on March 3, 2000
There is one word that can sum up the effect of this book for me: "powerful". Most of the books I have read about religion have been pro-religion and this is very different from the old "We need religion to fill the spiritual side of ourselves" claims they always make about it. These books produced a response from my heart, but this book produced a response from my mind. It makes the claim that there is no more evidence of God than there is of Zeus, or any other god that humans have created for their stability throughout history, and it is very effective in proving this claim. It is about time someone cries out for the intellectual awakening of people instead of one more emotional one.
Dan Barker was an evangelical minister and missionary who did everything from writing songs and skits for children to working with youth groups to preaching street sermons to adults. However, somewhere in the course of this career he began to be aware of the fact that his religious beliefs were in serious conflict from his intellectual knowledge about our scientific world.
This book brought many negative aspects of Christianity to light that had been completely ignored, conveinently explained away, or totally unknown to me in my super-religious past. I never realized the Bible was so anti-family and that the various qualities we attribute to God are so self-contradicting. It also further examined some parts of the Bible I had already wondered about, such as its blatant sexism and racism, and its inaccuracy in accordance to history, although I had been told by every preacher out there that it was correct.
If you are from a Christian religious background I can only imagine the response my little book review is illiciting, and I totally expect to receive self-righteous hate mail under the guise of loving Christianity. However, I completely understand, for if I had read a book review like this during my very devoutly religious stage, I would have felt the same way. All I can ask you to do is read the book for yourself. If you read it and disagree with my conclusions, that's great and there is no harm done. I think that if anyone can truthfully answer to themselves the questions that this book raises about religion and can still say that it is in accordance with what they feel is moral and intellectual, their faith will only be strenghtened. But if you have ever been able to sing along with good old Alanis "In the name of the father, the skeptic, and the son, I have one more stupid question..."- in other words, if you have had some doubts about religion that you would like to explore but have never known a way to do this, you will really appreciate this book. All I can say is that it totally changed my perception of religion and I was as strong a believer as anyone out there, having been in church since I was an infant and continuing it in my youth by going on many mission trips to foreign countries. I was not an atheist who picked up this book so that I could prove I was still right; I was actually a pretty strong Christian who was beginning to have some doubts, and when this book was offered to me by someone I had serious pre-conceived judgements about it and even started reading it with the desire to prove the guy totally wrong. I was sure everything he would say would be like "I don't believe in God because I want to do what I want and no one can tell me what to do." However, this book appealed to my mind as well as my sense of moral rightness, and although I started page one with a preconception that it was totally offbase, I finished it with a strong "Amen, Amen. Finally a book about religion makes totally sense!"
on July 21, 2000
Looking at some of the other reviews, it's obvious that this book polarizes readers, being rated either very highly or very poorly. I'm not surprised. The high ratings are to be expected - there's a real shortage of good quality material for former Christians. That, too, is understandable since America frowns so mightily on unbelievers. That brings us to the negative reviews, frowning mightily.
Personally, I appreciate Barker very deeply. I came to the same conclusions via a slightly different path. I was also a devout Christian, though never a preacher. I was Washed in the Blood of the Lamb at 16, Sanctified and Born Again. I had a personal friend in Jesus. I also had a thirst for understanding, so I studied the Bible for years and took everything to the Lord in prayer. I studied and prayed until one day I realized that I didn't believe anymore.
No tragedy; no rebellion; just realization.
It was only after I came to grips with this change in worldview that I came to understand just how much Christianity warps a person's thinking, denigrating reason and elevating faith. It's been a long climb up from the muck, but it's great to be clean now. Christians reading that will be as outraged by the thought as they would be by reading Barker's book. Former Christians know precisely what I'm talking about.
This is an excellent book for recovering Christian.
on November 23, 2000
I, too, have spent years in an Assembly of God Church. I started out in a Church of Christ, which taught me to hate the Charismatics (who were deceived by Satan), who in turn, taught me to hate the New Agers (who were deceived by Satan), who in turn, taught me that everybody is on their own spiritual path, and we are all brothers.
I was watching "Prince of Eygpt" with my 4 year old niece recently. There was a roomful of Christians present. The movie was on the Passover scene where the firstborn of Eygpt were dying, and my niece suddenly looked up and said, "This story isn't true. God wouldn't create people and then kill them." It stunned the adult Christians in the room. One of them said, "But, honey, you don't know the Bible yet." She said, "I know that God isn't mean."
That, in a nutshell, is where my spiritual journey has finally taken me--through the years of dogmas and theatrics of Christianity and back out again. I learned to think for myself, and I discovered what my 4 year old niece knows instinctively, without any Bible telling her differently. God isn't mean.
I no longer see through the eyes of "Christianity" in terms of "good" or "bad"--"lost or unlost." That, to me, is one of the most damning things about Christianity--it divides mankind from his brother.
I struggle with what I know is my approaching "emancipation" from the Church. I love my friends, and I know that when that day comes, I'll never be a part of it again, and it makes me sad. In many ways, it served my needs, (until it didn't anymore). But I also know what Mr. Barker came to know---that once you come to this truth, there is no going home again. You can never turn back. Once you know--You "know." It's not something you can change.
Mr. Barker's book encouraged me in so many ways and assured me that I will meet other people who are free thinkers and will again feel the bonds of fellowship that I have known in the church. And because there are people who exist without the "divisions" of Christianity in their hearts & in their minds, I will not have to be afraid of being "rejected" or cast from the fold if my belief system does not correspond to their own.
This is a well-written book. Walking away from a belief system that has been ingrained in you from birth is not an easy thing to do. I remember when I finally realized that the end was coming, I lay in bed night after night and was literally numb. Fundamentalist Christians may think this is a "light" thing or some kind of serious "deception," but it is neither. It's like a light finally shining on darkness and a terrible fear of moving away from that darkness because it's all you have ever known. It's a soul-tearing, gut-wrenching, coming apart at the seams kind of realization, but when it's all over, there is peace.
I believe in a better God today and in a better world. I believe that every man is truly my "brother." I only wish that every man believed that of me.
on August 24, 1998
Dan Barker, a man not afraid use his mind, tells us of his transition -out of the mental confounds of Christianity -into the nationally acclaimed freethinker he is today.
Barker says "It is interesting to read the Bible now, with new `eyesight' so to speak. I used to read all the ugly parts of the Bible, but for some reason they were invisible, even beautiful. I was taught that God was perfect, loving and righteous -so there could be no question in my mind of his character. Any apparent contradictions or ugliness could be ignored in the faith of the `mystery' of Gods ways. I'm glad those days are over."
In his book, Dan provides strong historical and logical evidence against the myths dispelled by religion. In chapter 29 [Dear Believer], Dan wonderfully sums up the vary essence of Christianity and it's `merciful' God. Barker writes >>
"Dear Believer, You ask me to consider Christianity as the answer for my life. I have done that. I consider it untrue, repugnant, and harmful... The Biblical god is a macho male warrior. Thou he said "Thou shall not kill", he ordered death for all in opposition (Exodus 32:27), wholesale drowning and mass exterminations; punished offspring to the fourth generation (Exodus 20:5); ordered babies to be smashed and pregnant women to be ripped up (Hosea 13:16) demanded animal and human blood to appease his angry vanity; is partial to one race of people; judged women inferior to men; is the sadist who created a hell to torture unbelievers; created evil (Isaiah 45:7)... sent bears to devour forty-two children who teased a prophet (II Kings 2:23-24); punished people with snakes, dogs, dragons, drunkenness, swords, arrows, axes, fire, famine, and infanticide; and said fathers should eat their sons (Ezekiel 5:10) Is that nice? Would you want to live next door to such a person?...Do you see why I do not respect the biblical message? It is an insulting bag of nonsense. You have every right to torment yourself with such insanity --but leave me out of it."
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone with an open mind and whom sincerely seeks genuine truth.
on September 28, 2001
I've visited and studied many Christian denominations and feel a kinship with the disbelief of Dan Barker, who eagerly and sincerely sought God for years. He tried to keep his faith in God but could not reconcile faith and reason. In the end, reason and common sense won. This should not pose a threat to Christians, some of whom reacted harshly to this book. I was saddened but not surprised by the cracked logic of some of Barker's critics and their propensity for flawed logic and poor writing.
I recommend that both critics and fans of this book read Eric Hoffer's "True Believer." It describes a True Believer mindset, which seeks absolutes that give comfort for insecure people living in a complex world. True Believers do not have to believe in God. They may be Marxists who believe that history is marching inexorably toward an anti-capitalist world in which workers own the means of production and equitably share its benefits. Some hardcore Marxists still cling to this view though there has never been a communist government that offers basic freedoms taken for granted in democracies.
