Why Should You Care?

An atheist doesn’t believe in a god,
So why should an atheist care?
So what if he’s put on some idiot’s list
For a heaven he knows isn’t there?

The church claims a place of authority
They tell us it’s written in stone
I will not assist their intrusion—
My name is not theirs; it’s my own.

I’ve seen it in a number of different contexts recently–the Cranston banner, “in god we trust” on money, and now in two unrelated stories about atheists and baptism. More, after the jump:

In France, Rene LeBouvier is fighting the church, asking to have his name removed from their baptismal records. Currently, his name is still there, with a note saying that he had chosen to leave the church. By church doctrine, though, baptism is permanent, and cannot be undone. The case went to court; LeBouvier won. The diocese has appealed.

In the comments at that story, a number of writers have asked “why would an atheist even care? He doesn’t believe in the church, so why would it bother him?”

These people have it wrong. It’s not a matter of whether he (or you, or I) believe in baptism. It’s a matter of whether we cede the control over our own name to an organization we are not part of. The default should be that they have no right to my name, no matter what their own belief system says.

And their belief systems can give them an incredible sense of privilege. How else would you explain the arrogance of posthumous baptism of a lifelong atheist? (Or of hundreds of thousands of Holocaust Jews?)

And again, we see “why should an atheist care?” among the comments. No belief, no foul, right? Again, these people are wrong. Enabling a religion’s delusions of authority is not harmless. Ceding any sort of power to a church just because their own belief system allows them some perceived authority over you, is not something I want any part of.


  1. Lycanthrope says

    That’s it exactly. Man, that trope ticks me off. “If you don’t believe it, why do you even care?” Because that’s not the point. There are always bigger issues at stake.

    Because it’s unconstitutional. Because it abrogates my rights. Because it is disrespectful to me. Because it is disrespectful to someone else. Because it is a waste of taxpayers’ money. All of these have their place.

  2. baal says

    The other reason to care is “tobacco advertising.”

    It wasn’t by accident that they have little knick-nacks, billboards, sports adds, magazine adds, etc ad naseum. The best way to reinforce what’s a norm is to make sure people see it literally everywhere. It sends a very clear message that unless you want to be in the out group, get on board.

  3. Freerefill says

    Baal, you’d think the guy who created the entire fucking universe from literally nothing would be able to get attention without people putting billboards up.

    Unless he doesn’t exist, of course. Gosh, wouldn’t THAT be embarrassing…

  4. says

    Another reason to care is that this tactic allows churches to pad their membership numbers. Which are pretty much decreasing all over the place (yay!).

  5. passerby says

    “Why do you even care?”

    Because your belief affects my reality. Every time a creationist bill goes through a mindless legislature; every time my signs are vandalized; every time a brave 16-year old girl gets death threats for defending our Constitution.

    I care because you give me no other recourse. It is either care, or drown. And f**k you very much, I don’t think much of drowning.

  6. Ysanne says

    I don’t quite see what the church’s understanding of the permanence of baptism has to do with having the name on the record (or getting it removed).

    The first is a somewhat murky concept of an un-cancellable membership in something, which has no legal consequences because it’s not recognized by anybody but the church itself. It’s kind of similar to someone opening the phone book on a random page and saying “I curse these people, and there’s no way to un-curse them!” — does this mean anything for the people on that page of the phone book? People can pretend what they like, as long as they don’t bother others with it.

    The second is a record of a transaction between the Rene’s parents (probably, or maybe himself?) and the the church, in which they got a kind of service involving a bit of water and a few prayers. Quite similar to getting any other personalised service, and the company keeping their record of providing it.

    So for me, it’s not about “why care”, it’s about the right addressee for complaints about this kind of thing: The people who signed up Rene for club with weird ideas of lifelong membership.

  7. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    In a fair number of countries, particularly in Europe and Latin America, churches get government subsidies based on the number of members the church has. So getting your name off the church register has actual, measurable results.

  8. JohnnieCanuck says

    When they have my name on their membership rolls, they can claim that they speak for me. They can claim that I support them in whatever they are about.

    These are lies. Since I oppose most every political stance they take, I don’t want to see their membership numbers inflated by their refusing to take my name and others like me off the list.

    I don’t care that they want to believe that a Baptism or a Confirmation is permanent and irrevocable by me. That’s their nonsense and they can claim whatever they want.

    Just don’t claim to speak for me.

  9. Ysanne says

    However, the number of church members for funding purposes is not based on baptism records or similar, but on data from tax files (e.g. in Germany) or census data (e.g. Australia). Precisely to avoid cheating and complications with people who change church etc.
    That’s what I meant by “no legal consequences”. :-)

  10. Epinephrine says

    When I was a baby/toddler, my parents (who are atheist and agnostic/deist (I’m not quite sure where on the scale, we don’t talk religion much)) would go out and leave me with friends. One day when they got back from (dinner? a movie?) they found that a family friend was toweling me off, I assume there were other hints as to what activity had been going on, or they would have assumed I was given a bath. When asked about it, the friend (a good catholic) admitted to having baptised me, as they (quite rightly) felt my parents wouldn’t have me baptised, and feared for my soul.

    At first they were angry, but later began to find the whole thing amusing. They would tell the story to other friends, about how they arrived back and found my being toweled off. A few of their friends blushed, then admitted that they, too, had baptised me. Turns out I have been baptised at least 4 times.

    I only mention this as it illustrates how little the religious think of the feelings of the non-religious. These were all fine people, kind friends who would happily look after me, and had my best wishes in mind. They completely ignored my parents’ position, and took it upon themselves to act. In a way it *is* funny, but in another way it highlights how little they think of us. Would they have baptised me if my parents had been Jewish? Muslim? I rather doubt it – they would have respected those beliefs.

    That’s what makes me care about this kind of thing. I don’t care if I was baptised or not, it’s a meaningless ceremony, and I’m certainly not about to “de-baptise” myself with a hairdryer, as that would be granting the baptism much more attention than it is due. What bothers me about it isn’t that they would act in a way that they felt was necessary to protect me (which is at least well intentioned, if misguided), but that my parents’ views were completely ignored, treated with no respect whatsoever. I’m not sure that any of them really felt that they had done anything wrong – sure, they violated my parents’ trust and beliefs, but they did what they thought was right – that’s the scary part.

    Sorry for the ramble, it just resonated with me. Great poem, Cuttlefish.

  11. John Norris says

    I wonder what the reaction would be for a Catholic bishop’s posthumous Confirmation of Mormons. Could I get a retired bishop drunk enough to slap a list of Mormon obituaries?

  12. robb says

    let’s say you got your name on a sexual predator list, but you weren’t actually a sexual predator. would you want your name to still be on the list? why should you care if you aren’t a sexual predator, eh?

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