Tag Archive: Good Behavior

Don’t Thank God, Thank Me

tnt good behaviorMy wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the TNT show, Good Behavior, starring Michelle Dockery as Letty Raines and Juan Diego Botto as Javier Pereira. It took us awhile to get used to Dockery’s drug-using, booze-swilling, criminal character. Dockery played the prim and proper Lady Mary Crawley on Downton Abbey, so playing Letty Raines was a huge departure from her previous role. As far as Botto is concerned, Polly would like to run off with him to the Bahamas.

During one of the recent Good Behavior episodes, Letty helps a recently separated woman break into her estranged husband’s home so she could reclaim her belongings. Letty used her criminal lock-picking skills to easily gain access to the home. The woman, amazed by Letty’s “skills,” thanked God for the opened door. Letty replied, Don’t thank God, thank me!

Tens of millions of Americans go through life thanking the Christian God for the good that comes their way. In their minds, goodness flows from God’s hands, not man’s, and all the praise, honor, and glory belong to him. Have you ever spent significant time helping someone, only to have them dismiss your labor with a big THANK YOU, GOD? As a Christian, I knew that I mustn’t ever take credit for my good works. Doing so was prideful. According to the Bible, I was a loathsome, vile, worthless human being, and without God in my life, I lacked meaning, purpose, and direction. The Bible also told me that even after I was saved/born-again/redeemed, the only reason for the good in my life was Jesus. If it wasn’t for the precious, awesome blood of Jesus, my life would have no value. Jesus was my go-between, standing between an angry, vengeful God and the saved sinner Bruce Gerencser. If Jesus ever stood aside, his Father would crush me and throw my sorry ass in hell.

praise god good weatherSunday after Sunday, Evangelicals gather together to prostrate themselves before a narcissistic God and thank him for his awesomeness (in many ways, this God is like Donald Trump). Worship songs are sung in masturbatory fashion, repeatedly praising God for his goodness. Testimonies, given by Christians, praise and thank Jesus for every good thing that has happened in their lives, right down to them f-i-n-a-l-l-y having a bowel movement. Think I am kidding? You need to spend time listening to praise and testimony time at the local Baptist church. The minutest details of goodness are ascribed to God. Never mind that you drank two glasses of fiber drink and swallowed four Dulcolax tablets. It was God, not the drink and tablets that caused your BM. Silly? Sure, but this illustrates the absurdity of the notion that every good thing comes from the Christian God.

Former Christians often were brought to unbelief by daring to question whether God really was materially involved in their lives. I know for me personally, one of the reasons for my deconversion was the fact that almost all the answered prayers I attributed to God were explainable by purely human means. And the handful of events that couldn’t be explained this way? These were not enough to keep me believing. As I scanned the history of my life, I concluded that virtually every event and circumstance — good, bad, and indifferent — could be traced back to myself or some other human.

Christians often thank God when their health problems are made better. Praise Jesus! God healed me, countless Evangelicals have said, never considering whether such claims are true. Most of the physical healing in the world today comes not from the hands of God. It is doctors, nurses, medical technicians, medications, and life-saving procedures which should be thanked. Think about your last surgery. Is there any reason to give God credit for its success? What did God do to warrant such praise?

atheist-thanksgiving

I am a big believer in giving credit to whom credit is due. That’s the point Letty Raines was making when she said, Don’t thank God, thank me! While it is certainly proper for all of us to have humility, there’s nothing wrong with us expecting to be thanked when we help others. Polly loves to cook. She will spend hours preparing scrumptious family meals. Imagine if no one ever thanked her for her labors. Imagine if we thanked Jesus for the meal instead of Polly. Why, I suspect that the next Thanksgiving meal will feature Banquet turkey dinners and no pie.

Think, for a moment, about all the good that has come your way this past week. Was it God who did these things for you? Of course not. It was your spouse, children, friends, or other human beings. Everything that happens in our lives can be traced back to hands that can be easily seen.  There’s no need for any of us to say, Thank you, God. Instead, thank those who did well by you. Be grateful for the labor and kindness. As we traverse the plain of life, let’s give credit to whom credit is due. Thank you to everyone who helped this week to make my life better. And God, if you are reading this post, please know if you ever really do something good, something that alone can be attributed to you, you can bet your last dollar that I will say, to you, THANKS!

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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Let’s Talk About Sin, Guilt, and Human Behavior

original sin

Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Ewan asks:

Do you have a philosophical view of the word ‘sin” anymore?

How is homosexuality defined in your worldview? What of extramarital sexual relationships? or premarital? Are they ‘sin’?

What is an atheistic view of sin? Does it really matter? If there is no sinful behaviour, where does guilt come from?

The power of sin in a xian worldview is guilt. If I were to have an extramarital built on love, is this sinful? What the heck is ‘sin’?

I do not use the word sin to define my understanding of human behavior. Sin is inherently a religious term, and since I am not a religious person, I have no need for the word sin and its theological consequences. Based on cultural and societal norms, humans act in ways that are considered good, indifferent, or bad. What we consider good, bad, or indifferent behavior changes with time, circumstance, and place. Currently, these things are still deeply influenced by religion, yet religion is losing its primacy and this is why we see religious zealots raging against perceived sins and slights of God and his timeless moral code.

Homosexuality is a science term, a word used to describe same-sex attraction. It has no inherent moral quality. Once we remove religion from discussion, there is less need to concern ourselves with sexual attraction or whom someone marries.

Marriage is a contractual agreement between two people. If this contract includes a commitment to monogamy, then I would consider it bad behavior to commitment adultery. However, many people marry for reasons other than sex. I pastored a few couples who had sexless marriages. One woman thought sex was for having children. Once her children were born she was done with having sex and she had no problem with her husband seeking sexual gratification elsewhere.

When it comes to premarital sex, I see no reason to consider it bad behavior. We have laws that govern the age of consent, and as long as the sex is consensual I see no reason to demonize teenagers and young adults for acting on their biological needs and urges. Our goal should be to make sure every person receives state-mandated education about human sexuality and birth control. The overwhelming majority of teenagers engage in premarital sexual activity, so it is in everyone’s best interest to make sure teens are sexually educated and on birth control until they are ready to have children. Doing so would greatly reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, a goal all of us support.

There is no atheist position on sin. Atheism is a belief about the existence of deities, not a statement about ethics or morality. It is humanism that gives many atheists, including myself, a moral and ethical framework. 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.

(If I have a “religion” it is secular humanism. My religion’s code is summarized in the Humanist Manifesto.)

The question of guilt is a good one, one that I am not sure I can adequately answer. Some guilt is driven by the pervasiveness of religion and its sin-punishment-reward system. However, I think guilt also flows from being a part of a particular culture and tribe. I am sure there are some behaviors that elicit guilt among the Gerencser children that might not cause guilt in a different family’s children.

jesus spanking sinners

The more absolute one’s moral beliefs are, the more likely they are to cause guilt. As I have stated many times before, my sin (bad behavior) list now fits on a 3×5 card, and I suspect by the time I die it will fit on a post-it note. Once the church, the Bible and sin-loving, yet sin-hating preachers, are removed from the equation, guilt often assuages.

I grew up believing drinking alcohol was a sin. I was fifty years old before I took my first drink. Now that God and the Bible no longer factor into my moral and ethical beliefs, I am free to drink alcohol, as much or as little as I want. Last Saturday, I spent some time with friends who love to drink. While I didn’t drink as much alcohol as they did, I did drink some and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did my wife. At no time did I have a twinge of guilt over drinking the devil’s brew. I drank responsibly and acted in a way that did not harm others; no sin, no guilt.

What atheism and humanism have given me is personal autonomy and freedom. And a very small sin list.

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