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Tag: Death

Focusing on What Really Matters

focus on what matters

As an Evangelical Christian, I viewed life this way:

  1. Life is given to us by God.
  2. Life is a preparatory time for life after death.
  3. Troubles, trials, and adversity will certainly come our way, but these things are part of God’s plan for us. He is testing us, trying us, and developing a longing in us for Heaven.
  4. While pleasure and happiness have their place in the human experience, it is far more important to know the joy of the Lord, and if need be, to deny oneself pleasure and happiness for the sake of God’s Kingdom and the eternal reward that awaits those who run the race God has set before them.
  5. While there is nothing wrong with material things, they do have the power to corrupt and distract us from that which really matters. As the Westminster Catechism says: What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
  6. Life is to be lived with God, his will, and eternity always in the foreground.
  7. Death is a promotion from this life to the next. While we will leave our loved ones behind for a time, we know that if they are followers of Jesus, we will see them again in Heaven.

As an atheist, I view life this way:

  1. Life is given to us by our parents.
  2. This life is all we have. There is no life after death, no second chances, no do-overs. This is it.
  3. Troubles, trials, and adversity will certainly come our way. These things happen to everyone, and it is the price we pay for being among the living. Sometimes, these things happen due to our bad choices or rash, foolish decisions. However, many things befall us simply due to bad luck. Wrong place. Wrong time. Wrong circumstance. Bad genes.
  4. Pleasure and happiness are to be sought after since this life is all we have. In seeking pleasure and happiness, we should consider how seeking these things affects others, but we should not allow others to stand in the way of our pursuit of pleasure and happiness. Life is too short to allow others to dictate the parameters by which we live our lives.
  5. We should seek after those things which give our life meaning and purpose. While there is a place in the human experience for living for the sake of others, this should not be at the expense of our own meaning and purpose. While narcissism is not a trait most humans value, neither is living a life that belongs to everyone but the person living it.
  6. Since life is defined by the space between birth and death, it is important for us to live each day to its fullest. Every day we live means we are one day closer to death. While death may provide a release from pain and sickness, it is bittersweet. Bittersweet because we are leaving behind those things which mattered to us. Above all, we are leaving behind those we love.

Several years ago, I watched the final show of the acclaimed HBO series Six Feet Under. The show is about the Fisher Family and their funeral home business. For five seasons, viewers are taken on a journey with the Fisher family and death. I found Six Feet Under to be one of the best dramas I have ever viewed. In the final episode, the writers tried to tie together all the loose ends. A few episodes before, Nate Fisher had a brain aneurysm and died at age 40. He left a wife, two children, and a complicated life. The writers focused on Nate, his contradictory life, and its effect on everyone his life touched.

The last few moments of the show were the most powerful moments I have ever experienced while watching TV. I wept as the show moved through the lives of all the Fisher family as they aged and one by one died. All of them dead. No one escaped. While it would be easy to say “how sad,” I found it to a reminder of how important it is to value and cherish the life we have. We spend so much time doing things that are meaningless or add nothing to our life. I know it is very easy to get sucked into normalcy, to just go with the flow. We tell ourselves, Tomorrow . . . . Perhaps a Bible verse is appropriate here:

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

Perhaps each of us needs to ask ourselves:

  • Am I happy?
  • What is it I want to do with my life?
  • What brings me pleasure and happiness?
  • What do I want to do that I have not yet done?

What are your answers telling you? What are your thoughts on what I have shared here?

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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More Tough Health News and a Death in the Family

health news

Readers may remember that I was hospitalized a weekend ago for a bowel problem. If you are not aware of my recent hospitalization, please read, I Ain’t Dying — Yet: Recent Hospitalization for Bowel Problems. This past weekend has proved just as challenging.

On Friday through Sunday afternoon, my blood pressure skyrocketed and I developed a heart arrhythmia. I got in to see my primary care doctor on Monday for an exam and an EKG. Fortunately, I did not have A-Fib — as Polly has. While at the doctor’s office, I told him that my taste had changed since Tuesday; that everything, including water, tasted salty, and sweet tastes were muted. I told him Polly thought I had thrush. She, of course, was right. She’s always right. I had to say that, in hopes of keeping my meals coming. 🙂

So, I am on a drug to treat the thrush and a beta-blocker has been added to my blood pressure treatment regimen. Yes, when it rains, it pours.

Sunday morning, our oldest son arrived at our home, coffee in hand for his java addict mother. I was still in bed. I rarely rise before the early afternoon. None of our children just show up at our house. They know, call first. We might be naked, having passionate sex on the dining room table. Or, we might still be in bed. So, they ALWAYS call first.

Cell phones don’t work very well in our home. We live in Ney, for God’s sake: one gas station, two bars/restaurants, a traffic light — which we wish the state would remove — and one resident atheist. That we get any cell service at all is surprising. Our children know to text if they need to get a hold of us.

Polly’s mom, who lives in Newark, Ohio, had been trying to call her since the early morning hours. When she couldn’t get a hold of her daughter, she asked our oldest son to deliver a message: Polly’s IFB preacher father had suddenly died from complications of pneumonia — I suspect from heart failure.

Yes, when it rain, it pours, and, sometimes, it keeps pouring and pouring and pouring. . .

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.

Preachers and The Lies They Tell About Heaven

heaven and hell
Heaven and Hell

Years ago, three young Ohio boys fell through the ice on the Sandusky River and drowned. What a terrible, terrible tragedy. Two of the boys were brothers.

The pastor of the church where their funeral was held said the following: (link no longer active)

A minister has told mourners that three Ohio boys who fell through ice and died together in a river are now playing together in heaven.

This statement is restated many different ways during countless Christian funerals:

  • Granny is running around Heaven now with no pain!
  • Gramps is in Heaven now and doesn’t need a wheelchair to get around anymore.
  • Momma is in Heaven, where she has no more pain, sickness, disease, or suffering.

Here’s the problem . . .

Statements such as these are not true.

Historic, orthodox Christian doctrine teaches that when people die, they go to the grave. They are DEAD. The body remains in the grave until the resurrection. At the resurrection of the just and unjust, those who have died will receive new bodies (1 Corinthians 15).

So why is it that preachers lie about the present location of the dead? Why did I, as an Evangelical pastor, lie to numerous grieving families?

Sentimentality.

Families are grieving. They have lost a loved one. They want to believe there is a divine purpose, and they want to believe that life continues beyond the grave.

So preachers concoct grand stories about Heaven and the immediate transport of the dead from earth to the sweet-by-and-by. Never mind the fact that the Bible does not say this.

Belief in the afterlife requires faith. No one has ever come back from the dead to tell us what lies beyond the grave (if anything). Anyone who says he has is a liar.

Even Jesus himself didn’t talk about the afterlife after his resurrection from the dead. His disciples did, the apostles did, but not Jesus. He told his disciples that wherever he was, they too would be someday. He never mentioned one time any of the things commonly heard in Christian funeral sermons.

Even the notion of spending eternity in Heaven is not taught in the Bible. Search all you might, it is not there.

What IS taught in the Bible is that followers of Jesus Christ will live forever in God’s eternal kingdom (on a new earth). On this point, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are probably closer in belief to what the Bible actually teaches than many Evangelical Christians.

The same could be said about Hell. Those who are not followers of Jesus will NOT spend eternity in Hell. The Bible doesn’t teach that. The Bible DOES teach, however, that unbelievers will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14).

Sentimentality allows preachers, who are supposed to be guardians of Christian doctrine to ignore what the Bible teaches in favor of telling stories to comfort grieving families.

I understand WHY they do it, but let me be clear: Preacher, if you can’t tell the truth when it really matters the most, how can you expect people to believe anything you say? If sentimentality allows you to ignore what the Bible teaches about Heaven (and Hell), how do we know that you are telling the truth any other time? Not telling the truth in hard circumstances results in a loss of credibility.

