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Questions: Bruce, Did You and Polly Try Other “Gods” Before You Deconverted?

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Question from social media:

Bruce, did you and Polly try other “Gods” before you deconverted?

The short answer is no. I have never thought I had to try every flavor and brand of whiskey to decide whether I like whiskey. While the flavors can be distinct and brands can differ from one another, whiskey is whiskey. I have four different brands of whiskey in our liquor cabinet. Each tastes slightly different from the others, but none to such a degree that I can’t tell I am drinking whiskey. Get a dozen whiskey aficionados in one room and ask them which whiskey is “God,” and you will get all sorts of answers. But none of them will say that this or that glass of whiskey is not whiskey. So it is with “God.”

I was born in a Christian nation, a country that prides itself in freedom of religion, yet is dominated by Christianity. I came of age in Evangelical Christianity. Saved and baptized at the age of fifteen in an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, I later attended a small IFB college, married an IFB pastor’s daughter, and spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical (IFB, Southern Baptist, Christian Union, Sovereign Grace, and Non-denominational) churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. It is Christianity — particularly Evangelicalism — that I know well. It is the religion of my tribe and my culture. It is this religion I primarily deconverted from.

I pastored my last church in 2003. Between July 2002 and November 2008, my wife and I and our children personally visited the churches listed below. These are the church names we could remember. There are others we have either forgotten or vaguely remember, so we didn’t put them on the list. Churches in bold we attended more than once. All told, from 2002-2008 we visited about 125 churches.

Churches We Visited 2002-2008Location
Our Father’s HouseWest Unity, Ohio
First Brethren ChurchBryan, Ohio
First Baptist ChurchBryan, Ohio
Grace Community ChurchBryan, Ohio
Lick Creek Church of the BrethrenBryan,Ohio
First Church of ChristBryan, Ohio
Eastland Baptist ChurchBryan, Ohio
Bryan Alliance ChurchBryan, Ohio
Union Chapel Church of GodBryan, Ohio
Celebrate Life Christian FellowshipBryan, Ohio
Faith United Methodist ChurchBryan, Ohio
Trinity Episcopal ChurchBryan, Ohio
Archbold Evangelical ChurchArchbold, Ohio
Sherwood Baptist ChurchSherwood, Ohio
Ney Church of GodNey, Ohio
Ney United Methodist ChurchNey, Ohio
Sonrise Community ChurchNey, Ohio
Farmer United Methodist ChurchFarmer, Ohio
Lost Creek Emmanuel Missionary ChurchFarmer, Ohio
Hicksville Church of the NazareneHicksville, Ohio
Community Christian CenterHicksville, Ohio
Grace Bible ChurchButler, Indiana
St John’s Lutheran ChurchDefiance, Ohio
Harvest Life FellowshipDefiance, Ohio
Community Christian CenterDefiance, Ohio
Second Baptist ChurchDefiance, Ohio
First Baptist ChurchDefiance, Ohio
Grace Episcopal ChurchDefiance, Ohio
First Assembly of GodDefiance, Ohio
Defiance Christian ChurchDefiance, Ohio
First Presbyterian ChurchDefiance, Ohio
St John’s United Church of ChristDefiance, Ohio
Peace Lutheran ChurchDefiance, Ohio
Pine Grove Mennonite ChurchStryker, Ohio
St James Lutheran ChurchBurlington, Ohio
Zion Lutheran ChurchEdgerton, Ohio
Northwest Christian ChurchEdon, Ohio
Restoration FellowshipWilliams Center, Ohio
Pioneer Bible FellowshipPioneer, Ohio
Frontier Baptist ChurchFrontier, Michigan
Salem Mennonite ChurchWaldron, Michigan
Waldron Wesleyan ChurchWaldron, Michigan
Lickley Corners Baptist ChurchWaldron, Michigan
Prattville Community ChurchPrattville, Michigan
Betzer Community ChurchPittsford, Michigan
Fayette Church of the NazareneFayette, Ohio
Fayette Bible ChurchFayette, Ohio
Fayette Christian ChurchFayette, Ohio
Morenci Bible FellowshipMorenci, Michigan
First Baptist ChurchMorenci, Michigan
Demings Lake Reformed Baptist ChurchDemings Lake, Michigan
Medina Federated ChurchMedina, Michigan
Thornhill Baptist ChurchHudson, Michigan
First Baptist ChurchHudson, Michigan
Rollins Friends ChurchAddison, Michigan
Canandaigua Community ChurchCanandaigua. Michigan
Alvordton United BrethrenAlvordton, Ohio
Pettisville Missionary ChurchPettisville, Ohio
Vineyard ChurchToledo, Ohio
Providence Reformed Baptist ChurchToledo, Ohio
Lighthouse Memorial ChurchMillersport, Ohio
Newark Baptist TempleHeath, Ohio
Church of GodHeath, Ohio
30th Street Baptist ChurchHeath, Ohio
St Francis De Sales Catholic ChurchNewark, Ohio
Bible Baptist ChurchNewark, Ohio
Cedar Hill Baptist ChurchNewark, Ohio
Eastland Heights Baptist ChurchNewark, Ohio
Northside Baptist ChurchNewark, Ohio
Newark Brethren ChurchNewark, Ohio
St John’s Lutheran ChurchNewark, Ohio
Vineyard of Licking CountyNewark, Ohio
Vineyard Grace FellowshipNewark, Ohio
Grace FellowshipNewark, Ohio
Faith Bible ChurchJersey, Ohio
Vineyard Christian ChurchPataskala, Ohio
Cornerstone Baptist ChurchNew Lexington, Ohio
St Nicolas Greek Orthodox ChurchFort Wayne, Indiana
Nondenominational ChurchAngola, Indiana
Nondenominational ChurchFremont, Indiana
Victory Baptist ChurchClare, Michigan
First Assembly of GodYuma, Arizona
Desert Grace Community ChurchYuma, Arizona
Calvary Lutheran ChurchYuma, Arizona
Bible Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Calvary ChapelYuma, Arizona
OasisYuma, Arizona
Faith Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Valley Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Calvary Assembly of GodYuma, Arizona
Foothills Assembly of GodYuma, Arizona
Morningside Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Faith Horizons Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Stone Ridge Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Old Order Mennonite ChurchYuma, Arizona
Grace Bible FellowshipYuma, Arizona
Calvary Temple of ChristYuma, Arizona
Maranatha Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Independent Lutheran ChurchYuma, Arizona
Community Christian ChurchYuma, Arizona
Church meeting in funeral chapelYuma, Arizona
Pentecostal ChurchWinterhaven, California
North Holtville Friends ChurchHoltville, California
Sierra Vista Baptist ChurchSierra Vista, Arizona
Hedgesville Baptist ChurchHedgesville, West Virginia
New Life Baptist ChurchWeston, West Virginia

