Churches gloomy as atheists rush to debaptise themselves

Churches gloomy as atheists rush to debaptise themselves March 28, 2009

TOP story in this week’s Church of England newspaper concerns a sudden surge of Brits choosing to debaptise themselves. debatism
In one week alone, the paper reported via its Religious Intelligence site, that 1,500 Brits paid for debaptism certificates provided by the National Secular Society.
The NSS has offered the certificate on its website for five years – and more than 100,000 people have downloaded it.  But when it introduced a new parchment copy for £3, the demand suddenly escalated.
The NSS asked the Anglican Church if they will follow the Catholic example and provide an official procedure for undoing baptism, but the Church is refusing to recognise a need for the procedure.
A letter from the Church’s legal adviser Stephen Slack to NSS president Terry Sanderson said:

The Church of England has no reason from its point of view for maintaining a formal record of those who have renounced their baptism: it is content simply to accept that those who have explicitly repudiated their baptism and take no part in the life of the Church should not be regarded as members of it in the more general sense.

1500-debaptised-in-a-weekThe Church insists that it only collects data on attendance, the number of those who have been baptised in the Church of England in the year in question; and the number of people whose names are entered on the electoral rolls maintained by its parishes.
However, a recent investigation by The Times revealed that the number of Anglicans baptised in England was used by the Wakeham Commission in reform of the House of Lords.
The 26 Lords Spiritual could now have their position undermined as the number of people being debaptised grows.
Sanderson has been “astonished” by the popularity of the certificate. He said:

It could have political repercussions – if a sufficient number of people became involved. I can’t see that happening though. It mainly shows that the resurgence of religion that we’re seeing at the moment is unsettling a lot of people.

It’s always in the background, everybody has still got that residual echo of religion in their heads even if they rejected it intellectually.
The certificate was designed by former NSS President Barbara Smoker, a former Catholic who once considered becoming a nun.
Sanderson says the popularity of the certificate demonstrates the need for the sacramental.

Veteran atheist campaigner Barbara Smoker
Veteran atheist campaigner Barbara Smoker
The certificate declares:

After due consideration, I ________ having been subjected to the Rite of Christian Baptism in infancy (before reaching an age of consent), hereby publicly revoke any implications of that Rite and renounce the Church that carried it out. In the name of human reason, I reject all its Creeds and all other such superstition in particular, the perfidious belief that any baby needs to be cleansed by Baptism of alleged ORIGINAL SIN, and the evil power of supposed demons. I wish to be excluded henceforth from enhanced claims of church membership numbers based on past baptismal statistics used, for example, for the purpose of securing legislative privilege.

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  • Dr William Harwood

    Let me draw attention to a book titled “Living Without God” by Ronald Aronson. (see my review at , click on “Reviewers Bookwatch” then “December 2008” then “Harwood’s Bookshelf”) What Aronson’s analysis of the opinion polls demonstrates is that, despite questions designed to solicit a predetermined answer, nontheists in America constitute a full 36 percent of the population. And America has a far higher percentage of believers than any other country in the civilized world. With such numbers, all that is necessary for nontheists to obtain political and economic power commensurate with their numbers is to COME OUT OF THE CLOSET. Let the godphuqt know that there are more of us than them–defining “them” as adherents of a specific denomination such as Catholic or Anglican. The bus ads have started the ball rolling. With elected officials starting to acknowledge their nontheist status, it only takes a few more to do likewise to start an unstoppable avalanche that will put an end to discrimination against the sane, intelligent and educated once and for all.

  • newspaniard

    @Dr William Harwood: What are going on? You use the term ‘nontheist’ multiple times in your comment. What’s wrong with us all being ‘atheists’? Are there different grades of unbeliever? Do certain non-believers, believe less than others? Can I go to night school to become a higher grade of atheist? Although I normally agree whole heartedly with your comments, I find this new introduction to the lexicon a little confusing. (In my dotage, I’m easily confused) ;0)

  • Dr William Harwood

    The ignoranti tend to misinterpret “atheist” as someone who preaches a dogma that gods do not exist, and that gives them an excuse for pretending that atheism is as closed-minded as theism. “Nontheist” is all-embracing, and includes persons who identify themselves as atheists, agnostics, humanists, rationalists, and various other terms that really mean the same thing, namely a person who does NOT have a theistic belief. While atheists are bound to believe that gods do not exist, the word describes only what they do NOT believe, as does nontheist. But try telling that to persons who have been brainwashed into regarding “atheist” as pejorative and see how far you get. Eventually “nontheist” will be treated as pejorative by the godphuqt, but at least for now it has acquired no such status. While agnostics might deny that they are atheists, they cannot deny that they are nontheists. Thus everyone is either a theist or a nontheist. Does that explain why “nontheist” is more useful?

  • mikespeir

    I’m an atheist, but this seems a little silly to me. To think I need to be de-baptized I’d have to grant that my earlier baptism was actually efficacious in some way.

  • The certificate is a nice idea and it’s obviously riling up the nitwits–and riling them up is always a good thing IMO. If people want them or feel a need for them that’s great. But I have no need of one as to me it would only signify my baptism had some actual significance beyond getting me and my clothing wet (being a Baptist and getting it done at 8 I had the full-immersion treatment).

  • Maybe I should go an get myself baptised just so that I can have one of these funky certificates afterwards.
    It’s like having a vigourous bath with a man in a dress, right?

  • People keep asking me when my baby is getting christened. I usually chuckle and point out at length how the concept sickens me.
    They are more culturally christian than churchgoers – so I’ve had no rebukes – and they are all oldies.

  • Godless not gormless

    I am actually going through this myself and it has been ongoing for the past year or so, partly because the church was slow to respond and I had to chase them a bit, and partly because I have been busy and it wasn’t the most important thing going on in my life.
    I understand what some people commenting mean by not thinking of it being important and that it might actually give some significance to a persons baptism by having to insist that it is “undone”, but having started the ball rolling because I was made aware that I might be included in figures used by the catholic church, I feel a need to pursue it just to make a point.
    I’m probably banging my head against a brick wall with this, and many people here might disagree with me and think I am being petty, but for me the issue is that I want the church to recognize that acceptance of baptism as something real which has changed me in some way (apparently it leaves an indelible imprint on your soul) is only for those who believe in such things and that as a non believer they should acknowledge my right to not be considered as baptised since it’s not part of my beliefs system, I don’t believe anything did change and was never consulted before being put through the ceremony in the first place. (I can never quite get how I want to say that so if you know what I mean, any suggestions on how I put that would be appreciated)
    I wrote a strongly worded letter to the parish priest of the church where I was baptised, spelling out fairly clearly what I thought of the church. I requested that I should get to see my altered record too, to satisfy me that my wishes had been carried out. I was told over the phone by the priest in our original conversation that they would not do that because I would be able to see other peoples records, but when I wrote to him I insisted and made it clear that it was their responsibility to cover up any other records to enable me to see mine.
    I then had to threaten them (in a second strongly worded letter) with the Information Commisioners Office. I told them I had already discussed it with the ICO and that it was my information anyway therefore they had no right to refuse to let me view it. This was then agreed.
    But, after my I sent my first letter, I was sent a new baptismal certificate with some mistakes on it re my name and my mothers name. At the bottom was a hand written note declaring that I had “defected from the church by a formal act on the” date this took place. I protested that I have not defected from the church as I was never really a part of it in the first place and was baptised without having given my consent.
    I had to speak to some guy called monsignor Gallagher at the local cathedral to arrange the viewing and his attitude was a fuckin disgrace to be honest. As far as he was concerned it was my parents who were the problem and I should take it up with them since the church was only carrying out their wishes. (This might help my case since it was their wishes not mine and it was only their wish because the catholic church insists on early baptism. I am bearing in mind though that reason is not their strong point)
    Then in a major turn around in attitude, he started playing the victim when I didn’t use the title “father” in reference to the parish priest. I told him “he’s not my father and I don’t recognize that title” to which he replied “it’s only common courtesy”. There was definitely nothing courteous about his manner with me though. Typical!
    So, I am now waiting on a call back to finally arrange a date for me to view the record. If I don’t hear from him by Tuesday, I’ll call again.
    Aside from all this, if we are counted in because we were baptised then I think it is important to set the record straight. Otherwise, the various churches are exaggerating their numbers, and if all non believers renounce their baptism the church has even less reason to continue to claim their privileged position.
    That’s my opinion anyway.

  • Bubblecar

    Says Buffy: “The certificate is a nice idea and it’s obviously riling up the nitwits–and riling them up is always a good thing IMO.”
    Hmm. I would suggest it’s really telling them: “No matter how much they reject us, it seems they just can’t get over their fascination with us.”
    And there’s probably some truth in that…

  • @newspaniard. For myself I always prefer the term anti-religionist. I have no problem with what people believe so long as they keep it to themselves and don’t claim special priviledges on the basis of their beliefs.

  • Kev

    Shargraves…I have had to endure similar questions because we decided not to have any of our three kids christened/baptised or whatever. I was once asked by a family member ‘…how are they going to grow up knowing right from wrong and know how to treat other people with respect?’ Eventually the conversation turned to coloured folk, gays, etc and this very same family member REALLY showed us how to respect others; her being a good baptised christian!!!! If you get my drift.

  • Bubblecar

    My parents baptised me into the Ukrainian Autocephalic Church (purely to be sociable, I presume, since they weren’t very religious then, and ended up atheist). I still have the baptismal certificate, and wouldn’t dream of getting rid of it – it’s an interesting little part of my past. I suppose many of those going in for “debaptism” have some unpleasant baggage associated with their childhood that they feel inclined to get rid of in this way.

  • #Godless not gormless.
    Then in a major turn around in attitude, he started playing the victim when I didn’t use the title “father” in reference to the parish priest. I told him “he’s not my father and I don’t recognize that title” to which he replied “it’s only common courtesy”.#
    The Priest obviously doesn’t know his bible, point out to him Matthew 23:9 – And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.
    Good luck.

  • #Godless not gormless.
    Then in a major turn around in attitude, he started playing the victim when I didn’t use the title “father” in reference to the parish priest. I told him “he’s not my father and I don’t recognize that title” to which he replied “it’s only common courtesy”.#
    The Priest obviously doesn’t know his bible, point out to him Matthew 23:9 – And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.
    Good luck.

  • #Godless not gormless.
    Then in a major turn around in attitude, he started playing the victim when I didn’t use the title “father” in reference to the parish priest. I told him “he’s not my father and I don’t recognize that title” to which he replied “it’s only common courtesy”.#
    The Priest obviously doesn’t know his bible, point out to him Matthew 23:9 – And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.
    Good luck.

  • Broga

    We didn’t baptise either of our children. They are adults now and, even if I do say it myself, balanced, mature and atheists.

  • Stonyground

    Bubblecar, I have considered doing something about this ever since I read about it in Barbara Smoker’s book, but so far have not got around to it. I don’t really have any “unpleasant baggage” but I am not too happy about having been initiated into Christianity’s revolting cult without my consent, I don’t really hold it against my parents, they are Christians and in those days everyone did it. I think I might have born quite a grudge had they been Jewish.
    I certainly think that it is worth letting the Church know your position on the matter and this to me is the more important issue.

  • Godless not gormless

    Alan C,
    Thanks for that info. Wish I’d known that at the time! I don’t actually intend to spend much time with this plonker. His attitude is a disgrace and I know I will get nowhere with him. I intend to tell him that what they have written on my entry in the baptismal record is unacceptable to me then when says “well you can just fuck off then you heathen” I’ll just ask who his ‘boss’ is and move on up the line.
    I am then going to make it plain to ‘the boss’ that I am offended by the monsignor’s attitude which is disgraceful for a xtian and a man of the cloth (yeah right! What else would I expect but I might as well play the game) and take it from there.
    Thanks for the good luck wish. I think I’ll need it!

  • David Coleman

    This seems spiteful and ignorant, and as one writer above said, if you do not believe in your Baptism, it cannot really ‘harm’ you in any way. As a Christian minister I do not believe in the possibility of a baby starting life with a negative score-card, and would caution the secular society against assuming and maliciously promoting the idea that Baptism does need to be seen together with an adherence to a very narrow and mindless interpretation of ‘original sin’ which is a comment on the human tendency to mess things up, rather than a personalised record.
    For those of us that do believe in Baptism, however, it is indeed irrevocable: we would not rebaptise someone who tried to revoke it and had a change of heart, but welcome them back anyway, perhaps with a reaffirmation of their original baptism. In the meantime, yes, there are millions of people out there who repudiate their baptism by non-involvement in the community of the church. Is this news to anyone at all? It is not in the gift of any church (certainly not the Church of England alone) to cancel Baptism, but every citizen is perfectly free to repudiate it by how they live their life.

  • Yewtree

    A nontheist is often a person who sees the value of religion (the tolerant, inclusive, liberal varieties such as Paganism, Unitarianism and Quakers) and spirituality but doesn't actually believe in a god or gods.
    An atheist tends to be someone who doesn't believe in god/s or see the value of religion.
    If I had been baptised in the Church of England, I would get one of these certificates and insist on removal from the register, because I would object to being used to prop up the institution of bishops in the House of Lords.
    Where baptism commits the child to a specific religion or spiritual path, it's clearly wrong. Having some sort of naming ceremony to welcome the child to the human family is fine, as long as they can make their own choice of what religion they want to participate in (or not, as the case may be).