bible.
Evidently, he didn’t think an atheist photographer might be driving by and take a picture. Funny how other signs come into the picture that perhaps change the intended meaning of the sign. WRONG WAY.
Wrong way, indeed. Too bad I didn’t have a felt marker with me. I would have marked out THE BIBLE. Want the truth? READ. By all means, read the Bible. It is the best tool for turning a Christian into an atheist. But don’t stop there. Keep reading.
A recent video of an atheist chat session on the internet is a must watch for all Christians! Every pastor, Christian leader, homeschooler, teenager, Christian parent, and, in fact, all Christians need to see this video chat featuring a number of very intolerant atheists (and some are hateful and angry). In fact, watch it at your Bible study, youth group meeting, home group, home, and so on—you will hear for yourself some of the best practical illustrations of many passages of Scripture come to life, including Romans 1, 2 Peter 3, and many other passages of Scripture that refer to people who oppose Christians. This can be an excellent practical Bible study for you.
The atheist video is one of the best I’ve seen to illustrate atheists exhibiting the following traits:
Intolerance and arrogance
Hatred of biblical Christians
Hatred of the Bible
Wanting to control education and capture your kids’ hearts and minds
Fighting against freedom of religion
Wanting to close down or limit biblical, Christian homeschooling
Seeking to control what private organizations teach
Desiring to control what you teach at home
Claim Christians are scientifically ignorant but are themselves scientifically inept
Sanctimoniously determining morality for themselves
Attempting to shape the culture according to their anti-God beliefs
First, let me say I wish atheists/humanists/secularists would STOP putting out videos like the one mentioned by Ham. The video is poorly done, quite embarrassing, and certainly should not be taken as a representation of how all or many atheists, humanists, and secularists think.
Second, Ham is an expert at ginning up support for his conspiratorial ideas about atheists, humanists, and secularists. It is NOT in our best interest to give him things that he can easily manipulate to gain his desired objective.
Now to Ham’s delineation of what he thinks the atheist agenda is. My response is indented and in italics.(it may not appear this way on some mobile devices)
Intolerance and arrogance
Intolerance and arrogance are human traits and not specific to any group. There are lots of intolerant, arrogant Christians, Ham included. Besides, intolerance has its place. We should be intolerant of beliefs that deliberately promote ignorance; beliefs like the earth is 6,020 years old and that global warming is a myth.
Hatred of biblical Christians
I am sure that there are atheists who hate Christians. However, most atheists do not hate Christians. They hate their beliefs. They hate their attempts to promote ignorance. They hate their attempt to hijack the U.S. government and turn our secular state into a theocracy.
Hatred of the Bible
Hate the Bible? Really? Who in their right mind hates a book, an inanimate object? I HATE you, Moby Dick! This is a silly statement. What we DO hate is what Christians DO with the Bible,and that’s trying to force everyone to worship their God and obey its commands.
Ignorance of what? The Bible? Not a chance. I may be ignorant of many things, but ignorance of the Bible is not one of them. Ham mistakes disagreement for ignorance. He is also oblivious to the fact that many of us were raised in church and know the Bible inside and out. Some of us are even college or seminary trained former pastors. We are anything BUT ignorant.
Wanting to control education and capture your kids’ hearts and minds
If Ham is talking about public schools then the answer is yes. Public schools should be secular, tax-supported institutions. People like Ham, holding to ignorant, unscientific beliefs, have no business being anywhere near the public schools. If parents want to school their children in scientific ignorance they are free to home school them or send them to a private Christian school.
What’s extremism? In Ken Ham’s world, extremism is anything that differs from his narrow, peculiar beliefs. Besides, whose beliefs are extreme? Those who follow the path of science or those who get their science and history from a literalistic interpretation of an ancient text written by unknown authors thousands of years ago?
Fighting against freedom of religion
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
We are fighting against those who want to establish a theocracy. We are fighting against those who say the separation of church and state is a myth. Ham and all persons are free to worship God as they see fit as long as they stay on their side of the wall of separation of church and state. Want to drink poison and handle snakes as Mark 16 commands? By all means, go ahead. But, poison-drinking, snake-handling beliefs have no place in public schools or in official government policy.
Wanting to close down or limit biblical, Christian homeschooling
Limit, yes. Close down, no.
Home school teachers should be competent and society has a right to expect that every child receives a quality, comprehensive education. If home schoolers are willing to do this, I have no problem with home schooling. However, a number of states need to improve their home schooling and non-chartered private school laws. As it stands now, there is far too much latitude given to parents and private schools, and this often results in a poor, substandard education.
Seeking to control what private organizations teach
Again, we all have a vested interest in what children are taught. Our future depends on them receiving a quality, comprehensive education.
If he is talking about the Home School Convention, Answers in Genesis, or the Creation Museum, then yes they should be free to teach whatever they want as long as tax money is not being used to support these ignorant “teaching” endeavors.
Desiring to control what you teach at home
See above. Ham has repeated this point three times.
