By Hemant Mehta, FriendlyAtheist.com
Ryan J. Bell is a professor and former pastor of a Seventh-day Adventist church, and after a lot of frustration within the faith, he’s decided to go a year without God.
As much as I appreciate what he’s trying to do, this is a badly-designed experiment.
As someone who once visited a hell of a lot of churches in the span of a year, I feel like I can talk about what it’s like to cross over to the “other side.” At no point did I ever pretend I was “trying on” Christianity. I was merely an atheist visiting church and no one assumed otherwise.
Make no mistake: Bell is not “trying on atheism.” He’s just a Christian doing what all people should do and exposing himself to an alternative perspective. That’s a very good thing, no doubt, but scrutinizing your own beliefs isn’t a substitute for being godless. Just as celebrating Hanukkah doesn’t make someone Jewish and fasting during Ramadan doesn’t make you a Muslim, not going through typical Christian rituals doesn’t make you an atheist.
Ultimately, Bell still believes in God, at least for now. Until he changes his mind about that, he’s not really living as an atheist. He says, for example, that he won’t read the Bible over the next year… but neither do a lot of Christians and it’s not like they’re giving atheism a try. Bell also says he’ll read books written by atheists and attend atheist gatherings… but let’s be honest: it’s not like a lot of atheists do those things either.
Again: It’s all about what’s going on in your head. I’m all for religious people (or those like Bell who still have a foot on the religious side) reading things that might change their mind or talking to people who might point out the holes in their logic, but none of that makes you an atheist until you realize that God is a myth.
I love that Bell’s exploring atheism. I appreciate that he’s trying to learn more about a perspective a lot of Christians assume is just immoral or wicked. But no one can “live as if there is no God” while still believing God’s out there.
All that said, here’s some advice for Bell: If you really want to give atheism a try, then look for rational explanations when you might have previously assumed God had something to do with it. You’ll soon realize that the rational explanation is there if you look for it — and if you can’t find it, then you just need to look harder or assume it’s a mystery to everyone.
If you’re interested in following Bell’s journey, he’ll be writing about the experience here.