Tag Archive: Leaving Christianity

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

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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If generals are always fighting the last war, leaders of institutions are always trying to woo the young with equally outdated notions of what appeals to them.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?

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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.

Grandpa, You Were a Pastor?

bruce gerencser 1990's

Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, Early 1990’s

As many readers know, my wife, Polly, and I have six children. Our oldest child will turn forty in May, and our youngest will be twenty-six. We have two distinct families: the oldest three, a space of five years, and then the youngest three. The first group grew up in a strict Fundamentalist Baptist pastor’s home. Economically, during their childhoods, we lived from hand to mouth, and sometimes the hand didn’t quite reach. The latter grew up in a less-strict, more inclusive Evangelical pastor’s home. Economically, things greatly improved — especially from the late 1990s forward. What remained the same for both groups was the fact that their lives revolved around the church and my work as a pastor. It is in this context that my six children know me.

I left the ministry in 2005, and deconverted from Christianity in 2008. For the first time, my children, then ages fifteen through twenty-nine, experienced family life that did not revolve around the church. For the first time, Dad wasn’t the law by which they had to live. In 2009, I sent a letter to family, friends, and parishioners, that said, in part:

I have come to a place in life where I can no longer put off writing this letter. I have dreaded this day because I know what is likely to follow after certain people receive it. I have decided I can’t control how others will react to this letter, so it is far more important to clear the air and make sure everyone knows the facts about Bruce Gerencser.

I won’t bore you with a long, drawn out history of my life. I am sure each of you has an opinion about how I have lived my life and the decisions I have made. I also have an opinion about how I have lived my life and decisions I made. I am my own worst critic.

Religion, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life, from my youth up. My being is so intertwined with religion that the two are quite inseparable. My life has been shaped and molded by religion and religion touches virtually every fiber of my being.

I spent most of my adult life pastoring churches, preaching, and being involved in religious work to some degree or another. I pastored thousands of people over the years, preached thousands of sermons, and participated in, and led, thousands of worship services.

To say that the church was my life would be an understatement. As I have come to see, the Church was actually my mistress, and my adulterous affair with her was at the expense of my wife, children, and my own self-worth.

Today, I am publicly announcing that the affair is over. My wife and children have known this for a long time, but now everyone will know.

The church robbed me of so much of my life and I have no intention of allowing her to have one more moment of my time. Life is too short. I am dying. We all are. I don’t want to waste what is left of my life chasing after things I now see to be vain and empty.

….

I know some of you are sure to ask, what does your wife think of all of this? Quite surprisingly, she is in agreement with me on many of these things. Not all of them, but close enough that I can still see her standing here. Polly is no theologian, she is not trained in theology as I am. She loves to read fiction. I was able to get her to read Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus and she found the book to be quite an eye-opener.

Polly is free to be whomever and whatever she wishes. If she wants to start attending the local Fundamentalist Baptist church she is free to do so, and even has my blessing. For now, she doesn’t. She may never believe as I believe, but in my new way of thinking, that is OK. I really don’t care what others think. Are you happy? Are you at peace? Are you living a good, productive life? Do you enjoy life? Yes, to these questions is good enough for me.

I have six children, three of whom are out on their own. For many years I was the spiritual patriarch of the family. Everyone looked to me for the answers. I feel somewhat burdened over my children. I feel as if I have left them out on their own with no protection. But, I know they have good minds and can think and reason for themselves. Whatever they decide about God, religion, politics, or American League baseball is fine with me.

All I ask of my wife and children is that they allow me the freedom to be myself, that they allow me to journey on in peace and love. Of course, I still love a rousing discussion about religion, the Bible, politics, etc. I want my family to know that they can talk to me about these things, and anything else for that matter, any time they wish.

The best thing I ever did for Polly and our children is to say to them, you are free. Choose your own path. At the time, I received quite a bit of criticism for doing this. “How dare I cut them loose and ask them to choose their own path when I had, for the most part, dictated their path for them!” While I understood where my critics were coming from, I saw no way to handle things other than setting everyone free. It was time for everyone to fly on his or her own, much like the fledgling kicked out of the nest,

Each of my children has plotted his or her own course. None of them stayed in the Evangelical church, and neither are they all atheists. Some of them are religious/spiritual, and others are indifferent towards religion. Now, this doesn’t mean I agree with all of the choices they have made. What’s different is that they no longer have to conform to Evangelical beliefs/practices/morality/ethics. They don’t have to bow to Bruce Almighty’s authority and interpretation of the Bible. They are, in every way, FREE. Of course, the same goes for their parents. In the Gerencser family, freedom is a two-way street. We may disagree on specifics, but we put our family relationships first. Too bad we didn’t choose this way of life sooner, but crying over the past is a waste of time. What we have is the present and each and every day ahead until we meet our end.

bruce gerencser 2016

Bruce Gerencser, 2016

Polly and I are blessed to have twelve grandchildren — ten girls and two boys — ages nine months to eighteen years. Our grandchildren only know us post-Jesus, post-church, post-ministry. They have never seen us pray or read the Bible, attended church with us, nor heard me preach. They know Nana as a woman who makes them awesome food and works at Sauder’s Woodworking. Grandpa they know as the man who takes lots of photographs and comes to their games. They know nothing about our previous lives as Pastor and Mrs. Bruce Gerencser. They know nothing about our travels and the churches I pastored. We bought our home in 2007. This is the only house our grandchildren will ever know us to live in. And that’s okay. We hope to live long enough for our grandchildren to grow up, become adults, and have families of their own. We hope that they will have wonderful memories of spending time with Nana and Grandpa. We hope after we are gone that they will drive by our home and have fond memories of playing in our big jungle of a back yard. Maybe they will wistfully say to their own children, “I remember when Nana and Grandpa planted this tree, that bush, or flowers.” Regardless, unlike our children, they will NOT have any memories of Grandpa preaching and Nana playing the piano. That part of our life is foreign to them. All of them, in time, will stumble upon this blog. They will read stories that deeply resonate with their grandparents and parents, but have no connection to them.

A couple of days ago, one of my sons required a letter from me stating that he had been baptized. He and his wife are becoming more active in church, and he wants to become a member. While I was typing up the letter, my son explained to his oldest daughter that I used to be a pastor and that I had baptized him at nearby Harrison Lake. She quizzically looked at me and said, “Grandpa, you were a pastor?” I replied, “Yes. I was for twenty-five years. Someday, when you are older, we will talk about it!”  My granddaughter pondered for a moment what I said, and then moved on to other things. Someday, she will know the story of the life and times of Bruce Gerencser. For now, I am content to leave things as they are.

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.

I’ve Always Lied to Tell the Truth, A Guest Post by Brian

guest post

Guest Post by Brian

Reality is a complicated matter. Three people who appear to have been in the same place at the same time can easily produce three completely different stories about it. Words, then, have a pretty tough time, as they are the means by which we share, as simply or not, as we can, our Reality. I’ve always lied because I learned in the beginning that telling the bald truth was punishable, that it brought pain. Lying allowed me to avoid, or at least delay, the pain.

I was born into a family that served the Lord. First and foremost, beyond all else, the Master was served. It was Jesus-God who gave me life as he had given life to my parents, and of course my siblings. In the beginning, God . . . He created and sustained all and everything, me included.

How was I to know, when my mother pushed me from her womb, that all this was a big fucking lie from beginning to end? She was pregnant for the third time and when she attempted to sit up after delivering, the doctor told her to lie back down: “Please, please lie down! We aren’t finished yet. There’s another one coming . . .”

So it was that either myself or my brother joined his twin that day in 1952.

My mother had already given birth to my eldest sister a few years before, a toxic birth that put her into convulsions at home. Dad called an ambulance and they rushed her to the hospital and filled her with narcotics, severely compromising the whole process and leaving her firstborn brain-damaged, with a failure to thrive. She did appear somewhat as a normal baby but never developed as time passed and eventually had to be taken into full-time care at a provincial hospital. That was after my older brother was born more than year or so later, a robust baby who demanded what all babies do: mommy’s attention. After another pregnancy (me and my brother) it was clear that my older sister would not be getting the care she needed at home so the decision was made to give her over to provincial care. She lived more than fifty years, completely compromised, never able to speak or walk or use her arms. She died tragically in her fifties when a care worker, having routinely raised her in a sling for a bath, lowered her into scalding hot water. She did not die immediately but suffered third degree burns over two-thirds of her body. It took her a few days to finally give in and pass away.

Merciful Jesus. God in Heaven. My father had been preaching for a few years when my sister was born, and he trusted God with the experience of his fathering a toxic child whose life would be lived totally in-care, helpless. So, fifty-some years on, when she was lowered into the bath that would be her last, he said in the midst of his horrible pain, that God’s will is indiscernible, unknowable, and that we must realize that all things work together for good for those who know the Lord.

I was an adult when I lost my sister in this crazy and tragic accident, and I kind of went nuts over it. How could this ever happen? It was wrong, every way I looked at it. I phoned my mom and gently told her that I was calling a lawyer because . . . because . . . because . . . She listened and said that they would follow up. As a result of the death, new provincial legislation was passed to make it less likely that another killing would occur. My parents were given some money for their suffering and I claimed a settlement for myself, for a short term of therapy to deal with the loss.

But let me get back closer to my beginnings as a twin in the early fifties. When my brother and I were born, we had each other’s names. I was him and he was me. When my maternal grandma came to visit with my Baptist preacher grandfather, she changed our names, saying that my brother should be me and I should be my brother. My poor mother, after having remained unaware she was carrying twins, didn’t, by that time, give a rat’s ass who had what name and so I became my brother that day and he, me. This has always seemed to me somehow terribly significant, terribly symbolic of something or other but, as I have tried to share, reality is a mystery, a lifelong theater.

Let me leave this conundrum and go back a bit further, to approximately the ‘20s — the 1920s. It began on farms, both my mom and dad growing up fairly near one another, in rural Southern Ontario, Canada. My dad was the son of a farmer who had himself a large family and then eventually had to work off the farm to scrape together a living, leaving my barely-a-teen dad with the farm work. There were brothers but they found ways to leave so that dad was left with chores he did not enjoy at all. This might be partly a lie, as he refused to confirm or deny it. He would not talk to me much about his early farm life, only to say it was not good and that as he manned the horse-driven plow, the only thing that kept him going was searching the plowed earth as it was turned over, searching with all his might for Indian arrowheads. (Much of that part of the province was settled long before the white man by Natives, then called Indians, and dad collected many arrowheads in his hours of labor.) The years I am referencing here were pre-WWII, and life consisted of farm work, basic schooling and church attendance.

It was the church that offered my dad his freedom, and he enrolled in a Bible school to become a Baptist preacher. I am not sure what became of the farm when he made the choice to leave for the ministry, but I think it managed to carry on for several more years before it was given up. I don’t think my grandfather ever returned to work the land in any big way.

My maternal grandfather was a Baptist preacher, so mom grew up in a preacher’s home. The decades before the WWII were full of school and church life for my mom. She was a middle child and had both brothers and sisters. She left a diary from her high school days that my brother found among her things after she died last year and the diary revealed a young woman with strong feelings and a well-trained skill in writing around dangerous subjects and not revealing outright that which would be sinful and wrong. (My dear mother taught me to lie, I would say, taught me survival. My father withheld to survive, kept quiet and moved carefully.) In her diary, mom made it clear that any boy interested in being her friend in school would be vetted first by daddy and judged for his worthiness primarily by how much faith he showed and lived for all to see. People who did not attend church were unlikely to be good company at all and though they were part of the crowd at public school, they were always viewed through a Christian lens and kept at a safe distance.

Mom knew dad in those school days. He was a Christian, she thought for sure, but he was apparently not very social and kept pretty much to himself and a few other young men. (I think his time was fairly dominated with farm chores!) Even in those early mentions of my father in my mom’s diary, he revealed himself a loner and my mom applied her romantic wishes to that fairly blank slate. Dad fit the bill because he was a Christian. She thought he was smart-looking and when he chose ministry, mom set her sights on him. She made her own way toward independence by choosing the nursing profession, a perfectly acceptable choice for a young, unmarried Christian woman. It was a life of service that was acceptable and somewhat approved in the church, especially as it became clearer that war was coming again. Dad finished bible school — about three years of study. It was a rigorous teaching in Protestant doctrine with proud Baptist colors.

This was a time after the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy that swept America and resulted in Canadian Baptists choosing one side — the Convention — or the other side — ours, the true faith of the Union: those who held faithfully to the matters of inerrancy of scripture, the Atonement, the Resurrection and so forth, those essentials which, should they be abandoned, would lead us all down those dark path to eventual Satanic Atheism. In earlier Canadian history, we believers endured other splits too, and my dad clung to the Calvinist leanings of the old Regular Baptist days in his Bible school training. I surmise this from my memory of listening to his sermons, not from his sharing with me, because he refused to talk about his life. I made it clear to him by my rebellion as a teenager that I did not have a sincere interest in serving the Lord and so would use any information he shared with me regarding his history and ministry work, as fodder to attack what was not to be attacked but worshipped and adored.

Well, I certainly was morose and angry as a teen, depressed quite a bit and unable to feel free. My dad, being an isolated man, found it easier and better all around to remain a loner. He couldn’t help me — I knew that early on. He never really had a best male friend in his adult life and spent his time alone, reading. He collected religious books so that our simple home life was lined with them — cases and cases of mostly religious books, with a bit of literature thrown in, along with the popular cowboy writing of the time: Zane Grey and some Louis L’amour. I never did, and never have, read the cowboy stuff. We had a huge sculpted-cover, gold-page-edged Bible that was a job to even lift and marvel over. It had pictures too. I saw Daniel in the lion’s den!

Dad joined the air force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, just before the war and at the tail end of Bible School. He served on the prairies as an airplane technician, testing planes that had been serviced there. He did ground testing and hardly flew, though as a child he had spent time cutting out newspaper pictures of planes and collecting them in a scrapbook we discovered among his things as he aged. After his service, he married mom and they went into ministry and raised six kids.

My dad’s first church was one that he built himself, with the assistance of other men of faith. Dad had become a fine carpenter in his farm days and his skill was utilized fully in this new vocation. The church in its heyday had over a hundred members in a town that never broke ten thousand in population.

Mom worked as a nurse to supplement a lousy living in the ministry. I’m quite sure my dad never felt free to ask for a decent wage, nor would he believe God wanted him to ask. Instead, we lived by faith, and Mom’s hard work as a nurse.

It is my belief that God hates women and wants them eternally punished. I know this from watching how women are treated in churches, even those who call themselves modern and open. (I jest of course about God’s hate, because as far as I have seen, there is not now and never was a God. There are myriad concoctions called Gods invented by myriad people over time but I cannot believe in any of them.) As for women and God, things have changed for the better over the years but there are plenty of throwback Baptists and others out there busily holding to the Bible and routinely abusing women because they are well aware of God’s judgment on females from Eden onward. True love is following God’s will first and foremost. That which today I call open and blatant abuse of women, throwback religious men call the only true love in the world, the love of God for the weaker sex.

Even though dad took full advantage of God’s hatred for women, he did not relish bullying behavior. He believed in corporal punishment because he understood the scriptures as supporting it but he rarely exercised the option. Dad was not a physical abuser. He was not a man who raised his voice much beyond the pulpit, or even in the pulpit. My father’s failings had to do with what I would call ‘lack in life,’ what he did without, how he coped by being alone, being a loner.

I think of preachers as people who are communicators and who work on language and expression in order to convey the “message,” but my dad was not a communicator. He did not willingly talk much at all and preferred silence. He adored words — don’t get me wrong — words on a page that he could devour in silence. He never listened to music and had only an acceptable singing voice, not pleasing but not tone-deaf. Mom played the piano, somewhat unevenly, as her family grew, and she sang well too.

