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2013-2014: A Look at My Writing Post-Christianity

letter to the editor

What follows is a sampling of the letters to the editors of the Bryan Times and the Defiance Crescent-News I wrote between 2013 and 2014. These letters were written after I deconverted from Christianity in November 2008.

January 2013

My Response to Gary Luderman

Dear Editor:

I am writing in response to Gary Luderman’s recent letter to the editor.

Contrary to Luderman’s assertion, my letter was all about the Republican Party and its infection with right-wing religious extremism.

I am quite indifferent to personal and private religious practice. I was an evangelical pastor for twenty-five years and I know well the value people find in religious belief. I have no desire to rob anyone of their religious belief.

However, since the United States is a secular state, I do take issue with those who attempt to require fidelity to a particular religion’s peculiar beliefs, morals, and ethics.

I have never met Gary Luderman, so I am quite perplexed when he suggests I have no moral beliefs. How could he know this?

Luderman speaks of Christian morality as if it’s a singular belief and that all Christians adhere to the same moral and ethical system. Anyone who has paid close attention to Christianity, both in its present and historic form, knows there is no such thing as a singular belief about anything in Christianity.

Luderman mentions God’s rules? Which God? Which rules? Luderman believes that the Christian God is the God. He is atheistic towards all other Gods but the Christian God. He and I are quite the same then, the only difference being my atheism includes the rejection of the Christian God.

I assume Luderman believes that sex before marriage is a sin. Yet, the majority of Christians are not virgins when they marry. In fact, every study I have ever read shows that Christians are every bit as “sinful” as the rest of us. If Christians can’t keep their God’s moral standard why should they expect and demand anyone else to keep it?

The first three words of the Constitution is “We the People.” This is the foundation of our legal system. As a people, we decide how we want to govern ourselves. Collectively, we decide what kind of rules, standards and laws we want to have.

As our country matures, these rules, standards and laws change. At one time, homosexuality was considered a crime, a sign of mental illness. We now know that such beliefs are wrong and that in a just society all people regardless of their sexual orientation should have equal protection under the law.

As a humanist, my focus is on working towards a more just society. Whatever makes us more intolerant and is harmful to others must be abandoned. The proclamation of the angels in the birth story of Jesus is quite applicable today. We must continue to strive for peace and good will for all people.

As far as my personal morality and ethics is concerned, I will leave it to my wife, children, grandchildren, neighbors and friends to pass judgment on my moral beliefs. As much as lies within me, I try every day to love others and do all I can to promote peace and good will.

Bruce Gerencser

February 2013

Local Boy Scout Leaders Oppose Gay Scouts

Dear Editor:

It comes as no surprise that local Boy Scout leaders are against gays being allowed to be a part of the Boy Scouts. Rural NW Ohio is a homogeneous area known for bigotry. We may be nice, friendly, country people, but behind the façade are beliefs that marginalize anyone who is not white, Christian, and heterosexual.

Local Boy Scout leaders are right; the Bible does condemn homosexuality. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote that homosexuality is a sign of reprobation. This is why, in the 21st century, we must abandon the Bible as the standard for morality. While Christians are free to live by the teachings of the Bible, in a pluralistic, secular society, where supposedly all people are equal, there is no place for discrimination against any group of people.

The Boy Scouts are free to fly the banner of bigotry. I hope local churches that sponsor Boy Scout troops will consider what their support of bigotry says to the local community. I hope they will also consider what message they are sending to the youth who attend their churches and participate in the Boy Scouts. If we desire a more progressive, tolerant society, then we must begin by opposing intolerance and bigotry wherever it is found.

The Boy Scouts are a private group and are free to set membership standards. Local residents are also free to withhold their giving through United Way to the Boy Scouts. Perhaps church members who are appalled by the bigotry of local Boy Scout leaders and local churches that sponsor Boy Scout troops, will withhold their offerings until the discrimination against gays end.

If we want a more just and tolerant society, we must oppose intolerance and injustice wherever it is found. We cannot let an antiquated, irrelevant book, written centuries ago, dictate how we should treat others today. While there are many good teachings in the Bible, there are also abhorrent, immoral teachings, that people who respect others, regardless of their race, religion, or sexual orientation, must reject.

