Episode 40: Evangelicals Have Bible Verses To Justify Their Hate with Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser knows something about evangelical Christians. He pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. He left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. We talk to him about his journey to freethought and we get his intimate insights about evangelical Christians and why we need to be wary of them.
01:12 Bruce’s Journey to Humanism
20:40 The Problem with Evangelicals
28:24 What Can Be Done with Christian Nationalism
Bruce Gerencser 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.
Bruce lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren.
His website “The Life And Times Of Bruce Gerencser” is riveting for his tales of being an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor, cautionary as he explains in detail how interpretations of the Bible were used to support and expand a patriarchal society, and hopeful as Bruce documents his journey to freethought.
“The Life And Times Of Bruce Gerencser”
All photos used in the artwork for this episode used with permission of Bruce Gerencser
Click Here to Read Transcript
Bruce Gerencser 0:00
I’ve written before that, you know, evangelicalism is one of the most hated sects in America. And it is. And the reason is is because of their narrow mindedness, they’re hatefulness, they have Bible verses for everything. So, there are explanations for why they believe the things that they do. And I think atheists need to remember that.
Voice Over 0:23
This is glass city humanist, a show about humanism, humanist values by a humanist. Here’s your host, Douglas Berger,
Doug Berger 0:32
Bruce Gerencser, knows something about evangelical Christians. He pastored evangelical churches for 25 years in Ohio, Texas and Michigan. He left the ministry in 2005. And in 2008, he left Christianity Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. We talked to him about his journey to free thought and we get his intimate insights about evangelical Christians and why we need to be wary of them.
Voice Over 0:58
Glass City Humanist is an outreach project of the secular humanists of Western Lake Erie, building community through compassion and reason for a better tomorrow.
Doug Berger 1:12
Our guest today is Bruce Gerencser, He’s pastored in evangelical churches for 25 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. He lives in a rural Northwest Ohio with his wife for 43 years. And he and his wife have six grown children and 13 grandchildren is website “The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser”, is interesting for its tales of being an independent fundamentalist Baptist pastor. cautionary as he explains in detail how interpretations of the Bible were used to support and expand a patriarchal society, and hopeful as Bruce documents his journey to free thought. Thank you for joining us today, Bruce,
Bruce Gerencser 1:58
thank you for having me, Doug.
Doug Berger 2:01
The first question a lot of people ask a former minister, is Was there a specific event or incident that led you to free thought? Or was it just a gradual shift over time?
Bruce Gerencser 2:15
Well, I can answer that, yes, there was a gradual process, you know, over a period of three years, approximately, there also was a place where I realized finally that I could no longer you know, meaningfully call myself a Christian. And that came after, first of all, coming to the conclusion that the Bible was, was not inerrant. It wasn’t infallible. And that was the foundation upon which my entire faith was built upon. And so once that authority was lost, then it allowed me the I had the freedom then to examine the central claims of Christianity, the things that I said, I believed, and over time, I came to a conclusion that those claims, you know, like the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the supernatural, you know, miracles that Christ did in the Bible, and I just came to the conclusion, those things simply weren’t not true. And so it was a process. But then there, you know, I guess there was that moment when I had that born again, experience, you know, Christ says, you know, what, I just don’t believe this anymore. You know, and that was the end of my faith at that moment.
Doug Berger 3:51
And about how long of timeframe was that from when you had that conclusion? To when you finally did just completely break away from it?
Bruce Gerencser 4:00
Well, I, I left the ministry in 2005. And so that kind of set things in motion bit by bit, but it was really, you know, 2007 2008, so a little less than two years, before I finally came to the place where I admitted that I was no longer believer, and that I was in fact, at that moment. I says, you know, I’m, I’m agnostic on the god question. And so, the last time we attended church was in the last Sunday in November of 2008. And in and that was it. And then I don’t know, sometime early in 2009. I, after constantly explaining myself, explaining to others what an agnostic was, I decided, you know, really, I’m an atheist. And so I’m, I’m comfortable, I’m comfortable with you know, if I Have to self label myself. You know, I’m an agnostic atheist, and so I’m, I’m comfortable with with that. And so and then then it became very clear to people, you know exactly what I was, you know, it seems, as long as I use the agnostic label. People just weren’t clear on what I meant, especially my wife’s very devout, fundamental, fundamentalist Baptists family. But when I said atheist, they understood very clearly what I meant. So
Doug Berger 5:39
now, when you gave your talk to our group meeting, a couple of weeks ago, or a week ago, I think it was a week ago, we mentioned about how you had moved around a lot as a kid. Do you think that that constant moving around? Especially when you were a kid in the ministry, do you think that helped you leave religion? Because you were exposed to a lot of different people?
