ARUN RATH, HOST:
Now back to another story that first came to us at the start of the year. Former pastor Ryan Bell made an unusual New Year's resolution - to live for one year without God, reflecting his own loss of faith. We talked to him just after he started that journey, and last week, he stopped by NPR West for a spiritual check-in. Today, Ryan Bell has a new job at an organization called Path, which is dedicated to helping the homeless.
RYAN BELL: When I was a pastor in Hollywood, my congregation and I volunteered in some capacities with Path. And it's, I think, an expression of really the part of me that hasn't changed. I'm still the same person deep down that I was before. I care about justice and equality, and I want to see opportunities spread more evenly in our society.
RATH: And when we first spoke, you know, almost a year ago, you'd had both an outpouring of support from the atheist community, but you also didn't feel like an enthusiastic atheist either. Where do - where are you now? Are you more enthusiastic?
BELL: I mean, I think I've adjusted or sort of acclimatized a little bit to the atheist community. I've spent more time in settings with atheists. But there are still elements of it that are a bit more confident than I find myself to be in some aspects, so still an awkward fit.
RATH: And you gave a talk recently where you said that you have some level of discomfort when you're back among what you called your old tribe, meaning Christians. Talk about that.
BELL: Yeah, I mean, I think part of my discomfort is that I never like to make people feel uncomfortable by my personal experience or whatever I'm going through. So I'm sensitive that people around me are uncomfortable because of what I'm going through or what I'm exploring. I think it just takes time to get used to the fact that I'm in a different place now than they are, and if they choose to be in relationship to me, then that's just something we have to adjust to.
RATH: It seems like you're at a sort of similar level of spiritual uncertainty to where you were last year - maybe more comfortable with that uncertainty. What would you say you've learned, though, in this past year, as you've been thinking through these issues very deeply?
BELL: I think one of the things I've learned is that people very much value certainty and knowing and are uncomfortable saying that they don't know. I find that scientists, by occupational tradition, I suppose, are more comfortable saying they don't know. That's kind of the impetus to keep searching. Atheists, I think, are comfortable with saying they don't know. I find Christians are very uncomfortable saying they don't know. I think on all sides of this question, certainty is a little overrated.
RATH: I realize we've been kind of dancing around the core question of this last year, which is where are you now with God? What difference does God make for you now?
BELL: Yeah, I think at this point, you know, I've looked at the majority of the arguments that I've been able to find for the existence of God. And on the question of God's existence or not, I have to say I don't find there to be a convincing case, in my view. I don't think that God exists. I think that makes the most sense of the evidence that I have and my experience.
But I don't think that's necessarily the most interesting thing about me. You know, I think there are much more important issues to be focused on - things that are really threatening our society while we're worried about what's going to happen about after we die, when in reality, no one of us knows what's going to happen to us after we die. But what we do know is that if we don't do something about the immediate challenges that we're facing today, we're going to die a lot sooner (laughter) than we might otherwise. So that's - my focus is I want to have a closer relationship to reality. I think before I wanted a closer relationship to God, and today, I just want a closer relationship with reality.
RATH: Ryan Bell is a former pastor who spent the last year without God, and sounds like you're going forward without God. Thank you very much for talking with us and sharing your insights.
BELL: Thanks for having me back. It's been a pleasure.
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