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Tag: Evangelicalism

Atheists Really Believe in God But Refuse to Admit It says Pastor Nate Pickowicz

atheists dont exist

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

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

In John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, he makes a case for “the knowledge of God implanted in the human mind”.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.

Does the Christian God Really Care About Me?

where is god

One of the reasons given by atheists/agnostics for leaving Christianity is the belief that the Christian God doesn’t give a shit about those who devote their lives to following Jesus Christ. No matter how much time is expended in worship and service, God never says, thanks, good job, or I have your back. Why should he? According to Evangelical theology, Jesus, the sinless son of God, came to earth to atone for humankind’s sin. He suffered horrific brutality at the hands of the Romans. He was then, like a common thief, nailed to the cross. According to the Bible, Jesus was beaten to such a degree that it was hard to tell that he was a man. After hours of suffering, Jesus died. All of this was on behalf of sinners (or the elect, if you are a Calvinist).  Knowing all that Jesus suffered, Christians should be satisfied with knowing their sins are forgiven and a home in Heaven awaits them when they die. The least the Christian can do is, in slave-like manner, devote themselves, without bitching and complaining, to the Kingdom of God on Earth. In other words, shut up, stop complaining, and be thankful for what Jesus has given you. Just remember, God owes you nothing.

Recently, Dieudonne Tamfu wrote a post titled Suffering is Our Story for The Desiring God website. In the opening paragraphs, Tamfu writes:

Suffering tends to produce loneliness. We feel lonely, isolated, sealed off, and detached from others. It is common for us to believe that no one understands our pain.

We can be deceived into thinking that God is distant and uncaring. While I do not wish to invalidate these emotions, I do want to extinguish the lie that the sufferer is ever alone. We are never alone in suffering because in it we join other saints in the pattern of righteous suffering that has been going on from the inception of salvation history.

Are you or other believers around you facing rejection for your faith? Do you feel lonely in your suffering? Does it seem that God is distant and has detached himself from your pain? Do you feel disappointment, bewilderment, or dismay? Are you sitting in darkness, searching for answers and grasping for hope?

Tamfu readily admits that there are times when God seems distant. There are those times when God seems uncaring, content to leave the Christian sitting alone in the dark, weeping. The good news, according to Tamfu, is that there are other Christians facing similar circumstances. Yea! You aren’t the only follower of Jesus who is writhing in pain as cancer robs you of your life!  Are you suffering? Are you alone? Do you feel abandoned? Do you feel like an orphan without a coat, left in a back alley to die on a cold winter’s night? Good news! There are millions of Christians going through similar circumstances. God has abandoned them just as he has abandoned you.

When Christians go through dark trials and adversity, those who are not currently being ignored by God are called on to cheer up those who find themselves under the boot heel of God. They are encouraged to take matters to the Lord in prayer. Seek and trust the Lord, Evangelical preachers tell the downtrodden. What is that God is trying to accomplish in your life? Remember, no matter what happens, God means it for your good. He promises to never, ever leave or forsake us. 

Those under physical, emotional, or economic assault are urged to submit to the “loving” hand of God. Perhaps God is teaching you a lesson, Evangelical preachers tell the afflicted. Or maybe he is testing you or punishing you for disobedience. Regardless, God only wants what is best for Christians. His goal is to make them more like Jesus and to prepare them for the peace and bliss that awaits on the other side of the grace. If God made life easy for Christians, preachers say, we would never appreciate Heaven and all that Jesus did for us on the cross.

Yet, despite all the flowery platitudes and blame-shifting, some Christians come to the conclusion that the reason God seems so distant is because he doesn’t exist. When help came in times of suffering, it was always their fellow humans who helped them. When prayers went unanswered, phone calls were always picked up. When bank accounts were empty and the cupboards were bare, it was family and friends who lent a helping hand. As these former Christians survey their lives, they conclude that wherever God might be, he is not on earth. At best, he is a deadbeat father who cares not for those who love and adore him. At worst, he is a cruel hoax, little more than a promise that is never fulfilled.

The reasons I left the Christian faith are many, but one of them is that I came to the conclusion that God is not intimately involved in the lives of those who devotedly serve and worship him, despite his promises. Over the course of 50 years in the Christian church, I had many so-called God experiences. After I deconverted, I went back through my life and gave a reckoning  of the times I thought God was blessing me, answering my prayer, or meeting my needs. A careful accounting of these events led me to conclude that the only God (s) in my life had a flesh and blood body. Human instrumentation, and not the mighty wonder-working power of God, was the reason my prayers were answered and my needs were met.

While there were certainly a handful of unexplained — dare I say miraculous — events, these moments in time were not enough to lead me to the conclusion that God is who and what Christians claim he is. While coming to this judgment is certainly not sufficient evidence to deny the existence of God, it is enough for me to conclude that the notion of a loving, caring, hands-on God who is intimately and minutely involved in the lives of those who worship Jesus is a myth.

I am unwilling to swear allegiance to a God who cares no more for me than does my cat. My cat demands constant attention, no matter what may be going on in my life. Yet, if I found myself crying out for help, I know for certain that my cat would waddle up to my leg, rub up against it, and with a voice I have heard countless times before, would say, feed me. This is how I view the Christian God.

[signoff]

Bodie Hodge: The Bible is From God Because it Says it Is

the bible says

Snark ahead. You have been duly warned!

Recently, Bodie Hodge, a writer for Answers in Genesis, decided to take a crab-fork stab at the question, Other Religious Writings: Can They Be from God, Too? According to Hodge, the son-in-law of Ken Ham, only the sixty-six books of Protestant Bible are from God. Hodge writes:

 Other alleged divine writings are not from God because they are not part of the Bible.

The answer seems too simple: other alleged divine writings are not from God because they are not among the 66 books of the Bible and, in fact, they contradict the Bible.

This is a “presuppositional” approach, which means to presuppose that God exists and that His Word, the Bible, is the truth. This is the starting point or axiom.

God never tried to prove His existence or prove that His Word is superior to other writings. God simply opens the Bible with a statement of His existence and says His Word is flawless (Genesis 1:1; Proverbs 30:5). The Bible bluntly claims to be the truth (Psalm 119:160), and Christ repeated this claim (John 17:17).

In fact, if God had tried to prove that He existed or that His Word was flawless, then any evidence or proof would be greater than God and His Word. But God knows that nothing is greater than His Word, and therefore He doesn’t stoop to our carnal desires for such proofs.

There ya have it, boys and girls. Only the 66 books of the Protestant Bible are from God. Why? Because the Bible says so. So there, take that you liberals! Hodge and his daddy-in-law Ham are presuppositionalists. They presuppose that the Christian God is the one true God and that the 66 books of Bible are this God’s words. No evidence is necessary. These truths are correct because Hodge and Ham, and by extension God, say they are.

According to Hodge, God will not contradict himself. Yes, sir he says that sober and with straight face. Here’s the quote:

In the Bible, we read that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). This is significant because it means that God’s Word will never have contradictions. Though skeptics have alleged that there are contradictions in the Bible, every such claim has been refuted. This is what we would expect if God’s Word were perfect.

Yet the world is filled with other “religious writings” that claim divine origin or that have been treated as equal to or higher than the Bible on matters of truth or guidelines for living. In other words, these writings are treated as a final authority over the Bible.

Any religious writing that claims divine inspiration or authority equal to the Bible can’t be from God if it has any contradictions: contradictions with the Bible, contradictions within itself, or contradictions with reality.

And around and around we go. These other religious writings cannot be from God because he only wrote one book, the Bible. And unlike Harper Lee of To Kill a Mockingbird fame, God is not planning to write a sequel.

At the end of article, Hodge proves “conclusively” that other religious writings such as the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon are not from God. How does he do this you ask? Why he compares these writings to the Protestant Bible and shows that they have different teachings and words. This is a ploy commonly used by people who think the King James Bible is God’s perfect Word for English-speaking people. Here’s how this works. Take Isaiah 7:14, a verse Evangelicals believe prophesies the virgin birth of Jesus. The King James version renders the verse this way:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

However, the New Revised Standard Version renders the verse this way:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

Oh Lord, the NRSV takes away the virgin birth, says the King James onlyist. This is PROOF that the NSRV is not from God.

Let me give one more example of this kind of thinking. Take Mark 16:9-20. You know the passage that says in verses 16-18:

 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

Some newer translations omit this passage or footnote it saying that verses 9-20 are not found in the oldest manuscripts. King James onlyists see this omission as proof that modern versions are removing God’s Words. If God didn’t want these verses in the Bible he would never have written them to start with. But he did, end of story.

What’s interesting here is that while King James onlyists believe Mark 16:9-20 is the very word of God, they pretty much ignore or explain away what the verses teach. Most King James onlyists are Baptists who believe that salvation is by grace. Baptism has no salvific effect. It is nothing more than a ceremonial act. Yet, this passage clearly says, He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. Now who is the one taking away from the Word of God? The same goes for the verses that say that the followers of Jesus will cast out devils, speak with new tongues, take up serpents, drink poison without adverse effect, and heal the sick. I don’t know of one King James onlyist church that takes these verses seriously and attempts to put them into practice. Hey Maude, pass the strychnine. It’s my turn to drink poison.

In a similar manner, Hodge thinks if he compares the teachings of Bible with the teachings of the Qur’an he will show that the Protestant Bible is from God and the Qur’an is not. I suspect readers are by now doing a face palm. It’s like a man comparing a Ford owner’s manual with a Chevrolet owner’s manual. Yep, only the Ford is an automobile. Why? The owner’s manuals are different. Of course they are different. One’s for a Ford and the other is for a Chevrolet. Both are automobiles.

So it is with religious texts. Difference is not proof of a text’s truthfulness. Perhaps the Book of Mormon is from God and not the Protestant Bible. It is impossible to know one way or the other just by playing the world-famous Hodge Religious Text Comparison Game®. And Hodge knows this. He concludes his survey of the astounding wonders of the closed Evangelical mind with this statement:

So there are two options: place our faith in the perfect, all-knowing God who has always been there, or trust in imperfect, fallible mankind and his philosophies. The Bible, God’s Holy Word, is superior to all other alleged holy books. God will never be wrong or contradict Himself. So start with the Bible and build your faith on its teachings so that you please Him.

Finally, Hodge gives the answer to every question about the Bible and its teachings: faith. Why not start with this answer? All Hodge had to say is that by faith he believes the Protestant Bible is from God. Faith cuts off any rational inquiry. Faith keeps Evangelicals from investigating Hodge’s false claim that there are no contradictions in the Bible. Hodge doesn’t want Answers in Genesis supporters to think for themselves. Just have faith, he says. How else can someone believe the universe is 6,020 years old? Such a belief, along with a plethora of other literalistic beliefs, require great faith. This is a faith that becomes blinders for the mind, keeping people from daring to rationally investigate the claims made by men such as Bodie Hodge.

Never will there be found in their possession one of Bart Ehrman’s books. Reading such books and comparing them to what the keepers of Evangelical Biblical Truth® say will certainly lead to questions and doubt. And we can’t have that. Doubt is a lack of trust in God. Doubt is sign that Satan is gaining a stronghold. We must not have questions and doubt, Evangelical preachers say. Just have faith and your doubts will go away. And if they don’t? Dammit, stop asking questions and believe what I tell you to believe!!

Note

If you are interested in reading what Hodge thinks about atheists, please read Dear Atheists, from Bodie Hodge. Please grab a barf bag and have it nearby when you start to read. Trust me, you will need it.

 

Mark and Jill Herringshaw: A Prayer Against Creeping Atheism 

sex before marriage
CAD Monkey Cartoons

Recently, Mark and Jill Herringshaw wrote a post for Beliefnet titled, A Prayer Against Creeping Atheism. In the post, the Herringshaws express concern over what they see as “allocating certain areas of our lives (our sexuality in particular) to an atheistic philosophy that says, God’s not really involved in this area of my life. I’ll do it because it feels right.

According to the Herringshaws, Psalm 10:4, 6, 11, 12b aptly describes the philosophy of atheists, pantheists, and Deists:

The wicked are too proud to seek God.They seem to think that God is dead. They think, “Nothing bad will ever happen to us! We will be free of trouble forever!”The wicked think, “God isn’t watching us! He has closed his eyes and won’t even see what we do!”They think, “God will never call us to account.”

From these verses, the Herringshaws extrapolate five points:

  • God is dead.
  • There are no standards of morality.
  • Nothing and no one is holding us accountable.
  • If there is a God, he is uninvolved in our lives.
  • Nothing is bad, so, we can do whatever we please.

Like most Evangelicals, the Herringshaws have no clue as to what atheists actually think about life. Is atheism, in the strictest sense, a philosophy? Of course not. Atheism is nothing more than the lack of belief in gods. Atheists don’t think the Christian God is dead. This God was never alive to start with. To find people who think God is dead, I suggest that the Herringshaws take a careful look at Evangelicalism. From my seat in the pew, it looks to me as though there are millions of Evangelicals who believe God is dead. Look at the way many Evangelicals live their lives, indifferent to the teachings of the Bible and the lost condition of the world. Most Evangelicals rarely study the Bible. Most Evangelicals never share their faith with non-Christians. Apart from where their buttocks rest on Sunday morning, Evangelicals are, in every way, just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.

Why are Evangelicals so worldly? Perhaps, they are the ones who think God is uninvolved in their lives. These world-loving Evangelicals are playing a religious version of Where is Waldo? Where is God? many Christians wonder. Their pastors and fellow church members bravely speak of a God who is intimately involved in their lives, but careful examination of their life histories tells a different story. Outside of helping Sister Bertha locate her car keys, God is nowhere to be found.

According to the Herringshaws, atheists have no standard of morality and believe that no behavior is bad. Again, it is evident that the Herringshaws don’t know much about how atheists live their day-to-day lives. Atheists, likes Evangelicals, have jobs, families, pets, cars, and homes. Our lives are quite similar to those of Evangelicals. Do the Herringshaws really think that atheists spend their days seeking out hedonistic pleasures, unaccountable to anyone but themselves? While I am sure there are atheists who live this way, most don’t.

Most of the atheists I know govern their lives based on humanistic morals and ethics. I wonder if the Herringshaws have ever read the Humanist Manifesto? If they have, they certainly wouldn’t have ignorantly suggested that atheists have no standard of morality. The Humanist Manifesto III states:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

This modern statement of morality and ethics is in every way superior to the ancient, outdated teachings of the Bible. This document, unlike the Bible, has been revised several times, and therein lies the real problem for the Herringshaws. They are stuck with a book that cannot be updated or revised. They are forced to defend the morals and ethics of a 2,000 year old religious text.

What is the one issue that most upsets the Herringshaws? Human sexuality (see quote in first paragraph).

According to the Herringshaws:

Many Christians are engaging in forms of pre-marital sex (with or without the literal act), conveniently assuming that the standard of righteous sexual behavior prior to marriage is ambiguous in Scripture. Ironically, they have a legalistic perspective on what the sex act is. (Depending on what the definition of “is” is?!) Well, Paul certainly hinted at it in Ephesians 5:3. Can you take a hint?

When one hints about something, there is an underlying, implied message. The New Testament isn’t dogmatic; it doesn’t necessarily list emphatic do’s and don’t’s per se. It simply instructs us to keep our consciences clear. So what does constitute sexual immorality in unmarried couples? Answer:  Whatever hints at sexual immortality. This would certainly include a lot of behaviors, particularly anything considered foreplay.

The reason for this is not to undermine our sexual fulfillment! Perish the thought! Great covenantal sex is one way in which Heaven is manifested on earth. It’s a tool to give great glory to God! It’s a weapon of spiritual warfare in our marriages, for it solidifies our marital unity.

In a post titled 50 Shades of Great, The Herringshaws remind Evangelicals that their sexuality belongs to the king of voyeurs, God:

Sex is God’s idea, and everything He created is good. We recognize the Bible as the authoritative manual for life, including sex. In this Manual, which is the Source of our existence, we find that there are boundaries around sex. These boundaries, like a safety rail, ensure that sex will be all God has designed it to be – abundant and joyful
….
Believers don’t take sex advice from best sellers nor from the media in general. We take our cues from our God who created sex in the first place (a trusting yet risky gift, as He knew how prone we would be to muck it up). And when we live by the Book, life is better, and sex is best.

It’s always been about sex. Evangelicals such as the Herringshaws are, like their God, voyeurs preoccupied with who is doing who, when, where, and how. What alarms the Herringshaws is the increasing number of Evangelicals who dare to keep God out of their sex lives. These whoopie-making Christians are increasingly ignoring the Puritanical morality they hear preached Sunday after Sunday from Evangelical pulpits. My God, these Evangelicals are having sex with whomever they please and they are having fun doing it. Can’t have that, right?

Again, is atheism to blame for the “immorality” that is spreading to every corner of the Evangelical church? Of course not. The blame rests on church leaders like the Herringshaws, who refuse to abandon the Bible’s antiquated, nonsensical teachings on sex. Times have changed. Evangelicals increasingly support same-sex marriage and fewer of them are waiting until marriage to have sex. Despite purity pledges and rings, Evangelical teenagers continue to engage in premarital sex. Like their atheist counterparts, Evangelicals increasingly know that sexual desire and intimacy are very much a part of what it means to be human. The Herringshaws need to understand that their battle against normal, healthy human sexual expression has been lost.

