Bell, who started experimenting living without God a year ago, recently concluded that he does not believe God exists and said he is now trying to get closer to reality. Speaking to the media on New Year’s Eve 2014, Bell spoke of his struggle with Christianity, explaining how he found it difficult to accept the treatment of women and homosexuals in the Adventist Church. At that point in time, he described himself as a faithful critic lobbying for the inclusion of women and homosexuals in the Church’s culture and leadership posts.
“I will do whatever I can to enter the world of atheism and live, for a year, as an atheist. It's important to make the distinction that I am not an atheist. At least not yet. I am not sure what I am. That's part of what this year is about,” he wrote back then.
This New Year’s Eve however, Bell told the media that after spending 20 long years as a pastor and professing at two Christian universities, he does not believe the foundation of his former faith to be true and thus wants to get closer to reality.
“I think at this point, you know, I've looked at the majority of the arguments that I've been able to find for the existence of God. And on the question of God's existence or not, I have to say I don't find there to be a convincing case, in my view. I don't think that God exists. I think that makes the most sense of the evidence that I have and my experience… I want to have a closer relationship to reality. I think before I wanted a closer relationship to God, and today, I just want a closer relationship with reality,” he said.
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Ryan J Bell, visiting professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and Azusa Pacific University and a former pastor at a Seventh-day Adventist Church, lost support from his Christian employers after he decided to live like an atheist for one year and document his journey on his blog. While some critics did point out that Bell’s methodology was quite flawed, he received support from several quarters for exploring atheism and expressing a desire to learn more about it.
Bell’s employers did not approve of his desire to explore religion with a critical eye and reportedly turned against him days after he made his decision public on his website, “Year without God – A Former Pastor’s Journey into Atheism”, until he decides to rededicate himself to Jesus.
“They simply feel they cannot have me as a part of the faculty while I’m 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… My process for the next year does not square with official faith statements and creates untenable discomfort among members. Donors, it is feared, will pull back their donations. My inquiry is the beginning of a slippery slope and they simply can’t risk it,” said Bell.
Along with his teaching contracts ending, Bells’ consulting job with a Seventh - Day Adventist Church in his locality also ended at the same time. After he started documenting his journey on his blog, atheists began debating over the price that one may have to pay for simply experimenting with atheism in the open.
“It’s like when Jesus said, “Follow me. And if you ask any questions, I’ll cut you.” So I find myself, on Day 4, without any employment. My savings will run out in about two weeks and I’m scrambling to find immediate work doing, well… anything — manual labor, waiting tables, other teaching and consulting, or whatever I can find. Jesus, that’s awful,” said Bell.
Bell has found help pouring in from various quarters. Blogger Hemant Mehta, “The Friendly Atheist”, has set up a fundraising page for the former pastor so that people from different parts of the world can pitch in and support Bell in their own way.
“I think it’s important to show that, unlike the Christian organizations, we support someone who’s willing to put his own beliefs under the microscope. Furthermore, we’ll support his experiment even if he doesn’t end up becoming an atheist. What a disappointing response from the Christian schools and church. Not unexpected, just disappointing,” said Mehta on his blog.
According to critics, most atheists remain in the closet their whole lives because they fear the consequences of coming out. While Bell may have lost his job only for saying that he wants to explore life without God, others fear that they will lose their families and friends too.
Photo Credits: Ryan J Bell