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Year Without God

The Effort of Adding God to Stuff

Year Without God

I have only recently become aware of former Seventh-day Adventist pastor, Ryan Bell’s “experiment” of living 2014 as an atheist. He blogged about this at Year Without God. And at the end of the year he found he no longer believed in God. Here’s how it started:

For the next 12 months, Bell says he will live as if there is no God.

He will not pray, go to church, read the Bible for inspiration, trust in divine providence or hope in things unseen. He’s taking the opposite of a leap of faith: a free fall into the depths of religious doubt.

As I’ve indicated, I have not followed the blog, and I am not critiquing what he did, nor defensive in the light of his conclusion.

But one particular comment of his struck me:

I think the best way I can explain the conclusion I’ve come to — and conclusion is too strong a word for the provisional place I now stand and work from — is that 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.

I just wonder if that is correct.

I wonder if, to consider a parallel example, it takes “far greater intellectual and emotional energy” to “figure out” that in and through the actions of six-foot columns of pink protoplasm that we regularly encounter, we are actually engaging with other persons like ourselves – rather than just bumping into the columns, ” dealing with reality as it presents itself to us”?

I wonder if, as another example, it takes “far greater intellectual and emotional energy” to “figure out” the meaning encoded in my opening line, “I have only recently become aware…” than “dealing with reality” of this being merely a random collection of scribbles (or electrons, or photons): “I H A V E O N L Y R E C E N T L Y…”?

It seems to me that we humans are meaning-seeking, and meaning-creating beings. We teach people the meaning of the letters I H A V… We teach people language, speaking, reading… Yes, someone raised in one language struggles with the letters and grammar of another language. I struggle with Japanese. Sure, there is “intellectual and emotional energy” to learning language, and learning to interpret.

Similarly, sure there is “intellectual and emotional energy” to learning to interpret the language of Reality, but to abandon that effort and “deal with reality as it presents itself to us” in uninterpreted bits and bytes seems to me to be abandoning being a meaning-seeking, and meaning-creating being.

I will be blogging soon about a conversation between two atheists, Richard Dawkins and Oksana Boyko, but in the present context I just want to quote Oksana Boyko who, as a professed atheist, makes the very opposite point to Ryan Bell:

Now, I’m speaking here from perhaps my personal experience, but I found that to be an atheist, you have to invest a lot of time and effort into it, you have to do a lot of reading, you have to do a lot of thinking. And I think, for a lot of people around the world, that’s a pure luxury. I mean, they cannot afford an intellectual lifestyle. They perhaps work several jobs, or again, live in war zones, when they would love to wonder about stars, but it’s simply not part of their life. I wonder if the case could be made that atheism, at the end of the day, is a mark of social and intellectual distinction or status? That this is something that a lot of people around the world, stricken by poverty or stricken by war, simply cannot afford?

So, what do you think?

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13 thoughts on “The Effort of Adding God to Stuff”

  1. Jordan Greatbatch

    I think you make some very good points Bosco. I will just offer a thought on the atheist idea.

    I remember reading (with rather a lot of effort) Bertrand Russell’s ‘A History of Western Philosophy’ where he makes the great point that what made the Greek Philosophers so great was not just their astounding intellect, but also the fact that they were in a society which enabled them to have slaves to do their manual labour, thus enabling them to spend their lives doing nothing but ‘thinking’.

    It has been the same in the modern western world to some extent. Western Europeans have been enabled through slavery and colonisation to create a class freed of the labour intensive life and therefore have had the time and resources to develop science and higher thinking.

    I suspect that is the essence of what Oksana Boyko is getting at. There is the point to be made that you see the correlation in the development of countries and societies and the reduction in faith and organised religion.

    1. Thanks, Jordan. Do you think your correlation (from your last paragraph) holds for USA? “Organised” religion may be struggling to work out how to connect with our third-millennium context in NZ, but

      A New Zealand values survey recently indicated 60 percent believed in God and a further 20 percent in some Higher Power. 60 percent indicated they prayed, 30 percent several times a week. All these figures had increased over the previous decade.


  2. It is one thing to “live as an atheist” in a predominantly Christian environment and another to live like one in a heathen culture where it is normal to kill, steal, spread false testimony about someone etc.

    The whole concept of a country governed as a Republic under the rule of law by separated powers, versus the rule of man (as in a monarchy or dictatorship), where the “good” are protected (from cannibals, murderers etc) and justice is Biblical – by two or three witnesses and trial by jury, is a Christian one. This is the environment he tried his experiment in.

    Unfortunately for Christians, our once Christian West has fallen to Humanism and this guy got away with adultery and found support for his experiment.

