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January 8th, 2014
08:39 AM ET

Pastor tries atheism, loses jobs, gains $19,000

By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor

(CNN) - In the past, at times like these, when his life foundered and frayed around the edges, Ryan Bell often prayed for help. But this year, at least, the pastor has resolved not to.

For the next 12 months, Bell says he will live as if there is no God.

He will not pray, go to church, read the Bible for inspiration, trust in divine providence or hope in things unseen. He’s taking the opposite of a leap of faith: a free fall into the depths of religious doubt.

Bell’s “intellectual experiment,” which began January 1, has already borne dramatic consequences.

In less than a week, he lost two jobs teaching at Christian schools near his home in Los Angeles. He’s 42 and has been a pastor or in seminary for most of his adult life. Now he faces the prospect of poverty and taking odd jobs to feed his two daughters, 10 and 13.

“There have been times, usually late at night and early in the morning, when I think: What have I done? It really undermines the whole structure of your life, your career, your family,” Bell said.

But just as the man of God began to despair, he found help from an unlikely source: atheists.

'Suspending belief '

The seeds of Bell’s journey were planted last March, when he was asked to resign as pastor of a Seventh-day Adventist congregation in Hollywood.

He had advocated for the church to allow gay and lesbian leaders, campaigned against California’s same-sex marriage ban and disputed deeply held church doctrines about the End Times.

Eventually, his theological and political liberalism became more than leaders in the denomination could bear, and he lost his career of 19 years. His faith was shaken, and for a while Bell became a “religious nomad.”

On the positive side, losing his church job gave him the freedom to question the foundations of his religious belief without fear of troubling his congregation.

“I could finally pursue those questions that had been bouncing around my head,” he said, while earning money from teaching, speaking and consulting jobs.

MORE ON CNN: Behold, the six types of atheists

Then, after lunch with a friend last year, he thought: What if he tried out atheism, and lived with no religion at all for a year?

“It’s like when you go to a movie and you suspend disbelief for three hours to get inside the story,” Bell said. “I’m suspending my belief in God to see what atheism is all about.”

Bell, who still holds ministerial credentials in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, thought it would be a neat little intellectual experiment.

He would interview atheists, attend gatherings of nonbelievers and read through the canon of skeptics: Friedrich Nietzsche, Baruch Spinoza, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, among others.

When friends got sick, instead of praying, as was once his immediate response, Bell said, he would “do something tangible and practical and supportive for them.”

He would start a blog, “Year Without God,” and write about his faithless journey. Bell thought maybe a few people would read his posts, follow along and offer advice or criticism.

“I didn’t realize, even four days ago, how difficult it would be for some people to embrace me while I was embracing this journey of open inquiry into the question of God’s existence,” Bell wrote on Saturday.

‘We need to talk’

The first signs of trouble came around the turn of the new year, just days after Bell announced his experiment online.

Texts and e-mails arrived from friends, family and colleagues with the ominous phrase, “We need to talk.”

Kurt Fredrickson, a friend of Bell’s and associate dean of ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, sent one of those messages.

Bell, a graduate of Fuller, had taught in the school’s doctorate development program for the past year. But Fredrickson told his friend that his sabbatical from faith meant a sabbatical from the seminary as well.

“From an academic standpoint, and even as a personal journey, I’m really excited about what Ryan is doing,” Fredrickson said.

"There is no honest person of faith who doesn’t have doubts, and Ryan is being courageous enough to take a step back and assess his life. This is bold stuff.”

But Bell’s job at Fuller was to help students through their doctoral dissertations, a particularly stressful time, Fredrickson said, when seminarians need to lean on a person with strong faith.

“They are flying solo for the first time, and we want to not only teach, but to nurture souls as well,” Fredrickson said. “Ryan saying he’s going to be an atheist for a year is a little contradictory to that.”

Fuller would be happy to talk to Bell when his experiment is over, the dean added.

MORE ON CNN: What Oprah gets wrong about atheism

Azusa Pacific University, where Bell had taught intercultural communication since 2011, also declined to renew his contract.

Rachel White, a spokeswoman for the school, wouldn’t comment, saying it was an internal personnel matter. But she said all school and faculty are expected to sign a statement of faith outlining their belief in Christianity.

Also this year, Bell lost a consulting job with a Seventh-day Adventist Church in Glendale, California.

Bell said he bears no ill will toward the church or the schools that let him go, though he wishes they would tolerate, if not support, his atheism experiment. The loss of income has led to some family stress, he said.

“I have kids to support and utilities to pay and the rent is due,” Bell said. “At this point I’m willing to do almost anything.” Bell said he and his wife are divorcing, though not because of his atheist experiment.

Meanwhile, the phone calls, e-mails and texts from friends and family worried about the fate of his soul continue to pour in.

‘A beautiful gesture’

“He learned what it’s like to be an atheist real fast,” said Hemant Mehta, a prominent atheist blogger and schoolteacher in Illinois.

Mehta said he knows many atheists who fear that “coming out of the closet” will jeopardize their jobs and relationships, just as in Bell’s experience.

Mehta said he doesn’t exactly agree with the premise of Bell’s experiment. How does someone pretend to be an atheist? It’s not like a hat you wear to see if it fits. Faith taps into deeply held beliefs and emotions. Even during his experiment with atheism, won't there still be a nagging suspicion in the back of Bell’s mind that God exists?

(For the record, Bell describes his current theological views as agnostic - somewhere between belief and atheism. But he's trying to put that aside for the year to live and think like an atheist.)

Mehta said he admired Bell’s pluck and sympathized with his plight. Though he had never spoken with the pastor, Mehta set up an online fundraiser for Bell on Tuesday. In just one day, nearly 900 people donated more than $19,000 to help “the pastor giving atheism a try.”

“I think more than anything else, people appreciate that this guy is giving atheism a shot,” Mehta said. “I mean, he lost three jobs in the span of a week just for saying he was exploring it.”

Bell said he knows Christians and agnostics who have contributed to his fundraiser as well, so it’s not an all-atheist effort.

Still, he’s impressed that nonbelievers have flocked to help fund his experiment

“It really validates that the (atheist) community is really all about the search for truth,” Bell said. “They know that I might not even end up as an atheist at the end of my search, but it doesn’t matter to them. It’s such a beautiful gesture.”

Will the support tip Bell toward atheism? The pastor is agnostic about that, too – for now.

MORE ON CNN: Can atheist churches last?

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Christianity • evangelicals • Faith • Lost faith

soundoff (6,251 Responses)
  1. JCS

    Adults with imaginary friends are stupid. Perhaps this guy will really recognize this once his experiment is over.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:54 am |
  2. Badeeba

    The cynical will say that he deliberately wrecked his employment prospects (temporarily) so he could get a better divorce settlement.

    But seriously, he will discover that life as an atheist is very average and normal, except for all the prejudice.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:53 am |
    • Kyle

      A cynic could also foresee a book deal in his future, aimed at either the atheist audience, or Christians eager for yet another Progdical Son story once he returns to the flock with much to say about how atheism isn't all that great.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:59 am |
      • In Santa we trust

        Right. A kind of sequel to "A year of living biblically". Not sure how one can really emulate an atheist as presumably he really hasn't changed his views.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:16 am |
  3. AE

    I tried being an atheist. It didn't work out for me. Good luck, Ryan.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:52 am |
    • Ian

      Yeah, you'd need to be much smarter, AE, to be an atheist.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:53 am |
      • AE

        Nope. Any idiot can be an atheist.

        January 8, 2014 at 10:59 am |
        • In Santa we trust

          And any idiot can be a believer, it's just easier as you can ignore the evidence that shows that religion's foundations are non-existant.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:17 am |
        • AE

          Is that what you imagine I do? Luckily I'm not confined by your imagination.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:22 am |
        • In Santa we trust

          It's not my imagination. Our knowledge shows that the universe was not created in six days, that Adam was not formed from dust, that Eve was not formed from Adam's rib, etc., etc. So the creation myths are not correct. The creation myth is a god's credentials (to show that it is omnipotent, etc.). So the credentials are missing – what other evidence is there outside of your mind?

          January 8, 2014 at 11:31 am |
        • AE

          There is your imagination at play again! What evidence am I ignoring in my decision to be a Christian and believe in God?

          A lot of our knowledge about the universe came from Christian minds. Apparently they know the difference between an origin story and science.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:36 am |
        • In Santa we trust

          Our knowledge shows that the universe was not created in six days, that Adam was not formed from dust, that Eve was not formed from Adam's rib, etc., etc. So the creation myths are not correct. The creation myth is a god's credentials (to show that it is omnipotent, etc.). So the credentials are missing – what other evidence is there outside of your mind?

          January 8, 2014 at 11:40 am |
        • AE

          I can study the Genesis story and have truths revealed. It is an origin STORY. It speaks to our hearts, not just our minds, so it uses poetic and literary devices. It is not the only credentials I use to believe in God. Evidence found in nature, mathematics, science and history points to God.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:53 am |
        • In Santa we trust

          But there is no evidence that a god created any of those or anything in fact. All the science etc. works without the supernatural (even though you connect them).

          January 8, 2014 at 12:00 pm |
        • AE

          Inside your mind they work without God. But we all don't live inside your mind.

          January 8, 2014 at 12:02 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          In the real world they work without a god. You have no evidence of a god. You claim to have been an atheist and "saw the light" yet despite many requests you have not been able to identify what evidence it was that convinced you.

          January 8, 2014 at 12:50 pm |
        • AE

          In your mind they work without God. It is just your opinion and understanding.

          January 8, 2014 at 1:01 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          Still no evidence then. That really does mean it's only in your mind.

          January 8, 2014 at 1:55 pm |
        • AE

          By your standards and in your mind, sure. But this world doesn't operate by your standards and nobody else lives in your mind. 1 guy on the internet doesn't make all the evidence in the world that points to God disappear. The evidence is still everywhere.

          January 8, 2014 at 2:24 pm |
    • Dave

      True. It takes brains to be an athiest.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:57 am |
      • AE

        Atheist just means you don't believe in God.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:00 am |
        • G to the T

          Agreed. I'm getting a bit tired of the whole "belivers are dumb, atheists are smart". History simply shows this not to be the case. In addiiton, nueroscience is showing that the beliefs we hold have almost nothing to do with how "intelligent" we are.

          Intelligent people are perfectly capable in believing "weird" things (either way) beacause they are better are rationalizing their beliefs after the fact. That's why is so important to try and back up what you believe with evidence.

          January 9, 2014 at 12:14 pm |
  4. JJ

    This is ridiculous. This would be similar to a heterosexual going gay as an experiment.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:52 am |
    • AAAAHHHHhhhhhhh

      Not at all. People are not born with beliefs.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:57 am |
    • Madtown

      I don't think it's very similar. Religious affiliation is a choice, orientation is not.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:00 am |
      • Dan

        Religious affiliation is not a choice. I could not "choose" to believe in smurfs, just as I can't "choose" to believe in God. Either you believe or you don't, it's not a choice. And further more, very few believers actually choose to believe, most have been indoctrinated from a very young age and originally had no choice in the matter.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:40 am |
        • G to the T

          Belief may not be but affiliation certain is. That being said, most people are brought into these affiliations at such a young age that they wouldn't be able to comprehend following a different belief (i.e. if you are born in US, more than likely you will be christian, in India – hindu, etc.).

          January 9, 2014 at 12:17 pm |
    • Drones

      Your comment is ludicrous

      January 8, 2014 at 11:01 am |
  5. Ivan

    The guy was never a believer.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:51 am |
    • Ian

      Ivan, there are No True Scotsmen. Look it up, stupid.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:52 am |
    • Dan the man

      What a perfect example of the hate and intolerance atheists face from people who claim to love their neighbor.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:54 am |
      • Dave

        What they mean by love their neighbor is to love their 'christian' neighbor. They enjoy leaving that part out

        January 8, 2014 at 10:59 am |
  6. Jweller

    Good for him! It's about time we stopped believing in mythical beings that allow or cause so much pain and suffering. We are in control and we need to try to do better as a group. Not do better because there might be some punishment later but because we know what is right and wrong. One of the GREATEST LIES perpetrated was the statement "be fruitful and multiply." This is one one the many base roots of a LOT of our issues today. There is not enough to go around and yet the main stream religious sects all seem to have a LOT of wealth. They got their wealth by creating a fear of being judged by some mythical being.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:50 am |
  7. Journey

    In my experience, and at the risk of sounding intolerant, a lot of people who bash Christianity are the same ones praying when nobody is looking and read the Bible. They hide it under their bed at night. Sort of like that person every knows who HATES gay people...but secretly...

    Same principles applies to most of the so-called atheists on CNN Belief blog.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:46 am |
    • ialsoagree

      I have a bible. And I ridicule christianity.

      Having a bible and reading it doesn't mean I believe in it. It means I read it to find inconsistencies, or to understand the arguments theists might use so I can better debunk them.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:49 am |
      • falcon17

        It's hard to find truth if you are not willing to be objective, it seems. If your mindset is predetermined to Atheistic conclusions, and you don't have an open mind and open heart, you may be hindered. Even the Dalai Lama or Gandhi might tell you this.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:01 am |
        • ialsoagree

          Agreed, as a scientist, I base my opinions on what I can demonstrate to be true.

          By extension, I accept reason and logic – with the understanding that those arguments can be disproven given new evidence.

          I fail to find any peice of evidence, or any rational argument to believe in a deity. Therefore, I do not believe in a deity.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:06 am |
        • In Santa we trust

          It's hard to find truth if you are not willing to be objective. If your mindset is predetermined to religious conclusions. You didn't know of your god until someone told you, most likely your parents. All creation myths have been shown to be incorrect by modern knowledge. In the face of that, how would an objective person cling to ancient superstitions?

          January 8, 2014 at 11:06 am |
    • truthprevails1

      Oh please enlighten us with how you are so certain of this.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:49 am |
    • Prayer is Worse Than Just Useless

      Prayer takes people away from actually working on real solutions to their problems.
      Prayer prevents you from getting badly needed exercise. Prayer makes you fat.
      Prayer wears out your clothes prematurely.
      Prayer contributes to global warming through excess CO2 emissions.
      Prayer messes up your knees and your neck and your back.
      Prayer reveals how stupid you are to the world.
      Prayer makes you think doilies are exciting.
      Prayer makes you secretively flatulent and embarrassed about it.
      Prayer makes your kids avoid spending time with you.
      Prayer makes you frothy like Rick Santorum. Just google him to find out more.
      Prayer makes you hoard cats.
      Prayer dulls your senses.
      Prayer makes you post really stupid stuff.
      Prayer has been shown to have no discernible effect towards what was prayed for.
      Prayer wastes time.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:51 am |
    • George

      You are stupid. That is so idiotic it doesn't need any more response than to say it says nothing about atheists and everything about your extreme narrow-minded ness.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:51 am |
    • igaftr

      I am absolutley certain that your experiences never allowed you into my bedroom, nor the millions of other atheists.

      Your statement is of pure ignorance, like the people who think there are no atheists in foxholes....there are atheists in fox holes...many of them, and we won't be reaching out to any gods on our deathbeds, or secretly believing in myths.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:53 am |
    • ME II

      @Journey,

      Your logic seems off. People hide things because they will be ridiculed or harassed for it, e.g. being gay. Being Christian on the other hand is the accepted identi.ty in the US, not Atheism.

      Also, many Atheists read the Bible as well as other religious scriptures in order to be informed about the subject, not as believers.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:53 am |
    • toodark

      Bold face, unsupportable and unsubstantiated assertions.

      We get it...you're a theist.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:54 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Your experience is obviously worthless... thanks for playing

      January 8, 2014 at 10:55 am |
    • babooph

      I've noticed most "Christians" rush to doctors whose training has foundations in evolution,as soon as they are sick.Looks like there are no Christians in foxholes...

      January 8, 2014 at 10:56 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      I certainly don't hide my Bible – or any of the other books about religion and mythology that are in my library.
      Good mythology is inspiring becuase it can reveal truths about human nature.
      Just because I study it, that doesn't mean I believe it.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:56 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      How would you know if they do it in private?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:03 am |
    • tallulah13

      I've read this comment several times on different articles on this blog, and the same thought occurs to me every time: You have no idea what you are talking about, so you simply choose to lie. Not surprising. There are a lot of liars for Jesus on this blog.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:07 am |
  8. Jeanneboo

    He lost his jobs because all of them had a stated job requirement of Christian belief. Any job will fire you if you don't do what is required by the job. Another job, such as engineer, would not have the same requirement and he would not have been fired. An agnostic is not a Christian and has no business of pastoring Christians as he does not embrace that faith.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:46 am |
  9. STR

    The problem with an atheist is that they have "no purpose for existing."
    Ask an atheist, What is your purpose?"
    S/he will respond, "Does there have to be a purpose?"

    January 8, 2014 at 10:46 am |
    • ialsoagree

      I create my own purpose.

      My purpose is to do what I want to do. =)

      January 8, 2014 at 10:47 am |
    • skeptic4321

      Nice strawman

      January 8, 2014 at 10:48 am |
    • George

      Straw man argument. Fail.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:49 am |
    • Hed

      STR, perhaps you should acknowledge that you don't have a proven solution to that "problem". Or just go on being dishonest...

      January 8, 2014 at 10:50 am |
    • Sam

      What's the purpose of non-atheists then?

      January 8, 2014 at 10:51 am |
    • Econ301

      Why does there have to be a purpose is a valid answer to your question.

      So please answer why does there have to be a divine purpose?

      January 8, 2014 at 10:53 am |
    • vdc

      what is that a problem?

      January 8, 2014 at 10:56 am |
      • vdc

        grr, why?

        January 8, 2014 at 10:56 am |
    • toodark

      My purpose is what I determine it to be.

      The purpose of a theist is to grovel at the feet of a celestial mob boss.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:57 am |
    • truthprevails1

      Of course we have purpose and each of us define that purpose differently.
      What is your purpose in this life?

      January 8, 2014 at 10:57 am |
    • babooph

      If the purpose of life is to be delusional, maybe then they question religion...

      January 8, 2014 at 10:57 am |
    • Jweller

      According to your doctrine your sole purpose is to serve and praise the mystical being called God. Way back when we praised Apollo and Zeus, etc. We finally got smart enough to know that the sun wasn't pulled across the sky ion a chariot and we also learned that Poseidon doesn't control the seas. We also now know the Earth isn't flat. So you can be a slave to your mythical being all you want but I'll choose intelligence over mythology any day.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:04 am |
    • tatangb

      The purpose of living is life itself. Make the best of it, there is no second chance.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:07 am |
    • tallulah13

      As a species, our "purpose" is to reproduce and pass on our genetic material. As individuals, we are free to determine our own "purpose". Some people need a book of myths to determine their "purpose". Some people do not.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:12 am |
  10. Josh

    It's 2013 and folks still worship a dead-guy-on-a-stick. Oh well.a

    January 8, 2014 at 10:45 am |
    • Russ

      @ Josh: check that calendar again.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:46 am |
      • Pegasus

        hardy har har!!! Atheist wisdom at play.

        January 8, 2014 at 10:48 am |
        • Russ

          @ Pegasus: nope... if Josh could miss one, why not the other?

          January 8, 2014 at 10:52 am |
    • Like a Boss

      Even here in the future of 2014 they still do!

      January 8, 2014 at 10:47 am |
  11. George

    This is pure bull on his part. First, if you truly believe, you CAN'T suspend your belief. You can stop going to church or even reading the bible, but prayer is the communication tool between God and man via the Holy Spirit. You can't just disconnect the line unless you outright REJECT God and kick the Holy Spirit out. If he truly believed, then he will always be in some sort of prayer, especially in tough moments. If he is able to NOT pray in those moments, then I would question if he was ever 'Saved' to begin with. In addition, being connected to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I can totally believe he has never been truly saved.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:45 am |
    • ME II

      Confirmation bias? While I agree that this approach is basically a farce, your definition of "being saved" is fallacious, I think.

      If one can stop believing, then one was never truly saved?

      January 8, 2014 at 10:48 am |
      • Econ301

        I agree this is an example of confermation bias.

        IE: If you say only pink elephants exist and then find a blue elephant your response is that the blue elephant isn't an elephant at all it's something almost exactly but not quite like an elephant. Which is disingenuous, because you are rejecting data that conflicts with your hypothesis.

        January 8, 2014 at 10:56 am |
    • vdc

      What do people need saving from? Imaginary "sins"?

      January 8, 2014 at 10:57 am |
      • Jweller

        I especially like the part that I am being condemned for something a couple of people did "6,000" year ago!!! Darn, does this mythical being really hold a grudge or what! lol

        January 8, 2014 at 11:12 am |
    • Jweller

      Actually, George, you can "stop" believing in something once you have facts. I used to believe also. A lot of my faith and belief was because I was young and around people that did believe. It made me lie to myself and "feel" like I had faith. Once I woke up I realized that the current mythical being is exactly like the old mythical beings like Zeus, Apollo, and Neptune, etc. Mythical beings are created by up to three things. One is our lack of understanding. The second is fear of the unknown and third is a group of power hungry people that want to control all the people they can. That is human nature and until we evole past that ape-like thinking we will never be as great as we might be otherwise.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:10 am |
    • ScienceSoma

      George – you should look up the "No true Scotsman" fallacy in reference to determining Mr. Bell has never been truly saved. It is a justification mechanism used by those of a a particular belief or affiliation (political, national, religious) whereby they assign properties to their belief or affiliations to invalidate someone who once had the same belief but no longer does in order to maintain the perceived stability of that affiliation/belief. For example: "No true Republican could support the ACA" is popular now, thus rendering any Republican who supports the ACA not a real Republican (RINO). It is a defense mechanism born of fear that if someone once held beliefs sacred to the observer and were somehow persuaded to change, it implies the observer's belief could also change, and thus they are not necessarily as solid as they consider them to be. Questioning is good, following evidence in all matters is even better.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:21 am |
    • miguelarvelo01

      I'm SDA, I can tell just by the fact that he is "trying the other side" that this guy's faith has been dead for years now. Jesus said "you shall know them by their fruits", this guy might had been saved at some point but he definitely lost the way a long time ago. However, can you say that because I'm SDA I'm not saved? Who are we to say who's saved and who's not to begin with? James 4:12 says "There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?" Leave salvation to Jesus Christ and the Judgement to God the Father. And since by your statement about SDA I feel you might not really know what Seventh Day Adventism is all about I'm more than willing to share the Bible teachings we preach with you and others who might so desire.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:46 am |
  12. pat

    He had theologically based jobs, duh. It's like an accountant that decided to quit believing in numbers. If he didn't want to jeopardize his positions in the church, he should have either not done his little experiment or at least keep it to themselves. It's ridiculous to believe that if you hold a job where theism is it's core and you choose to be atheist, that you would retain you position.
    Do you think that if the editor for atheism.org became a devout Catholic, that he would retain his position? Or if an employee of thinkprogress.org became a Republican that they would keep him? That'd be a no.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:44 am |
  13. Like a Boss

    Think of what would have happened if he was a Muslim Cleric in the middle east and he pulled this.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:44 am |
  14. mom2homer

    I don't see how a person of faith can realistically "try being" an atheist for a year, any more than someone who's straight or gay can "try being" gay or straight for a year. There are fundamental differences between believing in god and believing there is no god, and they go beyond thought experiments. More power to him, if he's an atheist finally coming out of the closet–welcome to our fold–but to imagine that faith is a switch you can turn on and off discredits believers and atheists alike.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:43 am |
    • igaftr

      He likely is more agnostic than atheist...most people do not understand the distinction, or the fact that one can be both atheist and agnostic, as I am.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:47 am |
    • douglas2013

      Well said by mom2homer. And I don't see what is so "surprising" to Mr. Bell that Christian organizations want him to take an unpaid leave of absence while he perhaps works out his faith issues vis-a-vis atheism. Just because Christians probably never go "doubtless" doesn't excuse going "faithless." Faith is not something we manufacture ourselves, it is a gift of God. If you trifle with God's gift, that's not good.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:07 am |
  15. Seoras

    God exists independently of human belief. The acceptance or denial of God's existence is a human choice.
    This pastor's denial of the reality of God calls into question whether he was really a believer in the first place.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:42 am |
    • ialsoagree

      God fails to exist independently of human belief. The acceptance or denial of god's lack of existence is a human choice.
      This pastor's denial of the reality of god's lack of existence calls into question whether he can ever really stop being a believer in the first place.

      ^Fixed it for you

      January 8, 2014 at 10:44 am |
      • falcon17

        Still broken.

        January 8, 2014 at 10:54 am |
    • igaftr

      Or, there are no gods at all.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:46 am |
    • skeptic4321

      "God exists independently of human belief"
      Really? Which god? And how do you "know" this?

      January 8, 2014 at 10:46 am |
      • Econ301

        I'm sure he conducted scientific interviews of many non-humans to determine that they have the same creation myth that he does.

        January 8, 2014 at 10:49 am |
    • cptdondo

      LOL! There are more gods than believers. If they all exist, then the god bus must be pretty crowded by now.

      I have yet to two christians who believe in the same god or read the bible the same way or interpret the teachings of Christ the same way.

      All, without exception, use god, the bible, and Jesus to justify their own fears, wants, and prejudices.

      Now extend this to the thousands of religions that exist and have existed, and your pantheon becomes crowded indeed.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:59 am |
    • ScienceSoma

      The laws of physics exist independently of human belief. Every human could wake up with amnesia and come to the exact same conclusions about the nature of the universe, gravity, weather patterns, atoms, etc. God changes with the people that believe in him in order to stay viable. You cannot deny that the interpretation of even the Christian figure of God is as diverse as his modern followers, let alone when the nature of his character is examined throughout Christianity's history. The way your God is perceived 50 years from now would be unrecognizable to you. He must change with modern culture or face extinction like all other extinct gods that died with the fall of their followers' civilizations. Man makes god continuously.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:30 am |
  16. Bob

    Being an atheist takes zero effort. It is dealing with the religious world that is exhausting.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:42 am |
  17. William

    when I was leaving the faith, because i just didnt find it believable anymore, i found this blog: http://findingtruth.wordpress.com/

    the writer is now atheist, former christian, but remains very polite and courteous to those who disagree with him 0- even when they are discourteous in doing so.

    It is written by a former christian who's journey was somewhat like mine and others, in that we are still open to discussion and learning, but we're looking for sound reason and logic. Just couldnt buy the claims in the bible or overlook the discrepancies anymore.

    but yeah, this guy shouldnt be surprised that religious organizations fired him when he's now an acting atheist.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:41 am |
  18. Doctorb

    Good luck Ryan. It's a shame all your prior support systems have turned their back on you, simply because of change in your belief system. Did they ever care for Ryan to begin with? Or just the fact you shared similar beliefs?

    Atheists are friendly. Our agenda is not some unseen spirit, or Jesus. Our agenda is for people like you Ryan.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:40 am |
  19. Jason

    If a university's football coach got fired because he willfully and consciously made a choice to write a blog about how he was going to support another university's program and tell people why another school has a better athletic program . . . none of us would whine or cry about how that football coach was being "punished" or "penalized" and yet this piece writes as if this former pastor is a victim and being done wrong by his employers. Unbelievable. Get off your victim mentality. This is a grown man who made his own decisions and he is smart enough to know the consequences but you all right as if he is to be pitied and is a victim.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:40 am |
    • There. Are. No. Gods!

      This is great, you are comparing your "religion" to football, a game. Sometimes the only evidence one needs is in their own words. Think about it genius. There are no gods and you know it!

      January 8, 2014 at 10:51 am |
      • Sam

        At least I know football exists- I can see it.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:00 am |
  20. Doc Vestibule

    Shunning those who aren't wearing Christ-tinted glasses is well laid out in scripture.
    “But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.” 2 Tim 2:16

    7th Day Adventism, in particular, isn't big on the virtues of reason.
    Their prophetess, Ellen White, said "“Satan tempted the first Adam in Eden, and Adam reasoned with the enemy, thus giving him the advantage. Satan exercised his power of hypnotism over Adam and Eve, and this power he strove to exercise over Christ." (Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p. 201)

    So the fact that this pastor is willing to explore a worldview beyond his sect's interpretation of the Bible is tantamount to apostacy.

    January 8, 2014 at 10:39 am |
    • skeptic4321

      Will you be quoting from other "holy books" as well?

      January 8, 2014 at 10:43 am |
      • Doc Vestibule

        Sure.
        Take your pick....
        Tanakh, Talmud, Midrash, New Testament, Quran, Sunnah, Nahjul Balagha, Avesta, Vedas, Upanisahds, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas, Tantras, Sutras, Vachanas, Adi Granth, Purvas, Samayasara, Niyamasara, Pravacanasara, and Pancastikaya; Anupreksa; Samadhishataka of Pujyapada; Tattvarthasutra of Umasvati, Tattvarthasutra, Pali Tripitaka, Jataka,, Visuddimagga, Tripitaka, Lotus Sutra, Garland Sutra, Analects; the Great Learning; the Doctrine of the Mean; the Mencius, Tao Te Ching, Chuang-tzu, Kojiki, Nihon Shoki, K-oki, Ofudesaki, Mikagura-uta, Michi-no-Shiori, Johrei, Goseigen, Netarean Shower of Holy Doctrines, Chun Boo Kyung, Kitab-i-Iqan, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Book of Mormon, Dianetics, or Revelation X?

        January 8, 2014 at 10:45 am |
        • pat

          Or Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett and Harris..... Atheists have their holy books too.

          January 8, 2014 at 10:48 am |
        • skeptic4321

          Pat, those are not "holy books" and you know it – now you're just being silly.

          January 8, 2014 at 10:52 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.