THE BLOG
01/07/2015 05:01 pm ET Updated Mar 09, 2015

That Pastor Who's Now an Atheist Kind of Has a Point

As you may have read, about a year ago a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor Ryan Bell started living without believing in God and, like any normal 21st-century man, he blogged about it.

His year without God is over and now the guy's an atheist.

Fearfully, I glanced at his website. But he's not what I guessed: a black-and-white, binary thinker whose new hatred of God and religious expression is just as hot as his former Christian conviction. He's got none of that nonsense going on. He seems a reasonable guy. He's pretty relaxed about the whole thing. I'd like to meet him.

You can read a short interview with him here. In it, when asked why he no longer believes in God, Bell responds with the following incredibly interesting words:

The intellectual and emotional energy it takes to figure out how God fits into everything is far greater than dealing with reality as it presents itself to us... the existence of God seems like an extra layer of complexity that isn't necessary. The world makes more sense to me as it is, without postulating a divine being who is somehow in charge of things.

I'm a Christian minister. Despite its folly, its well-known crimes, and its millions of tiny betrayals of trust, I love the tradition in which I was raised. I believe that, deep down, it gives us a glimpse of what human life is really about. This is important to me so I've stuck with it. I do all the churchy stuff church people do. I do my best to love God and to stay connected to my divine source.

But I think Bell's onto something. Three somethings, really. First, he is right: It does take intellectual and emotional energy to believe in God. It's not at all easy to understand how God "fits into everything." For some of us it's fun, and occasionally enlightening. But if it becomes a mere chore you really should stop. I stop a lot. I have even, on occasion, tried to stay stopped. But here at midlife disbelieving in God would be indistinguishable from disbelieving in myself. Not because I'm God but because God is central to my deepest and most secret identity.

Which gets me to my second comment: I don't see God as an extra. God is not a thing among things, or an idea among ideas. God is in no way addable to (or subtractable from) anything. In my experience God is most directly encountered in precisely the reality Bell deals with when he stops thinking about God and sees the world truly. "All theory, dear friend, is gray, but the golden tree of life springs ever green." If he sees God as an add-on, as a removable idea, I can understand why trying to figure out God gives him a headache, and why a year off has been good for him.

Finally, I wonder about our classical Christian idea of God as a "divine being who is in charge of things." Maybe our idea of an omnipotent God-in-charge is just an ego trip. Maybe it's about what we want to be: in control.

There is a strand of theology (called process theology) that rejects the traditional power-as-control model of God. I have known about it -- and taught it -- for years, but am recently becoming more and more swayed by it. I won't develop this idea here today, but I will be unpacking it a little over the coming weeks here and at psnt.net.

In the meantime, head on over to Bell's blog. It's energizing reading for anyone with an interest in God (or not-God).