Tag Archive: Atheism

Dear Bruce, I Think You Are Still a Christian

horse

Free at Last!

I’ve blogged for seven years.

Bruce Droppings, Fallen From Grace, NW Ohio Skeptic, The Way Forward, and now The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser.

I used taglines like A Wandering Man in a Restless World and One Man’s Journey from Eternity to Here.

Several thousand posts, tens of thousands of comments.

I write, burn out, and like the Phoenix, rise again.

It’s what I do.

When I started blogging in 2007, I was still a Christian, a liberal emergent church Christian.

I was still going to church, still reading the Bible, still trying to find to find a Christianity that mattered.

I never found it.

I did find that I was just an ass in the pew, an offering to be collected. I had talents and gifts that any church would benefit from, but I found that pastors were quite territorial and allowed no one to get near their throne.

Six years ago, after a tremendous amount of study, angst, and heartache, I finally concluded that I was no longer a Christian.

Try as I might, I couldn’t square what I knew with Christianity.

As I tried to find a stopping place on the slippery slope of reason, I found there was none.

Liberal Christianity, Unitarianism, Universalism, provided a brief respite but failed to stop my slide.

Atheism became the label that best described my belief about God, gods, and religion.

Technically, I am agnostic on the God question, but in my day-to-day life I live with nary a thought about God.

I have no need of God, a God, any God.

I am an A-T-H-E-I-S-T.

Imagine my surprise when I read an email yesterday where the writer said he believed I was still a Christian, that deep down I still have a longing for God and faith.

I thought, how can anyone read my writing and come to this conclusion?

Just because I write about and critique Christianity and Evangelism doesn’t mean that I am still a Christian.

The person who sent me the email has only been reading my writing for a few weeks. Since I just started blogging again a couple of months ago and I am re-posting some of my greatest hits, perhaps my writing gives off the vibe of a man trying to work through his beliefs about God, Christianity, and faith.

I am not…

I write because I must. No matter how many times I quit and say, I will never write again, like a moth to a flame, I am drawn back to the keyboard.

And then there’s you, the readers, the thousands who take the time to read my writing.

I have far greater reach today than I ever had in 25 years of pastoring churches.

I know my writing deeply resonates with many people and it gives a voice to their thoughts. I also know my writing angers and infuriates many Evangelicals. They write and talk about me, preach sermons about me, mention my name at prayer meeting, send me nasty and hateful emails, and leave arrogant, self-righteous comments.

The latter are going to do what they do. I can’t stop them, nor do I want to, because their anger and indignation are a reminder to me that, next to marrying Polly, the single best decision I ever made was the day I walked away from Christianity. They’ve tried bombing with email spam, using bots to leave massive amounts of comment spam, spreading rumors and lies about my story, my mental fitness, my marriage, and children, and have even threatened to kill me…yet here I am.

Those who matter to me are the readers who lurk in the shadows, laden with fear and doubt. They have questions that aren’t being answered by their pastor or church. Their eyes have been opened to what is going on around them. Are they atheists in the making? Maybe, but I doubt it, and I don’t care. My goal is facilitation, not evangelization. If I can help wanderers as they journey on, that’s enough for me.

Others who read this blog are post-Evangelical or post-Christian. They are trying to find purpose, meaning, and peace. Now that their life is no longer defined by religious belief, they are left with the task of shaping a new life for themselves. It’s not easy, and I want to do what I can to provide a safe, friendly place for them to hang out. If telling my story helps them in some small way, I am grateful.

In the Biblesee Bruce, you just mentioned the Bible and this PROVES you are still a Christian, there’s the story of the Good Samaritan, a man who helps and cares for a man beaten and left for dead along the side of the road. Religion, especially Evangelical Christianity, beats people up, often leaving them for dead along the side of the Road of Life. I want to be like the Good Samaritan, lifting up those who’ve been beaten, robbed, raped, and scarred by religion. If I have a calling, this is it.

In many ways, I am a far better man today than I ever was when I was a member of God’s exclusive club. I no longer have to view life and others through the lens of the Bible and the teachings of Christianity. I am free to live life on my own terms and embrace others as they are.

Why would I ever want to go back to Egypt, to the land of leeks, toil, and bondage? Why would I want to return to a worldview governed by the ancient writings of fishermen and sheep herders? Like the proverbial horse that escaped his corral, I am free and I have no intentions of returning to Christianity.

If some people can’t see and understand this, I am not sure what more I can do for them. They’ll just have to keep hoping that I will some day walk back into the church and say, in an Arnold Schwarzenegger voice, “I’m B-A-C-K.”

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The Evangelical Cult of Personality

church size matters

Cartoon by David Hayward, The Naked Pastor

For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:11,12)

According to the Bible, the church at Corinth had become factional, with the various groups saying that they were a follower of Apollos, Cephas, Paul, or Christ. In verse 13 of I Corinthians 1, Paul asked:

Is Christ divided?

Two thousand years later, we can answer Paul’s questions with an emphatic YES! The followers of Jesus Christ have spent 2,000 years fighting amongst themselves, leading to, according to the Pew Forum, 41,000 Christian denominations throughout the world. (Wikipedia list of major Christian denominations)

Every Christian Bible has the following verses:

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:35)

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:13)

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

These four verses alone stand as an indictment of modern Christianity with all its divisions and internecine warfare. The various Christian sects can’t even agree on basic beliefs such as salvation, baptism, and communion.  Jesus said, I am the way, truth, and the life, and almost every Christian sect thinks it has the way, truth, life market cornered. Pick the wrong sect and, according to many sects, you will miss heaven and be tortured by God in hell for all eternity.

Evangelicalism, an inherently fundamentalist religious belief, has a unique problem in that its churches are generally a blend of sectarian divisiveness, Madison Ave advertising technique, and a fan of moviestar devotion to their pastor and successful Evangelical leaders. This has led to a cult of personality, similar to that which Paul was addressing in the church at Corinth 2,000 years ago.

Drive by many Evangelical churches these days and what do you see on the church sign? Almost every sign will have the pastor’s name prominently displayed. Why is this important? Why is it necessary to advertise the name of the pastor? If the church is one body worshiping the one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, why call attention to the identity of the pastor? Why don’t churches put the names of the poorest church members on their signs as James suggests in James 2:1-4:

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

Isn’t giving the pastor top billing on the church sign showing the pastor undue respect? After all, Peter said in Acts 10:34 that God is no respecter of persons. God may not be a respecter of persons, but Hhis Evangelical followers sure are. Ask Evangelicals where they go to church and they are just as likely to say I go to Pastor So-and-So’s church as they are I go to First Baptist Church.

In the average Evangelical church, the center of attention is not Jesus, the Word, or the sacraments. The focus is on the man standing behind the pulpit. He is the man of God, God’s messenger, the pastor.  In some Evangelical churches, he is also the bishop, prophet, or apostle.  He is the main cog in the machine, without which the machine won’t run. If you doubt this, watch what happens when one of these superstar Evangelicals leaves his church. The membership inevitably declines, often because church members don’t like the new guy. Evangelicals then feel “led” to join another church so they can be “fed.” Rarely will they admit that the reason they changed churches was because they were spiritually and emotionally infatuated with the previous pastor .

A while back, I wrote a post about Evangelical pastor Steven Furtick and his new house. It is scandalous how these “profits” of God rake in millions of dollars from the churches they pastor, the books they sell, and outside speaking engagements. Even an atheist can see that these kinds of pastors are not following in the steps of Jesus. Instead of following the WWJD mantra, they are following what would a Wall Street profiteer do.

Any time I write about one of the Evangelical superstar pastors, people are sure to come along and defend him. I have attacked their god and it doesn’t matter what the Bible or common decency says, they are not going to stand for it. Little to do they realize that their defense simply illustrates my contention that the Evangelical church is a cult of personality.

I would love to be able to say to readers of this blog that I was different when I was a pastor, but I wasn’t. My name was prominently displayed on the church sign. I was the center of attention, the main cog of the machine. People came to the churches I pastored because they loved my preaching and liked me as a person.  When I pastored a fast-growing church in SE Ohio, people would drive 30-45 minutes to hear me preach.  Our church was exciting and growing, and I was — uh I mean God — was the reason.

I am sure a Calvinistic Evangelical reader is thinking, my church is different! We focus on the WORD and not the pastor. Really? Are you sure?  How many books written by Tim KellerDon CarsonKevin DeYoungAl MohlerMark DriscollStephen Um,  John MacArthur, or John Piper do you own? Why are these names bandied about on every Calvinist blog, website, and conference?

From 2005 to 2008, I was enamored with the Emergent/Emerging church movement.  Even here, I found the cult of personality with people fawning over the likes of Brian McLarenDonald MillerRob Bell,  and Shane Claiborne, to name a few.  Even the home church movement has its own cult of personality. Who hasn’t heard of Frank Viola?

What drives the cult of personality?  Here in America, we are enamored with success. We tend to give respect to people who appear to be winners. Even in the blogosphere, we often judge the value of a writers by the number of people who read their blogs and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google+.  We forget that these numbers say NOTHING about the person. I have to constantly guard against this. I know my blog readership numbers, page views, and subscriber numbers are growing. Does this mean that I am ”more” successful than I was years ago when a hundred people a day read my blog? Should people respect me more now that thousands of people read my writing? Of course not. A person’s success proves nothing.

size matters

For Evangelical pastors, size matters.

Within Evangelicalism, numerical success is everything. Success for a pastor is measured by the size of his penis, uh, I mean size of his church. The criteria for calling a pastor/church a success is not much different from the criteria used to judge a successful CEO in the corporate world;: growing the business and maximizing profits.

The sure sign that a pastor has arrived is when he writes a book telling everyone how he achieved his success. When I was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, almost every big-name pastor wrote a book detailing how they achieved numerical success. The subtle message was this: God is blessing me and this is why. Do you want God’s blessing? Do what I am doing!  Why is it these successful pastors never write a book years later detailing the fact that “God’s blessing” didn’t last and their penis size dramatically shrank?

American Evangelicals love their conferences. Hundreds of Evangelical conferences are held each year. Who are the speakers? Why, those who have achieved “success.” These conferences always feature big-name pastors who pastor large, successful churches. When’s the last time  Evangelical conference promoters have had a Bro. Joe, who pastors 20 people on the backside of some hill in West Virginia, come and speak at their conference? It never happens.

One of the reasons people leave Evangelicalism is the cult of personality. They become tired of everything being about the pastor or the focus being on the methods of the latest hotshot, knows-everything, successful pastor.  They sincerely thought that Christianity was all about Jesus. They found out that Jesus was just the window dressing for their pastor’s ambition. Most Evangelical churches, thanks to their leaders, have lost all sight of what it means to be a Christian. They proclaim that the Bible is their standard of faith and practice and then ignore its teachings and examples. Christianity should be about Jesus and his kingdom. From my seat in the atheist pew, it seem that Evangelicalism is all about the pastor’s kingdom and not the kingdom of the Jesus they say they follow.

Notes

Atheism is not immune from the cult of personality. We have our own demigods and it shows when you see the speaking lineup for the various atheist/humanist conferences. When it comes to clergy who have left the faith, you would think that Jerry DeWitt, who is now listed on Wikipedia as a prominent member of the atheist community, was the only pastor to ever have left the faith. I am not knocking Jerry. I am pointing out that we have our own cult of personality, and the way to cure this problem is to be more diverse and to quit using the same few speakers at every conference. It is important that people be exposed to a variety of atheists, agnostics, and humanists especially those who are not as well-known as Richard DawkinsDaniel DennettSam HarrisDan BarkerDan Savage, Jerry DeWitt, et al. When groups like the Freedom from Religion FoundationAmerican Humanist Association, and American Atheists refuse to do this, they present an inaccurate view of atheism/humanism. How about featuring some working-class atheists who can’t even afford to attend the conferences? To quote the Bible, let our atheist message be confirmed through the mouths of many witnesses.

With humans, the cult of personality is prominent because of tribalism. We want to think that the successful members of our tribe are superior to others in our tribe and the leaders of other tribes. The cult of personality blinds us to our common humanity and it causes us to devalue those who are not considered successful (however we define success).

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God Gave Me Breast Cancer Because He Loves Me

calvin and hobbes god

Joni Eareckson Tada was severely injured in a diving accident in 1967. For the past forty-eight years she has been a quadriplegic. Tada’s life story was popularized in a best-selling book titled Joni.

In the Friday, June 25, 2010 edition of the Defiance Crescent-News, there was a story about Tada undergoing treatment for breast cancer (behind pay wall).

As I read the article, what astounded me was Tada’s comment about God’s involvement in her breast cancer.

Tada said:

I’ve often said that our afflictions come from the hand of our all-wise and sovereign God, who loves us and wants what’s best for us. So, although cancer is something new, I am content to receive from God, what ever he deems fit for me. Yes, it’s alarming, but rest assured Ken and I are utterly convinced that God is going to use this to stretch our faith, brighten our hope and strengthen of our witness to others.

In other words, God gave Tada breast cancer because he loved her and deemed it best for her. God gave her cancer so that she and her husband would have more faith and be a stronger witness to others.

Tada’s God is best described as a know-it-all deity who afflicts humans with sickness, disease, suffering, and death because he loves them and wants to increase their faith in him. He then wants them to use the afflictions he gave them to tell others what a wonderful God he is.

Crazy, isn’t it? I doubt if Sigmund Freud could even figure this out.

The Christian interpretation of the Bible presents God as a father and the Christian as a child. Good fathers love, protect,  and nurture their children. They don’t beat them, abuse them, or afflict them with suffering. Every right-minded human being knows what qualities make for a good father. We also know what qualities make for a bad father.

A father who has the power to heal and doesn’t is a bad father. A father who causes suffering, sickness, and disease when he could do otherwise is a bad father. A father who afflicts his child with breast cancer is a bad father. A father who gives his child breast cancer so she can tell everyone what a wonderful father he is, is a bad father. From my seat in the pew, this God-the-father, as presented by modern Christianity, is a bad father.

Tada’s argument for a breast cancer-giving God is one of the reasons I left Christianity. I could no longer believe in a loving God that willingly afflicts and kills his children because he has determined that it is best for them. This God demands the Christian bear whatever affliction he brings upon them, and in true narcissistic fashion also demands that they love him while he is afflicting them. I want nothing to do with such a capricious, vindictive, warped God.

Disease, sickness, suffering, and death are all around us. If God could do something about these things and doesn’t, what are we to make of such a God? What are we to make of a God who is seemingly involved in the intimate details of life, yet when things really matter is absent without leave (AWOL)?

Christians sing a song that says “what a mighty God we serve.” A mighty God? In what way is the Christian God mighty? Batman and Superman were mighty gods. They used their powers for good. They were always on call, ready at a moment’s notice, to swoop in and help those in need.  But the Christian God ? It seems the bigger the need the harder he is to find.  As I noted in another post, God seems to involve himself in trivial matters like getting a woman a $200 refund on her plane ticket, but he seemingly can’t be found when an environmentally catastrophic oil leak needs plugging. Perhaps we need to forget about this God and turn on the Bat signal.

I am saddened by Joni Eareckson Tada’s affliction with breast cancer. Being a quadriplegic for over fifty years is enough suffering for one lifetime. But I know just because you have one health problem in life doesn’t mean you won’t be afflicted again. As I have learned in my own life, just because I have Fibromyalgia doesn’t mean I won’t get some other disease. Life isn’t fair. Life can be cruel.  I’ve known Christians whose lives were devastated by one tragedy or sickness after another. If God is the one dumping all this on them, it would seem proper to ask God to move on to someone else. “Please God afflict sister so-and-so. She is in perfect health.”

