Tag Archive: Christianity

Quote of the Day: Is Religion a Force for Good? by Christopher Hitchens

christopher hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes us objects, in a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick and commanded to be well. I’ll repeat that: created sick, and then ordered to be well. And over us, to supervise this, is installed a celestial dictatorship, a kind of divine North Korea. Greedy, exigent—exigent, I would say more than exigent—greedy for uncritical praise from dawn until dusk and swift to punish the original sins with which it so tenderly gifted us in the very first place. However, let no one say there’s no cure: salvation is offered, redemption, indeed, is promised, at the low price of the surrender of your critical faculties. Religion, it might be said—it must be said, would have to admit, makes extraordinary claims but though I would maintain that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, rather daringly provides not even ordinary evidence for its extraordinary supernatural claims. Therefore, we might begin by asking, and I’m asking my opponent as well as you when you consider your voting, is it good for the world to appeal to our credulity and not to our skepticism? Is it good for the world to worship a deity that takes sides in wars and human affairs? To appeal to our fear and to our guilt, is it good for the world? To our terror, our terror of death, is it good to appeal? To preach guilt and shame about the sexual act and the sexual relationship, is this good for the world? And asking yourself all the while, are these really religious responsibilities, as I maintain they are? To terrify children with the image of hell and eternal punishment, not just of themselves, but of their parents and those they love. Perhaps worst of all, to consider women an inferior creation, is that good for the world, and can you name me a religion that has not done that? To insist that we are created and not evolved in the face of all the evidence. Religion forces nice people to do unkind things and also makes intelligent people say stupid things. Handed a small baby for the first time, is it your first reaction to think, “Beautiful, almost perfect, now please hand me the sharp stone for its genitalia that I may do the work of the Lord”?

— Christopher Hitchens, Munk Debate versus Tony Blair, November 26, 2010

Songs of Sacrilege: God is On Our Side by Roxanne Cote

god is on our side

This is the one hundred seventy-eighth 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 Songs of Sacrilege is God is On Our Side by Roxanne Cote.

Video Link

Lyrics

Can’t you see the starving child?
Can’t you see the corpses piled?
A comedy of dirt and blood
And God is on our side
Sex slaves and trafficking
Broken homes are for bidding
Love at a price to buy
And God is on our side
Day and night
I yearn for you
by the dimmest light
And I know
I’m bearing my greatest fight
Where religions were made to divide
My brother and I
For all the love we tried and
Prayers we lied and
God is on our side
Monks and kings are born heartless
Living in wild circus
But your myths are here to guide
And God is on our side
Governing a red madness
Fruiting a black sadness T
he faith in me has died
And God is on our side

Christopher Hitchens Monologue

Is it good for the world to appeal to our credulity and not to our skepticism? Is it good for the world to worship a deity that takes sides in wars and human affairs? To appeal to our fear and guilt, is it good for the world? To our terror, our terror of death, is it good to appeal? To preach guilt and shame about the sexual act and the sexual relationship, is this good for the world? And asking yourself all that while, are these really religious responsibilities, as I maintain they are? To terrify children with the image of hell and eternal punishment, not just of themselves, but of their parents and those they love Perhaps worst of all, to consider women an inferior creation, is that good for the world? And can you name me a religion that has not done that?

Are you gonna hide forever?
Are you gonna hide forever?
Are you gonna hide forever?
Are you gonna hide forever?
Are you gonna hide forever?

Why do Evangelicals Flee One Cult, Only to Join Another?

cult of apple

Cartoon by Mike Luckovich

One of the hardest things I had to come to terms with was the fact that my parents raised me in a cult; that I was a member of a cult; that I attended a college operated by a cult; that I married a girl who was also a member of a cult; that I spent thirty years evangelizing for a cult and pastoring its churches. Worse yet, as devoted cult members, my wife and I raised our six children in the way of the cult, in the truth of the cult, and in the life of the cult. Most religions, to some degree or the other, are cults. The dictionary describes the word cult several ways:

  • A system of religious beliefs and rituals
  • A religion or sect that is generally considered to be unorthodox, extreme, or false [who determines what is unorthodox, extreme of false?]
  • Followers of an unorthodox, extremists, or false religion or sect who often live outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader
  • Followers of an exclusive system of religious beliefs and practices

As you can see from these definitions, Christianity is a cult. In particular, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement and Evangelicalism in general are cults. I rarely use the word cult when describing Evangelical beliefs and practices because the word means something different to Evangelicals. In their minds, sects such as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Moonies, and Catholics are cults. Some Evangelical churches bring in cult specialists to teach congregants about what is and isn’t a cult. Countless Evangelicals have read Walter Martin’s seminal work, The Kingdom of the Cults. Martin’s book was considered the go-to reference work when it came to cults. Martin defined a cult this way: a group of people gathered about a specific person—or person’s misinterpretation of the Bible. In Martin’s mind, any group of people who followed a person’s misinterpretation of the Bible made up a cult. Of course, Martin — a Fundamentalist Baptist — was the sole arbiter of what was considered a misinterpretation of the Bible. Written in 1965, The Kingdom of the Cults included sects such as the Seventh-day Adventism, Unitarian Universalism, Worldwide Church of God, Buddhism, and Islam. Martin also believed certain heterodox Christian sects had cultic tendencies. I am sure that if Martin were alive today, a revised version of The Kingdom of the Cults would be significantly larger than the 701 pages of the first edition. Martin and his followers, much like Joseph McCarthy, who saw Reds under every bed, saw cultism everywhere they look — except in their own backyards, that is.

Over the years, I have heard from numerous college classmates and former parishioners who wanted me to know that they had left cultic IFB churches and joined up with what they believed were non-cultic Evangelical churches. These letter-writers praised me for my exposure of the IFB church movement, but they were dismayed over my rejection of Christianity in general. In their minds, I threw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater; that if I would just find a church like theirs I would see and know the “truth.” I concluded, after reading their testimonies, that all they had really done is trade one cult for another.

Take, for example, my college classmates. Most of them were raised in strict IFB homes and churches. Some of them had pastor fathers. Later in life, they came to believe that the IFB church movement, with its attendant legalistic codes of conduct, was a cult. As I mentioned in my post titled, Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists? there are two components to religious fundamentalism: theological fundamentalism and social fundamentalism. Most Evangelicals are both theological and social Fundamentalists, even though some of them will deny the latter. My college classmates, in leaving the IFB church movement, distanced themselves from social fundamentalism while retaining their theological fundamentalist beliefs. They wrongly believe that by rejecting the codes of conduct of their former churches, they were no longer members of a cult. However, their theology changed very little, and often they just traded a “legalistic” code of conduct for a “Biblical” one. These “non-legalists” revel in their newfound freedoms — drinking alcohol, going to movies, wearing pants (women), saying curse words, smoking cigars, having long hair (men), listening to secular music, using non-King James Bible translations, and having sex in non-missionary positions, to name a few — thinking that they have finally escaped the cult, when in fact they just moved their church membership from one cult to another. When the core theology of their old church is compared to their new church few differences are found.

I can’t emphasize this enough: regardless of the name on the door, the style of worship/music, or ecclesiology, Evangelical churches are pretty much all the same. Many Evangelicals consider Westboro Baptist Church to be a cult. However, a close examination of their theology reveals that there is little difference between the theology of the late Fred Phelps and his clan and that of Southern Baptist luminary Al Mohler and his fellow Calvinists. Ask ten local Evangelical churches for copies of their church doctrinal statement and compare them. You will find differences on matters of church government, spiritual gifts, and other peripheral issues Christians perpetually fight over, but when it comes to the core doctrines of Christianity, they are in agreement.

Calvinists and Arminians — who have been bickering with each other for centuries — will vehemently disagree with my assertion that they are one and the same, but when you peel away each group’s peculiar interpretations of the Bible, what you are left with are the historic, orthodox beliefs expressed in the creeds of early Christianity. There may be countless flavors of ice cream, but they all have one thing in common: milk. So it is with Evangelical sects and churches. During what I call our wandering years, Polly and I attended over one hundred Christian churches, looking for a church that took seriously the teachings of Christ. We concluded that Evangelical churches are pretty much all the same, and that the decision on which church to attend is pretty much up to which kind of ice cream you like the best. No matter how “special” some Evangelical churches think they are, close examination reveals that they are not much different from other churches. This means then, that there is little-to-no difference theologically between Christian cults. Codes of conduct are different from church to church, but at the center of every congregation is the greatest cult leader of all time, Jesus Christ. (See But Our Church is DIFFERENT!)

