Tag Archive: Lake of Fire

Believing Humans Have Eternal Life is Harmful and Wastes Life

eternal life

Cartoon by Mark Lynch

I am not suggesting that the reality of death isn’t painful, but just because something is painful doesn’t mean it can be avoided, or even that it should be.  I believe the promise of eternal life is a coping mechanism, and I don’t like it.  Pascal’s famous wager posits that if there is even one chance in a million that God exists, you should bet your life on it, but to me those are terrible odds.  Indeed, it may well be that the greatest mistake in this world is to live as if you have endless time…when in fact you don’t.

Bart Campolo, Why I Left, Why I Stayed, p. 133

What would Evangelical Christianity be without the belief that humans are eternal beings that will either dwell in Heaven (God’s Kingdom) or Hell (Lake of Fire)? Evangelicals give up a lot of living in order to earn a room in Heaven’s Trump Tower. I say “earn,” because despite talk of grace, Evangelicals know that gaining a golden ticket requires work and effort on their part. There are sins that must be confessed and forsaken, and Christians who wallow in the cesspool of the “world” likely will end up in Hell with Adolph Hitler, Barack Obama, and Bruce Gerencser. Thus, Evangelicals religiously attend church, pray, read their Bibles, witness, give tithes and offerings, buy Christian literature, listen to Christian radio, watch Christian TV, support Evangelical political candidates, and fight against abortion, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage. These same Evangelicals try their damnedest to follow the sexual mores of the Bible. From the moment they awake in the morning until they fall asleep at night, Evangelicals focus their minds on God, Jesus, the Bible, Christianity, and making sure that the evil agenda of Satan and the Antichrist is defeated. (I am aware of the fact that not all Evangelicals are zealots; that many of them are nominal, in-name-only Christians, but millions of Americans are committed followers of the Evangelical God. It is these people who are the focus of this post.)

Those of us who spent much of our lives living and breathing Evangelical beliefs and practices often find ourselves lamenting the time wasted serving a mythical deity. I was fifty years old before I saw the “light” and divorced myself from Jesus. From the age of fifteen to the age of fifty — thirty-five years — I devoted my life to Jesus and did all I could possibly do to live according to the teachings of the Bible — failing miserably, by the way. None of my six children played sports or enjoyed many of the things “normal” children do because their Dad demanded that they, too, devote their lives to Jesus. My children, for the most part, were either educated in unaccredited private Fundamentalist schools or home schooled. Rarely were they given the opportunity to do something that was not connected to either school or church. My oldest son attended over three thousand church services and heard virtually every sermon I preached. The same could be said for Polly and the rest of my children. We lived and breathed God, the Bible, and the church. To what end? What did we gain from such a life? So much wasted time. Hours, days, and years squandered with no hope of a do-over or a second chance. Lost time is just that — lost. All the weeping and wailing in the world doesn’t change the fact that the time wasted in service of a myth is forever lost.

Ephesians 6:16 says, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. James 4:14 states, Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. And Proverbs 27:1 says, Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.  For Evangelicals, these verses are reminders of the brevity of life and the importance of serving God while they have the opportunity. Amos 4:12 speaks of preparing to meet God. Evangelicals believe that this life is preparation for the life to come; that the pain, suffering, heartache, and loss faced in the here and now is meant to keep them from becoming attached to the world. 1 John 2:15-19 states:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Evangelicals are implored to not love the world with its pride and lusts. Someday, according to the Bible, Jesus is going to return to earth and destroy the heavens and the earth, making all things new. Knowing this to be “true,” Evangelicals forsake the world, knowing that, in the end, they will be glad they did. And for those Christians who love the world and its fleshly desires? Their behaviors reveal that they aren’t True Christians®.

Evangelicals know that life is short. Psalm 90:10 says, The days of our years are threescore years and ten (seventy); and if by reason of strength they be fourscore (eighty) years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.  All too soon, death will come knocking on their doors, thus it is crucial to live life in such a way that when Jesus calls their number he will say to them, well done thou good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of the Lord (Matthew 25:23).

It is too bad that Christians don’t live their lives according to Solomon’s book of wisdom, Ecclesiastes. Solomon reminds people of the brevity of life, and the best any of us can do is eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. And therein lies the point of the Bart Campolo quote at the beginning of this post. This life is the only one we will ever have. This is it. No re-dos. No second chances. No reincarnations. No coming back as ghosts or angels. Every breath, every heartbeat brings us one moment closer to death. I am sixty years old. If I live to age seventy, this means my life is six-sevenths gone. If I live to eighty, three-fourths of my life is in the rear-view mirror. I currently take drugs that prolong my life. Without them, I would have already gone up in the smoke of the local crematorium.

There are moments in the night when pain keeps me from sleeping, and I lie in bed listening to the tick-tock of the clock on the nearby nightstand. Tick-tock, tick-tock, two seconds of life is gone. Sixty tick-tocks and a minute is gone. Thirty-six-hundred tick-tocks and another hour of my life is dissipated into the night. Someday, sooner and not later, readers of this blog will be greeted with a post from my wife or one of my children. It will say that on such-and-such a date at such-and-such time, Bruce Gerencser drew his last breath. Cause of death? Life.

Knowing this to be true, I refuse to spend my time chasing ghosts, goblins, and gods. I refuse to offload the present in the hope that I might receive some sort of divine payoff from a mythical deity. Life is meant to be lived in the here and now, with no promise of tomorrow. Yes, it is okay to plan for the future, but not at the expense of enjoying the present. Campolo says belief in eternal life is harmful because it is, above all things, a lie; a lie based solely on some words written in an ancient religious text thousands of years ago. Believing this lie causes people to miss out on all that life has to offer. Believing this lie changes relationship dynamics, pitting believers and unbelievers against each other. If Heaven and Hell are real places, then it stands to reason that Evangelical concern for non-Christian family, friends, and neighbors is warranted. However, there is, based on all we know about the universe, no Heaven or Hell. The only heaven and hell any of us will ever know is that which is lived in this life. That’s why I want, with what little time I have left, to live and raise a little hell, and make earth as heavenly as I possibly can.

Let me conclude this post with the advice I give to new readers on my ABOUT page:

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

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

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Will Murderous Evangelical Pastor Christopher Gattis Go to Heaven When He Dies?

christopher gattis

As the Black Collar Crime series has shown, Evangelical pastors can and do commit all sorts of crimes, including — in the case of Missouri-Synod Lutheran pastor Christopher Gattis — murder. Gattis stands accused of murdering his wife, stepdaughter, and the stepdaughter’s boyfriend on Thanksgiving Day.

Gattis worked for and was a member of a church that believes “the Bible to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God and the only revelation on both beliefs and practice.”  Lutherans believe people must persevere until the end to be saved (as do Calvinists). The difference between Lutherans and Calvinists, according to Douglas Sweeney, chair of the church history and history of Christian thought department and director of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is that Lutherans believe:

….the elect will certainly persevere in faith. God is not impotent to carry out his decrees respecting salvation. But not everyone who is born again is among God’s elect. It is possible for regenerated people to apostatize. So perseverance is largely a matter of walking in step with the Spirit, persevering, and encouraging other people to do the same.

According to Sweeney, Martin Luther believed that there were sins that could result in people losing their faith. Luther wrote:

“it is necessary to know and teach that when holy people—aside from the fact that they still have and feel original sin and also daily repent of it and struggle against it—somehow fall into a public sin (such as David, who fell into adultery, murder, and blasphemy against god), at that point faith and the Spirit have departed.” Luther, Smalcald Articles (1537), 3.3

None of us can know Christopher Gattis’ “heart.” For the purpose of this post, I am going to assume that he was a good Missouri-Synod Christian who loved Jesus, and the moment he committed the very public sin of homicide, the Spirit of God took flight from his soul and Gattis is now a sinner in need of conversion.

Using murderous, adulterous David as an example, Luther believed that when King David publicly sinned against God, faith and the Holy Spirit departed. Gattis, much like David, had a record of misconduct. In 2010 he was accused of public intoxication, and in 2012 he was charged with assault and battery.  Kevin Defford, his victim in the assault, said the following to the NBC-12:

“He was on edge that day, was my thinking,” says Kevin Defford, who is the victim in the 2012 case.

Defford was delivering samples of a newspaper with his son and tossed one onto Christopher Gattis’ driveway.

“On the way up, he had come from his driveway and was standing in the middle of the road,” said Defford.

He says Christopher Gattis threw the paper at his face and started yelling, even going as far as to pull out a box cutter.

“The fact that he pulled the box cutter, it had me thinking about my son at that point, and that’s why the police were called,” says Defford. “But again, it seemed like he was on edge that day when I met him.”

Christopher Gattis was found guilty, but the charge was dismissed once Christopher Gattis paid restitution. Now knowing this man is connected to a triple murder has Defford shaken.

“Now it makes me wonder a little more um, what might have been,” he said.

blood of jesus

It seems that Gattis has had several bouts of faithlessness. The good news is that if Gattis repents — telling God, my bad, Jesus. I promise never to kill anyone again — he can, once again, become a man after God’s own heart. No sin — no matter how perverse, vile, disgusting, or evil — is beyond the forgiving power of the miraculous blood of Jesus. For Gattis, restoration is but a prayer away.

