How to Become an Atheist in Twelve Short Months

Ryan Bell no longer believes in God, exactly. Bell is the former Seventh-Day Adventist pastor who last January made a resolution to live as an atheist, to live for a “year without God.” More precisely, Bell decided to take a year to explore “the limits of theism and the atheist landscape in the United States.”

On the surface, it sounds a little gimmicky, and his critics have often portrayed his decision to “try on” atheism as little more than a carefully-crafted media stunt of a typical genre.

If it was all a stunt, it may have not been a very good one, at least in the near term. He apparently hasn’t immediately profited from it. Bell’s decision caused him to lose jobs counseling students and teaching part time at Fuller Theological Seminary and Azusa Pacific University, and so by his own admission he’s “only lost money and earning potential” during the year. A decent book contract might promise to make up for lost capital, but he doesn’t have one—at least not yet.

I would argue that Bell’s public embrace of atheism is more a natural outcome of his own personal and professional trajectory than a strained gimmick. In an interview he did with NPR last January Bell indicated that, as far as he can remember, he has always wrestled with his faith.

Indeed, for Bell that’s just what faith is: it’s “one of those things that people wrestle with.” Some in his former congregation didn’t seem to think so, however. It was his expression of some of those doubts that had led to his forced resignation the year before. Bell said in the same interview that after he lost his leadership role in his congregation, “he really didn’t have any compulsion to go to church internally” and “just didn’t feel like participating in church,” even though he “tried a number of times.” Eventually he decided to stop trying, and then “began to wonder about the very existence of God.” And thus began his yearlong experiment.

The year being up, Bell now says that he doesn’t believe that God exists: “I think that makes the most sense of the evidence that I have and my experience. But I don’t think that’s necessarily the most interesting thing about me.”

Whatever one makes of that conclusion and the intellectual and existential analyses that got him there, even a quick read of his blog shows his thoughtfulness, honesty, and humility through the whole process. For that, I think, he is to be admired. Not everyone thinks so, of course. Reactions to Bell’s admission of atheism among some critics have ranged from accusing him of being “angry” and “never having a relationship with God in the first place” to expressing pity and, at worst, hatred for him.

I could say a lot here about the relationship between faith and doubt, but I think it’s even more interesting to set Bell’s experiment in the context of all the worries over people, especially the so-called millennials, leaving churches. Much has been made in the past few years about this trend, which is not so much a mass exodus as a slow leak that, as I’ve said before, has its roots in a larger cultural process. The overall decline in regular church attendance and membership, especially among younger generations, is obviously a concern for church leaders and the faithful of all stripes, who rightly see the future of their respective institutions at stake.

Generally speaking, the response to this decline takes the form of some sort of repackaging. That is, it is assumed that the problem is not with the substance of Christianity. At its core, the thinking goes, the gospel or “good news”—that we are “sinners” who can find “salvation” through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the Son of God—remains a vital truth, one which all need and ultimately seek, whether we consciously know it or not. That basic assumption remains the case even in more liberal Christian circles, I would suggest, although it often takes the form of respect for other religions and/or an emphasis on the importance of spirituality, broadly defined.

In this way of thinking, people are not leaving the church because of its central message but because of the way that message is or is not presented. Hence the calls among some in more evangelical circles, for instance, for the abandonment of the skin-deep flashiness and alienating culture war rhetoric for a kinder, more authentic—and ultimately more attractive—faith.

There is something to that line of thinking. More than a few have left churches from a lack of authenticity—and feel a great sense of loss in doing so. Such emigrants would, perhaps, gladly return if offered something better. But that way of understanding the situation can not account for what Ryan Bell experienced.

What’s striking to me is the matter-of-fact way in which Bell describes that experience. In the interviews he’s given, there’s hardly any pathos, any handwringing over the faith he can no longer identify with. Rather than rehearsing a litany of loss and pining over something more authentic, he sees his shift away from religion as an opportunity, a window into what, for him, really matters.

Christianity is something that, ultimately, he no longer needs.

At a more general level, the recognition that religion’s utility has run its course is precisely what Nietzsche referred to as the death of God. Thus, when asked earlier this month what he thought was the most interesting thing about him, Bell responded,

“I think what is far more important to know about me is the way I choose to live my life. Once people have come to terms with the weaknesses or falsehoods in their belief system, the work has just begun. How we reshape or build the narratives by which to live our lives is the most interesting part of our work as human beings. My work to end homelessness, my interest in the crises facing our democracy and our ecosystem—these are the interesting aspects of my life and work. At least, I’d like to think so.”