As you can see, we covered our bases when it came to organized Christianity. We didn’t visit any IFB churches, nor did we focus solely on Evangelical congregations. Been there, done that, right? Seen one, seen them all? Go ahead and start whining now. I know, I know, your church is DIFFERENT! Sure it is.

We saw no need to visit Jewish or Muslim congregations. While there are differences between the three Abrahamic religions, not so much so that you can’t determine their veracity without immersing yourself in their writings. All three are text-based monotheistic religions that allegedly worship the same deity.

We understood that we were frail, finite beings, marching one step at a time towards death. Having been taught that non-Christians would spend eternity being tortured by God in a burning Lake of Fire, we were naturally fearful about choosing the wrong religion or worshipping the wrong God. Once we determined that the Bible was not what Evangelicals claimed it was and the central claims of Christianity were false, we lost our fear of Hell. Not right away. It took time to undo five decades of religious indoctrination and conditioning.

Granted, some Christians reject a literal Hell and eternal punishment, crafting all sorts of workarounds meant to not make God look like the monster he most certainly is. I read several books on annihilationism, universalism, etc., and concluded that all of them were intellectually lacking; written by authors who couldn’t bear to let go of God and their chosen religion. (And I am not suggesting their writing was without merit. I just concluded that their views were not intellectually compelling; not enough to sway me to their side.)

I am an agnostic atheist. While I can’t say for certain that no gods exist, I am confident that they don’t. I could be wrong, but I doubt that I am. When it comes to the Christian deity, I am convinced that he is a work of fiction. No amount of reading or study will convince me otherwise. I have studied the lay of land, having spent decades reading the Bible and Christian theology. I can’t imagine a Christian apologist saying something or making an argument that I have not heard before. Thus, I have closed the book on Christianity. Perhaps, in the future, a God not yet known will reveal itself to us. If that happens, I will consider that God’s or its follower’s claims accordingly (if he or she makes any).

Humans worship countless Gods. According to Wikipedia — the one true God — there are approximately 4,200 world religions or denominations. Need I study all of them, attend their worship services, or read their texts before I conclude they are false? No. It would take a lifetime to do so — a waste of time if there ever was one. Remove the religions that threaten judgment and eternal punishment, there is nothing left to fear. Religion then becomes personal and social in nature; that which meets felt needs and gives people meaning and purpose. I have no need of religion to find these things. Secular humanism provides the ethical and moral foundation for my life, and family gives me all the meaning and purpose I need. I have no thoughts about life after death. I don’t want to die, but I know it is inevitable. I don’t fret over that which I cannot control. I choose to live for the moment; to live each day the best I can, surrounded by those who matter to me. Even though my body is wracked with horrible pain, I try to find enjoyment in life. Having six children, sixteen grandchildren, and three cats gives me plenty of opportunities to enjoy life, as does watching wild animals and stray/ferals cats in our backyard, working in the yard, building my model train layout, taking country drives with Polly and Bethany, and writing for this blog. I have much to enjoy in life — all without God.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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What One Catholic Doctor Taught Me About Christianity

william fiorini
Dr. William Fiorini

Originally posted in 2015

In the 1960s, the Gerencser family moved to California, the land of promise and a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. Like many who traveled west, my parents found that life in San Diego was not much different from the life they left in rural northwest Ohio. As in Ohio, my Dad worked sales jobs and drove truck. For the Gerencser family, the pot of gold was empty, and three or so years later we left California and moved back to Bryan, Ohio.

While moving to California and back proved to be a financial disaster for my parents, they did find Jesus at Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego — a Fundamentalist church pastored by Tim LaHaye. Both of my parents made professions of faith at Scott Memorial, as did I when I was five years old. From that point forward, the Gerencser family, no matter where we lived, attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church.

Not only were my parents Fundamentalist Baptists, they were also members of the John Birch Society. While in California, my Mom actively campaigned for Barry Goldwater, and later, back in Ohio, she campaigned for George Wallace. Right-wing religious and political beliefs were very much a part of my young life, so it should come as no surprise that I turned out to be a fire-breathing right-wing Republican and a Fundamentalist Baptist preacher.

If the Baptist church taught me anything, it taught me to hate Catholics. According to my Sunday School teachers and pastors, and later my college professors and ministerial colleagues, the Catholic church was the whore of Babylon (Revelation 17), a false church, the church of Satan and the Antichrist. I was taught that Catholics believed in salvation by works and believed many things that weren’t found in the Bible; things such as: purgatory, church magisterium, the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, transubstantiation, infant baptism, confirmation, priests not permitted to marry, praying to statutes, worshiping the dead, and worshiping Mary. These things were never put in any sort of historical context for me, so by the time I left Midwestern Baptist College in 1979, I was a certified hater of all things Catholic.

