Menu Close

Tag: Guest Post

The Evangelical Reckoning

guest post

A Guest Post by Larry C

Over a century ago, upon reviewing the work of the white churches, Frederick Douglass had this to say:

Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason but the most deceitful one for calling the religion of this land Christianity . . . .

White evangelicals have a real and deep reckoning coming. They have embraced exactly what Fredrick Douglass refers to as the bad, corrupt and wicked. This is not anything new. They have always done so. The white Evangelical movement has a long and dark history of racism, bigotry, misogyny, child abuse, and intolerance in general —  all of which are unchristian at their core.

I am not saying that all white evangelicals embrace these evils. Large and increasing numbers are rejecting these flaws and are instead finding a new path of greater love and tolerance for their fellow man. Still others are leaving the movement entirely. There is a wide diversity of beliefs under the umbrella of evangelicalism so it is very difficult to say anything that applies to all of them. Instead of trying to parse all the variations in the beliefs of these groups, it is easier to simply call those that still embrace the evils of the past as the “Religious Right.”

It is those who still adhere to the conservative values of 150 years ago who are most being blinded to the harm that they perpetuate. The more conservative they are, the more they cling to the ideas of the past. When you fast forward to today and look at the beliefs and actions of the Religious Right, they are still rooted in bigotry, racism, misogyny, hypocrisy and intolerance. If you look at what is important to them today, you can see the basic values are still the same.

Movement of faith becomes movement of grievances. For the Religious Right, the big three issues are Abortion, LGBTQ rights, and evolution. They have been trying to overturn Roe v. Wade for decades. Their goal is to give local state governments the power to outlaw abortion, thus allowing the government to tell women what they can do with their bodies. To say that women don’t have the right to decide for themselves is clearly misogynistic. They have been trying to overturn LGBTQ rights from the first moment these rights were affirmed by the courts. They want to be able to discriminate against them with no consequence. They want to be able to deny them seats in restaurants, service by businesses, and even health care. This is the same old racism we saw leveled against African Americans for centuries. Now, it’s against gays. The last of the big three is evolution. The Bible has a creationist view of our origins. The Religious Right has been attacking evolution for a century, not simply because the story is different, but because it is incompatible with the bible. And the Religious Right is totally intolerant of any view that is incompatible with theirs. Their intolerance does not begin and end with evolution. It permeates virtually every core belief that they have, which leads to all the other issues we see with the Religious Right. This goes in lock step with their denial of science as a whole. Science is not biblical.

Absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power.

Eric Hoffer

All of this would not really be a problem for the rest of us except for the fact that the Right has chosen a path of political power over religious persuasion. Political power can be wielded quickly. Persuasion takes time and patience. Political power can be wielded nationally while persuasion starts locally and only spreads nationally when locally successful. Persuasion has been largely a failure in expanding their views so the cudgel of the force of law has become the weapon of choice. They are less interested in changing minds and more interested in changing laws. They believe that they are doing “God’s work.” They believe this gives them the right to do anything regardless of the ethical and moral problems associated with it. In short, they have come to believe that the end justifies the means.

They raise huge amounts of money and embark on acquiring the political power that comes with the money. They forge relationships with governors, senators, lobbyists, leaders of industry, and anyone who can advance their agenda. They donate huge sums of money to political campaigns. Little by little they make moral compromises. One piece at a time, they sell their souls to the devil. They become duplicitous and dishonest. To that end they have made a devil’s bargain. Their support of a man like Donald Trump is only the latest manifestation of this bargain.

Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.

Eric Hoffer

Pastors of mega-churches amass fortunes on the donations of people who can ill afford to donate. We see them hawking “prayer cloths” and “holy anointing oil” supposedly blessed by God with the promise that God will answer their prayers if they buy this stuff. They preach the “prosperity gospel” telling their people that they will become rich and prosperous if they pray hard enough and donate enough money. The leaders of these movements become richer and richer while their spiritual worth becomes poorer and poorer. They preach Christian values to ensnare the followers and behind closed doors they behave as corruptly as the worst of us. From the sexual scandals of Jimmy Swaggert, Ted Haggard, and Jerry Falwell Jr. to the financial crimes of Jim Bakker and Ephren Taylor, they are as hypocritical as they can get. They have been seduced and corrupted by fame, money, and power absolutely. They continue to fleece their flocks of trusting followers week after week, year after year, becoming obscenely rich on the donations of the faithful. And for good reason, it’s easy: They just tell their followers what they want to hear.

Week after week, year after year, the faithful hand over their money as if they were in a trance. Their trust in these charlatans is seen as a measure of their faith in God. In a sense, it is their reward for their naïve, childlike trust in these charismatic authority figures and their willingness to be deceived. It’s easy to fleece them blind once you are seen as God’s messenger. And the grift goes on and on. What do you get when you mix a conman preacher with sheep asking to be sheared? You get what you deserve.

It has been reported that child abuse is worse in the Evangelical Church community than in the Catholic Church, and like the Catholic Church, the leaders of the Religious Right would rather bury these cases than own up to them. There is a long history of sexual child abuse by the pastors of Evangelical churches and, so far, no real effort to confront it. Instead, the powers that decide the response choose to hide the abuse and blame the victim for reporting the abuse, thus abusing the victim a second time. This is being exposed by the Guidepost Solutions audit and report of 2022 to the SBC Executive Committee. Finally admitting that this is happening and dealing with this will be a major part of the coming reckoning.

Evangelical treatment of women is just as bad. For the sake of “biblical purity”, they treat women like second-class human beings, worth less than a man. From their views on abortion to their beliefs that women should be totally subservient to their husbands, they see women as being less. Women are treated as less. Women are devalued as less.

A friend of our family, an evangelical, once characterized Democrats as “baby killers.” She was completely oblivious to the fact that many Democrats are Pro-Life Catholics. She didn’t comprehend that you could be Jewish and Pro-Life either. Her view is the prevailing view of evangelicals.

Their intolerance is like the blinders on a horse. Their view is deliberately narrowed; their understanding is simplified into black vs. white; us versus them; good versus evil choices. There is no room for gray areas; no understanding of other points of view; no room for tolerance. 

All of these sins of the Religious Right are coming to the surface in today’s politics and are becoming ever more visible. This has never been more self-evident than in their unconditional support for Donald Trump, a man that stands 180 degrees opposite from everything that they profess to believe in. They are willing to support and defend separating immigrant children from their parents at the border and putting them in cages; a move that experts say will leave these children with lifelong emotional damage. By their support for the program separating the children from their parents, they enable destroying immigrant families, increasing violence against Muslims and other minorities. They support a man who lies with every breath, steals at every opportunity, and has no regard at all for the rule of law or the political norms that have made our democracy so successful. They support a man whose cruelty and lack of empathy harms everyone in his orbit. And they continue to support him in spite of the overwhelming evidence that he does not give a damn about their faith, their country, or anything else but himself. To think that they support Trump in spite of his values would be wrong. They support him because of his values. They support his racism, misogyny, and bigotry because these are also their values. It’s not faith that decides their beliefs, it’s the politics of racism, bigotry, and intolerance — intolerance that is systemic and pervasive. It’s a longstanding bigotry that extends all the way back to our time of slavery. Evangelicals are perpetuating it to this day and they see in Donald Trump a strong man who will allow them to impose the worst in their nature on all of American society by the force of law. This is the bargain they struck with this evil man. This is what they have sold their souls for.

There is another aspect of the Religious Right that needs acknowledging, perhaps the most dangerous aspect. We see violence and militancy in the movement that is both striking and alarming. White Christian Nationalism has become a prominent part of their ideology. Instead of messengers of God, they see themselves as “soldiers of God.” They see the world in a binary “us versus them” war of good versus evil, God versus the devil. As a result, they are prone to justify the use of violence to fight this war. The bombings and arson of abortion clinics are examples. The harassment of abortion clinic workers is an ongoing and persistent occurrence. The murders of abortion doctors such as George Tiller and Barnett Slepian are additional examples. Paul J. Hill, a Pastor, shot and killed Dr. John Bayard Britton (an abortion provider) in July 1994 in Pensacola, Florida. Before he was executed for the crime Hill stated “I’m willing and I feel very honored that they are most likely going to kill me for what I did,” The Religious Right has adopted an end-justifies-the-means attitude that again, has roots that run long and deep in their history, and runs counter to all that is Biblical. Violence for political gain has become an accepted method of the Religious Right. Many of the rioters that stormed our capitol on January 6th were doing so with a religious motivation to “go to war” for God. After all, Trump is God’s President.

