All Things Considered, today

You can catch my interview with Arun Rath on All Things Considered today during the 5 pm hour or whenever All Things Considered airs in your area. I really enjoyed the conversation which we taped on Friday. I’m curious to see how it will come together in its final form.

Media Roundup
Here is a list of some of the media that my story has received in the past week. I think it’s worth emphasizing that this media attention is far less about me and much more about the massive changes taking place in the religious landscape in America. I could not have engineered this media attention even if I’d wanted to, and it has been quite disruptive to my process, which I am getting back to in earnest this week (and I’ll write more soon about what that process actually is and what you can expect to see here).

CNN with Brooke Baldwin (print story by Daniel Burke)
Washington Post (via RNS) | Seventh-day Adventist pastor plans to flirt with atheism for 12 months
AirTalk with Larry Mantel and guest Brie Loskota
BBC Radio | Up All Night with Dotun Adebayo
New York Daily News | Ex-Calif. pastor tries atheism for 2014, gets dropped by 3 Christian employers
Christianity Today | The Problem With Trying On Atheism

Blogs about my project
Huffington Post | Fired Pastor Ryan Bell Receives Staggering Donations From Atheist Community, Led By Blogger Hemant Mehta
The HineSite | I Was Up
moves and removes | Wishing Him Well But Withholding My Applause
Religion Dispatches, (A)theologies | Gambling with God: Ryan Bell’s Atheist Bet
Black Skeptics | Stuff White People Like: Secular Tourists
PZ Myers, Pharnyngula | Sikvu tells it like it is

Jeremy Neill’s God is the deus ex machina
Christian university’s morality prevents them from helping LGBTQ homeless youth
Are atheists the most hated group in America?
Ultimism as Functional Atheism: I go Head to Head with Evangelical Jeremy Neill
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.

  • Steve Kane

    But Ryan “where’s the beef?”

    “How does it feel?”

    Without that – from the heart, here on this blog, open to comment, all this is in vain.

    • Ryan Bell

      Be right with you! I’ve been describing how it feels in media forums but back to the blog this week.

      • Steve Kane

        Thanks – I’m not being “mean” for its own sake – just keeping you to your initial pledge, always a sound foundation in these deep and difficult things I have found – the focus.

        It is what passes for brotherly love in this context, according to my “platinum rule” – what I would understand is required of me in this situation of yours, what I can perhaps offer uniquely. It seems the money side is sorted for now, and “for now” is at least enough I contest.

        You have “rendered unto Media”, now to business.

        Confess, I am all ears, “speaking for myself”, I find, is the GPS of the being, that disembodied commentary in the cab, earnestly trying to tell the truth, before critical witnesses. Astonishingly perhaps it tells me where I am and where to go, better than any external evidence.

        Sometimes, I am told, it helps others along the way, at no further cost to me.

    • Steve Kane

      A third party, observing me these last days commenting on this blog, might think that I am entirely self serving.

      They would be completely right.

      Only by sharing my spontaneous feelings – without fear of what others may think, do I hear myself saying a few deeply significant things (maybe to me alone) that I have not heard myself quite articulate before.

      The only “selfless” part of my interaction has been to see that you stick to your pledge. The media is interested in you – purely to fill their costly void.

      I am interested in you because by trying to break the bread of truth with you, I find on my lips the wine of my own epiphany.

      I have found that “when two or more are gathered together” in this quest for candour, we become more than the sum of our parts, but as the studies of “The Wisdom of Crowds” have shown, we must speak from out of our own emerging experience, not merely engage in debate, else all is lost to “alpha deciders” the eloquent and persuasive amongst us.

      This seldom happens in “The Media”, other forces are at play.

      May all beings share this blessing.

  • tessm

    I can’t imagine what it must be like to be suddenly in such a spotlight (and from the parts that I have read, a mostly critical one). I did read some of the media commentary, but frankly, I have gotten tired of the bashing and I have better things to do with the rest of my Sunday.

    One of the biggest things I got out of atheism was freedom. I was never so free as when I simply admitted “I don’t care,” and gave up all the ritual, the hair-splitting, the debate and the hostility.

    Someone else can spend their days writing and arguing that god exists, that atheists are horrible or despondent people, that a life without god in it is meaningless; and generally trying to convince me, others, or themselves that I am wrong in my non-belief, or that their belief is inherently, infinitely superior to my non-belief. To each their own; I have better, more interesting things to do with my days. Best to you, Ryan. Enjoy the day.

  • seanasbury

    I’ll add my blog to the list :)

    Best of luck Ryan!

  • aoflex
    • Ryan Bell

      Shoot. I looked it up and everything. Thanks for adding it!!

      • aoflex

        Awesome! If you ever want to talk to someone who has never been religious, who has never believed in any gods, who is a research scientist (physicist working in a biochemistry laboratory), or someone who is actively familiar with how the universe works and is natively comfortable with admitting ignorance on subjects where knowledge is lacking, shoot me an email:

      • AtheistSteve


        Very interesting session. You were certainly in the dragon’s den there. One question that was asked near the end of the hour concerned morality and I believe you said something along the lines of morality being unhinged if from a secular perspective.

        Sam Harris deals with this topic in “The Moral Landscape” but I think more foundational ideas can be gained from viewing “The Superiority of Secular Morality” by Matt Dillahunty.

      • Goblinman

        I’ve noticed three major things that make secular morality different from theistic morality:

        1: It arises from humanity, rather than God. Note that the focus is on serving humanity, rather than worshiping humanity–enlightened self-interest.

        2: There is no implied punishment for misbehavior. Secular morality is all about being good simply for the sake of being good.

        3: Sex isn’t such a big deal. “Sexual purity” is one of the few things that really does lose its moral grounding without being linked to God. It seems to be similar to Jewish kosher laws, but on a larger scale due to being linked with all three Abrahamic faiths.

  • AtheistCommenter

    As an atheist, I wish you the best on your journey.

  • Joseph Eisenreich

    I would love to share my personal path to atheism (though, I am a fairly devout Buddhist… a contradiction that seems to seriously flummox many people outside of our faith tradition) with you, if you would be interested in hearing it… I don’t know that I’d like to post it as a comment, however… it’s somewhat long and… fraught…

    • Arquinsiel

      As an aside, from an atheist I have thought that Buddhism has a lot in common, on a grand scale, with the ideas expressed in this: care and could in some ways be a spiritual understanding of the same. Would you care to comment as a Buddhist to satisfy my curiosity?

      • Joseph Eisenreich

        Wow… what a fascinating article! I’d heard the “we are all made of stardust” saying before and always felt the tiniest bit of a desire to roll my eyes because it felt so… I dunno’… It’s really interesting to find out I was wrong and that it *isn’t* so…, it’s literally true!

        As far as Buddhist cosmology goes, it’s not a topic (as a Zen Buddhist) that I’m quite as familiar with, but it certainly does seem like a scientific and specific discussion of the Buddhist concept of Pratītyasamutpāda (had to look that one up) or “(Inter)dependent arising”… basically, that every effect has a cause. A lot of the “traditional” teachings are very “touchy-feely” due to a lack of instrumentation back in the day… but, one of the central tenants is that all of the tenants are up for grabs… :) I really did enjoy reading that article (which I’ll have to read again to fully grasp it… I was always terrible at astronomy), and seeing a different explanation (maybe “better” in some cases, maybe “worse” in others) for the existence of things!!! I’m not sure if that spoke to your curiosities, and I’d be happy to follow up (to the best of my knowledge) if it didn’t! :)

    • aldrisang

      You view Buddhism as a faith tradition? That must be very different than the Buddhism that I subscribe to, which is about embracing the impermanent and selfless nature of reality to free yourself from mind-made suffering (which is directly caused by ignorance of reality as-it-is).

      • Jay Jenkins

        aldrisang, you’d be surprised how much Theravada Buddhism (the kind you grow up with) resembles Catholicism in practice. Not a whole lot of contemplation going on. Plenty of rote, traditional ritual.

        Of course I don’t embrace it that way personally, and am in agreement with you, generally. For me it just contributes philosophically without the incense, flowers and candles. But it’s what makes the world go round in places like Thailand, even though at face value among the lay people and the clergy one would wonder “where is the substance outside of the routine?”.

        • aldrisang

          Yeah I know a lot of countries treat Buddhism as a religion. I was just momentarily taken aback by it being put as a “faith tradition” by an atheist… seems counter-intuitive. =)

          • Joseph Eisenreich

            Actually, all countries treat Buddhism “like a religion” it’s just that not all of us who practice, do. ;)

            Also, the reason I use “faith tradition” is because Buddhism *is* a faith tradition… It has a ver long tradition of practice, it has schools, and schisms and dogmas and fundamentalists… There have been religious wars and semi-genocides, terrorist attacks, and amazing acts of compassion, all “in the name of Buddhism”… We have scriptures, and a central figure (whose position has a messianic bent in some branches of our faith tradition)… It is a faith tradition, and, as an Athiest, I have no fear or anxiety around participating in it. That’s because it allows for Athiesm… In my interpretation (though, not the only interpretation… By denying dogma, I refuse to be dogmatic) it cries out for self-reflection and extremely critical analysis of every teaching. The Buddha himself is quoted as saying “don’t believe anything just because I said it…” What I was saying above is that many outside of the Buddhist tradition (and, if I’m honest, some inside of it) are often deeply confused by the ability of one to be both an Athiest, and a member of a “religion.” I do understand the confusion, but, as a lay practitioner of zen, I try to revel in these contradictions…

          • aldrisang

            To each his/her own, I say. The reason I don’t take it as a faith tradition is because the essence of it seems to be quite knowable in this life, hence not to be taken on faith. It makes some pretty common sense claims about the nature of reality, and if you’ve been a skeptic/atheist you’re entirely life they’re likely to strike a chord with you right away. You’ll say “well of course reality is like that… and of _course_ we don’t _live_ as if reality is like that… this is all reasonable!”. =) There are of course some things that are part of the package that seem like religious superstitions grounded in the time-and-place that Buddhism formed, but as you say you don’t need to believe those. In fact wisdom can come from anywhere, even Christianity.

          • aldrisang

            *your entire life

            bah, usually don’t make such mistakes

      • Jay Jenkins

        oh yes, and plenty of blind faith. the kind taught to children and embraced for a lifetime.

  • Ryan Bell
    • quine001

      I was driving home from out of town tonight, and heard your ATC segment. You sounded very clear and gave a good, rational, description of the situation. Hang in there!

    • Mary

      Thanks for sharing on All Things Considered! It was nice to hear your voice.

      It’s also nice to see you are actually going through a process and plan to write about it for us soon. I honestly care about you – and about how all of us can help each other through your blog – and am definitely captivated by your journey.

      Some atheists are very opinionated, almost militant, much like some Christians. But there are a lot of us who don’t think there is such a thing as a “proper” atheist. Atheism is messy for people who have been living in religion or faith. It is a process. But I do think that you hit a point where you realize, personally, that you cannot go back to faith. At that point, I think you would be an atheist, whether you choose to call that agnosticism or atheism or just to be silent about it all together. When I crossed that line, I actually felt relieved. I know where I am now in the process. I have struggled to explain to a few people I love that really, honestly, there is no way I could go back. It’s like you said…sometimes things unravel all the way. Whether or not they do for you, it is a great journey.

      And I have to add – I just went to the Boston Museum of Science for the first time. It blew my mind. Now that I don’t think all knowledge must line up with the Bible, I can embrace science about the universe…truly embrace my smallness, the universe’s vastness…it’s just awesome! The planetarium show (even the one for preschoolers!) was more incredible and inspiring for me than church used to be. If there is a God who created all that, and if he does even care about me (you’ve really gotta wonder why he would when you see how vast this place is on that dome), then I am certain that he would approve of my love for his creation and would not be upset that I can’t believe the stories that limit him and me so much. The more I learn and grow, the more inner peace I have…either way it goes on the question of God.

