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Tag: Atheism

Short Stories: The Day I Stuffed an Atheist in a Trash Can

devil in trash can

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1970s. Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution noted for its training of preachers. Midwestern was an unaccredited college. As a result, no student loans were available, and students had to work secular jobs to pay for room and board and tuition. During my sophomore year and part of my junior year, I worked full-time for a large grocery company called Felice’s Market. The Felice brothers were great people to work for. They gave Polly and me $200 as a wedding gift, and when I needed to buy a car one of the Felice brothers loaned me the money. I have worked for over fifty companies/businesses in my lifetime. I consider Felice’s Market one of the best places I’ve ever worked.

I worked in the dairy department. Prior to enrolling at Midwestern, I was the dairy manager at Foodland in Bryan, Ohio. It made sense, then, for me to continue in this line of work. I also worked in the meat department at Kroger’s in Rochester Hills and stocked shelves for La Rosa’s Market in Orchard Lake. Next to managing restaurants, working in grocery stores was my favorite job.

As was common among Midwestern preacher boys, I was quite outspoken about my faith. When given an opportunity to do so, I would share the gospel with my fellow employees. I also made sure I read my Bible during breaks and prayed over my lunch. Having a good testimony before the world was very important. I wanted everyone I worked with to be saved. I am sure more than a few of them wanted to be saved too — from me!

One particular evangelistic target was an atheistic high school boy who worked part-time in the frozen food department. This boy was a science geek, knowing far more than I did about biology, geology, and cosmology. I took two science classes in high school — biology and earth science — and one class in college — biology. I was, to put it mildly, quite ignorant about science. As a high school student, I would take tests in biology class, giving the required answers, but then I would add Bible verses and comments meant to show the teacher that what he was teaching was wrong. I was quite proud of myself — taking a stand for God and his inspired, inerrant Word. My college biology class was a joke. Midwestern didn’t have a lab, so class time was devoted to lectures on creationism and why people should only marry their “kind.”

This high school boy and I would go around and around about how the universe came into existence. He would pepper me with science questions I couldn’t answer, and I would trump his questions — or so I thought — with Bible verses. One day, we got into a heated discussion about creationism. The boy, seizing on the weaknesses of my Biblical answers, asked me, if everything has a creator, who created God? We went back and forth for a few more minutes, me quoting the Bible and the boy repeatedly asking, who created God?  I reached a point where I had enough of his impertinent dissing of God. I told him he was ignorant, and he replied, who created God? Suddenly, I grabbed a hold of the boy and stuffed him — butt first — in a nearby trash can. I then walked away, quite proud of myself, thinking I sure showed that atheist!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Atheists Know There’s a God, Says Elizabeth Prata

romans 1:20

Elizabeth Prata, a “Christian writer and Georgia teacher’s aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children,” recently pontificated on the existence of God; how EVERYONE, including atheists, KNOWS that God exists:

Why does every culture in the world worship something? I’d learned in my twenties that every culture that ever existed worshiped something greater than themselves in some way, from the beginning of recorded time to this moment. Why is that, I’d wonder, and why is it that of all the animals on earth, that none other ever attained that transcendence of self, and looked up to a God?

Could it be…because God designed it that way?

….

The fact of the matter is, whether a person believes in God or not, all of Ecclesiastes reminds us that life without God is empty and vain. Every person ever created has the opportunity to see the world and His invisible attributes within. Every person has the opportunity to seek the fulfillment of that empty place inside us where we groan and discover what it is we groan for. The Lord made us with sinews and blood and DNA and a place in our brains (it seems) where the seat of heavenly longing waits for the Holy Spirit to connect with it and AWAKE our soul unto Jesus. The key is whether a person suppresses the truth in unrighteousness and continue kicking against the goads. There IS a solution for that burden of sin and guilt we all carry.

….

Will you harden your heart to the questions that arise in you? Will you push out of your mind the unanswerable that is before your eyes? Or will you accept the Holy Spirit’s conviction and seek until blessed belief in repentance to Jesus overwhelms you with love and grace?

….

I urge all of us to think these things. If you are speaking with an unbeliever just know that they already believe in God because they can see His invisible attributes through His creation, they suppress it though.

His creation has His signature on it. His formation of humans has in us implanted longing for His Magnificent self. If you have ever looked at the beauty of the world and wondered Who made it, or felt within yourself a longing and unfulfillment, a seeking for something more, it is the Spirit knocking on the door of your heart ready to reveal the kingdom to you. If you only believe, and ask.

Where, oh where, do I begin?

First, let me be clear on Prata’s behalf, when she talks about “God,” she doesn’t mean “choose one from the panoply of deities worshiped by humans.” Prata believes there is only ONE God — her God: the Calvinistic Christian God. Her use of a “generic God” in her post is a smokescreen meant to hide the fact that she believes worshiping other Gods is just a path to the true God — the triune God of Protestant Christianity.

