Testimony Against… (Dan Barker’s story)

I Just Lost Faith In Faith

This was my first article for Freethought Today. It ran in the June 1984 issue.

Religion is a powerful thing. Few can resist its charms and few can truly break its embrace. It is the siren who entices the wandering traveler with songs of love and desire and, once successful, turns a mind into stone. It is a Venus fly trap. Its attraction is like that of drugs to an addict who, wishing to be free and happy, becomes trapped and miserable.

But the saddest part of the dependency is the fact that most participants are willing victims. They think they are happy. They believe religion has kept its promises and have no desire to search elsewhere. They are deeply in love with their faith and have been blinded by that love–blinded to the point of unquestioning sacrifice.

I know this is true because I was one of Christ’s disciples for over nineteen years, and my subsequent self-excision was/is traumatically painful.

My Dad was a professional musician during the 1940’s. At one of his concerts he met a female vocalist and, as things go, they went (lucky for me). They got married and, when I was a toddler, they both found true religion. Dad threw away his collection of original Glenn Miller recordings (ouch!), turned his back on his former “sinful” life and enrolled in seminary to become a minister. He didn’t finish because of the strong demands of raising three boys. But he lived his faith through his family and through lay ministry in local churches.

My folks’ spirituality was so strong that they often found it hard to find a church that met their needs. So we church-hopped for many years. I can’t remember all the churches, but we were Baptists, Methodists, Nazarenes, Assemblies of God, Pentecostals, fundamentalist, evangelical, “Bible-believing” and charismatic.

For a number of years we formed a family musical team and ministered in many Southern California churches–nothing fantastic–Dad played trombone and preached, Mom sang solos, I played piano, my brothers tooted various instruments and we all joined in singing those famous gospel harmonies. It was a neat experience for us kids. My childhood was filled with love, fun and purpose. I felt truly fortunate to have been born into the “truth” and at the age of fifteen I committed myself to a lifetime of Christian ministry.

My commitment lasted nineteen years. It gave my life a feeling of purpose, destiny and fulfillment. I spent years trekking across Mexico in missionary work–small villages, jungles, deserts, large arenas, radio, television, parks, prisons and street meetings. I spent more years in traveling evangelism across the United States preaching and singing in churches, on street corners, house-to-house witnessing, college campuses and wherever an audience could be found.

I was a “doer of the word and not a hearer only.” I went to a Christian college, majored in Religion/Philosophy, became ordained and served in a pastoral capacity in three California churches. I personally led many people to Jesus Christ, and encouraged many young people to consider full-time Christian service.

I served for a while as librarian for Kathryn Kuhlman’s Los Angeles choir, observing the “miracles” first-hand. I was even instrumental in a few healings myself.

For a number of years I directed the “King’s Children,” a local Christian music group that performed quite extensively including a brief term of hosting a local Christian television show.

For fifteen years I worked with Manuel Bonilla, the leading Christian recording artist in the Spanish-speaking world. I was his main producer/arranger, and working with him gave me the opportunity to learn the skills to produce many more Christian albums, including some of my own.

I have written more than a hundred Christian songs which are either published or recorded by various artists, and two of my children’s musicals continue to be best sellers around the world. (“Mary Had A Little Lamb,” a Christmas musical, and “His Fleece Was White as Snow,” for Easter, both published and distributed by Manna Music. You can see the religious symbolism: Christ, the unspotted lamb of god who became the final sacrifice for sin.)

I could go on listing my Christian accomplishments, but I think you can see that I was very serious about my faith, and that I am quite capable of analyzing religion from the inside out.

Last Friday evening I directed a bible study in my own home. I opened it to all comers and announced that I would welcome all points of view with the purpose of examining the documents with skepticism rather than faith. The eight people who arrived (to my astonishment) were Christians who had been informed of my present atheistic stance and were curious about my intentions. My closest ally was my brother, a theistic agnostic [Darrell is now an activist freethinker]. One fellow, a theologian, informed me that his purpose in coming was to convert me back to the faith. (He failed.)

It was a fun, lively evening and much information was exchanged, but I noticed something interesting. They were more concerned about me and my atheism than they were about the bible. The discussion kept coming around to an analysis of my conversion from the faith. They were intrigued that someone who had been so strongly religious could so radically “stray” and not be ashamed. They kept probing for some deep psychological cause, some hidden disappointment, secret bitterness, temptation or pride. They were like spiritual doctors trying to remove a tumor or blinding cataract.

One fellow suggested I had been blinded by Satan–the Devil being so intimidated by my strong Christian witness that he needed to neutralize the enemy, get me out of commission. That was very flattering, but it misses the point.

The point here is that the merits of an argument do not depend on the character of the speaker. All arguments should be weighed for their own sake, based on their own evidences and logical consistencies.

