De-Baptising Ceremonies? Srsly?

I don’t get it. According to USA Today the idea seems to catching on.

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.

Public ceremonies to confer de-baptism, however, seem to be primarily an American phenomenon.

What goes on at these ceremonies?

In a type of mock ceremony that’s now been performed in at least four states, a robed “priest” used a hairdryer marked “reason” in an apparent bid to blow away the waters of baptism once and for all. Several dozen participants then fed on a “de-sacrament” (crackers with peanut butter) and received certificates assuring they had “freely renounced a previous mistake, and accepted Reason over Superstition.”

For 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.”

Sounds like using magic to counteract magic, if you ask me. The article goes on to explain the theological meaning of baptism:

In Christian theology, baptism can’t be undone. If a Southern Baptist renounces his or her baptism, then that person is usually presumed to have never received an authentic baptism in the first place, according to Nathan Finn, assistant professor of Baptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

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.”

When one engages in a De-Baptism, one is in effect, admitting to, and tacitly legitimizing, all of this. Atheists are supposed to be rationalists and skeptical of superstition, so I have to ask why you would substitute one magical ceremony for another?

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2 Responses

  1. Yeah, I’ve thought about it and decided that while fun, a “De-Baptism” is kind of unnecessary since I was Baptized before I had a choice in the matter (as a Catholic.) I don’t think I need to “validate” such a baptism by rejecting it.

  2. It’s a flawed article. I know that a few atheist groups have done “de-baptisms” as a kind street theater/bit of fun. Not my cup of tea, personally. (My pet peeve? Atheists who censor themselves before saying “Oh, my God,” or “Bless you,” or who refuse to capitalize God.)

    A few days before this came out, Hemant over at Friendly Atheist posted a request for debaptism stories for an interview he was doing. The overwhelming response over there was much like yours.

    So this is a case where a journalist with an agenda picks a few isolated instances, ignores all contradictory evidence, and constructs a trend out of whole cloth. There is no trend.

    The biggest mistake the article makes is conflating the silly mockery of some American atheists with legal obstacles in countries like Britain and Italy that have established churches. There, your baptism into the established church is a part of your legal identity. It has real-world implications in terms of taxes, marriage laws, etc. So there is a legal need for formal renunciation, and for that renunciation to be accepted by the established church.

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