Ask the Patriarch 41
Can I Un-Baptise Myself?
Note: This article was originally published as Meditation 19 before we had a separate section for questions and answers.
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Dear Sir or Madam:
My name is C______ and I'm currently Greek Orthodox and I was baptised when I was a baby. My question is how can I un-baptise myself and become a full Agnostic.
You pose an interesting question.
On one level, there is no real need to undo anything. Once you determine you are an agnostic, you automatically nullify any religious agreement you made in the past (or which was made on your behalf.) These agreements are between the individual and god - and you cannot have an agreement with something of which you question the existence.
But when we make a promise, we don't like to break it. So we feel obligated by these religious rites even if we no longer accept them. How do we eliminate that sense of obligation?
First, I think we only have an obligation in those cases where we willingly and knowingly assume that obligation.
I think the real issue in your case is that you were a baby when you were baptised. Therefore, you were unable to consent in any of the proceedings, and I would not consider anything that occurred binding on you. So I don't think unbaptism should be an issue. Simply making a personal determination that you are an agnostic effectively eliminates any obligation you may feel imposed on you as part of baptism. How can you have an obligation to a being of whose existence you have no knowledge. Any implied contract is null and void.
On the other hand, if you have gone the next step and been confirmed, perhaps you have a stronger obligation. I'm not to sure what the age of confirmation (or first communion) is under the Greek Orthodox rites. In a Catholic Church it is normally at six years old - and six is probably still too young to make an informed decision - I would think that once again, this cannot be viewed as binding. However, under the Anglican (or Episcopalian) Church which I was brought up in, confirmation occurs at about 16 years (though I managed to avoid it.). This is a little more tricky and probably if the person feels a genuine commitment was made at that time, then a public disavowal may be warranted. As far as I am concerned, advising your family that you no longer accept the religion you were brought up in and that you are an agnostic would suffice.
To sum up my opinion:
Baptism as a baby - you were not a consenting participant and there is nothing to disavow.
Confirmation as a child - you were not at an age to make an informed decision, and again have no obligation to formally renounce anything if you change your religion.
Confirmation as a teenager - if you feel the vows you made at this age are binding because you had a genuine belief at that time, then you can legitimately terminate them by advising others that you are now an agnostic - and that the vows are not binding on you because you realize that you have no evidence for the existence of the other party to the vows.
And if you did not have a genuine belief at the time you were confirmed, and went through the process simply due to parental or peer pressure, the vows have no validity because you did not believe them and no action is required to renounce them.
Ultimately the decision as to what to do is yours. I hope the above provides some guidance.
And join our church if you wish. And if you change your mind later, we will impose no conditions upon quitting.
Subsequent thoughts (1)
These religious rites whereby we affirm our faith do have a strange hold upon us.
For many years, my father, who I never thought to be a deeply religious man, kept insisting that I get confirmed. And I kept replying that I was not a believer and could not and would not get confirmed.
Finally, when I was nearing forty, he tried one final time. He stated that it was my obligation to get confirmed because until I did so, my godparents were responsible for my soul. Once I went through confirmation, I would relieve them of this responsibility and could switch to whichever religion I wished.
Once again I refused because I would not get confirmed in a religion I did not believe in.
However, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly state that I accept full personal responsibility for my soul, in the event I possess such a feature, and that my godparents - whoever they may be - are hereby relieved of this responsibility for all eternity.
Subsequent thoughts (2)
With two exceptions, there is no need to go through any sort of formal process to reverse a religious rite. Simply denying your old religion is sufficient to terminate your obligation.
Exception 1 - If the religious rite has a legally binding civil component to it, such as marriage, then a legal process is required to terminate the obligation.
Exception 2 - If the religious rite is a form of body modification, such as circumcision, the reversal process is called surgery.