Tribulations of Leaving Religion

Naked Cathars are expelled from a castle door by knightsYou 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 are there similarities in how the congregation reacts to the challenge?  Seeing a congregation as a society, not completely dissimilar from high school, may explain why it sees a departure as a threat.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Related links:

  • The full text of Stephen King’s On Writing is available here.  Search for “Dodie” to read his version (much better than my summary).

8 thoughts on “Tribulations of Leaving Religion

  1. Haha, this is actually a laughable article. The popular Internet meme, “I see what you did there”, really applies in this particular part of your writing. See, if I wasn’t a writer myself, you might’ve gotten away with the unrelenting bias smothered all over your feeble paragraphs, but because I am, I really can’t consider this “article” as anything more than just Atheist propaganda.

    I know a few Christians who fell out of love with their belief; none of their friends who were Christians left them. Even when this particular girl started taking drugs, dropped out of her double degree course in Business and Engineering to travel indefinitely and when she abandoned her family, her friends were there for her as emotional support through thick and thin.

    Your article is based upon a lie. You put your microscope close to whoever supports your argument, enlarge that one particular outlier and you write a generalised article on how Christians treat those who choose not to believe anymore as garbage. Which is not true. It’s a vehement lie. Sir, your bias sickens me.

    • Wow John,
      Talk about bias! Are we supposed to believe this is the typical path of those who leave the Christian religion? They take drugs, drop out of school and become aimless gypsies?
      Christians believe they’ll be rewarded for their beliefs and that God will punish those who don’t have the correct beliefs. No doubt you believe the drugs and dropping out was God’s punishment for this girl’s lack of belief. And her Christian friends were there for her because they believed she was in for an even greater punishment, eternity in hell! So don’t make it sound like they were open-minded people who accepted her differing views on religion.


  2. John,

    I attended a church where some people were still supported when they backslide into drugs and immorality. Other people doing the same or lesser things were dropped like a sack of trash. There really is no standard, but unbelief is typically seen as one of the worst sins.

    I noticed you made the comment about “…how Christians treat those who choose not to believe…”

    Do you really think most people are actually able to choose what they believe?

    Thinking that people can freely choose their beliefs is what causes Christians to abandon and/or persecute anyone who losses their faith.

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