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Tag: Existence of God

Short Stories: The Night I Stuffed an Atheist in a Trash Can

polly bruce gerencser cranbrook gardens bloomfield hills michigan 1978
Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Cranbrook Gardens, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Spring 1978, two months before wedding.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — from 1976-1979. Midwestern was an affordable, unaccredited training school for preachers (and prospective preacher’s wives). The school advertised itself as a “character-building factory.” Because Midwestern was an unaccredited college, there was no federal/state aid/grants available for students. Either your parents paid for your school (such people were called “mama called, daddy sent) or you worked. I worked.

I worked a lot of different jobs while at Midwestern, mainly factory and grocery store jobs. One of my favorite places to work was Felice’s Market, just off of Telegraph Road. I primarily worked in the dairy department. Sometimes I would also work in the produce department. I typically worked evenings and some Saturdays.

The Felice brothers treated me well. One of the brothers helped me buy a car, and when I married Polly in 1978, they gave us a $200 wedding gift. Knowing that I needed money for setting up our apartment, the brothers also hired me to tar and seal the store’s roof. Boy, was that a mess –not a job I ever wanted to do again.

Even though I was a flaming, outspoken Fundamentalist Baptist preacher, I got along with the owners, my boss, and fellow employees. That is, except for one persnickety atheist high school student who worked evenings in the frozen food department. He and I would go back and forth about God and the Bible. One night, we got into a heated discussion about creationism and the existence of God. I had no answers for his challenges, except to quote the Bible and assert “Thus Saith the Lord!”

For some reason, on this night, this scrawny, mouthy atheist got under my skin. Granted, I was quite temperamental, but I really let this atheist get to me. After being unable to answer the age-old question, “where did God come from?” I had enough and decided to put an end to the atheist’s disrespect of the one true God. It was nearing closing time, and the atheist was gathering up trash in a large trash can. As he came near me, running his godless mouth, I latched ahold of him, picked him up, and stuffed him ass first into the trash can. Point made. And with that, I walked off, leaving his rescue to someone else. My fellow employees thought what I did was hilarious. However, my boss, the next day, did not.

The atheist and I never talked about God or the Bible again. I think he was genuinely afraid of me. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Personal Testimony: I Know God is Real Because He Saved My Soul

argument from popularity

I recently listened to a debate between atheist Tom Jump and a Christian woman named Sybil. By all accounts, the debate was a train wreck. Jump is a low-key, levelheaded debater, but after an hour of Sybil trying to make the same point over and over and over again, I wondered if he was ready to start banging his head on the wall. No matter how many times Jump addressed her point, Sybil returned to claim that Christianity is real because many people believe in Jesus. Because 2.3 billion people profess to be Christians, that means Christianity is true. Sybil reiterated ad nauseam that countless Christians have personal testimonies of faith in Jesus, so Christianity can’t be false. Jump tried and failed to get Sybil to see that personal testimony is not the evidence for God, particularly the Christian God. Countless people say they have seen Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, and have been abducted by aliens, yet we have no evidence that their claims are true. So it is with the existence of God.

The debate is one hour and eleven minutes long.

Video Link

I want to focus on the notion that personal testimony is sufficient evidence for the existence of God — either singular or cumulative.

For those of us who attended Evangelical Baptist/charismatic churches, we know a lot about personal testimonies. Salvation stories were shared from the pulpit, in Sunday school classes, and during testimony times during church services. Testimonies are supposed to a way for believers to give praise and glory to God/Jesus. However, having listened to hundreds and hundreds of testimonies over the fifty years I spent in the Christian church, I can tell you that many testimonies are all about the sinner, not the Savior. What I call “bad sinner” testimonies always get the most attention. In the 1970s and 1980s, Jerry Falwell had countless bad sinners give their testimonies on his TV program, the Old-Time Gospel Hour. At the time, I was mesmerized by these testimonies. However, they have not aged well. We now know many of the bad sinner testimonies were not true. Mike Warnke, for example, claimed to be a Satanic high priest before Jesus saved him. In 1992, Cornerstone Magazine debunked Warnke’s claims. The previous year, Cornerstone trashed the Satanist claims of Lauren Stratford (Laurel Rose Willson), the author of Satan’s Underground.

