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.
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.