Before the bible study even commenced one fellow said, “Dan, tell us what caused you to lose your faith.” So I told them.

I did not lose my faith, I gave it up purposely. The motivation that drove me into the ministry is the same that drove me out. I have always wanted to know. Even as a child I fervently pursued truth. I was rarely content to accept things without examination, and my examinations were intense. I was a thirsty learner, a good student, and a good minister because of that drive. I always took things apart and put them back together again.

Since I was taught and believed Christianity was the answer, the only hope for “man,” I dedicated myself to understanding all I possibly could. I devoured every book, every sermon, and the bible. I prayed, fasted and obeyed biblical teaching. I decided that I would lean my whole weight upon the truth of scripture. This attitude, I am sure, gave the impression that I was a notch above, that I could be trusted as a Christian authority and leader. Christians, eager for substantiation, gladly allowed me to assume a place of leadership and I took it as confirmation of my holy calling.

But my mind did not go to sleep. In my thirst for knowledge I did not limit myself to Christian authors but curiously desired to understand the reasoning behind nonChristian thinking. I figured the only way to truly grasp a subject was to look at it from all sides. If I had limited myself to Christian books I would probably still be a Christian today. I read philosophy, theology, science and psychology. I studied evolution and natural history. I read Bertrand Russell, Thomas Paine, Ayn Rand, John Dewey and others. At first I laughed at these worldly thinkers, but I eventually started discovering some disturbing facts–facts that discredited Christianity. I tried to ignore these facts because they did not integrate with my religious world view.

For years I went through an intense inner conflict. On the one hand I was happy with the direction and fulfillment of my Christian life; on the other hand I had intellectual doubts. Faith and reason began a war within me. And it kept escalating. I would cry out to God for answers, and none would come. Like the battered wife who clings to hope, I kept trusting that God would someday come through. He never did.

The only proposed answer was faith, and I gradually grew to dislike the smell of that word. I finally realized that faith is a cop-out, a defeat–an admission that the truths of religion are unknowable through evidence and reason. It is only undemonstrable assertions that require the suspension of reason, and weak ideas that require faith. I just lost faith in faith. Biblical contradictions became more and more discrepant, apologist arguments more and more absurd and, when I finally discarded faith, things became more and more clear.

But don’t imagine that was an easy process. It 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 hurt. And it hurt bad. It was like spitting on my mother, or like throwing one of my children out a window. It was sacrilege. All of my bases for thinking and values had to be restructured. Add to that inner conflict the outer conflict of reputation and you have a destabilizing war. Did I really want to discard the respect I had so carefully built over many years with so many important people?

I can understand why people cling to their faith. Faith is comforting. It provides many “answers” to life’s riddles. My Christian life was quite positive and I really see no external/cultural reason why I should have rejected it. I continue to share many of the same Christian values I was taught (though I would no longer call them “Christian”–they are my values); and many of my close friends are decent Christian individuals whom I love and respect.

Christians feel deeply that their way of life is the best possible. They feel their attitude toward the rest of the world is one of love. That’s how I felt. I couldn’t understand why people would be critical of Christianity unless they were inwardly motivated by “worldly” Satanic influences. I pretended to love all individuals while hating the “sin” that was in them, like Christ supposedly did. (We were taught that Christ was the most loving example.)

It was a mystery to me how anyone could be blind to the truths of the Gospel. After all, don’t we all want love, peace, happiness, hope and meaning in life? Christ was the only answer, I believed, and I figured all nonChristians must be driven by other things, like greed, lust, evil pride, hate and jealousy. I took the media’s caricature of the world’s situation as evidence of that fact. For me to grow into one of those godless creatures was almost impossible, and I resisted all the way. (I have since discovered that ethics has nothing to do with religion, at least not in positive correlation.)

There was no specific turning point for me. I one day just realized that I was no longer a Christian, and a few months later I mustered the nerve to advertise that fact. That was last January, six months ago. Since then I have been bombarded by all my caring friends and relatives. I appreciate their concern and I sincerely wish to keep a dialogue open.

As an example, while I was typing this article I received a long distance call from a former Christian friend who had heard about my “defection.” It is hard to handle calls like that. She was stunned, and I am certain that she is at this very moment in prayer for me, or calling others to join in prayer. I love this person, I respect her and do not wish to cause any undue harm. She told me that she had read an article I wrote to my local paper. (How it got to her area is a mystery.) I understand her concern and sympathize with her since I know exactly what she is thinking.

I was a preacher for many years, and I guess it hasn’t all rubbed off. I would wish to influence others who may be struggling like I did–influence them to have the guts to think. To think deliberately and clearly. To take no fact without critical examination and to remain open to honest inquiry, wherever it leads.

4 comments on “Testimony Against… (Dan Barker’s story)

  1. I totally agree with this post the Dan fellow went through a lot to become atheist…
    Once one of my religious asked how/why i lost my faith and i can remember telling him that i never had it the first place it was all a game i was playing with myself, whatever religion i would have been born into i would have eventually become an atheist.
    I also think u cant use logic to try and show a believer that their god doesn’t exist because their belief is an emotional response not intellectual, meaning you can throw all the logic all the facts but to no avail its always upto them to have intellectual sincerity to admit quietly to themselves first, and that is always the hard part.
    And finally i live in a very religious community, which is very tough and at most times down right irritating, my girlfriend is a very serious Muslim, my parents are Roman Catholic and most of my friends protestants. It does get hard very hard especially with my girlfriend but i have never tried to change(though it is no secret i would be more comfortable if she was atheist) her for i have realized you have to take people as they are in totality with all their defects, let them change themselves if they see fit.

    • This is something I do, for the most part. It’s when I want to put out there what I have newly discovered and strongly believe is the truth, and I am attacked for it, that’s when I haul out the heavy guns.

      It’s also…I am very resentful that so much of my life has turned out to be false. The person who raised me wasn’t really the mother I remember and loved as a small child. She was a paranoid schizophrenic and those voices she heard in her head are what thought I was worthless and a disappointment and something that could never be good enough. I became a Christian for her. I went 30 plus years as a born again Christian and I was defending my faith then as I defend my reasons for non-belief now. Christians are encouraged to witness. To share. To get excited about the “truth” they’ve learned and try to “save” others. Well, that’s 30+ years of conditioning for me. Now as a new atheist, I guess you can say I feel born again. I’m excited. Revved up. I want to “save” people from the delusions that caused so much harm in my life, to my self-esteem.

      However, like you say, I have come to understand it’s the same with everyone as it was with me. Until a person’s own restless inner voice stirs them to explore and research and learn about how things actually came to be, like the bible, until that happens you are talking to a wall. I know it because I was once a wall myself.

      I know some wonderful people from Christian to Wiccan. I think a person is who he or she is in her heart, regardless of what religious alliance they want to use as an explanation; example: I’m loving because I have Jesus in my heart or, I’m loving because I’m a loving person, which is what I am and that has never changed despite my religious affiliation.

      Accept people for who they are, yes. But the sword cuts both ways. Do not try to re-convert me. Respect it was painful for me to weed all the falseness from my life, and I am excited for the path I’m on now, and have every right to express that to the world.

      A few people did that to me, and for a long time I ignored them. I didn’t think they knew what they were talking about. A little pebble here and there does not any significance make. But when enough pebbles gather, that’s when the shape of the shore changes, and I am so thankful now for every pebble someone was kind enough to pass along to me.

      • I get your line of thought, but from my experience I do not think it is worth your time trying to show believers their follies, because some people will want the truth others will want to be comfortable and keep things as they are.

        And as a Buddhist quote goes The teacher will show up when the student is ready, meaning you will cross paths with those who are eager for truth and may need some assistance from someone like you.

        And as i always like to say I never got born again into atheism, I grew up getting born again is like saying your a child again not able to think for yourself, we need to mature mentally. This always pisses off theists.

        And yes most people do experience the pain and anger for having lived a lie for so long, but as free thinkers we should transcend this emotion and rise above for our own sake.

        It also helps to widen ones life philosophies and for instance i began to take a keen interest in eastern philosophy and oriental religion. I was totally blown away with Buddhism in particular Zen/Tao, what sometimes is crudely referred to as atheist spirituality, it really helped me come to terms with this godless world and how to look at it for what it really is.

        And i soon realized metaphysical speculation at the end of the day is of no use and at best laughable. Though i do enjoy such discussions because i am interested in such topics.

      • Well, what you say all makes sense. On the other hand I don’t believe I am trying to talk anyone into anything. Like anything else I have learned about I like to share. I learned how to ride a motorcycle, I shared that experience and discovery along the way. Here I can post why I find something illogical, and why I was convinced into a different way of thinking. People can agree or disagree, choose to read or not read. But I’m not going to be silent about my path to finding myself and hopefully out of depression, which is kinda why I started this blog. Rising above the urge to “convert” believers to non-belief…is something I’ve had to do. I was a lot angrier two years ago when I finally was strong enough to acknowledge how I really feel about things. I was indignant and wanted to expose the lie that has cost so many people so much of their hopes, and time and energy. But I like to think I have risen above that point. What works for others didn’t work for me. It follows that what seems right for me, might not be right for others. I’m sure there’s so many different religious paths because there are so many different people. If we all worked the same we’d have one religion or no religion, and everyone would be happy.

        Personally I think we all end up in the same place regardless of what path we choose. It’s getting through life the best way we can that’s the main thing.

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