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Tag: Purpose and Meaning

Focusing on What Really Matters

focus on what matters

As an Evangelical Christian, I viewed life this way:

  1. Life is given to us by God.
  2. Life is a preparatory time for life after death.
  3. Troubles, trials, and adversity will certainly come our way, but these things are part of God’s plan for us. He is testing us, trying us, and developing a longing in us for Heaven.
  4. While pleasure and happiness have their place in the human experience, it is far more important to know the joy of the Lord, and if need be, to deny oneself pleasure and happiness for the sake of God’s Kingdom and the eternal reward that awaits those who run the race God has set before them.
  5. While there is nothing wrong with material things, they do have the power to corrupt and distract us from that which really matters. As the Westminster Catechism says: What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
  6. Life is to be lived with God, his will, and eternity always in the foreground.
  7. Death is a promotion from this life to the next. While we will leave our loved ones behind for a time, we know that if they are followers of Jesus, we will see them again in Heaven.

As an atheist, I view life this way:

  1. Life is given to us by our parents.
  2. This life is all we have. There is no life after death, no second chances, no do-overs. This is it.
  3. Troubles, trials, and adversity will certainly come our way. These things happen to everyone, and it is the price we pay for being among the living. Sometimes, these things happen due to our bad choices or rash, foolish decisions. However, many things befall us simply due to bad luck. Wrong place. Wrong time. Wrong circumstance. Bad genes.
  4. Pleasure and happiness are to be sought after since this life is all we have. In seeking pleasure and happiness, we should consider how seeking these things affects others, but we should not allow others to stand in the way of our pursuit of pleasure and happiness. Life is too short to allow others to dictate the parameters by which we live our lives.
  5. We should seek after those things which give our life meaning and purpose. While there is a place in the human experience for living for the sake of others, this should not be at the expense of our own meaning and purpose. While narcissism is not a trait most humans value, neither is living a life that belongs to everyone but the person living it.
  6. Since life is defined by the space between birth and death, it is important for us to live each day to its fullest. Every day we live means we are one day closer to death. While death may provide a release from pain and sickness, it is bittersweet. Bittersweet because we are leaving behind those things which mattered to us. Above all, we are leaving behind those we love.

Several years ago, I watched the final show of the acclaimed HBO series Six Feet Under. The show is about the Fisher Family and their funeral home business. For five seasons, viewers are taken on a journey with the Fisher family and death. I found Six Feet Under to be one of the best dramas I have ever viewed. In the final episode, the writers tried to tie together all the loose ends. A few episodes before, Nate Fisher had a brain aneurysm and died at age 40. He left a wife, two children, and a complicated life. The writers focused on Nate, his contradictory life, and its effect on everyone his life touched.

The last few moments of the show were the most powerful moments I have ever experienced while watching TV. I wept as the show moved through the lives of all the Fisher family as they aged and one by one died. All of them dead. No one escaped. While it would be easy to say “how sad,” I found it to a reminder of how important it is to value and cherish the life we have. We spend so much time doing things that are meaningless or add nothing to our life. I know it is very easy to get sucked into normalcy, to just go with the flow. We tell ourselves, Tomorrow . . . . Perhaps a Bible verse is appropriate here:

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. (Proverbs 27:1)

Perhaps each of us needs to ask ourselves:

  • Am I happy?
  • What is it I want to do with my life?
  • What brings me pleasure and happiness?
  • What do I want to do that I have not yet done?

What are your answers telling you? What are your thoughts on what I have shared here?

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

everything happens for a reason

I came of age listening to Evangelical pastors who repeatedly told congregants that EVERYTHING happened for a reason. God is in control and has a purpose and plan for your life! they said. I began my official ministerial work in the spring of 1979, at the age of twenty-one. Married — all of seven months  — and with a child on the way, I believed that everything that had happened in my life up to that point occurred for a reason. I grew up in a dysfunctional Fundamentalist Christian home. My mother suffered from mental illness my entire life, ending with her successful suicide in the early 1990s. Mom had tried to commit suicide numerous times before. As a fifth-grade boy, I got off the school bus and walked in the door of our home thinking it would be just another day to play with my friends. Instead, I found my mom lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She had slit her wrists. Fortunately, Mom survived. She always survived, that is until she didn’t. A year later, Mom was raped by her brother-in-law. I was home from school sick the day of the rape. Nothing was ever done, and years later the rapist received a fine Christian funeral at a nearby Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. He hadn’t been to church in decades, but Praise God he had walked the sawdust trail as a teen and was wondrously saved! Or so said the preacher giving his eulogy. (Please see Barbara and Dear Pastor, Do You Believe in Hell?)

