Dan Barker had religion, big-time. As a teenager he became a high-octane evangelical preacher, making his living performing at churches and writing Christian songs. After 19 years, he quit, having after a long struggle come to realize it was all hokum. His book, Losing Faith in Faith, explains.
It’s axiomatic that religionists and atheists have difficulty understanding each other. Barker’s book is useful because he has inhabited both worlds, and understands better than most atheists the religious psychology he critiques. It is indeed an all-encompassing worldview. Barker minces no words in calling it delusional.
As the title promises, he attacks the very concept of “faith,” arguing that real truth does not need swaddling in a protective cocoon of faith, a defensive rampart to stave off the intrusions of reality.
Barker is also remorseless in deconstructing the Bible. Its veneration is grounded mainly on what believers imagine it to be, rather than its actual content. Thus a powerful antidote to Bible worship is to actually read the book – to read it with clear eyes and an engaged mind. (I’ve subjected myself to this ordeal. It’s pretty depressing.)
Barker literally cites chapter and verse in his indictment of the book’s villain, questioning why anyone would choose to worship such a monster. While Christians talk about a loving God, that just doesn’t square with the one portrayed in the Bible, with all his smitings and slaughter of innocents. Barker cites several times the story of some children torn apart by bears as punishment for teasing a prophet’s baldness. (Repetition is one shortcoming of the book, being largely a compendium of previously published pieces.)
I noticed one Amazon reviewer related how a 4-year-old, watching the movie Prince of Egypt, where God kills all the Egyptian first-borns, blurted out, “That story’s not true. God wouldn’t be so mean.” The Christian adults present were stunned! (Out of the mouths of babes. . . )
The book lays waste to the entire catalog of defenses for the belief in God which its repentant author once promoted with such fervor. One of the best chapters is “Dear Theologian,” an imagined letter from God, asking questions. The first is “where do I come from?” As God himself muses about this, the logical black hole becomes evident. Barker also has God ask what – from his perspective – is the meaning of life; and, importantly, “How do I decide what is right and wrong?” More logical black holes.
Having lived the life, Barker is fully cognizant of religion’s comforts. He suffered in giving it up. But he says he’s actually happier as an atheist than he ever really was in faith: now a truly free man, able to use his mind and humanity to make his life in the world and among others.
A shortcoming of the book is its barely mentioning evolution, which is crucial not only scientifically, but also for understanding the human character and condition. In particular, a proper grasp of evolution is essential to refute claims that morality requires faith. (I must note that this extremely important subject is thoroughly explored in my own book, The Case for Rational Optimism.)
Optimism might seem misplaced when contemplating the persistence of superstitious beliefs. But I am confident that their mystique has been irrevocably broken, and cannot ultimately survive the collision with reason and truth.
[ Originally published at The Rational Optimist ]