Abraham and Isaac: God Has a Right to Command You to Kill Your Child 

abraham sacrificing isaac

Recently, Petrus Klopper, a writer for the Isaiah 53:5 Project and Solid Rock Apologetics, attempted to answer the question, How Could God Command Abraham to Kill His Son? I say “attempted,” because Klopper miserably failed at his task, just as every other Christian apologist has failed when attempting to do the same. According to Klopper, God had every right to ask Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Notice that I used the word “sacrifice,” not “kill,” as Klopper did in his title. God, in no uncertain terms, asked Abraham to put his only son Isaac on an altar and sacrifice him. Someone is sure to ask, “don’t the words sacrifice and kill mean the same thing?” Yes and no, and I will demonstrate in a moment Klopper’s sleight of hand by using the word sacrifice.

For those not schooled in the mystical stories of the Christian Bible, here’s the text, Genesis 22:1-13, that tells the story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac:

And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

According to seventeenth century Baptist theologian John Gill, God commanded Abraham to:

… offer him (Isaac)  there for a burnt offering; this was dreadful work he was called to, and must be exceeding trying to him as a man, and much more as a parent, and a professor of the true religion, to commit such an action; for by this order he was to cut the throat of his son, then to rip him up, and cut up his quarters, and then to lay every piece in order upon the wood, and then burn all to ashes; and this he was to do as a religious action, with deliberation, seriousness, and devotion… (John Gill Commentary, E-Sword)

According to eighteenth century Anglican John Wesley, God wanted Abraham to not only kill his son, but also offer him as a burnt sacrifice. Wesley wrote:

…offer him (Isaac) for a burnt offering – He must not only kill his son, but kill him as a sacrifice, with all that sedateness and composedness of mind, with which he used to offer his burnt – offering. (John Wesley Commentary, E-Sword)

Eighteenth century theologian Matthew Henry, chiming in agreement with Gill and Wesley wrote:

 …offer him (Isaac) for a burnt-offering. He must not only kill his son, but kill him as a sacrifice, kill him devoutly, kill him by rule, kill him with all that pomp and ceremony, with all that sedateness and composure of mind, with which he used to offer his burnt-offerings. (Matthew Henry Commentary, E-Sword)

Nineteenth century Presbyterian theologian Albert Barnes called Abraham’s potential sacrifice of Isaac  a “human sacrifice.” Recognizing the moral issue raised by human sacrifice, Barnes writes:

The only solution of this, is what the ease itself actually presents; namely, the divine command. It is evident that the absolute Creator has by right entire control over his creatures. He is no doubt bound by his eternal rectitude to do no wrong to his moral creatures. But the creature in the present case has forfeited the life that was given, by sin. And, moreover, we cannot deny that the Almighty may, for a fit moral purpose, direct the sacrifice of a holy being, who should eventually receive a due recompense for such a degree of voluntary obedience. (Albert Barnes Commentary, E-Sword)

Based on the aforementioned references, we can conclude that God, as a test, commanded Abraham to take his only son Isaac to Mount Moriah, and kill him so he could be offered as a human burnt sacrifice to God.

Klopper makes clear in his post that there are three things God is NOT doing in this story:

  • God was not tempting Abraham
  • God was not instituting or condoning child sacrifice
  • God was not telling Abraham to do wrong

Christian apologists like Klopper will go to great lengths to justify God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. Klopper used the word kill in the post title because he doesn’t want readers to confuse what God is asking Abraham to do with human sacrifice. However, it is clear from the text that a human sacrifice of Isaac is EXACTLY what God is asking Abraham to do.

Is Isaac human? Yes. Does Abraham build an altar to be used for sacrifices? Yes? Did Abraham place Isaac on the altar, preparing to offering him as a human sacrifice to God? Yes. Does Abraham implicitly obey God’s command to sacrifice his son? Yes. Then, pray tell, how is what God commands Abraham to do NOT child sacrifice? Any fair and honest reading of the text shows that God clearly intended for Abraham to kill (murder) his son as a flesh and blood sacrifice.

Similar stories can be found in other tribal cultures, and Evangelicals are quick to label these stories as murderous and barbaric. Evidently, according to Evangelicals, there is some sort of difference between stories of human/child sacrifices to false Gods, and the God/Abraham/Isaac story. Try as I might, I can’t find the difference.

Klopper, perhaps realizing that his, this is not child sacrifice argument is intellectually vacuous and lame, goes on to say that God is not commanding Abraham to do wrong. Really? In what universe is child/human sacrifice not wrong? Every civilized society in the world condemns child/human sacrifice. Even atheists consider such murderous actions wrong. Yet, somehow, according to Klopper, God asking Abraham to slice, dice, and sauté his son is not, in any way, wrong.

Klopper makes one final argument which, according to his Fundamentalist-infused mind, should silence every critic. It is the one argument, next to faith, that Christians will turn to when no other argument will work: God is God and he has a right to do/command whatever he wants to. Klopper states his argument this way:

God has the right to take human life and could therefore authorize Abraham to do so in a particular case. Note that had Abraham decided of his own accord to sacrifice Isaac, he would have been wrong and his act would have been condemned by God (as were other human-initiated sacrifices).

According to Exodus 20, murder is a sin. Thou shalt not kill, right? But, according to Klopper, if God authorizes (commands) someone to commit a murder (human sacrifice) then it is okay. Hmm, so then, Christians who have, in the past, said that God commanded them to kill their children or spouse, these murderous behaviors are okay, right? I’m sure that Klopper will object to my line of inquiry, but is this not exactly what he is saying? Or is he making a distinction between murderous stories in the Bible and those found on page one of the newspaper? Evidently, if a God-sanctioned murder is recorded by an unknown author in a so-called divine religious text, that makes the slaying moral. However, if a devout twenty-first century Christian — a person we can see and talk to — says and does the same, it is not a God-approved murder. This makes “perfect” sense to me.

human sacrifice
Comic by Scott Maynard

Surely we can all agree that a God, ANY God, commanding someone to commit murder is wrong. It matters not whether it is Abraham or Victoria Soliz, a woman who tried to drown her 3-year-old son in a puddle because Jesus told her to do so.  While Evangelicals will attempt to make a distinction between God speaking to Abraham and God speaking to someone like Soliz, there is no difference between the two. Both are hearing voices in their heads that are telling them to murder their children. And hearing voices in one’s head commanding immoral, unethical, or dangerous acts is always a sure sign of mental distress or illness. Despite knowing this, Klopper is determined to present Abraham as a great man of faith who was willing to do whatever God commanded him to do.

It is too bad that Klopper is boxed in by his belief that the Bible is an inspired, inerrant text. Such a belief requires Klopper to accept the Abraham/Isaac/human-sacrifice story as factual history. While Klopper does make numerous spiritual applications from the Genesis 22 text in his post, he is hamstrung by the requirement to accept the text as history. Jews, on the other hand, treat this text as an allegory or a metaphor. They understand, along with everyone else except Evangelicals, that no one in his or her right mind should accept Abraham sacrificing Isaac as literal truth.

And here’s the thing, IF Abraham had actually murdered Isaac, twenty-first century Evangelical preachers would be preaching sermons about Abraham’s great faith and his willingness to explicitly obey God, even if it meant murdering his own son. Praise Jesus!! (And how is this any different from the Muslim who believes God is commanding him to kill in Allah’s name?)

Notes

Any God who demands his followers to murder as a test of obedience is not a deity worthy of our worship.

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent News Concerning Recent Spate of Letters from Creationists

letter to the editor

What follows is a letter I submitted today to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News. It should be published in a few days. I encourage readers to read a letter to the editor I wrote in 1999 about the same the subject. You will quickly see that my viewpoint has changed a wee bit over the past 17 years.

Dear Editor:

If I didn’t know any better, based on recent letters to the editor and church advertisements touting young-earth creationism, I would think that we are living in the 1920s — the era of the great creationist versus evolution debate.

We are almost 100 years removed from the Scopes monkey trial, yet Christian fundamentalists are still trying to hoodwink unwitting people into believing creationism is a scientific theory. Not only do they want the scientifically ignorant to believe that creationism is a scientific theory, Fundamentalists also want them to believe that it is the only explanation for the biological world.

Readers of the Crescent-News need to understand exactly what Christian fundamentalists are saying. According to them, the universe was created by the Christian God 6,020 years ago, in six 24-hour days. They also want you to believe that 2,000 years later God, in a genocidal rampage, killed every living thing with a flood, save Noah, his family, and two of every animal.

While these stories make for wonderful bedtime readings to children, they have no business being taught, outside of a comparative religion class, in the public school classroom. Creationism, along with its gussied-up sister intelligent design, is religious dogma, not biological science. I am of the opinion that any public school teacher found to be teaching creationism should immediately be removed from the classroom. We owe it to our children to make sure that they are taught sound scientific principles. God did it, is not such a principle.

I am sure my letter will bring howls and gnashing teeth from local Christian fundamentalists. They will, as they always do, cut and paste supposed rebuttals of evolution from bastions of ignorance like Answers in Genesis or The Institute of Creation Research. What they will fail to produce is peer-reviewed studies supporting their creationist claims. If creationists want to overthrow evolution, then I suggest they start publishing papers in non-Evangelical science journals. When the weight of the arguments become so overwhelming that they cannot be ignored, I have no doubt that scientists will declare creationism the winner.

This will never happen, of course, because creationism is theological in nature, not sound biological science. If people want to believe that a mythical God created the universe 6,020 years ago, fine. Ignorance is a permitted vice in a free society. But we should insist that public school children be taught science, and not long-discredited religious myths.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

1999 Letter to the Editor of the Bryan Times by Bruce Gerencser: Evolution Incompatible with Christianity

adam or ape creationism

Published on March 18, 1999. At the time, I was pastor of Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. This is a good example of how I used to think about life, God, the Bible, sin,  and culture. I encourage readers to read a letter to the editor I wrote January 19, 2016 about the same the subject. You will quickly see that my viewpoint has changed a wee bit over the past 17 years.

Bryan Times:

I am writing in response to the recent editorial that suggested evolution is not being taught in public schools because teachers fear right-wing religious zealots. The zealots are portrayed as being anti-science and intellectually stunted. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Evolution is a theory. Even the writer of the editorial admits such. Yet, just a few paragraphs later, he advocates teaching the theory as fact. He then states that man cannot understand biology without evolution.

What arrogant presumption and distortion of truth. Evolution is a theory of “how” things came into existence. It is, at its root, a faith religion that suggests a random existence apart from a divine being. Evolution demands that there is no God, no creator, and that man is nothing more than the most evolved of creatures. Man becomes nothing more than an animal that has evolved to a more mature state than that of other animals.

Evolution is incompatible with Christianity. Christianity begins with the premise that God is, and whatever God says is true. The Bible is God’s revelation to man, and he reveals in the first three chapters of Genesis how this world came into existence. To deny the biblical record is to deny God and his revelation, and the result is eternal damnation. Christians fear being viewed as ignorant if they deny the teachings of evolution. They become just like the schoolteachers who fear the religious zealots. If God is who he says he is, and he meant what he said in the Scriptures, then let us not fear, but instead declare boldly “Thus saith the Lord.”

Bruce Gerencser, Pastor
West Unity, Ohio

I Don’t Want to Die

dead is dead
Graphic by David Hayward

I don’t want to die and neither do you.

Another family member died. He was 50 and suffered greatly for over 20 years.

Maybe death was a release for him, I don’t know. The preacher at his funeral said it was. All I know for sure is that he is dead and he ain’t coming back.

People say his suffering is over. They speak of him being in a better place.

He can’t speak for himself on these matters. He is dead.

Maybe he would be willing to suffer as long as that meant he could live another day.

Maybe he would choose this life, the only reality he has ever known, over a promised, never-seen, life in a better place.

All of us seem to think that we know what the dead would have wanted.

Have you ever thought about what it means to be dead?

I have.

Perhaps I am a bit morbid, too introspective for my own good.

I have had those moments in the still of the night, moments when I think of being alive one moment and dead the next.

