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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. Doc Vestibule

    What he really is doing is temporarily abandoning the trappings of religion.
    7th Day Adventism is big on the appearance of simplicity.
    They are expected to dress simply, avoid jewelery, abstain from "worldly" things like drugs of any kind (including wine, tobacco, caffeine etc), meat and dancing.
    They're the types of folk who want you know that they're WAY more humble than most people. In fact, if they gave out awards for humility, you can bet your gold crucifix necklace that the 7th Day Adventist church would have 3 of them!

    But discarding the superficial and/or ceremonial aspects of religion is not the same thing as abandoning faith.
    Faith is personal and subjective – it exists solely in the mind of the individual and cannot be removed simply by eliminating rituals, ceremonies or other pomp and circu/mstance.

    This dude is a person of faith – if he weren't, he wouldn't have invested all the time and effort to become a pastor.
    At the end of his year, he likely will feel much lighter for having freed himself of the ritualistic demands of his particular brand of Christianity – but I highly doubt it'll shake his faith in the supernatural.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:10 am |
    • Live4Him

      According to the Bible, Ryan Bell's faith has been dead for years. Now, he is only being open about it.

      James 2:17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

      <><

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

        If that is the case, he is most likely not alone. Many remain due to the potential consequences of leaving...that in itself shows how very divisive religion and a devout belief can be.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:22 am |
        • Live4Him

          True.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:38 am |
        • Lsteel

          What consequences? Not having to hang around any more with people you think believe silly things? That's hardly persecution. I don't see a lot of people in this country losing their jobs, homes, and education opportunities because of religious beliefs. This guy lost his jobs because religious belief was a prerequisite. Now he is free.

          January 8, 2014 at 12:10 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          Lsteel: I think you need to re-read what I wrote. I mainly stated that the reason many remain within their belief is due to the potential consequences that come with leaving.
          Your bitter tone was rude and uncalled, especially when I said basically what you did.

          January 8, 2014 at 12:22 pm |
    • ME II

      Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV

      For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

      which is it?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:13 am |
      • Live4Him

        @ME II : ME II : which is it?

        As I've stated below: Grace alone is what saves us. At the same time, one cannot have faith in Christ unless s/he acts upon that faith. Please note, I haven't judged Ryan's salvation, but rather his faith. Only one can judge his salvation – Christ.

        <><

        January 8, 2014 at 11:22 am |
      • ME II

        So grace alone saves, which is dependent on faith, i.e. we cannot receive grace without faith, but faith requires deeds, but deeds are not required for grace?

        I'm confused. Apparently, one cannot receive grace without deeds and faith, but deeds are required, right?

        January 8, 2014 at 11:29 am |
        • Live4Him

          @ME II : Apparently, one cannot receive grace without deeds and faith, but deeds are required, right?

          One cannot receive grace without faith. What James was pointing out is similar to what Jeremiah pointed out centuries before. One can fool themselves into thinking that they are trusting God, but how much faith do they have if they don't utilize that faith? Jesus said much of the same thing. If one is given a resource and s/he doesn't use if for God, then even that resource will be taken away. We are not called to the faith to be couch-potatoes, but to work.

          Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

          Matthew 25:29-30 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

          <><

          January 8, 2014 at 11:37 am |
        • ME II

          @Live4Him,
          But that doesn't seem to answer the question.

          If faith is required and deeds are a necessary by-product of faith (if that is the correct way to think of it), then deeds are indeed required, although dependent on faith. In other words, faith-based deeds are required, but not faith-less deeds, correct?

