Year Without God moving to Patheos


, ,

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 1.09.18 PM

I’m very excited to report that there is a brand new Year Without God blog!

I’m honored to join the Patheos family as a part of the Atheist Channel. I am grateful to Executive Editor, David Charles, Atheist Channel manager, Dan Welch, Hillary Spragg and everyone at Patheos for the warm welcome and making this transition so simple.

Later today this URL will redirect to the Patheos site. You won’t need to do anything different to find me. Those of you who have subscribed to this blog by email will continue to get email notifications when a new post goes up. If you subscribed using the WordPress feature or in another way you should re-subscribe by clicking here or look on the right sidebar of my new Patheos site.

See you on the other side.

My conversation with Cash & Love…and Dave Foda



aoa-logoI had such a great time talking with my new friends Cash & Love of the Atheists on Air radio show and Dave Foda, friend of the show and all around remarkable human being. You can listen to the show or download it here.

I can’t believe we talked for three hours. The time just flew by. I always learn so much from these conversations and that is one of the primary goals of my year long exploration: talk to as many people as I can who don’t believe in god to understand their reasons for not believing and to learn from them. These events are often primarily organized so others can interview me, but I also find time to interview and learn so much from others. Cash & Love are certainly no exception. And Dave Foda—what can I say?—a gentleman and a scholar.


One outcome of that conversation is that I will be attending and speaking at ReAsonCon in Hickory, North Carolina on May 3rd. If you’re anywhere in the neighborhood I hope you’ll join us that day. The event is FREE if you sign up soon. The main draw is Dr. Richard Carrier. Get all the information and register today by visiting the website here.

Is belief in a god ‘natural’?


, , ,


The ascent of man? José-manuel Benitos/Wikimedia Commons. Photoillustration by Matt Connolly.

Two months ago, Chris Mooney wrote a very interesting piece for Mother Jones entitled, 7 Reasons Why It’s Easier for Humans to Believe in God Than Evolution.[1] This article surveys one of my main areas of interest regarding belief and non-believe in a god or gods: namely the nature of religious belief itself. Why are human beings so prone to believe in a god or gods? Is this religious inclination universal in all societies across human history, as this report claims, and if so, what does it mean? We could call this set of questions about the nature of belief itself the sociological question.

Mooney’s seven reasons are backed by a remarkable amount of research and are as follows: Continue reading

Life is like a game of Jenga


, , , ,

beach_feetI said I would talk about my sense of the immediacy of life in the next post but this is not that post. Next time. Today I am reflect on a quote that a friend of mine posted on Facebook this morning, which perfectly captures what I’ve been trying to say about this journey. But first, a little background.

The other day I was being interviewed by the Editor-in-Chief of The Clause (the student newspaper at Azusa Pacific University). I can’t remember the question she asked me, but I remember talking about my need to peel away the layers of religious and spiritual accretions that have been the frame through which I have engaged with life. I’ve talked before about removing my “god-glasses” and “stepping into the void” and perhaps this is  just one more metaphor for what I think so many of us are desiring and experiencing, especially those who have grown up in a religious culture. The question is something like, “who and where am I?” Christianity, at its best, purports to help people discover the answer to that question. Søren Kierkegaard is reported to have said (though I can never find the reference), “And now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.” I have referred to this statement many times in sermons and lectures to make the point that God does not want us to become someone else—the goal is not even to become (like) Jesus—but to become our most authentic self. But I’m afraid that almost every expression of Christianity is incapable of leading people to this destination, which is likely part of the reason Kierkegaard was not warmly received by the church either.

Continue reading

Stepping into the void


, , , , , ,

A-theism is about the absence of—the lack of belief in—god.  I’ve learned this much in three weeks (I’m a quick study, right?).

There is a distinction that I’ve heard expressed, and that I’ve repeatedly violated, between saying “atheists believe there is no god,” and saying, “atheists don’t believe in a god.” The former is based in a level of certainty that, by definition, atheists most often find troubling. Even Richard Dawkins famously said he can’t be sure that god does not exist.


What I discovered, especially over the past 5 years or so, is that there is a void staring me in the face, pulling me in. I am standing in a familiar, comfortable and comforting, well-lit room. On one wall is a door, standing open. It’s always been there—and always open—but the room I’m in is so much more inviting, so much more appealing. At least until recently. There are familiar people, familiar smells and sounds. But that door is always there. It’s unclear what is on the other side of the door. It is perfectly dark on the other side. The light in the room I’m in so completely illuminates the room that it only makes the blackness on the other side of the door more mystifying. In recently years the well-lit room has grown cold and limiting. The people are still lovely but many of them are content to have conversations that seem somehow trivial. The door has become more intriguing. What is in there? I’ve also felt an invitation from whatever is on the other side of the door and it beckons me toward it. In the past year I have stood in front of this door, the din of the room I’m in has faded into background noise and I’ve begun to see a faint light and hear the sounds of conversation beyond the doorframe.

Continue reading

Walking into a conversation already underway

Photo by Todd Fong. Some rights reserved

Photo by Todd Fong. Some rights reserved.

I love a good conversation. I always have. One of the things I value most about a friendship is the ability to have a long conversation spanning many topics. I always learn so much. Plus, I tend to be an external processor, so I quite often figure out what I think about something as I’m saying it. It also means I may not end up agreeing with something I’m saying at any given moment, which, I admit, can be a little confusing for the people who talk with me.

I guess I’ve always been this way because as a child I was forever barging into adult conversations. The worst part, as I recall, is that I would walk into a conversation that had been going on for a while and start asking questions. Invariably my mother would say, “Ryan, if you want to be a part of the conversation, participate from the beginning.”

This morning I woke up and was suddenly aware of how my foray into the world of skepticism/agnosticism/atheism is precisely walking into a conversation already well underway. Those of you who were here before me have a language, definitions, metaphors and expressions that are useful in helping you explain how and what you think. There is a lot to learn just about the basic semantics and dynamics of the conversation, let alone the subject matter being discussed. I’m not sure why I didn’t think about this because the same is true—and probably more true—in the world of theology. Talk about code language! You almost need to be a member of the guild just to have the conversation. The uninitiated use a particular word and those of us who have been in thinking about these things for couple of decades just look at each other like, “Gimme a break!”

When I get that response from people here on the blog or in personal conversations I realize I’m walking into a conversation already underway. The suspicion that I’ve crashed the party to redirect it is understandable. So, I apologize for being that guy who bounds into the room saying, “Hey guys, what are you talking about?” Thank you for humoring me where I’m getting into something I’m not entirely prepared for, and thank you for taking my questions and inquiries seriously (or at least trying to). Judging from the response, it’s more than just me out there who is somewhere along the continuum of faith and certainty, theism and atheism, knowing and not knowing and needs to be a part of this conversation. Thanks for making room for us.

“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.

Continue reading

So really, what difference does God make?

Two weeks ago, at the beginning of this journey, I asked the question, “What difference does God make?” This is a question for theists. For those who say that God makes all the difference, or a significant difference, what is that difference? I have found, in the past, as I have attempted to answer that question, atheists and some agnostics have answered that they experience the things I attribute to God without needing a god.

The answer I have most often given, which I discussed with a friend just this evening, is hope. One of the most significant theological concepts for me, as a progressive Christian, was the notion of hope, especially as articulated by one of my favorite theological, Jürgen Moltmann. Put simply, God is the horizon of history and the driving force moving history toward its fulfillment. Many atheists I’ve spoken to also express a deep sense of hope, but instead find the source of their hope in people and the power of people to create the future they desire, without a need for God.

Continue reading

All Things Considered, today


, , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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

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