14 April 2009

Except When They Do

When in seminary, most of us are required to go through something called Clinical Pastoral Education. CPE usually involves assignment to an institution such as a hospital, nursing home, hospice, etc. In the program, you function as a chaplain and spend time in small groups evaluating your experience. Some people hate it; apparently some programs are awful; many of us found it useful.

I have a friend who described a colleague who faced this situation: a baby was born at a Catholic hospital. For what ever reason, the baby was in distress following delivery. The nurses did what nurses in Christian hospitals have done for a very long time when a baby is in distress and possibly about to die: they baptized him. This is in keeping with the institution's faith and mission.

Fortunately this baby recovered. At the time of discharge, the parents were given all the paperwork and the newborn kit, and the discharge nurse said, "and here is his baptism certificate." The parents looked at the nurse in horror. "We are Jewish."

Now first, this is a major "oops." But one of the CPE students was assigned by the chaplain to write a letter to the parents stating that nothing had happened except that some water had been put on the child's head with an eye dropper.

I would've failed that CPE unit. I would have written a letter that said, " Christians believe that baptism is efficacious because Jesus is Lord. If you do not believe that Jesus is Lord, then you cannot believe that baptism is efficacious. If you are concerned about your child was baptized, then apparently, on some level, you must believe that Jesus is Lord."

Okay. Maybe I wouldn't have written exactly that. But that's the sentiment that I would like to convey, and I could not have written the letter the CPE student was assigned to write.

The story came to mind when I read about this in England.

More than 100,000 Britons have recently downloaded "certificates of de-baptism" from the Internet to renounce their Christian faith... 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. The male nurse said he approached the Church of England to ask it to remove his name. "They said they had sought legal advice and that I should place an announcement in the London Gazette," said Hunt, referring to one of the official journals of record of the British government. So that's what he did -- his notice of renouncement was published in the Gazette in May 2008 and other Britons have followed suit.

My response? Well, Christians believe that baptism is efficacious because Jesus is Lord. If you do not believe that Jesus is Lord, then you cannot believe that baptism is efficacious. If you are concerned about your child was baptized, then apparently on some level, you must believe that Jesus is Lord.

After all, if there is no God, then what happened to these people was nothing more substantial than when small children decide to form a secret club and enact some silly, childish ritual by which one becomes a member of the club. But if Jesus is Lord, and you don't like that, then your baptism actually makes a difference ... but only if Jesus is Lord!

Which means that if you're going to the trouble of having yourself and de-baptized, you are not an atheist, but a rebellious Theist.

You see, atheists don't believe in God ... except when they do.

There was one other interesting statement in the article linked above:

Michael Evans, 66, branded baptising children as "a form of child abuse" -- and said that when he complained to the church where he was christened he was told to contact the European Court of Human Rights.

This brought to mind the words of James Taranto, author of the Best of the Web Today column at Wall Street Journal online:
We are not a religious believer. What's more, we used to be a militant atheist, from roughly age 5 through 17, when we realized that militant atheism is silly and that being a militant atheist is tantamount to, well, being a jerk...Now, it's true that religious people can be jerks too...But one can at least understand the overeager Christian: He thinks he's trying to save your soul. The militant atheist wants to make sure you know you don't have a soul.

1 comment:

victorsleeps said...

There is a woman in my office who is an extremely vocal liberal atheist. Pro-abortion, pro-Clinton, anti-Bush to the extreme. She was literally frothing at the mouth when Sarah Palin was nominated to be Vice President by John McCain. She would often comment how Sarah Palin was a "religious nutjob."

A month later this woman's mother was diagnosed with cancer. She sent out an email to the entire company asking us to pray for her sick mother. You can imagine the response I wanted to send... but I didn't.

I guess there are no atheists in fox-holes.