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Tag: Separation of Church and State

Letter to the Editor: Does President Trump Really Care About “Religious Freedom?”

letter to the editor

Letter sent to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News on September 25, 2019

Dear Editor,

President Donald Trump knows he has no hope of winning the 2020 election without white Evangelical Christians. In 2016, eighty-two percent of voting white Evangelicals cast their votes for Trump. For the President to win the upcoming general election, his conservative Christian base must come out in force. While some of Trump’s moral faux pas have caused base erosion, for the most part, Evangelicals continue to stand by their man.

Why do Evangelicals continue to support President Trump? I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. There was a time when Evangelical churches and pastors took resolute stands on moral virtue and ethics — especially for elected leaders. I remember my outrage over President Clinton’s sexual misbehavior and lying while in office. From the pulpit and in letters to the editors of local newspapers, I demanded his immediate removal from office. Twenty years later? Evangelicals now turn a blind eye to the behavior of a president who paid off porn stars, allegedly sexually assaulted women, possibly committed treason, and doesn’t go a day without factually and materially lying to the American people. What changed?

In the 1970s, Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich birthed the Moral Majority. This small, innocuous group morphed into Hydra — a multi-headed monster. Gaining critical mass in the 1990s, these groups forsook their moral underpinnings, choosing instead to imbibe the sewage water of raw political power. All that matters now is keeping control, outlawing abortion, shoving LGBTQ people back in the closet, and establishing a Christian theocracy. Evangelicals even go so far as to paint themselves as a persecuted religious minority. One need only listen to Trump’s recent incoherent “religious freedom” speech at the United Nations to know he has heard his Evangelical base loud and clear.

While it is undoubtedly true that religious persecution happens in many places — including North Korea and Saudi Arabia — Trump blocking the immigration of the primarily Muslim Rohingya people reveals that his recent “religious freedom” speeches are little more than reminders to Evangelicals that he has their back. I entered the ministry in the 1970s. I didn’t know of a preacher who didn’t believe in the separation of church and state. Today? Scores of Evangelicals deny this wall even exists. For this reason, people who genuinely value religious freedom for all — including unbelievers and non-Christians — must fight the religious right’s attempt to redefine “religious freedom.”

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

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.

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: Jesus is NOT a Religion

jesus hawkins texasJesus is not a religion, Jesus is in every religion across the globe. If you don’t believe that Jesus existed, then he would be fiction. If he’s fiction, and you want to remove his name from everything then you need to remove every fiction name that there is across the country. That means we couldn’t say Superman welcomes you to town.

— Mayor Will Rogers, Hawkins, Texas

Freedom From Religion Foundation News Release

Texas city has at long last removed a “Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins” sign that the Freedom From Religion Foundation objected to years ago.

Back in 2015, the state/church watchdog twice wrote to the city of Hawkins about the blatantly Christian sign on city property after receiving local complaints.

“The Establishment Clause prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages,” FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover noted. “The Supreme Court has been clear that the ‘First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’”

The city of Hawkins violated this neutrality with a prominent governmental sign that proclaimed “Jesus Welcomes You” and endorsed belief in the pre-eminent figure of Christianity, FFRF pointed out. It sent a clear message to those with Christian beliefs that they’re favored community insiders and an equally clear message to those who believe differently that they’re not.

Then Hawkins-Mayor Will Rogers, the creative mind behind the sign, which he commissioned public school students to build, defended it with media statements such as “Jesus is not a religion, Jesus is in every religion across the globe. He’s in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism” and “If you don’t believe that Jesus existed, then he would be fiction. If he’s fiction, and you want to remove his name from everything, then you need to remove every fiction name that there is across the country. That means we couldn’t say ‘Superman welcomes you to town.’”

Fortunately, better sense prevailed in the rest of the city administration, and it heeded FFRF’s advice, albeit after many twists and turns.

The City Council voted to remove the sign after FFRF’s second letter, but then events headed in a strange direction after the mayor got into a long tussle with the city. He sued eight city officials and a bunch of other residents for supposedly resisting his attempts to root out corruption. Rogers settled the lawsuit but narrowly lost his re-election bid, with the sign playing a major role in the campaign.

Meanwhile, a group of supporters of the sign claimed that it was on private property, while the city contended that it had an easement to build a road on the land and, therefore, it was city-owned. The land turned out to be on the property of a funeral home that wanted nothing to do with the controversy, but then an entity called “Jesus Christ Open Altar Church, LLC” brought a lawsuit against the city after claiming to have bought the land from the funeral home. FFRF waited and watched while the lawsuit was underway. Finally, the city won that lawsuit on appeal and recently removed the sign.

FFRF is breathing a sigh of relief at this overdue victory for the U.S. Constitution — and for the rights of minority believers and nonbelievers in the community.

“We believe in justice for the good people of this country — even justice that is long delayed,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Finally, the city of Hawkins is in compliance with the law of the land — and has stopped sending a divisive and exclusionary message.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit founded in 1978, has over 31,000 nonreligious members and several chapters around the country, including more than 1,300 members and a chapter in Texas.

 

Quote of the Day: Secularism and Evangelical Bigotry

separation of church and state
Cartoon by Nick Anderson

Evangelical Christians continue to represent a sizeable percentage of the current president’s base support. To those who have watched evangelicals spend “the last 40 years telling everyone how to live, who to love,” and “what to think about morality,” the continued alliance with this president makes evangelicals the “biggest phonies” in all of politics. Indeed, the behind-the-scenes details of how a “thrice-married, insult-hurling” president obtained the endorsement of the evangelical hierarchy are as lewd and hypocritical as one might expect.

As much as the hypocrisy of evangelicalism can be mocked and exposed however, there exists a kernel of truth lurking behind the claim that evangelicals are supporting this president out of fear. It is simply impossible to deny that institutionalized persecution of religious ideas by public universities has occurred. Thankfully, this persecution has been continuously challenged and overturned in the courts.

The fact that persecution of religious ideas can and has occurred in our society however, does not even remotely suggest that intolerance is a uniquely “secularist” problem. In fact, intolerance of dissent and censorship of opposing views has been a general feature in religious institutions for thousands of years. Moreover, the same intolerance and censorship evangelicals claim they hate so much when it occurs in “secular” institutions is expressly embraced at the largest Christian colleges in the United States today, such as Liberty University. Does this past and current existence of intolerance in religious institutions mean that religion is inherently intolerant? No, because human bias exists generally in all human institutions, a fact the framers of the Constitution knew all too well and the exact reason why they chose to embrace secularism.

….

For example, David French, who I would argue is a moderate evangelical, has argued recently that we should be wary of European immigration because those countries have a “secular-bias” that will “alter American culture in appreciable ways.” In answering this nonsense from French, it is important to acknowledge that such a statement amounts to nothing less than vile bigotry.

To illustrate, imagine for one second how French would react if a liberal pundit on MSNBC  said we should avoid immigrants from Christian-majority countries because America is steadily becoming more secular. Is there any doubt French would find such a statement to be a reflection of bigotry against Christians based on ridiculous notions that they are somehow incapable of assimilating into American culture? Yet he felt no issue disparaging and demeaning immigration from a whole continent based entirely on whether they held certain religious beliefs or not. Why? Because for all too many evangelicals, non-belief is simply not viewed with the same respect as religious belief, despite the fact that our Constitutional free conscience liberty makes no distinction. Put simply, it is nothing less than disgraceful the level of bigotry that evangelicals impose on the none-religious. Until and unless the religious stop lying about the nature of secularism, falsely depicting it as the ultimate evil, I fear such bigotry will continue to increase.

— Tyler Broker, Above the Law, The False Demonization Of Secularism, July 30, 2019

What Would a Bible-Based Culture Look Like?

abortion is murder al shannon

There is a staggering lack of Biblically-based knowledge and impact in America’s public square. Secularism, Christianity’s chief competitor, thrives solely in the absence of morality, and Christians have handed over the culture and its mountains of influence to those in rebellion against God. Any casual observer will recognize that secularism’s dominance of academia, newsrooms, sports, the Courts, big business, Hollywood, and medicine is a direct result of Christians ‘not doing politics’. It would seem that modern Christianity is ‘not doing education’ either, given that the secular worldview now is being spoon-fed to 85% of America’s youthUntil Christians step into the public square, reestablishing a Biblically-based culture, the ‘sexualization’ and secularization of youth, allied and abetted by Hollywood and media cliques, will continue to bring the nation to ruin.

— David Lane, The American Renewal Project

Evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and Mormons clamor for a Bible-based culture. In their minds, the Bible is the moral and ethical standard by which all of us should live. If only the United States were governed by the dictates of the Bible, all would be well. Several years ago, a local Fundamentalist Christian wrote a letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News (behind a paywall) extolling the wonderfulness of living in a country governed by the Bible. He went on to say that no one should fear Bible-based rule. “Christians,” he said, “only want what’s best for everyone.” Sadly, there are a lot of naive believers who think just like this man; that Christians only want love, joy, peace, and ice cream for everyone. However, history tells us differently; that when church and state are one, blood is shed, people die, and freedoms are lost. And make no mistake about it, theocracy is the goal. Christian apologists might hide their theocratic beliefs with flowery words and philosophical verbiage, but the naked truth is that, in their minds, there is one Lord, lawgiver, ruler, king, and potentate, and his name if Jesus. There is one perfect and infallible law book — the Bible. Knowing these things to be true, perhaps we should ponder what a Bible-based culture would look like?

