Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.
What have you been reading lately, Bruce?
One of the frustrating side effects of my declining health is that I am no longer able to read like I used to. Gone are the days of devouring one book after another. This has been hard for me to adjust to. By the time I do the necessary reading and research for my writing and try to keep up on the magazines I subscribe to, I have very little physical and mental energy left to devote to reading books. If I had to put a number on it, my ability to read and comprehend has declined by 50% or more. This decline has been a daily force of irritation and a subject I talk to my counselor with on a regular basis. While he encourages me to keep active, he also encourages me to accept things as they are. Instead of trying to read a 600 page book that at one time took me a few days to read, I now choose books that are 300 pages or less, allowing myself several weeks to read it.
My primary care doctor thinks that the pain and health problems wear me down mentally and physically, making to harder for me to read like I used to. While I accept this as the new normal for my life, I don’t like it. That said, here’s my book list. The first book is what I am currently reading. Those that follow are what I intend to read next.
What was the thing or moment where it all started to unravel horribly, the pulling the first thread away moment, when you said ‘screw all of this’ and walked away? Was it one thing or a gradual buildup of stuff?
This is a great question, one that is not easy to answer.
My story drives Evangelicals crazy, especially those who are hardcore, never change their beliefs, fundamentalists. What they see in my story is a lifetime of theological change, and this is a sure sign to them that I never had a surefooted theological foundation. After all, the Bible does say that the double minded man is unstable in all his ways. In their mind, it’s no wonder I deconverted. Look at my ever-evolving theology.
However, I view my change of beliefs in a different light. For those of us raised in the Evangelical church, we grew up with a borrowed theology. Our theology was that of our parents, pastor, and church. When I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, I had a borrowed theology and when I left three years later I still had a borrowed theology. I believed what I had been taught.
Over the course of 25 years in the ministry, I diligently studied the Bible. I read over a thousand theological books and prided myself in working hard to give parishioners with exactly what the Bible taught. Over time, I encountered teachings and beliefs that were new to me, and after thoroughly studying the matter my beliefs either stayed the same or changed. Over the years, my soteriology and eschatology changed, as did my view on inerrancy the law of God, faith vs works, and Bible translations. These new beliefs led to changes in practice. I like to think that my changing beliefs were simply an intellectual response to new information.
Over this same 25 year period my politics evolved and changed. I entered the ministry as a right-wing Republican culture warrior. I left the ministry as a progressive/liberal Democrat. It is likely that my changing political beliefs affected how I read and interpreted the Bible.
I left the ministry in 2005 and left Christianity in 2008. In the three years between these two events, I went back to the Bible and restudied what I believed about God, Jesus, creation, salvation, and the Bible. I read numerous books written by authors like Bart Ehrman, Robert Price, Robert Wright, Jerry Coyne, John Loftus, Rob Bell, Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, Brian McLaren, John Shelby Spong, Henri Nouwen, Marcus Borg, Elaine Pagels, Hector Avalos, Soren Kierkegaard, John Dominic Crossan, N.T. Wright, Paul Tillich, and a number of other authors. I was doing everything I could to hang on to some sort of faith.
I went through what I call the stages of deconversion: Evangelical Christianity to Liberal/Progressive Christianity to Universalism to Agnosticism to Atheism. This path was painful, arduous, contradictory, and tiring. I spent many a day and night not only reading and studying, but having long discussions with Polly about what I had read. In November of 2008, I concluded, based on my beliefs, that I could no longer honestly call myself a Christian. Since I no longer believed the Bible was an inspired, inerrant, infallible text, nor did I believe that Jesus was God, rose again from the dead or worked miracles, there was no possible way for me to remain a Christian. At that moment, I went from believer to unbeliever. I call this my born again atheist experience.
Evangelicals will read this post and point out what they see as a fatal flaw in my deconversion; I didn’t read any Evangelical theologians. I didn’t read any of the shallow apologetic works that are bandied about as surefire faith fixers. The reason I didn’t is because I had already read them. I can recite Christian theology, in all its forms, frontwards and backwards. Since there hasn’t been an original thought in Christianity since Moses got off the ark, I had no need of rereading Christian theological books. The few Christian authors I did read, were new authors that I hoped would tell me something I had not heard before. I read their books in hopes of getting a new perspective on Christianity, hoping that they would knot a rope and throw it to me so I could hang on. In the end, the rope had no knot, and down the slippery slope I slid until I hit bottom.
So, my deconversion took a long time, but there was also a moment in time when I went from believer to nonbeliever.
If I had to point to one thing that most affected my deconversion, it would be learning that the Bible was not an inspired, infallible, inerrant text. I suspect this is the case for many Evangelicals turned atheist. Bart Ehrman is a good example of this. The belief that the Bible was a perfect text written by God and absolute truth from the hand of God himself, was the foundation of my system of belief. Remove this foundation and the whole house comes tumbling down.
One unanswered question remains; if I had started out as a progressive/liberal Christian would I have still deconverted? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. Since I have a pastor’s heart and I love help people, I might have found a home in progressive/liberal Christianity. This is one of those would of/could of/should of questions. That’s not the path I took, so here I am. Unless a deity of some sort reveals itself to us, I remain a convinced atheist.
What’s the difference between superstition and religion?
The short answer is nothing, Practically, an Evangelical would view the beliefs of non-Christians as superstition. The Evangelical looks at Catholics and their prayers to Mary and the saints and sees superstition. What the Evangelical can’t see is their own superstition. The Christian narrative is every bit as wacky as any of stories and beliefs that are labelled superstition. One man’s superstition is another man’s religion.
The dictionary definition of superstition is:
An irrational belief arising from ignorance or fear.
The question I have is whether ALL religious belief arises from ignorance or fear? Most of it does, to be sure, but if someone tells me that they have some sort of deistic belief then I am inclined to say that their belief does NOT arise out of ignorance or fear. I have stated many times that I think one can look at the universe and conclude that a deity of some sort created the universe. This deity, after creating the universe, said, there ya go boys and girls, do with it what you will. Some readers of this blog hold to this view. While I can not embrace this view, I do understand it.
As far as Christianity is concerned, no matter what form one embraces, it arises from ignorance or fear. Some Evangelicals try to assert that their beliefs are rational, but I find their explanations laughable. Their explanations are little more than a class in probabilities. Let me explain. Billions of people have lived and died. Every human dies. Even the Bible admits the obvious: it is appointed unto men once to die. There are no exceptions except for Jesus and Elijah, for which we have no proof that they are still alive. The Evangelical hangs on to the notion that it is “possible” for a person to resurrect from the dead or never die because the Bible says it is possible. (circular reasoning) Since all the evidence points to when you are dead you stay dead, I consider any other belief to be one born out of ignorance, faith, or hope.
Liberal Christians are hard to nail down, belief wise. I tend to refrain from labeling their beliefs superstition because I appreciate what they are trying to accomplish. Most liberal Christians I know are de facto universalists. Atheists like me end up in heaven anyway, so there no fear factor involved. Do I think liberal Christianity is rational? No, but I do know the world would be a lot better place if every religious believer had progressive, liberal beliefs.
I am sure hard-core atheists will not appreciate my conciliatory, accommodationist approach to deism, liberal Christianity, and universalism, but I recognize that most people are going to have some sort of religious belief, and if this is so, what would I prefer for them to believe? Fundamentalism, in all of its forms, remain the enemy.
Bruce, you said “you said: “Christian orthodoxy teaches that when a person dies their body goes to the grave to await the resurrection of the just and unjust and the final judgment.” How then, could the rich man see and know Abraham and Lazarus and Abraham and Lazarus see the rich man?”
Can you explain where this “Dual Judgement” theology comes from, who originated it, and why not all fundies espouse it—like you did not espouse it in your quote above.
First, for those who may not know my entire story, I was not a fundamentalist towards the latter part of my time in the ministry. I left the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement in the late 1980’s. I then became an Evangelical Calvinist before becoming more liberal politically and theologically. When I left the ministry in 2005, I was aligned with the emergent church, red letter Christians, and Sojourners. My move left cost me almost all of my IFB friends and colleagues. When I became an agnostic/atheist/humanist, I lost all but two of my remaining Christian friends.
Second, when I wrote “Christian orthodoxy teaches that when a person dies their body goes to the grave to await the resurrection of the just and unjust and the final judgment,” this was a reflection of my post IFB theology. I held to a post-tribulational, amillennial eschatology. One resurrection, one judgment.
Third, almost all IFB churches and pastors are dispensational, pre-tribulational, and premillennial. As such, they believe in multiple judgments. Lazarus and the rich man would have been judged before the death and resurrection of Jesus. Then there is a judgment after the rapture. This judgment is often called the Judgment (BEMA) Seat of Christ. At the end of the tribulation, there will be another judgment, and after the 1,000 year millennial reign of Christ on earth, there will be one more judgment, the final judgment of all who have not yet been judged.
Make sense? Of course not. But, it is in the B-i-b-l-e. Much of dispensational teaching is implied and inferred.
In recent years, I’ve noticed more eschatological diversity in the IFB church movement. I suspect this is due the fact that all the prophecy preaching over past 70 years has failed to materialize. After being theologically embarrassed and made out to be a fear-mongering false prophet, many IFB preachers have turned to simpler eschatological systems. I’ve even met IFB preachers who are Calvinistic and hold to a post-tribulational, amillennial eschatology. Their eschatology and soteriology have evolved, but their social fundamentalism has not. (please read Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists? to understand the terms social and theological fundamentalism)
Do you think the many Christian prayers for your demise will succeed?
Many Christians believe that God should get all the praise for the good things that happen and Satan and sinners should get blamed for the bad things that happen. This fact poses a conundrum for those praying for my demise. If God kills me, this means it was a good thing, right? But, if God is the giver of life, the fact that I am still alive is also a good thing. Perhaps God wants me to live so the Holy Spirit can regenerate me, effectually call me, and impart to me his wonderful irresistible grace. Or perhaps I am not one of the elect, not in the Lamb’s Book of Life; then I am an unregenerate, apostate reprobate. If I were God, I would kill someone like me, seeing that I do so much damage to the faith of others.
Some day, I will die. The way I am feeling as I write this post, it could be today. Or tomorrow. Or twenty years from now. Regardless of the date of my demise, there will a Christian somewhere who will see it as proof that their imprecatory prayer worked,;that God whacked me because they asked him to.
I wrote the following to inform those who don’t know me about my past and present life. While this is in no way the sum of my life, it should help to answer some of the questions readers might have. I try to be open and honest. If you have a personal question you would like me to answer, please send me an email or leave your question in the comment section.
Rural NW Ohio, the village of Ney. One stoplight, one gas station, one pizza place/bar, and one restaurant/bar. We have lived here since 2007.
Do you own your own home?
What color is your hair?
Well it used to be bright red, some say orange. These days, it is a faded, dull red, mostly white. (see picture above)
How tall are you?
How much do you weigh?
I currently weigh 365 pounds. I weighed 160 pounds at age 18, 180 pounds the day I got married, and 225 pounds five years after I married. I am twice the man I was on my wedding day.
Which hand are you?
Left, 100% left.
What color are your eyes?
They range from gray to sparkling blue. Polly says my eye color is determined by my mood.
What is your body shape?
I have short legs (29 inch inseam) and a long body. One man told me I was built like a fire plug.
What’s wrong with you?
How much time do you have? I have suffered with depression most of my life. I have Fibromyalgia, diagnosed in 1997. Since 2007, I have had non-specific neurological problems that affect my ability to stand and walk. I live with daily, unrelenting pain. I walk with a cane and often have to use a wheelchair.
What sports teams do you root for?
Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Louisville Bats, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Toledo Mud Hens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Ohio State football and basketball.
I am also a dirt track racing fan.
Did you play sports?
Yes, I played Little League and City League baseball and City League basketball. I played one year of junior high football.
I was usually good enough to make the team, but I tended to be on the far end of the bench (except for City League basketball, where I was a starter).
Should Pete Rose be in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame?
What do you like to do for fun or to relax?
Go anywhere with Polly.
Attend a sporting event with my sons.
Read non-fiction books.
Take a walk in the woods, or a walk anywhere with the love of my life by my side. These days, it is usually Polly pushing me in a wheelchair when we take walks.
What are your hobbies?
I am a serious amateur photographer. I use Sony, Tamron, and Sigma equipment.
I have extensive computer/Windows software knowledge. I build my own computers.
I also like to garden and work in the yard when I am able.
When did you buy your first computer?
1992, a V-Tech 286.
Who are your favorite authors?
Thomas Merton, Henry David Thoreau, Bart Ehrman, and Wendell Berry, along with countless other authors who have helped me along the way.
What is your favorite comic?
What foods do you like?
Do you drink alcohol?
Yes, I like wine and spirits. I am not a beer drinker.
What are your favorite restaurants?
Mad Anthony’s in Fort Wayne and Auburn, Indiana, Red Lobster, and Texas Roadhouse.
For dessert, I like Eric’s Ice Cream in Defiance, Ohio and Dietsch Brothers Ice Cream in Findlay, Ohio.
What is your favorite ice cream?
Rocky Road and Mint Chocolate Chip.
What is your favorite candies?
Double dipped chocolate malted milk balls from Dietsch’s, Clark, Zero, Zagnut, Snickers, and Milky Way candy bars, and Goetz’s Carmel Creams.
What communities have you lived in?
Over the past 58 years, I have lived in:
Ohio: Bryan (numerous times), Ney (twice), Farmer, Deshler, Harrod, Findlay, Mount Blanchard, Alvordton (twice), Newark (twice), Buckeye Lake, New Lexington (twice), Junction City, Mount Perry, Glenford, and Somerset.
California: San Diego and Chula Vista.
Arizona: Tucson, Sierra Vista, Hereford, and Yuma.
Michigan: Pontiac and Clare.
How many houses have you lived in?
16 houses by age 21 and 18 more houses since Polly and I have been married.
How many cars have you owned?
Over 60. The cheapest cost $25.00, the most expensive cost $29,000.00.
What car do you currently own?
2015 Ford Escape.
What was your favorite car?
The 1970 Chevrolet Nova SS I owned in the 1970s.
What was your least favorite car?
Any of the cars I owned that were made by American Motors.
Besides pastoring, what jobs have you worked?
Janitor, gas station attendant, short order cook, newspaper motor route, life insurance salesman, sweeper salesman, restaurant general manager, network manager, durable medical equipment supply office manager, dairy department manager, grocery stock clerk, workfare/court offender program manager, litter control manager/officer, building code enforcement officer, grant manager, real estate updater for auditor’s office, farm worker, mechanic, cable box repairman, shipping and receiving, turret lathe operator, and numerous general laborer jobs in factories.
What was your favorite job?
Restaurant general manager.
What is your favorite color?
What are your politics?
Liberal, progressive, socialist.
Are you an atheist?
Are you a humanist?
What is your worldview?
I am agnostic on the God question. I cannot know for certain if a god of some sort exists, but I think it is highly improbable. It is possible that a deity of some sort might someday reveal herself to us, but I highly doubt it. I am convinced that all of the deities in the human panoply of gods are the creation of humans.
I live my day-to-day life as an atheist. Thoughts of God never enter my mind unless I am writing an article for this website.
I try to live my life according to the humanist ideals spelled out in the various humanist manifestos.
Do you fear going to hell?
No more than I fear Mickey Mouse breaking into my house and stealing my TV.
In other words, since heaven, hell, and the devil are the fictions of humans, I don’t fear hell.
How many churches have you visited/preached at in your lifetime?
What can you tell me about your wife?
We met at Bible college. Polly is a pastor’s daughter. She is my lover and best friend. She is an awesome cook, a great seamstress, and she never lets me have all the covers.
What can you tell me about your kids?
Well, there are six of them, four sons and two daughters. Four of them are married and have children of their own. One of them is going through a divorce. Five of them are gainfully employed. Our oldest daughter has Down Syndrome.
Are your children Christian?
You’ll have to ask them. None of them is Evangelical and all of them have left the faith of their youth.
Do you have any siblings?
Yes, a brother and sister. They both live in Arizona (Chandler and Tombstone).
Are your parents still living?
No. My father died at the age of 49 from a stroke and my Mom committed suicide at the age of 54.
What kind of music do you like to listen to?
I like every style of music except rap, old-style country, and opera.
Who are your favorite artists?
Matt Nathanson, Eliza Gilkyson, Darius Rucker, Theory of a Deadman, Staind, Seether, Lucinda Williams, The Carpenters, Collective Soul, Sugarland.
What is your favorite movie?
Mosquito Coast and Hell in the Pacific.
If you could live any place in the world where would you live?
Anywhere near water as long as Polly is with me and my children live 20 minutes away.
Why do you blog?
I have a story to tell and blogging is my way of telling it.
Why do you stop blogging from time to time?
Depression and health problems.
Have you made a lot of money blogging?
Yes, millions of dollars. So much money that I don’t know what to do with it.
Serious answer? Last year, blog donations totaled about $2000. I don’t write to make money. I write because I want and need to.
Are you writing a book?
Yes, I started it a dozen times and I hope to have it done before I die. I signed a book contract last December. I hope to have it completed by the end of summer.
What’s most important to you?
What’s least important to you?
The approbation of others.
What is your favorite season?
If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?
You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.
Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.