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Testing God: Putting Out a Fleece

fleece

And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground. (Judges 6:36-40)

Let me give you a bit of context. The Israelites, those oft-sinning followers of Jehovah, disobeyed God and he punished them severely for their sins:

And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds. And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them; And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it. And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD. (Judges 6:1-6)

Jehovah impoverished the Israelites because of their sins. Modern-day followers of the Christian God must really be living right because they are definitely not impoverished.

For seven years, Jehovah pummeled his followers with the judgment stick. At the end of the seven years, the Israelites cried out to God and he sent a prophet to ask them if they had had enough of his judgment.

After the prophet left, an angel came to an Israelite named Gideon. The angel and Gideon had a conversation:

Angel: The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.

Gideon: Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites. 

Angel (or Lord): Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?

Gideon: Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house. 

Angel (or Lord): And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.

Gideon: If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me. 

God gave Gideon the sign he requested and he went forth to be a messenger for God, for a while.

It seems that Gideon’s skeptical side kept getting in the way. He wanted to make sure it really was Jehovah speaking to him, so Gideon asked God to prove to him he really was God.

Gideon put a fleece of wool on the floor. He said if the fleece was wet in the morning and it had not rained (or dew covered the ground) outside he would believe what God had said.

Sure enough, the fleece was wet in the morning. Did Gideon believe God? Nope. Skeptical Gideon asked for more evidence.

Gideon reversed the fleece experiment. He said if the fleece was dry in the morning and there was dew on the ground outside, he would believe what God had said.

Sure enough, the fleece was dry in the morning.

God allowed Gideon to test him multiple times (read Judges 7 to see more of Gideon’s God tests). Evidently, Gideon had a faith that required authentication and proof.

In the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement I grew up in, putting out a fleece was common practice. Putting out a fleece was a way of “testing” God or finding out the “will of God.”

Like casting lots and drawing straws, Christians use putting out a fleece as a way to make decisions. In 1979, I was looking for a job, so I applied for a restaurant management job with a company in Findlay, Ohio. They told me they had an interest in me working for them and they would get back with me with their final decision. At the time, we were living in Montpelier, Ohio. We were thinking about moving to Newark, Ohio, the central Ohio community where Polly’s parents lived. What should we do? Restaurant manager in Findlay or move to Newark?

So, I put out a fleece. I prayed, “God if you want me to take the restaurant manager job then have the company call me by ____________. If they don’t call, I will take that as a NO from you.”

The call didn’t come, so we packed everything up and moved to Newark. The funny thing? The restaurant company called a day or two AFTER the fleece deadline and offered me a good-paying job. I stood by what I had divined through putting out the fleece.

Silly, I know.

Christians often use this kind of thinking without even recognizing it. Such and such will happen in their life and they take that as “proof” that God is moving and working in their life. I have heard countless prayers where a person said “I was praying for _________________ and sure enough God came through. What an awesome God we serve!”

Never mind that there are multiple explanations for _________________ happening. Even when unexplainable things happen, why is it assumed that it is God making things happen? Unexplained things are just that — unexplained.

Sadly, many Christians wait for God to work, move, come through, or bless them. As a result, they are robbed of the ability to make decisions on their own. Unless they can “sense” God working, they refuse to make a decision. Or they make a horrible decision because they have a feeling they call “God.”

For the non-Christian, reason, common sense, experience, and advice from others, is usually sufficient for making a decision. Sometimes, when it is necessary to make a quick decision, we have to “go with our gut.” Going with our gut, however, is not the same as going with God (article on Psychology Today about this subject).

How about you? Do you have any “putting out a fleece” stories to share?

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Why Accepting Evolution is Incompatible with Christianity

bible vs evolution

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

As much as some people might try, it is impossible to square evolution with Christianity. Even embracing theistic evolution requires a significant amount of intellectual gymnastics in order to reach the conclusion that the Christian God is behind evolution. In my opinion, theodicy — the problem of evil and suffering —  presents an insurmountable problem for theistic evolutionists. Why would a God, any God, choose such a violent, painful, deadly way to create?

Jerry Coyne, a biologist and a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, writes:

…It is in fact different from asking whether one believes (“accepts” is a better word because “believe” implies a religious-like faith) in theory of gravity or generality relativity, and the reason is obvious. The theories of gravity and relativity don’t impinge on anyone’s religious beliefs. Evolution carries implications that no other science does—save, perhaps some branches of cosmology. It implies that humans evolved by the same blind, materialistic, and naturalistic process involved in the evolution of every other species, and so we aren’t special in any numious sense. It implies that we’re not the special objects of God’s creation. It sinks the “design” argument for God—the most powerful argument in the canon of Natural Theology. It implies that we were not endowed by God with either a soul or moral instincts, so that our morality is a product of both evolution and rational consideration. It implies that much of our behavior reflects evolved, genetically-influenced propensities rather than dualistic “free will.” It implies that even if God did work through the process of evolution , He did so using a horrible and painful process of natural selection, a form of “natural evil” that doesn’t comport well with God’s supposed omnibenevolence…

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Why Some Professed Atheists Return to Jesus

true happiness found in jesus

Earlier this week, an acquaintance of mine let it be known on Facebook that he had repudiated agnosticism and returned to Christianity. This man had previously been a Christian, had divorced Jesus, and now they are back together again.

His evidence for reclaiming his lost faith is as follows:

  • The testimonies of other Christians; that these transformative spiritual experiences convinced him that the Christian God is real, and that he will work in someone’s [nonbelievers] lives if they open up their hearts to him.
  • The testimonies of people who encountered dark spiritual forces when dabbling in the occult shows evil spiritual forces exist; that these evil spiritual forces are behind certain bands and movie producers; that these bands and producers are getting their inspiration from something outside of themselves

My Facebook acquaintance goes on to say that while he is embracing Christianity again, he rejects:

  • Eternal Hell
  • Penal Substitution (a theory about Jesus’ atonement, believed by most Evangelicals)
  • The notion that people choose their sexuality

In other words, he has become a cafeteria Christian, picking and choosing what he wants to believe; embracing only doctrines that finds emotionally palatable.

Let me be clear, I don’t have a problem with agnostics or atheists returning to Christianity. It’s their lives, their journeys, so it’s not my place to stand in the way of them finding some sort of personal happiness and meaning. That said, I do question how one goes from Christianity to atheism/agnosticism and back to Christianity again. I do question what it was that caused them to lose their faith to start with; and why, now, those evidences are no longer valid or compelling. I do question what it is they found compelling now about Christianity that they didn’t find compelling before.

I started blogging in 2007. Over the course of thirteen years, I know of a handful of atheists/agnostics who have returned to Christianity and worshiping Jesus. Very few people, once they deconvert, return to that which they left behind. It happens, but it is rare. One man, a former Evangelical preacher, became an ardent, vocal atheist. His writing was quite caustic, but, at the time, I thought he was just working through his feelings about his religious past. Many ex-Evangelicals, in particular, go through an angry phase, especially when they realize their pastors, churches, or college professors lied to them about Christianity, Jesus, and the Bible. I know, I can say — “been there, done that.”

One day, I went to this ex-preacher’s blog and found an announcement that he had found the TRUE Christian faith — Calvinism. For a time, the man became a raging disciple of John Calvin. Eventually, he landed in a psychiatric hospital. His blog was deleted, and I was unable to reach him.

It seems to me that most of the people who abandon atheism/agnosticism and reconnect with Christianity do so for reasons other than evidence. Either Christianity is true or it is not. Either the Bible is the Word of God or it is not. Either there is a Heaven and Hell or there’s not. Either humans are sinners in need of supernatural salvation or they are not. The evidence, at least to me, is clear: the central claims of Christianity cannot be rationally sustained. “Believing” requires faith; that which is deeply rooted in our feelings, not truth, facts, and evidence.

I suspect that atheists/agnostics who return to Christianity do so for emotional reasons. Perhaps they want and need that which Christian faith provides; namely meaning, purpose, social connection, and the promise of eternal life in Heaven after death. To put it bluntly, some people simply can’t live with the naked, stark realities of atheism; of a world that can be cold and indifferent; of a life that is transitory and finite — a life that ends the moment we draw our last breath. Unable to forge a life of meaning and purpose post-Jesus, Christians-turned-atheists-turned-Christians return to that which is familiar to them. My Facebook acquaintance had thousands of religions and spiritual practices to choose from, yet he returned to his former faith. Why is that? Familiarity and comfortability.

I, too, yearn at times for that deep, abiding, satisfying sense of certainty, comfort, and hope that my former faith gave me. I miss the social connections and the career satisfaction that being part of a Christian church gave me. However, I can’t ignore the evidence that tells me that Christianity — especially Evangelicalism — is built on a lie; that the central claims of Christianity cannot be rationally and intellectually sustained; that the Bible is not, in any way supernaturally inspired, inerrant, or infallible; that humans are not inherently sinful and in need of salvation; that there is no Heaven or Hell. No matter how I feel, the facts at hand tell me that Christianity is not true. And at the end of the day, truth matters to me.

I wish my Facebook acquaintance well. I trust, to quote the great prophet Bono, that he finds what he is looking for.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Strange Saga of NBA Star Jonathan Isaac

jonathan isaac

Guest post by Steven S.

Many people do not think I am a fan of sports. That could not be further from the truth. My dad is a scout for high school basketball. His love and passion for the game influenced me tremendously. I love all kinds of basketball. I think it is the most graceful and progressive sport out there. That opinion was reinforced when the NBA recently resumed games this past week. The latitude the NBA allowed the players to highlight their messages and causes, especially as it relates to the Black Lives Matter movement, was moving and inspiring. The first game back, all the players kneeled in solidarity. It was enough to move me to tears.

