I've been following the story of former Seventh-Day Adventist pastor Ryan Bell and his experiment of living for a year without God. After a period of doubt, especially fueled by the feeling that his prayers were pointless, and his yearlong break from God, Bell seems poised to make his break final. (At least for now.)
Now that last comment wasn't meant to be snarky. However, many of us have drifted away from our beliefs about God and the role religion played in our lives, only to return in some form later. I'm particularly sympathetic because unanswered prayer was a real catalyst for my journey out of faith ... and then many years later, for a return back to it.
Also as with me, a painful marriage breakdown figured prominently in Bell's loss of faith. As his prayers seemed to be bouncing off the ceiling and back at him, he also contemplated the impossibility of reconciling science and the Bible, and also the big one: the problem of evil. I know that road so well.
Bell has noticed what it took a little longer for me to fully appreciate, in his words:
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.
That passionate arrogance that I at first found so delicious as I drunk at the wells of the great wealth of infidel literature, after a while filled me up to the bursting. Perhaps it came quicker for Bell because he actually hung out with the skeptics and attended their conventions. I simply dropped out of church and continued to read and think. Watching the God debate unfold over the internet really opened my eyes. I was amazed as I watched atheists parrot the cliches of their superstars, not unlike the way intellectually lazy religious believers repeated, often verbatim, the pop-theology of their heroes.
It remains to be seen how Ryan Bell navigates his way through all this. After all, a year is a drop in the bucket compared to the many years he spent in the faith.
My own journey took me to Deism for a while. Later I went into an agnostic mode, one in which I stayed for many years. But deep down inside there was something in me that never died. If I couldn't go back to biblical faith, perhaps I could merge that something inside with my current more science-based understanding of reality. Voila! My pantheistic phase. (Needless to say the actually jorney was not a neat as I present it here as a retrospective; there jumps and starts and falls back and such.)
When I was in my agnostic phase I was very much impressed with the writings of two atheists in particular, Bertrand Russell and Antony Flew. Both of those men were once believers or at least molded in their youth by the Christian faith. Russell never returned to God, but he seemed never to have found exactly what he was looking for either. Flew, on the other hand, and surprisingly enough knowing his writings as I do, did find his way back. And that really got me to thinking about my own journey.
Blaise Pascal wrote, "In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't." The problems that lead us to doubt can be offset with possible solutions. Yet it seems to take something more to push us over one side of the line or the other.
It was at that point that I began to consider the sensus divinitatis (or sense of divinity) a little more carefully. Overwhelmingly down through history humans have been religious. I don't think that is because of an ignorance that needed to be driven out of the human soul. I think it is there because the Creator placed it there. Certainly it can be stifled, perhaps totally eradicated. But many is the atheist that has made a statement to the effect that they wish they could still believe, but alas, their devotion to reason has shut off that door. Is that wish the religious sense causing discord inside?
I wish Mr. Bell all the best as he travels along his journey. I recognize that road.