Claim Christians are scientifically ignorant, but are themselves scientifically inept
No, we don’t say Christians are scientifically ignorant. We DO say that young earth creationists are scientifically ignorant. Anyone who thinks the universe is 6,020 years old or thinks dinosaurs walked on the face of the earth at the same times humans did is scientifically ignorant. Every time science comes up with a new discovery that repudiates creationism, Ham fires up his IBM 286 computer, opens up Word Perfect for DOS, and writes a post disagreeing with the new discovery. He then posts it to the Answers in Genesis BBS. Wrong decade? Not in Ken Ham’s world.
Sanctimoniously determining morality for themselves
Duh, who else is going to determine what my morals are but me? Ham wants everyone to have his morals because he got his morals directly from God. If Christians all get their morals from God, why is it so many of them have differing moral views?
Attempting to shape the culture according to their anti-God beliefs
Guilty as charged with one caveat. I am trying to shape our culture with my humanistic beliefs, not atheism.
Usually, this line is used by a Christian trying to get me to see that they understand where I am on the God issue. However, when pressed, they usually reveal that they were not as atheistic as they claimed to be or they wrongly believed that not being a Christian means you are an atheist. Each of us were born into this world without any religious belief or moral framework. No one is born a Christian. This is the clear teaching of the Bible and every Christian denomination. To become a Christian, a person must commit to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. One must embrace the Christian gospel and profess a desire to follow Jesus. This profession of faith is different from sect to sect. Some require a person to be baptized, while others require the person be confirmed or make a public profession of faith.
These rituals do not take place in a religious vacuüm. The United States is predominantly Christian, so it should come as no surprise that most Americans embrace the Christianity of their family and culture. Religion is inherently tribal, as can clearly be shown by looking at what the dominant religion is in a particular place. There are historical, geographical, and sociological reasons why in a certain locale most people are a certain flavor of Christianity. For example, most of the Christians in the South are Evangelical and Baptist, while here in the North Methodists and mainline sects have a greater foothold. Even at the local level we see dominate sects, such as in nearby Archbold, Ohio where the Mennonite sect has numerous churches or parts of rural NW Ohio where Lutheran churches dominate the religious landscape.
The atheist-turned-Evangelical-Christian and I began life the same way, but our stories are very different from there. Like the Christian, I too became a follower of Jesus Christ. For almost 50 years I was a devoted follower of the Jesus, but at the age of 51, I left Christianity and embraced agnosticism, atheism, and humanism. This was an open, honest, and sincere intellectual choice of mine, unlike many people who are Christians because they grew up in the Christian faith, and not because of any intellectual choice of theirs.
Most of the Evangelicals who say they once were an atheist never made an open, honest and sincere intellectual choice to become an atheist. They were atheist by default, and at some point in their life they decided to become a follower of Jesus Christ, or their parents decided for them. They took off their atheist clothes and put on the robes of Jesus Christ’s righteousness. One day they were an atheist, the next day they were a Christian. This is not how the process worked for most of the atheists I know.
Many atheists were at one time like me, devoted followers of Jesus. Our deconversion wasn’t a matter of taking off the righteousness of Christ and putting on shirt with a scarlet A. Most of us spent months and years reading and studying before we concluded that the claims of Christianity are not true and that the Christian God is a fiction. For some atheists, due to family and social pressure, they spent decades in the atheist closet, unwilling or unable to declare their godlessness.
While I can point to a definite place and time on the last Sunday of November in 2008 when I dared to say out loud I no longer believe, I spent years getting to this point. My journey took me from the strict fundamentalism of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement through Calvinism and generic Evangelicalism to emergent Christianity and liberalism, and on to univeralism, agnosticism, and atheism. Every step along this path was laden with emotional and mental anguish. The hardest decision I’ve ever made came at the moment when I was willing to say that no longer believed. Making this decision meant I was saying that my previous life as a Christian was based on a lie.
So, I say this to Evangelicals who say they once were atheist. Yes, you may have been an atheist, but you were not an atheist like me. Until you can show me that you have done your homework, then I am going to assume that you were what I call a default atheist. If you are going to comment on my blog and claim you were an atheist before you became a Christian then it is fair for me to ask you to demonstrate how and why you became an atheist. It is not enough for you to say that you didn’t believe in God and then you became a Christian. ALL of us didn’t believe in God at one time. That’s the normal human condition, according to the Bible.
I was asked by a Christian school student to answer four questions for an assignment they are working on. What follows is my answers.
What is your background, education, etc?
I am a 58-year-old man who attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1970’s. I was a part of the Christian church for 50 years. 25 of those years were spent pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan.
During my time in the ministry I preached expostionally through many books of the Bible. I preached thousands of sermons at the churches I pastored, Bible conferences, pastor’s fellowships, youth camps, and revival meetings. I made it my life’s ambition to know the Bible well.
I live in the rural NW Ohio community of Ney with my wife of 37 years, our adult daughter with Down Syndrome, one cat, and one dog. I have five adult children who live nearby. I am blessed to have ten grandchildren, nine girls and one boy.
I will assume that the questioner is asking, Does the CHRISTIAN God exist and what is God like?
Before a person can determine if a particular God exists they must first answer the question, does ANY God exist. Many Christians never ask themselves this question. They operate under the presupposition there is only one God and that that God is the Christian God. How can they know this until they have thoroughly investigated all the other Gods humans at one time or another worshiped?