But what am I trying to do here by sharing these bits and pieces, this overview of life before and then during the time when I came along? It’s complicated. Some of it is probably lies I have told to survive. Reality is fluid and so we aim at a moving target in sharing our lives.

Mom and dad died last year, not more than a month or so between their exits into the ether. Dad was already quite demented but still smiling sometimes and it took him several weeks to realize mom was gone. He would look at me and his forehead would furl: “Mom’s gone to heaven now?” he would ask again and again and I would tell him that yes, she was gone, that she had died. Reality is a mysterious thing; have I said that too much? So how did he just up and die himself once the truth of mom’s passing was set in his head? Was his death, so close to hers, a fluke? Reality is not a simple thing to keep up with and those who say the Bible is a book God made simple enough for all to understand merely display their ignorance, and perhaps their inner wish that they had a clue about it. They are liars, startlingly similar to myself.

I am now retired, several years to seventy and an atheist without Jesus and his promise, and without his dad too. Being honest is not easy because I learned to lie in childhood to survive. I learned to parrot the correct words. I learned to hate myself for being bad.

I’m a ways down life’s road now and still too much a cliché, still not enough myself, not able to simply be. I watch children, little children being themselves and I marvel. I see in their free flight why we harm them, clip their wings and send them to training school.

I don’t believe in magic Jesus and sometimes wonder if more than half of the historical Jesus ever really lived at all. I wonder if there was a guy who drew attention, was bright and said some remarkable things, then drew the attention of bullies and was killed by them . . . and became a blank slate for humankind to write on. Perhaps the Bible is mostly graffiti. A lie too. Perhaps the Bible lies like I do or — no — better, much, much better.

But the Bible does not bear much attention in my life now and lacks pragmatic purpose, to say the least. We live in a time when our politics have become comic to the point of tragedy. Unless we can move beyond delusion and belief, we cannot allow ourselves to love our neighbors because we do not allow a basic love of self. There. I said it. I have played my card. We are not the selfish and fallen but the hated and abandoned and we finally have ourselves to answer for that lack. At what age in our lives do we finally become the author of our lives?

The man behind the curtain is finally only that one we see when we glance in a mirror.

I have come to believe that religion is not helpful. It is, as is often suggested, misguided and subject to human error. But that is because it is invented by imperfect beings who are always changing. Religion, or Belief, is not something that saves, but that depletes and spends uncontrollably, without reasonable balance. It demands that we admit we are basically evil and cannot help ourselves, and it has such power in our lack, the baggage of lack we carry with us, that we fully entertain outright abuse in our lives. We will listen to the first commandments and not balk and cry out a healthy “Bullshit!”

One of the most compelling proofs of our learned lack is the fact that children who are routinely beaten cannot even stand with themselves in their heart of hearts and have learned, through our lack as their elders, to take responsibility for the actions of the abusers who injure them. We have not been able as people to engender in our kids a basic right to own themselves and be free of taking responsibility for those who harm them. A beaten child always admits he is bad and so get beaten more. Children almost always share this when asked about being harmed. They believe they caused it and if they could only be better, then it would stop. We teach this in church every bit as much as we teach it from the bottom of a bottle of whiskey, every bit as much as an adult who punches to the head of a six-year-old child. Men do this harm far more than women, but it is not about gender, but about self-respect. Religion has been around far longer than any of us, and yet it has not accomplished the most fundamental and integral outcome. It has not modeled for us a basic, life-giving self-respect. It has co-opted our language and redefined words to fit “scriptural”’ ends but it has not looked after our innocence. We have been abandoned, and so have learned how to abandon ourselves. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Mohammed. Thank you God. There are so many religions that we have religions containing religions ad nauseum and all of them requiring our sustenance, our food and money, and all of them depleting our respect for ourselves and others.

Religion lies for a living. All religion. All Gods. Magicians are liars too but far more honest than any Pope. They trick your eyes and ears and make an honest living from it. Religion purports to be something other than what it is in pragmatic reality. It purports to save while in fact it spends, hoards and depletes. It purports to define and display the essence of love while it remains full of falsehood and deception.

