Tag Archive: Prayer

Prayer: Explaining the Unexplainable

unaswered prayer

Over the course of 50 years in the Christian church, I prayed many prayers — tens of thousands of prayers, to be exact. I publicly testified before fellow Christians that God had answered my prayers.  I had experiences that, at the time, defied explanation. Everywhere I looked, I saw God. When I deconverted, one of the first things I did was give a careful accounting of the prayers I uttered and what God’s response to them. (Please see  A Few Thoughts on a Lifetime of Praying to the Christian God) I concluded:

  • The overwhelming majority of my prayers went unanswered.
  • Those few prayers that I considered answered by God were, in fact, answered, not by God, but by and through human instrumentation.

I was left with a few experiences that I couldn’t rationally explain. One story comes to mind and I will share it here. One night, Harold Miller, a member of the church I was pastoring at the time, and I were driving down Route 22 east of Sego, Ohio on our way to touch base with a family who recently visited the church. As we neared Fultonham, a small community which sat on a ridge above Route 22, I noticed a car barreling down the hill towards the highway. Having no time to stop or change direction, I screamed at Harold, warning him of the impending crash, and prepared to be broadsided. Yet, at the moment the crash should have occurred nothing happened. Both of us thought God had lifted the car above ours, safely protecting us from serious injury or death.

Did God actually pick the car up so it would avoid hitting us? Of course not. Is this really a beyond rational explanation event? Not really. Perhaps my perception was wrong. Perhaps the car wasn’t traveling as fast as I thought it was. While this story is difficult to explain, like some of the contradictions in the Bible, there are reasonable explanations for what happened.

As a Christian, I was taught that God answering prayer was a simple matter of me praying and God hearing and answering my petition. I believed that God answered every prayer one of three ways. God said:

  • Yes, and what I was praying for came to pass
  • No, and what I was praying for did not come to pass
  • Not now, and what I was praying for was added to my long-term begging God list

But Bruce, the Evangelical says, I have prayed prayers that I KNOW God answered! How do you KNOW God answered your prayers? Just because Christians utter petitions that subsequently come to pass doesn’t mean that it is God answering prayers. If Christians could ever divorce themselves from faith and look at things from a skeptical and rational perspective, I think they would find out that most God-answered prayers are anything but.

Virtually every answered prayer can be attributed to human instrumentality or luck (right place, right time). Year ago, I often prayed for God to bless me financially. As a young father with two children, money was always tight. One night, my father-in-law and I  were traveling on a rural Licking County road on our way to visit a church member. While driving down the road we came upon a box. I immediately stopped and got out of the car to investigate. In the box were numerous recently skinned fur pelts. I quickly scooped up the box and we took the pelts to a nearby taxidermist. While I do not remember the exact amount of money we received, it was substantial. See? God answered my prayer!

Polly is a shift coördinator for a local manufacturing concern. She has worked there for 17 years.  During her tenure, she has never missed a day of work. Not one. Polly is a diligent worker, a great example of the Puritan work ethic.  Her work reviews are always at the top of the scale, reflecting Polly’s value to the company. In the years that the company has given raises, Polly has always received the maximum allowable raise.

When we were Christians, we both would pray that she would receive a good raise, and sure enough “God” answered our prayers. But, was it really God who answered our prayers and orchestrated Polly’s raises? Or are her raises attributable to Polly’s perfect attendance and work ethic? Shouldn’t credit be given to whom credit is due? It is Polly, not God, who did the work necessary to warrant a raise. How about now? Neither of us prays, and even if we did it is likely that God’s prayer hot line to our house has been disconnected. Since Polly’s deconversion in 2008, the monetary amount of her raises have increased significantly. Couldn’t it just as easily be argued that becoming a nonbeliever and not praying resulted in these raises?

Christians will often point to the testimonies of those who were saved as proof for God answering prayer. You know the drill. Sister Lena is a member of First Baptist Church in Godland, Ohio. She’s been a member of the church for 50 years. Lena’s husband Bob is not a Christian. Every week, Lena and the church pray for Bob’s salvation. Week in, week out, the church prays that the bloodhound of heaven, the Holy Spirit, will track down Bob and save his soul. And sure enough, one day, after 40 years of praying, Bob is saved.  God answered Lena’s prayer, right? (Lost in the discussion will be the question of WHY God waited so long to save Bob.)

Years ago (everything is years ago now), when I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, the church took to praying for the father of one of the church members. This man was a violent, oft-cursing heathen. We prayed, prayed, and prayed for this man, to no avail. Several times I went to his home and shared the gospel with him. Every time, he said, no thanks preacher, I have no need of God.

