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Tag: Humanism

Doing Good Because it is the Right Thing to Do, Not Because Jesus is Watching

Imagine for a moment that you find a wallet someone has accidentally dropped on the ground. In the wallet are the person’s ID, credit cards, and $300. What would you do?

I suspect most of us would attempt to track the person down and return the wallet. Why? Because it is the right thing to do.

The Christian Post reported a story about an anonymous Christian finding a wallet and returning it to its rightful owner. The Christian did the right thing and he should be commended for doing so. If you have ever lost your wallet or ID, you know how stressful and gut-wrenching the experience is, especially in this day of identity theft.

The problem I have with the Christian Post story is the motivation the Christian had for returning the wallet. Instead of it being a good, decent, honorable thing to do, the Christian had a “Biblical” reason for returning the wallet.

The Christian attached a Post-it note to the wallet:

returned wallet

The Christian who returned the wallet stated that the following verses were his reason/motivation for returning the wallet:

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. Luke 10:27

He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. Luke 16:10

That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth. Psalm 83:18

In other words, the Christian’s act of decency and kindness was all about God.

From my seat in the atheist pew, it seems to me that religion and the Bible complicate the issue. Would the Christian have returned the wallet if these verses weren’t in the Bible? Would he have returned the wallet if he weren’t a Christian? While these questions might be viewed as trying to turn a good deed into an argument, I think motivations are important.

This story is connected closely to arguments over morality and ethics. Most Christians think morality and ethics require religion — theirs — and a supernaturally written book, the Bible. They think they do good because of their religion and its teachings. It is God that keeps them from being bad people. If it weren’t for Jesus, the world would be overrun with thieves, rapists, and child molesters.

It is not enough, then, for an act of goodness to be performed just because it is the right thing to do. Instead, it is God who gets all the praise and glory because, without him, humans would do bad things. In other words, without God, the Christian would have kept the wallet.

If the Christian had left a Post-it note with these two verses:

And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. Luke 6:31

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matthew 22:39

. . . perhaps I would see this story differently.

All of us should treat others as we would want to be treated. Isn’t that a universal moral value?

I commend the Christian for returning the man’s wallet. It was the right thing to do, whether the man was a Fundamentalist Baptist, an Episcopalian, or an atheist. Would an atheist have returned the wallet? I’d like to think so. But I know among atheists and Christians alike, some would have viewed the lost wallet as an opportunity to steal. Finders keepers, losers weepers, right? As we all know, religious belief does not inoculate someone from being a bad person. (Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.) The religious and godless alike have the capability and power to do bad things. Why? Because bad people do bad things. A narcissistic view of the world often motivates people to only think of self. When presented with an opportunity to return the lost wallet, the narcissist is only concerned with what he can gain. In this case, he gains the money that is in the wallet.

We should all strive for a higher ideal regardless of our religious beliefs. As a humanist, I try to treat others as I would want to be treated. If I lost my wallet, I hope someone would return it and I would gladly offer the finder a reward. Far more important than lost cash is lost ID. And I know if I found a person’s wallet, I would return it to the owner. How do I know I would do this? Because that is what I have done in the past. It is the moral/ethical code I live by. I know how panicked I get when I can’t find my wallet in the house, and I can only imagine how stressed out I would be if I knew I had lost it at a store or parking lot somewhere.

Here’s the point I want to make — good people do good things. Yes, sometimes good people fail and might, at times, do bad things, but the arc of their lives is toward good. The same can be said of those who lack moral and ethical character. They may sometimes do good things, but the arc of their lives is toward bad. Religion does not determine goodness or badness, though it certainly can, for some people, play a part. What determines the kind of person we are is our character. People with good character do good things like returning a lost wallet. People with bad character, don’t.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce, Science Can’t Tell Us [Fill in the Blank], Yet You Are Certain There Is No God?

questions

A reader named Ron Lawson recently commented on the post The Scandalous Life of Jack Hyles and Why it Still Matters. That post is about Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) megachurch pastor Jack Hyles, yet Lawson’s comment says nothing about Hyles or what I wrote about him. Instead, Lawson wrote (all spelling and grammar in the original):

I am amazed at the incredible intelligence on this post. Science cant even tell how a single cell developed from non-life to life or where the book of our DNA came from or how it teaches cells to differentiate themselves into various organs, eyes etc. and yet we are certain there is no god.

I pray there is a God or we are cursed to be the highest intelligence and we have nothing to hate for all of the inhumanity to man that is caused by evil people… if evil is even a thing… that very concept presupposes there is a standard outside of ourselves that pre-dates our birth that has somehow come to the awareness that there is such a thing.

Lawson begins his comment by sarcastically saying “I am amazed at the incredible intelligence on this post.” Lawson makes no effort to respond to or address what I wrote about Jack Hyles. Instead, he wants to insult me personally — suggesting I am lacking in intelligence when it comes to biology. Granted, I am not a scientist, and I assume neither is Lawson, but he once spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express, so that means he is qualified to speak on scientific matters.

I will soon turn sixty-seven years old. I have made a lot of mistakes in life. As a young IFB preacher, I was certain that I was right. Arrogantly, I thought I could opine on every aspect of life even if I lacked knowledge, training, and education on a particular subject. This was especially so with matters of science. In high school, I took biology and earth science. In college, I took biology — which was a colossal waste of time. That’s it. While I have tried my best to advance my understanding of science over the years, I am in no way qualified to speak on such issues. I rely on experts in their relevant scientific fields to educate me when I have questions. When people raise science-related questions in the comment section, I typically defer to readers who actually know what they are talking about. I know what I know, but more importantly, I know what I don’t know.

