Two new stories about my journey

Religion News Service | Seventh-day Adventist Pastor plans to flirt with atheism for 12 months

Salon | Enough of the “year of” stunts

Having doubts? Just stop it!
Jeremy Neill’s God is the deus ex machina
Are atheists the most hated group in America?
My response to Jeremy Neill’s “A God Who Love and Cares”
About Ryan Bell

For 19 years Ryan Bell was a pastor, most recently the senior pastor of the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church. In March 2013 he resigned his position due to theological and practical differences. As an adjunct professor he has taught subjects ranging from intercultural communication to bioethics.
Currently he is a researcher, writer and speaker on the topic of religion and irreligion in America. In January 2014, Ryan began a yearlong journey exploring the limits of theism and the atheist landscape in the United States and blogs about that experience here at Year Without God.

  • kjwinston

    Thanks for including my story about you, Ryan. I’ll be watching with great interest this year. My goodness, did you know what you were getting into?

  • betsey riedl

    I’m just wondering what your thoughts are about these articles.

  • Clint

    My initial thoughts while reading this blog is that it feels like a stunt…but, I applaud the effort you are making. I don’t know that you can just “live as an atheist”, but, I hope that you find what I have found that atheists are decent human beings that care about the world and their fellow man every bit as much as a religious person.

    I hope that when your year is up that you have a profound experience…not that, atheism is absolutely correct…but, that even if you find God at the end of your journey, that you realize that belief in God does not require someone to turn their back on their fellow human beings just because their beliefs are different.

    The Christ story is a beautiful story that I fear too many Christians ignore or don’t truly understand.

    Anyway, I wanted to wish you well on this journey of discovery, no matter what you discover along the way.

    • Judas

      Yes it seems like capitalization in the making. Future book, speaking engagements, movie? Writing on the wall. Shameful!

  • Chas Swedberg

    Hi. I’m an atheist and heard about you originally from Hemant’s posting. Although I see what he was getting at, if you are going to “walk the walk” your approach is OK in my book. I’ll be following and adding comments where I think they might be relevant. Hope they are of value.

  • Brooke Kerbs

    Congrats on the media attention! I’m glad that you are speaking out and making it “ok” to ask questions about religion…even down to its very core. I am fascinated by your story and plan to follow your journey.

  • Sara Martin

    I applaud your journey no matter what the outcome. Questing and searching are always to be followed. I came to atheism through growing up in a large city with many different people. Some were very religious, some less so, some not at all. I looked at a lot of beliefs and listened to both believers and nonbelievers and came to the conclusion that I am a humanist who cares not whether you believe or not, but how you live and treat all those you come in contact with throughout your life. At my age (72) I look at how my children, grand children and great grand children see and respond to others. They are the weather vane for the rightness of my life. I watch how the react in different situations and can say I must have done something right because they are kind, thoughtful, intelligent people and I am proud that I had a small part in making them who they have become. Enjoy this journey and be happy at the end regardless of the outcome.

  • Kris

    By the way, you’ve probably already heard this, but I noticed in one article they quoted you as saying something about worrying about having to absolutely believe there’s no god to be an atheist. That’s not atheism. That’s anti-theism. Most of us would never say “there are no gods”, because it’s impossible to ever know that (see Russell’s Teapot). I’ve noticed there are people who call themselves anti-theists *about specific gods* because some of the god claims are falsifiable, but And it’s really not the same as Christianity — you do have to believe at least a couple things to be a Christian. To be an atheist, there is no belief requirement…you just have to lack a belief in god. You already lack a belief in Zeus and Thor, I’m guessing, and every other god that has ever existed.

  • Psycho Gecko

    I hope you didn’t take away from my comment that I am among those who believe you are a mole or a fake. That’s not the nature of all this and those labels don’t really make sense in this context. I’m just a bit wary.

    And if I’m somehow justified in that wariness, I’m sure I’ll get lots of good quotes for Fundies Say The Darnedest Things out of it.

  • Alan

    go to , it’s a community of agnostics, atheist, etc. and like you ex-theists. they make jokes, share ideas and cool websides. there are many stories of people who people lost their faith, telling their own story.

    I’m looking forward to see your journey unravel, best of luck

    I hope you will join our large and diverse community from all age groupes and races, welcome.

    A redditor

  • S. Paul

    As Kris already noted, most atheists would not say there is complete certainty the divine doesn’t exist. I like Dawkins’ 7 point scale of belief, where 1 is total certainty that the divine exists, and 7 is total certainty that there is no divine being in the universe. As Dawkins himself notes, it is impossible to totally prove a negative assertion like “there is no god.” As a consequence, while most believers tend towards a 1, very few atheists would claim a full 7, no matter how close they are to certainty.

    What’s more, I feel that is part of the beauty of atheism, the knowledge that you are always open to objective truth and are willing to change or modify your stance based on fact and evidence. Many believers seem to confuse a lack of belief in the divine with a belief that there is no divine. It may seem like a trivial difference, but the latter assertion is a belief system, whereas the first assertion is simply the absence of belief.

    As I’m sure you’ve already noticed, there are as many views on atheism as there are atheists. I find it disturbing that so many people have branded this experiment of yours a “stunt” or are viewing your journey with skepticism. The path is always different, and in my experience the process for those of us with a strong religious and/or theologically inclined background tends to be approached very differently than those who grew up outside the church, or with moderate religious influence.

    Do not be discouraged by the naysayers, it is the internet after all.

  • Steve Kane

    Notice how in the headline, the patronising (and sexually coloured) word “flirt”.(With whom “The Whore of Babylon”?) is used. Also a similar patronising tone turns up a lot in comments on here, particularly from “professional” atheists.

    I have made something of a career over the last five years on facebook, of breaking the interweb dogma of anonymity and secrecy and coming out about all manner of things daily and deeply, particularly “not knowing”. In my experience when they start to patronise you they are really scared. Those are the folk to be on your alert for, hostility will soon follow if you do not meekly sign up to their alternative or else “return to the fold”.

    You may find that you have become addicted to belief, in such folk “unbelief” manifests in as aggressive a manner as “belief” can. This is a sign of a kind of “Post Traumatic Stress” and self disgust sometimes at their “Stockholm Syndrome”.

    None of this tells you anything about whether “god will exist for you” at the end of this year, just that folk’s behaviour may get very counter-intuitive.

    I can tell you nothing, except from my own long experience – if you travel light “Sky and Earth” will provide all you need – intellectually, materially and in the way of true companions. As the already mentioned Joseph Campbell would no doubt tell you, this year may be more like a fairy tale than you can imagine. There will be demons and dragons, but also heroes, princes and wizards. Angels too.

    Stick to your resolution, it has a sacred air to it. I too made a resolution 25 yrs ago at a similar time – it was to “always tell the truth to women”. Both keeping that and understanding when it could be bent a little, kept me safe where others would have failed. So please don’t be shocked into retreat back into the fold – nor “advance” into declared atheism. Wait out the allotted time, and then allow yourself not even to decide. If divinity needs you to “like’ its fb page in order to care for you, it is no kind of divinity at all.

    I will not reveal what I have “found’ regarding your question(maybe it cannot be “told”) – just that you are undoubtedly my brother.

    If needed I can be found on facebook “search Steve Kane Arcos de Valdevez”.

    There is no story you can tell me I have not heard similar of, yet yours will still fascinate, as only from sharing and being shared with by folk like you, do I learn – and that IMHO is why we are here. That is the true Mass, the consumption of divinity incarnate, perhaps.

    I am older than you, by your picture, that is all, nothing more.

    • bob.

      Professional atheist? Having been badgered by religion for most of my life, I am just tired of being bullied by those that demand religious privilege. I will not continue to be a theist punching bag.

      “I have made something of a career…” sounds like someone that that needs attention in his life.

      “breaking the internweb dogma” The hubris is just dripping from this and you have a lot of work left to do.

      • Steve Kane

        I was expecting you. Not you bob specifically of course, but there is a tradition in the occult that when you name a “demon” it appears. Sometimes those old “superstitious” guys found stuff out empirically, by trial and error within the collective consciousness.

        Happy days, pal, you can pay me all the attention you like, I will not honour you with mine.

        Definition of “demon” it is a memetic form that expresses itself with hostility, or a corrosive effect on its host. I’m sure in your case your friends will just define it as “your little way” rather like those dogs that have “their way of saying hello” usually unsavoury.

        Under that definition God may or may not be “real” but “demons” certainly are.

        Now why exactly did you respond to my comment?

        How did you feel as you posted?

        Personally I was not talking to you, I was addressing Ryan.

        When I said I was expecting you I meant that specifically and literally, bob’s demon – his “nasty habit”.

        Now run along.

      • Chas Swedberg

        Bob, I think it’s patronising when someone dismisses your comments by calling you a demon. It means he’s really scared. He will have every right to not pay attention to you in a 7-paragraph reply. I’m sure he’s expecting my response but since I’m talking to you, he can’t reply further. That’s just “his little way.” /snark

        • Steve Kane

          You did not read what I wrote as carefully as I wrote it Chas.

          I could of course have made it all one paragraph. I did not call Bob a demon, for starters. To be fair, you have to admit his content was almost complete personal hostility, with little intellectual or dialectic content. Like you I can say what I please, to whom I please.

          Likewise I can be ironically patronising when faced with hostility, while at the same time warning Ryan about how those who thus patronise him might turn hostile under specific circumstances, as you two have done to me.

          Perhaps it’s the dog reference you disliked. I judge an owner by their dog, it speaks to “management of the flesh”. Thus i judge a human by their “habits” their “self management” it speaks so much more eloquently than philosophy.

          As I implied I’ve made a career of asking “why?’, and sometimes answering, and not being bullied into silence by embracers of “…isms”

          I commend the same to Ryan, others can please themselves.

          In other words – if you(or Bob) are rude to me – I may not turn the other cheek, but choose otherwise.

          If Bob’s habits allow him to comment constructively then I will respond, but you cannot pretend that some atheists can not be as factional and dogmatic as any believer. As I imply I am neither, in my own estimation, I can’t see the need. Bad religion is evil in effect(too many examples to need listing) – as is bad atheism – e.g. Pol Pot.

          My mention of PTSD is indeed relevant – as is my mention of Stockholm Syndrome – they are prominent in many former believers, as they were in me for a long time after intellectually rejecting the “evil” parts – in particular the lie that all life is necessarily suffering, that suffering is “noble” even, and the only solution is retreat to “another place” guarded by gatekeepers.

          The aggressiveness exhibited by Bob – seems to me – typical – it is the habit of thought – evolved from old “believing” “demons”. Organised religion is a mimetic being (though form)- it lives and breeds within our consciousnesses, evolving in a Lamarkian manner. It is as much a living being as a species of hookworm.

          The answer is not to replace it with another parasitic “meme” – the answer is to be free of unnecessary opinions completely, because all unnecessary “owned” opinion is parasitic.

          Unconsidered habits of behaviour are the expression of such clumsy “world models”.

          Now read what I wrote to Bob, it was not he I fended off, but his habit of putting his paws on my shoulders and salivating in my face. It’s common on the interweb, but I don’t have to tolerate it. Often when the one does that another little one bites your ankle. ;-)

          Happy Days.

        • Steve Kane

          *thought form*

      • Chas Swedberg

        However carefully you felt your reply was written, I found it lacking: large words inside non-grammatical sentences, non sequiturs, special definitions for words, and its surprise reveal at the end (spoilers: the demon was Bob’s bad feelings) was ripe for my snarky reply. :-)

  • Kelly Drescher Johnson

    Thank you for your journey. I am also an M.Div. graduate who found herself without a church or denomination after school. I had seen an underside of the church, and it was hard to go back from it. This is a difficult subject because no one really wants to talk about it except in far corners and hushed voices.

    Thank you for doing this. I don’t believe it is a stunt. From my perspective, you are exploring the tension that exists in every one of us, but you are starting with the Christian perspective first. Please don’t stop this journey, for there are far too few people to walk it with me. While we’ve never met, you’re the first who has offered to walk beside me in my doubts and fears in this specific way.

  • Carissa

    If your search for this year is what’s in the minds and thoughts or people who don’t participate in an organize religion and your interested in the conversation, well here is one….I was not raised with religion. It was around me in society, so I understand the gist of it, but I don’t know what the bible says and I don’t know what is said in church and most importantly I don’t know the “rules” and what I am suppose to think. I am happy I grew up free of these teachings because I enjoy having something left for me to learn and figure out myself with my own mind and am free to allow my own heart and mind guide me. I am spiritual in my thoughts about being connected to each other and what is here on earth. I feel at peace that what is inside me is a person who loves and wants to be loved and the goodwill (and sometimes not goodwill) comes from the person I am and the person I expect myself to be…and that is just it…not much more to it. As far a dying and death and tragedy, in the big picture non of it really matters (so I think)….but to bring it smaller into our own individual worlds, I don’t like the thought of any of it, but I also feel comfortable with thinking the energy that is/was me or people that I know or hear about and those who I have never met or heard of…..Their energy will go to others, ( if they were well loved their memory and guidance of who they were will go on in others and guide other lives) and I think maybe physical energy just goes back to earth…I like to think of some of my energy going to a tree…but again, I am free to allow my mind to be creative :-)

  • Dee Dee

    Just read your Huffington Post story via Facebook. I’m looking forward to some great blogs and comments. I just decided reading your adventure will be my own little journey of learning in 2014. Great topics! I’m interested in what you gather and change and move forward with. I believe if you are truly breaking free from the confines of your religious box, the journey will last a lifetime – not just a year. For me (and I know I’m taking a risk to present this), I believe that what you are doing is actually Biblical. Whatever TRUTH is…. It’s far more than a book and a belief. It’s all too huge to be contained in my (or anyone’s) little sphere of knowing. Kudos to you!

  • Steve Kane

    PS sorry to be so blunt with “bob” but if you remember I made a resolution, and there are certainly women reading. :-) Turning the other cheek is not part of my pledge, though it is in my tool chest.

  • Kimberley Debus

    As someone in the middle of a “year of stunt” myself, I can say that by and large, the person who is doing it is NOT doing it as a stunt, or if they are, they still become transformed by it if they’re doing it right. (I’m doing some deep exploration of esteem and creativity in my Year of Jubilee.)

    I’m glad you’re doing this – if nothing else, it may be instructive for those of us in ministry (I’m UU).

  • Joe

    Hi Ryan,

    There is another TED talk that may be beneficial to you to view. Below is a synopsis and link to his talk.

    “In the days following the tragic South Asian tsunami of 2004, the Rev. Tom Honey pondered the question, “How could a loving God have done this?” Here is his answer.

    The Canon Pastor of Exeter Cathedral, in the UK, is unafraid to take on some of religion’s tougher issues.”

  • Charles


    I salute you for being willing to place your most deeply held private doubts and beliefs into the bright light of inquiry in a public manner, and think that you are doing in a very fair and honest manner. I would respectfully disagree with the public and private atheists who denounce your personal journey as being less than authentic, as I think most of the formally religious have faced the exact same period in our own personal journey to ultimately rejecting theistic assertions. Regardless of what your ultimate conclusion is regarding your acceptance or rejection of theology, I think that this experience will an enlightening one.

  • al

    try divine you will find all your answers and the truth

  • tofu2k

    I think what you are doing needs to be done. I have been a closeted atheist for about a decade and have never felt as free as I do now. Free from superstition, free from not feeling good about my life, and free from the feeling that I’m being secretly judged. If, at the end of your year, you find yourself pulled further from religion, please continue your journey. You will help millions of others like me.

  • tofu2k

    except I’m still in the closet, so not as free as I could be. thanks again!

    • Kris

      I’m sorry you can’t come out. I live in the most secular large city in the country (Seattle); it is not difficult to be an atheist here from a cultural perspective, although I’m very sure that people from certain religious communities have a hard time just like they would elsewhere. It’s not the same for people in other parts of the country, and I hope, like you do, that those of us who *can* be vocal about our non-belief (or questioning beliefs) will eventually make it safer for people in situations like yours to be who they are. I wish you the best of luck.

  • Julie Critten

    I appreciate what you are doing. Although, I don’t think you can literally “try on being an atheist”, I do see that you are on a journey of discovery. I was born into a Baptist family. While I have good memories from the church, I also have horrible memories from church camp and revivals. Looking back I am horrified at all the terrible things they tell people, including children, to scare them into believing in a supposedly “loving” god.
    I took my own children to a Christian church when they were young and found the church to be much more liberal and enjoyable for me. But gradually I got away from the church because they were always wanting me to do things I was uncomfortable with. It’s hard to explain in few words, but it just seemed like I was always being asked to take on various tasks both in and out of church. It’s sounds bad, but while I’m normally a very giving person, I started feeling overwhelmed with these things. To shorten the story, eventually I just quit going to church and decided I could still be “spiritual” without the confines of a church.
    I was always reading self-help books in my 20s and 30s, and I eventually came across “Conversations with God” books. They intrigued me because the author was supposed to be talking to god in his books, they were actually quite thoughtful, yet his books were not considered religious (book stores had them under New Age or something like that). I started wondering why people were so willing to believe that only ancient people could talk with god and write about it, but not this guy. After that, it was a gradual journey to atheism.
    It’s frustrating to me now to hear all the things that people believe that seem so crazy and out of touch with reality. I live in a town that takes religion for granted. Most of my friends believe without question. And, yes, I do feel like a gay person afraid to “come out of the closet”. I’m a preschool teacher and sometimes worry what parents and others in my small community would think, although I’m getting older and caring less with each passing year. I almost want people to know so they can see people really CAN be loving and caring without god and the threat of going to hell.
    I keep hoping that the statistics about how few people are atheist aren’t correct. I hope there are many more out there that are just afraid to admit it, and maybe even more who just don’t even give it a thought….because if you think too hard about it, it just seems not quite right.
    I try to be understanding of my religious friends. I think a lot of people feel they NEED religion to be happy. I wish they could see the world for all it’s beauty alone without thinking there’s something more. I fear some people waste their lives being unhappy on earth trying to do the “right” thing to please a god to ensure happiness in an afterlife. I’m not saying people should go crazy, but some religions are very rigid. Also, so many horrible things are done in the name of religion ranging from homophobia and discrimination to mass murder.
    The only fault I see in your quest is your jump straight to atheism. Although, from what I’ve read, it sounds like you have been on the journey for quite a while, and maybe you are not quite ready to admit that you just can no longer believe all that stuff. I think your taking a year to figure it out is great. I always appreciate people with an open mind, willing to listen to a variety of opinions and beliefs.
    I hope I haven’t babbled too long. Believe it or not, I’ve tried to make this the short version.
    Good luck with your journey, and I look forward to reading more. :-)

  • Debby Nelms

    Welcome to the greatest journey of your life. I am following your journey because I know what you will find…mostly the difference between spirituality and religion!

  • bruce weaver

    Hello Ryan, welcome, I have a comment and a prediction, first, i just want to say that one thing that will not happen is you will never be shunned for your beliefs regardless what they are by the secular community, you will be welcomed with open arms and minds. My predictions are that you will confess your humanist beliefs, long before the year is up and that you will come out as a gay man as well. I wish you luck on your journey and i’ll probably buy the book as well.

  • chucksigler

    I think of your next year as an attempt to try on a different social role—that of living without God. You are putting aside your original social role as a pastor and Christian, while you live without the activities that helped define your former (master) social role as a pastor. You may develop a new self identity as some kind of a nonbeliever in God. You could end up in the spiritual but not religious camp that seems to follow the distinction William James made between personal and institutional religion in “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” I’ll be following your journey.

  • Steve Brooks

    I do have a question for you, about your faith. Why is it that so many come to my door or stop me on the street, they think because I am disabled they must stop me and prey for my well being and recovery (which mostly I don’t mind, unless they will not get out of my way so I can go on about my day if either their prayer is over or I do not have time to allow this gesture) and as well to attempt to convert me going as far as coming to my house four days a week for the past 7 months..leaving literature, interrupting my children’s nap time which I made clear to them, even holding one candle light visual type function to prey for which 26 people attended.. Save the soul of the atheist night..

    I really do wonder what drives such zealots, and why they seemingly only come from in my experience anyways the seventh-day Adventist church. Now I don’t know if you can shed some light on this at all but it would be wonderful if you could. And maybe even something I can say or do to get them to stop, I’d really hate to involve the police.

    Thank you so much for your time and as always I wish you well on your journey, and I hope you find answers to all the questions your looking for.

  • hockadaybox

    I applaud your effort, but would like to make a suggestion that would fully expose you to truly living as an atheist. The reason I am atheist is because of my belief in science, not strictly because of the opinions of A Dawkins or Hitchens. To often when you probe Chritians about their beliefs, the facts of where what they believe came from, they don’t know. Then when asked if they know about simple things we all should know, like scientific proof about why the sun shines, or how our planet, universe was created, they have no idea. God did it. An excuse used even now for ignorance of how the world actually works. Which in my opinion is tangible, and more beautiful, than the narcissistic view that a being, in our image, created billions of stars like our sun, as well as billions of galaxies just like our own, yet cares whether or not you break a commandment. I had a conversation with my VERY religious brother once and he said, of course there is a God, someone had to create the beauty in this world like the mountains.” I then proceeded to tell my brother that mountains are formed when two continents collide. Which again seems more beautiful to me. Again, I would suggest diving a little in to science. A few YouTube Neil DeGrasse Tyson / Stephen Hawking videos is a great place to start.

  • Kevin

    Mr. Bell,

    I have tried similar plights as you, although the opposite. I spent an academic year (as an agnostic, more or less) trying to follow Christianity. I went to church, Bible study, and spent time with those in my former university’s Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship learning and asking questions. Furthermore, I even went to a Christian High School my senior year, so I had somewhat of a background in many areas.

    Ultimately, I decided that it wasn’t for me.

    After I told others that I had met it wasn’t for me, every single person (except one exceptional individual) whom I had become friends with abandoned me and our friendships that we developed due to me deciding I wasn’t going to become a Christian. I can only hope that the friends you make and those whom you cross paths with on your own journey accept your decisions in the end and continue to support you. Good luck and I applaud your journey and the chances you are taking.

  • Ethan

    i pick up your story on cnn, and i wasn’t so surprised until i noticed that you were Seventh-day Adventist, man you realy are messed up, you had the truth in your hand and you decided to do a publicity stunt to the devil? but thats alright, i get you, your mind is not working straight. Only think that worries me is your 2 daughter, please tell me that you will not speak to them during your ridiculous adventure, please let them be with their mother, because you are not the role model that they need. But in this moment i would like for you be my brother though, because i could beat you up to put some senses into your head!

    • Kris

      I hope you are trolling, but I suspect you are not. Here’s my only question for you: if you believe your faith is the truth, why would you fear questioning? Truth is strengthened by questioning, because everywhere you turn, if you have standards for the information you take in, you find more truth.

      Could it be the reason you think this person should stay away from his own children is because you know that asking any questions at all might lead (you, or anyone else with blind faith) to discover that your religion is *not* the truth?

      If you were so sure you were right, you’d be wishing him luck instead of offering to beat him up.

      • Alan

        you are a horrible person, it’s people like you who are made this guy lose religion.

  • JAB

    I went to your church in Hollywood two times and liked it very much. I am a bit troubled by your journey though. Although I think it is fine to pursue religious beliefs and find ones own truth, I question making money on this experiement. I understand that someone else started a donation page in your honor, but now I see you have a donation lilnk on this blog. I fully undestand it being tough to lose three jobs with two kids to take care of, but what did you expect. You were a pastor and Christian teacher who wantted to “try out” athieism, do you think they were going to let you keep your job?? Why should we send you money? You should have contemplated the consequences this decision was going to place on you financially, especially having children to raise.

    You say you are surprised this went public, but now it seems like you are enjoying the attention and now, the money it is bringing your way.

    I have a question for you. Was there ever a time in your life when Jesus made himself real to you? If he never had, then you were never a true believer to begin with and if he had made Himself real, then why don’t you try to go back and remember that time.

    I have another question for all athiests, What if you are wrong??