Exiles in Our Own Lands
I cannot begin to imagine the fear and terror that those who live in Islamic-dominated countries must feel on a daily basis about leaving Islam. Whether it’s to join a different religion or renouncing religion altogether, the punishment can be as severe as death. There must be a pervasive gang mentality amongst those who have to threaten physical violence in order to assert dominance and control over others. People who simply wish to be free and true to themselves are pitted against tyrants who subjugate and dominate them under threat of death.
Even without the threat of death, those of us who abandon religion are made to feel like exiles in our own lands. We are treated as pariahs and outcasts in our communities. We are hated and labelled as "vile" by those we once called friends and family. And the heartache of this is immeasurable. Many of us have been disowned by our families, and cut off from a part of who we are. The very people whom we've been taught will love us unconditionally are now bitter enemies, due to their fealty to a doctrine over simple humanity. This is one of the greatest tragedies of religion...but even Jesus said that he came to turn son against father and daughter against mother. If that was his true legacy, it was very successful.
Apostasy...is NOT Limited to Islam
The activist Dick Gregory once said, “When you’ve got something really good, you don’t have to force it on people. They will steal it!”. Mr. Gregory was speaking about the U.S. government in this quote, however I find it to be completely apt when speaking about religion as well. Nearly all religions have gotten to the positions of authority that they hold through force and violence. They proclaim to the world they have “truth,” yet this “truth” is often delivered from the edge of a sword. And once these people get their grip into a society and culture, denying their “truth” becomes an act of malevolence and sedition. I know of very few religions whose sole purpose is not outright dominance of the entire populous of the entire world.
Within the Islamic world we certainly hear about some of the worst actions against apostasy, but it is certainly not limited to Islam or the Islamic world. The fact is many religions frown upon leaving their subjugation. All the Abrahamic religions, Hinduism, and so many others all have a very adverse outlook on those who leave. Now many of these other religions have made a concerted effort to appear peaceful and accommodating, so instead of killing the apostates they simply shun them and make them outcasts within the community. Where Islam so often uses physical violence to enslave the populous, these many others instead use emotional torture. They turn our families against us and try to fill our hearts with guilt and for this very reason there are many out there who stay involved in religions yet have no belief in them at all.
Christian Apostasy in the U.S.
I am an apostate. I left Christianity nearly 15 years ago. Doing so cost me family and friends. People whom I’d shared the first 20 years of my life with refuse to even speak to me anymore. Even their children act adversely to my children, and that extends beyond just the people I’ve actually known. Although I’ve not raised my children as atheists, we do on occasion talk about religion because it is prevalent here in the southern states of the U.S., and I discuss these things frankly with my children. When my oldest asked about Jesus at Christmas time, I explained Christianity as simply as possible for a 6 year old, and told him that this is what some people believe is true. His response was that it all sounded pretty silly, not because I think it’s silly, but because I’ve taught him to think rationally and to evaluate things for himself. And his honest opinion, for whatever the opinion of a 6 year old is to you, is that it’s all just silly. Already at that age, he’s made some waves with kids at school… I’ve not been called to the school to discuss this yet, so I guess that’s good.
When I first told my family that I had renounced Christianity, they asked what religion I had converted to. It was inconceivable that I had “converted” to rationality and reality. When I told them I no longer believed in God at all the most common reaction for them was denial. My mother has made the statement that there’s no such thing as an atheist, and I’m just rebelling against God. My dad simply pretends it isn’t an issue at all and I suppose that is rather better than being told that I don’t exist, which I fear could give me a “God complex” considering that He too does not exist.
Most of my family has come to accept my position in their own way, and for that I am quite lucky and grateful. The fact is, many people lose their families all together over this. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and several other Christian denominations have fairly strict protocol for dealing with apostates, and they will force families to disown any member who leaves their group under threat of the whole family being exiled from the church. To add insult to injury, most of these groups operate as a tightly-knit community, and so leaving means losing EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. It’s a leap that can break the most fragile of hearts and only the strength of a community can lift them back up and show they that they are not alone.
Finding a New Community
When people ask me why I run my Facebook page and why I write these blogs here, it can be hard to explain. You see, what most people who aren’t atheists see from me is some subversive asshole who seemingly wants to dismantle religion and mock or ridicule others’ “faith.” While I must admit that I am quite an asshole at times, and I do act and speak subversively towards religion… those things are actually in service of a greater cause than myself. You see, I try to speak for those who can’t speak and there are so many who want to scream the same words I type out. They see the graphics I produce for my Facebook page and they offer them something to smile or laugh about instead of simply letting tears fall from their faces on a daily basis. And I would imagine most of those who do what I do would agree with me here. It really isn’t about us at all. I don’t want attention or fame or even recognition, what I want is to send a message out to every doubting man, woman, and child…and that message is, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
The purpose of websites like this one and so many of the atheist and free-thinking pages on Facebook and other social networking sites is to allow us to form a community for ourselves. We’ve been outcasts and pariahs for far too long, and many of us are finding a new family by interacting with others of similar mindset. We’re finding a reason to smile again because we see just how many others just like us there are out there in this big world. But unlike our religious counterparts, we truly welcome everyone just as long as you’re willing to think for yourself.
In the end, this issue is truly about freedom. It’s about the freedom to think for ourselves. And so, I would like to leave you with some wonderful words from Ayn Rand: “At first, man was enslaved by the gods. But he broke their chains. Then he was enslaved by the kings. But he broke their chains. He was enslaved by his birth, by his kin, by his race. But he broke their chains. He declared to all his brothers that a man has rights which neither God nor king nor other men can take away from him, no matter what their number, for his is the right of man, and there is no right on earth above this right. And he stood on the threshold of freedom for which the blood of the centuries behind him had been spilled.”