VIP Interview – Dan Barker
DAN BARKER is co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. A former minister and evangelist, Dan became a freethinker in 1983. His books, Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children and Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher To Atheist are published by the Foundation. His newest book, Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists, was published by Ulysses Press in 2008. A graduate of Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Religion, Dan now puts his knowledge of Christianity to effective freethought use. A professional pianist and composer, Dan performs freethought concerts and is featured in the Foundation’s musical cassettes, “My Thoughts Are Free,” “Reason’s Greetings,” “Dan Barker Salutes Freethought Then And Now,” a 2-CD album “Friendly Neighborhood Atheist,” and the CD “Beware of Dogma.” He joined the Foundation staff in 1987 and served as public relations director. He was elected co-president in November 2004.
The complete interview follows below. Enjoy!
SD: Do you agree with Richard Dawkins who has called religion a virus of the mind and regards it as an evil (so to speak) that humanity must eradicate? Or are you solely concerned with religion’s unwelcome intrusions in the public square?
DB: Yes, I do agree with Dawkins. The world would be much better off without religion, as it would be without sexism, racism, or other opportunities for social conflict.
SD: A lot of atheists seem to think that ” you can’t convert a true believer”. You were a true believer who converted. Do you see your case as the exception to the rule, or is there more to this than some atheists seem to believe? What was the cause of your conversion?
DB: I don’t think anyone can “convert” a true believer. We all have to convert ourselves, from the inside, as the result of a sincere desire to know what is true. My case is not an exception. Not only are there MANY former believers who are now atheists, but I know of dozens of former preachers and ministers who are now atheists or agnostics.
SD: Do you think there is any merit to the “evangelical atheist” accusations thrown towards Dawkins, Hitchens and others like them? Does that term make sense to you?
DB: I would not call it an accusation. It is a compliment! Why should we not be evangelical about that which we are passionate about? If it is wrong to be “evangelical” (which simply means spreading the “good news”), then all preachers are wrong.
SD: Do you think that the current 2 presidential candidates are violating the Constitution with their continued proclamations of faith and participation in faith forums? Is it true that, practically, there is no religious test for public office in the US?
DB: No. It amounts to a de facto (not actual) violation of the “no religious test for public office.” However, I do think they are culpable of promising to unite religion and government, in various ways, and if they followed through, then they would indeed be violating the Establishment Clause.
SD: Please give me an estimate of how soon do you think that either major party in the US will nominate an atheist for the president/vice president position?
DB: Forty years.
SD: The Bible is full of violence and atrocity. If you had to pick one, what would you choose as the ugliest, most immoral verse/chapter?
DB: Psalm 137:9. “Happy shall he be that takes and dashes the little ones against the stones.”
SD: Do you consider yourself a skeptic? What are your thoughts on the paranormal, homeopathy, cryptozoology, UFOs and the likes?
DB: Yes. All of those things are vulnerable to skeptical cricitism. (Depending on what exactly is being claimed.)
SD: Do you think religious belief predisposes one to paranormal belief?
DB: I think they are both symptoms of an uncritical mind.
SD: I prefer the term “freethinker” to any other label. What is your stand on the whole “bright” movement (although that seems to have died away!)?
DB: I don’t care what people call themselves. Bright is nice, though I don’t prefer it personally. “Freethinker” is a good umbrella term for atheists and agnostics.
SD: What is the one guest you’d love to have on the show, but haven’t been able to reach? Have you ever considered Bill Maher?
DB: Yes, we have tried Maher. We invited him to our convention, met his price, but he is too busy this year. Maybe next year!
SD: Can you tell us something about your book ” Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher became one of America’s leading Atheists”?
DB: It tells my story, my life as a preacher, why I changed.
What is one thing about Dan Barker that most people don’t know (that you are willing to share!)?
I have synesthesia . . . numbers and letters in color. It is both an advantage and a disadvantage, at times.