Maybe Lawson has a science education. I doubt it, but maybe. Most Evangelicals who leave comments such as his lack actual science training. Their scientific knowledge comes from apologetics books, websites, and podcasts. Scores of Evangelicals have commented on this site, pontificating on biology, cosmology, or archeology. Yet, when pressed on their educational background or how they came to “know” what they know, you quickly find out that they have no knowledge beyond their literalist interpretations of the Bible, what their pastors say on Sundays, or what they read or watched on sites such as Answers in Genesis, Dr. Dino (Kent Hovind), or the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) — to name a few.

If Lawson comments again, perhaps he will let us know why we should listen to anything he has to say; what qualifications does he have to speak authoritatively about biology? If Lawson wants to discuss Evangelicalism or the IFB church movement, I am more than happy to do so. Why? Because I am an expert in these subjects, and I am conversant on religion in general. However, I try not to expose my ignorance when it comes to science. I am more than happy to have general conversations about science, but an expert I am not. So, anything I say about science should be understood from that perspective.

Science does not have all the answers about anything. We know more than we did yesterday, but there is much we still do not know, and it is certain that we will never know everything. Evangelicals wrongly think that just because they can read the Bible, all of a sudden, they are an authority on what it says. Thus when they read Genesis 1-3, Evangelicals think they know how the universe and the biological world came into being. God did it. And since science can’t answer everything — cue up the God of the gaps argument — God did it. Just because science can’t answer a particular question doesn’t mean God is the answer. Most Evangelicals can’t even explain why there are two hopelessly contradictory creation accounts in the first three chapters of Genesis.

The Bible is a dead, antiquated religious text. When it comes to science, the Bible has nothing to offer. We know the universe was not created in six literal twenty-four-hour days. We know the earth is not 6,027 years old. We know Adam and Eve weren’t the first hominids. We know that many of the stories in the Old Testament, such as Noah and the Ark, Moses and the Jewish exodus, the tower of Babel, etc. are myths. Science tells us these things. The Bible? It is a product of its time, not meant to be used for scientific inquiry.

Lawson says that because science can’t answer certain questions — and I have no idea whether it can answer his challenges or not — we cannot say “there is no God.” I have never said that there is no God. I am an agnostic atheist. Unlike many theists, I know the limitations of my knowledge. I cannot know for certain whether a deity of some sort exists. A God of some sort may exist that has not yet made itself known to us. Is this likely or probable? No, but possible. Thus, I am agnostic on the God question. However, when it comes to the extant deities (all gods and religions are of human origin), I am an atheist, confident that these gods are myths. When it comes to the Abrahamic deities, I am confident that these gods and religions are the products of human minds. I am convinced that the central claims of Christianity are false.

As far as morality is concerned, I am persuaded that moral and ethical values come from our DNA and personal experiences and beliefs. If there was some sort of objective moral standard outside of ourselves, we would all have the same moral and ethical beliefs, at all times, throughout human history. Of course, we don’t. Even Christians can’t agree on morality. Morals change with time, and from person to person. Thus, morality is inherently subjective. It is when we gather into families, tribes, communities, and countries that we begin to develop moral codes and standards (which, again, vary from family to family, tribe to tribe, community to community, and country to country). We, collectively, agree that certain behaviors are moral (good) and others are immoral (bad). Because our highest goals are happiness and well-being, we often punish behaviors that negatively affect these goals. Ultimately, WE decide what is moral and ethical. (So, you think we are God? Yes.) 🙂 There is no God, who else decides besides us? Unless you think all morals are hardwired, you must believe morality is subjective. A separate issue, which I will not address at this time, is whether humans have free will. Even without free will, if happiness and well-being — both individually and corporately — are our goals, we can (must) govern human behavior through expectations and laws. While religions can and do play a part in the formation of our moral values, this doesn’t mean that a particular religion (and its deity and divine text) is the source, the grounding of human morality.

As far as evil, is concerned, evil is what humans do, based on what I stated above. We don’t need religion or a deity to declare a certain behavior or action is evil. I don’t need Jesus in my heart or knowledge of Lawson’s deity to know that slaughtering children and innocent civilians in war — as Israel is currently doing — is morally wrong. I make moral judgments every day, without God or appeals to a religious text (though I will readily admit my moral framework is informed by the five decades I spent as a follower of Jesus).

Lawson prays there is a God. Why? Isn’t it time we grew up and put off childish things, the vestiges of a pre-scientific age? Simply put, we don’t need the God of classical theism. He is a crutch people hang on to instead of doing the hard work necessary to determine how to morally and ethically live their lives. This path is messy, laden with challenges and contradictions, but more honest and fulfilling than appealing to mythical deities and ancient religious texts.

I appreciate Lawson taking the time to comment.

Saved by Reason,

signature

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Atheists are Children of the Devil

atheists mike stanfill
Cartoon by Mike Stanfill

Jesus said to a group of Jews:

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (John 8:44)

It is not uncommon for Evangelical zealots to tell atheists that their real father is the Devil, old Satan himself. What naturally flows from this line of thinking is that atheists live lustful, licentious, lives; that atheists are liars because there is no truth in them. No matter how atheists live; no matter how atheists treat others; no matter how kind, decent, thoughtful, and loving atheists might be; they are, without exception, the lying, deceitful children of Satan.

The only way atheists can change their family designation is to be adopted into the family of God through the merit and work of Jesus. No matter what atheists say or do, Evangelicals consider them enemies of God and the one true faith. If only atheists would admit the existence of the Christian God, pray the sinner’s prayer, and vote Republican, they would, with open arms, be welcomed into God’s blood-washed family. Because atheists refuse to bow to Jesus, they are forever condemned not only to the Lake of Fire, but also to being disparaged and lied about by so-called men of God.

