Tag Archive: Hebrews 11

Millions and Millions of People Say Evangelicalism is True: Are Christian Converts Making it Up?

size matters

Determining Which Religion is True

Recently, an Evangelical man by the name of Mike left the following comment on the post titled The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Evangelical Bill Wiese Preys on Dying Atheist:

JESUS offers the only way to Heaven. It is not difficult but some are so arrogant or get off on their unbelief. The problem with that is this life ends in a blip. Life is just a vapor. Choose Heaven…over hell. Are these people with these incredible experiences all making it up? All of them? Be serious.

We shall all die and be totally forgotten…except by GOD thankfully.

Mike asks, “Are these people with these incredible [conversion] experiences all making it up?” Well, certainly some of them are making it up. Evangelical churches are filled with people who are just going through the motions; people who don’t really believe. I have no doubt that on Sundays, Evangelical churches even have atheists in their midst; unbelievers who go through the motions for the sake of the marriages or families. Some churches even have atheist pastors — men who don’t believe, yet preach the “gospel” Sunday after Sunday. (Check out the Clergy Project for more information about help for unbelieving clergy.)

Now, Mike is likely a True Christian®. He probably knows countless other people who are members of the True Christian® Club — Established 33 A.D. by Jesus Christ. Mike incredulously asks me to be serious. Do I really think that people with incredible conversion experiences are all making it up? No, I don’t think True Christians® are lying when they testify to what Jesus has done in their lives. I almost always take Christian professions of faith at face value. That said, since the Evangelical God has never been seen, and neither has the Holy Spirit, is it not fair for skeptics and atheists to question whether such beings exist and whether said conversion experiences can, in fact, be proved? The very nature of faith requires believing without seeing. (Hebrews 11) While Jesus, in fact, walked the streets of Galilee almost 2,000 years ago, no one has seen him since the first century. There’s no credible evidence for claims that Jesus physically resurrected and ascended to Heaven. Jesus, supposedly, now sits at the right hand of the Father, awaiting the day and time when Gabriel will blow his trumpet, signifying the second coming of Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, to earth. Millions of Evangelicals gather on Sundays to praise and worship the resurrected Christ and the wonders of his saving grace. Evangelical worship is rooted not in fact, but faith; again, believing what cannot be seen. No one has ever seen God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, angels, Satan, or demons, yet Evangelicals believe these entities exist and are intimately involved in their day-to-day lives. Surely, the fact that they “believe” these things to be true makes them so, right? No! No! No!

Is the fact millions of people believe something to be true, make it so? Of course not. Humans can and do believe things that are patently false or are rooted in myth. Just because millions and millions of Evangelicals believe Jesus is the virgin-born, miracle-working, crucified, and resurrected Son of God, doesn’t mean their beliefs are, in fact, true. When Evangelicals are pressed for evidence for their theological claims, they ultimately appeal to the Bible and faith. Either you believe or you don’t. Evangelicals, for a variety of reasons, suspend rationality and choose, instead, to put their faith and trust in the Christian narrative. Atheists and other unbelievers refuse to set reason aside and faith-it. Granted, Evangelicals have all sorts of apologetical arguments they use to refute atheist claims, but the differences between the two parties really come down to one thing — faith. Evangelicals have it and atheists don’t.

Mike would have us believe that the mere fact that countless Evangelicals believe in Jesus and have had conversion experiences, alone, is “proof” of their truthiness. Of course, this notion is easily disproven. Evangelism is, by nature, exclusionary. Only those who have repented of their sins and put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ are blood-washed members of the True Christian® Club.  All other religions are false. Wait a minute, if the sheer number of adherents determines whether theological claims are true, wouldn’t that mean that Islam, with 1.8 billion believers, is true? Couldn’t the same be said for Mormons? Mormonism is quite Evangelical in theology and practice. Almost 15 million people worldwide worship the Mormon version of Jesus Christ. Surely, this means that Mormonism is true too, right?

Let’s go back to the first century for a moment. The Romans ruled most of the known world. God’s chosen people, the Jews, were under the thumb of Rome. A ragtag group of misfits walked the streets of Jerusalem and Galilee, claiming that their leader, Jesus, was some sort of miracle worker — a man sent from God. Yet, when all the Christians gathered in an upper room to await the Day of Pentecost, they numbered 120 people (Acts 1). Think of all the miracles Jesus purportedly worked. Think of the things that happened when he died: the veil in the Jewish Temple was rent in twain, graves opened up and dead people came back to life and walked the streets of Jerusalem, and the sun was darkened. Think of all the miracles Jesus worked after his three-day weekend in the grave. (Please see I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend.) Yet, come the events recorded in Acts 1, the disciples of Jesus numbered 120. Talk about failure. Why, President Trump would be tweeting about what a failure Jesus and the Apostles were to him! Using Mike’s logic — just being serious here — it would seem that the gods of Rome were the true Gods. If crowd size determines whether theological claims are true, it’s fair to say that Christianity is false.

Now, I know that Evangelicals have all sorts of apologetical arguments they use to show that Evangelical Christianity is true, and all other religions (and non-religions) are false. Mormon believe this or that, and this proves Mormonism is false, Evangelicals say. Similar arguments are made against Islam, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, HinduismPastafarianism, Shintoism, Santeria, and cargo religions. Bruce, all these other religions are false! Why? Why is Christianity true and all other religions false? Look at their crazy beliefs, Bruce! Only Christianity is true! Really? Try taking a look at Evangelical Christianity from the outside. Isn’t the Evangelical narrative just as crazy as that of other religions? I have already disproved the notion that the size of the sect proves its truthiness. Lots of sects have millions and billions of adherents. If penis size alone determines which appendage is the one true cock, what can be said about Trump-sized groups such as Evangelicals — whose numbers are quite small when compared to Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, and Islam?

No, the fact that millions and millions of people profess faith in the Evangelical Jesus proves nothing. Just because individual Christians testify to the miracle-working power of their God, it proves nothing. Sure, religion can and does effect change in the lives of people, but beliefs need not be true for them to be transformative. Humans believe all sorts of things that are false. In science, there is what is called the placebo effect: a beneficial effect produced by a placebo drug or treatment, which cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, and must therefore be due to the patient’s belief in that treatment. Most humans want meaning, purpose, and happiness in their lives. Is it not possible the religion in general and specifically Evangelicalism produces a placebo effect? Evangelicals “believe” and it works. Evangelicalism doesn’t work for atheists. Why is that? Atheists don’t believe; they don’t have the requisite faith necessary for one to become a Christian.

I hope that this post puts to rest the argument that truth is determined by crowd size. It’s not, and if the Mikes of the world want to prove that Evangelicalism is true, it is time for them to prove it; not with lame presuppositions or Bible verses, but real evidence. Of course, no such evidence is forthcoming, and for this reason, and others, the number of unbelievers continues to grow.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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I KNOW What Jesus has Done for Me

struggling with faith

Cartoon by David Hayward

Subjectivity:The quality of being based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions. An explanation for that which influences, informs, and biases people’s judgments about truth or reality; it is the collection of the perceptions, experiences, expectations, personal or cultural understanding, and beliefs specific to a person.

Objectivity:The state or quality of being true even outside a subject’s individual biases, interpretations, feelings, and imaginings. A proposition is generally considered objectively true (to have objective truth) when its truth conditions are met without biases caused by feelings, ideas, opinions, etc., of a sentient subject. A second, broader meaning of the term refers to the ability in any context to judge fairly, without partiality or external influence.

Faith, by design, is inherently subjective. Even the writer of the book of Hebrews understood this, as evidenced by the words found in chapter eleven and verses one and three:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

Hebrew 11 details the faith of Biblical luminaries such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, David, the prophets, and even the wandering children of Israel. Believing these people had great faith requires even more faith because none of them exist outside of the pages of Christian Bible. Hebrews 11 goes on to detail what these people of faith supposedly faced as earthly voices of the one true God:

Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.  Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

I say supposedly, because there’s no evidence outside of the Bible for these things actually happening. Believing them to be true requires faith. And that’s the essence of faith: believing without evidence. Now intellectuals among the faithful love to argue that their faith is reasonable, but I find their arguments unpersuasive. Is it reasonable to believe a man who was cruelly executed on a Roman cross resurrected himself from the dead three days later? Is it reasonable to believe that this same man was born of a virgin, turned water into wine, walked on water, walked through walls, teleported out of the midst of a crowd, healed blindness with spit and dirt, and fed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and even fewer fish? Of course not. Believing these things to be true requires faith, a faith that rejects what we know objectively to be true. We know that virgins don’t have babies, water can’t be turned into wine (though my wife wishes this were true), people can’t walk on water or walk through walls, blindness can’t be healed through spit and dirt, and it’s impossible to feed five thousand men, and an unspecified number of women and children with five loaves of Wonder Bread and two perch filet. (Now, Jesus teleporting out of a crowd without being seen; that’s possible. SYFY channel, people. It’s all real.)

Imagine me telling you that over a twenty- or so year period I was beaten almost to death five times by Buddhists, beaten with wood rods by jihadists, stoned by ISIS, and spent thirty-six hours treading water in the Pacific. Not only that, the Chinese attempted to arrest me in Hong Kong, but I escaped by climbing over a wall. Would you believe my story? Of course not. A reasonable person would ask for some sort of corroborating evidence. Live long enough and you learn that when a story sound too good/bad to be true, it is likely a lie.

Yet, when a similar tale is told by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11, countless Christians believe it to be true:

Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. … In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.

The Apostle Paul knew that readers would doubt his story, so he offered up proof for its truthfulness. Are you ready for some mind-blowing truth? Here it is: The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.

God knows I am not lying.  Paul’s Sunday night testimony is absurd, and most reasonable people would reject it as the rantings of a man who has spent too much time in the third heaven. You know you are in trouble when you have to call a mythical God as your witness. Yet, is this not what countless Evangelicals do when they argue that they know God/Jesus/Christianity is true because of what they have experienced in their lives? God did it, they say. Just ask him! Pray tell, how is this any different from Elwood P. Dowd’s six-foot three-and-half-inch tall pooka friend, Harvey the rabbit?

Dowd believed Harvey was real, taking him to the bar for drinks and even introducing him to his friends. Dowd even believed that Harvey had the power to stop time:

Did I tell you he could stop clocks? Well, you’ve heard the expression ‘His face would stop a clock’? Well, Harvey can look at your clock and stop it. And you can go anywhere you like, with anyone you like, and stay as long as you like. And when you get back, not one minute will have ticked by. You see, science has overcome time and space. Well, Harvey has overcome not only time and space, but any objections.

What an awesome, science/reason defying rabbit, right? Maybe we should start a religion.

Harvey existed only in Dowd’s mind. He believed Harvey was real, so that means Harvey existed — even though no one actually saw him. Dowd rightly ended up in an insane asylum, yet when Evangelicals make similar claims about their God and religion, they are considered fine, upstanding citizens, every bit as rational as hardcore skeptics and rationalists.

The world has a collective cognitive dissonance when it comes to deities and religion. Instead of objectively examining and testing religious claims, billions of people accept them at face value. By faith, they just believe these things to be true. The United States is one of the most religious country on Earth. While the U.S. is religiously diverse, Christianity is the primary belief system of most Americans. Approximately one out of four Americans claim he or she is Evangelical. Ponder that for a moment — one out of four. In some places, such as where I live in rural Northwest Ohio, the percentage of Evangelicals is even higher yet. This is why a century of scientific knowledge has done little to change the minds of Americans about evolution. Three-fourths of Americans either believe God created the universe pretty much as it is described in Genesis 1-3 (creationism), or God used evolution to bring our biological world to life (theistic evolution). For hundreds of millions of Americans, when it comes to understanding the world they live in, they are content to say, God did it!

I recently had a brief discussion with an Evangelical man who wanted to know how and why I no longer believe in God. This man wanted me to know that his relationship and experiences with the Jesus were real. Here’s some of what he wrote:

I am not being critical. I am talking from a heart of simple faith in my life. I became a Christian in 1979 as a young boy running away from home. I had never been to church, my parents had never been to church. I sat in class during a bible lesson and had the most incredible encounter, which at that stage I had no clue what it was. Today, I know it had to have been the Holy Spirit. I went home that day, sat on my bed, Gave my life to Christ and have never looked back.

Since then I have had the most incredible experience of Christ’s love, forgiveness, prophecies and jobs through prophecy and leading in Christ. I have seen live [sic] transformed in him.