Christians often quote the verse that says God will never give anyone more than they can bear. In other words, no matter what you face in life, God has determined you can bear it. This verse always leaves God off the hook. God, who is sovereign over all things, determines that you can bear to have cancer, AIDS, Fibromyalgia, ALS, MS, emphysema, or any other dreaded disease, so he afflicts you. You are expected to bear whatever he brings your way. If you don’t, it is your fault. Your failure to bear your burden shows that you lack faith.

Reality paints us a different picture. Many Christians, if not most, do not bear their burdens as the Bible says they should. I have counseled hundreds of Christians over the years who were weighed down by the burdens given to them by God (so they thought). At the time, I encouraged them to have more faith, but rarely did the faith of the afflicted rise to the weight of the burden. Most often, the burden broke their back. Sadly, many of these people continue to walk around, stooped over and crippled, all the while singing “what a mighty God we serve.”

There is a hypocritical vein in this line of thinking. The theory is this: God afflicts his children with suffering for their good because he loves them and wants to increase their faith. I would ask then, why do Christians go to the doctor and take prescription medications? It seems to me that not seeing the doctor and not taking medication would result in a greater increase in faith. Surely a sovereign, omnipotent God is bigger than high blood pressure or diabetes and surely a sovereign, omnipotent God is bigger than any pain a Christian might have, right?

There are Christian sects that do have this kind of faith. They don’t go to doctors and they refuse to take  medication of any kind. And every few years we have the privilege of reading about them in the newspaper when they are charged with manslaughter or child abuse for failing to get proper medical care for one of their children.

For me personally, it is more palatable for there to be no God, or a God that is not involved in his creation, than there is a God that afflicts people because he loves them and wants to increase their faith. Such a God is a monster of vast proportions, a God unworthy of  worship.

I recognize that sickness, suffering, and disease can be instrumental in shaping us and changing us and making us better people. But this is far different from a loving God-the-father afflicting us so that we will love him, have more faith, and be better witnesses. Such thinking is barbaric and best relegated to the ancient past it came from.

081116

From Evangelicalism to Atheism Part Four

creamery road zanesville ohio

Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

In 1995, after two short stints pastoring Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas and Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio, I started Grace Baptist Church in West Unity, Ohio. We would later change the church’s name to Our Father’s House to better reflect our inclusiveness.

When I started Grace Baptist Church, I was a five-point Calvinist, not much different theologically from my description  in post number three. I remained a Calvinist until the late 1990s, at which time my theology and political beliefs began lurching leftward. The church changed its name and I began to focus more on inclusivism and good works. During this time, my theological beliefs moved from a Calvinistic/Reformed perspective to more of a Mennonite/Good works perspective. Much of my preaching focused on the good works every Christian should be doing and the church’s responsibility to minister to the sick, poor, and marginalized.

As my preaching moved leftward, so did my politics. By the time I left Our Father’s House in July of 2002, I no longer politically identified as a Republican. The single biggest change in my beliefs came when I embraced  pacifism. The seeds of pacifism were sown years before when the United States attacked Iraq in the first Iraq War. I opposed the war, and as I began reading authors like Thomas Merton, Dorothy DayJohn Howard YoderGandhi, and Eileen Egan, I concluded that all war was immoral.

By the time of the Y2K scare:

  • I was preaching inclusivism, encouraging interaction and work with all who claimed the Christian moniker.
  • I was preaching a works-centered, lifestyle-oriented gospel. Gone was the emphasis on being “born again” or making a public profession of faith. In particular, I focused on the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
  • I believed the institutional, organized Christian church was hopelessly broken.
  • I was a committed, vocal pacifist, opposing all war.

In 2003, I pastored Victory  Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church, in Clare, Michigan, for seven months. Both Polly and I agree that we never should have moved to Clare.  It was a wasted seven months that ended with me resigning from the church. This was the last church I pastored.

While I was pastor of Victory Baptist, a friend of mine from Ohio came to visit us. From 1991-1994, he had been a member of the church I pastored in Somerset, Ohio.  After listening to me preach, he told me that he was astounded by how much my preaching had changed, how liberal it had become. And he was right. While my preaching was orthodox theologically, my focus had dramatically changed.

In 2004, Polly and I moved to Yuma, Arizona. We lived in Yuma for almost seven months. We then moved to Newark Ohio, where we lived for ten months. In July of 2005, we moved back to the NW Ohio community of Bryan. In May of 2007, we bought a house in Ney, Ohio where we currently live.

As you can see, we did a lot of moving over the course of four years. We were restless seekers. Every place we lived, we diligently, Sunday after Sunday, Wednesday after Wednesday, visited local churches in hopes of finding a spiritual home. Instead of finding a home, we increasingly became dissatisfied and disillusioned. We came to the conclusion, regardless of the name over the door, that churches were all the same. Dysfunctional, incestuous, focused inward, entertainment/program driven, resembling a social club far more than the church Jesus purportedly built. This would prove to be the emotional factor that drove me to investigate thoroughly the theological claims of the Christian church and the teachings of the Bible. This investigation ultimately led to my deconversion.

From 2004-2007, Polly and I visited over a hundred churches of  numerous sects:

  • Baptist (Independent, Southern, American, Conservative, Reformed, Sovereign Grace, Free Will, Primitive, GARBC, Missionary)
  • Lutheran (American, Missouri)
  • Church of Lutheran Brethren
  • Church of Christ (instrumental, non-instrumental)
  • Disciples of Christ
  • Methodist
  • Free Methodist
  • Christian Union
  • Church of Christ in Christian Union
  • United Brethren
  • Christian Missionary and Alliance
  • Roman Catholic
  • Apostolic
  • Vineyard
  • Calvary Chapel
  • Bible Church
  • Pilgrim Holiness
  • Orthodox
  • Episcopalian
  • Church of God
  • Church of God Anderson
  • Pentecostal
  • Charismatic
  • Assembly of God
  • Mennonite
  • Old Order Mennonite
  • Presbyterian Church USA
  • Orthodox Presbyterian Church
  • Christian Reformed
  • Protestant Reformed
  • United Church of Christ
  • Friends
  • And a plethora of independent, unaffiliated churches

You can read the entire list of churches we visited here.

Some Sundays, we attended three different churches. We also attended Wednesday prayer meetings (all poorly attended) and a fair number of special services such as revival meetings during the week.

The most astounding thing that came out of our travels through Christendom is that most pastors don’t care if people visit their churches. Less than 10% of the churches we visited made any contact with us after we visited. Only a handful visited us in our home without us asking them to do so.

In November of 2008, I told Polly that I was no longer a Christian, that I no longer believed the central tenets of the Christian religion. Not long after, Polly came to a similar conclusion. In 2009, I wrote my infamous letter, A Letter to Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter was my official coming out. Later in 2009, a former parishioner, friend and current pastor of a Christian Union church came to see me in hopes of rescuing me. I later wrote him a letter. You can read the letter here.

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From Evangelicalism to Atheism Part Three

creamery road zanesville ohio

Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

I am often asked, when did you first begin to doubt? This is not an easy question for me to answer. As I look back over my life, there were many instances where I had doubts about a theological or political belief. If there is one constant about life, it is change. Over time, our understanding, beliefs, and ideologies change. Sometimes, the change is so subtle that we are not really aware of it until we look back on our lives  years later. Anyone who says that he has never changed his beliefs–and I know several pastors who say this about themselves–is either intellectually lazy, a liar, or living in denial.