I suspect that there are many former believers out there who feel similarly. Perhaps they call themselves atheists, perhaps something else—but either way they have become largely indifferent not only to the packaging of Christianity but also to its very message. Such individuals, moreover, likely won’t return to Christianity and its churches no matter how “authentic” the latter become, because they feel as if they’ve lost nothing and thus have nothing to gain through returning. The utility of their former beliefs and the structure that maintains them has run its course.

What should churches do with that knowledge? Ignoring it or covering it over in the language of authenticity—or, even worse, demonizing those who have dropped away—certainly isn’t much of response. As Nietzsche knew, the ‘death of God’ requires that we push all the way through it, even if we’re not comfortable with the outcome. Bell seems to have understood that much, at least, even if his critics haven’t.


  •' Jim Reed says:

    One reason for leaving Christianity is the deceptions are no longer compelling. When you leave, you don’t really feel like, if only the deceptions could be more real, more convincing, I would gladly believe again.

    Christianity should be the easiest religion to leave because it can be purely an intellectual matter. You can leave just because it doesn’t make sense, and you can see how the contradictions multiply into more contradictions. The logical conclusion to the matter should be based on social pressures to stay against intellectual reasons to leave. Not everyone can deal with the intellectual aspects. Many will just end up going along with the crowd. Social pressures are a real power that can be hard to resist when the society that you live in is 99% united. It is hard to break away. But as that percent lowers to 80 or 70 or even lower, many people will be able to resist the social pressures generated by the smaller number of believers, and there will be more people who are willing to express differences with the religion because they no longer have such fear ot the social consequences.

    We currently find ourselves in a world where the numbers are changing. In the world of modern understanding of so much of life and the universe, it is hard to see any way that those old systems of ancient belief structures could ever rise back up to a position of such power. This says Christianity in the long run is in trouble. Of course it is easy to see this as something they brought on themselves when they sold their soul to the party of the rich.

  •' DKeane123 says:

    “authentic” the latter become, because they feel as if they’ve lost nothing and thus have nothing to gain through returning.

    Pegged me with that sentence. Not only is there nothing to be gained, but I quickly started to realize how horrible the idea that we are somehow born broken and that without a fix by the thing that caused the issue in the first place, the potential of eternal torment could be in your future.

  •' Ryan Bell says:

    I cannot tell you how good it feels to be understood by someone who doesn’t know me. Thank you, sir! You are spot on!

  •' Jim Reed says:

    It’s not about you. It’s about the nation dealing with a shifting theistic landscape.

  •' HollowGolem says:

    “What should churches do with that knowledge?”

    Well, ideally, individual members of the church should wonder why the core message doesn’t resonate. Hopefully, they will look at it rationally and honestly, realize that there’s no evidence for their belief system, and turn to the more important functions that their churches, as institutions, serve (conduits for community service and charitable giving, sources of companionship and community, tools to commemorate important milestones in the lives of parishioners, and opportunities for emotional and ethical growth and support, among others).

    So long as the churches of the United States focus on those tangibly important aspects of their social function, I don’t really care about the personal metaphysical beliefs of their members as individuals.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Those might be loaded issues. Charitable giving means supporting Republicans. The Christians end up rejecting anything the nation might be able to do to promote the common good, such as health care, because that means more money for the rich. Then they ease their consciences by favoring the concept of charitable giving. As long as Christianity is linked to the Republican party, you can’t really trust anything they would say or do.

  •' Corey says:

    I am an agnostic/atheist, and if there were/is a god, he/she/it/they would/will be smiling when reading/hearing this, and saying my/our work is done:

    “I think what is far more important to know about me is the way I choose to live my life. Once people have come to terms with the weaknesses or falsehoods in their belief system, the work has just begun. How we reshape or build the narratives by which to live our lives is the most interesting part of our work as human beings. My work to end homelessness, my interest in the crises facing our democracy and our ecosystem—these are the interesting aspects of my life and work. At least, I’d like to think so.”

  •' Don says:

    I appreciate the sense of liberation. Churches box us in.

  •' apotropoxy says:

    “Is God willing to prevent evil but not able, then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able but not willing, then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing, then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing, then why call him God?”

  •' Katherine 'Mad Angel' Magdanga says:

    I think if people asked questions (I know – not supposed to do that) they might learn something….. ALL religions are man-made, to fill a ‘need’, and it’s NOT the needs of the individuals, it’s the needs of the church…I used to be very religious… but I could see the hypocrisy all around me …..then much later in life discovered something that made much more sense…..

    If you’re a historian you keep wanting to go further back in time to understand why things happened ….if you look at the bible as a history book, it turns out you can find the same history in the Sumerian texts, except those are 4000 years older, and ‘worship’ originally meant WORK FOR….example; food preparation and servers became priests and acolytes, positions that were coveted – as compared to the mines

    Let a few thousand years go by and the ‘gods’ are gone but the kitchens/temples remain, and the history has been edited, censored (think council of Nicea) and expounded into modern day…and are the main cause of todays conflicts, well besides colonization for resources

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Be careful about reading too much here on RD. I started reading here as a non-believer who 35 years earlier had rejected all church influences, and in a few short years RD turned me into an atheist.

