Tag Archive: Social Gospel

Bruce, Do You Hate God?

hate god

Originally posted June 2, 2015. Corrected, updated, and expanded.

On one level, this is a silly question. Since I do not think there is a God, if I hated God, I would be hating a nonexistent entity. This would be akin to hating Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. However, I understand why religious people might think someone like me hates “their” God. I spend a lot of time writing things that are negative about God and religion, so surely I must HATE God. Maybe some atheists do hate God, but I don’t. It is a non-issue for me.

As a writer, my focus is on religion. Religion is the human attempt to answer what I call the “hard” questions of life. Where did we come from? What is the essence, the substance of life? Is there life after death? What gives life meaning and purpose? These are not easy to answer. I realize many atheists will say “no evidence”. . . end of discussion, but I think these kinds of questions are worthy of friendly, thoughtful, pointed discussion. The problem is many religious people can’t discuss these questions in a friendly manner. Thinking their God and belief system is truth, they condemn and marginalize anyone who thinks differently.

While I think evolution is the best answer to the “where did we come from” question, I am not at all satisfied with the answers science gives when dealing with the something rather than nothing question. Even Bill Nye, in his debate with creationist Ken Ham, admitted that, so far, science hasn’t answered the question of where the first particle came from. Of course, Ham, a man with cement in the place where his brain once sat, jumped up and down and said, TEACHER, TEACHER, I KNOW THE ANSWER!  IT’S FOUND IN THE B-I-B-L-E. Ham thinks the question is answered whereas Nye is willing to say, We don’t know, but we continue to try and find the answer this important question.

I am an atheist because the evidence tells me, at this present moment, that there is no God. As a man who spent fifty years in the Christian church and twenty-five years in the pastorate, I am well versed in the teachings of the Bible and the one, true, and holy Evangelical faith. There’s no possible argument an Evangelical could make that I have not heard. It is not evidence that I am lacking. I have weighed all the available evidence in the balance and found it wanting. I am convinced, based on the available evidence, that the Evangelical God is a work of fiction and that Christianity is an admixture of myths, legends, oral traditions, and religious teachings. Maybe someday a deity of some sort will reveal itself to us. If so, I will consider this new evidence just like I have the evidence for the plethora of human religions. I doubt this will happen, so I am not going to spend any time worrying about it. In the meantime,  I remain agnostic on the God question and live my day-to-day life as an atheist. Reason, humanism, family, friends, baseball, photography, and writing are enough for me; no God needed.

My hatred is reserved for certain aspects of some religions. Since I live in the United States, my experience has primarily been with the Christian religion, especially the Evangelical form of Christianity. While I think the essence of Christianity can provide value and substance for some people — even in our modern, scientific world — I am convinced that twenty-first-century Christianity is so far afield from its original intent that it has ceased to be Christianity at all. How does the Christianity of today, in any of its various forms, remotely resemble the teachings and faith of Jesus, the poor, itinerant do-gooder of first-century Palestine.

Part of the problem is that early in the history of the Christian church, the Christianity of Jesus was subjugated by the Christianity of Paul.  The modern version of Christianity we see today is Paul’s version of it and not that of Jesus. It is doubtful, at least in my mind, that we can ever recover what Jesus wanted Christianity to be. We can’t know if he even wanted to start a new religion. Perhaps all he wanted was to reform Judaism.  We can’t appeal to the Bible because it has been corrupted by errors, corrections, additions, and outright fraudulent changes. At best, we might be able to peer within the pages of the Bible and get a general idea of who Jesus was and what he was all about. And we can do this regardless of whether we consider Jesus divine or not.

