Evangelical Christians, among others, have private (personal) beliefs that people such as I consider uninteresting, intellectually lacking, or irrational. As long as they do not try to force their beliefs on me or demand special treatment for their beliefs, I am quite indifferent to their beliefs. I have no interest in regulating what people believe about God, Jesus, the Bible, or anything else for that matter.
However, when the Evangelical Christian states/argues/debates his beliefs in the public space: newspaper, TV, books, magazines, Facebook, Twitter, the internet, public meetings, etc., then the rules of engagement change. Once these beliefs are uttered publicly they are no longer considered private and are open to criticism, investigation, debate, ridicule, mockery, and attack. Those people deciding to utter their beliefs in public should know this, and if they don’t, they are in for a rude awakening the first time they “share” their beliefs publicly.
As a writer, hopeful author, essayist of letters to the local newspaper, and the public face of atheism where I live, I am considered a public figure. As such, I open myself up to criticism, investigation, debate, ridicule, mockery, and attack. While I would hope people would treat me fairly and with respect, I have no right to expect such treatment and I have no recourse if someone lies about me, distorts my beliefs, or attacks me personally.
I can’t can’t do anything about what someone may say about me or my writing on their own blog or in an internet forum. I can’t control the sermons Evangelical preachers preach about me. They can take something I have written and twist and distort it and there is nothing I can do about this. This is the wild, woolly nature of the public space.
I wish Evangelical Christians would understand the difference between private and public. When they drag their beliefs into the public space, they have no right to whine, moan, or complain that I am attacking them and their beliefs. If they don’t want their beliefs assaulted or challenged then they need to keep them out of the public space. As Tristan Vick said in a comment:
Someone needs to tell this caterwauling Christian that it’s people who have rights, not ideas.
Some Evangelicals who stumble upon this blog or find my page on Facebook take a look at my profile picture and, based on what they see, personally attack me by making derogatory comments about my weight or physical features. (see Did You Atheism Will Make You Fat?) Let me give you a good example of this. Several years ago, I received an email from a man named Bill Higgins. Higgins came to this blog via a Google search for “David Hyles Scandal.” His search gives away his religious preference; he is likely a Fundamentalist Baptist, the meanest and nastiest of the Christian species. Here’s what Higgins had to say:
I’m not that good of a Christian so I don’t mind saying this.
Why would you put a picture of you fat face on your website. I don’t respect fat people unless they have an excuse. I think you are just fat because you are lazy and spend to much time on your computer.
I don’t dare respond via email to people like Bill Higgins. To do so means I am giving a low-life like Higgins my email address and once I do that the emails never end.
I want to be clear about a few things. I know I am overweight, I am fat, obese, a lard-ass, whatever term people want to use for people like me. On most days, I am not ashamed of this fact. I don’t try to hide who I really am by using a picture of me taken 35 years ago. I am quite comfortable in my own skin, even if I have a lot more of it these days.
I wasn’t always overweight. When I was 18 I was 6 foot tall and weighed 160 pounds. I played competitive sports all through school and continued to do so until I was in my early 30s. When Polly and I married in 1978 I weighed 180 pounds. After a few years of marriage, my weight reached 225 pounds and as long as I was physically active my weight stayed in the 225-250 pound range.
I have what people call a fire-plug build. My weight is pretty well-distributed from top to bottom. I don’t have a huge pot-gut like many men my size do. Ironically, because of my physical build, people often underestimate my weight. When I stopped playing competitive sports and started spending more time in the study, my weight began to climb. As I reached middle age, it became harder and harder to lose weight.
24 years ago, I came down with mononucleosis. My doctor treated me for months before he decided to do a mono test. By then, I was in big trouble and I ended up in the hospital. My liver and spleen were swollen, my tonsils and adenoids were white from the infection that was overrunning my body, and the internist told me there was nothing he could do for me. Unless my immune system kicked in and started fighting the infection, I would likely die. Well, it’s 2015, so it looks like I made it.
Mononucleosis in older adults is a serious matter. It can kill you. While I survived, the mono did a number on my body. Mono left me with a severely compromised immune system and oddly it altered my normal body temperature from 98.6 to 97.0. A few years later, I began to have widespread muscle and joint pain and I was fatigued all the time. After a few years of seeing specialists, they determined I have Fibromyalgia. I was officially diagnosed with Fibromyalgia 18 years ago.
In 2006, I began to develop neurological problems; numbness in my thighs, face, arms and hands; loss of motor skills; memory problems. After tens of thousands of dollars of tests, several brain scans, MRI’s, CT scans, and multiple specialists, it was determined that I have “we don’t know what the hell is wrong with you.” While many of my symptoms point to multiple sclerosis, no doctor has been willing to say I have MS.
Earlier this week I saw the orthopedic doctor. He told me my body is like numerous wildfires. Put one out and others pop up. He gathered up my x-rays and MRI scans and we looked at them. He was quite blunt, telling me that I have arthritis in EVERY joint and that some of the damage is severe. Knees, shoulders, feet, hands, and back, all have arthritis that is causing joint damage. The why is unknown. Some days, the pain from the arthritis is severe, some days it is tolerable. Added to this is the muscle pain I have from Fibromyalgia. Every day is a pain day with some days worse than others. I haven’t had a pain-free day in almost twenty years.
We talked about options. He was quite frank with me, saying that because the arthritis is so pervasive that I was not a good candidate for surgery. Even with my knees and shoulders, scoping them could actually make things worse, resulting in more pain. I like this doctor because he doesn’t bullshit me. His advice? Live with it. Unless I want to have total joint replacements, surgeries that have a huge risk of complications for someone like me who has a compromised immune system, I must learn to live the pain, debility, and the ever so slow loss of function. All that he and other doctors can do for me is help manage the pain and try to improve my quality of life.
Bruce Gerencser, 2015
Earlier this year I had an endoscopic ultrasound and a colonoscopy done in the hope that doctors could pinpoint why I have no appetite and why I am losing weight. (I’ve lost 50 pounds since Christmas 2014). While the weight loss has leveled off, I still have days where I have no appetite. The tests found a lesion on my pancreas, and stones in my gallbladder. Good news? No cancer, though the lesion on my pancreas must be carefully monitored.
And then there’s my battle with skin cancer. Two months ago, I had a squamous cell carcinoma removed from my hip. In 2007, I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my nose. I am currently going through topical chemotherapy treatment for cancer and precancer on my lower lip. My lower lip is a bloody, ugly mess, but it beats having to have invasive, disfiguring surgery done on my lip. Thanks to being a fair-skinned redhead and repeated blistering burns as a child and young adult, I suspect I will be battling skin cancer the rest of my life.
As you can see, my health plate is full. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that unless someone comes up with a cure things won’t get better for me. I choose to embrace my life as it is. Wishing things were different doesn’t change how things are. The pervasive pain, muscle problems, and neurological problems, have debilitated me to such a degree that, on most days, it is all I can do to get up, do a little work in the office, and then spend the rest of the day in the recliner.
On the days when I think I am feeling better, I try to do some of the projects that need to be done around the house or yard. These activities tend to wear me out quickly and I often pay a heavy price for overdoing it. A few hours of work in the garage or yard often results in me having to spend a couple of days in bed or sitting in my recliner. Part of my problem is that I have never been good at doing anything halfway. Moderation? Not in my dictionary. Unfortunately, my inability or unwillingness to pace myself often extracts a hefty physical price from me. Like my friend Michael Mock told me, Bruce you are just one of those kind of people who just have to crash and burn. Out of the ashes I rise again only to start the process all over again.
