Tribulations of Leaving Religion

You can leave a company with two weeks’ notice. You can leave a club or association by giving notice. But leaving Christianity often brings consequences.

What does your departure say to your fellow parishioners, and how will they respond?

For example, Rich Lyons (from the Living After Faith podcast) left his 20-year career as a Pentecostal minister. His departure cost him everything: respect in the community, house, job, career, marriage. He needed five years to get over his PTSD. And his experience is not uncommon for those leaving some denominations.

Why should it be this way? When you leave a company, they give you a going-away party. You can still hang out with your old workmates. Why isn’t it the same when you leave a Christian community? Why instead are apostates often cut off from their friends within the church and even their families?

I got some insight into this from an anecdote by Stephen King. In his book On Writing, he talks about a different kind of outcast. In small-town Maine in the early sixties, life wasn’t easy for a socially-awkward girl he calls Dodie.

For the first year and a half of high school, Dodie wore a white blouse, long black skirt, and knee socks to school every day. The same blouse, skirt, and socks. Every day. The blouse gradually became thinner and yellowed, the skirt frayed and patched.

The other girls kept her in her social place, first with concealed taunts, then with overt teasing. If you can’t earn a spot above someone else, you can push that person beneath you, and the other girls made sure that Dodie stayed in her place at the bottom.

But something happened during Christmas break sophomore year. Whether because of money she’d saved up or a Christmas windfall, Dodie returned to school changed. She wore stockings over newly shaved legs, her hair was permed, and her clothes were new—a fashionably short skirt and a soft wool sweater. She even had a confident new attitude to match her appearance.

This change in the social order couldn’t stand. The other girls didn’t celebrate her accomplishment. They turned on her. Under the relentless teasing, her new smile and the light in her eyes faded.

By the end of that first day, she was the same mouse at the lowest rung, scurrying the halls between classes, her books pressed to her chest and her eyes downcast.

As the semester progressed, Dodie wore the same clothes. Every day. They faded as their predecessors had, she kept to her previous place, and the teasing returned to normal. Someone had made a break for it and tried to escape, but they’d been brought back in line. The social structure was intact once again.

Christian apostates are different because they successfully leave, but some Christian churches take the next best option. Potential apostates within these communities know that they would leave behind more than just the customs and obligations of their sect. As Rich Lyons experienced, these communities use the stick of shunning, in which friends and even family must avoid all contact with apostates.

Thankfully, this draconian punishment is a threat for a small minority of Christians, but Church congregations are societies, just like high schools. High school hierarchies aren’t something you can just walk away from, like membership in a Rotary Club or art museum. High school societies can feel threatened and respond, and the same is true for churches.

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  • RichardSRussell

    If you think Christians are nasty with their shunning, you should read up on how Muslims treat their apostates. Also, the Amish aren’t exactly enlightened on the subject.

    • Sholom

      Yep. The khraydi Jews do the same thing.

    • pennyroyal

      supposedly a religion based on love….

  • Y. A. Warren

    Families, friends, faith communities all act more like tribes of animals than what I would call compassionate or empathetic. I’m not sure we want to be fully human, as a species.

    • pennyroyal

      I am a humanist and want to see all human beings flourish. Growing up in an evangelical church, I had to sing “I am weak and He is strong.” What kind of terrible message is that to give to a child. Certainly never helped me to flourish. I am glad I belong to a church that has a more enlightened church school, one that helps children find ways to thrive.

      • Y. A. Warren

        Fear-based religion is all about weakening the individual so that group-think can take over. This is based on the military model of building community “Soldiers of Christ.” My conclusion in experiencing this form of “leadership” is that it creates a facade of relationships based on hiding truths from ourselves and each other.

        The “leaders” follow the “Do as I say, not as I do” method of imposing rules through fear. True discipline is in setting an example that is consistent, so that we model behaviors for those who are looking for leadership. I believe we each have access to The Sacred Spirit, but few are encouraged to look for this spirit inside themselves and other human beings.

        • pennyroyal

          Christianity was originaly a religion of non-violence. In parts of the Roman Empire, if a centurian wanted to become a Christian, he would have to leave the military.

          I think “Onwards Chistian Soldiers” epitomizes the easy marriage been Christianity and the US military. Jesus was non-violent. See the writings of Walter Wink. There’s whole tradition of Christian non-violence that I, a humanist and non-theist, find profound and necessary. I’m not offended by this ethical version Jesus at all and work with Christians, particularly Quakers to advocate for non-violence.

          Witness the high % of evangelical chaplains and the open proselytizing of members of the Air Force Academy. The only way to get ahead is to profess Christian beliefs. If not, you languish. That is totalitarian. And un-Amercan, IMO. Each person finds his own religious path or is free to not follow one.

        • Y. A. Warren

          The Roman Catholic Church has a long history of making deals with the government for their own protection. (Constantine, 313) The Vatican is now a secular state unto its own, complete with armed guards. How much less like Jesus could they possibly be? The question I ask is, “Do those who proclaim themselves “Christian” actually follow Jesus as their personal “Christ?”