One thing is certain. Gay people are not going to return to the closet. They are out and intend to stay out. I hope there will come a day in Ohio when gays are afforded equal protection under the law. I hope there will come a day when gays are allowed to marry and have the same marital rights as heterosexuals. When the day comes when gays can legally marry in Ohio, I hope to be the first person in Defiance County to perform a same-sex marriage. Above all, I hope for a more just and tolerant society. As shown by the bigotry of local Boy Scout leaders, we have a long way to go.

Bruce Gerencser

March 2013

My Response to Richard Mastin’s Assertion that I am Immoral

Dear Editor:

I am writing in response to Richard Mastin’s letter to the editor.

Mastin attempts to marginalize and discredit me by suggesting I am an immoral person. How does Mastin know I am an immoral person? He doesn’t know me personally. All he knows about me is what he reads on my blog and reads on the editorial page of this newspaper. His letter assumes a familiarity with me that he does not possess.

I am indifferent to what moral standard a person lives by. If a Christian wants to live by the moral precepts of the Bible I have no objection to them doing so. Personal morality is just that, personal.

What I object to is Christians trying to make their personal moral standard the law of the land. I object to any attempt to codify the teachings and commands of the Bible into the laws of the United States. The United States is a secular state and the wall of separation between church and state exists so no religion can force their beliefs on everyone.

I support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights because I think every person should have equal protection under the law. I think LGBT people should have the same civil rights as heterosexual people do. Christian morality has no claim in this debate since our civil rights are not dependent on believing in the Christian God.

If theocrats like Mastin get their way, it will lead to a loss of freedom and liberty for anyone who doesn’t measure up to the fundamentalist Christian moral standard. As history clearly shows, this kind of thinking always leads to diminished civil rights, violence, and bloodshed.

I would ask readers to consider when was the last time they saw a headline in this paper about an atheist being arrested for a crime? While there are certainly atheists who commit criminal acts, most criminal acts are perpetrated by people who believe in the Christian God and believe the Bible is God’s Word.

Each of us has the power to act morally and ethically. As an atheist, I live by the precept of not doing harm to others. As much as lies within me, I try to be a good man who is kind, respectful and loves others. I don’t need a god to be this kind of man.

Why is it so many local Christians think they need to paint me as an immoral, Satan-worshiping man? As a public figure, I accept that this kind of treatment goes with the territory, but, I wonder, why are they so intent on demeaning the character of a man they do not know?

I will state once again that those who know me know what kind of man I am. This is all that matters. My critics need a face to throw darts at, and I am that face. It is too bad they confuse the picture of my face with who I really am.

Bruce Gerencser

June 2013

U.S. Supreme Court Rightly Rejects DOMA

Dear Editor:

The U.S. Supreme Court rightly determined that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. Of course, those who oppose same-sex marriage are infuriated over the Court’s decision.

Mike Huckabee spoke for a number of people when he said the justices asserted that they were bigger than God. Huckabee, like others of similar persuasion, wrongly assumed that DOMA was all about what the Christian Bible said on the matter of same-sex marriage. According to Christian fundamentalists like Mike Huckabee, God and the Christian Bible condemn same-sex marriage and homosexuality.

What they fail to understand is that God and the Bible don’t matter when it comes to settling constitutional issues. The Supreme Court is God when it comes to determining what is constitutional. They have the final say. As citizens, we are free to amend the Constitution, but until we do, we must live according to the decisions handed down by the Supreme Court.

Jehovah, Allah, or Jesus have no say when it comes to what is the rule of law. The sooner people like Mike Huckabee understand that the United States is a secular state the better off it will be for our republic.

The Bible is not the standard by which we determine what our laws will be. We the people, through our elected officials and the ballot box, decide what our laws will be. Christians are free to live by the teachings of the Bible, but they have no right to demand that everyone live by those teachings.

For the past 40 years, evangelicals have been repeatedly told that the United States is a Christian nation, a nation that should follow the teachings of the Bible. As interpreted by evangelicals, no matter how many times historians correct their errant thinking, they continue to think that the United States is a Christian nation meant to be governed by the Bible.

I have come to the conclusion that trying to correct their errant thinking is a fool’s errand. Like those who deny global warming, think Obama is a Kenyan, think Ronald Reagan was a great president, and think Fox News is really a news channel, there is no remedy for their willful ignorance.

What matters is fairness and justice for all. Same-sex marriage is a matter of equal protection under the law. Gays have a right to expect to be treated equally when it comes to the law. In no way does this Supreme Court decision affect how evangelical Christians live their lives. They are free to practice their religion and get married just like they always have. Their ministers are free to not marry same-sex couples just like I am free to marry same-sex couples once same-sex marriage becomes legal in Ohio.

