Note: I’m informed by Grania that she wrote a very short post about this lapsed pastor on December 26, but her treatment, based on Hemant Mehta’s fund-raising for the guy, is considerably different from mine below, so I’m going to post this anyway.
A pastor losing his faith and leaving the church is not a new story, but publicizing it in a major, as National Public Radio (NPR) did yesterday with a lapsed Seventh-Day Adventist pastor, is. And there’s been more publicity with Dan Dennett and Linda LaScola’s “Clergy Project,” which provides an internet “halfway house” in which preachers who are either doubters or are leaving their church can communicate privately with one another. (I’ve previously written about LaScola’s and Dennett’s book, Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind.)
The NPR precis of its 4.5-minute program on pastor Ryan Bell is reproduced in its entirety below (you can listen to the show here by clicking on “Listen to the Story”). The thing is that the short pieces elicited, as of this morning in India, 1815 comments!
I’ve highlighted my favorite bit at the end.
Now normally you wouldn’t think this kind of story would prompt such emotional reactions from readers, but it fits with my theory that America is slowly losing faith, and the number of doubters are increasing. Many will become “nones” (those without a formal church affiliation), others will go onto agnosticism or atheism, but the majority are still afflicted with confirmation bias, desperately seeking signs or evidence that there really is a God.
Before you look at the readers’ comments on this fairly tame piece, see if you can guess which bits got people riled up:
At the start of 2014, former Seventh-Day Adventist pastor Ryan Bell made an unusual New Year’s resolution: to live for one year without God. This, reflecting his own loss of faith. He kept a blog documenting his journey and has a documentary crew following him.
After a year, Bell tells NPR’s Arun Rath, “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. But I don’t think that’s necessarily the most interesting thing about me.”
Today, Bell has a new job at PATH, an organization dedicated to helping the homeless.
“It’s, I think, an expression of really the part of me that hasn’t changed. I’m still the same person deep down that I was before. I care about justice and equality and I want to see opportunities spread more evenly in our society,” Bell says.
Bell says he still feels like atheism is “an awkward fit,” and also feels uncomfortable around his former Christian friends who are adjusting to his new views.
One of his biggest lessons from the year is “that people very much value certainty and knowing and are uncomfortable saying that they don’t know.”
Now he thinks certainty is a bit overrated.
“I think before I wanted a closer relationship to God and today I just want a closer relationship with reality,” Bell says.
Note, too, that Bell’s statement about why he’s helping the homeless, “”It’s, I think, an expression of really the part of me that hasn’t changed. I’m still the same person deep down that I was before. I care about justice and equality and I want to see opportunities spread more evenly in our society,” gives a lie to the claim that one’s “purpose” comes from God. Clearly, for this man, it came from his innate concern for humanity and had nothing to do with a divine being.
I think that, unless you’re a believer, you’ll be heartened by the comments, especially since that they’re at soft-on-faith NPR. Yes, there’s an occasional Jesus-lover, but many are like this: