Polly and I regularly watch Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. Real Time, along with John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight and Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, highlight the important news stories of the week, giving them a comedic twist. Sometimes, when these shows focus on American religion, especially Evangelical Christianity, I am often irritated when they play loose with the facts. Bill Maher, by far, is the worst.
Maher loves to bash creationists. I am all for him doing so, but I wish he would not distort their beliefs when he does. As an atheist and a critic of religion, Maher has the responsibility to speak accurately when critiquing, attacking, or ridiculing creationist beliefs. Look, they make it easy for us, so the least we can do is represent their beliefs accurately.
Over the years, I’ve heard Bill Maher repeatedly say creationists believe the earth is 5,000 years old. I know of NO creationist who believes this. None. Nor do I know any who think the earth is 10,000 years old. Adding another zero doesn’t make their belief any more rational or scientifically correct. Creationists are literalists. They believe the book of Genesis is a science and history textbook. When the Bible talks about Adam living 930 years, Noah living 950 years, Abraham living 175 years, David living 70 years, and Jesus living 33 years, creationists believe these ages are factual. They also believe the genealogies found in the Bible are factual. This is why James Ussher, a 17th century Church of Ireland archbishop, was able to add up the ages and genealogies and conclude that the God created the universe on October 22, 4004 BC.
The chronology is sometimes called the Ussher-Lightfoot chronology because John Lightfoot published a similar chronology in 1642–1644. This, however, is a misnomer, as the chronology is based on Ussher’s work alone and not that of Lightfoot. Ussher deduced that the first day of creation began at nightfall on Saturday, October 22, 4004 BC, in the proleptic Julian calendar, near the autumnal equinox. He elsewhere dates the time to 6 pm. Lightfoot similarly deduced that Creation began at nightfall near the autumnal equinox, but in the year 3929 BC.
Ussher’s proposed date of 4004 BC differed little from other Biblically based estimates, such as those of Jose ben Halafta (3761 BC), Bede (3952 BC), Ussher’s near-contemporary Scaliger (3949 BC), Johannes Kepler (3992 BC) or Sir Isaac Newton (c. 4000 BC). Ussher’s specific choice of starting year may have been influenced by the then-widely-held belief that the Earth’s potential duration was 6,000 years (4,000 before the birth of Christ and 2,000 after), corresponding to the six days of Creation, on the grounds that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). This view continued to be held as recently as AD 2000,six thousand years after 4004 BC.
The universe then, according to creationists, is 6,019 years old not 5,000 years old. I sent Maher an email and a tweet about his inaccurate date. He did not respond.
Here’s why this matters. We who think the universe is 14 billions years old often criticize creationists for playing loose with the facts. I know, the difference between 6,019 and 5,000 is just 1,019 years, but we should do our best to accurately represent our enemy. If atheists and scientists are going to do battle with creationists, then the least they can do is know what their enemy believes, Far too often, atheists say things about Evangelical beliefs that are not true. They read a meme or see something on Facebook or Twitter and they assume that what they read is correct. We make ourselves look bad when we misstate our opponents beliefs.
Thanks to this blog, Facebook, Twitter, and breathing air, I come into contact with Christian fundamentalists every day. They comment on my blog, send me tweets, leave Facebook comments, and send me email. I’m like a human shit pile on a warm summer day. The fundamentalist flies are drawn to me and there’s little I can do about it. As an out-of-the-closet atheist and a writer, I know that dealing with Christian fundamentalists is part of my job description.
I’ve been blogging for more than seven years. I started and stopped several times, and every stoppage was predicated by the behavior of Christian fundamentalists and how their actions affected my health and mental wellbeing. Over the years, I’ve gotten mentally and emotionally stronger, my skin has thickened, and I am pretty much impervious to the petty, childish, boorish, ignorant behavior of fundamentalists. When I am up to it, I might engage them a bit, but most of the time I let them piss on my doorstep and I ignore them. When they don’t get the desired response from me, they usually head off to another fire hydrant they can whiz on (yes, I am full of metaphors today).
Some fundamentalists have upped their game and turned to electronic means of bullying. Readers may remember all the problems I had last year with spam bots. At one time, I was receiving 1,500 spam comments a day. This was a concerted effort by someone to frustrate me and cause me grief. During this same time period, I had someone trying to access the blog login. Now this happens routinely a dozen or so times a day, but this time was different. They attempted to login thousands of times a day. The good news is they failed. My login remained secure and no spam made it to the live site.
Currently, I am receiving about a hundred spam comments a day. Quite manageable. In most cases, it’s drive-by spammers wanting to either infect my computer with a virus or make my penis larger. In the case mentioned above, it was a directed attack. Someone deliberately wanted to cause me problems, perhaps even cause me to stop blogging. A great victory for Team God, yes? Yea God!
Yesterday, someone decided to set up a fake Facebook account in my name. They then gained access to my Friends list (my fault since I had it set to “public”) and sent them a new friend request. About 25 of my friends friended the fake Bruce Gerencser, and after they did they got a private message from the Fake. The message? A Christian one, meant to witness to them. Fortunately, several dozen friends contacted me about the fake account and in less than an hour Facebook shut it down. For future reference, I am the only Bruce Almighty Gerencser in the world. If we are already connected through social media, any other Bruce Almighty is a false one.
The one thing I have learned from this is that Christian fundamentalists, for the most part, are intractable. Intractable is not a word used very often, so let me give you the dictionary definition:
This word perfectly describes most of the fundamentalists I come in contact with through this blog, Twitter, and Facebook. Certainty has turned them into nasty, arrogant, hateful individuals who have forgotten what their Bible says about the fruit of the spirit and how they are to treat others. Safe behind their digital shield, they violently brandish their word sword, caring little about what damage they might do. Worse yet, they fail to realize that they are pushing people towards agnosticism and atheism. Why would I ever want to be a part of a religion that allows and encourages maltreatment of others?
As a pastor, I always taught church members that our actions spoke louder than our words. How we treated others determined how our beliefs would be judged. While I may have been a fundamentalist for many years, I never treated people like I’ve seen fundamentalists treat myself and others. As I mentioned in the comment rules, they are people who haven’t learned to play well with others. They are the school-yard bullies, demanding all bow to their God and their interpretation of the Bible.
I know there is no use trying to shame Christian fundamentalists into acting like they have graduated preschool. If seven years of blogging has taught me anything, it has taught me that I can’t change how a fundamentalist thinks or acts. But, Bruce, you were a fundamentalist as were many of the people who read this blog, and you changed! True enough, but I also know how hard it is to change.
The majority of fundamentalists will believe what they believe until they die. Why? Because their entire life is wrapped up in their belief system. They are in a self-contained bubble where everything makes sense. If you have not read, The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You Are in It andWhat I Found When I Left the Box, please do so. I think you will find both posts helpful in explaining the fundamentalist bubble. Until people are willing to at least consider that there is life outside of the bubble, there is no hope for them.
I am convinced that inerrancy — the belief that the Bible is without error — keeps people chained to the fundamentalist God. Armed with an inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible, given to them by the supernatural God who wrote and autographed it, they go into the “world” and wage war against all who disagree with their literalist interpretation of the Bible. If you want to see this belief in action, read the recent comments on The Bob Jones III Non Apology Apology, If You Don’t Believe the Bible You Can’t be Saved, and Family Driven Faith Part Two. One commenter was so certain he was right and smarter than the rest of the class, that he had no need to read a book or any of my other blog posts. He was right, end of discussion.
Those of us who were once Christian fundamentalists understand the fundamentalist pathology. After all, we wuz one of them. We know how certain and arrogant we once were, full of God and shit. We would have remained this way had it not been for an event, life circumstance, book, website, or blog. When one of these things poked a tiny hole in our bubble, we tried our best to patch the hole. But, try as we might, we could not get any of the patches to stick, so our bubble deflated. In rushed the “world” with its knowledge. From that day forward, we knew we could no longer stay in the bubble that had been our home for as long as we could remember. Our fundamentalist Christian friends and family, along with our pastors and colleagues, tried to patch and re-inflate the bubble; but it was too late. Like the horse escaping its pen, we were free, and once free we were not coming back.
My purpose in life is NOT to debate, fight, and argue with Christian fundamentalists. It is a waste of time to do so, and since I have so little time left on this earth, I don’t want to squander it casting my pearls before swine. I’d rather spend my time helping those who find themselves outside of the fundamentalist bubble. For the confused, hurt, looking for help and answers, I want to be someone they can turn to for love and support. I also want to help and be friends with those who have already transitioned away from religion. They want to know what a post-God life looks like. Through my writing, I try to be a help. A small help, a temporary help, whatever they need from me I try to provide. I am not a guru, nor do I have all the answers. At best, I am a bartender, willing to spin a yarn, provide entertainment, and listen to the woes, cares, and concerns of others.
Through this interaction, I gain something too. Not another church member or notch on the handle of my gospel six-shooter. I have no church or club, I am just one man with a story to tell. But, I do gain support and strength from those who make this blog part of their day-to-day routine. Sometimes, this blog is a cheap form or therapy; other times it is a raucous Friday night at the bar with friends. As people ride along with me on the Bruce Gerencser Crazy Train®, they have gone from acquaintances and readers to friends. Perhaps, this has become another bubble for me, but if it is, I do know there is an entrance and exit that allows me the freedom to come and go as I please. Freedom — a word I never really understood until I saw God, the church, the ministry, and the Bible in the rear view mirror.
When Women Have Abortions, 2010 Guttmacher Institute
Here are the FACTS about abortion:
Very few abortions occur at late or full term. 89% of all abortions occur in the first trimester, with 63% occurring in the first nine weeks. 98.8% of abortions take place before viability. Late term abortions after twenty week are 1.2% of all abortion procedures performed in the United States. Out of 1.2 million annual abortions, 14,400 are after 20 weeks. Most of these abortion are medically necessary due to the health of the mother, the fetus, or both.
I realize that almost half of Americans are pro-life, or at least when polled they say they are pro-life. I am not at all convinced that as many people are pro-life as the polls suggest.
I wonder how pro-lifers would respond to polling questions like these:
Your eleven year old daughter is raped by a serial rapist and she became pregnant. Would you support your daughter having an abortion?
Your wife is raped by an AID’s infected man. Her rape was a Todd Akin “legitimate” rape and she became pregnant. Would you support your wife having an abortion?
Your wife is pregnant with a fetus that tests show will be born without a brain. Would you support your wife having an abortion?
Your wife is in danger of dying if her fetus is carried to term. The doctor says unless she has an abortion she will die. Would you support your wife having an abortion?
Your wife is carrying a dead fetus. Should she have an abortion to remove the fetus? Why? Perhaps almighty God will work a miracle and breathe the breath of life back into the fetus. Shouldn’t you wife wait to see if God works a miracle?
When faced with reality and not political talking points I wonder how many people would actually stand by their no-exceptions anti-abortion stance?
Some pro-lifers say they support exemptions for rape, incest, and if the life of the mother is at stake. However, these exceptions are antithetical to the pro-life view. If life begins the moment the egg and sperm unite, then any abortion is the killing of a human life. It is inconsistent and hypocritical to call yourself pro-life and then turn right around and say, in some circumstances, it is permissible to kill the fetus. Shouldn’t this life and death choice be left in the hands of God?
According to anti-abortionists, life begins at conception. At the very moment the sperm and egg unite a new life is created. Anti-abortionists are intractable when it comes to their position. Life begins at conception…end of debate.
Let me tell you a story……
This story takes place at the We Make Life Possible Fertility Clinic.
Sue gave birth to a beautiful baby girl through in vitro fertilization. Her baby girl is 1 month old . Sue stopped by the Fertility Clinic to show off her newborn to the Clinic staff.
While Sue was at the clinic, a huge explosion rocked the place and the clinic was engulfed in flames. Later speculation on World Net Daily, suggested a supporter of Barack Obama was behind the attack.
John, named after John THE Baptist, a pro-life activist, happened to be passing by the clinic when the explosion took place. John went running into the clinic hoping to perhaps save someone from the fire.
John had been to the We Make Possible Life Fertility Clinic before. His wife Patience had problems conceiving, and not wanting to wait on God to open her womb, John and Patience went to Clinic. While the treatment was successful, Patience miscarried a few months into the pregnancy.
John knew the Clinic stored hundreds of fertilized eggs (embryos) in a freezer. As he rushed into the Clinic, John saw Sue huddled in a corner with her newborn daughter trying to get away from the fire. John thought “Surely I should save these two.”
John thought for a moment, asking himself What Would Jesus Do? Suddenly, he realized the fire was going to destroy all the frozen embryos. John told Sue and her baby Sorry, maybe Jesus will come rescue you, and he rushed to the freezer where the frozen embryos were stored. Through John’s heroic effort, hundreds of frozen embryos were saved. Sadly, Sue and her newborn daughter were burnt to death.
Who among us would fault John? After all, he acted according to the greater good. Who wouldn’t save 200 lives at the expense of 2 lives?
The above story follows the logic of the life begins at conception viewpoint to its illogical conclusion. There is no difference between 200 embryos and Sue and her baby. Life is life. It makes perfect sense for John to save the frozen embryos and not Sue and her little one. Surely John would be praised for saving the 200 embryos, right? If the clinic is unable to reopen, perhaps the frozen embryos can be put up for adoption. After all EVERY embryo is a life.
If life begins at conception and terminating a pregnancy is the murder of a baby as pro-life zealots claim, then the following conclusions can be made:
The woman who has the abortion is a murderer
The doctor who performs the abortion is a murderer
The nurse who helps with the abortion is a murderer
The receptionist who books the abortion appointment is a murderer
The person who took the woman to the clinic is a murderer
If these conclusions are true, then it means that none of these people will go to heaven when they die. Why? The BIble says:
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. Revelation 21:8
It is also fair to conclude that people who kill innocent men, women, and children in war are murderers too. Where are the same pro-life zealots proclaiming the evil of war? It seems that killing a zygote is murder, but killing an Afghan child or mother is not. It seems that the only life pro-lifers protect is that which has not yet been born. Why is this?
I have come to the conclusion that pro-lifers who do not condemn war are guilty of facilitating murder.(use their logic and exegesis) Pro-lifers charge those who believe abortion should be rare, safe, and legal with facilitating murder. Pro-lifers make it quite clear that those who promote and facilitate abortion cannot be a Christian. How can they be since they are facilitating murder? I ask then, what about pro-lifers who promote and facilitate war. How can they be Christian and support the murder of innocent men, women,children, and the unborn? It seems to me that heaven is going to be quite empty if murderers are barred from entering. If you still doubt that no murderers will enter heaven:
Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. Revelation 22:14,15
And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matthew 19:17-19
In about 17 months there will be a Presidential election. Republicans know they have a fight on their hands. They need to make sure that the faithful turn out in record numbers and vote for the Republican candidate. They need to appeal to the value voters, those who hold to right-wing political and social beliefs.
One of the key issues that will make it to the ballot in 2012 is whether or not a fertilized egg is a person. Personhood USA is circulating petitions in all 50 states hoping to get politicians to enact personhood laws. According to Rachel Maddow, there are already eight states debating personhood legislation and with 2012 being a Presidential election year it is quite likely that there will be a concerted effort to get personhood initiatives on the ballot.
One of the implications of Personhood laws is that they could make the use of birth control pills illegal. (since birth control pills are an abortifacient and can, and do cause spontaneous abortion) 46 years ago in Griswold v. Connecticut the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the right of privacy extended to the use of contraceptives and states could not ban the sale of contraceptives. (it is hard to believe there was a time when selling birth control was illegal)
Personhood laws could upend not only Roe v. Wade but Griswold v. Connecticut. If a fertilized egg is a person, then any deliberate effort to kill the fertilized egg would be considered murder. A quick perusal of The Pill Kills website will make it clear that the personhood crowd is dead serious about banning abortion and birth control.
What is the implications of a personhood law?
All abortion would be illegal, including abortion in the case of rape and incest
Abortion to save the life of the mother would be outlawed since it is illegal to murder one person to save another
Using any form of birth control that is an abortifacient would be illegal
Our entire legal code would need rewriting to reflect that a fertilized egg is a person
A person causing a woman to miscarry could be charged with murder.
Parents would be able to claim the fertilized egg as a dependent on their income tax return
Fertilized eggs would be eligible for adoption
Stem cell research would be curtailed and possibly banned
I can imagine a new Evangelical evangelism outreach to fertilized eggs. “Winning People to Jesus, One Fertilized Egg at a Time.”
We must not sit on the sidelines while right-wing Christians attempt to push their social agenda down the throat of the American people. We must consistently and continually point out that personhood laws are fraught with legal implications that will turn the legal code into a mine field.
Right-wing Christians are not going away. Obama being elected President was a wake up call and they have no intentions of sitting idly by and letting liberal, fertilized egg killing Democrats win in 2012. I expect a vicious fight, not only on the federal level, but the state and local level too.
Look at the graphic below. Is what you see a baby? Is aborting this the same as murdering your mother, father, or grandmother?
Three Day Old Human Embryo.
Only those blinded by their religious ideology can conclude that this is a picture of a baby. At best, it is potential life, but not life itself.
Now let me get personal for a moment.
If you believe people who support a woman’s right to an abortion are murderers or evil people, then why do you have anything to do with me? If this is your view, why would you want to associate with a neighbor, friend, husband, father, father-in-law, or grandfather who advocates m-u-r-d-e-r? IF I am a murderer because I support the slaughter (your word) of over a million babies a year, then aren’t I just as evil as Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy?
And herein lies the problem with your shrill rhetoric. I am a kind, decent, loving neighbor, friend, husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather. Yes, I am an atheist but I am more “Christian” than many of the Christians you know.
How about asking me WHY I support a woman’s right to an abortion? If asked, you would find out that:
I don’t think human life begins at conception. Potential life, yes, but human life? No. Science tells me that this is true, not a pre-science, antiquated religious text.
When I look at the embryo above I don’t see a “baby.” It is a group of cells, not a baby.
I support a woman’s right to use birth control to keep from getting pregnant. I know that some forms of birth control might cause a spontaneous abortion, but I have no problem with this since I don’t think life begins at conception.
Since 89% of abortions occur in the first trimester, long before viability, I fully support a woman’s unfettered right to an abortion. This right includes over the counter access to morning after drugs.
I do not support abortion on demand after viability. However, only 14,400 a year occur after viability, and, in most cases, these abortions are medically necessary due to the health of the mother, the fetus, or both.
I am an atheist. I don’t believe in God and I don’t believe the teachings of the Bible. My beliefs are not governed by the Bible or the teachings of a sect. When I came to the view I now hold on abortion it was because of the science behind the abortion debate.
I am also a husband, father, father-in-law, and a grandfather. If ANY of the women in my family were raped or were carrying a fetus that could cost them their life, I would want them to have access to every medical and psychological means necessary to help them. I am most concerned for the LIVING.
I didn’t come to this position easily. I have a daughter with Down Syndrome. I know many women have an abortion when they find out they are carrying a fetus with Down’s. I can’t imagine our life without Bethany. My brother was born three months premature, not too many weeks past the viability line. I can’t imagine life without my little brother. My point is this: everything doesn’t fit neatly in a pro-life or pro-choice box. Life is messy and we are often forced to make hard decisions.
This post is an attempt to get people to see that it is simplistic and offensive when people label someone like me a murderer or evil. But, I don’t do that, you might say. Are you sure you don’t? Every time you post to your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest that people who support abortion are murderers or evil, you ARE saying I am a murderer or evil. This is the inescapable conclusion of your rhetoric and moralizing.
Just substitute abortion for climate change. This is how I often feel when trying to talk with someone who confuses their beliefs for facts.
I have come to the conclusion that there is no common ground to be had with people who are pro-life. They start with religion and not science, and I see no way of finding common ground. All I can do is present the facts about abortion and work to keep them from causing any further harm to women.
I understand the pro-life view, I really do. I was pro-life for most of my adult life. I fully understand the why’s of being pro-life. I know all the proof-texts and I think the Bible supports the pro-life view, along with the pro-slavery, pro-polygamy, pro-incest, pro-genocide, pro-war, pro-peace view.
I understand where you are coming from. Now it is time for you to give me the same courtesy.
Freshman class, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976, Polly is first row on the left, Bruce is third row, eighth from the left.
From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College , an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution in Pontiac, Michigan. Polly also attended the college, as did her father, and uncle. While not as large or as prestigious as institutions like Bob Jones University, Hyles-Anderson, Tennessee Temple, or Pensacola Christian College, Midwestern is known for turning out men who are church planters and fierce defenders of the Word of God. Started in 1953 by Dr. Tom Malone, Midwestern once had an enrollment of over 400 students. These days, the enrollment is less than a hundred and in 2010 the college moved its location to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan.
At one time, Midwestern advertised itself as a character building factory. Over the past 62 years, this factory has graduated hundreds of men and women, each devoted to the fundamentals of the faith. While some of the students who attended Midwestern no longer wear the fundamentalists label, I do not know of one Midwestern attendee who is a liberal. Best I can tell, there is only one man who became a liberal and that is me. Certainly, many churches pastored by Midwestern-trained men are Evangelical and to the left of the fundamentalism taught by the college, but none of them, as far as I know, are liberal or progressive. Even more amazing, as far as atheism is concerned, I am the only person who attended Midwestern and entered the ministry as a Midwestern-trained preacher who is now an atheist.
I am soooo special. From time to time, I see in the logs search strings like “the Midwestern Baptist College preacher who became an atheist.” Google? This site is #1. Bing? #1. I am as rare as real science exhibit at the Creationist Museum. I am sure there are others who attended Midwestern who no longer believe, but I am the only person who has dared to poke his head above the hole and say so.
As of today, there is NO religious persecution in the United States. Every citizen is free to worship any or no God. Every citizen is free to worship when, where, and how they wish. I know of no law that prohibits the free exercise of religion. The United States, when it comes to religion, is the freest nation on the face of the earth. Yet, despite the evidence, many on the religious right think they are being persecuted, and if Barack Hussein Obama has his way Sharia law will be instituted and Christianity will be outlawed. If the socialist, communist, Kenyan born Obama is not stopped, by the time of the 2016 presidential election, Christians will be persecuted, incarcerated, and possibly killed, just like Hitler did to the Jews in World War II.
Think I am kidding? I am on the American Family Association’s (AFA) mailing list. (know thy enemy) In today’s digest was an article written by Jim Shempert titled America’s Future: Christian Persecution. What graphic did AFA and Jim Shempert choose for the article?
That right, Shempert and AFA think that Christians will soon be treated just like the Jews, gypsies, and mentally handicapped were treated by Hitler and Nazis in World War II.
Here’s what Shempert had to say (link no longer active):
…This blog is intended for the Church. If you are not a Christian, and your only goal is to tear down Christianity, you can stop reading here.
Church, Christianity is under attack all across the globe. The persecutions of the Church are definitely not the same but they all have the same root. Imagine trying to be a Christian in Iraq/Syria/anywhere south of Turkey right now… Standing for your faith will be met with loss of property, threats, beatings, and death. These are common occurrences. If you don’t believe me, I encourage you to go to Google. Type in “Middle East Christian persecution” and hit “search.” In literally half a second, Google will return to you 1.1 million articles/pages on persecution of Christians in the Middle East. To focus on a different area, go back to Google and search for “Christian persecution in Africa.” In .6 seconds, you are greeted with 2.5 million articles/pages that deal with Christian persecution in Africa.
Now, the current resident of the White House believes that the atrocities committed by Muslim terrorist groups are not indicative of all Muslim people. Here’s a potential fire starter: I happen to agree with him there. Personally, I believe the Muslim faith to be incorrect in its focus. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that no man cometh unto the Father but by Him. As those Muslims must surely think that I am wrong in my focus. However, I do not think that all Muslims are terrorists, or that they are all on jihad. I also don’t believe the line that these extremist groups are not focused around Islam. I know that the resident of the White House likes to continue his crusade against Christianity by reminding us that at one time, horrible atrocities were committed by those who claim the name of Christ. His problem, and all those who claim moral equivalency, is that he is unable to call EVIL what it is: EVIL. He is able to quickly tear apart Christianity, and say that America was never a Christian nation, but he is unable to say that Islamic terrorism is evil.
I’ve had a long conversation with a friend on this, and we came to the conclusion that if any group that claims Christianity starts cutting off people’s heads while singing “Just as I am,” the first people to respond will be Christians. We will police our own. The soldiers sent to stop them will probably be Christians, at least in some part. Rest assured, the current White House, will seek great joy in touting that it is CHRISTIANS doing this. “See…they are doing it too!” A 5 year old child has more intellect and intelligence.
The point is… American is no longer a Christian nation. Those are hard words to hear. They were even harder to type. That’s not to say that it never was. America was built around Christian principles, with Christian men and women leading it. Those who claim otherwise are just repeating a Goebbels lie: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” The nation that I grew up in, is no more. Being viewed as an evangelical Christian now, is to be seen as a leper. “Those close minded, bigoted, judging Christians.” “Why don’t you just love? That’s what Jesus did.” (That one usually comes from someone who hasn’t opened a Bible since grade school) “Judge not, that you be not judged.” That’s Matthew 7:1 for any of you that use it. You might want to continue down chapter 7 to verses 15-20. Might do you some eternal good…
…What’s the next step for those who only want their ears tickled? To silence those who don’t! Anyone who preaches the Light, will be resisted by the darkness. Offensive words will be created to describe them and shouted over and over and over until the masses begin to repeat them. They will be chastised in the media, lose their jobs, their businesses, their property, their ability to live their lives the way they choose. The assertion that they are ignorant will be constantly repeated. Their very freedom will be threatened. Oh wait, that’s already happened…
Martin Niemoller was a pastor in Germany during the Nazi regime and also a concentration camp survivor. He is remembered most for this quote:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Ronald Reagan is by far the greatest president of my lifetime. He said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Those words could never be truer than they are today. As Christians, we are at a crossroads in America. We can stand up, and let our voices be heard. We can fight at the ballot box for the rights that we were always guaranteed. Or, we can continue to allow our anti-Christian government to destroy the basic tenants of our faith. The choice is ours…
…What happens to those of us that resist? How long before we become “enemies of the State?” How long before we are sent to “camps” for re-education? Sound crazy? The German people in the ‘30’s would have said the same thing. In a few short years, millions would be imprisoned and executed for their faith…
…I live in relationship with Jesus Christ as my Savior. My life is forfeit. If it is His will that I must be sacrificed for my stand for His Name, then so be it. Even Jesus didn’t turn away from death when presented with it. He was obedient to the end.
American Christian, most of the rest of the world knows this already, from experience. But there is coming a day when to identify as a Christian in America will bring consequences…
I love it when groups like AFA use Martin Niemoller’s quote to suggest that what happened in Hitler’s Germany will soon happen here. Here’s the problem: no one has come for the socialist, trade unionist, or Jew. Yes, many on the political and religious right fight against socialism and trade unions, but no one would suggest that the religious right is persecuting socialists or union members. They most certainly are not persecuting the Jews. The religious right loves Israel, well at least until Jesus comes back and slaughters all the unbelieving Jews.
We live in a free country. While I think personal liberties are under attack by corporate, military-industrial complex, and surveillance-industrial complex interests, I have no fear of being persecuted or jailed if I oppose these interests. Like the Christian, atheists like me are free to write about, attack, critique, and make fun of religion. I don’t fear the government breaking my door down and arresting me for something I have written.
Unfortunately, when one lives in a country where freedom of belief and practice is ensconced in its founding documents and law, the slightest denial of freedom or the slightest inconvenience can be viewed as an attack on freedom and personal rights. The religious right thinks the move towards same-sex marriage and justice and equal protection under the law for gays is an infringement of their religious rights. Same-sex marriage really is THE issue that has the religious right foaming at the mouth. However, allowing same-sex couples to marry in no way infringes on a person’s right to believe and worship as they wish. If same-sex marriage was legal tomorrow in all fifty states, absolutely nothing would change for Christians. They would still be free to pray, read the Bible, evangelize, attend a house of worship, and, get this, forbid gays and same-sex couples from being members in their church.
No clergyperson will ever be required to marry a same-sex couple. Since marriage is a secular function of law, a pastor is free to choose who he will marry. It is the marriage license, not the ceremony that gives a marriage legal force. This is why, in states like Alabama, public officials must issue a license to heterosexual and same-sex couples. They are acting on behalf of the state, a secular institution. If they cannot, according to their conscience, fulfill their duty to issue a marriage license to all who request one, then they should resign. Their resignation is not persecution. All of us have beliefs and moral and ethical values that might, in some circumstances, preclude us from holding a certain job.
We are 20 months away from electing a new president. Our country faces many pressing and trying issues: war, threat of war, poverty, crumbling infrastructure, government debt, etc. Instead of whining and screaming about being persecuted, I wish the religious right and their representatives in Congress would reach across the aisle and meaningfully try to find a solution to the pressing issues of the day.
The American Family Association, and other right-wing religious groups like them, knows that their followers must constantly be poked lest they become apathetic. What better way to wake people up than to scream PERSECUTION! Until Christians realize groups like the AFA are manipulating them for political and material gain, they will continue to be outraged every time they are told they need to be outraged. (the outrage machine One Million Moms is an arm of the AFA) Until they are willing to actually think for themselves and throughly investigate the issues without checking in with Fox News first, there’s little hope of meaningful dialog.
But Bruce, same-sex marriage is wrong! Why? Without the Bible, please defend your position. I have yet to have someone successfully defend the prohibition of same-sex marriage without appealing to their religious beliefs and a sacred text like the Christian bible. Once religion is removed from the equation, there is no reasonable argument to be made for prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying.
That said, I still believe in the American political process. Christians are free to work towards a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. They have the same rights and privileges as I do. Let’s duke it out in the public square. Of course, the religious right doesn’t want to do this, knowing that they would likely never get enough states to approve a constitutional amendment.
The real issue here is that Christianity is losing its preferential place at the table. For most of our country’s existence, the Christian religion has been the centerpiece. This is natural, of course, since most Americans self-identify as Christian. However, more and more Christians are more to the left politically and religiously, especially young adults. More and more Americans no longer have any religion. Atheism, agnosticism,humanism, secularism, religious indifference, and “none of the above” continue to increase. Like it or not, right-wing Christians must recognize that they no longer have the political and social power and clout they once had. If they don’t like this, I suggest they get busy attracting new people to their cause.
If you are an atheist, agnostic, secularist, or liberal Christian and you often find yourself in discussions with Evangelicals/fundamentalists about the Bible, then I want to recommend you download the E-Sword Bible Study Program. The program is free. There are additional modules you can buy, but I think you’ll find the free program is sufficient for looking up Bible verses, reading commentaries, and looking at the Hebrew/Greek text.
The free version includes (not a complete list):
King James Version with Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance numbers
American Standard Version
English Standard Version
Contemporary English Version
Revised Standard Version
German, French, Spanish, Italian, Hungarian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian translations of the Bible (along with a number of other languages)
Hebrew New Testament
Hebrew Old Testament with Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance numbers
Greek New Testament Majority Text
Greek New Testament with Variants
Greek Old Testament, Septuagint with Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance numbers
Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament with Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance numbers
Commentaries by Albert Barnes, John Gill, Matthew Henry, Jamieson Fausett Brown, Keil & Delitzsch
There is also an iPad ($4.99) and iPhone ($1.99) version. I use the iPad version quite often when I need to look up a verse or study a particular passage of Scripture. Right now, the program is Windows only, but a Mac version is in the works.
Beyond An Absence of Faith: Stories About the Loss of Faith and Discovery of Self, edited by Jonathan M.S. Pearce and Tristan Vick, is an anthology of deconversion stories, including my own. In the book, you will find the deconversion stories of:
Sergio Paulo Sider
No Cross No Crescent
Beth Ann Erickson
Beyond An Absence of Faith is not a book written to defend atheism or attack religion. It is 263 pages of everyday people detailing their journey from belief to unbelief. Since I have a chapter in the book, and many of you know some of the people listed above, I thought I’d let readers know how they can get a copy of the book.
Early in your book Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case, you say that there is one core question every human being needs to ask and answer. What’s that question? “Does God exist?” is the primary question because if God exists, then there is a real purpose to life and we live a certain way. If God doesn’t exist, there is no real objective purpose to life and you can do whatever you want. “Does God exist?” is literally the most important question every human being should answer. Unfortunately, most of our education system, particularly our public education system, assumes the answer to that question is no without even examining the evidence.
Shouldn’t Turek’s question really be, Does the Christian God exist? Turek, like all fundamentalists, presupposes the Christian God is the God that we must determine exists. Isn’t Turek doing exactly what he condemns the public education system for doing? Let me reword Turek’s last sentence:
Unfortunately, most Christians, particularly fundamentalist Christians, assume the answer to that question is the Christian God without even examining the evidence.
Most Christians embrace the religion and God of their culture and tribe. This is why most Americans self-identify as Christian. Few of them have actually considered the evidence for the existence of the Christian God. They just believe because that’s what most Americans do.
No Christian has ever been able to successfully explain to me how one can look at creation and say a God created everything and then turn right around and say that that God is the Christian God of the Bible. What evidence gets us from A GOD to THE GOD? There is none. Believing that the Christian God is the creator requires faith, not evidence. This is why atheists like me do not believe in God. It’s not so much about evidence as it is faith. We don’t have the requisite faith necessary to believe that the Christian God created the universe in six days, six thousand years ago. We don’t have the faith necessary to believe in a virgin having a baby, a dead man getting out of the grave after he has been dead for three days, or a man walking on water or through walls.
If apologists like Turek have evidence for these things, by all means they should present it to the world. Pointing an ancient text that purportedly was written by men under the influence of God, is not evidence. Step outside of the Bible, where’s the evidence for the Christian God being the creator?
Turek seems to have forgotten Hebrews 11:3:
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.
Through FAITH not EVIDENCE we understand the worlds were framed (created) by the word of God.
Christians do a real disservice to their religion when they try to “prove” the existence of their God. Either people believe or they don’t. Either they have faith or they don’t. Count me as one of the faithless. While I can appreciate the deist argument for the existence of a creator God of some sort, I don’t think the evidence is such that I am willing to abandon atheism. Since there is no threat of hell or judgment with the deist viewpoint, I am content to try to live a moral and ethical life, loving others, and helping those who are in need.
As an atheist, I have a lot of questions, but does God exist is not one of them. While I am technically agnostic on the God question, I am confident, based on my study and experience, that there is no God. Perhaps a God of some sort will reveal itself to us some day. If I am alive when that day comes, I will then consider whether that God is worthy of my worship. Until then, I am content to remain an atheist.
Doctrinal statement for Southern Evangelical Seminary & Bible College, the school Turek received his PhD from.
I am so glad you wrote. Please don’t read this letter with a harsh, condemning tone, but with an urgent, pleading one. I am deeply concerned for you. If this letter feels like I’m dumping a bucket of cold water on your head, it’s because I want you to wake up!
Let’s start with who a Christian is.
An atheist and a Christian just aren’t compatible.
A Christian is a person who is now one with Christ. A Christian has been rescued by Jesus out of the darkness of sin and has been brought into His marvelous light—transformed from the inside out. A Christian has the spirit of Christ living inside of them! A Christian is someone whose entire identity has been refashioned around Christ. Christ is their life. Christ is the reason they are now accepted and beloved by God the Father.
An atheist, on the other hand, denies that God even exists. An atheist hates the very idea of there being a God.
An atheist and a Christian just aren’t compatible…
…You will have to choose between God and this man. You can’t have both. James warns “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Let me be clear about this, though. If you choose God over this man, God will not love you any more than He already does. It won’t earn you extra points with God. If you truly trust in Christ Jesus as both your Savior and your Lord, you are already His 100% dearly loved child.
Does that mean that you have the freedom to date this man? No way! Besides, why would you want to, when Christ has revealed Himself to you as the greatest treasure there is—both in this life and for the life to come?
I get it that you have strong feelings toward this man. I’ve been where you are. And if you’re anything like me, my guess is that what you’re feeling isn’t true love, but something closer to romantic desire . . . and even maybe lust…
These atheists, they must be scary people. I suspect they hang out at dance halls, lurking in the shadows, hoping to find a virgin Evangelical girl they can entice with thoughts of love and draw them away to the dark side. As every Christian knows, atheists are child molesters, sexual perverts, Satan worshipers, and eat babies on Friday. According to Hendricks, atheists hate “the very idea of there being a God.” In one sentence, like most Evangelicals, Hendricks reveals that she doesn’t really know any atheists. All she has to go on is the bigoted stereotype she was taught in church. If she actually knew any atheists, she would know that atheists don’t hate the thought of the existence of God. How can they since they don’t believe there is a God? What many atheists do hate is what Christianity DOES in the name of its God.
Pity the poor girl who sent Hendricks the email. She’s fallen in love with her dance partner, and according to Hendricks she shouldn’t act on this love because God says such love is a sin. Besides, what she may really be “feeling” is lust. Ah yes, the ever-present lust that lurks in the heart of Evangelicals. You’d think with God living inside of you that there would be no room for lust, but it seems that Evangelicals lust just like us unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines.
Hey, Caitriona, You’re welcome here. While my statement may have been a bit broad and might not perfectly characterize all self-professed atheists, Romans 1 tells us that we’re ALL God-haters (whether we claim to be atheists or not), and we suppress the truth about Him in our unrighteousness.
I was a God-hater, too, until God revealed His lovingkindness to me in Christ Jesus paying the penalty for my sin so I might be set free from being a slave to my own selfish passions and might become His beloved, adopted daughter.
This is a bit off topic, but would you be bold enough to ask God to reveal Himself to you if He really is real? And . . . would you be open to picking up a Bible and reading the book of Romans, or John?
Hey Caitriona, thanks for your input, I appreciate you taking time to comment:) I don’t want to get into any arguments by any means, but I would like to just give you some food for thought: if there isn’t a God, then that would mean that there really is no purpose for anyone’s life, right? I mean, if we’re all just here by accident, what does it matter? when you take God out of the equation, there is no longer value in anyone’s life, or in the world. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to kill anyone I don’t like? because the government says so? But if we’re all just an accident, with no real purpose, it’s “just” another person with no eternal value. How CAN anyone have true value without God?
On the flip side, we know for a fact that every human being (unborn or not), has value. Everyone has value because they were created in the image of a Holy God, and he loves us SO much! More than you could ever imagine! God cares about us so much that he even collects every tear we’ve ever cried and He keeps them!…
Typical Evangelical drivel, but here’s the thing, I actually agree with Hendricks. Generally, it is ill-advised for anyone to marry someone who does not share their religious, ethical, and moral values. More than one marriage has been brought to ruin by clashing worldviews. Better to seek out a life partner that hasn’t been taught that you are a hater of God, the enemy of God, a tool of Satan. Atheists and Evangelicals alike think they can win over their boyfriend or girlfriend. Rarely, does it work out.
The Evangelical church emphasizes the need for every person to have a personal salvation experience. Countless young men have made what I call, excuse the bluntness, a pussy-driven salvation decision. They want the girl and they can’t have her, so they start going to church, make a profession of faith, and viola the girl agrees to date him. Later they marry, and then the girl finds out that the boy she married feigned faith so he could date her. More than a few of these marriages end in divorce.
Atheists and non-Christians have a completely different way of looking at the world. Evangelicalism is a world filled with Bible verses, commands, and thou shalt not’s. It is a world that will surely frustrate the non-Evangelical. It’s a world where obedience to authority is demanded at every corner and freedom of thought is often discouraged and condemned. It is a place fun loving, free people go to die (and yes, I am painting with a Bruce’s Wide Ass Brush®).
Over the years, I have corresponded with a number of atheists who are in a mixed marriage. While most of them have found a way to make peace with their Evangelical spouse, their emails speak to the great pain and disconnect that comes from such a relationship. The believing spouse wants his or her unbelieving husband or wife to go to church and at least “act” like a Christian. More than a few of the people who have corresponded with me go to church every Sunday to please their spouses. Some of them are secret atheists. Their spouse doesn’t know they no longer believe. They go to church, sing the songs, and listen to sermons they think are bullshit. Why do they do this? Love. They love their believing spouse and children and they want there to be peace on the home front. All would agree that it would have been better for them if they had married a person who shared the same worldview, but they are willing to do all they can to make the marriage work.
Sadly, some of those I have corresponded with are now divorced. The reasons are many, but religion played a part in every divorce. The prophet Amos was right when he posed the rhetorical question, Can two walk together except they be agreed?
Do you have a story to tell or some marriage advice to give? Please share it in the comment section.
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 Bible, see 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.”
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:
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 isone 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.
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 McLaren, Donald Miller, Rob 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.
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.
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 Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Dan Barker, Dan Savage, Jerry DeWitt, et al. When groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation, American 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).
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.
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.