Tag Archive: Prayer

Hearing the “Voice of God”

hearing the voice of god

Spend enough time around Evangelicals and you will learn that not only do they talk to God, they also hear God talk to them. In any other setting “hearing” voices will land you in the hospital on a 72-hour psych hold, but if the voice being heard is GOD, then hearers of this silent utterance are considered sane, rational beings. Evangelicals believe God not only speaks to them through the words in the Bible, he also audibly, yet silently, speaks to them during prayer and meditation and at random moments throughout the day. Evidently, the Christian God is able to carry on millions of silent conversations with his followers at the same time. Awesome, right? Too bad, this same God is not very good at making sure everyone he is talking to is hearing the same message.

Evangelicals say they hear the voice of God, but often different Christians hear different things, often wildly contrary to what God told someone else. I noticed this particularly during church business meetings. Members were expected to pray and seek the will of God on the matter of business before the church. After, “hearing” from God, members were expected to be of one mind — Greek for “agreeing with the pastor.” As anyone who has ever attended a Baptist business meeting will tell you, unity of mind is rarely on display. If everyone is supposedly “hearing” the voice of God, why are there so many competing viewpoints? What color should we paint the auditorium, the pastor asks? Let’s seek God’s mind on the matter! You would think that God would tell everyone BLUE. Nope. God, ever the jokester, whispers to various members different colors, sowing discord among the brethren.

Years ago, I started the Somerset Baptist Church — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation in southeast Ohio. The congregation first met in an empty storefront. After a few months, we moved to what was then called the Landmark Building. We rented the entire second floor for $200 a month. One day, I was out and about and stumbled upon an old abandoned Methodist church building — five miles east of Somerset, on top of Sego Hill. I made some inquiries about the building, and found out that it was for sale. I told the congregation about my exciting find, asking that they would pray about us buying the building. After a week or so, I held a business meeting, thinking God had told congregants the same thing he told me: buy the building! Imagine my surprise when it became clear to me that the church was NOT in favor of buying the building. I was so depressed. How could they NOT hear God’s voice? I thought. Yes, the building was $20,000, a large sum for a fledgling church, but I believed God never ordered anything he didn’t pay for. Dejected, I called the Methodists and told them we wouldn’t be buying the building.

Several weeks later, the Methodists called me and asked me if the church had changed its mind about buying the building. Before I could respond, the man said, make us an offer, Bruce. I shot a quick prayer to Jesus, asking him what I should do. As sure as I am sitting here today, I heard him say, offer them $5,000. I thought, $5,000? The Methodists will never accept such a low offer. But, not wanting to disappoint Jesus, I made the $5,000 offer. The man said, we will talk it over. Sure enough, a few days later, the Methodists called to tell me that they accepted my offer! I thought, PRAISE JESUS, we are going to have our own building. All I had to do is convince the congregation that the voice they thought they heard at the business meeting was not God’s; either that, or in the intervening weeks God had changed his mind. Fortunately, the church heard MY voice, and we bought the building.

Silly story, I know, but I think it aptly illustrates the idea that God speaks to people. I wanted something — a church building — and I got my way. I heard the voice of God countless times during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, and, without exception, what God was saying perfectly aligned with what I wanted, needed, or desired. God’s will be done, as Evangelicals are wont to say, was actually Bruce’s will be done. 

In late 1993, Pastor Pat Horner and Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, extended to me an invitation to become their co-pastor. I prayed about the matter, deciding that God wanted me to stay as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church. I “wanted” to move to Texas, but God said NO, or so I told myself anyway. Several weeks later, I was pondering the future of Somerset Baptist, and all of a sudden, I started crying. In that moment God spoke to me, telling me he wanted me to move my family to San Antonio, Texas so I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist. Wait a minute, didn’t God “tell” you several weeks before that he wanted me to stay in Ohio? Yes, he did, but evidently, he changed his mind. Never mind the fact that the Bible says, I am the Lord thy God and I changeth not and Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I called Pat Horner and asked if the offer was still open. It was. You see, God had told them that I was going to be their co-pastor, so me — uh, I mean God — changing his mind was just confirmation to them of what he said to them. Two months later, I packed up family and worldly goods and moved to Texas. My tenure at Community lasted all of seven months — an unmitigated disaster.

Another silly story, I know, but it again illustrates how crazy it is to think God “speaks” to anyone. God didn’t tell me not to move, nor did he tell me to move. There is no God, so the only voice I was hearing was my own. The NO and YES were in my mind and reflected the struggle I was having about whether I wanted to continue pastoring Somerset Baptist Church. I spent eleven years at Somerset Baptist, living in poverty the whole time. For five years, my family and I — all eight of us — lived in a 12×60 mobile home fifty feet from the church building. I was worn out, burned out, and tired of being poor, yet I loved the congregation. What was it then that caused me to change my mind?

We heated our mobile home with coal and wood. We also heated the church and school building the same way.  We were running out of wood, so I asked a man in the church if he could get some wood for us to burn, He said, sure. Several days later, the man dumped a pickup load of wood in the parking lot and quickly left. I thought, it would have been nice if he had stacked it, but okay, he at least got the wood for us. I gathered up some of the wood, took it inside and put it in our Warm Morning stove. I quickly found out that wood was unusable — too wet and green to burn. At first, I was angry over the wet wood, but then I began to cry. This one event — not a big deal in and of itself — pushed me over the proverbial edge. I was done. Is it any surprise, then, that God changed his mind and told me he wanted me to move to Texas? A good salary and a new 14×70 mobile home awaited me. A congregation thrilled over the prospect of me being their co-pastor awaited me. A young, fast growing congregation awaited me. New challenges and opportunities awaited me. I said NO to all of this because I had a sense of loyalty to the people at Somerset Baptist. Most of them had been members for years and walked beside me as we built the church. I felt guilty over thinking about leaving them so I could have a better life; so my family would no longer have to live in poverty. But when the wet, green wood was dumped in the parking lot, my thinking changed. Enough, I thought, and God agreed with me.

Now, I am sure that my critics will pick these stories apart, suggesting that I was the problem, not God; that the voice I was hearing was self, and that if I had been more spiritual, I would have heard God’s voice and he was would have directed me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. I don’t believe that for a moment. There is no God, so I couldn’t have heard his voice. All my decisions reflected were the struggles I was having over life and the ministry. The voice I heard was my own, giving life to my wants, needs, and desires.

Bruce, I don’t care what happened in your life, I KNOW God speaks to me. How do you KNOW it is God’s voice you are hearing? What evidence can you give for such a claim? Why do God’s silent utterances to you almost always match your own wants, needs, and desires? Have you ever stopped to think that maybe, just maybe the voice you are hearing is your own? Yes, the Bible contains stories about God speaking to people — from God speaking to Moses from a burning bush, to God telling Abraham to murder his son Isaac, to God speaking to the crowd at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus told his disciples: my sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. How can any of us know that it is God speaking? There’s absolutely zero evidence for God speaking to anyone. Evangelicals are free to believe that they have heard the voice of God, but they can’t expect non-believers to accept their stories as true without some sort of verifiable proof.

Believing God speaks to you is a matter of faith, a faith I do not have. Most often, hearing the voice of God is harmless, but there are times when hearing his voice leads to dangerous, harmful behavior — including murdering your children and taking a twelve-year-old girl as your virgin bride. Evangelical missionaries John Allen Chau and Charles Wesco lost their lives because they believed that they had heard the voice of God commanding them to go reach the lost for Jesus. Why would God tell these men to leave their houses and lands and go to the mission field only to kill them days later? What a cruel, schizophrenic God. Or, perhaps God has nothing to do with this; perhaps the only voices these men heard were their own; perhaps their deaths rest on the shoulders of the myriad of pastors, professors, and parents who whispered in their ears about the wonders of serving God in a foreign land and the rewards that would await them if they became missionaries.

Think I am wrong? Just ask God to tell me.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

I Think God is Busy

mark 11 24

I recently watched The Iceman — a film detailing the life of notorious hitman Richard Kuklinski. Kuklinski, played by Michael Shannon, is suspected to have killed over two hundred people between 1946 and 1986.  One scene in the movie details Kuklinski’s murder of porn producer Marty Freeman (played by James Franco).

I am always on the lookout for mentions of religion when watching movies or TV programming. The Iceman has a poignant scene in which the Christian God plays a prominent part. Kuklinski, a lapsed Catholic, drives to where Freeman lives, planning to kill him. Let’s pick up the dialog at the point (38:27) where Freeman realizes Kuklinski plans to whack him.

Freeman calls Josh Rosenthal, the mobster who hired Kuklinski to kill him. Freeman wrongly thinks that they have worked out their differences, thus avoiding the need for Kuklinski to shoot him. Kuklinski takes the phone, has a brief conversation with Rosenthal, and says okay.

Kuklinski pulls out his gun . . .

Freeman: What the fuck’s going on?

Kuklinski: He changed his mind.

Freeman: No, no, no, Rosenthal is my best friend. I would never say anything.

Kuklinski: Not my problem.

Freeman: No, no, no, please God no. Please . . .

Kuklinski: What, you praying?

Freeman: God, please, God, please . . .

Kuklinski: You really believe that? You think God will come down and save you?

Freeman, face buried in a couch, continues to pray and weep . . .

Kuklinski: All right, I’ll give you some time. Pray to God. Tell him to come down and stop me.

Freeman gives Kuklinski an incredulous look and then goes back to praying.

Kuklinski: Our Father,

Freeman starts praying The Lord’s Prayer . . .

Kuklinski: Harder (looks at his watch)

Kuklinski: I’m not feeling nothing.

Long pause as Freeman continues to frantically pray . . .

Kuklinski: Nothing at all

Kuklinski: Harder

Freeman, exasperated, throws up his hands and says WHAT!? I . . .

Kuklinski: This is your last chance.

Kuklinski stands and moves to where Freeman is praying. Freeman turns his head, lifting his hands . . .

Freeman: No, no, no

Kuklinski: I think God is busy.

And with that Kuklinski kills Freeman with a derringer shot to the heart.

I think God is busy. Does this not reflect the feeling that millions of desperate people will have today as they pray to the Christian God, hoping that he will come to their rescue? Despite their passionate prayers to the God who supposedly holds the universe in the palm of his hand, all they hear is silence. No matter the circumstance or calamity, all Christians hear is a fast beeping sound and a recording that says, please try again later. And so these devoted followers of Jesus continue day after day, month after month, and year after year to pray to their God, thinking that someday he will bring deliverance, healing, or blessing. Yet, in the end, God fails to deliver on what he promised. He fails in every way possible, yet the faithful still hang on, believing, much like people playing the lottery, that their big prayer payout is just around the corner.

I have written a number of posts on prayer and God’s supposed care for Christians:

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

Luck, Fate, or Providence?

The Indifference of God

Don’t Thank God, Thank Me

Prayer: Explaining the Unexplainable

How Many Prayers Does it Take to Stop a Hurricane?

If the Christian God is indeed the sovereign of the universe, a prayer-answering God, and the Father of all who call on his name, he sure is piss-poor at his job. In baseball, there is something called the Mendoza Line. The Mendoza Line, named after a poor-hitting professional baseball player Mario Mendoza, is the line a hitter falls below when his batting average drops below .200. No major league batter wants to drop below the Mendoza line. The Mendoza line is the “offensive threshold below which a player’s presence on a Major League Baseball team cannot be justified, regardless of his defensive abilities. The term is used in other contexts when one is so incompetent in one key skill that other skills cannot compensate for that deficiency.” (Wikipedia)

Think of all the prayers you prayed as a Christian. How many of those prayers did God answer? None of this God answers every prayer: yes, no, later, bullshit. None of this, we won’t know until we get to Heaven how many of our prayers God answered. None of this, God works behinds the scenes, answering prayers without leaving proof of his actions. The Bible presents God as a mighty prayer-answering deity; a God who daily meets the needs of his followers. Yet, when pressed for examples of God miraculously answering their prayers, Christians are left with appealing to God meeting the more mundane needs of their lives. True, earth-shattering answers to prayers are scarce. Be honest, Christians. How many of your supposedly answered prayers can be verifiably attributed to your God? During my deconversion from Christianity, I went back over my fifty years of praying to the Christian God. I prayed tens of thousands of prayers, yet “answers” that couldn’t be explained through circumstance or human instrumentality fit on the fingers of my hands. I concluded that God was batting below the Mendoza line, so much so that I realized that he did not exist. Hanging my belief in his existence on a handful of unexplainable events was not enough for me to cling to my faith. I concluded that we live in a world shaped by randomness, natural forces, and human action — sans God.

In 1 Kings 18, we find the story of the prophet Elijah challenging the prophets of Baal to a God duel. Elijah proposed:

Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel’s table.

….

Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under:  And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.

As can be expected, the prophets of Baal lost this God-duel. The Christian God sent fire down from heaven and consumed Elijah’s sacrificial offering. Awesome story, right (besides Elijah murdering all the prophets of Baal)?  Elijah prayed a prayer sixty-three words long. One prayer, sixty-three words was all it took for God to prove his existence and vindicate his prophet by supernaturally turning a water-drenched cow into a burnt roast! Yet, Christians will utter millions of words in prayer to their God today with nary a spark from heaven. What gives?

My favorite part of this story is when Elijah mocks the prophets of Baal, saying:

And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

In modern parlance, Elijah said: Where’s your God, Muslims? He must be on his smartphone talking, in the bathroom taking a shit, on vacation, or taking a nap.

Now, Christians see this story from the perspective that the one true God, the Christian God, the God of the Bible, is indeed a prayer-answering God. Yet, when pressed for similar stories from their own lives, Christians have few tales of the miraculous to share. Perhaps, then, as Evangelicals-turned-atheists have concluded, the Christian God must be on his smartphone talking, in the bathroom taking a shit, on vacation, or taking a nap. In other words, the Christian God doesn’t exist. An argument can perhaps be made for an indifferent deistic God; a deity who set everything in motion and said, there ya go, do with it what you will; a God who has no interest in what is happening on planet earth save helping Tim Tebow become a successful baseball player or telling Granny where her keys are. Christians, then, are left with looking for God in the gaps or life’s minutia. When it comes to lightning-level answered prayers, God is impotent and silent; so much so that surely Christians can’t fault atheists and agnostics when they say, prove your God exists. It is not enough to speak of an ancient man named Jesus being resurrected from the dead. There’s no evidence that such a claim is true. What’s needed is a supernatural resurrection of someone such as Abraham Lincoln or Gandhi. Does not the Bible say, nothing is too hard of God? If Elijah can demand the prophets of Baal put up or shut up, can atheists and other non-Christians not do the same? Hell, I would be happy if God just sent some quail and manna down from Heaven to feed people who are starving or use his miraculous powers to give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Miraculously curing cancer would be awesome too.

What we are left with, then, absent God actually miraculously answering prayers such as those pleading for God to kill me, is to hope that he will one day take the earplugs out of his ears and actually give a fuck about what is happening on planet earth. Unlike Christians, I am not hopeful that deliverance awaits around the next corner. I have concluded that a prayer-answering God only exists in the hopes of those who believe. Without this hope, of what value is Christian faith? Preachers keep spurring the faithful on, hoping that one day God will come through. That he hasn’t suggests to me that he is a myth.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Begging God to Save Unsaved Family, Friends, and Africans

make it so number one

According to most Evangelicals, God is in the soul-saving business. He really, really, really wants to saves sinners from their sins. 2 Peter 3:9 says:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Evangelicals explain this verse this way:

  • God promises to save sinners and he keeps his promises, unlike mere humans who make lots of promises, but never keep them.
  • God is longsuffering towards broken, sinful, vile sinners — that’s us, by the way.
  • God doesn’t want anyone to perish (die in their sins).
  • God desires everyone repent of their sins.

Of course, the question that rises to the top is this: if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent — all-powerful, all-knowing, present everywhere — and the Sovereign of the universe, the Creator of all things, why does God’s wish for the salvation of all men go unfulfilled? If God is able to save the meanest, baddest sinners in the world, why is it then that the overwhelming majority of the human race, past and present, will die without being saved, and go to Hell? Why is it, if God is who Evangelicals say he is, that the majority of people who claim to be “saved” can’t be bothered to get out of bed on Sunday morning so they can attend church? These same people don’t read or study the Bible, nor do they pray on a daily basis. Why is that?

Evangelical zealots will respond by saying that just because someone says he is a Christian doesn’t mean he really is. These zealots consider themselves True Christians®, whereas most Christians are people who profess to know Jesus, but live lives no different from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. They are professors and not possessors; they have head knowledge, not heart knowledge. Wait a minute, I thought salvation was by grace, and not works? Well, True Christians® say, it is, but _________________ (fill in blank with theological jig dancing).

As I have shown, as soon as Evangelicals try to explain their peculiar interpretations of verses such as 2 Peter 3:9, all sorts of questions arise. You ought to hear Calvinists explain this verse; how God “desires” salvation for all men, but not really. It’s hard to say with a straight face that God really, really, really wants to save sinners while at the same time saying that God, before the world began, played a game of cosmic eenie-meenie-miney-mo, choosing to save some people (the elect, the chosen ones) and not others. Calvinists give all sorts of philosophical and theological reasons for God’s split personality, but in the end, it is clear: if you die and go to Hell, it is because God didn’t choose you.

praying for the lost

Have you ever wondered, if God really, really, really wants to save sinners, why does he make it so hard for them to be saved? Most of the people born into this world will end up living in countries where Christianity is not the dominate religion. And we know empirically that people tend to choose the dominate religion of their country and/or their parents as their own. Why do most Americans claim to be Christians? Simple. The United States is a nation that is predominantly Christian. So it is for Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc.

I am a Star Trek fan. Anyone who has watched Star Trek: The Next Generation has heard Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) say to Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), “Make it so, number one.” And what the Captain Picard orders, Riker makes it happen. Shouldn’t it be that way with God? If God really, really, really wants sinners to be saved, can’t he just say, “Make it so, number three (the Holy Spirit).” If God is this all-powerful, all-consuming deity, why do most people in non-Christian countries live and die believing in and worshiping the gods of other religions? Why can’t God “make it so?”

If you have attended a midweek prayer (gossip) meeting at a Baptist church, you know the importance of begging God and pleading with him to save lost family members, neighbors, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, liberal Christians, and anyone and everyone else who is deemed headed for Hell. This is one strange ritual, one that even in my Christian days left me a bit perplexed. On one hand, Evangelicals preach that Jesus really, really, really wants to save everyone (Calvinists wink and say, just kidding). But on the other hand, Evangelical preachers tell congregants that they need to storm the throne room in Heaven with their intercessory prayers on behalf of the lost. Mention them by name, preachers say, leaving the question, what, the omniscient God doesn’t know their name already? Of course, some Evangelicals do take a shorthand approach to the matter, saying: Dear Jesus, bless the missionaries and save the lost, in Jesus’ name, Amen. Meet you at Dairy Queen, Bro. Bob! I remember one church member telling me she only prayed over her food once a day. No need to pray more than once a day, she said, God knows what I am going to eat. At the time, I was a pray-over-every-meal kind of Christian — except ice cream after church (no prayer needed). I told congregants a sure way to choke when eating was to eat food that had not been prayed over.

So it was with sinners. I encouraged church members to pray for lost people — every day, and during every church service, especially midweek prayer meeting. I was taught by the pastors of my youth that if I would just pray, pray, and pray for sinners, that God would one day gloriously save them from their sins. This, of course, proved to be a fanciful distortion of reality. Much like prayers for healing, most prayers for the salvation of the lost went unanswered. If God really, really, really wants to save sinners from their sins, why are so few intercessory prayers answered? I listened to Godly, old church matrons pray and weep for their lost husbands/children for decades without success. Their heathen loved ones lived, died, and split Hell wide open — to use the vernacular of Baptist preachers. Thousands of prayers have been prayed on my behalf since I publicly divorced myself from Jesus, yet I remain as lost as lost can be. Why is that?