An inability to do much of anything physically means I don’t burn off a lot of calories. I am not a glutton and Polly and I, for the most part, eat healthily. Because I am quite sedentary, it’s hard to have meaningful weight loss. It is not that I don’t do anything physically, but due to the physical problems I have I simply cannot do the physical things I want or need to do. It doesn’t help that I have to use a wheelchair or a cane to get around. I have turned into a slow-moving vehicle. I do what I can, but there are days and weeks that the pain is so severe that all the mind over matter pep talks in the world won’t help me move.
Karah and Bruce Gerencser, 2015
Some days, I can’t even bear to have anyone touch me. It just hurts too much. I love it when the grand kids come over, but by the time they are done tramping by my recliner, bumping into me, and jumping in my lap, I feel like the day after a bruising football game. I love having my grand kids around and they are one of the big reasons I get up in the morning and face another day. When they are here I grin, grit, and bear it, giving praise to the gods, of Vicodin, Tramadol, Naproxen, and Zanaflex. I would rather die than not be able to have my grandchildren sit on my lap. (see Please, Don’t Touch Me)
Back to Bill Higgins and his comments about my weight. Yes, I am overweight and there is little I can do about it. I try to watch what I eat, limit my carbohydrate intake, and eat my veggies. Yes, I do spend a lot of time in front of the computer and I watch a lot of TV. I also spend hours a day blogging, answering email, and reading. I would probably do less of these things if I could, but I can’t, so I am grateful for being able to read, write, watch TV, and search the internet.
Of course, Higgins, and others like him, don’t care about any of these things. In their mind, I am a fat, lazy, worthless human being and they enjoy trying to destroy me with their words. Do Higgins’s words hurt? Sure. Like most people, I want to be liked and respected. No one like being verbally assaulted. The internet protects people like Higgins from being held accountable for what they say. There is nothing I can do about this. As long as I am a public figure and write about the things I do, I know I am going to attract people who take great pleasure in demeaning me. Little do they know that their hateful words say more about them than they do me.
Thanks for reading. This is not a plea for understanding or support or a request for links to the latest, greatest cure-all or diet. This is me talking out loud. Maybe someone will find a bit of encouragement or understanding from what I have written.
Evangelical Christians believe that their God is the giver and taker of life and that he controls the universe. As the old song goes, he’s got the whole world in his hands. Everything that happens in their lives is according to the purpose and plan of their God. When tragedy comes their way, they turn to prayer and the Bible to find hope and comfort. The Bible says in Romans 8:28:
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
and in I Corinthians 10:12,13:
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
According to the Bible, everything that happens in the Evangelicals’ lives is for their good and God will not create any burden in their life without making a way for them to bear it.
The Bible says in Hebrews 13:5:
…I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
and in Matthew 28:20:
…lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.
and in Psalm 37:25
I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.
According to the Bible, God/Jesus promises to always be with the Evangelical, even to the end of the world. He promises to never forsake them. No matter what, God will always be there for them.
It is important to understand what I have written above in order to make any sense of what I am about to write next. Jason Williams is the assistant pastor of High Street Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. (See church’s blog here.) High Street is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church that was once pastored by one of the most hardcore IFB pastors I ever met, Charles Mainous.
A year or so ago, Williams and his wife lost their unborn child. Williams wrote a post for the Old Path’s Journal about the loss of his child. He wrote (page no longer active):
How many of you have been in a relationship and lost someone you love? Maybe it was because of a break up and you are hurting badly and feel rejected. Maybe you even lost someone dear to you because of death. If so, then perhaps you are like me and you are asking God, “Why did you take this person from me?”…
…It was during this very difficult time in my life when I was asking God why He took my child, that He showed me Psalm 61. Psalm 61 is a Psalm of healing. It details all the things that God gives us. As I read this chapter, it was as if God was saying to me. “Yes, I did take your baby, but look at all of the things that I have given you.”…
…Your loss is a gift from God! He looked down from Heaven and deemed you worthy to glorify Him! What a gift! To think that God would think I am worthy to praise Him blows my mind! I am just a sinner, but He looked past my sin and gave me a trial so that I can stand in front of others and tell them that He is good!
Because God took our baby, I have been able to stand in front of our church and praise Him! So many people came to me afterwards and told me that the testimony made them realize just how good God is! That night a politician texted me and told me our testimony caused his faith in God to grow! What a gift God gave me! The chance to glorify Him!…
Williams believes that God killing his baby was good for him and his wife, and that God used the death of their baby to advance his purpose. Through the death of their child, other people can see how GOOD, how AWESOME, God is! Only those indoctrinated in the Evangelical worldview could ever take the tragic death of a baby and turn it into an awesome event. Since God is good and only does what is good for the Evangelical, whatever happens in the Evangelical’s life is g-o-o-d. This kind of thinking forces the Evangelical to accept a warped view of the world, a view that has no place for bad things to happen.
Now, an Evangelical might object and say, bad things do happen, but God turns them into good. This is nothing more than semantics. Since the Evangelical must never call a good work of God bad, how can anything REALLY be bad? No matter what happens, God will turn it into good and Evangelicals must never, ever forget that God is always good and only does that which is good for them. Over and over they are told this, so when bad things happen in their lives, they dismiss, discount, and reject how they really think and feel about the tragedy or circumstance they are going through. They are never permitted to say, what has happened to me is bad and nothing good can come from it.
Ten years ago, my sister-in-law was killed in a motorcycle accident. I vividly remember how Polly’s Evangelical family went through the mental gymnastics necessary to turn Kathy’s death into good. During the invitation at her funeral, a person raised their hand and said that God had saved him. Polly’s family thought, If one soul gets saved then Kathy’s death was worth it. At the time, I was still a Christian, but I made it very clear that I didn’t accept such thinking. I told them If I was asked to choose between the life of my sister-in-law and a soul getting saved, the whole world could go to hell. Nothing good has come from Kathy’s death. Polly lost her only sister, Polly’s parents lost a daughter, and she left behind a husband, children, and grandchildren who love her and miss her.
Look, I understand why people like the Williamses, Polly’s family, and many Evangelicals think like this. Bound by their literal interpretation of the Bible, they are forced to embrace a way of looking at life that is a complete denial of how life REALLY is. If thinking like this helps them to find peace and sleep through the night, then who am I to object, right? Fine, but they should not expect people like me to think the same way. I subscribe to the ‘you can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse’ way of looking at life. I am a realist who tries to see the world as it is. This forces me to see that bad things do happen, things that lack any sort of goodness. Of course, seeing the world this way is part of the reason I am an atheist.
I want nothing to with a God who afflicts (tortures?) people so he can teach them a lesson, punish them for sin, or remind them of what an awesome God he is. Such a God is a psychopath who derives pleasure from the suffering of others, a God who delights in tormenting and killing people. If such a person were my neighbor, I would quickly decide to move somewhere else.
Some Evangelicals think my refusal to accept that God is working all things for my good, in light of my pain and suffering, has turned me into a person who hates God. If such a God exists, then YES, I hate him. If the pervasive pain I have every day of my life is God teaching me a lesson then YES, I hate my tormentor. No decent human beings would treat someone they love this way, yet I am expected to believe that I am in pain tonight because God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life? Not a chance.
