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The Problem With Trying On Atheism

The Problem With Trying On Atheism


Jan 9 2014
We’re confused by one California pastor’s “year without God.”

Were Bell to frame this simply as a thought experiment with no repercussions for his spiritual life, we could send him on his merry way, stacks of Dawkins and Darwin in hand. But he argues the Seventh-day Adventist teachings and conservative worldview of his church drove him to consider atheism in both thought and practice.

(While I don't understand this endeavor, I don't mean to pass judgment. I am not him, I am not in his shoes, and I trust that he knows his inner life and relationship to God much better than I ever could. Perhaps this is a needed step in Bell's journey toward God. God has used stranger and more terrible things to draw people from distance to intimacy.)

Bell has lost his jobs at Christian schools and consulting for a church as a result of his journey into atheism. In a blog post about the process, he said that deans at Azusa—where he taught intercultural communications—and Fuller Seminary—where he coached doctoral students on their dissertation proposals—"encouraged me and said they felt my project was bold and even important and necessary."

I think it's great that Bell was encouraged to do what he felt he needed to do in order to be honest about his faith. It would have been a shame if Bell had remained, as I'm sure many others have, in a job in which his beliefs did not match up with what he professed. No one wins in that situation.

I cannot imagine, though, why Bell expected or intended to remain in these jobs. Since he is very publicly trying atheism for a year, why would he want to teach at a Christian college, where he must abide by certain standards and teach from a Christian worldview, or lead a church campaign? To expect to draw a paycheck from the organizations whose beliefs he is renouncing strikes me as entitlement.

Bell draws several conclusions about his firing, namely that:

  • "Religions institutions (Christian, in my case) are not able to endure these probing questions from their public leaders."
  • "Christian educational institutions are not serving their students by eliminating professors that are on an honest intellectual and spiritual journey, just because it doesn't line up with the official statement of faith."

To pretend that living a public year of practical atheism is the same thing as a "probing question," is willful ignorance at best. And his second conclusion is simply not in good faith, assuming bad motives of these Christian institutions without exploring his own.

Related Topics:Atheism; Doubt; Higher Education
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