“Trying on” atheism

trying on bootsThere has been a great deal of discussion about the question of whether I can “try on” atheism for a year, or any length of time. This question—the methodological question—seems to be the main concern about my exploration (aside, of course, from whether I engineered this as a huge media stunt). Over the next several weeks I will write more about my methodology, but today I want to begin by sharing what I understand to be the relationship between thinking/knowing and acting/behaving as best I can in a short blog post.

The nature of knowledge

I understand my basic knowledge or beliefs about the world to be deeply embedded in a narrative about that world. Beliefs are not, as we sometimes think, free floating ideas that we can take or leave at will and combine in any number or ways to create our own personal identities. Postmodernity presses us into this possibility, it seems, but I still think we live in a deeply narrated world where our beliefs and ideas are networked into a larger cultural tapestry. That being said, our most deeply held beliefs (for example, that people are essential good or evil, that freedom and hard work are unqualified goods and that love and justice will—or won’t—overcome hatred and inequality) can and do change over time. We have new experiences, encounter new people, learn new facts. All these things have a bearing upon our understanding of how the world actually is—what I’m calling belief.

Relationship of knowledge and action

The most common way people think about this relationship is a linear progression from  belief/knowledge to action/behavior. We first get our ideas straight and then we live out of those ideas. If we want to act differently, we suppose we should change our minds first. Think different thoughts and your actions will follow. If I am convinced that those  plastic bags that grocery stores use are terrible for the environment I will then start carrying recycled, reusable grocery bags.

As a Christian this is exactly the way I learned to share my faith with others. The goal was to get people to believe certain things about God and Jesus (God is holy, just, good, forgiving; Jesus is compassionate) and then Christian behaviors would follow (worship, prayer, giving, serving). As a pastor, this was a frustrating process because more often than not, it did not work. People would assent to the basic Christian beliefs and carry on living their lives as before. In spite of my disdain for those damn plastic bags, I still forget my reusable ones at home. It wasn’t until later that I discovered a more dynamic, dialectical relationship between thought/belief and action/behavior.

Laura Turner, who wrote a Christianity Today piece about my Year Without God, quotes Dallas Willard to this effect, “Indeed, no one can actually believe the truth about [Jesus] without trusting him by intending to obey him. It is a mental impossibility.” I’ve spent a great deal of time with Dallas Willard’s writing, which is likely one source of my beliefs about the relationship between thinking and acting. Our behaviors are predicated upon and indicate certain beliefs and knowledge about the world.

If this is true then change is not only achieved by believing our way into new ways of acting but also by acting our way into new ways of believing. Belief and practice, knowledge and action, are in a dynamic, dialectical, mutually reinforcing relationship. Which is why it is surprising and a little confusing when Turner goes on to say, “Were Bell to frame this simply as a thought experiment with no repercussions for his spiritual life, we could send him on his merry way, stacks of Dawkins and Darwin in hand. But he argues the Seventh-day Adventist teachings and conservative worldview of his church drove him to consider atheism in both thought and practice.” Right. Because, as the Willard quote she refers to above makes clear, thought experiments alone are insufficient. Our thoughts and our practices are intimately connected.

I know what you’re thinking: atheism isn’t a set of behaviors. Nor is it a belief system. It’s simply the non-belief in deities. I agree, to a point. While I understand what people mean when they say this (ie. there’s no atheist creed, no atheist sacred text—I said this tongue in cheek in my first post), atheism is, in fact, one single belief (or, atheists would say, fact): that no god exists.

So how does one come to such a (non)belief? Can it be “tried on” or “flirted with,” as Kimberly Winston put it? Can one simply take off their “God glasses” or “wriggle into” atheism like a pair of jeans, as Turner says? Beliefs are not something one takes on and off, like clothing, and it would be nearly impossible to make a large leap, authentically, from an intact, evangelical belief system to atheism overnight. If I were beginning this journey having been, up until December 31, 2013, an ardent fundamentalist Christian, I would say there is no way to suddenly disregard God. But that is not my story. Mine has been a slow erosion of the beliefs I was raised with. Unanswered and, indeed, off limits questions, knocking at the door of my mind, refusing, finally, to be ignored. Indeed, anyone who once believed in God, and is now an atheist, has walked this road. To finally take the God glasses off is not a heroic act or a herculean feat, but the logical next step in my exploration of faith. What if it were true that there is no god, as I have suspected for a very long time? My “trying on” atheism is more like taking the next step and allowing myself to embrace my serious doubts about God’s existence. By removing my “God glasses” (both beliefs and actions) I am freed to see the world in a different way.

But what of atheist behaviors? Certainly there are no unified atheist practices. I agree. No set of actions and behaviors unify people who simply, based upon the evidence, don’t believe in a god or gods. Still, in my case, stepping across a line and viewing the world from another perspective (inasmuch as this is possible, and I freely admit that it is no more possible than perfectly assimilating into another culture) involves forgoing the Christian practices and frames of mind that gave shape to my life as a theist and a Christian. This is why I have said I am not praying, worshiping God, attributing circumstances to God’s providence or asking God to intervene in the world. My acting is more a matter of not acting in particular ways; of ceasing or abstaining from certain behaviors.

This type of action is what we typically think of when we talk about formation or acculturation. Acculturation happens when a person takes on, to a sufficient degree, the practices of a culture such that they begin to feel at home in that culture, perhaps even thinking the way people in that culture think; seeing the world from the perspective of a very different group of people.

And so, I agree that I cannot “try on” atheism exactly. What I am attempting is to see the world from without the interpretive framework that I have had and which has slowly changed and proved insufficient over time. My exploration is more confessional, perhaps, but at the end of the day, I am still crossing a line to see the world from a different point.

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.

  • https://plus.google.com/103616529726930195299 Colin Goudie

    I think you’re starting to hit on the very essence of the debate around god, religion, life the universe etc..

    What is knowledge? How do we know? These Episotomological (??) questions I think are at the heart of atheism and more generally in the modern scientific methodologies we use in everyday life.

    Very interested in your journey as I was once an SDA (actually friends with one of your relatives I think) but call myself a full on atheist now (for the past 6-8 years I guess)

    Keep it up. Read and learn (especially the sciences) you’re in for an exciting year.

    • Louanne Harvey Cantrell

      I am agnostic right now, but leaning toward atheism…just enjoy ready these comments and the blog. It is going to be an interesting year indeed.

      • http://usawest2013.wordpress.com Mathias

        Don’t want to be nitpicking, but a lot of people are using it wrong. Being agnostic and an atheist is not mutual exclusive. You’re an atheist if you answer the question “do you believe in god?” with no. You’re an agnostic atheist if you answer the question: “do you know he does / doesn’t exist” with no.

        So you’re likely an agnostic atheist (often referred as weak atheism).

      • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com quine001

        Because people are not unified in the public use of the labels, I tend to tell people that I am “not a person of faith” which covers all the bases.

  • https://plus.google.com/117838692405063181173 Rob Bos

    Seems pretty fair. I think if one admits the possibility that sincere prayer can convert someone to Christianity, then one ought to also consider that adopting the trappings of atheism, such as they are – relentless, even pitiless willingness to ask questions, no matter how much it hurts, would be at the top of my personal list – might lead one toward the genuine belief that instead of N-1 of all the religions in the world being wishful thinking or wrongheadedness, that the number might just be N.

    • Maine Skeptic

      Rob, I wish atheists did unrelentingly ask questions. One of the reasons I consider myself a Skeptic (as well as an atheist) is that I know atheists who believe that astrology works, the MMR vaccine causes autism, and the world’s problems will be solved automatically when religions go away.

      • Daniel-MN

        I think you bring up a key point that I’ve been meaning to post on here for Ryan. Basically, he’s gone from a complete system of beliefs to a complete lack of faith/belief (I’m not saying atheists don’t have beliefs, I’m just saying- all that you can tell from someone calling themself an atheist, technically, is that they *don’t* believe one specific thing- you can’t tell all the things they *do* believe).

        So, I think something that’s going to be extremely important in his journey (and whether or not he “sticks with it” or really gets to understand what atheism is for many of us out there in the world) is that he finds a *complete* or near complete set of beliefs to replace the ones that have so far directed, or informed, his journey through life.

        Having been a religious person- Ryan has had a nice bundle of beliefs all packaged up and given to him, with little to no thought required on how it all fits together (and honestly, they do a pretty good job of putting it all together and making it into a nice package- which is why many don’t feel the need to embark on the journey he has begun). It has tenets on how you should act morally (and why), what are the important things in life, and many of the other *important* questions we as humans always seem to seek answers to. Which is in large part why religion has ‘done so well’ for itself, in my opinion.

        Now, he has chosen to put those pre-fabricated ‘answers’ for life’s questions aside and try to find his own- largely because he has found that the answers he’s been given don’t make sense to him anymore (correct me if I’m wrong, Ryan- I’m not trying to put words in your mouth or anything, just trying to provide the basis for an important point).

        The reason this all relates to your post @Maine Skeptic is because I think you’ve identified a key point- there’s a lot of atheists out there who, in my opinion, do not have a clear, cohesive/complete set of beliefs. They simply don’t believe in a God, but believe in other superstitious nonsense, or some are driven to believe in nothing or that nothing at all matters (nihilism). However, all these people- one’s who believe in nothing, and one’s who have a cohesive, complete belief system are lumped together as ‘atheists’. So, having had a complete/mostly complete system of beliefs (whether or not they accurately represent reality)- Ryan will likely fail in pursuing/understanding atheism if he models individuals that lack a complete system of beliefs, because he will have unmet needs that were previously fulfilled (at least partially) by his religious beliefs.

        It’s going to be important that he finds and learns from atheists who have striven to develop a complete system of beliefs for themselves, which fulfill/satisfy all those important life questions- as religion has so succinctly done. He will need to find people who have developed: a complete set of principles and moral code that integrates the needs of society/humanity and their own individual needs/wants, a way to satisfy humans’ spiritualistic needs (or needs to connect with something bigger than themself, and with other people), a way to derive purpose in life without having one ‘given’ to you, and most importantly- a reliable method for answering, or at least probing, any more questions that my come up in his quest for knowledge and understanding of life and the universe.

        So, my advice to Ryan is that he should find people that seem to have a complete system of beliefs that provides answers to (or at least discuss/think about) each and all of questions that religion previously answered (or didn’t answer) for him. Then ask them how they came to those beliefs and model them.

  • Lisa

    It took me a year of spare time research to go from “could go either way” to atheist.

    After the full SDA upbringing and years of middle of the road-ing I finally decided to really examine the question. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I wish you well in your research.

    I think I’m pretty hard core atheist, but I still don’t know if I’d say that “no god exists”. I find that kind of certainty a bit arrogant in the face of my former certain belief that he did – that rather irritating state of “knowing”.

    At the most I can say – I’ve not seen any evidence to suggests that a god exists, and to be honest, that’s a serious relief after really looking into things.

  • Linda Hennessey

    The basic error in judging belief/obedience is that most Christians emphasize obedience to the law (Old Covenant mindset) without comprehending the New Covenant which is no longer bound by the law but by freedom. Moral law is seen through the New Covenant as an opportunity to grow closer to God by willingly living by impetus of the Holy Spirit rather than a bunch of rules one has to force oneself to do or not do. It seems to me that your question really are centered in IS THERE REALLY ANYTHING REAL ABOUT SPIRITUALITY? And WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TRADITIONS OF THE CHURCH AND EXPERIENCING SPIRITUALITY? My thoughts an that is that tradition is quite different than a real spiritual awakening. Spirituality and communication with a higher being is in another dimension. Religion is bound by the dimensions in which we exist, spirituality in not bound by the 4 dimensions in which we exist but transcends. If you doubt there are other dimensions ask present day physicists. Currently I believe they have discovered 11 different dimensions. All that can be known is not available to just our eyes

    • http://aldrisang.wordpress.com aldrisang

      “Spirituality” is a hard word to pin down. Taoists and Buddhists are very spiritual, attempting in their lives to let go of the constructed mind and experience the essenceless essence of reality… and yet people still talk about leaving religion but not leaving God; being spiritual instead of religious. Well, Hindus might say you can be spiritual in regard to Shiva, Ganesh, Brahma, Vishnu… without the religion part too. That’s all good, but it’s not a validation that such beings exist. What you’re really finding in your “spiritual journey” is yourself, and you’re part of something larger and infinitely more complex as a matter-of-fact (the universe).

      • Linda Hennessey

        Interesting that you mention Taoist and Buddist tradition since my spiritual journey away from traditional Christianity started when I lived in Thailand (a country which is94% Buddist). If I were to describe the difference between Buddist and Christian concept of God (for lack of a better term) it would be the difference between a humanized form of a superior being vs a force/essence of the universe itself. Yet interestingly enough the Thai believe in Jesus but as a reincarnation of Buddha. (I know that is a simplistic description). My point is that I came to realize that if you look at the words of Jesus with a Buddist mindset the concept of God that Jesus speaks of is entirely different. Maybe the REAL question should be “What or Who holds the Universe together?” rather than does God exist?

        • http://aldrisang.wordpress.com aldrisang

          Questions are always good. It’s answers that we have to be wary of, because that’s what humans seem to be best at making up (hence the thousands of religions). That doesn’t mean we don’t accept any of them… it means we apply skepticism and await sufficient evidence.

    • Janice Callahan

      There is a difference between religion and relationship with God. Religion is what mankind has formed together through its own work and interpretation of various scriptures, scrolls and books of its choosing. Relationship lives and breathes on and in a different plane or dimension if you will. If ones faith has relied on religion, all I can say is “good luck with that”. If ones faith, time, energy and love is given to a relationship, I would consider it well spent and worthy.

    • http://jeannie.io Jeannie

      You are patently incorrect, Linda. Jesus himself said he did not come to abolish the law, which would be to do away with it. He said he came to fulfill it. If anything, then, it means that since he has fulfilled his side of the contract, believers are EVEN MORE obligated to their side!

      Let me put this in simpler terms. Let’s assume/pretend you are married. You are faithful to your husband, honor him and all the rest, following through on your marriage contract (aka your vows). Does that, then, RELEASE him from his commitment to you? Can he go sleep around, etc? Of course not!!! Neither does Jesus’ fulfillment of the law mean that believers are made anarchists. No- his people are still bound by the laws, which even the New Testament writers proclaimed were still good.

      Just some food for thought.

      • Linda Hennessey

        Does that mean you don’t eat shellfish or o

        Pork? Do you have a tatoo? Jesus said when asked the greatest commandment…To love The Lord with all your being and the second which is like that Love your neighbor as yourself. The law is Old Testament the New Testament standard is on a whoe different plane. The implication is when you love God with all your heart then you fulfill the rest. That is how Jesus fulfilled the law even unto death

      • https://www.facebook.com/andrew.watson.50746 Andrew Watson

        “fulfill” in this case is traditionally more understood as “to complete” or” to finish” rather “enforce every aspect of”. A good example of this is The Sermon on The Mount where Jesus radically redefines what many basic Israelite moral and legal laws mean.

      • jeanniebeannie

        For some reason it won’t let me reply to you, so I’ll reply here.

        You ask personal questions regarding my practice, as if to challenge whether I practice what I preach. I am simply pointing out a great lie that leads the vast majority of Christians away from the very things that Jesus taught. How Jesus fulfilled the law unto death: he observed Passover, with a seder and all! And he even did it on a Friday, so as to not desecrate the Sabbath, which he also kept. And he also kept Sukkot, and encouraged his followers to do the same, and never once said “until I die and then do as you please”.

        It is troubling that you think “the New Testament is on a whole different plane”. Christian theology (and the Bible) dictates that there is one God, who does not change. Further, it should be a red flag to anyone that a God who intends to lead his followers would leave ambiguities and “implications”. Neverthelelss, I don’t entirely disagree with your conclusion. I would only caution that HOW to “love God with all your heart” would be of paramount importance.

        2 John 1:6, KJV

        “And this is love, that we walk after his commandments.”

        Commandments being Torah, literally meaning “teachings”, but usually translated in the Bible as “laws”. So there it is- to love is to follow the laws… the only ones they had at the time: the Old Testament.

        But to answer your question:

        No, I don’t eat shellfish or pork. I’m a vegetarian. ;)

        • Linda Hennessey

          Sorry I didn’t intend to make personal inquiry. My point is that many pick and choose what laws they wish to follow. My point is that when you love God you submit to the Holy Spirit which then leads you into how you should live. Many people get too focused on the things they shouldn’t do and leave out what they should do. If you are to give money to someone in need and do not it is no different than if you robbed a bank

  • Alonso

    I agree with you in the viewpoint of belive, the question of the existance of god is a personal path, as you take it. A new personal experince of your faith. It is impossible to prove or deny god because as Wittgenstein o Russell pointed: “it’s out of question”. If you try to prove it or deny it, the consequence will be that you will be “chasing your own tail.” This “kind of knowledge” is a knowledge (if we can call it like this) that you obtain living it.

    Have a good jounery. Greetings from Mexico.

    You will be surprise of the things you will find.

    (:

  • Susan Humphreys

    I understand what you mean about beliefs and actions being intertwined, it isn’t easy or obvious to distinguish which changes first. BUT you don’t have to try to be a Hindu to gain a basic understanding and appreciation of Hinduism or to begin to see the world through their eyes. Nor do you have to try Buddhism on for size or any other religion or philosophy. You don’t have to live as a Skeptic or an Epicurean to grasp those basic teachings. Perhaps your religion tried to keep you from learning about these other religions/philosophies, about Science and History even about the History of Christianity, from asking questions even questions about your own doctrines/dogmas, beliefs and searching for answers in a variety of places. If so then stepping outside the religion might very well be the only way you can have the freedom that is needed to pursue these different ideas. It doesn’t have to be Christianity or nothing/Atheism. It might be Buddhism/Atheism, or something else. Don’t limit your explorations. I think that being an Atheist is about being true to ones self, not hiding from fears or unknowns, being open and willing to learn all you can about all that you can!

    • http://yearwithoutgod.wordpress.com Ryan Bell

      “I think that being an Atheist is about being true to ones self, not hiding from fears or unknowns, being open and willing to learn all you can about all that you can!”

      Well, there you have it! :)

      • cstanford

        Then, being a person who believes in God is not being true to oneself, hiding from fears and unknowns, not being open or willing to learn all you can about all that you can? I don’t buy it. That is not a good definition of a person who believes in God. Of course, I am a person of faith, when I respond this way. I abandoned the faith of my childhood and tried to live a good life with sincere intentions without paying any attention to God or the Bible or any faith tradition–at least for awhile, and it was longer than one year! But, life experiences while trying to do something good when there was an unjust situation going on, brought me back to God. I have always been learning, still open to changing my mind; I do not hide from my fears; I have always tried to be true to myself. But I also discovered that I was not perfect. I have had experiences in life where I did not live up to my own ideals and felt miserable. So what does an atheist do when you realize that something is going wrong and you’ve lost your way, when you didn’t stay true to yourself? What do you do with your sadness? What resources in life do atheists rely on if they need help getting back on their feet again? What sources of wisdom can they trust and how do they know? By way of example: The depths of despair could be caused by physical depression for which we are finding some medications that help deal with the chemical imbalances in the brain (Hurray for science!), but what if the despair is deeper than physical pain? What if an atheist feels a remorseful sadness–in your heart of hearts you recognize that you’ve done something that hurt someone else, so it is true guilt for something you are truly responsible for–and you need help to cross a “bridge” in order to mend the brokenness in that relationship? I’m just trying to suggest reflection on some real life experience, so it’s not vague. I focus on this because treating others well–that is, treating them as you would like to be treated–seems to be pretty basic no matter when or where one lives.

      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com Ruth

        cstandford said:

        What if an atheist feels a remorseful sadness–in your heart of hearts you recognize that you’ve done something that hurt someone else, so it is true guilt for something you are truly responsible for–and you need help to cross a “bridge” in order to mend the brokenness in that relationship?

