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Tag: Death

Sacrilegious Humor: Final Words by Cyanide & Happiness

easter cyanide and happiness
Cartoon by Cyanide and Happiness

This is the fifty-third installment in the Sacrilegious Humor series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a comedy bit 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 email me the name of the bit or a link to it.

Today’s comedy bit is a short video produced by Cyanide & Happiness.

Video Link

The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis

pastor jim dennis
Pastor Jim Dennis at a family outing in the early 1980s

Last week, James Dennis, the retired pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Newark Ohio, died from complications of myasthenia gravis at the age of seventy-five. Jim was my wife’s uncle, married to her mother’s sister. Jim attended Midwestern Baptist College in the 1960s, the same college Polly and I attended in the 1970s. Jim pastored the Baptist Temple for forty-six years. Known as a staunch Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), Jim’s ministry was well-known in the IFB community. Jim’s three children are all in the ministry. His son Andy is an Evangelical pastor in Newark, his oldest daughter is married to IFB evangelist David Young, and his youngest daughter is married to missionary James (Jamie) Overton.

Jim came into Polly’s life as the young single pastor of the Kawkawlin River Baptist Church in Bay City, Michigan — the church attended by Polly’s parents. He later married Polly’s aunt, Linda Robinson. I first met Jim in 1976 during college Christmas break. Jim, along with Polly’s father, would marry us in a wedding held at the Baptist Temple on July 15, 1978. From that moment, Jim Dennis and I had a complicated relationship. There were times that I admired the man and coveted his advice. There were other times when I despised the man, especially after Polly and I left the ministry and later left Christianity. In the past decade, I talked to Jim a handful of times, never more than exchanging pleasantries.

The story that follows is my understanding of the past and my relationship with Jim Dennis. I am sure that others will object to my telling of this story or be offended that I dare to air Jim’s (and mine) dirty laundry. Their objections are duly noted, but I am a writer and this is a story I must tell. Readers are free to make their own judgments about what follows.

There was a time when Jim Dennis and I, theologically, were of one mind. Both of us were IFB preachers. Both of us were raised in IFB churches. Both of us attended IFB preacher Tom Malone’s “character building factory” — Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan.  Both of us believed we were proclaimers of old-fashioned, Biblical Christianity. Our theological sameness, however, did not last. Jim would pride himself in believing the same things his entire life. Polly’s mom has remarked on more than occasion that she was proud of the fact that she had in her pastor Jim Dennis a man who never changed his beliefs. In her mind, he began the ministry with the right beliefs and he died holding on to those same beliefs. Bruce Gerencser’s beliefs, on the other hand, were constantly changing and evolving. Jim never read books outside of his theological rut, whereas I was willing to read authors who held different beliefs from mine. My reading habits are what took me from the IFB church movement to Fundamentalist Calvinism to generic Evangelicalism to Progressive Christianity, and finally, to agnosticism, atheism, and humanism. In Jim Dennis’ eyes, my life’s trajectory is a warning to those who dare to dabble in the world’s knowledge and goods. And in my eyes, Jim is a tragic reminder of what happens when someone refuses to read widely or investigate their beliefs.

Jim Dennis was known as the patriarch of the family; the wise sage who freely dispensed wisdom and knowledge to all, requested or not. Early on, I had conflicts with Jim over all sorts of issues, ranging from child rearing to whether it was okay to pick my wife up from work wearing gym shorts (Polly, at the time, worked for the Baptist Temple’s daycare. She was paid less wages than male employees because she wasn’t our family’s breadwinner.) In October of 1979, we moved from Northwest Ohio to Newark. We attended the Baptist Temple for 18 months. During this time, Jim and I had numerous conflicts — some minor, some major. Jim concluded that I had a rebellious streak, a view widely held by Polly’s parents and family, and I thought Jim was a closed-minded, authoritarian legalist. Our opinions about each other would only become more settled through the forty-two years we knew each other.

In 1981, Polly and I left the Baptist Temple to help her father start a new IFB church in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. Polly’s father had been the assistant pastor at the Baptist Temple for almost five years. He wanted to stay in the Newark area and pastor his own church. There were conflicts between my father-in-law and Jim that precipitated Dad’s resignation, but those stories are his to tell, not mine. Needless to say, Dad was happy to be on his own. I was the assistant pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye Lake until July, 1983, when I left to start the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio.

I believed that it was vitally important for a pastor to live in the community in which his church was located. Polly and I moved to Buckeye Lake — a rundown former amusement park/lake cottage rental community — so we could effectively minister to congregants. (I would also work for the village for several years as a grant writer/program manager/building code enforcement officer.) Buckeye Lake proper was street after street of rundown houses. The poverty rate was the highest in the area. My kind of people, but not the type of people Polly’s parents wanted to be living next to. Our willingness to live among them, endeared us to many people, especially local teenagers. This led to the church growing rapidly. After we left, church attendance declined, and Dad later closed the church.

bruce gerencser 1983
Bruce Gerencser, age 25, Ordination 1983, Emmanuel Baptist Church Buckeye Lake, Ohio

I don’t want to make myself out to be a saint, because that would be a falsehood. Living in Buckeye Lake, living in marginal housing, wasn’t something we would have done had it not been for the importance, in my mind, of living where you minister. During our time in Buckeye Lake, Polly’s uber-rebellious sister came to live for us a short while. One day, Jim Dennis showed up at our door wanting to talk to Polly’s sister. (Please read If One Soul Get’s Saved It’s Worth it All, a short post about Polly’s sister’s tragic death in a motorcycle accident.) Jim quickly became adversarial with Kathy, especially over the fact that she was wearing pants. Jim was an anti-pants crusader his entire life. Women who worked for the church or served in any official capacity were required to sign a statement that affirmed their obedience to his no-pants edict. As his anger towards Polly’s sister rose, Jim decided to physically grab a hold of her so he could “shake some sense into her.”  His physical assault of her quickly came to an end when I threw him out of our home. Sadly, Polly’s sister would later repent of her “sin” and returned shamefaced to Jim Dennis and the Baptist Temple. She would do this repeatedly over the years up until her death in 2005.

From that point forward, I had an off-and-on relationship with Jim. Despite our conflicts, there was a part of me that still desperately wanted (needed) his approval. I had Jim come preach meetings at several of the churches I pastored. As I continued to move leftward politically, theologically, and socially, our relationship became distanced, with us only seeing each other on Christmas Eve for family Christmas. We used to go out to their spacious country home for Christmas Day, but word one year was passed down to us that we were no longer invited to their home. The reason given was the size of our family. This, of course, deeply hurt Polly. These were her uncle and aunt. Why would they shun her like this? No answer was forthcoming.