Religious fundamentalists believe in the literal truth of holy scripture, whether it be the Bible, Koran or other religious text (s). This causes an either/or problem: either you believe in it and all of its contradictions and mythology or you don't and lose your soul. The fragile building collapses when science and reason burst this literalist bubble. Therefore, being a doubting Christian is viewed as a threat to salvation. As a result, doubt is not seen as a quest for truth but as the work of the devil. This leads to the blind acceptance of authority.
But it's good to be a doubter. The world is a better place when people think critically and challenge authority, be it religious or secular. This is the central focus of Barker's book.
Fundamentalists seem to think that evolution has to be wrong because it doesn't jive with scripture's account of creation. But more and more Christians are accepting evolution as scientific fact and part of God's plan.
This book is not scholarly. It's not meant to be. Rather, it's a man's quest to seek truth in his life. Both believers and unbelievers can benefit from it.
on July 14, 2003
This book is easy to read and quite well structured, and the author covers his transition from believer to atheist in a very logical manner. He approaches the topic in multiple ways, sometimes in the form of a dialogue, other times the presentation of relevant historical evidences, his experiences in "coming out", how his life has changed since he became a free thinker, etc. I found it moderately useful, as I am presently making the transition from Christian to agnostic/atheist. As anyone who has gone through this experience knows, it is a very trying, confusing, and mentally anguishing experience. When one begins to question what one has traditionally held to as truth, it can be a very devastating, yet at the same time, exhilarating period in life. I became �born again� when I was 19 and for a few years was very involved in conservative, evangelical groups. I had even considered a career in some form of ministry. My problem, if it can be called such, is that I�ve always been an extremely curious person intellectually. This is what got me into trouble in terms of Christian belief. My love of science, history, politics, and the individual process of logic and reason eventually resulted in a deep questioning of Christian doctrine and belief. I have come to formally reject the traditional claims of Christianity: the virgin birth of Jesus, the supernatural miracles of the Bible, the resurrection, Christ�s ascension into heaven, and his eventual return. This is not something that came about easily or quickly.
I digress: back to the book. What I liked about it was it�s organization and it�s summary style structure. This makes the book good summary, semi-reference material. The chapters are generally short, comprehensible, and enjoyable. It encapsulates many of the reasons why non-believers don�t believe, and offers a biographical human interest story to go along with. The layout is such that one needn�t read it straight through nor require the entire book to even be read. Because of it�s faults I appreciated this quality greatly. Many of the chapters I found quite helpful, others I had no interest in reading.
One fault is it�s tendency to preach. Dan is still an evangelist and this comes through his writing style. I don�t find this helpful. The entire point of being a skeptic and free-thinker is the need to be open-minded, respectful, and appreciative to other�s views. I feel that Dan fails to provide this attitude and his tone can be demeaning at times. He also seems to be on a quest to rid the world of belief in God. I can understand his reasoning but can�t respect this endeavor. There are many individuals whose entire world�s revolve around a religious belief system and if it is questioned would seriously damage their entire lives. It is my opinion that there are many who are simply not strong enough to undertake such a radical paradigm shift, and they need the comfort, structure, meaning, and psychosomatic benefits that religion can provide. An example of Dan�s over-reaching style is his inclusion of his atheist �hymns�. I found this just silly and useless.
It is a good introduction book. It�s historical and philosophical arguments are quite unsophisticated however, and ultimately unsatisfactory. Any true skeptic and free-thinker will need to go significantly beyond this material. For those beginning the journey this book can be useful, for those well into the journey, I recommend skipping this book. This is for the beginner. For all the reasons discussed I give it 3 stars.
For a more thorough undertaking of the philosophical, scientific, and historical aspects of atheism/skepticism, I recommend the following:
Philosphical: Atheism: The Case Against God (can't remember the author)
Scientific: The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
Historical: Jesus, the Brother of James by Robert Eisenman
on July 31, 2006
I was raised a Christian and underwent a very similar experience to Dan Barker's: I read the whole Bible (skipping some 'begats' of course) and emerged a skeptic. I wish I would have had the Barker book to help me articulate and defend my skepticism. This book would be very useful to skeptics with loved ones who are Christian. Barker is undertanding and respectful of believers at the same time that he exposes the contradictions and atrocities in the Bible most Christians never read. His writing is lucid, logical and illuminated (sometimes humorously) by his personal experiences. This book is a collection of fairly short essays, so you can read it cover to cover or pick out those that most interest you.
on April 30, 2001
It's hard to say what I thought of Barker's book. I discovered it hot on the heels of leaving Christianity myself, and it was a great comfort to me in a time when I felt all alone. There certainly is a great deal of good content in there--I particularly liked the autobiographical section and the "Dear Theologian" chapter--but there really are a number of problems as well.
Several reviewers have noted that Barker's essays are superficial and lack scholarship. However, the book is basically a compilation of short essays and was never meant to be more than an overview of the subject matter, so I'm not sure that's a valid complaint. More serious, in my opinion, is Barker's tendency to attack a straw-man version of Christianity. He was a smart Christian for a long time, so he should know better. Take the contradictions section for example. Here he often seems to be reaching--many of the contradictions he cites could be resolved based on little more than semantics. This really is a shame since it's so unnecessary--there are more than enough *real* contradictions out there for the iffy ones to be left off the list. Including bad arguments just serves to reduce the credibility of the good ones.
Barker says he sometimes feels that he's still a preacher, but for the other side. Unfortuately, I think he's taken some of the bad preacher qualities along with the good ones.
I'd be willing to recommend this book to deconverts, but don't read it first and don't read it last. And don't try to use it for "reverse evangelism"--Christians and other religious people would be too offended by the overall tone and occasional bad arguments to consider the valid ones seriously. But if you read it with a few grains of salt handy and the understanding that you probably won't like everything in there, you'll be in for a treat.
We love apostates, if they come over to our side. Religious people have a special fondness for those who were doubters and scofflaws and have come to see the light. Because more people belong to religions, it seems sometimes as if there are more conversions to belief; perhaps it is that the converts have a forum from which to boast of the change, too. But there are changes in the other direction, also, which perhaps are less noticed because a change to a minority is better left as a quiet change and not trumpeted to others. It is not Dan Barker's way to keep quiet. Barker was a top-rank fundamentalist minister, in demand for his ability to get converts and renew faith. After years of success, he starting doubting and reconsidering. He went over to the other side, finding that atheism was more to his satisfaction. He wrote _Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist_ (FFRF, Inc.) to explain his position ten years ago, and has continued to speak out for atheism and to debate believers since then.
Barker was called to the ministry when he was fifteen years old. He went to Bible college, was a missionary, and a touring musical evangelist. He wrote Christian musicals, still performed. His credentials as a soul-winning preacher cannot be doubted. It was when he had turned thirty that some questions started coming. There was no revelation, no incident causing revulsion from the church. There was first a tiny step away from literalism. Barker began to allow himself to have dealings with even liberal Christians. He eventually realized: "There is no basis for believing that a God exists, except faith, and faith was not satisfactory to me." He sent a letter to all he knew, to say that he was no longer a Christian. The responses were "everything from friendly curiosity to outright hatred." Many insisted he must be hurt and bitter. His marriage came apart, and he lost many friends, but realized that friendships that can endure only if religions are identical are not very sound friendships after all. He is a social and basically happy person, who did not have trouble finding friends in his new world. His parents both tried to talk him out of it, but came around to his side, instead.
_Losing Faith in Faith_ is not a unified autobiography, but a series of chapters of reminiscences and essays about an atheist's beliefs. It is cheerful and written with a good deal of humor; if you want profound or florid rhetoric on the same subject, Robert Ingersoll is your man, but Barker is quite able to tell a lively illustrative story or poke fun at the way he used to believe. There are essays here on the historicity of Jesus, the nature of the Bible as a moral guide, the possibility of ethical behavior without belief in the supernatural, and various biblical contradictions. Those who have no faith in gods will find an inspiring story and many reasons to cherish their current unbelief. The believers who are bold enough to pick up this volume will, if they are open-minded enough, find a great deal of entertainment, and will enjoy attempting to counter some persuasive arguments from the other side.
on June 17, 2008
You probably already know that I have gone through some significant changes regarding spiritual things. The past five or six years have been a time of deep re-evaluation for me, and during the last couple of years, I have decided that I can no longer honestly call myself a Christian. You can probably imagine that it has been an agonizing process for me. I was raised in a good Christian home, served in missions and evangelism, went to a Christian college, became ordained and ministered in three churches as Assistant Pastor. During those years I was 100 percent convinced of my faith, and now I am just about 100 percent unconvinced."
