Tag Archive: Original Sin

The Problems With Evangelicalism Go Far Beyond Recent Sex Abuse Scandals

talking snakes

There’s this naïve notion floating around the Internet that if Evangelicals would just honestly deal with the current sex abuse scandal and make changes that protect children, all would be well within the Evangelical bubble. However, even if Evangelicals demonstrated through actions, and not words, that they really, really, really do care about sexual abuse and other sex crimes within their churches, the fact remains that their beliefs are still psychologically harmful and can, at times, lead to physical harm. Besides, I don’t think for a moment that Evangelicals will honestly and completely do something about clergy sexual misconduct. I suspect what will happen is that Evangelical pastors will put on sackcloth and ashes, wail prayers of repentance to the Ceiling God®, have staff members watch training videos and read a few books, preach a series of sermons on why preachers, deacons, Sunday school teachers, evangelists, missionaries, youth pastors, junior church teachers, and choir directors shouldn’t diddle children or fuck women who are not their wives, and then, believing they have done all they could do, go right back to their old ways. How can it be otherwise? As long as Evangelicals believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, they will remain joined at hip with all sorts of abhorrent anti-human, Bronze-age beliefs.

Evangelicals will still believe:

  • That all of us are born broken (sinners) and in need of fixing (salvation).
  • That atonement for our brokenness (sinfulness) requires blood sacrifice; particularly the blood of Jesus, the eternal son of the Protestant God.
  • That God will torture non-Evangelicals for eternity in a lake of fire after death; that this torture will require God fitting unbelievers with bodies that will withstand an eternal slow-roast on God’s spit.
  • That people who are non-Evangelicals solely due to who their parents are and where they were born will suffer endless torment for not believing in a Jesus they never heard of.
  • That someday soon, God will pour out his wrath and judgment on unbelievers; subjecting them to all sorts of pain and suffering. This same God will slaughter everyone on earth and then renovate the earth with fire.
  • That marriage is only between a man and a woman, and that the only permissible sex is within the bond of marriage, in the missionary position, and primarily for the propagation of the human race.
  • That husbands are the heads of their homes, and wives are to submit their authority; that God has ordained a certain structure for the family; that women are best suited for cleaning house, cooking meals, changing diapers, and spreading their legs whenever their husbands demand it.
  • That atheists, agnostics, humanists, liberals, and other non-Evangelicals are tools of Satan, used by him to deceive the masses.
  • That same-sex marriage, homosexuality, premarital sex, abortion, liberal politics, socialism, and a host of other social issues/practices are abominations to God.

Shall I go on? My problems with Evangelicalism are theological, social, and political. I can’t think of one good reason to recommend anyone attend an Evangelical church. If someone must hang on to their belief in the Christian God, there are kinder, gentler expressions of faith; places that believe in science, promote intellectual inquiry, and support pro-human programs. The best advice I can give to Evangelicals is to RUN!

Note

I am aware that the aforementioned statement of Evangelical beliefs does not apply fully to all Evangelicals; that some Evangelicals differ with others in finer points of doctrine and practice. If what I wrote above doesn’t apply to you, keep on moving. There are millions of people behind you that believe all of these things to the letter.

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.

Man’s Fall in the Garden of Eden: An Ancient Labor Relations Tale?

adam eve cast out of garden of eden

A guest post by Bob Felton. Bob blogs at Civil Commotion

Sometime around 1800 B.C., an Akkadian stoneworker chiseled into rock a remarkable story.

It seems there were two ranks of gods, important gods who made all the decisions, and lesser gods who did all the work. One day, assigned to dig some canals, the hot and dirty and tired worker-gods decided to go on strike; “You are killing us,” they complained.

The impasse was broken by this proposal: the important gods would create a new creature to do the hard labor, man, but the leader of the strike had to be sacrificed. It was so agreed, and man was created from the dust, the water, and the blood of the sacrificed god.

But, as so often is the case, there was a fly in the ointment — the men were noisy at night, and the gods weren’t getting proper rest. After several warnings, the gods decided to get rid of men and sent a flood to drown them all. Only one man and his family survived, Atrahasis.

It’s easy to see in this tale the roots of two of the Old Testament’s best-known stories, the Creation and Fall, and Noah’s flood.

Now skip forward almost 4000 years to a story that is true, to the copper mines in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There, the mines employ thousands of laborers imported from all over the world; newspapers are published daily in more than a dozen different languages.

In June of 1913 the miners — who live in company-owned housing on company-owned property, buy their food at company-owned stores, and earn less than $2/day — call a wildcat strike. At Christmas they are still out, and on Christmas Eve they gather on the second floor of Italian Hall for a meager Christmas party for their children.

Soon after things get going, a strikebreaker enters the hall and shouts “Fire!” There is a panic, the door at the bottom of the stairs doesn’t open and there is a crush; seventy-three people, mostly women and children, die. The most widely-read local newspaper is owned by a mining company, and it becomes a tale of unruly foreigners impinging upon the prerogatives of a benevolent company. Nobody is ever prosecuted for the shout of “Fire!”

The story of the Italian Hall disaster shares a lot with the story of Atrahasis and the Fall. Instead of gods, there are mining companies and bosses; the men are imported, not created, to labor; there is disobedience — striving to live and enjoy life; there is even a serpent, the strikebreaker who shouted “Fire!”

And in all three stories there is cruel punishment without appeal.

I estimate the odds of a Bronze Age storyteller making up something that has so much in common with a labor relations disaster four millennia later as … zero. Atrahasis, and the story of the Fall, are undoubtedly allegorical blame-the-victim accounts of prehistoric misfortunes similar to the real-life Italian Hall disaster. They should not be read as literally true, but they are true in the narrow sense that they are accounts of the ancient human conflict between the powerful and the powerless.

Notice this, too: In all three stories, men threaten the power of the gods/bosses. In Genesis, this is made explicit (Gen 3:22-23, KJV): “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.”

“… the man is become as one of us …” He threatens us, challenges us, cannot be trusted to quietly and submissively do as he is told. He must go.

I’m sure it has an odd sound to many, but I read Genesis’ tale of the Fall as an ancient labor relations tale. And with Augustine’s invention of Original Sin, Christianity put itself on the side of the bosses, the Establishment’s demand for unconditional obedience — where it has been ever since.

Wasted Years, Oh How Foolish . . .

all about jesus

Evangelicals would have non-Christians believe that life without Jesus is empty, worthless, and without meaning. A popular song years ago was Wasted Years by Wally Fowler. Below you will find the lyrics and two music videos: one by the Blue Ridge Quartet and another — quite masturbatory — rendition by Jimmy Swaggart.

Chorus:

Wasted years, wasted years
Oh, how foolish
As you walk on in darkness and fear
Turn around, turn around
God is calling
He’s calling you
From a life of wasted years

Have you wandered along
On life’s pathway
Have you lived without love
A life of tears
Have you searched for that
Great hidden meaning
Or is your life
Filled with long wasted years

Search for wisdom and seek
Understanding
There is One who always cares
And understands
Give it up, give it up
The load you’re bearing
You can’t go on
With a life of wasted years

Video Link

Video Link

In the eyes of Evangelicals, non-Christians live lives of wasted years; years that could be spent  worshiping Jesus, praising Jesus, singing songs to Jesus, bowing in fealty and devotion to Jesus, giving money to Jesus, winning souls for Jesus, and doing good works — drum roll please — for the man,  the myth, the legend, the one and only King of Kings, Lord of Lords, giver of life and death, the one true God, Jesus H. Christ. What a life, right? Die to self. Sacrifice your life, ambition, wants, desires, and dreams, giving them all to Jesus. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. Everything in this life and the life to come is about Jesus. This, according to Evangelicals, is a life of meaning, purpose, and direction. This is a life focused on what matters: meeting Jesus face to face in the sweet by and by. Everything pales — including families, careers, houses, and lands — when compared to Jesus. To Evangelicals, Jesus is their BFF; their lover; their confidante; their therapist; their physician; and their spouse. He is their e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

Everything I mentioned in the previous paragraph can be found in the Bible. With their lips, Evangelicals say these things are true, but how they live their day-to-day lives suggests that their lives are every bit as “wasted” as those of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Evangelicals yearn for Christ-centered lives, but “life” tends to get in the way. They spend a few hours on Sundays (and maybe on Wednesday) having preachers tell them what life is all about, only to spend the rest of that week’s 168 hours living as if they didn’t hear a word their pastors said. And their pastors, by the way, do the same. Oh, they preach a good line, abusing congregants for not measuring up to the Biblical standard for a life of meaning, purpose, and direction. Do better, they tell believers; yet try as they might, those pastors — even with much grace and faith — fail.

It seems, then, at least to me, that a life of “wasted” years is the norm for believers and unbelievers alike; that life is only “wasted” when measured by the words of an ancient Bronze-age religious text. Perhaps what is really going on here is a long con. Most Evangelicals are born into Christianity. It’s the only religion they have ever known. From their days in the nursery forward, Evangelicals are taught that they are worthless, vile, broken sinners in need of saving; that the only place salvation can be found is in the Christian church; that only through the merit and work of a God-man named Jesus — who is the second part of a triune deity — can humans be “saved”; that all other religions but Christianity are false and lead to an eternity of torture in a God-created Lake of Fire; that until you believe this message and put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, your life is, to put it simply, a waste.

For those who have exited stage left from Christianity, it is not uncommon for them to look back on their past and ruefully say, what a waste. When I deconverted a decade ago, I struggled with the fact that I had wasted five decades of my life chasing after a lie. Just thinking about this would bring waves of self-judgment and depression. How could you have been so stupid, Bruce? How could you have been so blind? How could you inflict such harmful nonsense on your wife and children? How could you lead thousands of other people down a path that goes nowhere; that left them with lives they too wasted serving a mythical God?

There were times when I would dwell on these questions, bringing myself to tears. Finally, I realized that lamenting the past was going to psychologically destroy me. I sought out a professional secular counselor who helped me come to terms with my past. He wisely encouraged me to be honest with and embrace the past. My past, he told me, is very much a part of who I am. At the same time, he encouraged me to look to present and future and use my past to benefit others. Through writing, I am able to embrace my past for what it is and turn it into words that I hope are helpful to others. In many ways, I am still a pastor; a man who wants to help others. What’s changed is my message.

Let me be clear, what I lament about the past is the wasted time, not necessarily the experiences. I met a lot of wonderful people during my Christian days — and a lot of mean, nasty, judgmental, Jesus-loving sons-of-bitches too. I had many delightful experiences, including marrying my beautiful wife of forty years. It is important for me to make clear that my life as a Christian was not one long slog of drudgery. That said, I can’t help but regret the time wasted chasing after a myth. All I know to do now is take my past and use it to help others. If nothing else, let my life be a warning to others: Stop! Turn Around! Go the other way! If you must believe in God, then find a religion that affirms life and values the present and hopes for tomorrow. There are, even in Christianity, kinder, gentler expressions of faith. There are even sects such as the Unitarian Universalist church that embrace the humanist ideal. Once someone dares to see beyond the Evangelical con job, he or she will find endless possibilities. While I wish I had back a few of the years I wasted serving Jesus, I am grateful that I have time left to live a life worth living; a life focused on family, friends, and — dare I say it? — self.

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.

Songs of Sacrilege: When We Fell by David Bazan

david bazan

This is the one hundred eighty-first installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is When We Fell by David Bazan.

Video Link

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
With the threat of hell hanging over my head like a halo
I was made to believe in a couple of beautiful truths
That eventually had the effect of completely unraveling
The powerful curse put on me by you

[Chorus 1]
When you set the table
And when you chose the scale
Did you write a riddle
That you knew they would fail?

Did you make them tremble
So they would tell the tale?
Did you push us when when we fell?

[Verse 2]
If my mother cries when I tell her what I have discovered
Then I hope she remembers she taught me to follow my heart
And if you bully her like you’ve done me with fear of damnation
Then I hope she can see you for what you are

[Chorus 2]
What am I afraid of?
Whom did I betray?
In what medieval kingdom
Does justice work this way?

If you knew what would happen
And made us just the same
Then you, my lord, can take the blame

Rodrigo Duterte May be a Psychopath, But He’s Right About God

rodrigo duterte

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is a psychopath. Duterte’s approach to drug abuse and trafficking brought the praise of American sociopath Donald Trump, but most governments rightly condemned him for murdering addicts and traffickers alike. Duterte sees himself as a Filipino version of President Trump. Trump admires thugs, autocrats, and dictators, and I suspect if it weren’t for the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law, the president would likely behave as Duterte does. Imagine how Trump would resolve the immigration problem if he were unencumbered by law and public opinion.

Last Friday, Duterte riled up Catholics and Evangelicals in a televised speech shown on CBS News when he said:

Who is this stupid God? This son of a bitch is then really stupid. How can you rationalize a God? Do you believe?

[Duterte lamented that Adam and Eve’s sin in Christian theology resulted in all the faithful falling from divine grace.] You were not involved but now you’re stained with an original sins [sic] … What kind of a religion is that? That’s what I can’t accept, very stupid proposition.

Perhaps Duterte knows the Christian God better than offended Christians think he does. You know the old adage, it takes one to know one. Duterte, a psychopath, knows a fellow psychopath when he sees HIM.

Filipino Catholic Bishop Arturo Bastes had this to say about Duterte:

Duterte’s tirade against God and the Bible reveals again that he is a psychological freak, a psychopath, an abnormal mind who should have not been elected as president of our civilized and Christian nation.

Ponder, for a moment, what Bishop Bastes is saying here; that people who don’t believe in the existence of the Christian God and don’t buy the notion of original sin have abnormal minds and are uncivilized. Evidently, Bastes has never read anything about the history of his church; especially the days when people were tortured and murdered by the church, and secular powers blessed by the Catholic church pillaged countless villages, raped women and girls, and murdered thousands of people.

Duterte is an interesting psychopath to the degree that he doesn’t see religion as a tool to use for the advancement of his cause. In this regard, Duterte is different from the American Psycho. The president, every bit the atheist that I am, understands how valuable certain Christian sects — namely Evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and Mormons — are to the advancement of his anti-human agenda. Trump knows as long as he pretends he cares about abortion, religious “freedom,” and other hot-button cultural issues, Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mormons will continue to support him. Trump, I’m sure, is paying attention to the outrage over Duterte’s comments. Just say the right things, Donald, the president says to himself, and take care of My Evangelicals®, and they will make me dictator for life! Praise Jesus, right?

Quote of the Day: Is Religion a Force for Good? by Christopher Hitchens

christopher hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes us objects, in a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick and commanded to be well. I’ll repeat that: created sick, and then ordered to be well. And over us, to supervise this, is installed a celestial dictatorship, a kind of divine North Korea. Greedy, exigent—exigent, I would say more than exigent—greedy for uncritical praise from dawn until dusk and swift to punish the original sins with which it so tenderly gifted us in the very first place. However, let no one say there’s no cure: salvation is offered, redemption, indeed, is promised, at the low price of the surrender of your critical faculties. Religion, it might be said—it must be said, would have to admit, makes extraordinary claims but though I would maintain that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, rather daringly provides not even ordinary evidence for its extraordinary supernatural claims. Therefore, we might begin by asking, and I’m asking my opponent as well as you when you consider your voting, is it good for the world to appeal to our credulity and not to our skepticism? Is it good for the world to worship a deity that takes sides in wars and human affairs? To appeal to our fear and to our guilt, is it good for the world? To our terror, our terror of death, is it good to appeal? To preach guilt and shame about the sexual act and the sexual relationship, is this good for the world? And asking yourself all the while, are these really religious responsibilities, as I maintain they are? To terrify children with the image of hell and eternal punishment, not just of themselves, but of their parents and those they love. Perhaps worst of all, to consider women an inferior creation, is that good for the world, and can you name me a religion that has not done that? To insist that we are created and not evolved in the face of all the evidence. Religion forces nice people to do unkind things and also makes intelligent people say stupid things. Handed a small baby for the first time, is it your first reaction to think, “Beautiful, almost perfect, now please hand me the sharp stone for its genitalia that I may do the work of the Lord”?

— Christopher Hitchens, Munk Debate versus Tony Blair, November 26, 2010

Humans Are But a Speck of Worthless Dirt in the Eyes of God

without god

Many of the beliefs Evangelicals hold dear are of little or no consequence. Believing them or not has little effect on Evangelicals. Two beliefs, however, fundamentally affect how believers view themselves. The doctrines of original sin and human depravity are key tenets that provide the foundation for other doctrines such as atonement and redemption (salvation). If humans, thanks to the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, are not, by nature, sinners, then there is no need for Jesus to die on the cross, nor is there a need for humans to be saved. Is it any wonder, then, that Evangelical preachers emphasize the doctrines of original sin and human depravity? For those of us raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement, hearing preaching on sin was quite common. Sunday after Sunday, preachers spit, scream, and pound the pulpit as they decry humanity’s sinfulness. Often, these sermons focus on specific sins, particularly sexual sins. The goal of such preaching is to make congregants feel guilty over their sins. Once congregants are thoroughly stripped naked before God, then they are ready to seek forgiveness of sin from and through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Preaching against sin, calling out sins by name, becomes a weapon in the hands of preachers, used to attack human self-worth and self-esteem. The goal is to reduce congregants to worms and specks of dust — insignificant in God’s sight. Imagine hearing such preaching week after week, year after year. Is it any wonder that many Evangelicals think that they are little more than pieces of shit in the eyes of their God? Any good they do is not because of them, but because of Jesus. Congregants are reminded that the Bible says that it is impossible to do ANYTHING without God. He gives people the very breath in their lungs. He gives their legs the power to move. Everything humans do is because of and through the power of the Christian God.

 

Imagine every good thing ever done by you being credited to another person. I suspect most of us would not be happy about other people getting credit for our good works. We did the work, so we should receive the credit. But for Evangelicals, they do all the work and God gets all the credit. Why? Because they are worthless, hopeless, helpless sinners whom Jesus, through his blood and mighty power, saved from their sins. After being graciously saved by God, Evangelicals are expected, out of a heart of gratitude, to spend the rest of their lives giving God credit for everything they do. And I mean EVERYTHING!

It is hard not to see the Christian God as the religious equivalent of Donald Trump.  Trump craves the praises of others. Recently, several UCLA basketball players were arrested in China for shoplifting in China. President Trump was supposedly instrumental in securing their release. After the players arrived home, Trump tweeted out:

donald trump ucla players 2

It is the duty of the U.S. government and its president to assist citizens in trouble in other countries — no praise or thanks needed. Trump, however, has a pathological need for people to grovel before his greatness, thanking him for what he did on their behalf. At least with Trump, we can see that perhaps the president played a part in the release of the UCLA prayers. With the Christian God, however, there is no evidence that he has done anything for anyone, yet his earthly spokesmen, using verses from an ancient book purportedly written by God, demand that all of humanity bow before God’s greatness and give him praise, honor, and glory. This is especially true for Christians, those who have been delivered from their depravity by the finished work of Jesus on the cross. God relenting to their pleas for forgiveness and salvation comes with one non-negotiable demand — you will humble yourself before me all the days of your life, praising me for every good thing you do and every good thing that comes your way. Not only do Evangelicals get to grovel at the feet of Jesus and praise him in THIS life, they will continue their masturbatory praising in the life to come. Does this sound like something you would like to do for life without end? Of course not. But when you have been repeatedly told you are a worm, a speck of dust in the eyes of God, deserving of eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire, an eternity of massaging the Big Kahuna’s ego sounds like a great idea.

without god you are nothing

Of course, there is God, no heaven, and no hell. Knowing this is makes Evangelical preaching against sinners and their sins so cruel. Many of the behaviors deemed sins because an ancient religious text says so, are normal, healthy human practices. And those that aren’t can be addressed in ways that don’t require assaulting the psychological well-being of offenders.

People who spent much of their lives in Evangelicalism before deconverting know all about the psychological damage caused by repeatedly being told you are worthless without Jesus, and the only reason you do good in your life is because of what God does in and through you. Over time, believers develop long lists of prohibited behaviors (sins). Sinning — even the slightest of sins — requires believers to prostrate themselves before God, telling him they are sorry, and begging for forgiveness. Since, according to Evangelical preachers, Christians sin daily in thought, word, and deed, believers are expected to spend significant time daily getting “right” with God (at least Catholics let their sins accumulate before going to confession and getting absolution). Imagine the emotional toll a lifetime of this extracts from sincere, devoted people who just want to make a demanding God happy.

Many ex-Christians require professional counseling to undo the damage done by such thinking. Some of us, myself included, were so deeply scarred by constantly feeling guilty over behaviors deemed sinful and never seeming to be able to find victory over sin, that it is likely we will live out the rest of our lives trying to find peace, happiness, and contentment. Life after Jesus requires through deconstruction. Only then can a new life rise from the ashes of our Evangelical pasts. I’ve had to learn anew what good and bad behaviors are. I also have had to learn to stop judging people over perceived violations of my personal code of conduct. Over the past decade, what I call my “sin list” continues to shrink. What once required sixty-six books and 783,137 words to divine, now fits on a 3×5 card. As my dear friend Ami is fond of saying, the one rule we all should live by is this: don’t be an asshole.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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.

Evangelical Writer Allison Barron Says None of Us Deserves Happiness

allison barron

“I don’t think most of us realize how centered around feelings we are. Every day, we make decisions and evaluate our circumstances based on how we feel at the time. Plus, our culture is constantly telling us to “follow our hearts” and do whatever feels good because we deserve it. We are amazing and wonderful, and we deserve happiness (often in the form of a new hair care product or prime rib sandwich or shiny SUV or whatever that billboard on the side of the street is trying to sell us).

Well, sorry, culture, but we don’t deserve happiness. We’re human beings who lie and cheat and steal and fight and hold grudges and hurt our loved ones, and we don’t actually deserve anything. I strive to be a good, caring person, but I still make mistakes and end up hurting people. However, God gives us the opportunity for a beautiful, pain-free future with Him because of this amazing thing called grace.”

— Allison Barron, The Gospel Coalition, Debunking the Myth of Happiness, March 14, 2017


Allison Barron is a Calvinist, so her beliefs about original sin and total depravity color her thinking when she says that we humans not only don’t deserve happiness, we don’t deserve ANYTHING! That’s right, saved or lost, all of us are worms, undeserving of any of good things that come our way. If we experience blessings and happiness, we mustn’t think that we deserve these things. We don’t. Unregenerate sinners deserve the wrath of God and, after death, unrelenting torture in the Lake of Fire. God might be the creator of everything, but because Adam and Eve ate some fruit they shouldn’t have, God has turned away from humanity, judging them unworthy of his love, grace, mercy, and compassion. During the days of Noah and the flood (Genesis 6-9), God determined that the human race was so vile the he had to destroy every living thing, save Noah and his family, the animals on the ark, birds in the air, and fishes in the sea. God slaughtered men, women, children, and the unborn. (So much for God being pro-life.) Why? Because he could; because he deemed the entire human race unworthy of redemption. Think of all the animals that were killed during the flood. What did they do to deserve such an ignoble end? At best, they were props in an object lesson: mess with God and he will kill you.

Even the elect, those whom God chose to save from before the foundation of the world, are, apart from Christ, viewed in the same light as the non-elect. According to the substitutionary atonement theory, Jesus stands between God the Father and the saved. When Jesus died on the cross, his Father brutally tortured him because of the sins of the elect. All that Jesus suffered on the cross was because of the sinfulness of the elect. (According to Calvinism, Jesus only died for the elect. The non-elect have never been a part of God’s redemptive plan.) If it weren’t for Jesus reconciling the elect to God the father, they too would be under the wrath of the Almighty.

Calvinists such as Barron go groveling through life, believing that they are unworthy of any kindness, goodness, or blessing that comes their way. These things indeed come their way, but only because of God’s grace, not because of their good works, effort, or luck.  Calvinists spend their lives tamping down any thoughts they have of worth, of deserving that which they worked for, or stumbled upon out of luck. All that is good comes from God, and God alone. Any thoughts of self-worth or self-esteem are viewed as affronts to the righteousness and holiness of God. This thinking is what drives the self-deprecating speeches and interviews given by athletes, musicians, and actors. All the glory, praise, and honor go to Jesus/God, they say, ignoring the fact that who and what they are is due to many factors, the greatest of which is their personal effort and hard work. If all the glory truly belongs to God, why bother to work at one’s craft?

Surely Lebron James and Stephen Curry and Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and Clayton Kershaw and Joey Votto — all-stars and future hall of famers the lot of them — are good at what they do because of God’s grace, right? Why spend hours a day, virtually every day of the year working on their skill set? If their greatness is due to God alone, then no practice is needed. Or, perhaps Barron’s God is a work of fiction, and those who achieve much in this life do so primarily because of their diligent, hard work. Certainly genetics, environment, social status, education, and a healthy dose of luck play a part too, but without committing themselves to excellence they would never have become household names. Again, exactly what part did the Christian God play in their development?

As most Christians do, Barron looks to a time after death when she will have a wonderful, beautiful pain-free life with God. For now, she and fellow predestinarians must endure life, awaiting that day when Jesus will return to earth, resurrect and judge humanity — sending the saved (elect) to God’s Trump Tower® and the lost (non-elect) to the Lake of Fire — and then God, with his mighty power, will make ALL things new. The redeemed will spend eternity loving and praising the God who took credit for all the good things they did while on fallen earth. Imagine spending eternity with a husband who never worked a day in his life, but took credit for your hard work. That’s God.

Calvinism is a dour religion, one that demands its adherents endure to the end if they hope to have any chance of getting a room in Heaven. Even then, there will be Calvinists who will diligently persevere to the end, only to find out that the joke is on them, they never were among the elect. No Calvinists can never know for sure that they are saved. They hope so. They hope they are among the elect. They hope they will persevere to the end. They hope on judgment day to hear God say, well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord. 

Count me as one person who is glad he walked away from Christianity and its denial of self and personal worth. None of us is perfect, and when we cause harm to others, we need to make things right. As much as lies within us, we should be at peace with all men. If we live long enough, we will meet people who don’t deserve love, kindness, or respect from us. There be assholes in this land of ours — unworthy of one moment of our time. For the people we call family, friends, and colleagues — those who make our lives richer in every way — I hope we all can say that they deserve the goodness, kindness, and blessing that comes their way. While life certainly isn’t fair, and bad things far too often happen to good people, in general we reap what we sow. If I want to reap a life filled with love, mercy, and kindness, then I must be willing to sow the same. What goes around, comes around, no God needed.

Unlike Barron, I know a number of amazing, wonderful people. Barron might object, saying that she does know such people, but they are amazing and wonderful because of God and not their own inherent goodness. And therein lies the problem. God clouds Barron’s view of others to such a degree, that all she sees is J-e-s-u-s (what boring view).  For the uncircumcised, unwashed Philistines of the world, we have no need of a God blocking our view.

As an atheist, I can clearly see those who deserve goodness and blessing; those who deserve good jobs, nice cars, wonderful houses, fancy clothing, and big-ass 60 inch LED televisions. My dear wife endured a life of self-denial as a pastor’s wife, living in a 12×60 foot trailer with six children and a workaholic husband. She did without nice clothing, shoes, and the finer things of life, all for the sake of the ministry. Both of us sacrificed financial security and health, believing that our poverty was a sign of our devotion to Calvin’s God.  There’s is not enough life left for me to shower my wife with all that she deserves — all that SHE deserves, not God.

Now that we are free from a God who demanded absolute fealty and servitude — a God who demanded all the praise, worship, and glory — Polly and I are free to reward not only each other, but our family and friends, with all the kindness, goodness, and love they so richly deserve — all that THEY deserve, not God. We are also free to spread the gospel of a God-free, sin-free, judgment-free, hell-free, heaven-free life. Live each day to its fullest. Enjoy each and every day. Pour your life into those who matter. Eat, drink and be merry, and make sure you have a designated driver. Work hard, doing the best you can. Strive to be a better person tomorrow than you were today. Life is all about living. To riff on an Evangelical cliché: only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done now will last.

Let me leave you with the words of Wendell Berry in the Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Why Evangelical Beliefs and Practices are Psychologically Harmful — Part One

born in sin

Cartoon by David Hayward

In light of a recent comment on the post Do Evangelical Beliefs Lead to Psychological Damage?, I thought I would give several reasons why I think Evangelical beliefs and practices are psychologically harmful.

Evangelical Christianity teaches that everyone is born with a sinful nature. People do not become sinners, they are, by nature, sinners. From the moment people come into this world they are sinners who are at variance with God. This is the lot of the human race. No one, except Jesus, is exempt.

What is sin? Sin is, according to Evangelicals, transgression of the law of God. God is Holy. He hates sin and those who do it.  All of us deserve to be eternally punished in the Lake of Fire for our sins. We deserve, because of Adam’s sin in the garden of Eden, to be tortured in the flame of Hell for eternity.

Jesus came to earth to redeem people from their sins. According to Evangelicals, God demands human sin be atoned for through a blood sacrifice. When Jesus was on the cross the wrath of God the Father was poured out on Him —wrath that Jesus did not deserve. Taking our sins and punishments upon himself, Jesus died on the cross to satisfy our sin debt.

Justification by faith is central to Evangelical soteriology. Simply put, the term means that God looks at a saved (born again) sinner “just as if they never sinned.” How is this possible? God hasn’t changed! He still hates sin and those who do it. He still throws people in the Lake of Fire to be tormented for eternity. God is God and this is what God does. It is only through the merit and work of Jesus that born-again sinners are saved from the fury of a wrathful God. Jesus stands between the saved sinner and God, taking on the violence that right rightfully belongs to saved and unsaved sinners alike. When God looks at saved sinners all he see is his son Jesus.

What I have written above is Evangelicalism 101. It is classic substitutionary-atonement, justified-by-faith, Protestant theology. Understanding this will be key to what follows.

How do Evangelicals view themselves?

  • I am a sinner. I sin daily in word, thought, and deed.
  • Even now, I deserve hell and punishment from God.
  • The only difference between me and the worst of sinners is that I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. The blood of Jesus covers my sin and I am, by faith, justified before God through the merit and work of Jesus.
  • No matter what suffering and pain comes in my life, I should be grateful that I am saved and that I have escaped eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire.

Most Evangelical pastors spend a significant amount of time preaching about sin. These men self-described men of God really can’t be faulted for doing this. As People of the Book, they must preach what the Bible says — and the Good Book certainly has a lot to say about sin, judgment, and chastisement.

In the Old Testament alone there are 635 laws. Then there is the New Testament with all the new laws added by Jesus, Paul, John, and Peter.  Add to these the personal interpretation of the laws, commands, and precepts by Evangelical preachers…well there’s plenty of sin to preach about.

Needless to say there is a lot of guilt and fear among Evangelical believers. For all their talk about grace, Evangelical preachers spent significant amounts of time preaching sermons meant to cause listeners to feel guilty and fearful. Despite being miraculously saved, Evangelicals still sin —often more so than the uncircumcised, degenerate Philistines of the world. No matter how often pastors preach about this or that sin, preachers and congregants alike continue to sin. Evangelicals commit sexual sins, divorce, commit felony crimes, and have abortions, all at levels similar to those who never darken the doors of Christian churches. And thanks to the internet, we now know that Evangelical pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, worship leaders, youth directors, and run-of-the-mill congregants abuse and sexually assault children and prey on vulnerable teenagers and adults.

Despite knowing all of this, Evangelicals preachers — ignoring their own secret sins — continue to berate and badger congregants over their sinful behaviors. How DARE you sin!, Evangelicals preachers proclaim. Look at what Jesus did for you! The Bible says, how dare they, who have been freed from sin, continue any longer therein?

Evangelicals believe that the third person of the Trinity — the Holy Spirit — lives inside of them and is their teacher and guide. The Holy Spirit is a sin-o-meter of sorts. When temptation comes the sin meter starts saying, NO! NO! Don’t do this! Turn! Run! Leave! Stop!

Yet, even with Jesus saving them, the Holy Spirit living inside of them, the Bible as the Words of God, and thundering preachers reminding them of the dangers of sins, Evangelicals still sin like just like the rest of us. Try as they might, Evangelicals can’t kick their sin habit. This ever-present reality results in a lifetime of guilt and fear.

Evangelical church altars are routinely lined with people “getting right with God.” Churches hold revival services so congregants can wipe their sin slates clean and return to walking the straight and narrow way. Pastors weekly spend hours counseling church members who find themselves ensnared by Satan — caught up in temptation and sin. Preachers themselves are routinely caught up in this or that sin. If preacher can’t walk the talk, is it realistic to expect lesser Christians to do so?

For all their talk about forgiveness and deliverance, sin is still the number one problem Evangelicals daily face. No matter how much they pray, asking for forgiveness, sin keeps returning, spoiling their attempts to live a Godly life. A lifetime of this kind of living makes people emotional train wrecks. Over time, Evangelicals learn how to “hide” their sin. They learn the right things to say when asked about how things are in their lives. They learn how to play the “I am right with God” game. These bought-by-the-blood Evangelicals learn to erect a façade that masks the reality of their lives.

Sinning Evangelicals know they are frauds and hypocrites, yet they dare not admit this to anyone. Little do they know that EVERYONE, including the pastor, is just like they are. Some Evangelicals, after decades of being on the sin roller coaster, decide to get off. They crave an opportunity to live authentic lives, lives that are free from the emotional weight of guilt, fear, and condemnation.

Getting off the roller coaster is not easy. The emotional baggage weighs the people down. Isn’t their walking away the BIGGEST sin of them all? Doesn’t this prove that they never were real followers of Jesus? Their churches, pastors, and  Evangelical family will condemn them for throwing in the towel. Their defection will be viewed in light of what they Bible says about them: they went out from us because they were not of us. For if they were of us, they would have continued with us.” Leaving is PROOF that they never were the real deal. No matter how many years they faithfully walked the straight and narrow, the singular act of leaving undoes all the good they did in the name of Jesus.

Once free, an interesting thing happens: guilt and fear begins to recede. Psychological stress start to fade. For the first times in years, they experience peace. For them, it took leaving the Prince of Peace to experience inner peace.

Instead of live dominated by thoughts of their sinfulness, these former Evangelicals learn that many (most) of the actions the Bible, along with what their pastors and churches called sin, are not sin at all. As time goes on their “sin” list becomes smaller and smaller. Perhaps they learn that there isn’t really any such thing as sin. People do good and bad things and should be judged, not by a moral standard found in an antiquated book, but by a basic humanistic, common morality —  morality that respects the private acts of consenting adults; a morality that recognizes that many of the acts of other human beings are none of their business.

These former Evangelicals now have the freedom to live their lives on their own terms. Evangelical zealots from their past will warn them that they have made themselves their own God and that if they are not careful, they will become reprobates — those whom God has given over to the list of sins recorded in Romans 1 and 2. These type of threats no longer have the desired effect. Why? Because their minds having been freed from the chains of Evangelical Christianity. They now know what it is to have true freedom. Once free, having experienced the peace that passeth all Evangelicalism, they will never return to the garlic and leeks of Evangelical Christianity. To quote an old Southern Gospel song…They have gone too far to turn back now!