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Two conversion stories [repost]

Dan Barker of the Freedom from Religion Foundation tells of his past in evangelical Christianity

I was a "doer of the word and not a hearer only." I went to a Christian college, majored in Religion/Philosophy, became ordained and served in a pastoral capacity in three California churches. I personally led many people to Jesus Christ, and encouraged many young people to consider full-time Christian service.  (Here)

And here's his conversion to atheism as told to a journalist here

[Barker] lay on a burlap cot in a church in a Mexican border town where he'd come to give a guest sermon. As he peered out at a splash of stars, Barker had a sudden profound sensation that had nothing to do with intellect, the kind of deeply felt moment more commonly associated with finding God than losing Him. He was, Barker understood, utterly alone here.

"For my whole life there had been this giant eyeball looking at me, this god, this holy spirit, this church history, and this Bible. And not only everything I did but everything I thought was being judged: Was God pleased? I realized that that wasn't there anymore. It occurred to me, 'I own these thoughts. Nobody knows what I'm thinking right now. There's no fear of hell, no fear of judgment, I don't have to be right or wrong, I can just be me.'" It felt as if charges had been dropped for a crime for which he had been falsely accused. It was exhilarating and frightening all at once. "When you're ready to jump out of an airplane to skydive, you can be terrified but excited at the same time," he says. "There's a point where you go, all right, let's do this."

It strongly reminded me of John Bunyan's conversion:

"As I was passing in the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience . . . suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul, Thy righteousness is in heaven; and, methought withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God's right hand, there, I say, is my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was a-doing, God could not say of me, He wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, the same yesterday and today for ever (Heb. 13:8)."

"Now did my chains fall from my legs indeed, I was loosed from my affliction and irons, my temptations also fled away, so that from that time, those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now also went I home rejoicing for the grace and love of God."

In both conversions naturally enough it was their view of God that changed and that changed them.  Both were weighed down under the scrutiny of Heaven.  Both found a joyful liberation in the death of God.  (Of course Barker's empty heaven does not remove his spiritual masters but multiplies them).

Nonetheless, I think the similarities are very instructive.

Because what did/does Barker need?  More theistic proofs?  These would only have strengthened his notion of a 'giant eyeball' in the sky.  And who could blame him if he wants to be free of that?

Yet there are apologetic strategies that drive the Barkers of this world firmly into atheism, not away.

What should we do instead?

Let's seek to give them what Bunyan got - true freedom through Christ crucified.  It's the death of all the old gods and the life of the new man, free from the eye-ball in the sky.

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0 thoughts on “Two conversion stories [repost]

  1. Glen

    Hi NotAScientist, welcome to the blog.

    Evidence for what? What you're looking to demonstrate will determine the kind of evidence you examine.

    If it's evidence for the God who has shown up in time and space to redeem us (the centre of the Christian faith) then that evidence will take the form of history. How about four biographies from different sources? That would be good evidence, don't you think?

  2. NotAScientist

    "then that evidence will take the form of history."

    What does this mean?

    The evidence I would ask for is evidence of the supernatural. Textual evidence is not sufficient to back that up.

  3. Glen

    What do you mean by supernatural? Your definition here will entirely shape your method of enquiry.

    I'm just talking about God showing up. There's a Man who claimed to be God showing up. What evidence do you suggest we examine in order to test that hypothesis?

  4. woldeyesus

    Hi NotAScientist,

    You will find the "clear and unambiguous evidence" in the cause and effect of Christ's death on the cross as expressions of his absolute rights over death and life including ours (John 3: 1-21; 10: 17-18).

    Without the personal vision ("seeing") of the living (immortal) Christ in his flesh death on the cross, one believes in vain (Ibid, 1: 50-51; 8: 21-32; 14: 18-21; 19: 30-37).

    It worked for me. PTL.

  5. NotAScientist

    "There’s a Man who claimed to be God showing up. What evidence do you suggest we examine in order to test that hypothesis?"

    What can God do? What sort of abilities does he possess? Do we have anything other than anecdotal evidence that he could do these things?

    Sorry Woldeyesus, but texts asserting that something supernatural took place are not good enough. Otherwise, I'd believe all the people who claim to have been abducted by aliens.

  6. Mary Johnson

    Why not look at your mathematical universe? Can you honestly say that the macro and micro universe is based entirely upon happenstance? From Fibonacci to Euler to Einstein, the orderliness of nature does not lend itself to Newton's 2nd law my friend. You see it evidenced in your own body as the cells and organs cease to operate efficiently as age takes its toll.

    The universe did not begin randomly, nor did it come from a state of disorder to a cohesive unit as you see today. Look at the cellular level and beyond - see the intricate interworkings of chemicals, processes and function. The order you observe, postulate and theorize upon does come from a higher-ordered source that put all in motion. To speculate that all you see and know has distilled from chaos and randomness violates the very laws and principles you, as an armchair scientist espouse.

    God is a mathematician, He's left His signature on every one of His creations. What you ask is akin to sending out SETI to see if God answers. He did.

  7. NotAScientist

    "Can you honestly say that the macro and micro universe is based entirely upon happenstance?"

    Entirely? Nope. But the opposite of 'happenstance' isn't your god.

    "What you ask is akin to sending out SETI to see if God answers. He did."

    No, he didn't.

    At most, he wrote a not terribly convincing book. Or books, depending on what brand of religion you believe in.

    And if he did that, then he must not want me to believe in him, because it's not convincing.

  8. Anonymous

    Hi NotAScientist,

    My day job is a lawyer and I deal mostly with cases with a high scientific content (like patents and things). I love discussing what amounts to proof.

    No court case, IMHO, would get very far without somebody's testimony. That is the kind of hard evidence that courts need in order to assess the truth.

    The Bible's authors claim, explicitly, to be eyewitnesses.

    For example:
    (a) the letter of 1 John begins by talking about Jesus and saying: "which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched...".
    (b) the letter of 2 Peter says "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty..."
    And there are countless other examples.

    Even more than that, when I see what Jesus is like - the things he taught, the way he lived, and the way he self-sacrificially died - it makes sense in a way that no other person, logic, system of thought has ever done. In short, if I'm honest with myself, the more I read about Jesus, the more I have to admit that what he says is right.

    With best regards,
    Dominic.

  9. NotAScientist

    "No court case, IMHO, would get very far without somebody’s testimony. That is the kind of hard evidence that courts need in order to assess the truth."

    Take a look at this hypothetical:

    A young lady gets before a judge and claims to have been abducted by aliens. She has no evidence beyond this. No photographs, video, or physical evidence is presented.

    Do you believe her? Why or why not?

    She's claiming to be an eyewitness. And even more than that, we can speak to her TODAY. We don't have to read a translation of a copy of a copy of a book about her that was published after she was supposed to have died.

    That should make her more believable than your Biblical claims, shouldn't it? If you disagree, why?

    Sorry, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And a book, or even testimony, by itself just isn't good enough if the claim is extraordinary.

  10. Dave K

    NotAScientist,

    A few thoughts:

    1. Who are you in your hypothetical situation? It seems you are the judge. By what right do you take that position?

    2. Your hypothetical situation contains only one eyewitness. The good news of Jesus Christ has a lot more.

    3. Jesus Christ claimed to be the Messiah. God the Father demonstrated this by rising from the dead, doing miracles and pouring out his Spirit. While those events are past, their effects continue today. Just as we have documentary evidence of the Napoleonic wars, we can also see their effects in old forts, political landscapes etc. I'm sure many Christians could point you to the tangible, present effects of the historical events of the Gospels they have seen and experienced today.

    4. You say "at most he wrote a not terribly convincing book". Actually, "at most" he sent his Son to die because he wanted you to believe so much. He didn't just answer in ink, he answered in blood. What more could he do?

  11. NotAScientist

    "1. Who are you in your hypothetical situation? It seems you are the judge. By what right do you take that position?"

    I'm the guy making the hypothetical. And perhaps a member of the jury.

    "2. Your hypothetical situation contains only one eyewitness. The good news of Jesus Christ has a lot more."

    Actually it doesn't. It has a number of stories written after he was supposed to have died that claim there were lots of eyewitnesses. That is not the same thing.

    And my objection to testimony being good enough evidence to back up supernatural claims still stands.

    "I’m sure many Christians could point you to the tangible, present effects of the historical events of the Gospels they have seen and experienced today."

    And if you can point to any evidence that Napoleon could fly or do other supernatural feats, I'd find that interesting.

    "What more could he do?"

    Instead of appearing in front of mostly illiterate bronze-age people in a small are of the Middle East, appear during a time when mass communication, video and the scientific method are everywhere.

  12. Anonymous

    Hi Not A Scientist,

    In response to your post (at 9:26pm) to mine.

    I would say:

    (1) Yes, I would view the alien abduction with some suspicion. (I mention in passing that this isn't the same as ruling it out entirely a priori - a point that you & I both seem to agree on.)

    (2) However, the alien abduction story does not explain the world around me. I don't live in a town where otherwise contended and happy people mysteriously disappear, for example. This is quite the opposite from Jesus. What he shows me about the human nature and the world we live in makes sense in a way that no other system of thought has ever done. C.S. Lewis said something like "I believe in God as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I can see everything else". What Jesus says about the world explains things in a way that is deeper than anything else I have ever encountered.

