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Tag: Prayer

NFL Bans Prayer

nfl players praying

In a move that is certain to shake the very foundation of masturbatory Evangelical Christianity, the National Football League (NFL) told players they would not be permitted to have prayer spectacles after games. That’s right, players will have to keep their piety to themselves.

Is this not yet another sign that evil atheists and secularists have taken over America? First, these tools of Satan took over our schools and Costco, and now they have infiltrated the One True Church — The NFL. Where will it all end?

I call on Evangelical football players to take a stand by wearing Evangelical Prayers Matter shirts. Regardless of the anti-prayer edict from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, “Give God All the Glory” players should gather after the games at the fifty-yard line, kneel, lift up holy hands — especially wide receivers and tight ends — and pray.

If Evangelical football players don’t stand their ground, the Christian God will no longer bless their endeavors. Worse yet, without players praying, Western Civilization will collapse. Forget all that Black Lives Matter nonsense. All that matters is pretense and making a show. Everybody knows that God only hears prayers when there’s an audience.

And when Evangelical football players prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray kneeling at the fifty-yard line, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, their fame is their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into the corner of the locker room, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to Jesus which is in secret; and he which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly with more catches, touchdowns, tackles, sacks, and interceptions. (Matthew 6:5-6, NFLV)

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.

Does Anyone Have God-Given Talent?

without me ye can do nothing

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

A boy dreams of being a major league baseball player someday. His parents were both athletes in their younger years, having some success at the high school and college level,

As a youth, he grows quickly, seemingly always a head taller than everyone else. He seems more agile than others his age. He is fast on his feet, quick with his mind, and excels at the game of baseball.

Tee-Ball. Little League. Pony League. High School Baseball. College Baseball.

At every level, he excels.

Finally, his big day comes.

A Major League baseball team makes him their number one draft pick.

It’s not long before he works his way through the minor leagues, and two years after being drafted he makes his Major League début.

He is an instant sensation, quickly showing everyone that he is an all-star in the making.

One night, during a game where he went 4-4, hit a home run, drove in 3 runs, and stole a base, the TV broadcaster explains the greatness of this talented baseball player.

He has a God-given talent to play like he does.

Nary a person will question such an utterance.

It seems if people excel in life, it is because God has blessed them or God has given them a special dose of talent.

Few are the people who excel in life. Most of us have a few things we are good at and we try to nurture those things the best we can. We know we will not be remembered for any great feat, nor will the record books make any mention of us. We live, we love, we die, and then we are forgotten.

It would seem that God doesn’t want most of us to be standouts or superstars. Evidently, God only has a chosen few he blesses with God-given talent.

How does the nontheist explain the baseball player mentioned above? If it is not God-given talent what is it?

Genetics.

Home environment.

Passion.

Hard work.

Training.

Coaches.

Scouts.

Luck.

All of these are better explanations than God-given talent.

We demean people when we reduce their hard work to something God gives them. The few things I am good at in life are the result of my diligence, commitment, and hard work. Granted, these things come easy for me, BUT I still work hard to cultivate and improve the talents I have. I suspect it is the same for you too.

I am all for giving credit to whom credit is due. However, God is not on the credit list.

The all-star baseball player helps propel the home team to the World Series. The team handily wins the series and the little boy, now a grown-up all-star player, is voted the series’ most valuable player.

As he is interviewed after the last game of the series, he says “I want to thank God ____________________.”

And I say to myself or the TV, No I want to thank YOU. Thank you for playing hard. Thank you for hustling on every play. Thank you for working hard every day to be the very best player you could be.

Video Link

This subject reminds me of my all-time favorite TV prayer. Jimmy Stewart, in the movie Shenandoah, uttered the following prayer at the dinner table:

Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked Dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food were about to eat. Amen.

And all the atheists said AMEN.

all things made by god

Many Christians have been taught that without God/Jesus they can do nothing. Their very breath and motor skills come from God. God feeds them, clothes them, gives them a job, gives them a spouse, gives them children, and gives them, well gives them everything. Jesus said in John 15:5, without me ye can do nothing. Many Christian take this verse to mean that without Jesus they can do absolutely NOTHING. Technically, they don’t really believe this. After all, they do sin. Does God give them the power and ability to sin? Well, that’s different, Bruce. Sin comes from Satan or the flesh. God, who created everything and gives us the breath of life and the ability to exist, gets the credit for the good, but not the bad, right? Good=God, Bad=Satan and the Flesh. But, if God is sovereign, if he is the creator of everything, isn’t he also responsible for sin and the bad things that happen? I thought God has the whole world in his hands and the universe exists because of him?

I am all for giving credit to whom credit is due. If someone can show me God did this or that or God gave so-and-so talent, then I will gladly give God the credit. One question. Which God? How do we know it is the Christian God handing out the talent? Does the Christian God put a Made by Jesus label on those he gives talent to? So many questions . . .

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.

Luke 11: Ask and You Shall Receive

prayer asking and receiving john r rice

And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Luke 11:9, 10)

Want to turn pontificating Evangelicals unto babbling, incoherent defenders of the one true faith? Just ask them to explain and defend the teachings of Jesus found in Luke 11:9-10. All of a sudden, the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God becomes a hard-to-understand book; one that doesn’t mean what it clearly says its means.

Forty years ago, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) luminary and editor of the Sword of the Lord, John R. Rice, wrote a book titled, Prayer: Asking and Receiving. Two-hundred thirty-four pages long, Asking and Receiving is a defense of the notion that prayer is simply Christians asking, God answering, and believers receiving. Rice states:

II. Because Prayer is God’s Appointed Way for Christians to Get Things

The outside, unbelieving world expects to get things by work or by planning or by scheming or by accident, but God’s children are taught that they are to get things by asking and the reason we do not have is because we do not ask.

James 4:2 says: Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

“Ye have not, because ye ask not!” Fighting, warring, struggling and scheming — these are not God’s ways for a Christian to get things. We are to get by asking. And the reason we have not is not “because ye work not,” nor is it “because ye plan not.” No, it is “because ye ask not.” Asking is God’s way for a Christian to get things.

Rice, a Bible literalist, takes Luke 11:9, 10 to heart. God is a divine vending machine of sorts. Christians put their quarters (prayers) in the slot, hit the appropriate numbers (or pull the handle back in the day), and God delivers. Boom! God delivers right to the Christian’s hand a heavenly Milky Way or bag of Funyuns. Except, in real life that’s not how prayer really works.

Every day, Evangelicals ask God for things. Big stuff, little stuff, up go the prayers. However, much like Trump’s Federal medical supply chain, God doesn’t hear nor answer the prayers. Oh, he might help Christians find their car keys or other trivial requests, but the prayers that are matters of life and death go answered. Well, on second thought, Evangelicals do say that God answers prayer one of three ways: yes, no, and later (maybe). It seems, at least from my seat in the atheist pew, that God has a stock answer. No!