  •' Katherine'Mad Angel'Magdangal says:

    I don’t know what you’d call me… I believe in intelligent intervention, and science is proving through DNA that there was another ‘species’, unknown to this planet, that we share genes with…

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I think those who believe humans contain some alien DNA are called conspiracy theorists (or worse).

  •' Katherine'Mad Angel'Magdangal says:

    Oh…don’t like science?

    A recent DNA analysis of the Denisovan (Denisova hominins) genome has revealed the presence of unusual genetic sequences not found in Neanderthal or any other known early hominin species — indicating the possible existence of a new UNKNOWN ancestor in the human family tree.


  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Your world seems bordered by Western civilization. Religion for all its contradictions is growing in many parts of he world. Muslims make up over 1.7 billion adherents and most seem serious practitioners. China and India have huge populations of religious people. Secularism grows also but it is limited and draws from a small population of discontented Christians and Jews. Until modern society has an acceptable substitution for the void religion seeks to fill within the human heart little will be changed.

    People are humans that are biologically based with an intellectual component. Our needs are filled by a combination of both aspects. The intellectual part can’t really stand alone ignoring all the unknowns of the universe without speculating on other dimensions or beings that might exist beyond our capacity to understand. Kind of like a monkey trying to figure out where the pictures on a TV come from. Impossible.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Bit simplistic don’t you think. The juxtaposition of politics and religion is a two edged sword. Republicans are not ONE thing nor do they all think alike. Except of course if you think in stereotypes.

    Seems many liberals use stereotypes in their everyday thinking but condemn others who do the same when discussing race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Can’t have it both ways even if it is an intellectual shortcut that makes your political POV easily translated to hatred of the “other.”

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Denisovans were another close relative species like Neanderthals that went extinct 45,000 years ago, and some humans share a little of their DNA, like humans share a little Neanderthal DNA. It is not a species unknown to this planet. It is just a species of pre-humans that is less known than the Neanderthals who were all over Europe.

  •' Katherine'Mad Angel'Magdangal says:

    I can’t discuss something with someone who obviously didn’t even read it – and stands on their own bias

  •' Deist1737 says:

    As an alternative to the “revealed”/hearsay religions and to Atheism and Agnosticism is Deism (belief in God/The Supreme Intelligence based on the application of our reason on the laws and designs in Nature). In my opinion the best book on God, Deism and religion is Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, The Complete Edition.

    Progress! Bob Johnson

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Humans did evolve from a state of following the group, but I think society will ultimately be able to evolve beyond that. We better because following the group often tends to lead us to war, unnecessary war, war of choice.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    All I read says Denisovans were a known species, even recently had their DNA sequenced, and some high altitude people from Peru even have one of their genes.

  •' Silverdart60 says:

    “…if there were/is a god, he/she/it/they would/will be smiling when reading/hearing this, and saying my/our work is done.”

    Best. Comment. Ever.

  •' pennyjane says:

    i just find it inexplicable. “trying on beliefs”? huh? i believe in Jesus and all but i think i’ll try not believing for awhile, see how it works out for me. inexplicable.
    i believe because i believe….not because i want to or because i don’t want to. i could no more not believe in Jesus as the Risen Son of God than i could not believe that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. it’s not a choice, it’s what i believe. why i believe it or what evidence there is for or against it is not relevant…faith is just that….faith. i believe because i “feel” Him…if i didn’t “feel” Him, i wouldn’t believe. people picking out their faith from the market place is just plain nuts to me…’re just wasting time and energy.

  •' Brian Cox says:

    I took the same plunge into agnosticism (let’s be clear with our terms) at age 19. It was not a simple falling away, but a decision based on a sincere desire to know God if He existed. I came to the conclusion that any God worth His or Her or Its name would have the decency to give us a bit more evidence to go on. I can honestly and frankly say that this system did not serve me we’ll over the next twenty-two years. It gave me an opportunity to me a very nice and very self-centered person who became less and less useful to others as time passed.

    Circumstances gave me another opportunity to “try on” belief again at age 41. That was ten years ago. Honestly and earnestly seeking the truth about God has led me back to a stronger belief. I can say with some humility that I may be mistaken in this belief, but paradoxically, if life really IS about me, believing that it is about my Creator is still tremendously more rewarding.

    One thing is clear: Christians have no more of a monopoly on fear, anger, hubris and scorn than non-believers. Looking toward any particular group of humans for a perfect example of how to live will only lead to disillusionment.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    This post was supposed to be a setup. Nobody wants to respond?