In 1991, something happened that caused me to reassess my view of Catholics. My dogma ran head-on into a Catholic that didn’t fit my narrow, bigoted beliefs. In 1989, our fourth child and first daughter was born. We named her Bethany. Our family doctor was William Fiorini. He operated the Somerset Medical Clinic in Somerset, Ohio, the same town where I pastored an IFB church. Dr. Fiorini was a devout Catholic, a post-Vatican II Catholic who had been greatly influenced by the charismatic revival that swept through the Catholic church in the 1970s and 1980s. He was a kind and compassionate man. He knew our family didn’t have insurance or much money, and more than a few times the treatment slip turned in after a visit said N/C (no charge).

Bethany seemed quite normal at first. It wasn’t until she was sixteen months old that we began to see things that worried us. Her development was slow and she couldn’t walk. One evening, we drove over to Charity Baptist Church in Beavercreek, Ohio to attend a Bible conference. The woman watching the nursery asked us about Bethany having Down syndrome. Down syndrome? Our little girl wasn’t retarded. How dare this woman even suggest there was something wrong with our daughter.

Bethany continued to struggle, reaching development stages months after infants and toddlers typically do. Finally, we went to see Dr. Fiorini. He suggested that we have Bethany genetically tested. We took her to Ohio State University Hospital for the test, and a few weeks later, just days before Bethany’s second birthday and the birth of our daughter Laura, we received a phone call from Dr. Fiorini. He told us the test results were back and he wanted to talk to us about them. He told us to come to his office after he finished seeing patients for the day and he would sit down and talk with us about the test results.

The test showed that Bethany had Down syndrome. Her Down syndrome features were so mild that the obstetrician missed the signs when she was born. Here we were two years later finding out that our oldest daughter had a serious developmental disability. Our Catholic doctor, a man I thought was a member of the church Satan built and headed for Hell, sat down with us, and with great love and compassion shared the test results. He told us that many miscarriages are fetuses with Down syndrome, and that it was evident that God wanted to bless us with a special child like Bethany. He answered every question and treated us as he would a member of his own family.

This Catholic didn’t fit my narrow, bigoted picture of what a Catholic was. Here was a man who loved people, who came to an area that had one of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in Ohio, and started a one-doctor practice. (He later added a Nurse practitioner, a nun who treated us when we couldn’t get in to see the doctor.) He worked selflessly to help everyone he could. On more than one occasion, I would pass him on the highway as his wife shuttled him from Zanesville to Lancaster — the locations of the nearest hospitals. Often, he was slumped over and asleep in the passenger’s seat. He was the kind of doctor who gave me his home phone number and said to call him if I ever needed his help. He told us there was no need to take our kids to the emergency room for stitches or broken bones. He would gladly stitch them up, even if we didn’t have an appointment.

Dr. Fiorini wasn’t perfect. One time, he almost killed me. He regularly treated me for throat infections, ear infections, and the like. Preaching as often as I did, I abused my voice box and throat. I also have enlarged adenoids and tonsils, and I breathe mostly through my mouth. As a result, I battled throat and voice problems my entire preaching career. One day, I came to see Dr. Fiorini for yet a-n-o-t-h-e-r throat infection. He prescribed an antibiotic and told me to take it easy. He knew, like himself, I was a workaholic and would likely ignore his take-it-easy advice. Take the drug, wait a few weeks, and just like always I would be good as new. However, this time it didn’t work. Over two months, as I got sicker and sicker, he tried different treatments. Finally, he did some additional testing and found out I had mononucleosis; the kissing disease for teens, a deadly disease for a thirty-four-year-old man. Two days later, I was in the hospital with a 104-degree fever, a swollen spleen and liver, and an immune system on the verge of collapse.

An internist came in to talk with my wife and me. He told us that if my immune system didn’t pick up and fight there was nothing he could do. Fortunately, my body fought back and I am here to write about it. My bout with mononucleosis dramatically altered my immune system, making me susceptible to bacterial and viral infections. A strange result of the mononucleosis was that my normal body temperature dropped from 98.6 to 97.0. I lost 50 pounds and was unable to preach for several months.

Once I was back on my feet, Dr. Fiorini apologized to me for missing the mononucleosis. I was shocked by his admission. He showed me true humility by admitting his mistake. I wish I could say that I immediately stopped hating Catholics and condemning them to Hell, but it would be several years before I finally came to the place where I embraced everyone who called themselves a Christian. In the late 1990s, while pastoring Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio, I embraced what is commonly called the social gospel. Doctrine no longer mattered to me. Moving from a text-oriented belief system, I began to focus on good works. Tell me how you live. Better yet, show me; and in the showing, a Catholic doctor taught me what it really meant to be a Christian.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Trying to Help an Evangelical Pastor See the Light

jesus teaching

Originally posted in 2020.

Several weeks ago, a young Southern Baptist preacher contacted me via direct message. Since then, we have had several thoughtful, polite discussions. I am of the opinion that he genuinely wants to understand my story. And I want to do all I can to help him see the light.

Yesterday, Pastor J sent me the following message:

Bruce, if okay, I would like to continue our conversation. What in your life at age 15 compelled you to be saved, baptized, and begin preaching?

I replied:

Conviction of the Holy Spirit and calling by God.

Here’s some of the relevant discussion that followed:

J: Respectfully, may I ask — those same things do not compel you now?

Bruce: No. I now understand such things are psychological, environmental, and cultural in nature.

J: So what you deemed as “conviction of the Holy Spirit” and “calling by God” then, you deem as perhaps a religious delusion now?

Bruce: Religious belief is psychological in nature, driven by cultural, societal, and tribal norms. How we were raised, where we lived, and the expectations of family, friends, and community deeply affect and influence what we believe. Why do most Americans (74%) self-describe as Christian? Why do most Indonesians self-identify as Muslim (87%)? The answer is found by studying religion from a sociological perspective. Whether God exists, matters not. What matters is external influences.

J: I don’t disagree to an extent that we are influenced by those around us and where we live affects how we believe. The statistics you provided intrigue me. I’d be interested how they collect that data. I’ve never been polled personally, or known anyone who was polled. I do think it’s somewhat preposterous to suggest countless people, across thousands of years, have merely gone into a psychological delusion in believing in the God of Christianity, when He doesn’t exist (in the minds of some), and you were somehow duped by your own mind for some 25 years before you had an epiphany.

Bruce: Do you believe Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians?

J: I believe anyone who is regenerated by the Spirit of God, repents of their sins, and places their trust in Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on the cross is a Christian. Most denominations differ on secondary matters, but hold to the core beliefs of the gospel — the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

Bruce: Please answer my question. Your dodge is telling. Do you believe practicing Mormons/Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians? I don’t know of one IFB church/pastor who believes such people are Christians. Are they not cultists who believe in and worship a false Jesus?

J: To be honest, I don’t know all the ins/outs of their religious beliefs. I know more about the Baptist, and Methodist denominations and “charismatic” types like the Church of God, Assembly of God, Pentecostal, etc. With that being said, what specific tenets of their faiths are you asking if I agree or disagree with? I am in the SBC, but came up Missionary Baptist, which differs slightly from IFB.

Bruce: My point is tens of millions of people follow the false Jesuses of these sects. The same could be said for one billion Roman Catholics. This fact directly contradicts your claim that it is preposterous to think Christians are believing in and following a mythical being. If Mormons/JWs/Catholics are following false/mythical Jesuses, why can the same not be said about Evangelicals? (Other than you pleading that your Jesus/God is the “right” one.) The number of people believing something proves nothing.

J: Great point. One way I know Mormonism differs is that one particular individual, Joseph Smith, claimed he received a special vision/revelation from God and that’s how the Book of Mormon was developed. I think you would agree that the same cannot be said of the Bible. 1,600 years, 40 authors, and one central message of Jesus Christ. That the Bible is divinely inspired is not questionable in my opinion. I know many will say that some books were left out (apocrypha) and they do have historical value, but I believe the Bible to be the true words of God and without error.

Bruce: You missed or cannot see my point. The only difference between Mormonism and Christianity is time. What about Islam or Catholicism? Both are ancient Abrahamic religions, each with their own religious texts. Why should I consider them “false” yet consider Christianity true?

J: Christianity is distinctly different from the other religions. Salvation is based, not on anything meritorious on our part, but simply in placing faith in Christ to obtain eternal life. Islam believes that Jesus was a prophet, nothing more. The fact is, when comparing Christianity to the other major religions like Islam and Buddhism, neither of the latter can stack up to the former. There is an empty tomb in Jerusalem. No traces of Jesus’ physical remains are there or have been found. Shrines have been set up for the bones of Mohammed and Buddha. Detractors must explain the empty tomb. Christianity hinges on the truth of the gospel — the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Eyewitnesses were so convinced that Jesus rose from the dead that they went about preaching the gospel and lived and died championing this cause. Either Jesus Christ’s claims are all fabricated and everyone was deceived by this masterful con artist, or He is exactly as He says He is — God Incarnate, the only Savior of the world, and will come again to judge the world in righteousness.

Bruce: Except, it’s not, and that’s my point.

J: We must respectfully disagree sir.

As readers can readily see, Pastor J is steeped in Evangelical dogma and talking points. He wrongly thinks that my facts are just opinions; that statements of faith are empirical facts. Once you reach a point in a discussion where one party thinks facts and evidence is “opinion,” it’s impossible to move forward. I appreciate J’s genial tone — a rare character trait among Evangelical preachers — but I do hope that he will think about what I said: that he will ponder and wrestle with the truthfulness of my claims. I’m not trying to convert Pastor J to the one true religion of atheism. My goal is to get him to critically think about the things he believes and the arguments he makes for his peculiar religion.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Luck, Fate, or Providence?

god is in control

As an Evangelical Christian, I believed that God was the sovereign ruler of the universe. I believed God held my life in the palms of his hands. I believed God controlled every aspect of my life, and that life and death were determined by God alone. I believed I wouldn’t die one moment before it was my time to go; that God penciled a death date next to the name of every person ever born. I believed that God had a purpose and plan for my life. I thought this way for almost 50 years.

I have faced numerous circumstances where I could have easily been killed. Accidents, stupid mistakes, exposure to environmental toxins and chemicals, bad decisions by myself or others, serious sickness, and being at the wrong place at the wrong time . . . I could have and should have died long before today.

But here I am, and until 2008, I gave the Christian God all the credit for my continued existence. God wasn’t finished with me, I told myself, wiping my brow after surviving yet another near brush with death. As disease and pain continued to ravage my body, I lived with the calm assurance that God still had plans for me. In some ways, this is a great way to live. No worries . . . God’s on the job and nothing will happen unless God wills it.  The Apostle Paul had the same view:

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39

I willingly subjected myself to a life of poverty because I thought if God wanted me to have more money or a better house and car, he would give them to me. When I began to have health problems in the early 1990s, I saw them as a test from God. God wanted to make me more holy or stronger. God wanted to root out the deep and secret sins that no one but him could see. And no matter how painful the process was, I knew that God loved me and was in charge of everything.

God’s providence: the belief that God knows what’s best for us and doesn’t give us more than we can bear, is actually fatalism. While Christians convince themselves that they are free moral agents, their belief system says differently. Proverbs 16:9 states:

A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.

Proverbs 20:24 states:

Man’s goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way?