Yes, my pain and suffering informs and powers my writing. I doubt I could be the writer I am today without it. But, if you asked me to choose between being a writer and having a life free of the debilitating pain I am in, I would gladly not write another word. The only way for me to come to terms with where I am in my life is for me to realize that shit happens. Due to genetics, choices I have made, choices others have made, environmental exposure, and luck, my life is what it is. I accept my life as it is. If Polly and I were in the Williamses shoes, we would surely grieve as they have. However, we would not cling to the notion that God killing our child was somehow for our good. Instead, we would recognize that some babies die in the womb. Death is the one constant in our world. Every day, people die. When my sister-in-law died, she died because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. When the woman in front of the motorcycle made a quick u-turn, there was no way to avoid hitting her. Just like that, Kathy was thrown from the motorcycle, struck her head on the pavement, and she was dead. I can still remember the anguish in my mother-in-law’s cries as she got the news while at our house on Memorial Day. Just like that, everything changed.
This is the reality of life. I understand why people use religion to escape this reality, but I cannot do so. Bad things happen, and all the prayers and all the religious-speak in the world won’t change this fact. How about you? As a former Christian, how do you now view and understand the world and the bad things that happen? Do you ever wish you still had God and faith to hold on to when bad things happen? If you are a Christian, how do you deal with the bad things that happen in your life? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
The year was 2001. A traveling worship band took the stage and began singing to the Christians gathered in the large sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Nashville. I was there with my girlfriend, a country singer, and when the band’s song became familiar enough she raised her hands, closed her eyes, and started singing along. Everyone else did too, so there were nearly 1,000 hands raised, 500 voices singing, 1,000 eyes closed.
I used to admire this unselfconscious abandon in my Christian brothers and sisters. I even found it beautiful. I was accustomed to the subdued, scripted and ritualistic worship of the Catholic Church I was raised in, and this display of emotion and affection toward God didn’t come naturally to me (insofar as the things that we are taught to do when we are young seem “natural” to us when we’re older). And even though my first encounter with this type of worship — which sometimes escalated to jumping up and down, even crying — was through the window of a church, making me wonder what sort of cult was inside, eventually the approach felt fresh and freeing to me; like it was a much more appropriate way to worship the creator of everything. So I followed along as best I could, though I could never do it without feeling extremely self-conscious, or like I was doing it wrong.
It so happened that as I stood in First Baptist beside the country singer, I was severely depressed, and had been for years. Everything back then, in my very early 20s, was an exercise in tortured acting and painful perseverance. Going to church and singing the songs were no exception. But the voice of my guilty Catholic conscience — which I suspect was partly responsible for my depression in the first place — was louder than ever, and it urged me to keep going, to keep raising my hands and singing. It had convinced me long before I was conscious that there could be no other life but for God, and it seemed to say now that maybe, just maybe, if my soul were pure enough, if I closed my eyes hard enough, if I sang truly enough, maybe I might meet God and find some relief in Him from my sadness. So heavy as my heart and hands were that day, I raised them up to God and sang along with the crowd…
…A few songs into the service, the singer stopped and told the gathering that the band had written a new song out on the road. He said they felt the song was pretty special, anointed even (!) — which I thought was a pretty cocky thing to say, even if I did admire his confidence, even if I did think it was pretty cool that Jesus Himself had blessed the song. He said they’d like to play it for us, and he went into the chord progression.
It seemed like a typical worship song to me, and after multiple repetitions of the chorus, everyone was back to the routine of singing along with hands raised and eyes closed, as if they’d been taught the song at birth. For a chorus or two, so was I. I was hanging in there, trying to worship my Creator as best I could, sad creation as I was. (“But that isn’t the Creator’s fault!” said the Catholic voice. “If you’re unhappy you’re just not trying hard enough!”) I sang like I’d sung to Him hundreds of times before. I sang to get closer and I sang for some relief and I sang to praise.
But then I stopped. I had to stop. There was something about the lyric that bugged me. I opened my eyes.
Let our song be like sweet incense to your heart, Oh God
This seemed an awful lyric. And the songwriter that I am, I had to take it apart while everyone else kept singing:
Let our song,
…which is a sound,
be like sweet incense,
…which is a smell, or something that produces smell,
to your heart,
…which is an organ that can neither hear nor smell!!!!!
Good Lord, are you hearing this?
I knew I was being a bit harsh on the writer. But come on, it was garbage. It was throwaway stuff. I looked around to see if I could spot anyone else who might feel the same way. We were in the songwriting capital of the world, after all. Maybe I’d see someone with her mouth agape, or someone holding his ears and crying. But what I saw were hundreds of my peers with closed eyes and raised hands singing those absolutely nonsensical words.
It was then that I felt the opening of my first true and conscious schism with religion, and with my religious self. The sight scared me. “This is not good. This is dangerous. This is really weird. These people are singing words that literally make no sense; which would be fine if they were singing along to some dumb song on the radio, but they’re not just singing along to some dumb song on the radio, they’re offering this nonsense directly to God. Giving it as a gift! How can they do this? How could they not think before they sing? Doesn’t God deserve better? Something that makes logical sense at least? Sweet as the singers are, might God be holding His ears and weeping right now?”
When I got done looking at the crowd I thought of myself, and I saw myself as one of those people and it frightened me. I had sung a million songs like this without thinking. Maybe not as horrendously nonsensical as this one, but close enough. And if I had sung songs like this without thinking, what else had I done without thinking? What else had I been taught to do that I had never questioned? What did I believe, what had I professed, that I didn’t actually understand? How come I am singing nonsense with all these other people? Such profane questions got my good heart to racing, and for the first time in my life my Catholic voice had no good answers…
…The Catholic voice got me to go to church and sing a few more songs. But its power faded. The questions the horrible lyric provoked were seismic enough to shake my religion, and when those led to bigger and tougher questions, my religion crumbled. Within a year after hearing the song, I stopped singing worship songs, and I stopped calling myself a Christian altogether…
It was not that long ago that virtually every church in America sang hymns from a hymn book. Now, it is hard to find a church that does sing hymns. What happened? As I look back over the 50 years I spent in the Christian church, I can see a slow movement away from singing hymns. It started with what I call youth group/camp fire songs, songs like Do Lord and Give Me Joy in My Heart. I’m sure more than a few readers remember making new verses for Give Me Joy in My Heart, verses like:
Give me wax on my board, keep me surfing for the Lord, Give me wax on my board, I pray, Give me wax on my board, keep me surfing for the Lord, Keep me surfing ’till the break of day.
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna, Sing hosanna to the King of kings! Sing hosanna, sing hosanna, Sing hosanna to the King.
Give me soles on my shoes, help me witness to the Jews, Give me soles on my shoes, I pray, Give me soles on my shoes, help me witness to the Jews, Help me witness ’till the break of day.
Give me gas in my Ford, keep me driving for the Lord, Give me gas in my Ford, I pray, Give me gas in my Ford, keep me driving for the Lord, Keep me surfing ’till the break of day
Ah, such memories. These songs were meant to be fun and most of all they were meant to be sung. As a Baptist, singing was very much a part of the worship experience. I was taught to singing lustily and loudly unto to the Lord. Songs like Do Lord were easy to remember and quite singable, so it is no surprise they caught on with Evangelical church members. To this day, I have fond memories of the chorus singing time during Sunday night devotions at Midwestern Baptist College. My favorite song was a medley of songs called the Hash Chorus:
Isn’t He wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Isn’t Jesus my Lord wonderful. Eyes have seen ears have heard – it’s recorded in God’s Word Isn’t Jesus my Lord …
Wonderful, wonderful Jesus is to me, Counselor, Prince of Peace, Mighty God is He. Saving me, keeping me, from all sin and shame. Wonderful is my Redeemer praise His name.
Precious name, O how sweet! Hope of earth and joy of Heav’n; Precious name, O how sweet! Hope of earth and joy of . .. .
Heaven is a wonderful place Filled with Glory and Grace I want to see my Savior’s face Heaven is a wonderful place
But until then, my heart will go on singing, Until then, with joy I’ll carry on, Until the day, my eyes behold that city, Until the day God calls me home.
This world is not my home – I’m just a passin’ through My treasures are laid up – somewhere beyond the blue The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door And I can’t feel at home in this world any . . .
More, more about Jesus – more, more about Jesus More of His saving fullness see – More of His Love who died for me.
Out these singable ditties, came praise and worship music. The first time we sang a praise and worship song in a church I pastored was in the late 1980’s. While hymns still dominated the singing, bit by bit praise and worship songs became a more prominent part of Sunday worship. Sometimes, on Sunday evening we would just sing choruses and praise and worship songs. I remember there were preachers who opposed this practice. They believed that these songs were theologically shallow, rarely stopping to consider how shallow and often heretical the Stamps Baxter/Southern Gospel songs were that they sung at their church.
While there are a small number of churches that have refused to embrace praise and worship music, most churches have succumbed to the latest fad and have made praise and worship music central to their worship experience. Some churches use a blended worship approach, weaving hymns and praise and worship songs together, while others have packed up their hymn books, put up an overhead, recruited a band and worship leader, and have joined the praise and worship revolution.
Casey Black’s reaction to praise and worship music is quite understandable. I know Polly and I had a similar reaction when we began to seriously look at our faith. We loved singing praise and worship songs, owning dozen of praise and worship CD’s. Our three oldest children played in our church’s worship band and continued to play in another church’s band after I left the ministry. (They are quite proficient guitarists and I miss hearing them rock out for Jesus) But, as we started analyzing every aspect of our faith, there came a time where we focused on music, particularly praise and worship music.
While we found praise and worship music quite singable and emotionally stirring, unlike the Episcopal church we attended that used unsingable songs, we came to the conclusion that most praise and worship songs were little more than mood setters meant to stir the emotions. Evangelical baby boomers in particular, having grown up on classic rock and roll, love praise and worship music. Why? Having heard numerous sermons about the evils of secular music, especially rock and roll, praise and worship music allows baby boomers to sing Christian lyrics set to music with a rock and roll sound and not feel guilty for it. (For you who are my age and older. 50 years ago, did you ever think that some day the typical Evangelical church would have a band, complete with those straight out of Africa drums?) Some churches now put Christian lyrics to secular music, songs like Bridge over Troubled Water become Jesus is the Bridge over Troubled Water.
These days, many Evangelical churches focus on what is called ‘felt needs.’ While they sing songs that say it is All About You Jesus, the truth is it is all about the flet needs of the Christian; it’s all about me, Jesus. The focus is on feeling a connection to God and having the deep, longing desire (felt need) of your heart met. Add to this that many Evangelical pastors now preach relational sermons, messages meant to appeal to the emotional needs of parishioners, it’s no wonder that many Evangelical worship services are little more than a religious version of a Tony Robbins seminar.
Go to a nearby Evangelical megachurch and observe the worship service. Pay attention to the music, particularly the lyrics. Gone are the deep theological lyrics from yesteryear. In their place are lyrics that often can be described as boyfriend/girlfriend songs, songs that just as easily could be sung to a lover. Watch as parishioners close their eyes and emotionally embrace the moment. Some churches even dim the lights during this time, giving the service a more intimate feeling. To put this in secular terms, the music and the lighting is used to set the mood. Soon Jesus will be coming by to pick you up for a date. If you are lucky, you and Jesus will have a sweet, intimate experience, not unlike a sexual orgasm.
The typical praise and worship time at the corner Evangelical church is like what I call spiritual masturbation in a group setting. Eyes closed, everyone start pleasuring, praising Jesus. It’s feel good music that is meant to stir emotions and lead to a spiritual orgasm. Instead of the focus being of God, the focus is on the individual parishioner. It’s their needs that matter. Even the notion of a communal experience is gone. The focus has moved from corporate worship to individual worship.
On one hand, there’s nothing wrong with what I have described above. Anyone who has ever gone to a secular concert knows how emotionally stirring the music can be. Polly and I attended a Darius Rucker concert two years ago and halfway through the concert I leaned over to Polly and said, this is just like a church service. Everywhere I looked people were in the moment, singing along with Rucker. Some were standing, others were dancing, and a few of the Baptists in the crowd had their hands raised praising Jesus. There was an emotional electricity in the building, every bit as powerful as anything I ever felt in church.
Here’s the danger of praise and worship music. If it is was just about a group of people singing, enjoying the music, and then going home, that’d be fine, but in many Evangelical churches the music is used to set the mood and to put the parishioner in an emotionally vulnerable frame of mind. The music is just a pretext. The goal is drive home the pastor’s message. Many churches now use tightly scripted programs, with each part of the program meant to prepare parishioners for hearing the words of God from the man of God. The goal is always the sermon, with every sermon meant to elicit some sort of response from the parishioner. It is in this kind of setting that a person can be easily manipulated.
Casey Black had a ‘what is this shit I’m singing’ moment. I can relate to his experience because that is exactly how I felt not long before I deconverted. Both Polly and I grew tired of the shallowness, monotony, and repetition of praise and worship music. This is one of the reasons we attended the Episcopal church for a time. There, we found lofty, soaring hymns, so soaring that no one could sing them. While the deepness, richness, and the antiquity of the liturgy appealed to us, the music was downright awful, so much so that we stopped singing. We went from ‘what is this shit I’m singing’ to ‘who can sing this shit’.
I suspect Black was looking for substance. Most of the people I know who were once committed Christians tell of their desire to find substance. Yet, no matter where they looked, they found emptiness, and it is that emptiness that set in motion their deconversion. Polly and I spent several years trying to find a church that took seriously the teachings of Christ. In the end, what we found is that most churches are the same, different name, same lack of substance. It is this lack of substance that opened up our mind and gave us the freedom to reconsider the veracity of the claims of Christianity. (Please see But, Our Church is DIFFERENT!)
Black’s article elicited the usual response from Evangelicals:
It sounds like the enemy (satan) has won you over. There is spiritual warfare and a tug of war for our minds everyday. I personally have been where you are and researched every religion and worldview there is because of my shaken world. However, it wasn’t until I decided to find pure truth no matter what it was, even if I didn’t like it, that I came to my senses and came back to Jesus. You will come to yours I am sure, just don’t give up so easily. If you let other people, who are fallen, influence you that much then strengthen your mind. You don’t have to be so easily manipulated by the fallen condition of the world around you.
I wish for you this..BIG …understanding..it’s really..a large way..worship…Hope you soul is lifted with meaningful verses of old traditional hyms..the words!! And you know.. God lives our critical mind. He created it! It’s perfectly ok. To ask..question..doubt..Look at John Macarther..he tested Christianity as an atheist as did Cs Lewis!! Read these brilliant minds..who thought as you..Go Seek..Question..Ask God to reveal himself to Your Mind!!I know..I am a scientist
If you believe any part of your thrown away faith, I plead you to look at this. According to this verse you cannot end up in Heaven when you die because you have thrown Jesus to the side. You will sit in hell, eternal torment and think, I am here because of a song lyric…I pray that does not one day become reality for you.
I read your story, and what strikes me is that your story speaks loudly that you haven’t met the Person of Jesus… possibly seen Him from a distance, but certainly not connected with Him directly and relationally.
You’ve definitely got bigger problems than the lyrics of a worship song. Hope you find yourself before it’s too late! I’m disappointed that you would choose to publicize and ridicule the place of worship. FBC Nachville is a fine church and I question the entire article. Good luck, but I won’t be buying any of your work!
Wow…you are really messed up to “leave” Christianity over a song written by a mortal. Makes me wonder whether you were ever “there” (how can one leave a place he has never been?) And methinks you were never there…you don’t seem to know that God’s heart is not an organ. His heart is all-sensing. And as for a song being incense, read Revelation. The prayers of the saints (believers) are incense unto God. It’s stated over and over again. And the song was a prayer. If the writer liked it, let him like it. Why are you acting petty and competitive?
You can read more of the wonderful comments from Evangelicals here.
I plan to give a shout out to Casey Black. I am curious about where he is today and where his journey out of Christianity has taken him. While he is roundly criticized by Evangelicals, I appreciate his willingness to take a hard look at his faith. His journey out of Christianity may have begun with a song, but I suspect that there is much more to the Casey Black’s loss of faith than his reaction to a praise and worship song.
Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.
I am currently married to a Southern Baptist woman who is likely never going to change her mind about her beliefs. I deconverted late last year and am now an atheist. I’m curious as to how your wife ended up an atheist seemingly around the same time as you? I guess deep down I want her to see my views as an atheist but if anyone knows how hard it is to talk to a Christian as an atheist, it is you. My question is, can you tell us more about how Polly came to the same conclusions as you during the time of your deconversion? Maybe she can give us some input too. In a lot of scenarios, one spouse is still stuck as a believer while both the atheist and theist struggle with now being in a “mixed” marriage — I’m in one of them now. Thanks!
I think the best way to answer this question is to explain what took place during the months before we stopped attending church. When we stopped attending the Ney United Methodist Church neither of us would have said, I am not a Christian. After we decided we no longer wanted to be Pastor and Mrs. Bruce Gerencser, we spent a few years trying to find a church that took seriously the teaching of Jesus. Not finding such a church frustrated us and led us to conclude that the Christianity of Jesus no longer existed and most churches were just different flavors of ice cream; same base ingredients with different added flavors. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!)
For most of 2008, I had been doing quite a bit of reading about the history of Christianity and the Bible. From Bart Ehrman to Robert M. Price to Elaine Pagels, I read dozens of books that challenged and attacked my Christian beliefs. Polly and I spent many a night discussing what I had read. I often reading large passages of this or that book to her and we would compare what we had been taught with what these books said. While Polly was never one to read nonfiction, she did read several of Bart Ehrman’s books. Over time, both of us came to the conclusion that what we had been taught wasn’t true. We also concluded that we were no longer, in any meaningful sense, a Christian. It was at this point I wrote the infamous Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners.
For a time, both of us were content calling ourselves an agnostic. I soon realized that the agnostic label required too much explanation so I embraced the atheist label. While Polly still will not say she is an atheist, her beliefs about God, Christianity, and the Bible are similar to mine. She’s not one to engage in discussion or debate, content to go about her godless life without having to define herself. I often wish I could be like her.
When left Christianity I feared that Polly’s deconversion was a coattail deconversion; that she was following after me just like she was taught to do in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church. Some of my critics, unwilling to give Polly credit for doing her own thinking and decision-making, have suggested that Polly was/is being led astray by me. Fundamentalist family members have voiced their concern over Polly being drawn into my godlessness, rarely giving her credit for being able to think and reason for herself. Their insinuations only reinforce her belief that she made the right decision when she deconverted. Polly graduated second in her class and is quite capable of thinking for herself. Granted, this ability was quashed for many years thanks to being taught that she should always defer to me as the head of the home. That I was also her pastor only made things worse.
Where our stories diverge a bit is the reasons why we deconverted. While both of us would say we had intellectual reasons for abandoning God and Christianity, Polly’s deconversion had a larger emotional component than mine did. We’ve spent uncounted hours talking about the past, this or that church, and the experiences each of us had. Polly spent most of her married life under the shadow of her preacher husband. Now free to speak freely, I’m amazed at how differently she views our past. While I was the center of attention, heaped with praise and love, she was in the shadows, the afterthought, the one who had to do all the jobs church members had no time for. It should come as no surprise that her view of the 25 years we spent in the ministry is much different from mine.
As I’m writing this post I am thinking to myself, Polly needs to be telling this story. I can’t tell her story. While I can give the gist of it, I think it is better is she tells her story, that is if she is willing to do. I do know that she has no desire to relive the “wonderful” ministry years. She’s quite content to be free of God, the church, and the Bible, free to be just be Polly. Not Polly, the pastor’s daughter, not Polly, the preacher’s wife, just Polly. And I can say the same for myself. While I am noted for being a preacher turned atheist, an outspoken critic of Evangelicalism, I am content just to be Bruce. Most of our life was swallowed up by the ministry, so we are quite glad to be free and we enjoy the opportunity to live our lives on our own terms.
In many ways, our story is not typical. I’ve received uncounted emails from people who deconverted and are now in a mixed marriage. Like Kenneth, they want to share their unbelief with their spouse, but are unable to do so because of their spouse’s belief or because they fear outing themselves will destroy their marriage. (please see Count the Cost Before You Say I Am an Atheist.) Polly and I fully realize that if one of us had remained a Christian it could have ended our marriage. We are grateful that we’ve been able to walk this path together hand in hand. The farther away we get from the years we spent in the ministry, the more we realize how good we have it. Our deconversion could have destroyed our marriage and alienated us from our children, but it didn’t. Instead, we’ve been given a new lease on life; the opportunity for each of us to seek our own path. We deeply love one another, have six wonderful children and ten grandkids, and are, in every way, blessed.
I will ask Polly to share her own thoughts about our deconversion process. No promises.
A few readers might remember that I started blogging in 2007 as a emergent church/progressive Christian. I wish some of those posts were still available because they would help trace that intellectual process that led to our deconversion.
I have a Google alert set up for my name. This alerts me any time there is a mention of my name on any site indexed by Google. It’s interesting where my name shows up. Take Conservapedia, a website started in 2006 by American homeschool teacher and attorney Andrew Schlafly, son of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly. There is an entry for my name on Conservapedia. What an honor, right? Surely they are referencing my liberal political views, my defection from Christianity, or my defense of atheism? Nope. Conservapedia lists my name in an article on atheism and obesity. The article contends that atheism will make you fat and I am one example of this. I kid you not. I am listed right up there with a number of fat atheists I admire and respect, people like Daniel Dennett, Nate Phelps, Robert M. Price, Matt Dillahunty, and Dan Finke. Also on the list are people like Isaac Asimov, Mao Zedong, Kim Jong-un, Kim II Sung, Kim Jong-il, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Leonid Brezhnev.
