21 March 2013

Reclaiming Apostasy

In recent posts, I have mentioned attending one of the Unitarian Universalist Societies in my greater metropolitan area. Because the weather is not fit for biking, I have walked. The walk is long. It has generated many ideas for blog posts, and only recently have I learned to bring a notebook along to document these.

One such idea has occupied my mind for the past few weeks, and that is the idea of apostasy.

I identify as an apostate. While Hellenism is my primary religious identity, I think that identifying as an apostate is an important piece of accepting polytheism after converting from another religion.

Many people I speak with are uncomfortable with the term apostate. When I say, “Oh, I apostatized in fourth grade,” that word generally brings a lot of confusion to light. Firstly, even today, choosing to abandon one religion in favor of another carries numerous social consequences. The term apostate is generally applied to us to justify exclusion, prejudice, and persecution. Secondly, some people assume that the term only applies to people who have left Catholicism. They probably only have this association because so many people have left Catholicism.

I made a series of posts last year called “Expectations.” These presented my ideas about the bare bones of what Hellenism is and is not (upon which one could graft specific conditions for various flavors of Hellenism). During the second post, I talked about the idea of setting boundaries between oneself and other religions — and I mostly focused on Christianity, as it offers a unique lens of privilege that makes most Christians unaware that a lot of their religious customs are not universal.

The word apostate is one such boundary. It is a word that requires confidence and defiance. People demand things when they hear it. It opens conversations and breaks down walls. It can also cause a great deal of pain and suffering in places that do not allow freedom of belief or thought.

The reasons for claiming this term are threefold: Firstly, Emperor Julian has had the word applied to him. From what I have read of him, I find him a generally agreeable historical figure, and if I can’t force people to stop calling him a pejorative, maybe I can make the pejorative into a badge of honor. Remember Julian. Secondly, it is accurate and meaningful. Thirdly, owning the term sends a message that one does not feel shame at this. It creates a rupture between the old spiritual identity and the new. Why not use the term?

3 comments:

Apuleius Platonicus said...

It's not so much that "good fences make good neighbors," rather its the case that if you know you have murderously violent neighbors, well then you had better have some good fences. And maybe sleep with a gun under your pillow, too.

Editor B said...

I identify with the term too. I've even been known to celebrate my "apostaversary."

Chas said...

I suppose my apostate moment came when, having emotionally accepted Paganism two years earlier, I performed my own self-consecration ritual. (Hadn't found a group yet--this was pre-Internet.)

For a second I expected the ceiling to split and YHWH's lightning to strike. When it did not, I knew there was no going back.