Evangelical Christians have all kind of ideas about what atheists believe and what kind of people they are. Where do they get these ideas? From Evangelical apologetics books, their pastor, evangelists who speak at their church, their Sunday School teacher, Christian Radio and TV, Fox News, and their fellow Christians.
They usually don’t know any atheists. After all, there are no atheists in their church (though they would be surprised to find out there are likely secret atheists sitting near them in church almost every Sunday). Evangelicals tend to surround themselves with people who think and act like they do, so they are rarely exposed to people who hold beliefs different from theirs (and this is common for all tribes, including atheists).
This is the same criticism homosexuals have of Evangelicals. Evangelicals rage against the sin of homosexuality, yet they don’t personally know any homosexuals. All they know is what the pastor says, a TV preacher says, or what they read in a Christian apologetics book.
When Evangelicals actually come to know a homosexual, they are forced to rethink their beliefs. When a face is put on their beliefs, they are forced to deal with the humanity of the homosexual. Often, when Evangelicals actually meet and get to know a homosexual, they soften or abandon their beliefs about homosexuals being sinful, wicked ,deviant, child-molesting pedophiles.
So it is with atheists. Evangelicals have little in-person, up-close contact with atheists, and until they do they will continue to say and believe outlandish and untrue things about atheists.
So what do many Evangelical Christians think they know about atheists?
They think atheists are a monolithic group, where everyone believes exactly the same thing.
They think atheists practice the religion of atheism.
They think atheists hate God.
They think all atheists oppose religion of any kind.
They think atheists have a secret desire to live immoral lives.
They think all atheists worship Madalyn Murray O’Hair.
They think all atheists are ignorant of the Bible and Christianity.
They think atheists are out to steal the souls of children.
They think atheists are agents of Satan/Lucifer/Beelzebub/Barack Obama.
They think atheists revere men such as Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin.
They think all atheists are politically liberal and they all voted for Barack Obama.
They think atheists are out to destroy America and turn it into a godless state.
They think all atheists are pro-abortion.
And in every instance, Evangelicals are wrong about what they think they know about atheists. Atheism is the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. From this point, atheists head off in many different directions. Yes, most atheists are likely political liberals, but many atheists are Republican, Pro-life, Libertarian, or supporters of the right to own guns. Unlike Evangelicalism, the atheist spectrum is quite broad.
Are some atheists ignorant of the Bible and Christianity? Sure, and as an atheist I am embarrassed when they open their mouths and expose their ignorance. However, many atheists are like me, raised in the Christian church, taught the Bible from our youth, and we know the Bible inside and out. There are countless college-trained atheists who were once Evangelical pastors. Some, such as I, spent most of their adult life preaching and teaching the Bible, winning souls, and doing the work of the ministry.
As I told one commenter who suggested that since I was not a Christian and didn’t have the Holy Spirit living inside me, my understanding of the Bible was wrong: does this mean the moment I said, I am an atheist, 25 years of intense Bible study and knowledge immediately left my brain?
If Evangelicals really want to understand atheists, they are going to have to set aside their presuppositions and actually get to know a real, flesh-and-blood atheist. Most Evangelicals are unwilling to do this. They are closed-minded like James Spiegel, having made up their mind that atheists are in rebellion against God and secretly desire to live a life of immorality.
Actually getting to know an atheist might force them to rethink their beliefs, and we can’t have any of that. To admit that an atheist is a kind, loving, decent human being means that the Evangelical claim that only Jesus can make a person kind, loving, and decent is not true. To admit that atheists are as moral as they are is to rob the Evangelical God of his power.
Evangelicals can not stand being “just like everyone else.” They have been told their whole life that they are unique, special, a new creation in Christ Jesus. To admit that an atheist is just like they are is too much to handle and invalidates the foundation their life is built on.
So Evangelicals continue their attack on atheists, refusing to realize that the atheists they are attacking do not exist and are a figment of their imagination.
Here’s an offer I will make to any Evangelical church/pastor within a two-hour drive from my town. I will gladly, free of charge, come and speak to your church about atheism and answer any questions the congregation might have. I will even bring my beautiful, godless wife with me. If you really want to know and understand what makes an atheist tick, I am ready and willing to be examined. This is not an offer to debate. I do not do debates. This is a genuine offer to educate your congregation about atheism. If you are interested, please contact me (and I will prepare myself for the deluge of invitations that are sure to come)
Over the past 8 years, various people have taken it upon themselves in an email, blog comment, Facebook comment, tweet, letter to the editor, sermon, or blog post to emphatically tell me “Bruce, You Are Wrong!!” Be it my liberal politics, the teams I root for, or my humanistic, atheistic beliefs, these beacons of absolute truth are infallibly certain that I am wrong.
Let me confess right away that I have been wrong many, many, many times. I bet you didn’t know that did you? In fact, there is not a day that goes by that I am not wrong in some moment, circumstance, or detail.
