To the Pastor Giving Atheism a Shot for a Year: You’re Doing It Wrong January 2, 2014

To the Pastor Giving Atheism a Shot for a Year: You’re Doing It Wrong

Ryan J. Bell is a professor and former pastor of a Seventh-day Adventist church, and after a lot of frustration within the faith, he’s decided to go a year without God:

… the day came when I really didn’t fit within the church anymore. I had been an outspoken critic of the church’s approach to our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered members — that approach being exclusion or, at best, second class membership (“we won’t kick you out but you can’t participate in leadership”). Through the years, I had also been a critic of the church’s treatment of women, their approach to evangelism and their tunnel-vision approach to church growth… All of these things — things I was most proud of in my ministry — earned me rebuke and alienation from church administrators. I tried to maintain that I was a faithful critic — a critic from within — someone committed to the church and its future success but unwilling to go blindly along with things I felt were questionable, or even wrong.

So, I’m making it official and embarking on a new journey. I will “try on” atheism for a year. 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.

As much as I appreciate what he’s trying to do, this is a badly-designed experiment.

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.

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. Just as celebrating Hanukkah doesn’t make someone Jewish and fasting during Ramadan doesn’t make you a Muslim, not going through typical Christian rituals doesn’t make you an atheist.

Ultimately, Bell still believes in God, at least for now. Until he changes his mind about that, he’s not really living as an atheist. He says, for example, that he won’t read the Bible over the next year… but neither do a lot of Christians and it’s not like they’re giving atheism a try. Bell also says he’ll read books written by atheists and attend atheist gatherings… but let’s be honest: it’s not like a lot of atheists do those things either.

Again: It’s all about what’s going on in your head. I’m all for religious people (or those like Bell who still have a foot on the religious side) reading things that might change their mind or talking to people who might point out the holes in their logic, but none of that makes you an atheist until you realize that God is a myth.

I love that Bell’s exploring atheism. I appreciate that he’s trying to learn more about a perspective a lot of Christians assume is just immoral or wicked. But no one can “live as if there is no God” while still believing God’s out there.

All that said, here’s some advice for Bell: If you really want to give atheism a try, then look for rational explanations when you might have previously assumed God had something to do with it. You’ll soon realize that the rational explanation is there if you look for it — and if you can’t find it, then you just need to look harder or assume it’s a mystery to everyone.

If you’re interested in following Bell’s journey, he’ll be writing about the experience here.

(Thanks to Joel for the link)

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  • new_atheist

    Call me cynical. But, I think I know how this experiment will turn out.

    In one year, he’ll be writing books and preaching sermons about how miserable and hopeless his year without God was. He’ll tell his flock that his experience should be a lesson to everyone that Christianity is the source of hope and happiness, and that living a part from God will only invite misery and trouble.

    He’ll claim that once he separated himself from “The Word of God” and stop having daily prayer times with Jesus, he became a sad and lonely person. He’ll claim that his exploration of atheism demonstrates how meaningless life without God is.

    That’s just my guess. I hope I’m wrong.

  • Michael Harrison

    Plus, he’s not trying on atheism, he’s trying on philosophy.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    “For the next 12 months I will live as if there is no God.”

    So, he’ll be living his life like normal with a little less time praying for things to get done and instead help them get done?

  • A3Kr0n

    I stopped at “try on” atheism because now I know he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Professor? Hmmm…

  • $84687101

    Annoying as it is that he calls this “trying on atheism”, he might just learn something, in spite of the fact that he thinks books about atheism, skepticism, and scientific approaches are our “sacred texts”. The first thing he needs to learn is that we have no sacred texts.

    I do hope he’ll add “The Demon Haunted World” to his list though, it’s a much better introduction to critical thinking than most of the more recent atheist books, so it’s a good primer to the rest.

    And finally, I like that he calls the “religious atheists” the “new” ones. Finally someone has it right: “new atheism” is just old atheism discussed out loud.

  • skeptical_inquirer

    Agreed. He’s basically a guy who loves chocolate who’s going without chocolate and will probably talk non-stop about how much he missed chocolate but switched to milk chocolate once he gets back to eating it.

    He may be happier in a more liberal denomination or as a Unitarian Universalist.

  • skeptical_inquirer

    I agree that I hope he reads that book by Carl Sagan, especially the chapter about invisible dragons in the garage and the other chapter where he heard his parent’s voice but knew that it was just something generated by the brain.

  • John Lev

    Reminds me of the 1980’s movie “Soul Man”. A white kid wants to go to college so he takes “tanning pills” to darken his skin and applies for a scholarship meant to help African Americans. He, of course, gets into all kinds of trouble and later confesses that he scammed them. James Earl Jones plays a VERY strict college professor and was talking w/ the kid after the gig was up. He said that the kid now knew what it was like to be black and suffer racism. What the kid replies is what I think is applicable here. He proceeds to tell Jones that no, he really doesn’t. He could stop being black at anytime. He had that out. Because of that, he could never truly know just how bad racism was.

    I would argue that this pastor can pretend to be an atheist but he would really never know what it’s like because he’ll still be a believer. Just not following through with the rituals and dogma. As I tell people, I just didn’t wake up one day, shake my fist at the sky and decide that I wasn’t going to believe anymore. I couldn’t make myself believe there’s a god no more than I could believe the earth was flat or we didn’t evolve. The evidence is simply too overwhelming to the contrary. The same for the bible. The evidence simply isn’t there to support it.

  • Anonymous

    Does “no true Scotsman” apply when I say that this isn’t true atheism if he’s not willing to blaspheme the Holy Ghost and deny it? Because an atheist would see that thing as meaningless symbology. Something tells me this guy wouldn’t….

  • DKeane123

    Normally I would agree. It appears from the article that his views have been gradually shifting to a more “liberal” perspective. He had to resign his position at a SDA church he was a pastor at due to doctrinal differences. He may actually have a shot.

  • Willy Occam

    He’s probably already started writing the book about his “failed experiment.”

  • UnePetiteAnana

    Isn’t this a little bit like Christians telling other Christians you’re doing it wrong, as in, you’re not a real Christian?

    I give the pastor props for checking out the other end of the spectrum of belief, as I have done before. I’ve never not believed there’s a God, but I’ve questioned and continue to question His existence.

    Hemant, did you write about visiting churches? If so, can you give a link to it? I’m interested in reading it.

  • He says, for example, that he won’t read the Bible over the next year…

    If we has trying on atheism, he would. He’d read it critically.

  • Art_Vandelay

    In his list of things to “try on”, he didn’t mention the orgies. Why would he deprive himself of the orgies? That’s the best part!

  • Incidentally, how much do you want to bet that he’s going to have a full write up about how empty and depraved and miserable it was being an atheist?

    After all, pastors typically make a living by keeping people in the pews. The conflict of interest is there.

  • Actually “trying on” atheism should probably include telling his church and his family that he doesn’t believe in god anymore, and living with the reaction to that. I’m guessing he’s not prepared to go that far. But I commend him for being willing to look at things from another viewpoint, or at least trying to. I hope he’ll carry through and actually attend some of our gatherings.

    His comments reminded me of Julia Sweeney’s idea of taking off the “god glasses”, just to try it out. So I went and looked at Bell’s blog, and lo and behold the first thing I saw was her “Letting Go of God” video. I think I’ll follow his blog for awhile to see how this turns out.

  • Pofarmer

    I dunno, the way I read it, the guy is coming at it from a place of frustration and questioning his own church, which is where an awful lot of Atheists started out. I would give him a chance. And, yes, if he is studying Atheism, he WILL be reading his bible, just maybe in a little bit different light.

  • leadZERO

    As appalled by this experiment as I am, I can’t help but feel that this person is troubled by their faith and just trying to find themselves through it all. Specifically the final statements are the most important in the entire piece I think: “I am not sure what I am. That’s part of what this year is about.” I imagine there are many among us that felt we weren’t sure about ourselves or our beliefs at one point. What I see here is a person troubled by their beliefs and what they see going on around them and they’re becoming open to exploring the possibilities. Honestly? I wish more religious believers were as open to new ideas as this person sounds, even if at face value it looks like something akin to a media stunt.