  • arkenaten

    I encourage every visitor to read as many deconversion stories as possible, even Christians and other religious people.
    The one linked above is especially difficult to fathom, but fortunately he survived it.

  • King Dave @ Newsvine

    If one would like to leave the Muslim faith, they will lose more than respect around the neighborhood. They will lose their head. Publicly, as to discourage others who may have had similar thoughts.

    • SparklingMoon-

      If one would like to leave the Muslim faith,they will lose more than respect around the neighborhood. They will lose their head. Publicly,as to discourage others who may have had similar thoughts.
      It states in the Quran:”Those who believe, then disbelieve, then again believe, then disbelieve and thereafter go on increasing in disbelief, Allah will never forgive them, nor guide them to any way of deliverance (4:138) This verse proclaims that everyone has been given the choice to accept Islam of his own free will. Every door for entry into the circle of Islam is open for every person. It has also been proclaimed that it is possible for everyone to depart from Islam by any of the doors that provide entry into Islam and to proclaim his disbelief and his apostacy. Thus as the doors of entry into the circle of Islam are open for everyone, the doors of egress from Islam are also open. After a person departs from Islam the question arises, is it possible for him, under the teachings of Islam, to return to Islam?

      This verse informs that if a person who has believed in Islam announces that he has turned away from Islam and denies God and the Prophet of Islam and thereafter God Almighty provides him with the opportunity to believe once more, and having believed again he re-enters the circle of Islam there is nothing to stop him from doing so. The doors of his entry into the circle of Islam are open to him as they were open to him the first time. He becomes a Muslim again. Thereafter if he again announces that he has turned away from Islam and denies God Almighty and the Holy Prophet of Islam, he is free to do so a second time, and is not subject to any restriction, for there is no compulsion; there is freedom of conscience and freedom of belief.

      The Question is:”If a believer has loosed the head just after his first time leaving Islam then how it would be possible for him to enter the second time(as is described in the above verse of the Quran)? Actually there is no conception of killing or force neither for the sake of belief nor disbelief according to the teachings of Islam.

      Mirza Tahir Ahmed in his one address about ”The truth about the alleged punishment for apostasy in Islam” has disclosed the reality:”It is a wrong trend among the Ulema (Muslim Clergies) that took place at a time when, under the influence of changing socio-political environment, they preferred to adopt some politically colored Islamic interpretations and ignored the clear teachings of the Quran and the noble precedence set by the Holy Prophet. Killing of apostate is one of such erroneous trends and baseless convictions. In fact, this menacing tenet is based neither on the Qur’an nor on the practice of the Prophet of Islam. It was merely a political idea invented with the help of some biased Ulema (Muslim Clergies ), and used by Abbasid caliphs and other rulers to grind their political axe. Later it took such momentum that even the unbiased Ulema were influenced by this wrong trend.Unfortunately,the later generation of Ulema,who followed the old schools of thought, adopted this unIslamic view uncritically without further research.”

  • Nebuladancer

    The difference between leaving a company and leaving a religion is that one involves preferences (which are assumed to be personal and therefore fairly low risk) and beliefs (which are assumed to be communal for the religion). When you leave your religion, it is practically impossible for those left behind to not feel two things: 1. Judged by you, because you have come to the position that the communally held beliefs are untrue; and 2. Fearful of being “irreversibly contaminated” (to quote ‘Farscape’).

    (Thought bubble) “If you no longer believe the faith we grew up with is real, then you must think I’m wrong for believing it … maybe you think I’m dumb for believing in it. What if you make a point that makes sense? It might make sense to me, and then I might start to doubt … I might lose my faith too! That would be awful… What would my friends say? What about my family?”

  • Mick

    “Why instead are apostates often cut off from their friends within the church and even their families?”

    Religious leaders know (or at least have a kind of feeling) that they are preaching codswallop so they are always wary of outsiders who might have the respect of the flock and the ability to show the flock the error of their ways. If that happens, the preacher loses money and power – so he demonizes outsiders and encourages family members to ostracize atheists.

    The sad thing is that the flock go along with him.

    • pennyroyal

      Several of my friends are ex-Jehovah’s Witness and highly shunned. One lost her son, marriage, home, and any help when she faced a major surgery which she’d had to postpone because she would need a transfusion and JWs are against transfusions.

  • KarlUdy

    How do atheists treat one of their own who has a religious conversion?

    • Greg G.

      We are still permitted to associate with them. If they decide they must hate their father and mother when they take up their cross, it might strain family relations but that comes from them. If they wish to talk religion, they might get some refutation or just some rolled eyes.

      The relationship depends on the new beliefs of the believer.

      • pennyroyal

        and a man is not even supposed to be concerned with burying his father when the elder dies. This goes totally against Jewish teachings and breaks family connections, in fact, is a betrayal of one’s family obligations.

