Atheist Pastor Recovers From ‘Identity Suicide’

December 18, 2012
By

Jerry DeWitt

Jerry DeWitt

Jerry DeWitt Discusses His Difficult Odyssey From Sermonizer to Skeptic

In 2011, Jerry DeWitt, a Pentecostal preacher for 25 years, committed “identity suicide.” DeWitt, a successful pastor and respected community member of DeRidder, Louisiana, lost his faith after a difficult struggle. After friends and family discovered his nonbelief, he lost his job, was ostracized by many peers and relatives, and he and his wife separated. He found help on the internet, and started communicating with the vast wealth of freethinkers online. He is now executive director of Recovering from Religion, a nonprofit organization providing support and encouragement to individuals leaving religion. He’s also the first graduate of The Clergy Project, a private, invitation-only “safe house” community of current and former ministers who no longer hold supernatural beliefs. He talks about his past, why he became an atheist, and his upcoming biography, Hope after Faith, which will be published in June, 2013.

MP3 File
(40 minutes, 47 seconds, 19.58 MB)

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30 Responses to Atheist Pastor Recovers From ‘Identity Suicide’

  1. William Carter
    March 4, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Andrew, first and foremost, before trying to tell people about rationality or anything else, answer one question: Prove that religion is true and that there is god.

  2. RBH
    December 29, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    n a recent book (the title of which escaes me at the moment), Karl Giberson, a scientist and evangelical Christian, formerly associated with BioLogos, discusses the family, social, and professional costs he’d pay if he abandoned Christianity.

  3. PortlandWes
    December 27, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    As an ex-missionary, ex-deacon, ex-youth group leader turned agnostic, I found DeWitt’s comments very insightful, and poignant at the same time, given all that he has lost in his de-conversion.

    I was particularly impressed by the answer he gave you for remaining in the same town that he ministered in: to be a constant reminder to his friends and ex-congregants that losing faith does not change a person into a monster. Most evangelicals do not “know” any atheists, and this is one powerful way to destroy their conventional mental image of what atheists are like.

    And compliments on your podcast’s great sound quality: I think it’s better than 90% of podcasts that I listen to.

  4. ORAXX
    December 24, 2012 at 5:26 am

    Hang in there Jerry……..thinking for yourself is always worth the effort.

  5. Stuart M.
    December 21, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    Maybe John Lennon’s song Imagine is finally coming true. We need a world of reason and compassion to tackle the many problems we have (many of them created by religion). We need to jettison the old superstitions and get on with creating a better way of life for all people on earth. I admire Mr. Dewitt for his courage to stop living a lie and his willingness to face the scorn and hate that resulted. Was the last re-election of Obama perhaps a sign of the beginning of the end for the Religious Right? Probably a bit premature to say that, but if Americans can still vote for a president despite bad economic news and a barrage of hate, maybe we are living in truly historic times.

    • Greg
      December 25, 2012 at 10:33 am

      I’m unclear about Obama’s support being a good message regarding creation myth support. He supports the Rev. Wright who not only believes in God and hate.

      • PortlandWes
        December 27, 2012 at 12:31 pm

        Obama does NOT support Rev. Wright. Wright was thrown under the bus by Obama during the 2008 campaign.

      • Karen
        January 7, 2013 at 10:39 am

        This is not about Obama; keep on topic people.

  6. Walter Gorman
    December 21, 2012 at 7:23 am

    Really enjoyed that folks, the book sounds like a good investment. Get a pop shield for that microphone though :)

  7. December 19, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    I would think most people in his situation would just quietly stew, and fake belief just to avoid the disapproval of peers.

    It must like like discovering you are gay, and at first trying to fake being straight.

    I find it hard to believe that anyone could really believe the twaddle Christians peddle as absolute truth. It is so self-contradictory.

    • raytheist
      December 27, 2012 at 9:57 am

      As an ex-Pentecostal minister and gay man, I can assure you there is a lot of pressure to NOT be fully honest all at once. If I knew then what I know now, I would not have become a Christian, nor been a minister at all. I was as true a believer as I could be, but I didn’t “discover” I was gay– I knew it all along and simply never acted on it until my wife wanted a divorce and my world (as I knew it) dissolved.

      • 2cb
        January 1, 2013 at 12:53 pm

        your story sounds interesting. what about a longer post?

    • Karen
      January 7, 2013 at 10:40 am

      It takes great personal strength and courage to do what Jerry DeWitt has done. He is a true example for us all.

    • Karen
      January 7, 2013 at 10:43 am

      It really is irrelevant WHY people believe what they believe. As for “most people in his situation quietly stewing” that’s the whole point of what Jerry has done and continues to do. To show it is possible to step beyond a life of religious lies and into the light and be a happy, well-rounded and very much loved human being.

  8. December 18, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Seems like there is a rush of former preachers becoming atheists; but not the other way around. I think these stories are very powerful, in helping others to lose faith in their imaginary god and superstitious beliefs.

    • Dani
      December 19, 2012 at 12:14 pm

      I actually know a pastor who found God in college. I do hope it’s rare.

      • blue
        December 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm

        Where did he find him/her, not that I’m looking but i don’t see God anywhere. I would really like to know, where was Jesus when all those kids were getting murdered in Connecticut?

        • JxHx
          December 21, 2012 at 1:10 am

          Maybe he was too busy taking care of the kids in Palestine and Afghanistan.

        • Mike S
          July 5, 2013 at 5:36 pm

          So you require no kids ever get murdered; nothing bad or horrid happens in order to consider belief in Jesus? Do we already know before the discussion begins that horrid things have always happened and will always happen? This is always the fall back position for non-believers. For all the worship “free thinkers” have for Betrand Russell, that was essentially his reason for not being a Christian…there is evil in the world. This may be a news flash but many, many believers/followers of Christ know full well that evil exist– many of us have had it happen in our lives–our faith has the blood of martyrs in its trail and we are all not silly, uneducated robots who believe in fairy tales. In fact, Scripture recognizes the difference in believing in the One, True God and in silly idols and pagan dieties. The prophets deride those who believe “in idols made of wood who can do nothing”. It is at least possible, that some things are not IRRATIONAL, but SUPRA-Rational. In other words, I believe in ration and human reason, but it has its limits and can be corrupted.
          There’s more to this debate than just atheists are the rational, educated ones while Christians are ignorant weaklings who need a crutch to deal with life. If that’s all it was, I’d get out too.

    • Andrew Hubball
      December 20, 2012 at 5:49 am

      I am a scientist turned theist. I don’t adhere to a particular religion but am tired with the hubris and self-congratulation of scientists. Religion, in one form or another has been part of mankind’s outlook for milennia. Now, with a few hundred years of scientific endeavor, and admittedly, success, we confidently assert our powers of rational thought and our likely command of the natural world, and eschew any need for mythology, or belief in things far beyond our comprehension.

      I fully appreciate the scientific method, and detest religious fundamentalism. However, scientists in our western society are becoming increasingly dogmatic, and certainly in the eyes of the lay public, are infallible, a reputation perpetuated by the media and the popularisation of science which presents much in the language of certainty and finality. Where is the balance? Where is the call for humility coming from?

      I think rightly guided, critically assessed and challenging religious thought greatly enriches life, as does scientific enquiry. However, I think it short-sighted to reject religion in its entirety because of the unfortunate zeal of fundamentalists.

      • Paul
        December 20, 2012 at 6:49 am

        Andrew – I don’t think it’s the “belief” in things beyond our comprehension that atheists object to – it’s the belief that the religious have that they have answers to these things, that sticks in the throat.

        By definition, the only answer science attempts to give to something beyond our comprehension can give is : We don’t know (yet)

        • raytheist
          December 27, 2012 at 10:00 am

          Yes, and not just the belief that they have the answers, but they somehow have a God-given right (or obligation) to “inform” and force that belief upon others, to the point of shaping secular laws according to their religious belief. If they’d keep superstition at home without harming others, nobody would care; it’s when they attempt to impose it on others that it becomes a major problem for society.

        • raytheist
          December 27, 2012 at 10:02 am

          and I would add this quote (from someplace I don’t recall):

          “Science has questions that can’t be answered; Religion has answers that can’t be questioned.”

          • Susan
            December 27, 2012 at 2:41 pm

            Joseph Campbell, studied myths from around the world made a statement in one of his books that went like this:
            People talk about the conflict between science and religion. There is no conflict between science and religion. It is a conflict between science. The science of 4000 years ago and the science of today.

          • Susan
            December 27, 2012 at 2:41 pm

            Joseph Campbell, studied myths from around the world made a statement in one of his books that went like this:
            People talk about the conflict between science and religion. There is no conflict between science and religion. It is a conflict between science. The science of 4000 years ago and the science of today.

      • godsbuster
        December 20, 2012 at 3:35 pm

        “Religion, in one form or another has been part of mankind’s outlook for millennia.” So has war, the subjugation of women and persecution of non-believers or believers of the wrong god(s)- “outlooks” precisely integral to the teaching of most if not all religions. Leprosy having been around for millennia made it worth keeping around?

        “Scientists in our western society are becoming increasingly dogmatic…” Care to proffer evidence or are you just making unsubstantiated claims like you do here: “I think rightly guided, critically assessed and challenging religious thought greatly enriches life, as does scientific enquiry.”