Christians are quite atheistic themselves. They deny any other God exists but theirs. As an atheist, I only believe in one less God than the Christian does. Of course this could be said of all believers, regardless of their religion. As an atheist, I am agnostic about the question of whether or not a God exists. Is it possible that a God of some sort exists? Certainly. However, the question I ask myself is this: is it probable a God exists and my answer to that question is NO.
Based on the evidence at hand, it is improbable that God exists. This is my answer to the question, “does A God exist?” Your question though is not about A God. Instead, the question is about THE God, the Christian God. On this question I am much more certain. After carefully weighing the evidence for the existence of the Christian God, I have concluded that the Christian God does not exist. After spending decades studying the Christian Bible, I have concluded that the God revealed in the Bible is the creation of the human mind and is no God at all. The Bible is an errant book filled with contradictions. It is not something that we can rely on to give us proof that God exists.
What’s wrong with the world and what is the solution to the problems of this world?
The world is filled with people who do good and bad things. Every human being does good and bad things.
One of the problems with the world stems from Christianity and its view of sin and the depravity of humanity. Humans are told that, from birth, they are vile, evil sinners in need of redemption. Deliverance from sin, according to the Christian, is through Jesus Christ. Unless a person becomes a follower of Jesus they are the enemy of God, a child of Satan, and will never have meaning or purpose in their life. I consider the notion of sin and its need of expiation as a great evil that has caused much harm.
Humanity would be better served if it cast off these teachings and adopted a humanistic view of life; a view where humanity and the natural world take center stage and not the Christian God and his son Jesus. As long humans seek to serve God above humanity and seek God’s forgiveness and not the forgiveness of those actually offended, we will never address the wrongs in the world.
Humans must be held accountable for the bad they do. Humans should also be praised for the good they do. There is no need to interject the Christian God into the middle of this. As an atheist, I do not believe God exists so God cannot be the solution. As a humanist, I think that humans are the solution to the problems our world faces. No God is going to show up and fix things for us. Simply put, we broke it and it is up to us to fix it.
How can a person become right with God?
As an atheist, I do not think there is a God I need to be right with. As a humanist, I think I have a duty and obligation to be right with my fellow human beings. As much as lies within me, I should strive to be a peaceable, loving, compassionate, and kind person. I do not need a God to be able to be this kind of person.
What happens to a person at death?
What does the evidence tell us? People die. Cemeteries are everywhere. No one comes back from the dead. There is no empirical evidence for heaven, hell, or any sort of afterlife. As a finite being, I wish the notion of heaven and the afterlife were true, but they are not. When our heart stops beating and our lungs stop breathing we are dead. That’s it. Our body ceases to live and we live on only in the memories that our friends and loved ones have of us.
Christianity teaches that the present life is one that must be endured. Successfully enduring this life results in a home in Heaven with God after death. Happiness is offloaded to a future life, a life that may or may not exist. In the Christian view of eternity people like me will spend our afterlife in Hell/Lake of Fire. We will be punished and tortured by God for all eternity because we refused to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
As an atheist and a humanist, my focus is on the present. I only have one life to live. I only have this one opportunity to make a mark on the world I live in. I have no time for thoughts about God, heaven, or hell. I have chosen to focus on being the best husband, father, and grandfather I can be. I fail many times in this endeavor, but every day I get up and try to do better. As even the Bible says (Matthew 25), I hope that my life will be judged according to my works. I hope that my good works outweigh my bad works.
Keith Green, the deceased Christian artist, sang a song about Matthew 25. Matthew 25 teaches that our judgment by God will be determined, not by what we say we believe, but by how we live our lives. The text speaks of sheep and goats, of the righteous and unrighteous. Green said this:
What is the difference between the two? What they did and did not do.
While I do not believe in Green’s God, I do believe the sentiment he expressed. I want my life to be judged according to my deeds. If there is a God, and I don’t think there is, surely how I lived my life is far more important than whether I believed the right things or said the right words.
Yesterday, Polly and I drove 50 or so miles northeast to Toledo to celebrate her 57th birthday. We had a delightful evening and enjoyed a scrumptious meal at Mancy’s Steakhouse. On our way to the restaurant, we traveled on I-475 North and passed by Hope Baptist Church, one of the largest Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches in the area. (The church is pastored by Richard “Rick” Sowell.) Hope Baptist has quite a snazzy and expensive church building as far as IFB church buildings go. Hoping to maximize their message, the church has a digital sign that can be read easily from the interstate. I wish we could have stopped along the road so I could photograph the sign, but traffic was heavy and we were pressed for time. I did, however, write down the message and text it to myself. Here’s what it said:
PITY THE ATHEIST WHO IS GRATEFUL
Over the years, I’ve had a few Evangelicals question my use of words like “blessing” and “grateful.” Some of them suggested that my use of these words proves I am still a Christian, as does the fact that I capitalize words such as Bible, God, etc. Evidently, no matter how I much I try to suppress God, he oozes out of my life. Can’t argue with brilliance like this, right?
The argument goes something like this; the words “blessing” and “grateful” are words that can only be used by someone who has God as the focus of their worship. The Christian says, WHO is blessing you, Bruce? WHO are you thanking? They got me. I’m caught in an insurmountable problem. What should I do? Is it time for me to admit that it is the Christian God that blesses me? Is it time for the preacher-turned-atheist to admit that he is grateful for what blessings come into his life from the God from whom all blessings flow?
This line of argument reveals that many Evangelicals have no curiosity and are unable to think of any explanation but that which flows from and fits the narrow confines of their fundamentalist theology. For Rick Sowell and the people of Hope Baptist Church, the locus of blessing, gratefulness, and thanksgiving can only be their version of the Christian God.
Well, let me disabuse Evangelicals of the notion that an atheist can’t use words like “blessing” and “grateful.” As an atheist and a humanist, I reject the notion that there is a God. As I have humorously said before, when the words Oh God are screamed out in our bedroom, we know exactly who the God is. Too risqué? Consider this. Who is it that blesses your life? A fictitious God, a deity no one has ever seen? The Christian says yes, believing that ALL blessings flow from the hand of God Almighty and any humans taking credit for these blessings are blaspheming God. However, as a man rooted in the here and now, in the earthy present, I choose to recognize that what blessings come my way come from one or more of my fellow human beings, nature, and the animals I share this world with.
When someone does something that is a blessing, I express to the person blessing me that I am grateful for what he or she has done. When I tell the doctor THANK YOU, I am directing my gratefulness to the person responsible for my medical care. When we stopped to pick up Bethany from my son and daughter-in-law’s home last night, I thanked them for babysitting. Polly and I were grateful that they were willing to watch Bethany so we could have a nice time on the town. Should I shoot up a prayer to the ceiling, thanking the Big Man Upstairs for them being willing and able to babysit? Of course not. God didn’t do the babysitting, they did.
One of my all- time favorite movie prayers is Jimmy Stewart’s dinner prayer in the movie Shenandoah:
Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked Dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food were about to eat. Amen.
This prayer reveals the essence of the atheist and humanist view on expressing gratefulness. Who deserves our praise and expression of gratefulness? The person doing the work. When someone makes a financial donation supporting this site, I don’t send them an email letting them know that I thanked someone other than them for their donation. Simply put, we should give credit to whom credit is due. If religious people want to give their deity an honorable mention, that’s fine, but the praise and gratefulness should be directed to the person responsible for the blessing.
So, to Rick Sowell and Hope Baptist Church, I am GRATEFUL that you continue to provide me with blog fodder. Keep up the good work. As long as you and your fellow Evangelicals continue to deliberately distort how atheists and humanists view the world, I plan to send a bit of Bruce Gerencser Blessing® your way.
Recently, a new reader sent me the following email:
I found your site by way of various blogs on Patheos. Over the weekend, I read one of our posts describing your journey to atheism…In particular, I am interested in a list of five or so books that you had read on your journey. I cannot find your post and am extremely interested in reading your suggestions. Can you point me in the right direction? I’m married to a Southern Baptist, who was completely non-practicing until we had kids. I’m an atheist, trying to be extremely respectful of my husband’s religion, while my young children are rebelling against it because of science and common sense… (email edited)
This is a great question, one that I get quite often, so I thought I’d put together a list of books I recommend for those who have questions or doubts about the Bible and Christianity. I think these books will be quite helpful. If you know of other books that would be helpful, please mention them in the comment section.
It’s been ten years since I preached my last sermon. Well, according to my counselor, it’s been ten years since I preached my last CHRISTIAN sermon. He thinks I am still very much a preacher and a pastor. I’m playing for the other team, but I’m still playing the game. While I certainly continue to preach the good news of reason, secularism, godlessness and scientific inquiry , I am no longer driven to make converts lest they die in their sins and go to hell. I wish more Americans would heed my preaching, but I know they won’t until there is some sort of crisis of faith. So, I preach, but I no longer concern myself with the outcome. To use parable of the sower, all I can do is sow the seed. Most of the seed will fall on barren ground, but some will fall on fertile ground and up will sprout a person of reason, skepticism, and science.
In the fall of 2003, I resigned as pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan. Victory Baptist was a dysfunctional, dying Southern Baptist church, the perfect church for Bruce Almighty to work a miracle. When I took the church I told the congregation that I was not a fighter and I would resign if there was any substantial conflict. Twenty three years of pastoring churches had taken the fight out of me. All I wanted to do preach three times a week, visit the sick, marry the young, bury the dead, and help the church grow and mature. Unfortunately, conflict came anyway and true to my word I resigned. Two years later, the church closed its door.
We moved back to Ohio and rented a house in Stryker. We lived in Stryker for about six months. In February of 2004, my sister, who lived in Yuma, offered to move us to Arizona. She thought the weather would be good for me. So, we packed up our household goods and moved 2,000 miles to what many consider the armpit of the southwest. My sister and her doctor husband bought a beautiful house for us to live in and we quickly settled in to our new life in the desert. It was a fun time for us, but the pull of family became such that we moved back to Ohio in late September. We decided to relocate in Newark so we could be near Polly’s parents. It was during this time that Polly’s sister Kathy was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident.
In the spring of 2005, I got the hankering to once again pastor a church. I sent my résumé to several Southern Baptist area missionaries and it wasn’t long before my phone was ringing off the hook. It was a repeat of what I went through in 2003. Once churches knew I was available, I was quickly inundated with inquiries. At this juncture, Polly and I decided that we were no longer willing to pastor a church that couldn’t pay me a fair salary, complete with benefits. This requirement quickly winnowed the field since most of the churches were small and unable or unwilling to pay a pastor a living wage.