Go back and read the definitions of the word cult at the top of this post, and then read Walter Martin’s definition of a cult/cult leader. Is not Jesus a cult leader? Is not the Apostle Paul also a cult leader? Is not the sect founded and propagated by Jesus, Peter, James, John, and Paul, and propagated for two thousand years by pastors/priests/evangelists/missionaries a cult? Is not the Judaism of the Old Testament a blood cult, as is its offspring, Christianity? Surely a fair-minded person must conclude that Christianity is a cult. Regardless of denomination, peculiar beliefs, and differing codes of conduct, all Christian churches are, in effect, cult temples, no different from the “pagan” temples mentioned in the New Testament.

Disagree? By all means, use the comment section to explain why your Christian/Evangelical/IFB sect/church is not a cult, but other sects and churches are. Why should your beliefs and practices be considered truth and all others false? Hint, the Bible says is not an acceptable answer (nor are worn-out presuppositional tropes). All cultists appeal to their religious texts for proof that their beliefs and practices are “truth.” Why should anyone accept your sect’s book as “truth?” Why should anyone believe that Jesus is the way, truth, and life or that the Christian God is the one true God?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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Comparing Fundamentalist Religions

fundamentalism

A Guest Post by ObstacleChick

What is religious fundamentalism? Typically, it is an unwavering and unapologetic belief in the absolute authority of a religious text or texts. Adherents believe their religion is the one true religion and that its precepts should govern all aspects of life. The ultimate goal is the governance of everyone’s lives under the rules and standards of the religion’s holy book(s). Rules are comprehensive, encompassing behavior, dress, gender roles, and access to information, media, and technology. Adherents believe that their religious beliefs and practices should be exempt from criticism, and any form of criticism is labeled as heresy or persecution. There are many types of religious fundamentalists throughout the world, but here in the United States we are most familiar with fundamentalist evangelical Christians, fundamentalist Muslims, orthodox and Hasidic Jews, and Old Order Amish (which are fundamentalist in their adherence to their religious text, but not with regard to forcing their beliefs on those outside their community).

As disparate as these groups may seem on the surface, they have much in common. Each group believes that its holy text is an absolute, inerrant authority for all aspects of life. It is not uncommon for these groups to separate themselves from their surrounding communities, focusing almost exclusively on staying within their religious communities with regard to their worship activities, leisure activities, and even employment. Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, for example, must be work for an employer that is flexible with regard to Jewish holy days and for leaving work early on Fridays for Shabbas. Not in all cases, but frequently children are sent to sect-approved/operated schools. In Amish communities, education is forbidden past 8th grade, and in communities that have their own schools, the teachers are young women within the community who have no education past 8th grade. For Hasidic Jews, girls and boys attend gender-segregated schools. Boys attend yeshivas where the focus of education is on studying the Talmud. Little attention is given to other subjects, and evolution is not taught. Among Evangelicals, it is popular to either home school one’s children or to send them to a fundamentalist Christian school, where, again, evolution is not taught to children. Fundamentalist Muslims often send their children to madrasas where the focus is on religious education. In some Muslim-controlled countries, girls are not educated.

Fundamentalists of all stripes give great authority to religious leaders who often dictate the rules of each separatist community. In Amish communities, there is a bishop, two or three ministers, and a deacon. Each must be nominated, but lots (similar to drawing straws) are drawn to determine which man receives which position. The leaders are responsible for the spiritual education of their congregation as well as making sure the Ordnung — the set of rules specific to each community — is followed. Each church district’s leaders set specific rules for its community, which is why there can be slight differences from one Amish community to another. In Evangelical sects and churches, great authority is given to pastors. Bruce has spoken about this a number of times, so there’s no need for me to expound on the matter here. In Orthodox or Hasidic communities, the rebbe is the authority, and he sets the rules specific to that local community. Rules may include color of stockings women are required to wear or what books are allowed in the Hasidic libraries. In fundamentalist Muslim communities, the imam is the ultimate authority, and he may issue fatwas or rules specific to his community. (Please note that all leaders are male.)

In each of these fundamentalist religions, gender roles are specifically defined in traditional ways. Men are considered to be the leaders of the family, the breadwinners, the final authorities in the household; the ones who commune most closely with their deity. Women are considered to be the nurturers, the caretakers of children, submissive to the authority of their husbands. Typically, women are not allowed to work outside the home in many fundamentalist sects/churches. Amish women are, however, permitted to sell their goods at markets or operate roadside stands for home-grown and home-baked goods. Women are not allowed any positions of leadership beyond teaching women or young children. Marriage is considered to be between one man and one woman, and these communities are not known for acceptance of LBGTQ people.

Dress codes are important among these communities. The Amish are easily identified as their clothing styles have not changed in centuries. They are referred to as “Plain People” because their styles are simple, solid colors typically limited to black, brown, burgundy, blue, purple or green (though some communities may allow other colors). Women wear dresses and aprons secured with straight pins (no buttons, which are considered vain), and they wear a white kappe (head covering) so they may pray at any time. Men wear dark suits with hook & eye closures (no buttons and no fancy belt buckles), suspenders, and a black or straw hat.

For fundamentalist Christians, there is often no exact standard of dress other than “modesty” for women, though many fundamentalist Baptist churches have complex, exacting dress codes. Many fundamentalist Christian women wear skirts or dresses at least knee length, no low-cut tops, and they typically wear sleeves. Women will be shamed for showing too much skin or wearing something too tight.

Hasidic communities have strict hair and clothing rules as well. Married women must keep their hair short and wear a sheitel wig; women wear dresses or skirts; their sleeves must be at least three-quarter length; they must wear thick, opaque stockings (often black, occasionally flesh colored though that is forbidden in some communities); and a lot of black, loose clothing, though blouses or sweaters may be colorful. Married men must sport a beard and side curls (payot) which they can never cut. Most men wear a white button-down shirt and black pants and jacket. A yarmulke must be worn at all times, and when praying, men wear a tallit, or prayer shawl, with tzitzit, or fringe, to remind them of God’s commandments.

Fundamentalist Muslim women must be covered in mixed company, and the culture determines how much covering is required. The most extreme version is the burqa with the niqab (face covering). Men may wear a taqiyah or cap when praying.

Each of these fundamentalist religions believes secularism is the greatest threat to their sect, churches, and beliefs. Access to secular libraries or media may be prohibited, restricted, or discouraged. Often, only books approved by church leaders are permitted to be read. The Amish prohibit technology altogether, though they are allowed to check out elder-approved books at public libraries. Fundamentalist Christians are generally admonished to limit their media access to “G-rated” or Christian-published format. Many Hasidic communities forbid access to secular libraries. In fundamentalist Muslim-controlled countries, all media are controlled by the religious leaders, thus preventing people from accessing any non-approved content. Each of these groups limits media access for “moral” reasons, but they also want to prevent community members from accessing any knowledge that may contradict their sect’s teachings.

While some of Amish people vote, they do not seek public office, and their pacifism prevents them from joining the military. They also are not visibly active in campaigning. Myriads of articles have been written — particularly before and after the 2016 presidential election — concerning the political activism of evangelical Christians. Orthodox and Hasidic Jews are known for their political activism for candidates sympathetic to their communities, particularly as it is an “honor” for Jewish men to collect welfare and food stamps so they can exclusively focus their time on Talmudic studies. As far as fundamentalist Islam is concerned, there are many countries in which fundamentalist Islam controls government.

In Bruce’s recent post Life After Jesus: Moving from a God-Shaped Hole to a Knowledge-Shaped Hole he talks about restrictions that fundamentalist Christian authorities put on secular influences. Indeed, venturing beyond fundamentalist-bubble-approved media is considered a temptation by Satan and demonic forces, potentially leading someone to everlasting torment in hell. Pastors try to scare their flocks into not watching the latest season of “Cosmos” or “Game of Thrones”; that rock music leads to the “Highway to Hell”; that evolution is Satan’s greatest deception. Amish and Hasidic communities threaten members with excommunication if they do not adhere to community standards. For the skeptical or curious in these communities, fear of being cut off from family and friends is a real concern. In addition, many members (particularly women) are poorly educated and lack job skills, so escaping these communities is, at best, a risky venture.  Mission to Amish People (MAP) and Charity Christian Fellowship are organizations that help Amish people leave their communities, and Footsteps is an organization that helps Hasidic Jews leave theirs. Organizations such as these offer practical and emotional support to deconverts. Those of us in the real world realize that knowledge is power, and fundamentalists do their best to limit knowledge, thus limiting the power of their flocks.

fundamentalist religion comparisonI look at all these groups and think, there’s no way I could live in one of those communities. After I graduated from high school, I did my best to escape the clutches of fundamentalist Christianity. Fortunately, I possessed a college degree from a highly ranked secular university and developed marketable skills, so I was able to support myself financially. Many in these communities, particularly women, are purposely raised without these skills, ensuring reliance on the community. It is my firm conviction that any group that purposefully restricts access to knowledge and education and discourages contact with outsiders is inherently harmful and potentially abusive. Those in power may thrive within these systems, but the systems themselves are designed to benefit those in power at the expense of the powerless.

(If you are interested in finding out more about the Old Order Amish, I recommend the book Amish Society by John A. Hostetler for a comprehensive examination. For those who have access to Netflix and are interested in deconverts from Hasidic Judaism, I recommend the documentary One of Us regarding the Hasidic community in Brooklyn and in Rockland County, New York. Both are communities with which I am familiar as I live in proximity to both).

Now, for a bit of levity: Amish Paradise by Weird Al Yankovic

Video Link

Songs of Sacrilege: Straight to Hell by Darius Rucker

darius rucker

This is the one hundred seventy-seventh 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 Songs of Sacrilege is Straight to Hell by Darius Rucker (with Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Charles Kelley).

Video Link

Lyrics

I grew up just west of the tracks
Holding me to hold me back
Around your door she’s calling out my name
I come in at 5 AM
And she is waiting for me
She said, “Where have you been?”, I said, “I was out!”
She said, “You’re no good cause you’re running without love”

And I’m going straight to Hell
Just like my momma said
I’m going straight to Hell (to Hell, woohoo)
I’m going straight to Hell
Just like my momma said
I’m going straight to Hell (oh and I’m gonna burn it down, baby)

The black widow and the ladies man
Met down at the laundromat
And tried to make me understand
And just then, her mother bursts in
And said, “You’re the son of that bitch in the wind
Get out of my house and hit the road”
And I kept falling like a Rolling Stones’ song

Cause I’m going straight to Hell
Just like my momma said
I’m going straight to Hell (oh straight to Hell)
I’m going straight to Hell
Just like my momma said
I’m going straight to Hell

The stars came out and warned me so
As I walked on down the road
Fifty bucks and a suitcase steered me clear
She took my hand as we walked into the sun
A new day’s promise had just begun
We’ll make it alone whether you like it or not
And I turned around and shouted “Help me momma!”

Cause I’m going straight to Hell
Just like my momma said
I’m going straight to Hell
Oh yeah, I’m going straight to Hell
Ooh just like my momma said
I’m going straight to Hell

(Oh Lord help us
Yeah I’ll bring the whiskey boys
Y’all taking me with ya
Help me Jesus, help me Jesus, we all are
Oh!)

Life After Jesus: Moving from a God-Shaped Hole to a Knowledge-Shaped Hole

god shaped hole

Snark and R-rated humor ahead. You have been warned!

Those of us raised in Evangelical churches often heard our pastors speak of unsaved people having a God-shaped hole in their lives. Where this hole was exactly never was explained. It couldn’t have been in the heart. Surgeons can repair holes in hearts — no God needed. Perhaps, this hole was in the soul — another thing pastors never could explain. Where, exactly, does the soul reside? How can any of us know we have a soul, or a spirit, for that matter?  And I have to ask at this point, if unsaved people have a God-shaped hole, does that make them HOLY?

Regardless of wherever said hole is located, Evangelical pastors assure sinners that it exists, and that God, on purpose, created this hole in every human being. In other words, all of us were born with a birth defect. Supposedly, God created this hole so all of us would one day want and need him. Well, except for the non-elect — according to Calvinists. They go through life with holes that can never be filled by God because God put a steel plate over their holes. (I am restraining myself here. All this hole talk makes me want to talk about sex.) Arminians, on the other hand, believe all humans are born into this world with a God-shaped hole in their lives. But, even for Jacob Arminus’ clan, if sinners repeatedly reject God’s plan for hole-filling, God will pour cement into their hole — giving them a hardened heart. Having committed the unpardonable sin, sinners with cement-filled holes can never, ever be saved.

The Bible, of course, mentions nothing about unsaved people having a God-shaped hole in their lives. That unbelievers have one is based on inference; a common way that Evangelicals use to construct new doctrines. Take a verse here, a verse there, and another verse over here, and BOOM! there it is. Surely you see it, right? Evangelicals often use inference to prove various points of their eschatological beliefs. For example, the Bible does not mention the rapture — the moment when Jesus will come again (no sex joke here either) in the clouds and gather up all the Evangelicals to take them home to Heaven. You will search in vain for a verse, any verse, that says Jesus will soon return to earth’s atmosphere to catch away the saved. If you start pressing Evangelicals on some their beliefs you will find that their interpretations are based on presuppositions. We believe that the rapture of the church is imminent, says Pastor I.M. Fullashit, and this and that verse — twisted, contorted, and pressed — proves it! So it is with God-shaped holes.

The implication of the God-shaped hole is this: unsaved people live empty, hopeless, desperate, unfilled lives lacking in meaning, purpose, and direction. Without God filling the pothole he created in your life, you are vile sinner who hates God. My wife and I went to the hospital today to visit grandchild number twelve. Ezra was born seven weeks early so he is in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Here was this precious, wonderful little boy. I shed a tear as I looked at him sleeping, wondering what he would one day become. I wondered about what kind of world he is being born into now that Donald Trump is trying to burn the United States to the ground. So many questions Grandpa has about his future, but for today, he’s my grandson, my daughter’s first child, and I love him.

If I were still an Evangelical, perhaps I would have uttered a prayer, asking God to quickly fill my wicked, vile grandson’s life with the presence of the Holy Spirit. You see, Evangelicals believe that infants, too, have a God-shaped hole. King David, a murderous, adulterous man who supposedly had a heart for God, had this to say about himself: Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5) Evangelicals extrapolate from this verse the belief that ALL children are conceived in sin and shapen in iniquity (the doctrine of original sin). Of course, this is a conclusion without evidence. All that can be said here is that David thought he was wicked from birth. Press Evangelicals on the notion of original sin and you will quickly find that this doctrine is built upon a rotting foundation; that this doctrine requires playing Bible gymnastics to affirm its teaching. If you want a good illustration of how this game is played, please read John Piper’s post titled, What is the Biblical Evidence for Original Sin? Now, without the doctrine of original sin, there’s no need for human redemption and salvation. Evangelicals need the human herd divided into two groups — saved and lost — for their salvation scheme to work. Without this division, why, we would all just be humans, each capable of good and bad behavior. If there’s no sin, there’s no need for Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.

Piper sums up his nonsensical defense of infants being born hellions with these two points:

  • Infants die, therefore they are not innocent.
  • If humanity is not born in sin, wouldn’t we expect there to be some people who have “beaten the odds” and never sinned?

Makes perfect sense to Evangelicals. But, to those of us outside of the bubble, we know that infants are fine just as they are; that what they need is LOVE, and not salvation. What, exactly, has my grandson done to need redemption? So far, in the first week of life, all he has done is sleep, eat, occasionally cry, poop, and pee. Fortunately, his parents will not be taking him to a Christian indoctrination center any time soon. I had to stop attending religious rituals for my newly-born grandchildren after almost having a stroke when a priest said my granddaughter was possessed by the Devil and must be exorcised — which he promptly proceeded to do. Quite frankly, I wanted to hold that priest’s head in the baptismal font water for about five minutes. There, another demon exorcised!

The only hole Christians have is in their minds; a hole made in their intellect by religion. I am not saying that Evangelicals are stupid or ignorant, though more than a few comments left on this blog over the years might lead me to conclude otherwise. What I am saying is that Evangelical beliefs cripple the minds of believers; that their minds are shut off from certain paths of inquiry. Instead of following the path wherever it leads, Evangelicals, much like the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years, intellectually wander within what they believe is a God-approved box. Their pastors warn them if they dare to peek over the top of the box or wander from its confines that they risk falling into heresy or sin; that only within the box will their soul and life be safe and secure.

