Ryan Bell grew up in the church and went on to become a pastor. When he started publicly questioning how the Seventh-day Adventist Church does things (how they treat homosexuality, women, evangelism, etc.), he was asked to resign. Ten months later, he has announced that he is "trying on atheism" for a year.
On his blog, A Year Without God, he says, "For the next 12 months I will live as if there is no God. I will not pray, read the Bible for inspiration, refer to God as the cause of things or hope that God might intervene and change my own or someone else’s circumstances. (I trust that if there really is a God that God will not be too flummoxed by my foolish experiment and allow others to suffer as a result).
I will read atheist 'sacred texts' — from Hobbes and Spinoza to Russell and Nietzsche to the trinity of New Atheists, Hitchens, Dawkins and Dennett. I will explore the various ways of being atheist, from naturalism (Voltaire, Dewey, et al) to the new ‘religious atheists’ (Alain de Botton and Ronald Dworkin). I will also attempt to speak to as many actual atheists as possible — scholars, writers and ordinary unbelievers — to learn how they have come to their non-faith and what it means to them. I will visit atheist gatherings and try it on.
In short, I will do whatever I can to enter the world of atheism and live, for a year, as an atheist. It’s important to make the distinction that I am not an atheist. At least not yet. I am not sure what I am. That’s part of what this year is about."
The Huffington Post contributor apparently decided that in order to really mix and mingle with the atheists of the world, he needed to make his very personal journey public - so he posted it on the site. On day #2, it was picked up and written about by Synapses and The Friendly Atheist, two blogs written by people Bell describes as "atheists of serious intellect and experience." By day #3, RNS (Religion News Service) and Salon.com had published articles on Bell and his journey.
All of the attention brought some changes on day #3 as well --- the loss of income. Bell was an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University (APU) teaching Intercultural Communication to undergrads, and at Fuller Theological Seminary, coaching doctoral candidates in the writing of their dissertation proposals. He also did consulting work with congregations --- that would be church congregations in case you were wondering. Both schools and the Glendale City Seventh-day Adventist Church in Glendale, California (a church he was consulting with on a non-profit organization they were starting that would "network the faith communities in Glendale and Northeast Los Angeles") let him go. Bell said that he understood why they fired him but "observed" that "Religions institutions (Christian, in my case) are not able to endure these probing questions from their public leaders. My process for the next year does not square with official faith statements and creates untenable discomfort among members. Donors, it is feared, will pull back their donations. My inquiry is the beginning of a slippery slope and they simply can’t risk it."
Are you kidding me? I would hazard a guess that it was more along the lines of said religious institutions not wanting to employ someone to work with religious students and churches who is playing the role of someone who doesn't believe that God even exists!
Hemant Mehta, aka the Friendly Atheist, started a gofundme campaign to raise $5000 to help Bell with expenses and after one day, the goal has been met and surpassed by over $12,000 dollars.
Perhaps I'm oversimplifying it, but this whole giving up the God habit for a year thing has me scratching my head in confusion and dismay. God is not a car that you can test drive. He's not a coat that you can go try on at the store. You either believe or you don't ... You can be a recovering alcoholic or a recovering drug addict but you can't really be a recovering believer. Bell may choose to spend 365 days ignoring God, 12 months not talking to God and 52 weeks pretending that God doesn't exist, but when he made the distinction that he's "not an atheist," his experiment was pretty much shot out of the water. "I'm ignoring you" does not equal "you don't exist." If one can turn off their belief in God like a light switch, perhaps the foundation of the faith wasn't that strong to begin with. At the end of the day, you either believe or you don't.
After my dad was murdered in 1993, I spent at least a year raging at God for letting something so horrible happen. I spent three or four years actively ignoring God. I didn't speak to Him (pray), talk about Him, read about him (my bible) or hang out with any of His people (church). That certainly did not equal me "exploring atheism." It equalled me behaving like a child who was pitching a tantrum because my hurt was so great.
It seems to me that Ryan Bell has a problem with the rules of his chosen denomination. Since, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations and organizations in the world, that leaves a lot of room to explore other denominations. It appears that he doesn't like the way some of God's people behave and treat others. Welcome to the real world! Not all of those who profess Christ actually try to act like Him! There are plenty of times I have personally prayed, "Lord, I love you with all of my heart, all of my mind and all of my soul, but sometimes, I can't stand your people!" Just like any other group of people who share a belief, a profession or any other association, there will be bad apples in the bunch.
I believe that my real problem is how public he made this journey. Choosing Christ is, in my opinion, the most personal choice you will ever make. To kick Jesus to the curb for a year and announce it on Huffingtonpost - a website ranked the 13th most visited in the U.S. by quantcast.com - turns his faith (or lack thereof) into a media circus. Had he privately journaled about his year and shared the results afterwards, I personally would have taken his travels a lot more seriously as it would have seemed more like a quest for truth than a stunt.
What do you think?
Editorial: All views expressed here are my own and don't reflect the views of Hallels.com.