Debaptism and the Echo of Original Sin

Jim Tonkowich | Institute on Religion and Democracy | Friday, April 3, 2009

Debaptism and the Echo of Original Sin

April 3, 2009

Fifty years ago, like most babies born into British families, John Hunt was brought to church and baptized. As a boy, before he was confirmed, Hunt decided he wanted nothing to do with religion or church. He dropped out as a pre-teen, forsaking his baptism.

This story is (sadly) less than shocking, but we know that neither infant baptism nor infant dedication guarantees continuing in fellowship with Christ and his Church. People slip away—usually quietly and without fanfare. Eventually their names are erased from the membership records and the matter is closed—at least in this life.

We can safely assume that this happened at St. Jude with St. Aidan Church where John Hunt was baptized many years ago. But that is not sufficient for Mr. Hunt. He wants the church to expunge his name from the list of baptized. That is, he wants to be debaptized.

According to BBC News:

… Mr Hunt has become the pioneer in a rejuvenated campaign for a way of cancelling baptisms given to children too young to decide for themselves whether they wanted this formal initiation into Christianity.

A Church of England official told AFP News, “Renouncing baptism is a matter between the individual and God.” There is no mechanism for canceling baptisms since it involves changing the historic record. Like it or not, the baptized have been baptized. 

Again, this is not sufficient for Hunt or for the National Secular Society (NSS) that believes that religious believers are accumulating far too much political power. The NSS believes: “Human rights before religious rights.  Defend freedom of expression. Abolish faith schools.  Separate Church and State.”

One of the services the NSS provides is an official-looking “Certificate of Debaptism.” NSS president Terry Sanderson told the BBC, “The debaptism certificate started out as a kind of satirical comment on the idea that you could be enrolled in a church before you could talk, but it seems to have taken off from there. People are beginning to take it seriously.”

AFP reported that more than 100,000 Britons downloaded the certificate that the NSS now sells for three pounds, about $4.35. The certificate reads:

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.

The BBC article noted that the Church of England’s Archbishops’ Council assured everyone that baptism is not an indication of church membership and only church members are counted.

That being the case, the question, “Why bother?” has been asked by both Christians and atheists. According to an article on Religious Intelligence, Sanderson noted, “There’s been a lot of criticism even from atheists about it, saying ‘what are you bothering with this for, if you don’t believe it, what difference does it make doing away with it?’”

According to the article, Sanderson responded that the popularity of the certificate demonstrates “the need for the sacramental.”  He observed, “It’s always in the background everybody has still got that residual echo of religion in their heads even if they rejected it intellectually.”

But rather than being “residual,” that “echo of religion” is primal.

Hunt, Sanderson, the NSS and the thousands who feel the need to “officially” affirm their debaptism are striking examples of the revenge of conscience and of the natural law’s ability to assert itself even among people who reject it.

St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “The wrath of Godis being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them” (Romans 1:18-19).

Plain too is the doctrine of original sin, which, G.K. Chesterton famously noted, is the Christian doctrine most open to empirical verification. You can pretend that it is not there, but you are only pretending. Deep conscience knows better.

Because we are made in the image of God we either accept or fight knowledge that the Creator has built into us. We know that there is a God to whom we are answerable for our lives and actions. We know, even if we reject religious faith, that faith is not merely private, but has a public and social character. We sense the sacramental reality built into all God has created, the connection between physical and spiritual realities.  

As a result, those clamoring for debaptism cannot help but affirm much more about God, man, sin, and salvation than they realize or wish.

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