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The Leak: A Spin of Bishop’s Roulette?

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— Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

A few days ago, I wrote “Bishop’s Roulette.” Since then, the draft of Supreme Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion on striking down Roe v. Wade has been leaked. 

To many — actually, the majority — of us, the “leak” was like the first bomb dropped in an attack that “everybody knew” was coming. The particular blow surprised us simply because, like the first shot of a war, nobody can anticipate the moment it comes, even if its aftermath is what everyone expects.

As I am neither a political scientist nor reporter, I can’t add much to the analysis that the end of Roe v. Wade wouldn’t be the “will of the people.” More than one poll has shown that the overwhelming majority of people support the right to safe and legal abortion. That we now have a Supreme Court “packed” with Justices who seek to do the opposite of what most Americans want is a result of a political system that has allowed vocal, virulent, and often violent groups of people who claim to be motivated by faith to gain majorities in state legislatures and governorships — and may usher them into a Congressional majority later this year.

The same folks who organized to elect lawmakers who enacted laws outlawing abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and deputized citizens to sue anyone who received, performed, or “enabled” a procedure also voted for Donald Trump, who promised exactly what’s come to pass, and may regain the Presidency in two years.

While some of those voters didn’t disguise the fact that their support of Trump and his political allies was borne from their hatred of liberals, gays, immigrants, and anyone else whom they don’t see as fitting into their notions of a White, Christian, and male-dominated nation, others couch their support in a system of faith that, they believe, tells them to love their neighbors as they love themselves. Some, mainly men, among them claim to “respect women” because they are mothers, nurturers, and partners.

If they actually “respect” women, how can they support a President, Supreme Court justices, governors, state legislators, and mayors who are doing everything they can to ensure that women (and girls) don’t get vital medical care at the exact moment they need it.

You see, in striking down Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court would leave abortion rights to the states.  Some had already all but outlawed abortion before Justice Alito wrote his opinion; others have enacted “trigger laws” that will do the same, or ban it outright, once Roe v. Wade is struck down.  It’s hard not to believe, as some legal and political analysts have pointed out, that such moves will also enable states to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act and enact their own rules on the availability of health care. 

Think about it:  If a state can tell women what they can and can’t do with their bodies, can it also decide who does or doesn’t get health care, or what is or isn’t “appropriate” care for someone? Could it make such decisions on who is more “deserving” in a hierarchy that places people who are most likely to make “nuclear” families (i.e., straight cisgender) above, say, LGBTQ people? Or native-born citizens above immigrants, especially those who are here illegally? 

 I also can’t help but wonder whether striking down Roe v. Wade will give states more power to decide how health care and insurance are meted out. Given that concentrating power in fewer hands, especially if those hands are affluent White Christian cisgender males or their allies, all but inevitably leads to “privatization”— which often means nothing more than “getting government out of it” — it’s not hard to imagine more states in which people who need help are subject to a “Bishop’s Roulette.”

Now, even if you object to abortion on religious or other moral grounds, or simply think that the women who need them should have been “more careful,” here is something else to consider: prenatal care, and women’s healthcare in general, while far from perfect, have improved since Roe v. Wade. Some of that, of course, has come about because of medical and technological developments. Just as important, though, is the change in the way pregnancy and women’s bodies are seen. For one, doctors and other providers now better understand how pregnancy changes a woman’s body. Some of those changes, like high blood pressure, were previously linked to women’s pre-pregnancy lives and were not seen as consequences of pregnancy itself. Those conditions, and sometimes the pregnancy itself, can degrade the quality of, or even end, a woman’s life. 

Another reason, I believe, women’s health care has improved since Roe v. Wade is that as women gained more agency over their bodies and lives, they were seen — at least by some — as worthy of care for their own sake, and not simply to enhance their ability to bear and rear children. That development goes hand-in-hand with the separation of health care (and government) from religion, especially of the fundamentalist variety. 

In brief, Roe v. Wade did more to foster the respect for women than religious and other opponents of the decision claim to have.  Repealing it, as Justice Samuel Alito’s draft threatens, will do much to destroy that respect by degrading the quality of women’s health care and subjecting too many of us to some version of a “Bishop’s Roulette” to obtain it.

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bishop’s Roulette

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Today I am going to make a confession.  (How Catholic of me, right?)

As I’ve mentioned in earlier guest posts, I was raised a Roman Catholic and, in my late adolescence and early adulthood, “gave my life to Jesus” and became an Evangelical Christian. My belief was eroded, if you will, by a combination of reading, study, and experiences that included finally coming to terms with my gender identity, sexuality, and the sexual abuse I experienced from a priest. I didn’t have a moment when I blurted, “I am an atheist!” or even “I don’t believe.” Rather, I realized that, somewhere along the way, I’d lost whatever faith I had.

Even so, I made one final attempt to be part of a “faith community.” For about a year and a half, I attended services at a church that would have appalled both the Catholics among whom I grew up and the Evangelicals to whom I professed my devotion to “the Lord.” (When I say that, I think of all of those African-Americans and women I’ve heard referring to “The Man.”) At the suggestion of someone whom I esteemed, and still do, I attended the services and participated in the programs of an “accepting” congregation.

I worked with someone I’ll call “Jenna” in helping to feed un-housed people. She told me she was an atheist but got involved with the church for “social reasons.” One day, I asked her to explain. The church did charitable work in areas that were of particular interest to her, she said. That work included in LGBTQ equality and helping folks in places like the Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia. Doing it under the auspices of the church “signaled” — she used that word — that she was “walking the walk.” Jenna’s family and friends didn’t take her work seriously — or believe she was doing it, especially the LGBTQ outreach — out of anything more than self-interest or money — never mind that she was a volunteer and used her own money to go to those places where she helped people, and to buy food, clothing and other items for the un-housed in our city — until she started working with the church. But she also admitted that being involved with the church spared her from having to explain her atheism to family members, co-workers, and others who wouldn’t have been sympathetic.

Likewise, that church legitimized, at least in the eyes of some people, the volunteer work I did in animal welfare, adult literacy, and LGBTQ equality. About the latter: I hadn’t yet come to affirm (or, in the parlance of the time, “change” or “transition”) my gender identity. But the church, which was among the first to hold funerals for victims of the HIV outbreak, gave me the “cover,” if you will, I wanted and needed in order to help people like me and to claim that it wasn’t about self-interest. Not only did my church involvement legitimize the work I was doing; but it also deflected the suspicions some people had about me. Hey, I didn’t even try to set some of my relatives and in-laws right (I almost said “straight” but the pun would have been too obvious!) when they expressed the hope that I would “meet somebody nice” and get married right on my second try.

Well, there would be no second try for marriage. Later, I did get involved in a relationship with a woman — whom I didn’t meet at church — and we lived under the protections of that document people associated with gay couples — the domestic partnership agreement — for several years. One funny thing, in retrospect, about that partnership is that it, like my church involvement, gave me “cover,” even among my conservative relatives and in-laws, at least for a time.

After being an atheist for, probably, about 30 years — roughly half of my life — I have come to realize how much legitimacy is conferred on all sorts of things done in the context of a church or other faith community by someone who professes his or her belief but is denied to those who do the same work without the imprimatur of religion. Also, there are some ceremonies and passages that are legitimized, by societal standards and even the law, by a declaration of faith or the “witness” of the faithful. Have you ever seen anyone take an oath of office without placing his or her hand on a Bible and ending his or her pledge with “So help me God” or words to that effect? And, even though conservative religious folks howl when cities, states, or countries tell people they can marry whomever they want as long as they are of age, those couples-to-be, whether they are two of the traditionally-defined sexes or nonbinary, are as likely as not to exchange their vows in a place of worship. Why? Sometimes they are trying to make their unions more palatable to prospective in-laws. Or one or both members of the couple may have grown up in the church and it is, therefore, the one place where everyone whom they’d want at their ceremony can gather. Another reason is convenience: while one can be legally married by a county clerk or some other secular official, getting married in a church or synagogue or other worship sites “kills two birds with one stone”: it sanctifies the union in the eyes of some and, in most places, makes the marriage legal, as, typically, the minister, priest or other officiating clergy member signs, along with other two other witnesses, the marriage license certificate shortly after the ceremony ends.

Knowing what I’ve just described, I am especially worried that far-right Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians, as well as conservative Catholics and their counterparts in other churches and religions, will try to make their churches — and, possibly, baptisms or professions of faith — the only way to give or receive charitable gifts or works. This is more or less the case already in Utah, where public benefits are among the lowest and most difficult to obtain in the US. As in most other states, caseworkers refer people who’ve been denied benefits to other organizations — including churches.

 In the Beehive State, most roads to such assistance lead to the Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons).  People in need are thus subject to “bishop’s roulette.” Some officials are generous with their help.  Others, however, are more rigid and judgmental, especially with LGBTQ people and single mothers, who are often assumed to be “sinners” who had their children out of wedlock. Or, if they are willing to help, it’s on the condition that the person in need reads aloud from texts, attends church, or even sets up a date to be baptized. 

When the intentions of churches and other religious institutions are assumed to be noble or pure, they lend legitimacy, in the eyes of many, to charitable work — or the denial of charity. Never mind that prelates and others in the church use their power to bully those same people they help, or choose not to help, or those who do the helping.  For now, I am living in a safely “blue” state where, while some religious groups have political influence, they don’t hold nearly as much power as the Mormons have in Utah—or religious conservatives, whether on the Supreme Court or in local school boards, want.  And for now, at least, most young people want little or no truck with religious institutions. Still, I worry that while the proportion of religious conservatives in the total population is shrinking, their influence is growing as they become more virulent and vicious.  I hope that one day I won’t have to proclaim faith I don’t have, join a church whose motives I can see all too clearly, or simply deny who I am, to get help I may need—or just to be allowed to rescue cats. And I hope those young people won’t have to be similarly duplicitous in order to get education, jobs, or housing because they ran into an admissions officer, HR Department, or loan provider who believes it is more important to “save souls” than to help. In short, I hope none of us become unwilling subjects in “bishop’s roulette.”

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Christianity: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense

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A guest post by John, who blogs at Shifting Beliefs.

My journey towards deconversion started slowly around 2008. I had been discussing the teaching about tithing with a friend of mine. We had some disagreements about the subject so I went into a very in-depth study about tithing. Long story short, what I had been taught in various churches, and what I had taught as well, didn’t line up with what the Bible says and doesn’t say about tithing. Then I started wondering, what else does the Bible say and not say regarding different topics? The more I read the Bible without the church lenses and learned to think critically, the less and less it made sense. I would say my deconversion probably took about eight years total. In some ways, it’s still happening.

On this side of things, Christianity really doesn’t make much sense anymore. At least not to me. Starting right off the bat with the creation story. god creates everything, ending with man and woman as the last thing created. He puts them in a utopia, creates a tree that they are not supposed to eat from, and puts it right in the middle of the garden. Then a talking snake convinces Eve, who convinces Adam, to eat the fruit from it. Thus dooming mankind to sin and sickness and death and eviction from the garden. Surely, with God being all-knowing, he knew that’s what would happen, right? So why do it? Then there is the part about them “realizing” they were naked and god having to make clothes for them. Soon after, Eve gives birth to Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel, god gets pissed and sends him on his way to the land of Nod. There apparently are people here because Cain gets married and had kids. Where the hell did these people come from?

A while later, Genesis talks about the sons of god who started hooking up with human women. There is much speculation on who the sons of god were. But anyway, the women apparently gave birth to giants. Then god decided that all the humans were wicked to the bone and regretted making them. What? Again, did he not know this was going to happen? And so he decides to kill all the humans and animals on the earth, except Noah and his family, and just start over. Looking past the fact that he is committing genocide, let’s look at how he does it. He could have done a Thanos and snapped his finger and just wiped out the humans and the animals. Quick and painless. But, that’s not how he chooses to do it. He’s going to drown all the humans and animals. It’s not only a slow death, but a terrifying one as well. Can you imagine the panic and terror that all the humans and animals went through? That’s a sick mother fucker, right there! God is good, my ass!

Then there are all the people and animals that god had his people kill later on because they wouldn’t worship the right god.

Skipping ahead to the new testament: you can do a simple Google search to find all the inconsistencies in the gospels and throughout the rest of the new testament, so I won’t go into those. Do you remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the book of Acts? The believers had decided to put a commune together and sell all their stuff and put it in a joint account. Ananias and Sapphira lied about how much they sold the land for and god killed them for it. God will kill someone for lying but he allows thousands of children to be molested by clergy around the world on a regular basis. What . . . the . . . fuck?! The god you read about in the bible versus the god of today’s real-life doesn’t line up at all. The Bible tells about Jesus and the apostles healing people all the time. The accounts of “healing” that I’ve run into, I’m skeptical. How about some folks with ALS getting healed or amputees’ limbs growing back? That would get me back to drinking the Kool-Aid again! All the stories and “accounts” through the Bible just don’t make sense to me anymore.

The fact that there are at least 200 Christian denominations in the US and something like 40,000 worldwide doesn’t make sense. Surely if the Bible is the “word of god”, god could communicate the same truth to all Christians. Right?

And what about the idea of a literal hell. Even though god has quite a long history of killing people, the Bible states in many places that he is good and his mercy endures forever. Huh. That’s interesting. Supposedly, god is love and 1 Corinthians 13 describes what this love looks like. In case you are not familiar with these verses, they go something like this: Love is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, it is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. It keeps no record of wrongs. Oh really? Adam and Eve, the genocide of the human race, the slaughter of multiple groups of people, and the doctrine of hell all say otherwise.

And if a person studies the history of the Bible, how it came to be, the historical and scientific accuracy of the Bible (or lack thereof), and so on . . . it doesn’t make sense!

This post only scratches the surface of what no longer makes sense to me about religion, specifically Christianity. I’m not 100% convinced that there is no deity/god of any kind. I don’t think that can be proven either way. But I am pretty damn sure that if there is one god, or many, it/he/she/they are not the god of the Bible or Christianity. Or of any other holy book that’s ever existed. I think part of the reason religions exist is that they are man’s way of trying to describe something that is indescribable.

I still really like this quote by Barry Taylor, a road manager for AC/DC, “God is the name of the blanket we throw over the mystery to give it shape.”

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

One Man’s Journey From Evangelicalism to Atheism

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A guest post by John

I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968. My family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1972 and this is where I grew up. My parents were not very religious, just enough to not go to hell. We attended a Presbyterian church sporadically through my teenage years. When I was 12, I went to a YMCA summer camp. Most of the counselors were Bible college students. One night, around a fire with other campers, I heard the gospel for the first time that I remember. It included, of course, if I didn’t believe and pray the sinner’s prayer, I would go to hell. Well, what 12-year-old wants to go to hell? So I prayed the prayer, was given a Bible, and was told to read it every day. My Presbyterian parents were wary of my newfound zeal for God and the Bible. I was in and out of church through high school and college. Sometimes I would be zealous about my faith, and sometimes not.

After college, I got a job as an assistant manager at a restaurant in 1993. Most of the servers and several of the kitchen staff were Bible school students. This restaurant did not serve alcohol, so it attracted more Christians than other places. Most of these were from the charismatic/word of faith crowd. At first, I thought they were nuts! But they grew on me after a while. I started going to a large church of this flavor, because of a girl, of course. I played trumpet in the orchestra and was really enjoying it. Eventually, I married the girl that I followed to church and wound up going to a Bible school in the Tulsa area. After graduating, I went to work for the church/ministry that was associated with the Bible school. It wasn’t perfect, but I did enjoy my time there.

A few years later, in 1999, we moved to Memphis “at the leading of the Lord” and hooked up with a similar church here. I was also doing some teaching in churches around Memphis and the surrounding area. We wound up leaving that church and helping someone else start a church in the area. I was the associate pastor and youth pastor — volunteer, of course. Ugh. I also continued to be invited to other churches to speak and was really enjoying it. Until I wasn’t. We started seeing things in many churches that were troubling so we quit going to church for a while. We began meeting other Christians in homes and people would take turns teaching. This was around 2011. After one of these Bible studies, a couple asked me about tithing. We were taught that 10% of your income goes to the church. They had very little money at the time and were feeling bad that they couldn’t tithe. I asked them to study the topic and I did the same. So, I did an in-depth study on tithing. And guess what? What I’d been taught, with limited scripture often taken out of context, isn’t what the Bible says about tithing! I was like, well shit. If I’m wrong about that, what else am I wrong about? Around this time, I started getting interested in secular Buddhism, so my cover-to-cover Bible study was put off for a couple of years.

Around 2014, I started a 2-year, in-depth study of the Bible, the history of the Bible, and the history of the church. Probably my first big revelation was that I stopped believing in hell. Then I pretty much stopped believing in heaven. Then I stopped believing in creationism/Adam and Eve. And it all starts to crumble at that point. No Adam and Eve, no original sin, no need for a savior, etc. Then learning about how the Bible was put together, well shit, it was just a bunch of men who put it together. So much didn’t fit and didn’t make sense anymore. Like many have said, the Bible made me an atheist. Also, just looking at things like prayer and my rate of “answered” prayers. I could have prayed to my cat and gotten the same results! It was about 50/50. Except in one area where I was 100%. Everyone I’ve prayed for to live, who had a terminal, untreatable condition, all died of that condition or complications related to it. Every single one. As I got further away from religion, I started to realize how far away I had gotten from critical thinking. It’s sometimes hard to look back and realize that I believed in the creation story, Noah’s flood, talking animals, demons, angels, etc. But when a person is told that these things are true from a young age, by people they love and trust, you just believe them.

My wife is still a very devout Christian, maybe more so than ever, so that’s been interesting to navigate. She knows my beliefs have changed a lot, but not the full extent of my atheism. Only a couple of people do. All of my family and wife’s family are believers. Most of my friends are believers. I’m not ready yet to come out fully. I’m not sure that I will to everyone.

I’ve noticed some interesting things since leaving my faith. The first thing that comes to mind is that nothing happened. My cats didn’t die, my car didn’t break down, my life didn’t fall apart, etc. In fact, life has gotten better since I left my faith! I’m mentally and emotionally much healthier. I went through a long depression as a believer. I prayed, I read my Bible, I made confessions, I had others pray for me . . . and it just got worse. The group of Christians I had been around were very anti-medication for this kind of thing. It got bad enough I finally went to a good psychiatrist who put me on medication that worked wonderfully! I stopped praying and started learning about how the brain works, how thought patterns are formed, how my diet affects my moods. I started meditating. These things helped me SO much more than prayer and the Bible.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that I’m much less judgmental and definitely more open-minded. I’m just a better human. I don’t think I was ever a super judgmental asshole. But, religion certainly tainted my worldview. Everything from politics to atheism to the LGBTQ+ community to people of other faiths to music to what I read and watch on tv, and so on. I like who I am now! I never felt like I could like myself as a Christian because we are nothing without Jesus and all that shit.

So, yeah, I am enjoying life much more as an atheist. It’s so nice to not have set in stone, dogmatic beliefs. At first, it was really uncomfortable to not have those solid beliefs. But now I’m used to it and it’s very freeing. As a Christian, I always heard that we were free in Jesus. It is the “sinners” that are bound. Now I see that it is just the opposite. Religion binds you up, letting go of that shit is really what sets you free.

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

The Question

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Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Are you Jewish?”

I lied, sort of, depending on which rabbi you ask.

Almost all agree that Judaism is passed on through the female biological line. That sounds straightforward enough, but if your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother was Jewish but nobody in any part of your family has practiced the religion or participated in any of its cultures….one rabbi might say, “You’re as Jewish as Theodor Herzl,” while another might tell you you’re as goyish as Pat or Debbie Boone.

I know: I have had exactly such an experience. As I was preparing to marry a Jewish woman of Latin American heritage, I consulted with rabbis and took classes. Since I no longer considered myself a part of the Roman Catholic church in which I’d grown up or with the Pentecostal and Evangelical churches in which I later affiliated myself, but I did not yet identify as atheist or non-religious, I was willing to participate in my wife-to-be’s religion and help raise the children we planned to have in it.

The Latin American Jewish community in which she was raised, mostly in the Miami area, was more conservative, politically and socially, than the non-Hasidic Ashkenazic Jews in whose proximity I was raised and have lived much of my life. When she went to college, she “fell away” from the religion but had returned to it, if in a more mystical and ritualistic iteration, by the time she met me. So, while she didn’t want to submit to the more severe sartorial and other regulations of some sects, she felt that prayer—in Hebrew—and other aspects of the religion were important to her life.

I would realize, much later, long after our marriage ended, that for her, her faith and “spirituality” was a way of keeping her inner torment– what some would call “demons” — at bay. She seemed to think that her faith and intense prayer were a way to deal with her extreme mood swings, some of which resulted in physical attacks on me she could not remember, or so she claimed, the following day. (Do you need more proof that prayer cannot substitute for medication and therapy?) Also, I came to understand –because I would come to the same knowledge about myself—that her religiosity was a defense (or, at least, she tried to use it as such) against desires that were not approved by her family and community.

In short, both of us were trying to deal with—or not deal with—the fact that we weren’t entirely heterosexual. Oh, and in my case, that I wasn’t the man I presented myself to be, or any kind of man at all. It would have been difficult enough for her family to approve of someone who wasn’t a mensch—which, to them, meant what some would condescendingly call a “nice Jewish boy.”

So, while I told her family and the rabbis that I am Jewish, I knew well that in the eyes of some, I wasn’t truly one of them, and never could be. And, interestingly, one of the rabbis we consulted tried to discourage me from living as a Jew. For one thing, he saw that I wanted to do so at least in part for the sake of marriage and the approval of her family. He pointed out the ostracism, persecution and worse Jewish people have faced throughout history and even warned me that no matter how fastidiously I followed the ways of his religion or how well I learned Hebrew, some “in the community” wouldn’t quite accept me.

I would later learn that he wasn’t the only rabbi who tried to dissuade people from converting to, or resuming, Judaism. So, when I heard the query, “Are you Jewish?” many years later from a young bearded man in front at a sidewalk table near Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, I was taken aback. Unlike Christianity, Judaism doesn’t have a tradition of evangelism. At least, they haven’t tried to bring non-Jews into the fold. But that young man was part of the only Jewish community that, to my knowledge, tries to spread its words and ways –and only to other, mainly secular, Jews: the Lubavitchers, who comprise much of the Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, Montreal, and a few other cities.

I can’t help but wonder whether that young man was more successful in his “evangelism” efforts than I was in mine as an Evangelical Christian. Some would argue that I didn’t really “have the Holy Spirit within” me because I—at least to the best of my knowledge—never “brought” anybody “to Jesus.” Likewise, I can imagine that young man chastised for his lack of faith or commitment or something for not bringing “lost” Jewish people “home.”

Of course, today, as an atheist, I don’t care whether someone thinks I am, or ever was, Jewish, Christian or of any other religion. I think my ex and her family realized that I was only “going through the motions” and would be no more Jewish than I was a man. I sometimes wonder, though, what sort of discussion or argument I could have had with that young man had I told him that I am Jewish, or had I immersed myself in the religion enough to help raise the children my ex and I planned but never had.

(In case you’re wondering: My ex remarried. Her husband was raised in a conservative Jewish community and, within five years, they would have four children whom they would raise in the religion and send to yeshivas. I also heard, from mutual friends, that they were considering a move to Israel. Oh, and I’ve gone through a long process of affirming my identity as a woman.)

Now, if anyone were to ask me whether I’m a Christian, Catholic, or Jewish, the answer to the first two would be an emphatic “no.” As for the question of my Jewishness, that would depend on how much time or energy I have for a discussion or argument. After all, someone I knew in my youth told me and the rabbi of the man she married that she was a “Jewish atheist.” The rabbi said that was entirely plausible and made no effort to convince her otherwise. I could tell that rabbi the same thing: I, like her, have Jewish heritage on my mother’s side of the family (though my relatives converted to Catholicism) but don’t believe in any “supreme” or “higher” “being.”

In the years since then, I’ve had co-workers, and have friends and friendly acquaintances, who are Muslims. Interestingly, though Islam is a proselytizing religion, none has tried to “witness” (if you’ll pardon a Christian term) to me, and most Islamic states don’t encourage proselytizing. Oh, and contrary to what some religious conservatives and grandstanding politicians would have their constituents believe, neither I nor any other atheist I know makes any effort to recruit (or, if you like, proselytize) others to our way of thinking. I guess in that sense, at least, I am as Jewish as I am an atheist!

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

So Long, Jesus

so long jesus

A guest post by Neil Robinson who blogs at Rejecting Jesus

I fell in among Christians when I was teenager. A friend – let’s call him Simon – thought it would be a good idea if we joined the YMCA. This was long before the organisation became synonymous with the Village People and hangin’ out with all the boys. The YMCA I encountered was markedly evangelical. Once we’d visited a few times we were ‘invited’ to one of their young people’s meetings. I can’t remember what snappy title these meetings went by, but essentially they were a mixture of worship, bible reading and ‘teaching’. Sometimes there’d be a guest speaker who would tell us all about their relationship with Jesus, which, in case we had any doubts, was just marvellous. Before long I was giving my life to Jesus too, though in the long run it turned out to be only a temporary loan.

Occasionally, one of these guest speakers would talk about relationships, those with other human beings, and sex. From them I learnt that sex was almost always wrong: sex before marriage, sex outside marriage, sex with yourself – all of them were sinful. Even imagining sex and fancying someone (which qualified as lust) were wrong too. Who knew? But the most sinful, wicked and sordid sex of all was sex with someone of the same sex.

I had already had a relationship with another young man, Sam, at school. It hadn’t seemed wicked or sinful at all; quite the opposite in fact. But these people, these Christians, seemed to know what they were talking about. And hadn’t I given my life to Jesus? He detested homosexuality, or God did anyway, so Jesus must’ve felt the same way (actually this was all in the present tense, Jesus being alive and monitoring us from Heaven and all; Jesus detests homosexuality, they’d tell us.) Sometimes they’d read verses from the bible that proved it.

And so I started to suppress my feelings. All things considered, a retreat to the back of the closet (not that I knew this terminology back then) seemed the best option. It was what Jesus wanted, or so I thought. I started to deny myself for him, as he insists his followers should (Matthew 16.24). I began a life of self-deception. Which would’ve been fine, except it’s impossible to live a lie in isolation. Others invariably become involved.

Once Born Again™, I’d become involved with a local church, where my friend Simon took it upon himself to play Cupid, fixing me up with Jane. I was more than a little surprised a girl could be interested in me, but figured, in my flight from myself, that as she was interested, I should make the most of it. Sex wasn’t much of a problem: as good Christians, we may have played around a little, but we stayed away from what the church liked to call ‘pre-marital intercourse’.

It wasn’t long, though, before Jane wanted to marry – she really wanted to get married. I wasn’t so sure and told her about my escapades with Sam, adding of course that I had since renounced such sin. She said that as long as it never happened again, she had no problem with my past transgressions. I felt pretty sure it wouldn’t happen again. After all, Jesus and his Holy Spirit were taking care of my old nature.

So Jane and I married and over time had three children. While I was very much involved with their upbringing, I would often feel I was ‘letting the Lord down’. When, as happened on holiday once, a group of younger men came round a corner minus their shirts, I found myself instinctually admiring them. What self-crucifying shame I would feel after occasions like these. I would even confess such ‘sins’ to a senior work colleague, a devout and very genuine older lady. I’d spare her the details of how exactly I’d ‘let the Lord down’, of course; I could never have brought myself to say I’d been turned on by naked male torsos. But somewhere deep within me, I longed for intimacy and closeness with another man. I knew this was strictly forbidden so buried my desires deeper and deeper, suppressing and subjugating something vital about myself. I was on course, though I didn’t recognise it, to making myself ill. I was convinced that I was doing the right thing – for myself, for my marriage, and for God.

My marriage, however, was in trouble, for a whole host of largely unrelated reasons. This, together with pressures at work, where my boss’ affair with a female colleague was creating some serious problems, made me question whether God really cared. When I needed him most, petitioning him for the wisdom to deal with these problems, the heavens, as the scripture almost says, were as brass. God, it seemed, just wasn’t interested. Perhaps, I started to wonder, he wasn’t even there. Added to this was the internal pressure I was still subjecting myself to; the tension and stress of sublimating my true nature. I was deeply unhappy. While the situation at work was eventually ‘resolved’ (by my finding a better job), I had become chronically depressed and remained so for several years.

Very slowly, I came to the realisation that in becoming a Christian, I’d assumed a role that had led to me denying my real self and pretending I was something I wasn’t. I’d become convinced, by my church community, that God was doing a great work in me, sanctifying me and making me increasingly Christ-like. But the more I acted out the part, the less like my genuine self I had become. How could this have been right for me, or anyone, in terms of personal happiness and well-being? Adopting any ideology is to add a fake and unnecessary veneer to life that serves only to mask your true identity. Replacing who you are with a predetermined set of religious beliefs is mere play-acting. Denial is not a solution; embracing your self is.

Once I had reached my fifties and the children were grown, Jane and I separated. I had reached a point where I knew I could no longer keep suffocating my feelings; the mind is not designed to be a pressure cooker – something has to give. I started to accept, though not yet embrace, my innermost nature. The relief was immediate and tremendous. I felt I had found myself and I didn’t care that society might not particularly like what I had I found. I had to be me, and not the uptight, miserable person I had become by denying my essential self. I squared up to the exciting yet daunting prospect of starting over, and acknowledged that if I were to have a new relationship it would be with another man.

One day, walking home from work, I began entertaining the idea that there was no God. And just like that, a Damascene experience in reverse, the dominoes fell. If there was no God, there could be no Son of God and therefore no salvation plan, no being born again, no renewal of the mind, no supernatural, no heaven, no hell, no answered prayer. The scales fell from my eyes and everything started, finally, to make sense.

Over time, I came to like myself – imagine that! All I’d felt for most of my life, since the time at the YMCA, was self-hatred. That was what Christianity, what Jesus, had done for me. Arguably, it had also ensured, by keeping me firmly in the closet, that I hadn’t died prematurely during the AIDs crisis of the 1980s. Perhaps though I’m giving it too much credit.

I’m ‘out’ now, in every sense: to my wonderfully supportive children, to those who read my blog, and to friends who stuck by me. Match-maker Simon, he who suggested going to the YMCA all those years ago, cut me off more than a decade ago; as a born-again Christian, he regarded homosexuality as beyond the pale. His ‘principles’ meant more to him than our long-standing friendship. I still miss him, very much.

I don’t miss God. I have a sense of authenticity and my energy goes into living, not denial. I’ve become involved with the local LGBT Centre and I now live, thanks to Covid lockdowns, with a very nice man, my partner Dennis. I’m very happy and feel, at long last, I really know what life’s about.

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

The Prayer Circle

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Five of us, in a circle, could barely fit into the cinderblock-walled, windowless room. George: earnest, stringy-haired lab assistant. Julie: tall, blonde lithe fresh-faced freshman. Deanna: the petite, attractive brunette whose ambitions in life were to translate the Bible “the right way” and to “bring souls to the Lord.” Thalia, a tall, rawboned Black woman whom, as it turned out, Julie had invited to a prayer meeting but didn’t seem to have talked much with her, or anyone else in that group or on that campus.

And me. It was the middle of October, a few weeks into the semester. At the beginning of it, I knew only Deanna, from the year before. With her smile and friendly manner, she had little trouble meeting people. On the other hand, when I met her, I was almost as socially isolated as I had been the year before, when I first arrived on campus. The one friend—or, more precisely, the friendliest acquaintance—I’d made was with Robert, a young gay man: the first person with whom I’d ever had a real conversation about sexuality—my own, his or anyone else’s. The other male freshmen, it seemed, were performing the same kinds of exaggerated masculine heterosexuality—or, at least their notions of it—I saw in high school.

I am now ashamed to admit that I spent time with Robert when there were no witnesses, save for two friends of his—one, a straight guy, the other a lesbian, both of whom seemed a few years older than either of us. On the other hand, as I became friends with Deanna, I made a point of being seen with her: Nobody would question my sexual orientation or gender identity—in those days, almost everybody conflated the two, as I did—at least, not openly.

Oh, and she was one of the reasons I joined a campus Christian fellowship and was in that room with her, George, Julie, and Thalia. I told her, and she told them, I thought I might be gay, mainly because I couldn’t identify with other males and the only trans women I knew about were Christine Jorgensen and Renee Richards, both of whom seemed as different from me as the frat boys on campus. Turns out, Thalia told Julie she thought she was gay, which didn’t surprise me but, of course, I didn’t voice that.

The ostensible purpose of the gathering was for us to “be filled with the spirit” so that Thalia could “overcome” her “sinful” desires. They probably wanted to pray the gay out of me, too, though no one said as much. Anyway, George began with some soliloquy about gathering in the hope of receiving the Lord’s help and blessings. About all I can remember accurately is a paraphrase of a verse from Ephesians: “For we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones.”

Since George was earnest in the way only a young person who believes he has God and truth and justice on his side can be, he wasn’t being ironic when he paraphrased that verse in the presence of me and Thalia, one of the few people I’ve ever met who seemed more alienated and adrift than I was at that time. He intoned, “Lord, we entreat you.”

Then Julie started to drone a bunch of syllables that began and ended with drawn-out vowels sandwiching truncated consonants: aaahbaaah, or something like that, followed by sounds even less coherent or recognizable, at least to me. Before that day, I’d heard from other members of the fellowship that she could “speak in tongues.” I guess that’s what they were talking about, I thought.

As Jo droned on, Thalia started to let out long, low sobs that turned into wails, then into near-howls. She lay on her side—I opened my eyes while everyone else’s were shut—in a near-fetal curl, shaking like a child who needs a warm blanket. Her body’s vibrations turned into seemingly-volcanic convulsions, in which she thrust her arms and legs, as if trying to heave them away from her body. Her howls abated into a series of staccato grunts.

Julie continued her incomprehensible “prayer.” Deanna shouted, “Satan, leave her! You have no authority over her!” But Thalia continued to heave, grunt, and thrust her arms and legs. Deanna grasped my left hand, George my right. They said, in unison, something vaguely comprehensible—a prayer? a Bible verse? —that I can’t remember now. Julie finally said something I could understand: “Oh Lord, we pray for our sister, Thalia, that you may heal her. “Amen,” she, George, and Deanna chanted in unison.

The following day, I woke on the worn carpet of that room. Deanna slept in a dorm bed to the left of me; Julie in another bed to the right. I saw George a couple of days later and asked about Thalia. “The Lord is helping her now,” he said. I never heard about her again.

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

My Story — A Guest Post By David

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My story is somewhat different from others I read on Bruce’s blog.

I was born in England, and raised in the Church of England, where it has been jokingly said that
“belief in God is optional.” My father died when I was young and was, I understand, quite active in the church. My Mother was fairly active but never imposed her views on us.

I went to boarding school, where church attendance was mandatory or you were punished; a quick way to turn one against attendance.

I married into a Catholic family, so I had to be indoctrinated before I was deemed fit to marry a Catholic. At some time, I must have mentioned something about the evil in the world and was then provided with much discussion about God giving mankind freedom of thought and action.

I married a girl who attended a convent school. She was indoctrinated in the one true faith (sarcasm) and we agreed to raise the children as Catholics, though subsequently the children have very little interest in Catholicism. In the words of George Carlin “they were raised as Catholics until they learnt to think for themselves.”

I have always had a great interest in European history, particularly the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Reading about the horrors of the twentieth century, I started to have doubts about my beliefs. I started to question, how much horrific behaviour god would allow before saying okay people, that’s enough.

English history is full of the most appalling Catholic versus Protestant behavior. I read with interest the pieces about the Northern Ireland nitwit (Susan-Ann White), she is quite mild, (sane?) compared to some in that country.

My shift away from religious belief has been very gradual, probably over 30 years. I live in a part
of Wisconsin that is mostly Catholic or Lutheran, with very few extremists, though I am aware of several Creationist and anti-evolutionists. I see them as just people to avoid. I have a very good friend who is a Baha’i. She knows my views and doesn’t really accept them, but we don’t discuss them in detail; now as a single man, I really value her friendship.

I follow Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I don’t agree with everything they say,
and quite by chance stumbled onto Bruce’s website. I think I was searching for Atheist Pig cartoons. I have read and appreciate many items on the website, and many of the comments.

So I’m an Englishman, a great believer in science, and I just cannot accept much of the biblical nonsense: virgin birth, original sin, the resurrection, the vile vindictive god of the old testament. Come on, people!

I don’t believe in Heaven and Hell, but if there were such places, I would choose the latter — far more interesting people there. I sometimes feel that, having attended a 1950s English boarding school, I have already been to hell.

Although I am an atheist, I’m somewhat reluctant to call myself one; it seems pointless to give a name to something that occupies so little of my thoughts.

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Respecting Pulp Fiction

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A guest post by Burr Deming. Burr blogs at Fair and Unbalanced

I enjoyed Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. A lot.

I saw it in the theatre twice. I have seen it many times on cable television.

A friend once took up, as a hobby, teasing me about inconsistencies in the production.

In a flashback, Butch the fighter has childhood eyes of different color than he has as an adult. After a shooting, Butch only partially wipes his fingerprints from a gun. He encounters a cab driver who has a license bearing a name the spelling of which does not fit what it should be for an immigrant from her home country.

The list goes on.

Jimmie is a brief reluctant host to a couple of friends who happen to be killers. His wall clock seems to stay at the same time from scene to scene. “Lightning fast action” my friend observed.

A microphone can be seen hanging briefly in reflection at the upper right corner of a window.

That sort of thing.

While it lasted, I had fun participating in my friend’s game. I would present him with explanations.

My own eyes changed color a few years ago. No idea why, but I had to ask for a change in my driver’s license. It happens.

Someone involved in a shooting might indeed fail to be completely diligent in removing evidence. Understandable.

Some bureaucracy misspelled a name? Or someone has a name that runs counter to prevailing culture? My name is “Burr” for God’s sake. Try that for unusual parental inspiration.

A stopped clock? Look at our kitchen. I’ve been telling my loved one for months I’ll replace the battery. I’ll get to it soon, I promise.

The movie microphone reflected in the window still has me stumped. Can’t think of an explanation. So I told him: Every home should have one. He didn’t buy it. When I think of something better, I’ll give him a call.

The bullets stopped me cold, though. Guy steps out with a hand gun and blazes away at two central characters. But at least two of the bullets are suddenly seen in the wall behind them before the guy fires a single shot. First the wall is unmarred, then there are bullet holes, then there are gunshots.

I thought about that movie incident after reading an account by former pastor and current atheist Bruce Gerencser. Bible reading Christians occasionally claim to know more than does he about why he made that transition from faith to atheism.

Bruce responds, reasonably, that he accepts at face value the stories of Christians about their own journey toward faith. He asks for similar respect in return.

All I ask is that Christians do the same, regardless of whether they can square my storyline with their peculiar theology. It’s my story, and who better to tell it than I?

Frequent correspondent Ryan adds his voice, quoting a critic:

“It is the Bible, not I, who says that you do not believe because you do not want to believe. It is because I have studied the Bible and found it to be a reliable predictor of human behavior that I tend to accept its explanation rather than your protestation.”

Who better to tell my story than I? Apparently, any stranger armed with a Bible.

Little irritates me more than people who claim to know what I think or feel or do better than I do after only a few minutes of conversation or after labeling me, especially if they think that a religious text qualifies them to do so.

As I see it, Ryan speaks wisdom.

I can empathize to the extent that I have roughly parallel experiences within my own extended family. One has, by unspoken mutual agreement, avoided contact for a number of years. It seems I am not a real Christian because I do not hate the requisite groups. And I do not realize the actual reason I only pretend to follow Jesus, while refusing to join in God’s hate for Obama, Hillary, and gays.

Another family member, a skeptic, is at the other end of the spectrum. She knows, better than do I, why I submit to my own insecurities, following sheep-like into Christian belief. Her diagnosis: It is mostly because of my inability to venture into independent thought. I notice her slowing her words way down as she gently describes to me the obvious emotional deficiency that limits my mental range.

Okay, I admit all that has the ability to irritate. I respond in what I hope is gentle sarcasm. I flatter myself, believing that I know my inward thoughts more than anyone else could. And I enjoy living in the illusion that I am capable of rationality.

My friend J. Myste teaches me that a little gentle mocking is not injurious to mental health. He once complimented me on my staggering intellect, which was evident in the mental gymnastics I showed in defending an absurd religion. He once added this:

However, I think you really believe that God has visited my heart. You could be right. Perhaps God is influencing me. Perhaps the exorcism is not yet complete.

The Bible experience to which Ryan was subjected is not that uncommon. I once watched in awe as a visitor searched frantically through his Bible for a verse he knew would settle an argument. The argument was about whether scripture is infallible.

