Since reading Christine Vyrnon's story of de-conversion on her blog, I've started noticing other de-conversion stories. In particular, in my post on the online atheist support group I mentioned that the only book I had found was Versions of Deconversion: Autobiography and the Loss of Faith by John D. Barbour back in 1999.
Well, I was wrong. Thanks to Tim Larson's review in Books & Culture, there's a brand-new book out by the respected Harvard professor David Hempton:
Evangelical Disenchantment: Nine Portraits of Faith and Doubt
by David Hempton
Hempton wrote the book Methodism: Empire of the Spirit which received outstanding reviews. Now, this new book features a series of mini-biographies to isolate common reasons for leaving the faith.
Quick excerpts from Tim Larson's review:
Hempton argues compellingly that evangelicalism needs to learn from the complaints of its "conscientious objectors and wounded lovers." His selections all offer the perspective of those who had a precise faith drain away and were left with only, at best, a vaguer spirituality.
The nine studies are
- the Victorian novelist, George Eliot;
- the reformer and brother of John Henry Newman, Francis W. Newman;
- the abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld;
- three American advocates for women, Sarah Grimké, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Frances Willard;
- the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh;
- the English man of letters Edmund Gosse; and
- the African American writer James Baldwin.
Hempton observes that these people were often frustrated idealists. If I may augment this argument, it is also noticeable that many of them once championed an unusually strict or rigid form of evangelicalism.
Larson provides an insightful review, challenging certain points while appreciating the sensitive scholar's effort to put an intriguing dynamic into perspective.
You can read the full review here.