Religious Shunning

Updated on June 14, 2019
Rupert Taylor profile image

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Those who break the norms and customs of some religious communities can be cast out. The relationship with their group and even with their families is severed. The rejection is often emotionally shattering. The religions preach love and forgiveness but apply neither to those they see as transgressors.


Jehovah’s Witnesses

Amber Scorah was a member of the Jehovah’s Witness congregation for 30 years. When she went to China as a missionary she began to question her commitment. She got first-hand experience of how the Chinese government indoctrinated its citizens and started wondering if similar techniques had been applied to her by her church. The answer was yes.

She recalls that from her earliest childhood she attended meetings where she was told the world was evil and the only way to be saved from its apocalyptic ending was to be a Jehovah’s Witness. The same message was delivered year after year; the only safe place to be was inside the religion.

But, she left and was shunned. She has written that “Apostates in my religion are referred to with the following descriptors: mentally diseased, depraved, a dog that has returned to its own vomit, lower than a snake, poisoned, like gangrene that needs to be amputated.”

She said that for most of her friends within the religion it was as if she had died but was not mourned. “A few spoke badly of me, trying to obliterate me, the person I was, the purpose of which was to make me into the Satan they were taught I was, to justify their hatred.”

But, of course, God is love.

The Amish, a religion noted for its emphasis on forgiveness, also practice shunning.
The Amish, a religion noted for its emphasis on forgiveness, also practice shunning. | Source

Shunned by Scientology

To most free-thinking people outside the community, Scientology is a cult that preys on the vulnerable. Under the guise of being a religion, it sells self-improvement courses. In some countries – Finland, Slovenia, and Portugal are examples – it is regarded as a religion. In most others, it simply enjoys the tax-free status. In France, it is deemed to be a cult.

The Scientology organization calls itself a religion and it practices shunning. And, one of the people shunned is actor Leah Remini. She was a member of the Church of Scientology from the age of nine until she quit in 2013 at the age of 43. During her time as a Scientologist she told National Public Radio that she paid about $2 million for various causes and donated another $3 million to the church.

Ms. Remini started to wonder about where her money, and that of other members, was going and she started to ask questions the group didn’t like. That’s when the interrogation began for her and her family.

She said “it’s sort of like a lie-detector test, and you’re hooked up to that and you’re asked a series of questions: Do you have evil intentions towards your church? Are you talking to certain enemies to our church?

“ … This is an extremist organization …”

She and her family decided to leave and now none of her Scientology friends are allowed to talk to her. The church calls it disconnection.

Scientologist actor Kirstie Alley attacked her former friend and called her a “bigot.”


Apostasy in Islam

There is a debate within Islam about those who quit the Muslim faith. Some members of the “Religion of Peace” say apostates must be killed, others say not.

The Koran, the holy book of Islam, does not call for the death penalty for those who leave the religion. Muslim writer and human rights activist Kashif N. Chaudhry quotes from the Koran: “There is no compulsion in religion (2:256),” and “Let him who will believe and let him who will disbelieve (18:29).”

But co-religionist and fellow writer Ali Amjad Rizvi says “... the Koran clearly promotes death for apostasy.”

The reality is that in some Muslim countries the debate is beside the point; those who leave the faith risk being put to death. These are the nations in which renouncing Islam might cost you your life: Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.

Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg

Catholic Excommunication

Back in the bad old days, being ejected from the Roman Catholic Church was sometimes accompanied by burning at the stake. (The Protestants also put heretics on to bonfires). Of course, they’ve put away the thumb screws and racks now, but they still excommunicate people.

But, it’s not a punishment. Oh, no. The Thought Company explains that “Excommunication is the gravest penalty that the Church can impose on a baptized Catholic, but it is imposed out of love for both the person and the Church.”

It’s kind of a “time out” so the transgressor can think about what they’ve done wrong. They are denied the sacraments, which means to a devout Catholic that they are going to hell when they die. However, through confession the excommunicated person can return to the bosom of the church and avoid the terrible fate of not going to heaven.

Pope Gregory VII excommunicated the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV three times in the 12th century. On one occasion he got the excommunication lifted by standing in snow outside a castle in northern Italy for three days while barefoot. His penance also included wearing a hair shirt and fasting.

Henry IV receives one of his several excommunications.
Henry IV receives one of his several excommunications. | Source

Bonus Factoids

“Being sent to Coventry” is a British expression meaning ostracism. The person is treated as though she or he don’t exist. The origin of the phrase is obscure and might be traced to the Civil War when Oliver Cromwell overthrew the English monarchy. The story is that Cromwell sent captured royalists to be imprisoned in Coventry in 1648, where the locals refused to acknowledge their presence.

According to Jehovah Witness teaching 144,000 faithful Christians will be taken up to heaven during the Rapture following the end of the world. According to the organization itself it has 8.5 million members. Perhaps, the followers are not encouraged to do the math.



  • “I Was Raised a Jehovah’s Witness. When I Left the Faith, My Family and Community Shunned Me.” Amber Scorah, Globe and Mail, June 9, 2019.
  • “A ‘Troublemaker’ Leaves Her Life In Scientology.” All Things Considered, National Public Radio, November 3, 2015.
  • “Does the Koran Endorse Apostasy Laws?” Kashif N. Chaudhry, HuffPost, August 31, 2014.
  • “Excommunication in the Catholic Church.” Learn Religions, ThoughtCo.,January 31, 2019.

© 2019 Rupert Taylor


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    Post Comment
    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      7 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hello, Rupert, your article is a good read. But here in Nigeria, I have not heard of a Moslem who leaves that faith put to death, except that it was done in secret?

      My father was a Moslem for many years. But he later leaves the faith and goes Anglican, his initial religion. He did not face death. He died an Anglican and was buried according to the Anglican faith and rites.

      However, it can happen in Iran, or any Arabic country. Nigeria is a secular state. Thanks for sharing and enjoy the weekend.


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