This is the one hundred seventy-fifth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
Today’s Songs of Sacrilege is Everything is Made to Last by Ciaran Lavery.
Woke up in the afternoon again Where you been? Where you been? We go waltzing through the past Everything is made to last Maybe Jesus knows my name I can’t be sure, I can’t be sure I sin like an every day man Nothing ever goes to plan
[Chorus] Ooh-ooh-ooh Ooh-ooh-ooh Living outside, living fast ‘Cause people wanna be alive and a part of the dream It all lights up to a God they’ve seen But I wanna be alive and a part of the dream Ooh-oh-oh Ooh-oh-oh
Night crawls through my window again Let it in, I let it in Not sure if this feeling’s gonna pass So leave me where the shadows cast Wonder if there’ll be a change In everything, with everything We sin everyday because we can I’m afraid of what I am
I grew up in churches that believed Christians were to give their hearts, souls, and minds to God. Followers of Christ were implored to lay their lives on the altar and give everything to Jesus. The hymn I Surrender All aptly illustrated this:
All to Jesus I surrender, All to Him I freely give; I will ever love and trust Him, In His presence daily live.
Refrain: I surrender all, I surrender all; All to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.
All to Jesus I surrender, Humbly at His feet I bow; Worldly pleasures all forsaken, Take me, Jesus, take me now.
All to Jesus I surrender, Make me, Savior, wholly Thine; Let me feel the Holy Spirit, Truly know that Thou art mine.
All to Jesus I surrender, Lord, I give myself to Thee; Fill me with Thy love and power, Let Thy blessing fall on me.
All to Jesus I surrender, Now I feel the sacred flame; Oh, the joy of full salvation! Glory, glory, to His Name!
“I surrender my life to you, Jesus,” I often prayed. “I’ll say what you want to say, do what you want me to do, and go where you want me go.” Jesus commanded his followers to take up their cross and follow him. Those who were unwilling to do so were not his disciples. The book of First John had this to say about what Jesus expected of people who said they were Christians:
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:3,4)
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15-17)
Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. (1 John 3:6-10)
My little children, let us not lovein word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18)
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (1 John 4:7,8)
For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4,5)
We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. (1 John 5:18)
If these verses are taken literally, one thing seems clear: most people who profess to be Christians are what some preachers call “professors and not possessors.” These people have prayed a prayer and embraced cultural Christianity, but they know nothing of True Salvation®. These verses, taken at face value, show that God sets an impossible standard of living.
Evangelical pastors have all sorts of explanations for these verses:
There are two classes of Christians: spiritual and carnal. Both are saved, but carnal Christians still live according to the dictates of the “flesh.” Carnal Christians are “babies” in Christ. Readers might remember that this is how some Trump-supporting Evangelicals justified the President’s un-Christian lifestyle. He is just a babe in Christ who needs to mature in the faith, these pastors said. Thus, spiritual people will live according to these verses, and carnal Christians won’t.
People become Christians by believing a set of propositional truths. What truths must be believed vary from sect to sect. After they are saved, these newly minted Christians are encouraged to attend church every time the doors are opened, tithe, pray, give offerings above the tithe, study the Bible, give to the building fund, and follow the church’s teachings. Not doing these things will result in a lack of blessing from God in the present and a lack of future rewards in Heaven. Once people mentally assent to the gospel and pray to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, they are forever saved. (This is why some Evangelicals believe I am still a Christian.) These verses are a lofty goal Christians should strive to achieve, but if they don’t, no worries, they are still saved.
Saved people have two natures: the spirit and the flesh. The spirit cannot sin, but the flesh can. The verses that talk about not sinning refer to the spirit, not the flesh. Christians still sin in the flesh, but the spirit is sin-free.
These verses must be interpreted in ways that give them nuance, harmonizing them with the rest of Scripture. It’s hard to not conclude with this approach to these verses, that what pastors are saying is that God didn’t mean what he said.
These verses are to be taken literally. The Bible commands us to die to self, crucify the flesh, etc. Salvation is conditional. Do these things and thou shalt live. Don’t do these things and you will perish and go to hell. No one can know for sure if he or she is saved. Calvinists say that followers of Christ must endure to the end to be saved. And even then, God, on judgment day, will be the ultimate judge of whether a person’s good works reached the enter into the joy of the Lord (Heaven) level.
