Readers React

Atheism, agnosticism and belief: Thoughts on going with or without God

A crisis of faith prompts readers to write about the value of religion and living a godless life

The Times' front-page article Monday on Ryan Bell, a former Seventh-day Adventist minister nearing the end of his "year without God," prompted dozens of readers to ruminate on religion, spirituality, atheism and agnosticism. The handful of letters published on Christmas Day — some encouraging Bell to embrace a less black-and-white version of faith, others advocating for skepticism — prompted more discussion among readers.

As with all conversations religious — and with the faithful increasingly tailoring religion to suit their own sensibilities — the one on Bell's crisis of faith remains ongoing, with letters still streaming in. The reader submissions below continue that discussion.

George Epstein of Los Angeles coins a universal "religion":

The letters responding to the article on Ryan Bell convince me that my concept regarding religion is right on.

Years ago, my then-12-year-old son asked me: "Dad, how do I know there is a God? I can't see him; I can't hear him; I can't touch him." At that moment my own long-term doubts came to mind. Then I realized that the concept of religion, including a God, was created by well-meaning people to help us live together in peace, harmony and justice for all. It's a good concept.

Today, when asked, I tell people, "My religion is conceptualism." As far as others, any form of religion is OK so long as it helps the believers achieve peace, harmony and justice for all. Obviously, with all the turmoil and killing in our world, these haven't been achieved — all the more reason to pursue conceptualism.

Jim Johnson of Whittier finds little use for agnosticism:

Letter writer Judi Birnberg offers agnosticism as "the only tenable position," demonstrating how some people have not learned from logic how to recognize where the burden of proof properly resides.

This inability to distinguish an onus probandi from a hole in the ground (the fallacy known as the argumentum ad ignorantiam) should disqualify people from jury duty, where in criminal cases, they would mistakenly think that they had three voting options: guilty, not guilty and undecided.

And whereas science relies on the null hypothesis, those who advocate agnosticism would perhaps mistakenly think it necessary to spend millions of dollars proving that a potential new drug does not cure cancer. "Who can say with certainty that [God] does not exist?," asks Birnberg, when no such certainty is necessary.

Cathedral City resident Rolf Olson proposes a simple test of belief:

Does it take a year to decide if one is a Christian? Shakespeare advises, "To thine own self be true," which many interpret as the hallmark of honest self reflection resulting in a healthy conscience.

Read the Christian statement of beliefs in the Apostles' Creed. If the reader can then say, with honesty, "Yes, I believe in the reality of these supernatural events and characters," then one is a Christian.

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