Consider these verses:

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Psalm 115:3

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:20

That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity. Isaiah 40:23

This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Zechariah 4:6

O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. II Chronicles 20:6

Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all. Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all. I Chronicles 29:11-12

I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Job 42:2

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Isaiah 46:9-10

Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?  Romans 9:21

Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not? Lamentations 3:37

Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places. Psalm 135:6

But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth. Job 23:13

See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand. Deuteronomy 32:39

For the Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back? Isaiah 14:27

The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand: Isaiah 14:24

These verses are but a small sampling of the Bible verses that declare that God is the boss. He is in control of everything. Of course, this opens up a huge problem for Christians. If God is in control of everything, if nothing happens that God does not decree, purpose, and plan, what about sin and evil? At this point, most Christians run from their beliefs, denying that God has anything to do with evil and sin. However, the Bible says:

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. Isaiah 45:7

That’s right, the Bible says God creates evil. No matter how Christians might object, if they believe in a God who is in control, then they must also believe that he is culpable for evil and sin. Dance any theological or philosophical jig one might, there is no escaping God being the creator of evil. But, but, but . . . no buts. Either God is the CEO of the universe or he’s not. Either he is the first cause, the beginning, and the end, or he is not. Either he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, or he is not.

Believing this way had a profound effect on my life. Instead of realizing that much of what happens in a person’s life is due to good or bad luck, I saw God behind every action, event, and circumstance. Like King David, I said:

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. Psalm 139:11-12

God was omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. For those not schooled in the omnis, God was all-powerful, all-knowing, and present everywhere.

In 2008, God lost control of my life as I began to reclaim it along with the personal responsibility that came with it. No more trusting God’s providence or letting go and letting God. No more puppet strings or “trusting” God to work out everything in my life according to his purpose and plan. As I began to reorient my life according to fact and reason, I was forced to reinvestigate past claims of miracles, moments when God reached down and supernaturally kept me from harm or death. I concluded that every God sighting in my life but one could be explained through natural means. All the supposed answered prayers were really Bruce or some other Christian answering the prayer.

None of us knows how our life will be beyond the next breath. For all I know, this could be the last blog post I write. The Bible is right when it says:

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. Proverbs 27:1

No one knows what tomorrow will be like. We can plan for the future, but we have no promise that things will work out for us. Life is a crapshoot. Live to your 60s and you will realize you are lucky to have made it to old age. The best any of us can do is make responsible decisions based on reason and probabilities and hope things work out for us.

Several years ago, Polly and I took a road trip to Ottoville, Fort Jennings, and Delphos. Like most of our trips, I took my camera equipment with me. As we were wandering around Delphos, we stumbled upon a lock from the era of the Miami and Erie canal. Getting down to the lock was a bit treacherous for me. I wanted to get as close as possible, so I gingerly walked down the concrete abutment to the lock. I didn’t fall, slip, or trip. Lucky me, I thought.

After ten minutes or so, I was ready to return to the car. I had two paths I could take. I could retrace my steps or make a big step and little jump to ground level, Polly said she would give me a hand, so I chose the latter. Polly reached down, took my hand, and began to help me up. And then, our world went crazy. Polly couldn’t pull me up completely, and I violently fell forward, knocking both of us to the ground. If my weight had been balanced slightly the other way, I would have no doubt gone careening down the concrete abutment into the canal. The fall would have likely killed me.

The good news? My cameras escaped damage, though one body had a slight scrape. The hood on the lens kept it from being smashed. Polly ended up with bruised knees and I suffered a twisted ankle and hip and a nasty, bloody contusion on my left leg. 

I know I was lucky. I should have retraced my steps. This was the safe and prudent choice. However, Polly was standing right there and she said she would help. Why not, right? She helps me out of the recliner and car all the time. What neither of us counted on was how difficult it was to pull up a 350-pound man. When Polly pulls me out of the car or the recliner, I help her. This time? I was a dead weight and I almost literally became so.

Lesson learned.

Several years ago, as we were eating lunch, our daughter with Down Syndrome began choking. Due to her disability, she has a thick tongue and can easily choke. This day was different. For the first time, she couldn’t clear her throat. Polly administered the Heimlich maneuver three times before the food was dislodged. I was one second away from calling 911.

This scary circumstance reminded us that we need to pay careful attention to how our daughter eats her food. I talked to her about chewing her food, taking small bites, and not eating hurriedly. She was scared, we were scared, but we all lived to face another day. Our daughter could just as easily have died on our living room floor. Living in the rural area we do, we know that sometimes it is impossible to get quick emergency help. We were lucky, and we know it.

Every brush with death should cause us to reflect on why it happened. Were we culpable? Could we have made a better or different decision? Sometimes, shit happens.

Living is a dangerous proposition. Smart is the person who understands this and acts accordingly. Thinking that God has the whole world in his hands only leads to delusion and discouragement. God isn’t coming to save the day. In 2015, a German airline pilot flew a plane into the ground, killing everyone on board. I am sure, mixed in with the screams, were pleas to God to stop the plane from hitting the ground. Prayer lost out to physics and everyone died.

How about you? How do you live your life? How do you determine risk? Have you ever escaped death after making a decision that should have ended your life? If you once believed in the sovereignty of God, how does a world without a God affect your decision-making process? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Songs of Sacrilege: White Lies, White Jesus, and You by Katie Pruitt

katie pruitt

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

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is White Lies, White Jesus, and You by Katie Pruitt.

Video Link

Lyrics

Waking up in the middle of the night
Someone you love is dying in your dreams
Are you searching for the sermon in the suicide?
Do you need someone to tell you what it means?

If you say that Jesus gives you peace of mind
That’s a good enough reason for me
And if it really helps you get some sleep at night
I’d kill for a little of that peace

You talk about the truth like you are lying
I wonder who you think you’re talking to
Speaking of some things I put behind me
White lies, white Jesus and you

Passing people on the street with picket signs
Warning me of my impending doom
If God’s the one deciding if I make it in
What gives them the power to assume?

