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The Blood is on Their Hands

bloody hands

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Three weeks ago, my cousin passed away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are Atheists More Fearful Than Christians?

fearing death
Cartoon by Allan Tracy

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

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

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

“Stand in the Gap” host Sam Rohrer added:

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

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

Barton later added:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Everyone Fears Death Except Christians, Says Clay Jones

mark twain death

Recently, Evangelical writer Erik Manning interviewed Clay Jones, author of the book Immortal: How the Fear of Death Drives Us and What We Can Do About It. Jones, also an Evangelical, holds a doctor of ministry from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is an associate professor in the Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology — the seminary wing of Biola University.

Jones had some interesting (and ignorant) things to say to about how unbelievers, particularly atheists, deal with death.

Here’s what Jones had to say:

People are horrified by the prospect of their deaths but most of the time they won’t admit it to themselves! But when a woman finds a lump in her breast, or a man has a chest pain, or a person gets a positive back on a blood test, then the fear of death stands in front of them and won’t leave the room. What’s scaring people with COVID-19 is that suddenly the possibility of their death becomes very real and it reveals how much they really do fear death. Christians shouldn’t be surprised that non-Christians fear death because Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us Jesus died for us so “that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Let me emphasize this: the Bible tells us that “all their lives,” people are “held in slavery by their fear of death.”

….

Because people are terrified by the fact of their deaths (even though for the most part they try to deny it and distract themselves from it), down deep they know they will die and they find ways to transcend the fact that they know they are going to die. Much of human behavior is driven by an attempt to evade death.

….

In the book I go through the atheist attempts to feel good, or at least okay about death: “immortality would be boring” (that’s a big one), “live in the moment,” your individual existence is unreal (hard to believe but this was Einstein’s answer), and so on and on. They all fail and that’s why atheists have a higher suicide rate than those who believe there is a God. Here’s the last sentence of the last page of Duke University philosopher Alex Rosenberg’s book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions: “Take a Prozac or your favorite serotonin reuptake inhibitor, and keep taking them till they kick in.” So atheist Rosenberg’s presumably sober advice for dealing with death fears is “Get high!” 

….

People are living in denial and distraction (you can’t just deny something, you have to distract yourself from it) and that’s why we pay movie, singing, and sports stars more than we pay almost anyone in society—they do what we need most—they keep our minds occupied so we don’t have to think about our deaths. No one should be surprised that people are depressed, neurotic, and even psychotic because of the fear of death scares them. Of course, people are hooked on drugs, as I just said, Rosenberg’s advice to deal with death is to take drugs. Suicide is a symptom of the fear of death because it allows you to control that which controls you.

Jones’ view can be summed up thusly: non-Christians and atheists fear death, deny its existence, and do everything in their power to avoid it. Christians, on the other hand (see interview for what Jones says about Christians and death), accept the reality of death, are prepared to die, and live accordingly. While Jones admits some Christians fear death, he asserts that they do so because they have a “paltry, usually false view of heaven.” Jones adds, that another reason Christians fear death is that “it is so easy for Christian to be in love for this present world.”

Jones’s advice for Christians who fear death is that believers should “focus on eternal life” and remember that Christians “are never going to experience death.” Jones reminds believers:

In Jesus, we will live forever! That’s the Christian’s hope and the evidence for that is that Jesus was raised from the dead. So be encouraged, Christian, you are going to live forever!

I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five of those years. I pastored Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), Southern Baptist, Sovereign Grace Baptist, Christian Union, and nondenominational congregations. I visited numerous dying congregants in the hospital and in their homes. I also did the same for unbelievers, hoping to evangelize them before they died. I have witnessed death up close, standing by bedsides as Christians and unbelievers alike drew their last breaths. These experiences had a powerful effect on me. Having lost my parents at ages forty-nine and fifty-four, I know the pain that one feels when loved ones die. Fifteen years ago, my wife’s sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. We still, to this day, mourn the loss of Kathy. (Please see If One Soul Gets Saved, It’s Worth it All.)

What helped me, at the time, to minister to those who were dying and allowed me to personally endure the death of family members was the fact that I was a Christian; that I believed after death believers were “absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).

When it comes to questions of life and death and whether there is human existence beyond the grave, religion is a panacea. People want to believe their lives have meaning and purpose, and that after death there awaits for them heavenly bliss and reunion with family and friends who, along with Toto, have gone to the great OZ in the sky.

Jones, as Evangelical apologists are wont to do, presupposes that his God, his belief system, and what the Bible says about life, death, and the afterlife are true. For those of us who reject his presuppositions, Jones says we are living in denial. In fact, it is Jones and other Evangelicals like him who are living in denial. The facts on the ground tell us that we live once, die, end of story. Jones provides no evidence for the existence of the afterlife except for what the Bible says about the death and resurrection of Jesus. THE BIBLE SAYS is all Jones has to offer on the subject. If and when Jones coughs up some actual evidence for his claims, I know more than a few atheists who will be glad to listen. Appealing to the Bible is not evidence. And until such evidence is provided, all Jones really has is faith: faith that the triune Christian God is the one true God, faith that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, faith that everything the Bible says about life, death, and eternal life is true. I, for one, am not willing to set reason and skepticism aside and just faith-it.

That said, I recognize the power of the Christian myth. A religion need not be true for it to have value. Jones’ religion is a myth just like all the other religions he has deemed false. The battle between the various religions of the world is all about whose myth is true. Each warring party is certain that their mythology is true. Most people believe that their respective religion is the one true faith. In the United States, Christianity is the dominant myth. Evangelicals such as Jones say that all humans are vile, depraved sinners who deserve judgment and Hell. What an awful view of humanity. Of course, Evangelicals offer a remedy for human depravity: the death and resurrection of Jesus, the son of God. All sinners need to do is repent of their sin and put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Well, that and commit oneself to extravagantly worshiping the Christian God, attending (the right) church, reading the Bible, praying, tithing, and living according to the moral code taught in the Bible (as interpreted by Evangelical pastors). True Christians® will do all of these things, and if they do, they will be rewarded with eternal life in the sweet-by-and-by after death.

Millions and millions of Americans believe these things to be true. They are literally betting their lives on the hope and promise of a divine payoff after death. Atheism, of course, can’t compete with the power of the Christian mMillions and millions of Americans believe these things to be true. They are literally betting their lives on the hope and promise of a divine payoff after death. Atheism, of course, can’t compete with the power of the Christian myth. People want or need to believe that their lives have more meaning than the present. Atheists, on the other hand, can only say we have, to misquote a worn-out Evangelical cliché, one life, twill soon be past, and after that we are dead. I know, I know, cold and indifferent, but that’s the nature of reality. 

Do all atheists, as Jones ignorantly asserts, fear death? I can’t speak for all atheists, but I can say, personally, that most of the time I don’t fear death. Polly and I were talking about this very thing today. Neither of us is in great health. I have pervasive health problems, and if I become infected with COVID-19, there’s a good chance that I will die. There’s also a good chance that I will die from a heart attack, complications of diabetes, or cancer. And there’s even a better chance that I will trip over a toy left on the floor by one of my grandchildren, fall, and die from a brain contusion or broken neck. The things that could kill me sometime beyond my next breath are legion. Shall I sit around and stew in my mortality? Of course not. All I can do is take care of myself the best I can. Some day, sooner and not later, that won’t be enough, and I will be dead. That’s just how it is. Why should I fear that which I cannot control?

I would argue that it is actually Evangelicals, who deep down in their little old heart of hearts, fear death. Why? Because they will live their whole lives hoping they have believed the right things and done the right things necessary to secure their rooms in God’s Trump Hotel in the Sky. (Please see Evangelicals Talk a Good Line When it Comes to Death, but Change Their Tune When They Are Dying.)

How can they know for sure? Doesn’t the Bible say that many “believers” will be deceived and end up in Hell; that Jesus will say them on judgment day, I never knew you (Matthew 7:22-23)? Isn’t that what critics say of me; that I was a fraud, a false prophet, a deceiver; that I never was a True Christian®; that I never was saved, born-again, bought by the blood, or regenerated? Most Evangelicals are either Calvinists or Arminians. The former believe that a Christian must endure (persevere) unto the end to be saved. No Calvinists can know for sure they are among the elect. And Arminians are not much different, belief-wise. Christians can fall from grace, Arminians say, and entrance into God’s eternal kingdom depends on personal holiness (without which no man shall see the Lord Hebrew 12:14, Romans 6:22, Ephesians 4:24). It should not be surprising, then, that many Evangelicals fear death, wondering if they have done all that is necessary to enter Heaven after death (which technically they don’t do until the general resurrection, but I will leave that subject until another day).

It is not unnatural for any of us — Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, pagans, atheists, agnostics — to fear what we have never experienced. Can I say with certainty that I will have no fear when it comes my time to die? Of course not. I hope that I will enter the darkness of night in the strength of my convictions; that I have run the race set before me (Hebrews 12:1) and now I am ready to die. Until that time comes, all I know to do is keep pressing forward towards the high mark and calling of reason and humanism (Philippians 3:14), living life to its fullest. Whether I die tonight, tomorrow, or ten years from now, it matters not. Each day is a new opportunity for me to love my family and do what I can to make a difference in the lives of others.

Let me conclude this post with answer I give to the question: 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.

And all the atheists said, Amen!

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

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

How Do Atheists Handle the Death of Their Loved Ones?

calvin and hobbes death

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Texas Born & Bred asked:

I am in my sixties. In the last 2 or 3 years, I have attended the funerals of several close relatives and friends that were younger than me. One cousin that died was very close. We were each other’s best man at our weddings. My very best friend in high school died. Several friends my age or younger are struggling with serious health problems.

So death often captures my attention. I am a Christian (what kind? – barely Christian) and I am constantly reminded in church, Sunday school, and bible studies of the glory that await us once we die. That would be nice and does provide comfort. But my problem is that the ones I cared deeply about that have died were not the church-going type. And that is discomforting. Life is not fair.

I took a stroll through an older cemetery one day and could not help but notice the large number of headstones of babies. Back in the 1800s, it was common for children to die in sickness outbreaks. One headstone was simply marked “Wilson babies”. What a horrible thing to go through! But the parents struggled on. They still had crops to work and cows to milk. Their faith must have provided a bit of comfort in such a gut-wrenching time.

How do atheists handle the death of loved ones? Is their grieving process the same as believers who expect to see their loved ones again someday in heaven?

This is a great question. For Christians, when death takes a loved one, they have the promise of comfort from Jesus and the hope of being reunited in Heaven someday. Let’s face it, atheism can’t offer life after death, nor is it all that comforting to think that you’ll never see your loved one again. Yet, knowing there is no life after death can and does motivate atheists to live life to its fullest. If I had one piece of advice to give it would be this:

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.

Death is quite personal, and how we respond is too. Unlike the Christian who is expected to put his faith in Jesus and claim the promises of God, the atheist must meet death head-on without any buffers or feel-good beliefs. When death takes a loved one, that’s the end. What’s left are the memories made over a lifetime. While I can’t speak for any atheist but myself, if Polly died before me, I hope I would, in the midst of my grief, revel in our shared experiences. We’ve been married for almost forty-two years. We’ve raised six wonderful children, and are blessed beyond measure with thirteen grandchildren. We have had all sorts of experiences, both personally and together. We’ve each stood by the hospital bedside of the other, fearing that we would never see each other again. Our marriage has been tested and tried, yet we have endured. That said, if either of us died today, our testimony would be, it’s been good. While I can’t imagine living one day without Polly, I know life will go one whether I can imagine it or not.

How would you answer Texas Born and Bred’s question? What sage, witty advice would you give to atheists facing the death of a loved one? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

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

Are you on Social Media?

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

After I am Dead

walking by graveyard

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

As soon as Christian Fundamentalists read this headline they will shout at their screen:

  • You will be burning in Hell!
  • You will know there is a God!
  • You will know I was right!

They will see my death as vindication of their belief system. I wonder how many of them will say to themselves, I bet Bruce wishes he had listened to me! I can hear a Calvinist saying, now we know Bruce was not one of the elect! They will speak of the preacher-turned-atheist who now knows the TRUTH. (Please see Christopher Hitchens is in Hell.)

If they bother to read beyond the title of this post, they will see that this post is not about my e-t-e-r-n-a-l destiny. I have no concerns over God, judgment, or Hell. I am confident that Hell is the creation of religious leaders who want to control people through fear. Fear God! Fear Judgment! Fear Hell! Since Christianity and the Bible no longer have any power over me, I no longer fear God or Hell. I am reasonably certain that this is the only life I will ever have, and once I die, I will be . . . drum roll please, d-e-a-d.

The recent Coronavirus pandemic and the lethal nature of COVID-19 — especially for senior adults with health problems — certainly has refocused my attention on death. Not only my own death, but that of my wife, children, grandchildren, in-laws, and siblings. I can’t help but think about my editor, Carolyn. She’s older than I, and I wonder what I will do if Loki calls her home? 🙂 Who will clean up my writing? And I could say the same thing about other friends of mine. I genuinely want them to live long lives. At the very least, I want them to outlive me. 🙂 I hate funerals.

Here’s what I want to happen after I draw my last breath.

First, I do not want a funeral service. Waste of time, effort, and money. No need for fake friends or distant family members to show up and weep fake tears. No need for flowers. I want Polly to spend as little as possible on disposing of my dead carcass. Trust me, I won’t care.

plus size cremation

Second, I want to be cremated. No special urn. A cardboard box will work just fine. If Polly wants to show her love for me, a Hostess cupcake box would be sweet.  As I jokingly told my children, when I am cremated I will go from ass to ashes. None of them disagreed with this assessment. 

Third, I want my ashes to be spread along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Polly knows the place. I hope my children, daughters-in-law, son-in-law, grandchildren, and close family will be there. Maybe my newly discovered step-brother will be there. I want no prayers said, and as few tears as possible. Perhaps those who are gathered will share a funny story, one of their many Butch/Bruce/Dad/Grandpa stories. I hope they will remember me for the good I have done and forgive me for those moments when I was less than I could or should have been.

And that’s it.

Life is not about dying, it’s about living. Since I am on the short side of life, I dare not waste the time I have left. When death comes, the battery in my life clock will be depleted. Much like the Big Ben clock beside our bed — the one I listen to late at night as it clicks off the seconds — I know there is coming a day when I will hear CLICK and that will be it.

How about you? As an atheist or non-Christian, what do you want to happen after you die? Have you made funeral plans? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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

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No Need to Wear a Face Mask: When it’s My Time to Die, I’m Ready to Go

chick tract death

Like clockwork, my wife calls her mother every Sunday evening at 10:00 PM. They typically talk for an hour. Last Sunday, Polly asked her mom whether she was wearing a face mask when she went out in public. Mom replied, “no, I don’t need to wear a mask.” When Polly, out of concern for her eighty-four-year-old mother’s health and that of her father, told her mom, “look, you need to get a mask and wear it whenever you go out of the house.” Mom replied, “when it’s my time to die, I’m ready to go.” Polly angrily retorted, “and no one will be able to come to your funeral.” Mom smugly replied, “oh well, I won’t care. I’ll be dead.” And that was that . . .

