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Never Underestimate the Power of Jesus

there is power in the name of jesus

Often, atheists and agnostics grossly underestimate the power of Jesus. I am sure that some of you are already thinking or saying out loud, Bruce, are you nuts? Have you renounced atheism and become a follower of Jesus again? We don’t underestimate the power of Jesus because he doesn’t exist. End of story!

But he does exist, and I think many atheists and agnostics forget this. In our desire to rid the world of the damaging effects of religion, we often forget that Jesus is alive and well.

Now, the Jesus who is alive and well is not an actual, physical living human being, and neither is he an actual, physical God or Son of God. The Jesus who was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago is dead. The Jesus who, for thirty-three years, walked the roads of Palestine is dead. The Jesus spoken of in the Bible is dead. We know that dead people do not come back from the grave. We know that once a person is dead, he stays dead. Jesus is dead, and there is no chance that he is coming back from the grave.

But, Jesus is alive and well in the myths and beliefs of millions and millions of Christians. In the mythical Jesus, people find comfort, meaning, and hope. In the mythical Jesus, people find what they think is lacking in their lives, and quite frankly atheists and agnostics don’t have much to offer when it comes to what Jesus can offer a person.

But, Bruce, believing in Jesus is irrational. Believing in Jesus is as rational as believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Totally correct, but this doesn’t matter.

When suffering and loss come our way, our rationality often doesn’t do us much good. When our lives are in a heap of ashes, knowing the evidence for God not existing does nothing to comfort us. When we are struggling to keep from drowning, the books written by Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, provide no help. All our rational, well-thought-out arguments do little for us when we are at those moments in life where the most precious thing to us is our next breath.

In these times, we look for comfort and hope. We look to those who love us and who are willing to do anything for us. In these times, our intellectual prowess does not matter. What we desperately want and need is a hand to hold on to, someone who will tell us it is going to be all right.

But, Bruce, shit happens and we are all going to die in the end. Atheists and agnostics don’t need sentimentality. Surely, we can face what comes our way with a rugged resolve, knowing we are right. Perhaps.

But is knowing we are right the most important thing? Is drawing our last breath knowing we were right about religion, God, Jesus, and the Bible really the grand objective?

Forget for a moment what you know about the Bible. Forget what you know about its teachings. If you were once a Christian, forget your experience in the church. Think for a moment about the essence of the Christian religion. What is the one thing that matters more than anything else? What is the one thing that allows millions of people to live in a state of cognitive dissonance? What is the one thing that allows Christians to shut off all the criticisms of Christianity and allows them to continue believing?

One word . . . Jesus.

The mythical Jesus, the Jesus of legend, the Jesus that is preached in countless Christian churches all over the world, this Jesus is the one thing that matters above all else.

Why is this? What is it about this Jesus for whom millions of people will abandon rational thinking? There is no proof for what the Bible teaches on most anything. Few of the events in the Bible have any historical foundation. Why does Jesus have such power over people?

Jesus offers salvation. Jesus offers friendship, love, and compassion. Countless drug addicts and alcoholics have abandoned their addictions because of Jesus. Gang members have forsaken their violent ways, and thieves have turned to gainful means of employment all because of Jesus. Only the most hardheaded and blind among atheists and agnostics would deny the fact that, for millions of people, Jesus makes a qualitative difference in their lives.

In Jesus, millions of people find meaning, purpose, and direction. In Jesus, they find the necessary strength to suffer and die. This Jesus promised to never leave them or forsake them, and no matter how hard we try to show that Jesus is AWOL in the lives of Christians, they still believe he is that friend that sticks closer than a brother.

I am sure there is some psychological or neurological explanation for why this is so, but such explanations have little value. People believe what they believe, and that is all that matters.

My wife’s parents are almost 85 years old. They are on the short side of life, and it is unlikely that either of them will still be living five years from now. When they die, I will mourn their deaths. I love them dearly. I will grieve over the loss of two people I have known most of my adult life. Good people. Loving people. Caring people. And yes, devout Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christians.

They believe that Jesus is with them through thick and thin. Jesus has been their faithful guide. According to them, Jesus has worked countless miracles for them. To them, Jesus is as much a part of their lives as the air they breathe.

I could point out to them all the times that Jesus wasn’t there for them. Where was Jesus when they miscarried? Where was Jesus when their daughter was killed in a motorcycle accident? Their life is filled with countless examples of Jesus leaving them for dead along the side of the road. He seems to always be around when they need a hundred dollars, but nowhere to be found when faced with job loss, economic troubles, or sickness. Yet, they still steadfastly believe.

Is it my place to expose their fraudulent Jesus? Is it my place to point out all the places that their friend Jesus was no friend at all? Perhaps I should buy them Bart Ehrman’s books for Christmas so they can know the truth about the Bible and Jesus? Why would I want to do this? Would their life be better without Jesus?

I can’t think of any way their life would be better without their mythical best friend. Their whole existence and being is invested in him, and they are trusting Jesus to be there when they are dying, to carry them home to their reward in Heaven.

None of this is true, BUT it doesn’t matter.

All that matters is what Jesus means to them, and what value he adds to their lives. If this Jesus gives their lives meaning, purpose, and direction, I have no right to disabuse them of their beliefs. If this Jesus gives them peace and comfort . . . who am I to take that away from them?

Sometimes, we atheists and agnostics, in our zeal to rid the world of the evil of Christian Fundamentalism, forget that most Christians are not theocrats trying to take over America. They have sincerely-held beliefs and, for them, Jesus adds value to their lives. Yes, we must battle Christian Fundamentalists who want to turn American into a Christian theocracy. Yes, we must battle attempts to teach creationism as science in public schools. Yes, we must battle attempts to codify Christian morals and ethics as the law of the land. We must battle any and all attempts to lessen the individual liberty we have to believe or not believe. But, beyond these things, it is not our place to rid the world of beliefs we think are silly or anti-intellectual.

We must remember, those of us who are writers, that the Evangelical Christians who come to our blogs to debate, evangelize, and attack are not typical believers. Zealots and apologists deserve all that we give them, and I have little tolerance for such people. But . . . I must never forget that most Christians are not like Bible thumpers. Most Christians are like my wife’s parents — people who love Jesus and want to live a good life.

All human beings want a life that has meaning and purpose. We want to be loved, and we want to know our lives mattered. In the end, we all die, and we will soon be forgotten by all but those who loved us. Let’s be careful in our zeal to rid the world of all the evils associated with religion, that we don’t lose those we love, that we don’t trade being right for those who will be there for us when we draw our last breath.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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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.

Hope for the Hopeless and Rest for the Weary

hopeless and helpless

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I used to enthusiastically preach that Jesus was hope for the hopeless and rest for weary. Unfortunately, for many people, Jesus, or I should say the Evangelical Christianity, made them weary and hopeless.

What should have been a source of hope and rest turned into something destructive — so destructive that some people have thoughts of committing suicide.

It shouldn’t be this way. I am convinced that Jesus — real or not — is not the problem. I find nothing in the words of Jesus that would cause me to lose hope or have thoughts of suicide.

No, it is what the church has done with Jesus over the past 2,000 years that is the problem. God, Jesus, and the Bible have become tools of manipulation, control, and destruction.