    • smrnda

      A lot of my friends have decided to make some bad decisions and have often done things that are clearly irrational. I might stay on friendly terms, but I’d be clear not to endorse the behavior, and I’d like to hear some reasons *why.*

      If a friend of mine converted and did nothing but attempt to convert me using the same tired apologetic tricks I’d heard many times, day in and day out already, and already seen no merit in, I’d probably get tired of them, but I’d also probably get tired if a friend of mine kept going on about a pyramid scheme.

    • pennyroyal

      I know a 46 year old man who left Catholicism for atheism and is now back in the RC fold. He still doesn’t believe in god but everyone in his family weighed in to him to ‘change back.’ Now he dissents privately and to his family seems as before. He tries to convince himself believe.

      So much for freedom from religion.

      • Pofarmer

        Yep. I think that’s pretty common, especially in a strong cult like RC.

        • pennyroyal

          Jesus said a man must leave his family and follow him. A most anti-family teaching that goes against the family values most uber Christians foist on an unsuspecting public. More cherry picking of bible as backup for what you wanted to do in the first place.

        • Pofarmer

          To be fair, the did think the world was going to end any day now and the kingdom of heaven was upon them.

        • pennyroyal

          an knowledge of Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, shows that the Kingdom of Heaven should be read as the Queendom of Heaven. There was a Hebrew Goddess which was moved in and out the ancient temple until she was destroyed from cultural memory. (See Raphael Patai, the Hebrew Goddess).

          Here’s info on Queendom. I know it sounds strange but we need to enter the ancient mind that was used to both male and female gods and valued the feminine.

        • Quite interesting (thanks), though Christianity is a Greek religion. Nuances from an Aramaic perspective probably didn’t count for much.

        • pennyroyal

          yet Jesus spoke Aramaic, a language of the common people, including shepherds, full of metaphor and natural imagery

        • Yes, but they were wrong. And yet they still cling to their religion.

        • Pofarmer

          Yeah, and don’t mention that 2 Peter was probably written specifically as an apologetic as to why shit wasn’t happenin.

      • Lewis C.

        Sounds like freedom from religion to me: this man made autonomous choices multiple times and no civic, state, or clerical powers interfered or threatened harm to him. We live in one of the most religiously free eras in all of history.

        Sounds like your vision of freedom from religion would require a totalitarian state to establish. No thanks.

        • pennyroyal

          I don’t see how you arrive at the assumption that I want a totalitarian state. Theocracy is totalitarian and yet schelps like some republicans/dominionists would like Biblical law to be applied to the whole nation’s governance. Freedom from religion is just what my friend excercised–within himself.

          But at the same time, through, he is compromising himself (in his own mind) to maintain peace in his family (his mother is ill and very religious). That is a sacrifice he is willing to make. It is also his decision to make and he made it. I would never second guess him or anyone.

          Nor did I ever second guess or lead anyone away from their faith in my 6 years as a hospice chaplain. I have known many many Catholics who benefited from interfaith spiritual care as an adjunct to their own faith leaders (priests, nuns, laypersons). I was the one who knew about pastoral care at end of life and part of their team–and welcomed always, by Catholic clergy.

        • What religion/not-religion were you when a hospice chaplain?

        • pennyroyal

          Unitarian Universalist. The essence of hospital or hospice chaplaincy is to work within the patient’s/family’s faith and the way they live out that faith. A chaplain can be a Buddhist priest or atheist. Their faith or religion or non-theism is not relevant.

          The work involves active listening, spiritual assessment, and is individualized. I studied for years to do this work and my work was well-regarded. I always felt it a privilege to be trusted by people. Chaplains have high standards for their work and collaborate closely with other professionals.

    • Some stay friends; some don’t. It’s an apples and oranges comparison, as I’m sure you’re aware, in the most extreme cases, though–where someone leaves a sect and his family and friends are obliged by the dictates of their religion to shun that person.

      There’s no equivalent to “Never communicate with Karl again or else you’ll burn in hell” in atheism.

      • KarlUdy

        I’m sure you’re aware, in the most extreme cases, though–where someone leaves a sect and his family and friends are obliged by the dictates of their religion to shun that person.

        I’m also aware of atheist states where people would report friends and family members to the authorities for engaging in religious activities.

        But what do you hope to gain by pointing out that this sort of behaviour occurs in extreme religious groups, especially when it also occurs in extreme atheist groups?

        • I’m also aware of atheist states where people would report friends and family members to the authorities for engaging in religious activities.

          The people in those states also ate meat. People didn’t tattle on others because they were carnivores, and they also didn’t tattle on them to satisfy some dogma of atheism.

          But what do you hope to gain by pointing out that this sort of behaviour occurs in extreme religious groups, especially when it also occurs in extreme atheist groups?

          Because they’re not the same thing? Or is this a trick question?

        • Lewis C.

          Atheism bears no responsibility for the atrocities of extreme atheist groups (the Soviet Union, Communist governments, etc). Atheism has an all-time death toll of zero.

          “Religion” bears all responsibility for the actions of extreme religious groups.

          Come on KarlUdy, learn the rules.

        • Pofarmer

          I think the problem that you have, is that the ideology of Communism/Marxism isn’t primarily atheist, it is primarily anti-capitalist. I don’t know, would have to study it further, but I would imagine that religion was targeted because it was seeking to undermine the State.

        • KarlUdy

          Where the suggestion that there is any authority greater than the state is interpreted as “undermining the state”, it can be taken that atheism is intimately bound to the ideology of these states.

        • Pofarmer

          The fact is, most modern govts are secular, yet not specifically atheist. The State of Mexico wasn’t “bound” to atheism, yet you had the cristeros fooforall.

        • Atheism is a consequence of the church being a competitor. It doesn’t come first.

        • KarlUdy

          Because they’re not the same thing?

          Excessive social pressure to conform to a certain set of beliefs. Both religious and atheist groups/societies have been guilty of these practices. Like several commenters on here, I don’t see anything unique to religion in this sort of behaviour.

        • pennyroyal

          NAZI Germany was a police state with children turning in their parents. Hitler was Christian and never left that faith. I’ve seen quotes of his, saying just that.

        • Pattrsn

          You draw an interesting comparison between people living in religious communities and people living in totalitarian states.

        • pennyroyal

          what atheist states?

        • KarlUdy

          Try Albania in the 60s and 70s for starters

        • pennyroyal

          those states were like cults, into domination and control.
          Look up Dominionists in wikipedia.

        • KarlUdy
        • pennyroyal

          I am not a proponet of scientifism or the notion that science has all the answer.
          I do know we have separation of church and state in the USA, that public schools are secular instititutions. Readers who want to see how the wall of separation of church and state is under attack by the religious right (which IMO is wrong on so many things) might want to check out Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
 or copies of their publication “Church and State” magazine.

        • KarlUdy

          But yes you’re right, they are like cults, atheist cults

        • pennyroyal

          political or religious totalitarianism — all are toxic to the freedom of the mind I have as a humanist.

          I’m against the kind of security-military-industrial complex we are developing in the USA. Totalitarians can be political, religious, or non-religious. It’s a proclivity in humans–to dominate and control others.

          I grew up in a family where you couldn’t challenge our totalitarian parents (who didn’t know how to parent). I know what totalitarianism, what a prison camp a family can be (and so do JWs).

          Some day look into the roots of the Pledge of Allegiance. It has its roots in the NAZI salute. I’m against any forcing ov anyone to do what violates their human spirit, esp. that of a child.

        • KarlUdy

          I think we might agree. I’m just saying that this problem isn’t a specifically religious problem, contra what I think was the point Bob was trying to make in his post.

        • pennyroyal

          in my tradiiton we sing a song called As Tranquil Streams.

          Here are two of the lines.
          “Free from the bonds that bind the mind to narrow thought and lifeless creed;
          Free from a social code that fails to serve the cause of human need”

          I seek a social code that serves the cause of human need.

        • KarlUdy

          pennyroyal, Dominionism refers to a movement of Christians who advocate government adhering to Biblical principles. I don’t see how it applies to Albania, Maoist China, Cuba, or any of the Soviet or Eastern Bloc states.

  • Lewis C.

    Isn’t inciting fear and group loyalty through anecdotes and scare stories a tactic you charge religion with? Why’d you choose to use it here? I’d guess it’s because you don’t have data on your side, only prejudice.

    In American culture, religious switching takes places at higher rates today than ever observed before. Even one-third of “religious nones” will report joining a religion a year after initially surveyed–the non-religious simply can’t resist our very fluid religious marketplace. We’re a country of apostates, but because we’re not a theocracy, defection is rarely punished. Shamings happen, yes, but it’s largely the same process the atheist PR brigade undertakes in criticizing atheists who defect: they were never all that influential, vulnerable to emotion, not truly ever “one of us,” etc. etc.

    How about we stick with the empirical data on this matter: defects from any social group–religion, your high school atheist club, the NSA, a scientific consensus, Mac users–are socially costly. And yet no one does a whole lot of stoning or burning-at-the-stake these days. Defecting leads to consequences–it’s a basic fact of life.

    • Isn’t inciting fear and group loyalty through anecdotes and scare stories a tactic you charge religion with? Why’d you choose to use it here?

      It’s a story, but I thought it makes a point. Not for you, I’m guessing?

      You’ll have to point out the scare tactics I used. I missed that.

      I’d guess it’s because you don’t have data on your side, only prejudice.

      Yup! There’s no argument possible for atheism, so I have to use sneaky tactics to trick people into becoming atheists.

      Or not.

      because we’re not a theocracy, defection is rarely punished.

      Because we’re not a theocracy, government-sponsored punishment for religious change never happens. Punishment within church some communities for apostasy is pretty much guaranteed, however.

      Shamings happen, yes, but it’s largely the same process the atheist PR brigade undertakes in criticizing atheists who defect

      I can only guess that you’re not familiar with the worst cases of shunnings within Fundamentalist, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so on. Alas, atheists have nothing remotely close to this.

