Don't talk to Dan Barker about God, Jesus or the Bible.
He doesn't believe in any of them.
It's kind of surprising for a man who maintained a touring, Christian musical ministry for 17 years, including eight years of full-time, cross-country evangelism.
But Barker, 55 -- and an atheist since 1984 -- says his story is not all that unusual.
"It's very common, (but) you just don't hear about it. I have about 25 stories of other clergy who have lost their faith and are now atheist or agnostic. They have to keep preaching, because that's what they do. It would shatter their world," he says.
Barker, author of the 1992 autobiography "Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist," will speak Wednesday at Kansas University about his "de-conversion" from evangelical Christianity to non-believer and the issue of separation of church and state.
His talk is sponsored by the Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics, a KU student group. Barker is also co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Madison, Wis.
"We wanted to have kind of a substantial event in the fall this year to spread awareness of our group. We wanted to do something that would be a little special," says Stephanie Kirmer, 20, a junior from Topeka and past president of the student group.
"Dan (Barker) comes from such a fascinating and unique background, we thought this would spike interest in the community. It definitely has."
The pastor-turned-atheist's upcoming visit has sparked a degree of controversy at KU.
The group's request for $1,250 in funding from the Student Senate to help pay for Barker's campus appearance was recently rejected, says Andrew Stangl, 19, president of the Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics.
"The bottom line is they decided SOMA is a religious organization seeking money to fund a religious speaker. In the spirit of keeping neutrality in those matters, they decided it would be inappropriate to give us the money we had requested," Stangl says.
The group plans to pay for Barker's appearance using $200 that the Senate gives to student organizations that are officially registered with KU, plus some of the group's own savings.
Barker has declined his usual honorarium and is only receiving money for his travel expenses, according to Stangl.
"He's been so unbelievably awesome in dealing with this," Stangl said. "He's just an incredible individual."
Human reason, kindness
Barker's falling away from his Christian faith was a gradual process that lasted four to five years. He publicly announced his atheism in 1984.
"It's like having a large debt canceled -- 'Wow, this is great.' There's no more fear of hell or judgment, no more pessimism about human nature, no more guilt about thinking for yourself," he says.
In addition to being the author of four books about "freethought" (a term sometimes used to describe atheism and agnosticism), Barker has also written many songs about this subject.
Among their titles are: "Friendly, Neighborhood Atheist," "You Can't Win with Original Sin" and "God-Less America."
Barker says that since becoming an atheist, nothing has taken the place of Christianity in his life.
"Nothing has to. You can live a really good life without a former belief system or religion," Barker says.
"In my case, I do have -- instead of a former faith -- an extreme confidence in human reason and in kindness. Because what else is there?"
|Dan Barker, author of the 1992 autobiography "Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist," will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Woodruff Auditorium at the Kansas Union.Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., will describe his "de-conversion" experience of leaving his touring, Christian music ministry and cross-country evangelism behind and embracing atheism.He will also discuss the issue of separation of church and state.His lecture is free and open to the public.His appearance at KU is sponsoring by the Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics (SOMA), a student group.To learn more about the KU student group, go to its Web site at www.ku.edu/~soma/.To learn more about Barker, go online to www.ffrf.org/about/bio_dan.php.|