The Power of De-Baptisms

Yesterday, I mentioned an article about atheist communities that appeared in the Christian Science Monitor.

The reporter, G. Jeffrey MacDonald, has also written a side piece about atheist “de-baptism ceremonies.” (I’m mentioned in it.)

A lot is made of the notion that the atheist de-baptisms “mock” Christians — that’s not really what they’re about. For some participants, it’s a way to put some closure on that chapter of your life, by leaving the church the same way you entered it.

For [Jennifer] Gray, the lighthearted spirit of last summer’s Atheist Coming Out Party and De-Baptism Bash in suburban Westerville, Ohio, served a higher purpose than merely spoofing a Christian rite.

“It was very therapeutic,” Gray said in an interview. “It was a chance to laugh at the silly things I used to believe as a child. It helped me admit that it was OK to think the way I think and to not have any religious beliefs.”

MacDonald notes that the ceremonies are an American practice, while actually getting de-baptized, and getting your name off church rosters, is a European phenomenon.

De-baptism efforts have been growing internationally in recent years. More than 100,000 Britons downloaded de-baptism certificates from the National Secular Society (NSS) between 2005 and 2009, according to NSS campaigner Stephen Evans. Upwards of 1,000 Italians requested de-baptism certificates prior to Italy’s “De-Baptism Day” last October, according to Italy’s Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

Of course, the article has to include comments from Christians who take these things seriously:

For mainline Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians, baptism is commonly understood as a sign or means of grace and a covenant that God maintains even when humans turn away, said Laurence Stookey, professor emeritus of preaching and worship at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. He said “de-baptizers” misunderstand baptism when they caricature it as an attempt at magic.

Baptism “is a kind of adoption where you become a child of God, of the church and of the family,” Stookey said. “You can renounce your physical parents, (the church and God), but they cannot renounce you because you are their child. Anybody who makes fun of baptism probably hasn’t gone into it in enough depth to know that.”

The atheists understand that concept perfectly well.

That’s precisely why we leave the church and “mock” these silly beliefs. Becoming a “child of God” sounds nice rhetorically, but getting dunked in a baptismal pool has no more effect on you than belly-flopping into your neighbor’s swimming pool. Any change is occurring only in your mind.

Does anyone else find it absurd that some of these Christians will oppose pharmacists giving Plan B to underage girls because “they’re not old enough to understand what they’re doing”… and then baptize babies before they can even form memories.

Baptisms are symbolic for Christians, even if they think there’s more going on. De-baptisms are symbolic for atheists, too, except we know there’s no “magic” happening with that blow dryer.


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  • Claudia

    In Spain there is another aspect to this that actually has some substance to it.

    I’ve never heard of “de-baptism” here, but apostasy is a very heated topic. Basically the Catholic Church keeps lists of Catholics. You get written down, permanently, once you are baptized. The issue is that though the vast majority of Spaniards are baptized a large number are very skeptical of the church and many want nothing to do with the institution.

    Enter Apostasy. Thousands of people want the option to have their names taken off Church rosters permanently. Though the Church technically doesn’t force anyone to be counted as a Catholic, in practice they make it completely impossible to get your name off their lists. They claim they shouldn’t have to because of record-keeping and the ex-Catholics argue that they should not be forced to be counted in lists, especially when those lists are used as justification for the millions in tax-payer Euros that the Church receives from our government yearly.

    So it’s not just a symbolic issue, it can have real-world consequences. Let’s face it, if the Catholic Church was forced to only count practicing Church-going Catholics as “Catholics”, their numbers would go down a lot, and with them their relevance and paychecks.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    IMO, Baptism whether it be sprinkling or dunking and whether it be infant, childhood, or adult, is an initiation ceremony just like with a fraternity, sorority, or the old Moose lodge. Some also view it as special pleading to gain favor with God. But it’s really for the group cohesion just like with those other institutions mentioned. Obviously an infant baptism has nothing to do with the infant because the infant won’t remember it. It’s all for the group to rationalize and reinforce their beliefs. It’s all just group psychology.

  • TJ

    Does anyone else find it absurd that some of these Christians will oppose pharmacists giving Plan B to underage girls because “they’re not old enough to understand what they’re doing”… and then baptize babies before they can even form memories.

    Same as raising a child to believe their nonsense. I firmly believe that this is the biggest reason there are still believers. If people weren’t raised with it, they wouldn’t buy it for a second.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Baptism “is a kind of adoption where you become a child of God…

    Um… aren’t we supposedly all God’s children, whether we’re baptised or not? Apparently Laurence Stookey lacks the depth of understanding of Christian doctrine to know that.

  • Sebeka

    Does anyone else find it absurd that some of these Christians will oppose pharmacists giving Plan B to underage girls because “they’re not old enough to understand what they’re doing”… and then baptize babies before they can even form memories.

    I think those churches are opposed to Plan B for ANY reason and will back any rationalization they think will prevent access. If not to all women, then to poor women, or unmarried women, or at least underage girls, etc, etc.

    Regarding infant baptism, it’s for the parents: Aside from introducing him to the congregation and the woo-woo stuff, they’re basically promising to give the kid a religious education and make his religious decisions for him until he’s in his teens.