I applaud the Supreme Court for standing on the side of fairness, justice, and equal protection under the law. The battle now moves to the states and I suspect here in Ohio the battle will be long and bitter. I can only hope fairness and justice will ultimately prevail.

Bruce Gerencser

July 2013

My Response to Daniel Gray’s Lies

Dear Editor:

This letter is my brief response to Daniel Gray’s recent letter to the editor.

Gray continues to paint me as a liar, a deceiver, immoral, and an all-round bad person. Gray does not know me personally, so I am not sure how he comes to the conclusions he does about me. I have never made one of my letters personal, yet Daniel Gray and a few other letter writers think it is okay to attack my character and suggest that I am not a good person.

As a public figure, I know I must endure such attacks, but I wish my critics would focus on the issues rather than the person. If they would like to have a public discussion on these issues, I am quite willing to participate in any public forum they put together.

For the third time Gray suggests that I am not legally able to marry people and that anyone married by me is in danger of having their marriage invalidated. Gray seems to not understand the legal requirements for being licensed to marry people in Ohio. I meet all the statutory requirements and I am duly licensed to marry people in Ohio. Anyone can verify this by doing a ministerial license search on the Ohio Secretary of state’s website.

Bruce Gerencser

October 2013

Central Local School District Wednesday and Sunday Blackout Policy

Dear Editor:

At a recent board meeting, the Central Local Schools board spent a significant amount of time discussing the Sunday/Wednesday blackout policy that forbids the use of buildings for school use on these days. These days are called designated family days.

The use of the phrase family days hides the fact that these kinds of policies are put in place to promote the activities and services of local Christian churches. I have lived in school districts where some of the local clergy would express outrage every time the school district violated their sacred time territory.

I suspect that the Central Local policy falls under the category of, “we have always done it this way.” Instead of calling this blackout policy family day, the board should call it what it is — no building use on the days Christians normally gather for public worship.

Setting aside, for a moment, the constitutional issue this policy raises, I would love to know if the Central Local school board has any data that suggests that students use Wednesdays or Sundays for church activities or family time? I suspect they don’t.

The American Christian landscape has changed greatly over the last few decades. Most churches no longer have a Wednesday service, and those who do battle declining attendance. I suspect that most of the students in the Central Local school district do not attend church on Wednesday night. Even on Sunday, I doubt that more than half of the students attend church. Confirming this will require an empirical study to be conducted.

The Central Local school board needs to remember that they are the governing authority for a secular school district. If they would like to claim that the Sunday/Wednesday blackout is not a tip of the hat to the local Christian community, then I suggest they move the blackout dates to other days, say Monday and Thursday. If the real issue is “family time,” then any two days would work, right?

Lost in the discussion is the fact that, especially at the junior high and high school level, most students don’t want to spend Wednesdays or Sundays hanging out with family. Teens generally want to spend time with their friends, playing sports, or attending school activities and functions. Thinking that if students are given Wednesday and Sunday off will result in students chilling out with mom and dad is not only humorous but naïve.

It is time to move Central Local Schools board policies into the 21st century. The agrarian, Christian church-centered culture of my youth is dying. We now live in a connected, seven-day-a-week world. We pay taxes to provide an education for our community’s children. It makes sense to allow the buildings to be used on every day of the week if that helps facilitate this education.

I am in no way criticizing the board itself. They do a great job. It is this particular policy that I object to.

Bruce Gerencser

February 2014

Is it Time to Rename the Defiance Crescent-News Editorial Page the Sermon Page?

Dear Editor:

Every week readers of The Crescent-News are subjected to the rants of Bible quoting fundamentalist Christians. Perhaps it is time to rename the editorial page the sermon page. What do these letter writers hope to accomplish?

They seem oblivious to the fact that non-Christians, atheists, humanists, and secularists are immune to their sermonizing. The Bible has no power over us because we do not think it is an authoritative or supernatural book. At best, it is an ancient text written by unknown fallible men centuries ago.

As any student of the text of the Bible knows, the Bible has errors and contradictions. While it certainly has value as an inspirational text, it is a book no different from any other book. Some of its teaching are now considered immoral, and anyone with a modicum of science training knows that the universe was not created in six literal twenty-four-hour days. Most Christian sects accept evolution as the best explanation for the natural world; it is only fundamentalists that continue to hang on to a thoroughly disproved belief.