All atheists can do is live according to the humanist ideal. Several years ago during the Pandemic, I bought groceries at the local Meijer. The store was jammed with panicked, irrational shoppers. The shelves were empty of items such as toilet paper, paper towels, bleach, hand sanitizer, Lysol, water, and, oddly, chicken. Yes, chicken. There wasn’t a piece of fresh chicken in the entire store. Checkout lines were backed up, and over the store intercom came messages asking shoppers to please be patient. The humorous part of me want to scream, “WHERE’S THE CHICKEN? I WANT SOME FUCKING CHICKEN RIGHT NOW!” I said nothing, thinking to myself about how irrational many people are when facing a crisis. I have seen this kind of panic numerous times over my sixty-sixty years of life on planet Earth. Seemed a little more intense this time.

As I was pulling out of my handicapped parking space, I noticed that a young woman had dropped a 24-pack of diet Coke and the cans were rolling everywhere in the parking lot. Several people drove by the frustrated woman. I put my Ford Edge in park, told Bethany I’d be just a minute, and got out and helped the woman retrieve her pop cans. She sheepishly said, “Thanks.” I replied, “No problem. Have a good night.” And with that, I got in my car and drove off to the gas station before heading home to Ney, nine miles away.

If, as an atheist, I am, to quote the song by George Thorogood and the Destroyers, bad to the bone, why didn’t I selfishly ignore this woman’s plight and drive away? Here’s why: I am a decent person. When I see someone in need of help and I can help them, I do so. I ALWAYS do so. Picking up pop cans in a store parking lot for someone is a trivial act of kindness, but what kind of person would I be if I didn’t at least try to help? I am often given opportunities to help and be kind to others. I want to go through life treating others as I would want to be treated, hoping that when it is Polly or my daughter trying to chase down pop cans, someone will stop and help. Small acts of kindness make all the difference in the world.

When Evangelicals try to tar me with the Satan brush and say that I am a vile, evil man, an enemy of God, a hater of all that is good, in my mind I just laugh and give them the finger. Sometimes, I even speak my mind. 🙂 I know the cut of my character. I know what kind of man, husband, father, and grandfather I am. I don’t care one whit what the Bible or Evangelical preachers say about me. Instead, to quote an Evangelical children’s church song:

This little (atheist) light of mine,

I’m going to let it shine.

This little light of mine,

I’m going to let it shine.

This little light of mine,

I’m going to let it shine,

Ev’ry day, ev’ry day,

Ev’ry day, ev’ry day,

Gonna let my little light shine.

I don’t need religion to be a good person, and you don’t either. In fact, I would suggest that Fundamentalism often turns people into arrogant, hateful, belligerent, self-centered assholes. Remember, the goal of Evangelicalism is to exclude; to separate the saved from the lost, the sheep from the goats, the sinners from the saints. How can such exclusion not lead to bad behavior? Humanism, on the other hand, says, “We are all in this together.” There’s no Heaven, no Hell, and no God coming to deliver us. It is up to each of us to do what we can to make the world a better place to live. And, may I humbly say, it begins one pop can at a time.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Understanding Religion from A Cost-Benefit Perspective

cost benefit

Many of my fellow atheists and agnostics have a hard time understanding why, exactly, people are religious. In particular, many godless people are befuddled by Evangelicals. How can anyone believe the Bible is inspired and inerrant; believe the earth was created in six twenty-four-hour days; believe the universe is 6,027 years old; believe Adam and Eve were the first human beings; believe the story of Noah and Ark really happened; believe that millions of Israelites wandered in desert for forty years, and believe a Jewish man named Jesus was a God-man who worked miracles, was executed on a Roman cross, and resurrected from the dead three days later. I could add numerous other mythical, fanciful, incredulous Bible stories to this list; all of which sound nonsensical to skeptical, rational people. Here we are living in 2024 — an age driven by technology and science — yet millions of Evangelicals and other conservative Christians flock to Kentucky to tour Ken Ham’s monuments to ignorance: the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum. These same people helped to elect Donald Trump, the vilest, most unqualified man to ever sit in the Oval Office. Why is it that Evangelicals continue to believe, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

From a rational perspective, none of this makes any sense. Most Evangelicals have at least a high school education, and some of them have college degrees. Many of them are successful business owners, with more than a few of them amassing wealth most unbelievers covet. Many atheists and agnostics wrongly believe that the typical Evangelical is a poorly educated white hillbilly from Kentucky or Mississippi. Pan the crowds gathered at countless American Evangelical megachurches and you will find all the markings of well-off, educated people. Why, then, do Evangelicals believe the nonsense mentioned previously?

The best way to understand Evangelicalism is to view it from an economic cost-benefit perspective. Think of Evangelicalism as a club. To join the club, certain things are required. Every prospective club member must agree with the club’s stated principles and beliefs and pay annual dues to their local club. Once a prospective member publicly affirms the club’s stated principles and beliefs, undergoes a rite of initiation (baptism), and pays his annual dues, the prospect is granted entrance to the club. Membership in the club comes with several benefits:

  • Weekly instruction in the club’s principles and beliefs
  • Answers to life’s pressing questions
  • Classes for every age group, from infants to senior citizens
  • Opportunities for entertainment, often called fun, food, and fellowship
  • Access to counseling services
  • Wedding and funeral services
  • Support for conservative Christian social and political views
  • Bumper stickers, shirts, and other swag that advertise your membership in the club
  • Promises of forgiveness, happiness, and life after death

As long as these benefits outweigh the costs, people will continue to embrace Evangelical beliefs. Rationalists think that truth is all that should matter, and when it comes to truth, atheists/agnostics/humanists/skeptics/freethinkers have it, and Evangelicals don’t. True, but what do we offer besides truth? I’m waiting . . . Therein lies our problem. Yes, truth is on our side, but we lack appealing social structures (clubs), and, to many questioning/doubting Evangelicals, the cost of saying, “I am an atheist/agnostic” far outweighs the benefits. (Please see Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist.) If we want to attract people to truth, to our cause, we must find ways to change the cost-benefit dynamic. “Dammit, Bruce, truth should be enough!” Yep, and I agree with you. Unfortunately, you and I are not like most people. “What’s in it for me?” many people ask. “What are the benefits of joining your club?” Fuss and fume all you want about this, but the fact remains that most people want to belong to things that benefit them; that give them something tangible.

As a pastor, I learned that people look for perceived value. Our church would sponsor a free concert with a contemporary Christian artist and fifty people would show up. Charge $5 admission for the same concert and hundreds of people would attend. Same artist, just a different perceived value. As long as Evangelicals think that the benefits of club membership outweigh the costs, they will continue to be members. Our goal should be to make rationalism and progressive politics appealing. We must develop social structures that advance the humanist ideal. And then, we must become the public face of our club, a face that says, “you are welcome here!” Constantly fighting with Evangelicals on social media does what exactly? Sure, it feels good to drown Evangelicals in seas of truth, but what have we gained? Engaging in shit-throwing contests on Twitter with Evangelical trolls might make for good entertainment and provide a brief dopamine rush, but what is really accomplished by doing so?  In 2012, tens of thousands of atheists, agnostics, humanists, and freethinkers gathered on the National Mall for the Reason Rally. What an awesome moment, a coming-out party, of sorts. Twelve years have passed since this rally. What progress have we made towards coalescing into a credible, appealing club for likeminded people? If we truly want to give Evangelicalism the eternal death it so richly deserves, we must offer people a better way. We must offer them benefits that outweigh the costs of publicly saying “I’m an unbeliever” in a country that is still dominated and controlled by Christianity. We may laud recent upticks in polls for our kind, but this growth pales when compared to the sheer numbers of religious people. Yes, as a block, we now outnumber Evangelicals, but make no mistake about it, they still hold political and cultural power.

After the 2012 Reason Rally, I told readers that it was time for rationalists, skeptics, and freethinkers to move beyond skirmishes with Evangelicals. I still believe that today. That doesn’t mean we stop exposing Evangelical beliefs and practices for the nonsense they are. But we must find ways to build social connections; ways to build clubs that are appealing to, particularly, younger Americans. Trying to reach Evangelical Baby Boomers and the Great Generation is unlikely to succeed. It is with young people that the future of, not only the United States, but the world, rests. We oldsters have a lot of wisdom to offer, but as long as we sit silently in our homes, that wisdom goes to waste. Imagine how different our country might be if every county had a local humanist/skeptics club; a place where young and old alike meet to plan ways to Make America Rational Again; a place where atheists, agnostics, and unbelievers can gather and feel at home. Until we figure this out, people are going to continue to gather at local Evangelical clubs to worship the dead Jesus.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Is Atheism Meant to Offer Answers for Human Meaning and Purpose?

god made me an atheist

The reason new atheism has lost its mojo is that it has no answers to the lack of meaning and purpose that our post-Christian societies are suffering from. What will fill that void? Religious people have their answer. Do the rest of us?

Konstantin Kisin

From the ashes of 9-11 arose what is now called new atheism. Popularized by men such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris, new atheism adopted a polemical approach to religion — especially Christianity and Islam. In the mind of these men and others like them, many forms of religious faith deserved ridicule and mockery. From writing books to podcasts to debates, new atheists directly challenged Christianity and Islam, saying that it was time to abandon tribal religions and embrace science, reason, and skepticism.

A decade ago, some new atheists proposed a new atheism called atheism+. According to these atheists, atheism was more than the absence of belief in the existence of gods; that atheism included various social justice issues. This led to a horrific split among atheists: those who embraced atheism+ and those who held that atheism was the absence of belief in the existence of gods, nothing more and nothing less.

While atheism+ certainly appealed to me, I rejected the notion that atheism proper required certain social and political beliefs. Atheism described my view of deities, and that’s it. My moral and ethical framework came not from atheism, but from secular humanism. So to Konstantin Kisin’s claim I say, (new) atheism was never meant to provide “answers to the lack of meaning and purpose that our post-Christian societies are suffering from.” Humanism, in both its Christian and secular forms, can and does provide answers to questions about human meaning and purpose.

Politically and socially atheists believe all sorts of things. I embrace many of the same things that the proponents of atheism+ do. I have been called “woke” or a “social justice warrior,” to which I reply, “and your point is, exactly?” I have nuanced political and social beliefs. However, none of these beliefs is dependent on atheism. What I found with atheism+ was a fundamentalism of sorts, not much different from that which I experienced in Evangelical Christianity. And when I pointed out this fact, the evangelists of atheism+ jumped on me with both feet. These preachers of the infallible, inerrant atheism+ gospel let me know, in George W. Bush fashion, that either I was with them or against them.

Atheism is not meant to answer any other question except does a god or gods exist? If you are looking for meaning and purpose in a postmodern world, you are going to have to look elsewhere. For me, secular humanism (and other non-religious philosophies) gave me what I needed to find purpose and meaning in life.

Atheism tells me there is no God. Humanism tells me I don’t need a deity to provide meaning and purpose in my life. Over the past sixteen years, I have repeatedly answered and rebutted Evangelicals who say that without Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you cannot have meaning and purpose in life. My life, and that of numerous people who read this blog, suggests otherwise.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Updated: Local Southern Baptist Pastor Steve Eyers Opposes Helping People Suffering From Chronic Pain

medical marijuana suffering new jersey
Cartoon by Drew Sheneman, featuring anti-marijuana crusader Chris Christie

Four years ago, the Village of Hicksville, Ohio banned the establishment of medical marijuana facilities within its borders. The Defiance Crescent-News reports:

On Monday evening the Hicksville Village Council passed an ordinance prohibiting the establishment and operation of medical marijuana facilities within the village limits.

This is in response to previous sessions in which the possibility of such facilities coming to town was addressed, although no definite plans had been revealed to council by any such entities. Council had received strong support against these facilities by Police Chief Mark Denning and pastor Steve Eyers; no one has spoken out in their favor at any recent council sessions.

In February 2019, the Hicksville village council held a hearing on the matter. The Crescent-News reported at the time:

Pastor Steve Eyers of Lifeline Connect Church stated he has done sizeable research on medical marijuana since the last meeting and believed the jury to still be out, with no solid documentation existing substantiating positive claims about such facilities; he did observe that medical marijuana is not on the “approved” list of the Food and Drug Administration.

Eyers suggested council speak to state lawmakers and those in other municipalities which have approved medical marijuana production facilities about the results of such places, noting, “Once you open the door it will be difficult to close.”

As readers will note, the main objector to medical marijuana was Steve Eyers, pastor of Lifeline Connect Church. At a previous council meeting, Eyers, a Fundamentalist Southern Baptist, used the “slippery slope” canard to argue against medical marijuana. In Eyers’ world, every perceived negative (sinful) behavior is a step farther down the slippery slope that leads to Hell. I am sure Eyers believes that marijuana is a gateway drug, and once people start toking mary jane they will soon be hooked on crack, cocaine, heroin, or other highly addictive drugs. Funny how Eyers’ “sizeable research” didn’t turn up any evidence to the contrary:

The “gateway hypothesis” or theory refers to the idea that one substance — marijuana, in this case — leads to subsequently use and/or abuse other drugs. If [Governor Chris] Christie’s point is simply that the use of marijuana tends to precede the use of other drugs, then he is correct — but that’s not the whole story.

Though studies of large populations of people have indeed found that those who smoke marijuana are more likely to use other drugs, these studies show a correlation without showing causation — a commonly misunderstood phenomenon in science. In short, just because marijuana smokers might be more likely to later use, say, cocaine, does not imply that using marijuana causes one to use cocaine.

A 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, laid out this issue clearly (see pages 100-101): “In the sense that marijuana use typically precedes rather than follows initiation into the use of other illicit drugs, it is indeed a gateway drug. However, it does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse; that is, care must be taken not to attribute cause to association.”

We spoke with several experts and reviewed the available scientific literature on gateway theory. Christie’s definitive statement is unsupported by evidence — there is some evidence in favor of a gateway effect, but the scientific community shares no consensus on the issue and there is little evidence on the underlying cause of that effect. — Factcheck.org.

Evidently, the good pastor was absent the day his teacher covered correlation and causation in science class.

There is no question that medical marijuana can and does help with many medical maladies, including chronic pain. Numerous readers of this blog can testify to medical marijuana’s efficacy and how it has improved their quality of life. It is absurd to oppose any drug (or treatment) that will reduce pain and suffering. But, Bruce, people might get “addicted’ if they start using medical marijuana. So what? Should it matter that a drug is “addictive” IF it’s helpful? Shouldn’t the goal be reducing pain and improving quality of life? Besides, moral crusaders such as Eyers usually confuse addiction with dependency. Addicts misuse drugs, using them for the sole purpose of getting high. Most people who use medical marijuana (and opioids such as Hydrocodone and Oxycontin) are not addicts. They use the drugs as prescribed to relieve pain and improve the quality of their lives. Long-term users can become dependent on such drugs, but, again, why does that matter? I have been on narcotic pain management drugs for fifteen years. Does this make me an addict? Of course not. I take the medications as prescribed by my family doctor. I have taken a variety of pain relievers over the years, but I have not, one time, abused them. Using these drugs for long periods has certainly made me physically dependent on them. If I were to stop taking Hydrocodone, for example, I would go through withdrawal. And believe me, that’s not fun. Several years ago, I stopped taking Tramadol. I had been using Tramadol on and off for managing mild pain for over a decade. It took months of suffering to successfully wean myself off of the drug. The withdrawal symptoms were so severe that I had to sleep in the living room so my thrashing and crying wouldn’t keep my wife awake. Yes, I survived, but at no time was I addicted to Tramadol. Dependent, yes. Addicted, no.

Count me as one person who is fucking tired of moralizing preachers such as Steve Eyers. First, they are hypocrites. Why did Eyers decide to take a stand against medical marijuana and not the drugs that are widely abused by Hicksville residents, including nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, and religion? Alcohol, in particular, causes all sorts of physical and social problems. Yet, crusading preachers are eerily silent on the subject — outside of an occasional anti-booze sermon. Why is that? Second, they attempt to force their personal or sectarian moral codes on others. There are times I wish that the Steve Eyerses of the world would come down with a debilitating, painful disease; one where relief could only be found through using narcotics or marijuana. Then, and only then, would they understand why chronic pain sufferers need drugs. Of course, I wouldn’t actually wish that on anyone, but there’s nothing like first-hand experience for revealing ignorant beliefs.

If Eyers and others like him want to live in pain, have at it. Taken literally as a moral prescription for living, the Bible encourages enduring pain and suffering. Just pray to God and trust that Jesus will be with you every step of the way, right? No thanks. As a humanist, my goal is to reduce suffering and pain, not only for humans, but all living animals. The greater goal is happiness and well-being for all. While suffering and pain can and do teach us valuable lessons, only Evangelical/Catholic sadomasochists think pain is desirable or necessary. Of course, when you believe the world is a shit hole ruined by sin, that all humans are born sinners/haters of God, that life is to be endured until the rapture, and that the grand goal is eternal life in Heaven, it should come as no surprise, then, that you don’t put much emphasis on the here and now.

Medical marijuana sale and use is legal in Ohio, and there’s movement towards making all use of weed legal (it could be on the ballot this November), All praise be to Shiva. Sadly, some Republican state legislators — who are overwhelmingly Christians — and regulators have gone out of their way to impede the opening of medical marijuana growers, processors, and sellers. Just over the border in Michigan, marijuana use is legal and much cheaper than Ohio’s medical weed. Sellers abound. Further, here in the Land of God, Guns, and Republicans, most doctors refuse to write prescriptions for medical marijuana. The insane government war against opioids has scared the shit out of medical professionals — fearing the loss of their licenses — so they refuse to act in the best interest of their patients. Ohioans can go to one of the few doctors approved to write medical marijuana prescriptions, but this could cause them all sorts of problems with their primary care doctors — including the refusal to treat in the future. (Please see How the War on Opioids Hurts People With Chronic PainA Plea From a Chronic Pain Sufferer: Please Be Aware of OthersMedical Marijuana and Relieving Pain and SufferingHow Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain,  and Understanding and Helping Those Who Live With Chronic Pain.)

Years ago, I helplessly watched a devout Evangelical man suffer horrific pain as he slowly died of bowel cancer. He refused to take pain medications because he believed Jesus was better than morphine; that his suffering had some sort of redemptive value. My late father-in-law often went without pain relief because he believed drug “addiction” (I tried to explain to him the difference between addiction and dependence to him, without success) was sinful. As a pastor, I watched countless dying congregants forgo narcotic pain management because they wanted to be clear-headed when they entered the pearly gates. They needlessly suffered, and for what? Remove God and the afterlife from the equation, and I suspect most people will say YES to anything that reduces their pain.

If Steve Eyers wants to suffer for Jesus, have at it. All that I ask is that he not stand in the way of other people getting the help they need. Jesus is called the Great Physician. The gospels detail many of the healing miracles the Son of God purportedly performed while walking the dusty roads of Palestine. Be like Jesus, Steve, Be like Jesus. If you can’t heal people, Steve, at least let the sick and hurting among you have access to people and drugs who can.

Pastor Eyers lost his battle against weed. Four years after his lies and distortions before the Hicksville Village Council, a new marijuana dispensary opened this week ten miles from his church in the village of Sherwood. Hicksville said no to the dispensary, as did the village I live in. Both Ney and Hicksville council members put their religious and personal beliefs before what was good for their communities. Tax money that could have helped fund local services went — dare I say it? — up in smoke.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Is Religion a Powerful Narcotic?

getting high on Jesus

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

— Karl Marx

One need only to study world religions to understand that religion is a powerful force in our world — for good and evil. Marx rightly compared religion to opium — a powerful narcotic used to relieve pain, both physically and psychologically. Religion, in all its forms, is used by humans to find purpose, meaning, peace, and happiness. Ultimately, people worship deities because doing so benefits them in some way or another. A good way to look at religion is from an economic perspective. Every religion has a cost attached to it. Sometimes those costs are clear: time, money, and commitment. Other times, religion extracts psychological or emotional costs. Some religions, such as Evangelical Christianity, Mormonism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, require an abandonment of self and total commitment to God and the church. I spent fifty years in the Evangelical church. Twenty-five of those years were spent pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I can’t even begin to calculate the cost of my devotion to the Evangelical Jesus. Much of my time and money was spent in devotion to a deity whom I believed was the one true God, the creator and ruler over all. I abandoned self as I “followed the Lamb of God.” I willingly sacrificed my marriage and family, living in poverty and doing without for my God’s sake. Why would anyone live as I did?

Serving Jesus was costly, but the benefits far outweighed the costs — or so I thought at the time, anyway. Through my religious beliefs, experiences, and practices, I found happiness, peace, and meaning. I had the privilege of preaching the gospel and teaching others the “truths” of the Christian Bible. I was loved and respected, and there never was a day when I didn’t feel God’s presence in my life. Oh, sometimes it seemed God was distant, but more often than not, the Christian deity was an ever-present reality.

It matters not whether Christianity is true; that its core beliefs are rational and reasonable. All that mattered, as a Christian, is that I thought these beliefs were true. Countless people believe all sorts of things that are untrue, but they believe them to be true, so in their minds, they are. While believing in the Christian God extracted from me a high cost, one I am paying to this day, for most of my life I believed the benefits of religious faith outweighed its costs.

Marx thought religion gave people false happiness. That said, he never underestimated its power, its ability to meet the deep needs of the human psyche. Atheists often wrongly believe that the solution to the ills of the world is for people to abandon their superstitions and embrace rationality rooted in reason, science, and intellectual inquiry. What atheists forget is that what humans want more than anything else is happiness. Until rationalists, freethinkers, and humanists show that their godless way of life leads to purpose, meaning, and happiness, we can’t expect religious people to buy what we are selling. We know that people don’t need to toke religious crack to feel happy and fulfilled, but we will never argue people into understanding this. Like it or not, feelings play a big part in the human experience. Life is short, and then we die. Religion offers a powerful drug that lessens the pain of that reality. We secularists must offer the same if we expect to neuter the effects of religion on our world.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Should Every Possible Effort be Made to Preserve and Save Human Life?

calvin and hobbes death

Fundamentalist Christian Jeff Maples believes ALL life matters, and it should be protected at ALL costs. Here’s what Maples said on The Dissenter website in 2019:

Critics have argued that reimplanting a fetus from an ectopic pregnancy is a procedure “not known to medical science” and would place obstetricians and gynecologists in a dire situation for not performing an “impossible procedure.” However, the bill does not require doctors to be successful in the procedure, rather take all measures at attempting to do so. This would, in effect, advance the science behind the practice making it more likely to save lives in the future. When dealing with human life, it is imperative that all measures be taken to preserve it — an unborn child deserves no less than a two-year-old child or an adult. That’s the whole point of the measure.

I wonder if Maples really believes all life matters. I wonder if he is a pacifist or anti-capital punishment? I wonder if Maples opposed President Trump’s barbaric immigration policies; policies that led to the deaths of adults and children alike? Something tells me he is not as pro-life as he says he is. Most Evangelicals are schizophrenic when it comes to matters of life and death. Typically, Evangelicals, and their counterparts in the Roman Catholic church, only think all life matters before birth. After birth, humans are on their own. Well, that is until it comes time to die. Then Evangelicals show up to protest and criminalize end-of-life attempts to lessen suffering and pain. Humans must suffer to the bitter end. According to Evangelicals and Catholics, euthanasia is humans playing God, and that must never happen. In their eyes, physician-assisted suicide is murder.

