Pastor tries on atheism for a year

I’m an atheist by birth. I have never believed in any supernatural beings, not ghosts, not demons, not gods. It’s not a conscious choice, it’s just the way I am. It turns out PZ weighed in on this and some of his thoughts are quoted at CNN today:

PZ Myers, an American scientist and prolific blogger on atheism, echoed Hutchinson’s comments, and called Bell’s experiment “simply ridiculous.” “It’s not a set of superficial practices, it’s a mindset,” Myers said of atheism. “What’s he going to do at the end of the year, erase his brain?”
Since the responses have been so varied – and so interesting – we wanted to know what other thinkers and scholars have to say about Bell’s experiment with atheism. In short, we asked a whole bunch of smart folks if it’s really possible to “try” atheism for a year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we got a wide variety of answers (The old adage about “three rabbis, four opinions” seems to apply to atheists as well.)Some of these submissions have been edited for length and clarity.

My first reaction is this a marketing scheme for the pastor’s church or upcoming book or national tour on the hardships and evils he endured — Christlike for all humankind you see?

Haha! Via comments: “Chapter 1: I thought about how a Godless universe means there are no objective moral standards, so I pushed an old woman in front of a bus.”



  1. Alverant says

    Well either that or he’s going to admit that he can’t go back. I’m reminded of the guy who made the “Supersize Me” movie then went on to do a TV series where he tries a different lifestyle for 30 days. One of them was being muslim. I wonder how well that went.

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    “What’s he going to do at the end of the year, erase his brain?”

    Of course not. Let me be the first* to suggest that he’s going to write a book.
    “Chapter 1: I thought about how a Godless universe means there are no objective moral standards, so I pushed an old woman in front of a bus.”

    * OK, maybe the 238th.

  3. Rob says

    Hmmmm, this makes as much sense as me saying I’ll give being Roman Catholic or Baptist a go for a year.

    Sure, I could learn all the right phrases and actions but what does that mean or prove? Like you Stephen I was born atheist, despite the attempts of various family members to push me in the direction of the church. That’s not to say I didn’t have a close look during my late teens, but it was more a case of “lots of people are doing this, is there any real meaning here? No.”

    At best I now consider religion ridiculous and unhelpful; at worst I find it dangerous and egregiously distasteful.

    It seems this pastor is simply going to wear a mask for a year, without really understanding or feeling atheism itself (whatever it is). Still, maybe that’s how many of the religious live their lives anyway…

  4. besomyka says

    @3 – After reading his posts, I’m convinced this is a genuine step in his road to Atheism. What he has written about regarding before this year’s efforts, sounds an awful lot like other priest and preachers as they were deconverting.

    He’s harbored serious doubts for a long time. He’s increasing left god out of his sermons. He had begun to doubt god’s existence in earnest. Attending church no longer felt like it was for him.

    To me, this is just the phrasing of someone that has lived his life in a Church as a leader, and is rationalizing a way to explore what he already knows(more or less) in a way that some of the people in his life might understand.

    I guess it is possible this is all a very detailed fraud made to look as sound as if he were this person, but I’ve seen nothing to indicate that he’s being disingenuous in what he’s been writing. On the contrary, he comes across as someone earnestly trying to find a way to the truth because of ongoing serious doubts that have been hounding his mind.

    If the later is true, he’s the sort of person we should support and thank for being so public about it.

  5. stripeycat says

    It could also be that he intends to see how socially survivable atheism is, for him personally. If he is worried that he’ll suffer from the loss of church support networks, this could be a trial run. Also, there’s the comfort blanket aspects of religion: he may doubt his ability to keep going without a vague hope of a protective deity.

  6. Holms says

    Pure stunt. At the end of the year of ‘atheism’, he’ll conclude with some tripe along the lines of ‘OMG I;ve now been both atheist AND cristian, and christianity just makes so much more sense!!! Therefore atheism is wrong, buy my book.’

    i.e. Drivel from start to finish.

  7. Lea says

    I agree with #4. If it’s hard for a religious layperson to let go of ingrained beliefs, imagine how much harder it is for someone in the clergy. You can’t just “snap out of it”. It’s a whole different universe and people usually have to work through several stages over a period of time.

  8. jamessweet says

    An important piece of context is that this guy has been hounded out of a job in the past for expressing doubts about his faith.

    This is almost certainly not a gimmick along the lines of “After a year, I see how much better belief is!” It may be a gimmick of some sort, but it’s not a gimmick of that type; this guy does not seem like he would do that. I’m not even sure it’s a gimmick.

    I agree that it doesn’t actually make all that much sense, but I think it’s probably being done in good faith.

  9. gardengnome says

    Quote “Ryan Bell, a one-time Christian pastor, says he didn’t expect his yearlong experiment with atheism to get much attention.

    “This wasn’t intended to be an international journey that was done in public,” he told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin last Wednesday”. Unquote

    Then why didn’t he keep it to himself and just get on with it instead of making the big announcement?

    It took me many years to throw off the shackles forged by a Catholic ‘education’ – you can’t just press a button and switch it off, even just for a year.

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