Tag Archive: Humanism

Wasted Years, Oh How Foolish . . .

all about jesus

Evangelicals would have non-Christians believe that life without Jesus is empty, worthless, and without meaning. A popular song years ago was Wasted Years by Wally Fowler. Below you will find the lyrics and two music videos: one by the Blue Ridge Quartet and another — quite masturbatory — rendition by Jimmy Swaggart.

Chorus:

Wasted years, wasted years
Oh, how foolish
As you walk on in darkness and fear
Turn around, turn around
God is calling
He’s calling you
From a life of wasted years

Have you wandered along
On life’s pathway
Have you lived without love
A life of tears
Have you searched for that
Great hidden meaning
Or is your life
Filled with long wasted years

Search for wisdom and seek
Understanding
There is One who always cares
And understands
Give it up, give it up
The load you’re bearing
You can’t go on
With a life of wasted years

Video Link

Video Link

In the eyes of Evangelicals, non-Christians live lives of wasted years; years that could be spent  worshiping Jesus, praising Jesus, singing songs to Jesus, bowing in fealty and devotion to Jesus, giving money to Jesus, winning souls for Jesus, and doing good works — drum roll please — for the man,  the myth, the legend, the one and only King of Kings, Lord of Lords, giver of life and death, the one true God, Jesus H. Christ. What a life, right? Die to self. Sacrifice your life, ambition, wants, desires, and dreams, giving them all to Jesus. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. Everything in this life and the life to come is about Jesus. This, according to Evangelicals, is a life of meaning, purpose, and direction. This is a life focused on what matters: meeting Jesus face to face in the sweet by and by. Everything pales — including families, careers, houses, and lands — when compared to Jesus. To Evangelicals, Jesus is their BFF; their lover; their confidante; their therapist; their physician; and their spouse. He is their e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

Everything I mentioned in the previous paragraph can be found in the Bible. With their lips, Evangelicals say these things are true, but how they live their day-to-day lives suggests that their lives are every bit as “wasted” as those of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Evangelicals yearn for Christ-centered lives, but “life” tends to get in the way. They spend a few hours on Sundays (and maybe on Wednesday) having preachers tell them what life is all about, only to spend the rest of that week’s 168 hours living as if they didn’t hear a word their pastors said. And their pastors, by the way, do the same. Oh, they preach a good line, abusing congregants for not measuring up to the Biblical standard for a life of meaning, purpose, and direction. Do better, they tell believers; yet try as they might, those pastors — even with much grace and faith — fail.

It seems, then, at least to me, that a life of “wasted” years is the norm for believers and unbelievers alike; that life is only “wasted” when measured by the words of an ancient Bronze-age religious text. Perhaps what is really going on here is a long con. Most Evangelicals are born into Christianity. It’s the only religion they have ever known. From their days in the nursery forward, Evangelicals are taught that they are worthless, vile, broken sinners in need of saving; that the only place salvation can be found is in the Christian church; that only through the merit and work of a God-man named Jesus — who is the second part of a triune deity — can humans be “saved”; that all other religions but Christianity are false and lead to an eternity of torture in a God-created Lake of Fire; that until you believe this message and put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, your life is, to put it simply, a waste.

For those who have exited stage left from Christianity, it is not uncommon for them to look back on their past and ruefully say, what a waste. When I deconverted a decade ago, I struggled with the fact that I had wasted five decades of my life chasing after a lie. Just thinking about this would bring waves of self-judgment and depression. How could you have been so stupid, Bruce? How could you have been so blind? How could you inflict such harmful nonsense on your wife and children? How could you lead thousands of other people down a path that goes nowhere; that left them with lives they too wasted serving a mythical God?

There were times when I would dwell on these questions, bringing myself to tears. Finally, I realized that lamenting the past was going to psychologically destroy me. I sought out a professional secular counselor who helped me come to terms with my past. He wisely encouraged me to be honest with and embrace the past. My past, he told me, is very much a part of who I am. At the same time, he encouraged me to look to present and future and use my past to benefit others. Through writing, I am able to embrace my past for what it is and turn it into words that I hope are helpful to others. In many ways, I am still a pastor; a man who wants to help others. What’s changed is my message.

Let me be clear, what I lament about the past is the wasted time, not necessarily the experiences. I met a lot of wonderful people during my Christian days — and a lot of mean, nasty, judgmental, Jesus-loving sons-of-bitches too. I had many delightful experiences, including marrying my beautiful wife of forty years. It is important for me to make clear that my life as a Christian was not one long slog of drudgery. That said, I can’t help but regret the time wasted chasing after a myth. All I know to do now is take my past and use it to help others. If nothing else, let my life be a warning to others: Stop! Turn Around! Go the other way! If you must believe in God, then find a religion that affirms life and values the present and hopes for tomorrow. There are, even in Christianity, kinder, gentler expressions of faith. There are even sects such as the Unitarian Universalist church that embrace the humanist ideal. Once someone dares to see beyond the Evangelical con job, he or she will find endless possibilities. While I wish I had back a few of the years I wasted serving Jesus, I am grateful that I have time left to live a life worth living; a life focused on family, friends, and — dare I say it? — self.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

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

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

How Evangelical Zealotry Harms People Psychologically

not in the bible

Guest Post by ObstacleChick

“I don’t have a lot of friends because I’m too busy trying to be holy.” — Sam, age 9

My brother and I share a biological mother, but we were not raised by the same people or in the same ways. I lived primarily with my grandparents, whose number one message was that my education should come first and that I should never be dependent on anyone else (particularly a man) for my financial stability. My brother was raised by my mom and stepdad with very little hands-on parenting. Where I was educated at an Evangelical Christian school with slightly above-average academics, he was expelled from that school in third grade for misbehavior and spent the rest of his education at an academically poor public school. Where I studied and was determined to be the top student in my class, he did as little work as possible to pass classes. I got a scholarship to a top-20 ranked secular university, and he never pursued education past high school. Our mom still retained some secular influences and ideas when I was young, but she had become more immersed in Evangelical Christianity by the time my brother came along. Where I have traveled the world, he has barely traveled within the United States. Whereas I moved 1,000 miles away from a somewhat rural suburb of Nashville to the New York City metropolitan area, my brother moved further from Nashville to an even more rural community. My progressive political leanings are counterbalanced by my brother’s extremely conservative political leanings. We’re both Generation X, though I am 12 years older.

Don’t get me wrong, my brother is an intelligent man. Like my grandma, my mom, and me, my brother loves to read. During adulthood, my mom and brother would trade books on religion and right-wing politics and would have discussions about them. Because I live 1,000 miles away, fortunately I did not get involved in all that. But their little conservative book club served to indoctrinate them further into their right-wing conservative religion and politics as they created their own personal echo chamber. When I did visit them, it was very difficult for me to stay away from incendiary issues, but I became adept at diverting the conversation to different topics. When my mom died, my brother mourned the loss of our mom’s “spiritual wisdom and guidance”, something I had no use for but never could articulate to him. My mom already suspected my apostasy, but she never knew the full extent of it. My brother doesn’t ask, and I’m glad because neither of us wants to face the idea that he would probably cut me (and my husband and kids) off from himself, his wife, and his two sons.

My nephews are 11 and 9 (almost 10). Though my brother is devout, his family does not attend church, mainly because he can’t find a local church with which he agrees. He does a lot of reading (A.W. Tozer is his current favorite), and he has joined an online/Skype men’s Bible study and prayer group. Every night, my brother teaches his sons and prays with them before bed. My older nephew doesn’t talk about religion much (he doesn’t talk about much except for music), but his younger, outgoing, vivacious brother does talk about it. Recently, he told my daughter that he thought other religions were bad and false and that a lot of people were led by evil spirits. He said that he knows a lot more about spirits than most adults because his dad was teaching him about them. My daughter asked him why other religions were bad, and he said it was because those religions did not promote God but were instead led by evil, deceptive spirits. She was afraid to ask him if he thought that people who followed those other religions were bad. But she did tell him that she thought there were a lot of good people in the world regardless of what religions they followed.

I suppose it should be no surprise that Sam told my son and daughter that he didn’t have a lot of friends because he was too busy trying to be holy. The definition of holy is as follows: specially recognized as or declared sacred by religious use or authority; consecrated; dedicated or devoted to the service of God, the church, or religion; saintly; godly; pious; devout. My brother is indoctrinating his sons to dedicate themselves to the service of his interpretation of the Christian God. I would love to be snarky and ask him what his interpretation of God is. On social media he posts a lot of Bible verses about the mighty God who repeatedly smote humans or ordered the smiting of humans, the judgmental God who gave his people 600+ rules to follow, the God who is righteous and will send sinners to hell, the God to whom we must submit our will. He likes verses with rules for separating oneself from the world, following rules, or remaining holy and chaste. He also posts a lot of articles touting the evils of the “Godless, communist, Luciferian left” (I seriously did not know that “Luciferian” was a thing). He recently posted a Christian article about remaining “pure” in a culture saturated with sexual imagery. (I am currently reading the book Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free by Linda Kay Klein, so I was particularly interested in seeing what the recommendations were in the article — basically your typical admonition regarding heterosexual sex within the confines of marriage as one would expect). I don’t get the impression that my sister-in-law is as devout as my brother is, and often she will try to soften or explain away some of his most fervent comments. She just started taking college courses as she wants to pursue a degree in nursing, and I wonder how exposure to outside non-religious ideas will affect her thinking. From time to time, I see that my brother “corrects” or “instructs” some of her social media posts by commenting with a relevant Bible verse, and I wonder what she thinks about that.

As my brother has grown more devout and I see how he is instructing his sons, I have been having a lot of memories regarding my own Fundamentalist upbringing. I rarely ever talked about it with my husband. He was a “Christmas and Easter” Catholic, so he was never indoctrinated with teachings about sin and hell or taught misogynistic or anti-LGBTQ ideas. During our early years of dating and marriage, we tried out some Catholic and progressive Christian churches because that’s what one does. We attended a Congregational United Church of Christ while our children were little, and this church was progressive, LGBTQ-affirming, and socially active. My husband liked the kind Jesus, the Christianity that teaches love and caring for others, the Christianity that encourages us to care for the less fortunate. We both lost our belief around the same time for different reasons, and we stopped going to church when our kids were about 7 and 5 years old, so our kids know very little about Christianity specifically or religions in general. We teach then humanistic principles.

As my brother has grown more devout and openly posts ultra-conservative articles and daily Bible verses on social media, and as we are having more contact with his family now that my daughter has enrolled in a university near where I grew up and where my brother lives, I’ve started sharing my upbringing with my family. In the beginning, I was sharing mostly with my daughter to make sure she understands the Bible Belt and our family members’ beliefs in general. Occasionally, I would share something with my husband or with the entire family. Every story I tell is met with looks of “WTF” on their faces accompanied by a few seconds of silence. It isn’t easy to leave my husband and daughter speechless, and I have been doing that frequently in the past couple of years. My husband is the most stunned as he lived with me for over 20 years without being aware of a lot of the psychologically damaging doctrines I was taught. He had no idea about the deep-seated fear of hell that cropped up unbidden for a decade after I had stopped believing in the Christian god and all associated aspects. He had no idea of twinges of fear and doubt that perhaps I was single-handedly responsible for damning my children to eternity in hell for not making sure they “got saved.” He had no idea that I was taught and rejected complementarianism. He had no idea that I had to learn about evolution on my own because the Christian school would not teach it and in fact taught ridiculous counterarguments. He had no idea of the cognitive dissonance I encountered repeatedly in college courses where indirectly or directly I learned that inerrancy of the Bible is patently false. He had no idea that the school and church I grew up in were teaching eschatology that scared the living daylights out of me. He had no idea that for several years, I struggled with reconciling lessons I learned in history and science that repeatedly showed that the doctrines I had been taught were false, yet I was fearful that I was being deceived by Satan and might be bound for eternity in hell.

Bruce has written about how Fundamentalist Christianity is psychologically damaging, and I can attest that it is. Please read the series, Do Evangelical Beliefs Cause Psychological Damage?) I didn’t realize that it was damaging, and I certainly did not understand the extent. I just know that I struggled through my teens and twenties with doubts, fears, self-esteem issues, and cognitive dissonance. Even when I was deeply embedded in the bubble – church and Christian school – I was inundated with doubts and fears. I actively advanced outside the rules of fundamentalist religion, each step deliberate but accompanied by the fear that I was doing something eternally damning. I chose each step, and I chose to deal with the eternal consequences. But each step required agonized examination and a great bit of courage. It took two decades for me to step away from Christianity entirely and nearly another decade to label myself “atheist”, “feminist”, “pro-choice”, and “liberal” without flinching from the negative programming surrounding those words.

So when I see my own brother indoctrinating my nephews with these dogmas, I become more and more concerned. When I hear my nephew saying that he doesn’t have a lot of friends because he is too busy being holy, it makes me sad and angry. Maybe these boys can grow away from these teachings as I did. I surely hope so. I hope that our limited influence can help these boys as they grow up.

Note:

I’m pretty sure that my husband believed in this Jesus:

Video Link

Lyrics

Jesus was way cool
Everybody liked Jesus
Everybody wanted to hang out with him
Anything he wanted to do, he did
He turned water into wine
And if he wanted to
He could have turned wheat into marijuana
Or sugar into cocaine
Or vitamin pills into amphetamines

He walked on the water
And swam on the land
He would tell these stories
And people would listen
He was really cool

If you were blind or lame
You just went to Jesus
And he would put his hands on you
And you would be healed
That’s so cool

He could’ve played guitar better than Hendrix
He could’ve told the future
He could’ve baked the most delicious cake in the world
He could’ve scored more goals than Wayne Gretzky
He could’ve danced better than Barishnikov
Jesus could have been funnier than any comedian you can think of
Jesus was way cool

He told people to eat his body and drink his blood
That’s so cool
Jesus was so cool
But then some people got jealous of how cool he was
So they killed him
But then he rose from the dead
He rose from the dead, danced around
Then went up to heaven
I mean, that’s so cool
Jesus was way cool

No wonder there are so many Christians

God Has a Plan for My Life

jeremiah 29 11

I photograph a number of local high school sporting events. Of late, I have been shooting Friday night football games. It is not uncommon to see along the sidelines injured players dressed in street clothes, unable to suit up for that night’s game. Several weeks ago, I struck up a conversation with one such young man. Earlier this year, this boy had been in a serious car accident that nearly killed him. He showed me photographs of his car after the accident, and I was amazed that he walked away from the collision alive. I expressed my amazement to him, to which he replied, well it’s evident that God has a plan for my life. I nodded my head and then said, you’re one lucky guy.

Two weeks ago was his first game of the year. He saw limited action. Last Friday, he was actively involved in his teams thrilling victory. Unfortunately, with two or so minutes left in the game, he broke his arm, ending his season. I immediately thought about what he told me about God having a plan for his life. What kind of God “saves” someone from a gruesome auto accident only to turn right around and break his arm? You see, if, as Evangelicals allege, that God is sovereign and he controls everything, then the God that caused this boy’s car accident and then saved his life is the same God who put into motion the play that broke his arm and ended his season. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how Evangelicals rationalize God’s behavior. What kind of God behaves in such bizarre manners? I could spend days telling similar stories about Christian experiences with the God who has a “plan” for their lives; stories that illustrate that the Christian God behaves quite bizarrely towards his chosen people.

Evangelicals believe that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, and is everywhere. It is impossible to escape the reach of the Christian God. He is the creator of all things — the first cause, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. Nothing happens apart from his purpose, plan, and will. The Psalmist said of God in Psalm 139:

Whither shall I go from thy [God] spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them

It is for these reasons that Evangelicals believe their God has a plan for their lives. From the moment their fathers’ sperm united with their mothers’ egg until they draw their last breath, God is working everything in their lives according to his purpose and plan. This thinking is so deeply ingrained in Evangelicals that it is impossible for them to consider how irrational such thinking really is. Based on the aforementioned illustration, God causes car accidents but calls the tow truck company afterwards, and he breaks arms but makes sure to send EMS to transport the injured to the emergency room. It sure sounds to me as if God is the type of person who likes to break stuff so he can fix it. This is the type of father who loves causing his family pain and suffering so he can teach them a lesson. At the heart of the belief that God has a plan for their lives is the notion that God uses the bad things in life to test and try Christians. Unbelievers have bad things that happen in their life because that’s what happens to sinners who are in rebellion to God. He’s trying to get our attention, so we face all sorts of adversity, trial, suffering, and loss because God has a message for us: think this stuff I’m heaping upon your head is bad? An eternity in the Lake of Fire is far worse. Southern Baptist evangelist Rolfe Barnard said that such things are warning signs along the road of life meant to cause us to stop and ponder our spiritual condition. Next time you hear of non-Christians dying of cancer or some other dreaded disease, just remember God was trying to get their attention (or killing them for not paying attention).

