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Tag: Neil Robinson

Is Pain God’s Instrument to Draw People to Himself?

pain cs lewis

Guest post by Neil Robinson who blogs at Rejecting Jesus

Does the Christian God use pain to draw people to himself? Assuming for a moment that such a God exists, does he use human suffering to make followers for himself?

There is no evidence in the Bible to suggest he does. To be sure, the Bible has a fair amount to say about pain. It claims that suffering is a means by which God either chastens Christians (Hebrews 12.7) or strengthens them (Romans 5.3-5), but this is exclusively for people who already believe. The Bible does not say non-believers are afflicted as a means of drawing them closer to God; the idea is unbiblical.

Let’s assume then that while this notion finds no support in the bible, Christians have learnt over the centuries, perhaps though extra-biblical revelation, that God does use pain in this way. What does this tell us about God? That he’s a being whose principal way of making human beings pay attention to him is by causing (or allowing) them to suffer frequently unbearable pain and anguish.

What sort of God is this? Not one who loves the world and cares for humans far more than he does mere sparrows (Matthew 6.26). He’s more an unpleasant, sadistic bully: the jock who backs you up against the wall, grips your balls and squeezes hard.

Maybe that’s how it is. The God who created the universe is just such a being; a moral monster, as Richard Dawkins described him. It’s easy to see how he might be: human beings suffer, yet there’s (supposedly) a God who loves them; therefore, pain and suffering must at the very least be sanctioned by God, or, more likely, delivered by him. This, after all, is the story of the Old Testament. The God so arrived at, though, is a thoroughly human creation, a means of minimising cognitive dissonance by reconciling human suffering and a God who supposedly cares.

One more assumption is needed. Let’s assume this time that despite the odds, this character really exists. Does his strategy work? Does inflicting pain and anguish on people make them, as Lewis suggests, cry out to the One doing (or allowing) the inflicting and compel them to love him? It seems unlikely; I can’t find any evidence online of anyone claiming that pain or anguish brought them to God. From a personal perspective, I can honestly say that in times of distress or suffering I have never, post-deconversion, called out to God or any supernatural entity for help. I’ve never interpreted my suffering as his calling me closer and have never, since escaping Christianity, succumbed to his malicious charms. (What I did do occasionally, following my deconversion, was to convince myself that my suffering was a punishment from God – for leaving him behind, being gay or something I’d done. These feelings disappeared when I embraced fully the fact that the Christian God isn’t real.)

Where does this leave the Christian with, as Lewis puts it, ‘the problem of pain’? How do they reconcile a loving God who allows or even causes human beings to suffer? They can’t. Instead, they spout empty platitudes that they think let their indifferent, imaginary God off the hook. Just look at the meaningless theo-babble religious leaders came up with in 2004 after a tsunami hit Indonesia, killing 227,898 people.

Leave God out of the equation, however, and there are far better explanations for why humans suffer. ‘Shit happens’ is far more convincing than anything the religious have to offer. Physical pain is the body’s reaction to damage. It is an imperfect system that frequently overreacts or fires up even after damage is repaired (I know this, having fibromyalgia). That’s what it is to have, to be, a physical body. Anguish comes from random acts of nature, the violence and cruelty we inflict on each other and the death of loved ones, much of which is beyond human control. ‘Thoughts and prayers’ are useless in ameliorating this kind of suffering. Measures to restrict people’s access to weapons undoubtedly helps, as it has in countries with politicians with sufficient strength and intelligence to enact gun-control legislation. Without it, as in Uvalde recently, more children will die, more parents will experience terrible anguish and another massacre is inevitable. God won’t stop it.

Suffering is not symbolic of something else; it is not ‘God’s megaphone’ or an opportunity for others to point those afflicted to Christ’s light (or any other bullshit that involves the supernatural.) Pain simply is. It is our lot as physical bodies to endure or alleviate it as best we can.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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So Long, Jesus

so long jesus

A guest post by Neil Robinson who blogs at Rejecting Jesus

I fell in among Christians when I was teenager. A friend – let’s call him Simon – thought it would be a good idea if we joined the YMCA. This was long before the organisation became synonymous with the Village People and hangin’ out with all the boys. The YMCA I encountered was markedly evangelical. Once we’d visited a few times we were ‘invited’ to one of their young people’s meetings. I can’t remember what snappy title these meetings went by, but essentially they were a mixture of worship, bible reading and ‘teaching’. Sometimes there’d be a guest speaker who would tell us all about their relationship with Jesus, which, in case we had any doubts, was just marvellous. Before long I was giving my life to Jesus too, though in the long run it turned out to be only a temporary loan.