As an atheist, I have serious reservations about the notion of an afterlife. At this point in life, I lack the requisite faith necessary to believe that there’s life after death. I am of the opinion that each of us had best get to living this present life because it is the only one we have. That said, if you are a Christian, you are bound by what the Bible teaches. As a preacher, you are obligated to tell the truth. In fact, you owe it to your congregants to tell them the truth, even when it is hard to do so.

Of course, remove sentimentality from the equation and the Christian gospel and the promise of eternal life lose their luster. Telling grieving family members that Grandma — who attended church for 70 years and gave vast sums of money to the church — is lying in a grave, rotting until Jesus resurrects her a day, a hundred years, or twenty millennia from now doesn’t have as much appeal as, Grandma is in Heaven right now, in perfect health, praising Jesus day after day. She can’t wait for you to die and join her in Heaven, so the family circle will be unbroken.

Evangelicalism preaches a deferred payout. Yes, Jesus saves sinners, but the Christian life is no picnic. Life is filled with pain, heartache, and suffering. Preachers know they can’t fool their congregants about their lives. The evidence is clear: life is hard, and then you die. So, they make promises of a blissful, pain-free afterlife. The payout is immediate. Draw your last breath on earth, and draw your next breath in Heaven (or Hell). Preachers have no evidence for these promises, so they tell flowery, sentimental lies, hoping that people will buy what they are selling. Their goal is to get sinners to close the eternal life deal without ever reading the fine print. The fine print — which is found in the Bible — tells the purchaser that all promised rewards happen sometime in the distant future. Until then, your worm-eaten, rotting corpse will remain in the grave. Evangelical preachers have been making eternal life promises for centuries. These preachers come and go, live and die, and much like those to whom they promised eternal life, they lie decomposing in their graves. There they shall remain until Jesus returns to earth and resurrects them from their graves. Given the fact that Jesus promised to return in the first century, I think we can safely conclude that he, too, is lying in a grave, never to arise again from the dead.

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.

Guilt — the Essence of Evangelical Christianity

guilt

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

What would Evangelical Christianity be without guilt?

Guilt, despite what preachers say, is the engine that powers Evangelicalism.

Often preachers will try to hide guilt by giving it other names such as conviction. But no matter how they try to hide it, guilt plays a prominent part in the day-to-day lives of those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ.

Think about it for a moment. The Bible presents God as a righteous, holy, judging, wrathful, deity. In the Old Testament, this God was unapproachable except by a few chosen people. People who got too close wound up dead.

Who can forget the story about the man who put out his hand to steady the ark of the covenant to keep it from falling and God rewarded this man by killing him? Or the story about God killing the entire human race save eight people (and yet, Evangelicals say God is pro-life). Lesson? God is a mean mother fucker you better not mess with.

From Genesis to Revelation, we see a God who gives no quarter to disobedience or sin. He demands worship and expects perfect obeisance. He is a God who not only hates sin but hates those who do it. The hate-the-sin-but-love-the-sinner line of thinking is not found in the Bible. Evangelicals often remind people such as myself that someday every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Bow now or bow later, the thinking goes, but bow you will.

No matter how much the writers of the New Testament tried to cover this up with talk of love, grace, and mercy, the God of the Bible was not one to be trifled with. Those who dallied with him ended up dead. The Bible says it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

There are hundreds and hundreds of commands in the Bible — edicts that God expects Christians to obey without question or hesitation. After all, according to the Bible, God himself lives inside every Christian. Further, the Bible says Christians have the mind of Christ. The Bible also says that Christians are to be perfect even as their father in Heaven is perfect. Lest one doubt whether God is serious, the writer of First John reminds his fellow Christians that he who sins is of the devil.

The Bible’s message is clear: obey God lest you fall under his judgment, a judgment that could lead to your death. Put in words that any child can understand: do what God says or he is going to get you. Remember this is a God who killed two people in the book of Acts for lying. This is the same God who brutalized his son on the cross because of what other people did. This is also the same God that will someday ravage the earth and its inhabitants and torture in Hell for all eternity all those who are not Christians. The book of Revelation reads like a Quentin Tarantino movie script. The vengeful God will pour out his wrath upon the earth, killing billions of people and destroying the earth in the process. This destruction will be so severe that God will have to make a new Heaven and a new earth. (2 Peter 3:10-13)

It should come as no surprise, then, that many Evangelicals live with a backbreaking load of guilt. They know what God expects and they fear him, but, in spite of all their hard work, they still can’t measure up to what God demands. What deepens their guilt is preachers who say they speak for God, adding more rules and regulations — also called church standards — that God allegedly demands every Christian obey.