Some Christians believe that the Holy Spirit takes up residence in people’s lives the moment they are saved, but that there is a separate, special baptism or infilling of the Spirit that can take place at a later date. Often called being baptized with Spirit or a second definite work of grace, those who receive this second filling of the Holy Spirit live lives wholly consecrated to God. Some Christians believe in what is called entire sanctification — a state of sinless perfection. People who are entirely sanctified no longer sin. When doubters point out certain less-than-Christian behaviors by the sanctified, they are often told these bad behaviors are mistakes, not sins.
I spent much of my Christian life seeking to love Jesus with all my heart, soul, and mind. I didn’t know, at the time, that there’s no such thing as a heart or a soul, but I took the commands to live this way as saying that I was to give everything to Jesus. I was to die to worldly pleasures and desires. I was to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. My desires, wants, and needs didn’t matter. All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give, I told myself. My life belonged wholly to God, and he had the right to do whatever he wanted with me. I was, as the Apostle Paul said, God’s slave.
Add to these beliefs my conviction that the Bible is the very words of God and that I had an intimate relationship with God where I talked to him (in prayer) and he talked back to me (through the Holy Spirit), it is not surprising that my life was in a state of constant turmoil. Peace? How could I have peace when there were sins to be confessed and eradicated. Remember, Evangelicals believe that all of us of daily sin in thought, word, and deed. Unlike Catholics who seemly to only sweat the big stuff, Evangelicals believe any thought, word, or behavior that does not conform to teachings of the Bible (and the leadership of the Holy Spirit) is a sin. Jesus, himself, taught this when he said in Matthew 5:28, But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
Imagine how difficult life was for me when virtually everything I did in life was potentially a sin. Worse yet, I had to judge my motives for doing anything. Giving $50 to a homeless person was considered an act of compassion, but if I gave the money so people would think well of me, I had sinned against God. And then there were sins of commission and omission. Not only could thoughts, words, and deeds be sins, but failing to do something could be a sin too. Murdering someone was certainly was a sin, but so was not trying to stop abortion doctors from murdering zygotes (Greek for babies).
What I have written above about my spiritual quest can be summed up this way: I had a thirst for God. I needed God more than anything. I wanted his presence and power in my life. I read Christian biographies of great men who were devotes seekers God, men such as Hudson Taylor, E.M. Bounds, C.T. Studd, John Wesley, David Brainerd, D.L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, Adoniram Judson, George Whitfield, George Muller, Nate Saint, and Jim Elliot. These stories stirred a yearning in me that, for many years, could not be quenched.
Of course, living this way is impossible, despite what preachers might tell you. Trust me, there’s not a preacher on earth, dead or living, who met the mark. But Bruce, what about the Christian biographies that suggest otherwise. Like all biographies, Christian ones are an admixture of truth and fiction. Unfortunately, Evangelicals only want to hear stories about winners; stories about people who were victorious; stories about people they could aspire to be. The recent death of Billy Graham has brought out all sorts of fantastical stories about the barely human Graham. Much like the Beatles decades ago, Graham has been made out to be bigger than Jesus. For those of us who don’t buy the Graham myth, we know the rest of the story. All we need to do is look at his two children, Franklin Graham and Anne Graham Lotz. Both of them are hateful, mean-spirited, caustic Fundamentalists. Where did their beliefs come from? The notion that Billy was not a Fundamentalist is laughable.
It took me until I was in my 40s before I realized that striving for holiness and perfection was a fool’s errand; that no matter how much I devoted myself to God and the ministry, my life was never going to measure up. Decades of denying self had destroyed my self-worth. Jesus was preeminent in my life, but Bruce was nowhere to be found (and my wife, Polly, could tell a similar story). I spent a decade trying to be a “normal’ Christian, but I still battled with thoughts about not doing enough for the cause of Christ; not doing enough to win souls; not doing enough to advance God’s kingdom to the ends of the earth. By the time I left the ministry in 2005, a lifetime of thirsting for God had led to dehydration and almost killed me. I have no doubt that my commitment to serving God day and night; to burning the candle at both ends; to working while it is yet day, for night is coming when no man can work, played a part in my declining health. And, at some level, I knew this, but I told myself, it’s better to burn out than rust out.
Come November, it will be ten years since I walked away from Christianity; ten years since Jesus and I divorced; ten years since I realized that the Bible was not what Christians claim it is; ten years since I concluded that the Christian narrative was false. Once the Bible was no longer central in my life, I was forced to build, from the ground up, a new moral and ethical framework. This, of course, required me to abandon or set aside the countless beliefs, commands, and laws that had governed my life for fifty years. Most of all, I had to find the life that had been swallowed up by God, the Bible, and the ministry. Somewhere along the way, Bruce Gerencser died, and I had to find where and start over. I had to answer two crucial questions: who are you and what are you? For a few years, this process was quite painful, and without regular counseling sessions with a secular psychologist, I doubt that I would have been able to undergo it. Not that I have, in any way, arrived. I am still reconnecting with who I really am. I am still learning about my emotions; emotions that I had, at one time, surrendered to Jesus by laying them at the foot of his cross.
Rebooting your life at age fifty isn’t easy, as anyone who has done so will tell you. This is why most people who leave Christianity do so at much younger ages. By the time one reaches one’s fifties, it is hard to abandon a lifetime of beliefs, practices, and experiences. On one hand, I felt, and continue to feel, a great sense of freedom. I am now free from the bondage of religion. Much like the Israelites and their flight from the bondage of Egypt to the Promised Land, my Promised Land journey has been fraught with uncertainty and doubt. I wish I had come to the light decades before, but crying over what might what have been accomplishes nothing. I live in the here and now. My present life is all I have, and once it is gone, that’s it. No heaven, no hell, no afterlife. This is why I encourage people who leave Christianity to focus on the here and now. Evangelicals are fond of saying, only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last. For the atheist, this little ditty goes this way: only one life, twill soon be past, and once it’s past you’re dead, so you best get to living.
In 2008, I was psychologically dehydrated, near death. It was only when I realized I was doing this to myself that I began to find strength and healing. I remain a work in progress. I will never arrive, but as the old gospel song says, I’ve come too far to turn back now. This blog will remain one man telling his story; a running biography of my former life as a Christian and my present journey as an atheist and a humanist. I have a story to tell, a story of death and resurrection. Thank you for continuing to walk along with me.
This is the one hundred sixty-seventh installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
Today’s Songs of Sacrilege is Heaven Laid in Tears (Angels’ Lament) by Draconian.
Behold the skies, they’re full of lies… in disguise Behold the skies, they’re full of lies… in disguise
O, creator, so long we have fallen to our knees So long we have murdered our honor, while protecting thine
Behold the skies, they’re ful of lies… in disguise Behold the skies, they’re ful of lies… in disguise
And we, warriors moulded in the blood of his vanity The silent, loyal shepard who tends my light is dead… in me So let the night take thee in her arms, And dry these tears into her embrace It’s the end of pretending and defending… God’s holy light
El-shaddai, we serve thhe, henceforth… no more Show me heaven, show me guilt… embrace the pain We must suffer to realize, we must despair again and again No longer our knees we shall bend, no longer fold our frozen hands We long for the darkness, our flames still burn for mother night… Behold us now, as we cry, soon to die… to rise again
Behold the skies, they’re ful of lies… in disguise Behold the skies, they’re ful of lies… hear our cries
I have seen us bathing in blood to defend his very glory I have seen us kneel and praise for nothing… I have seen him dying in our eyes I have realized that god owes us his
This is the one hundred sixty-seventh installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
Today’s Songs of Sacrilege is Resurrection by Erection by Powerwolf.
Warning! This song contains sexually graphic lyrics.
When purgatory’s waiting And the girl immaculate The highest of commandments dictates to copulate No grave is animated, you’re buried all alone So let her work a wonder And wake your flesh and bone
Resurrection by erection Raise you phallus to the sky and you never die It’s resurrection by erection Raise your bone up to the sky and you never gonna die Hallelujah, resurrection
The funeral is calling The mortuary blow Between my legs I’m waking I rise from down below Why do you think believer God gave you carnal lust So pray to get a hard on Before we turn to dust
Resurrection by erection Raise you phallus to the sky and you never die It’s resurrection by erection When you wake up from the dead, and the angels give a head Hallelujah, resurrection
(Resurrection!) Now I want my resurrection Oh, I long for resurrection All I want is resurrection now
The devil and the maiden Prepare for going wild The new messiah calling The purgatory child Before my flesh is fading The virgin has a turn The third of days we’re climbing the point of no return
Resurrection (Resurrection) by erection (by erection) Raise you phallus to the sky and you never die It’s resurrection (resurrection) by erection (by erection) Raise your bone up to the sky and you never gonna die Hallelujah, resurrection
This is the one hundred sixty-sixth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
Today’s Songs of Sacrilege is Cry for the Moon by Epica.
