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Tag: Morality

Doing Good Because it is the Right Thing to Do, Not Because Jesus is Watching

Imagine for a moment that you find a wallet someone has accidentally dropped on the ground. In the wallet are the person’s ID, credit cards, and $300. What would you do?

I suspect most of us would attempt to track the person down and return the wallet. Why? Because it is the right thing to do.

The Christian Post reported a story about an anonymous Christian finding a wallet and returning it to its rightful owner. The Christian did the right thing and he should be commended for doing so. If you have ever lost your wallet or ID, you know how stressful and gut-wrenching the experience is, especially in this day of identity theft.

The problem I have with the Christian Post story is the motivation the Christian had for returning the wallet. Instead of it being a good, decent, honorable thing to do, the Christian had a “Biblical” reason for returning the wallet.

The Christian attached a Post-it note to the wallet:

returned wallet

The Christian who returned the wallet stated that the following verses were his reason/motivation for returning the wallet:

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. Luke 10:27

He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. Luke 16:10

That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth. Psalm 83:18

In other words, the Christian’s act of decency and kindness was all about God.

From my seat in the atheist pew, it seems to me that religion and the Bible complicate the issue. Would the Christian have returned the wallet if these verses weren’t in the Bible? Would he have returned the wallet if he weren’t a Christian? While these questions might be viewed as trying to turn a good deed into an argument, I think motivations are important.

This story is connected quite closely to arguments over morality and ethics. Most Christians think morality and ethics require religion — theirs — and a supernaturally written book, the Bible. In their thinking, they do good because of their religion and its teachings. It is God that keeps them from being bad people. If it weren’t for Jesus, the world would be overrun with thieves, rapists, and child molesters.

It is not enough, then, for an act of goodness to be performed just because it is the right thing to do. Instead, it is God who gets all the praise and glory because, without him, humans would do bad things. In other words, without God, the Christian would have kept the wallet.

If the Christian had left a Post-it note with these two verses:

And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. Luke 6:31

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matthew 22:39

. . . perhaps I would see this story differently.

All of us should treat others as we would want to be treated. Isn’t that a universal moral value?

I commend the Christian for returning the man’s wallet. It was the right thing to do, whether the man was a Baptist Fundamentalist, an Episcopalian, or an atheist. Would an atheist have returned the wallet? I’d like to think so. But I know among atheists and Christians alike, there are those that would have viewed the lost wallet as an opportunity to steal. Finders keepers, losers weepers, right? As we all well know, religious belief does not inoculate a person from being a bad person. (Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.) The religious and godless alike have the capability and power to do bad things. Why? Because bad people do bad things. A narcissistic view of the world often motivates people to only think of self. When presented with an opportunity to return the lost wallet, the narcissist is only concerned with what he can gain. In this case, he gains the money that is in the wallet.

We should all strive for a higher ideal regardless of our religious belief. As a humanist, I try to treat others as I would want to be treated. If I lost my wallet, I hope someone would return it and I would gladly offer the finder a reward. Far more important than lost cash is lost ID. And I know if I found a person’s wallet, I would return it to the owner. How do I know I would do this? Because that is what I have done in the past. It is the moral/ethical code I live by. I know how panicked I get when I can’t find my wallet in the house, and I can only imagine how stressed out I would be if I knew I had lost it at a store or parking lot somewhere.

Here’s the point I want to make — good people do good things. Yes, sometimes good people fail and might, at times, do bad things, but the arc of their lives is toward good. The same can be said of those who lack moral and ethical character. (Think Donald Trump) They may, at times, do good things, but the arc of their lives is toward bad. It is not religion that determines goodness or badness, though it certainly can, for some people, play a part. What determines the kind of person we are is our character. People with good character do good things like returning a lost wallet. People with bad character, don’t.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Because I Can

because I can

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Evangelicals are primarily known for the things they are against: abortion, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, premarital sex, pornography, socialism, atheism, humanism, liberalism, Democrats, and former U.S. president Barack Hussein Obama. The further you move to the right of the Evangelical scale, the longer the list become. Growing up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, I heard countless sermons about this or that “sin.” Years ago, I heard a preacher deliver a sermon based on the text, neither give place to the devil. After reading the text the preacher spent the next forty or so minutes listing all the things he was against. (Please see An Independent Baptist Hate List.) Most of the preachers of my youth believed the following were sins: women wearing pants/shorts, men having long hair, dating couples have any physical contact before marriage, listening to rock music or contemporary Christian music, going to the movie theater, using non-King James version translations, and cursing. Awful sins, right? As a teenager, I believed that my pastors were against e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. I am sure the teens of the churches I pastored said the same about me.

One of the first challenges I faced after leaving Christianity was determining a moral/ethical framework by which to govern my life. Let’s face it, having an inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible as the moral arbitrator makes life easy. No need to think about or ponder certain behaviors. God said ____________________, end of discussion. Lost on people who think this way is that it is not God speaking. If sermons are anything, they are preachers giving their personal opinions about what this or that Bible verse means. Opinions vary wildly, leading to one group of preachers saying particular behaviors are sinful and other groups of preachers saying they aren’t. They fight among themselves, each certain that their interpretation of an ancient religious text is infallible.

When I first deconverted, I was blessed to have for a friend a charismatic pastor who had also told Jesus to take a hike. He and I spent countless hours together, talking about Christianity, the Bible, and the ministry. We both laugh at how we acted and reacted back then. My friend got his ear pierced. He also got a tattoo. One day we were out and about and we saw a sign in a church parking lot that said, Parking Reserved for Pastor. A photograph was taken of middle fingers extended as we stood in front of the sign. I know, quite juvenile. But remember, Evangelicalism robbed us of much of our lives. We came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s. While our non-Evangelical schoolmates were enjoying free love, drugs, and rock and roll, we were in church praising Jesus. So in many ways, we are living our teenage and young adult years now. We are experiencing things that our contemporaries experienced forty plus years ago.

Now that Jesus, the Bible, and the screaming voices of preachers no longer guide us, we are free to do what we want. Several months ago, a Fundamentalist family member asked me why I was growing my hair so long. My response? Because I can. And when they see me again and notice that I am now sporting a bald head again, I am sure they will ask me why I shaved my head. The answer is the same. Because I can.  The answer to every behavioral question is the same. Because I can.

Now, lest Evangelical zealots say I am preaching nihilism or licentiousness, I want to be clear: just because I can, doesn’t mean I will. What I am saying is that I don’t need a deity, a religious text, or pompous, self-righteous Evangelical preachers to tell me how to live. Using reason and common sense, I weigh each and every choice and decide accordingly. Well, most of the time, anyway. I can, at times, be impetuous, making decisions without taking time to weigh the consequences. Most of the time, I survive my impetuous behavior with nary a scratch. There are, however, those times when making rash decisions has had poor outcomes. When this happens, hopefully I learn from it. If my poor judgment harmed someone else, I do my best to make things right.

I think I will end this post here. Why? Because I can. 

Do your Evangelical family and friends “question” some of your post-Jesus decisions? Have you ever said, because I can? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

The Disconnect Between what Christians Say and How They Live

christian hypocrisy

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Several years ago, Chikirin asked:

Jesus said that if someone asks for your coat, to give them your cloak as well. Shouldn’t Christians therefore not only cater gay weddings, but cater gay birthdays as well? Why are Christians so stinting and stingy when Jesus said to give without thought of reward? Why are Christians always outraged when they are supposed to have peace and meekness?

The short version of this question is this: why are many Christians hypocrites?

Evangelicals frequently demand that everyone live according to their interpretation of the Bible. Evangelicals believe that morality is derived from the teachings of the Bible — God’s absolute standard for behavior. Pastors spend significant amounts of time preaching sermons on living the Christian life, reminding parishioners of what God expects of them. Despite all the preaching, videos, books, and conferences on living the Christian life, Evangelicals are unable to live according to the teachings of the Bible.

In Galatians 5:22,23, the Bible says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

How many professing Christians do you know whose lives demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit? Supposedly, Evangelicals have the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16), and the Holy Spirit lives inside of them (1 Corinthians 3:16), teaching them everything necessary for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Yet, there is no difference between the way Evangelicals and the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world live their lives. Why is this?

Christian apologists will likely say that many “Christians” are not True Christians®; that they have a cultural form of Christianity. When pressed to give a clear statement of what a true Christian life looks like, most apologists quickly appeal to “grace” or suggest that every Christian is a work in progress. Sometimes, apologists say non-believers are hypocrites for demanding Christians live according to the teachings of the Bible when they themselves are not willing to do so. However, it is Evangelicals who claim the high moral ground, and in doing so, they shouldn’t be surprised when non-Christians expect them to practice what they preach.

How many Christians do you know who live according to Galatians 5:22,23 and Matthew 5-7, the sermon on the mount? I suspect you’ll have a hard time coming up with anyone who actually lives their life according to these two passages of Scripture.

How about pastors? In 1 Timothy 3, Paul gives the qualifications for being a pastor. Note that he says a pastor (bishop/elder) MUST be, not hope or aspire to be:

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be

  • blameless,
  • the husband of one wife,
  • vigilant,
  • sober,
  • of good behavior,
  • given to hospitality,
  • apt to teach;
  • not given to wine,
  • no striker,
  • not greedy of filthy lucre;
  • but patient,
  • not a brawler,
  • not covetous;
  • one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;  (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
  • Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
  • Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Do you know of ONE pastor who meets these qualifications? I certainly didn’t when I was a pastor, and neither did any of my fellow pastors.

Now, to answer Chikirin’s question. Christians are human just like the rest of us. They are capable of doing good and bad, and on most days their lives are an admixture of good, bad, and indifferent behavior. They are not morally/ethically superior, regardless of what their pastors, churches, and Bible tells them. They are, in every way, h-u-m-a-n. When the news reports stories of Christian malfeasance, infidelity and criminal behavior, we should not be surprised. Humans can, and do, fail morally and ethically. None of us is without fault and failure.

Christianity would be better served if believers dismounted the moral high horse, returned it to the barn, and joined the human race. As long as they continue to think they are morally superior and demand others live according to the moral teachings of the Bible, they should expect to be mocked and ridiculed when they fall off the horse.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Atheists are Children of the Devil

atheists mike stanfill
Cartoon by Mike Stanfill

Jesus said to a group of Jews:

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (John 8:44)

It is not uncommon for Evangelical zealots to tell atheists that their real father is the Devil, old Satan himself. What naturally flows from this line of thinking is that atheists live lustful, Satanic lives; that atheists are liars because there is no truth in them. No matter how atheists live; no matter how atheists treat others; no matter how kind, decent, thoughtful, and loving atheists might be; they are, without exception, the lying, lustful children of Satan.

The only way atheists can change their family designation is to be adopted into the family of God through the merit and work of Jesus. No matter what atheists say or do, Evangelicals consider them enemies of God and the one true faith. If only atheists would admit the existence of the Christian God, pray the sinner’s prayer, and vote Republican, they would, with open arms, be welcomed into God’s blood-washed family. Because atheists refuse to bow to Jesus, they are forever condemned not only to the Lake of Fire, but also to being disparaged and lied about by so-called men of God.

All atheists can do is live according to the humanist ideal. Today, I bought groceries at the local Meijer. The store was jammed with panicked, irrational shoppers. The shelves were empty of items such as toilet paper, paper towels, bleach, hand sanitizer, Lysol, water, and, oddly, chicken. Yes, chicken. There wasn’t a piece of fresh chicken in the entire store. Checkout lines were backed up, and over the store intercom came messages asking shoppers to please be patient. The humorous part of me want to scream, “WHERE’S THE CHICKEN? I WANT SOME FUCKING CHICKEN RIGHT NOW!” I said nothing, thinking to myself about how irrational many people are when facing a crisis. I have seen this kind of panic numerous times over my sixty-two years of life on planet Earth. Seems a little more intense this time.

As I was pulling out of my handicapped parking space, I noticed that a young woman had dropped a 24-pack of diet Coke and the cans were rolling everywhere in the parking lot. Several people drove by the frustrated woman. I put my Ford Edge in park, told Bethany I’d be just a minute, and got out and helped the woman retrieve her pop cans. She sheepishly said, “thanks.” I replied, “No problem. Have a good night.” And with that, I got in my car and drove off to the gas station before heading home to Ney, nine miles away.

If, as an atheist, I am, to quote the song by George Thorogood and the Destroyers, bad to the bone, why didn’t I selfishly ignore this woman’s plight and drive away? Here’s why: I am a decent person. When I see someone in need of help and I can help them, I do so. I ALWAYS do so. Picking up pop cans in a store parking lot for someone is a trivial act of kindness, but what kind of person would I be if I didn’t at least try to help? Virtually every day I am given opportunities to help and be kind to others. I want to go through life treating others as I would want to be treated, hoping that when it is Polly or my daughter trying to chase down pop cans, someone will stop and help. Small acts of kindness make all the difference in the world.

When Evangelicals try to tar me with the Satan brush and say that I am a vile, evil man, an enemy of God, a hater of all that is good, in my mind I just laugh and give them the finger. Sometimes, I even speak my mind. I know the cut of my character. I know what kind of man, husband, father, and grandfather I am. I don’t care one whit what the Bible or Evangelical preachers say about me. Instead, to quote an Evangelical children’s church song:

This little (atheist) light of mine,

I’m going to let it shine.

This little light of mine,

I’m going to let it shine.

This little light of mine,

I’m going to let it shine,

Ev’ry day, ev’ry day,

Ev’ry day, ev’ry day,

Gonna let my little light shine.

I don’t need religion to be a good person, and you don’t either. In fact, I would suggest that Fundamentalism often turns people into arrogant, hateful, belligerent, self-centered assholes. Remember, the goal of Evangelicalism is to exclude; to separate the saved from the lost, the sheep from the goats, the sinners from the saints. How can such exclusion not lead to bad behavior? Humanism, on the other hand, says, “we are all in this together.” There’s no Heaven, no Hell, and no God coming to deliver us. It is up to each of us to do what we can to make the world a better place to live. And, may I humbly say, it begins one pop can at a time.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Quote of the Day: Secularists are a Threat to Traditional (Christian) Moral Order

evangelical support for donald trump

[U.S. Attorney General] Barr gave a fiery speech denouncing the threat to America posed by “militant secularists,” whom he accused of conspiring to destroy the “traditional moral order,” blaming them for rising mental illness, drug dependency and violence.

Consider for a moment how inappropriate it is for Barr, of all people, to have given such a speech. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion; the nation’s chief law enforcement officer has no business denouncing those who exercise that freedom by choosing not to endorse any religion.

And we’re not talking about a tiny group, either. These days, around a fifth of Americans say that they don’t consider themselves affiliated with any religion, roughly the same number who consider themselves Catholic. How would we react if the attorney general denounced Catholicism as a force undermining American society?

And he didn’t just declare that secularism is bad; he declared that the damage it does is intentional: “This is not decay. It is organized destruction.” If that kind of talk doesn’t scare you, it should; it’s the language of witch hunts and pogroms.

It seems almost beside the point to note that Barr’s claim that secularism is responsible for violence happens to be empirically verifiable nonsense. America has certainly become less religious over the past quarter-century, with a large rise in the number of religiously unaffiliated and growing social liberalism on issues like same-sex marriage; it has also seen a dramatic decline in violent crime. European nations are far less religious than we are; they also have much lower homicide rates, and rarely experience the mass shootings that have become almost routine here.

Nonetheless, William Barr — again, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, responsible for defending the Constitution — is sounding remarkably like America’s most unhinged religious zealots, the kind of people who insist that we keep experiencing mass murder because schools teach the theory of evolution. Guns don’t kill people — Darwin kills people!

So what’s going on here? Pardon my cynicism, but I seriously doubt that Barr, whose boss must be the least godly man ever to occupy the White House, has suddenly realized to his horror that America is becoming more secular. No, this outburst of God-talk is surely a response to the way the walls are closing in on Trump, the high likelihood that he will be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.

Trump’s response to his predicament has been to ramp up the ugliness in an effort to rally his base. The racism has gotten even more explicit, the paranoia about the deep state more extreme. But who makes up Trump’s base? The usual answer is working-class whites, but a deeper dive into the data suggests that it’s more specific: It’s really evangelical working-class whites who are staying with Trump despite growing evidence of his malfeasance and unsuitability for high office.

— Paul, Krugman, New York Times, God Is Now Trump’s Co-Conspirator, October 14, 2019

Bruce Gerencser