Dad moved us repeatedly during my school years. New schools, new houses, new friends. I hated my dad for constantly uprooting me and forcing me to attend new schools and make new friends. The longest I attended one school was two and a half years — eighth grade to halfway through tenth grade at Findlay Junior and Senior High in Findlay, Ohio. My parents divorced in April of my ninth-grade school year. Shortly after, Dad married a nineteen-year-old girl with a toddler, and mom married her first cousin — a man who had recently been released from Huntsville Prison after serving time for robbery.

Needless to say, the first twenty-one years of my life were less than optimal. What kept me from losing my mind through all of this was the belief that everything happened for a reason. My God, the one true Christian God, was sovereign over all. He was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the supreme ruler of Heaven and Earth. Holding the world and my life in the palm of his hand, Jesus had a perfect plan for my life. I may not have understood his plan — after all his thoughts were not my thoughts and his ways were not my ways — but I knew in my hearts of hearts that God only wanted what was best for me. I loved Jesus with my whole heart, soul, and mind. Saved at age fifteen and called to preach a short time later, I set my sights on preaching the gospel to anyone and everyone would listen. In 1976, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan to train for the ministry. While there, I met my future wife, an IFB preacher’s daughter. We later married, embarking on a twenty-five-year journey that took us to churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. No matter what troubles, problems, or circumstances came our way, we believed that God had a purpose and plan for our lives, and everything that happened was for a reason.

Thinking that everything happens for a reason messes with your understanding of life. Every time something happened, good or bad, I saw God working behind the scenes. I resolutely believed that God had some sort of divine plan for my life and that everything that happened in life happened to further that plan. Even when it seemed God was shitting on my head and setting me on fire, I still humbled myself before him and trusted his divine providence. And then, one day, I stopped believing that everything happened for a reason. I was still a Christian at the time. As I pondered the arc of my life, I found it harder and harder to see God’s invisible hand working on my behalf. It seemed to me that life was an admixture of good choices, bad choices, choices made by others, luck, being at the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time, biology, environment, and psychology — to name a few.

I have made some good decisions in life, bad ones too. Now that the God who allegedly told me “everything happens for a reason” is no longer a part of my life, I am in a position to openly, honestly, and thoroughly examine my life. I can look at my parents’ lives and see how their experiences and upbringings affected me as a child. I carried these things into my own life, including my marriage. The difference now, of course, is that I no longer think that God has a purpose and plan for my life; I no longer believe that the path of my life is exactly what God has ordered for me. Making an honest accounting of life painfully leaves one with a lot of regrets. Alas, there are no do-overs in life. All any of us can do is learn from our pasts and choose to do better going forward. That’s the only plan I see for my life: striving to do better than I did yesterday.

Did you at one time believe that everything happens for a reason? How did this belief work out in your life? How did life change for you after you deconverted? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheists Live Purposeless, Meaningless Lives

During my debate with Bill Nye “the Science Guy” on February 4, 2014, Bill was asked where matter came from. In his answer he said it was a great mystery, but he loved the “joy of discovery” as he pursued such questions. In my responses to Bill’s answers, I asked him why the joy of discovery mattered to him. I explained that from Bill’s perspective, life is the result of natural processes and there is no biblical God, so when he dies, he won’t even know he ever existed or knew anything. Then, when others who knew him die, they won’t know they ever knew him, either. Eventually, from his perspective of naturalism, the whole universe will die and no one will ever know they ever existed. So what is the purpose of this “joy of discovery”? Really, the naturalistic view of life is ultimately purposeless and meaningless!

Think about the well-known atheist Richard Dawkins. Why does he spend so much time writing and speaking against Someone (God) he doesn’t believe exists? Why is he so aggressive against biblical Christianity? In an ultimately purposeless and meaningless existence, why does it matter to him if people believe in the God of the Bible and the account of creation as outlined in Genesis? Why bother fighting against such people when, from his perspective, eventually no one will even know they ever existed?

They claim that they care about people and argue that believing in creation is harmful to society. But something deeper is going on. They aren’t fighting for the truth, but suppressing it.

….

Really then, when Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins, and others so aggressively oppose biblical Christianity, what they are doing is this. They are covering their ears and closing their eyes and saying, “I refuse to submit to the God who created me. I refuse to acknowledge that God is the creator. I refuse to accept that I’m a sinner in need of salvation. I want to write my own rules! Therefore I must oppose anything that pricks my conscience and aggressively suppress the truth to justify my rebellion.”

….

So why do these who so aggressively oppose Christianity care? They care because they are desperately trying to justify their rebellion against the truth. They don’t want to admit that they are sinners in need of salvation and thus need to submit to the God who created them and owns them.

— Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, Why Do Atheists Care?, January 1, 2015

Wasted Years, Oh How Foolish . . .

all about jesus

Evangelicals would have non-Christians believe that life without Jesus is empty, worthless, and without meaning. A popular song years ago was Wasted Years by Wally Fowler. Below you will find the lyrics and two music videos: one by the Blue Ridge Quartet and another — quite masturbatory — rendition by Jimmy Swaggart.

Chorus:

Wasted years, wasted years
Oh, how foolish
As you walk on in darkness and fear
Turn around, turn around
God is calling
He’s calling you
From a life of wasted years

Have you wandered along
On life’s pathway
Have you lived without love
A life of tears
Have you searched for that
Great hidden meaning
Or is your life
Filled with long wasted years

Search for wisdom and seek
Understanding
There is One who always cares
And understands
Give it up, give it up
The load you’re bearing
You can’t go on
With a life of wasted years

Video Link

Video Link

In the eyes of Evangelicals, non-Christians live lives of wasted years; years that could be spent  worshiping Jesus, praising Jesus, singing songs to Jesus, bowing in fealty and devotion to Jesus, giving money to Jesus, winning souls for Jesus, and doing good works — drum roll please — for the man,  the myth, the legend, the one and only King of Kings, Lord of Lords, giver of life and death, the one true God, Jesus H. Christ. What a life, right? Die to self. Sacrifice your life, ambition, wants, desires, and dreams, giving them all to Jesus. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. Everything in this life and the life to come is about Jesus. This, according to Evangelicals, is a life of meaning, purpose, and direction. This is a life focused on what matters: meeting Jesus face to face in the sweet by and by. Everything pales — including families, careers, houses, and lands — when compared to Jesus. To Evangelicals, Jesus is their BFF; their lover; their confidante; their therapist; their physician; and their spouse. He is their e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

Everything I mentioned in the previous paragraph can be found in the Bible. With their lips, Evangelicals say these things are true, but how they live their day-to-day lives suggests that their lives are every bit as “wasted” as those of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Evangelicals yearn for Christ-centered lives, but “life” tends to get in the way. They spend a few hours on Sundays (and maybe on Wednesday) having preachers tell them what life is all about, only to spend the rest of that week’s 168 hours living as if they didn’t hear a word their pastors said. And their pastors, by the way, do the same. Oh, they preach a good line, abusing congregants for not measuring up to the Biblical standard for a life of meaning, purpose, and direction. Do better, they tell believers; yet try as they might, those pastors — even with much grace and faith — fail.

It seems, then, at least to me, that a life of “wasted” years is the norm for believers and unbelievers alike; that life is only “wasted” when measured by the words of an ancient Bronze-age religious text. Perhaps what is really going on here is a long con. Most Evangelicals are born into Christianity. It’s the only religion they have ever known. From their days in the nursery forward, Evangelicals are taught that they are worthless, vile, broken sinners in need of saving; that the only place salvation can be found is in the Christian church; that only through the merit and work of a God-man named Jesus — who is the second part of a triune deity — can humans be “saved”; that all other religions but Christianity are false and lead to an eternity of torture in a God-created Lake of Fire; that until you believe this message and put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, your life is, to put it simply, a waste.

For those who have exited stage left from Christianity, it is not uncommon for them to look back on their past and ruefully say, what a waste. When I deconverted a decade ago, I struggled with the fact that I had wasted five decades of my life chasing after a lie. Just thinking about this would bring waves of self-judgment and depression. How could you have been so stupid, Bruce? How could you have been so blind? How could you inflict such harmful nonsense on your wife and children? How could you lead thousands of other people down a path that goes nowhere; that left them with lives they too wasted serving a mythical God?

