Tag Archive: Thoughts and Prayers

How to Deal with Christian Well-Wishers

i am praying for you

Saint Christopher Hitchens died eight years ago (December 15, 2011). As many of you do, I miss Hitchens’ quick wit and acerbic tongue. While I disagreed with Hitch politically, we had much in common when it came to our critiques of Evangelical Christianity. I had a deep love, respect, and admiration for the man.

Several months after Hitchens’ death from esophageal cancer, his last book was released. Titled Mortality, the book was an introspective look at human mortality — in particular his own. I heartily recommend this book to everyone, Christian or not. Hitchens wrote:

  • The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of ‘acceptance,’ hasn’t so far had much application to my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been ‘in denial’ for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by the gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read — if not indeed to write — the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity.
  • To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?
  • Myself, I love the imagery of struggle. I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent soldier or revolutionary is the very last one that will occur to you. You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water.
  • It’s normally agreed that the question ‘How are you?’ doesn’t put you on your oath to give a full or honest answer. So when asked these days, I tend to say something cryptic like, ‘A bit early to say.’ (If it’s the wonderful staff at my oncology clinic who inquire, I sometimes go so far as to respond, ‘I seem to have cancer today.’) Nobody wants to be told about the countless minor horrors and humiliations that become facts of ‘life’ when your body turns from being a friend to being a foe: the boring switch from chronic constipation to its sudden dramatic opposite; the equally nasty double-cross of feeling acute hunger while fearing even the scent of food; the absolute misery of gut-wringing nausea on an utterly empty stomach; or the pathetic discovery that hair loss extends to the disappearance of the follicles in your nostrils, and thus to the childish and irritating phenomenon of a permanently runny nose . . . It’s no fun to appreciate to the full the truth of the materialist proposition that I don’t have a body, I am a body.
  • The man who prays is the one who thinks that god has arranged matters all wrong, but who also thinks that he can instruct god how to put them right.
  • However, one thing that grave illness does is to make you examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings. And there’s one that I find I am not saying with quite the same conviction as I once used to: In particular, I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. In fact, I now sometimes wonder why I ever thought it profound . . . In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker.
  • Like so many of life’s varieties of experience, the novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. And I don’t so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it’s time to be on my way. No, it’s the snickering that gets me down.
  • So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing.

Live long enough, and your thoughts will increasingly turn towards your own morality. I am sixty-two and in fragile health. I am facing yet another health challenge, one that, frankly, worries me. I will have a CT scan next week, and then see the surgeon the week after for the results. I don’t want to make something out of possibly nothing, so I will refrain from talking much about this until the doctor says, you have ________________. Besides, my wife’s health problems this year are enough to worry me without adding more to my already full plate.

When Polly landed in the hospital in January, had major abdominal surgery in August, and was off work for two months, I was confronted with her fragility too. I thought, she could die!? No, no, no, that’s not how it’s supposed to happen! I am the sicko. I am first in line when it comes to dying. Funny how “life” doesn’t give a shit about what we think or want. “Life” just happens, regardless of our objections and protestations. “Life” ain’t fair, and not everything is unicorns, rainbows, and puppies. Live long enough, and the circumstances of life are going to deal you a lousy hand — with or without Jesus. All any of us can do is endure and hope for a better tomorrow.

Being an unbeliever, and having Christian friends, neighbors, and workmates often puts you in a difficult place when hard times come your way. You certainly want empathy and support from those closest to you, but when those people are Christians, their help is often couched in religious verbiage. It’s hard enough when you are feeling well to deal with Jesusy platitudes, but when you are sick, in pain, or dying, the last thing you want to hear is religious drivel.

A September 2010 Associated Press story shared Hitchens’ view on such things:

Stricken with cancer and fragile from chemotherapy, author and outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens sits in an armchair before an audience and waits for the only question that can come first at such a time.

“How’s your health?” asks Larry Taunton [who later wrote a fraudulent book about Hitchens that alleged Hitch might have become a Christian], a friend who heads an Alabama-based group dedicated to defending Christianity.

“Well, I’m dying, since you asked, but so are you. I’m only doing it more rapidly,” replies Hitchens, his grin faint and his voice weak and raspy. Only wisps of his dark hair remain; clothes hang on his frame.

….

For some of his critics, it might be satisfying to see a man who has made a career of skewering organized religion switch sides near the end of his life and pray silently for help fighting a ravaging disease.

He has an opportunity: Monday has been informally proclaimed “Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day.”

Christopher Hitchens won’t be bowing his head, even on a day set aside just for him.

“I shall not be participating,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

….

Taunton is devoutly Christian yet has developed a fast friendship with Hitchens, who appeared at a similar debate sponsored by the organization last year. Taunton is among those praying for Hitchens, and Hitchens takes no offense.

The way the English-born Hitchens sees it, the people praying for him break down into three basic groups: those who seem genuinely glad he’s suffering and dying from cancer; those who want him to become a believer in their religious faith; and those who are asking God to heal him.

Hitchens has no use for that first group. “‘To hell with you’ is the response to the ones who pray for me to go to hell,” Hitchens told AP.

He’s ruling out the idea of a deathbed change of heart: “‘Thanks but no thanks’ is the reply to those who want me to convert and recognize a divinity or deity.”

It’s that third group — people who are asking God for Hitchens’ healing — that causes Hitchens to choose his words even more carefully than normal. Are those prayers OK? Are they helpful?

“I say it’s fine by me, I think of it as a nice gesture. And it may well make them feel better, which is a good thing in itself,” says Hitchens.

But prayers for his healing don’t make him feel better.

“Well, not any more than very large numbers of very kind, thoughtful letters from nonbelievers, some of whom know me, some of whom don’t, asking me to know that they are on my side,” Hitchens said. “That cheers me up, yes.”

Hitchens doesn’t know exactly how “Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day” began, other than that it’s one of those things that appears on the Internet and goes viral. He declined an invitation to appear at a rabbi’s prayer service in Washington that day, and he doesn’t see any point in the exercise.

“I’m perfectly sure that there is nothing to be gained from it in point of my health, but perhaps I shouldn’t even say that. If it would do something for my morale possibly it would do something for my health. We all know that morale is an element in recovery,” he said. “But incantations, I don’t think, have any effect on the material world.”

Every time I mention a personal health problem, I can count on receiving blog comments and social media messages saying this or that Christian is praying for me. My standard response is to either ignore their comments or politely say “thank you.” In saying “thank you,” I am not, in any way, validating their beliefs or the existence of the Christian God. All I am doing is saying that I appreciate their thoughtfulness. Having spent most of my life in the Christian church, I know that people often say “I’m praying for you” when they don’t know what else to say or do. If it’s a one-off, I’m fine with their “praying for you” comment. It’s when they repeatedly tell me that they are praying for me that annoys me. There’s no need to keep reminding me that you are praying for me — if you are. Often, “praying for you” becomes an easy way to do nothing, much like “thoughts and prayers” every time there is another mass shooting.

Instead of doing the least you can do — praying — how about putting feet and hands to your prayers and meaningfully doing something for the sick, hurting, and dying? I am as guilty as the next person when I use social media emoticons or “thinking of you” comments to express my concern for someone. It is so easy to click LIKE and then move on to a funny cat video. For both the religious and the godless, instead of empty words, perhaps we should think about what we can do to help others. How can I make a difference in my friend’s, neighbor’s, or workmate’s life?

To Christians who might read this post, I ask you to pause for a moment before you say to an atheist, agnostic, or unbeliever, “I’m praying for you.” Ask yourself: why am I saying these words? What help will my words be to others? Is there something else I can do instead of uttering a religious cliché? Does this person already know I am praying for them? Do I really need to remind them that I am doing so?

Look, it’s not easy confronting the mortality of our families, friends, and neighbors. Rarely does a week go by when I don’t read a newspaper obituary about someone I knew. Someday, it will be someone else reading my death notice. Not only are Polly and I battling serious health problems, we also have to deal with older family members who are dropping like flies. Just this week, we found out one of Polly’s aunts has only a few months to live. Her husband died a year or so ago. Polly’s mom has been at death’s door for months. Her father was recently admitted to the hospital for an infection and is now in a nursing home for the umpteenth time. He is sliding, ever-so-slowly, into dementia. The last time we visited Mom and Dad, he spoke all of a dozen or so words to us. It’s hard to believe that this feeble old man at age sixty-five was working in a factory and doing construction work on the side. I can say the same for myself. It seems like yesterday, I was a strong, viral man, one who hunted, played competitive sports, and did all his own auto and home repairs. Last weekend, I hired three of my grandchildren to rake our yard. I quietly wept as I thought, yet another thing I can no longer do.

Instead of saying to me, “I’m praying for you,” perhaps both of us would be better served if you said nothing. Instead of empty religious clichés, how about a look that says, “I understand” or a gentle hug that reflects our shared humanity. Or better yet, how about sharing a meal or hoisting a drink in honor of our friendship? Last Sunday, Polly and I had dinner at Taco’s Nacho’s with Dave and Newana Echler. Dave and I have been friends for over fifty years. For several years, I was their pastor. We have each helplessly watched as the other battles life-threatening illnesses. Every time we get together I wonder, will this be the last time we see each other?

The Echler’s are Christians. Newana is a Nazarene preacher’s daughter. They were heartbroken when Polly and I left Christianity. Yet, our friendship has survived. How? Because we chose to set religion and atheism aside, and, instead, focus on the things we have in common: good food, love of backroad travel, and family. We have so much shared history, I would hate to lose them as friends. As we left the restaurant, I reminded myself of how blessed I was to have the Echlers as friends. I am sure they privately pray for me, and while I can’t do the same for them, rarely does a day go by that I don’t think of them and wonder how they are doing. Every time we part company, we briefly embrace and say, “I love you.”  Love. Is this not what really matters? It was Dave who drove to Fort Wayne on the day of Polly’s surgery to be with me. It was Dave who pressed $300 in my hand, knowing that we were going through difficult times financially. It seems to me that instead of saying, “I’m praying for you,” what Christians and heathens alike need are tangible, thoughtful expressions of kindness and love.

What say ye, dear readers? Please leave your pithy, erudite thoughts in the comment section.

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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Thoughts and Prayers Won’t Solve Gun Violence

thoughts and prayers

Cartoon by Kristian Nygard

Mass Shooting in the United States from 1990-February 2018

mass shootings 1

mass shootings 2

mass shootings 3

Source: Mother Jones

Three decades of mass of shootings; over 300,000 homicides; over 600,000 suicides. According to Wikipedia, 1.4 million Americans have been killed using firearms between 1968 and 2011.Wikipedia also states:

Compared to 22 other high-income nations, the U.S. gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher. Although it has half the population of the other 22 nations combined, the U.S. had 82 percent of all gun deaths, 90 percent of all women killed by guns, 91 percent of children under 14 and 92 percent of young people between ages 15 and 24 killed by guns. In 2010, gun violence cost U.S. taxpayers approximately $516 million in direct hospital costs.

By some estimates, Americans own over 300 million firearms, yet most households and individuals do not own a gun. Surprisingly, at least to me, is the fact that most Americans are reticent about banning guns or enforcing strict firearm laws. This disparity shows how effective the NRA and gun lobby are at getting their message out. Like it or not, the United States is a nation of guns. Add to our personal weapon caches the vast weapons of violence, carnage, and death used by our military, and it is hard not to conclude that we are a violent people who love weapon of mass destruction. The U.S. government searched everywhere for Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. They, of course, found none. Perhaps the search for such weapons should start here within our borders and homes.

What is needed is comprehensive gun control legislation. (Please read Another Day, Another School MassacreBruce, you are WRONG! Guns don’t kill people, people do! Really? Are you so stupid that you cannot see the insanity of such an argument? Cars don’t kill people, people do!  Yet, we have all sorts of laws and regulations that govern car ownership and use, including testing and licensing requirements. We wisely, in the name of public safety, regulate automobile ownership and use, yet many gun owners demand the right to own any kind of firearm, without restriction. Such thinking is a threat to public health and safety in much the same way as are people driving unlicensed, unregulated automobiles on highways, streets, and country roads.

Month after month, year after year, angry, often mentally ill, people use firearms to slaughter their fellow Americans. Every time such carnage happens, Republican/conservative political leaders offer up “thoughts and prayers” while reminding us that guns are not the problem. If the outrage from the survivors of the latest school shooting is any indication, younger Americans are waking up to the reality that guns ARE the problem. Emperor NRA stands before them and says, the Second Amendment is sacrosanct and banning guns won’t stop mass shootings. These angry students wisely reply, BULLSHIT! They can see that the Emperor has no clothes. They see, oh so clearly, that unrestricted gun use and ownership is one part of the problem, along with the lack of mental health care for troubled teens and adults.

These young people are saying, NO MORE THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS! We want immediate and decisive action on gun control. It remains to be seen whether their outrage can be turned into a movement, one that perhaps mimics the student anti-war protest movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Back then, protesting students helped to bring an end to the Vietnam War — a decade of immoral American violence and bloodshed in Southeast Asia. I hope that today’s protesting students can put such pressure on the U.S. government that it will force our political leaders, after hundreds of thousands of firearm deaths, to finally enact strict, comprehensive gun control laws.

Evangelical Michael Snyder Admits God Can’t Protect Christians, Only Guns Can

michael snyder

The Christian God seems mighty small these days, especially in light of the murder of twenty-six Evangelicals at a Baptist church service in Sutherland Springs, Texas. In times past, preachers told congregants to just trust God and all would be well; that God has the whole world in his hands; that God will protect them from acts of violence and evil (and hurricanes). Christian blood now runs in the streets and God does what? Nothing. Sermons are preached, prayers are uttered, yet God remains silent, afflicted with a paralysis that keeps him from acting.

Tired of God’s inaction and indifference, Evangelicals such as Michael Snyder are suggesting that Christians take matters into their own hands by carrying firearms and establishing armed security at Christian houses of worship. Snyder, a regular writer for Charisma News, wrote:

The mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday morning is already being called the deadliest church shooting in modern U.S. history, and we need to be in prayer for the victims and for their families. At about 11:30 a.m., a heavily armed man entered the sanctuary and began shooting. At this point, it is being reported that “at least 27 people have been killed” and at least another 30 have been injured. Tragically, reports indicate that several small children are among those who were murdered.

