There's a bizarre trend going on in Great Britain. Former church members are getting "de-baptized." As Time magazine reports, "More than 100,000 former Christians have downloaded 'certificates of de-baptism' in a bid to publicly renounce the faith."
Now, there have always been people who have walked away from their faith. But what's behind this public display? And why are so many downloading an apostasy certificate?
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, has some theories about why his group's idea has found unexpected popularity. He told Time that "churches have become so reactionary, so politically active that people actually want to make a protest against them now. . . . They're not just indifferent anymore. They're actively hostile."
Well, maybe. But the Church has always been active in public life, standing against wrongdoing in the culture. And there have always been people who resented that.
Sanderson also states that the "de-baptism" rite is meant to "mock the practice of baptizing infants too young to consent." But again, infant baptism has long been a subject of debate within the Church. There's nothing new about that either.
I'm more interested in something on the NSS website, which reads in part, "Liberate yourself from the Original Mumbo-Jumbo that liberated you from the Original Sin you never had."
Now that, I suspect, is an idea that is appealing to a large number of people. Believing in your own innate goodness isn't exactly new-it has its roots in the lie that the serpent told Eve. But in this postmodern, therapeutic culture, I can understand how "liberating" it might feel not to believe in personal sin or evil.
And that should terrify us. Where does most of the evil in our world come from, if not from people who believe they're incapable of evil?
Is it really possible to look at the past 10 years even-from Enron, to 9/11, to Bernie Madoff, to dozens of other scandals-and not believe in the sinfulness of human nature?
In my opinion, a person who can do that is a candidate not for "de-baptism," but for a padded cell.
I don't mean to be too harsh, but that attitude is a total denial of everything that human history and human culture teaches. And yet that just might be the attitude the "de-baptized" are celebrating.
The eminent scholar Alan Jacobs, professor of English at Wheaton College, puts it well in his book Original Sin: A Cultural History. As Alan explains, even though the doctrine of original sin is unattractive and difficult to understand, we cannot deny its effects on our world. He writes, "Again and again the literature and culture of the West have returned to this doctrine, worrying over it, loathing it, rejecting it-only to call it back in times of great crisis or great misery."
Let's hope it doesn't take another catastrophe to bring the "de-baptized" back to their senses.
The sad truth is that every time we think mankind has liberated itself from the dusty old notions of sin and evil, we discover how disastrously wrong we were.