As a Christian, I wondered why God didn’t honor the prayers of the faithful. What, was God in sitting on his throne in Heaven, playing one little, two little, three little sinners, putting a mark in the prayers ledger every time a prayer was uttered for a sinner? How many marks does a saved soul make?  Evidently, it’s more than a few thousand, or even tens of thousands. If God isn’t willing that any should perish, but all should come to repentance — not you LGBTQ people, you have committed the unpardonable sin — why doesn’t God save sinners without all the requisite begging and pleading?

1 John 5:14. 15 says:

And this is the confidence that we [Christians] have in him [God], that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.

Is it God’s will for sinners to be saved? 2 Peter 3:9 says it is. When Christians pray for lost loved ones and friends, are those prayers — which are according to the will of God — prayers that God hears? And if God truly does answer every prayer he “hears,” why, then, do most prayed-for sinners go through life without ever being saved — even on their deathbeds? This all seems so confusing to me. How about you?

Of course, there is an answer to this confusion. Let’s apply Occam’s razor, asking, what is the shortest, most likely answer to these questions? There is no God. There are no sinners that need saving. See how easy that was? Now, let’s head for Dairy Queen!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: Tony Hutson Prays in a Restaurant — Supposedly

tony hutson

Tony Hutson

This is the one hundred and eighty-third installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip from a service held by Tony Hutson, pastor of Middle Tennessee Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Hutson is the son of the late Curtis Hutson, editor of the Sword of the Lord. — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist periodical started by John R. Rice. In the video clip Hutson mocks people of Asian descent, shows his disdain for alcohol use, and shares a prayer he prayed at a Japanese restaurant — supposedly. I say “supposedly” because Hutson’s sermon illustrations — much like his morbidly obese body — are often bigger than life. In other words, Hutson embellishes — Greek for lies — the truth so he can make a point.

Video Link

Dear Mrs. C, a Guest Post by ObstacleChick

prayer in schools

Cartoon by David Horsey

A guest post by ObstacleChick

Mrs. C: Recently, you posted on social media a statement to which I really wanted to respond, but I chose to refrain. Why? Because I know that social media is a poor place to debate political, religious, or social issues, so I remained silent. Your post is as follows: “How to fix America….put Jesus back in all the places you asked Him to leave: Home, School, Government, Church and Your Heart.”

For four years, you were my high school math teacher at a K-12 fundamentalist Christian school. Starting my senior year, you had just retired, yet when your replacement — a former student with a master’s degree in math — could not handle five preparatory classes and quit after six weeks, you came back to finish the school year. In fact, I heard that you continued to teach for fifteen years after your originally planned retirement date. You were committed to teaching students, and I’m sure you could have told us a lot about your religious beliefs had women been allowed to speak in chapel services at school. As it was, all teachers were required to be Christian and to follow certain rules of conduct even outside school (like not going to movie theaters), so there was no doubt that the “witness” of the teachers for Jesus was apparent to students both inside and outside campus boundaries.

With regard to your post, I’m sure that the sentiment makes complete sense to you, living in a suburb of Nashville where the majority of your neighbors identify as some sort of Christian – specifically Evangelical Christian. Sure, you may disagree on finer points of doctrine such as whether musical instruments should be used in worship service, or whether women should wear skirts/dresses to worship services, but I suspect that the vast majority of your neighbors would agree (or at least state that they agree) that Jesus should be present in all aspects of private and public life, and that America is going to hell in a handbasket because the Evangelical God is not a mandatory part of public life.

I would like you to think about other areas of the country, areas which are more diverse in population. For example, I live in a town in New Jersey, just 20 minutes from Manhattan. Our town was settled by mostly Italian Catholic families. As time went on, more and more residents moved in with names like Torres, Patel, Silverstein, and Qureshi. Today, about thirty percent of the town is populated by families with names like Kim, Takahashi, and Chang. While the majority of residents are still Catholic, there is a large demographic of protestant Asians, a smaller demographic of Jewish residents, and a handful of Hindus and Muslims, as well as a few non-religious or atheists like my family. Our elementary school used to start teaching Italian to students beginning in third grade, but parents petitioned the school to begin teaching the arguably more useful Spanish instead. Our school district is made up of seven towns with demographics similar to our town, and we have a large enough Jewish population that the school district is closed on Jewish holidays.

Mrs. C, you speak of bringing Jesus back to the schools, and I assume you mean you would like to see mandatory prayer in the schools. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that mandatory prayers would occur during homeroom, and the prayers are supposed to be prayed to generic “God” and not specifically to Jesus. Under this scenario, Mrs. Shapiro or Mr. Elqariani could lead prayers to a generic “God” and not necessarily feel offended. However, I’m not sure to whom Ms. Patel would pray as Hindus have many gods. Would she just pray to a generic “God” even though her gods have many names? Maybe I’m overthinking this. Maybe just a generic prayer over the loudspeaker system each morning would suffice. But, I’m not sure that solves your issue of putting Jesus specifically back into schools.

Definitely, I AM overthinking this. Since I’ve been out of Evangelical Christianity for twenty-five years, I almost forgot the number one rule of Fundamentalist l Christianity: that it is imperative to proselytize anyone who doesn’t believe in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. That is, no matter how devout or moral people of another religion or no religion might be, if they have not made a confession of sin and profession of faith in the life, substitutionary atonement of Jesus and his resurrection three days later, they are lost and require evangelistic intervention from believers. Without Jesus, they are destined for eternal torment in hell. I was going through different scenarios where prayers could be given in public schools, thinking of allowing Muslim students to pray to Allah, allowing Buddhist students to offer prayers as they wish, and for Hindu students to pray as their belief allows. But that isn’t what you want, is it, Mrs. C? When you say that Jesus should be put back into schools, that is LITERALLY what you mean. Not that students of other religions should be mandated to pray, either in general or to the deity of their choosing. Not that volunteer imams or priests or rabbis should visit the school and offer prayers. No, those clerics are unsaved or apostates. You believe that the number one priority of Evangelical Christians is to witness to the “lost.” And while you may grudgingly permit those of other faiths to pray in an occasional gesture of ecumenicism, what you really want is your version of Christianity to be the one faith to which everyone is exposed. Most of all, you want public school students to hear prayers to YOUR deity –the Evangelical Christian God.

How about we look at a different scenario, Mrs. C? Let’s say your grandson goes to my district’s high school. He plays soccer and really wants to make the varsity team. He goes to tryouts and notices before practice that most of the boys who were on the team last year are kneeling on prayer rugs and praying to Allah with Mr. Assad, the coach. Your grandson notices this happens every day. He and the other boys really want to be favorably noticed by Mr. Assad in order to secure a spot on the team, so your grandson goes home and asks his parents to buy him a prayer rug. I suspect, Mrs. C, that you would have a fit.

