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Tag: Prayer

How (NOT) to Evangelize Atheists Through Prayer

praying for atheists

Several years ago, Polly and I traveled to Newark, Ohio, to spend the day with Polly’s parents. Physically, the trip was brutal. Three hours down, three hours back, and more potholes than I could count, the trip left me writhing in pain by the time we returned home. For chronic pain sufferers such as myself, this agony is often the price of admission. If I want to venture out among the living, I must endure the bangs and bumps that come my way. On days such as this, pain medications tend to be ineffective, so I grit my teeth and endure. To quote the Bible, he that endureth to the end shall be saved. My salvation came when we arrived home and I went straight to bed. I slept for fourteen hours. (Things have physically deteriorated for me since the writing of this post. A shopping trip to Toledo cost me two days in bed.)

Polly’s late father had his hip replaced in 2015. I previously wrote about Dad’s health problems here: How Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain. Sadly, this post proved to be prophetic. Dad ended up in a nursing home, forced to wear a brace to keep his hip in place. Several days after the surgery the new hip dislocated. It was several more days before the rehab staff figured out that there was something wrong with the hip. If there ever was a circumstance that could be labeled a clusterfuck, this was it. I am sure that if Dad had it to do all over again, he would not have had the surgery. Dad was able to come home eventually, but he was never able to walk normally again.

While we were visiting with Dad and Mom at the nursing home, Polly’s preacher uncle, Jim Dennis, stopped by for a visit. He didn’t know we were going to be there, so he was quite surprised to see us. After twenty minutes or so, it was time for Polly’s uncle to leave. Before leaving, Polly’s uncle offered up a prayer. Recently retired from the ministry and in poor health himself, Uncle Jim launched into what can only be described as a sermon prayer. Those raised in Fundamentalist churches likely have heard many such prayers. These prayers are not meant for God as much as they are for those who are listening, In this instance, the prayer was meant for the two atheists in the room, Polly and Bruce.

The prayer started out with a request for healing and strength for Dad but quickly moved into a recitation of the plan of salvation. I thought, why is Uncle Jim praying like this? God knows the plan of salvation, as does Dad, so the soteriological utterance couldn’t have been for their benefit. Mom was nearby, but she was one of God’s chosen ones too. The only unsaved people in the room were Bruce, Polly, and their daughter with Down Syndrome. As Polly’s uncle prayed, I looked at Polly, smirked, and shook my head. Here I was, at the time, fifty-eight years old, having spent fifty years in the Christian church, and I was being treated like someone who had never heard the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) version of the gospel.

If this had happened a few years ago, I likely would have said something. But, as I looked at Polly’s uncle and her Mom and Dad, I thought, soon they will all be dead. Morbid? Sure. But, the truth? Absolutely. I have no desire to fight over religion with Polly’s diehard Fundamentalist Baptist family. I am sure Polly’s preacher uncle thought that putting in a good word for Jesus might somehow, some way, cause us to fall on our knees, repent, and ask Jesus to save us. Regardless of his motivation, it was clear that Uncle Jim did not respect us. (Since the writing of this post in 2016, Dad has died, along with Jim and his wife Linda. Only Mom is still alive.)

Polly and I, along with our children, are huge disappointments to her family. Since I was once considered the patriarch of our tribe, the blame for our fall from grace rests squarely on my shoulders. It has been thirteen years since Polly and I darkened the doors of a church. We have attended numerous family functions, and not one person in her family has attempted to understand why we deconverted — not one. Some of them read this blog, and I am sure this post will make its way in printed form to Polly’s Mom. Will it finally force an honest discussion about the elephant in the room? Probably not. Better to hope Polly and that $*%$ husband of hers are still saved. Backslidden, but still saved. Anything, but having a frank discussion about why we no longer believe in the existence of the Christian God, or any other deity, for that matter.