The world is facing the Coronavirus Pandemic. Millions are infected and thousands upon thousands are dying. Countless others will face a lifetime of lung and heart problems. I have no doubt that Evangelicals have done a lot of praying of late. If I were a believer, I would be storming the throne room of Heaven too. (Hebrews 4:16) Yet, despite their fervent “asking,” Christians are still being infected and dying. Why is that? If prayer is, as Luke 11:9-10 says it is, “asking and receiving,” why is it that so many prayers are going unanswered? Doesn’t God care about his children? (Please see Does God Always Take Care of His Children?) Of course he doesn’t. His prior behavior should tell us everything we need to know about the God of Christianity. Look at how much suffering there is in the world. Look at all the poverty and starvation. Look at how past pandemics ravaged the world. Everywhere we look we see the absence of a God. If he is a prayer-answering God, he has a funny way of showing it.

Instead of wasting time praying, perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to spend their time pleading with President Trump to get his act together and actually help them and their fellow citizens. Perhaps, it would be time better spent to defend and support science — the only hope for delivering the world from the Coronavirus.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

A Few Thoughts on a Lifetime of Praying to the Christian God

unaswered prayer

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected.

From the earliest age, I was taught to pray. As a child I prayed, Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Bless Mommy, Daddy, Bobby and Robin, and the pastor and the church, Amen. As I got older, I learned to pray extemporaneously. Prayer was God and me conversing with each other. As I matured in the faith, I came to believe that the divine purpose of prayer was to conform my will to God’s will. I thought it was proper and right to pray as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, Lord, not my will, but thy will be done. On earth as it is in Heaven.

As a pastor and a married man with six children, I spent much time in prayer. Hours and hours a week were devoted to praying. I started and ended each day with prayer. I prayed throughout the day. I prayed over every meal, and I prayed before and after each of the thousands of sermons I preached.  I prayed before, during, and after every time I preached on the street. I spent thousands of hours in church prayer meetings. Needless to say, I have a good bit of experience when it comes to praying.

I believed God answered every prayer I prayed in one of three ways:

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not now

It was not until I had left the ministry that I began to seriously look at praying in general and specifically the prayers that I had prayed over the course of fifty years in the Christian church and twenty-five years as a pastor.

I know that many people benefit from praying. They find it soothing and comforting to pray to a God. They find strength from taking their troubles and burdens to the Lord. Even if God doesn’t exist, prayer, at least for them, is still beneficial, often bringing peace, comfort, and direction. I don’t criticize people for praying, and I certainly don’t ridicule them. If praying helps get them through the night, who am I to condemn or mock them? God needn’t be real for people to find help and solace through prayer. I know to rationalists and atheists, such a thought sounds absurd, but religion has left a deep imprint on humankind, and praying to a deity is very much a part of the lives of billions of people.

Several years ago, I sat down and carefully considered all the prayers I had prayed. There were some big prayers I prayed asking God to deliver people, save people, keep them from dying, restore marriages, elect certain people to office, end abortion, etc. I prayed for my personal needs, financial needs, physical needs, and the needs of my wife, children, and extended family. I prayed for the church I pastored. I prayed it would grow and that we would see many souls saved. I prayed God would send us new members, people with a servant’s heart, ready and willing to get busy for God.

Did God answer my prayers? How could I know? Since God could say yes, no, or not now to every prayer I prayed or get me to modify my request, so my will lined up with his, how could I ever know if God ever, actually, one time, answered a prayer of mine?

unanswered prayers 2

Christians tend to think that proof of God answering prayer occurs when something they perceive as good happens to them. They get sick and they pray that God will make them well, and sure enough they recover. Thus, God healed them. Money is tight and they ask God to get their employer to give them a raise, and sure enough they get a raise. It’s God that gave them a raise. Since God is good all the time, when good things happen it is God’s doing.

What about when bad things happen? Is God behind the bad things that happen, as in the case of Job? Shouldn’t God get credit for everything that happens to Christians? Since God is sovereign and in control of the universe, shouldn’t the placard on God’s desk say, The buck stops here? This is a thorny, troublesome issue for Christians. They don’t like blaming God for the bad things of life so they come up with different ways to excuse God:

  • The Romans 8:28 excuse And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
  • The James 1:12-15 excuse Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
  • The Romans 9 excuse So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour.
  • The Hebrews 12 excuse And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?

What do these four excuses tell us about bad things and their relationship to God?

  • There are no bad things. God means everything for the good of the Christian. Things perceived as bad are really good since their objective is to make one a better Christian.
  • That God chastens (spanks, whips, disciplines, corrects) Christians so that they might be better Christians. Once again, bad things happening are really just God getting the Christian’s attention.
  • Enduring perceived bad things from the hand of God will result in a reward from God when Christians get to Heaven.
  • Questioning God’s dealings with Christians is not permitted. God can do whatever he wants. He is, after all, God. He created everyone, so he can do whatever he wants with us. So what if it seems God is being evil and malicious towards us. He has the power, authority, and right to do so. Besides, God is good all the time and he means it for their . . . let the circular reasoning continue.

answered and unanswered prayer

Now back to my own prayers. WHY always lurked in the background. WHY is this happening? What is God trying to say to me? Is God judging me, teaching me, chastising me, building me up, tearing me down . . .? You know the drill.

Why did God lead me to leave a church I pastored for eleven years and move to Texas? Why did God then change his mind after seven months? Why did God lead me to sell some prized possessions I owned so I could help a family move from Texas to Ohio only to change his mind and have that same family move right back to Texas three months later? These are but two of a number of stories I could share about God, through prayer, leading me to do this or that, only to change his mind a few days, weeks, or months later.

When I took a big step back and began to look at my prayers and their connection to God, I came to see there was no connection at all. Good and bad things happen to everyone. It doesn’t matter whether a person prays. Shit happens, and that shit is called life. Praying changes nothing. It may help people feel better or give them peace, but in the morning whatever they are praying about is still there for them to face.

Praying often becomes an excuse for not dealing with life. Making a decision can be offloaded to God, and that way whatever happens is God’s will. Instead of owning the decision, God gets all the credit — that is, unless something bad happens, and then the Devil or the flesh gets the credit (even though, according to the Bible, the Devil operates under the control of God).

This seems quite maddening to me. I like my current view of life much better. Good and bad things happen. Good and bad decisions are made every day. Luck plays a big part in life. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. I am responsible for the decisions I make and I cannot control the decisions other people make. My new perspective on life has forced me to reevaluate the leading of God in the past. If it wasn’t God leading me or God answering my prayer who was it?