Should I bother to tell Conservapedia that I was fat before I became an atheist? Should I tell them that Evangelical Christian churches are filled with obese members? Nah, why bother. I certainly wouldn’t want to ruin Schlafly’s and Conservapedia’s atheist fantasy. I found this to be so funny that I am seriously considering returning to the Christian faith. If Jesus can make me healthy, wealthy, wise, AND skinny…count me in.
Our search took us to many churches. We found that Christian churches, regardless of the name on the sign, were vapid, empty places, filled with good people who were more concerned with church amenities and programs than following Jesus. We came to the conclusion that whatever Christianity might have been 2,000 years ago, it died long ago. In its place has grown up an institutionalized church more concerned with power, money, and right beliefs than following after the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ.
The last church we attended was the Ney United Methodist Church, pastored by a fine young pastor I greatly admire. By this time, we were already at the back of the church with one foot out the door, and in November of 2008 we turned around, put the other foot out the door, and walked away from Christianity.
There was nothing wrong with the Ney United Methodist Church or its pastor Ron Adkins. Great people. Kind people. Good people. And, just like every other Christian church we visited. We came to see that what churches really are is social clubs, especially here in rural NW Ohio where churches are often filled with people with similar last names. The churches are like a family reunion every Sunday.
I pastored for the last time in 2003. After being badgered by several colleagues in the ministry about using the gifts God had given me, in 2005 I candidated at several Southern Baptist churches in West Virginia. While both church wanted me to consider being their pastor, it became clear to both Polly and I that we no longer wanted to be in the ministry. Between 2003 and November 2008, various Christians who knew me labeled me as burnt out, depressed, under an attack by Satan, or a good man gone bad. I was still viewed as a Christian, but due to my changing theology, many of the Evangelicals that knew me now considered me a liberal. Those of you began reading this blog in 2007 will remember my word battles with Pastor John Chisham, aka PastorBoy, over the gospel and salvation. (Chisham is now divorced, remarried, and no longer a pastor)
Like many Evangelicals who become an atheist, I took a long, bumpy, winding train ride to get to atheism. I started out as an Evangelical, then a Progressive Evangelical, then an Emerging Church Evangelical, then a Red-Letter Christian, then a Liberal Christian, then an Universalist, then an Agnostic, and I finally arrived at the Atheist station. Polly arrived at the station not too long after I did.
All told, I was a Christian for almost fifty years. I spent three of those years in Bible college, preached for thirty-three years, and pastored churches for twenty-five years. During this time, no one ever said, I doubt Bruce is a Christian. No one ever doubted my commitment to Christ or my desire to follow Jesus.
But, now it is different. Because I am now an atheist, Christians are quick to say I never was a Christian or that I was a false prophet, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. How else to explain my story, right?
Some Christians take a different approach. They question my character, my truthfulness. They say things like, IF Bruce Gerencser’s story is true, or Bruce Gerencser CLAIMS he was a Christian. If you search the internet, you will find claims like this on blogs and forums. Several years ago, Lee Shelton, the Contemporary Calvinist wrote:
Bruce Gerencser, an atheist who claims to have once been a Christian…
This is a classic example of the passive-aggressive approach Christians take with me when they read my story. They seem to be unable to accept my story at face value, Of course, I know why. My story doesn’t fit their neatly defined theological grid. Lee Shelton is a five-point Calvinist, and since I didn’t persevere in grace that means I never really was a Christian. I was a temporary believer, not one of the elect to whom God has extended his special, discriminate grace. Of course, I could just be on a time-out and some day I will return to Christianity and persevere to the end.
Here’s what I think. Many Christians find my story threatening. They wonder, if a man like Bruce Gerencser, a lifelong Christian and a pastor, can fall from grace or live a long life of deception, perhaps this could happen to me too. None of the people who called me pastor or considered me a ministerial colleague ever doubted that I was anything but a dedicated, sold-out for Jesus Christian. So, either I really was what I claim I was OR I am the best liar and deceiver who has ever lived.
Everywhere I look, I see agnostics and atheists who were once devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Pastors, youth directors, worship leaders, missionaries, deacons, evangelists, soulwinners, bus workers, and Sunday school teachers; on fire, filled with the Holy Spirit Christians. Thousands of former followers of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords read this blog. Were all of these washed in the blood Christians deceived, never having tasted the goodness of God? Would a scientist doing a study on this group conclude that they were false Christians? Of course not. In every way they were once numbered among those who followed the lamb wherever he went. When Jesus said follow me, they cast their nets aside, forsook all, and followed him. No matter what they now are, the past can not be erased by the wave of a magic theological wand.
Many of the readers of this blog are former Evangelical Christians. Some readers find themselves somewhere between faith and faithless, while others label themselves as spiritual, pagan, agnostic, or atheist. One thing is for certain, many of us are far away from the Evangelical church we once called home.
As we move away from Evangelical Christianity, we leave behind family and friends who are still Christian. One of the most difficult things we face is how to deal with Christian family and friends now that we are no longer a part of the Christian faith. Is it possible to have Christian friends? Is it possible to maintain a good, mutually satisfying relationship with family members who are Christian?
Many of us remember the exuberance we had when we first trusted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. New converts often have a spiritual high that lasts for a long time. New converts are much more likely to witness to non-Christians than people who have been Christians for a long time. So it is when a person leaves the Christian faith. Often they are angry, filled with regret. Many times they have been spiritually abused by a pastor or a church. Sometimes, after careful study of the Bible, they come to the conclusion that they have been lied to, that the Bible is, at best a work of fiction, and at worst a book that has been used to manipulate and destroy. To some degree, the new non-Christian has had a born-again experience. I tell people that I have been born again into humanity. Often, people are excited about their new found non-faith faith. And just like the new Christian they want to share their new-found beliefs with others.
Granted there are some differences between the new Christian and the new non-Christian. The new Christian believes in heaven and hell. The new Christian believes there is one God, one book, and one salvation and unless a person embraces the new convert’s faith hell awaits them. The new non-Christian has a broad worldview. It is a live and let live worldview. While the new non-Christian is excited about what they have come to believe, they don’t think someone is going to heaven or hell if they don’t embrace the new non-Christian’s beliefs.
The Christian, young or old is duty bound to share their faith with others. Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel to EVERYONE, and everyone includes those who used to be practicing Christians. The non-Christian is not under any compulsion to evangelize. The non-Christian is often quite content to live out their life without ever sharing what they believe. The Christian often shares their faith whether asked or not, but as long as Christians do not force their beliefs on the non-Christian they often are not likely to say a word. Each to their own, the non-Christian says.
Unfortunately, Christians are often not content to live and let live. Believing they have a mandate from God, they push their religious beliefs into every sphere of life, public and private. Many Christians are theocrats. They believe America is a Christian nation and that the Bible should be the divine law-book for all.