The reckoning is coming. I believe that it has already begun. I see it coming in many forms. The unconditional support for Trump has alienated an entire generation of young evangelicals who not only reject Trumpism but reject the entire racist underpinnings that pervade the evangelical movement. The evangelical movement is losing the young at alarming numbers. The youth have seen the movement for what it is and many have moved beyond the tipping point and are leaving. It’s not just the young. Many of the more progressive corners of the movement have already spoken out against the racism, bigotry, and misogyny in the movement. They have denounced Trumpism for what it is and have put their words to action. Political action groups and progressive publications are all starting to dot the otherwise red landscape. More and more, pastors and other church leaders are speaking out about how their movement has been corrupted by the pursuit of wealth, fame, and political power. They speak of how their movement has been enablers of racism, misogyny, bigotry and Trumpism.

Rod Dreher, writing in the American Conservative a piece called The Coming Christian Reckoning, says:

I expect that a number of congregations will be seized by a spirit of “wokeness” commensurate to how other congregations were seized by a spirit of #MAGA. It’s all a false idol. All of it. The path out of this dark wood leads through pain and suffering. There’s no doubt about it. The church is not the Republican Party (nor the Democratic Party) at prayer — and to the extent that it is, it deserves to die.

His words echo the growing awareness of how the movement has been corrupted by politics. This awareness is growing in strength and numbers, leading to a fragmentation of the Evangelical movement. Many are speaking out. Many more are leaving altogether.

In her blog, The LPM Blog, Beth Moore, a prominent and outspoken Evangelical leader, author, and founder of the Living Proof Ministries publicly said the following:

Some key Christian leaders ’had attitudes’ that smacked of misogyny, objectification and astonishing disesteem of women and it spread like wildfire.” She further goes on to say: “I came face to face with one of the most demoralizing realizations of my adult life: Scripture was not the reason for the colossal disregard and disrespect of women among many of these men. It was only the excuse. Sin was the reason, ungodliness.

In response to the support for Donald Trump, Beth Moore also tweeted in December, 2019, that “Evangelicalism as we knew it, as imperfect as it was because we are imperfect, passed away in 2016. History will plant its grave marker there.”

Beth Moore has paid a heavy price by the Evangelical Southern Baptist establishment.  Not only has she been widely criticized for her views, but she has also been called a heretic.  She has been accused of being “at war with the Bible” and called a “rabid never-Trumper.” She was so marginalized that in March of 2021 she left the Southern Baptist Church and joined the Anglican Church where she remains today.

Russell Moore, a prominent evangelical theologian and (former) member of the Southern Baptist Counsel was forced to resign his position on the SBC for criticizing Donald Trump in 2016. He was also a prominent critic of the way the SBC handled allegations of misogyny and sexual abuse within the church. Thousands of public comments calling him a Democrat and liberal and therefore an enemy of the evangelical world had the impact of shunning him from the church and evangelical community. Today, Russell Moore is a writer for Christianity Today magazine and a full-time theologian.

 Bruce Gerencser was an Evangelical Baptist pastor for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. In 2005 he left the ministry. In 2008 he left Christianity completely. His parting words on his blog in 2008 summed up the reasons for leaving simply and revealingly.

Dear God,

I can’t pretend anymore.

I can’t lie to myself anymore.

I can’t lie to others anymore.

And most of all, I can’t lie to You.

I still believe that You are the Living God.

I still believe Your Word to be Truth.

I still believe I am your Child.

But I can’t stand some of Your Children.

Their hatred wounds.

Their self-righteousness cuts.

Their narrow-mindedness tears.

And I can’t have those kinds of people in my life anymore.

What is a man to do when all that he has ever known is found to be a lie?

What is a man to do when hatred and self-righteousness are passed off as virtues?

What is a man to do when he can’t find God where God should be found?

This man quits.                             

Today Bruce Gerencser writes a “post-Evangelical” blog. He identifies himself as a Humanist and Atheist.    

Beth Moore, Russell Moore, and Bruce Gerencser are not unique. A growing number of former Evangelical leaders have left the movement and sometimes the Church as a whole, never to return.

 A slow shattering of the Evangelical movement is happening before our eyes. Instead of being centers of faith and religious thought, in the words of Peter Wehner writing in The Atlantic,

Evangelicals have become political, tribal and repositories of grievances. Their religious priorities have been replaced by political priorities. Evangelicalism is dying by its own hands and thru its own actions. Trump was not the root cause but was the accelerant that triggered a slow ember of resentment and fear of “the other” to explode into a raging fire. This fire will consume not only evangelicalism but is likely to consume the Baptist world as a whole. It’s too late to put out the fire. There is little that the rest of us can do except wait until the fire has consumed all that it will and pick up the pieces. Until then, try not to get burned.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

A Tale of Two Prelates

guest post

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Two priests rose to positions of power in large American dioceses. After attaining their positions, one went on to become the Archpriest of Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the major Papal basilicas in Rome.  The other would be laicized and therefore a pariah in the Church community, not to mention among his former clerical colleagues.

Oh, and being laicized was the latter priest’s punishment for, in part, doing what the other priest should have done: namely, calling out priests’ and other church officials’ sexual abuse of children.

Two decades ago, the Boston Globe (behind paywall) published a series of articles—which became the basis of the 2015 film “Spotlight”–documenting allegations, which were later proved, of sexual abuse by priests and lay members of religious orders in the Roman Catholic Church. Although there were reports and warnings about such abuse as early as 1985, it took the Globe report to call attention to the problem, in part because the Boston Archdiocese has long been one of the largest and most influential in the United States, while the 1985 report focused on incidents in Louisiana. Also, by the time the Globe series came out, the language, culture and attendant attitudes about sexual victimization were changing: Although the “Me Too” movement was another decade and a half in the future, public awareness, and victims’ willingness to speak of, sexual violence was growing, however slowly. Also, the Church was losing—again, however slowly—its grip on public discourse.

The Globe reports revealed not only the identities of some predatory priests, it also showed how Archdiocese and Church officials—including Archbishop (and Cardinal) Bernard Francis Law— helped to cover up the abuse by, among other things, moving offending priests from parish to parish and intimidating victims into silence. 

 Not long after the Globe exposé was published, Law—arguably the most powerful American priest after Cardinal/Archbishop O’Connor of New York—was forced to resign his post. But, being the resourceful executive he was, he landed on his feet—in Rome, where Pope John Paul II appointed him the Archpriest of Santa Maria Maggiore. That made him a citizen of Vatican City, and therefore immune to prosecution by American authorities.

In contrast to Law, a priest in Oakland, California did what secular law (ironic, isn’t it?) and basic human decency dictated: He called attention to the sexual abuse his administrative superiors claimed not to know about or denied. In 2005, Tim Steir refused an assignment in the Oakland Diocese over its handling (or, perhaps, lack thereof) of sexual abuse claims. For more than a decade, he spent every Sunday outside the Diocese cathedral calling for church accountability and justice for its victims.

Although he hoped for the best, he wasn’t naïve: he wasn’t surprised when, earlier this year, the Vatican came for his collar. Still, he said, “it felt like a blow.” He was sad and angry because, “If I’d been raping kids, I wouldn’t have been thrown out of the club.”

Perhaps no more damning indictment—or truer observation–of any organization has ever been made. I know: the priest who abused me as a child died long before I, or any of his other victims, could speak of our experiences, and he enjoyed all of the post-mortem benefits of a man who “dedicated” his life to God—or, more precisely, the institution of the Church. When, a few years ago, he was listed—like two other priests from that same parish—as a sexual abuser, some members of that church—who include some of my classmates from that church’s school—branded his victims as “liars” and “opportunists.” (Mind you, I have not benefited, except in terms of my emotional well-being, from speaking of my abuse.) 

For his honesty and forthrightness, Father Steir was rewarded by—having “Father” removed from his name. In the ranks of the Roman Catholic clergy, he became a persona non grata earlier this year. As his “parting gift,” if you will, to the church—but, more specifically, to his former colleagues and any Church members who are paying attention—he wrote an open letter to them. In addition to denouncing the ways in which the worldwide Church and its individual Archdioceses, Dioceses, and parishes have denied or covered up abuse, he made a clarion call for more tolerant attitudes toward LGBTQ and other non-conforming people, and called for the Church to restore a right priests had until the 12th Century: marriage. While I don’t think allowing priests to wed would eliminate pedophilia (plenty of married men molest children) or change the priesthood’s status as a haven for closeted gay men, it would at least give priests a more realistic idea of the challenges faced by the married couples they counsel. 

