This is the one hundred and twenty-eighth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Come Down Jehovah by Chris Wood.
Come down, come down from your mountain, Jehovah,
My neck is terribly stiff.
Hitch up your robes and your raiment, Jehovah,
Climb down to the foot of your cliff.
And drink from the stream that was always beneath you,
Drink from our wonderful font.
‘Cause paradise is right here on earth, Jehovah,
What more could we possibly want?
Come down and talk amongst friends, Jehovah,
Come down and sit at your ease.
Walk through the woods and the valleys, Jehovah,
Sail upon glistening seas.
Pass on what you’ve learnt to the children, Jehovah,
And listen to what they have to say.
They say, ‘Paradise is right here on earth, Jehovah,
Not tomorrow, but right now, today.
And Devil come up from your fiery furnace,
Come up and show us your face.
There’s nothing you can teach us of evil or hatred,
We don’t have right here in this place.
There is nothing so evil as man in his mischief,
Nothing so lost or insane.
And bring your demons up, too, so we’ll know it’s not you,
But it’s us who must carry the blame.
It’s us who must live with the shame.
Come down, come down from your mountain, Jehovah,
Come down and be with us here.
Heaven and hell and the life ever after,
It’s such a beguiling idea.
But our spell on this earth is much richer, Jehovah,
Richer than you’ll ever know.
When it comes time to leave it behind,
We just close our eyes and let go.
If we’ve done our best we’ll be ready for a rest,
We just close our eyes and let go
Christianity offers its followers the promise of life after death. No matter how difficult and painful this life is, Christians are promised wonderful lives after death living with Jesus and their fellow Christians in a perfect, pain-free heaven. While I wonder how heavenly it is to spend your life prostrate before God worshiping him, Christians live in the hope that someday they will take possession of a room in the Father’s house, built especially just for them. (John 14) Without the promise of life after death in heaven, I wonder if most Christians would still be willing to forgo the pleasures of this life? While some Christians would argue that living according to the laws, teachings, and precepts of the Bible is still a good way to live, I suspect most Christians — without the promise of eternal life and bliss — would quickly abandon their houses of worship, joining people such as myself at the local pub or the church of the NFL. After all, even the apostle Paul said, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. (1 Corinthians 15:19) Evidently, Paul thought that inthis life only Christianity had little to offer. And so Sunday after Sunday, Christian preachers promise parishioners a home awaits them in heaven. According to the Bible, God promises some day to give Christians the desires of their hearts. Wait. Does that mean there will be booze, porn, cigars, dirt track racing, and hunting in heaven? Will heavenly citizens spend their days playing Nintendo or Xbox games? Will God really give Christians the desires of their hearts? Hmm, this got me thinking about the whole going-to-heaven thing. I know a con job when I hear it. What better way to get people to buy what you are selling than to promise them that they will have a wonderful life if they will just sign on the dotted line. A wonderful life, that is, someday, after you have made the 666 monthly payments and died.
Atheism offers no such promises. Atheism is rooted in a humanistic and secularist view of the world. No promises of a divine life in the sweet by and by. Life is hard, and then you die. No promises of blessings in this life or the life to come. Some have argued that atheists have a cold, sterile outlook on life. To some degree this is true. Atheists are realists, knowing they only get one shot at life— best get to living it. Life is what we make it, and even when hard times come (and they will most certainly come), atheists find a way to make the most of it. I could spend my days whining and complaining about my health problems, but what good would that do? Instead, I turn my pain and suffering into a platform for helping others. I can look at the five decades I spent in the Christian church and say, what a waste, but I choose to use these experiences as an opportunity to help others. I know that this is the only life I have, and it is up to me to make the most of it. Spending time wondering about what might have been accomplishes nothing. As my family has heard me say many times, it is what it is. Sure, if there were some magical way to redo certain things from my past I might do it. But maybe not. Polly and I will celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary this July. We met at a Fundamentalist Bible college. If nothing else good came out of our past, both of us would say — on most days — that our relationship was the best thing about our years in Evangelicalism. I would not want anyone to follow the same path we did, yet we do have six wonderful children and 11 awesome grandchildren. They indeed are the bright spots of the years we spent working in God’s coal mine. I have learned, or perhaps I am learning, to reflect on the good of the past, and use the bad things to fuel my writing and my attempts to help others avoid similar paths.
I will celebrate my 59th birthday in June. I have lived 12 years longer than my mother and five years longer than my dad. There are days when my body is so overwhelmed with pain that I wonder if I can live another day. The means of my demise are always nearby, yet despite my suffering I choose to live. Why? Because this is the only life I will ever have. I only have one opportunity to love Polly, Jason, Nathan, Jaime, Bethany, Laura, Josiah, my grandchildren, my brother and sister, and Polly’s mom and dad. I know that when I draw my last breath, there will be no family circle meeting in the sky — sorry Johnny! This is why I want to live each and every day to its fullest. This is not a cliché to me. This life matters. My wife, children, grandchildren, son-in-law, daughters-in-law, siblings, extended family, and friends matter to me. I know that I am only going to see them and enjoy their company in this life. There are places I want to go to and see. I want to enjoy and experience the fullness of what it means to be human. And since casting off the shackles of religion, I have been free to drink deeply of the human experience. No longer fearful of God’s judgment or hell, I am free to see, touch, taste, and hear the things I desire. Yes, there is that dirty word that dare not be spoken in Evangelical churches — desire. I spent way too many years denying passions, desires, wants, and needs, all for the sake of God, Jesus, the church, and the ministry. No more. It is wonderful to do something just because I want to. I do not have to pray about it or see if the Bible approves of it. Bruce approves, end of discussion.
When I write posts such as this, there are always a few horse-bridled Christians who let me know that there is coming a day when I will regret not bowing to the will of the S&M master, Jesus. Someday Bruce, Evangelical zealots tell me, God is going to make you pay for your attacks on Christianity. Someday, God is going to judge you for your wanton living and rejection of the Bible. Sometimes, I think Christians such as these people relish the day when God is going to give atheist Bruce Gerencser an eternal ass-whipping. I am sure they will be standing among the crowd cheering and saying to God, hit him again! He deserves it, Lord.
I have been blogging now for going on nine years. I left Christianity in 2008, and since then countless Evangelicals — along with a few Catholics — have attempted to win me back to Jesus through the use of Pascal’s Wager. The basic premise is this, Bruce, what if you are wrong? Good question. Since I am not infallible, nor do I have at my disposal the sum of all human knowledge and experience, all I can do is make reasoned, knowledgeable decisions based on the evidence at hand. I can tell readers this much: I have been wrong many, many times. Not only that, I have made enough mistakes that if you piled them up they would reach to the International Space Station. I am, after all, a feeble, frail, and at times contradictory, human being. I can, like all people, be led astray by my passions, judgments, or incomplete information. I am not immune to irrationality and cognitive dissonance. However, when it comes to Christianity and its promises of eternal life in heaven or judgment in hell, it is my educated opinion that the claims of Christianity are false. Trying to get me to choose Jesus just in case I am wrong makes a mockery of intellectual inquiry (and Christianity). Having spent most of my adult life in the Christian church and 25 years studying and preaching the Bible, I think it is safe to say that I know a good bit about Christianity. I cannot remember the last time that some Christian presented me with something I have not heard before. I am not being arrogant here — as I am sure some Christians will allege. I spent decades reading and studying the Bible — devouring countless Christian books. I immersed myself in Christianity and its teachings, so when I say I am no longer a Christian because I think the claims of Christianity and the Bible are false, my conclusions — unlike many Christian opinions of atheism — come from an educated, reasoned, well-thought-out position. Do I know everything there is to know about Christianity? Of course not, but I sure as hell know more than most the Christians (and preachers) I come in contact with on a day-to-day basis. My point is this: I am an atheist today, not out of ignorance, but because I weighed Christianity in the balance and found it wanting.
If Christians come up with new evidences for the veracity of their claims — and I doubt they ever will — then I will gladly consider them. Until then, I am content to number myself among the godless. And when I die, I hope to leave this life knowing that I did what I could to be a help to others. I hope, on the day that my ashes are scattered along the shores of Lake Michigan, that my family and friends will speak well of me. I hope that none of them will have to lie, but that they will truly believe that my good works outweigh the bad. This is why I think that is important to finish well. I am sure Polly and my children have less-than-complimentary stories they could tell at my wake, but I hope, because I have made a concerted effort to be a better man, that they will share stories about a good man who just so happened to be an atheist.
I am often asked if I fear death. Yes and no. Since no one has died and come back to life — including Jesus — I do fear the blackness that awaits. There are been those times, late at night, when I have pondered being alive one moment and dead the next; going to sleep and never waking up. But this fear does not overwhelm me. I know that I cannot do anything about dying. It is, to quote the Lion King, the circle of life. We are born, we live, we die. End of story. All I know to do is to live a good life and be a good husband, father, grandfather, friend, and fellow citizen of earth. I have had the privilege of living at this time on humanity’s calendar, and when it comes time for me to draw my last breath, I hope my dying thoughts will be those of love. Love of family, love of friends, love of writing, love of photography, and love of all those who have made my life worth living. Will that not be what all of us desire? To love and to be loved? As dying pushes away all the minutia of life, what remains is love. For me, that will be enough.
