Jessica Wilbanks, When I Spoke in Tongues; A Story of Faith and Its Loss (Boston: Beacon Press, 2018), 262pp.
Memoirs about the loss of Christian faith are now standard fare among major publishers. When done well, like this one by Jessica Wilbanks, these stories don't just take pot shots at their target. Rather, they explore the ambiguities that surround the loss of one's "assumptive world" and the subsequent irreligious alternatives. Wilbanks, for example, begins her book with a quotation from the memoir Nothing to Be Frightened Of (2008) by the British atheist Julian Barnes: "I don't believe in God, but I do miss Him."
Wilbanks has rejected her Pentecostal religion, but she ruminates at length about how she remains "haunted" by her lost faith. At the end of her memoir she says that her "days of searching are over," but that she also "would never stop missing the old days" (254, 255). Her "old days" meant growing up in rural Maryland in a blue collar Pentecostal family that home schooled, attended tent revivals, and celebrated "Hallelujah Eve" instead of Halloween. She counts at least thirteen rented houses that she lived in, houses with old refrigerators on the front porch and broken cars in the back yard.
By late high school, she considered Christianity a "mass delusion." She even scribbled a note to herself: "November 5, 1995, Jessica Wilbanks is no longer a Christian." That said, she reminded me of Meghan O'Gieblyn's observation in her memoir Interior States (2018), about how there's a perverse irony in how she "returned obsessively to the religion I spent my early adulthood trying to escape… To be a former believer is to perpetually return to the scene of the crime." That's what Wilbanks does.
For other loss-of-faith memoirs, see Eric Lax, Faith, Interrupted: A Spiritual Journey (2010); Sarah Sentilles, Breaking Up With God; A Love Story (2011); Veronica Chater, Waiting for the Apocalypse; A Memoir of Faith and Family (2009); Rhoda Janzen, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress; A Memoir of Going Home (2009); Mary-Ann Kirkby, I Am Hutterite (2010); Erik Reece, An American Gospel; On Family, History, and the Kingdom of God (2009); Shulem Deen, All Who Go Do Not Return (2015); and Richard Holloway, Waiting for the Last Bus; Reflections on Life and Death (2018).
Dan Clendenin: email@example.com