I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Jerry DeWitt last Fall, that was at the end of his book tour promoting, Hope After Faith. I felt a tad guilty that I hadn’t read his book at this point but going to the presentation was a good introduction to this former Pentecostal preacher who had chosen to embrace his skepticism. One of the interesting things about the book, that might frustrate some, is that the bulk of the book chronicles DeWitt’s journey from enthusiastic believer through frustrated evangelist and only spends the last couple chapters on his life as a non-believer. So much of the book was about his lifelong efforts to become the evangelist for Christ that he felt he was called to be, that it might be confusing to some, especially given the book’s title. It could be too much church-culture for those looking for some behind-the-scene/dirty-laundry against the church expose. As someone who continues to try to figure out how to integrate my own “church history” to my present journey, I can understand the need DeWitt might have had to spend so much time writing about all the years he spent trying to live up to the calling he felt in his life.
I don’t know that the book would help those without any personal experience growing up religious and then openly choosing another path. And as one who has that experience, there’s part of me that wonders how the story might have been different had DeWitt had more success as an evangelist. I mean, I don’t care who you are, but anyone’s faith would be greatly tested if one set the goal to preach the Word as one highest goal but at the same time couldn’t afford food, housing, decent transportation or adequate healthcare for ones family. And we’re not talking about the extravagance that religious leaders are often accused of committing, but just meeting the basic day-to-day needs.
Anyway, this leads me to believe that however one lands on the God/Atheist question, it’s a completely personal question that no one else can decide for you. Those of us on the outside are entitled to our opinion and may work toward supporting each other’s desire to have good, decent lives, but on a personal level, we can’t tell someone that their experience(s) aren’t real. Like any personal relationship, only those on the inside can really say whether it was a mistake or not. It’s just like when a Christian preacher tells me that I can’t know what love is unless I’m his or her kind of Christian. Ah, no, you aren’t entitled to validate or invalidate my own emotional experiences. Thus, it goes the other way too. Only the person in it can decide what is good for them and what’s not with the understanding that there’s often a pretty big gap between our stated intentions and where we continually find ourselves. Coming down with some declaration trying to invalidate another’s experiences just creates boundaries and doesn’t do anything to help us understand that we’re all humans, just trying to make sense of our existence, wanting to have a better experience from what we knew before. DeWitt’s book very much communicates the struggles of a young man trying to help the world in the only way he knew and where that journey eventually led him.
amazon link: Hope After Faith by Jerry DeWitt