Two Years Without God

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New Year’s Eve 2015 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

It was two years ago today that I woke up to the firestorm that Year Without God had become and just over one year since I told Arun Rath at NPR that I don’t believe in God anymore. It’s hard to imagine that two years have gone by. I’ve made so many new friends over these years—too many to name—and my life has been enriched by each interaction with people who are part of the atheist and humanist communities, however you want to define those.

For the past few days I’ve been trying to assess my mental and emotional state and ponder my relative well-being from two years ago until now. By and large I would have to say—and I’ve said this before—I’m mostly the same as I ever was, for better and for worse, with a few key exceptions.

I’m happier than I was before. Though I am prone to melancholy and struggle, at times, with a nihilist view of the world, I recognize more than before what an incredible privilege it is to be here at all. Through the years, I have found ways to draw energy from my nihilistic outlook and channel it in positive, humanistic directions. (Before everyone takes to the comments to explain why I have no reason to be nihilistic, if I would only read Steven Pinker—yes, I get it. Nihilist is too strong a word for me, and it has more to do with my temperament and psychology than with what I’ve read and know about history. Overall, I am as happy as a serious-minded realist can be).

I don’t have secrets anymore, which is a huge mental and moral relief. I also wrestle with less cognitive dissonance than ever. All of this means I’m more at peace and more comfortable in my own skin. I give far fewer fucks about what people think of me and my decisions. My ire is raised, from time to time, by unfair attacks, and I will probably always struggle with my tendency to be a people pleaser, but I am in recovery. I’m learning to tell the truth on a more regular basis and trust that people can handle the truth (whether they actually can or not). I’m learning to trust myself and what I know while remaining open to critique and able to say I was wrong.

I’m as passionate as ever about filling in the gaps in my knowledge, exploring my creative potential through writing, speaking and now, podcasting, and working with others for justice and equality. I also find that in the most important ways, I am still a pastor at heart. I am curious about people and their stories, and I am interested in how we can support one another by sharing our mutual wisdom and insights, with compassion, in community. I prefer to build bridges than walls. I’m curious about the way people arrive at the stories that define their lives and how they sustain those stories when they are under considerable strain from (let’s face it) facts, reason, and personal experience.

My varied interests and dispositions have inspired me to start a new organization called, Life After God, which is essentially the embodiment of the “now what?” question people have when they have lost all or most of their faith. I’ve written briefly about this before, but in short, Life After God is designed to help individuals who are living in a space of confusion, doubt and/or disbelief come to terms with their changing outlook on life and the world and grapple with the challenges that almost always come with religious and spiritual transition or deconversion. We strive to help people answer the question, what does post-theistic life look like and how do I navigate this less-traveled road?

Life After God offers one-on-one support through coaching and counseling, over Skype or the phone, a secret Facebook page for peer-support (contact me if you would like to request access to the secret page), as well as periodic in-person events. I also host a weekly podcast that explores the space between belief and unbelief.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself it’s that my interests typically lie at the margins of things, or, as I’ve said before, in the liminal space between distinct loci. I’m curious what happens when we push at the edges of what we think we know. I’m fascinated by the interplay of sometimes siloed disciplines. My reading, research and speaking, as well as my conversations on the podcast, all tend to gravitate toward these indistinct spaces where I sense potential for human progress in cooperation.

I’ve also learned that movements tend to coalesce around distinct, sharable ideas that large groups of people can get behind. This is important, and my interests also lie in this direction. I actually see these two things as deeply related. There is no need for us to be as polarized as we are if we would come out from behind our social media masks and speak to each other in a renewed public square.

In this New Year I plan to grow and expand the podcast to include a variety of conversations on important themes, compelling storytelling, as well as the long form interviews that I’m currently doing. We will be growing the leadership team of Life After God to offer a deeper service to people in transition. I will finish the book I’m writing and the Year Without God film will be released. I’ve rarely been as excited for a New Year as I am for 2016.

I am still looking for full-time employment since being laid off from my job at PATH in July 2015. I decided at that time that it was my best chance to make a serious go at being a professional writer and starting Life After God.

PatreonIf you appreciate the work I’ve done in the past and the efforts I’m making now to support post-theism in my writing, podcasting, and other forms of activism, I need your help. Perhaps I cannot make a living as a secular leader and educator. If that turns out to be true, I will accept it willingly, but I have to try! So if you appreciate the work I’m doing and can afford to support me monthly, it would help me know I’m on the right track and, more pragmatically, it would help me pay the rent and support my kids. You can easily make a monthly recurring donation of any amount at my Patreon page. Can you perhaps afford the price of one latte once a month? A movie ticket?

After two years without (belief in) God I am hopeful about my third year because of each of you who have encouraged and challenged me over the past two years. Thank you for your support and let’s have a fantastic 2016.

A conversation with humanist chaplain Bart Campolo
The End of Atheism: a review of Everybody is Wrong About God
The empty promise of eternal life
A Brief Update
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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