Songs of the Born-Again Atheist

Dan Barker writes religious songs that stir the soul, though not in an inspirational way. His goal is to have the opposite effect -- to point people away from God.

Barker is an atheist, a born-again atheist at that, having been a teenage evangelist and a successful Christian songwriter whose search for religious truth took him away from Jesus.

Since telling his story in "Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist" (1984), Barker, 55, has published several works as publicist for the Freedom from Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis., including "Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children."

The title song of his latest album, "Beware of Dogma," offers these words to a tango beat: "Beward of dogma -- it has a bite! Beware of dogma -- it wants a fight! Beware of dogma -- it will ignite a Holy War by itself."

The 16-track CD includes satirical takes on popular songs, including "God-Less America" and "Why BSA?" (to the tune of "YMCA" by the Village People), which assails the Boy Scouts of America for excluding atheists and gays.

The People's Commandments

Roy S. Moore might have lost his job as chief justice for refusing to remove a granite monument with the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Supreme Court building, but his idea of posting the commandments on government property has the support of four-fifths of Americans, according to a poll by the Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif., consulting firm.

Among 1,618 participants in a nationwide survey, 79 percent oppose the removal of Ten Commandments signs from public buildings. Even more -- 84 percent -- want to retain the words "In God We Trust" on currency and to leave "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

But that doesn't mean the respondents want a state religion. Sixty-six percent oppose a constitutional amendment to establish Christianity as the official religion of the United States.

It's Always Ice Cream Sunday

How about this for a curious combination: an ice cream parlor on one side of the room and a religious ministry on the other? It's easy to explain, says owner Andrew McGarry.

"I have yet to see anyone who comes in to get ice cream who is not in a good mood or at least receptive to it," said McGarry, 32, who named his ice cream parlor Isaiah's after the Old Testament prophet.

On the other side of the 3,000-square-foot space in Flint, Mich., is the real focus of McGarry's attention: Common Ground, a religious meeting place with six sofas, a stage, sound equipment and stacked plastic chairs where people can gather to listen to spiritual music.

McGarry said he has served more than 7,000 customers since the parlor opened in April. "I want people to see and hear discussions while they are here eating some ice cream," he told Religion News Service. "That's why there is no wall between the ministry and the ice cream business."

For 'the Thoughtful Catholic Reader'

Two months ago, we noted the start-up of a Web site featuring Augustinian chants via MP3 files and a Web log for online discussions about the mendicant order's spirituality. Now, Ignatius Press, a Catholic publisher in San Francisco, has announced an interactive site, IgnatiusInsight.com, for what it calls "the thoughtful Catholic reader."

Carl Olson, an evangelical Protestant-turned-Catholic apologist, is the site's editor and hopes visitors will take the opportunity to communicate with Ignatius Press authors, who "are Orthodox and proud of it."

Olson is co-author of a critique of Rapture theorists called "Will Catholics Be 'Left Behind' ?" and a critique of the "The Da Vinci Code" called "The Da Vinci Hoax."

Celebration

This month's spotlight: Feast of the Dormition of Our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.

Date: Aug. 15.

Description: Unlike Roman Catholicism, which leaves open the question of whether Mary died before the Assumption, Orthodox Christianity emphasizes her death or "dormition" -- falling into a deep sleep -- and tells of the apostles surrounding her bedside and watching Jesus descend to take her soul. The disciples carry her body to a tomb in Gethsemane, from which it disappears three days later. This Orthodox feast day celebrates the life of Theotokos, the Mother of God, and her miraculous transcendence.

More information: www.goarch.org and www.oca.org

Religion 101

What are the fundamentals that fundamentalist Christians adhere to?

Curtis Lee Laws, a Baptist journalist and layman, coined the term "fundamentalist" in 1920 as a factual -- not derogatory -- description of evangelical leaders who denounced Darwinism and modernist theology in a series of booklets called "The Fundamentals." Basic beliefs then and now include biblical inerrancy, creationism, original sin, the divinity of Jesus, the Virgin Birth, the resurrection, the imminent Second Coming (after the saved are Raptured) and the exclusive rightness of their position.

Have a question on religious traditions or practices? Send an e-mail to religion@washpost.com.

-- Compiled by Bill Broadway

Saturday in Religion: Digging for King Solomon.