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Former minister, now atheist Barker speaks to students

» By CHRIS COPPEDGE – ccoppedge@my.apsu.edu

Minister turned atheist Dan Barker spoke in the Clement Auditorium on Thursday, Oct. 13, during an event sponsored by the APSU Students for Secular Humanism society.

Barker is the former Public Relations director and current co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization that speaks out against religion being used as a foundation for law in the United States, in support of the “separation of church and state” clause found in the U.S. Constitution

Their victories generally come in the form of lawsuits, such as declaring National Prayer Day unconstitutional, or stopping the promotion of religious activities in schools.

Barker has written three books since his conversion, 1992’s “Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist,” 2008’s “Godless,” and 2011’s “The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God.” The latter two were on sale after the event, as well as several pamphlets and flyers Barker wrote for Freedom From Religion.

Prior to his public announcement of atheism in 1984, Barker toured the country as both a minister and a songwriter for Christian children’s musicals.

“I sold damnation, not salvation, for 19 years,” Barker said.

He began evangelizing at age 15, convinced it was his calling.

“I thought I was so lucky to be born into the right family, the right community, the right country,” Barker said. “I was sure the time was now for Jesus’ return, thinking just one more day would pass and he would return.

“I even took my Bible to school and started preaching. I eventually became the kind of preacher you don’t want to sit next to on a bus.”

As he grew older, however, Barker began reading more scientific and rational-thinking studies of religion, which, combined with his experiences on the road, drove him from a strict fundamentalist lifestyle to a more moderate view of Christianity and God that discounted a lot of what the Bible actually taught.

Barker came to the conclusion he had lost his faith in 1984, but there was no real turning point. During the presentation, he did cite one particular incident. “I was sitting alone before I was supposed to go on to preach at a church,” Barker said. “I realized that I’m all alone in here. It’s just me. There’s no invisible God or Jesus here, just me.”

In addition to speaking, Barker performed several songs in the auditorium. Some were songs he wrote after becoming an atheist, with humorous titles like “You Can’t Win With Original Sin” or “Hi! I’m Your Neighborhood Atheist.”

He also performed one of Cole Porter’s songs after sharing how the famous Broadway songwriter was a closeted gay man during his life, and many of the lyrics to his love songs could be read as referring to homosexual romance as well as heterosexual.

The APSU Students for Secular Humanism society began planning this event last spring. They were assisted by the Secular Student Alliance in Columbus, Ohio.

“Our goal is to promote awareness and a sense of community for secular humanism,” said Kate Cervantes, president of the Students for Secular Humanism society.

Cervantes was very pleased by the turnout.

“We had quite a diverse crowd of approximately 120 people in attendance,” Cervantes said. “Many were atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, as well as believers from APSU, the Clarksville, Hopkinsville and Nashville communities. MTSU’s Secular Student Alliance traveled from Murfreesboro for the event. The feedback that SSH has received about the event has been nothing but positive.” TAS

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