Apostasy is a Human Right

The criminalization of apostasy is the religious equivalent of rape.

2016-04-07

The right to leave a religion, i.e. apostasy, is a necessary aspect of freedom of conscience. To deny a person that right, i.e. to force them to accept a system of beliefs and practises against their will, is analogous to forcing them to submit to sexual acts against their will. Furthermore, the denial of the right to apostasy is closely related to the essentialism underlying multiculturalism and the myth of religious obligations.

Sommaire en français
Le droit de quitter une religion, c’est-à-dire d’apostasier, est un aspect incontournable de la liberté de conscience. Refuser ce droit en forçant un individu à accepter un système de croyances et de pratiques, contre la volonté de cet individu, est analogue à une obligation de se soumettre involontairement à des actes sexuels. De plus, la dénégation du droit d’apostasier est étroitement liée à la mentalité essentialiste qui soutient le multiculturalisme et le mythe de l’obligation religieuse.

Imagine that someone makes you a proposition. But, you are told, the only acceptable response you may give is “Yes.” You may be allowed your choice of several ways of saying “Yes,” but you must pick one of them because a response of “No” is simply unacceptable. Or, in a slight variant of this game, you have apparently said “Yes” at some time in the past — perhaps recently, but maybe in the distant past, perhaps even when you were a child too young to understand the proposition to which you were responding. In any case, you no longer have any choice, you may not say “No.”

I am sure that you would be upset, probably extremely upset, at being put in such a predicament, especially if the proposition were an unpleasant one.

If the proposition in question were of a sexual nature, this is called rape. You would be the target of a sexual proposition to which you would be forced to submit.

Now consider this: although there are varying opinions on the matter, according to Islamic doctrine, apostasy, i.e. the conscious abandonment of Islam by a Muslim, is a sin, in general a crime, and often a capital crime. In fact, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center, millions of Muslims are of the opinion that apostasy should be punishable by death. This means that if a Muslim person—either one born into that religion or who converted to it—should begin to question his or her faith, i.e. if they find themselves faced with the proposition “Do you wish to remain a Muslim?” then only an affirmative answer can save them from being considered at least a sinner and probably a criminal, and quite possibly a criminal deserving of death. A response of “No” is not an option.

So again, if the proposition is sexual, it is called rape. But if the proposition is religious, and if that religion is Islam, then we normally have a complete and absolute denial of freedom of conscience. There are of course secular Muslims who take a more flexible approach, but they are not in the mainstream of Islamic doctrine and theology. Furthermore, there may exist other religions which have such severe and draconian rules about apostasy, but I am unaware of them. If such religions exist, they must be far less important demographically than Islam.

[…] if a Muslim cleric or spokesperson asserts freedom of religion but fails to repudiate the Islamic condemnation of apostasy, then they are hypocritical; the so-called “freedom of religion” which they claim for Muslims is completely vacuous and worthless.

We thus see that mainstream Islam is utterly incompatible with freedom of conscience, which includes both freedom of religion and freedom FROM religion, and the latter implies the freedom to apostatize if one so chooses. Therefore, if a Muslim cleric or spokesperson asserts freedom of religion but fails to repudiate the Islamic condemnation of apostasy, then they are hypocritical; the so-called “freedom of religion” which they claim for Muslims is completely vacuous and worthless.

In both sexual and religious contexts, if one is not allowed to say “No” then any response of “Yes” becomes meaningless.

The Islamic condemnation of apostasy has implications for religion in general. Indeed it influences attitudes—even attitudes held by non-believers—towards religious affiliation. The reprobation of apostasy is complementary to the idea that religious belief and religious affiliation are in some way essential to the identity of the individual believer, as if that affiliation were immutable. This essentialist point of view is of course completely false: there is nothing innate or immutable about religion. The religion to which one belongs, if any, is in general completely determined by the milieu in which one is raised as a child; i.e. it is the result of the indoctrination of children, except for those few who convert as adults. (Here I am excluding forced conversions which are commonplace during the expansion of a religion by wars of conquest.) Religious affiliation has nothing to do with genetics or race. Even sexual orientation, which is subject to some flexibility and fluidity, is far more innate than religion.

Those Muslims who oppose apostasy so vehemently also exaggerate the importance of religious affiliation to the identity of the individual, and this strategy is self-serving: i.e. they seek to minimize deconversions among Muslims in order to avoid loss of numbers and loss of influence.

Furthermore, the myth of religious obligations—the notion that an individual participates in certain religious practices or wears certain clothing because he or she is obligated to do so—serves a similar purpose: it exaggerates the importance of religion to personal identity in order to freeze Muslims into their affiliation and prevent them from fully exercising their freedom of conscience, because if they did so, many would inevitably leave Islam and many of those would become atheists. In reality there is no such thing as a religious obligation to which individuals autonomously submit; on the contrary, either individuals choose their religious practises, or they are being coerced by others, in which case they are victims of abuse and need help to regain their freedom. The myth of religious obligations is a tool to deny freedom and, ultimately, to promote atheophobia.

To make matters worse, many non-believers, even some atheists, fall into the trap of accepting the essentialism which underlies the condemnation of apostasy. They implicitly accept the misconception that religious practises and clothing are somehow obligatory and unquestionable—and therefore must be accommodated. We thus have the pathetic spectacle of people who claim to be secularists opposing secularism in practise and promoting multiculturalism, an essentialist ideology which attaches greater importance to the ethno-religious affiliation of the individual than it does to his or her freedom of conscience. The ethno-religious determinism facilitated by multiculturalism is the ultra-light version of the denial of apostasy. Both weaken or threaten freedom of conscience.


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