While I would never expect or demand that Polly’s Fundamentalist family stop living out their faith, it would be nice if they respected us enough to accept us as we are. We are ready and willing to share why we no longer believe. If family members want to know, all they have to do is ask. And if they aren’t interested in knowing, the least they can do is refrain from trying to evangelize us. There are no prayers that can be prayed that could possibly cause us to change our minds about God, Jesus, Christianity, and the Bible. Thousands of prayers have been uttered on our behalf, yet Polly and I remain happy unbelievers. We are living proof of the powerlessness of prayer.

Polly and I have known each other for almost forty-six years. I first met her preacher uncle in December of 1976 at a midweek church service at the Newark Baptist Temple. Uncle Jim let the church know that Polly had a guest with her. As the congregation turned to gawk at the embarrassed redheaded young man, Polly’s uncle said, They have a shirttail relationship. It remains to be seen how long the shirttail is. The next day, I spent my first Christmas with Polly’s family, meeting her cousins, uncle, and grandfather for the first time. Forty-six years have come and gone. Polly and I are now in our sixties. Our middle-aged children have greying hair, and their thirteen children call us Nana and Grandpa. We have spent many wonderful moments with Polly’s family, and more than a few moments we would just as soon forget. I love them dearly, as does Polly. We just wish that they loved us more than they love Jesus.

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 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.

Gary, God Didn’t Send You to This Site, Google Did

pastor-gary-jackson

Several years ago, Gary Jackson, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, did a Google search for Faith Baptist Church in Ottawa, Ohio, and ended up on this site. The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser is a first- or second-page search result when someone searches for Faith Baptist. I have featured Faith several times in the series On The Road Looking For God’s True Church.

After reading a handful of posts, Jackson decided to send me an email. In the email, Jackson stated that it was G-O-D who “led” him to this blog. Actually, it was Google, not God, that sent the good pastor my way. I understand Jackson’s confusion. When confronted with an unanswered question, my family will seek the answer from God — God being Google. Perhaps Jackson, as the Gerencser family does, confuses Google with God. Just kidding. The Gerencser family KNOWS Google and God are one and the same. Jackson’s God? She has never answered a prayer, or a trivia question, for that matter. When I wanted to find out who Gary Jackson was, I didn’t pray. Instead, I contacted the all-seeing, all-knowing Google — praise be to the search algorithm.

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 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.

Songs of Sacrilege: Bruised and Bloodied by Seether

seether

This is the latest 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 Songs of Sacrilege is Bruised and Bloodied by Seether.

Video Link

Lyrics

Add meat to the body, abandon your own welfare
Feel safe in the knowledge that you’ll save yourself with prayer
Disgrace everybody then bask in the afterglow
If I beat myself it seems like you just don’t care at all
It’s really fucking pitiful

I’m not asking to pray about
Parade around
Or save somebody
Lost the courage, I’m craven now
You’re way too proud
All bruised and bloodied

Conceit so lovely you’ve led me into despair
This rape and pillage of all things that I hold dear
Deface my body with gifts that you now bestow
When I need somebody it seems like you’re just not there at all
It’s really fucking pitiful

I’m not asking to pray about
Parade around
Or save somebody
Lost the courage, I’m craven now
You’re way too proud
All bruised and bloodied

These disembodied emotions are all laid bare
So please tell me, when will I wake from this new nightmare

I’m not asking to pray about
Parade around
Or save somebody
Lost the courage, I’m craven now
You’re way too proud
All bruised and bloodied

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 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.

Praying — For What?

derek-chauvin

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

I am praying for Derek Chauvin.

I overheard that pronouncement yesterday. Had I been inclined to butt into the conversation of the person who made it, I would have asked, “What, exactly, are you praying for?”

What Derek Chauvin did to George Floyd is murder. It can’t be called anything else. Though Floyd had been arrested and served jail (not prison) time before his fatal encounter with now-former officer Chauvin, he was not, as Candace Owens and others claimed, a “violent criminal.” Even if he’d fit Owens’ label, how would Chauvin have known as much unless he did a background check on him? And, even if he were as much a menace to society as Owens tried to paint him, it wouldn’t have warranted Chauvin planting his knee into Floyd’s neck. Former police department colleagues and supervisors said as much in their testimonies.

