Tag Archive: Death

Should Non-Religious Parents Lie to Their Children About Death?

should we indoctrinate our children

Erica Komisar, a licensed clinical social worker in New York City, writes:

Nihilism is fertilizer for anxiety and depression, and being “realistic” is overrated. The belief in God—in a protective and guiding figure to rely on when times are tough—is one of the best kinds of support for kids in an increasingly pessimistic world. That’s only one reason, from a purely mental-health perspective, to pass down a faith tradition.

I am often asked by parents, “How do I talk to my child about death if I don’t believe in God or heaven?” My answer is always the same: “Lie.” The idea that you simply die and turn to dust may work for some adults, but it doesn’t help children. Belief in heaven helps them grapple with this tremendous and incomprehensible loss. In an age of broken families, distracted parents, school violence and nightmarish global-warming predictions, imagination plays a big part in children’s ability to cope.

I also am frequently asked about how parents can instill gratitude and empathy in their children. These virtues are inherent in most religions. The concept of tikkun olam, or healing the world, is one of the pillars of my Jewish faith. In accordance with this belief, we expect our children to perform community service in our synagogue and in the community at large. As they grow older, young Jews take independent responsibility for this sacred activity. One of my sons cooks for our temple’s homeless shelter. The other volunteers at a prison, while my daughter helps out at an animal shelter.

Such values can be found among countless other religious groups. It’s rare to find a faith that doesn’t encourage gratitude as an antidote to entitlement or empathy for anyone who needs nurturing. These are the building blocks of strong character. They are also protective against depression and anxiety.

In an individualistic, narcissistic and lonely society, religion provides children a rare opportunity for natural community. My rabbi always says that being Jewish is not only about ethnic identity and bagels and lox: It’s about community. The idea that hundreds of people can gather together and sing joyful prayers as a collective is a buffer against the emptiness of modern culture. It’s more necessary than ever in a world where teens can have hundreds of virtual friends and few real ones, where parents are often too distracted physically or emotionally to soothe their children’s distress.

I wanted to scream after I read Komisar’s article. I thought, “are you really this stupid?” “Did you bother to talk to atheist parents and their children?”  “Are you really equating atheism with nihilism?” “Are you really advocating lying to children about one of the most profound issues we humans struggle with — death?” “Are you really suggesting that parents pass on a faith tradition to their children as some sort of inoculation against depression?” “Are you aware of the psychological damage caused by religions, especially fundamentalist religions such as Evangelicalism, Islam, conservative Catholicism, and right-wing Jewish sects?” “Are you aware of the fact that many atheists are humanists, and humanism provides a moral, ethical, and social framework for them?”

Komisar would have us believe “in an individualistic, narcissistic and lonely society, religion provides children a rare opportunity for natural community.” Natural? Are you kidding? What’s “natural” about eating the body of Jesus and drinking his blood? What’s “natural” about believing God is three, yet one; that the universe was created 6,024 years ago; that dead people can come back to life; that the Bible stories about a miracle-working man named Jesus are true; that people can be roasted in a furnace and not be harmed; that the earth was covered with water just a few thousand years ago; that the Holy Spirit lives inside of people and is their teacher and guide; that premarital sex, homosexuality, and a host of other human behaviors are sins, and unless forsaken, will bring the judgment of God down upon their head?  Sorry, but Komisar really didn’t think the issue through before she wrote her article for the Wall Street Journal.

What more troubling is the fact that Erica Komisar is a licensed social worker and counselor. I suspect her approach to religion is very much a part of her counseling methodology. I wonder what Komisar would say to depressed atheists or agnostics? Go to church? Find a religion to practice, even if you have to fake believing? Jesus F. Christ, such thinking is absurd.

Now to the question, “should parents lie to their children about death?” Komisar suggests that parents use religious language to comfort children about death, either their own or that of their loved ones. Better to lie to children about where recently departed grandma is than to tell them the truth: Grandma is dead and you will never see her again. Cherish the memories you have of her. Look at photographs of her, reminding yourself of the wonderful times you had with her.

Komisar would rather children live in blissful ignorance than face reality. Grandma is in Heaven with Gramps. Grandma is running around Heaven with her loved ones. Grandma is no longer suffering. She is right beside Jesus, enjoying a pain-free existence. Bollocks!

While I can see avoiding the subject of death with young children, by the time they are in third or fourth grade, they should be ready to face the realities of life. People die. Some day you will die. That’s why Grandpa Bruce wrote this on his blog:

If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?

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

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

I have six children, ages 26 to 40, and twelve grandchildren, aged 18 months to nineteen. I dearly love my family. If 2019 has taught them anything, it is this: Mom and Dad and Nana and Grandpa are feeble, frail humans. Both of us faced health circumstances that could have led to our deaths. Shit, we are in our sixties. Most of our lives are in the rearview mirror. Even if we live to be eighty, seventy-five percent of our lives are gone. Saying that our best days lie ahead is nothing more than lying to ourselves. We remember our twenties and thirties. We remember the days when we had the proverbial tiger by the tail. Those days are long gone. My mom died at age 54. Dad died at age 49. Polly’s parents are in their eighties. Both of them are in poor health and will likely die sooner than later. I mean, a lot sooner than later. It is insane for my adult children to lie to their progeny about their grandparents and great-grandparents. I want my grandchildren to know that I love them and that I wish I had fifty years of life left so I could watch their children’s children grow up. But, I don’t. When I come to their basketball game, play, band concert, or school program, I do so because I want them to have good memories of me. I want them to remember that I was there for them. I know that the ugly specter of death is stalking me, and one day my children will be forced to tell their children that Grandpa is dead. I don’t want them lying to their children about my post-death existence. I plan to be cremated and have my ashes scattered on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan — a place where the love of my life and I experienced a “perfect” day. Hopefully, being involved with the disposal of my final remains will impress on my grandchildren the importance of living each day to its fullest. Death, when we least expect it, comes for us one and all. Better to face this fact and live accordingly than to believe that Heaven and eternal bliss awaits us after we die.

Let me conclude this post with an excerpt from a 2018 NPR article titled Teaching Children To Ask The Big Questions Without Religion:

Emily Freeman, a writer in Montana, grew up unaffiliated to a religion . . . She and her husband Nathan Freeman talked about not identifying as religious — but they didn’t really discuss how it would affect their parenting.

“I think we put it in the big basket of things that we figured we had so much time to think about,” Emily joked.

But then they had kids, and the kids came home from their grandfather’s house talking about Bible stories.

Nathan acknowledges that this came from a good place, and his father was acting in concern. “He feels like these lessons encapsulate a blueprint for how to move through life. And so of course, why wouldn’t we want our children to have those lessons alongside them as they travel through the world?”

But while Nathan and Emily wanted their kids to learn about love and compassion, they didn’t want them to hear Bible stories. When the boys were so young, the certainty of those stories felt like indoctrination.

“They trust everything that you tell them,” Emily observed. “About how their body works, about how the world works. How a cake suddenly becomes a cake from a bunch of ingredients on the counter — everything!”

….

People often, as you may expect, would leave religion during the rebellious teenage years — [ professor Christel] Manning says the baby boomers were the first generation to do this in fairly large numbers. But about half of them went back after they got married.

“If I’m single, and I have a certain spiritual or secular outlook, that’s my personal thing,” Manning explains. “But when I form a family, then there are other people who become stakeholders in this process.”

In addition to the spouses themselves, there are often parents and other family members who want influence, and kids who want answers. These are some pretty big questions — kids are asking about life and death, right and wrong, and who are we?

The answer to these questions was often found in religion. But this isn’t holding true for the current generation of parents. They aren’t returning to religious affiliation — or affiliating in the first place.

In the Freeman family’s case, did the grandparents need to be worried? According to Manning, the data on growing up without religion are mixed. Some studies show that children growing up in a faith community experiment less with drugs and alcohol and juvenile crime. And some show that kids raised without religion are more resistant to peer pressure, and more culturally sensitive.

“But,” as Manning points out, “and this is a big but — we don’t know if it’s religion that benefits the children, or if it’s just being part of an organized community, with other caring adults that regularly interact with your child.”

Manning — who raised her own child without religion — notes that there are lots of ways to raise a child to be moral and religion is only one of them.

“I’d say from what we know now, both a religious and secular upbringing can have both benefits and risks for children.”

For some unaffiliated parents, like Emily Freeman, raising children outside of a definitive religious construct can be very valuable, by empowering them in not knowing.

….

For some people, religion can provide these answers. For others, it’s a sacred space to explore not knowing. Parents like Emily Freeman try to help their kids find their own voice in the conversation. About belief, about what’s right, about their values as a family.

“They don’t spend all day wondering why zebras have stripes. We just look it up on the phone. And boom — wonder, done!” laughs Freeman. “So I love this idea of giving them open-ended, unanswerable questions. And saying, who knows? And people you love can believe different things than you do, and that’s OK.”

….

Are you an atheist, agnostic, or non-religious? What have you taught your children about death? Do you think it is okay to lie to children about death? Please share your deep thoughts and advice in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Should Every Effort be Made to Preserve Human Life?

calvin and hobbes death

Currently, Ohio House Bill 413 is winding its way through the legislative process. If enacted, the 723 page bill would become the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the United States. HB413 is so extreme that some Ohio anti-abortion groups oppose the bill. Not only does the HB413 turn having an abortion into a capital crime, it also requires doctors to reimplant fertilized eggs from ectopic pregnancies into the womb. Refusing to do so could result in doctors facing murder charges.

Never mind the fact that reimplanting ectopic pregnancies is medically impossible to perform. Doctors are required to attempt the procedure regardless of the outcome.

HB413 is the logical conclusion of believing life begins at fertilization. Ohio Evangelicals and Catholics have been pushing for zygote personhood for years. The goal has always remained the same: an absolute ban on abortion. These zealots demand no rape or incest exception, and many of them object to abortion to save the life of the mother. “Let God sort it out! He’s the giver and taker of life. If he wants the mother to live, she will. If not, his will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Fundamentalist Christian Jeff Maples believes ALL life matters, and it should be protected at all costs. Here’s what Maples said Sunday on the Reformation Charlotte website:

Critics have argued that reimplanting a fetus from an ectopic pregnancy is a procedure “not known to medical science” and would place obstetricians and gynecologists in a dire situation for not performing an “impossible procedure.” However, the bill does not require doctors to be successful in the procedure, rather take all measures at attempting to do so. This would, in effect, advance the science behind the practice making it more likely to save lives in the future. When dealing with human life, it is imperative that all measures be taken to preserve it — an unborn child deserves no less than a two-year-old child or an adult. That’s the whole point of the measure.

I wonder if Maples really believes all life matters. I wonder if he is a pacifist or anti-capital punishment? I wonder if Maples opposes President Trump’s barbaric immigration policies; policies that have led to the deaths of adults and children alike? Something tells me he is not a pro-life as he says he is. Most Evangelicals are schizophrenic when it comes to matters of life and death. Typically, Evangelicals, and their counterparts in the Catholic Church, only think life matters before birth. After birth, humans are on their own. Well, that is until it comes time to die. Then Evangelicals show up to protest and criminalize end-of-life attempts to lessen suffering and pain. Humans must suffer to the bitter end. Euthanasia is humans playing God, and that must never happen. In their eyes, physician-assisted suicide is murder.

Maples believes that every effort should be made to preserve life. No matter the cost or the outcome, life must be preserved. I am sure that Maples believes his anti-death viewpoint is noble. It’s not. Maples and others like him see no qualitative difference between a fertilized egg and a thirteen-year-old; no difference between a thirteen-week fetus and its mother; no difference between a teenager with a full life ahead of her and a ninety-year-old man whose life is nearing death. Such thinking, of course, is absurd.

I do my best to have a consistent life ethic. That said, all life is not equal, nor should every effort be made to preserve life. There is a qualitative difference between a fertilized egg and its mother. The fertilized egg represents potential life. It cannot live outside of the womb. That’s why I support the unrestricted right to an abortion until viability. Once a fetus is viable, then the mother and medical professionals must consider its interests along with that of the mother. When it comes to choosing between the fetus and the mother, the choice, to me anyway, is clear: the mother. Granted, if the mother is gravely ill with cancer or some other terminal disease, then consideration should be given to saving the fetus. Such decisions are never easy, but one thing is for certain: we don’t need Evangelicals, their God and Republican politicians deciding what should be done.

As someone who knows that he is on the short side of life, I don’t want the Jeff Maples of the world butting their noses into my end-of-life decisions or that of my family. I know how I want the end of my life to play out, as do my wife and children. I don’t want Christian Fundamentalists getting between me and my God. “Huh? Bruce, you don’t have a God.” Well, I do when it comes to this discussion. If Evangelicals want to wallow in needless pain and suffering at the end of their lives — all so their mythical God will give them an “attaboy” — that’s fine by me. However, my triune God — humanism, science, and reason — doesn’t demand that I unnecessarily suffer; when it is my time to die it is okay for me to say, “No más.” I expect my doctors, wife, and children to honor my wishes. I have seen far too many people endlessly and needlessly suffer all so Jesus would be honored and their family would know that they fought to the end. I have watched countless dying people go through unnecessary, painful procedures and treatments, all so their spouses and children could rest easy knowing that every possible thing was done to preserve their life.

Sadly, many people ignorantly think that longevity of life is all that matters; that enduring surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation is worth it if it adds a few weeks or months to the end of their lives. Evangelicals speak of being ready to meet God. They sing songs about Heaven and preach sermons that suggest True Christians® yearn and long for eternal life in the sweet by and by. Yet, when it comes time to die, they are in no hurry to catch the next train to Glory.

Instead of focusing on longevity of life, the focus should be on quality of life.  Sure, it is human nature to want to live as long as possible. But some things are worse than death. Often, treatment is worse than the disease. Personally, I would choose to live three months and then die, than to suffer the horrible side-effects of end-of-life treatments that often only add weeks or a few months to a person’s life.

When it comes to dying, God is an unnecessary middleman. He and his Bible-sotted disciples get in the way of what is best for the dying. Demanding that life be preserved at all costs only causes unnecessary pain and suffering. I know of Evangelical families who refused to let their dying loved ones die with dignity. You see, in their minds, all that matters is playing by God’s rules. All that matters is pleasing God. If their loved one has to suffer, so be it. God comes first. God mustn’t be offended, even if he prolongs the misery of the dying. Quite frankly, when it comes time for me to die, I don’t want religious zealots anywhere near me. I don’t need or want their prayers or admonitions. I want to be surrounded by my family. I want to hear them say, “Dad, it’s okay to let go.”

I have made my wishes known to my wife and children. Polly and I have spent a considerable amount of time talking about the various end of life scenarios; about what we want or don’t want to be done in the various circumstances we might face in the future. Both of us believe that quality of life is more important than extending life. We reject Jeff Maples’ notion that our lives should be preserved at all costs. We know that one day we will physically reach the end of the line. Hopefully, not any time soon, but who knows (certainly not God), right? Better to have these discussions now than to have them under pressure or when one or both of us might not have the mental acuity to make rational choices.