Evangelicals have what I call the Christian Ghetto®, a world where Evangelical versions of everything exist. Evangelical congregants are encouraged to only read Christian books, attend Christian movies, and watch Christian TV. I remember one congregant whom I tried my darnedest to convince to read the Calvinistic books I was recommending to members, She would take the books home, but never read them. One day, I stopped by to visit her. Usually, congregants would hide anything that would lead me to conclude that they were not following the commands, edicts, rules, laws, and regulations of Pastor Bruce, uh I mean God. On this particular day, this dear woman forgot to hide the reason she wasn’t interested in reading the latest, greatest eighteenth-century book by a dried prune of a Puritan preacher. On her living room table sat a large stack of true-crime books. I looked at the books, picked up one of them, briefly leafed through it, and said nothing. Back then, I could do passive-aggressive quite well. Point made, preacher, point made. You see, she wanted to roam outside of the box. This woman found theology books boring, whereas true-crime books were filled with all sorts of exciting stories.

As an Evangelical pastor, part of my duty was to make sure people stayed within the confines of the box. People who dared to leave the box often did not return, putting their eternal destinies at risk. The Bible says in 1 John 2:19:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Let me translate this from the original Hungarian:

Those people who left our church were not True Christians®. Had they been True Christians® they would have kept their asses in the pew and continued to listen to Pastor Bruce’s Holy Spirit-filled sermons, obeying his every word. But, they left, and this is proof that they never were really True Christians®.

Evangelicalism is all about obedience and conformity. Independent thinking is discouraged, and is often taken as a sign of a person who is not right with God. Congregants are expected to believe, by faith, that whatever the Bible says is true (inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility). While doubts and questions are tolerated to a small degree, True Christians® are expected to eventually, after being properly schooled and corrected, toe the line. And if they can’t or won’t, these rebellious church members are expected to leave the church. Of course, by leaving they prove they weren’t True Christians®, or at the very least prove that the pastor was right to have serious doubts about their salvation.

Fortunately, an increasing number of Evangelicals (and Christians of all stripes) are propping up a ladder on the inside wall of the box and escaping into the night. Once free, these escapees wander the wild, woolly, dangerous streets of the world. (See What I Found When I Left the Box.) No longer bound by church doctrine, orthodoxy, and the like, these people are free to follow the path of life wherever it leads. Few ever return to the box. Most of them find homes in progressive/liberal Christian churches, Unitarian Universalist churches, or embrace non-Christian beliefs. Some of them say they are spiritual and have no interest in organized religion. An increasing number of these runners become agnostics or atheists. You see, once you are truly free, life becomes all about the journey and not the destination. Evangelicals fixate on right beliefs and practice because where they spend eternity depends on them believing and practicing the right things. Believe the wrong things and Hell awaits. Believe the right things — by faith — and put those beliefs into practice (good works), and a room in God’s Trump Hotel awaits you after death. Life, then, is just preparation for eternity (Amos 3:3). Life is all about getting ready to meet God and move in to the room Jesus has spent thousands of years preparing for you.

god shaped hole 2

Cartoon by Dresden Codak

 

Once free from the pernicious, intellect-killing, mind-rotting grip of Evangelical dogma, people feel a great sense of freedom, yet, at the same time, they, once again, sense a hole in their lives. This hole, however, is real. It is a knowledge-filled hole, a hole located in the mind that only can be filled with intellectual inquiry. Most former Evangelicals lament the fact that they had so many bat-shit crazy beliefs. Who among us hasn’t said, I can’t believe that believed THAT! I see all those hands! For those of us who were Evangelicals for years, we realize that we burned a lot of brain cells (and daylight) searching after “truths” that were mirages; “truths” that were passed down from generation to generation by the tribal elders of our blood cult; “truths” that have no grounding in facts and evidence. Once we reach this point, there’s often a mind-flushing of sorts that takes place. For some of us, we had to push the handle numerous times before our minds were free of a lifetime of detritus. Once cleansed of Biblical “truth,” former Evangelicals realize that there’s a lot they don’t know about the world. Spend your life having truth defined by the Bible and God-ordained men alone, and you are going to miss out on a lot of important stuff.

Most Evangelicals are creationists. No need to study science, right? The Bible says, in the Beginning GOD CREATED the heavens and earth. What else is there to know? Come to find out, a hell of a lot of stuff. I have spent the last decade trying to educate myself in matters of biology, archeology, geology, and astronomy, to name a few. The same could be said about history and the social sciences. So much to learn, but here’s the problem: I am sixty-one years old and in failing health. I do what I can, but I am so grateful for the fact that my children and grandchildren are free from the cult; that they value intellectual inquiry; that they are skeptical — and often humored — of claims made by Christians. It thrills me down to the deeps of my painful feet that my grandchildren are voracious readers; that they are not held captive by the Bible or Christian books. Freedom, for them, yea, for all of us comes one book at a time.

The impetus for this post came from an email I received from a friend of mine. She told me of a discussion she was having with a sibling over the plurality of Gods in the Old Testament — specifically the Hebrew words Yahweh and Elohim. Evangelicals, of course, believe that these words are the same name for their God. There is ONE God, Evangelicals say, yet they worship a triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Well, God is three in one, Christians say. Three, yet one. Makes perfect sense, right? Anyhow, my friend, as I do, thinks that the Old Testament Gods were plural in number. A natural reading of the text, without pushing it through a Trinitarian sieve, reveals that Christianity rests on a polytheistic foundation. My friend’s sibling would have none of her “worldly” thoughts, reminding her that pride was man’s first sin and that pridefully attaining “worldly” knowledge is futile. Her sibling told her that he was focused on his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is his all-in-all; the only person who can fill the God-shaped hole in his heart.

My friend said to me, “His God-shaped hole is filled with God, but I don’t have a God-shaped hole; I have a knowledge-shaped hole and I am having fun filling it.” She sure hit the proverbial nail on the head! With no thoughts or worries about God or eternity, we are free to read and study that which interests us. The goal is to be a more informed person today than I was yesterday. I will never become as competent in matters of science as younger skeptics will, but I can, by the grace of my almighty intellect, know more about how the world works today than I knew as a card-carrying member of the Ken Ham Were You There? Club®. Much like my friend, I intend to fill the hole in my life with knowledge. I invite Evangelicals to dare to scale the walls of the box. Freedom awaits, as does a library card.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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: ’74 No by The Magnetic Fields

 

the magnetic fields

This is the one hundred seventy-sixth 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 Songs of Sacrilege is ’74 No by The Magnetic Fields.

Video Link

Lyrics

Is there a man in heaven looking out for you?
Is there a place dead loved ones go?
Is there a source of wisdom that will see you through?
Will there be peace in our time?
No

We knew Karmu, a faith healer—the black Christ, he said—
Laying his hands on high and low
Did he cure colds and cancer, and bring back the dead?
Did he refuse donations?
No

My friend Scott says there’s flying saucers
Hiding inside our hollow moon (Our hollow moon)
And then there’s Karl, card-carrying communist
Cause revolution’s coming “soon” (It’s coming soon)
And Carolyn believes in fairies
And Gabrielle believes in ghosts
Yeshe believes in reincarnation (We’ll meet again)
And David, in heavenly hosts (Heavenly hosts)

My mother believes that this physical universe
Is a big holographic show
And she says someday science’ll catch up with her
Has she a shred of evidence?
No

 

Man Wants to be a Pastor but His Wife Isn’t “Godly”

I recently saw the following on a public Baptist discussion forum (names removed).

The author wants to be a pastor, but he can’t become one — in his mind — because his wife is not a good enough Christian. What we have here is a man who wants what he wants, and he views his wife as an obstacle to him obtaining his goal. This man says this about wife (in a public forum):

  • She is not a Godly woman
  • She doesn’t like attending church because the services are too long
  • She endures his nightly home Bible study (devotions)
  • She’s not concerned about her spiritual growth
  • She’s unconcerned about sin in her life
  • She shows little interest in repenting of her sins
  • She shows little interest in righteousness.

This man also says that his wife is UNSUBMISSIVE. And this, I believe, is the real issue. If she would only be submissive — Greek for do what I tell her to do — then she would be a godly woman who loves attending church and who is very interested in growing in Christ. She would also be sensitive to the sins in her life, promptly repenting of them and diligently pursuing righteousness.

The man’s wife has changed over the years for the good, but pastor-wanna-be thinks these changes are outward changes, and not because she has had a change of heart. Doesn’t the Bible say that only God can see the heart? (1 Samuel 16:7)

The qualifications in question are found in 1 Timothy 3:1-13:

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.

Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

Ask yourself, do you know of one pastor or deacon who fulfills these qualifications? I don’t. I know I certainly didn’t when I was a pastor. Note that these qualifications are not goals to be reached someday. Paul says to Timothy, a bishop (pastor, elder) MUST be; not should be, but MUST be. The same goes for deacons and their wives. Interestingly, Paul gives no requirements for being a pastor’s wife.

It seems to me that this man can’t reach the brass ring, and instead of owning his own culpability in the matter, he blames his wife. It’s all her fault. If she would only truly get born again and start acting like Christians are supposed to act, why, he would soon be pastoring a little country Southern Baptist church on Dick Creek, near I’m An Ass Holler.

Perhaps the man’s wife sees things as they really are; that it’s the Christianity of her husband and his fellow zealots that is the problem. Perhaps she sees nothing in them that would incline her to become a Christian. I suspect there is much more to this story than the man is letting on; years of unresolved marital disagreement and conflict. Perhaps the best thing this man can do is LOVE his wife as she is and allow her to worship or not worship God on her own terms. This won’t happen of course, because the husband is a complementarian — he leads, she follows. Maybe his wife should, indeed, follow his lead, and air all her husband’s sins, faults, and shortcomings on a public site. Something tells me, if that ever happened, the least of this man’s problems is his lust for the pulpit.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

How My Political and Social Beliefs Evolved Over the Years

john birch society

A recent letter writer asked:

Were you always socially liberal and progressive “on the inside” or did that develop after deconverting? For example, were you always pro-gay marriage, pro-choice, and pro-transgender, and every time you read a bible verse got triggered, or did your social and political beliefs genuinely differ between being a Christian and being an atheist?

These are great questions. I believe the letter writer is asking if I always had liberal/progressive political and social beliefs or did these beliefs develop over time? I believe he is also asking if my political and social beliefs were different as a Christian from the beliefs I now have as an atheist? The best way to answer these questions is to share a condensed version of my life story.

In the early 1960s, my Dad packed up his family and moved from Bryan, Ohio to San Diego, California in search of riches and prosperity. While in California, my parents were saved at Scott Memorial Baptist Church, a Fundamentalist Baptist congregation pastored by Tim LaHaye. As members of Scott Memorial, Mom and Dad joined the right-wing, uber-nationalist John Birch Society. Mom, in particular, immersed herself in right-wing political ideology. She campaigned for Barry Goldwater, and would later actively support the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon and George Wallace.

As was common for people of their generation, my parents were racists. They believed Martin Luther King, Jr. was a despicable man, a Communist. Mom was an avid writer of letters to the editors of the newspapers wherever we happened to be living at the time. She considered Lieutenant William Calley — the man responsible for the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War — to be a war hero. She also thought that the unarmed Kent State students gunned down by Ohio National Guard soldiers got exactly what they deserved.

It should come as no surprise then, that their oldest son — yours truly — embraced their religious and political views. From the time I was in kindergarten until I entered college at age twenty-one, I lived in a right-wing, Fundamentalist monoculture. The churches I attended growing up only reinforced the political and social beliefs taught to me by my parents.

In the fall of 1976, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution founded in the 1950s by Tom Malone. While I don’t remember any “political” preaching, Biblical moral beliefs were frequently mentioned in classes and during chapel. I heard nothing that would challenge the political and social beliefs taught to me by my parents and pastors. While at Midwestern, I met a beautiful dark-haired woman who would later become my wife. She had similar political and social beliefs, so from that perspective we were a perfect match.

All told, I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. For many of these years, I was a flag-waving, homophobic, theocratic pro-lifer who believed Democrats, liberals, progressives, Catholics, mainline Christians, and a cast of thousands were tools used by Satan to attack and destroy Christian America. Over time, I theologically moved away from the IFB church movement and embraced Fundamentalist Calvinism. While my theology was evolving, my political and social beliefs remained the same — that is, until 1990.

In late 1990, American tanks, aircraft, and soldiers invaded Iraq, causing tens of thousands of civilian deaths. I was appalled by the universal support Evangelicals gave to the Gulf War. I remember asking congregants if it bothered them that thousands of men, women, and children were slaughtered in their name. Not one of my colleagues in the ministry opposed the Gulf War. None of them seemed troubled by the bloodshed and carnage. Try as I might to see the Gulf War through the eyes of the Just War Theory, I couldn’t do so. It was at this point in life that I became a pacifist. I didn’t preach pacifism from the pulpit, but I did challenge church members to think “Biblically” about war and violence — “Biblically” meaning viewing the Gulf War and other wars through the eyes of Jesus and his teachings.

From this point forward, my political beliefs began to evolve. By the time of the Y2K scare, I had distanced myself from groups such as Focus on the Family, the Moral Majority, and the American Family Association. I thought, at the time, that these groups had become political hacks, shills for the Republican Party. In 2000, I voted for George W. Bush. He would be the last Republican I voted for. In 2004, I vote for John Kerry; 2008 and 2012 I voted for Barack Obama; 2016 I voted for Hillary Clinton, though I was a big Bernie Sanders supporter.

In 2005, I left the ministry, and in 2008 I left Christianity. At that time, my political and social beliefs were far removed from when I entered the ministry decades before. I began as a right-wing Republican and I left the ministry as a progressive. Embracing atheism, humanism, rationalism, and science has allowed me to challenge and rethink my beliefs about homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, same-sex-marriage, LGBTQ people, sex, marriage, birth control, capital punishment, labor unions, environmentalism, and a host of other hot-button issues. As long as I was in the Evangelical bubble, these things remained unchallenged. Once the Bible lost its authority and control over me, I was then free to change my beliefs.

The Bruce Gerencser of 1983 would not recognize the Bruce Gerencser of today. A man who was a member of one of the churches I pastored in the 1980s and remained a friend of mine until 2009, told me that I had changed teams. And he’s right. My change of beliefs has been so radical that this man told me he could no longer be friends with me. Why? He found my atheism and political beliefs to be too unsettling.

I understand how the trajectory of my life, with its changing religious, political, and social beliefs, troubles people. I try to put myself in their shoes as they attempt to reconcile the Pastor Bruce they once knew with the atheist blogger I am today. How can these things be? former congregants, friends, and colleagues in the ministry want to know. How is it possible that Bruce Gerencser, one of the truest Christians they ever knew, is now an atheist? Some people think there’s some secret I am sitting on, some untold reason for my deconversion. No matter how much time I invest in explaining myself, many people still can’t wrap their minds around my current godlessness and liberal political beliefs. I’ve concluded that there is nothing I can do for them as long as they remain firmly ensconced in the Evangelical bubble.

My political and social beliefs are driven by the humanist ideal; that we humans should work together for the common good; that every person deserves peace, health, happiness, and economic security. I support political and social beliefs that promote these things and oppose those that don’t. I certainly haven’t arrived. My beliefs continue to evolve.

For readers not familiar with humanism, let me conclude this post with the Humanist Manifesto. Atheism doesn’t provide for me a moral foundation. Atheism is simply the absence of belief in gods. It is humanism that provides me the foundation upon which to build my life:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Dear Bruce, Did You Feel “Sad” After Losing Your Belief in the Afterlife?

calvin and hobbes death

Recently, a reader sent me the following question:

My question is this: after you became an atheist, did you feel “sad” (using sad for a lack of a better word) with your new belief that there is no hope of the afterlife, specifically the hope to see deceased loved ones again?

This is an excellent question, one that I hope I can answer adequately and honestly.