I wish I could share with you the emails I get from people who are former, or trying to be former, Evangelicals. I can’t share them because I respect the privacy of those who email me. For some, my email inbox has become their confessional. I can tell you this: there are a lot of people who are hopeless and weary as a result of their immersion in the Evangelical Christian religion.

They often have no place to turn. In many instances, their families or spouses are still in the church. They desperately need someone to talk to, but they have no place to turn. They can’t go to their pastor — he wouldn’t understand. If they live in a small town, they can’t even seek out a local counselor because everyone will know (you would have to live in a small town to understand this).

So they suffer in silence. In the night they toss and turn and wonder what has gone wrong. Where is God? There is no God. Where is the God of hope? There is no hope. Where is the God who gives rest? There seems to be no rest.

Their thoughts turn to suicide. No, I can’t do that, I’ll go to Hell. Wait, there is no God, who gives a shit?

I want you to know that I give a shit. I have been where you are and some days I am still where you are. There are a lot of readers of this blog who know your story. They have lived it. They are still living it. They know the struggle you are going through — the struggle of a life of faith that has turned into faithlessness, a life of believing that has turned into unbelief. Maybe you are like the man in the Bible who cried “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.”

I am not out to convert you to my cause or change you. It does not matter whom you worship, where you worship, what you believe, or what label you give yourself.

My desire for you is hope and rest.

For many of us, the Evangelical Christian faith has caused psychological damage. The wounds and scars run deep. All the attempts in the world to marginalize our feelings will come to naught. We know what we know.

It’s late . . .

I can hear the clock ticking.

Another night with no sleep.

I hear my lover snoring.

I think of our life together.

So much time wasted.

So much work invested in things that do not matter.

Years have passed us by.

God, we served you.

God, we loved you.

God, we worshiped you.

God, we left all to follow you.

Careers, ambitions, wealth, family . . .

All forsaken to follow you.

Only to find out it was all a dream, and a bad dream at that.

And so, in the still of the night, I reflect on the heap of my life.

What am I to make of all this?

Can I go on?

Will I go on?

I must go on.

God or not, there is a life to be lived.

God or not, I still must live as if I am dying.

Because I AM dying.

So much life yet to live.

So much life yet to experience and enjoy.

God is back on the shelf where he belongs.

Maybe I’ll dust him off again on my final day.

Probably not.

Until then, I will live morally and ethically.

Until then, I will love and hate.

Until then, I will walk the path called life the best way I know.

Without God, without the Bible, and most certainly without the church.

I still have hope.

My hope is no longer built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

My hope is built on the love and goodness of humankind.

These days, the only gods I see are my family, friends, and fellow humans.

I devote myself to these gods.

I worship them.

That’s enough for me.

I will leave eternity to another day.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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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.

iPhones Lead Us to Jesus

apple jesus
“Steve Jobs is Jesus” by Daphne van Kesteren

Calvinists are fond of claiming the Sovereign God of John Calvin is the first cause, the source of everything. Everything we atheists say, do, and have comes from the Christian God. There’s no aspect of our lives which are not created and controlled by the thrice holy God. No matter how vivaciously we object to such stupid claims, Calvinists say that we know in our hearts of hearts that this is true.

Supposedly, everywhere we look there is evidence for the existence of God. And not just any God either. Oh no, all the evidence points to John Piper’s God. Only those who are deliberately blind or reprobates deny what is clear to all who have eyes to see. Or so the Calvinist say, anyhow.

Take Greg Morse, a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and a staff writer for John Piper’s Calvin-24/7 website Desiring God. Morse writes about his interaction with a man who told him that he was happy without God.

Here’s what Morse had to say:

“I know you don’t believe me, but I do not need Christianity to be happy. I am happier than most Christians I know.” Looking up from his coffee, he smiled and assured me, “I am glad you found happiness in Jesus, but I am quite content without him. I have found my path to happiness, and I am glad you have found a different one. We stand at the same end, it would appear.”

I did not know what to say.

I knew how to share the Joy of the world to the discontent, the miserable, the downcast, but I stood perplexed at this man who told me, in no uncertain terms, “I do not need Christ to be happy.” Wasn’t his heart restless until it found its rest in him? He assured me it wasn’t. Didn’t he have a God-shaped hole in his heart? He swore that he didn’t. And what was more, he truly seemed to be, as far as I could tell, happy.

Most atheists would likely agree with the happy man’s sentiment. We don’t need God/Jesus/Christianity for our lives to have meaning, purpose, and happiness. Many of us were, at one time, Greg Morse. We believed that the Christian God was the sole source of all that was good in our lives. Our joy and happiness came from God alone, not anything we ourselves did. We believed, that without Jesus, our lives were steaming piles of worthless shit. This is especially true for those of us who were Calvinists. There’s no better theological system than Calvinism for destroying human value, purpose, and self-worth.

Morse wants atheists and other believers to know that despite their claims, everything they have comes from the Calvinistic God.

Morse writes:

God allows those who ignore him, reject him, despise his glory, and belittle his name to breathe his air, feast on his food, swim in his waters, hike in his forests, ski on his mountains, laugh, sing, and dance on his lands. He has not yet evicted them. He has not taken back his bread from their plates nor his air from their lungs. Rather — and note the benevolence of the God of the universe — he “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

….

The man that I spoke with took these gifts from God, enjoyed them, and refused to say thank you.

Man is the only creature other than fallen angels to pay God back so basely. God opens his hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing.

How dare unbelievers believe that the good in their lives comes from their own efforts and that of their fellow homo-sapiens. How dare we think we don’t need God/Jesus/Christianity.

This seems like a good place to interject my all-time favorite TV prayer.

Video Link

The character played by Jimmy Stewart believes in giving credit to whom creThe character played by Jimmy Stewart believes in giving credit to whom credit is due. As an atheist, I don’t pray and thank God for the meals prepared by my wife. Why should I? What, exactly, did God do? Every aspect of the meal, from its raw ingredients to the finish product, can be attributed to things other than a deity. Over the weekend, I made fried chicken. It turned out well, although Polly might have something to say about Tornado Bruce’s cooking behavior. 🙂 If Polly said to me about all my hard work, All praise be to Jesus for this wonderful fried chicken, I would be more than a bit upset.

Morse, on the other hand, has never cooked a meal, or done anything else for that matter, without at least thinking that Jesus was worthy of all praise, honor and glory.

Morse concludes his post by telling readers what he would say to the aforementioned godless happy man if given the opportunity to do so again:

The Christian faith is not merely about man’s happiness, although God gives more joy than you can now imagine. Christianity addresses how sinful men, women, and children can be reconciled to their Creator and live happy lives for his glory. God has placed good gifts to summon you to see God’s ultimate gift: his Son, Jesus Christ. He came to save a people he didn’t have to save. To live a life we couldn’t live. To die the death we deserved to die. And to rise, summoning all everywhere to turn away from their sin, and trust in his finished work on the cross for sinners.

The smartphone in your pocket has everything to do with this God. The music massaging your ears, the colors jumping before your eyes, the gladness of heart and the love you feel are kindnesses from God with one message upon their lips: “Repent and believe.”

With a straight face with Morse asserts without one whit of evidence, “The smartphone in your pocket has everything to do with this [the Calvinistic] God.” In other words, if I carefully peer into the screen of my iPhone I will see “God.” That’s right, iPhones lead us to Jesus. Android phones? Straight to Satan and Hell! Only iPhones lead to the straight and narrow way.

That Morse would dare to utter such nonsense out loud is quite amusing. If we listen carefully, we can hear Steve Jobs hollering from Hell, Dammit! How dare God take credit for my creation, and that of Apple.

Nothing Morse writes is new. As a devout Calvinistic Evangelical, I heard countless sermons, and preached more than a few myself, that promoted the notion that we humans are helpless; that everything we have physically and materially comes from God; that without Jesus our lives are n-o-t-h-i-n-g.

How has your life changed since deconverting? Did you find it hard to give up giving all praises and blessing to God from whom all things flow? Do you now give credit to whom credit is due? Do you have Christian family who steals the credit for your happiness and success and gives it to their God? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Are You Worshiping a False Jesus?

blue eyed jesus

Evangelicals want everyone to believe that they worship Jesus; not just any Jesus, either. Their Jesus is the one and only Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Their Jesus is special and unique, unlike the Jesus worshiped by Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, or revered by Muslims and other non-Evangelical sects.

Take the Sovereign Grace Music song, Jesus, There’s No One Like You:

There is no song we could sing
To honor the weight of Your glory
There are no words we could speak
To capture the depth of Your beauty

CHORUS
Jesus, there’s no one like You
Jesus, we love You, ever adore You
There’s no one like You
Jesus, we love You, ever adore You, Lord

VERSE 2
There is no sinner beyond
The infinite stretch of Your mercy
How can we thank You enough
For how You have loved us completely?

BRIDGE
All we have
All we need
All we want is You

Video Link

It’s evident Sovereign Grace has a particular Jesus in mind. More on that below.

blue eyed jesus

Years ago, Evangelical musicians Bill and Gloria Gaither released a song titled, There’s Something About That Name:

There’s just something about the name of Jesus

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
There’s just something about that name
Master, Savior, Jesus
Like the fragrance after the rain

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
Let all Heaven and earth proclaim
Kings and kingdoms will all pass away
But there’s something about that name

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
There’s just something about that name
Master, Savior, Jesus
Like the fragrance after the rain

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
Let all Heaven and earth proclaim
Kings and kingdoms will all pass away
But there’s something about that name (that name)

Something about that name.

Video Link

Both songs reference Jesus, yet the Jesus of Sovereign Grace Music, and that of Bill and Gloria Gaither are very different from one another. Sovereign Grace is Calvinistic, whereas the Gaithers belong to an Arminian sect. The Jesus of the Calvinists and the Jesus of the Arminians are two very different Sons of God. Oh, outwardly they appear the same, but doctrinally they are very different. Mere semantics? I think not. Evangelical sects build complex systems of theology around their peculiar versions of Jesus. These beliefs can’t help but color how believers view the Savior of the world (to the Gaithers) or the Savior of the elect (to the Calvinists). And it’s not just Evangelicals who do this. Liberal/progressive Christians have a very different Jesus from Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB). Which Jesus is the right one? How could we possibly know who possesses the Jesus who alone can save us from our sins?

black jesus

Worse yet, individual churches, pastors, and congregants shape and mold Jesus into their own version of the Son of God. Instead of there being one Jesus for all, there are countless Jesuses, each eerily looking like their creators.

The next time you have a discussion with an Evangelical who is preaching “Jesus” to you, perhaps it would be interesting for you to ask them “which” Jesus? Ask them how their Jesus compares to the one found within the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Any cursory reading of the Bible reveals that whomever and whatever the Jesus of the gospels might have been, he bears little resemblance to the Jesuses of today. And that’s okay. Is that not the power of religion; its ability to adapt, change, and transform over time? All I want is for Evangelicals to admit, in particular, that Jesus is NOT the same yesterday, today, and forever; that he is a chameleon of sorts.

I find it amusing when Evangelicals attempt to assert that their Jesus alone is the “right” Jesus, and that all other Jesuses are false. Take our Fundamentalist friend Spaniard VIII. In a post titled, Satan Is After You To Destroy You, Sp8 gives “examples of a false Jesus Christ that comes from the teachings of demons through false religions.”

middle eastern jesus

Sp8 believes that he worships the one true Jesus. He even gives a checklist for readers to follow to determine if they are worshiping a demonic Jesus, Do you believe that (my answers in parentheses):

  • Jesus is not God (yes)
  • Jesus didn’t die on the cross (no)
  • Jesus didn’t rise from the dead (yes)
  • Jesus wasn’t perfect (yes)
  • Jesus was not born from a virgin (yes)
  • Jesus was not the Son of God (yes)
  • Jesus is not the only way to heaven (yes)
  • Jesus is another god apart from the Father (yes)
  • A denial of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all three being Yahweh (yes)

Oh my God! I just learned that I believe in a false Jesus! I have been deceived by Satanic forces out to send me to the Lake of Fire for eternity. Hey, I did answer the question “Jesus didn’t die on the cross” correctly. I am of the opinion that we have sufficient historical evidence for the execution of Jesus on a Roman cross (and, no, I don’t want to debate this issue). This claim makes rational sense to me. However, the rest of Sp8’s assertions are faith claims. Sp8 just wants us to take his word for it that he worships the right Jesus. Doubt this naked assertion of his? Burn in Hell!

socialist jesus

There’s no such thing as a monolithic Jesus. Two thousand years of Christian church history, along with the establishment and proliferation of thousands of contradictory Christian sects, have birthed countless Westworld-like Jesuses, each programmed to look, believe, and act like their creators.

Which Jesus, if any, do you worship?

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Praise and Worship Music: Making Love to Jesus on Sunday Morning

praise and worship music

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected. 

Warning! Snark ahead.

When I started attending a Christian church in the late 1950s, hymns, hymns, and only hymns were the songs of the church. In the 1960s, southern gospel music started to influence what was sung on Sunday mornings. From there came the Gaither era, the contemporary Christian music era (CCM), and finally the praise and worship era. Drums, guitars, praise teams, and worship leaders are standard fare in churches now. Seniors tend to not like it, millennials think it is boring, and baby boomers say, FINALLY, rock music in the church.

Over the last eight years I spent in the ministry, the churches I pastored used a blended worship approach. We’d sing hymns, but we also sang a lot of praise and worship songs. My three oldest sons played bass and guitar, so they became the church band. At the time, I thought it was wonderful, but now that I am years removed from singing love songs to Jesus, I have a far different opinion.

Just for fun, I clicked the Praise and Worship channel on Rdio — a now defunct music streaming service. I listened to many of the songs we sang years ago, mixed in with new praise and worship songs. As I listened to the instrumentation, I couldn’t help but notice how the songs stirred my emotions. It’s the instrumentation that gives the syrupy, Jesus-is-your-boyfriend lyrics their sexual appeal. I thought, these songs are love-making songs. And that is exactly why so many Christians love them. Hymns generally appealed to the intellect. Praise and worship music makes no pretense of appealing to the intellect. The music is meant to agitate emotions, putting listeners in a frame of mind that makes it easy for Jesus to have “commune” with believers.

Many praise and worship songs are little more than aids for spiritual masturbation. Often, the lyrics are shallow and repetitive, focusing on self and not God. Some of the lyrics are so shallow that just by swapping a few words, you can change the song from a love song to Jesus to a love song to your boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse, Take the song (Trading My Sorrows) Yes Lord by Matt Redman. The next time you are making love to your significant other, speak or sing these lyrics, changing the word Lord to the name of your partner:

We say yes lord yes lord yes yes lord
Yes lord yes lord yes yes lord
Yes lord yes lord yes yes lord amen

Make sure you sing it loudly so the neighbors will know it is your lucky night.

The draw of praise and worship music is its emotional appeal. Visit a local we are the hippest church in town and observe the effect the music has on parishioners. All around you will be people dreamily lost in the love of Jesus. Some will be so enthralled that they begin making love to Jesus, not caring a bit that they are participating in the equivalent of a YouPorn video. It’s emotional sex with your clothes on.

On one hand, the effect this music has on parishioners reflects the power of music to move our emotions. When Polly and I attended a Darius Rucker concert years ago, both of us noticed the emotional connection attendees made with the music. Both of us were stirred emotionally by Rucker’s songs. The problem with praise and worship music is that it is sold as a way to get closer to God. Countless Evangelicals go to church on Sunday to get their emotional fix. Forget the sermon. They are there to wrap their arms around Jesus and do a slow dance with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It is in this highly emotional state that parishioners are open to whatever their pastor is selling that day. While worship leaders will likely object and say that the music prepares believers to hear from the Lord, I am convinced the music is used, whether purposely or ignorantly, to weaken psychological defenses and make it easier for parishioners to “hear” what the pastor, uh I mean God, is trying to tell/sell them.

The music puts parishioners in an altered state. This is by design, and any pastor or worship leader who tells you differently is lying. Even with hymns, it is possible for the songs to elicit a specific emotional response. The ebb and flow of the average worship service is a highly designed and scripted affair meant to achieve a certain goal. If this is not true, why don’t churches start their services with the sermon? Instead, the music is used to open the hearts (minds) of listeners to whatever their pastors are going to say. By manipulating emotions, pastors have a greater chance to get those under the sound of their voice to do what they want them to do. Again, if this is not so, why do most pastors and worship leaders choose songs that perfectly dovetail with the sermon? Why not take requests from the floor if what song is sung doesn’t matter?

But it does matter. And it is not just the music. Modern church services have turned into tightly scripted affairs. Sound, lighting, and program structure are used to set the mood; no different from me coming home and finding the lights dimmed, candles lit, rose petals on the floor, and the sweet voice of Karen Carpenter quietly wafting through the air. The former is meant to help the parishioner get lucky with Jesus. The latter is meant to remind Bruce that sometimes the ballgame doesn’t come first. 🙂

Even in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches — a sect known for hating contemporary music — certain songs are used to elicit emotional responses from the congregants. The goal is the same regardless of the style of music. Through emotional manipulation, the words of pastors are more easily received. In most cases, little harm is done. But, sometimes, by manipulating the hearers’ emotions, the songs lead congregants to make decisions or do things they wouldn’t have ordinarily done. Those slobbering IFB preachers were right about secular music. Certain “Satanic” songs can lower inhibitions and pave the way for a romp in the sack with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Such evil! But what they don’t tell you is that certain “godly” songs can lower inhibitions too, and pave the way for a romp in the sack with Jesus.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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The Christian “Get Out of Jail Free” Card

blood of jesus

If you have ever played Monopoly, you know how important it is to have a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. You never know when you might need to play the card.

Every Evangelical, regardless of the sect, gets one “Get out of Jail Free” card. This card is also known as the blood of Jesus.

According to Evangelical dogma, the blood of Jesus cleanses sinners from their sin. The Bible says in Hebrews 9:22-28:

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others;
For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

Ephesians 1:7 says, In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.

Through the blood of Jesus, sin is atoned for; through the blood of Jesus is the forgiveness of sin. Baptist readers of this blog have sung the old church standard, Nothing But The Blood, many times:

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

For my pardon, this I see,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
For my cleansing this my plea,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Refrain sung after every verse

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Exactly what does the blood of Jesus do for the sinner? It covers, erases, does away with their sin. According to 2 Corinthians 5:17:

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Through the blood of Jesus, a sinner becomes a new creature (creation), old things pass away and everything becomes new. In an instant, a sinner — no matter how wicked and vile he is — can have his slate wiped clean.

God, through the blood of God (Jesus), forgives and forgets. Perverts, wife beaters, tax cheats, thieves, murderers, Josh Duggar, David Hyles, Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker, and Donald Trump are quite happy to find out that the blood of Jesus provides for them a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. The blood-cleansed sinner can shout from the mountaintop, Free, Free, Free at Last! In a moment, all their past transgressions are “under the blood.” Psalm 103:12 says: As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

A popular Christian song, My Sins are Gone, pretty well sums up the Evangelical’s feeling about the blood of Jesus and his sin:

You ask me why I’m happy so I’ll just tell you why
Because my sins are gone
And when I meet the scoffers who ask me where they are
I say my sins are gone

They’re underneath the Blood on the cross of Calvary
As far removed As darkness is from dawn
In the sea of God’s forgetfulness that’s good enough for me
Praise God! my sins are gone

When blood-bought Evangelicals are confronted by those they have hurt in the past, they often say, “that’s under the blood.” This means, “sorry, God has forgiven me for that sin and I am not accountable for it any longer. PRAISE JESUS!!”

My mother was sexually molested as a child by her father. He later became a washed-in-the-blood fundamentalist Christian who never missed an opportunity to remind everyone that Jesus could forgive them of every sin! My mother confronted her father over what he had done to her as a child. His reply?

That’s under the blood, God has forgiven me!

My mother, in a fit of rage, let him know that SHE hadn’t forgiven him. But that didn’t matter. As long as the blood of Jesus had paid her father’s sin debt, no further confession or restitution was required. He went on to live the Christian good life, never one time saying to my mother, I am sorry. My grandfather was a mean son-of-a-bitch before he became a Christian, and he was a mean son-of-a-bitch after his sin debt had been cleansed by Jesus’ blood. (Please see John.)

What about sins committed AFTER a person becomes a Christian? Each sect has its own plan for renewing the “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Catholics use the confessional and transubstantiation to free themselves of responsibility for their sins. The blood of Jesus covers everything, including molesting children. Baptists, on the other hand, use daily prayer and the church altar as places where believers can appropriate the blood of Jesus and get a fresh start. The Bible says in First John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

No matter what the Baptist has done, absolution is only a prayer away. Do the same sin tomorrow? No problem, just pray and start over again. I know some of the more pious among the Baptists will object and say that when Christians confess their sin, they are to forsake it, but personal experience and observing Baptists for many years tells me that do the same sin tomorrow, no problem, just pray and start over again is typically how Baptists handle their “sin problem.”

As an atheist, I don’t have a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. When I do bad — I reject the Christian concept of sin — things there is no God to excuse me, so I must own my actions and, if possible, make things right. Granted, my “sin” list is much smaller now. Once I was set free from the shackles of God’s law, Biblical law, or whatever-the-hell-the-pastor-says-is-sin law, I was finally able to begin freely living my life. No blood atonement needed. No catchy songs about the blood covering all my transgressions.

Every day, I make decisions that affect how I live my life, and every day I have the choice to live a decent, honorable life. Every day, I come up short, and it is in those moments that I must say, I am sorry, and, if needed, make restitution.

For my mother, one I’m sorry would have covered a multitude of sins. Too bad Jesus and His blood got in the way.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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The Resurrection of Jesus From the Dead: Fact or Fiction?

resurrection of jesus

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Several years ago, Wefo, one of my readers, asked:

What do you make of 1 Corinthians 15, which is an early Christian creed held by the majority of biblical scholars (with a few exceptions like Robert Price) to be written no more than five years after Jesus’ death and it being held as proof of a belief in the resurrection? Also what changed your mind on the resurrection?

While the majority of biblical scholars think Paul was quoting an oral tradition in 1 Corinthians 15, it is not at all clear who Paul actually received this tradition from or whether it was some sort of vision. I certainly understand the importance of the gospel creed in 1 Corinthians 15 to those who base their entire worldview on the death and resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but this singular record is not enough to convince me that the claims the Bible makes for Jesus are true.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 states:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

Paul says that the death and resurrection of Jesus were “according to the Scriptures.” What Scriptures is Paul referring to? There is no record of the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Old Testament, and 1 Corinthians was likely written several decades before the gospel of Mark. (Biblical scholars generally think Mark was the first written gospel, and Matthew and Luke use Mark as a source.) In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul states he received the gospel, not from any man, but by direct revelation from Jesus Christ. Which is it?

In his book, How Jesus Became God, Bart Ehrman details what we can historically know about the resurrection of Jesus:

In the previous chapter I argued that there are some things, given our current evidence, that we can not know about the resurrection traditions (in addition to the big issue itself—whether God raised Jesus from the dead): we cannot know whether Jesus was given a decent burial, and we cannot know, therefore whether his tomb was discovered empty.  But what can we know?

We can know three very important things: (1) some of Jesus’s followers believed that he had been raised from the dead; (2) they believed this because some of them had visions of him after his crucifixion; and (3) this belief led them to reevaluate who Jesus was, so that the Jewish apocalyptic preacher from rural Galilee came to be considered, in some sense, God. [page 174]

While some of Jesus’ followers believed he had been raised from the dead, this doesn’t mean he actually was. Belief does not equal fact. People believe many things that are untrue. Did they believe his resurrection was bodily? Spiritual? Since Gnosticism deeply influenced the early church, perhaps Paul thought Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual. There is no way for us to know.

It’s been a long time since I looked at the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. As I read various articles and blogs, I came away thinking that there’s no possible way to know, from history, if Jesus resurrected from the dead. If a person presupposes there is a God and that the Bible is God’s revelation to humanity, then they are likely to believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead. For those of us who are not Christian, we are left with determining whether the Bible accounts of the resurrection should be considered factual.

According to the Bible, Jesus was buried in a grave belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. There is no evidence for the existence of a man named Joseph or a place called Arimathea. Since Jesus was executed as a criminal, it is unlikely he was given a proper burial.  The Godless Skeptic writes:

More interesting are the two things Dr. Ehrman says he has changed his mind on regarding what we cannot know about the resurrection. Like his colleague John Dominic Crossan, Professor Ehrman now believes that the tradition of an honorable burial of Jesus is doubtful. He makes note of the suspicious backstory of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the same Jewish council that condemned Jesus to death, absent from the early Christian creeds, and a figure who is progressively portrayed across the four gospels as more and more of a sympathizer to the Christian cause. Citing a handful of ancient examples, he observes that Roman crucifixion victims were not usually given proper burials because humiliation was an important part of the practice, intending to deter potential criminals from committing acts of rebellion against Rome. Those who were crucified were often laid in common graves or left to decay and be eaten by scavenging animals.

It is sometimes remarked that Jesus was buried by Joseph in accordance with Jewish law, since the Sabbath was close at hand. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 gives instruction in this vein, but as Dr. Ehrman points out, it’s an open question of whether or not the Romans, particularly Pilate, would have respected such a rule. Though the Pharisees and the Jewish Sanhedrin had accused Jesus of blasphemy, the charges brought against him in front of Pilate were more political – inciting crowds, forbidding payment of taxes to Caesar, and claiming to be king (Luke 23:1-3). If Jesus was executed as an insurgent, under certain circumstances perhaps he would have been left unburied. If, however, he was executed in accordance with Jewish law, it’s not so obvious where he was buried. In a chapter of the anthology The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Peter Kirby writes that there is some evidence for a dishonorable burial tradition in passages like Mark 12:8 and Acts 13:27-29, which allude to Jesus being buried by his enemies rather than by his followers.

While I find all the back-and-forth debate over what the Bible does or doesn’t say about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead quite informative and entertaining, the reasons why I reject the resurrection of Jesus are quite simple.

First, there is no record outside of the Bible for the resurrection of Jesus. I find it astounding that no historian recorded anything about the life, execution, and resurrection of Jesus. We are left with the Bible and its accounts of the life of Jesus; accounts which contradict one another. The fact that they contradict one another is not proof that Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, but the contradictions do cause me to wonder if I should put much stock in what the Bible says.

Since history is silent on many of the “historical” events and figures in the Bible, why should I accept as factual what it says about the resurrection of Jesus?  For me, accepting the resurrection of Jesus from the dead ultimately requires faith, a faith I do not have.

Second, accepting the resurrection of Jesus from the dead requires believing in miracles. According to John 14:12, Jesus said

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

According to the Bible, Jesus worked many miracles, including turning water into wine, walking on water, walking through walls, healing the sick, and raising the dead. Jesus told his followers that they would do greater works than he did. Yet, everywhere we look we see a lack of the miraculous. In fact, many Christians argue that the miracles of the Bible were only for a certain time, and once the canon of Scripture was completed, there was no longer a need for the miraculous. However, this isn’t what Jesus said. He clearly stated his followers would do greater works than he did, yet we have no historical evidence that his followers were in any way super-duper miracle workers. Where can I find a modern-day miracle worker? Where I can I go to see the dead raised back to life?

Third, if there is one thing I know it is that living people die and do not come back to life. Every time I drive by a cemetery, I see the evidence for once dead, always dead. This alone is sufficient evidence for me to say that Jesus lived and died, end of story.

But, Bruce it is possible that a miracle of some sort could happen. Sure, anything is possible, but now we are talking about probabilities. Based on the evidence, is it probable that humans can die and come back to life? No. Once dead, always dead. Is it more likely Jesus lived and died or Jesus lived, died, resurrected from the dead, and is currently alive sitting at the right hand of God, the Father in Heaven? The latter requires a suspension of reason and the exercise of faith. I am not willing to do this. I know what I see with my eyes and what history tells me: once someone dies they stay dead. Since, outside of the Bible, we have no record of someone dying and miraculously resurrecting from the dead, it is safe for me to say that the resurrection of Jesus is improbable.

If you would like to read more on the subject of the resurrection of Jesus, I recommend reading:

In the last part of Romans 14:15, Paul stated, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”  After looking at the evidence, I am persuaded that Jesus did not resurrect from the dead. Whatever he may or may not have been, he was a man who lived, died, and was buried in a nondescript grave. Everything else Christians say about Jesus requires faith, a faith I do not have. When new evidence becomes available, I will look at it, but, for now, count me one who does not believe.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Jesus is the Only One That Matters

all about jesus

Repost from 2015. Extensively edited, rewritten, and corrected.

In a Gospel Coalition article titled Please Don’t Make My Funeral All About Me, Nancy Guthrie had this to say:

…We were an hour and fifteen minutes in to today’s funeral before anyone read from the scriptures, and further in until there was a prayer. Resurrection wasn’t mentioned until the benediction. There were too many funny stories to tell about the deceased, too many recollections, too many good things to say about the things he accomplished to speak of what Christ has accomplished on his behalf.

But then this wasn’t a funeral. It was a “Celebration of Life.” In fact there was really little mention of death or of the ugly way sickness slowly robbed our friend of everything. Christ and his saving benefits could not be made much of because death and its cruelties were largely ignored…

Guthrie, like many Evangelical Christians, believes that the only thing/person that matters in life is Jesus. He is the end all, the first and the last, the sum of our existence. Even in the most personal of moments, a funeral, Guthrie wants everything to be about Jesus. The person in the coffin is of no consequence. The life they lived mattered little, because without Jesus they had no life. Without Jesus, their life had no meaning or purpose.

Guthrie wallows in her depravity. She sees herself as a loathsome, vile worm, a putrid corpse of sin and defilement. That is, until Jesus regenerated her and gave her new life. From that moment forward, her life was not about her, but about Jesus. From the moment of her new birth to the moment she dies, she is a nobody. Only Jesus matters.

In Guthrie’s mind, the best funeral is one where the minister says, Joe Smith lived, knew Jesus, and died. Now let me tell you about Jesus, his death and resurrection, and the ugliness of sin and death. In other words, Guthrie wants the funeral to be like a church service, a passive event where Jesus is praised and everyone and everything else doesn’t matter.

This approach is dehumanizing and it robs the dead people of all that made them who and what they are. If they lived a full life, then they left behind countless memories and stories that certainly ought to be told. Why not celebrate the dead person’s life? Why not, one last time, remember them for what they said and did? Is this present life really that meaningless without Jesus? Is the Son of God such a Trumpian narcissist that he can’t bear to hear anyone’s name mentioned but his own?

Guthrie sees funerals as an opportunity to be reminded of our worthlessness and the awesomeness of Jesus. Any talk of the good works or the good life of the deceased is too humanistic, too worldly for her. Rather than making much of the deceased, she desires a service where the dead person is just a pretext to talk about the man of the hour: Jesus.

If the funeral service is really all about Jesus, perhaps it is proper to ask exactly what Jesus did for Guthrie’s friend whose ugly sickness slowly robbed them of everything? Did Jesus physically comfort and aid her friend?  Did he have the power to heal her friend? Did Jesus do so? Of course not — her friend died.

Suppose a friend of yours died in a car accident. Your friend could have been saved by a doctor who stopped to gawk at the accident. The doctor offered no aid and made no attempt to save your friend from death. He had to hurry home to help his wife find her car keys. Everyone in your town knows the doctor could have saved your friend’s life, yet he did nothing. Does anyone think that the doctor should be the guest of honor at your friend’s funeral? Of course not. How is this any different from praising a deity who sat idly by while Guthrie’s friend suffered and died? This deity had “all power” yet did nothing.

Guthrie betrays the fact that she is really just like us unwashed, uncircumcised, celebration-of-life, Philistines of the world when she writes “In fact there was really little mention of death or of the ugly way sickness slowly robbed our friend of everything.” Robbed her friend of everything? Wait a minute, I thought JESUS was E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G? Isn’t everything else about their life, even their suffering, just the minutia of life? Why bother to even mention the deceased? Are they not just a prop used to preach the gospel to those who came to the service thinking they were attending so-and-so’s celebration of life?

I was once like Guthrie. I saw funerals as an opportunity to preach the gospel, to witness to people who would not likely darken the doors of the church I pastored. While I did spend some time reflecting on the life of the deceased — that is if they were a Christian — my main focus was on preaching the gospel to the sinners seated before me. In one church, a dear, close friend of mine, a devoted follower of Jesus, died at the age of 40. His funeral was held at the church and for 40 minutes I hammered his Catholic and Methodist family with the Calvinistic gospel. I even told them that the deceased had specifically asked me to preach at his funeral, knowing that it likely would be the last time they would ever hear the gospel.

What did I accomplish? Nothing. I thoroughly offended my friend’s family, and from that day forward I was, to many of them, Pastor Son-of-a-bitch. In Guthrie’s eyes, I did the right thing. I exalted Jesus. I made the funeral about sin, death, and resurrection; about Jesus. But in the eyes of my friend’s family, I made their loved one’s life of little to no importance. The life their brother/uncle/father/friend lived, his good works, his commitment to his family and his job, none of these things really mattered. According to the Bible, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” Any good this man did was because of Jesus, and any bad he did was due to his sinful, carnal nature.

Simply put, Jesus ALWAYS gets top billing.  This is why I have, for the most part, stopped going to Evangelical funerals. Since the deceased is of no consequence, why should I subject myself to the prattle of a preacher as he tries to use guilt (sin) and fear (death) to coerce people, at a time when they are emotionally vulnerable, to become a Christian?

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Quote of the Day: Who was Jesus?

bart ehrman

There can be no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth has been the most influential person in the history of the world.   The church founded on his name shaped the history of Western Civilization, and over two billion people worship him today.  And yet, because of the nature of our sources, it is surprisingly difficult to know what he actually said and did.

Jesus is thought to have died around 30 CE.   He is not referred to in any Greek or Roman sources of the first century, and only briefly in our major Jewish source of the period, the historian Josephus.  The earliest Christian references are from the New Testament, but most of the twenty-seven books say nothing about his words and deeds.

The four Gospels are by far our most important sources and these certainly do contain significant historical information.  But they are also theological reflections on the meaning of his life and death, less concerned to report bare facts than to reflect on their meaning.  Historians work diligently to get behind these reflections to determine what Jesus actually said, did, and experienced.

It is clear that Jesus was raised in a small hamlet, Nazareth, in the northern part of Israel.  He was born sometime around the turn of the Common Era (4 BCE ?) in a relatively large family with brothers and sisters.  We know nothing definite of his life and activities as a boy and young man, other than what we can learn from archaeology and inference.  Jews in this region spoke Aramaic; Nazareth was impoverished with a small population (a couple of hundred people?); houses were roughly constructed, small, and crowded; there was no synagogue building, school, or public building of any kind; people were uneducated, lived a hand-to-mouth existence, and as a rule did not travel.

We do know that as an adult (around 30 CE?)  Jesus left Nazareth to participate in the movement of a prophet called John the Baptist who was urging his followers to undergo a ritual of water baptism for cleansing of their sins because God was soon to intervene in the world to destroy all that was opposed to him in order to bring a new kingdom on earth where evil would be destroyed and only good would prevail.  Jesus left his home, family, and work to be baptized by John, and almost certainly became his follower.

Eventually Jesus split off to engage in his own itinerate preaching ministry.  He gathered a small group of followers and soon chose twelve to be his inner circle.  The Gospels contain numerous accounts of great miracles that he did: healing the sick, casting out demons, controlling the forces of natures, and raising the dead.   It is not clear if such stories – commonly attributed to great Sons of God in antiquity – originated during his lifetime or only later.  He spent a good deal of his time teaching, and, like most Jewish teachers at the time, had heated disagreements with others about the proper interpretation of the law of Moses.

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, Who was Jesus?, November 29, 2019

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Dear Jesus

Jesus
Painting by Jessie Kohn

Dear Jesus,

I’m sixty-two years old, and there has never been a moment when you were not in my life.

Mom and Dad talked about you before I was born, deciding to have me baptized by an Episcopal priest. They wanted me to grow up with good morals and love you, so they decided putting water on my forehead and having a priest recite religious words over me was the way to ensure my moral Christian future.

A few weeks after my birth, Mom and Dad gathered with family members to have me baptized. I was later told it was quite an affair, but I don’t remember anything about the day. Years later, I found my baptismal certificate. Signed by the priest, it declared I was a Christian.

Jesus, how could I have been a Christian at age four weeks? How did putting water on my head make me a follower of you? I don’t understand, but according to the certificate I was now part of my tribe’s religion: Protestant Christianity.

I turned five in 1962. Mom and Dad decided to move 2,300 miles to San Diego, California, believing that success and prosperity awaited them.

After getting settled, Mom and Dad said we need to find a new church to attend. Their shopping took them to the growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation pastored by Tim LaHaye. It was here that I learned that my tribe had a new religion: Fundamentalist Christianity.

I quickly learned that our previous religion worshipped a false God, and my baptism didn’t make me a Christian at all. If I wanted to be a True Christian®, I had to come forward to the front of the church, kneel at the altar, and pray a certain prayer. If I did these things, I would then be a Christian — forever. And so I did. This sure pleased Mom and Dad.

Later, I was baptized again, but the preacher didn’t sprinkle water on my forehead. That would not do, I was told. True Baptism® required me to be submerged in a tank of water. And so, one Sunday, I joined a line of people waiting to be baptized. I was excited, yet scared. Soon, it came time for me to be dunked. The preacher put his left hand behind my head and raised his right hand towards Heaven. He asked, “Bruce, do you confess before God and man that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior?” With a halting child’s voice, I replied, “Yes.” And with that, the preacher, with a hanky in his right hand, put his hand over my nose, dunked me in the water, and quickly lifted me up. I heard both the preacher and the congregation say, “Amen!”

Jesus, the Bible says that the angels in Heaven rejoice when a sinner gets saved. Do you remember the day I got saved? Do you remember hearing the angels in Heaven say, “Praise to the Lamb that was slain! Bruce Gerencser is now a child of God. Glory be, another soul snatched from the hands of Satan?”

After a few years in California, Mom and Dad discovered that there was not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and our family was just as poor in the Golden State as they were in dreary, flat rural northwest Ohio. And so we moved, a process that happened over and over to me throughout the next decade — eight different schools.

As I became more aware and observant of my environment, I noticed that Mom and Dad had changed. Mom, in particular, was quite animated and agitated over American social unrest and the war in Vietnam. Mom and Dad took us to a new church, First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio — an IFB church pastored by Jack Bennett. We attended church twice on Sunday and on Wednesday evening.

I attended Bryan schools for two years. Not long after I started fourth grade, Mom and Dad decided it was time to move yet again. This time, we were moving to a brand new tri-level home on Route 30 outside of Lima, Ohio. It was there that I started playing basketball and baseball — sports I would continue to play competitively for the next twenty years. It was also there than I began to see that something was very wrong with Mom. At the time, I didn’t understand what was going on with her. All I knew is that she could be “Mom” one day and a raging lunatic the next.

I was told by my pastors, Jesus, that you know and see everything. Just in case you were busy one day and missed what went on or were on vacation, let me share a few stories about what happened while we lived in Lima.

One night, Mom was upstairs, and I heard her screaming. She was having one of her “fits.” I decided to see if there was anything I could do to help her — that’s what the oldest child does. As I walked towards Mom’s bedroom, I saw her grabbing shoes and other things and violently throwing them down the hallway. This was the first time I remember being afraid . . .

One day, I got off the school bus and quickly ran to our home. I always had to be the first one in the door. As I walked into the kitchen, I noticed that Mom was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She had slit her wrists. I quickly ran to the next-door neighbor’s house and asked her to help. She quickly summoned an ambulance, and Mom’s life was saved.

Mom would try again, again, and again to kill herself: slitting her wrists, overdosing on medication, driving in front of a truck. At the age of fifty-four, she succeeded. One Sunday morning, Mom went into the bathroom, pointed a Ruger .357 at her heart, and pulled the trigger. She quickly slumped to the floor and was dead in minutes. Yet, she never stopped believing in you, Jesus. No matter what happened, Mom held on to her tribe’s God.

Halfway through my fifth-grade year, Mom and Dad moved to Farmer, Ohio. I attended Farmer Elementary School for the fifth and sixth grades. One day, I was home from school sick, and Mom’s brother-in-law stopped by. He didn’t know I was in my bedroom. After he left, Mom came to my room crying, saying, “I have been raped. I need you to call the police.” I was twelve. Do you remember this day, Jesus? Where were you? I thought you were all-powerful? Why didn’t you do anything?

From Farmer, we moved to  Deshler, Ohio for my seventh-grade year of school. Then Mom and Dad moved us to Findlay, Ohio. By then, my parents’ marriage was in shambles. Dad never seemed to be home and Mom continued to have wild, manic mood swings. Shortly before the end of ninth grade, Dad matter-of-factly informed me that they were getting a divorce. “We don’t love each other anymore,” Dad said. And with that, he turned and walked away, leaving me to wallow in my pain. That’s how Dad always treated me. I can’t remember a time when he embraced me or said “I love you.” I would learn years later that “Dad” was not my biological father. I wonder, Jesus, was this why he kept me at arm’s length emotionally?

After moving to Findlay, Mom and Dad joined Trinity Baptist Church — a fast-growing IFB congregation pastored by Gene Millioni. After Mom and Dad divorced, they stopped attending church. Both of them quickly remarried. Dad married a nineteen-year-old girl with a baby, and Mom married her first cousin — a recent prison parolee. So much upheaval and turmoil, Jesus. Where were you when all of this was going on? I know, I know, you were there in spirit.

Mom and Dad may have stopped going to church, but I didn’t. By then, I had a lot of friends and had started dating, so there was no way I was going to miss church. Besides, attending church got me away from home, a place where Dad’s new and improved wife made it clear I wasn’t welcome.

One fall weeknight, I sat in church with my friends listening to Evangelist Al Lacy. I was fifteen. As is the custom in IFB churches, Lacy prayed at the end of his sermon, asking, “with every head bowed and every eye closed, is there anyone here who is not saved and would like me to pray for them?” I had been feeling under “conviction” during the sermon. I thought, “maybe I not saved?” So, I raised my hand. Lacy prayed for those of us who had raised our hands and then had everyone stand. As the congregation sang Just as I am, Lacy said, “if you raised your hand, I want you to step out of your seat and come to the altar. Someone will meet you there and show you how you can know Jesus as your Lord and Savior.” Much to the surprise of my friends, I haltingly stepped out from my seat and walked to the front. I was met by Ray Salisbury — a church deacon. Ray had me kneel as he took me through a set of Bible verses called the Roman’s Road. After quizzing me on what I had read, Ray asked me if I wanted to be saved. I said, “yes,” and then Ray said, “pray this prayer after me: Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner and I know you died on the cross for my sins. Right now, I ask you to forgive me of my sins and come into my heart and save me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” After I prayed the prayer, Ray said “AMEN!” “Did you really believe what you prayed?” I replied, “yes.” “Then you are now a child of God, a born-again Christian.”

The next Sunday, I was baptized, and the Sunday after that, I went forward again, letting the church know that you, Jesus, were calling me to preach. I was all in after that. For the next thirty-five years, Jesus, I lived and breathed you. You were my life, the sum of my existence.