Then something happened. One of the players in the next game: a young man from the Orlando Magic named Johnathan Isaac refused to kneel for the anthem or wear a jersey with a social justice message printed on it. The media outlets wondered, what could make Isaac break so drastically from the pervading sentiment of the league? What was his reasoning? Was his motive a well-thought, finely-nuanced work? Most folks withheld their criticism until Isaac had a chance to speak.

When Isaac did eventually speak, here is what he said:

For me Black lives are supported through the gospel. All lives are supported through the gospel. We all have things that we do wrong and sometimes it gets to a place that we’re pointing fingers at who’s wrong is worst. Or who’s wrong is seen, so I feel like the Bible tells us that we all fall short of God’s glory. That will help bring us closer together and get past skin color. And get past anything that’s on the surface and doesn’t really get into the hearts or men and women.

What does this sound like if not a religiously-influenced and misguided attempt to evangelize and make a stand for Jesus? What does it sound like if not a paean to the “All Lives Matter” crowd of Evangelicals? What does this sound like but an equivocation of the grievous sins of White supremacy and privilege, police brutality, slavery, racism, and discrimination with sins like adultery and not going to church on the Lord’s Day?

How could something like this go so wrong? Of course, Mr. Isaac has the right to believe and act as he wants. I will defend his right to act as he did, but I will dissect the religious toxicity behind it.

For too long, Christianity, especially Evangelicalism, has been used as a shield from the wrongdoings our society has committed in the past and present. Isaac’s actions fit into that larger picture. All sins are equal in the eyes of God, now that we are washed in the blood and saved. Jesus is the answer. The Gospel is the great uniter. It all seems so simple. Win enough hearts to Christ and all the ills of this world will be wiped out. It would all be so great if these beliefs, held by tens of millions, weren’t so deluded.

Our actions in the here and now matter. What happens in the here and now matters. Attempting to distract and deflect from that is what Evangelical Christianity does best. Isaac’s statement takes away from the special, critical gravitas of the here and now, placing it on a someday when every knee has bowed and every tongue has confessed. It is a very myopic worldview that extends no empathy to those of other beliefs or nonbelievers.

The whole idea that Christianity will help bring us closer together and suThe whole idea that Christianity will help bring us closer together and supersede skin color is laughable. Christianity has driven people apart for over twenty centuries. People used Christianity to justify torture, murder, and owning others as property. How someone can expect that process to not continue is beyond me. Christianity does not change, but instead amplifies the kind of person a believer already is, albeit perhaps in a milder form today than in previous centuries.

Isaac’s words effectively cast a pall over one of the most critical movements to ever spring up in our nation to lead us toward grappling with and addressing the White privilege and supremacy inherent in all of our institutions. They diminish the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, and the many other Black lives lost to White vigilantism and police brutality.

While Mr. Isaac is undoubtedly a phenomenal basketball player, he is not so phenomenal at seeing how his actions hurt instead of help our nation heal from the tragedies White supremacy has inflicted on this country. My hope is that he educates himself with the help of his teammates on why his actions, instead of providing hope, provided a sense that he was grandstanding for Jesus. I sincerely hope Mr. Isaac can one day see how disrespectful his actions were to a movement and league that wants nothing more than for the oppressed to have the same rights as their oppressors.

Since the writing of this post, Isaac has torn his ACL and is out for the season.

Should Parents Choose a Religion for Their Children?

catholic education

Most American children do not choose which, if any, religion they want to follow. (Please see Why Most Americans are Christian.) Children, almost without exception, adopt the religion of their parents and family. Often, religious worship is part of the ebb and flow of family and community life, so it should come as no surprise that children embrace that religion. And therein lies the problem. Most Americans believe that worshiping God is important, and many of them take it a step further in believing that it is essential that their children worship a specific God, namely the Christian God.

In most Christian sects, children are encouraged to make a conscious choice to worship Jesus. In the Catholic church, children, often as young as 7 years old, go through the sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. In the Lutheran church, children, usually around the age of 12, go through the rite of confirmation. In the Evangelical church, children are encouraged to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It is not uncommon to hear adult Evangelicals say that Jesus saved them when they were 5 or 6 years old. In the Baptist church, it is not uncommon to hear testimonies of youthful conversion and a re-dedication to that conversion during teenage years.

Regardless of the Christian sect and its initiation practice, young children are encouraged, and often expected, to embrace the tribal God. Many secularists, including myself, think that children should not make the choice of a particular religion until they are old enough to rationally do so, say, teenage years or older. If, as most Christians say, believing in and worshiping Jesus is vitally important, then shouldn’t children wait to embrace Christianity until their reasoning skills are such that they can intellectually understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus and a member of a particular church?

Many Christian sects either baptize or dedicate infants, resulting in that particular sect putting its mark upon the infant. They are saying, in effect, this baby is ours.  From that point forward, children are indoctrinated in their parent’s religion. While many Christian sects hide their motivations for indoctrinating young children, Evangelical groups such as Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), are quite clear about why they go after young children. Thirty years ago, David Shibley, a  proponent of CEF methodology, wrote about the importance of evangelizing children:

I want my two young sons to have bland testimonies – no sensational stories about rescue from drugs, perversion and rebellion.

I want it to be natural for them to trust the Lord Jesus early for salvation and then to trust Him for everything thereafter. I believe in the validity of child evangelism.

For one thing, statistics are on its side. 19 out of 20 Christians receive Christ before the age of 25. After that, the odds against conversion become astronomical.

Early conversion saves not only a soul, but potentially points an entire life toward service to God and man. In 15 years of ministry I’ve met no one who is sorry he came to Christ early in life. I’ve encountered many who are sorry they didn’t….

Shortly before his second-century martyrdom at age 95, Polycarp said, “86 years have I served the Lord.” 18th Bible expositor Matthew Henry was converted at the age of six, hymnwriter Isaac Watts at nine.

W.A. Criswell, pastor of the large First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, was saved when he was eight. Evangelist Stephen Olford came to Christ on his 7th birthday.

65% of those enrolled in America’s largest seminary Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary were converted before their teens.

Children are reached more easily than adults. Jay Kesler, president of Youth for Christ International, has well said, “Any evangelism after high school isn’t evangelism. It’s really salvage.”

Young children are notably tender. Their sincerity is never in doubt. Their heart attitudes contribute to genuine conversion. And Jesus told adults that they must become as children to experience the new birth (Matt. 18:3).

True, children who make an early profession of faith sometimes struggle with assurance and make a second public commitment later. They often say, “I didn’t know what I was doing the first time.” More likely, however, the personal worker attending the child didn’t know what he was doing.

We need not fully understand the Gospel to be saved; we need only believe and receive it. What adult fully comprehends the rationale or the magnitude of redemption?

Some argue that children are unable to stay true to their commitment. Yet the late English preacher Charles Spurgeon noted, “Out of a church of 2,700 members, I have never had to exclude a single one who was received while yet a child. Teachers and superintendents should not merely believe in the possibility of early conversion, but in the ferquency (sic) of it.”

Child evangelism assists in the formation of character. The Bible clearly teaches that man’s only capability for good lies in the imputed righteousness of Christ. We do not expect unconverted adults to act like Christians. The same should be true for children.

Christians seem to be the only ones who believe they should wait to influence children’s minds. Advertisers don’t wait. Child abusers don’t wait. Neither do humanist educators, false religions and cults, or Satan.

The church that reaches its children has a better chance of reaching its adults. Often newly-converted children win their parents and grandparents to the Lord. Those children grow up to be adults who can nurture their own families to faith in Jesus Christ.

Lest we forget, Christianity is always just one generation from extinction. We must reach the coming generation with the Gospel.

The late G. Campell (sic) Morgan, for many years pastor of London’s Westminster Chapel, said that the church that always seeks the child is the church that is “seeking the Kingdom … A vision of the desire for the Kingdom of God is the master passion in all work for children.”

Trudi Bils, wife of Steve Bils, the one-time executive director for CEF in Northern Colorado, wrote an article in 1990 for the Grace in Focus Newsletter titled “Can Children Be Saved?” detailing the importance of evangelizing children when they are young:

To many of us, this is a ridiculous question. For in fact, we were saved as children. Statistics are on our side as well, revealing that 85% of Christians made the decision to trust Christ somewhere between the ages of four and fourteen. Further, those of us who have been actively learning and practicing the discipline of soul-winning have probably led a child to Christ, perhaps even one of our own….

Though some have tried to alter or add to the meaning of the word believe (mentioned as the sole condition for salvation over 150 times in the New Testament), its definition remains as God intended it. “What faith really is, in biblical language, is receiving the testimony of God. It is the inward conviction that what God says to us in the Gospel is true. Faith is… taking God at His word. It is nothing less than this. But it is also nothing more.”

This is a message that is all inclusive — no strings attached. Even, and especially, a child can grasp this message and place his faith in Christ for eternal life, and many do.

R. A. Torrey said, “It is almost the easiest thing in the world to lead a child from five to ten years of age to a definite acceptance of Christ. . . . The younger the children are when you seek to lead them to make an actual acceptance of Christ, the easier the work will be, and the more satisfactory” (from Frank G. Coleman’s, The Romance of Winning Children [Cleveland, OH: Union Gospel Press, 1973], p. 14). Thank God for the faithful witnesses who led me–and perhaps you–to Christ at an early age!

Sam Doherty, a man who has dedicated his entire life to evangelizing children, wrote a handbook for Child Evangelism Fellowship titled U Can Lead Children to Christ: A Step by Step Guide for Counsellors of Children (link no longer active). Doherty lists four reasons why it is imperative that Christians evangelize children:

  • Children can be saved
  • Children need to be saved
  • Children are open to the gospel
  • A Child Saved is a Life Saved

According to Doherty:

  • They (children) are spiritually dead
  • They have a sinful nature which shows itself in
    sinful acts
  • They are outside God’s Kingdom
  • If they have reached the age of accountability
    they are under God’s condemnation

Doherty believes that once children reach the age of accountability, the age when children know the difference between right and wrong, they are in danger of going to Hell if they don’t accept Jesus as their Savior. What parent wants his or her child to go to Hell, right? So then, it should come as no surprise that many Evangelicals press their children to profess faith in Jesus at a very young age.

peter ustinov on religious indoctrination

Let me give you an example of how this works in the Evangelical church. Ron Adkins was the pastor of the Methodist church a few blocks from my home. This church was the last church my wife and I attended before we deconverted in 2008. According to Ron’s bio on the Ney/Farmer United Methodist Church website, he was saved at the age of seven and his wife asked Jesus into her heart at age eight. Should it come as any surprise, then, that all four of the Adkins’ children were saved at age five?