Deconversion — the losing of one’s religious faith — brings with it all sorts of emotions. It’s not uncommon for Christians-turned-atheists/agnostics to feel a deep sense of loss. This is especially true for people who spent years in the Christian church. I spent almost fifty years in the Christian church. Twenty-five of those years were spent pastoring Evangelical churches. Christianity and the ministry were the sum of my existence. Yes, I had a beautiful wife and six wonderful children, but they were not as important to me as God and the work I believed he called me to do. My life was consumed day after day, week after week, year after year, with evangelizing the lost, preaching the Word of God, and ministering to the needs of congregants. I had a large network of ministry colleagues, and I was very close to my wife’s family, of whom three were Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastors, along with an evangelist and a missionary. From early morning to late at night, my life revolved around Jesus, the church, and the Bible. And then one day in November 2008, all of this was gone. Everything that gave my life purpose, meaning, and direction was gone. The men I counted as dear friends no longer spoke to me, and my wife’s family treated me as if I had some sort of dreaded disease. All I was left with, ironically, was all that really mattered: Polly, Jason, Nathan, Jaime, Bethany, Laura, Josiah and their spouses and children. It’s too bad that it took me much of my adult life to figure this out.

Ten years ago, I told family, friends, and former parishioners that I was no longer a Christian. For a time, I believed in the existence of some sort of deistic God, but over time I slid farther down the slippery slope of skepticism and reason until I realized that I was, in fact, an atheist (though technically I am an agnostic and an atheist). And once I realized I was an atheist, my next thought was, now what? (See Dear Family, Friends, and Former ParishionersDear Friend, and  the series From Evangelicalism to Atheism.)

I remember many a sleepless night after I deconverted, my mind filled with fear, doubt, and sadness. I wondered, Bruce, what if you are wrong? What if the Christian God really does exist? Man, you are so going to burn in Hell. I worried about my wife’s increasing agnosticism, concerned that God would hold me accountable for her loss of faith if I was wrong. I often had thoughts about death and the meaning of life. Having lost all my social connections, I often wondered if I would ever have friends again. And so, for months, my thoughts focused on what I had lost, and not what I had gained. I conversed with several Evangelical-turned-atheist acquaintances, telling them about my restless thoughts. I was told, give it time. Things will, I promise, get better. And sure enough, they were right. As months turned into years, thoughts about God vanished, and in their place came thoughts of making the most of what years I had left. I lamented the fact that I had wasted most of my life chasing a phantasm, pursuing promises that would never be fulfilled. But lamenting that which I lost did nothing for the present. I had before me a wide-open path upon which to walk. No God stood in my way. Where I took my life post-Jesus was all up to me.

These days, the only time I have thoughts about God is when I am writing a post for this blog. God is now, for me, an academic exercise, as is the Bible. I know I have been given a great responsibility to be a help to people who are trying to extricate themselves from the pernicious vice-like grip of Evangelical Christianity. I have received countless emails over the years from people who need help freeing themselves from Evangelicalism. Sometimes, people are so ensnared that it is hard to see for them a clear path to faithlessness that doesn’t first cause great heartache. I have wept over emails detailing marriages that ended in divorce over a husband or wife sharing with their spouse their loss of faith, only to be told, if you ask me to choose between you and Jesus, I am going to choose Jesus. I have also wept over stories from people who were ostracized by their families over their atheism/agnosticism; sons and daughters who were told they were no longer welcome in their parents’ home or no longer invited to family holiday gatherings.

Walking away from Evangelicalism and embracing atheism/agnosticism can be costly. (See Count the Cost Before You Say I Am an Atheist.) Not only a must new atheist face social and familial fall-out from the deconversion, he or she must also wrestle with the implications of new-found beliefs. One such wrestling match is the loss of belief in the afterlife. The power of Christianity rests in its ability to convince people that everyone is a sinner, there is life after death, and the church is the sole salesman of the ticket required to gain entrance into Heaven. Remove the afterlife from the equation — threats of Hell and promises of Heaven — and Christian churches would empty out overnight.

My Dad died at the age of forty-nine. Mom killed herself at age fifty-four. My Dad’s parents died in the early 1960s. My Mom’s dad died in the early 2000s — good riddance, and my favorite grandmother died in 1995. I dearly miss my parents and my one grandmother. I so wish I could, at this juncture in my life, sit down with them and talk about life, past and present. But wishing doesn’t change the fact that they are dead and I will never see them again. Polly’s parents are in their eighties. Every time the phone rings, we wonder, is this someone calling to tell us Mom or Dad is dead? I have a younger brother and sister, neither of whom is in good health.

I have my own battles with chronic pain and illness. I know that most of my life is in the rear-view mirror. Over the weekend, I was setting up a new LED studio light in my upstairs photography studio. Polly was helping me. As I was working on the light, I decided to sit in my wheelchair. I started to sit down, only to have the wheelchair kick out from under me. I hit the floor, much to Polly’s horror, with a big thud. Fortunately, I didn’t break anything, but days later I am still dealing with the physical consequences of my fall. Polly and I both know that death could come at any moment. Until October of last year, Polly was a picture of good health. That picture quickly changed one morning when Polly woke me up, telling me that her heart was beating really fast. I checked her blood pressure, and sure enough her resting pulse rate was 180. Off to the emergency room we went. Polly was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. If that wasn’t enough to deal with, three months later she developed a bleeding problem that required surgery.

In recent months, both of us have talked about losing the other, trying to imagine how life would be without the other one. We make jokes, of course, because that’s what Gerencsers do. It is though humor we embrace the reality that someday, be it tonight or twenty years from now, the ugly specter of death is going to come knocking at our door. As realists, we know that only in this life will we have each other. One day, our hearts will break as one of us says goodbye to the other. We know that we shall never see each other again; that the only things that will remain are the memories we have of one another.

So, to answer the question posed at the start of this post, yes, there are times I feel sad about the permanence of death. Who among us hasn’t had thoughts of what it will be like when the light of your life turns dark. Just the other day, I was thinking about death and how it brings an immediate cessation of life. I know, not a deep thought. But, it got me thinking about how much time I waste doing things that really don’t matter or have little value. If the battery in the clock of my life is slowly running out, what is it that I want to do with what life I have left? My death will certainly cause sadness for my family and friends, but if, while I am alive, I do all I can to love them and enter into their lives in meaningful ways, then perhaps their sadness will be lessened.

It’s impossible to escape sadness and heartache in this life. If atheism has taught me anything, it has taught me life can be harsh, cruel, and unfair. This site’s ABOUT page leaves readers with the following advice:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

I hope I have, to some degree, answered the aforementioned question. If you are an atheist or an agnostic, how do you deal with thoughts about the finality of death, and the sadness that comes when thinking about never seeing your loved ones again? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Catch-All Bible Verses: Is the Human Body the Temple of the Christian God?

fat preacher

Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers love to preach on “sin.” Thanks to their extra-Biblical rules and personal interpretations of the Bible, these preachers often have long lists of behaviors that are deemed “sinful.”  No two preachers have the same sin list. Many IFB preachers believe it is a sin for women to wear pants, while other preachers believe it is okay as long as the pants aren’t form-fitting. The same could be said about whether it is a sin for men to have long hair, mustaches, or beards. Here’s one thing I know: take any behavior humans practice and it is likely you will find an IFB preacher somewhere who believes that behavior is a horrific sin against his version of the Christian God. (see An Independent Baptist Hate List and The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook)

IFB preachers are big on having “proof” for their beliefs. I attended and pastored IFB churches well into my late 30s, and I said and heard preachers say countless times, The BIBLE says or GOD says . . . These anti-sin crusaders are adept at molesting the Bible, grooming it so it will comply with their every authoritarian, controlling wish. Being raised in such an abusive environment conditions people in such a way that they believe the abuse is normal; that whatever the preacher says is true, straight from the mouth of God.

Take Ephesians 4:27; six little words that IFB preachers turn into rants against a plethora of behaviors they deem sinful. The verse says, neither give place to the devil. In other words, don’t let the devil gain access, influence, or control your life. Seems pretty straight forward advice for people who believe there’s a devil and hosts of demons walking to and fro on the earth, seeking whom they may devour — as the Bible says in I Peter 5:8. Unfortunately, however, many IFB preachers use this verse as a jumping off point, launching themselves into slobbery shouts against behaviors they deem to be “giving place to the devil.” Years ago, I heard a notable preacher at a pastor’s conference in Columbus, Ohio, preach on Ephesians 4:27. He made no attempt to exegete the text, nor did he pay any attention to its context. He had a truckload of axes he needed to grind, so after reading these six little words, he launched into a forty-minute sermon that labeled numerous human behavior sinful, including attending the wrong college, using the wrong Bible, or fellowshipping with the “wrong” preachers. As was the custom at such meetings, the preacher of the hour received countless AMEN’S and YOU PREACH IT BROTHER! Never mind the fact that his sermon was thirty seconds of Bible and thirty-nine minutes thirty seconds of bullshit and personal opinion.

Another six-word verse used in the aforementioned way is 1 Thessalonians 5:22. Abstain from all appearance of evil, the inspired, inerrant King James Bible says. These kinds of verses are what I call a catch-all verses, verses meant to cover bad behaviors not explicitly mentioned in the Bible. I played high school basketball. My coaches taught me to avoid doing things during games that looked like fouls. If it looks like a foul, it is a foul, I was told. One of the most irritating moments in a game is to be called for a foul you didn’t commit. I may not have committed the foul, but in the eyes of the official it looked like I did, and that’s all that mattered (I much preferred the no blood, no foul rule of summer playground games). The six words of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 are the IFB version of if it looks like a sin, it is a sin.

For many years — eleven, to be exact — I picked up an older woman at her home and drove her to church. She was legally blind, and was twenty years older than I. She was not in the least attractive — at least to me, anyway. For the five years our church operated a Christian school, I would pick up this woman so she could watch our children while Polly and I taught classes. She was a wonderful, delightful woman who would do anything for us. She was tragically killed a few years back in an automobile accident.

One of the resident Pharisees in the church took issue with me picking up this woman for church. She and her husband even floated a rumor that suggested this woman and I were having an affair. The legs of this rumor were 1 Thessalonians 5:22 — abstain from all appearance of evil. In the minds of accusers, the mere fact that a woman who was not my wife was riding in my car was sufficient grounds to accuse me of impropriety. This type of slander happened several times during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. I had many faults, but having affairs was not one of them.

I refused to let such people turn my good works into “sins.” I knew that no matter what I did, someone might consider a certain behavior of mine sinful. Some colleagues of mine were so paranoid about giving the appearance of evil that they, for example, wouldn’t go a movie theater to see a G-rated kid’s movie because the theater also played R-rated movies. And if they happened to be seen by a church member coming out of the theater, why, that person might think they were watching one of the R-rated movies. This same logic applied to renting movies. I knew pastors who wouldn’t frequent a video store lest someone see them and think they were renting movies other than Bambi or Five Mile Creek. One former friend of mine, to this day, won’t eat in restaurants that serve alcohol. Why? Abstain from all appearance of evil. This same man would buy groceries at stores that sold booze and buy gasoline at convenience stores that sold beer and Hustler, but he refused to enter a restaurant that served the devil’s brew. This man loved to eat, especially meat, but because he was so worried about giving the appearance of evil that the best steak he ever ate was a gristle-filled, packing-grade, beat-all-to-shit piece of meat at Ponderosa — or as we in our home called the place, a-pound-of-grossa.

Another pertinent passage is 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

According to many IFB preachers, 1 Corinthians 6:19,20 teaches that the bodies of Christians are temples in which God, the Holy Ghost lives. Non-Christians, of course, are empty temples in need of filling. This is another one of those verses that is used as a catch-all. Every IFB preacher has his own list of behaviors that he believes pollute the temple of God. The two biggies? Alcohol and tobacco.

Jesse Morrell, an open air (street preaching) missionary, recently released a two-minute YouTube video about cigar-smoking Calvinists. There’s been a recent trend in Evangelical circles for believers to trim the sharp edges of their social prohibitions. Drinking alcohol and smoking are two “sins” that have now been, in the eyes of some Evangelicals (especially Calvinists), deemed okay for Christians to do. Over the years, I have received numerous emails from Evangelicals wanting to impress me with their “worldliness.” These sinners want me to know that they are NOT like the Evangelicals I write about, that they have the freedom to drink an occasional glass a wine and smoke a stogie. In their minds, these behaviors only become sin when done to excess — with excess never being clearly defined. Evidently, one man’s excess is another man’s let’s party liberty.

Morrell will have none of this. In his mind, any form of smoking is s-i-n, an affront to his God. Every time someone takes a puff on a cigar he is polluting God’s temple and aggravating the Holy Spirit’s asthma. Here’s what he had to say:

Video Link

Growing up in the IFB church, I heard a lot of sermons about not polluting the temple of God. Believing that God lived inside — oh where oh were does he live? and surely there’s a sex joke that needs telling about God being inside you — of everyone who was born again, preachers would preach thunderous sermons against drinking alcohol, smoking, or taking illegal drugs. I heard several preachers who even questioned taking prescription drugs, calling on sanctified followers of Jesus to ask themselves, do I really need to take these pills? I knew people who suffered with pain because they refused to take doctor-prescribed pain medications. Fearing addiction, polluting the temple of God, or wanting to show that they could valiantly suffer, these Christians chose to have bodies wracked with pain rather than risk God getting high. (see Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, Dinosaurs, and the Sin of Smoking)

What I found ironic is that many IFB preachers were overweight. Some of them were obese as I now am. These overweight, out-of-shape consumers of way too many fried chicken legs and slices of cherry pie would, using 1 Corinthians 6:19,20, rail against drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes — smoking won’t send you to hell, but it sure will make you smell like you have already been there — while at the same time never mentioning overeating. My explanation of this fact back in my preaching days was simple: virtually every human behavior was a sin, so overeating was the one sin Baptists were going to indulge in without feeling guilty. IFB congregations love their chicken dinners, potlucks, fellowship meals, and numerous other food-focused events. Bless God, beer and Marlboros have never touched their lips, but fat-laden, high-calorie food? Bring me another plate, Sister Maybelle. It’s time to feed the Holy Spirit!

All that this shows, of course, is that the Bible can be used to “prove” anything is a “sin,” and once something has been deemed sinful, IFB preachers feel it their duty to regulate and control human behavior, making sure church members toe the line. Never mind the fact that most of the “sins” IFB preachers preach against are not mentioned in the Bible, or that the some of the behaviors now deemed sinful were practiced by none other than Jesus himself two thousand years ago. Yes siree, Bob, Jesus drank wine. I bet the man, the myth and the legend even over-indulged a time or two, or fifty. That’s a Biblical and historical fact, yet some IFB preachers will go to great lengths to prove that Jesus drank Welch’s grape juice, and not fermented wine. The Bible speaks of Jesus hanging out with sinners, but he brought a juice box so he didn’t have to drink Boone’s Farm, right? Such is the logic found in many IFB churches.

It is said that Baptist Fundamentalism is no fun and all mental. Sadly, this line accurately describes what goes on in many IFB churches. Imagine being immersed in such a culture your entire life and then one day waking up and realizing you were in a cult. That describes my wife and me. Polly was in her forties before she ever wore pants. We lived in Yuma, Arizona, at the time. One day, we were at Target and I suggested to Polly that she buy a pair of capri pants. Why, you would have thought I had asked her to strip and run naked through the store! After a bit of mental strong-arming, I convinced Polly to “sin.” No lightning from heaven, no being struck dead by the Evangelical God. Polly survived, and now it’s to the point where I say, it would sure be nice to see you in a dress every once in a while. Of course, I used to dress up when I went out in public; you know the whole having-a-“good”-testimony-before-the-world thing, but one day I “discovered” blue jeans and t-shirts. The rest, as they say, is history. These days, we will, several times a year, dress up and go out on a date. I will even wear dress shoes and a tie!

Polly and I faced many such conflicts once we began moving away from Fundamentalism. The list of things we first started doing in our forties and fifties is long: drinking alcohol, watching R-rated movies, going to the movies, listening to secular music, and expanding our sexual practices, to name a few. Every “sin” abandoned brought first a sense of guilt, and then relief. For Polly and me, we are, in many ways, experiencing for the first time things that normal people experienced as teenagers or young adults. Our only regret is that we waited this long to enjoy life. Well, that and wishing we had young bodies to enjoy the “sins” of our late-in-life teenage years.

This post has now passed the two-thousand-word mark, so it’s time for me to stop circling the runway and land this plane. Please share in the comment section your own experiences growing up in IFB/Evangelical churches. What were “sins” back in the day that you now heartily and lustily commit?

Note

Two other catch-all verses came to mind as I was landing the plane:

It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. (Luke 17:2)

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. (I Corinthians 10:31)

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Evangelical Man Upset That I Didn’t Show Reverence and Respect for the Bible

bible made me an atheist

I recently had a brief comment section discussion with an Evangelical man about the Bible. I posed some questions to him that I thought would challenge his beliefs, but instead of answering them, he replied:

The words you use to speak about the Bible are far away from ‘adult level’ as you demand /expect in your blog policy from others.