One need only look at the frontal assault on abortion and Roe v. Wade to see what a Bible-based culture might look like. Anti-abortionists, using an incremental approach, have been chipping away at abortion rights for decades. Their efforts have reached the point of critical mass, and now abortion is effectively and totally banned in numerous states. These bans, of course, are meant to be a vehicle by which to relitigate Roe v. Wade. Now that President Trump has put two conservative pro-life judges on the U.S. Supreme Court, it is likely that the Court will, when given the opportunity, overturn Roe v Wade. This will, then, return the regulation of abortion to the states, and when that happens, many state legislatures will quickly move to ban and criminalize abortion — including abortions in the case of rape and incest. This will not be the end of the matter either. Emboldened by their win, Fundamentalist Christians will demand that birth control be outlawed and public-school students be taught Bible-based abstinence-only sex education. These zealots will also tirelessly work to enact laws that give fertilized eggs constitutional rights — demanding personhood for zygotes. The culmination of their efforts will come when doctors, following the dictates of their conscience, are prosecuted for performing abortions and mothers are arrested and imprisoned for “murdering” their unborn “children.”

Several years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. The same people who tirelessly worked to ban abortion are the same people who strived to criminalize homosexuality and deny LGBTQ people the same constitutional rights afforded to heterosexual Americans. Don’t think for a moment that these people are sitting at home licking their wounds as they watch lesbian porn. Convinced of the rightness of their beliefs and interpretations of the Bible, these Fundamentalist Christians are plotting to force gays back into closets and recriminalize sodomy and other “perverse” sexual behaviors. Now that the makeup of the Supreme Court skews to the right, I have no doubt that these zealots will do their best to afford the Court another bite at the same-sex-marriage apple. Believing that the Bible condemns homosexuality, theocrats demand and work towards a Bible-based culture where the Good Book®, and not personal morality and preferences, determines who may fuck whom when, where, and how. Failing to fuck according to God’s Holy Word would lead to arrest and imprisonment. And if these theocrats are consistent, they will demand that “sodomites” be executed for their crimes against humanity. This, dear readers, is what a Bible-based culture looks like.

In a Bible-based culture, other sexual “sins” such as adultery and fornication would also be banned. In fact, in the Old Testament alone, there are 613 laws. Of course, no Christian has ever kept all of God’s laws. Most Christians, including those clamoring for a theocracy, regularly and with impunity ignore God-given laws. Can anyone say, HYPOCRITES?! That said, even limiting a Bible-based culture to the Ten Commandments, is dangerous. In both versions of the Decalogue — yes there are two versions and they differ from one another — the Christian God demands total and absolute fealty and worship. According to numerous Bible stories, worshipping other gods was considered a capital crime punishable by death. I am quite sure that if Fundamentalist Christians ever gain the power of the state, the first people rounded up and sent to Franklin Graham Reeducation Camps will be atheists and Muslims. Fundamentalist Christians have a deep-seated hatred for the godless and worshippers of Allah. It chaps their testicles that we roam free on the Internet and in public. Every time the Freedom From Religion Foundation successfully litigates a church-state issue, their email inbox is filled with hate mail from offended followers of Jesus. Imagine these same people having the power of the state at their disposal. In a Bible-based culture, there’s no freedom of/from religion. There’s one God — Jesus — one religion — Christianity — and one lawbook — the Bible.

The next time you hear the cacophony of Fundamentalist Christians demanding the United States adopt a Bible-based standard of behavior, ask them exactly what they mean. Peruse the list of Actions Prohibited by the Bible on RationalWiki, and then ask them if their Bible-based culture would include some or all of the listed prohibitions. I think you’ll find that few zealots really want to live by all of the laws found in the Bible. Damn, talk about a miserable life! No, most theocrats just want to legislate and criminalize the big stuff. What they want, most of all, is a return to the 1940s and 1950s — a time when women were submissive keepers of their homes, people of color knew their place, LGBTQ people were not seen or heard, and the only fucking going on was that between monogamous heterosexual married couples. They want a culture where everyone goes to church, loves Jesus, and school children read the Bible and pray every day. In other words, Christian Fundamentalists want to roll back a hundred years of social progress. Never mind that their vision of a Mayberry-like world exists only in their Bible-sotted minds. Does anyone really believe Andy wasn’t fucking Helen and Gomer wasn’t smoking weed in the gas station bathroom?

The other day, I wrote a post detailing why Evangelicalism is dying. Let me be clear, Evangelicalism IS, most certainly, dying, but it has stage-one, not stage-four, cancer. One need only watch the machinations of Evangelical culture warriors to see that they have no intentions of going quietly into the night. There are times when I tip my cap to Christian Fundamentalists. They know what they are fighting for and are willing to metaphorically and, at times, literally kill everyone who gets in the way of their goal of establishing God’s kingdom on earth. Far too often, liberal and progressives are way too nice and polite. We can learn something from the tactics of Christian zealots: that social progress will only be achieved by stomping the beliefs and demands of theocrats into the ground. Until we understand that we are in a battle for the soul and future of American secularism, we will continue to have our asses handed to us by those demanding King Jesus rule over us all. Way too many secularists, religious or not, sit on the sidelines shooting the breeze while Christian Fundamentalists, in White Walker fashion, wage war against our Republic.

If the very thought of living in a Bible-based culture scares the living Christopher Hitchens out of you, then do something about it. You can start by joining and supporting groups such as the Freedom From Religion FoundationAmerican AtheistsAmerican Humanist AssociationSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceAmerican United for Separation of Church and State, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper. Work to elect political leaders who understand the importance of the separation of church and state and who will work with indefatigability to promote and preserve American secularism. And most of all, live out your liberal, progressive, humanistic values and ideals before the world. Let them see that there is, indeed, a better way.

If we don’t wage holy war against theocrats, who will? Passivity is deadly, and if we refuse to fight, we have no one to blame but ourselves when President Billy-the-Baptist and a Christian Congress demand Americans everywhere bow and worship the one true lawgiver, Jesus.

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.

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.

How American Taxpayers Subsidize Churches and Ministers

free-money-for-pastor-waltRight-wing Christian Republicans love to talk about the importance of religious freedom, and how liberals and atheists are hell-bent on destroying this freedom. Listen to Evangelical talking heads and you would think that the martyrdom of American Christians is just around the corner; that if atheists have their way, Christians will be rounded up and imprisoned in WWII-type internment camps. Of course, none of these things is true. Christians are free to worship Gods where they wish, in any manner they wish, without government intrusion. Christians are free to stand on street corners and preach their versions of the gospel. Christians are free to start new churches, proselytize, and do any of the things they have done for the past two hundred years. Similar to the cheesy bread in the Domino’s commercial, you’re FREE Christians, you’re FREE.

Video Link

What HAS changed is that Christianity is no longer given a seat at the head of the American culture table. Evangelicals, along with conservative Catholics, are butt-hurt over their loss of influence and power. In a last-ditch attempt to regain their glory days, many Christians have turned to politics. Now spiritually bankrupt, Evangelicals have abandoned Jesus and turned to their true God: Republican politics. Eighty-two percent of voting Evangelicals voted for pussy-grabber-in-chief Donald Trump. Without their vote, Hillary Clinton would be president. Worse yet, Evangelicals have spent the last two years defending and supporting a man who can only be described as a sociopathic, narcissistic liar. But, hey, he’s a “baby” Christian, right?

Secularism and religious indifference are on the rise in the United States, and young Americans are fleeing organized religion in droves. Evangelicals feel their power slipping away, and they don’t know what do. So, much as did Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, Evangelicals see demons — and liberals, socialists, communists, and atheists — under every bed. What they, in fact, see are delusions cooked up in the minds of Evangelical preachers. The fall of American Christianity rests on Christians themselves, not secularists or atheists. Certainly, we are enjoying the bonfire, but it’s Evangelicals who gathered the wood and set it on fire. How about some hot dogs or marshmallows?

Secular legal groups have now set their sights on how government unconstitutionally subsidizes Christian churches, pastors, and educational institutions with taxpayer money. That’s right, atheists and Fundamentalist Christians alike help support Christian churches through their payment of taxes. I, for one, am tired of financially supporting religious institutions. It’s time for churches, parachurch groups, Christian colleges, and other religious institutions to pay their own freight.

Here are some of the ways ALL of us currently support Christian churches, pastors, and religious schools:

  • Churches are, by default, tax exempt. There are no forms to file or reports to be sent in to the IRS. Any group of people can gather together, call themselves a church, and the IRS will consider them tax exempt. Churches are, by default, EXEMPT from all filing requirements. A church is a church because it is a church. End of discussion. Or so says current tax law.
  • Churches in most states are exempt from paying real estate and sales taxes.
  • Monetary or in-kind donations to churches are tax exempt.
  • Pastors can claim what’s called a housing allowance. This allowance allows churches to designate their pastors’ rent/mortgage, utilities, home repairs, and other housing expenses as part of their housing allowances. Claiming a housing allowance allows pastors to drastically reduce their taxable income. Some pastors claim ALL their income as housing allowance, thus reducing their taxable income to ZERO.
  • Pastors can also opt out of Social Security. That’s right. Pastors can pay little or no income tax and no social security tax. Jesus F. Christ, what an awesome deal!
  • Pastors can buy cars through their churches, and have their churches pay all the expenses, further lowering their taxable income. Other expenses such as book and computer purchases can be made through the church, lowering a pastor’s taxable income. The goal is to give the evil government as little money as possible. Zero taxes paid and a big fat Earned Income Credit refund is the wet dream of countless Evangelical preachers.

I was a pastor for twenty-five years, and I can tell you this: any pastor who is paying income tax needs to get a better accountant. The U.S. Tax Code provided numerous ways for churches and clergy to avoid paying taxes.

It is time for us to end all tax subsidies for churches and clergymen. Churches should be forced to PROVE they are charitable organizations before receiving tax-exempt status. Good luck with that, churches. Churches should be required file the same tax forms and pay the same taxes as businesses. No more hiding the truth about the golden calf of American Christianity. And while we are at it, it is time for pastors to pay the same taxes as everyone else. Both churches and pastors should pay their fair share. The United States is a secular country, and as such, we should stop supporting Christian churches, pastors, and educational institutions with tax money.

Evangelicals clamor for religious freedom, and I am all for giving it to them. The government has no business subsidizing religious institutions and their leaders. It’s time to set the cheesy bread free!

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.

Quote of the Day: Should Christian Crosses be Permitted on Public Property?

peace cross

The right question for the [U.S. Supreme] court is whether a religious symbol on public property endorses one religion over others. The Peace Cross clearly does….At a time when Americans subscribe to a wide variety of religious beliefs — or none at all — it’s vital for government to be religiously neutral.

— Los Angeles Times Editorial, February 27, 2019, Via The American Humanist Association Newsletter

The Lies Evangelicals Tell Themselves About Atheists

liar liar pants on fire

It should come as no surprise that eighty-two percent of voting Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump — a pathological liar, the textbook definition of a narcissist. For most Evangelicals, all that matters to them is that Trump is — supposedly — anti-abortion. Never mind the fact that Trump used to be pro-abortion, and he is only now anti-abortion because it plays well with Evangelicals. Trump knows that without the Evangelical vote, Hillary Clinton would now be sitting in the White House. Trump also pretends to support religious liberty and rescinding the Johnson Amendment (which prohibits non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates). Anything that keeps Evangelicals in the Republican fold, the President supports. As he has shown thousands of times of the past two years, he is willing to lie to advance his agenda or attack his detractors. No president has publicly lied as much and as often as Donald Trump. When confronted with Trump’s vile nature, Evangelicals make all sorts of apologies for the man; everything from saying he is an immature “baby” Christian to him being the reincarnation of an Old Testament King. In other words, Evangelicals lie to themselves about Donald Trump. This, from my perspective, is the only way they can sleep at night. If Evangelicals ever have a true come-to-Jesus moment about the President, they would be calling for his impeachment. Instead, they convince themselves that things are not as they seem; that God has some great plan for the President.

I wrote the above to show that it is common for Evangelicals to lie to themselves when confronted with facts and evidence that does not fit their worldview. One need only to look at their theological beliefs to see how lies are routinely used to prop up beliefs that can no longer be intellectually and rationally supported. It’s the twenty-first century, not the sixteenth, yet Evangelicals continue to use past justifications to support their outdated, irrational, anti-human beliefs. In other words, they lie to themselves.

So it is for Evangelicals when it comes atheists. Let me illustrate how Evangelicals see atheists with a screen capture from an Evangelical discussion forum. I can’t remember which forum I found this, but it was either the Fundamental Forums, the Baptist Board, or the Puritan Board — three peas in a pod:

how evangelicals view atheistsA

According to this Evangelical, atheism makes people angry, hopeless, and self-destructive. Sound familiar? This statement, of course, has no grounding in reality. This is a lie the man tells himself; a necessary lie in order for his worldview to make sense. In his worldview, the world is neatly divided into two categories: saved/lost, in/out, black/white, Heaven/Hell. Atheists, then, are lost and headed for Hell. Their refusal to believe in the Evangelical God is a sign of a reprobate mind; people who have been turned over to Satan (Romans 1,2).  Fair enough, I suppose. That’s what the Bible says, right? I can’t fault Evangelicals for believing the Bible; even though they conveniently not-believe-it when it suits them. What people such as myself find irritating is the attacks on our character. Oh, you are an A-T-H-E-I-S-T?  Well, that means you live a life without meaning, purpose, and direction. No matter how often atheists correct this false notion, Evangelicals remain steadfast in their beliefs about atheists. No matter how much evidence is presented to the contrary, Evangelicals continue to lie to themselves about atheists. Why?

