California pastor Ryan Bell has a novel New Year’s resolution. For one year, he proclaimed, he will “live without God.”
It’s an odd resolution for an ordained minister, former church pastor, teacher at two highly regarded Christian universities, and church consultant. Yet for the next 12 months, Bell, 42, plans to refrain from praying, reading the Bible, and thinking about God at all.
Instead, he will read atheist authors, attend atheist gatherings, and seek out conversation and companionship with unbelievers. He wants to “do whatever I can to enter the world of atheism and live, for a year, as an atheist.”
Still, his resolution is only an experiment — he is not, he said, an atheist. “At least not yet,” he wrote in an essay for The Huffington Post, where, on New Year’s Eve, he announced his plan and a new blog to document it.
In another sign of the emergence of nonbelievers in American society, the Secular Student Alliance, a national organization of more than 300 college-based clubs for atheists, humanists, agnostics and other “freethinkers,” is helping to establish clubs for high school students to hang out with other teens who share their skepticism about the supernatural.
“I am hoping that atheist students having their clubs and religious students having their clubs will promote dialogue,” said JT Eberhard, director of SSA’s high school program. “I also hope it will let the atheist students know that you can be an atheist and its okay. You are still a good person. We want to say: Here is a place where you can feel that.”
There were about a dozen such clubs at the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic school year, a figure that rose to 39 in 17 states by summer break. The clubs are student-led, with SSA providing information and guidance only upon a student’s request.
Some clubs are in states with high levels of “nones” -- people who claim no religious affiliation -- such as New York, Washington and California. But some are in the buckle of the Bible Belt: North Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas all have at least one high school with a club for atheists.
And more are forming. Students at 73 different high schools have requested “starter kits” since January of this year, according to SSA.
I met John Marks, author of Reasons to Believe during a screening of
Back in 2004, Anthony Flew, the world's most prominent atheist, stated he believed in God. Since this pronouncement, some of his fellow atheists treat him as though he's gone over to the dark side and literally lost his mind. In a nutshell, they feel this champion of their cause has flown the coop, as it were, and is being used as a pawn by those Christians who need someone of Flew's stature to give weight to the entire Intelligent Design movement. (
Faithful Progressive offers this insightful comparison of religious extremists and their secular counterparts.
The historical trends which led to the rise of the simplistic and hateful religious right seem to be operating with full force among atheists as well. Simple fear has a lot to do with it, and fear is rarely the source of the best [...]