Wednesday, February 27, 2008

When leaving doesn´t mean you have left

Surveys like the recent Pew Research Center, Religious Landscape Survey tell us nothing about the long term impact of belonging to a religion. To point out that some people who were indoctrinated in a religion as a child were later able to leave says nothing about the lingering effects their scrape with religion has on them. It says nothing about the time, over possibly years, they wasted that could have been put to constructive secular efforts to improve their lives and communities. Nor does it say anything about the family connections that were damaged, and possibly destroyed by their leaving. Likewise, the childhood friends they have lost that no longer speak to them.

Yes, some people who were indoctrinated during early childhood maybe able to break away when they leave their family home and go out into the world. Many apostates look back in anger and disgust when they contemplate the loss of their childhood to religion or think about how they were duped. Some children who belong to sects like Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventist are marginalized by their peers because they cannot participate in the youth culture all around them. They have no idea how to be "cool" or what to talk about, how to dress or what is happening in popular culture. To be marginalized as a teen is the worst fate that can befall them.

If they were captured by a fundamentalist sect we can assume they absorbed a lot of sexism and mis-information about American history, government, science, their sexuality, and human reproduction. Once free, they don't suddenly subscribe to Mother Jones, and start reading On the Origin of Species or the philosophy of John Locke, David Hume, and Emmanual Kant. If a child is led into a church at the age of 3 and does not escape until they are 18 they have experienced 15 years of mind rape, the effects of which are not suddenly going to dissipate overnight. Leaving a religion is a long process for most people. It can take years and apostates can suffer debilitating anguish in the process. Many require professional psychological assistance and help from support groups. And yes, I use the terms "captured", "mind rape" and "escape" advisedly.

Atheists waste precious time studying and debating the faithful over esoteric theological or historical points and rarely make believers see the light anyway. So why waste time debating theology? Let's plow the more fertile ground of apostasy. Because, there is absolutely no defense for the way that apostates are treated, or should I say mistreated. You don't need to be an expert to understand the harm that follows an apostate's decision to leave. Or for that matter, the mental anguish they go through coming to the decision.

Why do believers feel they have a right to treat apostates badly? It doesn't help that all their holy texts tell them to do this in plain language. Let's debate religionists on this point. This is where they will have a hard time justifying themselves. I seriously doubt ecclesiastic authorities give the slightest thought whatsoever to the harm their religions might do to their members. Except maybe a few Catholic Bishops are beginning to understand that pederasty among their priests probably harms their bottom line. No pun intended.

Besides encouragement by religious texts, there are more mundane reasons that apostates get treated badly. In some respects the apostate is like a bad omen -- they are treated like they have a communicable disease. If they are disgruntled they may just pull more members from the tribe. Secondly, there is the financial loss of the apostate's tithes. If a lot of the clan depart, repairing the steeple, replacing the roof and repaving the parking lot might be impossible. Members that stay ask, "now how are we to pay the electric bill and repay the loan we have from the bank?" Some "stayers" are heavy stakeholders. They have put money, time and effort in their institutions. If a lot of members follow the apostate out the door, those left behind are like people holding devalued stock certificates. Psychologically, many cannot swallow the loss and move on so they continue to stay even though they may have chewed all the flavor out of their religious gum a long time ago.

We sometimes protest religions that proselytize, even though social liberals say criticizing religions for this practice is wrong. After all we secularists make concerted efforts to gain adherents to our point of view. Thoroughly understanding and then attacking the harm that religions do to their members minds and wallets should not elicit the same kinds of objections. And it cannot be turned against us because we put no pressure on people to come or go. We offer no blandishments of immortality or threats of hell.

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