Tag Archive: Christianity

The IFB Church: Visiting Preachers and Evangelists Treated Like Demigods

phil kidd 2Originally published in 2015. Updated, corrected, and expanded.

The now-defunct Stuff Fundies Like posted a list written by Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) evangelist Phil Kidd detailing how a church should take care of a visiting speaker or evangelist. While those not raised in the IFB church movement likely are astounded at the list, I can assure you that Kidd’s ten points are standard operating procedure in IFB circles. Special speakers, Bible conference speakers, and evangelists are routinely treated like demigods. They are fawned over like movie stars are when drooling, wild-eyed fans come in contact with them. Fans of movie stars will stand in long lines hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite actor. If they are lucky, they might even get the opportunity to get an autograph. So it is in the IFB churches. It is not uncommon to see fawning church members seek out big-name preachers and have them sign their Bibles. Teenagers are encouraged to have these larger-than-life men sign their Bibles so they will remember years later that they heard so-and-so preach — a giant of the faith, a man mightily used of God.

Over the years, I heard countless speaker introductions that left the congregation with the impression that Jesus himself was the speaker for the night. These men are treated like royalty, given preferential treatment during their brief engagement at the local IFB church, college, or conference. During their stay, they will be given gifts, fed food fit for a king, and when they have finished preaching their super-duper, candy-stick sermons (those that are preached over and over), they will be rewarded with a large honorarium, sometimes totaling thousands of dollars.

As with public speaking bureaus, the IFB church movement has a contingent of preachers who travel the country speaking at conferences, college chapel services, and revivals. Some of these men are pastors who treat their special speaking gigs as an opportunity to make extra money. Some of these men make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year “humbly” speaking about the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. It’s been rumored that some of these men are millionaires as a result of their “sacrifice” for Christ.

I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Over the course of fifty years in the Christian church, I heard numerous Bible conference speakers, special speakers, and evangelists. I could spend the next week writing about my experiences with the IFB luminaries of my day. While I met men I considered faithful, thoughtful, and humble servants, I also met a fair number of men who were arrogant, full-of-themselves, shysters who were in it for power, prestige, and money. I will leave it to readers to determine what category I think Phil Kidd fits in.

While this post focuses on the IFB church movement, Evangelicalism, in general, has a similar problem. Traveling mega-church pastors and parachurch leaders are often treated like the best thing since Jesus turned water into wine. Often attracting crowds of thousands, these men and women make a financial killing through fees, honorariums, book and video sales, and the sale of Jesus Junk®. When confronted by the seeming vulgarity of their profiting off the ministry, these chosen ones remind their critics that it is God “blessing” them and that the laborer is worthy of his hire. After all, secular speakers make tens of thousands of dollars from giving speeches, why shouldn’t they be allowed to rake in the cash too?

Fine, but let’s quit pretending that these traveling preachers are doing the work of God. They’re not. What they’re really doing is using the gullibility of Christians and the pretext of preaching the Bible to pad their bank accounts, increase their retirement funds, and collect the trappings of an affluent lifestyle.

Over the years, I had more than a few occasions to talk to notable IFB preachers about coming to speak at one of the churches I pastored. I was astounded by some of their demands. Instead of being humble servants of God, many of these men expected to be treated like they were royalty. They often demanded thousands of dollars in speaking fees (honorariums), along with travel and housing expenses. They expected to be fed well and have their every need met while they were “sacrificially” preaching the word of God at our church. Rare was the man who was willing to come for a love offering, trusting God to meet his every need. And even when they were willing to come for a love offering, giving them a poor love offering was a way to make sure that they would never accept an invitation to preach at your church again.

ifb preacher phil kidd

IFB Preacher Phil Kidd

There was one man, however, who left me with a good example of how a traveling preacher should conduct himself. His name was Henry Mahan, then the pastor of 13th Street Baptist Church in Ashland, Kentucky. Mahan came to preach a two-night Bible conference for me when I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio. This was during my early days as a Calvinistic Baptist pastor. Mahan was a well-known luminary in Calvinistic Baptist circles, and I was delighted that he was willing to come speak at our church.

When Mahan arrived, he made it clear to me that he wanted no honorarium and no expense money. He told me that he would pay all of his own expenses. In fact, he paid the check every time he and I went out to eat. His reasoning? The church he pastored paid him more than enough money, and a man in his church provided him with a new Lincoln Continental every two years. He had no need for more money. I was astounded when he told me this, and when I insisted that he take an honorarium from the church, he made it very clear that he would not speak for our church if he was required to accept the money. Needless to say, in the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I never had another preacher tell me this.

As a preacher of the gospel, I never was comfortable telling a church or pastor that I had to have X amount of money before I would come preach. I felt it my duty and obligation to preach every time I was asked. In fact, I never turned down an invitation to preach. Did I have some churches and preachers take advantage of my willingness to preach on the cheap? I’m sure that happened, but I determined at the beginning of my ministry that I would never allow money to dictate whether I would preach for someone else. There were times that preaching revival for a small church cost me more money in travel expenses than the church gave me in the love offering. While I knew that some churches were notoriously cheap, I never let that stand in the way of an opportunity to preach. (And, in retrospect, I wish I had worried a bit more about money.)

I should also note that tax fraud is quite common among traveling preachers. Driven by greed and hatred for the government, expenses paid by the church are often not recorded, and I had several preachers tell me that they preferred their offering in cash. In THIS God we trust, right?  One man told me preferred gold, but cash was okay too. Churches are required to give special speakers and evangelists a 1099 form for income tax purposes, so paying God’s chosen ones in cash means no 1099, no taxable income. I gave one such man more than $1,000 in a brown paper bag. I know for a fact that he “humbly” bragged about stiffing the government. Yes, the Bible says to render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, but it doesn’t say how much, right?

Do you have a story to share about your experience with a special speaker or evangelist? Please share your story in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Bait and Switch Evangelistic Methods of Evangelicals

bait and switch

Originally published in 2015. Updated, corrected, and expanded.

On a previous iteration of this blog, a fundamentalist Christian by the name of Harold commented on The Jonathan Nichols Story: Growing up Gay in the IFB Church post. That post is an excerpt from Jonathan’s story about being raised in the Newark Baptist Temple, the church pastored for forty-six years by my wife’s uncle Jim Dennis, and how the church and its pastor responded to him when he said he was gay. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) Harold left this comment:

Jonathan, I am a Baptist who views on homosexuality being sin have never changed. I can say however that my views of homosexuals have changed from judgmental condemnation to compassion. You can Google C.S. Lewis views on homosexuals which are compassionate. I think anyone can be delivered from homosexual sin (pornography, masturbation, the actual sex act) and same sex attraction can be overcome but I think for many it is a battle and perhaps a life long battle although I’m not sure about it being life long. For a compassionate view of homosexuality I would recommend to anyone: Christian, gay, family of one who is gay, a book titled” Love Into Light” by Peter Hubbard. Also for anyone wanting free from homosexuality I recommend http://www.settingcaptivesfree.com

Harold wanted to present himself as a compassionate, loving Christian, but I wasn’t going to let him get by with his subterfuge, so I left this comment:

I know you mean well, but cut the bullshit. Bottom line, no homosexual will inherit the kingdom of God, right? Unless they repent of their sodomy they will be tortured by God in the lake of fire for all eternity, right? Quit hiding behind claims of love and compassion. Jonathan is fine how he is. He is free to love who he wants, and have consensual sex with who he wants. Why should you have these freedoms but not Jonathan? Answer, the Bible says…right?

Subterfuge. This word accurately describes the evangelistic methods used by many Evangelicals. Subterfuge is defined as: Something intended to misrepresent the true nature of an activity.

Evangelicals rarely tell non-Christians what their true motives are. They come bearing gifts, speaking of love and compassion, but their real goal is to convert sinners, baptize them, and make them tithing members of whatever Evangelical church they represent. I’ve come to the conclusion that most Evangelicals are incapable of loving for love’s sake and having compassion for others without having an unstated agenda.

A few years ago, an Evangelical wrote a post about his church going from door to door handing out flower pots. He said they just wanted to show the community that they loved them. I asked, did the flowerpots have the name of the church on them, and did you give them literature from the church? Of course they did. The goal, then, wasn’t showing the community they loved them; it was advertising their church in hopes that people would come to it.

Evangelicals are experts at subterfuge, and it is important to force them to declare their true intentions. In my comment to Harold, I also wrote

Harold, what is your end game here? Put in a good word for Jesus? Evangelize? Preach the truth?

When Evangelicals want to befriend you, help you, or to get all cozy with you, you need to consider what their real motive is for doing so. In an article on The Gospel Coalition website, Jeff Cavanaugh wrote:

Yet churches still have a tremendous evangelistic opportunity in the people who live near the church building. After all, these neighbors walk and drive past the church building every day. They may wonder about what goes on when the church gathers. For non-Christians who don’t know any believers personally, the church down the street may be the biggest reminder of Christianity they see on a regular basis.