Second, Prata’s contention that EVERY culture “worship something greater than themselves” is patently false. Prata thinks cultures are monoliths, when in fact they are quite diverse. I’m sure she thinks that the United States is a Christian culture. However, there are tens of millions of Americans who are atheists, agnostics, humanists, and nones; people who do NOT “worship something greater than themselves.” For me personally, I only worship one person, my wife! 🙂 She is my partner, equal to me in every way. But worshiping someone or something greater than me? That’s absurd.

Prata refuses to accept the stories (testimonies) of atheists, agnostics, humanists, and nones at face value. According to her, she KNOWS what we really believe and who or what we really worship. How does she know these things? Cuz the Bible says so . . .

According to the Bible and Prata, when non-Christians look at the natural world, they KNOW the Christian God exists. They know there is a divine Creator. Yet, billions of people deny the existence of Prata’s peculiar God. To claim otherwise is a denial of how things really are. Of course, when you believe the Bible is Big T TRUTH, reality can be dismissed with the wave of your hand. “God said” becomes the answer to every question.

Prata tells her followers:

I urge all of us to think these things. If you are speaking with an unbeliever just know that they already believe in God because they can see His invisible attributes through His creation, they suppress it though.

Instead of accepting non-Christians at face value, Prata tells her followers to ignore their stories, knowing that they really, really, really know the Christian God exists, they just suppress that knowledge. This simply is not true. I do not suppress knowledge of God’s existence. First, what a weak God that I have the power to suppress knowledge of him; that I am able to withstand and deny God himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit. What a weak, pathetic God, that a broken down, disabled man can suppress knowledge of him. Second, Prata is a Calvinist, so I am perplexed about the notion that I can actively suppress knowledge of God. Isn’t God the author and finisher of faith? Can anyone save themselves? I thought it is God who draws people to salvation? Since our salvation rests in the hands of God alone, how is it possible that I can suppress knowledge of him? According to orthodox Christian theology, God is the sovereign Lord over all, including salvation. This God predestined who would and wouldn’t be saved from before the foundation of the world. How then, am I, in any way, responsible for not believing. God knows where I live. He even knows my phone number and email address. If he wants to save me, he knows where I am. If he wants me to “know” him, all he has to do is provide persuasive evidence for his existence. Instead, all I get are the Elizabeth Pratas of the world calling me a liar, denying that what I say about my life is true.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Better Late Than Never

better late than never

Last Tuesday, I spoke at the monthly meeting of the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie. Polly recorded my talk on my iPhone 13 — her first attempt at recording a video. Who says you can’t teach old, old, old dogs new tricks? 🙂

Let me know what you think in the comment section. If you are so inclined, please LIKE the video on YouTube. Your subscriptions will be appreciated too. In the coming weeks, I plan to post more material to YouTube and Spreaker (podcast). Your support and helpful suggestions are appreciated.

This is my first in-person appearance since COVID-19. I’ve done a number of podcasts during the pandemic, but I really enjoyed speaking publicly. This Friday, I will be interviewed for two podcasts, Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie and Harmonic Atheist. I’ll post the interviews when they are posted on YouTube.

Video Link

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bible Thumpers: Dealing with Evangelical Bible Bullies

bible thumper 2
Graphic by GlamorKat

Most churchgoing Evangelicals are nice enough people. They may have irrational beliefs and, by their attendance and financial support, lend their names to social policies we progressives find offensive and harmful, but meet Evangelicals at local football games or restaurants and they will act very much like the rest of us. A small percentage of Evangelicals are Bible thumpers — people who live and breathe the Bible, Christian doctrine, and evangelization. Many of the Evangelicals-turned-atheists/agnostics who read this blog were, during their Christian days, Bible thumpers. I know I was. Evangelicals who stumble upon this blog and comment are usually members of the Bible thumper club. Bible thumpers might be a minority within the broader context of Evangelicalism, but they have a larger-than-life presence on the internet, television, and radio. Most Evangelicals are Sunday-go-to-meeting Christians — people who love Jesus and their fellow man. Bible thumpers, on the other hand, love doctrine and hearing themselves talk far more than they do other people. Bible thumpers are quite willing to psychologically eviscerate those deemed enemies — liberal Christians, Catholics, non-Christians, atheists, agnostics, and even Evangelicals who aren’t as “committed” as they are.

Several years ago, I tried to engage a Bible thumper in a thoughtful discussion on the Rational Doubt blog. (Our discussion is no longer available.) I should have known better. I ALWAYS should know better. It’s been years since I have had a lengthy discussion with an Evangelical that turned out well. By the time I figured out I had made a huge mistake, this Bible thumper, sensing emotional blood in the water, turned to attacking me personally, suggesting that I was intellectually inferior and a whiner. This man’s words cut to the quick, opening up wounds that lie buried deep in my being. It’s been almost eight years now since I have returned to blogging. People who have been following my writing for years know that I quit blogging several times in the past because of vicious assholes for Jesus. A little voice in my head kept telling me to tell this Bible thumper exactly what I thought of him and move on, but since I was a guest on Rational Doubt (which periodically publishes my writing on their site) I decided to refrain from giving the Bible thumper the Bruce Gerencser Treatment®. I finally threw in the towel, much to the delight of the Bible thumper. According to him, his superior “Biblical” arguments caused me to flee. He even suggested that deep down I knew that his arguments were correct.

Readers who frequent this blog know the kind of man I am. They also know of my physical struggles and my decades-long battle with depression. Had they been following the Rational Doubt debacle, I am sure I would have gotten emails, instant messages, and texts asking me if I was okay. When a major depressive state sets in — as it did when I had this discussion — life gets quite dark for me. It is easy for me to lose sight of what matters. What doesn’t matter is a piss-ant Evangelical who uses the Bible to bully people. This particular man is just one more of the thousands of Bible thumpers who have come before him. I knew what kind of awful man he was, so why did I engage him anyway? I knew he described himself on his website as:

T.C. Howitt writes at the gospel crossroads of truth and reality, using the Bible to illuminate our benighted culture. He considers no subject sacred in this fallen world, relying on the power of God’s word alone to boldly declaim the shocking wickedness surrounding us in the forms of secular humanism, scientism and technological idolatry.

I knew that his Facebook page said: “I’m on Facebook to preach God’s word. Don’t be surprised when you hear it.” I knew his Medium profile said: “Writer, preacher of God’s word, destroyer of idols, giver of fair warning.” These three statements set off a warning in my mind that said, WARNING, BRUCE! BIBLE THUMPER AHEAD. Yet, despite knowing all I needed to know about what kind of man Todd Howitt is, I decided to engage him anyway. The fault, then, is mine, not his. Rabid dogs act like rabid dogs. I shouldn’t expect them to act like lovable puppies. Bible thumpers act the way they do because they believe the Bible is the answer to every question, and that they know everything. Every morning, these zealots arise and sing:

The B-I-B-L-E,
Yes that’s the book for me,
I stand alone on the Word of God,
The B-I-B-L-E.
BIBLE!

bible thumper 4

They have read countless books that reinforce their educated ignorance. Bible thumpers believe they have life figured out, and that if everyone would believe as they do, all would be well. Many of these Bible thumpers are Calvinists, adding another layer of arrogance and certainty to their behavior. I KNOW all of these things, so why, then, did I bother to engage Howitt? My counselor tells me that I wrongly think that if I just share with people my story and explain my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism, Bible thumpers will understand. Dr. Deal had told me several times, Bruce, you think these people care about what you think. They don’t! They don’t give a shit about you or what you think.

Doc, of course, is right. I KNOW he is right. I have known for years that he is right. I know, I know, I know, yet every so often the “just explain yourself” Bruce nags me, demanding to speak, and so I let him. And as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, the moment I do, I realize I have made a big mistake. I am not talking here about explaining myself to the regular readers of this blog. I owe it to readers who have invested their time (and money) in reading my writing to explain things that aren’t clear. Fortunately, regular readers rarely need an explanation. They understand my writing methodology and usually know what I mean when I say this or that.

Several years ago, I read a Washington Post article about the turmoil in Spain over Catalonia’s attempt to secede from Spain. Speaking of the supposed dialog between the parties, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said:

The word dialogue is a lovely word. It creates good feelings. But dialogue has two enemies: those who abuse, ignore and forget the laws, and those who only want to listen to themselves, who do not want to understand the other party.”

I thought as I read it, Rajoy’s statement fits well with my recent “dialog” with Todd Howitt. Howitt is an enemy to open and honest dialog because his Fundamentalist religious beliefs have turned him into an abusive bully. He may smile and say Praise Jesus! while he is doing it, but Howitt and other Bible thumpers can and do cause psychological harm to people with sensitive sensibilities (which Bible thumpers view as weakness). Howitt had no interest in understanding where I was coming from. He stated from the get-go that he was a former atheist (doubtful) and he was there not to dialog or converse — already knowing how atheists think — but to preach the Word. In other words, he was only interested in hearing himself talk. Those of us who are former Evangelicals are quite familiar with people who only want to listen to themselves talk. Our pastors were people who believed they were men supernaturally chosen by a supernatural God to preach the inspired, inerrant supernatural Word of God. Our duty as hearers was to submit to the pastor’s — I mean God’s — authority and explicitly follow the laws, precepts, commands, and examples found within the pages of the one book that is different from all the books ever written — the Protestant Christian Bible. As an Evangelical pastor, I did the same. Since I had been called by God to preach and teach at whatever church I was currently pastoring, I expected congregants to listen and obey. (Hebrews 13:17)

Bible thumpers believe they are plugged into God 24/7 — that is, except when they, under the cover of darkness, behave in ways that make them entries for the Black Collar Crime series. Bible thumpers believe that their knowledge of the Bible is superior to that of the vast majority of people on earth. Some of them think that they are so right that no church is good enough for them. They are infected with what I call A.W. Pink disease. Pink was a famous early-twentieth-century Calvinistic writer who secluded himself on an island because he couldn’t find a pure enough church to attend.