Bruce Gerencser 6:06
Well, I, that’s a good question. I don’t know. You know, I was, I just just wrote a post for I blog about trauma and how I, I’ve really just recently come to the conclusion that, you know, I have a lot of trauma in my life, extensive trauma, and especially in a five year period in my life in the late 60s and early 70s. And, you know, and how deeply that affected me and moving was a part of that. For example, you know, in that five year period, we moved numerous times and, and went to numerous schools, went to school and ne and pharma and Deshler and and Finley and mount Blanchard and then out in Arizona, and then back to Finley. And so that certainly was a lot of upheaval in my life now. Did it? Did that helped me? As far as the deconversion process, maybe I do know that, you know, after I left the ministry, and then for that three year period before I finally, you know, said I was no longer a believer, we, we attended a lot of churches. And so I was exposed to a lot of different religious beliefs and practices and in pastors and people and, and that fit well, with look, it fell with, I’m a very restless person to start with. I wonder, les has been a label that my counselors have over the years have used to describe me and, and so yeah, yeah, I think from that perspective, I think that that played into my deconversion process. I, I’ve never been a person where, for example, my wife’s late uncle, he was a pastor for 50 years, for example. And he prided himself in he had the same beliefs 50 years later than, as he had when he started college, for example, his beliefs had never changed. And, and I think family took that as some kind of a great achievement, or I thought, well, I’ve never been that way. You know, my whole life has been a moving, moving target to some degree. And because I’m restless, but also because truth matters to me. And so when I’m an even as a Christian when I was, you know, I’d be studying the Bible and various things. And if I came to a new theological conclusion, I wasn’t afraid to abandon one belief, you know, and assume another. And so, all of that together, I think, personality wise, I think probably made it easier for me to walk away because I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t afraid to say you know, what, I’m on the wrong path, or I don’t believe this anymore. And and some people aren’t willing to do that. And I know it’s hard for harder for some people. And but I know for me it’s whether it’s become an atheist or or buying a new car, you know, When I’ve come to you know what, I’ve come to a place where I know what I need to do, I’m not going to, you know, sit there any longer I’m going to make the decision and, and live with the consequences that come from that.
Doug Berger 10:13
And you touched about you touched on this too at the meeting. But could you let us know again? What was the reaction that you got from your friends and family after learning you had become an atheist?
Bruce Gerencser 10:26
It was overwhelming, hostile. You know, psychologically violent, nasty, hateful? How many words can I use to describe the response? As I mentioned at the meeting last week, in early 2009, I, I wrote a letter titled, dear family, friends and former parishioners, and I sent that out to several 100 people, and who knew me and from, you know, family members, that many of them were pastors, missionaries, and, you know, and then to former church members, and certainly men that were colleagues of mine in the ministry. And, and I explained very clearly why, you know, I no longer believed, and, and boy, that, that provoked just an immediate response. And I got phone calls, I got emails, I got letters in the mail, I had one man, you know, drive from Lancaster, Ohio, up here. And he, you know, he spent three hours trying to convince me that I, I just needed to turn back. And, you know, what I needed to do in his mind was if I just, if I just started pastoring, a church again, all this unbelief of mine would go away. And in, you know, I tried to remind him that look, if I wanted to pastor I could do so tomorrow, you know, that, you know, there are plenty of churches looking for pastors. And so, you know, that wasn’t the issue. And we and we, we, he just pleaded with me to, you know, not go down this path. And, you know, and then when he, when he, he came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to change my mind about these things. Then he told me, he asked me to please not tell anybody about me walking away from Christianity, because he believed that that would cause untold harm to people who knew me. And, and, of course, you know, I couldn’t do that. But, you know, the saddest thing about all of this man had been my friend for 2020 some years, I was his pastor, you know, before he got into the ministry, I baptized him. And, you know, and we spent countless hours together and, you know, and we would always, you know, when we were done for the night, whatever we do on we would shake hands and go our way and, and when he when he left my home, he wouldn’t shake my hand. It was such a small thing. But I thought, really, yo, and, you know, that, of course, ended our friendship. And, you know, I saw him one more time. Years later, I former family in the church, I pastored. The man died, and they asked me to preach the funeral. And I did you know, as long as they knew that I wasn’t a preacher anymore. And, you know, I had I had a lot of stories I could share about this man and I did and, and, and, you know, that this former pastor friend of mine came to the funeral. And, and I could just tell the disappointment on his face. You know, how, how saddened he was at what had become of me, and not much I can do about that.
