This is Why I Love When Ex-Christians Speak Out

At a recent talk for the Center for Inquiry Michigan, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Dan Barker described Christian beliefs in a pitch-perfect-and-yet-kinda-disturbing sort of way:

Imagine you are strolling down the sidewalk and a man excitedly calls you over to his front porch to share some “great news,” Protestant minister-turned atheist author Dan Barker asked his audience on Wednesday.

The man’s got a gruesome torture chamber in his basement, Barker said, but you don’t have to go down there. Instead, you can come over, hug the man’s son, say you love him and you can all move in together in the attic and tell them how great they are forever.

“Isn’t that great news?” a sarcastic Barker asked the crowd…

Thrilling. And totally creepy.

There was also this insightful nugget:

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but salvation is an attempt to solve a problem of its own making — sin is just a concept from the teaching, like a doctor running around cutting people with a knife in order to sell them a Band Aid.”

Beautifully put :)

Dan’s book Godless is full of wisdom like that, as if you needed another reason to pick it up.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://tommorris.org/ Tom Morris

    The attractiveness of the proposition depends on how sexy the torture chamber is.

  • http://bit.ly/breeden Andy Breeden

    Nice.

  • http://twitter.com/deanrobertsnet Dean Roberts

    It’s all a bit misleading theologically though. The analogies are greatly flawed and are in fact incomparable to salvation theology, the doctrine of the trinity and any thought/theology on heaven/hell. And that’s not to mention the Christian belief of free will, God being outside of time etc etc. The whole thing is just too simple.

    http://deanroberts.net

  • Anonymous

    No, it’s really not.  There are many frills that Christians like to attach to the story, but the bottom line is “worship god, go to heaven… refuse and go to hell.”  You can embellish the story all you want, but that is the bottom line offered by organized religion, the bible, and the churches I have attended.

  • Steve

    I have never gotten the whole thing about an all-powerful, perfect god creating people whom in his omniscience he knew were going to “fall from grace.” After all, hadn’t he already had this same problem with some wayward angels – one of whom is Satan. How can the bible thumpers buy this load of crap. Their ‘perfect’ god doesn’t seem to learn from his own mistakes… This wasn’t a good explanation of how the world worked 2000 years ago and 2 millennia of embellishment has not improved it one iota!

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t that title the same as Ann Coulter’s book?

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s more fire and hot pokers than whips and chains

  • Anonymous

    Or even more cruel: “Love me or I will burn you for eternity”

  • Anonymous

    First the angels. Then Adam and Eve. Then mankind screwed up so much that it needed to be drowned. Then it screwed up again and the only way to solve the problem was a human sacrifice.

    God really sucks at management. And then he blames his creation for his own mistakes

  • Erin W

    “I didn’t realize it at the time, but salvation is an attempt to
    solve a problem of its own making — sin is just a concept from the
    teaching, like a doctor running around cutting people with a knife in
    order to sell them a Band Aid.”

    This was the final straw for me when it came to religion.  After I left Christianity, which wasn’t that hard for me to do, I decided to look at other traditions to fill the ‘god-shaped hole’ I thought I had.  It broke down for me every time when the religion insisted that being human was a condition that needs overcoming.

  • http://twitter.com/BurningParamour .drea.

    Sounds kinkeh.

  • Anonymous

    Love it’s all about LOVE! I can’t say it any better than Ingersoll- “Love was the first to dream of immortality, — not Religion, not Revelation. We love, therefore we wish to live. “

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001071231218 Andrew Pfaff

    Then it depends on the seasons! If it’s winter, count me in!

  • http://www.suburbansweetheart.com/ Suburban Sweetheart

    I love this.

  • JamesB

    This is certainly a good picture of much of modern Christianity as it is peddled today. I think the Rob Bells of the world are trying to soften that message a bit, but they are still left with another problem: if the torture chamber doesn’t exist, then what reason do I have to move into the attic? Before I fully left Christianity, I tried this softer, love-filled God out for awhile until I finally had to ask why I really needed him at all, other than as an emotional crutch. Even brands of Christianity that are less propositional and more about ritual and tradition still don’t really have anything of value to offer. At least they didn’t to me. I’m glad I’m finally out of all that..

  • John

    I would just like to point out that if there is no god, there is no free will.  All emotions and decisions are just chemical reactions in the brain and can’t possibly be anything else if science is the ultimate truth. 

  • Dan

    I’ve always found this argument strange, because the Bible is clear that people don’t have free will in a contra-causal sort of way (if you take the concept of sin nature seriously, believe Satan tricks people, or read the verses in the OT and NT about God blinding people to the truth or calling only some to himself), so your criticism is puzzling. If the Bible is true than we don’t have free will the way most people define the term either (and the problem is even worse if you buy into Calvinist theology). Even Jesus believed in demon possession and Paul called Satan the ruler of this world, so both Jesus and Paul disagree with you that people have free will (as the term is usually used). The goal of Chrtistianity is supposed to be complete control by the Holy Spirit (Paul literally uses the word slave), can you have any less free will than believing you are a slave to a supernatural being? And that’s the goal of the Christian religion!

    You really need to read up on the philosophy of the mind if you think materialism makes us mindless robots. Many philosophers see compatibilist free will (not contra-causal) as an emergent property of our biological system.

  • Anonymous

    What Hemant said.  I actually just finished “Godless” this week, and it was a great read.  It was no  God Delusion or Letter to a Xian Nation, but was good to hear the thoughts of an ex-evangelist.  Plus, it filled the gap nicely until next week when I start reading Magic of Reality to/with the kids.  ;-)

  • Anonymous

    This is semi-tangential, but man do they hate Bells over at Rapture Ready.  That’s where I first came across his name. Those nutty folks don’t like him because he’s “seeker friendly,” as you point out.  And if you guys have never been over to peruse the Rapture Ready forums, wow, are you in for a surprise. It’s good entertainment.  But you can’t post unless you join, and you have to be reviewed and admitted by a mod. I usually just swing by there once a week or so to see what  conspiracy/end times/apostasy thing has the hornets in the hive riled up that week.  

  • Elliott776

    It brings a whole new meaning to Terrorism doesn’t it?

  • Elliott776

    I love seeing articles like this here instead of the fear mongering posts I’ve been seeing on here lately. I thought Atheists embraced rationality (like this post does) but lately I’ve seen some very hypothetical spin jobs on here.

  • Anonymous

    A recent episode of Criminal Minds featured battery acid.

    Hell isn’t real, but to hear the Christians: it’s a really nice carrot and a really nasty stick. Twisted stuff — hopefully this fiction plays a much smaller role in future generations.    

  • Anonymous

    Sounds like a dick boss to work for. 

    I wonder who the authors based his character on?

  • Londonj

    Once I obtained some distance from my childhood brainwashing, it became increasingly clear how stupefyingly incoherent the Christian story really is. Don’t try to make sense of it. There is none.

  • http://allusiveatheist.blogspot.com/ T. Ray

    All metaphors and analogies are flawed because they are merely metaphors and analogies.  You might even think of them as parables.  The analogy presented by Dan Barker is not “greatly” flawed and you have not supported your claim.  Magical/theological (there’s an oxymoron if ever there was one) jargon does not distract from the “My way or the fry way” barbaric self-serving conditional shadow-of-an-excuse for love that is offered (by way of edict) by the abrahamic mythologies. 

    “Christian belief of free will” is just that: belief.  For any decision ever made we can ask what change of information or factors would have resulted in a different decision.  Please substantiate freewill before pretending it supports your ideology.

    “God being outside of time” has nothing to do with Barker’s analogy.  It seems as though you are objecting to the analogy based on scaling.  It is dim or dishonest to object to an analogy because it works exactly the way an analogy is supposed to. 