I could spend hours talking about the various conflicts between Jim Dennis and Bruce Gerencser, but for the sake of this post I want to share just one that I detailed in a post titled Christmas, 1957-2014:

With my parents being dead, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Polly’s parents. This abruptly changed in 2010. I left the ministry in 2003 and abandoned Christianity in November 2008. In early 2009, I sent out my family-shattering letter, Dear Family Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter radically changed our relationship with Polly’s fundamentalist family.

Christmas of 2009 is best remembered by a huge elephant in the middle of the room, that elephant being Polly and me and the letter I sent the family. No one said anything, but the tension was quite palpable.

2010 found us, just like every year since 1978, at Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. This would be the last Christmas we would spend with Polly’s parents and her extended family. We decided to blend into the background, and other than exchanging short pleasantries, no one talked to us. Not that they didn’t want to. We found out later from one of our children that Polly’s uncle wanted to confront me about our defection from Christianity. Polly Mom’s put a kibosh on that, telling her brother-in-law that she had already lost one daughter and she was not going to lose another. (Polly’s sister was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005)

I appreciate Polly’s Mom being willing to stand up to the man who is generally viewed as the spiritual head of the family. I am glad she put family first. If Polly’s uncle had confronted me there surely would have been an ugly fight. Whatever our differences may be, I deeply respect Polly’s parents. They are kind, loving people.

Christmas of 2010 was two years after President Obama was elected to his first term. Polly’s family didn’t vote for him, and through the night they made known their hatred for the man, Democrats and liberals in general. Polly and I, along with many of our children, voted for Obama, so the anti-Obama talk and the subtle racism made for an uncomfortable evening.

Most years, a gag gift is given to someone. This particular year, the gag gift, given to Polly’s uncle, was an Obama commemorative plate one of our nephews had bought on the cheap at Odd Lots. One of Polly’s uncle’s grandchildren asked him what the plate was for. He replied, to go poo-poo on, poo-poo being the fundamentalist word for shit. This was the last straw for us.

On our way home the next day, I told Polly that I couldn’t do it any more, and she said neither could she. So, we decided to stop going to Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. We do try to see Polly’s parents during the holiday, but we no longer attend the family gathering on Christmas Eve. Making this decision saddened us, but we knew we had to do it. (BTW, our children still attend the Christmas Eve gathering)

Jim’s funeral was last Saturday. I did not attend, though Polly and two of our sons made the four-hour trip to Newark to represent the Gerencsers at what the Baptist Temple called Jim Dennis’ Graduation Service. Unlike Polly and our older sons, I have a hard time biting my tongue when I am around Fundamentalists. I wear my emotions on my sleeve and my face generally tells others what I think. While my health precluded me from making the trip, I suspect that deep down I simply did not want to go. I knew exactly how the service would go — two hours of praising Jesus and deifying Jim Dennis, complete with lies about where Jim went after death. Similar to their Evangelical brethren, IFB preachers often lie when preaching funerals. According to orthodox Christian theology, Jim Dennis is lying in the grave, waiting for his body to be resurrected from the dead. However, traditional IFB preaching says that the deceased is, instead, running around Heaven praising Jesus for his glory and grace.

Jim was an avid hunter. In his younger years he would take trips out west to hunt big game. I suspect more than a few funeral attendees thought that Jim was now hunting the mountain ranges of God’s Heaven. This, of course, led me to ask my son, so, there will be violence in Heaven? Ah the illogical lunacy that makes an appearance at funerals. The man, Jim Dennis, was glorified and presented as one without blemish or fault. The man, the myth, the legend. Those of us close to him know better. Yes, in many ways Jim was a good man. He loved his wife, children, and grandchildren. But, we dare not forget that he was also an authoritarian brute, a man who attempted to dominate and control the lives of others; a man who thought his advice to others was straight from the mouth of God; a man who believed he knew the will of God for others (a will of which he repeatedly reminded me). I have fond memories of us spending holidays at the lake with them. I also have good memories of the few times we went hunting together. These memories, however, do not erase the great psychological damage his preaching and behavior inflicted on countless congregants and church members. Polly and I bear deep scars from being excoriated by him over this or that “sin.” How could we ever forget him telling us that it was not God’s will for us to be poor or that it wasn’t God’s will for us to have more children (even though his own children now have large families). We can’t forget the lectures or the sermons that seemed directed right at us. You see, Polly married a man that NO ONE in the family wanted her to marry, and our current state of the affairs, to them anyway, is proof that they are right. If Polly had only married an obedient IFB preacher, why she might still be in the ministry today. Both Polly and I have made peace with the fact that we will always be on the outside looking in with her family. In the last decade or so, we have finally reached a place where we no longer give a shit about what family members think about us. We are who we are.

Let me conclude this tome with one more story. Seven or so years ago, one of the family’s preachers decided to try and understand our deconversion. We talked privately for a few days until Jim got wind of our discussions. The preacher was told to stop talking to me. I was a dangerous man, one given over to evil and false doctrine. The preacher, of course, complied. Jim was the family patriarch, and when he issued an edict everyone was expected to obey. That Polly and I were living in open defiance of his authority was not something that could be tolerated. Unfortunately, for Jim, we were safely beyond his reach, no longer caring about what came out of his mouth.

The patriarch is dead, but his religion lives on.

Notes

James Dennis’s obituary:

James Dennis

Newark – A funeral service for Pastor James Russell Dennis will be held at 11am on Saturday, January 13, 2018 at Newark Baptist Temple, 81 Licking View Dr, Heath, OH 43056. Dr. Charles Keen will be officiating. Family will greet friends from 4pm-8pm on Friday, January 12, 2018 and for one hour prior to the service at the church. Following the service, Pastor Dennis will be laid to rest at Newark Memorial Gardens.

Pastor Dennis, age 75, of Newark, passed away on January 9, 2018 at Licking Memorial Hospital. He was born on November 3, 1942 to the late Russell and Grace (Welsh) Dennis in Pontiac, Michigan.

Pastor Dennis was an avid hunter, but more than anything, he loved being a preacher. He loved to help people in his community and church family. In 1968, Pastor Dennis became the pastor of Newark Baptist Temple, until he retired in 2015. Following retirement, he continued to proudly serve his Lord until his death. He was a pioneer in Christian education; he founded Temple Tots Day Nursery School in 1970 and Licking County Christian Academy in 1972.

Pastor Dennis is survived by his loving wife of 51 years, Linda (Robinson) Dennis. He also leaves behind his children, Cilicia (David) Boelk, Bethlie (David) Young, Andrew (Jenny) Dennis, and Toree (Jamie) Overton; 19 grandchildren; 3 great grandchildren; and sister, Betty Freeman.

In addition to his parents, Pastor Dennis is preceded in death by his grandson, LCPL James Boelk, KIA Oct 10, 2010.

The family would like to give special thanks to Licking Memorial Hospital, 2nd Floor doctors, nurses, and staff, for all their care and compassion over the past month.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Newark Temple Baptist Missions, 81 Licking View Dr, Heath, OH 43056.

To sign an online guestbook, please visit www.brucker-kishlerfuneralhome.com.

Published in the Advocate on Jan. 11, 2018

The Newark Advocate had this to say when Jim retired in November 2014:

It’s been 46 years since Pastor James Dennis began leading Newark Baptist Temple Church.

Although he still has an overwhelming passion for his role in the church, Dennis has decided to retire in November. It was a difficult decision to make, but he said he understands the need to bring new life into the church as it heads into the future.

“It has been a privilege to serve almighty God, to see people accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. … It’s just a blessing to see how God can change the lives of people,” Dennis said. “But I also understand the need to get a fresh breath of air in here.”

Dennis was born and raised in Michigan, and after attending seminary school, he started a church in Bay City, Michigan. It was there that he met his wife, Linda, after her family began attending the church.

The two were happily married and living in Michigan when Dennis received a call from one of his friends who told him Newark Baptist Temple was looking for a new pastor. At the time, he had no plans to leave his home, but he felt God pushing him out of Bay City.

He accepted the position and moved to Newark in 1967. At that time, the church was still young, having been formed only five years earlier, and there wasn’t much for Dennis to do outside preaching. But through the years, the church expanded, adding multiple ministries and launching the Licking County Christian Academy.

The school was founded in response to what the church saw as a need for an educational experience grounded in morality and God’s word, Dennis said. Although it has remained small, the school provides an important component to education, and Dennis thanks the Lord for every student who leaves a graduate.

Newark Temple Baptist has very active youth and children’s ministries, and six years ago, it started Reformers Unanimous, a ministry that helps people with dependency issues.

“The Lord has been kind to us,” Dennis said of how the church has grown.

….

Although he is retiring, Dennis plans to stick around. He will continue to attend church at Newark Baptist Temple and said he might take on some speaking opportunities if needed.

One thing is for sure: He’s not done sharing God’s message.

“You may step down from a certain aspect of the ministry, but you never stop ministering. It’s an eternal calling,” Dennis said. “I know that God has a plan and a will for me.”

Evangelicals Talk a Good Line When it Comes to Death, but Change Their Tune When They Are Dying

mark twain death

Evangelicals love to talk about heaven and the afterlife. They love to talk about the imminent return of Jesus and the rapture of all Christians from earth. They love to brag about being ready to go; about being ready to check out; about wanting to see Jesus face to face. Listen to enough Evangelical sermons and you’ll conclude that believers, much like the Apostle Paul, want to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. But let sickness, disease, or accident usher them to the front door of the great unknown, getting ready to leave, pulling out tomorrow, saying goodbye to all earthly sorrows, and Christians aren’t so much in a hurry to check out after all. It seems when theory becomes reality, Evangelicals are just like the rest of us — they don’t want to die. For all their talk about heaven and living eternally with Jesus, Evangelicals really aren’t certain about what lies beyond their last breath. Since no one — including Jesus — has ever come back from the dead to tell us what, if anything, lies beyond death, all Evangelicals have to go on is the Bible. And based on my six-decade involvement with Evangelicalism, I can safely say that Christians fear death just like atheists, agnostics, and everyone else they have consigned to the eternal flames of hell.

If Jesus, God, and Heaven are all Evangelicals says they are, shouldn’t they want to leave this rotten, vile, sinful world as soon as possible? If this life is to be endured as some sort of test from God, shouldn’t Evangelicals want to graduate as soon as possible so they can move into their mansions in the sky? Why do Evangelicals do all they can to hang on to life as long as possible? Is it perhaps possible that they know that, despite all their talk of the sweet by and by, deep down they crave life and want to hang onto it at all costs? I suspect this is the case.

I am convinced that there is nothing beyond death; that we only have one life and it will, all too soon, be in the past. It seems like yesterday that I was a youthful ministerial student at Midwestern Baptist College. In but a blink of an eye, forty-plus years have passed. I am now sixty years old and have been married almost forty years. My oldest son is almost forty and my oldest granddaughter is a junior in high school. My once-carrot-red hair is white and my joints are filled with arthritis. I’m plagued with memory problems, and ever so quickly I have become my grandparents. I have owned dozens of cars and lived in dozens of houses. I’ve seen eleven presidents elected and lived long enough to see modern technology transform the world. While I hope to live many more years, I know that most of my life is now in the rear-view mirror; ten years left if I live to age seventy, twenty if I live to eighty. Where have all the years gone? people of my age ask.

I hope when it comes time to die that I will face my convictions head on, that I will reject efforts to keep me alive. We currently have an extended family member who is on life support. He was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher for over fifty years. His body has shut down, yet his wife refuses to pull the plug. The snarky side of me says, why wait? Pull the plug. That way he will see Jesus and be ushered into his home in the sky. But the compassionate side of me gets it — his wife is not ready to let go; his children are not ready to let go. No one wants to face the prospect of sleeping alone or looking in the closet and seeing clothes that will never be worn again. None of us wants to face the emptiness and silence that comes when our significant others die. Who among us wants to lose their lover, friend, and confidant? I know I don’t.

Despite our protestations and acts of denial, when death comes knocking on the door, we can do nothing to keep ourselves alive. The curse of modern technology is that we can often put off the inevitable. But both the Christian and unbeliever must be brutally honest about life and death. Deny death’s reality all we want, it matters not. When it comes our time to die, we die.