Maples believes that every effort should be made to preserve life. No matter the cost or the outcome, life must be preserved. I am sure that Maples believes his anti-death viewpoint is noble. It’s not. Maples and others like him see no qualitative difference between a fertilized egg and a thirteen-year-old; no difference between a thirteen-week-old fetus and its mother; no difference between a teenager with a full life ahead of her and a ninety-year-old man who is nearing death. Such thinking, of course, is absurd.

I do my best to have a consistent life ethic. That said, all life is not equal, nor should every effort be made to preserve life. There is a qualitative difference between a fertilized egg and its mother. The fertilized egg represents potential life. It cannot live outside of the womb. That’s why I support the unrestricted right to an abortion until viability. Once a fetus is viable, then the mother and medical professionals must consider its interests along with that of the mother. When it comes to choosing between the fetus and the mother, the choice, to me anyway, is clear: the mother. Granted, if the mother is gravely ill with cancer or some other terminal disease, then consideration should be given to saving the fetus. Such decisions are never easy, but one thing is for certain: we don’t need Evangelicals and Catholics, their God, or Republican politicians deciding what should be done.

As someone who knows that he is on the short side of life, I don’t want the Jeff Maples of the world butting their noses into my end-of-life decisions or those of my family. I know how I want the end of my life to play out, as do my wife and children. I don’t want Christian Fundamentalists getting between me and my God. “Huh? Bruce, you don’t have a God.” Well, I do when it comes to this discussion. If Christians want to wallow in needless pain and suffering at the end of their lives — all so their mythical God will give them an “attaboy” — that’s fine by me. However, my triune God — humanism, science, and reason — doesn’t demand that I suffer unnecessarily; when it is my time to die it is okay for me to say, “No más.” I expect my doctors, Polly, and my six children to honor my wishes. I have seen far too many people endlessly and needlessly suffer, all so Jesus would be honored and their families would know that they fought to the end. I have watched countless dying people go through unnecessary, painful procedures and treatments, all so their spouses and children could rest easy knowing that every possible thing was done to preserve their life.

Sadly, many people ignorantly think that longevity of life is all that matters; that enduring surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation is worth it if it adds a few weeks or months at the end of their lives. Evangelicals speak of being ready to meet God. They sing songs about Heaven and preach sermons that suggest True Christians® yearn and long for eternal life in the sweet by and by. Yet, when it comes time to die, they are in no hurry to catch the next train to Glory.

Instead of focusing on the longevity of life, the focus should be on the quality of life.  Sure, it is human nature to want to live as long as possible. But some things are worse than death. Often, the treatment is worse than a terminal disease. Personally, I would choose to live three months and then die, than to suffer the horrible side effects of end-of-life treatments that would often only add weeks or a few months to my life.

When it comes to dying, God is an unnecessary middleman. He and his Bible-sotted disciples get in the way of what is best for the sick and dying. Demanding that life be preserved at all costs only causes unnecessary pain and suffering. I know of Evangelical families who refused to let their dying loved ones die with dignity. You see, in their minds, all that matters is playing by God’s rules. All that matters is pleasing God. If their loved one has to suffer, so be it. God comes first. God mustn’t be offended, even if he prolongs the misery of the dying. Quite frankly, when it comes time for me to die, I don’t want religious zealots anywhere near me. I don’t need or want their prayers or admonitions. I want to be surrounded by my family. I want to hear them say, “Dad, it’s okay to let go.”

I have made my wishes known to my wife and children. Polly and I have spent a considerable amount of time talking about the various end-of-life scenarios; about what we want or don’t want to be done in the various circumstances we might face in the future. Both of us believe that quality of life is more important than extending life. We reject Jeff Maples’ notion that our lives should be preserved at all costs. We know that one day we will physically reach the end of the line. Hopefully, not anytime soon, but who knows (certainly not God), right? Better to have these discussions now than to have them under pressure or when one or both of us might not have the mental acuity to make rational choices.

I have specifically made plans to end my life when the quality of my life is such that I no longer want to live. I have talked to my counselor extensively about this. She is aware of my end-of-life plan. Of course, she encourages me to live, but she always knows that I am in decline physically; that it’s becoming harder for me to rise above my physical challenges. Most days, I am not suicidal, but I am acutely aware of what is happening to me physically. No cure or magical procedure is on the horizon, so I am “content” to face the limitations of mortality.

Not talking about death is not an option. Pretending we will live forever only leads to heartache when the lie is exposed. The moment we are born, we begin marching toward the finish line. While I would love to live to threescore and ten or fourscore, (Psalm 90:10) I know that’s unlikely. Probabilities come into play. All the positive thinking in the world won’t change the odds. I am grateful to have lived longer than my mom and dad. But it would be foolish of me to ignore the realities staring me in the face. Pretending that I am going to live to be a hundred helps whom, exactly?  The Bible is right when it says, “Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” (Proverbs 27:1) Solomon was spot on when he wrote:

Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 8:15)

I give the following advice on the ABOUT page:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

Do you think life should be preserved at all costs; that every effort should be made to preserve life? How do you come to terms with your mortality? Do you prefer longevity of life over quality of life? Please share your astute thoughts in the comment section. If you are so inclined, please share approximately how old you are. I am interested in how age affects our end-of-life viewpoints.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Romans 3: What the Bible Says About the “Human Condition”

