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The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God: 240 Paperback – 10 Feb 2011
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Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists-Dan-Barker-9781569756775-14.95-Ulysses Press-9/1/08-16000--
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"I did not lose my faith. I gave it up purposely." This is an autobiographical detail familiar from Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists (his highly recommended and comprehensive account of his remarkable journey out of religion) and it's worth repeating. "I did it on purpose" is an innocuous enough phrase, and people use this sort of language all the time. And yet, in the context of this book, that first person pronoun takes on a new significance. It demonstrates just how we create purpose for ourselves in countless ordinary ways, and sometimes in a few extraordinary ways.
"Purpose is not something you search for. It is not something you find. It is not endowed by a creator or handed to you by your parents or government. It is something you choose to create." This is Barker's central message. "Every healthy organism wants the liberty to pursue its own goals... All living things have purpose. You don't even need a brain." The tragedy for some is, despite having a brain, they reach outside their life for meaning, and so abandon the value of what is inside their life. "The demand for a purpose of life is a cry of discontent... It is to diminish and deny the value of life itself."
So why the appeal of pastors like Rick Warren, whose bestselling book claims that life is driven by God's purpose? Why is he respected when his message is so demeaning? Warren claims that we don't get to choose our purpose, only God does, and what's more our purpose was decided before we even existed! When Barker got around to reading Warren's book, he was appalled to discover it was "all about promoting slavery". Asking "If there is no God, what is the purpose of life?" is like asking "If there is no master, whose slave will I be?"
And anyway, what is this great purpose that God is supposed to have decided for us? Is it as remotely worthy as any of the purposes humans have created for themselves, such as the drive to eradicate smallpox? No. "You were born so that you can go to church and convince others to join you." There is the closed world of religion in a nutshell. Ultimately, all that matters is how many other people you can browbeat into joining your group. Coercion is the ultimate backstop of all religion, since persuasion can never work where revelation is involved. And once you're in, at least some of your energy is diverted from doing good into praising and worshipping a being who, even if he did exist, has the character of a slave master. "There is nothing wrong with praise, if the object of our admiration has earned it." But worship, Barker reminds us, is something altogether different, and "signals inferiority and subjugation".
Barker acknowledges that most Christians "are indeed good people who live lives of immense purpose" but this only proves that Christians live in the same natural world as everyone else, not that their purpose was handed to them by their faith or their god.
The world, John Stuart Mill once remarked, would be astonished if it knew how many celebrated and respected people were actually unbelievers. Barker would agree, and the difference between the nineteenth and the twenty-first centuries is just how many more are now prepared to publicly admit their unbelief. Religionists, ever cynical in their portrayal of unbelievers, and seeing one after another of their own arguments fail, have to look for new ways of scoffing at unbelief, using phrases like "New Atheists" as a term of abuse. Barker points out that there "is nothing new about atheism, but what is indeed novel is the fact that many more of us are coming out into the open" - and, he might have added, refusing to be intimidated. Hence the importance of the profiles section. Hence the importance of writers like Dan Barker, setting an example of what a "good atheist" can be.
Dan Barkers book 'Godless' is excellent and gives a full refutation of religion and it has a bibliography which lists more books than you can shake a cross at which shred the Bible claims. The Good Atheist is about bringing together the many sceptical voices from famous, successful people, saving you the time of trawling through all the biographies. It whetted my apetite to read them in future.
I'm surprised Dan Barker doesn't mention Valerie Tarico who wrote the excellent book, 'Trusting doubt' which shows the Bible is no more than guess work. Valerie says, 'I am content living in a universe with no gods'. Her book shows her a match for any man on this subject( but of course).
Ethics and virtue need to be seen as separate and distinct from religion. Love/care is the guiding star. I find being specific and accurate by commenting on the action/idea and how you feel about it gives me an aim and happiness,["It's broken, how annoying","I'm upset by that idea","I'm furious at what you've done"] in contrast to speaking in vague, obscure metaphors/name calling; I find this goes some way toward being respectful and caring but who can instill good sense? The belief that there is no supernatural is a good step. As Richard Dawkins says,' The common man thinks religion is true, the wise man thinks it is false and the rulers think it is handy'. I wasted many years of my life puzzling over religion but I am much calmer and happier accepting as Victor Stenger says, 'that God is a failed hypothesis'.Which came first, man or God? Man made God. Many people have let their fears whip up their emotions which drive them to Bibliolatry. Shred the Bible and replace it with,'Be caring and don't hurt anyone'. Dan Barkers book is a get together of the sensible opinions rejecting the rule of priestcraft.
A light read then that nonetheless achieves what it sets out to do - demonstrate that a purpose-filled life has always been possible without subscribing to religious belief.
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About the first 1/3 of the book is about author's views on Christianity in particular. His central argument, in accordance with the bible, is that that to believe one's purpose is about glorifying God (Christian god) is to put oneself into a form of self-imposed slavery (god as the master). To give in to this slavery, the author argues, is to limit oneself from reaching one's true potential and to prevent oneself from seeing other versions of reality.
Although I do not disagree with the author, I also think the author does make a critical mistake that many atheists tends to make. He is negative. He is anti-Christianity rather than pro-inspiration. His view fails to inspire people to feel better about themselves and the world around them, and most importantly, about the future ahead of us.
The author, a former pastor, says atheism is not about dogma, and therefore, he stays away from it. But that stance also prevents him from offering an alternative to the inspirational message of Christianity (not necessarily a rational message) that many find so appealing. In my view, what he should do is to take a page out of Christianity's playbook and choose to inspire people with atheism rather than spread the "Christianity is BS" message.
1)Well thought out book on Christianity and atheism.
2)Has many good tidbits about the anti-religious beliefs of famous people.
1)Majority of the book are quotes of famous people who eschewed religion (mostly Christianity).
2)Too negative and fails to offer an inspirational alternative. Not everyone would find it appealing.