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Mar 24 2014

Guest Post: Forced Baptisms and Other Misadventures in Public Communication

This is a guest post by my friend Dan Linford about a rather unfortunate situation that took place last week after he appeared on HuffPo Live. Dan is, in my opinion, one of the most thoughtful voices in atheism and deserves much more attention and I’m happy to give him this platform to clear the air.

Forced Baptisms and Other Misadventures in Public Communication

“I’ve heard other stories from people who were effectively forcibly baptized.”

Those words will haunt me for several weeks to come.

I was recently asked to give an interview on HuffPost Live concerning atheism in the millennial generation. I agreed with the understanding that I would be representing myself as a graduate student working on atheism and secularity. I compiled a 5 page document summarizing scientific research on religious identifications in the millennial generation which I sent, a week in advance, to the reporter who had contacted me.

I should have known that something was wrong when the host contradicted that document within the first few minutes of their program: contrary to their statements, the 30% of those under 30 who claim no formal religious identification are not uniformly atheists or agnostics. Worse, I was introduced as hailing from a school “often in the news” for religion (it is not). While the school is located in the geographic region known as the Bible Belt, many of the people in Virginia Tech’s student body hail from DC and the surrounding suburbs. I was also introduced as a member of the executive board of Freethinkers at Virginia Tech. While I am the former president of that organization, I do not at present have any official title. While my choice not to correct those errors while on air was a mistake, I think a bigger mistake was to speak less clearly than I should have.

When asked about the experience of the atheist student on Virginia Tech’s campus, I had a few ideas that I wanted to convey.

First, that there is a tremendous diversity of students. Tech has an undergraduate population of approximately 30,000 students. This means that the experience of students will vary. Some interactions with religion will be deeply enriching and positive experiences but not all.

Second, I did not want those of my friends who have had negative experiences to go unmentioned. Two individuals have conveyed to me instances where they were baptized against their own will. Due to confidentiality concerns, I am not going to publicly reveal the details of those incidents. However, I do not see those incidents as common place occurrences nor are they representative of the behavior of Christians on my campus to those outside their faith communities. Unfortunately, my comment did not make it clear that this is a rare event.

Third, most of the problems I had heard about concerned conflicts between an atheist and their family and not with other students.

After the interview, the Huffington Post ran an article whose headline claimed that Virginia Tech students broadly face forced baptisms. I discovered the article when a leader of an on-campus Christian group sent me an e-mail asking me to explain myself. I could not have been more horrified. How could my words have been so twisted out of context?, I wondered.

But the fault does not lie entirely on the shoulders of the folks at the Huffington Post. In academic writing, it is the author’s responsibility to write clearly. If the audience is confused or misunderstands what has transpired, some of the fault lies with the author. My comments were not consistently clear. The charge that I have not successfully represented the situation at Virginia Tech is not without merit. I am sorry that I spoke unclearly.

More information can be found at the clarification I posted on Reddit (http://www.reddit.com/r/VirginiaTech/comments/21130v/dan_linford_here_offering_a_clarification_on_the/).

12 comments

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  1. 1
    eric

    Very nice explanation/apology. I tihnk he’s probably taking more blame than he really deserves. Just as no plan survives contact with the enemy, it seems to be a truism that no nuance survives contact with the press.

  2. 2
    raven

    Forced baptisms aren’t unknown. Theyusually pick on children though. Children are smaller, naive, and less likely to be carrying a gun or know a lawyer. The RCC priests stalk children for similar reasons.

    Springs church, school clash over proselytizing – The Denver Post
    www. denverpost. com/headlines/ci_12286425‎
    May 4, 2009 – COLORADO SPRINGS —

    Representatives of a local Christian church tried to lure a seventh-grader at Russell Middle School into a church van last …
    But sources told The Gazette that it was Cornerstone Baptist Church, … But it will be up to parents to take legal action against the church if their children are …

    They’ve done more than that before. Cornerstone Baptist is banned from Colorado Springs schools.

    I’ve said it before and it needs to be repeated.

    They are after your kids!!! The fundie xians really are after your kids. They know rational, functional adults are a lost cause. Be careful, the fundies can be and frequently are quite dangerous.

  3. 3
    Artor

    No, Don’t beat yourself up Dan. If HuffPo was in print, it would only be good for lining bird cages. It’s a really crappy news site, and I’m not surprised in the least that you were misrepresented. It’s pretty much their whole format; punch it up as clickbait, and make it as sensational as they can. You won’t believe what atheist students face at Virginia Tech!
    Please post a link to the original article as well. I’d be curious to see just how badly it was botched.

  4. 4
    raven

    It shouldn’t be a surprise that fundie xians target children. The xians have been doing this for millennia.

    wikipedia:

    Since that time CEF has been working to establish Good News Clubs in public schools around the USA. Currently, there are Good News Clubs in over 3000 public elementary schools.

    One of the main ones is Child Evangelical Fellowship who targets grade schools. They are in 3,000 or so grade schools right now.

    CEF is one of the ugliest fundie groups, a theocratic, misogynistic, creationist group that can be considered child abuse IMO.

    I found out to my horror a few years ago that they are active in my area. Watch out, the fundie xians really are after your kids!!!

  5. 5
    raven

    BTW, there is a simple cure for Forced Baptism.

    There are thousands of gods, all equally as real and powerful as the xian god.

    The New Agers, Pagans, and Wiccans can reverse a Forced Baptism in a few minutes with a simple, free ceremony.

    In fact, my cat can do it. She has as much spiritual power as all priests and ministers put together. (It’s zero of course.) X times 0 = 0

  6. 6
    raven

    Cornerstone church controversy; Sex abuse victims respond
    www .snapnetwork .org/…/050409_cornerstone_church_controversy_sex…‎

    May 4, 2009 – Zealous church members must find ways to express their faith that do not frighten … COLORADO SPRINGS – Last week’s complaints by parents against a local … of accusations regarding Cornerstone Baptist Church, going back to 1993. … deceiving kids; forcing a child to disrobe before baptizing her; and …

    and

    The Pulpit / Cornerstone Baptist pastor talks about his church’s …
    blogs. gazette. com/…/cornerstone-baptist-pastor-talks-about-his-churchs-c…‎

    May 14, 2009 – Cornerstone Baptist Church in Colorado Springs has had its share of …

    that children lured to a carnival were being baptized without their …

    tried to lure their 12-year-old daughter into a church van after school. … Can you imagine how tragic that is? … That hope is Christ, and that is why we preach Christ.

    More on Cornerstone Baptist church in Colorado Springs. They have a history of deceptive and forcible baptisms targeting children. And also, no surprise, a history of internal sexual abuse.

    One wonders how often this happens nationwide. There is never just one cockroach!!!

  7. 7
    matty1

    @2 Well at least Poe’s law is alive and well. If I was making up a parody of evangelism i couldn’t do better than the luring children into a van storyline. Did they do it by waving bags of sweeties or asking if they wanted to see the puppies?

  8. 8
    somnus

    No no no no no. Unacceptable.

    The author says “I’m sorry that I was unclear.” This is not a real apology. In this form, it sounds like the author is taking responsibility for the part he played in a misunderstanding. But if politicians and theocrats have taught us anything, it’s that the purpose of an apology is to deflect responsibility, not claim it.

    Therefore, the correct form is “I’m sorry you misunderstood.”

  9. 9
    Michael Heath

    Dan Linford:

    I’ve heard other stories from people who were effectively forcibly baptized.
    [...]
    . . . my comment did not make it clear that this is a rare event.
    [...]
    . . . the fault does not lie entirely on the shoulders of the folks at the Huffington Post. In academic writing, it is the author’s responsibility to write clearly. If the audience is confused or misunderstands what has transpired, some of the fault lies with the author.

    I’m big on crystal clear communication, but what Dan Linford writes here requires the audience to conjure up their own rate; he never even insinuates a rate of occurrence.

    And precisely because we live and celebrate living in a liberal democracy that is supposed to protect the rights of individuals against the tyranny of others, even a handful of abuses is worth exposing. So I perceive Linford do nothing that requires an apology from him on this matter. Instead he’s earned our gratefulness for exposing that such events may have occurred.

    It seems to me the people who deserve our criticism are those sloppy thinkers and partisans who misrepresent what Mr. Linford actually asserted.

  10. 10
    cjcolucci

    Forced baptism is inexcusable, and it is legally an assault. It should be treated as such, with its practioners prosecuted or sued.
    That said, by and large how harmful can it be? Unless you belong to some religion that says that some moron dribbling water on your head and muttering nonsense over you “defiles” you in some way that requires ritual purification, all that seems to have happened is that you’ve gone through a somewhat odd experience best laughed off.
    It’s possible, though, that there is actual learning about real psychological trauma caused by what seems to the layperson like silly shenanigans. If anyone knows of any, I’d appreciate hearing about it.

  11. 11
    zmidponk

    cjcolucci:

    Forced baptism is inexcusable, and it is legally an assault. It should be treated as such, with its practioners prosecuted or sued.
    That said, by and large how harmful can it be? Unless you belong to some religion that says that some moron dribbling water on your head and muttering nonsense over you “defiles” you in some way that requires ritual purification, all that seems to have happened is that you’ve gone through a somewhat odd experience best laughed off.

    Over and above your point that it is actually assault, it also simply goes entirely against the principle of freedom of religion. If you truly have freedom of religion, you have the right to not be subjected to any religious ceremony of any kind without your consent – even if it is as ridiculous and otherwise harmless as someone dribbling a little bit of water on you and muttering nonsense at you. And this is assuming, of course, that these baptisms were of that nature. Some sects of Christianity typically do baptisms by actually immersing people fully, which would put a very different perspective on things if the victims being referred to here found that kind of baptism being forced upon them.

  12. 12
    heddle

    Forced baptism is inexcusable

    Theologically, I totally agree.

    Theology aside, I mostly but not completely agree. It depends on age. If it is an infant/toddler then it is no different from other things we force infants and toddlers to do–and such things (just considering the ones that have no direct health benefit–leaving those as indisputable) are numerous. If they are teenagers then it is inexcusable. In between–it is gray. That’s my opinion.

    Was the age at the time of the OP’s forced baptism?

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