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VIP Interview – Dan Barker

Posted in Uncategorized, VIP Interview by Skepdude on September 22, 2008

On this edition of the VIP Interview feature, I am pleased to  have Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Here is a short introduction to Dan from the FFRF website:

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.

See Dan’s bio.
See Dan’s online writings.

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.

Here are some blurbs and Contents:
– – – – – – – – – – –

BLURBS ———————
“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
author 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
– – – – – – – – –
“Dan Barker’s esteemed reputation is richly deserved. I recommend getting three copies. You will need one as a source of evidence to which you will frequently refer. There sill be miles and miles of underlining as you mark the pages of special interest to you. You will need your second to lend to others. You will be enthusiastic about this book, and you will want to share its wisdom with family and friends. Others will likewise want to share it, and the book will never be returned to you. Finally, you will want a third copy to be in pristine condition on your bookshelf, since Dan Barker has created a volume which will only grow in its historical significance.”
David Mills
author of The Atheist Universe
– – – – – – – –
“This book profoundly affected me. It’s funny, and poignant,and most importantly, true! You msut read this book.”
Julia Sweeney
comedian, actress, Saturday Night Live alum, author of Letting God of God
– – – – – – – –
Foreword by Richard Dawkins
Part 1-  Rejecting God
1 The Call
2 The Fall
3 The Fallout
4 The New Call
Part 2- Why I Am An Atheist
5 Why I Am an Atheist
6 Refuting God
7 Omni-Aqueous
8 Cosmological Kalamity
9 Dear Theologian
Part 3- What’s Wrong With Christianity
10 The Bible and Morality
11 Murder, He Wrote
12 For Goodness Sake
13 Biblical Contradictions
14 Understanding Discrepancy
15 Did Jesus Exist?
16 Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?
SECTION 4- Life is Good!
17 We Go to Washington
18 Adventures in Atheism
19 Life and Death Matters
– – – – – – – –
Description at FFRF’s website
After 19 years as an evangelical preacher, missionary, and Christian songwriter, Dan Barker ‘threw out the bathwater and discovered there is no baby there.’ Barker, who is now co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (America’s largest organization of atheists and agnostics), describes the intellectual and psychological path he followed in moving from fundamentalism to freethought. The four sections in Godless–Rejecting God, Why I Am An Atheist, What’s Wrong With Christianity, and Life is Good!–include chapters on bible problems, the historicity of Jesus, morality, the Kalam Cosmological argument, the unbelievable resurrection, and much more. Barker relates the positive benefits from trusting in reason and human kindness instead of living in fear of false judgment and moral condemnation. Godless expands the story told in Dan’s 1992 book, Losing Faith in Faith–the two books overlap about 20%–but a lot has happened in 16 years, and Dan updates the story with four new chapters, including ‘The New Call’ (lessons from the debate circuit), ‘Adventures in Atheism,’ and ‘We Go To Washington’ (FFRF’s Supreme Court lawsuit, in which Dan was a plaintiff).
Forward by Richard Dawkins. Paperback, 376 pages (Ulysses Press, September 2008)
– – – – – – – – – – – – –

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.

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