Where can we go when we give up the life of belief? A Year Without God: The Film‘s Ryan Bell has started a new venture, the website and podcast Life After God that focuses on counseling—and preaching to—the former congregation.
Where do believers go when their faith has run out? Is there a place for those who have turned away from traditional religion but haven’t yet committed to atheism or secular humanism? Many Americans—a higher percentage than ever before—find themselves in this post-religion, post-belief realm and in need of counseling and guidance. And with an emerging and vibrant Western subculture focused on secular humanism, atheism, post-theism, and skepticism, there is a real need for online and real-time meeting places for groups and one-on-one counseling to take place for those who seek truth outside of the faith-only dogma they were raised with.
Enter former Seventh-day Adventist pastor and professor Ryan Bell, who, for the past few years has gone from the pulpit to the podcast in his search for clear, existential truth. Bell, the subject of the documentary A Year Without God, has become a well-known name among theists and atheists alike for his experiment of giving up religious routine for a year to see how the changes would affect his inner navigation. The result? He has become a leading Atheist speaker and writer, splitting his time between speaking at such Freethought and Reason-based gatherings as The Amaz!ng Meeting, Sunday Assemblies, and Aposatcon, and writing for Patheos and Huffington Post.
Bell’s latest project, Life After God, is part-essay, part-counseling and coaching, and most notably a well-produced podcast aiming to, according to the founder, “draw inspiration from and feature as many people as I can on various angles of the notion of life after God—not simply the life of an atheist but the actual time in one’s life after giving up that faith. For most people in that stage, all they really know is that they’re not down with that God, they’re not sure they’re agnostic, and there’s a sense of confusion. There’s this “liminal space” of discomfort or waiting because they haven’t come back yet. People don’t really know how to describe themselves.”
The site and movement exists to empower people and communities to live deeply so they can explore their doubts, recalibrate their “moral compass,” and create new friendships during the “now what” stage of post-theism that many adults face.
Bell’s podcast so far has focused on documentarians, sociologists, secular humanists, former Christians and ministers, and atheists of several varieties, all who bring to the conversation unique angles that color and inspire. Along with his years as a pastor, professor, and writer, he has had quite the media education since the filming began for A Year Without God, running the gamut from local podcasters and news outlets to interviews and profiles with Richard Dawkins, Penn Jillette, Michael Shermer, and Dan Barker.
But it’s the idea of service and pastoral counseling and coaching that has been on Bell’s mind throughout all of this, especially for those who are going through the inevitable crisis of identity that comes with losing—or giving up—one’s faith. Ryan says of his project, “inside that world (of faith when you’re not believing) people are hurting and confused, and they’re looking for a community and want to be understood…personal support for people who want it as they walk through their existential crisis.”
And what about the burgeoning anti-religious community that already exists in America and around the world? Bell would like to see the atheist community more open to “seekers” as well as have a safe “landing space” for deconverting and deconstructing, which is essential. “One guy,” Bell recounts at a speaking engagement, “emailed me afterwards—his girlfriend was a Christian and she was feeling beat up by all the nonbelievers (at the certain conference she’d been dragged to). She was grateful for the tone in a particular session I was in, and it made all the difference. People can’t be assaulted out of their faith just as much as they shouldn’t be into it—there needs to be a safe space without ambiguity allowed. People need time, people need to be happy, free, fulfilled, and free of fear from all sides.”
Photo courtesy of Ryan Bell.