The above is the first paragraph of a letter the author of this amazing book sent in January, 1984 to more than fifty of his colleagues, friends, and family members. The author is Dan Barker (he belongs to two IQ societies) who after being a fundamentalist minister for 17 to 19 years became an atheist. He is now Co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc.
In a nutshell, Barker, in this book, explains in autobiographical form why he left the ministry by offering an analysis of why he rejects belief or "faith" in a god and the claims of religion. He explores the fallacies, inconsistencies, and harmful effects of Christian doctrine and theistic dogma. (The majority of the articles presented were written before but there are a few new memoirs.)
In religion's place, he issues a plea for free thought or free thinking, reason, rationality, and humanism. (A free thinker is a person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief.)
This book will present a challenge to believers and be an invaluable arsenal for skeptics.
To give the potential reader a "feel" for this book, I will give the title for each part as well as a thought-provoking sentence or sentences from each part:
(1) Losing Faith (8 chapters): "There is no basis for believing that a God exists, except faith, and faith is not satisfactory to me." (Faith is unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence.)
(2) Finding Free Thought (12 chapters): "Faith is a cop-out. If the only way you can accept an assertion is by faith, then you are conceding that it can't be taken on its own merits. It is intellectual dishonesty. With faith, you don't have to put any work into proving your case. You can `just believe.'"
(3) Re-examining the "Good Book" (9 chapters): "Why would an intelligent God write a book that is so easily misunderstood?"
(4) Critiquing Christianity (8 chapters): "Looking through a hymnbook recently, I was shocked at how many Christian songs deal with blood. Blood that is shedding, streaming, flooding, dripping, staining, ebbing, flowing, washing, sprinkling, and generally splattering all over. When blood is not in its proper place, it is obscene."
(5) Spreading The Best News (8 chapters): "There were five [people on the panel] on the "afterlife" show [a program on the Phil Donahue talk show]: Rev. Smock, a frowning hell-fire preacher who thinks most people are damned and only a select few will go to Heaven; Rev. Berkich, a smiling Christian who believes we all go to Heaven (Universalism); Father Quinlan, an animated, loquacious priest ousted by the church partly because he believes that Heaven and Hell are just useful metaphors (but God) is real); Lady Sabrina, a friendly Wiccan priestess (witch) who preaches reincarnation; and myself, an ex-preacher who thinks all of the above is nonsense."
(6) Separating Church From State (4 chapters): "The Declaration of Independence has nothing to do with religious freedom, and many of its concepts are contrary to the Bible."
(7) Exposing Christian Morality (1 chapter): "Why do believers assume a HIGHER power is necessarily a MORE MORAL power? How do they know it is not the other way around?"
(8) History or Myth? (1 chapter): "As a freethinker...I am now convinced that the Jesus story is just a myth. Here's why: (i) There is no external historical confirmation of the New Testament stories (ii) The New Testament stories are internally contradictory (iii) There are natural explanations for the origin of the Jesus legend (iv) The miracle reports make the story unhistorical.
(9) A Match Not Made in Heaven (1 chapter): "A MARRIAGE is an affectionate agreement between equals, a loving contract between peers that requires no blessing above or beyond the mutual respect, admiration, and trust of two individuals who cannot imagine not spending the rest of their lives together."
In the middle of the book are almost twenty black and white photographs. My favourite has the following caption:
"Conversing with minister Paul Ratzlaff at the Morristown NJ Unitarian Society, 1986. Speaking and singing for freethinkers and humanists is a lot more fun than church."
As well, peppered throughout this book are songs that the author wrote. There are a almost fifteen. My favourite: "Just Say `NO' To Religion."
I want to emphasize that the author is in no way attempting to de-convert others who are believers. This is just the story of his de-conversion.
Finally, at first I thought there was no index for this book. Actually, there is but it's not mentioned in the table of contents.
In conclusion, this is an extraordinary book. The one great thing I learned is that reason, rationality, humanism, and logic can trump indoctrination, authority, and faith.
(first hardcopy printing, June 2006; introduction; prologue; 9 parts or 52 chapters; main narrative 385 pages; index)
<<Stephen Pletko, London, Ontario, Canada>>