Tag Archive: Humanism

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

Quote of the Day: The Ugly Side of the Online Atheist Community by Chris Stedman

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When I was invited to discuss atheism on “The O’Reilly Factor” four years ago, I initially wanted to turn it down. However, I ultimately realized it was a chance to show Fox News viewers a different side of atheism on a network where atheists are usually talked about rather than with.

It was December, so former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly attempted to paint atheists as bitter anti-religion Grinches on a mission to take Christmas away. I pushed back, emphasizing the value of the separation of church and state as well as atheists’ contributions to the public conversation on religion and ethics.

In an environment that rewards anger and sound bites, I attempted to humanize my community — one of the most negatively viewed in the country. Afterward, strangers from around the country messaged me to say the conversation helped them rethink their views on atheists.

But the chatter online took a different, but sadly familiar, tone.

A number of prominent atheist bloggers criticized my interview, saying I was awful and suggesting I was allying with O’Reilly. The comments were worse. Anonymous posters ridiculed me, saying I should decline future television invitations because I was too “effeminate,” my physical appearance made atheists seem “like freaks” and my “obvious homosexuality” made me an ineffectual voice for atheists.

I had started an atheist blog almost a decade ago to explore the role of the nonreligious in interfaith dialogue. I went on to write for bigger platforms and appear on CNN and MSNBC to defend atheists against our detractors. But even as I spoke up for atheists, a subset of the community attacked me and my work, including a book I wrote about atheism and interfaith activism. There were some legitimate critiques, and I’m grateful for how they challenged me and helped me rethink some of my ideas, but others were petty and vindictive.

One of my most frequent online critics — who posted defamatory and false accusations about me — taunted me in ways that reminded me of the playground bullies who attacked me for being queer. He and his supporters frequently called me wimpy, weak, feeble and pearl-clutching, and characterized my work as “tinkerbellism.” When we faced off in a debate sponsored by humanist groups in Australia, he (hilariously) told me that I “sucked.”

Other bloggers went further, writing posts attacking my personal life; one went after my mother directly. (The author of that post later apologized, thankfully.) While most posts and comments were merely cruel insults, I was also threatened with violence and received death threats.

I was far from the only one targeted. A lot of online discourse can turn vitriolic, but writing on atheism seems particularly so. A study on Reddit found that its atheist forum, probably the largest collection of atheists on the Internet, was the third most toxic and bigoted on the entire site.

I’ve watched as many of the activists and writers I respect most in atheism — especially women and people of color — have left the movement, each expressing (privately, if not publicly) that the state of the discourse among atheists was one of the primary reasons they were leaving.

Beyond the nastiness directed at me, I was even more frustrated with the ways the atheist movement, especially online, has resisted efforts to address racism, sexism and xenophobia among our own.

….

I also felt a gnawing sense of smallness during my years as an atheist writer, exhausted with having to represent a singular identity. When I appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor,” the chyron that appeared below me read, “CHRIS STEDMAN, ATHEIST.” My friends and I had a good laugh about it, but it represented a bigger problem: to be understood as an atheist, I was often asked to reduce myself to just that.

This is a broad problem. When members of misunderstood communities challenge the stigmas placed upon them, we’re often tokenized and flattened out. Our culture is uncomfortable with people possessing a complex mix of identities, so we try to reduce them to the most digestible version of those identities. This feels especially true online.

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— Chris Stedman, The Washington Post, I’m an Atheist, but I Had to Walk Away From the Toxic Side of Online Atheism, November 7, 2017

What Possible Motive Would I Have For Falsely Claiming to be an Atheist?

easy believismOn occasion, an Evangelical commenter will suggest that deep down in my heart of hearts I KNOW that I am still a Christian; that my claiming to be an agnostic/atheist is a ruse or some sort of misdirection meant to lead people away from finding out the truth about what and who I really am. Such a conclusion is derived from reading my writing through blood-of-Jesus-colored glasses, seeing faith where there is none. Several years ago, one commenter even went so far as to suggest that my capitalization of words such as Bible, Heaven, and Hell was proof that I am, despite my protestations, still a Christian. Taking this approach, of course, allows once-saved-always-saved Baptists to square my past with the present. Once saved by the miracle-working power of Jesus, no matter what I say or do, I cannot be separated from the love of God. No matter how hard I try to divorce myself from God or run from his presence, I remain eternally married to Jesus. Jesus is the epitome of the abusive husband in a no-divorce state. The only way to be free of Jesus is to kill him. I wonder…is it possible to kill Jesus twice?

Most thinking people will recognize that the aforementioned argument is absurd and makes a mockery of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Salvation is reduced to intellectual assent, to a set of propositional facts about the nature of God, the human condition, the need of redemption, the threat of judgment, and the promise of eternal life. If someone, as I did when a fifteen-year-old boy, sincerely believes these facts, then he or she is instantly and eternally saved. After being instantaneously saved, it matters not how the saved sinners live. They SHOULD desire to live right. Indwelt by the Holy Spirit, those born from above SHOULD desire to attend church, pray, read the Bible, and follow the commands and precepts of God. But if they don’t, they are still saved, no matter what! In other words, a Christian could renounce Jesus, reject the teachings of the Bible, embrace atheism, and live a life of debauchery; it matters not, he is still saved. Supposedly, such a life would bring God’s judgment and chastisement, but if it doesn’t, the Christian is still saved. Several Christians have suggested my health problems are God’s chastisement of me for my rebellion against him. The problem with this line of argumentation is that my health problems started years and decades before I divorced myself my Jesus. What was God up to then?

If I am still, way down in depths of my imaginary soul, a Christian, why would I claim to be an agnostic/atheist? Point to one good thing that comes from me professing to be an atheist. I live in rural Northwest Ohio. The Evangelical Jesus is on public display everywhere I look. In the Williams/Defiance/Fulton/Henry county area, three hundred churches dot the landscape. Almost all of them skew to the right theologically and politically. I am not only an atheist, I am also a pacifist and a Democratic Socialist. I am everything most people in the quad-county area are not. Being an outspoken atheist has resulted in social ostracization. While I have in recent years tried to pick my battles more carefully, I am still labeled by Christian zealots an immoral tool of Satan. I continue to despise the preferential treatment given to Christianity and I deplore attempts to promote theocratic thinking and scientific ignorance. However, I am trying to get a business up and running, so I am not as vocal as once was. I have concluded that locals can live with my godlessness as long as I don’t shove it in their face. Of course, there is this little problem called my blog. Anyone who bothers to do a search on my name — I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the world — will quickly find out my views about God, Christianity, the Bible, Evangelicalism and right-wing politics. I am not hiding my lack of belief as much as I am being more careful in choosing when, where, and how I want to take a stand against God and his anointed ones. That said, I am sure some locals would never hire me to do photography work for them, even if I was an Ansel Adams who charged Walmart photo studio prices. This is the price I pay for being who I am.

eternal securityIt seems to me that it would an easier path for me if I said I was a Christian and lived as most local Christians do — as practical atheists, espousing a cultural Christianity that is trotted out for holidays, weddings, funerals, and periodic outbursts of self-righteousness over perceived secular attacks on the baby Jesus. I would, in effect, live as if God doesn’t exist. Such living is hypocrisy at its best — saying one is a Christian, yet living as if God is a myth. Surely, if people say they are Christians, shouldn’t they make a good faith effort to live according to teachings of the Bible? Shouldn’t their lives reflect their beliefs?

I can’t think of one rational reason for me to still be a Christian, yet claim to be an atheist. Being a Christian, even in name only, is a path of ease, one that requires nothing from me. Atheism, on the other hand, brings social and cultural criticism and attack. I do my best to be an example of a good atheist, someone who lives according to the humanistic ideal. I try to let my good works show the kind of person I am. I want local Christians to know that people can be unbelievers and still live moral and ethical lives. Most of all, I want my life to be glaring contradiction, when how I live is compared to presuppositions about atheists. A Christianity worth having is evidenced not by beliefs, but by how a Christian lives. So it is with atheists. How we live our day-to-day lives is vitally important. People are watching us, trying to figure out what kind of people we really are. I want to be the best atheist in town, one who loves his fellow man and, when needed, lends his care and support to those in need. Surely, atheist and Christian alike should desire what is best not only for his progeny, but also his friends and neighbors.

If you can come up with a reason for someone to still be a Christian, yet claim to be an atheist, please share it in the comment section below.

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.

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Where Did God Come From?

where did god come from

One of the questions most asked by children has to do with the existence of God. Children quickly learn that things require a maker/creator. When they sit at the dining table for dinner, they see food on a plate, ready for them to eat. Children know that mommy, daddy, or KFC cooked dinner. The food did not magically appear on a plate. Someone had to prepare and cook the food. The same goes for the dining room table, dinnerware, and eating utensils. Someone, somewhere, designed, manufactured, shipped, and sold these goods. And the same is true for the food itself. A farmer planted crops and/or raised animals to provide the food. From start to finish, we see human choices and actions. This process reminds me of Jimmy Stewart’s memorable (and hilarious) prayer in the movie Shenandoah:

Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food were about to eat. Amen.

Video Link

Most parents teach their children the basic rules of life, one of which is that if you don’t work, you don’t eat. Food doesn’t magically appear in the cupboards. Having food requires labor, either in a garden or working a job that provides money to purchase it. This is the way it has always worked. Sitting around praying for God to provide only leaves petitioners with growling, empty stomachs. King David, of Biblical fame, wrote one of the biggest whoppers ever told when he stated:

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. (Psalm 37:25)

Millions and millions of Christians will go to bed tonight hungry. They are the righteous spoken of by David. No matter how much these followers of Jesus pray, seeking God’s providential intervention, their plates will remain empty. God is not going to show up with a grocery truck. Having food requires human work, along with political environments where sustenance farming is valued and supported. In many of the countries facing famine, religion plays a prominent part in the lack of food. Catholicism, in particular, with its anti-birth-control, anti-abortion policies, encourages women to have large families. We see the same insane lack of family planning in Islāmic countries. When there are already too many mouths to feed, does it make any sense to have MORE children, thus exacerbating the lack of food security? Of course not. But, instead of handing out birth control and making abortion services readily available, religious leaders tell their followers to continue fucking for the glory of God, trusting that he will provide for their daily needs. How’s that working out?

Children should be taught when they are young that the only way things get done is if they do it. Parents don’t help their children grow into responsible adults if they continue to do for them what they can do for themselves. Polly and I had many faults when it came to raising our six children, but not when it came to teaching them the value and importance of work. At an early age, our children learned that there was a connection between work and results. Want a weed-free garden? Someone has to weed it. Want a clean bedroom? Someone has to clean it. Parents wrong their children, crippling them as adults, when they do things children can do for themselves. As is typical, when our children reached their teen years, they wanted stuff — cars, clothing, shoes, CD’s, and money to spend on entertainment. Polly and I didn’t give them money, not even an allowance. If they wanted the trappings of our capitalistic society, there was one way to get it — work! And so they did. Learning this has served them well as adults – as a result, our children have often been applauded and rewarded for their work ethic (and been known as no-nonsense workers who give an honest day’s work for their pay).

My point is this: everywhere we look we see human endeavor at the heart of this experience called life. What we have comes not from a dime store deity somewhere who doles out his goodness and blessings according to some sort of mysterious lottery. While we humans fail in many of our endeavors, we know that the only option we have is to try again or try something different. The burden of security, prosperity, and success rests on us, not on a mythical God.

It is for these reasons that it is frustrating to hear parents, when asked by their children, where did God come from? respond with theological mumbo jumbo about God always existing, and that no one created him. History tells us that God — all gods — are of human origin. Take the Christian God. Has this God always existed? Of course not. Humans, attempting to explain the world around them and their place in it, invented Gods to provide a larger-than-life explanation to what, at the time, seemed unanswerable questions. For centuries now, humans have been appealing to the gods as locus of their origin. These appeals were put in written forms such as the Christian Bible. When read with unbiased, uninitiated eyes, the Bible provides a fascinating look at the evolution of God, (The Evolution of God by Robert Wright) from the polytheism of the Old Testament to the monotheism of later Old Testament books and the New Testament (though one could argue that Christianity is still polytheistic based on its trinitarian theology).

When little Johnny asked his mommy or dad, where did God come from? he should be told the truth. Johnny, ancient humans created God (s) as a way to explain their world. Our deity, the Christian God, was brought to life six or so thousand years ago by polytheistic Middle Easterners. Our God has been remade numerous times. Today, our God is very different from the God of Adam and Eve. The same could be said for Abraham’s God and the deity of first century Jews. Humans, as time marches along, tend to shape God in their own image, adapting her to current cultural and tribal norms. While Christians speak of God having supernatural and divine qualities, it is clear to every honest observer that “God” is a human creation, with each worshiper shaping God into a human form that best represents their wants, needs, and desires.

But Bruce, Evangelicals might say, how do you explain the existence of the raw materials used to make things?  They had to come from somewhere, right? Using a variation of the God of the Gaps argument, Christians think anything that can’t be answered or known is God. Since no one can answer the “how did it all begin” question, Evangelicals wrongly assert that it is their God who birthed everything into existence. This, of course, is a faith claim for which there is no evidence outside of the Bible. This still leaves Christians with the question, where did God come from? Well, God exists outside of the space/time continuum. And your evidence for this claim is what? Uh, well, um, (hanging head), the Bible says ____________. And now we are right back to a book that was written by men, not God. The Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is the creation of humans.

pale blue dot

Perhaps science will one day answer all the questions about our beginning. Maybe not. For me personally it doesn’t matter. While I might wonder about what happened before the big bang, I know post-bang that science gives us a plausible explanation for our universe and our minuscule, insignificant place in it. This is a good place to remind readers of Carl Sagan’s words about our planet:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

Our planet, with its seven billion inhabitants, is but a pencil-point of light in the vast expanse of space. We who call this planet home are its caretakers. Our future success, prosperity, and life rests in our hands. God, whomever it might be, if anything at all, is not coming to rescue, bless, or take care of us. All we have is each other, and as Jimmy Stewart made clear, it’s up to us to provide for ourselves and those we love. Children deserve to be told the truth about these things. Telling them that there is some sort of Santa Claus-like God only teaches them a deluded view of the world and their place in it. Perhaps there is some sort of deistic God who set the things into motion. I don’t know, and, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. It is clear, at the very least, that such a deity is not the least bit interested in that which she has created, and that this God has left it up to us to plot the future of earth and the human race. This is the primary reason I am a humanist. (If you have not read the Humanist Manifesto, I encourage you to do so.) The Humanist Manifesto states:

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.

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Simply put, it’s up to us. Whether it’s avoiding nuclear war or combating the effects of global climate change, it is up to humans, not gods, to change the course of history. Whether we will we do so remains to be seen. As long as humans think God is in charge of everything and that she alone can deliver and save us, there is little hope that we will survive to the days when our sun dies and our species ceases to exist. As things stand now, I wonder if we will even make it to the twenty-second century. Religious tribalism, political extremism, amoral (and immoral) capitalism, poverty and a host of other problems work against our future survival. Our only hope lies in all of us working together for the betterment the human race and the planet we call home.