In a story appearing at the Huffington Post (released through the Religious News Service, written by Chris Steadman, posted: 01/04/2015: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/04/ryan-bell-atheist_n_6397336.html), the former Seventh Day Adventist pastor who decided he would live a year as an atheist and without god-talk – Ryan Bell – has admitted that the year-long experience has left him without a place for god in his life.
“Q: This weekend you told NPR: “I don’t think that God exists.” Can you elaborate?
A: 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.”
In a comment I made on a post by makagutu at a blog I follow, Random Thoughts (http://maasaiboys.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/atheism-and-burden-of-proof/), I remarked, “Reviewing this, it dawns on me that theists not only need to offer evidence, at this point – I think they need to argue for relevance. I don’t mean social arguments for religion – that discussion is historical-political, and doesn’t need any belief in the divine at all. I simply mean arguments why anyone should look to mysterious Mr. Higher-Up for explanations of anything at all.” This I think is where the debate over a/theism is headed. There was a time when religious beliefs in a divine something-or-other helped explain reality; provided hope and comfort; confirmed social structures and social connectivity; gave people a sense of purpose; defined moral laws; grounded philosophy and the arts and even, for time, the sciences – and did so in a way that seemed not only plausible but necessary. Absolutely none of that is case today. None of it is true, according to our best understanding of nature and human being, none of it is necessary, given the diversity and complexity of our culture. Theism can at best provide an emotional rush and ‘warm glow,’ and of course it has a big nostalgia pull for those who find it difficult to allow history to keep on generating changes, great and small. (And let’s admit that the attraction of those experiences is very strong, probably impossible to argue against rationally, and will take some time to wane socially.) But without either some reasonable claim to truth, and without some compelling need for some facet of theistic belief, such belief stands revealed as lacking in any relevance. There is no necessary reason to make room for it in our personal lives, our relationships with others, our communities, our politics, our psychology, our parenting.
Is there some suffering when one loses such faith? Yes; but there is suffering also in weaning one’s self from an addiction; suffering when one’s marriage fails, suffering from unrealized career goals; suffering from a debilitating disease or some maiming accident. Suffering exists. That doesn’t mean that one cannot live with it. And sometimes confronting the cause of suffering can be the moment of opportunity – to change, to grow, to develop a new life. “That which does not destroy me makes me stronger,” wrote Nietzsche. Confronting suffering gave the Buddha the insight he needed to construct the Eightfold Path. To say we should avoid the suffering, or comfort those who suffer, by preserving theism, reinforcing it, strengthening it by integrating it more deeply into our communities, our laws, our culture – this is to say that children should never grow up, that age should not bring us greater wisdom, that maturity is to be feared.
I don’t know the full Ryan Bell story, nor where his own personal journey will take him. But whatever the future brings concerning him, he has uttered the important truth here. God is not necessary. We are humans groping our way through human life, finding answers as we may, confronting our own feelings, reasoning through our own behaviors, living out our own sufferings, and the solutions we ourselves find for it. No deity need apply. Indeed, “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.” It now takes more trouble to believe in god, than to not believe – more trouble than it’s worth.
Two interesting comments on the Ryan Bell story at blogs I read regularly: