Apostates R Us by Glenn M. Hardie (March 2001)

Many humanists suffer from a condition known as apostasy. Fortunately, this condition is not a disease of any sort; indeed, it can be considered more as a cure. It is neither painful nor debilitating, though one may suffer withdrawal symptoms for a short period. However, it is contagious, and those who have it should spread its positive effects as far and wide as possible.

Apostasy is the conscious rejection of previously-held religious beliefs of any kind; those who do so are called apostates. In this respect they differ from other humanists, agnostics, or atheists who have never held religious beliefs. It may be comforting to know that, according to many studies, apostates display certain uniformities and thus cannot be considered as aberrations.

According to B.P. Beckwith1, apostates are generally well-educated, have higher than average levels of intelligence, and enjoy better than average economic circumstances. In North America, people tend to become apostates at younger rather than older ages, are more predominant in the West, and are most likely to be male. Beckwith attributes these characteristics to the growth of knowledge, education, freedom of expression, social reform, health care, and the rise of logical positivism and scientific method, among other factors.

Another researcher, D.G. Bromley2, made a study of what he termed religious disaffiliation occurring in American mainstream and alternative religious groups. He also examined the rapid growth of those who claimed no religious affiliation in the first place, as well as apostates from any one group who adopted another (usually more liberal) set of beliefs.

As can be imagined, Bromley found the whole topic to be incredibly complex, with problems stemming from inconsistent questionnaires, non-uniform terminology, conflicting methodology, and the variety of studies of the many social and psychological consequences of apostasy, both for groups and individuals concerned. He further dealt with the special difficulties of apostates from the more extreme of the cult groups (such as the Moonies, Jonestown, and Heaven’s Gate) and with attempts at what is popularly called deprogramming.

One final reference here deals with a detailed study by Caplovitz3 of religious drop-outs among college students, in which factors such as parental relationships, peer pressure, radical political orientation, and individual commitment to intellectualism and rationality are cited as significant. For readers who are apostates from mainline or fringe religious organizations and who may find this topic of interest, there is a wealth of useful material just waiting to be absorbed in any well-stocked city or college library.

Foundation member Glenn Hardie was a founding member of the B.C. Humanist Association, on whose Board he served for many years. He is also a member of the Humanist Association of Canada and the American Humanist Association. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, a Master’s degree in Adult Education, and professional diplomas in Construction Economics and Property Appraisal. Now retired, he taught project costing at the B.C. Institute of Technology and at the School of Architecture at U.B.C. He is married, with two grown children.


1 Beckwith, B. The Decline of Religious Faith. Beckwith Publications, CA 1985

2 Bromley, D.G. Falling from the Faith. Sage Publications, CA 1988

3 Caplovitz, S. The Religious Drop-Outs. Sage Publications, CA 1977

Freedom From Religion Foundation