I want to know everything

I said to my girlfriend the other day, “I want to know everything.”

“About what?” she replied.

“About everything!”

I’ve enjoyed the intellectual exploration that this year has afforded me. I’m turning this stone over in my hands. Looking at it from every angle. Still, I know I’m not seeing everything that’s there. This gives me a feeling of kinship with the great scientists of history and today who refuse to believe that what they see is all that’s there. They dig deeper. Our intuitions can be powerful guides but they can also blind us and make us complacent.

I want to examine philosophical questions from every angle. I want to know what my blind spots are—ways our zeitgeist is blinding us to what future generations will consider obvious. One way I try to do this is to imagine our society in 100 years. What will my great grandchildren think of my confident assertions? What will be obvious to them than I simply can’t see?

Other times, when I’m tired and my brain is begging me for a break, I feel like I’m making it too difficult—more difficult than it needs to be. There are many days I just want to go with my gut. Another pilgrim named Sara shared her experience with me recently and her simple but profound approach was like a glass of cold water on a hot day.

How I got where I’m at belief-wise is a pretty long story, but the short version is that life just seems to make more sense when taken at face value like god is not there. Although I miss god, I feel more at peace when I don’t feel like I am fighting with reality all the time. At some point god just didn’t make sense anymore and to try to believe would be a lie because I actually don’t really. Do I realize that I may be wrong and god might exist? Sure. But the world makes more sense to me when god is not included.

Fighting with reality all the time. So well said! I know that feeling exactly. I referred to this as “hermeneutical work-arounds” in a recent post. So much back bending, so much mental gymnastics to keep the God in the frame.

Ockham’s Razor: the simplest explanation tends to be the right one. The fewer the assumptions the better.

Some days it seems so obvious to me that theology is nothing more than the effort to keep God essential in a world that has frankly outgrown him. Other days scientific explanations seem dehumanizingly reductionistic. Which is it?

Now that I’m into the second half of the year I also feel some pressure building. I need to figure some stuff out by December 31st. I also feel the pressure to fit in. I would like to fit in somewhere. I clearly do not fit in my former Seventh-day Adventist Church. I don’t fit into any version of established Christianity either. The atheists I’ve had the privilege of meeting have been so hospitable and generous. But I hear them express their confidence and I feel like I don’t quite fit there, either. Sometimes I’m tempted to cave in one way or the other just so I’ll have an intellectual home. But why would I do that now? I’ve sacrificed everything to get here. Now is no time to start being cautious.

I sometimes get weary of the polemics: the strident statements that someone’s view is absurd, delusional or ridiculous, or Christian’s who claim that atheists are rebellious, arrogant, nihilistic or willfully disobedient to God. Naturally there are people whose views—let’s face it—are absurd—but if a person is communicating in good faith, I find these conversation ending assertions tiring and useless. One goal that is emerging from the first six months is a commitment to fostering spaces of civil discourse.

Which leads me to what the next six months holds. In the most important sense, I have no idea, but here are a few of my plans.

I want to finish reading a number of books that I’ve begun, not the least of which is Walter Kaufmann’s Critique of Religion and Philosophy. I’ve been delinquent about this due to my new work schedule. I also want to read some of the more articulate explanations of faith on offer. I’m reluctant to say which books specifically, but there are a number of very thoughtful individuals who have maintained some form of faith and want to give them a fair chance to persuade me (okay, fine…David Bentley Hart and Eric Reitan, to name two).

Beyond all that heady stuff I’d also like to do some exploration into Buddhism, yoga and other forms of ‘mindfulness,’ knowing that I need some grounding and centering practices in my life. If the pieces fall into place I’ll also be doing more traveling in the second half of this year and I hope to meet many of you when I’m in your city. Finally, I’ll be making some plans for what happens after 2014. Thank you again for following along and sharing your stories with me. They give me hope and courage.

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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.


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