The United States is a peculiar country when it comes to religion and science. On one hand, we are known for scientific advancement, yet because of Christian fundamentalism, we continue to fight battles over creationism, global warming, and human sexuality.

I come into contact on my blog with people from all over the world. They are, at times, stunned by how scientifically backward the Unites States is. We continue to fight battles that were fought in their countries decades ago. Why is it we still fight these kind of battles in the United States?

One of the reasons is that we have a hands-off approach to Christian beliefs. Driving this approach is the historically ignorant belief that the United States is a Christian nation and that the Bible was our “real” founding document. Because of this, Christianity is given preferential treatment and mustn’t be criticized.

It is time to end this hands-off approach. Christianity has no right to special status. While I have no problem with people worshiping the Christian God, I do object to the notion that they should control our government and schools. The United States is a secular state, and a secular state should be governed by laws, not the Bible. In a secular state, our children should be taught science, not creationism or its gussied-up sister intelligent design. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to make sure that they have facts and evidence. If their parents want them to have religious instruction they can take them to church or teach them at home. We must continue to make sure there is a wall of separation between church and state.

When this letter is printed, fundamentalists will be outraged and they will write letters expressing how wrong I am. They are certain that they are right. They have God’s inspired, inerrant Word to “prove” how right they are. And ’round and ’round we go.

Bruce Gerencser

April 2014

Political Candidates and the Separation of Church and State

Dear Editor:

This is an election year, and in less than a month Ohio will have a primary election. As a voting, taxpaying citizen of Defiance County, I want to pass on some advice to the candidates running for office and those who write letters to the editor showing their support for a particular candidate.

Not every voter in Defiance County is a Christian. Not every voter attends church on a regular basis. A sizable number of voters do not claim the Christian moniker, and outside of weddings and funerals, they never darken the doors of any local church. We are the “nones”, made up of atheists, agnostics, humanists, pagans, secularists and those who are indifferent toward religion. In Defiance County, there are also Muslims, Jews and Buddhists. I know this is hard for the Christian majority to believe, but living near them are people who do not think like they do about God and religion.

So, trumpeting the fact that you are a Christian, teach Sunday School, are pro-life, or are a member of the NRA might play well with Evangelicals, but for those of us who are not religious or not an Evangelical Christian, we are wary of people who play the faith card.

Being a Christian or being pro-life has nothing to do with how a candidate will perform as a local/county/state officeholder. In fact, when candidates for office play the faith card, I am inclined to not vote for them. Why should I vote for a candidate that considers one voter demographic more important than another? This is especially true at the local/county level. I want officeholders that will represent everyone, not just those who are a part of their particular religious sect.

Those running for office would do well to mimic John F. Kennedy’s approach to religion. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, made it clear that his personal religious beliefs would not come into play when he made decisions. Kennedy understood that he represented every citizen not just those who happened to be Christian.

The United States is a secular nation, not just at the federal level, but at the state, county, and local level too. I realize the candidates need votes to win. I realize that Defiance County is ruled by Evangelical, conservative, Republican ideology. Maybe it is a fantasy on my part to think that what every citizen of Defiance County needs to hear is how a candidate for office will spend our tax money, repair our roads, care for our poor and sick, and care for what we have entrusted to our governmental leaders.

It is these issues that will determine how I vote. Sadly, far too many of my fellow Defiance County citizens will vote, not on the issues, but on the number of buzz words they hear a candidate use. To them, where a candidate goes to church or what his view is on abortion is far more important than how he effectively governs.

Bruce Gerencser

May 2014

God and Global Warming

Dear Editor:

A recent letter to the editor stated that the main reason for global climate change and the escalation of global temperatures is that this is how the Christian God wants things to be. The letter writer is not concerned one bit about climate change because God is on the job. We can collectively take a big sigh of relief knowing that the Christian God is in complete charge of the weather.

I wonder if people who make an argument like this understand the implications of their argument. If God is in control of everything, if he is the first cause, if he is the sovereign ruler of all, if there is nothing that we can do to stop the Christian God from doing his thing, then God must then bear the responsibility for everything that goes on in the world.

Katrina, Sandy, every hurricane, every typhoon, every mudslide, every forest fire, every natural disaster, must be laid at the feet of this micromanaging God. Since God is perfectly working out his will in the affairs of the human race, he then is accountable for war, starvation, disease, and death. If God is as the letter writer says he is, then God is culpable for everything that happens.