Having risen to the level of being worthy to enter the inner temple of Biblical truth, Bible thumpers, girded with self-righteousness, fan out across the internet seeking forums to dispense their Trumpian-level knowledge. Scores of such people over the years have made their way to The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser. These days, Bible thumpers are rarely permitted to sell their faux-gold plated turds on this site. A decade spent dealing with Bible thumpers has taught me that engagement is futile. While I, at times, forget this maxim, I am getting better at just letting Bible thumpers tilt at windmills.

I originally wrote this post in 2017. Over the past five years, I have come a long way in learning how to deal with Evangelicals who only want to cause harm. Life is too short — literally — for me to waste time trying to engage people who only want to viciously, violently, and hatefully attack me and the readers of this blog. On the rare occasions I do engage such people, I do so for entertainment purposes or to provide graphic illustrations of the ugly underbelly of Evangelical Christianity. Such people do a wonderful job turning people away from Christianity.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

A Personal Reflection: Missing Out On Life When Jesus Owns You

ct studd quote

Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. (1 Corinthians 7:23)

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. (Philippians 3:8)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (i John 2:15)

I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (John 9:4, Romans 13:12, 2 Peter 3:10)

For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:11-14)

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1,2)

These verses and others became the primary motivators of my life for much of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. My belief that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God — a book written by God, not men — caused me to believe that, as I read these verses, God was speaking directly to me. I knew that God had saved me and called me into the ministry, and that if I devoted every moment of every day to following after Jesus, this would be time well spent. I knew that life was short, death was certain, Hell was hot, and judgment was sure; that soon Bruce Gerencser was going to die and that he was going to stand before a thrice-holy God and give an account for what he did with his life. Using the Disciples as my example, I set out to leave everything that mattered to me and follow Jesus. This meant that, even though I was married to a beautiful, wonderful woman and would over the years have six precious children with her, everything was secondary to my call to the ministry and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. As anyone who knew me in my Evangelical days will tell you, I was a true-blue, on-fire disciple of Christ. My goal in every one of the communities I pastored was to preach the gospel to as many people as possible and to motivate Christians to set aside the things of the world, focusing instead on the present and coming Kingdom of God. I knew that congregants would never be more than what was modeled to them, so I did my best to be a shining example of someone who loved God and took seriously the commands and teachings of the Bible. How this worked out in my life is tragic, a somber reminder of what happens when people give themselves over to fanaticism.

As I contemplated writing this post, I thought about all the things I missed out on or didn’t get to see because my mind was totally focused on the ministry and reaching people with the gospel. Not helping matters was the fact that I was a perfectionist, which later developed into full-blown Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD).  Everywhere I looked there were sinners in need of saving. How could I take time off from work or go on a vacation as long as there were people who needed to hear the gospel? While I certainly would have loved to have spent more time with my wife and children, how could I justify doing so when there were so many people living in sin, seemingly without having anyone in their lives willing to tell them the truth about their eternal destiny. I quickly developed what I call the Elijah syndrome, that I was the only prophet remaining that was willing to do all that was necessary to preach the gospel to lost and dying sinners. It should come, then, as no surprise that I often worked seven days a week, frequently preaching five to seven sermons during that time. When I wasn’t preaching, I was busy knocking on doors, visiting people in the hospital, handing out tracts, working on the church building, transporting people to services, and talking to people in need of my counsel. As Polly will testify, I worked long hours, rarely taking time off for entertainment or personal relaxation.

Here are a few of the things I missed while serving Jesus.

I missed out on watching my older sons play competitive sports. Not because I didn’t have the time to go to their games, but because I wouldn’t let them play sports due to game and practice schedules conflicting with church activities. I fondly remember the days when I played little league and pony league baseball, but my sons never had an opportunity to play baseball because their preacher father thought it more important for them to be sitting in church than playing meaningless, worldly games. I thought, How could I set a good example to the church if on church nights the preacher’s kids were busy playing sports and not in attendance? My children, unfortunately, were never allowed to just be. I expected them to be perfectly behaved, regardless of the fact that other church children were not. I expected my children to set the example, and this meant that they were not going to be able to do some of the other things that “normal” children were allowed to do.

We lived in Southeast Ohio for almost twelve years. During this time, I pastored a fast-growing church that for many years operated a large bus ministry and a private Christian school. If there was one church where my workaholic, OCPD mentality was on display, it was here. During my time as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church, I took all of one vacation, a trip to Boston Massachusetts, paid for by Bruce Turner. Bruce had been the youth pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay Ohio when I was saved and called to the ministry. One year, I had Bruce come to our church to preach for our anniversary. The building was packed, a not-so-subtle reminder that young Bruce had learned well the lessons taught to him by older Bruce a decade and a half ago. Older Bruce had, however, aged and matured in his understanding of the ministry. As he spent several days observing his protégé’s ministerial work, he concluded that I was burning the candle at both ends, and that if I didn’t learn to relax and spend time away from the ministry, I was going to cause myself physical harm. And it is for these reasons that Bruce offered to pay for us to take a trip to Massachusetts. This would be the first and last vacation I would take until the late 1990s. While I “heard” what Bruce was trying to tell me, his voice was drowned out by what I perceived to be the Holy Spirit telling me to give my all to Jesus; telling me that if I were a true disciple of Christ, I must be willing to forsake all attachments to this world; telling me that my wife and children were not as important as following Jesus and preaching the gospel; telling me that Jesus was coming soon that I must be about my father’s business, for the night is coming when no man can work.

In the mid to late-1980s, I made three exceptions to my on-call-for-Jesus 24/7 work schedule. The first exception that I carved out of my schedule was three hours once a week to play basketball with a group of men I had met through one of the teenage boys who attended the church. None of these men was Christian, so I suspect deep down I saw playing basketball with them as an opportunity to evangelize them. Ironically, I made very little effort to do so. Over time, I saw these three hours as a refuge away from the pressures of the ministry. In retrospect, this once-a-week full-court workout was likely medicine of sorts that kept me from physically and mentally destroying myself.

The second exception on my schedule was weekly trips during the summer to local dirt race tracks. My best friend in the church, Harold Miller, asked me if I had ever been to a dirt track race. I told him that I had, but I hadn’t attended a race since the mid-1970s. And so we went — Polly and the boys included, along with 2 toddler girls — regularly on Friday and Saturday nights to racetracks such as Midway Speedway, Muskingum County Speedway, R&R Speedway, and Skyline Speedway. On nights that Polly didn’t want to go, I would pack up the boys and we would go to the races. Again, I saw our weekly visits to these racetracks as a respite of sort from the constant — often self-inflicted — demands of the ministry. There were plenty of sinners at the races we attended, but I made no effort to evangelize anyone. For three to five hours once a week I allowed myself to be immersed in a sea of worldlings, observing but never partaking.

When my evangelist friend Don Hardman heard that I was regularly attending local dirt track races, and – say it isn’t so, Bruce! taking my family with me, he rebuked me for attending such worldly events. Fortunately, I ignored him. I have no doubt that going to the races helped me maintain my sanity and allowed me to physically relax. (One humorous story from these days comes from a warm spring day when I was preaching on a street corner in Zanesville, Ohio. Pulling up to the traffic light was one of the regular late-model drivers at Midway Speedway. Seizing the opportunity to “share” the gospel with this man, I began preaching, mentioning him by name. He turned towards me with a look on his face that suggested I had scared the living daylights out of him. Several months later I ran into him, reminding him of my brief sermon on that spring day. He said to me, you scared the shit out of me!)

The third exception came when I would load Polly and the children into whatever beater we were driving at the time and take day road trips to Southern Ohio and West Virginia. All we needed was enough money for gas and off we would go. Polly would pack us food and snacks, so there was no need to stop at restaurants to eat. We traveled countless back roads, often ending up in places that were small dots on a road map. Polly and I, along with our children, have many fond memories of these trips, including the time we drove to southern West Virginia so we could take a train ride, only to arrive just as the last train of the day was pulling out from the station. Boy, there’s a metaphor in this story. 🙂

Three hours of basketball once a week, three to five hours on summer weekends watching dirt track races, one vacation, and occasional road trips…. that’s all the time I took off from serving Jesus. According to the Bible, I was Jesus’ bondslave. The song in my heart was the classic Baptist hymn:

All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give, I will ever love and trust Him, In His presence daily live.

All to Jesus I surrender, humbly at His feet I bow. Worldly pleasures all forsaken, Take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus I surrender, make me Savior wholly thine. May Thy Holy Spirit fill me, may I know Thy power divine.

I surrender all I surrender all. All to Thee my blessed Savior I surrender all.

There were also church outings to Kings Island, the bowling alley, the roller rink, canoe livery, and a host of other activities, but these events were tools used by me to evangelize unaware sinners. I would encourage congregants to invite their friends and neighbors to these events, telling them to emphasize how much fun these activities were. Once there, I would round everyone up and spend some time sharing the gospel with them. Doing this told congregants without saying a word that having fun for fun’s sake took a backseat to evangelizing the lost.

People who have traveled to Southeast Ohio will tell you about its beauty and rolling hills. It’s too bad that I had no time for enjoying the wonders of God’s creation. All around me was beautiful scenery, but all I could see was sin-stained hearts in need of salvation. Polly and I are planning on taking a trip back to Southeast Ohio this summer to spend a few days visiting all the places that we never got to see because Jesus had other things for us to do. Several days ago, as we were browsing travel literature for Southeast Ohio, we were amazed at how many wonderful things there were to see. Too bad we didn’t take the time to see them when we were young, when our children were home, and when our bodies were better fitted for hiking and visiting such wonders as Old Man’s Cave at Hocking Hills.

The same can be said for the seven months I spent as co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf Texas — a small community just south of San Antonio. While at Community, I spent eight days a week doing the work of the ministry. During my time there I established a Christian school, started two churches, established a nursing home ministry, set up a street-preaching ministry, along with preaching twice a week. As you can see, I was busy, busy, busy for Jesus, with no time for family or relaxation. I suspect I am one of the few people to ever live in San Antonio and not go on the Riverwalk, visit the Alamo, view San Antonio from the towering height of the Tower of the Americas, or see any of the other sites people typically visit when vacationing in San Antonio. I did, however, preach in front of the Alamo, as I did above the walkways that led down to the Riverwalk. All around me was beauty, from the natural landscape to ancient buildings, but I was blind to these things because my eyes were fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith; the Jesus who took my sins upon himself and died for me on the cross; the Jesus who commanded me to be perfect even as his father in Heaven is perfect; the Jesus who commanded me:

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26,27,33)

I am sure that some of the Evangelicals who read this post will suggest that what I needed in my life was balance; that I was too focused on the eternal; that I needed to give myself time to rest and relax. The problem with this type of thinking is that it is modeled nowhere in the lives of Jesus, the apostles, or any of the disciples. I can’t think of one Bible verse that suggests Christians should take it easy until Jesus comes again, or that the followers of Christ should pace themselves as they serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Paul spoke of running a race, and I thought, at the time, better to burn out than rust out. Better to live forty years of life as a brightly shining star than eighty years as a dim star that could only be seen with a telescope.

It was in the late 1990s before I finally realized what a fool I had been. By that time, health ruined and diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, I could no longer keep up the pace of previous years. During this time, thanks to the atheist husband of one of the ladies who attended Our Father’s House in West Unity, the church I was pastoring at the time, I developed a love for photography. I am convinced that this one thing saved my life. I began taking time off so we could take day trips and vacations to places that provided opportunities for me to work on my photography skills. Countless hours were spent slowly driving the back roads of Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio, looking for photographic opportunities. These trips gave me a psychological break from the demands of the ministry. Thanks to my Calvinistic beliefs, I no longer felt driven to spend every waking hour evangelizing the lost. I was content to preach two sermons a week, take care of the needs of a small congregation, and spend the rest of my time enjoying life. We began taking vacations, attending races at the local dirt track, and visiting nearby attractions. Our oldest three boys were old enough to babysit their younger siblings, so this afforded Polly and me the opportunity to get away from the church and home without our children. By then, our economic position had greatly improved thanks to Polly working full time at Sauder Woodworking and our two older sons paying room and board. Having more discretionary money allowed us to do a lot of things that we never could have done years before. I can honestly say that the seven years I spent as pastor of Our father’s House were the best years of my ministerial career. The church never grew above fifty or sixty people, but I found this particular group of people, with a couple of exceptions, a delight to pastor. I suspect that if I had been able to ignore the nagging voice of the “Holy Spirit,” I could have continued pastoring this church for years.

You might wonder what I mean by the nagging voice of the “Holy Spirit.” As I settled into the life typically led by Evangelical pastors, I found myself increasingly feeling guilty over time spent relaxing. I’m sure Polly could tell stories of her own about the long discussions we had about whether we were doing enough for Jesus. I quite enjoyed our new life with its pleasures and relaxing opportunities, but I never could get out of my head all the things I mentioned above. Never far from my thoughts were my Master and his call to follow after him. I don’t want to give the impression that I was some sort of worldly Christian, I wasn’t. I still spent an inordinate amount of time reading and studying the Bible, praying, preaching sermons, and doing the work of the ministry, but I did give myself space for pleasure and relaxation. This was a step in the right direction, but I would find out a few short years later that if I really wanted to have a life worth living, I was going to have to divorce myself from the ministry and God.

Now that I have liberated myself from the constraints of the Bible, I am free to live life as I see fit. Realizing that life is short and death is certain (sooner than later), I try to spend as much time as possible doing the things I want to do and with the people I love most — my family. My bucket list for the next ten weeks: two Dayton Dragons baseball games, Breaking Benjamin concert, Halestorm concert, and a week’s vacation in Shawnee/Newark, Ohio, (along with having our house painted and carpet installed in several rooms). I no longer hear nagging voices in my head telling me to forsake my family, houses, and lands and follow Jesus. I no longer worry about WWJD — what would Jesus do (or what would church members think). Both Polly and I love where we are in life, though we do wish that we had come to an understanding about what really matters twenty-five years sooner. Sadly, we can’t undo the past, but we can choose to live differently, and that is exactly what we are doing.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Here’s What I Know About Evangelical Pastors

preacher

I spent the first fifty years of my life in the Christian church, mainly in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), Southern Baptist, Reformed Baptist, Sovereign Grace Baptist, Christian Union, and non-denominational Evangelical churches. I attended an IFB college in the 1970s, and pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan for twenty-five years. I have interacted with and been friends with scores of Evangelical pastors, evangelists, missionaries, youth pastors, and college professors over the years. Even now, I have dinner monthly with a United Church of Christ pastor and a former Lutheran pastor. If there’s one species of humans I know well, it’s pastors.

Many atheists, especially lifelong atheists, loathe and despise Evangelical preachers. They make no attempt to understand these men (and women), believing them to be the fruit of a poisonous tree. In their minds, preachers are evil men who promote ignorance and cause harm. While there is some truth to these criticisms, they lack nuance. Sadly, atheism is plagued by laziness. It’s easier just to wholesale mock, ridicule, criticize, and dismiss than understand preachers from a tribal, cultural, and sociological perspective.

Most preachers are raised in their parents’ sect, with its attendant beliefs and practices. I was raised in an IFB home, attended IFB churches, dated IFB girls, attended an IFB college, and married an IFB pastor’s daughter. Is it any surprise that I became an IFB pastor? At the age of five, I told my mother that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. Not a baseball player. Not a trash truck driver. A preacher. I never went through the angst people go through when trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. I looked at the various preachers in my life: Tim LaHaye, Gene Milioni, Bruce Turner, Jack Bennett and countless other preachers I heard speak at revivals, conferences, youth rallies, and other church events, and said to myself, “I want to be like you.”

When I look at my life, I see the influences of my parents (primarily my mom), the churches I attended, and my pastors. I grew up in an anti-cultural world where everything revolved around the church and the Bible. Thus, I was indoctrinated and conditioned to think and live a certain way. What troubles me, and at times, irritates the hell out of me, is when atheists don’t understand how and why men become Evangelical preachers. Instead of understanding and appreciating the various factors that lead to a person becoming a so-called man of God, many atheists assume that preachers entered the ministry for nefarious reasons. This simply is not the truth.

Certainly, some preachers are sociopaths, some are even psychopaths. Some preachers are in the ministry for the money. Others love the lack of accountability provided by being a pastor. The ministry is a great place to hide when you are indolent and lazy. No time clock, no boss but God, no real performance measures. Some preachers are sexual predators. The ministry affords them opportunities to prey on unsuspecting, naive people in plain sight.

That said, most Evangelical preachers are kind, decent, thoughtful people. They sincerely desire to help others, spiritually and socially. What many atheists can’t seem to get beyond is what these preachers represent; their beliefs; their political affiliations. All they see is the culture war, believing that all Evangelical preachers are “evil.” Such thinking is not helpful.

I am not suggesting we ignore the theological, social, economic, and political beliefs of preachers. Beliefs matter, affecting not only our own lives, but the lives of others. If our goal is to meaningfully effect change, then it behooves us to understand where people we disagree with are coming from. We need to walk in their shoes. I have spent most of my sixty-four years of life in rural Ohio. I am a small town, country bumpkin through and through. I understand country life. I find myself estranged to some degree from my people. I’m an atheist, a liberal, a socialist, an environmentalist, and a pacifist. Not many of me exist here in rural Ohio. I love the slowness, openness, and safety rural life provides, but I find myself sitting alone in the proverbial corner pub on Friday nights. I have met a few people who think as I do, but, for the most part, I am surrounded by right-wing pro-gun, pro-war, Christian Republicans; people who think the Bible should be read and prayers recited in public schools; people who are anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ; people who have little experience with the world outside of rural Ohio and who think Applebees and Bob Evans are fine dining. Despite this disconnect, these are still my people — my neighbors, friends, business owners, and workers at the stores and restaurants I frequent.

Whether it’s my fellow country folk or Evangelical preachers, I genuinely want to understand where they are coming from. Of course, I want the same from them. I distinguish between preachers who come to this site spewing hate and garden variety Evangelical pastors who busy themselves preaching the gospel and serving their congregations. I have no tolerance for the former. I am more than happy to gut them and leave them on the beach to rot in the sun. However, most Evangelical preachers are never going to go to an Evangelical-turned-atheist ex-pastor’s website and shit on their doorstep. These preachers are content to minister to their flocks. We atheists may have problems with their beliefs and practices (and we should publicly and forcefully challenge them), but we must not forget that they have the same wants, needs, and desires as we do. If our goal is a better tomorrow, would it not be better for us to meaningfully engage Evangelical preachers? Of course, this requires them to do the same. It’s unlikely that we will convince them to abandon Jesus, but, maybe, just maybe, we can promote understanding.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Help! I Am an Atheist, My Wife is a Christian, and She Wants Me to Go to Church on Easter

help

Today, I received an email from a regular reader and supporter of this blog who is a Christian-turned-atheist. This person detailed how his deconversion made his relationship with his Christian wife stressful and difficult for a time. Over time she mellowed out and their relationship, for the most part, has been rock solid.

Recently, this man’s wife said she was thinking about going to church for Easter and got upset when he said he said he wasn’t interested in going. This reader is looking for advice on how to talk to his wife about this issue. His reasons for not wanting to go to church are simple and heartfelt: he finds going to church stressful, much like a victim returning to the scene of their abuse. I suspect that many of us have had similar experiences.