        I’ve been down the road Ryan is traveling. I think it’s fair to say that as a Christian I would have prayed about the situation and begged for the opportunity to right the wrong I’d done. The difference between being a Christian and being an Atheist boils down to just that. Pray or don’t pray. When you know you’ve hurt someone else the best course of action is apology and/or restitution. It doesn’t take God for me to know that’s what I should do, and it doesn’t take God to make it happen.

        Guilt, in my opinion, is only good for one thing; learning. It does a person no earthly good to dwell in guilt. For me, religion kept me trapped in a cycle of guilt all the time. My best was filthy rags. Every day I prayed for forgiveness for things I knew I’d done, but also always asking God to show me the things I was doing “wrong” that I didn’t know I was doing “wrong”. A never ending cycle. Guilt is not always useful. Sometimes it is false. But when you know – in your heart of hearts – that it isn’t action is the only recourse.

        I think the one of the biggest things coming out of Christianity did for me was that I was able to forgive myself. I was always very good at forgiving others. The only thing you have any control over is yourself. Sometimes we remain wrongly, I think, in guilt. If you’ve apologized and/or made restitution and the person you’ve wronged doesn’t forgive you, you have no control over that. Or maybe they do forgive you, but they don’t trust you and they don’t want anything more to do with you; you have no control over that either. If you’ve done what you should to rectify the situation it lays there. There are consequences to our actions and we don’t get to choose them. I’m sorry isn’t always enough.

      • Vesper

        ““I think that being an Atheist is about being true to ones self, not hiding from fears or unknowns, being open and willing to learn all you can about all that you can!”

        In response, I would like to think that a believer in God , or those with faith in God can do the same . My faith is useless unless I can question or ask questions.

      • Goblinman

        cstanford,

        I think you’re missing the point, to a degree. What Susan is talking about is a common experience for many atheists: realizing that their faith had become hollow and meaningless, and being able to let it go. Being true to ones-self can be especially challenging in this context, as openness can bring about isolation from religious friends and even family.

        In accepting we have to face that there is no afterlife, nor benevolent god watching over us. We also have to face the fact that, as you mentioned, if things get tough for us we won’t have the comfort of a religion to turn to. Those are the “fears and unknowns” we have to reckon with.

        It’s also not to say that believers are living a lie or are governed by fear: If you genuinely believe, then you are also being true to yourself.

  • cstanford

    Ryan, another way to describe what you are doing is that you are looking for meaning in life without God (or anything from the Christian narrative) being used to help you understand who you are and what living on the earth is about. What sources can you find for ethical behavior? What happens when something goes wrong and you realize that you haven’t lived up to your own ethical ideals? Give yourself time to experience the dark night of the soul, then you’ll see what it really means to have no God! I am glad you are sharing your thoughts through this blog. It’s good to dialogue through this natural experiment.

    • Daniel-MN

      I think what you indicated above is precisely what Susan was talking about. It seems you are trying to say that when you are feeling depressed or like you’re a horrible person and you’ve let yourself down, you don’t know where to turn to ‘keep on going’ or deal with it, and God gives you that strength- which is great, and is one way of doing things.

      By the quote from Sarah that Ryan posted (which I agree with), an atheist simply realizes that the sometimes we let ourselves down, and sometimes life is hard. And we don’t “know” if we will get better and sometimes we “fear” that we won’t… but we realize that the world will keep on spinning either way, and what happens next is entirely up to us- so we either keep on going or we don’t.

      Luckily, when faced with that reality, most of us pick ourselves up and keep on going. And we do have other resources, as Ryan pointed out in his previous posts- most of us have hope in other people rather than a deity- and that’s where we turn when we are down. We get help/support from friends and family (which, really isn’t much different from the religious- in addition, if you think about it, church is a community where people can bond and provide support for each other).

    • Michael Murray

      What happens when something goes wrong and you realize that you haven’t lived up to your own ethical ideals?

      You repair any damage you might have done to the best of your abilities, review what went wrong and what you could have done better and press on.

      • http://gravatar.com/cstanford cstanford

        “Press on” – Sounds pretty grim. Forgiveness (from people, from God, and forgiving yourself) gives joy to the repair work! .

      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com Ruth

        What does forgiveness mean to you?

    • ottotellick

      @cstanford: Your refutation of that remark by Susan Humphreys was very apt (thank you for that), and I appreciate the questions you raise about how atheists handle the problems of personal shortcomings and failures – the kinds of things that can lead to depression and despair.

      Re: “What resources in life do atheists rely on if they need help getting back on their feet again? What sources of wisdom can they trust and how do they know?”, the answer (as I see it) is that atheists actually have the same resources that a person of (any particular) faith has: a circle of friends and loved ones with whom one has ties of mutual, reciprocal trust and dependence; perhaps a qualified counselor; perhaps medications or other treatments that help rectify an imbalance; and ultimately, an abiding sense that one can recognize one’s mistakes and make corrections and amends. One’s sense of guilt / remorse / regret might never be erased, but it can be overcome and rendered into a memory that only shades, but doesn’t seriously darken, the view looking forward.

      Under such conditions, some non-believers might switch to some form of faith because they perceive that it “makes sense” to them, just as some believers might discard their former faith because they perceive that it has ceased to make sense. And of course, some non-believers, just like some believers, might not be able to pull themselves out of the abyss. It’s not clear to me that having a skeptical vs. faithful worldview is actually all that relevant (constitutes a “predictive” or “explanatory” factor) with respect to how well a given individual can cope with despair.

  • https://www.facebook.com/lauren.cornwell.7 Lauren Fitzpatrick

    People say “fake it ’til you make it” to improve confidence; smiling makes you happier than you were before you smiled; a belief that one SHOULD succeed can often build momentum so that one DOES succeed.

    I, for one, never had an issue with your methodology.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1031794101/the-outernet

  • stephanie

    Seems fair enough to me. I can imagine a moment when you might historically have attributed something in your world to god. If you catch yourself doing that (which I can only imagine might be somewhat of a reflex) you have the opportunity to allow yourself to choose an alternative path. If what is happening is not a direct result of a supernatural being, what might it be the result of? And how do I feel about that? Do I feel more human? Or more connected to life and the lives of people and issues that are important to me? Do I feel more ALIVE in that moment? More free? That seems like an exciting experiment to me. It also strikes me as a mindfulness practice. What will my mind do if I close of a particular commonly used path? And then the mind pays attention to itself to find out what it does. Pretty exciting. Not even you know what will happen and it’s your own mind!!

    Stick with it. This atheist is behind you. :)

    • danae7

      Mindfulness is an important point here. Mindfulness is very different from belief. Do the stars care that I believe? Do the trees care that I believe? No. But if I am mindful in the present moment of the minute details of the the physical world and the expansiveness of the universe, I have an opportunity to live an ethical life that involves compassion and awe. Belief is a trap. Specifically, religious belief is a trap that limits the potential of human experience. Belief in religious doctrine picks winners and losers, saints and sinners. Mindfulness opens us up to the potentially scary and exhilerating thing called life.

      • skinskan

        Hello Danae7,

        I agree with you 100% . Mindfulness is important… in fact, I’d go as far as to say, essential to sanity (well my sanity at least). Oddly, I only started practising mindfulness after I found a copy of the Mandala of Being on my daily commute to work and I thought it sounded interesting. I’ve never looked back.

        But….the challenge that mindfulness threw up for me is that it stopped my prayer life dead in its tracks. I literally found that I could not pray. What/who was I praying to? What was I praying for? There was no need for prayer. Help! Where had God gone?! Why wasn’t I even that bothered about the fact that far from drawing closer to God I had seemingly destroyed him for myself.

        Then as I continued further with mindfulness I realised that what I had done was dissolved the stories and beliefs that I had previously held about God. What I thought he was, what he was in relation to me, my expectations about his part in my life. I was glad of finding that book because in the place of that old ‘God’ I discovered that God is nothing like I had made him up to be. The challenge now is to not make up new ‘stories’ and time will tell how successful I will be but certainly for the time being as I practice mindfulness I feel a new freedom about God. God is no longer shackled by mine and others preconceptions which I have consciously and unconsciously adopted. God is free to Be and I’m enjoying discovering what that means. As for praying? Well, yes I do still pray but it’s not like before where my prayers were more like begging letters, now they are more genuine and I can let them go.

        I’d be very interested to hear other opinions on God and mindfulness – are the two separate? Are they one and the same?

  • BraveD

    well, i have been raised without any religious influence and can stand tall and say “there is NO god” … if there is someone who rules my life – its me … OK, call me arrogant, but i find it utterly hard to believe that someone needs a “higher entity” when all one needs is common sense and a good portion of education to get by with people and science alike … luckily ALL the people i know discarded the idea of a “god” and they all are freaking nice people … i would not want any other people around me … i had a religious buddy, but he went completely nuts over his faith, so i rather stick with people who have NO GOD at all …

  • http://oftenrotten.wordpress.com bakoheat

    I enjoy reading of your journey. Good luck. Sometimes one has to stop thinking about what they don’t believe and form conclusions of what they do believe. Thanks to my own journey and studying the works of other Secular Humanists, like Paul Kurtz, I have formed my own beliefs.

    My Affirmations:

    I AM COMMITTED to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.

    I DEPLORE efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.

    I BELIEVE that scientific discovery and technology can contribute to the betterment of human life.

    I BELIEVE in an open and pluralistic society, and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.

    I AM COMMITTED to the principle of the separation of church and state.

    I CULTIVATE the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.

    I AM CONCERNED with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.

    I BELIEVE in supporting the disadvantaged and the disabled so that they will be able to help themselves.

    I ATTEMPT to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class sexual orientation, or ethnicity and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.

    I WANT TO PROTECT and enhance the earth, to preserve it for future generations, and to avoid inflicting needless suffering on other species.

    I BELIEVE in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.

    I BELIEVE in the cultivation of moral excellence.

    I RESPECT the right to privacy. Mature adults should be allowed to fulfill their aspirations, to express their sexual preferences, to exercise reproductive freedom, to have access to comprehensive and informed health care, and to die with dignity.

    I BELIEVE in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility. Humanist ethics is amenable to critical, rational guidance. There are normative standards that we discover together. Moral principles are tested by their consequences.

    I AM DEEPLY CONCERNED with the moral education of our children. I want to nourish reason and compassion.

    I AM ENGAGED by the arts no less than by the sciences.

    I AM A CITIZEN of the universe and am excited by discoveries still to be made in the cosmos.

    I AM SKEPTICAL of untested claims to knowledge, and I am open to novel ideas and seek new departures in my thinking.

    I AFFIRM HUMANISM as a realistic alternative to theologies of despair and ideologies of violence and as a source of rich personal significance and genuine satisfaction in the service to others.

    I BELIEVE in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.

    I BELIEVE in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.

  • jaynee

    You are hitting all the key points…defining words such as “faith”, “spirituality”, “belief” as these can vary greatly. Realizing that atheism is non-belief, but as many of us have experienced….one that is full of questions and fascinating answers. You also hit on a key point that I experienced as well and found to be profound: “By removing my ‘God glasses (both beliefs and actions) I am freed to see the world in a different way.” I personally found myself writing down all the different ways I was “free” once I truly allowed myself to be okay with disbelief-it’s so difficult to put into words other than exciting and beautiful. I enjoy reading your posts as I can relate (my journey of discovery took 10 years though). There are a few excellent resources I would recommend in hopes that they may help you in your journey: http://www.recoveringfromreligion.org http://www.clergyproject.org and a book that helped me focus more on the positive things we all can agree upon, “Faithiest” by Chris Stedman.

  • ray

    Nice work Ryan, this is good stuff. Have you had a look at evolution yet? In the Darwinian sense, and in the way it’s happening all around us? (Check out infectious disease and immunology for some really cool examples).

    When it comes to knowledge, seeing how things really are opens up a whole new view that let’s you just be, not trying to recruit people, like those religions do.

    Once you understand biology, there isn’t any need for gods or religion.

  • Cora

    I hope in your reading you’ll look at the similarities between Jesus and other savior gods. As an atheist, ” … no one can actually believe the truth about [Jesus] without trusting him by intending to obey him.”, makes no sense. Substitute Jesus with Osiris and you’ll see how it becomes mumbo-jumbo. And we’re not always a serious bunch. Take a break from your studies and pop in copy of Monty Python’s “Life Of Brian”.

    • Cora
      • Todd Kinley

        The movie Life of Brian has got to be the best example of cynicism that exists. It is also the best way to introduce humor into the religion debate. Love it.

      • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com quine001

        I watch “Life of Brian” every Easter, “religiously.” I invite Ryan, and all here to join me. ;-)

  • https://plus.google.com/+FredEaker Fred Eaker

    Ryan,

    I greatly appreciate your exercise in seeing the world through a different “interpretive framework.” I have always thought the dialogue between atheists and Christians would be helpful for Christians in deepening their faith in a God who exists beyond empirical knowledge and reasoning.

    As an ordained Hindu married to an ordained Christian, we have found in our discussions that belief or faith is commonly expressed as binary in Abrahamic traditions: you either have faith or you don’t. But in Hinduism, one’s faith is analyzed in a spectrum both deep and wide (adhikara and guna). And more to your point, faith implies action. The quality of our actions reflect the depth of our faith.

    I would argue that those who claim to have no faith (atheists) do have faith in something: faith in reason and sense perception as the only valid epistemology. Whereas scripture speaks of faith in a life beyond reason, not burdened by the demands of the mind and body, but free to pursue the subjective, mystic experience of dynamic union with the Lord.

    In my opinion, as much as reason my push us away from particular conceptions of God, it should also push us towards those conceptions that recognize the limitations of human reasoning, and the humble, heartfelt practice that must begin where reason ends.

    • Linda Hennessey

      Yes making the leap beyond just reason because reason alone isn’t sufficient.

    • cstanford

      Fred, I agree, when you write, “I would argue that those who claim to have no faith (atheists) do have faith in something: faith in reason and sense perception as the only valid epistemology.” Paul Tillich’s book Dynamic Faith contains the assertion that most human beings have a sense of an ultimate concern, i.e. what is ultimately important to them. Such as an important set of ethical values. This is close to seeing God as Ultimate Goodness. So like bakoheat said above, when he gave us the list of things he believes in, this is a list of his ultimate concerns in life, how we ought to live and behave together on this planet of ours. I believe in all of those things, too, except that I don’t think faith in God denigrates human intelligence. I do think that many people have really bad theology that inclines them to pray for strange things and then claim that what happens is God’s will; e.g, when a hurricane that was predicted to make landfall on their shore suddenly passes them by and hits someone else’s shore and the pastor tells the world that this means they are more righteous than the people who suffered the storm! Yes, there are both silly and dangerous ideas running around masquerading as if they are God’s word. We do have to use our human intelligence and common sense to test religious ideas along the way towards discerning what we should do–and this is no less true when we test scientific hypotheses. Both are different ways of knowing that help us deal with life.

      • ottotellick

        When you say: “We do have to use our human intelligence and common sense to test religious ideas…”, it seems to me that you are saying, in essence, that every person of faith needs to hold their faith up for scrutiny, which seems rather contradictory to the “official definition” of faith, doesn’t it? I think your statement is truly refreshing and I fully support it, but…

        If you meant what you said, it would follow that you would question the assertion that there is an omnipresent, omni-benevolent, omnipotent God who created the universe and also takes a personal interest in the subjective mental states and daily pursuits of individual humans. Do you accept that assertion? Have you actually tried to question it? Granted, it doesn’t lend itself very well to “common sense” assessment, in part because “common sense” is ill equipped to handle evidence encompassing 13.75 billion years and who knows how many billions of galaxies.

    • Daniel-MN

      While I understand where you are coming from, and do agree that there are limitations to human reasoning that we should all be cognizant of- I have to disagree on the claim that even atheism requires faith. And I’m not a staunch anti-religious, anti-mystic sort of person… I bring this up to make an important distinction.

      Faith is belief in something with no evidence. You bring up that we (atheists) have faith in reason and sense perception. I disagree- just because I base my life on reason and sense perception does not mean I do so because I have ‘faith’ in them. I admit, and in fact often reflect on the fact, that our perceptions of the universe are limited and may be misinforming many conceptions of ‘reality’. Therefore, I try to keep myself informed of all methods of gaining knowledge, including mathematicians’ progress in string and quantum theory, self-reflection through mindfulness meditation, and more.

      However, I firmly base most of my beliefs on perception and methods of scientific inquiry because *evidence*, both from my own observation and history, has shown that reason and scientific inquiry (through the use of our perceptions) have provided knowledge and benefit for the human race. And honestly, again from my own experience and historical evidence, it is generally true that the simplest explanations (which require the least assumptions, or faith if you want to call it that) are the most correct (or maybe, the least incorrect).

      If there is something that falls outside of a realm of any scientific explanation, then I/we simply recognize that we can not explain it. In these ways, I have to disagree that even all atheists have faith in something.

      I will admit to having hope however. For myself, while I don’t have faith that humanity is headed in the right direction, or that we won’t destroy ourselves in our ignorance- I do have *hope* that we won’t destroy ourselves, which is enough to keep me going and to inspire me to try and make the world a better place.

      • ottotellick

        Bingo! The point is that we don’t take our perceptions on faith, because we know they’re fallible. The whole point of empirical objectivity is to make sure that we test and confirm our perceptions, that we look for weaknesses, gaps, and taints of presupposition or presumption that cause us to misconstrue the evidence and draw incorrect conclusions about reality.

    • mlj11

      But even your reliance on faith is limited by your “human reasoning”, is it not? If not, why stop at Hinduism? Why not accept, for example, Buddhism as well?

    • Goblinman

      I think, actually, that possibly the biggest distinction between atheists and believers isn’t that believers have faith and atheists have no faith, but that believers view faith as a virtue and atheists view faith as a vice. Where the goal of believers is to strengthen the faith they have, atheism is grounded in skepticism–which, in theory, at least, is about ensuring that no faith remains unchallenged.

      Speaking as an atheist, I think that any atheist who claims to be completely free of faith is, at best, using hyperbole. It’s human nature to desire certainty in one’s belief, and so faith creeps in even in a worldview built on doubt.

      (It’s also, I think, time to put to bed the notion that atheists depend only on reason–for the same reason it’s inappropriate to accuse believers of having nothing but blind faith.)

  • Elizabeth K

    I like how you mention that beliefs don’t switch on and off like light switches. This is true. It takes years to lose ones faith and years to gain faith. Kind of makes one question the meaning of online debates and door-to-door conversion attempts. The truth is that a person must already be in a transition to be open to anything.

    Of course, I cannot imagine believing in the supernatural at this point, but I used to.

  • http://monkeysinpants.wordpress.com groo79

    Ryan, I commend you for what you are doing. The more I read your posts the more I see the same situation I was in 2 years ago. I am wondering about the “trying on Atheism” bit of it though.

    If you suspect that no god exists, then you are pretty much wearing atheism. While one may say that atheism is the belief that “no god exists” I would actually describe it more like this… I see no empirical evidence that a deity exists, therefore I withhold belief until the evidence is sufficient for belief. I know this sounds like it could possibly sound like it means the same, but in all actuality it means something completely different. As an atheist I do not believe in a deity, not because I believe there definitely isn’t one but because there isn’t sufficient evidence for me to believe one exists. By expressing it this way you are actually leaving yourself open to the possibility of belief IF the evidence presents itself.

    I will follow your journey closely and am really interested in where it leads you. There are communities of “nones” all over the nation and I’m sure they would be happy to support you in this.

    • cstanford

      groo79, as you describe it, a better word for your position is agnostic–as you say, “there isn’t sufficient evidence” for you to believe that a deity exists.

      • Michael Murray

        Being an atheist means you don’t hold any beliefs in gods. That seems to describe groo79 accurately although obviously they can correct me if I am wrong !

        • cstanford

          Atheist means “not god” and originally meant someone who denies the existence of God. An agnostic means “not knowing” if God exists because there isn’t sufficient evidence or there isn’t a satisfactory philosophical proof that God exists, Philosophers have reached the point in such arguments that they say there is no adequate philosophical argument that either proves or disproves the existence of God–so trying to use reason alone to prove or disprove the existence of a deity has failed. But then, as others have been saying in these posts, even if they don’t know if God exists or not, they choose to live their lives as if God doesn’t exist. So in that way, you can say that an atheist is someone who disbelieves in God even though they do not know for sure that God doesn’t exist.

      • Daniel-MN

        Unfortunately, the real meanings of atheism and agnosticism have been misunderstood, especially of late. Anyone who doesn’t believe in a God/deity is an atheist- whether or not they are absolutely certain there is no God (which I’m fairly sure most atheists do not claim this) or they just don’t believe in a God because of lack of evidence or need (but they will admit that there being a God is possibly, albeit unlikely. Both are *atheists*. The latter is an agnostic atheist. There are also agnostic theists- who believe in a God, but admit that there is no way for them to be certain of it.

        Most people will just refer to themself as atheist, due to this misunderstanding and because the word atheist has such a negative connotation these days, unfortunately.

      • Daniel-MN

        *most refer to themself as agnostic

      • Michael Murray

        @cstanford No the original meaning of atheism comes from

        Middle French athéisme, from athée atheist, from Greek atheos godless, from a- + theos god

        The Greek prefix ‘a’ means ‘without’. So the original meaning is ‘without god’ or ‘godless’. So people who do not hold beliefs in gods not those who disbelieve in gods.

      • Michael Murray

        @Daniel-MN I think you will find the negative connotations are worst in the US where atheist often is taken to mean something like “knows there is a God but denies Him so they leave a hedonistic, immoral, drug-taking, debauched lifestyle” :-). Our last PM in Australia was an atheist who was not married to her partner. No-one cared about that. People rarely talk about gods in public here. Except football, beer, etc.

      • http://monkeysinpants.wordpress.com groo79

        there are 2 claims at work when you use Atheist and Agnostic. Theism/Atheism deals with ones belief, and gnostic/agnostic deals with one’s knowledge. I would be considered an agnostic atheist. I do not believe that there is a god so I am an Atheist. I can’t prove that God doesn’t exist so I am Agnostic.The two terms have different meanings that are not exclusionary.

  • peltonrandy

    ” atheism is, in fact, one single belief (or, atheists would say, fact): that no god exists.”

    No, no, no. There may be some atheists who say that it is a fact that no god exists, thought I doubt it. In all my years as an atheist (more than 40) and of all the atheists I have personally known (hundreds) or are familiar with (additional hundreds), this has not been the case. Most atheists say they don’t believe there are any gods, not that there are no gods. This may seem like a distinction without a difference, but it is not. It is one thing to declare that something is an established fact, beyond any doubt at all, and a very different thing to say that something is very highly unlikely, which is what most atheist say when they state that they don’t believe in any gods. I am highly confident that there are no gods. The total lack of evidence for their existence is pretty convincing. The evidence to date points toward a completely naturalistic explanation for the universe and all in it, thus no need to call upon supernatural explanations. But this is different from declaring with absolute certainty that there are no gods. Very few atheists, if any, go that far.

    • Marduk

      Peltonrandy, thanks for saving me a lot of typing. That was precisely what stuck out for me as well, especially the use of the word fact.

      I do not believe god exists, but I have no way of knowing this is factual – nor would I ever make this claim as factual and most fellow atheists I have came across are of the same mind.,

      Agnostic athiesm is much more commonplace than gnostic atheism.

      • http://yearwithoutgod.wordpress.com Ryan Bell

        There are so many different definitions being bandied around. I’m trying to reflect what i’m hearing from self-describe atheists. Some say atheism is the belief that there is no god. Others, like you, say that atheism means you don’t believe there is a god (which I, frankly, prefer). But both are going around out there as definitions.

      • Marduk

        Ryan, as you continue to explore the atheist community you will find that there are many of us who label ourselves as skeptics, or if not overtly using the label you will find the term skeptic used frequently.

        It is the very same skepticism that causes our doubt in a god that also compels us to admit that we cannot know for certain that there is not. Granted many of us think act and function as if there is no god, and may even at times say this; however we also admit that there could be a 0.00000000000000…1% chance that we are wrong about this. This is especially true when faced with a nebulous poorly defined god. When asked about a specif god that has been assigned attributes that are self contradictory, then we may go on to say that “God” does not exist..

        Of course we are not one homogeneous entity, and we are not all skeptics. There are atheists of all sorts of stripes, including hard atheists who will assert that it is a fact that there is no god; these are a subset of the whole however.

        I (and I daresay many, many other self described atheists) if pressed about it would admit that there is a possibility that there is some creator entity that could be defined as “god” no matter how vanishing small we think the odds of this are.

        Also if you look at dictionary definitions of the word atheist – you will find that they all typically contain the phrase “or disbelieves” as part of their definition, this is the one overarching commonality of atheism, disbelief. It is the null hypothesis.

      • Cora

        I don’t think you’ll hear many atheists claim to have a “belief” that there is no god. From experience, we know that just invites our believing friends to say, “See, you have a belief, you have faith, atheism is a religion”. Besides, you don’t say you have a “belief” that there is no Santa Claus. You just say you don’t believe in him.

  • Jonathan Mahorney

    This isn’t exactly relevant to this post but your whole journey. I have really enjoyed re-watching this over the years.

    http://youtu.be/jk6ILZAaAMI

  • https://plus.google.com/118270106173516510126 Dadhichi Desai

    I think your stepping around one important thing and that’s environment.

    You’re convinced that plastic bags are terrible for the environment. But this conviction didn’t just come to you by chance. Your social structure has given you this conviction. As it has your religious beliefs and in turn your actions.

    Your actions have changed, your beliefs are on their way, now you need to change your environment.

    So it’s a good thing you were let go from the various religious positions you had in 2013…

    Silver lining?

  • Kris

    ARGH. I am one of the people who never had a problem with your methodology, and I think you have clearly thought through this process as much as you can, but you are killing me with this thing:

    An atheist is not someone who believes that NO GOD EXISTS. You are describing an anti-theist. There is a huge difference here, and you don’t seem to be making any distinction at all. I do not hold a positive belief that no god exists, because I can’t possibly know that. Some people believe that no god/s exist, and those people have a positive claim with a burden of proof for their assertion. I have never seen compelling evidence for anyone’s god claim, so I don’t believe the claims. I suspect there aren’t any gods, but I can’t disprove the existence of Asgard any more than you can.

    Proving a negative in this way is next to impossible, but more importantly it is not representative of the concept of atheism. I have seen no conclusive evidence for Bigfoot, but could I prove that there isn’t now and never was such a thing? No, that would be next to impossible.

    • http://yearwithoutgod.wordpress.com Ryan Bell

      I like this distinction and I agree with you, personally, but I have had self-described atheists argue just as passionately for the other side. But thank you for making that distinction. It’s one that I am aware of. But if I had stated it the other way there would have been just as many comments saying, “No no no, you don’t get it, atheists believe there is no god. The others are agnostics.” It’s a super interesting observation for me.

      • ottotellick

        Here is yet another consideration: the specific claims that are made by a given religion about its particular deity (or deities) can provide a basis for assessing how plausible that religion is. When the claims are mutually contradictory – e.g. God is jealous and vengeful and wrathful, and loving and omni-benevolent and perfect – it doesn’t bode well for plausibility, and we can have relative confidence in saying that such a deity really doesn’t exist.

      • andrsib

        I think it all depends on what kind of god we are talking about. If by god we mean something immaterial that can nevertheless interact with material processes such as brain activity, then I can argue that such a thing is incompatible with the most fundamental laws of physics. And since we have plenty of evidence in favor of the laws of physics, I can cite them as positive evidence against non-existence of that sort of god, as well as ghosts, spirits, souls and afterlife. That would mean, I (positively) believe there are no such things.

        If by god we mean something like “Ground of All Being”, then I can just say that I don’t really know what we’re talking about, and assume the default position: no evidence — no belief. That would mean lack of belief.

      • andrsib

        Correction: “positive evidence against existence”. Sorry for the typo.

      • Michael Murray

        A couple of good references on what the words mean are the wiki article on weak and strong atheism

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_and_positive_atheism

        and Dawkin’s spectrum of theistic probability which lets you assigns a real number between 1 and 7 to your belief in God or lack thereof.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectrum_of_theistic_probability

        The latter suffers from problem that you really should define God before deciding if you believe in Him/Her. Defining atheism as “Holds no beliefs in gods” avoids this problem.

      • Michael Murray

        Sorry Dawkins. Not Dawkin’s.

      • Al

        I really hate this semantics argument that flies around the web. It’s petty and useless. Even if we all agree on the definitions, one term is not going to be able to describe someone’s beliefs.

        For example, I am sure that the Christian Judaic God as described in the Torah, Bible, and Quran and as conceptualized by most Jews, Christians, and Muslims does not exist (7 Dawkins scale). I find too many internal inconsistencies for the concept to be possible. I am pretty sure the more amorphous Deistic and pantheistic gods do not exist (6), and I’m pretty sure about the ancient polytheistic and pagan gods/spirits (6). I’m doubtful of the Hindu god(s?), but don’t know enough about it/them to properly formulate a belief (5).

        So if you want to know what someone believes, ask them about their beliefs instead of trying to categorize them. It’s a lot more informative than any single term.

        Sorry for the mini rant. It wasn’t directed at anyone in particular.

      • Kris

        Ryan, thanks for the response. I don’t run into that definition much, so maybe it’s the circles I move in. I also have a problem with that definition because it appears to speak to knowledge, and that should be left up to gnosticism/agnosticism, so I’d like a word with those people who are arguing it so vehemently ;)

        Al, I understand your frustration about semantics. I really do. There are a ton of things I just don’t care about in this area that get other people’s knickers in a twist. The reason this matters (to me, and I suspect, to others) is that it shifts the burden of proof to the nonbeliever, and this matters a great deal when you are debating with Christian apologists.

        If the “belief in no god” definition gets used, (even though the word just means “without” god), I’m suddenly in the position of making a positive claim — which I’m really not — and the logical fallacies start flying. I can’t prove there’s no god (of course I can’t), therefore, Yahweh exists and the bible is true! It stops all debate of the actual question and creates a straw man.

        …and I understand that you feel like you are walking in to the middle of a conversation. We all did; we still are. Sometimes it’s disorienting, but you have as many relevant things to say about it as anyone (likely more than most, given your varied background), so I’m glad you joined in.

  • http://twitter.com/MakeThisLookAwe MakeThisLookAwesome (@MakeThisLookAwe)

    What “Truth” about Christ? We don’t have any truth’s about Christ. He lived, died, and was forgotten about for over 70 years until Saul/Paul came to his conversion. There was no way any of the authors of the Bible could even have *known* Christ, let alone know the “Truth” about him.

    • cstanford

      You are mistaken that Jesus was forgotten about until Paul was converted. There was a small but growing group of mostly Jewish people who believed that Jesus was the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for. They told the stories about Jesus orally until people decided that they better write them down. Yes, Paul’s letters to the churches he started are the first writings from this group of people that would later be called Christian. The four gospels were written later and, moreover, there were long and heated debates until a “canon” was agreed upon–and then, people still argued about what should be included at later times in human history. But Jesus Christ was not *forgotten* and Paul did not rescue him from being forgotten through his conversion. He joined the Jesus movement, instead of trying to persecute all who believed in him.

  • Michael Murray

    atheism is, in fact, one single belief (or, atheists would say, fact): that no god exists.

    Or you can define atheism the way I would as holding no beliefs in gods. So it is a fact: this person holds no beliefs in gods. It might be they have reasoned themselves to this position or just been bought up that way. My children grew up in a reasonably secular society (Australia) and my wife and are atheists so we never discussed gods with the kids. Their first exposure was when my oldest son, whose hearing wasn’t 100%, came home from school and said “so who is this gwod person” ?

    On the bags front I find the best solution is to keep the boot (trunk) of the car full of reusable bags. Assuming you drive to the shops. Of course there is still the trick of making sure you get them back to the car after you have unpacked the groceries in the house.

  • http://thegoodenoughhousewife.wordpress.com HopefulSorrow

    Sounds like you were steeped in fundamentalist legalism. Christianity is not about a life of behaviors, it is a life of faith and a relationship with Christ. Regretfully, I cannot match your intellectual arguments, but I wonder, sadly, if you ever truly understood the grace of God.

    • Kris

      Are you familiar with the “No True Scotsman” fallacy?

      • http://thegoodenoughhousewife.wordpress.com HopefulSorrow

        Yes. Let me clarify…my intent is not to make an argument, but to genuinely ask the question.

      • Kris

        I see. Given that he was a pastor, I’m guessing grace was featured at some point. Of course, I guess there might be some out there who would say they didn’t experience that…but it would be very unusual.

    • cstanford

      Thanks, HopefulSorrow, for your post that notices that Ryan must have been steeped in some sort of fundamentalist legalism. A life of faith and a relationship with Christ come first and, then, from the grace we receive, faithful people who trust in God through Jesus Christ are able to go out and love our neighbors, showing that we are Christians by our love, and being challenged by Jesus saying we should also love our enemies.

      • Michael Murray

        This is a point of view. But I’ve just come here from a Catholic website and they would insist, I think, that Christianity starts with faith in the Catholic Church and it’s dogma, doctrine etc. To be fair they are over 50% of the worlds Christians.

    • ottotellick

      I have to wonder: what is this “true understanding of the grace of God” you speak of? cstanford’s explanation seems detailed, but “a relationship with Christ” is vague and subjective… I suppose I might have that if I simply said to myself, over and over, that I have it. Maybe I would have some internal, physical-yet-inexplicable sensation – a fluttering in my chest, say – that accompanies my declaration, or maybe I would speak in tongues or go into spasms. It’s clear that different people cite different experiences in “validating” their assertions of faith and their relationships with Christ.

      But how do I – how does anyone – confirm having a true understanding of the grace of God (let alone the one and only true understanding)? If, as observable evidence seems to indicate, God is actually imaginary, then what counts as “truth” here can be as varied as individual imaginations, and this also seems consistent with observable evidence.

      • Susan Humphreys

        Grace by defininition means that something is freely given, no strings attached. You don’t have to do this or do that, believe this or believe something else, to get it, you don’t have to accept it to get it. A great book was written “If Grace is True why God Will Save Every Person” by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. It will help you understand the concept and how it has been taught and the errors in the doctrines about it. It is like forgiveness, we are taught to forgive those who harm us whether they accept our forgiveness or not. Grace is freely given you don’t have to ask for it or seek it, it is just there. I am an Atheist and realize that this whole concept has been a real problem for many Christians who like to think that they have it for being TRUE Christians and all others don’t!

  • http://myatheistlife.wordpress.com myatheistlife

    Ryan,

    I do not understand the world through the lenses of philosophies and plattitudes. The world is much more mechanical for us humans and in fact for all life on this planet.

    Our beliefs are a basics set of properties we subjectively assign to the operation of the world as we know and experience it. For our brains to continuously create a simulation of the world around us so that we may predict future events and use tools to achieve our goals we have to have rules to allow us to properly simulate the objects in the world around us. Some of us predict that there is a being that we cannot see, touch, or sense that operates the world and causes it to be as it is. Atheists do not believe this because there is no evidence for such a being and further we can see natural explanations for why the world seems to be as it seems and this does not need the insertion of an unseen force to explain the world.

    This sometimes causes believers to assert that science is the religion of atheists because for the two groups science or god inform them why the world behaves as it is modelled in their conscious minds. In this way, belief in a god is bad science if we subjectively say that the things which explain the world and its properties is called science.

    In your journey, to be an atheist like myself and others I’ve known, where you have given up the trappings of a believer’s life you can fill these ‘voids’ by looking to find how science explains the world around us and to understand logic and reasoning does not require faith but it does require logic and reason. In this time of man in the information age our personal knowledge has no need of staying smaller than the width of human knowledge if we can find interest in seeking knowledge. That is to say that you don’t have to wonder why astrophysicists think like they do, the entirety of their knowledge is at your fingertips. This is to say that knowledge, the whole of human knowledge, is at your fingertips or very close to the whole of it.

    If you can find the courage to walk through the world and wear the audacity to ask questions about it proudly, the answers are waiting only for your question. A single source is no longer the best way to acquire knowledge and never really was. You don’t have to pray for rain because we now have very impressive ways to KNOW the weather and what will happen in the near future. We’ve taken a lot of the guesswork right out of it. Don’t pray for the hungry, seek to feed them and ask for help from humans…

    There are, of course, what we might call ultimate questions of origin of existence and life and purpose for life which seem unanswerable without a ‘god’ to explain what we cannot. The audacity to question needs to be coddled in the knowledge that some questions don’t yet have answers. As a believer it is assumed that ‘not yet’ was a valid answer from god, it should be a valid answer from others too. Do I know the origin of life? Not yet I reply. The answer to this question does not in the slightest way affect how you should or can live your life right here and right now unless you choose to argue that a god did it and that belief then dictates your here and now for you.

    Freedom is not found in asserting there is no god, rather it is found in accepting the ‘not now’ answer from science and simply not asserting there is a god that did the stuff we don’t understand.

    That and the fact that atheist memes are way more cool than theist memes! :)

    • cstanford

      I agree that the “God of the gaps” is a very bad way to reconcile science and belief in God. We can’t assert that there is a god that did the stuff we don’t understand.

      • http://myatheistlife.wordpress.com myatheistlife

        I had hoped I might make some clarity in the idea that the two sides, theism and atheism, are arguing about god’s existence or non-existence.

        The god of the gaps serves only to inhibit inquiry and knowledge acquisition in the mind of the believer. It is not an answer to any question as it pretends to be, it is an anti-answer.

        The most pressing question is not of theology but of knowledge and how it is acquired. Trust me that animals do not need theology to survive and thrive nor does the human animal however humans climbed to the top by acquiring knowledge and using it. Theological belief serves only to stop human growth because it asserts an answer before the question is asked.

        • cstanford

          Jesus asked eight times as many questions as he answered. But it is true that some Christians act as if they have all the answers, and they so often get more of the sound bites in the media these days. Fundamentalism seems to have captured big swaths of many of the religions of the world, unfortunately, but I don’t allow them to set the standard for what is right and true in reading Scripture or talking about how we should treat each other. A literal interpretation of Scripture is not adequate for understanding the depth of poetry and story that tries to communicate who God is, etc.

      • http://myatheistlife.wordpress.com myatheistlife

        Trusting a book of known dubious authorship to provide revealed truth is much like looking for a clean scrap of tissue paper at the bottom of an outhouse. No doubt it is possible that you might find some unsoiled scrap or two. Remember that those fundamentalists are reading the very same words as you are. How can you be certain that it is you who is interpreting them correctly? I would like to know ‘how’ you can be certain of it. What law, logic, or reasoning etc. do you use that tells you that you are doing it right and the fundamentaliists are doing it wrong?

      • http://gulliblestravelsdma.wordpress.com Ruth

        @myatheistlife

        Methodology is the main reason I eschewed liberal Christianity in favor of none. Once there was a little crack in my certainty that my denomination was the right one I began to search out which one was correct. There are some 34,000 denominations of Christianity in the world. There are actually as many flavors of Christianity as there are Christians, as each one interprets scripture in unique and personal way, each one claiming that the Holy Spirit, the arbiter of all truth, has led them to their interpretation. If there is a Holy Spirit teaching Christians why isn’t there more consensus among them on very important issues. They disagree on matters from what it takes to actually be a Christian to the virgin birth, to the global flood, to creation and everything in between.

        What methodology do they use? So many of them are so sure they are right.

  • https://www.facebook.com/steve.kane.330 Steve Kane

    Good, it seems that you are walking towards that simple state that I have condoned from the outset. “Experiencing” rather than “Believing”.

    Because of your theological/philosophical background you still feel the need to frame it in rather convoluted terms – but you’re getting there.

    But you still, in my opinion, have to address the more personal issue that you have been “making a good living” and “getting status in your community” by being a “priest/interpreter/gatekeeper” for this belief system.

    This is why you have taken so long to get to this point, subconsciously for you a “standpoint” has to “pay”. Not in “demonstrating that it works” – it has to put money in the bank and followers at your feet. (And more subtly “needy” for you to “show care for”.)

    For the rest of us – for the most part – we merely stepped out to see “what works” Plainly for you “works” has “pays” high up its list. I would like to see you addressing this. Getting personal, rather than just presenting a seminar, in apparent rehearsal for the book and the TED talk.

    I too almost slipped into that one, but the cup never touched my lips, Alan Watts fell right in IMHO. This is the “guru trip”. It says “Pay me to be convincing, that I may feel I am convinced.” It also says “Save me from a low status (in my eyes) day job.” ;-)

    • http://yearwithoutgod.wordpress.com Ryan Bell

      I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • https://www.facebook.com/steve.kane.330 Steve Kane

    You write very “grown up” but I read “adolescent/student”, sorry, not “patronising” but “how you make me feel”. That’s what I consider myself here to report. There is a difference between “always open to learn more” and being a “perpetual student” the word “entitlement” seems to enter here. :-)

  • MPA

    Meh! If I wanna read about real existentialism i would read again some book From Nietzsche…

    Seems more to me like you are just trying to sell yourself to me… don’t get me wrong dude. You can stop believing… been there done that. But all the bullshit about “trying atheist for a year” can’t sound more silly…. a silly tell of a man having a existentialism crisis… again, i rather go and read the exquisite steppen wolf by herman hasse… but again we are in the era where any guy can have his 5 minutes of fame with the help of some little blog…

    See you in a year… probably exactly were you are now.

  • Goblinman

    Ryan,

    A concern is often voiced in this line of questioning that it is possible to be “too intellectual”–to rely too much much on logic and reason, and therefore crush other vital facets of the human experience. An image is conjured of said intellectual as being emotionless and mechanical, living in a world blinded of color and beauty. There is, it is said, a world that cannot be reached by intellect–one that is lost when a veil is drawn across the heart. This world is not constructed of brute matter, but of transcendent spirit.

    The refrain: Your mind has betrayed you, and so has your body, which is not your true flesh but merely the vessel for your soul. The material world, too, is false and incomplete–a broken shadow next to the shining world beyond.

    Another message is left unsaid: this world can never be enough–wholeness can only come via transcendence. The natural is unsatisfying, and fulfillment can only come from the supernatural.

    But what is the supernatural?

    Ghosts, spirits, unseen forces, worlds beyond perception. All things built of an essence untainted by the mundane. Because of its purity, it is transcendent–a superior kind of matter. To understand it would be to corrupt it and make it part of the mortal world, in the same way lightning lost its divine awe when we captured it and transformed it into electricity–no one trembles before power lines, though they channel the same power once wielded by Zeus.

    If scientists were to catch a ghost in a jar, and study it, and understand it, would it, too, cease to be supernatural? If machines were made that ran on ectoplasm, would they be transcendent or mundane? Where is the line drawn between supernatural and natural?

    It seems to me that “supernatural” merely means “unknown”: it is an exaltation of mystery. In the same way, one is cautioned that a flower’s simple beauty is lost once the inner workings are understood. The awe of the supernatural, like the beauty of the flower, comes from ignorance, not knowledge. It is borne of a fear that to understand something is to taint it: That, when mystery falls, so too does transcendence.

    This reveals the flaw in supernaturalism: the so-called supernatural is only transcendent by means of being unknown–transcendence is not an inherent property. If spirits ceased to be unknown, they would cease to be transcendent beings. A non-supernatural heaven would simply be another place. Indeed, if God himself were fully known, mortals would undoubtedly pester him endlessly about his policies like any politician. We would, I suspect, be unsatisfied with a God who was not unknown, and would find new shadows to gaze into.

    The flight from logic and into the supernatural doesn’t seem to me, then, like a genuine search for truth, but a dissatisfaction with the truth one has. It strikes me as an insistence that the material world cannot possibly be good enough, and that there has to be something better. But, instead of building a better world, it would rather turn inward and shut the world out–idolizing mystery, without ever touching it, for fear that the shadows will burst.

    • ottotellick

      I can honestly say that no matter what Ryan Bell himself produces or absorbs in his “1-year experiment”, I consider his effort a success, because it bring out comments like yours. Thank you.

      I just want to add a follow-up on this part: “An image is conjured of said intellectual as being emotionless and mechanical, living in a world blinded of color and beauty.”

      People who have a fairly good understanding of stellar physics, light, and earth’s atmosphere are not blind to the beauty of a sunrise or sunset. If anything, their understanding makes their appreciation of the beauty more intricate and profound. (Folks can look up the YouTube snippet of Richard Feynman talking about the physicist’s perception of the beauty of a flower.)

      So the problem with having a bias towards supernatural thinking is not only the improper value placed on “mystery”, but also the misrepresentation of how scientific inquiry interacts with a sense of beauty, wonder and awe.

  • chilosahatak

    I really admire your courage in putting this part of your life out there for the world to see. It takes real bravery to question beliefs that one has had for a long time, and it takes even more to show it to the world as you’re asking these questions.

    You’re on a path of real discovery, one way or another. No matter what happens, you won’t be the same at the end of this year. You may become a full atheist, you may go back to some version of Christianity, or perhaps something else entirely.

    The search itself is the important part, always ask “why?”. It is always healthy to ask why you believe something, why you think a certain way, why you follow certain things or people. You may discover something totally new and gladly abandon your prior notions, or the journey may strengthen your previous beliefs.

    I salute you.

  • Hans G. Koornstra

    Because of your recent writing it is clear to me that basically you have become an atheïst. That proces took of course quite some time. It means you are on your way, away from your christian background. You are not TRYING to be an atheist for a year. You are already and now have taken the consequences. I am glad they took you out of your job as you do not belong there already for quite some time.

    Sorry to see you go…

    God bless you, even if you don’t believe anymore….

  • allen

    I would like to share my view point on this journey of yours. While I will not use large words or complex quotes like so many atheists do in an attempt to make myself seem more educated than I really am. I am an atheist struggling to be Christian. I see the world for how I believe it truly is. I have “tried on” Christianity several time to no avail. Finding that one will always fall back to his true beliefs. The life of athiest has many down falls. These faults can’t truly be understood unless you truly are athiest. Imagine if you will a life of no promise. A life lived to simply live, may seem liberating to some, free of consequence free of quilt. Now ponder the other half if you will. Your “heaven” the reward for living a honest life does not exist for me. Death is simply the end, my loved ones who have past and someday myself will not experience any wonderful after life simply nothing…. I am sure with the overwhelming number of comments post you can no longer keep up with them all. If you do indeed read this please keep in mind the negative of atheism during your journey. Do not forget that beliefs are not always the same as choices. Im sure this will get many negative comments stating I am not truly athiest. Sadly I am. I am not ashamed of my beliefs. I feel they are justified. Good luck to you on your journey and I truly hope you can get the full experience you are searching for.

  • Mike Laman

    For now I want to comment on your following statements:

    “Certainly there are no unified atheist practices. I agree. No set of actions and behaviors unify people who simply, based upon the evidence, don’t believe in a god or gods.”

    Interestingly enough you wrote the common practice but you don’t seem to perceive it, namely “based upon the evidence”.

    The fundamental difference you will find is whether you start with an answer (God) and try to bend/”interpret” the evidence (and its interpretations) to fit your answer. Or start with the evidence, make hypotheses, eliminate the contradictions and fallacies and work with what remains.

    To me the fundamental question is “What will you do when you encounter cognitive dissonance?” How do you address and resolve it?

    Consider Evolution, Noah’s arc, dinosaur bones, biblical interpretation, Quantum Mechanics, … . Will you start with the answer and bend/interpret/reinterpret/re-reinterpret the evidence? Will you start tweaking/altering definitions to help? How much internal tension can you take building more and more cognitive dissonance?

    Or will you look at the evidence and see where it takes you and drop what is eliminated?

    It sounds like you are already on the journey of resolving your cognitive dissonance. I wish you well on your journey.

    Others will say you have already made your decision(s) about religion, belief and/or God. I hope you have not. I encourage you to take your evidence and experience then honestly and openly see what truth (for lack of a better term at this point) comes from them. What can be eliminated?

    Follow the truth – and yes this does take you into epistemology, but that’s for another day. A day you will have to face because of fundamental differences between the definitions of “truth”, “knowledge”, “belief” and thus how they determine how you interpret the evidence.

    So how will you resolve your cognitive dissonance? Can you live with “I don’t know”? How do you determine/define “truth”?

    Best wishes

  • Alan

    What if it were true that there is no god, as I have suspected for a very long time?</blockquote

    It kinda sounds like you've been an atheist for a long time already. In particular, agnostic atheism (the most common form of atheism) is basically "I suspect no gods exist, but I don't know this for sure and would gladly become a theist if I were shown sufficient evidence that they do exist." Take a look at Russell's Teapot for more.

    • Amy

      A minor note, Ryan, but one that I think ties into your discussion of belief, thought and action: I noticed that you capitalize the word ‘god’ in every instance save when discussing the possibility of deities not existing. You say “What if it were true that there is no god” but not “What if it were true that there is no God”?

      It’s subtle, I know, but I think it’s very interesting. I also think that it speaks of few things that, to be honest, aren’t really that surprising given the early stage you are at with your journey towards the dark side (hey, it’s ok, we have cookies!), but that you might want to reflect on a little bit. Language is surprising and deeply important in the way it shapes how we think, and as simple a thing as a capital letter can load a word with all sorts of context. There’s a difference between saying that ‘there is no god’ and ‘there is no God’. One is a blanket denial. The other is a specific refutation. Part of the journey into atheism is not just questioning whether there is or isn’t a god, but also entertaining the possibility that you were just wrong about your specific faith. That another faith out there got it right.

      Beyond that, it might be worthwhile to try out using the lowercase g. One of the interesting things about use of the capital G for the Christian deity is that it helps reinforce the notion that the Christian god is special among gods, “My God is greater than your gods”. It’s privileging a particular concept of faith over another.

      Moreover, Captial-G God is a pronoun. Pronouns help personify thing – it’s a very human thing. It also helps you connect to the idea of the Christian god being a real entity. That’s something that really jumps out at me when I read your writing: you speak of God, even now, as if it were an important person. *Somebody* in your life that you’re trying to exclude, not a concept to be examined.

      It might be worthwhile, as an exercise, to try not capitalizing ‘god’ when you write. I know that it’s not strictly grammatically correct in every case, but I know from personal experience that it can actually be quite a hard psychological barrier to overcome. Alternatively, when you’ve written a piece, you might want to go back over it and look at each time you use God and think about why you used it instead of god, and if you were relating to it as a person (God) rather than a concept (god).

      Incidentally, as others have pointed out, there are two types of atheist: the gnostic atheist (there are no gods!) and the agnostic atheist (I don’t think that there are gods, but I could be proven wrong). Gnostic atheists have an unprovable belief (a negative cannot be proven), agnostic atheists have no evidence to believe.

      • http://yearwithoutgod.wordpress.com Ryan Bell

        I like your points about capitalization for the word god/God. Thank you!

      • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com quine001

        Amy, I think that is very important. The big “G” privileged position is a trick of language that subliminally impacts our thinking (same for Allah in Arabic). I restrict all my writing to using “deity” or “deities” just to keep clear. If you take the usual piece of theological writing and make the word substitution, you will see it changes the tone and perhaps the meaning. I wrote a blog post a few years ago about this that you might like: http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/2008/06/holy-words.html

  • Gudelos

    Ryan, I appreciate what you are doing; it is a tough journey that requires the courage to think independently of the way you have been thinking for years. That is not easy. I was a 7th Day Adventist for 29 years before leaving faith and emancipating myself from religion and the idea of god.

    That said, there are a few things from your post (today) that I wanted to comment on. Having been an atheist for about 10 years now, I could never go back to religion. It would be like trying to shove a towering oak tree back into its acorn- not going to happen. I wonder what this is like for you? What if you “try on” atheism and you learn that it doesn’t fit? Will you go back to religion? Your journey sounds different than mine in some ways, such as that you describe it as “trying atheism on.” I know you have gotten a lot of flak about that (I had written my own perspective on it, but did not post it)and I wonder what it means to you concerning who you will be on the other side of this experiment?

    Also, as others have said, atheism is the absence of something (belief in gods). It positively does not involve belief that there are no gods. Some atheists may add this (belief that there are no gods) to their atheism, but that is in addition to their atheism, not an integral part of it. I lack a belief in gods, but absolutely do not believe that there are no gods.

    Also, what do you mean when you talk about abstaining from certain behaviors? Does this abstinence come naturally to you now, or do you have to consciously restrain yourself from praying (for instance)?

    Cheers.

  • Nancy

    Having traveled the road you are now on, I am very interested in your journey and the final outcome. After being very involved in the Christian faith, something happened in my church that shook my belief to the very core. This was 7 years ago. I’ve have studied and explored all of the “alternatives” since leaving the church and “Christianity”, But I felt like there was something missing in my life. I came to realize that “something” was my deep belief in a God. In my life, there have been many instances where a whispered word or a moment of clarity has shone through the turmoil and has made clear the path I should take. I can’t dismiss those times, I can’t shake the feeling that they were divine moments. So I have redefined what I believe, and it’s not what Christianity teaches. Christianity was created by people who had an agenda. So what I have done is not thrown God out of my life, but redefined what I think God is. I sometimes think on our last day, God will be waiting and he will say “I made it so easy for you, yet you made it so hard when you didn’t have to.”

  • Olimpia

    Atheist “protocols” were made apparent to me a few weeks ago when I was in the car with a very christian friend of mine. I was telling her about the hammer I keep within reach in my own car, which can slice through my seat belt and smash open my window should there ever be an accident where I become stuck in my own car. She said something along the lines of “I always leave my fate in the hands of God (what happens will happen), but you’re right, I’d feel really silly in an accident if I didn’t have one when I could have had the chance to buy one.” That really struck me – while I was taking precautions to make sure I could survive different scenarios (have the hammer in the car, carry pepper spray in my purse, stock the house with canned food and water, etc.) she was happy to put stock in the idea that her fate is completely in the hands of a higher power and that she didn’t need to take precautions because if she died it was her time and if she didn’t it was by the grace of God.

    So I suppose that for me, an atheist doctrine that I walk away with is to live THIS life, because it’s probably the only one you have. Make your own choices, take precautions, change situations, and seize your own destiny, as it were. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by thinking that someone is going to divinely save you from situations from which you could have saved yourself. The only person in your corner is you, and your support comes from friends and family.

  • Kraut

    I would like to weight in on the “What is atheism”. For myself, it is a highly improbably scenario that a God exists, due to what I have learned up until this point. Due to this improbability, I do not claim to believe in any deity. I see no data or evidence to make God a fact in my life.

    I will compare it to the “fact”, gravity. Gravity is currently a “fact” because it has been reproduced many times, in many different scenarios, and the laws of gravity have held up. Where I feel Atheism sets apart from beliefs is that we understand gravity to be true, but if evidence came up that proved toward the contrary, we would have to re-evaluate gravity, or the evidence. A scientific culture would then not just “believe”.

    Something that is not fact, however, that has stemmed from my lack of belief, is my preference that there is no God. The knowledge that this all came about by scientifically explainable principles would be enlightening and more fulfilling to me.

  • bookbuster

    A minor note, Ryan, but one that I think ties into your discussion of belief, thought and action: I noticed that you capitalize the word ‘god’ in every instance save when discussing the possibility of deities not existing. You say “What if it were true that there is no god” but not “What if it were true that there is no God”?

    It’s subtle, I know, but I think it’s very interesting. I also think that it speaks of few things that, to be honest, aren’t really that surprising given the early stage you are at with your journey towards the dark side (hey, it’s ok, we have cookies!), but that you might want to reflect on a little bit. Language is surprising and deeply important in the way it shapes how we think, and as simple a thing as a capital letter can load a word with all sorts of context. There’s a difference between saying that ‘there is no god’ and ‘there is no God’. One is a blanket denial. The other is a specific refutation. Part of the journey into atheism is not just questioning whether there is or isn’t a god, but also entertaining the possibility that you were just wrong about your specific faith. That another faith out there got it right.

    Beyond that, it might be worthwhile to try out using the lowercase g. One of the interesting things about use of the capital G for the Christian deity is that it helps reinforce the notion that the Christian god is special among gods, “My God is greater than your gods”. It’s privileging a particular concept of faith over another.

    Moreover, Captial-G God is a pronoun. Pronouns help personify thing – it’s a very human thing. It also helps you connect to the idea of the Christian god being a real entity. That’s something that really jumps out at me when I read your writing: you speak of God, even now, as if it were an important person. *Somebody* in your life that you’re trying to exclude, not a concept to be examined.

    It might be worthwhile, as an exercise, to try not capitalizing ‘god’ when you write. I know that it’s not strictly grammatically correct in every case, but I know from personal experience that it can actually be quite a hard psychological barrier to overcome. Alternatively, when you’ve written a piece, you might want to go back over it and look at each time you use God and think about why you used it instead of god, and if you were relating to it as a person (God) rather than a concept (god).

    Incidentally, as others have pointed out, there are two types of atheist: the gnostic atheist (there are no gods!) and the agnostic atheist (I don’t think that there are gods, but I could be proven wrong). Gnostic atheists have an unprovable belief (a negative cannot be proven), agnostic atheists have no evidence to believe.

    • Goblinman

      bookbuster,

      Your last sentence doesn’t quite work. For starters: it may indeed be true that a negative cannot be proven, but, by the same logic, neither can a positive–there is always a chance that everyone somehow got it wrong, or that we live in the Matrix. That a negative cannot be proven also does not mean that the negative is not true: just because you cannot prove there is not an invisible pink unicorn does not mean one must exist.

      In any case, I’m not a gnostic anything. As far as agnostic atheists and our evidence goes: Well, actually…

      The entirety of science has been stealing turf from the realm of the supernatural for centuries now. There has never once been a case where a supernatural explanation has proven to be the correct one. This is especially true for things associated with God: science continues to find naturalistic explanations for how the universe works, rather than the divine ones which should be evident if there was a supreme being. Science has also quite conclusively proven that the various holy scriptures–supposedly God’s infallible word–cannot be literally true.

      My point isn’t that science is perfect, but that it has actually provided a tremendous amount of evidence that there is no God. Most believers simply ignore this, and resort to belated excuses such as “God is unknowable to science”–something they maybe should have told science a little sooner.

      • bookbuster

        Well, no, actually, there is a difference between attempting to prove a positive and a negative, at least when it comes to claims that are unfalsifiable (my earlier blanket statement was incorrect in that manner – in science, it must be possible to show that something is true *or* false). That is why the burden of proving that there is a god or gods falls on the side of believers. You and I cannot prove that a god or gods don’t exist because there is always a ‘because’ scenario. “You haven’t heard God speak to you because He only speaks to the faithful”. “You can’t measure God because He is infinite.” “You can’t detect God because He is infallible and wants to remain hidden from us.” Because because because. You can’t find Russell’s flying teapot because it’s too small to be seen, and I can’t prove that you haven’t been touched by the Flying Spaghetti monster’s Noodly Appendage.

        That’s why the burden of proving the existence of a god or gods lies on those that believe, not with those of us that don’t. The longer they are unable to refute our ‘no gods’ statement by providing hard evidence, the more the probability of that statement being correct approaches 100% . But it will never reach 100%. There will always be a tiny, miniscule, almost non-existent chance that one day they will produce that proof.

        But my definition of gnostic atheism and agnostic atheism can be tweaked a bit, I suppose. What I was trying to get at is that there’s a split between ‘knowing’ and ‘thinking’ atheism. Gnostic atheists look at the available evidence and know that there is no god or gods. Agnostic atheist look at the available evidence and think that the most likely explanation is that there is no god or gods, but are open to doubt.

        The reverse is true too, of course, of theists. Gnostic theists know that there is a god. Agnostic theists think that there is but are open to doubt.

        • http://aldrisang.wordpress.com aldrisang

          That was one of the best explanations of why the burden of proof is on the person making the positive claim (“X exists”) that I’ve seen on this blog. Most atheists are simply rejecting that claim until it is proven, the same as they reject Ra, Zeus, Quetzalcoatl, Shiva and thousands of other gods (not even Christians could prove those gods don’t exist, so they prefer to ignore them).

      • Goblinman

        bookbuster,

        Ahh, I didn’t quite grok what you were aiming for in your first post.

        And you’re right, of course. That’s why I’ve taken to calling the god described by most modern believers a “chimera”–it is made up of a mish-mash of properties, which shift and change depending on what’s most convenient for the believer at any given time. (The biggest contradiction of all being that they’re always so easily able to describe something which they also call unknowable.)

  • http://aldrisang.wordpress.com aldrisang

    Ryan: There seems to be a lot of quibbling about the definition of atheist here, and to be honest this has been going on for years even among atheists. There’s a popular call-in atheist public television program called “The Atheist Experience” that has been on the air since the 90′s (I think) and who have a website called “Iron Chariots” to cover the arguments for/against God’s existence and other topics. One of those is an attempt to better define “Atheism”, and you can check it out here: http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Atheism

  • Dörte Faatz

    Ryan, my development is rather similar to yours except that I luckily didn’t choose a profession that has anything to do with theology. I didn’t become an atheist all of a sudden, it grew gradually and was the result of a long period of thinking and evaluating things. And then came the absolute certainty that there is definitely no God. I just ‘know’ that, although I know of course that it is impossible to know or not to know that. But what I definitely know as well is that I could never ever return to my former Christian belief, no matter what happens or after how much time. I’m simply done with that for ever.

    I love to follow your blog. It’s interesting and enlightening. Greetings from Germany!

  • Susan Humphreys

    I think one BIG problem for Christianity has been in trying to make it a “one size fits all” religion. Atheism has the same problem. We all know “one size” does not fit all. In early Judaism there were special roles and practices for temple priests and even within that group there were different roles and practices with the High Priest having special responsibilities that others didn’t have. At home the roles and practices for men and women were defined and were suited for their life and their level of spiritual attainment/understanding? In Buddhism there are practices suited to nuns and monks and different practices for the “man in the street”, the common man. All are still considered Buddhists eventhough their level of spiritual attainment/advancement is quite different. In Pope Francis recent encyclical “Lumen Fidei” he uses the term “ordinary believers” in one passage implying that there are some that are “extra-ordinary” believers although he insists that all are equal in his and Gods eyes! I think that there are folks that will find what they are seeking in Christianity and folks that won’t. Christianity simply doesn’t work for them. Within the Christian community there are some that will attain a higher level of spirituality, more deep connection to God than others who will live quite happy and contented lives with a different level of understanding and connection. Most religions have acknowledged their mystics and their gnostics, their nuns and monks, and “common believers” and had a place for all at the table. Atheism it seems for many, doesn’t have room at the table for mystics. Some Christians don’t have room at the table for any that don’t believe exactly what they believe or who don’t have the RIGHT or TRUE level of spiritual attainment a proper Christian is supposed to have! If you feel uncomfortable at a table, get up and leave, find another one that is welcoming and more suited to your level of understanding and spirituality. IF the time comes and you outgrow that group, move on! There will be another out there IF you look for them.

  • Todd Kinley

    Ryan,

    I think you could have shortened your enire statement today by simply quoting Ambrose Beirce. That is, just say that for now you will become a cynic, defined by Ambose as; “CYNIC, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic’s eyes to improve his vision.”

    • Todd Kinley

      Of course now I can’t stop reading the Devils Dictionary.

      RELIGION, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.

      “What is your religion my son?” inquired the Archbishop of Rheims.

      “Pardon, monseigneur,” replied Rochebriant; “I am ashamed of it.”

      “Then why do you not become an atheist?”

      “Impossible! I should be ashamed of atheism.”

      “In that case, monsieur, you should join the Protestants.”

  • Susan Humphreys

    This is for Mr. Stanford. Your criticism was fair, my statement “I think that being an Atheist is about being true to ones self, not hiding from fears or unknowns, being open and willing to learn all you can about all that you can!” could be read to imply that Christians couldn’t live this way and I apologize that was not my intent. Being an Atheist is being true for me! I have met far too many Christians and I think we have heard from both Christians and non-Christians that aren’t being TRUE to themselves and that aren’t open and willing to learn. I have met many Atheists that condemn the Bible as an evil book and refuse to read it or learn anything about it. Perhaps I should have worded the statement that “Living life as an authentic, honest human being is……Even then that will anger many.

  • http://yahoo Connie

    I don’t know if you will receive this or not as I sent a previous comment that was not posted, so will try again. Just wanted to remind you that science and faith are an awesome marriage. If your reading Dawkins then I’d highly recommend Reasons to believe with Hugh Ross for reliable and credible balance. Good luck with your personal journey….so many have taken this one. Can’t help but wonder why?

    • Todd Kinley

      Connie, I put Ross on the same boat as Hovind. Neither of them have any evidence that stands up to critical scientific investigation. I am simpathetic to your position as I was once a seventh-day-adventist and when I went to Southern Missionary Colege I took all of the available “issues in science and religion” classes hoping to be able to prove that there is scientific evidence for young Earth creationism. After graduating from SMC and attending the University of Georgia for graduate studies I was fortunate to meet several adventist scientists most of whom had given up the young Earth model and were aligning themselves with the old Earth version, which is what Hugh Ross proposes. However, once I realized that this reinterpretation of something Elllen White had made very clear was to be a tenet of SDA belief, I knew that to beleive it would be heresy … or I had to give up all of adventism.

      My point is that these psuedo-science creationists actually make an understanding of the universe more difficult, not less. Ryan would benefit more by completely divulging himself from any creationist cosmology than to try to use these desperate apologists positions to retain some aspect of his adventist beliefs.

      In other words, atheists can’t say there is no god but then embrace a cosmology that includes a long age creationism.

  • http://essentialsaltes.livejournal.com Essential Saltes

    ““Indeed, no one can actually believe the truth about [Jesus] without trusting him by intending to obey him. It is a mental impossibility.” ”

    This reads to me like ‘fake it ’til you make it’. As an atheist, I was concerned that you were going to apply this same technique to your ‘trying on’ atheism. Since you don’t really have experience as an atheist, or community with atheists (though I assume you’re getting a lot of contact now!), how can you ‘fake’ being something you don’t fully understand?

    Most of us atheists who have spent some time arguing with Christians have run across the Christians who literally say things like, “If I stopped believing in God, I would immediately begin raping and killing people.” We do not want that person to ‘fake being an atheist,’ because their understanding of it is so misguided and ignorant.

    Having read your thoughtful piece, I’m more hopeful about your project.

    You write: “What if it were true that there is no god, as I have suspected for a very long time? My “trying on” atheism is more like taking the next step and allowing myself to embrace my serious doubts about God’s existence.”

    You are speaking from an actual position of doubt. Any genuine change of mind probably has to pass through a period of doubt and skepticism. It’s maybe too late to downplay the “trying on atheism” phrase, since it’s associated with you, but it’s not too late to accentuate the “exploring my doubts” phrase.

    Lastly, since there aren’t really any ‘atheist practices’, your experiment runs the risk of making you look like just a ‘lazy’ Christian if all it is, is to give up the practice of Christianity. No doubt you already have plans along these lines, but at least something you can do is to meet as many atheists and atheist groups as possible. Find out who we are, in general. Groups that I would recommend that, although not explicitly atheist, are skeptical in nature, are the Center for Inquiry (which has a Hollywood office), the Skeptics Society (Altadena) and the James Randi Educational Foundation (Florida).

    • http://yearwithoutgod.wordpress.com Ryan Bell

      Chalk the expression up to creative writing, if you like. I put the “trying on” statement in quote to try to indicate that I was being tongue-in-cheek, but I think that phrase is all anyone remembers from my original post. :) It’s fine with me, though. It’s just a metaphor and sometimes they don’t fit.

  • http://physicalism.wordpress.com Physicalist

    Tip: Atheists keep their reusable bags in the trunk of the car. Once we put away the groceries, we put the reusable bags by the front door and take them out to the car the next time we go out.

    • http://yearwithoutgod.wordpress.com Ryan Bell

      Ha ha! Good to know! My question is, how do you remember to get them out of your trunk before going in the store and filling up your cart. That’s where the disconnect is for me.

      • http://physicalism.wordpress.com Physicalist

        Well, here in godless Massachusetts most grocery stores have reminder signs outside saying “Did you remember your reusable bags?” I’d have guessed that CA might have something similar in some neighborhoods.

        Are you still shopping at your old theistic grocery store? You might need to adjust, if you’re going to try on atheism.

        Alternatively, you could try putting a scarlet A or a Darwin fish on your trunk. That might help remind you that your new lifestyle involves grabbing bags from the boot.

        Good luck!

  • Todd Kinley

    Ryan,

    you are getting too many posts on this blog for me to believe that you are reading all of them. So, I might continue to post my reactions to your posts but most likely, since you are not responding to my posts, I will end up responding and interacting with other posters. Something I will eventually tire of and will result in me leaving.

    Initially, I was attracted to your blog because I am a heretic adventist who went to an adventist college and it was this religion based education that resulted in my atheism. I thought it would be interesting to discuss your process and progress in the context of adventism. I am still very interested in how you are dealing with the ever present adventist elephant in the room … whispering …. Ellen White … looking over his shoulder …

    I mean if you were trying this as an experiment and you were a mormon, that fact would most likely be the central topic. But there isn’t a peep on this blog about EGW. Why not?

    • Todd Kinley

      I just realized that you must be on the left coast. I usally come into my office early and write on blogs like this before starting my work day. That would explain why you are not responding to my posts.

  • Mike Hampton

    I think you hit upon the truth when you said:

    “Beliefs are not something one takes on and off”

    You are applying logic to faith. Of course it will fail. Trying to make sense of faith (Beliefs) is nonsense. To question faith is not to have it.

  • Pingback: The Quest for the Natural Elephant | Leadingchurch.com

  • Tom

    What a daring experiment! Not so much what you’re undertaking but the fact you’ve gone public with it therefore putting yourself at risk of criticism by all “believers.” It seems you could get to the same point by declaring yourself a Deist or agnostic which wouldn’t provoke the fundamentalists’ wrath. Anyway, it’s my opinion that most people don’t follow God’s or Christ’s love and compassion but rather prayer to them for favors and protection. They need to feel somewhat in control of their fate. Embrace your fate my friend and I look forward to reading about your experience.

  • http://www.skepticalseeker.com Mikel

    “If I were beginning this journey having been, up until December 31, 2013, an ardent fundamentalist Christian, I would say there is no way to suddenly disregard God. But that is not my story. Mine has been a slow erosion of the beliefs I was raised with. Unanswered and, indeed, off limits questions, knocking at the door of my mind, refusing, finally, to be ignored. Indeed, anyone who once believed in God, and is now an atheist, has walked this road. To finally take the God glasses off is not a heroic act or a herculean feat, but the logical next step in my exploration of faith.”

    This is exactly the road I walked. Sounds like you understand the process very well indeed.

  • https://plus.google.com/110509716264190240126 Mike Weber

    I know Julia Sweeney uses the term “god glasses,” so I’m not sure if that’s where you got it, or if it just seems like a good analogy, but I thought I’d share a quote from her one-woman show, “Letting Go of God.” It feels like you’re on a very similar path that she, and a lot of us, followed to atheism. http://imgur.com/vnPFI

    And while atheism literally means a lack of belief and that’s it, I think you’re finding there is definitely a community that revolves around that lack of belief. And just like any religion, we have our own “sects”, including the people-who-drink-micro-brews-and-talk-about-space sect, the fight-for-separation-of-church-and-state sect, the church of the Flying Spaghetti monster, and many more. But we all seem to share some basic tenants, including “treat everyone fairly”, and “morals should be derived from rational thought, not old books.”

    Anyway, it’s interesting to read your perspective on this new worldview you’re coming to. Keep up the good posts.

    • http://humanistfox.wordpress.com humanistfox

      I love that quote from Julia Sweeney. I’ve heard several people describe the initial response from belief to non-belief as “having the ground removed from underneath you.” It’s certainly how I felt as I made those final few steps from believer to nonbeliever.

      Yes, atheism literally means a lack of belief and that’s hence; hence, it is not a religion, and there are no “sects.”

      That said, of course, there’s plenty of diversity–just as there would be plenty of diversity with those who don’t believe in, say, UFOs.

  • Dian Atamyanov

    I think the first step you should take on your journey is to understand what atheism truly is. I see in some of your posts, including this one, that you conflate two meanings of the word (one of which is not accurate). Those are, ‘there is no God’ and ‘lack of belief in God’. While they may seem identical to the untrained intellectual, I think you are well prepared to know the difference, and I am confident that in the year to come, you will know which one corresponds to atheism, and which one to the oft forgotten term ‘anti-theism’.

  • Yo Tiger

    I would say the biggest contribution to “trying” it on would be to look for answers openly through scientific reasoning. I’d say do your research on exactly what it is to make a decision. (Our brains have decided what we’re doing several seconds before “we” are actually aware of the decision.)

    • Alan

      Belief is too rooted in presumptions for my liking, it makes one presumptuous. The existence of a god is a presumption, the definitions of it and it’s attributes are presumptions. Presumption is a lazy person’s excuse to avoid deep and honest thought about reality. An atheist refuses to allow culture and tradition expectations to force the wearing of blinders to honest reasoning. It is not a matter of believing that there are no gods in spite of the threats and empty enticements used by those who would try to force people to believe. We have a duty to ourselves, our communities,, future generations, and to nature to be skeptical..

  • Bob

    I started my experience of exposing my non belief back in October of last year. In December I was able to say I was an Atheist. There was a lot of internal clarity once I openly admitted it. My journey was one with a lot of questions. Approaching everything with the realization that I could be interpreting everything wrong. I found asking questions brought forth a variety of answers. Consider throwing out some questions, with a little banter maybe open ideas that neither you nor those following the blog considered in such a light. Now for a basic question; are you okay and how is the family? When I married I was the preacher, thru my journey my wife watched me do a 180 on my beliefs. I was lucky, she got it. She kept me. She passed in 2012.

  • https://www.facebook.com/alicia.monteith.5 Alicia Monteith

    I am glad you understand the range of atheistic non-beliefs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectrum_of_theistic_probability), but to start calling it a belief belies this fact.

    One distinction I’d like to make, in case other commentators have not already (I have not read comments from all your previous blog posts, all media pages etc), is the difference between Atheism with a capital ‘A’ and atheism (Atheists being a subset of atheists). Most atheists in the world belong to the latter only. They have no belief in god(s) and just go about their daily lives not really engaging in any so-called atheistic activities (such as pushing for separation of church-state, asserting the power of the flying spaghetti monster etc). They might never have read any Dawkins, watched Stephen Fry debate, listened to an Atheist podcast. This is very much like how you go about your life being a-unicornistic, i.e. no belief in unicorns. It really doesn’t matter what the thing is we don’t believe in, it’s irrelevant here. However, Atheism with a capital ‘A’ is a direct reaction to activities of Theists. This is where you can get sub-cultures grouping around such ideas as rationalism and humanism, skepticism, separation of church-state activism, and even just atheism. Some simply need a support group due to being immersed in a religious culture, or having thrown off years of indoctrination, or dealing with people telling them they cannot be moral people. Some are reacting to threats to our secular governments/schools, or to anti-science in schools/media etc. My point is that Atheism is a reaction to, in the US and New Zealand (my home country) at least, Christianity. It is not just a result of not believing in something. So, my question is, are you trying on atheism, or Atheism?

    Also, I’d like you (and your readers) to try to understand how people have, individually and as organisations, come to Atheism. For good or bad this becomes the public face of atheists in the West. Sometimes people may appear as being very angry, put perhaps, rather than simply writing them off as inherently angry people, ask yourself, and them if you have the opportunity and their trust, why.

    I understand this can be a very difficult and painful experience for you, but have no real understanding of how this actually feels as my own disbelief began as a child when we are more adaptable. All I can say is “kia kaha” which means strength.

  • Peter K

    Experience becomes the basis of cognition. This a good realization.

    However, the experiences you’re choosing appeared to be based on some misconceptions about what atheists do and/or believers do.

    * * *

    For example, the implied idea that atheists don’t read the Bible. In my experiences atheists are often careful readers of religious texts so they know what it is that believers are saying and/or assuming. Or that atheists read Spinoza, Voltaire, Nietzsche, etc. Many believers may avoid atheist “sacred texts” because of religious reasons, but many atheists read religious texts to understand the religious influences on the trajectory of human thought. Atheists may avoid religious text for the same reason they don’t ready technical manuals, westerns, or mysteries – they find little utility or pleasure in doing so.

    Groups of people who share a viewpoint aren’t necessarily informative about the viewpoint or even the majority of those who share the viewpoint. Atheists at gatherings of atheists aren’t necessarily particularly good examples of good atheists. Just as Christians in churches aren’t necessarily particularly good examples of good Christians. You may learn what some atheists do in groups, but that doesn’t remove the onus from you to answer the important questions for yourself.

    Groups of atheists perhaps will have a sense of community, but perhaps community build around gaming, surfing, dancing, movies, pottery, jazz, etc are warmer and more comforting.

    * * *

    I get the sense that “doing as atheists do” is about learning about atheism, but at the same time it won’t hurt to think about that atheism is in its own light. Sometimes you learn by doing. Sometimes learning helps you do.

    • Arthur Klym

      It is quite right that many of us atheists study religious texts. I am convinced that a careful reading of the Bible, without a preconception that it is the word of god, is likely to make one an atheist.

  • http://frozenoj.blogspot.com/ FrozenOJ

    I think the best definition of atheist is someone who thinks there is no god. That includes everybody, whereas knows there is no god does not. Even those who know there is no god think there is no good, But not everyone who thinks there is no god knows there is no god. It’s like squares and rectangles. Rectangles have a certain set of rules (thinks there is no god). Squares have those rules as well as an additional set (knows there is no god). It is not improper to call a square a rectangle, but it is improper to call all rectangles squares.

    I personally like the definitions where a/theist and a/gnostic are used to describe this difference. A/theism describes what you think, whereas a/gnostic describes what you know. But I understand that in popular use agnostic is used to describe someone who doesn’t have an opinion on whether god exists or not so the meaning has been muddled a bit. The important thing to realize is that not all atheists know with certainty there is no god.

  • frank

    I just watched this very insightful show on science and religion

    It may help on your journey.

    http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-neil-degrasse-tyson-on-science-religion-and-the-universe/

  • https://www.facebook.com/velvet.page.3 Velvet Page

    I’m following your journey with some interest, since I took a similar one myself a few years ago (though notably less publicly.) There are a few distinctions that were important to me in my journey that I see you so far taking the opposite tack on, so I’m going to share them.

    The first is that belief and worldview are not quite the same thing. Belief is the substance of things not seen; that is, it presumes to make claims for which there is insufficient evidence. Christians claim to have perceived God and talked to God (or at least, in the holiness tradition that I grew up in, they certainly made that claim) but in nearly three decades of trying to reach God that way, I never once did. The evidence of my senses was insufficient to back up the claim.

