Now, with Bell's publicity-grabbing experiment nearly over, he's back in the news — courtesy of an in-depth, front-page story in the Los Angeles Times:
The Times piece opens with this scene:
"Uh, I'm not exactly sure about all this," Ryan Bell said as he scanned the scene inside a darkened Las Vegas convention hall.
A stripper whirled her hips. A rock band pumped out a song about cannibalism. A man's shouting hung briefly over the packed crowd: "God is dead!"
For nearly two decades, Bell had pastored congregations of Seventh-day Adventists, among the most conservative denominations in Christianity. How had he ended up at a gathering of atheists and skeptics in Sin City?
It had been a long time coming. For years now, it felt as if his prayers weren't being answered. He secretly wondered whether a higher power existed at all.
So, last Dec. 31, he published a blog post that went viral.
"For the next 12 months I will live as if there is no God," he typed. "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)."
Now it was July, just over midway in his journey. Bell had spent as much time as he could reading about science and philosophy, interviewing agnostics and atheists, working to decide what he would believe when the year was done.
Keep reading, and the writer explores Bell's faith journey — journey away from faith, that is — primarily from Bell's own perspective.
A GetReligion reader who saw the article emailed us with this question:
Why didn't the article interview any ordinary atheists? Most atheists are not hedonistic bigots as portrayed in the article.
As for what the article means when it describes Seventh-day Adventists as "among the most conservative denominations in Christianity," readers are left to wonder. The Times makes no effort to explain what Adventists believe and quotes no local, regional or national church officials. The only clue given: The newspaper reports that Bell didn't drink, smoke, swear or eat meat as a teen.
Similarly, the story describes Bell's alma mater — Pacific Union College in Northern California — as "deeply observant" but doesn't bother to elaborate. Instead, the Times shares an anecdote of Bell refusing — at that supposedly "deeply observant" institution — "to read 18th century philosopher Voltaire ... on the grounds that writing such as Voltaire's defiles the soul." Huh?
Later, readers are told that the divorced Bell has started dating a "devoted Christian." Again, the Times uses a generalized term ("devoted" in this case) without feeling a need to explain or elaborate.
The new year will, apparently, bring additional news from Bell.
From the Times:
There will be an announcement on where he stands, most likely on his blog. For now he won't divulge exactly which camp he'll end up in.
It's hard to imagine him going back to the God of organized faith. It's also hard to imagine him joining the crowd contending that God is imaginary and that belief is the source of most of the world's ills.
"I do think I've now seen both sides of the coin," he said on a recent day. "Being with the atheists, they can have the same sort of obnoxious certainty that some Christians have, and I don't want to be a part of that. It feels like I'm stuck in the middle. I want to be for something good, but I don't want boundaries, and religion just feels like a very bounded thing.
"The question I am asking right now: Why do I need religion to love?"
Stay tuned for more headlines.