A couple of months ago the local chapter of the PA Nonbelievers gave me a free copy of Dan Barker‘s Godless at the meeting I went to. I gratefully took it home and once the Christmas season was over, I pulled it out and read it.
There are many different types of atheists, ranging from the insincere to the fully committed. Dan Barker is one of those who I think has the most credibility when they discuss their atheism. I wouldn’t necessarily go to him for a lesson in biology (though far better him than, say, Ben Stein) but on the issue of religion, and in particular theism and Christianity, he has my undivided attention. The reason is that for much of his childhood and early adult life, he was a full blown evangelical proselytizing Christian. He was a Christian preacher and missionary, and was educated at some of the more respected (by Christians) educational facilities in the country. He lived his Christianity, and knew his Bible inside and out. He was, and is, a smart man. And a musician and composer to boot.
And then something wonderful happened. (A Miracle! Praise the FSM!) His brain kicked in. Somewhere along the line a seed, a small seed of doubt crept in, and unlike most Christians, he resolved to resolve it, so to speak. He pried it open and looked at it twelve ways from Sunday, and found that he couldn’t reconcile his doubt with his previous beliefs. This may sound condescending, but the practice of acquiring religion, through childhood indoctrination, actually dampens and suppresses the ability to critically think, but in some people it doesn’t always take. It didn’t for me, and thank doG it didn’t for Dan Barker. And it didn’t. In a relatively short time, that seed of doubt grew into a cancerous growth in his brain (a good form of cancer) that continued until it had fully consumed all of the theistic molecules in his body. (If you don’t like that metaphor, I’ve got a few more.)
As you would expect from the title of the book, he became godless. He realized that the very concept of god, much less god itself, was an irrational, nonsensical notion, based on contrived, yet ignorant explanations of nature, ones not worthy of belief, not worth basing one’s whole life around.
Godless is broken up into multiple parts. The first is autobiographical. It relates how Dan went from proselytizing preacher to ardent atheist; sort of the “getting to know Dan” section. It’s not superfluous, because for the rest of the book, he relates much of his understanding of atheism in terms of what he learned, what he taught, how he changed his views from that of a Christian, and how people in his life reacted to him. The autobiographical section is used as a vehicle to explain godlessness.
The next part of the book is an explanation of exactly why he is an atheist (titled, unsurprisingly “Why I Am An Atheist”). In one chapter, he reviews all of the significant refutations of atheism thrown at him, and throws them back like limp, washed out rags. The reader can tell he’s put a lot of thought into these discussions, and his logic, like that of most rationalists, is hard to beat. No. I’m sorry. It’s impossible to beat.
The third section is the meat of the book, the one that shows conclusively why Christianity is not a sustainable worldview, much less a religion. Much of the discussion centers on the Bible, and Barker knows his Bible. I was inspired to write a few posts of my own on the subject, which were triggered by the Barker book as I read it. In short, the Bible is an old book and nothing more. It was written by well meaning yet relatively ignorant people thousands of years ago. We have come so far as a species, yet we cling to the outdated, superstitious notions of a goat-herding society from a small speck of dust in the Middle East. It’s so obsolete, it’s mind boggling.
The book concludes with a short section on how his deconversion has affected his life. He’s involved in The Freedom From Religion Foundation, one of the most active and effective freethinking organizations in the country. He is married to Annie Laurie Gaylor, one of the founders of the the FFRF, which organization has taken free-thought and atheism and helped to make it more acceptable in a country where it has always been thought of as the cultural equivalent of B.O. (with religion the antiperspirant, I guess – jeez, that was a terrible metaphor).
There’s still a lot of work to do, but this book goes a long way in helping the reader feel optimistic about the future. It works on a couple of different levels. On the one level, it’s a memoir, a deconversion story, and we all know how well deconversion stories work in helping people who might be on the fence, experiencing their own doubts about religion, identify with what Barker went through, and in the process, find the same or a similar path to atheism.
On another level, it works as a primer for atheism. All of the arguments, all of the logical fallacies, all of the refutation of apologetics are in here. Well, maybe not all of them, but it’s doubtful that most of us will ever get the chance, or inclination, to debate William Lane Craig, so the stuff that is in here will more than suffice to understand atheism. And it’s written in a clear and lucid style, so that it’s much easier to comprehend than other, more arcane documents on the subject of religion (like the Bible.)
So, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s in paperback and there are links to both Amazon and Barnes & Noble in this review, or patronize your local independent bookstore.
Oh. And don’t get it mixed up with the Ann Coulter book by the same name. There’s no comparison.