Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A year without God

It's a new year, and there is one former pastor that is taking on an interesting experiment. Ryan Bell is a former pastor of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. He has questioned the official church stance on some issues, which has caused him to take on this project of 'trying on' atheism for a year. Here's on his blog...
what he had to say about the experiment

As it turns out, the day came when I really didn’t fit within the church anymore. 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 (“we won’t kick you out but you can’t participate in leadership”). Through the years, I had also been a critic of the church’s treatment of women, their approach to evangelism and their tunnel-vision approach to church growth...

...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...

...This was on top of my theological concerns. I couldn’t affirm the teaching that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was the “remnant church” — God’s chosen people to prepare the world for the last days. If fact, there was a lot about the church’s beliefs concerning the last days (and the more proximate days) that troubled me...

...In March, I stood my ground on these issues and was asked to resign. I didn’t want to resign but I finally agreed...
It is sad, but not very surprising that he would be sacked from his position simply for having a difference of opinion. Especially, since he was taking the position that I am secure in saying will be on the winning side in history. He tries to be compassionate and a decent person, and instead of accolades,  he is asked to resign. Quite sad indeed.
...So, I’m making it official and embarking on a new journey. I will “try on” atheism for a year. 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. (I trust that if there really is a God that God will not be too flummoxed by my foolish experiment and allow others to suffer as a result)...
While I am very supportive of him undertaking this experiment, I think it's worth pointing out that as long as he still believes in God, he's not 'trying on' atheism. You can't choose what you believe, so you can't choose to be an atheist. You either are, or you aren't. So what he will really be doing is living like most Christians do. Not reading the Bible and not really concerning themselves with religion for the majority of their day. Except he's going to go the extra step and not throw around 'God' references as a show of faith. That said, atheist or not, I think it's a good experiment if honestly done.
This one isn't mentioned much, but for
anyone wanting a quick, easy to read
primer on atheism, I suggest 'Atheist
Universe'
by David Mills
I will read atheist “sacred texts” — from Hobbes and Spinoza to Russell and Nietzsche to the trinity of New Atheists, Hitchens, Dawkins and Dennett. I will explore the various ways of being atheist, from naturalism (Voltaire, Dewey, et al) to the new ‘religious atheists’ (Alain de Botton and Ronald Dworkin). I will also attempt to speak to as many actual atheists as possible — scholars, writers and ordinary unbelievers — to learn how
they have come to their non-faith and what it means to them. I will visit atheist gatherings and try it on.
 I'm guessing that 'sacred texts' is in quotes because he realizes that there are no sacred texts in atheism. At least I hope that's the case. I am encouraged that he will be looking into naturalism, and that he will be talking to atheists and going to gatherings. I hope he gets a nice welcoming, and finds answers to any questions he has. I doubt he'll ever see my blog here, but I'm always happy to field questions. Lastly, once he looks into the science of naturalism, I feel he'll be amazed by how evidenced and beautiful a fully natural world is.
In short, 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. 
 Looks like I spoke too soon. Bell (unlike many believers I encounter) realizes that atheism isn't just a simple choice. I have a good feeling about this guy, and wouldn't be surprised if he exits this year no longer believing.
My desire is, as always, to pursue the truth and do it in a sometimes serious, sometimes playful, way that might be insightful for others as well. During the year I will be blogging my experience here and working on a book. I invite you to follow along and share your thoughts.
 I know I'll be looking for the updates, and wish Bell the very best. Sadly, just a four days in, he's already been a victim of 'Christian love'.
We still love you!
So many of my closest friends and colleagues have said this to me in the past few days. My initial, unspoken reaction was, “Well, I certainly hope so.” Now I understand that this is not a forgone conclusion. 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.
 Luckily it looks like Bell's friends aren't hanging him out to dry, but this is a risk that most atheist's face. I have been lucky, as I haven't lost many relationship due to being honest about my atheism. A couple 'friends' ran for the hill due to my non-belief. But there have been plenty who have lost friends, girlfriends/boyfriends, spouses, and even been disowned by family for simply admitting who they are. It is important to mention that these atheist (as well as Ryan) haven't changed. Everything their relations liked about them is still there and remains unchanged. The only thing that changed was the unfortunately close-minded attitude of those cutting the ties. I sincerely hope that Bell fares better, and is able to retain all his relationships.
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... They simply feel they cannot have me as a part of the faculty while I’m am in this year long process.

The other work I do is consulting with congregations. One congregation in particular—the Glendale City Seventh-day Adventist Church in Glendale...  the fact that I was embarking on a year without god was just too much for them.
So the price of simply asking a question was enough for this man to be left unemployed. That's now). It is odd though... I should think that such a project should be embraced by these parties. They must be of weak faith, for if their faith was as strong as they often claim, they should feel confident that Bell will end the year more full of faith and belief as ever. But their actions tell a different story, and one that is very telling indeed.
ridiculous! It's not like he's telling people to leave the church, and the fact remains that at this moment, he still is a believer. Yet one simple little experiment was enough for them to all cut ties (for

Ryan also makes some good observations...
1. Religions institutions (Christian, in my case) are not able to endure these probing questions from their public leaders.
2. Christian educational institutions are not serving their students by eliminating professors that are on an honest intellectual and spiritual journey
I've often wondered what is so threatening about simply asking questions. An open and honest search for the truth should be celebrated, not discouraged and penalized. If the churches truly believe that what they are teaching is the truth, they shouldn't fell worried at all. If it's true, then the honest seeker will find what they were claiming all along. Yet they are worried none-the-less. This tells me that even they may be unsure of the beliefs that stamp their meal ticket. And if my personal journey is anything to go by, they should be worried about people searching for the true reality.

3. Those who “come out” as atheist face serious consequences in our society. They are among the marginalized groups that get the least attention. I know this now from personal experience.
 I'm saddened Ryan had to learn this the hard way, but this is very true. Atheists are a decent portion of the US population. You see them every day, yet we are the most marginalized and distrusted. A survey found we are trusted less than rapists! Seriously?! But why is that? I feel it's predominately due to ignorance. People either don't know what an atheist really is, or believe the falsehoods that their church says about us. Atheists make up the majority of the Academy of Science, the most generous philanthropist in the US is a nonbeliever, and atheists only make up 0.07% of the American prison population. Considering that Christians make up the majority of the inmate population, why are we the ones that get the bad rap?
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.
 So now Mr. Bell is left with the clock ticking in a scramble to find employment all because those that employed him couldn't handle him asking a simple question. That is very sad indeed. I hope that he is able to find something soon, as I'd hate him and his family to have to suffer financially or otherwise to to the inability of others to understand or keep an open mind. Once more, I'd like to wish Ryan the best of luck on this journey.


-Brain Hulk

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