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Tag: Death

Atheists Really Believe in God But Refuse to Admit It Says, Evangelical Pastor Nate Pickowicz

atheists dont exist

Calvinist Nate Pickowicz, pastor of Harvest Bible Church in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, recently wrote a post for the Entreating Favor blog titled The God-Fearing Atheist. Pickowicz trots out the age-old, worn-out argument that there really is no such thing as an atheist:

It has been said that there is a “God-sized hole” in every person. In other words, the human heart was designed to want and need God. It’s a kind of fingerprint that God leaves on the souls of those created in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). Here’s the rub, not every person acknowledges or believes that God exists. How then do we explain this?

In John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, he makes a case for “the knowledge of God implanted in the human mind”. Because it is often argued that religion is a man-made invention to subjugate the masses, Calvin points to indigenous tribes of people who are fully convinced of the existence of God. Furthermore, almost uniformly, these tribes worship blocks of wood and stones as gods rather than believe in the absence of deity. They are naturally prone to worship.

Calvin then addresses the atheist.

He writes, “The most audacious despiser of God is most easily disturbed, trembling at the sound of a falling leaf.” He’s referring to the abject fear within a person when one comes to the end of himself. We’ve all heard the recently deemed politically incorrect phrase “there are no atheists in foxholes.” This is what Calvin is talking about. Intellectually, one can deny God all day long, but placed into a situation which appeals to a person’s instincts, that “God-sized hole” becomes a gaping, aching chasm. In conclusion, Calvin writes, “If all are born and live for the express purpose of learning to know God, and if the knowledge of God, insofar as it fails to produce this effect, fleeting and vain, it is clear that all those who do not direct the whole thoughts and actions of their lives to this end fail to fulfill the law of their being.”

Did you catch that? Because we’re hard-wired to acknowledge God; if we don’t seek Him, then we violate our own nature!

According to Pickowicz, everyone is hardwired to know God exists. His proof for this claim? The Bible. He presents no empirical evidence for his claim. Pickowicz, quoting the God of Calvinism, John Calvin, points to the fact that even indigenous tribes acknowledge the existence of a deity. Fine, let’s run with this argument for a minute. Let’s say everyone is hardwired to acknowledge “God.” Why is it then that this knowledge of God is so varied? If it is the Christian God who puts it in the heart of everyone to acknowledge him, why is it that so many people acknowledge the wrong God? I would think that the Christian God would make sure that everyone knew that he alone is God, yet day after day billions of people worship other gods. Why is this?

Pickowicz needs to get his nose out of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and do some serious thinking about WHY people are religious and WHY they choose the God they do. Several years ago, I wrote a post titled Why Most Americans are Christian. In this post, I explained why most Americans, when asked if they believe in the Christian God, will answer yes:

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

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

Practicing Christians have a hard time accepting this. They KNOW the place and time Jesus saved them. They KNOW when they were baptized, confirmed, dedicated, saved, or whatever term their sect uses to connote belief in the Christian God.

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

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

Only by looking at religion from a sociological perspective can we understand and explain why people believe in a particular deity. People such as Pickowicz deny the value and importance of such explanations, preferring to let their trusty inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible do the talking. It is impossible to have a reasonable conversation with people who think in this manner. For them, God has spoken, and any knowledge, be it sociological or neurological, that doesn’t affirm the Biblical narrative, is rejected out of hand.

Pickowicz, like Calvin, thinks that when put in circumstances where death is a distinct and imminent possibility, atheists will abandon their godlessness and cry out to God. And his evidence for this? There is none. I am sure there are stories of atheists crying out for God when dying, just as there are stories of Christians cursing God when facing death. Again, there are numerous reasons for why these things happen, but Pickowicz rejects them all, assured that all atheists KNOW there is a God and when they die they will cry out to the Christian God. (I would love to hear Pickowicz’s explanation for the fact that most people when they die will call out for some other God besides the Christian one.)

Christopher Hitchens, arguably one of the most notable atheists of our generation, died December 15, 2011. Detailing Hitchens’ final days, 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.

So much for atheists leaving this world screaming for God. Hitchens entered the foxhole of mortality, knowing that thoughts of God were for those unable to face the brutality and finality of death. Hitchens died as he lived, a man who held true to his godlessness until the end. (If you have not read Hitchens’ final book, Mortality, I encourage you to do so.)

I know there is nothing I can write that will change Pickowicz’s God-addled mind. But perhaps time will. Pickowicz is a young guy who has not experienced much of life. I can only hope that he will get to know a few flesh-and-blood atheists before he dies. I hope he will have the opportunity to observe not only how atheists live but how they die. I am confident that the young preacher will find that dying atheists hold true to their convictions until the end. Unlike countless Christians when faced with death who have to be reassured of their salvation, atheists will need no such reassurance. Atheists know that death is the end. All that remains are the memories their friends and families have of a well-lived life. And that, my friend, is enough.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Evangelical Christians Often Ask Me What Happens When We Die?

life after death
Cartoon by Heyokyay

Evangelical Christians often ask me, what happens when we die?  Here’s my answer.

The power of religion rests in the hope it gives people concerning life after death. Remove this from religion, and churches would be shuttered overnight. Hope, along with fear, is the glue that holds most religions together. What would religion be without the fear of Hell and the hope of Heaven?

The problem though is that there is no evidence for the existence of Heaven, Hell, or life beyond the grave.  All we have to go on are the various religious texts that sects, churches, and clerics use to “prove” that there is a Hell and Heaven. No one has ever gone to Heaven or Hell and returned to tell us about it — and that includes the Christian liars who say they went to Heaven or Hell and came back with a message from God. The same goes for any life after death, whether it be reincarnation or Christian resurrection. There is no evidence for life after death. Any belief to the contrary requires faith.

As a skeptic, I rarely appeal to faith. I try to judge matters according to what I can see and know. What does reason tell me about life after death? What do my observations tell me about reality? What do my experiences tell me about the prospects of eternal life beyond my last breath?

When we die, we are dead. That’s it. End of story.  When my heart stops pumping, my lungs stop breathing, and my brain stops functioning, I am dead. Every one of us will come to this end. No one escapes death — not even Jesus. I know of no one who has come back from the dead. I know of no one who is not right where they were planted or scattered after they died. As with God, there is no empirical evidence for Hell, Heaven, or life after death. Since there is no evidence, I must conclude that these things do not exist.

Now, this does not mean I don’t wish it could be otherwise. Heaven, eternal life, a pain-free body, being reunited with my father and mother; all these things appeal to me. But then, so does having magical Harry Potter-like powers. Both are fantasies that have no foundation in fact.

Some day, sooner rather than later, I am going to die. It is unlikely that I will be alive 10 years from now. I hope I am, but my body and its slow, gradual, painful decline tells me that the ugly specter of death is lurking in the shadows, and someday it will come to claim me. Believe me, I want to live. I have no death wish as many Christians do. Take me Jesus, I am ready to go, many a Christian says. Not I. I have no desire to leave on the next boat or any other boat, for that matter. I hope the long black train that’s a-comin’ gets derailed in Hell, Michigan.  I want to live as long as I can. I want to be married for 50 years, see my grandchildren get married, and hold my great-grandchildren. I want to see the Bengals win a Super Bowl, the Reds win another World Series, and a host of other things on my bucket list — and yes, I have one.

You see, we skeptics, atheists, and humanists value life because this is all we have. We know, based on what the evidence tells us, that there is no Hell, Heaven, or life after death. This is it, and because it is, we want to wring as much as we can out of life. We are not content to off-load life to a mythical Sweet-By-and-By. Every day matters because every day lived is one less day we are above ground.

I have lived about 23,546 days/565,104 hours/33,906,204 minutes/2,034,374,400 seconds. What is most important to me is a well-lived life. Have I lived life to its fullest? Have I made a difference? Am I a better person today than I was yesterday? Do the people that matter to me know that I love them? This is enough for me. What more can anyone ask?

Sadly, many Evangelicals view life as something to be endured so that they can get a divine payoff after death. I know this description sounds crude, but it is the essence of Christian belief concerning life after death. Endure! Suffer! Be Patient! As countless Christian songs say, someday it will be worth it all. Someday you will cross the finish line and receive the prize that awaits you, the Apostle Paul says.

I don’t fault Evangelicals for believing in Hell, Heaven, and the afterlife. The Christian Bible certainly says these things are real. The Bible clearly says who will be going to Hell and Heaven. However, as a skeptic, I see no evidence that these beliefs are true. I do not have the requisite faith necessary to suspend reason on these matters. I am unwilling to waste my life in the pursuit of that which, as best I can tell, does not exist.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Short Stories: My First Brush With Death

1970-nova-ss
1970 Nova SS, I bought it in 1975 for $600

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

When did you first realize that you were not invincible? As I attend baseball and softball games this summer, I can’t help but notice how full of life the players are, ready and willing to face all the challenges that come their way. I, too, remember a time when I thought I had the world under my thumb, bending it to my will. I was fearless, arrogant, and full of life, taking on risks that this older version of me would never undertake. From narrowly dodging a semi-truck with my bicycle to climbing under a stopped freight train on a dare, I was known as a boy who loved to push limits, with no thought of what might happen if I miscalculated and came up short. As daredevils know, every successful dare makes one more brazen and willing to push beyond limits. On one hand, such people often accomplish great things, but they are also those who, when coming up short, find themselves needing medical treatment or bail money to get out of jail. There’s a fine line between foolhardy carelessness and taking risks in hope of great reward. Even after successfully making it to age sixty-three, I readily admit that I am not always sure where that line is. I suspect that my tombstone will say, He Died of One Stupid Decision Too Many. There used to be a television program titled, 1,000 Ways to Die. This show detailed the numerous, sometimes humorous, and often foolish and bizarre ways humans have met their ends. Some of my foolish stunts would have made for a great episode or two.

In the summer of 1975, I turned eighteen. I had returned to Bryan, Ohio, from Arizona, and moved in with my mom. I quickly found employment at Foodland, a local union grocery store. To avoid providing me insurance and full-time benefits, the grocery scheduled me to work forty hours one week and thirty-nine hours the next week. I didn’t care. Who needed insurance and benefits, right? My job as the dairy manager was just a means to an end — providing the money necessary for me to keep my car running and spend every night and weekend running around with my friends. My mom rarely saw me. After work, I was out with friends until late, and weekends were often spent doing group activities. Having recently had a bitter breakup with an Arizona college girl whom I was certain was going to be my wife, I had no interest in dating, so group social activities with my friends provided a balm for my hurting emotions.

After moving back to Ohio, I bought a 1960 Mercury Comet — black with a white top — for $200. Over the course of the summer, I put thousands of miles on the car, traveling all over the tri-state area. One Saturday, a bunch of my friends and I decided to go Clear Lake, a nearby body of water in Indiana. I drove, packing eleven friends in a car meant to hold five or six. With nary a thought for safety, off we went to the lake, spending the afternoon swimming and engaging in non-stop horseplay and flirting. Soon it was time to return home. I deposited each of my riders safely at their homes until only a boy named Kenny and I were left in the car.

Kenny was a couple of years younger than I. I knew Kenny through our attendance at First Baptist Church in Bryan. As we were headed towards Kenny’s home, he asked if he could drive my car. Now, I knew he didn’t yet have his license, but the fact that Kenny had grown up on a farm had, I thought, provided him with the necessary skills to drive an automobile, so I said yes! My car had a six-cylinder motor — 144 cubic inch displacement. Top speed was seventy miles per hour. Off we went with Kenny behind the wheel. As Kenny pulled the car onto Williams County Road 15.75, it began to fishtail a bit in the loose gravel. I thought, at the time, no big deal, Kenny will straighten out the car. Instead, as the car increased its side-to-side motion, Kenny panicked, lost control of the car, and drove it headlong into a ditch bank, rolling the car over twice. In a split second, everything around me turned upside down, and when the car finally came to a stop, Kenny’s head was sticking out of the space once occupied by the front windshield and I, having been thrown from the front to the back seat, found myself with the detached seat lying on top of me. Both of us were, surprisingly, unhurt, though I was so disoriented from the crash (perhaps I had a concussion?) that I went to a nearby farmhouse and walked in without knocking, asking if I could use their phone to call the Highway Patrol. Outside of a few scratches and bumps, Kenny and I were unscathed. Unfortunately, my car was totaled.

When the patrolman asked who was driving the car, I, knowing I would get a ticket for letting Kenny drive, lied, telling the officer that I was behind the wheel. This lie, along with four speeding tickets I would accrue in the coming months, caused my insurance rates to rise to $100 a month. Not only did I have an accident and four moving violations on my record, my replacement car for the Mercury was a 1970 Chevrolet Nova SS — 350 cubic inch displacement and 375 horsepower. I went from a car that couldn’t go faster than seventy miles per hour to a car in which I buried the speedometer needle on more than one occasion at one hundred and forty miles per hour.

This accident was my first real brush with death — at least the first one that impacted me psychologically. The car didn’t have seat belts, so Kenny and I could have easily been ejected from the car. We were lucky to have escaped serious injury. Of course, at the time, our luck was attributed to the providential care of the Christian God. I have often wondered what might have happened if I had let Kenny drive while ten other teenagers were beside us in the car. I can only imagine how much carnage there would have been had the car been stuffed full of happy, I’ve got the world by the tail teens when it rolled over twice. Imagine how much differently this story might have ended had everyone who had gone to the lake still been in the car. Fortunately, they weren’t, and all of them graduated from high school, married, and had children (and now grandchildren) of their own. This would not be my last brush with death, but it was my first — that moment in time when all of us come to realize for the first time how mortal and frail we really are.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Your God is Not Here

barbara ehrenreich god quote

Several years ago, I watched the movie Dark Places. Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel with the same name, Dark Places tells the story of a girl who survived the murder of her mother and sisters. After the killings, the murderer scrawled a message in blood on the bedroom wall. The message said: YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE

Your God is not here . . . five little words, yet they succinctly summarize one of the reasons many people walk away from Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals believe that God hears and answers prayers, and is intimately involved with the day-to-day machinations of life. This God is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. For Evangelicals, they “see” God everywhere, even going so far as to say that God lives inside of them. He walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own, Evangelicals sing, rarely considering how often in their lives God is nowhere to be found.

Evangelicals are taught that God is everywhere, yet it seems — oh, so often — that the everywhere-God is AWOL. In 1 Kings 18, we find the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Elijah challenged the prophets to an Old Testament cook-off.  Verses 20-24 state:

So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God.

The prophets of Baal went first. As expected, their God was silent and no fire fell from Heaven. Then it was Elijah’s turn, and sure enough, God heard the prophet’s prayer and sent fire to burn up the sacrifice. Not only did God burn up Elijah’s ground chuck offering, but he also totally consumed the stone altar (imagine how hot the fire must have been to melt rock). Afterward, Elijah had the prophets of Baal restrained and taken to a nearby brook so he could murder them. All told, Elijah slaughtered 450 men.