In the type of Baptist churches in which my wife and I grew up, children are sent to Sunday school and children’s church so they can be exposed to the church’s teachings on Heaven, Hell, Jesus, salvation, death, and God’s judgment. Children are often emotionally and mentally coerced into asking Jesus into their hearts. Children’s church teachers will often ask their young pupils: do you want to go to Hell when you die? or how many of you want to go to Heaven when you die? What young, immature and impressionable child doesn’t want to avoid the flames of Hell or enjoy the wonders of Heaven?

In many ways, Evangelicals who evangelize children are like door-to-door salesmen selling their customers on the importance of owning their product and the danger of putting off a buying decision to another day. Years ago, I sold Kirby vacuüm cleaners. I would praise the virtues of the grossly overpriced vacuum, trying to get prospective customers to see how much better their lives would be if their households owned a Kirby. If the positive approach failed to work, I’d resort to the methods meant to show them how poorly their current vacuüm was working. I’d even go so far as to use my demo Kirby vacuüm to sweep the prospective customer’s bed, showing them all the dead skin and “mites” the mighty Kirby removed from their bed. The goal was always to get the customer to make an impulsive decision. And this is exactly what happens in many Evangelical churches. Uninformed children are wowed with the wonders of Heaven and threatened with the horrors of sin and Hell. Most children who are exposed to these kinds of sales techniques will “choose” to get saved.

Once children are saved, their parents and churches continue to indoctrinate them in their sect’s particular teachings. Remember, these children do not have the rational capacity to make this choice, nor have they been exposed to alternative religions. Are confirmed, initiated, or saved children really making an informed decision to believe the central tenets of Christianity? Of course not. They lack the requisite intellectual skills necessary to make such a decision. Wouldn’t it be better to expose children to a variety of religions, along with humanism and atheism, and allow them to make a reasoned choice of which to follow when they are old enough to do so?

Unfortunately, what is best for children often collides with the objectives of organized religion: increasing membership and income. To put it bluntly, the goal is asses in the seats and money in the offering plate. Without a steady stream of people who were indoctrinated as children and teenagers, churches would suffer declines in attendance and offerings. While Christian sects, churches, and parents argue that they are most interested in making sure children believe in Jesus, the truth is that they know without young, impressionable, and easily-manipulated children being assimilated into the church, Christianity would die. If they wait until children are in their teens to indoctrinate them in the ways of Jesus, they know they run a huge risk of children leaving the church when they reach adulthood.

In fact, things are so bad for American Christian churches that adults, despite being immersed in the teachings of Christianity, are leaving the church anyway. The percentage of “nones”— those with no religious identification — and the increase in the indifference of young adults towards religion has resulted in much hand-wringing in the Christian community. What should we do, pastor after pastor asks. Our churches are getting increasingly older and young adults are leaving and never coming back. These pastors know that if they don’t do something to stem to tide of young adult membership loss, their churches will close and they will be forced to get real jobs.

What prompted me to write this post is an article on ESPN about whether children should be permitted to play high-impact sports. Dr. Bennet Omalu, “the first to publish findings linking head injuries, particularly concussions, to the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in football players,” thinks children should not be permitted to play high-impact sports “until they reach the legal age of consent, usually 18.”  In a New York Times article on the subject, Dr. Omalu states:

Our children are minors who have not reached the age of consent. It is our moral duty as a society to protect the most vulnerable of us. The human brain becomes fully developed at about 18 to 25 years old. We should at least wait for our children to grow up, be provided with the information and education on the risk of play, and let them make their own decisions. No adult, not a parent or a coach, should be allowed to make this potentially life-altering decision for a child.

We have a legal age for drinking alcohol; for joining the military; for voting; for smoking; for driving; and for consenting to have sex. We must have the same when it comes to protecting the organ that defines who we are as human beings.

If children are not old enough to understand the risks of playing football, and, as Dr. Omalu says, if they should be prohibited from playing it until age 18, shouldn’t the same hold true for indoctrinating children in the teachings and practices of a particular religion? Shouldn’t they be of age and have all the relevant facts before they make a decision to embrace a God, or no deity at all?

While it is naïve to expect Christian parents to keep their children away from their tribe’s religion, society should require them to not unduly indoctrinate their children. That we don’t reflects the fact that we give Christianity a pass on almost everything when it comes to children. We allow Christian parents to pull their children out of public schools so they can be indoctrinated by evangelists, posing as teachers of knowledge, for their particular sect’s beliefs. We also allow Christian parents to homeschool their children. Millions of American children are homeschooled or attend Christian private (and parochial) schools. These children are taught reason-defying myths such as the virgin birth of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and wine and crackers miraculously turning into Jesus’ blood and flesh once they are prayed over. They are regularly reminded that they are sinful, broken humans in need of forgiveness and salvation, and that Heaven awaits them if they believe, and Hell awaits if they don’t. These types of teachings do incalculable emotional harm to children, often resulting in low self-esteem or psychological problems.

Worse yet, these children are taught lies about the natural world they are very much a part of.  Many Evangelical homeschool parents and private schools teach children that the earth is 6,023 years old, evolution is a lie, and the teaching of the Bible accurately reflects the one and only way to understand the world. While parents and teachers will most likely teach their wards science, they often teach a Christianized version that repudiates biological evolution. They also, thanks to a literalistic reading of the Bible, reject most of what cosmology, archaeology, and geology tell us about the age of the earth and the universe. As a result, children who have embraced this kind of indoctrination are crippled intellectually. Ask any secular college or university professor how difficult it is to reason with children who have been indoctrinated with Fundamentalist Christian beliefs. The intransigence of these students is heartbreaking. Stunted intellectually, they often go through life ignoring vast swaths of human knowledge because it does not fit the narrow confines of what they were taught as a child. Of course, this is EXACTLY what Christian churches and their leaders desire: intellectually-neutered people who continue to look to them for answers.

Zoltan Istvan, the author of the novel The Transhumanist Wager, believes that it should be illegal to religiously indoctrinate children under the age of 16. In a September 2014 Huffington Post article titled Some Atheists and Transhumanists are Asking: Should it be Illegal to Indoctrinate Kids With Religion? Istvan wrote:

Religious child soldiers carrying AK-47s. Bullying anti-gay Jesus kids. Infant genital mutilation. Teenage suicide bombers. Child Hindu brides. No matter where you look, if adults are participating in dogmatic religions, then they are also pushing those same ideologies onto their kids….

A child’s mind is terribly susceptible to what it hears and sees from parents, family, and social surroundings. When the human being is born, its brain remains in a delicate developmental phase until far later in life.

“Kids are impressionable,” said Dr. Eunice Pearson-Hefty, director of the Teaching Environmental Science program of Texas’ Natural Resource Conservation Commission. “Anything you tell them when they’re real small can have a lasting impression.”

It’s only later, when kids hit their teens that they begin to think for themselves and see the bigger picture. It’s only then they begin to ask whether their parent’s teachings make sense and are correct. However, depending on the power of the indoctrination in their childhood, people’s ability to successfully question anything is likely stifled their entire lives…

…”Religion should remain a private endeavor for adults,” says Giovanni Santostasi, PhD, who is a neuroscientist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and runs the 10,000 person strong Facebook group Scientific Transhumanism. “An appropriate analogy of religion is that’s it’s kind of like porn–which means it’s not something one would expose a child to.”

Unfortunately, even though atheists, nonreligious people, and transhumanists number almost a billion people, it’s too problematic and unreasonable to imagine taking “God” and “religion” out of the world entirely. But we do owe it to the children of the planet to let them grow up free from the ambush of belief systems that have a history of leading to great violence, obsessively neurotic guilt, and the oppression of virtually every social group that exists.

Like some other atheists and transhumanists, I join in calling for regulation that restricts religious indoctrination of children until they reach, let’s say, 16 years of age. Once a kid hits their mid-teens, let them have at it–if religion is something that interests them. 

16-year-olds are enthusiastic, curious, and able to rationally start exploring their world, with or without the guidance of parents. But before that, they are too impressionable to repeatedly be subjected to ideas that are faith-based, unproven, and historically wrought with danger. Forcing religion onto minors is essentially a form of child abuse, which scars their ability to reason and also limits their ability to consider the world in an unbiased manner. A reasonable society should not have to indoctrinate its children; its children should discover and choose religious paths for themselves when they become adults, if they are to choose one at all.

While I think we are several generations away from neutering the effect religion has on American children, we do owe it to them make sure they are taught to think critically. I’ve long been a proponent of junior high children and older being required to take classes in world religions, logic, and philosophy.  This would expose their evolving minds to methodologies and thought processes that will enable them to make informed choices about religion. Doing so will certainly swell the ranks of the non-religious, and it is for this reason the religionists will fight tooth and nail any attempt to remove them as the sole arbiter of religious belief.

The fight is on and I’m convinced that skepticism and reason will win the day.

Notes

Both my wife and I first made professions of faith at age five. As is the custom in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, both of us made rededication decisions as teenagers.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheism is a Death Cult

atheism cult of death

As long as people have believed in God, there have been those who take the opposing view. The ranks of atheists have always been small, never amounting to more than four percent of the population. The key problem with atheism is that it lacks a strong “selling point.” The followers of this view find purpose in life by attacking the validity of the Holy Bible.