I did candidate at two churches, Hedgesville Baptist Church and New Life Southern Baptist Church, both in West Virginia. While both churches were interested in me being their pastor, I decided not to proceed. A month or so later, a pastor friend of mine tried to entice me to start a Christian Union church in Zanesville, Ohio, but I decided no longer wanted to go through the rigors necessary to plant a new church. I came to conclusion that the fire had died and I no longer wanted to pastor a church.
My sermon at Hedgesville Baptist was the last time I stood before a group of people, opened up the Bible, and preached to them the unsearchable riches of Christ. For the three years that followed, Polly and I tried to find church to call home. (See But, Our Church is Different!) We moved from Newark back to NW Ohio so we could live near our children and grandchildren. We diligently continued to seek a church that took seriously the teachings of Christ. Alas, our search was in vain. As we became more disenchanted with Christianity, our doubts and questions grew. Long held beliefs were challenged as we attempted to determine what we really believed. In the end, we concluded that the claims of Christianity could no longer withstand rational inquiry and investigation. We attended church, Ney United Methodist Church, for the last time in November of 2008. From that point forward we no longer considered ourselves Christian.
I preached my first sermon at the age of 15 and I was 48 when I preached my last. I entered the ministry as a fire-breathing, sin hating, soulwinning Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. I left the ministry as a Progressive Christian who was sympathetic towards the Red-Letter Christian and Emerging church movements. When I started preaching I subscribed to Christianity Today, The Biblical Evangelist, and the Sword of the Lord. When I stopped preaching I subscribed to Sojourners and Mother Jones. In the late 1970’s, my library consisted of books by John R. Rice, Jack Hyles, Harry Ironside, and other fundamentalist writers. 25 years later, the fundamentalist books of my youth had been donated to charity and in their place stood books by Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Dorthy Day. In between, hundreds of Calvinistic, Mennonite, Baptist, and Reformed tomes came and went, offered up to Christians on EBay. Time and experience had fundamentally changed me. I have no doubt that I would not be the man I am today without experiencing the joys and heartaches of the ministry.
I miss preaching and teaching. I wish I had been younger and in better health when I deconverted. I could have gone back to college and gotten a degree so I could teach at the college level. I think I have the requisite skills necessary to teach at the college level, but without a degree there’s no hope of me teaching. I’d love to teach a World Religions class at the nearby community college. Since that path is no longer open to me, I content myself to write for this blog, hoping that I can, in some small way, be a help to others. Perhaps, my counselor is right: Always a preacher, always a pastor.
From generation to generation, Ohio children are taught the myth of the woolly worm. Each fall, woolly worms, the caterpillar form of the Isabella Tiger Moth, make their appearance, and like Punxsutawney Phil who predicts how long winter will last, the banded woolly worm predicts how severe the coming winter will be. The blacker the woolly worm the worse winter will be, or so says the great woolly worm myth.
Like the mythical Jesus of the Bible, the woolly worm and its magical weather predicting power lives on as parents tell its story. Few will bother to investigate this claim, choosing to believe that the mostly black woolly worm they saw is a sure sign that snow will blanket Ohio for most of the winter.
Earlier, we piled into our car and headed to Tinora High School to watch our 7-year-old grandson’s flag football game. We traveled southeast on Ohio Hwy 15 for a few miles and then turned north on Evansport Road. A mile or so up the road:
Polly: Oh no, a black woolly worm. You know that means we are going to have a bad winter.
Polly, showing her dislike of winter: Maybe I should run over him.
Bruce: He’ll got to hell if you run over him.
Polly: How do you know he’ll go to hell?
Bruce: He didn’t persevere to the end.
Polly laughs, and Bruce says: He’s not one of the elect woolly worms.
Polly and Bruce have a hearty laugh, giving God nary a thought.
I want to thank Dave for sharing the letter he sent to a Christian friend. Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
You know about my dismissal from the church staff five years ago due to my “independence”. And you know that my daughters and their husbands shunned us after that happened cut us off completely. And you know that those relationships continue to be painfully torn apart. And you know that I haven’t been to church in a couple of years. Well, here’s what you may not know. Here’s the rest of the story.
The end before the beginning: I have lost my faith. I have left the faith. I no longer believe in God as embraced within Biblical Christianity. However you define it. I’m done. I have left the building.
How did I get here? Is this just my response of anger and hurt to my perceived injustice of people behaving wrongly in the name of God? Are these just my own personal offenses? No. You are free to think that if you choose, but that is not what this is. This is no knee-jerk reaction. And I did not arrive at this conclusion quickly. It was a long, arduous, painful process.
From a recent article I read:
“A common personality type is a person who is deeply emotional and thoughtful and who tends to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their endeavors. “True believers” who then lose their faith feel more anger and depression and grief than those who simply went to church on Sunday”.
Aren’t these just people who would be depressed, anxious, or obsessive anyways:
Winell: Not at all. If my observation is correct, these are people who are intense and involved and caring. They hang on to the religion longer than those who simply “walk away” because they try to make it work even when they have doubts. Sometime this is out of fear, but often it is out of devotion. These are people for whom ethics, integrity and compassion matter a great deal. I find that when they get better and rebuild their lives, they are wonderfully creative and energetic about new things.