I want to focus on one specific element of this story: Elijah’s mockery of the prophets of Baal. As these prophets called out to their God, Elijah began to mock them:

And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

The Living Bible puts it this way:

“You’ll have to shout louder than that,” he scoffed, “to catch the attention of your god! Perhaps he is talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”

Every time I read these words I think about the Evangelical God, a deity who is supposedly on the job 24/7. If this God is so intimately involved with his creation, why does it seem that he is nowhere to be found? This God is supposedly the Great Physician, yet Christians and atheists alike suffer and die. Where, oh where, is the God who heals? This God supposedly controls the weather, yet tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, avalanches, and mudslides maim and kill countless people, leaving those who survive without homes, food, and potable water. This God supposedly causes plants to grow, yet countless children will starve due to droughts and crop failures. This God is supposedly the God of Peace, yet hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children are maimed and slaughtered in wars and terrorist attacks. This God is supposedly the Giver of Life, yet everywhere people look they see death — both human and animal.

Perhaps it is the Evangelical God that is — to quote the Living Bible — “talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” Taking a big-picture view of life leads many of us to conclude that either the Evangelical God is a heartless, indifferent son of a bitch or he doesn’t exist. For atheists such as myself, our honest, rational observations make one thing clear: there is no God. Perhaps — throwing a bone to deists and universalists — there is a hand-off God, but is he worthy of worship? This God created the universe, yet he chooses, in the midst of our suffering, to do nothing. What good is such a God as this? Warm “feelings” will not suffice when there is so much pain, suffering, and death.

Imagine how different the world would be if the Evangelical God fed the hungry, gave water to thirsty, healed the sick, brought an end to violence and war, and made sure everyone had a roof over their head, clothes on their back, shoes in their feet, and an iPhone (the Devil uses Android) in their pockets. Imagine if this God tore the pages of the book of Revelation from the Bible and said, my perfect, eternal kingdom is now!

Christians have been promising for centuries that someday their God will make all things new. Evangelicals warn sinners that the second coming of Christ is nigh, after which God will make a new Heaven and a new Earth. In Revelation 21:3-5 we find these words:

I heard a loud shout from the throne saying, “Look, the home of God is now among men, and he will live with them and they will be his people; yes, God himself will be among them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new!”

Yet, despite the promises of better days ahead, the world remains just as it always has been, an admixture of love, joy, kindness, hatred, heartache, and loss. I ask, where is God? 

I think the murderer was right when he scrawled on the bedroom wall, YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE. Surely, the cold reality and honesty of atheism is preferred to begging and pleading with a God who never answers. I spend each and every day of my life battling chronic pain and illness.  Gastroparesis, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis dominate every waking moment.  My health problems started fifteen years before I walked away from Christianity. Countless prayers were uttered on my behalf. I pleaded with God, Help me, Lord. Heal my broken body. Take away my pain. God uttered not a word, nor did he lift a finger to help. As a pastor, I prayed for numerous dying Christians. I asked the churches I pastored to pray for the sick and the dying. Yet, despite our earnest petitions, all those we prayed for died.

The absence of God from the human narrative of life is but one of the reasons I no longer believe in the existence of God. I think Jimmy Stewart summed up my view best with his prayer on the movie Shenandoah:

Video Link

There is no God that is coming to deliver us from pain, suffering, and loss. We are on our own, so it is up to us to ease the suffering of humans and animals alike. Knowing that death always wins shouldn’t keep us from attempting to alleviate the misfortunes of others. We shouldn’t need promises of homes in Heaven to motivate us to help others.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Trials and Adversity: It Doesn’t Always Happen to Someone Else

why me

As an Evangelical Christian, I believed that if I sincerely prayed, God would take care of me, and he would make sure calamity didn’t show up at my doorstep. In those rare instances when it seemed that God wasn’t answering my prayer and I was facing disaster, I thought he was either testing me or chastising me for disobedience.

I was relatively healthy until the early 1990s. I played basketball in the winter and softball in the summer. In the fall, I cut wood, spending hours sawing felled trees into wood stove-sized pieces. I hunted in the fall/winter, walking for miles in the Appalachian foothills. I was, by every measure, a healthy but increasingly overweight man.

