It is not unusual to hear stories about faithful church people or even preachers who suddenly depart the church and confess to being disbelievers, agnostics, or even atheists. Whenever that happens the church has to deal with and explain that dramatic change in religious confession. The normal church response suggests fraud, supernatural evil, or general spiritual carelessness.
Each such occurrence becomes another opportunity for the church to emphasize the fearful uncertainty of one’s God relationship and eternal destiny and to use it to control those who remain. Instead of sincerely trying to understand what went wrong in the life of the “apostate”, the church’s focus never wavers from using the event as a reason to suppress all questions and doubts. The “apostate” is written off totally in favor of internal damage control.
Those of us who have been the departing “apostate” probably share a similar experience. If you dare to ask questions and express doubts, the church will turn on you in an instant. No one cares what your issues are or if they are real. The important thing to the church is to cleanse the congregation of anything that smacks of dissent or difference. Rigid conformity within the collective is much more important than any individual’s crisis of faith. Better to cauterize the group than open a Pandora’s Box of serious discussion about why brother or sister so and so just crashed spiritually.
In my experience, people don’t apostatize and then leave the church; they are driven from the church by the church’s own apostasy. All the inherent unpleasantness of traditional church theology and practice, eventually takes an intolerable toll on the mental and moral well being of many church members. Some gut it out despite the internal turmoil, trying to belong where they don’t really, and suffering in silence and forced conformity. Others who are either weaker or stronger, depending on one’s viewpoint, hit the door and don’t look back.
Every “apostate” is an indictment of church theology. Transformative, divinely ordained religion does not drive people away like the church routinely does. Blaming the forces of supernatural evil for the church’s loss and then shaming the “apostate” for the courage to take control of their own spiritual well being is the very apostasy that drives folks away in the first place.