I recently read Chris Hitchens’ “God Isn’t Great” (his book IS great!) and Professor Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”, another book which is having an effect on my life. These two books are helping me to navigate the swirling tides.
To those important books, I now add a third book:
“Godless”, How An Evangelical Preacher Became One Of America’s Leading Atheists” (Foreword by Professor Richard Dawkins):
This book is a real eye-opener. I was gobsmacked as I was reading it. I was stirring before I read these books. I had been in a deep, deep sleep. I was ‘comatose’ for many years but I was starting to wake up. These three books, Hitchens’, Dawkins’ and now Barker’s books, have woken me up with more of a start than would a massive sniff of smelling salts!
The author of “Godless” is Dan Barker. As the title of the book makes clear, he WAS a Christian evangelist. At this juncture, let me stress that this book relates to both the Old and the New Testaments so it touches not only on the beliefs, faith and mindsets of Christians but also of Jews and, to an extent, Muslims though they, of course, focus on the Koran a lot more than they do on the Bible (Barker also refers to the Koran in his book).
In a nutshell, Dan was an absolute believer – no if’s, but’s or maybe’s, he fell for the whole thing hook, line and sinker. Dan was one of God’s ambassadors on Earth. Dan told Oprah Winfrey:
“I was one of those guys who would walk up to you on the street and tell you about Jesus Christ…and would convince you to say the sinner’s prayer, would convince you that you were a sinner deserving of damnation, tell you about Jesus’ love, read the Bible to you and pray with people like yourself. I was an evangelist and I loved the gospel, the calling of the ministry – and I’ve changed my mind”.
Dan went on:
“…I have decided that the evidences for Christianity are not solid evidences. The Bible is an unreliable document and it is a very uninspiring document. My mind cannot accept what my mind rejects…”
Dan relates his journey, from child to blinkered evangelist travelling around the world ‘saving souls’ through to his eventual recovery – his journey into an ignorant, unknowing darkness of delusion, his years in the mire and the eventual clearing of the fog.
Dan debunks the Bible, Old Testament and New. I know that I am ‘writing’ now with the benefit of a clear mind, and against the backdrop of my having been a ‘believer’, but I am mystified as to how billions of people around the world can believe that the Bible is a literal account of history dating back thousands of years. The inconsistencies, many of which are laid before the reader, are stark and unarguable. Dan opines as to why believers ignore the inconsistencies and how, when they do accept the inconsistencies at face value, they try to explain them away, how they try to make the inconsistencies disappear.
Barker also theorises as to how and why religions arose:
“Religions arose for various natural reasons, including dealing with death, illness, invaders, dreams and fear of the unknown. Also, there is the usefulness of a tribal story to unite the people, the need to assume agency in nature…the need for our prematurely born (compared to other species) infants to submit to the authority of the father figure until they are mature enough to think for themselves, and so on. Religions can be powerful mechanisms for giving a feeling of meaning to life and personal/cultural identity….”
Barker goes on to debunk (yes, I know, I have already used that word but it is, again, so apt) the beliefs that ‘God Is Good’ and that the Bible is the best code/blueprint to follow if one wants to lead an upstanding, moral life.
“And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day. And they that found him brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses.” (Numbers 15: 32-26,
and here’s a charmer:
(Exodus/Shemos 15:3) “The Lord is a man of war, The Lord is His name”;
(Psalm 137:9) “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones”;
(Leviticus/Vayikrah 21:18-23) God discriminated against the handicapped:
“For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath any thing maimed, or any thing too long, or a man that is broken-footed, or broken-handed, or crook-backed, or a dwarf, or that hath his eye over-spread, or is scabbed, or scurvy, or hath his stones crushed; no man of the seed of Aaron the priest, that hath a blemish, shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire; he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God. He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy. Only he shall not go in unto the veil, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not My holy places; for I am the Lord who sanctify them”;
(Exodus/Shemos 20:5) God punished innocent offspring to the fourth generation:
“thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers unto the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me”.
(Exodus/Shemos 20:13) “Thou shalt not murder.”
(Leviticus/Vayikrah 24:17) “And he that smiteth any man mortally shall surely be put to death”
(Exodus/Shemos 32:27) “And he said unto them: ‘Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel: Put ye every man his sword upon his thigh, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.”
(I Samuel 6:19) “…and the people lamented because the Lord had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter”
I won’t bother to go on but, needless to say, the killing goes on and on and on….seems that if God says it’s ok to kill, then it’s fine. If God sanctions it, however barbaric and heinous, it’s ok – why? Because God is ‘it’, the ultimate and God doffs his cap to no one – God can do whatever he wants and he doesn’t half take advantage of it! Even if I did believe that he exists, he wouldn’t get my vote: God is a tyrant. If a human was marauding across the planet doing and sanctioning what God is supposed to have done, he would be labeled evil so why can a supernatural being, God, get away with it?
Of course, many people will say that I don’t understand what is written in the Torah, that I don’t understand the text, that I am confused but I echo what Dan says when those of faith respond to that effect. Response to the critics: the Torah/Bible was, we are told, written thousands of years ago, the words of God to Moses. Not everyone was well educated so, presumably, God produced the Bible in such a way that it would be easily understood, understood by everyone, not just the educated. Many, many people today, who ‘follow’ the Bible, are not well educated and, again, one would surely assume that God intended it to be easily understood, not only understood by academics at Oxford and Cambridge. Thus, how I read it (and I consider myself to be ‘educated’ and relatively intelligent) and how I understand it is as ‘your’ god intended. The Bible isn’t much use if it needs to be ‘translated’ by academics – why would God produce the Bible in such a way that it easily confuses?
There are so many other contradictions, not related to violence, which Dan clearly refers to in his book.
Dan also responds to the criticisms of atheism that are often fired at him – one of the great parts of the book is his response to his critics who say that Hitler wasn’t religious and that that scuppers his argument that religion is one of THE roots of evil. Hitler wasn’t religious, they say, and he was one of the most evil perpetrators of genocide in history. Great retort by Dan in his book!
Dan Barker’s journey is fascinating and I am now even more incredulous as to how I remained deluded and irrational for so long.
Great book – highly recommended! Before criticising me, two things:
1) I have read the book and am entitled to my opinion just as you are entitled to your opinion in the matter of religion, faith and God;
2) If you do want to have a go at me, read “Godless” – better still, read “Godless”, “The God Delusion” and “God Isn’t Great” and then get back to me.