Dan Barker is one of the world’s most famous atheists, but he hasn’t always been so well known. In fact, for over seventeen years he toiled in relative anonymity as a Christian evangelist, receiving virtually no fame or fortune in compensation for his efforts.
Now today Dan runs the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), one of the most zealous and successful special interest groups dedicated to opposing religion in the United States. He now has millions of dollars at his disposal — the FFRF currently boasts of holding $11.5 million dollars in assets on their balance sheet.
Obviously, atheism pays a lot better than honest evangelism. Dishonest evangelism is something else entirely — those “prosperity pimps” really know how to rake in the dough, but that’s another story.
At any rate, shortly after declaring himself an atheist, Dan was invited as a guest on Oprah Winfrey‘s television show AM Chicago to speak about what led from preaching to atheism. On the show Dan met future wife (and co-founding partner of the FFRF) Annie Laurie Gaylor, and soon they started on their journey down the road leading to fame and fortune.
I’ve been familiar with the FFRF and Mr. Barker for quite a while now — once upon a time, he was even a “virtual” friend of mine on Facebook. But I got dumped once Dan figured out that I wasn’t an atheist.
Only a few years ago, I took and then self-graded Dan’s open Bible test — a clever ploy of his obviously designed to create doubt and confusion in the minds of Christians. The “test” wants the Christian to focus on the relatively minor discrepancies in the four gospel accounts, ignoring the fact they agree on the most salient points — that Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried, yet three days later, his tomb was empty because he rose from the dead. Naturally, I gave myself an “A”.
Anyway, the FFRF gets some great free publicity from the news media, plus they occasionally put up billboards mildly taunting religious believers which I used to see in the Atlanta area.
Recently the FFRF grabbed local headlines when they sent a letter to the University of Georgia and 24 other universities, demanding the schools terminate their chaplain positions associated with the school’s athletic programs. Their letter specifically accused Coach Mark Richt of using his position as head football coach to raise money for a Christian ministry, which I would assume referred to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
However, as an enthusiastic member of the Georgia Bulldog fan base, I can assure Mr. Barker that an overwhelming majority of us strongly support Coach Richt, even those who don’t share his Christian faith. Time and resources are being squandered on a fight the FFRF can’t win unless the Supreme Court overturns the First Amendment.
It would prove extraordinarily difficult to argue trying to make a case in court that holding Christian beliefs was necessary in order to play football for Mark Richt.
Evidence strongly says otherwise. For example, former first-string tailback Musa Smith is Muslim, and current starting center Brandon Kublanow is Jewish.
Belief in Christ doesn’t create football talent, and the most capable players earn the playing time on the field. The coaches make personnel decisions purely from the standpoint of keeping the best interests of the team at heart because it is their job to win football games.
There is absolutely no evidence that any sort of religious litmus test must be passed in order to play for UGA, and simply ludicrous to suggest otherwise.
As this photo of a group of players praying on the field after a game illustrates, participation in group prayer is always optional, never mandatory — most of the team is clearly not participating. These players aren’t giving thanks for victory.
Nor are they likely to be asking God why they lost a football game. If anything, they are briefly bowing their head to give thanks that no one was seriously injured playing the game they all love — a game that provides them with free college tuition.
While my fellow Dawg fans may currently be grousing about the nefarious activities of the FFRF, I can’t help but feel sorry for Dan Barker. Sure, he has millions in the bank and authored a couple of books that became New York Times bestsellers, but I personally wouldn’t sell my soul just to make a few million dollars.
Besides, I’d gladly give away a free copy of my Counterargument for God to him, and any other atheist willing to read it. Chris Janson’s song tells the truth: money can’t buy happiness, but it could buy me a boat.
According to his own statements, Dan once had a relationship with God that others could only envy — and yet he somehow lost his faith.
Most remarkably, during his interview with Oprah, Dan claimed that the hearing of a mute had been restored after he prayed for the man’s healing in the name of Jesus Christ.
Oprah asked Dan to explain how the miracle occurred, but Dan replied that he didn’t really understand what happened and couldn’t give an explanation for the miracle he’d witnessed himself.
Now if Dan still claimed to hold religious beliefs, the average atheist would accuse him of being a fraud. He would be excoriated and called a con artist and compared to Benny Hinn, Robert Tilton, Peter Popoff, and other notorious frauds famous for exploiting poor and gullible people.
Dan’s atheist friends would almost certainly make one or more of the following assumptions about him:
- Dan was deliberately, even maliciously lying. The story is a complete fabrication.
- The “victim” wasn’t really mute, but a speaking person pretending to be mute in order to fool Dan.
- Dan and the “mute” collaborated to fool their audience, working as a team.
- The placebo effect occurred — the “miracle cure” was a unique event coincidentally timed with relief from some psychosomatic illness that temporarily caused the “victim” to become mute, followed by the spontaneous remission of a perceived condition reversed by the power of suggestion.
- Assume any other explanation that doesn’t involve divine intervention or supernatural phenomena.
Curiously enough though, Dan didn’t confess that he’d perpetuated a fraud.
Nor did he claim the “healed” person was never mute. Instead, Mr. Barker seemed to suggest that he’d witnessed, and even facilitated an inexplicable phenomena, a remarkable healing.
He called on the power of Jesus Christ to heal the man. And the man was healed. Yet now Dan isn’t sure what happened, even though he was there.
Unlike my atheist friends, I would not assume that Dan lied, or that the mute man could actually speak the whole time. Instead, I would merely ask Dan a few questions:
- How did you verify that the man couldn’t speak prior to this remarkable healing took place?
- Did medical records document and confirm his condition?
- Were other witnesses able to confirm the man couldn’t speak before this alleged miracle occurred?
Depending on his answers, my followup questions to Mr. Barker would be these:
How can you be sure that a miracle did not occur? Why have you assumed that your prayers were not answered? And what exactly is your definition of a miracle, anyway?