      How about we stick with the empirical data on this matter: defects from any social group–religion, your high school atheist club, the NSA, a scientific consensus, Mac users–are socially costly.

      So that’s how we measure things? It’s just binary: there is a social cost vs. there is no social cost?

      If you don’t mind, I’d prefer an analog scale. Let’s try to measure the cost of leaving different institutions. Leaving the UU or UCC churches are probably as difficult and costly as leaving a Rotary Club. Leaving many more insular church communities … well, that’s a bit different.

      Read up on some of the experiences apostates have reported and then tell me that there’s no difference.

      • Lewis C.

        You’ll have to point out the scare tactics I used. I missed that.

        how about here….

        Read up on some of the experiences apostates have reported and then tell me that there’s no difference.

        I’d love to read up on DATA. I like data. Not so big on a few scare stories you can tell me.

        Your argument is comparable to stringing together scare stories about negative experiences with Minority Group X so you can make some wide-reaching generalization about them. Without data, it’s just prejudice, sorry man.

        • erikcampano

          Whoa, hang on here, it’s different. Being a Mac user or even being in the NSA doesn’t involve committing your entire heart and soul to a world view. Leaving a religion requires you to rewire the basic architecture of your Weltanschauung. If you’ve prayed every day, three times a day, since childhood, in ernest belief that Jesus is going to pull you into heaven, and you’ve built your moraity and discerned things like your career and spousal choices around Christian practice, then when you give it up in an act of conscience and integrity, there’s going to necessarily some cognitive and emotional dissonance as a result. I’ve been there. I’ve been fired from jobs, I’ve changed industries, I was ostracized for a while in high school, but nothing comes close to having been demonized by the Episcopal Church. And that’s a liberal denomination.

          Which is why, Bob, I don’t necessarily agree with you that UUs make it easier than Mormons or Fundamentalists. Liberal denomiations are less insular, but the cult-like aspects — the iconization of leadership, the groupthink, the heavy spiritual symbolism and encouragement to see everything from the point of view of the narrative espoused by the church — don’t disappear. On the whole it might be easier, but a bad, fast break-up with the UUs can be worse than a slow drifting out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

        • Lewis C.

          Being a Mac user or even being in the NSA doesn’t involve committing your entireheart and soul to a world view. Leaving a religion requires you to rewire the basic architecture of your Weltanschauung.

          You’re expressing a very common belief: there’s work commitment and brand commitment, and then there’s religious commitment, something completely different, in it’s own category, something “enslaving” and “irrational.”

          Unfortunately, it’s not true. Many companies employ the same tactics on their employers that cults and sects employ on their adherents. Brand loyalty inversely correlates with religious loyalty, according to a study out of Duke University. MRI scans reveal our brains respond to IPhones in the same way they respond to other items of deep emotional attachment. Sociologists tell us Apple fanboys demonstrate the same hivemindedness and loyalty to ideals as religious congregations.

          According to our absolute best scientific evidence, our hearts and souls are constantly being rewired by brands, workplaces, and products. Do you have any data for why you believe differently?

        • erikcampano

          This isn’t a question that’s going to be solved by empirical, quantitative analysis. Religious belief and behavior are just way, way too complex. We can’t define the terms with nearly the specificity to develop a control.

          When I lost my iPhone (well, actually, Android), I flipped out for a day. When I was shunned by my religious community, I went into 2-year clinical post-traumatic stress disorder and attempted suicide, and had to go on anti-depressant medication.

          Religious commitment isn’t “enslaving” or “irrational.” Religion can be very freeing, and great religious thinkers from Anselm to Barth have incorporated the highest standards of rational thinking into their argumentation. That’s why religion takes more power over the human mind. It’s a 2000-year cultural and historical tradition with deep behavioral and intellectual roots. I don’t know if you grew up into a religious tradition like Roman Catholicism or Mormonism It’s kind of hard to understand if you haven’t.

          I think we need to distinguish between people who, like a new employee, jump into a religious sect like a flash in the pan — you know, some types of born again Christians who had no spiritual life and then suddenly had a short-lived love affair with a non-denominational church. I grew up Catholic, studied Anglican theology at Oxford, and went through the Jesuit priesthood discernment process. Leaving Christianity involved having my heart excised out of my body, chamber-by-chamber. And it was worsened by the surgeons wielding rusty scalpels (the Episcopal Diocese of New York and a Bishop named Pierre Whalon, primarily). I wish I’d just been a disillusioned Apple fanboy.

        • Lewis C.

          I really like your personal story. I could also “match” it with tales in the Wall Street Journal of people feeling completely lost and depressed when they lose their job. Or the outcome of the big bank employee who writes the scathing Op-Ed and suddenly finds no one returning his phonecalls.

          Personal tales are great, but you haven’t produced any empirical data to challenge my claim that all group defections have social consequences, religious and secular alike.

        • erikcampano

          I’m not challenging your claim that group defections have social consequences. You’re right. I’m saying that some have greater intensity of consequences than others.

          The depressed laid-off Wall Street person is, indeed, more similar in analogy to the person who loses his or her religion.

        • Lewis C.

          Perfect. We agree.

        • smrnda

          I think the difference is that the only employees or workers with these types of experience tend to be very high up in terms of socio-economic status – the defection of anyone else just isn’t relevant enough to warrant any serious notice by The Company, but at the same time, The Company (whatever it is) only really pretends to be a ‘home’ or a ‘family’ to people higher up in the hierarchy. Anybody else is a disposable commodity most of the time. Churches both promise to be a family to everyone, and then have more to punish you with when you leave.

        • Lewis C.

          Good points about differences in workplaces. At the same time, you are lacking any data about religious “punishments” being more common.

          The widespread, ongoing fluctuation in both religious identity and level of religiosity over most people’s lifetimes (including the “non-religious”–you!) tells us these punishments aren’t all that common or severe in American society.

          I’m not seeing anything behind these beliefs other than anti-religious prejudice and scare stories.

        • smrnda

          At present, there isn’t a whole lot of systematic data, though there’s lots of personal accounts, which is the best evidence currently available.

          I also don’t think that all people who leave a religion get bad treatment. I’ve never suggested that this is always the case, just that it does actually happen. Plenty of people drift in and out of religions without causing much notice, but you can find examples (Mark Driscoll of Mars’ Hill being one) who is pretty vindictive towards people who leave.

        • Switching brands doesn’t cause PTSD. Leaving a religion can.

          Listen to Rich Lyons’ story (Living After Faith podcast) here.

        • Thanks for that perspective on liberal denominations.

        • erikcampano

          Thanks for raising a very interesting topic!

        • pennyroyal

          what do you know/need to know about liberal denominations? It’s easy enough to find out.

        • pennyroyal

          leaving JW is, in my experience with dozens of them, is pretty traumatic, short and longterm…

          Also, readers need to know that a sexual abuse crisis is building in many countries of the world. Australia, South America, the USA.

          wikipedia “Critics such as Silentlambs have accused Jehovah’s Witnesses of employing organizational policies that make the reporting of sexual abuse difficult for members.[263][264] Some victims of sexual abuse have asserted that when reporting abuse they were ordered to maintain silence by their local elders to avoid embarrassment to both the accused and the organization.[265][266][267][268]”

        • How about if you quote the scare stories from here and show them to me. I’m missing them completely.

        • Lewis C.

          You want me to listen to a podcast of scare stories.

          Much like racists want you to listen to just one more story about how Minority Group X exhibits characteristic Y, then you’ll know how they are.

          I’m the only guy presenting data on this thread to date. Very interesting.

        • smrnda

          Where was the data? I noticed you pointed out a few things about brand loyalty and made the assertion that all defections some with social consequences, but that doesn’t really sound like ‘data’ to me as just ‘other facts to consider’ none of which would be controversial at all.

          How about I reverse you ‘racism’ thing and say that I could find accounts by minorities of being unjustly harassed by law enforcement or security personnel? Would you say that these people’s accounts have no validity?

        • Lewis C.

          I provided DATA on the unprecedented rate of religious switching, even among the non-religious.

          You seem to be trying to convince me of your beliefs solely on the validity of testimony. David Hume would be disappointed in you.

        • smrnda

          I don’t think I was making an assertion that disagreed with you.

          In *some* cases, religious defection comes with a very high social cost. We have evidence that this happens from personal accounts which could be independently verified.

          This doesn’t imply that this is the norm, or that it always happens, just that it does happen. Even if it’s not too common, it’s still worth taking into consideration.

          I’ll provide another example – statistically, kids who are home-schooled tend to do well academically. However, a number of former home-schoolers have gone public discussing how badly they were educated by their parents and how behind they were once they reached the age of 18. If I’m looking at that issue, I should take both the statistically average case (home-schooled kids tend to do well) and verified stories about things going wrong.

        • Lewis C.

          You’re right, we do agree. Social defections–religious or non-religious–have social consequences at times.

          Perhaps this post could be better framed as “Tribulations of Leaving Social Groups.”

        • pennyroyal

          leaving a social group one has grown beyond can lead to greater emotional-psychological-spiritul strength. Hasn’t anyone here read Fowlers’ Stage of Faith. We grow beyond our religion or grow within it.

          Trouble is that too many religions are coercive and hidebound. (If you don’t know the root meaning of ‘hidebound’ it was an old method of execution– prolonged suffering).

        • smrnda

          Why not focus on one sort of social group at a time? It may not be an in depth study, but it’s at least a starting point. If you’d like, you could write about costly defection from businesses. Later on, I could write about costly political defections. Then, some sociologist can look at all of the accounts and try to figure out a good way to study the problem.

        • You want me to listen to a podcast of scare stories.

          No, I want you to back up your charge that I’m listing scare stories. Or withdraw it.

          I’m the only guy presenting data on this thread to date. Very interesting.

          Uh, no—you’re the only guy making ungrounded claims. I’m doing some bad thing in this post? OK, should be easy to show me. Do so, or withdraw your charge.

        • Lewis C.

          My data on religious switching comes from a Harvard study and the Pew Forum.

          You are still cheerleading scare stories of people experiencing PTSD from leaving religious communities.

          I’ve got the data, you’ve got testimonies. Hume would go with me on this one.

        • Humans are storytellers. I’m telling a story (about someone I know) about substantial personal harm. If stories do nothing for you, that’s nice; let’s leave them for those readers who do find that compelling.

          What is your point? That, for all you know, this is the only case of harm ever done to someone leaving a church? You will consider statistics and nothing but?

  • erikcampano

    Your employer pays you, but you pay your church. That’s why your employer throws a party for you when you leave, but your church doesn’t.

    Actually, if you leave a church on good terms, they might give you a little party. Or more likely, a small gift. It’s like saying, “you’re not coming to our store anymore, but you’re still buying our product.”

    By the way, churches often throw lavish parties for clergy when they leave on good terms. It’s strangely disproportionate to other industries. A surgeon works 30 years at a hospital and saves 1000s of lives. She might get a reception or two, maybe even a plaque. But I’ve seen a junior minister leave a church after 5 years, and end up with two weeks of non-stop celebrations praising his holiness and stacks of letters from parishioners saying how he changed their lives. Has the pastor helped people that much more than the surgeon has? Or is it a cult of personality?

    Remember what North Koreans did when Kim Il-Sung departed to become the Eternal President of the Republic in the sky.

    I’ve been shunned, and it stinks.

    • Your employer pays you, but you pay your church. That’s why your employer throws a party for you when you leave, but your church doesn’t.

      That makes no sense. I assume that’s your point!

      • erikcampano

        Yep. If they celebrated your leaving, it would be an incentive for other people to leave, and the clergy wouldn’t get their contributions anymore.

        I know someone who, when she left the church, the pastor refused to give back the video game console that he’d borrowed.

        And I betcha’ David Koresh didn’t throw any parties for his defectors.

  • John W. Morehead

    As a person with religious convictions involved in dialogue with atheists and those in various religious traditions, I agree that those who leave one religious tradition for another, or who leave religion altogether, suffer great difficulties in making such journeys. In my view, religious organizations have an ethical responsibility to help with those journeys, including the ones that are being exited from. I presented a paper at Sunstone Symposium in Utah last year which looked at the transition journey from Mormonism to Evangelicalism, and my organization’s creation of a resource to make that journey easier. I concluded by suggesting that the Mormon Church should help rather than hinder such journeys. I would argue the same for Evangelical churches that are being left for Mormonism, or other religious and ideological choices, including atheist. My Sunstone paper is now a chapter in the new volume From Fear to Faith (Energion, 2013):

    • Very surprising. Thanks for letting us know. It’d be great if more sects would go in that direction.

  • smrnda

    I think there are other groups that are no so easy to quit without a high social cost. I live in Illinois – Mark Kirk, a Republican, voiced support for gay marriage and got some nasty feedback on that, so I’d imagine that a political party might get pretty pissed over someone not toeing the line.

    • pennyroyal

      you mean in Illinois there’s a distinction between evangelicals and republicans. They seem like ‘Mike and Ike’ to me?

      • smrnda

        Illinois, particularly Chicago, tends to left. Occasionally a Republican will break with the theocratic/evangelical party line (more likely in a Blue State), and will often be shunned. I didn’t follow up on who (the number grows daily), but many Republicans have expressed a lot of dissatisfaction with him.

  • Margaret Placentra Johnston

    In my view, one reason people trying to leave are hindered by their peers is that people do not understand the process of spiritual development. Spiritual maturity requires some degree of questioning, and perhaps experimentation, and in some cases, even departure from the fold.

    But where this growth process should be encouraged, instead religious authorities, families and social groups react in fear and try to hold back a person who is trying to go through this process, which in turn keeps our society mired in spiritual immaturity.

    My book illustrates this process through stories about real life people who successfully made it through the questioning stage. Some of them remained outside the fold, some stayed in and some joined other folds. But all of them grew, and came out stronger for having bravely faced down their questions, instead of letting their beliefs be dictated by their tribe.

  • Norm Donnan

    Personally l think it’s just a natural reaction,human nature if you like.People are offended,annoyed and disappointed when another changes their mind for what ever reason.Religion and politics are very personal to some people and if someone has been in a position of influence or authority,the reaction is going to be more intense and with repercussions than if you change football teams because it affects a lot more people.Having said that,there is no excuse for denigrating anyone.

