Jun 11 2009
De-Baptism Gains a Following in Britain [Excerpts]
More than 100,000 former Christians have downloaded "certificates of de-baptism" in a bid to publicly renounce the faith, according to the London-based National Secular Society (NSS).
Terry Sanderson, the society's president, says the group started the online de-baptism initiative five years ago to mock the practice of baptizing infants too young to consent to religious rites. Their web site invites visitors to "Liberate yourself from the Original Mumbo-Jumbo that liberated you from the Original Sin you never had" and allows them to print out a paper certificate that uses quasi-formal language to "reject baptism's creeds and other such superstitions." But in recent months, as tens of thousands began to download the certificate, organizers realized that they had struck a chord with atheists and once-devout church members who are leaving churches they see as increasingly out-of-tune with modern life. "Churches have become so reactionary, so politically active that people actually want to make a protest against them now," Sanderson says. "They're not just indifferent anymore. They're actively hostile."
In October last year, Italy's Union of Rationalist Atheist and Agnostics sponsored the country's first-ever "De-baptism Day," when the no-longer faithful attended protests and passed out de-baptism forms to areligious people who didn't have internet connections to download them. More recently, on March 2, atheists and feminists in Argentina teamed up to launch the "Not in my Name" Internet campaign which encourages Roman Catholics to notify their local bishops of their desire to officially leave the church. So far more than 1,800 have joined their Facebook group or signed the petition on their website http://www.apostasiacolectiva.org.
According to Argentine campaigner Ariel Bellino, a former Catholic: "The church counts all those who've been baptized as Catholic and lobbies for legislation based on that number, so we're trying to convey the importance of people expressing they no longer belong to the church." Campaigners say that's particularly important in Argentina, where liberal social values frequently clash with Roman Catholic doctrine related to issues such as birth control, abstinence before marriage and homosexuality; in 2003, Buenos Aries became the first city in South America to legalize gay civil unions.
Back in Britain, Michael Evans, an atheist and former journalist who downloaded the de-baptism certificate in March, believes the Church of England claims more members than it actually has in order to shore up its influence in the secular world. "It claims to speak for the majority of people in Britain," he says. Official estimates are that fewer than one million Britons regularly attend Sunday services, but there are currently 26 Church of England bishops sitting in the House of Lords. "With churches, everybody checks in, but nobody checks out," says Evans, who was baptized as an infant. "There's no exit strategy except the funeral."
(William Lee Adams, De-Baptism Gains a Following in Britain, Time Online, London, Apr. 14, 2009).