Tag Archive: Leaving Christianity

Why Am I the Only One Who Changed My Beliefs?

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents

Dr. Bart Ehrman, a former Evangelical Christian and now an agnostic, writes:

Two things have happened to me this week that have made me think rather intensely about the path I’ve taken in life, and how radically it has swerved from the paths of others who were like me at the age of 20. I emphasize “who were like me.”   The reality is that the path I was on already at 20 was (now I see) extremely weird, and to outsiders looks more than a little bizarre. I was a hard-core evangelical Christian dedicated to ministry for the sake of the gospel. Not exactly what most 20-year-olds (including any of my many high school friends) were doing at the time.  If ever I want a conversation-stopper at a cocktail party, all I need do is say something about my past.

Still, given that as my starting point, what happened next is even more highly unusual. And I was abruptly reminded it of it this week, twice.   First, on Monday I had a radio/podcast debate here in London on “Premier Christian Radio” (it is the leading Christian radio station in England) (not that it has a lot of competition, but it is indeed a high class operation) with another scholar of the New Testament, Peter Williams, one of the world’s experts on ancient Syriac as it relates to the Bible (both OT and NT), former professor at the University of Aberdeen and current head of Tyndale House in Cambridge.

I have known Pete for years; he is a committed evangelical Christian with a view of the infallibility of the Bible. Our debate was on the question of whether the Gospels are historically reliable (a topic of frequent recurrence on this blog, obviously) (some bloggers may think “interminable” recurrence). He thinks there is not a single mistake in the Gospels, of any kind.  I think there are. You’ve heard this kind of debate before, so I won’t be recounting the ins and outs (although they were quite different from those you’ve seen before; still, it won’t matter for this post).

The second thing that happened is that I received a Facebook post from a former friend (I emphasize “former” since we apparently are no longer friendly) and classmate of mine from my Moody Bible Institute days (mid 70s), in which he lambasted the fellow alumni from my graduating class for holding me in any kind of esteem. The implication of his lambast was that I’m the enemy of the truth and no one should respect me or my views. I haven’t talked with this fellow for over 40 years, but last I knew we were friends, on the same floor in the dorm and the same basketball team. OK, I couldn’t hit a jump shot, but still, is that reason to be upset four decades later?

In any event, these two events made me think hard about one issue in particular, one that I keep coming back to in my head, in my life, and, occasionally, on this blog: why is it that some people are willing to change their minds about what they hold most dear and important in their lives and other people retain their same views, come hell or high water?    Why do some people explore options and think about whether they were originally “right” or not (about religion, personal ethics, social issues, politics, etc.), and other people cling tenaciously to the views they were given when they were 14 years old? It’s an interesting question.

Because I changed my views on something near and dear to me and my then-friends, I’m a persona non grata in the circles I used to run around in. And granted, I have zero desire (OK, far less than zero) to run around in them now. But I don’t feel any animosity toward my former friends, or think they’re going to roast in hell because of their views, and wish that torment would begin sooner than later. I understand why they do (toward me), but it’s sad and disheartening.

….

What I’m more interested in is why I would have changed my mind and others like him absolutely don’t. Even scholars.  Their views significantly deepen, become more sophisticated, more nuanced – but the views don’t change. (My sense of my former classmates at Moody – at least the ones I hear about – is that their views don’t even deepen or grow more sophisticated; they literally think pretty much the same thing as they did when they were mid-teenagers, only now with more conviction and passion).

The reason I find the whole matter sad is almost entirely personal (I guess sadness by definition is). My former evangelical friends and current evangelical debate partners think I’m an enemy of the truth, when I’ve spent almost my entire weird journey trying to come to the truth. And so far as I can tell, they haven’t. I’m not trying to be ungenerous, but it does seem to me to be the reality.

I’ll try to put it in the most direct terms here: how is it at all plausible, or humanly possible, that someone can question, explore, look into, consider the beliefs they were taught as a young child (in the home, in church, in … whatever context) and after 40 years of thinking about it decide that everything they were taught is absolutely right? The views *they* were taught, out of the sixty trillion possible views out there, are absolutely right? The problem with these particular views (of evangelical Christianity) is that if they are indeed right, everyone else in the known universe is wrong and going to be tormented forever because of it.

I know most Christians don’t think this: I’m just talking about this particular type of Christian. And they don’t seem to see how strange it is that they are right because they agree with what they were taught as young children. Yes, they don’t see it that way. They think they are right because they agree with the Bible which comes from God so they agree with God and I (and everyone else on the planet) disagree with God. But the reality is that this is the view they were handed as young kids.

Dr. Ehrman brings up a question that I have long pondered “why am I different from my former Evangelical friends, parishioners, and colleagues in the ministry?” I spent most of the first fifty years of my life in the Evangelical church. I attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college, married an IFB pastor’s daughter, and spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Yet, in November 2008, I divorced Jesus. Several months later, I sent a letter titled Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners to several hundred people who knew me well. From that point forward, I became known as Bruce, the Evangelical pastor who became an atheist. As a result of my deconversion, I lost scores of lifelong relationships. I learned quickly that what held our relationships together was the glue of fidelity to orthodox Christianity; that once I repudiated the central claims of Christianity and rejected the notion that the Bible was, in any way, an inspired, inerrant, infallible text, all pretense of friendship was gone. Today? I have two Evangelicals friends (and former parishioners), and even with them, I find that our relationships are strained due to their utterances on social media about the evils of atheism and not believing in Jesus. I ignore the things they post and say, but I do take it personally. And that’s it, for me, when it comes to connections to my Evangelical past.

I have known a number of Evangelical pastors over the years, and without exception, all of them say that they still believe and preach the truths we all held dear decades ago. Several of them have retired or left the ministry, but I have searched in vain for one ministerial colleague who lost his faith and is now an atheist or an agnostic. One is a lonely number, and I am it!  A handful of these “men of God” have moderated their Fundamentalist beliefs and practices, but the majority of them still hew to the old-time gospel. Many of these men still believe the same things they did when they were in Bible college over forty years ago. Dr. Ehrman has written numerous books about the nature of the New Testament text, and in doing so he has shredded the notion that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. (I don’t mention inspiration here because it is a faith claim, whereas claims of inerrancy and infallibility can be empirically tested.) Either these Bible-believers — most of whom believe the King James Bible is the perfect, preserved Word of God for English-speaking people — have never read one of Dr. Ehrman’s books or they have, ignoring, discounting, or denying what he had to say.

I remember having a discussion years ago with a dear friend and colleague of mine about the notion that the King James Bible was inerrant. I provided him a list of words that had been changed in the 1769 revision of the KJV. I thought that telling him there were word differences between the 1611 and 1769 editions would open his eyes to the folly of translational inerrancy. Instead, he doubled-down and said that he wouldn’t believe the KJV had errors even if I could prove it did!  This conversation took place in the late 1980s. Thirty years later, this man, of course, is no longer friends with me, and he still believes that the KJV is inerrant and infallible. And based on a perusal of his church’s website, he still holds to the same doctrinal beliefs he had when he graduated from a small Ohio-based IFB Bible college in the early 1980s. I fondly remember the conversations we had over lunch about hot topics such as: Calvinism, pre-wrath rapture, divorce, and countless other subjects. My ex-friend always struck me as a man who valued and appreciated knowledge and intellectual integrity. Yet, despite decades of reading books and studying the Bible, he remains unmoved from his Fundamentalist beliefs. Why is that?

