Random Entries by Jerry DeWitt

Posted by on June 21, 2012 in Featured, Thoughts | 3 comments

This is a special blog post, with content supplied by the first ever graduate of Richard Dawkins’ and Dan Barker’s Clergy Project, Jerry de Witt. The website “Recovering from Religion offers this biography of Jerry:

Jerry DeWitt became a non-believer after more than twenty-five years of Pentecostal ministry in his home state of Louisiana. His ministry experience begin at the early age of seventeen and included evangelizing across the United States and being the assistant pastor of two United Pentecostal churches as well as one Apostolic church. During his dilemma with doubt Jerry ultimately held the senior pastorate of two very unique congregations, one charismatic dominionist and the other non-denominational fundamentalist.

The Clergy Project describes themselves as “a confidential online community for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs.” I recently attended the Global Atheist Convention, where Dan Barker, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett all spoke of the project, and mentioned Jerry by name. Shortly after the convention, I noticed Jerry’s name on twitter, and started following him. He has kindly offered up this series of short thoughts and observances he wrote down about his experience of discovering he did not believe anymore, and how this made him feel.

Pre-coming out as a non-believer Facebook post: I’m sorry but old age, poor health and missed opportunities have liberated me from the obligation of making something meaningful out of my short life! Now all that’s left for me to do is to simply enjoy every second of every mundane day that I’m fortunate enough to experience. I only wish I would have given up on “being somebody” sooner!
Journal entry a couple of days before I was fired: A few years ago we took in a stray cat. It was skinny from being homeless and my wife felt sorry for it. Over time I grow attached to it as well. It knew that if it scratched at the back door, I could see it from my chair and that I would get up and let it in to eat. This would happen several times a day and went on for years. At times it was inconvenient and a little frustrating but a bond was being formed by the interaction.

Last week, during the cold snap, she left and hasn’t returned. I’m heartbroken.

Now the “fact” is I don’t know what’s happened to our cat. It could be something simply sad like someone has taken her or it could be very tragic, like a wild animal killed her.

I just don’t know. Chances are I never will and it hurts.

Now, if the question about my cat’s fate was the question about god’s existence, it would go something like this: I don’t know what happened to my cat and I don’t think I will ever know. – Atheist

I don’t know what happened to my cat, maybe I will know one day, maybe I won’t. Who can say? – Agnostic

I don’t “know” what happened to my cat BUT I would like to believe it’s living in better home and I going to pretend that I know that’s what has happened because it makes me hurt less. – Theist

When I put it that way, how can “believing” be a bad thing? If it makes you hurt less…that’s good right?

The problem is, either I truly believe my cats in a better place or I don’t. I can pretend to believe and fool YOU with my efforts but I know that I’m pretending.

It’s not that I truly hurt less by pretending to believe, it’s that I deny how much I really am hurting by forcing my imagination to occupy my awareness with fantasy.

Emotional pain is much like physical pain; it’s a signal that something needs to be fixed, not ignored.

Religion attempts to ignore the real pain of being human by focusing on the promises and personalities of imaginary non-humans.

Random (emotional) Entries

My selfish present: For years I have labored in love and for love. I’ve splintered my soul into a thousand pieces and scattered it throughout the world. Everywhere that I found a need, a want, a desire, I sacrificed myself to fulfill it but always for the other person.

There I stood, labored, splintered, and sacrificed, when I saw you, was touched by your radiance and drawn into your presence.

Then I knew, I knew what “I” needed, wanted, and desired.

I knew I would make whatever sacrifice was demanded, to present YOU to myself.

You, my selfish present moment.

Being yourself: Being yourself will test the old adage that claims “blood is thicker than water”. Being yourself will create a tempest that will chase your “fair weather friends” into hiding. Being yourself will separate the real “men from the boys”, boys who simply wear men’s clothing but live life as cowardly children. Being yourself will always remind you that for better or for worse, “wherever you go, there YOU are.”

But what choice do you have? You can’t help but be yourself, because in reality that’s who you really are!

Oh, You can choose to pretend to be someone you’re not and in so doing you can keep family members who don’t love you but instead love who they want you to be. You can keep all of those friends who give to you only for what they can get from you in return. By pretending to be someone you’re not you can continue to play games with fellow pretenders who are too afraid of their own shadows to ever face the blazing light of self-examination!

You can do that but at what cost?

Yes, there is a cost greater than the loss of family, friends, community and comfort! If you pretend, you will forfeit the ONLY thing that is completely and uniquely yours….Yourself.

Being yourself is the gift you give yourself!

Regret: I no more regret “coming out of my non-believing closet” than a person regrets taking a breath in a smoked filled room.

Yes, I dislike the pain it has caused me…but my nature gave me no choice in the matter…

What I see here is  small snapshot and a peek into some of the difficulties, pains and realisations that go through the mind of someone who is discovering that most of what they have based their lives and worldviews upon is in fact false. It is not always easy to do this; in Jerry’s case, he was respected in his community as a pastor, and when he left that behind, many of the people who once looked up to him abandoned him. He found himself in a situation where he had no community support, and was in fact shunned by them.

The scariest thing for Jerry must have been the feeling that he hadn’t changed at all. He is still the same person he was, only now he has gained the freedom of viewing the world how it really is, and telling people so. It takes a lot of courage to do this, and to be true to yourself, true enough tot be willing to go through hardship to stop living a lie.

Dan Barker said in Losing Faith in Faith:

I have something to say to the religionist who feels atheists never say anything positive: You are an intelligent human being. Your life is valuable for its own sake. You are not second-class in the universe, deriving meaning and purpose from some other mind. You are not inherently evil–you are inherently human, possessing the positive rational potential to help make this a world of morality, peace and joy. Trust yourself.

This is precisely what Jerry has done. He has decided to trust himself regardless of what others might think. As the first graduate of The Clergy Project, I hope that other preachers and members of the clergy who are doubting their faith, or can no longer hold onto the illusion of faith, will see that the likes of Jerry deWitt, Teresa McBain and Dan Barker, and the 200+ other participants in The Clergy Project as inspirations. I do, and I’ve never believed!

 

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3 Comments

  1. Be brave Jerry, and stay true to your own observations. Thank you for your courage! The same thing happened to me even though I was only pursuing the ministry. Enjoy your life, Jerry, which includes being a good person without any religion, as all of them are false though some a bit better than others yet still false.

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  2. Great post.  What Jerry, and others like him have done, takes great courage.  I can’t imagine it being that hard to come out as an atheist personally, though I know it is for so many.  He is an inspiration to many, and will continue to be so for those who have yet to come out.
     
    Great quote by Barker at the end.  I really enjoyed that.

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  3. Great post .
     
    I note a distinction between the religious leader who’s beliefs schism from their church, and that of the layperson; the pastor cannot fall silent wrt those beliefs during their crisis of faith. I suppose the pastor internalises their own rhetoric.

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