Thanks to the U.S. Constitution, we have a strict separation of church and state. The non-Christian usually demands that Christian beliefs should play no part in government. This is why non-Christians find the refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on the government official’s religion so maddening. They are a public servant, the non-Christian says. Do your damn job! While many Christians, in public, support the separation of church and state, in private they espouse a no king but Jesus worldview. While they dare not expose their theocrat intent, behind the scenes they work to dethrone the God of this world and establish the Kingdom of God on earth. As one who follows the Evangelical church scene closely, I find the abandonment of the separation of church and state by Evangelicals and the rise of dominion theology to be quite troubling and dangerous.
It is in the arena of church and state issues that non-Christians and Evangelicals butt heads. Non-Christians are determined to keep the Christian church out of government, while many Christians think that there is not enough Christianity in government. The non-Christian desires a secular state where everyone is free to worship any god they wish, or worship no god at all. Many Christians believe a secular state is an abomination and an affront to God. So the battle lines are drawn. As much as the non-Christian just wants to live and let live, they are forced into a battle with some Christians. They cannot idly sit by while Christians attempt to turn the United States into a Christian Taliban oriented theocracy. And for this reason, it is very hard to maintain productive relationships with Christian family and friends once we leave the Christian faith.
I am pro-choice. I support gay rights. I oppose the teaching of creationism in schools. I oppose prayer in school and I oppose the recitation of the pledge of allegiance. I oppose Presidents and government officials being sworn in with their hand on the Bible. I am a democratic socialist and I oppose consumer driven capitalism. I support stripping churches and pastors of their tax exemption. I oppose the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools or government buildings and I oppose any and all attempts to make the Bible the law of the land.
I am a liberal and a progressive. I support the ACLU. I regularly read magazines like Mother Jones,Harpers, The Progressive and Rolling Stone. I am so far to the left that I often meet the ghost of Jerry Falwell coming around the corner. Yet, I support religious freedom. I want every person to be free to worship or not worship according to their conscience.
As you can see, my life is an affront to the Evangelical. No matter how they look at me, my life is in direct contradiction and opposition to what they believe and practice. This is why it is very hard for a non-Christian to have meaningful relationships with Evangelical family and friends.
Several years ago, a friend of mine from many years ago found my blog. I met this man in the 1990’s when he became a member of a Christian Discussion mailing list, CHARIS, I sponsored and moderated. I had not heard from him in a long time. He left a comment for me. He didn’t try and be nice. He didn’t try to find out how I was. There was no attempt to catch up. Nope, he just left me two questions:
Is Jesus Christ the Son of God?
Is there any other way to God?
And so it goes…
Personally, I have given up any hope of trying to maintain relationships with Evangelical Christian friends and family. The constant stress and battling wears on me. You who read this blog see the comments that are left by Christian family and friends of mine. Their comments are but the tip of the iceberg. Add the private emails, letters, tracts, and books that sent to me and the oppression of God’s chosen ones can be quite overwhelming
It seems that many of my Christian family and friends can not or will not leave me alone. They think they can win me back to Jesus. They think if they argue with me long enough I will see the light. They seem to think that after 25 years in the ministry that I am still lacking some sort of knowledge about the Christian faith, and that if they share that with me I will come running back to Jesus.
Several years ago, I had one friend try to bully and badger me back to Jesus. Those who read my blog at the time likely remember what I call the Iggy Meltdown. This so-called friend bullied and badgered me until I finally had an epic emotional meltdown. I proceeded to launch a f-word laced tirade that left the air quite blue. (some readers might remember that Iggy was the man who repeatedly told me that he knew me better than I knew myself) It never dawns on some Christians that their bullying and badgering is anything BUT Christ-like. They are trying to win me back to Jesus using methods that Jesus would not approve of. And even if Jesus did approve of these methods, most thoughtful, decent people don’t. Badgering and bullying someone is never appropriate and it often drives people away.
I am very pessimistic about being able to maintain relationships with Christian family and friends, especially those who are Evangelical or part of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Over the past eight years, I have lost every Christian friend and ministerial colleague. I didn’t leave them, but they sure left me. Some abandoned me right away, others have hung on for years. Recently, I lost the friendship of people I have known for over 40 years. The pressure from other Christians over still being friends with the evil atheist Bruce Gerencser became too much. While I understand, it is disheartening to lose friends that hail back to the days when you attended elementary school together.
From time to time, former parishioners will look me, wondering what Polly and I are up to. When they find out we are no longer Christians and I am an outspoken public atheist with a blog dedicated to exposing and critiquing Evangelicalism, they often are so traumatized by this that they unfriend us on Facebook or never talk to us again. One former church member told me that she couldn’t be friends with me because she found my story too disconcerting. Another former church member, spent days telling me how sad he was over me being an atheist. Eventually, I unfriend him because I thought his constant God posts were directed at me. Out of the thousands of people I pastored, I am Facebook friends with six. All of them are from one church and were part of the youth group. Two are now gay, several of them no longer believe in God, and the rest are marginal church attenders or attend liberal churches.
Earlier this year, I scanned a large number of old photographs from several of the churches I pastored. I put them up on Facebook and tried to let those who were in the photos know that I had posted them. Only once person bothered to respond to me. The rest ignored my email and I suspect some of them didn’t even view the photos. These were people I often had a very close relationship with. With some of them, I had relationships that went beyond the professional pastor/parishioner relationship. Why didn’t they respond? While I can’t say for certain, it is well-known now that the one time Evangelical pastor named Bruce Gerencser is now an atheist, an enemy of God, and I suspect many of them have done a web search on my name and found this site or the other sites I have written guest posts for. I can only imagine their shock when they find out I am an atheist.
Having said all of this, it is p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e to have a meaningful relationship with Christian family and friends. The only way such relationships work is if there is mutual respect and there are no attempts to evangelize. Honest, open discussion is one thing. I am quite open about my non-faith faith. I enjoy talking about the Bible, God, Jesus, theology, atheism, agnosticism and politics. But, when the discussion turns to an attempt to convert me or reclaim me for Jesus, I quickly lose any interest in talking to the person. Time to get the check and go home.
I am quite willing to accept the Christian where they are and as they are. Rarely can a Christian do the same for me. As I have said before, I want friends who are willing to let me go to hell in peace. I want relationships based on honesty, openness and mutual respect and if I can’t have that I really don’t want to someone’s friend. While family relationships are a bit more dicey, OK A LOT more dicey, I am at a place in life where I am quite willing to distance myself from family who can’t go five minutes without putting a good word on for Jesus.
Life is too short, and since this is the only life I will ever have, I want to spend it doing things that matter and doing things that I enjoy. Arguing with Christians is not on my list of things I enjoy. I realize, at times, my blog provokes and angers Christians, and I know my words can be sharp and to the point. That’s the how I write, It’s who I am. That said, I am not looking for an argument. This blog is my attempt at sharing with others my journey. Those who find my blog most helpful are those who are on a similar journey.
To my Christian family and friends I say this:
If you want to be my friend, if you want me to be a part of the family, then you are going to have to take me as I am. Just as I am, without one plea from you. And If you can’t do that? It’s been good knowing you.
Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.
Do you have a philosophical view of the word ‘sin” anymore?
How is homosexuality defined in your worldview? What of extramarital sexual relationships? or premarital? Are they ‘sin’?
What is an atheistic view of sin? Does it really matter? If there is no sinful behaviour, where does guilt come from?
The power of sin in a xian worldview is guilt. If I were to have an extramarital built on love, is this sinful? What the heck is ‘sin’?
I do not use the word sin to define my understanding of human behavior. Sin is inherently a religious term, and since I am not a religious person, I have no need for the word sin and its theological consequences. Based on cultural and societal norms, humans act in ways that are considered good, indifferent, or bad. What we consider good, bad, or indifferent behavior changes with time, circumstance, and place. Currently, these things are still deeply influenced by religion, yet religion is losing its primacy and this is why we see religious zealots raging against perceived sins and slights of God and his timeless moral code.
Homosexuality is a science term, a word used to describe same-sex attraction. It has no inherent moral quality. Once we remove religion from discussion, there is less need to concern ourselves with sexual attraction or whom someone marries.
Marriage is a contractual agreement between two people. If this contract includes a commitment to monogamy, then I would consider it bad behavior to commitment adultery. However, many people marry for reasons other than sex. I pastored a few couples who had sexless marriages. One woman thought sex was for having children. Once her children were born she was done with having sex and she had no problem with her husband seeking sexual gratification elsewhere.
When it comes to premarital sex, I see no reason to consider it bad behavior. We have laws that govern the age of consent, and as long as the sex is consensual I see no reason to demonize teenagers and young adults for acting on their biological needs and urges. Our goal should be to make sure every person receives state-mandated education about human sexuality and birth control. The overwhelming majority of teenagers engage in premarital sexual activity, so it is in everyone’s best interest to make sure teens are sexually educated and on birth control until they are ready to have children. Doing so would greatly reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, a goal all of us support.
There is no atheist position on sin. Atheism is a belief about the existence of deities, not a statement about ethics or morality. It is humanism that gives many atheists, including myself, a moral and ethical framework. The Humanist Manifesto III states:
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.
This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:
Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.
Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.
Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.
Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.
Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.
Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.
Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.
Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.
(If I have a “religion” it is secular humanism. My religion’s code is summarized in the Humanist Manifesto.)
The question of guilt is a good one, one that I am not sure I can adequately answer. Some guilt is driven by the pervasiveness of religion and its sin-punishment-reward system. However, I think guilt also flows from being a part of a particular culture and tribe. I am sure there are some behaviors that elicit guilt among the Gerencser children that might not cause guilt in a different family’s children.
The more absolute one’s moral beliefs are, the more likely they are to cause guilt. As I have stated many times before, my sin (bad behavior) list now fits on a 3×5 card, and I suspect by the time I die it will fit on a post-it note. Once the church, the Bible and sin-loving, yet sin-hating preachers, are removed from the equation, guilt often assuages.
I grew up believing drinking alcohol was a sin. I was fifty years old before I took my first drink. Now that God and the Bible no longer factor into my moral and ethical beliefs, I am free to drink alcohol, as much or as little as I want. Last Saturday, I spent some time with friends who love to drink. While I didn’t drink as much alcohol as they did, I did drink some and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did my wife. At no time did I have a twinge of guilt over drinking the devil’s brew. I drank responsibly and acted in a way that did not harm others; no sin, no guilt.
What atheism and humanism have given me is personal autonomy and freedom. And a very small sin list.
Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.
Texas Born & Bred asked:
I am in my sixties. In the last 2 or 3 years, I have attended the funerals of several close relatives and friends that were younger than me. One cousin that died was very close. We were each other’s best man at our weddings. My very best friend in high school died. Several friends my age or younger are struggling with serious health problems.
So death often captures my attention. I am a Christian (what kind? – barely Christian) and I am constantly reminded in church, Sunday school, and bible studies of the glory that await us once we die. That would be nice and does provide comfort. But my problem is that the ones I cared deeply about that have died were not the church-going type. And that is discomforting. Life is not fair.
I took a stroll through an older cemetery one day and could not help but notice the large number of headstones of babies. Back in the 1800’s it was common for children to die in sickness outbreaks. One headstone was simple marked “Wilson babies”. What a horrible thing to go through! But the parents struggled on. They still had crops to work and cows to milk. Their faith must have provided a bit of comfort in such a gut-wrenching time.
How do atheists handle death of loved ones? Is their grieving process the same as believers who expect to see their loved ones again some day in heaven?
This is a great question. For Christians, when death takes a loved one, they have the promise of comfort from Jesus and the hope of being reunited in Heaven some day. Let’s face it, atheism can’t offer life after death, nor is it all that comforting to think that you’ll never see your loved one again. Yet, knowing there is no life after death can and does motivate an atheist to live life to its fullest. If I had one piece of advice to give it would be this:
You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to you your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.
Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.
Death is quite personal and how we respond is too. Unlike the Christian who is expected to put his faith in Jesus and claim the promises of God, the atheist must meet death head-on without any buffer or feel-good beliefs. When death takes a loved one, that’s the end. What’s left are the memories made over a lifetime. While I can’t speak for any atheist but myself, if Polly died before me, I hope I would, in the midst of my grief, revel in our shared experiences. If either of us died today, our testimony would be, it’s been good. While I can’t imagine living one day without Polly, I know life will go one whether I can imagine it or not.
Perhaps I must wait until a loved one dies before I can really answer this question. If so, I hope I never have to answer it.
Eight years of answering questions about WHY I stopped believing in the existence of God and some readers still can’t understand why I am no longer a Christian. I even wrote two posts answering the WHY question, Why I Stopped Believing and Please Help Me Understand Why You Stopped Believing. The former was written for a obstinate Christian commenter and the latter was written for a former parishioner, who later unfriended me on Facebook because she found my story so troubling.
What follows are 16 reasons WHY I am not a Christian. There are many more reasons than this, but this list should satisfy those who continue to prod and poke, trying to find the REAL reason(s) I am no longer a Christian.
I no longer think the Bible is a God inspired text
I no longer think the Bible is an inerrant text
I no longer think Jesus is God
I no longer think Jesus was virgin-born
I no longer think Jesus turned water into wine, walked on water, healed the sick, or raised the dead
I no longer think Jesus resurrected from the dead
I no longer think there is a heaven or a hell
I think the belief that God will torture all non-Christians in hell for all eternity is repugnant, abhorrent, revolting, repulsive, repellent, disgusting, offensive, objectionable, cringeworthy, vile, foul, nasty, loathsome, sickening, nauseating, hateful, detestable, execrable, abominable, monstrous, appalling, insufferable, intolerable, unacceptable, contemptible, unsavory, and unpalatable.
I think the Bible shows a progression of belief from polytheism to monotheism
I think the Bible teaches multiple plans of salvation
I think much of the history found in the Bible is fictional
I think the Bible God is an abhorrent, vile deity, one I would not worship even if I believed it existed
I think science best explains the natural world
I no longer think humans are sinners
I think humanism provides a moral and ethical basis for life
I see no evidence for the existence of the Christian God, thus I am an atheist
These reasons are based on a lifetime spent studying the Bible and studying the textual, historical, and moral underpinnings of Christianity. These studies led me to conclude that the Christian God is a fiction.
If I had any doubt about these things, eight years of interacting with Christians on this blog have led me to conclude that Christianity, as currently practiced in the West, is bankrupt. I see nothing in Christianity that would cause me to reconsider my rejection of the Christian God.
While I have many online friends who are a liberal/progressive Christian, I can not intellectually embrace their beliefs. Since none of them thinks I’m headed for hell when I die, I hope they understand why I can not embrace their faith.
I refuse to let others control my storyline. It’s my life and who knows it better than I do? All I know to do is tell my story. Each reader is free to accept or reject what I write.