    PS I’d like to mention Julia Sweeney had similar reservations and bouts of “trying on the no god glasses.”

  • $84687101

    One can only hope. I guess it all depends on how strongly attached he is to his preconceived notions going into this.

  • Actually, he’s probably doing the right thing, because it’s the only thing he can do. If you’re a theist, you can no more “decide” to be an atheist than an atheist can decide to be a theist. His religion has injured his ability to think clearly; he’s operating under a delusion, and he’s operating under a damaged system of truth finding. He simply has no experience with the sort of approach critical thinkers use for obtaining knowledge.

    What I’d say is that he’s at Stage 1, probably the only place most people in his position can be at. The good news is that he’s willing to read a lot of books that he needs to be exposed to before he can move on. People don’t change their beliefs; rather, their beliefs change in response to the knowledge they acquire, and to the way they reflect on that knowledge. If he follows through with his plan to explore both alternate knowledge and alternate ways of thinking, he may actually end up being an atheist at the end of the year… or a good way along that path, at least.

  • NoMoreDivision

    My first thought was that he may already be a closet atheist and this “experiment” is his way of making the transition easier for a person in his position.

  • Isn’t this a little bit like Christians telling other Christians you’re doing it wrong, as in, you’re not a real Christian?

    The difference is that atheism has an actual definition, whereas Christianity as a concept changes from person to person. As long as you believe in a god, you’re an actual theist, if not, you’re an actual atheist.

    The No True Scotsman fallacy is trying to find some loophole to disassociate someone from a thing, when that thing is not well defined, based on some rule you’re focusing on.

    It’s not a fallacy to declare that a Muslim is not a real Christian. That’s just a fact.

    It is a fallacy to declare that Bob (who believes in Christianity) isn’t a real Christian, because Real Christians ™ don’t swear, and Bob swore, so he’s not really one of us.

    The problem that we’re pointing out with this pastor, is that he can’t even get the first thing right about our demographic. His entire approach to this “experiment” is wrong.

    He’s not even saying that he’s going to be an atheist, but rather just live like one.

  • This is where my mind went immediately. This isn’t the first time this “experiment” has been conducted, either. It’s usually a ploy.

  • Robin

    On the other hand, there really is no “right way” to become an atheist. Learning to live without god is a personal thing. I wish him well and welcome him to the ranks of godless.

  • Russel Scarf

    Agree with what you’ve said, but I wonder at what it means for him to assume that he is living without God just because he won’t be behaving in rituals like prayer and Bible-reading. Is that all God is? Is God no longer with him if he doesn’t go through the motions? Is that all he believes? That God is what you do. Well, I can agree with that. Reminds me of Philip K. Dick’s quote in VALIS, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, it doesn’t go away.” If he thinks that God goes away when he stops praying, then God isn’t reality. Maybe he’s closer to us than he thinks.

  • WallofSleep

    “He says, for example, that he won’t read the Bible over the next year…”

    That’s funny. As an atheist, I try to read the bible at least once a year. But my hands… the burns, the blisters…. it’s unbearable.

  • paulalovescats

    I will read atheist “sacred texts” — from Hobbes and Spinoza to Russell
    and Nietzsche to the trinity of New Atheists, Hitchens, Dawkins and
    There might be hope, then!

  • $84687101

    It’s quite a bit different from telling other Christians they’re doing it wrong because he’s not actually an atheist. It’s not that difficult, you’re not an atheist if you believe in God, which he does. Honestly, he’s taking the right approach, it’s just the language of “trying on atheism” and living “as if there is not god” for a year. You’re not living as if there’s no god if you believe in god. Maybe we are being too hard on him, but it’s hard not to think that he’s not being entirely intellectually honest about the whole thing.

    Also, link:

  • billybee

    Will he put a “God is a Myth” bumpersticker on his car? That would be a real good way for him to experience how it feels to be one of the most hated people in town.

  • Santamonica Blues

    Bell’s idea reeks of a one-year book deal experiment.

    I have a better idea: If he really wants to “experience” atheism, he should have the backbone to tell everyone in his congregation that he no longer believes in their god, and that he’s become an atheist. But he should do this as a blind experiment and not let them in on it. With that important “distinction,” he’ll learn the true essence of Christianity.

  • Ya’ll (commenters) are a barrel of laughs. Thanks for your, err, support.

    Mr. Mehta, thanks for engaging with this. You’ve given me much to think about. I’ve ordered your book. Happy New Year!

  • Leslie

    I know that it may seem like Mr. Bell doesn’t have to do much to live as an atheist for a year. After all, as Hemant mentioned, most Christians don’t read the bible everyday. That said, as a former Seventh-day Adventist (SDA), I can assure that the transition to living as an atheist will probably be more involved and painful than not going to church or not reading the bible. This is a very conservative and works-based religion, with fundamentalism running rampant, and where a literal understanding of the bible is standard.
    *Trying on* atheism then, involves more than just not reading the bible. For adventists, their believes permeates everything they do. From the job he or she chooses, to what they wear and eat. For an SDA member to leave the church, even if they adopt a different brand of christianity, is putting their soul in eternal jeopardy. This fear is real and palpable. I suspect there will be many people praying and crying over this man’s soul.
    I personally I’m struck by his courage to even make this experiment public. Even reading outside religious material is frowned upon (but not censored). From my experience, and others I have met like myself, getting to the point to even consider atheism is a painful one; even if Mr. Bell’s wording and understanding of what being and atheist isn’t as accurate as it should be, this is a big step. If he has gotten this far, due to doctrinal issues, there is a good chance that he will not return to the SDA church. I, personally, am very curious to see how Mr. Bell’s experiment turns out.

  • You may have missed the part where I was fired from my denominational employment. I am no longer a pastor. Nor do I wish to be.

  • You’re right, I did miss that. Then again, The Christian market is practically a cash cow, with hundreds of millions just waiting to buy a book that reaffirms their world view.

    So please forgive me if I remain skeptical.

  • $84687101

    Do consider starting with Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World”. It’s really the skeptical primer and will give you a much better insight into how many of us think and evaluate ideas than most of the books you mentioned (read them, too, but start with Sagan). And, assuming you’ve not delved too deeply into the atheist community yet, I’ll point out that I’ve discussed two things here, skepticism and atheism. They are not the same, and the skeptic community and the atheist community have broad overlap, but not all atheists are skeptics and not all skeptics are atheists. But the kind of skepticism Sagan puts forth, when applied to religion, often results in atheism.

  • Skeptical is what we do, right?

  • R. G. Price

    Oh come on, this guy just wants an excuse to have orgies, do drugs, go gambling, and be a general fuck-up, and then he can just claim it was all part of his “atheism experiment”. Give me a break.

    It’s like saying, I’m a straight married homophobic man, but in order to try and better understand gays I’m going to have sex with lots of boys for a year… just as a social experiment of course!

    Yeah right….

  • LANarkevic

    He also has some YouTube videos that are short and straightforward. I’d
    recommend Carl Sagan’s ‘The Demon-Haunted World’ and Michael Shermer’s ‘Why People Believe Weird Things’.

  • eric

    here’s some advice for Bell: If you really want to give atheism a try, then look for rational explanations when you might have previously assumed God had something to do with it.

    Spot on. I’d also add: for the next year, make a special effort to thank and credit the people who do good acts (instead of crediting God). The doctors and paramedics that save disaster victims. The researchers who gave you that cure. The (countless, mostly anonymous) donors who provide charities with their operating funds. And so on. Don’t just “not pray,” but actively replace it with acknowledgement of the positive human actors in your life.

  • Ordered…thank you!

  • KMR

    I wish him the best of luck but it does read as kind of weird. You can’t just try on atheism. There’s no prescribed method of being an atheist. You can certainly explore the topic and try to figure out why atheists believe as they do and it sounds like that’s what he’s doing. I started out my journey doing just that and ended up coming out agnostic. If you’re a smart person, relatively good with critical thinking, I think it’s very hard to remain a die hard theist once opening your mind to other possibilities.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    I’m not Hemant but I can link you to his book “I Sold My Soul On eBay” where he writes about visiting churches.

    I’ll bet if you search this blog for the title of the book, you’ll find some related material.

  • R. G. Price

    Yeah, reminds me of a Christian I saw in a debate talking about all of the persecution against Christians and how ostracized Christians are, etc. The guy debating him was incredulous, but didn’t have a good reply.

    I wish I had been up there, I would have told him he could do a simple experiment. Wear a t-shirt all day that says “I love Jesus” or “I’m a Christian” or “I Love God”, etc. and go about his daily business, then the next day wear a t-shirt that says “I’m an atheist” and do the same thing.

    He’d find out about who it is that’s really discriminated against…

  • Lando

    Semantics aside, I think it’s a great concept. My personal deconversion didn’t happen until I moved away from a very insular religious community that was essentially a big echo chamber of theism. When the only messages you hear are from a conservative Christian worldview, it’s difficult to think differently, or question the ‘givens’ of faithful thinking.
    Of course he’s not ‘becoming an atheist,’ but taking a step outside of his comfort zone could be, if nothing else, enlightening.
    Best of luck, Ryan.

  • I take it you say that “as an atheist”.

    No, actually. Skepticism is what skeptics do. Atheists don’t do anything. Atheism doesn’t provide a world view, tenets, dogma, doctrine, etc.

    The error I see those making, who have taken similar courses to yours is that there’s more to the people than their atheism.

    Atheism aside, I have a world view that includes secular morality, humanism, skepticism, methodological naturalism, etc.

    Christians have their own established world view, but what happens, is that they try to jump from the Christian world view, to an “atheistic one”, where the underlying support structures mentioned above aren’t present.

    They inevitably crash, and then blame atheism for the ensuing misery.

    When most of us who “de-converted”, and became atheists, we basically rebuilt a world view from the ground-up from reality-based philosophies. Atheism is just a single aspect of who we are… but it’s not a foundational thing.. it’s a conclusion supported by the actual world view beneath.

  • tsig

    And he’ll do this from his prison cell where he’s serving life for multiple murders, after all, with no god you can do what you want.

  • Castilliano

    Well, reading Friendly Atheist is a great start!
    It’s helped me contemplate my atheism & its role in my life, and my role in the real world.
    Crossexamined is also a good blog, re: following evidence.

    Also, Ryan, you might want to take up the atheist position in any online debates, whether under your real name or not. I think when you’ve faced enough Christian trolls, you’ll realize who’s the hero in this story.
    Cheers, & good luck.

  • UnePetiteAnana


  • onamission5

    I think a lot of former theists started out with the idea of “I wonder what will happen if…” My journey started out with allowing myself to think unanswerable questions, then to ask them, then to voice my doubts, on and on, until finally I challenged the existence of god outright. Just me and the night sky, one on one, and nothing happened. It was such a relief to finally be unburdened from trying to force myself to believe in the unbelievable.
    Whatever direction path this takes him, I wish Bell the best of journeys.

  • tsig

    I betcha he balks at his first baby buffet.

  • UnePetiteAnana

    He no longer has a congregation.

  • tsig

    Good luck. (The baby eating isn’t mandatory) 🙂

  • $84687101

    Really, really, really well said. You’ve laid out something that applies to many of us, and that I think a lot of people have tried to say, or said in different ways, and I think yours may be the best statement of it that I’ve read.

  • UnePetiteAnana

    “Sarcastic bastard.”

    Judgmental loser.

  • $84687101

    I think you missed the joke…

  • Abbie

    Now, I’ve been questioning my religion for a little while now. Now, I was never any form of Christian/Catholic. But I commend him for trying to open his mind and looking at the opposite end of the spectrum. Yes, some of his statements may seem odd, or like he’s doing this for publicity or something like that. But you can’t survive actually looking and thinking about another religion without fully questioning yourself. But I digress before I start getting condescending replies. I hope Bell finds everything he needs on his journey. And I wish him the best of luck.

  • I think my position may be the polar opposite to PZ Myer’s

  • UnePetiteAnana

    Maybe so.

  • I kinda feel like you’re taking exception to one phrase in his announcement: “I will “try on” atheism for a year.” He’s quite clear that he “doesn’t know what he is” and that he will live “*as if* there is no God.” (Emphasis mine.) He’s not trying to fool anyone.

    I, for one, applaud his experiment. It sounds to me as if he’s just saying that he’s seeing if his faith is really there at all and how he’ll fare without expressing that he has one. How else would a person test that?

    If I accepted the premise that one just *is* or *isn’t* an atheist inherently, or that only atheists can breed atheists, I’d be truly disheartened about free will. And free will is kinda a major part of what makes me an atheist and a freethinker.

  • TychaBrahe

    You know, this is how Michael Shermer became an atheist. He was in to all sorts of woo, but decided, as a thought experiment, to live as an atheist for a while. Clean thinking, like clean eating, is a hard habit to break away from.

    Robert Wilson, in his book Prometheus Rising, proposed all sorts of exercises like this one.

    This is from chapter 6:

    1. If you are a Liberal, subscribe to the National Review, the country’s most intelligent (and witty) conservative magazine, for a year. Each month try to enter their reality-tunnel for a few hours while reading their articles.

    2. If you are a Conservative, subscribe to the New York Review of Books for a year and try to get into their head-space for a few hours a month.

    3. If you are a Rationalist, subscribe to Fate magazine for a year.

    4. If you are an occultist, join the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and read their journal, The Skeptical Inquirer, for a year.

    5. Buy a copy of the Scientific American and read any article in it. Ask the following questions: Why do they sound so sure? Does the data support dogmatism at this point, or is dogma a primate habit (defending head-space)? Will these theories still be believed in 2011? In 2593?

    6. Get into a discussion of philosophy with an educated Marxist, an intelligent Moslem and a Japanese businessman at the first opportunity.

    7. Buy some ZOOM or LIFT (two names for the same caffeine-high stimulant) at a Health Food Store. (This gives a close approximation of the effects of illegal cocaine.) When you are Zooming or Lifted and your mind is racing, find a victim and explain the universe to him or her, until they are able to escape you.

    What you experience in this “speed rap” is what the head of the compulsive Rationalist is always like. This is the verbal circuit gone wild and totally oblivious to information coming in on any other circuit. It explains why most people cannot stand Rationalists. “Speed” drugs evidently trigger neuro-transmitters characteristic of the verbal centers of the left cortex.

  • TychaBrahe

    Why should he have to? I don’t “blaspheme the Holy Ghost and deny it.” If you don’t believe in something, you don’t waste your time denying it. When was the last time you actually devoted time to saying you reject the Atman, don’t give a crap about the 8-fold path, and your life isn’t controlled by the Nones?

  • David Whitlock

    He should also critically read the works of other religions that he already is an atheist of; Jedi, Pastafarian, Hinduism, Buddhism (some versions of that are atheistic), Greco-Roman polytheism, Norse, Mormon, Scientology.

  • emblues

    Thanks for this. I didn’t know all that being an SDA entails and I too am curious to see how his experiment turns out.
    I have always been against organized religion, but not all the religious people. From reading this blog and all the people who comment here, you realize we’ve all come from different places to discover our common lack of belief in a god or gods. For some it is an easier road than others. I prefer to reach out my hand to try to help someone over the rocks than to chide them for their fear of the climb.

  • Santamonica Blues

    You’re right–sorry, bad choice of words in my part.

    It’s not clear if Bell is still attending the church and simply not in a leadership position per this statement: (“we won’t kick you out but you can’t participate in leadership”).

    Maybe Bell could clear this up a bit. Is he still attending his church as a member while reading atheistic literature?

    I look forward to following his blog if it’s a true effort.

    I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian environment. I never heard the voice of a god or felt anything when I was forced to pray. I never was a believer, but thought maybe I just wasn’t getting it or doing it right. When I was around 9, as a test, I prayed to a box of Cap’n Crunch every morning during breakfast for a month. Everything happened the same as if I were praying to Yahweh or Jesus. That did it for me, but I had to keep it to myself for quite a while. Later in life, I switched to pasta.

    I say try worshiping the Cap’n for a month or so, Mr. Bell. His face is right there on the box, and he’s ready to answer your every prayer–or not–same a before.

  • Pepe

    BUT, recommended. It’s delicious.

  • b s

    “I prayed to a box of Cap’n Crunch every morning during breakfast for a month”

    Regular, crunch berries or peanut butter? It makes a big difference you know.

  • Blacksheep

    if his year turns out as you predict but it’s an honest, authentic experience, would you fault hime for that?

  • Ninetales Foxkin Wodurid

    It is worth while effort. I have tried the reverse and ended up an anti-theist. I do like the use of religious ideas, like Alain de Botton , but I also appreciate the be your own God used by the Church of Satan ( and yes they do not believe in Satan, he is just a symbol nothing more and its use of ritual as a method of personal therapy) and the meditation uses of Sam Harris.
    I wish him a fun and educational journey!

  • Steven

    The recommendation above that you *should* read the Bible is spot-on. Read it critically, without the context of all the apologetics you’ve heard over the years (read what it says, not what people have told you it means), and by checking what it says against outside sources (and against itself). Not something all atheists do, but beginner Christians-turned-atheists do.

    Skeptics Annotated Bible – – is great for this.

  • Bob Jase

    Until Bell eats a bbq’d baby w/ honey-mustard sauce he’ll just be be a poseur.

  • Bob Jase

    You forgot the part about him asking for money.

  • Steven

    To be fair, he didn’t say he would be an atheist for a year, just that he would act as if he were an atheist, which is really all you can do if you aren’t one.

    I would suggest he try joining the skeptic movement for a year instead, and atheism will follow naturally.

  • Bob Jase

    You lie!

  • Steven

    Maybe you should have kept going. He’s basically doing what all Christians-turned-atheists do, just publicly.

  • Steven

    He has denigrated our prophets and our holy books. Give him a cookie and invite him to your local Humanist meeting.

  • Michael

    Am I the only person here who prefers mutton to lamb?

  • Santamonica Blues

    Regular! Everyone knows the peanut butter is total blasphemy.

  • Bob Jase

    No cookie! He shall not partake of the flesh of Darwin!

  • The Captain

    I do hope he really discovers some critical thinking on religion, but I have a feeling he’s just playing “christian rebel” for a year to rebel. His complaint of why he’s doing this “I had been an outspoken critic of the church’s approach to ..ect” comes off like christian teen angst.

    I seem to run into this a lot, christians who played around with not begin christian and it really is just “playing” or pretend for them. Of they love to claim it was all real, just like I’m sure in a year when Bell proclaim atheism was not for him and christ is the only way he will they say “I used to be an atheist”. It gives him the christian street cred without having actually done it.

    What he’s doing also fits in with that strange christian thing where they all try to claim to have been more depraved than they really where to make them seem more “saved” now. I’ll bet he’ll also smoke a joint at a party and then say he was a drug addict, and get an awkward hand job after a date in the car and claim he was a sex addict too.

  • Bob Jase

    No it doesn’t – its just the Crunchy Trinity.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    I will read atheist “sacred texts” — from Hobbes and Spinoza…

    Pthththt. Try Calvin and Hobbes instead.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Will he be a true atheist for a year? Will he wear a kilt?

    Or will this lead to a book of apologetics where he discusses the moral turpitude he wallowed in for a year?

  • Santamonica Blues

    I disagree. I think the “regular” has more of a Unitarian slant to it.

  • When I first began questioning my Christian beliefs, and stopped praying, and stopped trusting the Bible, I was a very sad and lonely person. It is really, really hard to give up the support system you took for granted your whole life. But I realized that I couldn’t believe anymore, even if it felt good. It took nearly three years before I began to feel comfortable with my beliefs. I hope he understands that.

  • 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

    I think the difference between what he’s doing and what you did comes down to absolute truth.
    Imagine that a flat-earth believer decided to invest a lot of time in looking at the evidence for a round earth, and a round-earth believer invests a lot of time into looking at flat-earth evidence and beliefs. Both approach it with a mix of an open mind and a healthy dose of skepticism. I would argue that both will not have the same experience. The one who believes the earth is round will not be converted by the flat-earthers, because he can see why their arguments are wrong. By contrast, if the flat-earther truly keeps an open mind, he will learn of the truth and change his opinion.
    If we believe God really, emperically isn’t real, then an atheist visiting a church is not the same as a Christian visiting the atheist mindset. This Christian might just be surprised at how much sense the world makes outside of faith.

  • Atheos

    I smell a “I sold my soul on ebay” rebuttal!

  • Sweetredtele

    You are already an atheist to every god but one. Treat BibleGod like the rest.

  • Dave

    I would like to see how it goes for you. Can you keep us updated?

  • UnePetiteAnana

    Did you grow up in an independent fundamental baptist church?

  • Madison Blane

    This was my thought as well…UU would be a good place to start.

  • Mr. Bell, (I address you that way from respect) Ryan, (I address you that way from caring and affection) I wish you well, regardless of the outcome of your year-long experiment.

    I admire you for your sense of justice that caused you to be repelled by the injustices and hypocrisy of your church that you listed in the above-quoted excerpt. I also admire your courage to take precipitous action about that, because there are many people who see the injustices, but are not willing to stand up to them and to suffer the consequences of taking that stand. In those ways, you are an inspiration to anyone, theist or atheist, who cares about people and justice.

    This is an opportunity for you to dispel many of the harmful myths about atheists. One of those myths is that atheists are sad and depressed. I am sure that you are already sad, having had so much frustration with the church that you had to leave, depriving yourself of your work, your income, your status, your social standing, probably the love of many friends, and possibly of the love of family members. That’s got to hurt. Atheists suffer many or all of those things, but the distinction to make is that those kinds of sadness are not caused by atheism itself, but by the intolerance, fear, and loathing of the Christians who reject the atheist.

    If, and only if you come to realize that you are no longer convinced of the existence of deities, you realize that your belief has fallen away, you will most likely feel another kind of sadness, a grief of loss, that yes, does come directly from atheism. Despite all your frustration with the policies of the church and the attitudes of your fellow believers, I imagine that you did gain comfort and assurance from your belief in a fatherly figure that loves you and has your best interests at heart. Realizing that that soothing and encouraging illusion is just that, an illusion often brings a deeper grief than that caused by the loss of social things like job, status, and relationships.

    But you will get through it with the help that you always really had, the help of other people. They will just be a different group of people.

    Please document your emotional journey as well as your intellectual journey. Look for these distinctions in what kind of feelings you experience and where they come from. Whether you end up still a believer or a non-believer, publish your experiences so that Christians will be able to see through those myths about atheists that do so much harm to good, decent people.

    Again, I wish you well.

  • Santamonica Blues

    The church was Methodist, which isn’t necessarily based on a fundamentalist creed, but the various pastors as well as the small town community spanned the entire spectrum of hermeneutics.

  • mnubetcha

    And thank Labor it’s Friday!

  • Diana

    Having spent several years of my adult life intensively studying why people believe what they believe, here’s the thing: People believe what they believe. It is not under one’s own control. It is not susceptible of logic or rational argument. When people appear to change their minds about their beliefs, it is because they had never truly thought about what they believe before, or the thing they truly believe had never been presented to them before. The man will either face the fact he has refused to accept, that he has no faith, or he will reconfirm his faith. Either way, the decision is already present in his mind.

  • Brad C.

    >People don’t change their beliefs; rather, their beliefs change in response to the knowledge they acquire, and to the way they reflect on that knowledge.

    Wow, I really like this, I think it is a really great way to describe the process. Mind if I steal it for my own personal use?

  • anonymous

    I hope you’re wrong. If he gives an honest effort to understand other perspectives and use reason and critical thinking in his search for truth, then I think he’ll find a sense of peace and freedom by letting go of faith.

    Maybe he’ll inspire other theists to pursue reason.

  • jman

    As a previous SDA member turned atheist, I think if this guys takes this seriously he’ll be an atheist in 6 months. There are far too many things in the SDA faith that only make sense with faith. If he sincerely looks for logical explanations he will find them.

  • Troy Traeger

    At first, that is exactly how I thought. I posted a link on my facebook page and my right-wing christian brother says he doesn’t think the guy was a real christian to begin with. This is what my brother says about any liberal christian.

  • jefreygrewuptobeadebaser

    Good people who are athiests continue to be good people. Bad people who are athiests strive for nothing put personal gain and destruction.
    It’s the religious who can truly do whatever they want without repercussion because their God will forgive them, no matter how horrid they are as people.

  • jefreygrewuptobeadebaser

    Yes! “Demon Haunted World” is a game changer.

  • Anymouse

    He can still be conservative, do good works, be a vegetarian, not drink coffee, etc, as an atheist.

  • BoGardiner

    The first year of leaving religion is by far the hardest. It’s when you’re emotionally distraught from leaving behind (and also possibly alienated, in his case) your support network, and before you’ve rebuilt a new one.

    So I will use my (not) psychic powers to predict that at the end of a year’s time, he will declare “Goodness, it feels so lonely and disconnected to be an atheist!” As if it had something to do with god, and not humanity.

    I hope he proves me wrong, though, and wish him the best.

  • Hell, I have the New Testament on Audio book.

    I have the one where Geordi La’Forge gets all up in Jesus’s shit

  • Morton Petri

    To do it correctly from the start, he has to lie to family, friends etc., and proclaim to them – convincingly – he no longer believes in god. Only if he does this will he discover who his true friends are, and how the others will treat him from the onset.

    In reality, he hasn’t thought the whole thing through at all.

  • Adorable. Pretending to give up a smidgen of your privilege.

    Maybe we’ll get lucky, and you’ll actually learn something. But I’m afraid that I’m a bit skeptical.

    It’s more than just reading a few books.

    Those who stand up for actual religious freedom – the freedom to not be Christian – get death threats and other real world consequences. We lose family. We lose friends. We lose jobs. We get driven out of communities. Our children are harassed and threatened.

    So read. You may learn. I’m curious to see though, if you’ll also walk.

  • I hope your wrong as well. I’m not sure that many pastors would try this but the proof will be in the pudding i suppose, if he returns to religion after a year he either conned everyone (even himself?) when he started or never really looked at religion the same way most Atheists do.

  • CottonBlimp

    I’d say less “closet atheist” and more “atheist in denial”.

  • Connie

    I’d like to find that about Georidi’s, “gets all up in Jesus’s shit”.
    Can you please tell me which episode? I just don’t remember that. But since I have all of Next Generation it will be fun to look it up. Thanks, Connie

  • Leslie

    Yes, of course. Never said he couldn’t. But when these are done for religious reasons they can become tangible ways to live as if god doesn’t exist. Especially from an Adventist perspective.

  • wellwhateverfor

    It doesn’t seem to me that people are being fair. It’s very difficult to let go of beliefs you’ve held all your life. It can often be a slow process. Give the guy a break. Kindness from atheists rather than rudeness and doubt would be more likely to help him see “the light”.

  • I pretty much agree with everything you have said here except that I think Bell is just using the “trying on atheism” line for marketing much like you selling your soul on ebay. But I could be wrong. Maybe he really does believe that he is trying on atheism simply by not reading the Bible. To be honest, I kind of got the impression that he is sort of already an atheist just trying to solidify it with himself.

  • Would have been a good episode, but was more about the actor showing up in the audio book frequently.

  • Help yourself. While it feels like an original thought, I’m surely not the first to express it. There’s a whole part of cognitive science devoted to how beliefs develop.

  • Cat

    I don’t think it’s possible to go from Christian to Atheist without there being some period of time where you still believe in god. If Ryan Bell is opening himself up to the atheist worldview, to at least learn more about it and try to understand the mindset, then I think that’s a good thing.
    If he decides that he doesn’t like or agree with what he finds in our world, then sure, he can go back to his original beliefs. But to assume that he’s just pretending to ‘try it out’ so that he can criticize later…I think that’s kinda sad.
    There’s a lot of interesting and persuasive arguments Mr Bell is willing to open himself up to, I wouldn’t be too surprised if his worldview changes permanently and genuinely.
    Mr Bell, if you’re reading this, try looking out for Julia Sweeney’s Letting Go Of God monologue – it’s entertaining and accessible.

  • I would not be too critical here. The social-cultural gap between a practicing faithful person, particularly someone working daily within the theology and ritual of that faith, and the secular atheist world is pretty wide. “Sacred texts”? Atheist gatherings? These are things that religious people all seem to assume we must do because they assume we’re another religion or secretly want to be in a religion or whatever. Once they start talking to atheists and engaging, that point of view should be much less certain.

    Give him a couple months and the experimental parameters might change.

  • Keith Paulusse

    Atheist are also spiritual and are in touch with the spirit deep within, only they may not call it God or Allah, Jesus etc.
    Spirituality is innate in all humanity as much as sexuality is.
    Ryan has been battered by religious people just like Jesus was, after all it was the religious who crucified him not the Atheist of his day.
    Iam not religious my self, I don’t call myself Christian because Iam totally ashamed and embarrassed what Christian Religiosity have done in Christ’s name.
    Iam a follower of the Galilean in heart and mind and consider all men and women equal, and am totally inclusive and love unconditionally in word and deed. I think Ryan is similar.
    I would choose Atheism over Adventism any time and still maintain a Spirituality and decency one rarely finds in Religiosity

  • frozen01

    Woah. You get baby *buffets*?!?! Man, my local atheist chapter must be really cheap. We have baby potlucks (BYOBabies?)

  • Lisa Langman

    Thank you! These were the same thoughts I had when I first read about it. But was not able to put into words.

  • Ryder Ramirez

    This has become obvious to me over time, from just and anecdotal standpoint. It’s pretty interesting how similarly we all can think about something, even when we feel like we’re experiencing something new and unique to ourselves.

  • Jonas

    My Somewhat cynical, somewhat non-cynical view..

    He’s exploring atheism for the wrong reason. – His version of Christianity has many negatives, he’s been critical of. — And good for him. GLBT members are not treated equally, and should be. Several Christian faiths are more welcoming.

    Giving up on God is not necessary to welcome GLBT or female leaders within the church – ex: Unitarians and UCC have female ministers. Reading the rational views of Dawkins in God Delusion does not cover marriage equality, or women’s liberation. If he’d like to meet up with the Harvard Humanists, or the the Ethical Culture Society I’m sure they’d be pleased to welcome him.

    Could he learn equality, from these beliefs — so much the better —
    But Atheism isn’t a magical catch all for a happy GLBT loving, women’s rights upholding Utopia.

  • evodevo

    I wonder if anyone has given him Dan Barker’s “Losing faith in faith”, or pointed him toward the FFRF’s Clergy Project ( He is obviously at the beginning of the doubting process. If he’s Seventh Day Adventist he’s probably never really been exposed to biblical criticism, either. He needs to read up on that, rather than Richard Dawkins.
    Baby steps.

  • Guest

    He’s a pastor in an extremely Biblically literate denomination. It’s almost guaranteed that he has read the whole Bible through all the way at least several times. Not reading it at all for a year, and instead reading alternate authors and others’ critiques of the Bible and Christianity is really the only way to distance himself enough from his old thinking patterns, to take off the goggles of accepted Christian/SDA interpretation, and to really see the text without doing all the mental work-arounds that are by now probably mostly subconscious habit.

  • PC

    Bell is a pastor in an extremely Biblically literate denomination. It’s almost guaranteed that he has read the whole Bible through all the way at least several times. Not reading it at all for a year, and instead reading alternate authors and others’ critiques of the Bible and Christianity is really the only way to distance himself enough from his old thinking patterns, to take off the goggles of accepted Christian/SDA interpretation, and to really see the text without doing all the mental work-arounds that are by now probably mostly subconscious habit.

  • wtfwjtd

    To an extent, I’ll go along with this. As an ex-Christian, I can state that I allowed my personal beliefs to be dictated somewhat by personally important people around me, because I highly valued their friendship, more so than having a consistent philosophical world view. When my father died a few years ago, this eventually changed my entire outlook regarding this circumstance. He was the most important person of faith in my life, and with him gone I had no reason not to question my Christian faith. In other words, it was at this point that my beliefs became more susceptible to logic and rational arguments. When I did a minimal amount of digging, I was shocked to discover just how flimsy the foundations of Christianity are; at this point I quickly dismissed it as another man-made religion.
    For me, ditching denominational religion came first, then discarding Christianity was second, and the god belief was the last to go.It was a years-long process, and was accelerated once I decided to follow all the evidence to where it was actually leading. I think that’s the important thing for the fellow discussed in the article; is he trying to re-confirm a pre-determined outcome, or is he really willing to go where the evidence leads?

  • viaten

    As part of the process, I’d like to have him entertain the idea there’s still a god, maybe not a christian god, maybe just a deist god. That might not be too hard to do. After that, try to entertain, as seriously as possible, the idea of no god, maybe agnosticism or just some kind of universal principle that is guiding everything to some “intended” end. And then entertaining the idea that maybe randomness and physical law might be all there ultimately is, and then the idea that that’s a real possibility may come about. This seems to be a process of how some atheists that used to be believers came to be atheists. Christianity -> liberal theism -> deism -> spiritualism -> agnosticism -> atheism. Trying to jump right into an atheism frame of mind might not work if he doesn’t know what he is trying to jump into. If he allows himself to entertain a sequence of ideas as fully as possible, he may “see the light” more quickly.

  • MN Atheist

    I don’t know…I give him credit (for now) for diving into the evilness that is atheism. You are right. He will not be an atheist for a year, nor will he live like most atheists (closeted???). But I applaud him for trying. Hopefully he will come to an understanding on a couple of things that shake him. Hopefully he becomes involved in the Clergy Project. I bookmarked his page and will follow from time to time. If nothing else it should be very interesting to read!

  • MN Atheist
  • guest

    Leah Libresco tried on Catholism for a while and look where it got her…
    Good luck to the guy.

  • guest

    Everyone is already living their lives as if there is no God, it’s just that religious people don’t realise it yet.

  • Andy Mansfield

    The beauty of atheism is there is no right or wrong. The author is incorrect here. Atheism is just alack of belief in god/s.

  • Benjamin Blair

    Love your perspective, you have helped me re-evaluate my knee jerk reaction to stories like this quite a bit!

  • text-window

    “Until he changes his mind about that, he’s not really living as an atheist.”

    True, but unless I misread his blog entry, my impression is that his faith IS on shaky ground, and adopting a “there’s probably no god anyway” mindset isn’t a big leap. Depending on what he learns and how things progress, he may already be well on his way to becoming an atheist.

    And while he may be exploring atheism for the wrong reasons (as some have asserted), at least he IS exploring it. As the year goes on, he may begin to explore it for the right reasons. Hopefully sound logic and brutal self-honesty will lead him to a sound conclusion. I wish him well on his journey.

  • text-window

    ” then sure, he can go back to his original beliefs”

    I know you meant that as ‘he has the option to’ go back to his original church doctrine if he wishes (and I agree), but even if he’s still a theist by the end of the year, I bet he’ll never find those particular beliefs plausible again. That’s how it went for me, at least. Once the house of cards started to crumble, there was no putting it back together.

    “I wouldn’t be too surprised if his worldview changes permanently and genuinely. ”

    I agree. If he’s as sincere as he seems, I doubt he’ll be able to completely revert to his previous beliefs.

  • anonymous

    i didn’t realize it was necessary to be super technical about what he’s doing. Give him a break. I think you’re making this a bigger deal than it is.

  • Madison Blane

    “Confessions of an Evangelical Atheist” by Amanda Avellone, who was also once a Seventh Day Adventist is an interesting read that explains a lot about what the SDA church teaches and why ‘trying on’ Atheism is a lot more than just not attending church for them.

  • Anonymous

    My point was that doing such is inconsequential to an atheist and would be undertaken without any such apprehension. It’s just silly magic words. This person, a Pastor, is coming from his background of reverence, so he’s not really living as an atheist if he isn’t confronting how his former beliefs condemn him to Hell while his present disbelief frees him from such chains of superstition. His switch to atheism is non-committal if it excludes even the possibility of dispassionate sacrilege.

  • John Blackthorne

    Where did it get her? I heard about it when it happened, and listened to the radio programme she did Hemant on Unbelievable. But that’s all I heard… or… is that the point?

  • Allie

    I don’t think you should generalize atheists as spiritual. I think it’s usually the opposite. I also don’t think it’s innate in humanity…finding answers to life is innate, and it just so happens that spirituality is often the answer we have come up with. It’s a byproduct of our general lack of understanding.

  • Ilan

    The process of “changing one’e beliefs” consists of reflecting on new ideas and determining their significance in the grand scheme of things (ie, reflecting on things). This is in all respects an intentional process, brought about by the thinkers own initiative. (For example, one can acquire new knowledge and deliberately choose to think nothing of it.)

  • wilz

    “trying” on atheism?!! what the heck is that?! if you believe, you believe; if you don’t, you don’t!

  • John Blackthorne

    Not all atheists are spiritual. Some are rather skeptical, learning how we have fooled ourselves by wanting to believe in the mystical, the supernatural, the meta-physical. Being sold a mentality to buy into. Once you learn how the psychology works, you don’t bother to go looking for faeries and ghosts anymore.

    The emotional component to religious indoctrination is not so easily shrugged off as the intellectual component. Not allowing to buy into self-delusional emotional crutches that are reinforced with confirmation bias.

    I would even go as far as to say those that are mere spiritual have shaken off the yoke of religious indoctrination based on an intellectual basis, yet never bothered to learn how they are still being emotionally manipulated.

    Claiming spirituality is innate in humanity is baseless claim. There are people who are quite asexual, just as there are people who are aspiritualists.

  • Drakk

    Iam a follower of the Galilean in heart and mind

    The Galilean transforms are valid only at speeds much lower than the speed of light.

  • Please define what you mean by “sprit” and “spirituality”. I have no idea if I agree with you or not.

  • The decision to be open to changing one’s beliefs is volitional. Actually changing them is not.

  • ImRike

    No, you’re not!

  • Proteus

    How about some comparative religious research?
    Here’s a good one: Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection by D. M. Murdock

  • Elan

    To be honest, it seems like he is not quite sure yet of his beliefs or lack thereof, but wants to be let back in if he decides to continue believing. I think this “trying on Atheism” is his attempt at a cover as he searches, and I totally understand that. So perhaps he isn’t necessarily doing it wrong; he just isn’t ready to jump in with both feet.

    While it isn’t really admirable, I’ve been there and I get it.

  • I got that vibe too. It’s weird he’s acting like it’s some “experiment,” but it’s his life and he gets to handle it the way he thinks best, I reckon.

  • Bec

    I think the most pertinent point here is that if he still believed would he even consider doing this experiment? I would say that he lost his belief and is now struggling in the church. Its a way out strategy, to just tell yourself that you will try something and you can always go back if you don’t like it. Thing is though, once the brain stops believing a lie, its possible to get it fooled by a new lie but impossible to go back and believe the same lie again.

  • R Flaum

    I actually think there’s an incorrect view of how belief works at the base of this. Logically, one can say that either something exists or it doesn’t; there’s no middle ground (most of the time; there are certain sorts of thing that can be said to half-exist). However, belief works on more of a sliding scale. For instance, I know intellectually that the Great Wall of China exists, but since I’ve never seen it in person, it isn’t really real to me in the same way that the house down the street is. (there’s also another way in which belief is continuous rather than discrete, which is that I may be only 95% certain that something exists if the evidence is weak).

    The spread of atheism is very rarely going to happen in the form of people being convinced to switch their stance on God’s existence; it’s far more likely that the belief will simply become less and less “real.” It’s still important to have the rigorous philosophical underpinnings and logical arguments to support the position, but they’re not going to be the main tools of conversion for the great mass of people.

    The model I look at here is astrology. I’m sure you know people who read their horoscopes in the morning paper but don’t really take it all that seriously, the way that someone living in the Middle Ages would. You can imagine someone — in fact there already are people like this, and I think their numbers will grow — who has a similar attitude to religion; who calls himself a Christian, who maybe even prays every so often when he wants something on the theory that it can’t hurt, but who doesn’t really think that there was an actual human being who turned water into wine, rose from the dead, et cetera.

    And this may well be a change that happens within Christianity — not just among the worshippers but even among the professional theologians. The single greatest victory for humanism over the past thousand years has been the abstraction of Hell. To Thomas Aquinas, there was a physical location somewhere underground where sinners were literally set on fire for all eternity. Most Christians now talk about Hell as a much more abstract thing — separation from the Divine, and all that. Which is clever on a philosophical level, but doesn’t really have the same visceral impact.

    The atheists of the future will most likely call themselves Christians.

  • Gatorney

    I agree with you, to a point, but also applaud what Bell is doing. He did state he would attempt to look for explanations other than “God” when things occur, one of your primary criticisms. Will he still believe, in his heart of hearts, that a deity controlled those events? Only he can say. I’m personally a huge proponent of comparative religion education for everyone, and while this experiment is limited to exposing himself to one other belief system, at least he IS exposing himself to it, and acknowledging the weaknesses and holes in the system he had literally devoted his life to.

  • “All that said, here’s some advice for Bell: If you really want to give atheism a try, then look for rational explanations when you might have previously assumed God had something to do with it. You’ll soon realize that the rational explanation is there if you look for it — and if you can’t find it, then you just need to look harder or assume it’s a mystery to everyone.”

    The last line of this just sounds like everything every fundie Christian has ever said to me about God. Irony much?

  • AxePilot

    Thanks…saved me typing it out 😉

  • Agni Ashwin

    “But Atheism isn’t a magical catch all for a happy GLBT loving, women’s rights upholding Utopia.”

    What? You don’t say?

  • text-window

    Although I didn’t announce it (and no one would have cared if I had), when I first started the transition from conservative Christianity to atheism, I approached it all very much like an experiment. I sort of viewed it as an “if this, then that” scenario. It was like a thought experiment.

    I wasn’t yet sold on the “this” premise when I started, but just stepping out of the box, so to speak, was enough to help me see that my beliefs were flawed and that religious claims really couldn’t withstand close scrutiny. Thinking of it as an experiment just made it seem “safe” (for lack of a better term) to venture out and explore, without feeling like I was throwing away the entire social community I’d grown up with.

    I’d like to think this will be a positive experience for him, whether he ends the year as an atheist or not.

  • Verna

    He is not a fool afterall.

  • Ryan

    I’d be inclined to agree. This experiment makes the most sense when viewed as an atheist’s preparation to publicly jump ship.

  • pete084

    Following his line of logic; if I wear a suit and read the Financial Times and books on accounting I’ll be a stockbroker/banker and become incredibly rich!

    You don’t become something simply by reading up on it, otherwise criminal psychologists would become murderers and theives!

    When it comes to the realisation that his prayers are unheard and unanswered, that his god isn’t protecting the weak and vulnerable, and natural disasters aren’t his gods punishment to mankind, then he’ll be an atheist.

  • Gordon Reid

    Pastor Bell should be encouraged for his experiment and not critiqued for it. Last year I volunteered to be in the Atheist Prayer Experiment proposed by Justin Brierley of the “Unbelievable?” show on UK radio. The atheists (about 70 of them) prayed for 40 days for God to reveal His existence. The most irritating thing in the experiment were the Christians who kept telling the atheists they were not praying correctly. Bell is running his experiment. Good for him. I suspect that when he needs advice from atheists, he will ask for it. As for now…good for you Pastor Bell. Have a great year.

  • Cat

    Exactly 🙂

  • Kingasaurus

    The one important difference being that the non-religious side is always appealing to Occam’s Razor.

    If the theists don’t know why something happens, it’s seemingly always something like “God is mysterious but must have his reasons.” God existing is taken for granted.

    The nonbelievers are just saying “we don’t know and neither do you.”

  • I think he is doing is wrong too. Here is my response and my journey from revivalist and recipient of a creative miracle to atheism.

  • SeekerLancer

    This is like saying I’ll try out being gay by not having sex with any women.

    I feel like this plays right into the misconception that atheists actually do believe there is a god they just don’t pray and read different philosophy books and make a religion out of denying.

  • He should absolutely be critiqued for it. Simply because every experiment requires criticism, not just this one. If you think someone’s methodology is flawed, say so! If you think they have a bias, say so! If the experiment is solid, there’s nothing to worry about from critics, and if it isn’t, then the experiment can be changed and improved. Nobody here is being mean to Mr. Bell, They are just giving reasonable criticisms to a declared experiment.

  • Sandrilene

    I think people really enjoy being ‘different’; Christian or atheist or geeks.
    Not being American, it’s hard for me to comprehend the discrimination against atheists. Before the internet I thought the United States were keen on religous tolerence.

  • Sandrilene

    Doing something purely to offend people doesn’t make you a true atheist, it renders you childish.
    Symbols are important to people. For example, a flag is merely a piece of coloured cloth yet people will still be upset if you set fire to it.

  • Anonymous

    blah. I apologize. I couldn’t find my original response.

  • Anonymous

    I already explained what I meant.

    I didn’t advocate that he publicly do this thing, either.

    I said that doing something irrevocably unpardonable, something that means you can NEVER go back, is a true test of your atheism. That’s all I meant.

  • Anonymous

    That explains the purpose of blaspheming. It makes it a one-way trip. I’m not saying that it MUST be done in order to be an atheist, I’m saying that you must be WILLING to do it, or would have no aversion or apprehension of it.

  • QuestioningKat

    Bell, if you are reading this, it will take longer than one year. After disillusionment with my last religion, I decided to do what I did at 18 – turn to the atheists. Yes, I was an atheist at 18 and then reverted to New Thought many years later. I started by eavesdropping on atheists sites.

    Use this time to find the source of all you hold dear in your life. If something good or bad happens, trace the events back to the original cause and perhaps discuss this with atheists to get clarity of the cause. PEOPLE are usually at the core of all that is good or wrong in life. If an opportunity arises, thank the PERSON responsible. Religious frequently “thank God” or say “God Bless You” instead of saying “Thank you so much for all that you have done to me. You have touched my life in an incredible and meaningful way.” Thanking someone directly requires you to open yourself up and be vulnerable to the other person and their possible rejection. Sometimes people close themselves off to others behind their God. If you could come to this minimal understanding, your year will have been worthwhile.

  • QuestioningKat

    ” Christianity -> liberal theism -> deism -> spiritualism ->
    agnosticism -> atheism. Trying to jump right into an atheism frame
    of mind might not work if he doesn’t know what he is trying to jump

    My path – nothing-> RC indoctrination but really deism (until about 12) -> RC-> atheism -> agnosticism-> deism ->New Thought/deism ->agnosticism ->atheism

  • QuestioningKat

    Bell, I also strongly suggest you do some church shopping. Visit the following churches three weeks in a row – Unitarian, Christian Science, Unity, United Church of Christ, liberal Quaker, Religious Science, and three pagan ceremonies. These are perhaps some of the most liberal religions today. Perhaps they will help you see through some of your past views.

  • Christopher R Weiss

    Is the experiment already over???

  • Anna

    But no one can “live as if there is no God” while still believing God’s out there.

    I’m not sure that’s true. I think stepping away from the Bible and organized religion is at least a step in the right direction. From what I’ve observed of the evangelical world, believers are constantly exhorted to pray, read their Bibles, and build their faith in order to keep it strong. To an outsider, it seems almost like an addiction. They can’t go even a day without thinking about and praising their deity, being grateful for its love for them, etc.

    So just stopping everything cold turkey sounds like it might make some previously devout believers see that there is life without religion, that not all people have their heads filled with supernatural thoughts 24/7. After a year-long break, they might discover that they don’t need or miss their deity at all, that their lives are perfectly happy without prayer and church and scripture.

  • Anna

    Sounds like he’s in mourning. Putting a sudden halt to the relationship he feels he has with his god must be difficult for him.

  • Anna

    I haven’t been keeping up with it, either. Is she full-on fundie Catholic now, or is she still “wrestling” with the social issues?

  • Factsvlies

    It is amazing how people can read an article and make it say what they want it to say rather than taking if for what it is… for example he did not say he was not going to read the bible for a year. He said “read the Bible for inspiration”. Key word, Inspiration. That leaves it open to read it to prove atheism if so desired. Reading the comments of encouragement and applause is unbelievably ironic. It is like a group of people in an elevator dropping out of control destined for a deadly impact at the bottom of the shaft. Along comes a gullible fool that decides to join them. They are happy to have him along for the short ride and offer congratulations. They say; you have made a great choice. Now you will be free to do as you wish. You will feel almost weightless, with no one to judge you or tell you how you should live. You can decide what is good and bad… the definition of morality… being kind and so on… True we are doomed and have no hope what so ever beyond this short ride to death. Yes, and life will not be so fun when we are past our prime, old and sickly. Our last moments will not be pleasurable with no relief to look to. The only positive thing in this analogy is that the people on this death ride chose to be there and they can choose to get off before it hits bottom. My hope is that they do since an atheist’s beliefs are anti-logical, unscientific & untrue.

  • Patrick Elliott

    Sacred texts? Yeah.. No one ever rips apart bad arguments made in the atheist “sacred texts”, calls the authors out of misogyny, or other bad behavior, or posts things about how bloody wrong they are about some things.. Sacred texts my ass. The whole point of atheism, for people that get their via knowledge and understanding of the world, instead of just trying it on like a coat (and who, often, then become disappointed at something, and run back to faith), is that you don’t get their by “trying it out”, you get their by first realizing that something is broken, and you don’t understand why, then struggling with both yourself, and your prior assumptions, before finally acknowledging that something else makes more sense.

    A lot of people never get that far. They still cling to comforting ideas, or personal beliefs, which result in them merely switching to a different, and sometimes even more absurd, religion (like the cobbled together mess of Eastern, Western, new age, South American, everything, except the kitchen sink, modern ‘Wicca'”, which, like its other parallels, can be very tempting for someone that wants the “magic” of spiritualism, sans reality, but not the problem of having to try to turn an actual holy book into a pretzel to find ways to interpret it to say things it doesn’t (such as, for example, throwing out the whole selling your daughter to someone to pay off a debt, but keeping the whole, ‘you should hate gays’, bit from the same exact identical passage).

    I spent my early years trying to work out why the heck, while marginally Christian, my parents wouldn’t let me have a book of Bible stories from an uncle, who it later turned out attended a church with a near 100% divorce rate, a sort of family oriented kleptomania that resulting in him stealing even from his own mother, and suspicion, but, sadly, no proof, that he might have molested one of his own daughters. But.. all I knew at the time was that, somehow, “his” Christianity was bad, for some reason. I spent years fumbling through silly nonsenses, including brief encounters with the idea that UFOs might actually be landing, that Wicca might make some sort of sense, etc., before finally realizing that, from the perspective of actual reality about how the world works, and based on the bloody obvious reality of who succeeds and doesn’t in the world, who prospers, and who falls, etc., that none of the explanations make any damn sense at all, unless nearly bloody all of them where made up as a sort of mutually agreed on set of excuses for why some rich monster, with no conscience of empathy “deserved” everything they had in life, while the best, most gracious, people in the world not only had nothing, but where punished for having nothing, nearly every single day of their lives. No one is “happier” for having nothing, the rich monster is *not* unhappy, and they are both, just as certain, for completely contradictory, and mutually incompatible, reasons, if they believe in a religion, that they will be rewarded for being “exactly” what they are, and everyone else, who got in their way, will be punished. And, yes, in point of fact, if you confront them with this obvious contradiction, they will ***both*** tell you that its obvious that they are the ones meant to be rewarded in some made up afterlife (which, BTW wasn’t introduced to Christianity, if you actually read the non-edited originals, until some time about the “last” part of the NT, when they needed a “draw”. Prior to that, the only mention of heaven was a sort of limbo, where, like a lot of religions around the world, you wait around for what ever is supposed to happen later, not a paradise at all, and ironically, there is no mention of hell, as such, at all, *anywhere*. The original things no labelled as that, in the “edited” versions where a sanitation dump, outside the city walls, where its warned, sort of, that all anyone will remember of you, if you fall into bad company, is that your body was sent their to be burned, along with the trash, instead of, I presume, properly buried, and a dungeon, in the later NT, where fallen angels, not “people”, go.), while everyone else has sinned.

    Its funny how, over time, the meaning of things change, when its “convenient” for someone to change them…

    I can only hope, in reading what he, I assume, called “sacred texts”, he remembers that these people who wrote them where human, with flaws, and its not supposed to be, in the same silly, but totally absurd way they claim the Bible has been, “handed down from a higher power”. So, some of what these people say, either in their books (and do get called on for overstepping the line between fact and wishful thinking), or in public, is based on biases, personal errors in judgement, and entirely human flaws, not some claim at “sacred knowledge”, which is supposed to make them infallible. Its way too easily to claim that someone must be wrong about everything, just because they have a single personally flaw (like… say, Dawkins apparent inability to realize he is a male chauvinist, or one of the other’s nearly right wing paranoia about Muslims).

  • Patrick Elliott

    But.. Read more than one version of it? Other people’s analysis of it? Historical data, and not-Bible Archeology (which seems to consist of pestering people doing real archeology, until they say, “Well, I guess, if that was real, it might have happened here..”)? While many of them read the bible cover to cover, they do so in a sort of isolated context, which reinforces “correct interpretation”. That this is a bloody impossible thing to achieve is why there are so many different versions of the religion. That its possible to force yourself, sometimes for a whole lifetime, into thinking it is possible, and struggle to do so, is why any of them still exist at all.

  • viaten

    It’s interesting how some people make a big leap after trying to hold on for as long as possible, some transition steadily through various things, and some jump back and forth or around before settling.

  • He is getting a quick education in the practical side of the religion business, by getting kicked out of it. He is now in the ranks of ex-clergy trying to find jobs. I advise young people who are going off to seminary to also start attending a trade school nights. Carpenter might be a good choice.

  • CJ

    Sometimes, when you’re is dieting, it is perhaps better to just go without cheesecake and brownies for a while, rather than trying all the low-fat/vegan/carob alternatives that simply remind you that you miss real cheescake and this is not chocolate.

  • CJ

    Ha! I didn’t read all the comments. Skeptical_inquirer made much the same reply to new_atheist a few days ago. Apologies.

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