Atheists are so opposed to anything linked to God that their hatred gets in the way of common sense. One of their most grievous errors is a cultic fixation with death. I have read the views of several leading atheists and have found an almost universal embracing of death. For them, life is just meant to come to an abrupt end.

….

I see this welcoming attitude toward death as a form of insanity. If we managed to defy such massive odds to be born into this world, it would be foolhardy to so willingly surrender such a precious gift. I don’t regret depriving some worm of a good meal. They don’t even have enough intelligence to say, “Boy, Todd tastes good. Yum!”

Atheists’ cheeriness about the end of life extends to the second death. Even though they don’t believe in a hell, most express a bizarre willingness to take a swan dive into the lake of fire. Pat Condell is a well-known atheist on YouTube. In one of his latest videos he said:

“So can I say to the people who have said they are praying for me, don’t do it. I’m beyond redemption. I categorically reject God. I wholeheartedly deny the Holy Spirit. I’m resigned to damnation. And I’m absolutely fine with it.”

If there is no God to grant us an afterlife, atheists should be the main frontline cheerleaders of an effort to find immortality through research. One of them should be the Jerry Lewis of natural causes: “Yes, please donate so we can find a cure for what is responsible for one-hundred percent of non-accidental deaths.”

I don’t know of any leading atheists that plan to be cryogenically frozen. According to the game plan medical science will eventually advance to the point where it can revive and restore a dead person to perfect health. These atheists could spend their first few days of new life dancing on the graves of foolish Christians who trusted in a pipe dream.

….

I spoke with theoretical physicist, Lawrence Krauss, at a Las Vegas conference, and he said, “Atheists don’t like to use the word eternity.” Even though the forces in the universe may remain constant for all eternity, they avoid the term because God is too closely associated with it.

Atheists go as far as calling eternal life a curse. They argue that life with no end would eventually become boring and unbearable. One atheist said that if he, was allowed into heaven after a few thousand years, the empty perfection of the heavenly realm would compel him to ask God for annihilation.

I don’t see the warm embrace that many atheists associate with death. At the end of their lives they would lose everything they achieved in this world. Their loves, discoveries and experiences would all be instantly voided.

I can only conclude that the obsession with death on the part of atheists is the result of demonic delusion. Even a godless skeptical mind should know that one of the basic driving forces in nature is the desire to preserve life─at all costs.

One thing that helped me remain confident in my faith is the understanding that there are forces dedicated to attacking my beliefs. If God was a lie and there was no life after death, why would people have such a volatile allergic reaction to a message that seems so reasonable? When I see people who blindly embrace death, I see the fingerprints of the one who brought death into this world.

“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

— Rapture Ready, Atheism — The Cult of Death

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Why Most Americans are Christian

american jesus

Ask a Christian for the reason most Americans are Christian and you will likely get some sort of theological explanation, complete with a personal testimony of faith in Jesus Christ. However, is this really the reason most Americans are Christians? Is it really all about theology and relationship?

Perhaps there is another explanation.

First, the United States is a Christian nation. Not a Christian nation like theocrats think we are, but Christian nonetheless. Christianity permeates our being as a people. Christian church buildings are everywhere. Our government leaders are overwhelmingly Christian and freely use language that reflects their Christian heritage. Christianity is on full display everywhere we look. We are, indeed, a Christian nation.

Second, there is a cultural form of Christianity that permeates virtually every aspect of our society. Country singers win awards for songs about cheating on a spouse and they thank the Christian God for winning the award. Boxers and MMA fighters brutalize one another and then thank the Christian God for the strength to do what they do. Prayers are uttered at sporting events, players give testimony to faith in Jesus, and the Christian God is given all the credit for their success. One need not look very hard in America to find Jesus.

Cultural Christianity is all about what people say and not what they do. This is the predominant form of Christianity in America. When asked, do you believe in the Christian God? most Americans will say, Yes! It matters not how they live or even if they understand Christian doctrine. They believe, and that’s all that matters.

It is this Christian world into which every American child is born. While my wife and I can point to the various conversion experiences we had, we still would have been Christians even without the conversion experiences. Our culture was Christian, our families were Christian, everyone around us was Christian. How could we have been anything BUT Christian?

Practicing Christians have a hard time accepting this. They KNOW the place and time Jesus saved them. They KNOW when they were baptized, confirmed, dedicated, saved, or whatever term their sect uses to connote belief in the Christian God. It’s hard for them to accept that their faith is culturally and socially driven.

Why are most people in Muslim countries Muslim? Why are most people in Buddhist countries Buddhist? Simple. People generally embrace the dominant religion and practice of their culture; and so it is in America.

It is culture, and not a conversion experience, that determines a person’s religious affiliation. The conversion experiences are the eggs the Christian chicken lays. Evangelicals, in particular, have built their entire house on the foundation of each person having a personal salvation experience. However, looking at this from a sociological perspective, it can be seen that a culture’s dominant religion affects which religion a person embraces more than any other factor.

Over the course of my life, I have lived in Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Arizona, and California. Every place I lived had its own cultural idiosyncrasies. Let me share a couple of stories with you that illustrate this.

Here in Northwest Ohio, local convenience stores have one or two rows of Dr. Pepper in their coolers. Pepsi and Coke are the dominant brands. When I lived in Elmendorf, Texas, just outside of San Antonio, I would go down to the Conoco and buy a bottle of pop. The dominant pop in the cooler was Dr. Pepper. There would be numerous rows of Dr. Pepper and only a couple of rows for Pepsi and Coke. Big Red was another favorite pop and it also had more space in the cooler than Pepsi. Why? Culture.

When I left the church in Elmendorf and moved back to Ohio, I kept in touch with a Hispanic family in the church. They eventually moved to Ohio to be a part of the church I was pastoring. I warned them that they were moving to an area where Anglos dominate the culture. There are no stores here with the foods, vegetables, and fresh tortillas that Hispanics in San Antonio can easily buy at the local HEB grocery store. I did my best to make certain they understood these things.

With great anticipation and excitement, they moved to Ohio. And, two months later, discouraged and depressed, they moved back to San Antonio. Reason? Culture. The differences between the two cultures were too great. Even though they convinced themselves they could adapt, the differences were so vast that it would have required them to stop doing things they had done their entire lives. Such drastic change is hard, if not impossible.

I pastored in Southeast Ohio for eleven years. Appalachian culture dominates the area. I found that there is a huge cultural difference between Northwest Ohio and Southeast Ohio. While only 200 miles separate them, the cultures are very different from one another.

One day, a church member brought us a bag of green peppers. He said, here are some mangos for you from my garden. Mangos? Mangos are fruit that grows on trees. I thought, why is this guy calling green peppers “mangos?” A short time later, we went to the grocery store in nearby Zanesville. As we strolled through the produce section, we noticed the green peppers. The sign above them said “mangos.” Why? Culture.

Culture affects how we live, how we talk, what we eat, and what we do for entertainment. It affects every aspect of our lives. Why should matters of religion be exempt from the influence of culture?

I am an atheist, but I know that my moral and ethical values have been shaped by the culture in which I grew up. I have no problem admitting that some of my moral beliefs come from my Christian upbringing. Growing up in a poor family shaped how I view things such as poverty, welfare, and the place of government in our day-to-day lives. Culture and environment have largely made me who I am today. Even though I am now a godless heathen, I still like some of the trappings of my Christian past. I love listening to southern gospel music. I enjoy listening to Third Day and some of the other Christian rock groups. I don’t believe one word of the lyrics, but there is something about the music that appeals to me. It is familiar to me, as are many of the other cultural peculiarities by which I am surrounded.

How about you? What cultural peculiarities do you see where you live? How has the Christian culture of America shaped and affected your life?

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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The Loneliness of Those Who Leave the Church

alone

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

From your earliest recollection, you remember the church.

You remember the preacher, the piano player, the deacons, and your Sunday School teacher.

You remember the youth group and all the fun activities.

You remember getting saved and baptized.

You remember being in church every time the doors were open.

You remember everything in your life revolving around the church.

You remember praying and reading your Bible.

You remember the missionaries and the stories they told about heathens on the other side of the world.

You remember revival meetings and getting right with God.

You remember . . .

Most of all you remember the people.

These were the people who loved you. You thought to yourself, my church family loves me almost as much as God does.

You remember hearing sermons about God’s love and the love Christians were supposed to have for one another.

Your church family, like your blood family, loves you no matter what.

But then IT happened.

You know, IT.

You got older. You grew up. With adult eyes, you began to see the church, God, Jesus, and the Bible differently.

You had questions, questions that no one had answers for.

Perhaps you began to see that your church family wasn’t perfect.

Perhaps the things that Mom and Dad whispered about in the bedroom became known to you.

Perhaps you found out that things were not as they seemed.

Uncertainty and doubt crept in.

Perhaps you decided to try the world for a while. Lots of church kids did, you told yourself.

Perhaps you came to the place where you no longer believed what you had believed your entire life.

And so you left.

You had an IT moment — that moment in time when things changed forever.

You thought, surely, Mom and Dad will still love me.

You thought, surely, Sissy and Bubby and Granny will still love me.

And above all, you thought your church family would love you no matter what.

But they didn’t.

For all their talk of love, their love was conditioned on you being one of them, believing the right things.

Once you left, the love stopped.

Now they are praying for you.

Now they plead with you to return to Jesus.

Now they question if you were ever really saved.

They say they still love you, but deep down you know they don’t.

You know their love for you requires you to be like them.

You can’t be like them anymore. . .

Such loss.

Time marches on.

The church is still where it has always been.

The same families are there, loving Jesus and speaking of their great love for others.

But you are forgotten.

A sheep gone astray.

Every once in a while, someone asks your mom and dad how you are doing.

They sigh, perhaps tears well up in their eyes . . .

Oh, how they wish you would come home.

To be a family sitting together in the church again.

