Tag Archive: Atheism

Questions: Bruce, What Was Your View on the King James Bible?

questions

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

Richard asked: During your time in in the IFB what was your particular view on the KJV? Did you change this view prior to leaving Christianity?

I grew up in Baptist churches that only used the King James Bible. These churches weren’t King James-only per se. It just that the King James was the only Bible version these churches used. I don’t remember ever hearing a sermon on why church members should only use the KJV. This all changed with the publishing of the New International Version (NIV) in 1978 and the New King James Version (NKJV) in 1982. This forced Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches and pastors, along with IFB college and seminaries, to stake out positions on English Bible translations. The college I attended in the 1970s, Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, was decidedly King James-only. Professors and students were required to use only the KJV, and chapel speakers were required to do the same. Using a different translation was grounds for immediate expulsion. At the same time, however, the KJV extremism of Peter Ruckman was also banned, I suspect out of trying to avoid the infighting that Ruckmanism tended to foment. (Please read Questions: Bruce, In Your IFB Days Did You Encounter Peter Ruckman?) That said, Ruckman’s teachings found fertile ground in which to grow, and more than a few Midwestern graduates are Ruckmanites. They proudly advertise their beliefs about Bible translations by displaying on their church signs and literature KJV 1611. (Back in the day when Polly and I were looking for a church to attend, we took KJV 1611 on a church sign to mean: Danger! Infected with incurable disease. Do not enter!)

I entered the ministry a defender of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Word of God; “Word of God” being the King James Bible. While I was never a follower of Peter Ruckman — I despised his nasty, vulgar disposition and that of his disciples — I generally believed as he did: that the King James Bible was God’s perfect word for English-speaking people. I wasn’t one to spend much time preaching about Bible translations. Everyone knew that at the churches I pastored we ONLY used the King James Bible.

In the late 1980s, I read several books that called into question my belief that the King James Bible was inerrant. I concluded that no translation was without error, and that inerrancy only applied to the original manuscripts. I took the approach that the KJV was the best and most reliable translation for English-speaking people. I held this position until the late 1990s.

In 1995, I started a non-denominational church, Our Father’s House, in West Unity, Ohio. I would pastor Our Father’s House for seven years. It was here that my theology, politics, and social values began to change. In 2000, I decided to change which Bible translation I used when preaching. I had already been reading other translations in my studies, but using anything but a KJV for preaching was a big deal, at least for me. Congregants? They couldn’t care less. I used the New American Standard Version (NASB) for a year or so, eventually moving to the English Standard Version (ESV). I was still preaching from the ESV when I left Christianity in November 2008. Devotionally, I read Eugene Peterson’s masterful translation, The Message. I found great joy and satisfaction when reading The Message translation. It was a Bible that truly spoke the language of the common man.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Dear Christians, What Really Matters?

what really matters

When it comes to matters of Christian faith, who decides what is orthodox and what is not? Who is the final authority?

Is God the final authority? Which God?

Is the Bible the final authority? Which Bible? Which Translation?

Is the Pope the final authority?

Is the denomination the final authority?

Is the Church the final authority?

Is the pastor the final authority?

Perhaps, in classic Protestant, priesthood-of-the-believer fashion, the individual Christian is the final authority?

No two churches agree on what constitutes orthodoxy.

No two denominations agree on what constitutes orthodoxy.

Certainly, no two Christians agree on anything.

Disagreement, debate, disunity, and internecine warfare are common everyday experiences in Christendom.

Yet, atheists, agnostics, and other unbelievers are told that unless they embrace the God of the Christian faith they will surely die in their sins and spend eternity in the Lake of Fire.

Perhaps the Christian community would be better served if they stopped evangelizing, stopped debating non-believers, and instead diligently worked at getting their house in order.

Outside of the promise of a future home in Heaven, what does Christianity offer anyone in THIS life? Why would anyone want to become a Christian?

Christians want unbelievers to accept that they speak for God. They want unbelievers to accept that their Church has the truth, direct from God’s Holy Word. They want unbelievers to accept that their God is the ruler of all things, the giver and taker of life, he who holds the universe in the palm of his hand.

Yet, what do unbelievers see?

They see a Christianity that is hopelessly mired in endless argument, disagreement, and debate; unable to even agree on basic matters such as salvation, baptism, and communion. They see a Christianity that says, with great self-assurance, that unless you are like us you will go to hell and burn forever. They see a Christianity, particularly in the United States, that does not take seriously the teachings of the Christ they say they follow. They see a Christianity enamored with power, money, buildings, and self-importance.

What unbelievers really want to know is WHY would anyone want to become a Christian? Unbelievers are not interested in doctrine. They are not interested in whose church is the “right” one. They are not interested in your peculiar beliefs or practices. What unbelievers want to see is that “people matter.” That’s it. That people matter. Not for the sake of their money or power, but simply because they are fellow citizens of Planet Earth.

I vaguely remember reading somewhere that all the commands of the Bible can be summed up in two statements:

  • Love God
  • Love your fellow Man

Where can one find such a Christianity?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

How Evangelical Zealotry Harms People Psychologically

not in the bible

Guest Post by ObstacleChick

“I don’t have a lot of friends because I’m too busy trying to be holy.” — Sam, age 9

My brother and I share a biological mother, but we were not raised by the same people or in the same ways. I lived primarily with my grandparents, whose number one message was that my education should come first and that I should never be dependent on anyone else (particularly a man) for my financial stability. My brother was raised by my mom and stepdad with very little hands-on parenting. Where I was educated at an Evangelical Christian school with slightly above-average academics, he was expelled from that school in third grade for misbehavior and spent the rest of his education at an academically poor public school. Where I studied and was determined to be the top student in my class, he did as little work as possible to pass classes. I got a scholarship to a top-20 ranked secular university, and he never pursued education past high school. Our mom still retained some secular influences and ideas when I was young, but she had become more immersed in Evangelical Christianity by the time my brother came along. Where I have traveled the world, he has barely traveled within the United States. Whereas I moved 1,000 miles away from a somewhat rural suburb of Nashville to the New York City metropolitan area, my brother moved further from Nashville to an even more rural community. My progressive political leanings are counterbalanced by my brother’s extremely conservative political leanings. We’re both Generation X, though I am 12 years older.