Maybe these questions are part of the reason why judges saw the merit in upholding the establishment clause in our Constitution. Why don’t we leave Jesus where he belongs — in the privacy of your home, heart, and church — and let our public spaces be free of religion.

Thoughts and Prayers Won’t Solve Gun Violence

thoughts and prayers

Cartoon by Kristian Nygard

Mass Shooting in the United States from 1990-February 2018

mass shootings 1

mass shootings 2

mass shootings 3

Source: Mother Jones

Three decades of mass of shootings; over 300,000 homicides; over 600,000 suicides. According to Wikipedia, 1.4 million Americans have been killed using firearms between 1968 and 2011.Wikipedia also states:

Compared to 22 other high-income nations, the U.S. gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher. Although it has half the population of the other 22 nations combined, the U.S. had 82 percent of all gun deaths, 90 percent of all women killed by guns, 91 percent of children under 14 and 92 percent of young people between ages 15 and 24 killed by guns. In 2010, gun violence cost U.S. taxpayers approximately $516 million in direct hospital costs.

By some estimates, Americans own over 300 million firearms, yet most households and individuals do not own a gun. Surprisingly, at least to me, is the fact that most Americans are reticent about banning guns or enforcing strict firearm laws. This disparity shows how effective the NRA and gun lobby are at getting their message out. Like it or not, the United States is a nation of guns. Add to our personal weapon caches the vast weapons of violence, carnage, and death used by our military, and it is hard not to conclude that we are a violent people who love weapon of mass destruction. The U.S. government searched everywhere for Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. They, of course, found none. Perhaps the search for such weapons should start here within our borders and homes.

What is needed is comprehensive gun control legislation. (Please read Another Day, Another School MassacreBruce, you are WRONG! Guns don’t kill people, people do! Really? Are you so stupid that you cannot see the insanity of such an argument? Cars don’t kill people, people do!  Yet, we have all sorts of laws and regulations that govern car ownership and use, including testing and licensing requirements. We wisely, in the name of public safety, regulate automobile ownership and use, yet many gun owners demand the right to own any kind of firearm, without restriction. Such thinking is a threat to public health and safety in much the same way as are people driving unlicensed, unregulated automobiles on highways, streets, and country roads.

Month after month, year after year, angry, often mentally ill, people use firearms to slaughter their fellow Americans. Every time such carnage happens, Republican/conservative political leaders offer up “thoughts and prayers” while reminding us that guns are not the problem. If the outrage from the survivors of the latest school shooting is any indication, younger Americans are waking up to the reality that guns ARE the problem. Emperor NRA stands before them and says, the Second Amendment is sacrosanct and banning guns won’t stop mass shootings. These angry students wisely reply, BULLSHIT! They can see that the Emperor has no clothes. They see, oh so clearly, that unrestricted gun use and ownership is one part of the problem, along with the lack of mental health care for troubled teens and adults.

These young people are saying, NO MORE THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS! We want immediate and decisive action on gun control. It remains to be seen whether their outrage can be turned into a movement, one that perhaps mimics the student anti-war protest movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Back then, protesting students helped to bring an end to the Vietnam War — a decade of immoral American violence and bloodshed in Southeast Asia. I hope that today’s protesting students can put such pressure on the U.S. government that it will force our political leaders, after hundreds of thousands of firearm deaths, to finally enact strict, comprehensive gun control laws.

Dear God, Thank You For This Food, In Jesus’ Name, Amen

king cake

Most Evangelicals are taught that they should pray over their meals. The Bible commands Christians to thank God for everything, and that includes their food. I spent much of my life bowing my head and praying, either silently or out loud, before I ate breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Failures to pray were viewed as affronts to God, putting me in danger of choking on my food. So meal after meal I prayed, thanking God for the food I was about to eat. Even drive-thru food was prayed over, a quick mouthing of a few words of thanks for the Big Mac I was about to eat. I believed that not praying was a sin, a sign of ungratefulness. Whenever the subject of prayer came up in my sermons, I made sure to remind parents that they should be teaching their children to pray over EVERYTHING. In ALL things give thanks! Pray without ceasing! Much like an Aztec priest offering a prayer of thankfulness before sacrificing a virgin to his God, I would pray to my God, asking him to bless the food I was about to eat.

There were, of course, exceptions to this praying rule. Candy bars and pop bought at convenience stores required no prayers. Neither did ice cream at the local Dairy Queen or snacks after church. I look back on these exceptions now and see how hypocritical I was. Surely, Cheeto-eating should be prayed over just as one would pray over a five-course meal. Later in life, I would take to silently praying before meals eaten in public. I didn’t want to be associated with the Christians who made a spectacle of their praying, joining hands and praying in loud voices. My grandfather was one such pray-er.  Not only did he pray over the food, he also used his prayer to preach the gospel to all who were sitting nearby. In his mind, it was important to let everyone know that Christians were in the house.

As an atheist, I no longer utter a prayer of thanks to a dead deity before I eat. I am still every bit as thankful and grateful for the food I eat. I know that I live in a land of privilege and abundance. I choose, instead, to thank the cook for the food. She’s the one who, from store to plate, prepared the food, and she alone deserves the praise for the meal. If it were up to me, I would try to live on Dr. Pepper and king-sized Snickers bars. I am so thankful that Polly can not only cook, but that she is very good at what she does. She’s always busy refining her craft, ever willing to try out new recipes. Just last night, I sent her a link to a recipe for King Cake — New Orleans-style. I was watching a recording of NCIS-New Orleans and there was a picture and mention of King Cake. I thought, man that looks good! and when something looks good I forward it the proper department, knowing that it will likely soon make an appearance on my plate.

I am a big believer in giving credit to whom credit is due. If someone does something for me, I thank them — no God needed. It is farmers, not the Christian God, who grow crops and feed animals so we can have food to eat. Yes, the sun shines and the rain falls, but if these things come from the hand of the Almighty, he sure is schizophrenic. Every year, the weather is different. One year it is too cold, other years it is too hot. Rarely does it rain exactly when crops need it. If there’s a God behind the weather, he sure is fucking with us. Perhaps, this God is like an abusive husband who gives his wife just enough money to keep her coming back to him for more. If God is all that Evangelicals say he is, surely he is able to control the weather so that that crops will optimally grow and seven billion people will have enough to eat. Instead, farmers battle the elements, hoping that their yields will be enough for them to make a profit. Countless people will go to bed tonight hungry. Many of them live in countries plagued by drought. If the Big Kahuna really is a God of love, kindness, and compassion, perhaps he can make it possible for starving Africans to have sufficient food to eat. Many of these people are Christian, yet their plates are empty. What does this say about their God? Should they offer up a prayer of thanks to the Three-in-One, thanking them for the 200-calorie bowl of U.N. gruel they are about to eat?  I think not.

