A Response to Dan Barker’s Pagan Christianity
by Tyler Vela
Recently I was listening to a debate between Dinesh D’Souza and Dan Barker on whether or not religion is the problem with the world. Barker made several comments that I wanted to respond to, not because they were profound or compelling to answer the main question of the debate, but because they so clearly epitomized the problem with many of the New Atheists and their acolytes. While listening to Barker’s comments I had somewhat of an epiphany. Like the person who finally sees the 3-D image within the autostereogram after staring at it for hours, I finally noticed something that had been right there in front of me all along. I know that I had stumbled over it in the past and possibly had even commented on it but for some reason it never stuck as a unified idea until now. To many of you this may just be old news but for me it was revelatory. So what was it?
It is that the New Atheists, at their core, can only imagine religion as paganism. The New Atheists who converted from Christianity to this particular expression of atheism with its overt scientism, disdain for religion and evangelical need to “convert” the heathen believer and bring them into the fold of the Brights, were only loosely Christian but were very much pagans in their beliefs.
I began asking a while back about what denominations the more vocal atheistic apostates had deconverted from. The answer was somewhat unanimous. It was almost always from very fundamentalistic, anti-intellectual, woodenly literal, far right wing extremist, legalistic and often pentecostal churches or denominations. I’m sure there are some out there who are the exception to the rule, but I actually never had someone say that they came from a mainline church or a reformed church. I am not saying that this is because those churches do not have their share of problems or that they never create atheists. But I was never given the PCA, PCUSA, OPC, or the Missouri Synod as a for instance.
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While I was astute enough to know to ask about the kind of church that they deconverted from and I knew the theological and Biblical problems with such legalistic and fundamentalistic churchs, I still never seemed to put two and two together. That is, until I heard Dan Barker. In the debate with D’Souza, Barker made many problematic statements from the garden variety bald assertions with no substantive argument as support or the assumption of moral realism to historical errors about the history of science and religion, even to obvious philosophical errors regarding what he called the “dead horse” of the Ontological Argument (an argument having quite a field day since Plantinga’s revival of it). Yet two comments stood out to me the most because they shone the spot light on what Barker thinks Christianity is. The first has to do with why Christians do good deeds, and the other has to do with the self-righteousness of so called Christians…
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