Last month the New York Times published an article (“Leaving Islam for Atheism”) on a different kind of coming out of the closet: young women who had to tell their devout families they did not believe in God. Some were Christians, some Jewish, but the article focuses on the Muslims. These are painful moments for parents and children alike, and these women have shown an amazing amount of courage. In the face of “just believe!” they have risked ostracism, anger, and even violence to stand up for freethinking.
The parents have to be courageous as well if they are going to come to terms with this earth-shattering news and maintain a relationship with their children. Many cut the child off, others try desperately to convince them of their error. Why not simply let an apostate go in peace? First, parents are afraid that their children will burn in hell forever, and that’s not to be taken lightly when you love someone. But there’s much more to it. It’s the fear that your children are now “godless” atheists—that epithet that is so often and so redundantly applied to atheism. What is meant of course is that atheists have no moral code, that they therefore do the devil’s work, and their freethinking might spread like a blight among the faithful, turning ever greater numbers away from the Truth.
But why not just let these people go down the path to perdition? If they want to risk the fire and brimstone, it’s on them. The answer must be that it’s not just about belief, it’s an entire way of life. It’s every fiber of your being, the source of your existence. To reject this is to reject your family, your ancestors, your community, your culture—so much of what makes us human.
Christians of course went through this centuries ago. Apostasy was a capital crime and the ultimate “act of faith” taught by the Inquisition was the auto-da-fe, in which the heretics were shown the error of their ways by burning them at the stake. Those days are past, but there are still many in the United States who would shudder if their daughters rejected Christianity, or refused to have their babies baptized, or married outside the faith, and they certainly would shun those who have turned their backs on the Truth.
But there’s a big problem today: religious violence has set more and more of the world on fire. Unless we think that all 7 plus billion people are going to convert to a single religion at some point, freethinking that includes tolerance is the only thing that’s going to save us. As the sectarian fighting in the Middle East and Africa gets worse, we have to do more to teach tolerance, specifically pressuring governments and institutions to accept that :
- Truth is elusive when it comes to religion
- each sect should be free to exist (as long as they are not harming anyone)
- individuals should be free to explore new ways of thinking about faith
These are in fact the principles of the Charter for Compassion Movement founded by Karen Armstrong. Everyone has to do more to get others on board and make these principles the core beliefs we all live by. Those handbaskets we’re all going to hell in are nearing completion and in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Somalia, and the CAR they’ve already been delivered. Unless we can get the whole world to sign on to these simple ideas of acceptance,tolerance, and compassion the downward spiral we’re on will continue.
The website for Ex-Muslims can be found at http://www.exmna.org