Several years ago, I received a Facebook notification about approving something Rick, a friend of mine, wanted to post to my wall. Rick is a long-time friend, former parishioner, and frequent reader of this blog. What’s interesting about his request is that he meant his message to be a private one sent to a friend of his by the name of Frank. The reason I got the notification is that he inadvertently tagged me. Here’s the message Rick sent to Frank — also a man I have known for many years.
Don’t be put off by Rick’s poor language skills. Several years ago, Rick had a major stroke. This affected his ability to write sentences. Best I can tell, the stroke has not affected his ability to study and read the Bible, nor has it affected his ability to read religious materials.
I met Rick in the late 1990s. At the time, I was pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Rick, a Calvinist, was looking for a Calvinistic church to attend and someone recommended that he check out Somerset Baptist. Rick joined the church, happy in knowing that he had found a man who was conversant in the doctrines of grace (the five points of Calvinism). For the next five years, I would drive two times a week — thirty miles round trip — to New Lexington to pick Rick up for church.
One Sunday night, while on our way to the church, Rick was waxing eloquently about double predestination and whether children who die in infancy and developmentally disabled people are automatically a part of the elect — those whom God, from before the foundation of the world, has chosen to save. I told Rick, with a slight irritation in my voice, that Calvinistic Baptist great Charles Spurgeon believed such people were numbered among the elect. Rick, not the sharpest tool in the shed when it came to social cues, continued to defend God having the absolute right to eternally torture anyone, including infants and developmentally disabled people, in the Lake of Fire. I could feel anger welling. I thought to myself, has Rick forgotten that I have a developmentally disabled two-year-old daughter with Down syndrome? Doesn’t he care how hurtful his words are? I slammed on the brakes and told Rick to get out of the car. He could walk to church, I told him. I quickly cooled down, telling him, I didn’t want to hear another word from him about whether infants and developmentally disabled people are elect. Rick complied, moving on to other hot button Calvinistic issues.
Let me share another Rick memory, one that I think readers will find funny. Rick worked third shift at a residential home for the developmentally disabled — Mount Aloysius. Unsurprisingly, Rick was quite tired by the time he arrived for Sunday morning church. Try as he might to stay awake, Rick would often fall asleep. Rick snored, so the entire congregation knew when Rick was sleeping. Sunday after Sunday I watched Rick fight sleep, his head bobbing back and forth during my hour-long sermons. One Sunday, Rick bobbed his head back and then forward just as he did Sunday after Sunday. This time, however, Rick’s head traveled forward farther than he intended, smacking the pew in front of him. I stopped preaching and went to Rick to make sure he was okay. Fortunately, the only thing harmed was his pride. After the service, I told Rick that perhaps he should skip the Sunday morning service when he worked the night before. That way he could be rested and mentally fresh for the Sunday evening service. By the way, this was the only time in twenty-five years of pastoring churches that I told someone, please don’t come to church.
I haven’t been Rick’s pastor for over twenty-seven years, and the last time I saw him was in 1996 when he and Frank drove to West Unity, Ohio to attend services at a new church I had planted. Since then, I have traded a few emails with Rick, but nothing of substance.
Rick’s message is a reminder to me that people still talk about my deconversion. People who knew me well — as Rick and Frank once did — are still trying to square the pastor they once knew with the atheist named Bruce Gerencser. In Rick’s case, he wonders if am just backslidden, or is it possible that I never was saved. I am sure Rick prefers the backslidden explanation. I am sure trying to wrap his mind around the possibility of me never being saved is too much for him to emotionally and intellectually handle. If I was never saved, this means that Rick was taught for five years by an unsaved pastor, a man he heard expositionally preach hundreds of times; preaching that he believed was empowered by the Holy Spirit. I am sure he remembers the countless hours we spent after church talking theology. I am sure he remembers my love, kindness, and compassion, and my willingness to, week after week, drive to New Lexington and pick him up so he could attend church. I am sure he asks himself, how is it possible that the Bruce I knew was never a true Christian.
The easy out for Rick is for him to embrace Arminianism with its belief that saved people can and do fall from grace. Doing so would mean that I once was saved, but now I am not. Of course, Rick’s Calvinism keeps him from believing I have lost my salvation, so he is forced to psychologically torture himself with thoughts about whether I am backslidden or was never a Christian to start with.
I wish Rick nothing but the best. I hope he will, in time, come to terms with my current godless state. I chose to be exactly where I am today. Or did I? Perhaps all of this has been decreed by God, and the person ultimately responsible for my lost condition is the divine puppet master, John Calvin’s God.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Muslim, and Mormon churches, along with many new-agers and spiritual people, believe EVERYTHING happens for a reason. They all believe that God or the Universe or some sort of divine energy/consciousness orchestrates our lives and that nothing happens by chance, accident, or luck
According to people who think like this, everything that happens in our lives is part of a bigger purpose or plan. No matter what happens to us, it happens because it was meant to happen. In keeping with this way of thinking, the irresponsible, dumb-ass, youthful driver who pulled out to pass a slow-moving truck on a double yellow line and missed hitting Polly and me head-on by a few feet was acting according to some greater purpose or plan. If he had hit us, our deaths would have happened for a reason.
As I think back through my life, my mom’s suicide at age 54, my dad’s death from surgery complications at age 49, my sister-in-law’s death from a motorcycle accident, my wife’s favorite uncle’s death at age 51 from a rare heart virus, these all-too-soon tragic deaths had no positive effect on those left behind, and their deaths certainly, outside of releasing several of them from pain, had no positive effect on them. If these deaths had some greater cosmic purpose, I’d sure love to know what it is.
When Polly’s sister was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005, several family members suggested that if one soul got saved through Kathy’s death then her demise would not have been in vain. While I still a Christian at the time, I made it clear to everyone standing there that if the choice was between Kathy still being alive and someone getting saved and avoiding Hell, I’d choose Kathy living every time.
As I look at the world, I see pain, suffering, and death. I see hunger and thirst. I see violence and deprivation. I see poverty, animal abuse, and environmental degradation. Yet, I am told that all these things happen for a reason. Pray tell, what is the bigger purpose or plan for these things? What reason could there be for children starving, a woman being raped, a family having no means of support?
Years ago, a horrific, violent storm ripped through northwest Ohio. People and animals were killed, buildings and trees were destroyed, and millions of people were left without electricity for days, all during a time when temperatures were setting new record highs. Again, what is the bigger purpose or plan for these things? To increase generator sales?
War rages across the globe. The United States has troops stationed all over the world and is currently waging war in numerous countries. U.S troops, bombs, and bullets are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths of innocent civilian men, women, and children, along with enemy combatants. Again, what is the bigger purpose or plan for these things?
It is not enough to say that the Christians God has a perfect plan and we must not question him. It is not enough to quote Romans 9:20:
Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
Or Romans 8:28:
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
I not only question this God, I charge him with gross negligence and malfeasance. Any human acting as this God does would be considered a manic, cruel, serial abuser of his fellow human beings. Such a God we would or should not want as family or friend, yet billions claim this God as their friend, confidant, family member, and lover. They fawn over and worship this God who is so inept that he can’t even feed a starving girl in Africa or quench the thirst of a homeless family in India. While this God always seems to come through for Granny when she can’t find her car keys, he is AWOL when it comes to relieving his creation from pain, suffering, and death. Forgive me for saying this, but this God is not worthy of obeisance and worship. If I’m going to worship anyone, it is going to be my fellow humans who devote their lives to reducing the suffering of others. They are the gods who are worthy of worship.
I prefer the agnostic/atheist/deist way of looking at life. Shit happens. Good and bad happens to one and all, and often what comes our way has no purpose or reason. It just h-a-p-p-e-n-s.
This does not mean that I cannot learn from the bad things that happen in my life. My own physical debility and chronic pain have been quite instructive. My past experiences have indeed helped to make me into the man I am today (good and bad).
But, to suggest that God or the universe or some divine energy/consciousness is behind how my life has turned out? I reject any such notion. I gladly embrace what my life is and all that helped to make it what it is, but I have no place in my life for some sort of divine puppeteer pulling the strings of my life. Twelve years ago, I reached up and cut the puppeteer’s strings, and from that day forward my life has been my own. It is an admixture of my own choices, the choices of others, genetics, and random events and circumstances. I need no other explanation, nor do I need a God to make my life more palatable. It is what it is until it isn’t.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
One of my earliest memories is sitting on the floor in a church nursery, rolling a big ball to a little boy who would then roll it back to me. I was delighted with this simple game. An equally delighted adult was watching us. I can’t remember who she was, but I am sure she was smiling and encouraging us in our ball rolling. We were probably three or four years old. I felt safe, happy, and comfortable.
My family went to church every Sunday. I didn’t understand why of course, but it was always fun because there were other kids to play with. Eventually I outgrew the nursery and began attending Sunday school. In Sunday school the teachers were always ladies and they were always sweet. They taught us all sorts of Bible stories. It wasn’t quite as fun as the nursery had been, but it was pleasant and sometimes we got to color. We soon began learning about Jesus. We would sing “Jesus Loves Me” or the song about the wise man who built his house upon a rock, smacking our fists into our palms to show how good and solid the rock was. There was an important message in these songs, though I wasn’t sure what it was.
After a while, Sunday school took a more serious turn. Our teacher taught us about lepers. Lepers were people who had a terrible disease that caused their body parts to rot and fall off. Other people hated them and made them live far away. Only Jesus was kind to lepers. Jesus was better than other people. Like the Sunday school songs, there was an important message in this story. I still didn’t fully understand it, but so far, I liked Jesus a lot. I was glad he was nice to the sick people and he even helped one of them get well. I don’t remember the first time we heard about Jesus dying on the cross to save us, but the teacher started bringing it up every week. She told us it was very important for us to believe that Jesus died to save us from our sins. It had never occurred to me not to believe something an adult said, especially a teacher, so it seemed kind of strange that she thought we might not believe her story.
Around this time, I started learning to read. Thanks to TV, I even learned that all people did not use the same words as we Americans did. Some people spoke and wrote a language called Spanish. It had different words for things like “water” and “friend.” This was amazing. The subject of language came up one week in Sunday school when our teacher taught us about the Tower of Babel. In this story, God punished some men who tried to build a giant tower they could use to climb into Heaven. He did this by switching everyone’s words around. It all made sense now! That must have been where Spanish had come from, plus a whole bunch of other languages I had never even heard of. I found myself smugly wondering why God had written the Bible in English. I decided it must be because English was the best language.
It was the 1970s. Hippies were everywhere. Stores carried posters and signs with slogans like: “Keep On Truckin’,” “Peace,” and “Smile God Loves You.” One week our sweet Sunday school teacher had a warning for us kids. She told us not to believe the signs that said “Smile God Loves You” because they weren’t true. God did not love everybody. I didn’t think much about this warning at the time. I was already learning not to question the things I heard in church. As the years went by and I transitioned from a curious child into a quiet teenager, I grew frustrated with church. Those early lessons about kind and helpful Jesus didn’t mesh with the grown-up sermons about a righteous, angry God. The punishment doled out by God at the Tower of Babel seemed like a prank compared to burning unbelievers in Hell forever. I didn’t understand what we were supposed to do for Jesus. I knew that He had died for us wicked humans, but there was something crucial I was missing. Why did all these people spend every Sunday listening to the preacher talk about it? What was the point? Our preacher spent a lot of time and energy ranting about all these other preachers who had everything wrong. There was a long list of these false preachers. He also had a long list of behaviors that would not help you get into Heaven: praying, tithing, getting baptized, helping the poor, caring for the sick, winning souls, going to church, volunteering in church, building the church, studying the Bible, serving your community, and on and on and on. I got tense just listening to him talk about all the ways you could waste your time trying to be a good person. It was like listening to a song with an overly long introduction. I kept waiting for the tension to break and for him to finally say what we should do to get into Heaven, but he never did.
It occurred to me that church was vastly different from school. In school, you learned about a new subject, studied it, took tests on it, then you moved on to the next level. You repeated this process from first grade to second grade to third grade and so on. By the time you got to middle school, you didn’t keep going over the same topics you learned in grade school; you were expected to have them memorized so they could form the foundation of more advanced subjects. Not so in church. In church you went every Sunday, year after year, to hear the same lecture about how horrible you are and how you deserve to burn in Hell and how Jesus would save you from Hell if only . . . something. What that something was, I couldn’t quite grasp. I wondered if I was dumb. Obviously, every other person in church understood it, so why didn’t I? Confusion morphed into anger and I started to hate going to church. I was closing in on adulthood and longing for independence. It felt like church was keeping me trapped in childhood. My escape finally began when I left home for college at the age of eighteen. I was still a Christian, though I could not have described my actual beliefs to anyone who might have asked. I knew what I was supposed to say, but those Christian-approved words didn’t match up with the thoughts and emotions I kept inside. In college I made the shocking discovery that other people sometimes questioned the origins of the Bible. They talked about it as if it were any other book written by men. Even more shocking was the fact that college instructors now encouraged us students to think about these things. They wanted us to think! I couldn’t handle it. I decided they were all evil. Though I had problems with Christianity myself, it felt like an attack to hear others criticize the faith — my faith! Even so, I did begin allowing myself to think, just a little bit at first. This was the beginning of the end of my faith. It wasn’t until many years later that I finally left Christianity for good. It took a long time to get rid of the fear that I might accidentally come to the wrong conclusion and burn forever because of it. And it wasn’t until the advent of the internet, decades later, that I finally understood what our preacher was really saying all along. I had started reading online articles about Christianity in its various forms. When I came across a description of Calvinism, I realized that there was a good reason our preacher never told us what to do to get into Heaven. He did not believe it mattered one bit what we did, because God had already decided who was in and who was out.
I had heard this long ago, this doctrine of predestination. It hadn’t upset me too much back then, because I was so deep in fundamentalist brain fog that I couldn’t process the horror. It just didn’t sink in. Now I thought about all the convoluted, pseudo-intellectual gobbledygook I had heard masqueraded as wisdom. And I realized that the particular message of our peculiar brand of Calvinism did not require years of lectures to understand. It was as simple as it was cruel: God created some people to damn and some people to save. There is nothing any human being can do to change this situation so it is foolish to even try. I cannot describe the way this realization made me feel. I was astonished at how ridiculous it was, and at how many otherwise intelligent adults really believed that this was the sort of thing a righteous creator would do. It still gives me a strange feeling to think about how that church, which I first knew as a safe and happy place, was never anything more than a shrine to violence and injustice.
I found the following post on a public Calvinistic discussion forum. Many of us who used to be Evangelicals/Calvinists understand the psychological angst this man is going through as he takes Christianity/Calvinism to its logical conclusion. If God is sovereign, the first cause, the creator of every everything, and nothing happens apart from his purpose and plan, then it is reasonable to conclude that the Christian God created sin, created hell, and created billions of people he intended to torture in the Lake of Fire for eternity. Apologists for Calvinism go to great lengths to explain these conclusions, but I find their explanations to be little more than the ass-covering Sarah Huckabee Sanders gives Donald Trump — empty lies. If God is who and what Calvinists say he is, then Calvinists most own the aforementioned conclusions. Either that or write a 666-page book defending the Big Kahunah’s honor.
“I don’t think most of us realize how centered around feelings we are. Every day, we make decisions and evaluate our circumstances based on how we feel at the time. Plus, our culture is constantly telling us to “follow our hearts” and do whatever feels good because we deserve it. We are amazing and wonderful, and we deserve happiness (often in the form of a new hair care product or prime rib sandwich or shiny SUV or whatever that billboard on the side of the street is trying to sell us).
Well, sorry, culture, but we don’t deserve happiness. We’re human beings who lie and cheat and steal and fight and hold grudges and hurt our loved ones, and we don’t actually deserve anything. I strive to be a good, caring person, but I still make mistakes and end up hurting people. However, God gives us the opportunity for a beautiful, pain-free future with Him because of this amazing thing called grace.”
Allison Barron is a Calvinist, so her beliefs about original sin and total depravity color her thinking when she says that we humans not only don’t deserve happiness, we don’t deserve ANYTHING! That’s right, saved or lost, all of us are worms, undeserving of any of good things that come our way. If we experience blessings and happiness, we mustn’t think that we deserve these things. We don’t. Unregenerate sinners deserve the wrath of God and, after death, unrelenting torture in the Lake of Fire. God might be the creator of everything, but because Adam and Eve ate some fruit they shouldn’t have, God has turned away from humanity, judging them unworthy of his love, grace, mercy, and compassion. During the days of Noah and the flood (Genesis 6-9), God determined that the human race was so vile the he had to destroy every living thing, save Noah and his family, the animals on the ark, birds in the air, and fishes in the sea. God slaughtered men, women, children, and the unborn. (So much for God being pro-life.) Why? Because he could; because he deemed the entire human race unworthy of redemption. Think of all the animals that were killed during the flood. What did they do to deserve such an ignoble end? At best, they were props in an object lesson: mess with God and he will kill you.
Even the elect, those whom God chose to save from before the foundation of the world, are, apart from Christ, viewed in the same light as the non-elect. According to the substitutionary atonement theory, Jesus stands between God the Father and the saved. When Jesus died on the cross, his Father brutally tortured him because of the sins of the elect. All that Jesus suffered on the cross was because of the sinfulness of the elect. (According to Calvinism, Jesus only died for the elect. The non-elect have never been a part of God’s redemptive plan.) If it weren’t for Jesus reconciling the elect to God the father, they too would be under the wrath of the Almighty.
Calvinists such as Barron go groveling through life, believing that they are unworthy of any kindness, goodness, or blessing that comes their way. These things indeed come their way, but only because of God’s grace, not because of their good works, effort, or luck. Calvinists spend their lives tamping down any thoughts they have of worth, of deserving that which they worked for, or stumbled upon out of luck. All that is good comes from God, and God alone. Any thoughts of self-worth or self-esteem are viewed as affronts to the righteousness and holiness of God. This thinking is what drives the self-deprecating speeches and interviews given by athletes, musicians, and actors. All the glory, praise, and honor go to Jesus/God, they say, ignoring the fact that who and what they are is due to many factors, the greatest of which is their personal effort and hard work. If all the glory truly belongs to God, why bother to work at one’s craft?
Surely Lebron James and Stephen Curry and Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and Clayton Kershaw and Joey Votto — all-stars and future hall of famers the lot of them — are good at what they do because of God’s grace, right? Why spend hours a day, virtually every day of the year working on their skill set? If their greatness is due to God alone, then no practice is needed. Or, perhaps Barron’s God is a work of fiction, and those who achieve much in this life do so primarily because of their diligent, hard work. Certainly genetics, environment, social status, education, and a healthy dose of luck play a part too, but without committing themselves to excellence they would never have become household names. Again, exactly what part did the Christian God play in their development?
As most Christians do, Barron looks to a time after death when she will have a wonderful, beautiful pain-free life with God. For now, she and fellow predestinarians must endure life, awaiting that day when Jesus will return to earth, resurrect and judge humanity — sending the saved (elect) to God’s Trump Tower® and the lost (non-elect) to the Lake of Fire — and then God, with his mighty power, will make ALL things new. The redeemed will spend eternity loving and praising the God who took credit for all the good things they did while on fallen earth. Imagine spending eternity with a husband who never worked a day in his life, but took credit for your hard work. That’s God.
Calvinism is a dour religion, one that demands its adherents endure to the end if they hope to have any chance of getting a room in Heaven. Even then, there will be Calvinists who will diligently persevere to the end, only to find out that the joke is on them, they never were among the elect. No Calvinists can never know for sure that they are saved. They hope so. They hope they are among the elect. They hope they will persevere to the end. They hope on judgment day to hear God say, well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord.
Count me as one person who is glad he walked away from Christianity and its denial of self and personal worth. None of us is perfect, and when we cause harm to others, we need to make things right. As much as lies within us, we should be at peace with all men. If we live long enough, we will meet people who don’t deserve love, kindness, or respect from us. There be assholes in this land of ours — unworthy of one moment of our time. For the people we call family, friends, and colleagues — those who make our lives richer in every way — I hope we all can say that they deserve the goodness, kindness, and blessing that comes their way. While life certainly isn’t fair, and bad things far too often happen to good people, in general we reap what we sow. If I want to reap a life filled with love, mercy, and kindness, then I must be willing to sow the same. What goes around, comes around, no God needed.
Unlike Barron, I know a number of amazing, wonderful people. Barron might object, saying that she does know such people, but they are amazing and wonderful because of God and not their own inherent goodness. And therein lies the problem. God clouds Barron’s view of others to such a degree, that all she sees is J-e-s-u-s (what boring view). For the uncircumcised, unwashed Philistines of the world, we have no need of a God blocking our view.
As an atheist, I can clearly see those who deserve goodness and blessing; those who deserve good jobs, nice cars, wonderful houses, fancy clothing, and big-ass 60 inch LED televisions. My dear wife endured a life of self-denial as a pastor’s wife, living in a 12×60 foot trailer with six children and a workaholic husband. She did without nice clothing, shoes, and the finer things of life, all for the sake of the ministry. Both of us sacrificed financial security and health, believing that our poverty was a sign of our devotion to Calvin’s God. There’s is not enough life left for me to shower my wife with all that she deserves — all that SHE deserves, not God.
Now that we are free from a God who demanded absolute fealty and servitude — a God who demanded all the praise, worship, and glory — Polly and I are free to reward not only each other, but our family and friends, with all the kindness, goodness, and love they so richly deserve — all that THEY deserve, not God. We are also free to spread the gospel of a God-free, sin-free, judgment-free, hell-free, heaven-free life. Live each day to its fullest. Enjoy each and every day. Pour your life into those who matter. Eat, drink and be merry, and make sure you have a designated driver. Work hard, doing the best you can. Strive to be a better person tomorrow than you were today. Life is all about living. To riff on an Evangelical cliché: only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done now will last.
Let me leave you with the words of Wendell Berry in the Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
The first verse in the first book of the Christian Bible says, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The verses that follow go on to explain all that God created. His crowning achievement was the creation of Adam and Eve — humans created in the image of God. Adam and Eve would later eat fruit from a tree that God said was off-limits. Their love of fruit brought sin and death into the world. From this point forward, humans broke forth from their mothers’ wombs at variance with God. According to the Bible, newborns come into the world speaking lies. Humans are, by nature, enemies of God. Wanting to repair the fractured relationship between the Creator and his creation, God cooked up a scheme through which sins could be forgiven. In the Old Testament, the Bible says God required blood sacrifices for expiation of sin. Animals were ritually slaughtered and their blood placed upon altars to provide atonement for national and personal sins. In the New Testament, the Bible says that God sent himself to earth in the form of a God-man by the name of Jesus. This Jesus was one hundred percent man and one hundred percent God. After traversing through Palestine for thirty-three years, working miracles and preaching sermons, this Jesus was accused of heresy by the Jews, arrested by the Roman government, and executed. Three days later, this Jesus miraculously came back to life, spent forty days appearing to his followers, after which he ascended to heaven. According to Christians, for the past 2,000 year Jesus has been hanging out in heaven doing God things: building rooms (mansions) for Christians to live in, helping Tim Tebow score touchdowns, helping grandmas find their car keys, and controlling presidential elections. While Jesus, at least according to those who speak on his behalf, is intimately involved in the minutest details of the lives of his followers, it seems he can’t be bothered with important issues such as war, starvation, global climate change, human trafficking, and the Cincinnati Bengals winning the Super Bowl. Why is it that Jesus never seems to be around when you really, really need him?
Most Christian sects can be plotted along the line between Arminianism and Calvinism. While these two systematic theologies are poles apart from one another, both agree that the Christian God is the absolute, authoritative ruler of the universe. While Arminians and Calvinists argue amongst themselves about free will and the order of salvation, both agree that God is sovereign, that he has the whole world in the palm of his hands. This God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. The Bible says that none of us can escape the presence of this God. He is everywhere — the ultimate voyeur.
If everything is created by God, owned by God, known by God, and nothing escapes his ever-seeing eye, isn’t it logical to say that God is responsible for sin? Isn’t it logical to hold God responsible for everything that happens? If humans are not ultimately in control of their lives or their destiny, how then can they be held responsible? If God alone — either through predestination and election or prevenient grace — saves sinners and gives them keys to their Jesus-built mansions in the sky, how then can any of us be held accountable for not becoming Christians? If it is God, through the Holy Spirit, that gives life to dead sinners so they can believe, how then can any un-quickened sinners be held accountable for their depravity? Billions of people, past and present, live in places where Christianity has no influence. People can go through their entire lives without hearing the Christian gospel, yet when they die God will hold them accountable for not hearing that which they had no opportunity to hear. Does this sound just and fair?
Does any of this make sense to you? Wouldn’t it have been better for the Gods — Yahweh, Jesus, Holy Spirit — to cut out all the bullshit and create a universe not tainted by sin and depravity? Surely it was in God’s power to create an Adam and Eve incapable of sinning. It’s a fair question, then, to ask why God did what he did. If God controls the universe and nothing escapes his sovereign grasp, why all the war, violence, rape, starvation, and terrible contemporary Christian music?
Start asking Christian pastors and laypeople these questions, and you’ll quickly conclude that they really don’t have any answers. Oh, they will spin some sort of elaborate theological answer that will leave you neck deep in quicksand, but don’t expect them to give direct, succinct answers. Most often, apologists for the Christian God will give contradictory or incoherent answers, and when their nonsense is pointed out they will swiftly run to the house of faith, slamming the door while they scream, GOD’S WAYS ARE NOT OUR WAYS! GOD’S THOUGHTS ARE NOT OUR THOUGHTS! HOW DARE YOU CHALLENGE THE CREATOR! HE CAN DO WHAT HE WANTS! This screaming is the equivalent of la-la-la-la, I can’t hear you, now fuck off.
A perfect illustration of this can be found in a recent post on the Faith-It website by Christine Suhan. Titled, Dear Christians, Stop Saying ‘Everything Happens for a Reason’,Suhan shows how it is impossible for Christians to develop a coherent understanding of the world while at the same time trying to hold on to Evangelical beliefs. Here’s some of what she had to say:
Have you ever found yourself, in the midst of unimaginable grief, pain, heartache or despair, wondering how you are going to make it through another day? Wondering where your next breath is going to come from? Your world has crumbled beneath you and you are left feeling shattered, empty and hopeless.
And then a well meaning friend or family member comes along and drops the infamous “Everything happens for a reason” bomb. You smile kindly and nod—that’s all you can do to keep yourself from punching them in the face.
Sometimes bad things happen for no reason other than we are human beings having a human experience. Pain, heartache, grief, loss, disease and death are inevitable parts of the human experience.
We hear people say “Life dealt me a crappy hand” as if pain and hardships are not the norm. We assume that life is supposed to be easy and when things don’t go our way, we feel like we have been wronged. Human beings seem to have an innate sense of entitlement. We think that we are owed a pain-free existence.
But the truth is that human beings are not exempt from the human experience. And struggle is an innate part of the human experience. None of us are exceptions to this rule. We all struggle. We all suffer. We all experience pain, heartache and loss. And sometimes, there’s just no reason other than we are human and pain is a part of the process.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who was struggling to find peace with “God’s plan” for her life including the recent death of a loved one.
“How could this possibly be God’s will?” she asked.
Here’s what I’ve come to know about God’s will:
God’s will is not the path we walk, but rather how we walk the path.
God’s plan is never for someone to have cancer. God’s will is not for an innocent child to be brutally murdered. God’s will is not for a teenage girl to be raped. God’s will is not chronic pain, illness, disability or death.
God’s will is not an event that happens to us, it’s how we respond to what happens.
God’s will for us is to walk with Him through the cancer. Through the abuse. Through the death. Through the illness. God’s will is for us to draw close to him in the midst of pain. God’s will is for us to use our painful life events to carry his message of hope, grace, forgiveness and mercy.
God’s plan was never for pain to be part of the human experience. His plan was for us to live in peace and harmony with Him. The human experience became painful when sin entered the world. Our own free will weaved threads of tragedy, loss, heartache and pain into the human experience.
God is not responsible for our pain. We are not responsible for our pain. What happened in the Garden of Eden is responsible for the human condition. And the human condition is hard wired for pain and suffering. God is not causing us to hurt. He is hurting with us. What we do with our hurt is what matters. How we handle tragedy is what brings purpose into our pain.
There’s hardly ever a justifiable reason for the bad things that happen in life. Tragic loss is not laced with inherent specs of good. I used to get so mad when people would say, “You can find good in every situation.” That’s just not true. There was nothing good about being raped. There is no good in murder or abuse.
