Ryan Bell and Charlie Hebdo: God on Trial, pt 1

January 17, 2015

So we’re a few days into 2015 and for some, it’s been a good year so far.  However, in my opinion, God has started off this New Year pretty rough.  Late last month, a former Seventh-day Adventist pastor, Ryan Bell finished an experiment where he vowed to live “a year without God” and in an NPR interview came out as a declared atheist.

In the first few days of the year, he wrote an opinion article for CNN where he said that people don’t need God in order to have a fulfilling and meaningful life and that each person can freely construct their own meaning and purpose.  He described the current stance on meaning the following way:

“Without dependency on a cosmic savior who is coming to rescue us, we are free to recognize that we are the ones we’re waiting for.”

Next we shift to France where Muslim extremists killed several people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a magazine that is known for satirizing political, social, and religious subjects.  Bill Maher, a prominent critic of organized religion and Islam in particular, was eager to bring up the religious aspect of the shooting on a talk show where he was a guest.

“We have to stop saying when something like this that happened in Paris today… well, we should not insult a great religion. First of all, there are no great religions. They’re all stupid and dangerous. And we should insult them and we should be able to insult whatever we want. That is what free speech is like.”

So look at what we have in the first 10 days of the New Year: some of the major stories in the United States and around the world revolve around religion.  One, a former Christian religious authority who says you don’t need God in your life to be happy and content.  On the other side, you have people from another monotheistic religion who bring out and showcase the very evils that drive so many people away from organized religion in the first place!

So yes, God hasn’t been off to too great a start in this New Year.

So, what are my thoughts in all of this?  Personally, I don’t think my thoughts matter much in this case because we live in a world today where everyone with a keyboard and an Internet connection can become an “expert.”

We are living in the midst of a very real situation right now where God is being put on trial and judged to be nonexistent from a former religious teacher on one side, and on the other, used to justify heinous crimes by religious people against those who don’t believe the way they do.  If God does exist somewhere out there, I would like to know what He would say in the face of all of this.

A few points here to consider at the outset of our teaching today:

1. I’m not going to argue against Ryan Bell and say, “No, atheists can’t be happy without God in their life.”  Even though I will have a quote later which may undermine this very point, I recognize that subjective truth is subjective.  Like arguing which ice cream flavor is better (which we all know is Häagen-Dazs’ Vanilla), I can’t tell you that your life isn’t meaningful without God using my personal experience as the barometer for truth.

Let me just recognize my bias and say that belief in God has been a positive addition to my life rather than a negative one.

2. Christianity should think twice before trying to distance themselves from what happened in France.  Before we try to distance ourselves from this situation and say, “No, these terrorists were Muslim extremists and not Christians,” yes, that is true but remember, where is the entire Judeo-Christian and Islamic divide from?


The descendants of both his children, Ishmael and Isaac, are in a blood feud because the both claim to be the heirs of the promise that God made him.

Besides, consider the little matter of the historical period called “the Crusades,” where Christians and Muslims fought and killed each over thousands of years over who’s version of God was better.  So remember, Christianity has blood on their hands when they look at their past, too.

3. Remember that to the secular mind, when you have one monotheistic religion, you have them all.  Theological nuances like this don’t matter to someone who is skeptical or antagonistic toward religion.  No need to split hairs here.  So I’m going to speak from a Christian perspective but in support of other religions in general.

In the case of France, I can’t speak for all Muslims.  From what is known about those people who killed, they did so in the name of the prophet Mohammed (because they felt he was insulted).  I’d like to read you a 10 details that the Koran and the prophet Mohammed say about a very important version person known as ISA.  I have included the citations from the Koran in my notes if you’re interested in further study.

  1. ISA was sent by Allah, who supported him with the Holy Spirit to tell the world Allah’s will (2: 87; 5: 110-117).
  2. Allah gave to the world ISA, exalted him above all others, and supported him with the Holy Spirit as proof of his sovereignty (2: 253).
  3. Allah caused the miracle birth of John the Baptist to the aged Zechariah and his barren wife so John could be the messenger to announce ISA as the Messiah (3: 33-41).
  4. Allah appointed Mary to be the virgin mother of ISA, the Messiah (3: 42-45; 19: 12-22; 21: 90*).
  5. ISA would be righteous [sinless] all his life (3: 46; 6: 86; 19: 19).
  6. ISA would be raised from the dead (19: 33,34).
  7. ISA was a messenger of Allah, who is to be believed (4: 171).
  8. Allah taught ISA his religion and commanded ISA to establish it (42: 13; 43: 63).
  9. Long before the Prophet Muhammad, Allah revealed the Torah and the Gospel for mankind’s guidance (3: 3, 4, 48, 65).
  10. Allah gathered ISA and caused him to be resurrected and ascended to Allah himself (3: 55; 4:158).

By now, you probably can guess who is ISA character is.  In Arabic, his name is Isa; in his native tongue Aramaic, his name would be Yeshua; in English, we know his name as Jesus.  Jesus is still a very prominent figure in Islam and the predominant figure in Christianity.

It’s interesting and ironic to think, but Jesus faced at the very end of his ministry that would would be helpful for us to examine as we seek to make sense of what is going on today.  We’ll look at this experience and what it applies tomorrow.