So how can a church be faithful in evangelizing the neighborhood when the members don’t live there? Some evangelical traditions have made a practice of “visitation,” knocking on doors and trying to engage people in spiritual conversations. Sometimes this effort bears good gospel fruit, though cultural changes in recent decades have made this more difficult as many North Americans have become suspicious of strangers at the front door.

I serve my local church as deacon of community outreach, and our strategy for reaching the neighborhood around us is mainly one of long-term, patient faithfulness. Our goal is to build relationships with our neighbors that, over time, will make it easier for us to have spiritual conversations with them. These relationships also make our neighbors more willing to attend services and other events aimed specifically at engaging unbelievers with the gospel.

The basic principle behind this strategy is simple, and it’s one any church can follow: engage your neighbors by taking an interest in what they care about. Building common ground is easy when you participate side-by-side in community organizations, service projects, family events, block parties, yard sales, and the like. Common interests are one of the most powerful tools for building friendships that can enable spiritual conversations to take place.

My church is located in a historic urban neighborhood that has a well-defined identity, and many of our neighbors have common interests. Neighborhood associations are popular and prominent in the life of the community, and events like street fairs, art shows, music festivals, park cleanups, and community yard sales are common. We engage our neighbors by having church members volunteer for these events, host booths, and attend neighborhood association meetings. We also invite the community to a couple of evangelistic events at Christmas: a service of lessons and carols with a brief evangelistic sermon, and a sing-along production of Handel’s Messiah…

. . . If your church is in a lower-income area, your neighbors’ biggest concerns are likely to be some of their most basic needs: food, shelter, jobs, transportation, education. Your members might help meet some of these needs, and thereby gain neighbors’ trust and attention, through soup kitchens, clothes closets, literacy programs, and such..

My father pastors a church in Ohio in a middle-class suburb with a lot of families, and many of these neighbors’ lives revolve around their kids. So the church hosts some events throughout the year that provide activities for the kids and expose neighbors to the gospel. The church puts on a vacation Bible school every summer. They host a big Easter egg hunt for the kids of the neighborhood, and someone tells the resurrection story with a clear gospel presentation for the whole crowd…

Here’s the money quote:

The basic principle behind this strategy is simple, and it’s one any church can follow: engage your neighbors by taking an interest in what they care about. Building common ground is easy when you participate side-by-side in community organizations, service projects, family events, block parties, yard sales, and the like. Common interests are one of the most powerful tools for building friendships that can enable spiritual conversations to take place.

On one hand, there is nothing wrong with having common interests with your neighbors. But, as Cavanaugh makes clear, the REAL reason for Evangelicals to have these common interests is so they can witness to their neighbors. Again, this is subterfuge.

I know the neighbors who live on both sides of me. Several summers ago, I sat on my one neighbor’s porch and he and I talked for an hour. We talked about family, our gardens, our health, and psychology (he is a retired psychologist). In the summer, I often talked to my other neighbor, an elderly gent, about woodworking, fishing, and gardening. Every so often, he would let me know he saw his “educated” neighbor’s letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News — that’s me by the way — and we will talk about it for a few minutes. We’d laugh and say, see ya later. Sadly, he had a stroke and I haven’t seen him in over a year.

As a good neighbor, I have no agenda. I don’t want anything from my neighbors. I care about them, and I worry when I don’t see them for a while. Both of my neighbors are good people as they are. I have no desire to win them over to my cause or to convert them to atheism. They are part of my community, and I want to be friends with them. I have other neighbors in front and in back of our house. While I don’t know them as well, I try to be friendly and talk to them when I see them. Again, no agenda.

Evangelicals can’t do this. They see every person as a sinner in need of salvation. Every person they come in contact with is a prospect for heaven, a potential church member. Remember this the next time an Evangelical wants to be your friend or wants to be a part of your group. Perhaps, the first question to ask is this: what do you REALLY want or why are you REALLY here?

Remember, Evangelicals are also taught that the world is evil, and that they are not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. (2 Corinthians 6:14) They are taught that they must stand apart from the world, its sins, its philosophies, and its inhabitants. They are like the neighbor who only comes into my backyard to steal my watermelons. He is not interested in me, he is only interested in watermelon. The watermelon in the Evangelical world is another sinner saved, baptized, and made a tithing member of a Bible-believing church.

Beware of watermelon thieves.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Songs of Sacrilege: Raising Hell by Kesha

 

kesha

This is the latest installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Raising Hell by Kesha.

Video Link

Lyrics

[Intro]
Ooh, oh, oh, oh
Let’s go

[Verse 1]
Hallelujah
I’m still here, still bringin’ it to ya
Ohm, like Buddha
Good girls know how to get hard too, ya (Uh huh)

[Pre-Chorus]
I’m all fucked up in my Sunday best
No walk of shame ’cause I love this dress
Hungover, heart of gold, holy mess
Doin’ my best (Ah), bitch, I’m blessed

[Chorus]
Oh, if you couldn’t tell
We can always find the trouble, we don’t need no help
Singing oh, mama raised me well
But I don’t wanna go to Heaven without raisin’ hell (Get it)

[Post-Chorus]
Get it
Drop it down low, hit it, hit the floor with it
Drop it down low, drop it down low
Drop, dr-drop it down low, drop it down low (Get it)
Drop it, drop it, drop it, drop-drop-drop it down, down low
Bounce it up and down where the good Lord split it

[Verse 2]
Hands up, witness
Solo cup full of holy spirits
Somethin’ wicked (Ooh)
Speakin’ in tongues in my blood-red lipstick (Brrah)

[Pre-Chorus]
I’m all fucked up in my Sunday best
No walk of shame ’cause I love this dress (Ooh)
Only God can judge this holy mess (Ah, ah)
Bitch, I’m blessed

[Chorus]
Oh, if you couldn’t tell (Oh well)
We can always find the trouble, we don’t need no help
Singing oh, mama raised me well (Uh huh)
But I don’t wanna go to Heaven without raisin’ hell (Ah!)

[Post-Chorus]
Get it
Brrah
Drop it down low, hit it, hit the floor with it
Drop it down low, drop it down low
Drop, dr-drop it down low, drop it down low (Get it)
Drop it, drop it, drop it, drop-drop-drop it down, down low
Bounce it up and down where the good Lord split it

[Interlude]
Ladies and gentlemen (Oh, shit)
Let’s shake what the good Lord gave us (Oh yes, baby)
Come on, let’s go

[Bridge]
Aw, dang, this that shit (Uh huh)
Beat like this, wanna shake my ooh
Oh, dang, this that shit (Ah, ah)
Beat like this, wanna shake my ooh
Aw, dang, this that shit (Ah)
Beat like this, haters, suck my ooh
Woo, Lord, feelin’ it
Beat like this, make me feel that power

[Chorus]
Oh, if you couldn’t tell
We can always find the trouble, we don’t need no help
Singing oh, mama raised me well
But I don’t wanna go to Heaven without raisin’ hell

[Outro]
Can I get an amen? (Ah)
This is for the misfits of creation (You’re welcome, ah)
Take this as your holy validation (Come on)
You don’t need to hide your celebratin’ (Sing it, Kesha, bitch)
This is our salvation

 

What Andy Savage, Mark Driscoll, and Ted Haggard Have in Common

bruce gerencser 2002

Bruce Gerencser, 2002

Andy Savage, Mark Driscoll, and Ted Haggard are all Evangelical pastors who have checkered pasts. Twenty years ago, Andy Savage sexually assaulted a church teenager. While pastor of Highpoint Church in Memphis, Tennessee, Savage admitted his crime. Unfortunately, he was never punished due to the statute of limitations expiring. Savage later left Highpoint. (Please see Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Andy Savage Gets Standing Ovation for Admitting He Sexually Assaulted a Teenager and Black Collar Crime: Dominoes Continue to Fall Over Andy Savage Scandal.) Mark Driscoll was the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. Accused of having an autocratic management style, verbally/emotionally abusing congregants, plagiarism, and “squishy book-promotion ethics,” Driscoll resigned. Three months later, Mars Hill closed its doors. Ted Haggard was the president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Haggard, a closeted bisexual, used crystal meth, cavorted with a male prostitute, and had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a male congregant. In late 2006, Haggard was fired from New Life and resigned his position with the NAE.

All of these men were married, had children, and pastored multi-million-dollar churches running thousands in attendance. All of these men were Evangelical in doctrine and well respected by congregants and colleagues alike. All of these men traveled the Evangelical conference circuit, speaking to thousands of people. These men were widely considered to be preachers God was mightily using to advance his kingdom. Yet, Savage, Driscoll, and Haggard fell from their lofty perches and were drummed out of their churches.

End of story? Surely you jest! Evangelicals are quite forgiving and love a good comeback story. In 2010, Ted Haggard started a new church, St. James Church, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In 2016, Driscoll birthed a new congregation, The Trinity Church, in Scottsdale, Arizona. And Savage? He is ramping up a new church plant, Grace Valley Church in Eads, Tennessee.

“Bruce, how can these guys do what they did and still be pastors?” Simple. Savage, Driscoll, and Haggard are independent contractors, free to do what they want, including starting new churches. There are no federal or state laws that forbid these men from setting up new non-profit churches (businesses). (Please see How to Start an Independent Baptist Church.) Anyone, including you, can gather a handful of people together and start a church. It’s really that easy. In 2015, comedian John Oliver proved just how easy it is to start a new church, by setting up a non-profit religious organization called Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption. Oliver later closed the church and donated the “offerings” to “Doctors Without Borders.”

Why didn’t Savage, Driscoll, and Haggard admit that they were no longer Biblically qualified to be pastors? 1 Timothy 3 gives the qualifications for pastors, and none of these “men of God” met the Biblical standard. Truth be told, I don’t know of any man who meets the qualifications. The Bible says:

This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

And let’s not forget about Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

And finally, pastors should be expected to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, yes? Galatians 5:22,23 says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Taking these three passages of Scripture together, it’s clear that Savage, Driscoll, and Haggard have no business being pastors. In fact, no man is qualified to be a pastor. What about you, Bruce? Were you qualified? Absolutely not. At best, I was a “two out of three ain’t bad” kind of preacher. I really, really, really wanted to be a pastor, so just like every other man to ever pastor a church, I rationalized my shortcomings, telling myself that I would work hard to become a better man and preacher. All in all, I was a feeble, frail, fallible man who hopefully did more good than harm.

In the fall of 1995, I left the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette, Ohio. I was at Olive Branch for seven months. A quick overview of my ministerial career reveals that I either stayed at churches for a long time or left after a few months — seven months to be exact. That’s right. I left three of the churches I pastored after being there for only seven months — started in the spring, left in the fall. I am sure there is some Freudian shit in there somewhere to unpack.

After leaving Olive Branch, I moved five miles down the road and started Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I pastored this church for seven years. One day, I received a letter from a ministerial colleague of mine. He and I met when I was pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Dick, at the time, was the pastor of an IFB church in nearby New Lexington. The previous pastor had left due to allegations of misconduct. This was Dick’s first and only church. The church had a lot of internal problems. I thought of Dick — a kind, decent man — as a sacrificial lamb. His congregation ripped him to shreds. After a year or so, Dick resigned and returned home to southwest Ohio, never to pastor again.

Dick’s letter was quite pointed. Due to my recent moves from church to church to church, Dick questioned my emotional stability and suggested I reconsider starting a new church. I remember how offended I was by his words. I thought, “Didn’t he know I was a divinely called man of God? Didn’t he know I was just following God’s will?” I never spoke to Dick again, but years later after a size sixty bit of hindsight, I concluded that he was absolutely right. I should have hit the pause button and reevaluated my life. It would be another decade before I stopped thinking that being a pastor was the sum of my life; that not pastoring a church was a betrayal of Jesus and all I held dear. It took me years after that to regain any sense of self. Jesus and the ministry had swallowed up Bruce Gerencser. I lost any sense of personal identity and self-worth. To this day, I see a secular counselor on a regular basis. Therapy is essential to me recovering any sense of mental wellness.

The title of this post is “What Andy Savage, Mark Driscoll, and Ted Haggard Have in Common.” Let me add my name to theirs, and the names of every Evangelical preacher. I am going to admit something here that most preachers will NEVER admit: preachers love the adulation they receive from congregants. They love being the center of attention. They love being the hub around which everything turns. And it is for these reasons fallen, disgraced preachers have a hard time quitting the ministry. Think of all the preachers you know who were drummed out of the ministry, only to start a new church or assume the pastorate of an established church months or years later. I could spend weeks detailing the stories of such men.

“Bruce, why can’t these men quit the ministry?” They are addicts. Standing before fawning congregants on Sundays and being thought of as THE MAN is like crack cocaine. Once you feel the rush, you want more, regardless of what you have to do to get the drug. Preachers need the thrill they feel when doing the work of the ministry. I am not suggesting that all pastors are bad men — they are not. But preachers need to be honest about the emotional and psychological “bump” they get from preaching and ministering to others. It is okay to admit this, preachers. You are human. 

I started blogging in 2007. Come December, this current iteration of my blog will celebrate its fifth anniversary. In many ways, this blog is my “church.” Thousands of people read my writing. I reach far more people now than I ever did as a pastor. When my work is well-received, it pleases me and spurs me on to continue writing. My counselor tells me that I am still a preacher; that I have just changed teams. Perhaps. I will leave it to others to make such judgments. I do know that I find writing emotionally gratifying. Whether one hundred people are reading it or five thousand, I am driven to continue to tell my story. That some people find my writing helpful is all the more reason to keep on preaching the humanist gospel.

That said, there are differences between the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry and being a writer. The Evangelical churches I pastored were captive audiences. I was an authority figure, someone given the power to guide, direct, and correct their lives. Today, I pastor a “church” of thousands, yet I have no authority over anyone. Readers are free to come and go; love me or hate me; praise me or ridicule me. Church members were required to tithe and give offerings. Readers are under no such compulsion. They are free to donate, or not. Either way, the “church” remains open for “whosoever will.”

I hope my honesty has not caused you to think any less of me. I know this post will give my critics more ammunition. There’s nothing I can do about that. It is far more important for me to give an open, honest, pointed accounting of my life. I trust you found my words insightful and helpful.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Do Evangelical Christians “Know” the Mind of God?

indwelling of the holy spirit

According to the Bible, God, in the person of the Holy Ghost, lives inside of every Christian. How the Holy Ghost pulls off being in millions and billions of places at the same time is unknown, but the Bible says that God is omnipresent, so it must be true, right? The Bible also teaches that the indwelling Spirit is the teacher, guide, and restrainer of every believer. Ponder that statement for a moment. Think of the Christians you know, and ask yourself, do they live in ways that are consistent with God living inside of them? Do their choices, decisions, and behaviors reflect that the God who promised never to leave or forsake them is an ever-present, active presence in their lives? Or, are your Christian friends and acquaintances pretty much like you and the other unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the “world?” That’s a rhetorical question.

People are people. On any given day, each of us has the potential to do good and bad things; each of us can bless others or cause great harm. Regardless of our religious beliefs, we are frail, feeble mortals. Getting Evangelicals to understand these facts, however, is a tall task. Everything they read in the Bible, hear from the pulpit, and read in Christian books tells them a completely different story; that they are special, unique people, who have been gloriously saved from “sin” by a virgin-born, resurrected-from-the-dead man named Jesus. It’s hard, then, for Evangelicals to see themselves as mere equals to non-Christians. Oh, they will tell you that they are just lowly, humble “sinners saved by grace,” but when you believe that the Creator of the universe is your BFF, lover, and closest confidant, it’s hard not to think you are superior to people you consider hell-bound sinners, followers of Satan, and enemies of Jesus.

Not only do Evangelicals have the Holy Ghost living inside of them, they also have the mind of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, the Apostle Paul wrote:

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ.

Paul tells the Church at Corinth, that the natural man (unbelievers) does not receive, know, or understand the things of the Spirit of God. In fact, they can’t understand them because they don’t have the Holy Ghost living inside of them. Paul goes on to ask, “who has known the mind of the Lord?”  Answer? We (followers of Jesus) have. Why? We have the mind of Christ.

Nineteenth-century Presbyterian theologian Albert Barnes writes:

There is a difference between Christians and other people. One is enlightened by the Holy Spirit, the other is not; one sees a  beauty in religion, to the other it is folly; the one has the mind of Christ, the other has the spirit of the world; the one discerns the excellency of the plan of salvation, to the other all is darkness and folly. How could beings differ more in their moral feelings and views than do Christians and the people of this world? (E-Sword Bible, iOS Version)

Methodist theologian Adam Clarke writes:

[God] has endowed [Christians] with the same dispositions [as Christ], being born again by his Spirit; therefore we are capable of knowing his mind and receiving the teachings of the Spirit. These teachings we do receive, and therefore are well qualified to convey them to others. (E-Sword Bible, iOS Version)

“Well qualified to convey [the things of God] to others.” Doesn’t this describe many Evangelicals; those who frequent this blog and social media; those who believe it is their duty to spread their peculiar version of the Christian gospel wherever they go; those who believe it is their responsibility to expose heresy and promote sound doctrine; those who believe Christianity = truth and the Bible and its teachings should not only be taught in churches, but in public schools?

Currently, I follow and read almost two hundred Evangelical blogs and websites. Not all of them publish every day, but many of them do. And without fail, day after day, dozens of these sites write posts detailing what the will of God is for believers and unbelievers alike. You see, when you believe that you have an intimate relationship with the one, true God and you talk to him daily, it’s not surprising that you begin to think you are God’s mouthpiece, that your words and God’s words are one and the same. Evangelical pastors believe that they uniquely chosen, qualified, and empowered “men of God.” In some Evangelical circles, you have people who believe they are “prayer warriors” or have been given a special “anointing” from God. As a pastor, I pleaded with God to endue me with “power from on high.” I begged him to use me as did the great men of God from days of old. I wanted a life that literally oozed God and his Word. Alas, I never achieved such greatness. That did not keep me, however, from telling people what God wanted them to do. How could I do otherwise? I had a God-given duty to lead, shepherd, teach, challenge, and rebuke congregants.

If Evangelicals are saved by and through Jesus, indwelt by the Holy Ghost, have the mind of Christ, daily converse with God in prayer, and have at their fingertips the very words of God — the Bible, why is there dissension and internecine warfare among God’s chosen ones? Based on my daily reading of Evangelical blogs, websites, and social media posts, I can safely conclude that the elect are a contentious lot, willing to go to war over the silliest and slightest of disagreements. If Evangelicals have the “mind of Christ,” Jesus sure is an argumentative, judgmental, violent asshole (which, shouldn’t shock us, knowing the kind of Father he had — read the Old Testament).

Perhaps, there is another way to look at Evangelicals; that all their talk about God living inside of them and having the mind of Christ is poppycock. Maybe, just maybe, despite all their God-talk, Evangelicals are just like the rest of us. I know, my Christian friend, it’s humbling to think that you are just like me and billions of other people; that you are not chosen, anointed, or special; that your supposed superiority is a myth.

Reality can be a bitch.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Questions: Was Biblical Inerrancy the Primary Reason I Deconverted?

i have a question

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Emersonian asked:

I suppose, not to assume that I understood Steve’s question better than he does (especially since he’s commented above) — the follow-up question is this: was there a line for you between rejecting biblical inerrancy/Christ’s divinity and embracing atheism? Obviously there are many folks (myself included) who believe in a concept of “god” without the trappings of evangelical Christianity . . . so I’d say, even if this wasn’t the question Steve was really asking, do you feel that you went through multiple stages of detachment from religion (rejecting evangelical Christianity, then Christianity as a whole upon further examination, then rejection of the concept of a God of any kind) or was it all a package deal — if the evangelical view isn’t true then all of it must be BS? I know that you and Polly did attend non-evangelical churches of various types after your departure from your former congregation: how did that inform your eventual acceptance of your own atheism?

Perhaps what Emersonian wants to know is whether I think I threw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater; that in abandoning Evangelicalism (the bathwater), I threw out God (the baby) altogether. I certainly understand how someone might read my story, miss a few of the connecting dots, and come to this conclusion. However, this is not what happened, as I shall explain below.

I have been asked on several occasions if I thought I would still be a Christian had I begun life in liberal Christianity instead of Evangelicalism? This is a good question, but one, of course, that I cannot answer. Playing the “what might have been” game is an interesting endeavor, but it is impossible to know how things might have turned out had I walked through door number one instead of door number three. I am sixty-two years old. The sum of my life is a long string of choices. Each choice sent me down a certain path. A different decision along the way would have sent me in a different direction. Maybe I would have married a different woman, gone to a different college, chosen a different profession, or lived in a different state. The fact remains, however, that I made certain choices that resulted in certain outcomes. So it is with me being an Evangelical Christian for 50 years of my life. I was born to Evangelical parents, grew up in an Evangelical home, attended Evangelical churches, went to an Evangelical college, and married an Evangelical woman. We spent the next twenty-five years ministering in Evangelical congregations, gave birth to six Evangelical children, and had numerous Evangelical cats and dogs.

My life was so deeply immersed in the Way, Truth, and Life of Evangelical Christianity that even today, eleven years removed from the day I walked out the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time, I wrestle with the vestigial remains of Evangelicalism. Now, this does not mean that I, deep down in my heart of hearts, still yearn to be a Christian. I don’t. What it does mean, however, is that five decades of Evangelical training and indoctrination left a deep scar upon my life; a scar that is fading with time, but will likely never totally fade away.

It is certainly true that coming to understand that the Bible was not an inspired, inerrant, infallible text shook my religious foundation. “If the Bible is NOT what Evangelicals claim it is,” I asked myself, “are any of its teachings true?” Answering this question forced me to re-study the central claims of Christianity; especially beliefs that were supernatural in nature. From creation to apocalypse, I took a careful look at the doctrines I once held dear. I painfully concluded that the central claims of Christianity could not be rationally and intellectually sustained.

I have always been the type of person who follows the evidence wherever it leads. This is why my theological foundation shifted several times when I was a Christian. I entered the ministry as an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher. Over time, I abandoned cheap grace, one-two-three, repeat-after-me soteriology and embraced Calvinism. A decade or so later I abandoned Calvinism. When I left the ministry in 2005, I was preaching what some of my critics called a social, works-based gospel. I was a far different preacher and man in 2005 from the one I was when I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in 1976. Time changes all of us, and I am no exception.

Take my eschatological beliefs. For many years, I held to a dispensational, pretribulational, premillennial eschatology. Once I embraced Calvinism, I adopted a posttribulational, amillennial eschatology. Countless other beliefs changed over the years. The more I read, the more my beliefs evolved. This approach to gaining knowledge continued as I contemplated leaving Christianity. The goal has always been the same: to know the truth.

“Why didn’t I become a liberal Christian?” you might ask. Surely, I could have abandoned Evangelicalism, yet held on to the Christian God. Maybe, but I doubt it. I value truth more than many liberal/progressive Christians do. Liberals seem willing to jettison virtually every Christian belief save believing in the existence of Jesus/God. Their beliefs can fit on the front side of a 3×5 card. I find myself asking, “why bother?” Such people are usually universalists, so there’s no concern about unbelief landing anyone in Hell. I suppose there is value in the social aspects of belonging to a church, but I enjoy sleeping in on Sundays far more than I do listening to terrible, lifeless sermons and attempting to sing songs best suited for the Vienna Boys Choir.

After I left the ministry and before I deconverted, our family visited over 100 churches in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Arizona, and California. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) We attended churches across the sectarian Christian spectrum. The only churches we avoided were IFB congregations. Our goal was to find a church to call home that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. After three years of searching, we concluded that all the churches we visited were pretty much the same. Sure, we experienced different liturgies, different worship/preaching styles, etc., but at a foundational level, these churches differed very little from each other.  I know, I know, every church thinks theirs is “special.”  Every church thinks their buffet is better than those of other churches. Every church thinks their flavor of ice cream (please see My Heart Goes Out to You or Please Try my Flavor of Ice Cream) is better than any other flavor. That’s what happens when you spend your life in inbred relationships; when you spend your life in religious bubbles that give the appearance of rightness. Ultimately, it was exposure to the “world” that led me down the path of deconversion. Once freed from the authoritarian hold of the inerrant Word of God, I was free to read and study whatever I wanted. I was no longer walled in by Evangelical beliefs. I was free to follow the path wherever it went. This led to where I am today.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Why I Thought I was “Qualified” to Counsel Others

want truth read bible

Recent posts about Christian counseling caused more than a few outraged Evangelical counselors to object to my assertions. (Please see Beware of Christian Counselors, Questions: Should People Trust Christian Counselors with Degrees from Secular Schools?, and Outrage Over Christian Counselor Post.) Of particular note were the people who emphatically said that pastors are NOT counselors; that pastors offer congregants spiritual advice, and not professional counseling (regardless of what congregants believe they are receiving).

Anyone who has attended an Evangelical church knows that such an assertion is false. Pastors routinely counsel people — both inside and outside of their churches — and counselees believe they are receiving professional services. I don’t know of an Evangelical preacher who doesn’t provide counseling services. It is for this reason that I wrote the post Beware of Christian Counselors. Just because a man is a pastor doesn’t make him qualified to counsel people. In fact, I would argue that many pastors cause incalculable harm by posing as trained and qualified counselors — their only qualifications being that they own a Bible and can read.

I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Over the course of my ministerial career, I counseled hundreds of people. When people walked into my office, they believed — without ever checking — that I was qualified to provide counseling services; that I had all the answers for whatever was ailing them. Why did I think I was “qualified” to counsel people?