Every preacher leaves Bible college with a borrowed theology. His theology is the theology that his parents, church, pastor, and college professors taught him. He believes what he believes because of the influence of others. Only when he is free of these influences does he begin to develop his own theological beliefs.

I have always been an avid student and reader. One of the frustrating things about the health problems I have is that I can no longer read as I used to. For many years, it was not uncommon for me to read 500 or more pages a week of theological and biographical books. To his day, I rarely read fiction. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I accumulated a large library of books. These books were my constant companions and friends. When I left the ministry in 2003, I sold off my theological library on eBay.

While I learned many things as a student at Midwestern Baptist College, most of my theological education came from the countless hours I spent reading theological books and studying for my sermons.  It was in the study that I began to come to theological conclusions different from  what I had been taught by my parents, former churches, former pastors and college professors. The most dramatic theological changes took place while I was pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, (later Mt. Perry) Ohio.

I started the Somerset Baptist Church in July of 1983 and pastored the church for eleven years.   At that time, I was a typical Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor and remained so until the Jack Hyles scandal rocked the IFB world in 1986. As I waded through the Hyles scandal, I began to question the gospel preached by many IFB pastors and churches. Noted preachers such as Jack HylesCurtis Hutson, and many of the preachers associated with the Sword of the Lord, believed that repentance was a change of mind. Simply put, the unconverted sinner was against Jesus and now he was for him. Around this time, John MacArthur came out with his book, The Gospel According to Jesus. MacArthur attacked the easy-believism gospel preached in many Evangelical/Baptist churches. MacArthur stated that repentance was not only a change of mind but also a change of conduct. If there was no turning from sin, then there was no true repentance, and without repentance there was no salvation.

The Hyles scandal, my careful assessment of the gospel preached by many in the IFB church movement, and MacArthur’s book, led me to conclude that the gospel I had been preaching was a truncated, shallow gospel. I began preaching a gospel that demanded a repentance that included a turning from sins. I believed that if Jesus was not Lord of all your life then he was not Lord at all. I believed that if  people said they were Christian, then they should act like  it. Unless  they were willing to turn from their sin and fully embrace Jesus, there was no salvation for them.

In the late 1980s, I began to reconsider my eschatological beliefs.  I was taught dispensational, pre-tribulational, and premillennial eschatology (end times) in college and every church I attended growing up  preached the end times scheme. As I restudied the various eschatological positions, my beliefs gradually shifted and matured until I became post-tribulational and amillennial. At this point, I was clearly theologically wandering outside the boundary of my IFB heritage. This shift in eschatology resulted in some people leaving the church; however it also attracted new members who held a similar eschatological view.

It was also in the late 1980s that my theological beliefs dramatically shifted from the  one-point Calvinism (eternal security, once saved always saved) of the IFB church movement to five-point Calvinism. My introduction to Calvinism came through the preaching tapes of Rolfe Barnard, a former Southern Baptist and Sword of the Lord evangelist who died in the late 1960s. Barnard’s sermons were powerful declarations of the gospel according to Calvinism. As I listened to these tapes, it was like a light went on in my head. For a time, I was angry because I thought those who had taught me theology had lied to me. Why had no one ever told me about Calvinism? All they told me at Midwestern is that they were against Calvinism and anyone caught promoting Calvinism would be expelled.

I began devouring books about Calvinism. I opened a book account at Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service and bought countless Calvinistic, Puritan, Sovereign Grace Baptist books. I read the books of Puritan/Calvinist authors from the 17th,18th, and 19th centuries. I discovered that Baptists, at one time, were quite Calvinistic, and some of my heroes in the faith, including Charles Spurgeon, were five-point Calvinists. I even  learned that there were Calvinists, such as the late Bruce Cummons, pastor of the Massillon Baptist Temple, in the IFB church movement.

From the late 1980s until the early 2000s, I was a committed, zealous five-point Calvinist. My preaching style changed from topical sermons to expository sermons. I stopped giving altar calls and I began transforming the Somerset Baptist Church into a Calvinistic church.  This move cost me 99% of my IFB pastor friends, a handful of church members, along with almost all of my Arminian friends.

For several years, I published a newsletter called The Sovereign Grace Reporter. I sent the newsletter to hundreds of IFB pastors and this caused quite a shit-storm. Surprisingly, Polly’s uncle, James Dennis, pastor of the IFB Newark Baptist Temple, was quite supportive. Keith Troyer, then pastor of Fallsburg Baptist Church, was also quite supportive. I would later be accused of leading Keith astray with the pernicious doctrines of John Calvin. (At the time, I considered Keith my best friend.)

Probably by now, some readers are wondering, Why the history lesson, Bruce? I think it is important for me to establish several things:

  • I am an avid reader of books
  • I am an avid student of whatever subject I am reading about
  • I am willing to go where the evidence leads me
  • I am willing to change my beliefs even if it costs me or makes me unpopular
  • Truth matters more to me than being accepted by my peers, friends or family

When I was a pastor, pastor friends and parishioners loved me for these traits. They applauded my willingness to be true to the Word of God, even if they disagreed with me. Now these same people think I read and study too much. I have been told that the reason I am an atheist is because of books (and there is some truth in this statement)! If I would only stop reading all these books and read THE BOOK, all would be well, one former parishioner told me.

Just as the leopard can’t change its spots, I can’t stop reading and studying. Fifty-plus years ago, my mother created an intellectual monster when she taught me to read. She wanted her eldest son to be like her, a devourer of literature, a person who valued truth above the approbation of men. I owe her a great debt of gratitude.

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From Evangelicalism to Atheism Part Two

creamery road zanesville ohio

Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

One of the questions I am often asked is, Why did you become an Evangelical or Why did you become an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist?

This is the wrong question. The real question is, how could I NOT have become an Evangelical or Independent Fundamentalist Baptist?

Every child born into this world is an atheist. Not one of them knows one thing about god or religion, nor about sin, salvation, or morality. As far as god and religion are concerned, every newborn is a blank slate.

Belief in god must be taught and learned. This teaching is done by parents, extended family, and the culture/society the child grows up in. Children taken to a church, temple, or synagogue, are taught to KNOW god, to know their parents’ religion.

Most children embrace the religion of their parents. Parents who worship the Christian god generally raise children who are Christian. This is especially the case when it comes to Evangelical children. From the toddler years forward, Evangelical children are taught that they are sinners in need of salvation. They are taught that unless they ask Jesus into their hearts, they will end up in hell when they die. Every Sunday at church, at home during the week, and at school, if they attend a Christian school, Evangelical children face an onslaught of manipulative evangelistic methods geared to help them accept Jesus as their Savior.

It should come as no surprise then that most Evangelical children make a salvation decision when they are quite young. This initial salvation experience usually carries them into their teenage years. They are safe and secure in Jesus until they are thirteen or fourteen years old.

During their teenage years, it is not uncommon for Evangelical children to either make another salvation decision or rededicate their lives  to Christ. Why is it that so many Evangelical children make another decision during their teenage years?

Think about it. What happens during the teenage years? Children reach puberty and they begin to discover they have sexual desires. They start wanting to do things that their pastor, church, and parents say are sinful.  Most, Evangelical teens, if not all, give in to sinful desires. They feel guilty for doing so and they conclude that they must not “really” be saved or that they need to rededicate their lives  to Christ.

Many Evangelical teenagers find themselves caught in a constant cycle of sinning, getting saved/rededicating their life to Christ, sinning, getting saved/rededicating their life to Christ, etc. As much as Evangelicals deny it, this cycle becomes the Protestant version of Catholic confession.

In the early 1960s, my Dad moved us from Bryan, Ohio to San Diego on the west coast. California was the land of opportunity in the 1960s and my Dad was certain his pot of gold was in San Diego. He ended up selling patio awnings and driving a truck, and three years later we moved back to Bryan.

While living in San Diego, our family attended Scott Memorial Baptist Church. The pastor at the time was Tim LaHaye. Both of my parents made public professions of faith in Christ at Scott Memorial. I also asked Jesus into my heart in Junior Church. I was five years old.

Politically, my parents were right-wing extremists. They were members of the John Birch Society, hated Martin Luther King Jr, and supported the war effort in Vietnam. Their salvation decision at Scott Memorial fit well with their political ideology.

From this point forward, until my parent’s divorce in April of 1972, the Gerencser family was in church every time the doors were open. Sunday morning, Sunday night, prayer meeting, and revival meeting, we were there. When I became a teenager, attending youth group after church was added to the schedule, along with regular youth group activities.

In the fall of 1972, Evangelist Al Lacy came to our church, Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio, to hold a revival meeting. On Sunday Morning, during Lacy’s sermon, the spirit of God came over me, telling me that I was a sinner in need of Christ. When it came time for the public invitation, I quickly stepped out of the pew, came down the aisle, and knelt at the altar. There, a church deacon took me through the plan of salvation and I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins and come into my heart. I was fifteen.  I was baptized that night, and a week or so later I went forward during the altar call and let the church know that God was calling me to be a preacher. Two weeks later, I preached my first sermon.

As a first grader in San Diego, I told people that when I grew up I was going to be a preacher, and now, as a fifteen year old boy, I was telling the world that God was calling me to be what I wanted to be my entire life. From this point forward, most of the preachers I came in contact with worked with me and steered me towards fulfilling my calling. It came as a shock to no one that I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in 1976 to study for the ministry.

All told, I preached for thirty-two years, spending twenty-five of those years pastoring seven churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I preached over four thousand sermons and taught countless Sunday school classes. For many years, I also preached on the street and at the local nursing home.

So, when someone asks, why did you become an Evangelical or why did you become an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, I counter that the real question, based on what I have written here is, how could I have become anything else?

Note

All dates are to the best of my recollection. I have done my best to remember where I was and when. If I am off a bit on a date, it is not because I am deliberately being imprecise or trying to hide something. I am an old man with dying brain cells. Enough said.

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Why I Stopped Believing

why

Jason, an Evangelical Christian, asked:

What would cause someone with your Biblical education and years of preaching the Word of God not just claiming to be a Christian but also living it one day decide to not believe and do a 180 and turn your back on it?

While I deal with this question at length in the From Evangelicalism to Atheism series, today I want to give a short, condensed answer to this question.

People like Jason are often perplexed by how it possible for someone with my background and training to one day walk away from the ministry and Christianity. Most of the clergy who deconvert do so at a much younger age, often in their 20s and 30s. In my case, I spent fifty years in the Christian church and I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years before I deconverted. When I started going to counseling, my counselor told me that it was quite rare for someone my age and with my experience to walk away from a lifetime of belief and work. It happens, just not very often.

Jason is not alone. A number of my ex-friends, family members, and former parishioners can’t understand how it is possible that the man they called Preacher or Pastor is now an atheist. Often they can not or will not believe the reasons I give for my deconversion. Instead, they try to find some other reason to explain why Bruce Gerencser, the man of God, the pastor, the preacher, their fellow colleague in the ministry, is now an apostate, an enemy of God.  Is there some secret past I am hiding, some secret sin? they ask themselves. They wonder if I have mental problems, or if I am unstable.  They rack their brains trying to come up with a plausible explanation, anything but accepting the reasons I give for my deconversion.

Christian fundamentalism taught me to stand firm on my beliefs and convictions. When I was a pastor, people appreciated and applauded my willingness to resolutely defend my beliefs and convictions, But now that I do the same with atheism and liberal politics, they think there must be some other reason I drastically changed my mind and life. I am the same man, a man who thinks that beliefs matter.

My mother taught me, from my youth onward, that it was important to stand up for what I believe. Now, this does not mean that I am not now tolerant of the beliefs of others, because I am. As I get older, I realize that tolerance is an important virtue. Stepping outside of the box I spent most of my life in, I found a rich, diverse, and contradictory world that forced me to be more accepting and tolerant.

When I entered kindergarten I could already read. My mother taught me to read and she developed in me an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. This may seem counterintuitive at first, since I was raised in a fundamentalist environment that is not known for promoting a thirst for knowledge. But, by becoming a proficient and avid reader, I had at my disposal countless opportunities to expand my knowledge. Sadly, my quest for knowledge became quite stunted as a pastor because I rarely read books that would conflict with my Christian beliefs.  However, when I began to have doubts about Christianity and its teachings, my thirst for knowledge kicked into high gear and I began reading books that I once would have considered heretical.

I never made a lot of money pastoring churches. I never had church-provided health insurance or a retirement plan. The only benefits I received were a check I got once a week IF the offerings were enough.  Outside of the time I spent pastoring Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, every other church I pastored paid a part-time or poverty-level wage for the full-time work I gave the church. I often worked outside of the church, as did Polly when I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I am not pointing a judgmental finger at the churches I pastored. Most of the churches were either small or in poverty-ridden areas. Over the years, I was privileged to pastor many gracious, giving poor people. They gave what they could.

About now you are thinking, what in the world are you talking about, Bruce? I thought this post was about WHY you stopped believing! It is, and what I have written above can be distilled down to these three important statements:

  • I was taught to stand firm on my convictions and beliefs
  • I was taught to read at an early age and I developed a thirst for knowledge
  • I never made much money in the ministry

Since I never made much money in the ministry, there was no economic reason for me to stay in the ministry. I always made more money working outside of the church, so when I decided to leave the ministry, which I did five years before I deconverted, I suffered no economic consequences.

Freed from the ministry, my wife and I spent five years visiting more than a hundred Christian churches. We were desperately looking for a Christianity that mattered, a Christianity that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. During this five year period, I read countless books written by authors from a broad spectrum of Christendom. I read books by authors such as Thomas MertonRobert Farrar CaponHenri Nouwen, Wendell BerryBrian McLarenRob BellJohn Shelby SpongSoren Kierkegaard, and NT Wright.  These authors challenged my Evangelical understanding of Christianity and its teachings.

I decided I would go back to the Bible, study it again, and determine what it was I REALLY believed. During this time, I began reading books by authors such as Robert Wright Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, These three authors, along with several others,  attacked the foundation of my Evangelical belief in the inerrant, inspired word of God. Their assault on this foundation brought my Evangelical house tumbling down. I desperately tried to find some semblance of the Christianity I once believed, but I came to realize that my faith was gone.

I tried, for a time, to convince myself that I could find some sort of Christianity that would work for me. Polly and I visited numerous liberal or progressive Christian churches, but I found that these expressions of faith would not do for me. My faith was gone. Later, Polly would come to the same conclusion.

I turned to the internet to find help. I came upon sites like exchristian.net and Debunking Christianity. I found these sites to be quite helpful as I tried to make sense of what was going on in my life. I began reading the books of authors like John LoftusHector AvalosRobert M. PriceDaniel DennettChristopher HitchensSam HarrisJerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins.

The five books that made the biggest impression on me were:

(I make a few shekels if you click on the above links and buy the books)

I read many authors and books besides the ones listed here. I say this to keep someone  from saying, but you didn’t read so and so or you didn’t read _______,  So, if I had to give one reason WHY I am no longer a Christian today it would be BOOKS.  My thirst for knowledge – a thirst I still have today, – even though it is greatly hindered by chronic illness and pain – is what drove me to re-investigate the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible. This investigation led me to conclude that the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible could not rationally and intellectually be sustained. Try as I might to hang on to some sort of Christian faith, the slippery slope I found myself on would not let me stand still. Eventually, I found myself saying, I no longer believe in the Christian God. For a time I was an agnostic, but I got tired of explaining myself, so I took on the atheist moniker, and now no one misunderstands what I believe (see Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners and Dear Friend).