Talk about salvation like a birthright
Use it like it’s some kind of excuse
Speaking of some things I put behind me
White lies, white Jesus and you

I still hear the silence on the other line
The consequence of telling you the truth
The way I felt the knife turning into my side
When I heard you say the words, “I’ll pray for you”

‘Cause you talk about forgiveness like a favor
Like it’s something that you didn’t have to do
Speaking of some things I put behind me
White lies, white Jesus and you
White lies, white Jesus and you

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

I Owe It ALL to Jesus! Does Anyone Have God-Given Talent?

without me ye can do nothing

Originally posted in 2020. Edited, updated, and revised.

A boy dreams of being a major league baseball player someday. His parents were both athletes in their younger years, having had some success at the high school and college levels.

As a youth, he grows quickly, seemingly always a head taller than everyone else. He seems more agile than others his age. He is fast on his feet, quick with his mind, and excels at baseball.

Tee-Ball. Little League. Pony League. High School Baseball. College Baseball.

At every level, he excels.

Finally, his big day comes.

A Major League baseball team makes him their number-one draft pick.

It’s not long before he works his way through the minor leagues, and two years after being drafted he makes his major league début.

He is an instant sensation, quickly showing everyone that he is an all-star in the making.

One night, during a game where he went 4-4, hit a home run, drove in 3 runs, and stole a base, the TV broadcaster explains the greatness of this talented baseball player: He has a God-given talent to play like he does.

Nary a person will question such an utterance.

It seems if people excel in life, it is because God has blessed them or God has given them a special dose of talent.

Few are the people who excel in life. Most of us have a few things we are good at, and we try to nurture those things the best we can. We know we will not be remembered for any great feat, nor will the record books make any mention of us. We live, we love, we die, and then we are forgotten.

It would seem that God doesn’t want most of us to be standouts or superstars. God only has a chosen few he blesses with God-given talent.

How does the nontheist explain the baseball player mentioned above? If it is not God-given talent, what is it?

Genetics.

Home environment.

Passion.

Hard work.

Training.

Coaches.

Scouts.

Luck.

All of these are better explanations than God-given talent.

We demean people when we reduce their hard work to something a God allegedly gives them. Here’s what I know: the few things I am good at in life are the result of my diligence, commitment, and hard work. Granted, these things come easily for me, BUT I still work hard to cultivate and improve the talents I have. I suspect it is the same for you too.

I am all for giving credit to whom credit is due. However, God is not on the credit list.

The all-star baseball player helps propel the home team to the World Series. The team handily wins the series and the little boy, now a grown-up all-star player, is voted the series’ most valuable player.

As he is interviewed after the last game of the series, he says “I want to thank God . . .”

And I say to myself or the TV, No, I want to thank YOU. Thank you for playing hard. Thank you for hustling on every play. Thank you for working hard every day to be the very best player you could be.

Video Link

This subject reminds me of my all-time favorite TV prayer. In the movie Shenandoah, Jimmy Stewart uttered the following prayer at the dinner table:

Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked Dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food were about to eat. Amen.

And all the atheists said AMEN.

all things made by god

Many Christians have been taught that without God/Jesus they can do nothing. Their very breath and motor skills come from God. God feeds them, clothes them, gives them a job, gives them a spouse, gives them children, and gives them, well, gives them everything. Jesus said in John 15:5, without me ye can do nothing. Many Christians take this verse to mean that without Jesus they can do absolutely NOTHING. Technically, they don’t really believe this. After all, they do sin. Does God give them the power and ability to sin? Well, that’s different, Bruce. Sin comes from Satan or the flesh. God, who created everything and gives us the breath of life and the ability to exist, gets the credit for the good, but not the bad, right? Good=God, Bad=Satan and the Flesh. But, if God is sovereign, if he is the creator of everything, isn’t he also responsible for sin and the bad things that happen? I thought God has the whole world in his hands and the universe exists because of him?

I am all for giving credit to whom credit is due. If someone can show me God did this or that or God gave so-and-so talent, then I will gladly give God the credit. One question, though. Which God? How do we know it is the Christian God handing out the talent? Does the Christian God put a Made by Jesus label on those he gives talent to? So many questions . . .

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Certainty

certainty erich fromm

Originally posted in 2015. Edited, corrected, and updated.

CERTAINTY

  1. The fact, quality, or state of being certain: the certainty of death.
  2. Something that is clearly established or assured.

SYNONYMS certainty, certitude, assurance, conviction. These nouns mean freedom from doubt. Certainty implies a thorough consideration of evidence: “the emphasis of a certainty that is not impaired by any shade of doubt” (Mark Twain). Certitude is based more on personal belief than on objective facts: “Certitude is not the test of certainty” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.). Assurance is a feeling of confidence resulting from subjective experience: “There is no such thing as absolute certainty, but there is assurance sufficient for the purposes of human life” (John Stuart Mill). Conviction arises from the vanquishing of doubt: “His religion . . . was substantial and concrete, made up of good, hard convictions and opinions. (Willa Cather).

Ah yes, Certainty.

One of the linchpins of Evangelical Christianity is certainty.

I KNOW in whom I have believed, said the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 1:12.

I have a KNOWSO salvation, a line spoken by countless Baptist preachers on Sunday mornings.

Doubt is of the Devil.

Saved or Lost.

Heaven or Hell.

Truth or Error.

Infallibility.

Inerrancy.

A supernatural God who wrote a supernatural book that speaks of supernatural salvation.

You can know for sure_______ (fill in the blank with a theological premise).

If you died today would you go to Heaven?

If there is one error in the Bible then none of it is true.

Yet, for all the Christian-speak about certainty, real life suggests that certainty is a myth.

We live in a world of chance, ambiguity, and doubt.

Will I die today?

Will I have a job tomorrow?

Will I be able to walk a year from now?

What does the future hold for my spouse, children, and grandchildren?

Climate change?

War?

Environmental degradation?

Pandemics?

Who will win the Super Bowl?

Will my garden flourish?

Will I get lucky tonight?

Life is anything but certain.

Evangelical Christians offload the uncertainties of this life to a certain future in Heaven with Jesus. No matter how uncertain the present is, Evangelicals can, with great certainty, KNOW Heaven awaits them.

One problem though . . .

No one KNOWS for sure there is a Heaven.

No one has been to Heaven and returned to Earth to give us a travel report (and those who say they have are either lying or out to make a quick buck).

The Heaven most Evangelicals believe in isn’t even found in the Bible. Most Christians have a mystical, fanciful, syrupy, non-Biblical view of Heaven.

Grandma really isn’t in Heaven right now running around praising Jesus. According to the Bible, Grandma is presently rotting in the grave awaiting the resurrection of the dead.

I don’t know if there is a Heaven.

I have my doubts, lots of doubts.

I’m inclined to think Heaven is a state of mind. Or West Virginia.

We all want to believe life matters.

Many of us want to believe that there is more to life than what we now have.

We want to believe there will someday be a world without pain, suffering, or death.

But, what if there is not?

What if this is it?

What if we truly only have hope in this life?

Should we not make the most of what we have NOW?

Perhaps we should take seriously the Bible’s admonition not to boast about tomorrow because we don’t know what the day will bring.

Heaven will wait.

Live.

You and I are given one life and it will soon be past.

Live.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Count the Cost Before You Say “I am an Atheist”

god made me an atheist

Originally posted in 2015. Edited, updated, and expanded.

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

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

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

When I left Christianity and the ministry in 2008, my wife came along with me. Polly was a few steps behind, but close enough that we could hold hands. We spent many hours reading books and having long discussions about the past, the Bible, and Christianity in general. Dr. Bart Ehrman was nightly pillow talk for many months. When we finally came to the place where we said to one another “We are no longer Christians,” we knew that telling our family, friends, and acquaintances would cause a huge uproar. What should we do?

Polly decided to take the quiet approach, keeping her thoughts to herself. When asked, she would answer and try to explain, but if people didn’t ask, she felt no obligation to out herself. She still operates by that principle. There are people she works with who likely think she still goes to church on Sunday and is a fine Christian woman. Several years ago, a woman Polly had worked with for 20 years asked her if she was going to church on Easter. Polly replied, no. Her co-worker then asked, So do you go to church? Polly replied, No. And that was that. I am sure the gossip grapevine was buzzing. Did you know Polly doesn’t go to church? Why, her husband was a pastor! And they don’t go to church? Never mind that the woman asking the questions hadn’t been to church in over a decade. She stays home, watches “Christian” TV, and sends money to the TV preachers she likes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You got my letter.

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

You have been my friend since 1983. When I met you for the first time, I was a young man pastoring a new Church in Somerset, Ohio. I remember you and your dear wife vividly because you put a $100 bill in the offering plate. Up to that point we had never seen a $100 bill in the offering plate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I can’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is not much better on the family front.

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

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

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

So how are things now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Praise and Worship Music: Making Love to Jesus on Sunday Morning

praise and worship music

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected. 

Warning! Snark ahead.

When I started attending Evangelical churches in the late 1950s, hymns, hymns, and only hymns were the songs of the church. In the 1960s, southern gospel music started to influence what was sung on Sunday mornings. From there came the Gaither era, the contemporary Christian music era (CCM), and finally the praise and worship era. Drums, guitars, praise teams, and worship leaders are standard fare in churches now. The Great Generation tends to not like it, millennials think it is boring, and baby boomers say, FINALLY, rock music in the church.

Over the last eight years I spent in the ministry, the churches I pastored used a blended worship approach. We’d sing hymns, but we also sang a lot of praise and worship songs. My three oldest sons played bass and guitar, so they became the church band. At the time, I thought it was wonderful, but now that I am years removed from singing love songs to Jesus, I have a far different opinion.

Just for fun, I clicked the Praise and Worship channel on Rdio — a now defunct music streaming service. I listened to many of the songs we sang years ago, mixed in with new praise and worship songs. As I listened to the instrumentation, I couldn’t help but notice how the songs stirred my emotions. It’s the instrumentation that gives the syrupy, Jesus-is-your-boyfriend lyrics their sexual appeal. I thought, these songs are love-making songs. And that is exactly why so many Christians love them. Hymns generally appeal to the intellect. Praise and worship music makes no pretense of appealing to the intellect. The music is meant to agitate emotions, putting listeners in a frame of mind that makes it easy for Jesus to “commune” with believers.

Many praise and worship songs are little more than aids for spiritual masturbation. Often, the lyrics are shallow and repetitive, focusing on self and not God. Some of the lyrics are so shallow that just by swapping a few words, you can change the song from a love song to Jesus to a love song to your boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse, Take the song (Trading My Sorrows) Yes Lord by Matt Redman. The next time you are making love to your significant other, speak or sing these lyrics, changing the word Lord to the name of your partner:

We say yes lord yes lord yes yes lord
Yes lord yes lord yes yes lord
Yes lord yes lord yes yes lord amen

Make sure you sing it loudly so the neighbors will know it is your lucky night. 🙂

The draw of praise and worship music is its emotional appeal. Visit a local we are the hippest church in town and observe the effect the music has on parishioners. All around you will be people dreamily lost in the love of Jesus. Some will be so enthralled that they begin making love to Jesus, not caring a bit that they are participating in the equivalent of a YouPorn video. It’s emotional sex with your clothes on.

On one hand, the effect this music has on parishioners reflects the power of music to move our emotions. When Polly and I attended a Darius Rucker concert years ago, both of us noticed the emotional connection attendees made with the music. Both of us were stirred emotionally by Rucker’s songs. The problem with praise and worship music is that it is sold as a medium to get closer to God. Countless Evangelicals go to church on Sunday to get their emotional fix. Forget the sermon. They are there to wrap their arms around Jesus and do a slow dance with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It is in this highly emotional state that parishioners are open to whatever their pastor is selling that day. While worship leaders will likely object and say that the music prepares believers to hear from the Lord, I am convinced the music is used, whether purposely or ignorantly, to weaken psychological defenses and make it easier for parishioners to “hear” what the pastor, uh I mean God, is trying to tell/sell them.

The music puts parishioners in an altered state. This is by design, and any pastor or worship leader who tells you differently is lying. Even with hymns, the songs can elicit a specific emotional response. The ebb and flow of the average worship service is a highly designed and scripted affair meant to achieve a certain goal. If this is not true, why don’t churches start their services with the sermon? Instead, the music is used to open the hearts (minds) of listeners to whatever their pastors are going to say. By manipulating emotions, pastors have a greater chance to get those under the sound of their voice to do what they want them to do. Again, if this is not so, why do most pastors and worship leaders choose songs that perfectly dovetail with the sermon? Why not take requests from the floor if what song is sung doesn’t matter?

But it does matter. And it is not just the music. Modern church services have turned into tightly scripted affairs. Sound, lighting, and program structure are used to set the mood; no different from me coming home and finding the lights dimmed, candles lit, rose petals on the floor, and the sweet voice of Karen Carpenter quietly wafting through the air. The former is meant to help the parishioner get lucky with Jesus. The latter is meant to remind Bruce that sometimes the ballgame doesn’t come first. 🙂

Even in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches — a sect known for hating contemporary music — certain songs are used to elicit emotional responses from the congregants. The goal is the same regardless of the style of music. Through emotional manipulation, the words of pastors are more easily received. In most cases, little harm is done. But, sometimes, by manipulating the hearers’ emotions, the songs lead congregants to make decisions or do things they wouldn’t have ordinarily done. Those slobbering IFB preachers were right about secular music. Certain “Satanic” songs can lower inhibitions and pave the way for a romp in the sack with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Such evil! But what they don’t tell you is that certain “godly” songs can lower inhibitions too, and pave the way for a romp in the sack with Jesus.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Is the Christian God a God of Second and Third Chances?

second chances

Recently, an Evangelical woman named Kelly Benson left the following comment on the post titled, An Open Letter to Pastor Tom Hauser, Global River Church (written by my friend Suzanne). I have edited Benson’s comment due to her lack of proper spelling and punctuation use:

I’m a member of Global River church. I’m not going to blast you for putting this up. It’s how you feel and your experiences. I don’t know [the] full detail of what happened, but I can tell you it’s not like that now. I don’t know how it was then, I know, speaking from personal experience, I have been set [free] from [demonic] oppression by Global River Church. This is what [I’ll] say: that my God, your God, my Jesus, and your Jesus, are a God of second and third [or so] chances. They [God? The Church?] don’t give up on you, and maybe this experience [of yours] had to happen to you to make you see [that] he [Suzanne’s husband, Jim] needed a doctor. Maybe, I don’t know. I just know we are no longer [affiliated with] the Vineyard [denomination]. We have come a long way from [where?] we are now. [We] always have been God fearing and God loving, and whatever your experience, I hope you get to see God in his true light and majesty. [If you do,] you will never go back. It [God’s love] is the most amazing love there is. God bless you always, and I hope you’re in his love now.

I will leave it to Suzanne to respond to Benson’s statements about Global River Church. I want to focus on several claims Benson makes about God, Jesus, and second/third chances.

First, Benson assumes that her God and Suzanne’s God are one and the same; that her God is the one true and living God. However, as anyone who has studied Christianity in general and Evangelicalism in particular, I know Christians worship a plethora of deities. Ask a group of Evangelicals to define and describe “God” and you will end up with numerous answers. The Bible says that there is one Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism, but a close examination of Evangelicalism reveals many Lords, many Faiths, and many Baptisms. Benson does what many Christians do. She assumes that her personal beliefs and experiences apply to everyone.

Benson claims that if you see God in his true light and majesty you will never go back. Yet, countless readers of this blog testify that they have seen God in his true light and majesty, yet they came to a place in their lives where they realized that the God whom they thought they saw and experienced was a myth. People can and do walk away from Christianity. Pastors, evangelists, deacons, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, Christian school teachers, Christian college professors, and other people whose lives were wholly committed to following Jesus are now unbelievers today. As studies continue to show, Evangelicalism is bleeding adherents left and right. Instead of spouting cheap cliches, Benson might want to focus on why so many devoted followers of Jesus are exiting the church stage left.

I want to focus in conclusion on Benson’s claim that God is a God of second and third chances. This is a claim often made by Christians, but is it true?

Benson presupposes the existence of her peculiar version of God, and that her God gives people second and third chances when they break his law or disobey him. There’s no possible way for her to know whether this claim of hers is true. By faith, she believes that it is, but it is impossible for her to know for sure.

If we go to the Biblical text, we can find numerous instances where God did not give people second or third chances. Take Judas. Did God give him a second chance? No. Or Uzzah — the man who steadied the Ark of the Covenant with his hand and God struck him dead for touching the Ark? Or Ananias and Sapphira? Both of them told a lie before the church about the sale of property, and God struck them dead on the spot. In Genesis 1-3, we find Adam and Eve breaking the law of God by eating fruit from the tree of knowledge. Did God give them (or the human race) a second chance? No. Did God give Lucifer and his fellow angels who rebelled against him and were cast out of Heaven a second chance? No.

I could go on and on with illustrations from the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, proving that Benson’s deity is as Richard Dawkins suggests:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

And if someone suggests that they worship Jesus or the God of the New Testament, may I remind them that Jesus is God, and that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; that the book of Revelation records the violence, carnage, and bloodshed Jesus will one day pour out on billions of people — many of whom never had a first chance, let alone a second chance.

Benson and her fellow church members are likely decent people who grant others second and third chances. However, the God they worship is not.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Bruce Gerencser