Even the best of marriages is a complex, often contradictory blending of wants, needs, and desires. It is evident that this reader’s wife finds some sort of value and meaning in going to church. Or maybe she’s looking to reconnect with an experience or feeling she once had. Many Evangelicals-turned-atheists have similar feelings. I know I do. Church, for me, as a whole, was a good experience. I had a lot of awesome experiences among the “people of God.” There are times I have wistful thoughts over the past. Hearing hymns and gospel songs will often elicit deep feelings in me. How could it be otherwise? I spent fifty years in the Christian church. These experiences made a deep, lasting impression on me. Does this mean that I secretly long to return to the church? Of course not. Evidence led me away from God/Jesus/Bible/Christianity/Church and only evidence will lead me back.

As a married couple, Polly and I had different church experiences. I was largely loved, respected, and lauded. Polly, on the other hand, was largely ignored and treated as an appendage to her preacher husband; a gopher, secretary, teacher, janitor, piano player, and nursery worker. I miss preaching and teaching, being the center of attention and the hub around which the wheel turned. I am giving a speech for a humanist group in Toledo later this month, and I have several interviews booked for April and May. I look forward to these opportunities to share my story and to “preach” the atheist/humanist gospel.

Polly and I had very different experiences in the church, yet we are both atheists today. While I don’t mind listening to preaching podcasts or gospel music from time to time, I respect that Polly despises these things and doesn’t want me to play them in her presence. Both of us listen to the podcast for the IFB church Polly’s mom attends, but only because Mom lies to us, so this is the only way we can find out what’s going on with her and our extended family. Outside of that, Polly prefers I keep my “religion” to myself and I graciously comply. Why? Because I love her, and my relationship with her is far more important than anything I do. If my writing for this site got in the way of our relationship, I would shutter it tomorrow.

I suspect the reader deeply cares for and loves his spouse. He wants to have a happy, peaceful relationship with her. I suspect she wants the same for him. The problem is that the wife wants something from him that he finds personally and morally repugnant. Should he ignore his own feelings? The short answer is no.

I am a big proponent of personal autonomy. Each of us has the right to own our own space, to walk our own journey, regardless of what other people think (including our spouses and families). Of course, living this way risks causing fractures in our relationships. That’s why many atheists go to church for the sake of their spouses. I can’t imagine doing so, but I do appreciate people who are willing to do so for the sake of their families.

My advice to this reader is straightforward: sit down with your wife and have a non-threatening conversation with her. Not an argument, not a debate, a real heartfelt, honest conversation. I’d explain why you can’t go to church; the visceral feelings you have even thinking about walking through the doors of a church. Will this bring understanding and resolve the conflict? Maybe, maybe not. What this does do is let his spouse know the score. This is very important. Nothing worse than marital conflict when all the facts are not on the table.

Marriage is filled with risk. Our choices materially affect our spouses. That’s why “mixed” marriages are so challenging. Unfortunately, many of them end up in divorce. Unable to bridge the Christian-atheist divide, their marriages fail. A number of the readers of this blog know firsthand the emotional toll of being in a “mixed” marriage. Perhaps some of them will share their experiences in the comment section.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo Says Atheists Believe They are Missing Out on Something Fundamental in Life

nathan lopes cardozo

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo is the founder and dean of the David Cardozo Academy and the Bet Midrash of Avraham Avinu in Jerusalem. Cardozo had this to say about agnostics and atheists in a The Times of Israel article titled God for Atheists:

There are very good people who claim that they are agnostics or atheists. They cannot see any reason to believe in God or they seriously doubt His existence.

However, they are greatly disturbed by this question, for they feel that they are missing something fundamental. Firstly, a higher meaning to life. They complain they have no rituals or festivals that stand for a higher purpose, no religious gatherings in a synagogue or church where they may feel that there is more to this world than what meets the eye.

This void darkens their lives and they feel depressed. They would like to be religious but cannot convince themselves to adopt a theist worldview.

I meet many people like this and I see their pain, which is sincere.

Although I am not sure the following is entirely true for all of them, and I am probably overlooking certain issues, here are some insights.

The main cause for their denial of or doubt in the existence of God is that reason does not offer these good people sufficient grounds to believe in God. Sometimes their reason moves them in the opposite direction from belief in God.

I believe that it is most important to realize that reason is not the way to go. There are certain matters in life that surpass reason. Reason, no doubt, plays a most important role in our lives but it has its limits. There are many matters that play a crucial part in our lives that reason is incapable of penetrating because these matters belong to a totally different category and have little to do with reason.

Sigh

Are you an agnostic or an atheist? Does Cardozo accurately describe you?

The only true thing in Cardozo’s article was this: “Although I am not sure the following is entirely true for all of them, and I am probably overlooking certain issues.”

No shit, Sherlock. You need to get out more, maybe talk to a few atheists before declaring what it is they believe or what they are “missing” in their lives.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser