Apostates who fear being damned, left behind and sent to hell probably would be

Among conservative religionists, there is a view that atheism is bleak because nonbelievers are necessarily plagued with fear of damnation, being left behind and going to hell. This is a fear that literalist religious apologists deliberately cultivate, propagate and maintain in believers and nonbelievers alike. As a consequence of this, it is not too surprising that these fears are among the factors that often discourage religionists from open-mindedly considering defection.

As an atheist onlooker, I have to say that if you’re a religionist who is a part of a literalist religious community, it seems that it is a sad truth that there is probably a good chance that if you do indeed defect from the faith, you will in fact be damned, left behind and relegated to hell. By Christians.

Having read some relevant commentary on sites by and for people who have or who are considering defecting from a faith (e.g., Closeted in Academia and De-Conversion), it has become apparent to me that if you are a religionist and you fear the above listed consequences, there is probably a good chance that you will incur them. Not upon death by God, but rather immediately by your religious community. Why do I say this? And why do I limit this statement only to members of the more hyper-devout communities? The answer is simply that your fears come from somewhere. That somewhere is from the people around you. Sure the people around you may be able to cite some relevant scriptural passages to support their grim outlook, but it is they and the general community who chooses how much emphasis to put on this versus that passage. It is, to my understanding, generally the literalist religious communities who place far more emphasis on the prospects of eternal damnation in hell and/or of being left behind. And it is this same type of community that is more likely to disconnect from defectors.

Some more moderate religious communities may also strongly consider these grim afterlife and/or armageddon scenarios, and probably will apply a significant amount of resistance to member defection, but from what I understand, part of what makes a religious moderate truly a moderate is that they are generally fairly able to follow Jesus’ statement of letting he who is without sin cast the first stone. But there surely is variation within that segment of the religious population that we call moderate, and indeed the grouping of religionists into moderate and literalist is not an exact black-and-white in-or-out sort of thing. There will be moderates who may act more like fundamentalists when the prospective defector is a close relative or friend. But by and large, I suspect that while many religious moderates may feel a great sense of loss upon defection of close kin, perhaps a great sense of disappointment and an unending hope of a return to the faith, by virtue of their religious moderacy, they will by and large continue to love and support the defector far more often than would members of more conservative communities. Indeed, openness to outsiders versus insularity is one of the key points of divergence between moderates and literalists.

If you have deep-seated fears of damnation, being left behind and being relegated to hell, I suspect that there is a very good chance you got this from a belief community that so deeply believes in these notions that they will indeed damn you, leave you behind without their shoulders to lean on, and will relegate you to a lonely personal hell as you try to put your life together upon the loss of a belief system and a valued social community but have to do so without the support of people who were supposed to be your close friends and relatives.

There are any number of reasons why this sort of cult-like insularity is so strongly practiced by members of these conservative religious cult subgroups. Some  members of these communities may fear that your dangerous new way of thinking could infect them or their friends or relatives and put them on a path to God-given eternal damnation, alienation and wrath. The practice may have also developed and been maintained in part by higher-ups in the community so as to discourage defection. Each individual that leaves results in a slight decrease in power of those who were above them. And each time an individual leaves and lives well, the prospect of others leaving appears to be a more and more viable option.

This is one of the many horrible consequences of dogmatism. It devides people, often irreconcileably. Humans are going to have different beliefs, and some of these beliefs are going to have social consequences. There are a few ways of dealing with these divergences. People can segregate themselves and ostracize other groups. They can also fight to the death. The alternative that I personally prefer is to use those capacities for reason and morality that we are constantly extolling ourselves for and apply them even when it is harmful to ourselves. If we as individuals are not willing to be open, honest, rational and genuinely committed to promoting fairness and doing unto others as we’d have done unto us, then how can we expect others to? And if people are not going to act in this way, well then as a society we make a bed of deceit and inhumanity which we force everyone – humans and nonhumans, here and there, now and tomorrow – to lie in. Is this what any idealized humanitarian hero, religious or secular, would do or would be celebrated for encouraging?

Where To Go For Help:

Fortunately there are places online and “in real life” for apostates and those considering apostacy to go for help. I already mentioned website, De-Conversion.Com. I also know that some Center For Inquiry regional centres have supported groups. There is FACTnet for defectors from cults such as Scientology and religious groups that are considered by some to be cults (e.g., Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses). Another option is to check out Unitarian Universalism, which may well be the most liberal and open religious community I’ve come across. Its members include people of all faiths as well as nontheists. While they do tend to appease theism rather than strongly challenge it and hold believers up to the same scrutiny as people making similarly profound claims (e.g., various types of conspiracy theorists) – most of the members are in fact theists – they are known for being supportive, eclectic in their studies, and strong advocates for social justice.

If anyone knows of any good regional or international support groups, please post links in the comment section!

5 Responses to “Apostates who fear being damned, left behind and sent to hell probably would be”
  1. orDover says:

    “There will be moderates who may act more like fundamentalists when the prospective defector is a close relative or friend.”

    I have heard a few people say that their own turning from the faith inspired some of the friends and family to become more devout. It is an unsettling proposition to moderate and fundamentalist alike.

    Wonderful post!

  2. Ron Brown says:


    I wonder what sorts of rationales motivated the increased religious devotion. Maybe some of them felt obligated to be more devout to either (or both of) lead by example to the defector and/or make amends for not succeeding in keeping the defector in (e.g., if it’s a child, not having given them a good enough Christianizing rearing).

  3. lab jc lap says:

    Mr Ron you are an astute observer indeed
    thank you for your Christ-like loving thoughtfulness

    Your observation about the way Christians and others
    stress different passages differently is correct.

    I am a serious believer in Jesus Christ
    However what Christ taught as the Fundamental
    Message is not stressed often times
    Jesus said(paraphrasing) Loving God and Loving all people are the great commandments. More fundamental than the 10 commandments, more fudamental than all the rest
    For those in their heart of hearts who cannot bring themselves to trust in Jesus to rely on him as their leader

    remember Jesus looks on the intent of the heart
    as he said of his torturers as he hung on the cross

    …..Father forgive them for they know not what they do……………

    You cannot know to follow Jesus unless the father sends you to him . Funny this part of the bible is not often repeated. It is the other half of the scripture that says no man comes to the father but by the Son that is often repeated

    So there is the dimension of you making a choice to love and believe Jesus Christ and another dimension not stressed that says the Father must direct you to such a Love for Jesus
    While the one is stressed the other is not. This inconsistency leads to a lie and like the best lies it involves mostly truth.
    Satan is evil but brilliant. Sorta like modern day marketers HAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Get you to buy gas guzzling Suv’s and feel powerfull about even as you go broke from filling the gas tank HAHAHAA!!!!!!!!!!!
    Much love and respect to all
    lab jc lap

  4. Joe says:

    Hi Ron,
    Don’t know how I came upon your blog, but it’s great! What are you doing in Seoul? Feel free to write me at my email address josesiem at gmail.

    There’s some excellent insight and commentary here.

  5. jazzdude says:

    Excellent insights, Ron. Thanks for the passing reference to my blog (Closeted in Academia).

    Even though the community I’ve been a part of is more moderate than many fundamentalist denominations, there are still many, particularly those in a position of leadership, who are nearly phobic concerning the infiltration of 1) homosexuals; 2) liberals; and 3) atheists. I think it is safe to say that coming out as gay would be safer, even though most of those around me despise homosexuals and see them as a threat to the moral fabric of America (their view, not mine). It has been said that only Christians shoot their wounded. Sad state indeed.

    I am sensing a growing community on the internet that seeks to support those who are coming out of a faith experience. I hope this trend continues, and develops into a bona fide support structure fir defectors of faith. As for me, I will take my time and come out rationally and responsibly. It will take time, but I will get there soon.

    Ciao – JD

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