    “Too simple?”  Are we to believe you’ve never experienced an analogy before?  Sure, he could have tried to be more detailed, specific and elegant.  But what small improvements he might have gained would not have been worth the necessary verbosity.  He made his point, and well.  As analogies go, this was a good one.

    In summation, allow me to reiterate your objection:

    *It doesn’t accurately depict the way the magic works.  Heaven is not an attic, hell is not a basement and god is not an old guy on a porch.  We can do whatever we want, regardless of our understanding and everything that is going on around us.  I don’t have to know exactly what time is nor exactly what god is to know that time is irrelevant to god.  As the analogy is not complex we can just dismiss it.*

  • Anonymous

    But until the moment you saw the torture chamber, you stumbled through life without any knowledge of your life’s meaning or purpose!

  • John

    Free will starts with Adam and Eve’s choice to either listen to God, or eat from the tree, with the consequence of eating from the tree being spiritual death.  They eat the fruit anyway and this causes humanity by its own free will to fall into sin, which is then inherited by each generation.  This means that no tricks of Satan or demon possessions (which every Christian believes in) deny the existence of free will.  But God, being merciful, gave us a way out of this by making us aware of him and what is right.  We don’t have to take that route, but it gives us the option.  The bible also states that God will give people up to their sinful nature if they reject him long enough.  But free will does not entitle us to a connection with God, so when God hides the truth from people, this complies with free will.  And on the subject of the holy spirit, that is completely by choice.  A christian wants to become a slave to the holy spirit by their own free will.  The point is that a Christian realizes that their sinful nature is wrong and wants to be rid of it.  The only way to be rid of it is to let something without any sinful nature to take over.

    And I would appreciate it if you could point me towards the stuff I need to read on philosophy of the mind.  I like to be educated on this sort of thing.

  • Anonymous

    What makes you think that you have free will?  

    We are the products of our biology and environment and whether we have free will or not we act as if we do because we are unable to see that we act without it.  Those chemical reactions in the brain are unconscious and we are only aware of the products of them.

    Also science isn’t “the ultimate truth”, it is a method of understanding and modelling reality.  I don’t believe in an ultimate truth.  That’s magical thinking.

  • Craig

    My mother-in-law gave me a copy of Josh McDowell’s “More than a Carpenter” last month.

    I read it in two days, then lent her my copies of Barker’s “Godless”, Rachel Held Evans’ “Evolving in Monkeytown”, and Harris’ “Letter to a Christian Nation”… just to keep the dialogue rolling.
    I’m reserving Spong’s “Why Christianity…” and Cox’s “The Future of Faith” for another day.

    (my wife was furious that I lent those books to her mother)

  • Anonymous

    It broke down for me every time when the religion insisted that being human was a condition that needs overcoming.

    Beautifully put Erin :)

  • Jake

    That’s a nice non sequitur.

    How does it follow that the mechanics of the brain mean that I have no free will? You might as well say that the mechanics of the internal combustion engine mean I have no way of controlling my car.

  • Grady

    Mehta, you really think Barkers Straw Man Illustration is a good argument?

    You know better than that.

  • Anonymous

    Not sure why you responded to my post to make your comment, but…..which comment of Barker’s do you think is a straw man?

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    This is a common refrain in the debates of Christopher Hitchens:  “Created sick — Commanded to be well.”

  • http://happycat.pip.verisignlabs.com/ Chris aka Happy Cat

    Even my grandmother — born on a farm in NW Arkansas in 1902 and having strong faith in her god– told me (around the age of 13) that her god must have known Adam and Eve were going to eat that fruit.  “He” was god after all.  She seemed quite frustrated by the apparent weakness of god’s omniscience. This from a woman who read her Babble daily and almost stopped talking to me when I told her I might be an atheist at fifteen.  Hearing her veiled criticism of doctrine caused my dim bulb of skepticism and reason to burn a bit brighter.  She’d turn in her grave if she knew.

    OT Note in her memory: I never knew her to go to church.  She detested hypocrites and liars; I don’t think she cared for the average church-goer’s piety.  I’d like to think she would’ve been one kick ass freethinker under different circumstances.

  • Anonymous

    Judaism does just fine without hell. You die and you cease to exist. And obviously you won’t be with god in the afterlife, won’t see your relatives, or whatever else you think might happen in heaven.

    Yeah sure it’s a crutch to get over the fear of death, but lots of people apparently need that. I can admit that heaven can be a positive thing for some. Hell, though, is just an instrument by the priest caste to control their sheep’s behavior

  • Smorg

    I really have a hard time seeing god as merciful in anyway in this episode, especially if you take what Genesis says seriously. Adam and Eve did not gain the ability to reason or recognize right from wrong until after they had eaten the fruit from the tree of knowledge. That means that they were not capable of knowing that it would be wrong or sinful to disobey god’s order. God, on the other hand, would have known all about it. This makes the whole thing a set up to entrap not only the unenlightened Adam and Eve but all of their utter innocent descendants who weren’t even born yet. (There’s another issue there, where is justice and mercy in this ongoing episode of divinely directed guilt by association?)

    There is yet another even worse episode about ‘free will’ in the Bible when God purposefully hardened the Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not obey him when his prophet (Moses) demand the release of the Jews from Egypt. Where is free will for the Pharaoh? And why punish the innocent Egyptians with all those plagues when the Pharaoh ‘disobeyed’ god (even though he didn’t disobeyed of his own free will… If god hardens your heart to make you act a certain way, can you really resist???).

  • Smorg

    I really have a hard time seeing god as merciful in anyway in this episode, especially if you take what Genesis says seriously. Adam and Eve did not gain the ability to reason or recognize right from wrong until after they had eaten the fruit from the tree of knowledge. That means that they were not capable of knowing that it would be wrong or sinful to disobey god’s order. God, on the other hand, would have known all about it. This makes the whole thing a set up to entrap not only the unenlightened Adam and Eve but all of their utter innocent descendants who weren’t even born yet. (There’s another issue there, where is justice and mercy in this ongoing episode of divinely directed guilt by association?)

    There is yet another even worse episode about ‘free will’ in the Bible when God purposefully hardened the Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not obey him when his prophet (Moses) demand the release of the Jews from Egypt. Where is free will for the Pharaoh? And why punish the innocent Egyptians with all those plagues when the Pharaoh ‘disobeyed’ god (even though he didn’t disobeyed of his own free will… If god hardens your heart to make you act a certain way, can you really resist???).

  • John

    Actually, its like saying your car has no way of controlling itself, which is true.  Your analogy assumes that humans have some sort of conscience outside of the chemistry of the brain, which is what I’m trying to say.

  • John

    Actually its put quite plainly to Adam and Eve that they shouldn’t eat from the tree or they will die, and its obvious from Eve’s language in her conversation with the serpent that she knows she’s not supposed to.  And the fact that all of humanity has do deal with this might seem unfair, but thats because people have developed a sense of entitlement. 
    And in the case of Pharaoh, this is the leaving people to their own devices thing I was talking about. Pharaoh hardens his own heart 5 times before it says that God hardened his heart.  and in that instance, the verb used is in the hiphil form, meaning that the object acts as a secondary subject.  So it can read more like saying God and pharaoh hardened pharaoh’s heart.  It implies that Pharaoh was willing in this choice.  This would simply be  a case of God removing his self from a person’s conscious.

  • Dan

    Sorry John, you can’t say ‘humanity’ lost free will by its own choice because of Adam and Eve (even assuming Adam and Eve existed, which is counter to science and history). Claiming someone else lost our free will for us is illogical

    It is also illogical to believe that demons can control someone, yet they have free will. As for your statement that since Christians choose to be slaves to the Holy Spirit that doesn’t deny free will, I’m sorry that is wrong. Even following that logic you are saying that the goal of Christianity is to get rid of free will, which undermines your original criticism. Some people sell themselves into lifelong slavery to make ends meet, do you really think that since they chose to be a slave that means they are truly free for the rest of their life? The Bible clearly teaches people don’t have free will. Besides the whole sin nature stuff, in 2 Thess 2 it even says God will send a delusion so people will believe lies. In 2 Samual 24 God (Satan elsewhere) ‘moved’ Davis to do a census, and then killed 70,000 for the sin that David was moved to commit by God! (And where was the free will for those 70,000?) Also see Eph 1:3-6, Romans 7, Rom 9:16-21, Prov 21:1, 2 Cor 4:3-4, etc.

