Deconversion Stories: A Charismatic Preacher Becomes an Atheist Outreacher

Deconversion Stories: A Charismatic Preacher Becomes an Atheist Outreacher August 21, 2023

Dan Barker is an itinerate and outspoken atheist, whose life is so entangled with his atheism that he spends a vast amount of time speaking, writing books, and advocating for the advancement of atheism and the freedom from religion.

This was not always the case. In his younger life, Barker was quite the opposite.

Converted at the tender age of 14, Barker was immediately passionate about his faith, and found himself street preaching by the age of 15.

By the age of 16, Barker found himself deeply involved in the charismatic faith movement, working shoulder-to-shoulder with a faith healer and finding himself speaking in tongues.

Says Barker:

“I watched people throwing away their crutches, and I remember thinking ‘Who would be so blind to deny the power of God?’ If you had come up to me to challenge my faith, I would have just smiled and said: ‘But you don’t know, I have this real thing.’ I loved Jesus and I was born again.”

Before he was fully out of his teens, Barker found himself writing Sunday School plays and composing music for them. These musicals became very popular; so much so that they were performed in churches across the country, and Barker began receiving royalties for his efforts.

This was an early claim to fame for Barker, and he himself began to travel the country, performing his own music in churches.

As seemed natural to his trajectory of faith, Barker became a traveling pastor – preaching in the charismatic fundamentalist style in which he found his roots. In addition to preaching and performing, Barker found himself leading missions trips, culminating in two years spent as a Protestant Missionary living in Mexico.

As Dan drifted into his 30’s, he likewise drifted away from his fundamentalist/charismatic roots, and started to embrace a more liberal theology.

Having never actually studied theology in all his ministry years, he began attending Azusa Pacific College with his major in Religion. Barker described the Bible College as being “a glorified Sunday School.” In the college, Barker only really ever took one class in Apologetics, and later stated that he never remembered hearing any hard arguments for the truth of Christianity.

However, Barker did not stop with educating himself in theology, but also in philosophy, history and science.

It was during this period of self-education that Barker’s beliefs began to dwindle and change. Says Barker:

”I would yell at myself on the Californian freeways, where I would be praying and talking to God, but at the same time another part of my brain was saying: ‘What are you doing? How can you talk to God when there’s no evidence?’ What drove me into the pulpit was to know the truth and speak the truth, and that’s the same thing that drove me out.

“The likelihood of the existence of God keeps getting smaller and smaller – to a point where you have to round it off.

”The phrase I like to use is that I dumped out all the bathwater and I found there was no baby there.”

Having thrown himself deeply into his faith for nearly 20 years, his deconversion was a radical change to his life. He felt it was only fair to inform his family and friends of the situation, so he composed heart-felt letters to them all to let them know of his change and the reasoning behind it.

Having become something of a mainstay in Evangelical Christianity, Barker went public about his deconversion in 1984 on the Oprah Winfrey show.

Despite his attempts to ease his family into his new outlook, the quakes it made through his personal life were deep and heartbreaking. His wife divorced him and re-married a Baptist minister. His mother was heartbroken, but after many long talks, she, too, became an atheist. This prompted Barker’s parents to separate, as well.

For the remainder of his public life, Barker has been every bit as evangelical an atheist as he was a minister. He is co-president of the Freedom from Religion foundation, and has written multiple books specifically aimed at deconverting Christians.

Barker is so passionate about eradicating Christianity from the public square that Richard Dawkins has praised his zeal, calling him ”the most eloquent witness of internal delusion I know”.

About Joel Furches
Joel Furches is a writer, educator, journalist, and researcher who has written extensively on subjects related to religion and Christianity specifically. Joel has a Master's Degree in education, academic training and experience in Applied Behavioral Psychology, and is pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology with his dissertation on religious deconversion. You can read more about the author here.

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