As I write this, we are still waiting to hear from authorities about a motive. We do know that the gunman is dead, but we haven’t been given any information about his identity.

But whatever the motive was, this just goes to show that something like this could literally happen anywhere. Only about 400 people live in Sutherland Springs, and I am sure nobody ever expected something like this to happen on a Sunday morning…

….

Of course, Democrats were already calling for gun control within minutes of this being reported by the national news.

But gun control won’t stop tragedies such as this. The bad guys are always going to find ways to get guns, and so disarming the rest of the population is a really, really bad idea.

What we really need to do is to make sure that there is armed security at every church in America from now on. If there had been armed security at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Sunday morning, a whole lot of lives could have potentially been saved.

So many of us are victims of “normalcy bias” when it comes to tragedies such as this. Since we grew up in an America where these things rarely happened, we assume we don’t need armed security at churches, schools and other public events.

But times have changed, and so must we. Islamic terror is on the rise, Republican members of Congress are being attacked, anti-Christian hate is at unprecedented levels and the number of mentally unstable people running around in our society has never been higher.

….

let us push for armed security at all of our churches from now on. Someday it may be your church that is attacked, and when that happens, having armed security on hand will make all the difference.

Personally, I am promising all of you that when I go to Congress, I will never back down even a single inch when it comes to defending the 2nd Amendment.

The left wants to take away all of our guns so the bad guys with weapons can have free reign, as they currently do in major cities such as Chicago.

But the truth is that an armed society is a polite society, and we need to greatly resist any efforts by the left to take our guns away.

michael snyder political platform

Michael Snyder’s Political Platform

Snyder, a Fundamentalist Christian, is running for one of Idaho’s U.S. Senate seats. While he professes to be a follower of Jesus, it is evident from his campaign platform that he doesn’t trust God to get things done; that all this praying about guns and violence is a waste of time. Send Snyder to Washington and he promises to:

​steadfastly oppose any efforts to restrict the freedoms guaranteed to the American people by the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution. Gun-related crime is the worst in cities such as Chicago that have implemented extremely strict gun control measures. When criminals know that average citizens may be armed, they are less likely to break into homes.  Here in north Idaho, any criminal that intended to make a living breaking into homes would have a very short career indeed.

If sent to Washington, I will fight to eliminate all federal firearms acts, which violate the US Constitution. I will also seek to entirely abolish the unlawful BATFE, which has been harassing law abiding citizens since it’s inception. No politician in America is going to be more pro-gun than me, and I am very proud to stand with those that work tirelessly to protect our 2nd Amendment rights.

Snyder, a Fundamentalist Christian, is running for one of Idaho’s U.S. Senate seats. While he professes to be a follower of Jesus, it is evident from his campaign platform that he doesn’t trust God to get things done; that all this praying about guns and violence is a waste of time. Send Snyder to Washington and he promises to:

​steadfastly oppose any efforts to restrict the freedoms guaranteed to the American people by the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution. Gun-related crime is the worst in cities such as Chicago that have implemented extremely strict gun control measures. When criminals know that average citizens may be armed, they are less likely to break into homes.  Here in north Idaho, any criminal that intended to make a living breaking into homes would have a very short career indeed.

If sent to Washington, I will fight to eliminate all federal firearms acts, which violate the US Constitution. I will also seek to entirely abolish the unlawful BATFE, which has been harassing law abiding citizens since it’s inception. No politician in America is going to be more pro-gun than me, and I am very proud to stand with those that work tirelessly to protect our 2nd Amendment rights.

Snyder wants to do away with ALL firearm laws. He also wants to abolish the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Explosives. Imagine the horrific amount of violence and gun deaths that will happen if the Michael Snyders of the world get their way. Anyone that thinks the United States — already the most armed nation on earth — needs more guns and fewer firearm laws must believe they are living in Westworld — a fictional world where human-looking androids repeatedly die and come back to life. Thinking the answer for gun violence is more firearms (or increased military funding) is not only irrational, it is dangerous, and will only lead to increased bloodshed and death. (please read Gun Violence: Let’s Stop Blaming Evil When People Do Bad Things and No More “Thoughts and Prayers.” It’s Time to Address the Murderous American Gun Culture)

I have reached a place politically and morally where I have zero tolerance for people who support the NRA and the gun lobby in their attempts to lessen or eliminate firearm laws. While I grudgingly admit that mentally healthy Americans have the right to own guns, I don’t think that right is without restriction or control. In fact, I support abolishing the Second Amendment, or rewriting it so owning military assault weapons, large capacity magazines, large numbers of firearms, unlimited amounts of ammo, and bump stocks is illegal. If Joe-the-gun-owner wants to sate his need for bloodshed by killing innocent animals, then make sure he is using firearms that can’t be used for large-scale killing. Magazine limits would allow gun owners to hunt without also allowing those same firearms to be used as they were in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs. Surely any hunter worth his salt can kill Bambi’s mother in three shots or less. If such a law had been in place and strictly enforced, it is likely that there would have been far fewer deaths in Sutherland Springs. Instead, the gunman, thanks to his military training, quickly went through a number of high-capacity magazines as he sprayed bullets around the First Baptist Church sanctuary.