Not talking about death is not an option. Pretending we will live forever only leads to heartache when the lie is made known. The moment we are born, we begin marching towards the finish line. While I would love to live to threescore and ten or fourscore, (Psalm 90:10) I know that’s unlikely. Probabilities come into play. All the positive thinking in the world won’t change the odds. I am grateful to have lived longer than my mom and dad. But it would be foolish of me to ignore the realities staring me in the face. Pretending that I am going to live to a hundred helps whom, exactly?  The Bible is right when it says, “Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” (Proverbs 27:1) Solomon was spot on when he wrote:

Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 8:15)

Last week, I referenced the advice I give on the ABOUT page. I think it would be good to end this post with that advice again:

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

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

Do you think life should be preserved at all costs; that every effort should be made to preserve life? How do you come to terms with your mortality? Do you prefer longevity of life over quality of life? Please share your astute thoughts in the comment section. If you are so inclined, please share approximately how old you are. I am interested in how age affects our end of life viewpoints.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

How to Deal with Christian Well-Wishers

i am praying for you

Saint Christopher Hitchens died eight years ago (December 15, 2011). As many of you do, I miss Hitchens’ quick wit and acerbic tongue. While I disagreed with Hitch politically, we had much in common when it came to our critiques of Evangelical Christianity. I had a deep love, respect, and admiration for the man.

Several months after Hitchens’ death from esophageal cancer, his last book was released. Titled Mortality, the book was an introspective look at human mortality — in particular his own. I heartily recommend this book to everyone, Christian or not. Hitchens wrote:

  • The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of ‘acceptance,’ hasn’t so far had much application to my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been ‘in denial’ for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by the gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read — if not indeed to write — the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity.
  • To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?
  • Myself, I love the imagery of struggle. I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent soldier or revolutionary is the very last one that will occur to you. You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water.
  • It’s normally agreed that the question ‘How are you?’ doesn’t put you on your oath to give a full or honest answer. So when asked these days, I tend to say something cryptic like, ‘A bit early to say.’ (If it’s the wonderful staff at my oncology clinic who inquire, I sometimes go so far as to respond, ‘I seem to have cancer today.’) Nobody wants to be told about the countless minor horrors and humiliations that become facts of ‘life’ when your body turns from being a friend to being a foe: the boring switch from chronic constipation to its sudden dramatic opposite; the equally nasty double-cross of feeling acute hunger while fearing even the scent of food; the absolute misery of gut-wringing nausea on an utterly empty stomach; or the pathetic discovery that hair loss extends to the disappearance of the follicles in your nostrils, and thus to the childish and irritating phenomenon of a permanently runny nose . . . It’s no fun to appreciate to the full the truth of the materialist proposition that I don’t have a body, I am a body.
  • The man who prays is the one who thinks that god has arranged matters all wrong, but who also thinks that he can instruct god how to put them right.
  • However, one thing that grave illness does is to make you examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings. And there’s one that I find I am not saying with quite the same conviction as I once used to: In particular, I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. In fact, I now sometimes wonder why I ever thought it profound . . . In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker.
  • Like so many of life’s varieties of experience, the novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. And I don’t so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it’s time to be on my way. No, it’s the snickering that gets me down.
  • So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing.

Live long enough, and your thoughts will increasingly turn towards your own morality. I am sixty-two and in fragile health. I am facing yet another health challenge, one that, frankly, worries me. I will have a CT scan next week, and then see the surgeon the week after for the results. I don’t want to make something out of possibly nothing, so I will refrain from talking much about this until the doctor says, you have ________________. Besides, my wife’s health problems this year are enough to worry me without adding more to my already full plate.

When Polly landed in the hospital in January, had major abdominal surgery in August, and was off work for two months, I was confronted with her fragility too. I thought, she could die!? No, no, no, that’s not how it’s supposed to happen! I am the sicko. I am first in line when it comes to dying. Funny how “life” doesn’t give a shit about what we think or want. “Life” just happens, regardless of our objections and protestations. “Life” ain’t fair, and not everything is unicorns, rainbows, and puppies. Live long enough, and the circumstances of life are going to deal you a lousy hand — with or without Jesus. All any of us can do is endure and hope for a better tomorrow.

Being an unbeliever, and having Christian friends, neighbors, and workmates often puts you in a difficult place when hard times come your way. You certainly want empathy and support from those closest to you, but when those people are Christians, their help is often couched in religious verbiage. It’s hard enough when you are feeling well to deal with Jesusy platitudes, but when you are sick, in pain, or dying, the last thing you want to hear is religious drivel.

A September 2010 Associated Press story shared Hitchens’ view on such things:

Stricken with cancer and fragile from chemotherapy, author and outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens sits in an armchair before an audience and waits for the only question that can come first at such a time.

“How’s your health?” asks Larry Taunton [who later wrote a fraudulent book about Hitchens that alleged Hitch might have become a Christian], a friend who heads an Alabama-based group dedicated to defending Christianity.

“Well, I’m dying, since you asked, but so are you. I’m only doing it more rapidly,” replies Hitchens, his grin faint and his voice weak and raspy. Only wisps of his dark hair remain; clothes hang on his frame.

….

For some of his critics, it might be satisfying to see a man who has made a career of skewering organized religion switch sides near the end of his life and pray silently for help fighting a ravaging disease.

He has an opportunity: Monday has been informally proclaimed “Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day.”

Christopher Hitchens won’t be bowing his head, even on a day set aside just for him.

“I shall not be participating,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

….

Taunton is devoutly Christian yet has developed a fast friendship with Hitchens, who appeared at a similar debate sponsored by the organization last year. Taunton is among those praying for Hitchens, and Hitchens takes no offense.

The way the English-born Hitchens sees it, the people praying for him break down into three basic groups: those who seem genuinely glad he’s suffering and dying from cancer; those who want him to become a believer in their religious faith; and those who are asking God to heal him.

Hitchens has no use for that first group. “‘To hell with you’ is the response to the ones who pray for me to go to hell,” Hitchens told AP.

He’s ruling out the idea of a deathbed change of heart: “‘Thanks but no thanks’ is the reply to those who want me to convert and recognize a divinity or deity.”

It’s that third group — people who are asking God for Hitchens’ healing — that causes Hitchens to choose his words even more carefully than normal. Are those prayers OK? Are they helpful?

“I say it’s fine by me, I think of it as a nice gesture. And it may well make them feel better, which is a good thing in itself,” says Hitchens.

But prayers for his healing don’t make him feel better.

“Well, not any more than very large numbers of very kind, thoughtful letters from nonbelievers, some of whom know me, some of whom don’t, asking me to know that they are on my side,” Hitchens said. “That cheers me up, yes.”

Hitchens doesn’t know exactly how “Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day” began, other than that it’s one of those things that appears on the Internet and goes viral. He declined an invitation to appear at a rabbi’s prayer service in Washington that day, and he doesn’t see any point in the exercise.

“I’m perfectly sure that there is nothing to be gained from it in point of my health, but perhaps I shouldn’t even say that. If it would do something for my morale possibly it would do something for my health. We all know that morale is an element in recovery,” he said. “But incantations, I don’t think, have any effect on the material world.”

Every time I mention a personal health problem, I can count on receiving blog comments and social media messages saying this or that Christian is praying for me. My standard response is to either ignore their comments or politely say “thank you.” In saying “thank you,” I am not, in any way, validating their beliefs or the existence of the Christian God. All I am doing is saying that I appreciate their thoughtfulness. Having spent most of my life in the Christian church, I know that people often say “I’m praying for you” when they don’t know what else to say or do. If it’s a one-off, I’m fine with their “praying for you” comment. It’s when they repeatedly tell me that they are praying for me that annoys me. There’s no need to keep reminding me that you are praying for me — if you are. Often, “praying for you” becomes an easy way to do nothing, much like “thoughts and prayers” every time there is another mass shooting.

Instead of doing the least you can do — praying — how about putting feet and hands to your prayers and meaningfully doing something for the sick, hurting, and dying? I am as guilty as the next person when I use social media emoticons or “thinking of you” comments to express my concern for someone. It is so easy to click LIKE and then move on to a funny cat video. For both the religious and the godless, instead of empty words, perhaps we should think about what we can do to help others. How can I make a difference in my friend’s, neighbor’s, or workmate’s life?

To Christians who might read this post, I ask you to pause for a moment before you say to an atheist, agnostic, or unbeliever, “I’m praying for you.” Ask yourself: why am I saying these words? What help will my words be to others? Is there something else I can do instead of uttering a religious cliché? Does this person already know I am praying for them? Do I really need to remind them that I am doing so?

Look, it’s not easy confronting the mortality of our families, friends, and neighbors. Rarely does a week go by when I don’t read a newspaper obituary about someone I knew. Someday, it will be someone else reading my death notice. Not only are Polly and I battling serious health problems, we also have to deal with older family members who are dropping like flies. Just this week, we found out one of Polly’s aunts has only a few months to live. Her husband died a year or so ago. Polly’s mom has been at death’s door for months. Her father was recently admitted to the hospital for an infection and is now in a nursing home for the umpteenth time. He is sliding, ever-so-slowly, into dementia. The last time we visited Mom and Dad, he spoke all of a dozen or so words to us. It’s hard to believe that this feeble old man at age sixty-five was working in a factory and doing construction work on the side. I can say the same for myself. It seems like yesterday, I was a strong, viral man, one who hunted, played competitive sports, and did all his own auto and home repairs. Last weekend, I hired three of my grandchildren to rake our yard. I quietly wept as I thought, yet another thing I can no longer do.

Instead of saying to me, “I’m praying for you,” perhaps both of us would be better served if you said nothing. Instead of empty religious clichés, how about a look that says, “I understand” or a gentle hug that reflects our shared humanity. Or better yet, how about sharing a meal or hoisting a drink in honor of our friendship? Last Sunday, Polly and I had dinner at Taco’s Nacho’s with Dave and Newana Echler. Dave and I have been friends for over fifty years. For several years, I was their pastor. We have each helplessly watched as the other battles life-threatening illnesses. Every time we get together I wonder, will this be the last time we see each other?

The Echler’s are Christians. Newana is a Nazarene preacher’s daughter. They were heartbroken when Polly and I left Christianity. Yet, our friendship has survived. How? Because we chose to set religion and atheism aside, and, instead, focus on the things we have in common: good food, love of backroad travel, and family. We have so much shared history, I would hate to lose them as friends. As we left the restaurant, I reminded myself of how blessed I was to have the Echlers as friends. I am sure they privately pray for me, and while I can’t do the same for them, rarely does a day go by that I don’t think of them and wonder how they are doing. Every time we part company, we briefly embrace and say, “I love you.”  Love. Is this not what really matters? It was Dave who drove to Fort Wayne on the day of Polly’s surgery to be with me. It was Dave who pressed $300 in my hand, knowing that we were going through difficult times financially. It seems to me that instead of saying, “I’m praying for you,” what Christians and heathens alike need are tangible, thoughtful expressions of kindness and love.

What say ye, dear readers? Please leave your pithy, erudite thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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Christopher Hitchens is in Hell

christopher hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

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

According to those who KNOW the mind of God (Please see Do Evangelical Christians “Know” the Mind of God?) and KNOW the names written in the Book of Life, when Christopher Hitchens died on December 15, 2011, he went straight to Hell to be tortured day and night by the Evangelical God for refusing to admit said God exists and for rejecting the salvation proffered by Jesus Christ. (The irony here is that all four Evangelicals mentioned in this post are Calvinists, men who believe no one can “choose” to be saved.)

Al Mohler, Fundamentalist president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had this to say:

al mohler tweet christopher hitchens

Rick Warren, Fundamentalist pastor of Saddleback Church pontificated thus:

rick warren tweet about christopher hitchens

Doug Wilson, Fundamentalist pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho said:

We have no indication that Christopher ever called on the Lord before he died, and if he did not, then Scriptures plainly teach that he is lost forever.

And finally, Chris Hohnholz, a writer for the Defending Contending blog (link no longer active), took the pious approach and said that Hitchens lived his life as a hater of God, but since no human can know the true spiritual state of any person, he couldn’t say whether Hitchens is in Hell:

The question that stands before us today of course, is where is Christopher Hitchens today. According to Mr. Hitchens, he simply ceased to exist, nothing more. But for the Christian, we know that we exist for eternity once this mortal body ceases functioning. There are only two possibilities as to where, Heaven or Hell. As Mr. Hitchens was created by God, and was bound to God’s laws, as we all are, he can only be in one of those two places. At first, it may seem quite easy to figure it out. He denied God, spoke vehemently against the Christian faith, and was often hateful and vitriolic in his speech regarding it. Considering that he made the statement there would be no deathbed conversion, it would be a simple thing to declare God sent him to hell. However, the truth is, we simply do not, and cannot know.

It is clear that Mr. Hitchens made a career of hating the very idea of God. But it is also clear that he was a common sinner just like the rest of us. He had a conscience, he was aware of right and wrong. He, like the rest of us, committed acts that were in violation of that conscience. We know that our consciences are God’s laws written upon our hearts. When we violate our conscience, we are violating God’s laws. Additionally, Mr. Hitchens debated with many Christians, he had heard the gospel presentation many times. There is little question that by the time of his death, Mr. Hitchens knew what God required of him. It is that time just prior to his death that we cannot know about. Is it at least possible, that as he faced those last moments, knowing death was coming that he considered those sins he committed, that he contemplated the gospel he had denied so many times, that he just might have repented and trusted Christ. If we are intellectually honest, we must say that it is possible. And since we cannot know, we hope that is what happened. We hope that we will find Mr. Hitchens in Heaven one day, for we do not wish the wrath of God on any man.

But we must also be honest say that he may not have repented. It is entirely possible that Mr. Hitchens held on to his rejection of God all the way into death. If so, Mr. Hitchens now stands before God in judgment for his sins. And not just for his atheism. As said before, our consciences are merely God’s law written on our hearts. When any man or woman breaks those laws, through lying, stealing, coveting, lusting, or blaspheming, they have sinned against a holy and righteous God. It is not just because he was an atheist that Mr. Hitchens may have stood condemned, it is because, as we all are, he was a sinner against the God who created him. And if that indeed is what occurred, even we Christians must mourn his death, for we do not wish Hell on any man. But we also rejoice that God is glorified, because His justice is perfect.

So what does that mean for the Christian? First, let us not run around proclaiming we know where Christopher Hitchens is, only God knows that. Let us share with people the truth, that if he repented and trusted Christ (which is our hope), he is in Heaven. But if he remained in his sins, he was condemned (as we all deserve). Let us not rejoice that another atheist voice is silent, that presents us as unkind and unloving. But let us not ignore that what he taught was blasphemous. As we engage in conversation with others on this, let us remember that, whatever Mr. Hitchens fate was, all of us face the same date with death.

This “sounds” nice, but don’t be deceived. I have heard these words many, many times, and they are words uttered by people who don’t want to look bad before the world so they refrain from saying in public what they proclaim every week in the pulpit or behind closed doors.

There is NOTHING, I repeat NOTHING, in the life of Christopher Hitchens that remotely suggests he is now with God and the angels. He is in Hell and Hohnholz knows it! I wish Evangelicals like Chris Hohnholz would at least own the abominable, horrendous doctrine of eternal punishment they preach.

The Dead Logic blog (link no longer active) pretty well sums up my feelings about people such as Mohler, Warren,Wilson and Hohnholz:

I feel even more sadness for those who are so blinded by religious prejudice that they see the death of Hitchens as an opportunity to peddle their religious wares. I’ve already expressed what I think about Albert Mohler’s recent comment on Twitter. Turns out that “purpose-driven” Rick Warren is just as classy as Mohler. Warren had his own douchebag moment on Twitter when he wrote: “Hitchens has died. I loved & prayed for him & grieve his loss. He knows the Truth now.” Yes, Rick, use a man’s death as a tool in your propaganda machine. If Warren truly “loved” Hitch, he would be honoring his memory instead of disgracing Hitchens for the sake of “the Truth” with a capital T.

How did Christopher Hitchens spend the final days of his life? Ian McEwan of the New York Times wrote:

The place where Christopher Hitchens spent his last few weeks was hardly bookish, but he made it his own. Close to downtown Houston is the Medical Center, a cluster of high-rises like La Défense of Paris, or London’s City, a financial district of a sort, where the common currency is illness…..

….. While I was with him another celebration took place in far away London, with Stephen Fry as host in the Festival Hall to reflect on the life and times of Christopher Hitchens. We helped him out of bed and into a chair and set my laptop in front of him. Alexander delved into the Internet with special passwords to get us linked to the event. He also plugged in his own portable stereo speakers. We had the sound connection well before the vision and what we heard was astounding, and for Christopher, uplifting. It was the noise of 2,000 voices small-talking before the event. Then we had a view from the stage of the audience, packed into their rows.

They all looked so young. I would have guessed that nearly all of them would have opposed Christopher strongly over Iraq. But here they were, and in cinemas all over the country, turning out for him. Christopher grinned and raised a thin arm in salute. Close family and friends may be in the room with you, but dying is lonely, the confinement is total. He could see for himself that the life outside this small room had not forgotten him. For a moment, pace Larkin, it was by way of the Internet that the world stretched a hand toward him.

The next morning, at Christopher’s request, Alexander and I set up a desk for him under a window. We helped him and his pole with its feed-lines across the room, arranged pillows on his chair, adjusted the height of his laptop. Talking and dozing were all very well, but Christopher had only a few days to produce 3,000 words on Ian Ker’s biography of Chesterton.

Whenever people talk of Christopher’s journalism, I will always think of this moment.

Consider the mix. Constant pain, weak as a kitten, morphine dragging him down, then the tangle of Reformation theology and politics, Chesterton’s romantic, imagined England suffused with the kind of Catholicism that mediated his brush with fascism and his taste for paradox, which Christopher wanted to debunk. At intervals, Christopher’s head would droop, his eyes close, then with superhuman effort he would drag himself awake to type another line. His long memory served him well, for he didn’t have the usual books on hand for this kind of thing. When it’s available, read the review. His unworldly fluency never deserted him, his commitment was passionate, and he never deserted his trade. He was the consummate writer, the brilliant friend. In Walter Pater’s famous phrase, he burned “with this hard gem-like flame.” Right to the end.

Christopher Hitchens is greatly missed. I always appreciated his sharp tongue and pointed critique of religion. He made the religious fuss, fume, and squirm as he attacked their beliefs and practices.

Someday, I will die. I have thought a lot about this, and while I am no Christopher Hitchens I can only imagine how my demise will play out in the blogosphere and in the pulpit. According to my critics, when death comes to take me, I will be cast in Hell with the Devil and Christopher Hitchens. A special Hell, punishment, and torture await me because I was once a believer and an Evangelical pastor.

I’ve spent the last twelve years being threatened with Hell and God’s judgment, and if I have a choice between Heaven with Mohler, Warren, Wilson and Hohnholz and Hell with Hitchens, Steven Hawking, my dear friend Steve Gupton and a cast of people I greatly admire, give me Hitch and Hell every time.

The world is richer because a man named Christopher Hitchens lived among us. While his body rots in the grave, his words remain. May his words continue to inspire people to consider a life and world without religious ignorance and oppression. There can be a better tomorrow without God.

Let me conclude this post with a few quotes from Hitch’s last published work Mortality:

  • The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of ‘acceptance,’ hasn’t so far had much application to my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been ‘in denial’ for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by the gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read — if not indeed to write — the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity.
  • To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?
  • Myself, I love the imagery of struggle. I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent soldier or revolutionary is the very last one that will occur to you. You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water.
  • It’s normally agreed that the question ‘How are you?’ doesn’t put you on your oath to give a full or honest answer. So when asked these days, I tend to say something cryptic like, ‘A bit early to say.’ (If it’s the wonderful staff at my oncology clinic who inquire, I sometimes go so far as to respond, ‘I seem to have cancer today.’) Nobody wants to be told about the countless minor horrors and humiliations that become facts of ‘life’ when your body turns from being a friend to being a foe: the boring switch from chronic constipation to its sudden dramatic opposite; the equally nasty double-cross of feeling acute hunger while fearing even the scent of food; the absolute misery of gut-wringing nausea on an utterly empty stomach; or the pathetic discovery that hair loss extends to the disappearance of the follicles in your nostrils, and thus to the childish and irritating phenomenon of a permanently runny nose . . . It’s no fun to appreciate to the full the truth of the materialist proposition that I don’t have a body, I am a body.
  • The man who prays is the one who thinks that god has arranged matters all wrong, but who also thinks that he can instruct god how to put them right.
  • However, one thing that grave illness does is to make you examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings. And there’s one that I find I am not saying with quite the same conviction as I once used to: In particular, I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. In fact, I now sometimes wonder why I ever thought it profound . . . In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker.
  • Like so many of life’s varieties of experience, the novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. And I don’t so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it’s time to be on my way. No, it’s the snickering that gets me down.
  • So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing.

From the last page of Mortality:

“From Alan Lightman’s intricate 1993 novel Einstein’s Dreams; set in Berne in 1905:

With infinite life comes an infinite list of relatives. Grandparents never die, nor do great-grandparents, great-aunts…and so on, back through the generations, all alive and offering advice. Sons never escape from the shadows of their fathers. Nor do daughters of their mothers. No one ever comes into his own…Such is the cost of immortality. No person is whole. No person is free.”

You can buy Mortality here
About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Ruminations About My Mother: What We Have Now

guest post 

A guest post by MJ Lisbeth

A week and a half ago, my mother passed away.

Although she attended Mass and didn’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent, she was hardly the Catholic version of a “Holy Roller.” She never talked about her concept of God, and of our many conversations, I can’t recall more than a couple that included any talk about our beliefs or even religion. What little she knew of Roman Catholic doctrines, she learned in Catholic schools during the ‘40s and ‘50s. And she knew even less of theology in general, or the Bible itself; even in my generation, Catholics weren’t encouraged to learn about those things for themselves. She often expressed disagreement, or even disdain, for much of what she heard from priests and fellow parishioners. I was only partially joking when, during one of our conversations, I exclaimed that she believed even less than I, an atheist, of what the church teaches.

The real reason she sent my siblings and me to Catholic schools, she said, was that she felt it offered “a better education” than the local public schools—and, on the money my then-blue-collar father was making, secular private schools were out of the question. To me, that is consistent with what she once told me was the main reason she continued to attend mass on Sundays (and on weekdays during times of crisis): “It’s comforting. It’s something that doesn’t change.” In other words, although I don’t doubt that she believed in God and adored Jesus, I think that she saw the church and its educational institutions as things she could depend on when other things in her life changed or failed.

Of course, I do not share my mother’s trust in the church, and not only because I survived sexual abuse from a priest. Other experiences, including my formal education, and my inquisitiveness, would undermine my ability to believe. I think that my mother understood as much, and saw my loss of faith in both the church and in God as more or less inevitable. (As far as I know, she never knew about the abuse.) My mother sometimes talked about what she might have done differently: She would have gotten more education (she didn’t finish high school), developed a career of her own and had her children later than she did. I have to wonder whether her church-going habit would have withstood such changes.

As it was, she began to hold views, and engage in practices that would have been unthinkable in the church of her youth. She was never homophobic or transphobic, but she told me—years before it became a popular view—she thought people should be allowed to marry people of their own gender. She expressed that belief even before I “came out” as transgender and started my own gender affirmation process. Although she didn’t think abortion “is a good thing,” she understood that there are times when it’s better than allowing a child to be born to someone unwilling or unable to be a loving, nurturing parent. Oh, and she had a Do Not Resuscitate order, which was carried out along with her wish to be cremated.

Signing the order to remove my mother’s life support was “the hardest thing I ever had to do,” my father said. But he knew of my mother’s wishes, and he has the same wishes for himself. While he has never declared himself an atheist or agnostic, my father doesn’t have much, if any, more belief in the church, or religion generally, than I have. Nor does one of my brothers, even though he was baptized into another church; something he did, he admits, mainly to be accepted by the family of the woman he married.

My sister-in-law, however, is firm, even adamant, in her religious beliefs. So are my other two siblings, who have remained in the Catholic Church, and their spouses, who were raised by families more devout than ours. Not surprisingly, all of those in-laws and the two still-Catholic siblings disassociated themselves from me as I began my gender-affirming process. As you can imagine, having to deal with them for the first time in many years has been stressful. Just as difficult, though, is having to countenance not only their religiosity, but their smugness about it. They believe that the only way to mourn my mother, or any other deceased, is through expressions of their religiosity, including ostentatious prayers. They do not understand that my way of mourning is more private because, for one thing, I’m simply more introverted and, for another, I care more about the relationship I’ve had with the person I just lost than with any appearance of piety. To them, the fact that I will enter the church only for my mother’s memorial mass—and not for any other ceremonies or prayers—is proof not only of my immorality (why else would I “change” my sex? they ask) but also that I didn’t truly love my mother. In their eyes, only the Godly—which is to say, those who adhere to their religious practices—can truly love anyone; never mind that one sibling and spouse, at least, have constructed their lives to avoid contact with those of different races and economic classes from themselves.

My mother did not approve of their “holier-than-thou” attitude, let alone that they shut me out of their lives. But she still loved them. Likewise, she didn’t always approve of everything I did—including, at first, my turning away from the church and faith altogether—but she loved me. And I love her. That is all we have now; that is all we ever could have, or could have had—whatever else we did or didn’t believe in.

Janice’s Cruel God, Yet She Loves Him Still

i love jesusSeveral days ago, the local newspaper reported that a police officer under investigation for perjury was dead. While the cause of death has not yet been released, rumor abounds to its cause. His death is currently under investigation by law enforcement and the county coroner’s office. [update: his death was ruled a suicide, death by a single gunshot to the head] Regardless of the cause of death, this man died way too young, leaving behind his wife, two married children, and his mother. It’s his mother I want to focus on with this post.

Janice — not her real name — attended a non-denominational Evangelical church I pastored in West Unity from 1997-2002. Janice was a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. Every time the doors of the church were open, she was there. Any time we needed help in a particular ministry, Janice volunteered. She was what I call a one-percenter; the one-percent of church members who do ninety-nine percent of the work. Every church has a few Janices, and without them, the church would grind to a halt.

Janice’s husband, while a faithful attendee, was not as committed as she was. He was what I called a good-old-boy, a congregant who always had a story to tell, even if most of the tales were lies. Several years ago, Janice’s husband died of cancer. I believe he was 60 years old when he died. Janice remarried — her fourth. Today, she actively continues to serve Jesus with her new husband at a nearby Evangelical church.

During the seven years I was privileged to be Janice’s pastor, she went through three traumatic events.

I met Janice for the first time at a local restaurant which she and her husband operated. The restaurant was a greasy spoon and, thanks to its low ceiling, was often filled with cigarette smoke. This was in the days before No Smoking laws went into effect in Ohio. The smoke was so pervasive that after eating there, your clothing had the distinct odor of burning cigarettes (and greasy food). After Janice and her husband started attending our church, she asked if I could advise them about their business. She knew I had a business background, and had managed several fast-food and full-service restaurants. It didn’t take me long to figure out that Janice and her husband were drowning in debt with no way out. Owning a restaurant was Janice’s dream. Sadly, it was left to me to destroy her dream. No matter how I worked the numbers, it was clear that the restaurant would continue to lose money. Worse yet, Janice had stopped paying business and payroll taxes in the hope that the business would turn around. I finally told Janice that there was no possible way her business could survive, that throwing more money at it was a waste. This broke Janice’s heart, but I think she knew, deep down, that I was right. Several months later, she closed the restaurant.

One evening after church, I heard the office phone ring. Janice answered the phone. It was her youngest son, calling to say that he had just murdered his girlfriend while she worked at a nearby convenience store. In a fit of rage over being dumped, her son butchered his ex-girlfriend with a knife, leaving her young son motherless. Janice ran into the auditorium and asked for my help. I told her that her son needed to turn himself in before the police arrested him. I went with her to where her son was hiding and encouraged him to go to the sheriff’s office and surrender. He did and later pleaded guilty. Janice’s raised-in-church son is currently serving a life sentence in an Ohio penitentiary.

Janice had one daughter who loved Jesus, but loved having a good time too. She was quite the character, and would frequent our church off and on. Not long after getting married, Janice’s daughter came down with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She died ever so slowly, finally succumbing to the disease in her 20s. I had the sad privilege of performing her funeral.

And now, her son is dead. Four marriages, a failed business, a dead husband, two dead children, and a child behind bars for life. Yet, despite all of these things, Janice still lovingly and blindly worships, serves, and follows Jesus. (The day of and days after her son’s death, her Facebook wall was littered with dozens of memes extolling the wonders of Jesus.)  And for the life of me, I can’t understand why. Yes, Jesus supposedly saved Janice from her sins and promised her a mansion in Heaven after she died, but outside of that, her God has been a piss-poor father, friend, and lover. What is it, exactly, that God has done for Janice? Look at all she had suffered in this life. Yet, despite the abuse, she loves Him still.

Perhaps, believing in God and holding onto his promises is what helps Janice get through life. If so, I get it. That said, I want to scream, JANICE, LOOK AT YOUR LIFE! WHERE IS GOD? From my seat in the atheist pew, it’s clear the “friend that sticks closer than a brother” abandoned Janice long ago; that the deity — much like an abusive husband — who says “I love you” is a violent abuser; that Janice’s Heavenly Father is a child abuser, and is unworthy of her love, commitment, and devotion.

I am sure Janice hopes for great reward in Heaven after she dies. Sadly, what she won’t know is that her suffering came from the cruel roll of fate’s dice; that sometimes shit happens to good people; that time spent hoping and expecting God to come through is a fool’s errand. I wish Janice nothing but the best in the years that lie ahead. I wish most of all that she would tell her abusive deity to fuck off and spend her remaining days enjoying life without thoughts of worship, devotion, and commitment. Sadly, I suspect Janice will ride her God’s black train until the end.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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.

Barbara

barbara tieken 1940s

My Mom, Barbara Tieken, 1940s

Born in rural Missouri to parents who were drunks and constantly fought

Barbara suffered the indignity and shame of being molested by her father

A heinous act he never acknowledged or apologized for

When he became a Christian his past was under the blood

God may have forgiven him

But she never did

barbara and steve tieken 1940s

Barbara and Steve Tieken 1940s

She was a beautiful child who grew up to be an attractive woman

A woman who attracted the attention of men

At seventeen she found herself pregnant

At the age of eighteen she married

Did she marry the father of her baby?