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Trying to test if God exists is doing it the hard way. It is much easier to determine if Jesus exists because we have the record and history. Answer, Jesus is a myth because in the middle of the first century we have the Christian writings of Paul and no gospel Jesus stories. Then in following decades through the end of the century the gospel Jesus stories were invented, each one adding to and expanding on the previous version. At the very end of the process you have the most amazing Jesus story, raising Lazarus from the dead. This story is in the gospel of John, and was unknown to the earlier gospel writers, and of course unknown to Paul because he didn’t know any of the gospel stories. This is how we can know Jesus was a myth, and was built up over the course of the first century, then the history was massaged a little in the following centuries to make it seem real from that ancient intellectual perspective.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Your concept of belief makes no sense, and you are happy with that, so I don’t see how you could be in a position to question someone who honestly is trying to figure it out.

  •' mikehorn says:

    This view seems so very, very small. Wondering at the unknown is one of the foundations of intellectual inquiry, and functions independently from religion. Religion and wonder and inquiry can certainly coexist, but they don’t need each other. Wonder and inquiry seem to be basic human traits, along with social behavior, and they exist across the globe.

    Religion by comparison is fragmented. Muslims might be 1.6 or 1.7B, Christians 2B+, but they are internally fragmented and incoherent. Islam has two major roups and numerous small groups: Sunni, Shia, Sufi, more. Christians have approximately 30K mutually exclusive versions, the biggest being Catholic at 1.1B+. Hindus approach 1B. But so what? Those three add up to only half of the people alive. Christianity has been around at least 1900 years, maybe 1700 as a sect distinct from Judaism, and hasn’t even convinced it’s own adherents of what is correct (30K versions). Much less the other 2/3 of people. All this proves is that people are looking for something outside themselves, proof of a social animal. It proves nothing about religious belief or the truth of any faith. This same impulse also leads to nationalism and rooting for sports teams, elevation of heros to mythic status.

    Wonder and inquiry exist in art, music, literature, science, engineering, learning the obscurities of professional crafts. The Abrahamic tradtions speak to hopeless people who see no wonder in their daily lives. Religion is simply redundant in a society where people have basic comforts, hope for tomorrow.

  •' John John says:

    “My work to end homelessness, my interest in the crises facing our democracy and our ecosystem—these are the interesting aspects of my life and work. At least, I’d like to think so.”

    Why must the writer drag Nietzsche into it? The job Mr. Bell had wasn’t a good fit. He changed jobs. No big whup!

    Oh, but without dread Christianity wherefore all this “crisis”? Since so many have undertaken the journey Mr. Bell took—finding Christianity wanting, absurd, foolish, etc.—it seems silly to beat a dead horse. Why carp about something so childish and inconsequential? Be men and MOVE ON.

    Must admit I don’t have much confidence in the shifting sand of Mr. Bell’s “journey”. Could I be forgiven for imagining that even his “work to end homeless…interest in the crises facing our democracy and our ecosystem” is just more delusion playing into the hands of the REAL murderers and malingerers of history: totalitarians? Scary to think one who has a rather high opinion of himself could end up as just another “useful idiot”.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    However you want to place blame, the Christian masses have been providing the power to keep things going the way they have been. A very real problem is how can you wake those masses up to what they have been doing?

  •' John John says:

    As someone above pointed out, you can freely leave Christianity. If the “Christian masses” turn you off, leave. Shake the dust off your feet, as it were.

    Yet does not observable history teach us that there are other “forces” at work in this world? They, too, come to you with a smile and a cause. Are they any nicer than dread Christianity? Upon a just survey one concludes they are not.

    By a long shot.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    You could look at the Abrahamic faiths as being upside down religions. Instead of working toward a greater understanding of the divine, they look backwards in time for that better view of the divine. They believe the farther back in history you go, the closer people were to divine understanding, and if you go back far enough you reach a time when God was walking among people in the flesh and giving them direct guidance of the principles of science and living and God’s plan. They believe it has been downhill since then, and headed to a time when people get so far from the divine that God will have to start killing to fix things.

  •' mikehorn says:

    That’s one of the depressing things I find about religion, but to a person whose current life is misery, it might be a comfort. One of the problems I have with mother Teresa is that she confused the backward looking cosmology with modern abilities.

    Personally, I can’t imagine hope for the human future. Why would I bother having kids if I didn’t think they’d have as good or better than me? Humans should be forward thinking by nature. Anything else leads to nihilism.