It would be easy to dismiss Mom’s careless, reckless, stupid behavior as that of an old woman in poor health. However, there’s a deeper issue that I believe is driving her dismissal of common sense: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) theology and practice. Mom is the wife of a retired IFB pastor. She and Dad have attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, on and off, since May 1976. You might remember me writing about their church several weeks ago. (Please see IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic and Understanding the Pastors Who Refuse to Close Their Churches During the Coronavirus Pandemic.) As of today, the Newark Baptist Temple is still holding in-person worship services on Sunday mornings! One person intimately connected to the Baptist Temple told me, “Mark Falls is an idiot.” To that I say, amen. Pastor Falls continues to put theology and politics before the health and welfare of his congregation and that of the local community. Here’s a Facebook video of the Easter service at the Baptist Temple:

Here’s a Facebook video of their most recent Sunday service.

As you can see, the pastor and his congregation seem unconcerned about COVID-19. No social distancing to speak of, no masks, or gloves. The good news is that Mom and Dad haven’t been back to church since I publicly called attention to their pastor’s abhorrent behavior. It’s also evident, based on building acoustics, that attendance is a fraction of what it typically is. (I find it interesting the cameraman never pans the crowd.) Fortunately, some church members have more common sense than their pastor and other church leaders.

Setting Falls’ anti-government ideology and IFB theology aside, why does he insist on putting his parishioners at risk?

As Pastor Falls was preparing to pray at the start of last Sunday’s service, he stated:

Amen. What a privilege to be at the Newark Baptist Temple this morning. We’re so glad to see each of you here, and we are thrilled to know that many are watching us at home as well. Isn’t it great to be able to sing I’m Saved, I’m Delivered? The greatest crisis in your entire life was your sin crisis. Because you are going to have to stand before God someday. And if the Lord can save us from that he can save us from anything.

And there is it is: “if the Lord can save us from that [sin], the Lord can save us from anything.” No need to concern yourself with the Coronavirus. The Lord, if he so wills, can and will deliver you from the virus. Jesus can do what doctors and scientists can’t do. He’s the great physician! No worries. . . . Hardened into this thinking is nascent fatalism. Oh, Falls and other Fundamentalists will deny that they are preaching fatalism, but it’s clear from their sermons, prayers, and actions, fatalism is exactly what they are preaching. In this instance, they are no different from Islamic imams who say, “Allah’s will be done.”

Now let me bring this post back around to what Polly’s mom said about not wearing a mask: “No, I don’t need to wear a mask. When it’s my time to die, I’m ready to go.” Her comment drips with the fatalism taught to her by the pastors of the Baptist Temple, both the late Jim Dennis and now Mark Falls.

Where does this fatalism come from? As with most beliefs within the IFB church movement, their fatalism rests on their peculiar interpretation of the Protestant Bible. An overarching teaching that infuses fatalism into everything IFB churches say and do is the belief that the Christian God is the sovereign Lord of all creation; that he holds the world in the palm of his hand; that nothing happens apart from God’s purpose, plan, and will. Thus, no need to worry. Jesus is on the job! Amen? Amen!

death

What is it that causes Polly’s mom to be so fatalistic about dying; so much so that she is willing to put not only her own health at risk, but that of her husband? I suspect that her fatalism can be traced back to Hebrews 9:27:

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment

Here’s how this verse is typically interpreted in IFB circles. God is the giver and taker of life. When we are born, we come into the world with an expiration date; a death date. This date is fixed by God, and known only to him. No one dies before their appointed time. God knows the exact moment each of us is going to die. Not only that, he knows exactly how we are going to die. Thus, in Mom’s eyes, Jesus is on the job, and COVID-19 ain’t going to kill her unless God says so. And if God says so, there’s nothing she or anyone else can do about it.

Because of Mom’s intransigent fatalism, it is unlikely that we will ever see Polly’s parents again face to face. We are not willing to risk infection, all because of her stubborn unwillingness to take basic health and safety precautions. We expect to one day hear the phone ring, and at the other end someone will be telling us one or both of them are dead. Will it be COVID-19 that kills them? I don’t know. Both of them have serious health problems. A virus such as COVID-19 would make easy work of them. We wish they would at least take basic safety precautions, but they won’t. I suspect that a month from now they will join their church family after church down at the local Olive Garden for lunch. “See, we all survived! Glory and praise to Jesus!” And three or four weeks later? Some of them may learn that their God is not in control; that their God is no match for COVID-19, influenza, or any of the other countless bacteria and viruses trying to kill us. Biology and science trump religion every time. Too bad the people who most need to hear this will be dead.

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

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The Resurrection of Jesus From the Dead: Fact or Fiction?

resurrection of jesus

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Several years ago, Wefo, one of my readers, asked:

What do you make of 1 Corinthians 15, which is an early Christian creed held by the majority of biblical scholars (with a few exceptions like Robert Price) to be written no more than five years after Jesus’ death and it being held as proof of a belief in the resurrection? Also what changed your mind on the resurrection?

While the majority of biblical scholars think Paul was quoting an oral tradition in 1 Corinthians 15, it is not at all clear who Paul actually received this tradition from or whether it was some sort of vision. I certainly understand the importance of the gospel creed in 1 Corinthians 15 to those who base their entire worldview on the death and resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but this singular record is not enough to convince me that the claims the Bible makes for Jesus are true.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 states:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

Paul says that the death and resurrection of Jesus were “according to the Scriptures.” What Scriptures is Paul referring to? There is no record of the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Old Testament, and 1 Corinthians was likely written several decades before the gospel of Mark. (Biblical scholars generally think Mark was the first written gospel, and Matthew and Luke use Mark as a source.) In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul states he received the gospel, not from any man, but by direct revelation from Jesus Christ. Which is it?

In his book, How Jesus Became God, Bart Ehrman details what we can historically know about the resurrection of Jesus:

In the previous chapter I argued that there are some things, given our current evidence, that we can not know about the resurrection traditions (in addition to the big issue itself—whether God raised Jesus from the dead): we cannot know whether Jesus was given a decent burial, and we cannot know, therefore whether his tomb was discovered empty.  But what can we know?

We can know three very important things: (1) some of Jesus’s followers believed that he had been raised from the dead; (2) they believed this because some of them had visions of him after his crucifixion; and (3) this belief led them to reevaluate who Jesus was, so that the Jewish apocalyptic preacher from rural Galilee came to be considered, in some sense, God. [page 174]

While some of Jesus’ followers believed he had been raised from the dead, this doesn’t mean he actually was. Belief does not equal fact. People believe many things that are untrue. Did they believe his resurrection was bodily? Spiritual? Since Gnosticism deeply influenced the early church, perhaps Paul thought Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual. There is no way for us to know.

It’s been a long time since I looked at the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. As I read various articles and blogs, I came away thinking that there’s no possible way to know, from history, if Jesus resurrected from the dead. If a person presupposes there is a God and that the Bible is God’s revelation to humanity, then they are likely to believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead. For those of us who are not Christian, we are left with determining whether the Bible accounts of the resurrection should be considered factual.

According to the Bible, Jesus was buried in a grave belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. There is no evidence for the existence of a man named Joseph or a place called Arimathea. Since Jesus was executed as a criminal, it is unlikely he was given a proper burial.  The Godless Skeptic writes:

More interesting are the two things Dr. Ehrman says he has changed his mind on regarding what we cannot know about the resurrection. Like his colleague John Dominic Crossan, Professor Ehrman now believes that the tradition of an honorable burial of Jesus is doubtful. He makes note of the suspicious backstory of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the same Jewish council that condemned Jesus to death, absent from the early Christian creeds, and a figure who is progressively portrayed across the four gospels as more and more of a sympathizer to the Christian cause. Citing a handful of ancient examples, he observes that Roman crucifixion victims were not usually given proper burials because humiliation was an important part of the practice, intending to deter potential criminals from committing acts of rebellion against Rome. Those who were crucified were often laid in common graves or left to decay and be eaten by scavenging animals.

It is sometimes remarked that Jesus was buried by Joseph in accordance with Jewish law, since the Sabbath was close at hand. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 gives instruction in this vein, but as Dr. Ehrman points out, it’s an open question of whether or not the Romans, particularly Pilate, would have respected such a rule. Though the Pharisees and the Jewish Sanhedrin had accused Jesus of blasphemy, the charges brought against him in front of Pilate were more political – inciting crowds, forbidding payment of taxes to Caesar, and claiming to be king (Luke 23:1-3). If Jesus was executed as an insurgent, under certain circumstances perhaps he would have been left unburied. If, however, he was executed in accordance with Jewish law, it’s not so obvious where he was buried. In a chapter of the anthology The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Peter Kirby writes that there is some evidence for a dishonorable burial tradition in passages like Mark 12:8 and Acts 13:27-29, which allude to Jesus being buried by his enemies rather than by his followers.

While I find all the back-and-forth debate over what the Bible does or doesn’t say about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead quite informative and entertaining, the reasons why I reject the resurrection of Jesus are quite simple.

First, there is no record outside of the Bible for the resurrection of Jesus. I find it astounding that no historian recorded anything about the life, execution, and resurrection of Jesus. We are left with the Bible and its accounts of the life of Jesus; accounts which contradict one another. The fact that they contradict one another is not proof that Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, but the contradictions do cause me to wonder if I should put much stock in what the Bible says.

Since history is silent on many of the “historical” events and figures in the Bible, why should I accept as factual what it says about the resurrection of Jesus?  For me, accepting the resurrection of Jesus from the dead ultimately requires faith, a faith I do not have.

Second, accepting the resurrection of Jesus from the dead requires believing in miracles. According to John 14:12, Jesus said

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

According to the Bible, Jesus worked many miracles, including turning water into wine, walking on water, walking through walls, healing the sick, and raising the dead. Jesus told his followers that they would do greater works than he did. Yet, everywhere we look we see a lack of the miraculous. In fact, many Christians argue that the miracles of the Bible were only for a certain time, and once the canon of Scripture was completed, there was no longer a need for the miraculous. However, this isn’t what Jesus said. He clearly stated his followers would do greater works than he did, yet we have no historical evidence that his followers were in any way super-duper miracle workers. Where can I find a modern-day miracle worker? Where I can I go to see the dead raised back to life?

Third, if there is one thing I know it is that living people die and do not come back to life. Every time I drive by a cemetery, I see the evidence for once dead, always dead. This alone is sufficient evidence for me to say that Jesus lived and died, end of story.

