Debate Magazine

Apostasy and Indoctrination – The Young Atheist’s Handbook

By Carnun @Carnunmp

Here’s another post inspired by Alom Shaha’s outstanding ‘Young Atheist’s Handbook’.

I hope that these will help a few to consider donating to the campaign to get copies of the book in all English and Welsh secondary schools, the website for which can be found here:


Apostasy and Indoctrination – The Young Atheist’s Handbook

“I’ve said this before, but it’s worth restating: the acquisition of belief in God is a process that many people have little choice in. It begins when they are too young to question the ideas they are presented with, and is reinforced as they grow up by the fact that, even in the 21st century, even in the developed nations of the world, religious belief permeates our cultural lives to such an extent that not believing in God is still regarded as unusual.” – Alom Shaha, The Young Atheist’s Handbook.

I’m lucky. As a teenager living in the UK, I grow up with numerous luxuries and freedoms tragically unavailable to many in the developing world at this moment in time. Among this list – sitting alongside an access to a decent education, universal healthcare, good food, clean water, technological luxuries, etc. – is both a freedom of religion and freedom from it. Despite some corners of the public sphere insisting (perhaps with a smile) that I am destined to join the fuel that drives the furnaces of Hell, my life is peaceful, happy and extremely relatively safe.

I’m free, here, to criticize religion and live happily without it. I do not fear violence, I do not fear persecution, and I do not fear community-based alienation. But some, even in this utopia I seem to have painted, do – and the fear is perfectly rational.

For those of you, like me, who haven’t had to deal with the potentially emotionally devastating (and dangerous) tug-of-war that is the bumpy road from belief to apostasy, try to put yourself in the shoes of someone that has. Imagine:
Everyone you know, everyone you love, is wrong. You feel like you’ve grown up and they haven’t. How can they not see? You have everyone and no-one to talk to, to ask questions, for you know that if you do, you’re in danger. Maybe not physically – although that’s entirely possible, you’ve heard stories – but socially. Your friends and family won’t look at you in the same way. You’ll be evil in their eyes. You are evil. You’re going to burn. You’re going to disgrace the family…

It’s disgustingly absurd that I may be close to the mark with that for even one person. I’m so very disconnected from any sort of experience like it, but I take comfort in the fact that at least my subjective ignorance is the sympathetic kind.

See, I wasn’t brought up in any sort of religious framework. I, like every other person, don’t need to be. One can be ‘good without God’, and science and reason can offer a much more likely and useful (and therefore enthralling) ‘truth’ than any set of scripture could ever hope to produce, and I’m not at all ashamed to admit that I occasionally feel sorry for those who are denied a chance to even consider this because of the belief or (not that they should cross over) culture they happen to be born into.

Call that patronising if you like. I’m sure there are those who feel sorry for me too.

And before you say it, I’ve come to this conclusion, to be the person I am, with, of course, the help and influence of my parents: but to argue I’ve been ‘indoctrinated into Atheism’ just as children are all too often indoctrinated into the religion of their parents is just plain silly.

Belief, or lack thereof, was never forced upon me in any sense. I was taught to value nothing other than relentless questioning when it came to real-world proposals, and it just so happened (though I’m not going to pretend I’m surprised) to lead me towards general skepticism and non-belief. Religion wasn’t off-limits, some sort of taboo for which there would be repercussions if I were to explore it. On the contrary, exploration was actively encouraged – and that is the major difference.

I’ve read the Bible, I’ve read the Qur’an, and I’m soon to read the Book of Mormon (though at this stage it’s more for the sake of fun than curiosity) among others, however I’m sure there are still those who’d ignorantly accuse me of ‘hating God’, outright denying ‘the truth’, or lacking scriptural knowledge despite this. Because, in fact, the God hypothesis (phrased the right way, mind you) isn’t one I completely and utterly disregard, I only deny ‘the truth’ because I have researched it, and I’ve read into scripture just about enough to have post-it-noted my *favourite* parts.

(Note: When I say ‘favourite’, I mean ‘most disturbing’.)

I wish others here (but absolutely not just here) could share this privilege I enjoy when it comes to belief. Undoubtedly, lawfully, they can – but that means nothing when family is at stake, when you risk losing a sense of community, when your well-being is in danger, and when you’ve been conditioned to believe – along with everyone else around you – that your eternal soul is on the line.

If professing a lack of belief in God is hazardous for just a single person, that’s one too many. Even if it’s uncomfortable for someone, it’s gone too far. As a society – and an increasingly secular one at that – we must challenge the negative associations people make with unbelief, and support those who fall victim to them in the meantime.

Another one of Alom Shaha’s commendable endeavours, ‘The Apostasy Project‘, aims to do just this. “If you are questioning your faith or wanting to leave your religion”, says the website, “you need help and support. You may be leaving behind family, friends and community, but where are you going and how do you get there? The Apostasy Project will help by offering guidance and resources and direct access to others who have been through the same experience. When you doubt your faith it can feel like you have nowhere to turn. The Apostasy Project will fill this gap, and offer reliable information and, more importantly, a sense of community. The project is not about criticising religion but supporting the right to choose what you believe.”

And it’s a right indeed.



The ‘Young Atheist’s Handbook 4 Schools’ campaign:

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