Over the past eight years, various people have taken it upon themselves in an email, blog comment, Facebook comment, tweet, letter to the editor, sermon, or blog post to emphatically tell me ”Bruce, You Are Wrong!!” Be it my liberal politics, the teams I root for, or my humanistic, atheistic beliefs, these beacons of absolute truth are infallibly certain that I am wrong.
Let me confess right away that I have been wrong many, many, many times. I bet you didn’t know that, did you? In fact, there is not a day that goes by that I am not wrong in some moment, circumstance, or detail.
Usually, when someone writes me to tell me I am wrong they have a deeper, more sinister meaning for the word wrong. For the most part, I write about religion. Occasionally, I write about politics, education, sports, photography, and other sundry subjects, but religion and all its trappings is my main focus. I spend a great deal of time telling my story, detailing my journey, as only a good, humble, narcissistic ex-pastor can. This blog, whatever else it may or may not be, is “Bruce’s Story, Told by Bruce, According to Bruce, the best he can remember it.”
When I am telling my story, my understanding of the journey I am on, I have little patience for those who tell me I am wrong. They dissect my life with the razor knife of their own experiences and beliefs and determine that I am/was not what I say I am/was. They tell me I was never saved, never a Christian, never a real pastor, and I suspect someday someone will even challenge my circumcision.
These kinds of people want to control my storyline. They want to set the standard by which my life, the one I lived, the one I am living now, is judged and it infuriates them when I won’t let them do so. I refuse to allow my story to be co-opted, controlled, or judged by any other standard than my own experiences. It is my life and I know what I believed, how I lived, and I am certain I know my life better than anyone who only had this blog to judge me by. My dear wife of 36 years is my best friend and she knows me pretty well, but she doesn’t know every part me.
Foolish is a person, armed with only printed words on a computer screen, who judges a person’s life in any meaningful way. I certainly want people to enter into my story, in fact I invite them in. But, my readers are just visitors. They only know what I am willing to let them know. If my wife or my counselor can not pierce the inner sanctum, don’t think for a moment any visitor can.
Sometimes, charges of being wrong are hurled my way because of something I have written about Christianity, the ministry, the Bible, or some other facet of Western, organized Christianity. They vehemently disagree with my interpretation of a particular verse in the Bible or they object to particular word usages, words like Christian, evangelical, or fundamentalist.
What is the foundation of their charges against me? Why their own beliefs and interpretations or the beliefs and interpretations of their particular sect. Ultimately, the Bible becomes the focus of these kind of accusations.
I am wrong because I have misread, misunderstood, misapplied, or distorted what the Bible teaches. How do they know this? Because the accuser reads, understands, and applies the Bible differently from myself and we all know that every Evangelical (and Catholic and Muslim zealots) is infallible in his or her understanding of a book written by many, unknown people thousands of years ago.
I could be wrong. In fact, I am quite certain that some of my interpretations are wrong. I have no way of proving whether they are. All I have is my mind and my ability to read, and using these skills, I try, to the best of my ability, to discern what a particular text in the Bible says. People are free to differ with me, but why should it be assumed that I am wrong and my critic is right? How do we make such a determination?
The Bible has the unique ability to be whatever a person wants it to be. Most people have a bit of Thomas Jefferson in them, scissors in hand, cutting out the things they disagree with or the things that weaken their positions or beliefs. The short of it is this…if you need to prove something, go to the Bible. You will likely find the answer you are looking for.
I am quite aware of the fact that I read the Bible differently from the Christians who think I am wrong. The one-up I have on them is that I used to read the Bible as they do. I understand their hermeneutics and theology and I am well aware of their interpretations. That said, I have no compulsion to read the Bible as an Evangelical or a progressive/liberal Christian would read the Bible. I have no great need to make the Bible fit in a systematic theology grid. Instead, I try to read the Bible like the average, unenlightened Bruce would read the Bible. I try to transport myself back in time in hopes of getting a historical and cultural perspective on the passage I am reading.
In the book of Genesis God says “let us make man in our image.” When I read this passage I say to myself this says there is a plurality of Gods. Let US. As I read the Old Testament it is very clear to me that the Israelites were polytheistic and over time became monotheistic (or as oneness-Pentecostals would assert about Trinitarian Christians, they still ARE polytheistic).
Of course, those who think I am wrong say, but the New Testament says______ and they import their Trinitarian theology into the Genesis text. That’s all well and good if you are Christian, but I am not. I am quite free to read the Bible as it is written without forcing myself to put all the pegs in the right holes. The Christian has the burden to make it all fit, not I.
I may be wrong, but it is a leap of faith to assume that because I am wrong, you are right. There is no way to “prove” who is right or who is wrong when it comes to the Bible. Baptists and Campbellites (Church of Christ) spar often over one Greek word, eis, in Acts 2:38. Who is right? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all the arguments from both sides of the fence. Who is right? All people have to determine for themselves what they believe about God, the Bible, truth, and religion. This blog is simply my take on these things.
Seriously, the amount of skin I have in this game gets less and less every day. Talking about the Bible and what it purportedly teaches is all fun and games. Since the Bible no longer has a mystical hold on me, I am quite free to ignore it at will. I am free to be wrong because being wrong about the Bible is like being wrong about picking the wrong players for a fantasy football league (not the end of the world).
My bigger focus is on those who are considering leaving Christianity or who have already left Christianity. I try to be a good example of a person who successfully broke free and left Christianity. I do not call on people to follow me or to do what I did. All I am is one guy with a story. If my story helps someone, if it gives them the strength to take the big step they need to take, then I am grateful and humbled by being a small measure of help. However, if all I do is piss you off and make you think you have scabies, perhaps your short life would be better served reading other things besides this blog. Telling me I am wrong will not bring the effect you desire. I will gladly admit to being wrong. Next?
Perhaps you are really hanging out here because, deep down, uncertainty is pulling at you, and you are trying to suppress it by lashing out at the poor, deluded, deceived, ignorant Evangelical-preacher-turned-atheist named Bruce. Beware of uncertainty, for uncertainty is the path to my world.
Republished from August 2010 with slight grammatical corrections.
The Sunday edition of the Defiance Crescent-News has the first, of what I am sure will be many more, letters to the Editor concerning my recently published rebuttal letter.
My youngest son asked me today if anyone has ever written a letter to the editor in support of my views about religion. I laughed and said No. As far as I know, I am the only person who has written to the newspaper and said “I am an agnostic.” (Some days I wonder, “what was I thinking”?) I hope my willingness to stand up and be counted will encourage others to do so. I know I am not alone. I have received their letters and email. They fear what might happen to them socially or economically if their agnosticism or atheism were made public. Their fears are well-grounded and I would not encourage anyone to take the same path as I have.
My children have to live with the fact that their dad is “the man who writes in the newspaper”. They have to field questions like “are you related to Bruce Gerencser”? If they answer yes, what often follows is a queer look, a look that says I want to tell you what I think or I want to ask you a question or two. Usually, once my children affirm their connection to me a nervous silence ensues,. It’s like, the questioner, all of a sudden, finds out he has been working alongside a spawn of Satan.
The first letter to the editor response I want to deal with is written by Ron Adkins, pastor of the Ney and Farmer United Methodist churches. I know Ron personally. Our family attended the Ney church for a number of months and it was the last Church we ever attended. One might say our last experience proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. (though we met many wonderful people at the Ney church)
Ron is a young man. This is his first pastorate. Prior to this he was a professor at Ohio Christian University. Ohio Christian University is a fundamentalist institution affiliated with the Churches of Christ in Christian Union. (I am sure Ron will chafe at the fundamentalist label but he also knows what my response is to that)
Ron has pastored the Ney/Farmer churches for about 2 years. When I asked him what his philosophy of ministry was he told me it was “loving on people”. Evidently, as you shall see from his letter, that doesn’t include me. Some of what Ron writes in his letter reflects personal, private discussions he and I had during the time we attended the Ney church. One could object saying “I told you that in private” but one thing I know about preachers, “don’t tell them anything you don’t want others to know.” (I take privacy far more seriously NOW than I did when I was a pastor)
From reading Ron’s letter to the editor it is safe to assume that my rebuttal letter upset some people in his church. Here I am, almost two years removed from attending church, and I am still causing trouble. I realize my letter put Ron in a no-win situation. He is a great guy and he doesn’t like conflict. He has a wonderful wife and great kids. The last thing he needs is to tangle with Bruce. But, my heresy demands an answer, so Ron penned typed a reply to my letter.
As you shall see in a moment, Ron tries to avoid making this personal. He never calls me by name. Instead he calls me THE agnostic. Since the is a definite article and I am the only agnostic that has written to the paper, it is safe to assume that THE agnostic=Bruce Gerencser.
Now to Pastor Adkin’s letter. Ron’s letter appears as normal type. My response appears as bold italics.
To the Editor:
I have been averse to reading the latest letter to the editor from the agnostic because I personally find agnosticism trite for two major reasons.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right away. Ron is writing about my letter, and since I am the only agnostic who has written to the newspaper, he is directing his response to me and what I have written. Of course, his greater objective is to cheer on the faithful.
My response is personal. I guess I could hide my response target by saying I am responding to THE pastor, but, I am not one known for such subterfuge so I want to make it clear that my response is directed to Pastor Adkins and his letter to the editor. I do hope that the faithful will be challenged and forced to ask hard questions about Christianity, the Bible, and their certainty that what they say they believe is the truth is really the truth. I also hope my fellow atheists and agnostics will be encouraged to continue on the path of intellectual freedom.
I am amused somewhat that Ron considers agnosticism trite, yet he expends quite a bit of verbiage in his attack of the agnostic view. Perhaps it was not as trite as he thought is was.
First, agnosticism is predicated on the premise of skepticism concerning the existence of God. The agnostic doubts the absolute truth about God (although some may believe in a First Cause), yet states an absolute truth by claiming God does not exist and that the answer is a humanistic worldview. If consistent, the agnostic would doubt his own statements, and furthermore, would doubt his own doubt that God does not exist, thus resulting in the probability that God could exist.
I don’t believe I have ever said God does not exist. I am, after all, an agnostic. In fact, Ron might be surprised to know that I have quite a bit of room in my agnostic worldview for a god (or gods). (much to the consternation of some hard-core atheists) I am fairly certain that the gods that man has created so far are not gods at all. I can not state categorically or infallibly (I’ll leave that to the Pope) there is NO God. Even Christopher Hitchens does not say there is No God.
The best answer,the best philosophy of living, in my humble opinion, is humanism. With humanism the focus is on reality, the here and now. Surely, Ron, the history major that he is, knows that many humanists have a spiritual or religious dimension to their beliefs. But, the humanist always comes back to what they can see. The humanist does not have time to spend on pining about a future in heaven, the rapture, and the many other events in the eternal future that preoccupy and keep Christians from engaging a suffering, hurting, and dying world.
What is humanism? The best statement I have found comes from the Humanist magazine:
“Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. Free of theism and other supernatural beliefs, humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny.”
Christians often prop up the straw man of absolute truth. Everyone believes in absolute truth, they claim. Evidently Ron needs to meet a few real agnostics and atheists before he claims such a thing.
Personally, there are many things I believe to be true or factual. Based on what knowledge and information I have at hand, I have concluded that certain things are factual and true. I know that the earth revolves around the sun and that the earth is not flat. I am relatively certain the science behind these claims is true. If I was left with only the absolute truth of the Bible, I would have to ignore what science teaches and I would be forced to accept that the sun revolves around the earth and the earth is flat. (among countless other incredible, yet false claims found in the Bible)
Ron writes of the absolute truth of God, and by God, lets be clear, Ron means the Christian God. Where does one find this absolute truth? The Bible. Ah, finally a concrete piece of information we can weigh in the balances. And that is exactly what I have done. I have weighed the claims of the Bible in the balances and found it wanting.
I find the claims made by academics like Bart Ehrman and Robert Price to be compelling. I find Richard Wright’s book The Evolution of God to be a fascinating alternative story to the monotheism of orthodox Christianity.
My agnosticism rests squarely on the belief that the Bible is not what it claims to be and that it is not inspired, divine truth. At the end of the day it all boils down to the Bible. If I do not accept the claims of the Bible, or the claims of what Churches, denominations, popes or pastors say the Bible says, then I can not believe in the God that the Bible presents. I may still believe in a god but not the god of the Christian Bible.
Ron, I am sure, will appeal to nature and conscience as proof of God, but I would counter how can one necessarily conclude that the God who gave us nature and a conscience is necessarily the Christian God? Would a person not initiated in Christian thinking come to the conclusion, by looking at nature, that there is a God and that that God is the triune God of the Christian religion? Doubtful. In fact, I can say impossible. Such a faith requires the Bible to give it structure.
Second, if then, the agnostic is not a true agnostic,because of the self-defeating premise, then there is another motivation behind his self-proclaimed agnosticism.
Answered above, so I assume this makes mute the next point Ron makes. But, Ron gets personal (divulging a bit of inside information about me) in what follows so I want to deal with it.
I have found that agnostics, who are not true agnostics,typically are angry at God because God does not operate the way they think God should operate. At other times they are angry because they have not received what they wanted from God. Like the undisciplined child who is angry at a parent using their only means of power, knowing they are powerless, will proclaim, “I hate you!” Nothing could hurt a parent more, and they know this.
The agnostic stands before God and proclaims in anger,‘”You don’t exist!” Isn’t it interesting then that humans, created beings, desire God to act the way they perceive God should act? Furthermore, I find it pathetic to claim a humanistic worldview in which there is nothing, or no one, greater than ourselves to rely.
Anger. Ron, is right about my anger but he is wrong about the focus of my anger.
The Christian God, the God of Ron Adkins does not exist. Why would I be angry at a fictional being?
No, my anger is directed towards organized religion. My anger is directed at Evangelical Christianity. I am angry over what was taken from me over the 25 years I spent in the ministry. I am angry over the wasted time and effort spent “doing Church”. I am angry over my own selfish ambitions and my attempts at building a kingdom in my own name. (as all pastors do, after all why is their name on the church sign?)
I am angry over what the ministry and the church did to my wonderful wife and children. I am angry over countless parishioners whose lives are now shipwrecked because they drank from the well of organized religion.
Yes, I am angry and it feels good. For 33 years I lived in denial of my emotions, serving a God who was no god at all, a god that demanded self-sacrifice and self-denial. It feels good to be out from under such a burdensome weight.
Ron may consider humanism pathetic, and I might be tempted to say back at ya, but what humanism provides for me is reality. It is rooted in the common humanity we all share. I no longer have need to pray, fast, tithe, and attend. What humanism demands of me is doing, It demands of me the very things Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount. Humanism calls me to be fully human, in an imperfect, marred world. It calls me to use what talents I have for the betterment of my fellow man.
Becoming an agnostic and a humanist has forced me to admit that most of the supposed altruistic works I did as a pastor had an ulterior motive. I didn’t love people for who they were. I loved them because I wanted Jesus to change them . If Jesus changed them then they would become a part of the church I pastored . End result? Bigger attendance and bigger offerings. (Trying to get a pastor to admit this is nigh impossible.)
It is an exhilarating experience to truly love people as they are.
Last, I would like to briefly answer the question which became the title for the agnostic’s editorial, “Writers espoused different views.”
I am glad of one thing……..Ron used the word last. I despise the use of the word lastly. Ron gets 1 brownie point for using last instead of lastly.
I hope Ron is aware that the newspaper determines what the letter title is. I have been writing letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, etc for over 28 years and I have yet been allowed to write my own title.
First, let me give some advice to all of those wonderful Christians who have been troubled by THE Agnostic. Remember an agnostic asks questions based on skepticism. Don’t feel as though you are in a corner. The quote at hand read, “Every letter writer has their own version of God and what constitutes a right, saving relationship with that God. This shows me that there is no such thing as Christianity (singular) in America”.
Truth is an objective fact expressed in a subjective way. It is obvious that one comes to the truth of Christianity or more generally religious truth, differently than one would come to scientific truth. God is not an object to be observed. God has made himself known. Faith, therefore, is a response in obedience, the thing agnostics hate.
I find Ron’s statement here astounding. Ron writes “Truth is an objective fact expressed in a subjective way”. Ron certainly believes the Bible to be absolute truth. I would love to know if he really, really, believes the Bible is absolute truth. (I have my doubts) Ron, without any evidence, believes that what the Bible teaches is objective fact.
How does one know this? By a subjective experience with God. God has made himself known. How do we know that? Because the Christian says so. Because Ron says so. Ultimately, it is a matter of faith.
If it is a matter of faith, why do so many Christians try and prove the truth of Christianity? Why do they attempt to use scientific methods to prove the veracity of the claims the Bible makes?
If it is a matter of faith then why write letters to the editor attempting to discredit and refute my rebuttal letter? Would it not be better to rest in the belief that the God of faith, through the holy Spirit will take care of things? Surely God can take care of one lowly, insignificant, pimple on the ass, agnostic named Bruce?
Ron might be surprised to know that I still have faith. I have faith in the gods I can see, my fellow human beings. In my Christian days I put my faith in a God who I said was always there, but quite honestly I never really could find him. God was all-knowing and all-powerful. He was supposedly intimately involved in the minutia of my life, yet when it came to things that mattered, matters of life and death, God was nowhere to be found.
I would assume that Ron considers his weekly sermons to be subjective? After all he is preaching absolute truth in a subjective manner, yes? I don’t know of any preacher that would embrace such a claim, especially an Evangelical preacher. After all, the preacher is the man of God who speaks the word of God to the people of God.Not much subjectivity here.
I find no conflict in the different responses to the agnostic because the different individuals have expressed their belief and experience (“Pascal’s Wager”) in the one, absolute God in different ways. Faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world is truth and is experienced by individuals.
Ron is being disingenuous here OR his two years in the Methodist church has worn down his Evangelical resolve. I realize he is preaching to the choir here, but any cursory reading of the letters written in reply to either of my recent letters will reveal full-blown heresy. Is Ron suggesting that subjective heresy is fine as long as it is done with the right intention? If so, it is time to give all the heretics of the past a place at the orthodox table once again. Each of them had sincere intentions. They loved their version of Jesus. Welcome Brother Pelagius!
It is clear for all who are willing to see……….no two Christians have the same version of Christianity. Christianity for most Christians is akin to going to a buffet, taking what you want and leaving the rest. I don’t have a problem with this approach, but I would, at least, like Christians to admit it. They speak of orthodoxy and common belief, but such singularity does not exist except in denominational or church confessions or theological texts. Real world experience tells me that every Christian believes what they want to believe and ignores the rest. (any righteous men out there that want to offer their virgin daughter to the men of the city as righteous Lot did?)
This is why all Christians can describe some kind of personal experience, or relationship, with God through the Holy Spirit. Christian faith is an assent and obedience to the revelation of God.
On this point I agree with Ron. It is all about the revelation of God. In other words it is ALL about the Bible. As I have said time and time again, there is no Christianity without the Bible. I am an agnostic because I reject the truth claims of the Bible. I reject its claim that it is a supernatural, divine book that reveals God to humankind. It is a spiritual book written by men thousands of years ago. Certainly the Bible has much to offer in way of personal spiritual guidance, but it is just a book and it has no authority in my life. It has as much authority, and is just as inspired, as the writings of Mark Twain. (And no Christian can prove otherwise because the doctrine of inspiration is presupposed and can not be empirically proved.)
Ron knew I was heading down the slippery slope towards agnosticism. Surely he can recall our discussions about the Bible. He, at one time, read my blog. Yet, when I stopped attending his church that ended our interaction. Evidently time was better spent rescuing those who wanted rescued.
Yet, one would think that over the course of two years, in a town of 325 people, Ron or someone from the church would have stopped by and looked in on us. As I have struggled with debilitating neurological problems, problems Ron was well aware of, one would think that a visit might be in order. How can we help? Is there anything you need? One never knows what love and kindness might accomplish.
