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10 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not so much a case for Atheism as for better Christianity, 24 Dec. 2008
This review is from: Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist (Paperback)
I am a Christian, but if my Christianity was the the Christianity of Dan Barker, then I too would have become an atheist.

What Dan appears to have really rejected is that kind of "put your brain in neutral" Christianity which dominates North America. It is a christianty which portrays Christ as white, that believes the world is 6000 years old, which has a theology which manages to be both incredibly simplistic and lightweight, while also being incredibly dogmatic and picky.

This is the Christianity which Dan was a part of, and it was this Christianity he rejected.

This is where it gets confusing though, as since his deconversion, he has critised the likes of C.S. Lewis, yet, when he does so, it is as though he is critising through the eyes of the simplistic fundamentalist. It is really quite bizzare.

In this book, Barker has a chapter on "Bible Contradictions". Now, I was aware of nearly all of these at 14 years of age, and the counter arguments. Many of them are "old chestnuts". People like Josh Macdowell have written extensively on them.

Yet Barker seems to write about them as if in a vacuum. Surely he would have come across these very contradictions himself as a Christian and be aware of the counter arguments? One might argue that he was aware of the counter-arguments and simply choses to disagree with them, but if this is the case, why does he not at any point discuss the counter arguements?

A vast amount of scholarly research has been done on the genalogy of Jesus for example, yet Barker's treatise is to simply place two verses side by side from two gospels to appear to create a contradiction over the father of Joseph and say "There ya go..contradiction". This is flatly disingenious. If he is so confident he has a valid point, why not discuss it and flesh out his argument? The man supposedly studied the scriptures for years, so he should surely be capable of taking the debate on from doing little more than going through the bible with a highlighter pen, picking verses at random to create contradiction.

Another example is his "contradiction" which compares the Bible verse saying "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" with another verse which describes Job as "perfect". Again, he simply slaps the two verses alongside each other, and says "There ya go..contradiction".

He makes no attempt to consider the fact that the story of Job has all the hallmarks of a parable or allegory, not of a piece of history.It contains and has obviously theatrical elements (such as God and Satan having a wager) and Job's ranting silioquy.

He might have made a real point to make about critisising an overly literalistic interpretation of scripture using this example, but to instead portray it as an example of the Bible being flawed, just because it's not flat-out literalistic is not enlightened or freethinking, its crude and uneducated. He merely demonstrates failure to understand the science of textual critisism.

Dan Barker, I'm afraid, does not appear to have been a very informed Christian, and he continues to be a not terribly informed atheist. That would be ok, if Dan Barker were a simple man writing a simple book, but apparently Dan Barker is a member of societies for individuals with exceptionally high IQ. He surely knows that many things he portrays in this book as simple are far more complicated in reality.

Consequently I can only see this book as being a kind of dumbed-down "Atheism for Kids" manual, filled with arguements which he must himself know to be flawed and over-simplistic, but, because he ultimately supports their conclusion (there is no God) he chooses to peddle them in a poleimic fashion. That seriously lacks intellectual credibilitiy in my view.
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Showing 1-10 of 24 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 16 Jan 2009 06:03:42 GMT
Anna says:
Agree 100% - excellent review, thank you.

Posted on 1 Mar 2009 00:03:25 GMT
Magic Lemur says:
I don't!

It is not up to the atheist to prove there is no God - it is the theists job to assert evidence of his proposal and furthermore prove that the Prime-Cause/ Gap in the Fossil record is filled with their particular God.

Not only are you asserting a Celestial Teapot in your review, but you are also saying that God is not the God of United States Fundamentalists, but prefers rationalist, European believers. Such an argument is saying that the teapot is not only there, but has elegant ingrained patterning in the style of the Bauhaus!

Posted on 17 Sep 2010 12:49:25 BDT
Last edited by the author on 17 Sep 2010 12:50:59 BDT
As Dan Barker states in his book it is virtually impossible for Christians to even entertain any evidence that disputes their own belief. We all view the world through our individual lens and a religious belief becomes part of our own psychology. A threat to it becomes a threat to us. I was a Christian for many years and I can hear myself in your words. I started to question the contradictions in the Bible whilst training as a lay reader - this led me on to other research - I discovered that there are over a dozen 'Saviour of the World' religions, going back to an Egyption religion based on the worship of Horus, 3000 bce. He was born of a virgin, had 12 disciples, healed the sick, died and rose from the dead. I also found that Constantine 'constructed' the Bible in such a way as to include many other religions, as he wanted to pacify diverse opposition - many of these religions had women as either perfect or evil and couldn't be seen to be having sex. Then there's Josephus, who would have been a contemporary of Jesus yet mentions nothing of the Virgin birth, disciples etc. Something I noticed only a couple of years' ago, the genealogy of Jesus does not tie up - Matt ch1 - Joseph was of the line of David - fine -but Jesus was born of a virgin - can't have it both ways

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Sep 2010 14:46:59 BDT
London Matt says:
T. Patmore, none of your response pertains to Dan Barker's book now does it?