Wikipedia states:

As Stratford, Willson wrote three books, the most famous of which was Satan’s Underground, purporting to tell a true story of her upbringing as a baby breeder (for sacrifices) in a satanic cult. Willson had also claimed to have first-hand knowledge of high-profile cases of alleged Satanic ritual abuse (including the child abuse cases in Kern County, where she resided), but her claims were dismissed by investigators as unreliable and fabricated.

An investigation by Bob and Gretchen Passantino and Jon Trott in the Christian magazine Cornerstone discovered Stratford’s real name and family background, and that her stories of abuse were false. In interviews with Willson’s family and former associates, it was revealed that Willson had a long history of mental illness and making false allegations of abuse. She repeatedly threatened suicide and practiced self-mutilation. She attracted the attention and sympathy of evangelical author Johanna Michaelsen, one of the most influential promoters of the Satanic moral panic of the period. While living with Michaelsen, Willson claimed to have given birth to three children as a result of rape; two were allegedly killed in snuff films, and the third was supposedly sacrificed in her presence at a Satanic ritual. However, Cornerstone found no evidence that she had ever been pregnant or adopted a child.

She was also briefly involved in the McMartin preschool trial, claiming to have witnessed the abuses and to have been involved in an ongoing lesbian relationship with Virginia McMartin.

Johanna Michaelsen was another Evangelical who built quite a reputation on the testimony circuit.

Rational Wiki has this to say about Michaelsen, the author of The Beautiful Side of Evil and Like Lambs to the Slaughter:

Johanna Michaelsen is a fundie writer and self-proclaimed “authority on the occult” who promoted the Satanic Panic in the 1980s-90s.

….

During the 1970s, Michaelsen claimed to have worked with a psychic surgeon, Pachita, who claimed to do lung transplants, remove impossible tumours and the like, despite considerable evidence that the psychic healer named “Pachita” was far less than claimed. After visiting a Christian centre in Switzerland, she would be convinced that her occult experiences were not from Jesus but Satan. This led to her conversion to Christian fundamentalist.

Michaelsen’s story of her “occult” experiences shot her into fundie superstardom and she became a beacon for other forms of wingnuttery, like the promoting of Lauren Stratford‘s fraudulent Satanic ritual abuse screeds. Michaelsen was one of the biggest defenders of Stratford and supposedly took Stratford into her home for months. She was also a champion of Mike Warnke, author of another fraudulent memoir of his life as a Satanist.

Michaelsen was also instrumental in telling Christian parents the evils of cartoons like He-Man and She-Ra, as well as Dungeons & Dragons. It even turns out that she was Hal Lindsey‘s sister-in-law, until he left Johanna’s sister for a Bible study student.

Although completely discredited, Michaelsen has her own ministry and rants about “demonic spirits,” the evils of the German rock band Rammstein and Halloween.

Despite not making major mentions of Warnke or Stratford in public, it still seems that after all these years Michaelsen believes that Satanic Ritual Abuse is real.

As an Evangelical Christian and pastor, I heard testimonies from believers who said they were mob hitmen, murderers, bank robbers, sex traffickers, perverts, Satanists, renowned sports stars, or atheists before Jesus magically saved them. Over time, I became quite cynical over such testimonies, and today I largely believe that these stories are fabrications or admixtures or truths and lies. Preachers, in particular, are notorious for massaging their testimonies. As David Foster Wallace said (and I paraphrase), don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.

In 2018, I wrote a post titled Testimony Time: The Blue Light Special at Somerset Baptist Church:

Older readers might remember shopping at the stores of discount retailer Kmart and seeing what was commonly called a “blue light special.” Blue light specials were sudden discounts offered to shoppers during their shopping experience at Kmart. A store employee would roll a cart with a police-like blue light attached to a pole near the aisle where the sudden discount was going to be offered. At the customer service desk, another employee would announce to shoppers, for example, “ATTENTION KMART SHOPPERS! There’s a blue light special going on right now on GE light bulbs in aisle three!” The employee in charge of the blue light would switch it on. and with its flashing/rotating light, the blue light would guide customers to their exciting just-for-them discount on light bulbs. Woo-hoo!

….

For eleven years in the 1980s and 1990s, I pastored the Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio.

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The church also attracted more than a few people who had — in my Baptist eyes, anyway — screwy beliefs. One such person was the mother of a woman who was a member of the church (along with her husband and two children). I had visited this woman and her husband several times at their home, hoping that they would join their daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren in worshiping Jesus at the “fastest growing church in Perry County” — as the church’s sign said, anyway. I knew the woman had some charismatic tendencies, but I thought I could preach all that nonsense right out of her if she would only give me the opportunity to do so.

….

As was our custom for many years, the church has a testimony time on Sunday evenings. This was time allotted for church members and visitors to stand up and share with everyone in attendance what Jesus had done for them over the past week. Sometimes, these brag-on-Jesus times turned into narcissistic, look-at-what-I-did-done-do for Jesus sessions. Often, testimony time was a time for congregants to lie about their relationship with God. One dear woman, who had been a smoker her entire adult life, stood up one Sunday and praised Jesus for delivering her from the filthy sin of smoking. We had a quite a praise-fest that night, thanking our Lord for delivering Sister R from her addiction. Years later, I learned that Sister R had, in fact, never stopped smoking, and that the only reason she said that she did was so she could have the appearance of a victorious Christian life like the rest of us. Oh, if she had only known that NONE of us, including her preacher, had victory over sin, she might not had felt compelled to lie. Sister R felt so guilty about not being as spirit-filled as the rest of us that she was willing to lie to her friends about her deliverance from smoking.

….

On one particular Sunday night, the charismatic lady mentioned above decided to attend church with her daughter. She had visited several times before, and let it be known that she really liked my “old-fashioned” preaching. Prior to my sermon, I asked if anyone had a good word they wanted to put in for Jesus. Several people raised their hands, signifying that they wanted to brag a bit on their Lord and Savior. The charismatic woman excitedly raised her hand, anxious to let everyone know about a recent encounter she had with Jesus. When it came time for her to testify, she popped up  from her seat and said this (as recounted from thirty years ago):

I was asleep last night, and all of a sudden I awoke, feeling a “presence” in my bedroom.  As I stood to see this presence, my eyes saw a blinding blue light. Now, I knew that Satan could present himself as an angel of light, so I spoke to this light, saying, If that’s really you Jesus, please make yourself known to me. And right then and there I heard, Attention K-Mart Shoppers! (Okay, that last sentence was a bit of literary fiction, also known as preaching.)  And right then and there I heard a voice that said, it’s me, Jesus. Praise, the Lord. I knew then that the presence in my room was Jesus.

I KNEW it was Jesus, the charismatic woman said. This is the same argument Sybil used in her debate with Jump. She knows God is real because she has personal testimony to that effect, as do countless other Christians. In doing this, Sybil is committing the ad populum fallacy.

Wikipedia describes the ad populum fallacy (appeal to popularity) this way:

In argumentation theory, an argumentum ad populum (Latin for “appeal to the people”) is a fallacious argument that concludes that a proposition must be true because many or most people believe it, often concisely encapsulated as: “If many believe so, it is so”.

Just because a large number of people believe something doesn’t make it true. Sybil is a Christian. I assume she thinks Mormonism, Islam, and Buddhism are false religions, and their “gods” are no gods at all. Yet, 1.8 billion Muslims, 500 million Buddhists, and 17 million Mormons think she is wrong. Why should we believe Christianity is true based on the number of adherents, and not these other religions? In fact, upwards of 500 million people are atheists. Using Sybil’s illogical logic, doesn’t this prove that atheism is true?

As of today, Christians have provided no sufficient evidence for the existence of their God (s). However, we do have other explanations for Christianity’s existence, arguments that do not require appeals to myths, magic, or logical fallacies. (Please see Why Most Americans Are Christian.)

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

COVID-19: Why the Evangelical God Always Wins

god is good all the time

One thing is for certain during the Coronavirus pandemic: COIVD-19 is no respecter of persons. COVID 19 infects and kills young and old, rich and poor, blacks and whites, Evangelicals and atheists. Evangelicals have long argued that the United States is a Christian nation; that we are a people uniquely chosen by God. If this is so, then a logical conclusion one can reach is that most of the people getting infected with COVID-19 and dying are Christians. Why isn’t God protecting his own? Surely this virus would be an excellent tool for God to use to wipe out atheists, agnostics, humanists, Muslims, and other nonbelievers. Why, then, are so many Christians dying, including pastors? (Please see Understanding the Pastors Who Refuse to Close Their Churches During the Coronavirus Pandemic.) How do Evangelical pastors explain the nondiscriminatory nature of COVID-19? This post will delve into the explanations pastors use to defend their God during times such as this.

Evangelicals believe that God is actively involved in his creation. God is a prayer-answering deity who is intimately involved in the lives of Christians. God knows exactly how many hairs are on our heads, and he controls every aspect of our lives on planet Earth. God determines who lives and who dies, and he even controls the weather. (Please see Is God to Blame for Weather that Kills People?) According to Evangelicals, God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and present everywhere. Allegedly, no matter where any of us goes, God is there. Having sex? Using the toilet? Masturbating? Making out in the back seat of a car? God, the ultimate voyeur, is watching. And not only is God watching, but he is also recording every deed every human commits. Think of that for a moment. Seven billion people live on earth, yet God is recording every thought, word, and deed, all the while hearing and answering every prayer uttered by Christians. I gotta say, God sure has a Type-A, workaholic personality. You would think that God would delegate some of this to angels, but based on every sermon I’ve heard on this subject, it is God alone who does these things.

which God praying to

You would think the present pandemic and widespread deaths would perhaps cause Evangelicals to at least think about their God’s culpability in what is going on. However, this sort of reevaluation is unlikely to happen. One thing is certain, whenever something happens that makes God look bad — and believe me he has a lot of bad press these days — Evangelical preachers will take to their pulpits in defense of God. No matter how tragic things become, God’s character and honor must always be defended.

You see, Evangelicals believe that God is good all the time; that God cannot do anything bad or evil. He is, after all, God, and he tells us in the Bible that he is a good God. And therein is the problem: the Bible. Evangelicals believe the Bible was supernaturally written by God, so whatever it tells about his character and behavior is true. When questioned about the parts of the Bible that cast God in an unflattering light; the parts where God is portrayed as a capricious, arrogant, violent, genocidal son of a bitch, Evangelicals are quick to quote Isaiah 55:8,9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

In other words, things are not as they seem to unbelievers. What do they know anyway? People such as myself are portrayed as apostates, reprobates, haters of God. Nothing we say about God or the Bible has any merit. Christians just need to trust that God always has their best interests at heart:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Evangelical preachers frequently remind congregants that God is good all the time and that everything in their lives works together for their good. Week after week this notion is reinforced, so that when tragedy, heartache, and death strike, God is always given a pass. Either God has a higher purpose or plan, or he is using circumstances to test them, try them, or lovingly correct them. God, then, is the “loving” father, who physically abuses his children, but when asked why he does so, God replies, “because I love them.” God is akin to a man who violently beats his wife every day, all the while telling her, I love you, I love you, I love you. Is such behavior really love? Of course not.

As long as Evangelicals view God in this light, they will never question his culpability in everything from mass shootings to pandemics and from wars to famine. On Sundays, with eyes closed and hands raised, Evangelicals sing Don Moen’s 1995 classic worship song, God is Good All the Time:

God is good all the time
He put a song of praise in this heart of mine
God is good all the time
Through the darkest night, His light will shine
God is good, God is good all the time

God is good all the time
He put a song of praise in this heart of mine
God is good all the time
Through the darkest night, His light will shine
God is good, God is good all the time

If you’re walking through the valley
And there are shadows all around
Do not fear, He will guide you

He will keep you safe and sound
He has promised to never leave you
Nor forsake you, and His word is true

God is good all the time
He put a song of praise in the heart of mine
God is good all the time
Through the darkest night, His light will shine
God is good, God is good all the time

We were sinners and so unworthy
Still for us He chose to die
Filled us with His Holy Spirit

Now we can stand and testify
That His love is everlasting
And His mercies, they will never end

God is good all the time
He put a song of praise in this heart of mine
God is good all the time
Through the darkest night, His light will shine
God is good, God is good all the time

Though I may not understand
All the plans you have for me
My life is in your hands
And through the eyes of faith
I can clearly see

God is good all the time
He put a song of praise in this heart of mine
God is good all the time
Through the darkest night, His light will shine
God is good, God is good all the time

God is good all the time
He put a song of praise in the heart of mine
God is good all the time
Through the darkest night, His light will shine
God is good, God is good all the time.

Video Link

And as long as Evangelicals keep their eyes closed to the reality all around them, the “God is good” charade is maintained. Thus, when Evangelical preachers and church members are afflicted with COVID-19 and die, Hebrews 9:27 is quoted: it is appointed unto men once to die. It was their appointed time to die, Evangelicals say. They ran their race, kept the faith, and now God has called them home! All praise be to God! And when Evangelical children, young adults, and men and women in the prime of their lives die from the virus? Appeals are made to God’s unknowable purpose, will, and plan. No matter what happens, God always gets a pass. Why? Silly boy, God is good all the time.

It is only when Evangelicals dare to peek while singing God is Good All the Time, and truly look at things as they are, that doubts and questions begin to creep in. Is God really the deity the Bible claims he is? Is God really good all the time? What in my life says that God even exists? Does what I know about life reflect a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and present everywhere? Or, does what I see and know suggest that either God is not intimately involved in his creation; leaving us to fend for ourselves, or doesn’t exist.

Sadly, far too many questioning and doubting Evangelicals stop peeking, fearing the consequences of their thoughts. They can’t bear the thought of a world without God; a life without the machinations of religion. The cognitive dissonance becomes so great that they run to the safety of the house of faith. It is there they find their fears allayed.

Fortunately, other Evangelicals go from peeking to opening both of their eyes wide. All of a sudden, the notion that God is good all the time is absurd. It is then that their carefully constructed houses of cards come tumbling down. Yes, a cold, indifferent, heartless world awaits them. Yes, it can be hard to accept that we alone can combat COVID-19; that science is our best and only hope for a cure; that our fate lies in the hands of fallible, frail humans. That, however, is reality. Not easy to swallow sometimes, but it’s the truth. And isn’t truth what we all should be seeking?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Quote of the Day: The Problem With Evangelical Apologetics

As a field, apologetics bears quite a few problems. It’s actually not easy to say exactly which might be its worst. But I see this one as a big problem: apologists’ processes never actually land where apologists insist they do. Almost every apologetics argument can be negated right out of the gate through the identification of its logical fallacies, manipulation attempts, or basic cognitive biases. Of the few remaining, they don’t whisk us away to the Happy Realm of Jesus-is-Real. Instead, apologists land themselves in the Iffy Realm of SOMEONE-Might-Be-Real and then simply declare they’ve reached their destination.

In the past, I’ve called this the Unicorn Test: any given apologetics argument not knocked out of the running through illogical reasoning accidentally demonstrates the validity of not just Jesus, but also of Santa Claus, Zeus, Space Princess Cassidy, Thor, Wonder Woman, leprechauns, Harry Potter, the state of Wyoming, and Russell’s Teapot. Substituting other names for “Jesus” in their arguments reveals the truth.

Christians have a really tough time moving from the claim that gods are not, in the main, logically ridiculous to demonstrating that their particular god simply must exist–while simultaneously demonstrating that these thousands of other deities absolutely do not. Apologists take as a given that once they demonstrate that gods in general might exist, they’ve already conclusively demonstrated those other points–and thus clinched their sale.

— Captain Cassidy, Roll to Disbelieve, Christian Evangelists Keep Asking the Wrong Question, October 10, 2019

Bruce Gerencser