          January 8, 2014 at 12:17 pm |
      • godwins

        It's both. In evangelical Christianity you are "saved" by your faith. Your actions show that your faith is genuine. The verse in James says nothing about salvation – it simply states what true faith looks like in the life of a "saved" person. Faith not accompanied by actions isn't really faith. Jesus said if you love me you will obey my commands... His commands? At the simplest level it was to love God and love your neighbor. Loving your neighbor is tangible and actionable. The parable of the "good Samaritan" is one example of Jesus' teaching on this matter. That's what's troubling about his comments about not praying for sick friends and instead doing something for them. Why was he only praying before? Christians, biblically, should offer themselves (time/money/talents/etc), not just their prayers, to show love to others. Not for their salvation but because Jesus commanded us to love in such a way. It's sad that so many self-proclaimed Christians do not understand – or at least do not live by – the most basic principles of what Jesus taught.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:38 am |
  2. Dennis Michaels

    Daniel Burke writing that "he found help from an unlikely source: atheists." is a ridiculous thing to say. Why would atheists not be a source of help? This immediately sets the tired, old, preconceptions in motion and sets a negative tone to the article. Perhaps this shows his own prejudice?

    January 8, 2014 at 11:09 am |
    • Russ

      would you have preferred the term "ironic"?
      pastors & atheists are not normally on the same team when it comes to beliefs.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:10 am |
      • Dennis Michaels

        I would hope that those who have contributed are doing so because 1) there is a person in need and 2) it is wrong and discriminatory just as if his dismissals had been based on race or gender.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:21 am |
    • ME II

      http://www.clergyproject.org/

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

      DENNIS: it seems odd to me that YOU are offended by a religious blog writer's view of atheists... Did you really expect that the religion blogger would be a self-hating atheist?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:17 am |
      • ME II

        @Jose,
        I've never met a self-hating Atheist. Who are you talking about?

        January 8, 2014 at 11:22 am |
  3. Econ301

    What I don't understand about Religion is the belief that only one book contains the true knowledge.

    Everything I've seen, read, and heard in my life suggests that there are lessons to be learned in everything we do, every book we consume fiction or non-fiction, and truths to be learned every day...

    Why limit yourself to one source of wisdom when the whole world is here for you to explore and learn from?

    January 8, 2014 at 11:08 am |
    • Doris

      Good point, Econ.

      As astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explains in his talk The Perimeter of Ignorance, throughout history many of the great minds give virtually no mention to any god for their discoveries and explanations. (Ptolemy, Isaac Newton, Laplace, Huygens, Galileo.) That is, until they reach the problem they feel they cannot and will never fully tackle.

      Perhaps that is all God has ever been – a placeholder for discomfort or frustration over the unknown; an excuse of last resort when, for one reason or another, one gives up investigation. It is at that point of discomfort over the unknown when one should remember what humanity has already witnessed: that today's scientific explanations were often yesterday's gods.

      What is the effect when man relies solely on his gap-filling gods? Consider this:

      Two-thirds of star names have Arabic names. They came from Islam's fertile period (AD 800-1100.) During that time Baghdad was the intellectual center of the world, open to people of all or no faiths. During that time were some of the greatest advances known to mankind: engineering, biology, medicine, mathematics, celestial navigation; this is the time and place that gave us numerals we use, terms like algebra and algorithm.

      Enter Imam Hamid al-Ghazali in the 12th century. The fundamentally religious period of Islam begins, and so begins the steady decline of free intellectual expression in that area of the world. Some would argue that it has since never recovered.

      Of course the effects of such reliance touches us today – even in the U.S. We see some who refuse medical care for their children for instance.

      "[If] the nature of... government [were] a subordination of the civil to the ecclesiastical power, I [would] consider it as desperate for long years to come. Their steady habits [will] exclude the advances of information, and they [will] seem exactly where they [have always been]. And there [the] clergy will always keep them if they can. [They] will follow the bark of liberty only by the help of a tow-rope." –Thomas Jefferson

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

        Very nicely said. The need for a God does disappear with knowledge. Ignorance is a desired trait among all religions.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:24 am |
    • Madtown

      "Because the book that I prefer contains the actual writings of God. Sure, these writings aren't even available to a lot of people that God created, because God wants it this way, but that is beside the point and God still demands we follow the writings, even if we have no concept of their existence."

      – Topher

      January 8, 2014 at 11:14 am |
    • Jose

      Yes... you express the same feelings I have about any given "religion" ... but if you want to be part of the club, i.e., Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, what have you, you've got to play by the club's rules. This guys didn't, got fired, and now he's a national story. This happens EVERY DAY in the job marketplace... it's just that the word GOD is usually not associated with it.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:21 am |
  4. Piehole

    Kudos to him for giving the "other side" a chance. I believe most people will always feel the faith, or lack of, they were raised to believe will always be ingrained into their mind as the obvious right choice.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:08 am |
    • igaftr

      Considering the fact theat I was baptised and raised to be presbyterian, but by the age of 6 rejected the stories in the bible as truth because they made no sense at all, you are wrong...Many atheists and agnostics were raised to believe, but rejected the blind belief. Many tried very hard to accept the belief, and read the bible, studied the bible, as I did, and each time I read the bible, I found more reason to not believe it.

      Your opinion, is both noted and wrong.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:19 am |
    • John

      I was raised very much Catholic and believed it into my early college years, didn't stop me from leaving those beliefs behind and becoming an atheist, its not so cut and dry as what you were taught was right in my opinion.

      January 8, 2014 at 12:01 pm |
  5. LadyNe

    My personal opinion is to Try and continue to Try God and only God. Why would anyone be interested in not serving God, especially after you have been provided all you need by scripture and other educational means. Also, don't get too caught up in the "donations". If anything, people are giving because they are trying to help support your daughters, after all they shouldn't be punished for a mistake there father made.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:07 am |
    • So sad

      "Why would anyone be interested in not serving God"

      Why would anyone be interested in not serving Mickey Mouse?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:08 am |
    • dean

      He wants to see what it's like to be an atheist in America. What better way to do that than to try to live like one for a year. Also, people, largely atheists, are donating because they want to demonstrate that they understand, to some extent, what he's going through. Maybe his daughter will benefit from having a better understanding of what it's like to be around people of different beliefs.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:12 am |
    • tallulah13

      Why in the world should you question? Questioning leads to doubt and you might actually learn something. Blind faith is much, much easier.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:22 am |
    • truthprevails1

      What mistake did he make??? All that is obvious is that he is doing what many recovering christians have done and is starting to question the belief system he has been forced in to.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:27 am |
    • Daniel in Denver

      "Well, I can't promise I'll try, but I'll try to try."

      Bart Simpson

      January 8, 2014 at 11:29 am |
  6. Wendy

    What an idiot. Did he really think he could rebel against God and nothing would happen to him?? God always comes out on top against all evil, Atheists just refuse to believe in a God which explains why they have negativity in their lives. You reap what you sow.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:04 am |
    • So sad

      that's really what it's all about, isn't it? (God being a top and not a bottom.)

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

      There isn't any god. Where do you get this nonsense anyway? Oh, yes, it gets pumped into your head from childhood. Well, time to wake up.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:08 am |
    • ialsoagree

      Many atheists are very happy people. I myself don't have anything particularly negative in my life.

      So, I guess your argument fails?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:08 am |
      • Econ301

        I'm extremely happy because I've discovered that there are lessons to be learned in every book we read, not just the "Good Book"

        I'm capable of changing my destiny by consuming information and using the lessons I learn.

        Why stop at learning lessons from the bible, why not keep learning?

        January 8, 2014 at 11:11 am |
    • LadyNe

      Yeeeees! I love your comment.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:08 am |
    • Madtown

      In what way is he rebelling against God?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:08 am |
    • me

      You can't seriously be that stupid to believe such crap, can you? I believe in God, yet find your comment incredibly insulting to even the dumbest of people... I suppose you believe the hairy palm theory too?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:09 am |
    • Right

      God does love to hate, doesn't he?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:10 am |
    • jay9

      I'm an atheist and have nothing but positives in my life.

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

      Wendy
      "Atheists just refuse to believe in a God which explains why they have negativity in their lives"

      Seriously? and you have the nerve to call someone else an idiot?
      So you believe in god, why do you have negativity in YOUR life?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:14 am |
    • tallulah13

      My life is no different now than when I was a believer. I still work, pay taxes and enjoy time with family and friends. I just don't believe in god. The one thing I have noticed is the hypocrisy of christians. Not all of them, but certainly a significant number of them are some of the most selfish, hateful people I've ever encountered. They are very happy to believe that they will earn heaven, but they don't behave at all like Jesus told them to. They want the reward, but they don't think they need to earn it. Pathetic.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:29 am |
    • truthprevails1

      Keep it up, people like you show the true hateful side of your religion and the more you come across like this, the more people walk away. You're only harming your ilk, not us.
      As for negativity, not really...I try not to allow it to enter my life, quite happy to be honest.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:31 am |
  7. Live4Him

    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.”

    According to the Bible, Ryan Bell's faith has been dead for years. Now, he is only being open about it.

    James 2:17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

    <><

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

      Yep.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:04 am |
    • So sad

      Yeah – it's really sad about children who die when their parents don't believe in medical care...

      January 8, 2014 at 11:05 am |
      • AE

        Right. That is faith with no action.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:08 am |
        • midwest rail

          And yet those people use the exact same book you do, and can quote chapter and verse to support their position.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:13 am |
        • AE

          Yep. We all have different concepts and understandings. Atheists quote the book all the time and have a different concept and understanding than me, too.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:21 am |
        • midwest rail

          There are, however, no atheists who quote said book in an attempt to justify their behavior.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:23 am |
        • AE

          Right. They just justify their irrational behavior in other ways. Usually their imagination.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:32 am |
        • midwest rail

          Agreed. There are certainly as many hypocrites who are non-believers as are believers. At least based on the postings here.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:35 am |
        • AE

          Unfortunately, yes. Neither atheism nor Christianity seems to be a cure for irrational thoughts or behavior.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:39 am |
      • Lars

        According to James 2:17 and Live4Him, those parent's faith had been dead for years.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:09 am |
    • ME II

      @Live4Him,
      But haven't you said before that good works cannot get one into heaven? Which is it? Are we not supposedly saved by grace alone, regardless of good deeds?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:11 am |
      • Live4Him

        @ME II : But haven't you said before that good works cannot get one into heaven? Which is it? Are we not supposedly saved by grace alone, regardless of good deeds?

        Grace alone is what saves us. At the same time, one cannot have faith in Christ unless s/he acts upon that faith. Please note, I haven't judged Ryan's salvation, but rather his faith. Only one can judge his salvation – Christ.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:14 am |
        • ME II

          So grace alone saves, which is dependent on faith, i.e. we cannot receive grace without faith, but faith requires deeds, but deeds are not required for grace?

          I'm confused. Apparently, one cannot receive grace without deeds and faith, but deeds are required, right?

          January 8, 2014 at 11:27 am |
        • ME II

          Sorry, answer above.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:28 am |
  8. Careful

    When his experiment ends, he might be like a fish out of the water and go overboard gettin' back to his religion.

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0-04VDrCbM&w=640&h=390]

    January 8, 2014 at 11:03 am |
  9. magnum12

    I am an atheist..... I swear to God, I am one.

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

      Prove it.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:03 am |
  10. william fitzwater

    I can relate to his struggles. However wouldn't some responsibility lie on his shoulders as well. Being a atheist is saying life sucks god sucks so I'm walking away from it all & deciding my fate. That doesn't sit well with me. I know life sucks we have troubles & world is going to hell but GOD created & its his fault. No that last part is a joke but its in sense where he is at.
    God is in control and will ultimately prevalie.
    I go to some Churches and the entend a hand to the poor they worship but when I talk about liberal positions boy I get booted. I find in some Churches a high school mentality other just a social club . So yes I could understand . The Church is motley body made of imperfect broken people . While God is perfect once you understand that then it become how much imperfection you can put with.

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

      "Being a atheist is saying life sucks god sucks..."

      Ummm...no. Being an atheist is the rejection of god claims, period. You can't be angry at something whose existence is completely unproven.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:07 am |
      • Econ301

        Saying Atheists hate God Is like saying I hate Jabberwockies.

        How can you hate something that you don't believe exists?

        January 8, 2014 at 11:15 am |
    • Thinker...

      I am an atheist. Personally I think life is great. It has its downs, but really overall I am glad to be alive. I think you choose how you view life and what you experience is based on that choice. Not like karma or anything, but if you think life sucks then you will focus more on the negative and that will be your experience. I prefer to just enjoy life as best I can and focus on the positive.

      January 10, 2014 at 1:11 pm |
  11. common sense

    Why can't people just believe or not believe what they want, and keep it to themselves? Everyone has to push their beliefs or lack thereof in everyone else's face. If you believe in a god(s), great, if you don't, great, keep it to yourself, and stop trying worrying about what anyone else believes.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:02 am |
    • Mirror Mirror

      Why did you come here to push your belief that people shouldn't push their beliefs?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:08 am |
      • Econ301

        Zing.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:16 am |
  12. magnum12

    I am an atheist..... I wear to God, I am one.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:02 am |
  13. 1man

    as if there is no god??? Hmmm that should be easy since there is no god never has been ,never will be. simple.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:02 am |
  14. Dan the man

    Interesting how the religious people in his life reacted with such fear and hatred. If you don't agree with the religious paradigm, you are shunned.

    What it really means is he had no real friends, just acquaintances with a shared belief.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:02 am |
    • ATXmom

      This man was hired to promote Christainity and then decided that he wanted to pursue another avenue. The interview with his previous employer was very kind and basically said that he supported him, but that Mr. Bell could no longer support the job function he was hired for–period. There was no attack by these Christains. If an electrician decides he wants to be a plumber then he would probably lose his job as an electrician. Stop trying to make his Christain collegues out as bad people. It just makes you look as though you are trying to create something negative when in fact there is nothing negative about either Mr. Bell's decision or his Christain employer's decision to relieve him of duties he was no longer capable of performing.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:23 am |
  15. Daniel in Denver

    The author, in my opinion, misrepresents the term “Agnostic” as being somewhere between a believer and a non-believer. Actually, Agnosticism has nothing to do with belief, but rather knowledge. Simply put, a Theist believes in god, an Atheist disbelieves. An Agnostic feels that the existence of god is not knowable. I would count myself as an Agnostic Atheist. I don’t believe there is a god, but I can’t know for sure right now – I could be wrong. Similarly, there are Agnostic Theists who believe, but realize that they can’t know.

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

      Are you agnostic atheist about all gods, or just the one shared by the dominant culture here? Are you agnostic about Pele the volcano god and Zeus?

      I ask because many people who share your position only do so for the Christian god, and I always wonder if that isn't really due to social pressures to a fairly ubiquitous belief.

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

      @ Daniel: you said "...the existence of god is not knowable..."
      agnostic is literally: (Greek) a-gnosis = 'no knowledge'
      but saying "I don't know" is very different than saying "we *cannot* know."
      your version of agnosticism requires omniscience.

      "I don't know" is an admission. "we can't know" is an assertion – one that requires knowing *everything* about the nature of existence (not just theology & philosophy, but space-time, reality, science, the human mind, etc.).

      do you claim to have such omniscience? most regard that as a preposterous claim.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:09 am |
      • Daniel in Denver

        Good call, Russ. What I mean is that we can't know whether a god exists with our current level of evidence. My opinion only, I could be filled with feces. If a god were to appear to us, then we'd know.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:15 am |
  16. Topher

    Lamp salesman: "I hate lamps and I refuse to sell them."
    Boss: Then you're fired.
    Salesman: "Help! Help! I'm being repressed!"

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

      Topher, is that me?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:00 am |
    • midwest rail

      Interesting that you chose that analogy, given the prevalence of snake-oil salesmen on T.V.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:02 am |
    • Lars

      So you feel that preachers are trying to "sell" God?

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

      He isn't crying foul. He didn't disagree with his firing. The article specifically says, '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."

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

      Lars

      If that's to me, I think some of those TV guys are trying to sell themselves. And Midwest Rail, I agree, you shouldn't watch those people. Most of them are heretics.

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

        Not really what I asked, Topher. I said nothing about TV. And I don't see where this man claimed to hate God; you had your lamp salesman stating he hated lamps.
        Kind of a strange analogy.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:16 am |
    • Topher

      Why in the world should we support his experiment? So he loves God so much that he's willing to reject Him for a year?!

      January 8, 2014 at 11:08 am |
      • Right

        The real question is why he is being treated with so much hatred and emotional bullying. Are Christians so insecure that they must shun people with a different opinion? That's the real story her: "Christian tries atheism, other Christians act like jerks."

        January 8, 2014 at 11:14 am |
        • Topher

          I don't hate him at all. I just now have to question his salvation. You don't "try" atheism. You either are one or you're not.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:20 am |
  17. PushingBack

    I'm not sure how anyone can "try" to be an atheist. If this is in his mind then I am going to say he's already an atheist. Atheism is not an alternate belief system, it is the lack of one entirely. This guy has been questioning his beliefs for a while to get to this point, in my opinion. But I am proud of my fellow atheists for trying to let him make his point, whatever it winds up being.

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

      Careful PB.

      Atheism is not a lack of a belief system.

      It's a single position on a single subject...the existence of a deity or deities.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:04 am |
    • 1man

      I have a belief system "there is no god,evolution is a fact"

      January 8, 2014 at 11:04 am |
  18. kyzaadrao

    This has got to be one of the most ridiculous articles I've read yet. He wasn't persecuted because of his atheism, he was trying to be an atheist while holding Christian jobs and doing Christian things. And that AFTER he already started loosening his stance on fundamental values.

    The whole concept of experimenting with atheism as a Christian goes against Christian teachings. In short, if he wasn't going to walk the walk, then he should have gone full secular and lived out that life.

    Atheists are not persecuted in this country, that's a farce. I'm sorry if they find it difficult to live in a society of diverse beliefs where the majority may be religious in one way or another, but that's no different than anyone else who has to live in a diverse society.

    He doesn't get to fail and then try to turn it around. If he lost his faith, so be it. This kind of plays both religious people and atheists for fools in the same "experiment".

    January 8, 2014 at 10:56 am |
    • Econ301

      You hit the nail on the head.

      The problem is he's trying to be both at the same time an Atheist and an Christian, and failing at both.

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

      "Atheists are not persecuted in this country"

      That is a lie.
      There are currently several states that still have on their books, laws that prevent an atheist from holding public office, and one state where an atheist cannot testify in court.

      The Pledge of Allegience was hijacked by the christians and changed to exclude atheists.

      The national motto was hijacked by the christians, and changed to exclude atheists from "we the people", and replacing the national motto with their lie.

      Atheists are often ostricised by people and organizations, and by their own families. Many atheists and agnostics remain closeted because they know the "loving christians" are not so loving of non-believers.

      Get your head out of the sand, atheists have been and continue to be persecuted.

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

        There are lots of old laws on the books that aren't being enforced, yes. There is no active persecution of atheists in this country.

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

      "Atheists are not persecuted in this country, that's a farce. "

      What country are you talking about? here in the U.S., atheists are prevented from holding public office in some states., and that's not persecution?... put your head back in the sand.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:08 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      At least seven states–Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas–have in place const.itutional provisions that bar atheists from holding public office. One state (Arkansas) even has a law that bars an atheist from testifying as a witness at a trial.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:18 am |
  19. sweetevb

    it's a shame he lost jobs over just the quest to figure out what life without religion is like.. there is something wrong I think with anyone's journey in life and the search for what is real or not for them, to be penalized for it.. ok I get it that it was his job to teach it and therefore in light of his experiment they wouldn't pay him.. got that.. but for "religious" peole it seems pretty vicious to sort of attack them for their search.. idk I may not be expressing it properly here, but it's his trip through here, and if he isn't a serial killer, or pedo, shouldn't it be up to him to discover how he sees the world, whether it's thru religious eyes or not?

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

      It's befuddling to theists who are also decent people to see the ramifications for him. It's completely understandable to atheists who see and hear this kind of thing all the time.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:12 am |
  20. God

    When i come back during the rapture I'm sending you all to hell, no one is being saved. You all suck

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

      Meow.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:57 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.