Saturday, November 12, 2011

Debunking apostasy

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.


  1. Looks like an accurate description of Loftus (among others).

    Thanks for dusting off this excerpt.

  2. Upon perusal, Professor Wilson's study appears to pertain specifically to apostates from minority and/or new religious movements and not to apostates from historical Christianity; however, broader application may certainly be appropriate.

    After being referred to this blog by my boyfriend, a regular reader, I was mildly surprised to find the same study Mormons use to discredit apostates from Mormonism, like myself, applied to apostates from Christianity.

    I have little sympathy for hostile apostates from Christianity. Still, it's perplexing that Professor Wilson's study seems to be applied to apostates by whomever finds it convenient, with confusing inconsistency. Mormons don't have a negative view of folks who apostatize from other religions and join theirs. The same would be true of Christians, I'd wager.

    I don't wish to be combative; I hope to clarify my own thoughts, here, particularly as Wilson's words have been directed at me for years by Mormons angered by my conversion to Christianity. Is it possible to apply Professor Wilson's study of apostate narratives safely and consistently? So far, any way I look at it, it appears more a boomerang than an arrow.



  3. My continued reading of Professor Wilson's various papers has turned up information which may be of interest only to me, but I'm posting it here on the off chance it may do someone else good.

    Bryan Wilson wrote several articles on Scientology, all of which were designed to prove it a religious movement as authentic (or inauthentic, I suppose, to the agnostic Wilson) as any other and to cast doubt on the exit stories of defectors. I have no choice but to regard him an apologist for abusive non-Christian cults.

    His studies were not aimed at disproving the exit narratives of apostates from Christianity, rather, they were aimed at discrediting apostates from spiritually harmful cults, some of whom were undoubtedly delivered from such cults by the Lord because they are His.

    Professor Wilson was no friend to Christians. The link provided in Mr. Hays's original post is a PDF file from the Church of Scientology's International Human Rights Office: Professor Wilson described Scientology's auditing process as "pastoral counseling." He flew to France to be a defense witness for the Church of Scientology in a court case against them.

    My comments are in no way meant to disparage good Mr. Hays or to even indirectly defend apostates from Christianity. I make them out of sincere concern for God's people. From all appearances, Professor Wilson was an enemy to the Kingdom of God. As Christians, we pray for the the safe deliverance of people from cults into the freedom of Christ. Personally, I'd not want to align myself in any way with a man who provided support for their un-Godly oppressors.

    As an aside, Wilson is no longer a reader Emeritus at Oxford because he died in 2004.

    I pray that my comments are taken in the sincere way in which they are made. I am open to correction where I am wrong.



  4. I agree with you that his position is overstated. For one thing, not everyone who converts from one faith to another, or leaves the faith, has bitter feelings about what he left behind. In fact, sometimes there's regret.

    There are, however, lots of folks who do fit the psychological profile like a glove, viz. John Loftus, Hector Avalos, Robert Price.