Sunday, February 05, 2006

Book: Losing Faith in Faith

Losing Faith in Faith deals with Dan Barker’s de-conversion from a fundamentalist Christian preacher to an atheist. He recounts the personal and turbulent story of how he gave up his faith, and how he found new meaning in atheism. Not only does he recount his personal story in the book, but he also provides some chapters with arguments on why a belief in God is not viable, as well as some chapters explaining the concepts of atheism and freethought.

Barker’s writes in an entertaining style. He presents some of his essays (e.g., Christian Designs and Blind Faith) in the form of a dialogue between a freethinker and a Christian, who debate aspects of religion. Although this approach is not at all new, it does make the presentation more interesting.

He also provides some arguments against Christianity that cannot be taken lightly. For example, he provides two fascinating essays near the end of the book: in one he argues that the moral precepts in the Bible are not moral; and in the second he covers the skeptic’s response to the claim that Jesus was a historical figure. In Refuting God, he provides tips on how a freethinker can respond to some of the common arguments for the existence of God, such as the Design Argument and Pascal’s Wager.

However, I felt the book had the following weaknesses:

First, Barker comes across as being extremely antagonistic towards Christians. Some of the Freedom from Religion Foundation pamphlets printed in the book have a note saying that they were deliberately written in a less gentle manner “in order to have something to counter the street preachers and obnoxious door-to-door evangelists”. Barker seems to paint every Christian with the same brush, implying that every theist is somewhat arrogant or in denial. I always dislike such blanket stereotyping.

Second, I feel that Barker does not consider any middle ground with regards to belief in God; everything is black or white with regards to religion. This is the typical paradigm of the evangelist, and it seems to me that Barker is still much of an evangelist, even though he ‘fights’ from the other side.

Third, I found that some of his arguments were left wanting. In the chapter on Bible contradictions, Barker lists a whole range of contradictions found in the Bible, and concludes that this shows that the Bible is not the inherent word of God. However, there have been many responses from apologists to counter this argument, but Barker does not address any of these. Like Jeff Lowder, who criticizes some of Barker’s arguments in The Contemporary Debate on the Resurrection, I feel that instead of simply listing a whole bunch of contradictions, Barker could have made a much more complete case by addressing some of the responses that an apologist might raise regarding those contradictions.

I could relate to the book: Barker’s feelings and turbulent emotions are similar to what I felt when I lost my faith. However, I think that Christian readers will be put off by his antagonism.

Amazon listing


Anonymous said...

Interesting, such a book. If you loose your faith, where does the drive comes from to attack it, to spend time and energy to prove it impossible or improbable. Such a missionary zeal seems to point to a strong faith conviction that belief in the christian God is wrong or even harmful. Is he not as fundamentalist as the fundamentalists he is attacking?

Roger Saner said...

I would be interested to know a bit more about his journey away from faith to becoming an atheist. Questions such as "What was his turning point?" and "What factors contributed to his departure?" I'm always interested to see what about Christianity drives people away - because there's much that can and does - but different things do it for different people.

I would agree with both you and anonymous when you point out he's as fundamentalist as the fundamentalists he's attacking. I guess the question to ask is - did a true transformation really take place? Is he a more peaceful, loving and alive person now that he's moved away from his faith?

vjack said...

Good review. I had been wondering about this book for awhile. I think I'll add it to my growing "to-read" list.

Stardust1954 said...

I have a copy of this book, and I must agree that Dan Barker's fundamentalist thinking has gone to the other extreme. I agree that arguments he provides against christianity cannot be taken lightly, however, things he does like taking christian songs and changing the words, writing atheist hymns and "sermonizing in reverse" is really doing what he did before he lost his faith, only now he is doing it from the opposing side. Atheism is not a religion, yet Barker is trying to make it one.

Stardust1954 said...

However, I just want to add that I think Barker speaking out about his atheism is better than not talking about it at all. For a popular person to go from a seemingly devout christian to a strong atheist cannot go without explanation, and though he is using fundamentalist tactics to get his message across, he makes too many valid points to be ignored.