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

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

4.5 9
by Jerry DeWitt

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Atheism's leading lights have long been intellectuals raised in the secular and academic worlds: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens. By contrast, Jerry DeWitt was born and bred into the church and was in fact a Pentecostal preacher before arriving at atheism through an extraordinary dialogue with faith that spanned more than a quarter


Atheism's leading lights have long been intellectuals raised in the secular and academic worlds: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens. By contrast, Jerry DeWitt was born and bred into the church and was in fact a Pentecostal preacher before arriving at atheism through an extraordinary dialogue with faith that spanned more than a quarter of a century. Hope After Faith is his account of that journey.

DeWitt was a pastor in the town of DeRidder, Louisiana, and was a fixture of the community. In private, however, he'd begun to question his faith. Late one night in May 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 once had formed the cornerstone of his life had finally crumbled to dust. When it became public knowledge that DeWitt was now an atheist, he found himself shunned by much of DeRidder's highly religious community, losing nearly everything he'd known.

DeWitt's struggle for identity and meaning mirrors the one currently facing millions of people around the world. With both agnosticism and atheism entering the mainstream—one in five Americans now claim no religious affiliation, according to a recent study—the moment has arrived for a new atheist voice, one that is respectful of faith and religious traditions yet warmly embraces a life free of religion, finding not skepticism and cold doubt but rather profound meaning and hope. Hope After Faith is the story of one man's evolution toward a committed and considered atheism, one driven by humanism, a profound moral dimension, and a happiness and self-confidence obtained through living free of fear.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Debut author DeWitt tells the tale of how he went from darling Pentecostal preacher to shunned atheist in his new memoir. In the first part of his story, DeWitt describes his smalltown upbringing and immersion in the fundamentalist, Bible-thumping Christianity of his native Louisiana. This section is told in great detail—almost too much detail. Nonetheless, this part of the book is a fascinating insider’s tour of the often-mystifying doctrines of Pentecostalism, which shuns the material world for “gifts of the spirit,” like speaking in tongues and prophesizing—both of which DeWitt engaged in himself. The book’s second half tells of DeWitt’s growing doubts about God, the idea of hell, the nature of sin, and the existence of an afterlife. This part of the book is deeply intriguing, offering a firsthand account of the slow crumbling of a life’s foundation in faith and its consequences: loss of family and livelihood in exchange for peace of conscience and a new community of atheist friends. Those who share DeWitt’s perspective—and even those who are true believers—will find much to engage them. Agent: David Patterson, Foundry Media. (June 25)
From the Publisher

Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion
“The clergyman who sees the light, loses his faith, and realizes that his life's work has been empty delusion faces worse than inner torment. In small-town America he confronts public ostracism, family break-up, and financial ruin. Such was the predicament of Jerry DeWitt. Brother DeWitt has landed on his feet, but many others still wrestle in the closet with the pain. This poignant book will give them strength.”

Dan Barker, author of Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists
“Jerry DeWitt tells a truly remarkable story of an actual faith healing. He healed himself of his faith. Jerry's honest and wrenching struggle to find his way out of the Pentecostal/evangelical house of mirrors is driven inexorably by his true concern: his unfailing love for people. I literally got goosebumps reading this page-turner, and cheered for joy at the end.”

Bishop Carlton Pearson, author of God Is Not a Christian, Nor a Jew, Muslim, Hindu... and The Gospel of Inclusion
“My friend Jerry Dewitt is one of those ‘raving lunatics' (spiritual eccentrics) who insists on disturbing the illusion and has thus created a new path for his own soul and continues to evolve. I can hardly wait to see where his bridge takes him and us.”

Kirkus Reviews
Middling account of an evangelical's 180, written with the assistance of co-author Brown (Shake the Devil Off: A True Story of the Murder that Rocked New Orleans, 2009, etc.). Saul required a vision from Yahweh and a fall from a donkey before trading in his publican job for sainthood. DeWitt, a Louisiana-born, peripatetic pastor, drifted away from faith with no such drama, just a gradual whittling away of his former beliefs--and while dramatic moments are relatively few in most people's lives, they do help keep a story moving along. In this instance, a death of a cousin helped rattle DeWitt's nerves, as did a long spell of disappointing encounters with prophets ultimately suspected to be false ("my shaky, tentative faith in the fanatical, me-first teachings of Brother Goodwin was shored up by more practical, Earthly concerns"). DeWitt's repudiation of hard-shell Protestantism is one thing; his neighbor's resulting repudiation of him and the joblessness and divorce that accompanied his fall from grace complete the package. What is more interesting to nonevangelical readers is not really DeWitt's journey into the wilderness but instead his encounter of the business of preaching--and business it is, as his early hero Jimmy Swaggart well knew. The author notes that there's a difference between mere preaching and tent-show revivalism ("as a preacher at a revival it is your job to evangelize to the congregants and then they, in turn, evangelize to their community"). Indifferently written and slow-moving, DeWitt's testimonial is a test of patience. There is one valuable takeaway, though: his reckoning that "the majority of ministers that I have learned to love over the last twenty-five years of my life in the church are actually agnostic but don't really know it." For true believers only--in atheism, that is. Students of the business of religion will find only occasional pearls.

Product Details

Da Capo Press
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Hachette Digital, Inc.
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3 MB

Meet the Author

Jerry DeWitt's ministry began when he was seventeen. After twenty-five years of preaching, including pastorship of two fundamentalist congregations, he became an atheist. DeWitt lives in rural Louisiana.

Ethan Brown is the author of Queens Reigns Supreme, Snitch, and Shake the Devil Off. He lives in New Orleans.


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Hope after Faith: An Ex-Pastor's Journey from Belief to Atheism 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's both heartbreaking and uplifting. Jerry DeWitt's arrival at humanistic atheism came with the realization that it was humanism rather than religion that had been the driving force in his life, the power, as he said at the 2013 American Atheist Convention, of human relationships. It's heartbreaking, one, because the people he had fallen in love with, the community of DeRidder, failed in their (supposedly) god-given duty to love as well; but also because of the pervasiveness of American religion, particularly Christianity, the only outlet he knew for his humanism growing up was the church. It's difficult to say that one has made a choice when one has only ever been presented with one choice, and that one "choice" isn't presented as optional. This isn't just a problem of Pentecostalism, but as Jerry's journey from conservative Christianity to liberal Christianity to no Christianity shows, it's a problem of religion generally.  But it's also uplifting because everything from the most mundane events to earth shattering tragedies can show that there are other lenses for life; those lenses can bring a more focused clarity alongside a liberation to explore humanity without needing to know all the answers.
Livingoutloud More than 1 year ago
Jerry, you done good buddy! Love the book, thank you for sharing your journey with us all. If you're religious and considering apostasy, or atheist and never were religious, OR are religious and never considered apostasy, read this book. Jerry's story is heartbreaking and uplifting, intelligent, insightful, honest and valuable for anyone in any walk of life. Read this book!
Jessica_KJK More than 1 year ago
"Hope After Faith" is as much an emotional journey for the reader as the author. Jerry DeWitt is raw and honest in describing his personal struggles from faith to atheism. Co-writer Ethan Brown adds a natural flow to the storytelling. The book takes on a suspenseful quality as you read and wait for DeWitt to reach the conclusion of atheism. The progression of DeWitt's beliefs reflects the doubts that all humans face in grappling with religion. This is a monumental book in changing the public's view of atheists. DeWitt's genuine love of humanity and passion to help others removes any stereotyped image of a soulless atheist.  DeWitt continues to respect believers and religious leaders. As someone who is still on a spiritual journey, I was surprised that this book reminded me of the joys and sense of community that my religious experiences have brought me. The title of the book is perfect because you finish the book feeling hopeful about the future, whether that involves a belief in God or not. 
JimmyNOLA2 More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent description of one deeply religious man’s experiences as he lost his faith in God and discovered new meaning and freedom without the supernatural. While many have followed a similar trajectory, few have traversed the distance Jerry Dewitt traveled, from Pentecostal minister to atheist/agnostic advocate. This is not a philosophical treatise, but an intimate autobiography, very readable and understandable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author takes the reader on his personal journey from belief to non-belief.  He describes the events along the way that shaped his conversion.  The language is concise and engaging.  The story never lagged, from beginning to end.  Truly a thought provoking and enjoyable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Narrative of a spritual journey arriving at humanistic atheism. Truth, insofar as we can discern it, and compassion are the guides. This book should be of particular interest to preachers, preachers' kids, and anyone who's had exposure to Pentecostalism or the Bible Belt. Some of the experiences described were recent and still a little raw. Maybe there'll be a sequel!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent telling of a minister's life and how much it can be changed by atheism.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is an amazing journey.  Reading this book is like taking a journey into the life of a humble individual.  This book is not written to persuade anyone to atheism but merely to give u insight into why a deeply religious man who exhausted every avenue to come closer to god.  He tried everything to find god and when the answers could no longer justify the means he had to walk away.  Throughout this story  jerry keeps his family in priority. I recommend everyone read this no matter where you are at in journey.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story itself is tedious, the writing style clunky. Mr. DeWitt might be a dynamic speaker, but even with a writing partner he's no writer. He drones on in minute detail with a sudden switch to atheist around the last chapter. It seems as abrupt & equally impulsive as the countless self initiated job-wobblings over his 30-odd years as a "preacher" & jack of all trades. The book does very little to explore the actual process he went through, & does even less to discuss his first year "out" of the closet. What is most surprising to me is how he completely ignores the people who were responsible for bringing him into the forefront of the "atheist movement", or does he expect us to believe he simply was discovered the day he met Professor Dawkins? Out of interest, I googled "Jerry DeWitt", & the first many pages that came up were of an organization called "RFR" or "Recovering From Religion". He was, apparently, the Executive Director of this organization beginning in the summer of 2011, which was literally weeks after this "awakening" that he describes book took place. Where is THAT story? It seems extremely odd to leave such a tremendous chapter out of his book-an organization hired him, apparently in good faith (haha), immediately after leaving the ministry? Hell, THAT is a book I'd like to read. Or maybe someone should contact them to write it? When "outed" as a non-believer, instead of recognizing the inherent isolation of his background & seeking better/higher education, he simply jumped ship & found a new wave of congregants eager to hand him money, even if it isn't over the threat of hell & brimstone but instead his own story of (endless, self inflicted) doom & gloom. His charm & demeanor work to convince people he is an inspiration, but he doesn't seem to give anything tangible back to others in similar crises. In any other situation, someone with little to no education, a clear inability to maintain employment, & a penchant for the spotlight would be cause for concern & alarm when they take the stage with a sob story & a hand outstretched. Also according to google results, the "secular movement", of which he has seized the mantle & claimed leadership over, continually encourages donations & handouts towards him, which he readily accepts in lieu of legal employment. For being "evidence based" & "rational minded", they certainly have accepted him without question. I'm curious to see what his next life decision will be, once his latest great idea begins to peter out, as have all the others. I am sure that whatever it is, he'll be sure to tell everyone about it ;'-) He's a good a salesman, convincing people of his newfound sincerity over his latest belief system, just like his other "right answers" he has embraced over the years. He exhibits a chronic inability to maintain a paying job, combined with the lack of initiative to problem solve responsibly & find employment options more in line with his newfound conscience (and, I presume, ethics?) While he eagerly claims the title of pastor, his role seems more of a traveling evangelical brought in to rally the troops, than a brick & mortar lead pastor with all the education & responsibilities that go with that. He seems a classic politician, knowing what to say & when to say it to the right crowd to generate the response he needs for the latest opinion polls. If you're interested in reading this book, check out your local library & save yourself the $15.