Don’t get me wrong, my brother is an intelligent man. Like my grandma, my mom, and me, my brother loves to read. During adulthood, my mom and brother would trade books on religion and right-wing politics and would have discussions about them. Because I live 1,000 miles away, fortunately I did not get involved in all that. But their little conservative book club served to indoctrinate them further into their right-wing conservative religion and politics as they created their own personal echo chamber. When I did visit them, it was very difficult for me to stay away from incendiary issues, but I became adept at diverting the conversation to different topics. When my mom died, my brother mourned the loss of our mom’s “spiritual wisdom and guidance”, something I had no use for but never could articulate to him. My mom already suspected my apostasy, but she never knew the full extent of it. My brother doesn’t ask, and I’m glad because neither of us wants to face the idea that he would probably cut me (and my husband and kids) off from himself, his wife, and his two sons.

My nephews are 11 and 9 (almost 10). Though my brother is devout, his family does not attend church, mainly because he can’t find a local church with which he agrees. He does a lot of reading (A.W. Tozer is his current favorite), and he has joined an online/Skype men’s Bible study and prayer group. Every night, my brother teaches his sons and prays with them before bed. My older nephew doesn’t talk about religion much (he doesn’t talk about much except for music), but his younger, outgoing, vivacious brother does talk about it. Recently, he told my daughter that he thought other religions were bad and false and that a lot of people were led by evil spirits. He said that he knows a lot more about spirits than most adults because his dad was teaching him about them. My daughter asked him why other religions were bad, and he said it was because those religions did not promote God but were instead led by evil, deceptive spirits. She was afraid to ask him if he thought that people who followed those other religions were bad. But she did tell him that she thought there were a lot of good people in the world regardless of what religions they followed.

I suppose it should be no surprise that Sam told my son and daughter that he didn’t have a lot of friends because he was too busy trying to be holy. The definition of holy is as follows: specially recognized as or declared sacred by religious use or authority; consecrated; dedicated or devoted to the service of God, the church, or religion; saintly; godly; pious; devout. My brother is indoctrinating his sons to dedicate themselves to the service of his interpretation of the Christian God. I would love to be snarky and ask him what his interpretation of God is. On social media he posts a lot of Bible verses about the mighty God who repeatedly smote humans or ordered the smiting of humans, the judgmental God who gave his people 600+ rules to follow, the God who is righteous and will send sinners to hell, the God to whom we must submit our will. He likes verses with rules for separating oneself from the world, following rules, or remaining holy and chaste. He also posts a lot of articles touting the evils of the “Godless, communist, Luciferian left” (I seriously did not know that “Luciferian” was a thing). He recently posted a Christian article about remaining “pure” in a culture saturated with sexual imagery. (I am currently reading the book Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free by Linda Kay Klein, so I was particularly interested in seeing what the recommendations were in the article — basically your typical admonition regarding heterosexual sex within the confines of marriage as one would expect). I don’t get the impression that my sister-in-law is as devout as my brother is, and often she will try to soften or explain away some of his most fervent comments. She just started taking college courses as she wants to pursue a degree in nursing, and I wonder how exposure to outside non-religious ideas will affect her thinking. From time to time, I see that my brother “corrects” or “instructs” some of her social media posts by commenting with a relevant Bible verse, and I wonder what she thinks about that.

As my brother has grown more devout and I see how he is instructing his sons, I have been having a lot of memories regarding my own Fundamentalist upbringing. I rarely ever talked about it with my husband. He was a “Christmas and Easter” Catholic, so he was never indoctrinated with teachings about sin and hell or taught misogynistic or anti-LGBTQ ideas. During our early years of dating and marriage, we tried out some Catholic and progressive Christian churches because that’s what one does. We attended a Congregational United Church of Christ while our children were little, and this church was progressive, LGBTQ-affirming, and socially active. My husband liked the kind Jesus, the Christianity that teaches love and caring for others, the Christianity that encourages us to care for the less fortunate. We both lost our belief around the same time for different reasons, and we stopped going to church when our kids were about 7 and 5 years old, so our kids know very little about Christianity specifically or religions in general. We teach then humanistic principles.

As my brother has grown more devout and openly posts ultra-conservative articles and daily Bible verses on social media, and as we are having more contact with his family now that my daughter has enrolled in a university near where I grew up and where my brother lives, I’ve started sharing my upbringing with my family. In the beginning, I was sharing mostly with my daughter to make sure she understands the Bible Belt and our family members’ beliefs in general. Occasionally, I would share something with my husband or with the entire family. Every story I tell is met with looks of “WTF” on their faces accompanied by a few seconds of silence. It isn’t easy to leave my husband and daughter speechless, and I have been doing that frequently in the past couple of years. My husband is the most stunned as he lived with me for over 20 years without being aware of a lot of the psychologically damaging doctrines I was taught. He had no idea about the deep-seated fear of hell that cropped up unbidden for a decade after I had stopped believing in the Christian god and all associated aspects. He had no idea of twinges of fear and doubt that perhaps I was single-handedly responsible for damning my children to eternity in hell for not making sure they “got saved.” He had no idea that I was taught and rejected complementarianism. He had no idea that I had to learn about evolution on my own because the Christian school would not teach it and in fact taught ridiculous counterarguments. He had no idea of the cognitive dissonance I encountered repeatedly in college courses where indirectly or directly I learned that inerrancy of the Bible is patently false. He had no idea that the school and church I grew up in were teaching eschatology that scared the living daylights out of me. He had no idea that for several years, I struggled with reconciling lessons I learned in history and science that repeatedly showed that the doctrines I had been taught were false, yet I was fearful that I was being deceived by Satan and might be bound for eternity in hell.