President Trump I don’t think has admitted to having an affair with this person [porn actress Stormy Daniels]. And so this is just a news story, and I don’t even know if it’s accurate [Why does Graham believe pathological liar Donald Trump over Stormy Daniel?].
I believe at 70 years of age the president is a much different person today than he was four years ago, five years ago, 10 years ago [there’s no evidence for this being true]. He is not President Perfect [no shit Sherlock].
We certainly don’t hold him up as the pastor of this nation and he is not. But I appreciate the fact that the president does have a concern for Christian values, he does have a concern to protect Christians whether it’s here at home or around the world and I appreciate the fact that he protects religious liberty and freedom [gag me with a spoon].
Our country’s got a sin problem, and I believe if these politicians [Democrats and liberals] in Washington would recognize the moral failure of so many of their policies [hot button social issues] that maybe we could fix it [I thought only Jesus could fix our “sin” problem?].
Bob Gray Sr, retired pastor of Longview Baptist Temple, Longview, Texas
Romans 12:2, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
The Scripture says “be NOT conformed” rather “be ye transformed.” The secret is the mind and in the renewing of the mind by being transformed and not conformed to this world.
Someone says, “I’m addicted to movies, pornography, or to internet pornography.” I don’t believe it for a minute! You can quit it right now and walk away from it. It’s not addictive like narcotics or liquor. You can quit that junk if you would produce enough character, decency, discipline and Christianity. The Bible says we are to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God. God is saying because you are justified be not CONFORMED to this world, but TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your mind.
God has given to the Christian a little world within a world with our local church, Christian schools, and Christian colleges. If you are in one of the Christian schools and are living a loose moral life you are a traitor to the cause of Christ, to the school, to the college, to the local church and to your pastor. Nobody ought to ever cause themselves to be expelled from a Christian school because of being immoral loose living, bad music, pornography, or sexual promiscuity. No member of a local church should ever be involved with immoral activity for you are in essence a traitor if you do.
Thus we have a little world within a world. This bigger world we live in is a godless world and we are forced to interact. Some have to interact with worldliness at home, or in a secular business, or a secular school, and unfortunately sometimes there are students in the Christian school who are worldly and you find yourself having to interact with them. However, I would be ashamed of myself if I were thick with the wrong crowd in a Christian school. I’d be ashamed of myself to be thick with the wrong crowd in a Christian college.
Now, we are required in some ways to interact with a godless Christ-less world. May I point your attention to whom this passage was given? The passage of, “be not conformed to his world but be ye transformed” is a passage written to the Christians in Rome. They were corrupt, pagan, skeptical, and a perverted people. The entire environment was not only un-Christian but also anti-Christian. The Bible says this book was written to the saints in Caesar’s household.
We have this admonition, “be not conformed to this world.” What does that mean? It simply means dress like a Christian and not like Paris, or Hollywood, or New York. It simply means males ought to have haircuts that look like a male and not the Beatles or Justin Bieber. God is saying to his people I would rather you have Dr. Lee Roberson as your hero than Arnold Swartznegger. I would rather you have Jack Hyles as your hero than Garth Brooks.
Paul is saying it is possible to live in the midst of a Roman moral quagmire without lowering your flag of purity. Please listen! That means that it is possible today also to do the same. It is possible today to live in a society controlled by TV, Hollywood, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, and the Internet and still live for God via the renewing of the mind.
It is possible to live in this sex crazed, Hollywood infested world, HBO world, Cinemax world, Showtime world, and hip-hop music, and be not conformed to this world. If it is possible for the saints at Rome then it is possible for the saints of today!
Paul is saying to the saints in Rome man is not to become a creature of his circumstances or the toy of his surroundings, or a piece of clay molded by his peers, but he is saying do not be conformed be ye transformed. It bothers God when his daughters are quick to take up the hairstyles of modern day Romans. It bothers God when any of his children are quick to pick up the modern appearances and so desperately want to be accepted by the modern day Romans.
It probably occurs because God’s people spend more time reading “Glamour Magazine” than the Bible. Young Christian ladies spend more time in “Sixteen Magazine” than in their own Bibles. It bothers God when his sons are so quick to get a tattoo or pierce their ears simply because of the modern day Romans.
God is telling his children they are not to copy this pagan world. There is a difference between dressing appropriately and going gaga over the latest styles and so quick to embrace them simply because we want the Romans to love us. We are not to pattern ourselves after this modern world.
If the world lies on a beach in their underwear then God’s people ought to do the opposite. If the women of this world wear their shorts and man’s apparel then the Christian ladies ought to do the opposite. We are in the world but not of the world!
It thrills God to see his children around town reflecting Scriptures rather than society. When he sees the boys with decent haircuts and without their pants hanging down to their ankles with their underwear showing. God loves it when he sees his young ladies dressed in modest clothing without a vampire look. I thank God I belong to a church where members dress right and people around town know they belong to Longview Baptist Temple.
This is the one hundred and sixty-fourth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section. Let’s have some fun!
Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is an Anchored North video detailing a woman’s conversion from lesbianism. While the young woman in the video desperately wants to believe that the Evangelical God, by his oh-so-awesome grace, has delivered her from the “sin” of homosexuality, when in fact all that has happened is that she has allowed a few Bible verses to corrupt her thinking and scare her straight.
Religious people often seem to be unhealthily fixated on sex and have a desire to interfere with how everybody else does it! This prompts lots of questions that need answering: Why is virginity so highly prized?
Why is celibacy considered to be ‘pure’?
Why is masturbation considered to be shameful?
Why is homosexuality abhorred?
Why are women treated like second-class citizens?
Why do we have marriage?
Why is infidelity (adultery) unacceptable?
Why is divorce considered to be unacceptable?
What has any of this got to do with ‘god’ and his Earthly agents?
This is going to take more than one article to analyze and there’s little real evidence available to help us answer these questions so, unusually for this blog, what follows will be mostly reasonable speculation. Let’s start with virginity…
There is a very good biological reason to prefer having sex with a virgin, it is this: minimal risk of infection by a sexually transmitted disease. The opposite of virginity, promiscuity, is great for spreading pathogens via the sexual fluids. Historically, the clients of prostitutes could be observed falling ill with the same symptoms, so this undeniable correspondence is likely to have given rise to, in the minds of those who knew nothing about microbial infection, the idea of ‘virginal purity’ or ‘cleanliness’. Similarly, celibacy also safeguards against venereal diseases and could be considered to be another way of achieving a ‘clean’ state, at the cost of not parenting. By corollary, sexual acts came to be thought of as ‘unclean’ and, because everyone was ignorant of the fact that these diseases have to be transmitted, that included masturbation; it became tarred with the ‘dirty’ brush even though you can’t catch a disease from yourself!
Sex coming to be regarded as shameful in this way was a gift for the assorted clergy because their modus operandi consists of first destroying the self-esteem of prospective followers and subsequently offering them forgiveness and salvation, in the form of an ‘afterlife’, in return for donations (payment). Of course, there is no evidence for the promised reward (or the threatened alternative of punishment in ‘hell’), but it was wonderful for preachers to have a ready-made guilt button to press any time they wanted to make their flock subservient! There’s a seemingly obvious connection from ‘clean’ sex to ‘godliness’ and virtue, and it gives a preacher a perennial topic to rant about.
One of the reasons for the decline of religiosity in Western countries over the last fifty years may be because the availability of condoms for preventing contagion and effective antibiotic cures for contracted STDs have taken this weapon away from the priests and pastors. With nothing to fear, the guilt goes away and the message of shame loses its teeth. One of the things that the clergy traditionally told us we needed saving from turned out to have been a paper tiger, so people came to reasonably wonder whether all the other pulpit monsters are fake too!
In the minds of dogmatic seekers of purity, homosexuality adds another level of disgust on top of heterosexual unions. Being a minority practice it’s an easy target for the self-righteous and we all love a scapegoat. Homosexuals have been held responsible for all the disasters of society including drought, war, plague, famine, hurricane, earthquake, volcanic eruption, tsunami and flood. How they are supposed to have caused those events is a question that is not even asked. Recently, a preacher in Phoenix, Arizona [IFB pastor Steven Anderson] laid the blame for AIDs at the feet of gay men and advocated that they should all be killed before Christmas! This is not fake news – there is video evidence, see here.
Yet, the most homophobic preachers are constantly being exposed in flagrante with young boys and the outbreak of priestly pedophilia has changed the face of, once fervently Catholic, Eire (S. Ireland) to such an extent they have elected an openly gay Prime Minister!
Is the sexual fixation of theists finally turning into their nemesis?
Many of the beliefs Evangelicals hold dear are of little or no consequence. Believing them or not has little effect on Evangelicals. Two beliefs, however, fundamentally affect how believers view themselves. The doctrines of original sin and human depravity are key tenets that provide the foundation for other doctrines such as atonement and redemption (salvation). If humans, thanks to the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, are not, by nature, sinners, then there is no need for Jesus to die on the cross, nor is there a need for humans to be saved. Is it any wonder, then, that Evangelical preachers emphasize the doctrines of original sin and human depravity? For those of us raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church movement, hearing preaching on sin was quite common. Sunday after Sunday, preachers spit, scream, and pound the pulpit as they decry humanity’s sinfulness. Often, these sermons focus on specific sins, particularly sexual sins. The goal of such preaching is to make congregants feel guilty over their sins. Once congregants are thoroughly stripped naked before God, then they are ready to seek forgiveness of sin from and through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Preaching against sin, calling out sins by name, becomes a weapon in the hands of preachers, used to attack human self-worth and self-esteem. The goal is to reduce congregants to worms and specks of dust — insignificant in God’s sight. Imagine hearing such preaching week after week, year after year. Is it any wonder that many Evangelicals think that they are little more than pieces of shit in the eyes of their God? Any good they do is not because of them, but because of Jesus. Congregants are reminded that the Bible says that it is impossible to do ANYTHING without God. He gives people the very breath in their lungs. He gives their legs the power to move. Everything humans do is because of and through the power of the Christian God.
Imagine every good thing ever done by you being credited to another person. I suspect most of us would not be happy about other people getting credit for our good works. We did the work, so we should receive the credit. But for Evangelicals, they do all the work and God gets all the credit. Why? Because they are worthless, hopeless, helpless sinners whom Jesus, through his blood and mighty power, saved from their sins. After being graciously saved by God, Evangelicals are expected, out of a heart of gratitude, to spend the rest of their lives giving God credit for everything they do. And I mean EVERYTHING!
It is hard not to see the Christian God as the religious equivalent of Donald Trump. Trump craves the praises of others. Recently, several UCLA basketball players were arrested in China for shoplifting in China. President Trump was supposedly instrumental in securing their release. After the players arrived home, Trump tweeted out:
It is the duty of the U.S. government and its president to assist citizens in trouble in other countries — no praise or thanks needed. Trump, however, has a pathological need for people to grovel before his greatness, thanking him for what he did on their behalf. At least with Trump, we can see that perhaps the president played a part in the release of the UCLA prayers. With the Christian God, however, there is no evidence that he has done anything for anyone, yet his earthly spokesmen, using verses from an ancient book purportedly written by God, demand that all of humanity bow before God’s greatness and give him praise, honor, and glory. This is especially true for Christians, those who have been delivered from their depravity by the finished work of Jesus on the cross. God relenting to their pleas for forgiveness and salvation comes with one non-negotiable demand — you will humble yourself before me all the days of your life, praising me for every good thing you do and every good thing that comes your way. Not only do Evangelicals get to grovel at the feet of Jesus and praise him in THIS life, they will continue their masturbatory praising in the life to come. Does this sound like something you would like to do for life without end? Of course not. But when you have been repeatedly told you are a worm, a speck of dust in the eyes of God, deserving of eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire, an eternity of massaging the Big Kahuna’s ego sounds like a great idea.
Of course, there is God, no heaven, and no hell. Knowing this is makes Evangelical preaching against sinners and their sins so cruel. Many of the behaviors deemed sins because an ancient religious text says so, are normal, healthy human practices. And those that aren’t can be addressed in ways that don’t require assaulting the psychological well-being of offenders.
People who spent much of their lives in Evangelicalism before deconverting know all about the psychological damage caused by repeatedly being told you are worthless without Jesus, and the only reason you do good in your life is because of what God does in and through you. Over time, believers develop long lists of prohibited behaviors (sins). Sinning — even the slightest of sins — requires believers to prostrate themselves before God, telling him they are sorry, and begging for forgiveness. Since, according to Evangelical preachers, Christians sin daily in thought, word, and deed, believers are expected to spend significant time daily getting “right” with God (at least Catholics let their sins accumulate before going to confession and getting absolution). Imagine the emotional toll a lifetime of this extracts from sincere, devoted people who just want to make a demanding God happy.
Many ex-Christians require professional counseling to undo the damage done by such thinking. Some of us, myself included, were so deeply scarred by constantly feeling guilty over behaviors deemed sinful and never seeming to be able to find victory over sin, that it is likely we will live out the rest of our lives trying to find peace, happiness, and contentment. Life after Jesus requires through deconstruction. Only then can a new life rise from the ashes of our Evangelical pasts. I’ve had to learn anew what good and bad behaviors are. I also have had to learn to stop judging people over perceived violations of my personal code of conduct. Over the past decade, what I call my “sin list” continues to shrink. What once required sixty-six books and 783,137 words to divine, now fits on a 3×5 card. As my dear friend Ami is fond of saying, the one rule we all should live by is this: don’t be an asshole.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven 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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Often this narrative [sin and redemption] is particularly prevalent among evangelicals who have been accused of sexual misconduct. After evangelical television personality Josh Duggar confessed to molesting his sisters as a teenage boy, he and his family used the salvation playbook. Michael Seewald, whose son is married to one of Duggar’s sisters, spoke out against the media condemnation of Duggar, who was never charged with a crime: “The ultimate answer … is what Josh found and millions like him. He found forgiveness and cleansing from Jesus Christ. There are many of you that are reading these words right now having had thoughts and deeds no better than what Josh had and did.”
Disgraced megachurch founder Ted Haggard resigned his post in 2006, after admitting to drug abuse and a sex scandal with a male sex worker. He returned to public church life with similar rhetoric: “I am a sinner and [my wife] is a saint. … I feel we have moved past the scandal. We have forgiveness. It is a second chance.”
In other words, there’s a tendency among evangelicals to see sexual (or other) sins that have happened long ago (or even not that long ago), either prior to conversion itself or prior to a “re-conversion” or renewal of faith, as, well, natural. Of course people commit sinful acts, because sin is part of the human condition, and of course people are victims of sin without God’s grace to help free them of it.
There are a few problems with how this manifests in practice. It can absolve “saved” individuals of too much responsibility for past misdeeds, since they’re considered the deeds of a past, different self. It encourages a culture of silence among evangelicals about their struggles, since salvation is “supposed” to mean that temptation goes away, and any “backsliding” is the result of insufficient faith. Finally, this theological approach also means that “sins” tend to be conflated, especially sexual sins: consensual premarital sex and sexual abuse are often seen on the same spectrum, both the result of a temptation too great to bear.
Without God, the implication goes, people have almost no agency. In Moore’s case, the fact that his alleged sins happened so long ago — and that the intervening years have seen him become more and more committed to the idea of a theocratic Christian state— only intensify some evangelicals’ sense that Moore’s actions then (even if true) don’t necessarily have a bearing on who he is now. It’s also worth noting that in the aftermath of Trump’s campaign, evangelicals have done an extraordinary about-face when it comes to their view on the importance of politicians’ personal morality.
Many, many Christian scholars and thinkers have been intensely critical of this “get out of jail free” approach to sin and grace, as I noted earlier this month. Among the most prominent in the past century was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and anti-Nazi dissident who was executed in a concentration camp for his activism. Bonhoeffer distinguished between “cheap grace” — easy forgiveness that allowed individual perpetrators and oppressive societies to get away, unchallenged, with their actions — and “costly grace,” or forgiveness that also asks hard questions, and demands social change.
It’s worth noting, however, that several prominent evangelicals — including the president of Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm, Russell Moore (no relation) — have spoken out criticizing Moore’s evangelical supporters. “Christians, if you cannot say definitively, no matter what, that adults creeping on teenage girls is wrong, do not tell me how you stand against moral relativism,” Russell Moore tweeted.
Despite this, “cheap grace” has become seemingly common in some evangelical communities, especially when there are practical political or pragmatic reasons (i.e., a Republican in power) to overlook a sin and preserve the social status quo.