  •' Wendy in CA says:

    Thank you for sharing the story of your journey, Mr. Bell. As a child growing up with the influence of the American Baptist church my parents and beloved grandmother were quite progressive. I wondered at the miracles of religious story telling and faith and the marvels of science and technology. At that time I never dreamed the two were incompatible and was often surprised when my questions in Sunday School and in church circles, even at home, brought scorching criticism. Here’s an example. At age 11 my father and grandmother told me that cremation was a sin because it destroyed the body for the rapture. I questioned that assumption with the argument that if God created the heavens and the earth He had to be the father of all science and knowledge. Therefore if Adam were created out of the dust of the earth or if a body was burned or torn asunder like Dad’s friend who still rests with the USS Arizona surely God would not exclude the reunion with Him at the rapture. Cremation is nothing in the grand scheme that is God. I would spend my young life and into my adult life questioning theological teachings and religious notions and prejudices that seem to be a litmus test to me a part of the religious community. I left the church in 1976. I tried to go back 3 times before I realized that it’s not part of my being to be “religious.” I’m more of a deist. I believe there is a God but He is not an intervening one. I believe humans are special in many ways and therefore we survive and get through life on the good will of others and our purpose in life is to serve with good will. I know religious people who live by that same philosophy except that it has Jesus’ name on it. However, so many use religion to promote self interest, deny good will and purpose, and promote evil in the world.

  •' JCNow says:

    Have it your way. Republican ideals tend towards lower taxes for the rich, allowing them to keep more of their income. The rich can then claim they are good decent human beings (instead of the greedy plutocrats that they are), by making charitable contributions to help the poor.

  •' Graeme_Sharrock says:

    Here’s the three-step . . .1. Bring out your ethical deals. 2. Reject any imagined God that doesn’t match them. 3. Proclaim you’re an atheist now.

    Did I miss anything?

  •' HollowGolem says:

    Meh? I’m an atheist, and I share that concept of belief.

    We believe what we believe because of our experiences and personal history. Because of the way we have been taught to evaluate our experiences and the experiences themselves.

    As a materialist, I believe that our thoughts are the consequences of the mechanical accidents of the electrons in our brain, which are themselves determined by prior events.

    Deterministically, we don’t choose our beliefs. They are just the consequences of our minds.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    That philosophy doesn’t justify beliefs that are wrong, and does suggest logical reasoning is the right choice. In your way of looking at things, if it can be reasoned out and explained, then the evidence becomes prior events that can help you determine what is right.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I think we have been stuck on the question of whether or not there is value in an imagined God. Once that is resolved, everything else should be easy.

  •' Smknws says:

    I think i am fed up with religion , but that doesn’t make me an atheist . If evolution with out intelligence is to blame for this chaotic world of people killing in gods name , then there is no hope . . evolution has no ability to purposely change it .If there is a god then lets hope S/HE can fix it a world with out religion can survive but a world with out god !!!!! 😉

  •' Jim Reed says:

    That philosophy is the problem. Society can evolve and has been in the process of doing that. We can solve our problems, and we have to. The most sure way to make sure we don’t solve the problems and everything blows up in our face is to rely on God. All too often religion does this on purpose because they want destruction, so at the very least as a society we should try to make sure religion doesn’t also do it on accident.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    You do realize that if you were born in Pakistan, you’d be saying exactly the same thing about Islam. And if you were born in India, you’d be saying the same thing about Hinduism.

    To deny that essential contingency of religious affiliation is to deny straightforward empirical fact. The overwhelming number of religious people have the affiliations of their birthplace. The “born again” into-an-entirely-different-religion-phenomenon is actually, quite rare, if one considers religious affiliation worldwide.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    You think that nuns teaching in inner city schools are “supporting republicans”? You think that my daughter’s Sunday school class trip, a few weeks ago, to work for “Meals a Million” is “supporting republicans.” You think that my doing free catering for a poor couple’s wedding was “supporting republicans”?

    Do you ever actually think before you speak? Or do you just open your mouth and whatever falls out is what we all have to deal with?

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    So, the only religious people who engage in charity are Republicans?

    Because that’s the allegation that is being responded too. Jim Reed’s ignorant “charitable giving means supporting Republicans.”

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    I happen to think that most of the ethical ideals of my religious tradition are quite sound, regardless of the existence of anything supernatural. So, where does that put me, in your little list?

  •' SpiritCalls says:

    The major problem with the “thesis/antithesis” is that which the exoteric religions promote in the first place, the good/evil dichotomy similar to all or nothing, “you are either for us or against us”.

    Thus we have theists and atheists as the only allowable choices, completely disregarding the potential of Spirit-ual INterconnection, the synthesis, the equalizing nature of the (=) in the Trinity of Truth where (+=-) trumps (where the Transcendent is allowed) the (+/-).