Occasionally, one of these guest speakers would talk about relationships, those with other human beings, and sex. From them I learnt that sex was almost always wrong: sex before marriage, sex outside marriage, sex with yourself – all of them were sinful. Even imagining sex and fancying someone (which qualified as lust) were wrong too. Who knew? But the most sinful, wicked and sordid sex of all was sex with someone of the same sex.

I had already had a relationship with another young man, Sam, at school. It hadn’t seemed wicked or sinful at all; quite the opposite in fact. But these people, these Christians, seemed to know what they were talking about. And hadn’t I given my life to Jesus? He detested homosexuality, or God did anyway, so Jesus must’ve felt the same way (actually this was all in the present tense, Jesus being alive and monitoring us from Heaven and all; Jesus detests homosexuality, they’d tell us.) Sometimes they’d read verses from the bible that proved it.

And so I started to suppress my feelings. All things considered, a retreat to the back of the closet (not that I knew this terminology back then) seemed the best option. It was what Jesus wanted, or so I thought. I started to deny myself for him, as he insists his followers should (Matthew 16.24). I began a life of self-deception. Which would’ve been fine, except it’s impossible to live a lie in isolation. Others invariably become involved.

Once Born Again™, I’d become involved with a local church, where my friend Simon took it upon himself to play Cupid, fixing me up with Jane. I was more than a little surprised a girl could be interested in me, but figured, in my flight from myself, that as she was interested, I should make the most of it. Sex wasn’t much of a problem: as good Christians, we may have played around a little, but we stayed away from what the church liked to call ‘pre-marital intercourse’.

It wasn’t long, though, before Jane wanted to marry – she really wanted to get married. I wasn’t so sure and told her about my escapades with Sam, adding of course that I had since renounced such sin. She said that as long as it never happened again, she had no problem with my past transgressions. I felt pretty sure it wouldn’t happen again. After all, Jesus and his Holy Spirit were taking care of my old nature.

So Jane and I married and over time had three children. While I was very much involved with their upbringing, I would often feel I was ‘letting the Lord down’. When, as happened on holiday once, a group of younger men came round a corner minus their shirts, I found myself instinctually admiring them. What self-crucifying shame I would feel after occasions like these. I would even confess such ‘sins’ to a senior work colleague, a devout and very genuine older lady. I’d spare her the details of how exactly I’d ‘let the Lord down’, of course; I could never have brought myself to say I’d been turned on by naked male torsos. But somewhere deep within me, I longed for intimacy and closeness with another man. I knew this was strictly forbidden so buried my desires deeper and deeper, suppressing and subjugating something vital about myself. I was on course, though I didn’t recognise it, to making myself ill. I was convinced that I was doing the right thing – for myself, for my marriage, and for God.

My marriage, however, was in trouble, for a whole host of largely unrelated reasons. This, together with pressures at work, where my boss’ affair with a female colleague was creating some serious problems, made me question whether God really cared. When I needed him most, petitioning him for the wisdom to deal with these problems, the heavens, as the scripture almost says, were as brass. God, it seemed, just wasn’t interested. Perhaps, I started to wonder, he wasn’t even there. Added to this was the internal pressure I was still subjecting myself to; the tension and stress of sublimating my true nature. I was deeply unhappy. While the situation at work was eventually ‘resolved’ (by my finding a better job), I had become chronically depressed and remained so for several years.

Very slowly, I came to the realisation that in becoming a Christian, I’d assumed a role that had led to me denying my real self and pretending I was something I wasn’t. I’d become convinced, by my church community, that God was doing a great work in me, sanctifying me and making me increasingly Christ-like. But the more I acted out the part, the less like my genuine self I had become. How could this have been right for me, or anyone, in terms of personal happiness and well-being? Adopting any ideology is to add a fake and unnecessary veneer to life that serves only to mask your true identity. Replacing who you are with a predetermined set of religious beliefs is mere play-acting. Denial is not a solution; embracing your self is.