Suhan takes the shit happens approach. Thanks to Adam and Eve and their progeny’s sin, nature, pain, suffering and death are part of the human (Westworld) experience. According to Suhan, there is no reason or purpose for these things to happen. The problem, however, is that Suhan’s worldview runs contrary to orthodox Christian doctrine. This often happens when Christians try to thoughtfully think about human existence. How can rape or murder be good or have some sort of higher purpose? If God is the sovereign of the universe, why does he permit, either passively or by decree, such things to happen? Surely, an all-powerful God can keep people from being raped or murdered. Why does he idly stand by and do nothing?
According to Suhan, God does do s-o-m-e-t-h-i-n-g. When a teenage girl is being ritually raped by her pastor or an altar boy is being repeatedly sodomized by his priest, Jesus is right there holding the victim’s hand. That’s right, the God who could stop sexual assault does little more than send victims a BFF text that says, I am with you in spirit. Love, Jesus. Millions of people will go to bed tonight hungry, and the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and sends sunshine and rain for crops to grow, will do nothing to feed them, choosing instead to smile and hold their empty plates. While the risk of nuclear war between the United States and Russia continues to increase, Jesus wants everyone to know that he will be right there with them if they are turned into an ash heap. Is this the best that God can do for us — hold our hand?
If God is the supreme ruler of the universe, the creator of all things, the giver of life and death, and he who sees and knows everything, it is impossible to absolve him of culpability for pain, suffering, violence, and death. God could intervene, but he does nothing. Try as they might, Christian apologists have no suitable answer for a sovereign God’s inaction. The best these defenders of the faith can come up with is that Adam and Eve ate an apple, pissed off God in the process, and for thousands of years now he is been standing by while the Richard Micks of the world rape church children, serial killers murder innocents, and warring nations rain death down on the heads of innocent civilians.
And if this isn’t bad enough, Christian pastors and theologians remind us that there is coming a day when God will end his hand-holding ways, resurrecting everyone from the dead so he can judge them and fit those who don’t measure up with some sort of supernatural body that will survive an eternity of torture in a lake filled with fire and brimstone. This God who couldn’t be bothered with stopping Hitler’s horrendous slaughter of six million Jews, will definitely be hands-on when the time comes to make his “chosen” people pay for their rejection and execution of Jesus Christ. Billions of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and wrong-flavor-of-ice-cream Christians will be awakened from their slumber, only to be cast into hell with the devil, his angels, Barack Obama , Hillary Clinton, and Bruce Gerencser.
Who in their right mind would want anything to do with Evangelical Christianity?
It is for these reasons (and others) that many people turn to atheism. The only way to understand what goes on in the world is to realize that we humans are responsible for what does and does not happen. Countless Christians are praying that God will make sure that Donald Trump becomes president. Their meaningless prayers will not affect the outcome of this election, votes will. It is up to humans, not fictional deities, to put an end to violence and suffering. We are the masters of our universe, and if we want things to be different, then it is up to us to change them. A humanistic view of the world requires us to acknowledge that randomness and luck often affect our lives. Sometimes, we are at the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time. Slight variations in decisions or movement can drastically change outcomes. It is highly unlikely that a jet flying overhead will crash into my home. It’s possible, but the probability is minuscule. And when that unlikely event happens to some unlucky individuals, we must accept it as just that – an unfortunate incident which took lives, but not an act of God. Instead of attempting to develop some elaborate and often contradictory religious explanation of the world that supposedly matches the dictates of ancient religious texts, it is far better for us to just live in the moment and do what we can to improve life for not only ourselves and our progeny, but also for animals and other humans. Interjecting God into the discussion just complicates things. We humanists hope that Suhan and her fellow Christians leave off holding hands with their fictional best friend, and instead join hands with us as we try to combat violence, pain, suffering, disease, climate change, starvation, inequality, and death. Surely God is not so jealous that he can’t put off the handholding until Christians make it to the other side.
faith-it.com is owned and operated by Outreach, Inc., a large Evangelical media and marketing “ministry” located in Colorado Springs. Fundamentalists such as Kirk Cameron, Eric Metaxas, Lee Strobel, Sheila Walsh, Josh McDowell, Benham Brothers, Craig Gross, Ryan Dobson, Frank Turek, and a gaggle of Evangelical sports stars are represented by Outreach, Inc.