But, Bruce it is possible that a miracle of some sort could happen. Sure, anything is possible, but now we are talking about probabilities. Based on the evidence, is it probable that humans can die and come back to life? No. Once dead, always dead. Is it more likely Jesus lived and died or Jesus lived, died, resurrected from the dead, and is currently alive sitting at the right hand of God, the Father in Heaven? The latter requires a suspension of reason and the exercise of faith. I am not willing to do this. I know what I see with my eyes and what history tells me: once someone dies they stay dead. Since, outside of the Bible, we have no record of someone dying and miraculously resurrecting from the dead, it is safe for me to say that the resurrection of Jesus is improbable.

If you would like to read more on the subject of the resurrection of Jesus, I recommend reading:

In the last part of Romans 14:15, Paul stated, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”  After looking at the evidence, I am persuaded that Jesus did not resurrect from the dead. Whatever he may or may not have been, he was a man who lived, died, and was buried in a nondescript grave. Everything else Christians say about Jesus requires faith, a faith I do not have. When new evidence becomes available, I will look at it, but, for now, count me one who does not believe.

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

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Love Your Life, Lose It; Hate Your Life, Save It

here and now

He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. (John 12:25)

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (I John 2:15)

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

For those of us raised in Evangelical churches, these verses are quite familiar. We likely heard countless sermons about loving God and hating the world. We likely heard our pastors and teachers tell us that if we love our lives, we will lose them, and if we hate our lives, we will save them.

The goal was to cause believers to fear losing their eternal reward; to change the focus of their lives from the present to the afterlife. While Evangelicals say that salvation is by grace, without works, the fact remains that True Believers® will live according to the teachings of the Bible as they are interpreted by their respective churches. A failure to do so puts one’s salvation at risk. So, despite all their talk about grace, Evangelical salvation is actually and effectually gained by works. Do THIS and thou shalt live. I can see outraged Evangelicals getting ready to fire me an email decrying my attack on salvation by grace. How dare I impugn the wonderful, matchless grace of Jesus! The problem with their outrage is that they really don’t believe salvation comes by and through the unmerited favor of God. Every Evangelical has a list of beliefs and practices that he believes are essential to being a Christian. If a person doesn’t check off all the boxes on the list, he isn’t a True Christian®.

Can a True Christian® love the world and love Jesus at the same time? Can a True Christian® love money and love Jesus at the same time? Can a True Christian® live in ways no different from his non-Christian neighbors and workmates? If the True Christian® is commanded to separate from the world and live his life according to the implicit and explicit teachings of the Bible, what does that say about every Christian you know?

If a True Christian® is commanded by Jesus himself to hate his life if he expects to inherit eternal life, it is fair to ask, will there be any Christians in Heaven?

As finite humans, we naturally love and enjoy this life. Atheists rightly understand that the only life any of us have is the present one. Evangelicals believe that life this side of the grave is temporary and transitory. This life is short. Life after death is eternal. This is why Evangelical preachers emphasize the afterlife in their sermons. What if there is no afterlife; no Heaven; no Hell? What if the only life believer and unbeliever alike have is the present?

Video Link

If the Cornovirus Pandemic has taught us anything, it is this: life is short, death is certain, and today could be the last day of our lives. Despite KNOWING this, Evangelicals continue to breathlessly talk about the wonders of their Savior and the mansion in Heaven that awaits them after they die. And in doing so, they cheat themselves out of the wonders, pleasures, and joys of this life.

Jesus may have commanded True Christians® to hate their lives, but cursory observation of how Evangelicals live tells me that God’s chosen ones are no different from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. If this is so — and it is — I invite Evangelicals to join the party; to embrace the present and, without fear, guilt, or judgment, enjoy their lives. We know that the Coronavirus is no respecter of persons. Prayers to Jesus will not work when the virus knocks on the doors of our homes. Most people survive, but thousands and thousands of people will die, many of them Evangelical Christians. Surely, then, all of us would be better off living in the here and now instead of hoping that Jesus and his mighty band of mythical angels will rescue us. We can look at Jesus’ track record and see that he is not one to be johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to human suffering and affliction. Much like Baal in 1 Kings 18, Jesus is AWOL. No one has seen Jesus in 2,000 years. Isn’t it time for the coroner to rule that Jesus is dead? All we have is each other. Expecting deliverance from Heaven is delusional, a pipe dream that deserves relegation to the dustbin of human history. I beg you to not waste one more moment hoping that a divine payoff awaits you after death. The only payday is today. Time to cash today’s check and spend it. Hopefully, there will be another check to cash tomorrow. Let me leave readers with a bit of wisdom from the Bible:

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

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. (James 4:14)

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

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

When God Dies

god is dead

Repost from 2015. Extensively edited, rewritten, and corrected.

For those of us who spent a significant part of our lives in the Christian church, our eventual defection from Christianity was an important and traumatic event in our lives. People who are still devoted followers of Jesus grossly underestimate the travail people go through when they finally come to a place where they realize God is Dead.

For years we sang praises to God. We prayed and read God’s sacred Word.  We devoted our time, talent, and money to the advancement of God’s kingdom.