Circular logic sometimes seems to find its orbit around me. My friends help me out occasionally, in discovering it in my own reasoning.

One zombie story from long, long ago still occasionally makes the rounds. A religious man describes to a friend how very impressed he is with a new acquaintance. The new fellow actually talks with God. The friend is curious.

“Talks with God? How do you know that?”
“He said so himself!”
“But maybe he lied!”
“Would a man who talks with God lie?”

Unusual logic does not always flow in only one direction.

In my college days, a psych professor explained why religious beliefs are inherently absurd. Everything in the universe, including him and me, is merely an evolved combination of matter and energy. I remember suggesting that there is still wonder in our ability to analyze. If we are merely collections of matter and energy, then our universe of matter and energy is itself examined by a small number of its own collections of matter and energy. And that is a matter of wonder. There is a transcendence in consciousness.

He was dismissive. Consciousness, he said, is an illusion.

I regarded that with hidden amusement. I thought to myself, if consciousness is an illusion, who is around to be fooled?

I later discovered that he was presenting what had already become an aggressive argument when discussions of science and philosophy intersect. That aggressiveness sometimes approached antagonism. There was no room in a scientific worldview for consciousness.

Everything is composed of matter and energy. The only conclusion is that there is no such thing as consciousness.

I eventually happened upon Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest who was also a renowned paleontologist. I was amused at what I saw as an exercise in intellectual jujitsu. Teilhard agreed with a materialistic worldview. Everything is indeed composed of matter and energy. The only possible conclusion was that all matter and energy possess a sort of proto-consciousness that becomes something more as organisms evolve into complexity.

The late David Foster Wallace, in a famous commencement address, illustrated how the committed perspectives of two individuals could compel radically different conclusions. At first, I thought he was making fun of atheism. But with a little thought, I changed my mind:

There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer.

And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing.

“Just last month I got caught away from camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.’”

And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.”

The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.”

The atheist is right, from his perspective. The prayer for a winning lotto ticket may seem to be answered, but there had to have been several million unanswered prayers as well. Statistics are on his side.

My desperate prayers that our young Marine might return safely from the battle zones of Afghanistan prove only that most combat heroes come back unharmed. We don’t know how many prayers were answered only with tragedy, death, and grief.

Does prayer cast us into a sort of Schrödinger parallel timeline? How can we know what, if anything but chance, guided those Eskimos to us?

In some religious argument, I have the advantage of having no compelling case to make. I can provide what many Christians call witness to my own belief. But it does not come from a Paul-of-Tarsus-like epiphany. In fact, I experience faith as more a weakness of imagination.

I can grasp the intellectual argument made by materialists. I can envision the amazing constructs that carbon atoms can achieve when the right series of chance cosmic occurrences combine with a lucky lightning strike and a few billion years of evolution. I can see in my mind some series of combinations of matter and energy that make up my desk, my computer, me, my loved one, our children, and others whom I love.

That love represents a problem, at least for me.

I do not have the capacity to sustain that materialistic grasp in my daily life, or in the experiences that matter most to me. Am I really a group of atoms and energy swirls that loves other similarly configured groups? It is possible, but I cannot sustain that view. I measure some ethical value by my level of care for what Jesus tells me is the least of these. I care about justice and injustice. It matters to me what policies our government follows and who lives, who dies, who is provided for as a result.

In my life, there have been a few individuals I have most admired. In my best moments, I have been able to act in ways I believe might have earned their approval. At least I enjoy thinking that. They were able to maintain a materialistic worldview that supported a level of love, ethics, and meaning that I can only have aspired to follow.

But I have trouble reconciling my cares, my loves, my character, my consciousness, with a purely materialistic view.

There is nothing in my internal experience that I would expect others to find compelling, unless there exists some chance encounter with someone who finds a fit. I would guess internal evidence is often compelling only to the one doing the experiencing.

As a Christian, I do share a communal vulnerability. Our faith is historically based, at least in part. Our belief comes from our view of history.

I am not concerned with the truth or falsehood of the Virgin Birth or the astrologers traveling from points east. The census that required a trip to Bethlehem may be fictional. I enjoy the water-to-wine story and the raising of Lazarus, but neither is central to my faith. I’m okay with Jesus walking on water, or knowing which stone to step on, or surfing on a piece of driftwood, or simply standing on shore.

I do love the idea that God would come to earth as human, experiencing more temptation, pain, and struggle than most of humanity. So my faith would be shattered if it was proven to me that Jesus died running in panic from Gethsemane with a Roman spear in his back.

But even that twisting of the universe might reinforce what I already know: that the specifics of my religious faith are constructs that make a deeper truth comprehensible to me.

That may be why I enjoyed Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. It has to do with those bullets.

One of the gunmen in the path of those shots quickly decides that he ought to have been killed, that he is at the center of a miracle.

On the surface it seems absurd. He is, after all, in the business of terrifying, then killing, helpless victims. He seems to enjoy the evil he generates. He has fun destroying others. But then comes that moment of new clarity. God had come into his life.

His friend, the other gunman, disagrees.

“I just been sitting here thinking.”
“About what?”
“About the miracle we just witnessed.”
“The miracle you witnessed. I witnessed a freak occurrence.”

The gunman explains: It doesn’t matter.

I mean, it could be that God stopped the bullets, or He changed Coke to Pepsi, or He found my … car keys. Whether or not what we experienced was an According-to-Hoyle miracle is insignificant. What is significant is that I felt the touch of God.

In the silence of the night, I can often close my eyes, look inward, and feel a presence not my own. Perhaps it is only a phantom reflection of myself, or maybe a form of prayer. It is possible that I sense only the breath and the pulse and the touch of life.

Only.

It could be that I experience the consciousness that my psychology professor called an illusion. I’m okay with the universe in which I dwell turning out to be the accidental matrix made up of molecules.

It still is my home.

In friendly argument with a friend, I mimicked traditional religious posture. After all, it seems to be the way of the world.

“We can agree to disagree,” I told him. “You worship God in your way. I’ll worship him in His.”

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 email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser