When I learned that Dan Barker was coming out with a new book titled The Good Atheist (amazon), I had my reservations. After all, his discussion of morality in his 2008 book Godless came down to being good “for goodness sake,” which doesn’t seem very helpful. But it turned out that the “Good” in Dan Barker’s new book doesn’t refer to moral goodness but rather qualitative goodness, and as such serves as a response to Rick Warren’s 2002 book The Purpose Driven Life.
Barker takes issue with claim, espoused by Warren and other evangelists, that the purpose of life is to serve God. A direct comparison is drawn by Barker to a slave who claims his purpose is to serve his master and suggests that religious people “get rid of the problem. Start a slave rebellion. … Depose the dictator and live your own life” (pg. 34).
In the end, Barker’s main thesis takes only 21 pages to elaborate, and the remaining 200 pages are filled with a section titled “Profiles in Non-Belief” which consists of quotes and mini-biographies of noteworthy non-believers. In Barker’s words, the point of this section is to show people like Rick Warren that there are “millions of us [non-believers] who live happy, productive, meaningful, moral, and purpose filled lives without God” (pg. 42).
While some of the mini-biographies, such as Irving Berlin’s, are quite interesting, the majority are best skimmed – I personally don’t care what Elton John thinks about religion. Unfortunately, this means that around 90% of the book isn’t worth reading. Instead, The Good Atheist comes across as something like a bonus chapter to Godless, a book I’d recommend much more if you’re unfamiliar with Dan Barker.