It was almost a year ago when Ryan Bell, a professor and former pastor of a Seventh-day Adventist church, announced that he would “try on” atheism and “live as if there is no God” for 12 months.
I didn’t agree with his methodology at the time. I felt like he was just exploring an alternative option, not actually “becoming” an atheist. Hell, most atheists don’t even read books by Richard Dawkins or attend gatherings with other non-believers, so how would doing those things give Bell a real sense of what being an atheist was like?
But he got a taste of what being an atheist was like much sooner than expected. Less than a week after announcing his experiment, Bell was fired by his Christian employers at Azusa Pacific University and Fuller Theological Seminary because, according to Bell, “They simply feel they cannot have me as a part of the faculty while I’m am in this year long process.”
Readers of this site came through in a big way and helped raise more than $27,000 for his family as they coped with this sudden unemployment.
That year has come to an end. So what has Bell decided about God?
In an NPR story today, he told reporter Arun Rath that atheism just makes more sense to him now‘:
“I’ve looked at the majority of the arguments that I’ve been able to find for the existence of God and on the question of God’s existence or not, I have to say I don’t find there to be a convincing case in my view.“I don’t think that God exists. I think that makes the most sense of the evidence that I have and my experience. But I don’t think that’s necessarily the most interesting thing about me.”
So, over the past year, Bell critically analyzed the beliefs he grew up with — and professed from the pulpit — and realized that the evidence just didn’t support it.
If only more people had the courage to put their faith under such scrutiny.
Bell isn’t necessarily an “enthusiastic” atheist, but neither are millions of other Americans out there. He also doesn’t claim to be certain about his atheism — but that’s also on par with most atheists: We’re open to evidence for God’s existence. We just don’t think there is any.
To be sure, I would’ve supported Bell either way. Even if he came to the conclusion that Christianity still rang true for him, I would’ve applauded the fact that he bothered questioning those beliefs at all.
He took something that he, at one time, felt incredibly certain about and put it under a microscope, knowing there was a chance he wouldn’t like what he saw. Most people fear that. They would never do what he did. It’s like jumping out of a plane without knowing if there’s a parachute inside. Bell found a parachute even if it looked nothing like what he imagined:
“I think before I wanted a closer relationship to God and today I just want a closer relationship with reality,” Bell says.
Bell has a new job, by the way, putting his Humanism in action. He’s working with a group called People Assisting The Homeless (PATH). He worked with them when he was a pastor, but now, it’s just more evidence that he can still be good without God.