Joining and Leaving a Minority Religion
Created | Updated Apr 2, 2009
Defining Terms of Belief
A Critique of Belief | Neurotheology - is God in our Heads?
The Evolutionary Advantages of Faith | The Biological Basis of Belief
Why do we have Beliefs? | Why are Beliefs held so Dearly? | The Stages of Belief
The Contradictions of Atheistic Assumption in the Social Sciences | Science as Religion
Joining and Leaving a Minority Religion
Why Someone Might Choose Neo-Paganism Over Mainstream Religion
On Medieval Heresy | The Perceived Dichotomy Between Sexuality and Spirituality
Religion as a Tool for Social Control
Imagine the sort of person that joins a cult. Are you thinking of shy loners, desperate for friends who are coerced into joining by an evil predatory organisation? Whilst for this may be true for some members of some organisations, the vast majority of people who join a minority religion do so because they choose to.
It's a nagging feeling that starts it; a feeling that not everything is quiet right with the world. Everyone else is happily bumbling along with life. But something seems wrong for you, maybe it's that the world is full of injustice, or maybe life seems pointless.
Then you find Them; They don't tell you to cheer up or accept the world the way it is. You talk to Them more, you agree with some of Their ideas. They seem to have some interesting views on things and you decide to find out more...
Gradually, you find yourself becoming more involved in your new religion. If this is a religion with an initiation ritual, you may decide to formally become a member.
Becoming an Active Member
By now this religion has become an important part of your life. You may decide that you no longer have interests in some of the things that used to occupy you. You decide to share this new important part of your life with those people that are close to you. You may choose not to take part in a religion that you previously belonged to because it no longer feels relevant to you.
Some of your friends and family may be pleased that you seem so much happier. This can be the case especially if you have chosen to give up drinking or taking drugs because it no longer seems relevant. On the other hand, if the degree in Media Studies that you were working for no longer seems relevant then your family and old friends will be horrified: how could you ever could you have changed so much? How have you abandoned all of your old values and become a different person?
If the religion has improved your life so much, then you feel that you should help other people improve their lives in the same way. Firstly, you want to improve the lives of the people that you care about. So you begin to tell them why they should join your religion. They begin to see you as a bore. They begin to think that this can't be you; you must have been brainwashed.
Your relationships with both friends and family have changed by now, perhaps because you are spending much of the time appearing brainwashed in your efforts to convince them that they should join you. Now there may be little time to discuss the progress of your favourite football team. Your friends from within your religion provides a retreat from these arguments. You may choose to spend more time with them. If your friends are also your colleagues then work no longer becomes as enjoyable.
Gradually you spend more and more time with people in the religion and less and less time with people outside. Your old friends from the 'outside' give up trying to convince you to leave and tire of you trying to convert them. As you now spend most of your time within the religion then you are unlikely to meet people from outside the religion. If you do meet someone new they will often become standoffish when they discover your faith. So you choose not to tell them, which makes it difficult to from new friendships from outside.
Working can become awkward. People can become isolated from their colleagues. The purpose of your job may seem pointless now you have discovered that their is more to life than money, you may rather spend you time working for the good of the religion. For some, these feelings of pointlessness can be combated by donating money to the religion or by doing voluntary work in their spare time. Others choose to change career, so now they are doing something that seems more fruitful.
Your religion is a large part of your life and it's hard to share your life with someone who doesn't share this large part of it. For some people this means that their marriages can no longer be maintained. You are likely to form a new relationship with someone who shares your religion and your values.
The beginning of the end of your involvement is the same nagging feeling of doubt. This time it's a feeling that not everything is right with the community. You don't quiet agree with one small point. There may be a new doctrine that seems excessive. You still agree with the rest of the religion's teachings. You still feel that they are basically right in their view of the world.
The Beginning of the End
You start by arguing the point from within your religion; depending on your position within the group you may succeed in changing the group policy. Or maybe it is a small point and the group is tolerant of diversity, so it does not matter.
Perhaps it is a large point and you cannot covert the group; it may be a point on which you cannot convert the group. Within some groups, where the majority of decisions are taken by a charismatic leader, people who disagree with the leader are isolated.
As a member of a small religious group then you are living away from the outside world; you are isolated as it is. Now if you are isolated within your community you are in an extremely solitary situation. If you are married to someone else within the community then it can cause problems within the marriage.
The Difficulties of Leaving
The longer you have been in a community and the more involved you have become then the harder it is to leave. It may mean leaving your partner, the majority of your friends, if you are working within your community it could mean leaving your job. Taking your children away from the community could be traumatic for them. Some people decide to reduce their involvement but not to leave completely. For example they might decide to stop working within the community and begin to work outside the community. Or they may decide not to attend events as often as they used to.
A small group of people who practice a religion are often a close supportive group. If someone is sick then often people will rally around to help them out. By comparison, the outside world often appears harsh and uncaring. To leave a group for the outside world can seem terrifying. Some people choose to officially go through the motions of attending the group but do not believe it what is preached. They will not mention in public that they no longer believe but may help out in a practical sense to see old friends. For instance they may not attend meetings but instead choose to help with the catering.
Suddenly breaking all links with an organisation is a courageous decision, while making new friendships outside of the community may be difficult because you are regarded as slightly strange. People will say that you have been brainwashed, tell you that you were somehow forced to join, you remember it as a rational decision that you made when you were younger or perhaps a little more idealistic.
There is no longer the spiritual certainty around you; this new uncertainty is difficult to come to terms with. If you were the kind of person that never thought about spirituality and never searched for answers then you would never have joined in the first place.
Many people find it easier to join another minority religion. This one provides more of the answers that you were searching for. It also provides a new group of instant friends to replace the ones that you are no longer in contact with.
As we have seen, the main reason for expanding one's religious interests is uncertainty: uncertainty about yourself, or uncertainty of the existence or format or God. But be grateful, this uncertainty applies to a much broader spectrum of people. Our next entry takes a well-rationalised shot at much that is wrong with today's academia and examines The Contradictions of Atheistic Assumption in the Social Sciences.