In contemporary America, apostate is a casual term of derision used to describe someone who is in some vague way at odds with a party, as in Charles Krauthammer’s discussion of the two Republicans who gunned for the 2008 presidential nomination: “Giuliani’s major apostasy is being pro-choice on abortion. McCain’s apostasies are too numerous to count … . [On] tax cuts, immigration, campaign finance reform, Guantanamo he … opposed the conservative consensus.” Paul Waldman used the same metaphor in a recent post at the American Prospect blog: “the Republican Party takes a harsher view of apostasy than their Democratic counterparts.”

To risk splitting hairs: Krauthammer and Waldman should have invoked heresy, not apostasy. Heretics continue to claim identification with their religious community, even as they hold heterodox views. (Martin Luther, for example, was charged with heresy—he did not reject Christianity; he just had revolutionary ideas for reforming it.) The heretic might get thrown out, but she wants to belong, and indeed often claims to represent the authentic expression of the faith. An apostate, by contrast, rejects her faith and religious community altogether—like Paul Haggis, Academy Award-winning director and screenwriter of Crash. As Lawrence Wright describes at great length in his much discussed New Yorker article, Haggis resigned from the Church of Scientology in 2009 over the church’s refusal to denounce California’s Proposition 8, which aimed to undo the state’s recognition of same-sex marriage.

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