My mom and dad loved me, loved all six of us kids with all the heart they could muster and it was good. It was far better than most experienced nearby us and I am forever thankful for what they accomplished. My parents loved us as all parents love, to the utmost, to the very best they can do, with everything they have . . . .

Now it must be acknowledged that everything my parents had included what they lacked in their own lives. I see as I get older that my father and much of his family suffered depression, untreated. My loner father treated his condition by becoming a preacher and my mom coped with being a Christian woman by marrying a preacher like her own father. The same subterfuge of her high school diary was perpetuated by finding a like structure in adulthood to carry on carrying on.

Both my parents were given over to God and in turn, they gave over their children. Of their five remaining children, only two were able to turn away from religion at all. The rest carry on the tradition with some variations in flavor but the basic ingredients the same old same old . . . .

And my journey? I was saved as a youngster, barely school-age, terrified and having nightmares about hellfire. I believed in God because I was told to and that was all there was as far as I could see. I learned at a very young age that I was a sinner and had to keep asking for forgiveness because I could hear swear words in my head and I stole some candy or did any of a million innocuous things that proved I was bad.
As I grew older, I grew more depleted and more sullen. I felt such anger, a generic misery that I understand now as my own body protesting the harm being done by our way of life. But then, back then I understood none of it. As a teen, I rebelled as much as I could, smoking dope and listening to Hendrix and Dylan. I tried like hell to drop out but could not quite accomplish it and always ended up at home again feeling dragged along and horrible.

Then, I figured it out. I realized that Jesus needed me to be myself and to follow only him and not any religion or way. I began my own private church, Brian’s church, and began to cherry-pick scriptures to be comfortable, to be able to still have Jesus and yet be done with the church as I knew it.

Honestly, really, in our heart of hearts, don’t we all invent our own church and our own God when we choose to throw the Faith dice? I think we do. I recently heard somebody say there are as many Christianities as there are Christians and that strikes me as on the mark.

As I grew tired with my own church inventions, I changed them up and continued on. I stopped attending churches except for the odd wedding or funeral. I found myself spending less time — less and less time — obsessing about these matters and even one day entertained the idea that I might not really believe in God at all. It was only for a second, though, and it haunted me so that I steered clear of it for years.

One day more than halfway through my life and long after I had fallen in love, married and had kids, I said quietly to myself, “I don’t believe.” Again, as before, I prepared to feel a blow to my sternum and to be flooded with fear. But nothing happened. Somehow, in the interim, in time passing, Elvis left the building and I stood there quite alone with my breath. The world glowed as I stood there and I tried it again: “I really just plain don’t believe.” Silence, normal pregnant silence, and the world was alive in my eyes. I stood there and felt a huge weight gone, just gone. Holy Jesus! This is honesty. I am being honest!

I once wrote a found-poem from a McDonald’s paper placemat. The placemat was targeting children and was simply numbered instructions that led the child to form a smile on their faces. At the end of the poem, the last point was the statement: “You are Happy!” I was indeed. Honest truth . . . I had been released!

I am free to honor myself and to honor innocence in all things. I declare wholeness and that we are not fallen creatures. I declare abandonment of restrictions on our vision, our journey in life. I declare that what the whole church has been unable to accomplish for centuries, Norm Lee has accomplished! (Norm was a teacher, an abused child almost killed by his dad, beaten to a pulp. He went on to dedicate himself to being a dad who would never harm his kids, never punish them but stay in healthy relationship with them and let them take the lead in their own lives. I had the great good fortune to know this man, who wrote a book called “Parenting without Punishing.”)

One person can change the direction of the world by saying the buck stops here. I will not harm as I was harmed. The basic message, perhaps, of Jesus’ Beatitudes was to live fully. When one strips away the references to the time and to a God, one is left with a very symbolic expression: feel truly and with passion. Honor yourself and others. Be blessed with life. Perhaps the Christ did just that, I don’t know, and if he said, Follow me, he meant live your life free and clear, without fear and without harming yourself and others. Be Norm Lee.

Know what I mean? Reality is a mystery to me.