    Worldview is different. It forms through interaction with the world, starting (according to psychological research) in infancy, and each interaction with the world helps to build it. The view I have that people are essentially good, and when they’re not, it’s about their own insecurities and problems rather than something about me, has been formed time and time again by my interactions with people. My understanding of statistics – that there will always be people whose behaviour is outside the norm, and that their behaviour doesn’t change the norm but rather proves it – supports this. My worldview didn’t change from a Christian one to an atheist one due to a single event. It changed over the course of years, through many interactions, lines of study and questioning, and evidence (much of it acquired through a developing interest in and understanding of science.) The final nail in the coffin of my faith was the realization that I was not letting my worldview develop along the lines that made sense for the new understandings I was gaining. I was artificially stopping it, essentially subscribing to a God of the Gaps theory. The logical extension of a scientific worldview is that, beyond the answers we have is not something totally different from those answers; it’s more questions, that we can seek to answer the same way we’ve answered the ones we’ve already explored. The gap is not a scary place in that view; it’s a vast undiscovered country. A person who subscribes to a scientific worldview has to be willing to ask those questions, and has to be willing to say they don’t know, without trying to plug that knowledge gap with God.

    I reject the word “belief” to apply to this worldview. It is not based on claims that I can’t substantiate with evidence. If I get new evidence, I will change that worldview; I’ve already done that many times as I was refining it. A Christian worldview based in belief didn’t allow me that flexibility.

    My second quibble is your claim that atheism is a belief that there is no God. I help moderate a large forum of atheists on a crafting website called Ravelry, and while a few of them would make that claim, the overwhelming majority of them would say that their atheism is a lack of belief in any god. As the joke goes, atheism is a belief in exactly the same way that bald is a hair colour. I don’t need a positive belief that there is no god. That wouldn’t fit into my worldview above, because it would deny the possibility that new evidence would surface to prove that a god exists. I acknowledge the possibility that I may be wrong about God, and that I can’t know for certain. But I don’t believe in one. This is a very different thing from making a positive claim that there is no god.

  • Jason

    I think your “experiment” is amazing and has been (and will continue to be) a great source of inspiration for me. I too was raised in a highly religious background that I found myself questioning more and more as I grew older. Now, I’m pretty much in the same boat that you are (albeit, without the highly controversial blog).

    It seems to me that you’re catching a lot of flak for your “journey”. I say…so what. Let people antagonize and pick apart your methods or the fact that you’ve gone public. Trust me…you’re not doing anything differently than I am except that your voice and your experiment is now highly publicized.

    It reminds me of the way I’ve seen Christians act when someone they’ve known forever comes out as gay or…Jesus forbid it…politically Liberal. They were absolutely ok with the person when they didn’t know what the person was. After the revelation it becomes pick-a-part time.

    No work of art, no poem, no piece of literature, no song, no movie, no anything has ever been or ever will be absolutely and universally loved and accepted. Your journey will be no different.

    Don’t let any of the negativity or backlash knock you down. You’ve got at least one person out here that is encouraged and inspired by what you’re doing.

  • https://www.facebook.com/xynop Ponyx

    Oh for sure there is a way of trying atheism!

    Before i lost my religion, i spoke a lot with atheists, nonbeliever and also with religious people. i kind of “flirtet with the atheism”, well i saw god isnt doing anything against this, so i went deeper in the matter my mind changed, i lost any believe in any kind of god. And still nothing happends “god” did nothing to hinder me…cause he isnt there. Or better: I realised that when ever i prayed, i was talking to myselfe, i was my only god.

  • http://thenistartedthinking.wordpress.com thenistartedthinking

    In my transition from being a Seventh-day Adventist to being an atheist, I too gradually asked the forbidden questions and when I found that it was no longer possible to answer the question, “do I believe that this is true?” with “yes”, I had to admit to myself that I was an atheist. I do accept the term agnostic atheist, I do not claim to have certain knowledge that there are no gods, but I do not believe that there are. I believe that there are god claims that we can know to be false, and until the time that a claim of divinity is made that is backed by evidence, clear and compelling, I will continue in my atheism, my lack of belief.

  • https://www.facebook.com/regina.stephens.76 Regina Stephens

    It’s interesting to me that so many people are insisting that Mr. Bell get this “right.” Whether it’s Christians who think that, if he can give up God, he was never a true believer; or atheists who say he needs to first understand what atheism truly is. This is an ongoing, *personal* journey, one that anyone who has ever questioned the assigned religious beliefs we acquired from our parents, has traveled.

    I love these lines from his blog.

    Mine has been a slow erosion of the beliefs I was raised with. Unanswered and, indeed, off limits questions, knocking at the door of my mind, refusing, finally, to be ignored.

    He is now simply exploring those unanswered questions.

    • http://hopeloveoptimism.wordpress.com erintheoptimist

      Personally, I’m not arguing that his journey is not valid because he’s got atheism wrong. I’m suggesting that he has had atheism misrepresented to him or has misrepresented it himself, probably without realizing it. However he chooses to “do” atheism or even if he chooses eventually not to, definitions do matter, not just to him but to other people. If he ends up being the (rare) atheist who believes firmly that there is no god, that’s up to him. If he ends up being the (much more common) type of atheist who simply doesn’t believe in any god, that’s up to him, too. But pointing out that they’re two different things is not insisting on anything except a common frame of reference.

  • 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.

    • http://aldrisang.wordpress.com aldrisang

      “I have a question for you. Was there ever a time in your life when Jesus made himself real to you?” — There was a time Santa Claus was real for most of us, and some of us had imaginary friends that were quite real. Should we all try to go back to such a time, too? I’d love to feel the comfort of thinking a jolly fat man was watching out for me and was going to reward me for good behavior… that would be swell, mister.

      • JAB

        First of all, my main point is that I don’t think it is right for Mr. Bell to attempt to make money on this venture. For me, it takes away from the genuineness of it.

        Secondly, the apostle Paul made it clear when he says that the deciding factor of Christianity is not rules and works, but rather if ones life has been changed. I should have been more specific when I asked my first question about Jesus being real.

        Unless Christianity has actually changed a persons life, then I can see how skepticism can develop.

        Plus, my real question for all atheists is this, what if you are wrong? If I am wrong, then nothing is lost. If you are wrong……?

        • Dörte Faatz

          Well, if I am wrong, what has the “loving” God planned for me? Eternal torture? Sorry, I could never ever worship such a cruel, sadistic tyrant.

        • http://gravatar.com/erintheoptimist erintheoptimist

          If it turns out that I am wrong and the church I grew up in is correct, then someday I’ll stand before God in judgement, and I’ll be able to respond to the question of why I didn’t believe. I’ll say that if he expected people to all believe the same thing, he should have been a little less confusing in his revelations, because there have been thousands upon thousands of different religious traditions all claiming to have the one single path to God, and clearly they can’t all be right. At the end of the day, I did my best to do justly and to love mercy, and to leave the world a better place than I found it each and every day, within the boundaries of my own reason and place in the world. If that’s not enough for this god, then he was never worthy of my worship.

          That said, of course, there’s the issue of how many possible versions of “right” actually exist. Perhaps you’re right. Then again, perhaps the Catholics were right. Perhaps it was the Jews, or the ancient Greeks. The problem is not that either I’m wrong, or you are, and there are only two choices. The probability of you being right is infinity to one, because there are an infinite number of possible configurations of God. Personally, I’ll take those odds.

      • Eric Marsh

        JAB – your question “what if you are wrong?” is a good one. Essentially it’s Pascal’s Wager. The problem with the standard form of the Wager is it’s implicit assumptions about the nature of God.

        There may be a God. He may be ol Ugga Bugga of the Jungle or he may be the Great C’thulhu. In either case you and I are in the same boat. With untold numbers of different religions (or so it seems) it’s pretty presumptuous for you to think that yours is the only true one.

        I have no particular reason to believe that any of it is true. So from my perspective, if you are wrong then you have wasted a goodly part of your one and only life on nonsense. While you are wasting your Sunday mornings in church I’m spending them flying my airplane, going for a drive or just being lazy. Instead of wasting money on a tithe I’ll spend it on avgas, thank you very much.

        I much prefer my Sunday morning choices over yours.

        • Linda Hennessey

          Eric what I hear you saying is I’m not interested in any religion that demands anything of me just to avoid “HE’LL”. Is that correct? What if you could have a relationship with a superior being that you could benefit from in the here and now without the trappings of religion?

          • http://hopeloveoptimism.wordpress.com erintheoptimist

            If I could have a relationship with a superior being, that might be a good bargain. The problem is that every attempt I made to have that relationship ended up feeling like I was talking to myself. There was a lot of guilt, a lot of expectations, a lot of responsibilities, all for no discernible benefit. I didn’t give up a relationship. I gave up the illusion of one. Now, I still have expectations and responsibilities, but they’re ones I chose myself that benefit real people, starting with the people I love and spreading outward from there.

            As an aside, the incredible quantity of emotional manipulation that I was subjected to in an effort to make me feel like I was experiencing God would have been considered abusive in pretty much any other context. I’ll bear those scars until the day I die, but at least I’m not opening those old wounds anymore. I am happier and healthier without religion.

          • Eric Marsh

            Linda, all I ask is for empirical evidence. If there is a Hell, give me empirical evidence of it and of how to avoid it and I’ll do what I need to do. If there is a superior being, again give me the empirical evidence and I will make adjustments.

            What I care about is simply understanding the universe around me so that I can lead my life accordingly. That means examining the evidence and trying to make intelligent choices based upon that evidence.

            If there were an omnipotent god he/she/it would be capable of putting a telephone boot on every corner with a direct connection so that our questions could be answered. The lack of those telephone booths indicates that said being doesn’t exist or doesn’t care.

            What I do see has every indication of being a class of parasites telling fairy tales that are intended to manipulate people not bright enough to realize that they are being scammed. I reject their use use of a supernatural carrot and the stick. That would make me their fool. What we need in this world is more people asking pointed questions, not sheep.

      • aesthete2

        JAB if you are worshiping the wrong god and there are an unlimited number of them, then you can be just as wrong as the person who doesn’t worship any of them.

        What if you are wrong? You will have wasted your life and still not gotten what you think you would get from all that work and time. You either will not have an afterlife, or you will suffer the punishment from whatever god/goddess/god group meets out for you not guessing correctly.

        As has been said many times, you are almost as atheist as all of us – we just believe in one god less than you do.

      • Daniel-MN

        JAB, that’s a oft-used and never well-thought-out argument for believing. The believer says- “If I’m wrong, or we’re wrong, what have I/we lost?”. The answer you’re looking for is- you’ve lost nothing, but the non-believe has lost their ‘eternal soul’ or ‘chance to get into heaven’. That viewpoint, however, is *exceedingly* incorrect and short-sighted.

        In fact, what you’ve lost by believing is what would have happened to you, *and humanity*, if you didn’t base all of your beliefs and actions on a false assumption- ie things would have been a lot different if you hadn’t believed in God, and you would have lived your life much differently… if humanity didn’t believe- we would all place an emphasis on a lot of other things rather than faith. Religion and faith are frequently abused by leaders of the religion, or politicians, or whoever, to cause people to do things that aren’t necessarily ‘good’.

        For instance, in convincing people to be suicide bombers. That’s an extreme case, sure. So, maybe one that would be more realistic for the general believer- instead of giving money to a secular humanist organization that helps the poor, or refugees in other countries, you may give money to a church. And of course some of that money probably goes to good causes, and some of it is wasted on paying church workers and building/maintaining the church (I only say wasted in this scenario because of the assumption for this argument that there is no God).

        Another example, which hits home for me, and I’ve seen time and time again (and really bothers me) is the assumption in many religions that there will be an Armageddon and this world will perish. Because of that belief, I know a fair number of religious people who don’t care about global warming or chemical pollution of the environment, or any number of other things which affect every person on this planet, because they assume- all the bad things happening in the world are just because it is ending and therefore they might as well not bother trying to make things better because it’s inevitable. (I know this isn’t necessarily derived from belief in God, but if you take a look at a lot of religions, many of them prophecy this type of thing, and perpetuate a large majority of these ‘world-ending’ beliefs) So, believing in many of the things that come along with religion can cause people to lose accountability for their actions and the effects that has on the world around them.

        And as a final argument- because faith is an entirely different way of thinking than reason, and in many ways they are directly at odds with eachother- by having faith, one is inevitably diminishing their capabilities to reason. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that a faithful person can’t have extremely high reasoning capabilities- moreso than anyone else around them. But, their reasoning is diminished compared to what it could be if they didn’t base many of their decisions on an untestable assumption.

        If you add up the number of people in the world who are religious/faithful, and think about incrementally how that affects peoples decisions and actions, I think it is fairly easy to see that if there is no God- there is quite possibly a *huge* negative drawback on individuals and the world for believing in one.

      • JAB

        For the record to all of you who keep mentioning my God who tortures. I do not believe in a God who tortures.

        Unfortunately, that is the misconception that many Christian churches put out there and it is unfortunate. It has turned many away and it is sad.

        • http://aldrisang.wordpress.com aldrisang

          If there’s not a god that tortures then I’m set; I don’t need to believe in something that there’s no evidence for… I already embrace love of humankind as a high ideal, using Jesus as a model of how to treat others instead of needing to believe he was divine (or even existed; a good story is a good story, you can find wisdom anywhere). Many atheists are, like me, Humanists — and don’t feel any gaping hole in their lives where they need to plug supernatural mumbo-jumbo. We just care about making the world a better place and treating other people as we’d want to be treated.

        • Linda Hennessey

          I find it curious that some believe that a superior being would need to threaten eternal torture to get humans to convert to believe in him. I find it equally strange that an all powerful and loving God would need to torture I order to forgive sins. I would say those are more human characteristics than superior or divine. It occurs to me that we don’t know the characteristics of a superior being that exists outside the 4 dimensions in which matter exists

      • JAB

        You know erintheoptimist, there is no argument. I can never argue about the CROSS. It makes no sense.

        You have to have Faith. If you don’t have faith in Him you will never believe in Jesus. Jesus healed people right in front of them and they did not believe.

        So it is not strange that we who have never seen Him don’t believe.

        The problem people make, is that they associate the teachings of Jesus, with the teachings of a particular church. Jesus loved and embraced everyone. If anything he shunned the church when he was here.

        • http://aldrisang.wordpress.com aldrisang

          Might as well believe in the Buddha, who taught that suffering is born of not seeing reality as it truly is, and to have compassion for all sentient beings. Or you could be a Jain who goes so far as to filter their water so as not to kill microscopic organisms. Or just be a Humanist and try to make the world a better place for everyone. You don’t seem to be offering any compelling reason to believe in Jesus _particularly_, so there’s really nothing to debate here. Societies all throughout time have come up with versions of the Golden Rule because it’s so basic to the functioning of a society and its people’s happiness and well-being… and many people also exercise their empathy to go a step further. That’s enough; that’s more than enough, and Jesus is not required.

        • https://www.facebook.com/velvet.page.3 Velvet Page

          I tried for thirty years to see it that way. I couldn’t do it.

    • http://gravatar.com/erintheoptimist erintheoptimist

      Did you know there are now online support groups for pastors who lose their faith, and in the process lose their family, social connections, support network, and income? Just think about what you’re suggesting here. You’re pretty much saying that pastors who are questioning their faith need to lie to keep their jobs. It may be true – and in my experience, many pastors do exactly that – but what does that say about the Church, especially about the Christian commitment to honesty and integrity?

      As for your question: I grew up in a church where I was told Jesus would make himself real to me. I prayed for that constantly. I did everything I was supposed to do and when it didn’t happen, I blamed myself and tried harder. When I finally decided that God wasn’t showing himself to me because he wasn’t actually there at all, I felt exactly the kind of freedom that I was always told I could get through Christ. Over time, I left behind most of my contacts in the Church to the point where I could leave the faith with few repercussions of that sort. I’m incredibly glad that I didn’t follow one of my earlier career plans into the ministry.

      I was a believer. I never had that experience, though, and your question is deeply offensive to me for that reason. You don’t get to determine who is and isn’t a believer. You don’t get to negate the experiences of my life as a Christian because they don’t fit in with your view of your faith. It’s not universal, you know. The majority of Christians in the world (Roman Catholics, all branches of Orthodox Christians, the Coptics, Anglicans/Episcopalians, to name the biggest denominations involved) do not subscribe to the idea that you must have a personal experience of Jesus to be a Christian.

    • JAB

      Eric, I’m glad you brought the point up about wasting time on Sundays. It makes me laugh how you reply to things I never said.

      Anyway, I will tell anyone who believes in Jesus that if worshipping Him seems like a waste of time, then get out.

      For me Eric, worshipping Jesus is not a waste of time, it puts my time in perspective and allows me to reflect on what really matters in life. What really matters in life is LOVE.

      If I am wrong about my beliefs then so what. I would have lived a life of loving other’s and how could I ever regret that.

      If you are wrong, I hope your airplane flying was fully satisfying for you.

      • http://hopeloveoptimism.wordpress.com erintheoptimist

        My atheist life is so full of love it’s hard for me to grasp how incredibly lucky I am. I love deeply, and am deeply loved in return. I have a wonderful partner, deep and fulfilling friendships, two wonderful children who work hard to make the world a better place, and a career built on nurturing others. My life wasn’t half as rich when I was directing that love to a being that never returned it in any way that I could detect.

        So I’ll skip the religion and the love of a supernatural being, and stick to the wonderful, fulfilling, RECIPROCATED loves I already have. They’re real and trustworthy, unlike God’s (if he even exists. No proof of God’s love is really part and parcel of having no proof of God’s existence.)

  • Eric Marsh

    There is no atheistic dogma so I don’t think that it’s fair to say that atheism is necessarily a belief that there is no god. Some may see it that way. Other’s such as myself don’t necessarily make that strong assertion.

    I’ve considered this and other “big” questions ever since I was a boy. I’m 60 now. My position is simple. I believe that empiricism is the only verifiable (and thus trustworthy) way to understand the universe. By this criteria there is, and never has been, any evidence supporting the supernatural.

    Do I believe that there could not be a supernatural world? I do not deny that the possibility exists. I simply have never seen any evidence supporting that possibility.

    So how does this affect how I live my life? I don’t fight against the idea of the supernatural. I really just don’t put any time or effort into something that I have no reason to believe has any validity.

    If I have an argument with believers it’s not about their beliefs, it’s about the harm caused by their actions. Belief does motivate action and it is true that many different beliefs motivate many different harmful actions. Religious beliefs are not unique in this regard. But when one sees harm being done it is fair to speak out against it and that may mean also speaking out the underlying causes that causes people to do harm.

  • Mike

    Look at the biblical nonsense, the talking snake, the ‘flood’, the slaughter of the innocents. What is lacking in the book is evidence, yes, evidence. Did Moses really exist? Did 20,000 people wander the desert for 40 years and not leave a trace?

    Either you believe that tripe or you don’t, you can’t cherry pick it and find what you like and call that the “word of god”. It’s the word of man, and a lot of it is filled with errors. Don’t waste your time, once I left religion behind me it was like a huge weight lifted off my back. Its a wonderful freedom.

    • Janine

      Could not agree with you more, Mike! Thought you might like this quote:

      “Because you know, when the bible was written, and then rewritten, and then edited, and then re-edited, then translated from dead languages and then re-retranslated and re-edited again, then re-re-re-edited, and then re-translated, and then given to Kings for them to take their favorite parts out, and then re-edited and re-translated and given to the Pope for him to approve, and then re-edited and re-written— all based on stories that were told orally 30 to 90 years after they had happened to people who didn’t know how to write… I guess what I’m trying to say is, the bible is literally the world’s oldest game of telephone.”

      - David Cross

  • https://www.facebook.com/barbara.barrett.982 Barbara Barrett

    Beliefs can be taken off and tried on, but once a belief is removed, its much more difficult to put back on. The fit will never quite be the same, because anyone with intellectual honesty cannot simply “un-know” the things we learn. If we remove our santa-belief, its pretty difficult to put that santa belief back on. The fit will never feel quite right. I think the closest we can come is to allow others to believe in their innocence without putting them to question. I think this is why so many adults encourage their children to believe in santa. They themselves are no longer able to believe so joyously, but its a delight to watch children believe wholeheartedly.

  • aesthete2

    I see belief as more like love – you love until you realize it’s not being returned and then you lose it – slowly and painfully as one after another hard truths hit you.

    You don’t go back to it, just because you want to. You cannot unlearn hard truths.

    • Linda Hennessey

      What a great way to describe belief in God O might add there is a difference in falling in love with love which is how I define religion and falling in love with a being

  • http://proverbs27one.wordpress.com proverbs27one

    For me, I was not raised Christian. I was living a life of sex, drugs etc… and Jesus rescued me from myself at 22. Now I am a completely different person from the inside out. So, I can’t just stop believing in Jesus. It would be like divorcing my husband or like telling my best friend to piss off.

    • aesthete2

      Ah, the sad thing is, you rescued yourself. You just can’t give yourself that much respect.

      • cypherknot

        I would venture she doesn’t respect or trust herself still.

  • cypherknot

    Seeing the world from a different point is a process that happens whether we seek it or not. One doesn’t grow up, one doesn’t develop as a person by remaining static in a point of view. Life has a tendency to boot us around.

  • sika6061

    I have to say I’m very interested in this experiment you are doing, and this post epitomizes my interest. I was raised Jewish (now I’m an atheist), and I was very involved in my faith. When I was being taught comparative religions, it was explained to me that one of the main differences between Judaism and Christianity was that in Christianity, belief was the most important thing. However, in Judaism, “action” was more important. In fact, there are very few beliefs that Jews are supposed to believe. It is rather difficult to be a heretic. The reason why action is so important is that it is thought if you act a certain way, i.e. keep kosher, follow the commandments, etc., belief will follow. If you give up the behavior, belief will likewise suffer. It made a lot of sense to me, so when I read about atheists who think “trying on” atheism is a bad idea or simplistic in some way, I have to disagree. I know for myself that when I stopped going to synagogue, keeping kosher, etc. it was easier for me to slowly allow my life to be opened to new ideas. My journey to atheism was extremely rewarding, and I am so grateful for this new life. The universe is so much more exciting now. I hope your journey is fruitful no matter where it ends.

  • Richard Gagnon

    It’s been interesting reading Ryan Bell’s blog about trying a Year without God. He is still very confused by what his journey entails. Part of his problem is that it is something that he has decided to undertake later in life. He appears to be in his early forties. It’s hard to change one’s perceptions at that age. Religion has always been a part of his life even though he has come to question its role. It hasn’t just been a part of his personal life. Religion has also been his job. I don’t think he is going to understand his faith, or lack of faith, by trying on atheism. Just the fact that he is trying to do that shows that he does not understand what atheism is. It is not an alternative form of faith. It is not a change of beliefs. It is a lack of belief. Not believing in God is no different than not believing in Zeus, Odin, Jupiter, or any other God(s). For a person who has accepted the traditions and rituals of faith for decades, the shift of not practicing them is major lifestyle change.

    My turn to atheism was less momentous than most because I did it at an early age before I even knew there was a word for not believing in God. There was no big decision. I don’t even remember the day I stopped believing in God. It almost seems that there was less a point where I stopped believing than that I slowly stopped having a need to believe. My family did not practice their faith strongly, so there was no strong sense of there being a change in my life. Younger people can be more receptive to change because they are still in school and in a learning mode. People become more set in their ways as they get older.

    I tried to Google the different ways that people become atheists and didn’t find any sites, after looking through a few pages of results, that documented the many ways that people lose their religion, and didn’t find any comprehensive listing. I’ve tried to think how it can happen.

    The easiest way to become an atheist is to be born an atheist. Actually, that’s a bit of a misstatement. Every baby is born an atheist. A baby is not born with an inherent belief in God or gods. Babies are taught religion.

    Religion is a learned behavior. That is why there are tens of thousands of different religions and denominations. If religion was an instinctual birthed behavior, there would only be one religion. There are a multitude of religions and denominations. That’s because children are taught the religions of their parents. Most of those children remain in the faith they were raised to believe for the rest of their lives because people are creatures of habit. With all the different religions and variations in those many religions, It’s very unlikely that a baby will be born to the family that is observing the only correct faith.

    The simplest route to atheism is to be raised by parents who are atheists. Most atheists do not preach their lack of faith. They simply raise their children without the habits and rituals that religions impose. Few children with atheist parents will be directly indoctrinated into the practice of atheism. Atheism has nothing to teach. Atheism has no longstanding traditions or rituals to be regularly practiced. There are no atheist holidays observed by all atheists. Children of atheist parents aren’t taught atheism. In the absence of not being taught a religion, those children will grow up as atheists.

    Science can woo people away from religion. Science is not in direct opposition to religion–unless a person wants to fundamentally believe that their millennia old religious books are absolutely accurate in the few areas where they touch on scientific subjects versus a more allegorical approach that primitive peoples could comprehend. Some of the greatest scientific minds in the world retain religion. Albert Einstein once said, “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.” Fundamentalist religious people do more to push people away from religion than science ever does because they preach a faith of ignorance. Science only seeks to answer questions. Science can never prove there isn’t a God.

    Even though many religious people refuse to accept evolution as a reality, it is not a concept that prevents a belief in God. A fundamental view of every word in Genesis being given a literal meaning does contradict science. A less literal interpretation. of God gently sparking the genetics of mankind through evolution, does not contradict what is known by science. That interpretation is still not science, so cannot be taught as such since it is not something that can be proven as a fact. Fundamentalists tend to focus on aspects of the Bible and ignore the rest. They focus on this King James passage about Adam’s creation in Genesis: “2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” They forget about this earlier one of what God did on the fifth day: “1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Yet, man does not exist a few passages later in 2.4: “…and there was not a man to till the ground.” If the Bible cannot be completely consistent within the brief section on God creating the universe, it’s silly to expect that this should be taken literally. Besides, if everything in the Old Testament is to be taken literally today, sacrifices should still be performed to the exacting rituals defined in Exodus, people working the Sabbath should be killed, as should gays, adulterers, and women who aren’t virgins at the time of their marriage. If people aren’t willing to live by every word in the Old Testament, then let’s stop treating it as if every word and concept has a timeless meaning when they clearly don’t.

    Reading the Bibles can make one question whether they represent the absolute word of God. Inconsistencies within the books, as well as conflicts of requirements between the Old and New Testament certainly brings into question whether they can truly be divinely inspired. Interestingly, deeply religious people can read the conflicts and ignore them. A religious person can read that God said people working on the Sabbath (Sunday for Christians versus Saturday in the Old Testament) should be killed and it doesn’t bother them. Christians generally view the crucifixion as absolving the need to observe all the requirements of the Old Testament. That still doesn’t take away the fact that there was a time when these things were a requirement from God. If God is perfect and timeless, He would not craft laws that aren’t perfect. Either God is not perfect or the Bibles are not perfect. It’s impossible to believe that both are perfect when the Old and New Testament are not in perfect agreement with God’s mandates.

    Sometimes a tragedy in life will alienate a religious person from God. Some religions leave the impression that God answers prayers to help people when they are in need. When a tragedy occurs in spite of praying, there can be a feeling of betrayal. It may be a temporary loss of faith or it may be the beginning of a greater question of how faith works.

    Possibly the greatest factor that pushes religious people into losing their faith is how their church and community practices that faith. Just as America’s political arena is becoming more and more polarized with extremist views, many religions are becoming similarly extreme. Even the Pope has criticized the Catholic Church for losing itself in the focus it places on homosexuality and abortion. Part of what has pushed Bell into his exploration of atheism was his fight within his own church/community to treat women and gays on a more equal footing. While a focus on controversial topics will angrily galvanize a group to action faster than more pastoral topics, such as helping the poor, that approach is driving others away from their faith.

    The many generous works being performed by religious people in America are becoming drowned out by the more visible and publicized homophobic and anti-abortion rhetoric of politicians. It leaves the perception that religion is about hate and intolerance. It’s not surprising that more and more religious followers are beginning to question their faith with the way politics has perverted that faith. While the occasional atheist converts to religion, the shift is more often in the other direction.

    Ryan Bell’s statements that he is “trying on atheism” is less a matter of trying atheism than shedding the many habits and rituals that were part of his religion. That is not atheism. It is more a shift in how he practices his belief in God. That’s not very different from how most Americans observe their faith.

    That’s certainly an approach that can lead to atheism. A person that is not attending church, praying, and performing the typical behaviors taught for their religion, has a smaller shift in a belief towards atheism than somebody regularly and faithfully practicing all the behaviors of their religion. It is by no means an inevitable road to atheism. The majority of people that aren’t heavily invested in their religious faith never convert to atheism.

    • frank

      Richard, regarding religion no being innate in humans I believe is true but there are folks who think we are ‘wired’ for spirituality via the ‘God Gene’…”From the Book of the same title–”The overwhelming majority of Americans believe in God; this conviction has existed since the beginning of recorded time and is shared by billions around the world. In The God Gene, Dr. Dean Hamer reveals that this inclination towards religious faith is in good measure due to our genes and may even offer an evolutionary advantage by helping us get through difficulties, reducing stress, preventing disease, and extending life. Popular science at its best, The God Gene is an in-depth, fully accessible inquiry into cutting-edge research that can change the way we see ourselves and the world around us. Written with balance, integrity, and admirable scientific objectivity, this is a book for readers of science and religion alike.”

      • Richard Gagnon

        What is more likely being seen is the innate need for human beings to have answers. For primitive societies, gods provided answers to the many questions they had about their environment. There were sun gods, moon gods, elemental gods, animal gods and many more. A single society could have many gods to explain many phenomena. The belief in a single god is a comparatively recent concept that only seems to go back a few thousand years. Even today, the third largest religion in the world, Hindu, continues to worship multiple gods and has a billion followers. Instead of laying a claim to a God Gene, it might be safer to say that there is a Gods Gene. It would be even safer to say that there is a need to believe in something big to explain what isn’t readily answerable. The need to create gods would be only one aspect of the instinctual desire for answers.

        If there really were a God Gene, it would be more specific than it is. A bird’s instinctual behavior to build a nest is fairly specific with minor variations based on what is environmentally available. Newborn kangaroos automatically know how to crawl into their mother’s pouch–there isn’t any variety in that birthed behavior. Religion has always had a vast variety of gods to worship. If one looks at the historical variety of gods, it can be seen how many of the gods fell by the wayside when the societies that created them had a greater understanding of the phenomena that the gods were believed to control. Once the elements were better understood, the need to believe that gods were behind them evaporated. There still remain many unanswered questions about life and the universe, so there will always be a place for gods to exist.

        • http://aldrisang.wordpress.com aldrisang

          Very well said! Basically there are two ready answers for why there are so many religions and gods. The religious person will just chalk it up to there being a real god and all these societies trying to capture that as best they could. Sure that’s one possible answer… however it denies that the number of higher powers, their nature, what they’ve done or what they stand for, what they want (and don’t want) for human beings — many different answers to the same questions, including philosophies. If it’s to be said that humanity somehow senses a higher power, it certainly doesn’t sense anything coherent about it. And ever since the time of the Greeks there has been doubt as to the existence of such supernatural beings; probably even sooner. The further along we come in our own inquiries, AKA science, the more sense it makes to stop believing these things. That humans seem built to make up answers to those “deep” questions that concern all of us, and then convincingly lie to themselves by creating a domino chain starting with the first indoctrinated generation of children, seems to fit the insane-number-and-variety-of-religions fact best!

      • peltonrandy

        Linda,

        The existence of the attribute of sentience is explained by evolution.

      • Richard Gagnon

        I did some googling for the physicist, who solved the mystery of life, and an article in Nature doesn’t quite see it as being that grandiose. It was more of a mental experiment run through a computer model to see what happens. The experiment did not specifically define what life is. The model was set up to look at whether living systems are defying the laws of thermodynamics. It’s a long way from solving the mystery of life.

        http://www.nature.com/news/bacteria-replicate-close-to-the-physical-limit-of-efficiency-1.11446

        The hope of an afterlife beyond death does offer another reason to want to believe in God. Oddly, I’ve got a friend who is somewhat of an agnostic that has a greater belief in ghosts than God. It’s still essentially a hope for a life after death. His need to believe in ghosts makes him very uncritical of any ghostly tale he hears. He related a true ghost story he got from a friend. That friend could not find his car keys. He looked all around the car and house and could not find his car keys. The next day, he found the car keys left on top of his car by a ghost. Let’s not get into the more likely prospect that this tale doesn’t remotely have a supernatural explanation. My friend followed this story with another about the time that he brought a new record LP to the same friend’s house so that they could both enjoy listening to it. His friend immediately told him that he could feel that the LP was possessed by a demon. He could dispel the demon by washing the record with Joy dish-washing detergent. My friend knew that the second story demonstrated that his friend was a little crazy. He wanted to believe the ghost story so badly that he could not extend the same logic, of his friend’s delusional behavior extending to the first story. To this day, he still doesn’t see the connection even though I’ve pointed it out to him. He cannot disbelieve what he wants to believe even though he has sufficient information to draw a more accurate conclusion. I’ve seen similar behaviors when discussing religion with deeply religious relatives. Deeply held beliefs can overcome reality. People don’t like to question those beliefs.

        • Linda Hennessey

          Why do people feel they need explainations for the unexplainable? There are somethings we understand and somethings we don’t. Why does it matter? We can’t know everything and isn’t that OK? We can’t prove the existence of God nor can we disprove it simply because we don’t have complete knowledge of the universe. To me the real question is do I find meaning in this life by embracing the God concept or not. For me I have chosen to embrace the God concept and it contributes to my happiness and isn’t that really what we all want?

          • https://www.facebook.com/velvet.page.3 Velvet Page

            I’m willing to accept that some things are currently unexplainable. I completely reject the idea that seeking to explain the unexplainable is a bad thing. It’s curiosity, and it’s integral to my being. I can’t live without questioning. I wouldn’t if I could. As the Unitarian Universalists say, the answer is to question.

          • Linda Hennessey

            I’m not suggesting we don’t question and don’t seek out answers to our questions but we also need to acknowlege that we can’t know everything and that’s ok

          • https://www.facebook.com/velvet.page.3 Velvet Page

            Absolutely. That’s what I’m doing, by being an atheist. I’m rejecting the notion of, “I don’t know, therefore God did it,” and just sticking with, “I don’t know, but I’m going to keep trying to find out because knowing things is fun.”

          • frank

            Linda said: ‘we have to acknowledge that we can’t know everything’….I can ack that I can’t know everything but I’ll never ack that the collective we must continue it’s long journey to know everything else we’ll perish as a species….

            If your into science as the tool to investigate the unknown, here are a couple of links.

            http://www.centerforinquiry.net/news/chris_silver_atheism/

            edge.org

        • Pockets

          Religion exists today, because of people’s fear of death.

    • frank

      Great discussion! Let me add another key factor, death! I believe humans are only creatures aware of their own death and of coarse don’t want to die. Enter the greatest invention of all time: Heaven. Heaven provides the hook for most Christian religions and may be the most single factor for their continuance! And of course the major control factor, especially pre-reformation, was pay me for forgiveness of your sins and I’ll get you into Heaven.

    • Janine

      Richard, wow…you certainly make a lot of assumptions and proclamations.

      ” He is still very confused by what his journey entails. Part of his problem is that it is something that he has decided to undertake later in life. He appears to be in his early forties. It’s hard to change one’s perceptions at that age.”

      Having been a very devout christian for 30+ years, and becoming an atheist well into my 40s, I believe you are WAY off base. And who are you to proclaim Ryan is confused about what his journey entails? It is, after all, HIS journey.

      People come to be atheist in a plethora of different ways and for different reasons. There is no right or wrong way. What one finds easy, another may find difficult.

      Basically it is an individual’s journey. No one gets to take it for another. It is right for him, and that is all that matters.

      • Richard Gagnon

        Janine, there are personal journeys and public journeys. Ryan Bell chose a public one. That means it will be publicly discussed and debated.

        Based on Bell’s description of what he is doing, his journey is more an experiment than a journey into atheism. He makes it clear in his Dec 31 post that he is not trying to become an atheist: “It’s important to make the distinction that I am not an atheist. At least not yet.” All he can do, to live life as an atheist, is shed his duties and obligations as a religious person. That basically means he will live his life for a year as an average religious American. Although 85% of Americans are religious, only about 20% attend church regularly. By the time I was a teen; my family did not practice religion in any meaningful way, but retained their personal religious beliefs. That is no different than what Bell is doing.

        I only offer my opinion that this experiment is confused based on my understandings of faith and life. To me, this is a flawed experiment. In Bell’s own words, “I will ‘try on’ atheism for a year. For the next 12 months I will live as if there is no God. I will not pray, read the Bible for inspiration, refer to God as the cause of things or hope that God might intervene and change my own or someone else’s circumstances.”

        Why a year? That tells me that Bell is not entering a serious exploration of his faith because it is time-based. His starting and ending conditions are not based on goals, but on a calendar. At the end of the year, he will presumably go back to practicing his faith the way he did before and probably hopes he can get his old faith-based jobs back. This is a temporary shift in how he practices his faith in God. The starting condition of what he is doing only points to this as being a year sabbatical from the normal practices of his religion.

        What can Bell learn by living a year without God while still internally believing that God exists? I’m not sure that he understood from the start that he is not living as an atheist. I’m not sure that he recognizes even now that he is living as an average religious American. More importantly, I do not see what can be learned by trying on atheism.

        Bell’s journey is sort of an undercover exploration of the atheistic lifestyle along the lines of John Howard Griffin’s experiment to live as a black man in the South for six weeks in 1959. With the help of a dermatologist, Griffin darkened his skin so that he passed as a black man and personally experienced the horrendous hardships faced by African Americans in that period of segregation. Griffin’s diary of his journey formed the basis of his book, “Black Like Me” that was made into movie a few years later. The difference between Bell’s journey and Griffin’s is one of the cultures being examined. Griffin was exploring a culture that was being treated horribly as a lower race and forced to live separately from whites in bad conditions. Atheists don’t have any identifiable group identity.

        If I wanted to do a reverse journey and live my life as a Christian for a year, I could learn much more than Bell can by his journey into atheism. I can go to a church and see how mass is conducted. I can go to bible study groups to see how Christians read and interpret their bible. I can attend their social gatherings and visit their schools and colleges. I can look into their faith based businesses and how they prefer to buy from such businesses. Religious groups develop their own vocabulary. “Praise” is a word that has a religious significance and one translation of the Bible changed all uses of the word “hallelujah” to praise. Religion is a culture. They have their own gestures for praying and making the sign of the cross. The most deeply religious people will cluster themselves into their own societal groups and minimize their interactions with the rest of the world to the smallest practical extent. Atheists have none of that.

        Atheists have no church, no schools, no zero-faith businesses where they shop, no study groups, and so on. Atheism has nothing to teach because it is not a belief in anything. There is no more to be learned by studying somebody who does not believe in God than there is by studying somebody who does not believe in Zeus or Ra. There is essentially no difference in how an atheist lives versus a non-practicing religious person. It’s religious people that have different lifestyles based on the traditions, rituals, and practices of their religion and denomination. Atheists have no traditions or rituals. Atheists don’t regularly gather in groups to discuss what they don’t believe in.

        When I say that Bell is confused in his quest, it is because I believe that the parameters that he has set up for his journey are faulty. I am not using the word “confused” in a negative fashion. Bell is dealing with a crisis in his faith. It is commendable that he is trying to do something to get answers and has an open mind. There is nothing wrong if he started his journey. It’s a brave thing to take that first step. I hold no blame against him for not understanding atheists because he has lived and worked in a religious environment for most of his life. Frankly, being an atheist carries very little meaning. Not believing in God is a very low-maintenance activity.

        The real challenge Bell has is figuring out what he really needs. I don’t think there are any answers in atheism. I suppose that a person can learn something by reading why an atheist doesn’t believe in God, but explanations for why a person doesn’t believe in something aren’t terribly profound. It’s more enlightening to learn why a person believes in something. There is a greater conviction to beliefs than lack of beliefs.

        After reading Bell’s starting post again, there is nothing in it that specifies his spiritual lack of faith and I don’t recall anything in his later posts. All his issues are with the more earthly concerns of church administrators and the specific beliefs of the faith he was raised in. Maybe the Seventh-day Adventist Church isn’t the best match. Just because he grew up in that denomination doesn’t mean it’s the right religious fit. There are many liberal denominations that he can pick and choose from that will be more compatible with his beliefs. Being located in Southern CA provides him a plethora of choices. There is no guarantee that the administration of these churches will be any less irritating than what he’s dealt with at his old church. If he winds up getting a job outside of the church, he is just as likely to be frustrated with his secular bosses. There are many different ways that he can practice his faith ranging from his former position as a pastor to the nearly non-practice of most Americans, to giving up his faith entirely. Since Bell hasn’t talked to his spiritual issues, there is little that can be discussed in that area. He will probably find more in the Bibles to help him make up his mind than pretending to be an atheist.

        It may seem odd for me, as an atheist, to be suggesting that Bell’s solutions may lie within his religion and Bibles. I don’t have a problem with religion when it is used to make people better. The only religious people I argue with are the ones that use their religion as a justification for their hatreds and prejudices.

  • https://www.facebook.com/swiftjuan John Bentley

    I was having a bit of a think the other day about the word Atheist while commenting in another forum. It occurred to me that the word Atheist, which is seen as the most extreme of positions is really more inclusive than most non believers and believers think that is. The word it self literally means “to reject the notion of as Theistic God”. If you expand on that thought process you could easily be an Atheist and a Deist, an Atheist and an Agnostic, and even an Atheist and a spiritualist at the same time. While I know that this is a bit rhetorical play, the underlying principle is sound. An Atheist which in essence is someone who rejects the notion of a personal God who writes books and asks human beings to follow certain precepts is actually a very rational and even conservative way of thinking. This is because Theism is actually a concept that is very easy to disprove. The hard work seems to be the steps that follow it. Deism is difficult if not impossible to disprove, as is spiritualism. This is why you find Buddhists as an example that are Atheists while still believing in the idea of surviving consciousness and reincarnation. As for myself I think I would have to classify myself as a materialist as I do think that even consciousness is derived from and is the direct result of physical phenomenon (the brain). This world view is constantly under attack from Theists and Deists alike as depressing or lacking meaning. I don’t think that that is true. As a materialist one can still explore consciousness and how that shapes the nature of our existence. We can explore love, compassion, and empathy as real tangible realities. The fact that emotions and consciouness come from physical phenomenon in no way makes them any less relevant. In fact if consciousness is a direct result of how our Universe works, than life is even a more wondrous phenomenon than we ever imagined.

    • https://www.facebook.com/swiftjuan John Bentley

      Sorry for the grammar. I’m on my lunch break.

    • https://www.facebook.com/velvet.page.3 Velvet Page

      I love this comment, and I empathize with it. I’m constantly finding myself laughing at people whose response to my atheism is some variation on, “why do you have no hope/joy/wonder? Aren’t you depressed?” The world as we can experience it through our sense is a wondrous place; I don’t need belief in the supernatural to experience wonder, love, hope, or joy. In fact, since belief in the supernatural is so often tied up in belonging to a community with rules for my behaviour, I had a lot less joy, love, and hope when I was a Christian than I do now.

      • https://www.facebook.com/swiftjuan John Bentley

        My wife and I were discussing that the other night. Although you do lose some of the comfort initially, what you gain is joy, love, and hope and most of all real peace.

        • https://www.facebook.com/velvet.page.3 Velvet Page

          YES. I have moments when I would go back to Christianity if I could – for example, at family funerals full of people who never think to question whether or not I’m still a Christian, and express platitude after platitude about “he’s in a better place” or other things I don’t believe. But except for those rare moments, I’m at peace with the idea that this is my one and only life, and I’m setting about making it the best it can be and leaving the world a little better than I found it every day. Oh, and I’m having a helluva lot of fun on the way.

          • Linda Hennessey

            Maybe you don’t believe in “the better place” but how about life transforming into another dimension. We know matter recylcles into a different form why can’t “life” recycle into a different form. Physics now has mathematical proofs of other dimensions could it be that elements from our 4 dimensions morph into another? Possibilities…..

          • https://www.facebook.com/velvet.page.3 Velvet Page

            Linda, at the moment I can’t believe in that, even if I want to. Most of the time, I don’t want to and it’s not a problem. I want hard evidence before I change my worldview to include that; until I get it, I’m going to go with, “This is all there is that I can be sure of, so I’d better make the most of it.”

          • Linda Hennessey

            Possibilities always exist. Nothing is certain and one has to be content that we cannot and do not understand. I can’t prove with my eyes the 11 dimensions that are currently accepted yet mathematics convinces me. Not all truths can be observed and that’s OK with me. I don’t need a black and white God exists or God doesn’t exists. It’s the possibility that fascinates me. Possibilities…. Mmmmm

          • http://aldrisang.wordpress.com aldrisang

            If you believe there are 11 dimensions because some scientists/mathematicians think so (that’s not mainstream scientific knowledge), then I suggest skepticism. Mathematics is an invented language that we use to capture the essence of what we observe, but theoretical meanderings can go far from what we can test or know… and just because something works out in math doesn’t make it so.

      • Eric Marsh

        Honesty, I don’t know why feelings come into this. One searches for facts because one want’s understanding, not for any particular feeling.

        • https://www.facebook.com/velvet.page.3 Velvet Page

          I search for facts because I want understanding, and because I experience wonder at the answers and the resulting new questions that come out of them. Emotions have a purpose in intelligence. Negative emotions create stress, which stifles learning, while positive emotions open up the brain to more neural connections and allow for better retention. I would submit that we do indeed need feelings when searching for facts, from the point of view of neurology. Ask anyone who has clinical depression how well they retain new information if you don’t believe me.

          In any case, the trend to remove emotion from learning ended about thirty years ago, when researchers realized that relaxed, happy people engaged in learning activities more easily and retained more of their new knowledge; that knowledge is constructed of prior experiences, including emotional experiences; and that emotion drives intellectual responses in the form of new questions and connections. I have no interest in intellectual pursuits devoid of normal human emotion. I need intellectual rigour like I need to breathe, and I also need that sense of wonder and excitement that comes with learning new things.

          This message brought to you by the teacher whose single greatest accomplishment in the classroom was to convince her students that math centres are all games. My kids can add circles around kids two grades ahead of them, and as far as they know, they’re just playing games during play time! Activating those positive emotions – the sense of wonder when they make a new connection between two ideas, the joy of figuring things out, the fun interaction of playing a co-operative game – has led my students to develop math skills way beyond their grade level. I couldn’t do it if I taught math as an intellectual search for understanding devoid of feeling.

          • Linda Hennessey

            We need more teachers like you. If more adults could look at life as full of opportunities rather than trials they would be able to find happiness

      • Eric Marsh

        Velvet Page, perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in my message about emotions. Certainly emotions motivate us. But it is my opinion that the true seeker of knowledge follows the evidence and does not filter or interpret that evidence in a way that satisfies emotional needs.

        A number of years ago a couple Mormon missionaries knocked on my door and I invited them in. One of them said something that stuck with me – that he believes in his god because it makes him feel good.

        What he said is alien to me and I consider it to be nothing more than self delusion. It’s the kind of thing that children do – and adults who have never grown up.

    • http://aldrisang.wordpress.com aldrisang

      BTW John, it’s mostly only Tibetan Buddhism that subscribes to reincarnation at all (and Hinduism is the parent of that idea; something the Buddha rejected) — other forms teach “rebirth”, an impersonal process that does not preserve a unique identity or individual (or individual consciousness), but explains the causal link between this life’s suffering and the past/future (even within the context of one lifetime).

      • https://www.facebook.com/swiftjuan John Bentley

        I agree, I was not trying to paint all Buddhists into one philosophy. My point was that it is possible to be both an Atheist, reject a personal god, and still believe in metaphysical ideas like reincarnation. In my view Atheism is a very conservative starting point. Disproving the existence of a Theistic God is actually quite simple.

        On a separate note, what I think is interesting about the Tibetan tradition is that the Dalai Lama is on record stating that if the holy scriptures and science collide, he must rely on science. I wonder what the world would be like if all Popes, Pastors, Lamas and Mullahs felt the same way…

        • http://aldrisang.wordpress.com aldrisang

          “I agree, I was not trying to paint all Buddhists into one philosophy.” — I didn’t think you were, just wanted to make sure you were informed (in case you knew little about the variety and depth of “Buddhism”).

          “In my view Atheism is a very conservative starting point. Disproving the existence of a Theistic God is actually quite simple.” — It’s even simpler than that, because you don’t need to disprove a Theistic God any more than you need to disprove Faeries or UFO Abductions… it’s on the believer to “put up or shut up”. =) Those who would claim there are no gods, and seek to prove that in myriad ways, actually make up the minority atheist position; the majority position are those who don’t believe, but aren’t making their own claim (“I don’t believe you that Bigfoot exists, but I’m not saying Bigfoot doesn’t or can’t exist… I just don’t believe.”)

          …”the Dalai Lama is on record stating that if the holy scriptures and science collide, he must rely on science”… — The Buddha is quoted as saying much the same thing, even though it’s often paraphrased. That, to me, is the hallmark of a truth-seeker; one who will give up their belief when it is shown to be wrong.

    • http://gravatar.com/peltonrandy peltonrandy

      ” If you expand on that thought process you could easily be an Atheist and a Deist, an Atheist and an Agnostic, and even an Atheist and a spiritualist at the same time.”

      You are partly wrong here John. You have, John, made a mistake that is all too common, even among many atheists. An atheist is a person who rejects the existence of any god or gods. A deist believes in the existence of a god. But a deist god is one that is not active in the world or the affairs of humans. You can’t be a deist and an atheist at the same time. You can be an agnostic and an atheist at the same time, but not for the reasons I suspect you think. Agnosticism is not a position along the continuum between theism and atheism (between belief and non-belief). Agnosticism is a statement about knowledge. It is a term that refers to a branch of philosophy known as epistemology. One can be an agnostic atheist (I know there are no gods) or a gnostic atheist (I don’t know if there is a god but I believe there is not.) See the difference. Agnosticism is a claim or statement about knowledge whereas atheism is a claim or statement about belief. One can also be an agnostic theist (I don’t know if there is a god but I believe there is one) or a gnostic theist (I know there is a god and so I believe in god.)

      • http://aldrisang.wordpress.com aldrisang

        You got Agnostic Atheist and Gnostic Atheist mixed up in your post. =) The A.A. is the one who says they neither believe nor know of any gods, while the G.A. goes the extra step in claiming knowledge of the non-existence of any/all gods.

  • http://gravatar.com/peltonrandy peltonrandy

    Thanks for catching my error aldrisang.

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  • http://gravatar.com/muscidae muscidae

    first of all, your “Journey” is a very interesting idea.

    BUT i don´t think it will give you enough information.

    as you are saying, you cannot just change what you believe because you WANT to.

    (which is one reason why i don´t believe in christianity: i am going to hell for not believing??? that´s not my fault!)

    the difference between knowing that there is no god (1) and just not believing in god (2) is the following:

    (1) means to think that you are SURE that a god does not exist.

    (2) means everything but KNOWING THERE IS A GOD. that´s the only thing that cannot describe an atheist. an atheist could just be a baby, that never thought about god (or an adult), someone that never heard of him, or someone that reads a lot about religions but just doesn´t think they tell him the truth.

    he may think that they COULD be right. but he doesn´t think “they ARE right”.

    that´s what theists do.

    an atheist could think that many arguments for theism are convincing. but not all. so he isn´t sure. therefore he doesn´t believe in god.

    an agnostic IS an atheist, because an agnostic doesn´t believe in god. an agnostic isnt sure. so he doesn´t make a statement about any believe, he just says he cannot be sure about it.

    so he doesn´t believe “there is no god” but he also doesn´t belive “there is a god”.

    not believing in “there is a god” already makes him an atheist, although he isn´t saying that there is no god.

    i don´t believe there is a god. but i am not sure.

    i believe there is no god, but i am certain that there COULD be a god. i just don´t think that this makes more sense than the opposite. i think it makes more sense that there is no god. but i am not sure.

    i am an atheist. (and agnostic. but, if you really think about it: not being SURE to KNOW things (definition of agnostic) is something that SHOULD be describing everyone. noone should claim to KNOW things without a big amount of proof)

  • https://www.facebook.com/jiggs.gallagher Jiggs Gallagher

    While I’ve never actually spoken with Ryan Bell, I have attended a conference where he spoke. And for five years I was the organist at the same church he most recently pastored, though our times there were separated by 20 years. I find his experiment and his writing interesting. However, I’ve always thought actual atheism is as much a presumption of belief as any form of religion. To assume that there is no God (or “god”–take your pick) seems to me an act of hubris. The atheist can no more prove the non-existence of something he or she can’t test, measure, experience with the senses, etc., than the Christian can conversely prove that God’s existence! To me, the only intellectually honest position for a non-believer is agnosticism. The best statement that person could make would be to say, “I don’t know.”

    • http://hopeloveoptimism.wordpress.com erintheoptimist

      I classify myself as an agnostic atheist. I admit the possibility that I might be wrong, since as you say, there’s no proving a negative and I can’t be 100% certain. However, there is a distinct lack of evidence in favour of a god, and at the end of the day, I don’t believe in one, so I’m also atheist. Since knowledge and belief are on two different axes, there’s no contradiction in that.

      This is the position taken by the vast majority of atheists I know – and I help moderate a large forum of them, so I know quite a few.

    • http://hopeloveoptimism.wordpress.com erintheoptimist

      As for acts of hubris – I find lack of belief to be far less presumptuous than, “This omnipotent being who created the vastness of the universe, in which our planet is no more than a spec of dust, is personally interested in me and my doings and has a deep personal interest in my sex life.” On the hubris scale, belief that an all-powerful god would care one whit for some apes on a backwater planet without so much as a full entry in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is many, many steps beyond the belief that we happened by chance and make our own meaning.

    • peltonrandy

      “However, I’ve always thought actual atheism is as much a presumption of belief as any form of religion.

      Then you have thought wrong for all the years you have held this thought. Try real hard now, read carefully and think about this: atheism is the absence of belief, therefore it is not and cannot be a belief.

      “To assume that there is no God (or “god”–take your pick) seems to me an act of hubris.”

      Again, your thinking apparatus has malfunctioned. You really should have it looked at. We atheists, many of us anyway, reject the existence of god because of the lack of evidence for the existence of any god. It’s about the evidence. Hubris has nothing to do with it. I should think the real hubris is in believing the claim that God exists despite the fact that there is not a shred, not one iota of empirical evidence for its existence. And don’t come back with personal anecdotes, revelation or faith as forms of evidence. They are not reliable methods of determining the truth of any claim.

      “The atheist can no more prove the non-existence of something he or she can’t test, measure, experience with the senses, etc., than the Christian can conversely prove that God’s existence!”

      Logic failure! Basic logic and argumentation requires the claimant to provide the evidence and “prove” the claim. The burden of proof for any claim is never on the person who rejects the claim. It is always on the person who makes the claim. Christians claim there is a God. It is their burden to provide sufficient evidence that is both compelling and convincing to establish the claim. They have failed to do this. Atheists don’t have to prove God does exist. The theist has to provide sufficient evidence to warrant accepting the claim.

      “To me, the only intellectually honest position for a non-believer is agnosticism. The best statement that person could make would be to say, “I don’t know.”

      You obviously don’t understand the meaning of the word agnosticism. Agnosticism is not a position along the belief spectrum between atheism and theism (belief v. nonbelief). Agnosticism is an epistemological statement, a statement about the state or degree of knowledge about something.

      Here is the definition of agnosticism taken from the dictionary on my laptop: “a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena”

      Note that agnosticism refers to whether one can know a thing or not. It says nothing about whether one can or should believe a thing. It is possible for a person to say that they have no knowledge of God yet they choose to believe God exists. They would be doing so on the basis of faith. Such a person would be referred to as an agnostic theist. Conversely it is possible for a person to say they have no knowledge of God’s existence, yet choose not to believe there is a God. Such a person would be called an agnostic atheist. A person who claims to have knowledge that God exists and also believes that God exists on the basis of that knowledge is a gnostic theist. A person who claims to have knowledge that God does not exist and disbelieves in the existence of God on that basis is a gnostic atheist.

      I hope the above has now cleared up your misunderstanding and that you will have the intellectual honesty to stop repeating the statement that the “only intellectually honest position for a non-believer is agnosticism.” I hope you’ll do this because the statement is simply false.

      • peltonrandy

        Oops. “Atheists don’t have to prove God does exist”

        That should read Atheists don’t have to prove God does not exist.”

      • http://dawnthorntonduke.wordpress.com upsidedawn00

        Peltonrandy, I’m an atheist, and I agree with most of what you’re describing here. My only discomfort might be with the idea of “choosing” to be an atheist (or perhaps on the other side of things,”choosing” to be a theist). It been discussed to an extent here by people who can make a better argument than I. I don’t think of my atheism as a choice.

        • peltonrandy

          If you want to get into a discussion of free will and whether we actually have it or not, then your comment does makes some sense and I understand your discomfort with the use of the word choose. If we do not have free will, at least in the sense in which it is understood by most people, then it would be true that we don’t actually choose our beliefs. There is something to be said for this argument. I personally think that free will is, to borrow from author and social scientist Michael Shermer, a “useful fiction.”

          But I was using the word choose in the sense that it is typically understood by most people who do believe that we have free will. This was simply a convention on my part to make a point without derailing the conversation into a philosophical debate on free will.

      • http://dawnthorntonduke.wordpress.com upsidedawn00

        Pelton, see my response posted below at February 2, 2014 at 9:37 am. I clicked the wrong reply button, so my response didn’t nest under yours.

      • http://dawnthorntonduke.wordpress.com upsidedawn00

        Perhaps nobody is reading this section now, but I simply wanted to further explain what I mean when I say that atheism, or even theism, is not a choice, without giving the impression that I’m trying to open up a semantics discussion or debate free will. I know I’ve read some good comments about the subject of atheism not being a choice in this blog, but I have searched in vain through the numerous posts and can’t find one to quote here. So I am referring anyone interested to the following Psychology Today article from 2011, “Disbelief is Not a Choice.” http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/our-humanity-naturally/201109/disbelief-is-not-choice The author compares and contrasts sexual orientation with disbelief in deities (as well as belief in deities), and maintains that while the sexual orientation is determined almost entirely by biology while belief or nonbelief derives from a combination of biology and environment, neither is actually a choice.

        As the author of the article says

        Though we can choose our religious affiliation, none of us can ultimately choose what we truly believe or don’t believe. I disbelieve in unicorns and I could not choose otherwise, just as I also could not believe, absent new evidence that changes my understanding of geography, that New York is south of Florida.

  • http://dawnthorntonduke.wordpress.com upsidedawn00

    Yes, I know what you’re saying. But I don’t mean it discomforts me in quite that way. Using the conventional meaning of choice, I feel that we do make choices in our lives. Perhaps a theist chooses to be Lutheran or Mormon. Perhaps an atheist decides that he wants to attend Unitarian meetings or Humanist gatherings. As far as belief in a diety, though, I don’t know if it can be said to be an active, conscious decision. I was brought up as a Baptist, and never did I actively choose belief in God. Conversely, my transition to atheism was gradual, and I simply eventually realized I was an atheist. It’s not like I said, “I’m going to be an atheist from now on.” I suspect many, if not most, atheists would feel the same.

    • http://dawnthorntonduke.wordpress.com upsidedawn00

      Peltonrandy, I meant the above as a response to your last comment. Argh, nested comments!


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