My point in the view was actually not whether Barker is right or wrong..(I happen to think he is wrong) but even if he were right, his arguments are poor and his methods flawed.

I would have thought this an extremely disappointing read, even for a committed atheist.

If you read a book by a "Christian preacher turned Atheist" then presumably you hope to read some deep insight into the acceptance of an argument, then the consideration of its counter-argument and subsequent change in intellectual position.

A book that had a narrative along the lines of "I considered the truth of Christianity, accepted it, wrestled with counter arguments..considered the Christian responses..but found them ultimately lacking because of Reasons X,Y,Z..." would be a facinating read for anyone on both sides of the debate

What we instead get is "Once upon a time i didn't think..and I was a Christian...then I started I'm an Atheist".

The thing is, that's intellectually satisfying to anyone. If Barker is trying to maintain that anyone will become an atheist as soon as they turn on their brain, he has an enormous credibility problem: There are a large number of significant intellects on BOTH side of the Theism debate.

The bible contradiction passages are the most striking example. Anyone who is Christian with a serious interest in Biblical scholarship knows that there are passages in the Bible which appear, on face value to be contradictory or conflicting.

However, they will also know that there are various explainations and counter arguments to explain these contradictions. Very often these deeper explainations often reveal new interesting insights into the passages in question.

As a Christian preacher, Barker must have known this. So, what I would want to see from him is something along the lines of 1. Stating the contradiction 2. Stating the Christian counter argument in its strongest and best form for each one. 3. stating why he finds that insufficent or flawed.

We don't get this kind of discussion anywhere in the book,and I can't really work out why. He misses a trick. If he is what he says he is, he is admirably placed to present both sides of such an argument in their best and strongest case and weight them up. However, he repeatedly shys from presenting the best case for Christianity. This is puzzling. The only explainations I can offer are 1) He does not know it 2) he does know it, but chooses not present.

As Barker wants us treat him as a well informed individual, we have to assume it is the second. If you will not present your opponents best case, there are only two explainations: either you fear their best case and cannot refute it, or you fear your audience will not understand or follow the argument.

The first option is dishonest, the second is patronising.

I leave it up to you to decide which you think Barker is more likely to be.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Sep 2010 15:55:06 BDT
London Matt says:
Millie, a few points on your response:

First, your response does not directly refer to Barker's book. The issue here is not whether God does exist or not. The question is whether Dan Barker has written a good book about it. Does he explore the issues in an insightful way? Does he lay out good arguments for his position? Does he illustrate the Theistic position fully and fairly? Does he soundly refute that position with coherent logical argument?

I'm afraid the response is simply "no" to most of these questions throughout the book. There are better defences of Atheism out there.

As to your other points (notwithstanding their irrelevance to the book in question). With regards to Horus, there is an awful lot of unscholarly material about on this subject. Mithra is another one who is often seen as a "pseudo-christ" figure. I would make just two observations: First, many of these points are not well supported and are simply wishful thinking. (Horus had followers,yes..were there 12 of them? hmmm...). Second, and more importantly, I simply don't see why this impacts upon the claims for Jesus and his divinity.

Two questions can be asked of the statments made about Horus that you claim. 1. Is it true those claims were made contemporaneously with Jesus of Nazereth? 2. Were the claims true?

The first question is important because if not, the hypothesis that the life of Jesus was "jazzed up" with the paraphenalia of deity borrowed from other cultures and religions falls flat. The second question is important, because the important thing about Jesus Christ is not that that we CLAIM that he rose from the dead, but that he actually DID rise from the dead. The fact that the same claim is made of others doesn't impact upon that.

C.S. Lewis points out that it is precisely the echos of similarity between other mythologies and the life of Christ that convinced him of the authencity of the gospel. This strange repeated echoing of similar themes in all mythologies indicating a deep unconcious understanding of God, which is crystalized into physical reality in Jesus Christ. He thus refers to Christianity as "The True Myth".