I spent most of my life in the Evangelical church. I desperately wanted to be a good Christian. I felt God had called me into the ministry, and I wanted to be the best pastor possible. I was willing to sacrifice everything for God. So that’s what I did. I sacrificed my family, my health, and my economic well-being for God. I held nothing back, and I was willing to die for my God if necessary.

Several years ago, someone made a comment on Facebook about my being an atheist. This person has known me for forty-two years. He said that he was shocked that I was an atheist because if anyone was a committed, true blue believer, I was. Most people who knew me in my Christian days would give a similar account of my devotion to God.

As a pastor, I gave 99% to the cause. I worked long hours without regard to whether I got paid. Most of the churches I pastored paid poverty wages, but that didn’t matter to me. I would have gladly worked for free, and, in fact, I did work many weeks and months without receiving a paycheck. It was never about the money. It was all about faithfully serving God and fulfilling his calling on my life. It was all about being obedient to the commands and teachings found in the Bible.

One would think that someone as committed as I was wouldn’t have had guilt, but guilt played a prominent part in my life. Striving for perfection quickly reveals how imperfect one is. Sometimes, I envied Christians who could take a minimal, carefree approach to God and his commands. Why couldn’t I be a nominal, slothful Christian like most of the people I pastored? I’m not sure I have an answer for that. All I know is this, I worked for the night is coming when no man can work, and the more work I put into my Christian faith the more guilt I had.

I often pondered the work of Jesus on the cross. Jesus had given his all on the cross for me, shouldn’t I give my all to him? I took seriously the command to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. I tried to pattern my life after the example of Christ and the apostles. I wanted to be found busy working for the advancement of God’s kingdom with Jesus came back to earth.

The Bible teaches that this life of ours is but a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away — like steam from a boiler radiator on a cold winter day. Rather than spending time building a kingdom in this life that will soon pass away, I sincerely believed my time was better spent laying up treasure in heaven. Why bother with the transitory, material world that will soon pass away? Better to spend every waking hour serving Jesus than to spend one moment chasing the baubles of this world. Yet, the harder I worked the more guilt I had.

I prayed in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night, and numerous times throughout the day, yet I feared I was not praying enough. After all, the Bible commands us to pray without ceasing. No matter how many people I evangelized, there were always more people who needed to hear the gospel. There never seemed to be an end of souls that needed saving. How dare I spend one moment taking care of my own personal needs while countless souls were hanging by a bare thread over the pit of Hell. I had no time for talk of Heaven or eternal reward. There was too much to do.

I know some readers of this blog will read this post and say, no wonder you were guilty all the time. Look at how motivated and driven you were. Yes, this is true, but I ask you, where do I find in the Bible the laid-back, nominal, easy-come-easy-go, Christian life found so prominently in Evangelical churches — even among pastors? While certainly, such a life would have lessened the amount of guilt I had, how could I live such a life knowing what I did about the teachings and commands of the Bible?

Look at the examples given to us in the Bible of people who were devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Show me the nominal Christian. In every instance, nominal Christianity is roundly condemned. God expects — dare I say demands — 100% devotion, and anything less than that is treason against God.

So, for many years I lived with guilt almost every day. I felt guilty when I stopped to enjoy life. I felt guilty when I gave more than passing attention to my personal wants and desires. I felt guilty when I spent money that could have gone to the church or to missionaries. Why could I not be like the Apostle Paul? Or why could I not be like Jesus himself?

Of course, the real problem was that I was a human being. A life of selfless devotion to God was/is an impossibility. Now that I’ve left the ministry and left the Christian faith, my problem with guilt still remains. I’m no longer guilty over my lack of devotion, and I’m certainly not guilty over committing what the Bible calls sin, but I do lament the amount of time, money, and effort I gave in devotion to a God who does not exist. As the old gospel song goes, wasted years, oh how foolish.

I also regret leading people into the same kind of life. I regret causing parishioners to feel guilty over not measuring up to the commands found in the Bible. As I have often said, churches would be empty if it weren’t for guilt and guilt’s twin sister, fear.

Perhaps my penance is this blog. I am sure there are many people who will read this post and know exactly what I’m talking about.  Atheism and a humanist worldview have allowed me, for the most part — aside from what I have mentioned above — to live a life free of guilt (and fear). I no longer have to fear or feel guilty over not keeping God’s commands. No longer are my actions checked against God’s sin list. My works on any given day are good or bad, and when I do bad things, I need to make things right if I can and try not to do them again. There is no need for me to be threatened with Hell or promised Heaven. All I want to do is be a good person, be at peace with others, and promote human wellbeing. If my actions fail this standard, then I need to do better.

How about you? Do you still struggle with guilt post-Jesus? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

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.

Just One More Day

polly mom and dad 2018 (2)
Bruce and Polly Gerencser 2018

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

It’s 4 AM and, like every night, I am still awake.

The sounds are so clear this time of night:

The tick-tock of Big Ben on the nightstand,

Cars as they drive through the sleepy rural town we call home.

A sound machine softly plays in the background, a nightly ritual that lulls my lover to sleep.

The wind is blowing briskly as the wind chimes sing their harmonies into the fall night.

I can feel the cold draft from the wind as it pushes its way through the window frames of our 140-year-old home.

She is covered up, trying to warm herself as cold air blows over her head.

She lies beside me, just as she has these 42 years.

I look over at her and remind myself of what a great life we’ve had.

We have faced many battles that left us bruised and bloodied, but we survived. That’s what we are — survivors.

The Bible is right, there is a love that endures. She and I have that enduring love. Until death do us part, we promised each another one hot July day so many years ago.

Recent events have brought us face to face with our mortality, my mortality, her mortality.

What if it is cancer? What if there are surgical complications? What if the hourglass is close to running out? Dare we ponder our own mortality and bitter end?

Come what may, I’ve had a good life. Whether I live till Christmas or another 20 years, I am grateful for the life she and I have shared.

Forty-four years ago, a beautiful young girl dared to flirt with a brash, outspoken redheaded boy. And just like that, in the blink of an eye, we lie here in the stillness of the night, our lives shaped and filled by our shared experiences.

I think of our children and our grandchildren. I want to wake her up and say, we did well, we have more treasure than the richest man on earth.

I won’t wake her; she needs her sleep.

I hope she knows that I love her.

It’s almost 6 AM and I can feel the drugs beginning to win the battle. Sleep will soon come, and if I awake another day will be mine.

Isn’t that all any of us can hope for?

Just one more 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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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.

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.

Are you on Social Media?

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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.

The Blood is on Their Hands

bloody hands

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Three weeks ago, my cousin passed away.

I learned of his death in a text from his sister. Seeming to anticipate my question, she said it had nothing to do with COVID-19. Rather, he had fallen asleep for the last time.

By today’s standards, he was young to have died that way. Still, it somehow wasn’t a surprise: Given his condition, it’s almost surprising that he made it into his mid-50s. He never learned how to speak or feed himself; he never acquired the basic day-to-day skills most of us have — whether through instruction or osmosis — by the time we’re about three or four years old. Lacking in motor control, he could not walk without supervision, and even with help, those walks were brief. Other kinds of exercise were out of the question, so he — who was naturally big — became obese, which may have led to other conditions he developed.

For most of his life, he was institutionalized. In fact, he was a patient at one of the most notorious mental hospitals — Willowbrook State School, in Staten Island, New York — when a local Eyewitness News reporter exposed conditions that would have made Hard Times seem like Pollyanna. (I once told someone, only half-jokingly, that my cousin helped to make Geraldo Rivera famous.) At the time of his death, my cousin — whom I’ll call Randall — had been living in a group home for more than half of his life.