Evangelicals are convinced that they are, in God’s eyes, special; that Jesus has chosen to save them by his grace; that everything that happens in their lives is according to this God’s purpose and plan for them; that Heaven awaits them after they die — God’s reward for their faith and obedience. In order for these things to be true, atheists must be viewed as their enemies; people who hate God; people who follow Satan; people who have hopeless, empty lives; people who love to sin against God. Of course, none of these things is true. The evidence at hand suggests that atheists on the whole live lives filled with purpose and meaning. Atheists don’t hate God or follow Satan, because they do not believe either exists.

For Evangelicals, atheists are evil personified. It’s been that way, in particular, ever since avowed atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair successfully challenged the constitutionality of prayer and Bible reading in public schools. From the 1960s forward, atheists have become more vocal about their godlessness, and are far more willing to publicly and legally challenge the theocratic tendencies of Evangelicals. Groups such as American AtheistsFreedom From Religion Foundation, and the American Humanist Association have increasingly challenged Evangelical church and state violations in the courts — and have won. Things are so bad now for Evangelicals that even Satanists — who are atheists — are challenging the preferential treatment Evangelicals receive from local, state, and federal government.

In reaction to what Evangelicals believe is a frontal assault on Christianity, they go out of their way to paint their atheistic enemies as bad people. Atheists are called all sorts of names and tagged with all sorts of reprehensible behavior. Sure, there ARE atheists who are awful people, but talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Evangelicals have enough bad behavior going on in their own ranks, right? Evangelicalism is roiling with sexual abuse scandals and other sex crimes perpetrated by so-called men of God. Evangelicals have lost any sense of high moral ground, and are now considered the most hated religion in America. Many younger Americans believe Evangelicals are a hate group — people who despise LGBTQ people. Yet, despite all of this, Evangelicals continue to lie to themselves about atheists (and other non-Evangelicals). After all, if atheists have lives just as good and as meaningful as Evangelicals, why be a Christian? If atheists demonstrate the “fruit of the Spirit” without believing in said Spirit, what does that say about Christianity? If atheists love their spouses, love their children, hold down jobs, and contribute to their communities, what does that say about the claims Evangelicals make for their lives being “transformed” by the power of God? It seems to this atheist that Evangelical Christianity doesn’t offer anything that can’t be found outside of religion. Once the Bible with its Bronze Age foolishness loses its authority and power, people are free to craft meaningful, purposeful lives on their own terms. This scares the shit out of Evangelicals. And instead of accepting the fact that atheists are every bit as good, moral, and ethical as Evangelicals are, they lie to themselves as the man did in the above quotation.

There was a time when I would try to correct such false notions about atheists. I have, however, come to the place where I realize that until Evangelicals are willing to stop lying to themselves and are willing to see things as they are, there’s no hope of changing their minds. As long as their pastors preach thundering sermons and write scathing blog posts about the “evil” atheists, their lies will be reinforced. Who are they going to believe? Atheists, in their own words, or their pastors? Until Evangelicals come to the place where they rationally and skeptically weigh what their pastors say, they will continue to believe the lies that are told about atheists. There’s nothing we atheists can do about this except to continue living our lives in ways that give atheism a good name.

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.

An Atheist in the Land of Jesus: Living a Compartmentalized Life

compartments

I live in rural northwest Ohio. I have spent most of my life living in rural communities. I am, in every way, a country boy; that is, in every way except my politics and religious beliefs. It is a well-known fact that it’s rural people who put Donald Trump in the White House and delivered solid Republican majorities to Congress and state legislatures. Here in Ohio, virtually every major state office is occupied by right-wing, pro-life, anti-same-sex-marriage, white Christians. Go to the major cities and college communities and you will find progressive/liberal/Democratic/socialist political beliefs. Drive ten miles outside of town, and everything quickly turns from red to blue. Here in Defiance County, almost three out of four voters vote Republican, and in the last presidential election, Donald Trump won by a sixty-four percent to twenty-nine percent margin. (Seventy-three percent of registered voters voted in the 2016 election.)

Religiously, Evangelical (and conservative Catholic/Lutheran/Methodist) Christianity rules the roost. In the four-county area where I live, there are roughly 140 thousand people and 400 Christian churches. Christian belief and practice colors every aspect of local life. It is assumed that everyone is Christian. Over the past decade, I have witnessed countless church-state violations. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) could spend months here dealing with schools and other government agencies that don’t have a clue about the First Amendment, the establishment clause, or the separation of church and state. It’s not that local leaders deliberately set out to violate the law. It’s just that giving Christianity preferential treatment is very much part of the ebb and flow of life around here. It is just how it is.

hicksville high school christian materials

Let me give an example. Recently, nearby Hicksville High School gave its 2018 graduates bags of Evangelical literature and DVDs. Here’s what FFRF had to say on the matter:

A concerned student reported that during Hicksville High School’s commencement practice on May 30, a guidance counselor handed every graduating student a package that contained Christian materials. The package included a copy of “Evolution vs. God,” an anti-evolution film created by Christian evangelist Ray Comfort, “Rich in Christ: A Dead Dog at the King’s Table,” a religious tract titled “Are you a Good Person,” and a religious pamphlet that “explains the plan of salvation in easy-to-understand terms” called “Life’s Most Important Question.” FFRF’s complainant reports that this package was put together by a science teacher at the school.

This package included a letter titled “Hicksville High School Class of 2018,” which reads:

Congratulations 2018 Graduate!

As you look ahead to your future with excitement and great anticipation, may you also come to discover God’s very best for your life. God loves you so very much that He sent His Son Jesus to earth to die for your sins so that you may have a personal relationship with God, and be assured of an eternal home in Heaven.

Rich in Christ is filled with hope and encouragement for you. It contains dozens of wonderful promises from the Bible, that God wants you to understand and claim as your very own. May you find God’s richest blessings as you follow His leading and His blueprint for true success. Enjoy your riches!

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”  II Corinthians 8:9

The letter indicates that a number of local individuals and businesses, including Hicksville Exempted Village School Superintendent Keith Countryman and his wife, sponsored the gift package.

“It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that a public school may not advance, prefer, or promote religion,” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line writes to Countryman. “As a public school, Hicksville High School cannot promote Christian religious doctrine by distributing proselytizing materials to students as part of graduation rehearsal, a school function. This violates the principle that ‘the preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and a choice committed to the private sphere,’” to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.

The school district has an obligation under the law to make certain that “subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion,” to again quote the U.S. Supreme Court. When faculty use school time to proselytize to students, whether it be through distribution of literature or through religious statements, they are taking religion out of the private sphere and violating parental trust.

Religion is a divisive force in public schools, FFRF emphasizes. When a school distributes sectarian religious literature to its students it entangles itself with those religious messages. As well as alienating non-Christian students, teachers, and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school, these practices estrange the 24 percent of Americans, including 38 percent of young adults, who identify as nonreligious. prri.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/PRRI-Religion-Report.pdf

“It is a violation of the duties and responsibilities of public school staff to proselytize students,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Imagine the uproar if a staff member was propagating atheism or Islam.”

Gaylor calls the school officials’ actions “bizarre,” saying that it is particularly concerning that a science teacher had a hand in distributing anti-evolution propaganda to graduating seniors and that the superintendent sponsored the unconstitutional distribution.

FFRF insists that to avoid constitutional violations, any future graduation “gifts” distributed by Hicksville Exempted Village School staff as part of a school function not contain religious materials.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 33,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 800 members and a chapter in Ohio. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

According to the latest issue of Freethought Today, the Hicksville school district agreed to stop distributing sectarian religious materials to its students. Did the school administrators deliberately ignore the law, choosing, instead, to evangelistically promote Christianity? Of course not. They just did what has always been done. It is assumed that everyone is Christian.

I am an atheist and a humanist. I am a political liberal who aligns himself with the Democratic Socialist party. I generally vote Democratic, but many local Democrats, thanks to their religious beliefs, skew to the right. This is especially true for those who are forty-five and older. Even local mainline Christian churches — which are historically liberal — tend to be conservative politically and socially. True liberals such as myself are as rare the ivory-billed woodpecker. We exist, but there aren’t many of us. We tend to lurk in the shadows, pining for the day when progressive values prevail. The good news is that younger locals are far more liberal than their parents and grandparents. I see a better day ahead, but in the short-term, people such as myself must bite our lips, hold our tongues, and silently swear.