We were not nominal believers. When the doors of the church were open, we were there. For those of us who were pastors, everything was secondary to our devotion to the work of the ministry. With great gusto we sang, “Souls for Jesus is our battle cry. Soul for Jesus is our battle cry. We never will give in while souls are lost in sin. Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.”

When we sang songs like All to Jesus I Surrender, we meant it. No part of our lives was untouched by our zeal, love, and devotion to Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

When evangelists called for people to come forward to pray, we were the first people down front on our knees before God.

We counted the cost and Jesus was worth it. We were, in every way, true-blue, on-fire, Holy Ghost-filled, sanctified slaves of Jesus.

The Bible said that we were the Bride and Jesus was the Bridegroom. We were happily married to Jesus. He was our best friend, our confidante, and lover. No one compared to Jesus. He was the sum of our existence.

And then one day, perhaps years of days, we found ourselves separated or divorced from the God we had loved and served. Irreconcilable differences were the official cause of our divorce.

The journey . . . We spent so much time talking about our destination that we spent little time discussing our journey. Now, all we seem to talk about is the journey we are on.

The journey takes us away from all that is familiar. All the trappings of our life with God become more distant as we walk, perhaps run, farther and farther away.

For many of us, we eventually reached a place where, to our utter surprise, we found out that God is dead.

Few ponder this thought without shedding tears and lamenting the loss.

Well-meaning Christians earnestly implore us to trace back our steps to that place where we lost our first love. They tell us God will not chase us, but if we will only return home our marriage can be saved and all will be forgiven.

But it is too late.

For us, the God of Christianity is dead, and like all of the many ideas shaped by human hands, this God can’t be resurrected from the dead.

We lament what we have lost, but we are hopeful about what we have gained.

It took the death of God for us to realize that life, this life, is worth living.

We refuse to surrender one more moment of time to a God made by humans; a deaf, dumb, and blind God who only exists in the imaginations of men who can’t bear the thought of this life being all there is.

But what about the God that is not made by man?

For the atheist, such a God does not exist. All gods are human inventions.

For the agnostic, for the deist, God remains a possibility, but in practice, even this God shows little or no life.

So on we go down an uncertain, but exciting, road.

Who knows what the future may hold. With no holy book, preacher, or God to lead the way, we are left with a wide-open road littered with the potholes of uncertainty. Uncertainty may, at times, cause us to fear, but we are also excited about the possibilities uncertainty brings.

Some day, perhaps today, tomorrow, or twenty years from now, we will face the ugly, unwelcome specter of death. As the COVID-19 virus stalks the human race, death seem all too close and real for us all.

Will we go to the grave with as much certainty as a person who believes that a life of eternal bliss awaits all who love God?

Will we be tempted, as our breath grows labored, to offer a feeble prayer to the God who died?

Will our final moments be those of integrity and commitment to what we said we believed?

Will we prove in death that what we believed was good enough to live by and good enough to die by?

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

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

The Old Man and the Window

bruce-gerencser-santa-clausThe old man wrestles from his sleep, awakened by his nightly need to empty his bladder.

In the distance, he hears the noise tires make as first-shift factory workers and other laborers make their way to their places of employment.

As the old man nears the door of the bedroom, he stops, turns, and pulls back the curtain on the window.

The old man and the window know each other well. He has stood at this window thousands of times, perusing the village street — a main two-lane highway running north to southeast through Defiance County.

The old man surveys the early morning landscape. He glances up at the yellow streetlight giving off its glow. The light reflects off a light snow that is falling.

The old man glances at the two cars sitting in his driveway, one red, the other blue, both covered with a skiff of snow.

To the south and west, the old man notices the lights are on at what he calls the “party house.” Young adults live there, though they are rarely seen except for when they throw a party. Then, the house is pulsating with music so loud that even the deaf old man hears the noise. Voices, laughter, and drunken revelry join the music, singing a chorus of freedom. But on this morning, the house is quiet.

The house on the corner shows signs of life. The old man notices his young neighbor’s minivan is running, warming its cabin before the neighbor leaves for work. The right flasher is flashing, likely having been accidentally activated when the neighbor started the van.

Farther to the west, the old man sees the lighted sign for the local bar and restaurant. Cars are parked along the road, likely farmers meeting at the restaurant to eat breakfast and catch up on the latest gossip

Far in the distance, the old man sees the sign for the local gas station and convenience store. Nearby hangs the town’s one unnecessary traffic light.

The old man sees all of these things in seconds.

He wonders, “how many more times will I look out this window before I die?”

He knows the answer, “not many.” There will come a day when life will continue coursing through the streets of Ney, but without the old man in the window.

All he knows is that today is not that day.

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.

Bruce, You Ruined Your Children When You Walked Away From Jesus

oldest-gerencser-children
Oldest Three Boys with Oldest Daughter, Front pew Somerset Baptist Church, Circa 1990

My wife and I have six adult children. Our children are gainfully employed and we have good, close relationships with all of them. Our children were raised as PK’s — preacher’s kids. Growing up as the children of the pastor wasn’t easy. Both congregants and their father held them to a higher standard than that of other children. My children knew that their behavior would directly reflect on me — warranted or not. As a result, my children were generally respectful, polite, and well-behaved. I have often wondered if they liked this life that was chosen for them. None of them has said one way or the other, but I do wonder if they would have preferred a “normal” childhood (however “normal” is defined).  Perhaps, one of these days my daughter or one of my sons will write a guest post for this site, sharing their thoughts about what it was like growing up as the children of Rev. Bruce Gerencser, a devout Evangelical pastor. Or maybe, just maybe, my children prefer to let their childhoods lie buried in the past, never to be resurrected again. Their stories are theirs alone to tell. The same goes for Polly.

