Lately it’s become a minor trend to anonymously — but publicly — announce one’s irreligion in countries where apostasy is criminalized and atheists are often imprisoned or worse. Here is a photograph I saw yesterday from the Atheist Republic that nicely illustrates this phenomenon.
The photo was captioned: “This picture was sent to us from a very brave atheist girl in Saudi Arabia.”
In case you can’t tell, this photo was taken at the most sacred site in Islam. It’s a fitting place to take such an image.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen images such as this. I’ve seen numerous others. A few months ago I had a conversation with a Christian about apostasy in Islamic countries. He was clear when he said he was happy people were coming out as atheists in Islamic countries for two reasons: 1) People shouldn’t have to be afraid of who they are spiritually, and 2) it shows shifting standards within countries known for hard-lined Islamic practice.
Absent from this conversation was any mention of apostasy in Christianity. So this raises a few questions.
Because my sample size is 1, I’m definitely not going to assume most Christians think it’s a good thing to leave Islam and become an atheist. But I should assume there are others. In any case, I will leave my questions open for people of all religions (or no religion).
First, is my Christian friend right? Is apostasy in Islamic countries something that should be embraced for its liberalization effect? Or does this not reflect your spiritual values?
In the same vein — if you’re Christian — would you rather see someone maintain a belief in god as a Muslim, or would you prefer they leave Islam, even if he or she becomes atheist?
If you’re pro-apostasy in Islam, would you support apostasy in any religion, even if it leads to irreligion?
This last question is perhaps the most important. Although this was not part of the discussion I had with my friend, American Christians lament the dying church in the UK and fear the UK’s growing irreligion. Every year we read poll results that show irreligion in the US is growing rapidly, and we read news articles about the churches desperately trying to retain as many Christians as possible. I find it rather difficult to imagine that — if this woman took this photograph in front of the Vatican — she would have many Christian supporters.
Then again, she probably wouldn’t need many supporters. Getting caught taking a picture like this in front of the Vatican might garner a few rolled eyes. Getting caught in Mecca — at the Kaaba, no less — might be the last thing she ever does.
But the threat is not the issue. It shouldn’t matter if she left Islam or Buddhism or Judaism or Hinduism. And it shouldn’t matter if she left Christianity. I would hope support for one form of apostasy is support for all forms of apostasy. I’m not naive enough to think this is so, but it’s something interesting to ponder.