The hardest decision I ever made in my life was that day in late November of 2008  when I finally admitted to myself, I am no longer a Christian, I no longer believe in the Christian God, I no longer believe the Bible is the Word of God. At that moment, everything I had spent my life believing and doing was gone. In a sense, I had an atheist version of a born-again experience. For the past six years, I have continued to read, study, and write. I am still very much a work in progress. My understanding of religion and its cultural and sociological implications continues to grow. Now that I am unshackled from the constraints of religion, I am free to wander the path of life wherever it may lead. Now that I am free to read what I want, I have focused my attention on history and science. While I continue to read books that are of a religious or atheist nature, I spend less and less time reading these kind of books. I still read every new book Bart Ehrman publishes, along with various Christian/atheist/humanist blogs and publications, and this is enough to keep me up to date with American Christianity and American atheism/humanism.

I hope this post adequately answers the WHY I stopped believing question.

Notes

  1. This is a brief answer to the question WHY? I will fully develop this answer in the series From Evangelicalism to Atheism.
  2. I also spent some time investigating other religions and gods that humans have created (a study I still find quite fascinating).
  3. There is also a political aspect to my deconversion. I will talk about this in the aforementioned series.
  4. Jason asked if I believed in evolution. The answer is yes. I am no expert when it comes to science, but I have done enough reading to be comfortable with saying that I believe evolution/natural selection best explains the natural world.

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From Evangelicalism to Atheism Part One

creamery road zanesville ohio

Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

In the following series, I intend  to explore my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism. In future posts I plan to look carefully at the process that took me from a card-carrying member of the Evangelical church through a loss of faith that ultimately led to atheism. In this post I want to define the words Evangelicalism and atheism.

Ask an Evangelical to define Evangelical or Evangelicalism and it is unlikely that he or she can do so. In fact, it is doubtful that any two Evangelicals would give you the same definition of their shared heritage.

According to the National Association of Evangelicals, all member churches and groups MUST believe the following:

  • We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
  • We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
  • We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.

In answering the question, What is an Evangelicalthe National Association of Evangelicals website states:

Evangelicals take the Bible seriously and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” Thus, the evangelical faith focuses on the “good news” of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ.

We are a vibrant and diverse group, including believers found in many churches, denominations and nations. Our community brings together Reformed, Holiness, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic and other traditions. Our core theological convictions provide unity in the midst of our diversity. The NAE Statement of Faith offers a standard for these evangelical convictions.

Historian David Bebbington also provides a helpful summary of evangelical distinctives, identifying four primary characteristics of evangelicalism:

  • Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
  • Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  • Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  • Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

These distinctives and theological convictions define us, not political, social, or cultural trends. In fact, many evangelicals rarely use the term “evangelical” to describe themselves, focusing simply on the core convictions of the triune God, the Bible, faith, Jesus, salvation, evangelism, and discipleship.

I know of NO true Evangelical who would dispute any of the above statements. I say TRUE Evangelical, because there are many Evangelical church members, pastors, parachurch leaders and institutions that are Evangelical in name only. They say they are Evangelical, when their beliefs make it clear they are actually a liberal or a progressive.

It is important to understand that ALL Evangelicals are fundamentalists. I’ve had countless Evangelicals object to me calling them fundamentalists. However, if they believe the statements above then they are fundamentalists. If it walks, talks, and quacks like a fundamentalist it is a fundamentalist.

Some Evangelicals are confused about fundamentalism or they want to distance themselves from the crazy, extreme right-wing fundamentalists that are common in Evangelicalism. However, their lack of understanding their theological and historical heritage or their dislike of the crazy uncles within Evangelicalism does not mean they are NOT fundamentalists.

Within Evangelicalism there is two lines of fundamentalism:

  • Theological fundamentalism
  • Social fundamentalism

If a person believes the National Association of Evangelicals’ statements regarding Evangelical belief and what an Evangelical is, then he or she is by definition a theological fundamentalist.

Many Evangelicals wrongly think that because they are not like the fundamentalists found in sects such as the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church (IFB), that they are not fundamentalists. However, when it comes to theology, there is little difference between a mainstream Evangelical and an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist.

Social fundamentalism  focuses on how a person lives the Evangelical Christian life. Independent Fundamentalist Baptists, along with many Holiness and Pentecostal groups, are noted for all the rules and regulations they have dictating how a professing Evangelical Christian should live. These kinds of sects strictly control everything from how a person dresses to whether or not a church member can watch or own a TV.

Many Evangelicals consider such rules and regulations legalism, and, wanting personal freedom, reject many of the rules and regulations as extra-biblical or works-salvation. These theological fundamentalists make a concerted effort to distance themselves from social fundamentalism.

However, can it really be said that an Evangelical can be a theological fundamentalist but not a social fundamentalist? Strictly speaking, the answer is no. Because Evangelicals believe the Bible is “the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God” and have “a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority,” at some point every Evangelical is a social fundamentalist.

If you doubt this, ask Evangelicals, Do you think a Christian must live according to the precepts, commands, and teachings of the Bible? They will resoundingly say Yes. They are, then,  by definition, social fundamentalists . Evangelicals who do not believe the Bible is the standard of living for the Christian are not really Evangelicals. They are liberals or progressives dressed up in Evangelical clothing.

Defining the words atheist or atheism is much simpler. According to Wikipedia, atheism is:

in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist.

When I say I am an atheist, this is what I mean:

  • I do not believe in the existence of deities.
  • Since I cannot know with 100% certainty that there is not a god of some sort, technically I am an agnostic. But, I live my life according to what I currently know and understand, and based on that I live my day-to-day life as an atheist.

Now that I have made clear what I am talking about when I use the words Evangelical/Evangelicalism and atheist/atheism, I am now ready to start telling my story.

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For the Evangelical Christian, It’s Not About the Evidence

birth of jesus

Here’s one thing that atheists and agnostics need to understand. A person becoming an Evangelical Christian has never been JUST about the evidence. We mistakenly think that if we just show a Christian the evidence that they will abandon their Christianity and embrace atheism or agnosticism. How’s that working for us?

The truth is, Christianity as a belief system is all about faith. Hebrews 11:1-3 says:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

How does a person become a Christian? Ephesians 2:8,9 says For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

The Christian, by faith, decides to believe certain things. By faith, he believes the Bible is the word of God and what it says is truth.  By faith, he believes that the central teachings of Christianity found in the Bible are true regardless of the fact that they contradict what we otherwise know to be true.

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, that he was born of a woman named Mary who was impregnated by God. It is common knowledge that virgins can’t have a baby. Unless a woman is impregnated by a man’s sperm there can be no baby forthcoming. The Christian knows this, but chooses to disregard it because, by faith, he believes the story in the Bible about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.

It is also common knowledge that when people die they stay dead. I know of no evidence that suggests that a person laying dead in the grave for three days has any hope or possibility of coming back to life. When you’re dead you stay dead. The Christian knows this, but chooses to disregard it because,by faith, he believes the story in the Bible of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. By faith, he believes that God will someday resurrect his body from the grave and make it brand new.

The Virgin birth of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead are two essential doctrines of the Christian faith. There is absolutely no evidence for these two events outside of the Bible. It requires faith to believe these two cardinal Christian doctrines. The same could be said for the Bible stories about Jesus walking on water, walking through walls, turning water into wine, and walking though a crowd of people without being detected. Reason demands we reject such stories, but by faith the Christian believes them to be true.

Christians do a great disservice to their religion by attempting to argue for Christianity on an evidence alone basis. This is an argument that they cannot win and they only hurt their own cause when they attempt to argue faith claims in an evidence arena. Outside of the Bible, there is no proof that virgins can have babies or dead people can get out of the grave and live again. These are stubborn facts that cannot be refuted.

Does this mean that Christians are stupid or ignorant? Of course not. I recognize that Christianity has never been just about the evidence. Christianity purports to answer what we call the big questions of life. Where did we come from? What is the purpose of life? Is there life after death? The Christian Bible answers these questions and more. For atheists and agnostics, the answers to these questions seem empty and of little value, but we need to remember not everyone is like us.

Who am I to stand in the way of what helps someone get through the night? It matters not whether I think their beliefs are a flight of fancy. All that matters is whether their Christian beliefs meet the need they have in their life. We often forget that many people come to the Christian faith in a time of crisis. Let’s face it, atheism doesn’t do a very good job of comforting people when they are hurting, sick, or dying. Often, all we have to offer is love and compassion wrapped in the reality that life is shitty and hard and everyone dies in the end. Brutal I know, but it is the truth.

Ask yourself, when is the last time you have won over a Christian by argument and evidence? Doesn’t happen much does it? Christianity is much more complex than that. It’s not the end of the world if a Christian dies thinking they will go to heaven. At the end of the day who cares? For whatever reason, the Christian needs faith to make it through life and they need to think that there is something better awaiting them after they die. I don’t fault them for believing these things.

But, as an atheist I cannot believe the things that Christians believe. Why? I don’t have faith. All I have is a Bible that Christians tell me is the truth, but I find no persuasive evidence for its truth claim. I know that faith would fix the lack of evidence problem for me, but I’m not willing to relegate matters of life and death to such a subjective thing like faith. I wish I could, but I can’t.

Simple Contact Form for Evangelicals

Dear Evangelical,

Today you stumbled upon The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser.  You did a Google or Bing search and  The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser was on the first page of search results. You are shocked and upset by what this Bruce Gerencser guy writes. You want to give him a piece of your mind, in Jesus’s name, so you went to the contact form page to do so. On the page you read:

If you would like to contact Bruce Gerencser, please use the following form.  If your email warrants a response I will respond as soon as possible. Due to persistent health problems, I cannot guarantee a timely response. Sometimes,I am several weeks behind on responding to email. My delay doesn’t mean I don’t care. It does mean I can only do what I can do. I hope you understand.

If you are an Evangelical Christian that has a pathological need to evangelize, I am not interested in hearing from you. Threats of hell, God’s judgment, and the like are not welcome. Neither are “I’m praying for you” emails or emails with Bible quotes. Whatever you think God wants you to tell me, I have already heard it. Thousands have come before you, so there is no need for you to email me. If you ignore my request, please be advised that I reserve the right to make your message, name, and email address public.

I do not accept unsolicited guest posts.  Please do not email me about writing a guest post. I will not respond to your request.

I have no need of help with SEO, Google ranking, or web design. I use a managed WordPress service and my ranking on Google is first page on most subjects I write about. I do NOT need your help, so please do not email me trying to selling me the latest, greatest way to improve my Google ranking.

I have no interest in buying Facebook likes, Twitter followers, or anything else you might be selling. Please do not email me with your sales pitch.

Everyone else? I would love to hear from you.

You thought, who cares what this Bruce Gerencser guys thinks? GOD wants me to send him an email. GOD wants me to set him straight!! And so you furiously type away and click SEND.

Your email will be just like the email of hundreds of Evangelicals (Fundamentalists) before you. In an effort to help Evangelical readers save some time so they will have more time to pray, read their Bible, and evangelize people who don’t want evangelized, I have made the following Simple Contact Form for Evangelicals:

Name: (Put in fake name because you are so fearless)

Email Address: (Put in fake email address because God knows who you are)

Reason for Contacting Bruce Gerencser (Check all that apply)

_____To tell him he is wrong

_____To preach to him

_____To quote Bible verses to him

_____To evangelize him

_____To tell him he doesn’t know anything about the Bible

_____To let him know God still loves him

_____To let him know I am praying for him

_____To tell him he never was a Christian

_____To tell him he is going to hell

_____To tell him he is still saved and can never be un-saved

_____To tell him he was/is a false prophet

_____To tell him he was/is a wolf in sheep’s clothing

_____To tell him he is angry

_____To tell him he is bitter

_____To tell him his writing shows he has been hurt

_____To tell him he is fat

_____To tell him I hope he burns in hell

_____To tell him that I am praying God will kill him

_____To tell him that he has a meaningless, empty life

_____To tell him he is going to die soon and then he will find out THE TRUTH!

_____To tell him that I know THE TRUTH about him!

Once you have completed the form, please click the send button below.

send button

What? You can’t send it? This must be an atheist conspiracy to keep you from exercising your Christian nation Constitutional right to say whatever you want to Bruce Gerencser. By all means, please continue to click the send button. After you have done so a few hundred times and are thoroughly frustrated and irritated, then you will know how I feel after hundreds of Evangelicals have sent me repetitive emails saying one or more of the things listed above.

Here are a few things you need to understand about me:

  • I likely know more about the Bible and theology than you do
  • You are not going to tell me anything I have not heard before
  • I am an unrepentant apostate
  • I have no interest in Christianity, Jesus, or your interpretation of the Bible
  • I am immune to threats of harm or death, in real life I would probably kick your ass
  • I am a committed and circumcised atheist
  • I am a happy if you know it say amen humanist
  • I do go to church every Sunday in the fall and winter, the church of the NFL
  • I am a good, decent, kind, caring man, husband, father, grandfather, and friend
  • I love my neighbor as myself

Now, go in peace, and find someone who really wants to buy what you are selling. I don’t.

Did My Journey Out of Christianity Begin with Evidence?

evidence

Sometimes, atheists and agnostics forget how they got to where they are today. We pride ourselves on being evidence-based skeptics, seekers of truth wherever it may be found. We are conversant in all things Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris. We have read numerous books, magazines, and blog posts. We have watched more YouTube videos than we care to admit.

We investigated the claims of the religion we once held dear. We re-studied and reinterpreted the Bible. We read Bart Ehrman, the 21st century prophet to the godless. We now know how errant and man-made the Bible is. We are rational and logical, no longer in bondage to a mystical, mythical religion. We are free to be whomever and whatever we want to be.

But, here’s the problem: many atheists and agnostics forget that what they are now is not what they once were. They forget how their journey out of Christianity began. They forget how fearful they were when they first considered the God question. They forget the nights where sleep eluded them as they wrestled with sincerely held beliefs about God, salvation, Jesus, heaven, hell, and eternity. Have I really been living a lie all these years? we asked in the stillness of the night.

The journey out of Christianity rarely begins with evidence. Seldom does a person decide to leave Christianity on an evidentiary basis, especially those of us who were Christians for many years. While we NOW see clearly the falseness of Christianity, I doubt our vision was so clear when we first dared to consider the truthfulness of our beliefs.

Most often, the journey out of Christianity begins with our emotions. I am often accused of being angry and bitter, and, quite frankly, at some point along my journey out of Christianity, I am sure I was angry and bitter. How could it be otherwise?

Leaving Christianity is no small matter. Leaving the religion of your parents is not easy. Leaving the religion that gave you peace, comfort, hope, security, meaning and purpose is a decision laden with emotional baggage. We must be willing to admit this lest we lose authenticity. We must account for everything that brought us to where we are now. To leave anything out paints an incomplete picture of our life.

My journey out of Christianity likely began when I became a disaffected, disillusioned Christian and pastor. I was tired of the meaningless I saw everywhere I looked. Nothing mattered. Everywhere I looked I saw passivity. In the rare occasion where I saw committed, serious Christianity, I also saw arrogance, hatred, and pride. I saw a divisive, sectarian spirit that bore no resemblance to the Jesus of the Bible.

I was worn out from long hours pastoring churches that rarely paid well. I was tired of all the moving. The pettiness in every church I ever pastored sickened me. Struggles with church power brokers left me wounded. I was hurt by hateful and mean-spirited  church leaders and fellow pastors.

