Trying On Atheism

By now you’ve probably seen mention of Ryan Bell, the Seventh-day Adventist pastor who’s planning to live a year without prayer or church but with atheist literature and conversations with atheists. As he puts it, he’s “trying on” atheism.

Bell is trying to tackle the question, “What difference does God make?” It’s kind of interesting that he doesn’t look at the world around him to find the answer, nor is he looking at human society. He’s going to change his own behavior and see how it feels. It’s a measure of how personal religion has become. That’s not a criticism, just an observation.

I guess that I agree with Hemant: Atheism isn’t something you do, it’s something you are. Those of us who weren’t raised as atheists only became atheists after some kind of deconversion. It may have been a long slide or it may have been sudden, it may have been calm and intellectual or it may have been passionate and tearful. But at some point we realized we could no longer believe in a deity. You don’t set out to be an atheist, you become an atheist by default after you have deconverted.

Once you no longer believe in a god, then you are an atheist regardless of what you do next. If you continue to go to church and sing the hymns, you are still an atheist. On the flip side, there are many believers who do not pray or go to church but still feel there is a god.

This is why the idea of “trying on” atheism seems misguided. While there’s a definite atheist sub-culture, it’s not intrinsic to being an atheist. Probably only a fraction of atheists bother to read the latest book by a New Atheist, and even fewer are familiar with Hobbes and Spinoza.

All that said, we know that belief is socially constructed. Surrounding himself with atheist arguments and people with a secular world view might lead to some interesting developments. If this isn’t a stunt – and there has to be an easier way to get attention than this – the I am curious to see how it turns out.


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