You can’t go back.

You no longer believe.

All that you really want now is their love.

You want them to love you just as you are.

Can they do this?

Will they do this?

Or is Jesus more important to them than you?

Does the church come first?

Is chapter and verse more important than flesh and blood?

You want to be told they love you.

You want to be held and told it is going to be all right.

But here you sit tonight . . .

Alone . . .

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Hope for the Hopeless and Rest for the Weary

hopeless and helpless

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I used to enthusiastically preach that Jesus was hope for the hopeless and rest for weary. Unfortunately, for many people, Jesus, or I should say the Evangelical Christianity, made them weary and hopeless.

What should have been a source of hope and rest turned into something destructive — so destructive that some people have thoughts of committing suicide.

It shouldn’t be this way. I am convinced that Jesus — real or not — is not the problem. I find nothing in the words of Jesus that would cause me to lose hope or have thoughts of suicide.

No, it is what the church has done with Jesus over the past 2,000 years that is the problem. God, Jesus, and the Bible have become tools of manipulation, control, and destruction.

I wish I could share with you the emails I get from people who are former, or trying to be former, Evangelicals. I can’t share them because I respect the privacy of those who email me. For some, my email inbox has become their confessional. I can tell you this: there are a lot of people who are hopeless and weary as a result of their immersion in the Evangelical Christian religion.

They often have no place to turn. In many instances, their families or spouses are still in the church. They desperately need someone to talk to, but they have no place to turn. They can’t go to their pastor — he wouldn’t understand. If they live in a small town, they can’t even seek out a local counselor because everyone will know (you would have to live in a small town to understand this).

So they suffer in silence. In the night they toss and turn and wonder what has gone wrong. Where is God? There is no God. Where is the God of hope? There is no hope. Where is the God who gives rest? There seems to be no rest.

Their thoughts turn to suicide. No, I can’t do that, I’ll go to Hell. Wait, there is no God, who gives a shit?

I want you to know that I give a shit. I have been where you are and some days I am still where you are. There are a lot of readers of this blog who know your story. They have lived it. They are still living it. They know the struggle you are going through — the struggle of a life of faith that has turned into faithlessness, a life of believing that has turned into unbelief. Maybe you are like the man in the Bible who cried “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.”

I am not out to convert you to my cause or change you. It does not matter whom you worship, where you worship, what you believe, or what label you give yourself.

My desire for you is hope and rest.

For many of us, the Evangelical Christian faith has caused psychological damage. The wounds and scars run deep. All the attempts in the world to marginalize our feelings will come to naught. We know what we know.

It’s late . . .

I can hear the clock ticking.

Another night with no sleep.

I hear my lover snoring.

I think of our life together.

So much time wasted.

So much work invested in things that do not matter.

Years have passed us by.

God, we served you.

God, we loved you.

God, we worshiped you.

God, we left all to follow you.

Careers, ambitions, wealth, family . . .

All forsaken to follow you.

Only to find out it was all a dream, and a bad dream at that.

And so, in the still of the night, I reflect on the heap of my life.

What am I to make of all this?

Can I go on?

Will I go on?

I must go on.

God or not, there is a life to be lived.

God or not, I still must live as if I am dying.

Because I AM dying.

So much life yet to live.

So much life yet to experience and enjoy.

God is back on the shelf where he belongs.

Maybe I’ll dust him off again on my final day.

Probably not.

Until then, I will live morally and ethically.

Until then, I will love and hate.

Until then, I will walk the path called life the best way I know.

Without God, without the Bible, and most certainly without the church.

I still have hope.

My hope is no longer built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

My hope is built on the love and goodness of humankind.

These days, the only gods I see are my family, friends, and fellow humans.

I devote myself to these gods.

I worship them.

That’s enough for me.

I will leave eternity to another day.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Evangelical Pastor Ron Adkins and THE Agnostic

letter to the editor

Originally published in 2010. Edited and corrected.

In August 2010, I wrote the following letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News. It was published on August 10:

Dear Editor:

Attempting to formulate a reply to the responses to my letter to the editor has left me with quite a quandary. In 500 words I must respond to issues that deserve far more treatment than I can give them. Every letter writer committed the same error as Jack Palmer.

They assumed a priori that everyone believes in the Bible, their God and their version of Christianity. According to them, it is self-evident that the Christian God is the true God. They base their assertion upon the Bible, and therein lies the problem. They believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. I suspect most of the letter writers also believe the Bible is inerrant.

I do not believe the Bible is a supernatural book. The Bible is a manmade book of spiritual writings. It is rooted in a nomadic and agrarian economy that no longer exists. The last book of the Bible was written 1,900 years ago. While certainly the Bible has some value in the 21st century, it is not a book that should be used as a divine road map for life nor as a rulebook for governing society.

The Bible is best suited for use in tribal worship, cultural events and acts of personal piety. In other words, our society is far better off if the Bible is relegated to the same shelf as the great classics of the past.

Because I do not believe the Bible to be the divine truth, threats of divine retribution and judgment have no meaning to me. They did at one time. I was a student of the Bible for over 33 years, attended a Christian college and pastored evangelical churches for 25 years. As an agnostic, I have a humanistic worldview. It is a worldview that focuses on the here and now rather than eternity and a mythical home in heaven.

With all the suffering in the world, time spent pining for a mansion in the sky seems scandalous. The responses to my letter make it very clear to me that no two Christians agree on anything. Every letter writer espoused a different form of Christianity. Every letter writer has their own version of God and what constitutes a right, saving relationship with that God. This shows me that there is no such thing as Christianity (singular) in America.

Instead, what we do have is multiple Christianities, with every Christian picking and choosing what they want to believe from the Bible and then making God into their own image. Christians continue to use Pascal’s Wager with unbelievers to no effect. I would reverse the challenge and ask Christians, What if this is it? What if there is no heaven or hell?

What if you’ve spent your entire life seeking an eternal destiny that doesn’t exist? A life wasted that could have been spent enjoying the here and the now? A life wasted that could have been spent living and loving rather than trudging through a wicked world in search of a heaven and eternal reward that does not exist? We each have one life. This is it. Love and live. 

Bruce Gerencser
Ney

What follows is my response to one of the Christians — an Evangelical pastor — who wrote to the paper to object to my letter.

The Sunday (August 2010) edition of the Defiance Crescent-News has the first, of what I am sure will be many more, letters to the Editor concerning my recently published rebuttal letter.

My youngest son asked me today if anyone has ever written a letter to the editor in support of my views about religion. I laughed and said No. As far as I know, I am the only person who has written to the newspaper and said “I am an agnostic.” (Some days I wonder, “what was I thinking”?) I hope my willingness to stand up and be counted will encourage others to do so. I know I am not alone. I have received their letters and email. They fear what might happen to them socially or economically if their agnosticism or atheism were made public. Their fears are well-grounded and I would not encourage anyone to take the same path as I have.

My children have to live with the fact that their dad is “the man who writes in the newspaper.” They have to field questions like “are you related to Bruce Gerencser”? If they answer yes, what often follows is a queer look, a look that says I want to tell you what I think or I want to ask you a question or two. Usually, once my children affirm their connection to me, a nervous silence ensues. It’s like, the questioner, all of a sudden, finds out he has been working alongside a spawn of Satan.

The first letter to the editor response I want to deal with is written by Ron Adkins, pastor of the Ney and Farmer United Methodist churches. I know Ron personally. Our family attended the Ney church for a number of months, and it was the last church we ever attended. One might say our last experience proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back (though we met many wonderful people at the Ney church).

Ron is a young man. This is his first pastorate. (Ron later moved on to a different denomination, though he still lives in the area.) Prior to this, he was a professor at Ohio Christian University. Ohio Christian University is a Fundamentalist institution affiliated with the Churches of Christ in Christian Union. (I am sure Ron will chafe at the Fundamentalist label, but he also knows what my response is to that. Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?)

Ron has pastored the Ney/Farmer churches for about 2 years. When I asked him what his philosophy of ministry was, he told me it was “loving on people”. Evidently, as you shall see from his letter, that “loving on people” doesn’t include me. Some of what Ron writes in his letter reflects personal, private discussions he and I had during the time we attended the Ney church. One could object, saying “I told you that in private” but one thing I know about preachers, “don’t tell them anything you don’t want others to know.”

From reading Ron’s letter to the editor, I think it is safe to assume that my rebuttal letter upset some people in his church. Here I am, almost two years removed from attending Ney United Methodist Church — we left the last Sunday in November, 2008 — and I am still causing trouble. I realize my letter put Ron in a no-win situation. He is a great guy and he doesn’t like conflict. The last thing he needs is to tangle with Bruce. But my heresy demands an answer, so Ron penned a reply to my letter.

As you shall see in a moment, Ron tries to avoid making this personal. He never calls me by name. Instead, he calls me THE agnostic. Since the is a definite article and I am the only agnostic that has written to the paper, it is safe to assume that THE agnostic = Bruce Gerencser.

Now to Pastor Adkins’ letter. Ron’s letter appears as normal type. My response appears as bold italics.

To the Editor:

I have been averse to reading the latest letter to the editor from the agnostic because I personally find agnosticism trite for two major reasons.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right away. Ron is writing about my letter, and since I am the only agnostic who has written to the newspaper, he is directing his response to me and what I have written. Of course, his greater objective is to cheer on the faithful. 

My response is personal. I guess I could hide my response target by saying I am responding to THE pastor, but, I am not one known for such subterfuge, so I want to make it clear that my response is directed to Pastor Adkins and his letter to the editor. I do hope that the faithful will be challenged and forced to ask hard questions about Christianity and the Bible. I also hope my fellow atheists and agnostics will be encouraged to continue on the path of intellectual freedom.

I am amused somewhat that Ron considers agnosticism trite, yet he expends quite a bit of verbiage in his attack of the agnostic view. Perhaps it was not as trite as he thought is was.

First, agnosticism is predicated on the premise of skepticism concerning the existence of God. The agnostic doubts the absolute truth about God (although some may believe in a First Cause), yet states an absolute truth by claiming God does not exist and that the answer is a humanistic worldview. If consistent, the agnostic would doubt his own statements, and furthermore, would doubt his own doubt that God does not exist, thus resulting in the probability that God could exist.

I don’t believe I have ever said God does not exist.  I am, after all, an agnostic. In fact, Ron might be surprised to know that I have quite a bit of room in my agnostic worldview for a god (or gods) — much to the consternation of some hard-core atheists. (I would no longer make this statement now.) I am fairly certain that the gods which man has created so far are not gods at all. I cannot state categorically or infallibly –I’ll leave that to the Pope — there is NO God. Even Christopher Hitchens does not say there is No God. 

The best answer, the best philosophy of living, in my humble opinion, is humanism. With humanism, the focus is on reality, the here and now. Surely, Ron, the history major that he is, knows that many humanists have a spiritual or religious dimension to their beliefs. But the humanist always comes back to what he can see and know. The humanist does not have the time to spend on pining about a future in heaven, the rapture, and the many other supposed events in the future that preoccupy and keep Christians from engaging a suffering and dying world. 

What is humanism? The best statement I have found comes from the Humanist magazine:

Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. Free of theism and other supernatural beliefs, humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny.

Christians often prop up the straw man of absolute truth. Everyone believes in absolute truth, they claim.  Evidently Ron needs to meet a few real agnostics and atheists before he claims such a thing.

Personally, there are many things I believe to be true or factual. Based on what knowledge and information I have at hand, I have concluded that certain things are true. I know that the earth revolves around the sun and that the earth is not flat. I am relatively certain the science behind these claims is true. If I were left with only the absolute truth of the Bible, I would have to ignore what science teaches and I would be forced to accept that the sun revolves around the earth and the earth is flat (among countless other incredible, yet false. claims found in the Bible).

Ron writes of the absolute truth of God, and by God, let’s be clear, Ron means the Evangelical Christian God. Where does one find this absolute truth? The Bible. Ah, finally a concrete piece of information we can weigh in the balances. And that is exactly what I have done. I have weighed the claims of the Bible in the balances and found it wanting. 

I find the claims made by academics such as Bart Ehrman and Robert Price to be compelling. I find Richard Wright’s book The Evolution of God to be a fascinating alternative story to the monotheism of orthodox Christianity.

My agnosticism rests squarely on the belief that the Bible is not what it claims to be and that it is not inspired, divine truth. At the end of the day, it all boils down to the Bible. If I do not accept the claims of the Bible, or the claims of what churches, denominations, popes, or pastors say the Bible says, then I cannot believe in the God that the Bible presents.  I may still believe in a god but not the god of the Christian Bible. 

Ron, I am sure, will appeal to nature and conscience as proof for God, but I would counter: how can one necessarily conclude that the God who gave us nature and a conscience is necessarily the Christian God? Would a person not initiated in Christian thinking come to the conclusion, by looking at nature, that there is a God and that that God is the triune God of the Christian religion? Doubtful. In fact, I can say impossible. 

Second, if then, the agnostic is not a true agnostic, because of the self-defeating premise, then there is another motivation behind his self-proclaimed agnosticism.

Answered above, so I assume this makes moot the next point Ron makes. But Ron gets personal (divulging a bit of inside information about me) in what follows so I want to deal with it.

I have found that agnostics, who are not true agnostics, typically are angry at God because God does not operate the way they think God should operate. At other times they are angry because they have not received what they wanted from God. Like the undisciplined child who is angry at a parent using their only means of power, knowing they are powerless, will proclaim, “I hate you!” Nothing could hurt a parent more, and they know this.

The agnostic stands before God and proclaims in anger, ”You don’t exist!” Isn’t it interesting then that humans, created beings, desire God to act the way they perceive God should act? Furthermore, I find it pathetic to claim a humanistic worldview in which there is nothing, or no one, greater than ourselves to rely.

Anger. Ron, is right about my anger, but he is wrong about the focus of my anger. 

The Christian God, the God of Ron Adkins does not exist. Why would I be angry at a fictional being?

No, my anger is directed towards organized religion.  My anger is directed at Evangelical Christianity. I am angry over what was taken from me over the 25 years I spent in the ministry. I am angry over the wasted time and effort spent “doing church.” I am angry over my own selfish ambitions and my attempts at building a kingdom in my own name (as all pastors do; after all, why is their name on their church’s sign?).

I am angry over what the ministry and the church did to my wonderful wife and children. I am angry over countless parishioners whose lives are now shipwrecked because they drank from the well of organized religion.

Yes, I am angry and it feels good. For 33 years I lived in denial of my emotions, serving a God who was no god at all, a god that demanded self-sacrifice and self-denial. It feels good to be out from under such a burdensome weight.

Ron may consider humanism pathetic, and I might be tempted to say back at ya, but what humanism provides for me is reality. It is rooted in the common humanity we all share. I no longer have a need to pray, fast, tithe, and attend church. What humanism demands of me is doing. It demands of me the very things Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount. Humanism calls me to be fully human in an imperfect, marred world. It calls me to use what talents I have for the betterment of my fellow man.

Becoming an agnostic and a humanist has forced me to admit that most of the supposed altruistic works I did as a pastor had an ulterior motive. I didn’t love people for who they were. I loved them because I wanted Jesus to change them. If Jesus changed them then they would become a part of the church I pastored. End result? Bigger attendance and bigger offerings. (Trying to get a pastor to admit this is nigh impossible.)

It is an exhilarating experience to truly love people as they are. 

Last, I would like to briefly answer the question which became the title for the agnostic’s editorial, “Writers espoused different views.”

I am glad of one thing, Ron used the word last. I despise the use of the word “lastly.” Ron gets 1 brownie point for using “last” instead of “lastly.”

I hope Ron is aware that the newspaper determines what the letter title is. I have been writing letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, etc. for over 28 years and I have yet to write my own title.

First, let me give some advice to all of those wonderful Christians who have been troubled by THE Agnostic. Remember an agnostic asks questions based on skepticism. Don’t feel as though you are in a corner. The quote at hand read, “Every letter writer has their own version of God and what constitutes a right, saving relationship with that God. This shows me that there is no such thing as Christianity (singular) in America”.

Truth is an objective fact expressed in a subjective way. It is obvious that one comes to the truth of Christianity or more generally religious truth, differently than one would come to scientific truth. God is not an object to be observed. God has made himself known. Faith, therefore, is a response in obedience, the thing agnostics hate.

I find Ron’s statement here astounding. Ron writes “Truth is an objective fact expressed in a subjective way.” Ron certainly believes the Bible is absolute truth.  I would love to know if he really, really, believes the Bible is absolute truth (I have my doubts). Ron, without any evidence, believes that what the Bible teaches is an objective fact. The Bible is true because it says it is.

How does one know this? Through a subjective experience, God has made himself known. How do we know that? Because the Christian says so. Because Ron says so. Ultimately, then, it is a matter of faith.

If it is a matter of faith, why do so many Christians try to “prove” the truth of Christianity? Why do they attempt to use scientific methods to prove the veracity of the claims the Bible makes?

If it is a matter of faith, then why write letters to the editor attempting to discredit and refute my rebuttal letter? Would it not be better to rest in the belief that the God of faith, through the Holy Spirit, will take care of things? Surely God can take care of one lowly, insignificant, pimple-on-the-ass agnostic named Bruce?

Ron might be surprised to know that I still have faith. I have faith in the gods I can see, my fellow human beings. In my Christian days, I put my faith in a God whom I said was always there, but quite honestly I never really could find him. God was all-knowing and all-powerful. He was supposedly intimately involved in the minutia of my life, yet when it came to things that mattered — matters of life and death — God was nowhere to be found. 

I would assume that Ron considers his weekly sermons to be subjective in nature? After all, he is preaching absolute truth in a subjective manner, yes? I don’t know of any preacher who would embrace such a claim, especially an Evangelical preacher. After all, the preacher is the man of God who speaks the infallible Word of God to the people of God. Not much subjectivity there.

I find no conflict in the different responses to the agnostic because the different individuals have expressed their belief and experience (“Pascal’s Wager”) in the one, absolute God in different ways. Faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world is truth and is experienced by individuals.

Ron is being disingenuous here OR his two years in the Methodist church have worn down his Evangelical resolve. I realize he is preaching to the choir here, but any cursory reading of the letters written in reply to either of my recent letters will reveal full-blown heresy. Is Ron suggesting that subjective heresy is fine as long as it is done with the right intention? If so, it is time to give all the heretics of the past a place at the orthodox table once again. Each of them had sincere intentions. They loved their version of Jesus. Welcome, Brother Pelagius!

It is clear for all who are willing to see . . . no two Christians have the same version of Christianity. Christianity for most Christians is akin to going to a buffet, taking what you want, and leaving the rest. I don’t have a problem with this approach, but I would, at least, like Christians to admit it. They speak of orthodoxy and common belief, but such singularity does not exist except in denominational or church confessions or theological texts. Real-world experience tells me that all Christians believe what they want to believe and ignore the rest. (Any righteous men out there that want to offer their virgin daughter to the men of the city as righteous Lot did?)

This is why all Christians can describe some kind of personal experience, or relationship, with God through the Holy Spirit. Christian faith is an assent and obedience to the revelation of God.

On this point, I  agree with Ron. It is all about the revelation of God. In other words, it is ALL about the Bible. As I have said time and time again, there is no Christianity without the Bible. I am an agnostic because I reject the truth claims of the Bible. I reject its claim that it is a supernatural, divine book that reveals God to humankind. It is a fallible book written by unknown men thousands of years ago.  Certainly, the Bible has much to offer in way of personal spiritual guidance, but it is just a book, and it has no authority in my life. It has as much authority, and is just as inspired, as the writings of Mark Twain. (And no Christian can prove otherwise because the doctrine of inspiration is presupposed and cannot be empirically proved.)