There were times when I would dwell on these questions, bringing myself to tears. Finally, I realized that lamenting the past was going to psychologically destroy me. I sought out a professional secular counselor who helped me come to terms with my past. He wisely encouraged me to be honest with and embrace the past. My past, he told me, is very much a part of who I am. At the same time, he encouraged me to look to present and future and use my past to benefit others. Through writing, I am able to embrace my past for what it is and turn it into words that I hope are helpful to others. In many ways, I am still a pastor; a man who wants to help others. What’s changed is my message.

Let me be clear, what I lament about the past is the wasted time, not necessarily the experiences. I met a lot of wonderful people during my Christian days — and a lot of mean, nasty, judgmental, Jesus-loving sons-of-bitches too. I had many delightful experiences, including marrying my beautiful wife of forty years. It is important for me to make clear that my life as a Christian was not one long slog of drudgery. That said, I can’t help but regret the time wasted chasing after a myth. All I know to do now is take my past and use it to help others. If nothing else, let my life be a warning to others: Stop! Turn Around! Go the other way! If you must believe in God, then find a religion that affirms life and values the present and hopes for tomorrow. There are, even in Christianity, kinder, gentler expressions of faith. There are even sects such as the Unitarian Universalist church that embrace the humanist ideal. Once someone dares to see beyond the Evangelical con job, he or she will find endless possibilities. While I wish I had back a few of the years I wasted serving Jesus, I am grateful that I have time left to live a life worth living; a life focused on family, friends, and — dare I say it? — self.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: The Absurdity of Life Without God by William Lane Craig

william lane craig

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

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip of William Lane Craig explaining the absurdity of life without God — God meaning the Christian deity.

Video Link

Who or What Gives Life Meaning and Value?

meaning of life alan watts

Evangelicals believe that it is God and the salvation they find in Jesus that give life meaning and value. I have had numerous Christians tell me that they would kill themselves if this life was all that there is. Paul echoed this thinking in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 when he said:

For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

For Evangelicals, life without Jesus is miserable, one not worth living. The sum of their existence is wrapped up in believing that God has a super-duper, awesome, wonderful plan for their lives and that there is coming a day when he will reward them for obediently sticking to the plan. Life is viewed as preparation to meet God after death. The goal is the divine payoff that awaits them in the sweet-by-and-by. Or so the official press release says, anyway.

Paying attention to how Evangelicals actually lives their lives tells a far different story. If life is all about God, you would think Evangelicals would spend their waking hours worshiping Jesus, praying, studying the Bible, and doing everything in their power to evangelize the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. If life is all about J-E-S-U-S, you would think Evangelical churches would have worship services every day of the week and twice on Sunday. If, as Evangelicals say, the second coming of Jesus is nigh, shouldn’t Evangelicals be about their Father’s business, working diligently, for their redemption draweth nigh?

What we find instead is that Evangelicals live lives no different from those of their non-Christian neighbors. I have been told countless times by Christian zealots that my life as an atheist has no meaning or purpose. I am just biding my time, living out a miserable existence until I die. However, when I carefully examine how Evangelicals live their lives, I quickly see that their wants, needs, and desires are no different from mine. I can’t help but notice that Evangelical homes have all the material trappings their unsaved neighbors have. It seems that Evangelicals have forgotten what the Bible says about loving the world and craving its goods and pleasures. Just yesterday, I perused the Facebook page of an Evangelical who loves posting Christian memes. And then, smack dab in the middle of his wall was a post about him looking forward to attending a KISS concert!  Oh, the irony, but that’s Evangelicalism to its core. The followers of Jesus talk a good line, but when it comes down to practicing what they preach, well they are no different from atheists, humanists, agnostics and other heathens who supposedly have empty, meaningless lives.

How about we agree that all of us — saint and sinner — find meaning and value in the same things; that all of us seek love and social connection; that all us crave to feel wanted and needed; that all of us enjoy the pleasures this life has to offer; that all us desire peace, comfort, and prosperity. No God needed. The fact that we are alive — think about THAT for a moment — is enough to fuel our quest for purpose and meaning. One need not turn to religion to find these things. All any of us needs to do is take a deep breath and LIVE!

Here are a few quotes from the book, A Better Life:100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy and Meaning in a World without God:

“I look around the world and see so many wonderful things that I love and enjoy and benefit from, whether it’s art or music or clothing or food and all the rest. And I’d like to add a little to that goodness.” — Daniel Dennett

“I thrive on maintaining a simple awe about the universe. No matter what struggles we are going through the miracles of existence continue on, forming and reforming patterns like an unstoppable kaleidoscope.”  — Marlene Winell

“Math . . . music . . . starry nights . . . These are secular ways of achieving transcendence, of feeling lifted into a grand perspective. It’s a sense of being awed by existence that almost obliterates the self. Religious people think of it as an essentially religious experience but it’s not. It’s an essentially human experience.”  — Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

“There is joy in the search for knowledge about the universe in all its manifestations.” — Janet Asimov

“Science and reason liberate us from the shackles of superstition by offering us a framework for understanding our shared humanity. Ultimately, we all have the capacity to treasure life and enrich the world in incalculable ways.”  — Gad Saad

“If you trace back all those links in the chain that had to be in place for me to be here, the laws of probability maintain that my very existence is miraculous. But then after however many decades, less than a hundred years, they disburse and I cease to be. So while they’re all congregated and coordinated to make me, then—and I speak her on behalf of all those trillions of atoms—I should really make the most of things.” — Jim Al-Khalili

You can read other powerful quotes here.

I know that I am in the waning years of life. My body is telling me that time is short, and it could be shorter yet if I have another fall like I did last week at my in-law’s home: full body slam, face first on a cement floor. The good news is that I saved my phone from getting broke! Talk about things that matter, right? I know that osteoarthritis continues to eat away at my spine. I was in college — a slim, trim, fit young whippersnapper — when I first consulted a doctor for my back. I have narrow disc spaces in my lower back, and age and arthritis continue to lessen that space, causing nerve compression. Several weeks ago, I saw my orthopedic doctor about a problem I was having with my right hip. I would stand up and start to move and then, all of a sudden my hip would give way and I would fall. After careful examination, my doctor told me my hip was fine; that it was my lower back that was causing the problem. Any one of these falls could do me in. I know that, and I do all I can to avoid hitting the deck. Try as I might to push back against the ravages of time and physical debility, I know, in the end, they will win. They ALWAYS win. Knowing this helps me focus on the things that really matter to me

Let me conclude this post with several quotes from an article by Tom Chivers titled, I Asked Atheists How They Find Meaning In A Purposeless Universe:

“The way I find meaning is the way that most people find meaning, even religious ones, which is to get pleasure and significance from your job, from your loved ones, from your avocation, art, literature, music. People like me don’t worry about what it’s all about in a cosmic sense, because we know it isn’t about anything. It’s what we make of this transitory existence that matters.

“If you’re an atheist and an evolutionary biologist, what you think is, I’m lucky to have these 80-odd years: How can I make the most of my existence here? Being an atheist means coming to grips with reality. And the reality is twofold. We’re going to die as individuals, and the whole of humanity, unless we find a way to colonise other planets, is going to go extinct. So there’s lots of things that we have to deal with that we don’t like. We just come to grips with the reality. Life is the result of natural selection, and death is the result of natural selection. We are evolved in such a way that death is almost inevitable. So you just deal with it.

“It says in the Bible that, ‘When I was a child I played with childish things, and when I became a man I put away those childish things.’ And one of those childish things is the superstition that there’s a higher purpose. Christopher Hitchens said it’s time to move beyond the mewling childhood of our species and deal with reality as it is, and that’s what we have to do.” — Jerry Coyne

“Life is a series of experiences, and the journey, rather than the end game, is what I live for. I know where it ends; that’s inevitable, so why not just make it a fun journey? I am surrounded by friends and family, and having a positive effect on them makes me happy, while giving my kids the opportunity, skills, and empathy to enjoy their lives gives me an immediate sense of purpose on a daily basis. I can’t stop the inevitable so I’ll just enjoy what life I have got, while I’ve got it. I won’t, after all, be around to regret that it was all for nothing. ” — Simon Coldham

“It’s honestly never bothered me. I suppose that’s because my definitions of ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ are pretty thoroughly rooted in the world I know. I know what happiness is, and love, and fulfilment and all that; these things exist (intermittently) in my short earthly life, and it’s from these things I derive my ideas of what a meaningful, purposeful existence is.

“I am, like anyone, staggered when I consider my tininess in the multi-dimensional scheme of things, but – and I know this sounds a bit silly – I don’t really take it personally. Meaning has to be subjective; atheism actually makes it easier to live with this, as who is better placed than me to judge the meaningfulness of my work, or my relationship, or my piece of buttered toast?” — Richard Symth

“People ask how you can find any meaning in life when you know that one day you’ll be dead and in due course nothing of you will survive at all – not even people’s memories. This question has never made sense to me. When I’m reading a good book, or eating a good meal, or taking a scenic walk, or enjoying an evening with friends, or having sex, I don’t spend the whole time thinking, Oh no! This book won’t last forever; this food will be gone soon; my walk will stop; my evening will end! I enjoy the experiences. Although it’s stretched out over a (hopefully) much longer time, that’s the same way I think about life. We are here, we are alive. We can either choose to end that, or to embrace it and to live for as long as we can, as fully and richly as possible.

“Obviously this means that we all have different meanings in our lives, things that give us pleasure and purpose. The most meaningful experiences in my life have been relationships with people – friends and family, colleagues and classmates. I love connecting with other people and finding out more about them. I enjoy the novels and histories that I read for the same reason and I like to feel connected to the people who have gone before us. I hope that the work I do in different areas of my life will make the world a better place for people now and in the future, and I feel connected to those future people too, all as part of a bigger human story.” — Adam Copson

You can read other wonderful meaningless quotes here.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Life After Jesus: Moving from a God-Shaped Hole to a Knowledge-Shaped Hole

god shaped hole

Snark and R-rated humor ahead. You have been warned!

Those of us raised in Evangelical churches often heard our pastors speak of unsaved people having a God-shaped hole in their lives. Where this hole was exactly never was explained. It couldn’t have been in the heart. Surgeons can repair holes in hearts — no God needed. Perhaps, this hole was in the soul — another thing pastors never could explain. Where, exactly, does the soul reside? How can any of us know we have a soul, or a spirit, for that matter?  And I have to ask at this point, if unsaved people have a God-shaped hole, does that make them HOLY?

Regardless of wherever said hole is located, Evangelical pastors assure sinners that it exists, and that God, on purpose, created this hole in every human being. In other words, all of us were born with a birth defect. Supposedly, God created this hole so all of us would one day want and need him. Well, except for the non-elect — according to Calvinists. They go through life with holes that can never be filled by God because God put a steel plate over their holes. (I am restraining myself here. All this hole talk makes me want to talk about sex.) Arminians, on the other hand, believe all humans are born into this world with a God-shaped hole in their lives. But, even for Jacob Arminus’ clan, if sinners repeatedly reject God’s plan for hole-filling, God will pour cement into their hole — giving them a hardened heart. Having committed the unpardonable sin, sinners with cement-filled holes can never, ever be saved.

The Bible, of course, mentions nothing about unsaved people having a God-shaped hole in their lives. That unbelievers have one is based on inference; a common way that Evangelicals use to construct new doctrines. Take a verse here, a verse there, and another verse over here, and BOOM! there it is. Surely you see it, right? Evangelicals often use inference to prove various points of their eschatological beliefs. For example, the Bible does not mention the rapture — the moment when Jesus will come again (no sex joke here either) in the clouds and gather up all the Evangelicals to take them home to Heaven. You will search in vain for a verse, any verse, that says Jesus will soon return to earth’s atmosphere to catch away the saved. If you start pressing Evangelicals on some their beliefs you will find that their interpretations are based on presuppositions. We believe that the rapture of the church is imminent, says Pastor I.M. Fullashit, and this and that verse — twisted, contorted, and pressed — proves it! So it is with God-shaped holes.

The implication of the God-shaped hole is this: unsaved people live empty, hopeless, desperate, unfilled lives lacking in meaning, purpose, and direction. Without God filling the pothole he created in your life, you are vile sinner who hates God. My wife and I went to the hospital today to visit grandchild number twelve. Ezra was born seven weeks early so he is in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Here was this precious, wonderful little boy. I shed a tear as I looked at him sleeping, wondering what he would one day become. I wondered about what kind of world he is being born into now that Donald Trump is trying to burn the United States to the ground. So many questions Grandpa has about his future, but for today, he’s my grandson, my daughter’s first child, and I love him.

If I were still an Evangelical, perhaps I would have uttered a prayer, asking God to quickly fill my wicked, vile grandson’s life with the presence of the Holy Spirit. You see, Evangelicals believe that infants, too, have a God-shaped hole. King David, a murderous, adulterous man who supposedly had a heart for God, had this to say about himself: Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5) Evangelicals extrapolate from this verse the belief that ALL children are conceived in sin and shapen in iniquity (the doctrine of original sin). Of course, this is a conclusion without evidence. All that can be said here is that David thought he was wicked from birth. Press Evangelicals on the notion of original sin and you will quickly find that this doctrine is built upon a rotting foundation; that this doctrine requires playing Bible gymnastics to affirm its teaching. If you want a good illustration of how this game is played, please read John Piper’s post titled, What is the Biblical Evidence for Original Sin? Now, without the doctrine of original sin, there’s no need for human redemption and salvation. Evangelicals need the human herd divided into two groups — saved and lost — for their salvation scheme to work. Without this division, why, we would all just be humans, each capable of good and bad behavior. If there’s no sin, there’s no need for Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.

Piper sums up his nonsensical defense of infants being born hellions with these two points:

  • Infants die, therefore they are not innocent.
  • If humanity is not born in sin, wouldn’t we expect there to be some people who have “beaten the odds” and never sinned?

Makes perfect sense to Evangelicals. But, to those of us outside of the bubble, we know that infants are fine just as they are; that what they need is LOVE, and not salvation. What, exactly, has my grandson done to need redemption? So far, in the first week of life, all he has done is sleep, eat, occasionally cry, poop, and pee. Fortunately, his parents will not be taking him to a Christian indoctrination center any time soon. I had to stop attending religious rituals for my newly-born grandchildren after almost having a stroke when a priest said my granddaughter was possessed by the Devil and must be exorcised — which he promptly proceeded to do. Quite frankly, I wanted to hold that priest’s head in the baptismal font water for about five minutes. There, another demon exorcised!

The only hole Christians have is in their minds; a hole made in their intellect by religion. I am not saying that Evangelicals are stupid or ignorant, though more than a few comments left on this blog over the years might lead me to conclude otherwise. What I am saying is that Evangelical beliefs cripple the minds of believers; that their minds are shut off from certain paths of inquiry. Instead of following the path wherever it leads, Evangelicals, much like the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years, intellectually wander within what they believe is a God-approved box. Their pastors warn them if they dare to peek over the top of the box or wander from its confines that they risk falling into heresy or sin; that only within the box will their soul and life be safe and secure.

Evangelicals have what I call the Christian Ghetto®, a world where Evangelical versions of everything exist. Evangelical congregants are encouraged to only read Christian books, attend Christian movies, and watch Christian TV. I remember one congregant whom I tried my darnedest to convince to read the Calvinistic books I was recommending to members, She would take the books home, but never read them. One day, I stopped by to visit her. Usually, congregants would hide anything that would lead me to conclude that they were not following the commands, edicts, rules, laws, and regulations of Pastor Bruce, uh I mean God. On this particular day, this dear woman forgot to hide the reason she wasn’t interested in reading the latest, greatest eighteenth-century book by a dried prune of a Puritan preacher. On her living room table sat a large stack of true-crime books. I looked at the books, picked up one of them, briefly leafed through it, and said nothing. Back then, I could do passive-aggressive quite well. Point made, preacher, point made. You see, she wanted to roam outside of the box. This woman found theology books boring, whereas true-crime books were filled with all sorts of exciting stories.

As an Evangelical pastor, part of my duty was to make sure people stayed within the confines of the box. People who dared to leave the box often did not return, putting their eternal destinies at risk. The Bible says in 1 John 2:19:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Let me translate this from the original Hungarian:

Those people who left our church were not True Christians®. Had they been True Christians® they would have kept their asses in the pew and continued to listen to Pastor Bruce’s Holy Spirit-filled sermons, obeying his every word. But, they left, and this is proof that they never were really True Christians®.

Evangelicalism is all about obedience and conformity. Independent thinking is discouraged, and is often taken as a sign of a person who is not right with God. Congregants are expected to believe, by faith, that whatever the Bible says is true (inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility). While doubts and questions are tolerated to a small degree, True Christians® are expected to eventually, after being properly schooled and corrected, toe the line. And if they can’t or won’t, these rebellious church members are expected to leave the church. Of course, by leaving they prove they weren’t True Christians®, or at the very least prove that the pastor was right to have serious doubts about their salvation.

Fortunately, an increasing number of Evangelicals (and Christians of all stripes) are propping up a ladder on the inside wall of the box and escaping into the night. Once free, these escapees wander the wild, woolly, dangerous streets of the world. (See What I Found When I Left the Box.) No longer bound by church doctrine, orthodoxy, and the like, these people are free to follow the path of life wherever it leads. Few ever return to the box. Most of them find homes in progressive/liberal Christian churches, Unitarian Universalist churches, or embrace non-Christian beliefs. Some of them say they are spiritual and have no interest in organized religion. An increasing number of these runners become agnostics or atheists. You see, once you are truly free, life becomes all about the journey and not the destination. Evangelicals fixate on right beliefs and practice because where they spend eternity depends on them believing and practicing the right things. Believe the wrong things and Hell awaits. Believe the right things — by faith — and put those beliefs into practice (good works), and a room in God’s Trump Hotel awaits you after death. Life, then, is just preparation for eternity (Amos 3:3). Life is all about getting ready to meet God and move in to the room Jesus has spent thousands of years preparing for you.

god shaped hole 2
Cartoon by Dresden Codak

 

Once free from the pernicious, intellect-killing, mind-rotting grip of Evangelical dogma, people feel a great sense of freedom, yet, at the same time, they, once again, sense a hole in their lives. This hole, however, is real. It is a knowledge-filled hole, a hole located in the mind that only can be filled with intellectual inquiry. Most former Evangelicals lament the fact that they had so many bat-shit crazy beliefs. Who among us hasn’t said, I can’t believe that believed THAT! I see all those hands! For those of us who were Evangelicals for years, we realize that we burned a lot of brain cells (and daylight) searching after “truths” that were mirages; “truths” that were passed down from generation to generation by the tribal elders of our blood cult; “truths” that have no grounding in facts and evidence. Once we reach this point, there’s often a mind-flushing of sorts that takes place. For some of us, we had to push the handle numerous times before our minds were free of a lifetime of detritus. Once cleansed of Biblical “truth,” former Evangelicals realize that there’s a lot they don’t know about the world. Spend your life having truth defined by the Bible and God-ordained men alone, and you are going to miss out on a lot of important stuff.

Most Evangelicals are creationists. No need to study science, right? The Bible says, in the Beginning GOD CREATED the heavens and earth. What else is there to know? Come to find out, a hell of a lot of stuff. I have spent the last decade trying to educate myself in matters of biology, archeology, geology, and astronomy, to name a few. The same could be said about history and the social sciences. So much to learn, but here’s the problem: I am sixty-one years old and in failing health. I do what I can, but I am so grateful for the fact that my children and grandchildren are free from the cult; that they value intellectual inquiry; that they are skeptical — and often humored — of claims made by Christians. It thrills me down to the deeps of my painful feet that my grandchildren are voracious readers; that they are not held captive by the Bible or Christian books. Freedom, for them, yea, for all of us comes one book at a time.

The impetus for this post came from an email I received from a friend of mine. She told me of a discussion she was having with a sibling over the plurality of Gods in the Old Testament — specifically the Hebrew words Yahweh and Elohim. Evangelicals, of course, believe that these words are the same name for their God. There is ONE God, Evangelicals say, yet they worship a triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Well, God is three in one, Christians say. Three, yet one. Makes perfect sense, right? Anyhow, my friend, as I do, thinks that the Old Testament Gods were plural in number. A natural reading of the text, without pushing it through a Trinitarian sieve, reveals that Christianity rests on a polytheistic foundation. My friend’s sibling would have none of her “worldly” thoughts, reminding her that pride was man’s first sin and that pridefully attaining “worldly” knowledge is futile. Her sibling told her that he was focused on his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is his all-in-all; the only person who can fill the God-shaped hole in his heart.

My friend said to me, “His God-shaped hole is filled with God, but I don’t have a God-shaped hole; I have a knowledge-shaped hole and I am having fun filling it.” She sure hit the proverbial nail on the head! With no thoughts or worries about God or eternity, we are free to read and study that which interests us. The goal is to be a more informed person today than I was yesterday. I will never become as competent in matters of science as younger skeptics will, but I can, by the grace of my almighty intellect, know more about how the world works today than I knew as a card-carrying member of the Ken Ham Were You There? Club®. Much like my friend, I intend to fill the hole in my life with knowledge. I invite Evangelicals to dare to scale the walls of the box. Freedom awaits, as does a library card.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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Quote of the Day: On the Shortness of Life by Seneca

seneca

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.

You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire.

There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living.“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today… The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.

People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.

Even though you seize the day, it still will flee; therefore, you must vie with time’s swiftness in the speed of using it, and, as from a torrent that rushes by and will not always flow, you must drink quickly.

It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.

The part of life we really live is small. For all the rest of existence is not life, but merely time.

— Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

You can purchase On the Shortness of Life here.