This is a topic for members of the church. People who are nonbelievers can't apostasize. Apostasy only occurs when a person believes, but then turns away from those beliefs, or from the church as an organization.
I think there are many ways that apostasy happens. Sometimes it happens because a person is offended. Sometimes it happens because they lose their faith in what is taught. I'm sure there are other reasons, perhaps even a conflict of political ideals.
It's interesting that just this week I was teaching a lesson about apostasy, while at the same time having conversations with people who appeared to be walking in the direction of personal apostasy. While teaching the lesson, I came across this quote in "Preach My Gospel": "Whenever people choose to disregard, disobey, or distort any gospel principle or ordinance, whenever they reject the Lord’s prophets, or whenever they fail to endure in faith, they distance themselves from God and begin to live in spiritual darkness. Eventually this leads to a condition called apostasy." I think that this quote makes some good points about how to avoid personal apostasy. It mentions three different ways that we begin on that road to apostasy.
1. "Disregard, disobey, or distort any gospel principle or ordinance."
The scriptures, give us God's doctrine. When we distort that doctrine, or refuse to obey it, we are walking away from what God intended for us. I recently ran across this quote by Augustine that I thought was very good. "If you believe what you like in the gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself." Augustine of Hippo In his talk, "Avoiding Personal Apostasy" Elder Claudio D. Zivic said, "Apostasy frequently results when a person commits serious sin but does not repent. To silence his conscience or justify his sinful actions, the individual moves away from the truth, looking for imperfections in others or questioning Church doctrine with which he no longer agrees." Pres. Brigham Young said, "Let a man or woman who has received much of the power of God, visions and revelations, turn away from the holy commandments of the Lord, and it seems that their senses are taken from them, their understanding and judgment in righteousness are taken away, they go into darkness, and become like a blind person who gropes by the wall [see Isaiah 59:9–10; Deuteronomy 28:29] (DBY, 82–83)." He also taught, "When a man begins to find fault, inquiring in regard to this, that, and the other, saying, “Does this or that look as though the Lord dictated it?” you may know that that person has more or less of the spirit of apostasy. "
2. Reject the Lord's prophets
I don't think we can pick and choose prophets. When God calls them, they then are the one who is given to us to lead us. If we find ourselves finding fault with the prophet because his teachings don't fit our own views, then we are starting on that road of apostasy. It's not always easy to follow the prophet when his direction veers from our own ideas, but I'm sure the children of Israel weren't happy about wandering for 40 years in the wilderness either. But those who continued on in faith were blessed for their faithfulness. Elder Zivic had this say, "We enter a state of apostasy when we assume authority we do not possess or when we seek revelation for a stewardship outside of our sphere of responsibility. Our duty, as revealed to Oliver Cowdery, is to “be obedient unto the things” (D&C 28:3) the Lord reveals to His prophet and to our other leaders called through priesthood authority."
3. Whenever they fail to endure in faith.
Perhaps the two causes listed above are part of this one. Enduring in faith means obeying and accepting doctrine, even if we don't understand why it was given. Enduring in faith means following the prophet, even if we may not understand why he has asked us to do something. Enduring in faith means staying true even if we don't understand everything about the gospel.
In addition, I think another reason for apostasy is that people think that the things of God should be administered in a more democratic way. They would like to be able to vote for or against certain doctrine. Brigham Young warned against this kind of mentality: "People do, however, leave this Church, but they leave it because they get into darkness, and the very day they conclude that there should be a democratic vote, or in other words, that we should have two candidates for the presiding Priesthood in the midst of the Latter-day Saints, they conclude to be apostates. There is no such thing as confusion, division, strife, animosity, hatred, malice, or two sides to the question in the house of God; there is but one side to the question there (DBY, 85)."
In this world today, there are many voices clammering for change in religion. They paint religious people as being intolerant, unloving, and unintelligent. These "ad hominem" attacks take the focus away from the real issue and focus on the character of the religious people instead. The real topic to discuss is whether or not there is a God. And if there is a God, what has He asked us to do. When we find this information, the social discussions can be ignored.
I posted recently two talks about "intellectual slavery". In my opinion, this is a very big threat, and another reason for individual apostasy. When we think, because of our worldly education, that we have superior understanding of the world than what is found in the teachings of God, we are running the risk of becoming apostate. As we read in the scriptures, "O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God." 2 Nephi 9: 28,29
I pray that I can keep my ideals, knowledge, and goals in harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ so that I can avoid personal apostasy. The adversary is becoming more sophisticated in his attacks on members of the church. His subtle methods involve leading us away by converting us to worldly views. May we all fortify ourselves against his attacks by being obedient to the commandments, sustaining and following the prophets, and doing all we can to strengthen our faith.