Bruce has written about how Fundamentalist Christianity is psychologically damaging, and I can attest that it is. Please read the series, Do Evangelical Beliefs Cause Psychological Damage?) I didn’t realize that it was damaging, and I certainly did not understand the extent. I just know that I struggled through my teens and twenties with doubts, fears, self-esteem issues, and cognitive dissonance. Even when I was deeply embedded in the bubble – church and Christian school – I was inundated with doubts and fears. I actively advanced outside the rules of fundamentalist religion, each step deliberate but accompanied by the fear that I was doing something eternally damning. I chose each step, and I chose to deal with the eternal consequences. But each step required agonized examination and a great bit of courage. It took two decades for me to step away from Christianity entirely and nearly another decade to label myself “atheist”, “feminist”, “pro-choice”, and “liberal” without flinching from the negative programming surrounding those words.

So when I see my own brother indoctrinating my nephews with these dogmas, I become more and more concerned. When I hear my nephew saying that he doesn’t have a lot of friends because he is too busy being holy, it makes me sad and angry. Maybe these boys can grow away from these teachings as I did. I surely hope so. I hope that our limited influence can help these boys as they grow up.

Note:

I’m pretty sure that my husband believed in this Jesus:

Video Link

Lyrics

Jesus was way cool
Everybody liked Jesus
Everybody wanted to hang out with him
Anything he wanted to do, he did
He turned water into wine
And if he wanted to
He could have turned wheat into marijuana
Or sugar into cocaine
Or vitamin pills into amphetamines

He walked on the water
And swam on the land
He would tell these stories
And people would listen
He was really cool

If you were blind or lame
You just went to Jesus
And he would put his hands on you
And you would be healed
That’s so cool

He could’ve played guitar better than Hendrix
He could’ve told the future
He could’ve baked the most delicious cake in the world
He could’ve scored more goals than Wayne Gretzky
He could’ve danced better than Barishnikov
Jesus could have been funnier than any comedian you can think of
Jesus was way cool

He told people to eat his body and drink his blood
That’s so cool
Jesus was so cool
But then some people got jealous of how cool he was
So they killed him
But then he rose from the dead
He rose from the dead, danced around
Then went up to heaven
I mean, that’s so cool
Jesus was way cool

No wonder there are so many Christians

Questions: Bruce, Do You Believe in Free Will?

questions

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

Henriette asked: Do you believe in free will? Can anyone escape the social religious determinism they were brought up in if they have enough courage (or any other necessary faculties)?

I have written almost three thousand posts since December 2014, and not one of them dealt with the subject of free will. The reason for this is two-fold: first, discussions on free will always bring more heat than light, and second, I am not really certain what it is I believe about the matter. I continue to read and study the various leading voices on free will, but so far, I am not convinced one way or the other. That said, you did ask me if I believed in free will, so I will take a stab at answering it based on what I presently think on the matter.

When I look at the decisions I make day-in and day-out, it seems to me that I have free will. I am willingly and freely answering this question. Now, that does not mean that I was not influenced by outside forces or personal behavioral patterns. I have OCPD, so I crave order. I hate leaving things undone. I asked for questions all the way back in July and here I am still answering them. My mind is telling me, get it done, Bruce. Do it now. Henriette deserves an answer. Don’t delay. I also like pleasing others. I want to be well thought of, so it’s important to me answer this question. I also want this blog to be place where doubting Evangelicals can come to find answers to their questions and encouragement as they wrestle with what it is they actually believe. All of these things pressure (influence) me, leading me to take time tonight to answer this question. Yes, I am doing so FREELY, but not without influence.

Henriette also asks whether someone can escape the social/religious determinism they were brought up in? The short answer is yes. One need only look at my life to see that someone can escape these things. I was in the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches. It is extremely rare for someone my age with the ministerial experience I have to leave the ministry and later leave Christianity. By the time you have been preaching for twenty-five years, you have too much invested to leave it all behind. As the old gospel song says, I’ve come too far to turn back now. I don’t know of any of the men I attended Bible college with who are not still believers. Some have left the ministry, but all of them, at least outwardly, still profess to believe the core doctrines of Christianity. What was different about me? Why was I able to walk away? Was my defection an act of the will?

On one hand, it is clear, at least to me, that I willingly walked away from the ministry and Christianity. I CHOSE to stop believing. One the other hand, I can look at my sixty-one years of life and see a behavioral pattern that shows up time and time again. I was raised to be a true believer, an all-in kind of person. I can thank (or curse) my mom for this. I have never been someone who did things half way. I remember when I bought my first computer in 1991 — a VTech 286. I quickly became bored with this computer, so I bought an IBM PS1 286 And after that an IBM 486 for almost $1,700 (Thank you Sun TV for no money down, low payments, like forever). Over the years, I have owned numerous computers, and since the late 1990s, I have built my own. I spent hundreds of dollars on massive books about Windows computers and how they operated. I threw myself headlong into learning everything there was to know about Windows-based computers and software. I soon became the resident expert, and to this day extended family and friends call me whenever they have computer problems.

I repeated this behavioral pattern when I took up photography. I am the type of person who needs to know everything I can about a subject. This approach has led me change my mind many times, and has led others (especially former ministerial colleagues) to suggest that I am mentally unstable. I can’t leave things alone, content with just a cursory knowledge of a matter. I can’t even take a shit without reading the ingredients on the back of the cleanser or a magazine. There’s much to learn, and I have concluded that I haven’t scratched the surface of the knowledge available to me (and declining health has certainly curtailed this pursuit).

So, when I began to have doubts about Christianity, I threw myself headlong into reading books that challenged the beliefs I held for most of my life. And once I came to the conclusion that Christianity no longer made sense and that its fundamental claims could not be rationally and intellectually sustained, I left Christianity.

