To the editor: It's fascinating to read about former Seventh-day Adventist pastor Ryan Bell, who wants to challenge his faith by experiencing life without religious practices. ("Ex-Seventh-day Adventist pastor takes a yearlong timeout from God," Dec. 22)
It seems that many people want to cast the decision of whether to have faith as a proposition between a God who should take responsibility for all the unhappiness and suffering in the world and no God at all. I'm not sure that's a fair test for God to have to meet, and that may be what leads to a crisis of faith.
There's always a middle path that people with black-and-white views may see as unworthy of further contemplation. It is worthwhile to understand faith in less severe terms and just be open to the moments when you can see God working in your life.
I wish Bell all the best in his journey.
Bill La Valley, Cypress
To the editor: I applaud Bell for his courage to explore the possibility that the God he believed in does not exist.
I submit another outcome of Ryan's yearlong experiment: agnosticism. Who can say for certain that an omnipotent, omniscient God exists? I have seen no evidence to support a definitive belief in one. On the other hand, who can say with certainty that such a being does not exist?
It seems to me that the only tenable position is to say we honestly cannot know.
Religious people often believe one can lead a moral life only under the guidance of belief in a deity. I submit that morality is within the individual. I tend to think no God exists, but I am 100% comfortable living a moral, productive and altruistic life while saying I just do not know.
Many attribute to their God what they perceive as miracles. But what about the people who pray fervently but do not experience the desired outcome? Coincidence plays a larger part in our existence than many are willing to admit.
Judi Birnberg, Sherman Oaks
To the editor: I'm sorry Bell feels that his prayers weren't answered.
I firmly believe in miracles. I'm not sure why Ryan's prayers were not answered, but I do know that if you think that you can "work" God, then you are sadly mistaken. God is not a gumball machine.
Does anyone really believe that God will respond better to mass prayers? One would do well to remember that the answer to your prayer may be "no." I find it is best to present God with a concern and let him come up with the solution. His answers are always better than mine.
Lately I've been praying for rain, and guess what, we have received at least two great rain events. I wonder if....
Nathan Post, Santa Barbara
To the editor: The power structures of organized religions historically have discouraged suggesting that things might work a bit differently than traditionally described. The thought that the Earth was not the center of our solar system and universe was once considered heresy.
Perhaps Bell needs to be open to possibilities of faith beyond the all-or-nothing thinking of either traditional organized religions or of atheists.
As a start, Ryan might read Terry Pratchett's entertaining parodies in the "Discworld" series, perhaps starting with "The Last Continent." Religion is a topic woven through Pratchett's comedic stories, and he offers gently thought-provoking new possibilities about God, creation and the nature of religion in a human world.
Linda Kranen, Carlsbad, Calif.