When I stopped pastoring churches it was a relief. Sleeping in on Sunday morning — what a joy unspeakable and full of glory! The stress level in our home and marriage when down dramatically. What a difference godlessness made.

I realize I just gave my critics a boatload of ammunition to use against me. I will now be accused of leaving Christianity for emotional reasons. I was angry, bitter, and hurt. I was tired and worn out. Here’s what my critics don’t understand: while these things played a part in the first step I took out of Christianity, they were not the last steps I took. What may have had an emotional beginning didn’t have an emotional ending.

As my emotions abated the evidence took over. As I read and studied I came to the conclusion that the truth claims of Christianity were false. My studies led to me conclude that the Bible is not a divine book, that it is a fallible, man-made, errant text written by unknown authors centuries ago. While it may offer some valuable insights, it should not be considered a divine road map for life, a blueprint for living. Many of its teaching are immoral. It is a book that’s been used to prop up violent governments, enslave people, and its pages are soaked in the blood of innocents. I view the Bible like a morsel of edible food in a garbage can filled with rotting, smelly food. I am no longer willing to dig through the rotting garbage just to find a morsel to eat.

What took root in disaffection soon became a search for truth. This forced me to re-investigate everything I once believed was true. I had to reevaluate my moral and ethical beliefs. My entire worldview was being challenged. At times, I was fearful. What if I am wrong? What if God really exists? I wrestled with Pascal’s Wager long before I ever knew what it was.

I am sympathetic towards atheists and agnostics who hide the emotional aspect of their journey. They don’t want to have to deal with constant questions about motives. They acknowledge the emotional component of their journey, as I did, but emotions were not the primary or deciding factor. When every factor is considered, it was the evidence that led them from God to godlessness.

I think admitting that emotions played a vital part in our deconversion will be extremely helpful to people considering leaving Christianity. We need to think about those who come after us. They need to know it is normal to experience a broad range of emotions such as anger, fear, hatred, and bitterness as they consider whether to abandon Christianity.

Be careful, dear Christian, before charging me or other members of the godless fraternity with leaving Christianity for emotional reasons. That street runs both ways. Did you become a Christian solely for intellectual reasons? Was it the evidence alone that caused you to embrace Christianity? I already know the answer to these questions. Over the years, I have watched hundreds of people profess faith in Jesus Christ. In every instance emotions played a part in the conversion process. In fact, decisions to profess faith in Jesus Christ without emotion are considered suspect. Becoming a Christian is the single biggest decision a person will ever make in his or her life, just like the decision a Christian makes to deconvert. How can such a dramatic decision NOT elicit a deep emotional response from us?

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What I Found When I Left the Box

Man hiding in box

Yesterday, I wrote a post titled The Danger of Being In a Box and Why It All Makes Sense When You Are in a Box.  A commenter on Reddit asked if I would elaborate on this part:

“But is wasn’t. My mind was filled with thoughts of all the wonders I found outside the box. Things that those in my box said were bad for me; things that they were sure would ruin me. They told me that the box was all I needed. They feared I was becoming a wanderlust.

And they were right. I wandered once again outside the box, and just like before I fell down the slope of the slippery hill. This happened to me many times before I finally gave up and stayed at the bottom of the hill. When I did this,  the box I had lived in for almost 50 years no longer large enough for me. For the first time, the things I had found in the box seemed odd, peculiar, and contradictory.”

Every time I left the box I found new and wondrous things, things I had never heard about before, things I had never experienced. The box I was in for five decades was a box  whose dimensions were clearly defined. There was no guessing about the length, width, or depth of the box. Over time, the box had to be replaced. Those outside the box constantly battered the box with bats, bricks, and rocks. Sometimes, these attacks would cause gaping holes in the box and it became necessary to replace the box.

The new box was not like the old box at all. The dimensions were different and it held fewer people. Everyone in the box pretended that the box was just like the old box. An old-fashioned box, we were told. We knew the box was not like the old one, but giving the appearance that the new box was the same as the old box was more important that coming to grips with the reality that the box was different. The box keeper was adamant. He said our box was just like the first box, that the box had stood strong for 2000 years.

On one of my trips outside of the box, I found out that the box keeper wasn’t telling the truth. He was trying to preserve something that never existed. Perhaps he really didn’t know since he had never been outside the box.  I found out the box manual had errors and contradictions. People outside the box questioned whether the box manual was the correct manual. For a time, fear plagued me every time I went outside the box. I realized if the box manual wasn’t true, then everything I believed about the box was wrong. I thought, I am smart guy. How could I have been deceived for almost 50 years? Surely ALL these people in the box can’t be wrong?

As I strayed farther and farther away from the box, though, I found that there were all kinds of boxes. Every group of people had its own box, — some were religions, some were political, some were social, and some were economic boxes. I always knew there were other boxes, but I considered all other boxes but the one I was in to be false boxes.

Those of us in the box always mocked those in the atheist box. None of us actually knew an atheist, nor had we ever read a book written by an atheist, but Dr. I-Have-The-Truth told us he knew all there was to know about the atheist box and he was certain the atheist box was a false box with no bottom that led straight to hell. He told us many horrible things about the atheist box. I was glad I was not one of THOSE kinds of box dwellers.

Imagine my surprise to find out that the atheist box was nothing like Dr. I-Have-The-Truth said it was. In fact, I found out there was quite a bit of diversity in the atheist box. They argued back and forth with each other, but once they were done arguing they all went to the bar and were still friends. I had never seen such interaction before. In my box, when arguments broke out they usually ended  with one party calling  the other party not-a-true box dweller. Some of them even went so far as to leave the box and, just a few feet away, build another box. They said they were a new and DIFFERENT box, but everyone knew that the only thing different was the location of the box.

I found that I liked the atheist box. Those in the atheist box encouraged me to be skeptical of the every box. I had never heard this before. In the box I was from, we were told to never question the box and certainly to never question or doubt the box manual. The box keeper warned us that doubt led many a box dweller outside of the box never to return. We wondered, did they end up being recycled?

This new-found freedom to question and to be skeptical was quite liberating. It also caused a good bit of conflict for me. People from the box I had left were questioning whether I was ever a “real” box dweller. They said, Yes he was in the box but he never really believed the box manual. They called me a deceiver. Some even thought I was deluded. The box keeper used me as an illustration of what happens when a person becomes skeptical and asks questions

For a time, my wanderlust, while liberating, caused me a great deal of mental conflict. There seemed to be a constant tug and pull. I felt as if  I were going to be pulled apart. I heard about a man who specialized in helping people who left boxes similar to the one I was in. So I went to see him and I knew immediately that he could help with the tug and pull that was trying to tear me apart.

Over time, I began to see how the box, the box keeper, and the box manual had taken over my life to such a degree that I lost any concept of who I was. Every time I saw the specialist I reclaimed some of the self that I had lost. As this happened, I began to deal with the questions I had about the box and the box manual.

I am not sure when the moment was, but I do remember coming to a place where I felt completely free. I felt “born again.” I thought, I am a “born again” atheist. I no longer felt any pull to return to the box. Of course those in the box said “See what happens when you stay outside the box for a long time?”

Seven years have gone by since I found myself at the bottom of the slippery hill. It is hard to believe — seven years. People in the atheist box, the box I now call home told me that things would be better with time. They encouraged me to read and study. They told me “go where the data, the evidence leads you.”

Over time, I learned that the atheist box, and for that matter no box, is perfect. In every box there are arrogant, nasty, vindictive box dwellers. No box is perfect, but some boxes are definitely better than others. That’s the greatest wonder of all…I now have the  ability to freely choose the box (es) I want to be in.

I guess the best thing to say is this…I no longer feel boxed in.

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