Ryan Bell Begins Life After God

Hi Beth,

Allow me to clarify my comment by suggesting the inverse. What I said in my original comment, I agree, has the appearance of being a debate over semantics. But I assure you, it is more than that. I’ll explain:

By defining God as Being, it forces the question to be about the nature of reality as such. In other words, rather than asking “Does God exist?” one may ask, “Is existence God?” And by “God,” one would mean all of the theistic things that atheists deny (personal, powerful, good, etc.). When Ryan and other atheists deny that existence is God, they then have to say what existence in fact is. And if they are going to say that existence is just material, then they are saying that the very nature of existence is arbitrary, random, amoral, violent, and headed towards universal extinction. And if that is the nature of reality, then all of Ryan’s moral condescension towards large swaths of Christians and other theists is empty. It’s just his own assertion of power. Ryan was once motivated by his faith to care for certain people; I think his atheism would be better worked out with a high paying job on Wall Street.


The problem Ryan is facing is that at the moment he stopped “pretending” about some religious issues and beliefs, he hit reality.
It can happen to anyone who quits “pretending.”


Is it good or bad???

It seems to me that both sides of the theism conversation are guilty of literalism.

Those exhorting Bell to return to belief forget that losing one’s faith happens. It can’t be ordered or argued back. Try something else, if you must try something.

The interesting aspect of this story are the effects on the Hollywood church.

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I cannot agree with #2…you haven’t convinced me that they are living in contradiction to the their atheism.


I congratulate you for being more honest than many Christians…you were morally convicted and followed your convictions. It says good things about your character.


…and there are many “Christian Pretenders”.


For me, it ends up coming down to whether or not Jesus and his original followers were hopelessly deluded, or charlatans. John quotes Jesus claiming that before Abraham was, “I AM.” They picked up stones to stone him because they recognized he was making claims of divinity. Either Jesus was deluded, a religious snake oil salesman, or he is who he claimed he is.

I realize that this is a rehashing of C. S. Lewis argument, but it makes perfect sense to me. You cannot just accept Jesus as a great teacher, or wonderful human moralist who laid out the golden rule for us to live by so we could all get along. It is to totally misunderstand him and his message. His ethics were the ethics of his kingdom…the kingdom of God. This is what he came preaching, this is what he died for, and it was to establish this that he rose from the grave.

It is also to totally subvert his view of man. Any naturalistic view of our origins and nature must assume that we are inherently good and moral, or lean in that direction, if we are to survive and thrive. Without man’s inherent goodness, then all we are logically left with is the rule of the jungle, the survival of the strong, a world of ungrace, the rule that we see this world largely running by.

Jesus, however, painted a totally different picture. So did Paul. We are people in need of redemption. We are sold under slavery to the power of sin. This is a world view that is met with increasing scoffing and skepticism today because it assails our increasing sense of self sufficiency in a highly technological age. It assails our notion that we can truly be good people without grace. Whether Ryan or anyone else will admit it or not, anything truly good, proceeds from God, as Jesus said. In fact, he went as far as to say, “There is no one good, but God.”

Paul’s world view was that in God we live and move and have our being. For him, that ultimate expression of God became the Lord Jesus Christ. Explain this away as myth, as ancient tribalism, as the expressions of a religious zealot or fanatic…or accept it as truth. He and the other apostles, as well as many other of Jesus’ followers died for this belief, and their sharing of this faith. And they attempted to spread it not by flying planes into buildings, but through words and acts of virtue, principle, and self giving love.

All of this was either the legacy of hopelessly ignorant or deceived tribal people, or it is the legacy of those who were touched by the grace of God that miraculously transformed their lives for time and eternity, as they stated again and again. An atheistic viewpoint would lean towards assuming the former.

While a living out of the Christian ethic in social justice is admirable, it is being done while truncating the reasoning and worldview behind it, and that serves as its motivation. The disciples were as beggars who had found bread, that they felt compelled to share with anyone who was willing to listen. And, they were willing to share of themselves, and their goods, in order to not only improve lives in the here and now, but to give others the same hope and assurance that they knew for the world to come.

In the end, I know what this grace did for me years ago. The change in my life was marked, and real. Grace saved my life. It continues to draw me back when I stray. As John Newton once said, I’m not what I should be, I’m not what I want to be…but I’m not what I used to be." I’m either hopelessly deluded, or the grace of God in Jesus Christ reached down to me, and continues to reach down to me, touching and transforming my life.




When Ryan first announced his project - “A year without God” I thought it was an odd title. It implied (demanded) the existence of God, with Ryan trying to live his life without acknowledging Him. This would indicate he still believed in God. I haven’t read his blog so I don’t know if he finally concluded there is no God - after ignoring H/him for a year. Judgi8ng by some of the comments, he did make that final leap - at least a leap out of the “churchy” concept of God.

It seems Ryan is simply living out the current religeo-social climate (if there is such a designation). Talking with people casually, anecdotally, the trend is away from organized religion to general spirituality. People may have figured out that organizing faith, kills it.

Whatever Ryan chooses to call his present mindset, he appears to be living the apostolic charge - perhaps baptizing with care instead of water.


I would be a bit hesitant to say that morality is meaningless. I believe the survival of the species depends upon honest and open trustworthy relations between each and every instance.

Some say it all started with Eve, who chose an individualist path to superiority, rather than a collective process. It seems Adam may have attempted to collectivise it in partaking as well, but his remarks seem to highlight his self-interest. This, I believe, is the Truth of the Legend of the Fall, that mankind henceforth has individuated not only from each other but from the very source of his being, the earth with all it’s appurtenances. Does not the desertification of first, the middle-east and Africa then northern China, and now North and South America highlight our hostility to nature? The contemporary celebration of individualism foretells of social system doomed to implode since it has no center.

This is as much a problem for Christians as it is for ANY others. The propensity IS ]Edit.} to focus upon one’s own save-worthiness rather than accept the grace of forgiveness by which one becomes free to exhibit the unity in love which is essential for the survival of the species.

It is a sad commentary on theistic ethicists and apologists that nihilism is the only option for non-theists. I have much more respect for anyone attempting to heal humanity regardless of their beliefs, than could be dredged up for any who accept the horrors of humanity as their due, and do nothing except perhaps claim Jesus saved them. These will find an after-life no different than the hell to which they have resigned here. What a salvation!

Trust the Process.


If Paul is correct in stating that “God does not dwell in temples made with hands”, a church, no matter what denomination, may not be the best place to find God. Moses met Him at a bush, Elijah in the wilderness; Jacob under the stars. What makes us think we need to enter a church to meet with Him…


You can’t KNOW this without having been there yourself. Surely, a logic can be concocted, with an appeal to authority, to support such an allegation, but there is too much evidence of non-theists healing humanity throughout the history of the world. And many non-theistic belief systems - religions - have been built up around them, including science and sophistry.

It seems one ought be very careful in deriding those that are DOING the work that God came here to do: heal the nations.

Trust the Process.

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(Edited to say this is in response to Adrian P’s questions. Sorry for the confusion.)

Thanks for your honest and kindly worded questions.

I am not a philosopher, but I have never understood why the lack of any deity leads to nihilism. It seems overly dramatic to me. I know that some prominent atheists in the past were walking around with nooses looking for the nearest tree, but I fail to see why just because there is no meaning imposed on us from the outside, we should despair.

I exist. I find that amazing and it brings me joy just to know it. I have a brief time here, and then I won’t exist anymore, just like I didn’t exist before. That’s okay. While I’m here, I have choices about how to make my life worthwhile. I choose to try and live my life in a way that brings me and those I love happiness. We know that close social bonds brings the most happiness, while living selfishly does not (unless you have sociopathic tendencies). Being kind, helping others, sharing, cooperating, these all make my life richer and it leaves the world a better place for those who come after me. It makes no sense to me to say making the world a better place has no ultimate meaning so let’s wear black and sob about the emptiness of life. My life does matter, it does have meaning, and connecting with others is what gives it that meaning. Just like everyone else though, I have to balance my giving with my desire to benefit myself and my loved ones over others. I struggle with that; knowing how to strike the right balance can be tough and I don’t think Christianity helps in knowing how to do that.

You asked if there is anything other than utility that atheists draw from in responding to the suffering of others. I don’t know. I’m sure there are many different answers, depending on who you ask.

I think that we have evolved to hold competing tendencies in tension. We are social animals, and as such, we cooperate, we have altruism, we have empathy, and we all benefit from those tendencies. We also have the desire to protect our own interests and those of our closest kin. Societies balance those tensions with varying success. There are clear benefits to us though if we look out for each other, share, and meet each others needs rather than just privileging our own.

I do think Christians can draw from that same utility. In fact, I think that’s all they draw from, since I don’t think they have any access to special knowledge or power. They protect their kin at the expense of others just like non-believers and they show remarkable empathy and kindness, just like non-believers. We are all in it together, trying to do the best we can.

And yes, there certainly can be a more nuanced understanding of God’s mission. I would say it’s a more nuanced opinion of God’s mission, because I don’t think anyone actually knows what God’s mission is (assuming God exists). God has been pretty inconsistent in communicating that mission.


Maybe because Jesus said that on this rock, meaning faith in him, I will build my church. It’s his idea, his project, his endeavor to build a community of faith, not save a bunch of disconnected believing individuals. if Jesus words are to be believed, it also means the church is not something of human origin.

With that said, I understand that God is not limited to reaching people by the agency of the church. He can do so any way he chooses. I also understand that how we have distorted what the church is throughout history, right up to the present, presents a big turn off to many people. It’s why the rooms of AA seem to bring more healing, and the grace of recovery into people’s lives than much of organized religion.

Maybe AA is closer to what the NT church was in its day?




The notion that there is a Good that can be defined is outside the boundaries of atheism. An atheist may help poor people, but can’t offer a reason why you ought to do the same (outside of your self-interest). Apart from God, it is we who decide what is moral or immoral, and it is equally we who can change our minds about it when that morality becomes inconvenient. Outside of self-interest or self-preservation, nothing (philosophically or metaphysically) compels the atheist to be moral. The Good, for atheism, is as arbitrary as anything else. It is not finally distinguishable from self-interest; it is not somehow more consistent with atheism to do charity than to be selfish–it’s all reducible to the will. And if that is the case, then the most consistent thing to do is to serve the will. This is to say, make it all about you. Be selfish. Assert power and dominance.


I don’t understand #2 Matt. Why are they living in contradiction to their atheism?

Why can’t doing justice be something atheists want to do because they feel empathy for those worse off, or because they want to live in a society where we take care of each other, or because they want their children to live in that sort of society, or because it feels good to do it, or because societies that favor justice are more peaceful and less dangerous, or for any number of good reasons besides God might want you to do it (which is certainly not clear anyway)?

Feeling empathy for others and wanting to live in a just society are not contradictory to atheism. Why shouldn’t we feel empathy for others? We are social animals, and that’s what social animals do. They balance selfish needs with the needs of others in order to reap the numerous benefits of living socially.

Yes, Jared, that appears to be what I am remembering. It is unfortunate that Ryan has chosen to use Dawkins’ approach at all, since Dawkins is a rather poor philosopher. Dawkins’ whole approach to the probability of the existence of God is based on one major flaw, namely, that given the lack of evidence either for or against God, based on naturalistic data alone, the best that can be done statistically is to use Bayesian inference, which leads to a 50% probability. Since Dawkins’ “gut” tells him the probability of the existence of God is less than this, he simply says so. I find that intellectually dishonest, unless, of course, Dawkins is in denial, which I believe he is. I find that both atheists and theists tend to play with the numbers to their advantage. I know I do, but I have to be honest about that, whereas Dawkins apparently feels no such compunction.

An excellent way to gain some perspective on the approach of Dawkins and the “new atheists” is to read The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions by David Berlinski.


Matt, how is this different from Divine Command Theory?

I disagree with your last assertion. It doesn’t benefit us to make it all about serving our will. People who live that way are more unhappy than people who don’t. We benefit from balancing our selfish desires with our communal needs. We are happier when we are socially connected. By asserting dominance and control too much, I make my life more stressful, more dangerous, and more lonely.


Ignore this.

More characters since I need them to post this.

Adrian, I responded to this, but I put it under a reply to Matt. Sorry.