I will not respond to your statements anymore. Not that there is not enough things to address but I will not communicate on such a demeaning language level and rather use my time differently.

What did I say that proved to so offensive to this believer? Here’s what transpired (all grammatical errors in the original text):

Ronny: While it seems on the surface you are doing a good job defeating christianity, when one knows enough Bible it becomes evident that you are not right. Lets just say for example that ‘Christians live like the rest of us’. Which so called Christians did you get to know? Yes Christians sin acc. to 1 John. But they sin less and less as they grow in their faith. A REAL Christian IS different from the world. Those that you describe fall into the category of Mt 7. There is more to respond to you but my tram arrives in one minute so I say goodbye.

Bruce: The neat thing about the Bible is that it can be used to prove virtually anything. Actually 1 John says that those who sin are of the devil. Are Christians, then, of the devil?

The definition of what a REAL Christian is varies from sect to sect, church to church, and believer to believer. What makes you right and other Christians wrong? Why should anyone accept your peculiar interpretation over that of anyone else?

My observations about Christianity are both specific and general. I was a pastor for twenty-five years. I pastored a lot of people and knew many of their secrets. I stand by my observations.

Thank you for commenting.

Ronny: I am a bit surprised that you let me comment actually. I thought because I mentioned scripture that my response would have been deleted because of your policy. But how can we talk about christianity and not use bible verses acc. your policy…

Anyhow there is much to comment but if I e.g. take your statement that those people are of the devil – you have to look at the greek. And isnt poio/prasso speaking of a habitual lifestyle? And even if I am wrong here because I am not the biggest scholar, we ought to always take the full counsel of God and not one verse.

And I understand that you got to know many professing Christians, my point is that ‘many will say to me Lord Lord’ Mt7, and ‘broad is the way’ – people who profess Jesus but look like the world (James…) dont posess faith. And it saddens me that Gods name is put down because of such people. The fruit of the Spirit IS, yes, and it is seen in people like Paul, Jesus, John, and people of our day as well if you not just look for any professing people but Christians who do not play a game but take God and faith seriously.

I hope people who read this will not judge Christinity acc. to the majority of Christians who only are believers by name and not lifestyle.

Bruce: So let me see if I understand your argument:

1. We need to understand Biblical Greek to properly interpret the Bible; that the indwelling of the Spirit is not — contrary to what the Bible says — sufficient to teach and guide believers in truth.

2. The verses in question cannot mean what I say they do because they contradict your interpretation of other verses and don’t fit in your theological box.

3. And even if the verses mean what I say they do, they are talking about habitual sin, not one-off or infrequent sins. At what point does behavior become habitual? Using your logic, if a man only murders one person, that’s okay since it’s not “habitual.” Of course, the Bible says no murderers will inherit the kingdom of God. The Bible says the same about adulterers. Thus, anyone who divorces and remarries and anyone who lustfully looks at a woman won’t inherit the kingdom of God. The Bible is a real bitch, Ronny. By all means, dance your way out of the plain/rational interpretations and conclusions of the aforementioned verses.

4. You are a true Christian. The people I knew — numbering in the thousands weren’t true Christians. How convenient.

Do you sin? How often do you sin? How many sins does a habit make? The Bible says, be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect. Are you perfect?

As with all Christians, you have taken the Bible and shaped it into proof for the veracity of your beliefs and lifestyle. You are a true Christian. Why? Because your peculiar interpretation of the Bible says you are. Again, how convenient.

Here’s what I know. I took my faith seriously. I spent much of my life trying to live according to the teachings of the Bible. I was, in every way, a committed follower of Jesus. I was, at the same time, a sinner, yea, even a habitual sinner. The fruit of the Spirit was my goal, one that I never met. I’ve known countless dedicated followers of Jesus. They too strived to live according to the teachings of the Bible. Yet, they failed to measure up to the fruit of the Spirit standard. All these people, according to you, were false believers. Again, how convenient.

Bruce: The policy about Bible verses is the result of Evangelicals beating people over the heads with the Bible or suggesting that the people who frequent this blog haven’t read the Bible or don’t “understand” its teachings. Such behaviors are offensive, so I don’t allow them.

Evangelicals wrongly believe that the Bible is coherent in its presentation of theology and history. The Bible is, in fact, contradictory, often incoherent, and a source of endless debate. If the Bible is God’s Word, he must have been drunk or high when he wrote it.

As I told you previously, the Bible can be used to prove almost anything. For example, I assume you have a Trinitarian view of God. I can take Genesis 1-3 and show that God is not a triune being, that there are, instead, multiple Gods. The awesome thing about no longer being a Christian is that I no longer need to make the Bible fit a certain theological box. I can read the Bible and come to different conclusions than most Evangelicals. What if my interpretation is right? What if the Bible teaches polytheism, not monotheism?

Ronny: The words you use to speak about the Bible are far away from ‘adult level’ as you demand /expect in your blog policy from others.I will not respond to your statements anymore. Not that there is not enough things to address but I will not communicate on such a demeaning language level and rather use my time differently.

So, what did I say that was so offensive? I suppose the line, the Bible is a real bitch might beyond the pale to some Evangelicals, but there’s nothing in my responses that was the least bit offensive. Perhaps, the man didn’t like me suggesting that maybe God was high or drunk when he wrote the Bible (the Bible does say with God ALL things are possible). All I did was give my perspective and ask the commenter questions. What seems far more likely to me is that the commenter could not answer my questions, so he found something to be offended over, and this allowed him — in his mind — to justify ignoring and dismissing my questions.

This leads me, then, to this question: is the Bible worthy of reverence and respect? The short answer is “no.” Why should the Bible be treated differently from other books? Evangelicals have all sorts of rules about the Bible. Some Christians believe it’s a sin to write in the Bible, while other believers make copious notes and underline. In IFB churches, it was not uncommon for children and teenagers to have big-name preachers autograph their Bibles.  My pastor encouraged members to seek out the autographs of men “greatly used by God.” He also told us to record in the front of our Bibles the date, time, and place where we were saved. This way, we would never forget when it was that we were born again.

Some Christians believe it is wrong to put anything on top of the Bible. I attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio in the 1970s. Teenagers were encouraged to carry their Bibles to school; not under your books, but right on top so everyone could see it. I was one of a handful of a students who displayed my religion for all to see. One day, an acquaintance of mine took my Bible and started a hot potato game with it. Around and around my Bible went, until my classmates finally tired of tossing my Bible around. After a few weeks, I decided to leave my Bible at home. While I was still quite vocal about my beliefs, I didn’t like the attention carrying my Bible brought.

Regardless of what rules they might hold to, most Evangelical revere and respect the Bible. This makes sense, I suppose, when you consider that Evangelicals believe the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, infallible book written by the Christian God. In their minds, the Bible is different from all the other books ever written. It’s a supernatural book written by a supernatural God. Thus, to say anything negative about the Bible is considered offensive.

However, I don’t believe the Bible is a supernatural text. It is, at best, a collection of ancient writings. Its words may at one time have had great significance, but they no longer do today. While the Bible remains a top seller, it is also a book that most people never or rarely read.  Evangelicals base so much of their life on what their pastor says the Bible says, yet few of them have read it from cover to cover. How can someone be a Christian, a Bible-believer, and not completely read through the Bible at least once? If the Bible is so damn important, why do Christians treat it like a museum piece; something to be looked at but not read?

Ronny is not the first person to feign offense as a way to avoid my questions. I know how Evangelicals think about the Bible. I am conversant in all things Evangelical. So, I can quickly distill what it is commenters such as Ronny are trying to say. The Bible remains a book that can be used to prove almost any belief. That’s why there are thousands of Christian sects and thousands of Evangelical churches. Each denomination and church believes that they have the truth, and any “truth” that contradicts theirs is false.

My objective is to point out that their certainty is grounded in arrogance and not facts, and that there are competing and contradictory narratives in the Bible. Within its pages, readers will find multiple Gods and multiple plans of salvation. The Bible is a wonderful book, especially for buffet Christians. Eat what you want, ignore the rest. And all the people of God said, AMEN!

Books by Bart Ehrman

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

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.