Ron knew I was heading down the slippery slope towards agnosticism. Surely he can recall our discussions about the Bible. He, at one time, read my blog. Yet, when I stopped attending his church, that ended our interaction. Evidently, his time was better spent rescuing those who wanted rescued.

Yet, one would think that over the course of two years, in a town of 325 people, Ron or someone from the church would have stopped by and looked in on us. As I have struggled with debilitating neurological problems, problems Ron was well aware of, one would think that a visit might be in order. How can we help? Is there anything you need? One never knows what love and kindness might accomplish.

As is always the case . . . why spend time helping people who have no intentions of joining the happy band. If their ass is not in the seat, why bother?

There are six churches within a few miles of the home where my family and I reside. Prior to my recent coming out as an agnostic, our family would have been a great catch for any church. We are clean-cut, clean-livers. We look like Christians. We are talented. We have skills that any church would be grateful to use. We are loyal, faithful people. We are loving and kind. We are great non-Christian Christians.

But, not one pastor, one church leader, one church member, ever knocked on our door to invite us to their church. Even after we visited four of the six churches, no one bothered to try to befriend us and love us as Jesus would.

No, the truth is . . . no one gave a shit.

And then one day . . . neither did we.

Here are some of the other responses to my August 2010 letter to the editor:

August 2010

I cannot help but wonder what would make someone who has read the Bible (assuming the entire Bible from cover to cover), attended a Christian college (attending a Christian college does not make one a Christian) and been an evangelical pastor change his mind and become an agnostic humanist.

Richard Dawkins in his book, The God Delusion, contains a chapter entitled “The Poverty of Agnosticism.”

Dawkins is a renowned atheist, and you are probably wondering why I quote an atheist to make a point. In the said chapter he discusses many points concerning agnosticism but I would like to point out two items of interest. First he observes there is an “agnostic spectrum,” varying degrees of agnosticism, ranging from one — “I believe in God but have a lot of questions concerning his existence” — to seven — “I do not believe in God, period.”

Second, he also mentions two types of agnosticism — a temporary agnosticism in practice and a permanent agnosticism in principle. I wonder where Mr. Gerencser stands.

If he was once enlightened and has fallen as far as agnosticism, then there is still hope. The next step is apostasy on which the Bible is very clear. If he has sincerely studied the Scriptures then he knows what I am referring to (Hebrews 6). If not, then he should, perhaps, rethink his position. And, yes, I know his position on the inerrancy of scripture. However, the Bible is as relevant today as it was then.

Bob Palczewski
Defiance

August 2010

In answer to Bruce Gerencser’s letter in Sunday’s paper, he says he is an agnostic and no longer believes.

He said that at one time the Bible had meaning to him and that he pastored an evangelical church for 25 years. Evangelical churches should evangelize. What did he preach? Did he tell them that God sent His sinless son Jesus to die for our sins? John 3:16. He did. Did he ever truly accept Christ as his Lord and Savior? None of us ourselves will ever be good enough. You cannot prove to me that the Bible is not the inspired Word of God that tells us in Romans 10: 9-10 that if we believe and confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus that we will be saved.

Gerencser asked, What if there is no heaven or hell and we Christians have wasted our lives? If he is right and I am wrong, I have not lost anything. But if I am right and he is wrong, he has lost everything, his soul.

My husband is 85 and I am 82, and neither of us regret the almost 50 years of volunteer service for the Lord. For 13 years we sang Gospel and ministered with our young family in churches and the migrant camps. Last year after my husband’s bypass surgery and 34 years in the jail and prison Ministry we left it to devote more time to visiting and ministering in our local rest home.

If Gerencser thinks Jesus is not real, he should read our book. He says that we should live and love life. This has not been easy because we supported ourselves in our small businesses. But after 64 years of marriage we are still living and loving, thanks to Calvary.

Gertrude Hitt
Archbold

August 2010

In response to Bruce Gerenscer’s letter of June 20, I am one of those right-wing nuts and Christian Republicans that are dominating Ohio. I am proud to be a Christian. I will tell anyone anytime what I believe, but I won’t make you listen if you choose not to.

God gave us all a choice. What Jack Palmer said in his column on June 10 was the truth. He believes what he says. He has a right to say it. Bruce Gerencser has a right not to believe it, that is his choice. The last time I looked we in America have freedom to say what we want to say. That means we have the same rights as Gerencser has. I thank God for Jack Palmer. We need more like him.

God doesn’t leave us. I am thankful for that. The proof is when you feel Him yourself. God didn’t just save my soul, he saved my life. If I didn’t’ have God, I would not be here this day.

God’s heart breaks because of all the suffering in the world. It goes back to unbelief and the choice He made available to us, and when we choose the wrong way.

Gerencser said he gave thanks to his parents and all the others in his life. If it weren’t for God, he wouldn’t have them in the first place, so I thank God for my family.

Gerencser talked about being on the boat, but you can’t abandon ship unless you were on it to begin with. I hope and pray that one day Gerencser will get back on board.

No one is going to get rid of God no matter what he or she says or does. God answers me so gently in a soft and loving tone, saying “I am with you always, you will never be alone.”

Rose Molnar
Defiance

August 2010

I am writing in response to Bruce Gerencser’s letter to the editor in the June 20 Crescent-News. Gerencser stated in his letter that he wanted “to give credit to whom credit is due.” Well, I too would like to do that.

First, I am thankful to live in America where I have the privilege of writing a letter to the editor to express my opinion. Thank you to The Crescent-News for setting aside a page in your paper to print even those I may disagree with.

Many, many thanks to my parents and husband for working so hard to provide for us. In addition to those Gerencser gave thanks to, I would also like to thank the farmers who provide the food our nation enjoys. Also, a big thank you goes to those serving in the military, past and present, who are willing to sacrifice their lives in order to help protect our nation.

However, I realize that God is the one who actually provides all these. He gives good health in order to do the work. He gives knowledge to the doctors, teachers, counselors, etc. so they can help others. God provides the sunshine and rain the farmers need in order to produce their crops.

Everything we have or do not have comes from God. So, thank you dear God for all these, but most of all I thank you for my home in heaven.

Connie Elston
rural Oakwood

August 2010

Since Bruce Gerencser asked the question, let’s get it answered. Say I believe in a religion and I follow its tenants. I am good to my neighbors and strangers, help the homeless, donate to charities and do the best that I can. Now, when I die if there is nothing, then what exactly have I wasted?

And, if there is something after death, then I will be rewarded for my good works and remembered far longer then Gerencser ever would be. People will remember Mother Teresa or Billy Graham far longer than Gerencser. If you live for today like Gerencser wants and when you die, if there is a creator, you have to stand before the creator and explain why you did not believe and tried to get others to do the same. Somehow I don’t think that saying “whoops, my bad” is going to cut it.

But my other question would be while Gerencser claims to have been a pastor for 25 years and since being an agnostic is one step above being an atheist, as both of them deny the existence of a deity according to every encyclopedia and dictionary out there, is Gerencser now freely admitting that he was living a lie and that his whole life before becoming agnostic was a fraud?

And, if he was a pastor, then what about all the people he was supposed to lead? Is he now admitting that he deceived them as well? And, why bother becoming a pastor in the first place if you were just going to turn your back on your chosen religion, especially one that he has never mentioned? Something about his claim just does not sound correct.

Daniel Gray
Defiance

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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The Powerless Bible

power of god's word

Evangelicals love the Bible. They rarely read it or practice its teachings, but they do love it. They call themselves people of the book.  Some Baptist churches use the cliché, The Blood, The Book, The Blessed Hope to describe their beliefs. One could argue that it is the Bible and not Jesus that Evangelicals worship; that right belief trumps right conduct; that the Bible is the glue that holds everything together.

Evangelicals believe the Bible is an inerrant, infallible collection of texts supernaturally inspired (and preserved) by their God. Many Evangelicals think the Bible is also a science, archeology, and history textbook. Other Evangelicals think it is a sex manual, the blueprint for life, and the key to successful living. In their minds, the Bible is the end-all. It contains everything a person needs to know about life and godliness.

The Bible is a #1 bestseller that most everyone in America owns, but hasn’t read. Countless Evangelical Bibles gather dust on coffee tables, only to be brushed off come Sunday. Some Evangelicals store their Bibles in the back windows of their automobiles, in trunks, or under front seats. This way, they will know exactly where their Bibles are when they pull into the church parking lot on Sundays.

The Evangelical theme song is this:

The B-i-b-l-e

Yes, that’s the book for me

I stand alone on the Word of God

The B-i-b-l-e

BIBLE! (Shouted real loud so God hears them)

Evangelicals, with their devotion, love, and worship of the Bible, assume that everyone else has that same devotion, love, and worship of the Bible. They also assume that everyone accepts their presuppositions about the Bible; that the Bible is an inerrant, infallible book inspired by God. They cannot fathom anyone viewing the Bible any other way. Sin, unbelief, liberalism, or apostasy are the causes for not believing as they do, or so say Evangelicals.

reaction to god's word

One evangelistic tactic Evangelicals use with non-believers, atheists and agnostics is quoting the Bible. Since they believe the Bible has magical power, they think if they quote the Bible that it will have a powerful effect on the person to whom they are quoting it. A post by Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum, illustrates this kind of thinking:

A new atheist billboard now appears along the interstate in Riverside, California. These billboards feature a beautiful sunrise over a mountain scene and say, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone,” and then give a web address. This board is just one version of many similar boards from other atheist organizations in different parts of the country. Rather than comment on these boards, I thought I would just let Scripture do the talking.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:18–23)

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1)

This is the message that these atheists need to hear and believe!

