The National Secular Society has an amusing little section entitled “De-Baptise Yourself!” (see Update below). You can download and print “your very own Certificate of De-Baptism”. I am not sure what you then do with it, apart from framing it and hanging it up in a prominent place, as they suggest, but individual users will no doubt think up their own applications.
I call this an “amusing” section because it is but it is also serious and I expect many people are looking for a way to formally end the albeit notional ties that still attach them to a church in which they no longer have any belief. There was a time when I too would have welcomed some way of formally “retiring” from religion and perhaps in those days I would have seized upon the NSS’s offer. I no longer feel that way because, as far as I am concerned, the acts of initiation performed upon me – baptism and “confirmation” – were transacted without my own informed consent. Like a confession beaten out of an innocent person, these promises have no value. The only way they could bind me would be if I allowed them to.
Beneath the paragraphs offering the certificate, Richard Harris records his own attempts to make an official break with the church. He eventually succeeded and it turned out to be easier than he expected but it underlines a point: the churches are happy to enroll you, baptise you and indoctrinate you and much less happy to provide a mechanism by which you may detach yourself officially. If they provide such a mechanism (as Richard Harris’s story implies that they do) then it is not given much publicity. An honest organization would surely provide a readily accessible means of cancelling your account.
How many people feel the need to dissociate themselves publicly and officially from their erstwhile religion? It is hard to say. There might be many who, not knowing how to go about it, carry on their lives feeling vaguely guilty but unwilling to go on performing rituals which are meaningless to them. They get on quietly with their lives alone and unaware that there are others who are not only atheists but who are happy and proud to declare the fact.
In his famous book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins gives good reasons for thinking that there is a far greater number of atheists in the world than is immediately obvious from casual observation. There are many reasons for this, for example the fear of manifesting an unpopular (dis)belief in a country where religious belief is the norm. But the fact that atheists are likely to be attacked or persecuted is precisely the reason why we atheists need to make our position known. You don’t have to go around burning churches or throwing rotten eggs at priests. It is necessary and sufficient to stand up and be counted when the occasion demands that you do so.
Since this piece was written, the page in question has disappeared from the NSS Web site. Shame.