Of course, most fundamentalist Christians will object to what I have written here. They will say that humans have free will and that the bad things that happen are the result of humans exercising their free will. Wait a minute, I thought God was in charge of everything? Isn’t it God that gave humans free will? There is no way for God to avoid culpability since all power, authority, and control, rests with him.

This kind of fatalism is of no consequence if it is kept in the church house. If someone wants to believe that there is some sort of divine puppet master controlling their life, I couldn’t care less. But, when this kind of thinking bleeds into public policy, the result can be catastrophic.

The world doesn’t have the luxury or the time to just sit back and let God do his thing. Global climate change, along with ever-increasing global temperatures, is the greatest threat we face today. Doing nothing is not an option. As temperatures and seas rise, costs are sure to soar as global climate change disrupts growing seasons and forces the mass relocation of millions of people. As competition for earth’s dwindling, finite resources increases, affluent nations will turn to war to maintain their standard of living.

Our best days may be behind us and thinking that God is going to deliver us or is working out his plan only makes things worse. Why? Because it breeds inaction. Why worry about global warming? The rapture is just around the corner. Most global climate change deniers are also right-wingers religiously and politically. What is it in right-wing ideology that keeps people from seeing the world as it is? Answering this question would take more words than the Crescent-News allows.

Bruce Gerencser

July 2014

What Happened to Ohio?

Dear Editor:

What has happened to Ohio, a state once known for its progressive politics and values? In a few short decades, religious and political fundamentalists have taken over the state government and are now attempting to take over the state board of education. Ohio is now being compared to backwater states like North Carolina and Mississippi.

The Ohio House of Representatives is considering HB 351, a bill that would effectively make abortion and birth control difficult to obtain. This bill has no abortion exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. Evidently, women impregnated through rape or incest are supposed to realize their pregnancy is God’s wonderful plan for their life. Rep. John Becker, the sponsor of HB 351, made it clear that this bill is all about his personal religious convictions when he stated “This is just a personal view. I’m not a medical doctor.”

The Ohio Board of Education now has several Christian fundamentalists on its board. Mark Smith, the president of Ohio Christian University, is one such member. Smith, in a recent speech at the 2014 Road to Victory conference, made it clear that he is part of a movement that is determined to take the schools back for God. According to Smith, “it’s no secret that our educational system is full of teachers and professors who desire to obfuscate truth, and these individuals are effectively (deconstructing) our nation.”

“Truth” to Mark Smith and other Christian fundamentalists like him is the Bible. Smith stated “You see I’m excited to lead the cause for the rebirth of faith values in America, the rebirth of embracing a love for God, the love for family, and a love for our nation. I like traditional marriage. I’m for traditional marriage. Let’s embrace traditional marriage…” Rather than focusing on education, Smith wants to focus on inculcating our children with his brand of Christianity. Our children may not learn to do algebra, but at least they will know which God is the right one and which holy book is “truth.”

Sadly, most Ohioans are clueless about what goes on in Columbus. They continue to send Republicans to the state house without ever considering what they might do when they get there. The only way to stem the tide of religious extremism is to vote the extremists out of office. As it stands now, the Ohio Democratic party is weak and here in rural northwest Ohio it is almost non-existent.

The solution remains the same. We must stand up and fight. We must vote. We must support candidates that want to return Ohio to the days of its progressive greatness. We must be willing to make our voice heard. The editorial page of this newspaper is filled with letters from right-wing political and religious extremists. Surely there are Defiance County residents who are willing to stand up for the liberal/progressive values? Perhaps it is time to write a letter to the editor.

Bruce Gerencser

September 2014

Questions about HB 597

Dear Editor:

Almost a hundred years after the Scopes Trial, Christian fundamentalists continue to demand creationism be taught in public school classrooms. Whether through young earth or old earth creationism or their gussied-up sister intelligent design, fundamentalists want to teach theology in place of sound science. Publicly, they appeal to the American sense of fairness. Teach the controversy, they say with fingers crossed behind their back. Except there is no controversy. Court after court has ruled that creationism has no place in the public-school classroom.

Yet, despite almost a century of litigation and scientific advancement, fundamentalists in Ohio are attempting once again to have their peculiar theology taught as a valid scientific theory. On July 29, Ohio Republican representatives Andy Thompson and Matt Huffman introduced House Bill 597 (HB 597) that would subtly pave the way for creationism to be taught in the science classroom.

HB 597 states “The standards in science shall be based in core existing disciplines of biology, chemistry, and physics; incorporate grade-level mathematics and be referenced to the mathematics standards; focus on academic and scientific knowledge rather than scientific processes; and prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another…”

While the defenders of God and creationism will quickly point out that the bill does not mention creationism, its language opens the door for teaching the non-controversy “controversy”. Representative Thompson’s recent statement concerning the bill leaves little doubt about the objective of his bill. Thompson stated, “I think it would be good for [students] to consider the perspectives of people of faith. That’s legitimate.”

If Thompson is speaking about a high school philosophy or world religion class I would agree with him. I have long supported high school students being required to take a class in philosophy and world religion. In a world religion class students could learn about the various creation myths and how best to interpret and understand them.

However, fundamentalists don’t want their beliefs reduced to a chapter in a world religion textbook. They don’t want just a seat at the table; they want to be the only seat at the table. Their belief system demands certainty, exclusion, and fidelity. In their worldview, there is no place for open, honest discussion about religion and creationism. In their mind, there is one true creation story and that story is found in a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3.

Creationists want students taught that Genesis 1-3 is the Christian God’s blueprint for the creation of everything. The universe is 6,000 years old, and according to creationist hero James Ussher, the earth was created the evening before Oct. 23, 4004 B.C. Everything that biology, archeology, astronomy, and geology tells us about the universe contradicts the creationist story. If we want our children and grandchildren taught sound science, then we must make sure that creationists are not permitted to sneak their theology into the classroom. Theology belongs in the church and home, not the public-school classroom.

Let’s hope reason and science rescue Ohio students from HB 597.

Bruce Gerencser

September 2014

Response to Local Christian Fundamentalists

Dear Editor:

Over the past several weeks, local fundamentalist Christians have voiced their objection to my recent letter to the editor. While I cannot adequately answer all of their objections in the space of 500 words, I would like to address several issues.

I am not anti-religion. I know most people have some sort of religious belief they find beneficial. I am not the slightest bit interested in disabusing them of their belief. Yes, I am an atheist. I am also an agnostic, secularist, humanist, liberal, and Cincinnati Bengals fan. I am many things, but I am not one who wants to stop people from worshiping God.

My objection is to ignorance, especially the kind of ignorance that thinks ancient writings by unknown authors thousands of years ago make for good science. Fundamentalists are free to teach in church, private Christian schools, and home schools that the entire body of scientific evidence can be summed up by saying the Christian God did it. They are free to promote thoroughly discredited notions like the universe is 6,000 years old and was created in six days. They are free to deny all that science tells us about the world we live in. And yes, sadly, they are free to cripple their children intellectually. This is the price we pay for religious freedom.

However, when it comes to the public schools my 10 grandchildren attend or will some day attend, I expect them to be taught the scientific method. I expect them to be taught about facts and evidence without the taint of theology and fundamentalist ignorance.

The scientific method remains the best way for us to understand the universe. It is a method that relies on testing, verification, retesting and, if need be, admitting error. When is the last time that has happened at a local church? (That’s a rhetorical question) Fundamentalists think they have all the answers to all of life’s questions. Their view can be summed up this way: the Bible says — end of discussion. Do we really want local public school children being taught to think like this? Can we afford to cripple them intellectually, robbing them of the skills necessary to think rationally and critically? I think not.

Recent letter writers are like petulant children screaming for attention. For them it is not about science; it is about their belief system increasingly being marginalized and ignored. So when they gin up the non-controversy controversy over biological evolution, the age of the universe, or global climate change, I have no interest in giving their ignorance the air of respectability. After all, doesn’t the Bible say, don’t answer a fool according to his folly?

There is, in the main, little controversy over biological evolution, the age of the universe, or global climate change. Denial is simply a refusal to see things as they are.

For the record, I was an Evangelical pastor for 25 years, pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I am not ignorant of what the Bible teaches.

Bruce Gerencser

December 2014

Dying With Dignity

Dear Editor,

Recently, Brittany Maynard, a brave woman with terminal cancer, took her life. As a resident of Oregon, Maynard could legally choose to commit suicide. Many religious people are incensed over her suicide. A Papal Monsignor called Maynard’s choice reprehensible. Pope Francis called such acts a sin against God. Evangelicals have taken to the internet to denounce Maynard, suggesting her suicide landed her in hell.

Here’s what the religious need to understand: those of us who are not so inclined are not moved by quoted Bible verses and threats of God’s judgment and hell. For us, a God who controls life and death and afflicts people with disease, is a fiction. Everywhere I look, I see suffering and death. I reached a point where I asked, where is God? Eventually, I concluded that the Christian God was a figment of my imagination, an imagination fueled by 50 years of Christian indoctrination.

The Bible encourages people to pray, have faith, and hold on. The faithful are assured that God only wants what’s best for them. Suffering is turned into virtue, some sort of badge of honor. Those who suffer will be rewarded in heaven, the Christian preachers say. Of course, we have to take their word for it because no one has come back from the dead to testify to the veracity of the suffering for God sermons.

I am more inclined to believe what I can see. What I see is suffering and death. I should do what I can to alleviate the suffering of others. Imagine one of my children suffering from a painful disease and I have a cure for the disease. However, I am not willing to give my child the cure because I think his suffering is good for him. What kind of father would people think I am? Yet, the Christian God gets a pass when he does the same. If we consider a human who withholds that which could alleviate suffering reprehensible, surely we should view God the same way.

Theodicy, the problem of suffering and evil, is one of the reasons I am no longer a Christian. Like Baal in I Kings 18, when it comes to suffering, war, famine, disease, pain, and death, the Christian God is AWOL. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, suggesting that their God was on vacation, talking with someone, sleeping, or using the toilet. Could not the same thing be said for all gods? It seems quite clear to me, we are on our own.

At the heart of Maynard’s choice is the right to self-determination. As a person who suffers with unrelenting chronic pain and debility, I want the right to say, no more. Unlike many religious people, I see little value in pain and suffering. I endure it for the sake of my wife, children and grandchildren, but my family knows that there might come a day when I am no longer willing to do so. I want that choice to be mine.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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The Real Bankruptcy

scouting for boys

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

The Boy Scouts of America recently declared bankruptcy. Not coincidentally, a number of Roman Catholic dioceses have declared bankruptcy during the past decade.

Today I live as a woman and an atheist. But I grew up as a Boy Scout in the Catholic Church. From my current perspective, decades after my involvement with the Church and the Scouts, I can see some parallels between the organizations—and how they are failing for essentially the same reasons.

According to a Pew survey, as of 2015, 32 percent of Americans were raised as Catholics, but only 21 percent remained in the Church. Moreover, while the number of Protestants who reported attending a church service during the previous seven days has held steady in the 40 to 45 percent range since the 1950s, during that same period, it fell by nearly half—from 75 to 39 percent—for Catholics. The fall-off is even steeper among young people: While Catholics of all ages attended mass at nearly the same rate in 1955, by 2017, only 25 percent of 21-to-29-year-olds (compared to 49 percent of Catholics 60 and over) went to church.

The Boy Scouts of America is hemorrhaging membership even more quickly than the Church. At its peak in 1972—when I was earning my Star Scout badge—6.5 million boys were in its ranks. By 2016, that number had fallen by nearly two-thirds, to 2.3 million. Two years later, in response to the BSA’s decisions to allow gays, transgenders and girls—and to change its name to “Scouts BSA” — the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) cut its ties with the organization. About 425,000 Scouts are also members of the Mormon Church, so the national organization faced losing 18 percent of its membership in one fell swoop.

The Mormons aren’t the only ones blaming gays and girls for the demise of Scouting, at least as their elders knew it. All manner of reactionaries in the mainstream as well as the fringe media are also laying the Scouts’ troubles at the feet of those who want to foist “political correctness” (i.e., an acceptance of reality) on the rest of the world. They hear raised glasses clinking in gay bars and in The New York Times and The Washington Post newsrooms when the Scouts’ troubles are reported.

Those same pundits, whoever appointed them as such, view the decline of the Catholic Church in America and Europe in much the same way. They hold to the discredited notion that “loosening moral standards”—by which they mean societal acceptance of homosexuality and gender non-conformity—are responsible for the epidemic of sexual abuse by priests and church officials. To bolster their claim, they’ll say that the incidence of such abuse peaked during the 1960s and 1970s. To be fair, perhaps they are making an honest mistake in not realizing that those numbers are of reported incidents. One reason those numbers are high is because of people like me (baby boomers) who came of age when sexual abuse by any adult, let alone priests, was not openly discussed and it was more likely that the child—if he or she had the vocabulary, let alone awareness, to talk about it—was likely to be shamed or punished for “lying” about a priest who held an esteemed status in the family and community. Many of us did not report our sexual abuse until decades later, while those who suffered before had died.

What conservative and reactionary commentators fail to realize is that both the Church and the Scouts in America are sinking, not only under the weight of lawsuits brought by those who were abused in their confines, but also through their own irrelevance—which, itself, is one of the reasons why those abuses happen.

In brief, both the Church and the Scouts were founded upon mythologies that were outdated and even demonstrably false the moment they were adopted. The Catholic Church, like other Christian Churches, is based on a belief in stories like the death and resurrection of Christ and other miracles that fly in the face of empirical reality. Those stories were told and re-told, written and re-written, in ways that appeal to the hope (or simply the wish) that one’s lot in life can improve. Yes, there is redemption and resurrection—as long as you align yourself with power (God), even if it is often cruel and capricious and destroys innocent lives that happen to be in its path.

How is this different from the goals and means of a paramilitary youth organization? (Not for nothing are Scouting units called “Troops” and the sub-units “Patrols”.) Lord Baden-Powell said, in essence, that his purposes in starting the Scouts were to inculcate boys with “good moral character.” (Is that a code phrase, or what?) The Scout Law says a Scout is “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” (I didn’t have to Google that: I still know it, by heart, all of these decades later!) They all sound like fine characteristics, and they are. But he did not mean that those values are intrinsically worthy. You see, he was not only a military man, but a full-on imperialist who saved the garrison in Mafeking by commandeering all of the food for the white population, leaving Africans with the choice of starvation in the town or dispersal in the veldt—where, of course, many more died of hunger and disease. He ordered the flogging and shooting of Africans who tried to “steal” food while caviar was being served in the Mafeking hotel.

His book Scouting For Boys (1908) is full of naked appeals to “national unity” and defenses of the British Empire—and what a duty and privilege it is for a young man to be one of its bulwarks. (Every page practically screams Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.) While perhaps more subtle, similar calls to duty and patriotism permeated my Boy Scout Handbook published more than six decades after Baden-Powell’s piece of propaganda. Notions of God and the King (or Queen) meshed with a frontier myth that appropriated Native American traditions for the purpose of asserting an American version of Victorian-style Muscular Christianity. Boys with whom I grew up were as ready to defend their country’s interests—whatever their leaders said those interests were—as young British men were to help Britannia rule.

Indoctrinating young and powerless people with myths and propaganda not only gives them a false sense of their own power and their right to exercise it, but also leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by those on whom power is bestowed in such a structure. That sense that the weak can be powerful, that those who lose the zip code lottery can find themselves living in Hammock Oaks if they align themselves with the values of the powerful—which is to say, to believe the myths they promulgate—make them prime targets for exploitation. So is it a surprise, then, that sex abuse has been so rampant in both the Boy Scouts/Scouts BSA and the Catholic Church?

I think not. To me, the only surprise is that even more people haven’t come forward because such abuse did not, as the conservative pundits assert, arise in the 1960s or 70s. It has become part of the DNA of both organizations because of their inherently imbalanced power structures, and the way those structures can be, and have been, used to exploit the vulnerable. If anything, I’d reckon that such abuses were even more rampant in the early history of the church and scouting, when fewer people questioned the authority of those who led and represented them.

Blaming the decline of the church or scouting on girls or gays, then, makes about as much sense as blaming bipolar disorder on demons. Both institutions are dying, at least in some parts of the world, because people—especially the young—are seeing them as irrelevant and corrupt as they are, and have been. No “return to traditional values,” whatever that means, can change that.

(In case you were wondering: In some of my previous articles, I talked about the sexual abuse I experienced from a priest in the late 1960s. I did not experience anything of the sort in the Scout troops to which I belonged. But long before the recent revelations hit the media, I heard stories from others who were Scouts.)

Other Posts by MJ Lisbeth

Witnesses To Abuse

A Cross He Could, and Would, Not Bear

D-Day in New York – It’s About Time

The God Pushers Are Having Their Day in The Developing World — For Now

Teach Them to Read and They Won’t Have Kids — Or Go to Church

Bitcoin For The Church: The Young Won’t Be Fooled

I Could Have Been One Of Them — In Alabama

The Irish — And The World’s — Reveille

The Real “Crisis” And “Scandal” In the Church

Burning In The Cathedral And Benedict’s Imagination

Why I Didn’t Help Him

The News Makes Me Think About Him

A Longer Statute Of Limitations for Reporting Sexual Abuse: Why It’s Necessary — And Not Enough

 

 

Bruce Gerencser