After my wife and I divorced Jesus, I heard from former colleagues in the ministry and parishioners who had a message for me from Jesus: YOU ARE RUINING YOUR FAMILY, BRUCE! Polly was never blamed for anything. Always Miss Perfect! 🙂 I was the head of the home, I was told, so I was responsible for how their lives turned out. It’s been eleven years since we attended church for the last time. Our children, at the time, were age 15, 17, 19, 24, 27, and 29.  All of them were old enough to decide for themselves when it when came to God, Christianity, the Bible, attending church, etc. Three of them were married and had children. Yet, according to my critics, it’s my fault for their loss of faith. Granted, Mom and Dad not going to church, Dad not preaching, and Jesus/Bible/church not being the focus of discussion 24/7 certainly confused them. I have been accused of turning my children over to the wolves by just cutting them loose after I deconverted; that I owed it to them to steer them in the “right” direction, even if I didn’t want to head that way myself. Here’s the thing: my children were old enough to think for themselves. Steering them in the right direction meant giving them the freedom to be whomever and whatever they wanted to be — no strings attached. Some of my children were already at the back door of the church, ready to push it open and walk away. All my deconversion did was give them freedom — you’re free, cheezy bread, you’re free!

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Fundamentalist family members believe that if I would have just kept serving Jesus and preaching the Word, that all of my children would still be attending Evangelical churches, would still be worshiping Jesus, and would still be part of the machinations of church life. I can’t help but feel my mother-in-law’s disappointment when she quietly shakes her head over our “worldliness” and that of our children. How worldly are we? Why, we drink alcohol and cuss. That’s about it. Well that, and watch HBO. Yes, two of my sons have gone through divorces, but am I to blame for their failed marriages? I think not. Sure, our family is more boisterous now that Jesus isn’t the center of attention, but we are not degenerates. This Sunday, our family will gather at our home for Christmas — twenty-four, in all.  We will all cram into our 12’x18′ living room to watch the opening of gifts. Someone will suggest, as they always do, that the windows need to be opened and we need to build on an addition to our home. Jokes will follow, and Dad will abused by his sons. One thing is for certain, crammed as the room shall indeed be, it filled with love. The focus will be on family, not religion. “But, Bruce, JESUS is the reason for the Season!” Really? No, he’s not, not even in Evangelical homes. Oh sure, there will be prayers and Jesus talk, but once those things are dispensed with, it’s on to fun, food, and fellowship. The Gerencser family just so happens to enjoy the fun, food, and fellowship, sans Jesus. Several of our children will attend mass over the Christmas season, but for the most part they will focus their time and energy on their families. You see, whatever they think of me leaving the ministry and my subsequent loss of faith, they understand that what really matters is family. And if I can be faulted for teaching my children (and grandchildren) anything it is this: family matters.

younger-gerencser-children
Youngest Children, Defiance, Ohio, Circa Late 1990s, Early 2000s.

When the substance of this life is boiled away and you are on your deathbed, what will matter the most to you? Your money? Your car? Your home? Your looks? Your material possessions? I doubt it. I know, for me at least, that what matters are Polly, Jason, Nathan, Jaime, Bethany, Laura, Josiah, Aalyiah, Victoria, Karah, Levi, Emma, Guin, Gabby, Morgan, Charlee, Lily, Alayna, Ezra, my daughters-in-law, my son-in-law, Polly’s parents, and my brother and sister. From there, I have a few friends who are dear to me. These people make up the sum of my life. I labor under no illusions. I will never be an award-winning Sports Illustrated photographer or be remembered for being a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. I know when I die that I will, over time, be forgotten by most of the people with whom I have crossed paths. I will become little more than a historical footnote. Perhaps this blog will live on after I die, but who will pay to keep it operating, and who will take care of its day-to-day administration? It, like everything in life, will eventually fade away. Everything in life is transitory, but a vapor, the Bible says, that appears for a moment and vanishes away. I remember sitting in school classrooms on cold winter days, aimlessly watching the steam from boiler radiators rise up and dissipate. That’s life. When Polly, our children, and our grandchildren share their favorite Bruce/Dad/Grandpa stories at my lakeside memorial, I hope they will have good things to say about me, and a few ribald, silly things too. In that moment, they will learn that all we really have is our memories. Treasure them, for they too, over time, will fade away.

As for former colleagues in the ministry, former church members, and Evangelical family members who continue to paint me as Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa — a man who ruined his family — all I can say is “talk to the hand.” Well, I “could” say a lot more than that — I love the F word these days — but why bother? It’s too late in the game for me to worry about catcalls from the stands; to worry about arrogant, judgmental Christians who cannot or will not see how blessed the Gerencser family really is without Jesus.

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.

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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.

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.