Losing Faith in Faith

Dan Barker speaks to a crowded room in Wargin Hall on April 18
Photo by Roberto Hernandez

By Daniel Steele

Former preacher-turned-atheist and co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation Dan Barker discussed how he lost his faith along with his latest book, "GOD: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction". Barker also detailed his foundation's purpose and mission.

The speech was organized by the Club of Secular Understanding and The Claremont Philosophers on April 18 in Wargin Hall. The room holding the event was packed with students and visitors of all ages interested in hearing about Barker's drastic change from Christian evangelist to atheist activist. 

Barker began discussing his book with a quote from Richard Dawkins listing the god of the bible as capricious, sadomasochistic and a bully, among sixteen other charges.

"That's quite an indictment, to call somebody all those things,” Barker said. "Is it true? Because I used to preach that God was the God of love. Well you know why he's saying that? He's actually read the bible."

“Most people, and I tell you, even a lot of clergy, actually have not read it,” he said.

Barker likened the treatment of the bible to a terms and conditions agreement where most glaze over the text and accept it without reading the fine print and understanding the implications behind the words. 

Barker worked with Dawkins and found hundreds of passages to use as evidence in his book for the nineteen names Dawkins attached to the Christian God. 

“I came up with more than fifteen hundred passages and I was shocked,” Barker said.

In addition to the nineteen charges Barker gives in part one of his book are a few others, like pyromaniacal, merciless, curse hurling, aborticidal and cannibalistic.

“Here’s an example of true gender equality in the old testament. ‘You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters.’ There you go, that’s egalitarian, isn’t it,” Barker said.

It was closely reading into verses like these that prompted Barker to gradually lose his faith over the course of five years, a faith he had since he was fifteen. Barker preached for nineteen years, earned a degree in Religion from Azusa Pacific University, and served as a minister for three different churches before coming to his life-altering realization. 

As a minister, the change to nonbeliever wasn’t one he could take lightly. He built his career around his Christian belief, and now had to make do as a self-described hypocrite. Barker was no longer sincerely preaching to the choir; he was only playing the part.

Barker said, “I was on the pulpit and I was thinking I shouldn’t be here, this is wrong.”

Barker managed to leave the church and took a class in computer programming at Chaffey, where he got a job as a programmer and analyst before his first computer class even ended.

“It was a miracle,” Barker said.

He then moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where he works to this day at the FFRF along with organizations both secular and religious to maintain church and state separation.

“We’re joined by a lot of religious people who agree with us, that it’s important in America that religion and government stay separate,” Barker said. 

Although he renounced his religious beliefs and became an avid atheist, Barker is able to work with religious organizations and find common ground to achieve goals he finds important.

After all, Barker believes the point in life is to meet challenges and overcome them, regardless of creed or place in life.

"Believers and nonbelievers, we all have immense purpose in our lives, and you find it not by asking someone to give it to you. You find it when you have a struggle in your own life. It could be hunger, shelter, disease, it could be war, it could be inequality. It could even be the challenge in creating art. Whatever those challenges are, go after them, you have a life with immense purpose."