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”.1 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 proof. Pickowicz, quoting the God of Calvinism, John Calvin, points to the fact that even indigenous tribes acknowledge the existence of a God. 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. Last January, 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 every American child is born. While my wife and I can point to the various conversion experiences we had, we still would have been Christians even without the conversion experiences. Our culture was Christian, our families were Christian, everyone around us was Christian. How could we have been anything BUT Christian?
Practicing Christians have a hard time accepting this. They KNOW the place and time Jesus saved them. They KNOW when they were baptized, confirmed, dedicated, saved, or whatever term their sect uses to connote belief in the Christian God.
Why are most people in Muslim countries Muslim? Why are most people in Buddhist countries Buddhist? Simple. People generally embrace the dominant religion and practice of their culture, and so it is in America.
It is culture, and not a conversion experience, that determines a person’s religious affiliation. The conversion experiences are the eggs the Christian chicken lays. Evangelicals, in particular, have built their entire house on the foundation of each person having a 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 God. People such as Pickowicz deny the value of such explanations, preferring to let their Bible do the talking. It is impossible to have a reasonable conversation with people who think such as this. 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.
Only by looking at religion from a sociological perspective can we understand and explain why people believe in a particular God. People such as Pickowicz deny the value of such explanations, preferring to let their 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 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 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 knows 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.
On November 10, 2015, Amanda Blackburn, 3 months pregnant, was shot to death in an Indianapolis, Indiana home invasion. Blackburn’s killer, Larry Jo Taylor Jr.,18, and his accomplice, Jalen Watson, 21, have been charged with murder and a host of other crimes.
Amanda Blackburn’s husband, Davey, is the pastor of Resonate Church in Indianapolis. Last Sunday, Pastor Blackburn told the church that he plans to step away from the pulpit to grieve and to figure out, going forward, what’s best for him and his son, Weston.
“I don’t want this tragedy to be wasted, so I want to capitalize on seeing more and more people coming to know Jesus as their personal savior.”
Blackburn went on to say:
“It’s difficult to process through everything right now. One thing I do know and that I’m confident in is that through this entire season, what the Lord wants us to do and what Amanda would want us to do is not give up any ground. I wholeheartedly believe that God has still called me to Indianapolis, that He called our family to Indianapolis, and Amanda gave her life to see Indianapolis changed.”
It’s been four weeks since Amanda Blackburn was murdered, and I think I can safely say that her husband’s aforementioned words were not uttered in a moment of extreme grief. While I’m sure Pastor Blackburn is still grieving, his words reflect the calculations of a preacher who doesn’t want to waste an opportunity to use his wife’s murder as a motivational tool or a “teaching” moment.
Evangelicals are taught to always look for the bigger picture. When life turns on them, Evangelicals are expected to divine God’s purpose and plan. This is why Davey Blackburn said, “I don’t want this tragedy to be wasted, so I want to capitalize on seeing more and more people coming to know Jesus as their personal savior.” Blackburn believes there MUST be some sort of greater meaning or purpose for his wife’s murder. Pastor Blackburn hopes that, like Jesus’ death, his wife’s death will have a salvific effect on sinners.
My wife’s Evangelical family responded in similar fashion to her sister’s 2005 death from a motorcycle accident. If one soul gets saved through this, it is worth it all. “This” being the tragic death of a wonderful daughter, sister, aunt, wife, mother, and grandmother. Several months ago, I wrote a post about Kathy’s death. Here’s what I said then, about the value Polly’s Evangelical family put on her sister’s death:
No, it’s not. How dare we reduce the worth of a life, this one precious life, to that which God can use for his purpose. A husband has lost his wife and his children are motherless. Her grandchildren will never know the warmth of her love. Her sister and parents are left with memories that abruptly stopped the moment their sister and daughter hit the pavement.
No, I say to myself, I’m not willing to trade her life for anyone’s salvation. Let them all go to hell. Give us one more day when the joy and laughter of family can be heard and the family is whole; one more day to enjoy the love and complexity she brought into our lives…
And I say the same thing now to Pastor Blackburn and Resonate Church. Using Amanda Blackburn’s death as a motivational tool cheapens her death, reducing her to little more than a prop to be used in the evangelization of sinners.
Blackburn’s death is a tragic waste of precious human life. There’s nothing redeeming about her murder. There’s no possible way to turn this tragedy into rainbows and fireworks. While I certainly understand, as a former pastor myself, the need to comprehend some greater cosmic purpose in senseless tragedies like this one, I can’t think of one redeeming aspect of Amanda Blackburn’s death. In fact, to put Davey Blackburn’s theological pronouncements to the test, I suspect that Pastor Blackburn would be quite willing to let all of Indianapolis go straight to hell if it meant he could once again wake up in the morning and find his precious wife busily doing her hair and makeup as she prepares to face another day.