We mustn’t question or doubt God’s motives in doing what he does. Such questions are considered blasphemy. The apostle Paul said in the book of Romans that the creator God has a right to do whatever he wants. After all, he made us, and if he wants to afflict us, then that’s his right. As created beings, we have no right to complain. Sometimes I think Evangelicalism is much like the HBO show Westworld; a world where humans (God) create hosts to do with what they will. These humans are free to do what they want to the hosts, with their behavior only limited by how perverse their thinking is. Much like the dystopian TV show (and movie) Purge, humans are left to act on their wants, desires, and impulses. While Christians would argue that God is loving and just and would never act as humans do on Westworld or Purge, any cursory examination of God’s behavior suggests otherwise. God’s actions often mimic those of psychopaths and sociopaths. God is much more like the unsubs on Criminal Minds — violent, capricious, and arbitrary.

proverbs 19 21

Sometimes I wonder if Christians say “God has a plan for my life” because that’s what they are expected to say. Repeat the company line, Evangelicals think to themselves. God’s name and character must never be besmirched or dragged through the mud. God must always be seen as the good guy; the one wearing the white hat; the loving, doting father who only wants what’s best for his children. Yet, one need only read the Bible to see that God is anything but; that he is a ruthless, vindictive deity who is willing to wipe out the entire human race because they broke his rules. Yes, the Bible says, God is love, but if we apply the rule of judging people by what they do and not what they say, God comes across as a hateful, mean-spirited son of a bitch.

I am well aware of the fact that most Christians construct a God in their own image, ignoring not only what the Bible says about their God but also the implications and consequences of their theology. God is whatever Christians want him to be. Progressive Christians ignore much of the Old Testament and focus on Bible verses that speak of God’s love, compassion, and faithfulness. Calvinists love the Old Testament and focus on verses that portray God as a stern, demanding authoritarian. Many Evangelicals, on the other hand, see God as their buddy, lover, or their best friend. God is whatever you want him to be. Isn’t that the beauty of Christianity and the Bible? You can take the Bible and make it say whatever you want it to. It pretty much can be used to prove almost anything. So it is when it comes to painting a picture of God. Believers focus on the attributes of God that appeal to them, molding and shaping him into their own image. All Christians do this. I know I did. How could it be otherwise? No one has ever seen God or spoken to him, so all any of us are left with is what the Bible says and how pastors and churches interpret it. God’s not going to audibly tell anyone what’s right or wrong, belief-wise, so individual Christians are left to their own devices to determine who God is and what they should believe about him. This is why there are thousands of Christian sects with millions of members, each with their own view of God and interpretation of the Bible.

Most Christians are what I would call nominal or cultural Christians. They affiliate with this or that brand of Christianity, yet they infrequently attend church, rarely support its work with their money, and seldom give serious thought to what it is they really believe. Most grew up in Christian homes raised by Christian parents who taught them the one true faith, even if the sum of that teaching was to tell them that their family was Christian/Baptist/Methodist/Catholic, etc. Most Christians believe because they have always believed; because their parents always believed; because their grandparents always believed, and so on. In this sense, the United States is a Christian nation. Yes, it is rapidly succumbing to secularism, but the fact remains that by and large we at the very least nominally embrace Christianity as our country’s religion. This cultural Christianity is so deeply ingrained into American thinking that it often corrupts our ability to see things as they are. This is why most Christians with nary a thought say God has a plan for their lives, even though the facts of their lives and American culture at large suggest otherwise. This is why I don’t generally correct people or challenge their thinking when they speak of God having a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious plan for their lives. While I wish the aforementioned boy would ponder what kind of God it is that causes car accidents and breaks arms, I realize most Americans aren’t into such deep thinking. In some warped and bizarre way, saying God has a plan for their lives gives Evangelicals comfort. Most of us want to think that our lives have meaning and purpose, and what better way to gain this than to say an invisible deity who has never been seen and has never spoken perfectly and lovingly controls our lives; so that when bad things happen we can explain them away by saying, God has a reason for this happening to me. Sadly, for many people, they can’t bear the harsh reality of a world governed by indifference; a world where shit happens. I can’t help but think of Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert. Eifert is a top shelf football player when healthy. Sadly, most of his young career has been marred by injuries. 2018 was to be the year when Eifert finally was healthy and ready to help lead the Bengals to the playoffs. On Sunday, Eifert unfortunately gruesomely broke his ankle and is done for the season. What should we make of Eifert’s injury? Is there any other explanation but one: shit happens?

As an atheist, I know that life is random and things happen for no other reason than bad or good luck. There is no grand plan, no blueprint for the future. Life is what it is, and all any of us can do is embrace and live with what comes our way. I am not suggesting that we have no control over our lives. I’m not a fatalist. I know that there is some connection between making good decisions and consequences. But, I also know that making good decisions can, at times, result in things turning out differently from how we expected them to. Again, shit happens. Rare is the day that we don’t have to deal with something not turning out as planned or something happening that we did not expect. If this is all God’s plan, he sure is schizophrenic. If there is no God, then the only plan we have is the one we make. And that’s the essence of the humanist ideal — a human-centered view and understanding of the world. As a humanist, I strive to understand my insignificant place in this world and what I can do to make better not only my life, but those of my family, friends, neighbors, and fellow earth dwellers. I know that human behavior has consequences. One need only look at global climate change (global warming) to see how human behavior materially affects the world we live in. One need only to investigate the consequences of Donald Trump’s trade war to see its harmfulness. The same can be said for countless political and social decisions made by politicians, bankers, and corporate executives. Much of what comes our way is beyond our control. All any of us can do is make responsible, thoughtful, informed decisions; hoping that in doing so, things will work out well for us. Thinking that a cosmic deity has some sort of master plan only complicates matters by shutting off critical thinking about life. Simplistically believing that God is in control of the universe and everything in it allows Evangelicals to faith-it or let-go-and-let-God. It’s the ultimate surrender of the will and abdication of personal responsibility — a refusal to accept reality. I refuse to live in such a world. I genuinely feel bad for the boy with the broken arm and I genuinely lament the loss of Tyler Eifert of the Cincinnati Bengals. I have no time for a fictional God; a deity who supposedly holds earth in the palm of his hand. Such thoughts bear no resemblance to what I can see with my eyes and know with my mind.

Did you grow up in a religious culture that made much of God having a plan for everyone’s life? Please share your experiences in the comment section; that is, if doing so is part of God’s plan for you.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

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

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: Christianity Has Had Its Chance

imagine no religion

In response to Douglas Benn’s letter to the editor, “State buries, not promotes religion” (Sept. 11, 2018), where he blames the N.E.A. and secular humanism for the immorality of our country and that we need to return to Christianity.

Well! Contrary to Mr. Benn’s lament, Christian-run governments had their day and opportunity to prove themselves in Europe, where they ruled for a thousand years before the Renaissance, and they failed miserably at “righting” the world. At that time, the Christian Church’s word was law and men were burned at the stake for doubting it.

We do not need to go back to religious laws that harm the rest of us by a sectarian-bias government. Secular humanists live by extending ourselves, not to the heavens, but to the horizon. It connects us to human beings in the generations to come. What kind of societies are the current inhabitants of the planet going to bequeath to those who follow? Lest we stick them with a world governed by the angry nationalism and dark authoritarianism that is being pushed now, we must win the fight for global cooperation. (Forget what religion countries have; we all want the same things with democratic values-human values.)

— Gary Garoutte, The Spokesman-Review, Letter to the Editor, September 30, 2018

Your Questions, Please

 

i-have-a-question

Greetings, Earthlings.

It’s been three or so years since I asked readers to submit questions for me to answer, so I thought I would open the call lines and ask you to submit your questions, along with $100 donations to help me reach Evangelicals throughout the world. Reason — praise be to Reason — has called me to evangelize Evangelicals, and your donations will help me take the gospel of critical thinking to the ends of the earth. Just kidding. While donations are always appreciated, what I really want is questions; your pithy, erudite questions.

If you have a question you would like me to answer, please ask it in the comment section. I will answer questions in the order they are received. You can also email your questions to me via the contact form.

This post will remain pinned to the top of the front page until August 15th, after which time it will disappear into the bowels of this blog never to be seen again

Let the games begin.

Bruce

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

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

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Lies Evangelicals Tell About Being Former Atheists or Evangelizing the Godless

calvin hobbes atheist

It seems these days that every Evangelical preacher, evangelist, and apologist has a story about an atheist who saw the truth of Fundamentalist Christianity and got saved. Some of these zealots have personal testimonies of their own atheism before they became Christians. After listening to or reading dozens of such stories, I have concluded that many of these storytellers are liars for Jesus; that careful examination of their stories reveal ignorance of what atheism is and isn’t.

Many Evangelicals believe that all non-believers are atheists. Of course, when I argue that all babies are born into this world atheists, Evangelicals object, saying that all humans are born with a God-given conscience. So which is it? Non-believers are atheists or non-believers have a God-given conscience? Are humans naturally blank slates upon which tribal religion must be written or are they born with God-shaped holes in their hearts? If no one is born Christian, then what is the nature of a newborn baby?

Atheism is not the human default. Atheism requires an act of volition. An atheist, then, lacks belief in the existence of Gods. Claiming the atheism moniker requires a person to actually think about the existence of God(s). Sadly, far too many people use the atheist label to cover up intellectual laziness or indifference towards religion. I prefer such people use the NONE label. Atheists, on the other hand, have weighed religion in the balance and found it wanting. Many atheists are actually quite conversant on matters of religion, having spent some or much of their lives believing in God. It should come as no surprise that many atheists know the Bible better than practicing Christians. It was the Bible that ultimately led them into unbelief and atheism.

So when I hear Evangelical talking heads speak about being atheists before they became Christians, I want them to explain how they are using the word “atheist.” More often than not, they are using the word incorrectly. The word “atheist” is not a placeholder for unbelief. When an Evangelical tells me he was an atheist before becoming a Christian, I want to know exactly how he became an atheist. If he says, oh, I always was an atheist, I then know that he was a NONE and not an atheist. The same goes for people who say they were Evangelicals, became atheists, and then later returned to Evangelicalism. While it is certainly within the realm of possibility for someone to follow such a path, I have a hard time believing someone who says he was a studied atheist, realized the error of his way, and became an Evangelical. Knowing first-hand what goes into someone leaving Evangelicalism and embracing atheism, I can’t imagine someone rejecting all he knows to be true for a belief system that he has already deemed incoherent and false. It leaves me wondering, what is the real reason for returning to the Evangelical cult

Evangelicals-turned-atheists go through great intellectual and psychological struggles before divorcing themselves from Jesus. Rarely do such people have an atheist version of the Evangelical born-again experience; where a person instantaneously goes from unbeliever to believer. Most atheists I know spent months and years deciding whether Christianity was true. And even then, they often didn’t embrace atheism right away. Desperately wanting to hang onto some version of God and life after death, many atheists dabble with liberal/progressive Christianity, Unitarian-Universalism, or other religions before concluding that all extant deities are false gods. In my own personal experience, I stopped numerous times along the slippery slope towards unbelief, hoping that I could find a religion and a God I could live with. Ultimately, I hit bottom, realizing all the deities in the extant panoply of Gods are powerless mythical beings.

The next time a Christians tells you that he was an atheist before Jesus gloriously saved him from his sins, ask him to explain the word atheist to you. Ask him, how and why did you become an atheist? If he can’t give a clear-cut testimony of how he came to a lack of belief in the existence of Gods, then it is likely that he was never an atheist or he was, at best, a cultural atheist (as is the case in some European countries where most people are born into atheist homes or who have never had any form of religious experience).

Some atheists want the attach certain philosophical, political, or social beliefs to the word atheist. I see this happening with social justice issues. Godless social justice warriors demand atheists embrace their causes if they plan on claiming the atheist label. While I agree with them on the issues, I refuse to make adherence to certain political or social issues a litmus test for being a True Atheist®.

I see atheism as a big tent. Yes, most atheists I know are politically liberal/progressive. But I do know a few atheists who are libertarians, and I even know — I shudder to think how it is possible — several atheists who voted for Donald Trump. I must live with the fact that some of my fellow atheists have different political beliefs from mine. We agree when it comes to religion, holy books, and gods, but when it comes to economics, abortion, and the designated hitter rule, our beliefs diverge.

Christians rightly object when ill-informed atheists define Christianity/Evangelicalism differently from the way that the cult members do. The followers of Jesus have every right to define what it means to be a Christian; they have every right to define what their beliefs are. The same respect should be granted atheists. It irritates the Heaven out me when a Christian zealot refuses to allow me to define who and what I am. Among atheists, there’s a common definition of atheism: the lack of belief in the existence of Gods. Any beliefs beyond that do not require atheism. For example, I am a humanist. While many (most?) atheists are humanists, humanism does not require a lack of belief in the existence of Gods. More than a few believers consider themselves Christian humanists or religious humanists. Atheism, then, is simply my belief about the existence of gods. Humanism is the moral and ethical framework by which I govern my life. It is, in effect, my Ten Commandments, my law of God.

I wish Evangelical pastors would invite atheists to their churches to educate congregants about atheism. Far too many Christians are ill-informed about atheism, having only heard what their preachers say on the matter or read what Dr. Rev. Blow Hard says in his polemical rant against atheists (and the same could be said about atheists who are ignorant of Christian doctrine and practice). Atheists, contrary to what Evangelicals have been told, don’t worship Satan, nor do they deny God’s existence just so they can behave immorally. Atheists are not evil God haters who want to imprison Christians and burn down house of worship. The caricature most Evangelicals have of atheists is every bit as mythical as their God.

Have you met Christians who claim they were atheists before getting saved, or who once were Christians but who deconverted and later returned to the faith?  If you are an Evangelical-turned-atheist, how did your pastor define atheism? If you are currently a Christian, how does what you hear from the pulpit about atheists/atheism compare with what I have written here?  Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

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

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Evangelical Mark Virkler Says Christians Need to Abandon Rational Thinking

mark virkler

Mark Virkler, an Evangelical pastor and founder of Christian Leadership University — an unaccredited online institution, recently wrote an article for CHARISMA titled, Tell-Tales Signs You Have Bought Into ‘Satan’s Truth.’ Virkler, who sports a “Dr.” in front of his name, believes that the biggest problem facing Christians today is that they use wrong approaches for determining truth. I suspect the word “truth” means something different to Virkler from what it does me, but that aside, I totally agree with him about Christians using wrong tools and methodology for determining what is factual and true. Unfortunately, the recommendations I would make to Christians, Virkler rejects, believing they are the Satanic tools used to lead Christians astray.

Virkler begins his post by listing several approaches to truth that he has abandoned — supposedly for the “truth” he is going to reveal later.  Virkler, at some point in his life, abandoned:

  • If dad said it was true, it was true.
  • If my teacher said it was true, it was true.
  • If my college professor said it was true, it was true.
  • If science said it was true, it was true.
  • If one or several double-blind studies said it was true, it was true.
  • If my doctor said it was true, it was true.
  • If my interpretation of the Bible said it was true, it was true.
  • If reason and logic said it was true, it was true
  • If my senses told me it was true, it was true.

According to Virkler, rationalism and humanism are methods Satan recommends to Christians as they search for “truth.” Virkler writes:

Figure it out yourself! Satan offered Eve his approach for discovering truth: You don’t really need these walks with God every day (in other words, you don’t need revelation knowledge or direct encounter with God), for “you can know” (see Gen. 3:5). That temptation has developed into two false philosophies for knowing:

“You” = Humanism: “Life centers in man’s human capacity”
“Know” = Rationalism: “Life centers in man’s reasoning capacity”

Following is an excerpt from John G. Lake’s article, The Power of the Name:

“In the beginning, man’s spirit was the dominant force in the world. When he sinned, his mind became dominant. Sin dethroned the spirit and crowned the intellect. But grace is restoring the spirit to its place of dominion. When man comes to realize this, he will live in the realm of the supernatural without effort.”

