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How My Christian Belief Ended

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Guest post by Karuna Gal

I hung onto the Christian faith most of my life. Unlike me, my siblings lost their belief pretty early on, with no fuss or bother. They did baptise their children, and some of those kids made their First Communion and Confirmation. However, the kids are “Nones” – they don’t follow any religion.

So, why did I stay a Christian? I was very religious. I was thoroughly convinced that there was a God. Another reason was that I had no doubt that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. The first disciples were so sure about this that they died for their beliefs. Why would they lie about something that put them in such danger?

Although I explored other spiritual traditions, like Hinduism and Native American, I always kept the Christian faith as the touchstone of my religious belief. I had grown up as a Roman Catholic Christian and that conditioning was strong. It ran in my family. We had a priest and a Third Order Franciscan (a lay order) on my mom’s side.

When I was in college I finally rejected Catholicism because of its history and attitude toward women. Thus began a long process of looking for a church that would help me in my spiritual evolution. I wanted to work on my shortcomings and fears and become a better person. Oddly enough, though, the different churches I attended were hardly into this at all. Even the Quaker church I tried for a while was more evangelical than interested in “the still, small voice.”

Churches I attended had a lot of activities and events. There were prayer teams, Christmas pageants, and food pantries for the poor. They held potlucks and silent auctions. But when it came to the challenge of working on really improving yourself — well, forget it. I think someone has called churches social clubs with a religious veneer, and I have to agree with that statement. A lot of times I felt that I was a freak, wanting to deepen my spiritual life and improve myself, and no one around me, including the clergy, seemed to understand or care about this sort of thing at all. I didn’t see quite yet that Christianity was unable to give me what I wanted. So, I kept plugging away, keeping active in the church. I hoped and believed that if I continued to do my service to the church, Christ would grant me the grace of becoming a better person.

Things came to a head in my early fifties. I was a member of an Episcopal church for about ten years by then and was very involved in it. But I was slowly getting soured on it. I started to be bored by the bad sermons on Sunday mornings. Even if I felt a little inspiration after Sunday services it quickly dissipated by Sunday evening. The work I did for the church seemed to be good for the church (especially all that fundraising) but I didn’t see any improvement in myself. I was still the fearful, depressed, and flawed person I ever was.

Then something occurred that took my questioning to another level. A friend who was running a successful Sunday School program was treated most shamefully by clergy and some “pious” church members. I was an eyewitness to their uncharitable and hypocritical behavior towards her. My disgust and surprise over this were heightened because I was going through “The Change.” There was nothing like going through menopause to thoroughly test my assumptions and give me a much better bullshit meter.

And then, finally, came the total destruction of my belief in God and in Jesus’ resurrection. This happened because I read Reza Aslan’s book “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus.” While it was interesting to get a Muslim’s perspective on Jesus, Azlan mentioned another book that dealt the final blow to my belief. It is called “When Prophecy Fails,” written back in 1956. This book shows how people, when their millenarian or messianic belief fails to deliver, double down on their belief in spite of that. Along with discussing historical examples of this behavior the authors describe the folly of a modern American group who were waiting for spaceships to come and take them to another, more congenial, planet. The “Higher Beings” never arrived in those spaceships when they were supposed to. The people waiting for their deliverance from above were disappointed, of course. The group broke up, but a surprising number of them continue to believe the spaceships are still coming. The folks on this earth just got the dates wrong. The spaceships are still going to arrive, absolutely!

Sound familiar?

So, the first disciples of Jesus were sincere, but they were sincerely deluded. They doubled down on their belief in the resurrection of Jesus because it never happened. There was to be a Second Coming, too, absolutely! They were so convinced that this was the truth that they were actually willing to die to prove it. They just couldn’t face the sad fact that their supposed Messiah was dead as a doornail and would never return.

It seems incredible that people would risk death over a delusion they hold, but then we are seeing anti-vaxxers saying from their deathbeds that the COVID they are dying from doesn’t exist. I even read that one man, whose wife died from COVID though he recovered from it, is out protesting against mask-wearing!

I once read a quote from a modern German poet, which I remember as “A dead Christ shouts from the rooftop of the world that there is no God.” And that was how I finally realised, after all my years in Christianity, that there is no God, no resurrection.

How did I reconcile myself to my new understanding of the world? It took a while, a couple of years, and it was a very painful process. I left my church. Surprisingly few people from church followed up with me to ask why I left, even after all the time I had spent there. I was full of despair, feeling that I could never find a way to spiritually improve myself.

Then I started to accompany a friend to a Buddhist temple, more for fun than anything else. The monk there — who is now my teacher —- talked about how life is suffering; that there is a way out of suffering. And that is by ethical behavior and practicing meditation. So it’s all on your shoulders – no God, no Jesus, no priest or intermediary. Just you and your efforts to become a better human being. Buddhism works for me, and I am very happy. I wish that my theism and my own delusions about Christianity hadn’t lasted so long and held me back from pursuing my spiritual evolution. But better late than never.


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

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Millions and Millions of People Say Evangelicalism is True: Are Christian Converts Making it Up?

size matters
Determining Which Religion is True

Recently, an Evangelical man by the name of Mike left the following comment on the post titled The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Evangelical Bill Wiese Preys on Dying Atheist:

JESUS offers the only way to Heaven. It is not difficult but some are so arrogant or get off on their unbelief. The problem with that is this life ends in a blip. Life is just a vapor. Choose Heaven…over hell. Are these people with these incredible experiences all making it up? All of them? Be serious.

We shall all die and be totally forgotten…except by GOD thankfully.

Mike asks, “Are these people with these incredible [conversion] experiences all making it up?” Well, certainly some of them are making it up. Evangelical churches are filled with people who are just going through the motions; people who don’t really believe. I have no doubt that on Sundays, Evangelical churches even have atheists in their midst; unbelievers who go through the motions for the sake of the marriages or families. Some churches even have atheist pastors — men who don’t believe, yet preach the “gospel” Sunday after Sunday. (Check out the Clergy Project for more information about help for unbelieving clergy.)

Now, Mike is likely a True Christian®. He probably knows countless other people who are members of the True Christian® Club — Established 33 A.D. by Jesus Christ. Mike incredulously asks me to be serious. Do I really think that people with incredible conversion experiences are all making it up? No, I don’t think True Christians® are lying when they testify to what Jesus has done in their lives. I almost always take Christian professions of faith at face value. That said, since the Evangelical God has never been seen, and neither has the Holy Spirit, is it not fair for skeptics and atheists to question whether such beings exist and whether said conversion experiences can, in fact, be proved? The very nature of faith requires believing without seeing. (Hebrews 11) While Jesus, in fact, walked the streets of Galilee almost 2,000 years ago, no one has seen him since the first century. There’s no credible evidence for claims that Jesus physically resurrected and ascended to Heaven. Jesus, supposedly, now sits at the right hand of the Father, awaiting the day and time when Gabriel will blow his trumpet, signifying the second coming of Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, to earth. Millions of Evangelicals gather on Sundays to praise and worship the resurrected Christ and the wonders of his saving grace. Evangelical worship is rooted not in fact, but faith; again, believing what cannot be seen. No one has ever seen God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, angels, Satan, or demons, yet Evangelicals believe these entities exist and are intimately involved in their day-to-day lives. Surely, the fact that they “believe” these things to be true makes them so, right? No! No! No!

Is the fact millions of people believe something to be true, make it so? Of course not. Humans can and do believe things that are patently false or are rooted in myth. Just because millions and millions of Evangelicals believe Jesus is the virgin-born, miracle-working, crucified, and resurrected Son of God, doesn’t mean their beliefs are, in fact, true. When Evangelicals are pressed for evidence for their theological claims, they ultimately appeal to the Bible and faith. Either you believe or you don’t. Evangelicals, for a variety of reasons, suspend rationality and choose, instead, to put their faith and trust in the Christian narrative. Atheists and other unbelievers refuse to set reason aside and faith-it. Granted, Evangelicals have all sorts of apologetical arguments they use to refute atheist claims, but the differences between the two parties really come down to one thing — faith. Evangelicals have it and atheists don’t.

Mike would have us believe that the mere fact that countless Evangelicals believe in Jesus and have had conversion experiences, alone, is “proof” of their truthiness. Of course, this notion is easily disproven. Evangelism is, by nature, exclusionary. Only those who have repented of their sins and put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ are blood-washed members of the True Christian® Club.  All other religions are false. Wait a minute, if the sheer number of adherents determines whether theological claims are true, wouldn’t that mean that Islam, with 1.8 billion believers, is true? Couldn’t the same be said for Mormons? Mormonism is quite Evangelical in theology and practice. Almost 15 million people worldwide worship the Mormon version of Jesus Christ. Surely, this means that Mormonism is true too, right?

Let’s go back to the first century for a moment. The Romans ruled most of the known world. God’s chosen people, the Jews, were under the thumb of Rome. A ragtag group of misfits walked the streets of Jerusalem and Galilee, claiming that their leader, Jesus, was some sort of miracle worker — a man sent from God. Yet, when all the Christians gathered in an upper room to await the Day of Pentecost, they numbered 120 people (Acts 1). Think of all the miracles Jesus purportedly worked. Think of the things that happened when he died: the veil in the Jewish Temple was rent in twain, graves opened up and dead people came back to life and walked the streets of Jerusalem, and the sun was darkened. Think of all the miracles Jesus worked after his three-day weekend in the grave. (Please see I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend.) Yet, come the events recorded in Acts 1, the disciples of Jesus numbered 120. Talk about failure. Why, President Trump would be tweeting about what a failure Jesus and the Apostles were to him! Using Mike’s logic — just being serious here — it would seem that the gods of Rome were the true Gods. If crowd size determines whether theological claims are true, it’s fair to say that Christianity is false.

Now, I know that Evangelicals have all sorts of apologetical arguments they use to show that Evangelical Christianity is true, and all other religions (and non-religions) are false. Mormon believe this or that, and this proves Mormonism is false, Evangelicals say. Similar arguments are made against Islam, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, HinduismPastafarianism, Shintoism, Santeria, and cargo religions. Bruce, all these other religions are false! Why? Why is Christianity true and all other religions false? Look at their crazy beliefs, Bruce! Only Christianity is true! Really? Try taking a look at Evangelical Christianity from the outside. Isn’t the Evangelical narrative just as crazy as that of other religions? I have already disproved the notion that the size of the sect proves its truthiness. Lots of sects have millions and billions of adherents. If penis size alone determines which appendage is the one true cock, what can be said about Trump-sized groups such as Evangelicals — whose numbers are quite small when compared to Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, and Islam?

No, the fact that millions and millions of people profess faith in the Evangelical Jesus proves nothing. Just because individual Christians testify to the miracle-working power of their God, it proves nothing. Sure, religion can and does effect change in the lives of people, but beliefs need not be true for them to be transformative. Humans believe all sorts of things that are false. In science, there is what is called the placebo effect: a beneficial effect produced by a placebo drug or treatment, which cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, and must therefore be due to the patient’s belief in that treatment. Most humans want meaning, purpose, and happiness in their lives. Is it not possible the religion in general and specifically Evangelicalism produces a placebo effect? Evangelicals “believe” and it works. Evangelicalism doesn’t work for atheists. Why is that? Atheists don’t believe; they don’t have the requisite faith necessary for one to become a Christian.

I hope that this post puts to rest the argument that truth is determined by crowd size. It’s not, and if the Mikes of the world want to prove that Evangelicalism is true, it is time for them to prove it; not with lame presuppositions or Bible verses, but real evidence. Of course, no such evidence is forthcoming, and for this reason, and others, the number of unbelievers continues to grow.


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

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Quote of the Day: What Has Organized Religion Been Up To?

The last few decades sure have been bad ones for organized religion. Conservative Christians have decided that the sum total of the Bible is about reestablishing the sex and gender mores of the 19th century. Liberal protestantism is so unassuming that hardly anyone even remembers it exists. The Catholic Church has been responsible for the deaths of millions in Africa thanks to its mindless belief that God hates condoms. Much of Islam has been taken over by the toxic Saudi strain. Israel has turned into an apartheid state. Hindus in India are apparently now dedicated to creating a religiously pure state. And even Buddhists have been acting badly lately.

Meanwhile, science keeps churning out new wonders. Cell phones. The internet. Cures for cancer. Robotic prosthetics. Solar panels on rooftops. Talking computers. Antidepressants. Google Maps. Cheap genome sequencing. Virtual reality. Machine learning. Meatless meat. Missions to Mars. Electric cars. Fiber optics.

Seems like no contest to me. But who’s winning?

— Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, Organized Religion Is Having a Bad Few Decades, August 18, 2019

Black Collar Crime: Buddhist Teacher Sogyal Rinpoche Accused of Sexually Abusing Students

sogyal rinpocheThe Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Sogyal Rinpoche, a renowned Tibetan Buddhist teacher, stands accused of psychologically and sexually abusing numerous students and devotees.

David Leser, a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald writes:

On a late September evening this year, a group of leading Australian business figures gathered in a Sydney boardroom to discuss a series of allegations that had scandalised the Buddhist world, and shaken their own to the core. The meeting was called by David White, chairman of business strategy advisers Port Jackson and Partners; Ian Buchanan, former lead partner with management consultants Booz Allen Hamilton; Diane Grady, non-executive director of Macquarie Bank and chair of Ascham School; and Gordon Cairns, chairman of Origin Energy and Woolworths.

What these four had in common was a long-standing involvement in Practical Wisdom, a series of business retreats held in Sydney over the past 15 years with Sogyal Rinpoche, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher and author of the 1992 international bestseller The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

These retreats were now up for review, as Rinpoche stood accused by eight of his former senior students of decades of physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

“There is such a deep sadness over what has happened,” Buchanan tells Good Weekend. “Whatever the facts turn out to be post investigation, this will inevitably be a tragedy. That this should come from an organisation that has done so much good, and from an individual who has done so much good, is very sad.”


But on July 14 this year, Rinpoche’s world came crashing down, and soon thereafter the faith of thousands of his devotees and admirers. That was the day he received a 12-page letter from the eight former senior students accusing him of years of violent and abusive behaviour.

“This letter is our request to you to stop your unethical and immoral behaviour,” they wrote. “Your public face is one of wisdom, kindness, humour, warmth and compassion, but your private behaviour, the way you conduct yourself behind the scenes, is deeply disturbing and unsettling.”

The letter then laid out in spectacular and shocking detail the nature of the Tibetan master’s alleged abuse: “We have received directly from you, and witnessed others receiving, many different forms of physical abuse. You have punched and kicked us, pulled hair, torn ears, as well as hit us and others with various objects such as your back-scratcher, wooden hangers, phones, cups and many other objects that happened to be close at hand.”

“Your physical abuse – which constitutes a crime under the laws of the lands where you have done these acts – have left monks, nuns and lay students of yours with bloody injuries and permanent scars. This is not second-hand information; we have experienced and witnessed your behaviour for years.”

Among the letter’s co-authors: his Australian IT expert Ngawang Sangye, and his personal assistant, an Australian artist turned Buddhist nun known as Drolma, who fled Rigpa – the organisation Rinpoche founded – in 2010 after what she claims was nearly eight years of abuse.

“His behaviour was often wildly unpredictable and irrational,” Drolma tells Good Weekend in a Skype interview from London, where she now lives. “If anything went wrong and his anxiety got the better of him, he would take it out on me. One of those times he grabbed me by the ear and it was torn all the way along the back. There was blood pouring down my neck.”

According to his accusers, the mistreatment went far beyond the physical. “Your emotional and psychological abuse has been perhaps more damaging than the physical scars you have left on us,” they wrote. “You have threatened us and others, saying if we do not follow you absolutely, we will die ‘spitting up blood’. You have told us that our loved ones are at risk of ill-health, or have died, because we displeased you in some way.”

Then came a range of alleged eye-popping sexual misdeeds. “You use your role as a teacher to gain access to young women, and to coerce, intimidate and manipulate them into giving you sexual favours.”

“Some of us have been subjected to sexual harassment in the form of being told to strip, to show you our genitals (both men and women), to give you oral sex, being groped, asked to give you photos of our genitals, to have sex in your bed with our partners, and to describe to you our sexual relations with our partners.”

“You have for decades, and continue to have, sexual relationships with a number of your student attendants, some who are married. You have told us to lie on your behalf, to hide your sexual relationships from your other girlfriends. Publicly you claim that your relationships are ordinary, consensual and proper because you are not a monk. You deny any wrongdoing and have claimed on occasion that you were seduced.”


In Sogyal Rinpoche’s case, the “channels in his body” were less than subtle, according to British journalist Mary Finnigan, who was to spend nearly two decades trying to expose him. “I’m one of the people who launched Sogyal on his career as a teacher in London in 1973, when he was very young and very inexperienced,” she told a Canadian documentary team in 2011. “There was just this continuous stream of seductions. He didn’t even hide it in those days. He was absolutely flagrantly promiscuous. He would pick girls up – usually vulnerable, needy – and entertain them for a short while and then dump them.”

One of those young women, American Victoria Barlow, first met Rinpoche in New York in 1976 after grappling for years with her own childhood sexual abuse. Rinpoche was visiting Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the pioneer of Tibetan Buddhism in the US, and Barlow wanted Sogyal Rinpoche’s advice on the dharma, or Buddhist teachings.

“He opened the apartment door without a shirt, holding a bottle of beer,” Barlow recalls now in a written response to Good Weekend. “I [had] just turned 22 and I arrived in an almost floor-length dark brown tent dress that I had made a few months before in Calcutta.

“I thanked him for taking the time to see me and was in the process of asking him my question when he reached over and touched my cheek. He said, ‘I think we have a special connection.'”

“My face flushed. I had just been touched by a lama. This was such a blessing … but as I spoke, he reached toward me and literally mashed my face with his face. He was literally slobbering all over me.

“He roughly put his hand up my long dress, groped my privates, unzipped himself and lay on top of me, literally grunting for the minute or two until he released. Immediately, he got up, said he had things to do, that he was getting ready to travel across America.”

Barlow was mortified, but still willing to believe that – in the spirit of “Crazy Wisdom” – Rinpoche had just transmitted a powerful “source of enlightenment”.

In the following months, she received several calls from him, including one from Trungpa’s spiritual centre in Boulder, Colorado, where Rinpoche “spoke with amazement about how Trungpa had girls lined up outside his door like a rock star and that he wanted that, too. I thought he was joking and only later realised that was his actual aspiration, to have a conveyor belt of groupies.”

Despite growing doubts, Barlow allowed her spiritual mentor to convince her to fly to Berkeley, California to receive teachings from another Buddhist master. She was invited to stay with an American couple, both Tibetan Buddhist students who showed her a room with two beds. “They said, ‘That’s Sogyal’s bed next to yours. He told [us] to put you in here.’ I felt a combination of shock, shame, humiliation, defeat and anger.”

“Within a minute of his arriving in the room, Sogyal said he’d had a fight with his girlfriend in London. He made it apparent that he wanted sex with me, so that made me just some lay he’d arranged to use in Berkeley.” Barlow concluded then that Rinpoche was a “charlatan”; that she needed to get away as soon as possible. “Eight weeks later,” she says, “I miscarried his child.”


Over the 15 years that Buchanan and Cairns helped convene the “Practical Wisdom” retreats, there was nothing in Rinpoche’s behaviour to suggest scandal. Yes, there had often been questions about his inner circle of beautiful young women, and how it was that a teacher of loving-kindness could so often publicly humiliate his senior students. But never a hint of physical or sexual abuse.

You can read the entire long-form story here.

Did I Hide the Buddha?


A guest post by Peter Fischer.  Peter was a Lutheran Minister for over a decade before leaving ministry to become an Employment Counsellor.  He lives in Vancouver, Canada and is the writer/producer.

The Buddha in question is a statue that sits under our living room window.  It was a present from my wife—a welcomed gift.  It’s a symbol of serenity, mindfulness, and non-attachment—meaningful values for us and our boys.  For some in our extended family however, we fear our Buddha may signify a fall from grace with a not-so-soft landing in H. E. Double-Hockey-Stick.  As such, our seated Siddhartha has become a symbol, a test, of our own differentiation vis-à-vis our (mostly) conservative Christian family of origin.  How open and honest will we be about our progressive, inclusive, multi-faith-honouring views when they pay us a visit?

We have fun with this.  Depending on who happens to drop in, the other spouse watches with a keen eye to keep score.  We’re devils alright.  Not too long ago, it was my turn to play judge and jury.  “Should I get the Mr. Potato Head box?” I joked, as we chased dust balls out of corners and Windexed the mirrors before Linda’s sister’s arrival.  “No, I’m good,” she laughed.  “Really?  No hiding?”  “Yup,” she said with such a beatific smile, I’d swear she spent the day under the Bodhi tree.  Sure, we’ll see, I doubted.  I fully expected a last second avoidance of the third kind:

Buddha Differentiation Levels:

  • Level One: Buddha in plain view of visitors.  Full disclosure—“Buddha boom, Buddha bing!”
  • Level Two: Buddha under window but pushed back behind the Christmas cactus.  Moderate disclosure—“Yes we have a Buddha statue, but look at how much bigger our icon of Jesus is!”
  • Level Three: Buddha in Mr. Potato Head box.  Avoidance. No disclosure—“Buddha?  What Buddha?”

To my surprise, and Linda’s credit, the Buddha remained seated by the window.  It wasn’t pushed back at all, though I did note a couple of branches of the Christmas cactus draped over his shoulders.  Not bad.  Incredible actually.  I was jealous.  I recalled my parents visit a few years back when I surreptitiously put the Buddha to sleep in a box of arms, lips, and a naked spud.

I’m writing this because I’m making strides.  Two of my brothers are in town, and while they don’t carry the same psycho-social-religious weight as my parents, the thought “did I hide the Buddha?” hasn’t even cross my mind (until now).  It’s a small, but significant victory for me.  Introverted and reticent about my core beliefs that I am—even as I was paid to preach them for over a decade—it’s good to stretch my self-disclosure muscles; to say “this is the real me!”

Hey, I’ve even turned the spine of my copy of the Qur’an title-side out on our bookshelf.  Can’t say the same for my Dan Brown novels.  Some things, after all, just shouldn’t be revealed. ;)

Bruce Gerencser