Friday, December 30, 2011

Book Review: Godless

Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading AtheistsGodless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists by Dan Barker

I have mixed feelings about this book. Part 1 of the book entitled "Rejecting God" is the most interesting as it is the author's personal story of his journey from fundamentalist Christianity to atheism.

Part 2, "Why I am an atheist" is very dense and philosophical - and I appreciated some of Barker's arguments and critiques regarding God and the various arguments often offered for God's existence by Christian apologists - some of which are clearly wanting.

Part 3, "What's wrong with Christianity?", was the worst part of the book. It consists of a hurried survey through the Bible intended to prove that inerrantism is unsustainable (I agree that it isn't sustainable). But in this section Barker proof texts in much the same way as many fundamentalist Christians do - he gives almost no consideration to context (cultural, historical, or textual) unless it serves his purpose. For example, he criticises what he sees as the moral commands of the Beatitudes and doesn't realise that these are not moral commands. The context is Jesus blessing the marginalised oppressed group of people in front of him who were going through the experiences he was describing in each of the Beatitudes. While some Christians see the Beatitudes as a moral code, this is not the only way of reading the text. Baker's book fails in genuinely engaging with the text and sharing alternative perspectives with the reader. It is highly biased towards Baker's conclusions (which may not always be wrong but are not offered fair-mindedly).

Because Barker came from a fundamentalist background, he falls into the trap of treating the text of the Bible as a flat set of propositions. Apart from the fundamentalist, few educated Christians would take it that way. So this whole section of the book, in my opinion, would have been better left to another, more scholarly book, rather than plonked into this book in the way it is.

Part 4, "Life is Good!" becomes a boring listing of all the people Baker has met that he deems important to the atheist/humanist cause (it is hard to avoid thinking he is engaging in name-dropping) and events he has participated in. There are a few autobiographical stories that are of interest. His brief discussion on the scientific hypotheses for the origin of religion and his discussion of the basis of meaning and morality without God are worth reading but are overshadowed by the interminable minutiae of the rest of it.

In summary, Part 1 is worth reading to gain an insight into Baker's journey and what was going on inside his head as he struggled with the loss of his faith. I think there are other books that do a better job of the material in the other parts of the book. Baker needed a good editor to make this book shorter and more powerful.

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