Compiled by Clifton L. Holland

Director of PROLADES

5 September 2002



1.      Definitions of “apostasy” and “apostate”:


·        “Apostasy” (noun) -- the abandonment of what one has believed in, as a faith, cause, principles, etc.; the abandonment of what one has voluntarily professed; total desertion or departure from one's faith, principles, or party.


·        “Apostate” (adjective) – one who has forsaken the faith, principles or party to which he before adhered; a renegade, a person guilty of apostasy; a person who was raised in a particular religion, but at the time of the survey adhered to “no religion” (Caplovitz & Sherrow, p. 30).


·        Apostasy is derived from Greek apostasis, "a standing away from, a defection, a revolt," from aphistanai, "to stand off or away from, to revolt," from apo-, "from, away from" + histanai, "to stand" (Source:  http://www.dictionary.com/wordoftheday/archive/2002/07/18.html )


·        “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.” - Matthew 24:11


·        "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons." - 1 Timothy 4:1.


·        "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." - 2 Timothy 4:3-4


2.      Definitions and analysis of religious “conversion”:


·        A change from lack of faith to religious belief; adoption of a religion.


·        A change from one belief, religion, doctrine, opinion, etc., to another.


·        A classical example of Biblical conversion is Saul of Tarsus, who persecuted the early Christians in Jerusalem; however, on the road to Damascus, Saul had a vision of the gloried Christ and was temporarily blinded by the Light; he then confessed that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” and became Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles (Acts of the Apostles 9:1-22).


·        In Social Science research:  “A person who were raised in a particular religion, but at the time of the survey adhered to a different religion; replacement of one set of principles (belief system) by another” (Caplovitz & Sherrow, p. 30).


·        In many countries, those born into minority religions tend to “convert” to the religion of the majority group, such as has been true of Catholics, Jews and other religious minorities who immigrated to the USA and later “converted” to Protestantism as part of the process of assimilation to American society.  Many new “converts” to Evangelical churches came by means of intermarriage with Roman Catholics.  Therefore, one would expect that this same phenomena would have occurred in Latin America, where Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion in most countries. 


·        However, research data from many sources seems to indicate that Catholics in Latin America are deserting their religion in greater numbers and joining Protestant Churches, rather than the reverse being the case.  This means that there has been a growing decline in the Catholic population and a corresponding increase in the Protestant population based on “change of religion” or “conversion to another religious group.”  


·        This leads us to suppose that there are a number of “push-pull” factors that are affecting the rate of religious change in this context:  Catholics are leaving their Church (expulsion factors) and joining Evangelical Churches (or Christian sects, such as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Light of the World Church, etc., or non-Christian religious groups), which are attracting people to their particular system of beliefs and practices (attraction factors).


·        On the other hand, some Roman Catholics are abandoning religion altogether, which means that at the time of the survey they professed “no religion” (10% of the Costa Rican population in Nov. 2001, according to Demoscopía); these are people who can be called “apostates” according to our Social Science definition.


·        Whether we are talking about those who were born Roman Catholic or born Protestant, if they are now in the category of those with “no religion” then they can be considered “apostates.”


·        Why, then, do some people “loose their faith” and become “apostates?”


3.      Possible determinants of “apostasy” (based on correlational analysis):


·        Political radicalism (a shift from right to left on the political spectrum)

·        Intellectualism (a conflict between science and faith)

·        Psychological maladjustment or emotional disturbance (alienation, rebellion, impetuousness, depression, negative self-image, social isolation, escapism, guilt, pessimism, hopelessness, etc.)

·        Poor parental relations (a rejection of parent’s religion)

·        Marriage outside one’s faith (conflict due to social pressure)

·        Loss of religious faith (as evidenced by infrequent church attendance and a self-image of being “religiously indifferent” or “nonreligious”)


4.      The basis of religious self-identity varies; it may be based on:


·        Dogma or ideology

·        Culture or ethnicity

·        National origin

·        Family history

·        Frequency of church attendance


NOTE:  There are many “nominal” Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Reformed, Baptists, Methodists, etc., who do not necessarily consider themselves to be religious, who do not attend religious services, and who have serious questions about doctrinal matters, but who do not hesitate to identify themselves as Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist or Hindu, etc., because of ascribed status.


5.      Three theories of the process that leads to “apostasy”:


·        Secularization– the undermining of one’s religious beliefs in the modern world by cognitive conflicts between secular and religious views of the world that are resolved in favor of the secular one.


·        Social Adjustment:  Alienation-rebellion– the alienated and rebellious person is more prone to apostasy because he/she feels isolated from the dominant values of his/her religious belief system, and hence he/she experiences a sense of “meaninglessness”    (powerlessness, isolation, normlessness) or cultural estrangement from institution ties (the church) and origins (family and friends); he/she is seeking a new sense of “self-identity.”


·        Commitment to the modern “higher values” of universalism (pluralism, tolerance, open-mindedness, diversity, liberalism) and achievement – status based on achievement by means of occupation, education, economic wealth, political power and/or personal accomplishments (sports, stardom, publish a book, etc.); rather than particularism (exclusive or special devotion to a particular interest, subject, party, sect, etc.) and ascribed status at birth based on race, religion, class, culture, nationality, etc.


6.      Data on apostasy in the USA draws a clear correlation between higher education (secular) and apostasy among Roman Catholics; a marked decline in Catholic enrolment in Catholic colleges and universities between 1961-1974 is undoubtedly a major reason for the sharp rise in Catholic apostasy in this period.  Trends:  (1) Catholic students moving to secular universities; (2) secularization of Catholic colleges; and (3) Catholic students in Protestant colleges and universities.


7.      In summary, apostasy rates increase with:  (1) education in secular or nondenominational colleges; (2) a shift from right to left in political orientation; (3) intellectualism (a career orientation that requires a medium or high commitment to intellectualism); (4) loss of religious faith (a progression from high, to medium, to low levels of religious commitment); (5) an increase in years of college education (apostasy occurs with greater frequency among college seniors than among freshmen); and (6) marriage outside one’s faith.


8.      The data suggests that:  (1) persons who maintain good relationships with parents who are religious are more likely to retain a religious identity; (2) persons who marry within their own faith are more likely to retain a religious identity; and (3) married couples with children are much more inclined to retain their religious identify than married couples without children.


9.      The correlation of the five determinants to Apostasy, according to Caplovitz and Sherrow, are as follows:


·        Religiosity = .51

·        Political Radicalism = .25

·        Intellectualism = .18

·        Psychological Maladjustment = .18

·        Poor parental relations = .12


10.  Conclusion:  “The primary role of political radicalism, intellectualism, psychological maladjustment and poor parental relations is to undermine religiosity, which in turn produces apostasy.”  The process of secularization and a commitment to the “higher values” of universalism and achievement also work together to undermine “religiosity” in modern society and may eventually lead to “apostasy.”





David Caplovitz and Fred Sherrow, The Religious Drop-outs:  Apostasy among College Graduates.  Beverly Hills, CA:  Sage Publications, 1977.


Dean R. Hoge, Converts, Dropouts and Returnees:  A Study of Religious Change Among Catholics.  New York, NY:  The Pilgrim Press, 1981.