That’s another paragraph that seems to describe my experience.
I was “all in”. I was never a pew-sitter. From my earliest beginnings in the winter of 1973/1974, I was all about serving Jesus with everything I had. I was 18.
I decided to forego college because I believed the return of Jesus was imminent and my time could be better served elsewhere. Besides, college was all about getting a job and making money and I was so not into that. So I ran coffee houses and street ministries. I spent my time trying to convert wino’s and street people instead of building a 401K. I worked at youth camps, went on mission trips. I handed out Bibles in Moscow’s Red Square and preached at public schools in Russia; helped build an orphanage in Belize.
I led worship and small groups. I served on staff at churches and preached sermons. I taught classes and Bible studies. I led prayer groups, like organizing a 24-7 prayer vigil for a deacon in our church. For three months after he was burned in an industrial accident, we believed and cried out for his healing. He left behind two young boys and a wife who herself died of cancer a few short years later. (but I digress)
I studied the Bible. For hours and hours and hours….and for years. I know it inside out. I studied Greek and Hebrew lexicons, concordances, study guides, all of it. It was the Word of God to me. It was the source of life. Even when I didn’t live up to it; still it remained true. I prayed. For people; for healing; for life. Many hours spent in prayer over 38 years. I tithed. I gave my time and money and energy and the absolute best years of my life. And I gave my children. To the Lord. Willingly. And he took them.
Now none of this is meant as a diatribe against God, the old, “look what I have done/sacrificed for you, and what have you done for me”. No. That’s not what I’m saying. All this is meant to say: This was NOT a casual thing for me. It was everything. I was always passionate about what I did and I was always all in.
So when you get knocked down what do you do? You get back up and dust off and trudge forward. Except this time, after a couple of years of trudging on, I began to ask why. Why am I trudging forward? To what? For whom? As I contemplated these questions I realized something: I had never truly examined this faith that had been everything to me for my complete adult life. I had jumped in as a slightly disoriented young man lacking direction and motivation and found a cause to attach myself to. But I had never critically examined the claims that Christianity is built upon. I just accepted them. I was told the Bible was divinely inspired and is the authoritative Word of God and is complete and total in its instructions as to how to live and for whom to live and what life is all about. I bought it. I never, not once, compared Christianity to the myriad other religions that make similar claims to exclusive authority.
I found in Christianity a place to belong and something to give myself to. That was enough for me. And, oh yeah, I got to go to heaven when I died; so there was that as well. It had everything. And I gave it everything. Until I didn’t. Until I finally laid it all out on the table and examined it. I quit making excuses for the parts of the Bible that had always troubled me. I quit looking the other way. I decided if the Bible couldn’t stand on its own under the glaring light, then I was no longer going to minimize its inconsistencies and contradictions.
I won’t go into it here about what I found. It’s too much. It’s too ugly.
Once the Bible became a common collection of letters and books (written by ordinary men) to me, the rest of the dominoes fell rather quickly. And after all those years and all that effort and all that devotion and all that worship, I was done. It was over.
I invite you to pause a moment and watch this video; or at least just listen to the song. I heard it recently. I stopped. I paused it and played it back over and over. I wept. And I wept and I wept. It captured perfectly my experience of losing my faith.
“Say something, I’m giving up on You”. That’s how I heard it. You. Jesus.
“I’ll be the one if You want me to; anywhere, I would have followed You”.
That was my cry to the Lord when I was sifting through all of this.
He didn’t. He wouldn’t. And I came to the painful conclusion…he can’t.
“I will swallow my pride; You’re the One that I love, and I’m saying goodbye”.
I’m not sure if many people understand how hard that is. To look up and say, I was wrong. For almost 40 years, for my whole adult life…I was wrong.
You might not understand, and you might not agree. I get that. But it is what it is. And no, it’s not something that will change. I’m not going to suddenly (or even gradually) believe in Jesus again. If you once believed in Santa as a child and no longer do, wouldn’t it take some remarkable evidences to cause you to believe again? You can’t make yourself believe something again just because you want to.
Trust me, after what it has cost me, if I could snap my fingers and make it happen, I would.
You may be disgusted or disappointed at my personal loss of faith. That’s OK, I understand how that may affect you. You may want to talk to me about it. I’d be glad to. You may grieve with me at my loss. I appreciate that. But please, don’t do this: don’t say something like, well it’s religion that has done this to you, and I hate religion too; I just love Jesus. No. Please no.
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
If Jesus indeed said that, we should want nothing to do with Him. Those verses sound pious and holy and simply dripping with devotion, but they are deadly in their application. (by the way, if he didn’t say those words, what are you doing? What is the Bible then, really?) Those verses sound very spiritual in terms of one’s relationship with Jesus, but until you have seen those words play out in your own family, you don’t really know what they mean. (by the way, this scripture was being quoted pertaining to me while I was still VERY much in the faith).
You can’t imagine-and I hope you never experience, the damage that this kind of thinking can cause. I have seen my family totally devastated. And I have settled into a life that is marked by a dull ache. Every now and then when I see pictures on FB, or get Christmas cards with grandchildren’s pictures, there is a sharp stab of a pain of a different kind. But mostly, it’s like a cloudy, cold day that settles on you like a wet blanket. I guess it will always be.
So no, I’m not angry at God. You can’t be upset with someone if you don’t think they exist. I’ve heard it said I am bitter. Maybe a bit toward certain people; but certainly not toward God. (again, he’s not there) I have regrets. Many regrets. I will live with them.
One last thing. This has not changed who I am at my core, I still love people and cry when I see them suffer; or when I see them treat each other with kindness; or pretty much any time. I am moved by loss and pain and grief. I enjoy life, the bits I can snag that are good. I value humanity more than I ever have. In fact, I have a heightened sense of the value of every person and no longer view them in terms of what side of the “aisle” they are on. I see folks as all the same and seek to do good as opportunity presents itself to show kindness or generosity or love. I am no less moral than I ever was.
Anyway, that’s the gist of it, If you’re getting this, I figured I owed it to you. Because you are or have been, a dear friend.
Suppose you were at a dinner party and the host puts you on the spot to pray for the meal in front of 10-20 guests. Do you be a good sport and make up a prayer or politely decline, creating an awkward situation.
This is a great question, one that can be answered several different ways. Since all of my family and friends know I am no longer a Christian, I doubt any of them would ask me to pray. I can’t think of any social setting where I would now be asked to pray. Everyone knows I am an atheist, so I doubt they would want a godless heathen blessing their food.
Each of us must determine how we would respond when asked to pray. If a person is an atheist or an unbeliever, but hasn’t come out yet, then it might be appropriate for them to pray if asked. No harm will be done since the God they are praying to is a fictional being. Their prayer, like every other prayer, will hit the ceiling and bounce right back. No harm, no foul.
A dinner party is not a good place to declare to the world that you are an atheist or that you are no longer a Christian. Such a pronouncement will surely dampen the spirit and you will be blamed for ruining the party. The best advice I can give is to size up who is there and act accordingly.
I started life as an atheist and was pursing a career in the sciences. During my first year of university, I had a personal crisis trying to find my direction and purpose in life. A friend witnessed to me and I attended church service a couple of times, but did not find anything to sway my atheistic view. However, it was a really emotional and stressful period in my life and I eventually decided to give god one more shot and attended what I thought would be my last day in church.
My recollections of that fateful day are very hazy. I was not even paying any attention to the service as my life was in turmoil and I was wrestling with my rational mind and my spirituality. Eventually, I decided to just do what I thought was right. Christianity was not for me and I was going to sever my ties. To this day I do not know what happened, but god must have heard my cries and I somehow ended up at the altar accepting Christ.
Needless to say, I had a lot to learn and had to make a lot of adjustments to follow this new direction in life. I had doubts about my sincerity. How can I reject god and still end up accepting him? I concluded that god had set me on this journey because I wanted to do the right thing. Therefore, I decided to cast away my doubts and do things his way and rely on faith.
To show my commitment, I decided to get baptized. Just before being submerged, I remember telling god that he alone knows my heart and that this was my way of showing that I was putting my trust in him. After my baptism, as I was changing in the backroom, I mysteriously broke down into uncontrollable crying. Several people knelt next to me and prayed for me but no one was able to stop my crying. One of the church officials stood fast and stayed by my side the whole time to comfort me. When exhaustion finally stopped my crying, he told me that I must really love god for him to touch me in such a way. When I left and checked the clock in my car, I realized that I had cried for well over an hour. I no longer had any doubts about my sincerity and knew I was doing what was right.
My life had changed completely. My ambition in life was simple. I wanted to do god’s will and to raise a family. Science was no longer compatible with my new-found spirituality and way of thinking. Therefore, I changed my studies at university to pursue a career in education to avoid conflict. Life was good and I had a purpose. I became even closer with the friend who had brought me to Christ and ended up marrying her. I found a job as a teacher where I lived at a time when it was virtually impossible to do so. At church, I had found my calling and was a Sunday school teacher.
The first major test of my faith was when my wife’s first pregnancy ended up in a miscarriage; in my fundamentalist belief, this is the same as the death of a baby. To add insult to injury, it happened on Christmas Day. If god had said that I was not to have children, I could have lived with that. However, it was more painful to have the seed planted and then have it taken away. I felt like Abraham sacrificing my child for god; only in my case, there was no reprieve. I did a lot of soul-searching and made sure my life was right with god and told him it was his will and not mine. I was totally devastated, but my faith was stronger than ever.
When my wife was pregnant the second time, I was sure that god would bless us as I had remained true to him. The unthinkable then happened. We had another miscarriage on Easter Sunday. The anguish was so severe I contemplated killing myself. The only thing that stopped me was the vision of my wife exhausted and asleep in the hospital bed. I remembered my vow of love to stay by her through thick and thin and knew that I had to endure. God was using adversity to send me a message. Many months of confusion, guilt and shame ensued as I tried to figure out what I was doing wrong in my life. What was god trying to tell me? Were my motives contrary to his will? Did I love my wife more than him? Was I really sincere in my walk with him? Was my ambition of wanting a family not in god’s plans? All I wanted was to do the right thing. I had been tested again, but I had promised to trust him and I again stood firm in my resolve.
