Disengagement from former religious associations and activities is only half the process of renouncing one’s faith in a new religious movement. The apostate, whether voluntary or coerced, faces the more formidable tasks of returning to the dominant culture and of reformulating a new identity and worldview. Re-entry seldom means simply returning to one’s previous lifestyle and worldview before joining a new religious movement. The “prodigal” son or daughter returns as a different person, bringing a whole set of experiences that must somehow be explained and integrated into a new psychological and social situation. This transition is often influenced by family systems, social networks, religious groups, educational institutions, and anti-cult organizations. Not surprisingly, the influence of these groups profoundly colors the apostate’s interpretation of past religious activities and associations.
Regardless of the manner of their leave-taking, apostates must take account of both their earlier conversion to and subsequent separation from a non-traditional religious movement. They often receive the self-justification they are seeking from anti-cult organizations or fundamentalist religious groups, both of whom provide them with the brainwashing explanations to rationalize their sudden adherence and equally sudden abandonment of a new religious movement. The information provided by these groups is usually highly negative and heavily biased against the organization left behind. More precisely, these groups furnish them a lingua franca for telling their stories of seduction and liberation. Numerous social scientists have pointed out that these biographies of “cult survival” are highly stylized accounts that betray the influence of borrowed scenarios of captivity and liberation — each account a rehearsed story of social isolation, emotional manipulation, physical deprivation, economic exploitation, and hypnotic control. These “atrocity tales” serve both to excuse the individual apostate as well as to accuse the new religion of irrational belief and immoral behavior. They also feed and form public perceptions of the new religions as dangerous threats to religious freedom and civil order. Given this negative press, even those apostates who do not fall under the direct influence of anti-cult organizations or fundamentalist religious groups are often influenced by their negative portrayals of the religion they have left behind.
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