He additionally makes the remarkable point that the gospels simply do not read like myths. They read like eyewitness account. The concept of realistic fiction was not known at the time. If the Gospels are "made up" or embellished, does it not strike you as dazzlingly odd that not a single one describes the moment of Christ's resurrection? The pinnical moment of the story, Christ bursting out of the tomb, rolling the stone away in dazzling glory is utterly omitted.

If one were embellishing or fictionalising an account of Jesus' life in order to promote his divinity, isn't this the very first addition one would make? It's very absence is strong evidence that the gospels are exactly what they say they are: eyewitness accounts.

Their similarity in parts to ancient myths is therefore all the more startling.

On your second pont, I'm staggered you were not aware of the discussions around the genealogy of Jesus until a couple of years ago? First, even if it were true there was an irreconcilable contradiction, the only thing effected would be the belief in biblical inerrancy. Not belief in the existence of God, or the divinity of Chirist. One is not required for the other to be valid.

Second, there are a large number of facinating and detailed commentaries on the various implications of the Genealogy given in Matthew and that in Luke. It is one of the least convincing so-called "contradictions" when considered in a scholarly way.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Sep 2010 18:21:07 BDT
Last edited by the author on 22 Sep 2010 00:16:38 BDT
Yes I'll give you that, I did take the opportunity of voicing some personal opinions though their roots were found in Dan Barker's comments mainly. I enjoyed Dan Barker's writing style though he falls into the trap of so many new atheists in that he kind of ridicules Christians which of course only feeds their fervour. As a one-time lay preacher I have several commentaries and many versions of the Bible but I was obviously naive - ignorant? Possibly and partly due to the fact that church leaders rarely provide opportunity for discussing biblical theory over coffee after the sermon or during a mid-week 'spot-the contradictions' bible study. I think a suggestion for such a discussion by one of the flock would be viewed as controversial. Dan Barker uses different phraseology but he illustrates something of it when describing the hostility shown him by those who had revered his pre-atheist views.

Eye witness accounts? Gospels attributed to Matthew and Co. but not proven - but an apostle was required as one who could evidence the acts and words of Jesus first hand so conveniently the writers gave Paul a 'flash' of insight. Bible not written down 'til 80yrs ce?

You make the statement that Jesus DID rise from the dead. I'll make a statement, 'He didn't!' Dan Barker argues; why should a group of people, (Christians) who choose to believe a myth then insist that others prove it 'not so', when they (Christians) cannot prove it 'is so'? 'It's a matter of faith', we're told. I feel so embarrassed at the superiority implied in those words - once my own words.

Finally, re Horus, I only mention the story to illustrate that the theme was nothing new and easy to copy, plus convenient when you're trying to convince your subjects that they have a lot in common after all - an approach not unlike our current two political protagonists.

Finally, finally, Dan Barker questions the genealogy of Jesus as do I. Under other circumstances a definitive answer may not be important but when a whole religion is built on the 'virgin' birth surely it is not enough for Luke to say, 'Joseph, father of Jesus, so called' and Matthew clearly having Joseph as not the father of Jesus. My adopted child is not my genetic product. No matter how stimulating the discussion of intellectual, academic, biblical scholars on the subject, I think it more likely to be a blunder in the compiling and choosing of the books for the Bible.

For a committed, fully-paid-up member of the Christian 'faith' it can be an horrendous journey from Christian to Freethinker and Dan Barker's description of his journey made me want to lift my arm, punch the air and shout 'Yesssss!' someone else understands.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Sep 2010 12:23:14 BDT
London Matt says:
My point with regards to eye-witness account was not based on purported authorship, but rather on their content. You are correct in saying that identifying exactly who the authors were is slightly problematic, but that is simply not my point.

What I am saying is that they are not "myths". Anyone who understands ancient literature need only read a few lines to tell this. To the modern, the term "myth" simply means "untrue story", but in the ancient world a myth is more than this. It is a genre of writing. It has a typical writing style and convention.

Nothing in the gospels, with the exceptions the birth narrative (particularly in Matthew), the later endings of Mark's gospel and possibly the tempatation by satan in the desert, has anything of the feel of that genre of writing. It is clearly reportage. And interestingly, the closer we get to the key events; the death and resurrection, the more pronounced that phenomena is.

The clearest example is perhaps the original ending of Marks gospel. Read again the last few verses of the older endings of Mark. Does anything about that ending hint at mythical embellishment? Hardly. Often, in fact, Mark's gospel is critisised for the precise opposite; that it only barely affirms the resurrection.

It seems the skeptic wants to have his cake and eat it, in this regard: On the one hand Mark's gospel is critised for skimping on detail in ithe resurrection account, on the other it is being accused of being myth. But if that is the case, where is the flowery writing? The Grandiose embellishment?

If the argument is that Jesus is an ancient world myth, to stand alongside Horus, or Mithra et al, that is simply ignorance of ancient world myths, their structure, format and genre. Jesus Christ just isn't an ancient world myth in that sense. The resurrection is either the truth, a misunderstanding, or a lie...but not a myth. A suggestion along those lines is simply muddled thinking.

I'm puzzled by your comment about "convince your subjects"? Who is convncing who? Who is the "you" that you are referring to? Who are the "subjects"? What is the gain here for a first century gospel author?

With respect to the genealogy of Jesus. Again, what exactly is the argument here? The resurrection is the centrepiece of Christian belief. It is not neccessary to affirm either biblical inerrancy or the Virgin birth to believe in the resurrection, so your statement that a "whole religion" is built on it is unsound I would suggest?

However, I'm just lost as to what the point is that you are making here? Both Matthew and Luke affirm the Virgin birth. (Matthew 1v18, Luke 1v34). Both give genealogy data which is presented in such a way as to make it clear that they did not think Jesus to be the biological child of Joseph. (Matthew 1v16 "..Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus", Luke 3v23 "He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph").

So they do not contradict with themselves or each other on that point. The consequental genaolgys given DO differ, but this has to do with tracing different lines of ancestry, and is common practice in the writing of the time. Genealogy is not there as merely factual information, but to make specific theological points, and would have been read with that understanding at the time...and that's where detailed scholarly discussion gets involved.

You simply can't pick up the and read the Bible lacking the understanding that the contemporary reader would have had, and the complain it is contradictory. If you are inferring some other source of contradiction here that I have failed to comprehend from your response, please elaborate..

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Sep 2010 18:08:23 BDT
London Matt
I am unable to open your last post so sorry cannot respond appropriately - briefly
I cannot give you an academic argument merely a common-sense one.

Myth - is a story influenced by truth - those who wrote the Bible probably believed there own perceptions - although some brilliant minds stem from this pre-scientific era most 'ordinary' folk were illiterate and superstitious - Judaism is a classic example of magical thinking, Jews believing they were god's chosen - that they believed it doesn't make it so.

Dozens of gospels, some written by women - all left out of the finished product. Paul's writings and his misogyny suited the tome. As I stated previously the final edition had to please everyone - I imagine the resurrection was left out as it was not witnessed - obviously! By the time the Bible was 'manufactured' several hundred years had passed so it was a little late to add something so bizarre. I think Jesus, the Jew, would turn in his grave if he knew how he has been deified.

When I first ventured into daring to question the `faith' I read 'Tried or Heresy' by Andrew Furlong, you may want to give it a try unless you have already.

Finally, as a Christian I am surprised that you were reading `Losing Faith.........' and it seems, judging by the date of your review, in Advent!

In reply to an earlier post on 31 Oct 2010 09:51:22 GMT
Last edited by the author on 31 Oct 2010 09:53:41 GMT
Harry Dean says:
so do I , refering to the first comment

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Nov 2010 11:01:38 GMT
L. P. Clark says:

*All* religious people have made a decision to believe in one particular version of one particular off-shoot of one specific religion. *All* religious people are therefore in contradiction with all the other religious people. It is a fact that you can't all be right.

The onus is therefore on the religious to show some kind of proof or evidence for, not only their specific version, but the premise that there is an actual invisible, all-knowing, all-seeing deity (or deities).

All human beings are born as atheists. The children are then 'educated' into their families'/neighbourhood's/countries' (delete or add as appropriate) religion.

You've fallen into the 'metaphor trap' of all 'moderate' believers. You simply pick and choose what you think was/is a metaphor or real from the Bible. Either the Bible was written by your particular 'God' or it wasn't. If it was, then the fundamentalists are correct in their assumptions (but incredibly wrong about morality!). If it wasn't, then it was simply a set of very strange and very old stories and myths written and put together by people who didn't know any better.
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