I found in my letterbox a paperback with a glossy, brightly coloured cover depicting a cross. I was quite impressed that local evangelists had letterboxed the area with a substantial book, not just a pamphlet.
All of which shows that I am a slow reader, for it took a few more moments to take in the title From Faith to Reason - Did God create mankind or did mankind create God? I worked out that the book had been delivered by an atheist friend for me to read.
Yet my first impression was not completely wrong. This book about the journey of the author, Brian Baker, from fundamentalist Christianity to the atheist light has some resemblance to a enthusiastic tract. This passion gives the book its strength.
Baker relates that he studied at the Rhema Bible Training Centre in Oklahoma and went on to found an evangelical church in Perth in 1979, leading it to great growth and prominence. After ten years of success he underwent a personal crisis precipitated by marriage breakdown. He went from militant evangelist to militant atheist, in which capacity he has written the book. It carries great conviction.
The book is not primarily autobiographical but addresses issues in a series of short chapters, starting with "How did we get here - did God do it?" This covers the theory of evolution as well as the cruel record of the Catholic Church in dealing with dissent. Attention moves to good and bad influences of religion, including Biblical injunctions for the subordination of women to men. Copious quotations from the Bible reveal a sadistic and tyrannical God. Reasons - or the lack of them - for believing in God and in the historicity of Jesus are reviewed. In a chapter on family values and the Bible, Baker makes reference to an article by Gregory Paul in the Journal of Religion and Society of 2005, correlating popular religiosity with social dysfunction, which may be roughly summarised: belief in God is bad for society.
Having quoted Cicero to the effect that there are no miracles, Baker refers to the offer of the James Randi Education Foundation in the USA to give US$1m for evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event. Similarly (with a smaller budget) the Australian Skeptics have a long-standing offer of $100,000.
Baker draws on his experience as a pastor, privy to people's intimate concerns, in a thoughtful chapter on "Why do intelligent, sensible, down to earth people seek a religious or spiritual experience?" He offers vulnerability, family or peer pressure, a sense of wellbeing, a perceived personal need and the fear of death as factors. It makes sense.
His shot at "What is the meaning of life?" is as good as any in five pages. He finds that many Christians live in a constant state of guilt and fear. By contrast, "peace will always come from knowledge, reality, honesty and truth…." The occasional sentence like that shows that Baker has not abandoned all evangelical tendencies: he is just headed in a different direction (as he himself says, he is a black-and-white person rather than grey). He is writing a new book entitled Rest in Peace and Live.
The final chapter is an autobiographical sketch, including how he and his then wife became ‘Born Again Christians.' Baker comments: "On reflection year later, in the ‘real world' it was obvious that at the time, we were simply making an emotional response to an emotional problem. Reason and good sense were not part of the equation." I can relate to that.
That chapter ends with a stern note to the effect that the author will not enter into any correspondence concerning his beliefs or the contents of this book. It leaves the impression that he has had enough; perhaps he is also seeking to protect himself from any attempt to re-convert him. However, there is a note directing enquiries, including about supplies of the book, to Personal Peace Publications.
The website of the Riverview Church in Perth records that it was founded by pastors Brian and Valerie Baker but does not highlight the fact that he is now an apostate.
There are no source notes but the book concludes with a list of several titles for recommended reading, including Francis Wheen's How Mumbo-Jumbo conquered the World and Bertrand Russell's Why I am not a Christian. The book is marred by erratic spelling and punctuation and over- use of Upper Case and bold, bearing the marks of more passion than proofreading.
In conclusion, this is a simple, strong, direct book, breathing a concern for people troubled by their own religion. I recommend it for them, as well as for the curious.
Brian Baker (described as founder & former pastor of Rhema Family Church, now named Riverview Church), From Faith to Reason - Did God create mankind or did mankind create God? 2009, Vivid Publishing, Fremantle, 211 pages