Apostates from Christianity proudly view themselves as freethinkers. It's ironic, in this regard, to see how stereotypical their deconversion stories are:
The apostate typically represents himself having been introduced to his former allegiance at a time when he was especially vulnerable — depressed, isolated, lacking social or financial support, alienated from his family, or some other such circumstance. His former associates are now depicted as having prevailed upon him by false claims, deceptions, promises of love, support, enhanced prospects, increased well-being, or the like. In fact, the apostate story proceeds, they were false friends, seeking only to exploit his goodwill, and extract from him long hours of work without pay, or whatever money or property he possessed.
Thus, the apostate presents himself as “a brand plucked from the burning,” as having been not responsible for his actions when he was inducted into his former religion, and as having “come to his senses” when he left. Essentially, his message is that “given the situation, it could have happened to anyone.” They are entirely responsible and they act with malice aforethought against unsuspecting, innocent victims. By such a representation of the case, the apostate relocates responsibility for his earlier actions, and seeks to reintegrate with the wider society which he now seeks to influence, and perhaps to mobilize, against the religious group which he has lately abandoned.
Neither 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.
Professor Bryan Ronald Wilson is the reader Emeritus in Sociology at the University of Oxford.