I grew up in churches where the pastor (or youth director) was considered God’s Answer Man®. Armed with an inspired, inerrant, and infallible King James Bible, my pastors were ready, willing, and able to dispense supposed life-changing wisdom. I watched my mentally-ill mother suffer through countless pastoral counseling sessions without ever getting the help that she needed. Her failure to respond to their Biblical admonitions was, according to our pastors, a lack of obedience on her part to God/Church/Bible. Her confinements to Toledo State Mental Hospital, drug addiction, and periodic electroshock therapy treatments should have been screaming warning signs to these men of God, but they weren’t. Mom wanted
“God’s best” for her life, so she sought out counseling from her pastors. Every pastor believed he could “fix” Barbara. Arrogant to the end, these servants of God believed they offered the mentally ill the same deliverance Jesus gave the Maniac of Gadara. Mom finally found the deliverance she so desperately sought. One Sunday morning, she turned a Ruger .357 magnum on herself, blowing a hole in her heart. Mom ignominiously died in a matter of minutes. She was 54. (Please see Barbara.) All praise be to Jesus, right? At least she was “saved” and went to Heaven.

I don’t remember a time before her death when Mom’s mental health problems weren’t a part of my life. For the longest time, I shamefully believed that Mom was just a drug addict who loved sin more than she loved Jesus. If she would only repent and follow the teachings of the Bible, all would be well. Oh, how I wish life offered do-overs! I guarantee you that my mom would have received different care; that I would have been a better son. Would the outcome have changed? I don’t know, but one thing is for sure, I will NEVER have the opportunity to find out.

Young preachers tend to model what they see in the lives of their pastors and older colleagues in the ministry. I know I did. I never heard one pastor or colleague suggest that he was anything but competent to counsel church members. I never heard one sermon that ever suggested that anything other than Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible were answers for the human condition. Secular counselors and mental health treatment were routinely ridiculed and condemned. It was even suggested that “mental illness” was nothing more than the result of disobedience to God.

In the mid-1970s, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. Many of my professors were graduates of Midwestern — quite the incestuous relationship. Professors sporting doctorates were often honorary doctors, having received this recognition from Midwestern or another IFB school. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor) All told, I took one class related to counseling. Most of the class was spent “debunking” secular psychology and counseling. Everything I experienced at Midwestern taught me that my pastors and colleagues were right: Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible were all that people needed to successfully navigate life.

I entered the ministry believing that I was called by God to “shepherd” his flock (fellow Christians), and offer them infallible counsel and help from the Word of God. I sincerely believed that the Bible was God’s answer book; a divine blueprint for life; a standard by which Christians were to live their lives. I believed the answer to every question was “Thus Saith the Lord!” My past experiences with my mom should have taught me differently, but I viewed her as a rebellious sinner, and not someone who needed physical and psychological help.

As a pastor, I counseled hundreds of congregants and outsiders. Not one time did I say to a counselee, “you need professional help.” How could I? My entire life and ministry were built upon the notion that “With God (and by extension the Bible) All Things Are Possible.” In my mind, Jesus and the Bible were a vending machine. Just push the proper buttons for whatever was ailing a person, and out came the answer. When you believe, as Evangelicals do, in the sufficiency of Scripture, to do anything that suggests otherwise is heresy.

I know that what I have written so far sounds insane to non-Evangelical Christians and unbelievers. However, when you live in the Evangelical bubble, everything makes sense. The Bible as the manual for mental illness? Yes, Praise Jesus! Prayers as a cure for whatever ails you? Absolutely! In a self-contained world — built brick-upon-brick with verses from an ancient religious text — such nonsense seems reasonable. When you are told for years that the “world” is out to destroy you and your family, and that safety and protection can only be found in Jesus, the church, and the Holy Bible, the level of dysfunction and harm should come as no surprise. It was not until I left the ministry (2005) and left Christianity (2008), that I was able to experience life outside of the Evangelical box. (Please see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You are in it and What I Found When I Left the Box.) It was then, as many of you can attest in your own lives, that I realized that I had a lot of bat-shit crazy beliefs. I had caused incalculable harm to people who loved me and called me preacher. While they bear some blame for the damage done (and sadly many former congregants are still being ritually abused in Evangelical churches), I bear the greater burden. I had a duty and responsibility to competently help them. Instead, I arrogantly believed, as the Apostle Paul did, that I could be “all things to all men.” Marital problems? Rebellious children? Substance abuse? Sexual dysfunction? Suicidal thoughts? Mental illness? Financial problems? Praise be to Jesus, I had ALL the answers. Except, I didn’t, and for that, I will forever live with regret. I can’t fix the past, but I sure as hell can warn people about what goes on behind closed office doors in countless Evangelical churches and Christian counseling “ministries.”

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: Americans Increasingly Indifferent Towards Christianity

The United States is becoming a less Christian country, and the decline in religious affiliation is particularly rapid among younger Americans, new figures show.

The proportion of US adults who describe themselves as Christian has fallen to two-thirds, a drop of 12 percentage points over the past decade, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

Over the same period, the proportion of those describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” has risen by 17 percentage points to more than a quarter of the adult population.

Although churches and faith movements continue to exert strong political influence on the Trump administration and at the state level, the proportion of American adults attending religious services has declined.

The proportion of US adults who are white born-again or evangelical Protestants – the religious group which strives hardest to see its political agenda adopted – is now 16%, down from 19% a decade ago.

The number going to church at least once or twice a month has fallen by seven percentage points over the past decade. More Americans now say they attend religious services a few times a year or less (54%) than say they attend at least monthly (45%).

The fall in religious identification and activity has affected both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. According to Pew, 43% of adults identify with Protestantism, down from 51% in 2009. And 20% are Catholic, down from 23% in 2009.

Fewer than half of millennials (49%) describe themselves as Christians; four in 10 are religious “nones”, and 9% identify with non-Christian faiths.

As many millennials say they never attend religious services (22%) as those who say they go at least once a week.

Pew’s report, released on Thursday, says the decline of Christian communities is continuing at a rapid pace.

Religious ‘nones’ have grown across multiple demographic groups: white people, black people and Hispanics; men and women; all regions of the country; and among college graduates and those with lower levels of educational attainment.

“Religious ‘nones’ are growing faster among Democrats than Republicans, though their ranks are swelling in both partisan coalitions. And although the religiously unaffiliated are on the rise among younger people and most groups of older adults, their growth is most pronounced among young adults,” the report said.

— The Guardian, Americans Becoming Less Christian as Over a Quarter Follow no Religion, October 17, 2019

Questions: Bruce, Why Did You Become an Atheist?

i have a question

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Chris asked:

I would like to know how you became an atheist after practicing Christian authoritarianism? What is it that makes people embrace systematic mythologies? Is it fear of death, a wish for immortality?

I have been asked many times by atheists and Christians alike why I became an atheist. Some questioners want to know more about the “how” of my deconversion. I usually point people to the WHY page. The posts of this page usually answer the “why” and “how” questions of my journey from Evangelical Christianity to atheism.

The WHY page includes:

My Baptist Salvation Experience

From Evangelicalism to Atheism Series

Why I Stopped Believing

Please Help Me Understand Why You Stopped Believing

16 Reasons I am Not a Christian

Why I Hate Jesus

The Danger of Being in a Box and Why It Makes Sense When you Are in It

What I Found When I Left the Box

The short answer to the question, Bruce, Why Did You Become an Atheist? is this: I thoroughly (and painfully) examined the central claims of Christianity and concluded they were not true. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense) While my story is much more complicated than that, the bottom line is that I don’t believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God; and I don’t believe the claims made within its pages about God, Jesus, and the human condition are true. Once I realized that what I had believed for fifty years was false, I concluded I could no longer call myself a Christian. In November 2008, I walked out the doors of the church (Ney United Methodist Church) for the last time. In 2009, I wrote Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners and sent it to numerous friends, family members, ministerial colleagues, and former parishioners. From that point forward, I have proudly worn the atheist moniker.

Chris also asks, “What is it that makes people embrace systematic mythologies? Is it fear of death, a wish for immortality?” He asks if people embrace religions such as Christianity because they fear death or wish that there is life after death? The short answer is yes, but as with most questions concerning religion, the answers are far more complex.

Many atheists choose to call Christians stupid sheep who can’t think for themselves. If only Christians thought for themselves, why they would all be atheists! May I say, oh so kindly, that only stupid goats (atheists) think this way. Why people have religious beliefs is a complex issue; one rooted in biology, sociology, and geography, along with cultural, tribal, and familial beliefs and practices. Sure, people fear death and want to do go Heaven when they die. I am not too fond of the idea death myself, and life after death, at times, does appeal to me. The reasons, however, that lead to people to embrace religious beliefs are more varied and complex than just that they want to live forever.

Is it any surprise that I was a Christian? I was born to Christian parents, lived in a Christian nation, and was indoctrinated in Christian beliefs for the first fifty years of my life. There was no chance that I would “choose” any other religion but Evangelical Christianity. So it is for billions of people across the world — their beliefs are shaped by the beginnings of their lives. Once we understand how deeply immersed people are in religious faith, it should lead us to be more sympathetic to people who haven’t yet “seen the light.” Calling them stupid accomplishes nothing. The only way to reach Christians with the humanist gospel is to gently challenge their sincerely held beliefs; to cause them to question and doubt that which they hold dear. This is why I recommend the books of Dr. Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar at the University of North Carolina:

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

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

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

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

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

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

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

Ehrman does a good job challenging the foundation of Evangelical Christianity — the Bible. Cause Evangelicals to doubt the authority and veracity of the Bible, and they are well on their way out the proverbial door. Now, that doesn’t mean they will all become atheists. They won’t. However, any move away from Fundamentalism is a good one. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Sure, I think atheism is the right response to the questions asked and answered by Dr. Ehrman. However, I also know that many people NEED the social connections faith communities offer. I have no desire to rob people of the things that help them get through this life, even if I think, in the end, we all end up in the same place — the grave.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Questions: Do You Believe Jesus was a Real Person?

i have a question

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Peter asked:

I am an avid follower of your blog and wholeheartedly agree with your views on God, the Bible, and Evangelical Christianity. I am interested in your belief as to whether Jesus was a real individual or mythical. I have read both Bart Ehrman’s book, “Did Jesus Exist” and Richard Carrier’s book “On The Historicity Of Jesus,” where they promote and support opposing views. I myself find Carrier’s arguments more compelling mainly due to Paul’s letters not mentioning an earthly Jesus, nor using details and teachings from his life to support his points when doing so would have been easier than describing his communications through visions with a celestial Jesus. It seems to me that the Gospel story would have been discussed had it existed during Paul’s time. Also, there is no secular evidence for an historical Jesus. While the Gospels could be mythicized stories of a real person, I just cannot believe that Paul’s Jesus or any biblical Jesus actually lived.

What do you believe and why?

It is increasingly popular in atheist circles to deny the existence of Jesus.  More than a few atheist readers have asked me if I also take such a view. I understand that it would make things a lot easier if Jesus was just a mythical being and the stories told about him are works of fiction. No Jesus, no need to think about the Christian God, Jesus, and the teachings of the Bible.

That said, I am of the opinion that Jesus was a real flesh and blood person who lived and died in Palestine almost 2,000 years ago. The Christian gospels do contain historical data, and from that data I have concluded that there was a Jesus who walked the shore of Galilee and hills of Judea centuries ago. One need not believe the miracles attributed to Jesus to be true, to believe Jesus was a real person. One can believe that Jesus lived and died without accepting the irrational notion that he resurrected from the dead three days after his death. As a lifelong reader of the Bible and student of Christianity, I can separate the historical narrative from the fanciful. Saying this has led some atheists to attack me, saying that I am a closet Christian or that I secretly desire to be a follower of Jesus. Such claims are absurd, but some atheists simply can’t accept that two people can look at the evidence for the historicity of Jesus and come to different conclusions. Based on the available evidence, I have no reason to believe that Jesus was not a historical person.

Peter raises the question of the Apostle Paul not talking about Jesus’ history. Is it true that Paul doesn’t mention Jesus? Dr. Bart Ehrman writes:

It is significant that Paul converted to be a follower of Jesus after being a persecutor of the Christian church.  Paul himself is quite straightforward about that, and more than a little ashamed of it (which is one of the reasons we can trust he’s not making it up).  That is also the emphatic claim of the book of Acts written after his life.  Paul persecuted the church before he joined it.

That would mean that he must have been persecuting the Christians by around 32 CE, just two years after Jesus died.   And that means that he knew about Christians, and their claims about Jesus, already at that extremely early point.  We don’t have to wait for Mark in 70 CE for evidence that Christians were talking about Jesus.  We have clear and certain evidence they were doing so in the early 30s.  What they were saying about Jesus was highly offensive to Paul.  And so he persecuted them.

In a later post I’ll be talking about what they were saying about Jesus that Paul found offensive.  Here I simply want to stress that Paul knew about a historical Jesus already by 32 CE.   And what did Paul know about him?   For some reason (strange, as I suggested earlier), mythicists often claim that Paul doesn’t tell us anything about the historical Jesus.  That simply is not true.  At all.  Here are the things tells us:

  • Jesus had a real, human birth to a real human mother (Galatians 4:4)
  • He was born as a Jew (Galatians 4:4)
  • He was a descendant of King David (Romans 1:3-4)
  • He had brothers (1 Corinthians 9:5)
  • One of whom was named James (Galatians 1:19) (Paul knows him personally)
  • His ministry was to and among Jews (Romans 15:8)
  • He had twelve disciples (1 Corinthians 15:5)
  • One of whom was Cephas/Peter (Paul knows him personally as well)
  • He was a teacher, and Paul knows some of his teachings (1 Cor. 7:10-11; 9:14; 11:22-24)
  • He had a last supper with his disciples at which he predicted his coming death (1 Cor. 11:22-24)
  • He was crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2 and millions of other places)
  • This was on orders of the civil authorities (1 Corinthians 2:8)
  • At the instigation of the Jewish leaders in Judea (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15)
  • He was then buried (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
  • Paul also thinks, of course, that God raised Jesus from the dead.
    How can anyone say that Paul doesn’t think Jesus was a real, historical Jewish teacher in Israel who was crucified?  You might wonder why Paul doesn’t tell us more – we have all wondered that, a good deal.  But there are obviously possible explanations: for example, that he wasn’t writing a gospel but personal correspondence dealing with problems his churches had.

To say that Paul would have to mention Jesus’ baptism, temptation, parables, transfiguration, miracles, and so on if he knew about them seems to me to be completely wrong.   If you were to take seven letters of my own dear mother, who is highly religious and deeply committed Christian in every way — even letters in which she talks about her faith — and looked for places where she talked about Jesus’ baptism, temptation, parables, transfiguration, miracles, and so on, you would look in vain.  That’s probably true of most Christians today.

Paul possibly had no reason to mention such things.  He possibly didn’t think such things were all that important for his message and ministry.  He possibly didn’t know much about such things (remember: he is writing before the Gospels).  It’s hard to say.  But what is easy to say is that Paul certainly knew about the man Jesus.  He tells us some things about him.  And he learned about Jesus no later than 32 CE or so.   The historical man Jesus could not have been myth invented many decades later.

It’s clear, at least to me, that Paul does indeed talk about Jesus. Yes, I find it troubling that Paul doesn’t mention much of the historical information about Jesus found in the gospels. Dr. Ehrman writes:

Paul of course has a lot to say about the importance of Jesus, especially the importance of his death and resurrection and his imminent return from heaven. But in terms of historical information, what I’ve listed above [i.e., in the previous posts] is about all that we can glean from his letters. Imagine what we wouldn’t know about Jesus if these letters were our only sources of information. We hear nothing here of the details of Jesus’ birth or parents or early life, nothing of his baptism or temptation in the wilderness, nothing of his teaching about the coming Kingdom of God; we have no indication that he ever told a parable, that he ever healed anyone, cast out a demon, or raised the dead; we learn nothing of his transfiguration or triumphal entry, nothing of his cleansing of the Temple, nothing of his interrogation by the Sanhedrin or trial before Pilate, nothing of his being rejected in favor of Barabbas, of his being mocked, of his being flogged, etc. etc. etc. The historian who wants to know about the traditions concerning Jesus — or indeed, about the historical Jesus himself — will not be much helped by the surviving letters of Paul.

It is up to each of us to determine whether what Paul does say about Jesus is sufficient to conclude that Paul believed Jesus was a real person.

My wife and I were discussing this issue the other day. I told her that even if I had doubts about the existence of Jesus, I wouldn’t share them publicly. My goal as a writer is help Evangelicals who have doubts about Christianity and help people who have recently left Christianity. Telling doubting Evangelicals that I don’t believe in the existence of Jesus would kill any hope I had of helping them. Such a belief is what I call “a bridge too far.” Doubting Evangelicals would stop listening to me if I said to them, “you know Jesus never existed.” But Bruce, doesn’t truth matter? Of course it does. However, I don’t believe that mythicists have an overwhelming amount of evidence to bolster their claims. I am not saying that mythicists don’t have any evidence, they do. What I am saying, however, is that I don’t find their arguments compelling, and as things now stand, I see no reason to overthrow the status quo.

Let me be clear, I believe in the existence of the historical Jesus, not the Biblical Jesus. Almost 2,000 years ago, a Jewish man named Jesus lived and died. I can reasonably conclude that he was a Jewish rabbi or political operative who was executed by the Roman government at the request of Jewish leaders. Anything else is a matter of myth and legend. Whether Jesus was a “good” man depends on how much weight you give the stories told about him.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Quote of the Day: Secularists are a Threat to Traditional (Christian) Moral Order

evangelical support for donald trump

[U.S. Attorney General] Barr gave a fiery speech denouncing the threat to America posed by “militant secularists,” whom he accused of conspiring to destroy the “traditional moral order,” blaming them for rising mental illness, drug dependency and violence.

Consider for a moment how inappropriate it is for Barr, of all people, to have given such a speech. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion; the nation’s chief law enforcement officer has no business denouncing those who exercise that freedom by choosing not to endorse any religion.

And we’re not talking about a tiny group, either. These days, around a fifth of Americans say that they don’t consider themselves affiliated with any religion, roughly the same number who consider themselves Catholic. How would we react if the attorney general denounced Catholicism as a force undermining American society?

And he didn’t just declare that secularism is bad; he declared that the damage it does is intentional: “This is not decay. It is organized destruction.” If that kind of talk doesn’t scare you, it should; it’s the language of witch hunts and pogroms.

It seems almost beside the point to note that Barr’s claim that secularism is responsible for violence happens to be empirically verifiable nonsense. America has certainly become less religious over the past quarter-century, with a large rise in the number of religiously unaffiliated and growing social liberalism on issues like same-sex marriage; it has also seen a dramatic decline in violent crime. European nations are far less religious than we are; they also have much lower homicide rates, and rarely experience the mass shootings that have become almost routine here.

Nonetheless, William Barr — again, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, responsible for defending the Constitution — is sounding remarkably like America’s most unhinged religious zealots, the kind of people who insist that we keep experiencing mass murder because schools teach the theory of evolution. Guns don’t kill people — Darwin kills people!

So what’s going on here? Pardon my cynicism, but I seriously doubt that Barr, whose boss must be the least godly man ever to occupy the White House, has suddenly realized to his horror that America is becoming more secular. No, this outburst of God-talk is surely a response to the way the walls are closing in on Trump, the high likelihood that he will be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.

Trump’s response to his predicament has been to ramp up the ugliness in an effort to rally his base. The racism has gotten even more explicit, the paranoia about the deep state more extreme. But who makes up Trump’s base? The usual answer is working-class whites, but a deeper dive into the data suggests that it’s more specific: It’s really evangelical working-class whites who are staying with Trump despite growing evidence of his malfeasance and unsuitability for high office.

— Paul, Krugman, New York Times, God Is Now Trump’s Co-Conspirator, October 14, 2019

What is Science and Why is it Important?

guest post

Originally published in 2015. Edited and corrected.

A guest post by Canadian Atheist

What is Science?

Science is a process that methodically gathers knowledge about the natural world. Science leads us to knowledge about the world around us, and how it works. We all make observations about the world around us all the time, but those using the scientific method are careful not to jump to conclusions based on those observations until they are testable repeatedly and independently. This means that, for scientific findings to be valid, anyone with the right training and resources must be able to repeat the experiments and consistently come out with the same results. Science, though it is conducted by biased and imperfect humans, must be conducted in an unbiased way. Scientists have to learn to put aside their biases and preconceived beliefs before they conduct their experiments. Bias can very easily cause someone to misinterpret the results. This is the fundamental difference between the scientific approach and the approach taken by most people in society. If you have a favorite political party or sports team, you are likely to cheer for them no matter how they perform. Even if your sports team never wins, you may still convince yourself they are the best team. The difference between the scientific method and what I would call the political or religious method is best explained by the following illustration:

In the scientific method, all the evidence on a particular topic is examined. Then the conclusions are drawn from the findings of the evidence regardless of whether the scientist likes the conclusions or not. Conversely, in the political or religious method, the conclusion is generally formed first and then evidence is gathered to support that conclusion or theory. When it seems like science has been wrong about something, usually it is because scientists have not properly taken their bias out of the methods and therefore have misinterpreted their findings. A very important part of science is also acknowledging when you don’t have enough data to form a conclusion. (More on that later in relation to scientists being wrong all the time).

Deliberate Discrediting of Science and Scientists

There are two classic examples in recent years of how good science has been rejected because it conflicts with an agenda: 1) evolution; and 2) climate change. Evolution is a process that explains how biological diversity arises by changes in the inherited genotype (genetic make-up of the organism) and phenotype (the observable characteristics) through generations of offspring. The word “overwhelming” is often used to describe the amount of evidence supporting evolution. There is no doubt that evolution happens in biology, and that humans evolved from more primitive primate species (not monkeys!). Evolution is as established and verifiable as many other parts of science, such as gravity, germ theory, etc. I don’t need to list all the evidence in favor of evolution here, that information is available to anyone who honestly wants to know the truth. However, evolution goes directly against the concept that God created the species (including humans) as they are, and that humans are somehow special among the many species of animals. Therefore, those people who are unable to let go of their belief that God exists and that he created the species as they are, must reject evolution, try to discredit the science behind it, and even teach children known falsehoods in science classes, all because the truth of evolution challenges their pre-conceived conclusion that God created humans as we are.

Another example is climate change. The global climate is a complex phenomenon. There have been large variations and cycles in the earth’s climate throughout its history. Cycling between ice ages and warmer periods seems to be a natural occurrence. However, in the past decades, the earth’s climate has been changing much more rapidly than ever before. This has been occurring in concert with an increase in carbon dioxide levels, higher than they have been in roughly 100 million years. The rate of change is completely out of whack with the natural cycles that have happened in the past, and corresponds to the recent centuries of industrialization of our society and our massive increase in use of fossil fuels (which give off carbon dioxide). Again, there is no doubt in science about the facts of climate change. Though the process of climate change is not as established as evolution, there is no doubt that human activity is dramatically affecting the climate on our planet. But to alter this process would take some very, very significant changes in all our lifestyles. (This is the part where climate change deniers roll their eyes and claim that environmentalists would have us all living in caves). One of the huge changes that would have to take place is a shift towards cleaner energy sources, and there are very, very wealthy and powerful people who make all their money by having you and me use fossil fuels. They have an agenda, and they don’t care about the science. Therefore, the science of climate change has been very deliberately attacked by organized and well-funded groups with special interests.

Both of these (evolution and climate change) are great examples of the political and religious process of having an agenda or a conclusion, and then going out and looking for evidence to support that agenda, rather than forming conclusions based on all the evidence. Sadly, many people have been led to believe exactly the opposite: that scientists have an agenda with evolution and climate change, and they are making it all up to support their agenda. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Don’t Scientists Have an Agenda Too?

The short answer is no. Scientists are human, of course, so they all have biases and are capable of making mistakes. But the scientific method is specifically designed to remove human bias, errors, and agendas. The whole point of the scientific method is to discover without bias. Yes, some scientists have an agenda. Yes, some scientists do take money from funding agencies that want to prove they are right more than they want to discover the real truth about something (think pharmaceutical companies). But the vast majority of scientists deliberately try to remove bias from their work, look for the honest answer regardless of what they want the answer to be, and when they do have their findings, they present them publicly for others to review and criticize to ensure they are valid findings. That is the way good science is conducted in research institutions, and the vast majority of the time it works to uncover a lot of knowledge about the world around us.

If you get into a disagreement or argument with a scientist about his or her particular area of expertise, then one of two things is likely to happen. Firstly, and much more likely, you are wrong and are not accepting the evidence that the scientist is using to back up their position. (A simple example would be arguing with a physicist about whether the earth is round or flat. You are wrong. He is right. The physicist is right because he based his position on the evidence). Or, secondly, you are right and the scientist is wrong because  he has either left the scientific method of examining only the evidence, or he has over-extended himself beyond what the evidence tells him. (An example of this would be if a physicist tells you that we know we are in the only universe in existence. We don’t have enough evidence to support that claim, and if a scientist claimed that fact, then he has forgotten not to extend his conclusions beyond the evidence).

Why Do Scientists Seem So Arrogant?

In short, because they are right! Remember, when they are doing their job properly, scientists only form their conclusions based on evidence and facts and limit their conclusions when they don’t have enough evidence. Therefore, when they do draw a conclusion about something, it is very, very likely to be correct. You’ll notice that it is very hard to win an argument with someone when they do this. Try to take the position in an argument that the sky is not blue, or that gravity does not exist and see how you do. If you knew nothing about gravity, you might think a physicist seemed arrogant for being so adamant that he is right about gravity. But the physicist is only adamant because the evidence overwhelmingly supports his position. If you base your arguments on evidence and are careful not to overextend your position beyond the evidence, then you will always be right, simple as that. Of course, most scientists have extensive knowledge on one specific topic that is far greater than that of the average person. Therefore, when you argue with them on that one topic, they are always right and you are always wrong (assuming they base their argument in evidence). This can seem like arrogance.

Of course, in reality many scientists do overextend themselves beyond the evidence and make claims that are not supported. Then they are just being arrogant.

Aren’t Scientists Wrong All the Time?

Scientific findings are often corrected as we learn more about the natural world. Sometimes scientists discover something and then realize down the road that their discovery was not quite right after all. But that is not a good reason to reject science whenever it conflicts with your particular preferences, and to explain it away by saying that scientists are often wrong anyway. The scientific method gradually produces knowledge and facts about nature, but one experiment might not immediately provide all the answers. For example, if you want to know whether drinking aspartame has negative effects on pregnant women, you don’t want to draw your conclusions after one experiment. After many experiments by many different scientists, we may discover the truth about that question. But each experiment by itself tends to give an incomplete picture. The important thing in understanding science is to distinguish between the findings that are preliminary and those that are overwhelmingly supported. If you read in the news about a study that found that eating seven carrots a day will reduce your risk of cancer by 36%, then you can likely assume that it is a preliminary finding. Much more research needs to be done to establish the actual benefits of a certain number of carrots per day. But, if you read a textbook on evolution, you would be wrong to roll your eyes and think that this is a preliminary finding. Over 150 years of scientific research in many different fields (geology, biology, genetics, microbiology, etc.) all lead to the same conclusions about evolution.

It is easy and tempting to look back over time and claim that scientists have been wrong about so much. You could look back in history and claim that scientists first thought the earth was flat and the sun went around the earth and so on. But most scientific claims have a degree of uncertainty to them. (Statistics dictates that certainty is not possible in any one scientific experiment. Most scientific experiments are set up statistically so that the likelihood of misinterpreting the results are roughly 1 in 20. But that does not mean that the chances of science being wrong on well-established findings are 1 in 20. For example, any single experiment on tobacco smoking leading to cancer will have a 1 in 20 chance of being wrong. But the chances that smoking does not cause cancer are much, much less than 1 in 20, almost infinitely smaller.) That is why scientists have to be careful to say that the evidence supports their findings, given what we know so far, but that there may be a lot more to the whole story. Scientific findings have to be interpreted with a great deal of humility about what we still don’t know about nature. Anytime scientists conduct one experiment and then claim to know the truth about that phenomenon, they are probably being hasty and arrogant. Only over time, with careful and unbiased repetition of results, can we state things to be true with a very high level of certainty.

Usually, when science has turned out to be “wrong”, it is in fact a case of a scientist having drawn a conclusion before there is enough evidence to support it, so that when enough evidence does come to light their conclusions don’t hold up. In ancient times, a true scientist would not have made assumptions about the earth being flat, but instead should have said: “We don’t have enough data yet to know what shape the earth is.” This is the approach modern scientists take on many unknown issues surrounding things like dark matter, and the exact origins of the universe. Since we don’t have enough data yet, we have to be careful not to draw too many conclusions. Sadly, this acknowledgment is often exploited by the religious with a statement that God must fill in the gaps in knowledge, or that since science can’t explain everything about the origin of the universe, God must have created it.

Can You Be A Scientist and A Christian at the Same Time?

It is possible, but very uncommon. In my time as a scientist, I’ve met very few scientists who are religious. The vast majority of those have grown up in religious cultures and families that they have just continued with in their lives as adults. When they go to work each day and conduct experiments, they almost always set aside their religion and just work as scientists. To work as a scientist and keep your firmly entrenched Christian beliefs in the forefront of your mind would create a conflict because science requires that we set aside personal biases. If your personal bias is that God created the world and is ultimately responsible for how everything works, then you’re unlikely to be very good at interpreting your scientific findings objectively. In my experience, the vast majority of scientists are not religious. Most of them, if asked, would probably admit to agnosticism since there is no sure way of knowing whether a god exists or not. The best answer I’ve heard on this was from my high school chemistry teacher. When asked if he believes in God, he replied: “You define God for me, and then I’ll tell you whether I believe in your definition.”

Are Science and Religion in Opposition?

This is an age-old argument. Carl Sagan’s fictional book Contact has a great debate on this topic. Everyone seems to have a different point of view on whether science and religion can co-exist. My position (which I am not saying is the only correct one), is that the two are in conflict. The whole point of this post has been to show that the scientific method is one that forms a conclusion only after examining the evidence. The religious method is the opposite: you hold a belief (or have faith) and then look at the world and find things that support that belief in God. If you always stick to the scientific method, I am confident you’ll never find a reason to even bring religion into the conversation. In my mind, everything in the world is explained naturally with no need for the supernatural. It was science that ultimately helped relieve me of my religious beliefs. After years of studying science, I finally realized that the level of scrutiny I demanded of myself for my religious beliefs was completely out of whack with the level of scrutiny for everything else in my life. I lived an evidence-based life, always being careful to critique what politicians and others claimed against what the evidence actually stated, but when it came to religion, for some reason, I just accepted what the Bible said about God without ever questioning it. Eventually I overcame that inconsistency in my life and left Christianity behind, so it is not surprising that my particular point of view is that science and religion are not just incompatible but are in direct opposition to one another.

I wrote at the beginning that: “for scientific findings to be valid, anyone with the right training and resources must be able to repeat the experiments and come out with the same results.” The beauty of science, therefore, is that it is freely available for anyone and everyone. No one can come along and claim to have knowledge that is not accessible to you. No one can claim that they know better than you, and you should just trust what they say without independently verifying that knowledge. You will notice that this is in direct opposition to the religious approach to knowledge by revelation. The Bible tells us that Jesus died on the cross and came to life again three days later. But this is not independently verifiable. You cannot test this claim. You must rely on someone else’s description of that event in order to believe it. This is exactly the opposite of the scientific approach. While you may have to rely on scientists’ description of things that are very complicated for you to understand, nothing is stopping you from going and getting trained in that field of science and then conducting your own experiments to find out for yourself if they are correct. If you do that, no honest scientist will ever tell you: “Yes, but I have superior knowledge and findings in my experiment, so I’m still right.”

Why Do We Need Science Anyway?

The way science is conducted is changing rapidly in universities and research institutions. Governments are focusing funding on things that they think are important and ignoring or actively discrediting the science that they think is either unimportant or that goes against their political agenda. This is not the way science is supposed to work. Science is a process of discovery, but you often don’t know what you are going to discover. Many of the greatest scientific discoveries in history were made more or less by accident when a scientist was actually looking for something else. When Alexander Fleming stumbled upon penicillin in 1928, he did so by accident. He wasn’t even studying antibiotics at all. Yet, that accidental discovery changed all of our lives for the better, probably more than any other medical discovery in the twentieth century. Imagine if governments had shut down Fleming because they didn’t feel his relatively obscure scientific research was contributing to society. The point is, you never know where the most important scientific discoveries are going to come from. So, trying to focus on curing cancer while stopping the study of sea-slugs would be a big mistake because ultimately the cure for cancer could lie in knowledge gained by studying sea slugs. When you limit the process of discovery, you limit the discoveries you will make.

The other very important reason that science is important in society is that if everyone took an evidence-based approach to life’s decisions, we’d have a much better world. There would be far fewer (if any) wars, and governments would be forced to serve the best interests of the population, and not the party. The scientific method teaches us to take a humble and open-minded approach to life. Don’t go into things assuming you know the answer before you begin. Stick to your conclusion if the evidence supports it, even if everyone else says you are wrong. But do admit when you are wrong. These are the hallmarks of a good scientist, but most of us don’t act this way when engaging in politics, marriages, friendships, conversations, and so on.

Summary: Why Is Science Relevant to a Discussion About Religion & Atheism?

What does science have to do with religion? Isn’t religion outside the realm of science? Doesn’t religion require faith, which doesn’t involve science? Well, science is all about basing conclusions on evidence. If there is no evidence for something, then it probably isn’t reality. Therefore, science is relevant to discussions on religion because there’s no objective evidence for God. If there was a God, and if there was evidence for God, scientists would be the first people lining up to tell the world all about it. Discovering that God exists would be the single greatest scientific discovery in history, for which any scientist would be glad to get credit, if only it were true. The reason scientists do not generally agree that God exists is not because of some agenda or some grand anti-religious conspiracy. No, the reason science does not support the existence of God is simply because there is no evidence to support that claim. All the claims for the existence of God (or gods) are based entirely on personal experience. All the personal experiences recorded in the Bible are examples of exactly the opposite process of discovery in science: they are not reproducible, they are not supported by evidence that anyone can observe, and they are not carefully controlled observations by people trained to be unbiased in their interpretations. This is where conversations between believers and scientists can start to go in circles, with believers claiming that God is outside the ability of science to detect and therefore does not require evidence, and with scientists claiming that nothing is outside the ability of science to detect and therefore God must not exist since there is no evidence for God.

I’ll conclude with a statement and a challenge. My statement is this: “Everything that exists is explainable by science, given enough time and resources.” I state this because my position is that there is only the natural world. There is no supernatural. Since science provides answers to the natural world, science has the answer for everything. My challenge is this: “Come up with a question, for which there is a definite answer, that science is not capable of providing an answer with a reasonable level of certainty.