n. [Greek apostasia, revolt or secession] 1. one who deliberately
abandons one's religion 2. one who publicly renounces and condemns
one's former religious beliefs and practices.
apostate is generally in need of self-justification. He seeks
to reconstruct his own past, to excuse his former affiliations,
and to blame those who were formerly his closest associates.
Not uncommonly the apostate learns to rehearse an 'atrocity
story' to explain how, by manipulation, trickery, coercion,
or deceit, he was induced to join or to remain within an organization
that he now forswears and condemns.
Social Dimensions of Sectarianism
Apostates are not representative of ex-members
many studies show (see, for one, Massimo
apostates are a minority of the
larger population of ex-members of any given religious minority:
former members do not become apostates. They remain — in sociological
terms suggested by David Bromley and others — "defectors"
(members who somewhat regret having left an organization they
still perceive in largely positive terms), or "ordinary leave
takers" with mixed feeling about their former affiliation.
However ordinary leave takers (and, to some extent, defectors)
remain socially invisible, insofar as they do not like or
care to discuss their genuine representatives of the former
members. In fact, quantitative research shows that even in
extremely controversial groups, apostates normally represent
less than 15% of former members.
Liberty in Europe: Apostates
without further investigation, apostates should not be considered
as representatives of ex-members in general.
Lewis and Bromley study became a landmark study in shifting
the onus of pathology experienced by former members of new
religions from the religions to the coercive
activity of the anti-cult movement. In the wake
of this study (and other works that confirmed its findings),
treating former members as people in need of psychological
help has largely ceased. The lack of any widespread expressed
need for psychological help by the tens of thousands of former
members of new religions in the succeeding decade has itself
become the strongest evidence refuting the early sweeping
condemnation of new religions as causes of psychological trauma.
Brainwashing and the Cults:
The Rise and Fall of a Theory
Apostates are not the most credible sources of information
the objective sociological researcher nor the court of law
can readily regard the apostate as a creditable or reliable
source of evidence. He must 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. As various instances have indicated,
he is likely to be suggestible and ready to enlarge or embellish
his grievances to satisfy that species of journalist whose
interest is more in sensational copy than in a objective statement
of the truth.
and New Religious Movements
of the most common reasons skewing occurs when apostates tell their
stories is that they must somehow explain to their listeners how
they — presumably intelligent, discerning people — could have joined
such a "despicable" group in the first place. For many
apostates, saying that maybe the group wasn't that despicable after
all is not an option (even if it is the truth), given their anger
towards the group. (Consider, by way of analogy, how much easier
it is, when a marriage ends, for one ex-partner, divorcing in anger,
to blame the other partner and paint horrific pictures of him or
her, rather than acknowledging that maybe they both were well-meaning
but just couldn't get it to work out.) And certainly saying that
they themselves were stupid
and easily duped is not an option. That leaves only one way out:
to paint the group as so diabolical,
so monstrous, that even intelligent,
discerning people (like the apostate, of course) are easily and
helplessly "sucked in" and "manipulated":
may ask, if the group is as transparently evil as he now contends,
why did he espouse its cause in the first place? In the process
of trying to explain his own seduction and to confirm the
worst fears about the group, the apostate is likely to paint
a caricature of the group that is shaped more by his current
role as apostate than by his actual experience in the group.
G. Bromley, Anson D. Shupe, Jr. and J.C. Ventimiglia,
"The Role of Anecdotal Atrocities in the Social Construction
of Evil," in Bromley and Richardson,
Deprogramming Controversy, p. 156
The destructive power of media sensationalism and apostasy
If, in his day, Judas, after becoming disgruntled with
Jesus, had also had the power of the media
behind him as well, then in addition to Jesus getting crucified,
most likely Christianity would never have gotten off the ground.
days it is very often the case that the only
view the public gets of a new religious movement is the negative,
sensationalized one stemming from apostates.
Seeking for a way to emotionally separate themselves from the movement
and reclaim their reputation in front of others, they find their
"out" through linking up with a media eager for sensational
negative press of any kind.
An example of destructive media / apostate synergy: "negative
recurring theme, particularly destructive to new religious movements,
is what some sociologists have called negative
are well known to recapitulate earlier sensationalist accounts
when locating new stories in similar vein about particular
movements — a practice designated by some sociologists as
the use of "negative summary events." ["This refers to the
journalistic description of a situation or event in such a
way as to capture and express its negative essence as part
of an intermittent and slow-moving story. An apparently isolated
happening is thereby used as an occasion for keeping the broader,
controversial phenomenon in the public mind." — James A. Beckford,
Cult Controversies: The Societal Response to New Religious
Movements, London, Tavistock, 1985, p. 235.]
this means, the dramatic import of each apostate's story is
reinforced in its significance, to the detriment of objective
and ethically neutral enquiry into religious phenomena of
the kind undertaken by academic sociologists. Contemporary
religious bodies, operating in a context of rapid social change
and changing perceptions of religious and spiritual belief,
are likely to be particularly susceptible to the disparagement
and misrepresentation which occurs through the circulation
and repetition of the accounts of apostates.
and New Religious Movements
some point in the history of a new religious movement, an apostate
brings a lawsuit against his or her former religion, and the media
picks up the event for its sensationalistic value. From then on,
the media appends (to every mention of the group in the news) a
reference to the earlier negative summary event:
when the current reason for mentioning is completely unrelated
to the negative event (e.g., someone in the group won an award);
when the negative event occurred decades
when the "negative" event was completely resolved in
the group's favor: the lawsuit was found to have no
merit; the apostate lost the case; the parties settled out of
court; the apostate confesses, even in writing, that most or all
of what they said was untrue, and communicated in a fit of anger
comparable to what ex-partners might say in a messy divorce.
would members of the media (not all, but many) do something that
would be considered inappropriate and unprofessional by all measures
of journalistic ethics? Such actions would violate, for example,
the following principles in the Code of Conduct used by the British
National Union of Journalists:
journalist shall at all times defend the principle of the
freedom of the press and other media in relation to the collection
of information and the expression of comment and criticism.
He/she shall strive to eliminate
distortion, news suppression and censorship.
journalist shall strive to ensure that the information he/
she disseminates is fair and accurate,
avoid the expression of comment and conjecture as established
fact and falsification by distortion,
selection or misrepresentation.
journalist shall not lend himself/ herself to the distortion
or suppression of the truth because of advertising or other
journalist shall only mention a person's age, race, colour,
creed, illegitimacy, disability,
marital status (or lack of it), gender or sexual orientation
if this information is strictly
relevant. A journalist shall neither originate
nor process material which encourages
discrimination, ridicule, prejudice or hatred on any of the
adopted by the British National Union of Journalists
the motivation is to "spice up" an otherwise rather mundane
report with the kind of sensationalism that sells magazines and
increases television ratings. Often their memory is "aided"
by the apostates themselves, who, upon hearing that something neutral
or positive about their former group is being reported, call the
newspaper, TV station, etc. and say, "By the way, don't forget
to mention . . ."
a representative example, adapted from an actual newspaper article.
A branch of a new religious movement opens up a new center in a
new town. Typical of the kind of reportage it gets is the following:
in the fall, the followers of John Smith, founder of the Smegma
religion, entered the community with the stated intention
of being good neighbors. And they are expanding their presence
as these pages reach readers' hands.
to September, few area residents had heard of the religion
known as Smegma or its leader, John Smith. News of the religious
group's arrival has led some residents to question if the
organization is a cult, while others are concerned about increased
traffic in their quiet neighborhood.
group spokesperson Jane Doe emphatically argues against the
notion Smegma is anything like a cult, and says traffic concerns
are being addressed. But in 1970, John Smith was the target
of a lawsuit accusing him of [*** bad things ***]. Church
leaders contend that the accusations were false and that the
lawsuit was later dropped.
current event being reported is an opening of a new branch of the
movement. For journalists adhering to ethical standards, that would
be the end of the report. It is the addition of the negative summary
event (the reference to the lawsuit in 1970) that is unethical.
The last sentence is not unusual. The phrase, "church leaders
contend" is deliberately added in to make the reader wonder
whether they were telling the truth. But whether the lawsuit was
dropped is not a matter of "contention".
Thus any ethical journalist would have spent the extra hour determining
whether the lawsuit was dropped or not — after all, it is a black
and white fact that is a matter of record! Further, any ethical
journalist would not have included the reference to the lawsuit
if it had been dropped.
the following are useful to keep one's eyes open for, as indicators
of "negative summary events":
in the news, or made by apostates, to events that took place decades
ago — Apart from the birth pangs that any new religious
movement goes through (even Christianity) which then disappear
as the kinks get ironed out, any group that is inherently problematic
shows ongoing signs of problems.
Inability on the part of either apostates or the media to point
to such ongoing evidence of problems, or tortured explanations
of how all those "decades old" problems are still going
on but just cleverly hidden (or whatever), are further indicators
that one is witnessing an occurrence of a "negative summary
to events like lawsuits without fully elaborating on how they
were resolved; resistance to acknowledging the obvious implication
of the suits being dismissed or apostates later recanting on their
original accusations; etc. — again these are indicators that such
suits were brought up as "negative summary events",
not as unbiased information helping listeners or readers get at
the truth of the movement.