Today, I am a disabled old man, worn thin by chronic illness and debilitating pain. Since last August, I have had surgery, been to the emergency room twice, including last night, battled complications from the aforementioned surgery, had numerous tests, and have had way too many medications added to my daily pill-popping regimen. To say that I am tired of being sick and tired would be a gross understatement. I am back to seeing my counselor regularly, if for no other reason than I fear I am getting perilously close to saying, I don’t want to do this anymore.

I am still amazed by how quickly the circumstances of my life have changed. It seems that life is being sucked out of me ever so slowly. Gone are the days of strenuous physical activity. Now I am happy to take a short walk with Polly or tour our yard, looking at the flowers, bushes, and trees. Our home is littered with projects in various stages of completion. I will get to these projects soon, I tell myself. The pile of unread magazines on the end table continues to grow, even though I subscribe to few magazines these days. The same could be said for the unread books that line the shelves in the dining room. A week ago, I developed inflammation in the left side of my ribs and sternum. It is painful for me to even type. I have had this pain in the past, but coupled with abnormally high blood pressure readings (226/110) and a pounding headache, I thought I might be having a heart attack or stroke, thus my trip to the ER last night. Fortunately, after three hours of tests, the doctor concluded that yes, my blood pressure was high, but it was unlikely that I was having a heart attack or stroke.

Five years ago, I went over to my oldest son’s home to wire their new bedroom and bathroom. My coming over to help quickly turned into me taking extra doses of narcotic pain medication and sitting on a chair while I told others what to do. I was able to get the circuits where they needed to go, and I suppose I could make myself feel good over my son still needing my expertise, but I quietly wept inside as I thought about how much I had lost. Today? Attempts to do something physically strenuous are met with the screaming objections of my body. I sometimes push through the pain, knowing that I will pay a heavy price for ignoring my body’s vociferous objections. I shouldn’t do these things anymore, but the only thing worse than not doing them is feeling that my expertise and help are no longer needed. We all want to feel needed by those we love.

One of the most significant issues that dominate my every-other-week counseling sessions with Dr. Deal is my unwillingness to embrace life as it is. Just last week, we talked about the difficulty I was having taking baths and showers. Polly has to be nearby just in case I fall. Dr. Deal strongly suggested I purchase a shower seat and a tub support rail. I thought I am not going to do that.  Sixteen years ago, I managed the Yuma office of Allegro Medical — a direct medical equipment company. We made deliveries of equipment to the homes of older people or nursing homes. I am not that old, right? Reason eventually prevailed. I ordered a seat and a rail from Amazon.

Even my family doctor has talked to me about the fine line between giving up and being smart about embracing reality. The notion of putting mind over matter is patently false, at least for me. There will be no more days of playing basketball or softball. There will be no more days of feeling the sweat run down my face and back as I cut wood on a crisp fall day. There will be no more days of trudging through the woods playing a game of hide-and-seek with a cottontail rabbit or a fox squirrel. No matter how much I want it to be different, I will never be able to read like I once did. While the voracious appetite for the printed page is still there, the ability to process it is long gone.  This is my life, and there is not one damn thing I can do about it.

As a Christian, I believed that my physical afflictions were the result of God making me more like Jesus. I thought the way to Heaven was paved with pain and suffering. I can confidently say that God never answered one prayer when I cried out to him for physical relief or deliverance. I came to see that I was like the Apostle Paul who prayed for deliverance and God told him no. (2 Corinthians 12:6-9) God seems to always say no.

These days, I realize that the diseases that are ever-so-slowly taking life from me are the result of a combination of genetics, environment, and lifestyle choices, with a topping of “who the hell knows.” When I whine and complain about my lot in life and say “why me?” the universe laughs and says, “why not you?”