The man eventually came down with throat cancer. Surgeons removed parts of his esophagus, mouth glands, and vocal cords. He was unable to speak. A short time later he had a small stroke. The church continued to pray for this man, and one night I decided to share the gospel with him one more time. And this time, the man started crying, and when I asked him if he would like to be saved, he gutterally said YES! I led him to Jesus, and from the time forward he would occasionally attend church with his wife and grown children.  I vividly remember him crying every time he heard me preach (no jokes about my preaching bringing people to tears). I attributed his tears to his thankfulness for God saving him. Was his glorious conversion the answer to our prayers?

Not likely. I am more inclined to think that his conversion was the result of him facing, for the first time, his mortality. Having been raised in a culture where God is frequently called on in times of trouble, this man, having had radical cancer surgery and a stroke, likely wanted to make sure his house was in order before he died. But, what about the tears? Perhaps they were tears of regret. There’s nothing like a brush with death to focus our attention on how we have lived our lives. Perhaps he regretted his meanness. Perhaps he regretted treating his wife and children like slaves. Who hasn’t shed tears over past regrets, right?

After his “glorious” new birth, this man began displaying bizarre behavior. He began spending exorbitant amounts of money at auctions and yard sales, often bringing home junk of little value. When I couple this behavior with his getting saved, I am more inclined to think that his stroke altered his mind. Anyone who has been around stroke patients knows that behavioral changes are not uncommon.

A changed life is not proof for the existence of God or God answering prayer. A careful examination of salvation testimonies always reveal some sort of human influence. Transformed lives can always be traced back, to some degree or the other, to the work of the individual or others. While these transformations make for great stories of the supernatural power of God, they are, in every way, quite earthy.

I readily admit that there are mysteries which are, at this present moment, beyond explanation.  However, is God the answer for every unexplained mystery? Or is it better for us to admit that we don’t know and to continue probing, prodding, and asking questions until we do? Regardless, these mysteries are so few that suggesting that they are evidence for the Christian God is laughable. From my perspective, there is no evidence for the existence of personal, hands-on God of the Christian Bible.

Does the Christian God Really Care About Me?

where is god

One of the reasons given by atheists/agnostics for leaving Christianity is the belief that the Christian God doesn’t give a shit about those who devote their lives to following Jesus Christ. No matter how much time is expended in worship and service, God never says, thanks, good job, or I have your back. Why should he? According to Evangelical theology, Jesus, the sinless son of God, came to earth to atone for humankind’s sin. He suffered horrific brutality at the hands of the Romans. He was then, like a common thief, nailed to the cross. According to the Bible, Jesus was beaten to such a degree that it was hard to tell that he was a man. After hours of suffering, Jesus died. All of this was on behalf of sinners (or the elect, if you are a Calvinist).  Knowing all that Jesus suffered, Christians should be satisfied with knowing their sins are forgiven and a home in Heaven awaits them when they die. The least the Christian can do is, in slave-like manner, devote themselves, without bitching and complaining, to the Kingdom of God on Earth. In other words, shut up, stop complaining, and be thankful for what Jesus has given you. Just remember, God owes you nothing.

Recently, Dieudonne Tamfu wrote a post titled Suffering is Our Story for The Desiring God website. In the opening paragraphs, Tamfu writes:

Suffering tends to produce loneliness. We feel lonely, isolated, sealed off, and detached from others. It is common for us to believe that no one understands our pain.

We can be deceived into thinking that God is distant and uncaring. While I do not wish to invalidate these emotions, I do want to extinguish the lie that the sufferer is ever alone. We are never alone in suffering because in it we join other saints in the pattern of righteous suffering that has been going on from the inception of salvation history.

Are you or other believers around you facing rejection for your faith? Do you feel lonely in your suffering? Does it seem that God is distant and has detached himself from your pain? Do you feel disappointment, bewilderment, or dismay? Are you sitting in darkness, searching for answers and grasping for hope?

Tamfu readily admits that there are times when God seems distant. There are those times when God seems uncaring, content to leave the Christian sitting alone in the dark, weeping. The good news, according to Tamfu, is that there are other Christians facing similar circumstances. Yea! You aren’t the only follower of Jesus who is writhing in pain as cancer robs you of your life!  Are you suffering? Are you alone? Do you feel abandoned? Do you feel like an orphan without a coat, left in a back alley to die on a cold winter’s night? Good news! There are millions of Christians going through similar circumstances. God has abandoned them just as he has abandoned you.

When Christians go through dark trials and adversity, those who are not currently being ignored by God are called on to cheer up those who find themselves under the boot heel of God. They are encouraged to take matters to the Lord in prayer. Seek and trust the Lord, Evangelical preachers tell the downtrodden. What is that God is trying to accomplish in your life? Remember, no matter what happens, God means it for your good. He promises to never, ever leave or forsake us. 

Those under physical, emotional, or economic assault are urged to submit to the “loving” hand of God. Perhaps God is teaching you a lesson, Evangelical preachers tell the afflicted. Or maybe he is testing you or punishing you for disobedience. Regardless, God only wants what is best for Christians. His goal is to make them more like Jesus and to prepare them for the peace and bliss that awaits on the other side of the grace. If God made life easy for Christians, preachers say, we would never appreciate Heaven and all that Jesus did for us on the cross.

Yet, despite all the flowery platitudes and blame-shifting, some Christians come to the conclusion that the reason God seems so distant is because he doesn’t exist. When help came in times of suffering, it was always their fellow humans who helped them. When prayers went unanswered, phone calls were always picked up. When bank accounts were empty and the cupboards were bare, it was family and friends who lent a helping hand. As these former Christians survey their lives, they conclude that wherever God might be, he is not on earth. At best, he is a deadbeat father who cares not for those who love and adore him. At worst, he is a cruel hoax, little more than a promise that is never fulfilled.

The reasons I left the Christian faith are many, but one of them is that I came to the conclusion that God is not intimately involved in the lives of those who devotedly serve and worship him, despite his promises. Over the course of 50 years in the Christian church, I had many so-called God experiences. After I deconverted, I went back through my life and gave a reckoning  of the times I thought God was blessing me, answering my prayer, or meeting my needs. A careful accounting of these events led me to conclude that the only God (s) in my life had a flesh and blood body. Human instrumentation, and not the mighty wonder-working power of God, was the reason my prayers were answered and my needs were met.

While there were certainly a handful of unexplained — dare I say miraculous — events, these moments in time were not enough to lead me to the conclusion that God is who and what Christians claim he is. While coming to this judgment is certainly not sufficient evidence to deny the existence of God, it is enough for me to conclude that the notion of a loving, caring, hands-on God who is intimately and minutely involved in the lives of those who worship Jesus is a myth.

I am unwilling to swear allegiance to a God who cares no more for me than does my cat. My cat demands constant attention, no matter what may be going on in my life. Yet, if I found myself crying out for help, I know for certain that my cat would waddle up to my leg, rub up against it, and with a voice I have heard countless times before, would say, feed me. This is how I view the Christian God.

[signoff]

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

 

jesus loves atheists

Seven years ago, I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church, never to return. While I still had a modicum of believe in the existence of a God, I was done with organized, institutional Christianity. Once free of the church, it was not long before I slid to the bottom of the slippery slope of unbelief.  Since then, numerous Evangelicals have attempted to win me back to Jesus or restore me to good standing with the church. Try as they might, I remain an unrepentant atheist, an apostate and enemy of Christianity.

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

I’ll Pray for You

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

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

And here’s the thing, I don’t know of one Evangelical-turned-atheist who has ever returned to Evangelicalism.  Despite all the prayers, those who leave don’t return. Wouldn’t it be a big boost for Evangelical stock if God reached down and saved Bruce Gerencser, the atheist preacher? Imagine what a splash it would make if someone such as I returned to the faith. But it doesn’t happen. Why is that? For many former Evangelicals, we deconverted because we learned that the Evangelical church is built on a faulty foundation: the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible. Once people  realize and accept that the Bible is not what Evangelicals say it is, they are then free to examine more carefully the central claims of Christianity. In my case, I found that Evangelical beliefs could not withstand intellectual scrutiny.

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

Have You Ever Heard the Gospel?

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

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

God Laid You on My Heart

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

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

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

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

God is Trying to Get Your Attention

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

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

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

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

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

When Evangelicals try the Hell approach, I quickly tell them that I don’t believe in the existence of Hell; that the only hell is that which humans inflict on each other. Sometimes, toying with them, I will ask them, exactly WHERE is hell?  Most of the time, I let Evangelicals know that threatening me with Hell will not work. I am immune to being threatened into anything. I spent most of my preaching career threatening people, warning them of the suddenness of death and the surety of hell. Over the years, hundreds of people responded to my threats, embracing the wonderful, loving, psychopathic God of Christianity. I now know that such an approach mentally and emotionally harms people. Constantly being warned about impending eternal judgment often leaves a deep and lasting emotional scar. Consider me scarred.

I Know the Holy Spirit is Speaking to You

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

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

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

Do You Want Your Children or Grandchildren to Grow Up Without Knowing God?

Ah yes, the classic do it for the kids line of thinking. Here’s the thing: now that I am closing in on 60, I have had six decades to contemplate belief in God and its effect on the human race. That’s a long time. I have spent most of my life drinking deeply at the trough of Christianity. I now know that the water in the trough was a mirage. I thought the healing waters of the Christian God imparted morality and ethics to all who would drink, but these days I’ve come to see that, while religion can play part in dispensing morality and ethics, it often, thanks to rigid dogma, proves to be an impediment to moral and ethical development.

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

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

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

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

A Catholic Calls on Me to Take Down This Blog and Quit Spreading Evil Disease

god in the mind

Comic by Dan Piraro

Here is an email I received from a Catholic upset over the content of this blog.

Philokalia3 wrote:

Take your blogs down, why spread your evil disease of lack of faith to others; misery loves company. Repent, call out to the Almighty with all your heart, be willing to raise the flag of surrender to God, brother you must ask God for sustained faith it is a gift, not something you conjure out of your own heart. Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, if you are eternally lost, and you asked not for faith it is no ones fault but your own: Joh 6:37  All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. Most High and Sovereign Father, grant to this man renewed faith, fill him w Thy Holy Spirit to the uttermost, utterly bind the Enemy and his helpers work against Bruce’s soul, Mother Mary and all ye Holy Ones in Heaven assist me in my prayers for Bruce, St. Pio, St. Jude, St. Anthony of Padua, St Nicholas, St Seraphim  of Sarov, help pray for this man, I beg, that his soul not be lost and that he would no longer work against the Most Holy Faith of Jesus, O Lord have mercy on His soul and irresistibly draw him back to Christ, and to His Church, in Jesus’ name do I pray, Amen

I received this email a couple of years ago. Philokalia3’s prayers, like every other Christian prayer uttered against me, must have not made it to God’s voice mail box. Despite calling on God, Mary, and a host of saints, I remain unrepentant. So much for the “power” of prayer.

The Similarity Between Answered Prayer and the Gifts Santa Brings

guest-post

A guest post by Richard. He blogs at RichardMarlowe236.

I grew up as a fundamentalist Christian.  A church three times a week, the Bible is the inspired inerrant word of God, evolution is a lie type of Christian.  I have since deconverted and consider myself an atheist (I prefer the term free-thinker).  I plan to write a later post detailing my journey.

A few months ago I had a conversation with a family.  The family member is a fundamentalist Christian.  I had just revealed my loss of faith to her.  Needless to say she was surprised.  She seemed unable to fathom how anybody could deny the existence of God. So, the conversation turned to proof for God’s existence.  Her reasons for believing were personal experience, scriptural authority, creation, and answered prayer.  While the first three reasons played a part in her belief, answered prayer was the most convincing to her.  She never said this directly, but it was the primary emphasis of the discussion.  Her logic for answered prayer as proof of God is as follows:

  • She had a need or want for something.
  • She prayed to the Christian God for this something.
  • She received this something.
  • God is why she received it.
  • Therefore, God exists.

Answered prayer is a common “proof”  by theists for the existence of God.  Sometimes it can be difficult to convince believers that answered prayer may have a natural explanation or may be a coincidence.

Yet this logic is flawed.  I witnessed this exact same logic unfold before my eyes except it was not to prove God’s existence.  It was proof for Santa’s existence.  (I know, I know!  Atheists always equate belief in God with belief in Santa.  Please keep reading as I am just using a personal example to demonstrate the flaw in the above-mentioned logic.)

I have three young children.  The oldest two believe in Santa Claus.  Starting in November, they began picking out toys they wanted for Christmas.  They went to see Santa and asked him for those toys.  On Christmas morning they awoke to these toys under the tree.  Automatically they attributed this to Santa.  To them it was “proof” for his existence.  Their logic was as follows:

  • They had a want for something.
  • They requested (prayed) for Santa to receive this something.
  • They received this something.
  • Santa Claus is why they received it.
  • Therefore, Santa exists.

See any similarities to the answered prayer logic?  It is exactly the same.  Actually you could use this logic to prove almost any being’s existence.

This does not even take into consideration unanswered prayer.  When this is brought up, many believers will say sometimes God says “No.”  Basically it boils down to this:

If I pray to God for something there are two possible outcomes.

1.  It will come to pass.

Or

2.  It will not.

How would this be different if there was no God?  If you made it this far… Thanks for reading!

Bruce, Would You Pray if Asked To?

atheist prayer

Andre asked:

Suppose you were at a dinner party and the host puts you on the spot to pray for the meal in front of 10-20 guests. Do you be a good sport and make up a prayer or politely decline, creating an awkward situation.

This is a great question, one that can be answered several different ways. Since all of my family and friends know I am no longer a Christian, I doubt any of them would ask me to pray. I can’t think of any social setting where I would now be asked to pray. Everyone knows I am an atheist, so I doubt they would want a godless heathen blessing their food.

Each of us must determine how we would respond when asked to pray. If a person is an atheist or an unbeliever, but hasn’t come out yet, then it might be appropriate for them to pray if asked. No harm will be done since the God they are praying to is a fictional being. Their prayer, like every other prayer, will hit the ceiling and bounce right back. No harm, no foul.

A dinner party is not a good place to declare to the world that you are an atheist or that you are no longer a Christian. Such a pronouncement will surely dampen the spirit and you will be blamed for ruining the party. The best advice I can give is to size up who is there and act accordingly.

Please see Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist

Come Get Your Miracle at The Church on Fire

Several weeks ago, Polly and I were in Fort Wayne to attend a baseball game. Polly made a wrong turn and we ended up driving by The Church on Fire, a United Pentecostal church. United Pentecostal churches are also called oneness churches because of their denial of Trinitarian theology. Here’s a few photographs of the church’s sign and its unique roadside prayer box.

church on fire fort wayne 2015-3

church on fire fort wayne 2015-1

church on fire fort wayne 2015-2

 

A Day of Public Indecency: Exposing the National Day of Prayer

national day of prayer 2015

Thursday, May 7, 2015 is the annual National Day of Prayer.  On April 17, 1952, “President Harry S. Truman signed a bill proclaiming a National Day of Prayer (NDP) must be declared by each subsequent president at an appropriate date of his choice.” In 1988, the law was amended, setting the first Thursday in May as date for the NDP. While the NDP is supposed to be a day when people of all faiths come together to pray, it has been co-opted by Evangelicals. While certainly people of various faiths will gather to pray on Thursday, it will be Evangelicals and conservative Catholics that get all the media attention. Instead of following the command of Jesus to pray in secret, Evangelicals will gather at county courthouses and government buildings and metaphorically expose their 13.316 inch prayer penis for everyone to see. On this day, Evangelicals want everyone to know that the United States is a Christian nation, that the one true God is the Christian God, and that they are God’s chosen people.

The National Day of Prayer Task Force is an Evangelical organization:

  …whose purpose is to encourage participation on the National Day of Prayer. It exists to communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, to create appropriate materials, and to mobilize the Christian community to intercede for America’s leaders and its families. The Task Force represents a Judeo Christian expression of the national observance, based on our understanding that this country was birthed in prayer and in reverence for the God of the Bible.

Shirley Dobson, wife of Christian fundamentalist James Dobson, is the chairwoman of the Task Force.  In a recent letter to NDP volunteers, Dobson stated:

“We are contending with threats from those both here at home and abroad who aim to do us harm, and immoral practices and unsound principles run rampant throughout the culture. With this in mind, there’s an especially urgent need for God’s people to ask for His guidance for the days ahead.”

For those not schooled in the fine art of Evangelispeak®, immoral practices=abortion, homosexuality, sex before marriage, and same-sex marriage. Unsound principles=evolution,humanism, atheism, secularism, and socialism.

According to Dion Elmore, spokesman for the National Day of Prayer Task Force:

“This is an American thing; this is not a Christian thing. Congress solidified a tradition of the Founding Fathers, who fought for religious freedom to gather in churches and groups. We encourage Americans to get out and pray for your nation, if you are a person of faith. We realize some people aren’t, and we’re not trying to force it on them.”

Really? An American thing? What section of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights mentions the NDP as an “American thing.”  While ONE of the reasons the Founding Fathers fought the British was religious freedom, it certainly wasn’t THE issue that drove colonialists to pick up arms and rebel against Britain. In fact, in many of the original 13 states, anti-religious freedom founding documents and laws were adopted, often enshrining Christianity as the state’s official religion. The notion that the United States was founded on religious freedom is a myth, as any cursory reading of American history will show.

The chairman of the 2015 National Day of Prayer is Jack Graham, fundamentalist Southern Baptist pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, a mega church located in Plano, Texas. Graham suggests that Evangelicals Christians, at 12:00 P.M. EST, recite the following prayer:

Heavenly Father,

We come to You in the Name that is above every name—Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Our hearts cry out to You.

Knowing that You are a prayer-answering, faithful God—the One we trust in times like these—we ask that You renew our spirits, revive our churches, and heal our land.

We repent of our sins and ask for Your grace and power to save us. Hear our cry, oh God, and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we may walk in obedience to Your Word. We are desperate for Your tender mercies. We are broken and humbled before You. Forgive us, and in the power of Your great love, lift us up to live in Your righteousness.

We pray for our beloved nation. May we repent and return to You and be a light to the nations. And we pray for our leaders and ask that You give them wisdom and faith to follow You.

Preserve and protect us, for You are our refuge and only hope. Deliver us from all fears except to fear You, and may we courageously stand in the Truth that sets us free. We pray with expectant faith and grateful hearts.

In Jesus’ name, our Savior. Amen.

Why is it necessary for millions of Christians to utter the same words at exactly the same time? Perhaps God has a busy schedule on Thursday and can only spare one minute to hear the repetitious prayers of his chosen people. How will success be judged? How will Evangelicals know that they got through to the Almighty?  I guarantee you that there is ONE thing that every praying Evangelical wants under his prayer tree…the U.S. Supreme Court affirming that marriage is between one man and one woman.

According to Randall Murphree, editor of the American Family Association Journal:

The late Leonard Ravenhill spoke these sobering words, startlingly apropos for contemporary America: “The self-sufficient do not pray, the self-satisfied will not pray, the self-righteous cannot pray.”

We have become self-sufficient, depending on our own abilities. We hold aloft our trophies, proclaiming, “Look what we have earned!” We neglect the gracious Giver of all gifts. We have become self-satisfied, prideful in our meaningless, material accomplishments. We rest pampered and apathetic in the arms of affluence. We forget the One who offers true satisfaction.

We have become self-righteous, basking in the sunlight streaming through our stained glass windows. We ignore the God of whom Paul wrote, “[T]hey did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own”…

…If we do not confess the sins of our critically ill culture, the illness could be terminal. Time and time again, God has judged nations by the character of His people. When His people failed to repent, their nations fell. America’s believers – preachers and plumbers, janitors and judges, editors and educators, broadcasters and brick masons – must spend time before God Almighty, confessing and repenting…

As you can see, lots of generic theological words hide the real reason for this year’s National Day of Prayer.  There will be few prayers uttered about the wars in the Middle East, global climate change, immigration, starving children, or the homeless. Little will be said  about most of the perplexing problems facing 21st century humans. None of these things matter to most Evangelicals. What does matter is outlawing abortion, criminalizing homosexuality, and banning same-sex marriage. What does matter is re-instituting government sponsored prayer in public schools, posting the Ten Commandments on classroom walls, and teaching school children the earth is 6,019 years old. What matters most of all is taking back the United States from Kenyan-born, socialist negro Barack Obama and those who are Democrats, socialists, atheists, humanists, pagans, and liberal Christians. Theocracy remains the ultimate goal and they will not rest until the Christian flag is hoisted over the White House and the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes that Sharia,Biblical Christian law, is the law of the Land.

I wish Evangelicals would be honest and stop couching their agenda in flowery, generic, non-offensive theological terms. Forget Jack Graham’s suggested prayer and get to the point:

Dear God, Dammit, we want our country back and we want it back now. We beseech you oh Lord, please kill all the homos, transvestites, abortion doctors, Muslims, atheists, and anyone else who refuses to bow a knee to Jesus and admit that the United States is one nation under the Evangelical God.  As in days of the Old Testament, send a plague upon the heathen and kill them all, sparing the Koch Brothers, Waltons,  and all the other job creators. Enrich hell with their flesh, and may the smell of their burning flesh be a sweet Uncle Ray’s BBQ savor in your nostrils. Oh Lord, burn down every house of worhsip except those where the one true Evangelical gospel is preached. You know which one that is, right Lord? I know you kind of got confused when you wrote the Bible. As in the days of the Old Testament, send fire from heaven and burn alive all the false prophets, especially atheist false prophets. Lord, what we really want is a Disney Park country just for true red white and blue Republican Christians. Please Lord, we need your help because no one is paying attention to us. Let the world know that you are still the same bad-ass God who drowned the entire human race in a flood and that we are your oh-so-special children.

Thanks, Jesus.

Amen.

 

Does Anyone Have God-Given Talent?

without me ye can do nothing

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

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

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

At every level, he excelled.

Finally, his big day came.

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 book 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 stand outs 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 a better explanation 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.

The all-star baseball player helps propel the home team to the World Series.  They handily win 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 gives 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…

Mark Hall Lead Singer of Casting Crowns: Miraculous Healing or Luck?

casting crowns

Casting Crowns 2013

A few years before I left the ministry, the music group Casting Crowns were one of my favorite groups.Songs like Does Anybody Hear Her?, Who am I, American Dream, and If We are the Body spoke of the dysfunction and incest I saw in Evangelicalism. Both Polly and I cried many a tear as we listened to Casting Crowns. Their music had a way of working its way down to the pain and emptiness that had engulfed us. While I think they have, in recent years, become enamored with their success, I do appreciate the help and encouragement I found through their songs.

I said all of the above so I could hopefully blunt any criticism over what I am going to say next.  Mark Hall, the lead singer for Casting Crowns, was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of kidney cancer. Hall went though surgery to remove the cancer and now the Evangelical community is abuzz with reports of God miraculously healing Hall.

Charisma News, a news site that reports as fact the most ridiculous of miracles, had this to say about Hall’s miracle:

Mark Hall, the lead singer for Casting Crowns, asked his fans for prayer earlier this month when doctors found a solid mass on his right kidney.

God answered those prayers. The doctors successfully removed the cancerous growth and he’s heading back home again.

“The pathology report is in and the news is just as we expected and also an answer to the prayers we have all prayed,” said Melanie Hall, Mark’s wife. “The pathology report confirms that the tumor was indeed kidney cancer but it was fully encased. The findings of the report confirm that the cancer had not spread to the kidney or anywhere else. Glory Hallelujah!!”

Melanie said the cancer was classified as the nuclear level 3 cell type, which is aggressive. That means it was active and ready to spread to other parts of Hall’s body.

“This just makes all of this even more of a miracle,” Melanie said. “I wish that I could explain in words how much of a miracle it was, but it would take too many words. And to be honest, I am too tired.”

Melanie pointed to three circumstances that allowed doctors to find the tumor. First, Casting Crowns is normally never off in March—but was this year. Hall was not experiencing any tumor-related symptoms—gastric problems took him to the doctor. And doctors don’t routinely order CT scans with contrast for physicals.

“God was at work in this before we had any idea. He is good that way. We are thankful for His mercy and grace. We are thankful that He chose to answer our requests in this way,” Melanie said.

“I know that not everyone’s stories have the desired ending. But I also know that God desires us to trust Him with it all anyway. Even still, He says He will work it all together for our good. Thank you again for your continued prayers. For us, in this, the war is won but we still have to fight the recovery battle.”

Is Mark Hall’s successful cancer surgery a miracle? Where’s the miracle component? A competent, qualified radiologist performed the CT scan, a competent, qualified anesthesiologist put Hall asleep, a competent, qualified surgeon removed the cancer, and a competent, qualified nursing staff assisted and took care of Hall before, during, and after his surgery. Pray tell, where’s the miracle? Just because countless Christians prayed doesn’t mean that the Big Man upstairs stopped filling out his March Madness Bracket so he could answer all these prayers and “heal” Hall.

The fact is, it is trained doctors who successfully treated Hall. But, But, But, the Christian says, WHO gave the doctors the skill to successfully operate on Hall?  By all means, please prove to me that you can know the Evangelical God gave the doctors their skill? Which is more likely: a deity giving someone a particular skill set,  or hard work, training, genetic disposition, upbringing, education, and desire giving some a particular skill set? I’m going with the latter.

There’s no miracle to be found here. Hall was lucky. Let me deconstruct Mark Hall’s wife’s explantion of the miracle.

First, Casting Crowns is never off in March and Melanie Hall sees this as providential. Providential, as in God giving Mark Hall aggressive kidney cancer so he could then miraculously “heal” him? Providential, as in God having Casting Crowns take the month of March off so he could miraculously “heal” Mark Hall? Isn’t amazing that any string of events and circumstances can be strung together as “proof” of God’s providence.

Second, Hall went to see the doctor for gastric problems and he was not showing any signs of having a tumor. Yet, the doctor supposedly ran an unneeded CT scan and viola! found the cancer.  Here’s the problem with this scenario. Doctors do order CT scans for gastric problems. How do I know this? Last December, I went to the doctor for gastric problems. What did the doctor order? A CT scan. What did they find? Enlarged lymph glands, a lesion on my pancreas, and a gallbladder filled with stones and sludge. I then had an endoscopic ultrasound. My doctor feared I had pancreatic cancer. Fortunately, the lesion was benign, but I will soon have my gallbladder surgically removed. There is nothing miraculous about a doctor ordering a CT scan on a 45-year-old man complaining of gastric problems.

So then, miracle or luck? Luck. A miracle would have been a CT scan showing Mark Hall’s cancer and then when the surgeon cut him open the cancer was gone.

Melanie Hall’s parting comment to those hoping to be healed like her husband reveals the bankruptcy of praying for miracles:

“I know that not everyone’s stories have the desired ending. But I also know that God desires us to trust Him with it all anyway. Even still, He says He will work it all together for our good.”

You see, most Christians who pray for divine healing from cancers, illnesses, and diseases find out that their God, who supposedly never leaves or forsakes them, is on vacation and can’t be bothered with their petty requests. For every Mark Hall “miracle”, there thousands and millions who will die without their God ever giving them a thought. In their dying hour, they find out that the Great Physician is anything but.

Russell Wilson’s God:Does He Love the Seahawks More than the Packers?

russell wilson crying

Russel Wilson crying after God helped him beat the Green Bay Packers

According to Russell Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, the Christian God is a Seahawks fan, at least for this week. Wilson had the worst game of his career, throwing four interceptions and was suffering four sacks. Wilson practically handed the game to the Green Bay Packers. But, Wilson had a secret weapon that Aaron Rodgers didn’t know about, God. Yes, Wilson called on the big man upstairs to give the Seahawks what they needed to defeat the Green Bay Packers.

Eight hours before game time, Wilson put in a praise order to Jesus:

russell wilson tweet

Russell Wilson Sends a Praise to Jesus so He’ll Remember Him Come Game Time

After the Seahawks stunning comeback win, Wilson and some of his Christian teammates knelt on the field and thanked God for their victory. Wilson later said:

“Just making the plays at the end. Keep believing. There was no doubt, I just had no doubt. We had no doubt as a team. The funny thing is I was on the sideline right before we went off that last drive and I told (offensive coordinator Darrell) Bevell, ‘be ready for the check’, for the play that we just ran through the touchdown. I said ‘I’m gonna pull a touchdown and win the game’. And sure enough man. I just believe that God prepared me for these situations. God’s prepared our team too as well. Like I said, I’m honored to be on this team. I’m going to the Super Bowl again.”

You see, there’s the problem. God was too busy helping Wilson prepare to beat the Seahawks to devote any time to rape and pillage going on in Nigeria. God was too busy helping Wilson understand the Packers’ defensive schemes to concern himself with children going to bed tonight without eating. What a mighty, mighty God Wilson serves, a God who can’t be bothered with the pressing needs of his creation because he’s too busy fixing a football game in Seattle.

Wilson tweeted out after the game:

russell wilson tweet 2

God Comes Through for Russell Wilson

As an atheist, I am amused by these kind of masturbatory displays of Christianity. Since Wilson’s God is a fiction, I know that the game was decided on the field. Green Bay had it in their grasp and let it get away. Wilson found a way to put off his horrible play and bring his team down the stretch to victory.

What troubles me is how many Christians are thrilled when a player or musician makes a public display of God affection. They are almost beside themselves when they hear their God, not just any God, THEIR God, mentioned on TV. Rarely do they consider how such things cheapen not only their religion but the God they worship.

jesus football

Do they really want to speak up for a God who takes time out of his busy schedule to help a football team win a game? The same could be said when people praise God for helping them to find their keys. Is this who the Christian God is — a divine bellhop who stands by waiting to meet the every whim of self-indulgent followers of Jesus?

Christians of every stripe should be offended when players such as Russell Wilson attribute their victory to God, the deity who loves every sport. It seems God helps football teams score the winning touchdown, baseball teams score the winning run, and golfers make the winning putt. I suppose God’s team even has some bowlers on it and he helps them get the 7-10 split to win the game. Is this what the Christian God has become, a genie who grants wishes to those who call upon his name?

If that is so, why then is he silent when millions of people will call on his name asking him to save them from starvation, torture, rape, calamity, and death? Is God so busy with American sports players that he has no time for no account starving children in Africa? Is he so tuned in to helping Russell Wilson grab victory from the jaws of defeat, that he has no time to help those who are being raped, abused, and murdered by ISIS and Boko Haram?

So, I ask you dear Christian, is THIS the God you want me to worship and serve? Is Jesus really little more than Russell Wilson’s touchdown Jesus? If so, count me out. I want nothing to do with such a petty, heartless deity.

The good news is, God is fixing to get an ass-whipping two weeks from today. The Seattle Seahawks will play the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.  And here’s one thing I know: Tom Brady the Patriot quarterback and his coach Bill Belichick? They won’t spent any time in prayer meetings beseeching God to help them defeat the Seahawks. Instead, they will  be doing what consummate professionals do. They will study film, they will cook up schemes to help them win, and then Tom Brady and Co will go out on the field and play as smart and as hard as they can. And if and when they win? You can count on one thing, neither of them will be praising Jesus for the victory.

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