Dylan Thomas was right when he said:

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

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

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

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

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

While we can, let us rage against the dying light. But let us also be honest enough to embrace death. Death plays its part in what The Lion King called the circle of life. Being aware of our mortality is very much a part of what makes us human. Deny it all we want, death will still come knocking. Over the weekend, a fifty-nine-year-old local man died from a snowmobile accident. While he was snowmobiling on ice, a tree limb hit him in the head and killed him. I went to this man’s Facebook page to see what his last updates were about. He spoke of family, of grandchildren. I wonder if ,when he wrote about his grandchildren, he knew that would be the last status update that he would ever post; that but a few hours later he would be dead. I doubt it. Life is like that.

Are you ready to face death? What are your opinions about being kept on life support?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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Believing Humans Have Eternal Life is Harmful and Wastes Life

eternal life
Cartoon by Mark Lynch

I am not suggesting that the reality of death isn’t painful, but just because something is painful doesn’t mean it can be avoided, or even that it should be.  I believe the promise of eternal life is a coping mechanism, and I don’t like it.  Pascal’s famous wager posits that if there is even one chance in a million that God exists, you should bet your life on it, but to me those are terrible odds.  Indeed, it may well be that the greatest mistake in this world is to live as if you have endless time…when in fact you don’t.

Bart Campolo, Why I Left, Why I Stayed, p. 133

What would Evangelical Christianity be without the belief that humans are eternal beings that will either dwell in Heaven (God’s Kingdom) or Hell (Lake of Fire)? Evangelicals give up a lot of living in order to earn a room in Heaven’s Trump Tower. I say “earn,” because despite talk of grace, Evangelicals know that gaining a golden ticket requires work and effort on their part. There are sins that must be confessed and forsaken, and Christians who wallow in the cesspool of the “world” likely will end up in Hell with Adolph Hitler, Barack Obama, and Bruce Gerencser. Thus, Evangelicals religiously attend church, pray, read their Bibles, witness, give tithes and offerings, buy Christian literature, listen to Christian radio, watch Christian TV, support Evangelical political candidates, and fight against abortion, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage. These same Evangelicals try their damnedest to follow the sexual mores of the Bible. From the moment they awake in the morning until they fall asleep at night, Evangelicals focus their minds on God, Jesus, the Bible, Christianity, and making sure that the evil agenda of Satan and the Antichrist is defeated. (I am aware of the fact that not all Evangelicals are zealots; that many of them are nominal, in-name-only Christians, but millions of Americans are committed followers of the Evangelical God. It is these people who are the focus of this post.)

Those of us who spent much of our lives living and breathing Evangelical beliefs and practices often find ourselves lamenting the time wasted serving a mythical deity. I was fifty years old before I saw the “light” and divorced myself from Jesus. From the age of fifteen to the age of fifty — thirty-five years — I devoted my life to Jesus and did all I could possibly do to live according to the teachings of the Bible — failing miserably, by the way. None of my six children played sports or enjoyed many of the things “normal” children do because their Dad demanded that they, too, devote their lives to Jesus. My children, for the most part, were either educated in unaccredited private Fundamentalist schools or home schooled. Rarely were they given the opportunity to do something that was not connected to either school or church. My oldest son attended over three thousand church services and heard virtually every sermon I preached. The same could be said for Polly and the rest of my children. We lived and breathed God, the Bible, and the church. To what end? What did we gain from such a life? So much wasted time. Hours, days, and years squandered with no hope of a do-over or a second chance. Lost time is just that — lost. All the weeping and wailing in the world doesn’t change the fact that the time wasted in service of a myth is forever lost.

Ephesians 6:16 says, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. James 4:14 states, 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. And Proverbs 27:1 says, Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.  For Evangelicals, these verses are reminders of the brevity of life and the importance of serving God while they have the opportunity. Amos 4:12 speaks of preparing to meet God. Evangelicals believe that this life is preparation for the life to come; that the pain, suffering, heartache, and loss faced in the here and now is meant to keep them from becoming attached to the world. 1 John 2:15-19 states:

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. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Evangelicals are implored to not love the world with its pride and lusts. Someday, according to the Bible, Jesus is going to return to earth and destroy the heavens and the earth, making all things new. Knowing this to be “true,” Evangelicals forsake the world, knowing that, in the end, they will be glad they did. And for those Christians who love the world and its fleshly desires? Their behaviors reveal that they aren’t True Christians®.

Evangelicals know that life is short. Psalm 90:10 says, The days of our years are threescore years and ten (seventy); and if by reason of strength they be fourscore (eighty) years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.  All too soon, death will come knocking on their doors, thus it is crucial to live life in such a way that when Jesus calls their number he will say to them, well done thou good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of the Lord (Matthew 25:23).

It is too bad that Christians don’t live their lives according to Solomon’s book of wisdom, Ecclesiastes. Solomon reminds people of the brevity of life, and the best any of us can do is eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. And therein lies the point of the Bart Campolo quote at the beginning of this post. This life is the only one we will ever have. This is it. No re-dos. No second chances. No reincarnations. No coming back as ghosts or angels. Every breath, every heartbeat brings us one moment closer to death. I am sixty years old. If I live to age seventy, this means my life is six-sevenths gone. If I live to eighty, three-fourths of my life is in the rear-view mirror. I currently take drugs that prolong my life. Without them, I would have already gone up in the smoke of the local crematorium.

There are moments in the night when pain keeps me from sleeping, and I lie in bed listening to the tick-tock of the clock on the nearby nightstand. Tick-tock, tick-tock, two seconds of life is gone. Sixty tick-tocks and a minute is gone. Thirty-six-hundred tick-tocks and another hour of my life is dissipated into the night. Someday, sooner and not later, readers of this blog will be greeted with a post from my wife or one of my children. It will say that on such-and-such a date at such-and-such time, Bruce Gerencser drew his last breath. Cause of death? Life.

Knowing this to be true, I refuse to spend my time chasing ghosts, goblins, and gods. I refuse to offload the present in the hope that I might receive some sort of divine payoff from a mythical deity. Life is meant to be lived in the here and now, with no promise of tomorrow. Yes, it is okay to plan for the future, but not at the expense of enjoying the present. Campolo says belief in eternal life is harmful because it is, above all things, a lie; a lie based solely on some words written in an ancient religious text thousands of years ago. Believing this lie causes people to miss out on all that life has to offer. Believing this lie changes relationship dynamics, pitting believers and unbelievers against each other. If Heaven and Hell are real places, then it stands to reason that Evangelical concern for non-Christian family, friends, and neighbors is warranted. However, there is, based on all we know about the universe, no Heaven or Hell. The only heaven and hell any of us will ever know is that which is lived in this life. That’s why I want, with what little time I have left, to live and raise a little hell, and make earth as heavenly as I possibly can.

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

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

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. 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.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Songs of Sacrilege: Cigarettes & Saints by The Wonder Years

the wonder years

Warning! Lyrics may contain offensive, vulgar language.

This is the one hundred and fifty-ninth 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 Songs of Sacrilege is Cigarettes & Saints by The Wonder Years.

Video Link

Lyrics

Twice a week I pass by the church that held your funeral
And the pastor’s words come pouring down like rain
How he called you a sinner and said now you walk with Jesus
So the drugs that took your life aren’t gonna cause you any pain
I don’t think he even knew your name
And I refuse to kneel and pray
I won’t remember you that way

I lit you a candle in every cathedral across Europe
And I hope you know you’re still my patron saint
I tried to forgive, but I can’t forget the cigar in his fist
I know that they were heartsick, but I need someone to blame
And I know how they blamed me
I know what you’d say
You’d tell me it was your fault
I should put all my arrows away

I’m sure there ain’t a heaven
But that don’t mean I don’t like to picture you there
I’ll bet you’re bumming cigarettes off saints
And I’m sure you’re still singing
But I’ll bet that you’re still just a bit out of key
That crooked smile pushing words across your teeth

Cause you were heat lightning
Yeah, you were a storm that never rolled in
You were the northern lights in a southern town
A caustic fleeting thing
I’ll bury your memories in the garden
And watch them grow with the flowers in spring
I’ll keep you with me

These wolves in their suits and ties
Saying, “Kid, you can trust me”
Charming southern drawl, sunken eyes
Buying good will in hotel lobbies
Buy fistfuls of pills to make sure you don’t hurt no more
You don’t gotta feel anything
Got their fangs in our veins
Got their voice in our head
Got our arms in their grips
No, we can’t shake free

This goddamn machine, hungry and heartless
My whole generation got lost in the margin
We put our faith in you and you turned a profit
Now we’re drowning here under the waves
(We’re no saviors if we can’t save our brothers)
Drowning out under the waves
(We’re no saviors if we can’t save our brothers)
Drowning out, drowning out

You can’t have my friends
You can’t have my brothers
You can’t have my friends
You can’t have my brothers
You can’t have my friends
You can’t have my brothers
You can’t have me
No, you can’t have me

Only Those of Us Who Believe in Heaven Have Hope

stairway to heaven

Last night, my wife and I were talking about death: about how we are the youngest of the older adults in her family; that we could have a spate of deaths over the next decade. Polly’s parents are in their 80s and her surviving aunts and uncles are getting up there in age too. Death comes for one and all. Sooner, and not later death will come knocking on our doors and say it’s time to go. We will be permitted no protestations, given no second chances. For me personally, at that moment I will have taken my last photograph, written my last blog post, and hugged and loved my family for the last time. Death brings an end to everything but the memories we leave behind in the minds of those who loved us or called us friend.

The permanence of death is one of the reasons men invented Gods, the afterlife, heaven, and hell. Most people have a hard time believing that this life is all there is. Believing that humans are somehow, some way superior to other animals or their deity’s special creation, people hope life continues on after the death. For Christians, the Bible promises them if they worship the right God, believe the right things, and live a certain way, that one day their God will resurrect them from their graves, give them new bodies that will never suffer, age, feel pain, or die, and grant them title to a mansion in a new Heaven and a new Earth. Those of us raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches likely remember the song, Mansion Over the Hilltop:

I’m satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little gold
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that’s silver lined

[Chorus]

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And some day yonder we’ll never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold

Tho’ often tempted, tormented and tested
And, like the prophet, my pillow a stone
And tho’ I find here no permanent dwelling
I know He’ll give me a mansion my own

I’m satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little gold
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that’s silver lined

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And some day yonder we’ll never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold

Tho’ often tempted, tormented and tested
And, like the prophet, my pillow a stone
And tho’ I find here no permanent dwelling
I know He’ll give me a mansion my own

Video Link

This song perfectly illustrates the view of eternity held by millions and millions of Christians. Life is viewed as little more than a preparation time for death and moving into new digs in the sweet by and by. Atheists, on the other hand, place great value on this life, on the here and now, because this is the only life we will ever have. Once we draw our last breath, we will either be turned into ashes or worm food.

I woke up today to find Polly in somewhat of an agitated mood — an uncommon state of mind. Her mother had called earlier in the morning to let her know that her elderly IFB preacher uncle was in the hospital. He had to have emergency surgery to remove 12 inches of his bowel that had turned septic. Polly told her mom about the conversation we had last night about how everyone is getting old and dying. Polly mentioned to her mom that our oldest son had been looking at some old family photographs and said of one photo, sixty-six percent of the people in this picture are dead.  Polly’s mom replied, well you know, only those of us who believe in heaven have hope.

That’s been Mom’s approach of late, to begin every sermon one liner with well, you know, reminding her daughter that what she plans to say next Polly already knows. Out of respect for her mom, Polly says nothing, but I fear the volcano is rumbling and will someday erupt. Polly said to me, this is what I should have told her: Those of us who don’t believe that shit don’t have to worry about getting into heaven or worry about did we pray the prayer, believe the right things, or do the right things. If Polly actually said these things to her mom what would cause the most offense and outrage is that Polly said the word shit. Imagine the outage if it became known that Polly can, on occasion, use the F word. I am sure that her salty speech would be blamed on her continued corruption at the hands of Satan’s emissary, Bruce Gerencser.

I have no doubt that Mom is feeling her mortality and she wants to make certain that she will see Polly again in Heaven after d-e-a-t-h. You know, the whole unbroken family circle thing. While Polly understands her mom’s angst and wishfulness, she does find the mini-sermons irritating and offensive. Mom likely thinks, with death lurking in the shadows, that she needs to put as many good words in for Jesus as she can; that repeating Bible Truths® will turn back her daughter’s godlessness and worldliness; that if just the right words are spoken, the Holy Spirit will use them to pull Polly kicking and screaming back to the one true IFB faith. Now THAT would be entertaining!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Songs of Sacrilege: I Like it Heavy by Halestorm

halestormWarning! Lyrics may contain offensive, vulgar language.

This is the one hundred and fifty-seventh 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 Songs of Sacrilege is I Like it Heavy by Halestorm.

Video Link

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
Some like beautiful, perfect, and pretty
I see the good in the bad and the ugly
I need the volume one louder than ten
Put the pedal to the metal, needle into the red
If the windows ain’t shaking
Making my heart race
If I can’t feel it in my chest
I’m in the wrong damn place

Got a demon in my soul
And a voice in my head
Saying go, go, go
I can sleep when I’m dead
There’s a sonic revelation bringing me to my knees
And there’s a man down below that needs my sympathy
I got a ringing in my ears getting ready to burst
Screaming hallelujah mother fucker take me to church

[Chorus]
I like it louder than the boom of a big bass drum
I need it harder than the sound of guitar grunge
I like to crank it up, make it thump, and evil to the core
Headbanging in the pit and throwing my horns
And just like old school Sabbath, Zeppelin, and Lemmy
I need to drop it down low and make it heavy
I like it heavy
Who-o-o-oa
I like it heavy
Who-o-o-oa

[Verse 2]
I ride the lightning, roll with the thunder
Going down, down, down with my sisters and brothers
I fell in love with the darkest parts
Standing on the side of the wild at heart
I plucked a feather off a crow so I could fly
Since I was 13 years old I’ve had my fist to the sky

[Chorus]
I like it louder than the boom of a big bass drum
I need it harder than the sound of guitar grunge
I like to crank it up, make it thump, and evil to the core
Headbanging in the pit and throwing my horns
And just like old school Sabbath, Zeppelin, and Lemmy
I need to drop it down low and make it heavy
I like it heavy
Who-o-o-oa
I like it heavy
Who-o-o-oa

[Bridge]
I like it, it like it, I like it heavy
I like it, it like it, I like it heavy
I like it, it like it, I like it heavy
I like it, it like it, I like it heavy

Some like beautiful perfect and pretty
I see the good in the bad and the ugly
I like it heavy
Who-o-o-oa
I like it heavy
Who-o-o-oa
I like it, it like it, I like it heavy
I like it, it like it, I like it heavy
I like it, it like it, I like it heavy
I like it, it like it, I like it heavy

[Verse 3]
Take me home tonight I, do anything with you
Buy a bottle of whiskey, we’ll get matching tattoos
Tell me that you love me, oh let me drive your car
We can sit to morning light, just countin’ every stars
Cause if there’s a Hell, I’ll meet you there
And if there’s a Heaven, they’re serving beer
And if you’re an angel then, I must be high
Oh if there’s a church, it’s rock ‘n roll
If there’s a devil, I sold my soul
And it’s alright whatever we do tonight
Cause if there’s a God dammit she won’t mind
If there’s a God, baby she won’t mind

Songs of Sacrilege: Only the Good Die Young by Billy Joel

Warning! Lyrics may contain offensive, vulgar language.

This is the one hundred and fifty-sixth 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 Only the Good Die Young by Billy Joel.

Video Link

Lyrics

Come out, Virginia, don’t let me wait
You Catholic girls start much too late
But sooner or later it comes down to fate
I might as well be the one
They showed you a statue and told you to pray
They built you a temple and locked you away
But they never told you the price that you pay
For things that you might have done…
Only the good die young

You might have heard I run with a dangerous crowd
We ain’t too pretty, we ain’t too proud
We might be laughing a bit too loud
But that never hurt no one
So, come on, Virginia, show me a sign
Send up a signal I’ll throw you the line
The stained-glass curtain you’re hiding behind
Never lets in the sun
Darling, only the good die young

You got a nice white dress and a party on your confirmation
You got a brand new soul
And a cross of gold
But, Virginia, they didn’t give you quite enough information
You didn’t count on me
When you were counting on your rosary

They say there’s a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it’s better but I say it ain’t
I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
The sinners are much more fun…
You know that only the good die young

You say your mother told you all that I could give you was a reputation
She never cared for me
But did she ever say a prayer for me?

Come out, come out, come out
Virginia, don’t let me wait,
You Catholic girls start much too late,
But sooner or later it comes down to fate
I might as well be the one,
You know that only the good die young
Tell you baby
You know that only the good die young
Only the good die young
Only the good
Only the good die young

Voices of Reason sing Only the Good Die Young A capella

Video Link

Pastor James Bachman Uses Dying, Comatose Patients as Evangelistic Tool

james bachmanIndependent Fundamentalists Baptists (IFB) are well-known for the Jehovah’s Witness-like evangelistic fervor. James Bachman, pastor emeritus of Roanoke Baptist Church in nearby Roanoke, Indiana and author of the Parson to Person column in the West Bend News, takes his evangelistic efforts to such a degree that his thinks dying people should continue to languish and suffer just so he can have the opportunity to evangelize those who come to visit them in hospitals or hospice. How dare they want to die before their “appointed” time! God and Bachman have use for their pain, agony, and unrelenting suffering — preying on people who visit the dying during their last days on earth.

In the August 6, 2017 edition of the Parson to Person column, Bachman tackles the question, “We are working on a living will and wondering if it is right to withhold hydration and nutrition to help expedite death?”

Bachman responds:

God says in Deuteronomy 32:39, “I kill, and I make alive.” Psalm 68:20 says, “…unto GOD the Lord belong the issues from death.” James 4:15 says, For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live.” Hezekiah’s near death experience in II Kings 20 shows us God is to be in charge of life and death.

Modern artificial life support mechanisms sometimes make it hard to tell if it is God or we who are taking life, but withholding hydration and nutrition is definitely pushing God’s will away for our own. The healthiest person will die a horrible death without food and water.

In James 2:15-16 God makes it plain we are not to withhold daily food from someone who needs it. “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit.” Matthew 25:41-46 indicates it is wicked to withhold food from the hungry and water from the thirsty, and to do so is as though you were doing it to Christ Himself.

Quality of life is not always the issue. Through the years while calling on people who were in a dying and sometimes comatose condition, I have lead many other patients or family members to Christ. God was still using those who were dying in their bad “quality of life.”

Bachman believes it is a mortal sin to withhold hydration and nutrition from someone the dying. Bachman’s view is quite common among Evangelicals. Pain and suffering are viewed as sacrosanct, some sort of offering given up to Jesus, the God-man who suffered more than anyone has ever suffered — or so Evangelicals say anyway. Did Jesus really suffer more than anyone ever has? Of course not. Jesus suffered for one or two days, died, and then according to Christian mythology resurrected from the dead. I have known scores of people who suffered greatly during the last days of their lives. They would have traded places with Jesus in a heartbeat. (Please see Quit Complaining, Your Suffering is Nothing Compared to What Jesus Faced.)

Bachman views those near death, those who are writhing in pain and suffering untold agony, as little more than props to be used to get people saved. What’s a little (or a lot of) suffering if someone comes to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior, right? I dealt with this line of thinking in my post about my wife’s sister’s tragic death in a motorcycle accident. (If One Soul Gets Saved It’s Worth It) IFB preachers such as Bachman care little for the dying. If they are saved, they will soon be entering God’s Disneyland in the Sky®. What’s a little more agony if the Bachmans of the world can use their suffering as a way to harangue and manipulate people into believing what these preachers are selling.

Why do IFB preachers preach and evangelize at funerals? They know that funeral attendees are psychologically vulnerable. Get the gospel to them while they are “sensitive” to the good news, while death is on their mind. Preachers who do this are not much different from sexual predators who wait until people are susceptible to take advantage of them. I have attended more than a few funerals where very little was said about the deceased. Their death was just a means to an end — trolling for souls. What better time to evangelize people than when their loved one’s body is right in front of the them? Death in the air, and IFB preachers know it, using the emotional sensitivity of mourners to manipulate them into getting saved (and hopefully becoming tithing, working member members of an IFB church).

it is unconscionable that people still support suffering in a day when we have the means to alleviate pain and allow people to die with dignity. The dying often hang on, enduring untold agony, all because some religious zealot has quoted a few Bible verses to them and then told them that God wants them to suffer unto the end. Family members, who are often left with the responsibility of making end of life decision for their loved ones, are guilted into prolonging the suffering of their parents or spouses — all because Jesus will somehow be happy and satisfied if the last ounce of life is wrung out of the dying.

What should matter is what is best for the dying. Pain and suffering should be eased, and if withholding nutrients will allow them to suffer less as they lay their bodies down, caretakers should not hesitate in asking doctors to stop giving their loved ones anything that is prolonging their suffering. Bachman is wrong when he says that withholding hydration and nutrition causes people to die horrible deaths. These things can be withheld, and with the use of strong narcotics and other drugs, the dying can quietly and painlessly slip off into the dark night. There is no glory or honor in suffering into the end. The dying will not be awarded (or rewarded for) Best Death 2017 or Longest Suffering 2017.

What do you think of Bachman’s suggestion that people should continue to suffer so he can use them as a prop in his soulwinning efforts? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Note

Bachman’s doctorate is an honorary degree from unaccredited Shawnee Baptist College. (Please read IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor)

Bachman is also in charge of Answer Publications.

Mary Ellen Mayo Has Died

mary ellen mayo cat

Mary Ellen Mayo, a friend and loyal reader of this blog died June 19, 2017 of congestive heart failure. Mary Ellen was 56. Mary Ellen infrequently commented, often choosing to comment when she felt I needed encouragement or moral support.  Some long time readers may remember her using the Amazonfeet moniker. Mary Ellen, a resident of Florida, battled a number of health problems. (She had Marfan Syndrome.) I was Facebook friends with Mary Ellen. We shared not only our experiences with chronic illness, but also a commitment to progressive political values and a love of cats. A few days before Mary Ellen died, her last post to Facebook was the cat meme posted above.

Mary Ellen will be missed. I am blessed to have been her friend.  Mary Ellen was a member of First Unitarian Church in Orlando, Florida.  Her church family will hold a memorial service for her on Monday, July 3rd.

1975: My First Brush With Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death and the Afterlife: Things Christians Say That Aren’t in the Bible 

heaven and hell

One thing the religious have in common with non-believers is the fact that they will someday die. Death is the great equalizer. No matter our wealth and status, or lack thereof, there will come a day when each of us will draw his or her last breath. No second chances, no do-overs. All of us, at one time or the other, have pondered our mortality. The older we get, the more we think about death.

It should come as no surprise then that most people turn to religion to find answers about death and the possibility of an afterlife. All the major religions of the world teach that there is life after death, be it in a resurrected or reincarnated form. Being the rational creatures we are, we can’t bear thoughts of no longer existing. Countless Evangelicals have asked me, surely you believe that there is SOMETHING after this life? Other Evangelicals have told me that they would have no reason to live if there weren’t life after death.

Sunday after Sunday, millions of Americans gather in church buildings to worship a God that purportedly not only forgives their sins, but gives them eternal life in heaven after they die. If religious belief was only of value in this life and paid out no after-death benefits, I suspect many of the people pledging fealty and devotion to the Christian God on Sundays would instead spend the first day of the week engaging in recreation, working in their yards, or relaxing. Remove sin, fear, judgment, and eternal life from the script and I have no doubt that most churches would find themselves not only without congregants, but without preachers too.

Generally, the orthodox Christian belief about the afterlife goes something like this: each of us dies, physically remains in the grave until judgment Day, at which time God will bodily resurrect the just and unjust from the dead, judge them, and either send them to God’s eternal kingdom (Heaven) or the Lake of Fire (Hell) for eternity. The former is a blissful place where there is no sin, pain, suffering, or death, whereas the latter is a dark place where its inhabitants face horrific pain and suffering. Both the just (saved) and unjust (lost) will be fitted with new bodies (creations) that never die, and for those cast in the Lake of Fire, their bodies will be able to withstand never-ending torture and torment.

Now, seek out one hundred Evangelicals and ask them about death and the afterlife, and they will tell you something like this: after death, Christians go to Heaven, and non-Christians go to hell.  Does what I have written here remotely sound like what I wrote in the previous paragraph? Nope. Most Christians believe that the moment after they close their eyes in death, they will awake in Heaven and be in the presence of God. The Bible, supposedly the final authority on all matter pertaining to life, death, and the afterlife, does not teach that Christians go to Heaven the moment they die. Neither does it teach that non-Christians go to hell after death. Every person who has ever died presently lies rotting in the grave, awaiting the resurrection of the dead.

It’s not so sexy to tell people that their reserved rooms in Heaven and Hell will remain empty until Resurrection Day.  Peter? James? Judas? Moses? David? Abraham? Isaac? Jacob? Adam? Eve?  John, Paul, George, and Ringo? Your parents, grandparents? None of them is or will be in Heaven or Hell until the trumpet of God sounds and Jesus returns to earth to judge the living and the dead.

Yet, every Sunday, Christian preachers remind congregants of what awaits them after death: Heaven for the saved, and Hell for the lost. Unsaved people are implored to get saved lest they die and split hell wide open. Christians are encouraged to work hard for Jesus and promised great rewards in Heaven if they do so.  Preachers tell wonderful stories about Heaven and horrific stories about Hell, reminding people that the sum of life is knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Attend Christian funerals and you will often hear preachers outright lie about the afterlife. I have yet to hear a preacher say that the dearly departed went to hell. In every instance, preachers found some sliver of faith/belief to hang on to, thus justifying their preaching the subject of their funeral sermon into heaven. Worse yet, preachers and family members will speak of Granny running around Heaven or Mom, Dad, and Rover too looking down from Heaven watching their loved ones. I have heard countless Christians say that some close family member of theirs was “with them” as they did this or that. None of these hopeful ideas is supported by the teachings of the Bible. Granny isn’t running in Heaven. Her bodies lies in the grave, awaiting the Resurrection. As nice as it sounds, and the warm, fuzzy feelings such thoughts give, no one is watching us from Pearly Gates.

Of course, as an atheist, I am firmly persuaded that death is the end-all. To misquote Hebrews 9:27And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this … nothing. I have one life to live and it is quickly passing by. It seems like yesterday that my wife and I, ages nineteen and twenty-one, were standing at the front of the Newark Baptist Temple altar, reciting our wedding vows to one another. Youthful in body and ready to take on the world, we had no thoughts of growing old. Yet, here we are, soon celebrating our thirty-ninth wedding anniversary, and in less than a month I will turn sixty. Now our thoughts turn to end-of-life matters: retirement, healthcare, and what to do with the few years we have left.  My older readers know exactly what I am talking about. Who among us hasn’t lain in bed listening to the beat of our heart or the ticking of the clock. We know that each beat and each tick take us one moment closer to our last day among the living.

Bruce, if you don’t think there is life after death, why then did you spend most of this post talking about what Christians believe about death and the afterlife? This post is a plea to preachers to tell people the truth about life after death. First, preachers should tell people that they cannot know for certain whether there is life after death; that all that Christians have to go on is what is written in the Bible; that the belief that people live on after death is solely a matter of faith; that there is no evidence for claims that people live on in eternity after they die. Second, preachers should stop telling people lies about what happens the moment after someone dies. Stop with the whimsical stories about what dead people are doing in Heaven. Tell the truth: Granny lies rotting in the grave until Jesus comes to get her. If preachers are going to tell mythical stories about the afterlife, the least they can do is accurately state what the Bible says on the matter. Of course, doing so might cause people to lose hope, but Christians need to know that there is NOT an immediate payoff after death.

Let me conclude this post with an excerpt from a Time Magazine interview of Christian theologian N.T. Wright:

TIME: At one point you call the common view of heaven a “distortion and serious diminution of Christian hope.”

Wright: It really is. I’ve often heard people say, “I’m going to heaven soon, and I won’t need this stupid body there, thank goodness.’ That’s a very damaging distortion, all the more so for being unintentional.

TIME: How so? It seems like a typical sentiment.

Wright: There are several important respects in which it’s unsupported by the New Testament. First, the timing. In the Bible we are told that you die, and enter an intermediate state. St. Paul is very clear that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead already, but that nobody else has yet. Secondly, our physical state. The New Testament says that when Christ does return, the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies. And finally, the location. At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, “Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.” It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation.

TIME: Is there anything more in the Bible about the period between death and the resurrection of the dead?

Wright: We know that we will be with God and with Christ, resting and being refreshed. Paul writes that it will be conscious, but compared with being bodily alive, it will be like being asleep. The Wisdom of Solomon, a Jewish text from about the same time as Jesus, says “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,” and that seems like a poetic way to put the Christian understanding, as well.

TIME: But it’s not where the real action is, so to speak?

Wright: No. Our culture is very interested in life after death, but the New Testament is much more interested in what I’ve called the life after life after death — in the ultimate resurrection into the new heavens and the new Earth. Jesus’ resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that he will complete upon his return. Part of this will be the resurrection of all the dead, who will “awake,” be embodied and participate in the renewal. John Polkinghorne, a physicist and a priest, has put it this way: “God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves.” That gets to two things nicely: that the period after death is a period when we are in God’s presence but not active in our own bodies, and also that the more important transformation will be when we are again embodied and administering Christ’s kingdom.

Wright: Never at any point do the Gospels or Paul say Jesus has been raised, therefore we are we are all going to heaven. They all say, Jesus is raised, therefore the new creation has begun, and we have a job to do.

TIME: That sounds a lot like… work.

Wright: It’s more exciting than hanging around listening to nice music. In Revelation and Paul’s letters we are told that God’s people will actually be running the new world on God’s behalf. The idea of our participation in the new creation goes back to Genesis, when humans are supposed to be running the Garden and looking after the animals. If you transpose that all the way through, it’s a picture like the one that you get at the end of Revelation.

TIME: And it ties into what you’ve written about this all having a moral dimension.

Wright: Both that, and the idea of bodily resurrection that people deny when they talk about their “souls going to Heaven.” If people think “my physical body doesn’t matter very much,” then who cares what I do with it? And if people think that our world, our cosmos, doesn’t matter much, who cares what we do with that? Much of “traditional” Christianity gives the impression that God has these rather arbitrary rules about how you have to behave, and if you disobey them you go to hell, rather than to heaven. What the New Testament really says is God wants you to be a renewed human being helping him to renew his creation, and his resurrection was the opening bell. And when he returns to fulfil the plan, you won’t be going up there to him, he’ll be coming down here.

TIME: That’s very different from, say, the vision put out in the Left Behind books.

Wright: Yes. If there’s going to be an Armageddon, and we’ll all be in heaven already or raptured up just in time, it really doesn’t matter if you have acid rain or greenhouse gases prior to that. Or, for that matter, whether you bombed civilians in Iraq. All that really matters is saving souls for that disembodied heaven.

TIME: Has anyone you’ve talked to expressed disappointment at the loss of the old view?

Wright: Yes, you might get disappointment in the case where somebody has recently gone through the death of somebody they love and they are wanting simply to be with them. And I’d say that’s understandable. But the end of Revelation describes a marvelous human participation in God’s plan. And in almost all cases, when I’ve explained this to people, there’s a sense of excitement and a sense of, “Why haven’t we been told this before?”

What are some of the other things that Christians say about death, heaven, and hell that either aren’t in the Bible or are distorted by preachers? Please share them in the comment section.