Once I had reached my fifties and the children were grown, Jane and I separated. I had reached a point where I knew I could no longer keep suffocating my feelings; the mind is not designed to be a pressure cooker – something has to give. I started to accept, though not yet embrace, my innermost nature. The relief was immediate and tremendous. I felt I had found myself and I didn’t care that society might not particularly like what I had I found. I had to be me, and not the uptight, miserable person I had become by denying my essential self. I squared up to the exciting yet daunting prospect of starting over, and acknowledged that if I were to have a new relationship it would be with another man.

One day, walking home from work, I began entertaining the idea that there was no God. And just like that, a Damascene experience in reverse, the dominoes fell. If there was no God, there could be no Son of God and therefore no salvation plan, no being born again, no renewal of the mind, no supernatural, no heaven, no hell, no answered prayer. The scales fell from my eyes and everything started, finally, to make sense.

Over time, I came to like myself – imagine that! All I’d felt for most of my life, since the time at the YMCA, was self-hatred. That was what Christianity, what Jesus, had done for me. Arguably, it had also ensured, by keeping me firmly in the closet, that I hadn’t died prematurely during the AIDs crisis of the 1980s. Perhaps though I’m giving it too much credit.

I’m ‘out’ now, in every sense: to my wonderfully supportive children, to those who read my blog, and to friends who stuck by me. Match-maker Simon, he who suggested going to the YMCA all those years ago, cut me off more than a decade ago; as a born-again Christian, he regarded homosexuality as beyond the pale. His ‘principles’ meant more to him than our long-standing friendship. I still miss him, very much.

I don’t miss God. I have a sense of authenticity and my energy goes into living, not denial. I’ve become involved with the local LGBT Centre and I now live, thanks to Covid lockdowns, with a very nice man, my partner Dennis. I’m very happy and feel, at long last, I really know what life’s about.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Using Mormonism to Explain to Evangelicals the Reasons Why Atheists Reject Christianity

double jesus

Several weeks ago, an Evangelical man named Don Camp left the following comment on the Rejecting Jesus blog:

I will take a look at your [Neil Robinson’s] blog posts, but honestly I don’t expect anything more than I have read in many atheist apologies. And you probably would say the same of my brief appeal to the classic cosmological and teleological arguments. So we are at an impasse. But since you have a background in literature, I will add this one.

The Bible is a book made up of 66 books (Protestant). They were written over about one thousand years time, and probably include pieces that are older than the oldest OT book. There are more than 20 different authors. Yet the Bible has one THEME and a COHERENT PLOT and is UNIFIED with no rabbit trails or strands of thought that are unconnected to the central theme. 

If the Bible were written by one author, that would be remarkable in a book that ranges so broadly across history. Written by multiple authors, it is more than remarkable. Even given that there were editors and a selection of books from among a larger number, that is remarkable. 

The INTRODUCTION in Genesis 1-6 and particularly in Genesis 3 is so necessary to the larger narrative that it is inconceivable that the plot could be created apart from that background because it includes an introduction to the primary characters and the first and underlying CONFLICT for the whole book. And that is to say nothing of the DENOUEMENT in Revelation that ties together the narrative in a conclusion that resolves all the conflicts. 

It does this while being comprised of pieces in many different genres written in styles that even now are recognized to be some of the best of all literature written, ancient or modern. 

As a student of literature, I cannot imagine how that can have happened. It has no equal in all of literature. I can only explain it by divine superintendency. And that implies a God.

Yesterday, Neil Robinson, the CEB (chief executive blogger) of Rejecting Jesus, responded to Camp. His response is posted in full below.

— begin article —

Dear Don,

Why are you not a Mormon? I mean, you appeal to the evidence of consistency across the 66 books of the bible, claim that the gospel writers remained true to an oral tradition (despite John’s gospel being markedly different from the other three) and insist there is no difference between the original apostles’ gospel and Paul’s (when Paul is adamant there is.) In fact, there is even better evidence that Mormonism is true.

First off, Joseph Smith saw the resurrected Jesus in person! Not only Jesus but God the Father too. And they spoke to him! He relates the story himself, so unlike the gospels, this is no second hand reportage:

I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

Following this, young Joseph was instructed to translate the Book of Mormon from some golden plates. We don’t have to take his word for it that these plates existed because Joseph had witnesses:

Eleven official witnesses and several unofficial witnesses testified to the existence of the golden plates and, in some cases, to dramatic supernatural confirmation of their truth. Meticulous research on these witnesses has confirmed their good character and the veracity of their accounts.

Impressive, don’t you think? We have no such affidavits for the gospel writers – we don’t even know who they were!

Also like the Bible, the Book of Mormon had multiple authors (Joseph Smith was only translating, remember):

Furthermore, in recent years, rigorous statistical analysis strongly indicates that neither Joseph Smith nor any of his known associates composed the English text of the Book of Mormon. In fact, research suggests that the book was written by numerous distinct authors.

And yet, the Book of Mormon tells a story even more consistent than the Bible’s!

Better still,

the Holy Ghost affirms the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, just as he does the Bible: the conclusion of the matter is that much modern evidence supports the more powerful witness of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true. Joseph Smith, who translated it, had to be what he said he was, a prophet of God.

Finally, the growth of the Church of The Latter Day Saints demonstrates its truth and saving power. Its early expansion was greater than that of the first-century church.

Amazing, don’t you think, Don?

I expect like me, you reject all this so-called evidence and regard Mormonism as so much bunk. But on what basis? What causes you to dismiss the teaching of the Latter Day Saints while embracing the equally incredible, magic-infused stories of the Bible? As the Mormon church says (sounding not unlike yourself when talking about the Bible):

Persons who choose to dismiss the Book of Mormon must find their own ideas for explaining it and the mounting evidence for its authenticity.

When you arrive at the criteria you apply in rejecting Mormonism, you’ll have arrived at the reasons I and many others reject your beliefs.

— end of article —

In classic, predictible presuppositionalist fashion, Camp rejected Neil’s response out of hand:

There are multiple reason for rejecting Mormonism. The primary reason is similar to discerning between a fake $20 bill and the real thing. The fake just doesn’t feel like the real thing. Of course, that test requires that one knows what a $20 bill feels like. Anyone who does not know is easily fooled.

In fact, if you don’t know what the real thing is like, it is impossible to identify a fake. You might notice an ink smudge and a difference in paper, but who is to say one is fake and the other is not?

But since you have a knowledge of literature, Neil, why not apply those standards? Is the Bible and the narrative in the Bible coherent? Does it stick together and develop a single theme across the whole? Do you know what the theme of the Bible is, Neil?

Remember that the Mormons tell us that the Book of Mormon is an extension of the Bible and that the people of the Americas were related to the Jews and held to the basic truths of the Jews. (Remember also the Mormons believe that Jesus appeared to these people in the New World shortly after his resurrection.) So if you put the Torah and the Book of Mormon together, is the narrative coherent? Does it develop a single theme? The Old testament and the New Testament are a coherent whole, but I do not think the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon are.

That lack of coherency becomes even more obvious when we compare God in the Old Testament with God in the Book of Mormon. The person of Jesus is also inconsistent in the Book of Mormon with the Bible.

Of course, the standard explanation by Latter Day Saints is that the Bible has not been adequately translated, though I know of no place where they can demonstrate that claim.

Finally, there is a matter of provenance. We know in very good detail where the Bible came from. There are many copies, especially for the New Testament, and there are many commentaries of both the OT and NT from very early in the their history. What is the provenance of the Book of Mormon? It apparently appeared magically out of nowhere pretty recently. No mention in any other literature of its existence. No copy is available to examine.

That is not to speak of the total lack of any archaeological evidence for the Mormon claims of Jews in the Americas.

So, I would say the Book of Mormon fails on all levels.

Camp’s Evangelical presuppositions keep him from seeing the evidence staring him in the face: that Mormonism is every bit as credible as, if not more than, Christianity. Further, atheists reject Christianity for some of the very reasons he rejects Mormonism.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Cosmic Significance

god watching humans

A guest post by Neil Robinson. Neil blogs at Rejecting Jesus.

One of the most liberating aspects of jettisoning Christianity was the realisation that nothing I did had cosmic significance. Nothing anybody does has cosmic significance. Yet to hear the cult’s leaders and spokesmen talk, now as then, everything matters.

First and foremost, what you believe determines whether you lived forever in Heaven or not. Can you credit that: what you believe! So better get that doctrine sorted out! Right thought makes all the difference. Believe something only minimally unorthodox and your eternal life is in jeopardy. Not only that, but what you think in the privacy of your own head, about issues like abortion, homosexuality, politics and society, is subject to the Lord’s scrutiny. Better get it right – ‘right’ being the operative term. It means recognising that the Almighty is really only interested in the USA; with the exception of Israel, he hasn’t much interest in other nations, so better get your thinking straight on that score too, buddy.

God is, or so his self-appointed mouthpieces like to tell you, obsessively interested in how you, as an individual, spend your time, the language you use, and whether you’re a faithful steward of the money he supplies (a.k.a. the money you earn for yourself). He lays it on your heart about how you should spend your time, the only valuable way of doing so being in the service of his Kingdom-that-never-comes.

You’re made to feel that if your marriage isn’t close to perfection then you’re not really working at it (though god knows the ‘Biblical view’ of marriage is nothing like the one promoted by today’s Christian leaders). You’re made to feel you must share the gospel with everyone else you have relationships with: children, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, complete strangers. Don’t they too deserve to have a chance at eternal life? You don’t want them denied it because you failed to speak up, do you? Well, do you?

And then there’s the guilt when you can’t do all of this. You’re not sure you believe all the right stuff. You think you do but then you’re told about some point of doctrine you hadn’t considered and it is, apparently, really essential you believe that too. So you consult the Holy Spirit who you think lives in your heart and you wonder why he hasn’t spoken up before now. Maybe you have liberal views about abortion. And really, you can’t find it in yourself to condemn all those ‘sodomites’ you’re told about; what difference does it make if you do or don’t? And your marriage is less than perfect. In fact, it’s a little bit messy, like human relationships tend to be, and sometimes you want just to relax, maybe laze a little bit. Not everything you do has to contribute to the Kingdom, after all.

But the guilt won’t let you. What kind of Christian are you, anyway? And as for witnessing at every opportunity, you wonder why you feel like a dog that’s compelled to pee at every lamp-post. Can’t friends just be friends? Can’t you just appreciate others for who they are, not as sinners who need saving? Apparently not.

What a wonderful release it is then, when you finally realise that none of this crap matters. Nothing you do, say or think makes the slightest bit of difference to whether you or others live forever (Spoiler: you won’t, they won’t). How you act may help others feel a bit better about themselves or provide you with a sense of fulfilment but that’s the extent of it. Outside your immediate context, you’re insignificant, and there’s great significance to that. The pressure is off; God is not watching you to see whether you’re a good and faithful servant. Your time, money, and thoughts are yours and yours alone. It’s entirely up to you how you use them, free from the tyranny of religion.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Quote of the Day: Christians Reject All Religious Myths But Their Own

neil robinson
  • Many Christians believe that God himself impregnated Mary and that her son, Jesus, was God Incarnate. Yet, they don’t accept that numerous others, including Perseus, Buddha and Vishnu, who were all fathered by gods, are in any way divine. Why not?
  • Evangelicals and other Christians believe that Jesus performed many miracles. However, they dismiss other miracle workers as frauds or mythical beings. As John Oakes puts it on the Evidence for Christianity website, ‘religious figures (such) as Osiris, Empedocles or Krishna almost certainly were not real people, making stories of supposed miracles they worked irrelevant’. Why?
  • Christians believe Jesus fed 5,000 people with 5 fish and 2 loaves. They don’t believe the Qur’an’s story that Muhammed did much the same thing. Why not?
  • Christians believe Jesus was visited by the long-dead Moses and Elijah. They believe Paul saw Jesus after he died. Yet they dismiss the Mormon claim that Joseph Smith saw Jesus and God himself. Why?
  • Christians believe Jesus came back to life a day and a half after he was killed. However, they regard the resurrection stories of Dionysus, Osiris and Attis as counterfeit. Why?
  • Christians believe Jesus rose into the sky to take up his place in heaven. Yet they think it preposterous that Muhammed went there on a flying horse. Why?

When it comes to their own stories Christians are adamant that they are reliable accounts of events that really happened. Jesus really was God’s son. He really did do magic; really did feed 5,000 people with a few scraps; really did rise from the dead, and really did beam up to heaven. Paul really met him on the road to Damascus.

….

If it’s constructed like a story, has all the components of a story, and reads like a story, then that’s exactly what it is. 

— Neil Robinson, Rejecting Jesus, Stories, November 4, 2020

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser