A Seventh-Day Adventist Pastor Becomes An Atheist
This holiday season NPR released the short story of “After Year Of Atheism, Former Pastor: ‘I Don’t Think God Exists“. A tale of former Seventh-Day Adventist pastor Ryan Bell making an unusual New Year’s resolution for 2014: to live for one year without God.
Of course the timing of the story is designed to inflame emotions of those with faith into reading the article. While many are celebrating their Christian beliefs, anything that contradicts that will of course draw someone in and get them to at least read the article.
I really get annoyed with that kind of psychological manipulation. If your story has value, then it should hold true regardless of what time of the year it is. But that’s not what I want to talk about here.
I’ve come across this article three times in two days. On Twitter through NPR, on FB and as a share from a family member I have great respect for. It was after this third encounter I decided to read the article and find out what this is all about.
My first reaction to the headline was:
If that’s all it took for him to review and question his beliefs, then I doubt the original dedication this pastor had to his religion. He sounds more like a follower than a leader. Easily swayed and lead down a path. A person who doesn’t think for himself, but follows what others tell him to believe. Then I read the short article and formed a more informed opinion.
A couple of things caught my attention.
“At the start of 2014, former Seventh-Day Adventist pastor Ryan Bell made an unusual New Year’s resolution: to live for one year without God.” He did this he says, because “..I wanted a closer relationship to God.”
Now I thought about this. Living without something you want a closer relationship with would create an opportunity to achieve that goal in what way? Seriously, I don’t get this concept in the first place. I would think to gain a closer relationship one would immerse themselves into that union, not segregate them self from it. But ok, there’s definitely many ways to change a diaper and get the job done. So I’ll give him that one. Taking away that which you desire can cause you to appreciate what you have or had more. That is a concept I understand. So let’s go with that. But I’m going to continue to question this line of logic.
Then he says:
“I don’t think that God exists. I think that makes the most sense of the evidence that I have and my experience.” Now this was key to me, especially the “evidence that I have and my experience”. Our perspectives are based on our knowledge and experience. Through knowledge we experience life and attain wisdom. Here we’re left wondering what is, or what was his experience during the year? And most importantly, what evidence has he left out of his year-long experiment?
Has he only practiced these two extremes? A Pastor and an Atheist? Has he, let’s say, sat in a sweat lodge and contemplated the existence of a Divine being? Has he experienced a deep meditation with a Shaman or Guru? Has he experienced a spiritual healing or holistic Reiki session with a Master healer? Has he had a conversation with a Pagan and opened the doors to Metaphysical concepts?
If his only experience has been these two extremes than how can he make an educated and informed analysis of his beliefs? There’s so much more in the middle that might have moved him towards Metaphysics, Paganism, Hinduism, Buddhism or a variety of other belief systems.
Atheism is a belief system, though it’s a belief in science alone and nothing else, it’s still a belief. “I’m an Atheist, I don’t believe in….” <– that’s a belief. It maybe based on science and what the individual views as reality, but it’s still a belief. I love ya Bill Maher, but a belief in nothing, is still a belief.
Anyway, this comment by former-Pastor Ryan said a lot to me. His research and his experience, the two things one needs to look within and examine their own truth, is lacking. Research in this context, must be broad and varied to really gain an expanded view of the world and Universe we live in. Limiting that research, limits one’s experience and shortens the list of possibilities that can be reviewed and examined as possibilities for moving forward. Does that mean we need all knowledge of spirituality and religion before we can make our own decisions? No. It means we have to be open to other possibilities along the way and never stop researching and learning.
No one should be afraid to challenge their own beliefs. If your perspectives can’t stand up to scrutiny then maybe you should review what your perspectives are and why you follow them in the first place. Our perspectives are based not only on book knowledge, but our experiences with that knowledge. Putting them into practice and gaining an understanding of what they are, or aren’t, and deciding for ourselves what is true to us and what is not.
Spirituality, or the lack there of, is a very personal thing. It’s not something to follow along with because others tell you this is true or that is true. It’s being your own leader of your journey, not a follower in the company that trods along in the dust of blind faith. Your personal experiences will tell you what is true…. for you! And that truth may not be the same for someone else who had a different experience with the same thing.
Being a Metaphysical Pagan, my beliefs are ridiculed and challenged all the time. And in the 30+ years of practice I’ve experienced my concepts of understanding and weeded out what’s true and real to me and what isn’t. On many topics, I have evolved and grown my views and beliefs through that challenge and scrutiny. But don’t assume this is only a challenge in concept or doctrine. Because science, the physics of metaphysics also provide understanding and expansion that can allow us to challenge what we believe and evolve our thoughts and experiences. We can’t ignore science because we don’t like what it says about our views. But rather we can use science to help us see beyond the physics of understanding and into the metaphysics of the cosmos.
For some reason people think Metaphysics is at odds with Physics, and based in mythical legend and lore. A misconception of course, but it’s easy to understand where they get this idea. Many people don’t understand that a path of Metaphysics is an evolutionary path. It is both a philosophy and a religion. It grows and expands as our knowledge and understanding of life, the Universe and everything grows and expands.
In other words, Metaphysics is an extension of Physics. It picks up where physics stops and says “we don’t know yet”. Metaphysics says, we can fill in the gap by looking at the unseen forces of the universe and understand what we have not yet discovered through science.
Physics is the study of the observed world. Metaphysics is the study of the unseen world. They are brother and sister working together in balance to provide an understanding of the Universe as a whole. Through the seen and unseen, known and unknown, Physics and Metaphysics work together in harmony to provide understanding. This is no more true than in today’s scientific world. The more we learn through physics, the more is proven within metaphysical concepts that we’ve held onto in belief for centuries. Things I’ve talked about before here on Reflections, so we won’t get into all that here. But let’s share one example.
Metaphysics holds the concept of reincarnation to be real and true. In the past few decades physics has study energy and discovered that it never dies. Energy fades, reconstructs and returns in force. It never dies, it simply reincarnates itself into a new, yet similar form. This is the definition of reincarnation. We are both physical and energy beings. When the physical is no longer needed, it dies. But the energy within, what we as Metaphysical practitioners call the soul, reforms and returns in a new physical form. For those of us who believe in reincarnation, physics has caught up with what metaphysics has long understood and known.
The last part of former-Pastor Ryan’s story that cause question is this line in the NPR article:
“He kept a blog documenting his journey and has a documentary crew following him.”
Really? Was this an attempt to document his experiment in giving up his God and religion? Or is this an indication that Ryan’s projection of a serious study into himself is really about self promotion and publicity? Yeah, I might be a pessimist in this question, but I’m going to go with show me the money.
In reading some of his blog, he does something that a lot of Christians do in making big leaps of assumptions to prove their point. No where in his writings will you find Pagan or Paganism in his review or in discussion. Metaphysics is talked about by people who don’t seem to know what Metaphysics really is. And frankly I find some of his posted debates to be telling, in that, he seems to be trying to convince himself that he’s an atheist and not doing a very good job of it in some cases. Making this last concept of “show me the money” to rise its ugly head even more.
I’m left with the question of why this process was utilized. Why would a Pastor undertake such a year of practice without their religion? That leaves me with the same original question. If your intent was to be closer to God, why would you walk a path without God to achieve that goal?
After reading his story and some of his blog, I summarize that I don’t think that was the intent at all. Some of his actions and arguments throughout his blog give a suggestion he lost his God long ago and needed a way to “come out” about his change in belief. He made a choice to do so in a way that put him center stage with a potential promise of making a buck. Was this accidental, or a by-product of an idea? Maybe. But it does put a question in my mind to his intent.
I’m not against making a buck. Living in poverty is not a metaphysical tenant to achieve. I’m not against people walking a path of atheism either. As I said, spirituality or the lack there of is a very personal thing. We’re all here to learn lessons and the best way to do that is in the choices we make for the path we’ll walk along the way.
For some that will be a path of Paganism, for others it will be whatever rings true to them and that includes atheism. If it works for you, go for it. But don’t condemn others for the path they chose if it’s different from yours. It’s probably right for them and if you respect theirs, they’ll hopefully respect yours.
But his words don’t completely support his headline and causes me to question his claims and the intent behind them. I question his lack of study in a broad context and the seemingly exclusion of certain beliefs systems, namely Paganism, Shamanism and other nature based concept belief systems.
Along with the disrespect of others, namely Metaphysics which he discusses only as a philosophy and not at all as a religion. I question his sources of study and his assumption about some paths over others. In some discussions he’s keen about declaring the qualifications of mainstream religious sources, but when it comes to alternatives such as Metaphysics, or some “nature philosophies” he’s less critical and opens the door to misconception and misunderstanding.
My original critique of his journey about being easily swayed and being a follower were obviously short-sighted and inaccurate. Reading the article didn’t help a lot with that assessment, but it did give a better insight. Reading his blog, well that’s where the real insight provided clues to this self-proclaimed realization and conversion. Is he trying to share his experience or convince others they’re on the wrong path, but give him a few bucks and he can help you find your way.
I’m left with wariness and caution. A doubt in the veracity of former Rev. Ryan Bell’s tale of transition and proclaimed growth. Maybe his progression is genuine. Maybe I’m totally wrong about my assessment. But I’m wondering what’s the point of his journey? What are we supposed to learn from his experiment? In the end, is he trying to convince those of us who hold a spiritual belief that his journey is one we should adhere to because it’s what he now believes?
This type of conversion is one reason many mainstream religious people won’t study other religions. They’re afraid they’ll be converted and lose the connection they have with their God and their faith. Fear of change is the villain of harmony and tolerance. Yet the only constant in the Universe is change. Might as well expand your view with conscious effort than be forced down a road you don’t want to tread.
I’d rather read about other views to compare them and challenge them to my own. I prefer to expand my pool of understanding and knowledge, then contemplate how these new perspectives impact my own long held views if at all. I may not agree with everything I read. I certainly don’t give up what I know to be true to me and my experiences simply because I read something from some other form of spiritual path or religion. I do gain an understanding of others and that builds tolerance for those groups of religions and practices. But it doesn’t turn me into one of those practitioners simply because I read about it.
There are many ways to change ones life, maybe this is a new method. I can think of better ways to review one’s perspectives and expand their understanding and awareness of the Universe than wiping the slate clean and starting over. But that’s just me.
© 2014 Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D. Springwolf Reflections / Springs Haven, LLC. All Rights Reserved.