What better source for the 'goods' on religion than a born-again evangelist (a proud member of MENSA and Prometheus Society) who not only 'saw the light' but who convinced both parents and one of his brothers to join him in apostasy. It struck me Barker is much like a gay who rejects the norm, 'comes out' to his parents (mothers cave almost immediately to prima dons), and turns his folks into gaylib activists. His self-advertisement and its 'heppi end' is sooo American, even a cameo appearance by Oprah Winfrey, it's either touching or over-the-top hilarious. The parallel is apt as gay and atheist somehow are synergies, slightly disorienting, but to be tolerated, both discarding old-fashioned bigotry in favour of freedom, liberty, Paul Revere.

Although Barker doesn't have a political bone in his body, it was born-again George Bush that inspired Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris (the Unholy Trinity) to write their atheist manifestos. Dawkins attributes this change of mind to 'four years of Bush' who 'literally said that God had told him to invade Iraq'. So Dawkins asked born-again atheist Dan: Are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic one? Barker hadn't heard the joke before. He laughs it off uneasily.

He is definitely a Protestant atheist, as his roasting of Mary and the intricate theology of the crucifixion, resurrection and Jesus as God-man shows. He lost no sleep over abandoning the rich cultural heritage of Catholicism. Protestantism was what the US was founded on, and the dreary Protestant churches and theology have created many an atheist since Luther nailed his theses a half millennium ago.

Barker started brilliantly. A talented jazz pianist, he nonetheless forsook such vices for hymns and proselytizing, starting at 15. He learned Spanish so he could be a missionary in Mexico 'to convert Catholics into Christians.' Now he is embarrassed at that chutzpah, but not because American missionaries are handmaidens to imperialism, but because both 'faiths' are just that. Faith. Dan is done with faith. He certainly was a believer. Apocalyptic. Jesus is returning any day. Forget about saving money. Just spread the word, in hopes your enthusiasm will coincide with the Day of Judgment, ensuring you a place in Heaven. No wonder he threw in the towel after 17 year of what I could only conceive of as Hell.

It seems Barker was constantly on the move across soulless American, from high evangelical (glossolalia) to California Quaker Light, preaching in Moscow Idaho, Ontario California, crossing from Franklin New Jersey to Franklin Washington, and back. One fateful day, he heard a voice 'turn right'. He thought 'the Lord is finally speaking to me.' So he turned right, then 'turn left', and he turned and turned till he finally ended up on a dirt road and came to a halt in a corn field. Was this a sign? Was he going nowhere? He finally got to his next pit stop and carried on, unsettled. His jolly account of his unravelling unwittingly shows a country of shallow spirituality. American Christianities (yes, thousands, as Barker marvels) abound in a narcissistic culture. A spectacle of fractured religion and ME-ME-MEs. Everyone has their own version. American freedom.

Pauline Christianity is indeed a weak basis for faith, and the growing proportion of spiritual stragglers is a direct result. But this trend started just about the time the US was founded, with its legendary atheistic constitution. America is the natural home of atheism. Atheism really took off in the mid-19th c with Darwin, Marx and the application of science to Christian theology, and has continued to decline steadily till today, when most churches are empty, except for Barker's drive-in evangelicals, and even they are treated with ridicule or ignored. It took off with the 1963 Schempp decision to remove prayer and bible reading from public schools.

Church in Daytona Beach Florida                                                                                                             William Occam 

There was no Damascus moment. Just growing disgust at his own hypocrisy, too smart for his shallow appeals to the masses. His faith seemed to die a natural death. One telling detail was his decision to stop thanking Jesus every time he nabbed a parking place. How sad, as religion is all about gratitude. And humility. His lack of steady income as an itinerant preacher preparing people for the Apocalypse must have been humiliating. Not worthy of his elite mental status. He came to see his faith as a cop-out, his MENSA-mind told him that truths of religion were unknowable through evidence and reason. There were no demons, devils, 'no big eyeball judging my thoughts and actions. I am a biological organism in a natural environment and that is all there is.

Named-dropping and Occam's razor

Though he doesn't mention it by name, Barker is a big fan of Occam's razor. Religion just adds more complexity to any explanation. We can remind Barker that Occam was a leading medieval theologian and would not take kindly to Barker's use of his theory to try to disprove all religions. As Barker admits, you can't disprove religion, unlike atheism, which is open to disproof. (He might reconsider if someone finds Moses' tablets.) Theism is neither provable nor disprovable. (As if that means it's false.)

