It’s usually Evangelical Christians who want to know if I have, with an “unbiased mind and open heart,” read the Bible. When I tell them that I was in the Christian church for fifty years, attended an Evangelical Bible college, pastored Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, Southern Baptist, Sovereign Grace Baptist, Christian Union, and nondenominational churches for twenty-five years, and read and studied the Bible for every day for most my adult life, they are perplexed and confused. How could someone devote themselves to inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God and end up an atheist? The very thought of this leaves many Evangelicals walking around like robots, saying “does not compute, does not compute, does not compute.”
Some Evangelicals are unwilling to accept “reality,” so they make up reasons for why someone such as myself could immerse himself in the pages of the precious, holy, wonderful pure Word of God and yet come away an unbeliever. In their minds, the Bible has magical powers. Former Evangelicals have heard preachers say countless times, “just pick up the Bible, read the gospel of John, First John, and Romans, and you will know everything you need to know to become a Christian!” “Read and believe” is the message. Evangelicals believe that if unbelievers will just honestly and openly read the Bible, the Holy Spirit will show them the truth about God, life, sin, judgment, salvation, death, Heaven, Hell, and eternal life. What they never say is, “Start at Genesis and read the Bible from cover to cover.” Taking this approach usually kills any hope of conversion by the time unbelieving readers get to Numbers or Chronicles. It’s important that unbelievers read just the “right” verses, and not get sidetracked by the “hard” passages that will be explained after they have purchased a membership. You know, the fine print that reveals that the true Evangelical gospel is “believe and do the right things and ye shall be saved.”
So, in the minds of many Evangelicals, I am an atheist today because I didn’t have an “unbiased mind and open heart” when I read the Bible — as if there is any such thing as an unbiased mind. Years ago, a former congregant wrote to me and said that my loss of faith was due to books. Yes, books. I had read too many books and that’s why I lost my faith. She suggested that I stop reading books and just read the Bible. If I would do so, she was confident that I would soon return to Evangelical Christianity and pastoring churches.
Every once in a while, Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox zealots — both of whom believe that their club is the one true club — will contact me and ask me to study the teachings of Catholicism or Orthodoxy with an “unbiased mind and open heart,” believing that if I humbly do so, I will see the “truth.” Again, what I “hear” from such zealots is that their flavor of ice cream is the one true ice cream. However, when I look at the ice cream case, all I see is ice cream. Sure, I see different brands, ingredients, flavors, and packaging, but it’s all still ice cream.
Occasionally, I will a have a Muslim zealot contact me:
Peace be upon you Bruce,
Not sure how I stumbled to your blog, but I did. I like your style of writing. Direct and to the point.
I just curious to know if you are willing to (or maybe you have already) read the Qu’ran and put it to the test through your logical and analytical brain. The only requirements it demands, is an unbiased mind and open heart. I am not sure how you feel about these .
Anyway, I would appreciate an answer from you someday, if you find this of interest to you. If not, please disregard and I apologize for bothering you.
This worshipper of Allah asks me to use my “logical and analytical brain” to read the Qu’ran, testing whether its teachings are true. He asks that I use “an unbiased mind and open heart” in this endeavor. What’s left unsaid in his email is that he is confident that if will do these things, that I will soon find myself bowing towards Mecca five times a day praying to Allah. That I don’t buy a prayer rug and devote myself to Allah and Qu’ran will, I am sure, be evidence to him that I did not use my “logical and analytical brain” to read the Qu’ran with “an unbiased mind and open heart.”
You see, the fact that I am not an Evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, or a Muslim is proof to zealots of said religions that I am unwilling to honestly and openly accept, believe, and practice the teaching of their respective holy books. The books or the religions or the zealots are never to blame, I am. If only I would set aside my commitment to skepticism, rationalism, and intellectual inquiry, I would see and understand the “truth” — their truth. “But, Bruce, aren’t these zealots inviting you on a journey of intellectual inquiry?” On the face of the matter, it may seem that way, but really what zealots are asking me to do is go to the New York Public Library with its 53,000,000 books (and other items) and only select one book to read. True intellectual inquiry leads down many rows to different shelves, each containing a plethora of books that give light to my search for truth. Zealots want to box me in with only their divine book to read, warning me that failing to come to the proper theological conclusions will lead to eternal damnation. True intellectual inquiry says to me, “enjoy the journey.” I could no more limit my reading to one book than I could to limit my TV viewing to one channel. Think about all the wonderful programs I would have missed had I only watched CBS, and never watched HBO, Showtime, Starz, AMC, PBS, USA, Food Network, HGTV, History, Daystar, Nat Geo, FX, IFC, or SyFy. (One of these channels I NEVER watch. Can you guess which one?) We live in a golden age of TV programming. And so it is with books, websites, and blogs. So much awesome information is available to anyone willing to read. Why, in the name of Jehovah, Jesus, and Allah would I want to limit my inquiries to one book?
The path from religious bondage to freedom is paved with books. When Evangelicals want to quarrel with me over my contention that the Bible is not what they claim it is — a perfect supernaturally written text — the first thing I ask them is whether they have read any of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books. Some Evangelicals will lie, saying that they have “read” Ehrman. This usually means that they have read blogs, websites, or book reviews that supposedly refute Dr. Ehrman’s claims. I am convinced his books are the single best antidote to Evangelical beliefs about the nature, history, and text of the Bible. Disabuse Evangelicals of the notion that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, they will never look at Christianity the same way again.
Books, be they in printed or digital form, remain the most powerful tools in our arsenal. Blogs and websites have their place, but get zealots to sit down and read books outside of their theological rut, and you will likely change them forever.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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