A former Christian pastor has decided to give atheism a try by “living for a year without God.”
Ryan J. Bell, who recently explained his journey in a Huffington Post blog entry, was raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. While he inevitably decided to become a pastor, Bell now realizes that there was always a tension present in his faith walk.
But for the past 22 years, he said he has either served as a preacher or has been in school learning how to be a more effective pastor — until now.
Bell’s journey into atheism didn’t come all at once.
In his blog post, the former pastor discussed the many critiques he has had of the church throughout the years. For example: he disliked way gays, lesbians and women were treated and he disapproved of the approach to evangelism that he observed.
Bell also had “theological concerns” over the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s beliefs about the “last days.”
“In March, I stood my ground on these issues and was asked to resign. I didn’t want to resign but I finally agreed,” he continued. “My family and my health had suffered over the past several years but my faith had suffered most of all. Since that time I have been a religious nomad.”
Since leaving the church, Bell said he hasn’t attended church regularly, hasn’t been reading the Bible consistently and that he even struggles to relate to church people.
“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,” he said.
And he’s not simply going to take a passive stance on his new-found interest in atheism. Bell plans to immerse himself in secular teachings and to speak with as many non-believers as he possibly can.
He added, “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).”
Bell made it clear that he isn’t an atheist yet and that he’s not quite sure how he’d describe himself. The religious trauma in his life, the former pastor said, shook his faith, but he admitted that he was already on shaky theological ground to begin with.
Not everyone is impressed with Bell’s undertaking. The Friendly Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta, for one, said that the former pastor isn’t really “trying on atheism.”
“As someone who once visited a hell of a lot of churches in the span of a year, I feel like I can talk about what it’s like to cross over to the ‘other side.’ At no point did I ever pretend I was ‘trying on’ Christianity. I was merely an atheist visiting church and no one assumed otherwise,” Mehta wrote. “Make no mistake: Bell is not ‘trying on atheism.’ He’s just a Christian doing what all people should do and exposing himself to an alternative perspective. That’s a very good thing, no doubt, but scrutinizing your own beliefs isn’t a substitute for being godless.”
Regardless of what happens, Bell said he wants to “pursue the truth” and he plans to regularly share his experiences on YearWithoutGod.com.
Featured image via Ryan J. Bell’s Facebook Page