Should Churches Offer De-Baptism Services? March 30, 2009

Should Churches Offer De-Baptism Services?

I’ve mentioned the notion of de-baptisms before — renouncing your childhood faith at a later age. De-baptism certificates took off in Italy last year and they’ve spread to London:

More than 100,000 people have recently downloaded “certificates of de-baptism” from the Internet to renounce their Christian faith.

The initiative launched by a group called the National Secular Society (NSS) follows atheist campaigns here and elsewhere, including a controversial advert displayed on London buses which declared: “There’s probably no God.”

“We now produce a certificate on parchment and we have sold 1,500 units at three pounds a pop,” said NSS president Terry Sanderson, 58.

John Hunt, a 58-year-old from London and one of the first to try to be “de-baptised,” held that he was too young to make any decision when he was christened at five months old.

At the moment, they Church of England’s Religious Intelligence website is running the following poll:

As 1,500 people pay to get ‘debaptism certificates’ from the National Secular Society in the UK, is it time the Anglican Church followed Rome and offered a service for those who wish to annul their baptism?

Your options are simple enough:


As I write this, the poll has already swung in the right direction (Yes = 92.9% of the votes) but you can cast your vote into the ring.

Obviously, every religion should allow for an easy opt-out. True believers won’t take them up on it, so it shouldn’t be a problem… But most religions won’t allow for this to happen because I imagine they know they would lose membership like crazy.

You can get your own “official” Certificate of Debaptism from the National Secular Society or watch an amusing unofficial Debaptism ceremony in action.

(via Sachiko Space and The Freethinker)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Eric Z

    Ugh! Why does this have to be so difficult? I was raised LDS/Mormon and I was forced to be baptized at eight, no problem. I left at about seventeen and never bothered to have my name removed from the church’s records, but after their involvement with Prop 8, well…

    Let’s just say that I’ve already sent one letter without success and I’ve read up up on the net and the concensus is that it’s hell (no pun intended) to get your name off their membership.

    I dunno, is it worth it to even bother? In some ways, it almost seems petty to care since I’ve already moved on as a person, but in other ways, it seems important to let them know their bigotry isn’t tolerated.

  • Personally, I think it is kind of silly. Kind of fun to do just for the heck of it, but unnecessary to make official through a church. Many churches maintain a separate active membership list anyways, and sort of archive the people that haven’t shown up for a certain length of time. When they are losing people actually filling the pew, they know. It is not like they say, “We have a membership list of 5000! We’re doing good!” On the contrary, if they have a membership list of 5000 and only have 200 active members, they know that something happened to those other 4800.

  • Claudio I

    If you come to the realization that baptisms are BS to begin with, shouldn’t that come with the understanding that a de-baptism is equally worthless?

  • mvanstav

    I don’t get it… if you don’t believe the baptism was real (b/c you don’t believe in that deity) than why do you need to get it annulled?

  • Jerry Priori

    Way back when I sought information about how to get excommunicated from the Catholic church. Until I thought about it and came to the conclusion that I’m the one who defines whatever religion I follow or don’t. I already don’t live according to the dictates of the church and don’t count myself as one of them. I doubt there is any parish that lists me as a member since I don’t give the church any money (and it is all about the $$$) and nobody gives them money in my name. Their rituals are meaningless to me; why would I need a ritual to leave when I left them a long time ago?

  • Larry Huffman

    Eric…I successfully got my name and those of my family off the LDS rosters. It took several letters, but that seems par for the course. If you need help, there is a great template letter to use on Richard Packham’s website, as well as additional info regarding this.

    Re: De-baptisms…I still find it absurd for atheists to want a de-baptism. It is really flying in the face of logic to even think there is anything at all to undo.

    If the baptism actually needs to be undone…then it must mean something, and so god is real and your preisthood authority actually did confirm something on you…and so maybe you need to rethink your position.

    And they are charging for the certificates? How ridiculous is that? Really funny. Anyone who has paid for a de-baptism certificate has ‘sucker’ written on their forehead…and has serious flaws in their rationale with respect to this whole mess.

    If it is about membership…write to the organization and begin requesting to be removed from the rolls. Having a totally fictitious ritual reversed is…well…ignorant.

    You know how atheists bristle when they are told by the religious that we have dogma too? Well…having a de-baptism is dogma…it is reversing a ritual. It is adding fuel to their fires and it really makes you look stupid…despite how fun and funny and cute it all seems.

    If this were just a little nonsense novelty thing, that is one thing…but people are acting as if this matters. As I said…if a de-baptism means anything…then so did the baptism…and that should make any atheist pause.

  • Mriana

    You know, I don’t understand why some people want de-baptism. IF religion/superstition doesn’t mean anything then what is the point? The baptism they had is, at least to me, meaningless. I was baptized under pressure and fear. I did not have a choice and to some Xians, that makes my baptism meaningless to them also, because they believe it should be by free choice. Baptism is meaningless if one does not believe and little emphasis is placed on baptism in the Episcopal church, except when it comes to Communion- one has to be baptized to take it, but they do not have to take the baptism seriously or even remember it to participate, if one so chooses.

