Join 3,439 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Unholier than thou
March 14, 2009 7:27 AM   Subscribe

"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."
posted by WPW (191 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Debaptism? Hell no! That's my insurance policy!
posted by billysumday at 7:32 AM on March 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


The minister was performing the baptism of a tiny infant. A little five year old girl was taken by this, observing that he was saying something and pouring water over the infant's head.

With a quizzical look on her face, the little girl turned to her father and asked: "Daddy, why is he brainwashing that baby?"
posted by netbros at 7:36 AM on March 14, 2009 [26 favorites]


Is there something other than an atheist I can become to distinguish myself from the bitter and the fuckwitted?
posted by Artw at 7:37 AM on March 14, 2009 [12 favorites]


Debaptism? Hell no! That's my insurance policy!

On his deathbed, Voltaire was implored by a priest to renounce the devil. Voltaire replied: "This is no time to make enemies!"
posted by WPW at 7:41 AM on March 14, 2009 [43 favorites]


Could we maybe not do the traditional Metafilter-shit-on-people-who-believe-in-something-you-don't thing? It would be ever so nice for a change.

At the very least, could you guys do it this time with less vitriol and a little respect for different life choices?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:42 AM on March 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, de-baptism is really disrespectful of the notion that you can claim the immortal soul of an infant child by dousing them in water and chanting.
posted by grobstein at 7:58 AM on March 14, 2009 [33 favorites]


Depbaptism, along with things like the bright movement and ads on buses just make athiests come across as dicks
posted by twistedonion at 7:59 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I gaze upon a newborn baby all I see is a filthy sinner who is going straight to hell if something isn't done right quick.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 7:59 AM on March 14, 2009 [46 favorites]


Could we maybe not do the traditional Metafilter-shit-on-people-who-believe-in-something-you-don't thing

As opposed to the traditional public shit-on-people-who-don't-believe-in-something-you-do?
posted by eriko at 8:00 AM on March 14, 2009 [16 favorites]


My first thought was as to whether or not these could be used to de-baptize the dead Jews that the Mormons baptized by proxy.
posted by MikeMc at 8:05 AM on March 14, 2009 [10 favorites]


I was raised in an anabaptist denomination, so we were supposed to wait until we reached adulthood to get baptized, and we had to take a class in the church's history and sacraments. In practice, that meant you took the class when you were junior high age, though a few people did wait until they were in their 20s.

I'm not inclined to "believe" in baptism anymore, but the part of me that was raised in that tradition is sort of down with certificates of debaptism. Anabaptist ministers could keep a stock of them handy for people coming into a congregation from other denominations.

"Welcome. Just sign this and we'll teach you the handshake for the Owl Chick Lodge. When you're ready to take a class we'll see about fitting you for the Horned Fez of the Sons of Alexander Mack."
posted by mph at 8:09 AM on March 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Is there something like a Living Will to prevent myself from being baptized after death by a well meaning Mormon?
posted by Nelson at 8:13 AM on March 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


Baptism, along with things like beating up atheists in some places and ads on buses and buildings and websites and magazines make religiobots look like dicks.

Which in general they are.
posted by kldickson at 8:13 AM on March 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


As opposed to the traditional public shit-on-people-who-don't-believe-in-something-you-do?

Yes, because that's something MetaFilter does every fucking day. You're usually smarter than that, eriko.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:18 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's a difference between not believing in something and shoving your disbelief in other people's faces. Proselytizing athiests are just as annoying as religious people, if not more.

There's a reddit board that would adore this. Try it there.
posted by graventy at 8:22 AM on March 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


dnab: a little respect for different life choices

Obviously we should take care to respect the beliefs and scepticism of other Mefites, but this certificate deals specifically with those who didn't have any choice when they were baptised as infants.

As an atheist, and one who was baptised, I thought this was all extremely interesting but the whole idea of the NSS handing out these certificates does make me cringe a bit. To me, now, my baptism and confirmation aren't meaningless, because they are important memories and part of who I am, but as concerns my atheism today they are at least harmless. In the sense that I do not go about my life thinking "yikes, I got to do something about this baptism quick! Getitoff getitoff GETITOFF!" To feel the need for some ceremonial "debaptising" seems to me to invest the whole business with a supernatural significance that is the direct opposite of what I see atheism as being about.
posted by WPW at 8:22 AM on March 14, 2009 [23 favorites]


Depbaptism, along with things like the bright movement and ads on buses just make athiests come across as dicks

twistedonion, when my fellow nonbelievers are allowed to legally hold public office in Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas,, when they aren't openly despised in public discussions and on the airwaves, and discriminated against in the military, you might have a point.

In the meantime, your protests sound like calling them out for being "uppity", or "not knowing their place".
posted by IAmBroom at 8:25 AM on March 14, 2009 [44 favorites]


There's a difference between not believing in something and shoving your disbelief in other people's faces.

This is a public rejection of something that was shoved on them. I was baptized into the Catholic church as a baby but I don't now, nor have I ever, considered myself a Catholic despite having been "put on the books". Maybe I could fill one of these out and mail it to the Pope with a letter asking him to please take me off of the mailing list.
posted by MikeMc at 8:29 AM on March 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


There's a difference between not believing in something and shoving your disbelief in other people's faces.

Hunh. I am about as atheist as one gets and I had never heard of debaptism before about six minutes ago. If they are shoving this in people's faces, they are not doing a very good job at it.

On the other hand, in grade school (secular and publicly funded) I was taught about Jesus and God and the Bible in the same manner and by the same people who taught me the multiplication tables and spelling.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:30 AM on March 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


This is a public rejection of something that was shoved on them.

How and why? If you don't believe in baptism, then all that happened was some guy pouring water on your head as a baby. Don't get to have it both ways.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:34 AM on March 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


and discriminated against in the military, you might have a point.

Funny thing that. When I enlisted in the Air Force the recruiter wouldn't enter "None" in the religion box on the form. He told me "We don't want to put that on there" and entered the softer "No Religious Preference" (which is what my dog tags say). That always struck me as kind of f'ed up. I will admit to going to church on Sunday though as it beat the G.I. party and you got to smoke in the parking lot of the chapel.
posted by MikeMc at 8:36 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


In other UK religious news, it is now a prosecutable offense to state that Scientology is a scam. Which given the crap they've pulled in Britain, comes as a real shock.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:39 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Depbaptism, along with things like the bright movement and ads on buses just make athiests come across as dicks

I was going to scold twistedonion for associating atheism with the "Bright's Movement", but then I noticed that he misspelled "atheists". Perhaps we should be more arrogant and judgmental.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 8:41 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Proselytizing athiests are just as annoying as religious people, if not more.

Whoa, this just blew my mind. Have you written this down anywhere else? Because seriously. Insightful.

You will rarely find proselytizing atheists. What you will find is people trying to beat back the religion that assaults us on every side.
posted by DU at 8:41 AM on March 14, 2009 [17 favorites]


I'm not religious, so I may be completely off doctrinally, but: these debaptism folks are objecting because it wasn't something they had a choice in. But it seems to me that the rite isn't about the baby choosing to renounce sin - the baby didn't choose to commit the original sin in the first place. Essentially, from a religious perspective, it would seem to be about God (through the proxy of his followers) giving each individual human a chance to make their own record. From a non-religious perspective, it has no meaning either way - it's just something the parents/religious community did for their own peace of mind.
posted by Drexen at 8:44 AM on March 14, 2009


How and why? If you don't believe in baptism, then all that happened was some guy pouring water on your head as a baby. Don't get to have it both ways.

Do Christians actually think that God cares whether or not our money has God on it?

I mean, is religion sacred and separate from secular concerns, or does it need to intrude on every aspect of our existence, whether we believe in it or not? There sure is whole lot of having it both ways going on.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 8:50 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do Christians actually think that God cares whether or not our money has God on it?

Many of them do, yes.

Essentially, from a religious perspective, it would seem to be about God (through the proxy of his followers) giving each individual human a chance to make their own record. From a non-religious perspective, it has no meaning either way - it's just something the parents/religious community did for their own peace of mind.

This.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:52 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Where's my decircumcision?
posted by gman at 8:55 AM on March 14, 2009 [8 favorites]


There's only one way to deal with this. We need to find the source of Dust and destroy it once and for all.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:57 AM on March 14, 2009 [8 favorites]


Where's my decircumcision?

Here.
posted by MikeMc at 9:00 AM on March 14, 2009


Oh man, is this turning into a plate of beans thing. "Our products are for sale to residents of the UK, Channel Islands and Isle of Man only"

As we like to say in the old country, this is Taking The Piss. It's about as serious a piece of wall paper as a demotiovational poster.

Christianity in the UK is marked by the indifference of the vast majority of the population. Well meaning, earnest, and ultimately signifying little. Yet it's everywhere, and there's a vague assumption that we're still a christian country, even if less than 10% of people go to church outside of weddings and funerals. This, like the ads on buses, is just atheists asserting themselves to point out that some of us are a little more active in our disbelief than others.

I find it hilarious that christians, members of an aggresive religon that inducts children and has stuff like Jesus Saves outside churches, get upset that someone has the temerity to believe in something different than them, and then has the GALL to say it out loud.
posted by ArkhanJG at 9:03 AM on March 14, 2009 [12 favorites]


You will rarely find proselytizing atheists.

True enough. But can you explain the purpose of this then? Because I can only assume atheists aren't printing these off for their own piece of mind.
posted by graventy at 9:03 AM on March 14, 2009


To feel the need for some ceremonial "debaptising" seems to me to invest the whole business with a supernatural significance that is the direct opposite of what I see atheism as being about.

Precisely.

I should hope that, if I ever do realize that I am Atheist, that I would also have the compassion to recognize my baptism for what it was -- a gesture on the part of my well-meaning parents to look after what they at that time sincerely believed was my own well-being. I didn't have the capacity to believe in religion when I was an infant -- but I also didn't have the capacity to feed myself either. That's why it was my parents' job to do what they considered to be best for me in that capacity, and they did so because they were my parents and they loved me. The fact that I am now of an age to feed myself, and thus of an age to disagree with my parents about the best choices when it comes to feeding myself, does not retroactively negate their good intentions back then. And this is the same thing.

This isn't to say that there are choices parents make on behalf of their children that could be harmful - there are. I can think of very few instances, however, in which simply being baptized would be one of them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:04 AM on March 14, 2009 [15 favorites]


that I would also have the compassion to recognize my baptism for what it was -- a gesture on the part of my well-meaning parents to look after what they at that time sincerely believed was my own well-being.

In my case I just don't understand why my parents even bothered, I can't recall seeing either one of them in a church unless someone was getting married or buried. Must have been one of those "better safe than sorry" things.
posted by MikeMc at 9:08 AM on March 14, 2009


This strikes me as unnecessary and petty.

I can speak best from my own perspective, of course, but from this is what I saw growing up in the Methodist Church. The baptism of an infant -- a christening, in other words -- is less about the immortal soul of the child and far more about the welcoming of a very new, very small member of the church community. The liturgy that accompanies the ceremony speaks to this community aspect very directly.

It serves a dual purpose. On a spiritual level, the sacrament affirms a belief that God loves human beings and will continue to do so, be they child or adolescent or adult. On a community level, the ceremony is an introduction of the child to a congregation that is then asked to protect this child and to support these parents, accepting them all as part of a growing church family.

But beyond this ... I have to wonder, why would anyone see value in rejecting the celestial effects of a ceremony that you no longer believe in (or never believed in). Why tell God where he can stick his blessings if you believe in neither God nor blessings so-attributed?
posted by grabbingsand at 9:10 AM on March 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


For the Catholic Church, anyway, you can't put the spirit back in the toothpaste tube. My brother, an atheist marrying a devout Catholic in a Cathedral in Rome, was told by their counselor, a Cardinal, that his baptism was what made it all possible, without that it would have been a no go.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:11 AM on March 14, 2009


Ok folks it simple if god doesn't exist that ceremony that you had as a kid is just a quizical moment in your life that you can look back on and say "Why did my parents do that?" . If you believe in god you believe that at that moment you were forgiven for all of yu past and future sins.

Either Baptism is meaningful or it isn't, if it isn't ; Why would you try to undo what doesn't matter in the first place.
posted by Rubbstone at 9:11 AM on March 14, 2009


Is there something other than an atheist I can become to distinguish myself from the bitter and the fuckwitted?

You are free to believe in an absent God. He is simply not here to starve, destroy or trick others into believing in his jealousy. He is absent. If and when he returns, you can fill in what you expect, but I don't expect the dogmatic charlatans who represented him as the scornful governor of all mayhem to survive it.
posted by Brian B. at 9:12 AM on March 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


To feel the need for some ceremonial "debaptising" seems to me to invest the whole business with a supernatural significance that is the direct opposite of what I see atheism as being about.

I try very hard to be a non-confrontational atheist, and I rarely get involved in this thread. But one does not have to believe in the supernatural to understand the psychological power of ritual. You know, many atheists still have wedding ceremonies and funerals. If someone had a very unpleasant experience in their childhood religion, a ceremonial rejection of the same could be beneficial.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:12 AM on March 14, 2009 [16 favorites]


Why would you try to undo what doesn't matter in the first place.

Because the Catholic Church counts up the numbers on it's baptism roll, and represents that to the Government as its membership total, thus entitling it to special privileges, such as being able to run schools? That this makes the UK a christian country, even when hardly anybody is an active member in adulthood?
posted by ArkhanJG at 9:18 AM on March 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


Why tell God where he can stick his blessings if you believe in neither God nor blessings so-attributed?

To fuck with the people who demand that their religion be recognized in the public sphere, by believers and non-believers alike. It's saying that I not only recognize your intrusive religion, I renounce its every intersection with my life and I detest and regret ever having been a part of it.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 9:19 AM on March 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


You cursed priest! Look what you've done! I'm melting! melting! Oh, what a world! What a world! Who would have thought a good little priest like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness? Oooooh, look out! I'm going! Oooooh! Ooooooh!

I WANT A MAKEOVER!!
posted by pyramid termite at 9:20 AM on March 14, 2009


I try very hard to be a non-confrontational atheist, and I rarely get involved in this thread.

These threads. I rarely get involved in these threads. Need caffeine.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:20 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you don't believe in baptism, then all that happened was some guy pouring water on your head as a baby.

For many people there's a world of difference between:
(a) choosing not to believe in a particular god (or any god at all)
and
(b) being completely oblivious to all forms of symbolism

Some of us atheists get quite uppity about having rituals imposed on us by well-meaning believers.

We're not all the soulless robots you'd like to think we are. It's entirely possible to find value in symbolism and ritual without requiring the involvement of supernatural forces - religions don't have a monopoly on spirituality. And just because we're not planning on being around after our own deaths doesn't mean we wouldn't like some control over what historical records say about our beliefs.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 9:25 AM on March 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


...or pretty much what Bookhouse said...
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 9:26 AM on March 14, 2009


grabbingsand: "The baptism of an infant -- a christening, in other words -- is less about the immortal soul of the child and far more about the welcoming of a very new, very small member of the church community."

If my reading of C.S. Lewis is correct, the sole purpose of Christianity - possibly of the universe itself - is so that men can become "little Christs". Towards this end, Christ became a man so that His spiritual life force, the Zoe, could be communicated to other men:

... this new life is spread not only by purely mental acts like belief, but by bodily acts like baptism and Holy Communion. ... God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it. - Mere Christianity, "The Practical Conclusion"

So to whatever extent a church treats baptism as being about anything other than the immortal soul of the child - say, a "welcome to our club" initiation right - I'm afraid they've lost the plot.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:30 AM on March 14, 2009


Essentially, from a religious perspective, [a baptism] would seem to be about God (through the proxy of his followers) giving each individual human a chance to make their own record.

At least in the Catholic practice, it's essentially a cynical cog in their pyramid scheme:

"Your baby, who doesn't know malice, is somehow born with sin that will prevent his ascension to Heaven if he should die. So quick, quick quick have us pour water on him. Don't think-- start forcing dogma on him before he can think. And now he's Catholic forever."

It's the same cynicism that leads the Catholic church to say that "sex without procreation and abortion are sinful. We know you're not going to stop humping, so you must make more Catholics. Eventually we will outnumber everyone! Whee!"
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:30 AM on March 14, 2009


My brother, an atheist marrying a devout Catholic in a Cathedral in Rome, was told by their counselor, a Cardinal, that his baptism was what made it all possible, without that it would have been a no go.

That's interesting. The church I grew up in only baptizes adults, do the whole thing's always been a mystery to me. I thought that for churches the baptize infants, your baptism was only good until you were old enough to make up your mind, at which point you had to go renew it via confirmation or first communion.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:37 AM on March 14, 2009


These threads. I rarely get involved in these threads. Need caffeine.

I liked the way you said it the first time - I took it as a statement.
posted by cashman at 9:42 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


at which point you had to go renew it via confirmation or first communion.

I'm not 100% on this but I think baptism makes you a member of the church and confirmation makes you an adult member of the church with all the rights and privileges that come with that status. I think.
posted by MikeMc at 9:43 AM on March 14, 2009


If you don't believe in baptism, then all that happened was some guy pouring water on your head as a baby.

I'll just leave this here:

Performative utterance.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:46 AM on March 14, 2009


I can understand people wanting this. I'm atheist but not from a christian tradition so neither I nor my parents or grandparents have ever been involved in the christian church. Sometimes talking to other atheist people about their experiences they sometimes describe themselves as 'lapsed' like they might go back, or simply 'couldn't see the point' as though if they had faith they would go to church. It strikes me as a very half-way house situation to be in, where the 'loss' of the religion is central and not the 'absence'.

Sometimes when discussing religion with Christians (just casually, theology make no sense to me) they ask why I stopped going to church or why I don't believe. I'm lucky to be able to say that I'm not christian, and never was, and don't have to explain or narrativise how I became atheist. Perhaps debaptism helps those who don't have that to be more forthright and say 'I'm not christian...I've been debaptised', as a more forceful and less apologetic of removing themselves from that religion.

Of course, lots of atheists from christian tradition positively enjoy repudiating Christianity at every turn, so I doubt everybody would benefit something like this.
posted by Sova at 9:50 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think this is founded on the same wrongheaded belief as those who want to re-virginize themselves. You are who you are, and you are, in part, the sum of your experiences. If you want to change your life from some point forward, go ahead, but don't think that means you should try to "erase" your past.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:55 AM on March 14, 2009


Speaking of silly things, if one were to vacuum a Catholic's stomach after mass, would one get enough DNA from Christ's transubstantiated flesh to clone him?

Because, seriously, that'd be way cool.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:00 AM on March 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


If you don't believe in baptism, then all that happened was some guy pouring water on your head as a baby.

Not necessarily. When someone leaves a religion they often feel they were lied to and were manipulated and used, especially with guilt and shaming techniques. Consciously and unconsciously, this is the pretty much same as "believing" that evil and abusive methods were employed, both psychologically and politically. Combating these "well-meaning" methods is then assumed to be the way to recover one's dignity and self-confidence. Essentially, it is a way to declare that the "well-meaning" people can't have it both ways, nor dictate anything anymore, or else they wouldn't be well-meaning. But there is more to it. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that one has been "spiritually" abused and is not sure what to think about anything, perhaps instinctively feeling afraid that so-called religious people are like voodoo worshipers (and those evil methods were really evil spells). Now a debaptism really makes a lot more sense from all angles, by essentially appropriating the effectiveness of the religious voodoo. The top angle, of course, is allowing a believer to lecture on the ineffectiveness of a personal declaration of lost faith, and this would be priceless from a recovery viewpoint.
posted by Brian B. at 10:02 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


In my case I just don't understand why my parents even bothered, I can't recall seeing either one of them in a church unless someone was getting married or buried. Must have been one of those "better safe than sorry" things.

Or one of those "it's just easier to deal with the family politics if we just do it" decisions.

Kind of like the times I went to Christmas service with my parents as an adult. Sit and stand for an hour and a half as some dude in a gown swings an incense burner at us all, watch as a bunch of people unfamiliar with and uncomfortable in a church go up and pretend they believe a styrofoam wafer is going to become real flesh, yawn through a bunch of "oh we are not so worthy" bullshit that's just plain depressing. And then go home, glad to have avoided a full-on family fall-out because the 'rents haven't quite lost the faith yet.

Interestingly, they no longer go to services. I think they did the religious thing out of some weird sense that it was "good for the children."
posted by five fresh fish at 10:10 AM on March 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


You will rarely find proselytizing atheists.

And a few comments down:

To fuck with the people who demand that their religion be recognized in the public sphere, by believers and non-believers alike. It's saying that I not only recognize your intrusive religion, I renounce its every intersection with my life and I detest and regret ever having been a part of it.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:24 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


This seems silly to me, but maybe as a Catholic I was raised as baptism being automatic and confirmation being the decision one had to make. I thought about not getting confirmed, but chickened out - too bold a step to make while attending catholic school.

My kids were all baptised and the way I see it it serves a purpose, culturally. We dress the baby up it fabulous clothes, choose people special to us to stand up for the baby in our stead and invite all the friends and relatives to come join in the celebration of our new baby.
Everyone else gets dressed up in special clothes, relatives of the baby on both sides get to re-bond over their mutual admiration of the beautiful baby, people eat and drink and take turns getting their picture taken with the baby. This is a situation where organized religion gives the framework to work with, there are roles and rituals that people have in common.

One of my kids was confirmed and practices Catholicism, one is an atheist and chose not to be confirmed and one is deciding this year. I consider myself an agnostic but tribally a catholic, not a big deal. Maybe I just don't come from people who see religion as a source of conflict.
posted by readery at 10:28 AM on March 14, 2009


As an atheist, I can't say my baptism seems like a big blot on my life, but my parents never took us to church and never foisted any religion on us. My father is an atheist but I think my mother still considers herself C of E or something, despite not having been to church in 50 years and probably not having cracked open a bible in that long.

That said, if it helps someone to come to grips with their own personal, er, demons (or just fuck with the man) by getting one of these certificates, more power to 'em.

Baptized but not circumcised. Glad it was that way 'round, the other is difficult to put right.
posted by maxwelton at 10:34 AM on March 14, 2009


When I think of my baptism, I mainly feel sorry for my mother. She married into a family of rabid Russian Orthodox Tsarists (my father excluded) and was forced into a religion of extreme misogyny. After my birth, she had to submit to ritual cleansing after the "defilement" of childbirth, something that angered her ever after. But her feelings about it never even mattered, because Russian Orthodoxy believes that ritual is everything; no one present, not even the priest, needs to believe it for it to count.

When my grandmother died, I tried to avoid the priests. I'm an atheist, but I always tried to be nonconfrontational about it where my grandmother was concerned. But the priests literally chased me through the graveyard and made me kiss an icon. The ritual had to be performed.

Is this harmless? Frankly, I'd take an antibaptism certificate just to get the point across that a person's beliefs matter, and to force your beliefs on others leads to bad things.
posted by acrasis at 10:35 AM on March 14, 2009


There's a difference between not believing in something and shoving your disbelief in other people's faces.

There's also a difference between an atheist deliberately going into thread about religion and shoving their disbelief in people's faces, and religious people deliberately going into a thread on atheism and complaining that people are shoving their disbelief in their faces.

In the latter case, you're actually shoving your faces into our disbelief rather than vice versa.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:39 AM on March 14, 2009 [15 favorites]


Hey, let's make some cracks about how they're now up for grabs as ingredients in a potion to grant witches the power of flight. Silly atheists, being bothered by something they don't believe in!

Of course, I'd love to hear folks say that to the relatives of Jews baptised by proxy as part of the Mormon Multilevel Marketing scheme. Jesus wasn't the Messiah, therefore the dead being baptised into an irrelevant Christian faith means nothing.

I'd love for all of the good Christians who think atheists are being silly to, you know, have a round or two with initiation rites of other religions. Since they don't believe in them, it should mean nothing. Give me your names and addresses, I might be willing to swing membership in the Church of Satan for you. It's a little expensive these days. Oh, that feels a bit unwholesome, does it?

Remember, few are born atheists. At some point, an atheist might want to distance him or herself from a religious past, which, at a young age, tends to be mixed up with Santa Claus, Ghost Jesus, Beard Jesus, the Easter Bunny, and the thing under the stairs. It's a sticky mess, and you'd like it all wrapped up and carried off by the stork they told you brought babies.

De-baptism is not about making something "not have happened;" this is a symbolic rejection of a concept that tends to irritate most atheists: that religion can be forced upon someone. By the sword, by deception, by law, or doing it to infants incapable of making choices besides "cry now, or cry later?"

Pardon me, I think I am going to break into a long-term care ward at a Catholic facility and forcibly debaptise the comatose. Since it means nothing, I'm sure their relatives won't mind when I mail them the certificates.
posted by adipocere at 10:48 AM on March 14, 2009 [8 favorites]


And a few comments down:

You know, Krrlson, rejection of a belief - even public rejection of that belief - is not proselytizing.
posted by me & my monkey at 10:49 AM on March 14, 2009 [12 favorites]


> Obviously we should take care to respect the beliefs and scepticism of other Mefites, but
> this certificate deals specifically with those who didn't have any choice when they were
> baptised as infants.

Odd, the number of folks here who appear to believe in free will and think they have a choice now. Another one of those comforting but unprovable beliefs that people just can't seem to quit needing. (But you'd think self-announced atheists, at least, would be concerned to set a good, tough-minded example about it.)
posted by jfuller at 10:55 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Catholic apostates like me your answer lies here.
I had to go through baptism and then really didn't have a choice about confirmation (still in high school) though I fought it in my small ways. I can see the appeal of these linked documents. It's really not about the validity/invalidity of the rituals, but the lingering psychological resentment or regret (oh, if I could turn back the clock!). These documents could be a solid, tangible (albeit rather silly) way of bringing some type of closure, peace of mind. Guess you really had to be there.
posted by damo at 10:55 AM on March 14, 2009


There's also a difference between an atheist deliberately going into thread about religion and shoving their disbelief in people's faces, and religious people deliberately going into a thread on atheism and complaining that people are shoving their disbelief in their faces.

This thread is an atheists-only club all of a sudden? And here I thought discouraging free expression was a trademark of religion.


You know, Krrlson, rejection of a belief - even public rejection of that belief - is not proselytizing.

Forgive me, you're right: "fucking with people" by demanding the undoing of a procedure you do not believe in is not proselytizing, it's being an annoying asshole for the sake of being an annoying asshole. Hardly an improvement.
posted by Krrrlson at 11:04 AM on March 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think we're in much more dire need of a re-foreskinning.
posted by cmoj at 11:09 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


My husband told me about a guy who has been trying very hard to get himself excommunicated from the Catholic church and they won't do it. Apparently it's very difficult.

The thing is--and it's the thing that legitimizes the anti-baptism certificates for me, in a way--is what my husband told me about Catholics counting their numbers: their head count comes from baptismal rolls. Therefore, he--a die-hard atheist who was baptized and raised Catholic--is counted in their ranks nevertheless, and he finds that extremely objectionable if Catholics are using numbers as an indication of power.

In that light, if there's some way to use anti-baptism certificates as official documents rather than symbolic purges, it might not be a bad idea. 'Course, I'm all for symbolic purges anyway, so I don't have a problem with the certs anyway.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:12 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


The spectacle of atheism turning into a substantial public ideology is entertaining. For future reference, atheists, the phrase you'll be looking for is something along the lines of "well, I'm an atheist - I mean, I definitely believe there's no God, but I'm not into organized atheism."

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.

I just made up a riddle. What do you call it when people start taking a joke seriously?

Religion.
posted by nanojath at 11:31 AM on March 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


I've noticed feminism and atheism are sharing some similarities these days, in the sense that the advances of gender equality and freedom from religion in your daily life are taken for granted, and people doing things that display more freedom then their ancestors in those two spheres hold up the idea of a bitter atheist/feminist kill joy, whose worst crime is not being nice. For example the automatic association with atheist is a hate for the religious, just like people talk about feminism as a hate for the male gender.

For example there's the talk about how atheist push their beliefs into other people's faces. I find this pretty fascinating, since while I'm quite familiar with the bore who thinks all evil springs from religion and will tell you at length, the other phenomena I'm used to is people assuming I'm a devoutly religious person, essentially meaning that they define atheist based on someone actively advertising. This is interesting contrasted with the assumption that my cupcake baking ways mean I'm not a feminist, basically it seems like most people have an idea of what an atheist is is the sense that 'bra burner' is used to talk about feminists. I've already noticed people saying "I'm not an atheist like the crazies, but..." so I wonder how long it'll be before atheists start doing their version of a "I'm not a feminist, but..." shtick.
posted by Phalene at 11:39 AM on March 14, 2009 [8 favorites]


Iceland's most famous protester, he who started the trend of throwing skyr as protest, is a guy named Helgi Hóseasson. He has been campaigning since the late sixties to get a debaptism certificate from the Icelandic government and church (the Icelandic Lutheran Church is the official state religion of Iceland). As far as I know he's never gotten the government or the church to issue him a debaptism certificate. For the life of me I don't understand why someone official can't just give him one. His ire doesn't stem from atheism so much as that he thinks that God is evil (one of his more famous signs says HVER SKAPAÐI SÝKLA which translates to WHO CREATED GERMS). But sometimes he incorporates other causes into his protesting, for example opposition to Iceland partaking in the war on Iraq. In this picture his sign says
THE GOVERNMENT COWARDLY AND UNTRUSTWORTHY
WANTS TO TAKE AWAY MY RIGHT BY FORCE
ITS AMERICRAZY MASTER
CRAZY BLOODHOUND IT WILL DEFEND
I translate the word "hvinn" as "untrustworthy" but I'm not sure that's correct. Helgi uses a lot of archaic language in his protest signs, likewise I translated "búri" as "master" but I'm not entirely sure that's right. It's an archaic word for "farmer" but I'm pretty sure it has a history of being used as a pejorative term for rulers of one kind or another. He also creates a lot of neologisms, like "bandóðrískur" which is a combination of the the Icelandic adjective for someone or something from the US, "bandarískur" (literally Unitedstatesian), with "óður" which means "crazy." Since I'm writing about my translation I might note that the word "herja" which I translated "take away by force" actually means "to war upon."

Helgi's an interesting guy and if pretty much everything about him on the internet wasn't in Icelandic I'd have posted about him a long time ago. He's very, very famous in Iceland, to the point that he's inspired his own font that's taken from the letters he uses on his protest signs.

Anyway, there are a whole lot of pictures of the guy on the internet.
posted by Kattullus at 11:39 AM on March 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


Forgive me, you're right: "fucking with people" by demanding the undoing of a procedure you do not believe in is not proselytizing, it's being an annoying asshole for the sake of being an annoying asshole. Hardly an improvement.

If it annoys you, then it's your problem.
posted by Brian B. at 11:47 AM on March 14, 2009


And just because we're not planning on being around after our own deaths doesn't mean we wouldn't like some control over what historical records say about our beliefs.

Precisely.

My parents brought me up without religious trappings. There are one or two people in the family who believe devoutly, but by and large, we're a pretty religion-free lot.

My parents eventually split up, and my dad married a woman who came from a somewat more religious family; my stepmother had been brought up going to church every Sunday and while she wasn't doing this as regularly as an adult as she had as a child, she seemed to feel guilty. In the fullness of time, her brother became a minister for a deeply evangelical sect and pulled the family back in a more worshipful direction. My dad had gone through divorce number two by this point and was as irreligious as ever.

A few years ago my younger half-brother Scott died. It was seen as automatic that Scott's uncle, the evangelical minister (and thus a man of God), would conduct the service. During it he spoke at length of Scott's deep and abiding love for his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. This came as news to everyone in my family: he had never spoken of any belief to anyone; never, so far as anyone could tell, attended church since the times in his childhood when he was brought along by his mother; and never seemed to feel any particular shortfall for it. Yet in death he was retroactively recruited to the cause.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:48 AM on March 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Bookhouse, you were right the first time.
posted by cookie-k at 11:52 AM on March 14, 2009


This thread is an atheists-only club all of a sudden?

Where did I say that? My point was that if the views of atheists offends you, the simple remedy is to keep yourself out of the threads on atheism.

Seems to me that religious folk want it both ways. They don't want atheists expressing their views in the religious threads, and now they whine like stuck pigs about atheists expressing their views in threads on atheism as well.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:02 PM on March 14, 2009 [9 favorites]


religiobots

Congratulations, you just usurped "sheeple" in the category of Stupidest Contrarian Compound Word ever.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:05 PM on March 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think my mother still considers herself C of E or something, despite not having been to church in 50 years and probably not having cracked open a bible in that long.

That, and Monty Python's "Don't fricasee or fry us lord, don't boil us in oil" lyrics are, IMO, a precise summary of the Anglican Church. It's the Catholic church for people who aren't afraid to doubt faith.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:09 PM on March 14, 2009


If someone had a very unpleasant experience in their childhood religion, a ceremonial rejection of the same could be beneficial.

Okay, I can buy that for a dollar. But I can't help but think that that's eventually the kind of thing you ultimately then move far enough away from that years later, after you've de-baptized yourself and grown stronger in your self-assurance, that eventually you find the debaptism certificate one day when you're cleaning out the hall closet, stand there frowning for a moment wondering why in the hell you kept something like that, and either you toss it out or you stick it in a box with the kids' old report cards from Kindergarten or the photos from your college road trip or something.

....then again, in the interest of full disclosure, I actually kept the silly "pronouncement" you could buy in the gift shop certifying that I have been to Blarney Castle and have officially kissed the Blarney Stone, so maybe I'm not one to talk.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:09 PM on March 14, 2009


Also, if you're an atheist and don't believe in baptism anyway, what is the point of being "de-baptized"? I mean, if you don't believe in the magical thinking that Brian B. touches on, that is. What are you going to do with your de-baptism certificate? Frame it and hang it in your study? Laminate it, and show it to people at parties?

"See this? De-baptized. That's me. I reject religion so thoroughly, I went out of my way to get one of these babies."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:11 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Remember, few are born atheists.

Everyone is born an atheist.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:12 PM on March 14, 2009 [11 favorites]


On review, what EmpressCallipygos said.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:12 PM on March 14, 2009



Depbaptism, along with things like the bright movement and ads on buses just make athiests come across as dicks


Atheists are dicks for renouncing religion, but religious people aren't dicks for building ostentatious churches, knocking on doors, and otherwise publicly proclaiming how devout they are?

Lovely.
posted by IvoShandor at 12:20 PM on March 14, 2009 [11 favorites]


literally Unitedstatesian

The long form of USian, obv.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:21 PM on March 14, 2009


Just to recap what the certificate creators have to say (note the bold text):

Obviously, our irreverent certficate of debaptism is a bit of fun.
After all, the concept of baptism is a complete fantasy that has no meaning outside the heads of the religious. However, many people do wish to make an official break from the church.

posted by MikeMc at 12:22 PM on March 14, 2009


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: What are you going to do with your de-baptism certificate? Frame it and hang it in your study? Laminate it, and show it to people at parties?

Well, you could give one to Helgi Hóseasson, next time you see him at a protest. It might make him happy.
posted by Kattullus at 12:22 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


My grandmother baptized me in her kitchen sink while she was babysitting me, because my parents wouldn't do it. I'm an atheist, but I wouldn't want to be debaptized because I think it's hilarious.
posted by brundlefly at 12:22 PM on March 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


If my reading of C.S. Lewis is correct, the sole purpose of Christianity - possibly of the universe itself - is so that men can become "little Christs". (...) So to whatever extent a church treats baptism as being about anything other than the immortal soul of the child - say, a "welcome to our club" initiation right - I'm afraid they've lost the plot.
C.S. Lewis is the sole and infallible for Christianity? Huh. Interesting. I was unaware.

Perhaps somebody should inform the ridiculous number of different religions that all call themselves "Christianity".
posted by Flunkie at 12:24 PM on March 14, 2009


However, many people do wish to make an official break from the church.

Um, you can? Just go to the church of your denomination with your baptism certificate, approach the clergyman in charge, tell him or her that you were baptized into this particular faith, and you are now renouncing it. Done and done.

The de-baptism certificate is funny, I guess, in satirizing magical thinking and all. Just saying, if you really do want to officially break from your church, if you're an atheist who takes magical thinking seriously, or if you just need the psychological effect of closure, then there are ways of making the "official break".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:26 PM on March 14, 2009


when my fellow nonbelievers are allowed to legally hold public office in Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas

In case you're arguing sincerely and don't know this:

They can. Those state constitutions just have inoperative clauses, is all.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:31 PM on March 14, 2009


The idea that belief matters is uniquely modern, dating really only to the Protestant Reformation. For most of human history people have felt, like the priests who chased acrasis through the graveyard, that the ritual itself was the source of its power. All pagans believe this, as the people at the top of the Vatican heirarchy almost certainly do. And all of those people believe that other peoples' rituals are effective too; most of them don't even care, as long as their own people perform their own rituals faithfully.

The reason for this is that rituals do have power, not because of any supernatural access but because of our psychological reaction to them. I think this is what took the certificate makers aback; they thought they were making a political point about inflated Church membership numbers, but people are using their certificate as an actual ritual. They are not making a statement; they are taking back power which they feel in their bones was taken from them.

This looks a little nuts both to modern Christians and fundamentalist materialist atheists, but it would have made perfect sense to the other 99% of humans who ever lived. It would make perfect sense to the priests who chased acrasis, because they would understand it as a concrete seizure their power. That the power originates within the mind instead of on the astral plane does not matter; it is real, it has effects, and people who are not in denial (or who are startled out of their denial by the presentation of a previously unimagined possibility) can feel it very clearly.

In the absence of outside structure we tend to create our own rituals, often without realizing it. Religion seeks to align our ritual activities so that (1) we reinforce each other in our ritual behavior, and (2) the coordinated movement this produces can be exploited in various real world ways. Even if you are no longer performing the rituals of the group you've left, there is a difference between quietly leaving and performing an active ritual to separate yourself from that group. In this case people feel that they are not simply abandoning a ritual structure to a new singular random one of their own; they are acting in alignment. And that is the source of the debaptism certificate's power and appeal.
posted by localroger at 12:32 PM on March 14, 2009 [21 favorites]


Bookhouse, you are quite right here. I was speaking purely from a personal perspective, not for everyone.
posted by WPW at 12:32 PM on March 14, 2009


The reason for this is that rituals do have power, not because of any supernatural access but because of our psychological reaction to them. I think this is what took the certificate makers aback; they thought they were making a political point about inflated Church membership numbers, but people are using their certificate as an actual ritual. They are not making a statement; they are taking back power which they feel in their bones was taken from them.

Well said. I was formulating a response to Marisa Stole the Precious Thing's last post, but you put it much better. If you go through the "official channels" of the church to make your break, that explicitly acknowledges the power of the church over you.
posted by brundlefly at 12:38 PM on March 14, 2009


"Your baby, who doesn't know malice...

Never had any kids, huh?
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 12:38 PM on March 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


So if you reject the spiritual authority of the issuer of your baptismal certificate because you wish to be responsible to your own spiritual authority (which I hope is a fair description of atheism,) why then do you need to rely on the spiritual authority of the issuer of your debaptismal certificate?

Pshaw. A cat can have kittens in the oven, but that doesn't make them biscuits.
posted by Forrest Greene at 12:38 PM on March 14, 2009


So if you reject the spiritual authority of the issuer of your baptismal certificate because you wish to be responsible to your own spiritual authority (which I hope is a fair description of atheism,)

A fair description of atheism is a disbelief in God.
posted by brundlefly at 12:40 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Very true, localroger. I don't think purely materialist atheists would find a need for this sort of thing apart from the comedic value, but I do think the psychological power of ritual is indisputable.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:41 PM on March 14, 2009


"fucking with people" by demanding the undoing of a procedure you do not believe in is not proselytizing, it's being an annoying asshole for the sake of being an annoying asshole. Hardly an improvement.

I beg to differ. When these assholes start knocking on my door and handing me literature, or when they attempt to browbeat their followers into voting to restrict the rights of people like me, I may change my mind, but until then, they're no different from other garden-variety assholes.
posted by me & my monkey at 12:41 PM on March 14, 2009


However, many people do wish to make an official break from the church.
Um, you can? Just go to the church of your denomination with your baptism certificate, approach the clergyman in charge, tell him or her that you were baptized into this particular faith, and you are now renouncing it. Done and done.
I'm not sure that I understand why this is "done and done" to you, but ordering a de-baptism certificate is something bizarre and incomprehensible. What's the fundamental difference between the two?

Besides that your way implicitly invests the clergyman with meaning?
posted by Flunkie at 12:44 PM on March 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Because the Catholic Church counts up the numbers on it's baptism roll, and represents that to the Government as its membership total, thus entitling it to special privileges, such as being able to run schools? That this makes the UK a christian country, even when hardly anybody is an active member in adulthood?

Luckily the UK is C of E then and probably will be when even the vicars are atheists (insert joke about how most of them are anyway here...).

I'm torn on this. One the one hand, infant baptisms in the UK are, in the main, nothing more than an excuse to dress up the child, welcome it to the parish, have the old biddies coo over the baby, and have a party.

On the other - the liturgy is pretty hardcore, especially when compared with the airy-fairy C of E marriage service. Godparents are asked to renounce the devil, confirm their faith in God; the baby is charged to "Fight bravely under his banner against sin, the world, and the devil; and continue Christ's faithful soldier and servant to the end of your life." Personally I'd prefer parents to go for a secular naming ceremony if they are not prepared to do their best to uphold these vows until the child is old enough for Confirmation (or not) and can make up their own mind. And I can understand if they might want something official to opt out of it.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 12:44 PM on March 14, 2009


I'm not sure that I understand why this is "done and done" to you, but ordering a de-baptism certificate is something bizarre and incomprehensible. What's the fundamental difference between the two?

I don't recall saying the de-baptism certificate was bizarre or incomprehensible. In fact, I said I understood the comedic value. I also said that if you do believe in magical thinking, that there are official ways of making the break.

Besides that your way implicitly invests the clergyman with meaning?

Yes it does, as does believing your baptism still has power over you, even after you've become an atheist.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:47 PM on March 14, 2009


Don't get to have it both ways.

I believe I can.
posted by longsleeves at 12:47 PM on March 14, 2009


Speaking of silly things, if one were to vacuum a Catholic's stomach after mass, would one get enough DNA from Christ's transubstantiated flesh to clone him?

The Church is not taking any chances on this. As a kid I once puked on the cement steps leading to the basement of our church, after having received communion. A priest, in full ceremonial vestments, used gold tweezers to pick all the white bits out of the multicolored puddle, and retrieved them into a jewel-encrusted gold chalice. I hope he didn't have to eat them.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:50 PM on March 14, 2009


Right, you just asked what's the point. So sorry.
posted by Flunkie at 12:50 PM on March 14, 2009


Right, you just asked what's the point. So sorry.

I asked "what's the point if you don't believe in magical thinking". A question which was answered - comedic value - to which I said I see the comedic value.

Are you just particularly fighty today?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:53 PM on March 14, 2009


I dunno, Marisa, is an atheist really committed to not caring what people think about him? Is that magical thinking?

Baptism has real-world consequences if it affects the way people think about you. If religious adherents think -- even in some implicit way -- that they own you because you're baptized (that you belong to the church), then it seems perfectly reasonable to want to repudiate that.
posted by grobstein at 1:06 PM on March 14, 2009


Marisa, if you feel that your baptism still has power over you, then it does. That's what this is all about; the strict materialist would say it's only a feeling, it's stupid, why bother. Most everyone else would agree that feelings are real even when they are irrational or not connected to any observable reality. It is extremely difficult to really put years of churchgoing completely behind you, and most people have lingering connections that are so entrenched that they slide beneath the threshold of consciousness.

I think what is happening with these certificates is that the simple possibility reminds people that they haven't completely escaped the effects of their baptism, even though they have ignored it for decades. The cord tying you back to the mother church may have become very long, but it still gets caught up on the trees as you move around. But we've come to assume that that's just an inevitable part of life.

What the debaptism certificate does is to remind these people that the cord is still there, and offer the possibility of cutting the damn thing once and for all. Since the cord was created by ritual, it takes a ritual to completely undo it. Some people may not feel the need for this, but I suspect that' s because the ferocity of their conversion to materialism involved some other ritual activity of which they're not consciously aware. It's much easier for us to form a deep pattern of thought than to erase it, and completely breaking such a deep pattern usually requires forming a different one that keeps you from sliding into the old habits.

There is nothing comedic about this. It's about thinking you were free, suddenly realizing that you weren't, really, but simultaneously being offered a solution. And the humor of the thing is part of that solution, but it's not the purpose.
posted by localroger at 1:07 PM on March 14, 2009


Not believing in magical thinking doesn't necessarily preclude getting the emotional benefit of ritual. If that were so, atheists would never have wedding ceremonies.

If someone wanted to make a symbolic gesture that disavowed their connection to a particular religion, I can see how they'd want to do it in a way that didn't acknowledge the power of that religion. I don't have much use for ritual myself, but I can see how this would make sense to someone who does.
posted by brundlefly at 1:09 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


To put it another way, it could be viewed as a personal "Declaration of Independence."
posted by brundlefly at 1:13 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Baptism has real-world consequences if it affects the way people think about you. If religious adherents think -- even in some implicit way -- that they own you because you're baptized (that you belong to the church), then it seems perfectly reasonable to want to repudiate that.

That's interesting. How often does baptism even come up in conversation? And if a group of people think they "own" you, yet you never go to church, then who cares? Baptism has as much power as you give it.

Also, localroger and bundlefly, I'm in complete agreement with you with regards to the power of ritual! Just want to make that perfectly clear. Again.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:15 PM on March 14, 2009


I asked "what's the point if you don't believe in magical thinking". A question which was answered - comedic value - to which I said I see the comedic value.
And to which answer you offered an "Um, you can?", along with your suggested method. To which I wondered how your suggested method was different than the one you took issue with.
Are you just particularly fighty today?
Sure, why not.
posted by Flunkie at 1:18 PM on March 14, 2009


Cool, Marisa. But just pointing out:

I asked "what's the point if you don't believe in magical thinking". A question which was answered - comedic value

There's potentially more of a point to it than that.
posted by brundlefly at 1:22 PM on March 14, 2009


To which I wondered how your suggested method was different than the one you took issue with.

You'll notice my "suggested method" was in response to this, wherein the site creators say "many people do wish to make an official break from the church" as an additional function of their certificate. So I was pointing out that there already exists a way to do this. I thought I was being helpful.

How are they different? Don't know, you'd have to ask the people looking to make an official break from the church. Everyone gives different rituals different degrees of power.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:22 PM on March 14, 2009


brundlefly points out that "A fair description of atheism is a disbelief in God."

Well, sure. That's a negative description, what "atheism" isn't.

I was hoping to put forward a positive description, a statement of one of the things that "atheism" maybe is, in order to ask why a rejector of one authority-outside-one's-own-self (that of The (whichever) Church,) might then bother to accept a different authority-outside-one's-own-self (that of Atheists, Inc. (or whomever issues debaptismal certificates.)

"Meet the new boss, he's the same as the old boss" comes to mind.

Or does it all mean that one's response to profound spiritual issues simply boils down to a difference in style-preference? I suspect this may be true, & that it's probably not a bad thing: "There are many paths to the top of the mountain," some say, while others say "Let ten thousand mountains rise!"

Of course, all those self-named rising mountains do require some ability at thinking for one's self, an exercise which it seems is not encouraged by most religious governing bodies.

I do despise the abuses of power that sadly seem inevitable in institutions like capital-R Religion. And I appreciate the counter-ritual involved in debaptismal certificates & am happy they're available for those who need them. But I do think that, in the end, the whole point might be to grow beyond such needs, at which point, as someone above said, the debaptismal certificate gets filed, appropriately, I think, with the Kindergarten drawings.
posted by Forrest Greene at 1:28 PM on March 14, 2009


I was hoping to put forward a positive description, a statement of one of the things that "atheism" maybe is, in order to ask why a rejector of one authority-outside-one's-own-self (that of The (whichever) Church,) might then bother to accept a different authority-outside-one's-own-self (that of Atheists, Inc. (or whomever issues debaptismal certificates.)

Fair enough. Personally, I wouldn't want to accept any other authority, but I don't speak for all atheists. This is an extreme example, but a Communist Party member in the USSR might swear off religion in favor of the authority of the state. Neither of us believe in a god, but we clearly have different views on outside authority.
posted by brundlefly at 1:44 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


And all of those people believe that other peoples' rituals are effective too; most of them don't even care, as long as their own people perform their own rituals faithfully. The reason for this is that rituals do have power, not because of any supernatural access but because of our psychological reaction to them.

Indeed, the rather more fanatical branches of Christianity tend to believe that witches really do have the power to call upon dark lords et al to cast spells and etcetera. We've had MeFi users who have flat-out stated their belief in this regard. Blows me away, but there you have it.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:56 PM on March 14, 2009


I am no longer Jewish, but others are sometimes reluctant to accept that. A conversation I had just a few days ago.

THEM: Are you Jewish?
ME: No. I grew up Jewish, but I'm not anymore.
THEM: But did you convert? Is your mother Jewish?
ME: No, I didn't convert, but I don't have any religion now.
THEM: But if your mother is Jewish, then you are Jewish. Really.
ME: No. I'm not.

I can imagine those who were baptized having a similar experience. Ironically, there have been times (when particularly frustrated with attempts at getting me back to Judaism) that I've considered doing some kind of other religious ritual, just to formally render me a gentile under Jewish law.
posted by Clandestine Outlawry at 1:56 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


We're not all the soulless robots you'd like to think we are.

I don't recall saying that. Atheism is a choice, theism is a choice. Loud and brash atheism is just as annoying as loud and brash theism. Guess what sort of atheism this is. Go on, guess. And now for bonus points, guess what sort of atheism is on MetaFikter all the time.

Seems to me that religious folk want it both ways. They don't want atheists expressing their views in the religious threads, and now they whine like stuck pigs about atheists expressing their views in threads on atheism as well.

Nope. What I want is a little respect coming from both sides.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:59 PM on March 14, 2009


While I obviously don't take this as seriously as some, I think it's a great novelty gift idea (or something funny to hang in my office). Unfortunately, born a baptist, I was never baptized--the only member of my family never having been submerged into the farce of an ancient mythology.

Still, I can't seem to find the ONLINE (.pdf) form to print out for free (though they claim that 100,000 people have downloaded it) AND they don't sell it to people in the US. Anyone else find it? It wouldn't surprise me if they've turned greedy--only selling them now--everyone knows that God is the basis for morality.

NOTE: those links above don't say you CAN'T hold office in those states--most of the ones I saw just say something like "you can't stop someone who believes in God from holding office because of that belief"...which is way different than what the website says those articles imply.
posted by whatgorilla at 2:05 PM on March 14, 2009


I don't recall saying that. Atheism is a choice, theism is a choice.
Really?

I don't recall ever choosing to think something. In fact, the concept seems nonsensical.
posted by Flunkie at 2:10 PM on March 14, 2009


I hestitate to accept the definition "atheism is a disbelief in god." To me, that implies that it is a state of activity, a state of energy: that one is exerting effort against the natural state.

I see atheism as the natural state: it takes no effort to not believe in unicorns, three-eyed martians, and god. Believing in those things? See time-cube guy for an example of the kind of mental effort that is required to believe in something unreal. It's downright bizarre what lengths to which people will go to frame their beliefs in a way they can sustain their faith in the face of easier, simpler, more sensible alternatives.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:14 PM on March 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


A cat can have kittens in the oven, but that doesn't make them biscuits.

no, it makes them taquitios
posted by pyramid termite at 2:15 PM on March 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't recall ever choosing to think something. In fact, the concept seems nonsensical.

It seems nonsensical to choose to think something, in the sense of choosing to believe something? I have to say this strikes me as odd. Sort of negates a big chunk of free will if none of your beliefs are choices. Can you elaborate?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:17 PM on March 14, 2009


There is nothing comedic about this.

of course there is - it's people proclaiming their lack of belief in the non-material and "irrational" only to have it sneak up on them in the form of believing a piece of paper can somehow unmake a "superstitious" ritual that one doesn't believe in

it really is amusing
posted by pyramid termite at 2:27 PM on March 14, 2009


The more I think about the un-baptismal certificate, the funnier it gets. That really is a sweet bit of irony there that everyone could have a decent chuckle about. Plus, if it ritualistically/magically provides closure for those who really need it, all the better.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:31 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


It seems nonsensical to choose to think something, in the sense of choosing to believe something?
Yes. I don't ever remember deciding to believe that there is no god. I remember believing that there is no god. Similarly, I assume that most people who believe in some particular god don't, one day, think, "Well, I guess I'll believe Ra exists".

The concept of atheism being a choice strikes me as similar to the claim that homosexuality is a choice.
posted by Flunkie at 2:32 PM on March 14, 2009


I don't recall ever choosing to think something.

who is choosing?
posted by pyramid termite at 2:33 PM on March 14, 2009


who is choosing?
Apparently, the person that I was responding to, who claimed that atheism is a choice, and that theism is a choice.
posted by Flunkie at 2:34 PM on March 14, 2009


This is the funniest thread I've seen in MetaFilter in quite some time.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 2:34 PM on March 14, 2009


Yes. I don't ever remember deciding to believe that there is no god. I remember believing that there is no god. Similarly, I assume that most people who believe in some particular god don't, one day, think, "Well, I guess I'll believe Ra exists".

So you were speaking from personal experience then. Understood. But believe it or not, people do choose to change their minds about their belief in God, or what faith they practice. Happens every day.

The concept of atheism being a choice strikes me as similar to the claim that homosexuality is a choice.

Naturally, belief in a belief system comes from being taught that system - if you're not taught it, you're not going to learn it. Now, whether some people have a biological/genetic inclination towards religion or atheism is a fascinating subject worth exploring.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:38 PM on March 14, 2009


believe it or not, people do choose to change their minds about their belief in God, or what faith they practice. Happens every day.
That's just postponing the nonsensical part. I don't doubt that people's minds change. I do doubt that they "choose" to change their minds.

When did you "choose" your current belief?

As opposed to "when did you start believing"?
posted by Flunkie at 2:40 PM on March 14, 2009


Depbaptism, along with things like the bright movement and ads on buses just make athiests come across as dicks

You say that like atheists have cornered the market on being dicks.
posted by odinsdream at 2:51 PM on March 14, 2009


So you were speaking from personal experience then. Understood. But believe it or not, people do choose to change their minds about their belief in God, or what faith they practice. Happens every day.

There is actually an interesting post on this at Less Wrong. Lest some clown object that he thinks it's about a different issue: if you choose to believe something at a given moment, then you do not believe it up to that point. Therefore you do not have sufficient evidence for that belief. Therefore, your choice is to adopt a belief for which you don't have evidence. Adopting beliefs for which you lack sufficient evidence is (define "sufficient," punk) adopting beliefs that are likely false, i.e., self-deception.

As a matter of epistemic rationality, you should adopt those beliefs for which you have evidence that they are likely true. If you have any less evidence, then you should not adopt the beliefs, because they are ex ante not likely true. To deviate from this pattern is self-deception. There is no zone of freedom. Of course, people actually do deceive themselves. Do they choose to deceive themselves? Complicated question for which you can't simply invoke "free will" and win.
posted by grobstein at 3:02 PM on March 14, 2009


pyramid termite, you're completely missing the point. People do not 'believe' that the piece of paper gives them closure; the piece of paper actually gives them closure. It does not give them closure because of the 'authority' of 'Atheists, Inc.' It gives them closure because they conducted a positive ritual and that's the way things like that work. This is not people being weird or stupid, this is the normal way people interact with this sort of thing. The thing that is weird, from an historical context, is thinking that a thing like this would only be good for lulz.

It is true that some people get closure without this kind of thing, but I would counter that most of those people inadvertently conducted some other kind of ritual in the course of separating themselves from their childhood indoctrination.

I would suspect the people who get the most out of the debaptism certificate aren't the loud in-your-face atheists, but the people who quietly drifted away from an increasingly irrelevant faith, and who encountered the certificate after years of thinking they'd put it completely behind them.
posted by localroger at 3:10 PM on March 14, 2009


On this deciding to believe thing -- I consciously decided that I no longer believed in God when I was 15. But then again I was raised by a devout Baptist particle physicist, so I was handed a really horrific plate of doublethink in my childhood, and there really was a period of a year or so when the social pressure on one side about evenly matched the huge pile of evidence on the other and it could have gone either way. For most people I'm sure it's a lot more subtle.
posted by localroger at 3:14 PM on March 14, 2009


I don't think I'd characterize my experience as "I consciously decided that I no longer believed in God." I don't think I'd even characterize my experience as "I consciously decided that I no longer believed in Santa Claus."

One just grows up and out of childish beliefs. It's an awakening. One isn't deep asleep and then consciously decides "hey-ho, time to wake up."
posted by five fresh fish at 3:31 PM on March 14, 2009


I consciously decided that I no longer believed in God when I was 15
In the sense of dirtynumbangelboy's post that started this all - "atheism is a choice, theism is a choice" - I can understand any of the following possibilities:
  1. I realized that I no longer believed in God when I was 15
  2. I admitted to myself that I no longer believed in God when I was 15
  3. I decided to act as if I no longer believed in God when I was 15
But I don't get "decided that I no longer believed". I suspect that you mean something which I would understand as either "realized" or "admitted to myself", or perhaps "realized" and then "admitted to myself".

But this is not "choosing not to believe", at least not in the sense of "Atheism is a choice, theism is a choice".

Under scenario 1, you realized you are an atheist.

Under 2, you chose to stop pretending to yourself that you are not an atheist.

Under 3, you chose to act as if you were an atheist.

None of these are "you chose to be an atheist".
posted by Flunkie at 3:32 PM on March 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


brundlefly conjures "...a Communist Party member in the USSR might swear off religion in favor of the authority of the state. Neither of us believe in a god, but we clearly have different views on outside authority."

Tradin' Coke for Pepsi, when his body needs some cool, clear water. Poor guy.

But I get your point.
posted by Forrest Greene at 3:36 PM on March 14, 2009


I respectfully disagree; I think that few are born atheists, and here is why: humans are not born tabula rasa, devoid of all instincts. Recent neuroscience has suggested that a part of the brain that enables us to think of people who we know but aren't around is partially responsible for our ability to have things like societies. And that same part of the brain is involved in religious experience: also thinking about someone who isn't there (God, Allah, whomever).

Or take human pattern-finding behavior, a tendency so powerful that we see patterns where none exist. Quite helpful for developing a model of the world and science. This also enables superstition to form, neuroses, magical thinking, and helps us with the ability to see Jesus in some whorls of burnt toast.

Now, while the form religion takes, the particular details, are culturally imposed, the general urge towards religion appears throughout just about any culture you can name. Hence why I say, few are born atheists.
posted by adipocere at 4:13 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


pyramid termite, you're completely missing the point. People do not 'believe' that the piece of paper gives them closure; the piece of paper actually gives them closure.

only if they believe it does

It gives them closure because they conducted a positive ritual and that's the way things like that work.

that's magick, not material rationalism - and doesn't sound like atheism to me, either

i think you're the one who's missing the point
posted by pyramid termite at 4:25 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing, pyramid termite, Flunkie, localroger, brundlefly:

Get a room. Or a suite, or something.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:36 PM on March 14, 2009


I do doubt that they "choose" to change their minds. ... But I don't get "decided that I no longer believed". I suspect that you mean something which I would understand as either "realized" or "admitted to myself", or perhaps "realized" and then "admitted to myself".

But this is not "choosing not to believe", at least not in the sense of "Atheism is a choice, theism is a choice".


If I'm understanding your argument correctly, you're saying the decision is made beneath consciousness perhaps, and then a person comes to realize a belief that they had. That still undermines free will, because it's saying that decisions with regards to how we look at the world are not made with our control. I'd say that a person still has the free will to recognize a shift of perspective or not, or to reason it away or not, or to ignore it.

We experience shifts in perception and perspective all the time, and constantly make choices about whether to accept them as real or say they are false.This is especially true about belief systems, whether religious, political or what have you. People change their belief systems based on their experiences, their values (also shaped by experiences) and their judgement. It's impossible to say that the belief system they adopted is the inately "right" one for them, the one that's been there all the while but finally admitted/realized was there. Especially as belief systems are fluid, changing as we change.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:41 PM on March 14, 2009


Ok, I clicked on the link.

They are selling these, which means they really are simply a means of making money for whoever came up with this. Like a pet rock.

I think I will simply roll my eyes and go on.

(full disclosure: I don't believe in infant baptism. All you are doing is wetting a child.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:41 PM on March 14, 2009


I'm an atheist, but I've never understood how anyone could care about the Mormon's baptizing them after their death. I mean, either you're a Mormon and then you think they're doing something that will save your eternal soul (or give it a shot at salvation) or you're not a Mormon and, well, why should you care what rituals they do or don't do--so long as no one is harmed in the process?
posted by yoink at 5:13 PM on March 14, 2009


Flunkie -- no, I decided. I could have shook off the nagging doubts, redevoted myself to church activities, and reaffirmed my faith; or I could do the opposite as I actually did. Both paths were possible, and I realized that either way I was committing myself totally to a belief system that violated half my strongly-held beliefs. It was an entirely rational choice that I thought about for months.

Had I gone the other way I would probably be a pretty obnoxious Christian today, and I can certainly imagine that happening considering where I was in those days. Belief is not something that just happens to you but something that needs to be reinforced. At that time my beliefs were so contradictory that none of them were really all that powerful, and I recognized that whichever path I chose would quickly obliterate any chance of ever switching to the other. Two roads diverged yadda yadda yadda.

I realize this is unusual, but it's far from the weirdest thing I've ever done.

pyramid termite -- it is magick, but magick is not inconsistent with either material rationalism or atheism if you hypothesize that the power of magick comes from psychological perception tricks. I have known a number of people who are active in neopaganism who are very candid about being materialists at heart, but who practice their religion because of positive results they assume derive from the psychological benefits of ritual.

StickyCarpet -- go Cheney yourself :-)
posted by localroger at 5:15 PM on March 14, 2009


I was baptized as an infant. Since I find the policies of the church utterly abhorrent, I would never identify as catholic. That's all the 'debaptism' certificate says; maybe my name is on the books, but that's not me, it doesn't represent my beliefs, and I don't want to be associated with the church in that way.

It doesn't have to be any more complicated than that. And I would totally hang my certificate on the wall in the loo.
posted by Space Kitty at 5:17 PM on March 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I mean, either you're a Mormon and then you think they're doing something that will save your eternal soul (or give it a shot at salvation) or you're not a Mormon and, well, why should you care...

My God is a jealous God.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:17 PM on March 14, 2009


yoink -- you should care what rituals other people are doing because ritual is an extremely powerful motivating factor, and while you might not care about the rituals you may care very much when the people motivated and unified by them start acting in the real world.
posted by localroger at 5:18 PM on March 14, 2009


I peed in the holy water.
posted by snofoam at 5:20 PM on March 14, 2009


I peed in the holy water.

As a child, I was convinced, by the smell alone, that holy water contained nun sweat. I might have had the causality reversed.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:25 PM on March 14, 2009


They are selling these, which means they really are simply a means of making money for whoever came up with this. Like a pet rock.

What's the going rate for a baptism these days?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:25 PM on March 14, 2009


Five bucks, same as in town.
posted by snofoam at 5:26 PM on March 14, 2009


Space Kitty -- hanging the certificate in the WC is one of those inadvertent rituals people come up with without realizing what powerful rituals they are. Doing that ensures two things; (1) you will be reminded of your decommitment to your unreligion every time you take a dump, instead of letting it blur into the background, and (2) you will associate your unreligion with eliminative functions, which is a terrifically useful negative association. I'm sure the certificate guy thought of that as just a funny joke but it's actually a very powerful example of exactly what I'm talking about: Even if you think ritual is some silly thing only stupid superstitionists bother with, the fact is if you've comfortably separated yourself from the indoctrination of your youth, you've probably done things like this that work as ritual even though you didn't realize it at the time.
posted by localroger at 5:31 PM on March 14, 2009


Ah, I see that the service may be free (get them early, keep 'em tithing for life), but just like the secular humanists, the Church of England charges for the certificate.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:35 PM on March 14, 2009


The concept of atheism being a choice strikes me as similar to the claim that homosexuality is a choice.

Is religion a choice?
posted by shii at 5:42 PM on March 14, 2009


localranger - Actually, the bathroom is where I put little objets de curiosité that don't quite rise to the level of art I'd display elsewhere in the house, but still make me smile. It's a happy coincidence that it was recommended as an appropriate location.

That is quite a plate of beans you've got there. :D

posted by Space Kitty at 5:49 PM on March 14, 2009


Space Kitty -- putting stuff that makes you smile in the loo is also a bit ritualistic, although there you're using the objects to lighten the activity instead of using the activity to form an association with the objects. Anything we regularly associate with messy biological functions like elimination and procreation quickly gets all tangled up in a lot of psychological pathways that blow right past our conscious perception, as you might notice from the way we treat the words used to describe those things.
posted by localroger at 6:01 PM on March 14, 2009


loud and brash atheists? proselytising? ...Really? This seems like people who say about gay people they "have nothing about gays... as long they don't do their gay things in public, ick, that'd be disgusting!"

Anyway, sorry to bother you, we'll go back doing our atheist things in private, as long as you will kneel (in whichever direction you like!), sacrifice animals or do that funny foreskin thing... the same way. In. Private.

No, really, when I say "in private", it actually means you shouldn't let your shamans fuck with politics and laws: there's people out there, you know, who have an alternate and altogether decently sound set of values and morals and it'd be nice, for a change, not to see those stepped upon as usual.
posted by _dario at 6:21 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


pyramid termite -- it is magick, but magick is not inconsistent with either material rationalism or atheism if you hypothesize that the power of magick comes from psychological perception tricks.

i'm really not sure what kind of meaning one can get from a religion if the "other" is some kind of psychological perception trick - if one doesn't believe in the elements and powers one is dealing with, then it's something too similar to artistic creation for me to want to do that instead of writing or playing music - of course one could call it theater - but when i said that to a neopagan, he was not happy with me - of course he was a bit of a charlatan and didn't like being seen through ...

in any case, we define ourselves by what we're against as much as by what we're for - to fight something is to let ourselves be defined by it to a certain degree

which is why, if i was trying to disown my religious upbringing, i would be careful not to do it in a way where it was still occupying a good part of my mental real estate - and a debaptism certificate seems like it would be better treated as a joke than seriously

---

Get a room. Or a suite, or something.

i miss the old days when the children had to go to another room while the adults discussed things in the parlor

now run along with your cousins, stinkycarpet, and don't get your suit all mussed up
posted by pyramid termite at 6:29 PM on March 14, 2009


I respectfully disagree; I think that few are born atheists … recent neuroscience has suggested that a part of the brain that enables us to think of [imaginary friends]

Everyone is born an atheist: as a toddler and child you develop the ability to believe in things that are not right there; and you tend to believe in monsters and Santa Claus and the inner life of dolls and toy trucks. And a lot of these beliefs are given to you by your parents, because they are either amusing (Santa) or useful ("Thou shalt not lie! God will punish you!")

Children are gullible. Read I Used to Believe and have a good laugh: it's amazing how long some people believe odd, childish things! It's not infrequent that someone admits to having believed their pet bunny was happy and frolicing on some farm.

My point is that you're not born believing in anything in particular. You're born with a brain that is susceptible to believing anything. You aren't born believing in a God. You come to believe in a God, usually through indoctrination (I mean that in the dictionary sense.)

----

I don't think I ever really and truly believed in God. I was introduced to god-think after the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus had passed away. I went through all the motions, but I'm not convinced that if you'd really pressed me at any one point in my church-going pre-/adolescent life I'd have proven to have any real conviction. It was defacto belief: it's what you do because everyone does it.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:34 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm an atheist, but I've never understood how anyone could care about the Mormon's baptizing them after their death. I mean, either you're a Mormon and then you think they're doing something that will save your eternal soul (or give it a shot at salvation) or you're not a Mormon and, well, why should you care what rituals they do or don't do--so long as no one is harmed in the process?

Because there's this idea of "respect for the dead" that comes out of the notion that one should not be uncouth to people and to people's memories of people.

Come to think of it, I rather like the idea of registering an official statement that makes it perfectly clear that despite what those batshitinsane Mormons think they've done by claiming to have baptised me, I don't accept a word of it and respectfully tell them to shove right off.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:46 PM on March 14, 2009


My point is that you're not born believing in anything in particular. You're born with a brain that is susceptible to believing anything. You aren't born believing in a God. You come to believe in a God, usually through indoctrination (I mean that in the dictionary sense.)

Do you think a person needs to be aware that the concept of God exists in order to be an atheist? I ask because as a child, before the subject comes up, you're probably not aware of the concept itself, let alone believe in it or not. I could be just splitting hairs here, but I think there's a difference between someone who's aware of the concept of God and does not believe in it, and someone who has just never been introduced to the subject at all.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:48 PM on March 14, 2009


run along with your cousins, stinkycarpet, and don't get your suit all mussed up

I'll be over at the folding card table, let me know when the adults have solved this whole religion thing.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:49 PM on March 14, 2009


The (remove from activity) link is helpful when threads bother you to see.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:54 PM on March 14, 2009


I could be just splitting hairs here, but I think there's a difference between someone who's aware of the concept of God and does not believe in it, and someone who has just never been introduced to the subject at all.

I'm hard-pressed to see the difference, other than maybe the value of experience.

It's the difference between being someone who doesn't believe in Stalinism, and someone who actually lived through it. Neither believes in it, and the latter may not have believed it even while being part of it. Is the end quality of their disbelief really any different?
posted by five fresh fish at 6:57 PM on March 14, 2009


I'll be over at the folding card table, let me know when the adults have solved this whole religion thing.

You're going to have to vacate the folding table. After a couple of highballs and few hands of penny a point Gin we'll have this all figured out.
posted by MikeMc at 6:57 PM on March 14, 2009


when threads bother you to see

Me and my cousins aren't bothered, we know we'll get to stay up all night once the aunts and uncles start having religious back and forths.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:02 PM on March 14, 2009


It's the difference between being someone who doesn't believe in Stalinism, and someone who actually lived through it.

I think it's most like the difference between someone who doesn't believe in Stalinism for whatever reason and someone who's never heard of it. A newborn baby cannot be a Stalinist, but it doesn't follow that the child is then anti-Stalinist.

If you've just never heard of God, does this make you an atheist? At the risk of getting too pedantic, I was just under the impression that atheism refers to a belief, that you do not accept Concept X to be true. If you're not even aware Concept X exists, can we still say that you don't accept it to be true?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:12 PM on March 14, 2009


Me and my cousins aren't bothered

So that "get a room" quip was about the sexual tension then?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:13 PM on March 14, 2009


Sorry guys, that may have been my first actual snark here. It's just that in these things I'm of the school that one can only meaningfully relate one's literal life experiences. I'm with Wittgenstein, and his belief that the more arguments you add, the more meaning you subtract on these matters.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:23 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Flunkie -- no, I decided. I could have shook off the nagging doubts, redevoted myself to church activities, and reaffirmed my faith; or I could do the opposite as I actually did. Both paths were possible, and I realized that either way I was committing myself totally to a belief system that violated half my strongly-held beliefs.
What?

What strongly-held beliefs of yours (at the time) did atheism violate? I'm having a hard time imagining a belief that atheism violates, other than "... in a god". And if that's a belief that you held strongly, then you weren't an atheist.

I guess another possibility is that your strongly held beliefs which atheism violated were things like "I should do what my parents say". But if that's it, then it seems like you already were an atheist, and then decided to stop pretending to yourself that you weren't.

But back to the assumption that the violated, strongly-held belief was a belief in a god: then you "chose" to be an atheist? You chose to disbelieve things that you believed? Again, the concept seems nonsensical to me.
At that time my beliefs were so contradictory that none of them were really all that powerful
They weren't "really all that powerful"? But they were "strongly held"?

And (again) you then suddenly decided "From now on I won't believe things that I strongly believe"?

It now sounds to me (and I hope you don't take any offense at this, because none is intended) like you didn't choose to be an atheist; you chose to act as if you were an atheist. I don't doubt that you eventually became one -- i.e. that you now honestly don't have any of those beliefs that you were at that time "strongly held" -- but your description of you at that time seems to inevitably boil down to "I don't believe what I believe".

I'm probably drastically misunderstanding you, because I honestly still don't get it.
posted by Flunkie at 7:24 PM on March 14, 2009


I'm with Wittgenstein, and his belief that the more arguments you add, the more meaning you subtract on these matters.

The original Godwin's Law!
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:26 PM on March 14, 2009


As a child, I was convinced, by the smell alone, that holy water contained nun sweat.
Sweat if you're lucky.
posted by Flunkie at 7:26 PM on March 14, 2009


The concept of atheism being a choice strikes me as similar to the claim that homosexuality is a choice.
Is religion a choice?
No, it strikes me the same way. Obviously I don't mean that a particular Hindu was born Hindu - he was indoctrinated. But he didn't choose.

And obviously someone else can choose to investigate Hinduism, and read its holy books, and join a Hindu temple, and come away believing in Hinduism. But he didn't choose to believe Hinduism; he chose to investigate Hinduism, and he wound up believing it.

And obviously yet another someone can pretend to believe it, no matter whether he was indoctrinated or he investigated it. But again, he didn't choose to believe; he chose to act like he believed.
posted by Flunkie at 7:31 PM on March 14, 2009


All you are doing is wetting a child.

A job they are perfectly capable of doing on their own.
posted by ymgve at 7:33 PM on March 14, 2009


Me and my cousins aren't bothered, we know we'll get to stay up all night

you're still weeding granma's garden early in the morning and then you're going to mow the lawn

and after you get done mowing it, you can dang well stay off of it
posted by pyramid termite at 7:47 PM on March 14, 2009


I think it's most like the difference between someone who doesn't believe in Stalinism for whatever reason and someone who's never heard of it. A newborn baby cannot be a Stalinist, but it doesn't follow that the child is then anti-Stalinist.

Gotcha. I understand.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:01 PM on March 14, 2009


I think it's most like the difference between someone who doesn't believe in Stalinism for whatever reason and someone who's never heard of it. A newborn baby cannot be a Stalinist, but it doesn't follow that the child is then anti-Stalinist.

Gotcha.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:01 PM on March 14, 2009



When the Christians gain complete and total control of the whole world these people are going to be really sorry they gave away their get out of jail free card in a senseless act of frivolity.
posted by notreally at 8:46 PM on March 14, 2009


My grandmother baptized me in her kitchen sink while she was babysitting me, because my parents wouldn't do it. I'm an atheist, but I wouldn't want to be debaptized because I think it's hilarious.

It's totally hilarious! Especially since it's obvious to everyone that you're soulless.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:51 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, DUH. I am a ginger, after all.

Hey, TLF! About to head to Acme!
posted by brundlefly at 8:55 PM on March 14, 2009


Flunkie -- you are drastically oversimplifying what it means to believe in something. There are levels to this "belief" thing.

You can have "beliefs" which might better be described as "assumptions" or "hypotheses." You take them for granted, you aren't powerfully invested in them directly but they inform just about everything you are strongly invested in in powerful and sometimes pernicious ways. For example, one concept I struggled with was what would replace my Sunday morning and Wednesday evening activities if I no longer had Church in my life. The idea that I could get along without those social activities and sources of structure was completely alien to me at the time, and somewhat frightening. This was much more important to me at the time than the question of whether the big old white guy with a beard was up there in the sky waiting to judge me on my death.

Then you can have "beliefs" which really are directly strongly held, so strongly that they will defy large amounts of contradictory evidence as you wade through the pool of life. For awhile after I made my conversion I was a pretty obnoxious atheist but then I encountered the writings of Robert Anton Wilson, and realized that having beliefs that solid is just a bad idea. Not because the beliefs are wrong, but because believing in anything that powerfully, even if the belief is factually correct, limits you.

I was not very clear in my previous post; my conflicting strongly-held beliefs were of the first type, their strength being in the secondary implications that would be implied if I abandoned them. I did sense, correctly, that whichever side I fell on I would be surrendering to something I'd not readily reverse. I also sensed that whichever side I fell on I'd probably be able to fully invest myself in it even though it would mean giving up something precious to me.

In any case to fast-forward a few years, I think fundamentalist materialism is a very unnatural belief system for humans, because it's our nature to perceive patterns in randomness (a lesson I learned in years of casino advantage play) and that it takes a huge effort to ignore those apparent patterns, which tend to turn into gods and faeries in the absence of other connecting data. Subjectively, for a typical unlettered person, there is far more reason to believe in supernatural influences than to not believe in them. If you don't believe that, I invite you to walk up to any Roulette wheel or mini-Baccarat table anywhere, and try to explain to one of the people marking up one of the convenient scorecards they will give you why they are wasting their time.
posted by localroger at 9:29 PM on March 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Flunkie -- you are drastically oversimplifying what it means to believe in something.
On the contrary, you are drastically diluting it.
posted by Flunkie at 9:41 PM on March 14, 2009


Well I guess that explains that.
posted by localroger at 9:57 PM on March 14, 2009


Does it?

I understand that we can validly have different opinions of what it means to "believe" something. But remember that in context, we're talking about the claim that "atheism is a choice; theism is a choice".

Can you choose, right now, to believe in, say, Vishnu?

I certainly think that you can choose, right now, to act like you believe in Vishnu, and I certainly think that it's possible that at some point in your life you will come to realize that you believe in Vishnu. But neither of those things are choosing to believe in Vishnu.

Again, it strikes me as similar to "homosexuality is a choice; heterosexuality is a choice".
posted by Flunkie at 10:11 PM on March 14, 2009


fff: I see atheism as the natural state: it takes no effort to not believe in unicorns, three-eyed martians, and god.

There is a scope ambiguity in the phrase "disbelief in God". It can admit of a reading in which the belief operator takes wide scope, as in "Dawkins believes that God does not exist", or of a narrow scope reading, as in "It is not the case that Dawkins believes that God exists." You're suggesting that we should understand 'atheism' to take the narrow scope reading. But it doesn't match up with conventional use. For one thing, it would mean that agnosticism is a type of atheism. And it also seems to me that we should want, for pragmatic purposes, to have a word for those who reject God's existence entirely.

Babies and animals don't have any beliefs about the existence or inexistence of God one way or another, so they are not atheists. It strikes me that understanding atheism as "the natural state" involves a rebranding of a common word in common circulation.
posted by painquale at 10:40 PM on March 14, 2009


Flunkie -- having slept on it, I think I see what you are not understanding. At the time of my decision I actually already believed both things, having picked up those beliefs in ways you would probably acknowledge. But the beliefs weren't consistent with one another, and that was causing a lot of inner turmoil; I knew consciously that both of them couldn't be true. The conscious decision was which set to abandon, and as I've said it was a very conscious decision and it could have gone either way. As for the process by which I acquired the mutually contradictory belief systems in the first place, you'd be right; I did not realize it was going on until the contradictions started to bother me.

As I suggested in my first comment in this thread, belief is way overrated. Many people seem to think that beliefs are the hard to shake guiding axioms at the foundation of everything we do; in practice, that's not really so. As Bob Dylan once said, "people don't do what they believe in, they just do whatever's most convenient and then they repent." What we believe is a loose guide which most of us violate all the time, and if we drift too far from belief in practice, it's the belief that tends to follow the practice much more often than the other way around.
posted by localroger at 6:25 AM on March 15, 2009


ok off the nagging doubts, redevoted myself to church activities, and reaffirmed my faith; or I could do the opposite as I actually did. Both paths were possible

why only two paths? WHy not be an agnostic and just keep exploring things until the truth becomes clearer? Or perhaps doesn't? It seems like the instinct to "decide" on a belief is borne out of a need to have a definitive answer even when you just don't. You can simply admit sometimes that you haven't worked it out yet...

But again, he didn't choose to believe; he chose to act like he believed.

The difference would be whether he maintained an awareness of both levels. If he just jumped right in and was able to obliterate the doubts he had previously had through a mental switch, then he isn't just 'acting like'... interesting phenomenon, really, and could help explain the utter uselessness of debating with some people.
posted by mdn at 8:27 AM on March 15, 2009


mdn -- at that age the possibility or rejecting BOTH of my contradictory belief systems was a little beyond me. Later, in my 20's, I would do exactly that. Thank you Robert Anton Wilson.

I was raised strict SBC and we went to church at least 3 times a week for as long as I could remember. But my father was also a particle physicist and I grew up in his lab, a geek from an early age. In my early teens I began to realize that I could no longer hold both belief systems in my head at the same time.

In one corner you had my religious upbringing, which was both the basis of my entire social life and loaded with dire threat should I abandon it. What was the acceptable risk of going to Hell? I took that question very seriously. In the other corner you had the sciences, which in corners my Dad avoided tended to step heavily on certain things my religion held dear. Science as a whole seemed to make a lot more sense, but was much less comforting as to little things like the meaning of life.

In the end the deciding factor was that there were actually multiple religions, inconsistent with one another, with varying degrees of inconsistency with science; it made much more sense that they were all made-up stories than that, as I'd have to assume in the other way, most of the world's people were damned to Hell because they had the wrong religion AND the whole world was full of elaborate tricks sewn by the Devil to lead us down the path to secular damnation. In the end I simply stopped going to church, and those ideas became less important and my confidence in my decision firmer over time.

But I could easily see it going the other way, had I been more concerned with social factors and the dire threat of Hell and the ominous warnings about moral failing. I could see myself at that age deciding to go to church more often, and immersing myself in books about the incompleteness of science and the invalidity of things like evolution until I would be comfortable there. I did raise my doubts to some of the church people so I could hear their arguments.

The line between "acting like he believed" and "believed" is much thinner than most people realize. If you act like you believe something long enough you'll find you do believe it; this is the basis of every self-help book ever written.
posted by localroger at 9:49 AM on March 15, 2009


The article is poorly written, referring to two distinct Churches but using the non-specific reference to 'the Church' in several places where the meaning is not clear, but it does specifically say that it is possible to amend the baptism roll in a Roman Catholic Church.
"The Roman Catholic Church does view a person's baptism as incorporating them into the Church - and membership is later important to the Church if, for example, the same person wants to get married in a Catholic church.

It is willing to place an amendment in the record. "


The unbaptism certificate is aimed at the Church of England, which allows no such official amendment.
posted by jacalata at 11:56 AM on March 15, 2009


My dad got raised Catholic and got sick of the religion around the time he married my Methodist mom. My mom was never thrilled with Catholicism either, and she had an uncle who was a Methodist minister. After Dad got really pissed at a priest (who wanted lots of money for converting my mother), they decided not to force Mom to convert for the sake of his relatives. However, I got baptized Catholic because my grandma would have cried forever if they hadn't. I did not get raised Catholic in any way, have probably been in a Catholic church less than five times ever. My parents never said a word against Catholicism, but I learned all on my own how despicable the people in charge of the religion are.

Now, I can't really blame my parents for doing it, because Grandma is a CRIER and doesn't get over anything, but I am still disgusted that a nasty corrupt organization can claim me as one of theirs for eternity and there's nothing I can do about it. Had I been baptized Methodist (note: Mom tried to get me re-baptized as one afterwards, and my uncle said no, the Catholics had claimed me first), I wouldn't want to be de-baptized, even though I'm not practicing Christianity now.

Really, I just hate being associated with Those People, even on a technicality.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:51 AM on March 16, 2009


Because there's this idea of "respect for the dead" that comes out of the notion that one should not be uncouth to people and to people's memories of people.

But doesn't that just beg the question? When I ask "why should anyone care about being baptized by the Mormons after they've died" it's the same as asking "why should you think it in any way disrespectful of the Mormons to baptize you after your death." And you answer is "because it's disrespectful."

If some Pope issues a blessing for the entire world, should I consider myself "disrespected" because I'm not a Catholic, but he's blessing me? The Mormon who baptizes me is, in his mind, doing the best possible thing he can do for me. In my mind he's wasting his time performing an empty ritual for a God who doesn't exist. No harm, no foul.

Come to think of it, I rather like the idea of registering an official statement that makes it perfectly clear that despite what those batshitinsane Mormons think they've done by claiming to have baptised me, I don't accept a word of it and respectfully tell them to shove right off.

Or, you could just ignore them, and their beliefs will have no effect on you whatsoever.

Frankly, I think the only reason people care about this is because they dislike the Mormons political stances (as do I). If you learnt about some Amazon tribe who ritually inscribe the names of all the people in the world in a big cave somewhere in order to preserve their souls in the loving embrace of the Great Spirit you'd probably be charmed by it and think anyone who tried to put a stop to it was an Evil Cultural Imperialist.
posted by yoink at 12:39 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


« Older Illustration Friday...  |  Malaria is one of the world’s ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments