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Hope after Faith: An Ex-Pastor's…

Hope after Faith: An Ex-Pastor's Journey from Belief to Atheism

by Jerry DeWitt

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A heartfelt examination of the journey from faith to non-belief. DeWitt was a committed Pentecostal, saved at a Jimmy Swaggart revival, when he began to question his faith quietly, while still attempting to find a place in the ministry that worked for him. He traveled through a series of denominations, unable to reconcile his love of humanity with the grim message of the church. Eventually he abandoned faith altogether, and in so doing, was abandoned by the only community he knew. In spite of that, hope and optimism shine through this book, the belief that things can be better if we give ourselves the permission to rely on ourselves. A must read for anyone who thinks loss of faith must be joyless and nihilistic. ( )
  Devil_llama | Dec 20, 2013 |
"I was becoming painfully aware that I didn't understand the Bible, the bedrock that everything in my life was built upon. I had investigated concepts like eternal punishment but I had never broached the idea that the Bible might contradict itself or promulgate ideas that I didn't believe in... It was like a tornado had torn down every structure I inherited and built upon. I was not even standing on a slab but on bare dirt." - From Hope After Faith

In his fascinating spiritual memoir Hope After Faith, ex-pastor Jerry DeWitt (along with co-writer Ethan Brown) shares his tumultuous experience as a devout Pentecostal, hungry to be close to God and see the fires of revival sweep the South, and the crash/burn that resulted from witnessing too many unanswered prayers, ineffective ministrations, clergy hypocrisy, denominational infighting and Biblical contradictions.

From a salvation experience in the lush amphitheater of Jimmy Swaggart's Family Worship Center in its heyday to tiny, destitute churches of Louisiana, the author details the dizzying heights of frenzied revivals--and the crushing lows of personal rejection (after getting saved, his grandmother asked if he spoke in tongues--and because he didn't, his experience was negated), extreme poverty, dashed expectations and persistent doctrinal doubts.

Jerry's countless attempts to survive as a traveling evangelist--including trying to "sell" himself to pastors to get a booking, dealing with legalistic ministers with bizarre beliefs and attempting to reconcile the various doctrinal differences between Pentecostals--is heartbreaking to read. As a former Pentecostal minister myself, so much of Faith After Hope mirrored my own experiences--so while I couldn't put this memoir down, it stirred up some uncomfortable memories.

The first half of the book focuses on the numerous personalities within various churches and the author's own family--pastors, congregants, cousins, aunts, former schoolteachers, bosses, evangelists, etc.--and how each affected Jerry's personal doctrine, self-esteem and desire for fierce devotion to God. There's so many names, not to mention doctrinal minutia, that some readers may feel overwhelmed with details at first.

But stay with the book.

Once Hope After Faith reaches about the halfway mark, I realized why all this information was necessary: to show that Jerry was, indeed, a kind-hearted, servant of humanity who "searched the scriptures" just as the Bible admonished, sacrificed enormously (as did his longsuffering wife, Kelli) and strove for purity.

Except, when Jerry started to investigate the Bible, itself, instead of swallowing the Pentecostal doctrine du jour--going so far to delve into church history and the work of Joseph Campbell--the rational, sensible answers that surfaced shattered his world.

Jerry realized that he was an atheist.

The last half of Hope After Faith chronicles Jerry's anxiety and confusion as he continues to feel the magnetic pull of evangelism and desire to minister to humanity's suffering, yet realizes that that he no longer adheres to supernaturalism (the intervention of God or supreme beings in the affairs of men, especially in the form of healing, prophecy and miracles) nor believes the tenants he once cherished.

It then dawns on the author that ministers are "meaning machines", required to provide a sense and purpose to suffering humanity. When Jerry experiences a series of deaths--including a preacher's callous attempts to explain it (a beloved, smart teenage boy was killed in a car accident because, had he lived, he would have been tempted by worldliness and eventually lose his soul)--and advises a man to get surgery (he dies the next day, leaving the author wracked with guilt), the final, tenuous connection to Christianity (and its trappings) evaporates.

But what happens when a Pentecostal minister attends a Freethought Convention, gets his picture snapped with prominent atheist author Richard Dawkins and uploads it to Facebook?

Jerry thought he was actually going to get away with atheism in his hometown of DeRidder, Louisiana--but if you know anything about vengeful, shunning Pentecostals...

If you want to know what happens--and believe me, Hope After Faith is one helluva ride--then you must read this book. It's one of the most engrossing memoirs I've ever read (and I'm very picky). If you're a believer, it will have you reassessing what it means to be an atheist, especially a humanistic one (silly me, I assumed you had to be offensively pugilistic like Christopher Hitchens, Penn Jillette or Ricky Gervais to be one!).

And yes, if you have an open mind, your faith will be challenged...as it should be. Because as Jerry said at a NOSHA (New Orleans Secular Humanist Convention) banquet in October 2011:

"Reason and science have done more to ease human suffering in the last two hundred years than all the sermons put together have done in the last two thousand years." ( )
1 vote JanetBoyer | Jun 11, 2013 |
Jerry DeWitt was a man of faith. The “was” is critical part in this book. For 25 years, he spent his life preaching, pastoring, and ministering to congregations in Louisiana and Iowa. Raised in the Pentecostal church, he grew up believing that he was destined to become one of the great pastors he’d seen on television. He spent his youth connecting with his religion and the Bible so that he could become such a preacher. And for a while, that worked. Until, one day, it all came crashing down. DeWitt’s Hope After Faith is a hard look at what happens to a person who decides that faith isn’t the answer for him.

While DeWitt’s early ministries were by no means blessed—he spent many seasons working menial jobs just to pay the bills—he saw it all as a step to a higher calling. But each person he met on his journey left him disappointed. From the revival preachers who seemed to want just a little too much money to the preachers who seemed to build churches around themselves and not Jesus, he found that he could not only reconcile his faith with the faith of others, but he also could not reconcile his faith against all the damaged lives he encountered along the way. One day, after a quarter-century of preaching, he realized that he had no answer for a woman whose brother had been seriously injured. That day, his faith failed him and he became an atheist.

DeWitt’s personal philosophy is one that espouses morality without theology, basically a secular humanism. On his journey, unfortunately, he loses his job, his house, and his family. He actually credits his eventual conversion to atheism to both his experiences and the writings of Christopher Hitchens, Dan Barker, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins. His journey is sad and sometimes delusional, but DeWitt’s memoir is intensely genuine. Usually spiritual crises strengthen one’s faith, but is this case, they changed it entirely. While I wouldn’t necessarily want to read this one over and over, it was intriguing to read about one man’s journey with such raw, tragic, but ultimately rewarding experiences. ( )
2 vote NielsenGW | May 15, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0306822245, Hardcover)

Jerry DeWitt was a pastor in the town of DeRidder, Louisiana, and a fixture of the community. He had begun to question his Pentecostal faith, however, and late one night in 2011, a member of his flock called seeking prayer for her brother who had been in a serious accident. As DeWitt searched for the right words to console her, speech failed him, and he found that the faith which had once formed the cornerstone of his life finally crumbled to dust.

When DeWitt was eventually outed as an atheist, he found himself shunned by much of DeRidder’s highly religious community, losing his job, his wife, and nearly everything he’d known. He has since become a leader and well-known speaker in America’s fast growing atheist movement. Hope after Faith tells the story of his life passage from a pastor with a deep Christian faith to a committed and considered atheism driven by humanism, a profound moral dimension, and the happiness and self-confidence obtained by living free of fear.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:43 -0400)

After losing nearly everything, including his job and his wife, due to his crumbling faith, the author shares his transformative journey from a pastor with a deep Christian faith to a leader and well-known speaker in American's fast-growing atheist movement.… (more)

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