    Give it some thought, religious or not. IMnsHO and E.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I think Christianity has to a great extent been supporting Republicans. I think that has won them a lot of elections, and led them to go the direction they are today. Someone is supporting them, and it has to be more than that fraction of one percent who are profiting from the way they are running things. The exit polls have been showing the more often someone goes to church per week, the more likely they are to vote republican. That might be insane, but it is what we have to work with at the moment.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    We have to keep it simple. The whole idea behind making it complex is if it can be beyond comprehension, then everything goes, and it can just be your religion because it can’t be understood so you and everyone else can believe anything, and nothing means anything,and that is the way religion likes it.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    That makes sense. I like to think if I was born in one of those places, I would be rejecting that religion, instead of rejecting Christianity. Perhaps there are a few from those countries who feel the same.

  •' SpiritCalls says:

    The deepest and the highest truth are one and the same, both the most simple thing in existance as well as the most complex, we make of it what we desire … when known, one can not but practise it, and thus they are set free. 🙂

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    Again, my remarks were directed to what you actually wrote, which was in response to HollowGolem.

    HollowGolem wrote the following:

    “So long as the churches of the United States focus on those tangibly important aspects of their social function, I don’t really care about the personal metaphysical beliefs of their members as individuals.”

    It seems pretty clear that by “churches”, he means religious institutions, generally speaking.

    You, then, wrote:

    “Those might be loaded issues. Charitable giving means supporting Republicans.”

    To which I then asked you very specific questions about specific acts of charity. And I don’t see how your most recent answer is responsive.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Republicans are against national health care, against a strong system of pensions, against any protections of people from abuses of wall street or other rich. They are against food stamps, against minimum wage. Christians have been supporting them in all this, and the Republican/Christian alliance says charity is the way to help people. I think the rich know those numbers could never add up, and with this philosophy they will get more rich, and the people can fight over the leftovers. I am not sure what Christianity thinks, if they even think at all.

  •' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    This is unresponsive to my point. Plenty of religious people who engage in charitable activity are not Christians. Plenty of Christians who engage in charitable activity are not Republicans. Your generalizations on these subjects are *never* true and yet you keep coughing them up anyway, no matter how many times people patiently point out to you that your facts are screwy.

    I’m starting to wonder if you are just trolling.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    The other side of the coin is the important part. Christians or others can feel as they want about charity. The problem is their resistance to the nation working to solve these problems, through national health care, or rational pension systems, and fair wages. We know the rich want to get more rich, and they will take advantage of the people every time they get a chance. The surprise is Christians back them up with the votes, and make it possible. The result is the gap between rich and the rest has grown about 10 times bigger in my lifetime. I understand the greed of the rich. I don’t understand the foolishness of the Christians who vote for them and cut their own throats along with the throats of the rest of us.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I was trying to say Republicans support the concept of charitable giving as a replacement to the government spending on any security net, or national health care, or even having controls on Wall Street and big banks so that they can’t take advantage of people. The Republicans get rich and in the process they can seem in favor of charity in a world ruled by greed of the rich that is taking advantage of the population, but making up for it by supporting charity from the religions.

  •' Rmj says:

    Biblical scholarship, even among atheist scholars, says your summation is quite false, and quite historically ignorant.

    And as for “existence,” it’s a much more complex issue than whether or not my hands are resting on a keyboard which is resting on a desk which is resting on the floor of a building, all of which can be said to “exist,” but none of which “exist” as a human being does, or as a deity might.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    We still have that biblical record of how the gospel Jesus story was constructed over the last half of the first century, and in the middle of that century the extensive Christian writings showed nothing of any of the gospel Jesus stories. You might still want to argue about the existence of some theoretical man, but the fact is no book of the new testament was the story of anyone who lived in the first half of the century. They are all stories about the invention and refinement of a religion from the last half of the century.

  •' Rmj says:

    You imagine if it wasn’t scribbled down a la modern journalism, it couldn’t possibly be true.

    You ignore in your familiarity with written society the authenticity of oral society, and you assume because the oldest gospel to survive is now dated to 70CE that no written document preceded it. Interestingly, Biblical scholars don’t make the same mistakes.

    You presume, in other words, a world entirely consistent with the world you know, with no knowledge of the world of 1st century Judea. You probably even imagine “family” meant to nuclear family of today, and social order was structured much as it is today.

    Your error lies in your lack of knowledge, which you presume makes you more knowledgeable than the students and scholars of history.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    The flaw in that way of looking at it is the writings of Paul. We do have a pre-gospel written record, and it doesn’t match the gospels. It was a different kind of Christianity that was developed with the gospels in the last half of the century. The earlier Christianity was based on belief in a Jesus that was found in old testament scriptures, plus in visions. The oral tradition myths fall apart when you realize there was a written record, and it doesn’t match what that oral record was supposed to be.

  •' dogged says:

    I’m glad someone expressed “agnosticism” realistically. The concept pervades at many levels and is not an “all or none” phenomenon: For example, many Catholics, though faithful to the Creeds, may be (silently) agnostic to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (of the Virgin Mary). Nonetheless, they regard themselves as true Catholics.

  •' dogged says:

    The evidence for Jesus’ historical existence is far greater than that for Ulysses, King Arthur or Robin Hood. The fact that so many individuals spoke or wrote concerning him within a generation of his lifespan is strong evidence for the presence of a real man known as Jesus of Nazareth during the early First Century.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Jesus of Nazareth is not in the writings of Paul, and the later gospels were making things up.

  •' Collin237 says:

    You probably guessed I’d be the one to respond, and also what I’m about to say: They should start by converting the churches into synagogues, and then add free science and math classes as they find qualified teachers.

  •' Deanjay1961 says:

    OK, I’ll bite:

    Not about him at all? Even a little?

    How dare this Bell person appreciate being treated fairly in an article, unless the entirety of the article is all about him!

  •' Deanjay1961 says:

    Yes. Religion is growing rapidly where people tend to be poor and desperate. I suppose keeping them that way would be one way to preserve religion.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I forgot what I was going to say.

  •' Deanjay1961 says:

    He didn’t change jobs voluntarily. He expressed his doubts and was fired for it. Perhaps if his fellow Christians had treated him better while he was struggling with his faith, the outcome might have been different.
    You’ve connected the man to totalitarianism based on nothing. More and more people are realizing that whatever they have to gain by having people like you in their lives, it’s not worth it.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    I doubt your intellectual independence would be so assured in many of the countries ruled by religious governments. Being born and raised in a secular country makes courage relatively easy.

    Do you believe you have some intrinsic trait that makes you different from the average person? It is always easy to view ourselves as the hero of our own stories but I would not be so smug as to think you would know the “Jim Reed” who might exist outside the protections of a democratic secular society. To hold and speak up about your current positions costs you very little. In some countries it would be costing you your family, friends and sometimes your life.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    All true. I know this is a rare opportunity. Even for most of my life in this country I don’t think the “RD” style conversations would be practical, maybe not even possible, anywhere. This is a new situation, so I think we should push it to the max while we can. I think things changed when Bush was elected. It seemed like logic just fell off a cliff, and there was nothing that could be done about it. Then over the next few years it evolved into the chance for some of the conversations on the internet. The United States might be about 90% insane, but the freedom to speak up on the internet is great. In general, I don’t think it is even possible outside in society when not on the internet. You have to appreciate RD.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    My guess is that you would include yourself in the 10% you don’t consider insane. That in and of itself is serious problem. When eliminating 90% of your fellow citizens from any consideration of being honestly concerned about living in a well balanced society or being honest themselves you risk entering into the echo chamber of narrow minded, elitism and hubris.

    Many political liberals are seem to posses this defect. Inbred exclusivity of intellect and POV are the first steps toward an intellectual caste system that might be considered “inhuman.” Excluding 90% of people from anything does not a country make.

    Education is ONLY the first step on any road to truth. In this world there is much to learn and enjoy from those of different points of view, beliefs and types of learning experiences.

    Your idea and belief that you possess the “pure” truth and others are rustics and misinformed places you in a place usually occupied by high priests or various religions and today’s overeducated rattling empty wagons.

    Bantering on RD or other sites is not a substitute for actual interaction in the real world of ideas and social interaction with others whose views you might not otherwise encounter.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I think the next real world idea might be related to the Iran deal. That is the most interesting possibility today. Obama is the hero who has constructed and signed the deal with Iran. Signing along with him is Russia, China, France, Great Britain, and Germany. Today’s news is now the Republicans are about one vote short of having a veto proof majority to cancel the deal. If they make it, that would be fascinating. Obama signs the deal. The Republicans manage to veto it and we have to back out. Meanwhile, those other 5 major countries who also signed the deal don’t answer to our Republican congress, and they don’t have to back out. They can continue and eliminate the sanctions, and that should be enough to make Iran more than happy and keeping their part of the deal. It might not be 90%, but it is a whole lot of Americans who end up looking like war mongering idiots. If Obama loses this battle with congress, he is an even bigger winner and becomes the ultimate global hero.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    “Evolve?” During WW II and the Communist revolutions the industrial killing machines ground up more then thirty million men, women and children. Probably more then all the “wars” combined in human history.

    Both the Nazis and Communists had little or no interest in God or anything beyond “evolving” into some “better” society. If you think societies can think their way out of their natural tendencies toward self destruction through some evolution process you are way off the mark. Now with nuclear weapons being spread far and wide there might not be time left to evolve as you put it.

    God may not be the answer but the concept is NOT the problem it is the idea that man is some kind of self contained moral universe who functions as a self correcting force acting for an overall good. Many many of the edicts and motivations that allowed organized societies to function were described as being “from on high.” People then overrode their natural drives and inclinations and put aside individual goals for the “greater good” as directed from “on high.” Sometimes they usurped the “on high” idea in the service of war. But given all the progress of societies those ideas were mostly utilized for the good of people. Organization requires control. Control, like fire can be a force for good or evil,

    If you believe we have evolved beyond this meme I think you are being a bit premature. What you think and believe does not effect those that would resort to destroying you and me without a second thought. Religion is often a mitigating force but sometimes it is a motivating one for evil. Thing is it NEVER operates independent of the internal forces that drive humanity.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Thing is it NEVER operates independent of the internal forces that drive humanity. That is because religion is not connected to God. That is why I said it would be a mistake to rely on God. Our ultimate hope is evolution of society.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    The “rich.” The concept goes back to before time. The rich of the past would not even measure up to what todays welfare people enjoy. This because of technology and science. The idea of government charity is strange since the government generates NO wealth but forcibly redistributes money earned by its citizens. The government substitutes their own ideas and standards of who gets what for that of the individual citizen. Since elected officials act for “the people” maybe the redistribution is fair. Probably not.

    Problem is when a bureaucracy and special interest groups control the redistribution fairness is the last thing on their agenda. Advocates for government control of giving seem to forget that if ALL individual voluntary charity were eliminated as it is in many socialist countries their would be a gaping hole in the Federal budget that could NOT be filled by any taxation method.

    Eliminate all institutions, hospitals, church organizations and private charities in the USA and the country would collapse of its own weight.
    The average person and the rich have given more to charities in money and time than you can even imagine.

    Give us some idea of just how much time and effort is given personally by government employees to any cause, charity or individual in need. Most individuals rich or not are NOT paid for the millions of hours freely given to charity. Many of these individuals are Republicans whom you so backhandedly dismiss with your liberal hand. Your so called government welfare is a cold soulless type of giving that is received as an “entitlement” by those in need. This type of charity is now just another government program no different then some tax subsidy to a big oil company. There is little or no humanity attached to either.

    The idea that cutting any government program is a way of making the rich even richer is an idea with little or no weight. The “greedy” rich are an easy target for demagogues and have been since forever.

    Attacking the rich has always been an intellectual shortcut to avoid actually solving social problems. Gets the mobs blood up but is of little use when the time comes to “do something.”

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    Your stereotyping of the rich is as odious as any other stereotyping. And just as stupid. Your one size fits all does not comport with any rational thought process accepted by anyone.

    Millions of poor to middle class individuals have gotten rich over the last 100 years by dint of their intellect, work ethic or just plain luck. For you to heap them all into some giant waste basket is beyond all reason and smacks of some dreadful shortcoming on your part.

    Republicans this and the rich that seems to be your all purpose response to anything and everything without any regard for the reality that exists outside your echo chamber.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    As i stated your ultimate hope has been proven to be a dead end. Religion whether connected to God or not is perceived as being an authority outside of the closed world of humanity. As such it is able to, in the best of times, impose an order and morality that is “above” that conjured by human minds.

    This in turn inculcates society with ideas and concepts that it would not consider during its everyday evolution. How long would it have been to absorb the ideas of Jesus, worldwide, without a religion to carry and spread these positive concepts.

    God may not exist in your mind but without His presence in the minds of millions of humans evolution would be gained in fits and starts that would be lost after every era or war. Religion is like a vessel that contains and protects ideas and operating instructions from generation to generation down through the ions. Religion like any powerful idea transcends generations and carries the seeds of your “evolution” to later generations. It offers the consistency and yeast that allows the human condition to rise above its base desires and animal drives. Something that can only be accomplished when individuals believe in their hearts that something other then themselves is at work.

  •' Burnt Orange says:

    You seemed to have not even considered that the “deal” is a bad one for the country. Pres. Obama whose motivation seems to be his legacy NOT the best interests of America, is negotiating, something he seems very inapt at, a deal without the 4 other countries even at the table.

    One man, Pres Obama, might be deciding the fate of millions of individuals in the Middle East. None of whom elected him to do anything. Iran is being treated as a country with integrity and high morality. A treaty at any cost will prove to be a huge mistake. But then you and others will be on to something new and shinny. Like Clinton’s North Korea agreement it will be yesterday’s newspaper. Countries in the Far East are now under the terror of a nuclear threat. Soon it will be the Middle East and Israel.

    Others in the M.E. want a bomb and they will get it by hook or crook. Pres Obama with his Arab Spring and current Iran treaty has compounded Bush’s mistakes 10 fold.

  •' Deanjay1961 says:


  •' Jim Reed says:

    Reading back through this thread, a lot has already been said. I hope it is enough.

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