When I look at American Christianity, what do I see? I see power and wealth. I see arrogance. I see machinery. I see everything but what I should see. Where is Jesus? Where are the good works? Look at the 2016 Republican slate of presidential candidates. Jesus lovers, the lot of them, all trying to see who has the biggest Evangelical dick. Their beliefs and policies would likely be condemned by Jesus of Nazareth they purportedly worship. Millions of Christians considered voting for these men, thinking they were voting for God’s man. (Please see Why I Hate Jesus.) And that’s precisely what Evangelical voters did in November 2015, electing “baby Christian” Donald Trump as president. Eighty-two percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for Trump. By doing so, Evangelical Christians traded their souls for a bowl of pottage, choosing power over morality, ethics, and decency.

It seems that most churches and pastors are focused on building a kingdom, not in heaven, but here on earth. Why all the fancy, expensive buildings? Why all the programs designed to keep fat, lazy sheep happy? Why does most of the income go to maintain buildings, pay staff, and provide programs for people who are already Christians? What happened to outreach to the “least of these?” Where can I find a church where the poor, sick, homeless, and dying are given preferential treatment? If Jesus were alive today, do we really think he would go to an American church? I don’t.

Even though I don’t believe in the Christian God — nor do I think the Bible is divine truth — I could see myself going to a church that took seriously the teachings of the man named Jesus. (And yes, I am aware that some of his teachings are contemptible.) I still have a heart filled with compassion for the poor, sick, and marginalized, and I suspect many of the readers of this blog do too. As atheists and agnostics, we don’t have many meaningful opportunities or outreaches to help others. Imagine the help we could lend to churches focused on helping others instead of building kingdoms in this life.

I wonder if there is any room in the world for itinerant atheist preachers? While I couldn’t preach the Christian gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ, I could preach a humanist gospel, a gospel that says salvation is found in the goodwill, mercy, and compassion we have for others. I could point to the teachings of Jesus, Buddha, and Bruce Almighty and show how the relevant parts of their teachings can help make us better human beings.

My hatred is reserved for any religion that is focused on power and wealth, and not people. For the most part, I despise Evangelical Christianity. To Evangelicals, words in a book are more important than loving their neighbors and helping the poor, hungry, and homeless. They prefer the narrowness of their religion to the wideness of human love, mercy, and compassion. They would rather concern themselves with abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration, gun rights, combatting socialism, refuting global warming, evolution, and getting Republicans elected, than trying to make a real difference in the lives of the “least of these.”  Thinking evangelizing someone is more important than feeding and clothing them (better to go to Heaven with an empty belly, than Hell with a full one, the thinking goes), Evangelicals are viewed by non-Christians in the same light as door-knocking Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and siding salesmen.

My beef is not with God because I don’t think there is a God. My beef is not with Christians who are serious about loving and helping others. My disdain, and at times my anger, is reserved for those who have no regard for the plight of the poor and the sick, who only care about building a kingdom here on earth. No matter how much they talk about the future kingdom of God, their actions betray their true ambitions.

If churches took the teachings of Jesus seriously, they would merge, sell off the excess real estate, and use the money to help the poor, sick, and disadvantaged. If churches took the teachings of Jesus seriously, they’d fire all the professional Christians, forcing them to get real jobs. In doing so, these professional Christians would be forced to reengage with a world they lost connection with once they became gatekeepers and waitstaff at the local Evangelical churches.

If churches took the teachings of Jesus seriously, they’d stop programs that are little more than crack for religious junkies. These addicts bounce from church to church, program to program, service to service, hoping to get a Jesus Fix®. They are narcissists who have forgotten that what really matters is loving their spouses, children, family, and neighbors. They’ve traded the church for their common, dirty connection with the world. Sheltered from sinners, they listen to sermons that remind them of how wonderful it is in the church and how bad it is out there.

I don’t hate God. My hatred is reserved for evil done in the name of God. (Please see the Black Collar Crime series.) My hatred is reserved for those who value theological fealty, fidelity, and conformity more than they do people. Such thinking caused the burning of people at the stake and the slaughter of countless heretics. Given a chance here in America, Evangelicals with theocratic impulses would enact and enforce a Christian version of Sharia law. I hate all who dare attempt the subjugation and control others in the name of their God. Thinking they are oracles who have THE truth, they demand everyone else bow to their truth. Willing to use violence and the power of the state to force others to embrace their God and Holy Book, they cause deep hatred and resentment. Thinking they are being hated for their beliefs, what they are really being hated for is their unwillingness to allow others to have the same freedoms they demand for themselves.