Or is it?

Evangelicals love to talk about how bad they were before they became new creations in Christ Jesus. As anyone who has sat through a Baptist testimony time can attest, wild claims of depravity are quite common. The greater the sin, the greater the grace needed to save sinners from their sins. Over the course of the fifty years I spent in the Christian church, I never heard believers minimize their sinfulness. Oh no, the bigger the sinner, the better. This is why the history of Evangelicalism is filled with stories about people who were once witches, Satanists, and mob hit men before J-e-s-u-s saved them. Such people regale congregations with stories of murder, sexual abuse, demonic possession, sacrificing infants to Satan, and all sorts of perversion. Yet, Jesus somehow, some way, reached down into their wretched souls and saved them. (Of course, many of these wild testimonies are lies straight from the mythical pit of hell.)

Murderers present a real conundrum for Evangelicals. They know that David was a murderer, yet God forgave him, and he was considered not only a man after God’s own heart, but also a relative of Jesus. Evangelicals read and hear stories about murderers whose lives were transformed by the mighty working power of the triune God. This must mean, then, that murderers can be saved too, that even killing your family or strafing innocent men, women and children with weaponized drones is within the purview of Jesus, the savior of humankind. But, is it really? What does the Bible say on the matter?

Revelation 21:8 states:

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

Revelation 22:14,15 adds:

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.  For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. [OMG! all dogs go to hell!]

The writer of First John said:

Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15)

Speaking of reprobates — those beyond the grace of God — the Apostle Paul said:

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Romans 1:26-32)

Paul emphatically states in Galatians 5:19-21 that murderers shall not inherit the Kingdom of God:

 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Did Christopher Gattis, by murdering his family, cross a line of no return? Has his nonrefundable ticket for the Lake of Fire been punched? Or, is there still hope for Gattis; that if he really, really, really says he is s-o-r-r-y that God will say to him, aw shucks, Chris, I forgive you. The Bible is incoherent on this matter, as it is with virtually every other theological, cultural, and social issue Christians say the Bible addresses. God said it, and that settles it, right?

Of course, there is no God, so flesh-and-blood humans are left with the unenviable task of trying to figure out why Gattis picked up a gun and murdered those closest to him. Was he mentally ill? Was he under the influence of drugs or alcohol? Did he shoot them in a fit of rage? If so, what caused him to be so angry? So many questions, and regardless of the answers, Gattis, if convicted, should spend the rest of his life in prison (and I know some readers think this is a death-penalty-worthy crime).

I grieve for those left behind in the wake of Gattis homicidal rage. And for those who attempt to paper over this tragedy with God, prayer, and faith? Child, please. Stop excusing bad behavior with nonsensical theological arguments and clichés. What’s next? — God needed more good angels so he used Christopher Gattis to send his family to heaven; that God always works things out according to his purpose and plan? Enough, already. (Please read Sutherland Springs Massacre: God Answered the Victims Prayers by Allowing Them to be Murdered.)

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Alternative Viewpoints on Hell: Evangelicals Attempt to Give the Vengeful God a Makeover

hell in a handbasket

An increasing number of Evangelicals find themselves uneasy and troubled by the belief that non-Christians will suffer untold pain and agony in the flames of Hell after they die; that this eternal torture requires God giving unbelievers a fireproof body; that most of the human race will live a never-ending life in Hell. Instead of going the way of Universalists, these Evangelicals attempt to reinterpret the Bible in ways that allow them to sleep easy at night when pondering the fate of their unsaved family, friends, and neighbors.

Should atheists feel good about these new and improved interpretations of the Bible? After all, if anyone is going to Hell, atheists are. We are, according to countless Evangelicals who have commented on this blog over the years, tools of Satan, child molesters, perverts, and haters of God and Christianity. When it comes to assigning rooms in Hell, atheists will surely have the hottest rooms in Satan’s Mara-a-Lago. Shouldn’t atheists be glad that Evangelicals are thinking about them and concerned for their eternal well-being?

The short answer is no. Evangelicals who take a revisionist approach to Christianity’s historic teachings on hell are more concerned with how the idea of people burning in hell makes them feel than they are concerned with those actually doing the burning. Evangelicals may be pained by the idea of atheists, along with Muslims, Buddhists, Shintoists, Agnostics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Pagans slow-roasted alive in God’s custom-built torture chamber, but I suspect that they are more concerned with how this makes them feel rather than they are the actual effect on unbelievers. As far as atheists are concerned, not only do we not believe in the existence of the Christian God, neither do we believe in the existence of Satan, demons, hell, and the afterlife There is no rational reason for Evangelicals to worry about atheist souls. If atheists are unconcerned about their eternal destiny, why should Evangelicals be concerned for them?

Some Evangelicals believe that all who reject Jesus and refuse to put their faith and trust in him will be annihilated after death, forfeiting their right to heavenly real estate in eternity. Annihilationism is the Evangelical version of capital punishment for the soul. While Evangelicals believing this doctrine could argue that Evangelicals-turned-atheists didn’t believe in the Christian God and accept his gracious offer of salvation — being zapped into nothingness their just dessert for faithlessness— this still leaves billions of people eternally punished for no other reasons than being born in the wrong country or having the wrong religion. Billions of good people will never see their families again, all because they had the wrong beliefs or lived in the wrong zip code. Yes, annihilationism rescues Evangelicals from the burden of the Bible’s teachings on hell, but billions of people will suffer the eternal loss of those they love most. As with all life-after-death scenarios, Evangelicals are rewarded while the everyone else suffers for not being on God’s guest list.

Recently, an Evangelical man by the name of Terry Lee Miller has been hawking his book, The Death of Endless Damnation, in the comment section and in several emails he sent to me. Miller believes in what he calls “universal Christian redemption for all.” As you will see in a moment, universal Christian redemption is just a Baptist version of Catholic beliefs on death, judgment, purgatory, and the lake of fire, with the exception that in Miller’s scheme of things, everyone, in the end, after being sufficiently tortured, makes it to Heaven.

Here’s how Miller describes his beliefs:

No Bruce you will not ‘burn in the Lake of Fire for eternity, but will be saved one day, even though you are an atheist at present. Oh yes, of course you will go to hell/sheol when you die, but that will merely be a temporary place of punishment until one day you are stood before the white throne and are judged according to your works, and will receive severe punishment for your wickedness and disbelief. After being punished severely by a loving Savior, you of course will have come to your senses, and on bent knees, will embrace the Lord Jesus Christ who yes, does love you despite your present condition. Yes, all will ultimately be saved, Muslims, Jews, Jehovah Witnesses, Atheists, Agnostics, everyone will be saved, but that salvation of course will only come from the Lord Jesus Christ, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, the one who, yes, still does love you. Every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God!

rock n roll heaven and hell

Michael Mock, a friend of mine and regular commenter on this blog, summed up Miller’s beliefs this way:

Demon: “Well, yes, it is a lake of fire, but I’m happy to say it’s only temporary…”

Human: “Only temporary? You want me to step into a lake of fire because it’s only temporary?”

Demon: “Not at all. We have many options. You could parachute in. There’s a diving board, so you could do a flip, or a cannonball!”

Human: “Are there options that don’t involve burning forever?”

Demon: “But I just told you, it’s not forever!”

Human: “Okay, fine, it’s not forever. How long is it?”

Demon: “Well, at the rate you humans are going, I can’t imagine that we won’t get to Armageddon and the Final Judgement within the next thousand years.”

Human: “Strangely, this is not making me feel any better about the prospect of perpetual torment.”

Demon: “Nevertheless…”

Human: “Could I spend that time in, maybe, a tub of lukewarm whiskey?”

Demon: (looks vaguely guilty)

Human: (raises eyebrows) “You actually have a tub of lukewarm whiskey?”

Demon: “Well, it’s more of an olympic-sized pool, but it’s usually reserved for demons…”

Human: “But there’s lukewarm whiskey, and I could just sit in that until the final judgement?”

Demon: “It… it is lukewarm whiskey. But the demons really would prefer to–”

Human: “Sign me up for the lukewarm whiskey pool, please.”

Demon: “You’ll have to do laps until the final judgement.”

Human: “Deal.”

Demon: {sighing deeply} “Very well.”

What a great deal, right? I wish Evangelicals would stop trying to reinterpret the Bible so they can “feel” better about their God’s vindictive, hateful, God-awful nature. If the Bible is what Evangelicals say it is — inspired, inerrant, infallible, unalterable — then they must own that their wonderful, awesome, loving, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious God is anything but. The only way forward for Evangelicals is to invent a new God and write a new Bible that better reflects their twenty-first-century moral sensibilities. As long as the Bible is considered a closed canon, Evangelicals are going to have to live with the fact that God’s Precious Moments® Bible explicitly teaches that Jehovah is a God of judgment and wrath, and those who reject Jesus and his atoning work on the cross will be everlastingly tortured in the Lake of Fire. If, as the Bible says, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then the deity who drowned the entire human race save eight people in Noah’s flood is the same God today. What’s changed is how Evangelicals want to be viewed by unbelievers. Smarting from being painted in the press and on the internet as judgmental, hateful, narrow-minded bigots, many Evangelicals want to be viewed in a kinder light. Unfortunately, as long as Evangelicals carry their leather-bound inerrant Bibles to church on Sundays and bow in obeisance to its anti-human teachings and authority — expecting everyone to do the same — they shouldn’t anticipate that atheists and other unbelievers will think well of them.

Dear Evangelical, Here’s The Number One Reason We Can’t be Friends

lets be friendsIt is not uncommon for me to receive emails and Facebook friend requests from Evangelicals who really, really, really want to be my friend. These What a Friend We Have in Jesus Christians think that the reason I am no longer a follower of Jesus is because I never had good Christian friends. In fact, during my years as an Evangelical church member and pastor, I had countless friends, including several men I would have considered my BFFs — best friends forever. (These best friends of mine had a different definition of forever, abandoning me once I started having doubts about Christianity and my faith.)

In November 2008, my divorce from Jesus was final, and those who once called me friend turned to praying for me, preaching sermons about me, gossiping about me, and sending me caustic, judgmental emails. Into this friendless void jump Evangelicals eager to be “real” friends with Bruce Gerencser, the Evangelical pastor-turned-atheist. Why do these friendship seekers want to be friends with me?

Some of them naïvely think that if I am just willing to be exposed to their kind, compassionate, loving version of Christianity that I will somehow, some way, be drawn back into the Evangelical fold. Their goal is the restoration of Bruce Gerencser. In other words, their offer of friendship has an ulterior motive — to win me back to Jesus.

Such attempts to be friends with me irritate the hell out me. I hate it when people, regardless of the reason, have ulterior motives when contacting me. Generally, I can spot ulterior motives a mile away. Depending of my mood, I might respond to these secret agents for Jesus by asking, what is it that you REALLY want?  Cut the bullshit and tell me what it is you really want from me.

I have zero interest in having meaningful friendships with Evangelicals. I am fine with being acquainted with or doing business with Evangelicals, but I have no desire to have them over for dinner or to get our families together on the Fourth of July. And the reasons for this are not what Evangelicals might think. No, I don’t hate God, Christianity, or the Bible. None of the reasons Evangelicals think atheists are “unfriendly” apply here. Not that I am unfriendly. People who know me — saved or lost — know that I am a kind, compassionate, loving man with, when provoked, a bit of a quick-to-rise-and-recede redheaded temper. I am kind to animals, don’t step on ants, and don’t kill spiders. I lovingly endure my grandchildren jumping on me as if they are fighting in a MMA match, even though my body screams in pain.  I love my friends, neighbors, and family. I get along well with others, even when put in circumstances made difficult by the airing political and religious viewpoints I oppose. Simply put, on most days, I am a good man, brother, husband, father, and grandfather. Like everyone, I fall short in my relationships with others. When I hurt those who matter to me, I do my best to make things right. So whatever stereotype these friendship seekers might have of atheists, I don’t fit the bill.

The one and only reason I don’t befriend Evangelicals is their belief about hell.  Evangelicals believe that all humans are sinners, and without putting their faith and trust in Jesus Christ they will go to hell — a place where all non-Christians spend eternity suffering eternal damnation in utter darkness and searing flames. Knowing that the high temperatures in hell (and later, the Lake of Fire) would turn unsaved humans into sizzling grease spots, the Evangelical God of love gives them bodies capable of enduring never-ending pain and suffering. What a wonderful God, right?

I will soon be sixty years old. Sometime beyond this moment, I will draw my last breath. According to Evangelicals, the very next moment after I close my eyes in death, I will awake in hell, ready to begin my eternal sentence of unimaginable pain and suffering. (A theological point in passing. Most Evangelicals believe what I just wrote; however, according to orthodox Christian theology, God doesn’t give the saved and lost new bodies until Resurrection Day. So, I am not sure what it is that suffers when I land in hell, but it won’t be my body. Maybe my suffering will come from my mind be subjected to a never-ending loop of Evangelical sermons and praise and worship ditties.)

Why, you ask, will I be tortured by God in hell for eternity? One reason, and one reason alone — I do not believe Jesus is anything Christians say he is. And since Jesus is not God, not a Savior, and not divine in any way, and I see no evidence of his eternal existence in the present world, I have no reason to worship him. No matter how good a man I might be, all that matters when it comes to an eternity spent in heaven or hell is if I have checked the box on the Evangelical decision card that says: Yes, I prayed the sinner’s prayer and asked Jesus to forgive me and save me from my sins.

So, I ask you, WHY in the names of all humanity’s gods would I want to be friends with anyone who thinks I deserve to be put on the Evangelical God’s rack and stretched for years without end? You see, dear friendship seeker, it is your belief about hell and my eternal destiny that makes it impossible for me to be your friend. No, hell isn’t real, and I don’t fear what may come of me after death, but you believe these things to be true and they stand in the way of us having a meaningful friendship. I am thoroughly convinced that in this life and this life alone do I have immortality. Once death claims me for its own, I will cease to be. Those who were friends with me, will hopefully toast my life, telling their favorite Bruce stories. In time, as is the case for all of us, I will be but a fading memory, a mere blip on the screen of human life.

Bruce, surely you can ignore their beliefs about hell and accept their offer of friendship. Sure, I could, but why should I? Why would I want to be friends with someone who thinks I deserve eternal punishment, who thinks I have done anything to deserve being endlessly tortured by God. Life is too short for me to give my friendship to people who believe their God plans to eternally roast me in the Lake of Fire if I don’t believe as they do.

These days, I have two Evangelical friends, whom I have known for fifty years and thirty years, respectfully. Our friendship works because we do not discuss religion or politics (unless asked). We have many things in common — children, grandchildren, love of good food, Cincinnati Reds — so we have no need to talk about the things not spoken of in polite company. I remain their friends, first, because I love them, and second, because I have a lot of years invested in our friendship. If these dear friends of mine were new acquaintances today, I highly doubt we would be friends.

Well, fine, Bruce, I WON’T be friends with you!!!  Okey dokey, smoky, don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out. I am too old to care whether someone is my friend or likes me. These days, my friend list is short, but those who are on it love and support me, and I am grateful for them being in my life. To Evangelicals who are butt-hurt because I won’t play in the sandbox with them, I say this: pick a new God who is not a violent, murderous psychopath and worship her. Then maybe, just maybe, we can be friends. As long as you hold the company line concerning sin, death, judgment, and hell, I will not be your friend.

Why I am Not Interested in a Nicer, Friendlier Christianity

truth in love

Drawing by David Hayward

I often write about the extreme right of  Evangelicalism, the end of the Evangelical spectrum inhabited by churches and sects that nice, friendly Evangelicals like to call fundamentalist nut jobs. However, as I clearly show in my post titled Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists, ALL Evangelicals are fundamentalists. Evangelical belief requires theological fundamentalism, a core set of beliefs that one must adhere to be a Christian and considered an Evangelical in good standing. Some who deny this fact are really liberal/progressive Christians living in denial. Raised in the Evangelical church and familiar with its worship and practice, these liberal/progressive Christians don’t want to abandon the only church they have ever known. Their theology puts them squarely outside of Evangelicalism, but they refuse to accept this and they dig their heels in when attempts are made to drag them into the liberal/progressive church. There’s not much anyone can do for these folks. In time, the keepers of Evangelical truth will expose and embarrass them and they will be forced to leave. For now, they play pretend Evangelical.

There’s another subset within Evangelicalism that thinks they are what I call a nicer, friendlier version of Evangelicalism. They are convinced that legalism, rules, moralizing, and the like are the problem, so they attempt to advertise their churches as places that are judgment free, places where sinners can come to find healing and deliverance. However, these nicer, friendlier Evangelicals hang on to theological fundamentalism. While their lifestyle or what they consider a sin might be different from their legalistic brethren, theologically there is very little difference between the two.

Here’s how you force a nicer, friendlier Evangelical to show their true colors. Forget this or that doctrine. Forget everything except what I share next:

Evangelical: The church I go to, First Church of the Most Awesome People in Town, is the nicest, friendliest church in town. We love everyone and I am sure if you come to our church you would feel right at home!!

Bruce: Let me ask you several questions. First, do you believe in a literal hell?

Evangelical: Yes, that’s what the Bible teaches.

Bruce: Who ends up in hell?

Evangelical: Well, I am not the judge, only God is, but the Bible does say that a person must know Jesus as their Lord and Savior to go to heaven when they die.

Bruce: So, since I am not a Christian and I refuse to acknowledge Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I will go to hell when I die, right?

Evangelical: (looks down to ground) Uh, well, um, yeah, if you don’t repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ you will go to hell when you die.

Bruce: How long will I be in hell? Is it like Catholic purgatory where I’ll suffer for a time and then be taken to heaven?

Evangelical: Well,uh….(long pause) if you die without knowing Jesus as your Lord and Savior you will spend eternity in the torments of hell.

Bruce: Fire and brimstone and where the worm dieth not?

Evangelical: Yes.

Bruce: Since this body I currently have would burn up if I was thrown into a pit of fire and brimstone, does this mean God gives me a new body that will withstand the torments of hell?

Evangelical: (silently praying the Rapture would happen)

Bruce: And doesn’t this mean that your God created me, killed me, and sent me to hell with a new body fashioned by him to withstand day and night torture for eternity?

Bruce: Is this the God you worship? Why would anyone want to worship such a horrible deity?

Forget all the other doctrines, this is the only one that matters. I don’t care how nice or friendly a church thinks they are, if they believe in hell then they are party to the savage, endless torture of billions of people. They might smile more or practice friendship evangelism, but the result is still the same; those who don’t repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ go to hell when they die. (please see We Love People and Are the Friendliest Church in Town)

The next time you run into a nicer, friendlier Evangelical, go for their jugular. Ask them point-blank if they believe in hell. Their answer (s) to this questions will tell you all you need to know. Personally, I have no interest in be a part of a group or being friends with anyone who thinks that I will burn in hell for eternity because I am not like them. This kind of thinking is no different from the thinking of the demented killers portrayed on Criminal Minds. Our God is an awesome God, the Evangelical says, and He loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. And if you refuse to accept this, our God will some day torture you for all eternity.

Hello Bruce, I’m a Nice Evangelical

hell

Several times a month, I get an email from an Evangelical who wants to let me know that they are not like “other” Evangelicals. They want me to know that there are Evangelicals who are nice, polite, decent, kind, and respectful. That’s great, their mother taught them well. However, I think these “nice” Evangelicals aren’t really as nice as they would have me believe. They desperately want to be viewed in a good light, thinking if I just knew that there are “nice” Evangelicals that I would fall on my knees and call of Jesus to save me.

If I am feeling up to it, I will respond to the “nice” Evangelical’s email with a few questions. Questions like:

  • Do you believe believing in Jesus is the only way for a person to have their sins forgiven?
  • Do you believe there is one true God?
  • Do you believe the Bible is an inspired, inerrant text?
  • Do you believe that a person must be saved/born again/become a follower of Jesus to go to heaven when they die?
  • Do you believe that a person who is not saved/born again/a follower of Jesus goes to hell when they die?

The answers to these questions will quickly reveal that the “nice” Evangelical is no different from Fred Phelps, Pat Robertson, Steven Anderson, Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, Bob Gray Sr, Bryan Fischer, James Dobson, or Franklin Graham. The “nice” Evangelical and the nasty, hateful Evangelical share the same beliefs. The former comes in a nicer package, but inside the package is the same abhorrent, vile beliefs.

Sometimes, the “nice” Evangelical will be coy about their beliefs. When pressed on the question of God torturing non-Christians in hell/lake of fire for eternity, they often reply that they leave such things up to God. They want me to know that they don’t judge, they just l-o-v-e others. However, if they believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, then they already know what God says on the matter. Non-Christians will go to hell when they die. Atheists, agnostics, secularists, and humanists will go to hell when they die. Most of the readers of this blog will go to hell when they die. Most of my Facebook friends will go to hell when they die. Most of Twitter followers will go to hell when they die. And, to make it quite personal, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and most of their children will go to hell when they die.

The “nice” Evangelical, if they are truly a Bible-believing, Jesus loving Evangelical, is boxed in by their beliefs. There is one God, the Christian God, one way of salvation, Jesus, and hell awaits all of those who reject him. This is why I respect someone like Fred Phelps more than I do the “nice” Evangelical. Someone like Phelps just tells non-Christians how it is. They make no effort to hide their beliefs. Their forwardness allows me to know exactly where  I stand with them. No need for us to play the pretend friend game or make nice with each other.

Sometimes, the “nice” Evangelical will take a psychological approach. They view me as one who has been wounded by the nasty, hateful, judgmental Evangelicals. They read a few of my blog posts and determine that I have been hurt in some way and that this is the reason I am not a Christian. In their mind, they think if they are just really, really, really, nice to me that I will overwhelmed by their niceness and fall in love with Jesus all over again. Since they think Jesus is w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l, they can’t imagine someone NOT wanting to become a follower of their Jesus. They see Jesus patiently knocking on the door of my heart, pleading for me to let him in. Isn’t this the same Jesus who says that if I DON’T open the door that he is going to torture me for eternity in a lake that burns with fire and brimstone, a place where the worm dieth not? Isn’t this the same Jesus who will fit me with a special body after death so that no matter how severely he tortures me I can never die?

While there is certainly a truckload of harm and hurt in my Evangelical past, the reason I am not a Christian is because I do not believe the claims of Christianity to be true. I don’t believe the Bible is an inspired, inerrant text. I don’t believe Jesus was God, virgin born, a miracle worker, or resurrected from the dead. I don’t believe God created the world nor do I believe in sin. Simply put, I reject everything one must believe to be a Christian. No matter how “nice” an Evangelical is to me, I do not buy what they are selling. Salvation requires faith, a faith I do not and will not have.

Look, I am glad that many Evangelicals are nice people. I am glad they treat me and others like me with kindness, decency, and respect. Their behavior certainly make the world a better place. I suspect their behavior is a reflection of their training and culture more than it is their beliefs. I am glad someone taught them to be a decent, thoughtful person. I do, however, wish they would stop wasting their time by trying to “nice” me to Jesus. I have no interest and I think their time would be better spent teaching Evangelicals how to behave in public. As blog comments, news articles, blogs, Facebook, Twitter,  and personal emails show, there are a lot of Evangelicals who don’t the first thing about the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Instead of trying to save people who don’t want to be saved, “nice” Evangelicals should spend their time getting  fellow Evangelicals saved.

Heaven and Hell, The Carrot and the Stick

carrot and stick

The two tools most often used by Evangelical preachers to keep people in the pews are:

  • The threat of God’s judgment
  • The threat of hell

As with Jonathan Edwards in his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Evangelical preachers warn parishioners of the judgment to come and the hell that awaits anyone who does not repent of their sins and become a follower of Jesus.

Here’s what Edwards had to say:

…The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment…

While few Evangelical preachers can turn a word and speak as eloquently as Edwards, their message is still the same: judgment and hell awaits those who do not repent of their sins and follow after Jesus.

Preachers often use what I call the carrot and stick approach. Every person has a choice to make about where they spend eternity. While Calvinists and Arminians argue endlessly over whether we really are free to choose, saving faith does require an act of volition. Every person must choose between heaven and hell. Become a follower of Jesus and heaven, the carrot awaits when you die. Reject Jesus, his salvific work on the cross and his death-defying resurrection from the dead, then hell, the stick, awaits you when you die.

Evangelical preachers impress on those under the sound of their voice that it is important to make a decision for Christ NOW! The Bible says in the last part of II Corinthians 6:2:

…behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation.

According to Evangelical preachers, none of us has the promise of tomorrow. Proverbs 27:1 states:

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.

Evangelical preachers are like Larry the Cable Guy. Git ‘er Done! Today, right now, don’t delay.

Some preachers spice up their sermons with illustrations of people who died suddenly or who died after hearing and rejecting the preacher’s warning about God’s judgment and hell. These stories, true or not, are meant to elicit an immediate response. When I was a preacher, my goal was to press every person who heard my sermon to make a decision. I was of the opinion that there was no such thing as a neutral position. Once a person heard the gospel, heard my sermon, they had a choice to make. Heaven or hell, which will it be?

A regular reader of this blog sent me a Franklin Graham quote that I think will help illustrate what I am trying to say in this post:

“Death is serious, eternal business. Once our physical hearts beat for the last time, we will instantly find ourselves either in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in all His splendor, or in the pit of Hell away from His presence.”

There’s the carrot and the stick. Heaven or hell; choose now while your heart is still beating. The moment your heart stops beating, your eternal destiny is settled.

Think for a moment about what Graham said here about the heart stopping. So, if a person’s heart stops, his eternal destiny is settled? What if his heart is restarted using a defibrillator? Does this mean his eternal destiny is not really settled and he gets another chance to decide, heaven or hell? For those people who have heart transplants, does that mean that they need to decide again?

The bigger problem with Graham’s statement is that it is bad theology. According to orthodox Christian theology, when people die, they do not go to heaven or hell. Instead, they go to the grave and will remain there until the resurrection of the dead. Grandma is not up in Heaven running around, nor is she peering over the portals of Heaven watching her grandchildren play. Neither is Christopher Hitchens in hell, being tormented day and night for daring to mock the thrice holy God. They are dead, lying in the grave, awaiting the second coming of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead.

After the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment will take place and every person will be sent to his or her eternal destiny. And even here, many Evangelical preachers, including Graham, get it wrong. Christians will not spend eternity in Heaven. Instead, they will spend it in the kingdom of God. Hitchens and the rest of us reprobates? We will not spend eternity in hell. Instead we will spend it in the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:11-15 makes this quite clear:

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

and Revelation 21:1-8:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

And here an even more interesting point. Isn’t our eternal destiny is settled by repenting of our sins and following after Jesus? These texts state that everyone is judged by their works, that it is works that determine whether Grandma, Hitchens, or anyone else goes to heaven or hell.

I wish Evangelical preachers would get together and figure out exactly where it is we are all going when we die. I wish they would  determine if it is really up to me to decide? With so much confusion and lack of theological precision, how is a poor, lost atheist such as I am, supposed to determine in what hotel to make my final reservation?

The purpose of this post is to show how confusing and contradictory Evangelical preachers and their theology can be. If they are not precise and clear, can mere untrained, unwashed Philistines such as we are have any hope of finding THE Way, Truth, and Life?

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