Count me as one commie-pinko-liberal who is proud to say, I’m coming for your guns. I support efforts to strictly control firearm ownership and to make illegal firearms, ammo, and accessories that serve no use other than to inflict widespread casualties. If gun owners want to hunt, trap shoot, or plink tin cans, fine, but they don’t need military-style weapons and ammunition to do so. The only way to meaningfully do something about gun violence is to control, restrict, or outlaw the means of violence. If we as a people can regulate everything from automobiles to bedroom dressers, surely we can do the same with firearms. Until we do, we can expect to see more gun related violence and death. And now that Christians are finally admitting that God is not going to fix things, it is time for thoughtful, caring people to develop and demand the political will necessary to run the gun lobby out of town and put an end to the carnage and violence that has turned the United States into an endlessly looping horror flick.

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.

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.

Sutherland Springs Massacre: God Answered the Victims Prayers by Allowing Them to be Murdered

hans fiene

Hans Fiene, pastor of River of Life Lutheran Church in Channahon, Illinois (affiliated with the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, a Fundamentalist sect) believes that the twenty-six Baptists murdered at a Sutherland Springs, Texas church service were killed because God was answering their prayers to be “delivered from evil.”  Writing for the website The FederalistFiene stated:

It’s also an act of profound ignorance [to say that prayer doesn’t work]. For those with little understanding of and less regard for the Christian faith, there may be no greater image of prayer’s futility than Christians being gunned down mid-supplication. But for those familiar with the Bible’s promises concerning prayer and violence, nothing could be further from the truth. When those saints of First Baptist Church were murdered yesterday, God wasn’t ignoring their prayers. He was answering them.

“Deliver us from evil.” Millions of Christians throughout the world pray these words every Sunday morning. While it doesn’t appear that the Lord’s Prayer is formally a part of the worship services at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, I have no doubt that members of that congregation have prayed these words countless times in their lives.

When we pray these words, we are certainly praying that God would deliver us from evil temporally—that is, in this earthly life. Through these words, we are asking God to send his holy angels to guard us from those who would seek to destroy us with knives and bombs and bullets. It may seem, on the surface, that God was refusing to give such protection to his Texan children. But we are also praying that God would deliver us from evil eternally. Through these same words, we are asking God to deliver us out of this evil world and into his heavenly glory, where no violence, persecution, cruelty, or hatred will ever afflict us again.

We also pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God’s will be done. Sometimes, his will is done by allowing temporal evil to be the means through which he delivers us from eternal evil. Despite the best (or, more accurately, the worst) intentions of the wicked against his children, God hoists them on their own petard by using their wickedness to give those children his victory, even as the wicked often mock the prayers of their prey.

….

Because of Christ’s saving death and resurrection, death no longer has any power over those who belong to him through faith. So the enemies of the gospel can pour out their murderous rage upon Christians, but all they can truly accomplish is placing us into the arms of our savior.

….

Despite the horror that madman made the saints of First Baptist endure, those who endured it with faith in Christ have received his victory. Although the murderer filled their eyes with terror, God has now filled them with his glory. Although he persecuted them with violence, God seized that violence and has now used it to deliver his faithful into a kingdom of peace. Although this madman brought death to so many, God has used that death to give them the eternal life won for them in the blood of Jesus.

Those who persecute the church and those who mock Christians for trusting in Almighty God rather than Almighty Government may believe that the bloodshed in Texas proves the futility of prayer. But we believers see the shooting in Texas as proof of something far different—proof that Christ has counted us worthy to suffer dishonor for his name and proof that no amount of dishonor, persecution, or violence can stop him from answering our prayer to deliver us from evil.