As is always the case…why spend time helping people who have no intentions of joining the happy band. If their ass is not in the seat why bother?
This is my subjective experience of the objective truth called the Church.
There are six churches within a few miles of the home where my family and I reside. Prior to my recent coming out as an agnostic, our family would have been a great catch for any church. We are clean-cut, clean-livers. We look like Christians. We are talented. We have skills that any church would be grateful to use. We are loyal, faithful people. We are loving and kind. We are great non-Christian Christians.
But, not one pastor, one church leader, one church member, ever knocked on our door to invite us to their church. Even after we visited four of the six churches, no one bothered to try to befriend us and love us as Jesus would.
Imagine for a moment that you find a wallet that someone has accidentally dropped on the ground. In the wallet is the person’s ID, credit cards, and $300. What would you do?
I suspect most of us would attempt to track the person down and return the wallet. Why? Because it is the right thing to do.
The Christian Post reported a story about an anonymous Christian finding a wallet and returning it to its rightful owner. The Christian did the right thing and he should be commended for doing so. If you have ever lost your wallet or ID you know how stressful and gut-wrenching the experience is, especially in this day of identity theft.
The problem I have with the Christian Post story is the motivation the Christian had for returning the wallet. Instead of it being a good, decent, honorable thing to do, the Christian had a “Biblical” reason for returning the wallet.
The Christian attached a Post-it note to the wallet:
Wallet Returned to Owner by a Christian with Note Containing Bible Verses
The Christian who returned the wallet stated that his reason/motivation for returning the wallet was:
And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. Luke 10:27
He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. Luke 16:10
That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth. Psalm 83:18
In other words, the Christian’s act of decency and kindness was all about God.
From my seat in the atheist pew, it seems to me that religion and the Bible complicate the issue. Would the Christian have returned the wallet if these verses weren’t in the Bible? Would he have returned the wallet if he weren’t a Christian? While these questions might be viewed as trying to turn a good deed into an argument, I think motivations are important.
This story is connected quite closely to the argument over morality and ethics. Many Christians think morality and ethics require religion and a divine text. In their thinking, they do good because of their religion and its teachings. It is God that keeps them from being a bad person.
It is not enough, then, for an act of goodness to be performed just because it is the right thing to do. Instead, it is God who get all the praise and glory because without him, humans would do bad things. In others words, without God, the Christian would have kept the wallet.
If the Christian had left a Post-it note with these two verses:
And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. Luke 6:31
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matthew 22:39
perhaps I would see this story differently.
All of us should treat others as we would want to be treated. Isn’t that a universal moral value?
I commend the Christian for returning the man’s wallet. It was the right things to do, whether the man was a fundamentalist, an Episcopalian, or an atheist. Would an atheist have returned the wallet? I’d like to think so. But, I know among atheists and Christians alike, there are those that would have viewed the lost wallet as an opportunity to steal. As we all well know, religious belief does not inoculate a person from being a bad person. The religious and the godless have the capability and power to do bad things. Why? Because bad people do bad things. Avarice is found too often among the human species. A narcissistic view of the world often motivates people to only think of self. When presented with an opportunity to return the lost wallet, the narcissist is only concerned with what he can gain. In this case, he gains the money that is in the wallet.
We should all strive for a higher ideal regardless of our religious belief. As a humanist, I try to treat others as I would want to be treated. If I lost my wallet, I hope someone would return it and I would gladly offer the finder a reward. Far more important than lost cash is lost ID. And I know if I found a person’s wallet I would return it to the owner. How do I know I would do this? Because that is what I have done in the past. It is the moral/ethical code I live by. I know how panicked I get when I can’t find my wallet in the house and I can only imagine how stressed out I would be if I knew I had lost it at a store or parking lot somewhere.
Here’s the point I want to make — good people do good. Yes, sometimes good people fail and might, at times, do bad things, but the arc of their life is toward good. The same can be said of those who lack moral and ethical character. They may, at times, do good things, but the arc of their life is toward bad. It is not religion that determines goodness or badness, though it certainly can, for some people, play a part. What determines the kind of person we are is our character. People with good character do good things like returning a lost wallet. People with bad character, don’t.
Over the past several weeks, local fundamentalist Christians have voiced their objection to my recent letter to the editor. While I cannot adequately answer all of their objections in the space of 500 words, I would like to address several issues.
I am not anti-religion. I know most people have some sort of religious belief they find beneficial. I am not the slightest bit interested in disabusing them of their belief. Yes, I am an atheist. I am also an agnostic, secularist, humanist, liberal, and Cincinnati Bengals fan. I am many things, but I am not one who wants to stop people from worshiping God.
My objection is to ignorance, especially the kind of ignorance that thinks ancient writings by unknown authors thousands of years ago make for good science. Fundamentalists are free to teach in church, private Christian schools, and home schools that the entire body of scientific evidence can be summed up by saying the Christian God did it. They are free to promote thoroughly discredited notions like the universe is 6,000 years old and was created in six days. They are free to deny all that science tells us about the world we live in. And yes, sadly, they are free to cripple their children intellectually. This is the price we pay for religious freedom.
