Ryan Bell, an ex-pastor who quit his faith in God for a year following his resignation from the Hollywood Adventist Church and a divorce from his wife of 17 years, is set to decide New Year's Day whether he will remain a believer or become an atheist. While he has distanced himself from zealous atheists, Bell expressed a desire to be "good" without submitting to boundaries.
Nearing the end of his yearlong embrace of non-theism, Bell told the LA Times that leaving the faith has allowed him to see "both sides of the coin." The former Fuller Seminary and Azusa Pacific University teacher has consorted with several atheist groups as a public speaker, sharing his experiences of walking away from church life. "Being with atheists, they can have the same sort of obnoxious certainty that some Christians have," he said of his experiences. "I don't want to be part of that. It feels like I'm stuck in the middle. I want to be for something good, but I don't want boundaries, and religion just feels like a very bounded thing."
As he nears a self-imposed January 1 deadline to decide between atheism and faith, Bell told the LA Times, "The question I am asking right now [is] why do I need religion to love?"
Bell announced in a January blog published by The Huffington Post that "for the next 12 months I will live like 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 also stated that he has long struggled to relate to church, church people and God. He particularly struggled with the Bible's position on same-sex marriage, resigning his position as an Adventist pastor in 2013 over the issue. His 17-year marriage has also ended in divorce.
Since making that vow, Bell has a new job teaching for a nonprofit that helps the homeless and is dating a devout Christian.
He denies claims from Christians that he is bitter against God or rebelling. In a December 7 blog post he wrote, "As best I can tell, I'm not acting out. I've simply stepped away and explicitly taken the time to ask important questions about my past loyalties. At times I have been angry and I've made unfair generalizations as a result. But against neither anger nor rebellion is the central part of my journey."
Bell said he plans to spend the Christmas before his decision giving gifts and thanking his family and friends. While he doesn't plan to attend church services, he said he is not above going to one, noting that he still enjoys the season's rituals.