How shall we continue our review of Godless by Dan Barker? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
We now get to the part about Barker’s fall. He starts out by telling us it was 1979 and Jesus still hadn’t returned. (Yes. Barker was caught up in last days madness. Perhaps he could have avoided that had he had access to a work like DeMar’s at the time.) This again is a reminder of the hyper-fundamentalism of Barker. Jesus is returning and well, you know, every other generation was wrong about them being the generation, but we are the ones! Really!
Barker is visiting a church and he’s told that there are some members of the congregation that don’t think Adam and Eve were historical people. The pastor doesn’t deny that they’re Christians. This was a shock to Barker who was surprised they were allowed to be members. Barker goes on to describe how some people think some events in the Bible are not fully historical but meant to teach us lessons. Of course, Barker was just thinking it was liberal talk.
This experience for Barker would be akin to the experience Bart Ehrman regularly talks about where he got back a paper on Mark 2 trying to deal with what he saw as a Bible contradiction and was told “Maybe Mark just made a mistake.” Now yes, Ehrman says the problem of evil was the real clincher for his deconversion, but it cannot be denied that the breaking down of inerrancy in his mind had a lot to do with it and prepared him for that deconversion.
Barker tells us this was a big deal and started his slide towards where he is today. As he says “Those initial and timid movements away from fundamentalism were psychologically more traumatic than the intellectual flying leaps that came later. When you are raised to believe that every word in the bible is God-inspired and inerrant, you can’t lightly moderate your views on Scripture.”
Some of you wonder why it is that I have a problem with inerrancy being treated the way it is in the church as if it was the fundamental doctrine of the church.
This is why.
What happens if the resurrection of Jesus is made your focus? What happens if you can say Jesus rose from the dead even if the Bible is just a collection of ancient documents? Is something like Adam and Eve not being historical going to shake your trust? Nope.
Now Barker goes on to say he had read a lot of Christian writers, but had not interacted with the other side at all so he began reading everything he could. Now this part I do not condemn at all. However, there is one danger that I do stress to people. We cannot all be sufficient in every field. There are areas I do not read on because these are not my areas of interest. I do not study them. Oh I know the basics, but I am in no way a specialist. I know enough psychology that I could counsel someone in a pastoral way if need be. I know the basic science that most of us know, but that does not mean I am an authority in these areas.
Too many people can often jump into waters they know nothing about and they are very impressionable at that point and they get overwhelmed. If you do not know the field well, you really have no way of accurately judging the claims in that field and you can just believe whatever you are told. Barker says he did not get the liberal arts education he would have got at a real college. (And yes, there are Bible Colleges that teach these matters as well. Mine did.)
So again, could it be that the lack of education in the church is a problem? People don’t know how to interact with the other side and aren’t prepared in their own side?
Barker talks about visiting other congregations and seeing that they can all open the Bible and prove that theirs is the correct interpretation of the text.
No. No they can’t.
What it would mean if they could do that is that a text could mean in fact two contradictory things. The person can argue that theirs is the correct one, but proof is something else. What this does is raises the question of “Is there a correct interpretation of the text?” Unless Barker wants to go all postmodern on us (And it’s doubtful he does since he argues later on in the book for what the text says which seems to indicate the text can be understood) then it must be accepted that the text has a meaning. Maybe we don’t know it. Maybe we do. Maybe in some cases there is data missing that we can’t know it. It does not mean the text can mean anything or has no meaning and it does not mean the original recipients would not have understood the meaning.
Barker, like many others, uses the “God is not the author of confusion” at this point, though the text is about order in worship and saying when it comes to worship, God is not responsible for confusion. Yes. Barker is still a fundamentalist. He has just switched sides.
Barker also says when he preached, he talked less about hell and more about love and spent time talking about this life instead of an after-life. You can’t help but wonder what kind of preacher Barker really was and probably the only ones that would really like that style that is hinted at of hellfire and brimstone would be the rabid fundamentalists. As I’ve said before, we can too often create little safety bubbles in the church in an escapist mentality
On page 37, he talks about the fall more saying his experiences did not get weaker and that even today he can produce those feelings that he had. (He also says elsewhere that he can still speak in tongues and just practices every now and then to see if he still has it.) This is a reminder once again that too many Christians are rooting their faith in their own personal experience. Your faith is ultimately all about you then. This is why I get concerned when I meet Christians who only have their personal testimony. That is something that will hamper your evangelism in this day and age.
Barker goes on to say that it was beginning to look like there was no personal God. He ends the paragraph saying “What a strange and wonderful thing to realize.”
I must agree with my friend Jerry Walls. Why would anyone hope this?
Exactly how awful was Barker’s personal God?
Later on, Barker says he realized the counter-response to the information he says he was “learning” is just faith. For Barker, faith is a way to believe something. Biblically, faith is really a response to what you already believe. Let’s consider a scholarly source on the matter.
“These terms refer to the value of reliability. The value is ascribed to persons as well as to objects and qualities. Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations: it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘fidelity’, ‘faithfulness,’ as well as the verbs ‘to have faith’ and ‘to believe,’ refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. As a social bond, it works with the value of (personal and group) attachment (translated ‘love’) and the value of (personal and group) allegiance or trust (translated ‘hope.’) p. 72 Pilch and Malina Handbook of Biblical Social Values.
It’s noteworthy that Barker admits that while he was an atheist, he was still preaching. To be fair, he did go and get a job doing something else, but it is a concerning issue to know that someone would go on preaching while still being an atheist. Barker talks about being invited to go to Mexico to do some ministry there while still an atheist and while there looking at the stars out the window, he says he realized that he was utterly alone and there was no “supernatural” realm. There was no one watching and judging him. He was all alone in the world in a universe that would burn out after it lost its fuel.
“It was simultaneously a frightening and liberating experience.”
Okay. Frightening makes sense, but again, why liberating, unless Barker did have the god who was really a tyrannical judge all along and he hadn’t realized it? Why would anyone consider it liberating to be a universe where you are alone and that all you want will die eventually and any dreams will die with them? As Bertrand Russell said in a Free Man’s Worship:
“Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”
All he needed to do was end this with a cute little smiley face.
Again, as Walls says, it’s understandable that someone can be convinced this is true intellectually and come to that conclusion with regret, but this strange speak of hope and liberation is just baffling.
But thus ends the story of the fall at this point. We’ll look at the fallout next time.