  • ctcss

    I think the problems mentioned depend a lot on what kind of church/religion one belongs to. My church has no clergy (it is a lay organization where the services are conducted by members who are elected for fixed terms by the membership, not career clergy) and we have no belief in hell. Furthermore,our theological teachings encourage the adherent to decide for themselves whether or not the teachings of the church are true, and thus worthwhile to adhere to. Our theology also focuses on an individual’s relationship with God, not the group’s relationship. We also don’t have social activities within our church such as suppers, breakfasts, picnics, scout meetings, etc. Our activities are focused only on areas relating to worship and practice. As such, we have no individual or group-oriented reason that compels us to go chasing off after people who have decided to leave. It is their life, after all, and they have a perfect right to pursue whatever course they desire. As far as we are concerned, their relationship with God is just as intact as it ever was, whether they stay or go,

    My own brother left our church, but it was under rather unhappy circumstances. He was “hijacked”, so to speak, by some evangelical Christians while on campus. For some reason, whatever they said to him had him hooked. He brought them home to meet me, but I was very leery of their pitch. They struck me as being people I did not feel at all comfortable with. They seemed to be looking for ways to sell me their message, rather than simply trying to be loving and supportive of me and my goals. Maybe that was just those two, I don’t know. I really didn’t run into many evangelicals, then or now. But I knew that before I bought into what they were selling, I wanted to make sure of it myself, without them in the same room trying to pressure me about it. They were definitely selling something, and I don’t like to be sold.

    But my brother bought in, and was beginning to worry about hell and whether or not he would be worthy to be saved. He started disappearing, sometimes for days, and was getting more and more scared about the coming rapture and the end times. He started hanging out with a more extreme crowd, led by someone even his new church home felt uncomfortable with. Eventually that leader and whoever was following him left for some wilderness location in Pennsylvania. However, at some point, those followers (including my brother) all left him and went their separate ways.

    My brother found a better Christian place for himself, but still was worried that we, his family, were destined for hell. We, on the other hand, were simply concerned for his physical and mental well being. And finally, after his marriage to someone really sweet (but of the same general Christian persuasion as him) and many years of carefully trying to work together, we are all on much better footing as a family.

    But in all of this, we weren’t trying to judge him or to shun him. In many ways, he was doing it to us.

    If people are close friends who really care about one another, large changes in their life orientation may not divide them. And others who are simply acquaintances, may find no reason at all to associate any further with those they no longer have anything in common with. There is no reason for anyone to feel shunned or or ostracized or suicidal. Feelings like that come about because of very close, very intense social bonds.

    So it isn’t religion, per se that does this. It’s a particular approach to religion. Which means that its a human social thing, or a human control thing, not a religion thing. Otherwise our church’s approach to my brother would have been identical (or very similar to) my brother’s approach to our church and to my family, since both he and we were religiously oriented. But he was shunning or rejecting us, not we him.

    • Nox

      Where do you suppose they got the idea of hell from?

  • not only leaving Christianity brings consequences but also leaving some other religions often brings consequences..

  • Percy

    Dodie was the girls’ scapegoat, the one chosen by the girls to carry the weight of their awkwardness, their fears of being rejected, their insecurities, and their shame; without her they would have to acknowledge these characteristics in themselves and they feared that most of all – If for no other reason, Dodie had to stay down because every inclusive group needs an enemy, and someone else would have been chosen, and the rest of the girls knew it – Scapegoatism, us and them, I and thou, etc., having an enemy is (sadly) at the heart of so many Western religions, but without having someone to blame, parishioners may have to look inward rather than outward (as Western religion is structured to do), and what’s more terrifying that finding out that the enemy is among you because the enemy is you?

  • Carol

    The manipulative tactics of shaming and shunning are not limited to religious societies. Just try questioning or leaving a group dedicated to a particular political ideology!
    The Original Sin was not a coital act, it was the desire to know good and evil with the infallibility of God or the illusion of certainty that dogmatic absolutism provides.

    • That’s a good point about human nature shunning in other situations, but wouldn’t you agree that shunning has been honed to be most cutting within religious contexts?

      • Carol

        I believe that our spirituality and our sexuality are where we experience the mystery of the person that we are most intimately, so whether or not shunning “has been honed to be most cutting within religious contexts” or not, our religious and spousal relationships are where we will experience it most deeply.
        Then, too, while predatory behavior is more overt in our alpha dominant secular culture, the ecclesiastical sub-culture tends to be beta dominant and more passive aggressive. The passive aggression is much more subtle than overt aggression and messes more with our heads in addition to tempt us to serve the selfish interests and/or disordered desires of others rather than our own legitimate self-interests and/or desires.
        BTW, I also believe that it is narcissistic aggression that is the threat to the traditional heterosexual marriage, not broadening the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.
        Individualism, not to be confused with healthy individuation, is turning Western society into a Hobbesian hell and individual persons into lonely solitaries living quiet (or not so quiet) lives of lonely desperation. Like it or not we are social animals and we need to re-learn how to have respect for the uniqueness of others. Although kenotic, unconditional love is the mark of spiritual maturity, we can build a relatively just and stable society on the self-interested moralism of Locke’s Social Contract based on reciprocal altruism and mutual concern for the common good.