Me. That’s right, me. I did what I wanted to do. I may have couched my decisions in Christian-speak, but I was the one making the decisions. There is no imaginary God to blame and no imaginary God to praise. The only God in the equation is of human form. Take the two illustrations I gave above.

I left a church I started and pastored for eleven years and moved to Texas. I became the co-pastor of a young, exciting, growing Sovereign Grace Baptist church. I saw this as my once-in-a-lifetime move. My wife and I were excited about God “leading” us to this church. Yet, seven months later, we were back in Ohio, bruised, battered, and abused. We had our hearts ripped out. The church even went so far as to excommunicate me and to this day they consider me a “publican and heathen” (Matthew 18). What went wrong? Did I “mishear” God? Did God just want to move me to Texas so he could give me an ass-whipping? (See I am a Publican and a Heathen.)

The truth is we should never have moved. The new church offered me a pay increase that doubled what I was making in Ohio. They offered us a new mobile home to live in, rent and utility free. I saw it as a golden opportunity, a chance to get out of the financial hole we were in. I also saw the move as an opportunity to put my evangelism skills to good use.  Everything about this move said . . . YES! YES! YES!

However, I ignored the character, personality, and temperament of the man I was going to work with. He started the church and, while I was going to be co-pastor, there was no doubt who was the REAL pastor. This man was just like me. Driven. Strong-willed. Bull-headed. Arrogant. Temperamental. Prone to anger. Certain of his beliefs. It took me all of a few weeks to realize that the church wasn’t big enough for both of us, and over the course over the next six months I lived just this side of Hell. In the end we fought and bickered like a couple of tom cats. We had no love or respect for each other. It was ugly and I am just as guilty in all of this as the other man. So much for a Christianity of love, peace, joy and understanding.

Take the other illustration I gave. Why did God lead me to sell some prized possessions I owned so I could help a family move from Texas to Ohio only to change his mind and have that same family move right back to Texas three months later?

This one is easier to parse. You see, this family was part of the church I was excommunicated from (though they had left it a short time after we moved away). Since God was “leading” them to move to Ohio and I felt “led” to help them, I did everything in my power to help them move. I spent $2,000 helping them move, including going to Texas to help them make the move. I had to sell several prized possessions so I could get the money necessary to help them move. One item I sold was a bolt-action Mossberg .410 shotgun. I bought it new when I was twelve years old for $22. The gun had special meaning to me, BUT God had a work for me to do so I sold it, along with several high-powered rifles, shotguns, and a handgun.

Those of you on the outside looking in can see what was going on in this story. This wasn’t God “leading” . . . it was me getting back at the pastor I had a falling out with and the church that excommunicated me. The family moved to Northwest Ohio, only to moved back home three months later. Why didn’t they stay? They were Hispanic, and they had just moved from racially diverse San Antonio to Anglo rural Ohio. The culture shock was overwhelming. I had talked to them about this before they moved and they were sure they could handle it. Everything about Ohio was different from the Hispanic culture they moved from. I don’t know what happened after they moved back to San Antonio. I heard they went back to the church and pleaded for forgiveness. Perhaps they repented of following after the evil Bruce Gerencser. I wonder how things are for them.

I tell these stories to illustrate the fact that in each of these cases I was certain that God was leading me and answering my prayer. I have come to see that throughout my Christian life that it wasn’t God leading the way at all. It was me. Was God leading me to go to a Christian college or was it that I wanted to be a pastor and I needed a college education to do that? Did God lead my wife and me to get married or did we get married because we were physically and emotionally attracted to each other? Every church I ever pastored grew numerically. Was that God’s doing? Was God answering my prayers for power from on high? Or did the churches grow because I worked hard, was a friendly pastor, and a pretty darn good public speaker?

As I look at every major decision I ever made that I attributed to God, I can see the hand of Bruce and the influence of other people. If it is God answering prayer then I have finally figured out who God is . . . I am.

I am sure my critics will take this post as the best proof yet that I never was a Christian. They now have proof that I had a man-powered, man-centered ministry and life. I even said I was God! What they blindly cannot or will not see is that their lives are no different from mine. I am not some special case. I am, in every way, a typical example of a person who devotedly followed after Jesus, and who one day woke up and finally realized that most of what he spent his life doing was predicated upon a fantasy.

All cartoons by David Hayward, the Naked Pastor

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.

Dear Evangelical, Why Don’t We See Any Miracles in Your Church?

healing
Cartoon by Ryan Kramer

One of the thorniest verses in the Bible for Evangelicals is John 14:12:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

Evangelicals believe that the fourteenth chapter of John is the very words of Jesus. This chapter tells Evangelicals not to have a troubled heart; that 2,000 years ago Jesus ascended back to heaven to prepare a room/mansion in heaven for them. When they die or if the Rapture happens before they die, Evangelicals are promised the keys to a brand new home in the sky. This chapter also tells Evangelicals that Jesus is THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life, proving to Evangelicals the exclusivity of their peculiar version of the Christian gospel.

In verse 14 Jesus says, If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. Ponder these words for a moment. Think about all the prayers Christians have uttered over the centuries, prayers asked in the name of Jesus without nary a response. Think about this verse in light of the current Coronavirus Pandemic. Evangelicals love to say that God answered this or that prayer, but pressed for proof of their supernatural claims, they quickly retreat to the safe confines of faith. (Please see A Few Thoughts on a Lifetime of Praying to the Christian God.)

Let’s do some Bible math:

If ye shall ask any thing in my name, will do it + He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do = a church that should regularly see people raised from the dead and healed; a church that should be able to feed the hungry; a church whose leaders work miracles, including walking on water, turning water into Welch’s grape juice, and healing the deaf, blind, and dumb. Add to this, Jesus also said in Mark 16:15-18:

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

According to Jesus, those who believe in him would cast out devils, speak in unlearned new languages, handle venomous snakes, drink poison and not die, and lay their hands on the sick, miraculously causing them to recover from their illnesses.

Is it not then fair to ask where such Christians are today? Where can a non-believer go to see Christians doing greater works than Jesus? Why are hospital beds not empty, mental hospitals closed down, and world hunger eliminated? Surely if, as the Bible says, Christians are to do works greater than Jesus, we skeptics have the right to say show us.

Most Christian sects come up with elaborate schemes to explain away the normative meaning of these verses. The works of Jesus and the early church were sign gifts, many Evangelicals say, and once the canon of Scripture was completed these sign gifts were no longer necessary. I wonder if Christians who say this ever consider that what they are basically saying is that Jesus was lying in John 15/Mark 16 or that there should no longer be the expectation of  verifiable miracles. (I use the word verifiable to turn away those that want to appeal to all sorts of subjective experiences that they say are proof of God working a m-i-r-a-c-l-e.)

waiting for a miracle
Graphic by David Hayward

In the delusional world inhabited by Pentecostals, snake-handling Baptists, and those who subscribe to CHARISMA magazine, greater works than Jesus are being performed on a regular basis. When asked for verifiable proof of their claims, appeals are made to faith or Christians mutter, I just KNOW that MY GOD is in the miracle-working business. Funny business God is in . . . no advertising or place of business, yet non-Christians are expected to believe the business exists. I know there is a McDonald’s right here, says the Charismatic, because a book I read tells me there is.

