This is the one hundred eighty-ninth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Jesus Christ by Brand New.
Jesus Christ, that’s a pretty face
The kind you’d find on someone that could save
If they don’t put me away
Well, it’ll be a miracle
Do you believe you’re missing out?
That everything good is happening somewhere else
With nobody in your bed
The night is hard to get through
And I will die all alone
And when I arrive I won’t know anyone
Jesus Christ, I’m alone again
So what did you do those three days you were dead?
Because this problem is gonna last
More than the weekend
Jesus Christ, I’m not scared to die
But I’m a little bit scared of what comes after
Do I get the gold chariot
Do I float through the ceiling
Or do I divide and pull apart
Cause my bright is too slight to hold back all my dark
This ship went down in sight of land
And at the gates does Thomas ask to see my hands?
I know you’re coming in the night like a thief
But I’ve had some time, O Lord, to hone my lying technique
I know you think that I’m someone you can trust
But I’m scared I’ll get scared and I swear I’ll try to nail you back up
So do you think that we could work out a sign
So I’ll know it’s you and that it’s over so I won’t even try
I know you’re coming for the people like me
But we all got wood and nails
And we turn out hate in factories
We all got wood and nails
And we turn out hate in factories
We all got wood and nails
And we sleep inside of this machine
There is power in the name of Jesus. Or so Evangelicals believe, anyway. I have spoken the name of Jesus tens of thousands of times, both as a Christian and an atheist, yet I have found Jesus’ name to be impotent and powerless. As a Christian, I ended every prayer with in Jesus’ name, amen. I invoked the name of Jesus countless times in my sermons, in my writing, and in my day-to-day conversations. Yet, despite my devotion to Christian faith and practice, I found Jesus’ name to be every bit as powerless as the names Tom, Dick, and Harry. As an atheist, I have written and spoken the name of Jesus thousands of times, often in blasphemous ways. Yet, the name of Jesus remains powerless. Surely, my irreverence and blasphemy are an affront to Jesus, yet he does nothing. Wouldn’t it be a great way to make a point to other blasphemers if Jesus struck dead the infamous Evangelical-preacher-turned-atheist Bruce Gerencser? Well you just wait, Bruce, your payday is coming, Evangelicals say. In an hour that you think not, Jesus — the giver and taker of life — is going to call your number and cast you into the Lake of Fire. Then you will know the power that is in the name of Jesus.
What Evangelicals fail to see is that the real power is not found in Jesus’ name, but in the myths that are built around his name — starting with the myths found in the New Testament, right down to the fanciful stories of today, told by preachers Sunday after Sunday. All the promises and all the judgments Christians hang their hats on come into play after death. Evangelicals can call fire and brimstone down upon my head, but when it doesn’t happen the retort is, just you wait. There is coming a day when you will stand before the judgment bar of God and then you will prostrate yourself before Jesus in fear. For believers, everything is offloaded to eternity. That’s where the action is; that’s where Jesus will reveal himself; that’s where God will pay off all the betting slips. Of course, believing such things requires faith. Evangelicals revel in the midst of their faith: Jesus saves, Jesus delivers, Jesus heals, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. The mere mention of his name in the alternate universe called Christianity works wonders to behold. But in the here and now, the powerful Jesus is no different from Elmer Gantry. You see, reason, skepticism, and intellectual inquiry demand evidence for the claim that there is “power in the name of Jesus.” And until such evidence is provided, I shall not believe. Jesus — the one Evangelicals say is a divine flesh-and blood miracle worker — has had ample opportunity to draw me unto himself, yet my ears do not hear and my eyes do not see what Christians say is true. Instead, I see and hear centuries of myths that have turned a dead Jewish apocalyptic preacher into a hybrid God-man who one day will return to earth on a white horse and judge the living and the dead, casting into a lake that burns with fire and brimstone all those who refused to believe the myths.
Certainly, myths play a role in the ebb and flow of human life. I don’t discount for a moment the fact that countless people find hope, purpose, and meaning in Christianity; and for these people the name of Jesus carries great power, much like the deities of other religions. If Jesus is what you need to get you through the night and into the morning light, then by all means speak his name. But don’t expect unbelievers to buy into the notion that there is power in the name of Jesus. Just saying something doesn’t make it so, and just because Evangelicals say that Jesus is this or that doesn’t mean what they say is true. Purportedly, Jesus exited stage right two thousand years ago and he has not been seen or heard from since. Christians believe that he miraculously ascended into Heaven, and will someday split the eastern sky as he returns to earth. Someday, always someday. Never today, never tomorrow, never a year from now, but someday — or so Christians say. Unbelievers are expected to bow in fealty to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings — the man, the myth, the legend, Jesus Christ — even though no one has seen him, heard him speak, or received an email from him in more than twenty centuries. Instead of clinging to the “official” story —where are Mulder and Scully when you need them? — perhaps Evangelicals need to admit that it is unlikely what they believe is true; that there’s no real power in the name of Jesus.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.
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With the eye of faith, I saw Christ on the cross. God, in a human body, taking on physical pain far greater than my own. Thorns in his head, blood dripping down his face, nails in his hands and feet, love in his face. I felt his pain in my own body, the fire in my spine intensifying as I looked at him. But I also felt him holding me like a child.
I knew in my heart in that moment that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39). I was completely overwhelmed with the knowledge that my God not only knows what’s wrong with my body even when no human doctor does, he also knows my physical pain more intimately than anyone else ever could. The loneliness of suffering and the frustration of not having answers were taken away in an instant. I felt a physical burden lifted from my body and my heart.
Until that moment, I had never understood the relevance of Christ’s death on the cross to the details of my daily life, my pains and my joys. It was only in the light of the cross that I could make sense of my own suffering. This reminder is the positive result of my pain. In moments when I feel overwhelmed, I remember Calvary. I thank God for the precious gift of my salvation, because on some (very small!) level I have begun to understand the cost of my salvation.
Chronic pain is a constant reminder that my life is not my own; it has been bought with a price.
The narrative Ryken spins is one often heard when Evangelicals try to explain pain and suffering: my suffering is next to nothing compared to the pain and agony Jesus suffered on the cross. In the minds of Christians such as Ryken, there’s no human suffering that can be compared to what Jesus faced on Calvary. This worn-out, tiresome trope gets repeated over and again by Evangelicals who never THINK about what they are actually saying. Jesus is the bad-ass suffering servant, Evangelicals would have us believe; but in fact Jesus’ suffering was minuscule compared to what countless people face every day.
Yes, Jesus was beaten and his beard was plucked from face. Yes, he was nailed to a Roman cross and suffered great indignity (that is assuming the gospel narratives are true). But how long did Jesus actually suffer? Days? Weeks? Months? Years? Nope. How about less than a day? Then he died, descended to hell and hung out with its inhabitants, and then he resurrected from the dead good as new save the nail prints in his hands and feet. Pray tell, based on what the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God says about Jesus’ suffering, how was his pain in any way worse than that which any human has ever experienced? By all means, compare Christ’s suffering to what children face when having radiation and chemotherapy treatments to eradicate cancer from their bodies. Go ahead, compare his suffering to that of people in burn units with third degree burns over most their bodies. Jesus may have faced intense levels of pain for a short amount of time, but how does his suffering compare to the pain of people who suffer with debilitating, chronic illnesses for years?
Jesus knew that his time of suffering would be short and sweet, and then he would die. Imagine a body wracked with pain day in and day out, years on end, with no relief in sight. I suspect such people might be willing to suffer what Jesus did if they knew afterward their bodies would be free from pain. I know I would. I would trade places in a heartbeat with the “suffering” Son of God if it meant come Sunday morning my body was no longer wracked with pain. And I suspect I am not alone in my blasphemy.
I don’t think for a moment that my short post will change Christian thinking on this subject. Ryken desperately needs a suffering Jesus to make sense of her own pain. Without Jesus, she is left with what? Shit happens? And to that I say “yes.” None of us is guaranteed a pain-free life. Genetics, environmental factors, personal choices, and yet-unknown factors go into what diseases we contract and what pain we suffer. The late Christopher Hitchens was right when he said in his book Mortality, ” . . . To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not? . . .” Why me, indeed.
Christians invoke the suffering Jesus because it covers up the fact they suffer just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, and that their God, much like the cosmos, yawns with indifference. Jesus, then, becomes the hospice nurse who holds their hands as they face cruelties, indignities, and sufferings beyond imagination. Jesus has promised Christians that he will never leave or forsake them, and he will never allow them to suffer more than they are able. Thus, whatever pain and suffering comes their way, God means it for their good, either to chastise them or teach them a lesson. If Christians will but endure what comes their way, words in an ancient religious text promise that they will be given pain-free bodies after death. Better to think this, many Evangelicals say, than to believe we live in a cold, heartless universe. Why, such a belief leads to despair! Christians say. To that, I reply, maybe for you it does, but it doesn’t have to.
I find comfort in the fact that shit happens, and chronic illness and intractable pain afflict rich and poor, young and old, religious or not. I know that I am not special, and that countless other people are going through pain and suffering as bad as mine and worse. I am not owed a pain-free existence. I have been given life — just one — and it is incumbent upon me to live life to its fullest. I embrace my suffering, not looking to a mythical deity for inspiration or help. I find comfort in the fact that my wife, children, and friends deeply care about me and do what they can to lessen my pain. And I try to do the same when dealing with others who are facing troubles and trials, physical or not. Is there any more any of us can do for each other? A kind word, a thoughtful action, a tender embrace, these are enough. It is humanism, with its goal of lessening suffering, that shines the brightest. Christianity says endure, promising a divine payoff in the sweet by-and-by. Humanism says we only have one life, let’s do all we can to lessen pain and suffering. Christianity says pain and suffering have a higher purpose, be it correction or testing. Humanism says alleviating pain allows people to live happy lives, and in this cold universe of ours, that’s the best any of us can expect. Despite my pain, or perhaps because of it, I choose Humanism.
The Holy Spirit is inspiring Paul to polemicize this idolatrous practice by making something abundantly clear: Christ is the Creator and Lord of the angels. They exist for Him. He is by right of being the Creator more worthy of worship. It is Christ who created the archangel Michael, it is Christ who created Satan. They exist to glorify Him. Paul ends this section by making it clear, no matter how high and wonderful any created thing might be it only exists to serve the Son. Thus all thing made by Him are made for His pleasure.
We are not the center of our own lives, that position belongs to Christ. If mighty angels exist at the whim of Christ to serve him and bring him glory what do you think of your life? Are you more holy, beautiful, or powerful than the angels? Are you of a purer heart? If they are able to stand before God what is your life? We are not even worthy to see God because of our sin! Do we think we exist for any greater purpose? Every other purpose we make for ourselves fail in comparison to bringing Christ praise.
Do not have lofty thoughts of yourself, you exist to glorify Christ and for nothing else. You will inevitably glorify Christ. You will either bring Him glory by displaying His grace poured out on repentant sinners or you make know the glory of His righteous wrath poured out on the wicked in the eternal fires of hell.
Earlier this year, I received the following email (all spelling and grammar in the original):
So, when you were a Christian, did you have a relationship with the Lord? And if you did, did you not study the bible, asking Him how you should apply what is written into your life? Did you not realize all the he said, she said of different Christian religions is all man made, laws and rituals(earthly confusion I think making others/us separated from God ) and not to be our basis for judging one another, because that is God’s job anyways.
I was raised catholic. I married a divorced Lutheran, and my scales were slowly being removed, as my mother in law told me, you know there will be others besides catholics in heaven. ..that rocked my world. . Fast forward 25 years of living in Houston Texas and many different Christian churches, all having nuances that makes them their label, but the church began when Jesus started preaching? Or died? I don’t really know, but does that affect my salvation?
I believe no one shall come to the Father except through the Son. So, how did you break off your relationship with Our Lord? You know, He’s never let go of you and there’s nothing you can do to separate His love for you. I’m glad I don’t have it all figured out, because I bet you don’t have peace if you’re still lost in this stuff you’re trying to hold onto. Pride is a sneaky thing. But God loves His perfectly imperfect children.
Oh where, oh where do I begin. Let’s start (and end) with the statement, I bet you don’t have peace.
First, what is peace? Evangelicals love to talk about peace, yet they rarely give a concrete definition of what peace actually is. Evangelicals say Jesus gives them peace, but they never define that which Jesus gives them. The Apostle Paul says in Philippians 4:7:
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Maybe that’s the problem. Evangelicals can’t define peace because it passes all understanding. If peace passes all understanding, how, then, can the letter writer know whether I have it? What in my life and writing suggests that I don’t have peace? Because I yell at the television when the Cincinnati Reds are losing, and I do the same when the Cincinnati Bengals inexplicably throw away yet another game? What, exactly, is this peace I don’t have?
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
Evangelicals believe Isaiah 9:6 is a prophetic passage of Scripture about Jesus:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
According to Evangelicals, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. The angels of God came to the shepherds who were in the fields with their flocks and said of the birth of Jesus:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Jesus supposedly brought to earth peace and goodwill to all men. Yet, Jesus said in Matthew 10:34-36 that he did not come to earth to bring peace:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit is — present tense. Christians are to demonstrate love, joy, PEACE, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance in their lives. How many Christians do you know who manifest these things in their lives? Think of all your Christian Facebook friends. Do you associate them with the word peace? Remember, the fruit of the Spirit is the standard by which Christians are judged. How many Christians do you know who exude peace? The next time Donald Trump has a narcissistic pep rally, watch how attendees behave, and remember most of them claim to be followers of Jesus. The next time you read a story about Mexican or Latin American children being ripped away from their parents and housed in cages, just remember the people behind these actions profess to love Jesus. The next time the KKK or some other alt-right group holds a rally, just remember – these racists all believe that Jesus is their Lord and Savior. Watch as sects and pastors engage in internecine warfare. Watch their attacks on fellow Christians and atheists alike. Listen to all the hateful, nasty, violent rhetoric, and just remember that these people say that they are followers of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Lords, King of Kings, and the almighty, wonderful Prince of Peace.
To the letter writer I ask: where can I see this peace you talk about? I am sure it exists somewhere, but from my vantage point all I see is churches and pastors fighting over who has the “truth” and who is the authoritative earthly spokesman for God. Pope Francis recently said that capital punishment — without exception — is immoral, yet some American Catholic politicians rejected the Pontiff’s order and said they had a duty to kill convicted criminals. Where’s this peace the letter writer talks about? There’s nothing peaceful about revenge killing, and that’s exactly what state-sponsored murder is.
Who are the primary supporters of the endless war on terror and the torture of enemy combatants? Who are the primary supporters of drone warfare, a violent, frightening way of raining death and destruction on solders and innocent civilians alike. Many of the loudest voices supporting the military-industrial complex belong to Evangelical Christians and members of other conservative sects. Where, oh where, is the peace that passeth all understanding?
To the letter writer I say this: perhaps your cause would be better served by getting your fellow believers to practice what they preach. You speak of peace, yet I don’t see it. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the people gathered to hear him what was required of them to be his follower. In Matthew 5:9, Jesus said, Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are the peacemakers. Not blessed are those who think peace is a good idea, but blessed are those who work towards making our world a peaceful place. (I’ll leave it to Christians to square what Jesus says here with what he said in Matthew 10:34-36. Good luck with that.)
I strive to be a peacemaker, first by being at peace with self, and then being at peace with my family, friends, and community. I am sure I fail at this almost every day, but I do strive to be a peaceful man. And on the global plain, as a humanist and Democratic Socialist, I work towards the cessation of war and violence. Many American Christians believe that the way to bring peace to the world is to use the U.S. military, NSA, and CIA to violently beat other nations into submission. Peace, then, is whatever the U.S. government says it us. We are the most violent and bloody nation on the face of the earth — read The Dominion of War by Fred Anderson and Andrew Clayton — yet we think the United States can bring about world peace. Until the U.S. is ready and willing to denuclearize, close up its military bases in Africa, Asia, and Europe, and stop being the world’s policeman, there will be no peace.
To the letter writer I say this: I am at peace with myself, my spouse, my family, and my neighbors. I am not an angry man, nor do I bear grudges. I do my best to practice what Paul said in Romans 12:18:
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
Not only do I strive to live peaceably with all men, as a humanist I do what I can to promote world peace. The Abrahamic religions have done little to bring about an end to violence, suffering, and death. Just look at the ongoing wars in the Middle East. George W. Bush was right when he called the war on terror a crusade. Now in its seventeenth year, the religious wars between Christians/Jews and Muslims, Jews and Muslims, and Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims continue unabated. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, millions of people have lost their homes, over a trillion dollars have been spent, and entire cities have been reduced to rubble. All praise be to God, Allah, and Jesus, right?
The letter writer thinks that I don’t have peace. He is wrong. I hope this post will cause him to think about the word peace, what it means, whether Christianity is truly a religion of peace, and whether I am the one who lacks “peace” in his life.