At the age of nineteen, I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. It was here I received training to become a proper IFB pastor, and it was here I met the love of my life, a beautiful dark-haired preacher’s daughter. We married during the summer between our sophomore and junior years. We were so excited about our new life, thrilled to be preparing to work in God’s vineyard. We planned to graduate, go to a small community to start a new IFB church, buy a white two-story house with a white picket fence, and have two children: Jason and Bethany, and live happily ever after. However, Jesus, you had different plans for us. Do you remember what happened to us? Surely you do, right? Friends and teachers told us that you were testing us!  By early spring, Polly was six months pregnant and I was laid off from my machine shop job. We were destitute, yet, the college dean told us, “Jesus, wants you to trust him and stay in college.” No offer of financial help was forthcoming, and we finally had to move out of our apartment. With my tail between my legs, I packed up our meager belongings returned to Bryan, Ohio. I had failed your test, Jesus. I still remember what one of my friends told me, “If you leave now, God will NEVER use you!”

What did he know, right? After moving, I quickly secured secular employment and began working at a local IFB church. For the next twenty-five years, I pastored Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Jesus, you were my constant companion, my lover, friend, and confidante. I sure loved you, and I believed you loved me too.We BFF’s, right?  Sometimes, I wondered if you really loved me as much I love you. Our love affair was virtual in nature. We never met face-to-face, but I believed in my heart of hearts you were the very reason for my existence. When I doubted this, I attributed my doubts to Satan or to me not praying hard enough or reading the Bible enough. I never thought for one moment, Jesus, that you might be a figment of my imagination, a lie taught to me by my parents and pastors. I was a true believer. That is until I wasn’t.

At age fifty, I finally realized, Jesus, that you were a myth, the main character of a 2,000-year-old fictional story. I finally concluded that all those times when I wondered where you were, were in fact, true. I couldn’t find you because you were dead. You had died almost 2,000 years before. The Bible told me about your death, but I really believed that you resurrected from the dead. I feel so silly now. Dead people don’t come back to life. Your resurrection from the dead was just a campfire story, and I had foolishly believed it. I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Everyone I knew believed the same story. All of us believed that the miracles attributed to you, Jesus, really happened; that you were a virgin-born God-man; that you ascended to Heaven to prepare a mansion for us to live in after we die.

It all seems so silly, now, but Jesus, I really did believe in you. Fifty years, Jesus. The prime of my life, I gave to you, only to find out that you were a lie. Yet, here I am today, and you are still “with” me. My parents, pastors, and professors did a good job of indoctrinating me. You are very much “real” to me, even though you lie buried somewhere on a Judean hillside. Try as I might, I can’t get you out of my mind. I have come to accept that you will never leave me.

You should know, Jesus — well, you can’t know, you are dead — that I spend my days helping people get away from you. What did you say, Jesus? I can’t hear you. I can hear the voices of Christians condemning me as a heretic, blasphemer, and hater of God. I can hear them praying for my death and threatening me with eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire. Their voices are loud and clear, but your voice, Jesus? Silence.

Always silent, Jesus. Why is that?

If you ever want to talk to me, you know where I live. Show up at my door, Jesus, and that will be a miracle I can believe in. Better yet, if you can help the Cincinnati Bengals win their last six games, well, I just might rethink your existence. Not going to happen, I know. The Bengals are going to bungle their way to an 0-16 record.

If you can’t help my football team win a few games, Jesus, what good are you? It’s not like I am asking you to feed the hungry, heal the sick, or put an end to violence and war. That would require you to give a shit, Jesus, and if there’s one thing I have learned over the past sixty-two years, it is this: you don’t give a shit about what happens on earth. We humans are on our own, and that’s fine with me.

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About Bruce Gerencser

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

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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Jesus is NOT a Religion

jesus hawkins texasJesus is not a religion, Jesus is in every religion across the globe. If you don’t believe that Jesus existed, then he would be fiction. If he’s fiction, and you want to remove his name from everything then you need to remove every fiction name that there is across the country. That means we couldn’t say Superman welcomes you to town.

— Mayor Will Rogers, Hawkins, Texas

Freedom From Religion Foundation News Release

Texas city has at long last removed a “Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins” sign that the Freedom From Religion Foundation objected to years ago.

Back in 2015, the state/church watchdog twice wrote to the city of Hawkins about the blatantly Christian sign on city property after receiving local complaints.

“The Establishment Clause prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages,” FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover noted. “The Supreme Court has been clear that the ‘First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’”

The city of Hawkins violated this neutrality with a prominent governmental sign that proclaimed “Jesus Welcomes You” and endorsed belief in the pre-eminent figure of Christianity, FFRF pointed out. It sent a clear message to those with Christian beliefs that they’re favored community insiders and an equally clear message to those who believe differently that they’re not.

Then Hawkins-Mayor Will Rogers, the creative mind behind the sign, which he commissioned public school students to build, defended it with media statements such as “Jesus is not a religion, Jesus is in every religion across the globe. He’s in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism” and “If you don’t believe that Jesus existed, then he would be fiction. If he’s fiction, and you want to remove his name from everything, then you need to remove every fiction name that there is across the country. That means we couldn’t say ‘Superman welcomes you to town.’”

Fortunately, better sense prevailed in the rest of the city administration, and it heeded FFRF’s advice, albeit after many twists and turns.

The City Council voted to remove the sign after FFRF’s second letter, but then events headed in a strange direction after the mayor got into a long tussle with the city. He sued eight city officials and a bunch of other residents for supposedly resisting his attempts to root out corruption. Rogers settled the lawsuit but narrowly lost his re-election bid, with the sign playing a major role in the campaign.

Meanwhile, a group of supporters of the sign claimed that it was on private property, while the city contended that it had an easement to build a road on the land and, therefore, it was city-owned. The land turned out to be on the property of a funeral home that wanted nothing to do with the controversy, but then an entity called “Jesus Christ Open Altar Church, LLC” brought a lawsuit against the city after claiming to have bought the land from the funeral home. FFRF waited and watched while the lawsuit was underway. Finally, the city won that lawsuit on appeal and recently removed the sign.

FFRF is breathing a sigh of relief at this overdue victory for the U.S. Constitution — and for the rights of minority believers and nonbelievers in the community.

“We believe in justice for the good people of this country — even justice that is long delayed,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Finally, the city of Hawkins is in compliance with the law of the land — and has stopped sending a divisive and exclusionary message.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit founded in 1978, has over 31,000 nonreligious members and several chapters around the country, including more than 1,300 members and a chapter in Texas.

 

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: True “Freedom” Comes Only From Jesus

Ken Ham

LGBT activists are selling the lie to hundreds of thousands of individuals, that if they embrace their “true” identity as a homosexual or transgender person (or whatever their feelings tell them), they will find true freedom. But Jesus tells us,

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin…So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31–32, 34, 36)

Living the LGBT lifestyle leads to slavery to sin—it doesn’t give the freedom that it promises! Freedom (for any person) is only found in repentance and putting your faith and trust in Christ alone for salvation. Then the Son, Jesus Christ, will set you free from the yoke of slavery and give you new and eternal life. That’s the message this culture desperately needs to hear!

— Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, Why is There a “Decline in LGBT Acceptance”?, August 8, 2019