Call me cynical, but even under the current Pope, I don’t envision the changes Steir recommends coming to pass. I also fully expect that after the current Pope leaves his office, voluntarily or otherwise, the College of Cardinals—the Church’s real power, much as the Supreme Court in the United  States—will appoint someone more reactionary, not only than the current Pontiff, but also his predecessor. People such as Tim Steir will be ex-priests—and prelates like Bernard Law will be even more privileged than they were under Popes John Paul II and Benedict.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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 Attack on Salman Rushdie: Why I Am Afraid. Very Afraid.

guest post

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

J’ai peur.  Parfois, j’ai beaucoup de peur.

Perhaps it has something to do with having been an Army Reservist and reading Hemingway in my youth, but one of my definitions of true friendship includes the emotional space to frankly express fear, in whatever language.

I first met Noem thirty-five years ago and Marie-Jeanne a couple of years later, not long after they began to date. They were delighted that I remembered their recent 30th wedding anniversary. But that was not the occasion of their visit two weeks ago. They (and I) hadn’t planned to take a major trip this summer because of the costs and the general insanity in transit hubs. But they decided to come because in late June their son, who graduated from university two years ago, moved here for his job. Marie-Jeanne, ever the mom, wanted to be sure that he was safe and well—which, of course, he is.

This was not their first time in New York, so I wanted them to have an experience I assumed (correctly) they hadn’t had: a tour of the graffiti murals in the industrial areas of central and eastern Brooklyn. And, because I knew they wanted to eat something they probably wouldn’t have at home, and I wanted them to experience something authentic and unpretentious, I took them to Christina’s, a place that seems like a cross between a working-class café in Kraców and a New Jersey roadside diner. We were the only non-Polish patrons in that eatery—on Manhattan Avenue, in the heart of the Polish enclave of Greenpoint, Brooklyn—where the soundtrack consisted of a combination of songs from the home country, Frank Sinatra and ‘70’s pop tunes. They loved it.

Over pierogies, I expressed my fears of what is happening in this country. While there are nationalists and flat-out racists in their country’s public life, and some express anxiety that Muslims will take over their country (though, contrary to such fears, followers of Mohammedism comprise only about a tenth of the population), France’s public discourse hasn’t been as infected with religion as it has in the United States. Moreover, while some invoke myths—which they take as historic facts—about their country’s Christian heritage, there is little, if any, equivalent to the Christian Nationalism—or, for that matter, any sort of religious nationalism–that some American politicians publicly espouse.

I was reminded of the fears I expressed to them when I heard about the attack on Salman Rushdie. His alleged assailant, Hadi Matar, wasn’t born until nearly a decade after Ayatollah Khomeini deemed Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses blasphemous and issued a fatwa calling for the novelist’s assassination. According to Matar’s mother, he became radicalized after a 2018 trip to visit his father in Lebanon. I am guessing that Matar has never read Rushdie’s novel and heard about the fatwa third-hand. But as young men with no hope or direction—the “target audience” of hard-line religious leaders and nationalists (and military recruiters)—are wont to do, he imbibed the inflammatory rhetoric and metabolized the anger it expressed into fibers of resentment that bound up his mental energies.

The attack reminded me of this: once a trusted authority figure expounds a narrative that posits someone who simply thinks differently as an “enemy” or “infidel,” someone else—often, a young man like Matar, who had nothing to lose and nothing to look forward to—will take it to heart, never mind how much it’s been discredited. Although Khomeini is long dead and Rushdie emerged from hiding, the Iranian state has reiterated the fatwa.  Even if it hadn’t, people like Matar would, in essence, keep it alive, just as Adolf Hitler—the biggest failure in the history of humanity—continues to inspire violence and hatred against Jews and people who aren’t white, heterosexual, and cisgender. They don’t even need the memory of the Fuhrer: Their interpretations of the Bible—which, as often as not, are little more than summaries of their pastors’ sermons—will give them all of the rationales they need to fabricate narratives of people such as I “grooming” children and call for our persecution or even death. It’s not such a leap from that to declaring that an opponent has “stolen” the election and anyone who says otherwise is aiding and abetting a conspiracy and therefore needs to be destroyed.

In other words, hate is never destroyed nor conquered. In fact, it is too often given new life by people who claim to follow a “gospel of love” (as many Christians like to call their holy text) or a “religion of peace” (the literal meaning of the word “Islam”). And such hate can sweep up any country, no matter how educated or enlightened it fancies itself to be. (Germany was the most technologically advanced country of its time when Hitler came into power and was, in the eyes of the world, “the land of Mozart.”) I think Noem, Jewish by heritage, and Marie-Jeanne, of Catholic lineage—both raised in secular homes and now living as atheists—understand as much. That is why, after hearing about the attack on Salman Rushdie, they sent me this text message: “Are you OK?”

For now, I am. But I am still afraid. I’ai beaucoup de peur.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Whose Stories of Doubting and Questioning Do We Hear?

guest post

Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Recently, I wrote about a friend who is doubting the god in which she had always believed. That got me thinking about a book I read early in my gender affirmation process: She’s Not There.

Jennifer Boylan’s account of growing up as a closeted (as nearly all of us were) transgender and her route to self-realization is skillfully written and therefore, mostly engaging. But there was something about it that I didn’t quite trust. I’m not just talking about the normal biases we all have in telling our own, or any other, stories. Rather, I realized, that she seemed not to realize that her transition, while not easy, was still smoother than most, aided by privilege she probably didn’t realize she had when she lived as James.

She grew up, if not affluent, then at least comfortably upper middle class. All of her education took place in secular private schools. And, by the time she wrote She’s Not There, she—as James—had become an acclaimed novelist and tenured professor in a liberal arts college where most students come from backgrounds like her own.

Now, to be fair, her level of privilege pales in comparison to what Bruce Jenner had before—and, to a great degree, has enjoyed since—becoming Caitlyn. She has become a kind of transgender Tucker Carlson and, thus, for much of the political right (excluding, of course, the highly religious and pure-and-simple haters), their idea of what a trans person “should be” or, worse, “really is.” Likewise, Ms. Boylan seems to have settled into a career as a transgender Maureen Dowd, presenting gender issues to her mostly educated center-left readers without challenging them to ask any really difficult questions about themselves.  So, for her audience, she has become the “representative” trans woman, just as Caitlyn Jenner has become for hers.

What I’ve come to realize, as a transgender woman from a working-class background, is whose stories are not only told, but paid attention to. Yes, as a white male who usually “passed” as heterosexual (I am bi but most of my relationships have been with women), I had a level of privilege not afforded to others.  But even within the white male milieu, I was, at best, in a lower-to-middle-rung, socially and economically, and my status has probably dropped since starting my “transition.”

A similar phenomenon, if not controls, then at least influences, the world of atheists, agnostics, questioners, and those who may believe but don’t identify with a particular faith tradition. Some have asked, on this blog and in other venues, why there seem to be so few atheists who aren’t white and well-educated. Now, I haven’t been able to find any surveys or other research that classified non-believers or non-religious people by race or socioeconomic class. But I would venture this guess: the stories we hear are mainly of those who dissected, if you will, the sacred texts and traditions of the churches or other religious institutions in which they grew up. 

Being able to deconstruct, if you will, those books and customs, means not only being intimately familiar with them, but also having the means—whether they are dialectical tools or simply the time—to do so.  For most, that means having a rigorous formal education, whether in those texts and traditions themselves, and in the analytical skills to take them apart, but also in the rhetorical modes to express them.

Most people who have such skills—and, again, the time (this can’t be overemphasized) to do so come from relatively privileged backgrounds. There are exceptions, of course, such as Bruce, but even though he didn’t attend some prestigious seminary or divinity school, nonetheless had enough of a background in the Bible—and, most important, has an inquiring mind—to ask, what, exactly, he had been preaching from the time he was fifteen until he was fifty. 

Everything I’ve just said, I suppose, relates to what Cicero said: Victor imperatus. The winner dictates or, as Churchill said, writes the histories. The “victors” I’ve described aren’t, of course, triumphant generals, but folks who are perhaps even more powerful: the ones who dominate the popular as well as the intellectual discourse. 

I have come to believe that what I’ve described—in the transgender as well as the non-theistic communities—is a reason why we really don’t know whether the “vast middle” of the United States, monolithically loves “God and Guns,” as Barack Obama famously said, or perhaps harbors more non-believers, doubters or questioners than we realize. While I don’t doubt that there is more religious fervor in folks who live outside of the coastal and Beltway “bubbles,” and I have to ask whether we have been blind to those—a minority, to be sure—who don’t express their questions or doubts openly, whether because of the ostracism they could face in their own communities, or simply because they know they can’t or won’t be heard. 

My friend is one of them. Although she lives in the same “blue” city as I do, and her upbringing was like mine, she didn’t have the opportunity or inclination to learn formal methods (which is to say, those that are recognized by the socio-intellectual establishment) of inquiry and came from a church and community that enforced a belief based on texts she was discouraged from reading. She has come to question, late in her life (assuming, of course, that she doesn’t break some record for longevity), beliefs she has long held. 

In brief, I think that while the source of her questions and doubts is different from some of ours, it is no less valid—and deserves to be heard, just as the experiences of a trans person of color who was kicked out of their home (or ran away from said home after continuous bullying) are as vital to understanding us, individually and as a community, as those of a white upper-middle class trans person who becomes a tenured professor—or a commentator on Fox News.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

How My Mind Was Set Free

guest post

Guest Post by Merle Hertzler. Merle blogs at The Mind Set Free.

I learned early that I was not to question my religion. I was to simply have faith. And yet somehow the questions would still come. I would sometimes question the Bible. How did we know it was God’s Word? I would sometimes question Jesus. How did we know he was God? I never dared to ask these questions out loud, but in my own mind, yes, I asked these questions often.

The questions demanded attention. But simultaneously, there was always the nagging fear of what would happen if I died while I was in a state that questioned the faith. I simply could not take that chance. The consequences of dying in doubt could well be unimaginable.

So, I asked questions, yes, but I always knew what the answer needed to be. The side of my mind that argued for Christ had to beat out the side that argued against.

It is as if my mind included an advocate for the faith, an advocate against the faith, and a referee. The referee always sided with the advocate for the faith. And so, the advocate for the faith always won, two to one.

Those times were never fun. I longed to be free from doubts. And so, by sheer willpower, I pushed those questions aside.

But my mind was not really free.

Many years later, the dam would break. The questions would come out–gradually at first, then with a rush. And when it was all over, my mind was free.

I grew up in a conservative Mennonite home. We didn’t listen to secular music, watched only a select few TV shows, and centered our lives on conservative religion.

When I was 14 years old, my family and I joined a fundamentalist church, one that did not question the Bible. Fundamentalism became a way of life for me. Everything that entered my mind had to come through its filter. I soaked it all in.

I was terrified of hell and would often lie awake at night worrying about it. Even in social settings, I would be sitting there thinking about hell. Fundamentalism offered a solution. It said that all one had to do was accept Jesus. So, I did it. Did I do it right? I didn’t know. So, I did it again. I still wasn’t sure that I had done it right. And so, I did it again and again in my mind. I prayed that God would be merciful to me a sinner. I invited Jesus into my heart. Over and over, I accepted him in any way I could think to accept Christ.

One day I read the tract, What Must I Do to Be Saved, by John R Rice. It told me I did not need to concentrate on getting the act of believing right or saying the right words. I just needed to choose to believe. That’s it? All I needed to do was choose to believe? Fine. I chose to believe. Case closed. Let’s move on.

And so, I proceeded in life as though the case was closed. What a relief! I thought that everybody else surely had similar worries and needed to know this news of deliverance from hell.

“Grace, my fears relieved”, the old song says, but before that, “It was grace that taught my heart to fear.” Religion offered a cure for my fears. But what had caused the fears? Religion. Does Christianity invent the fears it then relieves? Is it solving a problem that it created?

I found relief from my fears. But to tell you the truth, faith did not do a really good job of it. The fear of hell had finally become manageable, yes, but it was always in the background.

As a Fundamentalist Baptist

In college, I joined an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church, which then controlled every aspect of my life. I went door to door on the streets of the Bible belt, witnessing to those who may have missed God’s plan of salvation. Everybody at this church was told to be a soul winner. The pastor boomed his message from the pulpit, yelling at those who stayed home on visitation night. We had to be out there winning souls.

We didn’t want anybody to die and go to hell without knowing the way of salvation. If somebody didn’t know, then we needed to tell them. I wonder now, why did God need us to tell that story? Didn’t he have all the resources he needed? If we failed to tell somebody, and as a result that person suffered for eternity without ever having known the escape plan, how could a loving God let that happen? I never asked those questions back then. I was winning souls.

The pastor also yelled at those that listened to rock music, gave less than 10% of their income to the church, had the wrong haircut, or attended a movie theater. We were told exactly how to live our lives, and we obediently followed. It was the only life we knew.

In my senior year of college (1978) the pastor moved to another church, and the church deteriorated into disarray. I was confused. This was all I had to live for, and it had fallen apart. I saw the dark side of the church. There was chaos at some church functions. Once when we were singing Just as I Am over and over as an alter call, people became so bored that the song died in the middle and we never finished it. I had thought that we were saving the world. Now I looked at the lives that had been saved and wondered if it had meant anything.

Meanwhile, I watched as the story of Jim Jones and the mass suicide in Guyana appeared on TV. The story of those poor people following every command of their leader seemed all too real to me. I had been living my life much like they had. I could understand why they followed so obediently. Religion can do that to a person. Had I been deluded also?

There was something else that bothered me. I had been reading through the Bible every year since I was in 11th grade–every word of every verse–and was disturbed about what I was reading. Have you ever read the tales of killing, greed, and arrogance that fill the Old Testament? Do you ever question their relevance? I was not sure that I could trust the Bible any longer. As my confidence in the Bible withered, apathy set in.

Despair

I graduated from college with no meaning to life. My Christian hope had gone. I cannot begin to describe the despair that filled my life for the first two years after graduation. There was nothing to live for. I wanted to be happy, but I didn’t know why that would matter. Two hundred years from now, who would ever care if the bones left behind had supported a happy person or a sad person? Probably nobody would ever care.

But somehow, I cared. And I wasn’t sure why. I wanted to be happy. But instead, I knew apathy, bitterness, struggle, frustration, anger and confusion.

When my Christian hope had faded, why didn’t I look for something else? I didn’t know there was another way. I had grown up in Christian schools, Sunday schools, and Bible studies. The Bible was the only hope I knew, and it now seemed so inadequate. I never thought to look elsewhere–such is the grip that religion can have. I wish now that somebody had told me how to live the good life without the Bible. But I would not learn that until many years later.

Digging out

In desperation, I turned to Christian books. I had no intention of going back to my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist days. I thought that perhaps a milder brand of Christianity could help. As I read, I felt encouraged. Was God leading me back to himself? I thought that he was. And so, I made a commitment to walk close to the Lord again. I found that Christianity worked much better for me than apathy.

I would often go to a park and find a forsaken place alone with God where I could pray. I would pour out my heart to God, and I would leave refreshed. I took this as proof that Christianity was true.

I was soon to find the writings of C. S. Lewis. I found them fascinating. He did not just quote Bible verses. He used reason. I liked that. I read his books with enthusiasm and formed a new outlook on life.

I was back to seeing myself and others as rebellious sinners against God. I believed that I had rebelled against God, and that this had brought on the two years of depression. It was all my fault.

I saw others also in the same light as I saw myself. If somebody did something that hurt me, then I figured they must be doing it because they had given in to their evil, sinful nature. I would get bitter at those who had followed their inner sinful self in ways that hurt me. Sometimes I snapped at people and let them know how bad they were. That wasn’t good.

But I also found that religion helped me to keep my mouth shut. If inside I was bad, then I needed to keep that bad anger inside. It came from my fallen nature. I would not want my fallen nature to express itself like this. I wanted only my new positive nature, as produced by the Holy Spirit, to come out. So, the old, angry words were constrained. I set out to surrender my basic wants and desires to God.

I now was turning back to faith, not because I feared hell, but because I needed to avoid the despair associated with depression. I was no longer following the Independent Baptist tradition, but one thing I knew: I had had purpose and hope in those college days. And that was certainly better than the depression that had followed. So even if I was not convinced that my Independent Baptist days were on the right path, I figured that at least my life back then had been better. So I thought I needed faith to have purpose in this life. I just needed to make a few adjustments.

The Problem of Pain

I had a low view of human nature. Such views may look strange in light of what many now say in today’s Evangelical churches. These churches have often adopted a feel-good, psychological approach to life that seeks to build our self-esteem and encourages us to accept ourselves and our feelings. Many Evangelicals do this in spite of the doctrine of human depravity that is still in Evangelical theology.

It was not long ago that the view of humanity as totally depraved was dominant, not only in fundamentalist churches, but in mainstream Protestant sources like the writings of C.S. Lewis. Since Lewis’s views were so foundational to me at that time, I will digress here to discuss the view of humanity that appears in his book, The Problem of Pain. He writes:

A recovery of the old sense of sin is essential to Christianity. Christ takes it for granted that men are bad. Until we really feel this assumption of His to be true, though we are part of the world He came to save, we are not part of the audience to whom his words are addressed,

Lewis thought that we are bad people, and that God was angry with us for being bad. Lewis thought that Christianity offered no hope to those who did not share this view.

He went on to say that some Christians might ask, “What call has God, of all beings, to be angry with us?” Lewis responded to his own rhetorical question, declaring it to be a blasphemous question:

Now at the moment when a man feels real guilt–moments too rare in our lives–all of these blasphemies vanish away… At such a moment we really do know that our character, as revealed in [some sinful] action, is, and ought to be, hateful to all good men, and, if there are powers above man, to them. A God who did not regard this with unappeasable distaste would not be a good being…When we merely say that we are bad, the “wrath” of God seems a barbarous doctrine; as soon as we perceive our badness, it appears inevitable, a mere corollary from God’s goodness.

Guilt is far too rare? Really? Lewis was not merely telling us that our actions are bad, but also that our very character is something that God hates with unappeasable distaste. He was saying that God is justified in having wrath toward us. For after all, at our very core, we are guilty, bad people.

Why are we so bad? Lewis contended that it is because of Adam’s sin. Can God then blame us for Adam’s sin? Lewis responds to this question:

Theoretically, I suppose, we might say “Yes, we behave like vermin, but then that is because we are vermin. And that, at any rate, is not our fault.” But the fact that we are vermin, so far from being felt as an excuse, is a greater shame and grief to us than any of the particular acts which it leads us to commit.

So we find that we are born as vermin. And Lewis says that it is a shame and grief to us that we are vermin. What is the Christian to do? He continues,

Now the proper good of a creature is to surrender itself to its Creator… In the world as we know it, the problem is how to recover this self-surrender. We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved: we are, as Newman said, rebels who must lay down our arms…Hence the necessity to die daily: however often we think we have broken the rebellious self we shall still find it alive…The human spirit will not even begin to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it.

Do you get the picture? Lewis describes us all as inherently depraved descendants of Adam, as evil rebels. We need to die to our own internal wants. Suffering, he claims, is the tool that God uses to affect this change. His books were the biggest influence in my philosophy of life at that time. I also knew of a number of scripture verses to support this low view of humanity (e.g. Job 42:6Is 64:6Lu.17:10, and Rom. 3:10-19).

I look at it now, and do not think that I had a very healthy perspective. But this philosophy was mild compared with the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist tradition that I had come out of. And it certainly worked better than apathy. This outlook gave me a reason to live. At the time I assumed that it worked because it was right. Now, I think that it worked because it gave me a purpose. Other ways would have worked better.

C. S. Lewis showed me that life was rough, yes, but that was because we needed pain to change us from vermin to what we should be. Fine. Life is hard, but there was a reason for it. God was dealing with the old me, the vermin. I pushed onwards. And it seemed to be working.

I had found this one great pillar to support my rebuild of faith: Christianity is worthwhile because the path that I had found within Christianity works, at least it works for me.

That pillar would one day collapse on me when it was shown to be inadequate. The observation that faith made me feel better is simply not a good reason to say that the faith is true. But at that time the reasoning seemed solid.

Creationism

There was a second great pillar on which I based my faith. This pillar had stood firm even during the days of despair. I was quite familiar with the teachings of Henry Morris and the young Earth creationists. I thought that this was the most logical explanation for how life began. They argued that the Earth was created by God a few thousand years ago, just as the Bible said. During the time of Noah, a great flood covered the Earth. This flood buried many animals, I was told, and these became the fossils we see today. Creationists argued that all this was supported by scientific findings.

Creationists argued that evolution was impossible. They said that creationism was consistent with true science, but evolution was pseudoscience. I listened to this side only and was convinced.

Other things in the Bible may perhaps be wrong. I was finding simply too many problems with the Bible. But I had these two great pillars of my faith: a belief that Christianity as I knew it worked; and a belief that Genesis was the best explanation of origins.

Exposure to Enlightened Views

In 1987 I moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia and found an exciting Evangelical church. I met many wonderful people and quickly became involved in many aspects of the program. I had found a home and was happy.

Some of the Christians at this church came from a range of religious backgrounds. This was new to me. Some people disagreed with the way I understood Christianity. Some did not agree with me that the earth was only a few thousand years old, for instance, or that the fossils had come from Noah’s flood.

Others told me that my religious philosophy did not work, that other philosophies worked better. There were big differences. I thought that we should despise our evil inner self; they thought that we should love ourselves. I thought that we must work hard to keep the evil anger inside of us from coming out; they thought that anger was there because we had not vented our anger. I thought that the big problem was overestimating oneself and overconfidence; they thought that the big problem was low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence. I thought that we needed to die to ourselves; they thought that we need to discover ourselves and self-actualize. I thought that God made us feel guilty about our evil feelings; they thought it was the devil that wanted us to feel guilty about natural feelings. I thought that God allowed people to mistreat us because that was his way of molding our character; they thought that mistreatment damaged our psyche, often requiring counseling to overcome the effects. They thought my philosophy was depressing.

Do you understand why this was a difficult pill for me to swallow? This was a main pillar of my Christian faith–the belief that my Bible-supported views worked. Now here were Christians telling me that my version did not work well. What did they mean it didn’t work well? It absolutely did work. It worked far better for me than the apathy and the depression I had been in. And I had scripture to back it up.

It was not easy for me to accept that my way did not work well and was not based on truth. So, I prayed about it and read the Bible. And what do you think happened when I prayed? That’s right. I was convinced that God was telling me I was right. Seriously, who was I to go against what God was saying to me?

My friends and I all agreed that Christianity had the best answers to life. My experience and prayers told me that my version worked better. Their experiences and prayers told them that their version worked better. Who was right?

Computer Debates

I was soon to have my eyes opened to many other philosophies that supposedly worked best. I would soon meet believers in Mormonism, Islam, Bahai, Judaism, Wicca, and Atheism. Each was sure that his way had worked for him, thus showing that it was the best.

I was going to also hear of many psychological solutions, again with testimonials for each claiming that it was better than other techniques. I was not the only one who had claimed that my experience proved that I was right. Lots of people were claiming that they had tried something, and this made them feel better. Do all philosophies work? Some researchers had looked at the conflicting cures within psychology and wrote, “Is it true that ‘Everyone has won, and all must have prizes’?”Indeed!

I met these people of many religions in the CompuServe debate forum, back in the days when one used a modem to dial into a computer instead of using the Internet. I began to participate in the religion section. I actively debated religion and psychology with anybody that wanted to discuss them. This was to become an important focus of my life.

The biggest lesson I learned during these debates was how to form an argument. It was not enough for me to state that Jay Adams, C. S. Lewis, or Thomas Szasz had written something that agreed with me on a particular point. After all, one can find somebody who will agree with almost any religious viewpoint that he expresses. I needed a more effective argument.

My favorite resource was the Psychoheresy Awareness Ministry of Martin and Deidre Bobgan. They referred to psychological experiments to support their arguments, and often quoted scientific journals. I found that when I described experiments people often listened to what I had to say and were less likely to attack my writings. I developed a love for scientific experiments and the scientific journals that described them.

And so began a regular series of trips to the Philadelphia Public Library, and later, a university library. I would make lists of articles that favored my positions and would go to the library to get more ammunition for my side.

Cracks in the Foundation

These trips became time-consuming, and so, in 1992, I subscribed to my favorite journal, The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. At $247 a year, this represented a major desire to learn the truth. Having made the commitment, I was determined to learn something from each issue. I began to read papers whether I thought they agreed with my position or not. This was a change for me. I was not merely reading to prove I was right. I was reading to learn.

I read some papers that were enlightening. I read that trying to suppress thoughts can make them stronger. Were my efforts to keep my true thoughts under control making those repressed thoughts stronger? I learned more about the function of self-esteem. Was my viewpoint of myself as an evil sinner harmful? Did my Christianity really not work as well as I had persuaded myself it had? Slowly, microscopic cracks began to develop in this great pillar of my faith. It was slow and subtle, but the cracks were beginning.

The Creationism Pillar Caves

Meanwhile, a strange twist of fate put me right into the middle of the creation-evolution debate. That was not where I wanted to be, for these fights were often quite nasty. I couldn’t believe that I was there in the middle of it all. But I was not about to leave a good debate. I decided to let people know that evolution could not possibly happen.

I made some progress arguing that the complexity of genes made evolution difficult, but somebody wanted to know where all of those fossils had come from, if not from hundreds of millions of years of evolution. I suggested they might have been caused by Noah’s flood. My argument was defeated in one round. I was asked to explain how it is that we find rocks made of wind-blown sand in the midst of all these rocks under the earth. I had no answer. Wind certainly wouldn’t be blowing sand around under the floodwaters. I told myself the problem was that I was not familiar enough with that issue. So, I avoided the flood altogether until I could find better answers.

I never did find a satisfactory answer to this simple question, nor to many of the other problems with Noah’s flood. So, I concentrated instead on problems that I perceived with the mechanism of evolution.

To make a long story short, this led me to a moment of epiphany in which I found myself in a library completely overwhelmed with the evidence for evolution. In shock, it dawned on me that I had no convincing case for my young Earth Creationism.

After the dust had settled, 18 months later, I had switched to arguing for evolution. I describe this transition elsewhere, and won’t repeat it here.

It was a complete change. Many people have survived the switch to evolution, and they still have faith. But the switch to evolution was traumatic for me. For I had two strong pillars left in my faith, the supposed evidence for creationism, and the understanding that Christianity works. The creationism pillar was now gone. The building above was resting on one unstable column.

The Second Pillar Caves

Meanwhile the other pillar of my faith–the one that said conservative Christian philosophy worked–was severely cracking. When I had met people offering all kinds of psychological cures for the condition of the human heart, I had argued that some researchers had found that it was not just the specifics of the cure that helped people, but that it was the caring, nurturing relationship with a friendly helper that was doing more to build hope, and thus help troubled people. I argued that, therefore, others could not force a view on me that they found had worked for them. Perhaps the fact that they felt better had nothing to do with their method. Perhaps they were feeling better only because they were making a cooperative effort with others to address the problem.

One day somebody turned that argument on its end. He asked me how I knew that Christianity worked. Perhaps people were helped within Christianity because they were in a nurturing relationship with caring people, not because of the specifics of the Bible. I had been caught by my own argument, and I had no answer. I knew I could not be sure that it was Christianity that made the difference.

As this was happening, I was also needing to deal with the errors in the Bible. I had known about these problems for years, ever since I had read through the entire Bible six times in my youth. But I had found those two great pillars of my faith, and thus could ignore the Bible’s problems. Those pillars were now in shambles. And I was seeing skeptics on the forum arguing that the Bible commanded massacres (e.g. 1 Samuel 15); praised terrorism (e.g. Psalm 137); and allowed slavery (e.g. Exodus 21). They pointed out contradictions in the Bible. I knew I had no chance against their arguments. It was no longer possible to ignore what the Bible said. My faith was crumbling.

What should I do?

I began to rapidly incorporate new ideas into my mind. I did my best to piece together a progressive philosophy of life that would keep my faith in spite of these problems. I experimented with ways to include evolution, an obviously errant Bible, a higher view of the self, and even Humanism into my Christianity.

Meanwhile, I moved on to other interests: country dancing, movies, and romance. Ah yes, romance. I fell in love with a very special lady, who has become my best companion in life. She has supported me through some tough times, and I am very grateful to her. She has a compassion and concern for others that I can only dream about. I had found somebody that I could love with all of my heart. We were soon to be married. She has not agreed with where my skepticism has finally led me, but she is always my best friend.

I had drifted away from participation in church. I now made one last effort to find my place again. There had been a radical change in my thought process. I was no longer the most conservative thinker on the block. Now I was perhaps the most liberal thinker at church. I persuaded myself that I could still fit in–after all it was the progressive element at church that started me on my journey–but I found it increasingly hard to identify with the church program. And I asked questions that surprised everyone.

There is no stopping the mind set free. It is like that first leak of water through the dam. It reaches a critical size, and then bursts free. My thoughts refused to stop. The dam had been broken. I read books that were critical of the Bible. I read the Bible from a whole new viewpoint. I found skeptical sites on the Internet. I asked many questions–many of which are on my website. I found it harder and harder to identify myself as a Christian.

Even the label of Liberal Christian was losing its appeal. I could no longer believe the basics of Christianity. If I still identified as a Christian, while sidestepping the problems, was I committing the sin of silence?

Where it All Led

In 2002 I decided that I could no longer identify myself as a Christian. What am I? I am now an Ex-Christian, an Agnostic, a Humanist, and a Freethinker. In September 2002 I created the website Questioning: An Examination of Christian Belief to discuss my questions and to explain what had happened to me.

I have not chosen an easy path. It is not easy to tell people that I no longer believe that this message is true. But I find the evidence overwhelming. If the weight of the evidence were marginal, I would follow the believing crowd and not raise the issue. I do not like to be different. I prefer to follow the crowd. All of my life I have been a follower. I have always wanted to fit in. But there are just too many problems with the Bible. I simply cannot unlearn what I have learned. Knowing what I know, I cannot be a Christian. So, I choose the road less traveled.

I am not asking you to follow me. You have a mind of your own. You can decide for yourself. But perhaps you could learn from me.

I now have a different perspective in life. I wrote earlier of how I once saw people that hurt me as being evil. If somebody hurts me now, I think they must do it because, from their perspective and current knowledge, it seems best for them to do what they do. Years ago, it was hard to forgive hateful vermin who did hateful things. It is much easier to forgive confused but well-meaning individuals. This change in perspective works wonders. Instead of concentrating on bridling the tongue, one can concentrate on understanding the person who did hurtful things. Rational questioning changes perspectives, and changed perspectives change lives.

I find that I am far happier without the bonds of a preset religion. My mind has been set free. I am free to explore the world without the need to fit everything into a predefined religious bias.

It is fine to question. It is safe to explore. There is always more to learn. I hope that neither you nor I will ever stop questioning.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

A Transgender Reader Responds to Evangelical Andrew T. Walker, an “Expert” on Transgenderism

guest post

A guest post by Sage

I have been trying so hard to be more kind and not so confrontational. I try to be understanding and know Christians are told lies, led by ignorant leaders, and misguided by prejudice, fear, and hate. Don’t get me wrong, I still stand strongly against all bigotry against LGBTQIA+ people, but there are days where my righteous anger starts to rise . . .

Recently an article by Andrew  T. Walker was posted on Bruce’s blog. You can see the full article here: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-transgender-fantasy. I suggest you go read this article. Unlike many Christians, I have enough confidence that I do not fear the writings of others. 

Andrew is yet another religious person spewing bigotry and transphobia in the name of their particular god. Yet another Christian who claims to love, and supposedly wants to fix, trans people (who he thinks are broken due to mental illness), by helping them “flourish” through his belief system. His form of love means telling someone that he believes them to be wrong, then changing them so they fit his standards. This enables them to become the right kind of person who will properly live in the world, within the boundaries he sets.

And he is an expert because he has “written a book on transgenderism.” What can I — a poor, non-flourishing, mentally ill, non-existent, non-binary person who is caught up in “gender identity” and is “embracing the transgender worldview”– have to say against an associate professor, Fellow, Managing Editor, godly man? Obviously, his research is far more informed and intelligent than my lived experience as a non-binary person.

How can I say anything about such a wonderful, intelligent, god-fearing, real man? Surely I am just an “angry activist” who is trying to “suppress” or “coerce” him and others into accepting a godless worldview so I can spread my abhorrent agenda.

I know this because I read his post. It is the typical anti-trans contempt (expressed in love, of course) from a supposed Christian expert who bases his analysis on his sect’s particular form of biblical interpretation. He hit all the typical anti-trans bigotry and ignorance, and used his bible belief to support his prejudice.

These include, in order of use:

  • I did the research, I am an expert, and I wrote a book, so I know better than anyone else, especially trans people
  • Trans people are “unnatural.”
  • You are not supposed to talk about trans people because someone will be offended, and you will be canceled, but I won’t bow to their agenda.
  • The Bible only defines 2 sexes, nature only defines 2 sexes, and only foolish people argue against true nature and science and the Bible.
  • Focus on male to female trans people because Christian men seem to find this most abhorrent.
  • Everything must be defined by my biblical understanding. So that the other non-Christian 68% of the world must live and believe as I say, no other option. 
  • Culture cannot define gender, only my Bible can define gender and provide the answer to life, the universe and, well, everything.
  • The transgender worldview defies nature, god, and male patriarchy, and trans people are foolish and delusional to believe otherwise.
  • Transgender people do not exist; once again, people who say they are trans are delusional.
  • Being trapped in the wrong body is fake, and my Bible says so to prove it.
  • Trans people are not really happy and cannot flourish because you can only be happy following my god and my rules.
  • Trans people think they are happy, but like drug addicts, they are caught up in their addiction and are only fooled.
  • Trans people will only be happy if they do what my Bible tells me to tell them to do.
  • The prevalence of depression, anxiety, and suicide in trans people is due to their denial of nature and god’s plan, and not because society, in particular Christianity, treats them like a scourge and tries to legislate and berate them into non-existence.
  • Some people detransition, which proves all trans people are wrong. Yes, the number is low but that’s because they are bullied and not allowed to speak without being canceled. There will literally be millions of people detransitioning — you just wait and see. Remember, I am an expert.
  • We must speak the truth in “love.” They will call us bigots, but if that’s what it takes to save them, then we will be bigots for god. We must persist to show them our hate is really love.
  • Some trans people are angry, but many are vulnerable and easy prey for Christian guilt and scare tactics. Just get them into conversion therapy and they will be broken . . . er . . . fixed.
  • If you take a stand against these evil trans people, you will be silenced, bullied, lose jobs, and suffer greatly. Christians are the true victimized group here. 
  • Thank god we have bigots in leadership who are making laws to keep us safe from these sickos.

But, while I don’t exist or have dozens of titles that I wield to show my intelligence, I will just say this hateful man is full of bullshit. He doesn’t really care about trans people, he just wants to eliminate them. Trans and nonbinary people, hell, all of LGBTQIA+ are an abomination, are delusional, sick, dangerous, and must be fixed and made nonexistent.

As he says, “ From privacy issues, safety issues, and equality and fairness issues, the world may be slowly coming to grips with the truth that its commitment to transgender ideology has outpaced its commitment to reality, sound thinking, and true human flourishing.” This is simply horrid bigotry spoken in pretty words. Privacy issues just mean he wants to be able to discriminate based on his personal belief system. Safety issues are a nice way to say keep trans people in their proper place to protect women and children from their predatory, disgusting, perversion. Equality means he wants equality based on his standards, where straight white Christian males make the rules and all weak men, women, children, and non-Christians stay in their place. Then he says anyone who supports trans people are just disconnected from reality, are delusional or dumb, and are not really happy anyway. 

That, by my understanding, is the heart of Christian hatred that is displayed against not only the trans community, but the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole. What is it about us that makes Christians react in this way?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Saying It Out Loud

guest post

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

“I don’t think I believe in God anymore.”

She uttered those words in the way a kid might curse for the first time: as if she were looking over her shoulder, anticipating a rebuke, a slap in the face, or worse.  It’s the way I made two of the most important (at least, they seemed that way) declarations of my life: that I am bisexual and transgender.

And her face expressed the same kind of bewilderment and relief I felt after “coming out.”  She must have known that any retribution, punishment, or other negative reactions and other consequences for disavowing what she’d believed all of her life wouldn’t come from me.  Rather, she was probably thinking about the people—some of whom, like her mother, she loved dearly—who inculcated her with the faith she’d had all of her life and nurtured and supported her in other ways.

Like me, she was raised Roman Catholic and attended Catholic schools.  Also in common with me, the church was central to her upbringing because of her ethnic heritage (like mine, mostly) and the community in which she grew up. 

In other ways, though, she is about as different from me as one could be.  For one, she never left her social, ethnic, and economic milieu, always living in it, if in different neighborhoods of the city (New York) in which we were raised and which we call home. I have lived in small towns and rural areas, as well as urban areas, in New Jersey, California, and France.  I have traveled to about two dozen other countries; she has never left, and never really wanted to leave, the United States “except for Paris or London.”  Her formal education ended with a secretarial school; I hold a master’s degree and started a Ph.D.   And, perhaps more relevant to this essay, she has never been a part of any church or religion other than the one in which she was raised and, like most Catholics of her (and my) generation, never read the Bible, let alone studied theology.  I, on the other hand, have been part of an Evangelical Church (where I made a declaration that I would “devote my life to Christ” and led a Bible study), read some theology and explored, as a result of my short-lived marriage and my own quest for truth and meaning, other religious traditions. 

Oh, and her marriage was, perhaps, an even bigger contrast than other parts of her history to mine:  At age 19, she was wed to the man she met two years earlier and with whom she would remain until his death.  Along the way, they would have two daughters.  My marriage lasted the length of an American Presidential term and resulted in no progeny.

(Should I also mention that she has never ridden a bicycle—I am a lifelong cyclist– and cannot understand why anyone would want to hike, camp, climb or spend any time in the countryside of one of the world’s poorest countries, as I have? 

From what I’ve said so far, it might surprise you to hear that the woman I’ve described is my closest friend and confidante.  Her husband was also a close friend and, in some ways, as different from me as she is:  He earned his GED in the Army (into which he was drafted) and drove trucks for a living. Like her, he was raised Catholic, though in a different cultural tradition, and never left his social and economic roots.

So, you might wonder: How did they and I bond?  Well, twenty years ago next month, I moved next door to them.  As my now-former partner and I were carting my possessions into my new residence—and I was entering a new phase of my life—she struck up a brief conversation with me when I lugged one cat carrier, then another, into my new apartment.  Turns out, she volunteers with a local animal-rescue organization, from which she and her husband adopted several cats. 

A few days later, she asked me over for lunch.  I accepted, in part because I knew no one else in the neighborhood, but also because I knew, instinctively, that we “got” each other.  After that meal, I wept:  It reminded me of Sunday afternoons from my Italian-American childhood and French families who befriended me.  In other words, the food was complex but not complicated, made with love, or at least passion. In other words, it was a reflection of the people who made it.

I would share many more meals—including holiday repasts—with her, her husband and kids, grandkids, and friends, over the years.  Since her husband passed and her daughters and grandkids moved away, we have shared brunches, dinners, walks in local parks, and—this is less surprising than I expected—museum visits.  She and I share a passion for Auguste Rodin’s sculptures (especially “Je suis belle”).  As I came to know her, that love of hers is less contradictory than it seems:  She has no formal or academic training, but she understands, intuitively, a thing or two about life and love, death and loss.

Which, I believe, is why her expression of doubt about the god in which she had been raised to believe surprised me less than I thought it might.  She is a decade and a half older than I am and, because she gave birth to, and raised children, endured struggles that I will never understand.  But, more to the point, I had long suspected that she has an “inquiring mind” that “wanted to know.”  While she doesn’t express anger, resentment, or regret about her life, I can’t help but wonder whether her wish to know—or more important, to understand—was suppressed because she was a girl in the environment in which she grew up and because she wasn’t a “good student”—which, I know all too well, has absolutely nothing to do with being intelligent or inquisitive, let alone having any sort of integrity. 

I don’t try to steer her toward or away from believing or not believing. (For that matter, I doubt that I can so influence her.)   All I can do is to be present for her, as she has been for me.  Whatever she decides—or whether or not she decides—I can understand.  I am simply happy that she is asking questions and thinking for herself.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Is Pain God’s Instrument to Draw People to Himself?

pain cs lewis

Guest post by Neil Robinson who blogs at Rejecting Jesus

Does the Christian God use pain to draw people to himself? Assuming for a moment that such a God exists, does he use human suffering to make followers for himself?

There is no evidence in the Bible to suggest he does. To be sure, the Bible has a fair amount to say about pain. It claims that suffering is a means by which God either chastens Christians (Hebrews 12.7) or strengthens them (Romans 5.3-5), but this is exclusively for people who already believe. The Bible does not say non-believers are afflicted as a means of drawing them closer to God; the idea is unbiblical.

Let’s assume then that while this notion finds no support in the bible, Christians have learnt over the centuries, perhaps though extra-biblical revelation, that God does use pain in this way. What does this tell us about God? That he’s a being whose principal way of making human beings pay attention to him is by causing (or allowing) them to suffer frequently unbearable pain and anguish.

What sort of God is this? Not one who loves the world and cares for humans far more than he does mere sparrows (Matthew 6.26). He’s more an unpleasant, sadistic bully: the jock who backs you up against the wall, grips your balls and squeezes hard.

Maybe that’s how it is. The God who created the universe is just such a being; a moral monster, as Richard Dawkins described him. It’s easy to see how he might be: human beings suffer, yet there’s (supposedly) a God who loves them; therefore, pain and suffering must at the very least be sanctioned by God, or, more likely, delivered by him. This, after all, is the story of the Old Testament. The God so arrived at, though, is a thoroughly human creation, a means of minimising cognitive dissonance by reconciling human suffering and a God who supposedly cares.

One more assumption is needed. Let’s assume this time that despite the odds, this character really exists. Does his strategy work? Does inflicting pain and anguish on people make them, as Lewis suggests, cry out to the One doing (or allowing) the inflicting and compel them to love him? It seems unlikely; I can’t find any evidence online of anyone claiming that pain or anguish brought them to God. From a personal perspective, I can honestly say that in times of distress or suffering I have never, post-deconversion, called out to God or any supernatural entity for help. I’ve never interpreted my suffering as his calling me closer and have never, since escaping Christianity, succumbed to his malicious charms. (What I did do occasionally, following my deconversion, was to convince myself that my suffering was a punishment from God – for leaving him behind, being gay or something I’d done. These feelings disappeared when I embraced fully the fact that the Christian God isn’t real.)

Where does this leave the Christian with, as Lewis puts it, ‘the problem of pain’? How do they reconcile a loving God who allows or even causes human beings to suffer? They can’t. Instead, they spout empty platitudes that they think let their indifferent, imaginary God off the hook. Just look at the meaningless theo-babble religious leaders came up with in 2004 after a tsunami hit Indonesia, killing 227,898 people.

Leave God out of the equation, however, and there are far better explanations for why humans suffer. ‘Shit happens’ is far more convincing than anything the religious have to offer. Physical pain is the body’s reaction to damage. It is an imperfect system that frequently overreacts or fires up even after damage is repaired (I know this, having fibromyalgia). That’s what it is to have, to be, a physical body. Anguish comes from random acts of nature, the violence and cruelty we inflict on each other and the death of loved ones, much of which is beyond human control. ‘Thoughts and prayers’ are useless in ameliorating this kind of suffering. Measures to restrict people’s access to weapons undoubtedly helps, as it has in countries with politicians with sufficient strength and intelligence to enact gun-control legislation. Without it, as in Uvalde recently, more children will die, more parents will experience terrible anguish and another massacre is inevitable. God won’t stop it.

Suffering is not symbolic of something else; it is not ‘God’s megaphone’ or an opportunity for others to point those afflicted to Christ’s light (or any other bullshit that involves the supernatural.) Pain simply is. It is our lot as physical bodies to endure or alleviate it as best we can.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

After Roe v. Wade….Title IX?

title ix

A Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

In a cruel irony, the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade on 24 June 2022; one day after the 50th anniversary of Title IX becoming enshrined in American law.

Roe v Wade, which guaranteed the right to an abortion, and Title IX, which mandated equal funding for male and female students in educational institutions that receive Federal funding (just about all of them, including the priciest private universities) have long been linked in my mind. For one thing, a very different Supreme Court decided Roe v Wade only seven months after then-President Richard M. Nixon signed Title IX into law. But, even more importantly, one helped to make the other, if not possible, then at least practicable.

I am not a legal or constitutional scholar or even, for that matter, particularly knowledgeable about the history of women’s rights or equality. So, take what I am about to say for what it’s worth:  While Title IX opened opportunities for girls and women their mothers could only have imagined, Roe v Wade, if indirectly, made it possible for them to take advantage of—or, at least, not to lose—many of those new-found opportunities.

To be sure, there is still nothing like gender equality in most areas of American society.  Most educational institutions aren’t even in compliance with Title IX. Still, today’s young women can—at least, they have been able—to not only aspire to what their elder sisters, mothers, and aunts have achieved, but so much more. In the most visible manifestation of Title IX, ten times as many girls and women participate in school and college athletics as participated at the time the law passed. That, of course, has led to more women, pursuing careers, not only in sports, but also in other previously male-only or male-dominated fields: as a result of Title IX, medical, law, and other graduate schools, and undergraduate programs like engineering, could not continue their quotas or bans on female students—which were imposed with the rationale that women would “get married and drop out of the workforce” and the education and training were therefore “wasted.”

But many women would not have been able to take advantage of those new opportunities if they could not regulate when they became pregnant and gave birth—or, for that matter, choose whether they wanted to become mothers at all. Before Title IX, schools and colleges often dismissed students who became pregnant. Even after the law passed, many employers fired pregnant employees or shunted them to “mommy tracks.” While Title IX could not affect this practice, it probably led, if indirectly, to laws against it. And access to safe and legal abortions—a legacy of Roe v Wade—made it possible for many women, not only to stay in school and jobs, but also to determine the trajectory of their careers.

Just as Title IX has had secondary effects, so did Roe v Wade. You’ve probably seen the slogan, “Abortion is women’s health care.” It’s true in more ways than one. Of course, an abortion is sometimes necessary to save the life of the woman or to prevent disabling or destabilizing conditions from worsening. But not for nothing are Planned Parenthood centers the go-to places for other kinds of women’s health care. In some areas, it is the only provider of such services for several counties. More to the point, though, is a reason why PP centers perform procedures and treatments that are now routine for girls and women but were rarities or privileges, if they were available at all, to their mothers and grandmothers. 

While there is still much room for improvement in women’s health care, and it’s still nowhere near the standards of care for men, it can be argued that the availability—and, in some circles, acceptability—of abortion has led to vast improvements. Much of that has to do with an attitude engendered by the availability and acceptance of abortion.  Until the modern feminist movement, which sparked the fight that led to Roe v Wade, women’s bodies were seen mainly as incubators. In other words, a woman’s health was seen mainly in terms of her fitness for bearing and rearing children. (That meant, of course, that women’s mental health care was all but non-existent or women were actively pathologized.) In part because women could now choose when or whether they would become pregnant, they could exercise other choices—and insist that they were, as sentient individuals, as worthy of high-quality health care, for their own needs and their own quality of life, as men. As women could get better care and take better care of themselves, they were better able to pursue their dreams and goals. To me, this change was analogous to, and as revolutionary as, the Renaissance idea that the human body is beautiful and intrinsically worthy of aesthetic or scientific study.

Such an ethos is anathema to religious conservatives, who led the fight to seat the judges who voted to overturn Roe v Wade. So is the freedom to make choices, whether in one’s career or life. If the history of slavery has taught us anything, it’s that if laws or decrees limit people’s agency over their own bodies and their freedom of movement, it doesn’t matter whether or not they have any other rights. The Taliban have certainly learned that lesson well: They didn’t have to bar girls and women from school or jobs; they only had to mandate cumbersome clothing and forbid them from going any place they might want to go without the permission or accompaniment of a male relative in order to reverse the gains in education and work they made in the previous two decades. Likewise, passing similar laws in Saudi Arabia, and forbidding women from riding bicycles or driving cars, left that country’s females at the mercy of their fathers’, brothers’, and other male relatives’ caprices. Such restrictions also make it more difficult, if impossible, for women and girls to get the healthcare they need: Sometimes men think women don’t really need such care, or they are unwilling to bring their sisters and wives to male doctors, the absence of female doctors notwithstanding.

One particularly disturbing aspect of the reversal of Roe v Wade is that some states, if they haven’t done so, will ban abortions even in cases of incest and rape. Why do I, as a transgender woman (who will never become pregnant), care about that or, for that matter, about abortion law in general? I was sexually abused as a child, by a priest and a family friend. I can’t help but to wonder how my life might be different if the nine-year-old boy who experienced the abuse had been a thirteen-year-old girl. Imagine how that could have constricted her choices, and how it could have affected her life in other ways, if such an experience could shatter the reality—not to mention the career and family—of a thirty-year-old woman.

Because, as I said previously, I am not a legal or constitutional scholar, I can’t say whether overturning Roe v. Wade will lead to the evisceration or repeal of Title IX. But it’s hard not to imagine that the repeal of Roe v Wade could lead to many girls and young women not taking advantage of, and furthering, the opportunities Title IX afforded their mothers. White Evangelical Christians—who are to the Republican Party as African Americans have been to the Democratic Party —could hardly have hoped for more.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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