There are doubts

barbara gerencser 1956

Barbara Gerencser, 1956

She found her husband to unreliable, never able to keep the bills paid

He moved her from house to house, town to town, and state to state

Along the way she birthed another boy and then a girl

She loved to read and was passionate about politics

She wrote letters to the newspaper, a staunch defender of right-wing Conservatism

She campaigned for Barry Goldwater and George Wallace

Like so many white, rural Americans of her time, she was a racist

She loved to cook

When her oldest son started playing baseball she came to his games

Her son’s father couldn’t be bothered

When she was thirty-one, her brother-in-law raped her

Her oldest son was home sick from school when it happened

So much trauma

Is it any wonder she had mental problems?

Psychiatrists

Pills

Mental hospitals

Attempted suicides

Rage

Depression

Slit wrists, the kitchen floor, a pool of blood, her oldest son found her

Yet, she lived

Over time, her body collapsed, rendering her an invalid

barbara gerencser 1957

Barbara Gerencser, 1957, Holding her newborn son Bruce (Butch)

By then, her oldest son was a preacher

She was proud of him

He was not proud of her

She was an embarrassment, a pill junkie, she just needed to get right with God

Four marriages

Numerous men in and out of her life

Yet, she never lost her mental acuity or thirst for knowledge

She watched the news day and night, ever ready to rage against those she disagreed with

She told her oldest son she wanted him to do her funeral and she wanted everyone to sing the Star Spangled Banner and say the Pledge of Allegiance

barbara tieken 1950s

Barbara Tieken, 1950s

Over time, her oldest son came to accept her as she was

He would come to Columbus and take her shopping or to the doctor

She didn’t like his driving

Her phone was often disconnected

Her latest husband, just like everyone before him, couldn’t keep the bills paid

The oldest son’s father died from surgery complications at age forty-nine

Her oldest son had to call the police to give her a message since her phone was disconnected

Awhile later, in a pouring rain, she called from a phone booth

They talked and wept together

And then she moved to Quincy, Michigan, six hours away

Her oldest son only saw her a few times after the move

They talked on the phone every month or so and wrote to one another

After church one Sunday, her oldest son answered the phone at his house

His aunt was on the other end of the phone

He heard what he never hoped he would hear

His mom was dead

She had turned a Ruger .357 on herself, pulled the trigger, and ripped a hole in her heart

In a moment, her heart stopped and the life drained from her body

Her oldest son wonders why, but at the same time he knows the answer

The graveside service was an exercise in profound, excruciating grief and denial

The preacher son could barely speak

There would be no singing of the Star Spangled Banner or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance

Even in death she was ignored and denied

Her father spoke of Jesus

Her son saw only a father who molested his daughter and scarred his mother

She was fifty-four when she died

Her son misses her

Oh how he wishes for a do-over

To tell her, I love you

To proudly show off his grandchildren

But all he is left with is emptiness, pain, and regret

And memories

barbara gerencser 1978

Mom and Bruce, Rochester, Indiana, 1978

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheists Will Cry Out “God Help Me” When They Die

geri-ungurean

But I will say this:  Find a person who not only claims to be an Atheist, but obsesses on pushing their atheistic views on others so as to recruit them; and I guarantee that if truth be told, and this person opened up about their life, you would find an ANGRY person.  You would find a person who blames the God whom they say does not exist, for something that happened in their life.

It’s truly sad. 

There is a saying that goes like this:   “There are no atheists in foxholes.”  I believe this is true. A lifelong “atheist”  will cry out  “God help me” when faced with death.

VERY TELLING.

Do you have a person in your life who claims to be an atheist?  I have many. But I came to the point when I realized that God must be the One who gets through to the “haters.”  The more you push against them, the nastier they become. The more Scripture you give to them, the more they laugh.

— Geri Ungurean, Absolute Truth From the Word of God, GOD HATERS Masquerading as ATHEISTS: We Know the Truth, April 16, 2019

Quote of the Day: Theological Beliefs Force People to Endure Needless Suffering

assisted suicide

Cartoon by Ted Rall

Granting dying patients the power to determine when their lives will end has long been a serious point of contention with some American religious groups who view these right to die laws as government embracing a “culture of death.” Well-known right to die activists such as Jack Kevorkian have countered that religious ethics should not subvert sound medical reasoning. As of now, the argument against establishing right to die laws remains the dominant American position as only six states and the District of Columbia currently allow physicians to prescribe medications that hasten death. Another, more blunt way to put it, is that a theological belief is forcing millions of families and individual Americans to endure needless suffering that most of us spare our pets.

On its face, the religious objection to right to die laws is based on an otherwise morally praiseworthy worldview that all human life is sacred. Understanding how this seemingly positive belief became the chief impediment to ending so much needless human suffering presents a great lesson in the underlying conflict between science and dogmatic belief.

To be clear, I do not think this conflict needs be a zero-sum game. Indeed, the Constitution provides a great blueprint for how religious faith and science can interact in the same space to overall mutual benefit. Moreover, a strong argument can be made that a constant state of tension is how our market of ideas should function under. That said, I do agree with the critics of dogma such as neuroscientist and author Sam Harris in one very important respect; the main problem with dogma, no matter how benign, is that it is unresponsive to new evidence and discoveries.

The practical issue is the period in which most religious scripture takes place is centuries apart from the time period when modern science came about. Therefore, it is utterly impossible for scripture to take into account the evidence that modern science has produced. This places literal, dogmatic interpretation of spiritual text often in conflict with readily provable realities that modern science has revealed. For instance that the earth is billions, not thousands of years old. Often times, the descriptive conflict between religious dogma and modern science does not bear any direct impact on the everyday lives of most. When the subject matter spills into medical ethics however, the debate can have very real consequences.

— Tyler Broker, Above the Law, The Right to Die, March 12, 2019

Forgiveness

guest post

Guest post by Michael

The word “forgiveness” comes from the root word “forgive” which the dictionary says “to stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.”

I recently had a conversation with a young woman who was physically abused by her father. He was never a “hands on” dad (meaning when it came to the raising of his daughter, he wasn’t active). He served in the military, but came home and started abusing his two daughters. The mother and father are now divorced and the father is in jail for what he did. The young woman told me that her father blames his behavior on the military (he did see action), and that he thinks that the kids are going to forgive him and let him still be a part of their lives. The daughter will not hear of it. She wants nothing to do with him. I do not know the extent of the abuse, or what kind of abuse, but I assume it’s bad because he is in jail.

We’ve all heard the saying “forgive and forget”, but the problem is you can never forget some things. These things can cut deep into your very being. While it is said that time can heal all wounds, forgiveness is a part of that. Most think forgiveness is for the person who wronged you. I argue that it is not. In fact, when you read the definition, it is all about the person who was wronged. After a person hurts you, the way you deal with the hurt to make it stop hurting you (when you think about it) is the process of forgiveness. Forgiveness DOES NOT absolve the person of his or her wrong-doing.

Melody was my girlfriend for four-and-a-half years. Her family lived in Florida (except her daughter). I took care of her during her battle with lung cancer for eighteen months. When she died (October 2006), her family came in and took all her stuff. I didn’t care about most of it. She had little of value when it came to electronics, jewelry, money, or possessions. But what she did have were pictures, art, and memorabilia from our four-and-a-half years together. They cremated her without letting me know (she wanted to be cremated . . . I knew that, it was just they did it without including me). There was no grieving with me. I had no one to grieve with. They did everything behind my back and refused to talk to me. The only exception was that her sister called me up from Florida (two days after she died), and left me a voice message, threatening me with jail time if I did anything with her money or bank accounts. I was livid. I heard the voice message and I immediately began to shake with sorrow and anger! Here I lost the love of my life and all I got from her family was a threatening call.

I was angry, really angry. It was so consuming that I couldn’t grieve her death because I was so angry at her family. I tried to reach out to them, find out why they did what they did, but I never got any answers. They just took her stuff away, thought I had no right to any of it, and left me alone to grieve. The worst thing about that is there would never be closure. I would never know why they did it. Closure is the only thing I wanted in this situation and I was never going to get it, and that made me even angrier. For three months, I would go to work, come home with takeout and wine, eat the food, drink three-quarters of the bottle of wine and fall asleep with the XBOX controller in my hand. Wake up the next morning, rinse and repeat. It was the most miserable I had ever been in my life and I struggled to come to grips with it.

Then one night, I was working on a piece of music which I was using as a way to deal with my anger. I had put together all the voice mails I received after she died and set them to background music. When I came to the sister’s threatening message, I put the sound of vulture calls in the background and changed the music. And all of the sudden it hit me. You see, Melody was not close to her family. She thought all her siblings and her mother had major issues. The reason the family took her stuff was because they were trying to desperately to regain the part of her they didn’t have . . . her heart, her love. But no matter how hard they tried, they would never get that. Her heart and her love were not in her possessions. I had her heart, I had her love . . . inside of me. I’ve always had those parts. And all the things that she taught me over those years would be alive and in me . . . and then I could pass those nuggets of knowledge on to my daughter and those around me . . . and thus Melody lives on. All of a sudden, I realized . . . I won! I had her heart! I had the most important thing! These people will never know the Melody I knew, the wonderful, talented, nurturing, person she was. I was a direct benefactor of that. Once I looked at it that way, the anger subsided, almost instantaneously. I had finally found a way to look at the situation and be at peace. I had found a way to forgive them. Notice, I didn’t say forget. I still wouldn’t piss on any of them if they were on fire, but I was able to move on, knowing I was the one who actually won in this situation. I am also not ashamed to admit that I don’t feel an ounce of sorrow for them. I don’t feel anger towards them. I just feel nothing towards them. They weren’t a part of my life before, they aren’t a part of my life now . . . so I don’t care what happens to them.

I relayed that story to this young woman, and something clicked with her. Her eyes were glazed over with tears and she said “I never thought of it that way. This really helps me with this situation and another that I’m going through. Thank you so much. Would you become my “step-in dad?” And with that . . . Melody lives on! I’m still winning! If it weren’t for me going through that situation more than twelve years ago, I would have not had the tools to help this young lady.

So, forgiveness is not about the other person, it’s all about you! It’s about the way you cope with someone who wronged you. You can never put the toothpaste back in the tube. You can’t change what happened or the way people are, you can only change your reaction. You can only change your perspective. Once you decide to exorcise the offending situation from your life, peace is right behind. If the person who wronged you means something to you and it would be worth keeping him or her in your life, you will have to deal with it and find some way to make the relationship work. If the person should be “dead to you,” then cut them out of your life and don’t look back!

Religion, Death, and the Afterlife: The Death of Derek Sheldon

derek sheldon roadside memorial 4

As many of you know, Polly and I travel the highways and byways of northwest Ohio, northeast Indiana, and southeast Michigan looking for photography opportunities. I have developed an interest in how we as Americans — particularly Midwesterners — memorialize life and death.  Of special interest is the various means religious people use to remember the dead. This interest might seem odd for someone who is an atheist, but I am attracted to roadside memorials and cemeteries. From time to time, I plan to share a few of the photographs I’ve shot while stalking death.

I shot these photographs at a roadside memorial for the late Derek Sheldon.

derek sheldon roadside memorial

derek sheldon roadside memorial 2

Derek Sheldon, a senior student at Elmwood High School in Bloomdale, Ohio, was tragically killed in an automobile accident on October 1, 2015. According to the Sentinel-Tribune:

Derek Arthur Sheldon, 17 of Bloomdale passed away on October 1, 2015, near Bloomdale.

He was born in Findlay on October 3, 1997, to William and Kimberly (Workman) Sheldon and they survive.

….

Derek was a senior at Elmwood High School where he played basketball and baseball. He was a member of the honor society, loved working with younger children during summer baseball, and enjoyed sports of any kind.

While I find roadside memorials psychologically and sociologically interesting, death at such a young age is always tragic.

 

 

 

The Suddenness of Death

steve gupton

Steve Gupton

Eight years ago, I came in contact with a man by the name of Steve Gupton. Steve had been raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement and attended Bob Gray’s IFB college in the 1980s. Steve and I spent countless hours talking about shared past experiences and our attempt to forge a new path in life sans God. Several years ago, Steve went through a divorce and suffered through long periods of depression. I talked him off of the ledge on more than one occasion. Steve deeply loved his children, and had plans to get married this year. Polly and I planned to travel to North Carolina for the wedding, hoping to meet Steve face-to-face for the first time. Sadly, I will never get to meet my friend in the flesh. On Saturday, Steve, a physically fit martial arts instructor, suddenly died from a heart attack. He was fifty-one.

Steve commented hundreds of times on this blog. We traded messages on Facebook hours before he died. We chatted about IFB pastor Donnie Romero being forced to resign over cavorting with prostitutes, smoking weed, and gambling. And now, just like that, the voice of my friend is forever silenced.

Earlier this week, another internet friend of mine, Justin Vollmar, woke up to discover that his three-year old daughter Clarisa had died suddenly in her sleep. Clarisa was deaf and blind, and was loved dearly by her parents. Justin rarely commented on this blog, but he did credit me with helping him on his journey out of Evangelical Christianity. Justin was a pastor of an Evangelical deaf church before he deconverted.

Both of these deaths are a reminder to me of the brevity of life and how suddenly it can end. The Bible is right when it says: Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. (Proverbs 27:1)

My friend Steve will face one final indignity as he is laid to rest: an Evangelical pastor has been asked to hold the funeral service. Steve and I often talked about what we wanted when we died. Having a Bible thumper preside over our funerals was definitely not something either one of us wanted. I suspect Steve’s IFB family is getting the last say on his funeral. Let this serve as reminder of the importance of putting into writing your last wishes.

Christianity offers the delusional hope that if people will just “believe” that they will be reunited someday in Heaven with their saved loved ones. As a Christian, I would have comforted myself with the promise of seeing Steve again. I would have comforted Justin with the promise that one day he would see Clarisa again and she would have a perfect body, one that could see and hear. Such promises are essential to Christian belief. Without the promise of a blessed afterlife, Christianity loses its power. People want to believe that there is more to life than the here and now; they want to believe that death is not the end; they want to believe that the family circle won’t be broken in the sweet by and by.  But life tells us a far different story — that death is certain and often comes when we expect it least; that death rips from us those we love, leaving only our memories. I wish it were different, but alas I must embrace reality, a reality that tells me I shall never see my friend Steve again; that Justin will never hold in his arms again his precious daughter. All we have are the memories of time spent with those we love. These untimely deaths are reminders, at least to me, that I should live life to its fullest and that I shouldn’t put off to another day experiencing life with those I love. Most of all, I am reminded of my own mortality. Steve was physically fit and in good health, yet he’s dead. Here am I with a broken-down, failing body. Dare I think for one moment that long life awaits me? As I helplessly watch, for the first time, my wife of forty years struggle with serious health problems, dare I think that we have forever in our future? No! We have today. We have now.

Let me conclude this post with the advice I give on my ABOUT page:

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

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

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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