Pastor goes a year without God, becomes atheist

Story here.

Ryan Bell:
*I think the best way I can explain the conclusion I’ve come to — and conclusion is too strong a word for the provisional place I now stand and work from — is that the intellectual and emotional energy it takes to figure out how God fits into everything is far greater than dealing with reality as it presents itself to us.

That probably sounds very nonrational, and I want people to know that I have read several dozen books and understand a good many of the arguments. I’d just say that the existence of God seems like an extra layer of complexity that isn’t necessary. The world makes more sense to me as it is, without postulating a divine being who is somehow in charge of things.*

I can certainly understand this line of thinking. I think this man is very brave. I am not sure I would have the courage, or energy, to try a year of faith at this point in my life. Could any of you go to the other side (become faithful, or faithless) for a whole year, opposite your current position? What do you think you’d learn?

Another question I have is if going atheist is a one-way street? Can anyone who is atheist become faithful?

I don’t think I could become faithful for a year, I could, however, put on a façade and pretend, and I’m sure I could convince many that I changed, but I don’t think that is what you’re looking for. I imagine this author had a inkling about his doubts of God before his one year journey, but choose this way to do it, for whatever reason. I do agree with him, and like the way he put it, * I’d just say that the existence of God seems like an extra layer of complexity that isn’t necessary. The world makes more sense to me as it is, without postulating a divine being who is somehow in charge of things.*

You hear of such things happening, but I can’t imagine it. I don’t even know how I would begin. “Okay, I now believe in a god.”

I have a friend who converted to Judaism to marry her husband. The whole thing is a confusing mess for me. She didn’t believe the stuff that Jews believe before she fell in love with this guy, but now she does? What a coincidence.

My wife was not raised as a spiritual person, but after her father died she began to believe that there was more than just the material world. Perhaps that’s not quite what you’re asking, though.

I believe ITR Champion has posted some links that indicate that it is more common for an atheist to come to belief than vice versa.


You have to be careful with terminology there. It is more probable that an person raised atheist converts to Christianity, conditional on being raised atheist, than it is for a person raised Christian to convert to atheism, conditional on being raised Christian. The probability is about 45% in the first case, 13% in the second. However, since there are many more people raised Christian than raised atheist, the actual number of people in the second group is larger than in the first, even though the second event is less likely to happen for an individual person.

Fun questions. :slight_smile:

I’m an atheist, have been all my life and am completely comfortable with that. Faith has always been a bafflement to me. In my adolescence, I wondered why I didn’t see the world in religious terms as others did. Growing up in Salt Lake City, it was difficult to avoid the question of faith among peers and neighbors. Everyone seemed to take it so for granted there was a god.

As in all things, I decided to follow the evidence and see where it led. I read the Bible and other religious works; studied many different religions and their origins; attended their services. For me, atheism was the only reasonable conclusion.

The convoluted thinking required to insert a god into the equation seems ridiculous to me, and while I was at one point open to discovering there is a god, I no longer believe it is worth my time to keep looking for what I have concluded is not there. OTOH, were I confronted with irrefutable proof of same, I’d be the first one to say, “Well, fuck me, I was wrong all this time! Praise the Lord!” But by evidence, I don’t mean the failure of imagination to consider a godless ordered universe. Someone here recently described it as belief in God based on personal incredulity, which is a phrase I loved.

I do think going atheist is a one-way street. I have personally known two people who were agnostic and eventually moved toward a belief system in a god. But in each instance, the individual really wanted there to be a god in the mix. It didn’t take much in the way of personal experiences – which could be explained by other factors – to “find” and accept a religious belief in a god. Whenever I have attempted to broach the reasons for their conversions, both individuals become very defensive and wary, firmly stating phrases such as, “It’s just the way I think things are, ok?” There is no real basis for their beliefs that I can discern beyond their fervent desire that their world would include such a being and can’t make sense to them without that belief. The most astonishing thing to me is, while these are intelligent people in many ways, their beliefs in a higher power seem very childlike when they discuss them. They readily acknowledge their beliefs are not rational and they don’t care. To me, that is weird.

Tl; dr: No, and yes. And I agree fully with how razncain succinctly stated it.

Over half of people who are raised atheist/nonreligious end up practicing a religion as adults, so yes.

Actually, sounds very rational to me.

It’s not surprising that someone raised without religion would adopt one later in life. There’s a whole lot of social pressure to call yourself a believer in something. People also want to get married, and religion is one of those key areas where couples try to seek agreement on. I can imagine how someone who’s"meh" on religion would allow him or herself to be converted just for the sake of a relationship. Especially if they’re hooking up with someone who is “meh” too, but still practices because of pressure from friends and family.

Also, most non-believers are not atheist. Not every non-believer spends a whole lot of time debunking religion and eschewing faith. They may just not see the point of religion. But humans are given ample opportunity over a lifespan to wonder “Is this all there is?” Some people can handle hearing “yes”. Others can’t and they look for comfort.

Right around the time I “came out” as agnostic, I tried one last time to find God. Every Sunday, I dutifully went to the Quaker meetinghouse up the street from me. I figured that if there is a god and he talks to people, I should be able to sense it in all that pensive silence. Sunday after Sunday, I waited. Occasionally, I’d be inspired to give testimony, but I knew it was just the ham in me who was speaking, not some “inner light”. The folks were terrific, as were the once-a-month potlucks. But after a year, I knew I had to come clean and stop faking the funk.

I try never to say “never”, but I really doubt that I’ll have a true “come to Jesus” moment. I can see me adopting a certain philosophy (elements of Buddhism appeal to me, as does existentialism), but not a faith.

Actually they all are, that is what the most common understanding of atheism is (by us atheists anyway). We don’t have a belief in god. That is what atheism means.

Correct, I certainly don’t outside of this forum, but you seem to be implying that an atheist is necessarily an anti-theist. This is very much not the case.

As for the pastor in the OP, it sounds like a typical drift away from religion. Perhaps remarkable in this case because he was/is a pastor but his reasoning seems very rational. Gods don’t provide any additional explanatory power and evidence is weak to non-existent. If you don’t feel the need for such an emotional crutch then why bother?

I do not assume that most non-believers would call themselves atheist, though. In my mind, common parlance “atheist” connotes “I believe there is no god(s)”. But a non-believer is simply someone who says “I don’t believe in god(s).” That covers the agnostic as well as the atheist.

I don’t mind semantics games, but I don’t really care enough about this to argue. My point was that however they refer to themselves, the vast majority of non-believers aren’t shouting down every proselytizing religionist who knocks on their door. A lot of them just haven’t been exposed to any religion and thus make ripe targets for conversion. But I seriously doubt this would be the case for most people who call themselves “atheist”.

Religion is a very powerful social glue. There is a huge pressure to conform, or at least pay lip service, in order to be a part of your community.

He spent a year learning that it is just an added layer of complexity, not a requirement for life.

not really, one can be an agnostic and still believe in a god.
Anyway, I can’t claim that your perception is incorrect but in my own experience I’ve met many, many people who self-describe as atheists who don’t make any definite claims regarding the non-existence of gods.

well fair enough. I shan’t pursue it.

The thing that frustrates me most about so many of my fellow atheists, is that they tend to think that “practicing a religion” is simply a matter of agreeing to a statement: “Jesus is Lord, and his death saved us all”, or “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet”. When in fact religion is so much more complex than that - it’s about rituals, about participating in a community, about justifying your ethics. My mother, who loves the particular church she goes to enough to actually join the Episcopalian Church, always says the question is not “Does God exist?”, but “If God exists, how does he or she want me to act?”

That’s not to say you can’t find denominations, or their equivalents in other faith traditions, that require exact agreement to a statement of belief. But there are also plenty that are more concerned with “orthopraxis” - that is, correct behavior. Judaism, for example. Your friend who converted to marry her husband may not actually think that Moses got the Torah from God. But her synagogue probably cares much more that she acts as if she did.

All this to say, I can easily see how an atheist can become religious. I can even see how an atheist can become religious while still being an atheist.

In the interviews I’ve read about his story, I like that guy and I think he comes across as very thoughtful and pleasant. One thing I wonder about, though, is how tied his experience is to the religion he was previously involved with. The Seventh-day Adventists, as I understand them, are a pretty literal group. It’s my impression there’s a lot of “this is how it IS” in their doctrine. That makes it more likely, to me, that someone who had some doubt would see things as an either/or situation – if I’m not 100% in, then I’m 100% out.

It’s fairly different than the religious education I had, which included a lot of comparative religious studies, and Piarists and Jesuits as a group tend to be on the intellectual side, and approach doubt as an interesting academic and spiritual exercise (granted, some individuals are complete lunatics too). They already give people room to be less than 100% (or at different percentages at different stages of their lives). I’d love to hear more from him about whether he went through a period where he felt he could be somewhat doubtful but remain religious or spiritual or however he chooses to define it.

I literally turned my back on anything religious or faith based for a year of my life while a sophomore in college. I was a fledgling Mormon before and was jaded about faith in general, but I am now a devote Latter-day Saint. I think everyone should have a trial of their belief system and hopefully come out on the other side a more complete and satisfied individual.

An awful lot of Christians hold that the matter is entirely between them, Jesus, and God. No need for rituals, no need for community, and, in a number of cases, no need to justify their ethics. “I believe in Jesus, I’m saved, that’s the end of the matter.”

Dudes will say anything to get laid.

Are there any stats on people who became atheist* as adults*, and then reconverted to theism?