However, when it comes to the public schools my 10 grandchildren attend or will some day attend, I expect them to be taught the scientific method. I expect them to be taught about facts and evidence without the taint of theology and fundamentalist ignorance.
The scientific method remains the best way for us to understand the universe. It is a method that relies on testing, verification, retesting and, if need be, admitting error. When is the last time that has happened at a local church? (That’s a rhetorical question) Fundamentalists think they have all the answers to all of life’s questions. Their view can be summed up this way, the Bible says, end of discussion. Do we really want local public school children being taught to think like this? Can we afford to cripple them intellectually, robbing them of the skills necessary to think rationally and critically? I think not.
Recent letter writers are like petulant children screaming for attention. For them it is not about science; it is about their belief system increasingly being marginalized and ignored. So when they gin up the non-controversy controversy over biological evolution, the age of the universe, or global climate change, I have no interest in giving their ignorance the air of respectability. After all, doesn’t the Bible say, don’t answer a fool according to his folly
There is, in the main, little controversy over biological evolution, the age of the universe, or global climate change. Denial is simply a refusal to see things as they are.
For the record, I was an Evangelical pastor for 25 years, pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I am not ignorant of what the Bible teaches.
This is an election year, and in less than a month Ohio will have a primary election. As a voting, taxpaying citizen of Defiance County, I want to pass on some advice to the candidates running for office and those who write letters to the editor showing their support for a particular candidate.
Not every voter in Defiance County is a Christian. Not every voter attends church on a regular basis. A sizable number of voters do not claim the Christian moniker, and outside of weddings and funerals, they never darken the doors of any local church. We are the “nones”, made up of atheists, agnostics, humanists, pagans, secularists and those who are indifferent toward religion. In Defiance County, there are also Muslims, Jews and Buddhists. I know this is hard for the Christian majority to believe, but living near them are people who do not think like they do about God and religion.
So, trumpeting the fact that you are a Christian, teach Sunday School, are pro-life, or are a member of the NRA might play well with Evangelicals, but for those of us who are not religious or not an Evangelical Christian, we are wary of people who play the faith card.
Being a Christian or being pro-life has nothing to do with how a candidate will perform as a local/county/state officeholder. In fact, when a candidate for office plays the faith card I am inclined to not vote for them. Why should I vote for a candidate that considers one voter demographic more important than another? This is especially true at the local/county level. I want officeholders that will represent everyone, not just those who are a part of their particular religious sect.
Those running for office would do well to mimic John F. Kennedy’s approach to religion. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, made it clear that his personal religious beliefs would not come into play when he made decisions. Kennedy understood that he represented every citizen not just those who happened to be Christian.
The United States is a secular nation, not just at the federal level, but at the state, county, and local level too. I realize the candidates need votes to win. I realize that Defiance County is ruled by Evangelical, conservative, Republican ideology. Maybe it is a fantasy on my part to think that what every citizen of Defiance County needs to hear is how a candidate for office will spend our tax money, repair our roads, care for our poor and sick, and care for what we have entrusted to our governmental leaders.
It is these issues that will determine how I vote. Sadly, far too many of my fellow Defiance County citizens will vote, not on the issues, but on the number of buzz words they hear a candidate use. To them, where a candidate goes to church or what his view is on abortion is far more important than how he effectively governs.
This letter is my brief response to Daniel Gray’s recent letter to the editor.
Gray continues to paint me as a liar, a deceiver, immoral, and an all-round bad person. Gray does not know me personally, so I am not sure how he comes to the conclusions he does about me. I have never made one of my letters personal, yet Daniel Gray and a few other letter writers think it is okay to attack my character and suggest that I am not a good person.
As a public figure, I know I must endure such attacks, but I wish my critics would focus on the issues rather than the person. If they would like to have a public discussion on these issues, I am quite willing to participate in any public forum they put together.
For the third time Gray suggests that I am not legally able to marry people and that anyone married by me is in danger of having their marriage invalidated. Gray seems to not understand the legal requirements for being licensed to marry people in Ohio. I meet all the statutory requirements and I am duly licensed to marry people in Ohio. Anyone can verify this by doing a ministerial license search on the Ohio Secretary of state’s website.
I am writing in response to Richard Mastin’s letter to the editor.
Mastin attempts to marginalize and discredit me by suggesting I am an immoral person. How does Mastin know I am an immoral person? He doesn’t know me personally. All he knows about me is what he reads on my blog and reads on the editorial page of this newspaper. His letter assumes a familiarity with me that he does not possess.
I am indifferent to what moral standard a person lives by. If a Christian wants to live by the moral precepts of the Bible I have no objection to them doing so. Personal morality is just that, personal.
What I object to is Christians trying to make their personal moral standard the law of the land. I object to any attempt to codify the teachings and commands of the Bible into the laws of the United States. The United States is a secular state and the wall of separation between church and state exists so no religion can force their beliefs on everyone.
