Tag Archive: Bart Ehrman

Playing Dodge Ball With a Creationist

ken ham's book dinosaurs

Page from Ken Ham’s fiction book, The Dinosaurs of Eden

repost, edited and updated

James Hoskins, one of the writers for the Pathos blog, Christ and Pop Culture, wrote a post about the upcoming debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. I left several comments on the post and I thought readers would enjoy reading my interaction with a young earth creationist by the name of Riley:

Riley

Regarding dinosaurs and humans coexisting, we know that to be true already. So it seems plausible that the dragon myths point back to what we would now call dinosaurs. As far as the anatomical details, some of it was probably embellished and exaggerated over time, while other details come from witnessing different strains of dinosaurs.

Nemo

Citation needed. Before the Paluxy River tracks, I’d like to point out those were faked. Also, to add to my post about the origin of dragon myths, early European paintings showed them to be about the size of large monitor lizards (St. George, most notably). Over time, their size was exaggerated.

Riley

Ancient literature documents dinosaur siting’s. Citation: Job 40 (thought to be the oldest book in the Hebrew Bible)

15 “Behold now, Behemoth, which I made as well as you; He eats grass like an ox.16 “Behold now, his strength in his loins And his power in the muscles of his belly. 17 “He bends his tail like a cedar; The sinews of his thighs are knit together. 18 “His bones are tubes of bronze;
His limbs are like bars of iron. 19 “He is the first of the ways of God; Let his maker bring near his sword. 20 “Surely the mountains bring him food, And all the beasts of the field play there. 21 “Under the lotus plants he lies down, In the covert of the reeds and the marsh.
22 “The lotus plants cover him with shade; The willows of the brook surround him. 23 “If a river rages, he is not alarmed; He is confident, though the Jordan rushes to his mouth. 24 “Can anyone capture him when he is on watch, With barbs can anyone pierce his nose?

Nemo

The behemoth in Hebrew mythology was the beast embodying the land, with the Leviathan representing the sea. Occasionally, the ziz, representing the sky, would be mentioned.* You must realize that the Book of Job was written well before any of the other books of the Old Testament, and contained some references to older myths.

As for the “tail like a cedar”, that was most likely a euphemism for it’s reproductive organs, a reference to the beast’s virility. Creationists have tried to insist that the Behemoth was a sauropod (to explain the size) despite the fact that sauropods had teeth unsuited to the eating of grass, and instead ate the leaves at the tops of trees. Sauropods also, contrary to early beliefs about them, were not partially amphibious creatures.

Bruce

Funny how you abandon literalism when it is convenient. Where does this text use the word dinosaur. This is a behemoth not a dinosaur. Isn’t that what the TEXT says? At best, all you can say is that you don’t know what a behemoth is. Apply the Evangelical hermeneutic that Scripture interprets Scripture. Where does the Bible say that the behemoth is a dinosaur?

You want people to literally accept the Genesis 1-3 creation account, yet you are free to read your own interpretation into Job 40. Is this not hypocritical?

Further, even if this is a dinosaur, shouldn’t Evangelicals call the dinosaur a behemoth? After all, that is what God called it.  Dare you replace the Word of God with your own word?

Riley

Someone is sure in a bad mood! I don’t think I’m reading anything into the text when I conclude based on the textual description that it is what we would call today a “dinosaur.” What else has a tail like a cedar that swings? The word Behemoth was taken straight from the Hebrew by English translators because they didn’t know how to translate the word. But I think the context points to it being a dinosaur. I have no problem if you prefer to call it a “Behemoth”, but most people won’t know what you mean.

Bruce

How could you possibly know what my mood is? Don’t confuse my directness with anger or being in a bad mood.

Why is it that no modern translation translates the word dinosaur? Even the CEV translates it hippopotamus. What in the Hebrew text warrants translating the word dinosaur? In fact, according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the Hebrew word behemoth( H930 if you want to look it up) is the plural of the word behemah (H929) which is translated everywhere else in the Bible as cattle or beast. Even in your beloved Gen 1-3, it is translated cattle.

You have no textual warrant for translating the word dinosaur, other than your presupposition about dinosaurs. This isn’t about creation or science. It is about being honest with what the text says.

At best, all you can say is that you don’t know what a behemoth is. But, based on the singular use of the word, it is likely some sort of cow. The translating of the word as dinosaur is not not found until modern creationists needed “prove” their theology.

All I am asking is that you be honest with the text.

Riley

I am doing my best to be honest with the text, friend. From the immediate context I think signs point to it being a dinosaur. I never said it should be translated, “dinosaur.” I think given the uncertainty the traditional rendering, “Behemoth” is preferable to speculative renderings of hippopotamus and whatever else some modern versions have.

Riley

And so would small lizards now extinct not qualify as dinosaurs in your book?

Numerous other comments you can read here

Riley

I didn’t say I “believed” the explanation for the appearance of lizards breathing fire, at least not in the same sense that I believe what is in God’s word. But any intelligent person can discuss possibilities without making it a matter of faith.

Don’t get hung up on the word, “Behemoth”, considering it just means a large beast and is not more descriptive than that, based on the linguistic data we have. Examine carefully the rest of the description in the passage. What do you think it could be?

Tehsilentone

You’re ignoring the obvious rebuttal you must already know if you wish to argue your perspective. When it says a tail like cedar it is not saying it is large and thick. The text does not specify the trunk. It is assumed by this line to be much more reasonably than a dinosaur, a hippo, elephant, maybe giraffe? As their tails are whippy and light as a ceder switch.

If there is no reason to believe something is real why try to argue for it. Goodness. Just cause you don’t believe it to your very core doesn’t mean you aren’t horribly muddying the waters.

Then Riley goes where all Evangelicals go when backed into a corner:

To me it makes very little difference whether the “Behemoth” in Job 40 is dinosaur or not. It’s not really worth arguing over, since it’s not an important matter of faith what kind of animal it was. The point of the passage is that God must be very powerful if he can create a large powerful animal which is far beyond human control. I just tend to think that it is a dinosaur when I read the description. This question might perhaps merit a more detailed exegesis, but this is not the forum for that. I have not studied this passage in depth in the original Hebrew (though I have read it through once or twice in Hebrew.) I could be wrong, but I am taking “like a cedar” to be like the tree, i. e. the cedar beam. I already know that dinosaurs and humans coexisted from the Genesis 1 account.

end of discussion

dinosaur reading bible

Riley wants to do some “detailed” exegesis of the Hebrew. I think I gave him all he needs to know. He has no warrant for saying behemoth actually means dinosaur. The only reason he does so, and the only reason any creationist does so, is because they need to fit dinosaurs into the young earth creation timeline. They KNOW they existed because the fossil record tells them they did, so the behemoth in Job 40 and leviathan in Job 41 become dinosaurs. This is a classic example of having a presupposition and making the Bible fit that presupposition.

As I have stated many times before, I think it is wrongheaded to argue science with creationists. The better line of argument is the Bible text itself. Their faith lies not in science, but in the Bible. Cause them to doubt the Bible and they are more likely to consider that they just might be wrong about creationism. Once their god, the inspired, inerrant Bible, is crushed, then those educated in the sciences can help lead them into the light.

If you have a creationist friend or family member, I encourage you to try to get them to read several of Bart Ehrman’s books. Ehrman destroys the notion that the Bible is an inspired, inerrant text. It’s impossible for a creationist to honestly read Ehrman and come away still believing the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. This doesn’t mean that they will necessarily abandon Christianity, but it does mean, if they are honest, that they will recognize that the religious authority figures in their life have misled them. They might even conclude that their pastor, Sunday school teacher, and every other Evangelical Bible expert has lied to them. As Ehrman makes clear in several of his books, many Evangelical pastors know the truth about the nature of the Bible, but they refuse to share what they know with congregants. Telling the truth could result in conflict and loss of employment, so they stand week after week before their fellow Christians and lie about the history and reliability of the book they call the Word of God.

[signoff]

The Resurrection of Jesus From the Dead: Fact or Fiction?

resurrection of jesus

Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Wefo asked:

What do you make of 1 Corinthians 15, which is an early christian creed held by majority of biblical scholars (with a few exceptions like Robert Price) to be written no more than five years after Jesus’ death and it being held as proof of a belief in the resurrection?

Also what changed your mind on the resurrection?

While the majority of biblical scholars think Paul was quoting an oral tradition in 1 Corinthians 15, it is not all clear who Paul actually received this tradition from or whether it was some sort of vision. I certainly understand the importance of the gospel creed in 1 Corinthians 15 to those who base their entire worldview on the death and resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but this singular record is not enough to convince me that the claims the Bible makes for Jesus are true.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 states:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

Paul says that the death and resurrection of Jesus were “according to the Scriptures.” What Scriptures is Paul referring to? There is no record of the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Old Testament and 1 Corinthians was likely written several decades before the gospel of Mark. (biblical scholars generally think Mark was the first gospel and Matthew and Luke use Mark as a source) In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul states he received the gospel, not from any man, but by direct revelation from Jesus Christ. Which is it?

In his latest book, How Jesus Became God, Bart Ehrman details what we can historically know about the resurrection of Jesus:

In the previous chapter I argued that there are some things, given our current evidence, that we can not know about the resurrection traditions (in addition to the big issue itself—whether God raised Jesus from the dead): we cannot know whether Jesus was given a decent burial, and we cannot know, therefore whether his tomb was discovered empty.  But what can we know?

We can know three very important things: (1) some of Jesus’s followers believed that he had been raised from the dead; (2) they believed this because some of them had visions of him after his crucifixion; and (3) this belief led them to reevaluate who Jesus was, so that the Jewish apocalyptic preacher from rural Galilee came to be considered, in some sense, God. [page 174]

While some of Jesus’ follower believed he had been raised from the dead, this doesn’t mean he actually was. Belief does not equal fact. People believe many things that are untrue. Did they believe his resurrection was bodily? Spiritual? Since Gnosticism deeply influenced the early church, perhaps Paul thought Jesus’s resurrection was spiritual. There is no way for us to know.

It’s been a long time since I looked at the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. As I read various articles and blogs, I came away thinking that there’s no possible way to know, from history, if Jesus resurrected from the dead. If a person presupposes there is a God and that the Bible is God’s revelation to humanity, then they are likely to believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead. For those of us who are not Christian, we are left with determining whether the Bible accounts of the resurrection should be considered factual.

According to the Bible, Jesus was buried in a grave belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. There is no evidence for a man named Joseph or a place called Arimathea. Since Jesus was executed as a criminal, it is unlikely he was given a proper burial.  The Godless Skeptic writes:

More interesting are the two things Dr. Ehrman says he has changed his mind on regarding what we cannot know about the resurrection. Like his colleague John Dominic Crossan, Professor Ehrman now believes that the tradition of an honorable burial of Jesus is doubtful. He makes note of the suspicious backstory of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the same Jewish council that condemned Jesus to death, absent from the early Christian creeds, and a figure who is progressively portrayed across the four gospels as more and more of a sympathizer to the Christian cause. Citing a handful of ancient examples, he observes that Roman crucifixion victims were not usually given proper burials because humiliation was an important part of the practice, intending to deter potential criminals from committing acts of rebellion against Rome. Those who were crucified were often laid in common graves or left to decay and be eaten by scavenging animals.

It is sometimes remarked that Jesus was buried by Joseph in accordance with Jewish law, since the Sabbath was close at hand. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 gives instruction in this vein, but as Dr. Ehrman points out, it’s an open question of whether or not the Romans, particularly Pilate, would have respected such a rule. Though the Pharisees and the Jewish Sanhedrin had accused Jesus of blasphemy, the charges brought against him in front of Pilate were more political – inciting crowds, forbidding payment of taxes to Caesar, and claiming to be king (Luke 23:1-3). If Jesus was executed as an insurgent, under certain circumstances perhaps he would have been left unburied. If, however, he was executed in accordance with Jewish law, it’s not so obvious where he was buried. In a chapter of the anthology The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave,  Peter Kirby writes that there is some evidence for a dishonorable burial tradition in passages like Mark 12:8 and Acts 13:27-29, which allude to Jesus being buried by his enemies rather than by his followers.

While I find all the back-and-forth debate over what the Bible does or doesn’t say about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead quite informative and entertaining, the reasons for why I reject the resurrection of Jesus are quite simple.

First, there is no record outside of the Bible for the resurrection of Jesus. I find it astounding that no historian recorded anything about the life, execution, and resurrection of Jesus. We are left with the Bible and its accounts of the life of Jesus, accounts that contradict one another. The fact that they contradict one another is not proof that Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, but the contradictions do cause me to wonder if I should put much stock in what the Bible says.

Since history is silent on many of the “historical” events and figures in the Bible, why should I accept as factual what it says about the resurrection of Jesus?  For me, accepting the resurrection of Jesus from the dead requires faith, a faith I do not have.

Second, accepting the resurrection of Jesus from the dead requires believing in miracles. According to John 14:12, Jesus said

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

According to the Bible, Jesus worked many miracles, including turning water into wine, walking on water, walking through walls, healing the sick, and raising the dead. Jesus told his followers that they would do greater works than he did. Yet, everywhere we look we see a lack of the miraculous. In fact, many Christians argue that the miracles of the Bible were only for a certain time, and once the canon of Scripture was completed, there was no longer a need for the miraculous. However, this isn’t what Jesus said. He clearly stated his followers would do greater works than he did, yet we have no historical evidence that his followers were in any way miracle workers. Where can I find a modern-day miracle worker? Where I can I go to see the dead raised back to life?

Third, if there is one thing I know it is that living people die and do not come back to life. Every time I drive by a cemetery, I see the evidence for once dead, always dead.  This alone is sufficient evidence for me to say that Jesus lived and died, end of story.

But, Bruce it is possible that a miracle of some sort could happen. Sure, anything is possible, but now we are talking about probabilities. Based on the evidence, is it probable that humans can die and come back to life? No. Once dead, always dead. Is it more likely Jesus lived and died or Jesus lived, died, resurrected from the dead, and is currently alive sitting at the right hand of God, the Father? The latter requires a suspension of reason and the exercise of faith. I am not willing to do this. I know what I see with my eyes and what history tells me; once someone dies they stay dead. Since, outside of the Bible, we have no record of someone dying and miraculously resurrecting from the dead, it is safe for me to say that the resurrection of Jesus is improbable.

If you would like to read more on the subject of the resurrection of Jesus, I recommend reading:

(if readers have other book titles they think will be helpful, please leave their name in the comment section and I will add them to this list)

In the last part of Romans 14:15, Paul stated “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”  After looking at the evidence, I am persuaded that Jesus did not resurrect from the dead. Whatever he may or may not have been, he was a man who lived and died. Everything else Christians say about him requires faith, a faith I do not have. When new evidence becomes available, say the actual tomb where Jesus was supposedly buried, I will look at it, but, for now, count me one who does not believe.

101716

Who Was Jesus?

jesus

Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Tony asked

I’d like to hear your thoughts on Jesus: who exactly do you think he was? I’ve read back through your archives to see if you covered it before, and found some thoughts, but would love to hear your take on specifically what you think Jesus was about. I sat in church last week and heard the old “JESUS CHRIST WAS EITHER A LIAR, A LUNATIC, OR LORD!!” sermon. Yeah, whatever… I find those options to be extremely limiting and I don’t see what authority anyone has to demand we choose only one of those. I also realize we are confined by getting much of our historicity of Jesus from the scriptures that were written decades after his death, and surely seem to be agenda-driven. But still, would like to hear your thoughts. Thanks for your great work on this blog, Bruce! Always enjoy reading.

Tony asks a question that tends to stir up all kinds of controversy. Some atheists now think Jesus was a myth, that everything the Bible says about Jesus is fiction. I am not one of them. I think Bart Ehrman’s arguments in Did Jesus Exist: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth and How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee provide ample evidence for Jesus being a real person (and I have no desire to debate this issue).

Christians answer this question with all sorts of faith claims based on their interpretation of the Bible. As a non-Christian, I look to history, including the history found in the Bible, to determine who Jesus was. The Christian says, you mean who Jesus IS, right? No, that would be a faith claim. I know of no compelling evidence for the belief that Jesus, the son of God, resurrected from the dead and is now in heaven interceding on behalf of his followers. What the evidence does tell us is that a man by the name of Jesus lived in Galilee, was some sort of religious or political figure, and was likely executed. He lived, he died, end of story.

Some atheists think the Bible is a complete work of fiction. Again, I don’t agree with this position. I think within the Bible we can find historical facts. Granted, these facts are mixed in with distortions and fabrications, so I can understand why someone might say the Bible is historically unreliable. That said, I think most of what Christians say about Jesus has no proof outside of the Bible. Believing requires suspending reason and exercising faith. While the Christian is free to do so, I am not willing to accept that Jesus is who Christians claim he is based on the Bible says so.

Outside of the New Testament — a collection of books written by unknown authors 20 to 100 years after the death of Jesus — there is very little historical proof for the existence of Jesus. I can easily understand, if someone rejects the history found in the Bible and relies on secular sources alone, they might conclude that Jesus was a mythical being. Each of us must determine for ourselves if the evidence is sufficient to warrant thinking Jesus was a real person.

As textual critics and New Testament history scholars continue to punch holes in the Christian/Jesus narrative, some followers of Jesus are forced to reevaluate their beliefs. Sometimes, this leads to a loss of faith or, as in the case of the Evangelical, a move towards liberal Christianity. Sadly, the majority of American Christians could not defend their beliefs if their life depended on it. They wrongly think that the Bible narrative is true and that whatever their pastor tells them is rooted in historical fact. This is why books by Bart Ehrman and Robert M. Price are so deadly to faith. They confront the Evangelical with evidence their pastor or Sunday school teacher never mentioned. Once confronted, Evangelicals must determine how this evidence changes their view of God, Jesus, and Christianity. Some hold on to faith, others lose their faith or move on to sects that value scholarship over blind faith.

Personally, I consider Jesus’s sermon in Matthew 5-7 to be a powerful indictment of modern culture and much of American Christianity. I find great value in his teachings and the world would be well served if Christian and atheist alike embraced many of his teachings. Not all of them, of course, but I do find value in many of the things Jesus said. I can say the same thing about other moral/ethical writings, secular and religious.

101716

Atheists Like Bart Ehrman Because They Want to Suppress the Truth in Unrighteousness

bart ehrman

According to one commenter on Dr. Michael Kruger’s blog,  The Canon Fodder, the reason atheists like Bart Ehrman is because they want to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Here’s what a commenter by the name of Grant had to say:

“Jeff, just to add to your thoughts in this, Bart Ehrman has a ready audience of people who want to hear what he’s saying. The world will view him as an authority on the matter, and accept his claims as truth. 1 Timothy 4:3 warns of something similar: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”

Ehrman is a teacher who suits the passions of the world: to suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Thus, even though someone who refuses to believe the Gospel might spot this hypocrisy of Ehrman’s, rebuking moralizing while doing the same himself, they will likely suppress that truth along with the Truth of the Gospel. Because it suits their passions to do so.

So if we ignored him, Bart Ehrman might “go away” in the sense that we don’t hear so much from him, but he hasn’t really gone anywhere. He wants an adoring audience to validate his unbelief with their attendance to what he teaches as much as they want him to validate their unbelief by him teaching what he does.”

“Very good points. Of course, “agnosticism” and “atheism” are just a smoke-screen for their suppression of the Truth in unrighteousness, and it shows in Bart Ehrman’s hypocrisy. Basically he wants people to believe him, not the Gospel.”

I always love it when Christians tell atheists, agnostics, and humanists the REAL reason they don’t believe. Instead of having to do a bit of intellectual heavy lifting, a Christian like Grant can dismiss a whole class of people with one wave of the proof text hand. According to Grant the reason atheists read Bart Ehrman is because his writing appeals to the fleshly desires. Atheists are unwilling to hear and understand the TRUTH, truth meaning the Bible, so they seek out writers who reinforce their beliefs and opinions about God, Jesus, Christianity, and the Bible. Of course, Christians don’t do that, right? (that’s sarcasm, BTW)

While Grant’s argument might have some merit when it comes to someone who never was a Christian, it falls flat on its face when it comes to people like me. I spent 50 years in the Christian church and I was an Evangelical pastor for 25 years. I spent the majority of my life thinking the Bible was divine truth. Yet, here I am at age 57 an outspoken atheist and humanist. Could it be that the reason I know longer believe is because I intellectually found Evangelical claims about the Bible, God, and Jesus lacking?

Grant is upset because people like me believe Bart Ehrman and not the gospel. In his mind, if one believes the gospel then everything else falls into place. Because I do not believe the gospel, that means I am a Ehrman fan boy. My recommendation of Ehrman’s books couldn’t be because I find them intellectually persuasive, right? Of course not, if I just believed the Bible, well actually if I just believed Grant’s interpretation of the Bible, then I would understand that Ehrman wants to be god in place of the one, true living God.

In others words, atheists, agnostics, and humanists are stupid. They are being led astray by Bart Ehrman, a false prophet. The answer is to have an old-fashioned Bart Ehrman book burning. Then we can return to reading and believing the only book that matters, the B-i-b-l-e. What’s funny, at least to me, is that Evangelical zealots like Grant has shelves full of books that reinforce their beliefs and worldview. If the Bible is all the atheist needs to read, why do Evangelicals read so many books that purport to tell them what the Bible teaches? If the King James Version was good enough for the Apostle Paul and good enough for Bruce, shouldn’t it be good enough for Grant?

Ken Ham Say Dinosaurs are in the Bible Because They Have to Be

dinosaurs noahs ark

Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum, and a staunch defender of young earth creationism, believes that dinosaurs are in the Bible.  His proof? I’ll let Ham speak for himself:

To understand dinosaurs, we need to look at what the Bible teaches us about Earth’s history. We also need to recognize that the word dinosaur wasn’t invented until 1841, as a word for a particular group of land animals. According to Genesis, God created everything in six, literal, 24-hour days. Land animals were created on Day Six of Creation Week .

Since dinosaurs are land animals (some people think that certain flying and marine reptiles were dinosaurs, but these actually aren’t classified as dinosaurs), they must have been created on Day Six as well. Originally all dinosaurs, like everything else, were created vegetarian . They didn’t begin to eat meat until after Adam and Eve rebelled against God.

The reason we have a number of dinosaurs buried in sedimentary layers is because of the global Flood described in Genesis 6–8. This catastrophic Flood would have ripped up miles of sediment, trapping and burying creatures that weren’t on the Ark as it was re-deposited. These creatures turned into fossils that we dig up today. After the Flood, dinosaurs died out for many of the same reason species die out today: changes in climate, habitat, lack of food, human predation, and so on.

Dinosaurs aren’t a mystery when you start with the history recorded in God’s Word. The Bible perfectly explains dinosaurs. They are just another example of the incredible variety of creatures that God created in the beginning…

Simply put, since God created everything, and the universe is only 6,019 years old, God not only created dinosaurs, they roamed the earth at the same time as Adam and Eve.

For Ham, it’s not about the science. In Ham’s world, the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, infallible book. When it speaks to matters of science, it is absolutely, infallibly correct. No matter what science tell us, no matter what archeology tells us, no matter what geology tells us, no matter what biology tells us, the BIBLE trumps all of them.

Let this be a reminder of why it is a waste of time to talk to, debate, or argue with young earth creationists. Their minds are shut off to anything but their narrow, literalistic interpretation of the Bible. Arguing science with them never works. Until they come to see that the foundation of their system of belief, the Bible, is not what they claim it is, there is no hope for them. Before Jerry Coyne can do his job, Bart Ehrman must do his. Until the Bible is shown to be errant and fallible, their interpretations will remain inerrant and infallible.

Comic by Dan Piraro

Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist

god made me an atheist

The Bible gives some pretty good advice about counting the cost in Luke 14:28-30:

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.

Who starts a building project without first counting the cost? The key phrase here is counting the cost. Every choice we make has a consequence. I think a loose definition of Newton’s Law of motion applies here: every action causes a reaction.  Foolish is the person who does not consider the consequences of saying for the first time to family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, I AM AN ATHEIST.

When I left Christianity and the ministry, my wife came along with me. Polly was a few steps behind, but close enough that we could hold hands. We spent many hours reading books and having long discussions about the past, the Bible, and Christianity in general. Bart Ehrman was nightly pillow talk for many months. When we finally came to the place where we said to one another “we are no longer Christians”, we knew that telling our family, friends, and acquaintances would cause a huge uproar. What should we do?

Polly decided to take the quiet approach, keeping her thoughts to herself. When asked she would answer and try to explain, but if people didn’t ask she felt no obligation to out herself. She still operates by that principle. There are people she works with who likely think she still goes to church on Sunday and  is a fine Christian woman. Just last week, a woman Polly has worked with for 15 years asked her if she was going to church on Easter. Polly replied, no. Her co-worker then asked, so do you go to church? Polly replied, no. And that was that. I am sure the gossip grapevine is buzzing. Did you know Polly doesn’t go to church? Why her husband is a pastor! And they don’t go to church? Never mind that the woman asking the questions hasn’t been to church in 8 years. She stays home, watches “Christian” TV, and sends money to the TV preachers she likes.

I took the nuclear approach. I wrote an open letter to my friends, family, and former parishioners. This was totally in character for me. I am an all in kind of guy. In Dear Family, Friends and Former Parishioners, I wrote:

I have come to a place in life where I can no longer put off writing this letter. I have dreaded this day because I know what is likely to follow after certain people receive it. I have decided I can’t control how others will react to this letter, so it is far more important to clear the air and make sure everyone knows the facts about Bruce Gerencser.

I won’t bore you with a long, drawn out history of my life. I am sure each of you have an opinion about how I have lived my life and the decisions I have made. I also have an opinion about how I have lived my life and and decisions I have made. I am my own worst critic.

Religion, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life, from my youth up. My being is so intertwined with religion that the two are quite inseparable. My life has been shaped and molded by religion and religion touches virtually ever fiber of my being.

I have spent most of my adult life pastoring Churches, preaching, and being involved in religious work to some degree or another. I have pastored thousands of people over the years, preached thousands of sermons, and participated in, and led, thousands of worship services.

To say that the Church was my life would be an understatement.  As I have come to see, the Church was actually my mistress and my adulterous affair with her was at the expense of my wife, children, and my own self-worth.

Today, I am publicly announcing that the affair is over. My wife and children have known for a long time that the affair was over, but now everyone will know.

The Church robbed me of so much of my life and I have no intention of allowing her to have one more moment of my time. Life is too short. I am dying. We all are. I don’t want to waste what is left of my life chasing after things I now see to be vain and empty.

I have always been known as a reader, a student of the Bible. I have read thousands of books in my lifetime and the knowledge gained from my reading and studies have led me to some conclusions about religion, particularly the Fundamentalist, Evangelical religion that played such a prominent part in my life.

I can no longer wholeheartedly embrace the doctrines of the Evangelical, Fundamentalist faith. I do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture nor do I accept as fact the common Evangelical belief of the inspiration of Scripture.

Coming to this conclusion has forced me to reevaluate many of the doctrines I have held as true over these many years. I have concluded that I have been misinformed, poorly taught, and sometimes lied to. I can no longer accept as true many of the doctrines  I once believed.

I point the finger of blame at no one. I sincerely believed and taught the things that I did and many of the men who taught me were honorable teachers. I don’t blame those who have influenced me over the years, nor do  I blame the authors of the many books I have read. Simply, it is what it is…

The backlash from my letter was immediate and severe. Keep in mind I was not yet an atheist. All I said was that I could no longer embrace the teachings of Christianity. I was agnostic when it came to God question. I still had lots of doubts and questions.

The reaction of my family and Polly’s family was the hardest to bear. For the most part they said nothing. To this day, some family members, including Polly’s parents,  have not said one word to us about our defection from Christianity. It’s like there’s a huge elephant in the room that no one can see but us. Six plus years of silence.

My friends and fellow pastors took to writing me letters, sending me emails, visiting me, preaching about me, and having prayer meetings focused on praying me back into the fold. The level of nastiness and judgmentalism was overwhelming. During this time, a long-time friend and parishioner turned pastor came to see me. I wrote about his visit in A Letter to a Friend. In the letter I wrote:

You got my letter.

I am certain that my letter troubled you and caused you to wonder what in the world was going on with Bruce.

You have been my friend since 1983. When I met you for the first time I was a young man pastoring a new Church in Somerset, Ohio. I remember you and your dear wife vividly because you put a 100.00 bill in the offering plate. Up to that point we had never seen a 100.00 bill in the offering plate.

And so our friendship began. You helped us buy our first Church bus (third picture below). You helped us buy our Church building (second picture below). In later years you gave my wife and I a generous gift to buy a mobile home. It was old, but we were grateful to have our own place to live in. You were a good friend.

Yet, our common bond was the Christianity we both held dear. I doubt you would have done any of the above for the local Methodist minister, whom we both thought was an apostate.

I baptized you and was privileged to be your pastor on and off over my 11 years in Somerset. You left several times because our doctrinal beliefs conflicted, you being an Arminian and I being a Calvinist.

One day you came to place where you believed God was leading you to abandon your life work, farming, and enter the ministry. I was thrilled for you. I also said to myself, “now Bill can really  see what the ministry is all about!”

So you entered the ministry and you are now a pastor of a thriving fundamentalist Church. I am quite glad you found your place in life and are endeavoring to do what you believe is right. Of course, I would think the same of you if you were still farming.

You have often told me that much of what you know about the ministry I taught you. I suppose, to some degree or another, I must take credit for what you have become. (whether I view it as good or bad)

Yesterday, you got into your Lincoln and drove three plus hours to see me. I wish you had called first. I had made up my mind to make up some excuse why I couldn’t see you, but since you came unannounced I had  no other option but to open and the door and warmly welcome you. Just like always…

I have never wanted to hurt you or cause you to lose your faith. I would rather you not know the truth about me than to hurt you in any way.

But your visit forced the issue. I had no choice.

Why did you come to my home? I know you came as my friend, but it seemed by the time our three-hour discussion ended our friendship had died and I was someone you needed to pray for, that I might be saved. After all, in your Arminian theology there can be no question that a person with beliefs such as mine has fallen from grace…

During the first few months after my initial letter, I heard from Laura Hardman, the wife of Evangelist Don Hardman. She bared her fangs and let me know that it was quite evident that I NEVER was a Christian.

About two years after the  Dear  Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners letter I wrote:

Almost two years ago I sent my friends, family and former parishioners a letter concerning my decision to deconvert from Christianity. I wish I could say my letter was well received.  I wish I could say that people told me they supported my decision. I wish I could say I have been treated in a kind and respectful manner.

But I can’t.

A longtime friend of mine, Bill Beard, pastor of Lighthouse Memorial Church, drove over three hours to my home to talk (argue) with me about my deconversion. He and I had been friends for over 25 years.

Laura Hardman, wife of Evangelist Don Hardman, wrote me a scathing letter telling me that I never was a real Christian, I had been friends with the Hardmans for over 20 years.I wrote them back and I have not head from them since.

Friends of mine for over 40 years, missionaries with Child Evangelism Fellowship, wrote to me and told me I was under the influence of Satan. They sent me literature to read. I returned it with a letter of my own. They never wrote back.

I stumbled upon a forum discussion about me. They were discussing what to do about Bruce.

I have received numerous emails from former parishioners telling me of the errors of my ways.  Some of them are deeply troubled about how this could happen.  How could their pastor now be an agnostic who doesn’t believe in the Bible or God?

A few former parishioners took it upon themselves to tell me their conclusions about me. Many of them mentioned my reading habits. They told me I read too many books and they suggested I just read the Bible.

Two former parishioners wrote to tell me that though they disagreed with me, they loved me and were my friend. I really appreciated their love and friendship.

I hear bits and pieces of the gossip about me that is floating around Bryan and Defiance. People questioning whether or not  I was ever a Christian. Some raise issues about my mental stability. One thing they never do? Talk to me personally.

My adult children have to field questions at work about their apostate father. Once again, the questioners never talk to me personally.

It is not much better on the family front.

Silence is how family has decided to deal with me. It’s like I never wrote the letter about deconverting from Christianity. Behind the scenes there is a lot of gossip about me and what to do about the Bruce matter. Last Christmas, the patriarch of the family, a pastor of 40 plus years, was intent on confronting me about my apostasy. I am grateful my mother-in-law quashed his plan to confront me. It would have been ugly.  I mean ugly, ugly.

My wife decided that we could no longer do Christmas at her parent’s home. The stress and undercurrent are such that it is impossible to “enjoy” time with the family during the Christmas holiday. (we do go to visit when the extended family is not there)

I wish I could tell you that I came through all of this unscathed, but I can’t. I decided to seek out a counselor two years ago. I knew I needed to talk to someone about the pain and deep wound I was carrying as a result of my defection from Christianity. I still see a counselor every few weeks. His work with me has been extremely helpful and has enabled me to move forward and away from the past. The scars remain. The viciousness of people who say they are followers of the man who said turn the other cheek and love your enemy has scarred me. Every time a fundamentalist spews his bile on this blog I am reminded of the deep wound I carry. I am also reminded that I am glad to be free from such an ugly, vile, and vicious belief system and way of life.

So how are things now?

Some family members are still silent. Perhaps they will never ask, inquire, or attempt to engage me in a discussion. I think some people are intimidated by me, so they avoid the elephant in the room. Others fear I might cause them to doubt or lose their faith, so they avoid all contact with me. I have come to accept this. I wish they would talk to me, but I know I can’t force the issue and I leave it alone.

All but two of Christian friends have abandoned me. I don’t blame them. I have come to see that our friendship was held together by fidelity to certain beliefs. Remove the beliefs and the friendship dissolves. If I came back to the Christian faith, I would instantly have dozen of friends. I would be lauded as the Preacher reclaimed From the Devil’s Clutches. Hmm…there is money to be made…

If I had to do it all over again would I do it the same way? Would I write THE letter? Probably. My experiences have given me knowledge that is helpful to people who contact me about their own doubts about Christianity. I am often asked, what should I do? Should I tell my spouse?Should I tell my family, friends, or coworkers?

My standard advice is this: Count the cost. Weigh carefully the consequences. Once you utter or write the words I AM AN ATHEIST you are no longer in control of what happens next.  Are you willing to lose your friends, destroy your marriage, or lose your job? Only you can decide what cost you are willing to pay.

I know there is this notion “Dammit I should be able to freely declare what I am” and I agree with the sentiment. We should be able to freely be who and what we are. If we lived on a deserted island I suppose we could do so. However, we are surrounded by people. People we love. People we want and need in our life. Because of this, it behooves (Shout out to the KJV)  us to tread carefully.

I hope some of you will find this post helpful. My deepest desire is to help you on your journey. I am hoping that my walking before you can be of help to you as you decide how best to deal with and embrace your loss of faith.

This blog is here to remind those struggling with leaving Christianity or who have already left Christianity, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Why I Stopped Believing

why

Jason, an Evangelical Christian, asked:

What would cause someone with your Biblical education and years of preaching the Word of God not just claiming to be a Christian but also living it one day decide to not believe and do a 180 and turn your back on it?

While I deal with this question at length in the From Evangelicalism to Atheism series, today I want to give a short, condensed answer to this question.

People like Jason are often perplexed by how it possible for someone with my background and training to one day walk away from the ministry and Christianity. Most of the clergy who deconvert do so at a much younger age, often in their 20s and 30s. In my case, I spent fifty years in the Christian church and I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years before I deconverted. When I started going to counseling, my counselor told me that it was quite rare for someone my age and with my experience to walk away from a lifetime of belief and work. It happens, just not very often.

Jason is not alone. A number of my ex-friends, family members, and former parishioners can’t understand how it is possible that the man they called Preacher or Pastor is now an atheist. Often they can not or will not believe the reasons I give for my deconversion. Instead, they try to find some other reason to explain why Bruce Gerencser, the man of God, the pastor, the preacher, their fellow colleague in the ministry, is now an apostate, an enemy of God.  Is there some secret past I am hiding, some secret sin? they ask themselves. They wonder if I have mental problems, or if I am unstable.  They rack their brains trying to come up with a plausible explanation, anything but accepting the reasons I give for my deconversion.

Christian fundamentalism taught me to stand firm on my beliefs and convictions. When I was a pastor, people appreciated and applauded my willingness to resolutely defend my beliefs and convictions, But now that I do the same with atheism and liberal politics, they think there must be some other reason I drastically changed my mind and life. I am the same man, a man who thinks that beliefs matter.

My mother taught me, from my youth onward, that it was important to stand up for what I believe. Now, this does not mean that I am not now tolerant of the beliefs of others, because I am. As I get older, I realize that tolerance is an important virtue. Stepping outside of the box I spent most of my life in, I found a rich, diverse, and contradictory world that forced me to be more accepting and tolerant.

When I entered kindergarten I could already read. My mother taught me to read and she developed in me an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. This may seem counterintuitive at first, since I was raised in a fundamentalist environment that is not known for promoting a thirst for knowledge. But, by becoming a proficient and avid reader, I had at my disposal countless opportunities to expand my knowledge. Sadly, my quest for knowledge became quite stunted as a pastor because I rarely read books that would conflict with my Christian beliefs.  However, when I began to have doubts about Christianity and its teachings, my thirst for knowledge kicked into high gear and I began reading books that I once would have considered heretical.

I never made a lot of money pastoring churches. I never had church-provided health insurance or a retirement plan. The only benefits I received were a check I got once a week IF the offerings were enough.  Outside of the time I spent pastoring Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, every other church I pastored paid a part-time or poverty-level wage for the full-time work I gave the church. I often worked outside of the church, as did Polly when I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I am not pointing a judgmental finger at the churches I pastored. Most of the churches were either small or in poverty-ridden areas. Over the years, I was privileged to pastor many gracious, giving poor people. They gave what they could.

About now you are thinking, what in the world are you talking about, Bruce? I thought this post was about WHY you stopped believing! It is, and what I have written above can be distilled down to these three important statements:

  • I was taught to stand firm on my convictions and beliefs
  • I was taught to read at an early age and I developed a thirst for knowledge
  • I never made much money in the ministry

Since I never made much money in the ministry, there was no economic reason for me to stay in the ministry. I always made more money working outside of the church, so when I decided to leave the ministry, which I did five years before I deconverted, I suffered no economic consequences.

Freed from the ministry, my wife and I spent five years visiting more than a hundred Christian churches. We were desperately looking for a Christianity that mattered, a Christianity that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. During this five year period, I read countless books written by authors from a broad spectrum of Christendom. I read books by authors such as Thomas MertonRobert Farrar CaponHenri Nouwen, Wendell BerryBrian McLarenRob BellJohn Shelby SpongSoren Kierkegaard, and NT Wright.  These authors challenged my Evangelical understanding of Christianity and its teachings.

I decided I would go back to the Bible, study it again, and determine what it was I REALLY believed. During this time, I began reading books by authors such as Robert Wright Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, These three authors, along with several others,  attacked the foundation of my Evangelical belief in the inerrant, inspired word of God. Their assault on this foundation brought my Evangelical house tumbling down. I desperately tried to find some semblance of the Christianity I once believed, but I came to realize that my faith was gone.

