Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Snap: Dan Barker's "Godless"

Reprinted from the November 2008 E-Block.


A cynical reader may suppose that Godless is Dan Barker's attempt to siphon off a touch of prosperity from the "New Atheism" publishing craze. I daresay the cynic may be right.

To be fair, Godless is not simply Barker's former book, Losing Faith in Faith, republished. It is, however, substantial chunks of LFIF revised, removed, or added onto with varying degrees of depth and success. (Perhaps the least successful revision: By an editing oversight, an allusion to Barker's first wife refers to him "writing this book," which is clearly, in context, LFIF and not Godless.) Much of what can be called new material consists of anecdotes from Barker's life.

In terms of matters of my concern -- practical issues in apologetics -- it is here where Barker has done the least amount of updating, if any was done at all. The chapters on Bible contradictions and similar subjects remain virtually if not completely unchanged. In many cases it simply appears that Barker has tacked on more contemporary references to sources making the same arguments (e.g., for his section on the Christ Myth, he now names Freke and Gandy's Jesus Mysteries and Price's Deconstructing Jesus in the footnote; 252). It is as though Biblical scholarship endured The Day the Earth Stood Still. There are simply no new arguments here from Barker (again, on subjects within my specialty) and no conception that his objections may have been answered by someone, somewhere.

Arguably, Barker himself reveals the reason for this lack within his own text. He disdains any argument that it is unfair to reject Christianity until the Bible "has been completely studied and correctly interpreted in the context of history" (93) because, he says,the request is unfair: "There are millions of unqualified Christians who have only the slightest familiarity with the bible, yet their decision to believe is considered praiseworthy." (94) Perhaps to some, but from my perspective, this is a red herring. I myself do not praise belief that continues to be held in ignorance, and the issue is not what those unqualified simply believe, but what it is, as one unqualified, that Barker presumes to criticize. Put simply, Barker fails to distinguish between a simple decision and an informed decision.

Godless, in sum, does not appear to be much more than Barker's contribution to a growing heap with names like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris in it -- yet in spite of the late entry into the race, it somehow managed to end up on the bottom of the stack.

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