I just finished reading, Hope after Faith, by Jerry DeWitt. It’s an interesting read, especially for those of us who were—or still are—part of “more reserved” religions like Catholicism. The book answers the question, “How did a minister become an atheist?”
Mr. DeWitt is a former Pentecostal preacher from Louisiana who, over the span of 25 years, lost his faith in religion and then in God. He reveals the slow and painful unraveling of a belief system that had been a key part of his identity since childhood. As he tells his story, we also see how the people he met along the way influenced him, and how changes in what he believed about God brought about changes in his relationships with his wife, his coworkers and his community.
I know a few of you came from the Pentecostal faith, so you already know that, in order to be “saved,” three key things must happen. DeWitt explains:
But back then I was young and naïve about Pentecostal doctrine, which requires that one repent, be baptized in water and baptized in the Holy Ghost with the “evidence” of speaking in other tongues. All of theses requirements must be met in order to be saved…
Speaking in tongues is a key and distinguishing part of the Pentecostal faith. For those of us who’ve never had this experience, it seems a little “mysterious.” (Okay, that was a euphemism. Perhaps a better word is “crazy.”) But DeWitt grew up believing that, “…for one to believe that they are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise—that the person must provide supernatural evidence of that fact, demonstrated in an act like speaking in tongues.”
You wonder how people can believe these things, and then you wonder, how do they stop believing these things? Some folks seem to have so much further to travel than others.
Though the book does not talk about the secular services in Baton Rouge that Mr. DeWitt now leads, we learn that he has always enjoyed preaching, and the connections he made with his congregation. All his life, he had worked hard to be a minister: “I had endeavored for so long to have an esteemed place in the community that to suddenly to be at the very bottom of the community was truly crushing.” When he came out as an atheist, he had emotional clarity. I love what he wrote here:
I could minister to people, I could be in their lives, all without pretending that I was someone who I wasn’t or pretending to know all the answers. For me, religion had become like embracing people with a hazmat suit—every emotional connection had occurred with that bulky suit on. Now I could help people without any layers of pretense.
It’s worth a read to see how a man of such intense faith takes the long, emotionally arduous road to atheism. Along the way, he also finds the answers to questions we all face as nonbelievers: How can we feel like a valued part of society? How do we cope with “fear, anxiety, depression and rejection”? How do we find “hope after faith”?
Another reader of this blog recently sent me this story about Godless Churches, noting that an atheist church would be a nice thing for her and her family to attend. Perhaps the near future holds the growth of these “churches” that offer community and connections for those of us who feel marginalized.
How do you feel about a weekly service or meet-up for nonbelievers?