Here’s my challenge to Evangelicals. Please pray that God supernaturally heals me from my physical maladies, or that God stops the Coronavirus Pandemic in its tracks. If she does, I will believe and recant every word I’ve ever written about the Bible, God, Jesus, and Christianity. Wouldn’t it be a great testimony to the miraculous power of almighty God and the veracity of the Christian narrative if God healed an atheist like me? Instead of praying for God to kill me, why not pray for God to heal me?  Better yet, forget me. Heal my wife. I’m waiting . . .

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: COVID-19 Virus is “Persecuting” Christians

mike-pence-coronavirus-prayer

Listen here, you dirty coronavirus bug! You will NOT win! In Jesus name, the church is going to use what you are doing to the world and turn it around for something good. Your days of creating chaos will come to an end as Jesus heals body and soul. Your fear will be vanquished in the life-giving blood of Jesus as He makes new creatures, converting the lost souls. Persecution has never diminished the affects of the church. Quite the opposite! Persecution has always caused the church to grow and flourish. And, even though we can’t see you, you are an enemy that WILL be defeated. You will NOT conquer. “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Jesus name — and all God’s people said — AMEN!

— John MacFarlane, Pastor of First Baptist Church, Bryan, Ohio, COVID-19 DOES Work Together For Good, March 19, 2020

Note: I attended First Baptist Church in the mid1960s and 1970s.

What the Coronavirus Pandemic Tells Us About the Efficacy of Prayer

coronavirus psalm 91:10

Unless you are Jeremiah Johnson living in an abandoned bus in remote Alaska without access to electricity, cellphone service, and internet access, you have likely heard that the world is being ravaged by the COVID-19 virus. Here in the Buckeye State, Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine banned gatherings of people — inexplicably exempting houses of worship — and ordered the shutdown of all food establishments. I suspect Governor DeWine is not yet done with attempts to mitigate the Coronavirus.

While Ohio is in the early stages of the Coronavirus outbreak, other states, cities, and countries are facing alarming increases in cases and deaths. Medical workers are overwhelmed, supplies are running low, and hospitals lack available beds and respirators to treat seriously ill patients — with and without infection from the Coronavirus. My wife was scheduled to have major bowel surgery on March 24. After talking it over with me, Polly decided to postpone her surgery until late June. Yes, that means three more months with a colostomy bag, but it beats being exposed to the virus while in a medically compromised state. I have canceled all of my doctor’s appointments, save one. Since I am on the “this shit will kill you if you catch it” list, I am homebound for the duration. Yesterday, I heard from one long-time reader of this blog who is infected with Covid-19. His mother could also be infected. Here in the United States, we are in the early stages of the spread of the virus. Things will get worse before they get better; and they WILL, in time, get better. Whether all of us come out on the other side of this medically and financially whole, or even among the living, for that matter, is unknown. All any of us can do is listen to what experts are telling us and act accordingly.

Last Friday, President Donald Trump called for a National Day of Prayer on Sunday, March 15. That day has now passed, and, as expected, millions of Christians praying to their version of the Christian God did exactly nothing. Granted, I am sure some of the faithful felt better after beseeching the big man upstairs to ameliorate those affected by the Coronavirus. I suspect that scores of Evangelicals prayed to Jesus, asking him to turn back this attempt by China and the Democrats to crash Trump’s awesome economy and run him out of office. Yet, outside of the cathartic psychological effects felt from praying, what, exactly, changed after the Nothing Fails Like Prayer National Day of Christian Piety? Nothing, absolutely nothing. “Bruce, you can’t know that,” I am sure some Evangelicals might say. “God works behind the scenes in mysterious ways!” Sorry, but this line of bullshit no longer works for me, and I suspect it no longer works for millions of other people, including many Christians. It’s time for the Evangelical God to come out of the shadows and reveal himself. It’s time for him/her/it to make an appearance at hospitals and nursing homes and do some real “saving.” And dammit, it is time for Jesus to make sure there’s toilet paper in every American home. Just remember, the family that shits together stays together.

I am not attacking individual Christians for praying. You do whatever it takes to get you through this crisis. However, don’t expect rational people who put their faith in science to give any credence to claims that your God has the power to do anything about the Coronavirus pandemic. If 2,000 years of Christian church history has taught us anything, it has taught us that when epidemics, plagues, wars, and natural disasters show their faces, the God of Christianity remains firmly ensconced in the fictional pages of the Bible. He is but a character in a movie that’s been playing on an endless loop for thousands of years. We alone remain the only hope for a better tomorrow. We alone have the opportunity, knowledge, and power to hopefully limit the consequences of the COVID-19 virus. I remain hopeful that the world is up to the task and that better days lie ahead.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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Is God to Blame for the Coronavirus?

Cartoon by Clay Jones

The coronavirus gives rise to one of those deliciously pregnant moments when Evangelical theology runs smack dab into reality. The question I want to answer is this: is the Evangelical God to blame for the current coronavirus outbreak? Is God in any way culpable for the origin of the virus, its infection of people, and the subsequent death of scores of people infected with the virus?

The bigger question is this: is the Evangelical God — the one true creator of all things — to blame for everything? Evangelicals might chafe at my use of the word “blame,” but if we are going to answer the questions mentioned above, isn’t ultimately the issue about blame; about culpability; about ownership; about whom the buck stops with?

Evangelicals are often schizophrenic when answering such questions. If God is the creator, the sovereign Lord over all, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and nothing happens apart from his purpose, plan, and decree, then it is reasonable to conclude that the Evangelical God is to blame for everything. If God is the first cause, the alpha and omega, the beginning and end, and he holds the world and all its inhabitants in the palm of his hand, surely non-Christians can’t be faulted for holding God responsible for what happens in their lives and the lives of others. Evangelicals are fond of saying that it is their God who sets up and takes down rulers; that Donald J. Trump is president because he is appointed by God to do so. Don’t like it, Democrats? Take it up with God!

With these things in mind, let’s consider the coronavirus. It is not reasonable to conclude that the Evangelical God is to blame for the virus; that he created it, controls it, and determines who will get the virus, and who will die from it? If God is omnipotent, then surely he has the power to start and stop the virus. If he can stop it, but won’t, what does that say about God? If he can’t stop the virus, surely it is fair for Christians and unbelievers alike to question whether God is really who Evangelicals say he is. And if God can stop the virus, but he only does it for some people — people who believe the right things; pray the right things; do the right acts of penance — what does this say about God’s character?

We need only look at what some sects and churches are doing in light of the coronavirus to see what many Christians believe about the power of God and the efficacy of prayer. Churches are canceling sacraments, communal activities, and events that bring people in proximity to each other. I suspect it won’t be long before churches will cancel worship services, suggesting that congregants stay at home and “commune” with God. Well, except for your weekly tithe and offering, please send it to the church office. Your envelope will be opened by dedicated church members wearing surgical gloves and masks. The church may be able to do without you — sorry for lying to you and saying you were “special” — but we can’t do without your money.

Evangelical vice president Mike Pence is in charge of the coronavirus task force. One of the first things he did was convene a prayer meeting. Why? Is there any evidence for the efficacy of prayer; that there is a God in Heaven listening to and answering the petitions of Christians? According to the Bible, God does not listen to the prayers of unbelievers, so those of us who are unbelievers and come down sick with the virus better put our hope in science and modern medicine. These are the Gods we worship! I suspect in a 1 Kings 18-like battle between Praying Christians and the Prophets of Science, that the Prophets of Science are going to win every time. Perhaps it is time to start keeping track: the number of infected people saved solely by prayer and the number of infected people saved solely by science and medical treatment. Of course, how would we know if someone was cured through prayer? I doubt many Evangelicals are willing to forgo medical treatment and just faith it out. When it comes to serious health problems, the Mike Pences of the world become big believers in vaccines and medical intervention. If God is all that Evangelicals say he is, why not let him sort things out? If he holds every believer in the palm of his hand, surely the triune God can keep those believers from getting a silly, not-serious-says-Trump virus. Is it not time for Evangelicals to trust their God to take care of them? When a taxpayer-funded vaccine becomes available, Evangelicals true to their faith (and politics) should forgo treatment. “God will see us through,” modern prophets of God say. “When the coronavirus plague comes over our land, we need not fear. God will see the blood of Jesus on the doorposts of our home and pass us by.” “It’s the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world that better worry!” “God’s going to come to their homes, see that’s there’s no blood applied to their doorposts, and unleash the coronavirus on everyone in their homes.” “Repent now, lest God afflict you and you die!”

I highly doubt any of us has anything to worry about when it comes to a mythical deity infecting us with anything but laughter. It’s not God I worry about, it’s the Evangelicals running the federal government who think prayer is a first-line defense against the coronavirus, and that God has everything under control.

While I argued above that God is to blame for the coronavirus, I did so because I want Evangelicals to think about the consequences of believing that God is in control of everything; that God is the sovereign Lord over all; that he holds the whole world in the palm of his hand. Such thinking breeds arrogant, foolish complacency. “Waiting on God” when it comes to our health leads to horrible outcomes, including death. If you must pray, by all means, do so, but then get up off your knees and responsibly take care of your health and that of your family. Stop supporting politicians such as Trump and Pence, who still have not yet grasped the seriousness of the coronavirus. And by all means, let science and reason, and not theology be your guide.

I don’t believe for a moment that God is to blame for anything. He’s a myth, and the man Jesus has been dead for 2,000 years. The only things standing between us and the virus are scientists, medical doctors, and rational people who understand what is required of them to deal with the coronavirus.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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1972: My First and Last All-Night Prayer Meeting

singing group trinity baptist church findlay
Singing Group Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio. Bruce Gerencser is the last person on the right, age 15.

As a fifteen-year-old boy at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, I attended my first all-night prayer meeting. Trinity was a fast-growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, nearing 1,000 in attendance. The pastors and deacons decided that the church needed the men of the congregation to spend a night storming the throne room of Heaven. I’m not sure if there was an exact reason for the prayer meeting, but I suspect it had to do with the church’s troubled building program and the continued evangelization of the lost. At the time, Trinity met in a building on Trenton Avenue. Maxed out seating-wise, Pastor Gene Milioni and the congregation decided to build a large, round building on land donated to them by Ralph Ashcraft on County Road 236 east of Findlay. At the time, the land was farmland. Today, it is surrounded by housing and commercial businesses.

Trinity tried to fund the construction project by selling bonds to congregants. According to Peach State Financial, church bonds are

a form of fixed-rate financing typically used to finance church expansion. What are church bonds? Church bonds are certificates of indebtedness which are sold by churches to create funds for church construction, purchase, or renovation. The church is acting as the borrower and the bond investors who are often times church members are the lenders.

The church bonds issued by the church are sold by the church broker dealer who acts as the lender who follows certain guidelines in the transaction. The church is not required to sell the bonds.

….

The interest rate earned on church bonds for the investor generally runs from 4.5% to 8.5%. Bank savings accounts and Certificates of Deposit pay only a fraction of this amount. A church bond program is a win-win situation for the church and it’s members.

These bonds were, in essence, loans by church members to the church, featuring handsome interest rates upon repayment. Such bond programs were common among growing IFB churches at the time. The risk, of course, was that the bonds were not insured or guaranteed. While I am not certain of the exact details, I believe Trinity’s bond program was fraught with problems, including running afoul of securities laws and late repayment. The church eventually paid off all the bonds and became debt-free.

On that night in 1972, the “need” was palpable. God was moving and working at Trinity Baptist. The buildings and buses were filled to capacity. Three pastors were on staff full-time. Virtually every Sunday, souls were being saved and members added to the membership. A few months prior, I had been saved, baptized, and called to preach. My heart burned with passion for Jesus and the salvation of sinners. Well, that and girls. Gotta keep it real . . .

At the appointed time, a handful of church men and teen boys gathered in the church auditorium for prayer. Some of the pray-ers, planned on praying all night, while others had signed up for specific times, say 1:00-3:00 AM. I, along with several of my youth group friends, planned on “praying” all night. While we intended to fervently and dutifully pray, the thought of a night away from home with friends proved to be the driving motivation for our attendance. We quickly learned that praying for any length of time was hard. Up until that night, my longest prayers were minutes, not hours long. I found myself running out of things to talk to God about. “Surely, he heard me the first time,” I thought, so it seemed to me a waste of time to keep bugging God about the same things over, and over, and over again. However, I went through the motions, kneeling at the altar with the men of the church. I am sure they thought I was quite a “spiritual” boy. Recently called to preach, I am sure they thought that great things awaited the Gerencser boy. Unfortunately, as time wore on, restless, jokester, goof-off Bruce showed up, and Ray Salisbury, a stern deacon who had a daughter I was interested in, told me that I would have to go home if I couldn’t maintain the proper decorum. All prayed out, I rode my bike home and crawled into bed in the wee hours of the morning. I am sure my pastors were disappointed with my lack of enduring spirituality. I, on the other hand, look back at this story and think, “man, I was a restless, ornery fifteen-year-old boy. Getting me to sit still for any amount of time was a victory.”

This prayer meeting was my first and only all-night prayer meeting. Have you ever attended an all-night prayer meeting? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter. 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.

 

How to Deal with Christian Well-Wishers

i am praying for you

Saint Christopher Hitchens died eight years ago (December 15, 2011). As many of you do, I miss Hitchens’ quick wit and acerbic tongue. While I disagreed with Hitch politically, we had much in common when it came to our critiques of Evangelical Christianity. I had a deep love, respect, and admiration for the man.

Several months after Hitchens’ death from esophageal cancer, his last book was released. Titled Mortality, the book was an introspective look at human mortality — in particular his own. I heartily recommend this book to everyone, Christian or not. Hitchens wrote:

  • The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of ‘acceptance,’ hasn’t so far had much application to my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been ‘in denial’ for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by the gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read — if not indeed to write — the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity.
  • To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?
  • Myself, I love the imagery of struggle. I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent soldier or revolutionary is the very last one that will occur to you. You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water.
  • It’s normally agreed that the question ‘How are you?’ doesn’t put you on your oath to give a full or honest answer. So when asked these days, I tend to say something cryptic like, ‘A bit early to say.’ (If it’s the wonderful staff at my oncology clinic who inquire, I sometimes go so far as to respond, ‘I seem to have cancer today.’) Nobody wants to be told about the countless minor horrors and humiliations that become facts of ‘life’ when your body turns from being a friend to being a foe: the boring switch from chronic constipation to its sudden dramatic opposite; the equally nasty double-cross of feeling acute hunger while fearing even the scent of food; the absolute misery of gut-wringing nausea on an utterly empty stomach; or the pathetic discovery that hair loss extends to the disappearance of the follicles in your nostrils, and thus to the childish and irritating phenomenon of a permanently runny nose . . . It’s no fun to appreciate to the full the truth of the materialist proposition that I don’t have a body, I am a body.
  • The man who prays is the one who thinks that god has arranged matters all wrong, but who also thinks that he can instruct god how to put them right.
  • However, one thing that grave illness does is to make you examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings. And there’s one that I find I am not saying with quite the same conviction as I once used to: In particular, I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. In fact, I now sometimes wonder why I ever thought it profound . . . In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker.
  • Like so many of life’s varieties of experience, the novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. And I don’t so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it’s time to be on my way. No, it’s the snickering that gets me down.
  • So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing.

Live long enough, and your thoughts will increasingly turn towards your own morality. I am sixty-two and in fragile health. I am facing yet another health challenge, one that, frankly, worries me. I will have a CT scan next week, and then see the surgeon the week after for the results. I don’t want to make something out of possibly nothing, so I will refrain from talking much about this until the doctor says, you have ________________. Besides, my wife’s health problems this year are enough to worry me without adding more to my already full plate.

When Polly landed in the hospital in January, had major abdominal surgery in August, and was off work for two months, I was confronted with her fragility too. I thought, she could die!? No, no, no, that’s not how it’s supposed to happen! I am the sicko. I am first in line when it comes to dying. Funny how “life” doesn’t give a shit about what we think or want. “Life” just happens, regardless of our objections and protestations. “Life” ain’t fair, and not everything is unicorns, rainbows, and puppies. Live long enough, and the circumstances of life are going to deal you a lousy hand — with or without Jesus. All any of us can do is endure and hope for a better tomorrow.

Being an unbeliever, and having Christian friends, neighbors, and workmates often puts you in a difficult place when hard times come your way. You certainly want empathy and support from those closest to you, but when those people are Christians, their help is often couched in religious verbiage. It’s hard enough when you are feeling well to deal with Jesusy platitudes, but when you are sick, in pain, or dying, the last thing you want to hear is religious drivel.

A September 2010 Associated Press story shared Hitchens’ view on such things:

Stricken with cancer and fragile from chemotherapy, author and outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens sits in an armchair before an audience and waits for the only question that can come first at such a time.

“How’s your health?” asks Larry Taunton [who later wrote a fraudulent book about Hitchens that alleged Hitch might have become a Christian], a friend who heads an Alabama-based group dedicated to defending Christianity.

“Well, I’m dying, since you asked, but so are you. I’m only doing it more rapidly,” replies Hitchens, his grin faint and his voice weak and raspy. Only wisps of his dark hair remain; clothes hang on his frame.

….

For some of his critics, it might be satisfying to see a man who has made a career of skewering organized religion switch sides near the end of his life and pray silently for help fighting a ravaging disease.

He has an opportunity: Monday has been informally proclaimed “Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day.”

Christopher Hitchens won’t be bowing his head, even on a day set aside just for him.

“I shall not be participating,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

….

Taunton is devoutly Christian yet has developed a fast friendship with Hitchens, who appeared at a similar debate sponsored by the organization last year. Taunton is among those praying for Hitchens, and Hitchens takes no offense.

The way the English-born Hitchens sees it, the people praying for him break down into three basic groups: those who seem genuinely glad he’s suffering and dying from cancer; those who want him to become a believer in their religious faith; and those who are asking God to heal him.

Hitchens has no use for that first group. “‘To hell with you’ is the response to the ones who pray for me to go to hell,” Hitchens told AP.

He’s ruling out the idea of a deathbed change of heart: “‘Thanks but no thanks’ is the reply to those who want me to convert and recognize a divinity or deity.”

It’s that third group — people who are asking God for Hitchens’ healing — that causes Hitchens to choose his words even more carefully than normal. Are those prayers OK? Are they helpful?

“I say it’s fine by me, I think of it as a nice gesture. And it may well make them feel better, which is a good thing in itself,” says Hitchens.

But prayers for his healing don’t make him feel better.

“Well, not any more than very large numbers of very kind, thoughtful letters from nonbelievers, some of whom know me, some of whom don’t, asking me to know that they are on my side,” Hitchens said. “That cheers me up, yes.”

Hitchens doesn’t know exactly how “Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day” began, other than that it’s one of those things that appears on the Internet and goes viral. He declined an invitation to appear at a rabbi’s prayer service in Washington that day, and he doesn’t see any point in the exercise.

“I’m perfectly sure that there is nothing to be gained from it in point of my health, but perhaps I shouldn’t even say that. If it would do something for my morale possibly it would do something for my health. We all know that morale is an element in recovery,” he said. “But incantations, I don’t think, have any effect on the material world.”

Every time I mention a personal health problem, I can count on receiving blog comments and social media messages saying this or that Christian is praying for me. My standard response is to either ignore their comments or politely say “thank you.” In saying “thank you,” I am not, in any way, validating their beliefs or the existence of the Christian God. All I am doing is saying that I appreciate their thoughtfulness. Having spent most of my life in the Christian church, I know that people often say “I’m praying for you” when they don’t know what else to say or do. If it’s a one-off, I’m fine with their “praying for you” comment. It’s when they repeatedly tell me that they are praying for me that annoys me. There’s no need to keep reminding me that you are praying for me — if you are. Often, “praying for you” becomes an easy way to do nothing, much like “thoughts and prayers” every time there is another mass shooting.

Instead of doing the least you can do — praying — how about putting feet and hands to your prayers and meaningfully doing something for the sick, hurting, and dying? I am as guilty as the next person when I use social media emoticons or “thinking of you” comments to express my concern for someone. It is so easy to click LIKE and then move on to a funny cat video. For both the religious and the godless, instead of empty words, perhaps we should think about what we can do to help others. How can I make a difference in my friend’s, neighbor’s, or workmate’s life?

To Christians who might read this post, I ask you to pause for a moment before you say to an atheist, agnostic, or unbeliever, “I’m praying for you.” Ask yourself: why am I saying these words? What help will my words be to others? Is there something else I can do instead of uttering a religious cliché? Does this person already know I am praying for them? Do I really need to remind them that I am doing so?

Look, it’s not easy confronting the mortality of our families, friends, and neighbors. Rarely does a week go by when I don’t read a newspaper obituary about someone I knew. Someday, it will be someone else reading my death notice. Not only are Polly and I battling serious health problems, we also have to deal with older family members who are dropping like flies. Just this week, we found out one of Polly’s aunts has only a few months to live. Her husband died a year or so ago. Polly’s mom has been at death’s door for months. Her father was recently admitted to the hospital for an infection and is now in a nursing home for the umpteenth time. He is sliding, ever-so-slowly, into dementia. The last time we visited Mom and Dad, he spoke all of a dozen or so words to us. It’s hard to believe that this feeble old man at age sixty-five was working in a factory and doing construction work on the side. I can say the same for myself. It seems like yesterday, I was a strong, viral man, one who hunted, played competitive sports, and did all his own auto and home repairs. Last weekend, I hired three of my grandchildren to rake our yard. I quietly wept as I thought, yet another thing I can no longer do.

Instead of saying to me, “I’m praying for you,” perhaps both of us would be better served if you said nothing. Instead of empty religious clichés, how about a look that says, “I understand” or a gentle hug that reflects our shared humanity. Or better yet, how about sharing a meal or hoisting a drink in honor of our friendship? Last Sunday, Polly and I had dinner at Taco’s Nacho’s with Dave and Newana Echler. Dave and I have been friends for over fifty years. For several years, I was their pastor. We have each helplessly watched as the other battles life-threatening illnesses. Every time we get together I wonder, will this be the last time we see each other?

The Echler’s are Christians. Newana is a Nazarene preacher’s daughter. They were heartbroken when Polly and I left Christianity. Yet, our friendship has survived. How? Because we chose to set religion and atheism aside, and, instead, focus on the things we have in common: good food, love of backroad travel, and family. We have so much shared history, I would hate to lose them as friends. As we left the restaurant, I reminded myself of how blessed I was to have the Echlers as friends. I am sure they privately pray for me, and while I can’t do the same for them, rarely does a day go by that I don’t think of them and wonder how they are doing. Every time we part company, we briefly embrace and say, “I love you.”  Love. Is this not what really matters? It was Dave who drove to Fort Wayne on the day of Polly’s surgery to be with me. It was Dave who pressed $300 in my hand, knowing that we were going through difficult times financially. It seems to me that instead of saying, “I’m praying for you,” what Christians and heathens alike need are tangible, thoughtful expressions of kindness and love.

What say ye, dear readers? Please leave your pithy, erudite thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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How Does God Do It?

all powerful god

Warning! Honey wagons full of snark ahead, sure to offend Evangelicals, MAGA supporters, and prayer warriors.

Have you ever wondered how God does what he does — allegedly, anyway? God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. According to Evangelicals, their deity is an all-powerful God who is present everywhere, and sees, hears, and knows everything. Think about all the things we humans do each and every day, including the stuff we don’t want anyone to see. No matter where we are, the Evangelical God is watching us, and recording our thoughts, words, and deeds — pen and paper, digital or VCR? This God is also, supposedly, in the prayer-answering business. Now, the Evangelical God doesn’t answer Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Catholic, or Mormon prayers; that is unless their prayers are for forgiveness of sin and salvation. God only answers the prayers of True Christians®. Think, for a moment, about the billions of prayers that are sent Jesus’ way every day; every prayer a demand for a blessing, help, forgiveness, or travel directions. And if Evangelicals are to be believed, EVERY prayer is answered one of three ways by God: yes, no, not now.

It seems to me that there is not enough time each day for God to get his work done. Maybe that’s why most prayers go unanswered, and those that “seem” answered sure look a lot like self-fulfilled answers. Perhaps God is too busy watching our every move and recording each of them with indelible ink into the Book of Life or some other divine book to be bothered with feeding the hungry, ending war, stopping mass shootings, and healing the sick. Are not cemeteries flashing advertisements that remind us that God is a lousy faith healer; that God is best known for being deaf, blind, and indifferent?

President Donald Trump — a Christian and frequent metaphorical sex partner of Jerry Falwell, Jr. — believes he is the hardest working man to ever live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Yet, we know better. Trump is a slacker who spends his days watching Fox News, tweeting, eating fast food, playing golf, and undoing everything President Obama did during his presidency. So much Trump should be doing, yet he spends most of his time saying and doing things that help no one, ignoring the pleas of the poor, sick, and homeless. Much like God, wouldn’t you say? God doesn’t heal your dying loved ones, but blessed be the name of the sweet baby Jesus, he sure helps countless grandmas find their lost keys or snag parking spots by the front doors of their favorite grocery stores.

praying pope francis
Cartoon by David Granlund

Catholics say that Pope Frank is the vicar of Christ — Jesus’ representative on earth. Now, according to Evangelicals, Catholics aren’t Christians, so the Pope CAN’T be Jesus’ right-hand man. That got me thinking. Maybe, Donald Trump is Christ’s representative on earth. He’s a Christian man. Eighty-two percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for him in the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s been compared to some of the great leaders of the Bible; a man who is unusually blessed and empowered by the triune God of Christianity. And if Trump is the God-ordained CEO of planet Earth, is he not, as God is, accountable for all the unanswered prayers? Trump can do anything but fail. Evidently, anything doesn’t include the prayerful pleas of immigrants. Surely, this is enough of a reason to vote the man out of office in 2020. Not that anything will change, prayer-wise. If God is anything, he’s fair when it comes to ignoring prayers. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Independents alike find that God is nowhere to be found.

It’s possible, I suppose, that God uses his angels to keep the machinery running. He might even use Satan and demons to help. Is that not what God did when he wanted to teach a man named Job a lesson? It was Satan who meted out God’s punishment of Job, including afflicting him with boils, killing his children, and destroying his residence and means of income. The Bible says Satan walks about the earth seeking whom he may devour. Evangelicals don’t believe that Satan can hear their prayers, but what if Jesus and Lucifer — brothers according to Mormonism — have an old-fashioned country party-line; and Lucifer is always on the line listening to the secret prayers of Evangelicals. This might explain why so many Evangelical preachers plead with God to deliver them from pornography and other sexual sins, yet they keep committing the same bad behaviors over, and over, and over again. These men of God ask Jesus to keep them pure, but sneaky Lucifer hears their prayers and somehow, some way, causes their holy fingers to type hotchristianbabes.com in Chrome and click GO. If only God had a private line.

Bruce, you are quite a snarky smart ass tonight. What point are you trying to make? Do I always have to have a point? Okay, you got me. Yes, I have a point. I want Evangelicals to think about the claims they make when it comes to their God. Is God really an all-powerful deity who is present everywhere, and sees, hears, and knows everything? What evidence do they have for making such claims? Doesn’t the evidence suggest that God is not omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; that the only God answering prayers is us? Doesn’t the evidence tell us that the change we want in the world will only come through our actions, and not those of an invisible, non-involved God? If we want Trump removed from office, it’s up to us to do it. Hunger, poverty, war, global climate change, sickness, disease, and the Cincinnati Bengals winning the Super Bowl? None of these things is the purview of the Gods — be it the Evangelical God or any other deity. We alone have the power to make the earth a better place to live. We alone have the power to restore sanity to Washington. We alone have the power to provide every child with a better tomorrow. We know, based on the evidence at hand, that the Evangelical God is not the answer. And it’s a pretty safe bet that none of the other extant Gods is the answer either. Perhaps it is time to chuck organized religion in the dustbin of history and chart a new course. If scientists are right about global warming and unchecked population growth, time is running out for the human race — and dogs and cats too. Perhaps it is time to give the humanistic ideal a spin. Christianity, along with its Abrahamic brothers Islam and Judaism, has had centuries to make the earth a better place to live. Surely, it is fair to say that on balance these religions have failed, and they know it.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Prayer: Asking and Receiving

asking-and-receiving

Evangelicals believe the words printed in red in the New Testament were uttered by Jesus himself. Thus, in John 14:13, Jesus says to his followers: whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. Jesus’ unambiguous statement makes it clear that whatsoever Christians prayerfully ask in his name, he will do. Awesome, right? Mark 11:24 records Jesus saying: Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. Jesus’ statement in Mark 11:24 is even more extreme. Whatsoever Christians desire and pray for, if they will really, really, really believe that God will give it to them, Jesus will affirmatively and fully answer their prayers. If only this were true, why I might become a Christian again. I have a lot of things that need fixing in my life. I am more than happy to let Jesus take the wheel! But, alas, the Jews buried the steering wheel with Jesus in an undisclosed location, so I am on my own.

Decades ago, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) evangelist John R. Rice wrote a book titled, Prayer: Asking and Receiving. Rice, the long-time editor of the Sword of the Lord newspaper, believed that “getting” what you wanted from God was as simple as praying and asking God to deliver. Granted, Rice, and others who followed in his footsteps, had all sorts of explanations for “why” God failed to come through, but these Fundamentalist men of God sincerely believed that getting what they needed in their ministries and personal lives was but a prayer away. Rice believed that the primary hindrance to answered prayer was “sin.” He advocated praying for forgiveness as soon as you became aware that a behavior or action was sin. “Keep your sin lists short,” Rice said.  The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: Pray without ceasing. Rice believed that Christians should always be in a spirit of prayer, ever-ready to shoot a prayer up to God. In Asking and Receiving, Rice wrote:

The normal Christian life is a life of regular, daily answer to prayer. In the model prayer, Jesus taught His disciples to pray daily for bread, and expect to get it, and to ask daily for forgiveness, for deliverance from the evil one, and for other needs, and daily to get the answers they sought.

For many years, IFB churches, parachurch ministries, and education institutions grew numerically and financially. In the minds of many IFB Christians, this proved Rice’s contention that prayer was believers asking and God delivering. Today, the vast majority of these churches, ministries, and schools are shells of what they once were. Many of them have closed their doors. What are we to make of their precipitous decline? Did Rice’s prayer formula no longer work? Or, perhaps, it never did work, and answered prayers came from and through human instrumentality, not God.

In the 1980s, I pastored a rapidly growing IFB congregation. Starting with 16 people, in four years the church grew to 200. I thought, at the time, that God had answered my prayers. I pleaded with God to save the lost, stir the saints, and cause Somerset Baptist Church to be a lighthouse in the community. And for five or six years, it seemed God was coming through every time I asked him to do so. Not that I was ever satisfied. I remember Rice saying, “It is not wrong to have a small church — for a while.” I attended numerous IFB preacher’s conferences and Sword of the Lord conferences in the 1970s and 1980s. The theme was always the same: building large churches for the glory of God. I was never, ever happy with the numbers. I took it personally when people skipped church. How dare they miss out on what Bruce — uh, I mean God — was doing at Somerset Baptist. I would learn, over time, that it wasn’t God that “blessed” my ministry, it was me and a handful of dedicated volunteers. One day, I looked behind the vending machine IFB preachers called God, and I noticed it was unplugged. Prayer wasn’t asking and receiving. At best, it was asking, asking, and asking, and then acting accordingly. I found that it was humans, not God, who answered prayers; that I was asking “self” for this or that, and “self” gave me what I asked for.

Rice went to his grave believing: “According to the Bible, a genuine answer to prayer is getting what you ask for.” If he had any doubts, he never uttered them in public. While John 14:13 and Mark 11:24 are clear – that if Christians ask, they will receive – evidence on the ground is clear: God doesn’t answer prayer. Either God can’t answer prayer because he doesn’t exist, or Christians live such sinful lives that their God has turned a deaf ear to their petitions. My money is on the former.

The next time an Evangelical says to you, THE BIBLE SAYS __________, ask him about John 14:13 and Mark 11:24. Do your own version of THE BIBLE SAYS __________. Ask him if Jesus meant what he said in these verses. The answer that comes next will likely prove to be long on obfuscation and theological gymnastics and short on, The B-i-b-l-e, yes that’s the book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-i-b-l-e. BIBLE!

How did your pastors and churches handle verses such as John 14:13 and Mark 11:24? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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.