It’s easy, anyone can do it

December 26, 2014 • 7:06 am

by Grania

A year ago, Seventh Day Adventist pastor Ryan Bell decided to spend a year living as an atheist, in his own words,

“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.”

He’d apparently already had issues with his church over their homophobic campaigning against same-sex marriage causing him to resign his position. Hemant Mehta over at The Friendly Atheist set up a fundraiser to help him financially during the year.

After a year, a lot has changed. He has a new job teaching life skills to the homeless, has a new girlfriend and claims he is a ‘weak atheist’ and says he is “comfortable with not having all the answers about the meaning of life and why we are here”.

He officially announces on 1st January whether he will continue as an atheist or return to being a Christian. I can’t really imagine why anyone who self-describes as an atheist would go back to religion, unless perhaps they miss the community that goes with it. The community he left may not be particularly welcoming to him, but I have no doubt that there are probably many others who would be. Welcoming newcomers with love and happiness is pretty standard fare for any cult, whether it is of a benign or predatory predisposition.

There are plenty of reasons one can use to convince oneself that belief is the better option, as Dan Dennett noted in his 2007 AAI talk, but you can’t pretend to believe in something that you don’t. I wish Ryan Bell well, his choice is his own business and I hope it brings him happiness.


47 thoughts on “It’s easy, anyone can do it

  1. Of
    Course they will welcome him back because he will be born again. He will be a perfect example of the “failures” of atheism.

  2. This might be slightly off topic, but are we sure this guy isn’t a total charlatan? I’ve never heard of him before, and as far as I’m concerned, it could potentially be a publicity gimmick. Raising over $27,000 to basically avoid church and live as an ‘atheist’ for a year seems completely bogus to me. If someone is going to pay me 30 grand, you bet I’ll show up to church on time every Sunday and give a few useless prayers throughout my day.

    1. I think you are closer to the truth than most. It’s just my opinion of course, but I think this guy is thinking book sales and seeing dollar signs, and THAT was the real motivation for this stunt from the beginning.

      NO ONE becomes an atheist through “experimenting” with it for a DESIGNATED TIME PERIOD.. Especially religious believers. This has scam written all over it.

      The vast majority of former believers turned atheist go through some sort of crisis of faith wherein they honestly begin to question everything they’ve been taught and programmed to believe since childhood. It’s a long process that involves a sincere re-examination of these beliefs. Most begin by reading the ENTIRE Bible, and doing some research.

      That alone is enough to turn a believer atheist.

      But my point is reevaluating everything you ever believed isn’t as simple as saying, “I’ll try living for a year like I don’t believe this stuff.”

      Nosiree, it ain’t that simple. Once a Christian realizes he’s been living a delusion, it doesn’t mean his struggle is over. It takes a long time to DE-program.

      Most former believers know all this (and you can count me in among that number).

      I’m sorry, but I think this guy is just waiting to sell his bogus story to gullible Christians.

      1. I think you should bother to listen to his explanation before passing judgement. Watch this and see if you still think he’s just in it for the money.

      2. It initially struck me that the conceptual framework of “trying out” atheism seems absurd. However, looking back on my own youth (up to about age 21) as an Adventist, I recall that I really couldn’t even conceive what it would be like to not believe.

        When everything in your life has revolved around your belief, it is easy to assume that everything in the godless life revolves around unbelief. This can lead to some pretty bizarre mental models of how your subsequent life is going to unfold if you follow through on your doubts. Looking back on my own deconversion, I was foreseeing a lot of issues that just didn’t materialize.

        This guy may have tripped on the door sill and stumbled into unbelief a bit awkwardly, but who among us…

    2. He didn’t raise the money, Hemant Mehta raised it for him after Bell was fired from his job for publicly announcing he was going to live as an atheist for a year. He had two kids to support as well, frankly 27K was not exactly going to provide luxury.

      Useful links on the now closed GoFundMe site:

      1. Yes, and what was that stuff about “no one becomes an atheist thru experimentation.”

        That’s a scientific thought. I would think that is how many become non-believers, by first giving it a try. This guy was hard core. Seventh Day Adventist. They spend most of Saturday in church or eating beans somewhere. My mother in law is of this faith so unfortunately I have seen some of it.

  3. “you can’t pretend to beleive in something that you dont” Huh? Of course you can, let me tell you a story about an old fat guy, in a red suit, who lives at the north pole.

    1. Yes, we can pretend to believe things we don’t believe.

      But I think Grania’s meaning comes across, which is that we can’t hold beliefs other than those we actually hold. IE, I do not become a theist simply by saying “I think I’ll try theism now”. I’d need to have legitimately been persuaded that atheism is wrong and theism is correct. And that is a very unusual direction of flow.

      1. Depends on slippery words. One could certainly be indistinguishable from a theist to third parties simply by following the forms of belief. You know… like Agnes Bojaxhiu.

      2. Actually, that’s just what the religious think you should do, fake it till you make it! Live as though you believe and eventually you will actually believe, is apparently a well understood method of finding faith. It seems ludicrous to me but I suppose at the very least it stops you causing trouble for real believers by asking troubling questions.

        1. I suspect it is possible to persuade yourself into a belief (or out of one). I know that is logically impossible – either you believe or you don’t, period.

          But I’m sure if you keep telling yourself that X is true, and acting as if it is, eventually ways of thought will become ingrained and instinctual and indistinguishable from ‘true’ belief. And in the same way, continued questioning can undermine a belief, even a true one.

  4. I’ve been living as an atheist since 1953 and nobody’s ever given me a dime for it. Where are the back payments I’m owed? Hemant?

  5. Community is a huge factor. There are countless stories about those who fear losing friends, family over the choice to leave a faith or who have been ostracized. Even in a benign way there is the loss of the structure, socializing and events that had become a part of living within a faith community. My wife and I found a UU fellowship did satisfy many needs. Community, observance of important events and our desire to be politically and socially active, without any supernatural prerequisite. I don’t think it’s that easy to live as an atheist without some support, leaving behind a comfort zone, tradition, just habits. And thanks for an excellent blog. Always engaging.

    1. Need for community is certainly a strong disincentive to leave a religion. But of course we have an atheist/Humanist community as an alternative to that religious community which one has left. But then again, there is the added issue of structured pastoral care… that safety net of guidance and human sympathy when things become very difficult for the individual to bear. Of course there are humanist friendships – but there is no certainty that one’s friends have the ability or the inclination to offer the needed support and advice. Or that one even has any friendships at all. And atheists don’t offer set prescriptive formulas to deal with different sorts of human problems – bereavement, loss of love, illness etc.
      Without a doubt, being an atheist takes an added strength of character and courage to do without these supporting props when times are difficult. But well worth it I would say.

      1. “But of course we have an atheist/Humanist community as an alternative to that religious community”

        True but ‘coming out’ as an atheist means – at least potentially – losing one’s place in one’s own community. You may no longer share their beliefs but I imagine it must be hard if former friends and loved ones no longer wish to associate with you. The fact that in time you can make new friends and become part of a new community doesn’t necessarily make the jump seem less frightening at the time, especially as the community you may become a part of may well be of limited visibility to you at this point in your journey.

  6. A lifetime of habit is difficult to change but I wish him well in his struggle. He’s fighting against our fear of all the unknown and he’s doing it very publicly. If he’s got that much courage, he should be able to overcome the superstition, if the social pressure isn’t too overwhelming.

  7. I can’t wait for “documentary”, interviews, etc.. Can you see a dvd release of this guys “Year of Atheism” ala Super Size Me? This just screams fraud to me.

    1. If a DVD were released documenting his story, how would that be fraud?

      The guy seems legit to me, I remember hearing about his story last year. He’s kept up his blog and seems sincere.

      If the angle is just to make money, seems like there would be much easier ways than losing one’s job, becoming an ever-popular atheist, and writing a blog.

  8. Now I’ll give you something to believe. I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.’

    ‘I can’t believe that!’ said Alice.

    ‘Can’t you?’ the Queen said in a pitying tone. ‘Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.’

    Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said ‘one can’t believe impossible things.’

    ‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

    — Chapter 5, Wool and Water, Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll

  9. The rush to conclusion or judgement by some on the net is something that should be recognized and avoided if possible. For some reason this post just made me think of this.

  10. Making the change is not easy. I used to be a minister in the Jehovah’s Witness community. Ironically, its my deeper study of the Bible (to defend my faith) that got me thinking and reasoning.
    And voila! Outspoken atheist.

    Hope Ryan Bell frees himself for good.
    Life is sunnier on this side. 😉

  11. I have recently concluded that nobody who claims to be a believer really believes that godstuff, they’re just too scared to admit it to anybody — it’s safer to just keep going through the motions.
    Starting in the new year, everytime somebody wishes me a “blessed day” or says, “There’s a reason for everything,” I plan to reply, “Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.”
    If they look puzzled, I’ll smile and reassure them, “Your secret is safe with me.”
    Can’t wait to hear the responses.

    1. You sound like my kind of subversive! Occasionally when people use the word “god” in a sentence (such as “god bless you” or “god knows what you need”) I say “Which one?” If they say “Which one what?” I say “Which god? There are tens of thousands of them to choose from.”

  12. I was going to comment about the impossibility of believing stuff that you know isn’t true but a different line of thought entered my head as I was reading the comments. The thought was, how fortunate I am to live in the UK where religion isn’t even an issue. The problems that are being discussed here are completely absent from my world. The nearest parallel that I can come up with is the time between 1979 and 1991 that I spent involved with a karate club. Almost my entire circle of friends were involved with karate but when my interest waned and I moved onto other things, I lost touch with many of them but they didn’t hate me for it.

    1. The UK seems to have plenty of faith-driven problems these days. Are you forgetting the turmoil driven by Islam?

      (Although as an American I rather envy the lower profile Christianity has in your country.)

  13. I think he’s sincere enough for the state of mind he’s in. Do I think he’s an atheist? Not by a long shot. Is his break with 7 day permanent? Probably. His GF is a christian, and unless she’s the exception rather than the rule, I see him staying with the idea of faith, just not the “fundamental” version.
    It’s easy to be skeptical of ex preachers, because I do see a percentage of them doing the book and media tour, staying in the public eye seems to be important for some of them.

  14. Hilarious he needed a fundraiser to survive. Ironically, 99.99999999999% of atheists don’t. He got one because, presumably, as a pastor he had no transferrable life skills to fall back on.

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