Forty-three-year-old Ryan Bell was for nineteen years a Seventh Day Adventist pastor, most recently with Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In January 2014 after leaving his position as pastor due to theological and “practical” differences and with his Ryan Bellmarriage of seventeen years headed for divorce, Mr. Bell began an experiment living without God. For a year he would

not pray, read the Bible for inspiration, refer to God as the cause of things or hope that God might intervene and change my own or someone else’s circumstances.

On 1 January 2014, Mr. Bell will publicize the conclusion to which his experiment has brought him at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yearwithoutgod/

But, in the meantime, he has given some indication of his answer to the God question, by announcing that,

The question I am asking right now: Why do I need religion to love?

Putting aside the obvious distinction between God and religion, it is an important question, “Why does Mr. Bell need religion to love?”

Do we “need religion” to love? Of course not.

Love is the dominant force and power that exists at the heart of all life. The only requirement “to love” is to open my heart to that force of light and power that Mr. Bell and I would both call “love.” The flow of love that is the fundamental power that drives the universe needs only a giver and a receiver. In order to love I need only to open my heart to the gift of that love and to pass it on in my relationships with all people and with all of creation.

But here is the rub. I do not control love. I do not create love, cannot manufacture love, or produce love upon demand. Love is a gift; “gift” implies “giver.” Religion is the means by which I acknowledge and seek to open to the Giver.And this acknowledging and opening seems to me to be essential to the work of love.

The path of love is not easy. Love is hard work. It requires perseverance, vulnerability, self-awareness, honesty, and deep surrender.

Perhaps these qualities come easily for Mr. Ryan Bell. He may be a much more spontaneously loving person than I; if so, I applaud him and wish him well in his religionless life of love.

But, for me, relationships are deeply challenging. I do not give myself easily. Openness, vulnerability, gentleness, kindness, and compassion do not seem to be my natural default position. I am more inclined to be petty, resentful, and closed in upon my own little world.

I know that alone I will never walk the path of love. I lack in myself the power to live in love. The path of self-interest and ego is too seductive. There is too much encouragement out there in the world to put aside the challenges of love and to build my own little kingdom.

Perhaps it is a sign of my weakness but in the deepest part of my being, I know absolutely that I require a power greater than self-will, self-determination or self-discipline if I am going to say on the challenging path of that love I see embodied in Jesus as the image of my true humanity.

I need help, support, encouragement, and challenge in order to keep making the moment-by-moment choice to open my heart to the power and presence in my being that I call love and that I identify as “God.”

I know that I need to be held up by others who are attempting to walk the difficult road of love. I need to be around people who are determined to lay down their lives for love and to open to the gentleness and power of a force that is greater than individual human will.

For me, this means I need religion. I need God. I need you to keep me in love, to keep me faithful, to support me in the challenges of the human journey with which I struggle.

I may not need “religion” necessarily in order to love; but I do need a place, a community that calls me to open to a power beyond myself to which we collectively strive to submit. This sounds to me a lot like “religion” and church.

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