Although he didn’t succumb to COVID-19, his demise seems — at least to me — connected to a colleague, a student and a friendly acquaintance of mine who died that way. And their deaths all made me angry for the same reason.

My aunt was a devout Roman Catholic who later became an Evangelical Christian. When Randall was a toddler and his sister — whom I’ll name Lorinda — was entering school, they had serious problems. Randall, as I mentioned, wasn’t developing in normal ways. Lorinda, on the other hand, was very intelligent and articulate, but had difficulties that, as it turned out, were related to her vision. Then, as now, my aunt believed that faith and prayer could heal. That also meant that her children’s maladies were a signal from God that she had been, in some way, sinful. In the milieu in which I grew up — pre-Vatican II Catholic in a post-Vatican II world — such beliefs were still common.

Lorinda nearly went blind. Only intervention from a social worker got her the treatment she needed. That same social worker helped to secure a place for Randall at Willowbrook, apparently unaware of its dire conditions. To be fair, at that time, half a century ago, there was little, if any, effective treatment available anywhere in the US for profoundly retarded people.

My anger over what Lorinda and Randall endured at such a tender age re-surfaced with the deaths of my colleague, student and friend because, at bottom, one cause of their deaths was misguided and manipulated religious faith. One reason why leaders at every level of government in the United States have responded to the threat of COVID-19 in ways that were ineffectual, duplicitous, or simply callous is pressure from fundamentalist religious organizations, whether Evangelical Christian in “red” states or Ultra-Orthodox Jews (whose political and social stances are all but identical to those of Evangelical Christians) in large “blue” cities. Some of those leaders are fundamentalists; others, like the President, have allied themselves with the Christian equivalents of Wahhabis because they know their election (or re-election) prospects depend on doing so. That is why mayors, governors, and the President have been willing to throw science to the wind and allow religious gatherings — as if such congregations are any less likely to spread the virus than, say, a concert, art opening, or sporting event.

I am angry today because cynical, rapacious political and religious leaders are still playing on people’s insecurities, and stoking their fears, to inculcate them with disproved notions about who or what is causing illness and pandemics—and how to deal with those things. The blood of my cousin, colleague, student and friend is on their hands.

Are Atheists More Fearful Than Christians?

fearing death
Cartoon by Allan Tracy

What’s with Evangelical apologists and their insistence that atheists, agnostics, and other unbelievers, are more fearful than Christians? Last week, I wrote about Clay Jones’ assertion that everyone fears death except Christians. I conclusively showed that fearing death is common to the human race, and Christians are in no way exempt from fear.

Last week, faux-historian David Barton was on “Stand in the Gap,” a radio program produced by the American Pastors Network. Barton shared his “expertise” on past epidemics. Speaking of the 1633 smallpox epidemic, Barton stated that Christians during that time didn’t panic because of their belief in God:

But the difference was they were much more grounded with God. As you look across Massachusetts, as you look across the New England areas, so many of those guys had come here on the Bible, on religious liberty. And for them death was, that was a step into eternal life. Today, this is the most secular America has ever been. And so, we’re watching governors and mayors respond out of fear and panic, and shutting down stuff that’s never been shut down before because they’re just scared to death somebody’s going to die. And so, the confidence of courage is really what we don’t see right now nationally.

“Stand in the Gap” host Sam Rohrer added:

But a point you made there, I think is worth touching on. And that is the worldview of people at that time caused them not to panic or to fear because of the fear of death. Because they knew, as we know as believers, that if we are to pass away, we’re only going to step from here into eternity with the Lord. And that’s what we want to do. But for those who do not know the Lord, or have rejected a biblical worldview understanding of God and redemption, they frankly have a reason to fear at these days.

Wow. They had reason to fear back there, but they did not because of belief in God.

Barton later added:

So, what we see right now is a fear of death. And we’re seeing people go to excessive extremes because they are scared to death of dying, because this is all they know, is what’s here. They don’t know of an afterlife, they don’t even understand that there will be an afterlife, whether it’s Heaven, Hell, or whatever they choose. It’s their choice through Christ. So that’s one thing that stands out to me is, is the whole culture was built around understanding that you are going to go into eternity. Are you ready to go into eternity? And so, the response is quite different public policy wise. If you’re surrounded with leaders who understand a biblical worldview, what you do is call for days of prayer and fasting, if we can get a hold of God on this and get God to intervene then we can see an end to this.

What evidence do Barton and Rohrer provide for their assertions? None. I see no evidence for the claim that atheists, agnostics, and other non-Christians fear death any more than Christian do. Right-minded people in this time when COVID-19 is infecting and killing people left and right should be fearful that they are next. Feel a cold coming on? Have a fever? Fell achy all over? Have a cough? Is it allergies? Or have you been infected with a deadly virus that has infected more over 1,000,000 Americans, with a death toll that will soon surpass the total deaths in the Vietnam War? Reasonable people would, at the very least, be concerned that they might become infected. And for those of us, Christian or not, with comorbidities, we have every reason to fear that this virus is stalking us, and if it catches us it could kill us.

Barton, Roherer, and Jones would have us believe that certain theological beliefs inoculate Christians from normal human feelings. The promise of life after death and a home in Heaven, according to these apologists, are sufficient to ward off fear. Sure, I can see how such a promise might cause some Christians to deny reality. These very same delusions fuel lifetimes of weekly church attendance. These very same delusions are a catalyst for lifetimes of self-denial. This or that behavior is “sin.” Can’t do that lest I risk losing my home in Heaven. Or so Christians think, anyway.

What do we know about religious people in general? Despite their commitment to God, religious texts, theological constructs, worship, and conforming to exacting standards of conduct, believers are no different from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. And when it comes time to die, religious people fear the unknown just like the rest of us do. Oh, they may hide their fear because that’s what everyone expects them to do, but psychologically they fear the end of the only life they have ever known.

Barton states non-Christians, “are scared to death of dying, because this is all they know, is what’s here.” Are atheists, agnostics, and unbelievers scared to death of dying? I am sure some are. Others resolutely embrace their end. Yes, knowing that the only life we will ever have is coming to an end brings all sorts of feelings. However, are we really “scared” to any greater degree than those who worship the Christian God or some other deity? I think not.

I will soon be sixty-three years old. I have been battling chronic health problems for twenty-four years. I have had several brushes with death, one of which a doctor told thirty-four year old Bruce and his wife, “if your immune system doesn’t kick in, there’s nothing we can do for you.” I had been battling mononucleosis for several months. My primary care doctor missed that I had mono, thinking that I was battling something else. Following course after course of antibiotics with no cure, the doctor ordered a mono test. It came back positive. Several days later, my temperature spiked to 104 degrees, landing me in the hospital. My liver and spleen were swollen, and my immune system was so trashed that my tonsils and adenoids were pure white. Fortunately, my immune system did win the battle. However, as I lay in my hospital bed, my mind pondered dying so young and whether there really was life after death. This was, for me, the first time, I felt my mortality. As a committed Evangelical Christian, I believed that Heaven awaited me on the other side of chilly Jordan. However, I did fear what I did not know. Isn’t that a normal human response to the unknown; to the prospect of impending death? Was I less than Christian for fearing death? I think not.

Zealots such as Barton, Roherer, and Jones need people to believe what they are peddling. Their incomes and lifestyles depend on convincing people that there’s an afterlife, and, as Jesus promised, eternity in Heaven awaits all those who worship the right God. They dare not admit their own fears or doubts lest they are forced to get real jobs. Imagine what would happen to Christian sects and churches if their teachers and leaders admitted their doubts as to life after death. Why, churches would empty out overnight. Without the carrot, there is no reason to endure the stick.

As with most people, I am in no hurry to die. Some days, I am weary from daily battling chronic pain. I have thoughts of eternal darkness without pain; of the peace, comfort, and deliverance the grave brings. But then I think of Polly, our children, and our grandchildren. And in that moment, I am reminded that I have much to live for; that the only life I will ever have is this one. And so I arise and face the day. Death will certainly come for me, sooner than later. But until then, I plan on enjoying life and doing what I can to make this world a better place for others.

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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