As long-time readers know, my wife’s father graduated from Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — the same college Polly and I attended — and worked for and pastored IFB churches until he retired. Polly’s uncle, Jim Dennis, attended Midwestern in the 1960s and pastored the Newark Baptist Temple for almost fifty years. Jim’s children are all in the ministry. His two daughters married Pensacola Christian College-trained preachers, and his son — also trained at Pensacola — is a pastor. And now, Jim’s grandchildren are heading off to Bible college. The third generation is attending institutions such as The Crown College and West Coast Baptist College. As I look at my wife’s family, I want to scream. Why is it that no one can see the error of Fundamentalist thinking; that no one can see that Evangelical beliefs cannot be rationally and intellectually sustained; that no one can see the psychological damage done by Fundamentalist thinking? What made Polly and me different from her Jesus-loving family? Why could we see what they cannot?

I do know that many Evangelical preachers take great pride in believing the same things today that they believed twenty, thirty, or fifty years ago. It’s almost as if they believe that God (and their pastors/professors) told them everything they needed to know in their twenties, and there’s no reason to revisit past beliefs. It’s as if these preachers are proud of the fact that “ignorance is bliss.” It’s not that these men don’t read books, they do. However, a quick inventory of their libraries reveals that they rarely, if ever, read books by non-IFB or non-Evangelical writers. These preachers know what they know, and there’s no reason to read anything that might change their beliefs. In fact, anything that might cause the least bit of doubt is suspect and considered the work of Satan.

For whatever reason, I was never one to sit still intellectually. I blame this on my mother. She taught me to read at an early age and helped me learn that the library was my best friend. Even as an IFB pastor, I read authors who were on the fringe of the movement, and my reading expanded well beyond Christian orthodoxy in the latter years of my time in the ministry. As a pastor, I devoted myself to reading books, studying the Bible, and making sure my beliefs aligned with what I was learning. This process, of course, led to numerous theological and lifestyle changes over the years. The boy who enrolled at Midwestern at age nineteen was very different from the man who walked away from the ministry at forty-seven, and Christianity at age fifty. In between these bookends were thousands and thousands of hours spent in the study. Whatever my critics might say about me, no one can accuse me of not taking my studies and preaching seriously. Noted IFB evangelist “Dr” Dennis Corle told me that my ministry would be best served if I just spent a few hours a week preparing my sermons, and spent the rest of my time soulwinning. I didn’t follow his advice. I believed then that the people who called me “preacher” deserved to hear quality, educated, well-crafted sermons. I could do this and STILL have time for soulwinning. I have since come to the conclusion that Evangelicalism is littered with lazy preachers who have little regard for their congregants; who barf up pabulum week after week, rarely spending significant time in their studies. And why should they, I suppose? If you KNOW that your beliefs are straight from the mouth of God, there’s no need to read books that might challenge said beliefs.

Several years ago, a former church member wrote to me about my loss of faith. She was sure she knew what the problem was and how I could get myself back on the proverbial sawdust trail. You see, according to her, all those books I read over the years were the problem. If I would just go back to reading only the B-I-B-L-E, then my faith would somehow magically reappear. In her mind, I knew too much, and that what I needed was some good old Baptist ignorance. Did not the Bible say about Peter and John in Acts 4:13:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.

Peter and John were thought to be unlearned, ignorant men, yet their lives revealed that they were men who had been with Jesus. Surely, being known for having been with Jesus is far more important than being known as a learned, educated man, right?

And at the end of the day, I can’t unlearn what I know. I refuse to limit my intellectual inquiries. I refuse to rest on what I know today being the end-all, the zenith of wisdom and knowledge. No, in fact, leaving Christianity has shown me how much I don’t know; that despite the countless hours I spent reading books, I have not yet scratched the surface of human knowledge and understanding. The best I can say is this, “I know more today than I did yesterday.” And to quote Buzz Lightyear, “To Infinity and Beyond!”

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.

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.

Why Christian Fundamentalism is Hard to Shake

mindwipe men in black

Those who spent decades in Evangelicalism before deconverting often find it hard to completely rid the mind of Fundamentalist thinking. Wait a minute, Bruce, are you saying that Evangelicals are FUNDAMENTALISTS? Yes. Evangelicalism is inherently Fundamentalist. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) I have had countless Evangelicals attempt to persuade me that THEY are not Fundamentalists, but in the end, all they proved is that they were either liberal Christians masquerading as Evangelicals or — drumroll, please — FUNDAMENTALISTS! As the aforementioned post shows, all Evangelicals are theological Fundamentalists. Where Evangelicals tend to differ with one another is over what I call social Fundamentalism. For example, one Evangelical might be an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher. He has all sorts of narrow, defined social rules by which he governs his life. Another Evangelical used to be an IFB preacher, but now, PRAISE JESUS, he is the pastor of a non-denominational Sovereign Grace church. He has abandoned many of his former social rules and brags about being free to drink beer, smoke cigars, watch TV, and even cuss a bit. See, he says, I am NOT a Fundamentalist. Except, he still is theologically. He still believes the Bible is inspired and inerrant. He still believes in the exclusivity of Christianity. He still believes that there is one true God — his — and salvation is only through the merit and work of Jesus. He still believes that non-Christians go to Hell when they die, even if he doesn’t believe that there are literal fire and brimstone in Hell. His theological beliefs scream FUNDAMENTALIST! And even if he has distanced himself from the rules, regulations, and standards of his IFB past, if you press him you will likely find that he still has quite a long list of behaviors he deems “sinful.” Thus, I stand by what I said, Evangelicals are inherently Fundamentalist.  Now that we have that issue out of the way . . .

Evangelicalism is built on a foundation of religious indoctrination. From the cradle to adulthood, Evangelicals are repeatedly taught what are believed to the tenets of the One True Faith®. For those of us raised in the Evangelical church, these beliefs were pounded into our heads day after day, week after week, and year after year. Not only at church either. Many Evangelical children attend Christian schools or are homeschooled. My wife and I homeschooled all six of our children. Using Bibliocentric curricula, our children were bombarded with Evangelical dogma. In our home, there was no escaping the Evangelical Jesus. Imagine, then, what this immersive approach does to the minds of children, teenagers, and adults. That’s why it is almost impossible to reach Evangelicals who have been raised this way. As long as they are certain their beliefs are right and everyone else is wrong, there’s no God but theirs, and the Bible is a divine roadmap/blueprint for life, there is little anyone can do to reach them.

But, Bruce, you were once an Evangelical and now you are an atheist, so it is possible to reach Evangelicals, right? Yes, but not until certain things happen.

First, Evangelicals must entertain the possibility that they could be wrong. As long as they are certain their beliefs are true and all other beliefs are false, no amount of argumentation will reach them. If, however, they have doubts and questions, well, then, it is possible to reach them. Not probable, but possible.

Second, once Evangelicals have doubts and questions, they must be willing to seek answers outside of their churches and circle of Evangelical friends. This is a crucial point. Remember, Evangelical pastors and churches believe the antidote to doubt is faith. The solution, then, is to cling to the basics, believing that God will, in time, make all things known. And if he doesn’t? Doubters are encouraged to keep on believing until the day comes in Heaven when their faith shall be made sight. Years ago, I heard an IFB evangelist say that resolute faith was the solution to doubt; that there would come a day when doubters would be glad they believed. That day, of course, is after death, when supposedly Evangelicals will finally learn how right they were, and gleefully rejoice over the fact that the Bruce Gerencsers of the world are burning in Hell. In other words, there’s a big payoff coming, so hang on. Is that not what Jesus said in Matthew 10:22: he that endureth to the end shall be saved?

Third, doubting Evangelicals must be willing to lose everything in their search for truth. Doubters must not settle for pat answers, proof texts, or personal anecdotes. They must be willing to follow the path wherever it leads, even if it leads them away from all they have ever known. Countless Evangelicals sit in churches or preach from pulpits, their minds filled with questions and doubts. Unwilling to venture away from the safety of their churches and beliefs, they condemn themselves to lives of — dare I say it? — quiet desperation. Only when they are willing to do whatever is necessary to answer their doubts and questions are they ready to begin their journeys away from Evangelicalism.

Many readers of this blog understand the path I have sketched above. Often, it is a long, arduous, painful road. And even after we have successfully extricated ourselves from Evangelicalism, we find that lifelong Fundamentalist indoctrination leaves behind vestiges of our religious past. I left Christianity in November 2008, but eleven years later Christianity is still hanging on in the deep, dark recesses of my mind. Of course, Evangelical apologists tell me that those niggling doubts are the Holy Spirit, that God has not yet abandoned me. That’s one answer, I suppose, but a better answer is that I was indoctrinated for almost fifty years, and it takes time to fully flush one’s mind of Fundamentalist thinking.

For several years after I deconverted, I would, from time to time, worry about whether I was wrong about Christianity. In the still of the night, I would have thoughts about God’s judgment and Hell. Bruce, if you are wrong, you are going to fry, I thought. But, as time went along, I had fewer and fewer thoughts about “eternity.” Now, when such thoughts pop up, I chuckle and ignore them. I know my mind is littered with memories of past religious beliefs and practices, so I expect their appearance from time to time. They are no different from the thoughts I have about girls I dated when I was a teenager. Nothing more than relics from my past.

I am often asked by ex-Evangelicals, when do the nagging doubts and fears go away? I tell them, it takes time. If you were an Evangelical for your entire life, you can’t expect to have a mind free of past beliefs overnight. There are no Men in Black neuralyzer mind wipes available for ex-Evangelicals. That said, filling one’s mind with non-religious learning can help. New, fresh knowledge helps push from our minds past religious indoctrination. That’s why I always encourage Evangelicals to read Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books. Knowledge in, junk out. The more you read, study, and know, the less past beliefs will have a hold over you.

How about you? Are you an ex-Evangelical? Were you raised in the Evangelical church? Do you still have what I call, an Evangelical hangover? Do you still have doubts or fears at times? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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.

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.

Evangelical Twitterer Says God is Losing Patience with Me

a-message-from-god

Warning! Bucket loads of snark ahead.

Recently, I engaged in a short-lived Twitter discussion with an Evangelical man going by the handle atheismbut. His goal, I believe, was to sling lies, half-truths, and religious clichés at atheists. I am not sure what he hoped to accomplish by doing so, but I decided to play his game for a bit. After failing to drag me into a mud-fight, this man unfollowed me. He then refollowed me, and a day or so later unfollowed me again. He has now blocked me, so I am unable to see his tweets, respond to him, or notify him of this post.

This man doesn’t use his real name on Twitter, choosing instead to list his name as Atheism Be Damned. Catchy, right? *sigh* After unfollowing me the first time, this man sent me a direct message (DM). I had in our Twitter conversations called the man an apologist and a zealot, both of which offended him. His DM, however, only proved that my assessment of him was spot-on. Here’s what he had to say:

I’ll take this offline. I say what God directs. See, I absolutely do not care what people think of me, say about me or say to me. What I truly care about is what My Lord sees of me. His good and perfect will is what I care about. Here’s His word to you: (I have given you the time you sought. I have been patient. I have stood near all this time. I have not abandoned you. My patience wears thin son. The time has come to choose. Return to the anointing I have placed on you and fulfill the call or forfeit your inheritance. I wait no more.)

Bruce…as your brother created in His image…please stop what you are doing. Repent of your apostasy and declare your faith in Him for all to witness. Your 25 years of faithful service only counts if you reclaim it. Do not allow the enemy to steal what God has given to and through you. Sto [sic] listening to the lies of the world. There is no true wisdom in the fallen ones [sic] domain. Anyhow, that’s it. It’s on you sir. Your call. I pray and hope you make the right decision.

As is common among zealots, they believe that God speaks directly to them. This man certainly did, telling me that he just says what God tells him to say. And how can any of us know this to be? ‘Cuz he says so. He says that he doesn’t care what people think or say about him, yet for no good reason, he unfollowed me twice and blocked me. Evidently, he DOES care about what people say about him.

Supposedly, this man’s God gave him a message he wanted to be delivered to me. Here’s what it said:

I have given you the time you sought. I have been patient. I have stood near all this time. I have not abandoned you. My patience wears thin son. The time has come to choose. Return to the anointing I have placed on you and fulfill the call or forfeit your inheritance. I wait no more.

First, why didn’t God deliver this message herself, instead of using a middleman? Have you noticed that God always uses middlemen to deliver his missives; that he never, ever speaks directly to the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world? Come on God, just send me an email or a text message.

Second, I didn’t ask God for time to consider my past/present/future life. God and I have not spoken to one another since November 2008. Since then, I have concluded that the God I thought I was speaking to for fifty years was just a voice in my head; that I was the God I was speaking to.

Third, if God was standing nearby, I never saw him. This leads me to believe that Atheism Be Damned is seeing things — a common Evangelical malady. The only place this man’s God can be found is within the pages of the Bible — a bestselling storybook. Jesus said, seek and ye shall find. Sorry, Jesus, but everywhere I look you, are nowhere to be found. Perhaps Jesus is much like Baal in 1 Kings 18: 25-29:

And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under. And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.

The prophet Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal saying: Cry aloud: for he [Baal] is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. In modern English, Elijah mocked Baal’s non-appearance, saying” perhaps Baal is busy talking to someone else, taking a shit, on vacation, or sleeping. Elijah, of course, was right about Baal, but these same words aptly describe the non-existence of the Christian God too.

Fourth, Atheism Be Damned warns me that God is running out of patience with me; that he’s tired of me not listening to the Baalam’s donkeys he has sent my way. (Numbers 22:21-39) Again, if God is upset with me, he knows where I live. No need for Atheism Be Damned to deliver a message that God is supposedly capable of delivering himself.

Fifth, according to Atheism be Damned, God wants me to return to Christianity; to return to the “anointing” and “call” he has placed on my life. In other words, God wants me to return to peddling the Evangelical gospel — or else! Or else what?

Sixth, Atheism Be Damned claims some sort of familial connection with me — spiritually, I suspect. Sorry, but I have no interest in having such a relationship. I am quite content being a part of the fallen one’s family. That’s Satan/the Devil/Lucifer/Beelzebub for you unaware of Evangelicalese. If given a choice of spending eternity with the Atheism be Damneds of the world or spending eternity in Hell with Christopher Hitchens and my dear friend Steve Gupton, along with my wife, children, and the fine folks who frequent this blog, give me HELL every time. Sorry, but there’s nothing appealing about kneeling as if giving a blow job before God and worshiping for all eternity. Imagine how much fun Hell will be compared to the Evangelical Heaven. Who in their right mind, save those who have been scared with fear and threats of judgment, would want to spend every day and night for a million years singing praises to a narcissistic deity? No thanks. Bring on the whiskey, beer, and cigars, and let’s have a rip-roaring time fishing the Lake of Fire.

Finally, Atheism Be Damned says, he has said all that God intended for him to say, and now, it’s up to me to choose between the Evangelical God and reality. He signs off by saying, “I pray and hope you make the right decision.” I thought it was God who saved sinners? I thought that salvation depended on God giving sinners ears to hear and eyes to see. I tried to tell Atheism Be Damned that I was an apostate and a reprobate. I even quoted Bible verses from Romans 1 and Hebrews 6, proving that I am beyond hope; beyond the saving grace of God. Hebrews 6:4-6 says:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

I was once enlightened, having tasted of the heavenly gift and having been made a partaker of the Holy Ghost for over thirty-five years. I had tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, yet in November 2008, I fell away, renouncing Jesus and Christianity. Thus, according to the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, it is IMPOSSIBLE to renew me again unto repentance.

Hebrews 10:29 says of apostates like me:

Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?

Evidently, I believe the Bible more than Atheism Be Damned does. I am sure zealots shudder at my impudent treatment of their God and the Bible. However, I am not a believer, nor shall I ever be. The believing, preaching days are long gone. I have no intention of returning to slavery, to the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic of Egypt (Numbers 11) . I have found the Promised Land. Its streets are paved with reason and freedom, and an endless buffet feeds my every intellectual want and need. Why in the world would I ever want to become a Christian again?

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.

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.

Why Do Atheists Refuse to Believe in God?

there is no god

People frequently search for: Why do Atheists Refuse to Believe in God? and Google and Bing return this site as a possible answer to their question. I have never written a post with that exact title, so I thought I would do so today. Hopefully, this post will adequately answer those who want to know why atheists refuse to believe in God.

Before I can answer this question, I must first ask one of my own: which God? Which God, exactly, are atheists accused of not believing in? You see, when people ask such questions, they have a specific deity in mind. Most often, in the United States, the God of the question is the God of Christianity. But, even here, I have to ask, which God? Christians are hardly unified when it comes to God. Some Christians believe God is a triune being, others don’t. Ask Christians what’s required for salvation, and the answers are endless. The Bible may say, one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, but as casual observers can attest, Christians believe in and worship a variety of deities.

For the sake of argument, I choose the Evangelical God. Most liberal Christians don’t care whether atheists believe in God. Functional universalists, liberal Christians are more concerned with love, kindness, and good works, than they are checking the box next to the One True God®. Evangelicals, on the other hand, expend mountains of energy making sure that not only they believe in the “right” God, but that the rest of us do too.

Most Evangelicals genuinely believe that atheist unbelief is deliberate; that atheists are a stubborn lot who refuse to believe in the Christian God because of a (secret) desire to live in sin. Many Evangelicals believe that atheists are rebels at heart, people who refuse to submit to God’s rule and authority. Sometimes, Evangelicals say that atheists refuse to believe in God because they either hate him or are followers of Satan. Needless to say, most of what Evangelicals say and know about atheists is false. Atheist writers often go to great lengths to correct Evangelical mischaracterizations, yet they fail, thanks to preachers repeating them Sunday after Sunday in their sermons. Who ya’ going to believe, Pastor John or Bruce, the atheist?  Sadly, far too many Evangelicals believe their pastors speak on God’s behalf, so they blindly accept as fact whatever their pastors say to them. Granted, atheists can do the same. Misrepresenting the claims of Christianity is just as bad as not listening to the explanations atheists give for not believing in God.

There are a plethora of reasons why atheists refuse to believe in God. I can’t speak for all atheists, so all I can do is speak for myself and others like me. I was in the Christian church for fifty years. Twenty-five of those years were spent pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I have a thorough understanding of Christian theology and church history. I spent thousands and thousands of hours reading and studying the Bible. I read countless theology books. For many years, I focused my reading on Calvinistic authors from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. That said, my studies were deep, but not wide. I focused my reading on authors who fit in the Evangelical/orthodox box, never straying outside of the four walls of the box until the tail end of my ministerial career. Once I began to read authors outside of my peculiar rut, I started having questions about my beliefs and practices. These questions only increased after I left the ministry in 2005. I began to carefully reexamine the cardinal doctrines of Christianity. Once I concluded that the Bible was NOT the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God, my house of cards came tumbling down. Once the dust settled, I was no longer a Christian.

I tried to find some sort of stopping-off place as I slid down the proverbial slippery slope, but I found liberal Christianity and Universalism to be intellectually lacking. I so wanted to keep believing in God, but alas I couldn’t do so, and on the last Sunday in November 2008, I walked out of a Christian (Methodist) church for the last time. Several months later, I mailed out a letter titled, Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter was my coming-out, me saying to the world that I was no longer a Christian. For a time, I called myself an agnostic, but after having to repeatedly explain exactly what I meant by the word, I decided to claim the atheist moniker.

When asked why I am an atheist, I tell people two things. First, I no longer believe the central claims of Christianity. Second, Christianity no longer makes any sense to me. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) It’s not that I refuse to believe in the Christian God; as it is, I find Christian beliefs intellectually lacking. If I refuse anything, it’s to have “faith” and just “believe.” One former congregant told me after I deconverted that books were my problem; that I just needed to stop reading books and only read the Bible. If I would do that, all would be well. The problem, of course, with this line of thinking is that Christianity is a text-based religion; that the foundation of Christianity is the Bible. Thus, when I say I no longer believe the central claims of Christianity, what I am really saying is that I no longer believe the teachings of the Bible; I longer believe the Bible is divine truth; I no longer believe the Bible is God’s supernatural word to fallible men. Ultimately, the Bible is the problem, and that’s why I am an outspoken atheist today.

To Christians who ask, Why Do Atheists Refuse to Believe in God? I say this: it’s not that I refuse to believe in your God as much as I don’t see evidence for him/her/it. As an Evangelical Christian, my sight was blinded by faith and dogma. Today, my eyes are wide open. All it takes for me to believe in the Christian God is evidence for his existence and proof that the Bible is what Evangelicals claim it is. Bruce, you must have “faith.” Just believe! And therein lies the problem. If there is one thing I can’t do, it is have faith in a deity I have never seen or heard. But, Bruce, GOD IS REAL! To that, I respond, show me. I refuse to take your word for it. Surely, the evidence for the existence of the Christian God is overwhelming, right? John allegedly said of Jesus in John 21:25:

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.

Not even the world itself could contain the books that should be written about Jesus’ works, yet all we have is one contradictory compilation of books called the Bible. If Jesus is all the Bible says he is, surely there would be more evidence to support these claims. Instead, there’s a paucity of evidence, and it is this lack of evidence that keeps me an atheist.

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.

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.

Bitcoin For The Church: The Young Won’t Be Fooled

guest post

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

According to Pew Research and other polls, the Catholic Church in the U.S. is losing six congregants for every person who joins. The Church is also hemorrhaging members in other countries, even in such former bastions of Catholicism as Ireland and Spain. Moreover, for every person who formally leaves the church, others simply drift away. While the Vatican doesn’t seem overly concerned, as membership has grown exponentially over recent decades in Sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions, Church leaders in the U.S. and Western Europe (which, a century ago, was home to two-thirds of the world’s Catholics) are deeply worried. Those leaders, clerical and lay alike, are trying all sorts of things to keep members, particularly the young, in the fold.

If generals are always fighting the last war, leaders of institutions are always trying to woo the young with equally outdated notions of what appeals to them. During my childhood and early adolescence, churches—including the one in which I was an altar boy—started to offer “folk masses.” They were, apparently, a piece of the Church’s attempt to “meet people where they are,” which included the shift from Latin to vernacular languages in the liturgy. I can’t help but wonder whether offering masses said in English that included songs by Peter Paul and Mary actually enticed any young people to stay in the flock, but I recall feeling condescended to with the choice of music. After all, most adults’ ideas about what kinds of music their kids like are off by at least five years, if not more. As an example, I think of the relative who gave me a Monkees album for my fourteenth birthday, in 1972. (OK, you can do the math. But I’m a lady and won’t tell you my age! 😉

At least that relative understood other, far more important, things about me. That is why, even after that misguided gift, I never felt patronized. That relative, in short, was sensitive and sensible.

The same cannot be said for a group of folks who are trying to bring the Catholic Church into the 21st Century. At least, that’s what they seem to think they are trying to do. Cathio consists of “a team of well-established experts and leaders with deep roots in the Catholic Church.” Founded last year, the “Catholic enterprise” has just launched a platform “designed to enable all sectors of the Catholic community to benefit from lower costs and transparent payments,” says Cathio CEO Matthew Marcolini. Cathio advisor Jim Nicholson, formerly an ambassador to the Holy See, explains that in addition to the benefits Marcolini mentions, the Cathio platform will also facilitate “the connectivity of people of good will with good works.”

In other words, this Cathio platform is a sort of Bitcoin for the Catholic Church, which supposedly will make it easier for people to give money and harder for the church to hide its financial dealings. Call me a cynic, but I have my doubts as to whether either of those goals will be accomplished. The Cathio platform will almost certainly make it easier to move large sums of money, but from whom and to whom?

At least Marcolini and Nicholson are, at worst, misinformed about the good intentions of the flock and its herders. Another Cathio board member, however, shows that he is, at best, delusional. Then again, he’s merely confirming some of us have known for a long time.

That Board member once ran for President of the United States and has served as a US Senator from a state in which all of its Roman Catholic dioceses are part of a class-action lawsuit from—who else?—priest sex-abuse survivors. Rick Santorum says that, in addition to making financial transactions more efficient, the Cathio platform also offers the Church the opportunity to better engage young people. “Millennials don’t carry cash, they date on apps and watch on-demand entertainment. We have to be there, we have to learn from successful tech companies, and we have to make it easier for younger generations to engage with the Church.”

Now, I don’t know he defines “young people” and “younger generations.” Does he think they are synonymous with “millennials, who are generally defined as those born between 1981 and 1999? Well, I admit, at my age, 38-year-olds seem young, but I still wouldn’t call them “young people” or part of “younger generations.” Also, while millennials might conduct their lives on their electronic devices, they are using them to do things people of their age have always done: date, make travel arrangements, buy concert tickets and the like. Technology doesn’t seem to bring them back to practices or institutions they might have left behind. And, if anything, the “younger generations”—at least those younger than the millennials—won’t be as enraptured by technologies as millennials because they will have grown up with them.

But where Santorum really misses the boat, so to speak, is in his perception of who isn’t going to church anymore and why. Perhaps earlier generations stopped attending masses or services because they’d rather sleep in or go mountain biking on Sunday morning, or simply because they found those masses or services boring or irrelevant. But today’s young, and even middle-aged and older people, are more likely to be fed up with the church. In part because so much information is available to them so readily on their devices, they are less likely to accept the authority of religious leaders or the validity (let alone inerrancy) of the Bible. Even more important, they are more likely to have friends, relatives or co-workers who are LGBTQ or of a different religion or cultural heritage from what they grew up with. And young men know women who are doing the same work as they are, and possibly doing it even better.

Oh, and they’ve heard all about the sex abuse scandals. Perhaps they were victims themselves and were fortunate enough to get help at a relatively young age and be spared a lifetime of shame, self-loathing, substance abuse and unfulfilled and unfulfilling relationships and jobs.

In brief, if the Church has any hope of re-engaging the “younger generations” Santorum and others want to woo, it has to get rid of the predatory priests and everyone who covered up for and enabled them, for starters. (Actually, it would help even more if those priests, deacons and others didn’t molest kids at all, but that might be asking for too much too soon.) Then, it has to finally start respecting women’s bodies and minds. That means, among other things, supporting birth control and contraception and not punishing women when they come forward as rape victims. Finally, for once and for all, it has to end any and all bigotry, whether against LGBTQ people or anyone else.

If the Church is willing and able to do those things, it just might stanch the outflow of young people. Best of all, for the Church, such actions don’t require technology and wouldn’t cost the church anything. But I don’t expect the church to adopt such ideas: Even if the American and European churches become relics like Stonehenge, the church still has the Global South—at least until its young get smartphones and make gay friends.

The Fundy World Tales — Part One

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One of the questions I am often asked is how I went from being an Evangelical pastor to an outspoken atheist. It is not uncommon for people to drift away from Evangelicalism as young adults, only to return years later with spouses and children in tow. And it is not uncommon for adults in their 20s and 30s to become so disaffected that they abandon Evangelicalism, never to return. Religious trends in the United States show that an increasing number of Millennials are self-described “nones” — people who are atheists, agnostics, pagans, or indifferent towards organized religion. Study after study reveals that for U.S. people under the age of 50, religion increasingly plays a less and less important role in their lives. However, for people over the age of 50, particularly Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation, religion remains vital to their day-to-day lives. Once people reach the latter stages of life, they are less likely to abandon religious beliefs and practices. While older people certainly have questions and doubts about their chosen faith, thoughts about death and whether there is an afterlife often keep them from seeking answers for that which troubles them. One old southern gospel song talks about coming “too far to turn back now.” That sentiment is what keeps countless older Evangelicals in the pews, regardless of the level of their disaffection. Throw in the fact that being a member of a church is similar to being part of a flesh and blood family, and it is not surprising that many older people cannot or will not leave Evangelicalism.

By the time Evangelicals reach their 50s, they have experienced decades of religious indoctrination. How is it that otherwise smart, educated people can believe the earth is 6,023 years old and accept as fact absurdities such as the virgin birth of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead? How is it that otherwise smart, educated people can believe that an ancient religious text written thousands of years ago by sheepherders and fishermen was supernaturally written by God and is without errors or contradictions? How is it that otherwise smart, educated people can believe that Jesus walked on water, magically turned water into wine, walked through walls, and worked the miracles attributed to him in the New Testament? One of the thoughts people who deconvert from Evangelicalism often have is this: how in the world could I have ever believed such bat-shit crazy stuff? The answer is quite simple: intense, long-term religious indoctrination. Starting as toddlers in the nursery and going all the way to the silver-hair-dominated Senior Saints Sunday school class, older Evangelicals systematically and repeatedly have their beliefs reinforced. Told Sunday after Sunday for four, five, or six decades that their beliefs are the “way, truth, and life,” is it any surprise that older Evangelicals are certain that they are right, and are unwilling to entertain anything that challenges said beliefs?

Here in rural northwest Ohio, we have what are commonly called “weed trees.” These weeds grow quickly and are almost impossible to kill. One of the reasons for their hardiness is that they have rugged, deep roots. The only way to kill them is to remove the roots. I have had to dig down four feet to reach the root end of some weed trees. Cutting them off at ground level takes care of the immediate problem, but the following spring they return. Older Evangelicals are quite similar to weed trees. Their religious roots run deep, and unless they are willing to dig deep into the ground to remove the tap root, their worldview will continue to flourish. Thus, the older Evangelicals become, the less likely it is that they will ever abandon their beliefs. Why, then, did I, at the age of 50, walk away from the ministry and later file for divorce from Jesus? What made me different from other older Evangelicals?

Let me clear. I was in no way “special” or of superior intellect. That said, I can look back over my 62 years of life and see how certain circumstances and experiences set me on a path that ultimately led to atheism. While the ultimate reasons for my deconversion were intellectual in nature, I would be amiss and less than honest if I did not say that other considerations played a part in my loss of faith. Live long enough and you will experience things that make a mark upon your life. Some of these things make deep, lasting, and even painful scars on our psyche. I know, at least for me, these scars altered my thinking and the trajectory of my life. Many of you know what I am talking about. Your lives were on a certain path, yet something or many somethings happened that changed your direction. If you had asked me in 2005 if there was anything that could happen that would result in my wife and me walking away from Christianity, I would have laughed in your face. You are kidding, right? I would have said, I may be frustrated with Christianity as a whole, but I love Jesus and I would never, ever leave or forsake him! Yet, here I am in 2019, explaining to thousands of blog readers why I am now an apostate, a godless heathen, a hater of God, an atheist — people I once considered no better than murderers and child molesters. Who in their right mind would abandon a way of life that had given him purpose, meaning, and personal satisfaction? Yet, on a late November day in 2008, I walked out the door of the church house, never to return. Thousands of sermons preached, yet I would never again stand before a group of people and say, Thus saith the Lord . . . Fifty years of Sundays dominated by worship, singing, praying, and preaching, yet now I sleep in on the Lord’s Day, enjoying the comfort of godless living. From my teen years until age 50, I read and studied the Bible, humbly putting into practice that which I learned. Today, I live a life governed by self and the humanist ideal. How did I get to the place where the Bible no longer mattered to me? Is my life a cautionary taleas IFB preacher Ralph Wingate, Jr, said it was? Is my life a warning to Evangelicals who dare consider walking a similar path? Perhaps. I would like to think, however, that my story is in some way helpful to people with doubts and questions about Christianity; that perhaps in a small measure some people might find the account of my life encouraging or inspiring. I can’t control how people respond to my writing. All I know to do is tell my story, leaving people to do with it what they will. I hope you will find this series instructive.

The Fundy World Tales will be a cogent examination of my life, from my ignoble birth in Bryan, Ohio in 1957 to my present blessed life as a husband, father, grandfather, and atheist. From this series will FINALLY come my book. I am “feeling” my mortality these days more than in times past, so if I intend to leave behind for my grandchildren a written accounting of my life, I best get to it. Here’s to hoping I complete this series before death calls my name.

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.

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

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

The Road to Atheism is Littered with Well-Read Bibles

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One of the charges Evangelical apologists love to level against atheists is that they don’t really know what the Bible says and teaches; that atheists are ignorant of that which they criticize. While it is certainly true that some atheists know very little about the Bible, the same can’t be said of ex-pastors such as myself, John LoftusDan BarkerDavid Madison, and the members of the Clergy Project. Nor can it be said of countless atheists who were formerly devoted followers of Jesus Christ; former Evangelicals who daily read and studied their Bibles and attended church every time the doors were open; former Evangelicals who devoured books on Christian theology and loved to talk about the teachings of the Bible. Such people know the Bible inside and out. Their paths from Evangelicalism to atheism are littered with well-worn, dog-eared Bibles. (Please see the From Evangelicalism to Atheism series.)

Many Evangelical apologists believe that only through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can one truly understand the teachings of the Bible. Thus, a one-time Evangelical such as Dr. Bart Ehrman may have an academic understanding of the Bible, but he can’t really “know” the depths and intricacies of its teachings. This line of argument, of course, is an attempt to dismiss out of hand criticisms of the Bible by atheists and other non-Christians. Evidently, the moment I said I was no longer a Christian, everything I learned about the Bible during the fifty years I spent in the church and twenty-five years I spent in the ministry disappeared in some sort of supernatural Men in Black mind wipe. Thoughtful Evangelicals realize the absurdity of this argument and refrain from using it, but alas many Evangelical zealots aren’t “thoughtful.” In their minds, atheists are the enemies of God, reprobates, apostates, and haters of God, the Bible, and Christianity. No matter what we might have known in the past, now that we are followers of Satan, our minds and intellectual processes are ruined. No atheist can know as much about the Bible as a Spirit-filled Evangelical, or so they think anyway.

Does it really take the Holy Spirit to know and understand the teachings of the Bible? Of course not. And it is absurd to argue otherwise. The Bible is a book, no different from the QuranBook of Mormon, or Huckleberry Finn. Any claims made for its supernatural nature require faith, a faith that is unnecessary to have when it comes to understanding the Bible. If a person can read, is he or she not able to understand what the Bible says? Don’t Evangelicals themselves admit this fact when Gideons hand out Bibles and non-Christians are encouraged to read the gospels? If the teachings of the Bible cannot be naturally understood without some sort of Holy Ghost magic, why challenge unbelievers to read the wrongly-called Good Book?

I suspect the real issue is that when atheists read the Bible, they are free from the constraints of doctrinal statements, systematic theologies, and hermeneutics. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard about reading the Bible came from Dr. Ehrman, who suggested reading each book of the Bible as a stand-alone text. Let the author speak for himself. Of course, such readings of the Bible destroy attempts by Evangelical apologists to harmonize the Bible — to make all the disparate, contradictory parts “fit.” Go back and read the first three chapters of the book of Genesis without appealing to parlor tricks used to make the text mesh with what Trinitarian Evangelicals believe about God and creation. A fair-minded reader might conclude that there are multiple gods. An excellent book on this subject is The Evolution of God by Robert Wright.

Over the course of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I read the Bible from cover to cover numerous times. I spent thousands of hours reading and studying the Bible, and thousands of more hours reading theological tomes. Even today, a decade removed from the last time I darkened the doors of a Christian church, I still have a mind brimming with Bible verses and things I learned as an Evangelical pastor. One of the ironies of the health problems I have, with its attendant memory problems, is that I tend to have problems with short-term memory, not long-term. Thus, I can’t remember that recent Christopher Hitchens quote I read, but I can remember a quote by Charles Spurgeon or John MacArthur from decades ago. Believe me, there are days when I wish I could flush my mind of all the religious nonsense that clutters up its space. So much wasted mental real estate . . .

The reasons I divorced Jesus are many. I have spent countless hours writing about why I am no longer a Christian. That said, the primary reason I am an atheist today is the Bible. As I began to have questions and doubts about the central claims of Christianity, I decided to re-read and study the Bible, determining what it was I really believed. I found that many of my beliefs were false or grounded in narrowly defined theological frameworks that could not be sustained intellectually. Once I let the Bible speak for itself, my Evangelical house came tumbling to the ground. I tried, for a time, to find a resting spot that allowed me to hang on to some sort of Christian faith. Alas, I did not find these things satisfying intellectually. Eventually, my slide down the slippery slope landed me where I am today — a committed agnostic and atheist.

At the very least, Evangelical apologists should grudgingly admit that many Evangelicals-turned-atheists know the Bible as well they do. Now if we could get apologists to know and understand atheism/agnosticism/humanism as well as many ex-Evangelicals know the Bible, that would be great. People such as myself have a distinct advantage over many Evangelical apologists. We have lived on both sides of the street. We have read atheist authors and Christian ones. That’s why, when an Evangelical wants to argue with me about the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, I ask them, have you read any of Bart Ehrman’s books? If they haven’t, I don’t waste my time with them. Their problem is one of ignorance, and until they are willing to do their homework, there’s really no hope for them.

I will forever, until dementia or death robs me of my mind, remain a student and reader of the Bible.  My reasons for doing so are different today from what they were when I was pastoring churches, but my goal remains the same: to help people see and understand the truth.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 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.

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.

I Wish Evangelical Christians Would Quit Treating Me Like an Abused Puppy

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The telling of my deconversion story brings all sorts of responses from Evangelical Christians. Some of my critics comb through my life with a head-lice comb, hoping to find something that invalidates my past life as a pastor. If they can find doctrinal error or heresy, this allows them to declare that I was a false prophet, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, someone who never was a True Christian®. These interlocutors bring me before the tribunal of their peculiar beliefs, asking questions meant to suss out my true spiritual nature. If they can determine that I was never saved, it allows them to dismiss my life out of hand. People wanting to discredit me in this manner almost always find sufficient evidence to warrant them saying, Bruce Gerencser was never a Christian. (Please see Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser.)

Other Evangelical Christians, unable to square my past devotion to Jesus with their once-saved-always-saved soteriology, critically examine my life inside and out, looking for signs of trauma. I often get emails from Evangelicals apologizing for whatever psychological harm was caused to me by churches and other Christians. They wrongly think that I am not a Christian today because of some hurt in my past; that I left the ministry and Christianity because of hurtful things done to me by mean-spirited Christians. These “loving” critics — armchair psychologists — view me as they would an abused puppy. I pee all over the carpets of my life because someone or a group of someones repeatedly beat me with a rolled-up Columbus Dispatch. My deconversion is the result, then, of the harm caused to me by these unloving, unkind Christians; and that what I really need is to find a church congregation that will scoop up my broken spirit and sweetly love me back to Jesus. Ack! Gag me with a spoon!

Early on, I framed my loss of faith in purely intellectual terms. I knew that admitting that there was an emotional component to my deconversion would give people cause to say that the only reason I wasn’t a Christian is that I got my feelings hurt. I wanted people to see me as an intellectual who weighed the claims of Christianity and found them wanting. And of course, that’s exactly what I did. The primary reason I am an atheist today is because I came to believe that Christianity was false; that God, Jesus, and the Bible were not what Christian preachers and apologists claimed they were. (The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) Once the Bible lost its authority and hold over me, I was free to rationally and skeptically examine, analyze, and judge its teachings. I owe much to Dr. Bart Ehrman for showing me that what I had been taught about the Bible and what I had preached for decades was a lie. Once the Bible was rendered human and errant, the slide down the slippery slope of unbelief was quick, leading to a sixty-six-car pile-up at the bottom of the hill. Try as I might to find solace in Christian liberalism or Christian Universalism, I found these way stations intellectually lacking. In the end, agnosticism and atheism were the only labels that honestly and adequately explained my beliefs or lack thereof.

Today, I can look back over the past two decades and I can see that there was certainly emotional harm caused to me by fellow Christians, colleagues in the ministry, and Evangelical family members. The twenty-five years I spent in the ministry brought me in contact with numerous Jesus-loving abusers and sociopaths. By the time I left the ministry in 2005 — three years before I divorced Jesus — I was burned out. I was tired of having to deal with hateful, mean-spirited, self-centered church members. I was more than tired of church business meetings and board meetings that were little more than bloody, violent boxing matches sandwiched between invocations and benedictions. By the time I reached the end of my career, all I wanted to do was show up on Sundays and preach and then go home. The ministry had extracted a tremendous amount of emotional capital from me, a debt that has taken almost a decade of secular counseling to recover from. That said, I am not an oft-beaten puppy cowering in the corner of life. I embrace and own the past damage caused by Christianity, and I, with weeping and lamentations, bemoan the psychological harm I caused to my family and church congregants.

Today, I now know that the reasons I am not a Christian are legion. To focus on the psychological aspects of my loss of faith alone paints an incomplete picture. For those determined to view me as an abused puppy, all I can do is try to explain through my writing how and why I left my marriage to Jesus and became an atheist. It’s my story after all. Who better to tell it than I, right?

Are you an Evangelical-turned-atheist? Do you have former Christian friends and family members who attempt to psychoanalyze your deconversion? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

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.

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.

Does Loss of Faith Lead to Divorce?

grieving-the-loss-of-faith

Cartoon by David Hayward

Over the past twelve years, I have corresponded with numerous Evangelicals who find themselves in “mixed” marriages after their loss of faith. Having entered marriage according to the Biblical principle found in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

these unbelievers find themselves at odds with still-believing spouses. “What will become of their marriages?” these former Evangelicals ask. Having grown up in a religion that condemns mixed marriages AND divorce, they fear the consequences of losing their faith. Many of the Evangelicals who contact me suffer in secret, keeping their deconversions to themselves out of fear of hurting their spouses, children, parents, and close friends. I know a number of atheists/agnostics who attend Evangelical churches every Sunday because they fear what might happen if they dared to testify publicly that there is no God.

In April 2015, I wrote a widely read post titled, Consider the Cost Before You Say “I am an Atheist.” Here’s some of what I said:

If I had to do it all over again would I do it the same way? Would I write THE letter? Probably. My experiences have given me knowledge that is helpful to people who contact me about their own doubts about Christianity. I am often asked, what should I do? Should I tell my spouse? Should I tell my family, friends, or coworkers?

My standard advice is this: Count the cost. Weigh carefully the consequences. Once you utter or write the words I AM AN ATHEIST you are no longer in control of what happens next. Are you willing to lose your friends, destroy your marriage, or lose your job? Only you can decide what cost you are willing to pay.

I know there is this notion “Dammit I should be able to freely declare what I am” and I agree with the sentiment. We should be able to freely be who and what we are. If we lived on a deserted island, I suppose we could do so. However, we are surrounded by people. People we love. People we want and need in our life. Because of this, it behooves (shout out to the KJV) us to tread carefully.

This advice holds true today. Saying to believing spouses, children, and friends, I AM AN ATHEIST, can and will bring immediate negative responses. I always caution people to carefully and thoroughly weigh the costs and consequences of coming out of the proverbial closet. The Bible in Luke 14:28-30 gives some pretty good advice when it says:

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.

Many unbelievers conclude that it is better for them to be closeted atheists than risk blowing up their marriages. But even then, these atheists/agnostics run the risk of being exposed; they run the risk of their spouses finding out the truth about who and what they really are. One man I know attended an IFB church with his wife and children every Sunday. To his spouse, family, pastor, and fellow church members, he was still a Jesus-loving, sin-hating, Bible-believing Christian. Outwardly, he was a good example of someone who loved Jesus. (Despite what Evangelicals say, it is possible and easy to fake being a Christian.) His deception could have gone on forever had his wife not found his secret stash of books by authors such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Needless to say, the shit hit the fan. This man remains married, but it is doubtful his marriage will survive once his children graduate from high school. The chasm between him and his wife is so large that it is unlikely they can find a way to bridge the two sides.

I know several couples who have been in mixed marriages for decades. They found ways to make their marriages work, choosing to compartmentalize their lives for the sake of their significant others. Several years ago, I ran into the spouse of one these couples at Walmart. I had been her pastor for a number of years, and her atheist husband — a delightful man — would attend church with her from time to time. I asked her about her marriage, “if you had it to do all over again, would you have married Bob?” She quickly said, “NO!” I asked her, “Why?”  She replied, “My faith is very important to me and there’s a whole side of my life I can never share with Bob.” Viewing their marriage from afar, I see a couple who stills love one another, but I also see a relationship where each of them has a life separate from the other.

I also have corresponded with atheists/agnostics in mixed marriages who quickly found out that their spouses loved God/Jesus/Church more than they loved them. One close family member went through a divorce several years ago. At the time of their wedding, he was a faithful, Jesus-loving Evangelical. His wife, on the other hand, was a nominal Christian. Over time, he moved away from his Evangelical roots, eventually embracing unbelief — at least when it comes to organized religion. His wife, however, ran headlong into the arms of what is best described as emotional, touchy-feely, syrupy, gagme-with-a-spoon Evangelicalism. While he would admit that the reasons for their divorce are many, one man, Jesus, played a central part in their breakup. Given a choice, his wife chose Jesus over him.

Evangelical apologists have all sorts of explanations for why people deconvert. Few of their reasons, however, match what really goes on when a devoted follower of Jesus begins the process of deconversion. Most atheists/agnostics will tell you that their losses of faith were long, arduous, painful processes. I know mine was. The moment I wrote my coming-out letter, Dear Family, Friends and Former Parishioners, my entire life came tumbling down. Emotionally, I was a wreck. I knew walking away from Christianity was the right thing to do, but I grossly underestimated the carnage that would lie in its wake. I had followed the evidence wherever it led, and despite attempts to stop my downward slide on the proverbial slippery slope, I had concluded that the central tenets of Christianity were untrue. My unbelief forced me to rethink and rebuild my life from the ground up. What did I really believe? What were my moral and ethical values? What kind of husband and father did I want to be? The questions were many, some of which linger to this day. So, to Evangelicals who believe former Christians, without suffering, pain, and agony , just woke up one morning and said, “I am an atheist,” I say this: “you don’t know what the fuck you are talking about.”

This rebuilding process, of course, does not take place in a vacuüm. People who are married when they deconvert wrestle with questions about the future. They ponder what kind of marriages they will have if their spouses are still Christians. They wonder how being in a mixed marriage will affect their children. No longer believing that there is life after death can and does alter how one views the world. If a former Christian’s marriage was already troubled before his deconversion — yet he stayed married because of what the Bible teaches about divorce — he often questions whether he wants to remain married to his Evangelical spouse. Since there is only one life to live and then you are d-e-a-d, it’s fair and honest to ask yourself as an unbeliever: “If my Evangelical wife remains a devoted follower of Jesus, do I really want to spend the rest of my life married to her?” Many times, the answer is no and divorce soon follows.

I know a handful of Evangelicals-turned-atheists who took a wait-and-see approach to their spouses and marriages. These former Christians believed their spouses were, at the very least, open to discussing the reasons for why they deconverted. Taking a low-key approach allowed them to have non-threatening, honest discussions about God, Christianity, and the Bible. More often than not, these discussions bore fruit, leading to their spouses’ later deconversion. Sometimes, it took years of discussions (and book recommendations) before their spouses came to see the light, so to speak. These former Evangelicals believed that their marriages were worth saving if at all possible. This is more likely the case for couples who have been married a long time. It is a lot easier to walk away from a marriage of two or five years than it is to walk away from a marriage of twenty or thirty years.

People often look my forty-year marriage to Polly and think that we are some sort of shining example of what is possible post-Jesus. I warn them, however, that our journey from Evangelicalism to unbelief is ours alone; that far too often believing spouses remain so despite the deconversion of their husband or wife. Quite frankly, Polly and I were lucky. Just the other day we were talking about what might have happened had either of us stayed true to Jesus. We both concluded that our marriage might not have survived such upheaval and disunity had one of us still believed. Fortunately, as has been the case for most of our marriage, we walked hand in hand as our former lives as followers of Jesus went up in smoke. While there was a time when I was the out-and-proud atheist and Polly was the secret agnostic, we are closer now when it comes to the extent of our unbelief. Our personalities are different, so it stands to reason that how we live out our godlessness in public and around family is dissimilar too.

Are you in a mixed marriage? Did you go through a divorce after you deconverted? Are you a closeted atheist who still attends church with their spouse/family? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

What I Lost and Gained When I Divorced Jesus

freedomI grew up in the Evangelical church. Saved at age 15 and called to preach a few weeks later, every aspect of my life was dominated by the teachings of God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word — the Bible. In the fall of 1976, at the age of 19, I packed up my worldly belongings and drove north to enroll in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I soon meet a beautiful dark-haired girl who would become my wife. This coming July we will celebrate forty-one years of wedded bliss.

In the spring of 1979, we packed up our meager household goods and moved to Bryan, Ohio — the city of my birth. Thus began my ministerial career, a career that would take me to seven churches in three states. In 2005, I left the ministry, and three years later I filed for divorced from Jesus. Our divorce was final in November 2008. Since that time, I have not darkened the doors of a Christian church, save for funerals and weddings.

I was fifty years old when I walked away from Christianity. Few men with as much time invested in their ministerial careers as I had walk away from the church/Jesus. I know several pastors who no longer believe in the Christian God, yet are still actively serving churches. They have too much invested in their careers to quit now. They hope to quietly make it to retirement age without anyone discovering their unbelief. In my case, I was never good at playing the game, so when I reached the place where I no longer believed the central tenets of Christianity, I walked away. (Please see Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners.)

Choosing to walk away from Christianity cost me greatly. I lost most of my friends, and all of my colleagues in the ministry. I was brutally savaged by men I once considered friends. I received nasty emails from former congregants, and several pastors took to their pulpits to preach against Bruce, the Evangelical pastor-turned-atheist. (Please see Jose Maldonado Says I Never Was a Christian and Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser.) Everything I accomplished in the ministry was called into question. A man whom I considered my closest friend accused me of destroying my family. One colleague even came to my home, hoping that he could get me to reconsider my loss of faith. (Please see Dear Friend.)

I had always known that Evangelicals tended to shoot their wounded and eat their own, so it should have come as no surprise to me when I was brutally attacked, labeled an apostate, and branded a Bible-denying hater of God. The wounds of those who once called me friend caused great pain and heartache. I have not, a decade later, recovered from the loss of these friendships. I know, of course, that fidelity to certain beliefs was the glue that held our relationships together, but I am still, to this day, surprised at how quickly my friends turned against me. While I have certainly made a few new friends, none of these relationships measures up to the ones I once had with fellow pastors. I currently live in the land of God, Guns, and Republicans. Atheists, agnostics, and humanists are far and few between, and many of them, out of economic and social necessity, hide in the shadows of their communities. Most of my friends are of the digital kind. I am grateful for having such friends, but I yearn for the kind of friendships I had as a pastor.

Imagine rebooting your life at age 50. Not an easy task, to be sure. Leaving Christianity forced me to rethink every aspect of my life; from my relationship with Polly and our children to my moral and ethical standards. This, of course, wasn’t easy. I had been religiously indoctrinated for most of my adult life. You don’t just flip a switch and think differently after deconverting. It is a long, arduous process, one filled with emotional pain and contradiction. It’s nigh impossible to completely wash from your mind decades and decades of Evangelical indoctrination. Even today, I still have moments when I have what I call “Evangelical hangovers”; moments when my thoughts do not align with my humanistic beliefs. The journey is never complete or without challenge.

While it would be easy for me to focus totally on my losses post-Jesus, that would paint an inaccurate portrait of my life. Yes, I wish I had more friends, but I am willing to go it alone, if necessary, to maintain intellectual integrity. You see, Christianity demanded that I bow and worship its God; that I follow its holy book; that I obey its teachings and standards. Once I was freed from the authoritarian rule of the Bible, I was free to chart my own course. And this is the one thing atheism gave to me: FREEDOM. I no longer fear God’s judgment or Hell. I am free to follow my path wherever it leads. For Evangelicals, life is all about the destination, whereas for atheists, life is all about the journey. Evangelicals focus on eternity, viewing this present life as preparation for life to come. Atheists, however, believe this life is the only one we will ever have. There’s no afterlife, no second chances; this is it! (Please see the series From Evangelicalism to Atheism.)

For Evangelicals, life is scripted by God. The Bible is a roadmap of sorts, a blueprint for how people are to live. As a humanist, I see a wild, woolly world before me. Who knows where I’ll end up! Who knows what tomorrow might bring. Each morning, I get up and do what I can to make the most of the day. No worries about parsing my life through the strictures of the Bible. No worries about God judging or chastising me. Thanks to Loki, I am free!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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