I’m probably late to the party in weighing in on Ryan Bell’s Year Without God project. Mr. Bell, a former pastor and Seventh-Day Adventist, has decided to live the life of an atheist for a year, cognitively separating himself from god, while blogging about his discoveries.
In his post of 4 January, The Cost of Atheism, he writes:
“It began on the evening of January 1—the very first day of my year without god. First text messages, then email saying, “We need to talk.” By noon on Friday I had been let go from all the jobs that I had. Since leaving my position with the Seventh-day Adventist Church—and even before—I was an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University (APU) teaching Intercultural Communication to undergrads, and Fuller Theological Seminary, coaching doctoral candidates in the writing of their dissertation proposals. Both are Christian institutions of higher learning that have a requirement that their instructors and staff be committed followers of Jesus and, obviously, believers in God. They simply feel they cannot have me as a part of the faculty while I’m am in this year long process. Both APU and Fuller welcomed a conversation with me at the end of the year to see about my future work with their institutions. The Deans of both schools encouraged me and said they felt my project was bold and even important and necessary.”
Reading Mr. Bell’s blog, it appears that he began having his “crisis of faith” before striking out on this endeavor. As an apostate, I can attest that letting go of a belief system is not an overnight decision. It’s one that I struggled with for several years before that moment when I could say out loud – “I don’t believe in god.” The next hard step is deciding how to deal with this new found realization.
Sharing the fact that you no longer believe can be a painful experience. Will your spouse still love you? Will your family disown you? Will your friends reject you or will they pray for you? I’ve atheist friends that remain in the closet out of fear of emotional reprisal from their family and loved ones.
Yet Mr. Bell is laying it out there, but in many respects this “experiment” rings a little hollow to me. With no disrespect intended — I find it encouraging that he would take the time to walk in another’s uncomfortable-at-times shoes — however, it feels like it is just a bit contrived.
Mr. Bell has stated his intent to write a book following his year long vacation away from god. I just get the sense that this could just as easily be a “My Year As a Woman” — the story of a man who dressed up as Tootsie for a year then went on to write about his findings. At the end of the year, he was still a man. My hope is that, regardless of his intentions or whatever his “findings” may be at the end of the year, at the very least he will have a little more empathy for what atheists go through in living a life out of the closet.
He is currently getting a little taste of that right now, but reading the commentaries to his blog posts, I see his Christian fiends as, while supportive, encouraged that he will return to the flock when the year is up. Atheists on the other hand, appreciate his effort and have established a fundraiser to ensure he will be able to survive the year in the event he is unable to find employment outside the ministry. For the most part, atheists responding to his articles, don’t seem to care much one way or the other if Mr. Bell comes over to the dark side or returns to Christianity – they simply see it as a positive thing that a Christian would make the effort. Although most hope he is honest in his approach for seeking the truth wherever it ends up leading him.
I can’t help but feel that Mr. Bell might be sneaking a prayer or two on the side – you know, like someone on a strict diet might sneak a cookie when no one’s looking :). That said, I look forward to following his experience and will enjoy reading his insights as his days without god progress. My year without god is now over a decade – maybe I should write a book?