I tried, for a time, to convince myself that I could find some sort of Christianity that would work for me. Polly and I visited numerous liberal or progressive Christian churches, but I found that these expressions of faith would not do for me. My faith was gone. Later, Polly would come to the same conclusion.

I turned to the internet to find help. I came upon sites like exchristian.net and Debunking Christianity. I found these sites to be quite helpful as I tried to make sense of what was going on in my life. I began reading the books of authors like John LoftusHector AvalosRobert M. PriceDaniel DennettChristopher HitchensSam HarrisJerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins.

The five books that made the biggest impression on me were:

(I make a few shekels if you click on the above links and buy the books)

I read many authors and books besides the ones listed here. I say this to keep someone  from saying, but you didn’t read so and so or you didn’t read _______,  So, if I had to give one reason WHY I am no longer a Christian today it would be BOOKS.  My thirst for knowledge – a thirst I still have today, – even though it is greatly hindered by chronic illness and pain – is what drove me to re-investigate the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible. This investigation led me to conclude that the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible could not rationally and intellectually be sustained. Try as I might to hang on to some sort of Christian faith, the slippery slope I found myself on would not let me stand still. Eventually, I found myself saying, I no longer believe in the Christian God. For a time I was an agnostic, but I got tired of explaining myself, so I took on the atheist moniker, and now no one misunderstands what I believe (see Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners and Dear Friend).

The hardest decision I ever made in my life was that day in late November of 2008  when I finally admitted to myself, I am no longer a Christian, I no longer believe in the Christian God, I no longer believe the Bible is the Word of God. At that moment, everything I had spent my life believing and doing was gone. In a sense, I had an atheist version of a born-again experience. For the past six years, I have continued to read, study, and write. I am still very much a work in progress. My understanding of religion and its cultural and sociological implications continues to grow. Now that I am unshackled from the constraints of religion, I am free to wander the path of life wherever it may lead. Now that I am free to read what I want, I have focused my attention on history and science. While I continue to read books that are of a religious or atheist nature, I spend less and less time reading these kind of books. I still read every new book Bart Ehrman publishes, along with various Christian/atheist/humanist blogs and publications, and this is enough to keep me up to date with American Christianity and American atheism/humanism.

I hope this post adequately answers the WHY I stopped believing question.

Notes

  1. This is a brief answer to the question WHY? I will fully develop this answer in the series From Evangelicalism to Atheism.
  2. I also spent some time investigating other religions and gods that humans have created (a study I still find quite fascinating).
  3. There is also a political aspect to my deconversion. I will talk about this in the aforementioned series.
  4. Jason asked if I believed in evolution. The answer is yes. I am no expert when it comes to science, but I have done enough reading to be comfortable with saying that I believe evolution/natural selection best explains the natural world.

121815

A Comment from a Christian Seminary Student

email

Recently, I received a Facebook message from a Canadian seminary student by the name of Matt. I assume he is an Evangelical. Here’s some of what he had to say:

You don’t know me. I am a seminary student at a school in Canada. One of my professors passed around your article entitled “Know it all Evangelicals” and asked the class to post a response in the class forum.

As I considered my response, I felt that if I wanted to take the assignment seriously I should also post my response in the comments on your article…

…If you are not interested in this I completely understand and will bother you no more. I wish you all the best as you battle through your health issues. Thanks for considering my request.

Here’s the comment Matt posted to the class forum page:

Dear Bruce,

Thanks for a thought provoking article. I’ll admit that my first reaction was indignation and the inner protest that while this may refer to most Christians, it certainly doesn’t refer to me, don’t lump me in with everyone else.

I suspect that just about any Christian reading the article would feel similarly at least initially. Perhaps others would jump on the bandwagon and say, “Yeah, that is the problem with the church, they are so arrogant and they know nothing.” as though they themselves are somehow apart from and therefore better than the church.

Then I tried to think more about what you are really saying. It seems that the main problem that you outline in the article is the arrogance Christians tend to have based on their knowledge which in reality often amounts mostly to ignorance. I wonder if I really can be lumped into that category.

Perhaps in your years as a pastor you had the experience of having kids from your church go off to Bible College and then come back after a year armed with a new knowledge and a great zeal to correct the areas where you were in error in your leadership. The reality is that I was one of those kids. I recall as a Bible School student zealously inserting myself into a church conflict in the church where I grew up.

I made sure to point out to the pastor the areas where he was wrong and clearly warned him of the dangers of his behaviour. He was a man who was struggling in life, he had a teenage daughter causing a great deal of grief in his home and a church in turmoil around him and I am sure that in my great wisdom and discernment I caused far more harm than good. I look back on that incident with no small regret and hope that I have learned something since then.

Now, years later I find myself with a role of leadership and influence within the church and your article is a challenge to me. I can ask myself, “How can I be an influence for good in the church? Can I challenge the young people around me to get into their Bible, to study the scriptures and to think about what they are reading?” I think I can. The reality is that if the scriptures are true (and I believe that they are) they are worth studying and knowing. If they are truly a way to know God then this is what I should devote my life to learning and I want to influence the next generation of the church to change the reputation that we have of being arrogant and ignorant.

Thanks for your challenge.

Matt

While I cannot find the post Matt references, I do remember what I wrote. I focused on the arrogance of many Evangelicals when it comes to them thinking they know everything. In truth, most Evangelicals know very little about theology, the Bible, the history of the Christian sect, and the transmission of the text they claim is divine. Even among preachers, the lack of knowledge is astounding.

I think Bart Ehrman’s books should be required reading in the Evangelical church (and even more so in Evangelical Bible colleges and seminaries). Evangelicals should know where their Bible and beliefs came from and how much these beliefs have changed over the centuries. They should know that many of the claims they make for the Bible are not only laughable but ignorant. If they are going to say that the Bible says ____________, then they should learn to defend and explain their assertions. In the process of learning how to defend themselves, they should expose themselves to authors and scholars outside of their sect, men such as Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, NT Wright, and even secular, non-Christian writers of the ilk of Bart Ehrman and Robert M Price.

I take the Bible seriously and those who say they believe it should do the same. I hope, in the advice Matt gives to his future church people, that he will encourage them to read outside the rut of their peculiar sect. Any belief worth having will stand examination and critique. Now, if it is really all about faith, then future Evangelical preachers such as Matt need to make that clear. They need to state that their beliefs are faith-based and not evidence based. This we believe, then becomes an article of faith, a shared faith, that may have some facts attached to it, but such facts are not required.

I want to thank Matt for his comment. I always appreciate it when an Evangelical makes an attempt to engage me on a  thoughtful, professional, and intellectual level. His kind message to me is a reminder that my writing is often discussed far beyond the pages of this blog.

Note

I have had countless Evangelicals attempt to disparage and discredit Bart Ehrman. When I ask them which of his books they have read, they often state they have read NONE of them. As with the Bible and theology, their knowledge is based on what someone else has told them.

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer

How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

(I do make a few shekels if you buy these books through the links above)

040816

 

Never Underestimate the Power of Jesus

the power of jesus

Often, atheists and agnostics grossly underestimate the power of Jesus. I am sure that some of you are already thinking or saying out loud, Bruce, are you nuts? Have you renounced atheism and become a follower of Jesus again? We don’t underestimate the power of Jesus because he doesn’t exist. End of story!

But, he does exist and I think many atheists and agnostics forget this. In our desire to rid the world of the damaging effects of religion we often forget that Jesus is alive and well.

Now, the Jesus who is alive and well is not an actual, physical living human being and neither is he an actual, physical God or Son of God. The Jesus who was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago is dead. The Jesus who, for thirty-three years, walked the roads of Palestine is dead. The Jesus spoken of in the Bible is dead. We know that dead people do not come back from the grave. We know that once a person is dead he stays dead. Jesus is dead and there is no chance that he is coming back from the dead.

But, Jesus is alive and well in the myths and beliefs of millions of Christians. In the mythical Jesus, people find comfort, meaning, and hope. In the mythical Jesus, people find what they think is lacking in their lives, and quite frankly atheists and agnostics don’t have much to offer when it comes to what Jesus can offer a person.

But, Bruce, believing in Jesus is irrational. Believing in Jesus is as rational as believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Totally correct, but this doesn’t matter.

When suffering and loss come our way, our rationality often doesn’t do us much good. When our lives are in a heap of ashes, knowing the evidence for God not existing does nothing to comfort us. When we are struggling to keep from drowning, the books written by Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, provide no help. All our rational, well-thought-out arguments do little for us when we are at those moments in life where the most precious thing to us is our next breath.

In these times we look for comfort and hope. We look to those who love us and who are willing to do anything for us. In these times, our intellectual prowess does not matter. What we desperately want and need is a hand to hold on to, someone who will tell is it is going to be all right.

But, Bruce, shit happens and we are all going to die in the end. Atheists and agnostics don’t need sentimentality. Surely, we can face what comes our way with a rugged resolve, knowing we are right. Perhaps.

But is knowing we are right the most important thing? Is drawing our last breath knowing we were right about religion, God, Jesus, and the Bible really the grand objective?

Forget for a moment what you know about the Bible. Forget what you know about its teachings. If you were once a Christian, forget your experience in the church. Think for a moment about the essence of the Christian religion. What is the one thing that matters more than anything else?  What is the one thing that allows millions of people to live in a state of cognitive dissonance? What is the one thing that allows Christians to shut off all the criticisms of Christianity and allows them to continue believing?

One word…Jesus.

The mythical Jesus, the Jesus of legend, the Jesus that is preached in countless Christian churches all over the world, this Jesus is the one thing that matters above all else.

Why is this? What is it about Jesus for which  millions of people will abandon rational thinking?  There is no proof for what the Bible teaches on most anything. Few of the events in the Bible have any historical proof. Why does Jesus have such power over people?

Jesus offers salvation. Jesus offers friendship, love, and compassion. Countless drug addicts and alcoholics have abandoned their addictions because of Jesus. Gang members have forsaken their violent ways and thieves have turned to gainful means of employment all because of Jesus. Only the most hardheaded and blind among atheists and agnostics would deny the fact that, for millions of people, Jesus makes a qualitative difference in their life.

In Jesus, millions of people find meaning, purpose, and direction. In Jesus, they find the strength to suffer and die. This Jesus promised to never leave them or forsake them, and no matter how hard we try to show that Jesus is AWOL in the lives of Christians, they still believe he is that friend that sticks closer than a brother.

I am sure there is some psychological or neurological explanation for why this is so, but such explanations have little value. People believe what they believe and that is all that matters.

My wife’s parents are almost 80 years old. They are on the short side of life and it is unlikely that either of them will still be living ten years from now. When they die I will mourn their death. I love them dearly. I will grieve over the loss of two people I have known most of my adult life. Good people. Loving people. Caring people.  And yes, devout, fundamentalist Christians.

They believe that Jesus is with them through thick and thin. Jesus has been their faithful guide. According to them, Jesus has worked countless miracles for them. To them, Jesus is as much a part of their lives as the air they breathe.

I could point out to them all the times that Jesus wasn’t there for them. Where was Jesus when they miscarried? Where was Jesus when their daughter was killed in a motorcycle accident? Their life is filled with countless examples of Jesus leaving them for dead along the side the road. He seems to always be around when they need a hundred dollars, but nowhere to be found when faced with job loss, economic troubles, or sickness. Yet, they still steadfastly believe.

Is it my place to expose their fraudulent Jesus? Is it my place to point out all the places that their friend Jesus was no friend at all? Perhaps I should buy them Bart Ehrman’s books for Christmas so they can know the truth about the Bible and Jesus? Why would I want to do this? Would their life be better without Jesus?

I can’t think of any way their life would be better without Jesus. Their whole existence and being is invested in him and they are trusting Jesus to be there when they are dying and to carry them home to their reward in heaven.

None of this is true, BUT it doesn’t matter.

All that matters is what Jesus means to them and what value he adds to their lives. If this Jesus gives their lives meaning, purpose, and direction, I have no right to disabuse them of their beliefs.  If this Jesus gives them peace and comfort…who am I to take that away from them?

Sometimes, we atheists and agnostics, in our zeal to rid the world of the evil of Christian fundamentalism, forget that most Christians are not theocrats trying to take over America. They have sincerely-held beliefs and, for them, Jesus adds value to their lives. Yes, we must battle Christian fundamentalists who want to turn American into a Christian theocracy. Yes, we must battle attempts to teach creationism as science in the public schools. Yes, we must battle attempts to codify Christian morals and ethics as the law of the land. We must battle any and all attempts to lessen the individual liberty we have to believe or not believe. But, beyond these things, it is not our place to rid the world of beliefs we think are silly or anti-intellectual.

We must remember, those of us who are bloggers, that the Christians who come to our blogs to debate, evangelize, and attack are not typical Christians. Zealots deserve all that we give them and I have little tolerance for such people. But…I must never forget that most Christians are not like the zealots.  Most Christians are like my wife’s parents — people who love Jesus and want to live a good life.

All human beings want a life that has meaning and purpose. We want to be loved and we want to know our life mattered. In the end, we all die and we will soon be forgotten by all but those who loved us. Let’s be careful, in our zeal to rid the world of all the evils associated with religion, that we don’t lose those we love, that we don’t trade being right for those who will be there for us when we draw our last breath.

050516