Rationalism and humanism are two false gods I worshipped and followed during the early years of my Christian life.

….

It was a tremendous battle to defeat these two false gods, as they were deeply entrenched in my life through my culture, my education, my natural disposition to be a thinker as well as my “Christian training” which taught me to work hard to keep God’s laws.

What, you might ask, does Virkler recommend in the place of humanism and rationalism? I am so glad you asked! Are you ready, boys and girls? Drum roll, please! Virkler recommends walking with God under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. That’s right. Just let God lead the way and “truth” will be yours! Imagine a college student buying into Virkler’s logic. No need to study, no need to prepare. Just pray and follow the Holy Spirit’s leadership when you take your finals. God will show you the way!

Virkler sums up his God-approved approach to truth this way:

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, guides you into all truth (see John 14:17; 16:13).

So the Bible is clear: it is the Holy Spirit Who will guide us into all truth. It’s amazing how I had diminished the work of the indwelling, illuminating Holy Spirit and replaced His work with my mind, my theology, my brain and my understanding of Scriptures. I now set aside my false gods of humanism, rationalism and biblicism and honor what Jesus has said and modeled in Scripture. It is the Holy Spirit Who is continuing to reveal all truth to me. Everything the Holy Spirit reveals will be compatible with Scripture, even though it may not be detailed in Scripture.

Notice carefully what he says: the Holy Spirit … will guide us into all truth. Not some truth; not just Biblical truth; not just Christianity-related truth; no, he believes a mythical being who supposedly lives inside every Christian guides believers into A-L-L TRUTH — if they let her, anyway. Christians, then, don’t need reason or critical thinking skills. All they need is Jesus and his ghostly buddy, the horn player in the three-piece band, the Holy Spirit.

Virkler’s nonsensical (and dangerous) approach to truth (facts) is embraced by millions of American Evangelicals. Instead of using the brain the good Lord supposedly gave them to intellectually, rationally, critically, and skeptically study a matter, Christians just pray, maybe read God’s answer book, and trust that a non-existent poltergeist will lead them to all truth.

Virkler’s approach is more insidious and dangerous because he is running an online college (with his wife, daughter, and son) that purports to train adults for the ministry. Want to earn a doctorate in counseling?  Here’s the course list:

  • COU202 Counseled by God
  • COU203 Cornerstones of Communication
  • COU301 Prayers That Heal the Heart
  • COU305 Parenting for Success
  • REN103 Communion With God
  • REN105 Father Heart of God
  • REN204 Naturally Supernatural
  • REN206 Increasing the Anointing
  • REN207 Healing Anointing
  • REN310 Wisdom Through Dream Interpretation

Does anyone think by taking these classes (and I assume all the undergraduate Bible courses) that a recently minted Doctor is prepared and qualified to counsel anyone more than a pet hamster? Of course not. In fact, I seriously doubt this training qualifies a person to counsel said hamster. Now, with all that Holy Ghost power at his disposal, I suppose he could try to raise old George, the hamster, from the dead. Now THAT would be entertaining!

According to Virkler, his educational approach differs from that of the “world.” Instead of teaching students knowledge, Christian Leadership University trains students to sense God and live in the Spirit. Students are expected to NOT independently use their minds. Get your mouth off the floor. I am not exaggerating here:

We have a choice when we come to learning: We can eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or we can eat from the tree of life. Both trees were present in the Garden of Eden. One was forbidden and one was allowed. We were forbidden to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and encouraged to eat from the tree of life.

What is the tree of knowledge? What is the tree of life? May I suggest that the tree of knowledge is the independent use of our minds, where we try to figure out for ourselves what is good and what is evil. Even if we use the Holy Scriptures in our pursuit of this knowledge, we can still run amuck. The Pharisees did. Paul did. But then he learned that he needed the revelation of the Holy Spirit to help him interpret Scriptures

….

As I was perusing Christian Leadership University’s website, I came across a local connection on their faculty page, “Dr.” Karen King. King pastors New Beginnings Ministry in nearby Fayette, Ohio. King actually has a degree from Defiance College — a nearby accredited institution. All her post-graduate work and degrees, however, came from — you guessed it — Christian Leadership University (CLU).  This is a common ploy by such institutions. Faculty members may have undergraduate degrees from accredited institutions, but their post-graduate degrees all come from CLU. Some CLU professors have done all of their post-high school work through Christian Leadership. Virkler has a bachelor’s degrees from Roberts Wesleyan College, but his two post-graduate degrees come from unaccredited Bible colleges.

Virkler will likely argue that human accreditation means nothing; that it falls under the humanistic, rationalistic approach Satan uses to deceive people. I would argue that CLU owes its students an education, one that teaches them critical thinking skills; one that values knowledge. Instead, students are taught to value supernatural revelation and God whispering in your ear. Is it any wonder that it is almost impossible to reach and reason with people who have been infected with this kind of thinking? Gnostic at its core, CLU teaches students that they possess an inside track with God; that the Holy Spirit will give them special knowledge and understanding, none of which the educated people of the world possess. Want to see what this baby looks like when its full grown? Take a look at Bethel Redding. No belief or practice is too extreme. When objectivity, rational thinking, skepticism, and critical thinking are deemed unimportant, why, anything is possible.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

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

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

How My Political and Social Beliefs Evolved Over the Years

john birch society

A recent letter writer asked:

Were you always socially liberal and progressive “on the inside” or did that develop after deconverting? For example, were you always pro-gay marriage, pro-choice, and pro-transgender, and every time you read a bible verse got triggered, or did your social and political beliefs genuinely differ between being a Christian and being an atheist?

These are great questions. I believe the letter writer is asking if I always had liberal/progressive political and social beliefs or did these beliefs develop over time? I believe he is also asking if my political and social beliefs were different as a Christian from the beliefs I now have as an atheist? The best way to answer these questions is to share a condensed version of my life story.

In the early 1960s, my Dad packed up his family and moved from Bryan, Ohio to San Diego, California in search of riches and prosperity. While in California, my parents were saved at Scott Memorial Baptist Church, a Fundamentalist Baptist congregation pastored by Tim LaHaye. As members of Scott Memorial, Mom and Dad joined the right-wing, uber-nationalist John Birch Society. Mom, in particular, immersed herself in right-wing political ideology. She campaigned for Barry Goldwater, and would later actively support the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon and George Wallace.

As was common for people of their generation, my parents were racists. They believed Martin Luther King, Jr. was a despicable man, a Communist. Mom was an avid writer of letters to the editors of the newspapers wherever we happened to be living at the time. She considered Lieutenant William Calley — the man responsible for the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War — to be a war hero. She also thought that the unarmed Kent State students gunned down by Ohio National Guard soldiers got exactly what they deserved.

It should come as no surprise then, that their oldest son — yours truly — embraced their religious and political views. From the time I was in kindergarten until I entered college at age twenty-one, I lived in a right-wing, Fundamentalist monoculture. The churches I attended growing up only reinforced the political and social beliefs taught to me by my parents.

In the fall of 1976, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution founded in the 1950s by Tom Malone. While I don’t remember any “political” preaching, Biblical moral beliefs were frequently mentioned in classes and during chapel. I heard nothing that would challenge the political and social beliefs taught to me by my parents and pastors. While at Midwestern, I met a beautiful dark-haired woman who would later become my wife. She had similar political and social beliefs, so from that perspective we were a perfect match.

All told, I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. For many of these years, I was a flag-waving, homophobic, theocratic pro-lifer who believed Democrats, liberals, progressives, Catholics, mainline Christians, and a cast of thousands were tools used by Satan to attack and destroy Christian America. Over time, I theologically moved away from the IFB church movement and embraced Fundamentalist Calvinism. While my theology was evolving, my political and social beliefs remained the same — that is, until 1990.

In late 1990, American tanks, aircraft, and soldiers invaded Iraq, causing tens of thousands of civilian deaths. I was appalled by the universal support Evangelicals gave to the Gulf War. I remember asking congregants if it bothered them that thousands of men, women, and children were slaughtered in their name. Not one of my colleagues in the ministry opposed the Gulf War. None of them seemed troubled by the bloodshed and carnage. Try as I might to see the Gulf War through the eyes of the Just War Theory, I couldn’t do so. It was at this point in life that I became a pacifist. I didn’t preach pacifism from the pulpit, but I did challenge church members to think “Biblically” about war and violence — “Biblically” meaning viewing the Gulf War and other wars through the eyes of Jesus and his teachings.

From this point forward, my political beliefs began to evolve. By the time of the Y2K scare, I had distanced myself from groups such as Focus on the Family, the Moral Majority, and the American Family Association. I thought, at the time, that these groups had become political hacks, shills for the Republican Party. In 2000, I voted for George W. Bush. He would be the last Republican I voted for. In 2004, I vote for John Kerry; 2008 and 2012 I voted for Barack Obama; 2016 I voted for Hillary Clinton, though I was a big Bernie Sanders supporter.

In 2005, I left the ministry, and in 2008 I left Christianity. At that time, my political and social beliefs were far removed from when I entered the ministry decades before. I began as a right-wing Republican and I left the ministry as a progressive. Embracing atheism, humanism, rationalism, and science has allowed me to challenge and rethink my beliefs about homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, same-sex-marriage, LGBTQ people, sex, marriage, birth control, capital punishment, labor unions, environmentalism, and a host of other hot-button issues. As long as I was in the Evangelical bubble, these things remained unchallenged. Once the Bible lost its authority and control over me, I was then free to change my beliefs.

The Bruce Gerencser of 1983 would not recognize the Bruce Gerencser of today. A man who was a member of one of the churches I pastored in the 1980s and remained a friend of mine until 2009, told me that I had changed teams. And he’s right. My change of beliefs has been so radical that this man told me he could no longer be friends with me. Why? He found my atheism and political beliefs to be too unsettling.

I understand how the trajectory of my life, with its changing religious, political, and social beliefs, troubles people. I try to put myself in their shoes as they attempt to reconcile the Pastor Bruce they once knew with the atheist blogger I am today. How can these things be? former congregants, friends, and colleagues in the ministry want to know. How is it possible that Bruce Gerencser, one of the truest Christians they ever knew, is now an atheist? Some people think there’s some secret I am sitting on, some untold reason for my deconversion. No matter how much time I invest in explaining myself, many people still can’t wrap their minds around my current godlessness and liberal political beliefs. I’ve concluded that there is nothing I can do for them as long as they remain firmly ensconced in the Evangelical bubble.

My political and social beliefs are driven by the humanist ideal; that we humans should work together for the common good; that every person deserves peace, health, happiness, and economic security. I support political and social beliefs that promote these things and oppose those that don’t. I certainly haven’t arrived. My beliefs continue to evolve.

For readers not familiar with humanism, let me conclude this post with the Humanist Manifesto. Atheism doesn’t provide for me a moral foundation. Atheism is simply the absence of belief in gods. It is humanism that provides me the foundation upon which to build my life:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

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

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Why Evangelical Christianity has the Power to Harm and Destroy

how beliefs affect us

It concerns me that more than a few atheists dismiss religious beliefs as quaint, silly relics that pose no threat or concern to them. Unfortunately, ignorance and indifference about religious beliefs can and does have catastrophic consequences. One need only to look to the election of Donald Trump to see what happens when religious beliefs are ignored. More than eighty percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for our pussy-grabber-in-chief. Trump, ever the con-man, used Evangelical beliefs about social hot-button issues to his advantage. Trump is no more a Christian than I am, yet he and his handlers knew that exploiting Evangelicals religious beliefs would help them gain the White House. While some Evangelical voters have buyers regret, many of them continue to support Trump, regardless of how many prostitutes and porn stars come out of his closet. All that matters to them is that Trump supports their values and ideals. You see, beliefs matter.

As an atheist, I believe that Evangelical Christianity is built upon numerous lies; namely that the Christian God exists, Jesus is God, Jesus was resurrected from the dead, and that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. These four lies in particular fundamentally and ruinously affect the lives of those who believe them, especially those who spend decades as Evangelical believers. These lies affect how Evangelicals think about the world and their place in it. These lies affect how Evangelicals view others, especially those who don’t believe as they do. And most importantly, these lies affect how Evangelicals vote and engage the political process.

I am well aware that Evangelicals are somewhat diverse in belief and practice. I also realize that a smattering of Evangelicals hold progressive/liberal values. However, in the main, Evangelicals are united when it comes to the four lies mentioned above. These lies, along with others, are what make them Evangelical. If a person professes to be an Evangelical, yet rejects one or more of the aforementioned lies, then it is fair to say that he or she is Evangelical in name only.

Of these four lies, two of them have the potential to cause the greatest harm. I want to conclude this post by briefly examining these two lies.

First, the lie that Jesus resurrected from the dead fundamentally affects how Evangelicals view life and death. Why aren’t most Evangelicals concerned with global climate change? Why do they show little interest in ending war, famine, and violence? In the resurrection of Jesus, Evangelicals see the power of the Almighty on display. Their God has power over life and death. Their God controls everything, and if Jesus is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, and he holds the world in the palm of his hand, why worry about the future? In their minds, God has an unalterable, unassailable plan for everyone. We live and die when God says we do. What happens between life and death is up to God. When you believe your God can do anything, well, anything and everything is possible. No need to worry, the one true God is always on the job.

Jesus, of course, did not rise from the dead. Jesus was human, just like the rest of us. When he died on a Roman cross, he stayed dead, never to rise again. Understanding this fact causes people to behave differently. If Jesus was a mere mortal who lived and died, then there is no hell to shun and heaven to gain. All we have is the here and now. What matters, then, is how we live in the present, knowing that what we do affects future generations, for good or ill. There’s no God coming to our rescue. There’s no God who is going to make our lives brand new. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how different the thinking is between someone who believes the resurrection lie and someone who doesn’t.

Second, the lie that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God materially affects how Evangelicals live their day-to-day lives. People’s beliefs that the Bible is some sort of divine roadmap or blueprint for life affects the choices and decisions they make. The Sounds of Fundamentalism and Christians Say the Darnedest Things series aptly reflect what happens when people really, really, really believe that the Bible is a direct message to them from God. Why are Evangelicals endlessly up-in-arms over hot-button social issues? The Bible. Why do Evangelicals believe that the United States is a Christian nation and that the separation of church and state is harmful to their faith? The Bible. Why are Evangelicals anti-woman, anti-abortion, anti-birth control, anti-LGBT, anti-gun control, anti-same-sex marriage, and anti, anti, anti? The Bible. From invectives against how women dress to calls for Muslims/illegal immigrants to be sent back where they came from, the justification for such violence against people is found in the Bible.

If we want a better tomorrow, secularists and progressive people of faith must attack and destroy the lie that the Bible is in any way some sort of supernatural message sent to humans by a supernatural God. While the Bible certainly has teachings that have cultural and social value, in the main the Bible remains a Bronze Age religious text that has little relevance for today. In fact, the Bible is one of the most dangerous books ever written. When literally believed, it becomes a weapon with the power to kill and destroy. Religious Fundamentalism (and Evangelicalism is inherently Fundamentalist) harms everything it touches. We must not allow the lie about the nature of the Bible to go unchallenged. Ignoring the power the Bible holds over Evangelicals will only further our democracy’s demise. When people who believe the Bible is divine gain the power of the state, we shouldn’t be surprised when the United States becomes a theocracy. If we don’t want the Christian flag flying over the White House, we must muster every available tool in the secularist, rationalist toolbox to expose the lie that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God.

I realize my words might seem harsh to some of my Evangelical readers. But, recent battles over gun control, abortion, LGBT rights, same-sex marriage, and immigration have taught me that this is not the time to live and let live. If truth is to prevail, then lies must be exposed. If truth really matters to Americans, then exposing Evangelical Christianity for what it is — a religious political party — is essential. All one needs to do is look at the Ohio legislature, Congress, and the Trump presidency to see what believing lies can do. Sitting idly on the sidelines watching Bart Ehrman debates on YouTube or reading the latest, greatest book on atheism is not the answer. Like it or not, non-Evangelicals must educate themselves about Evangelical beliefs and practices. In doing so, we are better equipped to wage war against the cultural genocide being waged in the name of God. One of the reasons I continue to slog through Evangelical blogs, websites, and social media is because I know it is important to do so; not so much for myself, but for my children and grandchildren. By exposing what it is Evangelicals say and do, I shine a light on their absurdities and lies. Just remember, Evangelicals really do believe the words they write and speak. That alone should scare all of us into action.

