Beliefs NBP

After living without God for a year, former pastor Ryan Bell no longer believes

(RNS) Ryan Bell — the former Seventh-day Adventist pastor who spent 2014 living as an atheist — is ready for his big reveal.

After chronicling the last 12 months on his blog Year Without God, Bell — who now works as director of community engagement at People Assisting the Homeless in Southern California — announced in an interview with NPR that he no longer believes in God.

Bell talked with Religion News Service about his decision and what it will mean to him and his loved ones. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: This weekend you told NPR: “I don’t think that God exists.” Can you elaborate?

A: I think the best way I can explain the conclusion I’ve come to — and conclusion is too strong a word for the provisional place I now stand and work from — is that the intellectual and emotional energy it takes to figure out how God fits into everything is far greater than dealing with reality as it presents itself to us.

That probably sounds very nonrational, and I want people to know that I have read several dozen books and understand a good many of the arguments. I’d just say that the existence of God seems like an extra layer of complexity that isn’t necessary. The world makes more sense to me as it is, without postulating a divine being who is somehow in charge of things.

Q: You also said that you’re “still the same person deep down that I was before.” What was valuable about the past year? Would you do it again?

A:  I would definitely do it again! And I’ll go a step further: I think others should do it, too. Anytime you can step outside your comfort zone, you will learn important things about yourself and the world. I’ve learned that atheists are not the miserable nihilists that many Christians think they are.

I’ve also had a few remarkable moments of irony. Once I was in a gathering of atheists and the speaker referred to “seeing the light” and “finding freedom at last.” It struck me then that most people really are searching for the same thing.

Q: Do you still plan to write about, speak and work in the atheist community?

A: I do, in some capacity. I don’t think I’ll be joining a crusade to destroy all religion anytime soon, though some days I’m tempted. I just know too many good people of faith to see religion as any kind of universal evil. But I do think that there is much work to be done with and among atheists.

I have a special interest in post-theists — people who are in the in-between phase that I’ve been inhabiting for the past year. There are thousands and thousands of people who are betwixt and between, and there is next to nothing for them in the world of religion. I’d like to be a part of that conversation.

Q: After a year, what do you think about the priorities and actions of the atheist movement in the U.S.?

A:  On the whole, I love the no-holds-barred search for truth. I love the honesty and clarity of speech that is so often lacking in religious circles, where everything is couched in metaphor and innuendo.

On the other hand, I recoil from a one-track-minded scientism that I sometimes encounter — as though science has all the answers for every question that a person has ever asked. There is also a kind of smug condescension that is hard for me. I still have scores of Christian friends who are not dumb. Their faith is not like believing in Santa Claus. The more the atheist movement behaves like the traveling evangelists I encountered as a conservative Christian, the more I cringe — and for the same reasons.

Q: Your significant other is a Christian. How are you navigating that?

A: It’s challenging sometimes, but she is an open-minded, thoughtful person. I’d call her a Christian Humanist, or a Humanist in the way of Jesus, if that makes any sense. I still share a love for the stories of the radical Jesus preferring the poor and downtrodden, so we’re not as different as it may seem on the surface. Besides, our relationship is about more than debates about God’s existence.

Q: What would you like to say to people who question your motives or sincerity?

A: There’s not much I can say. I don’t feel like I need to defend myself. I’ve only lost money and earning potential this year, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I guess I can’t prove I’m not being dishonest any more than I can prove that God doesn’t exist. People will just have to evaluate the evidence and decide for themselves.

Q: You’ve lived as a Christian and an atheist. What’s one thing you wish more Christians knew about atheists? One thing you wish more atheists knew about Christians?

A: I wish more Christians knew that atheists are not nihilists who have no meaning to their lives or people with no moral compass. They’re not stubbornly rejecting God. All the atheists I have met have seriously hit a brick wall while trying to know God.

I wish more atheists knew that Christians care very deeply about knowledge and truth. They are not stupid. In every group there is a percentage that are ignorant — but if you take a wider view, Christian intellectuals have contributed a great deal to the body of human knowledge through history.

KRE/MG END STEDMAN

 

13 Comments

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  • I can understand that, knowing that Ryan was an Adventist. It is good that he realized how the Adventist theology is NOT the totality of Truth. I wish he gave the Catholic Faith a try. The beginning paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is sure to get him started which I am reprinting below:

    PROLOGUE

    “FATHER,… this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”1 “God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”2 “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”3 than the name of JESUS.

    I. The Life of Man—To Know and Love God

    1 God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.

  • I am happy for Ryan. He has discovered that not believing in God did not change anything, and that the labyrinthine construct of religion and faith in a supernatural power is actually a burden. Living without gods is a liberation.

  • Ryan Bell,
    Belief in God is a personal choice based on faith. Yes, there is no proof that God exists or doesn’t exist.

    However, for a technical theory about how all the miracle stories in the Bible happened without violating the laws of physics and not conflicting with the basic tenants of the Jewish or Christian faiths, see the book: How Did God Do It? A Symphony of Science and Scripture. Info on the website http://www.HowDidGodDoIt.com

  • Of course he no longer believes. They based their idea of God with rules, regulations, do’s and don”ts. People like this never find real fulfillment in life and never seem to have any type of joy. Basically they are just going through the motions. God is not a God of rules and regulations. He is a God of love, surrender and real relationship through His Son Jesus. He want you to live life to the full. He wants to to enjoy this life on earth through relationships with people on earth. He wants us to have fun, laugh, go on vacation and get the rest we need. He wants us to be well balanced people and use our minds and not be oblivious to things around us. If rules could cut it, then this guy would still believe. It’s about having a relationship with His son Jesus. If you are religious and are having a hard time with keeping all the rules, do the following. Say God, I need you. I realize I cannot do this on my own. I need your help. So now I accept the finished work that your Son Jesus did on the cross by shedding His blood for my sins. I thank you God for having me in mind when you sent your son to earth in the form of a baby. One that came to this earth for one reason, which was to redeem us back to you. Thank you God for your love. Amen. Now Go online and visit center for manifestation. Look through the archive messages and Bible studies to help you with your walk with Jesus. He loves you and there is nothing you can ever do to change that. I hope this guy has an encounter someday with the true Jesus.

  • I find it odd that some people look at belief as a choice. As an action. As something we either do or fail to do. It’s neither. It’s something that either does or does not happen to us. We can’t claim credit for it nor should we be vilified for a lack of it. True, we have control over what we profess but that’s often in spite of what we believe. Try believing in Zeus if you want to test this.

  • Although the last two paragraphs were quite nice, not sure what else he expected, having been a Seventh Day Adventist and ignoring the Bible’s saying that leaving the faith means you were never of it to begin with.

    Much like being the cook at a restaurant doesn’t necessarily make a person a chef, spending some time as working as a pastor didn’t make you a Christian, Ryan.

    Interesting point made as well, P. Killick.

  • Ryan’s coming out of the religion I did in what appears to be a different way than I did (to say the least), but I say welcome! The water’s warm…and cool…and relieving.

    Janice, yes the SDA’s do have rules and regulations — and their own prophetess but then most churches have much of that and it’s simply untrue to suggest that Adventists have no joy, fulfillment. I know I got a measure of that. I wonder why you need to discount Ryan’s experience, walk with God as he then understood him to be. How unChristian of you!

    And Katy? The form of address in 1 John always rubbed me the wrong way before I came out and the presumptuousness of suggesting I was never a real Christian after I came out did too. Now I’m far enough away and free enough not to be bothered by the verse anymore. Why? Because I no longer believe in a god so ironically puerile as to allow those words to appear in his book in the first place. And that’s the least of the words I’m no longer irrationally bound up by.

    Your mileage, of course, may vary.

  • “I wish he gave the Catholic Faith a try.” This has to be one of the most “I totally missed the point” comments I’ve ever read. And howdy sister. Catholicism is absolutely one of the worst. You don’t celebrate your religion, you mourn it. If I were going to choose (Which i never will) I would go with the unitarians. Those guys love everyone and judge no one. Plus they accept you whether you believe or not. Not all subscribe to that dogma, but most of the ones I met did.

  • “It’s something that either does or does not happen to us.”

    And yet, it’s something that Ryan Bell chose.

    I chose.

    You can deconstruct your own beliefs, and should. You can change them, if you have a good reason to.

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