Losing Faith in Faith

Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist is pretty much what the subtitle suggests – Dan Barker, a Christian evangelist for 19 years, did some study with the intention of deepening his faith and came to the conclusion that there was nothing there. The book is a collection of articles he wrote, mostly as Public Relations Director of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (of which he is now co-president), interspersed with lyrics of songs he has written.

I’ll say up front that I loved it. But any book like this has two completely different audiences: those who agree with its conclusions, and those who don’t. Many apologetics-style books (I’m mainly thinking of Christian apologetics, but it applies to all sides) do a good job of propping up the faith (or lack thereof) of a reader who already agrees with the author, but offer nothing to a reader who disagrees. A really successful book should maintain the reader’s interest and offer a robust argument even when the reader and author believe diametrically opposite things. This is a big challenge, and one that many authors avoid by assuming (often correctly) that someone who disagrees with them is unlikely to pick up the book in the first place.

The reason I’m talking about this is that a few people (Amazon reviews and the like) have recommended this as a book to suggest to Christians as a solid case against religion (as opposed to a resource to digest but not actually pass on in its entirety). It would certainly be interesting to see how a Christian would respond to it. However, I’m not sure that the format of the book is tight enough to present a strong, coherent argument when read on its own.

The first two sections, “Losing Faith” and “Finding Freethought”, cover the story of Barker’s Christian ministry and deconversion, the responses from people who knew him, anecdotes about his interactions with various people, and some mild attacks on the sillier parts of religion and guidelines for arguing against it. I was fascinated by this part of the book, because so much of it meshed with my own experience. However, it’s fairly light on actual reasoned argument, and a Christian reading it could easily get the impression that the whole book is going to be a content-free mockery of religion. The song lyrics scattered throughout the book don’t do much to help this impression.

Having said that, the book does gradually settle into the meat of the discussion, and the third and fourth sections in particular level some very solid attacks against the Bible and Christian doctrines. It does suffer a bit from being a collection of self-contained articles rather than a coherent whole – in particular it mentions the same material quite frequently (I lost count of the number of references to 2 Kings 2:23-24). But that also makes it possible to open the book to any chapter and start reading.

To any non-Christian looking for a source of material to use in religious discussions, or just wanting to hear a genuinely interesting story about someone who got out of the deepest grip and highest rank of Christianity, I would recommend this book without hesitation. To a Christian, I would still recommend it (if you’re willing to have your beliefs come under fire), but take the first couple of sections with a grain of salt. Maybe read chapters 1 and 2, then skip to the third section (chapter 21) for some real meat.

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