I support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights because I think every person should have equal protection under the law. I think LGBT people should have the same civil rights as heterosexual people do. Christian morality has no claim in this debate since our civil rights are not dependent on believing in the Christian God.
If theocrats like Mastin get their way it will lead to a loss of freedom and liberty for anyone who doesn’t measure up to the fundamentalist Christian moral standard. As history clearly shows, this kind of thinking always leads to diminished civil rights, violence and bloodshed.
I would ask readers to consider when was the last time they saw a headline in this paper about an atheist being arrested for a crime? While there are certainly atheists who commit criminal acts, most criminal acts are perpetrated by people who believe in the Christian God and believe the Bible is God’s Word.
Each of us has the power to act morally and ethically. As an atheist, I live by the precept of not doing harm to others. As much as lies within me, I try to be a good man who is kind, respectful and loves others. I don’t need a god to be this kind of man.
Why is it so many local Christians think they need to paint me as an immoral, Satan-worshiping man? As a public figure, I accept that this kind of treatment goes with the territory, but, I wonder, why are they so intent on demeaning the character of a man they do not know?
I will state once again that those who know me know what kind of man I am. This is all that matters. My critics need a face to throw darts at, and I am that face. It is too bad they confuse the picture of my face with who I really am.
I am writing in response to Gary Luderman’s recent letter to the editor.
Contrary to Luderman’s assertion, my letter was all about the Republican Party and its infection with right-wing religious extremism.
I am quite indifferent to personal and private religious practice. I was an evangelical pastor for twenty-five years and I know well the value people find in religious belief. I have no desire to rob anyone of their religious belief.
However, since the United States is a secular state, I do take issue with those who attempt to require fidelity to a particular religion’s peculiar beliefs, morals, and ethics.
I have never met Gary Luderman, so I am quite perplexed when he suggests I have no moral beliefs. How could he know this?
Luderman speaks of Christian morality as if it’s a singular belief and that all Christians adhere to the same moral and ethical system. Anyone who has paid close attention to Christianity, both in its present and historic form, knows there is no such thing as a singular belief about anything in Christianity.
Luderman mentions God’s rules? Which God? Which rules? Luderman believes that the Christian God is the God. He is atheistic towards all other Gods but the Christian God. He and I are quite the same then, the only difference being my atheism includes the rejection of the Christian God.
I assume Luderman believes that sex before marriage is a sin. Yet, the majority of Christians are not virgins when they marry. In fact, every study I have ever read shows that Christians are every bit as “sinful” as the rest of us. If Christians can’t keep their God’s moral standard why should they expect and demand anyone else to keep it?
The first three words of the Constitution is “We the People.” This is the foundation of our legal system. As a people, we decide how we want to govern ourselves. Collectively, we decide what kind of rules, standards and laws we want to have.
As our country matures, these rules, standards and laws change. At one time, homosexuality was considered a crime, a sign of mental illness. We now know that such beliefs are wrong and that in a just society all people regardless of their sexual orientation should have equal protection under the law.
As a humanist, my focus is on working towards a more just society. Whatever makes us more intolerant and is harmful to others must be abandoned. The proclamation of the angels in the birth story of Jesus is quite applicable today. We must continue to strive for peace and good will for all people.
As far as my personal morality and ethics is concerned, I will leave it to my wife, children, grandchildren, neighbors and friends to pass judgment on my moral beliefs. As much as lies within me, I try every day to love others and do all I can to promote peace and good will.
I waited in vain to see a Crescent-News report on the March 24 Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. Over 20,000 people gathered on The Mall to give their support to the idea that America should be a country governed by reason rather than superstition and religious dogma. The Reason Rally crowd was comprised of atheists, agnostics, humanists and secularists, every one of them with a love for America and its secular values and principles.
Noted speakers at the event included people like Richard Dawkins, David Silverman, Michael Shermer, James Randi, Dan Barker, Roy Speckhardt, Greta Christina and Nate Phelps, son of homophobic Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps. Videos from people like Bill Maher and Penn Jillette were shown and musicians like Bad Religion and Tim Minchin played for the crowd. Adam Savage, co-host of the popular TV show Mythbusters, gave a passionate speech that encouraged and stirred the secular crowd.
The Reason Rally was the American secularist movement’s coming out party. As the recent census showed, secularism is on the rise in America. As people turn away from religions that no longer provide the answers to life’s important questions, they are realizing that answers, hope, meaning and purpose can be found in a non-theistic, humanistic way of life. With no promise of heaven or threat of hell, secularists are focused on improving the world we live in. We only have one life and we best be about living it. If we want a better future for our progeny we have no time to waste dreaming of promises of mansions in heaven.
I realize The Crescent-News leans toward the right politically and socially. The editorial page is so right-wing that it falls right off the right side of the page. That’s your right as a newspaper. I also realize you represent what the vast majority of Defiance area residents believe and support. However, you do have a duty to report the news and the March 24 Reason Rally was indeed news. It is news that is not going away. The Reason Rally was but the first shot over the bow of Ship Christian Nation. We are here and we are not going away.