I’ve published a lot of atheist musings here and on Facebook, but no post has generated as much concern or hostility as a simple, hilarious “de-baptism ceremony” conducted at the American Atheist conference. This has brought home to me the importance people place in certain religious ceremonies. Why does baptism cause this particular concern? I think, for many Christians and especially Catholics, baptism symbolizes entrance into the kingdom of God. It is a solemn service and mockery of it is taboo. However, not all baptisms are created equal or are accepted between Christian denominations.
The Christian community cannot agree on the mode, purpose or necessity of baptism. Indeed, some denominations refuse to accept the baptism of another denomination especially if it was conducted in a way they disapprove. For example, I was baptized as an infant in the Roman Catholic Church. When I converted to Protestantism, the church I was a member of did not accept that baptism and I had to be re-baptised. That should be an insult greater than any de-baptism!
So what are the differences between denominations? Greater than you might expect.
Who is to be baptized? Are infants to be baptized or only professing believers? If professing believers only are to be baptized, is a mere verbal belief okay or does a person have to have a “valid” profession of belief? What is “valid”? At what age can a profession of belief be considered sincere? If infants are to be baptized, can any infant be baptized? Do both parents have to be Christians? Is it okay for only one to be a Christian or even none?
What does baptism do? Does baptism remove the taint of original sin? Is baptism required to go to heaven? Is it required for salvation? Is it just an outward public ceremony or “witness” that reflects a new found belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior or maybe just Savior?
What is the proper mode of baptism? Sprinkling? Pouring? Immersion? If immersion, is partial immersion sufficient or or must the entire body be immersed in water?
There are also denominations that are opposed to all baptisms.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation says this regarding their de-baptism certificates:
“Although our DeBaptismal Certificate has some light touches, we think it’s time to spur some serious public debate over the meaning of baptism. We would like to remind the public that people have been killed, schisms fostered and ‘holy’ wars sparked over debates on when to baptize and how to ‘sprinkle’ babies. Childhoods and peace of mind are still being blighted today by ignorant and vicious sermons promising hell and damnation as a punishment for not being baptized.”
Baptism is not a unified set of beliefs.
As with some Christians that see baptism as a symbolic act, an atheist de-baptism is simply symbolic. There is no magic, no power, no efficacy in this “ceremony.” However, for some atheists it is a way to put closure on a chapter in their life (The Power of De-Baptisms). The one I attended was hilarious and can easily be seen as mockery (An example). Okay, let’s be honest, it was a mockery if you take Christian Baptism as a solemn religious ceremony. Even some atheists are uncomfortable with de-baptisms and see it as unnecessary, stupid, and immature. That it may be, but isn’t that exactly the point? If baptism is seen as anything other that symbolic by Christians (a minority opinion), then Christian baptism itself is nothing other than “magic” and should be subjected to mockery.
The de-baptism started off with:
“Do you agree that the magical potency of today’s ceremony is exactly equal to the magical efficacy of ceremonial baptism with dihydrogen monoxide, and do you agree that the power of all magical ceremonies is nonexistent?”
Exactly. Let’s think about Catholic baptism for a minute. If it is required to rid the person of original sin so that they can enter the kingdom of heaven, Catholic baptism is literally impossible. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (416-418) says:
“By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all humans. Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called “original sin”. As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin (this inclination is called “concupiscence”).”
This might have worked before an understanding of science and evolution, but this statement now is simply nonsense. Man evolved. There was no special creation. There was no Adam. There was no Eve. Without a literal Adam and a literal Eve with a literal Fall there can be no original sin. I don’t care how Catholic theologians want to try to get around this problem, it is simply not possible. Without original sin, the Catholic rite of baptism is meaningless in any way other than a symbolic entrance into the church. The same can be said of any non-symbolic baptismal ceremony. As such, these ideas need to be mocked (ideas can be mocked, people shouldn’t be). They are just plain silly. The only protection they have are the protection of religion. Religion, in general, has been given a pass from this type of criticism. (At least from outside their realm. Within the realm of religion, barbs are regularly shot.) It’s time we stand up and call a spade a spade. The emperor has no clothes. A silly ceremony such as a de-baptism does exactly this.