      Look forward to reading more!

      • quine001

        Now that I don’t think all knowledge must line up with the Bible, I can embrace science about the universe…truly embrace my smallness, the universe’s vastness…it’s just awesome!

        Awesome indeed! Thanks for your comment, Mary, you have put it very well.

  • Frederick

    Hi, I am from Australia.

    Please find a completely different Illuminated Understanding of what we are in Truth & Reality via this essay and website.

  • bronxerdoc

    Again, I applaud your efforts but, like the writer of the Christianity Today article, I question the methodology. Atheism isn’t a way of life or a belief system. It’s simply a rejection of gods as anything more than cultural superstitions. Beyond that, we are all just normal human beings leading normal lives, doing the various things that a normal human beings do. This would be like saying you are going without ghost beliefs for a year and thinking that whatever happens to you, good or bad, is a result of not believing in ghosts.

    That having been said, anything that leads to dialogue is a good thing. When the media hype inevitably dies down you will have much more time to have one to one conversations with many of us like myself and I hope you take advantage of that. Please email me and we can talk about my personal experiences as a doctor who is atheist. I really would like to discuss such things with someone open minded like yourself. Good luck and take care.

  • Scot

    Sadly … and I hope you appreciate the irony … I missed your interview because I stopped off into a grocery just when it aired! I heard the last minute or so. I’ll be catching the podcast post-haste, however.

    The funny part is that I was on my way to a casual social gathering and when I arrived, someone asked me, “Oh, did you hear Ryan Bell on All Things Considered? I was so pleased to hear him after you told me about his story.”

    So, there’s that!

  • cooeerup

    Hi Ryan,

    I listened to the interviews and read the blogs you posted. In the spirit of assisting you on this journey I would like to make a couple of comments from my perspective as an atheist: 


    The first is a somewhat annoyed response to the comments you and your host, Arun Rath, made during your interview on the “All Things Considered” show.

    You both laughed when talking about the criticism you have received from some atheists that what you are doing is not atheism because one can’t try on a belief, or lack if belief. I think the comment was made that somehow it was funny you be accused of not being a “true” atheist in this experiment, along the same lines as the “no true Scotsman” fallacy religious people use when describing believers of their faith as not “true” (insert sect if religious belief here) because they’re not practicing the faith the “right” way. 

    It is true there are many “types” of atheists. Many terms are used: anti-theist, strong atheism, weak atheism, agnostic atheist, gnostic atheist, atheism +, etc. The word that binds us all is atheism, we lack belief in gods. Some argue with others the merits of each of the terms and which group should be presenting the most dominant face to society generally, or if we should bother at all. Others argue if atheists should take on other “issues” such as those who subscribe to atheism +. 

    The point is we all agree atheists lack belief in gods. There is no “right way” or “wrong way” to lack belief. You either have beliefs in deities, or you lack them. This in no way is compared to the “no true Scotsman” fallacy that religious people direct toward each other, so for atheists your joking fell flat because you aren’t where we are, yet.


    The second point I want to raise is in response to your conversation with Larry Mantel on Airtalk. You said something to the effect that they way you have structured your experiment is to engage with the “atheist lifestyle” and retreat from your former Christian practices. You added that atheists have told you there is no lifestyle, and you said at this point you disagree because there are groups, conferences, meetings, common books we read, etc. Well there isn’t a shared lifestyle that people who lack of belief in gods share. There is activism, education and community building going on: activism to push back against aggressive fundamentalism and the erosion of the secular state as we see it; education to reverse the erroneous impression religious people have of atheists, taught to them by their relugious leaders and holy books; and community building to give atheists who want to meet with others who lack belief a place to express their thoughts and socialise. Don’t confuse these activities with all atheists sharing a lifestyle. 

    Many atheists don’t engage in activism, education, or community building activities. Many don’t even bother with the label “atheist” arguing “I don’t call myself a non-stamp collector”. I am 56 and for much of my life belonged to this latter group. I had a bit of religion when young, Roman Catholicsm. It was infrequent because my parents were infrequent too, but were believers. I just didn’t buy it as a kid and wasn’t pressured to. No deep thinking was required. It just sounded like different stories along with the many other stories I read, or was told, as a child. I didn’t apply any thought to religion as I got older. I didn’t need to. I just lived my life in the suburbs, going to secular schools, marrying my husband of 32 years in a secular ceremony, and celebrating the birth of my children with gatherings of family and friends. I have only adopted the label because I am concerned by the effects rising fundamentalism is having on laws that should be grounded in reason and evidence instead of religious motivations, and their encroachmentand persistance in trying influence secular public education. I will gladly put the label away again when religious people stop using their religion to encroach on the lives of people that don’t believe as they do. Then I will go back to living my preferred “lifestyle”, as someone who doesn’t need to concern themselves with anything religious.

    So please, before you make any more claims about what atheists believe or don’t believe, do or don’t do, how they behave or don’t behave, can you please remember the ONLY thing we all have in common is that we lack belief in gods. Anything else is just individuals living their lives motivated by whatever else motivates them.

    • mmurray57

      Nice post. Particularly:

      Don’t confuse these activities with all atheists sharing a lifestyle.

      I wonder how much the issue is the introspective dominance of the US on the internet. In matters religious the US is quite amazingly out of step with the rest of the Western world.


      • cooeerup

        Thanks. I’m Australian by the way :)

      • mmurray57

        I thought so. The cooee gave you away :-)

    • AtheistSteve

      Great post cooeerup

      Your journey mirrors my own in many ways. My family was a tad more devout and I even spent a little time serving as an altar boy. Nonetheless leaving the church wasn’t all that difficult and it didn’t create rifts with family or community. Mostly I suppose because I kept my non-belief to myself.

