Apostasy (1)

Secularity is a growing trend in Ireland and much of the Western world. A very different story elsewhere in the Global South but that’s another story.

In Ireland we are in ‘new territory’ of (some) religious people struggling to get used to living in a culture where religion is seen as irrelevant at best and dangerous at worst. And where (some) secular/atheists are getting over-excited about banning any talk of faith and belief from the public square (as if that was even possible).

I’m reading Phil Zuckerman, Faith No More: why people reject religion (OUP, 2012) and will do a series of posts as I go.

Zuckerman is a professor of sociology at Pitzer College in the US and going by what I’ve read so far this looks like a series of interview based research into why people leave their religious beliefs behind, written in broad sympathy for those who do so. Well, American people that is – the book is based on interviews with 87 ‘rejectors’ or people Zuckerman rightly calls ‘apostates’ – those who have rejected formerly held religious beliefs.

He has interviewed people of all ages, from all over the USA, and from diverse religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Apostasy, he says, is the real story behind increasing American secularity. Like in Ireland, there is a steady growth in those who identify as having ‘no religion’. He quotes one study that said ‘only’ 53% of Americans born after 1981 believe in God.

In the introduction he offers a typology of apostasy:

Early (linked with the maturing process) versus late apostasy (as an adult, later in life):

Shallow (weakening of faith, still ‘something there) versus deep apostasy (convinced atheism)

Mild apostasy (not very religious in the first place) versus transformative apostasy (radical rejection of deeply held religious belief). It is the latter which obviously tend to be the most dramatic.

And he tells the ‘transformative apostasy’ of Nathan – a former student of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School who left friends, family and God behind. This was a period of personal dislocation which he came through to this point:

Here I am now, I can be whatever I want, I can reinvent myself, I can do whatever I want, I can create my own moral system, and I don’t think I ever looked back. I got to the point where I really embraced the freedom, I never looked back. So this period of frustration, of loss, of regret, of how am I going to make it … was superseded by the tremendous, almost worship of freedom … I worship freedom now instead of God. (9-10)

 Comments, as ever, welcome


The back jacket has a wonderfully arrogant and wrong claim by atheist Sam Harris that says

“Everyone knows, deep down, that there is a conflict between reason and faith” and  this book explores  “the myriad ways in which thoughtful people come to their senses.”

Either he’s just trying to be deliberately annoying (which is silly) or he actually believes what he says (which is scary). Can we please talk about secularism / faith without replaying the stupid polarity of  smart non-believers versus stupid believers? A shame publishers like OUP chose to go with such polemical nonsense to publicise what is supposed to be an academic piece of research.


4 thoughts on “Apostasy (1)

  1. I remember Joseph Campbell saying something in an interview years ago to the effect that religion was like your computer operating system. Most people would never dream of changing the OS on their computers after they buy them – as long as that system continues to help them do what they want to do on their computer.

    I think many of us today are finding that the software installed on us in our youth – our religious beliefs – have left us ill-equipped to face the realities of this world. There are so many really serious problems out there that threaten us as a species – the software that taught us to believe in miracles and that Jesus will take care of everything just isn’t sufficient – a change is in order.

    I whole-heartedly agree with your last paragraph – please, please let’s have a calmly rational conversation about secularism, without the polarizing and name calling.

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