Doug Berger 14:26
You’re wasting your talents.
Bruce Gerencser 14:30
Yes, yes. Yes. You know, in in with close family. Boy, it’s been difficult. We had to stop going to Polly’s families, like Thanksgiving, Christmas and things like that, because the you know, the, it just became so problematic and difficult because of how people viewed us and, and so we basically cut those things out and now we go down and see Polly’s Mom. And, you know, when when other families not there, you know, that’s, and that seems to work well for us. But look, we miss we miss those family connections, I mean, our nephews and and are in their children you know we’ve we watched them grow up and we’re and when they were born and and all of those things and so it’s difficult but unfortunately because they’re all independent fundamentalist Baptists there’s no room in their world for people like you know my wife and I and so we just stay away it’s one of those as it became the price of admission for us if we were going to, you know, stick to you know, being atheists, agnostics, unbelievers, whatever labels put upon us. So
Doug Berger 16:00
yeah, I remember when I was in college, and well, it wasn’t even college. It was shortly after college, and I got involved with a humanist group. And I went home for Christmas, my grandparents were having Christmas. And I had my humaneness shirt on at Christmas. And my grandma, she says, Doug, does that mean you’re a heathen? Well, not really. And she says, so you don’t celebrate Christmas? And I’m like, No, I could celebrate Christmas. You know, it’s like, I’m, I’m not a evil person or anything like that, I’ll, I’ll take the gifts. You know, I just I just told her I said, I just don’t go for the religious aspect of it. And she seemed fine with that. So
Bruce Gerencser 16:48
yeah, it’s, you know, I, we’ve had in over time, there’s been a couple younger family members who have made some contact with me, you know, very low key, you know, and I’ve tried to maintain those contacts, I gotta tell you, the worst experience I had was the man who was my best friend, when I was in Southeast Ohio, a young guy about 10 years or so younger than me. And, you know, he was first getting started in the ministry, and I helped him, you know, get going and everything and, and, boy, when he found out about it, he sent me a scathing email, you know, accused me of being under the influence of Satan, of being mentally ill. And then I was destroying my family. And, you know, in my response to him was, hey, Keith, I want to ask me how I’m doing. We haven’t talked in ages, you know, but instead, he went right for the jugular. And it was so disappointing. And, you know, in, so I’ve lost, you know, all those connections, you know, they’re gone, you know, I’ve had to forge new relationships, and my wife has had to do the same and, and that’s been a struggle, you know, at our age to, you know, and a half to make new friends and, you know, make new connections with people and, but it remains a work in progress for us.
Doug Berger 18:29
And that kind of leads into my next question, knowing what you know, now and how it went. Do you regret leaving religion?
Bruce Gerencser 18:41
No, no, no, I, I can say that. I, there have been times I’ve regretted sending out the letter. Because it was kind of like the rip off the band aid approach and, you know, stand naked before the world and, you know, everyone can see. So, you know, I think at the end of the day, I still probably would have sent out the letter, but, but certainly, I would at least think about that a little bit more. But no, I don’t. I don’t have any any regrets. You know, I miss certain aspects of, you know, the ministry and religion, you know, and, look, I spent most of my adult life you know, preaching and teaching, I miss those aspects of that and, you know, I miss the communal aspects of religion, you know, and, and as it is, you know, you know, with the group, you’re a part of that, that’s a common experience that people have when they leave religion, they miss the fellowship dinners, the potlucks, the social aspects, you know, and, and so, those are not easily as easily replicated for humanists and atheists. And it’s certainly something that we could do much better. With. Yeah, yeah, definitely.
Voice Over 20:12
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Doug Berger 20:40
One of the common stereotypes of Evangelicals that we have on this side of of the line is that they tend to be narrow minded and very judgmental. Was that the case in your experience when you were working in the ministry?
Bruce Gerencser 20:57
Yes, yeah. I mean, the question is, is why are they that way. And I think that that’s luck, I was as narrow minded and judgmental and bigoted, and at times homophobic. And as as one could be, I smiled, when I did it, I was a kind of an affable fella and got along with people. But make no mistake about it, my beliefs were very narrow. And, but but the reason that people have those beliefs is because for the most part, evangelicals are raised in evangelical homes, and they’re, they are socially conditioned, they are indoctrinated in these teachings, and so it just becomes from an early age, a part of their life. And, and some of those people then go on to become pastors and missionaries and evangelists and whatnot. And so they carry those beliefs into the ministry. And so, you know, I, I’ve written before that, you know, evangelicalism is one of the most hated sects in America. And it is, and the reason is, is because of their narrow mindedness, their hatefulness, their, you know, at least what, as it’s perceived by people outside of the bubble that they’re in, in their world. You know, LGBTQ people deserve the death penalty, because the Bible says, So, abortion is a sin. Because, you know, God said, you know, life begins at conception, and, and so, they, they have Bible verses for everything. So there are explanations for why they believe the things that they do. And I think atheists need to remember that. It’s not that they’re stupid people, it’s not that they’re, you know, you know, they’re sociopaths, who, who just despise human beings, it’s just that their religious beliefs have them, you know, boxed in. I remember writing a post years ago, which was one of the most widely read posts on my blog is, you know, what I found when I left the box, and, and I talked about the fact that you know, I was in a, this box, evangelicalism and in within that box, everything made perfect sense. You know, I read, I read the right books, I listened to the right sermons, and, and I follow the right rules and, and practices and believed the right things and so, so internally, it all makes sense to you. It’s only when you get outside of that box, or sometimes I call it a bubble. It’s only when you get outside of that box, the you realize that, no, this this doesn’t make any sense. You know, and you know, and so, for me, I had to, you know, I had to relearn a lot of things, you know, because Doug, I gotta tell you, I was I was quite homophobic in my preaching days, my younger preaching days in particular, and unapologetically So and, you know, and so that required substantial psychological and emotional work for me to undo all of that, and not easy to say the least. And now, of course, those that are still in evangelicalism who know me they take that as a sign of how far I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, right, you know, because I, you know, I, I think gay people are human beings like everybody else.
Doug Berger 25:02
Do you think that there’s any common ground that humanists and evangelicals can find to work together on? I mean, is there any chance of finding common ground?
Bruce Gerencser 25:16
Oh, yes, yeah. Now, evangelicalism is a spectrum. So if you’re talking about the far right, end of the evangelical tent that then No, I don’t see when you talk about the realm over the independent fundamentalist Baptist and charismatics, and you know, in some of the very right wing sects inhabit, really there’s there’s just no common ground, you know, you take for report on abortion, for example, you know, when, when you when one side of the discussion starts with, if you believe in abortion, you’re promoting murder, you know, it’s kind of hard to find any common ground with somebody like that. But there is within evangelicalism, you can move more towards the left, there’s the what I called the, the soldiers group, for example. And Jim Wallace and, and other groups like that, Ron sider and others that they are much more progressive in their social views, for example. And yeah, so with those evangelicals, certainly there’s, there’s room to work collectively, for the common good. You know, in the same way would go for you know, when you’re when you’re on the far right and of evangelicalism, you know, everybody believes the earth is 6024 years old, and was created in six literal 24 hour days. Not much you can do with that, you know, but the farther left you move within evangelicalism, you’re going to find people who believe in theistic evolution, and you might even find some people that just flat believe in evolution. And so if that’s the case, then you have a common ground on which to work with them on, like, you know, science in the public Schools, you know, and things like that. So I try to look for for common ground when I’m interacting with Evangelicals, and unfortunately, my blog tends to attract those that are on the extreme right, of evangelicalism. And sometimes I have to remind myself that, that they, they don’t represent all evangelicals. And, and I know several evangelical pastors in this area here that are, you know, they think I’m going to, you know, die and go to hell. But you know, most all of them believe that, but at least they’re nice, you know. And they do.
Doug Berger 28:09
Yeah, they’ll say with a smile on their face. Yes, yes, yes.
Voice Over 28:16
This is glass city humanist.
Doug Berger 28:24
In recent weeks, we’ve seen a storm of Christian nationalism, trying to legislate LGBTQ kids out of existence, and preventing kids from learning about racism in school. Do you have any suggestions on what we can do to counteract that assault? Or do you have any ideas?
Bruce Gerencser 28:45
Well, I hope, one of my, one of the things that irritates me about the media in general is the fact that they, they either don’t, or refuse to see the fact of how, how those type of things are, are driven by religion. You know, who’s who are the people behind? These don’t say gay bills and whatnot. It was primarily evangelicals, and, you know, Conservative Catholics and Mormons. That’s, that’s who’s behind those things. And so, the problem becomes is that, at least from my perspective, is that these groups, for the most part, have abandoned the gospel as being the means for social transformation. I trace it back to 19, late 1970s When Jerry Falwell and Paul Wyrick founded the Moral Majority, and I remember in 1980, you know going to I love America. rally on this steps of the Capitol and Columbus and Jerry Falwell is there and hit and and the singers from Liberty and you know, what a wonderful experience within the context of my evangelical faith and you know, so I, I trace it from there. And what’s happened is, is that the baby burst in the late 70s, has now become a full grown person. And, and what’s happened is, is that they’ve, they’ve treated the gospel as being a means for social transformation, for raw political power, as the means for social transformation. And so we’re seeing that across the board on whether it’s LGBTQ issues, abortion, mark my word, you know, they’re gonna roll back Roe v Wade here, you know, next month and and they’re not done, you know, they’ve got their sights on reversing same sex marriage. And and so, you know, what do we do? I don’t see any other way of combating that except, you know, through the courts, number one, and number two, through the political process. But as you know, living in in Northwest Ohio, Doug, you know, we don’t have much political clout, if any, you know, we’re, you know, I tell people, you know, a liberal atheist where I live is like, an ivory build, you know, a woodpecker, you know, they’re so rare that, you know, a few of them exist. And, you know, and I don’t know, how was where you live, but, you know, almost seven out of 10. You know, people here voted for Donald Trump, both in 2016 and 2020. They routinely support candidates that are extreme in their social views. And, and so, you know, what do we do? You know, it’s the, we vote, but it seems almost at this point, anyways, to be an exercise in futility. Because, you know, we make up such a small part of the electorate. I tried
Doug Berger 32:28
well, and it doesn’t, it doesn’t help to that they’ve gamed the system, yes, to privilege themselves. So
Bruce Gerencser 32:37
yeah, the gerrymandering, this continues to go on, you know, you know, they’ve made it almost impossible to elect people that are not of their, of their, their stripe, and, you know, and so also, all I know, to do, personally, is to publicize, you know, these issues, and I write letters to the editor, I use my blog and social media to try to make people aware of these things. Now,
Doug Berger 33:15
that what our group does to make people aware of these things.
Bruce Gerencser 33:20
If you ask me how successful that is, I don’t know. You know, I can get pretty discouraged at times, about the current state of things, but I do on occasion, hear from people that are very much in the closet, you know, as far as their more liberal progressive views, or even who are who are gay and, and they appreciate the fact that I’m willing to speak for them. And so I take that as encouragement to, you know, keep at it. Because I know that you know, what I do write about these things and talk about them. It irritates the daylights out of God’s chosen ones. And I’ve gotten a lot of mail over the years and responses to my letters to the editor, and, you know, all sorts of personal attacks, character assassination. One guy said, I was never a pastor, and he could prove it and all sorts of things, you know, just crazy stuff. And so I wish Doug, I had some promising thing I could say here that how we’re going to fix this. And all I know is to do is just keep pushing back. You know, I, I think to some degree, we’re, you know, we’re reaping what we sowed as far as some political choices we made and you know, and certainly because of the the, you know, Three Trump appointees on the Supreme Court. That certainly, you know, they seem hell bent on, on rolling progress, you know, the progress we’ve gained over the last 50 years, you know, back. And, you know, for example, the the praying coach, you know, what the 50 yard line? And I mean, I there’s no doubt that they’re going to, you know, roll that back.
Doug Berger 35:36
Yeah, even though it should be a moot case, they shouldn’t even taken it
Bruce Gerencser 35:40
You know, and that’s exactly right. You know,
Doug Berger 35:44
the fact that they took it, no, you know, that’s what they want to do. And, and this was a complaint, I had a complaint, I don’t know if I sent it into the blade. Or I complained to one of the national religious groups, like freedom from religion or something. But when Matt Campbell was a football coach at UT University of Toledo, they had a video up on their YouTube channel of him leading a prayer in the locker room after a game. And I complained about it, and they had to issue a statement, the school had to issue a statement, that it wouldn’t happen again. And he was so mad about it. It’s like, that’s what, that’s what I explained to him in my letter, that somebody on a team who wants to play is going to do whatever the coach wants them to do, right? It’s not voluntary. It’s not I played football in high school. If you want to display, you had to do what the coach told you. It absolutely says gather around, let’s pray, you’re gonna gather around and you’re gonna pray whether you want to or not.
Bruce Gerencser 36:55
Yeah, and you’re right, because, you know, I played baseball and basketball in high school. And, and I don’t ever remember there being an option of, of saying no to what the coach wanted to do, you know, or even the fact of just the peer pressure that, hey, you know, my friends are over here. And they’re bowing their heads for this? Well, I don’t want to be singled out, you know, look, right, most high school kids don’t want to be singled out. And so you’re joined with a group. And so it really is coercion is what it is. And but I just, you know, I listened to some of the read about some of the speeches and and a day of deliberations about this case, and after listening to some of the questions and stuff, I thought this is not going to go well. It’s unfortunate,
Doug Berger 37:50
And as we wrap up our time together, is there any bit of wisdom or final point you would like to leave us with?
Bruce Gerencser 38:02
That’s a good question. Oh, yeah. Now this one caught me off guard. I, I tell people on my blog, that, look, you only get one. I have a and I can’t quote it. I wish I had known this question. I could read it off. But I, I, I have, you know, if I have a device to give to anybody looking at you, you only have one life. There’s no heaven, there’s no Hell, there’s no God. There’s, you know, this is it. And so you best get to living what life you have. And I have serious health problems. And I know that my time on life on this life in this life is I’m on the short end of the of time. And so I I’m doing in my life, you know, all the things that I want to do while I’m still living because I know when I’m dead, you know, it’s too late for that. And you know, and so, I encourage people, I encourage my children, I encourage my grandchildren look, enjoy life, and don’t be afraid of new experiences. And you know, and that’s, that’s the best advice that I can give to anybody is to do those things.
Doug Berger 39:32
Okay, well, again, I want to thank you for your time and appreciate you speaking with us both at the meeting and today and, and good luck. All right,
Bruce Gerencser 39:42
we show. We want to do this again. I’m more than up for it. Doug. Thank you
Voice Over 39:48
Thank you for listening. For information about the topics in this episode, please visit the episode page at glasscityhumanist.show. Glass city humanist is an outreach of the secular humanists of Western Lake Erie, and is supported in part by a grant by the American Humanist Association. The AHA can be reached at Americanhumanist.org SHoWLE can be reached at humanistswle.org. Glass city humanist is hosted, written and produced by Douglas Berger and he is solely responsible for the content our theme music is glass city jam composed using the ampify studio See you next time
Written, produced, and edited by Douglas Berger and he is entirely responsible for the content. Incidental voice overs by Shawn Meagley
The GCH theme is “Glass City Jam” composed using Ampify Studio
This episode by Glass City Humanist is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.