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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-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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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.

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

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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

Bruce Gerencser