Apostate: noun \ə-ˈpäs-ˌtāt, -tət\
– someone whose beliefs have changed and who no longer belongs to a religious or political group;
– one who commits apostasy
I recently came across, at least as far as I am aware, my first convert. To protect her privacy I will call her Ann.
Ann and I met through my ex-wife at a get-together for people from their remote, mountain village in the Philippines. Needless to say, all were devout Catholics. As I am sure many in our secular and/or atheist community know, in the presence of the religious, usually the first question is something like: “So, what church do you go to?”
Being the straight-shooter that I am—and to the great dismay of my ex—I answered truthfully: I’m an atheist.
Shock, gasp! “How can you deny the existence of god,” and other such nonsense poured forth from the baffled pious surrounding me.
Thus began the Sermon on the Beach, from the atheist apostle to these sincere Catholics.
As many are well aware, the Bible is the best weapon against itself. From the genocides and incest, to the condoning of slavery—non-Israelite slavery, of course—to the blatant contradictions and outright batshit . . . well, you get the idea of what followed.
I proceeded to expand the worldview of at least one receptive mind. Not that everyone was so open-minded. I recall vividly one of the villagers intensely arguing with me that Jesus is mentioned in Genesis. After several minutes I gave up trying to prove the absurdity of her claim, as it was quite obviously a pointless exercise in futility.
Pulling out some of my favourite verses, ones useful for just such an occasion, I proceeded to explain the original context from which these passages were meant to be understood, and the Christian misinterpretations that have come to be assigned to them; especially given the overwhelming biblical ignorance of the vast majority of the faithful who don’t have the slightest clue what their “Good Book” says. One such verse is Daniel 12:1-2, which is particularly good for deconstructing Christian beliefs:
And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
While it does not explicitly state it here (see Dan 7:13-14 for the earlier reference), this is the passage which declares the Son of Man to be the archangel Michael. This would be the same Son of Man whom Jesus refers to in the Gospels, and not to himself, as some passages have been re-written to make it seem (compare Matt 25:31 with Matt 16:13). This passage is also the first and only instance in the Hebrew Bible referring to a resurrection and an afterlife in heaven. One should take special note that the Book of Daniel was written less than two hundred years before Jesus came along to make use of these new theological ideas; ideas that were late-comers to Jewish beliefs.
Recently, when I spoke with Ann about her conversion from Christian to non-believer, she said it was specifically the verses I brought up that caused her to reflect on the legitimacy of these passages, the Bible, and her faith in Christianity. She had begun the thinking process that led to her decision to give up her dogmatic beliefs.
Ann mentioned that she had also experimented with the Baptists, Mormons, and evangelical churches in her search for something that made sense of life. Yet, one problem kept showing up within each denomination: the believers she met didn’t walk the talk. She became disillusioned and turned off by the hypocrisy she saw all around her from these supposedly devout Christians; Christians who did not demonstrate, in their daily lives, what they claimed to believe.
Ultimately, she came to the conclusion that she “can have a meaningful life without God.” When I asked her if she had told her family about becoming an atheist, she replied that she had told them she is fed up with the hypocrisy, but she had not fully admitted her atheism. When I pressed her on why she hadn’t told them the full truth about herself yet, she claimed it is not that she is afraid, but that she just isn’t ready yet.
I can understand her reluctance to inform her family, as I am sure a good many others reading this can as well. Especially those readers living in heavily religious communities, like the American Bible Belt states of the south and Midwest, or those with extremely devout family members.
I am familiar with the repercussions that can ensue from someone declaring themselves to be an atheist to their families, as I heart-breakingly learned through an acquaintance, Michael, in my local atheist community. Michael was a senior member within the Jehovah’s Witnesses, one of those cults so obsessed with hiding the truth from their members that the organization forces its members to shun anyone who dares to think for oneself.
Knowing full well what his decision would mean, nevertheless he could no longer delude himself with the teachings of his cult, he made the difficult choice anyway. For him, apostasy meant losing his entire family: kids, parents, everyone in his support community, and a “spiritual disassociation” from his wife. Yet, he had the fortitude of his new-found convictions and the intellectual courage to declare that he could not live a lie, even though it cost him his family.
Sadly, such familial ostracisms are not uncommon for apostasy in the Christian West, which are not even in the same league as the barbaric death threats for the same, so-called, crime in some Muslim countries. We can only hope, that as those with no spiritual attachments continue to grow in demographic strength, that this unfortunate state of affairs and the beliefs they are tied to will eventually be a relic of the past.