As I look at American Christianity, I search in vain for one good reason that I would/should become a Christian. Maybe there is a group somewhere that takes the teaching of the socialist Jesus seriously, but so far all I see is ice cream. Various flavors, but all ice cream. (Please see But, Our church is DIFFERENT!)

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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Does the Bible Contain Multiple Plans of Salvation?

saved or lost

Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Van asked:

In one of your recent posts, you made reference to the four different plans of salvation in the NT: one each from Jesus, Paul, Peter, and James. In that post you said Paul’s was the prevalent teaching in 21st century evangelical churches, and you expounded on Jesus’. Can you summarize the Peter and James plans, and ‘compare and contrast’ the four plans?

This is a great question. In the Old Testament, it is quite clear that salvation depended on the Israelite keeping the law of God. Evangelicals will go to great lengths to find the gospel of grace in the Old Testament, but such attempts are wishful thinking. Salvation belonged only to the Jews and was contingent on them keeping the Law. This was the religious system Jesus was born into, as were all the Apostles. There’s nothing in the Bible that suggests Jesus repudiated the religion of his ancestors and parents. For many years, Christianity was considered a subset of Judaism.

I am of the opinion that Jesus’ Christianity is defined in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7. Any cursory reading of this passage reveals that Jesus’ Christianity was rooted in how a person lived. Jesus was saying, you want to be my disciple? This is how a disciple of mine lives. The Christian church would be well-served if it returned to the Christianity of Jesus. Imagine how much better off the world would be if Christians practiced the teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount.

Peter’s salvation was rooted in the laws of Judaism. While he was certainly a follower of Jesus, he believed, at least for a time, that a person had to be circumcised to be saved. He and Paul got into an argument over this issue. In Galatians 2 we find:

And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do. But when Peter was come to Antioch, I (Paul) withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

This passage reveals a sharp contrast between the gospel of Paul and the gospel of Peter and Barnabas, another man Paul had a falling-out with.  In Acts 15, we find that there was great controversy over whether a Gentile had to be circumcised to be saved:

And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.

A council was held in Jerusalem to settle the matter and the church decided that circumcision was not required for salvation. They did, however, give Gentiles the following commands:

..That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

James, who I think was the brother of Jesus, sets forth the conditions of his gospel in the book of James, chapter 2. Here, James says that faith without works is dead:

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

James is clear, a faith without works is no faith at all.

We find this same faith plus works gospel in the book of 1 John. Evangelicals rarely understand I John. Often used as a source text for proof texts, I John actually advances a works based salvation that goes so far as to say that any Christian who sins is not a child of God. Evangelicals love to quote 1 John 5:13:

These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

Evangelicals love the part that says, that ye may know that ye have eternal life. They proudly say that they have a know-so salvation, yet they ignore the first part of the text where John says, these things have I written unto you. What things? The things John wrote in the previous four chapters —  things that clearly show that NO Evangelical is a child of God.

Paul, the supposed writer of most of the books in the New Testament, taught a gospel of right belief. While he often mentions the grace of God, God’s grace was contingent on believing the right things. A Christian was one who believed A, B, and C. In the book of Romans, Paul taught a gospel that Evangelicals have turned into what is commonly called the Romans Road:

  • For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God Romans 3:23
  • As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. Romans 3:10,11
  • For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23
  • But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
  • That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Romans 10:9-13
  • Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: Romans 5:1
  • There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:1,38,39

This is the gospel that dominates American Christianity. Various sects will throw in requirements like water baptism or being baptized with the Holy Ghost, but the main ingredients of their gospel can be found in the verses mentioned above.

Two thousand years removed from the time when Jesus walked along the shores of Galilee, it is clear that Paul’s gospel won the gospel battle. While many progressive/liberal Christians preach a more works-oriented social gospel, Evangelicals are very much the children of Paul. It is clear that there were competing gospels within in the early church. Anyone who suggests that the early Christian church had one gospel and was some sort of pure Christianity hasn’t read much of the Bible. They wrongly assume that what we now see in Christendom is what has always existed. As Steven Pinker pointed out in one of his books, Christianity is constantly evolving, giving birth to new Christianities. I suspect Paul, Peter, James, John and Jesus would find  21st century Christianity to be quite strange, perhaps even heretical.

Most Christians rarely read each book of the Bible as a stand-alone text. Instead, they invest vast amounts of energy trying to reconcile the various books of the Bible and the competing gospels found within their pages. I am not inclined to do so. I have no need to make my theology fit a particular system. What I see are competing gospels, and history tells me that Paul, for the most part, has won the gospel battle. These other gospels make an appearance here and there throughout history, but Christianity continues to be dominated by Paul’s gospel of believe the right things and thou shalt live.

This is a short explanation of the various gospels found in the Bible. It would require thousands of words to do this subject justice. I hope this post is enough to challenge Evangelical assumptions about Jesus, the gospel, and salvation. The Bible says, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, but as this post shows, such a claim is false, or some sort of ideal that has never been realized.

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What One Catholic Doctor Taught Me About Christianity

william fiorini

Dr. William Fiorini

In the 1960’s, the Gerencser family moved to California, the land of promise and a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. Like many who traveled west, my parents found out that life in San Diego was not much different from the life they left in rural NW Ohio. Like in Ohio, my Dad worked sales jobs and drove truck. For the Gerencser family, the pot of gold was empty and three or so years later we left California and moved back to Bryan, Ohio.

While moving to California and back proved to be a financial disaster for my parents, they did find Jesus at Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego, a fundamentalist church pastored by Tim LaHaye. Both of my parents made a profession of faith at Scott Memorial, as did I when I was five years old. From this point forward, the Gerencser family, no matter where we lived, attended a fundamentalist Baptist church.

Not only were my parents fundamentalist Baptists, they were also members of the John Birch Society. While in California, my Mom actively campaigned for Barry Goldwater, and later, back in Ohio, she campaigned for George Wallace. Right wing religious and political beliefs were very much a part of my young life, so it should come as no surprise that I turned out to be a fire-breathing right-wing Republican and a fundamentalist Baptist preacher.

If the Baptist church taught me anything, it taught me to hate Catholics. According to my Sunday School teachers and pastors, and later my college professors and colleagues, the Catholic church was the whore of Babylon, a false church, the church of Satan and the Antichrist. I was taught that Catholics believed in salvation by works and believed many things that weren’t found in the Bible. Things like: purgatory, church magisterium, Pope is the Vicar of Christ, transubstantiation, infant baptism, confirmation, priests not permitted to marry, praying to statutes, worshiping the dead , and worshiping Mary. These things were never put in any sort of historical context for me, so by the time I left Midwestern Baptist College in 1979, I was a certified hater of all things Catholic.

In 1991, something happened that caused me to reassess my view of Catholics. My dogma ran head-on into a Catholic that didn’t fit my narrow, bigoted beliefs. In 1989, our fourth child and first daughter was born. We named her Bethany. Our family doctor was William Fiorini. He operated the Somerset Medical Clinic in Somerset, Ohio, the same town where I pastored Somerset Baptist Church.  Dr. Fiorini was a devout Catholic, a post Vatican II Catholic who had been greatly influenced by the charismatic revival that swept through the Catholic church in the 1970’s and 1980’s. He was a kind and compassionate man. He knew our family didn’t have insurance or much money and more than a few times the treatment slip turned in after a visit said N/C. (no charge)

Bethany seemed quite normal at first. It wasn’t until she was sixteen months old that we began to see things that worried us. Her development was slow and she couldn’t walk. One evening, we drove over to Charity Baptist Church in Beavercreek, Ohio to attend a Bible conference. The woman watching the nursery asked us about Bethany having Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome? Out little girl wasn’t retarded. How dare this woman even suggest that there was something wrong with our daughter.

Bethany continued to struggle, reaching development stages months after infants and toddlers typically do. Finally, we went to see Dr. Fiorini. He suggested that we have Bethany genetically tested. We took her over to Ohio State University Hospital for the test and a few weeks later, just days before Bethany’s second birthday and the birth of our daughter Laura, we received a phone call from Dr. Fiorini. He told us the test results were back and he wanted to talk to us about them. He told us to come to his office after he finished seeing patients for the day and he would sit down and talk with us about the test results.

The test showed that Bethany had Down Syndrome. Her Down Syndrome features were so mild that the obstetrician missed it. Here we were two years later finding out that our oldest daughter had a serious mental handicap.  Our Catholic doctor, a man I thought was a member of the church Satan built and headed for hell, sat down with us, and with great love and compassion, shared the test results. He told us that many miscarriages are fetuses with Down Syndrome, and that it was evident that God wanted to bless us with a special child like Bethany. He answered every question and treated us he would a member of his own family.

This Catholic didn’t fit my narrow, bigoted picture of what a Catholic was. Here was a man who loved people, who came to an area that had one the highest poverty and unemployment rates in Ohio and started a one doctor practice. (he later added a Nurse practitioner, a nun who treated us when we couldn’t get in to see the doctor) He worked selflessly to help everyone he could. On more than one occasion, I would drive by him on the highway as his wife shuttled him from Zanesville to Lancaster, the locations of the nearest hospitals. Often, he was slumped over and asleep in the passenger’s seat. He was the kind of doctor who gave me his home phone number and said to call him if I ever needed his help. He told us there was no need to take our kids to the emergency room for stitches or broken bones. He would gladly stitch them up, even if we didn’t have an appointment.

Dr. Fiorini wasn’t perfect. One time, he almost killed me. He regularly treated me for throat infections, ear infections, and the like. Preaching as often as I did, I abused my voice box and throat. I have enlarged adenoids and tonsils and I breathe mostly through my mouth. As a result, I battled throat and voice problems my entire preaching career. One day, I came to see Dr. Fiorini for a-n-o-t-h-e-r  throat infection. He prescribed an antibiotic and told me to take it easy. He knew, like himself, I was a work-a-holic and would likely ignore his take it easy advice. Take the drug, wait a few weeks, and just like always I would be good as new.  However, this time it didn’t work. Over the course of two months, as I got sicker and sicker, he tried different treatments. Finally, he did some additional testing and found out I had mononucleosis; the kissing disease for teens, a deadly disease for a thirty four year old. Two days later, I was in the hospital with a 104 degree fever, a swollen spleen and liver, and an immune system on the verge of collapse.

An internist came in to talk with my wife and I. He told us that if my immune system didn’t pick up and fight there was nothing he could do. Fortunately, my body fought back and I am here to write about it. My bout with mononucleosis dramatically altered my immune system, making me susceptible to bacterial and viral infection. A strange result of the mononucleosis was that my normal body temperature dropped from 98.6 to 97.0. I lost 50 pounds and was unable to preach for several months.

Once I was back on my feet, Dr, Fiorini apologized to me for missing the mononucleosis. I was shocked by his admission. He showed me true humility by admitting his mistake. I wish I could say that I immediately stopped hating Catholics and condemning them to hell, but it would be several years before I finally came to the place where I embraced everyone who called themselves a Christian. In late 1990’s, while pastoring Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio, I embraced what is commonly called the social gospel. Doctrine no longer mattered to me. Moving from a text oriented belief system, I began to focus on good works. Tell me how you live. Better yet, show me, and in the showing, a Catholic doctor taught me what it really meant to be a Christian.