The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Apostasy (Greek απο, apo, "away, apart", στασις, stasis, "standing") is the formal renunciation of one's religion. In a narrow sense, the term refers to renunciation and criticizing one's former religion. An old, narrow definition of this term refers to baptized Christians who leave their faith. One who commits apostasy is an apostate, or one who apostatises. One of many possible reasons for this renunciation is loss of faith.

Many religious movements consider it a vice, a corruption of the virtue of piety in the sense that when piety fails, apostasy is the result. However, most converts to a new religion can also be considered apostates from a previous belief. The word is also used to refer to renunciation of belief in a cause other than religion.

Several religious movements punish apostates. Apostates may be shunned by the members of their former religious group. This may be the official policy of the religious group or may happen spontaneously. Some religions may respond to apostasy by excommunicating the apostate.

Some Atheists and agnostics use the term "deconversion" to describe loss of faith in a religion. Freethinkers see it as gaining rationality and respect for the scientific method and not a loss.

The reliability of the testimonies of apostates is an important and controversial issue in the study of apostasy in cults and new religious movements.


In Christianity

Christians often quote the prophecy in 2 Thessalonians about a coming apostasy:

"Let no one in any way deceive you, for that day cannot come without the coming of the apostasy first, and the appearing of the man of sin, the son of perdition, who sets himself against;" (2 Thess. 2:3 NASB/WEY).

The apostasy can alternatively be interpreted as the pre-trib Rapture of the Church. This is because apostasy means departure (translated so in the first 7 english translations). Dr. Thomas Ice, Pre-Trib Perspective, March 2004, Vol.8, No.11.

Signs of apostasy vary widely among many Christian denominations, the most common include:

  1. Denial of the Trinity and the deity of Christ;
  2. Denial of the deity of the Holy Spirit;
  3. Denial of moral absolutes, as found in the Bible;
  4. Acceptance of the theory of Evolution.

Some denominations quote Jude and Titus 3:10 saying that an apostate or heretic needs to be "rejected after the first and second admonition". In Roman Catholicism, apostasy is among the offences which bring automatic excommunication.

See also Great Apostasy

In Hinduism

Dharmatyaga (Apostasy) is the abandonment of the Dharma or Vaidika Dharma ("religion of the Vedas") by the abandonment of the "sruti" and "smrti" ("revelation" and "tradition" respectively).

Chapter 18 of the Bhagavad Gita, starting from verse 66 (beginning with "sarva-dharman partityajya") has been interpreted as to express that abandoning Dharma or to exchange it with anything else would amount to sacrilege, disobedience of God, and as falling from the right path.

The srutis and the smrtis constitute My own command. He who violates them will be going against My commandment. I consider him as a traitor against Me. Although he may call Himself My devotee, he is not a Vaisnava. (Visnudharma 76.31)

The Manu Smriti also states that those that renounce "sruti" and "smrti", "must be cast out by the virtuous, as an atheist and a scorner of the sacred scripture." (Manu Smriti 2, 11)

In Islam

In Islam, apostasy is called "irtidăd" ("turning back") and it is considered by Muslims to be a profound insult.

Sources are divided on whether Muslim apostasy deserves punishment. The Hadith (the body of quotes attributed to Muhammad) includes statements taken as supporting the death penalty for apostasy, such as:

"Kill whoever changes his religion" (Sahih Bukhari Vol. 9, book 84, number 57, narrated via Ibn Abbas )


"The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims." (Sahih Bukhari Vol. 9, book 83, number 17, narrated via Abdullah)

On this basis, in Islamic law or Shari'a as traditionally interpreted, if a Muslim consciously and without coercion declares their rejection of Islam, then the penalty for male apostates is the death penalty, or life imprisonment for women. However, this view has been rejected by some Muslim scholars both medieval (eg Sufyan al-Thawri ) and modern (eg Hasan at-Turabi ), who argue that the hadith in question should be taken to apply only to political betrayal of the Muslim community, rather than to apostasy in general[1]. These scholars argue for the freedom to convert to and from Islam without legal penalty, and consider the aforementioned Hadith quote as insufficient confirmation of harsh punishment; they regard apostasy as a serious crime, but undeserving of the death penalty.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares in article 18 that every human being has the freedom to choose his or her religion or, indeed, to change it. The Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, a rival charter put forward in 1981, is deliberately vague when it comes to the subject and has no mention of a person being able to change their religion, the crucial issue. Islam speaks out on the same issue with, "[l]et there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things" (Al-Qur'an Sura:2, Ayah: 256).

A person born of Muslim parents that rejects Islam is called a "murtad fitri" (natural apostate), and a person that converted to Islam and later rejects the religion is called a "murtad milli" (apostate from the community).

Some Islamic countries, such as Mauritania, consider apostasy cause for execution or divorce.

See also: takfir, apostasy in Islam

In Judaism

The term apostasy is also derived from Greek ἀποστάτης, meaning "political rebel", as applied to rebellion against God, its law and the faith of Israel (in Hebrew מרד) in the old testament.

Other expressions for apostate as used by rabbinical scholars are "momer" (מומר, literally "the one that changes") and "poshea israel" (פושע ישראל, literally, "transgessor of Israel"), or simply "kofer" (כופר, literally "denier").

The first recorded case of apostasy in Judaism is referred to in the words of the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. xxxii, 23,24) about Jason and Melenaus who deserted their religion and their nation to the horror and hatred of their contemporaries.

Paul the Apostle was accused of apostasy by the council of James and the elders, for teaching apostasy from the law given by Moses. Scholars consider this the reason by which some early Christians, such as the Ebionites, repudiated Paul for being an apostate.

In the Talmud, Elishah Ben Abuyah (known as Aḥer) is singled out as an apostate and epicurean by the Pharisees.

During the Spanish inquisition, a systematic conversion of Jews to Christianity took place, some of which under threats and force. These cases of apostasy provoked the indignation of the Jewish communities in Spain.

Several notorious Inquisitors, such as Juan Torquemada, and Don Francisco the archbishop of Coria, were descendants of apostate Jews. Other apostates, that made their mark in history by attempting the conversion of other Jews in the 1300s, include Juan de Valladolid and Astruc Remoch .

In new religious movements (NRMs)

The role of apostates in the controversy surrounding new religions has been widely studied by sociologists. Apostates in this context are those individuals that leave controversial religious movements and become public opponents against their former movements. The apostates' motivations, the roles they play in the anti-cult movement, the validity of their testimony, and the kinds of narratives they construct to are controversial. The scholar Bryan Wilson believes that they construct narratives to discredit their former group.

Apostates of cults and NRMs have greatly benefited from the Internet. Many new religious movements are now the targets of apostates' web sites in which they warn the public of their purported dangers and harm. See also Allegations made by former members. Before the popularity of the Internet, apostates of NRMs had far more difficulty coming into contact with other ex-members and gathering and spreading information. These opponents typically disclose unflattering perspectives, testimonials, and information that, purportedly the religious movements they belonged to do not disclose. They typically assert that by disseminating this information they perform a public service that enables current and prospective member to make an informed choice about joining or staying with a religious movement. Some of the groups being criticized, in turn, claim being the target of religious intolerance, or hate by these critics. Some apostates consider themselves to be a notable source of opposition. See also Opposition to cults and new religious movements.

Some notable apostates are associated with the anti-cult movement and the Christian countercult movement.

An article by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, a professor of psychology at the University of Haifa, argues that academic supporters of New religious movements are engaged in a rhetoric of advocacy, apologetics and propaganda, and argues that in the cases of cult catastrophies such as People's Temple, or Heaven's Gate, allegations by hostile outsiders and detractors have been closer to reality than other accounts, and that in that context statements by ex-members turned out to be more accurate than those of offered by apologists and NRM researchers.2

Dr. Phillip Charles Lucas[2] interviewed ex-members of the Holy order of MANS/Christ the Savior Brotherhood and compared them with stayers, and outside observers and came conclusion that they are as (un-)reliables as stayers. 5 Dr. Benjamin Zablocki[3] found the same results after analyzing leaver responses. 4,6

Bryan R. Wilson, a professor of Sociology at Oxford University in a collection of essays he edited in 19817, writes that apostates of new religious movements, are generally in need of self-justification, seeking to reconstruct his own past and to excuse his former affiliations, while blaming those who were formerly their closest associates. Wilson introduces the atrocity story that is rehearsed by the apostate to explain how, by manipulation, coercion or deceit, he was recruited to a group that he now condemns.

Wilson also challenges the reliability of the apostate's testimony by saying that "[apostates] always be seen as one whose personal history predisposes him to bias with respect to both his previous religious commitment and affiliations, the suspicion must arise that he acts from a personal motivation to vindicate himself and to regain his self-esteem, by showing himself to have been first a victim but subsequently to have become a redeemed crusader."8

Bromley and Shuppe while discussing the role of anecdotal atrocity stories by apostates, proposes that these are likely to paint a caricature of the group, shaped by the apostate's current role rather than his actual experience in the group, and question's their motives and rational.9

In studies by Lewis Carter and David Bromley, it is presented that the onus of pathology experienced by former members of new religions movements shifted from these groups to the coercive activities of the anti-cult movement. As a result of this study, the treatment (coerced or voluntary) of former members as people in need of psychological assistance largely ceased. These studies also point out that the lack of any widespread need for psychological help by former members of new religions has in itself become the strongest evidence refuting early sweeping condemnations of new religions as causes of psychological trauma.10

Noted apostates

See also

External links


  1. Introvigne, Massimo Defectors, Ordinary Leavetakers and Apostates: A Quantitative Study of Former Members of New Acropolis in France - paper delivered at the 1997 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, San Francisco, November 23, 1997, in which the motives and reliability of apostate's testimony is studied.
  2. Beit-Hallami, Benjamin Dear Colleagues: Integrity and Suspicion in NRM Research online
  3. The Jewish Encylopedia, (1906). The Kopelman Foundation.
  4. Zablocki, Benjamin Dr. & Looney, J. Anna Research on NRMs in the Post-9/11 World, article in the book NRMs in the 21st Century: legal, political, and social challenges in global perspective edited by Phillip Charles Lucas and Thomas Robbins, (2004) ISBN 0145965772
  5. Lucas, Phillip Charles The Odyssey of a New Religion: The Holy Order of MANS from New Age to Orthodoxy Indiana University press; Shifting Millenial Visions in New Religious Movements: The case of the Holy Order of MANS in The year 2000: Essays on the End edited by Charles B. Strozier, New York University Press 1997; From Holy Order of MANS to Christ the Savior Brotherhood: The Radical Transformation of an Esoteric Christian Order in America's Alternative Religions edited by Timothy Miller, State University of New York Press, 1995; The Eleventh Commandment Fellowship: A New Religious Movement Confronts the Ecological Crisis, Journal of Contemporary Religion 10:3, 1995:229-41; and Social factors in the Failure of New Religious Movements: A Case Study Using Stark's Success Model SYZYGY: Journal of Alternative Religion and Culture 1:1, Winter 1992:39-53
  6. Zablocki, Benjamin Reliability and Validity of Apostate Accounts in the Study of Religious Communities, presented at the annual meeting for the sociology of religion, New York, 1996
  7. Wilson, Bryan R. (Ed.) The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism, Rose of Sharon Press, 1981.
  8. Wilson, Bryan R. Apostates and New Religious Movements, Oxford, England (1994)
  9. Bromley David G., Shupe, Anson D. , Ventimiglia Jr. and J.C. , The Role of Anecdotal Atrocities in the Social Construction of Evil, in Bromley, David G & Richardson, James T. [Eds] Brainwashing Deprogramming Controversy: Sociological, Psychological, Legal, and Historical Perspectives (Studies in religion and society) p. 156 ISBN 08-8946-868
  10. Bromley, David G. (Ed.) The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religiuos Movements and Carter, Lewis, F. Lewis, Carriers of Tales: On Assessing Credibility of Apostate and Other Outsider Accounts of Religious Practices Westport, CT, Praeger Publishers, 1998. ISBN 0-275-95508-7

The contents of this article are licensed from under the GNU Free Documentation License. How to see transparent copy