Ryan Bell was raised Seventh Day Adventist. Since 1991, he has been either a pastor in the Christian religion or attending school, developing his skills to be a successful pastor. Then, on New Year’s Eve, 2013, he announced that for one year, he will be an atheist.
My husband told me about this last night—about how Bell was asked to resign from his position at his California church in March because of his views on homosexuality.
According to Bell’s Huffington Post article, “I had been an outspoken critic of the church’s approach to our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered members—that approach being exclusion or, at best, second class membership. … I tried to maintain that I was a faithful critic—a critic from within—someone committed to the church and its future success but unwilling to go blindly along with things I felt were questionable, or even wrong.”
I assume his resignation was what started Bell’s path to a year without God. Following his announcement via the Huffington Post, he was soon asked to leave his position as professor at two Christian colleges. He’s currently looking for a way to survive the upcoming year with no gainful employment.
His mission statement: “For the next 12 months I will live as if there is no God. I will not pray, read the Bible for inspiration, refer to God as the cause of things or hope that God might intervene and change my own or someone else’s circumstances.”
There have been critics in the atheist community who call Bell a fraud, a fake. However, others have stood up and raised money to keep him going on his yearlong path without God.
What do I think about Bell’s decision? I was raised in the church. I attend church. I pray and sing in the choir. Yet, even I have days when I doubt the nearness of the Lord. Even I sometimes think no one is listening. I’m thankful to have Jake whose faith is devout, patient, and seemingly effortless. My husband tends to pull me back when I stray. And perhaps that is part of God’s plan for putting Jake in my life.
I imagine there are several Christians who are angry with Ryan Bell. They surely cast words of damnation over his decision to turn away from God, and I wonder what will happen to him in the year ahead. Will he realize he doesn’t need God to live or will he realize that with God is the only way to live?
When thinking about Bell, I asked myself: how would I behave if I thought there was no God, no eternal consequence? I was somewhat dismayed to realize I would act probably the same way I do now. What does that say about my Christianity? Says I’m shaky at best.
There are general rules, right? The Golden Rule, for instance, and other things that keep me out of prison, like “Don’t kill people.” But I drink and cuss and watch/read immoral content. I enjoy the company of skeptics (sometimes more so than fellow Christians). I don’t believe in resolutions, but maybe 2014 is my year for seeking, as well, although no, I don’t see ignoring God as an option.
I will be following Ryan Bell’s path on YearWithoutGod.com. Already, his posts are covered in controversy, and hell, this might be one huge publicity stunt. Only time will tell, and I’m curious to see how he ends up. When his year is over, will he lean on his own strength or on the strength of God?