I am now 55, serving in a Christian school and seeing lives touched. Kids from broken homes, destitute families, youngster in very difficult situations being healed. This is not a hyped experience. Our school has seen raped young girls have coming to incredible healing under Christ, girls wanting to abort their babies, deciding not to and producing awesome children and loving them, boys abused and abusers who have turned their lives around because of the love they have found in Christ and testimonies of students from our school who are making a difference in their work place because of their faith. We do not have extensive bible programs, bible lessons, etc…but simple faith in Christ.

….

For whatever has happened in your life, I know what I have received in Christ. Maybe for me it has to do with the fact that I truly met Christ, not in a Church, that I have a personal experience of His touch.

I politely responded to the man, and a short time later he sent me this:

Thanks for the honest reply. I have read some of the articles already [I sent him links to several posts, along with a link to the WHY page] . Every single article I have already read still does not disprove or prove the existence of God to me. The only proof of God to me is what I have experienced in Him.

The bible of course makes no sense in many areas! That’s what makes it so tangible for me. Only an idiot would write such rubbish trying to lead someone to believe in him regarding faith, what’s in the bible, the “stories” etc…… , unless that idiot happened to be God who knows infinitely more than I could ever understand. I cannot presume to know God’s thoughts behind what was written in the sometimes seemingly ridiculous writing’s. That’s okay for me.

Once again all I can answer to is my own experience. I have experienced Him personally.

If I am wrong in my belief then I have lived an incredible life of serving others, in my opinion, to a better life where they can live in peace (referring back to the lives I have seen transform from despair to hope). If I am right in my belief in God’s word and plan then I spend eternity with him. What you call life “anecdotes” based on scientific principles I call awesome God events. It is a matter of choice. One of us is going to be wrong at the end of the day. I think I would rather be in my shoes. That however is a matter of personal opinion.

This Evangelical man knows that what he believes is true through emotional, subjective experiences. Essentially, he is saying, I know I am right because I know I am right, no proof needed. I assume he believes that there is only one true God — the Evangelical Christian God — and that all other Gods are false. But people of others faiths have similar experiences. Shouldn’t their beliefs be accepted at face value? If this man expects me to accept his claims without evidence, shouldn’t he do the same for people who worship Gods other than his?

I appreciate this man being honest about the Bible:

The bible of course makes no sense in many areas! That’s what makes it so tangible for me. Only an idiot would write such rubbish trying to lead someone to believe in him regarding faith, what’s in the bible, the “stories” etc…… , unless that idiot happened to be God who knows infinitely more than I could ever understand. I cannot presume to know God’s thoughts behind what was written in the sometimes seemingly ridiculous writing’s.

you might be wrong

Only an idiot would write such rubbish, he said. Now, that’s an objective statement if there ever was one. Believing the fantastical claims in the Bible requires the suspension of rationality and critical thinking skills. The only way to believe the Bible is true is to faith-it. Remember what I said earlier? That when a story sounds too good/bad to be true, it is likely a lie. The Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is the greatest lie ever told. At best, it is a historical novel; a work of fiction interspersed with enough historical facts to give it a sense of believability. Until Evangelicals understand this, there is little that can be done to reach them. No matter what I told the aforementioned man, he was going to continue to believe; he’s going to continue to believe that he has had and continues to have a supernatural encounter with a supernatural God (much like being probed by aliens while you sleep); he’s going to continue to believe that God speaks to him; he’s going to continue to believe that his life’s story was written by God from time immemorial; he’s going to continue to believe that the Bible is a supernatural inerrant text written by a supernatural God, and given to fallible humans so they can know how to live their lives (without any updates or corrections for two thousand years).

But, Bruce, you were once an Evangelical. My God, man, you were even a pastor for twenty-five years! You changed your mind and now you are an atheist. See, people can and do change! Sure, I changed my beliefs concerning God, Jesus, Christianity, and religion in general. Many of the thousands of people who read this blog have done the same. But, change is hard, and the first step towards change is admitting that you possibly could be wrong. It wasn’t until I considered that maybe, just maybe Rev. Bruce Gerencser was wrong, that my mind was ready to know the truth (not in an absolute sense, but the truth about Christianity in particular). Once my mind was open to the possibility of errancy, both on God’s part and mine, I was then able to begin the journey I am still on to this day.

For a time, faith kept me from openly and honestly considering my fallibility. What if you are wrong? my inner Bruce said. Most ex-believers went through times when their lives were like a game of Pong. Conditioned by church/pastor-induced fear, it’s hard for Evangelicals to even ponder not being who and what they are. After all, thoughts of eternal torture in a pit of brimstone and fire will do that to you. I frequently receive emails from people who recently deconverted, yet are having what I call a God hangover. They objectively know that they are right about God and Christianity, but a lifetime of religious conditioning causes them to fear. This fear is palatable, and can cause great emotional unrest. Evangelicals, of course, say that such feelings are God trying to woo us back to himself. The Holy Spirit is saying, don’t doubt. I am real. God is real. Jesus is real. Everything the Bible says is true! Of course, these thoughts and feelings are not God at all. They are vestiges of a former life, and over time they will go away, never to be remembered again. Once our minds are open to objective rational thought, there is no going back. The proverbial horse has left the barn, never to return.

Let’s go trail riding.

Faith and the Chair

dog in a chair

I suspect most of us who were raised in fundamentalist/Evangelical Christianity have heard the faith/chair analogy. If you have not heard it before:

Faith is like deciding to sit in a chair. You don’t know that the chair will hold you, yet by faith you believe it will, so you sit down in the chair.

Quite deep theology there, brethren.

I read an Evangelical blog post the other day that used this analogy, so it is still out there being used by Evangelicals zealots to wow the ignorant.

Here’s the problem with this analogy; sitting in a chair does not require faith at all. Let me explain it this way. I am a big man, so making sure a chair will withstand my considerable ass sitting in it requires me to use the scientific method of inquiry.

Before I ever sit in a chair I ask myself, does this chair LOOK like it will hold me? Now looks aren’t enough, as I learned several years ago at a Toledo Olive Garden. After the hostess brought us to our table, I glanced at the chair and quickly sat down. Except I didn’t make it all the way down. As I started to put my weight on the chair it kicked out from me and I landed flat on my back in the middle of Olive Garden. I hit my head on the cement floor and could not get up. The manager came running in to make sure I was all right. I was. The only injury was to my pride. So, was the chair defective? Not at all. The chair had roller casters and I didn’t see them. As I started to sit down, the chair rolled out from underneath me and I fell. Because I didn’t pay attention to the construction of the chair, I ended up on the cement floor. This is what having faith in the chair got me.

Most of the time, when we go out to eat, I carefully check not only the construction of the chair, but the ingress and egress. As a disabled man, it is important for me to know the lay of the land. Where’s the bathroom, can I easily walk to the bathroom, etc. As far as the chair is concerned, I rock the chair back and forth and side to side making sure it is solid and I press on the seat  making sure it will hold me. I have been to more than one restaurant where I’ve had to ask for a different chair lest the one they wanted me to use breaks. The only thing worse than a chair breaking is the embarrassment that comes from it.

Using the scientific method, I test a chair to make sure it will hold me. After I have done so, and it passes the tests, I feel confident that the chair will support my 6 foot, 360 pound body. I have been a big man most of my adult life and this method of determining chair worthiness has never failed me. The only time I have ever had a chair break is when I “faith” it.

The faith/chair analogy breaks down in another way because the chair is an inanimate object that I can see and touch. God can not been seen or touched and believing in God requires, to some degree, blind faith.

This is one of the reasons I am an atheist. I see no evidence for the Evangelical Christian God. Believing in such a God requires faith, a faith that I do not have. For me, seeing is believing, and I do not “see” the Evangelical God.

Hebrews 11:1,3 states:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

What is Christian faith?

  • The substance of things hoped for
  • The evidence of things not seen

Perhaps the wording of the NIV will make it clearer:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Many Evangelicals get upset when someone suggests that their faith is a blind faith. But isn’t that exactly how Hebrews defines faith, believing without seeing; that faith is the proof of belief in that which can not be seen?

Creationists would do well to read Hebrews 11 the next time they try to scientifically prove creationism. Hebrews 11 makes it clear that believing God created the universe requires faith. It requires faith to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence for the formation of the universe, earth, and life. Creationists embarrass themselves and besmirch their religion when they try to make creationism fit in a scientific box. And when their efforts fail, what do they do? They retreat to the safety of faith, a place they should have stayed to start with.

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