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. Alias

    This article clearly show that the christians are a bunch of bigots. As soon as they think you may believe something different they abandon you. As long as you are one of them, they act nice, but only as long as you fit their mold.

    It is also stupid to 'try atheism'. You do not decide what to believe, and you can not turn it on and off.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:23 am |
    • Live4Him

      @Alias : As soon as they think you may believe something different they abandon you.

      How can two people share the same journey when they are traveling on different roads?


      January 8, 2014 at 11:26 am |
      • Alias

        How can you think mixing metaphore and the laws of physics makes a rational thought?

        January 8, 2014 at 11:44 am |
      • G to the T

        Because if both are honestly seeking, shouldn't they end up at the same place in the end?

        January 9, 2014 at 1:14 pm |
    • Johnny Noir

      I think a person who was religious but now has doubts can try atheism, but that doesn't mean he is one yet. But there is an in-between thing for some.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:27 am |
    • Lance

      Ya kind of like the gay community unfortunately.

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

        Aren't you a clever one? Anything you disagree with is gay. You must be popular with the other 13 year old locker room bullies.

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

      Beliefs are one of the few things that we do indeed decide. I was raised devout christian and have since stopped practicing. I do believe in some since of a God, but at most one could consider me agnostic. That is a pretty severe change in believe. I don't agree that one can truly "experiment" with atheism unless they truly wish to push the boundaries of their beliefs and adopt a new framework for their religious and cultural morae.

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

        If the story of puting 2 of every animal on earth into one boat seems like a physical impossibility, you will not believe it happened. You will not choose to think it is rediculus. If you believe a god created everything, you cannot decide it think all just apperred out of nothing for no reason.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:43 am |
        • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

          It’s called faith. Theist CHOOSE to believe these myths despite the obvious reality based issue.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:46 am |
      • toodark

        Belief is a conclusion based on some kind of reason....good or bad. One cannot simply decide to believe in something.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:46 am |
        • G to the T

          Most of the time, the belief comes first (usually through emotional channels) and then we seek evidence that our belief is reasonable.

          That's why intelligence isn't really a determiner for belief (sorry Carl Sagan). There are a host of mental attributes that come into play when one is considering a belief and most of them work at an unconscious level.

          January 9, 2014 at 1:18 pm |
    • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

      You absolutely decided what to believe. That’s how most atheists became atheists. The majority of us are born into religion and only through education and weight of the facts and the lack thereof do we escape indoctrination.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:43 am |
      • Alias

        You become atheist when the myths stop making sense.
        When your rational mind rejects the bible youstop believing.
        You do not decide to stop/start believing anything.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:47 am |
        • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

          The entire concept of religious faith pretty much shuts down that train of logic.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:58 am |
  2. bibleverse1

    I think he has failed the experiment "Bell said he knows Christians and agnostics who have contributed to his fundraiser as well, so it’s not an all-atheist effort." I think that is faith.

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

      You can have faith in anyone or anything. Faith isn't automatically tied to having faith in God.

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

      How is that faith?

      January 8, 2014 at 11:41 am |
  3. Path Experiment Has Consequences

    When his thought to leave God to search elsewhere happened, it is no different than when the devil tried to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, but Failed. Does the "pastor" not realize that he has his very life to give God thanks for? Could atheism create him as God did and bring him forward into this life, realistically speaking? The Bible is very succinct and to the point when it informs everyone that without giving their life to Jesus Christ a person cannot possibly enter into Heaven when they pass on. What if suddenly something was to happen to him and he left this world? Does he not realize that his soul would be imperiled? People should not ever take such a step just to mock God and try to prove that He does not exist because He most certainly does and because He does He cannot be at all amused by this man's decision to leave Him in the interim. And just look at the financial consequences he and his family are facing now all because of his disobedience to God's word. May he quickly come to his senses, ask for forgiveness, and return to God and leave all of this dangerous tampering alone with that which is anti-Christ.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:22 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      The scary part for me... is that you honestly believe the crap you just wrote... I'm embarrassed and feel sorry for you

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

      Isn't this the free will you guys are always talking about? If, after a year, he decided he needs God, is God going to reject him?

      Since you seem to have knowledge about what God thinks...

      January 8, 2014 at 11:30 am |
      • Former Xtian

        Of course not... He will be welcomed by God with open arms (Prodigal Son parable).

        But, God already knows if he will or will not come back since he's omniscient, and this search for truth must be a predestined event in this man's life, right?

        January 8, 2014 at 11:35 am |
        • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

          Hence the Christian fallacy of free will.

          January 8, 2014 at 11:54 am |
      • Randy

        God can handle his questions and of course he has the freedom to decide for himself. However, their are consequences to all of our decisions. And yes God and we Christians will accept him. But he is not a Christian just because he was a preacher.

        He was fired because he could not do his job and not pray and read the bible. A preacher in a Christian church must study the bible and pray to God at least daily. He basically said I'm not going to do my job but pay me anyway. The church said no we want you to do your job and if you don't we will fire you.

        This guy made his own bed. It sounds like he needed to go anyway. He was not working out and he needed a new occupation. Helping the needy is very important and so is praying and studying the bible. The two are not mutually exclusive.

        January 8, 2014 at 1:04 pm |
  4. Former Xtian

    This man put all his eggs in one basket (Religious Studies) then dropped it. The fact that he lost 3 jobs (all with "faith in God" as their prerequisite) shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody. He didn't "lose jobs because he tried atheism," but he "lost jobs related to Church and Seminary because he tried atheism." He deserves no pity or applause in that regard since he didn't prepare a skill-set outside of practicing his religion, which he obviously wasn't 100% certain about.
    However, stepping away from faith after such a long time is a feat in itself. You must be prepared to lose friends, support from family, etc. Many churches even teach to keep "close Christian friends" since "atheist friends can shake your faith" and are not recommended. I was a devout Christian but publicly announced my atheistic views about 5 years ago. It hasn't been an easy road in the slightest... I've learned that all the close "church friends" who prayed for you and cried for you have been merely FACE FRIENDS, that once you share a different belief you are out of their lives. I thought I'd found life-long friends, but that just wasn't the case. I wish this man the best in his endeavors and hope he finds the truth.
    P.S. To the Christians claiming "you either believe or you don't. He probably wasn't a Christian in the first place. Blah blah."
    You are the first ones going to hell. How can you ridicule this man in his search for truth and honest doubt? Explain this one to me : How does God grant free-will and choice to believe, when our lives are "predestined" before we were born and God knows every step we'll take in our lives? (God knows if you'll ultimately be a believer or not before you were born since he's omniscient, but even when he knows you won't believe and will go to hell, he creates you anyways <- this is an explanation of the scenario). You don't know the answer? Of course you don't, and Ryan doesn't know either. The difference is that he's questioning and doubting while you blindly believe.
    Let me leave you with a Bible Verse that you should "pray" with today.
    Matthews 7: 13~14
    “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:21 am |
    • Live4Him

      @Former Xtian : I thought I'd found life-long friends, but that just wasn't the case. I wish this man the best in his endeavors and hope he finds the truth.

      How can two people share the same journey when they are traveling on different roads?


      January 8, 2014 at 11:25 am |
      • Former Xtian

        Did Jesus abandon sinners/nonbelievers or did He embrace them?
        Did they ever "deter him from his journey in faith?"

        Now tell me, did you ever read the Bible?

        January 8, 2014 at 11:36 am |
    • Randy

      We are allowed honest doubt. And he may yet become a saved man but he is not saved now. He has said that I don't want to talk to God or study his word because I'm not sure. That means he has not accepted Christ as Lord of his life. So yes by definition he is not saved.

      He must choose God and it cannot be forced upon him. So he is right to pursue God and not be sure. He has to decide to believe or not and he automatically does not until he does. Christianity is a commitment to worship God in the way he wants to be worshiped. And that way to worship him is by believing and obeying the commandments of the Bible. If he doesn't do that then he is not Christian. He may be a great guy but he will still not be a saved man without that commitment.

      He can believe in something else or nothing or just give up and never decide, but none of these options are Christian. They are non-Christian.

      January 8, 2014 at 1:13 pm |
    • VidiSensiVici

      To know God is to love God. Perhaps, one has to learn to love first and to experience unconditional love. What is love? Love is to give without expecting anything in return, and one reaps its reward as one gives. When we live for others, and as we love unconditionally, we might discover or understand God's love for us. When we denounce God even for just a moment, we choose to be away from God. If one could experience love for others to the point that if we stay away from them, it would be unbearable, it would just be hell on earth. Just think, if we ever love God so much and the thought of being away from Him would just like be in hell. So, the concept of hell would be obsolete because there is no needs to punish anyone if one could not afford to stay away from God. God is all loving and He always love us regardless. He wants to be with us, and He wants us to choose, to be or not to be with Him, so choose well to have eternal peace and happiness.

      January 12, 2014 at 8:13 am |
      • igaftr

        If you think god is love, you have not read the bible...in one of the biblical myths he loves the whole world to death.

        There is no evidence of any gods, so what if there are none? No gods anywhere, all gods are just products of mens imaginations, what then?

        January 12, 2014 at 8:17 am |
      • truthprevails1

        How is allowing young children to be beaten, oppressing LGBT; oppressing women; allowing for the mass murder of millions; allowing for slavery; allowing for rape, considered loving?
        Now go and pick up your bible and actually read it instead of just picking the warm fuzzy parts. Your god is nothing close to love and in fact closer to an immoral vindictive hateful spouse/abuser. If that is the type of thing you find good and loving, you need a morality check yourself.

        January 12, 2014 at 8:42 am |
  5. Johnny Noir

    I find it interesting that Christians are so heavily indoctrinated with lies about what atheists are that they cannot understand them, even when they hear what they are saying. That indoctrination filter is so thick that no reality gets in at all. They are so brainwashed with the usual "atheists hate god" "atheists are bitter and miserable" "atheists serve satan" lies that they cannot and will not see that atheists are happy and prosperous and peaceful and decent.

    This is a story about Christian bigotry, of the lies they hold so dearly which have nothing to do with reality.

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

      From the sound of this post, you're pretty indoctrinated about what Christians are. Not all Christians are as you described. I have friends who are atheists and they're fine people. We may not agree on certain aspects regarding God, etc., but I don't, for a second, believe they are "bad" people, Satan-worshipers, etc...

      January 8, 2014 at 11:25 am |
      • Johnny Noir

        I am pretty experienced in what Christians are, and few are like you. But you are correct that I should not have implied all. "Most" is more accurate. Heck, look at the way his friends instantly abandoned him, and the comments of Christians here.

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

          Yeah, that is pretty unfortunate. I guess we have some work to do! Thanks 🙂

          January 9, 2014 at 10:22 pm |
  6. Haha

    What an attention h oe. How bout giving a atheist 20 grand to pretend to be Christian, it would be just as stupid.

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

      What an attention garden tool? The slang term lacks an 'e' at the end.

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

        He had to put 'hoe' because you can't put 'w%*!e' or the comment won't be displayed.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:32 am |
  7. RillyKewl

    How pious of his religious colleagues to abandon him, fire him + unfriend him.
    Very nice.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:21 am |
  8. Decima

    Another fine example of Christians doing what they do best: Being complete hypocrites.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:20 am |
  9. IpseCogita

    He will try living as what he thinks an atheist lives like. It will have nothing at al to do with anything, but perhaps it will be something he can spin into some future sermons preached to others that hold the same illusions about atheism.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:19 am |
  10. asdrel

    How does someone "experiment" in athiesm? Deep down inside does he still believe in God or not? I don't see how faith, either faith that there is a god or faith that there isn't, can be something suspended for a specific period of time. Certainly a person's faith can change over time, but I am sceptical that it can be so deliberately temporary and be sincere. I think it might be more accurate to say that he wants to research what athiests think and beleive in.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:18 am |
    • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

      I don’t think you understand what the definition of faith is.

      January 8, 2014 at 12:05 pm |
  11. ME II


    The Clergy Project
    The Clergy Project is a confidential online community for active and former professional clergy/religious leaders who do not hold supernatural beliefs

    January 8, 2014 at 11:18 am |
    • Lars

      How sad one has to exist...but it seems to be hypocritical to make your living preaching God's word when one doesn't actually believe in God.

      Or not. Many people swear to uphold laws while simultaneously breaking them.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:23 am |
      • ME II

        Apparently, people change.

        The Clergy Project’s goal is to support members as they move beyond faith. Members freely discuss issues related to their transition from believer to unbeliever including:

        Wrestling with intellectual, ethical, philosophical and theological issues

        Coping with cognitive dissonance

        Addressing feelings of being stuck and fearing the future

        Looking for new careers

        Telling their families

        Sharing useful resources

        Living as a nonbeliever with religious spouses and family

        Using humor to soften the pain

        Finding a way out of the ministry

        Adjusting to life after the ministry

        January 8, 2014 at 11:33 am |
      • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.


        Really? Whats your opinion on professors who teach subjects such as Greek mythology?

        January 8, 2014 at 12:08 pm |
  12. Seoras

    This pastor should consider himself fortunate that he lives in a tolerant society and only lost his religious job.
    If he was an imam in a muslim country & declared he no longer believed in Allah, what do you think would happen to him?

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

      He lives in a secular society that has laws against murder, but tolerant? No. Many states have laws that an atheist can't hold public office.

      The next time you're with your friends or family, tell them you don't believe in a deity anymore and see just how much tolerance you experience. Look at the posts here and see how many Christians call for atheists to leave the country, be killed off, or at least revel in their fantasies of atheists being tortured for eternity. They talk about how they'll be watching and laughing.

      Yeah, real tolerant.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:32 am |
      • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.


        The only different between the American Christian Taliban and Islamic Taliban is a few hundred years of secularist (btw, secularist doesn’t mean atheist) dragging most theist kicking and screaming into a civilized society.

        January 8, 2014 at 12:12 pm |
  13. Kyle

    I never "tried" being an athiest: I just realized one day that I didn't believe that God existed anymore. If an atheist went through the motions of attending church, praying and stuff for a year only to still be an atheist at the end Christians would just say that they never really believed. Similarly, this guy won't actually be an atheist until he fully stops believing in God.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:17 am |
    • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

      The problem with this type of logic is it implies you have no choice in what you are (believe) and we know this to not be true. The entire concept of religious faith is based on belief without proof or evidence. That’s the actual definition (feel free to look it up). You CAN try to be anything you wish. That isn’t to say you will succeed. It’s another way of saying that you’ve open your mind to the possibility of the subject. If you believe…that you had no choice in your lack of belief then you are no better than the indoctrinated theists.

      January 8, 2014 at 12:24 pm |
  14. CamDen1

    Didn't this man get fired for his religious beliefs? Isn't that highly illegal? Just because it was atheism he was trying, there is no outcry at this injustice. Atheists are still one of the most persecuted groups in America. Just the word is practically a taboo. In a poll, it was suggested that an atheist would be the last person people would elect to the Presidency. If that's not bigotry, I don't know what is. Faith is not inextricably linked to leadership or morality, in fact, sometimes quite the opposite. He was there to teach and foster children through their dissertations. I am an atheist that happened to have attended seminary when I was in my youth and know that I could very well do his job. Are you telling me that I wouldn't be hired because of my religious faith or lack there of? That's like saying that all Christians should be fired from SCIENCE PROGRAMS. However, as long as they teach the curriculum, it doesn't matter what a science teacher's personal beliefs are. He could easily teach the beliefs of the Bible to kids without personally embracing the doctrine. Besides, he is "trying" atheism as an experiment. It's not like he is an actual atheist...yet. I just find the way Christians responded to this man to be appalling. Christians can teach science all day long but an atheist can't teach religion? I guess us atheists are just more tolerant. I like what that woman said, "he learned what it's like to be an atheist real fast". Ain't that the truth.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:15 am |
    • luckylizzie

      I am a Christian and I believe in science, so your comment about Christians not being able to teach science doesn't make any sense. (I don't know one single Christian that says they don't believe in science). I'm not sure what 7th Day Adventist believe, but I'm sure they wouldn't hire a Catholic priest or other religious leader to teach their youth their beliefs. I don't think they are picking on atheists.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:35 am |
      • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

        The point you are missing is that religious types (not just Christians) pick and choose what science they endorse based on their religious views and not the scientific credentials. Science is the study of the natural world.. by definition. Whereas gods, angles, religious miracles are supernatural and outside of science. Christian’s say they ‘believe’ in science when it comes to the little things in their lives but when science directly contradicts their faith they reject said science despite the evidence.

        In short you accept reality based reasoning until it opposes your faith based belief.

        January 8, 2014 at 12:32 pm |
    • Chris

      The jobs that he had required his faith to be solid and intact.
      Saying he shouldn't be let go from them is like saying it's wrong for a plumber to be let go because he refuses to use PVC instead of copper. Or what about a vegetarian working in a fast-food restaurant constantly telling the customers that they shouldn't eat the meat they should eat the salad instead ... shouldn't that person be let go? Athiests are no more tolerant than any other sector. That is because you can/will ALWAYS find someone who is at one extreme or another extreme.
      All Christians are not hypocrites. There are some that are hypocritical, and others who aren't. Just like their are athiests who believe religion should NEVER be talked about, and others who choose not to talk about it because they don't believe.

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

      Americans are all whiners. Christians AND atheists all claim to be persecuted. If you're freely talking about your beliefs in a public forum, you're not being persecuted. Lots of people from other countries could teach us something about that.

      As for the subject of this article, he is at last living honestly. I don't know why he would want to work at those Christian schools if he does not believe the basic tenets of Christianity. And it seems as though he is doing his experiment because of long-term doubts.

      As a Christian, I'm not particularly threatened by him. I'm glad he's not pretending to be a Christian any longer. As a reader of CNN, I think the most important aspect of this story is his desire for publicity. Why is this news? Perhaps there will be a book at the end of his year. He does seem interested in sharing what's in his mind,

      January 8, 2014 at 12:02 pm |
    • Randy

      No he was fired because his job requires him to pray and study his bible and then preach on what "God" has led him to preach on. He cannot do that if he refuses to pray and study his bible. So in effect he said I'm not going to adequately do my job and I still want you to pay me. The church said no we want you to do the job we hired you for and they fired him. Its a just firing.

      January 8, 2014 at 1:31 pm |
  15. Charles

    Religious people are easily frightened by anyone who suddenly starts to think for themselves. I have been an agnostic for 4 years and most of my friends who are deeply religious, dropped me as if I had a contagious disease.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:13 am |
    • Econ301

      You do. Knowledge is contagious.

      This is the whole point of the Movie Inception, once you plant the seed of an idea you can't stop it from growing.

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

      Absolutely. I had a good friend when I was younger who came from a very religious family. After he had been hanging around me for a while he started to come home and ask very rational questions about the beliefs that the family had passed down to him. Instead of attempting to answer them (or admit that they couldn't), his parents essentially barred him from hanging out with me, as though I was some sort of "bad influence" for having enlightened conversations with my friend...

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

    Excuse me? I'm an honest person of faith. I have no doubts.