The reality of non-existence.

In a split second, going from a living, conscious, thinking human to nothing.

I am a glass half-empty kind of person, a pessimist and a realist at heart,

Instead of focusing on all my relatives and acquaintances who have lived 70, 80 or 90 years, I focus on those who haven’t.

Dad was 47 when he died, Mom was 54.

I had several cousins who died in their early 50s.

One of my uncles, in his 30s, was murdered.

My sister-in-law died in a 2005 Memorial Day motorcycle accident, She was 43.

My best friend’s sister, a girl I went to school with in the 1960s, died in her early 50s.

I could go on and on…

These deaths are poignant reminders of my own mortality.

Even if I live to age 70, I have 11 years of life left, just short of the amount of time we have lived in our present home.

I don’t think I will live that long. Maybe I will. I certainly hope so, but my body tells me not a chance.

Despite the pain and increasing loss of mobility and cognitive function, I still want to live.

Maybe there will come a day when I won’t want to live any longer. Maybe not.

Today? I want to be counted among the living.

The truth is this: I fear death.

Death is the one experience that no human, including Jesus, has ever come back from to tell its story.

I fear the darkness and finality that death brings.

Fearing death is quite normal.

Who wants to trade a living existence for the emptiness of the grave?

Someone is sure to say, I hate my life, I wish I were dead.

Fine, kill yourself.

I thought so…

Yes, life can suck, life can be unbearable, and life can bring agony and suffering at every turn.

Yet, we still want to live.

Religion exists for the purpose of calming our fear of death.

Forget all the doctrines, religion is the antidote for the frightening reality of death.

Evangelicals Christians love to talk of being ready to die. Take me Lord Jesus when it is my time to go, they piously say.

They speak with big theological words about not fearing death because of Jesus who conquered death for them.

They speaking of their readiness to die for their faith if called on to do so.

Yet, few Christians seem to be in a hurry to die.

Christian want to live just as everyone else does. Don’t listen to their words. Watch how they live.

I find no comfort in religion, nor do I find any solace in thoughts of returning to the collective universal consciousness when I die.

All I know for sure is that dead is dead and I am not ready to become an urn of ashes scattered along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

As the Petra (a Christian rock group) song says, I want to live until I die.

No Books Needed: I Just Read the Bible

john ruskin bible

One Sunday 15 years ago, several young families walked into the door of the church just before the start of the evening service. We rarely had visitors on Sunday evening, so their attendance was rather a surprise. After the service was over, I engaged one of the visitors, a young husband, in a bit of get-to-know-you banter. The man had little interest in chit-chat, immediately asking me several pointed theological questions. I did my best to answer the man’s questions, but I could tell that he didn’t approve of my answers.

Always the polite pastor, I told the disapproving man that I had a book that might prove helpful in answering his questions. The man curtly replied, I am not interested in reading a book. I just read the Bible and that is all I need. And with that, he said good night and his family walked out the door never to return.

Sadly, this kind of thinking is quite common in Evangelical churches, even among pastors. I know of one pastor who is proud of the fact that his study library consists of only a handful of books.  In his mind, without any proper theological training, he is quite capable of properly interpreting the Bible. This pastor believes God, through the inner workings of the third part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, teaches him everything he needs to know. In other words, he is an Evangelical version of the Pope. God speaks to him directly as he reads and studies the Bible. However, when church members profess the same, and those members’ interpretations of the Bible differ with his, why they are deemed to be wrong. If it is the Holy Spirit who teaches and guides Evangelicals, wouldn’t he be teaching each Christian the same thing? Yet, Evangelical churches are awash in competing theological beliefs, with each adherent believing that his interpretations is are right ones.

Years ago, I attended a preacher’s meeting (a gathering of pastors for fellowship and to hear preaching) in Lancaster, Ohio. One of the speakers, a rather obese man, even by fat man Bruce Gerencser standards, fashioned himself to be what he called a “Biblical” preacher. His sermon had no form or structure. He would read a verse, stop, and then say what God was “leading” him to say. As with the two previous illustrations, this preacher thought his personal interpretations of the Bible were the equivalent of God’s.

Many Evangelical pastors love to hide behind flowery theological sayings which are meant to convey the thought that their sermons are  straight from God’s Office of Sermon Distribution. The truth is, their sermons are just their opinion of what the Bible says. That they refuse to read any others books but the Bible (and often read only one translation of the Bible) actually increases the likelihood that their interpretation is errant. These Bible-only people have, in effect, turned themselves into the final authorities on what God has said.

If I were still a Christian and looking for a church to attend, the first thing I would do is take a look at the pastor’s library. You can tell a lot about a man by the books he reads. If looking at a pastor’s library reveals a paucity of commentaries and language aids, you can be sure that man is not fit to teach others a religious text that is, by all accounts, a complex, difficult text to interpret and understand. Only in Evangelicalism is ignorance praised as a virtue. This thinking will, in the end, prove to be the death of Evangelicalism.

A Few Thoughts About Mental Illness and Depression

bruce and mom 1957
Bruce and his mom, July 1957

Originally written 2011, edited, corrected.

At the age of 54, my mother turned a .357 magnum Ruger revolver toward her chest and pulled the trigger. The bullet tore a hole in her heart and in a few moments she was dead. Mom had tried to kill herself many times before. This time she succeeded (please see the post Barbara).

When I was 11, Dad had to call for an emergency squad because Mom had taken several bottles of prescription drugs. They rushed her to the hospital and pumped her stomach, and she survived to die another day. Later in the year, Mom and the neighbor lady were in a serious automobile accident in Lima. I say accident, because it is possible that Mom pulled into the other lane of traffic, allowing the truck to hit them.

Mom made a third attempt on her life that same year. I came home from school and found Mom lying unconscious on the floor with blood pooling around her body. She had slit her wrists. Yet again, the emergency squad came, and her life was saved.

As best I can tell, Mom had mental problems her entire life. She was bright, witty, and well-read, but Mom could, in a split second, lapse into angry, incoherent tirades. Twice she was involuntarily committed to the Toledo State Mental Hospital, undergoing shock therapy numerous times. None of the treatments or drugs worked.

In the early 1960s my parents found Jesus. Jesus, according to the Bible, healed the mentally ill, but, for whatever reason, he didn’t heal Mom. The mental health crises I have shared in this post, and others that I haven’t shared, all occurred after Mom put her faith and trust in the loving Jesus who supposedly had a wonderful plan for her life. Mom died believing Jesus was her Savior. To this day, I lament the fact that I didn’t do more to help her. Sadly, I saw her mental illness as an inconvenience and an embarrassment. If she just got right with God, I thought at the time, all would be well. If she would just kick her drug habit, I told her, God would be there to help her. What she really needed was for her eldest son to pick her up, hold her close, and love her. I will go to my grave wishing I had been a better son, that I had loved Mom and my family more than I loved Jesus and the church.

findlay ohio 1971-1974
Mom, Bruce, and friend, Findlay, Ohio, summer 1971

Mom was quite talented. She played the piano and loved to do ceramics. Her real passion was reading, a habit she happily passed on to me. (Mom taught me to read.) She was active in politics. She was a member of the John Birch Society, and actively campaigned, first for Barry Goldwater, and later for George Wallace.

My parents divorced when I was 14. Not long after the divorce, Mom married her first cousin, a recent parolee from a Texas prison (he was serving time for armed robbery). He later died of a drug overdose. Mom would marry two more times before she died. She was quite passionate about anything she fixed her mind upon, a trait that I, for good or ill, share with her. In the early 1970s, Mom was an aide at Winebrenner Nursing Home in Findlay, Ohio. Winebrenner paid men more than they paid women for the same work. Mom, ever the crusader, sued Winebrenner under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act. The Federal Court decided in her favor.

We moved quite often, and I have no doubt this contributed greatly to Mom’s mental illness. She never knew what it was to have a place to call home. Our family lived in one rental after another, never stopping long enough to buy a home. I lived in 16 different houses by the time I left for college at the age of 19.

I have always wondered if my parents were ever happily married. Mom and Dad were married by an Indiana Justice of the Peace in November 1956. At the time of their marriage, Mom was 18 and pregnant. I learned later in life that it is doubtful that Dad was actually my biological father. There is more to the story of who might be my father, but I have never, for his sake, publicly told the story. Dad meant well, but the instability of their marriage, coupled with us moving all the time, caused my siblings and me great harm. Dad thought moving was a great experience. Little did he know that I hated him for moving us around. New schools (seven different school districts). New friends. Never having a place to call home. No child should have to live this way.

From time I was five until I was 14, my parents were faithful members of a Baptist church in whatever community we lived in. The Gerencser family attended church every time the doors were open (I have attended over 8,000 church services in my lifetime). Mom would play the piano from time to time, though she found it quite stressful to do so. One time, much to my embarrassment, she had a mental meltdown in front of the whole church. She never played again. For a time, Dad was a deacon, but he stopped being one because he couldn’t kick his smoking habit. I suspect the real reason was that he was having an affair.

No matter where we lived or what church we went to, one thing was certain, Mom was mentally ill and everyone pretended her illness didn’t exist. Evangelical churches such as the ones we attended had plenty of members who suffered with various mental maladies. For the most part, those who were sick in the head were ignored or marginalized.

Two decades ago, I co-pastored a Sovereign Grace Baptist church in San Antonio, Texas. (See the I am a Publican and a Heathen series.) One day we were at a church fellowship and my wife came around the corner just in time to hear one of the esteemed ladies of the church say to her daughter, you stay away from that girl, she is mentally retarded. “That girl” was our 5-year-old Down Syndrome daughter. This outstanding church member’s words pretty well sum up how many churches treat those with mental handicaps or illness. STAY AWAY from them!

Many Christians think mental illness is a sign of demonic oppression or possession. No need for doctors, drugs, or hospitals. Just come to Jesus, the great physician, and he will heal you. After all, the Bible does say in 2 Timothy 1:7: For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. If someone is mentally unsound, it’s the person’s fault, not God’s. Get right with God and all will be well.

I have suffered with depression for most of my adult life. I am on the mountaintop one moment and in the valley the next. Plagued with a Type A personality, and being a consummate workaholic, I am often driven to despair. Work, Work, Work. Go, Go, Go. Do, Do, Do. I have no doubt that the way I lived my life as a Christian contributed to the health problems that now plague me. While I was busy burning the candle at both ends for Jesus, my body was screaming STOP! But I didn’t listen. I had no time for family, rest, or pleasure. Work for the night is coming, the Bible says. Better to burn out for Jesus than rust out, I told myself. And now, thanks to living this way for much of my adult life, I am a rusting 1957 Chevrolet, sitting on blocks, awaiting the day when the junkyard comes to tow me away.

For many years, I hid my depression from the outside world. While Polly and my children witnessed depression’s effect on husband and father, church members never had a clue. I have often wondered how parishioners might have responded had I told them the truth. I suspect some church members would have seen me as a fellow depressive, but others would likely have questioned whether I was “fit” to be a pastor.

In 2008, a few months before I deconverted, I told a pastor friend that I was really depressed. Instead of lending me a helping hand or encouraging me, he rebuked me for giving in to the attack of Satan. He told me I needed to confess my sin and get the victory over it immediately. A lot of Christians think just like this (former) pastor friend of mine.  Depression is a sign of weakness, and God only wants warriors and winners.

barbara gerencser 1956
Barbara Gerencser, 1956

Going to see a counselor was the single most important thing I have done in the last ten years. It took me leaving the ministry and departing from Christianity before I was willing to find someone to talk to. Several times, while I was still a Christian, I made appointments with counselors only to cancel them at the last minute. I feared that someone would see me going into the counselor’s office or they would drive by and see my car in the parking lot. I thought, My God, I am a pastor. I am supposed to have my life together.

Indeed, it took me leaving the church, the pastorate, and God to find any semblance of mental peace. I have no doubt some readers will object to the connection I make between religion and mental wellness, but for me, there was indeed a direct correlation between the two.

I still battle with depression, but with regular counseling and a slower pace of life I am confident that I can live a meaningful, somewhat peaceful life. As many of you know, I have chronic, unrelenting pain. I have not had a pain-free day in 15 years (my days are counted as less pain, normal pain, more pain, and off the fucking charts pain). The constant pain and debility certainly fuels my depression. My counselor says he would be surprised if I wasn’t depressed from time to time.  Embracing my depression and coming to grips with the pain and debility is absolutely essential to my mental well-being. This is my life. I am who I am. I accept this, and I do what I can to be a loving, kind, and productive human being.

To my Christian readers I say this: sitting near you in church this coming Sunday will be people who are suffering with mental illness. Maybe they are depressed. They hide it because they think they have to. Jesus only wants winners, remember? Pay attention to other people. The signs are there. Listen to those who you claim are your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Embrace them in the midst of their weakness and psychosis. While I don’t think a mythical God is going to heal them, I do think that loving, understanding friends can be just the salvation the mentally ill need.

It is not easy being around those who are mentally ill. Let’s face it, depressed people are not fun to be with. We are not the life of the party. When I am in the midst of mental and emotional darkness, I am not the kind of person most people want to be around. I become withdrawn, cynical, and dark. These attributes, coupled with the physical pain I endure, can, at times, make me unbearable to be around. It is at these moments when I need the help of others. Sadly, most people, including my family and friends, tend to pull away from me when I need them the most. I understand why they do so, but the loneliest place on earth is sitting alone in the darkness of night wishing you were dead.

How do you respond to people who are mentally ill? How do you respond to those who are depressed?  Perhaps you suffer with mental illness or depression. Do you hide it? How are you treated by others? If you are a Christian, how are you treated by your church and pastor? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Note

This post is not a cry for help. This is just me talking out loud with my friends.

Songs of Sacrilege: Save it for a Sunday by Jessica McYorker

This is the seventy-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 Save it for a Sunday by Jessica McYorker.

Video Link

Lyrics

bop pa di da pa di da da da da da…
you don’t fool me
and you know it
what makes me nervous is you sound so sure
there you go again
i swear it never ends
it’s starting to feel like i’m not even in this room
with youuuu with yooouuuu oohh
oh di dum di dum dum (ooh) di dum dim dum dum doo dum di dum oohhooh
i’m not saying
i won’t listen
it’s just that i don’t seem to get through
i won’t ask you
to take me seriously
as long as i don’t have to believe you
hope you buy half of all the things you say
but for now please save it for a sunday
ba di dum pum da dum di dum

Evangelical Deception: Fake Conversations so They Can Win You to Jesus

 

sharing jesus

Evangelical preachers are a lot like Mary Kay consultants.

Rosa is a Mary Kay consultant. Thanks to showing her family, friends, neighbors, and fellow church members the Mary Kay way of salvation, Rosa has made lots of money and proudly drives a special Mary Kay pink Cadillac.

Now that Rosa has won everyone she knows over to the one true cosmetic faith, she has decided to take her wrinkle-saving show on the road. According to the Mary Kay home office (also known as Heaven), Rosa is the first consultant to go out into the highways and byways and compel strangers to put their faith in May Kay cosmetics. What follows is a transcript of one of Rosa’s sales calls.

Rosa parks her pink Cadillac several blocks away, not wanting to give away the fact that a Mary Kay evangelizer is in town. Smartly-dressed, Rosa gets out of her car and walks to a park she noticed while she was casing the neighborhood. Rosa saw lots of young women that she was sure would accept Mary Kay as their facial savior. All she had to do was tell them the good news of Mary Kay.

As Rosa enters the park she notices a woman sitting by herself near the swing sets.

Rosa: Hi! How ya doing today?

Woman: Uh…Hi. I’m fine.

Rosa: Beautiful day, isn’t it?

Woman: Yes, it is.

Rosa: Do you mind if I sit with you for a bit?

Woman: Uh…sure.

Rosa: My name is Rosa. What is yours?

Woman: Uh…Barb.

Rosa: Really? Why, my grandmother’s name was Barb. Isn’t that a coincidence?

Barb says nothing

Rosa: Anyway, are you married? Do you have children?

At this point Barb is wondering whether Rosa is a lesbian trolling for a date or a serial killer.

Barb: I’m married, but I don’t have any children.

Rosa: Well, I’ve been married for 40 years and I have two wonderful children and five grandchildren. I just know that you too will some day have children.

Barb is thinking, no I won’t bitch. I had a hysterectomy last year.

Barb, taught by her mother to be polite, smiles and says nothing.

Rosa: You seem like a nice person, Barb. I am really glad that we could meet. I really should be going, but I would like to share something with you before I go. Is that okay?

Before Barb can say a word…

Rosa: Barb, I notice that you wear makeup. Where do you buy your makeup?

Barb: Walmart or Dollar General.

Rosa: I see. Well…those are okay places to buy makeup, but I know of a company that sells the best beauty products. And once women use this makeup, why they never go back to using their old stuff. Would you like me to share with you how you can know for certain that you are wearing the best makeup?

Before Barb can say a word…

Rosa: Let me tell you about Mary Kay, the face savior of the World.

The above sales technique, befriending people so they will let down their guard, is often used by Evangelicals to evangelize those they deem unsaved. Never forget that Evangelicals who use this technique really don’t want to be your friend. Their goal is to get you to buy their product: salvation.

And if you do buy salvation? Just remember that there is no warranty on the product unless you each week go to the warranty validation office: the church. If you get your salvation warranty validated weekly, you will certainly have a lot of friends: fellow salvation purchasers. However, if your salvation ever becomes defective and you decide to try another product, you will quickly find that all the friends you thought you had were just your friends because you had the same kind of salvation as they did.