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Tag: Nones

Reacting Against the Inevitable

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

This year’s Easter/Passover/Ramadan season has been interesting. For one thing it’s the second such holiday cycle during the COVID-19 pandemic. For another, it witnessed two developments that, at first glance seem contradictory.

The first: A Gallup poll revealed that fewer than 50 percent of Americans identify themselves as members of a church, synagogue, mosque or other religious institution. That is the smallest proportion since 1937, when Gallup first asked the question and 73 percent claimed to be so affiliated.

The second: Arkansas’ state legislature overrode Governor Asa Hutchinson’s veto of a bill that would bar transgender girls from participating in school sports program and would keep health-service professionals from providing transgender-related health care to minors. Similar legislation is on the table in other states, and in others even more draconian measures are under review: Health care professionals who help young trans people get the care they need could face long prison sentences and the revocation of their licenses and certificates.

Although those two developments seem at odds with each other, it actually makes perfect sense that some states are trying to keep young transgender people from affirming themselves at the same time more Americans are dissociating themselves from churches.

Why is that?

Any time a major cultural or societal change is underway reaction to it can be fierce and even violent. Think of the Counter-Reformation, or the way cops and everyday citizens—let alone Klan members—tried, brutally, to resist the Civil Rights movement.

The bad news is, of course, that reactionary people and movements foment fear and hatred, and inspire or even embolden haters to all manner of violence, including murder. The silver lining, if you will, is that the virulence of their reaction is a sure sign that they are ultimately on the wrong, and losing, side of history.

At the dawn of the Civil Rights movement, for every white American who participated in a lynching or cross-burning, there were many more who accepted or rationalized Jim Crow laws as well as other, subtler kinds of discrimination. They might not have chased a black kid off their block, but they didn’t want the same black kid to date, let alone marry, their kid. They knew, deep down, that change was needed but “the time wasn’t right.”

Slowly, such people became aware of their own deeply-held, and often unconscious, assumptions and realized there was no rational basis for them. Moreover, they came to realize that the American system of apartheid was not only unjust and irrational; it benefited no one. The Loving decision not only righted a wrong; it aligned with the Constitution and simply made logical sense. The social order would not be broken by people marrying people of “different” races any more than it would be when members of those “different” races—or faiths or gender identities– entered schools, professions and neighborhoods that, previously, had been off-limits to them.

So, racist beliefs could no more be defended than rigid ideas about gender roles, identities and hierarchies with science, logic or law. The Loving decision deemed that “miscegenation” laws violated the Constitution; four and a half decades later, Robert Shelby, a conservative Republican judge in Utah, would declare that state’s laws defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman as unconstitutional (a pivotal moment, I believe, in the fight for marriage equality). In a similar vein, Asa Hutchinson—a Republican– vetoed an anti-transgender youth bill because, he said, its restrictions were “government overreach.” By the time those actions were taken, people had come to realize that gender identity and sexual orientation cannot be legislated or medicated away, and that racial purity is a myth at best and a lie at worst. (The human race began in Africa. That’s Anthropology 101.)

Those events, of course, have everything to do with Americans’ loosening relationship to churches and such: Nearly all of organized religion—especially Evangelical Christianity—is predicated on racial/ethnic hierarchies and rigid gender identities and roles. It’s pretty difficult to tell a woman to submit herself to a man, in her home or in a church, when she’s running a business or graduating at the top of her law school class. Even if it were possible or even feasible, there just isn’t any rational reason why a woman should stand back if she knows better about something than her male spouse or colleague—or why she should align herself with an institution where she is, at best, a second-class citizen and, at worst, a mere incubator.

Those who benefit from such systems of oppression are, of course, not happy to see the edifices that hold them up being dismantled, brick by brick, or eroded. They also worry that people, especially the young, are not interested in upholding those structures or institutions. The young make up a large portion of the religiously unaffiliated (“nones”), Gallup found.

It means that, deep down, religiously affiliated and reactionary folks know they aren’t going to find replacements for themselves among their children. So, they know that whatever they feel the need to do, they’ll have to do more of, with more intensity, for as long as they can. Their behavior will become more extreme, and they will do whatever they can to hold to their notions of gender, marriage, family and society. That means forcing those notions on everyone else through irrational prohibitions. The only way to get people to support such bans is to stoke their fears by invoking stereotypes, junk science and outright lies. And the only way to enforce those bans is through force. What I have just described culminated in Donald Trump’s judicial appointments: He chose jurists who oppose what most Americans want, including safe and legal access to abortion, the right to marry whomever they wish and to live in accordance with whatever they know to be true about themselves.

Those judicial appointments, the law Asa Hutchinson tried to stop and other retrograde actions and policies are thus part of a reaction against the inevitable: the secularization of the United States of America. Somehow it’s fitting that they came together during the Easter/Passover/Ramadan season.

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.

How to Tell Your Evangelical Parents You Are an Atheist

coming out as an atheist

In the Western world, Evangelical churches are hemorrhaging members left and right — particularly younger congregants. Evangelical pollsters and church growth gurus continue to discuss WHY so many people raised in Evangelical families are exiting stage left once they get out of high school, and WHAT can be done to retain them. I managed restaurants for several major fast-food chains. Several of the stores I managed faced declining sales. As manager, I was tasked with figuring out why customer counts were down and what could be done to get former and new customers to spend their money at the restaurant. This is exactly what is going on in Evangelical churches.

Churches and their pastors know that their future rests in retaining younger members after they graduate from high school and go off to college. Yet, most Evangelical churches (don’t let megachurches skew the picture of what is really happening) are losing younger members — not replacing the older church members who are dying off. Average congregation age continues to climb, especially among sects such as the Southern Baptist Convention — the largest Protestant sect in the United States.

The reasons for these defections are many. However, it seems clear that many young adults are leaving their childhood religious homes because of politics, science, and Evangelicalism’s increasing inability to honestly answer the hard questions of life. Younger adults refuse to be placated by appeals to faith and authority. If their church leaders can’t answer their questions, then these budding skeptics look elsewhere. Further, Evangelical churches, pastors, and educational institutions threw their weight behind the culture war, justifiably earning the label as the most hated religion in America. Younger Christians watched from the sidelines as their pastors, teachers, and parents supported Donald Trump, villainized LGBTQ people, labored to outlaw abortion, and supported systematic racism. These young adults rightly concluded that they no longer wanted anything do to with their parents’ religion.

Most Evangelicals have what I call a “borrowed faith.” The bulk of Evangelical members were raised in the church. Everything they heard and experienced reinforced the faith taught to them by their parents, pastors, and youth leaders. For readers not raised in such environments, it is often hard to understand how isolated and intellectually stilted such places are. Everything is governed by a set of propositional facts about God, Jesus, the Bible, and their peculiar version of Christianity. While “questions” are sometimes permitted, the only answers allowed are those which conform to the one true faith.

Evangelical pastors know they must protect their churches from the Philistine horde outside the gates, so they use lies, distortions, and repetition of beliefs to hopefully inoculate their congregations from faith destroying questions and doubts. Churches and their pastors know that atheism and agnosticism are existential threats to their existence, so what do they do? They either pretend there’s no such thing as an atheist (Romans 1) or they lie about what it is atheists actually believe. One need only watch YouTube videos shat out by Evangelical apologists to see how these men grossly misrepresent atheist beliefs. If atheism is no threat to Evangelicalism, why all the interest from apologists? If God and his Word will always prevail against the godless, why do apologists spend so much time attacking atheism? Their behavior suggests that atheism is a real and present danger for Evangelical churches. Thus, pastors and apologists are willing to lie, distort, and misrepresent atheist beliefs (and their own beliefs) in their attempts to hang on to those whom pollsters call the “Nones.”

Nones are best described as those who are disaffected by religion. While many Nones are atheists or agnostics, some are not. Nones are often people who no longer give a shit about the religion of their youth. Quite simply, their churches, pastors, and parents no longer provide adequate answers to their doubts and questions. Many of them are sickened by the Evangelical culture war and the reduction of church on Sundays into a spectator sport. Four years of support for Donald Trump and the immoral policies of the Republican Party have driven thoughtful, caring young adults out of the church. And what do many Evangelical apologists and pastors do? They double-down, suggesting that the problem is a lack of Bible knowledge among young adults. “Get back in church,” these preachers demand, “and listen to my preaching.” These supposed men of God think that there’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a few verses and sermons from the Bible. They refuse to acknowledge that the real issue is that disaffected young adults no longer buy what they are selling; that behavior speaks louder than words. These salesmen for Jesus also fail to understand that the Nones often sat in their churches for years, silently plotting exits from these temples of ignorance and irrationality. Over the years, I have corresponded with countless young adults who were biding their time until they were old enough to stop attending church or move out on their own. Some of the people I have talked with have actually escaped the snare of Fundamentalism, but they keep the true nature of their beliefs secret. Even older people can be trapped behind enemy lines, so to speak, unable or unwilling to tell their spouses, children, parents, and grandparents that they no longer believe.

I am often asked for advice on how to tell your Evangelical parents that you no longer believe in God. (Please see Count the Cost Before You Say “I am an Atheist.” This is not an easy question to answer due to the fact that there are so many variables to consider. When my wife and I left Christianity in 2008, I drafted a letter and sent it to family, friends, former parishioners, and colleagues in the ministry. (Please see Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners.) While this letter was signed by both of us, it was largely received as coming from me alone. Polly was viewed as a lemming, a woman under the spell of her husband — a lie that still irritates the hell out of her to this day. Polly’s mother and extended family — all Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB) — believe that once I die Polly will come running back to Jesus and the church. They think so little of her that they refuse to acknowledge that it was her decision alone to tell Jesus to take a hike.

Over the past 12 years, we have paid a heavy price for sending out that letter. We have lost all of our friends, and family relationships are strained to the point of breaking. I have been asked if I had to do it all over again would I still send out the letter? Looking at the carnage that came from the letter, was it worth it? Would it have been better for all involved if I just ducked and kept quiet? Maybe, but that has never been my style. I knew the Evangelical gossip mills were working overtime as they deconstructed my life, my ministry, and even my marriage. The only way I knew to control what was being said about me and Polly was to write a letter and send it to hundreds of family members, friends, former parishioners, and colleagues in the ministry. I thought, naively, that this would put an end to the lies and gossip. Silly me. I should have known better. While the deconstructions of my life have waned a bit, I still hear from people from time to time or learn second or third hand that I am still be talked about behind my back. So while I stand on decision to send a letter to those who knew me, I would never suggest to anyone else that they do the same — that is unless you want immediate fireworks and assaults on your character.

Many Evangelicals-turned-atheists quietly leave the religion of their parents and family behind. They dodge questions or obfuscate the true nature of their unbelief. “Mom, I just haven’t found a church that I like,” a little white lie that hides the fact she hasn’t darkened the doors of a church since going to college. I am what most people consider the village atheist. I live in rural northwest Ohio, five miles from the place of my birth. I can safely say that virtually everyone knows who I am. Yet, on occasion, I will run into older people (who often don’t have computers/Internet) who knew me from my preaching days. They will ask me, “Bruce, where are you preaching these days?” assuming I am still a Bible-believing preacher. I typically reply, “I am not preaching anywhere right now, ” and then I so quickly change the subject that they don’t know what hit them. Should I give them a rundown of my loss of faith in the middle of the grocery store? I think not. Am I deliberately deceiving them? No. I am just choosing what questions to answer. I don’t owe anyone an accounting of my life.

Some Evangelicals-turned-atheists want to be out and proud. They are tired of hiding in the shadows, tired of giving evasive answers to questions about their religious beliefs and relationship with Jesus. Yet, they know that sharing with their parents that they have abandoned the family deity will not only cause conflict but hurt the people they love. Further, there is a real risk of being excommunicated from their family.

For those of you who want to stand up at the next post-COVID family reunion and shout, I AM AN ATHEIST!, I suggest that you carefully weigh the consequences of doing so. I am not saying that you shouldn’t do this — far from it. However, once you out yourself to your parents, you no longer control what happens next. LGBTQ readers can tell us this is true, and that often there is a heavy price to be paid for being true to self.

And therein lies the fundamental issue for Evangelicals-turned-atheists: being true to self. We all want to live authentic lives. We all want the right to be who and what we are. Unfortunately, Evangelical Christianity is not known for love, acceptance, and tolerance. Countless atheists were cut off from their families, told never to return until they “got right with God.” It is heartbreaking to learn that many Evangelical parents love Jesus and their church far more than they love their atheist children. In fact, such people believe their churches are their true families. The notion that blood is thicker than water just doesn’t apply in many Evangelical families.

Generally, I encourage Evangelicals-turned-atheists to be honest and frank with their believing parents. Life is too short to deny who and what you really are. If your parents truly love you, they will understand. Maybe not today, tomorrow, or a year from now, but they will eventually embrace you as their son or daughter, regardless of your beliefs. And if they don’t? Then you have to ask yourself if you really want to continue to have a relationship with your parents. I know, I know, harsh words, but your life is short, my friend, and isn’t it better to surround yourself with people who genuinely love you and accept you as you are? And it goes without saying that we should do the same for our parents. We are not asking them to join our merry band of heathens. All that ask for is respect.

I hope you find this post helpful. I would love to hear you tell of your own experiences with your parents in the comment section. What advice would you give to Evangelicals-turned-atheists who no longer want to lurk in the shadows of life?

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.

Evangelical Daniel Mann Can’t Figure Out Why Atheists are Increasing in Number

atheists

Daniel Mann is an Evangelical zealot. His goal in life, according to his blog, is: “Defending the Christian faith and promoting its wisdom against the secular and religious challenges of our day.”

Mann has a real John Holmes-sized hard-on for atheists. He frequently attacks, maligns, and lies about atheists But, he loves Jesus, so such behavior is ignored and forgiven (by God).

Mann is perplexed over why the number of atheists is increasing. With a straight face, Mann says: Atheists are growing in number, but it is not clear why. Oh, it’s very clear WHY American Christianity is dying on the vine, and why the fasting growing “religion” in America is the “nones.” Google is your friend, Daniel. But instead of acknowledging the real reasons for mass deconversions, Mann concocts a Trump-like false narrative:

Scientific findings are continually uncovering more examples of intricate design and functionality, which defy chance probability and, therefore, point to a Designer. Besides, atheists cannot offer any compelling proofs against the existence of God.  

The “Problem of Evil” is perhaps the most prominent example of this. Atheists have long claimed that if God is perfectly good and powerful as the bible claims, there should not be suffering or, at least, so much suffering. However, this challenge depends upon their understanding of the Biblical concepts of goodness, love, and omnipotence.  

It, therefore, can be argued that the atheists have mis-construed these concepts. For example, perhaps God is bringing forth the ultimate good through suffering. Besides, if eternal realities are at play in deciding this question, we would have to weigh their challenge in view of these realities. In other words, the denial of the existence of God is a big claim based upon a microcosm of mis-construed evidence regarding the ultimate and eternal “good.” Perhaps also they have left out of their understanding of “good” the concept of “justice.”  

As a fallback position, atheists often claim that God is irrelevant to their lives and even to science. However, this claim lacks any evidential support. What evidence do they have that God doesn’t provide the air they breath [sic] or that He doesn’t hold together every molecule of their lungs and bodily functions? None! What evidence is there against the theistic claim that God undergirds all science by every atom He has created and sustains and by all the elegant and immutable laws of science? None!  

Why then are there atheists?

Let me give Mann evidence for the increasing number of atheists: look in the mirror, dude. It’s dishonest Evangelicals like you that lead scores of Christians away from the faith, and keep doubters and questioners from sticking around. When you are known for lying about people you disagree with — namely atheists — you can’t be surprised when your behavior causes people to exit stage left. Instead of accepting at face value the reasons people leave Christianity and become atheists, you construct a false narrative and then say, “this is what atheist REALLY believe.”

Keep up the good work, Daniel.

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: Americans Increasingly Indifferent Towards Christianity

The United States is becoming a less Christian country, and the decline in religious affiliation is particularly rapid among younger Americans, new figures show.

The proportion of US adults who describe themselves as Christian has fallen to two-thirds, a drop of 12 percentage points over the past decade, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

Over the same period, the proportion of those describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” has risen by 17 percentage points to more than a quarter of the adult population.

Although churches and faith movements continue to exert strong political influence on the Trump administration and at the state level, the proportion of American adults attending religious services has declined.

The proportion of US adults who are white born-again or evangelical Protestants – the religious group which strives hardest to see its political agenda adopted – is now 16%, down from 19% a decade ago.

The number going to church at least once or twice a month has fallen by seven percentage points over the past decade. More Americans now say they attend religious services a few times a year or less (54%) than say they attend at least monthly (45%).

The fall in religious identification and activity has affected both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. According to Pew, 43% of adults identify with Protestantism, down from 51% in 2009. And 20% are Catholic, down from 23% in 2009.

Fewer than half of millennials (49%) describe themselves as Christians; four in 10 are religious “nones”, and 9% identify with non-Christian faiths.

As many millennials say they never attend religious services (22%) as those who say they go at least once a week.

Pew’s report, released on Thursday, says the decline of Christian communities is continuing at a rapid pace.

Religious ‘nones’ have grown across multiple demographic groups: white people, black people and Hispanics; men and women; all regions of the country; and among college graduates and those with lower levels of educational attainment.

“Religious ‘nones’ are growing faster among Democrats than Republicans, though their ranks are swelling in both partisan coalitions. And although the religiously unaffiliated are on the rise among younger people and most groups of older adults, their growth is most pronounced among young adults,” the report said.

— The Guardian, Americans Becoming Less Christian as Over a Quarter Follow no Religion, October 17, 2019

Bruce Gerencser