Christian Living

A Former Pastor Tries Out Atheism

Author Brett Kunkle Published on 01/22/2014

I’m all for creating spaces in which people can doubt safely. I’ve even written about it. But can the doubting process be pushed to an absurdity? Well, I think it just has.

Ryan Bell, a former pastor and adjunct professor at a Christian college and seminary, is giving atheism a try:

“I’m making it official and embarking on a new journey. 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.”

Bell is interviewed about the experiment here. He even has his own website to document the journey: Unfortunately, I think Bell’s journey is misguided.

First, it seems obvious that raising doubts and questions about one’s Christianity is not the same thing as actually trying on and living out the beliefs of an entirely antithetical worldview. It’s like having struggles in my marriage, and rather than go to counseling, I decide to “try on” bachelorhood for a year. “Honey, for the next 12 months I will live as if there is no marriage here. I will not talk to you, I will not go out on dates with you, refer to you as the cause of home-cooked meals or clean laundry or hope that you might intervene in any of my affairs.” Guess where that journey ends? In divorce. Similarly, does anyone think Bell’s experiment will have any other ending but God expelled from his life?

Our approach to doubt should be one of openness, but also of caution. We should create safe spaces for people to get their doubts out on the table and grapple with them. However, we must not doubt God lightly or haphazardly. Doubt can lead you into deeper waters of trust in God, but doubt can also drown all remnants of faith too. And if Christianity is true, the consequences are eternal. Therefore, when it comes to our views about fundamental reality, our questions should cause us to think them out and reflect deeply before we start living out an entirely different worldview. Thankfully, God has equipped us with a rational mind to do just that.

Second, as Bell tries on atheism, will he follow those beliefs to their logical conclusions? According to atheism, God does not exist (and no, I reject atheists’ attempts to redefine atheism as a lack of belief rather than bite the bullet and accept their own knowledge claim). Rather, the universe we inhabit is one incredible uncaused accident that certainly did not have us in mind, and biological life is simply concerned with survival and reproduction. Yes, those ideas have consequences, one of which J. Warner has recently highlighted in his post, “The Inevitable Consequence of An Atheistic Worldview.” Here’s another. And here’s a whole bunch more. So, is Bell going all the way in this journey? Will he lean fully into the absurdity of life without God? Or will he do what many atheists do and live on borrowed capital from a Christian worldview, which has the intellectual resources to sustain objective meaning and morality? If Bell doesn’t attempt to live out the logical consequences of atheism, he won’t really get the full taste of life without God, and thus, his assessment will be inadequate.

Well, if Ryan Bell is misguided in his journey of doubt, are there other ways of doubting that are better or more helpful? Yes, I think we can actually doubt well. Think about it, what’s the purpose of doubting? The end goal should be the discovery of truth. And there are better ways to find the truth than trying on atheism. If you struggle with doubt, don’t follow Ryan Bell’s lead. Gary Habermas is a much better guide. His free online book, Dealing With Doubt, will give you greater insight into the nature and causes of doubt and offer wise counsel as you travel your own journey of doubt.