Six days in; Year Without God blogger Ryan J. Bell without a job



Adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University and Fuller Theological Seminary Ryan J. Bell is learning what it costs to announce a journey to live a year without God. Bell, started a blog about his intentions to live as an atheist for a year, and intends to write a book about his journey. As well as being a professor, he is a former Seventh Day Adventist pastor, raised in a churched environment.  A Year Without God:

This was on top of my theological concerns. I couldn’t affirm the teaching that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was the “remnant church” — God’s chosen people to prepare the world for the last days. If fact, there was a lot about the church’s beliefs concerning the last days (and the more proximate days) that troubled me.

In March, I stood my ground on these issues and was asked to resign. I didn’t want to resign but I finally agreed. My family and my health had suffered over the past several years but my faith had suffered most of all. Since that time I have been a religious nomad. I have struggled to relate to the church and, if I’m honest, God. I haven’t attended church consistently; I struggle to relate to church people, preferring the company of skeptics and non-church-goers. I haven’t prayed much and, without sermons to write on a regular basis, I haven’t studied, or even really read, the Bible.

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.

For this life-long Christian, and a pastor for nearly 20 years, this feels abnormal. Risky, even. It is as uncomfortable as a lifelong atheist trying on Christianity for a year. Many of my colleagues will fear for my eternal security (what if I somehow die during the year?), others will question my mental health, reasoning that the recent trauma in my life has sent me over the edge. Perhaps they are right. There has been some religious trauma in my life in the last year and it has shaken the foundation of my faith, but honestly, it was getting pretty shaky anyway.

While Ryan Bell says deans at both schools are willing to talk with him at the end of his exploratory year, he is now out of work. A non-profit Seventh Day Adventist group also let him go.

It began on the evening of January 1—the very first day of my year without god. First text messages, then email saying, “We need to talk.” By noon on Friday I had been let go from all the jobs that I had. Since leaving my position with the Seventh-day Adventist Church—and even before—I was an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University (APU) teaching Intercultural Communication to undergrads, and Fuller Theological Seminary, coaching doctoral candidates in the writing of their dissertation proposals. Both are Christian institutions of higher learning that have a requirement that their instructors and staff be committed followers of Jesus and, obviously, believers in God. They simply feel they cannot have me as a part of the faculty while I’m am in this year long process. Both APU and Fuller welcomed a conversation with me at the end of the year to see about my future work with their institutions. The Deans of both schools encouraged me and said they felt my project was bold and even important and necessary.

With two weeks of savings, he is looking for a job while he explores where he is headed. Hemant Mehta (The Friendly Atheist) has stepped up and set up a fundraising page for Bell. As I write this it has been up for 16 hours and over 8 thousand dollars has been given.

Bell is open about his previous attempts to be an internal critic in his church, advocating for LGBT inclusion, women in leadership, interfaith relationships, questioning six day creationism,  Adventist end-time teaching and how his denomination does evangelism and church growth. “There has been some religious trauma in my life in the last year and it has shaken the foundation of my faith, but honestly, it was getting pretty shaky anyway.”

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

Enough of the “year of” stunts

Seventh-day Adventist pastor plans to flirt with atheism for 12 months

Seventh Day Adventism beliefs deviate from orthodox Christianity, despite the denominations attempts to brand themselves otherwise. (ie: Trinity doctrine, water baptism, sabbath observance and doctrine of Investigative Judgement. (see Apologetics Index) It is a group deeply divided.

In deciding to step outside his bubble, Ryan Bell has been pushed out of the nest. He needs a job, food, shelter and time. it is not enough to wish him God speed, for the bible says:

If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

Dr. Ryan J. Bell is now one of the millions of ‘nones’, albeit a very public one. If you can help him get on his feet financially, while he finds his place, go.

Year Without God – Dr. Ryan J. Bell’s blog

About Bene Diction

Have courage for the great sorrows, And patience for the small ones. And when you have laboriously accomplished your tasks, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.
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11 Responses to Six days in; Year Without God blogger Ryan J. Bell without a job

  1. AtheistAtBirth says:

    When I endured a divorce my entire group of “Christian” friends turned their collective backs on me. I was basically shunned. For a while I thought I must have been a Jehovah Witness People would see me in a department store and literally make for the exits when they spotted me.

    Please don’t give me platitudes about the love of God and the forgiveness and understanding of Christians in general, or some dance about how these weren’t really Christians, blah, blah,blah …. One of the main reasons I questioned, and ultimately abandoned my faith, was due to the cognitive dissonance – trying to reconcile what Christians are SUPPOSED to be like, and what spineless, judgmental and sheep-like behavior looks like from the inside when you receive the “love”. My atheist and agnostic friends displayed NO such arrogant and superior behavior, so I took refuge with them and learned an important lesson. If you slip – don’t expect Christians to come running.

    I’m sure many of you believers will make a quality decision to support Ryan. Some will undoubtably counter with the statement that Seventh Day Adventists aren’t part of your socially acceptable group of believers? I can’t wait to hear the excuses.

  2. BD says:

    I’m sorry you were shunned, faced with superiority and arrogance AatB, I’m glad you found friends to support you.

    Nobody needs platitudes, and it doesn’t matter if Seventh Day Adventists aren’t part of the tribe…

  3. les smith says:

    I’m a little confused by the notion that such a thing is possible.
    When I was 10 or 11, I realized that the idea of a creator is obvious nonsense, and since then I could no linger live a year “as if” there was a god as I could live a year “as if” 2 + 2 were 17.
    Of course, I wish this guy all success in his effort to understand what it is like not to believe, and I appreciate that it is difficult to leave behind the emotional investment – and in his case financial security – of a collection of comforting fantasies.
    Still, to me it was not an effort of will to abandon Christianity, merely one of realizing that the core notion, while technically possible, is so unlikely as to be far beyond laughable. Once I realized that, belief was not a choice. It was – beyond laughable.

  4. les smith says:

    Oh, dear. I should have reviewed that again.
    Of course that should have read “I could no more live a year as if there were a god than …”
    I need either an editor or a little more patience with re-reading my stuff.

  5. Missing Facts says:

    By saying living your life as an atheist for a year, you are saying that you won’t be an atheist after the year. Hmm. So in the back of your mind you’re not really giving up Christianity? Which means you’re a fake atheist? “I promise you that any of the sinful things you say or do can be forgiven, no matter how terrible those things are. But if you speak against the Holy Spirit, you can never be forgiven. That sin will be held against you forever.” — Mark 3:28-29 (CEV). For some reason lately I’ve seen close friends who deny God end up very sick, with some who passed away. The timing seemed too coincidental. Perhaps I’m making a leap to draw a conclusion, but I wouldn’t gamble with God. He always wins. My sin is loud and clear and it has been Christians who have been the most judgmental without knowing the truth, something Jesus warns against. Seems like Ryan’s beef is with the church and he proclaims to be on a journey. My faith is not based on a relationship with the church, it is based on relationship with God. For you atheists who scoff at this comment. If I die believing in God and he’s not there when the lights go out, I’m not concerned. If you die, and God is there, you have a lot to be concerned about. So you do the math.

  6. AtheistAtBirth says:

    Missing Facts … Nothing personal but your final statement decries that you truly are “missing” facts. The position you state is known as Pascal’s Wager and has been organically refuted as a viable argument. It only calculates with two options when there are, in fact, at least four alternatives: The christian God and afterlife, some other god and afterlife, atheism with afterlife, and atheism without afterlife. Therefore Pascal’s wager is invalid as an argument.

    Just how it is you justify having correctly selected the appropriate God, when at least 3,500 Gods are historically known to mankind. An equal number of divisions within Christianity itself undermine any credibility the faith might enjoy.

    You are an atheist insofar as as the 3,499 other Gods are concerned (You don’t believe there is sufficient evidence to support believing in them) – I simply have added one more to the list. Yours.

  7. fjc says:

    Does anyone really care? Other than perhaps his immediate family?

    I doubt it very much. Must have been a slow news day.

    Or perhaps he is planning a future course that will require some gratis PR.

  8. Missing Facts says:

    AthesitAtBirth…If you say there is no God, then you must think everything happened by accident. Therefore you’re more religious than me because I don’t have that much faith.

  9. AtheistAtBirth says:

    Missing Facts .. Clearly you are right. You don’t have enough faith to think.

  10. Missing Facts says:

    AtheistAtBirth…you should give God a try. If it doesn’t work out Satan will always take you back.

  11. AtheistAtBirth says:

    Missing Facts …

    So sorry I’m late to the party, but you came up with such a profound response, I had to re-visit this old post!

    We atheists tend not to believe in talking snakes, men in fish’s bellies, the sun standing still, and 900 year old boat builders – not to mention zombies running around, jews lost in an area the size of Calgary for 40 years, god raping virgins, and talking trees.

    If you’d care to discuss God, by all means lets give it a go. What would you like to know? Apparently, your imagination includes pitchforked carrying red men who dwell in the magna of the earth, so DO let’s talk about this !!!

    You start!

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