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Skeptic club bringing cleric-turned-atheist back to town

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Troy Shantz

Bob Barnes says the best way to make someone an atheist is to let them read the Bible.

“Where did the Bible come from? Most people don’t know, they haven’t got a clue,” said the organizer of Bluewater Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics (BAHA).

“And most people never read the Bible. I know the Bible better than the average person. I study the Bible to this day.”

Sarnia’s own social club for the ungodly began two years ago and has about 70 members, with an active core of 25. They meet monthly for Saturday morning get-togethers they playfully call “skeptic breakfasts,” said the retired business owner.

Membership includes scientists, engineers and “some of the top businessmen in the city,” said Barnes, 69.

“We’re a family-oriented group… and we really encourage that.”

BAHA has arranged for Bob Ripley to speak at the Sarnia Library Theatre on Nov. 23.

Ripley is a former minister at Sarnia’s Dunlop United Church and syndicated columnist who once helped lead the largest mainline Protestant congregation in Canada. He lost his faith and became an atheist, a journey he describes in his 2014 book, Life Beyond Belief: A Preacher’s Deconversion.

The free talk begins at 2 p.m., with a Q&A to follow.

Surprisingly, the topic of religion rarely comes up at the group’s meetings, Barnes said. Most members prefer to discuss politics, current affairs or science.

They meet at restaurants with private gathering rooms, in part because some members are “closeted” atheists who fear repercussions from employers, friends or family members.

Not Barnes.

“I’m proud to be an atheist,” he said. “I’m proud to be smart enough to not buy all of this stuff.”

Sarnia is a predominantly Christian community with nearly 70% of residents identifying as Christian.

Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh and other religions account for 2% while the remaining 28% say they have no religious affiliation, according to 2011 census data.

The number of Canadians with no religion is on the rise, from 16% in 2001 to 24% in 2011. And over the past four decades, the number of Christians Catholics declined from 47% to 39%, while the number of Christian Protestants fell from from 41% to 27%, according to a Pew Research study.

Barnes said he’s been a secular person his entire life but began digging into Christian ideology at the age of 57. He was shocked, he said, to find numerous inconsistencies between how the Bible’s New Testament describes Jesus and how Christians perceive him.

As for the Old Testament and the 10 Commandments, they are largely inapplicable and irrelevant today, Barnes said.

“There are only two commandments that guide my life, fairness and harm, the only things that I need to look at. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to know that killing is wrong.”

Skeptic breakfasts are held the second Saturday of the month. The religious and non-religious are welcome. For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/1836279923327743/.

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