Matter and form: the essence of Christian sacramental celebration. To undo, the Church has no prescription for you. In fact, once baptized, always baptized: it’s about indelible character. Nonetheless, some will try. While I don’t want to make light of a genuine desire of some to be rid of their negative experience of religion, I have to confess this strikes me as somewhat funny, from a ritual viewpoint.
The 2008 Atheist Coming Out Party and De-Baptism Bash in suburban Westerville, Ohio featured a robed officiant using a hair-dryer labeled “Reason” to blow away the waters of baptism. A curious choice, that; I wonder how a wet-dry vac would have worked.
“It was very therapeutic,” one of the de-baptized admitted. “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.”
It’s interesting that these rituals have been hitting Bible Belt states: Florida, Texas, and Georgia—also Ohio.
Greg McDowell, the Florida state director for American Atheists said, “It’s a bit of satire. People will play the fool by waving their arms in the air and saying, ‘I got de-baptized!’ But the paperwork is still legit.”
Not in the eyes of the Catholic Church, though. “While we do not remove a name/person from a Baptism register, we can note alongside your name that ‘you have left the Roman Catholic Church’,” replied Rev. Richard Mangini by e-mail. “I hope that God surprises you one day and lets you know that He is quite well.”
Not all atheists are convinced. Pitzer College Professor Phil Zuckerman, thinks that the de-baptism ritual “feels intrinsically negative” and “immature.” He concedes that for some people, they may feel a degree of catharsis or even be making a political statement. “For a long time, non-religious people in the Bible Belt just kept quiet, but they aren’t keeping quiet anymore. I think that’s largely a reaction to George W. Bush’s presidency. [Atheists] were saying, ‘The government is being taken over by very religious people. We need to stand up and say: We’re here. We’re secular. Deal with it’.”
Call Professor Laurence Stookey of the Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington a doubter. For mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians, baptism, he says, is more than magic. “(Baptism) is a kind of adoption where you become a child of God, of the church and of the family. 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.”