So, I think it’s fair to say that, like anyone else who was murdered, George Floyd died unjustly. Therefore, I believe, justice is not possible, even if it were possible to return Floyd to his place among the living. (That, by the way, is one reason I have opposed capital punishment for as long as I’ve known what it is.) While Derek Chauvin will be punished, as I believe he should be, nothing that can be extracted from him—time, money, even his life itself—can compensate for what he took from George Floyd.

I would assume that anyone who would pray for Derek Chauvin, or anyone else, believes that the God to which they pray is at least just, and possibly merciful. Given what I’ve said before, I can’t understand how a just God would allow George Floyd to die as he did. Although I don’t think an unjust being can also be merciful, I imagine that some people who are praying might want mercy on Derek Chauvin. They’d trot out a seemingly all-purpose Bible verse like John 3:16 or, if they’ve actually read the Book, something like Matthew 5:7 or 7:12—or James 2:13. The problem is, of course, that it appealing to God for mercy on Chauvin turns him into the victim, or at least the person in need of succor.

This is the problem with the Christian notion of forgiveness–which, I would guess, some people would ask for Chauvin in their prayers. Some have had the audacity and arrogance to say that Floyd’s family should “forgive” Chauvin and “move on.” How anyone can see a murderer—especially one who has been entrusted by his community and country with the power of life and death over another human being and, more important, with the trust that he will use that power rarely, judiciously and with the utmost restraint—as a victim in need of “forgiveness” is beyond me. (I say that as a long-ago Army Reservist who, thankfully, never exercised lethal force, except against a rattlesnake.) And who has the right to tell Floyd’s family how they should deal with their loss? If they choose to “forgive” Chauvin, whatever that means to them, that should be their decision alone.

In brief, although I don’t know what someone might pray for when praying for Derek Chauvin, I can only conclude it most likely has to do with making it easier for him to bear his guilt, and not to ease the pain of George Floyd’s family and loved ones, let alone to afford his life the meaning it had and thus to truly acknowledge the tragedy and horror his death really is.

So why didn’t I butt into the conversation of that stranger who offered a prayer for Derek Chauvin? For one thing, I’m a New Yorker, and we have a reputation for minding our business, or at least pretending to. For another, asking what the stranger meant by that comment would have been pointless, really: If that person’s God were truly merciful and forgiving, Chauvin wouldn’t have murdered George Floyd, whether or not he was aware of Floyd’s mostly-petty crimes—which, of course negates the need to pray for mercy or forgiveness, or anything else. Oh, and I have long since stopped believing in that person’s God, or any other, especially one who allows such injustices as Derek Chauvin using the power entrusted to him to murder George Floyd.

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 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.

Seven Things Evangelicals Say to Atheists and Why They Shouldn’t Say Them

jesus loves atheists

Twelve years ago, I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church, never to return. While I still had a modicum of belief in the existence of a God, I was finished with organized, institutional Christianity. Once free of the church, it was not long before I slid to the bottom of the slippery slope of unbelief. Since then, numerous Evangelicals have attempted to win me back to Jesus or restore me to good standing with the church. Try as they might, I remain an unrepentant atheist — an apostate and enemy of Christianity. Some apologists have concluded that I have committed the unpardonable sin or that God has given me over to a reprobate mind.

What follows is a list of seven things that Evangelicals have said to me over the years in their attempts to get me to renew my membership with Club Jesus®. I have no doubt that every Evangelical-turned-atheist has heard the same things.

I’ll Pray for You

I’ll pray for you is the number one statement Evangelicals make to those who have left the faith. According to Evangelicals, prayer can fix any problem, including turning atheists into believers. Here’s the problem with this kind of thinking: prayer doesn’t work. For many former Evangelicals, unanswered prayer is one of the reasons they deconverted.

