A Lesson from Jerry DeWitt

I am currently in Washington, DC.  I traveled here in my role as a researcher to attend the Reason Rally and the American Atheist Convention.  It is hard to put into words how amazing my experience has been thus far.  I can’t put everything in a single blog post so I’m just going to talk about my favorite speaker although there are a number of close seconds.

Jerry DeWitt is a former Pentecostal preacher that gave his last sermon 349 days ago, came out 165 days ago, and was fired from his job 114 days ago.  What happened to him was what he labeled as “identity suicide.”  He told a story about the first seed of doubt that had ever been planted in him when he was 17 years old.  Up to that point, he had been indoctrinated his entire life.  There were 17 years of Christian ideals planted in his head.  The same people that had told him to look both ways when crossing the street were giving him his worldview.  He had felt called to preach and made a decision to choose that career path before he could serve in the military or consume an alcoholic beverage (legally).  Pentecostalism is all he knew.  Still, at 17 his grandpa made a statement that stuck with him for quite some time.  It was a Sunday morning before church and his grandpa said to him something along the lines of this morning, all you are going to pray all the baptists to hell because they don’t speak in tongues.  The Baptists are going to pray all of you to hell because speaking in tongues is of the devil – Think about that.  You pray each other to hell and then eat fried chicken together afterwards.  This idea of eternal punishment for others when God loves everyone just didn’t seem right to him.  Still, it took him many years for this doubt to turn into anything meaningful for him.  He put it so wonderfully and put things into perspective for me when he said “imagine how long it would take for somebody to convince you that blue is not blue.”  That is what it was for him.  Something he believed his whole life was coming into question.

I was never entirely Christian so I never truly understood the process of leaving religion, especially when your career quite literally depends on your beliefs.  On one side of the scale is your personal history, your family, your friends, community standing, finances, and career, and on the other side of the scale is your conscience.  DeWitt went through some stages in his thinking about religion.  1. God Loves Everybody.  2.  God Saves Everybody.  3.  God is in Everybody.  4.  God is just everyone’s internal dialogue.  5.  GOD IS A DELUSION.  He knew it was real when a friend had called him and asked him to pray.  He said no.  At this point his conscious outweighed everything else.  For his friend with an illness he was not about to pretend that there was anything better than science and reason.

People like him are essential to New Atheism and the movement.  They give people hope that ANYONE can leave religion if members of the clergy can do it.  The Freedom From Religion Foundation and Recovering from Religion can help and there are so many other resources out there and people to talk to if you’re experiencing any doubt.

If you’re interested, here is another former pastor that was interviewed on MSNBC this morning.  I also saw him in attendance at the convention today!  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/46848396#46848396

Like I said before, I’ll be writing on the Reason Rally and the American Atheist Convention a lot more.  For now, I wanted to share the story that I was able to hear today, as I found it inspiring.  It takes a lot of courage to fully come out.  I wish I had it.

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