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Way In

Year we go

On January 1, the Seventh Day Adventist pastor Ryan J. Bell (above) announced that he would live for a year 'as if there is no God'. A critic of his church's approach to sexuality, gender and end-times theology, he had already been asked to resign, which prompted a period of reflection in which he became 'a religious nomad.' For 2014 he would, he said, be 'making it official and embarking on a new journey'.

'I will "try on" atheism for a year. For the next 12 months I will live as if 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. (I trust that if there really is a God that God will not be too flummoxed by my foolish experiment and allow others to suffer as a result).'

The experiment has already led to some serious consequences. Since the year began, he has been fired from his positions as adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University and Fuller Theological Seminary. Bell says that both Christian institutions 'simply feel they cannot have me as a part of the faculty while I'm am in this year long process. Both APU and Fuller welcomed a conversation with me at the end of the year to see about my future work with their institutions. The Deans of both schools encouraged me and said they felt my project was bold and even important and necessary.'

With his faith in God inactive, however, other less-temporary atheists have been willing to demonstrate their faith in him. The atheist blogger Hemant Mehta set up a fundraising page which garnered more than $27,000 dollars for the now unemployed Bell.

Though Mehta initially criticized Bells' approach, he wrote that, 'As an atheist, I want Bell to know that we appreciate what he's trying to do and that we'll support him even if his Christian community will not and (more importantly) even if he decides atheism isn't for him when the year is over.'

Perhaps inevitably, Bell is writing about his experience with the aim of writing a book. He also runs an erudite blog at www.yearwithoutgod.com.