Remember, beliefs matter.

Note

Takeshi Kovacs is a character in books written by Richard K/ Morgan — Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, and Woken Furies. Altered Carbon was recently turned into a Netflix series starring Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs. I watched the first season of Altered Carbon and found it to a delightful, yet complex futuristic drama. I heartily recommend it for your viewing.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Evangelical Ignorance: “I Don’t Need to Read Any Books, I Have the Bible”

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Evangelicals love to talk about the Bible. They call themselves people of the Book. Yet, despite all their Bible-loving talk, most Evangelicals are quite ignorant about what the Bible actually says. Why is biblical ignorance so widespread within Evangelical Christianity? Evangelicals think that by reading the Bible devotionally they are learning exactly what the biblical text says and means. Rarely do Evangelicals read books dealing with textual and historical criticism. If Evangelicals read books besides the Bible, they turn to books that are approved by their denomination, pastor, or church; or they read books that reinforce their beliefs. Evangelicals are far more likely to read Christian self-help books, Christian romance novels, Christian biographies, or superficial “look what God did for me, he’ll do it for you too” books than they are books that deal with doctrine, church history, or textual criticism. I think I can safely say that most Evangelicals have never read a book written by Bart Ehrman. If pastors and churches sincerely wanted congregants to understand the Bible, you would think that they would encourage them to read the books of the man who has done more than anyone to make the biblical text and early church history accessible to people in the pew. Instead, Evangelicals are often warned to not read Ehrman’s books lest in doing so they have doubts about their faith. What pastors are afraid of is that the people in the pew will learn that what they have been telling them from the pulpit about the Bible is not true. Just stick to reading apologetical books written by Evangelical men of God, pastors say. These authors will never lead you astray. Bart Ehrman is an agnostic, he can’t be trusted to tell the truth. In taking this approach, pastors teach congregants that if you don’t agree with or like the messenger you can safely ignore his or her message.

I was considered by my ministerial colleagues to be well read, especially once I moved away from the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Month by month, my library continued to grow. On more than one occasion, church members came into my office and asked me, have you really read all these books? I would chuckle a bit and say, yes, I have actually read all of them. While most of the books in my library reinforced my beliefs, as I got older I began to read authors that were considered heterodox or liberal. Several of my former pastor friends and congregants have said to me that my voracious reading habit was the reason for my loss of faith. One woman told me that what I needed to do is get rid of all my books and just read the Bible. She thought, I’m sure, that the words of the Bible, once read, would have some sort of magical effect on me. Evidently, knowledge was my problem, and if I would just return to the ignorance of faith, all would be well.

Over the years, I met pastors who prided themselves in being men of one book. One man, a Church of the Nazarene pastor, was proud of the fact that his entire library fit on two four-foot shelves. His library consisted of a Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, several books of illustrations, and a smattering of easy-to-read, pabulum-level books. These kinds of pastors believe that they can just read the Bible and understand exactly what the text says and means. After all, the Holy Spirit lives inside of them. He is their teacher and guide. When they stand in front of their congregations to preach the Word of God, they believe they are doing so as a spirit-filled man of God. Some of the most atrocious sermons I’ve ever heard were preached by men who thought this way.

From 1997-2002, I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity Ohio. One Sunday evening, three families who knew each other decided to visit our church. After the service, one of the visitors asked me about some of the things I said in my sermon. I told him that I would be glad to loan him several books that I thought would be helpful in answering his questions. He replied, I don’t need to read any books, I have the Bible. In his mind, all he needed to understand the text of the Bible was the Bible itself. I wish I could say that his astounding ignorance was rare, but over the years I met countless sincere Christians who had no interest in reading religious books. Some of them rarely read the Bible, let alone anything else. The fact that daily devotional books such as Our Daily Bread are used by churches to encourage congregants to read the Bible speaks volumes. For readers who are not familiar with such materials, let me explain what they are. Our Daily Bread, for example, has a devotional reading for each day of the year. The reading usually contains several Bible verses and an inspirational sermonette, all fitting on a small page. They are like SparkNotes for the Bible. For many Christians, this is the only Bible they will read on any given day.

I have known more than a few Evangelicals who, once they have used their Bible during Sunday services, store it under the front seat of their car, in the back window, or in the trunk. This way, they will know exactly where their Bible is come next Sunday. One of the reasons pastors repeatedly preach and teach the same basic sermons — four thousand titles for two sermons — is that Bible literacy is quite low among church members. I spent my entire twenty-five years in the ministry trying to get congregants to take Bible reading and study seriously. I can say with great confidence that I failed miserably. This does not mean that these people weren’t good Christians or that they weren’t serious about their faith. Often, thanks to long hours at work or domestic responsibilities, church members had very little time to devote to studying the unsearchable riches of Christ. I, on the other hand, was paid to read and study the Bible. I had hours every day that I could spend pouring over the biblical text and reading dense theological tomes. I used to nag church members about their lack of consistent Bible reading (and praying), but I quit doing so after I realized that the problem was a matter of time, not desire or faith.

Some pastors think that they are so full of the Holy Ghost that they don’t need to study for their sermons. Evangelist Dennis Corle told me that my time could be better spent soulwinning than studying for my sermons. He believed, as many preachers do, that spending time studying was a waste. There are souls to save, these preachers think. I’m just going to trust God, through the Holy Spirit, to tell me what to say. Such preachers reveal for all to see that the Holy Spirit is illiterate. Unlike many of my colleagues, I chose to devote significant time to preparing my sermons. It was not uncommon for me to spend twenty hours a week reading and studying for the sermons I would preach on Sunday. I like to think that my preparation showed in my sermon delivery and knowledge of the biblical text.

As you can see, theological and biblical ignorance are widespread within the Evangelical community. Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli pull no punches when they say: “Americans revere the Bible — but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” Many Christians can’t name the four Gospels or more than two or three of the disciples. The same can be said for the Ten Commandments. Some of the ignorance can be attributed to the fact that many Evangelical pastors preach what is commonly called “felt needs” sermons; that people who gather on Sunday to worship God want to hear uplifting sermons that inspire them to live for Jesus. These overworked, stressed out children of God want to be told that their lives matter and that God has a purpose and plan for them. They want to hear sermons based on the Bible stories of men and women who were greatly used by God or who wrought great victories in his name. Theological sermons are often met with restlessness and yawns. What congregants want is a Jesus fix, not a seminary lecture.

Many atheists actually know more about the Bible than the people who say they believe that the Good Book is the inspired, inerrant, infallible words of God. One of the reasons that these atheists left Christianity was that they actually decided to find out exactly what the Bible said. And once they did, they were appalled by what they found. As long as widespread biblical ignorance continues to infect Christianity, pastors have no need to worry about congregants finding out the truth; the truth being, that what pastors say about the Bible is not true; that the Bible is not in any way a supernatural text; that the Bible is not inerrant, but instead is littered with hundreds of contradictions and errors. Once Evangelicals realize that they have been duped, they often leave their churches. Many of them remain people of faith, but they no longer trust religious institutions. I have met many disaffected Evangelicals over the past decade. I’ve noticed, given enough time, that they often slowly move towards indifference, agnosticism, atheism, or some sort of generic spirituality. Evangelical leaders are alarmed by the number of Millennials and Generation Z young people who no longer check the “Christian” box on religious surveys. Much has been made about the rise of the Nones. More than a few atheists have wrongly interpreted this rise to mean that some sort of atheist revival is going on. While it is certainly true that atheism in America has grown dramatically over the past twenty-five years, that doesn’t mean that all of the Nones are atheists. Most Nones, in fact, are indifferent towards religion, and if atheists want to win them over to their side, then they are going to have to preach the humanistic gospel. Disaffected young adults are looking for an ethical and moral framework that best represents their beliefs and understandings of the world. Humanism can and does provide such a framework.

I’m optimistic that better days lie ahead for atheism and humanism — that is, if Donald Trump doesn’t get us into a nuclear war first. Those of us who are humanists need to make case that humanism provides a rich and full way to live one’s life. We know that the Bible has little to offer our modern society, but with the abandoning of the Bible comes a moral and ethical vacuüm. It’s our duty (and privilege) to present humanism as the way forward, not only the United States, but the people of the world.

For those who may not know about what I call the humanistic ideal, let me conclude this post with the Humanist Manifesto:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

 Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

 Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Life in Rural Northwest Ohio: Committing Social Suicide

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Local home flying the team flag. Go TEAM JESUS!

I have spent most of my sixty years of life living in rural Ohio. I was born in Bryan, Ohio — a small community in Northwest Ohio. My dad’s parents immigrated to the United States from Hungary in the 1920s and settled down on a hundred acre farm a few miles south of Bryan. Dad and his siblings attended schools in the very district my wife and I now call home. We live in a small spot along State Highway 15. Ney, population 345, has two bars/restaurants and a convenience store/fast station. Dad graduated from Ney High School in 1954. I attended elementary school for several years west of here in the flashing-light, spot-in-the-road town called Farmer. Dad frequently moved us from town to town, unable, for some inexplicable reason, to pay the rent. It wasn’t until junior high that I got a taste of “big” city life.  For three and a half years, we lived in Findlay, the home of Marathon Oil. This allowed me to attend the same school for three straight years. I actually had the same friends from one school year to the next!

Divorce and Dad moving us to Arizona turned my happy world upside down. At age sixteen, I returned to Findlay for my eleventh-grade year. I then returned to Bryan to live with my mother. Lots of drama, including Mom being locked up in Toledo State Hospital, resulted in my siblings and me being uprooted and moved once again to Arizona. By then, I had dropped out of high school. In the fall of 1975, I moved back to Bryan and took a job working at a local grocery store. A year later, I left Bryan to attend classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I returned to Bryan three years later, pregnant wife in tow.

Polly and I spent much of our married life living in small, rural communities. The churches I pastored were, for the most part, attended by white, working-class people. In 1995, we moved back to the flatland of rural Northwest Ohio. I pastored two nearby churches, moving away from the area to pastor a church in rural Michigan, along with a move to Yuma, Arizona. In the end, like the proverbial bad penny, I seem to always make my way back to Northwest Ohio. In 2007, we bought our house in Ney. Our six children and eleven grandchildren (soon to be twelve) all live within twenty minutes of our home.

There are times when Polly and I yearn for the big city; for the anonymity that living in such places provide. But, we love our family, and when we bought our home, we committed ourselves to living here until death do us part. This is the place and people we call home. We love the slowness of life, and when we need a big city fix, Fort Wayne and Toledo are but an hour away.

I write all this to say that my roots run deep into the soil of rural Ohio. No matter how often I fled the scene, looking for excitement and diversity, I always seemed to come right back to where life started for me. Polly was a city girl, but forty years of country living have turned her into a small-town girl who has embraced the rural way of life. Would we live where we do if it weren’t for our children and grandchildren? Probably not. And the reason for this is simple. While both of us feel quite at home in rural Ohio, our beliefs have changed greatly over the past two decades. This change of thinking puts us at odds with most of our neighbors — politically, religiously, and socially.

Rural northwest Ohio is the land of God, Guns, and the Republican Party. Hundreds of conservative churches dot the landscape, and virtually every public office is held by a Republican. In Defiance County where I live, the Democratic Party has fielded two winners in the last decade, neither of whom is currently in office. Living here means that I must accept  the monoculture of my surroundings, a society where it is assumed that everyone thinks and believes the same way. Someone like me, a socialist/pacifist/atheist, is a rare bird. While I have met more than a few people with similar views (particularly young adults), there are no liberal/humanist/atheist/secular groups or meet-ups in rural Northwest Ohio. People who don’t fit the rural Ohio political and religious mold exist, but few are vocal about their liberalness and unbelief. Why? Doing so would be socially suicidal.

One of my sons and I were talking about this tonight — about how being an out-of-the closet unbeliever or liberal leads to social suicide. While I am often lauded for my outspokenness about local politics and religion, my position has come at a high cost socially. I have in the past pondered whether, if I had it to do all over again, I would have been so vocal early on about my atheistic beliefs. I know that my outspokenness (and my age and disability) has made me unemployable. I own a photography business. When locals are given a choice between an Evangelical photographer and me, guess what? They usually choose the God-fearing one (regardless of the quality of work).

Over the past fifteen months, I have made a concerted effort to, outside of this blog, to tone down my public pronouncements. At times, I feel guilty for doing so; feeling as if I am a sell-out or a hypocrite. Everyone should be able to be who and what they are, right? Sure, but small-town life demands at least some modicum of outward conformity to tribal political, religious, and social beliefs. Disobey and you will pay the price. And for my family in particular, I don’t want them being socially and economically punished for who their father is. Some of my children may agree with me, but their futures depend on them not committing social suicide. Rarely does a week or two go by without one of my children telling me that someone at work — a boss, fellow employee, or customer — was inquiring about whether they were related to me. My children have become experts at fielding such interrogations, knowing that they are always free to say, Hmm, Bruce Gerencser? Don’t know the guy.

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Ney Village Limit Sign, Slightly Altered.

I plan to live the remaining days and years of my life in Ney, Ohio. As a committed liberal and atheist — who also wants to get along and be accepted by his neighbors — I have to find ways to be true to self while at the same time not being ostracized by locals. Everything, unfortunately, comes down to money. My wife and I need to earn money to live. Earning money requires acceptance by local employers/customers. While it would be wonderful to be a street-corner atheist (and some locals think I am way too outspoken, even at presently muted levels), I have to live here, and being one would be social suicide. The violations of separation of church and state are so common is this area that the Freedom From Religion Foundation could spend the next year or so filing lawsuits against local government agencies, schools, and businesses. Yes, I find these violations of the law egregious, and the street-corner atheist in me wants to call out and condemn their sins. But, I can’t, for in doing so I would cause great social harm not only to myself but to my wife, children, and grandchildren. If I made $40,000 a year blogging, things would be different, but as things now stand, I must swim in waters infested with Evangelical/right-wing Republican sharks, and being a lone fish is sure to turn me into a snack.

I have much hope in the belief that things are slowly changing here in rural Northwest Ohio. Local millennials are not as religious as their parents, and they most certainly don’t hold to the moral and religious values of their grandparents. It is in these young adults that I see promise. It is unlikely that this area will ever be as liberal as the West or East coasts, but I am hoping that there is coming a day when it won’t be social suicide to say that I am a liberal, a socialist, and non-Christian.

For now, I must choose my battles carefully, hoping that I can safely navigate the dangerous waters of rural Ohio. I have seen progress on this front thanks to my high school basketball photography. I have talked to more locals in the past few months than in the last ten years combined. I want them to see me as a family man, as a decent, kind curmudgeon who also happens to take really good pictures. I know that Google is not my friend, but there nothing I can do about the stories she might tell if someone asks her about Bruce Gerencser. Just last week, one my children ran into several people their age who were once members of a local church I pastored. These young adults have heard the gossip about me and read up on me, thanks to the Internet, but they still can’t understand how it is possible that the man they once called pastor is now a heathen. What happened? they asked, desperately trying to figure out how I ended up where I am today. Lost on such people is the fact that I am, in many ways, the same man I was when I was their pastor. Sure, I am a political liberal and an atheist. But, personality-wise I am pretty much the same guy. I am still a down-home friendly man with a wry sense of humor. I am…Bruce. [My editor commented, Your closing raises some interesting questions. Are you the same guy? I think it is hard for you to claim that you are. Sure, you are still a decent, hard-working man, but you have done an about-face in regard to many of your core beliefs of your prior life.]

I would love to hear from readers who find it difficult to navigate the waters of their communities. Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Quote of the Day: The American Declaration of Independence Dethrones God by Robert Ingersoll

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The Declaration of Independence announces the sublime truth, that all power comes from the people. This was a denial, and the first denial of a nation, of the infamous dogma that God confers the right upon one man to govern others. It was the first grand assertion of the dignity of the human race. It declared the governed to be the source of power, and in fact denied the authority of any and all gods. Through the ages of slavery — through the weary centuries of the lash and chain, God was the acknowledged ruler of the world. To enthrone man, was to dethrone God.

— Robert Ingersoll, Individuality, 1873