Saturday, July 25, 2009

De-Baptism, Religion, and Reason

After my recent post about the atheist summer camp and ran across another interesting atheism story about "de-baptism" rituals that some folks are doing. Here's a portion of a story about this phenomenon:

"Up until last summer, Jennifer Gray of Columbus, Ohio, considered herself "a weak Christian" whose baptism at age 11 in a Kentucky church came to mean less and less to her as she gradually lost faith in God.

Then the 32-year-old medical transcriptionist took a decisive step, one that previously hadn't been available. She got "de-baptized."

In a type of mock ceremony that's now been performed in at least four states, a robed "priest" used a hairdryer marked "reason" in an apparent bid to blow away the waters of baptism once and for all. Several dozen participants then fed on a "de-sacrament" (crackers with peanut butter) and received certificates assuring they had "freely renounced a previous mistake, and accepted Reason over Superstition."

For Gray, the lighthearted spirit of last summer's Atheist Coming Out Party and De-Baptism Bash in suburban Westerville, Ohio, served a higher purpose than merely spoofing a Christian rite.

"It was very therapeutic," Gray said in an interview. "It was a chance to laugh at the silly things I used to believe as a child. It helped me admit that it was OK to think the way I think and to not have any religious beliefs." (Read the whole article here)

The thing that struck me most about the story was the hair dryer labeled "reason" and the part about receiving certificates that participants had "freely renounced a previous mistake, and accepted Reason over Superstition."

Championing reason over superstition is something the Baha'i Faith fully supports:

"All religions of the present day have fallen into superstitious practices, out of harmony alike with the true principles of the teaching they represent and with the scientific discoveries of the time. Many religious leaders have grown to think that the importance of religion lies mainly in the adherence to a collection of certain dogmas and the practice of rites and ceremonies! Those whose souls they profess to cure are taught to believe likewise, and these cling tenaciously to the outward forms, confusing them with the inward truth.

Now, these forms and rituals differ in the various churches and amongst the different sects, and even contradict one another; giving rise to discord, hatred, and disunion. The outcome of all this dissension is the belief of many cultured men that religion and science are contradictory terms, that religion needs no powers of reflection, and should in no wise be regulated by science, but must of necessity be opposed, the one to the other. The unfortunate effect of this is that science has drifted apart from religion, and religion has become a mere blind and more or less apathetic following of the precepts of certain religious teachers, who insist on their own favourite dogmas being accepted even when they are contrary to science. This is foolishness, for it is quite evident that science is the light, and, being so, religion truly so-called does not oppose knowledge. We are familiar with the phrases 'Light and Darkness', 'Religion and Science'. But the religion which does not walk hand in hand with science is itself in the darkness of superstition and ignorance. Much of the discord and disunion of the world is created by these man-made oppositions and contradictions.

If religion were in harmony with science and they walked together, much of the hatred and bitterness now bringing misery to the human race would be at an end...I say unto you: weigh carefully in the balance of reason and science everything that is presented to you as religion. If it passes this test, then accept it, for it is truth! If, however, it does not so conform, then reject it, for it is ignorance! Look around and see how the world of today is drowned in superstition and outward forms!
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 142)

That faith is commonly viewed as incompatible with reason (not just by atheists) is something which in fairness, theists must take responsibility for. In its statement to the religious leaders of the world the Universal House of Justice put it this way:

"To this accounting must be added a betrayal of the life of the mind which, more than any other factor, has robbed religion of the capacity it inherently possesses to play a decisive role in the shaping of world affairs. Locked into preoccupation with agendas that disperse and vitiate human energies, religious institutions have too often been the chief agents in discouraging exploration of reality and the exercise of those intellectual faculties that distinguish humankind."
(The Universal House of Justice, 2002 April, To the World's Religious Leaders, p. 2)