Even atheists can have morals and values, said a minister turned atheist in a speech on Wednesday, Nov. 28.
Dan Barker, who was an Evangelical minister for 19 years, spoke to 50 people in the Brule and Cadillac Rooms of the University Center about his beliefs that non-religious people can be virtuous without God.
“You can call yourself a moral or ethical person if your intention is to act in ways that will minimize harm,” he said.
Barker added that all people can become moral even without the guidance of a higher being.
A common religious view is that atheists are immoral people because people need the presence of God in their lives to direct them, he said, and that view is a misconception. The need to be a good person is a human instinct, not a religious instinct, he added.
“We understand that morality has to do with intention,” he said. “It’s not a list of rules that thou shalt follow.”
Barker also said that millions of Americans can and do live good lives without believing in God. Religious people try to say that they’re the ones with the values and atheist and agnostic people are not, when it is possible for both religious and non-religious people to have morals and values, he added.
“[Religious people] should just meet atheist and agnostic people and look at each others’ lives and compare them,” he said. “Atheists and agnostics as a group are at least, if not more, moral and compassionate than believers are.”
Barker said some religious people tend to treat God as a father-figure, and atheism is a desire to break away and “grow up” from that tradition.
Religion by nature is a separatist institution, he added, which creates more social issues in what he called an already socially troubled world.
“Religion introduces this unnecessary, phony social conflict,” he said. “It sets up an ‘in group’ and an ‘out group’. It’s the saved versus the damned. We don’t need it. We can have a wonderful world without it.”
Barker is a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is an organization dedicated to protecting the principle of separation of church and state and also to educate the public about the presence of non-believers.
Barker cited a recent push by some Christian groups to bring the Ten Commandments into courtrooms across the country. However, of the Ten Commandments, he said, only three of them are related to American law – killing, stealing and perjury – and that the first four commandments are religious edicts and contradict the freedoms of the American Constitution.
“In our country, we said ‘We the people,'” he said. “There is no sovereign. [The Constitution] is a very anti-biblical document, and that makes it a wonderful document. There is no mention of God anywhere in the Constitution.”
Barker, who was invited to speak on campus by the Campus Freethought Alliance, also discussed the definition of freethought and the purpose of secular student groups on campuses across the country.
“Freethought is a movement with no leaders. It’s a movement with no followers. Everyone can decide for themselves, and there are no creeds and no threats of Hell if you don’t believe,” he said. “Freethought is a gathering of people with similar nonbeliefs who like to get together.”
Barker said he was encouraged by the growth of freethought groups across the country, adding freethinkers are not bad people, just people with different views than religious people.
“You don’t start a group like this because you want to start trouble,” he said. “You start a group like this because you want a better world. You want more reason, more science, more understanding, more morality.”
Barker received a degree in religion from Azusa Pacific University and was ordained to the ministry in 1975. He maintained a cross-country touring musical ministry and was an accomplished Christian singer and songwriter before publicly announcing his atheism in 1984.
Stephanie Kuhlman, a sophomore illustration major and the president of Campus Freethought Alliance, said that Barker’s knowledge was a major determining factor in bringing him to Northern.
“He really knows his stuff,” she said. “He has a lot of knowledge.”
Justin Henry, a junior writing major, said that Barker’s speech was well-presented and well-researched.
“It’s always good to have more sources to back up your information. I found [his speech] very insightful.”