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Global Atheist Con, Day 3: Dan Barker

You could tell who the former true believers in the crowd were, just by looking at people who came out of Dan Barker’s talk. Atheists who were once casual believers or never-believers thought it was a great talk, while former true believers came out looking stunned, and saying, “That was just like my story.”

Dan Barker used to be a Christian preacher, but deconverted in 1984. He is now at the head of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

He described his work in converting others to Christianity. “I never got any doors slammed in my face. I never got an informed response.” He surveyed the audience of atheists. “Where were you guys? I could have used you. You probablty didn’t say anything out of respect.

“Well, don’t do that.”

The striking thing for me was how he described having exactly the same kinds of feelings that Mormons describe as the feelings of the Spirit. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I still am. Mormons customarily claim that non-Mormons don’t have regular access to the Holy Ghost. I have also heard some believers claim that the feelings of the Spirit is something that Satan cannot duplicate. But, as one should expect, there’s nothing unique about Mormon testimony. The ‘positive feelings’ Mormons get are in sync with the feelings felt by other believers and — dare I say? — non-believers.

Having been a believer once, he raised the question of how to have “dialogue without disprespect, and the answer is to respect them and the reasons why they believe…. I think there can be a small place for ridicule, if that’s not all we’re doing.”

From Barker: “Paul said, ‘God is not the author of confusion.’ But can you think of a book that’s caused more confusion than the Bible?”


  1. Daniel, I am now interested to know what you mean by Mormons and others experiencing "feelings of the spirit." I'm not quite sure what you mean????

  2. "I never got any doors slammed in my face."

    Heh, maybe he should have tried converting people to Mormonism. Religious people slam the hardest.

  3. Carson N: That's for sure.

    JEV: LDS missionaries tell investigators that they can pray to know about the truth of the Book of Mormon or the Church. If you feel a 'burning in the bosom', this is meant to count as evidence. If you feel nothing, missionaries will invite you to repeat the test until you get an answer that they would like, or just believe in the church anyway because… it's a nice church, or something.

    It goes without saying that this is a really terrible method for finding truth — if you feel that a god has given you a really good feeling, this does not establish the truth of some proposition.

    We used to use Galatians 5:22–23 in the mission field:

    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
    "Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, … meekness, temperance: against such there is no law."

    Here, the range of feelings an investigator is taught to expect is so broad that you could feel just about anything and it could conceivably count as a revelation, if you are willing to go along. This is a recipe for self-deception and wishful thinking.

  4. Thanks Daniel; I can imagine how effective this must be – sending out great looking guys to peoples' homes, who read stirring poetry that gives people a good feeling. And then say it connects them to the holy spirit. It could be the platinum of door-to-door sales (not singling out LDS on this practice). Also the link to the skeptics annotated bible is useful. Ta…

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