DEBAPTISM: C’MON OUT, THE BLOWDRYER IS FINE!
Posted on July 24, 2009 at 4:16 pm by Dr. Jim
Dr. Jim’s Hot Air vs. the West Wind
on the Dilettantish Debunking of the Diabolical Disbelieverly Dedunking Dilemma
So, what is with the debaptism thing? Britons are asking for debaptism certificates by the thousands from the National Secular Society. Some ex- and never-Christians have invented satiricle rites of “debaptism”. Such ceremonies have been recently reported in four U.S. States. These include being touched by the
Ephemeral Appendage of the Blow Dryer of Reason.™®
The new Blowhard 3000 Debaptizer. Blows your mind, rationally.
Dr. Jim is all for a bit of fun, and what is the point of blasphemy if you don’t get a giggle out of it? But how seriously should people take debaptism? Some folks are taking it very seriously.
Apparently, the movement really got off the ground when an English fellow, John Hunt, tried and failed to get the Church of England to remove his name from the baptismal records. To my mind, this is a bit silly. The baptism happened and the Church has every right to preserve the record of its activities on bahalf of its parishioners which included this fellow’s parents. Hunt at least succeeded in getting the church to recognize his renouncement of the rite, and they updated their records accordingly (read more of the details here).
There has been a good bit of discussion of this on the blogosphere the past week or so. One of the more prolific bibliobloggers (i.e., a blogger on the Bible of biblical proportions), Jim West, has this to say (quoting the news release above),
“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.”
Silly atheists. Baptism can no more be renounced than being. At least for authentic Christians. Persons who ‘renounce’ their baptism were never Christian in the first place.
And atheists who renounce their supposed baptism only thereby show that they know nothing about either baptism or what the word Christian actually means.
In the following comments, a certain Bob points out that baptism can be renounced, especially child baptism, to which Jim replies that that would not really be baptism. He later adds that one “doesn’t embrace christianity via baptism. but via faith.”
Now, just like his argument, Dr. West is no true Scotsman, but lets not hold that against him. Still, his reasoning deserves to be kilt mercilessly.
The Duke of Edinburgh is No True Scotsman, either. A real one wouldn’t marry an English girl.
The criteria determining who is or is not an “authentic Christian” cannot be established in any all encompassing, objective way. It depends entirely on one’s particular theological and cultural tradition or lack thereof. Scholars of religion know this all too well, or at least should. I have had evangelical Christian students get rather offended in class when they first discovered that the text book regarded Catholics as Christians. Mormons don’t like to be excluded from Christendom, but in many people’s opinions, they should be. How can someone from the outside tell people the essential boundaries of their own faith? Why should atheists accepts the good Dr. West’s views on what “Christian” means? Also requiring multiple answers is the question of what role baptism plays in the whole scheme of Christian reality. Dr. Jim does not care about internal Christian disagreeents, but Dr. West should not be impossing essentialist, inner-Christian categories onto what atheists are doing.
When West writes “atheists who renounce their supposed baptism only thereby show that they know nothing about either baptism or what the word Christian actually means” he actually shows that he knows or cares nothing of what these concepts mean to someone who has either renounced them or feels indignant to have been counted as a Christian against his or her own wishes. Let’s have a look at the wording of the Debaptism Certificate that is going around Britain.
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.
I fail to see what is silly about this. To publically renounce the symbolism and the social implications of baptism is perfectly understandable. Whether one is, is not, or once used to be an “authentic” Christian in West’s perception of the term is really besides the point. The issue that these people were once included in someone’s church and now wish to edfr exclude themselves.
The certificate’s statement on original sin is significant as that doctrine reflects a perception of humanity that many atheists find oppressive and offensive to their humanist values. They wish to make public that that whatever church threw the water on them (or them in the water) has no right to consider them members any longer. For these atheists, it does not matter one little bit what the church or Jim West says baptism is or should be. What matters is what baptism means to the atheists involved. Hell, it’s their life, and they can regard any episode in their own life histories any which why they see fit. These are serious points and if West can’t see it then he knows nothing about atheism or secularism, and not as much about religion as he might think.
Religions embrace not only ideas (like faith) and internal feelings (like devotion) but social structures and symbolic constructs of all sorts. Baptism is one of those symbolic constructions. Someone from outside the tradition cannot be bound by the sense believers have that the symbol participates in the reality of what is symbolized. For some Christians the link between baptism and full fellowship in a denomination (or even salvation) is very close. I remember my mom telling me through tears that her youngest sister died before she could be baptised. The Ukrainian Orthodox priest refused to allow her to be buried in the churchyard. Bastard. Talk about heartbreak for the whole damn family.
Religions are as much about social inclusion and exclusion as they are about belief, salvation, enlightenment. That’s part of the reason why there are religous wars. And that’s also why, for some people, symbolically undoing the rite of church membership is significant.
West’s brief comments are pretty mild, however, in comparison to some other views expressed. Here is an excerpt from a column originally published in The Daily Reveille at Louisiana State University in early April, entitled “Debaptism nothing but insulting”.
Besides, if the NSS [National Secular Society] 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.
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.
Ok, here we go again with the suggestion that when people leave the church they abandon the right to react to events in their own lives that happened when they were members. It is a supreme arrogance on the part of church goers to think that the church retains some kind of propietory rights over events in the lives of its former members. Churches should not be forced to erase records of its own activities, but it is certainly not wrong for Hunt to demand that the church recognize that he renounces the social and religious implications of that baptism.