Bad things don’t always happen to other people. It is not always another family’s child who gets cancer or is killed in a car accident. It is not always someone else who has a brain tumor, goes through a divorce, or loses a job. It’s not always someone else who gets infected with COVID-19. It is not always someone else who loses everything in a fire, tornado, hurricane, or flood. The truth is that life is a big crapshoot: good luck, bad luck, at the right place, at the wrong place, good genetics, bad genetics, growing up on the right side of the tracks, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, marrying the right person, marrying the wrong person. The list is endless.

As I peruse humankind’s ways, it is clear to me that very few people live to be old without facing trial and adversity. It is just how life is. If there really is a God, I might find some pleasure and satisfaction in saying DAMN you, God, but since there is no God, I am left to shout at a universe that yawns at my death-defying struggle. If the universe could speak, it surely would say, this movie always ends the same way. Death. Next.

It is futile to see life other than as it is. Wishing for days that are long since gone only results in depression and despair. We must embrace life as it is while we go kicking and screaming into the night. We have two choices in life: fight or roll over and die. Yes, life is unfair and bad things happen to good people. Shit happens, and it doesn’t always happen to someone else.

Let me end this post with a poem by Dylan Thomas, an early 20th-century poet who died at the age of 39:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Is God Punishing Me for My Sin?

god of love

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

One of the saddest questions I see in the blog search logs is this: I have ____________________. Is God punishing me for my sin?

If a person believes the Bible is God’s Word, then the answer to this question is Yes. God does afflict people because of their sin. God maims, sickens, and kills people, all because they violated one or more of his laws. No disobedience is too trivial for the thrice-holy God to punish. Remember Uzzah, the man who broke God’s law by touching the Ark of the Covenant, a gold-clad chest containing the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod, and a pot of manna? David commanded the Ark be moved by cart from one place to another. As it was being moved, the oxen pulling the cart stumbled. Fearing that the Ark would topple over, Uzzah, a Levite, reached out to steady the Ark. God rewarded Uzzah for his saintly effort by striking him dead.

In the Old Testament, God is shown using affliction and destruction to either make a point or to get someone to do what he wants them to do. God is definitely a hands-on kind of deity, punishing sin to the third and fourth generation. In the New Testament, we are told God often afflicts Christians to test them or make them stronger. Sometimes, God uses heartache and tragedy to get Christians’ attention. I’ve been told by numerous Evangelicals that the reason I’m in so much physical pain is that God is trying to get my attention. I’ve even been warned that God might kill me if I continue to ignore his (their) warnings.

Then there are the times that God maims, afflicts, or kills people because he wants them to give praise and glory to his name. God, ever the adoration-seeking narcissist, will go to great lengths to get people to worship him. In the still of the night, God comes into the bedroom of the infant daughter of Christians Bobby and Isabelle. Is God there to admire the beautiful little girl? Perhaps he wants to tell her that she will some day grow up and be a woman greatly used by God. Sadly, on this night God had a more sinister plan in mind. He reaches into the crib and puts his nail-pierced hand over the baby’s mouth and quietly suffocates the child to death. Why would a supposedly loving, caring, and kind God do such a thing? For no other reason than, come morning, he wants the dead child’s parents to give praise and glory to his name. No explanation will be forthcoming. Bobby and Isabelle will be expected to act as if their daughter’s death is all part of God’s wonderful plan for their life.

Christians believe God is the creator of the universe, and as the Sovereign ruler of all, he has complete and absolute control over everything. When Christians face sickness, disaster, or the loss of a loved one, they are reminded by their pastor and friends that God is bigger than their circumstances. Just trust God, they are told. Surely, he is using your troubles to make you stronger and draw you closer to him. Suffering Christians might even be asked to search their hearts for some sort of secret sin that lies buried deep within. Perhaps God is trying to get them to acknowledge and forsake this secret sin.