Evangelicals believe that all humans are born sinners, at variance with God, and headed for Hell unless they repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in the atoning work of Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead. Evangelicals get their view of humanity straight from the Bible — a collection of books they believe is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. In their minds, the Bible is different from all other books. Divine in nature, perfect, and true, the Bible reveals to us God, the “human condition,” and what all of us must do to have right standing with the Christian deity and avoid eternal damnation in Hell. According to Evangelicals, atheists and other non-believers deliberately reject the truths of the Bible because they desire to live sin-filled lives. Never mind the fact that Evangelicals also live sin-filled lives. You see, they have an out — Jesus. No matter what terrible things they do, forgiveness and restoration are but a prayer away:

If we [Evangelicals] confess our sins, he [Jesus] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)

No bad behavior (sin) is beyond God’s forgiveness. King David committed adultery and had the woman’s husband murdered so he could have her for his own, yet he is called a “man after God’s own heart.” (Acts 13:22) We need only turn to the modern-day fall-from-grace/forgiveness stories of men such as Ted HaggardJimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, David Hyles, and countless other “fallen” Evangelical preachers to see how the process works. Those of us who were once Evangelicals have first-hand experience with the sin/forgiveness, wash/rinse/repeat process by which we procured continued right-standing with God. Daily and twice on Sundays, we confessed our sins to God and asked for his complete, total, buried-in-the-deepest-sea forgiveness:

He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18)

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8-12)

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1)

And each and every time, God — or so we believed anyway — granted us forgiveness. Catholics had the confessional, and we Evangelicals had the altars, prayer meetings, and devotional times. In fact, forgiveness was so readily available that all we had to do is send up a quick prayer to Jesus. We could be at work, driving our cars, or cleaning up after masturbating to porn; it mattered not. All God required was for us to say “my bad, Jesus, I’m sorry, please forgive me.” And just like that our sin slates were wiped clean. Awesome, right?

Evangelicals believe they are hopeless and helpless apart from God’s grace. While Evangelicals often present themselves as superior to atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims, pagans, and other non-believers, when confronted with their own “sinfulness” they reply, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace!”  According to their doctrine, the only thing that keeps Evangelicals from spending eternity in the Lake of Fire with Hitler, Mother Teresa, Christopher Hitchens, Barack Obama, and Bruce Gerencser is the moment in time they repented of their sins and asked Jesus to save them. Evangelicals see themselves as sinners who just so happened to have pushed the right button on the Eternal Hell Fire Insurance Policy® Dispensing Machine.

The Apostle Paul in Romans 3 reminded Christians and unbelievers alike of their true nature. Here’s how Paul describes the “human condition”:

  • None of us is righteous (vs. 10)
  • None of us understands (vs. 11)
  • None of us seeks after God (vs. 11)
  • None of us does good (vs.12)
  • All of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory (vs. 23)

Paul goes on to describe the “human condition” this way:

Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Paul in Romans 3 and other places reminds Christians that the only difference between them and non-Christians is faith (Ephesians 2:8,9 and Hebrews 11); faith in Jesus as the propitiation for sin (Romans 3:25 and 1 John 2:2); faith in the God-man who died on the cross for our sins (Romans 5); faith in the Jesus who promised to forgive us of every sin — past, present, and future.

Is it any wonder Evangelicals live such schizophrenic lives? On one hand, God commands them to live morally, ethically, and righteously, and even commands them to be as perfect as their Father in Heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Yet, on the other hand, they are repeatedly reminded by Paul and other Biblical authors that it is impossible for them to keep, follow, and practice that which God commands. Thinking this way leads to all sorts of emotional stress. Evangelicals may be “sinners saved by grace,” but their behavior suggests that their lives are long on sin and short on grace. One need only read the Black Collar Crime series to see how such thinking affects Evangelicals. So-called men of God — pastors, deacons, evangelists, Sunday school teachers, and worship leaders — praise the wonders of God’s grace on Sundays, all while they are fucking their secretaries, sexually abusing boys and girls, seducing church teenagers, and otherwise engaging in behaviors that most people consider wrong. “Oh Bruce,” Evangelical apologists say, “these stories are the exception to the rule!” Really? You might want to read Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare? before defending God’s spokesmen. You might also want to talk to pastors who are willing to be honest about their own “sinful” behaviors and that of their congregations — that which has been confessed to them in secret.

“Fine, Bruce,” Evangelicals say. “Are atheists any better?” To that question I reply, yes and no. Atheists don’t believe in “sin.”  Most atheists reject Evangelical moralizing about “sin” and instead focus on good and bad behavior. While atheists certainly have smaller “sin” lists, they do believe that certain behaviors can be categorized as good or bad, along with many behaviors being neither good or bad. Most atheists are humanists, and their humanism gives them a moral, ethical, and practical foundation for living one’s life. Atheists recognize that some of their brethren are despicable human beings, every bit as bad as the men of God detailed in the Black Collar Crime series. They also recognize that humans are capable of doing good without the help of imaginary deities.

If atheists reject the Christian view of the “human condition” and forgiveness, how then do they deal with bad behavior? I can’t speak for all atheists, but I can share how I and other atheists I personally know handle personal acts of bad behavior. When we act inappropriately or cause harm to others, we confess it, ask forgiveness from whomever we harmed, and if necessary, make restitution. We recognize that none of us is perfect, and we can, at times, say and do things that hurt others. We own our behavior and vow to act better going forward. If our bad behavior has caused material or social harm, we make amends. One of the reasons I write about the things I do is because I believe I have a moral and ethical responsibility to own past bad behaviors; that the harm I caused to congregants must be atoned for; that the harm I caused to my wife and children must be made right. Simply put, wrongs must be made right. I can’t undo the past, but I can own past bad behaviors, and vow to be a better man, husband, and father. I will, most certainly, fail in this endeavor, but each day of my life I will try to be a better person than I was the day before. No magical wiping of the slate clean, no religious incantations to a mythical God, just an honest, heartfelt commitment to being good. Is that not all that any of us can do?

To Evangelicals I say, leave your harmful religion behind. Humanism provides a far better way to live one’s life. And it’s a lot less stressful and a hell of a lot more fun.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Bruce Gerencser