There are peculiar stories/myths about the great philosopher Baruch Spinoza leaving Judaism. Instead of simply drifting away, he respected the tradition enough to participate in a ceremony that removed him from the community. Members of his synagogue ritually stepped over him as he lay prone, thus removing him from the community. There aren’t a lot of religious rituals designed for helping people to transition out of a group. For every million Bar Mitzvahs, Baptisms and Upanayanas there might be only one or two excommunications. This imbalance may stem from the simple fact that most people who no longer want to belong to a tradition, do not find that tradition compelling enough to feel the need to participate in a ceremony that formally severs ties. (Violent breakups only occur when we still feel something toward the person we’re dumping, or the person dumping us!)
This past week an article in Canada’s National Post caught my eye and got me thinking about the ways in which so many of us leave churches. The article calls attention to a recent up tick in official apostasy requests being submitted to the Bishops’ offices in Montreal and Quebec City. It seems that the pope’s recent comments on condoms contributing to the AIDS problem in Africa have so infuriated many Quebec Catholics that they are filing formal letters of renunciation. In other words, they are asking to be declared apostates in the eyes of Rome. Gone are the days when being declared an apostate in Quebec or Europe was almost a death sentence, so the requests are largely formalities. But even so, I can’t help but wonder whether non-Catholic Evangelicals might not learn something here.