However, there was a difference this time. I studied the bible more rigorously and reassessed my faith and started to touch the boundaries of the fundamentalist box I had put myself in. What if I was wrong? Fear kept me from exploring that question for a long time. I looked back and remember that I had asked the same question when I was an atheist. If I never confronted the question, I would not have found god. It was a question I must explore again if I wanted the truth and do what is right. I took tiny steps to remove my fundamentalist blinders and looked outside my box, and the world opened up in a totally different way.
For the first time in my Christian life I started to look outwards instead of inwards and saw the world and the people around me without my fundamentalist mentality. I finally saw people as people. We are all on our own personal journeys in life. God and spirituality meant different things to different people. The bible is not inerrant, it is a record of the search for god by people of the past. We all interpret our holy texts and ethics according to our own limited perspective and experiences. The Holy Spirit guides and moves us all in a different manner based on our own personal interpretations. We are all different and god did not intend us to be Christian zombies shambling mindlessly to convert others who were not like us. With this revelation, my whole perspective as a Christian shifted.
At this time, many other major events started to take their toll on me. I was no longer the fundamentalist I once was and felt trapped. My marriage started falling apart and I was secretly struggling with the beginning stages of depression from all the strain. I knew I had to leave the fundamentalist chains that bound me. Fear and uncertainty set in. Can I just walk away from almost ten years of my life? What will happen with my fundamentalist wife who I love so dearly? What about my friends at church? After a year of struggling, I was on the verge of a complete meltdown. My integrity did not allow me to maintain the charade of being a fundamentalist any longer. I again told god that I must do what I feel is right and I will trust him to lead me as he had done in the past. I had a long talk with my wife and we mutually agreed that the best course of action was to leave church temporarily to reassess our lives.
With that freedom, I was finally completely outside my box and began to explore. This was the days before the internet and finding information was no easy task. My first secular book was “Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible”; don’t laugh as it was the only resource available at the local library at the time. In a few days, I learned more from that book than I ever did in church. There was no looking back for me. My thirst for knowledge increased and I even started exploring other religions. When my pastor checked up on me a few months later, it was obvious I had moved on. I have no hard feelings about my church. There were some good honest people including the pastor that I really respected and appreciated. My time was not completely wasted, and there are many good things that I will always take with me. However, there were also a lot of the crazy stuff and I had to leave the lunatics and the narrow mindset behind.
I left church almost 25 years ago now. I am still motivated by finding the truth and doing what is right. There is no need for me to go into details of my journey from this point since those of us who had similar experiences will know what will ultimately happen when one chooses to open one’s mind; I grew up and left god behind. Unless some real evidence shows up to the contrary, I personally believe that there is no god especially as put forth by the various religions. A person’s belief in or lack of belief in god is no longer a concern for me. What is important, is whether or not someone is a good person.
Although I am back to being an atheist again now, I have a new non-religious spirituality in me. I feel a closer spiritual connection with the world as a result of my experiences. As such, I actually prefer to label myself as an agnostic. My ambition in life still remains the same except I have taken the god part out and shortened it to raising a family. Yes, there is life outside of religion and my relationship with my wife did not collapse as I had feared; love, trust and respect are even more powerful without their religious trappings. I also have two wonderful children who are just about ready to leave the nest and choose whichever path their own life dictates. My advice to them will be “Keep both your heart and your mind open in order to do that which is right”. That is what I learned from my own journey there and back again.
“Colors of the Wind” … You think the only people who are people, Are people who look and think like you, But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, You‘ll learn things you never knew, you never knew. … And we are all connected to each other, In a circle, in a hoop that never ends.
Evangelical Christians, among others, have private (personal) beliefs that people such as I consider uninteresting, intellectually lacking, or irrational. As long as they do not try to force their beliefs on me or demand special treatment for their beliefs, I am quite indifferent to their beliefs. I have no interest in regulating what people believe about God, Jesus, the Bible, or anything else for that matter.
However, when the Evangelical Christian states/argues/debates his beliefs in the public space: newspaper, TV, books, magazines, Facebook, Twitter, the internet, public meetings, etc., then the rules of engagement change. Once these beliefs are uttered publicly they are no longer considered private and are open to criticism, investigation, debate, ridicule, mockery, and attack. Those people deciding to utter their beliefs in public should know this, and if they don’t, they are in for a rude awakening the first time they “share” their beliefs publicly.
As a writer, hopeful author, essayist of letters to the local newspaper, and the public face of atheism where I live, I am considered a public figure. As such, I open myself up to criticism, investigation, debate, ridicule, mockery, and attack. While I would hope people would treat me fairly and with respect, I have no right to expect such treatment and I have no recourse if someone lies about me, distorts my beliefs, or attacks me personally.
I can’t can’t do anything about what someone may say about me or my writing on their own blog or in an internet forum. I can’t control the sermons Evangelical preachers preach about me. They can take something I have written and twist and distort it and there is nothing I can do about this. This is the wild, woolly nature of the public space.
I wish Evangelical Christians would understand the difference between private and public. When they drag their beliefs into the public space, they have no right to whine, moan, or complain that I am attacking them and their beliefs. If they don’t want their beliefs assaulted or challenged then they need to keep them out of the public space. As Tristan Vick said in a comment:
Someone needs to tell this caterwauling Christian that it’s people who have rights, not ideas.