Fiene takes umbrage at people suggesting that these deaths are a poignant reminder of the fact that God does not answer prayer. I have no doubt that those who had time to pray before the gunman mowed them down prayed. I am sure they prayed for the Almighty to protect them and keep them from harm. From a rational perspective, it is clear that the Christian God did not hear their prayers, or he did hear them and chose to do nothing. Either way, twenty-six people died. Fiene, providing yet another example of how irrational Christians can be, rejects the obvious and says that the people killed in Sutherland Springs died because God WAS answering their prayers — deliver us from evil. That’s right, God let or commanded the murders to happen because he decided to answer prayers in a way that only a bat-shit crazy preacher could think up. Instead of admitting that God, once again, failed to come through for his children, Fiene cooked up an explanation that I am sure even some Christians will think is crazy. (Please read The Indifference of God )

Lurking under Fiene’s argument is the belief that the God is sovereign over his creation; that everything that happens is according to the will of God; that nothing happens that is not decreed by God; that everything that happens is controlled, orchestrated, and managed by God. The gunman, then, was just a tool used by God to execute his will at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The people who died? Their numbers were up. The Bible states that everyone has an appointed time of death; that God is in control of whether we live or die; that there is nothing we can do lengthen or lessen our time among the living. If the living want to blame someone for the gunman’s murderous rampage, the blame solely rests on the shoulders of Hans Fiene’s God. (Please read Is God Sovereign and Does Everything Happen for a Reason?)

While Christian apologists have all sorts of arguments they use to get around the implications of believing God is sovereign, the fact remains that if God is the first cause, the creator, the ruler of all things, then he is culpable for what happens on planet earth. I give Fiene credit for at least admitting as much.

As atheists, we know that God doesn’t answer prayer. He can’t because he doesn’t exist. Most of the Sutherland Springs victims likely prayed before succumbing to a hail of bullets. Their prayers for deliverance and safety did not help them. God was blind, deaf, and indifferent, as are all the Gods created by human hands. Perhaps the God of Christianity is very much like Baal, spoken of by Elijah in 1 Kings 18:27:

And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he [Baal] is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, suggesting that their God’s inaction was due to him being busy talking to someone, taking a shit, being on vacation, or sleeping. This passage equally applies to the Christian God, who for the past two thousand years has been AWOL. Billions of prayers to God are uttered each day, yet they go unanswered — save God helping Granny find her keys or helping a Christian NFL quarterback score the game-winning touchdown. While twenty-six Baptists being murdered is no small thing, their deaths pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of people who die each day because of war, gun violence, starvation, and disease. Where God is needed most, he is nowhere to be found. Only in the alternate universe inhabited by the Hans Fiens of the world can it be said that God is hearing and answering prayers.

What is needed now is sympathy for the victims and families whose lives were shredded and destroyed. Fuck the clergy with their empty clichés and religious platitudes. Let them live with their delusions while rational, thoughtful Americans band together to tackle the immoral gun lobby and gun violence. How much more blood must be spilled before we realize that GUNS GUNS GUNS GUNS are the problem, and the ONLY solution is strict, enforceable Federal gun control laws. How much more blood must be spilled before we do something to fix our broken mental health system. When will we realize that the U.S. military trains men and women to kill; that some soldiers can’t turn off the violence once they return home; that PTSD among veterans is an ignored and increasing epidemic.

There is much we could do to put an end to gun violence IF we will but do so. Or, we could just keep on doing nothing — you know, praying.

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.

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.

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The Thoughts and Prayers App: Letting People Know You “Care”

In light of all the thoughts and prayers recently sent into the ether world over the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, I thought it would be “cool” to share an app I found that will help people share their “I really care” posts on social media. My thoughts and prayers are with you as you use this app. 🙂

Video Link

No More “Thoughts and Prayers.” It’s Time to Address the Murderous American Gun Culture

las vegas massacre

Another mass shooting in America, this time in Las Vegas. Senseless carnage and death, perpetrated by a nondescript white man using semi-automatic rifles armed with high capacity  magazines to rain terror down on the heads of concert-goers. Billed as the worst mass shooting in American history — surpassing the Pulse Night Club massacre — the shooting has aroused social media, filling it with comments from people who, not knowing what else to say, utter the most empty, worthless phrase ever to fall from human lips — my thoughts and prayers are with the victims of ____________.

I understand why people use the thoughts and prayers line. When faced with human savagery and carnage, we search for something, anything to say that might bring the slightest comfort to those harmed by violence. Uttering these words makes us feel better, right? There’s nothing more we can we do for the victims of terrorist attacks or hurricanes, so we throw some empty words towards the sky, knowing that, based on past events, our words will do nothing to change what happened. No matter how many good thoughts or prayers we send out into the netherworld, nothing changes. Why is this? Millions of Christians believe their prayers are heard by God, ignoring that the fact that he never answers them.

What did prayer do for the victims of recent hurricanes? Countless prayers were uttered for the victims in Puerto Rico, and what did God do? Nothing.  Mass murderers continue to mow down their victims with impunity. Prayers are uttered. God will do nothing as the next murderer or terrorist plans to maim and murder countless people. As far as I can tell, the only prayers answered by God were those prayed by Evangelicals during the 2016 presidential election. God indeed heard their prayers, blessing America with the forty-fifth president of the United States — Donald Trump. Outside of Trump’s election, God seems to be sitting on sidelines as his creation is ravaged by global warming, war, famine, drought, terrorism, and gun violence.

