One of the questions I am often asked is how I went from being an Evangelical pastor to an outspoken atheist. It is not uncommon for people to drift away from Evangelicalism as young adults, only to return years later with spouses and children in tow. And it is not uncommon for adults in their 20s and 30s to become so disaffected that they abandon Evangelicalism, never to return. Religious trends in the United States show that an increasing number of Millennials are self-described “nones” — people who are atheists, agnostics, pagans, or indifferent towards organized religion. Study after study reveals that for U.S. people under the age of 50, religion increasingly plays a less and less important role in their lives. However, for people over the age of 50, particularly Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation, religion remains vital to their day-to-day lives. Once people reach the latter stages of life, they are less likely to abandon religious beliefs and practices. While older people certainly have questions and doubts about their chosen faith, thoughts about death and whether there is an afterlife often keep them from seeking answers for that which troubles them. One old southern gospel song talks about coming “too far to turn back now.” That sentiment is what keeps countless older Evangelicals in the pews, regardless of the level of their disaffection. Throw in the fact that being a member of a church is similar to being part of a flesh and blood family, and it is not surprising that many older people cannot or will not leave Evangelicalism.
By the time Evangelicals reach their 50s, they have experienced decades of religious indoctrination. How is it that otherwise smart, educated people can believe the earth is 6,023 years old and accept as fact absurdities such as the virgin birth of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead? How is it that otherwise smart, educated people can believe that an ancient religious text written thousands of years ago by sheepherders and fishermen was supernaturally written by God and is without errors or contradictions? How is it that otherwise smart, educated people can believe that Jesus walked on water, magically turned water into wine, walked through walls, and worked the miracles attributed to him in the New Testament? One of the thoughts people who deconvert from Evangelicalism often have is this: how in the world could I have ever believed such bat-shit crazy stuff? The answer is quite simple: intense, long-term religious indoctrination. Starting as toddlers in the nursery and going all the way to the silver-hair-dominated Senior Saints Sunday school class, older Evangelicals systematically and repeatedly have their beliefs reinforced. Told Sunday after Sunday for four, five, or six decades that their beliefs are the “way, truth, and life,” is it any surprise that older Evangelicals are certain that they are right, and are unwilling to entertain anything that challenges said beliefs?
Here in rural northwest Ohio, we have what are commonly called “weed trees.” These weeds grow quickly and are almost impossible to kill. One of the reasons for their hardiness is that they have rugged, deep roots. The only way to kill them is to remove the roots. I have had to dig down four feet to reach the root end of some weed trees. Cutting them off at ground level takes care of the immediate problem, but the following spring they return. Older Evangelicals are quite similar to weed trees. Their religious roots run deep, and unless they are willing to dig deep into the ground to remove the tap root, their worldview will continue to flourish. Thus, the older Evangelicals become, the less likely it is that they will ever abandon their beliefs. Why, then, did I, at the age of 50, walk away from the ministry and later file for divorce from Jesus? What made me different from other older Evangelicals?
Let me clear. I was in no way “special” or of superior intellect. That said, I can look back over my 62 years of life and see how certain circumstances and experiences set me on a path that ultimately led to atheism. While the ultimate reasons for my deconversion were intellectual in nature, I would be amiss and less than honest if I did not say that other considerations played a part in my loss of faith. Live long enough and you will experience things that make a mark upon your life. Some of these things make deep, lasting, and even painful scars on our psyche. I know, at least for me, these scars altered my thinking and the trajectory of my life. Many of you know what I am talking about. Your lives were on a certain path, yet something or many somethings happened that changed your direction. If you had asked me in 2005 if there was anything that could happen that would result in my wife and me walking away from Christianity, I would have laughed in your face. You are kidding, right? I would have said, I may be frustrated with Christianity as a whole, but I love Jesus and I would never, ever leave or forsake him! Yet, here I am in 2019, explaining to thousands of blog readers why I am now an apostate, a godless heathen, a hater of God, an atheist — people I once considered no better than murderers and child molesters. Who in their right mind would abandon a way of life that had given him purpose, meaning, and personal satisfaction? Yet, on a late November day in 2008, I walked out the door of the church house, never to return. Thousands of sermons preached, yet I would never again stand before a group of people and say, Thus saith the Lord . . . Fifty years of Sundays dominated by worship, singing, praying, and preaching, yet now I sleep in on the Lord’s Day, enjoying the comfort of godless living. From my teen years until age 50, I read and studied the Bible, humbly putting into practice that which I learned. Today, I live a life governed by self and the humanist ideal. How did I get to the place where the Bible no longer mattered to me? Is my life a cautionary tale, as IFB preacher Ralph Wingate, Jr, said it was? Is my life a warning to Evangelicals who dare consider walking a similar path? Perhaps. I would like to think, however, that my story is in some way helpful to people with doubts and questions about Christianity; that perhaps in a small measure some people might find the account of my life encouraging or inspiring. I can’t control how people respond to my writing. All I know to do is tell my story, leaving people to do with it what they will. I hope you will find this series instructive.
The Fundy World Tales will be a cogent examination of my life, from my ignoble birth in Bryan, Ohio in 1957 to my present blessed life as a husband, father, grandfather, and atheist. From this series will FINALLY come my book. I am “feeling” my mortality these days more than in times past, so if I intend to leave behind for my grandchildren a written accounting of my life, I best get to it. Here’s to hoping I complete this series before death calls my name.
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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