The last few decades, the Roman Catholic Church has been whining about a decrease in “the vocations,” or candidates for the priesthood (and sisterhood — gotta maintain equal opportunity!). I decided to help them out by “reposting” their newest job opening:
What: A small parish seeks a full-time reverend.
When: As soon as you finish seminary.
Job Perks: The Church treats Her men well. Here are just some job highlights:
We provide tax-free income and a house.
Variable job pay — guilt your flock into putting more into that basket whenever you want. Just send 50% to your Bishop and our holy father the Pope.
Swing elections however you want to — you can’t officially endorse politicians or parties, but you can dedicate whole homilies (that’s what we True Christians call our sermons) to key issues of the election.
Listen as real people confess their darkest sins to you!
A “Don’t ask, don’t tell” pedophilia policy. Additionally, we can transfer you to another parish, should things get hairy (and your parishioners pay your settlements for you, should the filthy, underage, Satan-loving whores rat you out).
The comfiest chair in the building!
Little boys (and girls) hold your books, light the candles, and bow to you.
Hundreds to thousands of people will bow, kneel, chant, or sing when you tell them to.
Everyone thinks you can turn crackers into Jesus’ body … and you’re not an alcoholic, you’re a bloodaholic! Which doesn’t exist — you can’t get too much Jesus.
Goddess worship, kinda like the Pagans. And an alibi: Mary’s no god, she just intercedes for us.
A rock-solid, Constitutional excuse for your homophobia.
Wear essentially a dress without cross-dressing (no pun intended).
Necessary Experience: Most have an easy time meeting our humble needs:
An ability to alternately scare the death out of folks and convince them you’re their best friend
An ability to keep a straight face while invoking “magic” that never works
An ability to get up on time most days.
(No proof of two-way conversations with God required)
I recently noticed a distinct lack of a page with a comprehensive list of “Pope Palpatine” images, so I compiled this one. (If you know who created these, or if I missed a good one, let me know.)
And just so you Catholics don’t accuse me of being needlessly “militant” (ha) you should note that I have many legitimatebeefs with this guy, his predecessors, and the religion of which he is the dictator (and in which I was raised).
A number of atheists and agnostics have opted for de-baptism, a symbolic event meant to formally renounce their usually non-voluntary baptism and conversion into a religion. Apparently this practice, which often includes a blow-dryer labeled “Reason,” is popular in America, Italy, Britain), and increasingly so in Ireland.
Read on to find out the purposes of such a ceremony.
Is de-baptism ironic?
Some observers, like The Young Turks, below, note the irony of “atheist rituals.” Is it ironic? The definition of irony is something that is incongruous or contradictory. (Alternatively, irony can be defined as something with two or more meanings, known to different people; in this case, the atheists know there is no transcendent or spiritual meaning to baptism or de-baptism, but believers put value on such customs.)
Atheist de-baptisms would indeed be a contradiction, if it weren’t for the following:
Atheists do not believe there is a metaphysical or eternal effect of baptism or de-baptism. This is the only element of irony, and atheists’ awareness of it (even calling de-baptisms “a bit of a joke” and a “mock ceremony”) ensures no genuine contradiction is made.
Unlike most churches, atheism (which is, of course, not an organization or authority in any sense) requires baptism of no one.
Atheists would not de-baptize infants or young children.
There are positive social effects of de-baptism, which we will discuss below.
Some individuals value the event as a symbolic renunciation of dogma they were taught earlier in life.
Because the reasons and beliefs surrounding de-baptism do not contradict the atheist’s rejection of theism and revealed mysticism, it’s unfair to ridicule de-baptism.
Reasons to be de-baptised
De-baptisms are not for everyone. Those who do opt for one do so for a number of reasons.
One motivation is to commit a formal act of apostasy, or the rejection of a religious belief. This decreases the number of people on churches’ official rosters, as these churches often use these numbers for political clout. (Of course, not even all active members agree with Church teachings.) In Ireland almost all public schools are actually run by the Catholic church, partially on the grounds that most Irish are Catholic; the formal apostasy of de-baptism is seen as a way to decrease this theocratic power. I expect this to become even more common now, in the wake of the Ryan Report on clerical abuse and after the absurdly backward anti-blasphemy law was passed.
The second common reason is personal or symbolic meaning. One of the de-baptized, Jennifer Gray, called her experience “very therapeutic.” In a sense, a comparison could be made to New Year’s Resolutions, a custom that has absolutely no mystical meaning, but which can nonetheless be a decisive step and a statement of intention.
Lastly, some (such as myself) may view the ceremony as an assertion of children’s rights. Why, they ask, should parents be able to decide what a child will believe? (Not all religions practice infant baptism, so this doesn’t always apply.)
Is baptism irreversible?
Some churchesrefuse to take the de-baptized off their rosters, claiming that baptism lasts forever in the eyes of God and/or the Church. I call baloney. Should God exist, He could keep His records just fine without a mortally run organization helping him out by artificially swelling their numbers.
While Christians are free to believe that baptism is permanent, common sense and modern Western law suggests that, on paper and in practice, no one can be forced to remain a part of a group to which they do not wish to belong. That’s what cults do.1 That is almost the definition of slavery.
The way that these same churches welcome converts from other religions, even if such converts were baptized into another religion. (As if they would refuse. Those collection plates don’t fill themselves!) If baptism lasted forever, church-hoppers could end up being permanent members of multiple faiths. How absurd would that be? (Yes, a lot of churches see other denominations’ baptisms as equivalent to their own, but the point stands: the convert has left a church.)
To summarize: Dogma is within the church’s domain, but the roster should be composed entirely of those who wish to be on it.
What about those who want to be removed from church records, but are denied the right to do so by their church? Is there hope? Barring legal action, there may be! Since churches generally allow conversions between denominations, a possible loophole may be able to switch to a less retentive church, inform the old church and request to be expunged, and then get that new church to remove them from the roster. Sounds like a lot of effort, but it may be worth it as a last resort.
Personal attitude toward de-baptism
Before I heard that other atheists enjoyed de-baptism, I had hoped to experience one someday. While others I expressed this wish to could not see any reason to it — after all, if I believed baptism had no meaning, what need had I for de-baptism? — I wanted to undergo it for more practical reasons. I wanted to make a statement about children’s rights, to formally end my relationship with the Church, and to show myself and others I was serious about my atheism.
Unlike the accounts I have linked to here, I did not envision my de-baptism taking place with a blow-dryer. I hoped to honor the legacy of Douglas Adams and use a towel.
General tips: I couldn’t find a definitive resource for those looking to officially leave churches, but in most cases a letter to the Bishop stating your intent to commit apostasy, like Irish Catholic one above, should suffice. Consider sending your letter via registered mail or with delivery confirmation.
Photo credits: Baptism used with implicit permission
Update: If you live in the Phoenix or Chicago area and have been de-baptized, please contact me.
Using this as a definition of cults, Scientology and Christian Science easily qualify, as do Mormonism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as do fundamentalists like Pat Robertson who advocate not speaking to family members who left the church. (Yes, I am aware there is precious little difference between cults and religions.) ↩
While the Pope claims to speak for a billion people, his beliefs and statements do not actually reflect the beliefs of those who call themselves Catholic.
Part of this is due to a lack of education, and part is due to a lack of a comprehensible, comprehensive compendium of Catholic dogma. Catholic tradition states belief should come from the top down; the idea that people can believe whatever they want is the least Catholic idea there is. Yet as a former Catholic and as an atheist who often wonders what the Church’s official stance is, I am very aware of a lack of such a compendium and the lack of the unity of belief the Pope would have us expect.
A Sunday school (CCD) teacher once told me we could pick and choose which bits of Catholicism to believe.
Many Catholics do not believe that the Host, or communion wafers, are actually non-metaphorically Jesus’ body, as doublethink-like Catholic dogma claims.
It is common knowledge that the Pope prohibits the use of condoms and indeed all forms of birth control (besides the rhythm method, which they call Natural Family Planning; apparently the high error rate lets God to his thing). Yet it would be foolish to think that every Catholic considers their usage a sin.
Even dead Popes disagreed with the current one on many issues, be they vulgate Bibles, limbo, indulgences, the Crusades, and Hitler’s Nazi party.
(Update, early 2014): A full 60% of US Catholics “do not oppose” gay marriage, despite the Church’s stance. 76% say abortion is sometimes or always acceptable; 79% support the use of contraception; and 64% want to see women priests. In each of these statistics, the majority of Catholics disagree with Catholic dogma. (Source: Univision, as quoted in The Week)
Of course, this may all be a moot point since no Christian really understands how the Trinity is three separate people but one God. If the most basic of doctrines doesn’t make sense, it may be too much to ask for the rest to be believed with any consistency, as well.