Did I leave Christianity solely for intellectual reasons? I so want to say yes, but that would be a lie. Yes, I left primarily for intellectual reasons, but there were also emotional and psychological factors that played a part in my deconversion. I like to think that I freely chose to stop believing, but I suspect that deep seated emotional hurts and psychological scars played a part too. They, without my help, played a part in pushing me out the door. These influences certainly played an instrumental part in me freely choosing to divorce myself from Jesus. Make sense?

I doubt that I have answered your question on the matter of free will. My thoughts are all over the place on this subject. All I know to do is live my life as if I have free will. Can any of us do otherwise?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

God Has a Plan for My Life

jeremiah 29 11

I photograph a number of local high school sporting events. Of late, I have been shooting Friday night football games. It is not uncommon to see along the sidelines injured players dressed in street clothes, unable to suit up for that night’s game. Several weeks ago, I struck up a conversation with one such young man. Earlier this year, this boy had been in a serious car accident that nearly killed him. He showed me photographs of his car after the accident, and I was amazed that he walked away from the collision alive. I expressed my amazement to him, to which he replied, well it’s evident that God has a plan for my life. I nodded my head and then said, you’re one lucky guy.

Two weeks ago was his first game of the year. He saw limited action. Last Friday, he was actively involved in his teams thrilling victory. Unfortunately, with two or so minutes left in the game, he broke his arm, ending his season. I immediately thought about what he told me about God having a plan for his life. What kind of God “saves” someone from a gruesome auto accident only to turn right around and break his arm? You see, if, as Evangelicals allege, that God is sovereign and he controls everything, then the God that caused this boy’s car accident and then saved his life is the same God who put into motion the play that broke his arm and ended his season. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how Evangelicals rationalize God’s behavior. What kind of God behaves in such bizarre manners? I could spend days telling similar stories about Christian experiences with the God who has a “plan” for their lives; stories that illustrate that the Christian God behaves quite bizarrely towards his chosen people.

Evangelicals believe that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, and is everywhere. It is impossible to escape the reach of the Christian God. He is the creator of all things — the first cause, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. Nothing happens apart from his purpose, plan, and will. The Psalmist said of God in Psalm 139:

Whither shall I go from thy [God] spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them

It is for these reasons that Evangelicals believe their God has a plan for their lives. From the moment their fathers’ sperm united with their mothers’ egg until they draw their last breath, God is working everything in their lives according to his purpose and plan. This thinking is so deeply ingrained in Evangelicals that it is impossible for them to consider how irrational such thinking really is. Based on the aforementioned illustration, God causes car accidents but calls the tow truck company afterwards, and he breaks arms but makes sure to send EMS to transport the injured to the emergency room. It sure sounds to me as if God is the type of person who likes to break stuff so he can fix it. This is the type of father who loves causing his family pain and suffering so he can teach them a lesson. At the heart of the belief that God has a plan for their lives is the notion that God uses the bad things in life to test and try Christians. Unbelievers have bad things that happen in their life because that’s what happens to sinners who are in rebellion to God. He’s trying to get our attention, so we face all sorts of adversity, trial, suffering, and loss because God has a message for us: think this stuff I’m heaping upon your head is bad? An eternity in the Lake of Fire is far worse. Southern Baptist evangelist Rolfe Barnard said that such things are warning signs along the road of life meant to cause us to stop and ponder our spiritual condition. Next time you hear of non-Christians dying of cancer or some other dreaded disease, just remember God was trying to get their attention (or killing them for not paying attention).

We mustn’t question or doubt God’s motives in doing what he does. Such questions are considered blasphemy. The apostle Paul said in the book of Romans that the creator God has a right to do whatever he wants. After all, he made us, and if he wants to afflict us, then that’s his right. As created beings, we have no right to complain. Sometimes I think Evangelicalism is much like the HBO show Westworld; a world where humans (God) create hosts to do with what they will. These humans are free to do what they want to the hosts, with their behavior only limited by how perverse their thinking is. Much like the dystopian TV show (and movie) Purge, humans are left to act on their wants, desires, and impulses. While Christians would argue that God is loving and just and would never act as humans do on Westworld or Purge, any cursory examination of God’s behavior suggests otherwise. God’s actions often mimic those of psychopaths and sociopaths. God is much more like the unsubs on Criminal Minds — violent, capricious, and arbitrary.

proverbs 19 21

Sometimes I wonder if Christians say “God has a plan for my life” because that’s what they are expected to say. Repeat the company line, Evangelicals think to themselves. God’s name and character must never be besmirched or dragged through the mud. God must always be seen as the good guy; the one wearing the white hat; the loving, doting father who only wants what’s best for his children. Yet, one need only read the Bible to see that God is anything but; that he is a ruthless, vindictive deity who is willing to wipe out the entire human race because they broke his rules. Yes, the Bible says, God is love, but if we apply the rule of judging people by what they do and not what they say, God comes across as a hateful, mean-spirited son of a bitch.

I am well aware of the fact that most Christians construct a God in their own image, ignoring not only what the Bible says about their God but also the implications and consequences of their theology. God is whatever Christians want him to be. Progressive Christians ignore much of the Old Testament and focus on Bible verses that speak of God’s love, compassion, and faithfulness. Calvinists love the Old Testament and focus on verses that portray God as a stern, demanding authoritarian. Many Evangelicals, on the other hand, see God as their buddy, lover, or their best friend. God is whatever you want him to be. Isn’t that the beauty of Christianity and the Bible? You can take the Bible and make it say whatever you want it to. It pretty much can be used to prove almost anything. So it is when it comes to painting a picture of God. Believers focus on the attributes of God that appeal to them, molding and shaping him into their own image. All Christians do this. I know I did. How could it be otherwise? No one has ever seen God or spoken to him, so all any of us are left with is what the Bible says and how pastors and churches interpret it. God’s not going to audibly tell anyone what’s right or wrong, belief-wise, so individual Christians are left to their own devices to determine who God is and what they should believe about him. This is why there are thousands of Christian sects with millions of members, each with their own view of God and interpretation of the Bible.

