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Tag: Reading the Bible

Is the Bible a “Simple” Book?

bible made me an atheist

Evangelicals love the Protestant Christian Bible. Evangelicals believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Every word in the Good Book is straight from the mouth of God. Thus, when seeking “truth,” where do Evangelicals turn? The Bible. 2 Peter 1:3 states:

According as his [God’s] divine power hath given unto us [Christians] all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.

Through the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and conscience, God gives to Christians everything that pertains to life and godliness. Unbelievers, of course, lack this knowledge and understanding. Their minds have been darkened by the God of this world, Satan. While unbelievers have the intellectual ability to read, their depravity keeps them from truly “knowing” what the Bible says.

I was in the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches. I read the Bible from cover to cover numerous times, spending tens of thousands of hours studying its pages. I had a deep, passionate love for the Bible. As a pastor, I preached over 4,000 sermons — all from the Word of God. I am not bragging, then, when I say that I know and understand the Bible.

According to many Evangelical apologists, I don’t really “know” the Bible. The moment I said I was no longer a Christian, all my Bible knowledge magically disappeared — àla a Men in Black mind wipe. This argument is absurd, ranking right up there with the belief that I am still a Christian. Why do Evangelicals refuse to accept that I “know” the Bible? Simple. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 2:14:

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Let me translate this verse for you:

Unsaved people do not understand the things of the Spirit of God [the Bible] To unbelievers, the Bible is a foolish book. Its teachings cannot be understood by non-Christians because the Holy Spirit does not live inside of them as their teacher and guide.

If, as Evangelicals allege, the Holy Spirit lives inside [where?] of every Christian, why are so many [most?] believers ignorant of the Bible’s teachings? Why are there so many Christian sects, each with its own interpretations of the Bible? Why can’t Christian churches and pastors even agree on the basics: salvation, baptism, and communion?

Ephesians 4:4-6 says:

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

This text tells us that there is:

  • One body [church]
  • One Holy Spirit
  • One hope
  • One Lord
  • One faith
  • One baptism
  • One God and Father

Pray tell where can we find what these verses speak of? Sectarianism, division, and internecine warfare abound. It seems, then, that having the Holy Spirit living inside of you doesn’t do much, if anything, knowledge-wise. Ask one hundred Christians a theological question, and you will be given one hundred answers. I have written numerous posts over the past thirteen years detailing the various Christian systems of beliefs and hermeneutics. All roads better lead to Heaven. If not, a lot of Christians are going to land in Hell when they die. Why? Wrong beliefs. Evangelicals love to preach up salvation by grace, but what really matters is right beliefs. It is right beliefs that determine one’s eternal destiny, not faith or grace. Believe the wrong things, and you are going to fry.

atheists read the bible

Now to the subject of the post: is the Bible a “simple” book? Based on what I wrote above, you would think that that answer to this question is no! Understanding the Bible requires God living inside of you. This same God darkens the minds [hearts] of unbelievers so they cannot understand the Bible’s teachings. Unless God, through regeneration, gives unbelievers faith, it is impossible for them to savingly believe and understand the Bible. Or so Evangelicals — especially Calvinists — say, anyway.

Yet, many Evangelicals encourage unbelievers to read the Bible. “The Bible is so simple, even a child can understand it,” evangelizers say. Often, unbelievers are told to start reading the gospel of John (never mind the fact that this gospel contradicts Matthew, Mark, and Luke in numerous places). “Just read John, and God will reveal himself to you!” If the Bible is such a “simple” book, why do preachers and theologians own countless books that tell them what the Bible says? If the Bible is such a “simple” book,, why do pastors attend BIBLE colleges and seminaries? It seems to me that the Bible is anything but “simple.”

Most Evangelical laypeople (and many pastors) believe the Bible is a “simple” book. Pastors reinforce this false notion in their sermons. Many churches encourage congregants to follow daily Bible reading schedules such as Our Daily Bread (most Christians never read through the Bible one time). These reading schedules present Christians with a truncated, sanitized reading of the Bible. I quite certain that none of these pastor-approved Bible reading schedules covered Ezekiel 23:18-21 (The Message):

I turned my back on her just as I had on her sister. But that didn’t slow her down. She went at her whoring harder than ever. She remembered when she was young, just starting out as a whore in Egypt. That whetted her appetite for more virile, vulgar, and violent lovers—stallions obsessive in their lust. She longed for the sexual prowess of her youth back in Egypt, where her firm young breasts were caressed and fondled.

The New Living Translation (NLT) renders Ezekiel 23:18-21 this way:

In the same way, I became disgusted with Oholibah and rejected her, just as I had rejected her sister, because she flaunted herself before them and gave herself to satisfy their lusts. Yet she turned to even greater prostitution, remembering her youth when she was a prostitute in Egypt. She lusted after lovers with genitals as large as a donkey’s and emissions like those of a horse. And so, Oholibah, you relived your former days as a young girl in Egypt, when you first allowed your breasts to be fondled.

Imagine the discussion during family devotions (another practice Evangelicals love to talk about but rarely do) over this passage of Scripture. “Mommy, what does it mean to have genitals as large as a donkey’s and emissions like those of a horse?”

The Bible is many things, but “simple” it is not. That’s why Evangelicals should invest time in actually reading and studying the Bible. Doing so is a good way to turn people into atheists.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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.

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Bruce, Do You Still Find Value in Reading the Bible?

good question

Recently, an atheist/agnostic reader sent me the following questions:

  • As an atheist, do you still read/think about the Bible’s literary or symbolic meaning, or have you had enough of it in your life?
  • Have you become hardened/cynical to the point where you can’t approach the Bible with a sense of wonder as I do?
  • Do you have any passages that still inspire you, engage your mind, and move you in any way?
  • And lastly, do you ever feel like fundamentalism is responsible for turning people away from stories and poetry that would otherwise be valuable to hear?

Bruce, do you still read/think about the Bible’s literary or symbolic meaning, or have you had enough of it in your life? 

From ages fifteen to fifty, I was a devoted follower of Jesus. Reading and studying the Bible was a part of my daily routine. I read it from cover to cover numerous times. As a pastor for twenty-five years, I immersed myself in the teachings of the Bible. Few days went by when I hadn’t intellectually and devotionally read and studied the Bible. I also read scores of theological tomes as I prepared one of the thousands of sermons I preached on Sundays and Thursdays. I had a good grasp and understanding of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. When people sat before me on the Lord’s Day, they expected to hear me preach from the Bible. I did my best to provide congregants with well-studied, well-thought-out sermons. I despised then, and still do to this day, lazy preachers who have plenty of time for golf, preachers’ meetings, and dinner at the buffet, but no time to prepare their sermons. I’ve heard numerous pastors deliver incoherent, contradictory, rabbit-trail sermons. Awful stuff. I couldn’t imagine sitting in church week after week listening to such drivel.

All of this changed, of course, when I left the ministry in 2005 and left Christianity in 2008. In the past decade, I have not picked up the Bible just to read it. I still have my KJV preaching Bible, but it collects dust on the bookshelf. My mind is literally crammed with Bible verses and theology, so when it comes to writing posts for this site, I don’t need to consult my Bible. I will, on occasion, use the Bible Gateway or the E-sword Bible Study Program if I can’t remember something. As you might know, I have memory problems. Usually, it’s newer stuff I have a hard time remembering. The Bible and Christian theology lie safely buried in my long-term memory, whether I want it to be, or not.  I may not remember what I did an hour ago, but I can remember a sermon I preached years ago.

Have I had enough of the Bible? The short answer is yes. Evangelicals love to tell people that the Bible is a “special” book; that it is an inexhaustible book; that every time you read the Bible it teaches you something new. Nonsense. Poppycock. Bullshit. The Bible is no different from any other book. It can be read and understood by atheists and Evangelicals alike. You can diligently and thoroughly read the Bible, so much so that you have mastered the text. Don’t let all the college training which preachers receive fool you. These men aren’t sitting in classes day and night immersing themselves in the Biblical text. In fact, Bible colleges and universities don’t comprehensively teach prospective pastors the Bible (and Bible “survey” classes don’t count). I learned far more about the Bible in my study than I ever did in college.

Do I know everything there is to know about the Bible? Of course not. That said, I have read and studied the Bible enough that I am confident that I know the text well. “But, Bruce, people disagree with you all the time about what the Bible says.” Such disagreements aren’t from a lack of knowledge. These skirmishes come as a result of the divisive, sectarian nature of religion in general, and Christianity in particular. There are thousands of Christian sects, each believing that their interpretation of the Bible is correct. That my interpretations differ from those of others is to be expected. Who is right, and who is wrong? Beats me. That’s what makes the Bible so awesome. You can make it say virtually anything. Homosexuality is a sin – no, it’s not. Abortion is murder – no, it’s not. Women can be pastors – no, they can’t. Baptism is by immersion – no, it’s not. Sinners must repent over their sins to be saved – no, they don’t. Baptism is required for salvation – no, it’s not. The universe is 6,024 years old – no, it’s not. Jesus died on  -Friday – no, he didn’t. Jesus went to Hell when he died – no, he didn’t. Divorce is a sin – no, it isn’t. True Christians speak in tongues – no, they don’t. Shall I go on? The disagreements are legion.

Bruce, have you become hardened/cynical to the point where you can’t approach the Bible with a sense of wonder as I do?

The Bible is a YMMV book — your mileage may vary. I don’t believe I am hardened or cynical when it comes to the Bible. I approach the Bible as I would any other book. I can’t say that I have approached any book with a sense of wonder. I have, however, read a few books throughout my life, which, when finished, made me conclude: this book is an awesome book, one that I would read again. Few books are worth reading once, let alone twice. Is the Bible really that much better than any other book ever written? I think not. I have a few favorite authors all or most of whose books I have read. Bart Ehrman, Thomas Merton, James Michener, and Wendell Berry come to mind. Over the years, I have read thousands of books, most of them one time. That I have read the Bible over and over and over again doesn’t mean that I think it is a New York Times bestseller — a book that should be frequently re-read. I read the Bible as often as I did because doing so was an essential part of my job. I also did so because my pastors and teachers repeatedly told me that one of the signs of a good Christian was how much time he spent reading and studying the Bible. I really wanted to be a good Christian, so I devoted myself to reading and understanding the King James Version of the Holy Bible. Only in religion do we think such excess is normal. If I spent hours a day, for decades studying the Harry Potter books, I doubt anyone would think such behavior is good.

Bruce, do you have any passages that still inspire you, engage your mind, and move you in any way?

I still love and appreciate the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and some of the Psalms. Do these Bible verses inspire me, move me, or engage my mind? Not really. I am at a different place in life. Due to declining health, I no longer read as much as I used to. Sadly, I have gone from being a War and Peace reader to being a magazine reader. I am tired and fatigued every day, so once I have done my writing for the day, I typically don’t have much time left for reading. I “want” to read, but alas, although my spirit is willing, my flesh is weak. If and when I have time to read, I don’t want to spend it reading an ancient religious text I have read countless times before. Simply put, I just don’t find the Bible all that interesting these days.

Bruce, do you ever feel like fundamentalism is responsible for turning people away from stories and poetry that would otherwise be valuable to hear?

Whether what the Bible says is “valuable to hear” varies from person to person. Most Christians don’t even read the Bible through once, let alone numerous times. That’s why devotionals such as “Our Daily Bread” are so popular. These publications are easy to read, taking only a few minutes a day. Reading them allows Christians to feel as if they have “read” the Bible and “communed” with God. Pablum for nursing babies, perhaps, but not meat that comes from devoting oneself to reading and studying the Bible. Bible illiteracy is common, even among Evangelicals — people who generally say that they are “people of the Book.”

I am of the opinion that fundamentalism is a problem wherever it is found. Fundamentalism is not only intellectually stultifying, it can and does cause psychological and social damage. In some instances, it can even cause physical harm and death. As a writer, my target is primarily Evangelical Christianity — which is inherently Fundamentalist. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) I know firsthand the harm caused by Evangelical beliefs and practices. It will be a good day when Evangelicalism draws its last breath. I will dead by then, but maybe, just maybe one of my grandchildren or their children will be alive when Fundamentalism goes whimpering into the night, never to be seen again. I make no apology for working towards the demise of Evangelicalism. As far as non-Evangelical Christianity is concerned? Meh, I don’t really care one way or the other. I am an atheist, not an anti-theist. Not all religions are the same. Some are benign and innocuous; others ravage the mind and cause untold damage to our culture. To the former I say, “live and let live.” To the latter? “Bring me a flamethrower.”
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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Bruce Gerencser