    (3) Following on from (2), it's actually more than the way Jesus explains the world. The compassion, love and selflessness he showed to people around him and his love for the poor and the oppressed have been a role model for millions of people.

    (4) And, of course, ultimately, the question of what God is like is massively important and has, literally, eternal ramifications. In those circumstances, I'll look at the eyewitness evidence for Jesus very, very carefully.

    With best regards,
    Dominic.

  13. justin

    maybe He didnt want to be photographed? if He did, you would just obey out of fear, instead of love. and thats the whole point.

  14. NotAScientist

    "What Jesus says about the world explains things in a way that is deeper than anything else I have ever encountered."

    All I can say to that is that I disagree with you, and so does mostly everyone on the planet. (The majority don't believe in Jesus, and those who do probably believe in a different Jesus than you do.)

    "The compassion, love and selflessness"

    When he constructed a whip and attacked the money-changers in the temple, was that compassion, love or selflessness?

    When he cursed a fig tree to die, which of the three was that?

    "And, of course, ultimately, the question of what God is like is massively important and has, literally, eternal ramifications."

    Says you. But that's an assertion for which you lack evidence.

    "if He did, you would just obey out of fear, instead of love."

    No I wouldn't.

    I don't love anything that I can't determine exists. And I don't obey something just because I fear it.

    Believing that something exists is different than following it. First I would have to believe it exists. Once that's done, I would concern myself over whether or not it was worth following or loving.

  15. Glen

    Hi NotAScientist,

    I don't think I've heard from you what you think "supernatural" means. Personally, I have no commitment whatsoever to "the supernatural." That concept is built upon naturalistic assumptions which I just don't share. To assume "the supernatural" in this conversation means pre-supposing a naturalistic universe with an optional "supernatural" gloss on top. In short it would mean assuming the universe which Dan Barker believed in - both before and after his "deconversion."

    Barker essentially believed in this double-decker universe with some god-of-the-supernatural as an all-seeing-eye *above* it all. His "deconversion" was not much of a change really. He just got rid of the heavenly surveillance unit. And to be honest, I don't blame him.

    Trouble is, neither his theism nor his atheism has dealt with the Christian vision of reality. Christians don't believe in "the supernatural" they believe in Jesus. They believe that *He* is the driving force of all reality, seen and unseen.

    Here is a Personal explanation of the universe. Ultimate reality is not processes, powers and patterns. (For me, the personal explanation makes a lot more sense, since I certainly live my life as though personal reality is more important than processes etc). But if we were ever to assess this Personal explanation it would demand a personal approach to investigation.

    The natural sciences are wonderful at what they do. But they're not equipped to assess the truth, beauty and goodness of Jesus. You'll have to seek after this explanation via a different route (I would suggest prayer and reading the Gospels).

    If you don't - if you remain viewing the natural sciences as the final arbiter of truth - then you have prejudged the matter. You have refused to take the truth claims of Christ seriously. You have made up your mind without proper investigation and merely assumed a naturalistic worldview.

    You're absolutely free to do that. But your demand for "evidence" then rings hollow. You don't want evidence, you only want confirmation of naturalism. Jesus wants to reveal to you something so much better - a love that searches after *you*.

  16. Heather

    Wow, Glen.

    That is an interesting contrast. It offers a picture of how "natural" man does indeed have a knowledge of God which he cannot truly ignore. It disturbs the conscience and demands that we seek a place of rest.
    But the direction we run for comfort makes all the difference, doesn't it?

  17. NotAScientist

    "Christians don’t believe in “the supernatural” they believe in Jesus. They believe that *He* is the driving force of all reality, seen and unseen. "

    Anything for which people claim happens but which they cannot back up with empirical evidence of any kind gets labeled as 'supernatural'.

    Multiplying food 'magically'. Walking on water. Flying. A talking snake. Etc.

    Any miracle is supernatural.

    "(I would suggest prayer and reading the Gospels). "

    I have done both.

    There is no indication that either one of those things is any good at assessing the truth of reality.

    "If you don’t – if you remain viewing the natural sciences as the final arbiter of truth – then you have prejudged the matter."

    Only if I never explored the other ways. And I have. And I've found them wanting.

    "Jesus wants to reveal to you something so much better – a love that searches after *you*."

    Confirm that Jesus exists, and then I'll concern myself with what he wants.

    "It offers a picture of how “natural” man does indeed have a knowledge of God which he cannot truly ignore. "

    No, we don't.

    "But the direction we run for comfort makes all the difference, doesn’t it?"

    And I turn to family and friends.

  18. Heather

    Hi NotAScientist.

    The "knowledge" to which I was referring is not necessarily related to a thought-process that leads one to consciously say "Look, evidence for God". I was observing that there tends to be a restlessness of soul and desire for emotional and mental satisfaction (a sense of completion, if you will) which is pretty universal.

    My remark about the direction we turn for comfort, and your response, is evidence that this is a reality even in those who do not acknowledge the existence of God.
    In the end, I believe this is a matter of faith and who, ultimately, is the object of that faith.
    There are those who trust that the Bible and the Person of Jesus Christ is God's revelation of Himself to us.
    And there are those who place faith in their own ability to sort available information and make sense of it.

  19. woldeyesus

    NotAScientist,

    God bless you for what you asked.

    Jesus Christ is an ever self-revealing, deeply mysterious and sustainably life-transforming God in his Spirit-active, perfect and diacritical death on the cross.

    That is how I have concerned myself with what he wants.

  20. Si Hollett

    "Anything for which people claim happens but which they cannot back up with empirical evidence of any kind gets labeled as ‘supernatural’."

    You say you turn to family and friends for comfort - now is that supernatural, or can I have some empirical evidence of that? I need to hear/see/taste/smell/feel that happen myself, as I won't take accounts of what other people saw/heard/tasted/felt/smelt.

    Oh, and as I believe that you're just making that up, so if I do see you turning to your friends for comfort I'll just see you pretending to do so in order to justify your statement, as that's what I think I'm seeing.

    Wow, that's such a poor way to find truth...

  21. John B

    Particularly striking in Bunyan's account of his conversion is his statement that "I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand". In the Fall of man it was these spiritual eyes that were blinded. In darkness, without the sight of God, human reason first casts him as an all-seeing-eye-in-the-sky, and then liberates themselves by doing away with 'the giant eyeball', which, after all, was only their own fabrication to begin with. What folly!

    But now, the Father sends the Spirit of wisdom, that in the revelation of Christ, the eyes of the souls of men may be enlightened to know the hope of glory. What a great testimony Bunyan has given that God, who made the "light shine out of darkness", shone, too, in his own soul to give the light and the sight "of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ"!

    Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. (Luke 11:34)

  22. NotAScientist

    "now is that supernatural, or can I have some empirical evidence of that?"

    Are you suggesting that your God is a mental concept, like comfort? Because I would agree with that.

    "Wow, that’s such a poor way to find truth…"

    Yes. How horrible evidence is. Now pardon while I go feed my dragon and then have tea with Bigfoot.

  23. Si Hollett

    I'm not saying that God is a mental concept, I'm saying that with your definition of supernatural, that you turn to friends and family for comfort is supernatural. This is as I feel your closed-minded view of evidence, and what is supernatural is absurd.

    Evidence is great, but to have such a narrow view of what counts is poor - that's my point.

  24. Chris W

    I concur with Si on this, how we interpret reality is entirely based on trust. You don't *know* a scientific theory is true, you just read about it in a journal or do some tests that may or may not convince you.

    All interpretation of evidence ultimately comes down to trust. Comes down to which version of reality seems most trustworthy. That's the scientific method in a nutshell. And trust is a personal thing. No matter what clinical language you clothe it in, trust is personal. When an idea that you have about the way the world works is proven wrong, it hits you like a ton of bricks.

    But how is it that reason is such a personal thing? Perhaps reason itself is a person. Perhaps reason is a person we can trust. Perhaps we are made in the image of reason. And maybe, just maybe, reason became a person in history so that we could know him for ourselves.

    (see Genesis 1:27; Proverbs 8; John 1:1-18)

  25. woldeyesus

    NotAScientist,

    On the basis of need only, one can find all the empirical evidence for the divinely supernatural in the power of Christ's death on the cross (including baptism in the Holy Spirit and God's self-revelation) abundantly enough to change all mankind into his own image of self-sufficient life just like in the beginnning!

  26. Church pastor yorba linda

    Nice post...But little bit confused about the explanation for What should we do instead?.But i like the second one paragraph.They both are under the scrutiny of Heaven but the thinking and their vision towards the God.This post give me something new vision for looking to the people in the world.

  27. Carl Schuster

    Great discussion.. surely sharpened my apologetics skills.. It seems most people who 'unconvert' do not truly understand the Gospel.. I once spent a couple hours on 'exchristian.net' and it was the same exact thing.. Lots of 'christians' living under condemnation and fear... very sad.

  28. Glen

    Yes Carl, conversion is always release from your old gods (and therefore a deconversion also). There's much that the true Christian shares with the deconverted!

    I've just been on an atheist blog popular among ex-Christians. It's full of power-plays, pride, anger, misrepresentation and utter gracelessness. Ironically, these would be all the reasons they say they left the church...

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