    You might want to read Daniel Dennett’s ‘Freedom Evolves’ or other books by compatibilist philosophers. Also look up compatibilism and free will on the both the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Naturalism. org also has a lot of links to articles that do a good job of disproving libertarian free will.

  • Dan

    Actually some cars do have a means of controlling themselves. Have you heard of accident avoidance or seen the commercials of cars parrallel parking themselves? Google is testing fully automatic cars right now. If an operating system is sufficiently complex it can interact with the world, analyze external conditions, and respond appropriately, all without requiring a soul or a god. Hmmm.

  • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

    They eat the fruit anyway and this causes humanity by its own free will to fall into sin, which is then inherited by each generation.

    Except that in the story they were set up to fail from the start, seeing as they were not given information on the full and potential consequences of their actions, something well within the power of God. At the very least, this eliminates informed consent (which is necessary for making decent decisions). That would be unethical of God.

    But God, being merciful, gave us a way out of this by making us aware of him and what is right.

    Except, he hasn’t. We are not “aware” of God unless someone tells us of him (entire generations of Asians and Native Americans were never told), and we are not aware without evidence that enables belief. Likewise, he didn’t make us aware of what is right. If he had, everyone’s conscience would agree.

    But free will does not entitle us to a connection with God, so when God hides the truth from people, this complies with free will.

    You can’t have free choice (and that is what you’re really talking about, isn’t it?) without truthful knowledge, so if God is hiding the truth and condemning people because of that, then he’s violating that choice, that free will, and that makes him an asshole. 

  • Arranon

    Because the most logical reason for suffering to exist in the world is because the first woman was tricked by a snake into eating an apple.

    Snakes don’t talk. If you want to make the claim that they did, then you need to provide proof.

  • Concubineofmasks

    i don’t even understand what are you talking about, all i know is that real chritians accept everybody  and are  both spiritual and religious. i think that there are false christians, i’ve met many of them, but real followers of Christ are called to love everybody the same. <3

  • http://www.facebook.com/elli.guy Elli Guy

    actually that is not what all religions teach. not even close.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elli.guy Elli Guy

    which one isn’t?

  • http://www.facebook.com/elli.guy Elli Guy

    no it isn’t. as hard as it is for you to understand some people really do have experiences that draw them to spiritual paths and it has nothing to do with the fear of death.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elli.guy Elli Guy

    what????? apparently none of you have read any Quantum mechanics or the work of any theoretical physicists.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elli.guy Elli Guy

    That is scientifically demonstrably false. Also.. Who the heck are you that you get to determine what is “magical thinking”. Thank GOD that most of the great thinkers, inventors, philosophers etc have ignored such retarded views as the modern Materialist Atheists have and dared to be “magical thinkers”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elli.guy Elli Guy

    actually you are wrong. You have clearly been brainwashed well like I was. Read the story again and take notes you will find that the order of events is not what you think. God hardened his heart from start to finish as it clearly states.
    But more importantly john.. how is it a moral, ethical, loving, positive choice to chose to harden someone’s hart instead of softening it just so you can “make a name for yourself” and kill a bunch of innocent people?

  • http://www.facebook.com/elli.guy Elli Guy

    can you answer where the “sin nature” came from? what is from the fruit? or do you believe that somehow a choice changed their DNA? or did god do it?
    You really need to start asking questions and thinking for yourself.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elli.guy Elli Guy

    you do know that most “real Christians” would reject you as a false Christian based on what you just said.

  • hoverFrog

    Go home Eli, you’re drunk.


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