Most Christians are what I would call nominal or cultural Christians. They affiliate with this or that brand of Christianity, yet they infrequently attend church, rarely support its work with their money, and seldom give serious thought to what it is they really believe. Most grew up in Christian homes raised by Christian parents who taught them the one true faith, even if the sum of that teaching was to tell them that their family was Christian/Baptist/Methodist/Catholic, etc. Most Christians believe because they have always believed; because their parents always believed; because their grandparents always believed, and so on. In this sense, the United States is a Christian nation. Yes, it is rapidly succumbing to secularism, but the fact remains that by and large we at the very least nominally embrace Christianity as our country’s religion. This cultural Christianity is so deeply ingrained into American thinking that it often corrupts our ability to see things as they are. This is why most Christians with nary a thought say God has a plan for their lives, even though the facts of their lives and American culture at large suggest otherwise. This is why I don’t generally correct people or challenge their thinking when they speak of God having a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious plan for their lives. While I wish the aforementioned boy would ponder what kind of God it is that causes car accidents and breaks arms, I realize most Americans aren’t into such deep thinking. In some warped and bizarre way, saying God has a plan for their lives gives Evangelicals comfort. Most of us want to think that our lives have meaning and purpose, and what better way to gain this than to say an invisible deity who has never been seen and has never spoken perfectly and lovingly controls our lives; so that when bad things happen we can explain them away by saying, God has a reason for this happening to me. Sadly, for many people, they can’t bear the harsh reality of a world governed by indifference; a world where shit happens. I can’t help but think of Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert. Eifert is a top shelf football player when healthy. Sadly, most of his young career has been marred by injuries. 2018 was to be the year when Eifert finally was healthy and ready to help lead the Bengals to the playoffs. On Sunday, Eifert unfortunately gruesomely broke his ankle and is done for the season. What should we make of Eifert’s injury? Is there any other explanation but one: shit happens?

As an atheist, I know that life is random and things happen for no other reason than bad or good luck. There is no grand plan, no blueprint for the future. Life is what it is, and all any of us can do is embrace and live with what comes our way. I am not suggesting that we have no control over our lives. I’m not a fatalist. I know that there is some connection between making good decisions and consequences. But, I also know that making good decisions can, at times, result in things turning out differently from how we expected them to. Again, shit happens. Rare is the day that we don’t have to deal with something not turning out as planned or something happening that we did not expect. If this is all God’s plan, he sure is schizophrenic. If there is no God, then the only plan we have is the one we make. And that’s the essence of the humanist ideal — a human-centered view and understanding of the world. As a humanist, I strive to understand my insignificant place in this world and what I can do to make better not only my life, but those of my family, friends, neighbors, and fellow earth dwellers. I know that human behavior has consequences. One need only look at global climate change (global warming) to see how human behavior materially affects the world we live in. One need only to investigate the consequences of Donald Trump’s trade war to see its harmfulness. The same can be said for countless political and social decisions made by politicians, bankers, and corporate executives. Much of what comes our way is beyond our control. All any of us can do is make responsible, thoughtful, informed decisions; hoping that in doing so, things will work out well for us. Thinking that a cosmic deity has some sort of master plan only complicates matters by shutting off critical thinking about life. Simplistically believing that God is in control of the universe and everything in it allows Evangelicals to faith-it or let-go-and-let-God. It’s the ultimate surrender of the will and abdication of personal responsibility — a refusal to accept reality. I refuse to live in such a world. I genuinely feel bad for the boy with the broken arm and I genuinely lament the loss of Tyler Eifert of the Cincinnati Bengals. I have no time for a fictional God; a deity who supposedly holds earth in the palm of his hand. Such thoughts bear no resemblance to what I can see with my eyes and know with my mind.

Did you grow up in a religious culture that made much of God having a plan for everyone’s life? Please share your experiences in the comment section; that is, if doing so is part of God’s plan for you.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: How Climber Alex Honnold Views Religion

alex honnold

The notion of God is absent from Free Solo. With a movie like this, the audience might expect a scene where everyone is praying for your safety. But you’re not into that?

No, I’m very anti-religion. I think it’s all just medieval superstition. Religion relies on some desire for a spiritual connection and I do get that from just being out in Yosemite. I get that feeling of grandeur and awe in the world sitting on a cliff at sunset, watching the mountains glow pink, that a lot of people get through religious faith.

Do you think that your being an atheist is linked to your attitude about death?

I’ve certainly thought about my mortality more than most. I think some people turn to faith as a crutch, to avoid thinking about mortality — you know, “Well, I’ll carry on forever in some eternal kingdom.” But the harder thing is to stare into the abyss and understand that when it’s over, it’s over.

What does it feels like to stare into that abyss?

Being on big granite walls is a constant reminder that nature just does not care. You’re just another animal that slipped off something. I’ve seen animals fall off cliffs. I saw a mountain goat bite it in Mexico, which was crazy because you think of them as being so majestic and sure-footed. He survived, actually, and just got back up. I saw a squirrel fall off a cliff once. I was like, “Holy shit, even squirrels!” That’s nature, you know.

— Alex Honnold, Rolling Stone, Climber Alex Honnold on Filming ‘Free Solo,’ Facing Death and Rejecting Religion, September 26, 2018

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheists are Working for Jesus

jesus

Those who are in the company of the godless attack the godly. Why? Puppetry. Satan pulls their strings to accomplish his will but God is in control and even though the enemy has evil intentions through Atheism, cults, and the occult, the Lord turns it around for His will and for the benefit of those who have put their trust in Jesus Christ.

….

When Satan sends you an Atheist to attack you, unknown to the devil, God has sent him your way so he can hear the Gospel.

— Spaniard VIII, Spiritual Minefield, Why Do Atheists Attack Christians? Satan Is Pulling Their Strings, September 30, 2018

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Everyone Believes in God, Including Atheists

roger olsonI believe there can be no more important question than “Who is God?” because even among believers in God have so many different “pictures” of God in their minds. And every mental image of God has consequences for everyday life. Did you know that Hitler believed in God? He absolutely did. When he narrowly escaped death from a bomb planted near him by a conspirator he frequently attributed his survival to God. He saw his narrow escape from assassination as proof that God was with him and on his side.

I happen to think that everyone believes in God; I don’t take atheism very seriously. I believe awareness of a creator being who is all powerful and eternal is planted in our hearts. To me atheists are just those people who are in denial about what they really know. You have heard the old saying about war and soldiers “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Well, I will dare to say there are no atheists at all. There are only people whose god or gods are unworthy of worship or they prefer to live in denial of the one supreme creator God because they don’t want to be accountable to him.

So, for me the real question is not whether God exists but who God is. Which of the many gods people believe in, or deny believing in, is worthy of worship? And how should we Christians depict God to ourselves and other people?

— Roger Olson, Who is God? September 17, 2018

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Every Atheist Believes There is a Moral Law of Right and Wrong

fool says no god

One reason some choose atheism is to deaden the sting of a corrupt nature. If we can convince ourselves that there is no God, then we think we will never have to give an account for our wickedness. However, it is not only the Atheist who has a corrupt nature; all of us do. The difference is; some acknowledge it, and ask God for forgiveness and help. The nature your nurture is the one that will dominate.

God also accuses the atheist of a lack of understanding. Atheists cannot be accused of lacking knowledge or education. Many have a high IQ, and are well educated. However, as someone said, “The bigger the belfry, the more room for the bats.” Observation and understand can be worlds apart.  The atheist rejects the revelation of creation. Psalm 19:1-3. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.” As I understand this verse, the atheist will have to say, “I was just too dumb to see it.”

The atheist also rejects the revelation of conscience. Every atheist believes there is a moral law of right and wrong. Notice how Paul describes it. Romans 2:14-15. “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;).” God will use their on argument against them.

The atheist also rejects the revelation of Scripture. Any person can know beyond any doubt that the Scriptures are an accurate revelation of God, if he wishes. We give one challenge to the atheist on this matter. John 7:17. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”

Finally, the atheist rejects the law of congruity. When you find the key that fits the lock, you have the right one. The only key that answers the question about creation, conscience, Scripture, where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going, is the acknowledgment of a wise, and an all-powerful God. Otherwise, we must continue to swim in a cosmic swamp of soup until science can pull us out. The key that fits is an understanding that there is a God.

— Ken Blue, Ken Blue Ministries, Why God Says the Atheist is a Fool, May 16, 2012

Blue is a graduate of Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, the same school I attended in the 1970s. Blue’s LinkedIn page “humbly” says:

PASTURED THREE CHURCHES, ONE I STARTED WITH “0” PEOPLE AND HAD A HIGH ATTENDANCE OF 1800. PURCHASED FIVE ACRES OF PRIME PROPERTY, AND BUILT TWO BUILDING WITH AN ESTIMATED VALUE OF SIX MILLION DOLLARS. ALL ARE PAID FOR. WE HAVE SENT DOZENS OF YOUNG MEN AND WOMEN INTO THE MINISTRY AND MISSION FIELD. DEVELOPED THE PAL MINISTRY, WHICH IS A FULL MANAGEMENT PROGRAM. ALL DONE BY GOD’S GRACE!

As I have often said, when it comes to IFB preachers, penis size matters.

Who or What Gives Life Meaning and Value?

meaning of life alan watts

Evangelicals believe that it is God and the salvation they find in Jesus that give life meaning and value. I have had numerous Christians tell me that they would kill themselves if this life was all that there is. Paul echoed this thinking in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 when he said:

For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

For Evangelicals, life without Jesus is miserable, one not worth living. The sum of their existence is wrapped up in believing that God has a super-duper, awesome, wonderful plan for their lives and that there is coming a day when he will reward them for obediently sticking to the plan. Life is viewed as preparation to meet God after death. The goal is the divine payoff that awaits them in the sweet-by-and-by. Or so the official press release says, anyway.

Paying attention to how Evangelicals actually lives their lives tells a far different story. If life is all about God, you would think Evangelicals would spend their waking hours worshiping Jesus, praying, studying the Bible, and doing everything in their power to evangelize the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. If life is all about J-E-S-U-S, you would think Evangelical churches would have worship services every day of the week and twice on Sunday. If, as Evangelicals say, the second coming of Jesus is nigh, shouldn’t Evangelicals be about their Father’s business, working diligently, for their redemption draweth nigh?

What we find instead is that Evangelicals live lives no different from those of their non-Christian neighbors. I have been told countless times by Christian zealots that my life as an atheist has no meaning or purpose. I am just biding my time, living out a miserable existence until I die. However, when I carefully examine how Evangelicals live their lives, I quickly see that their wants, needs, and desires are no different from mine. I can’t help but notice that Evangelical homes have all the material trappings their unsaved neighbors have. It seems that Evangelicals have forgotten what the Bible says about loving the world and craving its goods and pleasures. Just yesterday, I perused the Facebook page of an Evangelical who loves posting Christian memes. And then, smack dab in the middle of his wall was a post about him looking forward to attending a KISS concert!  Oh, the irony, but that’s Evangelicalism to its core. The followers of Jesus talk a good line, but when it comes down to practicing what they preach, well they are no different from atheists, humanists, agnostics and other heathens who supposedly have empty, meaningless lives.

How about we agree that all of us — saint and sinner — find meaning and value in the same things; that all of us seek love and social connection; that all us crave to feel wanted and needed; that all of us enjoy the pleasures this life has to offer; that all us desire peace, comfort, and prosperity. No God needed. The fact that we are alive — think about THAT for a moment — is enough to fuel our quest for purpose and meaning. One need not turn to religion to find these things. All any of us needs to do is take a deep breath and LIVE!

Here are a few quotes from the book, A Better Life:100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy and Meaning in a World without God:

“I look around the world and see so many wonderful things that I love and enjoy and benefit from, whether it’s art or music or clothing or food and all the rest. And I’d like to add a little to that goodness.” — Daniel Dennett

“I thrive on maintaining a simple awe about the universe. No matter what struggles we are going through the miracles of existence continue on, forming and reforming patterns like an unstoppable kaleidoscope.”  — Marlene Winell

“Math . . . music . . . starry nights . . . These are secular ways of achieving transcendence, of feeling lifted into a grand perspective. It’s a sense of being awed by existence that almost obliterates the self. Religious people think of it as an essentially religious experience but it’s not. It’s an essentially human experience.”  — Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

“There is joy in the search for knowledge about the universe in all its manifestations.” — Janet Asimov

“Science and reason liberate us from the shackles of superstition by offering us a framework for understanding our shared humanity. Ultimately, we all have the capacity to treasure life and enrich the world in incalculable ways.”  — Gad Saad

“If you trace back all those links in the chain that had to be in place for me to be here, the laws of probability maintain that my very existence is miraculous. But then after however many decades, less than a hundred years, they disburse and I cease to be. So while they’re all congregated and coordinated to make me, then—and I speak her on behalf of all those trillions of atoms—I should really make the most of things.” — Jim Al-Khalili

You can read other powerful quotes here.

I know that I am in the waning years of life. My body is telling me that time is short, and it could be shorter yet if I have another fall like I did last week at my in-law’s home: full body slam, face first on a cement floor. The good news is that I saved my phone from getting broke! Talk about things that matter, right? I know that osteoarthritis continues to eat away at my spine. I was in college — a slim, trim, fit young whippersnapper — when I first consulted a doctor for my back. I have narrow disc spaces in my lower back, and age and arthritis continue to lessen that space, causing nerve compression. Several weeks ago, I saw my orthopedic doctor about a problem I was having with my right hip. I would stand up and start to move and then, all of a sudden my hip would give way and I would fall. After careful examination, my doctor told me my hip was fine; that it was my lower back that was causing the problem. Any one of these falls could do me in. I know that, and I do all I can to avoid hitting the deck. Try as I might to push back against the ravages of time and physical debility, I know, in the end, they will win. They ALWAYS win. Knowing this helps me focus on the things that really matter to me

Let me conclude this post with several quotes from an article by Tom Chivers titled, I Asked Atheists How They Find Meaning In A Purposeless Universe:

“The way I find meaning is the way that most people find meaning, even religious ones, which is to get pleasure and significance from your job, from your loved ones, from your avocation, art, literature, music. People like me don’t worry about what it’s all about in a cosmic sense, because we know it isn’t about anything. It’s what we make of this transitory existence that matters.

“If you’re an atheist and an evolutionary biologist, what you think is, I’m lucky to have these 80-odd years: How can I make the most of my existence here? Being an atheist means coming to grips with reality. And the reality is twofold. We’re going to die as individuals, and the whole of humanity, unless we find a way to colonise other planets, is going to go extinct. So there’s lots of things that we have to deal with that we don’t like. We just come to grips with the reality. Life is the result of natural selection, and death is the result of natural selection. We are evolved in such a way that death is almost inevitable. So you just deal with it.

“It says in the Bible that, ‘When I was a child I played with childish things, and when I became a man I put away those childish things.’ And one of those childish things is the superstition that there’s a higher purpose. Christopher Hitchens said it’s time to move beyond the mewling childhood of our species and deal with reality as it is, and that’s what we have to do.” — Jerry Coyne

“Life is a series of experiences, and the journey, rather than the end game, is what I live for. I know where it ends; that’s inevitable, so why not just make it a fun journey? I am surrounded by friends and family, and having a positive effect on them makes me happy, while giving my kids the opportunity, skills, and empathy to enjoy their lives gives me an immediate sense of purpose on a daily basis. I can’t stop the inevitable so I’ll just enjoy what life I have got, while I’ve got it. I won’t, after all, be around to regret that it was all for nothing. ” — Simon Coldham

“It’s honestly never bothered me. I suppose that’s because my definitions of ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ are pretty thoroughly rooted in the world I know. I know what happiness is, and love, and fulfilment and all that; these things exist (intermittently) in my short earthly life, and it’s from these things I derive my ideas of what a meaningful, purposeful existence is.

“I am, like anyone, staggered when I consider my tininess in the multi-dimensional scheme of things, but – and I know this sounds a bit silly – I don’t really take it personally. Meaning has to be subjective; atheism actually makes it easier to live with this, as who is better placed than me to judge the meaningfulness of my work, or my relationship, or my piece of buttered toast?” — Richard Symth

“People ask how you can find any meaning in life when you know that one day you’ll be dead and in due course nothing of you will survive at all – not even people’s memories. This question has never made sense to me. When I’m reading a good book, or eating a good meal, or taking a scenic walk, or enjoying an evening with friends, or having sex, I don’t spend the whole time thinking, Oh no! This book won’t last forever; this food will be gone soon; my walk will stop; my evening will end! I enjoy the experiences. Although it’s stretched out over a (hopefully) much longer time, that’s the same way I think about life. We are here, we are alive. We can either choose to end that, or to embrace it and to live for as long as we can, as fully and richly as possible.

“Obviously this means that we all have different meanings in our lives, things that give us pleasure and purpose. The most meaningful experiences in my life have been relationships with people – friends and family, colleagues and classmates. I love connecting with other people and finding out more about them. I enjoy the novels and histories that I read for the same reason and I like to feel connected to the people who have gone before us. I hope that the work I do in different areas of my life will make the world a better place for people now and in the future, and I feel connected to those future people too, all as part of a bigger human story.” — Adam Copson

You can read other wonderful meaningless quotes here.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Why Christianity is the Right Religion

peter guirguis

I remember many years ago when I was an atheist; there was a time when I was researching all the other religions.

I wanted to search if any of the claims that any of these religions made were correct.

As I was doing my research, I found that the supporters of some of these religions would give different reasons for why they thought a particular religion was true.

But the problem was that each religious supporter had a different reason for why they thought that religion was the right religion.

So I ended up researching each religion and looking at it to see if it made any claims about why it was the right religion out of all the other ones.

Now, I can tell you that through my research, not all religions claim that they are right even though its supporters may make that claim themselves.

So that’s what you’re going to discover today.

What is the standard that the Bible claims you should use to find out why it is the right religion out of all the other religions out there?

The Bible Has The Amazing Ability to Predict The Future

And to answer that question, you have to go to the book of Isaiah in the Bible, verses 9 and 10.

This is what it says, and this is God speaking in these two verses:

“For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.”

Now whether you’ve heard of this Bible passage before or whether this is your first time, it’s easy to miss what is being said here.

This Christian God in the Bible is saying that He is the only God that can declare the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done.

This is just another way of saying that the measure of a real God would be His ability to predict the future with 100% accuracy.

Therefore, the standard that we are going to use to see if the claim of Christianity is the one true religion out of all the other religions is to use its own claim that it can predict the future with 100% accuracy.

So what I’m going to do in this blog post is share with you three predictions in the past that the Bible got right.

Now mind you, these are three out of several hundred predictions that the Bible got right and it didn’t get any wrong.

But for time sake, I’m not going to be able to share all hundreds of predictions with you.

And I’m also going to share with you one prediction about the future that has not come true yet, but it looks like it’s going to come true very soon.

By the way, you’re going to want to prepare yourself for what’s coming ahead because there is a disaster coming very soon.

If you’re not ready, then you and you’re family will not be able to survive.

….

Prediction #1 By The Bible

The first prediction is that Jesus, the Savior of the world, would be born.

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Prediction #2 By the Bible

The second prediction that the Bible got 100% correct has to do with King Cyrus rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem.

….

Prediction #3 By The Bible

The third prediction that I want to share with you has to do with the birth of Israel as a nation.

….

— Peter Guirguis, Not Ashamed of the Gospel, Why is Christianity the Right Religion Out of 4,200?, September 10, 2018

Why Peter Guirguis became an atheist (and why it is doubtful he actually was an atheist in the typical sense of the word)

Video Link

Quote of the Day: Atheists Should Persuade, But Not Proselytize by Daniel Fincke

daniel finke

Should atheists engage in proselytization? I solicited questions about my philosophy of atheism on Facebook and that’s the topic of the first question: Do you think trying to “convert” people to atheism is a good idea generally or at least sometimes?

I don’t think atheism is something you “convert” to. Atheism is just one philosophical position, not an entire system of beliefs or anything like the complex set of beliefs and practices and communities that religions involve. There are religions that are atheistic and there are people with a (metaphorically) religious zeal about their atheism. There can also be atheist philosophies and communities that are not exactly religions but to one degree or another developed and organized and defined alternatives to religions.

But the real question being asked in the prompt question is whether it’s a good idea to try to get people to become atheists.

I am all for trying to persuade people of atheism, but not at all for trying to proselytize for atheism. I write articles making the case for atheism and in suitable forums where people are willingly up for debate I will argue for atheism directly to individuals.

But I would never approach my relationships with individuals with the attitude that it’s my job to change their thinking and change their lives. I do not target new people I meet and make it my mission to change them. I abhor the idea of forming relationships with people with the ulterior motive of just trying to get them to join my club. I also do not accost strangers or try to rope acquaintances into discussions about religion. It is wrong to approach relationships with others with a manipulative agenda to change them. If I cannot accept you as you are, then I am going to avoid having anything to do with you, not take it upon myself to change you. I don’t want to have the necessary self-satisfaction and self-righteousness to approach people in an asymmetric way where I see myself as the one in possession of the key knowledge of what is true and good and the other person is an ignorant person in need of my intervention. I want reciprocal encounters. I don’t want to engage in conversations with the attitude that I’m certainly right and I know what is best for the person I’m talking to and the other person is someone to be corrected. I don’t want to disrespect other people that way.

….

That said, I have described myself in the past as an “evangelical” atheist because I really do want to persuade people of atheism. I am unusually passionate about atheism becoming more common. I prefer to argue for atheism through the impersonal medium of writing because it allows people to process what I say in their own way and on their own schedule. My ultimate goal in advancing atheism is increasing people’s autonomy and rational understanding. Writing articles that people can privately read and digest without any social pressure from me is a great way for people to be truly free to engage the arguments on their own terms.

….

I also want to persuade people of atheism because I think it’s the best philosophical position on the question of interventionist personal deities and I think people ideally should believe what is true. So, even where a given individual’s theism does not link up to any undue deference to religious authorities, I would theoretically hope to persuade them of the better philosophical position (assuming I am right about what that is—and of course I’m happy to keep listening to my interlocutors and to be the one to change my mind if I am the one who is indeed wrong) since that’s a good in its own right. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having philosophical opinions or arguing for them because you think they’re correct and you think it’s, all things equal, better that people hold more correct philosophical views. This does not turn into proselytization as soon as the topic you have philosophical views about is theism or religion. Just because conflicts over religious ideas and practices have been nasty and oppressive does not mean that everyone who wants to advance a philosophical position about theism or religion is an authoritarian looking to impose a religion on others against their will.

— Daniel Fincke, Camels with Hammers, Atheists Should Persuade, But Not Proselytize, September 1, 2018