Student Life

Evangelical preacher shares story of conversion to atheism

Co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and American Atheist Activist Dan Barker shares his time spent as an evangelical minister for 19 years and his transition to atheism in 1984 during his speech Sunday evening at the Charles V. Park Library. "I came to a point where I had to choose, do I want truth or do I want God?" Barker said. "You can’t have both.” (Victoria Zegler/Photo Editor)

Co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and American Atheist Activist Dan Barker shares his time spent as an evangelical minister for 19 years and his transition to atheism in 1984 during his speech Sunday evening at the Charles V. Park Library. “I came to a point where I had to choose, do I want truth or do I want God?” Barker said. “You can’t have both.” (Victoria Zegler/Photo Editor)

More than 25 students were in attendance to hear Dan Barker speak about his transition from evangelical preacher to atheist on Sunday night.

The speech and book signing, which took place in the auditorium of Charles V. Park Library, was put on by the Central Michigan University registered student organization Dogma-Free Society.

Barker is the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the author of books on atheism like “Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists” and “The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God.” One of the primary goals of his foundation is to support the separation of church and state in schools across the country.

“We’re all free to believe what we like or not believe,” Barker said. “But the government has to be neutral.”

Barker was born into a fundamentalist Christian family. He started preaching at the age of 15 and later became a minister. He also composed Christian music, including several musicals.

Barker said his conversion to atheism took several years. After being exposed to more liberal views of religion and studying evolution, Barker realized that he no longer believed in 1983.

Graduate student Katie Krawetzke attended the speech because she was curious about Barker’s story. A self-described deist, the Erie native said she appreciated Barker’s tolerance toward religious people.

“While I don’t consider myself religious, I respect (those who are religious) and their viewpoints,” Krawetzke said. “His perspective is also that way.”

Barker works with the Secular Student Alliance to give lectures at colleges. When Barker was booked to speak at Alma College, SSA also contacted Dogma-Free Society president Cory Kinne and arranged Sunday night’s speech.

“We’ve been trying to get a speaker to come for a couple of years now,” Kinne said. “Dan Barker was always at the top of our list. I really admire what I’ve read of his work.”

According to The Isthmus, a Wisconsin-based newspaper, the Freedom From Religion Foundation was founded by Annie Laurie Gaylor, her mother Anne Gaylor and an unnamed friend in 1976 in Madison, Wisconsin. She met Barker while speaking on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and they got married in 1987.

Lee Barnett and his wife, Dot, came from Lansing to hear Barker’s speech and to buy a copy of his book, “The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God.” They have both been members of the Freedom from Religion Foundation for fifteen years.

“He injects a lot of humor into his delivery,” Barnett said. “It’s always educational, even enlightening.”

When asked about the growth of the non-religious community in recent years, Barker said it is because of grassroots college movements and the new generation of freethinkers.

“Groups like ours are riding the wave,” Barker said. “It’s you, the young people, who created the wave.”


  1. Urbane_Gorilla says:

    I haven’t believed in 1983 since..Oh I dunno..1982 or so I guess.

  2. For the record, people are no more converted to Atheism than they are converted to not believing in Santa or the Easter Bunny. It is just a realization that religion is superstition and not reality.

    • To Terry Day: That right they should know by now that we are made from 11 dimensional quantum strings existing simultaneously in a parallel universes some of which exist on a scale the size of the Planck constant (by volume of course!) and that we have deduced that these string oscillate as quantum gravity loops. And shortly after human beings emerged. Geez these stupid religious types.

  3. 1983 is the biggest lie since “the check’s in the mail”.

  4. There is such beautiful freedom in shedding a religion imposed during one’s childhood. It is growing up. Breath the fresh air, for a moment, and then mourn for those who are into the magic babble just a bit too deep, for they are the targets of charlatans. Let us speak for them, for they are cowed into silence. There is no god. Peace to all, and live by the golden rule.

  5. Everyone is born atheist, so Dan actually de-converted from christianity. Wish I would have known about this event earlier. Annie Laurie will be speaking at GVSU in Allendale tonight, March 14 @ 7PM.

  6. Ted Utchen says:

    I am with Dan all the way. But I fear when the time comes, he and I will both be banished, unless perhaps new Pope Francis forgives us.

  7. ed killian says:

    This is sure better than the media Pope-athon. Enough!

  8. Quoting this article: “Katie Krawetzke … appreciated Barker’s tolerance toward religious people…”
    Have I got news for you, Katie! As a Madison, WI resident, where Dan Barker and FFRF are based, I can tell you that Dan Barker attends religious rallies to heckle and shout rude suggestive things at children. See article at describing an event where Dan did just that, before scores of witnesses.
    In actual fact, Dan Barker bases his life on interfering with the beliefs of others, and any claim that he is tolerant is a misrepresentation.
    FFRF represents only one out of a thousand atheists, and they represent the INtolerant ones, not the tolerant ones.

    • Why should we be tolerant of irrational beliefs and dogmas that affect social, political and foreign policy? Why? because it hurts their feelings?

      So are you saying we should be tolerant of groups like KKK, Neo Nazis and the likes because they believe in irrational things also?

      We should not be pandering stupid ideas and beliefs. Especially when we know these beliefs harm people. And religion is a irrational belief which does harm people in MANY ways.

      The difference between the FFRF is that they won’t kill or torture you for having a different belief unlike religions have done for the past 2000 years or more.

      You sound like a hypocrite. I’m sure you would voice your opinion against groups you had ridiculous beliefs like I mentioned beforehand but not willing to exercise this against religion?….talk about a double standard.

  9. Why do my instincts tell me that this guy is the archetype of swinging from one extreme to the other.

  10. Thomas E. Barker says:

    I am Dan Barker’s younger blood brother by 1 year. I grew up in the same house as Dan, ate same meals, etc. I am NOT an athiest – far from it! I do love my brother very deeply and respect his right to free-will to chose what he so desires. I am 63 yrs. old and am so glad beyond words to have lived a purpose-filled life WITH God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I wouldn’t exchange one hour to be an athiest and give up the the most wonderful experiences I have enjoyed being a disciple of Christ. No regrets! As I have read a small bit of what my loving brother has written, I am personally aware of “gaps” in his background that he does not share on his journey to becoming an athiest. I refuse to embarass him or defame his excellent character. You are welcome to ask, or not. I choose to take a stand for Jesus and when I die, I look forward to looking straight into the eyes of Jesus and praising him for all eternity. Dan, I love you as my brother, and respect your decision to be an athiest til your last breath on earth. To God be All the glory! Respectfully, Tom Barker

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