Abdul Rahman, an Islamic convert to Christianity in Afghanistan, who was threatened with the death penalty for his conversion, has now been released.His case brings up all sorts of issues, some of them political, some personal. First the political: I thought we went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan to ensure democratic freedoms? I guess I thought wrong. Although direct pressure from the Bush Administration resulted in Rahman’s release, it did nothing to diminish the fact that both Afghanistan and Iraq have the Islamic sharia law enshrined in their newly-minted constitutions. Hey, Bush: Half a trillion dollars later, freedom means nothing if it doesn’t include freedom FROM religion.
So since they didn’t actually kill Rahman, I guess this case falls under “Religion Inspired Attempted Murder.” (Although even money says Rahman will eventually be tracked down by Islamic death squads, no matter where he lives.)
This brings me to the personal part of the story: my own apostasy. Fortunately, we live in a country where you don’t get arrested for not believing. But that doesn’t mean the religious right and others aren’t actively working toward that end. An execrable demonstration of fascist religious intolerance took place in San Francisco this past weekend.
I’m starting to see the process of apostasy and the reaction against it as an archetypal example of how society enforces conformity and resists change. On one hand, this can be a stabilizing influence. But it can also curtail freedom. Peer pressure is one of the biggest influences on human behavior. It has two purposes:
- As a feedback mechanism for the free-spirited individual. If behavior strays too far from norms, a check and balance keeps the individual more toward the center of the norm.
- For conforming members of the group, peer pressure helps to reward their conformity by setting up the in-group, and the out-group. Those in the in-group, like sheep who move to the center of the herd for protection, can have a greater sense of safety. They also can have a certain mental freedom from having to deal with lost-opportunity cost. Those in the out-group can be seen as black sheep, and can be ostracized and abandoned by the in-group.
This has shown up in my life in a very strong way: Current and former members of Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT) have personally attacked and vilified me in every way possible in the last decade, as I have publicly spoken out and discredited their faith.
I’ve recognized three stages to this process:
- Befriending. The person will contact me as a ‘friend,’ and pretend to care about me. Usually these are people who I did not know in the Church, but who knew me (since I was a public figure and a minister). They will express interest in my family. They will express understanding of why I left the church, and discuss with me some of the problems in the organization. They will usually even name certain things that they ‘disagree’ with, as a way of getting my interest and attention.
- Argument. The person will argue with me and attempt to convince me that I really don’t understand the implications of what I am saying/doing. It’s a combination of condescension and shaming. This may take place in phone conversations, on my blog, through e-mail, in person, whatever. There is usually a period, where I indulge people in discussions. I’ve been asked things like “are you really happy?”, “Do you know god really loves you?”, or worst of all “Your parents really loved you, and they would be really disappointed in you.”
- Character assassination. Once it’s clear that I have absolutely no intention of coming around to their point of view, the person will then unload on me with both barrels. Old accusations about my past church conduct are usually then raised. They may engage in mockery, savage insults about my family, or whatever they need to do to discredit me in their own mind. At this stage, when all dialogue has broken down, I have to send them a (usually salty and vulgar) kiss-off email to get it through their head that I am, and will always remain, their spiritual nemesis.
What’s comical about this process is that it’s necessary at all. I’d think that people who were strong in their beliefs would care nothing about what I thought. After all, I’m an apostate, right? I’m going to be judged by god, the karmic board, or whatever, right? I’m supposed to be going to hell, or the second death or worse. I should mean less than an ant to these high and mighty believers. They think they are going to the stars when they die, while I’ll remain mere dust and ash. So why do I matter to them?
I think it’s similar to my son’s fucked-up Christian roommate, who couldn’t handle the fact that my son had a girlfriend while the Christian remained celibate. The asshole Christian’s name was on the lease, so he then kicked my son out of the house.
I propose it’s because they at deep levels KNOW it’s all a fantasy. In the case of the roommate, you have a young man in his prime who is wasting his youth and sexual options (which narrow quickly enough with age, as any man knows). And his faith wasn’t strong enough to carry on. He was obviously jealous of the freedom my son had. His tragic waste of youth cannot be justified without demonizing non-believers.
As for CUT members, I become a terrible reminder that the son of their leader won’t drink the kool-aid. I haven’t limited my options in life, nor been intimidated by their new-age-fundamentalist fire and brimstone. I scoff at their notions of ascension and second death. So if I denounce the faith as bunk, dictations as a fraud, ‘El Morya’, ‘Jesus’, and ‘Saint Germain’ as figments of their imagination, the only thing they can do to preserve their stance is to character-assassinate me.
Recent commenter Daniel O’Connell has come up with a novel way to do that: claim that he knows my parents better than I do! And it gets better: he sets himself up to isolate me from my own children by claiming to have pity on them.
Daniel’s comment on my parents:
On a few occasions your mother stated that she had a closer relationship with many people that she will never physically meet and that were not on her staff or in some cases even in the church. It in this wise that I am closer to her and your father than you are.
Daniel’s comment on my children:
I feel very great sorrow for your children and hope that none of them read your post. A shameful display of cowardice indeed.
Well, I guess I should just abdicate everything I’ve learned for 42 years and do it all his way. He can tell me how to raise my children, and tell me what my mother should mean to me. Shall I lick your boots, too, Daniel?
Then he accuses me of brainwashing my kids:
You claim to have helped your children to reach their own conclusions, but did you really just give them access to information and let them decide? Or did you put your own prejedices and fears into topics such as religion, science and social commentary?
See, Daniel, that’s the definition of critical thought. If I told them how to think, they’d never learn to do it on their own, would they? They’d grow up weak-minded, just like the religious. So that would kind of defeat my purpose, wouldn’t you say?
Daniel follows in the long tradition of my personal “apostate killers.” Here’s a recent list:
- Daniel O’Connell (I am closer to her and your father than you are)
- May Grace (I have a message for you from your dead parents)
- Marshall Lovejoy (Dear Sean, I Am Buddha. I watch over you always.)
- Susan Richert (One of these days, Sean, you will resurrect from the dead)
- Steven S. Showers (…the soul will believe that the thoughts of these demons are its own thoughts. This describes the situation of Sean Prophet today.)
Scared children. Idolaters. Spiritual weaklings. Afraid of their own shadow.