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Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists [Paperback]

Dan Barker , Richard Dawkins
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 1 2008

"Valuable in the human story are the reflections of intelligent and ethical people who listen to the voice of reason and who allow it to vanquish bigotry and superstition. This book is a classic example."
-CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS author of God is Not Great

"The most eloquent witness of internal delusion that I know-a triumphantly smiling refugee from the zany, surreal world of American fundamentalist Protestantism-is Dan Barker."
-RICHARD DAWKINS author of The God Delusion

" Godless was a revelation to me. I don't think anyone can match the (devastating!) clarity, intensity, and honesty which Dan Barker brings to the journey-faith to reason, childhood to growing up, fantasy to reality, intoxication to sobriety."
-OLIVER SACKS authors of Musicophilia

In Godless, Barker recounts his journey from evangelical preacher to atheist activist, and along the way explains precisely why it is not only okay to be an atheist, it is something in which to be proud."
-MICHAEL SHERMER publisher of Skeptic Magazine

" Godless is a fascinating memoir and a handbook for debunking theism. But most of all, it is a moving testimonial to one man's emotional and intellectual rigor in acclaiming critical thinking."
-ROBERT SAPOLSKY author of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers

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Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists + Deconverted: A Journey from Religion to Reason + Hope after Faith: An Ex-Pastor's Journey from Belief to Atheism
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Conversions on the road to Damascus are for those who hear voices and fall prey to delusions and who would be better off seeking professional help. Much more valuable in the human story are the reflections of intelligent and ethical people who listen to the voice of reason and who allow it to vanquish bigotry and superstition. This book is a classic example of the latter. --Christopher Hitchens, author of "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" I think Godless is fabulous. It came on Friday, and I spent much of the weekend reading it. It was a revelation to me. Others have made the journey ('faith to reason, ' childhood to growing up, fantasy to reality, intoxication to sobriety -- however one likes to put it), but I don't think anyone can match the (devastating!) clarity, intensity, and honesty which Dan Barker brings to the telling. And the tone is right all the way through -- not belligerent or confrontational (as is the case with so much, too much, of the literature on this subject--on both sides). I think Godless may well become a classic in its genre. --Oliver Sacks, "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain" Atheists are the last of the minorities in America to come out of the closet, and like other civil rights movements this one began with leaders like Dan Barker and his Freedom from Religion Foundation defending the civil liberties of godless Americans, who deserve equal protection under the Constitution. In his new book, Godless, Barker recounts his journey from evangelical preacher to atheist activist, and along the way explains precisely why it is not only okay to be an atheist, it is something in which to be proud. --Michael Shermer, Publisher of "Skeptic" magazine, monthly columnist for "Scientific American," author of "How We Believe, Why Darwin Matters, " and "The Mind of the Market" My kids are in the process of learning about literature, and a rule of thumb they've picked up concerns how to r

About the Author

Don Barker received a degree in religion from Azusa Pacific University and was ordained to the ministry by the Standard Community Church. He has appeared on numerous talk shows including Oprah Winfrey, Hannity & Colmes, and Good Morning America. He lives in Madison, WI.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read Dec 21 2011
By CanGal
One of the best books I have every read debunking Christianity. Mr Barker's background (and his willingness to be honest about it) makes him a true expert in this area. Very well written and organized, I learned a great deal.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You will not be disappointed Nov. 25 2010
Dan Barker tells the tale of a huge transition in his life. He describes experiences from "speaking in tongues" to the point skepticism settled in. The book is philosophical in nature, with Barker describing the incompatible properties of religion, the nature of The Golden Rule, Beatitudes, Bible contradictions, and the credibility of the Bible itself. I could not put the book down! His writing powerful, he strives for a secular government through Freedom From Religion Foundation, and he is also a really nice person (I met him at Skepticon 3). Support him!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars inspirational Aug. 29 2013
By BK777
Format:Kindle Edition
Dan has written the quintessential book on Atheism and made me a believer! It was personal, honest, riveting, and above all logical. Dane's journey from Evangelical preacher to rabid Atheist was nothing short of amazing and his recounting of the experience along with his detailed analysis of the bible (and the many inconsistencies/contradictions) was nothing short of scholarly. This is one of the first books on Atheism I have ever read and have to say Dan's arguments and personal experiences made me take a serious second look at Man's following of any religion. In particular when it is done in a blind and unquestioning manner. Dan is not just a scholar on the subject but presents it in a relaxed manner and ultimately is likeable when all is said and done. I highly recommend this book for newbies to the subject and to the more knowledgeable I will assure that you will find the book entertaining. Well done Dan!
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4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting bit of whooplah May 15 2011
Barker has written an interesting book regarding his own involvement in and with religious organizations that raises a number of very good questions and I commend him for his efforts, especially for his present efforts in taking on religious groups and organizations which are seeking to gain access to public funding without providing necessary accountability in the United States. Unfortunately, at times he tries to pose and answer a few too many questions in which he comes across as not always fairly representing his would be opponents and interlocutors. Indeed, it would be impossible to deal competently with all the positions in scholarship in a book under 400 pages. As an atheist he will say some things which are sure to offend evangelical Christians and this is another weaknesses of his book: that he appears to target Christianity as though it were the primary game in town and it may well be where he lives. Which begs the question for me: would a Jewish or Muslim fundamentalist (or even otherwise) find much in this book to take offence at? I do not think so, because Barker operates from a specific world view which priviledges individualism while most of the world lives and operates in a sphere of communal values. So not only has he largely failed to bridge contemporary cultural divides, but also that between the ancient and modern reader, which I suspect if he had paid more attention to the arguments of Jewish and Muslim theists, he would have made better efforts to bridge these cultural gaps. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  204 reviews
322 of 344 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, except for one possible flaw. Sept. 22 2008
By Kindle Customer - Published on Amazon.com
This is a very good book. I had not been a big Dan Barker fan, but I am now. He did the extraordinary in fully responding to something I had heard from nearly every Christian I've met in the past ten or so years: "You were never really a Christian." I thought my bono fides were pretty good, having a radical conversion experience at 17, scrubbing my plans to become a marine biologist to go into the ministry, obtaining a biblical studies degree from a respected evangelical college, working in churches and for Billy Graham...but Barker has me over a barrel. I can say with Barker that I loved my Christian experience, and that I am an atheist not because of anger, disappointment, bitterness, or temptation, but just because we found that Christian claims are mistaken. They are not true. It is a painful realization that Barker quite rightly likens to a divorce, but we have to find ways to live with ourselves, and living with a lie can only work so long.
The part of the book that presents various arguments against theism is good. I've read pretty widely in atheist literature, so there was nothing really new for me there, but Barker does have a very pleasing writing style, so what I mostly got out of that section are ideas for better expressing myself on, for example, the problem of evil or Pascal's Wager.
But there's something that just about ruins the book, I think, and that's the Richard Dawkins foreword. First I must state clearly that I have enormous respect and affection for Dawkins, go to his website every day, have read nearly all of his books and articles, and count myself a huge fan. But with Dawkins, when it comes to religion you know what you're going to get, and the offering here is typically unsympathetic, coldly rational, and comically insulting. In other words, some of the very things that make his things written for atheists so compelling, fresh, and entertaining.
But in the context of the first words a reader is going to see in a book that might otherwise have made an IDEAL gift for a person questioning her faith, the tone and attitude are toxic. Again, don't misunderstand--I agree with everything that Dawkins wrote. But if an inquisitive mind is a fly, and the rest of the book is honey, the reader has to somehow buzz through a mist of vinegar to get to it. I realize that Dawkins has--deservedly--incredible cache among atheists. But this was a book with promise to reach well beyond the choir that's always singing to itself, and let some fresh air and sunshine into the lives of benighted fundamentalists. I am concerned that with Dawkins's contribution, this is less likely.
On the other hand, I could be completely, utterly mistaken. Some person with a growing set of questions might come to that foreword and think, "Yes! Finally! Someone is saying the sort of thing that I've been starting to think for some time now, and not just pitter-pattering around it but jumping in with both feet, making a statement, taking a stand. I like that very much and am now much more receptive to the rest of what the book has to say."
But I don't think that's the smart money bet.
459 of 496 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Barker is Still Preaching Today! Sept. 28 2008
By John W. Loftus - Published on Amazon.com
Dan Barker's life is an amazing testimony to the power of reason and science over the delusion of believing in Christianity. As an influential Christian evangelist and song writer he shares in this book why he could no longer remain a Christian, and why he became an atheist. It is a powerful and profound story that almost brought tears to my eyes, having experienced a similar change of mind as a former minister and apologist for the Christian faith.

If a skeptic wants to get into the mind of a Pentecostal Christian then she needs to read Barker's story. Dan tells of how everything that happened had a "spiritual significance" for him, even to the point of following so-called divine hunches while driving, to turn right, and then left, wondering if these hunches were actually voices from God. Dan tells of a time when he followed them and found himself at a dead end in the middle of a cornfield! He concluded God had merely tested him to see if he'd be faithful! Isn't that the hoot!

If a Christian wants to say people like Dan and I leave the faith because we just didn't want to believe, then she needs to read Barker's story. Dan tells us that this process "was like tearing my whole frame of reality to pieces, ripping to shreds the fabric of meaning and hope, betraying the values of existence...It was like spitting on my mother, or like throwing one of my children out a window. It was sacrilege." Right that.

As he became an atheist he went through an "awful period of hypocrisy." Especially moving was when Dan, who had recently become a closet atheist, was asked to preach in a service where an openly atheist person named Harry was in attendance. Dan shares how he wanted to say, "Harry! You are right, I'm sorry. There is no God, and this is mumbojumbo nonsense." That was his last sermon. This story highlighted for me how hard it is to leave that which we had invested so much of our lives in. It can be very painful to leave what you've believed so fervently and preached with such intensity for many years. You feel lost. It's a real struggle. You don't really want to leave. But leave it he did.

Dan has some interesting and creative arguments as well, when it comes to the Kalam argument for the existence of God, and the resurrection of Jesus, two kingpins of William Lane Craig's apologetic. He critiques the coherence of the concept of the theistic God too. In one chapter we find a letter written by God to theologians where he asks them to explain where he came from, how he decides what is right and wrong, and even who he is.

Many skeptics merely list some Bible contradictions, as if that's all they need to do to debunk the Christian faith, and Dan lists plenty of them. But he also goes into some depth in a separate chapter on one of them, to show he could do that with the others he merely listed. He focused on the discrepancy between Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9, with regard to whether the people with Paul on the Damascus road heard the so-called heavenly voice, or not. Dan made his case.

I don't think he made his case that Jesus was not a historical person though, and I think such an argument will put Christians off. Only skeptics who do not accept the Christian faith will consider it, and it indeed is a worthy question. Also, I think there are several other issues Dan could've dealt with that he didn't, like the coherence of the concept of a triune God, the incarnation, the atonement, the devil, and the resurrection of the body.

While I myself am quite familiar with the arguments in the book, I especially liked his personal story from being an evangelist to one of America's leading atheists. He is a great writer, a creative writer, and it shows in this book. In it he talks about his subsequent debates (64 of them so far!), the debate tactics he's used, as well as some of the court cases he's been involved in on behalf of the separation of church and state. He also shares a personal painful story of when his pregnant wife, Annie Laurie, had an eclamptic seizure (look it up) and survived, giving birth via c-section to their daughter Sabrina. At no time during this traumatic experienced did either of them pray to god for help. "We didn't even consider it," he wrote.

While Barker says that "atheism has no hierarchy, no clergy and no chosen people more `holy' than anyone else," he is surely to be considered the reigning bishop of those former Christians and ministers who have "lost faith in faith." This is his new church, and he's still preaching today. Instead of being "brothers in Christ" we are now "brothers in reason." I greatly appreciate my older brother.

When you add to his book my comprehensive approach to debunking Christianity in which I spend over half of my book defending an anti-supernatual bias before examining the biblical evidence in the last half of it, I consider us to be brothers in a tag team wrestling match made in hell against believers.

The question for Christian believers is why God let Dan slip out of his hands if he knew in advance he would lead others "astray" from the fold like he has so effectively done. He's now preaching a new message, a powerful message, that God does not exist and that we can do better without such a belief.

Preach on brother! Preach on!


I'm the author of "Why I Became an Atheist," and the edited books, "The Christian Delusion" and "The End of Christianity."
153 of 179 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Jaw-Dropping Book Aug. 28 2008
By Mark S. - Published on Amazon.com
This is a masterful book that powerfully refutes the bible using logic and reason. Powerfully written, this book should stand in the way in many of those Christian missionaries who preach the bible as an infallible book at face value.
What is also great about this book is that it uses intelligence and common sense as opposed to emotions.
This book serves as a big wake-up call to many Christians who never seriously questioned their faiths.

Dan Barker has the apparent talent in writing with an entertaining, lucid, live, and humorous way. He also has gathered a wealth of knowledge on the subjects of preaching, the bible, and Christianity and became an enthusiastic Evangelical Christian at an early age. Insomuch he became an Evangelical preacher as well as a Christian songwriter for many years. It wasn't until a later age where Dan approached his Christian beliefs by reason and thought, and thus cost him his faith altogether. It's worthy here to note that Dan is part of the "Prometheus society" which requires an extremely high IQ entrance.

With depth and clarity this book sheds light on the ignored side of Christianity that many people who adhere to this faith seem to have no real knowledge about. In this thought provoking book, you'll end up realizing that there is no real reason to believe that Christianity is greater than say, Buddhism.
Dan tells his amazing story in a very interesting and an easy to read way. He explains the various conflicts in Christian doctrines, the fallacies in Christian reasoning ( e.g. resurrection, atonement, ... etc), and the various inconsistencies and contradictions in the Bible, as well as the morality behind many of its teachings. This book is a powerful evidence that many of the Christian Preachers today preach at face value.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Two-thirds brilliant, one-third annoying Dec 21 2009
By Roberto A. Valenzuela - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Barker's "Godless" serves as an excellent primer for some basic (and not-so-basic) reasons why a person shouldn't affirmatively believe in a god. It's mainly targeted at Christians, and mostly of the Protestant Evangelical brand, but its broader message (especially the philosophical points it makes) are well applicable to most theism.

Other reviews have covered various details of the book's content at length, so instead I'll focus on what I got out of it as a firm and committed agnostic (former Orthodox Christian):

The Good:
--Engaging and moving account of Barker's journey from fundamentalist theism to rationalist atheism. His enumeration of particular thoughts and mindsets will strike deep chords in most Christians.
--Excellent and nuanced discussion of some of the higher philosophical arguments for and against God. Complex and somewhat obtuse, but highly compelling once understood.
--Particularly well-reasoned and hard-hitting discussion of the historical-critical method and its implications for the Gospel accounts and the historical Jesus.
--Explains in simple language why divinely-ordained morality is unworkable and how men can be good without God.
--Generally takes a less rabid and polemical tone than folks like Dawkins and Hitchens; Barker is as sympathetic to Christians as he is unrelenting to Christianity, and this makes it more readable and appealing to the audience that actually needs to hear what he has to say.

The Bad:
--Rough around the edges when it comes to dogmatics. Barker's Christian background was quite theologically rudimentary, and it shows when he talks about the details of doctrine, especially when it comes to Catholicism; Orthodoxy, unsurprisingly, goes unmentioned. This leads to unfair and inaccurate characterizations and conclusions (such as his bizarre anthropomorphism-filled "letter" from God to a theologian), which are sure to turn the true believer off and cause dismissal of his many more valid and hard-hitting points.
--Odd focus with certain arguments. Barker spends pages and pages dissecting the rather easily refuted Kalam Cosmological Argument, while giving far more common arguments (e.g. teleological, argument from morality, argument from beauty, argument from reason) only a cursory treatment. He does a good job covering everything he covers, but his focus seems more tailored to his personal interests than to detailing the fallacies of the most common arguments and the nuances of their superior alternatives.
--The significant portion of the book devoted to debunking "Biblical morality" was an huge disappointment. Barker unapologetically uses only the most rabid and fundamentalistic interpretations of quite a few Bible verses to prove that the morality set forth in the Bible is unacceptable. This refusal to accept potential ambiguities and alternative views amounts to basically a straw man thrown at the totality of Christianity. It's a real shame, because his conclusion is sound, and he could have much more persuasively made his case had he extended every interpretative benefit of the doubt to show that no matter how you play with it, Biblical morality contradicts universal ethical norms.
--I was bugged by Barker's occasional equivocation. For example, he uses a contemporary definition of "love" and thereby argues that New Testament morality is silly because it advocates warm fuzzies toward one's enemies. "Love" as set forth in the NT is, of course, not an emotion at all, but a mindset, an approach, a commitment to compassionate action (hence its common rendition as "charity" until late in the past century). Such rhetorical tactics are beneath Barker, particularly when he spends so much time taking Christians to task for intellectual disingenuity.
--Finally, I was quite annoyed whenever Barker committed the fallacy of composition, i.e., "Christians do immoral things, so therefore Christianity is immoral." Barker often fails to clearly separate what's taught from how it's understood, and equally fails to distinguish that from what people actually do and how it relates back to the teaching and understanding. I imagine he would jump all over any individual who asserted that Stalinism means atheists as a whole teach and are disposed to evil, so it's vexing to see him fall into the same polemical trap, and I could see a Christian totally tuning him out after rhetorical fallacies like this and his occasional equivocation.

In sum, the book is largely excellent, an easy and compelling read, both a gripping personal story and a high-minded intellectual endeavor. Barker has generally done his homework extensively, and it shines through. While marred by a few significant flaws that prevent my recommending it without reservation, "Godless" is a great read that is well worth the time of both atheist and open-minded believer alike.
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fighting the good fight, but now for the right side! Jan. 4 2009
By G. M. Arnold - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've just finished reading three books on a common theme: losing one's (Christian) religion and becoming an atheist. All three are excellent, but each approaches the topic from a very different perspective. I thought I might review them all together, and post the combined review on each book at Amazon. I don't know if this is consistent with the Amazon review policy, but never mind.

The first book is Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists by Dan Barker. I was slightly put off by the subtitle: "How an evangelical preacher became one of America's leading atheists." After all, one of the key points about atheism - and one that we have to keep reminding theists about - is that atheism is not an organized body of belief, it's no more a religion than "bald" is a hair colour. So how can anyone be a "leading atheist"? Who's being led? However if one substitutes "prominent" or "influential" for "leading", we can let that pass. And Barker is certainly influential: he's co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is one of the most active groups working to uphold the Constitutional prohibition on church-state entanglement, and seeking to counteract the negative image of atheism in this country.

The second book that I considered was William Lobdell's Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America-and Found Unexpected Peace. Lobdell is an award-winning journalist who covered religion for the Los Angeles Times. After writing about many aspects of religion for many years, he finally decided to write about his own journey.

The last volume in this trilogy was Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, by John Loftus. Like Barker, Loftus was also an evangelical preacher, but although the arc of his experience was similar to Barker's, the result is a very different kind of book.

Let me begin by saying that each of these books is really good, and deserves a place in the library of anyone who is interested in the contemporary debate between religion and atheism. I hesitate to rank them, or recommend one over another; nevertheless I find myself compelled to do so. Of the three, Lobdell's "Losing My Religion" is the most essential, for two reasons. First, he is an excellent writer, and his prose is simply a delight to read. Secondly, he concentrates on his personal experience in a way that I haven't encountered before in books by atheists. Both Loftus and Barker set out to tell their story and argue their case, albeit in different ways, and each draws on writers as diverse as Dennett, Wells, Price, Martin, Shermer, Carrier and Nielsen in setting forth their arguments. Lobdell just wants to recount his own story, and what he has learned from it. He's not interested in converting anyone, or scoring debating points. As he writes, "To borrow Buddha's analogy, I've just spent eight years crossing a river in a raft of my own construction, and now I'm standing on a new shore. My raft was made not of dharma, like Buddhism's, but of things I gathered along the way: knowledge, maturity, humility, critical thinking and the willingness to face the world as it is, and not how I wish it to be. I don't knopw what the future holds in this new land. I don't see myself crossing the river back to Christianity... [or] adopting a new religion. My disbelief in a personal God now seems cemented to my soul. Other kinds of spirituality seem equally improbable. Besides, I like my life on this unexplored shore."

For Lobdell, the thing which provoked his crisis of faith was people: the yawning gulf between the ideals of a religion and the lives of those who practice and - especially - lead it. The horrific abuse of young people by Catholic priests, and the way it was covered up, refutes the claims of religion in many different ways. In particular, it challenges believers to justify theodicy (the "problem of evil"), as well as the Dostoievskian idea of religion as a bastion against the chaos of amorality. In contrast, for Barker and Loftus, the unravelling of their fundamentalist faiths was due to ideas: to the incoherence of religious dogma, and its incompatibility with science and reason.

Both Loftus and Barker were preachers. There are many distinct aspects to being a preacher: the performance artist, leading a collective act of worship; the scribe and teacher, explaining and interpreting the texts and practices of the faith; and the counsellor and confessor. All of these roles have roots in the shamanic and magical. As a believer, Barker was a performance artist, and he remains so in his newly found unbelief. He encourages the closeted skeptic, and fights fiercely for the rights of the non-religious. Loftus is a scribe: the apologist, the teacher. He was the defender of faith against its critics, and with the detailed knowledge that he acquired in this role, he has become the sharpest critic of religious apology.. Each of their books reflects the way that they interpreted the role of preacher.

Both Barker and Loftus seek to encourage those who seek affirmation of their skepticism or unbelief. Barker concentrates on the emotional, the social: "you are not alone", "you are not a bad person". Loftus focuses on the ideas, the dogma: the Bible is riddled with inconsistencies, the supposedly biographical accounts in the New Testament are demonstrably fictitious, the attempts by contemporary theologians to construct a coherent interpretation of the contradictory mess are failures, and so forth. If you have read some of the authorities that Loftus cites - Mackie, Martin, et al - I would still recommend his book, because he pulls all of the threads together in a compact and accessible manner. If you are unfamiliar with the literature, Loftus may be all you need. (Add Hitchens for spice, of course!)

I recommend all three books.
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