    So… If there is no meaning or seriousness taken concerning baptism, what is the point of de-baptism if one does not believe anymore? The baptism becomes meaningless then and de-baptism seems superfluous to me.

    That is just my take on it, but some may have a psychological reason for having a de-baptism. Or they may just enjoy poking fun at religion. I don’t know, but IF I ever become a Humanist Celebrant, I doubt I would offer such a ceremony, unless someone can give me substantial evidence that there is a legitimate psychological need for such a ceremony. There is a real human need for non-religious ceremonies such as naming ceremonies, weddings, and funeral celebrations. There is esp a very real human need funerals. De-baptism seems like a big mockery that would only cause more conflict, even unnecessary conflict, between the religious and non-religious.

    I would love to get Mike Clawson’s take concerning a baptism in the past of those who rejected religion. I would think he would probably not think any of the baptism anymore. This does not mean, if one changed their mind, that they would need to be baptized again. Some churches only accept one baptism, like the Episcopal Church, and would not see any purpose in de-baptism and/or re-baptism, regardless of those people who bounce back and forth between religion and no religion.

  • If the church is keeping apostates on the membership roles to inflate their numbers, in order to make themselves look big and important, then that’s a good reason to demand to be struck off. But otherwise I just don’t get it. Demanding de-baptism, for its own sake, seems to give more significance to the original rite than it deserves — it implies that something “really happened” that now has to be undone. Huh? I don’t see why purely theological claims that a church might make about you need to be taken at all seriously — any more seriously than you should take claims about your “aura” or astrological sign. If you really don’t believe, then baptism was just a goofy ceremony you participated in as an infant (or maybe older, in Baptist-type traditions). It’s not like a wedding that comes with an enduring legal contract that has to be formally dissolved if you later want out.

    As it happens, there’s a guy at our local Humanists who does an “Undoctrination Ceremony”, which includes a pretty certificate. It’s partly a humorous way of having new members introduce themselves, and give a little history. The guy that presides is a lapsed-with-an-attitude Catholic, and he even wears a priest’s stole (don’t ask where he got it) during the ceremony.

  • Jonas

    I see no problem with Secular organizations, like the National Secular society selling them, to boost their funds. If I were newly converting to Secularism, and wanting to connect, I could see buying one from the NSS for fun.

    But I don’t think I’d want to give more money to the church I was leaving. Liberal Judaism’s a little more free, so a literal belief in a children’s version of God up in the sky (Santa like) isn’t part of it.

    After the recent comment the Pope made regarding African AIDS, or the Brazil case of the rape of the nine year old, by her step father, I’d be putting in a request to leave if I were Catholic. — They wouldn’t deserve any money from me though.

  • Other than for fun, I don’t get it entirely. But I was never baptized so I don’t have a very valid opinion.

  • Christensen of Kansas

    Its a great idea. We need to get the phonies to come out in the open and quit.

    I am thankful to God that he saw to it that preachers like Barker and Loftus got out.

    Can you imagine the harm they would have done it they had stayed.

    Now, if we could just get Spong and Hinn to come out as the deceivers they are….

  • httking

    Do I need to have my name removed from Santa’s
    list as well????

  • Indigo

    I suppose it’s easy for me to say de-baptism is pointless. I was christened in the United Church of Canada, which holds that baptism is a purely symbolic ritual to welcome a child into the church community. A child who grows up to leave that community isn’t considered beholden to it. So I have a little trouble grasping why anyone can’t just say “It was a symbol and the symbol now has no meaning for me, whatever else anyone might believe” and walk away, which is what I did.
    However, I can also see the point the other way. Just because something is symbolic doesn’t mean it’s not real, and I can understand the desire to have something concrete, even just a piece of paper, representing something important to oneself.

  • another Mike

    What nonsense. Right up there with putting $ in the collection plate. Some people who end a bad relationship just can’t seem to move on.

  • Erp

    Never baptized here either; however, from most Christian denominations’ points of view you can’t be unbaptized assuming it was done correctly in the first place (some require full immersion, some require it be done after the age of reason, most require a trinitarian formula). You could go off, join 20 different non-Christian religions, come back, and you would not need to be rebaptized.

  • You could go off, join 20 different non-Christian religions, come back, and you would not need to be rebaptized.

    Unless you were Southern Baptist! 😀

  • Jen

    I like the idea of having a pretty certificate to put on the wall, but I think it would be a cheat- I was never baptized. That said, I can see why people would want to formally get their names off the church books- who wants to inflate the numbers of church parishioners? And though I was never baptized, I would participate in an anti-baptism ceremony- maybe it would involve blowdryers?- for fun while drinking at some sort of atheist drinking event.

  • Josha

    I wouldn’t seriously get a debaptism, it’s ridiculous to me since it was just some water and oil splashed on my face. I’d be willing to bet that most people downloading these forms are doing it in a joking manner.

    The issue I think we should concentrate on is how children do not have a choice in the matter and are brought up to believe without being old enough to understand the issues and to form their own independent thoughts about the world. It seems even one of my Catholic friends understands the need of religions to get kids when they are young. He considers my nonbelief a consequence of my being baptised into the Catholic religion at 11 years old.

  • tamarind

    Let’s just say that I’ve already sent one letter without success and I’ve read up up on the net and the concensus is that it’s hell (no pun intended) to get your name off their membership.

    I dunno, is it worth it to even bother? In some ways, it almost seems petty to care since I’ve already moved on as a person, but in other ways, it seems important to let them know their bigotry isn’t tolerated.

    Eric Z,

    How long was it since you sent your letter? Mine took about a month and a half. While resigning from the mormon church is more difficult than it should be, I’ve heard from many people who had no trouble at all in resigning. I’m not sure what your situation is, but if you call them up, make your desires clear and follow all of the instructions you’ve found online, it’ll happen eventually.

    Lots of people on the PostMormon community ( have resigned and can give you good advice.

    There are differing opinions on the value of resigning from the mormon church. As for me, it was the best thing I ever did.

  • Jack

    And I’d like to give the tooth fairy her money back.

  • Gaga

    Hello everybody
    Personal opinions and sensibilities aside, there is a practical purpose in lowering the number of registered churchgoers. In states where churches get subsidy or tax cuts (like mine i.e. italy), less churchgoers = less money for the cults.
    Moreover, in lot of countries it’s going to make it difficult for the churches to be politically influent if their registered ‘users’ are negligible in number.

  • SIGN ME UP!!!!

    I am deathly afraid of water, when I go to a beach, I do not swim, though I love being near the water, at the shore, my black lab can wade through the water….I however, stay away.

    Or maybe I should just sue that man that made ‘Jaws’….cannot figure out which caused more damage; being baptized or watching the movie ‘Jaws’.

  • Stephen P


    And they are charging for the certificates? How ridiculous is that? Really funny. Anyone who has paid for a de-baptism certificate has ’sucker’ written on their forehead…and has serious flaws in their rationale with respect to this whole mess.

    It’s not the church charging for the certificates, it’s the NSS. And at three pounds a time (some places charge more for a coffee nowadays) it’s just a bit of amusement.

    If one was baptised in a church which does claim you are a member based on that, then formal resignation is surely a good move. Otherwise I can’t really see the point. And the idea of a debaptism service is just weird (unless it’s held in the local pub – then it could be amusing.)

  • I don’t think churches should be obligated to de-baptize their followers. They shouldn’t be obligated to promote anything that will lose them membership (even though I’m all for them losing membership). Rather, they should find out WHY they are losing membership and address their flaws.
    I think that de-baptisms are funny and pointed and maybe the certificate should have some official signature from a representative of the church in question, but for the most part it doesn’t matter what your wishes are. The church will hang onto you and claim you forever even if you haven’t been to church in half a century. They’ll just call you “lapsed.”

    Maybe I would feel differently if I had been baptized and needed a ceremony like this. Certainly churches should be obligated to acknowledge when one of their members has left their ranks, but I don’t think they should have to provide the means to do so.

  • Tom

    I found:

    This website is also offering debaptism certificates. It also says it will debaptize anyone you request in a “ceremony”. It looks they’ve got the US Presidents listed, as well as a few other notables. The Pope, Bill O’Reilly, Joseph Smith. It says the people doing the ceremony are ordained, but since you can do that online, it likely just a gimmick.

  • I seem to agree with the majority that from the individual’s perspective, it’s a gigantic waste of time. First, churches aren’t going to make the exit interview easier any time soon, so we can forget about that. Second, I’m baptized Lutheran, and I’m an atheist. That means that I don’t think any mystic power was conferred just because some guy threw water on my head when I was too young to remember and said magic words at me. So why would I go to any effort to “reverse” this meaningless ritual? If a Gypsy cursed these people, would they go out of their way to undo the curse?

    I “get” that there’s the question of social identity here, and that people are trying to make a statement by publicly leaving the group of their own accord. Somehow I think it’s more effective to just ignore it completely, and move on, with no reference to what these people apparently agree is a meaningless, powerless ritual. Let’s do it right in the comments section: I submit to the one true God Allah and Mohammed is his prophet. For lunch, I will have shrimp. See? What’s worse from religion’s perspective, acting as if the words have power by avoiding them or negating them, or just ignoring them as the logically incoherent animal gruntings that they are?

    I got ordained by the Universal Life Church for exactly this reason ( An atheist becomes a minister; reductio ad absurdum. I’ve used the little ID card they sent to try to get a break in parking garages, so far to no avail.

    As has been pointed out here, where there’s a real-world effect (demoralization of organizations because their rolls are shrinking, funding getting cut, etc.) – i.e., there’s a real reason – then by all means, debaptize like there’s no tomorrow.

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