Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Unbaptism and UnKnighting

I don't know why these two struck me as being similar - apart from, of course, the way they're quite similar.

Rene Lebouvier (of France in case you hadn't guessed) has applied to have his baptism revoked. The story is in the Mail. He's asked to be struck from the baptism records - but I'm not sure what that would achieve. A baptismal record is, after all, a historical record of something that happened. On a certain day, at a certain time, this event happened. That much can't be undone. Baptism either leaves an indelible seal - or it doesn't. If the former, merely removing his name won't make him any less baptised. If the latter, then it will make no difference at all. The ceremony will still have happened, but history will have been falsified.

If we accept the idea that baptism is simply a membership ceremony, then it strikes me that removing his name would still be a silly thing to do. If Burton Dasset ever decided he loved lager and wanted to leave the Campaign for Real Ale, they wouldn't go through all their records effacing every record that showed he was ever a member. They would merely record the fact that, when he stopped paying his subs, he stopped being a member. They might, if they designed databases the same way that Burton set up the Beaker membership mailing list, have an end date which they would set to the date when he lapsed. But they wouldn't destroy every trace that he loved bitter. So maybe, to keep all happy, the Catholic Church should simply find his baptismal record and write an end date in for the date he asked to leave. The baptism will still have happened - which of course it did - but his opting out will also have been recognised.

But this brings me onto the man formerly known as Sir Fred the Shred Goodwin. I word that carefully.

Are we saying that Fred was a knight for a while, and is no longer? Or has his knighthood been revoked back in time to the date that he first went down on one knee while Her Majesty tapped him on the shoulder? Or to put it another way - was Fred a Sir Fred and then no longer a Sir Fred - that is, his Sir Fred-ness has been terminated? Or after Her Majesty's revocation was he no longer ever a Sir Fred at all? It probably, logically, didn't ought to matter. But I just feel that it does.


  1. Surely the RC Church, and the C of E, have been retrospectively declaring sacraments null and void for centuries. Arguably the very first independent action of the C of E was to annul the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, and thereby to declare their daughter Mary a bastard. The Pope responded by declaring null and void the marriage of Henry to Anne Boleyn, and so their daughter Elizabeth a bastard. Henry, illogically, eventually accepted both as legitimate.

    But presumably an annulment does not imply a writing out of history of the original ceremony. So if the church can annul marriages, why can't it annul baptisms? Of course by doing so it doesn't annul their consequences, whether births or new birth.

  2. Its not the bling I'd ask Fred to give back, it's the cash!

  3. I think, Peter, that the concept of "annulment" is that the event in question is recognised never to have happened at all. The C of E's annulment of Henry and Katharine's marriage recognised that it was illegal and therefore could not have happened (a dubious claim in the extreme, but what would anyone expect from the old murdering tyrant. The Pope was in the right on this one). But if the baptism were conducted with a right intent and the right form (i.e water and the Trinitarian formula) then that's it - no argument from the Catholic perspective.

  4. Steve, I like the idea of saying "Keep the 'K', Fred - we'll have 10 million". But where would that lead? Money for peeerages?

  5. If it was an infant baptism it could possibly be annulled on the grounds that it was a violation of the baby's human rights for religious self determination.
    I think God might respect that.

  6. One might also argue that infant baptism that did not result in genuine faith must have somehow had the wrong intent and so be invalid. That would depend on one's theology of baptism. Or perhaps more plausibly that if the parents and godparents failed to follow through their vows to bring the child up as a Christian, and perhaps never intended to do so but were only doing the ceremony to keep the family happy, then surely the baptism could be annulled.

    As for knighthoods, I suppose if the honoured person is shown to have in fact been dishonourable, then the honour can reasonably be annulled as invalid from the start.

    But my point is that this provides an analogy of how baptism and dubbing as a knight might be annulled, without actually being written out of history. After all, think how many books, TV series and movies wouldn't exist if one of Henry VIII's first two marriages had in fact been erased from history.

  7. If I were a sincere atheist I would think that my baptism was just a piece of mumbo-jumbo. I wonder why he's going to all this bother? Maybe he doth protest too much, and he's about to be Born Again?

  8. And if Mister Fred now repents, goes off and does a few banking exams (for he's not done any of those in the past) then uses his millions along with his wit, skill, luck and judgment to storm back down to the whole jolly Wunch of Bankers and sort them out, does he get his Knightly Shredness back?


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