Jimmy Stewart, in the movie Shenandoah, said it best when he prayed:

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.

Video Link

What are your experiences with praying before meals? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Jesus Won the Super Bowl

sorry super bowl fans

As tens of millions of Americans did on Sunday, I watched the Philadelphia Eagles defeats the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. The Patriots were expected to win, so kudos to the Eagles, head coach Doug Pederson, and quarterback Nick Foles for doing their part to provide TV viewers with one of the best Super Bowls in history. Thanks should also go to Patriot head coach Bill Belichick, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and his defense for allowing a back-up quarterback to thoroughly and completely rout the Patriot defense. Outside of missing a pass that would have led to an easy touchdown, Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady did all he could to win the game, setting several NFL Super Bowl offensive records in the process.

After the game, news reporters turned their attention to Eagles players, asking them how they beat the Belichick-Brady dynasty. Here’s some of what they said:

My faith in the Lord means everything. I’m a believer in Jesus Christ and that’s first and foremost. That’s everything. I wouldn’t be able to do this game without Him because I don’t have the strength to go out and do this. This is supernatural.

It’s also an opportunity to go out there and share what’s He’s done in my life. And it’s not about prospering at all. It’s about how He’s humbled me. In my weaknesses, He made me strong, 2 Corinthians 12:9. You know, whenever I was at my lowest, that’s where my relationship with Christ grew.

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles

I can only give the praise to my Lord and savior Jesus Christ for giving me this opportunity. And I’m going to tell you something. I’ve got the best players in the world, and it’s a resilient group. I love this coaching staff. Mr. Lurie, the owner. And not only do we have the best fans in the world, we now have the best team in the world. Thank you guys.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson

Uh, I had better score. I mean, glory to God first and foremost. We wouldn’t be here without him. This team is amazing. I mean, each and every day we go out there, we love to practice, and I think that’s the foundation of this team. And wow, what a run it’s been.

Eagles receiver Zach Ertz

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Evidently, JESUS, and not the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl.

As I did research for the post, I stumbled across several articles detailing recent conversions of Eagles’ players to Evangelical Christianity. Both Nick Foles and fellow quarterback Carson Wentz view themselves as evangelists for Jesus. One report stated that at least five players have received Christian baptism in the team’s recovery pool and several more have been baptized in hotel pools.

Video Link

WND.com reports (no link due to possible virus threat):

In March, tight end Zach Ertz committed his life to Christ.

“I was baptized in March, got married the next day. Our marriage has been built on that foundation from the Word and Jesus and it’s changed my life. And just to have these guys hold me accountable on a daily basis has been phenomenal,” Ertz told CBN News.

A few months later, wide receiver Marcus Johnson was baptized in a North Carolina swimming pool ahead of a game against the Carolina Panthers.

Five teammates — linebackers Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks and Kamu Grugier-Hill, and wide receivers Paul Turner and David Watford — were baptized in the Philadelphia Eagles’ recovery pool late last year, according to reports.

The above mentioned article quotes Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich as saying:

I think it [Evangelical Christianity] helps you be a better teammate. Our primary calling in life as a Christian is to bring out the best in other people. That’s the primary message of Christianity. We’ve been created to glorify God. How do we do that? He gives us gifts and abilities, and we’re supposed to bring those out in other people.

The article also mentions that Evangelical Carson Wentz created a promotional video for a faith-based group that uses the Super Bowl as means to evangelize non-Christians. Wentz stated:

If you are a pastor anywhere in the world who’s looking to impact the people in your community, please consider inviting me and other NFL players into your church this Super Bowl weekend. I promise it will be something God uses to transform the people you are called to serve. And I believe for all eternity.

So there ya have it, JESUS won the Super Bowl. According to numerous Eagles players, it was Jesus who gave them the strength and ability to defeat the mighty Patriots. The Bible says, in ALL THINGS give thanks. And this is all these players are doing. They are just thanking Jesus for taking time out from healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the hungry, tending to victims of child sexual abuse, and ending war to influence the outcome of the Super Bowl. What an awesome God, right?

The New England Patriots also have a number of Evangelical players. However, none of them thanked God after the game for causing them to lose the game. If God picked the Eagles to win, that means he also picked a loser — the New England Patriots. If Evangelicals are to give God thanks for ALL THINGS, why do we never hear football players thanking God for their teams going down in defeat? Surely, Jesus is worthy of praise, regardless of the score? Or does the silence from the Patriots locker room reveal the truth about how Evangelicals view life; that all good things come from God and all bad things come from Satan or are the result of sin/personal failure; that Jesus is all about winners, not losers.

And when the Eagles fail to replicate their magical 2017 season? Will Jesus get the blame, or will the blame rightly rest on being outcoached, outplayed, or not having talented enough players to win the day? Evangelical sports figures make a mockery of their faith and their God when they attribute their wins to God. With all that is going on in the world today — a sure sign that the Evangelical God is on vacation or in the bathroom — surely God can’t be bothered with the outcomes of sporting events. Yet, players assure us that he is, reminding millions of Americans of the fact that when it comes to things that matter, God is nowhere to be found.

According to the Catholic chaplain for the Minnesota Vikings, God indeed cares about and watches the Super Bowl, but he is careful not to pick a winner:

There’s a lot of praying going on during these games. If the Super Bowl is important to 115 million people, it’s important to God…If you pray for victory, your team, you pray for loss of another. But God is the God of both sides.

Way to hedge your bets, Father — a typical Catholic response to the “hard” questions of life. Evangelicals will have none of that. God is the sovereign Lord over all, including who wins the Super Bowl. And on February 4, 2018, God determined that Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles would win the Super Bowl, and the New England Patriots would lose the game. Forget all the post-game analysis. God’s will for the game was an Eagles win and a Patriots loss. No need to critique player performance, coaching decisions, or the officiating. For at least one night, the thrice Holy God who created the universe in six days was an Eagles fan. Stay tuned for which team God will choose to win next year.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Songs of Sacrilege: Cigarettes & Saints by The Wonder Years

the wonder years

Warning! Lyrics may contain offensive, vulgar language.

This is the one hundred and fifty-ninth 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 Cigarettes & Saints by The Wonder Years.

