Pastor Ryan Bell made a stir when he announced that he was going to try a year without God — a year of living as an atheist. Now, as the year concludes, the former pastor says that what he thought would make him appreciate God more has, instead, made him feel that there is not enough evidence to support belief.
When Bell announced his experiment in January, it was met with skepticism from many viewpoints. Some atheists said that “living as an atheist” didn’t make sense, since there isn’t exactly an “atheist lifestyle” so much as a rejection of belief in God. Some Christians expressed fear for Bell’s soul. People of many varying religious stances called it a publicity stunt.
Speaking to NPR in January, Bell called it a way to confront the doubts about God that he says were plaguing him, and had already caused him to leave his position as a pastor at a Seventh Day Adventist church in California.
Shortly after his announcement, Bell was fired from his teaching position at a Christian University. As his year without God progressed, Bell blogged about his experiences, first at his own site, then at Patheos, which hosts blogs about religion from all points of view.
Now he says his year has convinced him he doesn’t have to believe in God in order to have a full, happy, valuable life, and that he can’t find evidence enough to prove God’s existence to himself.
Of particular contention to many listeners, he closed his NPR interview with this quote:
“Before, I wanted a closer relationship to God, and today, I just want a closer relationship with reality.”
Bell says that he has a lot more to say on the subject of his year without God, and on religion, and rejecting it, and that he’ll be sharing these thoughts in a series of blog posts in the last few days of the year.
Meanwhile, his thought process has caught so much attention that “A Year Without God” is the subject of a documentary that’s underway to chronicle Ryan Bell’s journey from Christianity into non-belief.
The controversy over his actions, and the publicity of them, continues. On NPR’s Facebook share of the story, for instance, people accuse “bad Christians” or “so-called Christians” for turning the former pastor away from God. Others accuse Bell of seeking a payday — a book deal, or fame from the documentary. NPR, too, is being accused of bias for covering his story of leaving faith, when there are also stories of people who find faith.
A common response, though, seems to be that Bell’s “year without God” closely mirrors the experience of many former Christians, who say they only accepted their doubts when they learned that they could still live their lives without their former beliefs.
Regardless of reasons, Bell’s journey must have been a difficult one, and will surely be an interesting one to see chronicled in documentary form. Could you live “a year without God”? What do you think of the experiment?
[Photo: A Year Without God]