An interview with ex-preacher Jerry DeWitt

Jian Ghomeshi at the CBC has a new 16-minute interview with Jerry DeWitt, the Pentacostal preacher turned atheist who lost his wife, friends, and family when he gave up God. He was the first person to “come out” in the “Clergy Project,” a support group for nonbelieving preachers, and is an intelligent and articulate man.

You can hear the interview here (press the “listen” button); it’s definitely worth investing the quarter-hour. Despite what he’s gone through, DeWitt is amiable and soft-spoken, and you’ll learn a lot, including why he stays in the Louisiana town where he once preached but is now reviled.

DeWitt has a new book out, Hope After Faith: An Ex-Pastor’s Journey from Belief to Atheism.  I suspect it will be well worth reading, just like two other excellent books about giving up preaching for atheism: Dan Barker’s Godless and John Loftus’s Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity. There is no substitute for hearing what it’s like for someone deeply steeped in faith—indeed, someone whose job was to preach the faith—to lose it completely.

h/t: Matt

23 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    If you ever have a chance to hear Jerry DeWitt preach, take it. These days his preaching is pure atheism presented in the Pentecostal delivery style of his former Christian life. It is quite remarkable and moving.

    (He spoke at last year’s FFRF convention in Portland, OR)

    • Greg Esres
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      “preaching is pure atheism presented in the Pentecostal delivery style of his former Christian life.”

      Which I find a bit off-putting.

      • gbjames
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        Then by all means, don’t listen. I don’t think anyone is coercing you.

        But at this point your sense of being put-off is rather insubstantial. Rather like being put-off by a comedian whose jokes you’ve never heard.

        • Greg Esres
          Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

          I’ve heard DeWitt speak and think his style is embarrassing and probably alienating to rationalists.

          • gbjames
            Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

            Well there’s no accounting for…

            I sat in a room with 800 or so atheists at a convention. It was the best received talk of the entire conference.

            Maybe there just weren’t enough rationalists in the crowd.

          • Thanny
            Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

            I think you misspelled “humorless people”.

            • gbjames
              Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

              LOL

  2. Posted June 19, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    ..the truth has truly set him free…

  3. Philip.Elliott
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Jerry DeWitt is holding a secular “service” in Baton rouge on Sunday, 6/23. More info here:

    https://www.facebook.com/events/463102693777446/

  4. abandonwoo
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    It is special courage to remain in neckland after coming out, especially for a former Pentacostal preacher. Or he’s a masochist. (kidding here,folks, I’ve heard the man speak on podcasts)

  5. Posted June 19, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    An excellent interview. I admire that Jerry DeWitt presents his situation as a “man who changed his mind” rather than specific detailing of “what’s wrong with religion, and why I dropped it.”

    For the community he is in, this is an effective way to present himself and his philosophy, IMHO.

    Jian Ghomeshi does an inspired, most excellent interview. Exceptional.

    • Posted June 20, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

      Jian Ghomeshi is an exceptional interviewer.

      Great show, too!

  6. Greg Esres
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    I didn’t find “Godless” by Barker to be very informative about his change of heart. Haven’t read the Loftus book, but looking at the table of contents, it appears to be mostly a book of arguments.

    I was hoping to gain insights about how to make the deconversion process more reliable by trying to figure out what worked on these people, but it’s not clear that even they know.

    • Posted June 19, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      Dan Barkers book, Losing Faith In Faith: From Preacher to Atheist is very good and goes into much more detail about his personal experience leaving his religious life behind. This book meant so much to me. It’s like he wrote it just for me.

      • Vaal
        Posted June 20, 2013 at 6:06 am | Permalink

        Yes, Barker’s Losing Faith in Faith is superb. It’s the book that spurred me into more active atheism way back in the day, before Harris and Dawkins wrote their books.

        Vaal

    • peltonrandy
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

      You might try Loftus’ new book about the Outside Test of Faith approach he takes to convincing christians to more deeply examine their belief system.

  7. Edward Hessler
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Again, my thanks for posting this. I wouldn’t likely have found it otherwise. I’d heard him speak once, in his Pentecostal-style (which I by the way enjoyed for its enthusiasm), and it was a pleasure to hear him again but this time in an interview situation. He has a capacity for differences in us(and also personal insights) that reminds me of our possibilities as humans. I, too, very much liked his discussion about changing his mind. It was a great interview, both sides.

  8. Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Critical Thinking – A World View.

  9. Barb
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    I used to be a Christian and ended up deciding I was a non-believer. There were many things that contributed to my journey, but in a nutshell the most important was finally asking the question, “Given the evidence, what is the most likely answer?” I know I saw this asked several times on this site and it really clicked with me.

    Applying this to so many “problems” I was wrestling with cleared the air so nicely. The problem of evil, the hiddenness of god, the huge gap between the claims Christianity made about its god and the reality I could see with my own eyes, all these were no longer problems when the answer was, “There probably isn’t a theist god.” And who cares about a non-theist god, so that was that!

    Even now I like to interject (with a sweet smile) when intellectual Christians are debating the problem of evil or some such, “Or maybe there just isn’t a loving intervening god!”

    • Barb
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      I should add that one should never underestimate the power of making non-belief a present, legitimate, possible answer to the intellectual pretzels thinking believers can find themselves in. For many believers, it is just not even on the radar, as strange as that sounds.

  10. Mel
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    He seemed to say that his de-conversion was influenced by something Christopher Hitchens had posted. Anyone know what that was?

    Out via old myths … There’s now a discussion thread at the Dawkins site started by a guy who, when younger, liked to read about the old myths. He continues:

    “The questions that I kept asking with no satisfactory answer was: What makes one deity superior to another? Who makes the decision on what myth is more accurate than another? How would one even know?”

    Dan Barker’s starting point … For Dan Barker, his de-conversion started when he decided that, even if some Xns didn’t believe (as he did) in an historical Adam and Eve, they weren’t going to hell just because of that and he

    “…could still call them brothers or sisters in Christ. That was a little nudge in the direction of tolerance, but a gargantuan spiritual (and psychological) concession to make.”

    I think the “out” trigger will not be the same for everyone.

  11. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    That was a very good interview. What struck me was his resilience at having really lost everything and still dealing with bankruptcy and he still has the fortitude to stay in his small southern town because he wants people there to know they are not alone. Such strength of character – my scared butt would have bailed and fled north!

  12. leonkrier
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Although I myself do not come out of an Evangelical Christian tradition, John W. Loftus does. His book WHY I BECAME AN ATHEIST is an excellent read. His scholarship is impressive and his analysis is intellectually critical.


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