Whose #@*^!#%!!! baptism was it anyway?
And so what if in a satirical or serious “debaptism” the “faith in which he was raised” is insulted? Churches, like any other human institution have no right to expect such deference from the disaffected. Churches are social institutions that often recieve preferential treatment (tax breaks etc). They should not be regarded as off limits to critique and insult.
moar funny pictures
The reference to the “certain breed of militant, confrontational atheism” is bullshit. Militants do not conduct rituals with blow dryers. They use guns.
A militant atheist practicing for the suicide squad.
And so what if atheists are confrontational? A hell of a lot of preachers are confrontational too. The Bible is confrontational. Christianity has a pretty strong missionary streak. If going around the world telling other people that their religion is wrong is not more confrontational than debaptizing oneself, then I don’t know what the hell is.
What’s godly for the goose should be good for the godless, God damn it!
(The Book of the Wisdom of Jebus B. Gobley, 1:1)
moar funny pictures
And what about satire directed at religion? The Bible itself satirizes and mocks other religions. In 1 Kings 18:27 Elijah is challenging the prophets of Baal. When they cannot conjur up their god, Elijah mocks them, asking if Baal somewhat indisposed at the moment. Biblical scholars are well aware of satire in the Bible.Satire and the Hebrew Prophets (1st ed) by Thomas Jemielity
“The author demonstrates the striking relationship between satire and Hebrew prophecy. Reviewing the role of ridicule in both and analyzing questions of nature, structure, form and audience, Jemielity assesses the full range of satire in Hebrew prophecy. The features of the prophet’s character similar to those of the satirist are investigated, as well as how the prophets used satire to answer attacks on their credibility.”
I will not mock the editor’s excellent work on the author’s name, since I can’t do any better. In fact, I won’t even mention it.
Christianity also appropriates ritual for its own purposes. The Christian festival of Pentecost is actually a dramatic reconfiguration of the Jewish festival of Shavuot that celebrates the day God is believed to have given Israel the Torah.
Pentecost, however, is the Christian celebration of the descent of the Holy Ghost on the early church as they gathered for the first Shavuot after the crucifixion. All sorts of miracles attend this and the believers go out to preach the gospel in all sorts of languages they don’t know. Clearly, this myth that provides the charter for the Christian festival expresses something of the supercessionist doctrine. This holds that perfection was impossible under Jewish law but is now attainable through grace that comes with faith in Christ and which secures the gift of the spirit.
Pentecostals like to speak in tongues. Think up your own darn innuendo. Why should I do all the work around here?
It seems a little bit of double standard on the one hand for Christians to appropriate aspects of Jewish ritual system so as to demonstrate the irrelvance or obsolecence of that system and, on the other, to be indignant about atheists doing the same to them.
Christianity has, at times, been a wee bit paranoid about mockery and inversion. Remember the witch hunts? Witches were accused of holding Black Masses, inversions of the Eucharist in which the host would be defiled.
Hans Baldung’s Witches Sabbath, 1510
The Wicked Witch of the West, for no particular reason.
Of course, opponents of the Church have often been willing to oblige with upside down crosses and what not.
Yes, you too can style your hair like this with the Blowhard 3000!
The point I’m trying to make here is that the symbolic inversion is an old, but not quite stupid human trick that plays out in debaptisms, puns, jokes and so forth. When Alastair McGrath titles his book “The Dawkins Delusion” to play off of Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” he is doing much the same sort of thing as the debaptisers.
Should atheists make a fuss about debaptism? Some atheists say “no”, thinking that it legitimizs baptism as a rite with meaning in the first place and that atheists should be beyond all that. Given the human proclivity to take part in symbolic acts, I don’t think these critiques are fully justified.
In many other spheres of life ritual and symbol play an important part, and I’m not talking about overtly religious rituals and symbols. Many atheists celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and New Year. How to organize a secular humanist funeral is a big issue, and secular folk would care as much as religious people about setting the right tone. Atheist activists create symbols and badges of their cause. This is not fundamentally different from the crucifix, star of David, and what have you.
Although people vary dramatically in how much symbolical dramatization they like, I don’t think anyone can be free from symbolically meaningful acts. Social and political symbol and ritual is here to stay, I’m afraid, and atheists perhaps should not be so iconoclastically protestant about it.
Some people do need to make a symbolic break with the past, that is what debaptism may mean to many. It might seem silly, but that is merely a matter of perspective. Is it treason to the atheist cause? No, it isn’t. It is not a compromise with the evil forces of superstition and hocus pocus any more than having a “divorce party” is.
Humans love to play, and all of these sort of things I’ve been talking about is very serious play, but play nontheless. It serves a role in articulating a world of meaning. Atheists, like all other human beings, live in a universe of symbols, signs and ideas. By manipulating, combining and recombining them in new ways, we express ourselves and think through issues. Thus, art resembles religion, and atheists relate to their world in ways similar to religious folk. We are not so different in many respects.
Oh well. Let’s have some music:
Alison Kraus, “Down in the River to Pray”. And the same, in its dramatic context:
Well, that was nice.
For those of you who are not into full immersion, there are the Manic Street Preachers
No, lets just hop right in!