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

      There's nothing more honest than people who claim to have absolute certainty of something they can't demonstrate to be true.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:14 am |
      • Econ301

        As honest as an Used Car sales man who tells you that the car he's selling you is just like it was driven off the lot for the first time yesterday.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:18 am |
      • I'm ok with that

        There is nothing LESS honest than people who claim to have absolute certainty of something they can't demonstrate to be true.

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

          Yes, I employed sarcasm. =)

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

      Well goody for you.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:19 am |
  17. Aaron

    I think it's very interesting that the Christian Church, which teaches tolerance has done exactly the opposite. Very telling about the hypocrisy in the church itself.
    Have had similar experiences with a church I was a charter member with.
    Made a mistake (I was young, involved with TEC (Teens encounter Christ) admitted my my mistake without prompting, asked for forgiveness and promptly kicked out of TEC. Later when I asked the pastor I had grown up to marry me he said only if you donate to the church and start coming back....
    I have been agnostic ever since.
    Funny, to me, how some of the most hypocritical people are those in religion.

    January 8, 2014 at 11:12 am |
  18. Jose

    As I've gotten older, I have had less and less respect for religion. By that I mean the rules, the interpretation, the rituals. Yet, I recognize the tremendous sense of hope and love that religion can bring to others... mostly ( I suspect) because we all want to "belong", and we tend to associate with others that are most "like us." Frankly, for all the claims, I think "religion" is more a business club than anything else.
    hat being said, I have believed in God since I was 5 or 6. In fact, I remember exactly the day I "decided" that there was a God, and never looked back. Never waivered from that belief. And, in all fairness, Jesus of Nazareth would be my choice for that sci-fi question "if you could go back in time and meet a historical figure, who would it be..."
    As I read this story, I realized this is only a "religious" story because of the guy's job. Basically, this story is nothing more that a guy who is disenchanted with his job, didn't want to play by the rules, and got fired. Because of what the job was, a group of "sympathetic" people sent him some money when they heard about it. That's all this.
    Or.... the atheists have just proven the old "... when God closes a door, he opens a window..." which ironically proves the existence of God, n'est ce pas?
    See, the problem with atheists is they too are a club, with rules, and basically they are a bunch dedicated to proven a negative.... Good luck with that....

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

      Atheism means a lack of belief in god, nothing more.

      I don't have to prove that I don't believe in god. And I don't have to prove that god doesn't exist. If I tell you I don't believe in him, that's that. You have no way to prove that I do believe in him.

      Whether or not he exists is irrelevant.

      Personally, I don't know if he exists or not. Thus, I am an agnostic atheist. I don't know whether god does or doesn't exist (agnostic) but I don't believe in any god (atheist).

      January 8, 2014 at 11:17 am |
  19. atlwmn

    What struck me as odd was this: instead of praying for a sick friend, he did tangible things to help. What was preventing him from helping out before? Pray at night, help someone during the day. It's not that difficult to actually assist people who need it, whether you are a believer or not. His change in religion should absolutely not change his ability to give.

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


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

      Yeah, that struck me too. As a Christian I understand Christ's commandment to love one another to include both praying for people and doing tangible things to help them. These are not mutually exclusive. I am paraphrasing here (Matthew), but my understanding is that whenever we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, etc., we do it for Jesus.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:32 am |
  20. rich

    It is strange that he had to become "atheist" in order to actually follow the example of Christ and minister to people, rather than simply praying for them. He probably wasn't the best pastor. In my experience, the most admirable Christians/etc are those who pray for guidance to actively serve others (love thy neighbor). In other words, it is OK to pray for world peace, but it is probably much better to pray for insight on what you should do to improve the world.
    "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."

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

      People "pray" all the time but instead of asking for help from a deity they focus their thoughts on how they can improve or should have improved some situation.

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

      That's all my minister ever did; pray for someone who had a problem. Seems to be the default position for many ministers.

      January 8, 2014 at 11:27 am |
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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.