Video Link

Lyrics

Twice a week I pass by the church that held your funeral
And the pastor’s words come pouring down like rain
How he called you a sinner and said now you walk with Jesus
So the drugs that took your life aren’t gonna cause you any pain
I don’t think he even knew your name
And I refuse to kneel and pray
I won’t remember you that way

I lit you a candle in every cathedral across Europe
And I hope you know you’re still my patron saint
I tried to forgive, but I can’t forget the cigar in his fist
I know that they were heartsick, but I need someone to blame
And I know how they blamed me
I know what you’d say
You’d tell me it was your fault
I should put all my arrows away

I’m sure there ain’t a heaven
But that don’t mean I don’t like to picture you there
I’ll bet you’re bumming cigarettes off saints
And I’m sure you’re still singing
But I’ll bet that you’re still just a bit out of key
That crooked smile pushing words across your teeth

Cause you were heat lightning
Yeah, you were a storm that never rolled in
You were the northern lights in a southern town
A caustic fleeting thing
I’ll bury your memories in the garden
And watch them grow with the flowers in spring
I’ll keep you with me

These wolves in their suits and ties
Saying, “Kid, you can trust me”
Charming southern drawl, sunken eyes
Buying good will in hotel lobbies
Buy fistfuls of pills to make sure you don’t hurt no more
You don’t gotta feel anything
Got their fangs in our veins
Got their voice in our head
Got our arms in their grips
No, we can’t shake free

This goddamn machine, hungry and heartless
My whole generation got lost in the margin
We put our faith in you and you turned a profit
Now we’re drowning here under the waves
(We’re no saviors if we can’t save our brothers)
Drowning out under the waves
(We’re no saviors if we can’t save our brothers)
Drowning out, drowning out

You can’t have my friends
You can’t have my brothers
You can’t have my friends
You can’t have my brothers
You can’t have my friends
You can’t have my brothers
You can’t have me
No, you can’t have me

Songs of Sacrilege: I Won’t Say the Lord’s Prayer by The Wonder Years

the wonder years

Warning! Lyrics may contain offensive, vulgar language.

This is the one hundred and fifty-eighth 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 I Won’t Say the Lord’s Prayer by The Wonder Years.

Video Link

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
It’s a series of bars, thrift stores and churches lining the streets
While women with gold crosses push kids into half-formed beliefs
If Lot was righteous, I think I’d rather not be
We lean on fences built from out-dated morality
It’s a gang mentality
It’s a dangerous thing
They don’t ask you to think
Just to repeat after me
And assume you’re too careless to look at it critically
You’ll stop progress if it contradicts what you’re told to believe

[Refrain]
I refuse to spend life on my knees

[Verse 2]
These billboards that flaunt these scare tactics
Make me think you’re only good if you’re afraid of being punished
Every single Sunday, church bells wake me up
But it’s never enough to pull me out of bed

[Verse 3]
The church on Main Street has got its doors painted red
And I guess it’s so the Angel of Death passes over it
On its way to get gas
The church over on Broad Street has got a neon sign that says Jesus Save Me
And I guess it’s so God can see from where he is in the cheap seats

[Refrain]
I refuse to spend life on my knees

[Chorus]
And I won’t let somebody else make my decisions for me
If we’re all just Christians or Lions
Then I think I’d rather be on the side with sharper teeth
I don’t need saving

Does Praying for the Sick and Dying Make Any Difference?

Guest post by ObstacleChick

All the tremendous beauty that exists in the world is juxtaposed against the existence of suffering and pain. Most of us experience some degree of suffering and pain during our lifetime, whether it is illness, injustice, or the death of a loved one. But I believe most people would agree that the most horrific suffering is that endured by a child. Most of us desire to help someone whom we see as inherently innocent such as an infant or child, or an animal, or someone who suffers from mental or physical challenges. While we feel empathy for an older person who has cancer, we generally believe that an older person has had the opportunity to live a good life, to experience some of the beauty in the world, to have long relationships with loved ones. But when we hear of something terrible befalling someone quite young, most of us feel an innate desire to protect and to “fix” the situation affecting the young. Most likely this desire stems from an evolutionary construct to preserve our species by ensuring the survival of the young to reach reproductive viability. Most parents will do almost anything to save their young, even to the point of sacrificing themselves, and even those not directly connected to a child often will go out of their way to save a child in danger.

About 8 months ago, a 7-year-old girl in my town was on vacation with her family when she fell ill. After examination at a local medical facility, she was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), which means that an aggressive, inoperable tumor was growing through her brain stem. Treatment can include radiation and chemotherapy, but surgery is generally impossible due to the invasive nature of the disease. The five-year survival rate is less than 1%, with most patients dying within months of diagnosis. Most patients diagnosed with this disease are children, and DIPG is one of the most devastating pediatric cancers.

People in our town and surrounding communities banded together to raise money for this little girl’s treatment. There were fundraisers conducted at local gyms and restaurants, and many local businesses and individuals donated money for treatment. Students at the local elementary school where she attended and at the middle school and high school where her siblings attended held their own fundraisers. Over $130,000 was raised for this family. Hardly a day would go by without someone posting on social media to pray for this family, to donate to the family, to help in some way. Even celebrities in politics, entertainment, and news media lent their names to support her cause. Yet sadly, eight months after her initial diagnosis, she passed away.

Our community is comprised primarily of people who attend the local Catholic church. Many of my kids’ friends attended CCD and went through their first communions and confirmations like good Catholic children do. Sports schedules in our community are designed around CCD times, and the local Catholic priest is often present at Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies. This little girl’s family were members of the local Catholic church so presumably the priest and congregants were diligent in their prayers for her cure. Yet she still passed away within months of her diagnosis.

Christians are taught to pray to God for help. “Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7-8); “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” John 14:13-14. These verses, in addition to others, make it patently clear that God will grant the requests of those who ask for assistance in Jesus’ name. With all the prayers for this sweet, innocent little girl to be healed of her disease, how is it that she succumbed to the ravages of this terrible illness?

As an agnostic atheist, I believe that there is no god and that prayers will do nothing beyond making the one who is praying feel as if they are acting on behalf of the sick child. From a theoretical standpoint, though, if there is a god, what does it say about him/her that, even though many in the community were praying for this child, he/she allowed this innocent child to suffer and die? Here are some of my thoughts on the matter.

God is a liar: as stated above, there are multiple verses stating that god will grant requests to those who ask in the name of Jesus. Assuming the supplicants are asking in the name of Jesus – and one would assume that at least the Catholic priest would know how to do that properly – then not healing this child shows that god does not grant requests and that his/her promises are empty at best.

God is uncaring: the vast majority of people feel a desire to ease the suffering of those in need, especially the suffering of children. “Heartbroken” is literally how most people feel when they hear of the plight of an innocent child. If even a fallible human (in Christian terms, that is) can feel heartbroken, how then can a supposedly loving, caring god not feel the same and want to take action?

God is not omnipotent: perhaps god is not a liar and is not uncaring, but perhaps he/she is not capable of healing a child from an aggressive disease. Then he/she is not the omnipotent god that Christians tout.

The Christian god is not the “correct” god: here we can postulate that perhaps Christians are praying to the wrong god and that the god does not want to answer prayers that are not directed to him/her correctly (which makes the god a real jerk if you ask me). What if the god is Zeus, and he wants to be recognized as Zeus? What if there are multiple gods and they are debating which, if any, should help the child? The Old Testament states that god is a jealous god, so perhaps whatever god exists really is a jealous god that wants to be addressed in the proper way and that Christians have not approached the real god correctly? Maybe people should pray to each individual god who has ever been recorded throughout history in order to hedge their bets. And perhaps they must pray to an additional god that is yet to be named, praying in proper supplication and repentance for not getting his/her name right and asking for insight. (Personally, this concept makes my head hurt – it would take hours of research to write down every god that has been recorded by humans and then additional hours praying to each individual god – but I suppose if one believes that someone’s life is on the line, that is a small price to pay in order to get it right).

There is sin in the hearts of those praying: some fundamentalist Christians would believe that of the hundreds of people ostensibly praying for this child that there is not even one whose prayers god can or will hear. This seems to go back to either “god is a liar” or “god is uncaring”.

God is just: we hear this a lot from evangelical Christians, but I am not sure how it applies in this situation. Perhaps because the child was born in original sin? But is a 7-year-old at the age of accountability? Perhaps the parents have not approached god correctly or asked for repentance of sins?

God wanted another “angel” in heaven with him: a few people posted this on social media in response to the girl’s death. To me, this just seems like a cop-out and sign of an uncaring god – that god is so selfish that he/she ends a promising life and causes pain and suffering to those who love her because he/she just has to have this particular person in heaven and can’t wait a few decades for nature to run its course.

God took her “home” to prevent something worse that he foresaw happening in the future: another cop-out speculation related to the one above. Bad things happen to people, and theoretically a caring, omniscient, omnipotent god could correct those situations.

God created the earth and all therein but stays hands-off thereafter: if this is the case, then all the Biblical stories of god directly intervening in the affairs of humans and of the earth just that – stories. If god is actually hands-off, then no sins of action, speech, or thought would be punished and people would be allowed to live as they wish.

Humans cannot understand the mysteries/plans/designs of god: given that we have a Bible that supposedly explains god in all his/her aspects, we should be able to understand god’s capabilities and desires most clearly. The fact that even the most learned pastors and scholars still cannot agree on these basic precepts shows that god is at best a bad communicator. The comment that humans can’t understand god always seemed like a cop-out answer.

There is no god: this seems the most plausible explanation to me. If indeed there existed a benevolent, caring, loving, omniscient, omnipotent deity, then it stands to reason that this deity would feel compelled as humans feel compelled to act on behalf of the weakest and most innocent among us. As such, the deity would step in to heal sick children, to protect children from abuse, to protect them from natural disasters. But this is not what happens. Every day we hear of children who are abused, sometimes to the point of death, children who suffer and die from terrible diseases, children who starve to death, children who are killed in disasters, and children who are murdered. Just read Bruce’s Black Collar Crime series for a myriad concrete examples.

But the majority of humans like to believe that there is a benevolent, caring, loving, omniscient, omnipotent deity who might possibly hear our prayers and act to change things in the world. They can feel like all their prayers actually may accomplish something. While I applaud those who do believe in a powerful deity and who roll up their own sleeves to help their fellow humans, it seems that most religious people would rather rely on their prayers to their deity in the hopes of solving the ills of the world. And that is sad. This girl’s family wrote in her obituary: “Our love and thoughts of you will forever light up our lives as we look forward to being joined with you again in eternity with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the Kingdom of Heaven.” While I do not believe this, who am I to divest others of their hope in an afterlife? May her family find peace in their memories of this beautiful little girl.

That Makes Me Think of Eternity

polly 2016

Early Tuesday morning, my wife, Polly, got up to use the bathroom. Upon her return to bed she said to me, something is not right. My heart is beating like crazy. I could tell she was quite worried, so I got my blood pressure machine and had Polly check her blood pressure. Sure enough, Polly’s blood pressure was 158/100 and her pulse rate was 158. On Monday, Polly had her annual health exam. Her blood pressure was 120/70 and her pulse rate was 65.

I told Polly to get dressed so I could take to her the emergency room in nearby Bryan. Polly is Mrs. Healthy. She’s had never been to the emergency room and her only hospitalizations were for six pregnancies. Polly has worked for Sauder Woodworking for almost twenty years. She’s never missed a day’s work. She has been to the emergency room and hospital numerous times with me, but her experiences on Tuesday were new to her.

The ER doctor quickly determined that Polly had atrial fibrillation-rvr — a heart rhythm problem. The upper chambers of Polly’s heart were out of sync with the lower chambers. Left untreated, atrial fibrillation can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Polly was given several medications and put on an IV. The doctor informed her that she would likely be in the hospital overnight. For the next six hours, I watched the heart machine as it recorded Polly’s heart rate bouncing all over the place. The medication eventually brought her heart rate down, but it was still bouncing from 80 to 110. Finally, around 2:00 PM, Polly’s heart decided it was tired of jumping around and returned to a normal rhythm. The doctor released her at 5:00 PM and we came home, exhausted from a busy, frightening day.

I had let Polly’s parents know that she was in the hospital. That afternoon, Polly called her Mom to let her know what was up. During the conversation, Polly’s Mom tried to evangelize her, saying, that [Polly’s heart problem] makes me think of eternity. Polly quickly and angrily shut off this line of conversation, curtly saying, I’m fine. (It has been nine years since Polly and I left Christianity. Her parents have yet to have a conversation with us about why we are no longer Christians.)

The conversation ended shortly thereafter. Polly’s Mom told her, I’m praying for you daily. At a loss as to what to do about our turn from Jesus to Satan, Mom and Dad have taken to daily praying for us. In their minds, if we would just get back in church all would be well. They hold out the hope that we will return to Jesus and start serving him again. Deep down I wonder if Mom doesn’t think I am the reason for Polly’s deconversion, and that once I am dead and gone and she is free of me, her daughter will return to Christianity. Little does Mom know that Polly is much more strident in her unbelief than I am. I may be more vocal about it than Polly is, but she has zero interest in anything associated with religion.

As Mom was giving her evangelistic spiel, this daughter of a Baptist preacher, wife of former Evangelical preacher, mother of six, and grandmother to eleven, raised her hand and gave the phone a middle finger salute. Polly will never tell Mom to fuck off, but the sentiment is there. She’s done with religion, and so am I.

Polly’s heart problem is a screaming reminder to us that life is short. Everyone expects me to die first. After all, I’ve been dealing with chronic health problems for twenty years. It makes perfect sense that I would be the one to make it to the crematorium first. However, life often does not make sense, nor is life fair. Proverbs 27:1 is right when it says, Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. I was reminded on early Tuesday morning that those I love and hold dear can be quickly snatched from my hands. Treat every day as your last. Someday, it will be.