        How do you “rightly guide” the adoration and acceptance as true of self and mutually contradicting myths? What claims to the existence of the supernatural as factual survive “critical assessment”? How does faith in beliefs, which draw their entire authority from being believed to be divinely ordained by an imaginary entity, enrich life?

        • Andrew Hubball
          December 30, 2012 at 11:41 am

          Godsbuster I would be very interested to know the extent to which you’ve studied the history of world religion. When you say that “war, the subjugation of women and persecution of non-believers or believers of the wrong god(s)- “outlooks” precisely integral to the teaching of most if not all religions”, are you speaking from a position of authority on world religion and history of religion? From that statement I assume that you are not. Neither am I, but I have read enough to know that that is not true, and I have only scratched the surface. I have read of the history of the three monotheisms and discovered a rich tapestry of traditions and teachings within each that are inclusive, accepting, compassionate, that develop a sense of unity, inspire the best in people to be brought forward and beautifully express the condition of being human. I have only begun to look at the religions of the east, but there too it is clear that there is much more than can be simply waved away by such ignorant assertions.
          Again when you ask “How do you “rightly guide” the adoration and acceptance as true of self and mutually contradicting myths”, you make the assumption that every aspect of every religion involves “the adoration and acceptance as true of self and mutually contradicting myths”.

          It is very easy to jump on the atheist bandwagon, but with the rational thought so championed by atheists, do you not feel it necessary to fully know and understand exactly what you are ridiculing? Or do you satisfy yourself with knowing the headlines and making sweeping generalisations under the catch-all term Religion?

          I think it right and important to challenge much religious thought, explanation and dogma. So much wrong has been done and continues to be done in the name of God, and for the sake of traditions that are outdated, misguided and harmful. Many aspects of religious thought have been horribly corrupted with detremental effects on society. However, to claim that ALL religion is therefore null and void, and rational thought can neatly replace every facet,and satisfy every human need is so short-sighted it takes my breath away. As Jung pointed out ‘Reason alone does not suffice’. Delve further into any religion of your choosing and find more of value than you can imagine. That is, if you can do so with the open mind so championed by rational thought. Does rational thought not require a thorough knowledge and understanding of a problem (as you see it) before conclusions can be drawn?

          What troubles me further is the way science and therefore rational thought is being popularised, providing easily repeatable, final statements, about the condition of things. Watch any popular science programme, and see the confident assertions, given too often in the language of finality. It is a subtle point, but in any scientific programme, in my opinion, I think the doubts, uncertanties and limitations of our current knowledge should be given equal, if not more weight, than our successes and explanations. Give the real, balanced picture. There is much on the fringes of current thought we know little of, and that suggest that there are huge swathes that we haven’t even begun to imagine yet. .
          Coming from an academic background, I know the huge pressure to produce publishable results, to gain funding and to present results in a manner that is neatly digestible. That science moves in fashions, that it is vulnerable to the prejudices of individuals and society, is little publicised. It’s OK for the scientifically trained, but ask the average lay person on the street, and they probably think that the Big Bang Theory is all wrapped up.

          • 2cb
            December 30, 2012 at 1:13 pm

            Hi Andrew, this is my first post here. Your remarks are interesting, but can you give examples of what you mean? What fields of research are we talking about? Where is the pressure for results to be easily digestible?
            Chris
            (NOT from an academic background!)

          • godsbuster
            January 17, 2013 at 5:56 am

            Right Reverend Andrew Hubball that you “have only scratched the surface” with your readings of the history of world religion is self-evident. Before even delving into this history may I recommend that you take the “holy” texts at their word? If you do not find sufficient evidence there of criminal depravity and utter nonsense you can always delve deeper into that history and be richly rewarded in that regard. It appears to have entirely escaped your notice that what you describe as “traditions and teachings” that are “inclusive, accepting, compassionate, that developed a sense of unity, inspire the best in people to be brought forward…” are and do these things conditionally. Conditional upon exclusively believing and following the “one and only true®” religion (in-group), OR ELSE.

            Your barrage of strawmen and logical fallacies of all stripes, generalizations unsupported by facts, thorough ignorance of what constitutes science and the scientific method leaves one at a loss as to where to begin. So I’m just going to limit myself to correcting the instance where you came closest to getting my point: You stated that I make the assumption that every aspect of every religion involves the adoration and acceptance as true of self and mutually contradicting myths.

            It actually goes much further than that: The adoration and acceptance as true of self and mutually contradicting myths is in fact the very foundation of all religion.

            Don’t be troubled by how science and rational thought is being popularised. If it hasn’t managed to reach you, who claims to be a scientist, the likelihood of it reaching the general populace is slim. The continued belief in astrology, bizarre conspiracy theories, alien visits from outer space, ghosts, homeopathy, sooth saying, Sasquatch and yes, sadly, religion testifies to that.

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