Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Year Without Atheism

Ryan Bell just completed an amazing year “trying” to live without God. No small challenge for a pastor. Inspired by that, I thought I’d try a year without atheism. It should be a lot easier since I’m not really giving up anything or trying anything on. To be a non-atheist is not a simple matter of applying math like logic and cancelling the double negative to end up with theist. It means not identifying myself as not being something else. In other words, it’s like being most other people.

I know some atheists can get pretty touchy about the definition of that word, and you either have some degree of belief in god or you don’t, or you’re still thinking about it, but anyway, the key word here is “identify”. I think if you ask most people to say who they are, they’ll start with a familial relation like “mother” or maybe with a career, next might be geographical like their hometown or country, then a few might start mentioning religion. Of course if you ask them about religion they might go on all night, but the key here is identity. For me, I’ve been saying I’m an atheist because I want it to be clear that there is no theology out there that is believable. For this year, I’m saying I just don’t care.

I heard a story that when rabbis were asked “what is the Torah” they answered that “it is the interpretation of Torah”. In other words, the stories are there to be told and also to be discussed. They are not flat or literal or unchanging or prescriptive. Their meaning should be discovered by each generation. That’s nice. Unfortunately it’s not how many people approach scripture, but for me, what it really misses, is that Torah is one of many books exploring how human beings have come to know who they are and why they’re here. For me, the answer to “what is the Torah” is “it is reading and listening to how others experience life”. Scripture is often a rare glimpse into the thoughts of regular people dealing with larger world events . 

I’m not “spiritual but not religious”, I’m not non-spiritual either. I don’t know what the word “spiritual” means and I’m a little burnt out by people using the word even though they don’t know what it means either. I’m looking forward to year of not thinking about it, not attempting to better construct or defend a worldview.

Ryan started out his year reading up on philosophy. I won’t be starting by reading up on theology. I won’t be looking for ways to challenge myself or my thought process any more than anyone normally should. I’ve been doing that for 4 years. I’m sure some will be relieved to know that I won’t be pointing out to others how some political action or world event is related to theism.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be listening for hidden agendas in the words of elected officials. That doesn’t mean I won’t be celebrating as the rest of the United States and who knows who else embraces same-sex marriage. It doesn’t mean my ideas about the cause of terrorism will change. Those are normal things that we all should do. Atheism never informed my values so my values won’t change. Atheism didn’t tell me to use the scientific method, I’ll still use it.

It will be more like the answer to this joke: How many atheists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Just one, they just unscrew the old one and put in a new one.


  1. Interesting experiment. I do think the distinction between identifying as an atheist and lacking belief in god is worth keeping track of. So, it's especially interesting to see you calling attention to the role of identity here.

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