    Humanism will suffer the same fate as heathenism has/does, it self destructs as it has nothing to govern it’s lusts. Unlike Christianity which is perfectly defined through God’s love and his Law/Word. The humanist will continue to mock their creator while they live in a just society, enjoying liberties won by Christian men, who wanted to live in peace. They are sawing away at the branch of the tree that they are sitting on, enjoying the shade and fruit – while mocking the tree.

    1. “The whole concept of a country governed as a Republic under the rule of law by separated powers… is Biblical…”

      Really? Just where in the Bible does one find a republic under the rule of law with separation of the executive, legislative and judicial powers?

      One doesn’t: in the Bible, we find only tribalism, theocracy or monarchy as forms of government.

      The notion of a republic goes back to the ancient Greeks, while the notion of separation of powers as we know it in the United States of America and other Western democracies was articulated by French Enlightenment philosopher Montesquieu in the 18th century.

      “..enjoying liberties won by Christian men, who wanted to live in peace….”

      The “liberties” won by “Christian men” who “wanted to live in peace” often came at the cost of others’ liberties (and lives, and property, and culture) by “Christians” whose warfare, slavery and colonization showed (1) little interest in peace or being peaceful, (2) an unfamiliarity with or unwillingness to conform to Christ Jesus’ gospel mandate to love neighbor, love enemy and treat others the same way they wanted to be treated, and (3) far more trust in guns, ammunition and whips than in God.

      When it comes to mockery, many “Christians” in history have mocked Christ Jesus by not following his gospel values and ethics — and refusing, via triumphalistic attitudes and gestures, to be at all honest about that fact.

  3. I wonder if he is referring to the effort of fitting a preconceived god to reality – as opposed to discovering the presence of God in reality.

  4. Spurred by this post and comments above, but also reflecting on the secularist “event” in France where a nation responded to “Charlie Hebdo” with compassion, human solidarity and conviction that life is for living and not for killing, I posit that being atheist in a secularist (=post Christian) society enjoys advantages re context (i.e. enjoying the fruits of Christian theism as response to reality is worked out).

    Will a post-secular secularism in, say, 2200, be as enjoyable for atheists? (Dare I ask this question) would a post Islamist secularism be as enjoyable for atheists as that enjoyed across the Western world today?

  5. Richard Rohr writes about “functional atheists”(my term not his) who despite going to church and other Christian activities do not really believe that God is in charge of their lives and make decisions and live their lives as if God did not exist. It is possible to be a priest and still have this mindset.
    Frederick Buechner writes of those who say they believe that God exists but act as if he doesn’t and again there are those who say that God does not exist but act as if he does. By this I mean that they act as if that they ultimately will be accountable for their actions and believe in absolute values like those outlined in 1 Corinthians 13.
    Your atheist’s remarks remind me of Tolstoy’s discovery of those serfs on his properties who couldn’t afford not to believe.

    1. Your point, Stephen, fits in with some of my own thinking of the dangers of seeking church-goers rather than discipling. Blessings.

  6. Annelise Schroeder

    I was struck by the phrase “meaning-seeking, and meaning-creating, being”. What if one simply believes there is no meaning? Does that make one less human?

    Also, I agree with David Earle’s comment above. For me, believing in God is not like believing that the sky is blue or that the coffee is hot. Those are physical realities. If we believe that God is present in the sound of a laughing baby, in the smell of wet leaves in the forest, in the colours of a sunset, in all our interactions with others and with the world – then God is not so much to be believed in as simply to be experienced. Some might say that this is what makes us fully human. Arguably, God would not exist if we did not experience God in some way.

    1. Thanks, Annelise. I affirm your profound points. There’s a lot in your comment; I’m only touching the surface of what you say. I think it is important that we realise when we use “exist” for God, we do so by analogy. And so I think many of us, much of the time, do not “experience” God – and that’s fine. I would also distinguish our “experience” of God from God. I’m sure there are many who think there is no ultimate meaning – but these do create meaning within their lives and actions. Blessings.

  7. I too was struck by the various Charlie Hebdo responses around the world and how some of the people professing devout faith look the least connected to God ( in any religion too)

  8. I think where you focus your energy is where you will discover what you seek. So people who seek to prove God does not exist often find the numinous & mystery is real. People you look for evil find it everywhere. Now someone who decides to ignore God & finds it is easier! As another person has said what idea of God did they Profess, did they not realise faith means doubt and uncertainty at times while delighting in creation, in reality, in people,? Living with uncertainty or as St.Francis says “we must learn to live patiently with not being God enough” and also ” we must live with not being good enough” wow how freeing is that, our weakness, our doubts can be the very place w meet God. For me this is about giving up which is ok as it is up to the divine hound of God to find us so good luck on the journey. Belief opens one to mystery, Grace, creation, change, respect, wholeness & connection!

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