'Goodbye Forever': How Religion Treats Apostates

Aman Punia is 24. His name, Aman, means "peace." He was raised in a devout Sikh home in India.

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion with roots in Hinduism and Islam. It dates back to religious reformers in the late 1400s. Sikhs -- a Sanskrit word that means "disciples" or "learners" -- believe in equality among human beings and among religions. Their honored founder, Guru Nanak, is famous for proclaiming that "there is no Hindu, there is no Muslim."

Sikh men commit themselves to The Five Ks -- Kesh, Kangha, Kara, Kachera, and Kirpan. That first one, the Kesh, requires Sikh men to keep their hair unshorn, their beards untrimmed, and their heads covered by a dastaar (a turban), a crown of devotion to remind Sikh men that their lives are to be pious, consecrated to God, and courageous. The Kesh ritual is fundamental in the life of a Sikh man.

When Aman Punia, who is now an atheist, chose to cut his hair, trim his beard, and remove his turban, some among his family and friends felt let down, hurt, even betrayed. As he posted at the Facebook page of Atheist Republic:

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Unfortunately, religion doesn't handle unbelievers well and it handles "apostasy" even less well. Jehovah's Witnesses disfellowship members who stop following the doctrines of the Governing Body; the Amish shun deserters; St. Paul urged the Corinthians to "turn over to Satan" a congregation member who was not observing the sexual mores of the early Christians; and, in the most extreme manifestation of religious totalitarianism, ISIS beheads members of other faiths and even fellow Muslims who don't see things their way.

Former Sikhs like Aman -- former Christians and former Muslims, too -- primarily wish to be left alone to believe or not believe, as reason and conscience dictate. Aman no longer believes the supernatural tenets of the religion of his youth. He no longer wears a turban. But he still loves his family and friends and India's larger Sikh community. He hopes for reconciliation. He hopes for peace. That's why he's called Aman.

Rodney Wilson holds master's degrees in history and in religion. He teaches both at a community college in Missouri. His book, Killing God: Christian Fundamentalism and the Rise of Atheism, is available on Amazon.