Last month, Polly and I attended a tractor pull at the Fulton County fairgrounds. The event was sponsored by the National Tractor Pullers Association. Events such as this one are gaudy displays of American exceptionalism, nationalism, and conservative Christianity. Imagine sitting through nine minutes of masturbation to the Christian God and the American flag. First, the crowd was asked to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Second, the PA announcer read a four-minute monologue set to music about the greatness of America and its military, reminding everyone that REAL PATRIOTS stand and honor the flag. Then it was time to sing the Star Spangled Banner. And last, but not least, the preacher/announcer prayed a sectarian prayer in the name of Jesus, amen.

By the time all this nonsense was over, I was ready to scream. My son asked me, Dad, why do you subject yourself to this stuff? I replied, because I love watching tractor pulls. I endure the religious/nationalist nonsense because I know what waits on the other side of the Amen.

I willingly choose to live in rural Northwest Ohio. Twelve years ago, Polly and I returned to this part of the state so we could be close to our children and grandchildren. We do not regret doing so. We love the slowness of small town life, and when we want to experience big city life, Toledo and Fort Wayne are but an hour away. Applebee’s is considered “fine” dining around here. When we want to enjoy a meal at an upscale restaurant, we drive to Fort Wayne or Findlay. In every way, we have a good life. That said, choosing to live in a place where Jesus and the GOP are joined at the hip requires us to practice the fine art of compartmentalization.

I own a photography business: Defiance County Photo. I shoot many of the local high school’s sporting events. I don’t advertise my politics or lack of religious beliefs. It is hard enough to make a few meager bucks off my photography work without limiting my business opportunities by being an in-your-face atheist and socialist. I don’t hide my beliefs, but I don’t talk about them either. Recently, I had a job interview where the business owner tried three times to goad me into a religious discussion. He really, really, really wanted to share his “testimony” with me, but every time he mentioned God/Jesus/faith, I said nothing. That was my way of telling him, I AIN’T INTERESTED! Polly has a similar problem at work. She’s a pro at ignoring attempts to drag her into discussions about this or that Christian belief.

I have one compartment that contains my business. I am sure some locals know I am an unbeliever and a political liberal. I suspect these facts cost me business. As an atheist, I want to live and conduct my business in such a way that Christians around me will be perplexed by my good works. I know doing so confuses some of them, as they have been told by their preachers that atheists are Satan worshipers, baby killers, and lovers of sin. Much like Jesus commands Christians to live, I want people to see that you can live a good, meaningful life without God or the Bible. I want to “let my little light shine!”

I have another compartment that contains Bruce Gerencser, the father and grandfather. I attend a number of school events every year. Ten of our twelve grandchildren attend three different local school districts. Many of them play summer sports, and several of them play junior high and high school sports. I always have my camera with me, shooting this or that event or game. Thanks to my white beard, ruddy complexion, and portly build, I look like Santa Claus. The school mates of my younger grandchildren wonder if I am the “real” Santa. Of course I am! I enjoy playing the role.

In this compartment, it’s all about family. I don’t talk about politics or religion. When people extol the virtues of the Tyrant King, I outwardly smile and say nothing. Why? I don’t want my politics or godlessness to negatively affect my grandchildren. Believe me, I would love to be a fire-breathing atheist. I would love to eviscerate those who blindly and ignorantly support our Toddler-in-chief. However, for the sake of my family, I say nothing.

Finally, I have a compartment where I am a vocal, outspoken atheist, humanist, and Democratic socialist. This blog is home to my writings on religion and politics. Few locals read my writing, though I suspect more than a few have done a Google search on my name and have come across this blog. I make no apologies for the subject matter of my writing. It is here that I can be open and honest. If locals stumble across this site and are offended, that’s their problem. This is my “ministry,” so to speak. The Bible spoke of Jesus not being able to do mighty works among his own people because of their unbelief. I understand Jesus’ plight; the difference being, of course, that I can’t do many mighty works among my own people because of their religious and political beliefs. I am, in every way, a stranger in a land I dearly love. That’s not to say that there are not other atheists or socialists around here. There are, but due to family and employment concerns, they, too, keep a low profile. From time to time I will receive emails from local heathens thanking me for my writing. They often say they wish they could be an out-of-the-closet atheist such as myself. Fear keeps them in the closet. Maybe someday we will be more in number, but for now, we choose to keep our heads down, knowing that being a vocal atheist would be social and career suicide. It’s not fair, but I learned long ago that little in life is.

Do you live in rural America? Please share your experiences in the comment section. Are you forced to compartmentalize your life? How do you balance your unbelief with societal and familial norms?

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.