During the deconversion process, I made a careful accounting of past prayers and their answers. I specifically focused on answered big-need prayers. In every case, I was able to trace the affirmative answer back to human instrumentality. While I certainly had several I can’t explain it moments, these were not enough to lead me to believe that the Christian God answered prayer.

And here’s the thing, I don’t know of one Evangelical-turned-atheist who has ever returned to Evangelicalism. Despite all the prayers, those who leave don’t return. Wouldn’t it be a big boost for Evangelical stock if God reached down and saved Bruce Gerencser, the atheist preacher? Imagine what a splash it would make if someone such as I returned to the faith. But it doesn’t happen. Why is that?

For many former Evangelicals, we deconverted because we learned that the Evangelical church is built on a faulty foundation: the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible. Once people realize and accept that the Bible is not what Evangelicals say it is, they are then free to examine more carefully the central claims of Christianity. In my case, I found that Evangelical beliefs could not withstand intellectual scrutiny.

No matter what I say, Evangelicals are going to continue to pray for me. Rarely does a week go by without several Evangelicals letting me know that they are storming the throne room of God on my behalf (or praying God will kill me). Fine, by all means, pray. But there is no need to let me know that you are doing so. Surely God is able to hear and answer your prayer without me knowing about it.

Have You Ever Heard the Gospel?

The short, snarky answer is this: of course not! I spent 50 years in the Christian church and pastored Evangelical churches for 25 years, yet I never heard the gospel one time. Amazing, isn’t it? When Evangelicals take this approach with me, what they really want to know is whether I have heard their version of the gospel. You see, there is no such thing as THE Evangelical gospel. Evangelicals incessantly fight over whose gospel is true. Calvinists and Arminians are fighting a seven-century war over which group has the faith once delivered to the saints. The Bible says, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, yet Christians have spent 21 centuries proving God a liar. The Bible tells us that Christians will be known for their unity and love, yet these beliefs have been turned on their head by sectarians who believe that the only unity and love possible is with people who are part of their exclusive club.

When Christians ever figure out what the gospel is, I hope they will let me know. Until then, I plan to pop some popcorn and watch the comedy known as the internecine wars of Christianity. As one commenter on Facebook said, and I paraphrase:  Evangelicals think that their battles over right doctrine are some sort of intellectual pursuit. They are not. From the outside, all the wrangling over doctrinal minutia looks a lot like toddlers fighting over toys.

God Laid You on My Heart

Several years ago, a former long-time friend and colleague in the ministry contacted me, out of the blue, on Facebook, and told me what he thought of my deconversion and its effect on my family. Needless to say, his words were not kind, and after we traded a couple of emails he stopped writing.

Now my former friend is back. Why? God laid me on his heart. This time, he decided to approach me in a kinder, more respectful way. We traded emails that talked about our families and that was the end of that. While this man was, at one time, my closest friend, we no longer have anything in common. The elephant in the room will always be my atheism and intellectual assault on Evangelical Christianity. And I get it, I really do. It is hard to maintain a friendship with someone who thinks your beliefs are intellectual rubbish.

Over the years, numerous former church members and ministerial colleagues have contacted me because they believed God had laid Bruce Gerencser on their hearts. Instead of wanting to catch up or talk about old times, they thought God has a personal mission for them: contact Bruce Gerencser. In most cases, their message from God is preceded by them doing a web search for my name. In other words, they wondered what I was up to, so they fired up their browser, loaded Google, typed in my name, and were then presented with pages of links for Bruce Gerencser (I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the world). Was it God who was leading them to do the search, or was it curiosity, wondering what Bruce is up to these days?

As an atheist, I don’t think God exists, so Evangelicals telling me that God laid Bruce Gerencser on their hearts has no effect on me. Sometimes, I want to ask Evangelicals how they KNOW God talked to them about me, but I already know all the stock answers for such a question. Evangelicals know what they know, and all the reason in the world won’t change their mind.

