In the last thirty years, apostasy has once again become an issue in public as well as private circles, although as noted above, the treatment of the present-day apostate bears little resemblance to the way apostates were regarded in the past. Since the 1960s, a variety of new religious movements have appeared in all modern, democratic societies. Many of these minority religious movements make “totalizing” demands of their members, claiming absolute commitment to their religious teachings and complete devotion to their religious community. Other new religions do not require complete immersion of all members in their communal life and mission, yet still require strict adherence to doctrinal, ethical, and ritual standards. Certainly all new religions hold beliefs and practices that are at variance with mainstream religions. Not surprisingly, given these rigorous demands, some of those who became involved soon decide that a particular religious movement is not for them and leave. Their departure usually goes unnoticed because most of the individuals involved regard their past experience positively as one more step in their own spiritual journey.

But in contrast to the above, among those who leave voluntarily are a few defectors who have gained great notoriety by publicly attacking their former religious associations and activities through the press and in the courts. As welcome sources of information for a public both curious and fearful about these unfamiliar new religions, such apostates are often treated as cause celebres rather than as social outcasts. But, as we shall see below, neither the quietly appreciative former member nor the vocally aggrieved apostate from a new religious movement can be taken as an objective and authoritative interpreter of the religious movement to which he or she formerly belonged.

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