Everyone believes in something.
For Dan Barker, free thinking guides his path to living a full and meaningful life. And on Wednesday, he shared the details of his shift from being a believer to a non-believer.
â€œWe donâ€™t all have to think the same; there might be some gray areas, and we can start moving toward the tolerance of others and their views,â€ Barker said to a group of about 120 multi-religious attendees during his speech about his novel, â€œGodless.â€
His book is about transforming from an Evangelical preacher to one of the countryâ€™s leading atheists.
Barker said by â€œopening his eyes to the real worldâ€ he realized there was no evidence for a god, no good definition of a god and few responses to arguments against the existence of a god.
â€œI was forced to admit that the Bible is not a reliable source of truth,â€ Barker said. â€œIt is unscientific, irrational, contradictory, absurd, unhistorical and morally unsatisfying.â€
Barker is the co-president of the The Freedom from Religion Foundation, FFRF, which â€œpromotes the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.â€ Itâ€™s the largest association in the United States for freethinkers with more than 15,500 members.
CSUâ€™s chapter of Leaders in Free Thought, LiFT, organized the event.
The campus group provides a place for atheists, agnostics, skeptics and humanists to meet likeminded individuals and discuss beliefs. The Secular Student Alliance, a national umbrella organization that educates students about the scientific and intellectual bases of atheism, put LiFT in contact with Barker and secured the event date.
Barker started preaching when he was 15 years old and thought of himself as a born-again Christian. When he was a preacher, Barker believed he held the answers to prayer and that Jesus existed in his heart.
â€œI know in my mind that I was sincere,â€ he said.
Barker began to meet new people from the wide spectrum of Christianity and realized he was missing something intellectually.
â€œYou think youâ€™re feeding on the word of God, and then you read it again, and think â€¦ Oh â€¦ Oh,â€ he said.
When he turned 30, Barker realized he could not believe anymore.
Unlike many converted atheists, Barker never experienced personal trauma to commence his dramatic change in beliefs. Instead, he said he became a non-believer when he first understood the meaning of tolerance, at which point he began to question the evidence and definitions provided in the bible.
Lauren Menger, a psychology graduate student who attended the talk, classifies herself as an agnostic.
â€œI think it was interesting how Barker still preached for five months after realizing he had become an atheist,â€ Menger said, adding that â€œGodlessâ€ is now on her reading list.
Eventually, both of Barkerâ€™s parents and one of his brothers, Darryl Barker, became atheists as well.
His other brother, Tom Barker, is still a born-again Christian; they call him the â€œwhite sheep of the family.â€
But Barker said â€œpeople should be judged by their actions, not their beliefs.â€
And while most attendees at the event were non-believers, a few students with various religious beliefs came out of curiosity.
Chelsea Geier, a sophomore English education major, said she didnâ€™t agree with Barkerâ€™s beliefs.
â€œI canâ€™t wrap my head around the fact that we donâ€™t have a soul and our only purpose is to solve a problem and then we die,â€ Geier said. She was raised Catholic and came to the event to explore a new perspective.
Jeric Harper, president and co-founder of LiFT, considers himself an atheist and said Barkerâ€™s activism inspires him to overcome the stigma around his chosen beliefs.
â€œI am not going to believe in a religion just as a default,â€ Harper said.
Staff writer Sarah Banes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.