    When the kid’s 14 or 15, churches that practice infant baptism follow up with “confirmation”, in which the kid formally enters the church as an adult. Theoretically, a kid can choose not to be confirmed at this time and leave the church. Realistically, as long as the kid lives with his parents, he has only as much choice as his parents give him.

  • Siamang

    Does anyone else find it absurd that some of these Christians will oppose pharmacists giving Plan B to underage girls because “they’re not old enough to understand what they’re doing”… and then baptize babies before they can even form memories.

    Simpler answer:

    They are against plan B because pastor told them to be.
    They baptize babies because pastor told them to.

    He said “de-baptizers” misunderstand baptism when they caricature it as an attempt at magic.

    That reminds me of a discussion I had online with a catholic. I referred to some ritual of his as “magic” and he got quite bothered. I recognized that I was speaking irreverently of a ritual he believed in. Still, I was making the point that from an outsider perspective, it was nothing different from what a witch-doctor claims to do.

    He got annoyed and insisted that I discuss the ritual using his preferred language, and not mine. Now why should we do that, in a conversation between two people? Why should I concede to using his language, rather than he concede to use mine?

    I assented, but my point hopefully sunk in that he was expecting nonbelievers to assent to the terms of the debate from a religious point of view before the debate even started.

  • Siamang

    For mainline Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians, baptism is commonly understood as a sign or means of grace and a covenant that God maintains even when humans turn away, said Laurence Stookey, professor emeritus of preaching and worship at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. He said “de-baptizers” misunderstand baptism when they caricature it as an attempt at magic.

    Baptism “is a kind of adoption where you become a child of God, of the church and of the family,” Stookey said. “You can renounce your physical parents, (the church and God), but they cannot renounce you because you are their child. Anybody who makes fun of baptism probably hasn’t gone into it in enough depth to know that.”

    I wanted to quote that whole thing again, because it’s PARTICULARLY fucked up.

    Read that again. This sophisticated theologian who “understands Baptism deeply” actually said basically this:

    Whatever your beliefs are now doesn’t matter. Christianity still claims your soul, because you were dunked in water in our ceremony as an infant. You do not belong to you… you belong to OUR CHURCH forever.

    Sorry, that’s completely fucked up. This sophisticated theologian has a deep moral problem with free choice of the individual.

    We don’t need de-baptisms. We need to attack this very idea promulgated by Laurence Stookey and others. This gets to exactly the heart of the attitude of Christian exceptionalism in America and around the world. They would never, EVER, in a million years accept that a child of a different faith wouldn’t be allowed the right to convert to Christianity because they were sealed at birth in the ritual of a different belief.

    They do not support the right of individual religious conscience if it doesn’t point right to Christianity. Which means they don’t really support freedom of religion at all.

  • «bønez_brigade»

    …professor emeritus of preaching and worship…

    Whew, that title must have taken many years of serious study to obtain.

    In seriousness, though, it sounds exactly like something a diploma mill would offer.

  • Miko

    As I recall, the practice of baptism was introduced in response to a combination of belief in purgatory and high infant mortality rates, so that dead babies could still get wings and a harp. It’s such an extreme example of superstitious nonsense and magical thinking that I’d imagine even most Christians would have trouble taking it seriously.

    This sophisticated theologian has a deep moral problem with free choice of the individual.

    Hierarchical systems of dominance, exclusion, and deprivation can only continue to exist because 99% of the population has (at some level) a problem with the free choices of individuals (as long as the ‘individuals’ are people other than themselves).

  • teammarty

    I’m sure if I take my debaptism certificate to my local catholic church, they’ll probably laugh at it and send my old classmate Father Dennis to try and herd me into the fold (and extort a donation from me). But I do have an out. Since I held my friends hand and drove her to the abortion clinic (Planned Parenthood, no less), that means I participated in an abortion and am automatically excomunicated.

  • bigjohn756

    Why bother with de-baptism? That water dried up years ago. Didn’t have any effect then, hasn’t any now.

  • Erp

    Miko,

    I think you mean infant baptism was introduced later.

    It was fairly common early on for people to delay baptism because it was a get out of jail free card which you could only play once. Getting baptized just before dying was good because you wouldn’t have any time to commit any more sins (IIRC Emperor Constantine was baptized just before dying). Saint Ambrose was baptized, ordained, and made Bishop of Milan in in a week (he was actually chosen bishop before being baptized). Later infant baptism became common (and confession became a sacrament which was another way of wiping clean sins and one that could be repeated).

    Baptists require baptism be done to people capable of consenting (though the age of consent might well be under 10 for some groups). Quakers drop baptism completely on the partial grounds that too much attention was being placed on the ritual and not on what it meant.

  • Indigo

    Adding to what Erp said: there are churches who acknowledge that the ritual is about group bonding and symbolism and so on – I know because I myself was baptised in one as a baby. (The minister there has had to turn away new parents who want her to christen their child but don’t want to go to a service and have it done in front of the congregation.) Of course, these tend to be the churches that get a bit mumbly about whether or not hell exists, so make of that what you will.