Thursday, January 9, 2014

Congrats to Pastor Ryan Bell - For Trying Out Atheism!

Ryan J. Bell
Pastor Ryan Bell is now learning what it's like to be an atheist in America. He's learning that, contrary to the bollocks of a "free country", there may be penalties to be paid for expressing one's first amendment rights, for example. As people may or may not know, Bell announced on the Huffington Post on New Year's Eve his experiment to see what it was like to live as an atheist - at least for a year.

I am not sure one can "try" atheism, because one either is or isn't. He or she either has the mindset for it or not. It's not something you can "try on" anymore than one can "try on" Catholicism. (Although, true, many of us born into that religion are forced by accident of birth to 'try it' - though when we reach maturity we can make up our minds that it's not for us. As I related to my Mom - a firm Catholic- 25 years ago when she asked why I left Catholicism: "I felt I was wearing a suit that had shrunk and could no longer fit into it. I needed to get a suit that fit!" She liked the analogy and accepted it.)

Once having become an atheist, I experienced further change - in this case from being a "anti-religion" atheist in the mold of Madalyn Murray O'Hair and her American Atheists, to  becoming a more moderate agnostic atheist.  The moderate atheist in this sense is one who adheres to the original meaning of the term a-theist, absence of belief, as opposed to denouncing belief. This change was documented in the last chapter of my new book, Beyond Atheism, Beyond God.   Basically, it meant no longer screaming for the elimination of all religions, but rather adopting a more nuanced stance: that in an era in which knuckle draggers on the Right are attempting to halt every social justice advance - or attempted advance - we need all the allies we can get. It serves no purpose to alienate millions.

In any case, I do admire Bell's pluck and courage in at least trying to alter perspectives for a year, to understand how the unbelief part of the populace lives- and what we face. His intent, related on, means:

He will not pray, go to church, read the Bible for inspiration, trust in divine providence or hope in things unseen. He’s taking the opposite of a leap of faith: a free fall into the depths of religious doubt.

Now, this is a heady mix even for a temporary atheist. Especially ditching the bible addiction, which I've always maintained is the first criterion for any person to move beyond reflex belief. If you are as truly confident in the existence of the "divine" as you claim,  you ought not require a special book as a spiritual crutch - especially the Bible - which as my sister-in -law has noted, "was written at about the level of eighth graders."

Not trusting in divine providence is, of course, implicit for the atheist - moderate or extreme. Thus, we operate according to the more evidentiary perspective that fortuitous events - say, such as surviving an airline crash, or a mass shooting, is a matter of dumb luck and chance. You happened to be in a safe seat, or were out of the line of sight of the shooter. It wasn't that "God" specially protected you - while allowing the others around you to be demolished or mowed down. That sort of magical thinking is the sure sign of an infant .

As for "religious doubt" that ought to be expected of any person pursuing a spiritual path. Not to doubt, not to accept the world as gray - instead of black and white-  is again to remain spiritually childish. Not doubting, as philosopher Alan Watts once put it, is to forclose your perspective and inhibit your own self-growth. It leads to a mental, spiritual dead end and stunts your vision. The world then becomes filled with enemies and caricatures of demons who must be fought to the death. Hence, the emergence of the religious extremist who would blow up an airliner or an abortion clinic.

Some Christian critics of Bell, however, believe he's doing the wrong thing.  According to one author on Christianity Today:

The issues Bell has with the church, and even his interest in atheist thought, doesn't require a turn to atheism.

This is true, and one can indeed just read atheist books, say like my own Atheist's Handbook to Modern Materialism, to get a handle on the basis for atheist thought.  One needn't "try atheism" as a mental position and live that way to grasp atheist thought. (Though it does help!) One can also work out any problems with his church, if there is mutual willingness to do so. The problem, however, is that one cannot experience what it's like to BE an atheist unless one lives as an atheist. Reading about atheist thought only gets you into a passive, armchair understanding - not a deep experience of being one.

Thus, had Pastor Bell not chosen to actually live as an atheist he'd not have known how easily he could have been released from his pastor position or fired from his adjunct professorship.  He might have suspected that the widespread meme: 'atheists are the most distrusted group in America' - was only hyperbole or nonsense. He may never have actually experienced it.

Of course, his former Christian cohort has rabidly denied all this and insisted none of those events bore any relation to Bell's choice to live as an atheist. Yeah, right, and Chris Christie was just totally surprised that thousands of commuters could have been inconvenienced by one of his staff who - somehow - believed that payback had to be delivered (by closing 3 of 4 lanes over a primary bridge)  for a Dem Mayor not supporting Mr. "Pillsbury Doughboy"  Guv's NJ re-election. Well, gullibility takes all kinds of forms.

This is displayed by one Xtian named Os, who writes:

"This is not true as many who are very close to this story know. I also think it is unfortunate that Ryan is being used here, with or without his encouragement I do not know, as a poster child for America's culture wars in a way that many would immediately recognize as deeply inauthentic if roles were reversed,"

Whatever. The fact is Os and his Xtian compatriots left Bell hanging out there in the wind with no financial  support. It was left to atheist Hemant Mehta (aka 'Friendly Atheist') to summon help from fellow atheists for Bell's support. So far well over $7,000 has been collected with more coming in all the time.

Bell, in his blog on Tuesday, wrote:

I am shocked and overwhelmed a the outpouring of support that I have received after Hemant Mehta (aka Friendly Atheist) asked people to support me financially. I am grateful. But just as I am leaving behind the fear and sometimes hate-inspired religion of my past, I am deeply uncomfortable about raising support by casting my friends in the Christian community in a negative light–especially one which is not true."

Again, I congratulate Bell for his courage, whether or not his experiment succeeds or whether indeed, he leaves Christianity fully behind and becomes a full -fledged atheist.

For Christians, the treatment of Bell ought to incite their own soul-searching concerning whether they can really believe they have finally found "the light" or, more likely, are still being kept in the dark about the true nature of their professed religion. To quote the words of my sister-in-law  Krimhilde again (from her May interview):

"If it were true that the God they worship is one of love THEY themselves would show such love in their lives, not with words but actions! They would feed the homeless and clothe them, they would donate their time selflessly to those with less than they have, instead of wallowing in their own self pity and hate.  You can always tell what type of thing a person worships by how he behaves, how he acts. He can say all he wants his God is real, real love or whatnot, but if he himself doesn't show that love then it is a fraud. "

I couldn't have put it better!

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