Apr 012009
Authors: Matthew Albright The Daily Reveille LSU

(UWIRE) For many Christians, baptism is one of the most sacred ceremonies in which a person can participate.

Baptism is a symbol of a person’s acceptance of the faith, a way of publicly affirming their beliefs.

But for some, it’s a mark of shame – a mark they want to erase from history.

England’s National Secular Society is doing everything in its power to help its formerly faithful members do just that.

Atheist John Hunt is a pioneer in an emerging movement toward “debaptism” – a formal rejection of the creeds of baptism.

Hunt, a member of the NSS, has petitioned the local clergy of the Church of England to officially remove his name from their baptismal records.

Apparently Hunt, who broke his faith as a teenager, wants to remove any trace of affiliation he might have with an organization preaching what he now believes to be superstition.

The Church has so far refused to comply.

“You can’t remove from the record something that actually happened,” said the Right Reverend Nick Baines, Bishop of Croydon, according to the BBC. “Whether we agree whether it should have happened or not is a different matter.”

In Naines’ view, whatever his current beliefs about God are, Hunt can’t pretend his baptism never happened.

Hunt’s petition is a part of the NSS’s attempt at convincing the Church of England to develop an official procedure for annulling baptisms. So far, such a procedure has not been devised.

In response to the Church’s hesitance, the NSS has begun issuing documents called “certificates of debaptism.”

The documents are deliberately constructed as satire of church ceremonies, and the ceremonies intentionally look homemade and use faux ceremonial language.

Hunt’s certificate reads, “I, John Geoffrey Hunt, having been subjected to the rite of Christian baptism in infancy … hereby publicly revoke any implications of that rite. I reject all its creeds and other such superstitions, in particular the perfidious belief that any baby needs to be cleansed of original sin.”

The certificate is largely a tongue-in-cheek jab at the formalities of the church – in fact, the society’s president Terry Sanderson suggested that it be displayed in the bathroom. The document is available online, and has been downloaded more than 60,000 times, according to Sanderson.

The society’s movement to annul baptisms seems juvenile.

The Church’s argument is sound – whether Hunt likes it or not, he was baptized, even if he was too young to understand. The church records are historical documents, so the names should not be removed.

A baptism does not denote membership in the church. It’s a profession of belief, and, as Hunt is well aware, beliefs can and do change throughout a person’s life. By maintaining records of his baptism, the church is certainly not claiming any affiliation or power over him.

Besides, if the NSS really thinks Christian beliefs are so absurd and false, there’s no reason for them to attach any significance to the ceremonies those beliefs entail.

But, on the other hand, baptism is a sacred, important ritual to those who have kept the faith – atheists have no reason to care about baptisms as Christians do.

The “debaptism” effort represents a certain breed of militant, confrontational atheism more concerned with vehemently disassociating themselves from Christianity than maintaining actual religious freedom.

If Hunt wants to distance himself from his former religious affiliations, that right is certainly his. But digging into the obscure archives of a church in an effort to remove all traces of his past only serves to insult the faith in which he was raised.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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