God is Trying to Get Your Attention

Evangelicals believe that their God, as owner of everything, is personally and intimately involved in his creation. Despite evidence to the contrary, Evangelicals believe that God is an everyday, real presence, not only in their lives, but the lives of every person, saved or lost. When Evangelicals read my story, they often focus on the health problems I have. See, Evangelicals say, God is afflicting you so he can get your attention. If I really believed this to be true, I would immediately become an Evangelical again. I would be quite willing to put serious time in at Club Jesus® if it meant that my pain and suffering would go away. (This is sarcasm, by the way, as you shall see in a moment.)

However, when I take a careful look at the “health” of Evangelicals, I see that they are every bit as “afflicted” as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Well, the Evangelical says, God uses sickness to test, try, or punish Christians. Far more important than bodily health is spiritual health. Sure . . .

Each and every day is a struggle for me. I’ve detailed this many times over the years, so I won’t bore you with the details again. If I thought that the unrelenting pain I suffer is God’s doing, I highly doubt knowing this would turn me into a worshiper of Jesus. What kind of God hurts people so they will love and worship him? In the real world, such abusers are considered criminals, the scum of the earth. Yet, when God abuses people it is because he loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives. No thanks! I have no interest in worshiping such a God. I would rather burn in Hell than worship a God who spends his days inflicting pain, suffering, disease, and death on not only humans, but all living things.

You’ll Go to Hell if You Don’t Accept Jesus

The more Fundamentalist the Evangelicals, the more likely they are to tell atheists and unbelievers that the latter will end up in Hell unless they repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. In other words, God is saying that if people don’t accept his foreordained way of salvation, he plans to torture them eternally in a pit of fire and brimstone. In what other setting does such an approach work? Hello, I am your local Kirby Sweeper salesman. If you don’t buy a sweeper from me, I will burn your house to the ground. Such a psychopath would quickly be arrested and locked up. Yet, God, who is every bit as psychopathic as the Kirby salesman, is given a pass.

When Evangelicals try the Hell approach, I quickly tell them that I don’t believe in the existence of Hell; that the only hell is that which humans inflict on one another. Sometimes, toying with them, I will ask them: WHERE is Hell? No answer is forthcoming. Most of the time, I let Evangelicals know that threatening me with Hell will not work. I am immune to being threatened into anything. I spent most of my preaching career threatening people, warning them of the suddenness of death and the certainty of Hell. Over the years, hundreds of people responded to my threats, embracing the wonderful, loving, psychopathic God of Christianity. I now know that such an approach psychologically harms people. Constantly being warned about impending eternal judgment often leaves deep and lasting emotional scars. Consider me scarred.

I Know the Holy Spirit is Speaking to You

Some Evangelicals, those who are more liberal-minded and have kind hearts, read a few of my blog posts and then “discern” that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me. Such people often have a great affinity for my critiques of Evangelicalism. In fact, some of them, not paying attention to the fact that I am an atheist, think I am a member of their club. I have received numerous emails from “fellow” brothers and sisters in Lord. When I respond and let them know that I am an atheist, they often can’t believe that I am a child of Satan. How could the Devil’s spawn ever write the way Bruce does? they think to themselves.

I happen to be quite conversant in all things Evangelical. Even though I haven’t pastored a church in over 17 years, I still follow the machinations of Evangelicalism quite closely. It is a subject that interests me, and I suspect this interest shows in my writing. However, my pastime should not in any way be confused with the Holy Spirit speaking to me.

Since I don’t believe in God, telling me that the third part of the Trinity is speaking to me has no value. First, how can anyone possibly KNOW that the Holy Spirit is carrying on a conversation with me in my head? Isn’t such a thing beyond the purview of even the sharpest of God’s discerners? Telling me that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me is akin to telling me that aliens from a far-away galaxy are telepathically communicating with me. The only voices in my head are mine.

Do You Want Your Children or Grandchildren to Grow Up Without Knowing God and Having No Morals?

Ah yes, the classic do it for the kids line of thinking. Here’s the thing: now that I am 63 years old, I have had six decades to contemplate belief in God and its effect on the human race. That’s a long time. I have spent most of my life drinking deeply at the trough of Christianity. I now know that the water in the trough was a mirage. I thought the healing waters of the Christian God imparted morality and ethics to all who would drink, but these days I’ve come to see that, while religion can play part in dispensing morality and ethics, it often, thanks to rigid dogma, proves to be an impediment to moral and ethical development.

Evangelicals, in particular, think that morality and ethics ONLY come from the Christian God. No matter how many studies and arguments prove that such a claim is not true, Evangelicals continue to hang on to the belief that their God and the Bible are the sole sources of morality. This kind of thinking has turned into what is commonly called the culture war. Evangelicals demand that everyone live according to their moral code. They even go as far as using the government to force others to live by their peculiar interpretations of the Bible. If only the Ten Commandments were taught in school, America would be great again, Evangelicals say. However, when unbelievers take a close look at how Evangelicals live, they quickly find out that God’s chosen ones don’t practice what they preach. If the Evangelicals are anything, they are hypocrites.

My six children are all grown. All of them have made up their own minds about God. None of them worships the Evangelical God. For the most part, my children are indifferent towards religion, ALL religion. My thirteen grandchildren? I hope they never see the inside of an Evangelical church, apart from funerals and weddings. I think Evangelical belief often causes psychological harm. In some cases, such beliefs can lead to abuse or turn people into abusers. Why would I ever want my grandchildren within a light-year of an Evangelical church?

If I could script the lives of my grandchildren (and I can’t) I would love for them to take a World Religion class. I know that exposing them to other religions besides Christianity will dampen or destroy any affinity they might have for Evangelicalism. Exposure to knowledge is a sure cure for Fundamentalism. The more my grandchildren learn about religion (and humanism and atheism), the less likely they are to follow down the same pernicious path Nana and Grandpa followed decades ago. If they still decide to embrace some sort of religion, I hope they will embrace practices that affirm their self-worth and cause them to love others. Such values cannot be found in Evangelical churches because they are always secondary to right belief and rigid obedience.

As I watch my grandchildren grow up, I can’t help but see how different they are from their parents (and this is due to their parents allowing them wander down paths they themselves were never allowed to go). I revel in their thirst for knowledge, knowing that satisfying this thirst will inoculate them from being infected by the mind-killing disease of religious Fundamentalism. Perhaps in their generation the curse will finally be broken. While Polly’s Fundamentalist mom laments what our unbelief is doing to our children and grandchildren, I see things differently. I now know that intellectual and personal freedom leads to lives filled with meaning and purpose. Most of all, I want those who bear my name to live lives filled with happiness. Shouldn’t that be our hope for everyone?

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 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.

Don’t Believe in God? Pray and Ask Him to Reveal Himself to You.

god reveal himself to you

When confronted with my unbelief in the Christian God, Evangelicals will often ask me to pray and ask God to reveal himself to me. Evangelicals have even given me scripted prayers to pray on more than a few occasions, telling me that if I “sincerely” pray these prayers to the triune God of Christianity, he will reveal himself to me. On days when I am filled with 100-proof Gerencser snark, I will pray the prayers and then report back, “Nope, God didn’t reveal himself to me!” Their reply? “well, you didn’t “sincerely” ask God to pull the rabbit out of the hat.” I am always to blame, not God, when he fails to show his work, speak to me, or do anything that would lead me to conclude he is real.

Evangelicals who take this approach with me are ignorant of their Bibles — the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Evangelicals believe every word in the Bible is true, written by holy men of old as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. You would think Evangelicals would follow the Word of God instead of asking unbelievers to pray. Don’t they know that the Bible says that God doesn’t hear the prayers of the unsaved, that libertarian free will is a myth, and the only way that someone can be saved is if God chooses to save them? Don’t they know that lost people are dead in trespasses and sins, alienated from God, and unless God grants them the faith to believe, they will never be saved? What drives this notion of praying and asking God to reveal himself to you is bad theology. Shocker, right?

Take the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16. (Please see Luke 16:19-31: The Rich Man and Lazarus.) Towards the end of this story, we have a dialog between Abraham and the Rich Man:

Rich Man: I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house. For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment [Hell].

Abraham: They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.

Rich Man: Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.

Abraham: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

The Rich Man, facing the torments of Hell, was rightly concerned about his family, particularly his five brothers. The Rich Man asked Abraham to resurrect Lazarus from the dead and send him to preach to his brothers. Abraham replied, no, they have the Moses and the Prophets, the Old Testament; let your brothers read and hear their words. Knowing the Bible wasn’t enough to convince his brothers to believe in Jesus, the Rich Man pleaded yet again for Abraham to resurrect Lazarus and send him up top to witness to his unsaved loved ones. Abraham’s response is germane to this post: if they won’t hear the Bible, they won’t be persuaded if someone rose from the dead and preached to them.

Evidently, Abraham didn’t know Jesus would soon die and three days later resurrect from the dead. This leaves me wondering, if the Bible is written by God, surely he knew Jesus would soon be crucified, placed in a borrowed tomb, descend into Hell, and resurrect from the dead. Evangelicals believe that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the linchpin of their religion; that Jesus’ resurrection is the one thing that should convince unbelievers of the veracity and truthfulness of Christianity. However, Abraham didn’t think such magic tricks were useful. Instead, the Evangelical Abraham said: Read the Bible!

For those of us who are atheists and agnostics, neither appeals to the resurrection of Jesus nor reading the Bible have convinced us that Christianity’s central claims are true. Perhaps this is why some Evangelical zealots ask us to pray and ask God to reveal himself to us. They believe that a supernatural encounter with their God will surely cause us to fall on our knees, repent, and embrace Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. If only believing was that simple, right?

Before asking us to pray to their God, Evangelicals must first provide evidence for the existence of said God. I assume Evangelicals would think it silly for me to pray to any other God but theirs. All deities but the Christian God are no gods at all. There is one true and living God, and Jesus is his name — well, he’s called the Father and the Holy Ghost too. I am quite willing to pray to the Christian God sincerely, but before doing so, I ask Evangelicals to give sufficient evidence for their deity’s existence, that he is whom Evangelicals say he is.

I walked away from Christianity twelve years ago. Since then, I have heard from and, at times, interacted with thousands of Evangelicals trying to “save” me. It’s been years since I have heard a new argument for the existence of God. Solomon rightly said that there is nothing new under the sun, which can certainly be said of Evangelical apologetical arguments.

I don’t get as many emails or comments from Evangelicals trying to “save” me as I did in the past. I suspect Evangelicals have decided that God has given me over to a reprobate mind, that I have crossed the line of no return, or have committed the unpardonable sin. This allows them to attack my character, revealing their lack of character, respect, and decency. After scores of such attacks and deconstructions, I am immune to their words. Twelve years of interacting with such people have given me a thick skin. I am still open to new evidence for their God’s existence, but the incessant playing of William Craig Lane’s greatest hits really doesn’t work with me.

Does the Christian God really need me to pray before he will reveal himself to me? Doesn’t he know everything beforehand, including the words people pray and how he will respond? Why doesn’t God skip the theatrics and appear to me at my home? If, as the Bible says, with God nothing is impossible, surely Jesus can stop by and have lunch with me, and while he is here, heal me of bile reflux, gastroparesis, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and peripheral neuropathy.

I hope this post puts an end to the notion that if atheists and agnostics would just “sincerely” pray to the Evangelical God that he would reveal himself to them. There is no evidence that this has ever taken place.

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 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, Did You Ever Pray for God to Abolish Hell?

i have a question

I recently asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question you would like me to answer, please leave your question on the page, Your Questions, Please.

Dave asked:

[Christian] Fundamentalists believe you can bring anything to God in prayer and he will answer it. They also believe in eternal torture as this god’s punishment for most of the human race. As a pastor did you ever pray that God would not allow such a monstrosity as hell? Why do you think that this plea is not made continuously by people who hold this belief? Is it because they don’t really believe they can change the mind of God, or is it because they relish the idea that nonbelievers will get what they deserve?

Evangelicals believe that the Bible God hears and answers their prayers. While Evangelicals are all over the place theologically on prayer, they believe that God does hear their petitions and answers in one of three ways:

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not now

According to Evangelicals, every prayer that conforms to the will of God is answered affirmatively. Why, then, do most Evangelical prayers go unanswered — especially big-ticket items such as the ones mentioned by Dave? Why does God seem indifferent to human suffering, pain, and loss? According to Evangelicals, God saying no or not now happens for one of these reasons:

  • God wants to increase our faith
  • God wants to test us and make us stronger
  • God wants to chastise us for our sins, restoring us to a right relationship with him
  • God wants to bring glory to his name

While I am sure there are other “reasons” for God saying no or not now, these are the big four — the reasons most often cited by Evangelicals.

For thirty-five years, I prayed every day — often multiple times a day. Yet, I never, one time, asked God to abolish Hell. I believed Hell (and the Lake of Fire) was an awful place of eternal damnation and suffering, yet I also believed the people in Hell were getting exactly what they deserved. Salvation had been offered to them by Jesus Christ, yet they rejected it, choosing instead their own selfish desires. Of course, I dared not think too hard on the matter, lest I see multiple glaring contradictions. Had I thought about that matter, I would have concluded that God was unjust and unfair; that eternity in Hell seemed to be determined by who your parents were and geography.

After embracing Calvinism, I concluded that eternal destiny was determined not by making a decision for Christ, but because God had chosen some people to spend eternity in Hell. No one deserved salvation and eternity in Heaven, so God can’t be blamed for sending most people to the Lake of Fire.

I never believed I could change the mind of God through my prayers. God was the sovereign Lord over all, and everything that happened was according to his purpose and plan. People saved under my ministry were converted because God purposed from before the foundation of the world to bring them to saving faith. When I prayed, it was not so God would give me what I want, but so my will would conform to God’s. Ironically, on many occasions God’s “will” aligned perfectly aligned with mine. It was amazing that God often gave me exactly what I wanted. I later concluded that the only person answering my prayers was me; that my prayers were self-fulfilling wants, needs, and desires.

Dave concludes by asking a question that most Evangelicals don’t want to answer: [do] they [Evangelicals] relish the idea that nonbelievers will get what they deserve?

I do know that some Evangelicals relish the fact that I will some day go to Hell to be punished and tortured by God for eternity. I am viewed as someone especially deserving of eternal torture. I knew the “truth” and rejected it. I spit in the face of Jesus, choosing atheism over the one true faith. I have received countless emails and blog comments from Evangelicals who, with sadistic delight, describe what God is going to do to me after I die. Usually, they end with a call to repentance or “praying for you,” but I suspect that many of my critics relish what awaits for me in Hell.

Deep down, Evangelicals need validation; to know for certain that they are right. Their lives are built on certainty; that their God is the one true God; that the Bible is a supernatural book given to them by a supernatural God, a book that is a blueprint or manual for life; that their decision to put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ was the right choice, guaranteeing them an eternity of heavenly bliss.

Those who don’t believe as they do will get exactly what they deserve — eternal punishment in Hell. What better way for you to be proven right than for unbelievers to be cast into the Lake of Fire? I suspect some Evangelical zealots will take day strolls to the rim of the Lake of Fire, and say to unbelievers, I TOLD YOU SO! The eternal suffering of unbelievers is, for Evangelicals, vindication of their beliefs.

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 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