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16–18)

power of god's word 2

Ham has a Bible message for people such as me:

  • I am a fool
  • I am ungodly
  • I am unrighteous
  • I suppress the truth
  • I am unthankful
  • I have a darkened heart

Ham’s solution for such a debauched life as mine is for me to believe the Bible’s words are true, repent of my sins, and trust Jesus as my Lord and Savior. He thinks if he writes or says the magic words that somehow, some way, they will transform my life.

Here’s what Ham doesn’t understand: I don’t accept his presuppositions about the Bible. It is just a book, no different from any other book sitting on my bookshelves. It has no magical power. In fact, when I hear or read Evangelicals quoting the Bible, my ears often go deaf and eyes glaze over. 

If Evangelicals want to challenge my worldview and beliefs, they are going to have to come up with something better than the Bible. Saying “God says,” “thus saith the Lord,” “in Genesis 1:1 the Bible says,” etc., have no power over me. Such quoting is little more than a parlor trick used to amaze the ignorant, and I am too old for such childish tricks.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Why I “Retired” from the Ministry

i quit

What follows is a post I wrote detailing the reasons why I retired from the ministry in 2005. When I wrote this, I had not yet declared myself an atheist/agnostic. As you will see, I was still clinging, ever so precariously, to my Christian beliefs. I hope you will find this post instructive and helpful in your own journey.

Originally written in 2008. Slightly edited, revised, and corrected.

I am often questioned about why I retired from the ministry. I started preaching as a teenage boy and I pastored my first church at age 24. Since then I have pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan, with my last pastorate being in 2003 (I candidated for several Southern Baptist churches in 2005). I have been married over 30 years, and I have spent my entire married life in the ministry.

Acquaintances, family, and friends are often miffed about why I walked away from the ministry. Why quit preaching? I am often asked. Surely there’s a church somewhere for you to pastor? Surely you still “want” to pastor? If God called you. how can you walk away from his calling?

Good questions, and quite frankly, I have more questions these days than I do answers. What follows is my attempt to shed some light on the “why” question.

Why did I retire from the ministry?

  • I retired because the word “retire” is a better word than “quit.” I don’t want to be known as a quitter. I was told my whole life by my peers that God hates quitters. I can still hear the scathing words of Tom Malone and Jack Hyles ringing in my ears as they skinned quitters alive in their sermons. So I use the word retire but, truth be told, I have just plain quit.
  • For health reasons. I have Fibromyalgia. I am in constant pain. Last year I was tested for MS and the tests were inconclusive. I have numbness in my face, hands, and legs. My doctor ruefully told me that he is uncertain as to what my actual neurological problem is. I’ll just have to wait to see what “breaks.” I am a type A, perfectionist workaholic. I worked myself into a physical collapse, foolishly thinking that anyone cared how hard I worked. God didn’t, and neither did the people I pastored.
  • For family reasons. I sacrificed my family and my marriage for a mistress called the Church. I lived for the Church. I was willing to die for the Church. I worked long hours for lousy pay. I allowed my family and my wife to become appendages to the work I was doing. They were the default clean-up, tear-down crew and did all the jobs no one else wanted to do. Our family was so wrapped up in the Church that we lost our self-identity. I want my children to know me for more than just being a pastor. I want my wife to have a husband who doesn’t always put her second to the Church. Whoever said “you must sacrifice your family for the sake of your calling” is not only wrong but also a destroyer of families. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that family comes first.
  • Changing theology. My theology is undergoing a complete and thorough overhaul. I entered the ministry as a Fundamentalist Baptist. I have become, over time, progressive in my thinking and I now identify with liberal causes and beliefs. I am not the man I once was, but neither am I the man I want to be. As my friend Tammy Schoch told me recently, “it is normal in mid-age to reevaluate one’s beliefs and to readjust or change your beliefs accordingly.”
  • Thomas Merton and Wendell Berry. These two writers have fundamentally changed how I look at the world and how I view my place in it. I have come to realize that I spent most of my adult life wasting my time with a religion that made no difference in the world I live in and a religion I have increasingly come to believe doesn’t do much to prepare us for the next life either.
  • The meaninglessness of vast parts of American Christianity. I now realize that most of what we do in Christianity doesn’t amount to much of anything. We seem to spend most of our time and effort making sure we have things to spend most of our time and effort on. We collect money so we can spend the money so we can collect money so we can spend the money . . . it seems that much of our work is simply done to keep the Titanic floating. Little progress is made in truly making a difference in the world.
  • Changing understanding of the Bible. I started out in the ministry as a King James-Only, every-word-of-the-Bible-is-inerrant believer. I have come to understand that such a belief is not only unsustainable theologically but is absolutely irrational. I no longer use the Bible as a science or history textbook and I no longer need to read any particular systematic theology into the text in order to enjoy reading the Bible. I simply enjoy reading the Biblical narrative for its own sake. It now speaks to me in ways I never thought possible.
  • Meeting people of other religious faiths or no faith at all. I was blessed with Catholic daughters-in-law. They forced me to come to terms with my deep-seated hatred for any religion but my own. As you may well know, we Baptists hate Catholics. The big change for me was when I attended a Midnight Christmas mass with my wife and some of our children. What a beautiful and powerful service. It shook my bigoted bones right down to my core.
  • Gandhi. Gandhi showed me the way of peace, of non-violent resistance. Of course, according to my Baptist beliefs, Gandhi is burning in Hell right at this moment. I no longer believe that, and I do not believe such vengeful hate by God is consistent with His love and mercy. I have abandoned the classic Baptist understanding of hell and I believe in annihilation. My beliefs are becoming more and more universalist as I go along. I will leave it to God to sort out the “who is in and who is not.”
  • For mental health reasons. I came to the realization that I was full of fear and regret. I feared God and I regretted wasting my life serving a deity I only served out of fear. No matter how perfect I was, no matter how much I did, I simply couldn’t meet God’s standard (or that of the men who spoke for God). I despaired for my life. I have since been introduced to a God who loves and has mercy and who does not use fear in his dealings with his children.
  • For my kids and grandkids. I want to know my kids and grandkids. I want to be more than just a religious guru to them. I want to be able to enjoy THIS life with them without everything revolving around the NEXT life. I struggle with the “dad doesn’t go to Church any more” . . . but I hope in time I can have a relationship with my kids and grandkids that doesn’t revolve around religion. Yes, I still want to talk about God, but I also want to enjoy the day-to-day things of life and I want to share those things with my kids and grandkids.
  • Guilt. This is the biggest problem I face — guilt over how I have lived my life, how I wasted my life, and how I hurt my family. I am sure some pious soul is going to tell me “Get over it and move on with life.” I wish I could, but I can’t. Until I can come to terms with the past 30 or 40 years, I cannot move forward from here. I am sure my wife is tired of me living in 1985 or 1994, but I must resolve the issues that plague me before I can move forward. I am making progress in this area and I plan to start on a book in the new year titled “From Eternity to Here.” Several people, I respect greatly have suggested that writing a book might be cathartic, just what I need to move my life forward.(I still want to write a book, but I fear physically it is an impossible goal.)
  • I simply don’t want to be in the ministry anymore. I have no desire for it and I do not want to give the requisite time necessary to be a “good” pastor. I believe I still have good teaching skills and I have a sincere desire to be a help to others, but I do not want to exercise my gifts in a traditional Church setting. I have wasted enough time already and I don’t want to waste anymore.

I could pastor a church tomorrow if I wanted to. Thousands of churches are without pastors. Most of them don’t deserve to have another pastor. They have chewed up and spit out the previous 20 pastors and they will do the same to the next one. Quite frankly, many Churches just need to die. As I look back at how willing I was to sacrifice so small Churches could have a “full time” pastor, I am ashamed of myself. Living on food stamps, with my kids wearing hand-me-down clothes, all so people could say “we have a full-time pastor and he has kids” The most I ever made in the ministry, counting housing, salary and reimbursements, was $26,000. While everyone else progressed economically, my family was supposed to settle for welfare wages and a chicken or two. I never pastored a church that took it upon themselves to offer me a raise. I had to ask, and often plead and beg, to get a raise. I saw their cars and houses. I saw their material stores, yet I was just supposed to sing “Oh how I love Jesus, thank you for keeping me poor.”

The most prosperous times of my life came when I was bi-vocational. I managed restaurants, sold insurance, delivered newspapers, pumped gas, and managed government grant programs. In retrospect, I should have always been bi-vocational. I should not have allowed the church to keep me poor. My problem was that I could never do anything half-way. I still can’t. So while I worked a full-time secular job, I also worked the church job full-time. I often worked 60 or 70 hours a week, rarely taking a day off. Vacations? We only took them if I was preaching a conference somewhere. Dates with my wife? Only if there was a church outing to go to.

I realize some of this sounds like the grousing of a bitter old man. I shall plead guilty to that charge. I am bitter at times, and as the Dixie Chicks said “I am not ready to make nice.” I fully accept my own culpability in the affairs of my life. I write for the sake of my family and for the sake of my own mental health. I also write this as a warning to young pastors who are tempted to take the same path I took.

I will stop writing this with the sharing of the biggest breakthrough in my life over the past few months. I spent my life “living for Jesus and Living for Others.” I bought into the mantra of Jesus First, Others Second, and Bruce doesn’t matter. I spent far too much time worrying about what others thought of me, of how they viewed my ministry and family.

My big breakthrough is pretty simple. I have come to the place where I don’t give a shit about what others think of me or what I believe. I don’t give a shit that you are upset that I wrote the word shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. I simply don’t care. Things matter to me, but what someone thinks of me personally or what they think of my beliefs, I don’t care. It has been liberating to be delivered from the judgments of others.

Have you said WOW yet? I heard you!  Let me paraphrase Thomas Merton. People were upset with Merton because his beliefs were always changing, always in motion. He said he frustrated his critics because just when they thought they had him pinned down on an issue, they found out he had already move on to something else.

That’s me, always moving, until the heart stops beating.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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