By Stephanie Smith
Dan Barker said he was a man of God. He became an evangelist at just 15 and then spent the next 19 years as a traveling preacher, sharing what he thought was the word of God. Barker said he believed wholeheartedly that he was meant to save people from the fiery pits of Hell.Then, in 1984, Barker made an abrupt turn: He publicly announced his atheism.
Barker was brought to Eastern by the Secular Coalition of EKU as a guest speaker Thursday in the Crabbe Library, where he talked about his change of heart and other life experiences.
Before beginning his talk, Barker asked what the Secular Coalition’s purpose was.
“Eradicating the religion disease,” replied the president of the group.
Barker then shared with the audience news that he said was a victory: the recent court decision that ruled the National Day of Prayer as unconstitutional, a ruling in favor of the Freedom From Religion foundation in which he participates.
“I was that person that you didn’t want to sit next to on a bus,” Barker said of his days as a born-again Christian, adding that he hoped to “save” anyone he met before the resurrection that he was sure was coming soon.
“I always thought I was so lucky to be born in the right family, the right country, at the right time,” Barker said. “Every generation of Christians thought they were living in the end times.”
Barker said during his time as a preacher, he decided to do something called “living by faith” in which he decided to travel around the country without income or health insurance.
“You just totally trust life to God,” Barker said. “But, looking back, it was really just kind of irresponsible.”
Still, Barker did this cross-country evangelism for eight years, believing that the world was going to end and that it was his responsibility to spread the word of God to everyone he met.
“But,” Barker said, “Jesus kept on . not coming.”
Barker said that his change from evangelist to atheist wasn’t one that happened overnight, but instead was marked by a gradual, internal struggle.
“I never thought I would end up an atheist,” he said.
Then, Barker said, he felt an “incredible hunger to learn something,” and began looking into books that were more secular-based, including books on evolution.
Barker said he was shocked when these books made sense to him. His school, which he called a “glorified Sunday school,” had rejected these ideals outright.
It was then that Barker knew he couldn’t deny to himself any longer that he had lost his faith completely. But he still went through the motions of his old life for years after, continuing to preach things that he didn’t believe in.
“I hated myself,” he said.
Determined to finally come clean, Barker said he sent out a letter to everyone he knew, explaining his reasons for his change in thought.
While his conversion was met by much criticism, Barker said, there were also those who said they understood his choice. His own mother, for instance, soon likewise identified herself as an atheist, Barker said.
Since that day, Barker has written two books about his experiences, “Godless” and “Losing Faith in Faith.” And he still travels the country, only now he talks about his own experiences questioning his faith rather than trying to convert others.