The things I have mentioned above are some of the reasons I am no longer a Christian. What kind of God operates in this manner? Of course, I am sure someone will tell me, a la Romans 9: Bruce, how dare you question God! For many Christians, God is above reproach. Even when he acts like a psychopath, God is given a free pass. After all, the Christian says, God’s ways are not our ways. We must trust and believe that God knows best.

Sadly, many Christians are so disconnected from reality that they cannot or will not see things as they are. If a mere human did what the Bible says God did, he would be tried before a world tribunal for crimes against humanity. And I have no doubt that he would be convicted on all counts and sentenced to death. Perhaps God deserves the same judgment and punishment.

It’s better to believe that shit happens in life — no deity required. People get sick, face untold suffering, and die. Through genetics, environment, and lifestyle choices, people are afflicted with all kinds of diseases. In many cases, these diseases are what will eventually kill them. It’s far better to believe that this is how life is than to think that there is a God in Heaven set on afflicting us for our sin or because he needs his ego stroked.

The liberal Christian is likely to scream foul and say, God is love. Yes, according to the Bible, God is love, but he is also everything else I have mentioned in this post. To liberal Christians I say, please take off your blinders and read ALL of the Bible. Ignoring the portions of the Bible that make you uncomfortable or make God look like a mean, vindictive, son-of-a-bitch, doesn’t change the fact that those passages ARE in the Bible. If these accounts are not to be accepted as an accurate description of God and how he operates, why should we then be expected to believe that God is love or that Jesus is who and what Christians claim he is? Where’s the instruction manual for playing the pick-and-choose Bible Game®? From my seat in the atheist pew, it looks like many Christians are just making up the rules as they go.

If God is unchanging and Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then Christians have no other option but to accept God as he is described in the Bible. If Christians are unwilling to do so, then they need to be honest and admit that they have fashioned a God in their own image. Either that or Christians must admit that the Bible is not a divine book; that it is just a work of fiction written by men thousands of years ago.

For most of my adult life, I lived as a stoic, come-what-may, Christian. No matter what suffering, trial, or adversity came my way, I believed God was either punishing me for sin, making me stronger, or teaching me a lesson. Much like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim on his way to the Celestial City, no matter what came my way, I continued to endure and run the race set before me.

My wife and I are quite matter-of-fact about life. This drives some people crazy, but we have been deeply influenced by Christianity and its belief that we are to bear whatever adversity comes our way. We believed for most of our adult lives that God was faithful and would never give us more than we could bear. This kind of thinking can make someone quite passive about life. Since God is behind everything, Christians are expected to keep trusting and believing right up to the moment they draw their last breath. No kicking, no screaming, no defiance. Just a sweet, thank you Jesus smile as they are carried away by angels to Heaven.

smile god loves you

This kind of thinking makes people less human. It often robs them of their will, their desire to live. Many Christians are like the Apostle Paul, who wished he could die and go to a better place. After all, according to the Bible, this world is such a sinful, wicked place that death becomes the sweet release. But what if Christians are wrong about life, suffering, and death? Let me use here what I call reverse Pascal’s Wager. What IF this life is all the Christian has? What if death really is the end? Shouldn’t Christians want to enjoy THIS life to its fullest? Wouldn’t they want to live every moment of every day in such a way that reflects the brevity and finality of their lives? Instead of living according to the notion that they are most miserable if this is all there is, how about seeing that life is a great blessing, even if there is no afterlife.

Despite the physical struggles, pain, and debility that dominate my life, I am grateful to be counted among the living. I’m not ready to become worm food, nor am I ready for people to say lies about me at my funeral. I refuse to go “gentle” into the night (Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night). I will not stand like a lemming in line waiting for the Wraith to come and turn me into food. Life is worth living, and I don’t need the promise of eternal life to make it so. And I sure as hell don’t need to concern myself with thoughts of a mythical, sin-punishing God who finds some sort of perverse pleasure in pulling the wings off his creation.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

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-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

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-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Guilt — the Essence of Evangelical Christianity

guilt

Repost from 2015-2016. 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.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser