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Tag: Perception

Don’t Park Here or God Will Tow Your Car

Yesterday my wife, Polly, and I, along with our oldest daughter, attended a dance recital for two of our granddaughters at the former Defiance High School auditorium. We had a delightful time. That said, the auditorium and its steps were not ADA compliant. I found them difficult to navigate, almost falling several times.

Almost a thousand people attended the recital, put on by Defiance Dance Studio. We had to park a good distance away from the auditorium. By the time we arrived, all the nearby parking spaces were filled. We parked in the St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church parking lot. There was one parking space closer to the auditorium we could have parked in, but unfortunately, it was guarded, much like the Garden of Eden, by an angel with a flaming sword, warding off all who would dare to park in this holy space.

parking space st paul lutheran church defiance

Not one person would park in this holy space. I told Polly, “pull in.” She did, as we both heartily laughed. As I pondered our atheistic parking, I thought, “ya know, the church might have our car towed if we park in the holy of holies.” Churches can be and are quite vindictive if their “space” is adulterated by unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines. So we moved, safe from God and his tow trucks.

Best I can tell, the church’s pastor, Dave Brobston, is not disabled.

dave brobston

My position has remained the same both today and during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry: such reserved parking places are signs of privilege; that pastors are above the people they pastor. James 2:1-9 says:

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.

Instead of being “the least of these,” pastors often expect preferential treatment (or, at the very least, don’t push back when their churches try to give them exalted status). I refused to let churches treat me any differently from anyone else. Instead of parking close to the church, I deliberately parked at the back end of the lot, giving preference to others. You know, as Jesus did. WWJD? Remember? A new trend in IFB churches is for pastors to have gaudy recliner-sized chairs on the platform for them to sit in. Again, perception matters. What do these chairs say to visitors? Well, Bruce, where did YOU sit when you were a pastor? Glad you asked. I typically sat on the front pew, except when preaching and leading the music. In the late 90s, I took matters one step further by preaching from the floor instead of the platform. I stopped wearing “uniforms,” hoping to show congregants I was one of them. One Sunday, my mother-in-law complained, “Bruce, if you keep doing this stuff, your people won’t think you’re special.” 🙂 Yep, that was my goal. (Bruce was always doing “stuff.”) 🙂

Perception matters, and from my seat in the atheist pew, this sign tells strangers and visitors that the pastor is special, worthy of elevated status. The fact that not one person attending the recital was willing to park in the reserved space tells me that the threat of financial punishment if you parked there was received. Left unsaid is what this sign says to people St. Paul might be trying to reach. I am in no way impugning the motives of the church and its pastor. What I am saying is perception matters; that if the goal is “reach” people with the gospel, how you present yourself matters.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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Kindred Spirits in a Pathless Land — Part Ten


Guest post by Kindred Spirits

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine

The Vagaries of Religious Experience

Psychology experiments showing how logic can be short-circuited in our brains:

The Vagaries of Religious Experience, Edge, 2005,by Daniel Gilbert

…First, explanations that rely on the inexplicable are not explanations at all. They have the form of explanations, but they do not have the content. Yet, psychology experiments reveal that people are often satisfied by empty form. For instance, when experimenters approached people who were standing in line at a photocopy machine and said, “Can I get ahead of you?” the typical answer was no. But when they added to the end of this request the words “because I need to make some copies,” the typical answer was yes. The second request used the word “because” and hence sounded like an explanation, and the fact that this explanation told them nothing that they didn’t already know was oddly irrelevant.

In another study, experimenters approached people in a library, handed them a card with a $1 coin attached, and then walked away. Some people received the card on the top, and some received the card on the bottom:



Although the two extra questions on the bottom card —- “Who are we?” and “Why do we do this?” — provide no information whatsoever, they do give one the sense that puzzling questions have been posed and then answered. The results of the study showed that the people who received the bottom card were, in fact, less curious and less delighted twenty minutes after receiving it than were people who received the top card because only the latter felt that something wonderful and inexplicable had happened. In short, what William Paley did not realize is that statements such as “God made it” can satiate the appetite for explanation without providing any nutritional value.

Read the full article for additional examples of how our brain sees agency in random events.

Why are We Happy?

Another example of how many of our projections of how we would react to events turn out to be wildly wrong is a TED talk by Gilbert titled The Surprising Science of Happiness:

Video Link

Or, for those that prefer reading, there is an interactive script of Gilbert’s speech. (If you click on any phrase, it takes you to that part of the video):

From field studies to laboratory studies, we see that winning or losing an election, gaining or losing a romantic partner, getting or not getting a promotion, passing or not passing a college test, on and on, have far less impact, less intensity and much less duration than people expect them to have. This almost floors me — a recent study showing how major life traumas affect people suggests that if it happened over three months ago, with only a few exceptions, it has no impact whatsoever on your happiness.

And of course, in psychological studies, there is the infamous Milgram Experiment, and the Stanford Prison Experiment, neither of which I’ll get in to, but you’re welcome to follow the hot links for more information

The overall point though is this: how our brains actually work and make decisions is not nearly as logical as we’d like to think it is. We’re all subject to these strange decision processes, and are largely unaware of them.

Bruce Gerencser