Whatever. If all the great people are in Hell (Twain, Brahms, Gershwin, Einstein, Russel) and Heaven is full of Jerry Falwells, Dan prefers Hell. (Wouldn't we all.) Twain likes heaven for the climate, hell for the social life. I would remind Barker that discrediting something is not the same as disproving. Probably there is no greater butt of jokes than the Catholic church, but it's still chugging along.

I congratulate Barker on chucking his plastic 'religion'. But where did he find solace? Among the cultural elite of atheists like 'attorney Alan Dershowitz and many other fascinating and (sic) thinkers and shakers.' Strange, this missed editing next to someone impossible to call a fascinating anything. In his epilogue, he shamelessly name drops how he sat (twice) with (atheist) Oliver Sacks in Carnegie (atheist) Hall to hear an atheist conductor conducting a secular choir perform (atheist) Verdi's Mass. As if that is proof of anything.

Barker lists atheist scientists, composers from Beethoven to Sondheim, but no big names of Muslims. That's because very few Muslims end up atheists. The popularity of atheism in the US (the 'collective West' is second only to China in per capita atheists) has much to do with its secular foundation. Atheism is much less prevalent in Muslim majority societies. 

Barker is a classic case of radical rejection of white leading to the opposite extreme (black), incorporating all that you hate about the original, especially the errant epistemology (ME ME ME) that made you think 'white' in the first place. He denies this: 'Atheism has no creeds, rituals, holy book, there is no transcendent world, no orthodoxy. Believe what you like' (except in anything spiritual, transcendental, as if that's the new dirty word).

But isn't scientism your 'holy book', and what about your transcendental music experiences? Where did your many talents come from? From just you practicing four hours a day? It's sad that Barker can't see his own reality as always occurring in both the profane and sacred worlds, that he can so cavalierly dismiss what is clearly nonmaterial, replacing it with boring material-world effects.

Faith is what you need when you don't have certainty. The more you learn the less you believe. No! The more you learn, you realize how little you know. The humbler you become, not the more know-it-all. At one of his many debates, a young man marched resolutely to the microphone: After your talk, my faith has been strengthened. Dan thanked him for the compliment (great debate technique), but added 'if I strengthened it, it must have been weak.' I think he missed the fellow's point.

As I read Barker, I was pleasantly amused at how his 'barking' was up the wrong tree. He insists atheism is not a belief, insists he is only in pursuit of reason, rationality, and of course happiness But what is rational? Within its framework, given its assumptions, anything is rational. His big assumption is there is no god, no transcendent other reality. Only facts. So, like Marx, he starts and ends with matter (with rational thinking in between). For his AA uncle, Christianity is rational as it fits his 'I am an alcoholic' born-in-sin so always-a-sinner, and he wears the AA chain around his neck with pride. The last time Dan saw his uncle, he was driving through one of America's many magnificent, awe-inspiring landscapes when his uncle exclaimed, 'Look at the beautiful mountains!' Barker agreed, explaining they are 'ancient sedimentary sea beds thrust upward,...'. In frustration, his uncle shot back, 'You spoil everything.'

Barker's theological arguments are not convincing. Yes, Yahweh and Zoroaster are self-contradictory, absurd. But nature is pretty good proof of something greater than us. Dawkins et al poo-poo this 'awe-and-reverence' argument. Or that there are laws of nature so there must be a lawgiver. Or that effects need causes, so there must be an Unmoved first mover to get things going. Of course, you can't prove anything with these arguments but they are not specious.

I like his 'Faith is really just agnosticism. What you have when you don't have knowledge.' 'I believe the meeting is at 7pm.' Vs you switch on the light faith. You have a rational expectation. Sorry, Dan, but you have faith in reason as all that matters. Barker: Design in the universe, but not of universe. Intelligent design seemed discredited with Darwin, but Darwin was not categorical, and advances in biology have not been kind to randomness as the engine of evolution. Neo-Lamarckism, epigenetics, evolution's law/ design of increased complexity, seemingly undermining the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Many (most?) scientists have given up on trying to make sense of consciousness, suggesting the mystery is unsolvable, which if true, would be a pretty good 'proof' of God, transcendence.

If we waste any moment of our precious lives on the hope of an afterlife, we rob ourselves of real joy and value in the here and now. Our lives are all we have, and we should enjoy them to the fullest. Happiness is true happiness because it must come to an end. But that's soooo superficial. Rank utilitarianism. How about: The more you shed attachments to the material world, the freer you are to delight in God's gifts, miracles. Being weighed down by material cares is the fastest way to spiritual and physical decay. We cherish our miracle of self-consciousness, and our brief span here in the material world should be relished and reflected on, as a time to perfect ourselves, to rise above the mundane. What is the point of life? Barker says 'none'. There is only purpose in life. Life is its own reward. His advise is a quote from Carl Sagan: do something meaningful.

Barker astounded me with his brash claim, as an atheist, to 'still speak in tongues and 'feel the presence of God'.' He doesn't necessarily like his fellow jazz musicians but 'the inner experience of music is truly transcendent and can bring us all together in the especially human 'universal language'.'

if there is a god-shaped hole in us, doesn't that mean there is something to fill that hole? He demurs. Maybe it was useful for primitive tribes but we've outgrown the need. 

Jesus Who?

Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason: Is it more probably that nature should go out of her course, or that a man should tell a lie? Jesus was born either in 4BC (Matthew: King Herod died 4BC) or 6AD (Luke: decree from Caesar Augustus to tax under Cyrenius governor of Syria). Or maybe he didn't exist at all. There is no smoking-gun evidence of Herod's slaughter of first-borns or any other details of Jesus' life. GA Wells' Did Jesus Exist? (1975) and RJ Hoffman's Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or History? (2006) suggest that Wisdom and on other Jewish literature could have prompted the earliest Christians to suppose that a preexistent redeemer had suffered crucifixion, the most shameful death of all, before being exalted to god's right hand.

A pre-Jesus Essene 'Teacher of Righteousness' who knew the meaning of all prophecies and was destined to suffer from enemies, was supposedly crucified 88BC. Maybe this leader was the messiah? Jewish historian Josephus wrote of this Essene lawgiver but never mentioned the scriptural Jesus. Josephus is cited for a bold passage describing Jesus the Christ, but this passage was added in 4th c, clearly to give the empire's new religion some gravitas. There is no evidence that Jesus actually existed outside the Gospels which were written long after Jesus' crucifixion. If indeed Jesus was crucified!

The crucifixion and post-crucifixion stories are all contradictory, impossible to 'harmonize'.

*Muslims (and Christian heresies) don't believe Jesus was crucified. They leave Jesus' end vague. He just ascended to heaven like Elijah.

*Or was it Jesus' twin who was crucified? (Thomas means twin).

*In Matthew, John there is no ascension.

*Mark, Luke claims Jesus only stayed for a few hours on 'Easter Sunday'. John 8 days. Acts 40 days.

*Physical? John no, yes 20:17, 27.

*Where? Matthew, Mark Galilee, Luke Emmaus (near Jerusalem), John in a room at evening.

The earliest Gospel Mark is the simplest: no postmortem appearances, no ascension, no preaching of a risen Christ. It ends with the women running away: 'Neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.' The young man/ angel in the cave says 'he is risen (egeiro 'he is awake') not resurrected. Bu this is how subjects greet the death of a monarch. 'The king is dead. Long live the king!' i.e., Long live the Christ!

There is no end to the list of god-men, who fit Jesus' description. Attis, a 1250BC Phrygian nature deity was a self-castrated god-man born of a virgin, worshipped at the vernal equinox, hanged on pine tree, who escaped, fled, descended into a cave, died, rose again. Prometheus was executed by crucifixion. Dionysus was a man-god son of Zeus, killed, buried, descended into hell, rose from the dead. His empty tomb at Delphi was preserved and venerated. Osiris was slain, rose again to rule the dead. A nice pagan touch in the Bible is Simon the Cyrene who carried the cross of Jesus, clearly in honour of Simon the Cyrenian sun god who carried pillars to his death.

Ascension myths abound (Adonis, Attis, Enoch, Elijah, Krishna, Heracles, Dionysus).

                                                                             Attis                                                                                                        Mithras

Mithras was a virgin-born Persian god. In 307AD the Roman emperor designated Mithras protector of the empire. Born on December 25, his birth was witnessed by shepherds, magi. He performed miracles, raising the dead, healing the blind and lame, casting out demons. before returning to Heaven, Mithra celebrated a Last Supper with his 12 disciples (signs of zodiac). There are 7 Mithrian sacraments. Sunday worship. Eschatology: What began in water would end in fire. Sin, hell, salvation. The Romans adapted it for its rigid discipline. Mithraic warriors would morph into Christian soldiers for Christ. Like proto-Barkers.

Albert Schweitzer: There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus. The historical Jesus will be to our time a stranger and an enigma.

Paul really comes across badly in all this. Romans3:4, 7: Let God be true, but every man a liar. For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged a sinner? He's letting the cat out of the bag. Lie for Christ's glory!

Why believe? In 1981 the Virgin Mary appeared at Medjugorge and news spread in two days. (Catholic) pilgrims came to communist Yugoslavia and were healed. Cuban exiles saw Elian Gonzales in 1999 the Cuban Messiah who would return to Cuba to set his oppressed people free. Face it. Religion is built in.

Scenario: Peter prays to Jesus I'm sorry for betraying you. Forgive meAnswer: I'm here. I forgive you. Peter: I talked with Jesus! He is not dead! I am forgiven. Others: He's alive. It's Kingdom Come! 

Even when a cult is exposed, it can bounce back stronger. Jehovah's Witnesses rebounded after failed prophecies in 1914 and 1925. The Mormon sect Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints founder Ruylon Jeffs was resurrected spiritually according to his son and new leader Warren. The atheist credo: you can't have freedom to believe if you don't have freedom not to believe. Fine. But then you should believe! Faith is win-win. Like Pascal's wager: believe just in case.

Encounter with Islam

Barker doesn't mention any debates with Catholics, but he did get invited to the Brooklyn Islamic Centre. They asked that the title be changed to 'Does god not exist?' as the normal 'Does god exist?' assumes He doesn't. His host's chief argument for existence was 'the fact that you and I exist'. Dan denied that God can be both infinitely merciful and just. His Muslim refuter said you can't compartmentalize. God is holistic. Barker tried to correct the direction of qibla. He was met with silence. Still trying to get a rise of the imam, he told his hosts he was impressed with their kindness and generosity. 'You people are so nice.' 'Well, Dan, Allah commands me to be nice to you.' Barker thought 'Bull's eye!' What an insulted. You would like to show you despise me but don't because you fear the wrath of Allah. Hypocrite!

Sorry Dan, have you looked in the mirror lately? Muslims don't hate anyone, and their religion teaches them to be polite at all times. Don't second guess. Use your Occam's razor.

His own hypocrisy is what pushed him over the edge. As he was unwittingly approaching that edge, a woman devotee told him: Reverend Barker, thank you so much. Your sermon was so meaningful. He smiled, thinking 'What does that tell us about the game we are playing?' He did not lose his faith, but discarded it, rejected its value.

So how did Barker change his life? He divorced his believing wife, was contacted by his bride-to-be, the daughter of the founder of Freedom From Religion Foundation, to join her on Oprah Winfrey's AM Chicago program in 1984, and continued his evangelizing, now for atheism. Their mission? To defund all charitable organizations helping the poor but covertly evangelizing for some faith. This funding was the brainchild of the same born-again Bush who did so much to promote atheism through his brilliant war in Iraq, but contradicted that goldarn atheistic constitution. Secular, conservative US judges were delighted. so they have been successful. He even decided to sue the White House for promoting religion, and got as far as the US Supreme Court. Mr Ego preens himself as he writes about his lobbying efforts in 2006 with superstars like Scalia wanting to eliminate all funding of anything remotely religious. They lost 5-4, the argument being the president can do whatever s/he likes with discretionary funds.

Thank you Barker for strengthening my faith. I'll give Jesus the benefit of the doubt. The give away was your delight over joining the ranks of 'fascinating thinker Dershowitz'. He is the very Devil in my books. I don't know about Heaven and Hell. I kind of like Twain's take on that. I'm happy to be in the same league as him, but given his open mind, he probably would be intrigued by the fastest growing faith, that the US ignored, until millions of blacks in prisons started converting,* now joined by millions of Muslim immigrants, making Islam the second largest faith in the US after Christianity. When Barker's mother joined him in disbelief, she chortled, 'I don't have to hate anymore.' Evangelicals preach hate? Muslims only hate evil. Barker's father: I'm happier now, free from superstition and fear and guilt and the sin complex. I can think freely and objectively.


*According to a 2003 FBI report, there are 350,000 Muslims in federal, state and local prison, about 30,000 – 40,000 more converting every year.

Also Islam and Jesus as Jewish Messiah 

Pauline Christianity vs Jesus as Jewish Messiah

21st c apocalypse: What would Marx do?


Receive email notifications when new articles by Eric Walberg are posted.

Please enable the javascript to submit this form

Connect with Eric Walberg

Eric's latest book The Canada Israel Nexus is available here http://www.claritypress.com/WalbergIV.html

'Connect with Eric on Facebook or Twitter'

Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

Purchase Eric Walberg's Books

Eric's latest book The Canada Israel Nexus is available here http://www.claritypress.com/WalbergIV.html