      At the risk of making a massive stereotype, theists and more specifically Christians, seem to view atheism through God goggles. A Christian worldview is all encompassing. They maintain that God is responsible for…well everything. This of course leads to them concluding that anyone who denies God must therefore believe in nothing. For them the origin of the universe, the origin of life, of mankind, absolute morality, divine command and justice, consciousness, souls and an afterlife forms a spiders web of supposed meaning and purpose. Atheism has none of that. It isn’t a worldview. It’s an answer to a simple question. Do you believe a God/gods exist? If you answer ‘no’ then everything else becomes questions more suited to philosophy and science. The overarching notion of a grand meaning or purpose vanishes.

      The universe is indifferent to our plight. A finite mortal existence is as meaningful as you make it.

      • mmurray57

        I know what you mean. I had a long discussion last year with a priest on a Catholic website. It was really, really difficult to get him to understand that I wasn’t angry with God and I wasn’t rejecting God. I just didn’t believe there were any gods. I don’t know if it ever really sunk in.

        The universe is indifferent to our plight. A finite mortal existence is as meaningful as you make it.

        Exactly. Nicely put.


    • John Shores

      please remember the ONLY thing we all have in common is that we lack belief in gods. Anything else is just individuals living their lives motivated by whatever else motivates them.

      Agreed. Any alleged “atheist lifestyle” would be defined in what we don’t do. We don’t go to church. We don’t pray. We don’t replace those and other Christian activities with something that would be an “atheist equivalent.”

      Trying to live the “atheist lifestyle” is like putting forth all your effort to avoid skydiving.

      • Mary

        Putting forth all of your effort to avoid skydiving…I’ve had this in my head since I read it! So how would one do that? Read books about why some people don’t skydive, why no one ever should, how harmful skydiving is, etc, etc, etc. The problem with all of that is that if your goal is to avoid skydiving, you sure are finding a way to completely focus on it! :) If one were to take it to extremes, one might avoid airports for fear of accidentally skydiving? Avoid open fields for fear of a skydiver landing on oneself and somehow getting tainted? Haha. Sorry, this is just fun to think about. Thanks, John.

        My husband’s “atheist lifestyle” involves just living – going to work, loving the family, pursuing his interests (which do not include atheism, religion, or spirituality of any sort). My “atheist lifestyle” is basically the same thing, but I am interested in psychology, spirituality and the lack thereof, so I read about those things and comment on this blog. Neither of us goes to conferences or is active as far as atheism is concerned. I haven’t even read books by all of the major atheists. I’ll probably get there eventually but am too busy living life to spend too much time reading!

    • Kraig

      I just wanted to say you could not have put it better.

    • TJ

      Mary, this is wonderful. Just living our lives is right.

  • Jay Jenkins

    I see you have goals. But do you have a plan? How did you intend to fill the missing structure in your life when you sliced your Christian framework out of it? Obviously you didn’t think that through, especially since your employment was dependent upon your beliefs. I would assume the main plan right now is figuring out how to cash that money people are sending you since you are broke. You got real lucky, but that doesn’t change the reality of what you’ve done here.

    I’m not against what you are doing, and in fact think it’s a noble journey. I have made similar sweeping life changes, but your timing and public venue was foolish, particularly given your finances. Not even some savings? You have a family counting on you to support them. Given the fact that you have dependents and no way to provide for them as a result of this, what you are doing here should more often be called irresponsible.

    When a man decides to become a Buddhist monk, he must first make a statement that he has no worldly attachments or responsibilities or liabilities. Your journey is essentially that of becoming a monk, a journey of contemplation, seeking the truth. Unfortunately monks don’t get paid. The repercussions of what you have rashly done compromise what you hope to accomplish. I’d be surprised if any real contemplation or self-discovery results given your high level of distractions stemming from what you’ve done. If you overcome them and reach your goals, that would truly be impressive. Your choice of journey was hard enough (and unlikely) as it was.

    However, if you become a big celebrity, more power to you. I just hope that doesn’t compromise your deeper goals. My guess is that if it does, this experiment will be short lived.

    • Steve Kane

      Indeed :-/

  • Chris

    A lot of negativity in some of those news posts. I wouldn’t take it personally,Ryan, that people like PZ (who has a knack for being pretty aggressive in his judgments of people) are so down on what you’re doing. Seems like most of the real negativity is more aimed at the culture around this whole thing.

    It might be hard to remember that you’re an individual man who has sort of upended much of his life. Given your long dedication to your role as a cleric, I wonder if the Clergy Project ( ) might not hold some interesting insights (I don’t know whether or not you qualify as “not hold[ing] supernatural beliefs” to an adequate degree to be welcome into the community, but your situation is an odd one).

    Your journey isn’t a solitary one. Countless people have faced the prospect of upending their worldviews and starting fresh with a new paradigm. I hope you have the opportunity to make your highly-public journey a source of inspiration and education for those on the outside looking in.

    • Linda LaScola

      There’s nothing “odd” about pondering the existence of the supernatural before determining that you can no longer believe in it — especially for pastors who have responsibilities to congregations who DO believe in it.

      The Clergy Project is a private, confidential, online community for clergy who have already abandoned supernatural beliefs. However, everyone is invited to the public page of the clergy project, linked above, to learn more about it and see some of the TV and radio stories and articles written about it.

      Linda LaScola, a co-founder of the Clergy Project, along with Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Dan Barker, “Adam” and “Chris.”

  • Michael Adam

    Interesting and brave experiment. I wish you (or someone editing your work) hadn’t used the “Darwin” fish as being somehow the symbol for atheism, though. Why the convolution with a scientific theory and religious (or lack thereof) belief?

  • mnb0

    You linking to PZ Meyers shows you are not a coward. The words he used to describe what he thinks of your project are not very polite. He is also a sloppy thinker, sometimes – but far from always – as dogmatic as the average christen fundie.

    Now I have my misgivings well, but I have learned the painful way that I should try not to draw premature conclusions.

    First I’ll see how it plays out.

    • Jay Jenkins

      mnb0 .. He certainly seems to be banging the publicity drum though, or should I say trumpet, by including even the negative links. Bad press is good press. The controversy of this is what will blow it out of proportion, and is already starting to. That means more coverage, and ultimately, more revenue. This post in particular demonstrates a clear lack of humility about all this which seems devalidating of the original intent of the project of finding new awareness.

      • Barb

        Perhaps, Jay. But if part of what Ryan wants is to stimulate conversation, then publicity can help with that. The last couple of days have probably exposed more people to the concept of atheism than anything else for awhile (though that’s not his goal).

        Ryan is not an atheist spokesperson granted, but he’s a spokesperson for those wondering if there is a god and for those in the process of losing their faith. The whole process of losing your faith for those who have been connected to a faith community, (let alone a pastor), is often very solitary. Believers don’t understand any of it. If I had a dollar for every believer who told me that I shouldn’t have turned my back on god, that god would pursue me in love, or some other such nonsense, I’d be wealthy.

        So this whole thing is attention getting because he’s doing it in real time for others to watch. I think that’s a good thing, and the more publicity, the more people talk about what it means to ask the kind of questions usually fatal to theism. Like “Why is a world with god indistinguishable for a world with no god, if god is supposed to be so loving and involved?” Most believers never even hear those questions because, if they are philosophically minded, they are too busy discussing the fine differences in their theology and thinking they are “asking questions”.

        However, I do think it would be very difficult to stay authentic to yourself and your own journey when you have so many people commenting on it. Personally I’d be a mess, but hopefully Ryan is made of sterner stuff.

      • andrsib

        What exactly is wrong with stirring controversies, attracting media attention, and increasing revenues?

      • Janet

        andrsib, I would say the problem with stirring controversies, attracting media attendion and increasing revenues, is a problem when doing that become the focus and takes away from the true intention. Like a musician who wants to create original music and then finds they can make more money and get more attention by playing bubble gum music. It is all about what motivates you. (much like this journey…is Ryan motivated by faith? by money? by attention, by seeking the truth? )

  • Michelle

    I am sorry to see the hostility that so many from each side ha aimed at you, and I wish you well on your journey of discovery, Ryan! I am an atheist myself, and selfishly, I like seeing when others make the switch to “my side.” But I applaud anyone who is brave enough to openly venture into that gray area in between in a personal search for truth. Where ever your search for truth leads you, be it atheism or belief, it is the search that will make your final position worth holding. Search well, and don’t let the circus of ignorant people on either end of the spectrum weigh down your heart.

  • Linda LaScola

    The study that Dan Dennett and I conducted is mentioned in the Washington Post/RNS article that is linked to above. It’s an in-depth, qualitative study of 28 non-believing clergy, including a Seventh-Day Adventist. Every person is different but there are a couple of things they have in common: 1) non-belief came slowly and with a lot of thought and study, and 2) once they arrived at non-belief, they felt relieved and in some cases, joyous. The only thing that stands out to me about Ryan, is that he’s going about this publicly. I’ve never spoken with him, so I won’t speculate about his motivations, but there’s nothing about this approach that suggests insincerity. Personally, I’m glad he’s getting media exposure in the midst of his exploration. Regardless of how it turns out, it brings more attention to the plight of non-believing clergy.

    Linda LaScola, co-author with Dan Dennett of “Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind” and a co-founder of The Clergy Project

  • Linda LaScola

    The study that Dan Dennett and I conducted is mentioned in the Washington Post/RNS article that is linked to above. It’s an in-depth, qualitative study of 28 non-believing clergy, including a Seventh-Day Adventist. Every person is different but there are a couple of things they have in common: 1) non-belief came slowly and with a lot of thought and study, and 2) once they arrived at non-belief, they felt relieved and in some cases, joyous.

    The only thing that stands out to me about Ryan, is that he’s going about this publicly. I’ve never spoken with him, so I won’t speculate about his motivations, but there’s nothing about this approach that suggests insincerity. Personally, I’m glad he’s getting media exposure in the midst of his exploration. Regardless of how it turns out, it brings more attention to the plight of non-believing clergy.

    Linda LaScola, co-author with Dan Dennett of “Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind” and a co-founder of The Clergy Project

    • Mary

      I find it interesting that going about the process publicly is bound to make it different than doing so privately. For example, one of the first “outer changes” I encountered when I stopped religious activities was that I had more TIME. What would I do with Sunday and Wednesday night? What about all that time spent in prayer and reading the Bible? I decided to actually think about the things I would purposefully invest in instead of church/God. Ryan is experiencing the opposite because the media is bugging him constantly!

      One of the next obvious changes for me was that I had more money (since I didn’t tithe anymore). We talked about what we would do with that money and picked some good non-religious charities to give to. Ryan’s money situation has changed much more drastically, so it’s likely he hasn’t even thought of this yet. At first, he was just worried about making money, and now he’s got a huge chunk of it but no consistent income. So he may not be researching new charities for a while now, until things even out.

      I’m sure these are just two of many different experiences Ryan will have with his public journey. It will be interesting to discuss the “average” de-conversion experience verses what he’s doing. I wonder if the public factor will influence the outcome or intensity of his experience? Perhaps it will speed it up, because he is constantly being ask to think and to put his perspective into words. I know that in my experience there were months when I just avoided thinking about de-conversion all together because it was just so heavy. I tried to just live life, knowing that things would pan out whether or not they did so quickly.

  • Rhonda

    In reading some of the print articles, I picked up on a theme – Christians sure are afraid of this experiment! I cannot understand why they think it affects them in any way, but if Christianity is the way to go, this would help to make him a stronger one. But, I think Ryan will end up an atheist – it’s the only thing that makes sense, and his writing leads me to believe that he gives issues considerable thought.

  • aoetman

    Whatever the outcome of your journey is, I commend you for taking it. I think if a person has a doubt or question, they should explore it, not run from it. Happy travels and God Bless:)

  • TJ

    I wish you well.

    Many will support your journey. Many will decry your journey.

    Life without God is not for everyone. Though I find it wonderful.

    Please rememeber one thing to be an athiest is not to be without faith. It is put your faith in humanity and science and nature and more.

    It is not to be without morals (as many faithful often seem to think). It is to be moral without fear of Divine Judgement or fear of Hell.

  • John Wolforth

    I’m sure you’re getting lots of reading suggestions, but I’ll throw this out anyway. Richard Carrier’s Sense and Goodness without God. It is a rare exploration of a philosophical grounding for a moral world view. It does not waste time bashing God, just shows what conclusions you can draw without one.

  • Robin

    Dear Ryan –

    Seems like the media surrounding your project is making a joke of it rather than figuring out what you are truly questioning with the Faith. A little disturbing. The only exception being the NPR spot. Haven’t heard it yet but NPR has a bit more of a trustworthy desire to understand the real questions – at least in my eyes. But I guess in the long run, you are going to have to figure that out for yourself. I definitely wish you luck with this. I’m sure that the “circus” surrounding you right now will disappear once there is something a little more “exciting” to latch on to.

  • sika28

    Here is another blog you may have missed: Good luck on your journey! I hope you find happiness wherever you land.

  • MelMelly

    I often think that I’m an Atheist but I don’t think that’s entirely correct. Free thinker? May be. I don’t believe in a specific religious god but I don’t want to entirely discount the possibility of the existence of god. That said I also do not disagree with the good that religions serve. I respect religions, their followers and their teachings as long as they do not cause any harms to anyone. Therefore I respect your project and appreciate the position you are in. Whatever decision you will come to at the end of this journey will be, I trust, what you think is best. To you I say all the best and keep us posted on your experience in your journey.

    • Michael Murray

      The simplest definition of atheist, the one I subscribe to, is someone who “holds no beliefs in gods”. That sounds like you :-)

  • sairabaig

    Hi I am a Pakistani atheist and I read about your journey on Hemant Metha’s and CNN’s blog. I think what you’re doing is commendable. If only there were more open-minded theists like you the more staunch atheists wouldn’t mind theists as much as they do.

    Anyways I was wondering if you have heard of The Clergy Project. They help pastors and clergy leaders who have been having a crisis of faith. I realize you aren’t in the same position as those people but I thought you might be able to relate to them more. Here’s a link to their site: You might also want to look up Jerry DeWitt. He was an evangelical pastor who was part of the porject and completely came out last year. You might be interested in his story. Best of luck with your endeavour. And love and support from Pakistani atheists and agnostics! :)

  • anonscript

    Mr. Bell,

    When (or if) Hemant Mehta sends you a check through his Go Fund Me campaign, I sincerely hope you redirect the money to a worthy charity.

    It is my opinion that a personal journey is much less personal when a community invests money in you. I’m sure you can think of a handful of historical figures – both atheist and spiritual – who explored humanity while living within their means.

    Don’t be the first Jesus with a MoneyMarket account. Read books, get a crappy job, and live life, just like what you’re doing now and what countless others have, are, and will do as well.

    • aldrisang

      And why would he do that? He’s lost his sources of income, he has family to take care of, and those atheists/agnostics/etc. that contributed specifically wanted him to have the money. He’ll probably be on his own after this, but only someone who doesn’t care about him and his family would ask him to turn the money away.

      • anonscript

        You know what? If it was the norm for everyone to chip in $5 to their neighbour when s/he lost his/her job or lost his/her house to a natural disaster or something similar, the world would be a wonderful place. But to see people giving money to one man who lost his job at a private university because he decided to start a journey like this? Assuming the university gave him time to change his mind before starting this (Mr. Bell, go ahead and let us know here because I’m honestly not that interested in reading your blog) he already made the decision to forgo his personal responsibilities to his family and make his personal journey the priority. Fine. But no one, save his immediate family and any friends willing to help, should subsidize it.

        And if his institution gave him absolutely no notice in firing him? Then either there’s something else going on (such as other reasons for his firing that he’s not letting on, or some other political reason within the university) or he should feel glad he’s not working in a place where his job security is so fragile.

        Here’s another scenario. Instead of experimenting with atheism, say he came out. Of course, we have to make it clear first that he is, in reality, just trying out a new thing for a year. Being gay/lesbian/transgender is part of who you are. Accepting this difference, say he was fired for being gay or transgender and someone started a campaign. Would you rather: (a) give him $26,000 after losing his job, or (b) give a charity or PAC that works to support the LGBTQ community $26,000 to make it impossible for employers to make job security contingent upon sexual orientation?

      • Jarrod

        I don’t need Ryan to act as an intermediary donor to charity on my behalf. I donate directly to charity just fine on my own. The money I sent him is his, and I would hope that he uses it to support himself and his family until he has a stable source of income.

        If he ends up with more money than he needs, I think he’s the sort of person that will donate the excess purely of his own volition. But if he needs every dime, then he needs every dime, and he doesn’t need to apologize for that. That’s what it’s there for.

        Ryan is human. He makes human mistakes, and responds to them like a human…like I do. He did what he thought was right. He probably could have predicted the consequences after some dry contemplation, but it’s not always that easy, and hindsight is a cruel judge. Even things one “knows” are coming can blindside them, and the static nature of a blog doesn’t provide us a good sense of time. Ryan’s entire world turned upside down in just two weeks…the time between my “frequent” trips to the supermarket. Thats a millisecond in the experiential life of a person. It’s no wonder he’d be overwhelmed…I would be too.

        Ryan didn’t have (what I would consider) the luxury of working in the secular community, where people like me were free to embark on his (very important) journey without threat to the health, safety, and security of our families through a job loss. As an employee of a faith organization, Ryan’s basic human right to choose to follow the dictates of his conscience was inexorably and unnaturally linked to his livelihood. Ryan was forced to deal with dire consequences for making the same basic choices that I was free to make with complete peace of mind. That isn’t fair on him. His circumstances placed him in spiritual and intellectual prison for a crime he never committed.

        I’ve not lost a job for going on his journey before, but I have gone on his journey before, and I have lost a job before. I understand the position Ryan is in. I feel for him, and I support him. If someone has the courage to stand up when others won’t, and walk into the unknown with only their character and their principles to clothe them, I’m going to give them a comfortable pair of shoes and a backpack full of food for the trip. I don’t know where they’re going, but they deserve a chance to get there.

  • anonscript

    I obviously can’t keep people from spending money on something absurd, otherwise my wife would leave me for yelling at the television when QVC or HSN is on. But I can suggest that Mr. Bell continue along the line of so many other skeptics before him and deny such subsidizing of a personal journey.

    Mr. Bell: give the money to people who have reached the point where their decisions cannot alter the course of their lives. Orphaned humans and animals. People afflicted with AIDS or cancer. Those who have been displaced by natural disasters. Early childhood education. Or other entities like the rainforest, coral reefs, or any other ecologies in danger.

    Don’t just take the money and pay your bills while you read books. Show the people who fired you what you’re really made of. Use the money so that others might one day be able to embark on something so lofty as a personal journey. Hell (pun intended), people without food, shelter, clothing, or the surety of a full life are probably already engaged in some sort of journey.

    Because it doesn’t take money.

    • andrsib

      If you could keep people from spending their money on whatever the heck they want, the world would not be such a wonderful place. It would be a real hellish place.

      • anonscript

        Good pun. And I agree with you, which is why I gave Mr. Bell the suggestion that he put this money somewhere other than his own wallet. It is very politically and socially responsible of me to take the time to make such a suggestion of an emerging public figure, if I may commend myself so, and by so doing I have sufficiently warmed the cockles of my own heart to power all of St. Paul, MN for the remainder of the year.

      • anonscript

        P.S. To future readers and/or repliers: I’ve made my suggestion and am now moving on with my day and/or life. This was mainly for Mr. Bell to read (and I hope he does), but it was fun debating.

      • andrsib

        Your suggestion to Mr. Bell is not bad at all. If he finds another source of income, e.g. by capitalizing on media attention, I’d say, yes, donate it to a worthy charity. However first things first, if the financial well-being of his family is in danger, he should take the money for himself. In any case, the decision should be left up to him.

        If somebody else are so envious about the money, they are totally free to invent their own publicity stunt, collect a boatload of money, and donate it to charities of their choice.

  • Douglas Reis

    Analyzing over a prism of experiemental analysis, imagine if we were to try each new proposal this way! The infeasibility of the project sounds logical. And his own conception seems fruit or uncertainty of what is believed or a kind of tolerance that admits some degree of uncertainty (tolerance in the postmodern sense, therefore).

  • Steve Kane

    Ryan – I am losing interest in this blog, you and your journey, probably because of your deafening silence. This is not good at all, in fact this is possibly the worst “feeling”, I have yet shared with you. “I hardly care”. This is a big fail, I fear.

  • Steve Kane

    This is day 14 and basically you have said just one pertinent thing “I am frightened – the money is running out”. All the rest has been links, quotes and commentary, not an ounce of “witness”. I feel like I have been “sold a cat as a rabbit” as we say here in Portugal. It is not a good feeling at all. :-/

    • Bob G

      Completely agree! I planned on coming to this site for updates daily. Nothing in 3 days. I know you are busy with media but, you are losing my interest. I was expecting “I saw beautiful child today… reminded me of the good days with god” or, “Read an argument against a god today I didn’t think of before” but, silence is deadly in far’ts and blogs.

  • Seeker

    I am a christian who has struggled with some of the same theological issues, and I wish you well on your journey. It is brave to question one’s lifelong ideals, and be open to unexpcted change. However your journey turns out, if in the end you return to christian circles, but in need of a more like minded comunity, consider the United Church of Christ, or the Episcopal Church. Both of these groups allow questions, and searching, and respect individuality along with community.

  • Matthew

    After discovering some of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s work I looked at Our experience of God in a completely new light. Pierre discusses the phenomenological experience of God separate from any arguments of existence. Well worth looking into during this year of discovery.

  • Axis Mundi

    In your year of wandering, may you come to sense Christ’s longing for you. This isn’t about an abstract faith, it’s about a forsaken brother.

  • Leslie

    If you are a non-theist, as I am, you come to the truth that “god” is nature. In nature, one is connected to all. It is wondrous in an of itself. I do not need a god to feel deeply about the beauty of this earth, the stunning beauty of evolution. I realize that I am literally made up of all that has come before on this planet. And that man’s destruction of this planet–it is the physical Earth that unites humanity past, present, and future–is a deep sorrow. Why is mankind not alarmed at its destruction of this remarkable world?

    • aldrisang


  • Steve Kane

    I have just listened to the NPR piece, and my response is “worryingly glib” with a tinge of long-practiced cynicism.

    Somehow updates of this blog have ceased to appear in my email, not my doing, I still appear to be signed up for it. I doubt this is the hand of anything divine. Good day to you Ryan and goodbye.

    I admit it – I seem to have been had – and I appear not to be alone.

    I did not contribute money – but I did contribute “heart”. Not a nice feeling at all, a kind of “molestation”, abusive in flavour, I feel soiled somewhat.

    • aldrisang

      You and Bruce should start a fan club for people who like to complain that others aren’t living up to their expectations. That’s certainly all that you two have done since you’ve been here, whine whine whine.

      • Steve Kane

        Oh no, when it mattered and where it mattered I was extremely supportive, but careful experiments in experimental psychology have shown that we humans are cooperative by nature, even with those we are unrelated to (unlike all other life forms) but hard wired to sanction “free-riders”. When they run computer simulations of human society without those sanctions – we go extinct – or worse.

        In all healthy societies there emerge individuals prepared to exercise those sanctions (censure is normally enough) – maybe I am one.

        • aldrisang

          Maybe I’ve been too hard on you and it was mostly the other guy who was being insufferable. It’s one thing to be a little impatient, but another to act like you’ve been cheated (and that’s mostly what I remember). Journeys like this one take a long time, and Ryan Bell has gotten swamped with excess attention. I, for one, am content to see what he turns up… without expecting much this soon into the experiment.

  • Steve Kane

    I am reminded of the story in the gospel, viewed from a Joseph Campbell perspective, of the devil tempting Jesus of Nazareth with the idea of throwing himself from the heights – in the sure knowledge that angels would be sent to catch him. They did, he walked away to the city and prepared for his lucrative future. :-/

    There can be no excuse for not at least posting a few brief impressions – feelings – the less considered and affected the better, but no – we have “the empty blog” and Magdalen, dissrespected, humiliated, alone in the garden, Aramatheia feeling ripped off, and a “synthetic witness” gone forth into the world.

    I am remembered of Yeats’ rough beast.

  • 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??

    • aldrisang

      “I have another question for all athiests, What if you are wrong??” — Then prove it and we’ll change our minds. You might as well be asking the same of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, and people of every other religion. And so I’ll throw it back to _you_: what if you’re wrong? What if you’re worshiping the wrong god (after all there are tens of thousands of gods humans have worshiped) and will be punished _extra_ for that? I doubt you ever bother to think about it, but someone who is honest with the situation would have thought of it long ago.

      • JAB

        The point is this. We are talking about a person living his life for a year as if God does not exist. I am saying what if atheism is wrong and there is a God.

        If there is a God, then atheists have a problem.

        Yes and you are correct, if I am a Christian and Buddhism, Hinduism etc.. is the truth, then I have a problem. However, if any of them are true then you still have a problem. If you are right and there is no God then God believers are no worse for wear.

        • aldrisang

          “If you are right and there is no God then God believers are no worse for wear.” — I don’t know about that. A lot of believers put a lot of time, effort and money into their practice that could otherwise be spent fruitfully. And then you have people whose very livelihoods depend upon something that may not be true, and that they may end up disbelieving (such as Ryan Bell, and my uncle who is a Methodist pastor). Plus there’s also the situation where the true god X may punish you more severely for worshiping false god Y than a non-believer would be punished.

          Let’s rework Pascal’s Wager, shall we? First, you can’t choose your beliefs… can you choose to believe in UFO abductions if you don’t? No; experience is what determines your beliefs, and an omniscient deity would know if you were just pretending. Secondly it’s not an issue of God or No-God, it’s “gods or no gods”, because there are thousands of gods that humans have worshiped throughout our history.

          So without any evidence or anything else, I’ll give it an even 50/50 shot… 50% there are no gods, 50% one of the thousands of gods does exist. Out of that we atheists get our entire side of the pie, always a 50% (and I’d argue with evidence and lack of evidence, it should be much higher). But a believer in a specific god? They only get a tiny tiny slice of the other 50%, which is split up among all gods.

          Who really has the better situation?

          Maybe your life wouldn’t be much better without Jesus, and that’s all that would really matter because the afterlife stuff is bogus, but a lot of people could stand to have _worse_ lives because of religion too.

      • JAB

        Evidence Evidence Evidence. that’s all I hear. Why not just look at the teachings of Jesus and follow that. It’s all good. Love your neighbor, help the poor, care for widows.

        If I am wrong in the end so be it. Jesus taught me the importance of loving other’s and I will take that with me to the grave. I will have no regrets because I have lost nothing for believing in Jesus.

        • aldrisang

          That’s perfectly fine, but according to you it doesn’t matter if we’re wrong about Jesus so long as we also live good lives and treat other well, so what’s the point arguing about it? =) The people I argue with are the ones who say, basically, that God is a monster (well they don’t _say_ that, but that’s the logical conclusion of a deity that sends people to be tortured just for not seeing any evidence that he/she/it exists).

    • Joseph Eisenreich

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

      That is called “Pascal’s Wager” and doesn’t work as an argument… Because, as mentioned above, the exact same question could be asked of you… What if you’re wrong? What if you need to bow your knee to Allah and his prophet (PBUH) or face the fire of judgement? You simply cannot argue something like that effectively… Further, it bespeaks a somewhat shallow adherence to your own faith if your best argument in favour of it is a veiled threat of punishment… Sway us with beauty and logic and truth and healing and compassion… Not fire and suffering.

      • JAB

        Who is talking about facing fire and judgment. The bottom line is that if there is a God then atheists have a problem. No matter if God is Jesus, Allah, or whoever. You have a problem if there is a God and you are wrong.

        I am not trying to argue. Everyone knows you can never argue politics and religion there is no end to it.

        I will stick with this statement: if there is a God, then atheists have a problem. If there is no God then we are all in the same boat.

        • Joseph Eisenreich

          “If there is a god, then atheists have a problem” and what, if not “facing the judgement” might that problem be? To be honest, you’re right, it is, ultimately, meaningless to argue religion or politics online, but, what can be discussed is rhetorical strategies… And your argument (or, “statement” if you’re more comfortable with that) is a well-known rhetorical fallacy. You acknowledge that if, say, Muslims are right (as, frankly, the only other major world religion I know of with a hell that is a place of torment, and eternal, and for non-believers… Christians and Muslims, alone, have that in their faiths) then you “have a problem” as a member of a false religion, and yet, you refuse to accept that reality as a reason to convert to Islam… Why is that? Because the argument “what if they’re right” is flawed… If it doesn’t work for you, then why do you think it would work for others?

    • Michelle

      What if I’m wrong? Why, I’ll give God a piece of my mind for being a jerk, that’s what. And then he’ll demonstrate what a jerk he is be smiting me. And why would I do otherwise? I’m already doomed to hell.

      • JAB

        You know, I often ask myself why God allows suffering in this world, why He allows innocent children to be treated harshly etc..These are the things in life that really make it a challenge to believe in a loving God.

        When people ask me why, I can either give them a scripted answer like He is God and I am not, but the truth is that I don’t know why and I don’t have an answer.

        I just know my own life experience and what God has done for me. “I was blind, but now I see.” Jesus changed my life for the better. Even though I have so many questions and doubts at times, but nothing else I have tried in my life has filled the void in my heart, the way Jesus has.

        So I am biased and if I am wrong about Jesus than so be it. I would have lost nothing, but would have gained so much.