Saturday, August 2, 2014

Apostasy as an Insult

I have seen the term 'apostasy' or 'apostate' used as an epithet on several occasions recently.  To me, the term has no pejorative connotation.  It simply means one who has abandoned his religious belief.  Yet, in the conversations where it appeared, it seems to be more than that.  It is meant to be an insult.

Apostasy is regarded by Christians as the gravest of all sins.  It has traditionally been seen as a crime that merits punishment.  As seen in these biblical verses, the apostate is the most vile and despicable kind of person there is, and he should be killed for his crime.  At the very least, the accusation of apostasy is a denial of religious liberty.  Thankfully, those of us who live in secular states don't have to fear the imposition of barbaric religious laws, as was once the case in Christian countries.  Nevertheless, there are still many Christians whose attitude toward apostasy is shaped by the traditional biblical views.  It is associated with dishonesty, weakness of character, wickedness, hubris, lack of intellectual depth, and animal filth.

Why does the abandonment of religious belief merit such an intolerant, hateful response?  It is easy to understand from the perspective of religious institutions that apostasy is a threat to their authority and their very existence.  But to religious individuals in a modern secular state?  I think it is seen as a personal threat to their faith.  They must be insecure in their own faith, and they are afraid to admit any room for the existence of doubt in their world.  So they heap scorn upon those who would open the door, even just a crack, to the world outside the confines of their dogmatic religious beliefs. 

They may even attempt to justify their abhorrent attitudes by referring to  "sociological studies", such as the shabby work performed by Bryan Wilson on behalf of religious cults such as the Exclusive Brethren or the Church of Scientology in court cases, including this gem, where he says:
The apostate is generally in need of self-justification. He seeks to reconstruct his own past, to excuse his former affiliations, and to blame those who were formerly his closest associates. Not uncommonly the apostate learns to rehearse an ‘atrocity story’ to explain how, by manipulation, trickery, coercion, or deceit, he was induced to join or to remain within an organization that he now forswears and condemns.
My advice to anyone who has been called an apostate: it may not be worth your time to bother speaking to that person.  He probably has no intention of engaging in civil discourse with you.

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