From the Notes of Tim McGrew:hiking-path-599


In Confessions of Joseph Barker, A Convert from Christianity (1858), the celebrated atheist lecturer, debater and author Joseph Barker writes:


Of higher beings than man, and of other states of existence than the present, I know nothing: I believe nothing. The last remnants of my old religious faith are gone. The doctrine of a personal God, and of a future life, appear to me to rest on no proof. I look in vain for anything in nature or in history to justify a belief in them. I am compelled to regard them as the offspring, not of the understanding, but of the imagination and affections. . . . My old religious and clerical associates warned me, when I refused to be bound by their creeds, and resolved to investigate the foundations of the common theology for myself, that I should become an Atheist. And so I have in the common acceptation of the word. . . . I have come, at length, by slow degrees, after a thousand struggles, and with infinite reluctance, to the conclusion, that a personal God and an immortal life are fictions of the human mind. . . . One thing is certain: I have no desire to be a Christian again. . . . Atheism, or pure unmixed Naturalism, alone accords with what we know of the present state and the past history of the universe.


And again, from the same work:


So completely does the old belief appear to be without foundation in truth or fact, so utterly worthless do all the pretended evidences of a divine or super-human origin appear—so numerous and decisive are the proofs of an imperfect human origin, that it seems an impossibility that I should ever be capable of a re-conversion, except in the case of such a change as turns the man into a child again.


Four years later, the supposedly impossible happened: Barker started on the road back to Christianity. In November of 1863 he gave a lecture to a Secularist congregation with the title, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.” From 1864 onward he appeared in print as a convinced Christian, gradually embracing views of increasing orthodoxy. In 1873 he published The Bible: Its Great Worth and Divine Origin; in 1874, he issued his autobiography, Modern Skepticism: A Journey through the Land of Doubt and Back Again. A few days before his death in 1875, he dictated a statement of faith to his lawyer and two additional witnesses:


I feel that I am approaching my end, and I desire that you should receive my last words and be witness to them. I wish you to witness that I am in my right mind, and fully undrestand what I have just been doing; and, dying, that I die in the firm and full belief in Jesus Christ, and in the faith and love of His religion as revealed in His life and works, as described in the New Testament; that I have an abiding faith in and love of God, as God is revealed to us by His Son Jesus Christ, and I die trusting in God’s infinite love and mercy, and in full faith of a future and better life. I am very sorry for my past errors; but during the last years of my life I have striven to undo the harm I did, by doing all I was able to serve God, by showing the beauty and wisdom of the religion of His Son Jesus Christ. I wish you to write down and witness this my last confession of faith, that there may be no doubt about it.


Readers interested in more case studies will want to consult Timothy Larsen’s brilliant book Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England.