January 8th, 2014
08:39 AM ET

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

By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor
[twitter-follow screen_name='BurkeCNN']

(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. Oh no we lost another one!


    January 8, 2014 at 7:06 pm |
    • His cousin, Jerry the killer lives. Sorry ladies.

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      January 8, 2014 at 7:20 pm |
  2. scootfl78

    What a stupid excuse for an article. What about the thousands of people who have turned to religion only to have their lives ruined by molestors and scam artists (aka evangelists)? Nobody "tries atheism" - you either believe in God or you believe in yourself and humanity (after reading this article, its tough to believe in the latter).

    January 8, 2014 at 7:01 pm |
    • scootfl78

      And yes, its most likely millions of people who have had their lives ruined by church, but conservatives hate it when you tell them the truth.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:02 pm |
  3. Reality # 2

    $19,000 for declaring himself an atheist? I do declare so where is my check?

    Before Mr. Bell, I am 🙂

    The Apostles'/Atheists' Creed 2013: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (references used are available upon request)

    January 8, 2014 at 6:59 pm |
    • Sample is teeny. Any quotes from 200k BCE?

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      January 8, 2014 at 7:12 pm |
  4. Buglebutt

    LOL! The whole idea is absurd. Could an atheist go on a "Christianity experiment" for a year? Of course not, and why would they? What does this guy expect will convince him in one year's time? Why not just abandon his faith now permanently and move on to a new career.

    January 8, 2014 at 6:58 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Why couldn't an atheist do as you describe?

      January 8, 2014 at 6:59 pm |
      • Buglebutt

        It's "Obvious"–an agnostic might do it, but an atheist has an unshakable disbelief in a deity, so why WOULD they even try?

        January 8, 2014 at 7:03 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          lol Disbelief is not some active belief in "not" something. Do you have an active disbelief in unicorns?

          January 8, 2014 at 7:08 pm |
      • Topher

        Cpt. Obvious

        "Why couldn't an atheist do as you describe?"

        Well, I suppose he could, but it would only be as a cultural Christian, not someone who is saved.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:17 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Nobody can measure whether anyone is saved or not, so what's the difference?

          January 8, 2014 at 7:20 pm |
        • Topher

          Cpt. Obvious

          Yeah, it's pretty much a personal thing only you and God can know. Though we can make an educated guess based on the person's "fruit."

          January 8, 2014 at 7:25 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          No, you can't. I'd bet most atheists could fool most christians.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:28 pm |
        • Topher

          Ultimately, you're right. I can't tell if you're saved. You might live like you're a child of God, but you could be living in sin in private.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:32 pm |
  5. DE

    Christians have been persecuting non-believers for centuries.

    January 8, 2014 at 6:56 pm |
    • Reaper

      Look at the atheists playing the role of martyrs as though they have been thrown to the lions. What did this guy expect? What do atheists expect? This guy is just like any other arrogant lunatic who believes he should be coddled and accommodated when he sticks his finger into the system's eye. If you don't want to adhere to the tenants of a system, don't expect to be retained within that system.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:15 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        Oh, he's getting the results of his experiment just fine, I agree. As soon as you stop chanting their magic spells and earnestly discussing their myth, the members of the christian sect will turn on you in a second. After all, they're just following the example of their disgusting terrorist god who will fry people in torture forever and ever and who slaughtered an entire planet's worth of women, children, and fetuses in a global flood.

        He's getting the right idea about christians, finally. Good for him. Reality, baby.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:19 pm |
        • Reaper

          What an arrogant clown you are. I wonder how long you would pay for an atheist who wanted to spend a year exploring Christianity on your dime? Answer... not at all. If you want to worship yourself have at it, but don't expect others to be your personal sock puppet.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:23 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Can you point out anything inaccurate in my reply? You didn't, so that's why I ask.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:26 pm |
  6. A Roman Senator won't let you be a torchlight. Offspring, maybe.

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    January 8, 2014 at 6:54 pm |
  7. Alec Mowat

    Bell’s “intellectual experiment,”
    You mean he's a closet athiest?

    January 8, 2014 at 6:50 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Meh.. I think he's getting a very good idea on how fast and harsh christians will judge someone who doesn't continue chanting the same magic spells and talking about the same mythology as they believe. He's getting the results of his experiments just fine. Right away, it seems. He could have just asked me, though.

      January 8, 2014 at 6:54 pm |
      • Hollywood

        The guy lost his jobs because he was working at a SEMINARY and a PRIVATE CHRISTIAN SCHOOL. It has NOTHING to do with discrimination or persecution. Good grief. The EXACT same thing would happen to me If I walked into my office tomorrow and told my boss I had returned my professional credentials and was no longer licensed to work in that filed.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:19 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Where did I say a single thing about persecution or discrimination? I was talking about the obvious result from the christian community.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:25 pm |
  8. Daniel

    This is so stupid. Of course he lost his two jobs. He was teaching a Christian schools. It doesn't take a leap of faith to figure out he would be fired. This is a joke and one of the poorest examples of "journalism" in America today.

    "it was divine intervention" he turned his back on God and was punished?! Dire consequences?! it is simple cause and effect.

    The book of "I need a new Job"

    January 8, 2014 at 6:46 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      As an atheist, I wouldn't expect christians to understand or be gracious about it. If he'd have asked me, I would have warned him about how his christian "friends" would instantly turn against him.

      January 8, 2014 at 6:48 pm |
      • Nathan

        It's the people who shout about Christian values that practise the least amount of Christian values.

        January 8, 2014 at 6:56 pm |
        • xetaprime

          Ted Haggard (cough!)

          January 8, 2014 at 7:00 pm |
      • Doc Vestibule

        I'm sure he realized what he was doing.
        If he is a 7th Day Adventist shaman, it means he got a master's degree in theology from one of the two SDA universities.
        In that sect, their preachers have to take years and years of religious pee tests to prove they're drinking the Kool-aid.
        You need to prove that you've been called by God to preach all throughout the process and afterwards.
        Taking a sabbatical to explore atheism means he is ignoring his "calling".
        Because his entire post secondary (and likely whole school career) was geared towards shamanism, he isn't qualified for anything but that.
        The SDA community tends to be pretty insular. They're taught to distrust anything or anybody "worldly" since they're all gonna burn come Judgement Day anyways.
        By choosing to explore the world, he basically has turned apostate – and while religionists can tolerate those who "don't know any better", they can't abide a turncoat.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:02 pm |
      • Reaper

        And how should his Christian friends responded, enlightened one? By financing his personal experiment? Why are the schools or churches expected to pay for his personal exploration when they could use the money to pay someone who would teach and support their beliefs? You call Christians fools and at the same time expect them to play the part or risk being called any number of bigoted names. Christians aren't fools nor are they willing to dance for your entertainment.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:21 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          OH, please, don't get me wrong. His friends treated him exactly as they should have. After all, if he's not going to heaven with them, they'll be on the side of their "good god" who is allowing him to be tortured with fire forever and ever. They should treat him as a pariah-–exactly as they are, now. They should follow god's example (flood/hell) rather than his command (love your enemies).

          I'm not condemning, here, I'm confirming that they are acting in a disgusting manner as follows from god's example for them.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:40 pm |
      • Buglebutt

        Well, now we know who to ask before making life-altering decisions. How do we get in contact with you, Capt. Obvious?

        January 8, 2014 at 7:41 pm |
  9. RB

    From a biblical perspective, he is either lost or in open rebellion against God. If you are born again, it is irrevocable.

    January 8, 2014 at 6:42 pm |
    • Billy

      How can you be in an open rebellion against something you temporarily don't believe in?

      January 8, 2014 at 6:47 pm |
      • RB


        January 8, 2014 at 7:17 pm |
    • Lamb of dog

      I'm a pastor. You can't rebel against fictional ideas.

      January 8, 2014 at 6:56 pm |
      • RB

        You are a pastor?

        January 8, 2014 at 7:19 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Oh, it is quite "revocable". There are many born agains who've come to the atheist conclusion.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:05 pm |
      • RB

        I don't think so.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:21 pm |
  10. sally

    I don't know how a person can pretend to be an atheist. Atheists actually believe there is no god...agnostics simply don't know or believe in a personal god who keeps up with their personal lives.

    January 8, 2014 at 6:41 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Maybe an example will help you?

      I am not a vegetarian, but I could "try" it by not including meat in my diet for a year.

      January 8, 2014 at 6:45 pm |
      • TheGoldman

        That's not nearly the same thing. You're actively deciding to only eat vegetables. Let's use his example. If a friend gets sick and he actively decides to do something other than pray for him, that's not being an atheist, that's choosing to not to pray. For an Atheist, the thought of prayer wouldn't even be a thought.

        He said his he's borderline agnostic. . . or something along those lines, so what he's doing is trying out not being religious. There's a difference.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:05 pm |
      • DocBob

        So is someone a vegetarian because they "believe" like one, or are they only a vegetarian when they "act" like one? Same question applies to the term "Christian." Claiming to believe like a Christian, but without acting like Christ, is hypocritical and a dead end. In your example, however, it sounds like the person actually became a vegetarian for a while.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:09 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        The point is simple, fellas. A person can act like a vegetarian without being one. A person can act like an atheist without being one, and yes, an atheist can act like a christian without being one.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:14 pm |
        • TheGoldman

          I think we're saying pretty much the same thing. . . I just think the vegetarian example wasn't the right choice. . . not sure I could give you a better one though.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:23 pm |
        • Buglebutt

          Yes, but Capt. Obvious, why would a sane person try to "act" like they are something they are not? For what purpose?? Just to fool other people?

          January 8, 2014 at 8:03 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Silly Sally, a person who is atheist doesn't "believe" there is no God, they simply don't believe in gods. Agnostics "don't know"? .. that would make everyone agnostic since no one "knows".

      But anyone can "pretend" to be anything, but it doesn't make them so.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:09 pm |
    • Bjeh K

      Actually it's not that we athiest believe there is no god. It's best described as we have a disbelief in the claims of theists about god. It's like not being convinced by someone who tells you they've just seen Elvis. And if they say open your heart and you'll see Elvis too, you have to wonder why emotional malleability and suspension of critical reasoning is required.

      January 8, 2014 at 7:40 pm |
  11. nathandf

    The Christian faith as I understand it is all about a relationship with God, the creator and sustainer of life. I was going to suggest he start small with his experiment and see what the effects of choosing to live his life like he wasn't in a maraiage relationship and see how that went at the end of the year...I guess I'm a little late with that since his wife already left him. To say you can put the Creator on hold for a year and live and act like you don't know him is an awful way to treat someone you claim to have a relationship with. Just saying he may want to reconsider the ramifications beyond the damage to his earthly family...

    January 8, 2014 at 6:40 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Why the snide remark about his divorce? You do realize that atheists are better at staying married then christians, right? But I've never been one to judge because it takes two people to stay in a relationship but only one to desire a divorce, and you never know exactly which of the two people would have stayed "in the game" at any cost but the decision was made by the other party.

      January 8, 2014 at 6:43 pm |
      • Been There

        Cpt. Obvious,
        "you never know exactly which of the two people would have stayed "in the game" at any cost but the decision was made by the other party."

        Yes, it was the believer half who decided on our split (after 30 years) - I would have stuck it out... and to rub salt in the wounds, many friends and acquaintances think that it was I who did it and I really have no way to enlighten most of them.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:01 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          I'm familiar with several similar stories. Sometimes the person who would rather stick it out (even at a painful and unfair cost) is the one who is dumped and THEN @ssigned 100% of the blame.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:12 pm |
    • Lamb of dog

      If you don't believe in the a sky fairy who cares if he's on hold?

      January 8, 2014 at 6:43 pm |
  12. Tracy Kosen

    I am proud of this courageous man to publicly share his pursuit for truth. What kind of Christians abandon and condemn him? What would Christ do? I 100 percent support and stand behind the passion and caring of this man. Right on! Signed, a Christian.

    January 8, 2014 at 6:40 pm |
    • nathandf

      Really? You can find no other way to pursue truth by abandoning truth? If you are a christian, you should understand the question and all it entails.

      January 8, 2014 at 6:42 pm |
      • Nathan

        What truth are you talking about? The truth that people started writing about Jesus hundreds of years after he died? I know people who've been dead for a year and already the rumours surrounding them are completely off.

        January 8, 2014 at 6:58 pm |
    • Topher

      Christ should be PRECIOUS to a Christian. There's no way he should want to spend a single second away from his Savior.

      January 8, 2014 at 6:50 pm |
      • Billy

        "Christ should be PRECIOUS to a Christian."

        Didn't you learn anything from Gollum's failings in Lord of the Rings?!?

        January 8, 2014 at 6:55 pm |
  13. chosenbygrace

    Seventh-day Adventists are a cult, big surprise one of their leaders became an atheist. Go with Calvinism.

    January 8, 2014 at 6:39 pm |
    • Lamb of dog

      All religions are cults.

      January 8, 2014 at 6:41 pm |
      • xetaprime


        January 8, 2014 at 6:46 pm |
      • QS

        – a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.

        – a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal.

        Used to be it was just sort of tricky to tell the difference between these two….these days, it’s virtually impossible.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:17 pm |
    • Daniel

      Go with Freewill.

      January 8, 2014 at 6:47 pm |
  14. Lovely

    The problem with the ministry is that they cannot see the 2nd olive tree. The kingdom of heaven is near so I no longer have to fear, and those who choose to talk about God, I often think it is rather odd. The kingdom of heaven you see has been deceiving you and me. He is a spirit on the earth and he has struck down man in the dirt. The message is clear God's spirit is eveywhere it Man that has trouble. It is Satan's spirit deceiving each other. When you talk about man start to think about Satan. For he does not want Man around and he will do most anything to make man look like a clown. Satan wants the kingdom back he wants in, and He will force upon Man's back nothing but Sin.

    January 8, 2014 at 6:36 pm |
    • Lamb of dog

      There was an old woman who lived in a shoe..... .

      January 8, 2014 at 6:39 pm |
    • Billy

      The second olive tree? you know last time I was at Olive Garden, they didn't even have one.

      January 8, 2014 at 6:42 pm |
  15. Jamongajoe

    This guy is someone who has already lost his faith, and this is nothing but his engaging in his new-found calling of atheist evangelicism and getting some pub out of the deal at the same time. No true believer could possibly "suspend" their faith.

    January 8, 2014 at 6:33 pm |
  16. KIRKE will have her butt kicked by the atheists. Who else?

    !!!!!!!!!$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ 🙂 $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 8, 2014 at 6:28 pm |
  17. Beling

    He'll probably crawl back to his lord at the end of the year with his faith renewed in the fictional christ/daddy figure, and get a book deal...

    January 8, 2014 at 6:25 pm |
  18. Lamb of dog

    I'm a pastor. God is a figment of your imagination.

    January 8, 2014 at 6:23 pm |
    • cwbeebeii

      Live in the world as if all that you do will only matter to those you have done unto. This could easily sum up the Atheist "creed." If I ever find myself believing in an invisible man in a bathrobe, who lives in the sky, I can only hope that my Atheist friends come along and put me out of my misery before I get so sick as to start trying to spread my mental illness. Cheers to you for having the courage to speak (and also the others on here who have).

      January 8, 2014 at 6:30 pm |
    • rof

      No, no. You're a "pasture". Those are two different things.

      January 8, 2014 at 6:35 pm |
  19. xetaprime

    He is not of the Body. Signed, Landru

    January 8, 2014 at 6:22 pm |
    • Landru

      I AM THE BODY! HE is NOT of the body.

      January 8, 2014 at 6:25 pm |
      • Daniel

        If this is not a joke it's really creepy.

        January 8, 2014 at 6:47 pm |
  20. skarphace

    Bell is not an Atheist as he still believes in God. He is an Agnostic as he believes in God but is choosing not to worship him.

    Therein lies his confusion, and his internal conflict. As an Agnostic, he would not attend Church or pray as these would conflict with his choice to be an Agnostic. As an Agnostic he would not claim that he is able to teach the Word of God as that would also conflict with his choices.

    If he were an Atheist, then these conflicts would not exist as there are no requirements or prerequisites to being an Atheist outside of a belief that no god exists. As Bell does not meet this sole requirement, he is not an Atheist. You cannot merely say, "I do not believe in God" and viola, be an Atheist. You must be truthful when you say it.

    Other than that, an Atheist could indeed go to Church or attend other religious ceremonies as these acts do not conflict with being an Atheist. An Atheist could even pray as prayer does not conflict with being an Atheist. I do both, and yet I still do not believe in God. Therefore, I am an Atheist.

    Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that I know that there is no God. How would I know? I am saying that I don't believe that there is a God. I may stand before God on Judgment Day and say, "I stand corrected."

    Christians that I talk to tell me, "Well, wouldn't it be better to believe in God and be wrong than to not believe in God and be wrong?" I have to explain to them that my belief is not by choice. I believe what I believe and I cannot change what I believe by choice. Otherwise, I would merely be saying that I believe in something that I do not truly believe in, and that would do me no good.

    Bell is trying to choose to be an Atheist, and this is where the conflict arises. You cannot choose to be an Atheist, any more than you can choose to believe in God. You either believe or you don't. Imagine deciding, out of the blue, to believe in Bigfoot. Just waking up one morning and saying, "Today, I will believe in Bigfoot." Does this make any sense? Neither does it make sense to wake up one morning and say, "Today, I will be an Atheist."

    January 8, 2014 at 6:20 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      You seem confused on agnosticism, but that's not the point. The point is that he could have carried out his duties exactly as a man doctor can be an OBGYN without owning the parts he works on. Duh. I don't have to be a vegetarian to try a meat-free diet.

      January 8, 2014 at 6:24 pm |
      • skarphace

        Well, I did kind of ramble, so I forgive you for missing my point.

        My point was that unlike the choice of whether or not to eat meat, or the choice of whether or not to worship God, the act of believing in God is not a choice. That marks the main difference between an Agnostic (somebody who believes in the possibility or probability that God exists but does not choose to worship), and an Atheist (somebody who does not believe that God exists).

        January 8, 2014 at 6:33 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Ah, you are confused. Gnosticism deals with esoteric knowledge, not belief. Atheism deals with belief. They're two completely different concepts. It's not like a man who isn't also a father is any less male. My understanding of the article is that he wasn't giving up his faith, but merely acting as though he were not a believer. Big difference in that and what you and others are saying, here. And if my reading is correct, then it is exactly like a non-vegetarian choosing to give up meat for a year.

          January 8, 2014 at 6:51 pm |
        • Ben

          I'd even say that most atheists are actually agnostic, in that they don't know for certain that no gods exist anywhere. I'm pretty sure that biblegod isn't real, but I can't be 100% sure. Jest like I can't be 100% sure that vampires are all myth, but that tiny margin of doubt isn't enough to scare me into wearing garlic necklaces.

          January 8, 2014 at 7:06 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Ben, why didn't you read my post?

          January 8, 2014 at 7:31 pm |
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About this blog

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.