At the heart of the Las Vegas mass shooting is America’s insane love of guns — more specifically, our worship of a deified interpretation of the Second Amendment. Mention regulating the sale, type, and use of firearms, and the NRA crazies come out of the woodwork to defend their right to own firearms without ANY restrictions (even though recent studies suggest that a majority of gun owners support stricter gun laws).

Gun lovers, using a faulty understanding of the Second Amendment, demand the right to buy and sell guns at will. (Please read Gary Wills’ insightful article on the Second Amendment, To Keep and Bear Arms.) Attempts to restrict gun sales and use are met with hysterical cries about liberals and communists coming to take away our guns! During the 2016 election, right-wingers talked about using “second amendment remedies” to violently overthrow the federal government if the wrong people were elected. The right man won, and as thanks for helping him get elected, Donald Trump loosened gun laws, making it easier for mentally ill people to buy firearms.

Nevada, home to the latest mass shooting, has some of the loosest gun laws in the nation. I am not suggesting that stricter laws would have kept Steven Paddock from murdering and wounding hundreds of concert-goers. No single event can be used to justify stricter (or looser) gun laws. We can, however, take a big step backward and look at gun violence in general and begin asking questions about how best to lessen violence perpetrated by people with handguns, long guns, and semi-automatic weapons. Doing nothing is no longer an option — a refrain I have been singing for the past decade.

First, voting Americans need to understand that only seven percent of gun owners belong to the NRA. Now, this doesn’t mean that non-NRA gun owners don’t support the NRA’s agenda — many of them do. What it does mean is that the NRA plays a larger-than-life part in the gun law debate. Certainly, the NRA and its constituents deserve a place at the table, but it is time for Americans to see that the NRA is more of a chihuahua than a pit bull.  Once our political leaders realize this, they will quit fearing NRA retribution if they support strengthening gun laws.

Second, I would like to see the United States adopt similar gun laws to those found in England or Australia.  I realize that gun laws must be changed incrementally, but surely our political leaders can stop their bickering long enough to enact meaningful, progressive gun law reform that protects the right to own firearms, while at the same time strengthening gun registration laws (requiring ALL guns to be registered), putting an end to unregulated private gun sales, unregulated gun shows, and the sale of military (and military-like) firearms and accessories.

Australia strictly regulates gun sales and ownership, restricting firearm use to:

  • Sport/target shooting
  • Hunting
  • Primary production
  • Professional hunting
  • Handgun or clay target shooting (including licences held on behalf of juniors)
  • Employment as a security and/or prison guard
  • Official, commercial or prescribed purpose or for a purpose authorised by an Act or Regulation.

England, which has the one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world, has strict gun control laws. According to Wikipedia:

Fully automatic (submachine-guns, etc.) are “prohibited weapons” and require explicit permission from central government to permit ownership. Generally, such permits are not available to private citizens. Semi-automatic rifles over .22 in (5.6 mm) and pistols are similarly “prohibited”, although there are exceptions for short barrelled breech-loading semi-automatic and revolver pistols for use for the humane dispatch of animals (classed under section 5). There are also very limited exceptions for pistols both to preserve firearms of historic or technical interest (classed as section 7 firearms) and to enable use by elite sports teams. Semi-automatic shotguns are restricted to a magazine capacity of no more than two shot and is held under section 2 of the Firearms Act, although a ‘multi-shot’ shotgun can be owned under section 1 (restricted firearms and ammunition) of the Firearms Act. Where the term ‘multi-shot’ is used, this refers to either a Semi-automatic or pump action shotgun with no restriction on magazine capacity. All other rifles and their ammunition are permitted with no limits as to magazine size, to include: target shooting, hunting, and historic and muzzle-loading weapons, as well as long barrelled breachloading pistols with a specific overall length, but not for self-defence; however if a home-owner is threatened they may be used in self-defence, so long as the force is reasonable. Shotgun possession and use is controlled, and even low-power air rifles and pistols, while permitted, are controlled to some extent. A Firearm Certificate issued by the police is required for all weapons and ammunition except air weapons of modest power (of muzzle energy not over 12 ft·lbf (16 J) for rifles, and 6 ft·lbf (8.1 J) for pistols). Shotguns with a capacity of three rounds or less (up to guns with a magazine holding no more than two rounds, in addition to one in the chamber) are subject to less stringent licensing requirements than other firearms and require a shotgun certificate; shotguns with higher capacity require a Firearm Certificate.

Possession of a live firearms round can lead to severe penalties. Live firearms ammunition, other than most shotgun ammunition, may only be purchased and possessed with the authority of a Firearm Certificate. Shotgun cartridges can be possessed by anybody over the age of 15 but no licence is required to hold such ammunition so long as the cartridges contain 5 or more shots. However, a licence covering possession of a firearm capable of firing shotgun ammunition is required for purchase.

The droning tropes of the NRA — if you outlaw guns and only outlaws will have guns, guns don’t kill people, people do, to name a few — must be met with deaf ears, If we can regulate everything from automobiles to soda pop, surely we can come up with new laws and regulations that make it harder for mass murderers and garden variety killers to obtain firearms. I see no justifiable reason for Americans to own semi-automatic, high capacity magazine military-style weapons, nor do I see any reason for ordinary citizens to have access to concealed carry permits.

Nicholas Kristof had this to say today about the Las Vegas massacre:

After the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, the impulse of politicians will be to lower flags, offer moments of silence, and lead a national mourning. Yet what we need most of all isn’t mourning, but action to lower the toll of guns in America.

We don’t need to simply acquiesce to this kind of slaughter. When Australia suffered a mass shooting in 1996, the country united behind tougher laws on firearms. As a result, the gun homicide rate was almost halved, and the gun suicide rate dropped by half, according to the Journal of Public Health Policy.

Skeptics will say that there are no magic wands and that laws can’t make the carnage go away. To some extent, they’re right. Some criminals will always be able to obtain guns, especially in a country like America that is awash with 300 million firearms. We are always likely to have higher gun death rates than Europe.

But the scale is staggering. Since 1970, more Americans have died from guns (including suicides, murders and accidents) than the sum total of all the Americans who died in all the wars in American history, back to the American Revolution. Every day, some 92 Americans die from guns, and American kids are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway of Harvard.

So while there’s no magic wand available, here are some steps we could take that would, collectively, make a difference:

1. Impose universal background checks for anyone buying a gun. Four out of five Americans support this measure, to prevent criminals or terrorists from obtaining guns.

2. Impose a minimum age limit of 21 on gun purchases. This is already the law for handgun purchases in many states, and it mirrors the law on buying alcohol.

3. Enforce a ban on possession of guns by anyone subject to a domestic violence protection order. This is a moment when people are upset and prone to violence against their exes.

4. Limit gun purchases by any one person to no more than, say, two a month, and tighten rules on straw purchasers who buy for criminals. Make serial numbers harder to remove.

5. Adopt microstamping of cartridges so that they can be traced to the gun that fired them, useful for solving gun crimes.

6. Invest in “smart gun” purchases by police departments or the U.S. military, to promote their use. Such guns require a PIN or can only be fired when near a particular bracelet or other device, so that children cannot misuse them and they are less vulnerable to theft. The gun industry made a childproof gun in the 1800’s but now resists smart guns.

7. Require safe storage, to reduce theft, suicide and accidents by children.

8. Invest in research to see what interventions will be more effective in reducing gun deaths. We know, for example, that alcohol and guns don’t mix, but we don’t know precisely what laws would be most effective in reducing the resulting toll. Similar investments in reducing other kinds of accidental deaths have been very effective.

These are all modest steps, and I can’t claim that they would have an overwhelming effect. But public health experts think it’s plausible that a series of well-crafted safety measures like these could reduce gun deaths by one-third—or more than 10,000 a year.

It’s too soon to know what, if anything, might have prevented the shooting in Las Vegas, and it may be that nothing could have prevented it. In some ways, these mass shootings are anomalies: Most gun deaths occur in ones or twos, usually with handguns (which kill far more people than assault rifles), and suicides outnumber murders.

But in every other sphere, we at least use safety regulations to try — however imperfectly — to reduce death and injury.

In every other sphere, we at least use safety regulations to try to reduce death and injury, Kristof said, and he is exactly right. We need to do something besides sending up more meaningless thoughts and prayers. Change requires forceful, meaningful, bipartisan action. And if our elected officials refuse to act, we need to shame them out of office, replacing them with legislators that put people over ideology and value saving lives over collecting donations.

I am not anti-gun. For many years, I was a gun owner. My brother is a retired police officer, and my father was an auxiliary sheriff’s deputy. My father was a lifelong gun owner and seller. Dad owned a gun store in Arizona, and frequented gun shows to buy and sell firearms. As a teenager, I manned many a gun show sales table. I am sympathetic towards private gun ownership. That said, I am also sickened by the carnage and havoc perpetrated by people who were able to buy firearms and ammo with minimal or no regulation. Nineteen children a day are wounded or killed by firearms. In 2013, there were 73,505 nonfatal firearm injuries and 33,636 deaths due to “injury by firearms” — more deaths than by car accident.  Enough of the carnage! No more thoughts and prayers! It’s time for action. The NRA will certainly object, but it is time for thoughtful, caring Americans to ignore their protestations, and work towards putting an end to gun violence.