I recently came across a story of the pastor in a Seventh-day Adventist Church, a Mr. Ryan J. Bell, who has decided to experiment with atheism for a year. He has left (kicked out?) his Church to live his life as an atheist. What? As far as I can tell, atheism is like pregnancy, either you are or you aren’t.
Mr. Bell grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church (what fun that must have been), and it seems that he became disenchanted with the social philosophy of the Church as it relates to homosexuals and women. Hmmm, a religious organization that has problems with homosexuals and women, quelle surprise! In any case, the Church eventually asked him to resign, which he did. He has now decided to “try on” atheism. He will live for the next 12 months as “if there is no God”. This is the first clue that Mr. Bell cannot ‘try on’ atheism; atheists do not live life ‘as if there is no God’, atheists live life aware there is no God.
What else does atheism mean to Mr. Bell? Well, no prayers, no reading the Bible, no reference to God as the giver of all things good, and no hoping that God will alter his or anyone else’s fate (I thought that was covered off in the no prayers commitment but whatever). As well, he will read our “sacred texts”! All the usual suspects (Russell, Nietzsche, Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett etc.); while he is at it he should (re)read the biggest and best atheist text of all time – The Bible.
Mr. Bell needs to be aware of the distinction between ‘doing’ and ‘is’; ‘doing’ would be a journey of discovery, of questioning, while ‘is’ is the state of being (an atheist). As an atheist, I can no more ‘try on’ Christianity, or Islam, or Hiduism, or Judaism as Mr. Bell can ‘try on’ atheism. I can perhaps explore their scriptures and tenets – either on a philosophical or religious level. My goal could be to question my assumptions and appraise the evidence in support of God/No God etc. I have actually done this for Christianity to a large extent, and for Islam to a lesser extent; I am STILL an atheist.
Mr. Bell should have proclaimed that he was on a journey of discovery or use some similar phrase to capture what he really is doing. What he is not doing is ‘trying on atheism’. Perhaps at the end of his journey Mr. Bell will turn out to be an atheist (let’s hold out that hope), moving from ‘doing’ to ‘is’.